PCT Day 170, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 89

PCT miles: 1823.8 
September 29

For an entire year, before even stepping foot on the trail, I would find myself getting emotional when I imagined Matthew & I tagging the Northern Terminus after a successful thru-hike- the idea of accomplishing something so crazy, so colossal- it overwhelmed me.  

Once getting our permits, my excitement only grew.  We had the IDEAL start date, mid-April.  My mind was consumed by the PCT- it was all I could think about.  I researched and purchased gear, I read blogs and books, I made lists and reminders, and I dreamed about the day we would finish.  It’s funny- now that I think about it, I never thought much about miles 0 through 2,652…just those last few steps.  I pictured us tired and relieved and so incredibly happy standing at the monument- September 17th, Matthew’s birthday, would be a great day to finish, I thought.  My eyes would burn- such an epic adventure, an amazing opportunity- how lucky we were!

When we set off from the US/Mexico border, I wondered if I could actually make it to Canada- it was so friggin far away!  Could I handle the whole being in nature for so long thing? Pooping in the woods? All the dirt? The bugs? The elements? THE MOUNTAIN LIONS?!!  And my knees- would they hold up? I didn’t know if I had it in me, but that border still called to me…

A few years back a thru-hiker told us, “if you can make it two weeks, you can make it to Canada.” SO, once we made it to that two week mark, I had no doubt in my mind that we were making it to Canada.  My soul was set on fire; I was alive and thriving.  I was SO. Fuckin. Happy.  With each passing day my determination, along with my legs, were growing stronger.  My doubts were fading.  Whenever Matt and I were asked if we were going all of the way to Canada, our response was always, “well, that’s the plan!!”  But I knew we would; we were unstoppable.
We were so motivated, so sure of ourselves, and SO unprepared for what happened on Day 45…

Never in all of my planning and dreaming and walking did I ever imagine that our thru-hike attempt would come to an end on September 29 in Tehachapi, California, at mile 566.5…a place we had first walked to four months before…a place that threatened to end our thru-hike attempt and probably would have ended the thru-hike attempt of many others…

But quitting was never an option we considered.  No, after taking time off to heal, we started walking again. And we walked and we walked and we walked for another 89 days and 1257.3 miles.  We walked through most of Washington, most of Oregon, and in the end, most of California.  We ended our thru-hike attempt on Sept 29 in Tehachapi, California, at mile 566.5, with a total of 1823.8 miles completed of the 2653.1 mile trail.  Yeah, we flipped and we flopped and threw in a hop, but when all was said and done, we walked from the US/Mexico border to South Lake Tahoe, then 27 miles into Oregon to 188miles shy of Canada.

From our Inreach/GPS

We are ending 816.6* miles short of a thru-hike.  It would have taken us ONE month to hike those 600 miles of NorCal {our 33 days of Trailcation 2019??} and those remaining 216 miles?  We could have done it.  We chose not to hike those 216 miles when we realized that completing a thru-hike in our shortened season was going to be nearly impossible OR at the very least really, really miserable.  Instead, we slowed down and experienced all that the trail had to offer and savored all of the moments meant to be enjoyed. {Smiles over miles, yes?} 

Had things gone differently on day 45 we WOULD have done it- and really, despite day 45, we still could have done it: since officially coming back on July 3 we took 8 zero days and a total of 14 days off for the knee injury and travel.  We could have finished Washington instead of briefly joining our tramily in the Sierra and if we were willing to continue hiking through October in snow, freezing rain, and freezing temps, we still could finish NorCal- but we aren’t. Northern Washington is currently covered in snow, and it has already snowed a decent amount in Oregon and NorCal.  As another hiker said to us, our happiness (and safety) isn’t worth being able to say that we did it. 

It’s bittersweet to know that in the end we had everything, both mentally and physically, that it takes to complete a thru-hike…everything but time and luck.

So, those last 816.6* miles?? (*don’t bother doing the math.  2653.1{miles of the PCT} minus 1823.8 {miles hiked} does NOT equal 816.6…it took me over an hour of frustration before Matt reminded me that we took some alternate trails!) The Skip and the Jump will have to come another time, if at all.  We definitely want to complete Washington, and finishing the entire trail WOULD be neat, but I would prefer to bang out those remaining miles in one shot.  I want to be able to say, “I’m out here finishing my thru-hike attempt.”

I have SO much respect for section hikers and all of the logistics they need to figure out to piece together the trail and the dedication and determination they have to come back year after year, but I am not one of them. 

I told Matt that we should compromise: he prefers section hiking & I prefer thru-hiking, SO, we cut the trail into two “sections” but we “thru-hike” each section…he’s skeptical.   However way we finish the trail, we won’t be thru-hikers, but instead LASHers (Long-Ass Section Hikers.)

I recognize that we may never have the opportunity to take this time off from work and escape from “real” life ever again, so finishing the trail in one shot might not be feasible.  And really, life is full of so many beautiful complications; who knows- we might just stumble across a new path we didn’t realize we wanted and find ourselves so happily distracted that the trail no longer haunts us…I’m skeptical, but we shall see… 

For now, it’s time to shower, eat, and enjoy some time with friends and family.

PCT Day 170, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 89

September 29
Mile 579.2 to mile 566.5, 12.7 PCT miles, no off-trail miles!
PCT miles: 1823.8
Running total: 1981.5
I didn’t take any “hiking” notes for this day- I didn’t write our starting point, our end point, or our mileage. I didn’t scribble down how I felt mentally or physically or what the weather was. Instead, I wrote my closure. It will be shared as my next post. It’s crazy that this all happened more than 3 months ago and yet I remember it like it was yesterday…

Today, everything was a last: the last early alarm. The last time we convinced ourselves it was okay to snooze and snooze and snooze. The last trail sunrise. The last time we had to peel ourselves from our warm sleeping bags and face the frigid air. The last time we bundled up to take down the tent. The last trail breakfast. The last first steps. The last second breakfast. The last time I cursed the wind. The last 12.7 miles. The last ride to town. The last town meal. The last town-day shower. The last day…

We woke up and were treated to this amazing sunrise…and then we closed our eyes again.

Eventually we woke up, packed up, broke down camp, and ate breakfast…it was 0730 by the time we hit the trail.

