Trail Abandoned

We had just left Timberline Lodge and were enjoying a snack break when Minute Man hiked up and passed us by… he was the last northbound thru-hiker we saw on our journey.

The Washington PCT was ours, alone, with the exception of the occasional southbounder or day hiker. Fall was giving way to winter and we seemed to be hiking through misty and damp forests more often than not. 

Making four trail town stops in Washington, we surprised each inn-keeper with our arrival, each one exclaiming that they thought that they had seen the last of the 2015 northbound hikers. We gathered from them that we were just a few days behind a group of four guys and a dog. Monty was hot on the trail of his canine friend, always inspecting their abandoned camps as we hiked on, we knew we must be close.

Approaching the last trail town, David called and spoke with Mary, the inn keeper of the North Cascades Lodge in Stehekin. She was welcoming and surprised to hear from us, they were wrapping up their tourist season but he was able to book us a cabin. Eager to have a shower and a warm bed for the last time on our adventure, we decided to speed up and push to arrive a night early. We hiked up to the seasonally abandoned, High Bridge Ranger Station, and the start of the 11 mile road toward Stehekin.

Already putting in a 22 mile day at that point, it was about 5:30, and darkness was beginning to set in. A posted sign informed us that the shuttle buses had stopped running for the season and we were without a car in sight, so we pulled out the trusty old headlamps and hiked on another 2.5 miles in hopes of finding a place to hang our hats for the night at the Stehekin Valley Ranch. Run by a local family, it’s an original homestead that makes up half of the population of Stehekin (the town has only 85 residents total).

We arrived at the ranch after dark, there was no indication that they were open for business but we were cold and tired and it was worth a shot. David and Monty stood back as I approached the main house and hesitantly knocked on their door, interrupting their supper.  I asked if we could stay there that night but they were also closed for the season. We were offered to take the keys to one of their vehicles to take into town, but we didn’t feel comfortable doing that so they generously gave us a ride in.

Once we made it to town Mary was so amazing! Although she was already in her pajamas for the night, she took us down to the lodge and gave us the keys to our cabin. Then gifted us a dozen eggs and some thick cut bacon so I could cook breakfast in the morning… much needed genuine hospitality!

Stehekin was breathtakingly beautiful in the fall, nestled within the North Cascades National Park at the northern tip of Lake Chelan, the only access is either by foot or boat. It is isolated from the outside world, no wonder a perfect stranger offered to let us borrow his car, there was nowhere to go with it! I fell in love with Stehekin and day dreamed on how we could find a way into their community. I begged David to stay an extra night, and using the leverage of the early arrival, I got my wish.

The next day it began to rain, the locals kept informing us that would mean snow on the mountains but what were we to do?... turn back now?... that was not an option.

We did the usual, showers, laundry, resupply. Since I had my very own kitchenette for the day, I bought a cake mix from the general store and baked us a cake, baking strawberry jam into it in the shape of a heart which didn’t quite work out as hoped but it was still tasty! We read the trail register at the post office and mailed our souvenirs back home. That evening, we listened to music & played pool, enjoying a six pack in their community center.

Stehekin was one of the most memorable stops on the journey for me but I can’t help but wonder, if I hadn’t of begged for an extra day there, or in Skykomish, or Packwood… would we have made it to Canada? But at the time, we needed the respite, I would never want to take these zero days back.

Mary dropped us back off at the trail head the next morning and we began the last chapter of our epic honeymoon adventure. Setting up camp for the night in the rain, we cooked up one of Poppa Ham’s delicious trail dinners, with only five more days left on our journey it started to feel surreal.

We soaked in the vast landscapes and stormy skies, peaceful solitude was never stronger. We dreamed up the celebration at the monument and mapped out our final days… where we were going to camp and how many miles we would need each day to make it to the border, and then back to Harts pass by the 4th of November.  It was within our reach, a small pinhole of light at the end of a long tunnel.

Cold and wet, we made it to Rainy Pass, the second to last road leading to civilization before Canada. We posted up for a break under a trail sign that has a small shelter for us to dry off under. We hung our tent out to dry and heated up some water to make a couple of trail mocha's (our daily sanity saving treat!).  As we were settling in, a couple of local hunters drove up and started chatting with us about the weather turning, telling us that we would probably be getting snow.

We knew we would be cold and wet the rest of the hike, and the snow was a concern. Looking up on the mountains, we could see that there had been a dusting but the tree tops were all green and we felt that it was still hikeable at that point. Fighting off all urges to ask for a ride into the little town of Winthrop, we bid them good-bye, packed our soggy gear back up and looked forward to getting our body heat up as we hit the trail again.

As we climbed, the rain turned to slush, slipping and sliding, we were thankful for our new shoes with improved traction. David was ecstatic about the possibility of snow as he really does love a challenge!

We reached Cutthroat Mtn. Pass just as the snow began to take a more permanent place in the landscape, covering the mountains around us in winter’s white blanket. The sky was layered in incrementally darker shades of grey, the crisp mountain air felt good in our lungs. The incoming storm was a visual masterpiece, painted only for us… we were on top of the world, enjoying every glorious moment and determined to hike on.

With the day coming to a close, we were lucky enough to find camp under tree cover to relieve some of the burden of the snow off our tent as the storm progressed. It was Halloween night so we shared an extra candy bar and fell asleep listening to the snow falling all around us.

We woke with our tent engulfed in fresh powder, light and fluffy and about two feet deep. Monty could not wait to get out of the tent and hit the freshies, he loves the snow! He frolicked about while David and I dried off and packed up camp to set out for our first day of snow hiking.

It only took a few slowed steps in the snow before the tears started rolling down my face, with heaviness in my heart, I accepted our fate. Post holing with every step, we were losing too much ground too quickly and we both knew we wouldn’t have enough food to make it to Canada. We weren’t going to make it. After all that we had accomplished, we wouldn’t know what it felt like to become PCT thru-hikers. David was blazing the trail in the snow and he looked back at me while I cried, he warmly reassured me that it didn’t matter if we touched the border. He was right, but it felt so wrong. Heartbroken is the only way I can describe this feeling.

There was no turning back to Rainy Pass, so we pressed on to Harts Pass, the last road before Canada. We knew that Mike was going to be testing the road on the 3rd in preparation for picking us up at the end of our journey. Our new goal was not to hike the 70 miles we had left to get to the border and back, rather to hike the 10 miles to get to Harts Pass by the 3rd to catch Mike on the trial run.

We only made it 4.6 miles that day, despite the exertion. We reached what was supposed to be the last water source we would come across until after Harts Pass but it was buried under 3 feet of snow and nowhere to be found. The steep mountainside was no place to set up camp so we hiked a few more minutes and passed the alleged water source to set up camp.

Having a tarp tent in the snow posed an issue. We were going to have to dig out until we hit solid ground. David started shoveling snow aside while I put my gear down and ran 50 feet north along the trail. Stomping and packing it down, I wanted to ensure we could find the trail in the morning as it was for sure going to keep snowing all night.

After I blazed our path for the next day, I joined David in clearing out our tent site and collecting snow to melt for hot tea and dinner that night. Melting and boiling snow takes a lot more fuel than its liquid counterpart so we knew that it was not a viable option and I worried about not having enough water once we made it to Harts Pass. We needed enough for at least one more full day and night.

The next morning we had a new challenge… our shoes and our pant bottoms were frozen solid. We knew that if we started off frozen, we would be setting ourselves up for hypothermic conditions so we had to take the time to defrost. We literally put our frozen shoes and clothes on and stayed under our sleeping bag, after several minutes, we would lift the bag and steam would stream up to the roof of the tent, it was working and we were getting closer to being back on the trail for the day.

