Monday, April 14, 2014

Day 5. Into Julian

As a weekend backpacker in Georgia, I used to see people out on the trail that looked really cool and interesting and wish I could go up and say hey lets be friends. But that never seemed like something that was socially acceptable and also I'm pretty shy.  But the thing about being a thru hiker is that it's OK to say hey do you want to hike together, or take a rest break together.  You can end up sharing your life story (or at least a piece of it), or share your problems or fears.  Then you can go to eat, or split a hotel room- all with someone you just met a few hours ago.  For me, this has really been a breakthrough because one of the things I want to do more of is connect with people on a deeper level. Out here that seems so much easier and is something that I'm so excited about.

The highlight of the day was meeting three hikers that we ended up hiking part of the day and going into the town of Juian with- Farhiker, Jordi, and Sundrizzzle.  What incredible people!  I had a blast with everyone!  We hiked down in te eat and wind, but the miles melted away as the conversations flowed.
A nice couple from San Diego stopped for us at Scissors Crossing and gave us a hitch for the 12 miles into the town of Julian in the back of their pickup.  They were amazed we are hiking all the way to Canada, and I was amazed by their kindness for giving us dirty hikers a ride. Thank you Suzie and Curt!
In Julian, we'd heard that Mom's Pies was giving hikers free pie, so we went there and ordered pie and sandwitches.  And after showing our thru hiker permits, the whole meal was free!  I couldn't believe it!  Such an amazing place and delicious pie!
Then we got a room at the Julian Lodge with our new friend Farwalker and tried to find a laundrymat but there isn't one in this town.  But then the guy from the hotel came and offered to do our laundry- once again so amazing.  

For dinner, we changed into our long underwear and walked downtown.  I have to add this is a fancy tourist town so people were looking at us but some came up to is and asked if we were hikers.  Again I could hardly believe it we looked so funny but it was so much fun and we now have clean hiking clothes and full bellies and I can't imagine being happier.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Day 4. Windy

Today I began hiking at 5:30 AM by headlamp. The sunrise was so spectacular I don't have words to describe it- the changing light, sweeping views down into the valley, and a sea of wildflowers. I was awestruck. If I had known just how absolutely mindblowingly gorgeous the PCT was, I would have spent more of my PCT preparation time on looking up synonyms for "wow" and "spectacular" cause that's all I can think to say. 


I hiked my first "12 before 12" which means 12 miles before noon. It's a good strategy in the heat to hike in the cool of the morning and take several hours siesta midday, and then hike more in the evening. 
Today was so windy it felt like walking in the ocean- we had to lean forward, and we kept getting tossed around, even our hiking poles felt like they were flying out of our hands.

I'm hanging from two really small trees along Chariot Canyon Road (at mile 63) that keep getting knocked around in the wind. I really hope they stay upright through the night. It was tough finding a hang site with all the big burned trees covered in poison oak. 

Overall it was another great day and I'm so happy to be out here!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Day 3. Mt. Laguna

In the morning, we followed a ribbon of trees along verdant Long Canyon Creek. The sound of flowing water was enchanting and I was awed by the giant trees. A guy from Brooklyn named In the Weeds got his feet muddy scrambling down the bank to get water. Renee and I waited to get water at the "ford" which was more of a step-over-easily. 

As we climbed higher, we reached pine forest. We delighted in the dappled shade, watched birds, and enjoyed the pine scents. 

Today was our first town stop, Mt. Laguna. We saw Lande, Sasquach, Amanda, and a bunch of other people I already forgot their names.  Instead of being social and staying in town, we focused on town chores so we could head back to the trail. I inhaled lunch, got my phone charged, bought groceries and a new pair of socks, rinsed my dirty socks in the sink behind the closed visitors center (photo of Renee and I with our socks in the bathroom sink below), triple checked the water report, and made a plan for the next few days. Phew!  
Hanging in my hammock now, under a near full moon, listening to the wind. Renee and Susan went on ahead to camp, and I'm here solo.  I'm so happy that I stopped here- I needed the time alone.  Just to sit with my feet up. Time to think, and time to just be here without thinking at all.  I must have spent the better part of an hour watching ants crawling on the trees as I ate dinner. 
Tomorrow we will meet up again probably at the first water source since I like to hike a bit faster in the AM.  

Day 2: Botany and Border Patrol

During the morning climb out of Hauser Canyon, Susan and I decided to make up fanciful names for all the flowers. We were getting frustrated not knowing the real names for all these unfamiliar plant since we are we are biologists from the southeast. The names we came up with all sounded like food we wished we could be eating: cantaloupe sorbet (for the orange mimulus), purple peach smoothie (a hairy lupine), muscadine polenta (nightshade), borscht (purple lathyrus), Thai basil eggplant curry (another purple phacelia). I don't know why it was so much easier and more satisfying to make observations once they had our fanciful names. Plus, we laughed all morning. 

