Thursday, July 31, 2008

My aching feet

I can't believe how much my feet still hurt. They are sore at the bottom of my heels and they have some kind of structural pain under the joints at the place where my 3rd and 4th toes end under the ball of my foot. It's like those joints grind against the ground as I walk. My feet are also just generally numb and meaty-feeling.

I have a closet full of shoes that no longer fit. I can still wear my Birkenstocks but my toes go all the way to the end now. They need repair, too, so I didn't want to wear them. I can wear my Chacos, but they are a little on the small side now and not very cushioned. I wonder if the manufacturer would re-strap them with extra long webbing. The volume and chunkiness of my feet have also increased.

Lacking anything else, this morning I put on my evil hiking shoes and walked to the Daily Grind. I can't believe the incredible pain they caused me just doing this 3 mile walk. I think my shoes did me in and not the daily marathons on the trail. I probably could have been hiking along the trail not wondering if I should quit but with a conviction I should continue to Washington had I had shoes that fit better. But what's done is done.

I have such bad luck with shoes. I have feet that just don't fit anybody's shoe patterns. I think Keen are the shoes with the widest toe-box I've ever seen, so I went downtown and tried on shoes. I found some interesting Keen shoes that seemed really cushioned, but they had none in a size to fit me. I ended up buying some of those sandal/shoes that everybody has. I guess nobody likes the red ones because they had a big stack of them in red at a deeper discount than all the other colors. The sandal/shoes seem more supportive than the Teva versions I have that give me inexplicable spasms and are way too thin to allow me to set the kickstand on my Vespa without agonizing pain. I hope they work out while my feet recover.

I left for the hike with ladies size 8s in my closet. The Keens are size 10.5.

I've been off the trail almost a week now and my feet are still the center of my universe.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Few ever write about their experiences after the hike, so I figured I would try to do that, at least while it still seems like "after the hike". I had expected re-entry to have some challenges and had looked online for information all during my preparations and even during the hike, but found very little. I probably won't have any answers either, but at least I can share my own thoughts and experiences.

What's next?

I have returned from the hike after having quit my job before I left. I didn't take a leave of absence. I quit. So I have no slot to fill and am not sure what to do next. I think this puts me in a scary place. But it's really not unlike standing at the terminus at the border with Mexico and considering the immense weight of the unknowable thousands of miles ahead.

I had hoped to form some kind of answer to the question of "what next" during the hike, but really honestly I didn't believe one would come to me during the hike. After all, I've never had an answer to that question at any other time in my life, and I'm not so young and naive to believe that who I am could be fundamentally changed just by taking a long walk. No answer to the question came to me, just as I suspected. As a result, I feel a little like I'm floating over a chasm.

In fact, if anything, the hike only took all my faults and all my good qualities that I knew I already had and held them up in front of me to say "see, this IS who you are and there's not a whole lot you can do about it so you might as well learn how to either use what you have or work around it."

I remember at Warner Springs that I overheard a conversation between a young man who was quitting his hike and his family that had come to pick him up. He complained that the hiking was hard and that it wasn't doing anything to help him find himself. I never did this hike to "find myself". I actually did this hike to become myself, which is different. The trail has been calling me for 33 years and I needed to find out what it wanted from me. I still need to find that out. I might have to do this hike again and again until I do.

Has the hike changed me?

I expected the hike to change me a little bit, but as I walked it never really seemed to me like I was any different than before. Now that I home, I'm not so sure about that. I think maybe it did change me a little bit.

For example, there was an earthquake yesterday afternoon. It was mild. The Earth rolled around a little bit for about 5 seconds and then it was over. But the news on television went on and on attempting to spin this 5 seconds of Nature's "wrath" into a Big Story.

They showed the same silly 6 bottles of stuff that had fallen off a shelf somewhere over and over. Sheesh, I knocked over more stuff trying to roll a shopping cart through K-Mart with my big backpack in it. They interviewed people who were completely freaked out. I suspect those people just wanted to see themselves on TV. And most ridiculous of all, they had an expert on that warned us in a serious tone that now we all needed to form back-up plans for loss of cellphone service.

Why do we need that? Seriously. That does not compute for me. I walked for days with no cellphone service and cared not one bit about it. The only time I was sorry I had no cellphone service was when I had to walk the Quincy-La Porte road and couldn't call my mom to come give me a ride. But I walked the road for 5.5 hours, eventually hitchhiked and lived through the inconvenience just fine. The frenetic quest for comfort that imprisons people so thoroughly that they actually believe they need a back-up plan for the loss of something utterly inconsequential to their survival screams at me from every direction now.

Nature will throw stuff at us and most of the time it will only inconvenience us at the worst. Sure I hated the snowfields enough to quit that part of the trail, but honestly the worst they ever did to me was make walking difficult. It was a silly mental challenge I simply didn't live up to. Same with the creeks. It was more mental than physical that they scared me. A back-up plan in case of loss of cellphone service? And you say that as if it's so grave and terrible a threat to our survival that we should all run out and spend some money to protect ourselves from it? Puh-lease.

Scoffing at modern life certainly was something I did before the hike, but the hike has made modern life seem infinitely more ridiculous to me now. I have changed simply by being even less tolerant of its silly ways and more confident and comfortable out in Nature. I often told Tony that the trail is where real life is happening. I always felt like so much more happened every day out there than ever happened at home. And the irony was that I was doing so much less.

Alienation from society

Last night I was reading Ray Jardine's PCT book. He always struck me as somewhat of a crackpot, but in retrospect he's actually quite right on a lot of issues. Near the back of the book he has a chapter on re-entry. It's closer to crackpotism than most of the rest of the book, but I found that reading it now after being out there he really hits the nail on the head.

He writes that when we return we feel alienated from a "society frenetically in quest of comfort, security, and social status." Those words could not more accurately describe the off-trail world. It's frenetic. The security it chases is illusory. The comfort and social status are mostly irrelevant. Acquiring and hoarding and trying to guard your comfort and security makes you weak and shuts you off from the generosity of the Earth. It's killing the Earth, too.

Today I read in the paper a couple of stories about chemicals. One is that in California there is potential legislation out there to ban BPA. BPA is a chemical used in plastic. It accumulates in the environment and causes estrogenic effects in living creatures all along the food chain. In other words, the chemical harms living beings' ability to reproduce. The chemical industry says this chemical is safe. Really? Is it safe to live in a world where living beings cannot reproduce?

Another article was about two other chemicals used in food packaging that may be banned because they accumulate in human bodies and that 100% of children tested have this chemical in their bodies. The chemical industry says there is no proof that the chemical gets into "the environment" (they were careful not to say "our bodies") from food packaging. I believe that people in modern society have the ability to read a sentence like this and nod their heads in agreement, thinking to themselves that yes, we should find out how it really gets into the environment before we rush to judgment. But after 3 months without brainwashing, I can only say to myself that if the chemical is in the packaging then right there that's how it gets into "the environment". In fact, if the chemical exists at all it's already in the environment.

By the way, I recognize the irony that much of my successful hiking was dependent upon gear that has been created with all sorts of plastic and chemicals and things that are nasty to the Earth. Most of it was made in China, too, where companies go to avoid environmental laws. I benefited from this, even depended upon it. But as I slowly traversed the State of California, picking up little bits of plastic candy wrapper, shaking me head at piles of used toilet paper, shedding tears watching birds try to make a living in polluted water, it really hit me: We are all downstream. There is no "away" for things to be thrown. We must change our ways.

We probably won't change, however, as we destroy the Earth that sustains us with our frenetic stockpiling of comfort and security. Ray is probably correct that those who "know how to bend and flex to Nature's ways are far more likely to survive" the inevitable collapse of our unsustainable ways.

Warning: some Jesus-freakism coming your way

Ray even goes on a ramble about Jesus. I'm not a religious person by any means, and generally I scorn most of it these days, but I recall as I walked along that I thought about how Jesus was quite right when he said to look at the birds, how they don't worry about how they will be clothed and fed, that God takes care of their needs.

Before the hike I worried constantly if I would have enough things with me to be warm and comfortable? During the hike I sent more and more things home. I wore the clothes I needed and carried no extras. I fixed the things that broke. I received and gave help to my fellow travelers when we were in need. I left the trail to refill the things that ran out. Anything I didn't have that I suddenly needed I learned I could actually do without or improvise a solution for. Magically, purses and trains appeared when I needed to use them most. Providence cared for me as much as it did for the birds.

Next steps

Now I must begin another journey down an unknown trail and hope that I can find my way, survive the challenges and make enough money to get by.

