Day 5 – Mt.Laguna to Sunrise Trail Water Trough

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NOTE: this post went missing from my site some time ago.  So I am reposting it for the sake of completion:

April 20, 2016: Cold sleepless night in the campground. While frogs serenaded us to sleep, coyotes took over at around midnight.  In my chilly, sleep-deprived state, I almost yelled out the New York standby, “shut that damn dog up” when I realized I was not in New York and these were nobody’s dogs.

Alicia and Pine set out in the pre-dawn hours but I was too cold to get out of my tent.  Once the sun rose and a much-needed cup of coffee were had, I made my way toward the PCT again. The morning was spectacular- the desert in full bloom as I wound my way up exposed desert ridges of the Cleveland National Forest.   I was thrilled to pass the 50 mile marker of the trail.

At around 11, I pulled into a small picnic area to rest and lunch. There I figured out why my left shoulder had a monster bruise and my left hip an abrassion from my hip belt.  Taking off my pack, I noticed that the right frame pole had torn through its fabric support.  Upon inspection, all four corners were doing the same, an inevitability given the sharp metal rubbing against mere nylon straps, the bottom right just having succeeded before the others.   I sat down and field repaired the pole back into place, knowing mere needle and thread would not hold for long.  I now knew I needed to reach Julian where cell and Internet service might help contact the manufacturer. I had not planned to stop there.

After the hour plus delay to repair, I set out again, this time into the hot afternoon sun.  A British couple at the picnic area thankfully showed me how to attach my umbrella to my pack and it saved my cookie up the fully exposed ridgelines that overlooked the baked desert.  Thankfully, one of what I have named the denizans of the trail, usually unphotograhically quick lizards, decided to stop long enough for a photo opp.

As the ridgelines gave way to high desert valleys, the wind began tho roar.  As I approached the Sunrise Trailhead near the Sunrise Highway, the umbrella had to be closed.  The wind cooled the temp, as I saw what would be my only water source for the next 10 miles – an algae, bug ridden horse trough.  PCT hikers were already gathered around, filtering water and trying to pitch tents in the field next to the trough.  While I too filtered, I decided the water may be best mixed with the flavor of Idahoan mashed potatoes (extra bacon of course).  I then discoved yet another use for my umbrella – wind shade for my stove.

After dinner, I took my pack up out of the windy field and nestled in for a quick cowboy camp nap up in the high bushes.  I fell asleep before the sun set.

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Miles: 12.32

Elevation gain/loss: 1603/-2029ft

Home Again? Can we ever really go back…

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One thing is certain — 2016 has been one hell of a year.  A turning point for the nation, for my family, for me.  My grandmother passed away in the early months of the year.  I then embarked upon an epic journey in April to live, really live, for a while that came to a temporary end on October 17, 2016.  Upon coming back to the city where I grew up, my aunt was in the hospital and a nation was poised to elect its first woman president.  Most welcomed me back, asking “how was your hike” as if it was an afternoon stroll through the woods or extended vacation on the beach, to be summed up in a few sentences.  Completely at a loss to satisfy their question, I could only think back over the prior 6 months, hiking 1700 miles, climbing up and down the equivalent of the Empire State Building several thousands of times — literally, climbing the tallest mountain in the lower 48, surviving heat stroke in the desert and being on the cusp of hypothermia during 100 year record breaking precipitation for the month of October in Washington (and for the Pacific Northwest — that is really saying something), doing all of this while suffering increasingly debilitating achilles tendinitis, and doing 98% of all hiking solo resulting in a life-changing event that simply cannot be put into words, let alone summed up in so few.

I also knew and had been well warned that post-trail depression would set in — and it has with a vengeance.  An excellent description of this phenomenon is expressed by a fellow hiker and blogger:

The reasons for post trail depression are quite obvious once you think about the position you will be in once you finish your hike:  You will have just completed a gigantic goal for which you are proud, but few others understand.  You will likely be homeless or penniless or both.  You will likely have no job, and no sense of purpose.  You will need to redefine yourself.  You will go from exercising 8-12 hours a day to almost nothing.  You will go from warm months into the cold depressing winter.  You will be expected to adjust to a new lifestyle.  Seems like a slap in the face, right!?

