Tag Archives: Solo hiking

The Final Chapter…In One Book…of a Multi-Part Series

A very upset heron trying to find some solitude

My 2017 adventure has come to an end. Not for any one reason, but because of several deciding factors. The first being that I’ve been out of money for at least two months now and I’m unwisely racking up debt. Followed by my desire to not walk in wind and rain. In spite of my best efforts, I’m a fair-weather hiker. 

The last of the sunny days in Oregon

Today I got pelted by sand flying at me at 65 mph (according to the weather report). There’s also that I wanted to surprise my parents for the holidays. 

Waterfall on the beach after wine tasting

Then a number of small reasons: my feet hurt, I’m tired, my mind is restless, I’m itching to start building toward my next goal and next adventures, I need to exercise my mind for a while because I feel myself going dim.

Formations in the rocks on the windiest day on the trail

I have had time to reflect on my life, and on my hike. In the beginning, if you remember, a trail angel said that he did his thru-hike in stages. California was to think about his past, Oregon was to think about his present, and Washington was to think about his future. Mine was in a slightly different order, but it’s the same in essence. What I’ve come up with is this:

Scott modeling the intensity of the wind


Past:

My past really doesn’t matter anymore. It happened and much of it sucked (my 20’s). I imagine that memories will grace me from time to time and I’ll scowl in disgust before moving on. The people in my past will remain there and they will never be part of my present or future. It’s not that I can’t forgive, it’s just that forgiveness doesn’t mean I have to make the same mistakes again. Lessons learned.

A slew of sea lions, defiantly relaxing outside of the sea lion caves that some jerks are charging people $17 to see. These sea lions refuse to be tamed. 

Present:

Shhh…don’t tell anyone that I’m listening to the menacing wind from the comfort of a hotel room, where I’ve been for a few days. I’m going to say that my “present” is everything that has happened on this long journey. 

Bridge on the way out of Florence

Many of you have been following along, reading about my complaining, frustration, awe, and whatever mood swing I was spiraling through at the time. 

Soaked up to the crotch by a rogue wave. If only you heard me scream.

This hike has been the single most meaningful journey of my life. I know I am going go struggle to explain its significance because, unless you’ve been there, there’s no way you will really get it (See: “Adventure Types”).

After our wet day with the wave, drunk sliding was in order


I don’t know that I’m much more confident than when I started, but perhaps more determined to succeed? I don’t know that I’m much more fit, but maybe habituated to move? Not wiser, but proceeding with a clear mind. Not more creative, but more inspired. Not more alive, but maybe I’ve finally woken up. 

Saying goodbye to Scott

At one of my weakest moments, my brother wrote encouragement that I’ll never forget. “You never started this adventure to compare how much better someone is than someone else; you started it to be better than yourself when you started.” I may not be anywhere near my goals or anywhere near being the person I want to be, but for the first time in years, I’ve taken a step forward. 3,081,178 steps to be precise.

Driving 1000 miles to surprise Scott for his birthday and finding him within 30 minutes of getting into the area


I am proud of myself. I’ve met amazing people. I’ve seen things that brought me to tears. I’ve been places that many people will never go. I’ve done things that some will never do. I found pieces of myself that I thought were lost forever. I found a reason to have faith in people. I started to dream bigger. I’ve accomplished so much more in this journey than I ever thought I would. Which brings me to…

Gorgeous evening finding Scott


Future:
I’ve gone over dozens upon dozens of life scenarios. I think I’ve found one that fits. (Fingers crossed). I found a lovely program in the Peace Corps, hiking 6 miles every day to a tiny school in Nicaragua, to educate children about the importance of preserving the rainforest.

Top 2 sunsets

In my journey this year, my hiking partner and I met a very nice man who worked for the forest service. We were discussing clear-cutting with him. He was happy and adamantly proclaimed “it’s good for the birds.” This man was not evil or vindictive. He was simply not educated on the subject.

Geese hanging out until they go home in the spring

I’ve walked through many forests, and you know what I heard? Life. Everywhere. In abundance (with the exception of one creepy spot in Lassen). And you know what I heard in the clear-cut sections? Nothing. Complete silence. …it’s good for the birds.

Sunset eagle


Now you can imagine when I saw that rainforest program pop up again, how it just felt right. I think this year, I’ll be learning Spanish.

Late autumn trees


If the Peace Corps works out (I’ll blog about that too, contingent on internet availability), I will follow it with grad school…possibly a doctoral program in psychology. We’ll see. 

Coos Bay during a storm

I also will make art again. That is a certainty. And I will attempt the Pacific Crest Trail again because it was worth every struggle to get there. As far as love, it’s up in the air right now. Who can really know where that will go.

The owns who own the town, Orick, CA.


Thank you for coming on my journey with me. For assisting with my sanity. For encouragement. For company. For something to occupy my mind. I hope this inspired you to move from “dreamer” to “adventurer.”

Beautiful morning after sleeping in a parking lot on the way home


A river otter saying hello and upsetting anything with feathers


Small bird serenading me at sunrise


Beautiful sunrise on the very last day of my long journey


And a proper sendoff

Lessons in Letting Go

Lake Louise

October 9th

It’s been a long week and we were never able to get back on the trail. We waited too long and the snow set in in the mountains. We began making backup plans to keep the adventure going, but differences in opinion tore us apart. For the first time in 4 months, I am truly alone. I’m trying to be excited about it as I set off on my own adventure. But I feel like I lost my best friend. Some of my most significant days were with him.

