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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Trail Thoughts: Reflections

My last Trail Thought for the PCT. I originally had many of these planned, however I was too bogged down by trivial things like hiking to sit and write them up. BUT I have my last one.

It has been over a month since I was on trail and I am happy to report that many of my friends of old made it off trail and were in Canada when they finished. My love and congratulations go out to all of them. I am also glad to report that Gourmet is safe and sound.  During my time back home I have had plenty of opportunities to think and process my trail experience. For me trail was not a grand life changing experience. Much of trail life was living in the moment which is something I am accustomed to. However trail life was something I did enjoy immensely. Not all of it but much of it.

Things I like about Trail:
  • The people the people and did I mention the people.
  • Walking into a grocery store and thinking "I could eat everything."
  • Waking up in a new beautiful location every day. 
  • How in tune I became with my body and understanding my ebbs and flows.
  • The confidence I gained in myself in setting a monumental goal and completing it.
  • My new found appreciation for sitting.  
  • Trail Magic
  • Scenic deuces/urine extraction
  • Ending every day feeling accomplished
  • Dance parties on trail
  • getting away from the masses of humanity and social taboos
Things I enjoyed less
  • The lack of time enjoying nature considering I spent 4.5 months out of doors.
  • The pressure from hiker instinct that made me feel the need to push on day after day.
  • Mosquitoes, poison oak and poodle dogbush
  • having my hips, feet and knees ache
  • having to pass up side trails or fabulous camping due to the need for miles. 
  • Tripping over every single possible root or rock my toes could find. 
In the words of Macho Taco, through hiking is very similar to a marathon for hikers. There is great distance and you push yourself to the limits. The tradeoff for all of this is you get a limited experience of the wilderness you are in. I know that there is much of the Trinity Alps that I did not see that are supposedly fabulous. I also have seen parts of Mt. Hood and the Columbia River George that the PCT never looks at and it makes me think "how much did I miss?" I know I will someday hike the JMT (John Muir Trail) because I want to spend more time in the High Sierras exploring it. 

I have struggled with the question of "do I want to go on another through hike?" And the answer is I am not sure. I was thinking "no" when I originally got off trail, but after talking to some old PCT friends I began to miss that lifestyle and now the thought of hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) is gaining appeal. On the other hand I want to do things like make money, pay off student loans and what not. I know my days of adventuring are far from over. I still have New Zealand and many places in India, Asia, south America and Europe I need to explore. So will I hike again? Probably. Will it be similar as my PCT experience? I have no idea.

What I do know is that being at Outdoor Science School is keeping me outside and adding my passion for teaching. I'm not going to lie, walking around in the woods looking for the remains of a deer carcass I put out there is pretty amazing. I also know I have spent the last six months of the year 2012 outside and I need to make sure 2013 is just as good if not better. What lies in my future is unknown, but if I smell adventure in the wind I will go where the it takes me.

Before I end my final PCT post (for I will start anew with my next exploit) I want to give thanks to all of my supporters during my adventure:
  • Everyone at the SCC, you guys gave me a chance and I can't thank you enough
  • Mom and Papi. Who supported me every step of the way
  • Other friends and family for your encouragement
  • Every single trail angle. The work you do, giving me food, rides, shelter if not for you I would not have made it. 
  •  Everyone else who I am probably forgetting. Thank you all 

Well until my next big adventure...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Party on Garth

Canada, yup Canada. Thousands of miles traveled. Four and a half months of climbing, blisters, illness, joint pain, and walking (so much walking) and here I was...where I promptly left the damn country in less than 24 hours. Wait what?

Yeah the ending of this journey really turned out to be rather anticlimactic. Honestly somehow I seemed to take a page from Monty Python's Holy Grail. But before I get into that, let's step back to Staheken. First of all a little side note: I am positive I have spelt every town in Washington incorrectly. More importantly I don't care. So if you care...tough.

