Monday, October 15, 2012

The End

Well, quite a bit of time has passed between the end of the trail and now. I reached the Canadian border on September 21st, 147 days after I began at the Mexican border.

The Love Train was all there to celebrate at the border together, and boy did we celebrate! I had always thought that my time at the northern terminus would be filled with quiet reflection about the past five months that I had spent on the trail. The reality was quite different, and I have no regrets about that. I was around some of the most magnificent people that I’ve ever met in my life, and I’m lucky to have them all there at the end. It helped immensely that most of them were feeling the exact same emotions as I was--we acted like a support group for each other for thousands of miles and continued to do so until the end (and will probably still be supportive as long as I know them!) In an amazing PCT coincidence, I met most of the people I ended the trail with within the first few days. I met Zen and Wampus Cat within the first few days, I ate dinner with Hallmark and Yankee Son on the second day of the hike, I bonded with Cookie and Snausage in the creation of the Wolf Pack on the third night, and I met up with Oasis and Honey Bear at the Kick-Off celebration! Really everyone but the Gay Caballeros (Pan, Seano and Dionysius—three of the most wonderful people I met on trail, even though I knew them for a little less than a week) had been around me since the desert in the very beginning.

Here is a photo of all of us posing in front of Monument 78 on the Canadian border:

(From the top: Zen, Wampus Cat, Chimp, Snausage, Spud, White Bear, Pan, Seano, Dionysius, Mufasa, Histo, Yankee Son, Hallmark, Cookie, Oasis, Honey Bear)

The two hardest things about being done with the trail have been being separated from the group of people who you have been around for most of the trail (for me that is especially true of Oasis, Honey Bear, Cookie and Histo), and not having the same routine of hiking, eating, and sleeping that I have been accustomed to for months. Even though it has been a number of weeks since I finished, I still feel such a close connection to the trail—it feels like I should start hiking again after having a few days off. Paradoxically, it also feels like the trail never actually happened. I’ve talked to a few friends who also hiked, and they feel similarly.

I was planning on writing a long blog entry about the experiences that I had on the trail that meant the most to me, but the further I get away from the trail the harder it is to put those things into words. The entire experience has become so personal that many of the most memorable experiences that I had are completely ineffable. It’s unfortunate that I can’t share more, but words seem to fail me when people ask me about the journey. Before the trip when I would read the journal entries of people who have previously hiked the trail, there had been a dramatic drop off in writings near the end of the trail and afterwards. I had never understood why, but now I realize that most people probably go through the same mindset as I have been going through. All I know is that I miss it—I honestly would rather be hiking the trail more than anything. I know that this isn’t a substitute for the Pacific Crest Trail, but at least Histo and I will be meeting up to backpack on the Lost Coast tomorrow! Hopefully that will ease some of the feelings we have been having. I can’t wait.

I want to thank everyone who has put up with this inconsistent blog that I have been writing—it’s a skill that I have not quite yet mastered, unfortunately. I have had the support from a huge number of people, and it is so wholeheartedly appreciated. Having the mental and emotional stamina to complete this trip was thanks to the people back home who I know supported me through all of it. Again, thank you.

I might update this blog again at some future date, but for now this signifies the end of my journey.


And now, without further ado, some photos from Washington!

Entering Washington with the sun in my eyes.

Honey Bear and Oasis cross over the Bridge of the Gods.

 Histo and I love signs!

 I had Mt. Adams at sunset all to myself.

The moon and sunrise over Mt. Saint Helens

Mt. Rainier!


Johnny and Erica came and visited us at Snoqualmie Pass!

The beginning of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness... and the beginning of our two days of rain.

Histo and Snausage show off their rain gear.

I... show off my rain gear.

Fording a river because the bridge was out.

Peaks on a frosty morning.

Pika paradise!

A bit of the trail with Glacier Peak (I think) in the background.

Glacier Peak Wilderness, one of the better views on the trail.

Mica Lake... it was as cold to jump into as it looks.

Histo and Mufasa walking to the Stehekin Bakery (where dreams come true) first thing in the morning.

Lake Chelan in the town of Stehekin.

The trail with Canada far in the distance.

Our last sunset.

Zen and Wampus Cat survey our perfect last campsite.

Sunrise over Canada.

 We finally caught up to Train, the man who hiked in 26 different wedding dresses!