The morning was freezing and so friggin windy! We hiked in our rain pants, puffys, wool hats, and gloves for the first 2 mile descent, and it was only until we got about halfway up our 1.6 mile, 860 foot climb that we were comfortable enough to take off our puffys and hats. Since the air was raw and the wind was strong, we left our rain pants and gloves on…

The wind was ridiculous- it was legit tripping me! The gusts were pushing SO hard against my body that at times I was struggling to move my back leg forward. There were times when a sustained gust of wind pushed me off of the trail and into the side of the mountain, and I feared that if the wind changed direction, it would push me off the mountain.

I ate my second breakfast, a cinnamon raisin bagel, while we walked along a flat, exposed plain- I was bent forward, eyes squinted, struggling against the wind to coordinate my arm movement to get the bagel to my face, fighting for each step. It was exhausting!! But, a girl has gotta eat!

At one point Matt and I rounded a corner to find a man with a rifle staring at us- the fuck!!? It definitely took us by surprise! We knew back at Landers Meadow that there were hunters out and about, but we didn’t realize that they could hunt ON THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL!! Had we known it was hunting season, we would have picked up some brighter shirts! (Sidenote: whenever it was deer vs hunter, I cheered for the deer and tried to get them to run away from the hunters, but when it came to hungry mountain lion vs. deer, I cheered for the mountain lion, hoping that the more deer the mountain lions ate, the less likely they would be to attack me… Twisted or legit?)
I tried to take a picture of the hunter through some trees and from across a canyon, but Matthew was mortified and insisted that I stop being such a creep and keep walking…

I believe that that orange dot is the hunter…

At one point we came across a really neat tree fort and Matt and I ran inside to get some relief from the wind while we layered up again- we had about 2 miles of mild rolling hills then a 7 mile descent into Tehachapi- we weren’t generating enough heat to be comfortable in this chilly, windy weather, so the puffys were a must! I wish I had taken a picture of the fort- it would have been an amazing tent-site!!

Around 1015 I was SO excited to see two hikers walking along a ridge towards us- we hadn’t seen hikers since Kennedy Meadows, and these weren’t just any old hikers- it was Jesse and Deanna!! Back in April, Jesse and Deanna had hiked the first 5 miles of the trail with us, and they had come from San Diego to Tehachapi to hike the last 5 miles with us…Jesse is a friend I don’t deserve, but am so grateful to have!

As we hiked towards each other, I told myself not to cry…I fought back a single tear while I embraced Jesse, but then I was surprisingly completely fine…minus the fuckin wind.

After our quick hellos we continued on together, just as we started, 170 days ago…

Flashback to April 13!

We chatted the whole way down into Tehachapi, taking a quick break to strip down to our shorts and shirts again when the wind died down & the temps grew warmer.

We took a selfie with 1 mile to go, as we did 1 mile in…

Flashback to April 13!

Matt and I signed the register.

Then together, side by side, Matt and I crossed the overpass that lead us back to where we started on Day 45…our end. We fuckin did it.

I expected to lose it, what with my new ability to cry at the drop of a hat and all (or at the sting of a bee…or with a change in the wind…) I expected to completely break down sobbing, but again, I didn’t. All in a single moment I felt relief, excitement, gratitude, disbelief, pride, pain, regret, longing, love, happiness, and hunger- it was as if my trail-life passed before my eyes, and then, with a single burning tear, there was peace. We did it, Matt. No, we didn’t complete a thru-hike, but we walked really fuckin far and had an epic adventure, and that’s what we set off to do, no? Yeah, we fuckin did it.

We walked back over the overpass and joined Jesse and Deanna in the car.

We ate apples while we drove to Starbucks. I ordered the pumpkin spice latte that I had been craving for days, only to find that it didn’t taste as good as I remembered. We stopped at CVS to pick up new toothbrushes, deodorant, and a few other things people need in “the real world.”

We went to lunch at Thai Hachapi, a highly recommended restaurant for thru-hikers that “we” ate at months before(/l ate there months before. Matt’s jaw was broken but it wasn’t wired shut yet, so he had some soup and was able to suck down tofu- it was his last “solid” food for nearly a month!)
Jesse treated, because he’s a jerk/that friend I don’t deserve!
We stopped at Kohens bakery, another place that Matt couldn’t fully enjoy the last time we were here. We picked up too many pastries, because that is apparently what you do when you finish a thru-hike attempt…
Jesse and Deanna dropped us off at our hotel, we said our goodbyes, then went to check into our hotel…THE hotel…
Matt showered, we started laundry, then we walked over to Local Craft Beer Brewery for some local craft beers 😉

THEN, we hit up TK Pizza & Pasta for dinner…

The tables looked empty.

The last time we were here there was so much laughter, so much glee…our entire extended trail family was there. Fuck, I miss it…Saudade, the longing for a place that no longer exists...

{flashback to May 26 & 27…}

I allowed myself ONE last trail meal and ordered a caesar salad, cheesey bread, and spaghetti with butter…we walked back to the hotel, I showered(finally), then I climbed into bed ready to feast…

Washing our gaitors

So yeah, I crawled into bed ready to feast only to find that they forgot to put butter on my spaghetti!!! They gave me a pound of plain noodles…mother fucker!! (But isn’t that how it was the entire trail? All I ever wanted was a rice and bean burrito and plain spaghetti with butter, and all I ever got was a million varieties of NOT that!)

It was so fuckin wrong, it seemed right. I moved on to my then cold cheesey bread and so-so salad- nothing tasted as good as I remembered. Ugh, post trail life was already looking bleak…

Thoughts on 1000 miles, stories that aren’t mine to tell, and more?!

