(10/4/19 Authors note: I know it’s been some time since I updated the old blog and I am sure this post is much anticipated. O’Well and I are just now finishing up the Sierra’s. I will explain more in a later post just how hard we have been pushing to get here, my free time has been very limited. However I have been journaling every day and every section of the trail will be documented by the end! Now that we are getting into the desert I will have much more time to start catching up. Thanks again for your patience and I hope you enjoy the journey even a fraction as much as I do!)
September 1 – Day 78
Near Burney Mountain in Northern California
The last week of hiking has been the most challenging hiking since I got on trail. I am moody, sometimes angry, I lack motivation, and I’ve been thinking a lot about all the things I could be doing if I wasn’t on trail. All the things that aren’t hiking. It feels like my mind is deteriorating somehow. Hiking is hard. It’s just hard. I ask myself what it is that makes it hard, and that little whiny voice in the back of my head answers. “I’m bored.”
Putting one foot in front of the other day after day, moment after moment. The trail is beautiful, the people are wonderful, my body is strong. But my feet are in pain and my mind is revolting. We did the math today, to get through the High Sierra’s before the snow starts to accumulate we need to pick up the pace. I don’t know how I can work any harder than I already am.
When I’m going through something difficult I like to tell myself, “You’ve done harder things.” It’s always true at the moment I tell it to myself, it keeps me going through the toughest moments, reminds me that I am stronger than I think. And in hindsight I sometimes look back and say, “You know what that was actually the hardest thing I’ve done.” In the future I can still tell myself the same thing and it will still be true in the moment. It tricks me into pushing myself more, ever raising my threshold of suffering one increment at a time.
Thru hiking is positively, unequivocally the hardest thing I have ever done. In the moment there is no denying it, mentally and physically I have never been so challenged. All of my coping strategies are out the window, everything I know about dealing with hardship is moot.
What’s the resolution here? What do I do to fix this, to keep myself going for the next 1,400 miles? I don’t know what to tell myself anymore, my previous coping strategies are out the window. All I can do is get up out of the patch of dirt I’m laying in and keep walking. That’s all I can do. Keep walking. One foot after the other, day after day, moment after moment. There’s the irony. The thing that’s driving me crazy is the only thing keeping me sane.
Oregon – Days 44 through 49
A month earlier we were still in Oregon. I had just gotten new shoes in Bend before staying the night in Sisters. We hitched out the next morning with a lady named Kathleen, a freelance writer and editor who gave me her contact information and told me to get in touch after the trail for some tips on getting started freelancing. I was in high spirits, contemplating the possibilities of my post-trail career. It felt nice to be excited about potential futures rather than overwhelmed with the possibilities like I had been before I started the PCT. By midday I had forgotten about the topic again though, my focus once more on the trail.
Oregon quickly became a blur. We took those first couple days out of Sisters easy while I broke in my new shoes, but we had miles to push and push we did. We hiked through a thunderstorm, it rained and hailed buckets and we took shelter under a tree for a short time. The pressure to keep moving was on though and we hiked on through the pelting hail, making a big racket as it bounced off of O’Well’s umbrella. I laughed hysterically through most of it. Losing touch with my sanity would become a theme for Oregon. Luckily the sun came back mid afternoon and we didn’t have to set up camp in the rain, our rain gear mostly had a chance to dry out. The trail had become a river in places and our feet were soaked, but the sun evaporated the rain in huge steamy clouds and the green tunnel was soon dry again.
We hiked 30 miles one day, it didn’t feel like such a long day though. We got trail magic, breaking up the day nicely. The parents of some other hiker were set up near a road crossing and had a whole buffet of fresh fruit set up as well as hot dogs and potato chips. I ate two plates loaded with fruit before we left as well as a half dozen oreos. That night we camped at a cabin that was fitted with electricity, the only one on the entire PCT. It was dark by the time we arrived and the lights on in the windows were cozy and inviting, nestled in the dark trees. Someone had left half a case of Coors Light for hikers at the cabin, adding to our trail magic for the day. I drank my beer and drained the blister still lingering on my heel while we chatted with other hikers staying there. It was a cozy evening.