Honey Bear, Oasis and Cookie leading the way on our last few miles to the border.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Oregon: A State In Review

So, I thought I wrote a very long blog post while I was at Crater Lake, including pictures and poems and the like, but something apparently did not go according to plan. Because of that, it seems as though  I've walked through the entirety of Oregon without updating this blog a single time. Frequent readers of my blog will know that blogging stresses me out to no end, especially when I have so much to update and I'm crunched a bit for time in town. Most of this anxiety turns out to be in my own head, but it still prevents me from writing a sufficient post! Again, I resort to my boring ol' tactic of writing a list of unrelated incidents that you may piece together however you would like to get an idea of what my hike is like!

At least this one might have photos.

 -I was fortunate to be joined by the company of eighteen other hikers and friends as we passed the California/Oregon border on my 100th day of hiking on the PCT. This unofficial group had grown between the towns of Castella and Etna and had somewhat solidified by the time we hit the border. Our group, because we would often be traveling in huge lines of people, was dubbed the Love Train. Pictured above are (in the back row) Hot Shot, Camshaft, Scarecaw, Garelict, Spud, White Bear, Zen, Wampus Cat, Snausage (and in the front row), Doc, Mufasa, Cookie, Yankee Son, Hallmark, Honey Bear and Oasis. What a bunch of beautiful, caring, hilarious people.

-Our stay in Ashland was made much better by the visit from both my parents and Oasis' boyfriend Ryan, who has hiked both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. My parents treated us too well, bringing us freshly baked goodies and more produce than we knew what to do with. The Love Train ended up joining my parents and me in Lithia Park for an extreme picnic which somehow provided more food than we were able to eat, even with our insatiable hiker hunger. The stay in Ashland was complete when my parents treated Oasis, Honey Bear, Ryan and I to a Shakespearean play at the Elizabethan Theater.

 -Only a few short days out of Ashland, we came across the place that I had been looking forward to the most on this trip: Crater Lake! After living only a few hours away from it for the majority of my life, it was such an amazing treat to see this wonder of the world after walking to it from Mexico. Somehow, it made the experience mean much more to me. The lake was more spectacular than I could have imagined, and the three of us were giddy for hours after seeing it for the first time. That night we completed our stay at Crater Lake by sleeping right on the rim, away from all of the tourist areas. We were able to see both a sunrise and a sunset over the lake, and to top it off there was a meteor shower in full splendor the night that Crater Lake was our home.

 -Right before going into Eugene, we passed a small gravel road near Windigo Pass which had somewhat of a special place in my heart. This was where I first started having the idea of this hike stuck in my head when I accidentally passed this point on the last day of my 11-week road trip last summer. The spot was highlighted even further when we ran into our old friend Steve at that road. I'm not sure if I've written about Steve, but he is a trail angel who follows his hiker wife on all of the trails she has done to be her support system. While he isn't helping her out, he is giving other hikers rides, giving them food, or putting them up for the night. He found Honey Bear, Oasis and I going into South Lake Tahoe a few months ago and gave us a place to stay at his rented cabin for two nights, which was so so so incredibly kind. At Windigo Pass he greeted us with hugs, sandwiches, cold drinks, and all of the sugary desserts we could have wanted. It was good to see him, to say the least.

-Eugene... was stressful. Honey Bear and I had planned on doing so many things once we were back to the place that both of us have called home that we couldn't possibly fit everything in. I overextended myself a bit by trying to do all of our chores (which included figuring out our food for the next month and a half), and still trying to see as many friends and go as many places as I wanted. I ended up leaving Eugene less relaxed and well-rested than I did going in, but it was still worth it to try to do everything, so I can't complain too much.

-The first day out of Eugene provided us with a lot of new experiences. For one, we were on a forest fire detour, taking us off the PCT. That day was also my first day of rain on trail, which was exciting. To top it off we were in the middle of the route of a 100K ultramarathon, so there were support vehicles, bikes, runners, and hikers all around us as we tried to navigate through the detour and the rain. After the rain cleared up, we were greeted by some trail magic by a group of hikers who had done the trail last year. They brought out tons of food, floaty toys for a lake, and a comfortable couch. It was some of the best magic we had seen on trail. The day was topped off by a surprise hail storm! One of the more memorable days on trail, to say the least.