The first step is to heal my broken feet. I believe now that it was my shoes and not the miles that broke them. I've got to get some new shoes. All my old ones are way too small now.

Next step is to get involved in my community. I have some time and a little money left over. I think I can best figure out what to do next by sampling more of what's out there. Also, I learned by watching my friend Gary on the trail that you get more by putting yourself out there more. He received more trail magic than anybody I ever saw and he did it, it seemed, simply by talking to people. He'd introduce himself, say he was hiking the PCT and was in need of something and he'd be given that something and then offered even more. He got offered a job that way, he got to use computers for free that way, he got rides that way and all-he-could-eat food that way. I need to get out there more.

A few things I'd like to do

I'd like to rid the world of litter, plant and care for trees and spend more time in Nature. I want to spend more time on my music, too, even though that will never be anything more than a way to enhance my leisure time. I want to maintain my weight loss, eat more fruit, shop at the co-op more often, ride my bicycle, take care of birds, pick up more hitchhikers (as long as they look safe) and have more compassion for people who do not fit in to modern life. I want to get rid of all this crap I have. I don't need it. If I travel lighter through life I'll probably be as happy as I was when my pack was so light just before a resupply.

Sorry this was so long. It's what I've been thinking about these first two days home. Soon my tears will dry. Soon the vividness of the trail will wear off. Soon I will be normal again. Or will I?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hiked my own hike

Here are my latest posts on my hike of the PCT. As you can see, I'm home now and faced with a closet full of little tiny shoes I can no longer wear. I'm also faced with joblessness. What does one do after such an amazing adventure? I have no answer to that, except perhaps to have a garage sale with some great deals on slightly used shoes.

Here they are in chronological order as the hike came to its conclusion.
Here's the last of my pictures:

Dunsmuir, and then home

I got a relatively late start in the morning of July 27, not even rising until 6AM. But I was on the trail by 6:30, munching as I walked rather than making breakfast in my tent.

I could hear I-5 and the trains all night long, but my little camp on the first of many switchbacks had been a pleasant spot. I had tried to savor it, to burn into my memory how it feels to live like this, walking within and sleeping in a different, beautiful place every day.

I aimed for Dunsmuir rather than closer Castella. I figured Dunsmuir would have the most services and somehow I just knew there would be an Amtrak station there.

The trail switchbacked unmercifully, making slow progress down to the Sacramento River. I could barely see the crags of Castle Crags State Park through the smoke. I realized that from now on the smell of wildfires would probably always bring back memories of the PCT. My feet felt pretty good for the first few miles but soon the shooting, stinging pains came back.

When I finally reached civilization, I turned at the railroad tracks and began the 4 mile walk to Dunsmuir. I got lost trying to take a road, taking it in the wrong direction. I saw a man preparing to get started on his own PCT hike, starting from Dunsmuir. I talked to him briefly. It turned out Dunsmuir was as far as he got when he hiked the PCT the first time and now he was returning to continue. Just like me someday, I thought.

They pointed me in the right direction and I hiked onward down the road. I finally reached central Dunsmuir which was filled with mostly art and antique shops. I tried to find a hotel, but the only one I found was a residential hotel, not one for travelers. I was disappointed.

I stopped at a drive-through coffee place and ordered a coffee and scone. Across the street there was a sign pointing to the Amtrak station. I was starting to feel a little psychic. How did I know? Why was this so easy?

While I rested some local people came by and I asked them for a recommendation for a place to stay that had laundry. They recommended Cave Springs Resort just up the road. So I walked there.

Cave Springs was sort of a cross between a vacation spot and a trailer park. I got a little cabin without TV or a phone, kind of like Warner Springs on a budget. I showered, did my laundry, swam in the hotel pool and soaked in the jacuzzi. I called Amtrak and made my reservation. The trail was due to arrive in a few hours at 12:30 in the morning. The owner of the hotel and a lady in the jacuzzi both said the train never comes until at least 3:30 in the morning. I thought about how I would arrive home and surprise Tony.

While at the hotel I saw Heading Out arrive. I spoke to him briefly and told him I had decided to go home because I felt I'd completed my goal and worried that I was ruining my feet. He said he was disappointed to hear that, that it had been nice to meet me, even if I went too fast to keep up. I laughed at that comment because he had arrived only a few hours after me. The linear community of the trail does this to people, makes them feel like they're in some kind of race, and separates friends permanently sometimes with as little as only 20 minutes of distance between them.

I told him if anybody asked, let them know I went home. I said good-bye to Heading Out, and in the process to the trail, too.

All afternoon I considered my accomplishment. 1500 miles. I'm proud of what I've done. I cried thinking about it, this time not tears of sadness over failure, but of pride and sorrow at the completion of a life-long dream, and fear about how to answer the question I never could find an answer to in all these 1500 miles: What next?

I spent much of the rest of the evening trying to heal my feet in the jacuzzi. I still had the night hike to the train station to do. The nice lady at the jacuzzi, who said she comes to Cave Springs every year, said I should go to sleep in my cabin with the alarm set for an hour before the train was due to leave. I could call their 1-800 number to find out when the train is due. I should keep checking until the train was close enough to justify leaving my cabin. So that's what I did. The train was indeed 3 hours late.

At 2AM I got up and took one last shower, put on my backpack and grabbed my "carry on" purse that I had found in the street. Amtrak said passengers could take two carry ons and a purse and so I had gone back to central Dunsmuir earlier in the day to see if I could buy a small day pack so I wouldn't be separated from the things I might need once I checked in my backpack as luggage. Miraculously I found a bag of big, ugly purses on the sidewalk and took one to use. It saved me having to walk all the way back to central Dunsmuir.

I managed to find the train station in the dark of night and was surprised how many people were waiting for the train. None were hikers. Neither was I anymore. Time to become a regular person again.

As the train rolled through the forest and then into the Central Valley, I watched different types of life out the window. Poor people, homeless campsites, crack addicts smoking on a discarded couch, cyclists going to work, middle class houses springing up on farm land, orchards, business men on cell phones. I thought about what to do next. I just can't get fired up about modern life anymore, the competition, working all day sitting in a dark room under fluorescent lights. It does not appeal to me at all. Can I do anything outdoors or with plants? Can I live on less money? Can I start over yet again? It's all I ever do it seems.

I lived for 3 months in sunshine, outside in the environment. It was a quiet, simple, friendly world filled with the most amazing and wonderful people, both on and off the trail. People everywhere are generally so good and so helpful. Modern life skews perception and makes people think everyone is a threat. I can't believe the profoundly amazing wonderfulness of the world. What can I do to keep the trail alive inside me? How can I bring the trail home?

I had no answers as I waited for the train. All I knew is my feet really hurt.

July 28, Home
I was amazed how nice travel by train is. It's better than first class air travel. I didn't have to check in my backpack. It was always available to me downstairs where I left it. I didn't have to be searched or take off my shoes. I didn't have to sit in my seat the whole time. I could walk around, sit in the lounge car and watch the scenery go by the big observation windows. I could eat at a table with real silverware and real food or buy a snack whenever I wanted to.

I met nice people on the train, two of which were volunteers from the Railroad Museum in Goleta. They provided a running commentary on the things we could see out the window as we made progress toward the coast. The train trip was a great way to make a loop out of my adventure and not have to see my hike unravel backwards before my eyes. I even got to see the coast around Point Conception, a place I had never seen in all these years of living here.

Unfortunately I didn't get to surprise Tony because Amtrak had called my home number to tell me earlier they would be late getting in to Dunsmuir and Tony had gotten the call. I had planned to walk home from the train station in Santa Barbara so I could do my final hike of the PCT into my own home, connecting the trail to my house. But my feet hurt so much that didn't seem like a good idea and now it wouldn't be a surprise anyway. So when I arrived in Santa Barbara I called Tony to come pick me up.

I waited on State Street for him to show up and then suddenly there he was. I cried tears of joy to see him and to finally complete my adventure.

We talked about the last few days. He said strange things had happened. The other day he actually heard my voice, and my parrot Fergie had actually heard it too and responded to it. I thought back to the other day when I called Fergie's name out loud on the trail and saw all those bird feathers every day that seemed eerily like a communication from my birds at home. Tony said that he had this strange feeling that my soul had returned home a couple of days ago, even before he was tipped off by the call from Amtrak.

It's strange how life callings happen, I guess, and maybe stranger how they complete themselves. Hiking the PCT has always been a calling of mine, ever since 1975. And now I've done it. I didn't do the whole thing, I didn't hike a hike that you can write a book about, I didn't hike a hike that will impress people with perfect completion of the entire 2650 miles. I hiked my own hike, a stunning achievement that possibly only I can fully appreciate.

