the smoky warm ambiguous end of summer

I’m in Southern Oregon and I start work in a week- it’s warm and smoky and I’m surrounded by oak-covered hills so I run uphill for as long as I can and eat GF sunflower-butter sandwiches and drink bubbly water with apple cider vinegar in it and work on my manuscript and, if you can believe it, I’ve even been reading a book- but I feel restless, crazy restless, I’m not used to having this much empty yawning time, I want to hitch-hike to somewhere with unreasonable weather and go on some steep hike until my life feels like it’s overflowing again and at night my legs ache with fatigue. I’ve got a week and no money, what can I do? Everything is free, tho- the wind, the air, the light, the sunrise, the rain, when it comes, the seasons…

A couple of things- I have a small interview on the Trail&Era website, and my friend Lacy Davis has a brilliant blog where she writes about food/exercise/body issues and the relationship between those three things.

I promise to blog again if anything interesting happens.

pika

It’s my birthday today

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Broken Top and Lake Moraine

And I’m bumming around Three Sisters Wilderness with Orbit, her friend Leah who’s in acupuncture school and another friend, also named Lia, a diminutive welder with the words home sick tattooed on her knuckles. I’m sleepless and strange feeling as they texted me at midnight last night saying do you want to go to south sister… right now? And we drove through the night, arriving in Bend just as the sky started to lighten. I’ve got a backpack full of snacks and tonight we climb South Sister for the sunrise. And this evening we’ll make a little fire on the ridge, watch the sunset and toast marshmallows. They’re magic marshmallows, each one makes a wish come true.

It’s already the best birthday I’ve had in years.

The PCT isn’t real and September is cold: a trip report of sorts

The climb up to Goat Rocks headed south

The climb up to Goat Rocks headed south

We’re at the convenience store at White Pass, Washington, and my heart is racing from caffeine. Hiker’s packs are lined up on the bench outside the store, which sells pizza and honeydew melon and has a cluster of metal tables where hikers can hang out while they charge their phones. It’s noon. I peek inside the store, but I don’t see anybody that I know or recognize- just a few bearded strangers, wolfing down corndogs. I didn’t get to meet very many other thru-hikers this year, as I raced north to Canada to beat the rain, so I’ve decided to hike this section from White Pass to Cascade Locks south, two weeks after finishing my thru-hike. Actually it was Orbit and Redbeard’s idea, a couple of thru-hikers I met on the trail last year. Redbeard lives in Seattle and is a rafting guide although once, back when he could tolerate it, he had a desk job editing film. Orbit is an unemployed barista, just moved to Portland, with dreams of going to school for astrophysics. She’s also one hike away from her triple crown.

Goat Rocks, you know

Goat Rocks, you know

It’s strange to climb up the goat rocks “backwards”- the views are inside out, the ups are downs, the downs are up. The sun is out and the views are brilliant and then, at the top, cold fog rolls in, a harbinger of fall. It’s September!

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We hike towards Mt. Adams in the dusk, watching the moon rise, and reach our campsite, a little overlook sheltered by trees 22 miles in, at 8 p.m. I was curious to see how my body would do after two weeks off the trail- I’ve been biking and running in the city, but not for twelve hours a day. Now I discover that what I’ve always suspected is true- nothing can approximate the intense nonstop physical activity of a thru-hike. While my muscles are still strong and I can still hike uphill at 3mph, the tendons in my hips, ankles and knees have grown soft, and now, at the end of the day, I ache all over in that special way that reminds me of the beginning of one’s thru-hike. Ah, the pain of the desert! How I’ve missed it! Two weeks, and my body is no longer the invincible machine that took four months and 2,660 miles (minus the fire detours in SoCal) to create. Two weeks is all it takes.

But I can still hike. And so can Orbit and Redbeard! And it feels so good to be out here. Orbit and Redbeard build a fire as a deep cold moves in and the clouds blow away, revealing ice-hard stars. It’s beautiful up here, so beautiful. I passed this spot this summer, but didn’t camp here. That, in itself, is good enough reason, for me, to hike the PCT more than once- there are so many epic places to camp! We’re tired and it’s probably colder than it should be, this early in September, but the fire is warm and bright and we sit around it, eating our dinners. Orbit makes ramen on her alcohol stove.

“I love ramen,” she says.

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Redbeard and Orbit

We fall asleep under the stars in the infinite quiet, the trees sheltering us from the wind.

In the morning I wake after six and paw through my backpack- how do I do mornings again? We’ve packed five days of food, which seems like an incredible amount, more food than I think I’ve ever packed before. Orbit is already up, sitting on a rock next to the firepit wearing all her layers, making a little plastic cup of instant coffee. The sun is somewhere behind the mountains. Redbeard wakes and rolls over. He’s got to hike back to the car today, to get back to Seattle for work- he can’t come all the way to Cascade Locks with us. Why can’t we all be free, all the time? Work, you know.

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Cispus pass

It’s so cold this morning that Orbit and I are hiking in all our layers- it’s clear going over Cispus Pass and then we drop down, into cold fog, and can’t see anything anymore, save the trees. We start to pass clusters of northbounders, singly or in groups of two. They all have the same look about them- lean, small packs, wild hair, torn clothing. In their eyes a sense of urgency, an intense focus that’s been whittled to a fine point over many months. These hikers are determined. Eyes on the prize! I remember hiking north, how section hikers would tell us that we had this look. Now, after two weeks in the city, I’ve grown soft, and I no longer wear my sense of urgency like a mask. And hiking southbound, today, I can finally see it for myself, in the faces of these hikers-

The hunger.

Hunger not just for real literal food but for rest, for accomplishment, for warmth, for shelter, for companionship. For clean clothes and soft chairs and significant others and pets and electricity and wifi and hot coffee and sleep and nutritious meals and music. For sitting down without 30 miles of hiking in front of you and clean running water and an amplitude of food and maybe your cat, there on your lap. For relief and accomplishment and an end, an end, an end. Thru-hiking is, at its most basic, an experience of deprivation- Do Not Sit. Do Not Be Warm. Do Not Be Well Fed. Do Not Be Hydrated. Do Not Be With The Ones You Love. And now, after nearly five months, this deprivation has etched itself into the faces of these hikers so deeply that it’s really remarkable to see. It’s not a look that we see often on the faces of young, white, college-educated americans, aka the dominant demographic of the PCT- a hunger and determination so strong that it makes its own light, that it glows like a lamp.

I know, from my own two thru-hikes, what this specific light feels like.

It feels like being alive.

It’s wonderful to pass, and meet, these northbounders. They are without fail kind, polite, happy, adorable, glowing, and hungry- hungry to talk to us, hungry to make it to the top of the next climb, hungry to hike the next four hundred miles. They stare off into the distance, stars in their eyes. They don’t realize how soon it’s ending, or how much they’ll miss it when it’s gone.

“Are you thru-hikers?” they ask us.

“No, just section hiking,” we say, and it feels good to say. We’re on vacation. I remember the anxiety of my last month on the trail, the way I would sometimes cry while I hiked. On a PCT thru-hike you’re locked into the weather window, you’re on a schedule. There’s not a lot of flexibility if you want to beat the rain or snow. Now I’m freed from that and I’m just here, almost blissful, on the PCT, this place that I love. It’s like magic.

Magic. Is that what the PCT is? My main motivation for thru-hiking the PCT a second time was to answer one question- what is the PCT? And I think, now, hiking southbound two weeks after ending my thru-hike, that I finally know the answer.

There is no PCT.

Or, the PCT does not exist. The PCT is something that we make up, collectively, with our imaginations- it only exists because we come together, here, for a summer, and agree that it exists. The PCT is only real as long as you believe that it’s real, and after your hike is finished it fades away, back into non-existence. The PCT is a place that we construct with our imaginations that has its own culture, value systems, traditions, vocabulary, cuisine (block of dry ramen covered in peanut butter, anyone?), beauty standards, and mythology. We come together, agree that this place exists, and then we all live there, for a little while. It’s a totally unique conception of reality that’s 18 inches by 2,660 miles long and you can live there, for a summer, as long as you keep moving. And as soon as you’re finished- that world is gone. As though it never existed at all.

Kind of cool, right?

These lean, wind-burned, starry-eyed northbounders don’t realize how soon their world is ending and I wonder, afterwards, how they’ll feel. Sad? Relieved? Empty? Many of them come from middle-class or upper-middle-class upbringings and have followed, until now, a very traditional track in life. And now they’ve been shown, via this long ribbon of dirt, an entirely new way to construct their experience of reality. Will things ever be the same? How could they possibly be? And will these bright-eyed young people ever fully recover?

Probably not.

Orbit and I had talked of doing some crazy big miles today but now we realize, because of the limitations of our own bodies, that this won’t be possible without a good deal of suffering, and besides it starts to rain. Cold rain. Really, really, cold rain.

“Motherfucker, motherfucker,” I mumble as I repack my bag inside its trash bag liner and pull on my clammy rain jacket. I didn’t sign up for this, except actually I did. Hiking in the north cascades in September is a gamble, which is why, I remind myself, I finished in August. But I’m a fool and an addict and the weather was beautiful and these good people invited me along and I just couldn’t stay away. Hiking, it’s what I like to do! And sleeping on the ground!

All afternoon in the cold rain my morale is in the gutter. Instead of the bliss of hiking fast in the good clear weather over the backs of mountains I am pushing myself through the cold, unloving forest, anxiety piling up and falling away, piling up and falling away, like the tide. This rain makes me unbelievably weary and I remember August, how ready I was to be home. I’m done with this trail! Why am I out here? I pull out my phone, but there’s no reception. I have no music. Orbit is somewhere behind, or ahead. I have no distractions, no way to check out. Only this unbearable feeling of discomfort, front and center in my brain, this tired unhappy feeling that is yelling at me.