David decided to search for the water source. He emptied his pack and took the filter, both our bladders, and all the water bottles to head out toward where the water should be according to our maps. Monty was really upset that he couldn’t go with him and as time passed by, I could see the worry on his face grow, as did mine… David was gone for almost an hour but he returned with a full supply of water which meant all we needed to do was get back on the trail and hike on.

By the time we got packed up, it was after noon. Thankfully we could see the imprint of the trail and set off navigating with our trail App.

We faced a few more challenges throughout the day. It is impossible to see switchbacks and there were two huge sections of them right off the bat. Instead of trying to find them, we decided to side step straight up the mountainside until we met back up with the trail at the top.

We did our best to read the natural signs of the trail, looking for the imprint in the snow and the breaks in the trees, but not knowing if we were exactly on the trail, we developed a method of using our poles to determine if we were on flat ground. If the sunken poles were even, we assumed we were on path, if one was lower than the other, we would side step up until we found flat ground again.

Since joining us in Northern California, Monty had usually led our pack but the snow level was above his head and he had to follow behind both of us while we packed it down for him. I could tell he was becoming impatient, going so slowly I worried about him not being able to keep his body heat up.

David was a champ, blazing trail the entire day, he wouldn’t let me take the burden. He would push through, I would stomp down, and Monty grudgingly followed. Hiking the steep hillsides in the snow, we were cautious to not cause avalanches and remain on trail.

The day started to fade into evening, we had only made it 1.3 miles and we found ourselves at over 7,000’ at the top of a ridge, the snow was starting to come at us sideways… we were going into a whiteout. We had no choice but to set up camp then and there, if we pushed on we couldn’t guarantee our safety in the dark.

We scrambled to find a suitable place to dig for our tent but the snow was so deep there was no way we could get to solid ground. I spotted an area that had a few small alpine trees and convinced David that this was our only option. It was set back and downhill a bit so we packed the snow down and made a wind shield with the wall of snow. We tied off to as many trees as possible and got in the tent as fast as we could.

Within 2 minutes of the tent being up, there was an impressive layer of ice that developed on the inside walls. We put our wet shoes and pants in a plastic bag inside the tent in hopes that they would not be as frozen the next morning. Moving as quickly as we could, we heated up dinner and hot tea, doing our best to get body temperatures back up before bed. Our saving grace that night was the fact that there were three of us creating body heat. We put Monty in the middle, pulled the sleeping bag over our heads and endured the coldest night of our lives.

This was our last night on the trail. We took no pictures, and had no celebration, we were full of uncertainty.

The next morning, we defrosted the same way we had the morning before. It was so cold, in the teens at the most. We didn’t want to get out of the sleeping bag but we knew we had to. We didn’t want to push our assistance button but we knew we had to. We waited until the weather wasn’t a total white out and made our moves to leave the tent.

There was no cell service in Northern Washington, so while in Stehekin, we had made contingency plans with Mike… We would push the “We are okay but can use assistance” button on our personal locator beacon (PLB) when we were ready to be picked up at the pass. We kept this button in the forefront of our mind, wanting Mike to wait for us at Harts Pass if he was able to make it up on his trial run, and at the same time not wanting to push it too early and cause panic on the Parent’s end.

We had 4 miles to make, it was November 3rd, we pushed our assistance button (not the emergency button) on our PLB and all I can remember thinking was Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad.

Traversing mountainsides, post holing in nearly waist deep snow, we spent our last day on the trail like any other self respecting thru-hiker would… throwing snowballs, eating icicles, and taking as many photos as our cold hands could!

Little did we know that a rescue operation had been underway for a few days already, orchestrated by our concerned parents and friends. It was expected that a storm front was rolling in over 100” of snow on Mt. Rainier at the same time we were getting snowed on just north of there.  

The only form of communication we had was our PLB, which if they were receiving the signals, it had been telling them that we weren’t getting in the usual 18 – 20 mile days in and that we had fallen way behind schedule. They had no way of knowing our condition or circumstances, and from a parent’s perspective, I can only assume is most worrisome!

The moment that my dad got word of the storm, he was on a plane, then on the road with Mike a day early to see what they could do to ensure our safety.  It was November 2nd when they drove up to the Forest Service road entrance to Harts Pass only to find a locked gate.

Contacting the USFS they learned that the road had been closed a few days prior due to a massive rock slide that blocked access. They were told that there was nothing they could do and that the Sheriff's would be the only department that could come and get us. Dispatch assured Dad & Mike that Sheriff Ottis Buzzard was the man for the job. 

When we pushed our PLB assistance button that morning, it assured them that we wanted off the trail and the fact that they already had a plan set in motion made it for an easy extraction. Our device sent a signal every 15 min with our updated location so they could see where we were in relation to the campground.

When we got to the road leading to Harts Pass campground, no car had been or would be able to drive up to get us, deep powder as far as the eye could see. We evaluated our options and decided that we would set up at the campground, get cozy and have our celebratory tequila shots my dad sent us. After getting a good night sleep, we would set off to walk down the road until we got to civilization.

Just as we were coming around a corner, we looked across a big bowl and saw a couple of people on snow shoes hiking toward the campground. Excited at the possibility that Mike could also make it up that road, we started hiking faster.

As both parties got closer, David was able to make out a word on one of their hats… Sheriff. The only thing I could think to say was, “Are you here for us?” Sheriff Buzzard answered, “Yes, Mike sent us.” Never being a person who copes well with uncertainty, I felt such a relief when he said that, I started crying, happy to know that we were going to be safe.  They told us there was a helicopter just minutes away, ready to look for us if they hadn’t seen us when they did!

Hiking in the wake of snow shoes was effortless and we were to his truck in a matter of minutes. Not a moment too soon as one of Monty’s paws looked a bit swollen and I was starting to shiver. We grabbed our sleeping bag and some snacks out of our pack and jumped in. Beginning to warm up, we were on our way down the mountain, or so we thought… the truck would not start. Our rescuer remained calm while he checked on the truck and was eventually able to get it to coast down.

When we reached the rock slide, he had us all get out of the truck while he navigated the giant boulder, only having an inch or so margin of error to avoid the rocky cliff. All boulders behind us, we kept coasting down, eventually able to connect with dispatch to tell Mike that we had been extracted in good health.

When we got to the gate, we were happy to see not only Mike, who had done so much for us on our journey, but my Dad was there too! In usual fashion, he would go to the end of the earth for his kids so I wasn’t surprised when I saw him, just very grateful for the hug. We are so fortunate to have people who cared so much about us on our journey all the way down to the final moments. When I was a little girl, my dad drove all the way up to Mt Hood to get me ski boots that fit so I could keep skiing that day… I know we would have had the support to keep going, it just wasn’t in the cards with the road closure.

If it weren’t for the rock slide, I can say we would have had it in our hearts to spend a few days in town to warm up, re-group, resupply, rent some snow shoes, then, complete what we set out to achieve.  

Capture & Enrapture

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Words cannot describe the immensity of the natural beauty that envelops us in what has become our day to day life on the trail. Our efforts to capture some of this beauty in photos will never capture the scene in its entirety nor can they ever capture the sounds and smells that make this trail so amazing.

We walk, and are given a natural spectrum kaleidoscope of color with every hue of green & brown. Now, with fall setting in, our kaleidoscope has been infiltrated with chunks of reds, yellows & oranges. With the days growing shorter, the colors spin a little more toward the fall spectrum, always something unique yet familiar for our sensory pleasure.

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I am not much of a wine drinker, although we have many friends & family that are, and I have always wondered how they can pick up the bouquet and the minutest details of the different vintage & varietals... I imagine that over time they have simply learned to pick up unique notes just as we have learned to do the same in the woods.

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While walking along our two foot pathway, moving 3 mph, we are taking in a broad picture... The ancient trees towering over the forest floor with the morning sun rays peaking through the over story & warming our chilled skin, we walk through an earthy smelling steam that mystically rises from our pathway.