And now I'm left hanging. What next? What do I do now? What kind of job do I get? How long until I get one? How do I keep the trail alive inside me? How long until I can get back on the trail and do the rest? If you have an answer for me, let me know.

Until then, see you down the trail. I already miss it. I'm already feeling that urge to get back on. I belong on the trail. That's my home now, too.

Switchback on a prominent ridge

I finally met my goal to hike only 20 miles by hiking only 22 miles today, July 26.

I took a lot of breaks, including taking a nap. This really seemed to help but my feet would hurt shortly after each break. Something was terribly wrong with them, I feared.

I saw a bear in the morning. It turned and ran crashing down the hill as soon as I made eye contact. I'm sure my bug net frightened him. I also saw some deer and lots of fresh bear tracks in the afternoon.

It was very hot again but at least the trail was shady most of the time. The smoke was thick again with a reddish sun. I looked as hard as I could and still could not see Shasta. I could barely even see the next ridge over.

The smoky lack of views got me to thinking again how the fires are taking away some of the highlights I'd really looked forward to. I missed walking through Belden, walking to Chester and my mom's house, seeing Shasta. The next fire closure would have me missing Marble Mountain. That final 3 days I'd have to do to get to Ashland after the next trail closure started to seem really pointless.

The excruciating pains in my feet were getting worse. Shooting pain would appear at random and I would cry out loud and hobble until it dissipated. I began to worry that maybe I was doing permanent damage. What would life be like if I got home and could never hike again?

I started thinking about life at home again. I thought about my parrot, Fergie. I said her name out loud. I felt she heard me.

The trail continued to be a dry ledge on a steep, forested slope all day. Eerily I kept finding bird feathers everywhere of every kind and color. I had hiked nearly 1500 miles searching for bird feathers for my hat, rarely finding any and now I was picking one up every few miles.

I reached a junction with a shortcut trail to the end of Section O. I briefly considered camping there, but it was not really flat and I was swarmed by mosquitos. Where were they coming from? I had seen no water for miles and had been hauling around my gallon of water so I could camp at any available, scarce spot that would fit me. I decided that for sure there had to be a camp site at the first switchback on the non-shortcut trail before the big descent down to the end of the section. I don't know why I was so certain. I just knew it would be there.

And there it was. My campsite. I set up my tent and cooked my dinner. I got into my tent in the stifling heat and ate my noodles one hot bite at a time, resting and sweating in between. Below me I could hear Interstate 5 and the railroad. Suddenly I was aware that at least sometimes those trains had to be Amtrak trains. The past few days I'd been considering how to get home once I completed my hike and Amtrak seemed like the best way. I could imagine myself on the train telling people of my adventure, watching the countryside roll by slowly, taking one of the first invented forms of transportation people used after animals and walking.

As I went to sleep admiring the beauty of the forest and feeling so lucky that I had seen so many beautiful places, that the world was still so full of clean, pristine nature and I had been privileged to live within it for 3 months, I suddenly knew this was my last night on the trail. I cried tears of pride and relief. I'd accomplished 1500 miles of the PCT. I'd accomplished a life-long dream. Now it was time to go home.

Ash Camp

Logging trucks had blared by my campsite all night. I guess they do most of the logging in the stealth of night so nobody can get mad at them. I'm just glad that the efforts of environmentalists slow them down. The forest does grow back, but if they had their way, they'd cut the entire thing down as quick as possible for one big blow-out of short-term profits and executive bonuses.

After I packed up my tent I peered over to where Emily's Dad had set up his tent. He was still inside. He hikes fast so I figured I might see him again before he went home.

As I headed out, I saw fresh bear tracks on the trail and then a botanist who was car camping on the logging road. I talked to the botanist for a while. He said he'd be returning to Ashland later that day. I thought if I was Emily's Dad I'd probably ask him for a ride and figured that if I never saw him again, that would probably be what he'd done. In fact, despite walking very slowly most of that day, I never did see Emily's Dad again.

A few hours down the trail I ran into the young crowd from my dinner and a show last night sitting on a rocky outcrop enjoying the "view." Of course, there was no view, only smoke. Yesterday or the day before I had seen Shasta through the haze. It was so amazingly beautiful even as a faint outline of snow fields and rock against a white sky. I attempted to take a picture but the view was so faint so I had no idea if the camera would even capture it. Seeing Shasta had been one of those dreams I had for the trail. Like walking across the Belden Bridge, fire had robbed me of my dream to see Shasta.

My plan was to do an easy day, no more than 20 miles, so I stopped at the rocky outcrop and rested with the group for a while. There was no more music, but I enjoyed the company.

I set off again at a slow pace on a long, gentle climb around a peak with a lookout tower on top. The reward for my effort was a rather spectacular, vertiginous cliff that lead up to a dirt road. It seemed that Section O has a lot of climbs that lead only to dirt roads and then a descent down to either a creek or another dirt road, then another climb. It all felt rather pointless, but at least this one had a little excitement. The view was murky but I still had to avoid looking so I wouldn't get dizzy.

The next water source would be 14 or 15 miles away. I hoped to get there, get some water and then hike only a little further to a restful camp for my weary feet. The shooting pains were happening even as I walked and I hoped I could soak them and revive them and then hike only a short distance to a campsite. But the trail became very Southern California-like, perched against a steep hillside with the tread leaning outward toward the left foot all day long. There was no place to stop and rest along the way. At least it was shady.

At the water source, Deer Creek, I stopped and washed my feet in the ice cold water. The water made my feet ache but it felt so good to have clean feet again. I stopped there for a long time, ate a candy bar and let them dry.

As I rested, Cuddles arrived. He plays a cello in an orchestra. He came down to the creek, threw off his pack, sat down and asked me pointedly to give him a good reason to continue his hike. I answered that I did not have a good reason why anybody should keep hiking. I was only going to Ashland myself. He thought the whole idea of hiking the entire trail was so arbitrary. Why is one distance somehow more meaningful than another? I responded that personally I only wanted to go part of the way because I didn't want to complete the trail and have the dream die with the completion. I wanted to save some for later. He asked me why Ashland? I said I wanted to say I hiked all of California. He said that 1500 miles, which is what we were all approaching now, is such a nice round number, why not stop there? I didn't have an answer for that. Sure seemed like something was in the air lately making people want to give up.

He apologized for feeling so grumpy. He had been hiking 30 mile days to meet a friend and in order to meet him on time, he'd have to hike more than 30 miles today and he was really hating it. He also said he was thinking of stopping for the night at Ash Camp, which he claimed would be the only place to camp anywhere close to here. That worried me. Ash Camp would put me over the 20 mile mark.

As he rested I packed up my things and continued on, hoping I might find a camp site before Ash Camp. I found one really early on, but felt it was too soon to stop. Perhaps I should have taken it. It turned out there was nothing else all the way to Ash Camp.

Cuddles caught up to me and asked if he could walk behind me for a while. As we hiked and talked the miles went by quickly and I walked faster than I normally would have. It was all down hill and quite painful. At length we finally reached Ash Camp, which was a car camping site next to the McCloud River.

The river was wide and strong. There were fishermen there. I cooked my dinner and ate inside my tent safe from mosquitos. The heat was still stifling. Cuddles camped next to me and apologized in advance that he'd be packing up to leave very early to make up the more than 30 miles he'd need to go to meet his friend. In the waning end of the evening, SlickB, Paradox, Chief and Jarrow came by and finding no more campsites, probably continued a few more miles to Ah-Di-Na campground, which lured them with flushing toilets and running water.

One of the fisherman offered Cuddles and I a beer but I declined after my recent experience with beer. They thought there might be a new fire closure that would force us off the trail at Castella, to bypass all of Sections P and Q. I figured it was only a rumor, but it still got me feeling quite disappointed in how fire was stealing more and more of my dream. If he was right, that would mean after completing Section O I'd have to take a bus all the way around the closure for a rather anticlimactic final 3 days to Ashland. Something about that didn't seem right.

I fell asleep to the thunder of the strong, rushing river and the whine of mosquitos.

Camped in a clear cut next to a logging road

On July 24 I failed at my goal to keep my mileage down so my feet might recover. The failure was due to music.

The hike out of Burney Falls was all up hill and waterless. It continued to be hot, but there were lots of trees to provide shade. I hiked out of the oaky, piney woods into less oaky and more piney, fir-studded forest, some of it amazingly lush.

