Saturday, July 4, 2015

PCT - Hiker Boxes & Loaner Clothing

Writing about this PCT journey has been a challenge for me. How do I explain that my last full day on the trail started slowly, had a beautiful deep creek swim in the middle, and finished on a mountain in a way that captures the magic of being able to simply exist in all of those moments.  That's just it, everything is so simple out here. It feels real and unpretentious - not like real life. 

Rather than giving you guys a day by day synopsis, maybe I'll try to share some of those simple beauties?  Starting with Hiker Boxes and Loaner Clothing. 

First, a Hiker Box is a hodgepodge of anything left behind by the hikers before you. This might mean extra food, extra clothing, a book, etc. For the first few towns, I didn't take anything from these boxes. By the Acton KOA, I was pulling all of the food I could from these boxes!  I even found my glorious (and much missed) sit pad in one of these boxes!  Anywho, hikers love the places that maintain hiker boxes.  When we get into town, it's one of the first things we seek out. 

Loaner cloths are pretty much my favorite thing out here. If you've been following my photo posts, you know that I have one shirt and one skirt I wear hiking. I also have a sleep set of cloths, but that is it. Two shirts, leggings, a skirt, and a few jackets is all I need on the trail. When we get into town, we want to wash ALL the clothing. That means either wearing your rain/wind gear, oooor wearing loaner clothing when it's available. I freaking love loaner clothing. In Acton, I wore dudes sweats and a Large guys Henley for a full 48 hours (Weekend said I looked 'comfortable as fuck' when he showed up - he was 100% correct). In Bishop, I rocked a striped green maxi dress with a hostel t-shirt for another near 48-hours. The glory of loaner clothing is that they're clean(ish) when you put them on, you don't have to maintain them.... And for me, it's another way to shed the pretenses of who I am supposed to be. 

Till next time,
This Little Engineer

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Wee and the PCT, 422.4 - 444

Day 26: <22 PCT 
Acton KOA

After enduring minimal wind (SO fortunate), I leave my tent the next morning and the scene does not disappoint. I'm above a sea of clouds on my little ridge line plateau.  Fog is snaking over the low points on the surrounding mountains and the sun will be up soon. I make my oats and coffee and watch as the sun makes her entrance. This is when I make a lil Instagram vid because I really needed to share this perfect moment. 

Packing up, I'm thankful that I don't see anyone hiking the trail from my exposed location - way better for taking care of morning business. I have a headache again and know that it's time for rest. 22-miles to Acton, body, then we rest. 

As I'm ambling, I come around a corner - the grasses are burned pink, the trees are burned black yet bleached white, the new growth is green and the fog blankets the mountain in magnificence.  How is this real life??  And, why did I wait so long to be living this purely?

The past few days had me noting how easy it was to find certain memories. Why are the good ones so hard to find?  My head is rolling around in the soft and fuzzy memories this morning though. They hit me one after another and I surely look like a crazy person, smiling to myself as I strolled. 

*Passing a flask between Ladies A, K, and myself as we walked through a snowstorm back to campus. Catching snowflakes in our mouths, making snow angels, and being so in love with these sisters. 
*A candle lit dinner at Arby's and the first time I was ever stunned into silence by another person's consideration. 
*chasing trains (enough said)
*beers with a friend who never asked too much on a stolen rooftop night
*My best girlfriend airplane-crashing into me at homecoming (it's on video)
*Smashing bottles on the boiler house with really good people. 
*My 16-birthday backpacking trip
*Climbing mt at Helens with my Rosies and feeling like I'm finally able to show who I am.

I note that I need to build bridges back to these memories so I can find them easier in the future. 

The rest of the day is beautiful yet uneventful. I have company at a few stops but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. 

Oh, and everyone tells me about this girl, April. Her comments in the logs are fun. She must be rad, I need to meet her!

Reaching Acton is awesome. April is of the formerly April & Sierra. She leapfrogged me in Wrightwood but welcomes me openly here!!  Oh, and this campground has free popcorn (see previous blog entry). Not only that, "Occupy" has purchased a cake for sharing. 

