Thursday, October 2, 2014

What hiking the PCT has taught me

Firstly, it continues to blow my mind that this trail even exists. The fact that there is a continuous wilderness trail from the Mexican border in California to the Canadian border in Washington is astounding. It's not an easy trail either, as it runs along the Pacific mountain crest, including the mountains in the Mojave Desert, the Sierra Nevada, the Oregon Cascades and the Washington State Cascades. The geography ranges from hot, dry desert terrain with little or no water, into the high Sierras with snow and multiple 14,000 ft peaks, to the Oregon lava fields and lake regions and finally the steep, cold, wild and wet Washington mountains.

As my life has turned out, hiking this trail and living in the wild in my tent for 146 days has been a bridge for me from my 'old' life to my 'new' life. I had got divorced a year previously, quit my job, sold my house and most of my possessions and met a new love only three months before embarking on this epic five month sojourn, which meant I would be MIA from my home state of Hawaii. 

My biggest take home experience from this adventure is a renewed faith in humanity. I have experienced so many random acts of kindness with people expecting nothing in return, ongoing from the day I started until I finished. I am humbled at the kindness and generosity of so many people and I hope to pay it forward.

The trail is a metaphor for life. It is a journey for which you have to be present in and focused upon, one step at a time. You cannot focus on the destination as it will become overwhelming. The trail, as with life can be exciting, boring, filled with adventure, mundane, monotonous, filled with both beauty and ugliness, disappointment, elation, gratitude, fear, comfort, loneliness, solitude and companionship. I've met good people, bad people, kind people, indifferent people, angels, magic, planning, spontaneity and so the list goes on. The motto that comes from all of this is "Just Do It", live life to it's fullest potential.

I don't feel as though hiking the trail changed me, but I do feel that it reaffirmed some philosophies on life that I already had and influenced me to continue to pursue being my own authentic self. Never try to be someone else but you can evolve into the best version of yourself that you can possibly be.

Have hopes, dreams and desires but don't have too many grand expectations as you are likely to be disappointed. Rather focus on the present and enjoy all of life's little gifts that come your way on a daily basis which you might overlook if you're too focused on some potential, eventual outcome.

 I've realized how many people truly care about me and are interested in my life. This creates a feeling of happiness and belonging and highlights the significance that communication and affirmation can have in one's life. 

So many people gave me ongoing encouragement and support, in the form of messages, comments, gifts, resupply boxes, hitches, trail magic and encouragement. There are too many to name but I am eternally grateful to each and every person.

My kids Ian and Sian and my family and close friends and colleagues have been so important to the success of my adventure. I am incredibly fortunate to have all these people in my life.

I am in awe of my fellow PCT hikers. Even though I hiked the trail solo, I met amazing people along the way and made many friends, sometimes only hiking a day with them and other times seeing and camping with the same people for big sections. These people inspired me and motivated me, making me realize that I was not the only person struggling along. Seeing their stamina and endurance made me conscious of the fact that I too had those qualities and that I could continue even when the going got tough. Every hiker has moments of suffering and rewarding moments and it's good to know this when you're going through your own difficult moments. 

The trail also highlighted the importance of flexibility. As with life, a fixed, rigid approach does not always work out the way you want it to. The conditions along the trail, as with life change and sometimes throw curve balls at you. This happened to me with all the fires in northern California. I was initially very disappointed but being burnt alive or succumbing to smoke inhalation was never part of my game plan, so I had to go with the flow of things and go around the fires.

Last but not least, a true romance story always makes an adventure even better. Josh has been my biggest trail angel of them all. Although we only knew each other for three months prior to the trail, he stayed by my side and encouraged me every single day via satellite phone text messages. He also flew over from Hawaii three times, once to every state and the last was to be there for me when I finished and accompany me home. He has gone above and beyond for me and I am filled with gratitude and love for him.

So yes, a remarkable experience, a bridge and a successful endeavor with a happy ending. Carpe Diem!  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Good Stuff at the end of your Comfort Zone

Day 144-146:

I cannot remember the last time I have experienced such wet, bitter coldness. I was even shivering in all my layers inside my down sleeping bag last night. By 7am I was up and ready to roll and set out on my own as the other hikers weren't ready yet.
At the Rainy Pass parking lot, I met Ranger Jan and Kokopelli who had both decided to end their hike 62 miles before the end, each for their own reasons. It seemed such a pity but Ranger Jan asked me to write that they were at the finish in spirit in the monument register. 