Oops, this was supposed to squeeze in a while ago…

A. Trail Talk

{I wrote this September 15-ish}
Since returning to the trail on July 3, Matt and I have hiked over 1000 miles, for a total of 1619.9miles! That’s, like, a shit ton of miles! Back when we hit 566 miles I wrote a post about random thoughts and stories from the first section of the trail, so I figured I’d do the same now…
1. Location. As obsessed as we(thru-hikers) are with makin’ miles, we often talk about location of people in days, not distance. So many times I find myself saying, “oh, {he or she} is probably 1/2 day behind us” or “our trail fam is about 10 days ahead of us.” Others have told me, “you know {so and so}? Well, they are probably like 2 days behind us…” or, “you’ll probably see them in a day or two…” It’s so very interesting to me! Why don’t we say, “our trail fam is currently around mile ____” OR, “I last saw so and so at mile ___.” Weirdos, all of us!!!
2. Town Food. We get SO excited for Town Food- like, wake-up-and-start-hiking-before-the-sun excited. One day I was talking to a muggle about Town Food and he interrupted me and asked, “wait, what’s town food??” It only then dawned on me just how weird it was that we call it Town Food. SO, really, what IS Town Food? It’s what you folk call food: restaurant food, baked goods, homemade meals, fruits and veggies, ice cream, etc.- anything readily available and consumed in town. Sometimes when we are feeling crazy we “pack out” Town Food- I have personally packed out a burrito, sandwiches, and an orange, while many others have packed out McDonalds, avocados, and fresh veggies.


3. Did somebody say food?? Speaking of food, our taste buds have changed!!! I used to be a diet soda drinker & would often crave an ice-cold, extra carbonated, chemical-filled bottle. Since being on trail, however, I have lost the taste for soda & instead crave lemonade and the original Arizona Iced Tea. Mmmmmm!!

Matthew, on the other hand, who never drank soda, has been craving orange soda! It’s so funny! But he definitely isn’t alone- so many non-soda drinkers have been craving soda on-trail. Strange!!
Probably the biggest surprise for me: I have been eating cheese. Not, like, blocks of cheddar or anything strong and fancy and gross, BUT if a piece of American cheese finds its way into my omelette or onto my veggie burger I will still eat it and enjoy it! Heck, I might even ask for it! Cheese used to be a meal-ruiner for me. Columbia and I had bonded over this: if it was melted on pizza or that fake-ass Kraft Mac & Cheese or nacho cheese, count us in- otherwise, eewww! Now?? I don’t recognize myself anymore! Our bodies are pretty amazing- I’m wondering if my body has been craving salt and fat?
4. Pee-eww!! We smell bad. Like…really, really bad. So bad, in fact, that we never actually smell good, even after showers and laundry. Luckily, for the most part, we cannot smell ourselves and except for the occasional extra smelly hiker, we cannot smell each other. We can, however, smell a day hiker!! A whiff of fresh laundry and dryer sheets and sometimes even perfume or cologne is a dead give away that we are in the presence of a day hiker. You can’t fool us, day hikers and overnighters!
5. I have yet to pee without spraying my shoes….

B. Now, stories (and photos) that I have collected that aren’t mine to tell(/share):
1. One day Raspberry arrived to a water source completely parched. A man helped her pump water from a notoriously difficult spigot and she chugged it down without hesitation…or filtration. About a mile down the road she realized her mistake and for fear of giardia, she stopped to make herself throw up…and she succeeded…in throwing up…a tadpole.
2. Arc was apparently notorious for hiking and snacking and dropping some of her goods. One day Woodpecker trailed Arc and helped Arc abide by LNT principles by picking up and EATING Arc’s dropped jelly beans. Another day Woodpecker commented on Arc’s dropped Skittles that Woodpecker had been eating, and Arc informed her that those weren’t hers!!
3. The bees- they had a vandetta against far more than just Matthew, apparently! (But Matt was the only one who received unprovoked attacks!)
One friend accidentally peed on a wasp’s nest and…well, you can imagine. Another friend accidentally dug a cat hole into a wasp nest…that, too, didn’t go over well. (This friend had an allergic reaction but had previously run out of Benadryl- she and her husband had to hike back to the closest town to get meds.) ANOTHER friend set up her dinner too close to a nest and got attacked- she, too, had an allergic reaction and had previously run of Benadryl. Poor girl, her face was SO swollen that I didn’t recognize her photo! Thankfully she had cell service and was somewhat close to a dirt road and her boyfriend was able to come get her. She was prescribed a course of steroids… Fuckin wasps, man.
4. The rodents in Northern Washington were savage! They ravaged through any food bags left unattended (and sometimes attempted theft right before our eyes!), they scampered all over people’s tents, over lounging people’s legs, AND they even chewed holes to get INTO people tents! While most people we knew had a mouse IN their tent at some point, some unlucky folks had mice crawl INTO THEIR SLEEPING BAGS!!! No! Just No!!
Matt and I were careful to hang our food, but one girl had a mouse chew through her hanging food bag- ahh!! Another couple we met not only had a mouse in their sleeping bag, but they also had a mouse chew through their food resupply in one of the trail town’s post offices! Eww!

(Shared with permission from Tanner!)

5. Flashback to the mosquitos in Washington…for me, this was hands down the WORST part of the trail.

(Shared with permission from Tanner!)

6. On July 5, Ridgecrest, CA was shaken by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. The day before, a 6.4 quake rattled the town, causing some minor damage. The town movie theater made the decision to close on July 5, which might have saved a bunch of lives: that evening, on what would have normally been a crazy-busy Friday night, the roof of the theater collapsed during the 7.1 earthquake!
(Only one death was reported- a poor man in Nevada had been working under his car when it was believed that the shifting of the earth caused his car to fall on him…)
7. Another summarized story from Amy:
Locamotive was a Swiss hiker who finished her 2,653 mile flip/flop thru-hike at Kennedy Meadows. Upon completion of her hike, Locomotive required urgent dental care. Yogi (remember her?) reached out to the Walker Pass Trail Angel Facebook page asking for assistance and within minutes, Trail Angel Sandy (you’ll meet her later!;) ) made Locamotive an appointment while Trail Angel Amy(you definitely know her!) jumped into her car to drive the hour to KM to pick up the poor hiker.
The next day, Locomotive told Amy that her brother, FROM SWITZERLAND, had mentioned that he would like to meet up with her to celebrate the end of her hike, but he never confirmed or solidified any plans. Locomotive couldn’t get in touch with her brother, but she had a feeling that he had arrived to Kennedy Meadows to surprise her. Amy reached out to the local businesses in Kennedy Meadows, and it was discovered that somebody fitting the description of Locomotive’s brother had been there…but was he still there?
Amy drove Locomotive BACK to Kennedy Meadows, searching for Locomotive’s brother at all of the typical hiker spots. As a last resort, they headed to the Kennedy Meadows campground. They found the campground completely empty, except for a man sitting at a picnic table, facing the trail, holding a Swiss flag he had hung from a stick… Locomotive’s brother had sat at that table for TWO days waiting for her, telling anyone who passed, in his limited English, that he was waiting for his sister- oh my heart!!!