The snow when we were supposed to start hiking

Fully in Autumn

Astoria

This trip hasn’t been at all what I expected it to be. I’ve done less than half of the trail and yet it’s more than I’ve done my entire life. It changed my outlook on life. I’m afraid I’ll never be satisfied after this. The trail feels like home and I’m homesick. Now I’m driving a rental car north in hopes of reaching Alaska before the snow. I hope it will clear my head and heal my heart. After that, it’s back to the Oregon coast to start walking home.

Aspens in Prince George, BC

Snow and aspens on the way to Alberta

October 14th

I didn’t reach Alaska, but instead spent a few days in the Canadian Rockies, snow and all. My rental car is a trooper and made it through the snow like a champ. Jasper and Banff were amazing.

 From waterfalls to ice fields to glaciers, it was gorgeous. I saw a lot of wildlife: 3 eagles, 7 deer, a snow bunny, 15+ elk (with 2 males sparring), and at least 30 big horn sheep that were hanging out in the road. 

Beautiful evening in Jasper

Yesterday, I sat in some hot springs in Banff as tiny snowflakes fell on my face. I think the rest of my life needs to be filled with moments like that. I drove through 5 National Parks in total and might go through another today as I make my way west.

Cold little rental after being scraped off in the morning

My mind is clear now, but my heart is still sad. I’m making my way down to Astoria in the next couple of days. I’m ready to start walking.

Canyon at Athabasca Falls

So cold that I needed a babushka

Athabasca Falls

On the road to Banff

Parking lot at the icefields -4℃

Columbia Icefield and glaciers

The closest I’ve ever been to a big horn sheep

Big horn sheep licking minerals off the road and knowing this is their territory

A perfect blue glacier

Made it to Banff, the first national park in Canada

Cave and Basin. The spot that inspired the national park system.

One more shot of Lake Louise because it was that beautiful

Distractions

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Burney Falls

Distractions are common on the trail. They range from things like pretty flowers and butterflies to food and people. I have been the most distracted in this section because it was probably one of the more difficult sections. I set out each day ready for adventure, ready to hike, and then something happens after a couple of miles hiking that just makes me want to stop and find a milkshake. Or anything cold. Or anything that isn’t hiking. I left Old Town and was feeling low.

I detoured to walk through lava caves and then camped alongside a small grand canyon. I had a hot day of crying for no apparent reason.

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Trail angels and their trail magic

Then, as I was walking along, feeling pretty glum, I turned a corner to a welcoming face who invited me over to a sun shade. It was a group of women from the Burney area who were trail angels . My eyes started tearing up when I saw what they did for hikers. They had chairs set up in the shade; an ice chest of cold drinks; an ice chest of delicious salad and pasta salads, fruit, and cheese; and an ice chest full of beer donated graciously by Fall River Brewing Company. These ladies even took enough care to wrap the forks in napkins and tie colorful ribbons around them. They also had a phone charger for us. To top it off, they made us strawberry shortcake. Needless to say, I stayed there for 5 hours. I left feeling amazing and humbled by their kindness. And they started this because one of their daughters did trail angeling as her senior project in high school.

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Lava beds on the way to Burney 

I’ve been distracted by friends, family, food, attractions, food, showers, food, soft beds, and food. I’ve woken up late nearly every day, but I’m enjoying myself.

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Northern California making sure we knew where the trail crossed

I met some great people and random strangers who were nice enough to cart me to and from the trail. Then, my sneaky mom called asked my room number when I got to Burney “in case she needed to call.” That afternoon, my brother and his girlfriend showed up at my room to surprise me with shaved ice!

It was a great weekend! We explored, ate, and watched fireworks.

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Evening sun at Lake Britton 

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Last view of Lake Britton

With Lassen a distant memory, and Mt. Shasta as my new neighbor, I’m feeling good. This past week has been filled with good and bad days and a lot of happy surprises. I’ve made some great relationships, and have hiked with people. I’ve even gotten to the point where I have passed people on the trail. Maybe I’m getting my trail legs after all.

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A wonderful person leaving ice-cold drinks on the trail

My hair is getting lighter and my skin is getting darker. My waist has gotten smaller and my feet have grown bigger. Everything that worried me or stressed me out at home really doesn’t matter anymore. It’s amazing that I struggle every day out here and I feel more alive and at peace than I ever have.

The journey from Burney has been fun, exciting, and exhausting. I’ve been hiking with my friend, Scott. This is nice because I can walk at night when it’s cool outside because no one is going to mess with a guy that’s 6’4″. We’ve had our share of adventures as well.

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Moonrise in the middle of our evening hike

One in particular is because the Pacific Crest Trail association wasn’t clear with their signage about a detour, and I assure you they will be receiving a strongly-worded letter. Getting lost at 1 a.m. in the mountains is totally my favorite thing to do. We walked 3 miles in wrong direction down a fire road and finally gave up at 2 a.m. and camped. The adventure wasn’t over.