Two weeks off the trail, and I’ve already forgotten how to endure the highs and lows of a typical hiking day. And now I’m here, trapped, and I can’t escape it.

An hour later the clouds blow away and a little thin sun comes out and I’m warm from climbing and I discover something else that I’ve forgotten-

The moments of almost god-like peace that appear, like magic, on the other side of all that suffering. When you can’t check out, when you can’t escape, when there’s nothing else to do or look at or think about, and so you just keep walking, almost writhing in pain inside your own body, and then, just as quickly as it appeared, that epic feeling of discomfort is gone- and what’s left in its place is this big, open emptiness, full of light and warmth and well being, and you suddenly know more than you’ve ever known before that, to quote Kerouac, everything is fine, forever and ever and ever.

All afternoon we’ve been following a set of southbound brooks cascadias footprints- I’m pretty sure they belong to Christine, my friend from southern Oregon, who this summer hiked the Oregon section of the PCT and is now southbounding this section- she left White Pass the day before we did and we figured that we’d catch her sometime today. I’m excited to see her and in the last hour, Orbit notes, the tracks have grown fresher, and they’re on top of all the other tracks, which means that we’re getting closer. We’d planned on going five more miles, somewhat arbitrarily, for a 34 mile day, but then we round a bend in an alpine meadow and see a tent pitched in a perfectly sheltered little cluster of trees, a waterfall nearby, and it’s Christine! and we are glad to have a reason to stop.

“I’m trying not to burn my tent down,” says Christine. She’s boiling water in her vestibule, her soaked sleeping bag spread over the top of the tent to “dry”.

“I didn’t get a chance to lay it in the sun today,” she says.

“It’s so cold,” I say.

“A ranger told me it’s going to get down to 37 tonight,” says Christine.

A strong wind is blowing but there’s plenty of room in the little copse of trees for us, and although it’s begun to rain again, the ground is dry in here. Orbit strings up her hammock and I sit on my sleeping pad, eating salt and vinegar chips. Christine is happy, chattering on as she cooks her dinner. This is her first long hike and I haven’t seen her since spring, before she started.

“I love this,” she says. “I love thru-hiking. It’s my favorite thing. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I love this life. I love it so much.”

Christine tells us that she was in a series of lightning storms in Oregon- the lightning was starting fires all over the place and many of the thru-hikers behind us hitched from Etna to Ashland, skipping the area entirely. Christine hiked through it, weathering one electrical storm so intense that her hair stood on end, the tips of her fingers were tingly, and she was “glued to the floor of the tent”.

“I couldn’t lift myself off the floor of the tent,” she says. “I don’t know why.”

“I think that was ground to ground lightning?” I say.

“That would explain a lot of things,” says Christine. “I felt so calm the next day. Really serene.”

I ask Christine if she’s going to farm next year- she’s been farming in Southern Oregon every summer for a while.

“I don’t think so,” she says, eyes almost ecstatically alight. “I have a new hobby now.”

I tell her that she should hike the whole trail, beginning to end, but she says she likes the solitude of section hiking.

“I don’t like the groups of dude-bros,” she says. “I don’t like how competitive they get. I don’t like how people leave trash everywhere. I saw one guy dump his leftover soup onto the ground, in a campsite. It’s like they don’t know about Leave No Trace.”

We go to bed well after dark, bundled in every layer we own, scrunched down deep in our sleeping bags. Long underwear, down jacket, rain jacket, fleece hat, neo-air, hoods pulled up and everything cinched up and zipped up tight. Finally I am warm and horizontal on the ground, and finally the tension in my muscles begins to unspool. Outside it’s cold but here, in my mummy nest, it’s warm. Within seconds I am unbearably sleepy. I call this “survival sleep”- the wonderful deep black sleep of a person safe and warm in a little cocoon against the harsh elements outside. It’s my favorite way to sleep- in the winter I sleep with the heat off and the windows open, a million blankets on top of me, in an attempt to induce it.

At four a.m. I wake to what sounds like a wolf howling. It’s unbelievably dark outside, the sky overcast and the trees close. I can’t see anything. A hostile world out there, if the temperature of the tip of my nose is any judge, and I’m not getting up for anything.

In the morning I wake naturally at 5:45- I’m back on my thru-hiker schedule!

“How are you up this early?” says Christine groggily, as I dig through my food bag and assemble some breakfast. Orbit is packing up her hammock.

“I had a nightmare last night,” says Orbit. “I dreamed I was suffocating.”

“So that’s what that sound was,” I say.

“Yeah,” says Orbit. “I should’ve warned you.”

“Are you sure you’re not a werewolf?” I say.

“That’s probably what it was,” says Orbit.

Christine is still in her sleeping bag when we leave camp- she wants to take it easy and enjoy the rest of this section. I admire the way she knows what she wants, her unwillingness to hike anyone else’s hike. And I’ll see her soon, in southern oregon!

It’s cold and overcast and the “sunrise”, when it comes, is a swirl of light and fog, clouds pouring over the top of Mt. Adams. It’s beautiful and everything is glittery but Orbit and I are hiking in all of our layers and we agree that if the sky doesn’t clear by the time we get to the road to Trout Lake, we’re bailing. No more freezing rain! Also, Orbit’s been hiking in a pair of chacos she bought at a barter market in Nepal for $8 and in the wet conditions they’re rubbing what look like holes into her feet. She’s not complaining, but I can only imagine what that feels like.

"Sunrise"

“Sunrise”

As we hike we tell stories. Here’s one-

Orbit loves stars. There’s a star, Vega, that’s 25 light-years away, and Orbit knew that if she could find this star on her 25th birthday, she’d get to see the light that was emitted the day she was born. So she went to Nepal last winter in order to trek the Annapurna Circuit and she arranged it so that on her birthday, in February, she’d be on the highest point on the circuit, Thorung La pass, at 17,769 feet. A storm was raging the day before her birthday but she assumed, along with the two friends she was traveling with, that the storm would blow itself out. It did not. The day of her birthday was meant to be a 9 hour trek from basecamp, over the pass and to a village on the other side but instead, because of the storm, it was a grueling, slow-motion slog in a whiteout. Her group left basecamp at 5 a.m., following the windblown tracks of a party ahead of them and tall markers stuck in the snow, and marched tirelessly into a wind so strong that if you leaned into it, it would hold you up. The group didn’t stop once all day except for a few minutes at the pass, where they found a young french woman, Emily, who’d lost her party the day before and had spent the night in the shelter there. Emily was disoriented from the altitude and her clothing was torn, and she had frostbite on her fingers and toes. Orbit’s group adopted Emily and made sure she was with them as they slowly and with great difficulty made their way down the other side of the pass. The group reached the warm little village that was their destination at 8 p.m., and there they consumed dal bhat and spicy pickles, the first thing Orbit had eaten since the rice pudding she’d had for breakfast. Emily was so affected by the altitude that the next day, when they visited her in the hospital, she didn’t remember meeting them. And that had been Orbit’s 25th birthday.

The clouds break at the exact moment we reach the road to Trout Lake. It’s one p.m. There’s a subaru across the road, unloading hikers.

“Do you two need a ride into town?” says the woman driving the subaru. We stand in the warm sun, torn.

‘What do you want to do?” I say to Orbit.

“Coffee sounds good,” says Orbit.

“We’re on vacation!” I say.

It’s hot and sunny in Trout Lake, as if the cold September weather in the mountains isn’t happening at all. We spread our sleeping bags to dry on the wooden fence in front of the diner, take off our shoes, change into our shorts, and order burgers and fries. Orbit becomes ecstatic over a cup of coffee.

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“I love coffee!” she says. I order huckleberry pie with vanilla icecream- it’s not Stehekin blackberry pie, but it IS pie. Orbit walks to the general store and comes back with a pair of cascadias, in her size, from the hiker box.

“I love hiker boxes!” she says, as she puts them on. She straps the chacos to the outside of her pack. “My feet feel better already!”

We get a ride back to the trail from an older woman who’s following the herd in her van, giving trail magic, and set off into the sunlit, if still cold forest, powered by all the good food we’ve eaten. It’s 3:30 p.m. but we’re fast hikers, and we know we can get 29 miles in by dark. And our bodies are starting to feel better- we’re adjusting back to all this walking. Which makes sense for me, as I just finished a thru-hike two weeks ago, but I’m amazed at Orbit- she hasn’t thru-hiked since 2013 and yet here she is, charging up the hills at 3 mph, doing 30 mile days in Washington. She tells me that last year she hiked Washington in 16 days, averaging a little over 31 miles per day. No zeros, no bathing, and she almost didn’t stop in Stehekin. Almost.

Dusk finds us in a flat patch of forest, eerily quiet, and we spread our bedrolls among the sticks and vanilla leaf. My brain plays that game where it looks at the quiet, dimming forest and waffles back and forth- creepy? peaceful? creepy? peaceful? PEACEFUL! PEACEFUL! PEACEFUL! I shout at it, knowing I won’t be able to fall asleep otherwise. The last of the light leaves just as I’m brushing my teeth and then I’m tucked in, almost smothered in the absolute silence. So peaceful.

