Category Archives: Thoughts from blaze

The Definition of Insanity

…would be hiking through California Section F with a cold.  The hokey pokey playing in my head.  Eighteen miles or more between water sources.

When I first caught the cold, my choice was either skip ahead and meet my sister 93 miles North of Tehachapi and no longer be a thru hiker (because Lord knows I was not returning to the desert!), or to hike on in spite of being sick.  Dad loaded me up with Dayquil and Niquil, and off I went.

Can’t say I remember a ton from that section, because it was a lot of dreary effort!  On night five Natalie and I raced up windy Mount Skinner as the sun was setting.  I blew a kiss and bid the desert goodbye from the top before we ducked out of the wind and set up camp for the night.   Now, several days later, we are at Kennedy Meadows, all rested up and about to head into the High Sierras.

I’m quite excited for this next section!  New kinds of adventures, new sights to see, and truly wild places to hike through.  Bear vaults are loaded with food, blisters healed, bodies rested.  702 miles down.  1,957 to go!

Vasquez Rocks

One of my favorite sections of trail to date is Vasquez Rocks, located just before you reach Agua Dulce and the infamous Hiker Heaven at the home of the Saufleys.

These giant rocks jut out of the earth at violent angles, as if they were hurled there by thunderous gods ages and ages ago.  Hills formed around them and then wind and time eroded the dirt, leaving bare the massive rocky skeletons.  Now ravens live high up in the rocks, watching as hikers pass through in desert heat.

A naturalist I ran into told me that the rocks are 25 to 29 million years old. They lie on three forks of the San Andreas Fault (which explains their violently jutting angles) and are composed of iron oxide, magnesium oxide, sandstone and salt.  The boulders that look like giant meatballs are composed of granite and mud debris that were blown in by a storm and settled long ago.

Random fact: occasionally you might come across eyes or a face painted onto a rock face. These oddities were made by a hermit who lived there in the thirties. He had a home made of apple crates and tested paint durability by painting on the rocks.

Well, there’s your geography lesson for the day! 200 more miles of desert to go and then on to utterly new terrain in the High Sierras. Looking forward to it!

A Burger in the Night

“If I had a gun I woulda shot you both, just so you’d stop moving,” I exuberantly exclaim to my family the night of June 1st as we are putting up our tent.  Thanks to some trail magic from our hiker friend As You Wish, we were safely on the other side of what had been shaping up to be a dismal evening.

We had just hiked 18 miles, and the last several were down a mountain in the dark.  The dirt road we were on was endless, but on we trudged toward the well-lit desert ranger station that waited at the bottom, its water spigot our necessary goal.  The lit station seemed to taunt us as we walked, our bodies wondering why the heck we weren’t asleep yet.  The sun had gone to bed and so should we!

“Please, let something nice happen before we go to bed,” I whispered into the night as my heel struck yet another rock that sent painful shock waves up a few tendons.

At the bottom, we filled up our water bottles for the next day’s 18 mile haul to the next water source and set about looking for a place to sleep.  We were right next to a highway, and Dad and Nat kept wandering around – trying to find either the trail or a safe place to sleep.  I thought any flat piece of concrete looked good at that point and as they kept trudging around –  I decided I should kill them.  Just so I could stop moving.  I could think about regrets later.

But I didn’t kill them.  Instead, I sat down to wait for solid directions.

Then, a truck stops.  I’m to0 tired to realize how sketchy that is, a dark truck in the night in the middle of nowhere.  Then, “Are you okay?” comes from the driver’s window.  We say yes.  “We’re looking for some hikers – Team No Hurries.”

We tell them that that’s us.  (What?! Who would have sent someone to us?!)

“Would you like a burger?”

We are instantly friends with this stranger in a truck.  And it turns out our hiker pals As You Wish and Zephyr were in the cab with him.  They had hitched a ride to a restaurant and brought back burgers for us, banking on the wild chance that we would be at that station and camping there when they got back (they had been several hours ahead of us on the trail).

