Friday, July 29, 2016


I used to think that staying in one place was boring and ordinary. How did people do it, I wondered. Wasn't it like..settling? So I moved for decades, rarely settling anywhere for very long. Along the way I had some great adventures; I wouldn't trade them for the financial security that still eludes me. And, recently, I applied for the kind of job I always wanted: managing the wilderness for a well-known national park. After my long hike, I came home and withdrew my application.

It turns out that hiking two hundred miles solo is good for figuring things out. Among other things, I realized that I really didn't want to move again. After living in eleven different states as an adult, moving on has lost its allure.

We lost another of our dogs this week, this time sweet, happy Sierra. Pets are the only creatures you can really love unconditionally. People say they love their partners that way, but what they really mean is that they love them unconditionally as long as the other person behaves in a way that is understandable and acceptable to them. But Sierra loved J like that, once walking off the tread on her paws without complaining to keep up on a brutal 12 mile hike. The week she died, she gamely trotted behind his bike. She tried to rally after her emergency surgery, just like she always had when we dragged her on long hikes. She tried so hard. She wanted to live so much, even if it meant in the same yard, the same trails, the same people. You can learn a lot from a dog.

Cale, Sierra, Aluco. Only Cale is left.
We went down to the riverbank where the other pets--Wilkie, Aluco, Smoke--are buried. J dug a hole for Sierra. It was painful to watch. Afterwards I went and put my feet in the water. Another season had rolled around, another year of belonging to a place. I realized I wanted this. I wanted a history. I wanted to be able to come back to the place our pets slept. I wanted to hike up to the same lakes. It's not boring to love a place, and it's not boring to stay. Change can sometimes be overrated.

I looked at the clear water beneath my feet and let it go, a dream that had become frayed around the edges. I was staying here, and it looked like forever. For the first time, it felt really good to believe this. A weight I had been carrying around a long time floated away, the need to have big adventures every day, to always be traveling. It's not settling. It's finally coming home.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Pacific Crest Trail, Castella to Ashland: Walking to Oregon

The snowfield stretched far above and below the trail. How was there even a snowfield here in July? I began to kick steps, following someone's ancient, melted tracks. Too late, I realized that only a thin skiff of snow lay over thick ice. As I was thinking this, my foot slipped and I slid at a high rate of speed toward some waiting rocks.

This was not a good thing.

Cautiously I assessed the damage. Nothing was broken. It was time to hike on, though this close call made me think about how quickly things can turn around. Just read this story, at a place I have been many times.

I had been lucky. With only a few lacerations, I skipped across the Etna Bar road and back on trail.

The Marble Mountains were a place to savor, even though my highly anticipated afternoon swimming at "Paradise Lake" turned into a quick retreat from a scummy cow pond. Who names these places?

This is what the trail looks like for long sections. See how there's nowhere to camp for miles?

This is "Man Eaten" Lake. It's well below the PCT and so I didn't go there. Plus, the name!

I took a side trail to this lake. 

More contouring through some pretty country.

Then it was time to descend through the poison oak gauntlet and do the roadwalk to Seaid Valley. At 92 degrees, it wasn't pleasant. A guy in a pickup offered me a ride, but the road is part of the trail and I wasn't about to skip. Later I found out that most "thru" hikers accept rides here, despite their elitist attitude toward day and section hikers (not everyone, but many have this view).

The tiny town of Seiad Valley baked in the heat. What would it be like to live here? I'd be lying in the Klamath River all day, I thought. A small group of us pitched tents at the RV park for the night, positioning ourselves for the scenic yet steep climb from 1,000 feet back to 7,000. 

Blurry, but I was captivated by these enterprising girls and their lemonade stand (yes, I bought some)

Shortcut and Half Fast looking at maps.
By the last night on the trail, I was feeling the effort of hiking 200 miles. Several people have asked me why I hiked so many miles in such a short time. Partly I wanted to see what I could do. You are also dictated in this terrain by campsite availability and water. Sometimes you have to walk far to get to either one. But nearly a week after finishing, my feet still ached. It took me four days to want to hike again.

I think that's an old lookout tower on Devils Peak?

Lily Pad Lake on the climb out of Seaid Valley

I've now completed 1330 miles of the PCT. On the last day, heading down to Interstate 5, a milkshake, and a bed, I contemplated breaking up with the PCT. Maybe I'd done enough? But only a few hours later I knew we weren't quite finished. I might not travel the entire distance, but there's still a few miles left to go.

Hiking into Oregon was strangely very cool!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pacific Crest Trail, Castella to Ashland: the first hundred miles

By the afternoon of the second day, I had gone completely feral.

Castle Crags state park

Well on my way to a twenty-six mile day, the farthest I had ever backpacked. I stopped wearing underwear (with a long skirt, who needs it?). I talked to myself, and answered. I plopped down in the dirt when I felt like sitting. I saw nobody for miles and miles. The people I saw, I never saw again: the Weed Brothers, who took frequent smoke breaks and fell behind; Daniel, who had just gotten on the trail himself and was hoping to make it to the Bridge of the Gods. It was his first backpacking trip. "I guess I could have done something less challenging," he said. In the first six miles, he had lost his hat. He was also carrying a large knife, a GPS he didn't know how to use, and a full size bottle of sunscreen. He stopped to take a break when I did, and asked where I was going to camp. I recognized someone in need of a buddy, but I knew if I wanted to get very far, I would have to leave Daniel to his own devices.