At lunch time I reached the first water source that you could get to without having to climb any steep and slippery cliffs, which was Peavine Creek. There was a group of hikers just leaving Peavine Creek, including SlickB, Paradox, Chief (who is from Israel) and Jarrow. SlickB carries a ukulele and every time I've seen him he's on his way out. I really wanted to hear him play.

I filled up my gallon of water and hoped maybe I would see them again and get to hear the ukulele. I finally did catch up to them again at dinner time. They had all discovered a small spring not mentioned in the Book of Lies (the guide book) and decided to make dinner by it before continuing on. I stopped and did the same and asked if I was going to get to hear the uke.

The answer was a little after dinner music. SlickB was so good. I had never heard such a beautiful sound as that ukulele. He played and sang Whiskey in the Jar, Friend of the Devil, Me & Bobby McGee and Cripple Creek. When he was finished I told him what I had been feeling, which was that hearing his music made the whole hike and all the pain feel worthwhile. Sometimes the trail feels like a little slice of the leftovers of the Summer of Love, too, and his music really enhanced that feeling. I felt so lucky to be part of this trail community.

Then everyone packed up and continued down the trail in search of a place to camp. As I loaded up my gallon of water again, I discovered Emily's Dad at the spring as well. He was also quite happy to find this surprise little spring. As I headed out for the last hour of hiking before bed, I bumped into him a few more times and we talked a little. He said he was really struggling physically, mentally and emotionally. At a high spot he had cell reception and phoned his wife. After talking with her a while he told me he had decided to go home once he reached Dunsmuir, probably for good. I told him we should both feel proud of what we'd accomplished, that not going all the way to Canada wasn't any kind of failure in light of what we'd done. He agreed. We should be damn proud.

I had been thinking about this all day myself. Why should I be worrying about whether I should walk further than Ashland? The only reason I was considering it was because I skipped some of the High Sierras and the fire closures forced me to skip another 100 miles or so and I didn't want anybody to think if I said I hiked to Ashland that I was claiming to have hiked more miles than I actually did. And I was thinking that maybe people wouldn't be very impressed if I hiked only to Ashland. They might ask why I didn't go all the way.

How silly. This is my hike not somebody else's. Ashland was my goal all along and if I achieved it, it would be no less worthy an accomplishment to be proud of than anything else. It's a very long way. I am constantly amazed as I replay the pictures in my head of all those miles, all those days, all that landscape passing beneath my feet. I became overwhelmed with the pride of what I'd done and the 27 or 28 miles I ended up putting on my painful feet today seemed worth it.

The trail had seemed to go up hill all day without reaching any summit, without gaining any altitude, simply changing from oaks and manzanita to thick forest and clear cuts, with active logging in process. It had been a difficult day and when I finally found a flat spot big enough for my tent next to a logging road I didn't care I was going to sleep in a clear cut. I was just happy to rest my feet, try to massage away the shooting pains, and watch birds make their beds in an elderberry bush as I fell asleep to murky stars barely visible through the smoke.

Burney Falls

I only walked 20 miles across the Hat Creek Rim and my goal for the day, July 23, was to hike only 20 miles again to Burney Falls. My hope was that if I kept my mileage down my feet might fare better. I was beginning to get worried about their prospects for survival all the way to Ashland. Even so, the 20 miles across the Rim seemed to wear them out quite a bit and I spent several uncomfortable hours in my tent waiting for the Ibuprofen to quell the shooting pains and allow me to fall asleep.

In the morning, as I packed up and hiked out of the campsite with Rolleicord and Enviro still sleeping, my feet felt better but not healed by any means. I forced myself to just stay in the present moment and not think about Ashland or whether I should go further than that or not.

The trail continued to be viewless and smoky. The sun was weak and red but the air was still and hot. The trees looked a lot like the trees in my own backcountry around Lost Valley trail. I felt kind of at home.

Eventually I reached a large creek and a PG&E powerhouse. The guide book said to cross the river on a bridge. The bridge had been fenced off with no trespassing and no foot traffic signs. The powerhouse had signs all around that the water was dangerous and that they could release more water into the creek at any time. The creek itself looked black and deep, more of a swim than a ford. My choice seemed to be to trespass and stay dry or risk injury and death in the deep water. I made my choice and continued onward.

My mind was quite focused on getting a shower at Burney Falls campground as I pounded the ground all day. Eventually I was near but had a little difficulty finding the campground because the Book of Lies (as the guidebook came to be called by Enviro) was a little confusing about how to get there and I was so impatient that I thought a nearby road might be a shortcut. But eventually, after viewing the rather pretty falls that fall from on high and also seep out of the layered rock, I found the campground entrance and promptly asked for directions to the store and showers. The lady at the entrance said naturally I'd want the store because I was probably hungry. Really all I wanted was something cold to drink and a bar of soap.

I took a 10 minute shower with my bar of soap, then washed all my clothes in the laundry sink with the bar of soap. Bar soap doesn't work very good for laundry. The smell of it never quite rinsed out and I got stuck smelling that soap for several more days afterwards. But it felt so good to be clean even if it wouldn't last very long. The trail across the Rim had been a powdery, dusty mess that poofed around me with each step and formed wads of clay inside my shoes when mixed with my sweat that made walking even more painful than normal.

I waited for my clothes to dry out and then returned to the store, hoping to see other hikers there. The campground seemed quite lonely as the only hiker there in the backpacker's site. I found no hikers there so I bought a few resupplies for the next section and a couple of cold beers and returned to the site and attempted to read a book I found in the hiker box. I checked my phone and discovered I had phone service so I called Tony and talked to him for a while. I even talked to my parrot, Fergie. I realized I missed home.

The beers hit me hard, even with a belly full of starchy trail food, and I became really drunk so I laid out my Z-rest and sleeping bag and passed out for a couple of hours. When I awakened there were mosquitos so I put up my tent and went to bed alone. In the middle of the night I heard two hikers arrived but never found out who they were.

Hat Creek Rim

I took a zero day at Firefly's house (the Heitman's). I felt guilty about it all day, feeling so lazy, but I really enjoyed the time to relax and hang out with other hikers.

While there I read the trail journal of one of the hikers who was there. He seemed to be having a hard time with the loneliness of the trail. I tried to make him feel less lonely simply by chatting a little with him. He said he was surprised how much he values more and more the time in town to socialize and I wanted the time here to seem valuable if I could help in any way.

Dinner was eaten with a whole new batch of hikers who rolled in during the day. There also was new "staff" cooking and cleaning. I met a lady named Frodo who had hiked the PCT a few years ago. I asked her two questions I haven't seen much information online about: 1) Did your feet ever recover, and 2) How did you handle the re-entry issue?

She said that her feet never recovered and she still has numb places to this day. In answer to my second question she said that in her observations, people who had a slot to fill in normal life when they returned did a lot better than those who didn't. She, in fact, returned home on a Friday and went to work again on a Monday. That seemed too quick a return to me, however I had no slot to fill and worrisome painful feet and I worried about what would happen to me.

In the morning, July 22, I was dropped off at the trailhead again with Icebag, Rolleicord, EnviroPiro and Emily's Dad to go out and tackle the Hat Creek Rim. The Hat Creek Rim is feared by many hikers because it is hot, dry, shadeless and waterless. It is an escarpment of lava rising above the valley below that had burned years ago. Trees are coming back, but still it lacks shade. Often it is 107 degrees when people hike the Rim. The Forest Service had attempted to drill wells so that there would be water on the trail but they could not find any reliable water. It was going to be like being back in Southern California again only now it's July.

I got started hiking at 8AM and reached the Rim in the morning. It was hot, but probably only in the 90s. It felt humid and the air was very smoky. I found the Rim to be kind of pleasant and interesting. The trail was flat and the view was non-existent most of the time. I could see only directly below the Rim much of the time and it kind of seemed like as I was hiking a strange and eerie parallel universe was passing by below.

At 2PM I arrived at Cache 22, a water cache on Forest Road 22. Icebag, Rolleicord, Enviro and two southbound hikers were already there. The cache had chairs and was inside a really cool fort built of dead pine tree branches that had been piled up around a large pine tree. The two southbounders were hiking from Ashland, OR to Tehachapi. I marveled at their goal, especially since they probably wouldn't be arriving in Jawbone Canyon at the nicest time of year.

I rested at the cache for a long time with the others and thought about how water caches brought hikers together. Soon we trickled out from our shelter and continued onward.

Trees returned to the Rim for the final push but it seemed no less hot and dry. The smoke seemed only to increase. I realized I never took a shower while I stayed at the Heitman's and felt incredibly uncomfortable, sticky and stinky.

