The PCT: One Month Later

One month ago today, I finished hiking the PCT. I spent the day working at Donut Savant and at one point, someone asked me how my trip had been. This is a question I struggle to answer because it was so many things. Usually my answer is something lame like, “It was… amazing, the best.” Today I said, “It was…everything.” Because it literally was, everything.

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One of the most special things about the trail is that you get to come out and be whoever you want to be. Maybe in your past life you were a drug addict or an alcoholic. Maybe you suffered from depression or severe social anxiety. Maybe you were a workaholic and woke up one day to realize your life was speeding by and you weren’t really experiencing it. Maybe you bullied or were bullied. But the minute you step foot on the trail, you simply love and are loved by the people around you. People ask you what you’re doing with your life instead of what you’re doing with your career. You talk about your biggest fears, your darkest shadows, and your hopes and dreams. The shape of your character is valued more than the shape of your body. It’s a place to simply be you.

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We all walked with pain, physical and emotional. Our feet hurt, our knees hurt, our hips hurt, our backs hurt. We were hot, we were cold, we were wet. There were shin splints, blisters, sprained ankles. One of my closest friends on the trail walked with a stress fracture in her foot. Every morning her face twisted in pain as she shoved her swollen foot into her shoe. And yet she walked with a smile on her face. I cried in front of more people I had just met and had more people I’d just met cry in front of me, than I’ve ever experienced in my life. And there was no discomfort, no saying things to try and stop the tears. Just a kind presence, thoughtful commentary, shared experiences. My friend Bailey joked that she could hear me catching up to her because she’d hear my trekking poles and my sniffles coming up from behind.

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Through these incredible, wonderful, strong, and inspiring people, I learned to forgive, to be honest, to make hard choices that were good for me. I learned to love myself for my values and my dreams, and to be vulnerable even though it’s frankly terrifying. I laughed harder and more often than I ever have in my life.

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And then there was the hiking, the actual living in the woods for five months and six days. I would give anything to be back there right now. To experience the beauty and wonder of 2,650 miles of some of the most stunning landscape in the United States is a privilege that I will be forever grateful for. Watching the sun set in the mountains in the company of a deer. Walking through fields of sage and wildflowers. Sleeping by bubbling brooks with nothing separating you from the blanket of stars over your head. Living out there in the actual real world allows you to put into perspective what is truly important in our lives. And to me that is time. This may be the most important thing that the PCT gave me.

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And then there was the fear. Getting caught in a lightning storm on top of a pass. Literally running for your life as the lightning strikes around you. Hearing a bear sniff around your tent while you’re alone in the woods at night. Falling and twisting your ankle. Feeling the beginning of shin splints and hoping you make it to Canada before they really hit. Feeling the painful grumble of hunger and knowing you have two granola bars in your food bag to last the next 24 hours.

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For every beautiful view, there was probably an area scarred by fire. For every bruise and cut and scrape, there was triumph in rock hard leg muscles. For every tear shed, there were a hundred moments of gust-busting laugher. The PCT was everything and more, impossible to help someone to understand in one or two sentences. But that’s okay. Some people think hikers are crazy, some people are inspired, but at the end of the day we hike for ourselves and what we get out of it is all that really matters. And so, I’ll spend the winter working at the donut shop, dreaming of one day again calling the woods my home, and spouting off the same answer, “it was amazing, the best.” Because that’s also the truth.

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Stehekin to Manning Park: The Home Stretch

We left Stehekin with one thing on our mind: potato chips. What?! You mean Canada?! Nope, I mean potato chips. After a few days of being painfully hungry, we were really craving potato chips and Stehekin didn’t have any because they close down for the winter.

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And so, when we realized it was possible to get off the trail and go to a store in Mazama, we figured what the hey, let’s do it! We got picked up by the most wonderful family coming home from a camping trip- three sisters, a mom, and a whole herd of children, in an old church van turned adventure-mobile. We got to Mazama and the store was closed, so we went on to Winthrop and had an absolutely amazing night. Hostel bungalow, pizza, wine, and great company, not to mention another bed!

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The next day before getting back on the trail, we offered to pick some apples for a trail angel, who turned out to be the first female to thru-hike the PCT in 1976. Ravensong was wonderful and such an inspiration!