The rains stopped and the day actually got sunny and I met weekend backpackers Steve and Chuck and had lunch with them at Cutthroat Pass, sitting on a rock drying out my tent overlooking spectacular scenery.

The trail then hugged the mountainside until Methrow Pass and then dipped into a cold, damp forest.

I set up camp at Brush Creek at 6:30 pm as I was feeling very cold and wanted to get into my sleeping bag after a 23mile/ 37 km day. PCT hiker, Lumber appeared at 7pm and thankfully camped nearby. Only 42.7/ 68.7 km miles until the end of the trail!

Day 145:

From Brush Creek I climbed the switchbacks up another mountain giving me great vistas before Harts Pass. 

Once I reached Harts, I felt emotionally, physically and mentally depleted. No-one was at the pass when I arrived except for a ranger who told me to go along the road to the trailhead. I misunderstood his directions and hiked a couple of miles down the incorrect road. Instinctively I wasn't feeling good about the directions and when I saw a truck approaching, I flagged it down to ask them if they knew where the trail was. They told me that I was on the wrong road and became my trail angels by driving me back up the road to the correct trail access. Not only did they rescue and help me but also showered me with trail magic in the form of treats and fruit and helped me feel a whole lot better. Thank you so much Greg, Ryan and Rachel Christensen!

Continuing north bound I started running into PCT hikers who had already finished but opted to hike back 30 miles from the monument at the border to Harts Pass instead of entering Canada. 
It was awesome seeing Hotpants, Guy on a Buffalo and Shimiko again and congratulations to them.
It's my last night sleeping on the PCT and I am in good company with Sad Fish, Happy Feet, Cloud Trousers aka Bird Bath, Lumber, Shutter, Yosemite Bear, Smoky and Goosebumps.
A bear came into our camp and Happy Feet chased it away by shouting loudly. I'm so glad I was with other hikers but I went to sleep with my mace by my side anyway.
Tomorrow I complete my journey.

Day 146:

A day I shall never forget! 
The motivation to hike fast was high and there was still a fair amount of climbing before the big plunge down to the monument. 

It really felt like no man's land out here, wild and rough with awesome vistas out there on the horizon which went on forever.

The weather forecast was for rain and snow tonight and I watched the sky filling with clouds as the day progressed.
Most of my hiking today was with Sad Fish and Shutter and we reached the monument at the Canadian border around 3pm. 

What an incredible feeling I experienced on arrival at the end. Clapping and cheering from the hikers who had arrived there earlier but were lingering to savor the moment. 

To my absolute joy, Pippen, Stringcheese and K2 where there. I had spent many special moments with them throughout my journey and it was meaningful to be at the monument with them.

Stringcheese had brought along some fun inflatable suits to wear at the finish, so I put on the sumo wrestler and Sad Fish wore the horse. We were all rolling around with laughter.

Soon, Topshelf, Banjo, Smoky and Goosebumps arrived and I was able to get a group photo with these awesome people I had hiked with at the end, including Sad Fish and Shutter.

Another amazing person to be at the finish was Cloud Trousers who potentially saved me on day two of the trail simply by showing up at the abandoned campsite at Boulder Oak when I found myself alone there, being watched by a creepy man in a truck who left when Cloud Trousers arrived. Another one of my angels.

Well done to everyone else there at the finish, all very special people.
The drizzle started again and I did not want to spend another night in a cold, wet tent, so I hiked out into Manning Park resort in Canada, making it a 27 mile/ 43.5 km day.  