The next day we hiked just 7 miles to the highway where we hitched into Eugene. We had just been in town, but we were excited to get to Eugene. Back before White Pass in Washington O’Well and I had met a former PCT hiker out for a day hike with his family, Stew Fly. He hiked in 1980, the same year Mount St. Helens blew, and he shared with us his stories about hiking around the ash field and carrying packs at least twice as heavy as what was now considered standard on the trail. He also invited us to come stay at his house once we got down to Oregon. After a quick stop at REI for a new shirt (mine was starting to rip apart) and a big meal at the Beer Garden, we got a Lyft ride to Stew Fly’s house. We spent the afternoon getting cleaned up and picking a vast amount of blueberries from the garden. Stew Fly and his wife were excellent hosts and we looked through old photos from the PCT and toured his garden. He shared with us an excellent story about a bear fogging up the glasses of a dude who was on the ground playing dead, and the bear just biting him on the ass and wandering off. We laughed for a while, enjoying reminiscing about the trail 40 years ago. I was more excited to see all the ways it hadn’t changed than the ways it had. The next morning when Stew Fly drove us back to the trail we exchanged hugs and hopes that we could reconnect later on down the trail or possibly after we finished.
We only hiked 2 miles from the road before we stopped to eat a big late breakfast to lighten our packs up, we had far too much food to pack up the hill ahead of us. We ate maple waffle sandwiches on bread with hazlenut spread and vegan cream cheese. We felt like royalty.
We hiked 24 miles that day, the mosquitos were becoming atrocious, the sound of the swarms whining gnawed at your nerves and I was growing paranoid, slapping at non existent mosquitos on my legs every minute or so. We watched the sunset from the safety of our tents.
I was woken up the next morning at 4:30.
“Hey Snots,” O’Well was calling to me from his tent, “You wanna get up and hike?” That is what we did after all.
We packed up in the dark, and just as dawn broke we got on the trail. We hiked along the ridgeline as the sun rose across the valley. Despite our early start we did 28 miles that day and still hiked till dusk. It was a long day but it was good. We spent a lot of time recalling memories from our pasts, I was remembering things I had forgotten ever happened to me. I felt objective, I felt nothing, like I was remembering someone else’s life. I was pleased to have reached a mental state where even the most distressing memories didn’t cause me mental turmoil. I wondered if it was the trail that changed me. Was it just time? Or was it something deeper? I didn’t much care. It was enlightenment, and it was peace.
We were crossing paths with a lot of NOBOs, many of them had a look about them, like they were on a mission to crush miles, to get to Canada at all costs, but like something in them had died somewhere along the line. O’Well and I talked a lot throughout Oregon about this strategy to thru hiking. We talked about how much we didn’t want to hike that way. Pushing 30 miles every day, solely focused with single minded intent on your next objective, the campsite 30 miles from your campsite the night before, I think it must take something out of your enjoyment of the trail. Perhaps those people are out here for other reasons. But the PCT is hard enough when you’re trying to have fun. We were pushing it was true, but I couldn’t imagine not even taking the time to stop and take in a view at the top of a brutal climb, to hold my boyfriend’s hand and take a deep breath and remember why I’m doing this. It’s easy to lose sight of your reasons for hiking when all you focus on is miles.
We hiked 19 miles to the Crater Lake Rim Alternate, then 3 miles along that route. The main trail was closed due to cougar activity. Or a lack of motivation on the part of the National Forest service to maintain the trail. Or a lack of funding. The story always differs, but the PCT is always closed on that section. Apparently the Alternate has better views anyway.
It had been a bright sunny morning, but by the time we reached the point where the Alternate split from the PCT dense fog was blowing in and thunder was rolling in the distance. A cold wind whipped us and despite my desire not to skip any miles, we were concerned about how quickly the weather was changing. Getting struck by lightning was not on my to do list. The alternate crossed the road at several points and three miles in we caught a hitch the rest of the way up the rim, skipping about 6 miles of trail. We ended up crowded in the bed of a pickup with two other hikers and a pile of luggage. I was in O’Wells lap, a guy named Oily Boy was halfway in mine, his friend Slippy partly in his. It was a cold ride but the fog broke in places and we got some spectacular views of Crater lake, cruising along the highway.
My fingers were frozen by the time we came to a stop, but we were beyond grateful to be off the trail. We got some hot tea at the visitor center before catching another hitch to the nearby campground. I got a big pile of quarters and a six pack from the small store there before retreating to the hottest shower I have had on trail. I drank my beer in the shower and kept loading up the machine. It was 75 cents for 3 minutes and I loaded the machine 4 times for a round 12 minute shower. My beer was gone when I finished, and I was now a firm proponent of the shower beer.