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Scott enjoying the view outside of Burney 

The next morning, we followed the GPS on our phones and got as close to the trail as we could on the road. Then we bushwhacked our way down a canyon, up the other side, down another canyon, and up another. It was utterly defeating. The both of us fell several times, we were bruised, Scott was bleeding, and it was the first (or second) time in my life that I hated nature. I recall falling and exclaiming, “F@*% you, nature!” When I made it up the second hill and stepped foot on the trail, I got emotional. It took us 5 hours to go 2 miles that morning. We made it to a water source and slept until evening.

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Beautiful view of where we’ve been

That entire day turned around when we woke up. I ran into a girl I had met in June who was having a bad day. We chatted until she felt better. She ended up camping next to Reed and Nicole (who helped rescue my dog). I think some people are meant to be in my life. That night, we hiked until 2 a.m. and then a wonderful couple gave us a ride into Mt. Shasta the next day.

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Getting close to Mt. Shasta 

Time in Shasta has been all about food, sleep, and time to forgive nature. We’ve also had some wonderful memories with other hikers while breaking bread. I may not make it the whole way to Canada at this rate, but a hiker named “Necktie” put it eloquently. “I may not be a thru hiker, but I’m a MYTH. A multi-year thru hiker.” That may just have to be the case.

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Mt. Shasta 

 

Settling into Third Class

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Looking at Mount Lassen 

There are a number of hazards on the trail at any given time. Some are small, like loose rocks, things to trip over, slippery sections. Some are larger, like branches, larger rocks, etc. Today has been snow, fallen trees, rivers, and large creeks. Let me describe this in more detail. It’s not just a dead tree, stripped of branches, laying by its lonesome on the forest floor. No. This is an enormous tree, still green, branches everywhere, and it decided to take down several other trees in the process of falling. The kind of mess that obscures the trail so bad, you have to spend several minutes maneuvering around it to try to find the trail again. At one point today, this occurred every 50 feet or so. When there weren’t trees, there was snow. Several feet deep and and melting enough to fall through.

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One of many marshy meadows

What’s fun about the snow is that it makes the trail completely disappear, making you compulsively check your phone, search frantically for footprints, walk in blind faith, or follow the deer tracks because they seem to know where they’re going. The majority of the time, the deer is correct.

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Storm clouds dissipating for the evening

Now, put the snow and the fallen trees together and the real adventure begins. Luckily, nature mixes it up by adding a water crossing. The small ones or still ones are no problem since my brother bought me some awesome, waterproof shoes, but the issue is the raging ones that will knock you off your feet. Sometimes you have to walk a quarter of a mile up the river, clawing your way along a muddy mountain side, in order to find a slippery-looking log that might pass as a bridge. Then hope that you’re steady enough to cross without falling. All this makes for a very interesting, very tiring workout that no amount of stair-stepping can train you for. 

Welcome to Lassen. I think it has been a tough winter for this forest and no one (besides thru-hikers) is dumb enough to go into the forest to clean it up. It has been another challenging week. The heat and humidity coupled with walking over piles of snow. What a strange year. Northern California has left an impression on me…mostly in the form of mosquito bites.

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Coming up on Terminal Geyser 

Lassen is amazing. I walked down a side trail to “Terminal Geyser,” which boiled the cold water coming into it and everything running out of it was soup-cooking water. I also saw a boiling lake.

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Terminal Geyser 

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The steamy creek flowing out of Terminal Geyser 

I saw several deer and a fawn, which I was really excited about because I have never seen one in nature. The whole day felt like vacation. To top off vacation mode, I stopped at Drakesbad Guest Ranch for lunch and chatted with a hiker I camped with the night before.

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Another snow plant because I love them so much

A couple other hikers showed up and we all hung out. The funny thing about this place is that they are hiker-friendly, but they make it perfectly clear that the other guests come first.

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Boiling Lake 

I understand this. The other guests pay a lot of money to stay there. We get everything half price. I imagine if the other guests knew this, they would be upset. So the place keeps us separate from the guests. I felt like the hired help and it made me laugh the whole time. We couldn’t eat until the guests were done, we couldn’t shower in same showers the guests use, and we could use the pool only when the guests were at dinner. It was hilarious.

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A deer 15 feet from me. 

One guy got pretty upset about it, but that’s just the way it is. If we paid full price, we’d get full price treatment. Honestly, I was happy as a clam in my podunk, outdoor shower. I was really excited to have the pool all to myself which was neat because it was heated by geothermal energy beneath the ground (something something…my brother would know). The pool was kept at a comfortable temperature by the ice-cold stream water flowing into it (which is why the water is a bit brown). I came back to the table in such a good mood, they started calling me “Pool Maiden.” Trail name? I haven’t decided yet.

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A tiny fawn, 12 feet from me, running after momma. The first I’ve ever seen. 

I guess my experience there goes back to the issue of perspective. If you choose to be upset about the way things are done, of course you’ll have a bad time. But if you take it as it comes and enjoy the moment, you’ll me much better off. I slept amazing that night. Which is great, because the next day was the difficult day of obstacles.

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Boardwalk to Drakesbad 

I am now at a strange little store with camping out back. It wasn’t good enough for other people, but the grass is maintained, there’s privacy fences, running water, and a flush toilet. What else do you need? Michelle, the woman who helped me out after hours was also really sweet and showed me around. I’m happily sitting on a bench by the road, using their internet and outlets.