Picture stolen from Amy!!

C. Bonus!
1. I meant to add this to my post from our Ridgecrest Zero Day: When we were doing laundry in Ridgecrest, a man came over to me and asked if we were “part of that big group of people that were doing that big hike from Mexico to Canada.” When I informed him that we were, he was shocked and said, “wow! You guys are really behind! Most people came through months ago!” Hahaha!
2. To pass the time on long days, my mind stayed busy “writing” my blog posts, novels, and song lyrics. You see the results of my blog writing (thank you for following along!) and I have shared a few of my short-songs before (“are you afraid of PDB? Yeah you know me!” “I got, poison oak to the left of me and poodle dog to the right, here I am stuck in the middle of hell…” and my hotel song, that I’m actually not sure I added to a post:
Please sing to the tune of Old McDonald:
Ali and Matt are at another hotel
’cause there’s a vortex here and a vortex there
Here a vortex
There a vortex
Everywhere a vortex!
Ali and Matt are at another hotel
What the friggin hell!?)
On one particularly hard section in the Sierra I started the following song, and I finished it over the course of the next 10 days…
Some of my lyrics were a stretch, & she uses the “f” word more than I do, so I followed suit…
Sung to Halestorm’s “Here’s To Us”
We could just go home right now
Or maybe we could stick it out
For just one more week, oh yeah
Fill up on shot bloks and bars
And eat all the shit
While we’re in town
we got just one more week, oh yeah
Here’s to the bugs, and the bees
and to the whole damn PCT
Here’s to you, fill my glass
‘Cause the last few miles have kicked my ass
Yeah they gave me hell
But I walked ’em just as well
here’s to us, here’s to us
Stuck it out thru shitty weather
Matt had his jaw wired together
Let’s toast, cause things got better
And everybody shed weight so fast
I stayed the same but had a blast
I wish this could last forever
Here’s to the aches and the pains
And all the times it fuckin rained
Here’s to you, fill my glass
For all the damn bugs that bit my ass
Yeah they gave me hell
I wished they’d go fuck themselves
Here’s to us , here’s to us
Here’s to the trail going up
And the trail going down
All the miles we walked
When we got out of town
Here’s to the angels we met
That we’ll never forget
And all the badass friends we made
here’s to us.
Here’s to you
Here’s to me
Here’s to the whole damn PCT
Heres to us,
Fill my glass
’cause the last few months
Yeah they kicked ass
All troubles aside
It was one hell of a fuckin ride
Here’s to us… Here’s to us ..

PCT Day 169, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 88

September 28

Mile 606.3 to mile 579.2, 27.1 PCT miles, no off-trail miles
PCT miles: 1811.1
Running total: 1968.8
It was a cool, breezy morning- but with no hurricane-like winds & no Sierra-cold, it was actually really, really pleasant. We took our time breaking down camp, digging cat holes, etc…ya know. Matt was generous & shared his toilet paper with me- isn’t he the best!
Our morning started with a small climb up about 300 feet in a little less than a mile to what would be our highest point of the day, 6800 feet.

Following that first climb we had a few short 100-foot climbs and three slightly bigger climbs (500 ft in 2 miles, 300 feet in 1.2 miles, and 450 feet in 1.3 miles) BUT with an overall descent to our lowest point of the day, 4680 feet.

Temps were brisk and the forest was beautiful. I was enjoying watching the dramatic clouds quickly consume the mountains around us, until we walked INTO those damn dramatic clouds…

It suddenly became very cold, very windy, and very wet- guys, it suddenly became suddenly very, very miserable!! I found myself laughing in disbelief- never did I EVER imagine that we would have to deal with this shit again in the DESERT! Wtf?! PCT 2019, man!

We stopped to throw our pack covers on, and it wasn’t long before we were completely drenched. It wasn’t raining, but there was so much moisture in the shrubs that our feet were uncomfortably soaked.

Remember yesterday when I yearned for trees?? Well, today we had them, but boy did they betray me! We got poured on any time we walked under them, leaving our clothes thoroughly saturated. I tried to speed-slosh through the rainforest sections, but it was useless- I was soaked.

And, of course, the wind just wasn’t helping! There was a constant breeze that ensured that we stayed at a constant level of discomfort all morning, but every now and then there was a sustained, unnecessarily aggressive, fierce gust of wind that burned our faces and chilled us to the bones.
At one point, while I was walking through a grove of trees and getting increasingly frustrated by how wet and uncomfortable I was, I noticed how strong the wind was blowing against the trees. I was suddenly overcome by an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the trees- while I could still feel the wind a bit, the trees were taking the brunt of the tempest- without them, I surely would have cracked; they acted as a fortress, protecting me from the merciless assault outside. I briefly distracted myself with thoughts of how generous trees are- they give us their shade, their protection, their limbs, their fruits, and their leaves…and then I thought about how powerful and unforgiving they can be, too. Shudder.

I wanted to cry and scream and curse and shout. There was NO doubt in my mind that I was DONE with this trail… absolutely done!

Since I was too grossed out to touch my mouth, I spent most days walking around with dried toothpaste on my lips…Matt called it my clown makeup. It isn’t too bad here…

Before starting the day, I had taken a mental note of the number of climbs we had for the day and I crossed them off as we went. I found myself silently chanting, “four more climbs left. Four more climbs left. Just gotta make it four more climbs.” I repeatedly counted on my fingers as I hiked. 1. 2. 3. 4. 1. 2. 3. 4. I was counting down the miles, wishing the day away...

Around noon we turned a corner and saw a view for the first time all day! Wasn’t it beautiful?!

And then we saw a patch of blue sky! It was such a relief.

Just as quickly as it had turned shitty that morning, it turned into a bright and sunny day. The sun, my nemesis yesterday, was my savior today. Our clothes started to dry and my body started to defrost- we decided to take advantage of the sun and stop soon for a lunch break.

As we were approaching a dirt road that crossed the trail, a man in a white pick-up truck drove up, slowed down, and said, “hey, do you guys need anything?!” We assured him we were okay, and he drove on. We didn’t get much farther before a man on an ATV drove up and asked if he could get us anything- guys, people, even hunters, are SO nice!! Who knew??

