I’m pretty sure it will all be okay: 186 days in the woods

It’s going on a year since I started the Big Hike.  I wasn’t immediately willing to go back and relive those steps through my journals and, when I did, it took a lot of energy.  But it was also rewarding, seeing my gradual progress/evolution/transformation to which I was blind in the moment.

It is hard to determine what is meaningful to me versus what is generally meaningful, or at least interesting.  As I filtered through the endless rambling that came from days and months and miles of writing, I tried to extract those bits that seem revealing of my mental and physical well-being.

It’s a weird and self-serving impulse to publish all of this, and I’ll justify that by saying “It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to.”

But beyond catering to my own needs, I hope that an honest depiction of the hardest thing I’ve ever done will encourage someone out there to try something they never thought they could do.

OB_hiking_green
Rockin in the tree world.

 

Day -1, Mile 0
April 23
The Night Before.
Wasn’t able to write all the thank yous, organize all the shit, spend all the time, make all the phone calls, etc. etc. And now I’m walking away from it all, putting those pressures on hold, prioritizing.  For the first time, I’m completely without a plan, other than to walk North.
I’m pretty sure it will all be okay.
Mom and Gin will drive me the 30 minutes to the trailhead tomorrow morning. It’s all uphill from there.

Day 1, Mile 8.5
April 24
6:01 pm and pretty well settled.
We reached the trailhead around 11 am. It’s located just outside of Campo, along the border. The wall between the U.S. and Mexico is made of rusted metal, gaps between the panels, razor wire on top.   A few Border Patrol SUVs rolled past while we were standing at the monument…maybe gawking at us hikers, fresh-faced and hopeful in contrast to the unforgiving landscape.
Set up camp around mile 9 with four other hikers, all men. I saw two other women today but they’re some where back.
My body feels tired. My hips and shoulders feel alright but my feet and legs are sore. I’m self-conscious of my pack, like I’m carrying more than everyone else.  Like I look like a total amateur.  

Day 2, Mile 12
April 25
Strange dreams- all of them came back to me having to go somewhere but fighting my way back to the trail to finish hiking. Things pulling me away- my mom needing me to let the dogs out, a party to go to- but me insisting on coming back to hike. I guess that’s a good sign.
Stopped for lunch and to take my shoes off. First blister sighting, three on my left toes and one on the right.
Sitting at the foot of the hill that leads to Lake Morena and Kick Off. Thermometer reads 70°. Nice breeze. Six people just passed me on the trail. I guess the rush has begun.

Day 3, Mile 20
April 26
Kick Off, Lake Morena.
9pm, eating a melted Snickers in my tent. A lot has happened since getting here. There must be hundreds of people- trail angels who want to chat and give advice, PCT alumni, tons of hikers. I’m camped near a bunch of other lady solo-hikers. It’s been relieving to just sit and talk with them all, share concerns and advice.
Being in the company of all these awesome people has made me doubt myself. All day I’ve been worrying, stressing about this or that. But in reality I’m pretty well set, if I could just remember that.

Day 4, Mile 26
April 27
The day I left Lake Morena.
Big Day. Woke up early, filled with dread, feeling intimidated.  Being around other hikers too long makes me second-guess all the decisions I’ve already debated.
Went to yoga down by the lake- the instructor talked about the fleeting nature of all things and read a poem. It said: “everybody is the same as everybody”.
Shakedown- people dissecting everything in your pack, snipping tags and tossing stuff sacks to save weight, something I’ve dreaded. To my surprise, the guy shaved off 5 relatively painless pounds and gave me a new tent! I left feeling streamlined.
Set out with my new friend Heather around 4:45. Got into Boulder Oaks Campground around 7 or so. Saw a rattler on the way.
Leaving as early as possible in the morning, alarm set for 5.

Day 5, Mile ??
April 28
Walked 21 miles. Exhausted. But it was a great day. Met a lot of people- a lot of boys. But hiked mostly alone. By the end of the day my feet felt like raw hamburger. That’s Heather’s description. Painfully accurate.
Started the day in hills covered in Manzanita trees and Indian Paintbrush. The terrain is mostly rolling mountains. We hike up and up, winding along the sides of mountains, and then across plateaus, the sun beating down.
Today I felt hopeful, like I really could complete the trail.