I’m not sure what the trail will bring next, I’m hoping this is the end of my skipping around. I hope the snow is over, but I also hope the heat isn’t atrocious. For now, I am content treating this like a vacation. Tomorrow, I will go through a lava cave!

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The shower stall around the back of the bath house.

 

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One of many tree/snow disasters on the trail 

 

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River Crossings with Lazarus 

 

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Can you find the trail? The deer did. 

 

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Determined little fungi 

 

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Lower Twin Lake in Lassen. Was so close to jumping in. I should have…



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Camping with Double and Lazarus at the end of a long day 



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Final pic of Lassen before moving on to Shasta. 






























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Tahoe Detour

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Looking east across Lake Tahoe

When my parents dropped me off on the bike path, I was pretty sad. I maybe did 6 miles of walking that day and spent most of my time calling friends to tell them I am alive since I had gone so long without service. I luckily only had to do a half mile of road-walking since the bike path was so long. I came upon a campground and was excited to see $7 hiker rates. Woot! I talked on the phone all evening with friends so that I went to sleep, feeling great.

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26 sightings at one campground in one week 

I almost forgot about bear problems in the area, even though I secretly wanted to see one because the rangers fill out a bear card for you. I want a bear card. The next day was the most spectacular scene off the trail. I followed a path that went beside the lake. I could have easily been walking in Switzerland for how gorgeous it was.

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The PCT is up there

Clear, turquoise waters, flowing creeks, lush greenery, and raging waterfalls. I would have been sad to miss it. The locals say this is the most water they’ve ever seen at Eagle Falls. My heart was soaring, it was so amazing.

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Beautiful aspen grove

The people were wonderful, too. First thing in the morning, I talked to a ranger who teared up when I told her what I’m doing. She wanted to shake my hand, and told me I’m an inspiration. I met two different mothers who were inspired by my hike, one of them plans to backpack in the near future.

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View of Tahoe 

I talked to a dad hiking with his daughter who told me I was his hero for going out and doing this alone. It was really sweet. It went on like this for most of the day. I stopped and talked to one dad-and-daughter duo for at least 20 minutes because they were so excited to hear my stories.

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First Glimpse of Emerald Bay 

It was a good day. A beautiful day. I also did only 6 miles and found another campground with hiker rates.

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Emerald Bay with a small glimpse of Eagle Falls 

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The lower part of Lower Eagle Falls 

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This waterfall was massive. You can see a tiny glimpse of the upper falls in the top right corner. I had to clean my lens in between shots because of the mist.

The next day was road-walking all day. And goodness, people drive fast. The heat and the humidity was getting to me. I met a couple hikers who were telling me conditions of where I was going next, and it is still deep snow.

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Emerald Bay

I heard it from another hiker too. So I found a convenience store, bought an 8% beer, sat on a rock, and thought about what to do next.

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The woman I talked to for 20 minutes loved this shot so much, she said I needed to have it. 

I made the decision to jump again, so I called a friend who planned on skipping up there, and he came to pick me up the next day.

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Perfect waters just past Emerald Bay

We enjoyed the last of Tahoe with some margaritas, then were on our way. He still had things to do at home, so he dropped me off in Chester, near Lassen. In Lassen? More adventures.

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A wild storm passing through on my last evening in Tahoe

 

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Ending Tahoe with a Margarita

 

Gettin’ in the Groove

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Storm brewing over the Sierras

It has been an eventful and awesome week or two. I now have a signal for a quick moment to tell you about it. I am officially out of Southern California!

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First Sunset in the Sierras

I started my hike at Walker Pass and it was an immediate and unrelenting climb for the day. I was nervous camping alone because I was reading about bear problems in the area. Luckily, each night, I’ve been able to camp with someone. The water sources here taste infinitely better than in Southern California. The weather is more intense, though.

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Beginning the Climb from Walker Pass

I haven’t been feeling all that well, and of course I’m worried that it’s giardia or something equally unpleasant. On my absolute worst day feeling sick, I was about to make another 1000 ft climb in the afternoon but I couldn’t get my body to do it. Whatever the sickness was, sapped my energy and made me nauseated. The wind was insane and I was about to camp for the night. One of the hikers, stopped to talk to me and then was nice enough to come back and check on me once I set up camp. Between the sickness, exhaustion, and wind, I was going to have a panic attack. And I did. Not my proudest moment on the trail.

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Celebrating with an Eclair Cake 

The next day, I made my way back down the trail, down a hill, across a creek, through some bushes while crawling uphill, then to a small dirt road I had seen the day before. That is where my family met me for my birthday. I turned 31 on Sunday, the 11th, and my whole family showed up to celebrate! It was awesome! I just wish I were feeling better. My mom made me the best cake ever and I blew out candles in the tent. My parents got me a new cell phone (that I’m way too excited about) so that I’m able to update my blog and everything else, they also got me new trekking poles.

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Fancy Waters

My brother cracked me up by buying every type of fancy water on the shelf. Other hikers kept commenting on them which made me smile more. He also got me fancy hiking shoes.

That weekend, we were able to get solid answers from a very helpful and wonderful ranger about the snow and water conditions in the Sierras. It isn’t looking good. So my parents met me again to drive me farther. Another section I will have to complete later. I’m a hiker, not a mountaineer, and I don’t possess the skills necessary to do the high Sierras right now. What really worries me are the dangerous river crossings.

