Natalie Fisher is a dancer, teacher, silk aerialist, and choreographer. She is inspired by the wilderness. Her work involves finding the seam where her worlds of dance, aerials and the wilderness meet.
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I spent my winter and summer at Holden Village. Mostly as a cook. Occasionally as the Village Dancer.
Cold. Wet and Snow. I was over it.
I chose to go live in a quaint little village in the snowy mountains. With a job that involved the indoors.
I refused to go out on a hike until the end of January.
I watched the snow fall. I watched the snow melt. I got a new contract as a cook. Same Village. Different company.
A winter into a summer full of: costumes, fort building, candlelit labyrinths, knitting, olympics, made up holidays, soaking in the limited sunbeams, more costumes, beer brewing, bus rides, dancing, pranks, hikes, porch sitting, outdoor movies, nurf guns, costumes…
The weather got hot. The indoors got stifling.
After a series of interesting events involving: graveyard shift, a birthday, limited summer outdoor activities, the lack of communication or good leadership the company I worked for displayed, being used as a pawn when I didn’t sign up to play chess, watching my soul get sucked out… I realized a job just wasn’t worth it.
I stashed my things in a basement, packed up a backpack and walked away. (The Village will become part of the story again come winter).
No plan. Just time. And an open road.
A backpack, a camera and a janky old truck.
What if I go visit friends in Canada? What if I start heading south from there. End up back in San Diego.
This time by road.
Expanding the corridor I explored while hiking a narrow trail in the mountains.
Ah, a gear review. Well, I tried, but how do I critique a piece of gear I’ve grown to love? Living with something for a while you tend to get used to the quirks.
So let me tell you a story about my carbon fiber yana trekking poles. And maybe that will give anyone gear minded a picture about how well this equipment works.
I waltzed off from the monument at the US/Mexican border with my fancy carbon fiber Yana trekking poles strapped securely to my pack. Wasn’t sure quite yet what to do with them. Not much experience with trekking poles. That evening, I encountered a hill and I figured I ought to start playing with them… they stayed in my hands for the next 2,600 miles and seven months.
‘Toy Poles’ some would say with a laugh. I’d shrug and keep walking. The poles held up, through more than I would have expected. I weigh about 130 pounds, so I put a decent amount of weight on these poles over months and miles. Add some snow to push through and we’re talking about some hardy walking sticks.
Every hitch, I’d shrink them down to half size, and stick them in the pocket of my pack, before putting it in the trunk. Always doing the double take when removing my gear from a vehicle. Seven ounces I proudly never lost.
Daydreaming while walking, a pole would occasionally drop out of my hand. Or stick in the ground and stay behind me as I kept charging on. A few steps later I’d turn around and retrieve it. Still standing, right where I left it. ‘Silly’ it would seem to say to me. ‘No, we’re not stopping here’ I would reply. I never bothered making wrist loops. I preferred the freedom in my hands to switch poles, set them down and grab and go again without the fiddling of attaching them to my wrists. Drop a pole now and then. A quirk I got used to. A quirk that helped me notice more things every time I picked a pole off the ground again. Pause. Look at the rocks or the earth. See. Walk on.
Through sand, and rocks, and streams, and lava fields.
Through a couple months using them to set up my tent. And pulling them rather taught to keep the rain sliding off my tent.
And then I got to Washington, and then October turned into November and the snow got deeper. I would look at my trusty poles and wonder. Hoping for the best we could make it to the end. ‘Just a little further’ I would coax them. Please don’t break yet.
This was no longer walking on a nicely cleared trail. Up, down, and around on dirt. This was full on digging a stick in the ground with every step and trusting my weight on this tiny ‘toy stick’ to gain a little elevation when climbing up a pass. This was shoving a stick into the snow as far as I could hoping it didn’t hit anything slick and trusting my weight on it to ease my way down a pass. This was kickstepping and digging deep along an icy, steep traverse needing each step to hold.
They always did.
And in the end. It was only user abuse that damaged them. Wore them out in every way a trekking pole could be used.. In the last two weeks, I couldn’t shrink them down anymore. Too cold. Something expanded. After one time I almost couldn’t lengthen my pole again, I let them stay just how they were. Through car rides and all. They eventually got frozen into position. But still did their job and helped me through the snow.
