So, Backcountry Ninjas, the t-shirt company we’ve been developing along the road- from Montana to Texas to California to, as of tonight, Seattle- FINALLY has some GIRL STUFF.
We are now selling women’s athletic shirts, women’s cut-off t-shirts and PURPLE RAIN ADVENTURE SKIRTS, hand-made by our friend and fellow thru-hiker, Purple Rain, right out of Portland, OR.
As always, Backcountry Ninjas is devoted to the enjoyment and stewardship of nature and all it has to offer. For this reason we will always donate 7% of proceeds- 3% to each the Pacific Crest Trail Association and Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and 1% to a third, rotating charity, currently For Love Of Children.
We hope you are gearing up, wherever you are, for an awesome summer! Keep on rocking in the tree world!
One year to the day since I started hiking the PCT and we’re back at the southern terminus. With Hippie Long Stockings and Solstice, an unexpected replay of those first 20 miles. Leaving after dark, we hike until 4 in the morning. The night hike obscures time and fatigue and I grip my trekking poles hoping to keep my feet under me over the rocks and drops. With only a single beam of light to orient, the trail becomes tricky and two-dimensional so I fix my light on Hippie’s leopard-print spandex and try to keep pace with her steps and conversation.
The Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off, ADZPCTKO, takes on a different tone as an alumni. No nerves, no need to rest up for what lies ahead. It’s a reunion, and a year later we’ve got the experience, we know the beauty. Now we know what they were all talking about last year. And since we’ve proven ourselves to ourselves, we take on the job of giving the pep-talks, the encouragement, the warnings. All of us, reassembled a year later, have been changed. It just shows how big this thing is. It’s a game-changer.
After a couple days of celebrating the new hiking season, we somehow cram Coincidence, Hot Tub, and gear into Old Faithful and drive from Lake Morena to the Salton Sea. The foul-smelling beach, a landscape of fish-bones and barnacles, salt-encrusted and rotten, crunches under our feet as we make our way to the lapping water. Garbage everywhere, an unsprung-armchair resting at the water’s edge.
Water has come and gone from this place over hundreds of thousands of years. What we call the Salton Sea is the latest incarnation of this body of water, forming in 1905 when the Colorado river flooded the area. Without an outflow, the salinity of the sea increases about 1% each year. The land-locked sea briefly served as a luxurious oasis in the middle of the desert until salt levels reached a point causing the fish to dye. The stench overwhelmed the glamour and drove away vacationers.
Take the 86 north, turn right on the 10, then left onto Cottonwood Springs Road. South entrance to Joshua Tree National Park . A construction crew repairs wreckage from the most recent flash flood. After the sunset, the stars are amazing. Always the first thing to hit me when we’ve escaped civilization.
Joshua Tree is the meeting place of the Colorado and Mojave deserts. Ocotillo, Creosote Bush, Cholla Cactus. Fried Liver Wash. White Tank Granite. We hike up Ryan Mountain for a view of the Dr. Suess landscape. Joshua Trees with their hindu-god limbs scattered across the desert, flat aside from the sporadic, hill-sized rock piles.
Much of Joshua Tree is undeveloped. There are only a few places to fill water and no other amenities. The landscape is quiet and bizarre.
Trunk of a Cholla Cactus. Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Hot Tub and Coincidence. Joshua Tree National Park.
Summit, Ryan Mountain. Joshua Tree National Park.
Coincidence, Hot Tub, 30 Pack, Outburst. Overnight on Boyscout Trail.
Coincidence, Boy Scout Trail.
Trails in the desert. Joshua Tree National Park.
Boy Scout Trail. Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Coincidence and 30 Pack. Boy Scout Trail, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Joshua Trees at sunset.
Desert Flowers. Joshua Tree National Park.
Coincidence, 30 Pack and Hot Tub. Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
30 Pack, Coincidence and Hot Tub. Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Sandblasted and ready for showers, we wind our way west and into the mountains to revisit Idyllwild, an evergreen oasis, perched at a mile high in the San Jacinto wilderness, PCT mile 179. The little mountain town is welcoming and walkable, a perfect place for hikers. We arrived last year, soaked and shivering from our first storm and took a zero day to recover and enjoy this mellow sliver of civilization.
Hike up the Deer Spring Trail to Strawberry Junction. Soak in the evergreens mingling with blooming Manzanitas. With trees of this magnitude comes shade and water and we lap it up. Hot Tub and Coincidence hike ahead while 30 Pack and I dilly dally, just like old times. Neon sunset and thumbnail moon.
Dear Spring Trailhead. San Jacinto Wilderness.
Ponderosa puzzle pieces.
View of Taquitz Peak from Suicide Rock. San Jacinto Wilderness.
Manzanitas in bloom.
The wind picks up in the night but calms by sunrise. My eyes first open to birds going crazy at first light and Hot Tub’s silhouette, the first to emerge from the cocoon. I let myself drift in and out for a while and think, “Aaaaahhh, we’re back on trail.”
We climb San Jacinto Peak, second tallest in SoCal at 10,834 feet, that afternoon, passing PCTers periodically, looking adorably fresh and energetic. I can only imagine how fresh and energetic we seem in comparison. Camp at Round Valley amidst granite boulders. On the hike back to Idyllwild we clamber around enormous trees fallen across the trail. An agitated Timber Rattler lunges at 30 Pack, sends him flying off trail, the fall tearing up his arms and pants.