When my family left, I bonded with a few other hikers around a fire then went to bed. The next day was more climbing, followed by an incredible view of several of the stow-covered peaks of the Sierras, followed by 5 miles of downhill. Everything was absolutely gorgeous. On the way down, I ran into Scott, the hiker that checked on me a few days earlier, and we hiked together to the next water source, where we were both planning on camping. Other hikers had the same idea and soon, several of us were sitting in a round, eating dinner.

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Bear Just Before Kennedy Meadows

One hiker walked away to do something and we all heard him casually say, “Oh hey, bear.” We all thought he was talking to a friend or just messing with us until he said, “No, really. There’s a bear over there and I think he’s stealing someone’s food.” We all jumped up to see. I got a blurry picture of the bear running off with a food bag. There were 6-8 of us and the guys were all shouting and trying to scare him off. It didn’t work. The bear gave a “yeah, right” look, sat down on the other side of the creek (about 40-50 feet from my tent) and happily ate until morning. “Double,” the hiker whose bag was stolen, was distraught so we all gave him food, but he stored the food in my and Scott’s bear canisters. Several of the other hikers continued on, not wanting to be bear meat, but 4 of us stayed and diligently went through our packs to rid them of anything scented. I slept surprisingly well.

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700 Mark. This was 500 miles for me.

The 4 of us ate breakfast and made the shortish walk to the Kennedy Meadows General Store. When we arrived, all the other hikers clapped and cheered. This is one of my favorite customs of the trail. At this store, everyone claps for hikers that walk up, because it means you officially made it through the desert portion of the trail. For me, it meant I completed 500 miles! I’ve been waiting over a year for that moment. We celebrated by going out to dinner and eating more than was necessary or smart. I didn’t need breakfast or lunch the next day.

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South Fork Kern River After Kennedy Meadows

The majority of people hit Kennedy Meadows and quit before the Sierras, others are jumping ship to flip flop (start farther up the trail and come back when the rivers aren’t so dangerous), and the minority (tough Europeans) are going to try to traverse the Sierras. I am a flip-flopper. But I did do the 4000+ foot climb up to Cottonwood Pass, and I was glad I did.

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Gorgeous Meadow at 8,000 ft 

The 45 miles from Kennedy Meadows was exactly the reason I wanted to do this trail. Where every moment is inspiring. I got to the top of a pass, and the trees opened up into an enormous meadow surrounded by tree-covered mountains. Streams and rivers cut through the meadow, fed by the snow on the top of the hills. It was a perfect scene. It was a perfect day.

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Another View of the Meadow 

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Steel Bridge over Kern

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Kern River

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Perfect Platform for my Tent 

The next two days were filled with streams, rivers, snow, marmots, deer, grouse, wildflowers of every shape and color. I was practically floating, I was so happy. Then I came upon a “though European.” He told me he was quitting. I asked why. He told me he went to the top of the peak I was climbing, took pictures, and turned around. He replied, “One peak? Okay. Two peak? Eh. Okay. Three peak? Pfff. Snow, too much.” I told him I’m going around and lot of hikers are too. He said, “This I know. My feet are walking, but my mind, not. I have longing for home.” I completely understood. We wished each other luck on our journeys.

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Showing off my lovely legs at the end of the day

An hour later, at 10,000 feet, I was walking over piles of snow, some 8 feet deep. I postholed (fell through the snow) and banged my knee hard against the edge of a log. I cursed more in that moment than I did the entire previous two weeks, and hobbled my way out and over to a rock to assess the damage. I’m going to live. Just bruised and really stiff every time I start moving again.

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Green Hills Next to Spring

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Mountain Spring

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Being Stared Down by a Yellow Belly Marmot

My parents met me on the trail and we took adorable backpacking selfies after camping. I was glad they got to see how amazing it is up here. And I’m glad we got to do something fun for Father’s Day.

We hiked back to the car, up hills, through meadows, taking shoes off and crossing flowing creeks. Then we talked to another ranger about where to start and they suggested Tahoe. So here I am at lovely South Lake Tahoe. I’m glad we jumped off the trail when we did. A huge storm brewed in the afternoon and we would have been stuck in it. Upon being here, we talked to another ranger that said the trail is still too difficult. I am now just going to follow trails along the lake so I can at least make miles adjacent to the PCT.

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Walking through snow at 10,000 feet

Parting with my parents was tough because this was the last time I will see them until August when they come up to Oregon for the eclipse. I was feeling pretty down, but I’m feeling excited and nervous about tackling this on my own. The adventure continues.

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Backpacking Selfie 

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Dad carrying our little, old dog 

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Crossing Slimy Creeks

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Horseshoe Meadows and Cottonwood Pass

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The first time I’ve seen snow on the Sierras from Hwy 395 in summer 

Adventures and Misadventures

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The Sierras of Southern California

I saw a cartoon strip on Pinterest where a zombie was pictured smiling up at a red balloon in his hand. In the next scene, the zombie was sad as his arm had ripped off and was floating away with the balloon. At the bottom was the caption, “Happiness is fleeting.” I laughed and laughed, then took a screenshot and continue to laugh each time I see it. But isn’t it the truth? A few days ago was the longest and hardest (or possibly a close second) climb I’ve done. It took hours upon hours to do a 2,400 elevation gain. It very nearly defeated me. As I hobbled my way over the crest and could, alas, see the canyon on the other side, I raised my trekking poles to the sky in triumph. I did it! I conquered that mountain! I was smiling to myself as I made my way down the other side for no more than 5 minutes when a spindly man in his early 70’s, wearing a full backpack, jogged past me. He wasn’t even sweating. As I stared at his skinny little legs kicking dust at me as he passed, my face settled back into a frown. Happiness is fleeting.