When you’re hiking, your brain will be used to high endorphin levels from all the exercise.  The word endorphin’s comes from “endogenous morphine”, which means a morphine like substance produced by the body.  Their effect is to lessen pain and produce a euphoric effect, much like that of morphine.  By going from hiking many miles every day to sitting on the couch, you’re effectively taking a morphine addict and putting them in rehab.

–Dormouse, Jan. 2015

 

Pretty much all of what Dormouse describes is true for me and could not have been written any better.  The endorphin drop and time my body needs to heal from injuries has resulted in sleeping all day on some days and conversely suffering sleeplessness and restlessness for days at a time, literally vibrating with unspent energy and anxiousness.  I am indeed almost penniless, and jobless, though my aunt has provided a soft-landing to avoid total homelessness.  Add the separation from the most excellent of friends made all along the journey, the need to fit back into “polite” society (i.e., bathing, using a restroom, for us women, wearing makeup and actually brushing your hair, etc.– all of which norms or frequency requirements seem absolutely silly now), the separation from the challenges and shear wonder and beauty of most days on the trail and the result is that falling into a deep slump has been all the more easy.  Now, top that off with the results of the election, and it seems like I have fallen into a bizarre, crazy world that I neither recognize nor in which I want to be a part.

I want to run, not walk, back to the trail and just disappear into that world of independence and beauty again.  And then, the guilt hits…from all angles.   Guilt about wanting to disappear when action seems so necessary right now.  Guilt about wanting to just get a job driving for Uber or the like that will allow me to earn enough to survive while saving to complete the goal of finishing the trail and the journey that I started.  Guilt in the knowledge that collective inaction will likely contribute to the destruction and devastation of the natural places which I love the most and feeling cheated because I already feel as if I am in a race against time to experience those places from the destruction that has already begun.  With all of this, even my best friend in the world said that my heart felt desire to simply get some work to pay the bills and save until the next hike were the equivalent of “being an Olympian and choosing not to go to the Olympics.”  And, in fairness, she is not alone in her assessment of my having had “enough time off” from getting back to the work in which they “need people like you,” meaning back to some kind of involvement in the legal profession.

But truths about myself that I learned while hiking so many miles cannot be unlearned or ignored.  I want to advocate, but not as an attorney.   I want to be passionate about what I do to earn an income, but I do not want it to consume all of me.  I want to do the best that I can do at everything that I do do — including caring for my health and my soul — and feel that my best is an accomplishment worthy of respect.   I want to continue to surround myself with people who are interesting and who I love, trust and admire without feeling or being told, in so many implicit or explicit ways, that I am unworthy of their company.  I can live better with less stuff and more joy.  I want to be outdoors at least for a large part of most days.  Sounds like I just want to be …well, human for a little while longer.  Perhaps for the rest of my life.

Starting the trail, I felt empty and truly exhausted, but excited.   And then it started to work on me, slowly but surely.  I found that all of those things that exhausted me before need not be part of my life at all.  I learned that, post trail, I wanted to make sure I worked to live rather than lived to work.   The trail taught me that focusing on my own health and welfare, including finding joy and beauty was not selfish but necessary to get through each and every grueling day –both mentally and physically.  When work and pain did not balance out with joy and beauty (a rare thing on the trail, though the work and pain could be great at times), the day was miserable — period.

There are, of course, a myriad of lighter “truths” about myself which I knew to some extent before the hike, but truly came to appreciate during:

(a) I am a night owl — I have been since I was a child and will always be no matter what I am doing.

(b) Because of (a), I am very grumpy in the morning — approach at your own risk, awaken at your peril (yes marmots — that means you too!).

(c) Because of (a), I enjoy all activities — including hiking — during the afternoon, evening and nighttime hours and going to sleep after the sun rises and yes, I can see what I am doing and where I am going, and it is just as spectacular under the night sky as it is under the sun, and yes my predisposition to the darker cooler hours of the day made hiking in the desert a joy, and no, I am not always in the dark, but yes photos of the night are hard to take even with Samsung’s otherwise excellent camera!

