Spoiler alert: I am no longer on the PCT

The title of this post gives the subject matter away before I even begin. I suppose that’s okay. Best to not bury the lede. Good morning, dear blog readers. I am no longer on the PCT. I left the trail on May 29. I’m glad I did, but it’s also complicated. Sigh.

IMG_8448

I’ve been putting off writing this post for a variety of reasons. First of all, I’m a perfectionist and I wanted my blog to follow the correct narrative order as opposed to being interrupted with this announcement; I wanted the story to unfold on its own, and for the posts from the additional 20 days I spent on trail that I haven’t yet written about to slowly tease out the reasons why I had to get off trail and go home. But it’s been taking me forever to get my additional 20 blog posts (days 20-40) ready to publish, so instead of telling a meaningful story I just stalled out. (I do intend to publish my trail journal from the PCT days 20-40. I do. I’m just not sure when.) Second of all, I figured a lot of people who read this blog already knew I was no longer on trail because we’re either friends in real life or they follow my Instagram, and third of all, to be real, I was sad and embarrassed to not complete my hike.

But now it’s July 31 and I’m about to embark on a new adventure that I want to tell you all about, so it’s time to be a big kid and just write this damn post. Okay, let’s do this!

Hi. It’s been a minute, huh? Thanks for being patient with me. How’s your summer going? Don’t be shy, I really want to know. Tell me in the comments, if you want to.

How’s my summer going, you ask? Well yes, it’s true, I got off the Pacific Crest Trail. As in, I have not been hiking it for the past two months. I can’t believe it’s been two months. Here’s the post I wrote on Instagram a few days after getting off trail:

IMG_9078.JPG

hi guys. some small ultimately insignificant news that feels large to me: i hopped off the pacific crest trail on monday, visited the ocean in LA, and now i’m back in portland. i hiked 454 miles which is a lot of miles but also not nearly as many miles as i intended to hike when i started this journey. i spent some time feeling embarrassed and turning the word “failure” over in my brain and my heart but i don’t feel bad anymore – i feel proud of myself for making the right decision for me. i have a lot more to say about all this (you’re all shocked, i’m sure) but i’ll tackle it in my blog. at first i just wanted to lay low but it honestly felt very weird for people to keep sending me sweet encouraging texts etc while i napped in a comfy bed (i’ve slept so many hours since getting off the trail). thank you to everyone who followed along with my journey and was so supportive and kind – it meant so much to me and helped me keep going and i hope i haven’t let you down (or if i have i hope you don’t tell me that because i don’t think my fragile ego could handle it!). i will continue publishing my blog posts about the 40 days i spent on the trail and i am making some exciting Plan B hiking and traveling plans for the summer which i’ll also write about when the time is right. and if you live in portland maybe i’ll see you at the queer dance party tmrw night (or maybe i’ll keep being a hermit idk)! xoxo

I probably should have just posted that spiel to my blog immediately, because over the past few months I’ve gotten quite a few people inquiring where I went or if I was okay, and I felt guilty each time that there were humans who were wondering about me and I’d left y’all hanging. I’m sorry about that. I’m especially sorry to the sweet people who have messaged me via email or Instagram or text message who I simply haven’t gotten back to – I read every single message and tucked them all into a special pocket of my heart where my sadness and embarrassment about the PCT live, and they make some of the pain and shame feel a lot better. They are an excellent balm. I haven’t not responded because I’m not grateful for the support or because I don’t care – I care so much! All I can say is that blogging is really emotional work, and even simply communicating with other humans is really emotional work, especially if you’re me, which is to say, supremely emotional! I have been overwhelmed and I remain overwhelmed. I still don’t really know how to say all the things I want to say, but I will eventually. Again – thank you for being patient. And thank you for supporting me.

The super cool news is that I did indeed cook up a pretty fucking fantastic Plan B, just as I said I would in that Instagram caption, and I can’t wait to tell y’all about it. It will involve more adventures, more blogging, and more time spent with my delightful pink sleeping bag and, inevitably, all my feelings. It will also involve my sweet girlfriend, a large airplane, and tons of cheese and wine. I posted about this, too, on Instagram, and here’s what I wrote the night we bought our plane tickets!

IMG_9628

i took this photo on April 20, on my first day hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. i wanted to hike the whole thing – all 2,650 miles. i only made it 454 miles before a combination of things – physical injuries, mental exhaustion, loneliness, snow, logistics – sent me home. i’ve been pretty sad since getting off the trail, and i keep telling myself to write about it because i know it will help me sort things out in my brain – writing always does that for me – but so far i haven’t. i will. but right now i just wanted to share some exciting news: i have another hike planned this year! last night @alleyhector and i bought tickets to Europe, and on September 1 we will begin walking the Camino de Santiago, a 550 mile route in Spain. it’s very very different from the PCT, and i think that’s a good thing for me right now. anyway this all feels so bizarre because i put so much time and energy into researching every single aspect of the PCT and getting ready for the Camino is going to be a whirlwind in comparison, but i am really excited and i think this is the right choice, in as much as anything ever is the “right” choice! my goals for the next couple of months include publishing my blog posts for days 20-40 of my PCT blog, getting my gear together for the Camino, and getting my butt back onto some local trails because i have been straight up avoiding hiking since getting home. i plan to blog daily on the Camino, so if you enjoyed my PCT posts perhaps you will be excited to follow along on this upcoming journey. thanks as always for all the support and kindness y’all sent my way while i was on the PCT – i am so, so grateful for all of it – and exxxtra thanks for humoring me when i write these ultra long instagram captions! love you happy monday xoxo!

Alley and I have been working on a really cute two part joint blog post to share with our readers re: this new plan, and we’ll publish it tomorrow. Stay tuned for that!

So I hope that gives some context to why my blog posts abruptly stopped and why my Instagram photos stopped reflecting the PCT. I have an essay coming up for Autostraddle that delves deeper into why I left the trail – it’s a follow up to my original essay about the PCT that I wrote for Autostraddle, This Queer Fat Femme Is Thru-Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and You Can Follow Along. If you haven’t read that yet, you should – it’s kind of adorable to see how young and naive I was just a few short months ago!

I also published an essay about my experience on the PCT in SHAPE magazine: What It’s Like Being the Fat Girl On the Hiking Trail. I was super anxious about publishing this because it’s very vulnerable, even for me, and I worried about how it would be received, but I was pleasantly surprised because people have been nothing but kind and empathetic, and I got so much positive feedback from women who have felt the exact same way. So that’s really neat and makes me very happy. (I mean, it makes me eternally bummed out that so many women feel the same because what the fuck why are we all being made to feel “less than” on the goddamn trails, Jesus fucking Christ, but it makes me happy that we can all connect about it and that no one told me I was being silly or overreacting and instead totally validated my experiences in sharing their own, you know?) Also, not to obsess over this until the day I die but Cheryl Strayed read the essay and liked it and told me so! For those who don’t know, Cheryl Strayed is one of my top five favorite authors and her book, Tiny Beautiful Things, is basically the reason I left New York and ended up living in Oregon, and I respect her writing tremendously and think she is just so fucking rad, so being noticed in a positive way by her is one of the most exciting things to ever happen to me. I’m often hyperbolic but in this case I mean that very sincerely. I’ll probably never stop talking about it, sorry not sorry!

Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 2.04.43 AM

Oh, and one more housekeeping order of business! My fundraiser is still open, and I would still love to raise the total $2,650 for Big City Mountaineers this hiking season. Just because I’m not hiking every one of those miles doesn’t mean that we should stop raising money for such an important organization, right?! So! If you’ve enjoyed my words this summer, if my journey has inspired you, if you’ve wanted to send me a care package or do something to say “thanks for baring your soul all the time on the internet” – please consider donating to my fundraiser! For those of you who are waiting on postcards because you donated more than $36 to my fundraiser (THANK YOU!!), I will send you a postcard from Europe instead of from the PCT. If receiving a postcard from me from Europe sounds fantastic and you really want that to happen for you, you should totally donate $36 or more to my fundraiser! And if you don’t have the means to donate, please consider sharing it on your social networks. Check it out! Thank you! I love you!