In retrospect I think a more apt name for me on this trail would have been Space Cadet. The amount of crap I have forgotten, lost, or almost lost is astounding and Staheken was no exception. What seems to happen to me every time I go into town is I break my routine. When I break my routine I use items but don't put them away right after use. For example I put my phone on the charger in the bathroom and then packed my bag...then walked to the bakery two miles away, got on the shuttle up to the trail head an hour from the bakery and remembered my phone was on the charger only when a fellow passenger asked me the question, "how do you keep that charged (referring to my ipod)?" and I responded, "OH F$*K!!!" For the word "charged" released a flood of memories that reminded me of that routine I broke when I charged my phone. Luckily the driver of the shuttle was super awesome and grabbed my phone for me when he went back and brought it back to me on the next run. So all in all I was just delayed three hours, definitely could have been worse.

This leg of my journey was a special one. My party of seven (Fairway, Malarkey, John Wane, Analog, Texas Chill, Gourmet and myself) hiked nice and slow to enjoy our last bit on trail and to finish with other hikers. For all of Washington the weather has been phenomenal, hell for this whole trip it was AMAZING. I was "weathered" upon only five times the whole trail. I say weathered because it was not only rain, I was hailed and snowed on. and only twice did the weather come down when I was hiking. Washington is known for its crappy wet weather and all I had seen was beautiful sunny days. PCT class of 2012 was spoiled rotten this year and I am the last one to complain. Well before I keep going I do have to admit the fifth and final time I got weather was the second to last day on trail. A front blew in and we got a little taste of the fall weather to come. 30 degrees F windy, snowy, and you can't feel your feet. Long story short, hurray for finishing before October!

When hiking, as I have mentioned before, you get to think...a lot. One thing in particular I thought about was what it would look like when I reached the monument in Canada. The thing I had been pushing for all this time on the PCT. Well in Staheken I packed out a bottle of champagne (and by champagne I mean Cook's extra dry Brute. Classy I know.) because I wanted to pop the cork and have a proper cheers in Canada. This thought filled my mind for many miles, how it would look, what would we all cheers? Well as often happens on this trail, things end differently than expected. Instead of a happy we all made it cheers in Canada, one of our number broke his ankle four miles from the end. Four miles! weak sauce! The worst part this hiker (Gourmet) has been working on this goal for many years. I feel that out of all of us finishing that day, he was the one who wanted it most and this happened.

Well we couldn't leave him there alone (Fairway, John Wane and I, everyone else was ahead) So on my last day of the PCT I sat on the trail for four hours waiting for the damn helicopter to come and pick up Gourmet. Four hours....really!?! I felt really bad for him and we all did our best to comfort him. In my opinion at four miles, the monument is just a technicality and if he want photos it becomes a day hike in Canada when his ankle isn't busted. But as I said, this was crushing for Gourmet and it really sucked. I am still trying to find a way to contact him. Like a fool, I forgot to grab his info when I left and I am not sure how he is. But we didn't leave until we were sure the copter saw us and that Gourmet was in safe hands. Well that four hour delay started a chain reaction.

Because of the ankle Fairway, John Wane and I didn't get to Manning Park, BC until past 8:00pm. Well that's when the restaurant closes. That meant that the six of us remaining didn't get to have a proper final meal to celebrate. Also the restaurant didn't open until 11:00am the next day and that is the time the bus for Vancouver comes, so no proper breakfast either. So we made a plan B: spend the night in Vancouver before Fairway catches his flight to Georgia and have a proper sendoff there. Well as it turns out, the hostel we were planning to stay in was full...soooo plan C: eat at McDonald's (weak) because it is in the train station, say bye to Fairway, and the rest of us go to Seattle, stay at that hostel and have the proper meal...nope. Analog and Texas Chill bounced right off the bus in Seattle which meant Malarkey, John Wane and I were left to celebrate in what turned out to be a pretty awesome Chinese joint near the hostel. In summation, because of a broken ankle what was suppose to be a ritualized ending to our journey became a huge mess. Bummer.

I am not disappointed, nor mad, for that is how it works on the trail and you just have to accept that. I did get to pop my cork at the monument, I hiked with some truly amazing people and I hope that all my friend of old are able to reach Canada and feel the same elation I felt. This journey was everything I hoped for and so much more and no matter how it ended I doubt it would have felt like it was enough for all the work we hikers put into making it happen.

Well for the last time as Bladder Pillow I say adieu. Stay posted for when Caboose is on the loose in the future somewhere new and exciting...and my final Trail Thoughts that I am going to write very shortly. 

Blame Canada

Staheken, the final frontier. Where I will boldly hike where many hikers have gone before...