Off we went to the trail, and I wasn’t sure how I was even feeling. It kind of felt like the days leading up to college graduation. You’re excited because it’s a huge accomplishment and it’s really challenging sometimes, but you’re not quite sure you’re ready to be done. Except I was really quite sure I wasn’t ready to be done.

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The last night on the trail, Roulette, Snooze, and I camped together at a lake and made hot dogs on a fire with one beer each. We laughed, I cried, and went to bed thinking how weird it was that this was my last night living in the woods for the foreseeable future.

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With only six miles to go the next morning, we were nearing the border before we knew it and about half a mile away, we heard Pie’s bird call. We called back, and I started running towards the end, suddenly overcome with emotions and tears streaming down my face. Pie had randomly been making a video and done the call for the video, she didn’t even know we were there!!

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Pie’s wonderful girlfriend Jamie had driven up from Portland and packed in a mini-bottle of champagne for each of us to celebrate with! It was absolutely freezing, as in fingers hurting, can’t stop shivering freezing, and this kind of distracted me from accepting the end. We hiked the 8ish miles into Manning Park and before I knew it we were zipping towards Vancouver and away from the PCT. I did it, I thru-hiked the PCT!

Skykomish to Stehekin: Holy Hard

We headed back to Stevens Pass from Skykomish on a beautiful, sunny day. Our friend, Snooze, had snoozed hard in the last segment and still hadn’t caught us and we were a bit worried about him. We hung out for a few hours at Stevens Pass trying to figure out what to do and finally got an update from his spot that he was on the move, about 13 miles from Stevens Pass. Great, he’ll catch up at Stehekin. Just as we were about to leave, our dear friend Pie walked over from the other side of the building. She had been sitting there for hours and none of us had any idea that we were just around the corner from each other. We were ecstatic to run into each other and headed gleefully into the woods.

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We had a few days of nice weather ahead of us and were eager to get into Stehekin before the rain was scheduled to start. This meant 30 miles days. Great, it’s just about what we had been doing.

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What we didn’t realize because we hadn’t checked the elevation profiles, was that we were about to head into some of the toughest days on the entire trail. These 30 mile days included around and one day exceeding 20,000 feet of elevation change per day. The biggest problem was that most people didn’t account for the huge gain in appetite and we found ourselves running out of food. I was lucky enough that Roulette had extra food to share and managed to get to the Stehekin trail-head starving but not dangerously so.


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We also didn’t realize we were about to hike into some of the most stunningly beautiful scenery on the trail. It was a bit like the Sierras but a bit more rugged somehow, and there was no one out there! This magical fairyland all to ourselves.

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This section was a bit weird for me because my body is ready to be done hiking. My knees hurt, I’m cold, my back pain keeps me awake at night, and so sometimes does my hip pain. My stomach feels queasy and unwell most of the time, probably from the packaged food I’ve been eating for five months. My feet are starting to blister again and they just ache for hours when I’m sitting down. Ibuprofen has become my best friend.

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But despite all this, my mind is not ready to be done. The woods are my home. They’re peaceful and safe and beautiful. I’m my best and most open self on the trail, and I’m scared I won’t be able to bring that back into society. The lakes and the trees and the mountains and the valleys still take my breath away.

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And the people. Oh the people. When we arrive in Stehekin, the rain starts falling and we’re all huddled under a little deck, waiting for the bus. Twelve or so of us, dirty, wet, smelly, starving, blissfully happy hikers crammed together in the freezing cold, brought together by this one thing, the trail. When the bus comes out, hikers leaving Stehekin are getting off and we’re all hugging and catching up. But as we go to say, “see ya in the next town,” we realize that this is it. It’s goodbye.

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Stehekin is a place you can only get to by hiking, float plane, or a 4 hour ferry ride, no cars. There is a hotel, a store, a restaurant, and the most incredible bakery in the world. The bus just happens to stop at the bakery on the way to the hotel and we ran in there and bought as much as we could hold. Cinnamon rolls, sourdough crust bbq chicken calzones, cupcakes, pizza, pie. I can honestly say it was the best food I tasted on the trail!

