Day 1, 6/21/2019
The plan was to start at Harts Pass in Washington, about 30 miles north of where the PCT crosses Highway 20. My sister Amanda left me at the trail head around 11, we said a quick but tearful goodbye and I hiked 15 miles north that day, heading for the Canadian Border. The first 11 I maintained a 2.5 mph pace. After that I stopped paying attention, just wanted to get to the campsite I wanted tonight and drop my pack, it felt like it was getting heavier every mile. I had done harder things in my training than the I did that day; more miles, more elevation gain, heavier pack. But the elevation kicked my butt, as well as the mental challenge. Thru hiking is a whole different ball game and I was acutely aware that I may know how to hike, but I was on foreign ground.
Up over 6,000 feet my stomach didn’t want food, I had a bit of a headache, I was very tired. I knew things would get easier, I knew that I have done harder things, that the challenge was all in my head at that point. I pressed on.
When everything was still fun and games
A guy named Broken Toe (hiker name, not his real name) showed me a kind of wildflower that is edible, it tasted like salad greens and it was the only thing I could stomach eating that night. It wasn’t enough calories to make up for the calories I burned hiking that day, but it settled my nerves to eat something, and who doesn’t want a fresh salad on trail?
Broken Toe also asked me if it had thru hiked before and when I said no he told me I looked experienced. I said “I don’t feel like it.” I wondered if he could sense the bald honesty and intense vulnerability contained in just a few words. He’s done several thru hikes, and he asked me if I had a trail name yet and I said no. I didn’t tell him my real name, because I felt that that’s what I was at that moment. I was just flinging myself from a cliff of uncertainty, leaving behind everything I knew about myself and the world. I had no identity and I was vulnerable in that. But I felt safe, more safe than I thought possible when you are alone in the wilderness, doing something that seems impossible. I was exactly as I should be, waiting to be reborn.
Day 2, 6/22/2019
I hiked 21.1 miles the next day. There was only minimal elevation that day, my feet hurt by the end but that was my only trouble aside from the though of food making me naseaus. I tagged the border around noon, only staying there briefly due to the swarms of mosquitoes waiting to ambush the groups of hikers making their way to the official first mile of the PCT.
When I arrived at camp my first priority was to put my feet up, get my socks and shoes off to air my feet out. I put some blister tape on my pinky toe and the side of my foot, more preventing blisters than covering them at that point, although there was no preventing the blisters that would develop in the next couple days. I was tired but I felt good, confident that the next day I would have a breakthrough on the food front and my body would start to adjust.
I hiked with Broken Toe for quite a while that day, we got to the border together. I started to think of him as my own personal trail angel at that point. He was so helpful and I learned a lot from him about how the trail culture flows, chipping away at those lingering ties to my “real world” identity. He helped me fix my water filter, the gasket was just inside out it turned out, but he didn’t make me feel silly about it. He only planned to hike a section, getting off at Harts pass, so my thru hiking education would end there. I had a few days to learn as much as I could from someone with so much experience and then I would be on my own. I would learm my own lessons and make my own mistakes, which is absolutely, perfectly adequate.
As of day two on the trail, I am Mexico bound.
Day 3, 6/23/2019
That morning I was a little hungry for my oats and blueberries and it tasted delicious cold soaked, I knew when I took the first bite it was the right call. I scarfed the firet half when I woke up before my stomach said enough, and the rest mid morning. I was getting hungry hiking and my feet are very painful so I stopped to cook later on. Mashed potatoes and refried beans with freeze dried corn and celery. Nothing had ever tasted so delicious as this meal after barely eating and walking over 40 miles in 3 days.
In all I hiked 18.3 miles that day. I was in the “pain cave” after mile 11, where everything hurts and all you can think about is the hurt. That lasted until mile 16 when something in my head clicked. Suddenly it wasn’t my pain, I could still feel it but I didn’t own it, and I pushed on the last 2 miles to camp.
