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quick letter hello

hello friends!

i am writing from a very old and struggling computer at the very rad hostel in south lake tahoe. i am stopping in to report that we are here: i made it through the sierras! now, on to northern california and the continuation of many many days of climbing unending hills (by the way the “crest” in pct means “long endless slog up hills”) and hopefully swimming in many lakes.

one day california will provide me with some decent internet and a way to download photos of the mind blowing mountain passes of the high sierra nevada, but that day is not today (despite two hours of effort trying to make it so). without the photos my story of so much deep happiness in the most beautiful of mountain playgrounds seems diminished, so i will wait for then to write much more.  in summary, the pct continues to amaze, despite the occasional week or day of boredom or total fatigue. i have learned so much about myself, have found more peace than i have known before, and am so grateful for all of the amazing people i have met that feel like family whenever our walking lives cross paths. i love the slowness of human powered travel: love watching the rocks move from granite to metamorphic, love that i can now tell elevation by the variety of conifer tree species we are around. I love that the highlight of my day might be watching a golden hawk crest high on a warm draft of wind or that it might come with the jolt out of hiking meditative state as we begin the daily “ideas” debate ghislain and i have taken up to pass the time. in the rare moments we are not walking as hard and fast as we can, he has been fishing with his new tenkara set-up and i have been eating fresh trout and swimming naked in cold lakes. As i check off mountain pass after mountain pass, these small things feel meaningful and good.

in other news, my thighs are huge from all the rocks and hills…i could probably crush a marmot with them, but i would never do such a thing because seeing marmots makes me break into a deep pile of mush and good cheer. (the sierra marmots are particularly fat due to the lack of any living predator, so basically the last few hundred miles have been wonderful even when my ankles kept turning and my toes cracked from my crap shoes and being wet from water crossings all of the time).

im onto a new stage of my hike this week that i originally anticipated starting at the beginning: solo time. ghis is leaving and i need to not worry about being eaten by a cougar while sleeping alone. thank goodness for my now-trusty hexamid tent! cowboy camping is not for me. i like a wall between me and the wild things, however metaphorical that wall may be.

while it will be strange to pick up a new routine this deep into this experience of attempting a thru-hike, i am looking forward to the challenge. here is to rising early, walking long and slow, and making it to canada despite it seeming very, very far away. i need to average 22 miles a day now if i allocate a reasonable amount of town and rest, so i feel the urge to go and cruise. it seems attainable now as 22 passes quick and 24 feels smooth, but still-whew. wish me luck! i will check in as soon as i can get some photos up to tell more stories of hiking muir pass at orange sunset to sleep at 12,500 feet; of glissading down 2000 feet without losing my shit, of the calm of walking  waist deep in lupins and the ever present wooly sunflower. of somehow, just from placing one foot all gentle-like in front of the other, making it to here.

love,

elizabeth (dirt squirrel)

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Hot hot and hot: photome (to mile 560 and tehachapi!)

Internet is limited as I have absconded to the coast for a few days to let a sore foot heal from back to back 40 k days on hard road and wait out a forest fire that is threatening to close the next section of trail. Its also 104 degrees out there and I am a wimp. Monday looks cooler, so then I will hike.

For now, here is a snapshot of the last 150 or so miles. Wispy grass oak to giant pines to the hot and windy desert; night hiking in starlight to shadows of joshua trees; dehydration to hippie parties in the magical manzanita forest. There was one crazy night across the broad mohave where we started at 3am, watched sunrise break and walked somemore. We hid all day under a bridge like trolls, walked again at 5 till 10, crashed into wind storm laden bed, but it never relented. Due to crazy wind and a quickly breaking tent we ran away for cover at 3am to a burrito style sleep in a rocky ditch 2 miles away. Eesh. We woke too late due to being protected in shade by this sandy windy stupor. We paid for our mistake with a hot hike and a dry mouth. 70k in 36 hours, holy shit. I spent the last hour or two to tehachapi promising myself that “if i didn’t cry from feet and fatigue i got town!food! but if i did cry:well i had to watch ghis eat up his delicious delicious noodles while i didnt so don’t be a softy.” Im easily motivated by food these days so at least that mantra worked! Getting off that damn mountain man, you have no choice so you just better go. Its getting funny to think about that day now, but it took a lot of ice cream to make the memory foggy. The trail provides, even if it its not always what you think you are looking for.