We set up for lunch around 1245 just beyond the dirt road. We spread out our tyvek, took off our shoes and socks to dry, and were just about to feast when we suddenly got swarmed by bees…wait, the fuck?!! We were in the center of a bee raid! They flew onto our packs and into our pockets, landed on our socks and in our shoes, AND they seemed to keep multiplying! Fuccckkkk.

Matt escaped up the trail, while I waited for the initial onslaught to die down a bit. When our packs seemed safe, I grabbed them one at a time and walked them towards Matt, who relayed them up to our new “bee-free” lunch spot…
Our new lunch spot was better, but definitely not “bee-free”- some of those fuckers followed us! We didn’t have the most relaxing lunch, that’s for sure, but we didn’t get stung, so there’s that!

At one point Matthew shook his head and said, “if there was ANY doubt in my mind that we shouldn’t quit, after today it’s gone…” I agreed 100%- did I not just say that same thing to myself earlier that morning?

Around 1:45 we were ready to hit the trail again. I took a quick pee-break just as that white pick-up slowly passed by again- oops! I quickly took off down the trail…

At one point I smelled the strong odor of marijuana & assumed it was the hunters, but when I smelled it again a few miles later I realized I was wrong- it was POODLE FUCKIN DOG BUSH!

In the past three days we experienced everything that we have hated about the PCT: bugs, wind, rain, bees, and poodle fuckin dog bush! Today alone we had 4/5- yep, we were DONE!
Thank goodness for the sun…

When the desert isn’t trying to kill me, it really is stunning!
The last 8.2 miles of the day consisted of a 1,360 foot climb from the low-point to our tent-site. When looking up potential tent-sites for the evening, thanks to Big Momma, we knew where NOT to camp! 🙂

We were taking a huge chance, as our planned site was a few hundred feet higher than Big Momma’s, but one person on Guthooks said that there was one site off-trail that was protected from the wind- that was good enough for us!

As we neared the end of the day, Matt was a bit tired so I marched on ahead.

About halfway up our last climb I stopped at a water trough, our LAST water source of the desert, and waited for Matt. When Matt arrived I suggested filling up our dirty bottles and filtering at our tent site- it was getting cold and I didn’t want to waste time sitting around. Matt declared that he was tired and needed a break, which broke my heart again- he used to be so strong…so determined. I rolled my eyes and threw up my hands in frustration- not at Matt, but at me- I felt the tears coming again- girl, stop crying!

Fighting back tears I asked, “was it always like this? The desert? Did it always suck?” We agreed that yes, yes it did- we just had some really awesome distractions. I fuckin hated the desert.

We agreed to filter in our tent, so we filled our dirty bottles in the water strider infested trough (why didn’t I take a picture??) & went on our way.

As the sun set, we found ourselves back amongst the desert windmills.

Geesh, if somebody would just tell them to turn the damn windmills off, it wouldn’t be so darn windy!! (A nod to one of our tramily members…) ❤ <3!

As we neared the top of the climb, we searched and found a tent-site hidden amongst some trees. We set up camp, cooked our last trail dinner, took a celebratory shot, and fell asleep to the humming of the windmills…

Guys, I’m gonna miss this.

Happiness is: the sun. And Bailey’s Irish Cream.

PCT Day 168, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 87

September 27

Mile 630.8 to mile 606.3, 24.5 PCT miles + .4 miles off trail for H²O, 24.9 miles total
PCT miles: 1784
Running total: 1941.7 miles
It was windy all night, which never makes for a restful sleep. Thankfully our site offered a small amount of wind protection, so it wasn’t as terrible as it could have been- our tent survived the night, and there were no broken legs or puncture wounds from beautiful yet ruthless Joshua Trees!
Folding the tent was a challenge- we first had to be super careful that the tent didn’t blow away as we pulled up the stakes, and then we had to fight a ballooning and dancing tent while we tried to fold it- wind, I am SO over you!!
Our first stop of the day was the water cache at Bird Spring Pass, which is maintained by local Trail Angels- there were gallons and gallons of water! These angels are amazing!!!

Hahahahahaha omg! NO thru-hiker has any upper body strength!!!!

I took the time to fill and filter 4.7 liters of water- 10.3lbs- to prepare for a 22mile water carry. (Yes, I make Matthew filter water cache water!! Most people don’t, but since I don’t 100% know where that water came from, I can’t not…)

Some Germans once asked me, “why do Americans shoot everything?”

The first few miles of the day were okay- 600 feet elevation gain in 2 miles, then about 200 feet in 1.4 miles…

But then, holy hell, helllllo desert!!

This wasn’t my typical afternoon slump (it wasn’t even the afternoon!)- this was heat. Sun. Thirst. Death. While the terrain wasn’t hard (it was a general descent with a few small climbs for the next 10 miles, the steepest climb being 430feet gain in 0.8 miles) but each step was hard- I honestly didn’t know if I could keep going. My head felt SO out of sorts, kind of like an out of body experience with both my head and my body suffering but not coherently…weird, right? I started to worry about my water- did I have enough water to make it to the next water source?? And shit…that water was located up a 2,150 foot climb over 6.6 miles in the hot desert…..fuccckkkk. Back to the desert games- drink enough so I don’t die, but not too much that I run out and die… (Wtf, this section was supposed to be easy after the Sierra!!)

Partway through the morning Matt realized that about 1.5 miles (and 400 feet) up that 2150 foot climb we would be passing by another stocked water cache, which meant that we only had a 15 mile water carry that morning! (Sidenote, reading this now, 3 months after leaving the trail, I’m like- wtf- 15 miles between water sources in the desert?? How did we do it?!)
We agreed to have lunch at the cache, which couldn’t come soon enough. It took everything I had to make it there in my haze. I had fantasized that the cache would be located in the shade of a giant Joshua Tree, which would have provided us with an escape from the unrelenting heat, but to my dismay, there were NO trees to be found for miles. The jugs of water were a beautiful site, though, and the shade of a fallen sign provided enough coverage that not all of the water was near boiling. Desperate for relief from the sun, Matt and I threw down our tyvek and huddled under the sign while we filtered hot water and ate lunch.