We sleep in but we pack up quick and we’re out by 6:45. We’re headed 34 miles today, all the way to Panther Creek, where there’s a road we can hitch into Cascade Locks. It’s the NotaChance alternate, the road the rest of my group walked leaving Cascade Locks, while Mac and I hiked 35 miles and 9 thousand feet up and over a bunch of arbitrary mountains to catch them. But now I’m a section hiker, and we’re going to go the lazy way, chopping off the last day of our hike. This means we’ll finish in 3.5 days and we have, in fact, brought way too much food. So the walking feast continues into the morning, through the bright cold forest, which is mysteriously devoid of thru-hikers- I figure they’re all holed up in Cascade Locks for PCT days, which happens this weekend. Not having northbounders around makes the trail sort of boring, and I’m extra fidgety until Blue Lake, where we collapse in the warm sun and eat chocolate and cheeze-its, respectively. Orbit jumps in the water and then sits on rocks on the edge of the lake, braiding her hair.

“I could stay here forever,” I say.

“There’s fish in this water,” she says. “We could live here.”

“We could build a little cabin,” I say, “and make a living selling fried fish to thru-hikers. Every now and then one of us could hike out for supplies- oats and salt and things we need.”

Orbit and I start brainstorming other ways we could “live” on the PCT. We decide that the best way would be to somehow get paid to hike up and down the trail as fast as possible, teaching other hikers about Leave No Trace. We’d wear leather jackets and sort of materialize out of the bushes when people least expected it.

“Hey,” we’d say. “Is that an orange peel?”

We leave Blue Lake after an hour, climb up onto the baking ridge from which one can see both Hood AND St. Helens, and then start the long, long descent to Panther Creek. I don’t see Orbit all afternoon but know that she’s just ahead- we’re both determined to make it to Panther Creek by 7:30.

Hood

Hood

The descent is too much on my now-soft joints and after a couple of hours my whole body starts to ache. Feet, knees, hips. My morale crashes- there’s that inescapable suffering again! And I fidget my way down the mountain, running my phone battery dead listening to podcasts that I don’t even really like. The forest grows lush, and dense, and the air becomes thick and warm, as I drop all the way down to 800 feet. I wonder if there really were panthers here at one time? I think. I feel like I’l probably have this thought every time I come to panther creek, for the rest of my life. I hear the rush of water and then I’m walking stiffly over the footbridge at 7:28, babying my sore feet. I see Orbit with an armload of sticks. The cold is coming on, and she’s headed to the campsite beneath the big cedars, to make a fire. Sweet.

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The forest is heavy and close, ferns and western redcedars and bigleaf maples all draped with moss, and our campsite is flat and soft. I sit on my sleeping pad and stare into the fire, feeling my muscles twitch and relax, as Orbit makes her little pot of ramen. A mouse zig-zags around, promising to bother us at night, and as we feed sticks into the fire we talk about how we wish more women would thru-hike, and that women knew that they were capable of being just as fast as the dudes. Tomorrow we hitch back to Portland, via Cascade Locks, but we don’t really want to, and so this last night in camp is bittersweet- we both want to live here, on the trail. But there are other lives, a whole other world, the demands of western civilization, and we eventually run out of sticks to feed the fire.

Orbit in our hitch into Cascade Locks

Orbit on the hitch into Cascade Locks

Adventures/Friends/Possibility

I didn’t know that I would finish the trail so early; it’s still high summer; I’ve been gifted this incredible amount of time. I’ve managed to walk so far so quickly and now here I am, sleeping on the floor of my friend’s beautiful house in Portland, the white noise of a fan blowing and outside the blackberries ripening, pears falling all over the sidewalk. I’m poor but I’m rich in almost everything else- there are pears, apples, plums, and figs on the warm August sidewalks, tomatoes crowding the edges of yards. The light is long, and warm, and still; August here is the most reliable summer month, some might say the best month.

How the city tries to seduce me! I can walk anywhere, I can walk forever. McButter is here, for a moment, I haven’t seen him since the desert! We walk for hours, to a taco cart that I can’t remember the location of and then, in the dark, to the bluffs, via a serious of quiet dead ends that lead into each other. We pick fruit up off the ground, take bites of it, and throw it away. We make up a rule that whatever clothing we find on the ground we have to wear. We find a hat with a veil and one with a bow, a shrunken wool sweater, and a tiny cotton hoody. We put these things on. McButter tells me that since the desert he’s been hiking mostly solo. He’s been leapfrogging with this group of that, having a transformative personal journey of sorts. He’s also a little bit bored. He’s got just Washington left. At the bluffs we see the shapes of young people silhouetted against the lights of the city, the shining Willamette and across from it the long dark stretch of forest park. The clanging of industry, the UP yard with its units working back and forth. There’s the tree that I like to climb, that I’ve climbed over so many years. I know where the worn handholds are. I’ve sat in its branches with lovers, awkwardly sharing windfall apples. It’s dark now, though. I don’t climb it.

Part of me is jealous that McButter is still on the trail; part of me still feels glad to be done. I’m still not wrecked like I was last year but I miss the simple challenges and rewards of the trail, the straightforward structure of each hiking day. I seem to have forgotten how to organize my life; I require large amounts of caffeine in order to muster the creative momentum to turn the wheel of each sprawling day. I know that a life of routine is the most efficient life; right now, instead of routine, I have ten thousand self-starting moments that each require their own small spark of inspiration and occasionally, when biking back from some errand on the beautiful bicycle that Seamus lent me, I just want to give up. I feel darkness tugging at me, a great sea that I could swim in, that riptide of existential despair that waits for us all. But no! I won’t do that! I am too grown up for that. And so I don’t- I drive my wheel forward down its muddy, pathless route and stop every five minutes to hack the brambles away. 

I’ve been reading the CDT blogs. The CDT sounds awful. I am so excited. Spark and I have been messaging our wild, convoluted ideas to one other. Everything about the hiking world is inspiring to me, and I still don’t really know why- so much walking. I guess part of it is a newfound belief in the capabilities of my own body- I’ve never in my life been much of a jock. But we’ve all given a body, it turns out. And that body can take almost anything. 

“I want women to understand that they’re stronger than they know,” says Orbit. I met Orbit in passing on the trail last year, tried to catch her, realized how fast she was, failed, and in turn was infinitely inspired. One of the fastest people on the trail, and she is a woman! Of course this happens all the time, but I didn’t know that at the start of my first-ever thru-hike. Now, as of a few weeks ago, Orbit lives in Portland, and she meets me for breakfast at Sweedeedees, a crowded, hip little cafe where small amounts of breakfast food are served with massive slices of house-baked bread. There aren’t any tables free, and the method in which to get a table is confusing- the two beautiful, overwhelmed servers give me conflicting instructions on what order in which to do things and I end of feeling like I’m in an episode of Portlandia. We finally get a rickety little metal table outside, half in and half out of the shade, and our food. I don’t eat bread so my bowl of nothing is underwhelming but Orbit’s breakfast sandwich looks amazing. Afterwards we buy dark chocolate, kombucha and dried mango, respectively, from the little shop across the street and walk, again, to the bluffs- it is my favorite place right now and I want to go there over and over, until I am gone/until the summer is worn out. While walking we talk about hiking, and hiking, and hiking, and the inherently competitive nature of fast hikers/whether or not we are ourselves competitive/what it means to be a woman who wants to hike fast.

In the evening my friend Hannah appears, from the bay area, and Seamus and Liam and Hannah and I play spades on the long wooden table in the beautiful dining room. I don’t know how to play spades. We talk about gentrification and the ways that, without connection to others, our own identities would be lost. We’re just a bunch of mirrors, reflecting and reflecting and reflecting. Without each other, do we even exist? What even am you/I/me?

This week! I am having a great adventure. I’m going to hike south from White Pass to Cascade Locks with Orbit and another hiker, Redbeard, from last year. Backwards through goat rocks, among all the northbounders who may or may not make it before the snow (HURRY! distance = rate x time!), down to the Columbia. 150 miles in 5 days. I’m curious to see how my body feels after two weeks off the trail, I’m curious to see how my heart feels. I’m curious to encounter northbound hikers that I never got a chance to meet! (Don’t be rude to me, motherfuckers! Just because you hiked farther than Cheryl Strayed doesn’t mean you’re going to make it before the snow.) I’ll be posting photos to instagram as I go, and I’ll do a little trip report afterward.

Then I head down to Southern Oregon to work. Portland you’ve been so beautiful, but I know that that’s the way the summer goes. Summer is when everyone forgets about the winter. The damp grey skies, the salad mister rain. The mornings so dark you have to turn all the lights on when you wake up. The way everyone struggles. Being here now makes me almost want to live in Portland again, but I know too that this is not the frumpy, disheveled city that I came of age in. This new city is full of beautiful, monied yuppies, who work tech jobs and spend their evenings “trying new restaurants”. Maybe, one day, when I’ve made my fortune, I’ll come back, and buy expensive products for my hair. Until then I’ll live in exile in the hinterlands, with all the other people who look like they got dressed in the dark.

In other news! Last night I learned, via his instagram, that Handy Andy, who our group had the great fortune to hike with for a few days this year (he and his friend PigPen were hiking the trail in 90 days) just set the new self-supported speed record for the JMT! 3 days 11 hours, with a backpack that he made himself. So many badasses, so much inspiration! All of it feeds me, makes me think about what’s possible, makes this bushwhacking with my big wooden wheel seem a little easier. 

My photos, per usual, are on instagram.

PCT 2014 Gear Review

My review of all the gear I used on the PCT in 2014! Enjoy.

