Marathon Sandwich (day 72/mile 1289)- Gus

Elena and I are already nostalgic for the casual, relaxing days of central California. The days when we could swim at every lake and sleep in past the sunrise. Those days when we would take three hour lunch breaks and feast on spoonfuls of her peanut butter and Nutella. Since leaving my dad and Leah a week ago, we have walked 170 miles from Tahoe City to the community of Belden Town.
We began to hike sans Leah at Barker Pass. The trail took us up along ridges which overlooked Lake Tahoe and through Squaw Valley Ski Resort and many other ski areas. It finally felt like we were on the Pacific Crest Trail as we were walking along a ridge line instead of hiking in and out of valleys. Also, seeing ski areas in the summer never fails to remind me of the perks of winter, notably that of skiing.

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The next day we returned to our 6-8 job of walking a lot. The trail that day took us across Donner Pass where my dad and Leah had thoughtfully left a little trail magic for us (thanks guys!).

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Both of us started to return to the “zone” where we are able to walk for hours and not notice it at all. The day ended at a little creek and this was our first marathon day. The trail followed a ridge line again the next day as we slowly descended into the valley where Sierra City was located. The valley was located a little above 3,000 feet which gave us a completely different feel for the trail. Previously we hadn’t been this low since the desert. The valley was filled with creeks and leaves! Leaves were quite an inviting sight since we had mostly seen shrubs and pine trees up until now. Any reminder of home makes the walk much more bearable. A few miles before Sierra City there were some trail angels who offered us some beers which we gladly accepted. They told us that their daughter was hiking the trail as well. I was reminded of our parents because they are involved, interested and invested in the trail also. We reached Sierra City in the evening and set up camp at the Red Moose Inn. This mountain town is known to have many bears that wander through the streets at night and it turns out that one ran right over me and Elena in our sleep unbeknownst to us (another hiker let us know in the morning).

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This sign explains why one of the main areas where people leave the trail is in Northern California. Hikers who reach NorCal realize that they are not even halfway and have been hiking for months, and then become bored or decide that they should rejoin the real world. I don’t blame a single one of them. Everyday, Elena and I battle with the ennui of walking from waking to sleeping. It is more taxing mentally than one would imagine. As Elena puts it, “I hate it in the morning when I think ‘so what am I going to think about today?'” I have created Gatorade Art to help ease the boredom of the trail. Here is a sample.

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Although the mental challenge is becoming more noticeable, the physical challenge is as big as ever. Sometime during the day that we left Sierra City I started to have a pain in my shin. The problem with healing on the PCT is that the main treatment a doctor will prescribe is extended rest. The only activity a PCT hiker tries to avoid is a period of extended rest.
We skirted around many lakes and a thunderstorm without getting rained on much to Elena’s disappointment.

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I have learnt that inclement weather makes walking exciting. It also makes the landscape look more awe inspiring.

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In the past five days we have hiked 26, 28, 26, 28, and then 26 miles again; a perfect marathon sandwich. Our feet are swollen, but so is our excitement and motivation as we near the halfway point. We’ll reach mile 1330 in a couple of days and then Oregon and then Washington and then Canada. It sounds so easy when put like that.
Well, we’re off to climb out of Feather River Canyon and on towards our fourth national park; Lassen National Park. Thank you all so much for any support and good vibes sent our way, recognized or not. They make this trip far more enjoyable and push us northwards!

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(Icing my shin with a popsicle)

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In the lap of luxury (day 65/mile 1130)

We have been living large of late – at least for PCT thru-hikers. After three lazy days in Mammoth Lakes (where life for Gus, Carter and me consisted of watching huge amounts of HBO, the Tour de France and leaving the hotel room a grand total of two or three times a day), it was a little bit tough to get back on the trail. Our recuperation time in Mammoth was probably the most physically lazy time that I have ever had in my life, a nice antidote to the physical endeavor we are on right now. It was also the longest time that we had spent in civilization for the past 47 days. I thought it would take me a bit longer to get used to the comforts of civilized first-world society (i.e. running water, electricity, shelter that’s not made out of netting, a plethora of food choices within walking distance…), but by day two the initial gratitude I had felt going into town  was gone,  to be replaced by my normal attitude of general complacency towards the whole modern world sha-bang — acceptance that that is just the way our developed society is, and with that, just totally taking the comfort of it all for granted.