Exhausted, I ended up taking a quick nap.
After eating and resting, we had a decision to make: stay and set up our tent until the hottest part of the day passed (which would provide escape from the sun but we would have absolutely NO air movement and would basically bake in our oven/tent) OR continue and bake in the sun. Wanting to make progress, we decided to continue.
Since I was noticeably hurting in the heat, Matt stayed behind me. It was a slow, hot, hellish afternoon as I climbed the last 1750 feet.

After a grueling 5 miles, we reached the top of the climb. We saw a few cars & heard gun shots in the distance- hunters? Where were we?!
As we began our descent, we were shocked to find ourselves dropping into a forest! Was I dreaming?! It was amazing- how could this be the other side of that desert hell we just trudged through all day?!! The air was noticeably cooler & as our surroundings came more alive, so did we.

We continued down for about 2 miles to the junction to Landers Meadow Campground, where he had heard there was a spring, a pit toilet, AND, if we were lucky enough, toilet paper!!! As we entered the campground, we found the place packed with ATVs & hunters, all male…(what were the chances that there was still TP??!)
While Matt and I looked around searching for the spring and toilet, one of the men greeted us saying, “if you’re looking for beer, it’s here {sweeping his arm across the campground, implying that it was omnipresent} and if you need water, it’s over there {pointing to the right}.” Sweet!!
We did need water, but first we needed the bathroom. Surprisingly it only smelled bad, not terrible, AND there was TOILET PAPER!! Thank friggin goodness! (I finally told Matt that I had forgotten to pack toilet paper, so he, too, could appreciate just how amazing this was!)
After our quick break, we made our way to the piped spring. For as hot as the cache water was this afternoon, this water was FREEZING!! (Why is the water NEVER cold when we need it?)

Instead of removing the pipe from the trough and dripping it into our bottle, we dipped our dirty hands & dirty bottles into the ice cold trough- it grossed me out thinking of all the other people with gross, dirty hands that have stuck their hands in there, but oh well!
While Matt and I were sitting on the grass filtering water (grass?! Again, was this real?!!), a man came over offering us whiskey. Matt and I both declined, but we ended up chatting with this man and the 10 other guys at his campsite for a little while. They were fascinated by our thru-hike attempt, blown away by the whole broken jaw thing, and so kind to extend their party to us. I’m really going to miss being a “thru hiker”- it’s magical!
Matt and I still wanted to bang out another 2.5 miles, so once our water was filtered we said goodbye to our new friends and returned to the trail. I had a goal of returning to the PCT by 6:45, but we made it by 6:35!! Nice!!

The last few miles were easy peasy, with an elevation gain of a whopping 260feet.

The sun had set shortly after we left the campground, so we hiked the last mile or so by the light of our headlamps/Matt’s headlamp, my cell phone- my headlamp was super dim- oh, sidenote, a few towns ago I had sent my extra batteries forward in a bounce box BUT, without thinking, I then sent that box home….shhh, don’t tell Matt!!)

Finding the tent-site was a little difficult in the dark, but once we found it, the soft forest floor made for an easy set up! We enjoyed dinner outside then retreated to our tent for bed.

Even though the first half of the day was difficult, once we hit the forest it turned into a really awesome day. We went to bed excited for our last full day on trail!

Happiness is: the forest. And the awesome people we meet

PCT Day 167, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 86

September 26

Mile 652.1, Walker Pass, to mile 630.8, 21.3 PCT miles, 0.6 off-trail miles to and from Denny’s, 21.9 miles total

PCT miles: 1759.5
Running total: 1916.8
Leaving town is never easy, but today it wasn’t too hard- maybe ’cause it was the last time we had to do it? (And because we already had a ride arranged??)
BUT first, food. Gravity, Matt, and I walked over to Denny’s for breakfast. For my last town meal I ordered the free all-you-can-eat pancakes and paid for scrambled eggs and fruit- total rookie mistake. I was SO friggin full, I couldn’t even finish my first plate of pancakes!! Dangit!
After eating to uncomfortable fullness, we walked back to the hotel, said goodbye & good luck & kick ass to Gravity, then raced to pack up before Amy arrived.

Just as Amy pulled into the parking lot, I realized that we had forgotten to fill our water bottles- shit!! The desert ain’t no place to go without water, AND unfortunately the sink in the bathroom wasn’t conducive to filling up our smart bottles! (…but also bathroom faucets gross me out…) Amy was amazing and took us to get water at a convenience store on the way to the trail, where we filled up at a Glacier Water station thinking that the water would be cold and refreshing- we couldn’t have been more wrong. Left to boil in the Ridgecrest sun, the first few bottles of water were pretty hot! Ewww! (Sidenote, I have since read that those refill stations are actually pretty gross…eh, oh well.) We ended up buying a cold bottle for each of us anyway- so much for saving plastic!

Matt pointed out that one of our first water fills, back at Lake Morena on Day 2, was at a Glacier Water station- we smiled at the memory- that was so, so long ago!

Since Matt & I were slow going and late this morning, we made poor Amy late for her next appointment- we felt terrible, but being the saint that she is, Amy acted as if it was no big deal. Since Amy was no longer in a time crunch, she hung out with us for a bit at Walker Pass, telling us some pretty crazy/awesome stories that I’ll have to share in a future post! We eventually said goodbye to Amy and did our last minute prep before starting this last leg of our journey.

Being back at Walker Pass was really fuckin weird. We were first dropped off here back in June to start the 50 mile stretch from Walker Pass to Kennedy Meadows with Matt’s jaw wired shut. I had been a little nervous, but also super excited, optimistic, enthusiastic, and oh SO relieved to be home. {I had recorded the first steps of our return/death hike climb singing Eminem’s “Without Me”- “guess who’s back, back again! Jaw’s is back, tell your friends- Jaws is back, Jaws is back, Jaws is back…” I had some killer dance moves, too, but the excitement didn’t last long- the next few days turned out to be absolutely terrible. Our dreams of finishing a thru-hike were squashed, along with our hope of catching our trail fam. Yeah, Walker Pass to Kennedy Meadows absolutely sucked, and here we were again…

I only realized now, more than 3 months later, that I must have saved the following picture from somebody’s Facebook post (Columbia’s?) on our way to Walker Pass that morning- I know for a fact that I didn’t appreciate the significance of the quote at the time or draw parallels to our current situation- it was just a quote I had always loved and wanted to remember. I found it today mixed in with my other photos from the day.

Yep, this wasn’t the same “river” we stepped in months before, and we definitely weren’t the same people!