We camped in a single RV site that night with a multitude of other hikers, there wasn’t room to set up both our tents so we shared my 1 person tent. The thunderstorm finally hit overnight, and it was loud. Flashes of lightning woke me up often. The next morning half the tent floor was floating in a puddle, turning my 1 person tent into a half person tent. We made our blurry way out of bed to find some of our neighbors in very low spirits indeed. I was glad enough just to get a cup of fresh coffee from the store.
My resupply box wasn’t at the store yet in the morning so we waited around most of the day, eating a lot of food, and greeting other friends who were hanging about. We saw Bullet for the first time in a while as well as a couple, Fancy and Snacks we had just met on the last section. Thunderstorms were forecasted for the afternoon and I waffled about whether to hike out or not. I didn’t want to hike in a thunderstorm but didn’t want to take a full zero either, the pressure to get the Sierra Nevadas before snow season was looming. We ultimately hiked out about 9 miles, and it didn’t end up raining that much. Even if it had, you can’t hide from the elements forever on trail, Thru hiking means you hike through. We had gotten lucky that we could avoid the bad weather the night before, but the only way to get to Mexico is to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
The next few days we were hiking around a trail family who had been together for some time, including Slippy and Oily Boy we had hitched to Mazama with. Also in their “tramily” were 6:30, Mary Poppins, Cloud, and a Czech guy, I could never remember his name. They were a fun group. O’Well and I had largely been on our own for some time and it was nice to hear some new stories and perspectives.
We hiked 25 miles one day, 27 the next, then another 27. Miles. Lots of miles. Despite all our talk of not being those people who just hike lots of miles, we were hiking lots of miles and I was feeling the monotony wearing on me. Not just that, but we realized on our second 27 mile day that we weren’t eating enough. We were both feeling lazy, thoughts hazy, and the green tunnel was making my head spin at times. My blisters were acting up, but we had to keep pushing to Ashland, and the pressure was getting to me.
It was getting harder and harder to hike. We took several breaks that day but by about 5 in the afternoon my mind rebelled. I simply refused to keep hiking, this was my first breakdown on trail. O’Well was a little behind me and I stopped where I was, a brambly patch that didn’t make for a very good break spot, but I had had enough. We had agreed earlier in the day we would zero in Ashland to recover a little from our calorie deprivation but we still had 25 miles or so to get there, and the miles were all I could think about. 8 more miles tonight then 17 the next day, and I had to hike every one of them before I could have a big meal and a hot shower. Just the idea of trying to get to the next water source suddenly felt overwhelming. I had just been stung by a bee, and shortly after I passed a NOBO who had a crazed, dead look in his eyes. He grunted at me and I grunted at him and we both hiked on, and I started to wonder if I was losing it, going crazy in the woods. Would that be so bad? I would be like everyone else out here, was part of my humanity slipping away? So I sat down and contemplated what I had to do – the 25 miles I had to hike. I cried. Glacier Peak Wilderness, Goat Rocks Wilderness, thunderstorms and hail storms, huge climbs, blisters, rough terrain, 30 mile days, isolation, deprivation, I had been through all of it without a single tear. But simply a lack of calories, that was what got me. I felt further from rational thought than I ever have. I felt like an animal, or a ghost. I felt lost.
O’Well caught up to me and he didn’t seem to know what to do.
“Did you know they invented the treadmill for prisons? They would make prisoners walk for six hours at a time, as punishment, and sometimes they would go crazy. We walk for ten hours, every day. It would be weird if you weren’t losing it a little bit.” I didn’t know if that made me feel better or not. “We need to get you some calories.”
I got up and walked.
About six miles ahead was a highway, and we had heard there was a restaurant just a short hitch down the road from there. The problem was it was getting late in the day and even if we hiked nonstop it would be a close call to make it before they closed. O’Well made the decision to hike ahead, he’s much faster and could make it in time to get some food and bring it back up to the trail for me. We said a quick farewell and he was gone, quickly disappearing into the trees. The loneliness crashed down around me and I found a new energy I hadn’t had before. I picked up the pace, determined to make it to the highway before he got back. I passed our friends Carjack, Fancy, and Snacks setting up camp a couple miles from the road.
“Oh yeah we saw him a while ago! We told him about the shortcut, just a forest service road that shaves off a mile.” I thanked them for the news and hiked on.