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We pick up on the whimsical detail as well, the microcosms of enchanted forests of lichen hanging delicately from the branches, the many layers of moss growing up bark & blanketing the Earth, rivaling 70's shag carpets... but our favorite details are the tiniest mushrooms & seeing the multitudes of life taking over decaying logs, trees taking root in its softness. 

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As we move through the days, we lock into our sensory memories the taste of the blackcap raspberries & wild blueberries, the perfume of the forests & the thickness of the air... My biggest delight is during a rain in a forest, where the duff is thick and spongy & the scent of the refreshed forest floor is sweet, crisp & new... as if Mother Earth is taking a cleansing exhale breath.

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Sometimes we are given something so magical that we can't capture if we tried... We had set our tent on a private, sandy lakeside beach at Summit Lake in Oregon, we had gotten there after dark began to set, missing the lake view sunset.

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At 3am nature called and we both climbed out of the tent to go pee... We were stunned! Spanning across the lake were glittering constellations of stars... Twinkling replicas of their space bound counterparts, we had a three dimensional planetarium laser light show that was all ours. We will have that forever. Not in a photograph but in our hearts, something that special will never fade.

David got me up at 3am a few days ago in order to get a leg up on our 30mi day that we had planned... His theory was that because it gets coldest between 6:00 & 7:00am (an unexpected fact out here), that if we were up and dressed by 3am we would be on the trail & hiking up a hill, building body heat during the 6am chill off & maximizing our morning miles.

We were out the door about 1/2hr before sunrise, a shadowed Mount Adams towering over our campsite, we set out for our biggest day with headlamps as our guides. Hiking by spotlight allows one to tune into only the immediate surroundings... The sparkling, frozen soil crunched under foot, it was the only sound of the early morning.

I could see the light emerging to greet the mountain, now to the east of us. We had miles to make but we needed to stop and take in this moment, to watch the sunrise behind Mount Adams. We set up our cameras for time lapse videos and cuddled up on a log to keep each other warm as the sky morphed from orange to pink and the mountain began to reveal its glacial details. This moment of enrapture is ours, a reward forever.

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My heart is filled with indescribable & beautiful moments that words or photos will never do justice... My mom calls this beauty God. I call it Mother Nature. However you flip the coin, the only way I can describe it is... Fucking Phenomenal! (Sorry Momma for the language)

Impermanence

The only constant is change. This little saying that we all know so well has never been so true or prominent in my life as it is on the trail. Change is all we know whether we accept it or not, it is all around us, it is in our hearts, it is in our minds.

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As humans, it is difficult for us to share our experiences when we are struggling through them & that is where I have been for some time, in the midst of the most real, most uncomfortable & most amazing struggle of my life.

There are hundreds of individuals on the trail still, all in the grips of our ever changing trail... For each person, the trail morphs into a new path with different obstacles and different rewards. With each kicked rock, fallen branch, flying butterfly, wildfire, wind gust & sunset, it is different for each one of us. We all have our very own trail to hike... We all have our very own lessons to learn... We all have our very own story of how this path has changed us.

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I never imagined pushing through as much physical discomfort as I have so far only to have my mind be the weakest link. I thought for sure that it would be something like my recent Achilles injury that would have me questioning my completion of the trail... Not losing my mental focus, that isn't the way that this thing goes down. After being beaten up physically through the southern portion of the Sierras, an 8 night rest in Lake Tahoe was not even enough to lift my spirits.

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Getting back on the trail, all my aches and pains were still there and now I had an ache in my heart to stay in Tahoe. I began to question my reason for continuing, hiking over 1,100 miles was physically and mentally tough, I wanted an answer to be clear but the best I could come up with was that we set out to do this and that is what we will continue to do.

I was stuck in a paradox... I was surrounded by natural beauty, unparalleled in the "civilized world", I knew that the worst day on the trail is still better than the best day at work, but I was having the battle of my life in my head... I felt tired of hiking & it was like I kept pushing the repeat button on this thought. When David began to notice my ever decreasing enthusiasm towards being on the trail, we were faced with a big decision... He hated to see me suffer and was willing to give up our dream to hike to Canada.

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I couldn't let this happen, I had to get my head out of this negative downward spiral.

I realized what I had been doing and decided to get out of my own way and re-commit to this journey. When we falter in spirit or determination, we are in a position of choice... I choose to accept that I may not always love the trail. I choose to accept that this hard work will change me. I choose to be strong mentally & physically and push past my comfort zone to reach new levels of appreciation for the trail. I choose to learn what I can from this ever changing teacher.

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We have both had to look deep within and confirm our commitment throughout this whole journey, this reflective process has been on an individual level and as a team.

I know that although we travel together, the journey has been as different as it can possibly be for each hiker, the impermanent nature of our temporary journey will change the course of our lives in special and unique ways. I have my clear answer... And THIS my friends, is why I choose to still hike north with the love of my life. 

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101 Things

Every moment we spend on the trail we are presented with the opportunity to learn or experience something new. We hit 101 days while in the Plumas National Forest a few days ago, but as we have learned, cell phone reception and wifi are practically non existent to us hikers... We always turn reception on at the top of a mountain and every so often our climb is rewarded with a way for us to "phone home" but not on day 101. Long story short, we had no way to post this on our 101st day since beginning our hike but without further adieu...

101 Things we Have Learned in 101 Days

WE HAVE LEARNED... 

1. This hike is more mentally challenging than physically challenging... And it is pretty damn physically challenging!

2. New levels of perseverance, patience, balance, compassion & understanding than we have ever imagined 

3. Always shake out our shoes in the morning

4. A cup of hot tea is worth the effort 

5. This is not easy... But it is rewarding

6. It is worth it to brave the cold to go pee at night... The Stars will never disappoint!

7. Dipping your hat in an ice cold stream on a hot day can save your sanity 

8. Always go pee before going to sleep

9. If you are near water you are also near Mosquitos 

10. Never pass up a good water source in the desert

11. The tan on our legs that we think we have is just dirt

12. There is always a rewarding view at the top of climbing a mountain 

13. There is no end to the beauty out here... Mother Nature keeps outdoing herself

14. The trail brings you to higher levels of self awareness 

15. You can never pack too much food

16. Butterflies don't like their picture taken

17. Trees don't grow at 12,000' but flowers do

18. Magenta flowers like to grow near water

19. When you think you have reached the top of a mountain, you haven't... They go on forever

20. Big trout are smarter than the little ones

21. Always check where you are about to sit for tree sap

22. A good rock to sit on is surprisingly hard to find

23. There is a fat mini gerbil like animal called a Pika that lives between rocks at 12,000' 

24. Manzanita grows as trees in the desert regions and as ground cover in the mountains

25. Flying bugs will fly right into you like they don't give a shit if you walk into their path of flight

26. Flys in the wilderness are more tenacious than the common housefly and some of them bite... They are however, slow and easy to slap 

27. Killing Mosquitos is like playing Whack-a-mole

28. When a mosquito flys between your eye glasses and eye it is pretty much the worst thing in the world and pandemonium will ensue until it's gone

29.Wind is good because it keeps Mosquitos down 

30. You can never have too much sunscreen or bug repellent... And put them on early

31. Moleskin works well as a replacement fabric when the heel of your shoe wears out

32. Use the local bugs to catch fish... Dragonflies make great fishing bait 

33. Our feet will never look the same

34. Get up early to beat the heat

35. Take a nice shady break in the middle of the day... Find a place where the sun won't move in on you

36. A dip in a cold lake is good for character building

37. It is harder to get out of bed on a cold morning

38. Always take the time to remove small rocks, pine cones and sticks before setting up your tent

39. Layer up in the morning!

40. Rip-stop fabric repair is very handy to have in your sewing kit

41. Wool socks really do stay warm when wet

42. You can never do enough laundry & your clothing will still never be clean

43. No matter how sore you are when you wake up in the morning, after 30 min of hiking you won't feel it... And if you do you still hike anyway