What we hikers call trail magic was everywhere this section. Cold cokes in coolers in the middle of nowhere; hiker hostels ranging from hyper organized to taco salad shambles; water caches just when the thirst was getting real; instant rides to the all you can eat chinese buffet from a bernie sanders sticker sporting clunky old car driving trail angel who picked us up before we even stuck out our thumb; root beer floats; rumours of free chicken salad sandwiches given out by valley dwelling desert rats (which we missed due to sheer lazyness of not wanting to walk 200 extra yards  so instead just huddled under a joshua tree);  ice cream; hiker box scores of siriracha and a nail clipper, both of which i have been hoping for for a week. There was a friendly hello and gift of dried fruit  from a fellow hiker just when the grump was starting: too much walking on the sharp pain of an angry tendon that has no choice but to be walked on until the next road and water 20 miles out.  Helped the new mantra of “you better hurry even though the suck is now real.” Apples and chairs (chairs!) at mile 459 in barren waterless hills when i needed relief most. The joy of total collapse and taking off of packs when the miles end and the hotel discount for us hikers is real and cheap so the shower I feel guilty dreaming about can become solid reality. Free milkshakes. Our collective trail economy of hiker boxes where one can score now staple life items like dried beans and trade coffee for bags of nuts. This trail society; its free and equal and gift-oriented. Something in me thinks maybe this is real life and the rest is a bad vacation where capitalism somehow won but this is how it should be. No status, no money, all generous and kind. Just forward momentum somehow supported by strangers you may never meet. I am so grateful.

Southern california is almost complete; kennedy meadows and the snowy sierra are so close. I can’t stop imagining what it will be to reach their granitic shadows and cool breezy creeks. Desert, its been nice, but im pretty much over you.


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From here to here (mile 460)

Ive reached hiker heaven, a beautiful refuge house for us smelly hikers. It has free laundry, hot showers, a kitchen for cooking real food, and a collection of all our friends met over the past month that miraculously ended up here at the same time. It also has a saguero cactus in the yard which is creating all kinds of pleasureable feelings. A cute cactus that doesn’t want to reach out and poke my delicate sleeping pad! Yes! Ive been waiting for you.

All this is good, but I want to get back to the woods asap so won’t write much today. Here are some photos instead: over the last hundred miles we circled around the coast and the smog of LA, through pinyon to massive california red cedar and pine, between burn zones and its poisonous poodle bush. This section was spectacular; my favourite so far. Surrounded by eager eight year old boy scouts we climbed mt baden powell in the fog and cold. There were no views, but saw the massive 2000 year old limber pine which made the spooky summit special and worth the extra meters of extra steep climb.

After the solitude of the trail, town time feels overwhelmingly loud. The desert floor is calling. Sitting feels odd today and my stomach is growling as if I was hiking, but we are only doing five miles today instead of the usual 18 or 20. The last week was cold. So, damn, cold. The temperatures hovered around freezing and the wind was whippy and harsh. Two mornings there was ice on the tarp! And they call this the desert. That said, it was perfect walking weather so we flew up the hills.With the frosty stretch behind us the flat hot mojave section up next is sounding mighty appealing. Away I go; please bring on the heat. But not too much. Desert life, never a moment of moderation.



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Yesyesyes! (Mile 370)

 

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Weve made it 370 miles and the flow has arrived. We move up and down mountain ranges, across landscape, through blistered feet to the bliss of hiking into sunset and setting up camp in dusk because its just too hard to stop.

This last section from Idyllwild to Wrightwood took us eight days from over 10,000 feet down to 1230  to the oven- hot valley floor and them back up again. Endless up and downs. There was one memorable day-long descent of 9300 meters from the peak of jan jacinto pine rock to the dusty blooming creosote that somehow survives 42 degree heat. Ouch. The three mile sandy walk to shade at the bottom was the hottest and most fatigued i remember: who knew that a smelly underpass would provide such sweet shade relief ? I can only imagine what the mojave will bring, especially as i have ditched my umbrella in a “my pack is too heavy” low blood sugar induced purge. Whoops.

