Six weeks post-finish update

It has been six weeks since I finished the PCT. In general, I am doing well, and I am doing much, much better than I was at this time after my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Partly this is due to not having to return to the same job that was not good for me in the first place, partly because the PCT is not as hard on the body as the AT is, and largely because I now have yoga to help heal my body and keep my mind strong. I feel like I gained even more inner fortitude after this last hike and can see that I am less affected by other people’s behavior than before I started the hike. I am also not eating as much sugar as I did after the AT and thus not gaining as much weight! Some feeling is already beginning to return to bits of my toes and the balls of my feet (at first- it’s not a good feeling!). I’ve even gone for a few jogs, although I know it’s not good for my body. I really, really wish I could run because I love it so much. But my twisted spine and twisted hip don’t agree, unfortunately.
What remains very difficult is the loneliness that I feel in the non-hiking world. I did not have a celebration after the AT, so I really, really looked forward to having one after the PCT. When I was hurting the most in the Sierras, thoughts of a finish celebration with chocolate cake, champagne, and lots of fruit helped keep me going. But, it turns out that no such thing has happened, and this greatly saddens me. Forty-five minutes of driving from the city to my apartment is too much for most people, or they are too busy with other things. While no one can be blamed for being busy and needing to earn a living, the fact that only one couple came to visit me for dinner and two others hung out with me for an hour in the six weeks that I have been home is deeply disappointing to me. I came back from a five-month long journey of challenges and experiences, full of life, and wanting to share what I had gone through. As much as I understand how hard it is for anyone who has not had a similar experience to relate, it is still difficult to comprehend why no one has time to even try to listen or spend any quality time with me.
What is perhaps even more disappointing is a similar disconnection from my fellow thru-hikers. I really hoped that we would be there for each other in the recovery process, but as soon as we are no longer in the same physical space, it seems hard for people to communicate in any way other than general postings on Facebook. I talked to Muk Muk once since we finished the trail and it was the best thing to find out that she was also finding it nearly impossible to get out of bed before 11! (And especially when she was such an early riser on the trail!). I looked forward to regular calls and hoped we could team up or at least inspire each other on creating a new path in life, but that has not happened (yet, anyway).

And so, I’ve had to come to terms with the reality of this isolated world and instead, just try to motivate myself to get working on things I need to do, like writing up my PCT story and trying to find a new path for myself.

Back to the studio

On Monday, I drove down to my yoga studio in Boston and took my first two public yoga classes since before I started the trail. I was surprised at how well I did! I thought I was going to have to take a different spot in the room than my usual front row, in front of the teacher one, but I decided to set up in the same place as always and I had no problem fitting right in! It felt really good to be back in the same space as one of my strongest role models. At the end of the first class, I sat quietly with a little smile on my face and proudly thought, “I did it!”- “I successfully made it through my first class…And… I did it!…I walked from Mexico to Canada!”. I am surprised at how quickly my body has adapted within the course of one month from being barely able to do chaturunga or urdhva dhanurasana (lacking both strength and flexibility) to somehow not being so far off from where I left off six or so months ago!

At the end of my second class, my teacher read some words that he wanted us to repeat as a meditation:

I let go of other people’s stories about me
I let go of my stories about other people
I let go of my stories about myself
In letting go …I am free…to be who I actually am

He asked us who we would be without these stories?

I realized (well before this class) that my long hike allowed me a reprieve from being labeled by anyone and put into a box that is hard to escape. The trail provides a space for those who hike it to shed layers of anything that has been imposed on us. I feel fortunate that I was able to spend five months in a place where no one cared about anything other than who I was at that very moment that I was interacting with them. I don’t think there was a single person on the trail that wanted to know what my back story or my history was. No one wanted an explanation for any of my behavior or any of my characteristics. I met many people who accepted me upon meeting me and complimented me for my open-heartedness and easy laugh. I didn’t have to hide myself or pretend to be anything that I am not. As my hike progressed and I moved into new states with different weather, I reflected on the metaphor of the change in clothing as a dropping of the masks we often wear to hide our true selves. In the desert, we were all covered up in clothing to protect our skin, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses. In the Sierras, we allowed our skin to be exposed to the sun a little more. By the time we made it to Oregon and Washington, I found it interesting that I no longer needed to wear anything on my head at all. It felt like I was exposing myself and being more accepting of who I really was.

My teacher’s words seemed to have met a much greater need within the other students in the class. In life away from the trail, it is so easy to label and classify each other, to feel as if you know everything about someone, and to feel separate from them, just as it is easy to feel a certain way about yourself based on what other people know and have known about you. It’s hard to get out of the patterns that we find ourselves in- doing the same kind job and the same activities and interacting with the same people again and again.

Yesterday, I returned to the studio for another class, with the understanding that I will do as much as I am capable of at this time, with the strength and flexibility that I currently possess, knowing that this has to be built upon gradually. (My yoga injuries have already quickly returned!). Before class started, I saw a fellow student and friend for the first time since being back and she remarked about how strong I looked. I didn’t really believe her… I felt happy the first week I was back, but then fell into a very lonely and depressed state and assumed that what I had gained from my hike had already left me. But after class, my teacher said, “You changed so much!” Really? She said that I seemed much stronger! I found this so fascinating. They must see an energetic shift in me. I guess it wouldn’t be possible to come back from such an experience without more confidence and self-acceptance. Right now, it is my task to stay in an open space that is filled with hope for my future. It’s time to get to work on creating a life for myself that I want to live- one in which I am productive and living my purpose and sharing what I have to offer with others.

In November, I will return to my one yoga teaching job a week that I had before my hike. I offered the job to one of my favorite yoga teachers while I was away- someone who is very experienced, very skilled, and very confident. She is about to embark on her own traveling journey for three months and said that the students were asking if I was back. They want me back after having had her for a teacher? Wow…

What I love about thru-hiking

My return to “civilized” life hasn’t been as difficult as it was after the AT, but lately, I have begun to feel quite lonely and unproductive, and therefore a bit depressed. I felt like I was on a thru-hiker high last week and was proud enough about my accomplishment that I didn’t care that no one else around me knew what I had just done. I was going to write this post on that “high”, but now, I must write about it from the perspective of missing what the trail does for me, and what I can’t seem to find in “real life.” I have yet to have any friends from Boston visit me and I have not yet made a visit to my yoga studio, which is 45-60 minutes away, because my body is not ready for that kind of intense practice yet, and I have to conserve gas money. After my first home practice of yoga, I can 100% confirm that you need open shoulders, open quads, open groin muscles, and open feet to do backbends- neither of which I have at the moment! My knees are quite inflamed (making even child’s pose painful), and it really hurt the tops of my feet to roll over them transitioning from upward dog to downward dog. For five months, I used only a select group of muscles, all of which have become extremely tight, and all of the unused muscles have become very short. It does feel good to begin to open and stretch, though! Anyway, here are some of the reasons why I love thru-hiking!

I love having a long term goal that gives me a reason to wake up (reasonably early) each day and get moving, and one in which I make visible progress each day. I feel most productive when thru-hiking.

I love the feeling of being “filled-up” (with love, gratitude, happiness), that I feel each time I leave a resupply stop and get back on the trail.

I love the feeling of stepping on the trail and feeling like it is my home.

I see more sunsets (and even sunrises) than I ever do in regular life.