44. The Sierras slow you down with both beauty and difficulty

45. Even though the map may show you going downhill... It doesn't mean it is going to be quick or easy terrain

46. Spending a day in town is like taking a vacation from the vacation

47. How to judge distances and miles per hour

48. Aim downhill when peeing and avoid the splash back

49. Pine needles work great as toothpicks

50. The thorn of large pine cones work well to clean under the fingernails

51. How to fold our tent in a way that we both agree on

52. The most clear and refreshing water can be found half way up Mount Whitney

53. Greedy little chipmunks will eat all the pine nuts before we even have a chance at those tasty morsels

54. The desert smells of Bergamont, Cloves & Sage

55. The forest in the rain has a sweet & earthy scent that will bring back childhood memories of camping

56. Dental floss works well to string up fresh caught trout

57. Always be prepared for the rock or log you are standing on to shift at anytime

58. An empty water bottle & flip flops will blow away if left out in the vestibule overnight

59. The thin Alpine mountain air creates an abundance of methane gas in a thru hiker's stomach & when combined with a hearty Chili will create an atomic reaction that will make a tent a very small space

60. Marmots are cute but they eat disgusting things

61. Ones man's trash is another man's treasure... You can make a "trail-friendly" wedding band out of a piece of nylon tent cord left behind from another hiker

62. Just because a map shows you that you are following a creek, doesn't mean it isn't a hundred feet down a canyon 

63. Ants are everywhere and come in all sizes and in numbers large enough that if you tried to quantify it, your brain would most certainly explode

64. Gorging ourselves on margaritas & queso dip then hiking 5 miles in the heat can lead to puking down a hopefully abandoned rabbit hole on the side of the mountain

65. Just because a map doesn't show any campsites nearby, doesn't mean there isn't one

66. Stealth campsites always feel more like home than well used ones

67. Never bring a white shirt on a Thru-hike.

68. You can never have enough ziplocks and of multiple sizes, they are handy for everything

69. Always have the camera ready and accessible 

70. The higher the latitude, the lower the tree line

71. We will need new wardrobes when we are done because nothing will fit anymore

72. It is okay to whack yourself or your partner in the face (or elsewhere) if there is a mosquito or fly on you or them.

73. Chipmunks will squeak at you for attention and will sass you when you don't give them your food 

74. How important the little gear is... Like the zipper on your tent or the lid to your water bottle

75. Wildflowers bloom early in the South, as we travel North they bloom with us

76. Holding out for a better tent site or lunch spot will usually be worth the extra miles

77. How to scan the trail in front of us, while looking up to enjoy the beauty has a trade off of increasing our potential to trip on something xby 23%

78. Always be prepared for the person in front of you to stop suddenly

79. When we get the miles in early we can set up camp and enjoy the sunset while playing a board game

80. Stepping stones are crucial in crossing a muddy trail

81. Playing a word game while hiking up a hill will make it go by so much easier

82. Drinking coffee & listening to a podcast or music will make you hike 23% faster

83. Any hiker who doesn't have an umbrella in the hot desert, a snow or hail storm or in the rain will most certainly profess their jealousy of ours as we hike by cool and dry

84. Every day hiker we come across tells us that we are too clean to be thru-hikers... Thus our official Trail Surname is Mr & Mrs Clean

85. Doing laundry at a stream on the Trail is much more beautiful and relaxing than at an apartment complex laundry room 

86. We feel at home in the mountain forests

87. The bee population has not died off completely, they have just moved to the deserts and mountains where there is no cell signals or pesticides

88. First hand experience of the lack of water in California lakes, streams and rivers has made us appreciate taking shorter showers

89. It is always good to have the water filter handy so we can grab a liter-to-go when we hike up on a mountain spring

90. We can identify woodland critters by their sounds 

91. The many colors of moss that grow on rocks would make a popular paint color palate at Home Depot

92. Bumble bees like to explore any object that holds water in hopes for a drink

93. Ants love beef jerky and Cheese-It crumbs 

94. Cut logs or boulders make great kitchenettes for a more civilized backcountry dining experience 

95. A hot cooked meal & a cup of tea at the end of a hiking day will always hit the spot

96. With food on the trail, variety is the spice of life

97. In a torrential down pour, the trail quickly becomes a creek 

98. We never know what unexpected things we will see on the trail... Like when we look up from doing laundry by the creek and some half naked guy is ballet dancing Swan Lake style across the creek... straight from a scene of A Mid Summers Nights Dream

99. Deer like to live where there are no predators or hunters such as protected National Parks & Forests 

100. A decomposing tree will make little wood chunks that look like little wooden Lincoln logs that could be put back together

101. The trail peels layer after layer of our egos until we realize what is truly important 

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The Daily Grind

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I like to call David "The Machine"... It is not his trail name (he still hasn't picked one yet) but he can simply flip a switch and power himself up to tackle a hill or any challenge without being phased & he can keep going until the job is done. I don't know how he does it, but I am always amazed at not only his endurance but how he never complains about the heat, aches & pains, how steep, long or rocky the trail is, or ANYthing that I find myself wanting to complain about... And usually will.

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We have been going up and down mountain passes every day since we started hiking in the Sierras... These are not small potatoes mountains, we started with the biggest of them all, hiking to the summit of Mount Whitney, at 14,505'... It is the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 states.

The day before Whitney, we were about to eat dinner next to a beautiful stream that was gushing cold & crystal clear water.

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Not a dark cloud in the sky & it was only about 2'clock in the afternoon as we wanted to be at the summit in time for the next morning's sunrise... which meant waking up just after midnight. We were planning to get to the closest base camp a few more miles up the trail after dinner when out of nowhere, huge pellets of hail started falling right on us & our hot dinner... We started to scramble to set up camp right then and there because the skies were only getting darker.

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David got the tent up faster than I have ever seen him, he got me in the tent and stayed out to make the final adjustments, getting pummeled with hail, now furiously blanketing the ground in a icy white cover. We were hailed on for a good few hours, and then rain. Knowing that Mount Whitney would have accumulated some snow, we delayed our ascent until we could see... There was no moon that night & dark icy trails are not really my thing.

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We climbed Whitney that day, and after dealing with the slushy and slightly terrifying descent we were exhausted physically & mentally. There was no rest for us that afternoon as we hiked our way back on to the PCT and toward our next pass.

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Forester pass is the tallest point on the actual PCT measuring in at 13,200'... we were climbing it the day after Whitney. Before the Sierras I didn't really understand what hiking "a Pass" really entailed... Basically they are about 6 - 8mi of uphill hiking, sometimes steep & rocky with miles of switchbacks and other times we get lucky and the climb is a long but gradual approach with an ass-kicker of an end. Forester was the latter.

Our reward was an amazing view on either side of the pass, with blue-green frozen lakes as far as the eye could see. We treated ourselves to a 3 second dip in one of the frozen lakes... Let's call the experience exhilarating & invigorating, one of the most memorable moments of our journey so far!

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The day after Forester, we got off the PCT and hiked the 7.8mi detour of Kearsarge Pass at 11,760' in order to hitch into Independence & Bishop for two nights in town... We were in need of a day off and certainly earned it!

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After our re-charge, the hiker friendly owner of the Independence Inn drove us back up to the mountain and we hiked our first "two-fer" that day... Two mountains in one day. We climbed back up Kearsarge Pass, back to the PCT & then up Glenn Pass at a solid 11,968' where we had an epic dinner in the early evening with views of the strikingly beautiful Rae Lakes where we would camp later that evening.

Physically exhausted, we rolled into a heavily used camp area around dusk... just in time to spot a momma Black Bear and her "the most adorable thing you will ever see" baby cub. We were about 20' from them and they were obviously desensitized to the human presence.