-The Three Sisters Wilderness was some of the most beautiful hiking we've had on trail. Just look at these lupine! Just imagine those flowers posing underneath a view of a handful of glacier-capped peaks with streams flowing every which way. No wonder we ran into at least 50 other hikers that day.

 -Mt. Jefferson was just as phenomenal. Lordy. Pretty much everything north of the Three Sisters was absolutely gorgeous. Honey Bear's father and younger brother joined us between Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood for three days, and it was such a delight to slow down and enjoy the wilderness for once, especially in such a unique and lush area. The energy that the two brought with them were very welcome, too, especially because Oasis and I had been silently stressed and doubtful about our own experiences on the trail up for a few days up to that point. Their visit seemed to cure all of that. A big thank you to both Henry and Christopher!

 -The three of us reunited with an updated Love Train right before or at Timberline Lodge, just in time for the legendary breakfast buffet that they serve at the Lodge. After eight straight hours of eating, drinking, and being merry, we hiked on to see some very misty and glacial vistas of Mt. Hood that seemed to be straight out of the Lord of the Rings.

 -The last 15 miles before the Columbia River are well-known for the popular alternate trail that follows Eagle Creek and passes by some of the best waterfalls in Oregon. Here, Oasis waves beside one of the first waterfalls on that route, we all had such big smiles on our faces that day!

-The crème de la crème of these waterfalls is called Tunnel Falls. As the name suggests, you are able to water behind the waterfall through a small tunnel. We all got kicks out of running to one side of the waterfall and looking out, and then running back to the other side. Yankee Son, Hallmark and Snausage wait on one side of the tunnel as I take a photo of them from the other side. So cool.

-Finally, we finished our stay in Oregon by arriving at the Columbia River at a whopping 220 feet of elevation. The trail runs right through the town of Cascade Locks, which has been a wonderful place to say goodbye to Oregon and prepare us for the last leg of our journey into Washington. Honey Bear examines the Bridge of the Gods, our only path into Washington, which we will cross in only an hour or two.

Oregon, you've been beautiful. Washington, I can't wait to see you. PCT, I can't believe you're almost over. I feel at home with all of you.


P.S. If you would like to see any of my friend's blogs, here they are!

Honey Bear!  
Hallmark & Yankee Son!
Zen & Wampus Cat!
Nips & Wildflower!

Friday, August 3, 2012

California Stars

This is going to be a short one, I just needed to get it written before I enter Oregon.

I don't know if I've spoken about my love for cowboy camping, but I feel that it's something that should be known by all of you out there. Cowboy camping, for those who aren't familiar, is the act of sleeping outside without a tent--nothing but a groundsheet, a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag between yourself and the elements. I knew that I would be doing it periodically on the trail, but I was still looking forward to using my shelter nearly every night. In the first couple of weeks I would set up my shelter at the end of almost every day, but I soon realized that the conditions were so mild that I had no real use for sleeping under cover. In fact, I have only set up my shelter twice in the past 1,400 miles: once for a windstorm and once for some ominous looking clouds that produced 15 seconds of rain. This last incident was at the base of Mt. Whitney, 48 days and nearly 900 miles ago, and I'm trying to go as long as I can without breaking my streak.

The thing I enjoy about cowboy camping (besides that it makes for easier and quicker camp set-up and tear-down) is that it connects you more with the outside world while you're asleep, for better or worse. Many people see their tents as this indestructible barrier between themselves and the outside world, when in fact it is really just a thin piece of fabric held up with poles and stakes. The best thing about it, though, is the ability to stargaze at any time throughout the night.

So, without further ado, I present some song lyrics. This is a song performed by Wilco on the album "Mermaid Avenue," a collection of previously unrecorded songs written by Woody Guthrie (who would have turned 100 years old last month--happy centennial, Woody!). When I first heard this song, I never paid the lyrics too much attention. One night I was laying in my bag listening to music and this song came on, and it finally hit me in all the right places. I give you this song as my farewell to California.

I’d like to rest my heavy head tonight
On a bed of California stars
I’d like to lay my weary bones tonight
On a bed of California stars
I’d love to feel your hand touching mine
And ell me why i must keep working on
Yes, I’d give my life to lay my head tonight
On a bed of California stars

I’d like to dream my troubles all away
On a bed of California stars
Jump up from my starbed and make another day
Underneath my California stars
They hang like grapes on vines that shine
And warm the lovers glass like friendly wine
So, I’d give this world just to dream a dream with you
On our bed of California stars

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Celebrate Everything!