I love having instant friends in other thru-hikers. There is no warming up to each other, no wariness in getting to know one another as there often is in the city. In the wilderness, we have a common bond in that we are all doing the same thing, with the same goal. There is no hesitation in helping one another out. When someone is in need of something, a fellow hiker will almost always immediately step up and help.

You meet a lot of people who have stepped outside of their comfort zone and said YES to life- to really living. To being challenged. Previous to my thru-hiking experiences, I have only met people who insisted I stay in a job that I did not like- for years and years and years. They knew of no other options for me. Thru-hikers are a breed of people who do not live in fear. They know that freedom exists outside of the 9-5 world and build their lives around these journeys. It is inspiring to be around.

You realize that the less you have, the happier you are. I believe that when you don’t cling to possessions, or other people, or other people’s opinions of you, you allow more of the world in and therefore have more.

I love that people think I am much younger than I am when I am hiking! I also feel much better when I am thinner. It is amazing to see the difference in all of our faces from the moment we started the trail, to a couple of weeks in. We all have a glow, a palpable sense of happiness on our faces. It reminds me of the before and after photos of people who have attended a month-long meditation retreat.

I love that you can eat whatever you want on these long hikes and still not gain weight (although, I must admit that I did not lose as much fat as I wanted to on this journey, even when it hurt to eat food!).

I love the feeling of well-deserved rest! In regular life, I can sleep forever and still not feel rested! More sleep doesn’t feel good. On the trail, I don’t sleep nearly as much as I do in regular life, and yet function just fine! And when I finally do get a chance to get a bit of rest (rare!), it feels amazing!

I love that I never feel lonely nor depressed on the trail.

I love that I can be active for 12-13 hours every day.

I love seeing interesting wildlife and beautiful landscapes on a regular basis.

I love the feeling of reaching the summit of a mountain.

I love that every day on the trail is unique.

I love being in open spaces.

I love living in tune with the rhythm of nature.

I love that I feel completely content lying on a piece of dirt with no screen around me.

I love that I am in charge of making my own decisions in every moment.

I love the confidence I build with each mile hiked.

I love that people get inspired from what I am doing.

I love encountering kind people who are willing to help.

I love that I can easily remember specific details about any given day on a trail.

I love remembering funny things that happened with other hikers that continue to make me laugh.

I love the feeling of really being alive!

Yoga and the Trail

I ran into a man that attended at least one of the yoga sessions I lead at kick-off one day in the Sierras. He had abandoned the idea of a thru-hike and was doing a section of the Sierras southbound instead. He recognized me and asked me if I was doing yoga along the trail. When I replied no, he scoffed at me as if I were a hypocrite. I had a similar encounter with another man in Washington (who also was only hiking parts of the trail). I knew before I ever set foot on the PCT that I would not be attempting to keep up my physical yoga practice, just as I knew I would not be able to keep up a journal during this hike. Hiking over 2,700 miles in five months is an extremely intense physical and mental endeavor and I only have so much energy. Every bit of it was used to get myself to Canada.

However, I realized some time after the first encounter, that walking 12-13 hours every day and living in nature for five months WAS my yoga. The meaning of the word ‘yoga’ is to yolk, bind, or unite. The practice (and there are many different ways to practice yoga) seeks to unite the practitioner with his or her true self- the part that is always whole and peaceful and content. It seeks to strip the masks we wear when we think we need to be something other than we are, as well as the chains we often feel that hold us back from achieving our true potential. There are many branches of yoga (karmic yoga, devotional yoga) and many different ways to practice yoga. The physical practice of yoga is only one part of it. There aren’t many ways to hide while walking this trail. People see you for who you are. It is also hard not to be living in the moment out there.  There is also ample time to practice letting go and surrendering on these long hikes. It is easy to see that we only have so much control over our lives, and that when you stop gripping and allow, things begin to happen for you without any strain. I applaud anyone who is able to maintain a regular stretching routine while hiking one of these long trails, just as I applaud anyone who is able to keep a regular journal. (They have much more energy than I do!).

While I now have a lot of stretching and physical recovering to do (my entire body is extremely tight and parts are inflamed), I feel that I have received the benefits of 5 months of full-time yoga on the trail! I was able to move my body for most of the day, freeing myself of extra weight and burdens from life in society and of working for others. And while my body is far from able to do the backbends and other postures I was regularly doing before this hike, it has given me the chance to look at and feel the physical practice of yoga through a beginner’s eye which will be invaluable for teaching those new to yoga when I eventually do go back to teaching. It is so easy to get caught up in the progression of more and more advanced postures, which I realize can be extremely intimidating to those new to the practice and are just looking for some gentle stretching. For these beginner eyes, I am grateful.

My long hike has left me feeling extremely peaceful and happy with myself, as well as feeling excited about new challenges and possibilities for my future. (Thru- hikes have the effect of pressing a re-set button on oneself!)   I am happy that I now have some time to devote to writing about the PCT and I have already ordered a copy of the guidebook for the Continental Divide Trail!

(However, I still need to figure out a way to fund this writing…)

Day 136: Companions!