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Shelter: Zpacks Hexamid Solo with “optional door”

This is an older version of the Hexamid solo that zpacks no longer makes- I found it on an online used gear swap two years ago and, since the mesh was torn, was able to snatch it up for $200. I did a fine job of patching the tear in the mesh and was super stoked for my new “ferrari of backpacking tents”. The only problem was that last year I was terrified of cowboy camping so I set it up almost every night, and the cuben fiber (as it does) slowly began to degrade where the pole meets the peak of the shelter. Ah, the price one pays to save ounces! So I emailed zpacks asking them what I should do and, to my amazement, they shipped me some cuben-fiber repair tape on the trail, lightning fast. The tape made the worn areas new again and I was good to go. This year I knew better than to set the shelter up every night (cuben fiber lasts longer the more gentle you are with it) and I had also grown to love cowboy camping, so I didn’t have any problems with wear. I did, however, have problems with the zipper- it wasn’t zipping anymore! Which made a lot of sense, as the shelter was kind of, ah, old. So I emailed zpacks again and they said that yeah, the zippers sometimes wear out, and they offered to replace the zipper free of charge. I shipped the shelter to them and within a week they’d repaired it and shipped it back. Kind of mind-blowing customer service considering that I’d bought the shelter used and then put such a large amount of wear on it! This is why I love zpacks so much, aside from the fact that they make such awesome shelters and bags- their customer service is crazy good. When you’re thru-hiking you often don’t have the time/battery power/reception to spend weeks emailing back and forth with a gear company, trying to find a solution to some problem, and companies like zpacks seem to understand this. I’ve only ever heard of fantastic customer service experiences with zpacks, and as such there is a huge amount of loyalty towards the company among thru-hikers on the trail. It’s for this reason, I believe, that even the most broke of thru-hikers is willing to scrounge up huge sums of money ($500 or so) for their products. Because it’s worth it. It’s just worth it.

The only downside to my shelter is that it sucked balls in the rain. But this is the reason, I believe, that zpacks no longer makes the “optional door” model- essentially one entire side of my shelter is mesh, and the “door” is a piece of cuben fiber I can string up over the inside of the mesh that sort of half-ass keeps out the rain. Last year in the four-day September storms I was often cold and wet in this shelter- this year I knew I would finish in August, before the extended rains, and so it wasn’t an issue. None of this matters to you, however, because the current version has an “extended beak”, which seems to actually keep the water out- I  polled several people on the trail who used this hexamid and they said it worked as well as any other single-wall shelter in the rain.

And lastly, if you don’t already know, this shelter is crazy light- I think mine was 12 ounces with the 8 titanium stakes?

Bottom line: The hexamid is unbelievably light and looks like a space-ship. Cuben fiber is fragile! This shelter will last many thru-hikes, provided you only set it up when necessary for bugs or rain. The current extended-beak version seems to work as well as any other single-wall shelter during storms, although my older, obsolete version did not. This shelter is wildly expensive but you may be able to find one used online (try ebay). Zpacks customer service is unbelievably friendly, prompt,  and professional. Which is awesome for those stressful moments on the trail when your shit breaks!

Would I carry this shelter again? I’d love to try the newer solplex version for the CDT (it has “storm doors”!), if I can get my hands on one. I want to be prepared for foul weather! Barring that I might go with a less expensive single-wall shelter.

hiking into Castella with my deflated Mariposa

hiking into Castella with my deflated Mariposa

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The Gorilla chillin' in the fog in Three Sisters Wilderness

The Gorilla chillin’ in the fog in Three Sisters Wilderness

Pack: Gossamer Gear Mariposa/Gossamer Gear Gorilla

This year I started with the Gossamer Gear Mariposa that I’d carried on the trail last year- the size small had been too long for me but Gossamer Gear was kind enough to lower the straps two inches to fit my torso. I think that they’re coming out with a shorter size, as their size small is about two inches longer than the size small of other companies (ULA for example) but I’m not sure if that’s already happened or when it will. The Mariposa worked wonderfully but is, ultimately, much too voluminous for my needs, and sat on my back like a large, half-deflated marshmallow. It had also garnered quite a bit of wear after 1.5 thru-hikes- both hipbelt pocket zippers were busted, the already thin foam in the shoulder straps had gotten so flat as to pinch my shoulders in a painful way (and my baseweight is 10 lbs) and the webbing that tightened the shoulder straps was worn almost all the way through where it rubbed up against the zippers of the hipbelt pockets. So in Ashland I switched to the Gossamer Gear Gorilla, size small with the straps lowered two inches to fit my torso, and it turned out to be my Ultimate Pack of Dreams. The volume fit my food and gear perfectly- it was like the Mariposa that I loved  but shrunken down to exactly the size I needed. I had no problems with this pack at all, and carried it happily for the rest of the trail. It also is, I believe, the lightest framed pack available on the market (that is not made out of cuben fiber).

The one drawback of dealing with Gossamer Gear is their customer service- in my two years of carrying their packs I’ve found their customer service to be inconsistent, occasionally unprofessional, and sometimes lacking entirely. Many other hikers have had a similar experience and for this reason the company has a reputation, among thru-hikers, for unreliable customer service. Basically, if your pack breaks or is defective or if your order is wrong or if you need to return something- it might work out ok, or you might be SOL. It’s also impossible to navigate their website checkout on a mobile device- which is a real problem if you’re thru-hiking, as you’re most likely conducting all your business on a smartphone. All of this is a real bummer, as I think that their framed ultralight packs are currently the best on the market, and I wonder if they’re not actually interested in garnering loyalty among thru-hikers, as we can be needy and demanding and we actually use our gear until it breaks, and are directing their products more at the section-hiker crowd instead.

A note on framed packs vs. unframed packs: with an ultralight baseweight (ultralight means that your baseweight [everything you're carrying except food, water and fuel] is 10 lbs or less) you can choose a pack either with or without a frame, and you’ll probably be comfortable either way. The choice, then, is highly subjective, and I suggest that you try both and decide for yourself which works best for you. I hiked the first 500 miles of the PCT last year with a frameless pack and ultimately decided that the superior water-carrying ability of a framed pack was worth the extra 8 ounces- a frameless pack puts all the weight on your shoulders, while the simple aluminum stays of packs like the Mariposa or Gorilla help move the weight to your hips. I have yet to hike with someone carrying a frameless pack who doesn’t HATE carrying water. And yet, at the end of the day, many ultralight hikers DO carry frameless packs- so I suggest that you try both and see what works for you.

Would I carry this pack again? Yes, I’ll carry the GG Gorilla on the CDT next year. I’ll carry it until it falls off my body. And then I’ll probably switch to a pack from a company that is more thru-hiker friendly.

pictured: my whole sleep system

pictured: my whole sleep system

Sleeping bag: Zpacks 10 degree long regular width

It’s cold on the PCT at night people. REALLY COLD. Like 20 to 40 degrees. Every. Single. Night. Northern California is the ONLY place on the trail that has reliably warm nighttime temperatures. Unless you’re built like a bear and are a SUPER warm sleeper, you’re going to want a warm sleeping setup. Last year I carried a drafty quilt and was cold most nights. This year I carried the 10 degree bag from zpacks and it was AWESOME. Paired with my new neo-air, I was never cold. Ever. Although this also was in large part due to the neo-air- last year I used just a thin foam pad and on cold nights there probably wasn’t a bag warm enough to block the cold coming up out of the ground. This year, between the neo-air and the zpacks bag, I was warm 100% of the time, even on those 15 degree nights sleeping at 12k feet in the Sierras. If you’re a cold sleeper (as I am) I highly recommend the inflatable pad + warm sleeping bag setup.

The zpacks bags to do not have hoods, so I made sure that my down jacket had a hood, so that I could wear that when I was sleeping. Some people like down hats, or just a regular hat. I’m 5’7″ and ordered the long, so that I could pull it up around my ears. The regular would’ve just come up to my neck.

The bag started to get a little flat in Oregon from dirt and oil, so I washed it (in a regular washing machine with gentle soap) and dried it until it puffed up (in a regular drier on low heat) and then it was like new again. And no longer smelled like hamster pee.

The 10 degree long only weighs 21 ounces!

Would I carry this sleeping bag again? Yeah, I’ll definitely carry this on the CDT.

Sleeping pad: 1/8 inch foam pad from Gossamer Gear/Neo-Air x-lite size small

I like sleeping on hard, flat surfaces. I’m a back sleeper and, as a woman, I have an easier time retaining body fat on the trail. (Women = lower metabolic rate = a distinct advantage during thru-hiking and other endurance sports yessss.) I also just kind of like sleeping on the ground, and for these reasons I prefer to sleep on the thinnest pad available, aka the 1/8 inch foam pad from gossamer gear, which weighs in at a whopping two ounces. The only problem with this setup is that, except for on those rare warm nights, it’s pretty cold. So I carry the size small (aka child-size) neo-air x-lite as well for the cold nights, although I find it to be about as comfortable as sleeping on a half-inflated throw-pillow. It gets the job done, tho. With the neo-air I am NEVER cold. And I can bounce it forward during the warmer sections (like Northern California).

(Interesting note- I’ve met a handful of other hikers who are able to sleep on just the 1/8 inch foam pad, and all of them are women.)

Would I use this same setup again? Sure, why not.

Polycro ground sheet/Dirty piece of tyvek

I carried both of these for a while- the polycro is the ground sheet that goes inside my shelter when it rains, the tyvek was one line of defense between my fragile neo-air and the angry, poky ground when cowboy camping. The tyvek turned out to be kind of extraneous b/c I could use my 1/8 inch foam pad for the same purpose.

What about next year? I kind of want one of the Hexamids with the bathtub floor, in which case I wouldn’t need either of these things.