With almost no visibility the trail seemed almost creepy. At one point I really thought I might be walking the cliffs at the beach and that once I reached a small rise might see Elwood Beach below me. At another stretch I expected giraffes to appear because it looked like the Serengeti Plain.

The juniper and gray pines grew thicker and the landscape less flat. The lava was coarse and bumpy. As the evening progressed and I started wanting a campsite, none could be found. I hiked on and on, finally descending off the rim to camp at the first campsite I could find under a huge juniper tree. Rolleicord and Enviro arrived a bit later and camped in the same spot. Rolleicord was having some kind of ankle problem.

It was a struggle to eat a hot dinner in the smoky heat and go to sleep, but eventually I fell asleep.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lassen National Park, or the food section

My mom and Lowell and I decided to go out for breakfast before I resumed my trek. So we all stopped at the Kopper Kettle or some place with a name like that. They serve breakfast all day, but we were there at breakfast time. They have pancakes as big as the plate. I had one and one french toast.

Emily's Dad was eating there, too, so we invited him to come to our table. We talked with him a while, which was nice. There were two other hikers in the back of the restaurant, too. None of them were ready for a ride to the trailhead, though.

I went with my mom to the trailhead on Highway 36. She dropped me off and watched me go. The forest was thick with trees and flat. I walked through some kind of ditch dug long ago for water. I climbed a little and dropped a little but mostly it was quite level for 20 miles.

At the Feather River I met up with Rolleicord and EnviroPiro having lunch by the bridge. I said hi and kept on trucking. I had heard you could soak in the hot pool and have dinner at Drakesbad Guest Ranch and I wanted to get there in time to do both.

In the late afternoon I reached the edge of Lassen National Park and the side trail to Terminal Geyser. I didn't take the side trail because I have been here before. Several years ago I did a small section of the PCT through Lassen from Chester-Childs Meadow road to Old Station. A few years before that I did the little Spatter Cone Nature Trail near Subway Cave in Old Station and stood on the crossroads of the PCT thinking maybe someday. This will be my third time at that crossroads. Someday is finally here.

I passed the green boiling lake and knew I was close to Drakesbad. I didn't want to miss the turnoff. The junction says horses this-a-way and hikers that-a-way. I took the horse trail and wound my way around and into the resort.

I found the office and walked in thinking I might be run out of there for tresspassing. Instead I got a big hug and a warm welcome from Ed who wears a hat with fake hair on top. I didn't realize it was fake for several hours. He brought me two glasses of lemonade, a towel, a washcloth and a bar of soap. He said to go wash up and bring my laundry and he'd do it for me while I soaked in the pool. I didn't need laundry done but I did go wash up and soak in the pool. I soaked in the 96 degree water for at least an hour, turning into a prune. It was delightful.

After the soak I went back up to the office where I could see the tables were set for dinner. They rang the dinner bell and showed the four of us hikers to our table, which was marked with a PCT bandana and a rubber chicken. It was rubber chicken number 5. I'm afraid none of us understood the rubber chicken thing, but I guess there are several along the trail.

I sat at the table with Rolleicord, EnviroPiro and Icebag and we all ate what has to be the absolute best food on the trail so far. We had prime rib, garlic mashed potatoes, broccoli, fresh baked bread and butter and a boysenberry/chocolate cheesecake parfait. All of it was absolutely 5 star quality. We also had fancy beer from Europe and Icebag decided to order a bottle of champagne to celebrate passing the half-way point.

We could not sleep at the Drakesbad. We were supposed to sleep at the Warner Valley Campground. I slept there the last time I came through and it was $7. Now it's $14. Didn't seem worth it if all we do is sleep. We PCT hikers don't build campfires, park cars or leave our food out for the bears. The only thing we might do is use the toilet paper and I don't think that's worth $14 so I slipped into the forest and set up a stealth campsite where nobody would see me and where I could get back to Drakesbad easily for breakfast the next morning.

Breakfast was equally superb. They made pancakes that had to be seen and tasted to be believed. These were not diner pancakes but some kind of fairy princess pancakes from Europe served with chicken/apple sausage. I actually didn't have any. I just ate from the buffet which had granola, fresh berries and yogurt, bagels with cream cheese, lox, onions and capers and the most delicious blueberry scones I ever had. There were lots of other things, too.

While there I read the Yogi book, which is another PCT handbook. I enjoyed reading people's thoughts on the trail, on the big question of why. I ponder that often while enduring excruciating pain walking forever each day. I think it boils down to wealth. The only real wealth I believe I have is my limited time on earth. Rather than sell it to someone and try to purchase a wad of free time at the end of my life, which I might not even live long enough to see, I've chosen to spend my time now doing things that I really want to do. When I'm out hiking on this trail or listening to the silence of the night in my tent, when I'm eating gourmet food at Drakesbad or meeting trail friends along the way, when I see interesting clouds or a field of incredible wildflowers or hear the buzzing of bumble bees and the first chirping of birds in the morning I feel like the richest woman in the world. Isn't it better to feel rich than to be rich? It's a gamble I'm willing to make.

After that incredible breakfast at Drakesbad I was ready to hit the trail. My feet felt like a million bucks. I don't know what was in that pool but the long soak did the trick. My next objective was to hike 20 miles to Old Station. It was Sunday and I had mail so I would be hoping to stay at Trail Angel Firefly's house overnight where hopefully there would be more hot tub soaking and food.

I hiked all day along the trail I'd hiked years before. I didn't remember a lot of it, but I remembered some. It was a lot flatter than I remembered. I took the alternate route by the lakes again. I try to do that whenever possible. I didn't see any other hikers all day but I spoke to some women on horseback who said Emily's Dad was ahead of me by an hour.

At the turnoff to Old Station there was a sign pointing to Post Office, ice cream and Trail Angel Firefly. All the important things a hiker needs. It was nice to see the sign because last time I came through there was no sign and trying to figure out which of the million dirt roads was the one I wanted was impossible.

I walked down to the Post Office and saw that they opened nice and early in the morning, but there wasn't any kind of message about how to get to Firefly's house. I went into the store and bought a beer to kill the pain in my feet which had come back in the last few miles. I asked the man inside if he knew how to get to Firefly's house. He said all I have to do is say the word and he'd call and they'd come get me. Wow!

So I drank my beer, said the word, got picked up and taken to another one of these miracle hiker heavens along the trail. They have 5 acres of forest where we can set up our tents and the coolest treehouse with TV and everything. They feed you using volunteers from previous hikes who come to hang out through the summer. I'm kind of thinking of staying a zero day because it's so nice, but there are lots of huge, almost rainy-looking clouds in the sky and I'm thinking this might not be a bad time to tackle big, bad Hat Creek Rim.

Hat Creek Rim is a long, hot, shadeless dry stretch. Fortunately there is a water cache 15 miles along the 30 mile waterless stretch. It might be worth it to do the first 15 miles in the afternoon and the last 15 miles the next morning. I will ponder these things while I eat my french toast and enjoy hiker trash culture with the other hikers here. There are many.

See you down the trail.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fire Country

I'm really in fire country now. The smoke is incredible. I've made it to Chester, which would be the half way point to Canada if a) If fires hadn't prevented me from walking the whole way, and b) I was going all the way to Canada.
I wrote a few posts this morning, so here is the list:

And here are my latest pictures:

Next stop is Old Station and then Burney Falls. There probably won't be any Internet there. Perhaps further down the road.

I worried so much about planning at the beginning and now I just take it as it comes, shopping as needed with an eye out for how many miles to the next place, and stopping for layovers when needed. It's life on the trail.

Quincy-La Porte Road

July 15 - I headed out from my spring-side campsite on the flume early as usual with the promise of pancakes on my mind.

I took the suggested alternate route and descended down into the lakes basin. I passed a few small, pretty lakes and arrived at Packer Lake. Packer Lake reminded me of a tiny Zaca Lake. It was round and mirror smooth, had people in row boats on it and a road running around it to the Packer Lodge and cabins. The cabins looked really nice. It would be a great place to take a vacation.

I walked the road to the Lodge but when I got there I learned the Lodge is closed on Tuesdays. This being a Tuesday meant there were no pancakes for me. I was very disappointed.

I headed back to the trail, walked by a few more nice lakes and creeks and eventually rejoined the PCT. The route didn't make me climb too terribly much to get back to the PCT and for that I was grateful. At the junction I met up with Gary and we hiked together until noon.

At noon we reached the "A Tree". The A Tree is a dead tree at a junction with 5 spokes formed by a couple of dirt roads and the PCT. Heading Out was there, too, and the 3 of us ate lunch and filled up our water at the spring. I should have filled up more water because the rest of the day turned out to be relatively waterless.