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Stehekin continued to amaze me. It was beautiful, the hotel was super comfy and amazing, I stuffed myself silly multiple times at the bakery, and the farmer in town let me borrow his truck to run errands without even knowing my name! This is a place I will be in again in my life time.

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Snoqualmie to Skykomish: Life after the PCT?

When you start the PCT, it seems like an almost impossible dream to reach the end. As I took my first steps on the trail my longest backpacking trip to date had been 29 miles, done over two and a half days. Even now after I’ve hiked well over 2,000 miles, it’s hard to imagine walking that far. California takes forever. You reach the Sierras, then the 1,000 mile mark and realize, woah, there are still 1,650 miles left. This has been so incredibly hard and I’m not even halfway. The last 700 miles of California drag on and on until you finally make it to Oregon. Then another woah, there’s less than 1,000 miles left, maybe I’ll actually finish! But still 900 miles by foot is a long way, and somehow it seems like life on the trail will last forever.

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Until you’re suddenly two town stops and less than two weeks from the Canadian border. You’ve been putting off making any decisions about what you’ll do after the trail and suddenly it punches you right in the face. It’s time to figure some things out. I found out in White Pass that I made it through the first round of applications for my dream farm internship at Polyface Farms for next summer. I’ll be heading there in November for the in-person interview. But that’s not until next summer, what about the winter? I had thought about continuing the travel adventure but dang the PCT is expensive so my nest egg for after the trail was history. And so I spent the segment from Snoqualmie to Skykomish obsessing over this. Should I move to Ashland and work at the raw place? Should I go back to Oakland? Should I move home to save money?

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The pain in my quad was intense leaving Snoqualmie and by the time we reached the Goldmeyer hot springs I had intense, sharp pains shooting up my leg with every step. However after a few magical hours in the hot springs, the pain was suddenly gone, never to be felt again. Thank goodness!!!

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The stretch of trail to Skykomish was filled with epic views and lakes that were the most beautiful blue I’ve ever seen. The day before Skykomish was hard and rainy, and I camped a couple miles before the rest of my group. In the middle of the night I had a surprise visitor, a mouse had chewed through my tent and was staring at my from it’s perch on my legs! And so there I was in the pouring rain, pulling all of my stuff out of my tent, trying to keep it relatively dry, while trying to get the darn mouse out of my tent!

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The next day I booked it into Skykomish, eager to get out of the absolutely pouring rain. We hung every piece of wet gear and clothing all over our hotel room like true hiker trash and feasted on beer and cheese puffs in bed. Oh dear, what have I become?

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There seem to be at least one million trees across the trail every mile. This was a bit ridiculous!

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On a bright note, I texted my amazing friend, Laurel, who owns Donut Savant in Oakland and she’s going to let me work for her for the winter and live in her tiny house in the backyard!

White Pass to Snowqualmie: Doubt

Leaving White Pass, the day was bright, beautiful, and warm. That weather continued for the rest of the day.

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And then cold. Rain. Snow. Fog. I walked along the trail, my feet throbbing with pain, shivering as the snow flew into my eyes thinking, I am not going to make it to Canada. It’s already snowing and we still have hundreds of miles to go. There’s no way I’m making it to Canada. And I repeated this to myself in my head for literally hours. Doubting my ability. Doubting my strength.

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Usually I can talk myself out of these situations but today that was not the case. We had heard there was trail magic a few miles up the trail but when we got there, nothing. We were hiking through Mt. Rainier National Park but the epic few in front of us was completely fogged over. It seemed like I couldn’t catch a break that day.

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Luckily the trail has a way of providing exactly what you need and as I rolled into camp, dreading setting up camp in the snowy, rain, I saw a fire and one of my favorite people on the trail who I hadn’t seen since the Sierras. Poppins! We hugged, we laughed, we caught up and reminisced, and I went to bed warm that night. (Until I was cold)

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The next day was still freezing cold as we rocked through the magical, rainy christmas tree farm that is Washington. We caught some glimpses of Rainier as we rounded the backside. As some days can go on the PCT, I was having a complete 180 with  my emotions. I felt like I was absolutely rocking, on target to hit 14 miles before noon without even needing to stop for a break! At 14 miles there was a great spring and while I sat having lunch a bunch of hikers caught me making for a super fun break.