It was a bit scary how fast I fell back into the mind-set of contentment sans gratitude for the ease in which all the comforts of life were available after spending 47 days in pretty consistent discomfort. After three days in Mammoth Lakes, living the good life was completely normal again, to where I had barely a fleeting thought to what life had been like for the past month and a half. Experiencing this drastic change in mentality in such a short amount of time-from being wholly appreciative of every little comfort present in the developed world, to taking it all for granted once again- helped me become a little bit more thankful for the different perspective that life on the trail provides.

Despite the fact that we had eaten (more than) our fill, and any ailments that our bodies may have had, had ample time for recovery, all three of us dragged our feet getting back on the trail. As we meandered back to the trailhead at Reds Meadows, we stopped for lunch, an ice cream sandwich, more bug repellent, and milkshakes, making our final start time a whopping 4 pm. But we weren’t back on the trail for long.

We hiked that evening, passing The Devil’s Postpile, one of the most magnificent national monuments I have ever seen. We slept, woke up and hiked, and slept again, before entering into Yosemite National Park, and descending into Tuolommne Meadows. IMG_1209[1]

 

IMG_1208[1]My mom and dad who were down in the area to hike part of the John Muir Trail met us at the Tuolomne General Store, who was going to join us for a couple weeks. It was really good to see familiar faces. Our parents took us back down into Mammoth for yet another night of hotel comfort and even spoiled us with a delicious dinner and re-supplied some of our necessary food (candy bars, chips, hot chocolate and dried fruit).

While we were only planning on spending one night off-trail with our parents, as we were driving back to the Tuolomne trailhead, Gus, Carter, Leah and I, on a whim, decided to prolong our absence from trail life just a bit longer and travel to the floor of the Yosemite Valley to see some of the legendary sights, (Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls etc.). It was a detour well worth it. We stayed at the tourist zoo that is Curry Camp and we were almost as amused by the people watching than with the views. Almost. The wildlife down in the valley was pretty interesting as well. Nothing, not bears, deer or ducks seemed to have any inherent fear of close proximity to humans. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but it did make for some good pictures. IMG_1204[1]IMG_1205[1]IMG_1206[1]

Unfortunately Carter had a commitment come up back home, so on the drive back to the PCT trailhead we dropped him off at Camp 4 with a sign that said “North, please.” He is now safely back in Tacoma and will hopefully be able to rejoin us for some sections in Oregon or Washington.

And then it was Gus, Leah, and me, back on the trail.

I say that we have been living “in the lap of luxury,” so to speak, for the last two weeks, for a few different reasons. The most prevalent of which, for Gus and me, has been the ability to take a break from the thru-hiking mentality and instead relax into what we now understand as “true backpacking.” Hiking with Leah for two weeks gave Gus and me a reason to slow down, stop worrying about mileage each day and simply enjoy. I have described our newfound distinction between thru-hiking and backpacking before (thru-hiking=worrying about mileage, skimping on comfort to make your pack lighter and being in pretty consistent pain whereas backpacking=enjoying nature, having enough food, being able to stop in a pretty place and appreciate what is around you), and over the last two weeks Gus and I were able to experience this dichotomy in full.

With Leah we hiked between 10 and 15 miles a day (although we did have two 20+ days, props to her), giving us ample time stop at (almost) every swimming hole, take naps at lunch, have hot chocolate in the morning and at night, sleep in, play cards, read good books, sunbathe…life on the trail has been very good.IMG_1207[1]IMG_1202[1]IMG_1003[1]IMG_1200[1]

Although everyone is required to carry a bear can through Yosemite, only Gus was lucky enough to see a bear while we were hiking through the park. We did have a scare one night, however, as we were all snug in our tents and heard a large animal huffing and puffing and moving around our campsite. We could see a very large outline against the moonlit sky. As we prepared to make ourselves big and make alot of noise (the prescribed action for scaring off black bears) Gus turned on his flashlight only to find a buck with a full rack of antlers (hence the big silhouette) grazing around our tents. Leah and I were relieved, but Gus was a bit disappointed that another bear-wrestling story had eluded him.