I said good-bye to Gary who hikes too fast and far for my comfort, especially now in the hot sun, and I stumbled and trudged along in the crushing heat. All the up hills felt so difficult. My feet slipped all the time on what I called rollers — potato-sized rocks on a bed of gravel. I had to bend way over to keep the weight over my feet so I wouldn't waste so much energy. I didn't have much energy to waste.

The trail was pretty through lush forest with flowers and along interesting, exposed volcanic hills.

At around 3 or 4pm I crossed a nice creek but failed to read the details in the guide book that this might be the last water for a long time. The Data Book showed more water down the trail. I became unhappy that the Data Book can no longer be trusted and started to realize that when a water source is described as seasonal, July is not its season. I hiked on to the next water source in the Data Book and there was no water there at all.

I camped with 3 miles to spare to get to the Quincy-La Porte road where PCT hikers were supposed to leave the trail due to fire closures up ahead in the Bucks Lake area. I went in search of the supposed seasonal spring a quarter mile away and found nothing. I had barely enough water to cook my dinner and none to wash my pot afterwards. I made some mashed potatoes with country gravy and chunks of cheese, hopped into my tent, my haven from the bugs, and set about the arduous task of eating hot food when you're already dripping with sweat. Eat a bite, rest and cool off, eat another bite, rest and cool off etc.

I slept well that night. In the middle of the night after the moon had set I looked out at the trees and heard nothing but silence. I felt happy I hadn't pushed on all the way to the road. I got to enjoy another beautiful night outside before my return to civilization would begin.

In the morning I completed the 3 remaining trail miles and reached the road. I could hear the sound of engine-braking trucks on the road all morning and anticipated that maybe there would be traffic on the road in case my cell phone had no service and I couldn't call my mom. Indeed when I reached the road I had no service so my new hope was to get a ride. But my first objective was to find water and I hoped the road wouldn't avoid it too much.

I found water a mile down the trail and filled up a gallon. I wasn't sure what the road walk would be like, if it would be dry, how long it would be, how long it would be until I got a ride. I figured I should be safe. It was very heavy.

The road was hard, so I tried walking in my crocs for a while with my superfeet insoles for support. The road was incredibly steep, about as steep as Old San Marcos road. It was painful. When the sun got hot I put on my umbrella. Sadly there was no phone service and no traffic going my way for hours.

I stopped once to make some lemonade and take some ibuprofen. I had been walking the road for 5 hours and only 2 civilians had driven by. I decided that I should think more positively and started telling myself my ride was coming around the bend any minute now. It'll be the next one.

One car went by and I stuck out my thumb but they didn't stop. Then a motorcycle. Then I could hear a car behind me and I stuck out my thumb. He stopped! It was a man in a truck I had seen early in the morning going the other way. I had walked almost the entire Quincy-La Porte road. I was only 2 or 3 miles from Highway 70 when he picked me up.

It was very nice of him to drive me all the way to Qunicy. He dropped me off at a shopping center where I went to Taco Bell and ate 2 7-layer burritos. I guess that's 14 layers. That was way too much food. Just because I'm hungry doesn't mean my stomach is that big. I'm thin now so when I eat a huge chunk of food like that my stomach bows way out. I felt horrible and satisfied at the same time.

I had phone service so I called my mom. She could pick me up at 4 after her physical therapy, so I walked down into old town Quincy and tried to hang out at a coffee place. They had wi-fi but no computers so I couldn't really do anything. I drank an Italian soda that formed a mini-volcano in the cup and exploded all over the place. Afterwards it felt like a mini-volcano in my stomach.

I walked back to the shopping center and camped out in the shade under the sign. I figured if I looked too much like a bum they could come and run me off if they wanted. I lolled about and waited for my mom to arrive. Finally she did and we drove the long and dangerous road toward Chester. If you're considering walking the entire way, don't. It looks too dangerous to walk.

I plan to take a couple of zeros here at Lake Almanor. The smoke here is incredible. We're in Fire Country for sure now. I hope to go into town and find hikers and have a nice rest before I press on.

Sierra City

July 14 - I got my usual early start at 6AM and set out to finish Section L. The trail went up a little bit then way down, from the 7000s all the way down to the 4000s. Along the way I saw Al and Nitro Joe, who I had seen all day the day before, too. I also saw some backpackers enjoying the more lush forest at the lower elevations.

The forest changed and there were oaks again. I felt happy seeing oak leaves all over the trail. I followed Milton Creek for a while and eventually crossed it on a large bridge. It was hot and humid but felt comfortable because I was going all down hill.

I took the suggested resupply route into Sierra City, bypassing the swimming pools the book mentioned at the crossing of the Yuba River. I figured I'd rather walk the back roads into town than walk a winding highway. The route went through Wild Plum campground, which seemed like a really nice minimally-developed Forest Service campground right on the river. You could get there early and pick a site on the river and swim and play all day.

Instead of that, I washed up at a water spigot and put on some deoderant and took off my smelly, beige, long-sleeved shirt. There weren't any mosquitos anymore, it was hot and it was well-shaded in the forest so I could be sleeveless for a while.

I walked all the way into town, passing some nice older people who were interested in my trip. It seems the summer population of the town is quite large, swollen by retirees. I can see why. The town is so cute I wanted to coat it in candy and pop it in my mouth.

Sierra City was definitely the best small town on the trail so far. The people were nice, the store had fresh fruit and the usual awful stuff for your backpack. I'm getting tired of my food. The restaurant I ate at had the best Cobb salad ever and an ice cream sundae that had me almost licking the plate where the chocolate sauce had pooled. The lady in the post office was really friendly, too.

I went to the post office first thing when I arrived and saw Gary. I hadn't seen him since before Lone Pine. He hikes really fast so I figured I'd never see him again. He was surprised to see me, the first person he'd known from before the High Sierras he'd seen. He continues to think he's far behind but he doesn't reallize how fast and far he hikes. He often puts in 35+ mile days. How he slowed down so much I caught up to him is a mystery.

I organized my belongings on the porch at the general store and realized I didn't need to buy any food to complete the next stretch. After I ate my salad and sent off my packages, Patch arrived into town. He had been ferrying people to the trail in South Lake Tahoe and decided to drive up to Sierra City to find his friends again. He offered to take people up to the Yuba River to go swimming so I jumped at the chance. I tossed my backpack in his car and went.

The swimming hole was wonderful. It felt cold but soon I got used to it. I swam with all my clothes, my shoes and socks and everything. I felt so refreshed that I loaded up a gallon of water (I no longer believe there will be water on the trail where the books say there might) and bid everyone good-bye and hit the trail.

I climbed switchbacks for 3 and a half hours up a huge mountain over cobbles and klinkers. Tiny Sierra City was far below and I was sad I had only spent a few hours there, but glad to be going again.

At the top of the mountain I met Heading Out. There was one little camp site there next to the creek so he let me have it and went further. I slept next to the creek and though about my strategy for the next day. The book suggested a lake-blessed alternate route with a restaurant along the way. Sounded good to me.

I slept to the whine of mosquitos but eventually they went to bed, too.

Section L

July 13 - Despite the generous hospitality and good sleep I was happy to leave Pooh Corner. I didn't feel very comfortable there. My feet still felt like big swollen bruises, but I put in ball-of-foot cushions and my superfeet and that seemed to work well enough to hike all day. Plus I took a lot of ibuprofen.

The Section L trail was hot, humid and arduous. It went up and down. Of course trails do this, but it was like every few hours up to 8000+ and then down to 7000+ only to do it again. The first two times it seemed like I climbed down into the exact same dejavu valley with a creek and a bridge. The valleys were full of mosquitos and backpackers envious of my head net (the boy scouts really need to re-think "be prepared". That shouldn't mean carrying a Himalayan expedition on your back. It should mean reading the 5-day weather forecast and bringing only what you need, including reading the PCT guide book where it says under special problems that the mosquitos are bad here.)

The only interesting thing was the Peter Grubb hut which the Sierra Club owns and you can stay in if you want. If I'd have known it was so cool I might have been able to stay there. But I went by early in the morning so I didn't even go inside. I only learned from others how luxurious it was and how there was a book with stories of Peter Grubb who died at the age of 18 after doing a ton of interesting, adventurous things.

The darn Data Book and guide book seemed like they could no longer be trusted. Here's a tip: when the Data Book says "descend to a creek" on page 51, it doesn't actually go to the creek. It goes near the creek. So if anywhere in Section L you hear water, go get it. That was the last water for almost 6 miles until I crossed a river at a road near Jackson Meadows Reservoir. I ended up hiking 28 miles that day.