Phone/Camera/Blogging/Maps machine: Samsung Galaxy s3 in an otterbox case

My second year using this phone. I became more proficient at typing on the keyboard and Guthrie taught me how to take better landscape photos with the shitty camera. I blogged on the wordpress app, which saves the posts to your phone until you have reception to post them. The photo quality is shitty, however, when you upload via the wordpress app for android, so I started an instagram account and put all of my photos there. I used AT&T as a carrier, as AT&T and Verizon have the most coverage on the trail.

Would I use this phone again?

Yah, unless I can upgrade for free or whatevs, in which case I’ll get one of the newer androids that have a BANGIN camera. IPHONES CAN SUCK IT

Navigation: Guthooks’ app/Halfmile’s app/The water report (in the desert)

Guthook’s app is $25, I think, for the whole trail, Halfmile’s app is free. The water report is free online and you can cache it to your phone. Between the water report (in the desert) and the two apps I had a veritable flood of information, more than I could ever want or need or use. Both apps have tons of info on mileage/water sources/campsites/road crossings/elevation profiles/resupply locations (and the hours, policies, and mailing addresses of those resupply locations). I carried no paper maps or guidebook pages of any sort and in two PCT thru-hikes I have not used my compass once. I also saved battery power by following cascadia footprints, sharpie “vandalism” on trail signs, trail blazes, the marks from people dragging their trekking poles, rock cairns, the cellophane corners of Nature’s Valley granola bar wrappers, the foggy memories of southbounders, and arrows made of sticks in the dirt. The PCT is very well marked.

Chargers: Sunstactics s5 solar charger/Anker 10,000 mAH external battery

I used a Sunstactics s5 solar charger in California, and as far as solar chargers go, this one, I’m convinced, is currently the BEST. It weighs just 8 ounces, is a simple elegant machine with very few parts that can break, attaches easily to the top of my pack, and charges, in uninterrupted sunlight, at about half the rate of a wall outlet. This charger was perfect for me, as I have an android, although apparently Iphones don’t do as well with it- something about having to unplug the iphone and plug it back in every time you have to pass under a patch of shade. (This has to do with a bug in the iphone, not the charger.) The charger is expensive (about $150), but if you’re going with a solar charger this is def. the one to get. And suntactics customer service is AMAZING. I had a problem with mine around Northern California, called them up, and they had me mail it back in and shipped me a new one in, like, THREE DAYS.

The one drawback of this charger (or, I imagine, any solar charger) is that when you’re passing through intermittent shade your phone’s screen will light up and/or your phone will make a “bloop” noise every time the charge goes away (in the shade) and then comes back (in the sun). This will actually drain your battery faster than you’re charging it. The one solution I found to this was to turn my phone OFF, and then walk in and out of the shade to my heart’s content. This would allow my phone to “suck up” any little bits of juice that it could, without having to make all those battery-draining bloops. A full day of this would charge my phone from zero to about 50%, which was a real lifesaver at times.

In Oregon and Washington (and some parts of NorCall) the trail is too shaded to charge via solar charger at all, and so I decided to switch, in Oregon, to an Anker 10,000 mAH external battery. I got the 10,000 mAH one because it weighs just 8 ounces, the same as my solar charger, and I didn’t want to up my base weight. This is also enough mAH (whatever that is) to charge my phone to full power 4 times, as well as keep my steripen charged, and that’s as much as I’ll ever need, at my pace, between resupplies. The battery was only $25 on Amazon and I ended up loving it- it was much more hassle-free and reliable than my solar charger. The only downside was that it took, I think, around 15 hours to charge fully via a wall outlet, so it required an overnight stay at each resupply, unless I rationed it while I hiked.

What about next year? As much as I love the solar charger on the CDT I may just bring the external battery, as it’s simpler and more hassle-free.

don't h8

don’t h8

Sansa Clip Mp3 player

Don’t make fun of my dinky little plastic Mp3 player, y’all. I know there are lots of Ipod products out there that are sleek and elegant and expensive and hold masses of music and “get the radio” and all but this Mp3 player weighs just an ounce, has a slot for a memory card, and most importantly, it has a MOTHERFUCKING CLIP. It’s also been through 2 thru-hikes and lots of rain and inconsiderate handling and it still works like a champ. Sansa Clip 4 life!

Next year? I need to put some audiobooks on this thing. And more Taylor Swift.

clip

Steripen Ultra Water Purifier

This thing is awesome. Unlike the most hardcore badasses of the trail, I still have to treat my water almost all of the time, and the steripen is what I prefer. I don’t like chemicals, and I don’t want to squeeze anything! The steripen ultra charges via USB, and a single charge has always been enough, for me, to make it through a section. My steripen ALMOST made it through two thru-hikes, until… it got too wet in the rain? Or something? And kind of fritzed out. Then I tried to return it to the REI in bend and they stared at me like I was a junkie. But 4600 miles of constant use is pretty good for a single piece of gear, I’d say!

And on the CDT? I’ll use the steripen.

lite

Petzl e-lite headlamp

This headlamp sucks. It makes only a small amount of wavery, confusing light, and it requires those big flat watch batteries that are expensive. But it only weighs an ounce, and I carried it because, on occasion, one needs a headlamp. Mostly I don’t like night-hiking, though, or even being up after dark, and this year I was efficient enough to rarely have to do it. When I did night-hike I tried to make best use of the moon.

Next year? Same headlamp. Why not?

ziploc

Going stoveless/Plastic screw-top container for soaking food

I guess I am a masochist, because I never allow myself to have hot food on the trail. Last year I carried an alcohol stove made from a pepsi can for much of the trail, but was inspired by Instigate’s peanut butter jar soaking system and so eventually ditched the stove. It worked for me and my FAVORITE thing to eat on the trial this year was chia seeds, oats and chocolate hemp protein powder soaked in my little container. I could seriously eat this 5x a day and not get tired of it. For dinner I soaked dried spinach and peas with instant refried beans or instant curried lentil soup and ate it with tortilla chips.

Next year? I might get another alcohol stove and dehydrate really great homemade dinners for myself. The CDT is brutal, and food is great for morale. Or I might just stick with my little screw-top container, b/c I hate hassle and carrying extra stuff.

CLOTHING/SHOES

Brooks Cascadias Running Shoes

These shoes work perfect for me, and I also like that you can find “deals” on previous years’ models online. I change them every 700 miles, only get blisters the first month, and rarely, if ever, have foot pain. Before my first thru-hike last year I wore a women’s size 10, and for the trail I sized up to a men’s size 10- both longer AND wider, so they were perfect, as your feet spread and also swell while thru-hiking. I never laced my shoes tight- I kept them loose enough that I could slip them on and off without untying them. The few times I did lace them tight I developed foot pain within 10 miles or so. On each pair of cascadias I sawed off the bump in back that hits your achilles tendon and then stitched it up with dental floss- that bump is useless and bothers my heel. Cascadias work for lots of people on the trail, although if you need a really wide toe-box Altras are a good alternative.

Next year? Cascadias. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Injinji toe socks

Addicted to these b/c they keep you from feeling the grit between your toes. I also wore other thin no-cushion wool or synthetic socks on occasion. No-cushion is key for me. Sock cushion gives me hotspots! Hot tip: the men’s injinjis in PINK are ALWAYS on sale online. CDT? Yah.

Dirty Girl Gaiters

Love them. When I wear these I rarely (if ever) have to stop and dump rocks out of my shoes. They also come in wild patterns, and the wilder and more colorful your hiking outfit is, the happier you will be. GUARANTEED. CDT? Yes.

Western Mountaineering Hooded Flash Jacket

Ah, my love/hate relationship with down as an insulating layer. So lightweight, so cozy and puffy when it’s dry! So useless in the rain!

And on the CDT? I don’t know! Isn’t there something better?!

Golite rain jacket

Pretty much useless after two years of occasional use, wicks water through almost immediately. I should probably replace this for the CDT.

Nike hyperwarm tights

I love these tights. They are very warm. And heavy. And fleecy on the inside. This is an item I bounce when it’s warm, and I will def. carry them on the cold sections of the CDT.

shorts

Boa one-inch inseam galaxy-print running shorts 

A thru-hiker’s running shorts are, for four to six months, the closest thing a thru-hiker has to home- aka VERY VERY IMPORTANT, and one develops much feelings and emotional attachment to one’s running shorts! My intentions with running shorts (and they should be your intentions, too) are A) EXCITING COLORS/PATTERNS AS THIS HELPS WITH MORALE B) NO CHAFE C) AS SHORT AS POSSIBLE D) FEEL AS THOUGH I’M NOT WEARING ANY PANTS.

I found these particular beauties on runningwarehouse.com, for $27. You can get all sorts of crazy patters, and neon ones! These shorts have a one-inch inseam, which is ridiculous, but they DO come with a liner, so you don’t have to worry about flashing anyone. I bought the men’s size large to make them a touch longer, although next year I’ll probably get the medium because they have a really high slit up the side and are always blowing up and showing the liner anyway, so I might as well get the size that fits me. THESE SHORTS ARE A DREAM aka THEY REALLY DO MAKE YOU FEEL AS THOUGH YOU’RE NOT WEARING ANY PANTS. I wore these shorts all day long every single day for my entire hike, and only one little seam began to unravel, towards the end. In contrast, last year I wore patagonia running shorts and by Washington they had disintegrated completely. I’ll wear these shorts on the CDT, maybe in some neon color?!