Day 136
September 1
mile 2329-2355.3
26.3 miles

I didn’t get up particularly early, even though I wished to get up and get out of that place! I ate my breakfast, and as I was changing into my hiking socks, talking to myself as I looked down at my feet, the ranger suddenly appeared right next to me! I coiled back out of shock. Why was he creeping around and why was he still carrying his pot with him? Couldn’t he just leave me alone? He asked me how this spot worked out for me. “Fine.”
Then, he apologized for making me move last night, but “you were rather blatant”.
“I’m sorry”.
He wished me a good hike and walked away. Man! I needed to get out of here!
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First, I needed to find a bathroom spot, however. Braveheart and Halfway passed by at that time. After I packed up, I headed up the hill and across a ridge, where I encountered a few hikers. It was a nice morning and the views were pretty.
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I knew there was an outhouse and a trashcan coming up just off the trail, and decided it was worth the extra distance to head down there. As I walked, I thought that it would be nice to hike for someone for a little while. I was thinking of someone like Truckin’, who I met on the AT, or Muk-Muk on this trail.
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I looked up and was surprised to see Braveheart and Halfway, sitting on a stonewall. I headed over to them and asked if they wanted some peanut butter M&Ms and/or beef jerky. My pack was too heavy! Braveheart is a vegetarian, so he took the candy. Then, I took my garbage to the trash can. Along the way, a man asked me how to drive to Mt. Rainier. I told him I didn’t know. I had just been walking. Again, he tried getting information on how to get to the mountain, which I didn’t even really understand. If you drive to the actual mountain (and there are many sides of it), you wouldn’t really see much of it from the base. Again, I told him that I didn’t know. I had walked here from Mexico. He didn’t even seem to hear me. I felt very perplexed.
I made my way back to the boys and we were soon joined by the other hiker who was eating with them at the Kracker Barrel Store at White Pass. “Dude! Wendy! You must have booked it to get here” he said. I smiled. I was just walking my normal pace. He was confused as to why were were gathered at this wall when the trail passed behind the outhouses. I thought I had to hike back up the road!
I started up the trail and was soon overtaken by the guys. So much for having some company!
I walked along the ridge and could see where I had just come from.
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In two miles, I reached another ‘Sheep Lake’ (!) and found the boys lounging and snacking. They joked that they hadn’t made it very far. Lots of day hikers and campers were also in the area. One advised that there was a better spot to collect water on the other side of the lake where it was actually running. I headed over there, followed by Halfway. I walked over a little foot bridge and then started to head off the trail in search of this running water as Halfway moved on. I decided that I didn’t want to expend too much effort searching for something that I wasn’t sure even existed and headed back to the bridge, where the water was at least dribbling. Was this what the guy meant?
Braveheart passed by as I sat there filtering it. I continued up the climb and after a little while, heard the other hiker coming up behind me. I stepped over so he could pass. A few steps later, I asked him, “What’s your name?”. He didn’t answer. I asked a second time and still, no answer. He had his headphones in and couldn’t hear me. Whatever. Then, he turned around. “Did you just ask me something?”.
“I said what is your name?”.
“Texas Poo”.
“Ohhh!! I’ve heard a lot about you!”. He half laughed and said that a lot of people had given him the exact same response.
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He headed on and soon, I caught up to the two men that passed by while I was filtering water. They asked if I was trying to catch up to Texas Poo. “Nope. I’m only trying to keep up with myself”. At the top of the steep climb, the trail changed directions and opened up to a completely new view. I thought it would be a nice place for a snack break.
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Ahead of me, I could see Texas Poo excitedly interacting with another hiker. It was an animated reunion. From the voice and the mannerisms of the other hiker, I could tell it was Craig, who I hadn’t seen since the time I tried hiking up Kearsarge Pass in the storm. He was headed towards me, so I assumed that he was also flipping. “Wendy!” he said when he approached. “It’s been a long time!”. He explained that he was still headed north, but that he had camped high up on the ridge and wanted to come back here to take a photo of this particular location. He and his father had hiked parts of the PCT when he was about 8 or 10 years old, and he wanted to recreate the photos that they had taken back then. A minute later, I saw Texas Poo climbing back up to us.
“Why are you coming back here?” I asked.
“Because, I’ve missed this guy!”.
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I listened to them banter and then we all headed down the trail in a line. My wish for company had come true after all! We stopped whenever we came to an old photo location and I was asked to recreate the image. “Here’s the reference photo.”
I told him he needed to bend the other knee and look a little more relaxed.
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As we walked on, I saw Texas Poo holding up his phone. “Are you taking video?”.
“Yup!”.
“Of me?”.
This was the first time someone had filmed me walking! At first, I felt embarrassed, but then it started to become a little fun. I found out that Craig was taking pictures of all of the signs he found along the trail and taking a lot of video, as well! I thought I took a lot of pictures, but not compared to him! We came across an older couple and stopped to chat. Texas Poo said he admired the woman’s ski poles. She told us she got them when she first started dating her husband and they still worked well! Mine, on the other hand, weren’t even making it through this hike! Texas Poo asked them if he could take their picture, which amused me. We later encountered a younger couple with a little dog and also stopped to chat and take pictures of each other. The scenery was incredible. At one point, I looked behind me and was stunned. I told the guys to look and they couldn’t believe the view, either!
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When we rounded a bend, we came across two families eating lunch. They were stunned to learn that we had been walking since April and one of the women immediately offered us some chips. Before we knew it, she was handing us vegetables and Craig got a turkey sandwich! Texas Poo loves telling stories and had everyone enthralled. I later asked him if that happened to him all of the time. He said it did! He loves to talk to people about the trail and they love to feed him in return! He said a lady gave him a nice chocolate bar at Dewey Lake.
We said our goodbyes and continued on. We all hoped to get to the Mike Urich shelter, but still had nearly 16 miles to go! I was beginning to doubt that I would make it.
We broke off into our own spaces as we hiked on. I took a lot of pictures, as I could still see Rainier, which was still pretty in the clouds.
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I found a nice spot for my ice coffee and snack break and even got reception! Craig walked by while I was sitting there.
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The next water source was from a pipe that I kept a lookout for. I could hear Craig and Texas Poo talking and laughing in the distance. After I collected water, I found them lounging under a tree. They asked how I was and I told them my stomach had been hurting. I thought that it had been starting to feel a tiny bit better, but today felt like I had taken several steps back. “Come sit down for awhile,” Texas Poo said.
“But I’ll never make it to the shelter if I do!”. He implored me to do so anyway, so I joined them for awhile. We had heard that there was trail magic at the shelter, but at this point, I wasn’t going to roll in before 9! The guys were lucky that they could hike faster!
I headed back to the trail before they did and was proud that they didn’t catch me in the six miles I hiked before I needed to sit down and take a break at an intersection. Just as I was finishing, they came along. Craig got excited when he saw the sign for “Airplane Meadows”.
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Apparently, the wreckage from an old plane crash was still in the field, and they headed down the path to see if they could find it. They invited me, but I didn’t feel like I had time to do that, especially not knowing how far away it was. I figured this would give me another head start. A couple minutes later, I heard some yelling which made me think they had quickly found it. But I was intent on scurrying out so I could stay ahead of them! I still had nearly eight miles to get there and I needed to move as quickly as possible!
A few miles later, I heard the noise of a large animal crashing into the forest. I saw what I think was an elk. The light was too weak to get a decent picture, however. My body began to fatigue and I struggled up a short, but steep climb. I needed to take off my heavy pack and eat a snack. There was still no sign of the guys. I kept looking at my watch and counting down the miles I had left.
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At 7:50, I finally made it to the shelter! It was nearly dark. I walked over to Braveheart and Halfway, who were sitting around a fire. No one welcomed me or offered me any food. I was hoping to make it in time for dinner so I didn’t have to cook my disgusting pasta again. Then, a woman said I could take a cold drink out of the cooler. I told her I was cold, myself, and didn’t want something cold. She said I could take it by the fire. I looked around for a place to set up my tent. I was going to sleep in the meadow, but was strongly advised not to do that because of the condensation. Braveheart and Halfway had set up in the woods, but said I was going to have a hard time finding a spot back there. With only minutes of light left, I needed to do something fast. I saw a flat spot next to the horses and decided that would be fine. It took me awhile to get the tent up, as usual. When everything was done, a man came over and asked if I was a light sleeper. I said I was. He informed me that this probably wasn’t a good place to try to sleep, as the horses stomped all night long. He even tied their feet together because of it! The loudest one was the one closest to me! I decided that I was used to not sleeping on the trail and would just stay there. It was too much work to break everything down and set it up again. I returned back to the canvas tent, hoping there would be something to eat. I met Beaker, who was hosting the trail magic. He offered me some cookies. He pointed out all the food they had for lunch and dinner (hot dogs, deli turkey, bread, etc), but it appeared that they were now offering only cookies and drinks. I almost asked for a piece of bread, but didn’t want to overstep my boundaries. Craig went to get his stove and cooked some noodles for dinner. I felt sad. We had pushed so hard to get here, hoping that we wouldn’t have to cook our same meals, but were now sitting in the dark, feeling very tired and very hungry, with food all around us, but nothing available. After staying up well past our bedtime, I headed back to my tent and hoped the horses weren’t going to keep me up all night long.