Dig and kick and dig and ooh, I found a couple rocks to wedge my stick between, and kick, and dig again.
Got some water that froze in one pole. Made a crack, the crack split up half the pole. Then it froze a little more, and the pole held. ‘Just 50 more miles’ I’d whisper to it.
And my trusty seven ounce carbon fiber yana trekking poles and me made it. And those poles were quite thankful to be put in the closet. One tip broken off, the other with a hairline stress fracture.
I’d take these poles with me anywhere. But maybe doctor them up a bit before the next adventure.
(Oh, and I danced with them too. Very versatile piece of equipment.)
After finishing my hike, I returned rather quickly to the mountains to work in a kitchen. Watch snow fall from inside a warm building. And try to put words to describe the border to border journey.
I’m still working on the words, perhaps the description will be in the dance.
I am still in the mountains.
This time as a Resident Artist at Holden Village. This is a six week residency in which I get to work on as many dance projects as I can think up while living in a tiny mountain village.
Holden is a village of intentional community. A place where we work, live, and dine together. It is a place where it is common to wear ridiculous costumes. Where all are welcome. Where Sasquatch lives. Where hilarity is a cornerstone of the community.
During my residency, I will primarily be editing and composing my dance-u-mentory of my hike. I will also be training on my silks which are rigged up in the Village Center, and dancing outside in the snow whenever inspired.
At the end of the Residency, I will have a showing of my film project, and once I return to the world of fast internet, I will be able to post it for everyone to enjoy.
Returning to the world of cars, and coffee cups, and massive amounts of people.
Culture shock? Not at first. I get to my aunt’s house and don’t leave for 3 and a half days. I’m just inside lurking. Sleeping in. Figuring out what a kitchen is again.
It’s a marvel that I can use more than one pot. Cooking does not have to involve boiling water. There are so many utensils!!!
My aunt asked me what I wanted to do first.
‘Watch Brave!!!’ I say with great enthusiasm. I tried to watch the movie four different times during the journey. Since I saw an ad at the Subway in Independence, California. Four times! Foiled at each. The last time I managed to be at the theater, but the movie time was misprinted in the paper.
‘Ok universe! I get it. I have to finish hiking first.’
So I did.
Laughing, my aunt rents the movie for me.
And I get to watch my movie with a redheaded heroine.
Day four, my cousins and I are dragged outside to go for a walk around a lake.
I am happy to report that I survived.
Time keeps rolling.
I roll with it. In a kind of daze.
Where do I fit in this fast moving world?
I visit Seattle. First thing I do: caffeinate.
It’s good to be back.
Traveling in a rideshare, I ask to use a phone and three cell phones are instantly pulled out of pockets and offered to me.
It’s a fancy world we live in.
I wander down to the Seattle Center and am just another person in the mass. I’ve accomplished something great. And in all these people. No one knows. I am anonymous.
Everyone is the protagonist in their own story.
It’s a little overwhelming to think about how many stories are going on right now.
I went on a great journey. A life changing journey.
Yet, I have no more answers.
I didn’t figure out my life on this trek.
I just figured out how to be.
Present. Open to opportunities. Unrelenting to peer pressure. Assertive to my needs.
When you live life at the basic level. Transforming from hiker to hobo every time you step off the trail. Perspective is changed. Perspective is opened up.
I can’t describe it. You have to stick out your thumb on the side of the highway to understand.
Open yourself to accepting kindness from strangers.
In the process, stories are shared, connections are made, lives are touched- both by those who help and those who receive.
I went on a journey. Point A to Point B. Mexico to Canada.
I hiked 2660 miles. Too stubborn to quit. Never had a good enough reason to quit.
Pushed myself to every extreme.
Met amazing people along the way.
In the end. It wasn’t about the miles, but what happened between the miles.
One journey ends, another will begin.
In the transition, I try to figure out how to keep what I gained.
