California Rest In Peace – Gus (Day 90/ mile 1727)

Hellllllloooo Oregon! After three months of walking, eating, sleeping, and pooping in California we have arrived in Oregon. I am getting ahead of myself though. I will start back where I miraculously healed in Mt. Shasta, California.
After Elena left Chester to get back on the trail, I made my way by public transportation and hitching to the quaint little town of Mt. Shasta. I was resting on a bench with my house, food, clothes, and all my other belongings (my pack) when a vagabond sat next to me with his dog. We began to talk. He introduced himself as ‘Dirt’ and his dog, who was a mix between a dingo, a coyote, and a pitbull, as Alabama. When he heard that I was injured, he said that he had something for me. Dirt pulled out a bottle with an herbal tincture that he had created and instructed me to squirt some down the back of my throat. Last time that I had an injury similar to this, it took a month to recover with a walking boot so my morale was rather low. Maybe if I hadn’t been so tired or bummed about my shin or desperate for a remedy I wouldn’t have taken it, but as it was I took the dropper and gave myself a liberal squirt. For the next couple of hours I received a lecture on time, being, ego, and the interconnectedness of the universe as well as being treated to an energetic bluegrass concert from this wanderer named Dirt.

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Later, I was picked up by our family friend, Weston, and taken to his house. I owe many thanks to Weston for being a wonderful host and to the Stroud family for allowing me to recover at their awesomely off-the-grid, solar powered home. I awoke the morning after taking Dirt’s homemade medicine and thought I was dreaming. Even when I would try to induce pain in my shin it refused to hurt. A 100% recovery overnight. I do not know if the healing was due to Dirt’s potion, which I thought could only be produced by Professor Snape, or if my body is better at repairing itself after months of continual damage. I am exceedingly grateful either way. After spending the better part of a week around Mt. Shasta, which is reminiscent of a naked Mt. Rainier, I met back up with Elena near Castle Crags State Park.

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We ascended up from the I-5 corridor to an elevation where we looked eye to eye with the crags. The Castle Crags are tall granite spires which poke out of the rolling hills of Northern California. It’s as if a small part of Kings Canyon National Park was transplanted and placed just south of Mt. Shasta. From here the trail followed many ridges northwest. The forecast for the next few days called for likely thunderstorms which greatly excited Elena, as usual. Unfortunately for her the PCT was built underneath blue skies. Over the course of the next day we avoided the rain completely, but when we looked at where we just were or where we were going there were ominous thunderheads and streaks of rainfall.

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The same day that we managed to evade the rain was the same day that the trail led south. Around the Trinity Alps the PCT takes a U-turn and leads you towards Mexico for 30 miles. Imagine a teacher asking you to write a paragraph for an essay in class and then telling you “Okay now erase that paragraph, but write it again once you have erased it.” That is kind of what it felt like to turn our compass rose around and then continue cruising. As with all things, the frustration ended when we decided that the whole hiking south deal was so absurd that it was hilarious. Nothing defeats anger quite like some light humor. We attained a northward bearing again and made an unexpected hitch in to Etna under cloudy skies.

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Elena and I ran out of batteries and wanted some food so we figured Etna would be a pleasant stop. After we filled our bellies, restocked our snacks, and charged our electronics, we arranged a shuttle to get back up to the trail. Once we reached Etna Summit we took our packs and were immediately entranced by the view. On the horizon was a dense mixture of clouds and smoke from the Salmon Fire. The clouds and haze were salmon pink as if they were on fire as well.

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We were so awestruck that Elena didn’t even realize that her phone did not make it out of Etna. We flagged down a ride for the fourth time that day and rode down to Etna with the man who was in charge of the fire camp near the fire. Now I will take a time-out to recall a couple of other instances when Elena forgot an instrumental piece of gear. Day 7: Elena forgot her solar charger at a trail angel’s house and did not realize until we had camped 2 miles away. This made for a refreshing starry run under the full moon to retrieve the charger, as I was the only one in our party who was not in some sort of pain. Day 15: Elena forgot her poles at another trail angel’s house. The trail angel was kind enough to take us back to the house to pick them up. I became frustrated the first time it happened, but then I noticed that some of my favorite conversations and moments occurred during these unplanned trips. They are what make this trip an adventure. These unexpected happenings allow me to not think about what just happened or what will happen, but to be in the moment which is conducive to being more immersed in the experience at hand.

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The next morning we returned to Etna Summit to begin hiking again. Armadas of fire trucks drove by us and helicopters buzzed by overhead. This was a war zone and the enemy was the fire. At first, all of the activity inspired and excited me, but then it left me a little hollow. All of these firefighters had a distinct purpose in being there and doing what they were doing; to fight the fire. I, on the other hand, am walking from Mexico to Canada without the same type of purpose. I now see that a balance is necessary between pastimes done for oneself and activities done for a cause greater than oneself. For the next couple of days, Elena and I slowly descended down to Seiad Valley. Walking through all of the smoke was eerie as we could only make out the outlines of the nearby hills and Marblehead Mountains.