Day 111: A very rainy day into Mazama Village

Day 111
August 7
mile 1811.2-1830.2
19 miles

I stayed in my tent a little longer than I wanted because of the rain falling outside. It would seem to stop and I would get hopeful, but a few minutes later, it would just start right back up again. Fortunately, my sleeping bag remained dry. I ate breakfast, packed what I could inside my tent, and strapped my wet tent to the top of mypack. I hadn’t seen where Wall-E camped last night and saw no one pass by in the morning.
The terrain was gentle as I started and then began to climb. A man with a huge backpack labored slowly ahead. When I passed him, he told me I would be running into a bunch of boyscouts ahead. The rain continued to come down. The scouts were much further up the trail than I had expected. I passed by them with their garbage bag covered packs and then sat on a wet slope and snacked in the rain. My body was cold.
I couldn’t imagine that Baxter and Wildcat and their friend would choose to camp out in these conditions and not push for the store. Maybe I would see them there after all.
About half way through the day, I ran into my third Southbounder. His name was Vogue. He told me that there were a bunch of people ahead of me (Yes, I know…) and that I was the 126th northbounder he had run into. He seemed to sense my dejection because he then said that I was still at the front of the pack! My eyes grew wide and a smile spread over my face. He said that the main pack was now between Chester and Etna and that most of those people would not finish. He also said that I am now in a lull in the trail, but that the last 700 miles will be beautiful. “You’ve hiked this trail before?”. Yes, he said that he had previously hiked it northbound. I was so happy to hear that it wasn’t just me who found this part of the trail boring! His southbound experience had so far been amazing. He had sunny blue skies for the entirety of Washington and could see many of the views that he had not been able to see on his northbound hike.
After he left, my energy lifted a bit. His words helped counteract the constant rain. I wanted to write a message on Facebook that said, “You guys… I think I’m actually GOOD at this!!”. I always knew that I was fully capable, but hearing that I was toward the front of the pack, especially in my sick condition, made me think I had finally discovered what I excelled in.
A few minutes later, I reached an intersection and stepped over a huge arrow drawn with sticks, as well as the letters “NO” and proceeded straight ahead, before I decided to double-check my decision… Whoops… I often want to take the path of least resistance.
I headed on, feeling a bit better, but still wet and cold. I met a group of three, who I passed, and then found a place to sit on a steep embankment along the trail for another snack. Then, I plodded on. Because it was so wet out, I hardly drank any of the three liters of water I was carrying and as I got closer to the road, started dumping some out.
At last, I reached the road and turned right to walk the mile down to the store. It was still raining. I hadn’t seen another northbounder all day, but suddenly, Viking overtook me on the road walk. I wasn’t sure where to turn down to get to the store. I had read that if we walk in on the road, that we have to pay an entrance fee to get in! At a certain point, I just cut down the bank and arrived at the restaurant and gift shop. I brought my pack into the entrance and was surprised to see Tumbleweed there!
After I used the restroom and inquired about my box, I found out I needed to head back to the store. There, I found Ole, TrackMeat, and a few other hikers. I waited in line to collect my box, thankful to have it in my arms, and then headed back to the restaurant to eat. I had to wait a long time to be let in and was then taken to the nearly empty backroom with plenty of open tables! I returned to the entrance to invite Tumbleweed over to join me if he wanted and I was happy that he decided to. He was the first person I had heard of who was also planning a September 17th finish! Everyone else I had talked to was planning on finishing later than that, and I still felt a tremendous amount of stress about my ability to finish the hike in that amount of time. I also needed to buy a plane ticket when I arrived in Bend. I ordered a chicken sandwich and some hot chocolate and Tumbleweed headed for the soup and salad bar. He had no fork to eat with, however. Our waitress was very inattentive, so after waiting several minutes, when she appeared again, I told her that he needed a fork from across the room. Tumbleweed told me that I am very direct! Sometimes, I am…
I charged my phone and camera battery as we ate and caught up on stories. I asked Tumbleweed if he had met Forrest Man. He paused for a second and then said, “I thought that was his name, too”. Later, he had asked him to clarify. “So, your name is Forrest Man?.”
“No. It’s Forrest.” I asked Tumbleweed why he would call me “Man” and why there wasn’t a pause or a tone change between the two words. He didn’t understand it either, but found it interesting that I had had the same experience! The chicken sandwich started hurting my belly almost immediately after I finished it. When was I ever going to be able to eat a meal again?
After the meal, it was time to sort through my food and pack up again. Tumbleweed headed off for the trail. The rain had now stopped and the sun had finally come out! I went outside to sit on the bench and do my sorting. People coming in for dinner made comments about me being able to feed them…
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Finally, I took off my rain pants and saw the mud caked on my legs. “Just a tiny bit muddy” I said to a man sitting nearby before I headed back into the restroom to try to wash some of it off. I had planned on taking a shower and doing laundry here, as well, but I was running out of time. I decided that the surprise shower I was offered a couple of days ago made up for one here. By now, there was a large contingent of hikers gathered around the store. Baxter, Wildcat, and their friend, Susan had in fact come in, as well as Beer, Ranch, Viking, and several other hikers who had obviously skipped huge parts of the trail and hitched up here. Some were trying to figure out where to stealth camp, as all of the paying spots were now taken. Commando and Purple Haze were able to get the last RV site. I wanted to get back onto the PCT, so I headed out, not sure of how to get there.
Fortunately, a ranger helped direct me to the side trail that lead back to the PCT. I climbed up the hill with my full pack and hiked until I reached the intersection with the PCT. There, I found a flat spot to set up my tent, eat a few snacks, and head to sleep.
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Day 110: A surprise reunion and awakening during the night