It was dark and rainy when I arrived at the resort lodge and that night the higher elevations in the last section of trail did get some snow, while I snuggled in a nice warm, comfortable bed.
Tomorrow I catch a bus to Vancouver and then go on to a week of celebration and R&R in Seattle with Josh who is meeting me there.
Wow! What an epic adventure! What a journey! Thank you PCT for providing me with the chance to experience life in this manner.
The good stuff happens at the end of your comfort zone.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Of Mice and Mountains

Day 137-143:
This section is from Stevens Pass near Skykomish to the remote, not easily accessible town of Stehekin ( a Native American word meaning "the way through").
This town came about in 1890 with the "Homesteading Act", when the government was giving out free parcels of land to people who wanted to do remote subsistence farming. The town is also situated on the banks of Lake Chelan 50 miles long and 1486ft deep located in one of the deepest ravines in North America and is only accessible on foot via the PCT or via ferry across the lake. It was no picnic getting here and I suffered quite a bit. The terrain was extremely steep and I had three days of non stop soaking, cold rain. Victory will not be easy!

Day 137:
I had breakfast with Indie, Art Gypsy and Legend at the Cascade Inn diner and was picked up to be taken to the Dinsmore Hiker Haven in Baring, nearby. I felt so welcomed by Andrea and Gerry who run this wonderful place.

The hiker lounge felt like home and last year PCT hiker "Soup Nazi" (named after a character in Seinfeld when he was overheard rationing his hiker partner's food), hung up a South African flag here, which I signed. Super fun! Thank you Andrea, Gerry and all those who volunteer there for all you do for the hikers. 

I was kindly driven back to Stevens Pass to resume the PCT, hiking past gorgeous Valhalla Lake 

and making it to tranquil Janus Lake by sunset where I discovered a great campsite on the shore of the lake where a weekend backpacker named Jamie was already camped. I felt safer camping near another hiker and was grateful for that.

Day 138:

A 20 mile/32km day. It was tough with a lot of accumulated elevation gain. The highlight of my day was seeing two bear cubs frolicking in a meadow and scampering up and down a tree. They were grunting gently in conversation with each other. I did not see mamma bear but was sure she was nearby so I kept walking and didn't stop to try and take photographs. The memory photos I have in my mind are amazing!

I saw what I thought was Mnt Baker which was exciting because I've been told that when I see it, it means I've almost completed my journey. The abundance if blueberries and huckleberries slowed me down somewhat as I couldn't resist eating handfuls enroute. 

I reached Sally Ann Lake at sundown and here I met a south bounding section hiker called "Lollygagger" who just happens to be a nurse. 

We camped near each other at lovely campsites beside this scenic alpine lake which was filled by a waterfall off to the side and enjoyed talking over camp food supper.

I am elated and excited that Josh is going to meet me in Washington at the end. He texted me via the satellite phone that he had just booked his airline tickets. I feel so blessed to have him in my life. He had been my most incredible trail angel and has gone above and beyond for me for which I am most grateful. 
Today was perfect weather and I'm sure I saw Washington at it's best.

Day 139:
I was awoken by the crack and boom of thunder and lightening. As I looked out of the tent door, the sky was heavy with thick, dark thunder clouds. I jumped out of my tent and tried frantically to pack up camp before the heavens opened but the rain came bucketing down shortly after that, so I crawled back inside and hunkered down for awhile. After about an hour it let up enough for me to pack up camp and I hiked on in my rain gear including Frogg Toggs, Golite umbrella and a pack cover that kept everything dry.

It was a day of beautiful vistas even though it rained half the day.

By noon it had stopped raining and I reached Reflection Pond where I had a lunch break and dried my tent out in a little patch of sun.

The trail then ran along a mountainside with more epic vistas and dropped down into a forest, crossing many rivers and creeks. 

"Guy on a Buffalo" came charging past me. I hadn't seen him since California, so it was nice to see a familiar face.

I ended up camping at the trail fork to Kennedy Hot Springs next to a hiker who made a campfire in the middle if the trail and proceeded to talk either to himself or his invisible friends which was a little disconcerting. I hoped that I would be safe as there were no other people anywhere nearby and had difficulty falling asleep.

Day 140:

At 2am I heard the rain starting again and the other hiker who didn't have a tent but slept between a sheet of builders tyvec which makes a crinkly noise was fidgeting and throwing more wood on his fire. I could hear critters scurrying around outside my tent all night too. I even thought I felt something run across my sleeping bag too but in the dark, told myself not to be paranoid. It happened to be real though because in the morning when I woke up, a big hole had been gnawed into my tent and there was mouse poop everywhere. 
When I got out of my tent at 6am, the strange person was gone and I packed up in the drizzle.