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After watching some people attempt the pancake challenge in Seiad Valley, in which a person must eat 5, 1-pound pancakes in two-hours, we began the steep ascent back to the mountains. I felt like a child on Christmas Eve that night as I was trying to fall asleep. The next day we would cross the border into Oregon. We did not realize how big California is until we had to walk across it. We woke up early and started to hike under the stars since our excitement wouldn’t allow us to sleep anymore. During mid-morning we met a woman who had sold her home four years prior and had been traveling ever since. She told us of its rewards and we could feel her happiness emanating all around. On the PCT we have met many folks who haven’t followed the status quo lifestyle of going to school and then getting a career. Lots of these people work seasonal jobs, find work where they travel, or have other ways of supporting themselves. To them, the idea of working to support a lifestyle in which it is necessary to work seems like a pointless cycle. Instead these people find ways to do what they want to do even if it means sacrificing some comfortable securities like having a home. They don’t lack work ethic or ambition, they just see life differently. Everyday is a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore the world and all its curiosities for them and from what I perceive they are all the happier for it.
Elena and I reached the border a little after midday. I pulled out the bottle of champagne I had been carrying since Seiad Valley and tried to pop the top, but the top just fell off without an exciting pop. In the same way, reaching the border was a huge achievement for us, but we had no rush of elation or overpowering sense of joy. Similar to the midpoint, reaching the Oregon border was an anti-climactic experience, one that is more exciting conceptually than in reality. According to old, wise Elena, many things in life turn out that way. I, young, foolish Gus, am learning the value of the much used cliche that it is the journey that matters most, not the destination. It was only then that I was able to look back on all of California, including the desert, with a fond mind. I guess that through the haze of nostalgia even unpleasant experiences can be remembered with an ounce of appreciation.

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Fuelled by a bottle of champagne, pounds of gummy candy, the fresh Oregon air and the blood orange moon, Elena and I walked through the night until we found a nice rocky stream bed to sleep on. We slept 40 miles from where we awoke that day. The following morning we walked east towards I-5 again. In Ashland, our Oma and Opa treated us to some Shakespeare, some good food, and plenty of much needed rest. It was a wonderful treat and we are grateful for it.
Thanks once again to everyone who has supported us in any manner whether it is words, thoughts, rides, food, or any other help. Also, Elena and I are nearing our goal in our PCT: Promoting Community Transformation fundraiser! If you are unsure what this is or would like to donate, check it out at http://ettaprojects.seeyourimpact.org/.

See you soon Washington!

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NorCal Bootcamp (day 81/mile 1506)

(Pictures to be added when I get a better internet connection)

After almost three months on the PCT, it’s gotten to the point where the majority of my dreams are about, or revolve around, the trail. Whether I am having a conversation with a friend or playing a game of soccer I always seem to have this feeling that I need to get back to something,that the activity that is occupying my attention in the dream is only secondary to some other duty or task that I really must get back to. After having this experience night after night, I realized that it was not only in my dreams that I felt this perpetual pull towards the trail, but the feeling has pervaded my waking life too.
It’s like being in the middle of writing a senior thesis. You know that no matter how many articles you read in a day, books you read in a week or pages you write, the end goal and finished project is still months away. But with that, its very difficult to be fully satisfied with the progress you make each day because that timeline is so long and it feels that you always could do more in a day. It’s always pulling at the back of your mind. There’s always progress to be made. Likewise with the trail.
I’ve spent the last week trying to find that fine line between enjoyment (the living in the moment part) and the all-consuming obsession of getting to Canada (pushing harder, getting bigger miles, finding limits). It’s made for a week of ups and downs for sure.

