Sunday, August 31, 2014

Day 140: Enjoying the new rhythm

Day 140: 8/26/14
1062 to 1074
Miles hiked: 12

I spent the whole day really enjoying slowing down and being on the PCT.  It was such a refreshing shift from the day before- yay!  Rather than focusing on miles, it felt wonderful to think of time as something to be savored.  I relaxed into the new rhythm of the day.
Pausing to watch the shadows.
Every lake was an opportunity for a swim.  I got in no matter how cold it was.  Feeling feet off the bottom and what it is to be free.  I raced the waterboatmen around. I wondered why some lakes had more caddisfly larvae than others, and wished I knew more about the local ecology.
Going for yet another swim.
Every stream offered a chance to linger, to be curious about the life nurtured along the banks.  It brought back memories of all the hikes I used to do with the Nature Ramblers, a group of naturalists at the GA botanical gardens, and how they look at and learn about everything along the trail.  Only I didn't have anyone to ask about what I saw, so I took a lot of photos and will try to look up the plants when I get to town.
So exciting to find Grass of Parnassus!!!  This one I knew from seeing it in North Carolina.
At every viewpoint, I pulled out the sit-pad and took off my shoes.   I also thought about hiking with the Trail Dames, our women's hiking club back in Georgia, and all the times we'd sit and soak in the views.  Being by myself was making me appreciative of all the hiking communities that I've been part of.
Stopping for another view and contemplating the stark beauty.
No more thru hikers
I am still adjusting to hiking without thru hikers around.  When I crested the passes, I still expected to see my old hiking friends sitting around waiting for me.  One time I saw an arrow in the dirt and my heart skipped because I thought maybe it was MeToo’s sign that he was up ahead but it wasn’t right, and anyway he is up at the OR/WA border already.  I thought about everyone in my trail family spread out hundreds of miles north of me, maybe even at the Canada border soon.  Where had they camped when they’d passed by here?  I noticed I missed hiking with them, but I wasn’t lonely.

Still, I tried to engage everyone I met on the trail beyond just finding out about water sources up ahead.  A moment of connection was had with a woman who’d broken her foot years ago and knew about what it took to heal.  Yet conversations felt different compared to when I was hiking among thru hikers and I trusted that I could make a new life-long friend in a short time.  It made me realize that was the one of the most important and wonderful thing I’d gotten out of my PCT experience up until I got the stress fracture- those friends I made out there. <Aww I love you my trail friends and family! Hugs to you whereever you are!>

Evening off-trail
In the afternoon when I began to run out of miles, I started looking for a place to set up camp.  The PCT skirted around a set of lakes and then dropped below them, but from far away I could see perfectly spaced trees for my hammock above the largest lake.  So I went off-trail to find those trees and it turned out to be an incredible spot.
View from the PCT of the lakes I explored.
When I got to camp, I changed into my “camp” shoes which are actually my old style hiking shoes- the Altras- that I decided to carry in case the Keens caused my feet any problems.  It was weird carrying two sets of shoes- I don’t even carry flip flops.  But I managed to switch out some gear and leave enough stuff behind (including my down booties!) to offset the extra weight of the shoes.  My feet were not used to the stiff, constricting feel of my new “supportive” hiking shoes after being in trail runners for so long, so they felt so happy for the break. 
Off to play in the rocks and water in my trail runners.
I decided to go exploring around the lakes to see if I could find the source of the water.  Around the wildflower-lined lake, I splashed through a delightful bog to reach a small gurgling inlet.

Then I headed up a boulder field above the lake.  Soon I was scrambling on all fours up the rocks.  Probably not an approved part of the stress fracture recovery plan, but it was so much fun I couldn't resist.
View of the lake after climbing up the boulders on the side of the valley opposite the PCT.
Descending down the rocks in my wet shoes, I had a moment of insight about the cause of my stress fracture.  My feet sloshed sideways in the wet shoes as I slid down the uneven and unstable terrain.  It struck me that this was motion that could have caused my stress fracture especially when I had shoes that were the half size bigger and I was in the snow.  It was such a distinct type of movement, unlike normal hiking on regular trail and unlike what it feels like when my shoes are dry because they flexed a lot more.  Of course I can’t be sure, but at least it was a working hypothesis that I could live with.  