Whew. Are we all caught up? I’m sorry again for disappearing. Blogging is weird but ultimately I love it, and I really genuinely enjoy being in conversation with all of you. I hope you’ll still be interested in following along with my adventures, even though they are no longer on the PCT. Thanks, as always, for reading and cheering me on. This would all be so much less fun without you.

Advertisements

Day Nineteen: Finally, Fuller Ridge

Mile 183.5 to mile 190.5 + Deer Springs Trail (3.5 miles)
10.5 miles

Lynn, Cate, and Mike all get up and leave very early. I’m taking the shuttle with Caddy and Hobo from the inn where they’re staying to the Deer Spring trailhead, and it only leaves at 8:30, so I’ve got time. It would be nice to be starting earlier, but it’s just as nice to get a free ride and I’m excited about hiking with new friends. Once Lynn, Cate, and Mike leave I have the room all to myself and I make the most of it, walking around naked, doing last minute chores, and eating breakfast in my underwear. Finally it’s 8am and I am dressed, packed up, and ready to hit the trail again. I’m excited and nervous.

I walk the 3 minutes over to the inn and find Caddy and Hobo waiting. Claire is there too, and I’m glad I get to say goodbye to her. I am so grateful for her friendship and wise words; I hope I see her again soon.

IMG_9175

The “shuttle” turns out to be the inn owner driving a few of us in his truck; it’s the three of us plus a Swiss couple. There’s a miscommunication and he thinks we all want to go to Devil’s Slide trailhead, the one Mike, Lynn, and Cate went to this morning. We drive all the way there before realizing the mixup and drop the Swiss couple before heading back down to our actual destination, Deer Spring trailhead. The drive was long and steep and I think of my three friends walking all the way there at 6am this morning; I am not jealous at all and am very confident I made the right decision for me.

We finally reach Deer Spring trailhead and we all unload our things from the truck. And then there we are! The trail is 3 miles of up up up to connect back with the PCT. I am ready to be back on the trail, on my trail – I think. I hope my body agrees.

We’re at higher elevation than Idyllwild the town is, and we immediately see snow on the trees and on the trail. I’m charmed. Snow! It’s so beautiful.

img_6439

We begin hiking together and at first I think I’ll be able to keep up. We walk in a line, first Hobo, then Caddy, then me. We get to know each other – they ask why I decided to hike the PCT, I ask why they did. They met each other a few years ago hiking the AT and I am so impressed by them. They are both retired and have already hiked a long trail! And now they’re doing another one! They have such a lovely camaraderie, are clearly such good friends, and I feel honored that they have welcomed me into their group, at least for today. We pass under a thick shadow of pines and Caddy breathes in deeply, appreciatively. “Mmmm, Christmas tree!” she says happily. A moment later the smell hits me too and she’s right – I’m immediately thinking of Christmas, December, the first time I harvested my own tree in Southern Oregon. So many things have happened since that December – it was two and a half years ago. I feel happy with the trajectory of my life, happy to be on this Christmas tree forest trail with two new friends.

img_6464

It turns out I can’t actually keep up with Caddy and Hobo, though. I stop often to take pictures and also this trail is hard! Up up up up. I give up on the idea of keeping up with them and just try to breath. I remember Claire’s advice; it would be nice to do Fuller Ridge, which I have built up to be totally scary and horrifying in my mind, with friends, but if I have to do it alone so be it. Aren’t we all always alone in the end anyway? Morbid but true!

So I plod on. I lose the trail a few times because of patches of snow, but it’s not bad. My microspikes are tucked in the front pocket of my pack, waiting for the moment I’ll need them, but so far so good. Every so often a clump of snow falls from a tree, sometimes landing on the trail but often landing on my head. I imagine mischievous fairies hiding in the trees, pelting hikers with snowballs, laughing about it amongst themselves. When I think of it like that I’m not even mad, just delighted. I’m walking through a magical snowy forest! I’m making my way back to the PCT, back to the place I currently live. It’s an adventure! An adventure that renders me out of breath, sure, but an adventure nonetheless.

Finally after three miles of snowy steep trail I see a little wooden sign: Strawberry Junction! That’s where Deer Spring connects to the PCT. And just after the sign I see two bodies lying on mats – it’s Caddy and Hobo! They waited for me! I’m touched, and feel emotional.

img_6474

They hear me approaching and roll over to greet me. “I can’t believe you waited!” I say. “Of course!” says Caddy. “We haven’t been here long. And we don’t want anyone to do Fuller Ridge alone. If we didn’t see you here we were going to wait for you at the Fuller Ridge junction.” It’s so generous and kind; I try not to cry. I love these women, I decide. I am always like this: I decide who I love and who I can trust quickly and surely, and then that’s that. Usually I’m right.

I sit down to take a breather; I don’t want to keep them waiting though. Caddy brushes away my fears, assures me that it’s fine. We talk about food, snacking, how heavy it all is to carry. I admit I haven’t had much of an appetite, am still carrying some food I started with at Campo, more than 100 miles back. They are appalled. “What the fuck, Scissors!” Hobo exclaims. “You can’t do that! You’ve gotta eat your food!” Caddy nods. Okay okay okay! I will do better about eating, I promise them. I know they’re right – I stuff my hip belt pockets with bars and Justin’s hazelnut chocolate butter packets, the one snack I can always seem to choke down no matter what, and resolve to do a better job of putting calories into my body.

We’re all expecting to see Cate, Lynn, and Mike at some point, but we don’t see them at Strawberry Junction. Maybe they’re taking a long time in the snow. Maybe they decided to summit Mt. San Jacinto. We don’t know; we decide to keep going.

img_6444img_6453img_6472

We stop for lunch and I shovel food into my mouth as quickly as I can. It’s cold when we’re not moving and I feel anxious about the time; I don’t know how snowy Fuller Ridge will be but I don’t want to be traversing it in the dark. While we’re eating some other hikers pass us – two are the girls I saw on the first day, the ones who were so much faster than me I assumed I would never see them again! “What are you doing here?!” I ask, shocked. They say they’ve had foot trouble and sun rash. Well. I guess there’s no predicting who will be where on the trail. I should let go of my concern about that – we’re all just plodding along. We ask if they’ve seen Lynn, Cate, and Mike and it sounds like they have. I wonder where they are, what’s taking them so long.

img_6528

After lunch I manage to keep us with Caddy and Hobo, and soon enough we’re at the junction that indicates we are about to traverse Fuller Ridge. There is some snow on the ground and as I bring up the rear I suddenly slip, hitting my knee against a fallen log and ripping the leggings I’m wearing where I land. “OW!” I exclaim, causing Hobo and Caddy to look back in alarm. “I’m okay,” I follow up immediately, not wanting to scare them. I am okay, but ouch. The fall shakes my confidence and I feel scared; what if I fell on the ridge? What if I slipped right off? I don’t know. There’s no choice but to move forward and be careful, so that’s what I do.

img_6538

As I continue moving forward, some of my fear evaporates. This section of the trail is so beautiful I can barely stand it. High elevation makes for gorgeous nature candy – I can see tall snow covered trees for miles and miles, and it feels as though I am above everything, above the whole universe. I lose Caddy and Hobo almost immediately but I don’t mind being alone at all – I am in a winter wonderland. I want to stay here forever.

img_6571

img_6476img_6593img_6578img_6596img_6567

I follow the trail and am pleased to see hardly any snow on the ground. Perhaps we all worried for nothing! Perhaps this is going to be easy as pie. (My future self is rolling her eyes at my well intentioned but horribly naive past self.)

My eyes are still bursting over all the beauty around me, and I stop frequently to take photos. In the distance I can see Caddy and Hobo waiting for me, and I wonder why. We’re all heading to the same campground, and the trail seems totally manageable. I don’t want to make them wait while I take a million photos…

I finally get down to where Caddy and Hobo are and I see why they are waiting: a stream crossing, flowing with force across the trail. Oh. Gulp.