We skipped 30 miles after cabazon due to a fire closure. While i was sad to miss miles, we made it up by hosting a memorable fruit buffet party for hiker friends on the shuttle bus. This almost felt better than walking those hot burnt miles even though everyone was torn about following the rules with rumours the trail was actually in perfect shape. Alas, with 2000 hikers this season its good to be a sensitive member of the herd instead of pushing my own singular goals.

Big bear to here was wordlessly perfect despite my feet growing  out of my shoes. You would think this was impossible after thirty years of feet, but i live to tell the truth: my toes are a blistered shred and rei express is the best friend a hiker can have. New shoes, please be kind. But the feet didnt matter once one got past the initial five minute hobble and various kinds of tape. Almost.This section was cruisy. There was water! Glorious water to camp with night after night! Swimming in the creek! The lake! I could drink as much as i wanted and not worry i was over my share! There was perfection among the hippies and hot springs where the pools were large enough to cliff jump into and a pair of bay area artists left a gift of a wine bag and snickers bars. There was trail magic of root beer floats delivered at a dusty roadside. Be still my heart.

The miles fly by now; somehow its often lunch and 10 passed already in quiet contemplation or impassioned debated bliss. Walking becomes fast if its all you do 10 hours a day. Up and down and up and down. Sometimes i think about work or life but often justdaydream about much beloved hiker things like picnic tables or ice.

Add in another 9000 foot waterless climb and we’ve reached now: pinyon pines, gusty winds, and the distant lights of los angeles which im happy to avoid. Forest time, its an easy way to get home.

 

foraginghere

June 25, 2016

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These days isolation and slow internet is the name of the game. This is bad for this space but good for my heart, so a real update will have to wait until I get to town again in a couple of weeks and can upload all the decent photos from my gorgeous new camera. For now, shoddy photography and bad lighting will have to tide us along. Sorry about that.

But to start, the sierra is here! Its now! We left tehachapi and the last hundred miles or so of desert with a bang. Dropped off by a snake- loving truck- driving construction worker that was kind enough to give us a ride very late in the day, we began night hiking after a quiet week off exploring the fog and sea animals of big sur. Leaving the trail always feels wrong, but I was ahead of schedule, my tendon was squeaky and screaming, and forward progress was blocked by a fire ahead on trail. So i was particularly happy to get back on trail. And what a start to the last section of hot dusty desert! We left the safety of town and easy access to water and wove straight up among the wind farms into a gale warning. As the sun set pink the wind took off: we climbed higher and higher on dark ridges and  the wind barreled forcing us to take each switchback corner on our knees. I felt like such a wild thing in the dark and screaming brush yet couldn’t stop hollering and laughing at the hilarity of it all. A life lived choosing to walk treeless hillside in starlight in winds that would normally urge one to batten down the hatches and go to bed.

After this, nothing in the next section could get us down. Not 40 mile water carries, not foot pain, not sharp prickly desert plants and exceptional mid-day heat. Every step pushed us closer to the mountains and away from the desert! Towards new plant life, new climbs, new ways of approaching landscape. Away from the beginning and the wondering if we were going to be among the lucky few who would make it this far. Away from worry and fear that hiking was a crazy choice, and towards the calm (and sometimes boredom) of a long expedition with its own particular set of life chores. The desert that, while stunning and beautiful, felt by the end like a high school relationship that went on too long- quaint, adorable, but something it was far time to move past. I was done with the first time and ready to go to college. And college is now. The magical sierra. Its everything I ever hoped for and more- I wish I could accurately describe the feeling of walking into a mountain range of light and granite when you started in the dust of near Mexico, but its amazing. Nothing else quite tops this. I will never take the presence of shade trees or water for granted again.

Our bags are weighted with bear canisters and extra food and the passes and elevation makes us loopy, lightheaded and high, but the last five weeks of walking have made us strong and fast. We move quick past day hikers with their perfume and boom boxes, and i feel lucky to be part of the secret tribe of PCT walkers living in the forest moving forward 20 miles or so day after day.