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Setting up camp by the lake, we were about to meet our next big challenge of the Sierras... mosquito swarms for the next 200 miles. The Mosquitos at Rae Lakes were relentlessly searching for their next big meal and we were not about to let that be us. It was here that I really got the full picture of how much David hated those little bloodsucking bastards... He REALLY REALLY hates them. We survived the night with a few dozen bites and high tailed it out of camp as quickly as possible the next morning.

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There is such an abundance of water in the Sierras that hiking through you forget that California is in a drought... Then, memories of 700mi of seeking out that precious and sparse liquid through the desert will bring you back to the reality that there probably should be at least three times more water out here than there is this year. Regardless, all this water means two things...

1. We will always be hydrated

&

2. There will always be Mosquitos trying to suck our blood.

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They serve no other purpose but to force us to hike at warp speeds and not to stop unless absolutely necessary. We had our next "two-fer", Pinchot Pass & Mather Pass, both mountains just over 11,000'... We set up camp amongst the mosquitos at the stunning Palisades Lakes.

The next morning was the first day of summer, the longest day of the year & boy WAS it a long day... the unthinkable happened, we ran out of mosquito repellant & we were surrounded by water.

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The bugs were wearing on David, breaking his spirit with every bite. I am not going to sugar coat it, we had a rough day... One of David's poles broke, we couldn't find a mosquito free place to cook dinner or camp, were planning on going over Muir Pass the next morning and all the miles leading up to it were uphill & rocky and we were at our wits ends with the bugs. Hiking about three miles longer than originally anticipated, neither of us were happy campers once we found a less than ideal place to camp. We set up, ate dinner and then turned in with hopes for a brighter tomorrow.

Since beginning this journey over two months ago I can recall a handful of times where I didn't want to get out of bed or the tent... When I wanted to curl up and recover from my physical or mental exhaustion. Not David, he has always been there to motivate me to get up and out. So imagine my surprise when we woke that next morning and he turned to me and said "I don't want to hike today... My head hurts, my body hurts, I am exhausted and I don't want to go out and battle with the Mosquitos. He finally reached his breaking point and it was the bugs that did him in.

I felt helpless and wished there was something I could do other than what I had to do... Just as he had done for me in the desert, I had to coax him out of bed and onto the trail for another day of exhaustion.

We have learned that out in the wilderness, we can't just call in "sick", we have a job to do and that is to hike. I have held a job since I was 14... working for 22 years straight, I had began to feel that I worked to eat & sleep just to do it over again the next day.

Thru-hiking is our job now and if we don't do our job we run out of food before we reach our next resupply. We hike to eat & sleep just to do it again the next day. It is the same daily grind with one big difference, our reward for doing our job is not monetary gain.

It is survival.

It is magnificent views and experiences that we will remember forever.

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I am grateful that we got out of bed that morning... we started our morning sore and tired, but as we hiked our aches and pains dissolved, our weary heads were brightened when we spotted a new wildflower next to a beautiful stream...

We were rewarded when we walked up to three lakes as still and clear as glass that when I lifted my head and saw them against their rocky backdrops, my jaw dropped each time...

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More reward when we reached the height of Muir Pass at almost 12,000' & it had stunning views... the mountains do not disappoint.

We had a phenomenal day & did laundry together in the evening by a mosquito free creek in Evolution Valley.

The hard work out here pays off tenfold... our rewards are plentiful as we are reminded over and over again as to why we do the job we do. 

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The Good the Bad & the Itchy... Part 2

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Words cannot express how much I hate Poison Oak... And I touched it setting up our tent in the dark, our first night on the trail. I spent the next few weeks nursing the sunburned Poison Oak rash that had so kindly popped up on every single one of my fingers. So naturally, I am always on the lookout for that bitchy little plant! 

Until preparing to hike the PCT, I had never heard of another nasty invention of Mother Nature... The Poodle Dog Bush. Now I had a new public enemy #1... I did my research, learned what it looked like & that it grows in high elevations where fire has taken the landscape. I read that it had a smell similar to Marijuana & the tightly growing leaves even look like it. BUT word on the trail is if you or your clothing comes into contact with this plant, you will develop a rash that makes Poison Oak a walk in the park. So bad that it can take you off the trail for weeks. They even closed & detoured a 12mi segment just to avoid exposure... BUT due to four years of hard work to eradicate the bushes along the trail, they opened the closed trail just days before we reached it. 

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Naturally, we wanted to take the Official PCT Route so we decided to brave the former Poodle Dog Closure. We spent that lovely day dashing and dodging the allegedly eradicated plant... It was everywhere! I was calling out to David, when the plant would jump out at us from the left or right, I felt like I was in a pinball game being bounced around. 

Being that alert and aware of every little piece of greenery around for a solid 5hrs was mentally and physically exhausting. We walked out of that burnt forest feeling beat... But it was worth the effort, NO Poodle Dog Rash for either of us! 

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We made it through the Mojave without a hitch on a fortuitous cool and breezy day with plenty of cloud cover. It was still hot, but we knew that it was no where near as sweltering as it could have been on any other given day... So we have no complaints about the desert, just that we are VERY happy to be in the Sierras. 

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Just before we reached the Sierras, we were hiking through a beautiful expansive area of flat land, partially burned with a scattering of trees that were spared from the most recent fire... We came across a fellow hiker stopped dead in his tracks, in fact he was starting to back up toward us. Just past him I caught a glimpse of a big furry brown behind... 'Holy Shit A BEAR' passed through my mouth loud enough to startle the bear, and she started to run up into the trees with her two cubs. David wanted a picture so he stayed back to snap a shot as they ran away, all he got was a distant backside but seeing bears was enough to get him grinning from ear to ear for the rest of that afternoon's hike! 

We were just outside of Kennedy Meadows, where we stopped to pick up our bear canisters & resupply, do laundry & shower... Oh yeah, eat a couple of cheeseburgers too! We stayed one night there, where the party seemingly never stops... One night was enough, we wanted to get into the trees and the mountains & The Sequoia National Forest was literally footsteps away. While at Kennedy Meadows, a hiker came in by the name of Mother Goose... I had heard of her the day before & word on the trail is that she is 69 years old and has hiked over 40,000 miles, that she was the first woman to Yo-Yo (hike both directions in one fell swoop) the Appalachian Trail 25yrs ago & that she has attempted the PCT 5 times but has always had something stop her form completing the trail all at once... So she is at it again! There are many tenacious women on the trail but if the stories are true, I think she takes the cake! 

We are very close to the base of Mount Whitney, which towers at over 14,000', it is the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 states... We heard of a little town called Lone Pine at the base of the mountains so we thought we would pop on down to check out the town and buy more food so that we could take our time through the first and tallest leg of the Sierras. 

The only problem was that a shuttle would be $100 so we took our chances getting a hitch out of campground parking lot on a Tuesday morning... When we got to the parking lot, there were only 4 cars and no people in them leaving, so we started a 20mi road walk with a 8,000' descent. 

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We walked about 5mi and only one car had passed us (& didn't pick us up) when we saw a couple guys driving up the mountain... Luckily for us the driver was a Good Samaritan who had picked up a guy in the desert who needed a ride to our exact trailhead and he was on his way back down the mountain to go to his family cabin in Lone Pine... He offered us a ride that my knees will be forever grateful for. 

We had a fantastic two nights in town, we missed a big hail and thunder storm in the Mountains and our trail angel even took us back up the mountain all recharged and ready to tackle Whitney in a few days. 

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Our hiking day was stopped short at only 5mi when we hiked up on our first and most amazingly picturesque alpine lake... We just HAD to camp here... It is too beautiful not to! 

So I am writing tonight from PCT mile 750 at an elevation of 11,000' as I watch the sunset behind the rocky mountains that make a bowl around the oddly named Chicken Spring Lake.