A shot in the dark, and it paid off.  Our relieved, exuberant laughter seemed to have no end as we scarfed the hamburgers and, happily, went to bed.  Something nice had happened, indeed.

I’d heard that the trail provides what you need.  It’s been beautiful seeing those moments happen over and over again, when your spirits are low, or things are mellow and you are just moving through this great space and distance, and someone wonderful reaches out and hands you a burger or brings you shade or rubs your feet or lets you use their sewing machine.  These have become my most memorable and cherished experiences so far. Thank you, universe.

 

It’s My Birthday!

I turn 25 on June 2nd. 

If someone had told 18-year-old me that in seven years I would meet all the people I’ve met, traveled across the country and across the world several times, fallen in love over and over again with all you lovely friends and family, and find myself on an insane adventure hiking across the country, I probably would have laughed in disbelief.  A wealthy woman, am I.

Thanks to all who have sent me your good wishes during this trip!  If you would like to make some sort of gift, I would love REI gift cards.  I can use them to buy more Injinji wool socks once my current ones have holes rubbed through them.  Or sunscreen.  You can send them to the next Post Office address that should be listed in the “Contacts” section. 

And/or send me a facebook message with a favorite memory or experience we had together.  I would love that. 

Cheers!

Odds and Ends

Hello dear readers,

I have not posted in a couple of weeks, and for that I am sorry!  I think today I will share some highlights, things noticed, and lessons learned from the trip thus far….

  • It is nearly impossible to walk through a windfarm with an open umbrella.  I did manage it though, because it was so hot and the umbrella added a couple degrees of shade! 
  • Seven rattlesnakes sighted.  While they no longer scare me and are kind of cool, I think I have had my fill.  Most people only see two or three in a trip. 
  • I have seen billions of lizards, and they range in colors – some look handpainted with patterns and rainbow hues, some are black, some black with turquise scales, some leapord spotted, some a little orange, and my favorite – a thin creature that almost looked like a snake until I saw its slender feet, gold on the front half, bright blue on the back.  Also, lizards like to do push ups to show you how big and tough they are.
  • Trail magic is real.  You are hiking along, enjoying yourself but also tired, and suddenly in the woods you come across a cooler full of water and fruit and hard boiled eggs, left behind by a friendly hiker-supporter (this particular one is named Lonely Turtle, a high school math teacher).  It’s fun to sign and look through the log book to see who else passed through that you’ve met, and how far ahead they are.
  • Flushing toilets are a gift.  God bless the plumber who invented them.
  • Showers and soap and clean towels, also underappreciated until you are a dirty smelly hiker who longs to be clean! 
  • Post-fire and cacti flowers make the most amazing bursts of color in the desert.  Even dry, harsh climates glow with life and beauty. 
  • Kindness arrives from the most unexpected places.  A group of campers we came across on Memorial Day Weekend invited us to join them for fish soup.  Natalie and I sang for our suppers and we all spent our evening together, talking about hiking, listening to their stories of ultra-distance running (up to 100 miles in eighteen hours!).  Both sides thought the other was crazy, them for running so far so fast, us for hiking so far for so long.  One of them rubbed my foot and looked at my hurting ankle, and the parable of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet really hit home.  When you are tired and aching and your soul longs for someone to care for you, and angels masquerading as people arrive and invite you to dinner and care for your feet, you know there is love in the world – love that exists with no intention other than for you to accept and pass along in turn.
  • The trail has a beautiful philosophy of pay it forward. 

I think that’s it for now!  We have hiked 369 miles.  Next week we will be in Agua Dulce, where there are a couple of popular trail angel homes: The Saufleys, and the Andersons (home of Hippie Day Care).   Happy Trails!

Be My Angel?

Cinco de Mayo found us at a campsite with Dr. Sole, who treats foot pains and blisters on tired hikers. Lil’ Steps and Tarzan were also there serving up omelettes and margaritas – all before 11am.  We decided to take a zero day, left our packs and gear at the campsite, and hitched into Idyllwild for some much needed showers, pizza, and laundromat time. (Thanks for the pizza, grandma!)