It was the toughest day on trail I have had. I got up and over 3 passes that day and camped halfway up a fourth. Maybe I could have hit the fourth if I could have pushed myself to do another mile and a half. But I was done, my body was done. The next day would be more miles, and hopefully I would be ready for them. Right then I needed to rest. I built myself a fire despite the wind, sent my family a message for the first time in my GPS device, and told myself tomorrow would be better.
Day 4, 6/24/2019
I hiked 15 miles that day, passing back through Harts pass where I started, this time southbound to Rainy Pass and the end of my first completed section of the PCT. I had a massive blister on my left pinky toe. I hadn’t planned to pop it but I took the blister tape off and it took a patch of skin with it. I let the fluid drain and rinsed it out well, resolving to do my best to keep it clean and covered. That would now be easier as I made plans that day to hitchhike into Mazama, a trail town not far from where the PCT crosses Highway 20.
Originally I planned to hike straight through and stop in Stehekin, just 30 miles south of the highway and get my resupply box of food I had mailed there. However my plans changed when I get back to Harts Pass and realized I had only eaten a fraction of the food I packed to the border with my, and I had a full 5 days worth of food waiting in a bear bag in a tree at Harts Pass. I spread it all out on a picnic table at the campsite there to see what I could do. It didn’t all fit into my odor proof food storage bag, but I could squeeze the other half into the two gallon Ziploc I had strung up the tree in a plastic shopping bag. Fitting both bulging plastic bags in my pack was another story. The short version – it wasn’t going to fit.
Broken Toe once again offered me a solution to my problems. He showed up at precisely the right moment, ambling down the trail with a wave. I showed him my predicament (“Everyone hiking SOBO does this.” He said and I thought “So why does everyone say to hang a bag at Harts Pass online??”) He was getting off trail there, he was just waiting for a hitchhike into Mazama where he had left his van, be planned to come back to the trail head the next day with food to hand out to passing hikers, “Trail Magic”. He offered to bring my extra food into Mazama for me, I would only have to pack enough for a day and half and then pick up the rest when I completed the section. Relief is not a strong enough word for how I felt, my gratitude was overwhelming. It was only an added bonus that I could stay at the hiker hostel and call my family.
I had spent most of the morning trying to think about gratitude. It was a miserable morning, I woke up and packed up camp while it was snowing and hiked in clouds all morning, it was cold, cold, cold. But these were things outside of my control, the only thing I could control was my own perspective on the situation. I know I can handle hard things, I knew I’ve been through harder. So I summoned the wisdom of Eckhart Tolle and the courage of Brene Brown and I thought about things I was grateful for. It’s not an easy practice at the best of times. When you’re warming up your hands every 30 seconds packing up your tent because they are numb it is easier. Because yeah, it sucks, but this is what needs to get done, and you can moan and bitch about it, or you can change your mindset. Gratitude is a wonderful vehicle for that I learned.
I remembered that I was grateful to have a tent, to have pockets, to be almost done, to see the beautiful snow. When I was hiking through the clouds I was grateful for my family, for this wonderful opportunity I have, that I was able to eat a full breakfast, for raincoats. And when the sun broke loose and Broken Toe offered his help I was grateful for friends and the selflessness and kindness that allowed him to make the next section a little bit easier.
That night I was exhausted and I felt a little lonely, after staying goodbye to Broken Toe for probably the last time and camping in my own site that night. But I was grateful I had family and friends who love me and I knew the next night I would be taking a hot, hot shower. I got in to camp at 5:30 and crawled into my tent as soon as possible, passing out around 6:30. I slept like a rock for 11 hours.
Day 5, 6/25/2019
I took a long time waking up that morning, drinking my coffee, reading. Resting up for a 21 mile trek into town.