Not only was the water situation inaccurately documented, the ups and downs were not accurately documented either. The Data Book, which is simply based on the points of interest in the guide book that have mileage and altitudes next to them, made it appear that the trail went up and down a couple of times then generally trended downward for the last half of the 40 mile Section. Nothing could be further from the truth. It seems only the low points were documented and between each one was an undocumented mountain to climb.

After the two lush dejavu valleys the ups and downs seemed to dither around in uninteresting and rather sickened forest. The trees did not look healthy and had fallen all over the trail. I was constantly having to climb over logs. Some of the forest had been "selectively logged" which is probably part of the "Healthy Forests Initiative." While I don't think that these trees should be spared of the saw (sure, cut them down, they're half dead anyway), don't believe the hype about thinning the forest to make it healthier and less apt to burn. What they do is cut all the limbs off the desired tree then snatch away the central leader, leaving a pile of chopped up and chipped up debris all over the forest floor. If any forest is a powder keg waiting to go up in flames, it's a selectively logged forest.

I was so tired when I got to my camp and so mad at the trail and so bothered by the incessant mosquitos that I nearly started a forest fire myself with my stove. I had to pour out almost all the water I lugged from the creek a mile to where it was legal to camp on the trail to handle the situation. And the sharp sticks I slept on punctured my magic polycro ground sheet. That thin film of plastic has held up perfectly the entire trip so far.

The book had said a strong day hiker could hike the entire 38 mile Section L in one day. I'd like to meet that day hiker. I crashed that night with 10 miles left to go to Sierra City.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pooh's Corner

I made it out of South Lake Tahoe and am in Truckee at a place called Pooh's Corner.

While at South Lake Tahoe I had a craving for fruit so I bought a bunch of fruit, including a ripe melon, and had a feast of fruit. I cut the melon with my probably very dirty pocket knife. I couldn't eat the whole melon so I saved it in my hotel room for later. I ate another piece of the melon in the evening and then spent the whole night vomiting and having intense intestinal issues. It was awful and all my fault.

Some other hikers at the hotel had worn out the hiker welcome by drinking and putting too many people in the room and sneaking in a dog so the hotel owners seemed to be trying to phase out the hikers. I begged them to let me stay another night. They allowed it.

During my extra rest day I tried to take a walk to the Internet cafe and on the way back in the hot sun I had to rest about 5 times. One of those times an ambulance went by with lights flashing and stopped to ask me if I was the one who called. I must have looked pretty bad.

The next morning I felt much better so I went to breakfast. After breakfast I attempted to hitchhike back to the trail. There were other hikers inside the cafe so I went back in to see if they already had a ride. They did but there was no room for me. Just then a man came to the table to offer me a ride, so back to the trail I went. Yay! Trail magic for me!

The trail was really hard to walk on but I was glad it wasn't hilly. It was full of loose cobbles and "klinkers". I walked very slowly and hoped my breakfast would stay down. The mosquitos were awful. I could not stop to rest or they would swarm me.

Aloha Lake was pretty. So was heather-fringed Susie Lake. I climbed Dicks Pass and descended down to Dicks Lake, the prettiest lake I think I've seen yet. I really should have gone for a swim, but I still felt clean from the million showers I took in my hotel. That clean feeling didn't last long because soon it became very humid.

By the end of the day I had hiked 21 miles and slept in the most mosquito-unblessed spot I could find. I still had to put on layers and a headnet to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Sunset was deep red with all the smoke in the air. The moon was blood red in the night, too. The air was choking with smoke. Cough cough.

The following day, July 11, I walked through very dense forest. It was pretty but buggy. Then the trail took me up to a ridge and I walked along this interesting volcanic ridge for miles and miles. Along the way I bumped into Nitro Joe again now hiking with his son.

My feet were getting really really sore. Excruciating. At one point I changed into my Crocs and hiked in those instead. When I reached a nice cold creek I soaked my feet until they ached so bad I had to yell out loud. I took all the insoles out of my shoes and put them back on. I got a few more miles out of my feet that way. In fact, it seemed to feel pretty good with no insoles.

I camped in a rocky spot near the Tevis Cup trail after walking past tons of pretty flowers, including some white lilies that smelled as good as the Casa Blanca lilies I used to sell when I worked at a flower shop. I could hear voices near my campsite but I never saw anybody. Before I made camp I knew that Nitro Joe and Al (All Hat No Cattle) were nearby. It was a hot night. I could barely tolerate my sleeping bag. Thankfully the mosquitos were absent and I could go outside in the middle of the night with bare skin.

In the morning, July 12, I packed up early as usual and set off. The trail took me up Tinker's Knob, which apparently is a popular day hike or run. The ridge walk after Tinker's Knob was fantastic. I had great views and it really felt like I was walking a knife edge at one point.

I saw a lot of runners and day hikers. At one point as I was coming down I could see a large group of people. I fantasized that it was another impromptu party waiting for me to cook me pancakes and hand me a cold drink. Alas it was just a group of developmentally disabled adults with the hugest backpacks ever. I wished I could stop and teach their minders a thing or two about packing a little lighter.

After descending from the ridge, the trail started to become pointless. It seemed to go up and down and switchback all over the place.

The trail descended to Highway 40 where I thought maybe there might be a place to buy a sandwich. Just the thought of sandwiches made me get really hungry. There were no sandwiches there. So I ate an apple and watched rock climbers freaking out because there was a snake in one of their handholds.

Then I put on my umbrella because the unbearable heat and humidity had descended and I had to do some more pointless climbing. Up and down and round and round the trail seemed to go. My feet were killing me. After I passed under Interstate 80 through a tunnel I saw a sign posted with a phone number for Pooh's Corner.

Hiking the trail really isn't that hard. You just put on a backpack and go. But I still cry with a strange sense of relief whenever I find little trail magic things like this. It seemed I ought to call and rest my feet a bit. I had hiked "only" 17 miles and it had felt like 30.

Bill and Molly are the angels of Pooh's Corner and Pooh's Corner is their house on Donner Lake. They pick up hikers and feed them. Real food. Home-cooked. Not pizza and burgers and restaurant food. It's sooooo good. Time to rest a little before the next stretch from I 80 to Quincy-La Porte road where my mom can pick me up. There is a big fire and the trail is closed from Quincy-La Porte road to Highway 36.

See you down the trail.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The hike is different now

Tony drove me up to Sonora Pass. The drive up was stark and beautiful with wide open meadows and sage brush expanses. As we climbed Highway 108 in the SUV I kept remarking how beautiful and different the scenery was.

We parked in the trailhead parking lot. There were many people out enjoying the July 4th time off. Lots of photographers were taking pictures of the wildflowers. Oh, the wildflowers!

I threw my stuff together super quickly. Since the 4th of July closed the Post Office, I was not able to get my bounce bucket so I ended up buying a whole new guide book. Since I couldn't mail home unneeded sections I had to carry the whole thing with me. The weight's not so bad, but I anticipated a lot of remarks about lugging the whole book from other hikers, if I should meet them. And I did get lots of remarks about it.

I also bought some new shoes. The La Sportiva ones gave me blisters on top of my toes and they just made my whole foot ache. I think I can fix that when I get home. My new shoes are Montrail. Same kind of shoe: mesh and kind of like a running shoe. They made my feet ache, too. But I've now bought some gel insoles. I might even buy another layer so I can walk on gel clouds.

I cried when I had to say good-bye to Tony. I really didn't want to be alone again. Maybe I'd never see another living soul again. Maybe I'd hate every minute of my hike like I did by the time I gave up near Bishop Pass. Tony didn't cry. I think he was anxious to make the long drive home and worried about the big fire in Goleta.

I set off to climb my last 10,000+ft mountain. The climb was easy. The trail was smooth. I felt like the trail was going to be kind to me. A trail crew had even chopped steps and fresh trail through the snow patches. I thanked them when they went by.

The scenery was amazing. All around me were volcanic mountains of reddish black layers with patches of snow, and wildflowers bloomed in garden-like patches all around me. I was constantly amazed how different and beautiful it was from the High Sierras and their granite domes and within an hour I felt no more sadness for being alone. Instead I felt so lucky to be out here and so glad I decided to continue. If I could recommend any section to do, Section J would be it. It was the most beautiful so far.