At Lake Morena, we made a beeline for the ranger station, and were delighted to find a binder with all the local plants. Now, my camera has photos of all the pages, so I can learn the real names.

We also had a third botanical breakthrough- meeting a woman named Landy from Montana who did vegetative surveys and knew some of the plants. How cool!

We have our first PCT story: In the afternoon after our siesta at around mile 23, we encountered a border patrol agent detaining an immigrant. As we walked past them, he asked us if we'd seen anyone else running away. (we hadn't) Further down the trail, we then came upon another border patrol agent who had sprained or broken his ankle. He asked if he could borrow Renee's hiking pole to use to get down the mountain. By the time she gave him her pole, the other agent arrived escorting the kid. We ended up following the three of them down the mountain. Apparently, they'd been chasing a whole group of immigrants for the past two days, until there were just two left. The guy that got away had paused when seeing the agent got hurt, and asked him if he was OK before running off. It was so interesting to hear parts of the story and watch the interactions. The injured guy hobbled slowly and looked to be on a lot of pain, but tried to act tough. We followed them to their vehicles at the road crossing, and he thanked us for use of the pole. Quite a fascinating glimpse into border issues.

Hanging my hammock this evening at Fred Canyon, at mile 32. We are camped with Landy and a couple from Washington state named Chuck and Sally who are hiking for 100 days at a relaxed pace- very nice. Another great day!

PS I will upload the photos from my camera and answer comments next time I have wifi- still getting used to blogging from the trail.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Day 1. WOW, Trees and Flowers

This was my first day on the PCT. We arrived at Campo with about 10-15 other hikers that stayed at Scout and Frodo's house or with Girl Scout. They are trail angels who host hikers, were highly organized and very hospitable, provided an incredible dinner and then a frittata breakfast, and transported us from the airport to their house and then to the trailhead. All without accepting even a donation. Incredible! 

It was awkward doing all the photos at the border- I just wanted to get on the trail. But soon enough we started walking. At first, we hiked with some other women, then the groups spread out and it was less uncrowded, and I relaxed. I was amazed at how peaceful it was, birds chirping, quiet, except for our excited chatter.
I could not stop saying WOW at all the flowers and trees.   Frodo said there were fewer flowers due to the drought, but we were still impressed with the diversity and abundance.  Wow, purple flowers, crimson flowers, orange flowers, blue flowers that I don't know the names for.  Wow, yucca and Indian paintbrush, cottonwood and live oak.  Other hikers on the trail are already asking if we are 'the botanists'- I guess it's because we ask everyone we meet if the know any names of these plants.  Susan and I know east coast plants, but most of these here are unfamiliar, though we figure out some to family at least.  We stop and take tons of pictures and point new ones to each other.  Anyone know what these are?

Towards evening,  Susan exclaimed that she hadn't made notes about the leaf arrangements of some flowers so we can look the up.  "But we can always do that tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that."  We laughed because it hadn't sunk in that we aren't going back to Georgia at the end of a week.  That the PCT is now our new home.

I felt so happy all day.   I am thrilled to be out here starting this journey.  No more anxiety. Everything feels right, especially being on the west coast again.  

Other hikers are wearing skirts (or kilts) and dirty girl gaiters, carrying umbrellas, and are as excited to be out here too.  This makes me feel like I've found 'my tribe.'
Tonight we are camped at Hauser Creek with Far Out, a guy who wears a kilt he sewed himself. The 15 miles we hiked were fairly easy, but we are trying to pace ourselves and not overdo it especially when  carrying 6 1/2 liters of water and in the 88 degree heat. We took a two hour siesta under the shade of manzanita during the heat of the day so that really helped.  Now I am hanging in my hammock and it's nice and cool perfect sleeping weather.  What a great day!

Monday, April 7, 2014

PCT prep: Last week before leaving

I can hardly believe that I fly out to San Diego tomorrow to start hiking the PCT.  This past week has been filled with last minute sewing, spring wildflower walks, and gear-obsessing, in addition to the Trail Dames backpacking trip.
Susan's house because PCT-prep central.  Renee and I repair gear, while Susan dehydrates meals.
My sewing took on a frantic pace, as if my PCT success depended on it.  I designed a new pair of tall gaiters because none of my five other tall gaiters are exactly right for the PCT.  So obviously I needed to make a new pair. 
Extra wide tall gaiters so they are sun-protective, breezy, and completely dorky.
There was an embarrassing amount of time spent deciding on the color schemes for my hiking outfit.  I will wear the same thing to hike in every day, so I want to like it.  My east-coast outfits didn't seem right for the PCT.  So I sewed a new gaiters and sun-protective wristies (a shorter version of my arm sleeves/ gaiters).  I debated endlessly about what fabric to use.  I didn’t want to be too “matchy” as if I were trying too hard, even though I totally am.  And I want to wear something bright that will make me feel happy but hopefully won’t make people think I’m too dorky.  Even though I am a bit of a dork.  Over the last year, wearing camo print has turned into somewhat of a joke, so I used glitter bright-green camo fabric for the bottoms of the gaiters.  Because how totally funny is glitter-camo!?!?   I could hardly believe it when I found the glitter camo fabric at the fabric store- isn't glitter on camo sort of counter-productive unless you are trying to "blend in" at a trapeze performance or something.  Haha!
Fashion photo shoot of the PCT So.Cal. "outfit"