 So, I haven't updated in such a long time (my own fault due to having just TOO MUCH FUN), I will have to omit quite a few things that have occured over the past weeks just so I'm not spending hours typing away in this public library. I'll start writing things down in the meantime so I can write a more substantial blog post here in a few days once I hit Seiad Valley.

So, here are some highlights from the past few weeks!
-I ran across a herd of goats in the wilderness, pet them, and told the owners of the goats all about my idea for a cheese company (Cheese Louise!). They weren't too impressed.
-Did a nude photo shoot in front of the looming and distant Mt. Shasta. Wait, Mt. Shasta, you say? Why yes, I am in Cascades country!
-I visited my cousin Karen in the town of Quincy. It was so incredibly lovely to see her and her wonderful family. They opened up their beautiful home to us and the entire town was so welcoming to us smelly hikers. If you would like to see Karen's blog post about our visit, check it out! The rest of her blog is also delightful, just don't read it while you are hungry, you might drool on the keyboard.
-Histo, Oasis, Honey Bear and I all decided to do a day completely in silence to see how difficult it would be. The day before we tried to get all of the silly out of our system, which was fun, and the lack of distractions while we were silent made for a productive day of hiking, our first 30+ mile day (32 to be exact)!
-I attempted the "Nutella Challenge." I packed out two large jars of Nutella and a loaf of bread for a two day food carry... needless to say I had a constant headache, a grumpy demeanor, and I never want to taste the stuff again.
-We went to Burney Falls State Park to get a resupply package, knowing nothing about the park. I know that I was only expecting an average state park with some unimpressive waterfalls... but Burney Falls ended up being probably the most beautiful waterfalls that I have seen in my life, and that includes the masses of waterfalls I saw in all of my travels! We were so giddy that they were there that we literally danced at the base of the falls for quite a long time. The two root beer floats that I consumed at the park store probably helped my mood as well.
-I hit the halfway point, and brought some secret champagne (very heavy) to celebrate!
-We are currently less than 100 miles from Oregon... Honey Bear and I can hardly contain ourselves with excitement to return to our Motherland. Oasis is excited because she has never been to the Northwest and she feels like she'll finally be able to see my home!
-All of a sudden, after days of seeing only a few hikers at a time, I ran into my friend Snausage and two of my favorite couples on trail, Zen & Wampus Cat, and Hallmark & Yankee Son, so it has been quite a party on trail full of games, laughs, and hiker-trains.
-I ran into Cookie (formerly Sinead) in Etna last night! I hadn't seen her in 900 miles, and we ran to each other and embraced and chatted for all of the time we had together. It was so great seeing her, because we had shared so much of the desert together and I had been just on her tail for so long. She's half a day ahead again, but we're planning to spend some more time together in Ashland.

I'm sure more has happened, but I have a limited time on this computer and have to cut it short before I'm kicked off.

But first I wanted to tell everyone about my new motto on the trail: celebrate everything. I have been treating each day like it is a landmark, if we've hit 1,500 miles or if we only had a normal day. Having a milkshake in town, having an extra candy bar, even eating dinner has become a reward and a celebration in my head and for the people around me, just because we can! It makes each day special, and it puts a smile on my face no matter if my feet hurt, I'm sweaty, or I'm just a little bummed out. I think it's a fantastic strategy, because why not celebrate something so special that will be over sooner than we know it?

I don't have any photos this time around, but my friend Histo has some very quality photos on his blog which you should check out! There are some in his blog posts, but more in his Albums tab.

Oregon is only a few days away, I might run the whole way.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Naked Truth