After a few days of missing "my people", it feels amazing to surrounded in community again. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wee and the PCT, 394.6 - 422.4

Day 25: 27.8 PCT miles

I'm awake at 4:30am despite going to sleep at 9PM. I know from experience that my body needs around 9-hours to recover from all of this motion.  I roll back over and try to sleep. I need to take today easier - pacing and patience are huge lessons endurance athletes are constantly dealing with. Today I need to find the grace to be kind to my body.

My watch says its 27-degrees when I finally get up. I'm cold, even in my puffy and hard shells. My coffee can't even touch this coldness and I set off with numb toes. Within a few miles, I feel better. Within 4-miles, I've officially hiked all the legally hikeable PCT around the endangered species ban. I'm stoked and feel a bit of redemption after unintentionally missing 1.5PCT miles near Idyllwild. 

For the next few miles, I look down from the PCT and can see people road walking, skipping PCT miles, all for their own reasons. I don't like the feeling of division in this section. 

For the past several days (keep in mind that I'm 2.5 days of hiking nearly completely alone), I've been poking around the sharp and pointy parts of my memories. Today is the first day those memories don't upset me. 

My head has started to hurt by 10:30am. I'm hydrated, caloried up, and caffeinated - I figure this is related to not enough sleep. I'm 9-miles in to my day. 8-miles till water.

To dull my head, I actually break down and play my anthem on repeat from my phone. It's a song that matches the cadence of my current life and I realize I haven't been homesick a single time on this trip - I have missed my dog though.

Popcorn. Movie, full-on buttery, popcorn. Omg, this is the ONLY thing I want and I need it NOW. 

Eventually I find Coach and Booty again. It's great to talk to other women. We are all fantasizing about the perfect sun dress we will rock when we get home. Ridiculous tan lines and all - we look forward to being fancy. I hike with this couple for a hour or so. It's great to talk to women but I get nervous my sharp edges will hurt their neutral niceness. I realize I'm used to trash talking dudes. 

When I hit the water I'd intended to use as my source for dry camping a few miles up, I'm unamused. It would take me forever to procure 3L from here. Grace be damned, this is going to be a long day. My body is responsive as I pull the trigger on fast miles. They flow out of me and I hit the next water spot at what is a 24mile day for me. The Fire Station Water spot is great and I fill up. The camping in the area makes my chi unhappy. Downed and torn up trees, no flat ground, and a highway right next door.  Looks like it's time to get moving. The game is on as I race the sinking sun to find a site. There is dog poodle bush everywhere. I'm tired but my pace is strong. Eventually, I find it. Open space on a beautiful ridge. I know there will be wind... But it is what it is. I drop pack, set camp, and I switch between cooking and snapping photos of an epic sunset. 

This Little Engineer

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Wee and the PCT, 370.5 - 394.6

Day 24

Mile 370.5 - 390.3
+4.9 mile alternate
Mile 394.3 - 394.6
20.1 PCT miles + 4.9 alternate = 25 total miles!!   Long day!

This morning, I woke up early and ridiculously refreshed. A perfectly, peaceful 9-hour night is the final cure to the heavy 'celebrating' that happened two nights ago.  As I worm into my cloths, I'm reminded just how bad my tailbone is feeling. Actually, I was reminded of it with nearly every step the day before. You never know just how much you use the muscles surrounding you tailbone till they're ferociously black and blue. 

As for the part of the story you're clearly missing here, a shadow of Rose-Bri came out to play a few nights ago. I proved my level of inebriation by failing to sink a single ball in pool (sorry, 'Weekend'). Thankfully, being 30+ years of age means I cut myself off at that point. My 'wise' old age did nothing to prohibit crazy antics though. If there had been anything worth climbing, I'm sure that's where my night would've gone. Instead, I decided to do a backflip off some monkey bars (clearly, this is a fantastic idea!). I did land on my feet, if only for a second, before I over-rotated onto my a$$.  In the light of yesterday, I realized how lucky I'd been. My head is fine, my spine is fine, my pride recovered super quickly as most of my companions were blacked out at that point - I just cannot sit without a bit of (ridiculous) pain. 