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Railriders adventure shirt for the desert

I got the men’s size small, because it was on sale. Fit me like a tent but was the best desert shirt ever. Not awful looking, as far as desert shirts go/in fact vaguely fashionable/light and breezy/does not turn to cardboard when saturated with sweat/makes me feel as though I should be leading a camel train across the sahara in the seventies

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Giant, cheap straw hat that completely disintegrated in the desert winds

Everyone should wear one of these hats, at some time in their life, while on some great, arduous mission across the desert. Coupled with my vaguely middle-eastern feeling adventure shirt, this hat really made me feel “in character” for my grueling journey across the sun-scorched, wind-blown no-man’s land that is the first 700 miles of the PCT. Make sure, however, that your hat has a string. Otherwise the desert winds will carry it away and you’ll surely die.

Nike dri-fit sports bra

Werks good, smashes boobs. Have worn for 5,320 miles now. Nike logo is flaking off in an aesthetically appealing way.

Mosquito headnet that I use exclusively as a stuff sac/no deet/no protection from the mosquitoes

I will continue to cultivate my psychological resilience in the face of intense mosquitoes; this helps me feel superior to other hikers

Gossamer Gear trekking poles

8 ounces for the pair, collapsing mechanism was annoying and sometimes dysfunctional, one pole snapped in the snow, one tip broke completely off. Last year I carried Black Diamond ultra distance poles, which weigh one ounce more but never broke and I never had to replace the tips, and I’ll most likely carry these next year on the CDT. You can read my thoughts on trekking poles here.

THE END!

update/what happens now/THANK YOU

I’ve been in Portland for a week, staying with my good friend Seamus, riding a bike, taking naps, eating collard greens and too much dark chocolate. Reconnecting with the people who I love, face to face and on the phone, through email, however I can- sometimes I think that I am a very poor friend, that I am just gone, that I miss all the important moments, that I am never there when the exciting thing happens, or to help move a ping-pong table, or to bear witness in the hard times. I am so lucky to have connected, in this short time on earth, with so many wonderful people- being away and out of touch all summer makes me realize this, this goldmine of connection that I’ve been sitting on, forgetting about and neglecting as if I have all the time in the world, as if I’ll live forever. These connections are all that we have and I am lucky that my friends, who are much more settled and dependable than I am, are so patient with me. I only hope that someday I can pay it forward, because I know I’ll never be able to pay it back.

I finished my second thru-hike of the PCT! And it feels… sort of regular. The trail this year, for me, was not so much a physical challenge as an emotional one- on my second thru-hike my body just sort of knew what to do but I felt more emotionally distant from the trail, less attached. By mid-Oregon I was ready for the sorts of emotional and intellectual nourishment that non-trail life can offer, all the different kinds of people and experiences, a wider more open and varied world. The trail is a narrow demographic of people doing a narrow range of activities and discussing a narrow range of subjects. I felt as though I’d beaten most of that near to death, and although the hiking was much easier this year than last year (and by the end I felt stronger, as a hiker, than I’d ever felt, ever) I was starved for other things, other emotional and intellectual experiences. So when the trail ended I was ready, and I didn’t feel sad, only very peaceful, and contented, and probably sleepy, and that was nice.

Last year I was so heartbroken after finishing! Having lost the people and life that I had grown to love, that I had become so invested in. I rolled with a larger group this year and therefore didn’t connect with others as intimately, and also hiking the PCT a second time has destroyed, for me, the illusion that a thru-hike is a “once in a lifetime” adventure that can never happen again. I know that I’ll see my friends again and I know, money and time permitting, that I can thru-hike as many goddam times as I want. They also say that, much like your first love, there’s nothing like your first thru-hike. So maybe that’s true.

My body, after the trail, feels good- although it’s hilarious how “out of shape” I am for anything but walking. The first day I rode a bike left my hamstrings so sore I could barely move, and running on concrete feels completely impossible and also inherently wrong, as though I’m missing a sort of spring-like elasticity I should have and instead my legs are made of solid lead that is somehow magnetically attracted to the earth. Attempting to run on concrete makes me want to lay down on the warm pavement and go to sleep. Running on trails is alright, if awkward, so I’ve been doing that- although I have to fight the constant urge to walk.

My feet feel good. I am grateful, once again, that I do not have the foot pain that so many (all) of my thru-hiker friends experience at one time or another. Maybe it’s my giant feet, or my gait, or how often I change my shoes, or something, but so far my feet have held up really well and I am grateful for that. I have, however, been pooping my brains out- I stopped filtering my water the last week on the trial, as I want the immunity that the more veteran thru-hikers have, and so I’m riding this stomach bug out the same way I rode out what may or may not have been giardia when I was in Mt. Shasta. I want to be able to drink from a stagnant puddle without getting sick, like NotaChance can do. That’s my ultimate goal.

I’ve got a seasonal job in Southern Oregon that starts mid-September and until then I’m in Portland, broke and sort of sleepy, with only one set of clothes and my battered cascadias, seeing friends and soaking up the city life, reconnecting myself to a world that is large and varied and wild, the convoluted labyrinth of the human experience. It’s a beautiful world but an inherently fucked-up one as well- I left the simple quiet woods and returned to a human world in which, incredibly enough, black folks suspected of misdemeanors are executed in the street, and online comments say things like “he shouldn’t have run, he deserved it” and those comments are upvoted the most. For months I’ve been around thru-hikers, a mostly white, mostly sheltered bunch, and I’ve found that among them, much like among white hippy communities everywhere, there is a commonly held belief that “the world is a better place than it used to be”. I hear it other places too- there’s a podcast called Hardcore History that we all listened to while hiking, narrated by a white dude, and the premise of the podcast seems to be “shit used to be crazy and we used to do fucked-up things to each other, isn’t it great that the world isn’t like that anymore?” which drove me sort of batty because things are still just as fucked up, we just call them by different names and so they’re hidden in plain sight, and if you have enough privilege you can “decide” that the world is anyway you want it to be, and ignore the things happening right under your nose.

Instead of “the world is a better place than it used to be”, it would be more accurate to say “it’s a very good time in the world to be a white American”. Because as a white American I have, in a global sense, insane amounts of privilege, and access to a mind-boggling amount of resources. I can pretty much go anywhere and do whatever I want, and if any of the injustices in the world start to edge their way into my reality I can tell myself to “Stay Positive!” and just ignore them, and none of it will affect me at all.

To recap: I live in a motherfucking country where people suspected of crimes are shot dead in the street, and I can just ignore it because, since I’m white, I can be fairly positive that it won’t ever happen to me. All of this is happening, right now, and I’m…. writing about hiking? It makes me question everything I’m doing. It makes me long for the days when I was an angry young anarchist and we would dance around to this song- it didn’t do anything, but at least it made us feel better. It makes my own problems seem infinitesimally small- how broke I am until my job starts in September, my temperamental gut, trying to figure out how to be a good friend to the people that I love who are spread out over so much space and time.

Instigate calls me on the phone- I haven’t talked to her in months, since the long hot descent to Belden when I had good reception.

“I just got back from Ferguson,” she says.

I’ve been trying, since last fall, to convince Instigate to hike the CDT with me next year- but Instigate’s work as a political organizer is what’s most important to her, and thru-hiking, for her, is an indulgence, a sort of vacation. Now she’s just getting back into doing the work that she loves, and hiking the CDT would interrupt all of that. This is, to say the least, admirable, and inspiring to me- this young woman, almost ten years my junior, so wise and grounded in her own integrity and her sense of what’s good and important in the world. I learned in my early twenties that I don’t have the patience, resilience or organizational skills to be a political organizer, but my intention is that one day I’ll have enough influence as a writer to be able to write about things besides motherfucking hiking- I want to write the sort of narrative nonfiction that shapes our understanding of reality- I want to stuff sticks of dynamite into the glimmering golden blinders of white privilege. But right now I’m small so I’ll write about hiking in order to build my platform, and maybe some stuff about riding freight trains, and I’ll keep talking to all of my white, well-meaning hiker friends about the varied experiences of people who live outside of their narrow demographic, and I’ll get fuck the police tattooed on my forehead, and you should to.

So what happens next? This winter I finish the book about my 2013 hike- I’ve already written two drafts, haven’t looked at it for five months and now I’ll write a third, try and leverage my growing online platform to get a traditional publishing contract and, barring that, I’ll publish it myself. I’ll also work a shitty job, train for an ultra, eat lots of brassicas, and drive away my instagram followers by posting lots of selfies. And in 2015 I’ll hike the Continental Divide Trail- it’s an unfinished trail (aka lots of roadwalking and route-finding) of variable length that stretches from Mexico to Canada via New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. It’s a unique challenge- sort of like if I’d hiked the PCT back in the seventies, before it was finished. I’ve already begun reading the blogs (Myla Hikes is a good one from this year, written by a woman who hiked the PCT last year) and picking the brains of people who’ve hiked it, and I’m already really, really excited. Several friends from the PCT last year and from the PCT this year will be there, as well as several other thru-hiker friends. As much as I was ready, in the end, to be off the trail this year, I already long for it again, as I knew that I would. I might do something wild next year, money and time permitting, like tack another hike onto the end of the CDT- I felt so, so strong at the end of the PCT this year, and it seemed a shame to not just keep going, to see what I was capable of. And of course I’ll be blogging on the CDT- and this winter I’ll blog now and then, about my life, and what’s in my brain, and preparations for the trail, and I’ll post photos. And sometime this week I’ll do a review of all the gear I used this year.