Day 110
August 6
mile 1782.5-1811.2
28.7 miles

I knew I would have to get up on the earlier side in order to catch up on some of the miles I missed yesterday. Of course, waking up is always tough for me. The mosquitoes and flies buzzed around me as I ate my breakfast, making the first part of my day even more unpleasant than it already was.
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My morning began with the continuation of the climb I had started the night before (I actually had at least 2/3 of it go). On my way, I saw the section hiker I met at the Callahan’s packing up his camp, and then at the top of the climb, found another hiker I did not know taking a break. The trail remained in the forest and offered nothing spectacular in terms of scenery.
For a moment, I saw Ole and Track Meat, who had just emerged from a side trail, presumably to collect water, but they sped away as we started the next climb. I stayed within my own means and rhythm and did not try to catch up to anyone.
After ten miles of hiking, the guy I did not know, named Wall-E, came along during one of my short breaks, asking where the spring was. I told him that we should find it any minute now. A sign on a tree further up ahead pointed down to it and we were both relieved that we had not passed it. Water was scarce in these parts of Oregon! Because we had different methods of filtering water, we were both able to collect at the same time in different areas of the small pool. While I filtered, the section hiker came down and kept loudly asking where the spring was. I found it odd that he couldn’t see the water directly in front of him. As he complained about his shoulder pain, I left Wall-E to commiserate with him and headed back to the trail and to my own space.
Soon afterwards, I came across 4 men, taking a break. They were speaking to each other very loudly. I had no idea which direction they were hiking, but quickly learned they were also headed north.
I found a secluded spot off the trail to each some lunch and make myself an ice coffee. The bees wouldn’t leave me alone, however! They swarmed me at every break I took. I watched the men pass by, still loudly interacting.
Not long after, I saw a women and a couple taking a break. I assumed the couple was the same one I had seen yesterday, and as the woman was looking in my direction, I said hello to her first. Then, the female of the couple came running over to me and threw her arms around me. It was Wildcat and Baxter, who I hadn’t seen since Kennedy Meadows. “You caught us!” they yelled. I smiled. I felt like I had been slowly gaining on people whose names I had been reading in the registers ahead of me. I told them about my sicknesses and Susan, their friend, asked me some questions to help determine if it was really C. Dif. that I was suffering from. From my answers, she agreed that it was. We talked about our projected finish dates and when we planned on arriving at Mazama Village. Before I headed out, Wildcat said that she was still carrying her essential oil kit and offered me the one for digestion. “Maybe it will help!” she hopefully offered. I told them that I had to get going to stay ahead of the annoying hiker behind me and zoomed off.
It didn’t take long to catch the group of men, who were startled to see me. They didn’t notice that I had taken a break. One by one, they let me pass, until the leader asked me for a favor. He was in charge of the group, but had failed to bring a large enough map and wanted to know how on track they were. I gave him my estimate for the miles they had hiked so far and then asked if he wanted me to confirm that with my GPS. I had to wait for my phone to turn on, and then wait for it to pick up the GPS signal. Meanwhile, his buddies were shouting at him to “let her go!”. “You’re holding her up!”. I smiled and then confirmed what I had already told him. As I walked away, he said that they were using me as their pacemaker. “I wouldn’t do that,” I strongly stated. “That’s not a good idea.”
Wall-E came along and also wanted to know what mile we were at… We ended up leap-frogging each other for a bit, as we took our little breaks at different times. I wondered if we would be close enough to take each other’s photos at the 1800 mile mark, but he stopped to make a phone call just short of that point. So, I took a picture of the marker itself and moved on.
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The trail climbed and I grew more tired with each additional mile. I stopped to take a snack break and then put in my headphones for a little extra boost. A couple of boyscouts headed towards me, wanting to know how close the upcoming intersection was.
The trail continued to climb for several more miles. as I made my way down, I came to a nice creek and then saw the beautiful tent site that Baxter and Wildcat planned to stop at. They were not planning on making it to Mazama Village until the morning after tomorrow. I wanted to get there by late afternoon, which meant I had to hike as long as possible tonight. There were a series of small creeks ahead, the last at which, I would need to stop and fill up on water. The next 21 miles were said to be dry.
As I approached this last creek, I looked down to see a tiny frog spring across the trail.
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I carefully stepped around it only to see another one just ahead. Again, I placed my steps carefully. All of a sudden, I saw many jumping frogs in front of me! They were all over the place! I set my pack down on the slope of the trail and brought my collecting bag to the streaming water. I started a boil for my pasta dinner, figuring it would be wise to eat here and not carry the water to immediately use in a couple of miles. As I filtered my water and ate my dinner, Wall-E came along. I watched him look down at the ground and stop at his first frog sighting. He took another step and then had the same reaction as I had had at the great number of them! He crossed the water and put his pack down across the trail from me and exclaimed about how tough the latter part of the day was. He wanted to know if this was the last water source we would come to today. Several minutes later, another hiker came along. He, too, had the same reaction to the frogs! It was amusing to watch. After he crossed the water, he stopped to ask us our names. He thought for a couple of minutes and then asked me if I had gotten lost in the Sierras. I shook my head no. He mentioned something about Bear Creek, and still I said no, I didn’t get lost there. He then said he was probably getting me confused with someone else. After thinking about it for a few minutes while he conversed with Wall-E, I realized he was talking about my early attempt to cross Evolution Creek. “Wait a minute… Yes, that was me! I was in a bad mood, then!”. I asked him what his name was and he said, “Commando.” He was aiming to hike several more miles this evening to camp along a side trail with water access. He headed on, followed by Wall-E who had scoped out this area for a place to camp, but didn’t see one. I was the last to leave.

As the sun went down, I started to look for my own spot. I ended up moving a little ways ahead after my first possibility, finding a better flat spot there. I set up my cowboy camp and, for the first time on this hike, decided not to wear my thermal bottoms because it was too warm out. I tried to write down a few notes from the day, but the mosquitoes were vicious. Instead, I closed my eyes and tucked myself into my sleeping bag. Suddenly, I felt something crawling up my bare thighs! I swatted at my legs, only to feel it again! Ants had somehow gotten into my sleeping bag! I probably only felt them because my legs were uncovered! I got up and swatted them off.
A couple of hours later, at around 1 in the morning, I heard a giant roll of thunder rip through the sky like a jet engine. My eyes opened wide. Was that really thunder and if so, do I need to do something about it? A flash of lightning lit up the sky. I guess so. My heart began racing. I had to dig out my crumbled up tent that had been resting at the bottom of my pack, unused for hundreds and hundreds of miles. Did I even know how to set this thing up anymore? In the dark, I worked as quickly as I could, talking myself through the steps. Rain drops fell on my stuff sacks and sleeping bag. I hurried as fast as I could and then threw everything inside the tent and lay awake, listening to the thunder and rain, hoping that I had set up the tent well enough to stay dry.