The topography of the trail today was gnarly with an unbelievable amount if climbing and descent. I climbed up near to the top of some snowy peaks in the Glacial Peak Wilderness where I was being blasted by wind and rain and on the start of my descent was rewarded with the sight of exquisite Mica Lake.

 As I continued on the downward plunge of never ending switchbacks, I could see another set of never ending switchbacks going up the mountain across from me and knew with dread that I would have to climb those. 

Once up the other side and near a viewpoint on a ridge with a camp called Dolly Vista Viewpoint, I saw a lot of marmots again and the foliage was so wet that my shoes and clothes were sodden. I continued down the side of this next mountain along the switchbacks with too many blown down trees to count and make it to Vista Creek by dark.
I set up my tent as darkness and the rains fell and patched up the mouse hole with some tenacious tape on the outside and duct tape on the inside, hoping it would hold out and prevent repeat offenses from mice.

Day 141:

 Another sleepless night in a torrential downpour. I was awoken at 0148 by a mouse scurrying over me in my tent again! I'm not sure whether it was the same one as the night before who perhaps hitched a ride in my backpack, because he looked very dry. There was however, a new hole chewed into my tent door which I darned closed with my sewing kit at 2am after evicting the mouse. I had a full bladder all night and didn't want to get out in the rain, added to the fact that it's cold out there!

I packed up my tent in the rain and of course everything was soaking wet. I wore my long hiking pants, long sleeved running shirt and Frogg Toggs all day and they kept me warm and dry. Without the pack rain cover and umbrella, I would not have had a single dry item.
I haven't seen another person in two days of hiking. It's wet, cold and the climbs are brutally steep and relentless.
Eventually after hiking all day and into the night, in the spooky, dark, damp woods, I camped by myself next to a river in a wet tent. Fortunately I had a space blanket which I placed on the inside floor of my tent to act as insulation against the cold ground.

As I pulled my tent out of the side pocket of my pack, guess what popped out? A mouse! He lounged there for a bit, one foot draped over the rim of the pocket and looked at me as if to say, "How ya 'doin"? Gosh, the nerve!
Only 6 miles into Stehekin tomorrow, thank goodness.

Day 142:

A six mile hike to High Bridge and I caught the bus to Stehekin, a quaint, tiny town with a ranch, a veggie garden, a famous bakery and a lodge. 
The bus stopped at the bakery and "The Garden", a wonderful veggie produce farm where I bought two delicious, huge, juicy peaches.

On arrival at the lodge I heard people call out "Two Feathers" and I knew I was amongst friends again. It was great seeing so many hikers I knew, but my priority was to dry out my tent and sleeping bag, do laundry and resupply for the final leg of the journey.

The town has no cell phone service, no internet and one public phone. A ferry and a seaplane brings people over from the outside world. 

I found out that the store at the lodge would be shutting down for winter in 12 days time. Good thing I made it just in time.
The rain continued and I'm hoping for improved weather tomorrow.

Day 143:

I actually slept in until 0730 which is rare and had blueberry pancakes for breakfast at the Stehekin Lodge restaurant overlooking beautiful Lake Chelan and the surrounding mountains. 

Then it was a rush to pack up and catch the shuttle bus to the trail at High Bridge.
I set out on the final leg of the trail with nine fantastic hikers, Topshelf, Banjo, Shutter, Sad Fish, Happy Feet, Smoky, Goosebumps, Ranger Jan and Kokopelli.
It was pleasant hiking uphill as the gradient went up gradually. We passed Coon Lake and various creeks and ended up camping at Fireweed Creek campsite.

 What a treat to camp with such an awesome group of people and not be alone in the woods at night. The mice are still a huge problem, more so than the bears. Many hikers have come down with diarrhea and they think it might be due to the rodent problem and having their food bags broken into by them. I'm also not the only one who has had holes chewed into their tent!
I found a new use for a space blanket: wrap it around your food bag. The mice wont chew through it and if they try, it'll make a crinkly sound and wake you up.
Goodnight mice, bears and things that go bump in the night.