This said, the contradiction of travel Ive struggled with on earlier sojourns across the globe is apparent everywhere these days. Walking from town to town, we clearly feel the deep effect of the california drought, of the recession, of the rural poverty of this part of America. Small towns are suffering and each hitch we get tells a story of struggle and hard times. Talking to folks who pick us up I don’t empathize, but have begun to understand why people want to vote for nationalistic and sensationalist candidates like trump. The promise of an easier life, of a “great” america would be so tempting amongst all the prickles and hard living of this desert life. All this poverty and poor sanitation makes me extra grateful for being here; for the luck of moving past injuries to my current pain- free state, for new hiker pals and for the chance and privilege of economic chance and upbringing that I don’t have to work for awhile and instead find deep peace from swimming naked in alpine lakes, in glissading off steep passes at 12,7000 feet to iceburg lakes below. For the gift to have my biggest life worries turn into those focused on basic needs of food and cleanliness and human connection. Its a privilege we have in these rare times of life with space to walk and think about contradictions and my own ease of current life when its hard for so many. For simply being grateful for mountains and water, just because they are there.

Varied desert song (mile 180)


Ive discovered that you have to rest. This should come as no surprise but its a lesson i probably should have learned years ago. Trail life quickly teaches you to simplify your life and hike your own hike. I got to town faster than planned and my body needs a day or two to catch up- I shed some tears at the thought of getting “behind” the herd of forward moving animals but then laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. Behind in what? Walking? Its all so silly, the notion of a pure perfect hike when we are all just pawns on a made up map. Thanks pct, i knew you would be more than just a pretty piece of trail.


We are holed up in an adorable mountain town avoiding a snowstorm at 10,ooo feet. We are both nursing colds and sore knees. Idyllwild is full of excellent ways to spend all my money, and discover that yes, i can accidently eat an entire pizza and then want a panini please yes right now. I now understand why hiker talk revolves around town food: the need to eat to keep moving is so primal it takes over the parts of my brain that worry about work, finances, and dealings of my tender heart.

The last stretch of trail was all granite boulders, endless climbs and descents, and included four episodes of rattlesnack dodging, a marmot spotting, and over twenty new to me tree species. There were trail angel beers left in coolers at lonely road crossings, a library at mile 142, and a strange early morning free pancake zone at a bizarre ranch in the middle of nowhere where all were stoned but that was ok. Everyday many things and nothing happens all at once.

The bird call wakes us up and beds us down; my sleep is slowly aligning with the sun. Im itching to get back out there with a reset and a more patient state, to make slow and now my new goal.

 

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And, go.

 

So far, major sponsors of the PCT include ziplocks, dirty shirts, and sunburnt knuckles. Supports vying for top marks include cheese, the sawyer squeeze filtration system, nuun tabs, and trail magic soda-pop. Fails are the adorable straw hat that disintegrated immediately, my previous assumptions about what I would and would not care about, and all desire to be anywhere but here. I am enamored with everything-especially the baby desert plants and multiple kinds of adorable cactus- even though the weather has ranged from blazing hot to blisteringly cold with ice bombs to 80 km hour winds and rain on top of a mountain with fog obscured views. The desert isn’t acting quite like the desert, but that is the nature of this hike: nothing is as I thought it would be, and that is a good thing. Today I finished section A- 109 miles (!!) and arrived (almost not limping) in Warner Springs. Here is a community festival of mini tents, free mashed potatoes, hot dogs, and saucy beans. People are hiking from all around the world and water is hard to find; we hikers cluster for snack breaks and it feels collegial. It is as if I have entered an entire undiscovered continent of meshed up humanity, not simply a trail.

At dinner there was no salad, but I have been continuing my love affair for vegetables by sneaking zucchini and peppers into my pack so my hankering for town food is shockingly low. Ghislain, my desert hiking partner and i both love old school heavyweight backpack eating. We have so far avoided staples like ramen in favour of cabbage and polenta and as such been affectionately deemed “team buffet” for our glorious explosion of dinner. I am a happy woman but am getting hungry so the days of vitamins over snickers are low.

The landscape is more broad and varied than I expected and I need more adjectives for pretty- we hiked up 12,000 feet in two days and saw everything from giant manzanita trees to obscene pinecones larger than my head to massive dry washes filled with blossoming flowers pink, yellow, burnt orange. I have taken to tucking bouquets in my pack hip belt for good cheer: but honestly at this point its not even necessary. I am sore, but so content.

Next up are the San Jacinto mountains and with them: garborater style appetite, continued rumination on the value of paper vs electronic maps, and the debate every solo-ish hiker runs into: where to stay, and where to go?