88 miles to go. We leave Stehekin with our pockets loaded with cinnamon rolls and sticky buns from the bakery that’s been closed since mid October. (it’s good to have connections in high places.) It’s hard to leave a warm house one more time. We each have about ten days worth of food. 6 days of good stuff. 4 days of boring stuff. Lots of layers. Lots of attitude (Positive Mental Attitude, with a little bit of the other kind). A whole village is now sending good thoughts our way, as well as the whole PCT community. We aren’t just two people out for a walk to see what we can do anymore. We’re being watched. Bets are being made. People are being inspired.
Never thought we’d actually be the last two striving for the goal. Running joke this whole season. The last to Canada wins.
‘Ready to go for a walk, Dances?’
‘Ready as I’ll ever be.’
We’re walking into a snowstorm, and we know it. It’s going to be cold, but we want to try to get as far as we can while the hiking is easy. Of course, with loaded down packs, I only make it a quarter mile before I break down and eat a sticky bun.
As promised, it starts to snow by late afternoon. We make it partway up and out of the valley, cross creeks that are starting to freeze over, and make camp at a place called Hideaway.
74 miles to go.
Middle of the night. Wake up to a tent that’s too warm. Realize we’re in a snowcave. Nothing is venting anymore, and it’s all dripping on Brr’s poor down sleeping bag. He eventually musters to go outside and uses a snowshoe to clear off the tent. There’s at least 8 inches on the ground. So much for the promised 3-5 inches.
While all this excitement is happening, I see a cinnamon roll sticking out of my jacket pocket. We’ve recently had problems with mice, and the only thought in my sleepy head is: I don’t want the mouse to eat my cinnamon roll! Brr jumps back into the tent to find me mawing down on the sticky treat without a care for snow or anything else.
64.5 miles to go. It’s a slow day to get up to Rainy Pass and beyond. We make burritos and a hiker mocha at the pass, and consider how easy it would be just to hitch out to Bellingham and be warm and watch the movie Brave. Instead, we march on. Past civilization. On to camp above 6,000 ft and tuck in for another snowy night.
Surprised in the morning to hear voices as we’re packing up camp. Flatlander and Bouncer arrive on scene. Snowshoes on, GPS in hand. Making one more attempt at the goal.
I have to admit there was some trepidation on our part at meeting them. We had heard that Flatlander was going to try to meet up with us, we were glad he arrived with a hiking partner.
At this point in the game, joining up to hike with someone is no casual contract. That’s for summer business. Silent D and I have been practicing in this kind of weather for the last month. We’ve got a system down that works for us. We know each other’s skills well. As Silent D puts it “She doesn’t freak out. Ever.” On an expedition like this, the last week out is not the time to meet someone new and try to fit them into your system. We were happy to say hello. Short conversation. Have to move to keep warm.
They continued. We finished packing and followed their tracks up to the top of Cutthroat Pass (scary name, easy pass), where we sat down to have second breakfast and watched as two figures traversed the ridge and rounded the corner. Then we watched in surprise as one figure, and then another, were coming speedily back across the ridge.
Huh? We wondered with mild curiosity as we slowly packed up and continued on our way. We chatted again as they passed us. The ridge got steep and the snow was a bit icy around the corner. Too much for them. The fun stopped.
I have the utmost respect for Bouncer and Flatlander that they recognized when something was too much. They knew when to call it. That is an important skill. One most people ignore. I also respect that they didn’t try to turn us around. In our heads we were wondering if they would be saying ‘these kids can’t make it, it’s dangerous… etc…’ But they didn’t. They simply said it was too much for them, and wished us well. Thank you.
We continued on.
Traversed the ridge and made the steep descent in a couple feet of snow to Granite Pass. Then across the next ridge. The going was slow. We didn’t have snowshoes on yet. The snow was at the point where it really wouldn’t be any easier in snowshoes. We’d posthole one way or another. The trail following the contour on the ridge had perhaps six inches of snow. In most places. Passable enough.
55 miles to go. Setting up the tent. Exhausted. Bummed that we couldn’t make it any further. At this rate, we might not make our rendevous.