I don’t have much experience with stream crossings. I’m definitely intimidated by them. Everyone is talking about the Sierra stream crossings this year, the roaring rivers that will appear once the heavy snow pack begins to melt, and I feel scared of that. If this is a preview, I’m not sure I’m cut out for Sierra hiking in 2017. But no time to think about that now, not really. There’s a sketchy looking path to take to cross this particular river, really a small stream if I’m being honest, but overwhelming nonetheless. I tentatively put my foot on a slick rock and use my trekking poles to create three points of contact, like I’ve heard other hikers talk about. When I lift my other foot to attempt to place it on the log I quickly slip and suddenly find both feed plunged into the ice cold water – it’s scary but I’m lucky I’m still standing. My heart is pounding and I look up to see Caddy looking horrified; I quickly decide it will be safer to just plow across the stream with my feet in the cold water rather than attempting to balance myself on these slick surfaces, so that’s what I do. It is, ultimately, a small stream, and I’m on the other side quickly – feet and shoes soaking wet, confidence shook, but thankfully safe. Whew.

We have a quick group check in where I assure Caddy and Hobo that they don’t have to wait for me at stream crossings – it’s so kind, but I don’t want to feel as though I’m holding them up from getting to camp, and besides, the trail conditions seem mostly okay. We can all totally do Fuller Ridge! I’ll see them tonight.

img_6678

As my friends hike on ahead of me I wonder where my other friends are, why they haven’t passed me yet. I also spend a lot of time wondering about the Sierra. Some days on trail it seems that’s all anyone can talk about – the Sierra, the Sierra, the Sierra. Will we be able to ford the rivers, brave the snow? Is a continuous thru-hike possible this year? I don’t know.

I’m a few miles away from the spot we’ve all agreed to camp when suddenly there is a lot of snow covering the trail. I mean, not a lot like they’re describing in the Sierra, but quite a bit. And it’s late afternoon now, so the snow is slushy in most parts and slick – ice, really – in the patches that have been covered with shade. Fuck. This part of the mountain is like a totally different place than the beginning of the ridge. I know nothing about mountains and snow, hadn’t thought that differing sunlight and heat could affect conditions so drastically. I am an idiot, and I am alone on this snow covered trail, and I am cold and nervous and not close to camp at all. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

img_6461

The thing is, there’s still really nothing to do but walk. One foot in front of the other. I fall a few more times and find myself exclaiming and swearing out loud, to no one. To the trees, to the trail, to myself. I finally decide it will be useful to put my microspikes on, and they do help. It’s not perfect, but I feel much more secure than I did without the spikes. Every few feet there are dry patches and I wonder if I should take the spikes off, but then a long stretch of snow/slush/ice will appear and so I keep them on. It is slow going.

Eventually it seems as though the snow is behind me. The trail is going down, down, down and I’m praying that eventually this will mean the snow will disappear. I mean, I know that is what will happen – snow happens at higher elevation, obviously – but I don’t know exactly when it will happen so I pray for the moment, the unknown timestamp when I will be able to release the breath I have been holding for the past few miles. And then it seems as though that moment has come! There’s a sunny clearing with no snow at all, and I exhale and stop to take off my spikes. Thank goddess.

But no! The trail turns again and there’s another hump of snow covered terrain. Whyyyyyy. I think about putting my spikes back on but I just took them off and I can see that this is the very last snow, the trail stretches beyond it completely clear and dry. I take a few tentative steps onto the snow bed but can tell immediately that it’s too slippery – if I fell I could hurt myself, I think. Ugh. I sit down on my ass and kind of scoot/crawl my way over this short obstacle – I’d always rather seat myself in snow or ice than risk falling. I remember the time Hadley and I hiked Angel’s Rest in the Gorge on New Year’s Day and the conditions were much worse than we anticipated and I made my way down the steep parts, covered in black ice, on my ass on purpose. Other people looked at me funny but they also fell and I didn’t care what they thought – I just wanted to be safe.

The trail has a sense of humor though, so of course, as soon as I seat myself on the snow in this awkward way, I hear rustling and three hikers appear seemingly out of no where. Of course. I’ve been by myself for hours all day, but the moment I’m in an embarrassing position, I’ve got company. Let go of your ego for forever, the trail whispers to me. Well okay. “Hi Mark!” I say, cheerfully. “Hi Helen! Hi Hot Sauce!” They’re nice and funny and don’t make fun of me sitting on my butt, though none of them have to sit down to handle this pile of snow. I feel sort of dumb but also happy to be alive, so whatever. I let them pass me, like I always let everyone pass me, and then I decide to haul ass to camp because I am over this! Gone is the perfect winter wonderland of a few hours ago – night is coming and even though there’s going to be a perfect full moon, all I want is a warm dinner and to be horizontal in my tent.

img_6746

So I hustle, even though my knee is bothering me – is it from my 3-5 falls today? Is it just because going down is hard? Should I worry? – and then I’m at the campground! Caddy and Hobo are there already and so are a few other hikers I don’t recognize. It’s a huge campground and there’s room for all of us. I set up my tent near my friends and soon everyone else starts rolling in, too. Finally finally Mike, Cate, and Lynn arrive! I’m so relieved to see them – I didn’t want to say it out loud but I was worried something bad had happened to them. They describe their day and it sounds even harder than mine. Amelia and Raw Hide and Steffy and Colleen all show up too and we make a little village with all of our tents close together.

img_6753

Hobo has been boiling snow for her and Caddy’s dinner and as soon as it’s done Caddy apologizes for not sitting around to socialize, saying, “I’ve got to get in my tent now!” No one is offended because we’re all of the same mindset and soon we are all in our tents, chatting through the thin walls and shoveling hot food into our mouths. Making a hot meal does a lot for my morale – my mom has sent me these amazing Good To Go ready made meals and the mushroom risotto is shockingly dairy-free (!!!) and also incredibly delicious. I feel as though I could eat seven servings, but the package only contains two so I settle for that.

img_6749

I’m so happy to be in my tent after such a long cold day, and it’s really fun to be camping with a large group of humans that I like so much. Unfortunately I am so, so cold, and my clothes and my shoes are wet, so I’m anticipating a cold, wet morning. I’m so cold it is hard to move my fingers. And now, lying down, I realize that my left knee hurts a lot. I’m not doing anything – just lying in my tent – but there is a dull pain radiating around my knee. Why?

img_6759

I try to ignore my ailments and think warm thoughts. Luckily I have warm dry socks to put on and my quilt is warm and dry and I’m wearing my fleece hat and my down puffy and I’m trying to be warm. I will be eventually, I know. But this is the first cold damp night on the trail and it’s not my favorite. I think about the whole day, about what it means if this was a low key foreshadowing for the Sierra. So low key, really. Nothing like the Sierra at all. And already this felt too hard for me. What does it mean, what does it mean? It means it’s time for bed.

Through her tent wall Caddy tells me she and Hobo will be up at 5:30 and will shove off at 6:30. Okay, I can do that. We’ll do a 15 mile day tomorrow, down down down, all the way to a “rusty pipe” where there’s water. Well okay. Tomorrow we pass the 200 mile marker. Tomorrow we say goodbye to all the snow for now. Tomorrow I keep hiking with my friends.

I’m cold but there’s nothing left to do but close my eyes and try to sleep. Eventually I do, and I have the weirdest dream. In my dream I’m hiking the AT with a flakey friend from high school, and we hitchhike back to Massachusetts to get dry socks and then my friend says she doesn’t want to hike anymore. I spend the rest of the dream trying to get a ride back to the trail, but no one will take me.

img_6763img_6629

Day Eighteen: Let It Snow (And Rain)

Zero in Idyllwild
0 miles

IMG_6433

A car alarm goes off at 9am and I wake up from a bizarre dream. My shoes didn’t fit and I was trying to buy new ones but I was trapped in a bathroom at a fancy wedding and couldn’t sneak out. I don’t know. I really wanted my anxiety to calm down on the trail but so far, no luck. I guess I’m awake now, though.

It’s snowing outside. I have a text from Lionheart, showing a snow covered campground, what they woke up to this morning. I’m not sad to be in my warm bed instead of a chilly tent but I’m a little jealous. I’ve been second guessing all my decisions for a few days now, and my brain loop keeps it up: should I have hiked out yesterday? Ugh I don’t know. I didn’t and I can’t change that – but I sure can fixate on it!