Last time Gus posted we were staying at a trail Angels house in Beldentown. Brenda Braaten treated us to homemade peanut butter cookies and a stirfry with vegetables freshly picked from her garden. Trail heaven. There were a few other hikers there and as we chowed down we swapped stories of bad-ass-ery (or stupidity) on the trail. One guy had just gotten back from trying to south-bound the PCT in Washington. His attempt ended when he had to get heli-evacked off a snowy ridge because he got vertigo so bad that he couldn’t move and ran out of food. Another hiker told us about how, at the beginning, he had tried to fuel his body off of pure glucose with very little protein. He lost 20 pounds in 20 days and came in to one trail angels house smelling of ammonia. He found out later that this was because his muscles had started eating themselves with so little body fat to keep him going. There were mostly tales of extremity to a stupid degree. The baddest ass award however, went to a story told by a trail angel about Anish, a woman who is attempting to break the overall speed record for unsupported PCT hike this yearn. I guess this trail angel asked Anish if she could bring anything to the trailhead for her. Anish replied “Yes please, French toast and super glue.” The French toast was for the obvious reason but the superglue, as the trail angel soon found out, was so that Anish could glue moleskin onto her tailbone. She had so little body fat left that her pack was rubbing her tailbone raw to where ( the trail angel claims) it was coming out of her skin! Nothing like a little moleskin and superglue to fix it right up.
Anyways, Gus and I were pumped up/mesmerizingly disgusted by these stories. But it also helped to realize that we were not the only ones hurting everyday out here. Pain is just part of this game, I guess.
With renewed vigor to just go, the next day we headed out of Beldentown and into Lassen National park. After ridge-climbing for the better part of the day we found a five-star campground with a stunning view of Mt. Lassen and the surrounding mountains.
The following day, day 73, we made it to the halfway point! It was a little anticlimactic seeing as how the monument was a little two foot post sticking out of the ground, but it was humbling to be there nonetheless.
A few more miles down the trail, a mountain lion jumped out in front of us. In fiercesome hand-to-paw combat, Gus fought it off, leaving him with debilitating tendinitis in his upper ankle. Well, almost all that is true. Save for the mountain lion part, a few miles after the halfway mark, the soreness that Gus had been experiencing in his lower shin region for the past few days transformed from a dull ache to searing pain. He wisely decided that this was not a “no pain, no gain” or “grin and bear it” situation (as some other thru-hikers had suggested). We were lucky enough to pass through the lovely town of Chester, CA in the next ten miles, so he wrapped it up, popped some ibuprofen and made it to civilization in one piece.
After a zero-day in Chester, Gus and I parted ways. He took the bus to Mt. Shasta where he was able to stay with Westin, the cousin of my dear best friend (thank you Strouds!!) and heal up a bit. I made my way back to the trail and NorCal bootcamp began.
The first 36 hours I did not see a single other PCT hiker. This was odd because for the last two weeks we’d seen about 5-10 others a day. This pushed me to do bigger miles at first, hoping that I’d catch up with other hikers that we’d met earlier. It wasn’t until the next resupply that I ran into people I knew and hiked with them for awhile.
Some people wanted to night-hike so they could get to church in Redding the next day so I thought, what the hay, a little night hiking is always fun. Day 78 I hiked until 1 am with a brutal 5 am wake-up the next morning. The scenery was beautiful as we walked along a rim overlooking Mt. Lassen, but around 1 pm the next day I completely bonked. As my college roommates know very well, I am not one of those people who can function, or even remain coherent, on less than 7 hours of sleep. I told the people I was with to go on and that needed take a big fat nap. And nap I did. For five hours.
My mood had become so foul from lack of sleep that I was experiencing a serious crisis of motivation to be on the trail. Everything hurt and Canada seemed so far away. However, after a refreshing nap my head was back on straight and after walking a few more miles, I was pleasantly surprised by the Wild Bird trail magic cache where I feasted on Pringles, cracker jacks, a butter finger and a beer for dinner. Yum!
I had discovered my limit on hours of sleep needed and the next few days I played with pushing miles and figuring out the most effective way to fuel myself (constant stream of sugar all day or just when tired? Snack throughout the day or three meals?). One would think that we’d have all this figured out halfway in, but I am still learning.
The low point was sugar crashing hard one day at 2 pm. I fell asleep by a stream and didn’t wake up until hikers were making dinner around me. I met some awesome new people but didnt get too many miles in that day.
The high point was (almost) getting in my first 40-miler. Around 6 pm that day, some nice dad-like campers out for the weekend stopped me and the girl I was hiking with and told us that “we hadn’t lived until we had had an espresso in the woods.” They whipped out two deluxe camping espresso makers and entertained us with stories of their kids and own youths (all the while telling classic dad jokes). We had a caffeine kick going for the rest of the night but clocked in at 38 miles when our feet finally quit. Ah well, next time.
Meanwhile, Gus was given some healing elixir from a vagabond in Shasta (his story to tell in the next post), and is feeling almost 100% better. He hiked in and met me before Castella and is now back on trail. We spent the day today picking blackberries, getting our resupply box and talking to other hikers. An enormous amount of people are becoming injured and dropping out through NorCal. We thank our lucky stars that we are healthy and have made it this far!
I know that I’ve said it before but thank you all again for your support and words of encouragement. They help re-inspire us when we’ve forgotten why we wanted to hike this dang trail in the first place. We are so looking forward to crossing a state border (finally!) this week and being that much closer to beautiful Washington (although we are very excited for Oregon, too).

Until next time,
Elena