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I got going again and just about a mile in, I started having a weird pain in my quad, something I hadn’t really felt before. You get all sorts of aches and pains on the trail so I didn’t really stop to think about it and within a few miles it was hurting worse and that fear and doubt started to edge its way back into my head. I took it easy, reassuring myself that tomorrow was a town day and I could rest if it got worse.

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The morning I was up early, eager to get the 28 miles to Snowqualmie where I knew there was an actual hotel to sleep in! I took it slow, the pain in my leg slowly but surely getting worse, especially on the down hills, but still managed to cover ground pretty quick and arrive at about 5pm. I walked by some of the most absolute beautiful lakes on the entire trail so far. Crystal clear, deep blue water that I could sit and stare at for hours!

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Snowqualmie is amazing. It’s a little ski resort town that has exactly what you need- a cafe to read a book in, an incredible food truck, a hotel, and a bar with good vibes. We took a vacation day there due to some ridiculous rain happening and I spent blissful hours in the cafe drinking a cappuccino with honey and cinnamon and reading a book! The forecast for the next few days was good so I left town with a much better outlook on my ability to finish the trail.

Holy Moly We Made It To Washington

After a rejuvenating six days off with my family, I was a bit anxious to get back on the trail. A whole state left, a hard one at that, and winter was coming! At the same time, it’s crazy to believe we made it to Washington! There are so many variables that can knock a hiker off the trail- money, injury, illness, family things, etc, etc, etc.- that you never really know how far you’ll make it. But every day that goes by now we are getting so much closer to our ultimate goal!

The stretch from Trout Lake to White Pass was a beautiful one and filled with friends and fun.

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My Mom and Timmy dropped me back off on the trail in the evening, and I left a note letting my hiking buddy, Roulette, know I’d be camping just one mile in. As soon as I started walking, I could feel the six days off like lead in my legs. Seriously, are my muscles burning walking up this tiny hill? Oof.

The campsite was next to a bubbling brook, my favorite place to camp. I set up my tent and got to work listening to my favorite podcast, Undisclosed. Before I knew it, night was coming and I heard, “Heyyy!” Woohoo we found each other!

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The next morning was a lazy one, which ended up working out perfectly because Snooze and his girlfriend Lacie (visiting from SoCal) caught us! We spent the morning hiking around Mt. Adams and then got to have lunch with them. Roulette and I were planning on hiking 25 or so miles so we could meet his friend the next day BUT we decided it would be much more fun to camp with Snooze and Lacie and so we did. I also fell in a river for the first time on trail! The river was swollen and silty from snow melt and it took forever to find a route across. I stepped on a wet rock and my foot slipped right off and in I went! Oops.

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Roulette’s friend, Reed, visited on the trail and brought the absolute best trail magic ever! Food! He made us a peanut, coconut pasta dish with fresh vegetables, BROWNIES!!!, and the next morning for breakfast real eggs and bacon! There is nothing to make you leech gratitude for simple things such as food like spending months in the woods at a time.

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We got to hike through the unbelievably beautiful goat rocks wilderness the next day. Sadly the only goats we saw were through binoculars! The landscape in Washington is stunning so far with the giants (Mt. Adams, Rainier, etc) standing alone and towering over the rest of the mountains.

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And then it was in to White Pass, with a whole spread of breakfast trail magic from Masshole.

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Days 112-?: Oregon In The Blink Of An Eye

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Oregon is done! After taking over three months to hike through California, I made it to the border of Oregon in less than three weeks. With some new really fast hiking buddies and the motivation to meet my Mom on September 5, I absolutely blazed through this state. And I think I actually did it without crying once. Before starting Oregon I had been thinking to myself that I just wasn’t one of those people who hiked big miles every day. I was totally okay with 25 miles a day in Oregon. What a joke! My shortest full day in Oregon was 23 miles and my longest was 41.

After spending some serious time at the raw restaurant in Ashland, the owner took notice of us and offered us a ride to the trail and sent us on our way with juice and kale chips! I left town with new friends Snooze and Roulette and we hiked less than half a mile before setting up camp to wait for Trampon. Bailey’s boyfriend had just arrived back from home and they were taking one more night in Ashland.