(d)  To avoid (b), life is simply better when I can sleep in.

(e)  I love animals and even insects generally and I miss them terribly when I don’t see them for a while — right now I miss those pesky marmots, the pikas, the kangaroo mice, the owls, the bugling elk, the ambling black bears, the noisy coyotes, the serene deer, the show-off jack rabbits, the startling grouse, the majestic eagles, the spiraling hawks, the anxious vultures (though I suspect they were a little too anxious for us inexperienced hikers near the Mexican border), the rainbow of butterflies, the huge variety of spiders, the dragonflies, the horny toads and seemingly infinite variety of other lizards, rattlesnakes, gartersnakes, gopher snakes, actual toads and tiny green tree frogs, so many, many different birds, and the list can go on and on.

(f) I DO NOT LOVE biting flies with psychedelic yellow eyes that take a chunk out of you and never stand down; fire ants that do the same; mosquitoes so thick you must prepare your meals with a bug net over your head; forgetting your bug net is on your head and attempting to eat or drink before uncovering your mouth; hornets and wasps that chase you down the trail; scorpions that pop out and want to fight while you are, um, indisposed and armed with nothing but toilet paper and a tent stake.

(g) I always missed my cat Tiger — especially on those cold nights!

Alas, and with no time to adjust back into that part of the world from which I had abstained (I will not say this is the “real world” as everything I experienced in the prior six months out in the wilderness was more real than anything I experienced either before or after the journey), the electoral college favored the minority (albeit disappointingly slim) of the nation who plunged our government into the hands of a narcissistic “reality” (term used quite loosely) TV star and internet troll whose xenophobia, racial hatred, misogyny and environmental destruction became the rule of the day.  Even while the majority of my fellow Americans and myself voted against such regressive destruction, the damage such a government can achieve is devastating and another slap in the face.  The world with which I must now engage makes the love, respect, comradery, beauty and wonder on the trail seem like a cruel tease.

Where is my home now?  The trail?  Somewhere else?  I hiked over 1700 miles, skipping a large section in Northern California due to an injury-induced slow pace, and proceeding to Oregon and Washington until weather conditions finally made the hike too dangerous to continue with my small group of fellow hikers a little after Stevens Pass, Washington.   But, Northern California and the final push into Canada are waiting to be completed.  I will return to complete them.  After 6 months on the trail, the trail became home, where I felt most comfortable and when separated therefrom, even if for a few days, I would start to feel anxious to get back out there.  I am anxious now, but at least have so many memories to share and more to be made going forward….

And, without further ado — below are some of my favorite pics from the Southern California sections of PCT to Kennedy Meadows (the gateway to the Sierras), picking up where my blog posts left off.  Future posts will feature the Sierras, Mt. Whitney, Oregon and Washington!  Stay tuned!

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A note about timing…

The trail does not provide reliable wifi most of the time and the data necessary to post (even assuming I had a signal, which is usually not the case) is beyond this hiker’s budget.  With 4000 + hikers on the trail this year in towns overwhelming the wifi that is briefly available, it takes hours to upload simply one post, if it uploads at all.  Most brief town stops, I just don’t have the time to simply sit at one place to download multiple entries.  

Suffice it to say, while I am still on the trail and hiking through the Sierra Nevada, the blog is far behind.  The posts are written and will upload when I can and the media connection is steady.  Thanks all for following….

Day 17 – Mt. San Jacinto

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May 2, 2016:  Jameson and I got up early to wet tents that needed drying from the condensation the night before.  We hung out our tents in the sunlight and ate breakfast while Oden and Freya slept in.  The Nordic couple were still night up when we hit the trail.  I was limping behind a few miles while Jameson sped ahead.  We took the Mt. San Jacinto peak alternate trail and I quickly gained a deep appreciation for how well the PCT was both marked and maintained. 