There’s a crack. We pause. Stock still. Assess the damage. One of the tent poles broke. Shattered on one end due to cold. Nothing to do but wrap it with Tenacious tape, and hope it holds.
48 miles to go. Get to the top of Glacier Pass. Another steep ascent just ahead of us. Time for another hiker mocha as the sun sets. Bodies are complaining. Nothing to do but tape what hurts, hope it holds, and don’t look again. Pep talk to the body. Come on, just need you to get me thru a few more days.
We begin the next ascent. Switchbacks across a meadow. Why couldn’t they put them in the trees?! Wading across snow drifts at each turn. Silent D gets fed up. We’re about four switchbacks from the top. Pull out the GPS to double check our location. We can just go straight up. The trail stays on top of the mountain for a while. We’ll hit it.
Switch to the microspikes. Glorious microspikes. Time for some mountain climbing. Silent D pulls out his ice axe, I put my trekking poles in my pack and use his very sturdy hiking sticks. Up we go.
I climbed up a mountain on a starry night with microspikes and broomsticks.
I didn’t exactly like where I was. It was icy, extremely steep, the alternative was no easier. At that point, the only way to get out of a sketchy spot is to move. One way or another, you have to move. I chose to move up.
Up the mountain.
It was worth it.
Hit the top. Absolutely stunning.
Make another hot drink.
We are the only people out in this wilderness. Two small people on top of a snow covered mountain gazing at the stars. One of those nights where I felt like the stars were watching us.
I get this feeling that Mother Nature has finally decided we are worthy to pass. That all the gods have us in their favor. And they are watching. It won’t be easy. She will never let us off the hook, but she will let us pass.
All the stars gazing down at us. Watching our progress as we finally donned our snowshoes and crossed the ridge to Grasshopper Pass and continued to traverse the next ridge. Our slogan becomes ‘When in doubt, follow kitty.’ We know the right direction to go, can’t see the trail, but there are lynx or bobcat prints that seem to know where the trail goes. We follow.
No matter what else happens, I have this moment. This moment in time. This moment on top of a starry snow covered mountaintop. Everything that has happened before, is worth it. Anything that happens after, doesn’t matter.
I have this.
This one’s for the memory books.
44 miles to go.
Wake up to fog. White on white. Takes us most of the day to go four miles. Pulling out the GPS often. Having to trust technology. Trust that it really does know where we are. Crossing meadows or open areas with no sign of a trail. The usual dip is covered by a drift. When it gets too slick and steep, we know we’re above it. We don’t like to descend because gaining any elevation is such hard work. Maps, compass, check the GPS, look for blazes, look for the line through the mist.
We get to a low point where the trail hits a jeep road. 2 miles to Hart’s Pass. The next section of trail looks just as, if not more, steep and sketchy as what we just came through. We take the road. One of the only times I actually opt for road rather than trail. Even though it’s easier, walking a road has never been fun, and is still not fun.
38 miles out. Hart’s Pass. Our last exit point. My biggest mental struggle. Getting this far today was brutal. If there had been a warm car, with warm people in it, I don’t think I would’ve had the fortitude to continue. As luck would have it, there is just a bleak campsite. Ranger cabin boarded up for the winter. An outhouse and a couple picnic tables all covered in snow.
Not much discussion. Make a hot drink. Cook some food. All Silent D has to say is: ‘If we don’t continue, I’ll regret it.”
Final push. This is our moment.
34 miles out. On top of another snow covered mountain. I open up the tent in the morning (for the difficult process of putting trash bags on my feet so I can struggle outside into the cold to pee) and the first words out of my mouth are ‘Oh my God.’
‘What is it?’
‘Look outside!’ The world is stunning. Bright sun. Blue sky. In a small tent on the mountaintops. Surrounded by stoic snow covered ridges and peaks. This is why we’re still out here.
We’ve got this.
22 miles out. We actually made 12 miles today! There’s a celebration. I have to do a mental shift from we’ll get as far as we can to We’re going to make it! I can finally let myself believe that I’ll get there.
Canada is now our nearest out.
We are going to make it.
16 miles out.
6 miles today.
I worked for every inch of these six miles. All day and most of the night. For six miles.