I was in the middle of setting up the tent in a field by the highway when a car pulled up and O’Well got out. He had brought me a double order of french fries, the savior of vegans everywhere when options are limited. He was grinning ear to ear having had something of an adventure getting to the restaurant. He had taken the shortcut, although it hadn’t saved him much time as it was well populated with blackberries “I got berried,” he joked pleased with the pun. But he had been on a mission and he was booking it. He made it to the highway and caught a hitch immediately, they agreed to take him back up to the trail after he got some food if he wasn’t too long since they were just coming into town for a quick errand. He scarfed down a burger and a beer with a couple other hikers then was back in the car with a to go box of fries. We sat and watched the nearly full moon while I stuffed my face with three orders of greasy french fries. It was maybe one of our most romantic moments on trail.
The food definitely helped us get into Ashland the next day, but it was still a slog, taking longer to hike 18 miles than it should have. It was a very hot day and we were getting delirious by midday. We sat down to eat the last of our food, watching salamanders skittering around, “That one is doing push-ups,” I pointed out and we laughed hysterically, at the salamander getting his reps in. I made it the last 4 miles into town on fumes, and we still had to road walk a mile to get somewhere we could hitch from. I wish I could remember what we talked about on that road walk, delusional rambling. The whole morning I was dreaming of getting to a hotel and passing out face first on a bed. I didn’t feel hungry but my body was completely exhausted.
We got a hitch into Ashland right away, got ourselves to a hotel, and not even an hour after getting off trail I was in a hot shower, buying food from a boujie grocery store (vegan burgers and a pint of coconut bliss ice cream and a big tray of sushi and a watermelon.) The ice cream was gone before I passed out on the bed.
September 2 – Day 79
Thru hiking is hard. It’s okay that some days it’s hard.
Yesterday I was venting at O’Well, taking out my frustrations on him over things that are not his fault.
“This is still hard for me, just cause you’re a machine, you’ve done this before doesn’t mean it’s not still hard for me.”
“You want all the luxuries of being in town and still be able to say you finished a thru hike,” he accused me. “I’ll just treat you like a delicate flower, would that make it better?” He was joking but my blood boiled.
“Now you’re making me mad. I’m still out here, I’m still doing it. It’s okay that it’s hard sometimes.”
He changed tactic. “I’ve seen a lot of people thru hike, and you really are doing it.” The quick change of tune was too much for me.
I stepped off the trail. “You need to hike ahead for a while.” Rage simmered under my skin. Later I found out that he really thought I was going to punch him in that moment. I angry hiked for most of the day, which really is a verb. It burns more calories than normal and is not ideal. O’Well and I crossed paths a couple times but we didn’t speak. I knew we had to resolve things before we camped that night, I had the tent and he had the stove, we were tethered to each other. It was good, to know I could be mad and everything would still work out one way or another. In the same way the trail could be hard and I would still keep hiking it.
About 5 miles short of where we needed to camp I had burned myself out, I was exhausted from being angry all day and I was ready to apologise and be done with it. I came across some squiggles on the trail, it took me a a minute to realize it was a message, then a couple more to decipher what it said.
“I’m sorry Snots. I love you too much for you to be sad.”
When I ran into him again we talked it out. It wasn’t his fault that hiking is hard. And it wasn’t my fault it was hard either. It’s just hard.
“Hiking the PCT southbound is one of the hardest thru hikes you can do. I averaged 16 miles a day on the Appalachian trail.” He told me. We had averaged 24 a day throughout Oregon. “You’re doing it.”
I was bored with the monotony. You’re already doing so much, trying so hard, working your ass off every single day for one singular goal, and still every day there are more miles. It always feels like what you did today isn’t enough if you think about the trail in its entirety. 25 miles is nothing compared to 2,653. But every day you hike a marathon you have completed 1% of the trail. You keep putting drops in that bucket and it adds up. Human nature is such that you will rise to the occasion, or so I believe. If you say in your mind you’re going to do something that seems impossible you can do it, but you have to maintain a certain perspective. I needed to stop hiking 2,650 miles, to stop hiking 25 miles at a time. All I needed to do was eat breakfast, hike the next 5 to second breakfast, then 5 more to lunch. Then its 5 to afternoon snack, 6 to first dinner, and an easy 4 to camp. Each time you eat is a celebration, each step is a victory. One after the other, day after day, moment after moment.