I hustled all day. I wanted that hot shower, warm bed, and phone call to my family more than I have ever wanted anything, and that is not in the least bit hyperbole. More than anything I wanted to talk to my family, that was the thing that pushed me up and over two mountain passes in a hail storm, I may have beaten records getting up Hollman Pass, hailing the whole way. I don’t know if it was just because I wanted to get to town so badly or because something on my body had shifted to accommodate the conditions, but day 5 felt like a turning point physically, I felt strong again for the first time since day 1. It felt like a year had passed since my sister hugged me goodbye at Harts Pass.
I got down to Highway 20 around 5:45 and had caught a hitchhike by 6, a lovely older couple in an RV heading to eastern Washington for a family gathering. The woman’s name was Jeannine, same as my grandma’s and she introduced me to their labradoodle puppy and gave me a root beer as we cruised down the highway chit chatting with her husband about trail life and their own various adventures. When I got into town I found the hiker hostel and my resupply safe and sound. I met a bunch of lovely hikers, two guys who were just starting SOBO on the trail the next day and a group of three hikers who had been hiking together since Harts Pass, Inventor, Kanga, and Nicole or “Almonds” as she was christened that night although reluctantly on her part. We stayed up too late talking about the trail. It was good to remember I wasn’t going through this alone, this is a shared experience and I may he hiking alone but we are all in this together. I had a hot HOT shower, got some clean loaner clothes, and slept in a warm bed.
Day 6, 6/26/2019 – Town Day
The Mazama Hiker Hostel, Ravensong’s, turned out to be the most incredible blessing. It is, fun fact, started and owned by the first known solo female to complete the PCT. It isn’t so much a hostel as a crash pad, but there are mattresses and a hot shower and a stocked kitchen that was more than enough – and it’s free (donations welcome.) This morning I thought I would take most of the day to rest, do laundry, and hitchhike back out to the trail in the evening and camp at Rainy pass to get an early start hiking tomorrow morning. However after seeing the weather report for that night and the next several days, I decided to stay one more night in a cozy, warm bed and start out tomorrow morning with dry gear and a fresh attitude to face the thunderstorms forecasted for the next three days.
This morning I thought I would take most of the day to rest, do laundry, and hitchhike back out to the trail in the evening and camp at Rainy pass to get an early start hiking tomorrow morning. However after seeing the weather report for that night and the next several days, I decided to stay one more night in a cozy, warm bed and start out tomorrow morning with dry gear and a fresh attitude to face the thunderstorms forecasted for the next three days.
Ravensong’s is right off Highway 20, but it’s not far to walk Mazama which I did with Inventor and Kanga to enjoy the $10 hiker breakfast offered at the hotel in town. We enjoyed large, hot meals and multiple cups of hot coffee (not instant, it was almost lavish) and Inventor told us about his fundraising venture. He hiked the Appalachian Trail previously just for fun, but after his son went through cancer treatment, he wanted do something impactful this thru hike, so he was raising money for a cancer research foundation.
I separated for a while, did my laundry, made calls, worked on this blog post. Met up with some hikers again at the general store and had a cup of coffee in the sunshine. The warm weather and blue skies were deceiving, the rain was expected to roll in late afternoon and now at 3:30, the clouds have returned.
The rest of the day has been spent preparing to return to the trail tomorrow, getting my tent bone dry again, sending my list of grocery requests with Almonds and Inventor as they hitchhike into Winthrope which had a more robust grocery store. Tonight we are going to have a group dinner at the hostel, ready to welcome any new arrivals to the hostel tonight if they come in from the trail. Again I am grateful for the camaraderie, for remembering that I’m not in this alone even though I will be setting out alone again tomorrow morning.
And as I write this I’m thinking about all the people who will read it, who requested regular updates, who sent me off with well wishes and advice, love, and encouragement. I’m remembering that this story I’m living isn’t just for me, it’s for people who want to see me succeed, you all are in this with me too. Thank you so, so much for your support, it means the world to me.
*Originally I had more photos and captions on all of them but something on the post went wrong and I had to redo the pictures in a hurry. I promise more pictures in future!