From the mountains to the beach.
We arrive at the ocean in San Clemente in time for sunset, the sun a slightly squashed apricot hovering above the waves. Gobs of seaweed drifting in on the waves, left sprawled like bodies in the sand. Surfer bodies out in the waves, graceful and seal-like in their wetsuits, at home in the water.
We spend two nights at San Mateo Campground, just across the I-5 from town. During the day we wander through town and watch surfers from the beach. It’s got a Mediterranean spirit lodged in its terracotta roves, white-washed walls, occasional lemon tree. We sit around the campfire at night and look up to a muted sky- not so many stars here, near the metropolis. We make an after-dark trip to the shore along a dirt road, under a bridge, through a tunnel, onto a broad beach. Run into the water and have your breath taken away by the crushing waves.
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.
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
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
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
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
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 ??
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.
Day 6, Mile ??
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
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…
Day 10, Mile 135
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
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
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 ???
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.
Day 22, Mile 252
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
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
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
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
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.
Day 42, Mile 574
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Day 56, Mile 781
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
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.
Day 67, Mile 873
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
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 ???
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
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 ????
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
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.
Day 95, Mile 1250
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
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.
Guadalupe Peak, our last stop before leaving Texas, is the highest point in Texas, 8,749 feet. The trek to the summit, 8.4 miles round-trip, is a beautiful one with awesome views and 3,000 feet of elevation gain.
Guadalupe Peak Trail
View of El Capitan’s backside from the summit of Guadalupe Peak. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX.
Guadalupe Peak Monument
Exploring the fossil garden. Guadalupe Peak, TX.
The Guadalupe Mountains hold the fossils of an ancient marine reef, “El Capitan Reef”, spanning 400 miles. Up close, the fossils are amazingly intact and abundant.
Limestone layers, Guadalupe Mountains.
We camped right near the trailhead at the Pine Springs campground for $8. On our next visit, we’ll camp (with a free backcountry permit) at the awesome site just shy of the summit. The perfect vantage for the sunrise and set.
All in all, a wonderful send-off from the vast and varied state of Texas.
We made it! From Montana to the Gulf of Mexico, how sweet it is! Here is a jumbled look at the last few weeks as we’ve roamed the giant state of Texas. We’ve been so lucky to see all these beautiful things, even more so to visit so many good friends along the way. It seems that everywhere we’ve been, we are met with open arms.
Now, onward to Big Bend National Park! Yeeehaw!
View from the pier
Big dead fish
Mili out to sea
Little sea birdies, all in a line.
Beautiful Cousin Michelle and darling son Jesse
Iced over, Katy TX. We’ve dragged the cold from MT to TX. Sorry folks!
We’ve reached the Gulf of Mexico! South Padre Island, TX
Down Town San Antonio, TX
Courthouse, San Antonio
The Esquire. Dern Hipsters…
….but they make a dern good Old Fashioned
Alone in a sea of buildings.
Day hike, Hill Country State Natural Area, TX
30 Pack, Rampage and Moose. Hill Country State Natural Area, TX.
We spend a day in Lander, take a hike up Sinks Canyon to see the frozen falls, eat enormous burgers at the Lander Bar. Alongside the local cowboys, we watch Olympic figure skating and cringe as Sean White takes fourth.
It’s windy as Hell as we head South on Hwy 287. The road is closed to “light weight vehicles” and the rest stops are full of semis, waiting it out.
After a night in Laramie, we cross into Colorful Colorado at 11:03 am. The odometer reads 1053.
In Denver, we stay with Karlie. We’ve known each other since middle school and she’s letting us stay as long as we’d like.
On Valentine’s Day we drive to Rocky Mountain National Park. A sign reads “In case of flood climb to safety”. We see sunken houses, boarded windows, bull dozers and trees with exposed, bare roots. We learn that 18 inches of rain fell between September 11 and 13 of last year. The park had to be evacuated and the eastern entrances were inaccessible due to the devastation of the flood.
Herds of elk graze beneath towering mountains. It’s 36° and snowing lightly. We’ve got the park to ourselves. We cook ribeye steaks for dinner and make a nest in the back of the car, drinking wine and playing chess.
In the morning, it’s too windy to make coffee or cook bacon. We pack up the car and drive out of the park as a stream of cars enter.
We pull away from Missoula at -7°.
The long way, Hwy 278, stretches across the beautiful Big Hole Valley. The cold has turned Wisdom and Jackson into ghost towns. We see three moose and a herd of antelope. Otherwise it’s just us and the cows.
Three nights in Dillon with my aunt and uncle. Yellow fields, blue mountains, endless sky. A night in Bozeman with our friend Layla. The temp is up to 27°.
The highway takes us through Fromberg, MT. A few buildings, a glimpse of a postman and a police car, and we’re back up to 60mph. Scattered antelope, cottonwoods crowding the frozen creek beds, snow-shrouded hay bales. So many bales, sitting, waiting to be reintegrated.
Just past the Wyoming border, a four-point buck grazes on the side of the guard rail. We stop in Thermopolis, home of the world’s largest hot mineral springs. We soak at the bath house and drive through the bison viewing area. We see only their tracks amidst the red rocks emerging from the snow, and a rabbit.
We arrive in Lander just after dark.