The next morning Trampon and I were up early hiking and were surprised to see Bailey and Pete camped out in their rental van just two miles in! The best part? They drove us to breakfast and then dropped us back on the trail! Woohoo, thanks guys! The next day we hit the 2/3 marker right before lunch. Oregon so far was kind of lava-ey and very burnt.

  
Trampon, Roulette, and I spent some fun time throwing giant logs off of a cliff to watch them smash apart at the bottom. Yay for fun!


  
 Our next goal was Crater Lake and we had serious fun getting there. I think I possibly laughed more in this stretch than I ever have in my life. We spent hours and hours zinging each other and being sassy. The trail around Crater Lake was unfortunately closed due to a fire so we sadly had to skip one of the most beautiful and looked forward to parts of Oregon.

We got a ride around the closure from an amazing woman named Emily who we had met at Mazama Village.


  
Next up was Bend. After hitting the high point of Oregon and Washington, a meager 7,500 feet in elevation, we came across an incredible campsite 6 miles from our intended spot. Our friend Pie was intent on continuing because she was really excited to see her girlfriend in Portland, but we promised her we’d do 36 miles the next day and that convinced her to stay. Then we decided if we were doing 36, we might as well do 40 so we could say we did it.


  
  
After dinner, a Snooze 15 minute workout, and rolling a giant boulder off a cliff, we went to sleep, ready for a really hard day the next day.

And then I hiked 41 miles!


  
I was TIRED the day after. We went into Shelter Cove to pick up a box and had some absolutely incredible hot dogs. We headed out and up a long, hard climb, and I barely made it the 23 trail miles we did that day. Thank goodness for vitamin i!


  
The next two days brought us to Lava Camp where my friend, Katy, who’s currently living in Portland was able to meet us! We went into Bend the next day and she drove us around to do all our errands which was absolutely incredible. We spent that night at Big Lake Youth Camp, an incredible camp that lets PCTers shower, do laundry, hang out, and sleep all for free and on top of that feeds us the most incredible meals! Definitely my favorite stop of the trip so far.


  
The next day the weather was NOT NICE. We had a warmup dance party to get ready to head out into the freezing rain and then went for it. It was not fun at all. We hit 2,000 miles but were too cold to stop and take pictures. Snooze, Roulette, and I didn’t make it very far. I came across the two of them hiding out under Snooze’s rain fly after 14 miles and ducked under there with them. We had hot chocolate, watched a movie on Snooze’s ipad, and decided we were not hiking any further. Everything we had was soaking wet and we were absolutely freezing.


 The next day turned out to be beautiful and we had stunning views of Mt. Jefferson for much of the day. I hiked in my underwear all day seeing as my clothes were soaked and it was oddly fun!


  
Then we were bound for Mt. Hood and Timberline Lodge! Snooze and I got there and were hanging out drinking wine and having a merry time. We were talking to this couple when an employee walked by and said something we couldn’t really make out. Hmm we thought, maybe she has food, let’s follow her.

She ended up working at the front desk and told us she had said to follow her if we wanted to stay and she’d make us a deal. This hotel is $250+ a night to stay at, a bit out of our hiker budget. She informed us of a deal going on right now, $115 for the cookies and milk deal. A room and you got cookies and milk delivered. We were sold! It would be an extra $30 for the third person. No problem.

We ate soup in bread bowls, did our laundry, enjoyed the outdoor heated pool and hot tub, and cozied up in the giant feather bed. The next morning when we checked out, the woman let us know the $30 had been credited to our account the night before. Amazing! The absolutely best part though is that our friends asked about the deal after we told them about it, and the staff told them they didn’t have a cookies and milk deal. They ended up paying $200 for a bunk room for four! Woohoo to trail magic.


  
We departed Timberline Lodge early-ish and over the 38 miles we hiked that day we got snow, rain, and hail. I met some day hikers who gave me a kit kat and a dark chocolate, almond, sea salt bar. Yum! We got to camp around 9:30 and were up the next day to hike into Cascade Locks!


  

 And that’s Oregon in the blink of an eye!!