We are at day 54 on our journey and I am overjoyed by the beauty that we are living in... Despite all the curveballs Mother Nature throws us, she is very generous with the beauty that she tosses our way and we can't help but being very grateful in our life!

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The Good the Bad & the Itchy... Part 1

Nobody said that this was going to be easy. We knew that every day would bring new challenges, that the landscape and weather would always keep us guessing of what is around the next bend... That the trail would take us to our comfort zone push & push until we reach new thresholds of strength and determination. We don't know how we will change as individuals or how we will build our partnership, but we know the trail has begun to unleash its charms on us.

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We have completed 558 trail miles and are on our 41st day on our journey & I am writing now, poolside of the Holiday Inn in Tehachapi, CA. The last few hundred miles have been amazing and exhausting and it feels as if we have been in a constant forward motion... All energy spent & in need of a recharge, we booked two nights in town before we begin to skirt the left portion of the Mohave Desert where we will start doing night hiking to reduce our water consumption during two back-to-back 42mi waterless stretches.

Having a lot of time on the trail, it is easy to develop new material to write about but having the energy to actually "put pen to paper" is a whole other story. Over the next few blogs, I will "catch you up" on our adventure sharing some "highlights" if you will, of what Mother Nature has had her fun sharing with us.

Our first snowstorm happened in Big Bear while we were sleeping at about 7,000' elevation, we spent the day hiking through a peaceful snowy forest with very little climbing uphill. Our second snowstorm was, well let's just say... Not that. After hiking four near 20mi days in a row we spent a night at David's parents house, the next afternoon, Cheri dropped us off at the trailhead refreshed, clean and with packs filled with a full supply of food and fresh laundry!

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We found a beautiful place to camp that evening just a few miles before Mount Baden-Powell, we wanted to get an early start on the 9,400' mountain the next morning. Waking up that morning was freezing... I mean, frozen condensation on the inside and outside of our tent! So my "Molasses Mode" was in full effect, we didn't get as early of a start as had hoped but we were still out amidst the morning clouds... It was a beautiful morning, chilly & a slightly grey sky, but nothing too ominous.

We reached the base of the mountain... I knew it was only 4mi to the top but it was a solid ass kicking 2,700' climb & another 3.5mi descent to camp at the base. I have difficulty mustering energy once I get into elevations over 7,500'... Basically taking me down to about quarter speed when going up even the slightest hill, so I knew I was in for a challenging day.

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We begin our ascent... The mountain begins its snowstorm. The moment we took our first climbing steps, the snow began to fall... At first we didn't think much of the tiny, icy beads of snow. They started sticking, and about 1/4 of the way up, we realized that we may be in for a storm... A couple snow flakes turned into a couple of inches and the winds were picking up the higher we climbed. We kept moving... too cold to take many breaks, we had to.

The snow started coming in sideways, coating the trees on the ridges with thick layers of icy snow, the closer we got to the peak, the harsher the environment became. We knew that we would be okay, we were cold and exhausted, but we had plenty of daylight to summit that beast and make it down, but we had to make it up to the top before the storm became unbearable... No ifs, ands or buts about it, we were going up no matter what at this point.

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Toward the summit, we would crest a ridge and the wind would whip what felt to be an ice-storm of sand into our faces, stinging our eyeballs with each tiny pellet of frozen H2O. Trying to take a momentous photograph at the peak was near impossible, but we managed to capture the moment & how we felt perfectly then proceeded to move down the mountain as hurriedly as possible.

The descent was much needed to improve my elevation to hiking speed and we made our way, trying to keep careful footing in now 6in of snowfall, the wind occasionally popping over ridges to say hi to our faces with a fresh spray of ice-snow. The storm persisted all the way down the mountain and showed no signs of letting up when we reached Little Jimmy Campground... There was no one else camping there, we didn't expect there to be as we followed no footprints in the snow all day, we knew there was no one in front of us, but wondered if there was anyone behind us.

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We needed to clear a patch from the snow big enough for our tent's footprint and since we stopped hiking, we were starting to cool off quickly. So cold that David's hands lost almost all dexterity as he staked down our last corners and we loaded everything in as quickly as possible, working to dry our gear as much as we could before it made it inside... Our shoes were soaked and we knew they would be frozen in the morning, but luckily a thoughtful person had stacked dry firewood under the picnic bench where we set up & there were several iron wood burning stoves that the Boy Scouts built into the campground, so we knew we could defrost in the morning.

We cozied in, made a hot dinner of delicious homemade chili which was just what we needed after the day we had, following up with a warm cup of tea to top off our snowy evening. The snow continued to fall, we had to shake the snow off our tent every 10 minutes, then every 5, and pretty soon we were managing it every minute or so... It was getting late so we turned in, with about a foot surrounding the base of the tent.

About 10:30, the weight of the snow collapsed one side of the tent, taking the stake out of the ground so David bundled up to brave the cold to save our home in the night... No sooner did he get back in and start to warm back up, we heard a group of people calling out in the dark, it was a woman's voice,

"Hello?... Hikers?... Hello?"

I responded, to the voice in the night... 'Yes, we are hikers, are you?'

"We are Search & Rescue" !!!

We thought 'Oh crap are they rescuing us?' But turned out that they had just come down from the very mountain we had just barely conquered... rescuing a hiker that was stuck in the storm! I couldn't help but think that if we had started just an hour or two later that day, that could have been the difference of us making it down to safety. David couldn't help but wonder if that was the end of the journey for that hiker, or if they would keep going.

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We are always at the precipice of something intense on the trail, it is up to us to dig our heels in at the challenges and know when to re-evaluate our forward motion. We hiked out of camp that morning with a mix of emotion, relief & anxiety, there is a delicate balance of caution and gusto that is required by hikers and we saw that a little more clearly as we put one foot in front of the other on the trail, buried under almost two feet of fresh, peaceful snow.

We we got to the next road crossing, the snow was beginning to become slushy and we had another, smaller mountain to start up... We exercised that newfound caution and hitched a ride back into Wrightwood where we were just two days before. The plan was to meet up with my parents that day in Acton but due to our snowy adventure we were behind in miles and we were picked up by my Dad and his dogs and treated to a belated birthday dinner of King Crab and Steak.

We were dropped off where we left off, most of the snow had melted over the time we were off trail... We made it up and down Mount Williamson without a hitch and were on to the next challenges... An endangered species trail closure, a fire closure for wildland restoration & then a closure for the dreaded Poodle Dog Bush... More recent adventures to follow in part 2!

Danger Will Robinson!


"Don't think of all those things you fear... Just be glad to be here." My mantra for the trail, or so I thought it would be before I took my first steps on the Trail. When David and I would go trail running in Poway, I would put on the Pretty Lights Pandora station and more often than not, while climbing a big hill, that song would come on. It is melodic & trancy and repeats that mantra over and over. It would motivate me and before I knew it I was at the top of the hill. That song was to be my motivator when my nerves got the best of me, but that hasn't happened yet... I haven't been afraid. We are so at home out here.

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After spending two nights cozied up at an Inn in Big Bear, we were getting ready to leave when the Inn Keeper urged us to stay another night as the weather rolling in was said to bring 50mph winds, snow, and temperatures in the low teens that night. He said that he had lived in the area a long time and the last hikers that he warned not to go up got caught in a big storm. We appreciated the advice but we knew that we were going to find a few close by campsites and after taking almost 48hrs off we wanted to get a head start on the next day's hiking and get back on the trail. 

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We were resupplied by my dad who drove up to meet us for the day. When we said our goodbyes to our trail angel for the day, he was loading up four PCT hikers into his SUV to take them into Big Bear. Back on the trail mid afternoon, the weather was a bit windy but nothing that was going to hold us back. The camp 2.3mi away ended up being on a windy bluff so we pressed on up the mountain. The climb was steady and not too steep, and with full bellies and two day's rest under our belt we were up to trekking in search of a better campsite. We made it to an established backcountry campsite about 7mi in... Found a flat spot protected from the winds & nestled our tent on a bed of pine needles. Just as we finished putting everything in the tent it began to lightly snow. After getting cozy, we made hot cocoa & devoured our caramel apples that my dad got us in Big Bear (they were definitely worth packing in that very temporary extra pound in our packs)! 