The twelve mile hitch back to camp was an adventure! The old guy who picked us up said sure he could take us. We were grateful because it was out of his way and the sun was setting, which makes it hard to catch a ride. Halfway there he decides to buy a fishing license at Lake Hemet and go home!

It’s dark now and no one is stopping. It gets cold so I put on some slightly damp clothes, testing whether or not they really keep you warm when wet! The moon is full and beautiful, I have food and water and my family and we are safe, I keep telling myself in an effort to not miss my tent and warm purple sleeping bag. Please, I think – send someone kind who will help us! 

A while later, I am sitting pitifully on a bench outside the fishing license and convenience store in an effort to soak up some of its radiating heat. A man in an SUV pulls up and starts walking around with a flashlight.

Me: Can, I help you find something?
Him: No, I’m looking for a beetle but it’s too cold and the wrong time of year.
Me: Can I get a ride down the highway six miles? (I explain why) There are three of us. Will you be my angel?

The nice high school biology teacher couldn’t refuse a request like that and off we went.  My waiting sleeping bag now minutes away. What a day!  What an angel!

Witness to a Murder

We took our daily siesta in the shade of some bushes, too hot to hike further until the sun sank lower in the sky.  Dad and Nat were snoozing while I read a book.

Suddenly, high pitched squeaking emits from the tangle of dead bushes and branches next to me. I peer in, and the snake I had admired 45 minutes earlier was in there, smacking its lips as only a snake can after gulping down a living thing. Bits of white fluff stick to the corners of its mouth.

“Oh no!” I exclaim as a mother rabbit runs in, jumps at the sight of the snake and runs back out. She sat 20 feet away, eyes big and ears alert as the snake took its time digesting what was once her happy home.

I am ashamed to report that the people I call my family didn’t really care. They kept sleeping as I mourned the baby rabbits.

I know, I know. Snakes have to eat, too. I just prefer they do it far from me!

Here, Rattler

“I saw two rattlesnakes and one of them almost killed me!” is probably not the best thing to say to a loving mother inquiring into her daughter’s first week in the PCT wilderness, but the words were already out.

Yes, Mom, TWO rattlesnakes.  The first one was a big brown and pink beauty, two to three inches in diameter. She was resting on a rock by the trail, and we were both equally surprised when I trundled by. She springs into an instant figure eight coil, rattle thrumming like none other. I squeal, take a step back and fall flat on my deriere.

Now I am on the ground scrambling to right myself and the giant pack attached to my back, Ms. Snake and I still eyeing each other.

Dad is right behind me and hauls me up by my pack.  We back up and then edge by. She had no plans to move.

That got my adrenaline going!  After that, snake number two was nothin’ this hiker couldn’t handle.  Figure I’ll stay on my feet from now on.

I Walk for Love

I’m sitting on an air mattress in the bachelor pad of a man I just met today. He’s called Girlscout, a trail angel who will drop my Dad, sister and I off at the trail head tomorrow morning.

I’m about to hike 2,659 miles!  Honestly, the number is so staggering I can hardly fathom what it means, what those miles will hold. So, let’s zoom in a bit: tomorrow I will hike 20 miles beginning at the Mexican border. And after, I walk on until I am done. Until my soul or my heart or an aching body or the end of this trail in Canada beckon me on to another adventure. 

I walk this trail for so many reasons.  I walk it to live out Mark Twain’s sentiment that you only regret the things you don’t do, so I hike to live with no regrets. I walk to expand my vision for myself in this life, to experience living fully instead of working in the hopes that someday I might have just such an adventure when I have more time or money or courage. 

I walk to rebuild my trust in myself after an unexpected heartbreak. I walk to experience Cheryl Strayed’s revelation during her own PCT hike: to know myself as safe in this world. I walk to feel power course through my body, knowing that I can carry a 35 pound pack for thousands of miles. I walk for all of the people I will meet and stories I will hear. I walk for laughter and freedom and wild places. I walk to know my father and sister in new ways and share new places with them.

Mostly, I walk for love; I walk for me.  My trail name is Blaze.