The San Jacinto alternate trail was beautiful, but a laborious climb up a jagged and rocky, often poorly marked trail.  We hit expected icy patches, during which I was more than happy to have my microspikes.  I fell farther behind during the climb, but cannot say I was unhappy to have a bit of wild alone time.  That said, the rocky trail was killing my already tender left foot (the top of the foot near the ankle swollen and painful to the touch).  Every sideways jarring of the foot by another unstable rock making me swear in sharp pain – sometimes loudly.

Near the peak the landscape turned to a winter wonderland of icy fir trees, but rounding the corner to the actual summit, little deep snow still remained. 

I stayed at the summit of 10,821ft only briefly for the view before heading back down before nightfall.  Breathing the cold, oxygen-thin air was becoming a chore but the view worth it.

Coming down the north side was much more treacherous- much of the trail was snow covered and footprint paths were leading way off the trail.  I was not the only hiker to be led astray, pulling out my GPS for the first time to find my way back to the trail, post holing up a ravine through deep soft snow. 

It was noticeable when the alternate intersected the PCT.  There was a trail again to follow!  By the time I made it off the alternate the sun was setting.  I kept going down the mountain intending to catch up to Jameson camping at a spot just before Fuller Ridge.  But, as the sun set, a perfect single tent spot tucked into three boulders shielding the cold wind called to me.  I set up camp and slept, with a little help from vitamin I (ibuprofen) as my feet were killing me.  The right foot joining the left in pain on the top outer side near the ankle was depressing.  I began to have thoughts of the hiker- dreaded, hike-ending injury – stress fracture.  But I was determined to think of that tomorrow.

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Miles: 8.78

Elevation gain/loss:  2009/-2113

Day 16 – Devil’s Slide

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May 1, 2016: Rested, but still wrapping up our injuries, Jameson and I went to get a final cup of coffee with our PCT hiker discount.  It was a beautiful morning and saying goodbye to Idyllwild was hard to do.  After one final picture in front of the Idyllwild town center, we got a ride up to Humber Park and the Devil’s Slide Trail that would take us back to the PCT running through the San Jacinto Mountains in the San Bernardino National Forest in the late afternoon.

The beautiful morning quickly clouded over and Jameson and I found ourselves putting our pack covers on as rain, then hail, then sleet, then snow followed us up the steep series of switchbacks taking us up Devil’s Slide.   About half way up, Oden and Freya joined us and we made our way up, planning to camp just after Saddle Junction at the first campsite and take the San Jacinto peak alternate the next morning.  It was getting truly very cold, and the snow was really picking up at thunder could be heard.  We made it up the Devil’s Slide and to Saddle Junction in the early evening.  The storm began to pass, leaving no trace of the snow in its wake and clear , clear sky giving us a view of forested Idyllwild on the one side and desert Palm Springs and the Salton Sea on the other.  What an amazing contrast. 

We had planned to go to a campsite desginated on the Halfmile App we all used to navigate (and knowing that once we entered San Jacinto State Park there was only one allowed campground).  But we found an amazing campsite with a view right before.  Anticipating that we could not find a lovelier spot, we all settled in, Jameson and I pitching our tents and Oden and Freya planning to cowboy camp under the stars despite the cold.  Jameson built a lovely campfire and we all sat around enjoying the much needed warmth and the good company.  It was a great evening after a quick but difficult climb.  It was good to be back on the PCT!

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Miles: 2.74

Elevation gain/loss: 1715/-52 ft.

Days 14 & 15 – The Idyllwild Vortex

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April 29 & 30, 2016: Pine left the morning of the 30th — having completed his section hike, his mom picked him up, poodle in tow, to drive him back home.  Norbert stayed another night , but planned to and did leave the trail for a visit with family in L.A. bfor picking up the trail again in a few weeks.  I rebuilt my pack, putting the pockets, hipbelt and shock cord from the old onto the new and then went shopping for a resupply.  I was still hobbling around – my foot in no shape to begin the ascent up the Devil’s Slide Trail back to the PCT. 