I'm sorry that it has been so long since my last update, I've been in the mountains! And when I haven't been in the mountains, I've been relaxing in town or on trail (which has been pleasantly often these past few weeks) and reluctant to type on the tiny screen of my phone during that time. No more procrastinating for Spud, you good people deserve an update!
First, let me start out with some short events/milestones that have happened in my life in the last few weeks:
-I finally bought a new pair of shoes after putting 800+ miles on them.
-I was in a liquor store in Mammoth Lakes with my friends Snausage and Histo when a bear happened to walk in the back door.
-Squirrels attacked the camp that my friend Rapunzel and I had one night: one crawled onto her sleeping bag, which made her scream, and a few others ate a pair of my socks and some of the foam on my trekking poles.
-I've lost three of my ten toenails... seven to go!
-I'm well past the 1,000 mile mark! I'm nearly halfway.
-I bought a 26 ounce jar of Nutella to last me 200 miles. Needless to say, it didn't survive long past 45 miles.
-I got to add an extra state to my trip by going to Nevada for 10 minutes while I was in South Lake Tahoe.
-I continue to get free coffee/beer/fruit/rides from complete strangers, just because I'm a PCT-hiker.
-After many uncomfortable nights with rocks digging into my hips and shoulders, I finally decided to get a new sleeping pad. When I compared the two, I was flabbergasted at the amount of padding I had lost over two months. Compare my old pad in front (yellow) to my new pad in back (brown):

Now, time for some photos!

Kristo and Quest on top of a cold and windy Kearsarge Pass.

Muir Hut on top of Muir Pass on the summer solstice, AKA Hike Naked Day.

Arctic-ly cold, yet temptingly swimmable, Wanda Lake. I spent a good twenty minutes swimming around, which numbed most of my body. I hiked incredibly fast after that swim to heat myself back up.

Rapunzel fords the notorious Evolution Creek. Most years this creek is up to your chest by this time of year, but all the stream crossings this year have been tame, continuing the theme of the Class of 2012's Easiest Thru-hike Ever!

I forget what these lakes are called, but damn! Nature, you pretty.

Hikers out to breakfast in Mammoth. All Osprey and ULA packs... typical.

Thanks to Snausage's keen eye, this is now my new journal!!!

The most beautiful sunrise at the most beautiful campsite at Thousand Island Lakes.

A sleepy hiker.

Fresh glacial water above Tuolumne Meadows, the coldest an most delicious water on trail.

Typical hiker dinner.

Myself, posing awkwardly as we see our last real glimpse of the High Sierras.

Honey Bear greets Northern California with vigor.

Aloha Lake, which is dry most of the year, has islands full of dead trees throughout it, making for quite the unique sight. A quick break here suddenly turned into a full-fledged siesta, a respectable six miles out of town.

A view of Lake Tahoe from the trail.

Oasis does her best mule impression with two Mule's Ears tucked behind her own.

And finally this one is from long ago, but here is me sipping hot cocoa on top of Forester Pass!
Now let's discuss what I've really come here to write about.
I love being naked.
People close to me know this about me well. It's not that I'm a diehard naturalist or even someone who is looking to show off their body, I just feel comfortable with myself and enjoy the occasional moment of nudity whenever I can fit it in.
I also love coffee.
People who are close to me, acquaintances, and relative strangers all have known this about me. Nothing changes my mood more than a strong, black cup of coffee, no matter if it's early morning, late afternoon, or during the dead of night.
Most of all, I love nature.
Anyone reading this can probably easily guess that about me. Why else would I be walking 25 miles a day and sleeping on the ground outside?
So. A few weeks ago I ran back into my friends from the very beginning of the trail, Nips, Wildflower, and Snausage. It turns out they had been skinny-dipping every day, just like I had. They had also been having a mid-afternoon cup of coffee to counteract the post-lunch loss of energy that occurs a few hours after eating. Our first day out of Mammoth Lakes, we decided to combine the two, and a legendary tradition was born. A tradition which will be handed down through history, known simply as...
The Sip n' Dip.
It rhymes. It's catchy. We're naked. There's coffee. We are surrounded by trees, snowy mountains, fresh water, wildlife, and wildly unique rock formations. It's perfect.
The first time I sipped my coffee out of my favorite wooden cup in nothing but my moccasins, next to a rushing mountain stream, viewing a seemingly endless vista of wilderness, I felt myself becoming engrained in the environment around me. I felt like Mother Nature's son.
We have since continued this routine nearly every day. It's a marvelous way of breaking up the day, adding a feeling of harmony and excitement to the already Eden-like adventure that we experience daily. We preach the gospel to other hikers, hoping to spread this practice to all the non-sippers and non-dippers on the trail.
At the risk of spending too much time on the Sip n' Dip and ruining it for everyone, I should probably wrap this up and bid adieu to the Internet once again. I hope not to take this long to write again, please forgive me for my absence.
Much love from the backcountry,