Moving on, I wake early and access that it's freaking cold this morning.  My watch says 36 and I move slowly with breakfast. I watch the sunrise and am so peaceful being alone out here.  Breaking camp feels slow, but I check my watch to be surprised I'm moving just after 6am (go me). I'm ambling today. I plan an easy 16 miles and hope to see my PCT brothers before the day is over. 

On the way to the Summit of Mt Baden-Powell, an Asian group is talking loudly at each other between the switchbacks.  I quickly try to out pace them - in R's words, they were harshing the mellow.  Eventually, I take one of my normal 15-minute morning breaks. The group passes me and I say hello. When I get back to moving, I'm cruising up despite the elevation gain and I repass the group.

One of the gentleman asks:  Where are you going?
Me: To Canada!
Gentleman: Oh lord, lord be with you!

I laugh and continue on up to the summit. When I get there, one of the Asian guys is already up and resting. He shouts, "Yaaaahhooo!  Success good!" When he sees me. Again, I'm cracking up!

Bonus summits along the trail are such a treat!  I take 30 or so minutes to appreciate the glorious view. After, I notice the group I arrived just before is pointing at me and talking. I thought they wanted me to take their photo so I smiled and said, sure. They then corral me, backpack and all, into the center of their group and it becomes apparent they want to take photos 'with' me.  "You special woman!" is said as they all gather around me. We get photos and I think they take video before I start getting all sorts of questions about the PCT.  This lasts, maybe, 15-minutes but it made my day. 

Within a mile of the summit, I run into a couple of guys. One asks where In heading and I give my favorite answer of 'Canada'. They quickly introduce themselves as Mel and Mike. Mel  makes me envious with his story of walking the Camino de Santiago. When Mel asks if he can take my photo with Mike, Mike and I pull out out DSLRs and pose like the photo dorks we are. Again, such a fun encounter!  In parting, they remind me to look back as I hike on - it was easy to see the summit from this direction. This is awesome because I do look back - as I'm staring at the mountain, summit monument clearly visible, I think of my 4/11 friends and wonder if they're up there. I miss them today. 

There is no rhythm to my miles after that. My pace feels slow, I make a lot of stops but mileage vs time says I'm cruising. 

Hitting a beautiful spring for water around mile 384, I decide to hang out for a while - I haven't seen a PCT'er all day and I miss the interaction. What I get is a very friendly local who is supporting his brother's hike. He is great to talk to and he thinks he may have seen my friends, he calls them the young studs.  After and hour of killing time, my first two PCTers in over a day stroll up. They're kind but I decide to move on for the day... I am a little disgusted with myself for being clingy. 

This is when the fire for big miles is lit. I make it to the highway quickly. I take the time to say hello to Couch and Booty, two other women from Seattle!  I even attempt to road walk with them at this point - the prospect of making other lady friends is huge... But I it doesn't feel right. I circle back to the PCT and hike on the actual PCT till 390, the edge of the official endangered species closure.  This would've made for a 20-mile day and was my intended stopping point. The area doesn't feel right though - the place I would camp makes me anxious. I decide I have time to do the next stretch. I road walk the 2.7 miles + 1 smaller road mile into McGuffy Campground. As the sun is setting, I haul bum down the Buckhorn Trail (+1.2 miles).  I'm racing the setting sun and am thrilled when I hit actual PCT again!  Mile 394.3 - boom!  I hike until I find the first flat spot and pitch my tent. 

If you told me at the start of the day that this would end up being a 25-miler, I would not have believed you!  Looking at it now, bigger days are getting easier. I'm still beyond appreciative for this simple time in my life. 

This Little Engineer

Wee and the PCT, 363.5 - 370.5

Day 23
3-miles and 2000' gain up the Scorn Trail
363.5 - 370.5 (7-PCT-miles, 3 non PCT miles)

People make this life worth living and last night was a night for celebrating some of the great people I've found on trail.  It meant very little sleep happened as a result but I'm pretty sure my priorities were in order. 