IMG_6435.jpg

Everyone needs to make a plan to get back onto the trail tomorrow, once the storm has passed. Because of the fire closure and everyone’s differing skill levels and purist-mentality, there are too many options about how to do this. Unsurprisingly, I’m stressed. Mike, Lynn, and Cate have decided that tomorrow they will take Devil’s Slide back to the PCT and then go from there down Fuller Ridge, a spot on the trail that is still somewhat snowy and may require microspikes and care. They do not plan to summit Mt. San Jacinto because of the weather.

I had initially really wanted to summit San Jacinto, but the weather has put me off. Caddy, Hobo, and I decide we will take Deer Springs trail instead of Devil’s Slide, which cuts off a few extra PCT miles. We should have a 12 or 13 mile day and should be able to get down and past Fuller Ridge by late afternoon. I’m pleased with this plan in terms of what I think is right for me, but I’m really bummed to be splitting up from Mike, Lynn, and Cate again. I only just caught them. Will I ever hike with them properly again? Are they my trail family or will I lose them? I love the idea of getting to know Caddy and Hobo better and hiking with them tomorrow sounds good, but I can’t help feel a bit lost. I am annoyed at myself for this – I want to be independent, make my own plans, follow my own path, hike my own hike. I never feel this dependent. Why aren’t I settling into this life and my own abilities out here?

I call my mom and tell her I’m sad. She’s in New York and has just had brunch with Sam, one of my first friends from college – that means we’ve been friends for a decade, now. I love that. My mom tells me about brunch and how lovely it was. “I reminded Sam of something he said to you years ago in college,” she tells me. I ask what that was, having no idea what she means. “Well remember, Sam said to you, that he thought you had very unconventional thoughts but that you’d live a conventional life?” I laugh. Yes, I remember. “So I told him that and he said, well, I was wrong! And I said yes, that was wrong.” We both laugh, and I feel a little better. It’s really nice to think about my mom and one of my close friends spending time together. It makes my heart happy.

I call Alley next and cry to her. What the fuck is my problem?! I’m so overwhelmed, still scared I can’t do this, still not feeling confident at all. I wish she was here. “Babe, you could come home right now and we’d all still be proud of you,” she tells me. I love her. I try to stop crying.

While I’m on the phone with Alley I see Claire, my friend who I haven’t seen since Warner Springs. She is the woman who was hiking with her daughter until mile 109 and then continuing on her own. I am so excited to see her; Alley and I say goodbye and I sit and have tea with Claire. Talking to her is soothing; she’s not my mom but she is a mom, and she somehow knows all the right things to say. I tell her how scared I am that I’ve been making the wrong choices, how stressful I find it to be alone, how I don’t feel confident in my own skills yet so am attaching myself to other groups and then feeling stressed if they make different decisions than I want to make. Claire tells me bluntly that I’ve got to make my own decisions. “I always act as if I am entirely alone out here,” she tells me. “If there end up being other people around, great, but I have to make my decisions as if I will be completely alone. Because I am.” This makes a great impression on me; I resolve to be more like Claire. Everything is going to be okay.

I meet Lynn, Cate, and Mike for a fancy final town dinner and it’s delicious. I order steak and we laugh and laugh and laugh and Lynn teases me for being in my pajamas at this nice restaurant (they are my only warm long sleeve clothes). We talk about how we will all probably end up at the same campground tomorrow night; they will just have a slightly longer day. I just don’t feel up to doing Devil’s Slide, a steeper trail, and am (mostly) certain I have made the right choice. Everything is going to be okay, I tell myself. I try to believe it.

 

IMG_6405.jpg

On the way home from dinner I realize my shoes feel large. “I think my feet have finally gone back to their regular size after all that swelling from the heat,” I say to Mike. He agrees my shoes look big on me. I look down at my clown shoes and laugh. We all part ways to run final errands before bed, and on my way back to the lodge I meet a woman named Jo. I don’t really want to chat to a new person – it’s cold and starting to rain a bit, and I’m waking up early to finally hike out – but as soon as she says hello I notice her accent. “Are you South African?” I ask. She is! Her name is Jo; she’s South African but currently lives in the Yukon in Canada, she’s hiked the Appalachian Trail, and she’s so nice. We have a good chat and I’m happy I stopped. Trail life is so strange; the smallest interactions can either bring great joy or great sorrow or great irritation or great excitement. Maybe that’s how life always is, I think. This is just amplified because I think of it as an adventure. But maybe life is always an adventure.

 

IMG_6418.jpg

I get back to the lodge and say goodnight to Cate, Mike, and Lynn. I text Caddy and Hobo to confirm that they’ve signed me up to go on the shuttle with them tomorrow to Deer Springs trailhead; they have. I go through my pack and try to lighten my load a bit – I almost toss my spice kit but instead just dump out lots of salt and paprika, making each baggie much smaller, I get rid of my olive oil, and I begrudgingly let go of the potato flakes and dried veggies I’ve been shlepping since the first day at Campo. My food bag is more than full enough for the next stretch and I’m obviously not eating these things; I’ve gotta let them go. Finally it’s bedtime. Tomorrow I’ll be back on the Pacific Crest Trail. I hope getting back to the proper hiking will make my brain feel calmer.

IMG_6422.jpg

Day Seventeen: Change of Plans

Zero in Idyllwild
0 miles

IMG_6372.jpg

I wake up early but spend a long time just lying in bed. What a luxury. I eventually wake up and walk to the coffee shop to get a soy chai latte. Another luxury! Then I head back to the Red Kettle to have brunch with Cate, Mike, Lynn, Raw Hide, and Colleen. Luxury upon luxury upon luxury! I feel very spoiled.

At brunch we see Caddy, Hobo, and Blossom. Caddy tells me I am always “so animated” and I accept the observation as a compliment. I first met Caddy and Hobo briefly in the little store in Mt. Laguna, when I was taking my very first zero to fix my blistered feet. Now that seems like forever ago. I don’t know them very well yet but I’d like to know them better – I think they seem so wonderful. They met on the Appalachian Trail and have hiked a lot together since then. They are both retired – Caddy was an elementary school teacher and Hobo had a career in the Navy – and they are so warm and hilarious. I feel safe around them.

We all discuss our plans for tomorrow. Bad weather is coming. We’re at higher elevation than we’ve been for the past few days and bad weather could mean snow. It could mean dangerous conditions. I want to leave tomorrow – I am still second guessing myself and feeling as though I should have left today, should be on the mountain right now with Lionheart and Apple Juice and all my smart friends who had the foresight to get going to try to beat the bad weather – but I feel worried about this storm. Will it be safe to hike? Will we be able to summit Mt. San Jacinto? Should we stay an extra day? Caddy and Hobo are wanting to leave tomorrow, and so are we. But we’re not sure if it’s a good idea. But we’re all really ready to be back on trail.

Ugh. Have I mentioned I hate the logistics part of thru-hiking?

I head back to the gear shop to buy rain pants and discuss potential plans. Cate joins me. The guys who were nonchalant and blasé about the weather yesterday seem to have changed their minds, and they advise us not to hike out tomorrow. It won’t be good conditions; we’ll probably get wet and we won’t have a chance to dry out for a while because the bad weather may stick around for a few days. Do we want hypothermia or trench foot? No, we do not. We definitely do not.

It looks like we’ll be staying in Idyllwild for a bonus zero. I’m less excited about that than I thought I would be; mostly I feel anxious and weird about taking so much time off the trail. We’ll never make it to Canada at this rate, my brain screams. Shut up, I try to tell it. We’re not thinking about Canada right now, we’re just trying to get past this mountain! Sheesh.

When we get back to the lodge we hang out in the big communal room for a long time. There’s a fire place and hot water for tea and I’m happy, even if our changing plans are giving me anxiety. I really hate the level of anxiety that has accompanied me on this hike so far; I am used to hiking alleviating my stress, not creating it. This is different than a day hike in Forest Park, though.

Our little crew – me, Cate, Mike, and Lynn – talks it over and we decide it will be smartest to stay an additional night. Caddy texts me to say that’s what she and Hobo are doing, too. Well. That’s that, then. Another zero in Idyllwild, coming right up. I feel really dumb for telling Alley not to visit this weekend – we could have spent three full days together! I feel down in general. I think I will feel better when I’m back on trail, but for now I just feel blue.