Up to Rock Pass, down the other side, up to Woody Pass. We keep switching who breaks trail throughout the day.
We took a break at what we thought was the last switchback up. False summit. Got dark. Fog rolled in again. Took a turn down a wrong trail that was unsigned. We knew we were on a trail. We could see the line. The going was easy, but the ridge was on the wrong side. Kept waiting for a switchback to turn us the right way. GPS again. Turn around.
Wind whipping up. Can’t tell if it’s snowing more or just blowing everything around. Finally at the top of the real pass. Round the corner. Ridge is on the right side. Snow drifts are deep. Postholing up to knees or hips with snowshoes on. Brr’s foot has a bruise from the snowshoes. He switches to spikes and we keep rolling.
Work for every step.
Send a prayer to Mother Nature. Please give us a break.
The wind dies.
No more ice blowing in my eyes. I can see the line of the trail. We slowly follow it across huge drifts. Exhausted. Getting frustrated with everything. Stop for a break, but don’t want to deal with the wind chill, so we don’t cook, and just keep moving.
Finally to the top of Lakeview Ridge. Above 7,000 ft. Everything is downhill from here. But I can’t go on. We cook and try to see if we can get some more energy. But we’re done for the night. We’re supposed to get out tomorrow. We’ve already pushed the rendezvous back one day. But 16 miles might be impossible.
Must sleep. Hope that tomorrow is a better day.
14 miles out. We hit the valley. Took all morning to traverse the ridge, descend the Devil’s Staircase and get down to Hopkin’s Pass.
We can do this. It’s just 6 more miles to the border. Make spam burritos one last time (my favorite trail food: spam, Idaho potato mix, corn chowder, and cheez-its!), out of tortillas for this one. Ready to go. The snow is light on this stretch of trail, but I keep the snowshoes on to keep from slipping.
3.5 miles to the border. Castle Pass. The world is black and white today. Cloud covered sky, trees a dark green they look black. Snow covered world. A raven flies overhead. We take that as a good omen. We’re flying today. Nothing can stop us now. The only question is if we can get to the border with a little daylight left?
November 18. 5:30 pm. PCT mile 2660. We hit the border.
Suddenly there’s a switchback, and we know we’re almost there. The graylight thru the clouds is gone. Two turns down and we’re there.
This monument that I’ve been waiting to see for seven months is right before me.
Not a dream anymore.
I’ve had this image in my head of arriving at the monument. What I would do. What my end picture might be like.
How we imagine it, is never how it turns out.
It turns out the way it was going to happen all along.
It turns out better than I imagine.
Dark. Victory yells. Running and jumping around like crazy. Disbelief.
I pop open a bottle of champagne that I’ve carried for 80 miles. I can now admit to carrying it. (Otherwise that would have been a bottle quietly drunk in a corner). After all that long journey, I absolutely brought a bottle of champagne along for the last lap.
One more hiker mocha with the last of our coffee and instant breakfast mix. Sitting staring at the monument. This is really the end.
We got each other to the end.
Everything is going to happen fast after this.
8 miles to get out.
We have people waiting for us. And we don’t want to camp in the broken tent on cold snow another night.
It starts to snow giant flakes.
8 miles to let it settle in that we’re getting out. That we’ve actually accomplished the goal. That I have to go do something other than walk now.
8 miles to laugh about all the moments. Favorite, worst, most epic, hardest, weirdest, most random.
4 miles out. We just made it up one more pass. To the end it is not easy. Mother Nature never lets it be easy.
Just a little further to our waiting family.
11:30 pm. Manning Park.
Anticipation as we arrive at the road. Then the parking lot. Then the resort. Door is locked. A security guard pulls up right as we’re taking off our packs. ‘They were just looking for you. Weren’t sure if you were gonna make it out tonight.’
This is it.
In to warmth. In to waiting arms. In to a shower and a bed.
‘It’s the end of an era’ my grandma wrote in her last care package.
The journey of a lifetime, I’m told. And it’s true. A journey full of unexpected surprises.
It’s November, there’s another snowstorm coming. Why am I still out here?
Quite frankly. Why not?