This second time around we were a little bit jaded, a lotta bit tired, and more than ready for our finish line. We have had a lot of shitty days since we were here last, but we have had even more amazing ones. Our struggles have given us strength, our mistakes have given us lessons, and our stubbornness and determination have given us blisters…but also some really incredible experiences. Our lives have been forever enriched by the countless beautiful moments and serendipitous meetings that we wouldn’t have had, had our story unfolded in any other way. We have made forever friends, and even got to reunite briefly with our forever trail family. We have seen mindblowing sunsets and stepped(/fallen in) in leg-numbing creeks. We have found beauty in unlikely places, and learned to appreciate even smallest of conveniences. We have cried more than we knew possible, but only because this trail has made us feel more than we thought possible. We weren’t the same people we were when we first stepped foot here more than three months before, and for that I am grateful.

Now, it was time to tackle some unfinished business…

Before setting off we chatted briefly with a man from Tennessee named Jeff, who was on a motorcycle trip across the US. Jeff had pulled over hoping he had found the PCT trailhead, and he was psyched to meet PCT hikers! We were psyched to meet him- his motorcycle adventure sounded intense! He snapped some pictures of the trailhead before continuing on his journey.

And FINALLY, just before 11am, it was time for us to continue our journey.

We walked for all of 13 minutes before we stopped at a trail register. While Matt ran down to the Walker Pass Campground to use their toilets, I signed our names before flipping through the book to see the names of those that had come before us.

It was so bizarre seeing our old trail family’s names & dates, but it was actually maybe even more bizarre to see the names of people who had passed through around the same time as our trail family- I recognized the names of so many people that we didn’t meet until months later in Washington, Oregon, and the Sierra! Take Tasty for example- Matt and I met Tasty from South Africa first in Washington, but he had passed through Walker Pass between Silver and Arc, which meant we were all in the same areas at the same time! Similarly, we met Pigeon, Hikerbox, Fortune Cookie, & Arts&Crafts in the Sierra, but they were right there with us in the desert! Weird!

Also weird but not surprising? It had been two days since a PCT hiker had passed through here- Matt & I were alone!

I eventually had to force myself to close the register & start walking again- I wanted to get a little bit of a head start while Matthew was in the bathroom! Wait…the bathroom…shit!! I forgot to buy toilet paper!! I had like 3 squares to last 3.5 days- ahhh!!!!! I hoped Matt had some extra, but I opted not to say anything just yet- he didn’t need any more reason to stress!

We had a 1,810 foot climb in 7 miles, which was made pretty terrible by the presence of billions of tiny little swarming gnats. They didn’t bite, but they made breathing really fuckin hard. I eventually had to put on my bug net, which was uncomfortably suffocating in the heat!!

When we stopped for our lunch break, I was not entirely sure that I liked hiking anymore…the desert was hot, the bugs were annoying, and I was finding parts of the climb a bit more challenging than I had imagined they would be. It was also pretty clear that Matt was very displeased to be back in the desert & was dreading the next few days. I started to get emotional, remembering how Matt used to crush the switchbacks in the desert with that dorky little pep in his step- I used to watch him with such admiration & pride, as he bounced up the mountains as if it were nothing…it broke my heart that he didn’t bounce anymore.

Lunch was “eh,” and the next 9 miles were pretty unremarkable as well- they consisted of small 100-200 foot climbs with slightly bigger descents- nothing too difficult at all!

We then had a 770foot climb in 2.5 miles, which brought us to an elevation of 6990 feet, the highest point of this section. We happened to have service, so we took a quick break to book ourselves a flight from Arizona to New Jersey to see our families.

It was all downhill for the rest of the evening, but while we lost 1630 feet in elevation, we gained ridiculous amounts of wind. (The only positive to the wind was that the bugs went away!)

We were treated to a beautiful sunset, but were then left hiking the last few miles in complete darkness. It was eery & unnerving!

We had planned to camp at Bird Spring Pass, which appeared to be in a valley of sorts and so we had hoped it would be somewhat protected from the wind, but it was most definitely not. Bird Spring Pass was apparently in a wind tunnel, but since the next site was 6.5 miles away, we didn’t have much choice. In a desperate attempt to escape from the wind, we set up camp under a gigantic Joshua Tree. Holy hell those Joshua Trees are real brutes! Their branches are actually daggers, which left me with some decent scratches and bruises.

As we sat in the tent listening to the wind blowing and waiting for our water to boil for dinner, Matt and I started to second guess our chosen site- while we knew Joshua Trees could withstand a lot of wind, we also had seen a ton of fallen Joshua tree branches, and boy could those fuckers do some damage! We didn’t want to risk it, so we made the decision to take DOWN our tent and set it up again in a less protected but hopefully safer area.

Once resettled, we ate dinner in our tent, something we have only done a handful of times. We stored our food between us and tried to fall asleep to the sound of the wind howling & our tent flapping.

Our plan for tomorrow: start early, go far. We shall see what happens!
Happiness is: stinky bug nets and breathtaking sunsets.

PCT Day 166, Double Flip and a Flop with a Hop, Day 85

September 25

Off trail miles: 2.7 miles
Running total: 1894.9
We had an early morning wake up for an early morning pack up for an early morning pick up- I made arrangements for a 0730 ride…who am I?!

Thankfully I felt better after my late-night pukefest and only woke up once briefly overnight to a ridiculously loud chorus of howling coyotes- it was nuts!

I woke up again in the morning just in time to say goodbye to Bluejay, who was catching a ride back to the trail to head south from Kennedy Meadows to Walker Pass. {She will then meet up with Gravity to hike NorCal- I’ll miss leap frogging with them!}

I waited in my sleeping bag until the last possible second before racing to take down camp. Amy was, as expected, right on time! Pathfinder, Gravity, Jaws, and I piled our dirty, smelly gear & our even dirtier, smellier selves into her beautiful new car & we headed to Ridgecrest.

On the drive I researched Ridgecrest hotels and found one with FREE on-site laundry (a luxury for thru-hikers), free breakfast at Denny’s (a dream for thru-hikers), and zero reports of bedbugs (a necessity for me)- I booked a room, then returned to the conversation in the car.