I crested the mountain and dropped to the other side. Along the way I met Nimble Will Nomad, accidentally mistaking him for Billy Goat. I first met him on Fuller Ridge near Idyllwild. He's an older man all white and bearded who carries almost nothing on his back. He was hiking Southbound to spare his knees. Looking back I'm not sure what he was sparing them from. The trail in Section J constantly goes up and down, crunching your knees all the time.

I made camp after about 10 miles in a spot I hoped had few mosquitos and would be warm. I was right about both. It was on a flat spot mid-way on a slope. There was a swampy creek way below so there were some mosquitos, but that's what my tent is for. As I wrote in my journal I thought how I kind of feel like a bird in a cage with the door open. I may have peered out the door, maybe even stepped out a little, but I haven't left the cage.

In the morning of July 5 I set off at 6AM with no particular goal in mind. The trail went up and down, up and down. In the High Sierras and even in Southern California it seemed more like the trail would go up for half the day and then go down. Not so now. It undulated all the time. It felt quite tiring but as I watched the miles roll by I was amazed at how far I was going.

I started walking through hillsides just covered in wildflowers like you wouldn't believe. Every shape and color and just when you thought you'd seen every kind you'd round a bend and there would be new wildflowers. The nice thing about flowers is that you can look at them while you walk. When I try to look at the scenery I often trip over rocks and things.

The scenery continued to be amazing, too, with the layered lava mountains and their interesting spires and cliffs. For some reason these mountains really reminded me of my friend Cerena. She should be here. These mountains felt full of spirits and magic.

There were a lot of dayhikers and backpackers along the way because I was never very far from a trailhead. I even met some Mennonite women out dayhiking in their dresses. I also met another thru named Nitro Joe. He was suffering from hamstring problems and had to rest a lot. Maybe he burned out his Nitro.

At about 4pm I looked in the guide book and it mentioned a rock formation coming up called the "dome". I decided to aim for that. I made it to the dome at 6 and camped below it. The book said it would be humbling and beautiful, especially in the evening light. It was beautiful, but there was another formation on the mountain that reminded me of the Taj Mahal that I thought was even more impressive. The cliff I made camp under was full of spires and domes, needles and blocks. It was very interesting. It all looked even prettier in the morning. By the time I'd made camp I had hiked 27 miles.

On July 6 I woke up in my solitary campsite to see that I was surrounded by people. Somebody was sleeping in a green bag and I could see a couple putting their things away about 50 feet up the way. Eventually I met the couple. Their names were Pickles and Gator. They hike very fast but stop often so I kept meeting them all day long.

Pickles and Gator told me about a planned Trail Magic event happening on Carson Pass. They were trying to get there in time before it closed up, hoping for food and some chairs to sit on. It became my new goal, too, even though I told myself I was going to take it easy and not push myself too hard. I should forget about these silly goals to take it easy. I never will. Carson Pass was 25 miles away.

All day I went as fast as I could, never taking a rest except when I caught up to Pickles and Gator. The only time I sat down was when Gator was selling his bear can on the trail to some backpacker heading south. Otherwise I ate my lunches "on the hoof."

I reached a mountain called the "Nipple" and found Pickles and Gator eating lunch. They invited me to rest with them. I foolishly declined saying I would rest at the next water so I could make some lemonade and take some ibuprofen. Silly me. So used to water being everywhere I didn't realize I would go many hours before seeing water again. When I finally found water I was so close to climbing Carson Pass that I made my lemonade, drank it in one hurried gulp, bent over immediately to put my stuff away and back up it came out my nose. I got to climb Carson Pass with the smell of stomach acid in my nose.

Carson Pass was not as hard as previous passes but it still was arduous with many false summits. The ibuprofen I had taken did nothing to help my achey feet. When I reached the top it was only a few more miles to the trailhead parking lot where the hoped-for food might be, but they were long and painful miles. There were tons of dayhikers out on this side of the pass. I passed them all, walking faster than them even after hiking more than 20 miles with a pack on my back.

There was no Trail Magic at the parking lot, but Pickles and Gator were still there. We were too late for the food, but the nice folks inside the information shop brought out a bag of fruit so we had a feast of apples, bananas and oranges with peanut butter. That was actually better than whatever greasy fare might have been there. After a long rest and fruit I felt revived.

We couldn't camp in the lot so there were still miles to be made. We climbed up a mountain through a profusion of flowers that rivaled the best Montecito garden you could imagine. We made camp in a meadow full of wild irises and small, froggy ponds on top. It was a warm and windy night with swarming mosquitos, but the tent protected me.

July 7 left only about 15 miles to get to Echo Lake and the end of Section J. I decided I would try to go to South Lake Tahoe when I got there. The hike to Echo Lake was long and arduous, descending through meadows and flowers into pine forest and bone-crunching descents. Pickles and Gator flew away and I hiked alone all day.

When I got to Echo Lake there were other thrus hanging out. One of them gave me a piece of cardboard so I could make a sign for my hitchhike. I wrote South Lake Tahoe and The "Y" on it and camped out near the parking lot, playing my pennywhistle so people would be sure to see me. Nobody stopped so I decided to walk back to the store where the thrus were hanging out, but with my sign still showing. A lady stopped and picked me up on the way!

She was a 49 year-old nurse who lived in South Lake Tahoe. She seemed to be at a crossroads in life, unsure which way to go, suffering on and off with depression, unsatisfied with life. I think that's why she picked up 43 year-old me. Perhaps she thought I had an answer, being a similar age and doing something most women might harbor secret desires to do, but fear that maybe they can't. All I can say is if you dream it, do it. Life's too short to live it making money from big corporations and giving it back to big corporations. That's not safety or security. It's the cage this old bird Piper is trying to step out of.

I was really glad I decided to continue my hike. Even if my hike is like swiss cheese with lots of holes, I realize for me it's not so much about covering every single mile. It's about enjoying these places of incredible beauty and about enjoying a way of life you have to experience to understand. There's a magical freedom in having everything you need on your back. You don't need much to be happy, safe and warm. Everywhere you are you are already home. Even if you are dirty and smelly you're still alive and enjoying life. If you need a box to mail something, you're not so proud anymore that you won't open a dumpster and look for one. You meet other thru-hikers and you're instant friends, just sitting somewhere together sharing stories of your shared adventures. You are able to talk quietly with few words because the din of civilization isn't buzzing in your ears anymore. (It's amazing how loudly people shout at each other when you get near civilization.)

The hike isn't a goal to walk every single mile to Canada (maybe it is for some, but not for me) so much as a way of life you try to savor as long as possible. I wish I could live this way.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Quick update from Mammoth

I don't have a lot of time to write. I just wanted to make a quick update.

First of all, thanks for your recent comments. Yes, I'm hard on myself. Always have been, I guess. Perhaps I'll learn how to stop that.

Tony and I drove back up to Mammoth and hiked up the Duck Pass trail to the PCT. Then we followed the PCT as it went by Devil's Postpile and up to Tuolumne Meadows. Then we continued on the John Muir Trail toward Half Dome (nope, didn't climb it) and down the Mist Trail into the valley. The Mist Trail was awesome with chiseled steps that plunged down into the valley floor.

We had the perfect camp near Half Dome with a perfect view and the warmest, most comfortable night. It was a wonderful trip for the two of us. I felt bad, though, for pushing Tony so hard. We did a couple of 18 milers and one 20+ miler that included Donahue Pass. Donahue Pass isn't one of the most difficult, but I struggled up it just the same. 11,056 ft and a little bit of snow.

Once I got back on the PCT at Duck Creek I started running into all my old friends. First I met Southern Man. Then by Thousand Island lake I bumped into a strange, huge crowd of people just sitting quietly, as PCT hikers will sometimes do. Among them were Sparky, who I hadn't seen since the turnoff to Mt. San Jacinto, and Mike and Kat who I hadn't seen since before I went to Big Bear. Later at Tuolumne I saw tons of hikers I didn't really know and down in the Valley I saw Hawkeye and Danger Prone. Everybody is still there, chugging along. It made me so happy to see everybody.

Part of what made our little hike so nice was that we had so many places to eat meals. We had the biggest tuna sandwich ever seen at Red's Meadow. Then at Tuolumne they have a cafe so we had burgers and ice cream. In the valley more food. Now back at Mammoth more food. Food! I love food.

I thought of quitting many times. Why not? Tony's here. I have a ride home. But we talked about it and I'm going to skip section I and go up to the start of section J at Sonora Pass and continue. Hopefully the lower elevation and lack of scary creek crossings will make it a pleasant journey. I probably won't see my friends, though, so we'll see how that works.

I only wish I could take a zero here in Mammoth. Alas, no.

See you down the trail.