My very last town stop. How cool is that? Staheken is a town in the same sense that Beldon a resort. However it is much prettier here and not nearly as hot. Today I am taking my very last zero before I make the final push to Canada. It feels strange to know that this next leg of my journey will actually end in Canada. Technically speaking I am no longer on a through hike for I no longer need to resupply to keep hiking. Once I get to Manning park I am simply done.

Talking with my fellow hikers (Macho Taco, Fairway and Malarkey) I have done quite a bit of reflection this last week. Realizations of things like, yes I will miss hiking after two weeks when my body actually has time to recover. Maybe it would better the section hike trails in the future. For when through hiking all to often you have to push to make miles. Sitting here I realize that I am going to have a hard time adjusting back to "domesticated" life and I thank my lucky stars that I'll have Outdoor School to ease me back into the "real world."

Washington has done an awesome job reminding me that I am a tiny human being in a big ass world during the last 100 miles. As charged and ready to hike as I was in Skykomish, I was beaten down to a pulp out here. The sad part is I was taking it "easy" compared to other parts of my journey. I honestly feel that certain parts of my body have been worn down so much that I am physically weaker now than I was at mile 1,000. The good news is that my hardest days are behind me and I am still being spoiled rotten with amazing weather and breath taking views...and pikas, so many pikas (the things I do for science).

Monday, September 3, 2012


Here I am. Chilling at the last well established trail angels house on the PCT, the Dinsmore's. The original plan was to spend no more than one night here and then push on to Staheken....but the call of comfortable couches, movies, and scenery was to much to pass up. We all knew our motivation to hike was destroyed after about half way through Office Space. Seriously all I did yesterday was eat and watch movies. It was glorious.

The Dinsmore's have a pretty spectacular fire pit that we hikers have used both nights to reflect on our journey, and I must say some of the conclusions we have reached were pretty cool. For instance, I don't know if I'll ever through hike again. Maybe I will maybe not, it's one of those things where I need to see how I feel in six months-ten years. One thing I do know is I miss hanging out in beautiful places. There is always a pressure when through hiking because you need to make the miles if you want to get to journeys end, in my case Canada.This means that I have passed countless lakes, campsites and side trails that I would normally have loved to do, but I just don't have the time. It is the reason why I will hike the John Muir Trail in the future, I want to take my time on it.

In other news, I did watch an unintentionally hilarious documentary by National Geographic about the PCT. Seriously according to this thing I am a bad ass ninja walking on dangerous geologically active terrain, while defending myself against evil doing bears. We also counted that in the 30 minute film the word "extreme" was used about 20 times.So watch out because I am pretty sure I am a black belt in some martial art if National Geographic can be trusted.

Speaking of bad ass, these last 76 miles really have been extreme. there was close to 30,000 ft of elevation change filled with some of the best sights I have seen on trail. It is actually really comforting to be able and still enjoy a lovely sight even after four months on trail. As much as I hate to admit it, Washington has been the best part of the PCT. I like it even more than the high sierras and it is only suppose to get more wild from here. The best wildlife on trail is, according to everyone I have talked to, in the last 200 miles. Needless to say I am excited. The only thing I am getting terribly sick of is kicking/tripping on half submerged rocks and roots. This happens all the time here and I can't describe how infuriating it is.

Well I should get breakfast because I plan on hiking soon. T-190 miles and 8 or 9 days.

 OH! on a side note, the pika research has been going well. The number of observations before Washington was four (and that was in the high sierras). Now I am at around 50 observations. It is actually slowing me down and making miles hard to do.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I am trapped in a glass cage of emotion!

On the road again. I am here at Snoqualmie rested from my zero and eating breakfast before I hit trail. My goal of hiking at Rock Stove's and Medium Pace's pace to catch old friends proved to be successful. I made it to the Summit Inn and my hiker family from northern Cali and Oregon were here.

I am still a little behind some of them because I took a zero the day they left, but I needed the rest. Something about hiking 250 miles in boots that are not wide enough for your feet in nine days causes some pain. Now that I am all rested up and after cutting up my boots even more to make space for my toes I am ready to bust out another 250 miles to the Canadian terminus. It still trips me out to think that in less than two weeks I will have finished the trail.