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Ending the day with a cold evening and a great view

It has been a challenging week or two to say the least, but I have had a lot of moments of feeling good. I have climbed mountains, sometimes more than once. I have been frustrated and exhausted. I have also spent quality time with my family. Last week was the end of my slackpacking (leaving my pack at home and being picked up each night). My mom walked with me out of Wrightwood and we had fun walking to Devil’s Punchbowl where my dad barbecued tri-tip for dinner. Hiking out of there was the most difficult, and I apparently was the only one who chose that detour around an endangered species closure. No one was around, water was scarce, and the bugs were relentless. Even the ladybugs bit! Back on the mountain was gorgeous and there was wonderfully cold, flowing water. It was like snow melted straight into my mouth.

From there, it was a huge fire area. I stopped at the Mill Creek Fire Station and met several awesome people moving at my pace and feeling somewhat discouraged. We all vented and had a little therapy session. My brother, Brent, met me there on Friday and we hiked the next day.

Now, I must preface this story by telling you that Darlings are notorious for adventures… or misadventures. Trips with us tend to be exhausting, because things just have a tendency to go awry. Our hike was supposed to be an easy 12 miles to a campground where our parents would meet us with our stuff. Naturally, we left all but food and water in my brother’s car with the assumption that our plan would work out. It was a hot day and we were working through our water. Along the way, Brent was realizing the things he left behind, such as lunch, or fuel to cook food later. He ended up cold-cooking his food and it didn’t come out that great. We walked along an abandoned road because the PCT is often an illogical path.

We walked through what was once a conservation camp but is now nothing but untouched, charred remains of buildings where people died. It was unsettling. On the top of the mountain, the only things with much life were the abundant lupines growing in the burn. We looked down at our meeting point and found it to be closed. We were running low on food and water and knew the next water source was another 6 miles away. In contacting our parents, we found that they couldn’t find any roads open to the area, so we made the decision to continue to the water. A couple miles later, we were both out of water. Saving energy, we switched back and forth from trail to road, sometimes having to bushwhack our way. We rested often in the shade until finally making it to the water cache. There was also a cooler of cold sodas for sale. That was the best Sprite I’ve ever had. We talked to our parents again to find the roads were still closed to where we were. It was windy and the sun was going down. If we had our things, we would have camped, but that was all in the car. We were out of food, but did fill up on water. I told a girl I met the day before what was going on and someone at the table donated a couple of Clifbars to us. We were about to do another 8 miles.

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400 mark that someone made out of pinecones

The sun was setting as we tried to get a little rest, but there was no point. We left the comfort of other people and made our way down the mountain with already sore bodies. The trail seemed to go on forever. We stopped on a ridge to eat Clifbars and get out our flashlights. We calculated that we would get there by midnight and continued our journey by the light of our flashlights. We could eventually see lights of the valley below. When we reached the valley floor, we thought we had less than a mile to go. We were wrong. The PCT sent us back up into the hills and we were both angry about it. It was at least another 3 miles. At each parked car below, we flashed our lights until one finally flashed back. We found our parents and made our way to the base of the mountain where dad set up chairs and mom made quesadillas. It was 11:30p.m. when we arrived and we had been hiking since 7:30 that morning. We did 26 miles and we were exhausted and slept right there in the parking lot. All in all, I had a great day bonding with my brother, even if we felt beat-up afterward.

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Top of Mount Gleason with Brent

The next day, mom made burritos and Brent got ready to leave. My parents fed every hiker that passed by, giving them either a burrito or beer. Everyone was really excited. The rest of the day was filled with errands and resupplying. I had a breakdown. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and told my mom about it. We both cried as they left that night.

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Strange flowers

It has come time to make a tough decision. Stay or go? I made it 454 miles to Agua Dulce and the heat was too much for me. I called my mom at the end of another hot day and told her I want to jump (move ahead). Tomorrow, I will be jumping 200 miles to Walker Pass and will return in fall to complete the section I didn’t do. Of course I would love to do this in order but I underestimated the heat and overestimated my speed. I expected to be past the desert before June, but it didn’t happen. Jumping ahead will mean I’m closer to making my goal date and I won’t die of heat stroke in the desert. Now I will be tackling the extreme snow conditions in the Sierras. This has been the biggest snow year since 2011. Some places are impassable right now. Some places that are usually tiny creeks are now raging rivers. The adventure continues… just farther up the road.

Controlling My Thoughts

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White Pelicans Landing in Big Bear Lake

Much of my day is controlled by my mindset. If I let one bad thought in, it can ruin my whole day. It has been such a long week, my thoughts tend to be negative. I let myself stew about that one sideways glance that other hiker gave me. Or linger on the fact that someone didn’t say hello. Out here, there are a lot of great people, but there are also those who are petty and judgmental. The petty ones are very judgmental of day hikers, which they all thought I was without my huge pack.