We stay up late chatting, now that we know we won’t have to wake up early to hike. Our conversation winds through many interesting topics and lands on queerness. I realize that straight people keep asking me for a definition for this word/identity/community, and I don’t have a very good one. Or, my brain can’t formulate the thoughts and words for a deep, meaningful definition during this thru-hike. So if any of my queer friends reading this would like to offer some definitions of what it means to be queer and why we’ve added the Q to LGBTQ, I’d love that! The people who have been asking me about queerness are doing so with positive intentions and I’ve felt happy talking about it – I am just dissatisfied with my own answers to the question. Thank you in advance!

Mike and Cate generously give away the extra food from their resupply boxes – they’ve been sending themselves too much so I often benefit, getting their leftover prepackaged meals and Clif bars, Stinger waffles and Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter. Between my leftover food from the last section, the small box I sent myself, the box my mom sent me, and Cate and Mike’s leftovers, I don’t even need to go to the store to resupply.

I spend the rest of the night trying to catch up on blog posts and feeling stressed about my blog. I don’t know how to write about the guys we met a few nights ago and so I’m not writing at all and I’m falling behind. This is too big a project to fall significantly behind on. I have to catch up!

But sleep is calling, and I’m exhausted even after doing nothing all day. I close my eyes, expecting to wake up to snow.

Day Sixteen: Mountains and Valleys

Zero in Idyllwild
0 miles

IMG_6363.jpg

It’s weird to wake up in a house. My face is smushed into the white fluffy pillow and my body is covered in a white fluffy comforter. I’m clean. I’m also drooling, so at least some stuff is constant.

I idle in “bed” for a while working on my blog. I’m a few days behind actually writing entries – I’ve got my notes but haven’t written a full post in a few days – and it’s kind of overwhelming to think about cranking out so many words. I feel like I forget everything. Everyone knows it’s hard to keep up a blog on trail, but I love it so much and I really want to keep writing. I could write shorter entries, I know. I could. Anyway.

I rack my brain and look at my notes and my Guthooks map app to try to remember day 10. Day 10, day 10. What the heck happened six days ago. I write the post but I’m not so happy with it. It’s also weird because I don’t want to write EVERYTHING here – it’s tacky to write negatively about other people on the trail, to be completely honest – so sometimes the things that take up a lot of brain space in a day aren’t suitable to write about. This is a good exercise in a writing practice as well as a hiking practice. Figures that I’ve given myself two tasks on my long walk to Canada – be a hiker AND be a writer. I’m trying.

At 9am Cate wanders into the bedroom and seems happy to find me awake. She tells me the guys are going to drive us into town and then they’re going to the lake for the day, so we should move quickly. They’ve been generous with their time and we shouldn’t hold them up too much.

I use the bathroom (flush toilet! Luxurious!) and get dressed. Cate has folded my laundry like an angel so I quickly gather my things and repack my bag reasonably well. I still have so much fucking food in my food bag – 6 lbs at least. Just 6 lbs I casually carried for fun I guess through several 90+ degree days in the desert. You’re an idiot, Self, I think. Pack out less food this time. Promise? You better promise.

IMG_6260.jpg

Then we’re all clambering into the truck and heading to town. I ride in the back with Mike and Cate and our bags. It’s hilarious how quickly 13 miles go by when you’re not walking them. I’m thrilled to have skipped the alternate route; I feel no guilt at all.

IMG_6275.jpg

IMG_6347.jpg

The guys drop us in the center of town; they wish us luck and head off to the lake. And now here we are, in Idyllwild! With every other hiker on the trail, it seems. It’s nice to see everyone but also overwhelming. We all immediately run into people we want to chat with – Hobo and Caddy, Larry and Amanda, Tori (who is now going by Dos Tacos) and Tim, Amy who is now Blossom…it takes a little bit to get to our room at Silver Pines Lodge. But we finally do and it’s awesome. We’re able to check in super early and there is a queen bed for Mike and Cate and a trundle bed situation for me and Lynn and a bathroom and a window and it’s perfect. I hop on the wi-fi and publish my Day 10 blog post and then I get started on chores. Oh, town chores.

IMG_6336.jpg

First up, gear shop. I ask about the weather and buy a new pair of lightweight breathable hiking shorts to try to mitigate the never ending butt chafe issue. I also buy a brand new Body Glide. Maybe this will help. According to the intel from the gear shop dudes, it seems like I can bounce my ice axe to Kennedy Meadows for sure, and my crampons also. I’ll keep my microspikes, though the guy at the store isn’t convinced I’ll need them. I’m overwhelmed by the map and the routes to get out of Idyllwild. I wish thru-hiking wasn’t such a logistical nightmare sometimes. I listen to the guy’s suggestions and take a photo of the big map in the store. I’ll think about it later.

IMG_6345.jpg

I realize it’s noon and I haven’t eaten anything yet today, so I ask Cate and Mike and Lynn if they wanna get food. Lynn wants Mexican and Cate and Mike are gonna eat trail food to conserve their budget for a movie and beer later but I’m dying for eggs. I am feeling sort of sad. Alley and I had talked about her visiting me in Idyllwild, even checked in about it yesterday morning because flights weren’t too bad, but it just seemed not right. The flight was still not cheap, I’d already said I would share a room with my friends, I have so many town chores to do, it’s only been 2 weeks. But I suddenly miss her so much and am annoyed at myself for not asking her to come. I wish I could just lie in bed and have her hold me. Fuck.

I part ways with Lynn and Cate and Mike in search of eggs at the Red Kettle. I text with Toby, who is also staying at the lodge we are, and he says he’ll meet me. I try to perk up.
The restaurant does indeed serve eggs all day and I’m happy about that. I sit down and order eggs florentine and a side of sausage and decide to accept any consequences town food wreaks on my belly. I work on a blog post while I wait for Toby and then I get a text from him that his feet are in bad shape and he’s gonna pass on meeting me if that’s okay. Of course it’s okay, but it adds to my dramatic lonely feelings.

IMG_6346.jpg

I think I expected to feel overjoyed and safe and perfect when I met back up with Cate and Mike and Lynn but I still feel unstable. I don’t know what their plan is, there are so many options, what will we all do, can I even make it to Canada, how will I do the Sierra if I’m all by myself? I miss home and I miss my friends and I miss my girlfriend and I’m crying at a table by myself at the Red Kettle in Idyllwild. Oh boy.

I indulge my sadness for a little bit and text Alley and Toby and write the above paragraphs but then I try to snap out of it. I have to go to the post office. I have to back flush my water filter. I should soak my feet. I don’t have time to cry at this table all day.

Getting up and walking around is good. I put on my sunglasses and head to the post office. I am picking up three boxes and a letter, I think. They do not have my letter. I feel certain that someone – a person who reads my blog? An Instagram commenter? – has said they have sent me a letter to Idyllwild. I even have a note in my phone reminding me to ask for it and noting that there was a big VF on the back. The woman at the post office is certain this letter does not exist. I try to find the original note about it on my phone but I can’t remember where that is. There’s a long line and I feel embarrassed to be a difficult customer, so I eventually give up and take my three boxes off to the side. I’m bummed that someone potentially put effort into sending me something sweet that I’m not going to receive. Or am I insane and this letter never existed? I’m not sure.

I need to bounce my ice axe and my crampons to Kennedy Meadows. When you pick a box up at the post office, if you don’t open it, you can bounce it to another post office destination for free! That’s a pro-tip from the thru-hiker world, you’re welcome. Anyway lucky for me my resupply person, Susie, is a genius, and has packaged my ice axe and my crampons in the same box. So I keep it closed and bounce it ahead. I open my other two boxes and am thrilled: Susie has added goodies to the box I packed myself with microspikes and maps and dried veggies – she included a card and some bars and more jerky and some sweets – and my mom has sent me a box with Gatorade powder and five Good to Go meals! My cooking situation is about to get 1000x better – I can just boil water and add it directly to these meal bags! No more washing my pot! I am gonna be living the luxurious life! I call Susie once I’m outside the post office to go over some logistical things and she’s amazing per always, listens to me and hears me feeling sad, offers sage advice, cheers me up. I’m so lucky to have such a good support system at home. I am grateful.