This section of Washington is considered to be "ugly" and there is a fair amount of clear cut I traveled through, but the sunshine and beautiful sights continue. The part I am getting excited about is supposedly from here on out the trail gets very scenic. Even if I do have to climb 6,000 feet and drop 3,000 feet later on today...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dude I broke your dad's window.

I need glow sticks and possibly ecstasy...

Holy crap Washington thus far is AMAZING. I didn't think anything could top the high sierras for beauty, but the Mt. Adams and Goat Rocks wilderness are doing a pretty damn good job in making me think otherwise. Not only have the sights been outrageous but I have been eating thimble berries and huckleberries left and right. AND trail magic every day. Honestly Oregon, I love you but we're slacking on the magic. But back to my original statement about glow sticks and ecstasy.

I did a massive audio reformat when I was home. I downloaded all of the available episodes of "We're Alive" my zombie podcast (still amazing) and bought a new ipod. As much as I hated dropping money on the pod I do have to admit that the new iPod nano is sweet. It's touch screen, has a clip (super useful), and a great battery life. It is about four-five times more battery life than my old pod. But I digress. My reason for needing glow sticks and drugs is because of a new podcast I found. It's the David Guettea podcast and it's an hour long trans techno mix. Hiking at five in the morning to thumping techno would definitely be enhanced with the addition of rave paraphernalia.

This leg was breathtaking, both metaphorically and literally. In these last 150ish miles I have climbed up 29,000+ ft and dropped 27,000+ ft. As wonderful as the sights were, I definitely had to earn them. Not to mention my shoe curse continues. My new boots, though super supportive, are not wide enough for my feet. The pain has gotten so unbearable that I have cut pieces off the boot here at White Pass in order to keep hiking. So no more waterproof boot...sad face.

Well I am taking a break at Kracker Berral store before I continue and try to catch Fairway and Macho Taco or possibly the Beards, some hiker friends who are ahead by a couple of days. This feat proves to be very hard because they hike my pace. Also being so close to the end of the trail, playing catch up is even trickier. I am currently hiking with other hikers who pull 32 mile days. So I figure I'll hike with them and either catch up or finish early on trail. Regardless of what happens T-350 miles (ish).

Saturday, August 18, 2012

It's been emotional

Home sweet home!

I have walked from Mexico back to the Portland area. Talk about a feeling of accomplishment, sore tired legs aside I am starting to get antsy to get back on trail. I love using my own computer and love being among loving friends and family. However my journey is not done, in fact I am on the final approach with three-four weeks to go. There is no way I would feel OK if I stayed too long. Tomorrow I will get myself ready to move north, say hi/goodbye to friends and on the 20th keep trekking.

In my last post I mentioned attempting to pull my first 40 mile day on trail. Well I can finally and happily say I knocked 40 miles out of the park with my 45 mile day. I walked from Timberline Lodge all the way to Cascade Locks. Yes most of this leg was down hill, but I did have to climb up around 3,000 feet as well as descend close to 6,000. The day took me 18 hours with only an hour or two of breaks. I am not the fastest hiker (consistently about three miles an hour) but at this stage of the game I can just keep going.

This is not the first time I have attempted to walk a 40. Each time I have done an attempt I stop around 33-36 saying, "I hurt....why am I doing this?" and then quit. I just didn't have the motivation to walk the extra 1-3 hours. I think yesterday was different because of my time hiking with Poulo. Taking it slow for those five days built up almost an anxiety to move further distances. It's that classic hiker instinct I have. So between that and my natural competitiveness to hike a much greater distance than Poulo (for he did hike a 30 with me) I knocked out my old record of a 35 mile day for a 45.

I feel this was a great leg to do it on for I have hiked all this terrain before and by hiking these long hours I was able to see parts of Mt. Hood and the Columbia River George in ways I have never seen them before. Well now it is the fourth quarter and Canada is just around the bend. I see success and I am excited to reach my goal, however not journeys end. Being in town today made me realize how much I will miss the through hiker lifestyle. But if nothing else, the camp world has taught me that all things have an end. Canada is my end. I am at least lucky enough to have ODS to turn to right after I get off of trail and I feel that will help me adjust back to "normal" life.

Well onwards and northwards away from home and towards monolith 78.