OB_tiredfeet_SoCal
Tired feet.

Day 6, Mile ??
April 29
Hiked most of the day on ridgetops- green to the West and desert to the East. I’ve found a good pace, can generally go 2+ hours before I need a break.
Walked 16 or so miles today without much trouble. Feet are beat.

Day 8, Mile 100
May 1
6pm.  Long day on trail, but made it to mile 100. Tomorrow I walk to Warner Springs for my first mail drop. I’ve heard rumors of showers, laundry, burgers…

Burly Mountain Women at Mile 100.  Scotty Pippin, DJ Feels Good, Outburst, Hot Tub.
Burly Mountain Women at Mile 100. Scotty Pippin, DJ Feels Good, Outburst, Hot Tub.

Day 10, Mile 135
May 3
Amazing mountain views with the sunset. Frustrating to be too tired to really appreciate it all in the moment. Feet are killing me…a kind of dull, sharp ache that starts after the first 5 miles every day.
I’ve been hiking with a group, three women: Heather, now Hot Tub, DJ Feels Good and Scotty Pippin.
I got one too: Outburst.  Something about getting over-excited about marshmallows in my hot cocoa.

Day 13, Mile 178
May 6
Safe and sound in Idyllwild.
Yesterday- a beautiful hike through boulders and wildflowers, into the San Jacinto Wilderness. Weather was moving in by afternoon and we ended up rushing to camp at Apache Spring- a box in the ground full of sulfuric water and dead grass.   Disappointing.
The storm got worse as the sun set and the thick mist collected on our clothes. Our new friend 30 Pack made a fire and we all huddled around, drinking hot toddies and bracing ourselves against the wind/rain. In the morning, everything was wet- I was silly enough to leave my pack outside and it was completely water-logged.
Those 10 remaining miles to Idyllwild felt like the longest yet. Beautiful moments of mist and rocks, but mostly it was hard and I was so wet and cold and miserable and it all made me question myself. But we made it through.

Day 17, Mile 210
May 10
Ziggy and the Bear, Palm Springs.
Made it here last night after 15 miles of downhill, 5 miles of sand and Scotty P sick with dehydration all day. She’s feeling better today but we’re gonna chill so she can recover in full.
Feeling pressure to stay with the crowd, but over the urgency of trying to keep pace with 20-some people.
Saw another rattlesnake yesterday on the way in- rounded a corner and saw her stretched across the trail.  We stared at eachother for a minute, then she recoiled and went the other way. 3.5 feet, brown with tan diamonds.
I’m beginning to find my footing a bit. Still not sure exactly what I’m doing out here, but the enthusiasm of others is contagious.

Day 18, Mile ???
May 11
Napping along the side of the creek. We got out and did 12 miles pretty quick this morning.
Things to get in town: Cheez-its, a new pen, tuna, tortillas…
Need to clean up and wash my socks. Then back to the trail.

8:49pm- made it to camp, took off sweaty clothes, had only the energy to drink cocoa+breakfast essentials for dinner. A dozen or so hikers here. Everyone in bed by 8:30. Talk of food, water resupply, maps, gear.
A different world.

OB_ScottyP_SoCal
The last five are always the hardest.

Day 22, Mile 252
May 13
Trail Magic at Papa Smurf’s. Big Bear City.
Woke up and hiked 9 miles to Highway 18.  Amazing how hard a half-day can feel when you’ve got the prospect of food/shower/laundry on the horizon.
A hand-written sign at Highway 18 gave us a number to call for a ride into town. Mountain Mama picked us up, drove us to the P.O. and then to the house. Her and Papa Smurf have been taking in hikers for a couple of years. They are amazing- cooking, housing, laundry, showers, rides for all of us, and there must be 20+ hikers camped in their yard for the night.  They haven’t hiked the PCT, but they’ve opened their doors to all of us.

Day 25, Mile 318
May 16
Woke up to Hot Tub pouring coffee in my mug. We hiked fast, crossed 300 miles, and arrived at Deep Creek Hot Springs a little after nine. Hikers filed in as the hours passed and we stayed as long as possible, swimming, basking, swimming, eating, swimming, before hiking out to make 20 miles. I lagged behind as usual, but Hot Tub’s notes in the dirt kept me going.
Got into camp after dark. Could see the L.A. haze from the trail. Camped with Hot Tub, 30 Pack, Sneaks, Wocka Wocka, Giddy Up, Rub-A-Dub and Hitch.