IMG_6349.jpg

After the post office I head back to our room where my three friends are hanging out. I try to be upbeat and cheerful but Lynn asks if I’m okay and suddenly I’m crying on my bed. All three of them are bewildered; what’s wrong? I hiccup my way through an explanation: “I just feel so lonely and confused about what to do…and I miss Alley…and I really wanted eggs this morning but you all wanted Mexican which was fine but then I got to the Red Kettle and I was all by myself and I was so sad…but you guys, the eggs were really good!” I sound nuts and I know it; Cate bursts out laughing. Soon I’m laughing too. I just have so many feelings and somehow being on the trail heightens every single one! “Scissors, you have so many highs and lows,” Cate says. “You are like all mountains and valleys! There’s no middle ground. Everything is either amazing or horrible.” I laugh hard at this, because I know if Alley could hear her she’d be nodding her head so hard. Cate’s comments aren’t mean and they don’t make me feel bad – she’s right. I feel things so hard. Nevermind my physical capabilities – my poor heart may not make it through this journey!

Later Toby – now Apple Juice – texts me to see if I want to get pizza and I do. We end up at a fancy place with fairy lights and live music and joke that it feels like we’re on a date. Our conversation is so refreshing – he is hiking out tomorrow and I’m sad. I feel sort of rejuvenated after my day off today – should I have only planned to take one zero in Idyllwild? There’s talk of a storm rolling in and he’s aiming to get out and over Fuller Ridge, the path the trail takes and a spot one would not want to be in a storm, before the weather arrives. He’s faster than me and hiking on a stricter timeline; if he lives tomorrow and I wait until the next day, it’s probable I won’t see him again. I’m having a really hard time figuring out how to structure my hike, when I should do what, how much I should let others’ plans affect my own. Sigh.

IMG_6359IMG_6360

After dinner Apple Juice heads back to his room to care for his blisters and get ready to leave in the morning. I run into Lionheart on my way back to the lodge and I hang out with her for awhile; she’s also hiking out with a big group tomorrow, to avoid the storm. That means I’ll probably lose her, too. Should I have also planned to leave tomorrow? What will the storm be like? How far behind will my group fall? What does that even mean? What would make me feel less lonely? Why isn’t Alley here?

Fuck. Being in town is good rest for my body, but not great rest for my anxiety brain, it turns out. Eventually I say goodnight to Lionheart and head back to my room at the lodge. Mike and Cate are sleeping already and Lynn is still up watching a movie. I crawl into my bed (a real bed!) and have trouble falling asleep, second guessing every choice I’ve ever made.

Day Fifteen: Burgers & AirBnB

Mile 140 to mile 151.8 + 1 (road walk to Paradise Valley Cafe)
12.8 miles

IMG_6246

Toby and I wake up at 4am, like we promised. We’ve got miles to make before it gets hot. The stars are still out and I am tired, but I’m also excited to hike with Toby again and very ready for a burger.

“Happy Paradise Valley Cafe Day!” I say. Toby is clearly also sleepy but humors my shenanigans. It takes us about an hour to break down camp and by 5am we’re on the trail. The air is miraculously cool. I feel like a powerful superhero.

We begin the climb out of the canyon we slept in and I’m so grateful we didn’t try to push ourselves last night. It’s always easier for me to hike first thing in the morning – something happens to my body after 12pm and it is just no longer an efficient machine. But first thing in the morning I’m ready for anything, able to take on any terrain. And this one is beautiful.

IMG_6179

We keep climbing and I notice one star hasn’t disappeared yet. The rest have all bid farewell to make way for the impending rising sun but one shines brightly in front of us. “I think that’s a planet,” I tell Toby. “I think it’s Venus.” I have no proof of this, just a feeling. I make a note to ask Gibbs later. (Spoiler: it was totally Venus!)

“Today is so special,” says Toby. He’s explained to me that he hasn’t been hiking too early or too late by himself because we’re in mountain lion territory. (Should I be concerned about that? Oops.) This is the earliest he’s been on the trail and he loves it. I love it too. The desert is perfect at 5am.

The sun continues to rise and the sky shifts from black to navy to bright blue. I love how the sky wakes up. We pass several tents along the trail and I feel amazing: we are those people starting our days before everyone else! It’s not a competition, of course, but I’m always so envious of the people reaping the benefits of the cool morning hours, and today I am one of them. It feels really good.

IMG_6188.jpg

About an hour into our day, Toby looks at me very seriously and says he has a personal question to ask. I wonder what it will be – I am an open book and I think he knows this. “Last night,” Toby begins gravely, “did you…wipe your pot…with your pee rag?!” I burst out laughing. “Oh my god, no! And also, you thought I did that and it took you like 12 hours to confront me about it?! Ew!” I explain to Toby that I cut the banadana I was using as a pee rag in half and kept half for the original use and tucked half in my pot to use as a dishrag. The two swaths of fabric are the same color, because they’re parts of the same bandana, so I understand his confusion. But no! I’m gross, but I’m not that gross. We laugh about this for a good long time.

We continue climbing up, with me walking in front like I did last night, and today I feel a little self conscious about my pace even though Toby is so kind. I just know he could go faster and he’s got a room for the night in Idyllwild later so I don’t want to slow him down. He promises to tell me if he needs to go ahead of me. I swallow a bug by mistake. We keep going.

At mile 145 is a water cache on private land. The water report says the cache is called “Walden” and that there’s a little library and some picnic benches there. Toby and I are both very excited for this cache.

IMG_6193.jpg

When we arrive it’s even better than we anticipated. We both agree this person is a huge dork in the best way possible. There’s a note pointing out where the water tank is located with an apology tacked on the end: “Sorry, no pond!” There are picnic tables and the little library and cardboard cutouts of Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau. And there’s a little trail register asking folks to include their favorite books. I just love the woman who creates this space so much. Like, she put so much time into creating this amazing hilarious water cache for hikers on her private property just because. What an angel.

IMG_6195IMG_6196IMG_6204

After our break here Toby goes ahead of me. He assures me the pace is actually great but his blisters hurt and he wants to power through and get to the cafe quickly. I totally understand. I feel really happy today, buoyed by my camaraderie with Toby and the knowledge that I’ll be eating the best burger on the trail soon.

The landscape keeps shifting. I love how the earth is so filled with movement and change. Flat stretches with tall grass and trees, steep climbs with exposed rock and little shade, and then some epic downhills. I laugh at the PCT every time she asks me to hike up – I know I’ll be going down to the road at mile 151, so why all the climbing, friend?! Anyone who ever said the first 700 miles of the PCT are flat is an idiot. (I am an idiot.)

IMG_6226.jpg

Right as I’m about to hit the road junction I see Shipwreck and Iguana. We chat excitedly about the cafe, what we’re going to order first.

“An ice cube,” I say with certainty. “I can’t even think about a hamburger until I’ve had like, 7 glasses of ice cold water.” It’s very hot today. Just like always.

It’s about a mile from where the trail hits the road to the cafe, and while it’s possible to hitch the three of us just walk. I’m very focused on the glass of water I’m going to drink! When we arrive at the cafe the patio is filled with hikers and I happily drop my pack and sit down with Colleen, Raw Hide, and Toby. “You made great time,” Toby says, and it makes me feel nice. Our server is Sandy and she calls everyone “baby” and “sweetheart” – she is so nice and patient with all of us. We order All Of The Things and I’m thrilled by the jug of ice water that remains on our table – I drink so much water. All of my dreams have come true!

IMG_6251.jpg

Toby’s been craving apple juice which is adorable, and he looks so cute drinking it when it arrives at our table that we dub him Apple Juice. He accepts this trail name. We are all pleased. My burger arrives and even though they are out of avocado (devastating) and sweet potato fries, I am ecstatic. I devour the entire thing easily and contemplate ordering a second one.