Over the last decade, I've managed to burry the free & light part of myself.   I stopped dancing a long time ago but this journey is helping me change that. I'm frustrated at the distance I still keep - it takes time though.  Doubts creep in during this stillness.  As good as this Wrightwood reunion and Oli send-off has been - I want to make ground. 

Around 2PM, I decide my body is responsive enough to handle some miles. I set out from Wrightwood up the Acorn trail, which had been a good decision for me.  3-extra miles each way is worth it for my independence.  After an hour and a half, I've made the 3-mile, 2000' gain climb and am back on the PCT, which now feels like my lifeline. My legs are sluggish but with each step, it's like I'm growing back into my own skin. There's no one out here trying to free my repressed side, a bit of a broken record conversation that chaffed last night; there are just the miles till Canada. 

7-more easy miles puts me just past HWY 2 and nestled in a great little backcountry camp. I have a huge downed tree as a windblock and shrubbery to hide me from the trail.  I feel alone and peaceful in this little hidden nook off the PCT. 

This Little Engineer

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Wee and the PCT, 359 - 363.5

Day 22:  359 - 363.5 
+3 miles down the Acorn Trail to Wrightwood
7.5 miles for a nearo

As I predicted, sleeping on a ridgeline was a bad idea. The wind would die down only to rear its head again. There was dirt being flung over everything I owned, so I just pulled my head into my bed and pretended to sleep. There is so much life lived in those moments of misery. My IT bands were tight - something that has never plagued me before. What I wouldn't give for a foam roller these days. 

I woke up at 5AM this morning and started to get dressed right away. I'm low on water and need to get in to town. As I'm starting to pack, I realize I can't take my eyes off the sunrise. I pull out camera and tripod and HDR the crap out of that beauty. 

Even just eating a granola bar on the go, I'm starting later than expected - 6AM. The photos are worth it though - they make me slow down. Coffee and photos - my purposefully still moments.  

As I'm strolling along the ridge line that leads into Wrightwood, three trail runners come bounding towards me - more spirit animals ;)

Trail Runner: Heading to Canada?
Me: hopefully!

The Acorn trail pops out at me sooner than expected and I see more and more people heading up the trail - Wrightwood must have a pretty big trail runner base. I also meet Vicki and Brian on my way down. They're from Seattle!  The other day a dude friend asked if I missed the company of women. I had a margarita in hand when I answered, so I don't think I did the question justice.  I don't miss the average woman since that's not how I roll. I miss the complete and total badass women I hang out with on a regular basis. I miss the female athlete mind and compassion and drive. There are a lot of wanderers out here and I appreciate them, too. I'm a little bit of a wanderer... But more of an athlete. Talking to this Vicki, I got the feeling she was a badass, too. I hope I can catch her and Brain down the trail. 

Strolling in to town, I'm painfully aware of my dirty appearance and odor. The ladies at the mini mart are kind though. I get a 2L bottle of water, the best Starbucks cold drink I've ever tasted, and an orange.  I sit outside, calling the hotels. Two things are apparent, all the the hotels are out of my price range and dogs in Wrightwood are more like horses. I'm not really sure how to play this town - all I need is a shower and clean laundry. After getting my packages, I take Etchasketch's advice and call a Trail Angel. Dottie welcomes me to her home and the use of her downstairs rental that is currently empty. On the ride to her place, she explains how concerned she is that I'm traveling alone. She also mentions God at one point. I'm not sure what to say. My first thought is to mention that I have trail friends who I trust - this is probably no good though since they're all dudes. I think about playing the husband card, but leaving him behind isn't what a good girl would do.... I just change the subject to something genuine - thank you for your hospitality!  She is kind and won't accept anyone in return for opening her home to me. I'm doing laundry now - glorious laundry.  As much as I know my body needs this zero (T would've been very kindly reprimanding me if I worked out on legs this dead), I'm already anxious to get back out there. Big miles, beautiful sunsets/sunrises, and new friends are my addiction these days.