Day 27, Mile 342
May 18
30 Pack’s birthday. Cajon Pass.
Hung out at a hotel all day, drinking and eating and swimming. 30 Pack kissed me in the bathroom.  Not sure how I feel about that.
Hiked out with Tubs around seven, now we’re camped on top of a mountain. Hope to make it to Wrightwood tomorrow…would be my first 25-mile day.

Day 32, Mile 436
May 23
Been dodging POODLE DOG BUSH for the past few days.  We didn’t get into camp till late yesterday, our progress slowed by trying to avoid all of the overgrowth since we couldn’t tell what was what.  Such a relief to climb into sleeping bags.
Today was much better- Hot Tub and I walked and talked.  10-mile road-walk to avoid the Poodle Dog.

Day 39, Mile 535
May 30
The Mojave Desert.
Walking through miles of wind farms and the wind is relentless. Spent last night in a grove of Joshua trees but the wind still managed to blow the tent over in the middle of the night.  Woke up with sand in my teeth.

SBT_Mojave
‘Summer Breeze Trendsetters’. 30 Pack, Sweettooth, Coincidence, Outburst, Hot Tub. Mojave Deser, SoCal.

Day 42, Mile 574
June 2
Walked until well after dark and watched the red blinking lights on the wind turbines and the forest fire grow.  The Mojave is full of smoke, made for a beautiful sunset.
Reason not to night-hike:  risk of blindly cowboy-camping on an ant pile.  Spent the night pinching and slapping at those unfortunate enough to find their way into my bag.  Woke up exhausted and my bag full of tiny ant-corpses.

Day 45, Mile 631
June 5
5 pm and finally starting to cool down.
Today was hard.  Left camp at 7 am but the heat made for slow progress.  I’ve been sitting under a tree getting sapped on since noon.  A whole group of hikers at the water cache, waiting for the temperature to dip.
20 miles to Walker Pass and no water between here and tehre.

Day 48, Mile 683
June 8
Kennedy Meadows, the end of the desert, looming less than 20 miles away and people are getting antsy.
Walked 10 miles this morning to find trail-magic beers sitting in a creek.

Day 50, Mile 704
June 10
The Sierras!
Spent a little over 24 hrs in Kennedy Meadows, wrote some letters and some postcards, drank lotsa beers, called the parents, got my bear canister.
Apprehensive again for the first time since kick-off…lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Day 51, Mile 710
June 11
Clover Meadow.
I can’t remember the last time I walked through anything close to resembling a meadow. We’re in a new world of grass, flowers, butterflies.  It feels like stepping into the Land of Oz.

Day 54, Mile 767
June 14
Camped near a creek at the base of Mt. Whitney. The forest this high up is so stark…the trees are huge…twisted and weathered into gnarly modern-art-like sculptures. Temperature allows us to sleep in and take breaks throughout the day.  No longer relegated to siesta-schedule.
Been walking with 30 a lot.

Day 55, Mile 767
June 15
Father’s Day.
Summitted Mt. Whitney.  Back at camp we were all there- Hot Tub, Sweet Tooth, Coincidence, 30 Pack- all in one place.  It had been a while.

Enjoying much-missed grass and water.
Enjoying much-missed grass and water.

Day 56, Mile 781
June 16
Happy birthday Dad!
Up and over Forester Pass today and surrounded by mountains and creeks and endless beauty.  The splendor of the Sierras is so contrasting to the hot monotony of the desert.
Peanut butter and hot cocoa for dinner.  Too tired/lazy/uninterested to make anything else.
To buy in Bishop: hot sauce; emergen-C; hot cocoa; nail brush; new canister that doesn’t suck
To do in Bishop: call: M&D, Brother, Lily, Alisha, etc. ; eat a shit-ton of Mexican food; go to the bakery; go to the brew house; internet shit; charge everything; movie theater

Day 61, Mile 793
June 21
Woke up with frost on the sleeping bag- makes it hard to motivate.
Camped at Rae Lakes, found a rock shelf 20 feet above the surface where we could look into the water and see the Golden Trout darting through the green water.  Full-moon and it lit up the surface.  The water was bubbling with fish rising.
Since entering the Sierras  the 15 mile-days have left me more exhausted than ever.  The altitude, the extreme ups an downs.  We’ve been going up and over a pass daily, hard but predictable.  Only small patches of well-worn snow.