Day 108: Stories

Day 108
August 4
mile 1732-1757.3
25.5 miles

The pain in my stomach finally started to subside after midnight and I was able to get a couple hours of rest.
I made my way back up to the trail and resumed my walk on the sliver of dirt that had been cut through the evergreen trees. Before long, I came across two cute deer who were not immediately frightened off.
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After my first couple of miles, when I needed to take my first pack break along the edge of the trail, Veggie approached. He, Ole, and Track Meat had gone into the town of Ashland and then attempted to get back on the trail in the evening. At the trailhead, they ran into Legend and Viking, who had been drinking, and was now in the mood to go dancing. He convinced Ole and Track Meat to head back into town to go clubbing. Veggie did not want to go and carried all three of their packs a little way up the trail to a camping spot. They returned in the early morning hours and hadn’t woken up by the time Veggie started hiking. As he relayed the story, a crazy squirrel kept running towards us without fear! It kept scaring me and we had to continually shoo it away!
In a couple more miles, I found Veggie and another hiker sitting around chatting. We were now in a very dry stretch of trail, without much shade. I hadn’t noticed the faucet nearby until I asked where the water was. Apparently, a big group of hikers had camped here last night and there was an unusually high level of animal activity, as well, including a bear! I listened to the stories from the guy I didn’t know as I sat on a rock, filtering my water. He talked about some crazy birds in New Zealand (or Australia?) that would dive bomb people and peck their heads! This guy had camped here last night as well and had spent the morning journalling. Both of them decided to carry very little water, banking on a source not far ahead.
I carried a lot, as usual, and was very happy that I did when I saw the tiny puddle of muck ahead…
A little after noon, I ran into a hiker heading south. I had met the first southbounder of the year, Bobcat, on the day I hiked into Ashland. He was very skinny and it was easy to tell that he was a thru-hiker. He was also very calm and polite and told me about all the smoke in Ashland from the forest fires. Fortunately, it seemed to have started clearing. I asked the guy sitting on the log on the side of the trail if he was also a southbounder. He said his name was Forrest Man and I asked him what Washington was like, as I had asked Bobcat. I was worried about the tough terrain and my ability to hike 25 miles a day, which I would need to do in order to finish the trail by the 17th of September! They both talked about how much snow there was and how extraordinarily slow going it was for the first 200 miles. Forrest Man decided to skip 200 miles of the trail because of the conditions. He told me about spotting a dry branch in the middle of the several feet of snow he was walking on and stepped on it for a break. An entire tree sprung out of the snow when he did so! He also talked about how lonely it was. He said he enjoyed talking to all of the northbounders he met now. I asked him if that was taking up a lot of his time, to which he answered that he has now reduced his miles in order to chat. He didn’t seem to want to stop the conversation with me, so I had to slowly pull myself away. I had a lot of miles planned for today and needed to get a move on it! Before I left, he mentioned that I had a huge dry section of trail coming up (who would have thought Oregon would be so dry?) but that I could stop at Hyatt Lake resort, about 1.4 miles off trail, where I could get a shower. Since I had just showered a couple of days ago, and couldn’t eat real food, I had no desire to hike off trail. He did say there was a pump after the resort.
Ever since I reached the half-way point of the trail, and especially with less than 1,000 miles remaining, I kept my mind occupied by trying to remember where I was and what was happening to me at that same mile into my hike. I was surprised at how much I could remember.
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In the late afternoon, I was surprised to reach a bridge spanning a wide, fast-flowing creek! Forrest had not mentioned this as a water source! I was a little perplexed, but happy to be able to replenish my water and make myself an ice coffee! As I sat on the edge of the bridge, Track Meat came along and told me his version of the night’s happening at the dance club and their scary ride back to the trail with a man who was high and who decided to follow them back to their campsite. Without a headlamp, and in the state he was in, he kept stumbling, losing the trail, and shouting out for help. He kept the guys up with his talking until they told them they didn’t mean to be rude, but that they needed to get some sleep. Track Meat took out an entire package of Newman’s mint oreo cookies and offered me one. It was such a treat with my ice coffee! He, too, was surprised about this river. “The southbounder failed to mention this raging river!” I said.
As I sat there snacking, a mother, daughter, and their dog came off a side trail and then picked some blackberries nearby. Soon, Ole came along. I got to hear the same story from his perspective, which was amusing. He had been having a tough time staying awake as he walked today and I asked him why he couldn’t just lie down and take a nap. He wanted to keep up with Veggie. He was also stopped by Forrest and had to excuse himself when he couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore. He headed on as I finished my break.
I crossed the road leading to the Hyatt Resort and as I was about to reenter the woods, I looked back at the road as a car turned off. I recognized the shirt on the arm hanging out the window as that of Beer. Hmmm… It had been quite apparent to me that he and Ranch had been hitchhiking and skipping parts of the trail, but now I knew for sure.
I came upon the faucet and the multitude of bees swarming around it and topped off my water supply before heading back out.
It was now late in the day and I was growing tired. I took frequent pack breaks and tried to muster up all of my remaining energy.
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Eventually, I came out to a flat area with an intersection of dirt roads. I wasn’t sure where the trail was. There were several fire rings around, but the area was too eerie to camp in. I walked by a tree with a no camping sign and was amused to see a fire ring right beside it!
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I found the trail as it lead back into the forest and caught a glimpse of the huge orb of red sun sinking through the trees. It was casting a magnificent shade of color on a section of trees on the other side of the trail.
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Before long, I spotted an area off to the side of the trail that was suitable to stop at, even though I was surrounded by charred chunks of trees. I set up my cowboy camp and cooked dinner and then watched a man hike south along the trail into the darkening night. I felt slightly vulnerable. Fortunately, he offered a slight wave and kept walking.

Colorado Trail, encapsulated

Waking up in Durango the following morning, having completed a goal that had been in my mind for the past three years, felt wonderful. For the next two days, I had nothing to do but sleep, eat, and relax! There have been so few days in my life in which I’ve felt this way. I hung out at the Steaming Bean and enjoyed a latte and a bagel sandwich with tomato and avocado, wrote a few notes, caught up with a few people back at home, and headed back to my room. I let myself sleep as much as I needed. I weighed myself on the scale in the motel gym and found that I weighed only 117 pounds! I hadn’t weighed that little since high school! Although I had lost a lot of weight and muscle, I still felt good. And after a day of resting, it was clear that my body was ready to start moving again!

I find the contrasts between my regular life and my thu-hiking life to be incredible. At home, I could sleep all day long and never feel like I am well-rested and ready to get up. I eat a lot of junk food because it often seems that sweets and coffee are the only things that boost my mood and energy, even if only in the few moments after, and I eat often throughout the day. I only physically exert myself during my yoga practices, and my energy level fades easily. My spirit feels small and contained and unfulfilled.
When I thru-hike, however, the extra weight quickly disappears from my body, just as the pressures from life release from my mind. I become strong, grounded, centered, and full of possibility. Life opens up around me. Fear dissipates. I work much harder than I do at home, and I make visible daily progress towards a goal that I have set for myself. All of my energy is given to this singular goal. I am not torn in several directions. I have a purpose. Every day is unique and special. Every day holds distinct memories. I breathe fresh air, live with the rhythms of nature, rising with the sun, and lying down with nightfall. I make the most of each day. I am inspired by the beauty that I see all around me.

Carrying everything that you need to survive for days on your back, allows you to quickly realize what is truly important in life. Certainly, the physical body needs air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and clothes and shelter to keep warm, but it is clear to me that the ability to express one’s self, as well as positive energy from others are equally necessary for the spirit to thrive. A kind word or smile from a stranger can do wonders to boost the spirit of another. And the ability to talk about how one is feeling or what they are going through can bring incredible relief, as well as the acknowledgement of being seen. We all want to be seen. When any of these essential pieces of life are missing, incredible happiness is felt when found again. Happiness is so easily attained.
As physically alone as I was for most of the hike, an endeavor such as this is not possible without the help of others. Thru-hikers rely on the kindness of strangers to give us rides into town in order for us to rest, re-supply, and recharge. People at home are needed to send us our re-supply packages and be there to pick up left-over pieces of life back home. A warm attitude goes a long way towards easing the difficulty and struggles in a journey such as this and notes of encouragement become especially uplifting. I was lucky to have someone who was looking after me at various times throughout my journey. No one person was constantly there, but there was always someone I could communicate with. And the best cheerleader award goes to my chiropractor, Dr. Maalouf, who always had something encouraging and uplifting to say to me!