You might notice that I decided to go with a long sleeved shirt, rather than my short sleeved shirt plus arm sleeves that I normally wear in the southeast.  I'd been debating about this previously, and ended up buying a new Railrider's shirt since I saw how Renee's kept her so cool on the southwest tour.  The arm sleeves were just too hot.  I am also starting in a skirt, but will put the railrider pants in my bounce box in case I want to switch.

Other last-minute gear changes have also saved me a few ounces.  Polycro ground cloth from Gossamer Gear instead of tyvek.  New tree straps from Dutchware (thank you Dutch!).  Lifeproof fre iphone case instead of an otterbox. Only one bandana, only one pair of underwear, only one set of gloves (unless you count the sun wristies).

Speaking of gear, a huge thank you to Randy of Dream Hammocks for replacing the continuous loops on my Darien UL hammock!  And thank you so much to Renee for hand carrying my hammock to the Dream Hammock World Headquarters (i.e. Randy’s basement workshop) while she was in Ohio so my hammock would have no chance of getting lost in the mail.  I’m so fortunate to have a hiking partner that understands, or at least accepts, my hammock-obsession.

The week wasn't just about gear and clothes.  I also attended one last "Nature Ramble" at the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia in Athens.  My friend Sandra from the lab and I have been going for the past year.  Once a week, botanists and nature enthusiasts walk around the trails through the woods learning about the natural history of our local forests.  It's wonderful being around the amazing people in the group- mostly retired- highly inquisitive and thoughtful- people I want to be like.  Going rambling always reminds me of the importance of being observant and treasuring the nature that is around you.  Joining the Ramblers has been one of the highlights of this past year, and I will miss them for sure. 
Looking at flowers with the Nature Ramblers.
For the last few months, I've been going on daily training hikes with my pack, hauling around tire chains in place of the weight of my food.  I just got done packing my food for Campo, so I'll say goodbye to these for now.  The next hiking I will do will be on the PCT.  I still can't believe it!
Last training hike with the tire chains.
Finally, I dropped off my car at my friend Brenda's house.   I met Brenda through Trail Dames and we've done a lot together with the group, and I was so thrilled when she said she would keep my car in her garage.  Thank you, Brenda!
Dropping my car off at Brenda's.
Renee, Susan and I fly out to San Diego tomorrow.  The next post will be from the trail...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Pine Mountain Trail with the Dames

The cure for pre-PCT jitters turned out to be a two night backpacking trip with the Trail Dames.  Renee and I planned this for right before we fly to San Diego, anticipating that we'd need a distraction.  It was perfect-- fun, great energy, and an overall fabulous time out in the woods.
Photo by Monica.
Renee and I were joined by three other women to "thru-hike" the 23-mile Pine Mountain Trail at FDR State Park in Georgia.  One long-time friend and two others who are new to Trail Dames-- a woman who drove all the way from Florida because she was looking for others who liked to backpack as much as she did, and another woman for whom the PMT is a favorite who heard about the trip through Gossamer Gear.  All were experienced backpackers, and we had a blast talking about trails, geeking out with gear talk, and sharing tales. 
Dogwoods in bloom everywhere.
Jean shows off her huge, lightweight DIY polycro tarp.
The mountains were exploding with spring green.  Trees were just starting to bud out, but there were still views and bright sun through the trees.  Dogwoods and wild azaleas lit up the valleys.  Fireflies danced at night.  Spring wildflowers kept me ooing and ahhing.  I slept to the soft patter of rain on my tarp the last night.  
Yay for big trees!
I was so glad for this trip, and to be surrounded by such beauty and by such fun companions.  Being on the trail, I could be in the moment for the most part.  I tried my best to not stress about PCT gear minutiae or water sources in SoCal.  Though a few times my mind would wander and I would feel the anxiety creep back in.  It messes with my memory- a few times someone would ask the name of a familiar flower, and I would completely blank out.  Monica said she'd never heard me say "I don't know" so often.  I guess this is how I'm responding to all the excitement, but I know it's gonna be fine once I get out there.  
Views across the valley.
Bursting blossoms.