And most important of all, I wanted to say THANK YOU- to all of my readers, for your wonderful, encouraging, heartfelt comments and emails during my hike this year. I don’t respond to comments while hiking because I have such a small amount of time in which to blog, and I have to ration it carefully, but I read and cherish every single comment and they definitely helped keep me afloat me during difficult times on the trail. It’s literally because of you that this is possible at all, that I get to thru-hike and write about it. And it makes my hikes about a thousand times more rewarding, knowing that I have readers, knowing how fun it is for all of you to follow along. Win/win/win/win! Here is a pika for you!!!

(Pika courtesy of Sheriff Woody)

(Pika courtesy of Sheriff Woody)

 

Day 116: something like absolution

August 18
Mileage 44.5 (14.5 miles to the Canadian border + 30 miles back to Hart’s pass)
Mile 2645.5 to mile 2660

At four a.m. in the still-dark the Hexamid beside us starts to rustle- there is no water, no white noise and so the sounds are like sharp cracks in the night and we all wake but it doesn’t matter, it’s like Christmas morning and we couldn’t fall back asleep if we tried. The monument today, the monument today. Canada, Canada, Canada, what will it feel like to be finished with this great thing we’ve all been rushing towards and what, if anything, will come after.

I leave camp first just before six, determined not to be in the back today. I want to hike with people on my last day, goddamit! These motherfuckers are so fast, with their long legs, just stomping all over the earth. Woody is a long bendy straw that travels at the speed of light, trekking poles flailing, and Tiny and Brainstorm are built like gladiators, at least seven feet tall. Guthrie has the most awesomely muscular legs we’ve ever seen and can go exactly as fast as he wants. Guthrie told me the other day that he never gets tired anymore, his feet just sometimes hurt. And Twinkle is a jack russell terrier. If you’ve ever hung out with a jack russell terrier you know what I mean.

Sometimes I can keep up with Krispies, which is a consolation, as she started on May 8th and so is actually faster than everyone anyways.

I’m going to miss these fools.

It’s 14.5 miles to the border and Krispies and I get to slack-pack there, which is cool. Slack-packing is where you don’t carry all of your gear. Krispies and I are turning around at the border instead of going into Canada so we’ve left our shelters and sleeping bags in camp- our plan is to hang out at the border for a while with everyone and then hike back to this point, for a 29 mile day. My sleeping bag and shelter together weigh about two pounds so I don’t feel that much of a difference without them but it makes my pack look really small, which I like.

I’m alone for the first couple of miles and I stop on a ridge to watch the flame-red sun work its way up over the horizon. My last sunrise on the trail! I almost start to cry but then I say not yet, not yet, it’s too early for that. I wonder how I’ll feel after finishing but then I stop wondering, and just focus on the hike. I’m tired this morning, and I feel slow. I’m hiking a narrow trail along green, verdant ridges, climbing or descending or climbing again, the jagged peaks of Canada in the distance. The sky is warming, the plants are wet where they brush against my legs. Soon Tiny, Woody and Krispies catch up to me, and we walk in a little group. I feel like no-one wants to walk alone this morning, we all want to savor the last of this camaraderie that we’ve built. I find myself wishing, again, that Chance was here. We left the Mexican border together, we should be finishing together. This whole summer we’ve been NotaChance and the Pink Blazers, following her down the trail like little ducklings, whether she liked it or not. We couldn’t help it. She’s just so good at hiking, and she gives no fucks. Now her and Mac are a day or so behind, as they took a few days off to wait out the rain and figure out the logistics of the Pacific Northwest Trail, which they want to follow west to Bellingham after completing the PCT. As I hike I remember the times Chance and I walked together, the way we’d gossip and talk shit and commiserate. The way she understood everything that was in my brain, the way we’d turn over the Irreconcilable Contradictions of the Universe (As Seen From the Viewpoint of a Woman Who Thru-Hikes), handling them and passing them back and forth until they were at least familiar and well-worn, if not any closer to being solved. The group has always been almost entirely dudes, and while they’re very nice dudes, Chance provided much-needed badass female solidarity in times of strife, and that helped me more than I can even say. Now, hiking towards the monument, I feel that there’s a Chance-shaped hole in my PCT universe and I wish, more than anything, that she was finishing with us. But of anyone in the group, she’s the one I’m most likely to actually get to hang out with after the trail, so that’s cool.

We all congregate for a snack break on top of the last climb before Canada- it’s a beautiful ridge from which I can see wild mountains going on for forever, valleys draped in light, weather gathering on distant peaks. I find a spot behind some trees to dig my last cathole (before Canada) and am treating to what is probably my best pooping view of the entire trail. Then down, down, down back into the forest and the wet, tangled brush. We cross the infamous Washington Washouts, which happened last year during the record-breaking September rains- whole sections of the scree slope turned into ravines. The washouts were much worse last year and have been partly repaired by trial crews but they still slow us down, and add a little excitement to the morning. No-one’s GPS is working today so we can’t obsessively check to see where we are, how many miles we have left. We’re just walking, and talking about this and that, and feeling tired, and picking a ripe huckleberry, here and there, and then we see it, the narrow clear-cut rising up the ridge opposite, delineating the boundary between this country and the next, and then we round a switchback and it’s there, that damp wooden monument, and I start to cry.

“Can you take my picture?” says Woody.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I just need a moment.”

Woody gives me one of the best hugs I’ve ever had.

“We met five minutes after leaving the Mexican border and now we’re here, at the same time.” he says.

“I know,” I say. “I know.” Then it’s hugs all around and people pull out the celebratory sticky buns and pabst blue ribbons they packed from Stehekin. It’s a different feeling, being here with people, versus last year when I showed up before Raho and had a few quiet, shivering moments alone in the rain with the monument in which to contemplate everything I’d done that had brought me to this point. This year, sitting in this damp clearing with my friends while they eat their sticky buns, watching the sun work its way above the trees, everything feels lighter, less serious, less final. More than anything I feel very, very tired- I haven’t been sleeping well and we’ve been doing high-mileage days, crushing our way through Washington to get to this point. We did all of Washington in just 20 days, including a zero in Stehekin! And 116 days for the entire trail- I never thought I would hike it this fast. I eat various things from the dregs of my food bag and think about the long 14 miles back to camp. Now I kind of wish I was going into Canada with the others. But no, I wanted this. I need to walk backwards, I need the introspection.

We take turns passing around the register, a cheap paper notebook pulled from the base of the monument. (Note to people behind us- the register is in the metal monument, and you have to lift the whole monument off its base to find it. It’s heavy. And no, there isn’t any weed in there. At least that I saw.) There are something like 35 northbound thru-hikers in the register who finished before us- out of a thousand or so who started. In the register I look for friends, remember the people who are just behind us. I wish they were here. Oh that I could see them again! I write in the register-

8/18/14, Carrot Quinn. This must be what it feels like to be a river that’s reached the sea

Krispies and I say our goodbyes at 1 p.m., after hanging out at the monument for two hours. More epic hugs (why didn’t we hug more on the trail? Now I wish we’d hugged every day) and then we’re hiking south, away from our friends, away from everything, back the way we’ve come, and it all seems so sad, and glum, and empty, and I start to sob. Still I can’t tell if I’m crying from feeling or from exhaustion- I sob like a four year-old when I reach a certain point of weariness and right now I’m so tired I just want to sit down on the trail and give up. I walk alone, crying and crying, my insides a convoluted soup of emotions.

I’m climbing back up the tilted green slopes we just hiked down, feeling more weary and sad than I can bear, when it happens- a gentle lifting of the weight from my heart and, as though coming from all directions, a feeling of peace- peace coming from the sky, peace coming down the gentle slope of the mountain, peace coming from the lupine bunched up against the trail. Peaceful clouds, peaceful forest, peaceful warm august air. Peace everywhere, rushing in to fill that space that’s been vacated now that it’s all over- I’m not in a competition, or a fight for my own survival. I’m not rushing towards anything. I’m not a thru-hiker worrying about miles, or interpersonal dynamics, or the turmoils of my own heart. It’s over. It’s all over, and I’m just me. I’m Carrot.

I’m Carrot, and I’m a fucking badass. I’m a badass but I’m also vulnerable. And I’m working on my humility.

And then I realize that the peace isn’t coming from anywhere- it’s been here all along, waiting for me. And something like absolution. A kind of euphoria, a lightness, mixing in with my low blood sugar and sleep deprivation, and then suddenly I’m not weary anymore, and the climb feels easy, and hiking feels like the most natural thing I’ve ever done. Walking is what I do, it’s what I love. I’m a motherfucking thru-hiker and I love to walk. Turning the earth beneath my feet, turning the wheel of life. And this peace, everywhere, moving through me. I’m free, I’m free, I’m free.

I pass the spot where we took our last break, the ridge where I saw the sunrise. I feel like I’m walking backwards with a pushbroom, pushing ghosts off the trail. I’m free. Already I’m missing the others in the group, and it’s only been a couple of hours- the things they’d say, their hilarious idiosyncrasies, even the way we’d bicker and annoy each other. Maybe especially the way we’d bicker and annoy each other. Maybe that’s what love is- the loyalty that’s left over at the end of the day, after everything else is gone.