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I hiked for awhile before running into two other thru-hikers, “Coyote” and “Road-kill” that we had been leap-frogging since Kennedy Meadows. We hiked until we reached Sonora Pass, and with it a road that was a 40-minute hitch from the nearest town of Bridgeport, which, according to one PCT guide book had delicious pizza, burgers and beer. Although none of us had been planning on it, we decided to give the hitch a try. Food was just too tempting. After about ten minutes a green Subaru Forester pulled up, confirmed that he was headed to Bridgeport, and also that he had room for three. We were in luck.

It turned our that our driver had hiked part of the PCT in ’99 with his wife until a knee injury took him off the trail in Mammoth Lakes, where they consequently ended up settling down, and he is now a defense attorney in the area. This ended up being to our advantage (no, we didn’t get arrested), as he dropped us in Bridgeport and asked if we were trying to get back to the trailhead that night (which we were), he then talked to his friend, the friendly local Sheriff, who told us that whenever we needed a ride back, just to flag down the patrol car. He said that the the cops in town like giving rides to PCT hikers, as it is considerably safer than hitch-hiking. No objections there.

After pizza, beer, a few rounds of pool and some much needed re-stock of food from the general store for me, we walked outside to a waiting patrol car. “You girls still need a ride?” We were back at the trail-head by 11:30 pm. A successful town trip we decided unanimously.

Even after one day of ‘fast’ hiking I already missed the relaxed pace and leisurely breaks. We made it to Echo Lake with food to spare and were even greeted by a box of goodies from our Oma and Opa.

The luxury continued when we called family friends who lived in Gardnerville and had offered us a place to stay. We were driven to their beautiful home on the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe and treated to delicious home-made food, beds and showers for two nights. Thank you so much to Allan and PJ for being such gracious and generous hosts! IMG_1220[1]

(Sushi and sunset on Lake Tahoe)

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With only three more days on the trail with Leah, we lived it up, ate really well and swam to our hearts content. Allan recommended jell-o for breakfast while hiking and I think we are all converts. We even saw a baby bear in our last three miles!

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Leah goes home today and Gus and I are back to the trail. The past two weeks have been refreshing; we both remember now why we liked backpacking in the first place. When it’s about the activity of being outside, not an obsession over the miles, hiking becomes a much more enjoyable endeavor. Hopefully we will be able to incorporate some of the appreciation into our next section. However, now we are cutting it close. We want to make it home before October, before the snow starts falling in the North Cascades. Thus, we are in for many high-mileage days over the next few weeks.

Our waistlines have expanded back to their normal sizes, and our thru-hiking ethics have all but disappeared (a 12 mile day felt long the other day, I can’t wait to see how consistent 25-ers feel…), but our bodies are considerably well-rested and pain-free and we are starting to smell the fir trees of home. In a week-ish we will be hitting the halfway mark on the PCT, 370 miles later we’ll roll into Oregon, and 450 miles later we’ll be in  Washington, sweet Washington.

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Trail magic!

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(Lake Aloha at sunset)

 

Cheers to Leah for being such a trooper and hiking 180 PCT miles! Especially with waterproof boots which were conducive to blisters galore…

Also, many thanks to Karin Sable for letting us stay at her house and introducing us to her precious new puppy, Ptygo!