Had to find a new room for the next night and Greg helped tremendously by introducing me to the proprietor of his cabin (the proud owner of the bulldog pictured below) who arranged lodging for me at another cabin that I shared with Jameson.  Homeless hikers taking care of homeless hikers.  Lodging secured in this busy little town, I set off to mail back my old pack, and another trail angel was handing out cookies to us hikers.  Met another hiker raising money for homeless pets and finding a home for a beautiful dog left stranded by his owner.  Luckily, she had a lot of interest from the locals for this sweet big dog.

The night was filled with live music at the wine bar in town and meeting so many hikers and getting our pictures taken at the local pizza place.  Jameson had been in town for a week, and we joked that he was about to buy realestate there.  Convinced him that it really was time to try to hike out , my foot and his ankle notwithstanding — the vortex was truly sucking us all in.

Said goodbye to Norbert the next morning, some last minute resupply and spent a restful evening watching Hunger Games with Jameson until the power went out.  No problem — we are hikers with headlamps!  Went to bed early and prepared for the climb out of town the next day – up the highest mountain in Southern California – San Jacinto.

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Day 13 – Awe – Paradise!

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April 28, 2016:  Well, the rain held off during the night, but started to come in today.  The morning started off cool and misty — just like the great Northwest.  I was at home!  After days in the scorching sun, the misty, foggy morning felt so good, and made the mountains mysterious and beautiful.  Flowers seemed more vibrant.

Despite the sign seen the day before warning how the locals around the area were not friendly to hikers, Woodchuck and I came across the most amazing water cache and rest stop, complete with a book borrow, fruit, water (of course) and a surf board to sign.  We signed and regretted we hadn’t camped here the night before — it had been so close!

Woodchuck and I parted ways as I wanted to make my way to the fabled “Paradise Cafe.”  Due to the Mountain Fire closure, hikers have two choices going into Idyllwild — hitch from Paradise Cafe or hike an alternate route down to Idyllwild.  Most take the hitch — and I would too.  But, as usual, looking forward to a big breakfast at the Cafe. 

Almost didn’t want to come down out of the misty mountains — it was such a glorious morning.  However, when I arrived at the Cafe, the rain had really set in.  I was a bit soaked, and more than happy for the warmth and friendly faces that greeted me there.  Pine was there, soon followed by Woodchuck and Norbert.  Despite the time being beyond breakfast, the owner still served me breakfast 🙂  Yeah!

Pine and I set off to get our hitch into town.  Nobody actually stuck his leg out on the corner — hilarious!  Will never forget the image as he said “Hey, that’s actually really cold!”  Pine and I were picked up by a local marijuana farmer (who was, contary, again, to the sign the previous day) very friendly — growing for a medical company.  He knew all of the local sights and pointed them out as we traveled back up into the mountains to Idyllwild.  He dropped us off about 5 miles out of the town, which put me in a pinch, as I needed to pick up my resupply box and new pack at the post office before it closed. 

Lucky for us, a wonderful woman pulled over to offer us a ride — she was headed into the post office, but had to find one of her three dogs who had jumped out the car after a squirrel.  We drove around for a while, and found the dog, and Woodchuck!  Woodchuck and the dog aboard, we headed to the post office. 

Got my packages, and headed to the cabin I had already booked.  Saw Jameson, and so many others, including Vivian and Luis, Serenity, just so many others — apparently Idyllwild was a hard place to get away from :).

Found Norbert looking for a room on the way to the cabin, and he and Pine shared the cabin.  We were all happy to have a warm place to sleep along with interesting 1980’s movies to watch. 

We did laundry and there was a scale at the laundrymat.  Big mistake getting on it!  I was distressed to learn I had already dropped 10lbs!  Couldn’t lose much more before I wouldn’t be able to lift my pack!  Did my best to gain some back by joining Greg, Norbert and Pine for some Mexican food….

Decided I needed to take the next day in town to get some resupply and errands done, so booked for another night.  Maybe Idyllwild would be a hard place for me to leave too.  My foot, by this point was killing me, but I thought a few days rest may be the answer.  It was so nice to drift off on a nice bed for a night.

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Miles: approx. 8.83

Elevation gain/loss: 1492/-879ft.