As I walk I realize that, rather than feeling like I’m hiking south, it feels like I’m hiking the trail inside out- all the downs are up and the ups are down and the views are all backwards. The trail, I realize, has no inherent cardinal direction, and is fully functional both ways. I file this fact away for my potential future yo-yo attempt. I cross the washouts again and this time there is a trail crew there, shoveling rocks- so the washouts will be much less annoying for the thru-hikers who come after. That’s cool. I catalogue the state of my body now that this thru-hike is over-

Foot pain- none
Blisters- none
Ibuprofen taken in the last few months- none
Digestion- off and on

I am getting good at this, I think. I realize that I’m proud of myself, for lots of different reasons- proud of myself for doing such high-mileage days, for completing Washington and Oregon so fast, for continuing to walk in all those days/hours/moments when I felt like I couldn’t walk any further. For keeping up with a bunch of tall dudes who make everything seem easy, as silly as it sounds. I’m proud of myself for not skipping a big chunk of Oregon to go to a wedding, even if it meant hiking by myself for a hundred miles. For rethinking my relationship to gear companies- I am no longer a Gossamer Gear trail ambassador and realized a few weeks ago that, although free gear certainly helps make a hike possible, being a “brand ambassador” for any company feels dishonest to me, and is not in line with my ethics and beliefs. I’m an anti-capitalist, goddamit! I use gear because I love it and it works, not because gear companies are my “friends”. I want to be able to talk honestly and openly about the gear that I use in order to help newer hikers make informed decisions, just like the thru-hikers that I learned from. My loyalty lies with other hikers, not with gear companies. (No judgement to thru-hikers who pursue sponsorships- I know that this lifestyle is expensive and not conducive to full-time employment and sponsorship is often the only way to get the gear/food/support that you need. Do what you need to do! Just stay true to yourself!)

I catch up to Krispies at camp where she’s sitting on the ground, going through her pack. I pull out a bag of salt & vinegar potato chips and happily stuff them into my face. The only other people here are a few members of a trail crew, sitting on damp logs around the fire pit, waving at mosquitoes. It’s so peaceful here, sitting on the ground next to Krispies, eating snacks. There were about twenty people at this site last night but now it’s quiet, empty.

“I’m running on something,” I say to Krispies. “I don’t know what it is, but I’m running on something. I feel good.”

“Yeah,” says Krispies. “Me too.”

It’s 6:30 p.m. and we’ve gone 29 miles. We’re 15.5 from the campground at Hart’s pass, where we’d planned to hitch out a ride out in the morning.

“I keep thinking,” says Krispies, “that if we went all the way to Hart’s pass, we could make it by midnight.”

That would make a 44.5 mile day- more than either of us have ever done, our biggest day on the trail. I look at my watch.

“Nah,” I say. “I bet we could do it by 11:30.”

And we do.

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Clockwise from bottom left: Guthrie, yours truly, Twinkle, Tiny, Brainstorm, Woody, Rice Krispies. Photo by Tiny

Clockwise from bottom left: Guthrie, yours truly, Twinkle, Tiny, Brainstorm, Woody, Rice Krispies. Photo by Tiny

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More photos on instagram

Day 115: these last few days are so sweet

August 17
Mileage 36.5
Mile 2609 to mile 2645.5

Sleep hard wake early, make my little oatmeal and eat it watching the fog move across the meadow. Hiking by 6:10, we’re climbing today but only 5 thousand feet. I walk with Tiny, he talks about being a chef, we discuss gender dynamics in kitchens, the history of what is and isn’t valued and by whom. The plants are wet, slapping against our legs, but the air is warming up. There’s a cold front moving in, day after tomorrow, bringing cold rain- looks like we’ll be finishing just in time. The weather is so wild on the PCT this year.

9 a.m. we take a break in a trampled campsite next to a stream and I eat the other half of my pie. Guthrie, Woody and Brainstorm join us and then we’re off again, up and up. Out of the trees onto the narrow ridges, weathered conifers and bright clearings, mountain ranges folded into each other way in the distance where we won’t ever walk. The trail is ending, is why. But what if it kept going into Canada? What if we could hike forever? Would we do it in a single season? Two? With a dog team?

I fall behind but can see the others in the distance, walking the ridge like ants, and I jog to catch them. I’m caffeinated today, via a mocha clif shot from a hiker box, and I slept well. I feel good. I join the ant train along the mountain- me, Twinkle, Guthrie, Krispies. Tiny and Woody ahead, crushing it. Even when we crush it, though, it’s a sort of slow-motion crushing. So slow that when we ride in cars now we get carsick, frightened at the speed. We’re only ants, how did we come this far. Turning the earth beneath our feet looking out at the light on the mountains, everything so beautiful, beautiful.

Last year there was trail magic at Hart’s pass, epic food and a campfire in the cold, cold rain. This year we reach the campground and there’s no-one, but I understand- it’s sunny and beautiful, we don’t need anyone to take care of us. Save it for the folks who will finish in the awful weather, when trail magic makes the difference between good humor and bottomed-out morale. We yard-sale our things out in the sunshine to dry the dew and make our own trail magic via the contents of our food bags- I eat tortilla chips and jelly belly sport beans, which are just regular jelly bellies with brilliant marketing and vitamin C added.

We’ve gone 21 miles by 1:30 p.m. and we spend an hour at Hart’s pass, laying around and eating. Also using the pit toilet, which we’ve taken to calling “toilet magic”.

These last few days are so sweet.

Just 16 miles to camp. I cruise with Guthrie and Krispies and we remark about this and that, how amazing everything is, all the things we’ve accomplished that we never thought we’d do. More ridgewalking, looking at Canada in the distance, everything so wild and sparkling with sun.

We reach camp at 7:40- 36.5 miles by 7:40 with an hour and a half of breaks, and my feet don’t even hurt. I feel astonished. Camp is a little grove of conifers in a green meadow overlooking a distant valley, tiny stream trickling through. Midnight Rider and Valentino are here, the woman and her horse, thru-hiking a second time! I watch them do horse things as I prepare my little tupperware of soaked spinach and peas, rip open a packet of tuna. She leads the horse by his rope to a patch of grass, the horse drops down and lolls about on his side. She ties the horse to a tree and puts a blanket on him. Horse things! How different her experience must be. There are a bunch of other hikers here too, day hikers, set up in the trees. And a hexamid in our midst, its occupant already asleep. The last of the light drains from the sky and we go, almost reluctantly, to bed. Only 14 miles to Canada!

Photos on instagram

Day 114: pie, climbing, cutthroat pass

August 16
Mileage 29
Mile 2580 to mile 2609

I sleep bad my second night at the lodge, for some reason, and in the morning I wake early and go to the restaurant, order eggs and sausage and potatoes to go. Everything in Stehekin is expensive, and I’m definitely spending the last of my money, but I don’t care. I’ll make it work somehow, everything will work out somehow. It always does. I eat my breakfast on the wooden deck, watching the fog burn off the lake. Only three days to the border. What does it even mean.

Three days, 110 miles- 80 miles for everyone else but an extra 30 for me and Krispies, because we’re not going into Canada. My passport expired last winter, and I never got a new one. And Krispies is turning around for logistical purposes. The border crossing is in the middle of nowhere so if you turn around it means you have to hike back thirty miles on the PCT to Hart’s pass, where there’s a road. Last year I went into Canada, but this year I’m looking forward to doing it this way- I need time for introspection, I’m not ready to step off the trail just yet. And doing 30 extra miles will make me feel better about the 30 miles I skipped around the second fire closure in Oregon.

Everyone trickles onto the deck, sleepy, sodas in hand, attempting to caffeinate/get pumped. Notachance never appeared yesterday, like I’d hoped she would, and my heart sinks. Word is that her and Mac took a few days off to wait out the rain- which means that we likely won’t finish together. Still I hold out a little hope. Maybe they’ll catch us before the border?

The bus bumps down the dirt road to the bakery- last bakery stop before Canada! Inside everyone buys sticky buns, slices of cold pizza wrapped in cellophane, things to take to the border. I find a treasure on the day-old shelf- another blackberry pie! For only $10! I heft it in my hands. A whole pie- should I pack it out? How will I fit the box in my pack? Of course there is only one answer to this question. I pull some food out of my food bag to make room, leave behind tuna packets and trail mix. Who needs nutritious food when you can pack out an entire blackberry pie?!

We climb for the first 25 miles today, up through sun-dappled forest. The climb is mellow and gently graded and I cruise. 9 miles in I stop at a stream for water and some of my pie. The pie tastes incredible- flaky golden crust, blackberry juice running all over everything. I am certain, in this moment, that no-one has ever enjoyed blackberry pie as much as I am enjoying it, right now. Sitting next to this stream in the wilderness, hungry from hiking uphill all morning, attacking the pie with my titanium spork. I go into a trance, and before I know it half of the pie is gone. And I am deeply satisfied.

Except, of course, I have a bit of a stomachache now, and 16 miles of climbing left. Hiking heavy, is what they call it. I listen to my music and cruise, hipbelt unfastened, and by the time I catch the others three miles later at rainy pass I feel better. Then up, up, to the ridge with the subalpine larch, where we camped last year. Cutthroat pass! More epic views I missed last year in the rain- jagged peaks and bowl-shaped valleys filled with light. This morning I’d been apprehensive about 29 miles, starting at 9 a.m., and with all this climbing, but now I feel amazing. I’ve only taken the one half-hour break all day, and I don’t need any more.

I get to camp just before eight and find the others sitting on damp logs around a fire pit, wearing their puffy jackets and boiling little dinners. Bright tents are pitched in the meadow and the air is cooling, dew falling over everything. There’s a volunteer trail crew camped here as well, and they chat with us about this and that. Tiny is talking about doing 37 miles tomorrow, which sounds impossible, and then I realize that it’s not.

“I think today was the easiest 30 miles I’ve ever done,” I say.

“Yeah,” says Tiny.

“We’re so strong now,” I say. “But the trail is almost over. It’s so weird.”

“Yeah.”

Only two days left, I think. Better make it count.

Photos on instagram.