 

Until next time,

Elena

 

 

The snowy mountains called Sierra Nevada- Gus (day 49/mile 903)

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During the past couple of weeks we hiked from Kennedy Meadows (which had a huge selection of medicine called Ben and Jerry’s) at the Southern end of the Sierra Nevada to Mammoth Lakes in the heart of the Sierras. We left Kennedy Meadows with our packs filled with 10 days of food to get us through 200 miles of the trail. You never realize how much food you eat until you have to carry it all on your back. Our packs all weighed in the 44-54 pound range as we set out. Our spirits were high since we believed that we were finally out of the desert. The excitement of being in the mountains offset most of the weight in our packs. Little did we know that we still had nearly 70 miles to go in a mostly dry, waterless environment. The first water source that we reached was the South Fork of the Kern River. There were swallows flying upstream pooping in the water as well as cows grazing and dropping cow pies all around it. The water smelled funky and we could see little birdy turdys in the water so we aptly renamed it “Dookie River” or “Giardia Stream”. This was representative of our water situation in Southern California; water was physically scarce and when we would come across a water source it tended to be of low quality. Occasionally we wouldn’t filter the water and it was like playing Russian Roulette, only you did not know your fate for a couple of weeks. None of us have been stricken by a water-borne illness yet which is a testament to the quality of our water filters.

After a few days of hiking through desert mountains we reached Sequoia National Park and the first of many alpine lakes.

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The next day we arrived at Crabtree Meadows and set up a base camp for our day hike up to Mount Whitney. As we slowly trudged up the rocky granite trail we saw many day hikers in jeans who smelled fresh and clean; a foreign sight and scent to us. We reached the summit in the late afternoon. While we were up there we discussed the irony of how the tallest mountain in the continental United States (14,505 feet) is accessible by a strenuous day hike. It seems as if all difficulties are not expressed by any elevations, lengths, or numbers and are often hard to account for before they are encountered.

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The next 100 miles of the trail was a roller coaster of altitude change. Looking at the elevation profile for the trail reminded me of looking at a tide chart for Commencement Bay. We would rise up to a pass and then descend in to a valley and then go up just to go down again. The passes generally had at least one set of gnarly switchbacks which made it seem as if we were climbing a mountain every day. The most memorable pass was the first pass, Forester Pass, which at 13,200 feet is the highest point of the entire trail. We reached the pass and were all taken by an ethereal euphoric feeling. I have to admit that walking all day, everyday is rather tedious, exhausting, and not all that enjoyable, but it’s the moments like reaching Forester Pass that make this whole enterprise worth it. These kinds of places and times are my church and religion.

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As we continued through the mountains it became more and more apparent that the hike was not going to become much more enjoyable as we had imagined. In my mind I figured that with plentiful water, lower temperatures, and scenic views, everyday would be a happy stroll through wonderland. This fantasy was quickly destroyed when we woke up to bone-chilling temperatures and frozen water bottles.

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It took an hour of walking in the predawn chill before we regained some feeling in our toes. We even got some midyear snow as we descended from Glen Pass. After seeing the sunshine for 40 days straight, it was exciting to see a change of weather even if it meant that we might be drenched by nature’s super soaker.

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As we neared the end of the long stretch of unsupported hiking, we began to hear horror stories of the mosquitos to the North from Southbound hikers. We reached the infamous mosquito infested valley one evening and it was infinitely more hellish than we could have imagined. Ceasing walking for a couple of seconds resulted in tens of mosquitos on any open flesh. At one point we had to ford a creek barefoot and neither Carter nor I stopped to put our hiking shoes on on the other side; the bugs were too aggressive. Simply breathing resulted in an undesired high protein, low calorie insect snack. Eventually Carter and I put our shoes back on (Elena wisely did this after crossing the creek) and we all hiked for hours until the temperatures dropped enough for the mosquitos to head to bed. Ironically, this evening was one of the most fun nights on the trail so far. Anything that spices up the hike and breaks through the monotony of walking is viewed positively in my mind. Since arriving in the mountains, the freezing cold has been substituted for blazing heat of the desert, the weight of food has been substituted for the weight of water, and now we have to deal with Mosquitos as well. The grass is always greener on the other side. That’s the curse of expectations; if you have any, then they will let you down. We have spent the past few days resting our bodies in Mammoth Lakes. Tomorrow we are going back on the trail and into Yosemite National Park. We will keep on keeping on without anymore expectations and slowly, but surely, make our way home.

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