Hopefully sleeping at Dottie's is restful. It feels strange to be inside.

Till I'm back on the trail...
~ This Little Engineer 

Wee and the PCT, 337.5 -359

Day 21: 337.5 - 359 (22.5 miles)
This morning is one of the rare ones that I woke up late. I popped out of my sleeping bag at nearly 6AM and thought, "Dammit, not on McDonalds day!?!!"  Just as I leave my tent, I realize the sunrise is epic... And I have to poop. Taking a photo and a poop take on equal urgency. I grab both my camera and my shovel in search a location for both needs. I find it and fire off a shot. I am looking through my menu for the auto HDR feature when things get real and photography loses to nature. 

It's another abnormal day in that I decide to forgo my precious morning routine. In 30-minutes, I break camp and am eating a granola bar on the go - it's McDonalds day.  I've camped just 4-miles away from the McD's on I-15. It's funny because a week ago, I didn't understand the hubbub about the McDs right next to the trail - today I understand and I make good time. 

On my way there I run into a nice lady walking her two pups. One is a Cala-watchyamacalkit leopard mix. The other a gargantuan puppy. We get to dog chatting while I'm getting a cuddle-fix in with her older dog.
Lady: Where are you hiking from?
Me: The Mexican Border - I'm on the PCT.
Lady: That's great, are you alone?
Me: More or less. The guys I'd been shadowing are injured so they're at least 1/2 a day behind. 
Lady: Guys couldn't hang, uh??

She started to crack up pretty hard and wished me luck. I liked her - us dog ladies, we can hang. 

Last night, I was sitting outside my tent, writing, when I notice a dude passing me on the trail. He not only has on his pack, he's barrel hugging a second full pack. Shortly after him a tiny woman comes hobbling along. This is the couple I meet just as I'm entering the McDs. Dreamweaver and Sherpa. I mentioned seeing them and they laughed. I guess Sherpa helps out with the second pack on a fairly regular basis. Anywho, they were also just 18 years old. How amazing to have the courage, strength, and knowledge to take on 2668 miles just out of HS. 

Ok, so McDs is good but lonely. I eat alone and am cruising the internets when some familiar faces come in - the older gentlemen, Cave Dave and Peter, say hello and I offer to watch their packs while they order. I stick around just long enough to refill my water, which is when things get awkward. Two bleach blonde, orange bodies start wrinkling their noses and making comments about my state. I didn't know how to tell them that I smelled like 342-miles of adventure - I was stained with the dirt of the county I love - my hair was caked with the dried sweat that comes from hard work - and, my awkward trekking pole tan lines?  Those are from the countless hours I've already spent living this life to its fullest.  Instead I just gave them my most sincere smile and said, "hello".

At this point, I set out - I'm feeling a little off after the bathroom 'mean girls' episode.  No one else sounds like they're leaving McDs for a while. I'm the only one planning on dry camping just outside of Wrightwood. 

After the 342 McDs, there are a series of fun tunnels. Where by 'fun', I mean it took me a minute to enter the first. It's long and curved, so you cannot see through - it's also pitch black. Awesome. No biggie, but I make sure to selfie video inside - just in case something crazy does happen. Another fun tunnel pops up shortly after that. It's followed by some train tracks..,  after that, I spent the rest of my day climbing up a mountain. It's a hot, exposed, waterless section and I burn through more water than normal. This is only a problem due to the dry camping. Long story short, my legs ran out of juice and I only got in 22.5 miles (with substantial elevation gain) rather than my intended 25. This, unfortunately, leaves me perched up on a ridge line, hoping the wind doesn't tear my tent. I should probably just be cowboy camping... But it's ok not to do the smart thing from time to time. 

Tomorrow morning I'll get into my Wrightwood. I plan on b-lining straight to the mini mart to rehydrate. I already know I'm going to run dry before making it into town. After that I need to snag my packages and decide if I'll stay in town. I smell worse than I have in my entire life but there is no laundromat there.  Being alone is also quite a bit easier when you're moving. 

We'll see what tomorrow brings. 

This Little Engineer