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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)

foraginghere

June 25, 2016

image image image image

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.

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.



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.

 

Love

squamish waterfront

These days I am so much in love. In love with the mountains, the pink sunset, hill running, with catching babies, with squamish, with my lover, with climbing, with friends coming to visit, with perpetually sore quads, with sitting quiet and alone on the windy patio with nettle tea and birds circling overhead. In love with life.

And in love with these pancakes: if you are in need of inspiration try these for dinner when you are too tired to cook. I did it just now, and it was a success for removing the end of day grumps. I ate all the blueberries and cherries off before snapping a photo, and then remembered you might want to share in this moment too. Oops. Seasonal fruit demonstration fail. But adding fresh fruit to your pancake fiesta will be nothing but a good idea. I’m not going to type out the recipe, but the link works great. Enjoy.

Oatmeal pancakes