SBT_sierras_jumping
Pinchot Pass, Summer Solstice.

Day 67, Mile 873
June 27
Ran into two men hiking the JMT- said “You PCT-ers are crazy”
That’s what I’ve heard.
Aspen groves for the past few days, tall and spindly.  Ferns and wildflowers cover the ground- Mule Ears, Indian Paintbrush, Larkspur, Lupine.

Day 69, Mile 900
June 29
Mammoth Lakes, CA.
It’s nice to be in town, to have everyone together.  But at the same time I just want to mind my own. Surrounded by so many non-trail people.  Back into a world of social norms/competition.  I’m sitting at the coffee shop, making funny faces at a little girl across the room.  At least the kids are still honest.

***July 2-9: Off-trail.  Hitch-hiked with Hot Tub and Paul Bunyon some 240 miles from Tuolumne Meadows to Quincy, CA to go to the High Sierra Music Festival to Quincy, CA.  Spent four days exhausting our bodies, dancing and staying up way past hiker-midnight.  Hitched back to Tuolumne from there.  Parted ways with Hot Tub who stayed in Tahoe to rejoin Sweettooth.

Day 81, Mile ???
July 11
UNDER MOSQUITO ATTACK. Humming in my ears all day long.  Can’t stop for any amount of time before the swarm surrounds you.

Day 82, Mile 1010
July 12
1000 MILES!
Long lunch/skinny dip at Dorothy Lake with Paul Bunyon.  A note from 30 Pack at the mile marker.  It was good to hear from him.
A bear watched us as we ate dinner.  Ran when we called to him.
Shopping List: wet wipes; NO MORE SARDINES.

Day 84, Mile ????
July 14
Outside is starting to feel like home.  I feel comfortable, not just a random speck amidst a million trees.
Sage, indian paintbrush, lupine, mint, bee balm, asters and more today.
Paul Bunyon turned back this morning with a head cold.  First day/night on trail completely on my own.

Day 87, Mile 1090
July 17
Break through:  frequent eating/drinking breaks = much more enjoyable hiking.  12 miles by noon.
Ranger station at mile 1078 had a cooler of chicken-salad, fruit, cookies, chips, hard boiled eggs for thru-hikers.  Sat and ate and chatted with day-hikers for a few hours.  Felt very impressive.
Five miles out from South Lake Tahoe.

OB_treehugger
Huggin’ up on my state’s tree.

Day 95, Mile 1250
July 25
Middle Fork of the Feather River.
Walked another marathon today- that makes two in two days.
Passing beautiful Giant Sequoias- tall, thin, straight as arrows.
A rattlesnake stalked me at dinner this evening, got within a few feet, made me feel nervous and flattered.

Day 99, Mile 1320
July 29
Just shy of half-way.
Got my daily-dose of 25 miles today.  Body feels good, but mind is more of a struggle as usual.
Time passes so strangely.  One minute you’re in the moment and the next you’re looking back at it the same as if it had happened years ago.

(continue to PART TWO)

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8 thoughts on “I’m pretty sure it will all be okay: 186 days in the woods”

  1. Alex – I read about your journeys through your dad last year and now I get to read what you were thinking, very cool. Love you much.

  2. What an amazing experience (can’t wait to read the rest). We’d love to feature your story to our community at Worldly.com—it’s really something special that others can learn and be inspired from. Can we send you an early invite? Let us know helper.elves(at)worldly(dot)com.

  3. What an amazing experience, can’t wait to hear the rest. We’d love to share your story on Worldly (worldly.com)—it would be wonderful to teach and inspire others in our community. Can we send you an early invite? Please let us know, helper.elves(at)worldly(dot)com. Thanks!

    1. Skye- thanks for your interest! I’ve just emailed you from my personal account, but the blog-world works too if you prefer. We’ll be in touch!

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