Amy first drove us to the hotel, but they wouldn’t let us check in until 2pm…fine, okay, it was still super early. We stored our packs under the coffee table in the small hotel lobby (God Bless whoever had to breath that lobby air all day) and packed back into Amy’s car, who then drove us all over to Kristy’s Family Restaurant for breakfast. Unfortunately Amy couldn’t join us, so we said goodbye & hasta mañana, as Amy was returning the next day to drive Matt and I BACK to the trail- guys, these trail angels really live up to their name!!!

Pathfinder, Gravity, Jaws, and I stuffed our faces while sneaking in some good conversation between bites. I enjoyed an omelette, toast, half of a pancake, and lots and lots of coffee. Mmmm.

After breakfast we said goodbye to Pathfinder, who was officially done with his section hike and starting his multi-day drive back home to Oregon.

With full bellies, it was time to start our town chores. Gravity, Jaws, and I walked back to our hotel to get a headstart on laundry BUT, as it turned out, the hotel that boasts “free laundry 9-5” on their website actually didn’t have laundry AT ALL!! Have you ever met Tired Ali? She can be a real bitch, and when Matt saw the smoke coming out of my nostrils he extinguished that fire REAL quick and ushered me out the door towards the off-site laundromat, a whopping 0.1 miles away. I was SO frustrated- the laundry was the reason that I booked this hotel!!- but Matt kept insisting that some battles weren’t worth fighting…I begged to differ- laundry was life at that moment…

We arrived to the laundromat to find that both the coin machine AND the bathroom were out of order- fantastic for my mood, as you can imagine. We found a second, functioning coin machine and I walked nextdoor to a convenience/liquor store to see if we could use their bathroom- for 25cents it was all ours. Awesome. Gravity, Matt, and I took turns using the bathroom to change into our rain gear/laundry clothes and I think I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to disinfect myself from the grossness of that room- it was disgusting!!! I refused to touch anything, even the paper towel dispenser!

We stayed busy while we did our laundry, working on blog posts, returning messages, and monopolizing an entire bench in the laundromat to organize our remaining food AND to decide what gear we no longer needed.

Once laundry was done, we continued with our town chores. We walked over to the post office to send home our bear cans full of extra gear and food we wouldn’t need in the desert, then we hit up the grocery store for our LAST RESUPPLY OF THE YEAR!! (We needed a few things to supplement what we bought from Yogi the day before.)

It was like 100° and that rain gear does NOT breathe well! Woof

Since it was unbearably hot and we had our arms full of yummy food, we Ubered back to the hotel with Gravity.

Back at the hotel, Matt showered while I snacked on Fritos Honey BBQ Twists (um, yum!!?!) and arranged my food. For the first time ALL trail, I felt confident that we had purchased an appropriate amount of food for the next section- it only took us 130 days on-trail to figure it out!

After Matt’s shower, we met up with Gravity for “snack tacos” at Ephen Tacos Smokehouse Junction.

Post-shower, so that’s a tan!!

Ephen Tacos is a neat taco shop in an old repurposed car wash that has an awesome “pay it forward” program- people can donate any amount of $$ to feed a neighbor in need!! I LOVE that!

Our “snack tacos” turned into a delicious taco feast, and we all rolled back to the hotel with incredibly full bellies.

Back in the room again, I finally showered.

I’m going to miss seeing all of that dirt wash off me and flow down the drain- it was so satisfying

I then ended up on the phone with my parents, which somehow turned me into a full-on ugly-crying, blubbering mess.

I couldn’t even pinpoint WHY I was crying- it was a little bit of everything, I guess. I was disappointed that we weren’t finishing and I was jealous (but so incredibly proud!) of our friends who were. I was frustrated and confused. I was tired. I felt bad for Matt, who knew I was upset, and I didn’t want him to think that I blamed him, because I didn’t. I was concerned that we took the good times for granted and I was upset because we loved the trail and our trail family SO much, and then they were stripped from us; I was sad that the trail was never the same again and I felt gypped. I was sad that this was it; that in a few days we had to go back to our old lives. Our grand adventure was over, we didn’t make it, and now we have to return to “the real world” and I absolutely dreaded it…fuck.

(Years ago I wrote a blog post about returning to the “real world” after spending 5 weeks living, learning, and working in Peru. In summary I wrote, “I’m sorry that I’m not looking forward to seeing you. I didn’t miss you…there, at least.” I continued, “I’m sorry that I’m dreading returning to my life there. I know that I have everything I could ever need there: I have you, my wonderful, loving, supportive and awkward family. I have you, my incredible and hilarious friends who I know will have my back forever, whose families have become extensions of my own. I have a steady job with amazing coworkers- yes, you, who have become my friends and my teachers. I’m sorry that right now that is not enough. I’m sorry that I’m not looking forward to seeing you.” I ended with, “I’m sorry that I didn’t miss you, there at least. I’m sorry that I can’t be happy to see you and to be home, because I’m not. I hope you forgive me and realize how grateful I am that you have helped make me who I am, by being my family, my friend, or my “enemy.” By teaching me, challenging me, or loving me. Thank you for giving me both the roots and wings I need to be me, whoever that is…” Those feelings I felt then came rushing back to me again. I’m sorry, guys- I didn’t miss you and I’m really, really not looking forward to seeing you…there, at least.)

The tears and snot kept coming while my parents rambled on about how proud they were of us and how amazed they were of all that we had accomplished. I spoke to them separately and they both asked, 100% sincerely, that if {shit hadn’t gone down}, would we REALLY have walked all of the way from Mexico to Canada!??! Umm, yes, mother and father Focker, that was indeed what we were doing! And that is what our friends did! My parents were shocked. The truth is, walking 2653 miles in one shot is so fuckin profound and absurd and unfathomable, that until you do it, or almost do it, you can’t comprehend it…that’s why it was killing me. We could have done it but we got fucked…and then we got jaded.

Once I assured my parents that I was okay and the tears FINALLY subsided, Matt ordered up some Dominos and we enjoyed one of our last town feasts in bed.

Before falling asleep we both admitted that the same thought had crossed our minds- if Gravity & Bluejay were heading back to do the entire NorCal section, we could do it too…But we would have to cancel/change our doctor/dentist appointments & miss my nephew’s 2nd birthday party…decisions…

Happiness is: spending the day with a new friend. We really enjoyed our time with Gravity- it was nice having a trail friend again! We will miss him in the desert!