When I set forth on that hot, sunny day at Waterton Canyon, I was unaccustomed to the heavy pack on my back, completely out of synch with the rhythms of backpacking, feeling out of place amidst the throng of runners and cyclists on the path, and bogged down with the confusing anger, criticisms, and blame from my “friend” back home. There were no other thru-hikers around, unlike my start on the Appalachian Trail, no excitement about heading to Durango, and no big, expansive views as I had expected to see in Colorado. My days and nights were filled with incredible discomfort from the weight of my pack on my shoulders, the burning sun, the effort of moving and breathing at high altitude (I hadn’t known that it takes the body three weeks to become acclimated), and the hardness of sleeping on the ground without a proper sleeping pad. There was no one around to provide positive energy or humor, and at times, I wondered what I was doing out here. But as I continued to walk, I began to shed excess layers and pounds, leaving all things unnecessary behind. I learned to release my fear around things such as hitchhiking alone, and being struck by lightning on long, exposed high altitude ridges. I clearly saw how everything I had done before had prepared me for this hike, just as this hike was preparing me for the next. I met people who reflected qualities that I don’t often acknowledge about myself back to me. I reflected on the timing of such meetings (Chrisselda in Fairplay who brought me to the yoga class with her, the man at the restaurant who I shared a table with and who drove me all the way back to the trail, Chad and his stories of spirituality and awareness, Mel who brought wine to my tent on a cold, stormy night…) and realized that the choices I had made allowed me to meet those particular people at those particular times. But, I also felt that there was a higher alignment at work. Something much greater than myself was looking after me and keeping me protected and these people appeared exactly when they were most needed. I learned to trust and to remain open.
It took me a couple of weeks to get adjusted to this new rhythm of living, and by then, I realized that my hike was nearly half over already! I looked forward to hiking a longer trail and living this lifestyle for months at a time again on the PCT. Five weeks is too short of a hike.
But there were several things about this hike that made it more enjoyable than my AT hike. The first was that there were far fewer people on the trail, which for me meant far fewer problems during my hike. I had many people problems on the AT, and it was such a relief not to be bothered by anyone out here. It was also more relaxing to not have the pressure of keeping a public journal. I had been harassed by an AT hiker at the end of my hike, who often signed into my guestbook as various made-up names and wrote made-up slanderous things about me. He continued this behavior for several months after my hike. I didn’t want to have to deal with those kinds of problems again, so I didn’t write an online journal and only wrote down things for myself when I had leftover energy at night. No one was expecting anything from me, and I wasn’t letting anyone down. And no one was judging what I had to say about my experience, or harassing me. This hike was more for me, and even though I was exhausted most days, it felt more relaxing because I didn’t have a second job of writing for other people. The trail, itself, was also much gentler on the body than the AT. The altitude was very challenging and something that I didn’t experience on the AT, but the tread was mostly dirt, which allowed for greater daily miles. I loved the open exposed terrain once I finally got to those parts, but the other side of the beauty was the danger that went along with it. I always felt in a race to get through those parts to beat the impending storms, and never got to linger or enjoy them. Overall,though, this hike was a wonderful experience.

When I returned home, some of my yoga friends commented on how different I looked. I thought it was because I had lost weight, but one of my teachers told me that my face looked different, as well- that it looked more open. Several people also asked me if I had grown! I was worried that all of the work my chiropractor had done would be erased and that my shoulders would slump forward again from the weight of my pack. But it turned out that just the opposite had occurred! My rhomboids had strengthened from having to work against the weight of the pack, and my posture had actually improved!

My worry now was how could I keep these effects. How could I remain open and happy while returning to work? That was the big challenge! After my AT hike, it took only 5 days at work for my spirit to feel crushed and imprisoned. I rapidly grew depressed and put on more weight than I ever had before. When I expressed my concerns after my Colorado hike to my yoga teacher, Jacqui, she said, “Just keep stepping over the obstacles in your path like you stepped over the rocks on the trail!” She’s a smart one, that Jacqui! I really liked that advice. Sometimes, I would look down at my feet and pick them up, remembering that I can just step over the things in my way!
When I saw her again a couple of weeks later, she asked, “How’s the trail?… I mean this one!”

I remained as strong as I could for as long as possible, making it through this past winter the best I ever have with the help of my yoga practice. I’m proud of how far I have come. But the effects of the hike just couldn’t be sustained. My energy levels greatly faded, and the extra weight came back on… My purpose was gone.

The time has now come for me to take another long journey. It’s time for me to really live again.