There was Chuck, who mansplained that I should change socks every five miles, and who said that doctors had diagnosed a hairline fracture in his foot, but instead he kept hiking, and it healed itself. Never saw him again either. Nor Dizzy and Brownie, two older thru hikers who claimed they "aimed for twenty miles but rarely made it." Or L-Rod, a legendary trail angel who was finally doing a hike of her own. They could have been five miles back, or twenty. There was no way of knowing. The trail stretched out, empty and glorious.

First night's camp

Stormy weather 
I climbed through the Castle Crags and camped with a view of a thunderstorm and Mount Shasta. . Since the trail largely stays up on the crest, many lakes shimmered tantalizingly below, just out of reach. Most campsites are dry on the PCT, and so water must be carried accordingly.

So many lakes, so little time.
On the fourth day I came to a burned forest. Beekeeper, who had met me with cookies at highway three, and who had hiked five miles further to camp with me for a night, had warned me of this, but I wasn't prepared for how completely torched the Russian Wilderness was. Everyone behind me had gone into Etna for food and showers, and so I saw nobody for the whole day, walking through endless miles of completely burned forest. I camped alone in a creepy hollow, deer (I hoped) bounding through my camp all night.

While I missed having a hiking partner, I loved the freedom of being solo. When to stop, when to go: it was all up to me.  I paid a lot more attention to the maps and the next water source without someone else to figure that out. This was my longest solo trip, and the first one where nobody asked me if I was solo, or why. The PCT is like that.
This "Bloody Run" trail junction seemed a little ominous.
I was almost to Etna Summit, with one hundred miles completed. I had done those miles in four days. This trip, I realized, was about seeing what I could do, and pushing past that point. Most of my trips aren't like that--I don't have to prove anything. But it was interesting to see how well my body was responding to big miles.

My feet were a little sore, and the long miles could be a little lonely. But I had survived them, and I was almost halfway. What could go wrong now? I was, in fact, about to find out.

to be continued...

Friday, July 8, 2016

Pacific Crest Trail, Castle Crags to Ashland, Day Zero

Greetings, friends, I am at Callahan''s lodge near Ashland. In about 11 days I will be hiking back to here, another section of the PCT completed.

I am carrying 8 days of food so my pack is not light. In the past few days I have been eating myself to a calorie surplus, the way I wish I could still eat normally.

At any rate, I will not blog from the trail, buy look forward to posts when I return. Thanks for following along.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The wolf and me

In my days on the road, when I moved across the country every six months, I thought staying in one place and with one person meant the end of independence. Most people I knew who did this seemed entwined in a way that wasn't acceptable to me. I've always been more independent than most women I have known. It took me forever, but I found someone who lets me breathe, and so I decided to celebrate "Independence Day" in my own way--a solo backpacking trip. (J was on his own biking trip, so he wasn't pitifully left at home.)

I had to work on Friday, so I didn't get to the trailhead until twelve-thirty, a miscalculation, I realized, since temperatures have unreasonably soared into the nineties. I slogged along at a 2 mph pace, wondering how I would ever pull off 20 mile days in the Marble Mountains. 

A youth in huge hiking boots caught up to me as I reached Aneroid Lake. I showed him the nice camping spots and he plopped a tent down near mine. That was all right, I thought. He was by himself, and his dogs would keep bears from coming into camp. He was only staying one night, he said, as he set up his tent.

I was filled with the relentless desire to explore, so I headed out for a day hike to see how far up the pass I could get. I soon climbed into a basin that always intrigues me. It is so wide and open and wild. I hardly ever see anyone here.

Looking toward Tenderfoot Pass.
 Having not grocery shopped, I wasn't carrying much food, so I wasn't sure if I had the energy to climb off trail to Jewett Lake. In the end, of course, I couldn't resist. There was still plenty of snow to cross.

 As many times as I have been here, I still can't control the huge smile I get when I see the lake. It is just too perfect.
 I settled near a log and took a couple of pictures. Then I noticed an animal on the other side of the lake. It was....A WOLF!

I wasn't afraid. I held my breath as it stared back at me. For just a moment, the world stood still. Then the wolf ran across the snowfield and was gone. I felt incredibly lucky to be there at that moment.

I returned to Aneroid Lake, hoping the caretaker of the private cabins was around. Maybe he would have food. Alas, he wasn't, so I returned to my camp for tuna and crackers. But...something was missing! The guy's tent was gone! What had happened, I wondered. He wasn't camped anywhere else along the lake. Had he discovered he had forgotten something? Had the eternal quiet been too much? Sometimes, independence comes with a price.

At any rate, he was gone, the mystery never to be explained. I sat next to my tent and looked out over the lake. Up there, somewhere, wolves roamed.