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It snowed steadily and peacefully throughout the night... The soft sound of snow hitting the tent is like a lullaby, we were bundled up and asleep before it even got dark. Waking up to almost a foot of snow was like waking up to a winter wonderland!

We boiled snow to make our hot coffee and oatmeal breakfast and began to pack up to hit the snowy trail. I am so glad we didn't let fear get the best of us and stay another night in town... We had the most amazing day on the trail yet.

At first we were not following any footprints, the trail was highly visible and we were in no danger of getting off track so we took turns blazing fresh tracks in the snow, there is something special about making the first set of prints in a snowfall.

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Right from the get-go we were treated to majestic old growth cedar and pine trees blanketed in white when you looked up... & when we looked down we were treated to fragile wild flowers with miniature icicles and tufts of snow on their petals. A snow covered woodland scene that was a photographer's playground!

Today was so jaw-droppingly beautiful that I stopped in my tracks in awe every 5min. We are so fortunate to be here, it is not scary, it is amazing. The trees, the flowers, the weather, the fragrances, the sounds, the terrain... They are all working together to create this very fulfilling experience for us. We are so grateful to be out here. Maybe my mantra is never going to be needed but one thing is for sure... We are not living with fear & we are very glad to be here. 

Nesting

 

Morning take down

Morning take down

It has been 16 straight days of hiking at the time I write this. We are in the groove and are in full swing with our Trail Life. Like most newly weds, we have begun the "newlywed nesting" phase, but instead of picking out drapes and paint colors, we are dialing in our portable home... getting our systems down, mastering our new way of life on the trail. With the coming of each new day, we take it all down then build our nest somewhere else later that evening... every new set up, we are constantly having to adapt and innovate our home and are enjoying small successes every day. 

Setting up the new pole cups! 

David has mastered putting up our tent in just minutes... rain, wind or shine! He installed new pole cups to lines on the sides of the tent so that we can use my trekking poles to pull the sides out, giving us an extra roomy feel in the tent! I also think it is going to help with ventilation so that we can reduce morning condensation build up (we have woken up with a layer of frost on the inside of our "ceiling" more than one morning so far). I have my tricks for dealing with condensation in the morning, we have an ultra lightweight utility towel that as soon as we wake, I use to start wiping the inside walls down... we are dry in no time!

We have our laundry system, complete with a fold-up sink, biodegradable soap flakes, and a clothes drying line that David installed along the ridge of the inside of the tent on a rainy night. Now we can hang our solar lantern in the middle of the tent and slide it along the clothes line to give us light where we need!

Our solar powered lantern hanging among our mountain spring fresh laundry

Our solar powered lantern hanging among our mountain spring fresh laundry

We have a compression bag that we call the "kitchen" and one for the "bathroom" they have everything we need... compartmentalized into two small portable bags. We have a place for everything in the tent so that if we have to find anything in the night, we are not fumbling around in this tiny but cozy space. We have learned to put the next day's food out the night before because the quicker we can pack up in the morning, the more miles we can put in before the heat really sets in! 

In the evening, we charge the phone that we used that day using both of our solar charged wraps, which spend the day soaking in the sun while we hike. Both solar chargers together usually gives us enough juice to charge 20%... It isn't much, but then again we are not using the phones for anything other than taking pictures, so it is enough for now. 

Collecting water dripping out of the hillside!  

Collecting water dripping out of the hillside!  

For water collection and treatment, we share the responsibilities... Squeezing out 12L of H2O can be long and tedious, working together is a must for pretty much everything out here! We both cook, we both clean, we set up our home as a team and take it down just the same. 

But David and I made a deal that whoever is last to wake up and move into Child's Pose (our good morning stretch), they have to do the dishes that day. Oh yeah, we learned very quickly to not wait to do the dishes until morning, our water is soooooooo much colder after night's near freezing temps! In an effort to reduce the breakfast dishes, we started boiling the H2O in our titanium cook pot and pour the oatmeal, then the water into the mugs... Less surface area to clean! 

Most importantly, I figured out a way to make David "bulletproof" coffee using a muslin tea bag & ghee. We only get coffee at a few resupply stops but it will be a nice surprise when one comes our way! I still haven't tried sprouting my sunflower sprouting seeds but I think I will soak them overnight tonight to get the batch started... My plan is to hang the soaked seeds from a sprouting bag attached to my pack, rinsing them when they dry out. 

Hot cocoa by the soft glow of our lantern... A romantic night on the honeymoon! 

Hot cocoa by the soft glow of our lantern... A romantic night on the honeymoon! 

Our unconventional lifestyle really points to building teamwork and fosters creativity, innovation and allows each of us to contribute with our individual strengths. All our systems are all experimental and everything is temporary. I could not imagine that we will ever stop working to improve our systems and ways on the trail. So much that we have to re-learn out here, the wilderness is a whole different domestically challenging beast... But we got this! 

 

Hi my name is...

A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet... right? So far all the wild wood roses that we have hiked past are just leafing out for spring but what is out on the trail in numbers are thru-hikers. We are meeting more and more people every day out here from all over the country and world... Just the other evening, we enjoyed panoramic views cooking dinner on a rock above rushing spring of fresh snow melt with a young guy from Berlin. You never know who you are going to meet next or even more so, what they are going to call themselves. There are two different types of names out here, there is the name that everyone called you before the trail & then there are "Trail Names", each trail name usually has an interesting back story. Once one adopts their trail name, they start introducing themselves by their newfound trail alter-identity to all their new trail friends. So far I have met people who go by: ID, 6'2", Honest Abe, Cheetah, ThunderBunny, Paint Your Wagon, One Step, Kinky Camel, Day Tripper, Bison, Taz, Red Feather & Alaska. Anytime we meet someone with a trail name and introduce ourselves as David & Hilary, they try to start throwing out names for us... Whoa whoa whoa slow down people, I just met you and you think you can name me? I don't think so! I am not going to have some practical stranger call those kind of shots. It had to be David... My travel companion, the person who really knows me out here, the only one suited to determine my trail name. He had been tossing around a few "endearing" names for me since the beginning but I couldn't approve, sparing any embarrassing details, let's just say I wasn't going to spend the rest of my trail days known as "Pit-Stop".

Getting ready for the day... Slow as molasses! 

Getting ready for the day... Slow as molasses! 

David pondering his trail name choices! 

David pondering his trail name choices! 

Every morning, David wakes up around 5:45 as the sun is beginning to peak out over the horizon. He gets me stirring but when it is really cold out it takes me a really long time to surface out of our cozy down quilt. Then, I putz around the tent getting my body to wake up and greet the day but that is another slow process. After I start my engine & adorn my (not-so-clean) hiking clothes, I cook breakfast and pack up my backpack. You would think that all of that couldn't take longer than an hour out here (it's not like I am getting ready for a debutant ball) but by the time I have my pack on and am ready to go it has been 3 hours! The colder the morning the longer it takes me... So David has kindly given me the trail name of "Molasses"... Since it is true to my ways, I have accepted and adopted my new name on the trail and will do my best to live up to it! I promised David that I would have a trail name for him by the end of the day but despite my efforts I haven't been able to convince him to go with one yet... I am thinking "Roadrunner" suits him best... He is quick on his feet on the trail and as soon as I begin to catch up with him, he gets me in his sights and then trucks on ahead at his warp speed (compared to me at least... I also live up to Molasses with my hiking speed too!)... I swear I hear him give a little "beep-beep" as he blazes down the trail. For now, we will introduce ourselves as David & Molasses, but maybe the perfect trail name for David will come to me in my sleep tonight...