Day 33 of the Colorado Trail

August 22

23.6 miles

The noise of the tent material whipping in the wind got progressively worse throughout the night. There was no way I could sleep through this. I hoped my neighbors couldn’t hear it, as well. At some point in the night, something violently and suddenly struck my thigh hard. Oww! I felt mad! What was that? It turned out to be my hiking pole that was holding up my tent, which was now collapsed. I got up and wrestled it back into position. But the wind continued to whip through my tent. It didn’t let up all night long.
And then, I heard rain. Steady rain. I looked at my watch. 6:02. Just when it was time to get up and get going! This happened 2 days ago, as well! I thought the mornings were supposed to be sunny in Colorado! Since the rain was falling so steadily, I stayed put. The side of my tent was collapsed, so I put my pack (with the pack cover facing out) against that wall to try to create some tautness. Luckily, it didn’t appear that water was dripping into the tent near my head. The rain continued. It was now 7 o’clock! This was ridiculous! I needed to get going! I sat up and dug into my food bag. There was no way to cook, so I ate some cold cereal. Then, I steadily packed up as much as I could, pondering how I was going to break down my tent without getting all of my stuff wet! I decided to pack my Tyvek outside of my stuff sack, instead of at the bottom. I packed up everything inside the tent and then went out to break the tent down. One of the tent guy lines had come of the stake, and I had a hard time finding the loose stake in the tall grass. Finally, at 8am, I was ready to head off. I was pretty sure I was the first one out. I saw the groundcloth and a soggy green, wet tent belonging to the sister and brother headed north. It appeared that I wasn’t the only one who had trouble.
Since it was raining, there really wasn’t an opportunity to take pictures (my memory card was nearly full), and certainly no need to apply sunscreen (which I had been running low on)!
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I had to go to the bathroom, but there was nowhere to go. I had to wait until I reached the woods.
After a slight uphill, the trail started to descend “across a rockslide” which my guidebook warned about. Chad had also told me how scary this descent was for him, so I was nervous. But it turned out to be no problem at all! The clay tread was not slippery, and I didn’t find the descent steep or dangerous in anyway. Sometimes, I don’t understand why people make such a big deal about things…
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Finally, I found some woods and was able to go to the bathroom. Water was sloshing around in my socks because of the holes in my shoes. It felt so uncomfortable. There were no more views to be seen, no more open landscapes, and it was raining all day. I just wanted the hike to be over with and to be in Durango.
I made it to mile 7.1 of the final segment at 11:40, where there was a campsite, a bench, and a bridge. I decided to have a nice lunch break and make myself a cup of coffee for a treat. I took my food bag and stove and canister over to the bench, and ate my last packet of tuna (I was only able to eat those with the promise of a snickers bar afterwards!). Then, it started to sprinkle again. I guess I wasn’t going to get coffee after all! I moved back to my backpack to keep everything as dry as possible and ate a packet of almond butter and a snickers. Because the rain remained light, I decided to go ahead and make the coffee. I needed the energy and a mood changer.
As the rain became steadier, I packed everything up and moved on, beginning my final climb of this trip (1000 feet over 4 miles). As I approached mile 8, strong emotions began to well up inside up me. I thought a lot about the girl whose brother was hiking with her for 2 weeks and how lucky she was that she got to do that with him. I wondered if Ted would have joined me for any portions of my hikes if he was still alive. I felt both extremely sad and angry that he was taken from me so early and that we never got the chance to spend meaningful time together. I wondered what he would have been like and how we would have gotten along. I wondered what we would do together. It was all so unfair.
I also felt sad and frustrated about the continued resistance from my Swiss friend. We get along so well and so naturally. Why does he have to block this connection? Tears began to flow out as I climbed. It was a cathartic moment for me and I was so glad that the mother and daughter were not around. I didn’t want to make small talk. I needed this time to be alone and to cry.
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I knew when I reached the top of the climb, but I didn’t see a bench or an “excellent” campsite like my guidebook mentioned… I was a bit confused. I continued downhill for the next six miles. The hike was essentially over for me. At times, I wondered if I should make the push to go all the way into town tonight, but I felt very tired, and it seemed too far to go.
After awhile, I found a nice place to sit down, eat a power bar, and check for reception. I decided that if I came to the gate at mile 14.4 by 3pm (or just after), I would go all the way tonight. I moved on looking and looking for the gate. Where was it…? Minutes ticked by as I walked and walked, but I saw no gate. Finally, it appeared! It was 3:20. Too late…
A mountain biker came up behind me. He asked if I was finishing up the trail and going into Durango tonight. I told him maybe tomorrow. He went ahead and then said something.
“What?”
“I’m finishing, too.” He was just finishing his ride from Denver to Durango. I congratulated him and asked him how long it took. Eight days, he said.
“Eight days! You should do the race!” I told him that was the average time it was done in.
He admitted that he was doing this as I test. He knows the first place finisher from the race this year and told me that he set a new record by finishing 15 minutes under 4 days! Wow! The guy I was talking to said he slept every night and didn’t ride at all in the dark (but he rode all day). I mentioned what a hard day this had been for me with the rain starting at 6. He said that luckily, he was already packed up by then, so it didn’t bother him as much. He took off and I continued my solitary walk.
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I was now on the look-out for the spring at mile 16.9. Beyond this point, camping was not allowed at any point along the trail. I walked by some flat camping spots, but I wanted to get as close to mile 16.9 as possible, so I could get into Durango in time for breakfast! To my right, I saw a swampy area with tall plants growing out of it. That couldn’t be the “spring”…
Then, I came to an intersection. I checked my guidebook. It wasn’t clear, but it might have been mile 17.1… I went on and reached “Gudy’s rest.” Oh, no… This was definitely mile 17.4! That swamp WAS the spring and I was now a half mile past the point where camping was allowed! I looked at my watch. It was 4:57. There were 4.1 mile to get to the end. I decided to go for it! I drank some water, ate a snack, and slung my pack on my back once more. I walked as fast as I could. I was dead tired, but the thought of finishing tonight and not having to camp again gave me some energy. The terrain wasn’t bad. A runner with a dog came towards me and I wondered if he would be my ride into town. On and on, I walked, as quickly as I could. I crossed a bridge and entered the canyon environment.
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A motley group of three guys with water bottles in their hands walked in my direction. The first said hi, but none of them acknowledged what I was doing.
I got really tired and had to sit down on a rock for a break. I dug out another power bar for my last bit of fuel and drank more water. The runner and his dog ran past. I guess he wasn’t the one who was going to give me a ride…
The trail was now pretty flat. I saw a rock sculpture and took a moment to add a rock to it.
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Then, I reached a trail head sign. I still had a ways to go, though. It started sprinkling again. I came to a rare trash bin and threw out my trash from the previous few days, realizing that I was now only steps away from finishing. It was time to take it all in. A guy walking his dog came towards me, but didn’t say anything. And then, I reached the parking lot. This was it. My hike was over. I was tired and alone. There was no fanfare. No one was waiting for me. No one was there to congratulate me. But more emotion welled up in me than when I had reached the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine, marking the end of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Maybe it was because I was so tired. Maybe it was because I was so alone. I had walked from Denver to Durango, hiking these 500 miles in much higher altitude than I had ever been in, crossing miles of exposed terrain in hail and lightening, camping alone almost every night, hitchhiking alone, and hiking all but a few miles alone. I had it done it all by myself. And now, here I was, at the other end. My journey was over.
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A woman was about to walk her dog. I asked if she could take my picture. She asked me of I had hiked the whole trail and if I had done it alone. She was impressed.
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I took one last look towards the sky. The dark rain clouds that had filled the sky all day were no longer in sight. Instead, the sun was shining through a beautiful array of white, puffy clouds.
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I made my way towards the dirt road. Was this where I was supposed to hitch? A woman with two poodles came walking towards me. She asked if I had just finished and if someone was coming to pick me up. She said that if I wanted to wait 20 minutes while she walked her dogs, she would drive me into town. She told me that she was moving and had packed everything up. Otherwise, she would let me sit and wait in her house! “You must have a lot of stories!” she called back as she headed off.
I heard a motor coming in my direction, but couldn’t yet see the vehicle. It sounded like a motorcycle. As it slowly came into view, I saw that it was an old hippie van. I stuck out my thumb and it stopped. “Where are you going?” the woman in the passenger seat asked. They could take me!
The driver got out and opened the sliding door. “Be careful of the small plants,” he said. There were trays of drying mushrooms and basil set out. This couple was on an adventure of their own. They were from Venice Beach, CA and were out here foraging and trading food for seven months. They had just gone out collect water and were discussing whether they needed to treat it or not. (The man, who had already drunk some of it, thought no, and the woman thought yes).
They dropped me off at a gas station towards the middle of town (Durango was much bigger than I had heard it was!) and I made my way to the Durango Inn. I asked how much the rooms were. “$150 for a king and $120 for 2 doubles,” the girl said. My stomach dropped a little. I told her I think I have to go somewhere else and asked where a cheaper place was. She then told me she could give me a room for $89 a night! She said they offered coffee and oatmeal for breakfast (and then realized that was probably the last thing I wanted to eat!).
I made my way to my room and was so excited to see 2 beds with white sheets (just what I was hoping for!), pillows galore, a nice, fancy bathroom, and conditioner, shampoo, and lotion! I was in heaven! I took a shower, feeling so happy to be both clean and having accomplished my goal! I checked my phone. Chad had called, but didn’t leave a message. I had e-mailed him several days ago, but hadn’t heard a response.
I walked into town and headed to Carver’s, where I had heard that thru-hikers get a free beer after completing the trail! As I walked in, I heard a song that my Swiss friend had introduced me to as one of his favorites almost two years ago. It was a song that I had never heard played in America. I was astounded that it was playing now, in this place! I thought it was a sign that his presence was here with me now.
I sat outside in the beer garden (which also reminded me of Europe and him), and ordered a hamburger with avocado, cheese, and bacon. I wasn’t allowed to choose what beer I wanted. I could only get the “Colorado Trail Nut Brown Ale” which I thought was too dark and heavy for me. And it wasn’t even free, because it came with the hamburger I ordered as the special for that night. It turned out to be not so bad, though!
I had called Chad back on the way over and left a message and he called back while I was eating dinner. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Eating,” I answered.
“Eating?! Are you done?”
“Yes!” (I had said that in my message!)
We talked for awhile. At one point, I mentioned my hike in the Swiss Alps. He said, “You’re pretty well traveled for a kid.” I told him I wasn’t a kid! He had thought that I still lived with my parents! (??)
As we talked more, he started to tell me about his recent troubles. It was what I had already guessed. I had wanted to order dessert, but the waitress didn’t want to interrupt my call. Chad was not about to hang up, though!
Finally, I had to wave her over, but it was too late for coffee. They had dumped the last of it out. I was having trouble deciding between the chocolate cake and the blueberry cobbler. Chad thought I should get the cobbler, so I ordered that. It wasn’t good. It was too corn-syrupy sweet!
I walked back to my motel, still on the phone. It was good to have some company at the end of my trip.