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Reflecting on Where I’ve Been

There is a lot of time to think, and that isn’t always a good thing. I’ve come to notice that my mind veers toward negative thoughts because they seem the easiest to dwell on. Perhaps my mind is looking for easy to make up for everything else being so hard.

It has been an eventful couple of weeks. I’ve been “slackpacking” (walking without the burden of my pack and having my parents pick me up every night) for a couple of weeks as I go through our mountain range. Now that I’m making my way up into my 4th mountain, I’ll soon be on my own again. But I’ve been making better time, doing 12-14 miles per day, up from the 7-8 miles I was doing in the beginning. I can feel myself very slowly getting stronger. Now, I only hurt a lot instead feeling like my limbs are trying to rip from my body. Progress.

I was really sad at the beginning of the week as I was still thinking of my poor dog being bit by the snake. And I was walking through the part that she loves because there is a lot of water to play in. I was dwelling on that when a hiker came in the opposite direction and gave me three little caramels. It was enough to perk me up for a while until the heat set it.

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Walking Through Big Bear

The heat on Monday and Tuesday was atrocious. I passed the 300 mark and walked a little more to meet my dad on a Jeep trail. Being so exhausted, I didn’t think about my phone being in my pocket as I was getting on the back of a motorcycle. Of course it fell out and then was run over by the hummer behind us. Brilliant.

Walking along Deep Creek was gorgeous. There is so much to see and so many swimming holes I’d like to visit when I’m done with this hike. There were even wild burros, and I had no idea they even lived in the area. I soaked my tired feet in the ice cold stream flowing into Deep Creek, then filtered a liter to drink. I went through 5 liters that day and still ran out. I fell asleep in the shade, just past the hot springs, with my feet in the water. It seems that every time I sat down that day, the heat put me right to sleep. I was deeply nauseated by the end of my 14.3-mile day that at one point, I bent at the waist an prepared to vomit. It didn’t happen, but it was that close. The cruel thing about walking along Deep Creek is that you’re right next to the water, but it’s down a 100-foot cliff. I never had it in me to find a way down.

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300 Miles!

I made my way past Silverwood Lake, down to the 15 freeway, then on my way up into the next mountain, I ran into Reed and Nicole (the ones who helped carry Morrigan to the road)! I gave them both big hugs and was so excited to see them, it absolutely made my day. Apparently Reed got heat exhaustion on the same day I did, but he actually did vomit. They hitched a ride into the mountains and were now doing that section backwards so he could recover. We were all excited that it had been cool ever since.

I am tired but I’m pushing forward. I haven’t mastered my thoughts but I’m working on it. I am climbing another mountain and feeling proud of myself. My mom was thinking about it on the way home the other day and said, “When you’re done with this thing, you’re either going to be in really great shape or dead.” I laughed for a full minute. Yes.

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My Cup Runneth Over (A Mother’s Day Tale)

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Beautiful morning after a nightmare evening

This is going to be a long one.

The trail is tough. I don’t care how the robots are doing, completely unfazed by a climb. I am a real person. One who has never been athletic in my entire life. I am doing this hike at my own pace, because I don’t intend to die on this trail. Also, I don’t want to hate the trail, which is kind of how I felt on this stretch. When I tell other hikers that I do 8-11 miles per day, they all feel the need to comment on how I’m taking it slow. For a while, that comment upset me. I’m not taking it slow. I’m just not a robot. Therefore, I’m going at human speeds. I listen to my body when it’s in pain and I go at MY speed. Eventually I’ll get faster, but it’s no one’s business but mine.

That being said, I did 14 miles yesterday. 14! On the hardest part of the trail so far. I climbed a mountain and did 7,000 feet in elevation gain. The past few days have been interesting. There was more desert, lots of heat, but happily, there was water this time. I hiked with people for the first time and I could almost keep up with them. Almost.

I met some great trail angels who devote half of their year to helping us out. It’s so awesome to even have someone willing to drive you to or from the trail, and having the ones at home figuring out where you are and where you should be. I am lucky to have the best trail angels of all in my life. I’ll get to that story in a bit. It’s just so great to be walking all day in the heat and have a total stranger be there at your stopping point for the day who just wants to make you a heaping plate of spaghetti. Or even ones who set up a water fountain in the middle of nowhere for you. Or the ones who let you hang out in their break room and help yourself to the Gatorade and cushy chairs. There are great people out there and they understand what we are putting ourselves through on the trail. No one understands more than my parents.

Let me tell you a story. It’s a little long, but an important lesson. Yesterday I walked from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. I stopped for a siesta in the afternoon then began my assent up to Onyx Summit. It was hell. This section has been difficult. A lot of up and down in an intense way. Walking through areas filled with mud. Dry areas without water. Then, of course, mountains. This is the steepest part of the trail, and once you start, you can’t stop to camp because it’s just a cliff the whole way. Once it levels out, you can’t camp because it’s a burn area. I pushed and pushed myself. There were many steps made out of rocks, but these weren’t steps for normal people. If I were 2 feet taller, I might be okay with these steps. Toward the end of the day I was getting to the point where my body was shutting down. I know I needed to get through the burn area and I desperately wanted to be home with my family. I didn’t have a cell signal, so I sent my family a message from my spot tracker with my location. I was trying to make it to Heart Bar because it was a dirt road where I have been before with my family. I sent another message saying that is where I was going because it said on my map that the PCT connected to a 4×4 road that lead there (this is the first time Half Mile maps failed me in a major way). It was dark at this point.