IMG_6228.jpg

The big topic of conversation today has been the fire closure near this section of the PCT, and if we will take the alternate route or not. There are several sections of the PCT that have been closed due to fires, and there are alternate routes devised by the PCTA to get around these closures. Some people choose to walk them and some people hitch around them. There’s a lot of debate amongst hikers about what is the proper thing to do, and people are actually pretty judgmental which is irritating. I’ve already decided I won’t be doing the alternate – it’s a difficult climb and unappealing road walk, and I feel fine hitch hiking directly from the cafe into Idyllwild to meet my friends for our planned double zero. If I did the alternate I wouldn’t make it in time, and I just don’t care enough about being a “purist.” Everyone is trying to decide what is right for them; Apple Juice will also be skipping the alternate but Colleen, Raw Hide, and some others decide they want to do it. I like that everyone is making their own choices but I dislike the superior attitudes some hikers take on, as if their choice is the only right one. I guess that’s life.

My major task after scarfing down my burger is to decide where I will sleep tonight. The cafe allows hikers to camp on their patio, and that seems like a good option; Mike, Cate, and Lynn decided to do the alternate route and they are on it right now, and will only get to Idyllwild tomorrow. It will make sense to wake up early at the cafe and hitch into Idyllwild first thing in the morning.

IMG_6252.jpg

Except! Just as I decide on this plan, I get a call from Cate – they did part of the alternate and had a horrible day, and now they’re at a campground nearby and there are some dudes who helped them out with a hitch yesterday who have rented an AirBnB nearby and are happy to host them there for the night. I can come to – do I want them to come pick me up from the cafe? Oh my gosh yes duh of course I do! What magic!

I gather my things and sheepishly tell the other hikers who are planning to spend the night at the cafe that I won’t be sleeping on the ground with them this evening after all. I wistfully bid farewell the idea that I may get a second burger for dinner and wait for Cate and our new BFF, Josh, to show up in the parking lot. They arrive in a large black pick up truck and I hop in. Josh is friendly and funny and Cate fills me in on what’s been going on with them. In short, they had a really hard day and were really touched when two relative strangers offered to let them crash at their AirBnB tonight. There is a washing machine we can use and a shower and it all seems too good to be true. I can wash my clothes before I get to Idyllwild?! What an embarrassment of riches!

IMG_6283IMG_6289

Cate, Josh, and I arrive at the AirBnB and it’s hilarious. The space is huge and on a horse ranch, so there are some horses hanging out nearby. Josh announces that we will each have a bed to sleep in and that he’s going to make us dinner. I feel so happy to see my friends again, so lucky that these guys are being so generous, so incredulous that my day began in a canyon miles away and has progressed to this bizarre point. Josh and I get to talking about everything and nothing and I learn he grew up near Portland but moved to LA, and that he’s Jewish, and…that he voted for Trump.

***

Friends, I’m going to be real with you: I am writing this blog post two weeks after the fact, and this is the post that tripped me up with my regular schedule. Yes, it is difficult to find time to blog about my day when I am hiking 10+ hours. Yes, I’m tired all the time, both physically and also mentally. Yes, keeping a daily trail blog is a commitment that some would argue is crazier than committing to a thru-hike itself. But I love writing this blog and it brings me a lot of joy. This entry though…this has brought me a lot of stress and confusion and anxiety. I have thought about this interaction for many many miles, about how I could write about it honestly and fairly, about how it made me feel, about what it was supposed to teach me. Here’s what I know.

(And before I continue – I know there will be people who disagree with me on both sides. I think some of my queer radical friends will be appalled that I didn’t leave, that I didn’t take this man to task, that I didn’t stand up for myself and for my community better. And perhaps you are right; perhaps I failed. And perhaps writing about this after the fact in my public blog instead of being upfront in person is cowardly. I accept that. I also think – no, I know – there are some people who read this blog who voted for Trump. I’m not here to foster a dialogue about this. I simply do not have the mental energy. Maybe in a few months. But I do want to write a bit about how this made me feel, because to leave it out and pretend that staying in this AirBnB for the night was just an uncomplicated act of trail magic feels like a lie. And I’m nothing if not honest, at least when I write here. So.)

Learning that Josh voted for Trump felt really bad. I didn’t want to engage with him about it because ultimately he was being generous with his resources, I was in an unfamiliar place, I felt anxious about being the queer feminist killjoy in a group of friends who I adore but who are not queer and did not seem to be quite as horrified as I was by this revelation, and mostly – I didn’t think anything I said would have made a difference. And that’s what kills me, I think. After thinking about this experience for miles upon miles and trying to ascertain exactly what my takeaway should be, this is the major sticking point. If you voted for Trump, you voted against me and my loved ones. You just did. You can justify it however you want to help you sleep at night and you can tell me you love me and don’t wish me harm and again, this is controversial, but I actually believe that some people in my life who voted for Trump and say that they love me truly do love me and truly believe they did not vote against me. 

But they did.

However, I don’t think anything I have to say about Trump and how unsafe I feel living in a world where he could be elected president of my country will make a difference to the people who voted for him. I’ve tried to talk about it – I tried before the election to no avail. And so I don’t know what to do, and it just horrifies me, but I am at a loss about how to communicate effectively about it.

The night continued weirdly, for me, after that. I hung up my laundry with Cate. I showered. Josh cooked us dinner and refused to accept any help and it was really delicious. I drank a couple of beers. I texted Alley to ask her what the fuck I should do. I was going to sleep on the sofa but ended up sleeping on the floor in Mike and Cate’s room which made me happy because I actually felt very uneasy after all the political conversation that continued. Spoiler for the next post, in the morning we woke up and the guys drove us to Idyllwild and Cate commented how generous they’d been with their time, with their food, with their AirBnB. I said thank you politely. We took some photos together. I wondered how the fuck I was going to convey these feelings in my blog. And I never figured it out.

I’ve thought about all of the above for almost 200 miles now. It’s a brain loop I engage in on the trail with some frequency. How to write about what happened to me with these guys, what is happening to our country and the dialogues we cannot have with one another, the complexities of how a person can be generous and yet also completely selfish. I don’t think we do ourselves any favors when we flatten people in caricatures. I want to find the nuances. But I worry that my brain is incapable of that kind of critical thought right now. I don’t know when I will muster it. The paragraphs I have written do not do my brain loop justice; I wish I could stick a wire in my head and have it transcribe some of the thoughts I’ve had about all this while hiking.

Until then – that’s how this day ended. I don’t know what else to say.

Day Fourteen: Queers In The Wild

Mile 129 to mile 140
11 miles

Lion Heart is already dressed when I open my eyes. It’s still dark outside, an inky navy blue sky, and I spy a star or two lingering as the sun begins its slow rise. It’s 5:08am.

Everyone around me is bustling.

I get ready as quickly as I can; it’s a bit quicker without having to take down my tent, but not much – the Zpacks tent is so quick to take down that it’s just a few minutes saved. I’m one of the last people out of our camp – why am I always so slow?! – and I hit the trail at 6am sharp. 50 minutes to get ready; not bad. I get a text from my Dad: “Wow! Up earlier and earlier!” He’s right; I’m trying!

Doing the two mile climb out of Mike’s place last night paid off, because today I’m greeted with flat-ish trail right away. To be honest it already feels warm-ish at 6am – it never got very cold last night so there’s not a lot of cold lingering. The sun rises fully just as I’m starting my hike. Let’s see how long it takes for today’s heat to become unbearable.

I hike by myself but see more people than usual today, I guess because we were all camped together.

The trail smells like beeswax for a while, in a delicious way, and I try to figure out which flower is making it smell like that; I cannot figure it out. A little while later the trail seems to smell like potatoes – I’ve noticed this often, actually – I’ll round a bend and half expect to see another hiker making some Idahoan mashed potatoes at 9am because the smell of potatoes is so strong – but no, of course there’s no one there, because that would be weird. I like all the smells of the trail – earth smells so good, usually. Even the bad smells are okay – I like being so close to nature, like this.

My first goal of the day is to get to the next water source; it’s 8 miles ahead. I’ve got 2 liters of water so I should be in good shape (I aim to have 1 liter for every 4ish miles) but it’s going to be so hot again so I’m a little anxious. I want to get to the water ASAP.

As I hike I think about Alley. I’ve experimented with this, absurd as it sounds – but what I mean is, some days thinking about her is too hard, if I’m sad or lonely or feeling really down, then I can’t. But most days it brings me joy. Today it makes me grin. I think about her sweet smile, about her hand holding mine. I think about our lives stretching out together like a map, like this trail. I wish I could call her but I don’t have any service. I’m so lucky, I think. So lucky so lucky so lucky.