There’s never been a reason not to be out here. This is what I thrive on.
I was asked once (or perhaps many times) why I was so slow if I didn’t have a problem with speed or injuries. My reply: ‘I’m not slow (or late), I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.’
Just exactly where I’m supposed to be.
So much of the joy of this journey happened because I was right where I was, when I was there. So many people were met, new friends made, sunsets watched, stars gazed at…
Life happens because of the choices we make.
I chose to hike this trail with my dad and sister, we picked what seemed to be a random day in April.
Team No Hurries was born after we hiked one mile and walked into the store at Campo to spend all the change in our pockets on V8 and use a flush toilet one last time.
Everything that happened after that, happened because of that first choice.
We had a blast. Took days off when we needed them. Enjoyed sitting on porches. Laughed at our devolement into hikertrash.
Then, one by one, I lost my hiking partners.
It was a bit lonely in Oregon. I discovered I really don’t enjoy hiking solo. I’m glad I did for a week. Gained some perspective. Talked to myself way too much.
Then I ran into Silent D again. (Actually, my dad and our friend Gnarly were looking for me at Willamette Pass and saw Silent D first, and sort of kidnapped him).
There’s a friend out here!
We hiked on.
We became the Lollygag Crew.
He jokes that I’m cursed with having slow hiking partners. Perhaps.
Probably would have been done with the trail a couple months ago, and on with life (whatever that might be).
But I don’t mind. I don’t think I would have had nearly as much fun. I’m rather glad to have been slowed down.
I was once told that at the Kickoff event, I looked way too relaxed, like I was just going for a walk in the park. Probably wouldn’t make it. (Yep, that comment almost set off the redhead fury).
But it was a walk in the park. A very big park.
Pitting yourself against what Mother Nature throws at you is where the adventure starts.
I want to find out just exactly what I’m made of. Discover my limits, my perceived limits and what I can push through.
This is why I spend about half of every year living in the wilderness. The beautiful days are great. But you learn the most about yourself when the going gets tough. Throw in the inclement weather and roll with it.
I’ve hiked through about a month of storms. I know I can survive them. Got the right gear, the right training and skills. The game becomes mental. I wonder sometimes why I’m doing this after three days of rain, or slogging through snow and slush. But then the sun comes out again! It always does eventually. It’s like a breath of fresh air when the clouds lift a bit and you can see an epic view, or there’s a ray of sun through the clouds.
Then I remember.
That touch of beauty in the world is more precious when it’s fleeting.
I was told I was crazy to think I would make it to Canada when I was hitting the Oregon/Washington border early October. (These comments actually started in the Sierras when I was told I was late, should give up the dream, set a lesser goal. As I kept hiking, I started to be called insane. Insane for trying? Isn’t crazier not to try?)
I am a dreamer. And I am a doer.
It’s a tough road to dream big. You have to fight for it. Work for it. Struggle with it. Give everything to that dream.
And it’s worth it.
In the end it’s always worth it.
I’m 88 miles from accomplishing this dream.
This close to the goal, and yet there’s still a question mark if I’ll make it or not.
Makes the end exciting.
It’s going to get colder. There’s going to be more snow coming. We know our last exit points. We’ve been studying the map for over a week now. Giving ourselves seven days to get there. Talking on the phone with my dad, he asks if we have enough food. Next to me, Silent D has just filled his food bag with 20+ pounds of food. ‘Oh yeah. We have food.’ In fact, after a few miles we’re going to start looking for people to give food to. We’re also packing snowshoes as our insurance policy. (And no, I haven’t weighed my pack since I left Oregon.)
Ready for some more high passes. Ready for more snow. Ready for colder nights.
I am a couple weeks behind on stories. But don’t have the time right now to write them.
I will say this much: I love the North Cascades. We’ve had some beautiful days up North. The Glacier Peak wilderness is aptly named. Took a 20 mile side trip to Holden Village to visit friends. Side trips are still so much fun. Finally made it back to my old, familiar hiking places.
To Everyone: Thanks for all your support of this trip and for ready the stories!!! I will be filling in the blanks soon. And hopefully, you will continue to enjoy reading.