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White Water Preserve

Anyone who knows me, knows that I hate being outside alone at night. God knows I’m trying to conquer that fear, but I’m just not there yet. I set off with my cellphone light, thinking it would be a quick walk to the road and I wouldn’t​ use up much battery. There wasn’t a road! I kept going, kept searching. Pushing forward on only adrenaline because I was starting to freak out. I kept checking the maps and checking the location on my GPS. It should have been there, but there was no road to be found. I kept going. I was starting to worry about my cell battery, so I switched to the only flashlight I had, my taser (thanks Rob). I didn’t carry a headlamp or anything because I hate the dark and was always snug in my tent before sundown.

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Thick, shoe-stealing mud

I wasn’t getting replies from my parents. I didn’t even know if they were in the area. I was just trying to find that damn road that wasn’t there. Eventually, messages came through at 9:30 p.m. I sent my coordinates of where I was. My parents were looking for me but we had no idea how to find each other. At 10 p.m. I saw a tent. When you are alone for several hours and are freaking out, it is a warm feeling to see another hiker. Even if you only see their tent. I stopped there to look at the maps and the GPS. It said I passed it! But how?! I started crying for probably the 5th time that evening.DSC02020

I was freezing and the wind was relentless. My hands were shaking and I could not warm up because everything I was wearing, including my jacket, was soaked with sweat. I texted them that I needed to set up camp or I’d freeze. They said they would keep looking, but I texted them to go home and we’d figure it out in the morning. I didn’t know that they never got that message.

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The steep climb

I set up my tent, changed into dry clothes, opened up several hand-warmers (not a luxury now), and tried to get warm. I was shaking uncontrollably for the next three hours. Hour 4, I was finally warm but couldn’t sleep because the wind was trying its best to tear through my tent. My cell phone was dead, and I kept the tracker next to me in the sleeping bag in case there was word from my parents.

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Walking through the burn area

Morning came and I packed up. I was ready to leave that mountain in the past. I walked a mile and got a message from my parents, asking how I was doing. I told them where I was and which road I was turning on. Within 20 minutes, I heard their truck even before I saw them. When they pulled up, my mom and I both cried. I didn’t know that their night was worse than mine.

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Fog rolling in was the last thing I could see

They had gone to the original place I sent a message from but the road was closed, so they had to walk to get there. Then they backtracked on the trail because the GPS coordinates made it look like I was down the canyon I had come up earlier that day. They didn’t have shelter or anything to keep them warm. They walked all night trying to find me just because I sounded sad. Eighteen miles is what their phones said they did. My mom hurt her knee and my dad’s leg was hurting. They tried to lay down to sleep because they were so tired, but it was too cold. I thought it was in the 40’s, but looking at the weather now, it was 31°F. So they kept walking. They got back to the truck at 9 a.m. and that’s when I got their message.

We agreed that if this happens again, they are to go home and I’ll figure it out until morning. Even though I’m alone, I have all of my emergency stuff. They didn’t. I wouldn’t have died that night, but they could have. We will never let this happen again.

This year for Mother’s Day, we all laid around the house, groaning painfully any time we had to stand up. And when we finally did, we went to REI and bought new hiking shoes. I have the best parents in the world.

Sand to Snow

DSC01698Trail life is like an alternate reality. You know everyone on the trail even when you’ve never met before. People you’ve been leap frogging with for days, you find out went to your highschool. Hikers are all from different backgrounds, different times, and have such different stories. Yet, we all relate to each other.

Yesterday, on my zero day, I bounced around between 3 very different groups of people. The one thing we have in common is this trail. And perhaps having a good time. I’ve met people who were pure, people who do drugs, people with illnesses, people without families. It is both amazing and heartbreaking. To hear their stories and feel where they’re coming from. I am humbled and I know my struggles are nothing. I have lived a charmed life. When someone you meet is counting down the days ’til he dies from an illness and wanted to do this trail against his doctor’s orders, it puts everything into perspective (I hope he never reads this or he’ll be embarrassed). If this guy can do this without a loving family by his side, without close friends cheering him on, with a pace-maker dictating his every move at the age of 27, then anyone can. No one has any excuses to do anything.

On a lighter note, the hiker site next to us was having a Cinco De Mayo sangria party and everyone was welcome. We were from several different countries, but bound together by good music, good food, good drinks, and good company. Drunk singing of “play that funky music, white boy,” will forever be engrained in my memory. It helped everyone to (temporarily) forget about our endeavors.

I know I have felt alone and have struggled through this, but the past few days have changed how I’m looking at it. I have it easy, and my biggest challenge is still between my ears, but other’s struggles are real and tangible. I’m going to work on my mind and be more open to everything and everyone around me.

It has been a strange and wonderful week. Starting off in the desert, running out of water continuously. Meeting with 25 other hikers at a cafe, seeing everyone is hurting as much as I am. Then being in the mountains with beautiful shade trees and hanging out with people for several days. It was warm enough in the mountains that I was able to wear a tank top. Two days later, when my family arrived, it was snowing. We were spoiled in my parents’ mansion-tent, complete with electric heater (and my friend had this image of roughing it this weekend). After the snow-filled weekend, I made my way back down the mountain. My toes hurt.

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Reaching mile 200