Pushing the Reset Button

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We passed a family of day hikers just after Lake Morena on Sunday afternoon. Even though it is only April, daytime temperatures were still pretty impressive and we were sporting our new sun reflective umbrellas to beat the heat & hike throughout the afternoon. A member of that family being a girl of about the age of 11 or 12, she looked down from the rock she was perched on and inquired as to why we had umbrellas... Being that rain was definitely not in the forecast we must have looked absurd to this girl, traipsing around the desert like Mary Poppins. I tried to keep my response simple... 'It is because we are hiking for a really long time & we needed them to stay out of the sun as much as possible.' We swiftly passed by and I wondered 'how long does she think a really long time is?'

It made me realize that most people haven't heard of doing a "thru-hike" or let alone know knows what goes into preparing and planning for one. Truth be told, neither did we when we started this journey a little over one year ago. At the time, we had only been day hiking sections of the PCT and other local trail... we really enjoyed our time out on the trail, it was like pushing a reset button peeling away layer upon layer brought on by the daily grind with one simple day in the woods.

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David decided to order a couple of books to check out more trails to adventure on. One of those books was Yogi's Pacific Crest Trail Handbook 2013 - 2014... he bought the book not knowing that if one was prepping for a thru hike, one would consider it their bible (but this book you are actually allowed to tear whole sections out). He started reading... And he was hooked. After work one day, he nonchalantly said that he wanted to do a thru hike of the PCT and that was just the beginning.

We order him a backpack... Mind you, I had only backpacked one weekend on the PCT up at Mount Jefferson (at which time, I encountered snow, hail, lightning & high winds in late July) so I had a brand new 6 year old backpack, an air mattress, a mummy sleeping bag and some telescoping trekking poles that I had been lugging around with me in hopes that one day I would have the chance to use them. Now was my chance! We took our first few backpacking excursions as weekend warriors and although we had bought nice gear to play around with on the trails, it was ALL wrong for a thru-hike as a couple.

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People say that gear is one of the most common topics for trailside chatting with fellow hikers... It is because the right gear is so critical. It has to be lightweight & compact, durable & versatile but most of all everything we carry has to be functional! As we use an item from our packs, I check it off as no longer being dead weight... There are a few items so far that are on our "dead weight to be mailed back home list" but all in all, I would say we did pretty good with our items to call our portable home for the next few months.

The views have been spectacular, the weather feisty & the company is the best I could ever hope for. We love the trail so far & are cozied up for the night with the highest hopes for a successful thru-hike.

Nighty Night, Sleep Tight

We spent our Valentine's Day weekend doing a one nighter in the San Gorgoino wilderness. 

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David and I had a wonderful day and enjoyed seeing our favorite lush, wildflower filled Meadow asleep for the winter... It was a peaceful & quiet place. No bees a buzzing. This past summer I had photographed a little monkey flower that was nestled under a log in the creek... All that remained was a dormant stem and crumpled leaves.

We set up camp for the evening and cozied up in our new two person sleeping quilt, positioned on our new folding sleeping mats. 

Let the tossing and turning begin... 

Setting up our tent on what seemed to be the only flat ground in the area, I unknowingly made one mistake that sealed the fate of the night... I positioned the tent so that our sleeping arrangement had us on the teeeeeeeeniest downhill slope... In a lateral way! 

Every five minutes we would wake up from sliding downhill and off our mats... Throughout the night, we would have to scoot up into the highest corner and push our mats backtogether. Although our mats are great at insulating us from the frozen ground, the second an inch of your body slides off it is icicle city baby! Don't get me wrong, I love our new quilt but what we failed to realize that with the underside open, there is no blanket between our torso and the sleeping mats, which would be fine if you could stay on them!

Let the records show that despite our lack of a restful night, we both greeted the day fresh and full of joy as sleeping in the woods feels as if we are home.  

Now how to make our tent feel like home? David and I had it on our list to find a laundry bag, now we needed to add a sheet of some sort and a way to hold our mats together while sleeping... 

Behold! The very first "Cozy sheet, mattress cover & laundry bag all-in-one thingy" (still working on a catchy name) 

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We can simply slip our mats into the partitioned pockets on the inside & it has a pocket for clean and pocket for dirty clothes on the outside. The clothing will add extra insulation and cushion throughout the night. The top sheet made cozy with a thin piece of flannel is complete with cute little woodland critters!  

Adding only 1lb to my pack weight, this three purpose item should be worth it's weight in gold... Together, with our slightly over 2lb two sleeping quilt... 3lbs is still pretty decent for two people!

Next time we hit the trail we will have our new "bed" to look forward to and I am sure we will have a much cozier and comfortable nights sleep! 

The Great Backpacking Culinary Experiment Begins

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David calls me a mad scientist in the kitchen... I have never been one to follow recipes or even write mine down for that matter. Sometimes I feel like the crazy chef from The Muppets, throwing in a little of this & adding a pinch of that (usually making a mess in the process) and using every dish & pan in the kitchen! All the while, never really knowing how it is going to turn out until about half way through the cooking process. 

What to do with a tiny burner or a small cook fire, one pot & maybe a fry pan and spatula if I can keep my pack weight down with other items?.. This may get tricky, but I am determined to make our backpacking trip one our tastebuds will remember!  

There are so many factors to consider with meal planning for long distance hiking & I am not going to pretend that I know the half of them yet. A few things that I know will play a factor on what we will be dining on under the stars: ease of preparation, water requirement, clean up effort, perishability & most importantly edibility!

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Many long distance hikers throw their "nutritional values" out the window and just eat loads of candy bars and top ramen... There will be no msg or other crap in our food... We will be eating a blended diet of organic backpacking foods from Mary Jane's Farm and organic home dehydrated meals and snacks. I even have some ideas on how we can grow our own sprouts on the trail. 

Now is not the time to give up nourishment for convenience. ..

I haven't had real success with my planning and execution of dehydrating foods for the trail. My attempts haven't been a complete failure, just nothing to write home (or blog) about... Until tonight!

I have now learned that I can make plain white rice in large batches, dehydrate & then add spices & dried veggies to get delicious instant rice packets. I will be able to vary the ingredients so easily to get an Asian stir fried rice one night & Spanish rice the next... How about a basil pine nut & Asiago rice to go with some gourmet salami? Yum!

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The basic concepts are starting to click with me... This dehydrating thing can be a fickle little bitch, but I think I owned it with tonight's recipe:

Stir "Fried" Rice

1.75C dehydrated long grain white rice (was 1C uncooked) 

3T coarsely ground dehydrated red bell pepper 

2t coarsely ground dehydrated celery

1/8t coarsely ground dehydrated jalapeño (or red chili flakes)

1t ground garlic

1/4t ground ginger

1/8t Himalayan salt

stir all above ingredients together and set aside in a bag

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To cook...

Boil 1.75C H2O (you can add a boullion if you like but it had plenty of flavor without)

Add 1 packet (1T) of soy sauce & about 1T coconut oil then bring water back to a boil

quickly add the rice mix and stir

bring to a low boil for 1 minute.

Cover, remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes (no peeking!) use a pot cozy in cold weather! Add any type of protein for a one pot meal, but be sure to add more water & cooking time if need be. I think next time I will stir in some roasted cashews at the end!

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Stir and enjoy!  

Getting closer

David and I have been busy honing in our gear selection, familiarizing ourselves with trail conditions & water sources. There are so many aspects to planning a thru-hike that it can feel overwhelming at times... But the excitement of the prospect always prevails & we just keep plugging away at planning. I think if we can survive the planning stage that it will be half the battle! Okay, maybe not half but at least we will be setting ourselves up for success when we finally get to embark on our journey. We are grateful that everything is in forward motion and are counting the days until our feet will be too! 

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