I’m almost at the water! It’s 10am and it’s fucking hot. If we’re being real it was hot by 7. The desert. It is hot. Surprise!

And then I’m there! It feels like I have some new blisters on my big toes which seems like total bullshit. More blisters?! My old ones are just beginning to fully heal. WHY MAKE MORE, BODY?! I’ll have to check them out once I’ve gotten water. There is a disappointing lack of shade at the rocks where everyone is congregated – will I be able to take my lengthy mid-day break here?

I approach the rocks and see Raw Hide. I ask what the deal is and she answers honestly: the water is a ways away, it’s pretty gross, the climb to get it is steep and scary, and while there’s a lot of shade by the water source it’s very buggy. WELL OKAY. “Wow, thanks for the honesty, Raw Hide,” I laugh. She shrugs and smiles.

Lion Heart appears from the mysterious far away gross water source and I’m so excited to see her. She asks how my day has been, how I enjoyed cowboy camping, what my plan is for Idyllwild. She’s so nice and so experienced and makes me feel so competent. I feel very grateful to have found her on trail. We chat for a while and exchange numbers – it sounds like she’s going much farther than I am today – maybe all the way to the cafe at mile 151! – but we’ll be zeroing in Idyllwild together. Yay.

After she leaves I decide to take my pack and myself down to the water source to see for myself what the deal is. It’s getting Really Hot, not just Hot like it has been for the past few hours, and I don’t really see myself hiking again until the hot part of the day passes. Sure, that may take until 5pm. What’s a girl to do?

The hike down to the water is not as bad as Raw Hide described, and the shade situation is actually totally sufficient. She was right about getting down to the “stream” though – it’s a treacherous sandy bank that is basically 180 degrees – near impossible for short girls like us! And she’s definitely right about the water source itself – it’s the most questionable I’ve had to drink so far. It’s a “stream” “flowing” through a red clay bank, and there are only two spots where the water is actually moving and not just sitting stagnant collecting branches and bugs. The taste is, as Lion Heart had said, “interesting!” – it is very rich in iron and Amelia quickly dubs it “Blood Water.” Yum.

But this is the desert and this is the last reliable water source for 15 miles. There’s a cache on private property 8 miles up from here that may be stocked, but it may not be. And after that the next source is the Paradise Valley Cafe. So we’re all gonna stock up on Blood Water here because that’s what we’ve got.

I drop my pack in the shade and grab two bottles to fill up. I’ll be here for a while, I figure, so I don’t need to fill all my bottles now. I’ll start with two. Getting down the sandy bank is not easy but it’s okay; getting back up is actually a bit more challenging. But I do it and then my reward is I get to rest – for what feels like forever! It’s 11am and I’m not moving until the heat subsides.

Tommy is here already, napping, and Karma, Colleen, Amelia, and Raw Hide are here too. There are also some other hikers I don’t know very well. We hang out. We eat food. Colleen cooks lunch and I wonder if maybe the key to my stove is to use it during the day instead of at night; I almost take it out but decide I’m too lazy. What am I doing? Nothing, really. Complaining about the heat. Futzing with my feet. Talking about food. Fantasizing about what food we’ll all eat when we reach the cafe. Complaining about how the water tastes. Saying hi to new people as they arrive.

PCT hiking is so weird sometimes, we all agree – we’re just a group of strangers, talking about how much our feet hurt, when we last pooped, and how much we would pay for an ice cold beverage delivered to us this very moment. Totally normal.

The day rolls on. I think about working on a blog post but can’t be bothered. The heat makes me feel so depleted, even just lying under this tree. The shade keeps disappearing, the sun finding me in different spots no matter how I shift and move.

And then Toby appears! I am so excited! “TOBY!” I yell! I didn’t know if I would see him again but now he’s here, and he’s going to take a break with us! Yay! The sight of a fellow queer makes me feel so happy; it’s hard to explain but it’s lonely sometimes being the only queer person in a group for days at a time. I feel like if you understand what I mean then you know what I mean and if you don’t then I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but suffice it to say seeing Toby makes me so so so happy.

He seems equally stoked to see me and he sits down with us to rest. We chat about our mileage goals for the day; he’s already done more than me today because he camped further back last night, so he says he’s thinking of doing 3-4 more miles once the heat dies down. Everyone else I’m with seems to be aiming for the 144 mark; I’m not sure why, it just seems to be the one everyone decided on. I suppose it’s got a big camp site and is close enough to the cafe that getting there tomorrow morning will be easy-ish.

I keep mentioning this cafe and I’m not sure if I’ve explained to y’all what it is! Paradise Valley Cafe is an extremely Hiker-friendly restaurant at mile 151.8 of the PCT. It’s just a one mile walk off trail and it is known for The Best Burger on the PCT. THE BEST ONE! It’s been on all of ours minds recently, as we’re so close. How will we all structure our hikes to get to this perfect burger?

So I guess for some people camping at the 144 mile marker tonight is the way to get to the cafe/the perfect burger easily in the morning. I think about it for a second and realize there’s no reason for me to rush to the cafe – I just want to get there at some point tomorrow and then will plan to sleep there or near there tomorrow night, and hitch into Idyllwild on Friday. And I really really want to camp with Toby. So I tell him so! “We should camp together,” I say. “I’d love that,” he agrees. “If it works with your plans.” I nod my head. My plan is to camp with Toby, so yes, that works with my plan!

With that settled, we spend the rest of the hot afternoon lounging and trying to psyche ourselves up to actually go hike. Toby and I decide we should have 4 liters of water each when we hike out and I’m so not looking forward to carrying that. The heat also stubbornly refuses to leave; even at 5pm it is still pressing down on us.

We can’t put it off any longer though. Toby and I load up our newly filtered iron-filled water and start hiking. Three to four miles – we can do this!

Toby suggests I hike in front, to set the pace, and I’m touched, like I was yesterday with Lion Heart. I insist he tell me if he needs to pass me. We start moving and after awhile he says, “So, I don’t really think you’re a slow hiker. You seem like a regular paced hiker to me.” I laugh. “I’m slower than all the people I’ve been hiking with,” I say, but I so appreciate his sweet validating comment and it does make me think, like Lion Heart made me think yesterday: what does it mean when we say we are slow, why do we do it, why am I undermining myself, who cares?

It’s really fun to hike with Toby. We chat about everything: hiking, religion, our partners, the desert. We talk about blogging while hiking and how much effort it takes at the end of a long day, but how rewarding we find it. “It’s like having a conversation with the people who are reading along,” he says, and I love that description so much. Thank you all for being in conversation with me.

We decide to stop at mile 140, at Nance Canyon. It’s the earliest I’ve ever gotten to camp, at around 6pm. I’m so excited – there’s so much daylight to do things! Toby says he loves getting to camp early, and I agree. It would be incredible to eventually be getting to camp this early regularly – it’s just hard to hike the amount of miles I want to, while avoiding the heat, and still make camp at a decent hour.

We pitch our tents and continue to chat. Toby is so cool – he’s a gender studies professor and an avid hiker and such a nice person. We both keep saying how much fun we’re having together. I’m super happy.

I have my leftover black beans for dinner on a pita and sort of roll it into a burrito; it’s surprisingly yummy and the thrill of not having to cook is amazing. I even clean out my bowl. Getting to camp early is life changing!

And then the stuff that happens every night is happening, the light is disappearing and the moon is beginning to shine and the first few stars are popping out. It’s still not cooling down; there’s barely any breeze and I’m perfectly comfortable lying fully naked on top of my quilt in my tent.

Toby and I say goodnight to each other through our cuben fiber tent walls and agree to wake up at 4am so we can be on trail by 5am.

It’s my two week anniversary on the PCT. I think maybe I can stop saying I’ve never been backpacking before, because arguably I totally have now, right? I still don’t know exactly what I’m doing, but I’m figuring it out.

Tomorrow I get to eat the best burger on the PCT, and the next day I get to meet my friends in Idyllwild for a zero! I’m camping with a fellow queer in a beautiful canyon under the waxing Leo moon and the slightest hint of a breeze just blew through my tent. I’m healthy and happy and doing my best. Happy anniversary to me!