I’d been fixated on finding out the cause of the stress fracture.  I hate feeling like I can’t prevent it from happening again.  I’ve spent hours going through my pre-PCT training spreadsheets trying to determine where I’d gone wrong.  I hope I can move on at some point because the mentally beating myself up for not training harder or being able to prevent this from happening hasn’t been healthy. 
Shadows creeping slowly across the valley below.
I returned to camp and spent an entire 2 hours watching the sunset.  I felt proud of myself for making the most of my time.  The delightful off-trail adventures wouldn’t have happened if I hadn't needed these shorter mile days.  I felt so grateful and appreciative for everything- life, this beautiful place, the PCT, my communities, my friends, everything.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Day 139: The problem of fewer miles

Day 139: 8/25/14
1052 to 1062
Miles hiked: 10

By 2 PM on my second day back on the PCT, I was already having a mini-meltdown.  I’d completed 10 miles, my pre-determined limit for the day to be easy on my foot after the stress fracture.  What was I gonna do in the 6 hours still left before dark?  I am so conditioned to keep hiking as long as there is daylight.   I felt the pull of the trail with every cell in my body.  But I realized I needed to rest my foot.  I was not gonna re-injure my foot.  NO WAY was I risking that.
Totally frustrated with my 2 PM finish time.
So I set up camp.  Thank goodness it started raining and continued raining until the night.  That made it much easier to be still in my hammock while I tried to think of ways to slow down and figure out how to manage my new my low mileage goals.  I tried to think about everything I’d learned about stillness and meditating while I’d been off the trail, but that was in the Redwoods and back in a house or a town.  It is so much harder practicing on the PCT. 
The soothing sound of rain on my tarp.
I reflected on the course of my day.  I thought I had been going as slow as I could possibly manage.  I took a break every hour to take off my shoes and massage the feet.  I was really trying hard but it was tough sitting very long. I wasn’t in the least bit tired.  My muscles ached to go go go go.  They had only just started to warm up, and there we were stopping again.  Such an endorphin junkie.  I thought I’d done the right thing by diligently going to the gym for hours every day, going swimming, keeping up my cardio and doing weight training.  But I now I almost wished I didn't have such a huge imbalance between the strength of my legs and lungs, and the weakness of my feet.  Now my legs were getting a taste of the trail and I was having a heck of a time trying to convince them to stop chasing more miles.
What was wrong with me for not wanting to spend more time here for a rest break?
Adapting to shorter miles and to being still was a more difficult mental challenge than I’d anticipated.  I needed to figure out techniques that would allow me to feel as engaged and connected to the outdoors as I do when I am moving down the trail.  Advanced-backpacking warrior-ninja-level  technique. 

While I was hiking, I had also tried to slow down my hiking pace as another way to adapt.  The downhills were OK, but I kept forgetting to take it easy on the uphills.  My darn legs would get all excited whenever I’d start to climb.  Back in the groove like nothing happened, totally forgetting the poor feet.  The feet weren’t complaining or anything, but I could tell they were weak and I didn’t know what they could handle yet.   Anyway, I knew I couldn’t go on hiking like this.  I knew it was a bigger problem- that of my mindset.
Uphills make me want to fly up up up and away.
Mental shifts are the hardest.  In my old mindset doing 20-25 miles each day was a given.  Wake up, hike all day, go to bed.  More miles accomplished equaled greater success.  No wonder it felt so difficult to stop hiking so early in the day!  It wasn’t just about how to fill the time.  It was how to feel like I was out there doing something that I could be proud of.  I needed to redefine my notions of what I was out there for.

If I took a good photo, would that make my hike more meaningful?  What about if I saw a cool flower?  Learned some new skill?  Swam more?  Stopped at more vistas?  Or had some insightful realization?  Those things are so much harder to measure and put a finger on than miles per day displayed with pride at the top of a blog post.  Do badass hikers take the time to sit and watch every moment of a sunrise or sunset?   How will you all know I’m not just a slacker goofing off in the woods?   How will I tell if I’m really having a meaningful experience out here?
After fighting so hard to get healed from my injury, what am I going to do now that I'm back out here?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Day 138: Back on the PCT!

Day 138: 8/24/14
1050 to 1052
Miles hiked: 2 (Possibly the best 2 miles ever!)
(Note: “Day” refers to days since starting the PCT back in April.  I got off the trail on day 64 at Tuolumne Meadows, PCT mile 940.  I took 74 “zero” days to heal from the stress fracture.  Those days off the trail were still part of my journey.)

Starting out for my first backpacking trip on the PCT in 10 weeks since the stress fracture, I was filled with uncertainty.  I half expected my foot to completely fail again.  I feared reinjury, more setbacks.  Could I trust my foot again?  I didn’t know.

The past weeks since getting out of the CAM boot, I had been carefully building up strength on incrementally longer dayhikes with my pack (up to 7 miles) and giving my foot extra time to heal by cross training every other day.  Now I was setting out for a 28 mile backpacking trip that I planned to do over the course of three nights- more than I’d done since the injury but I hoped it wasn’t too much of a stretch.  I tried not to think about how before my injury, I could do 28 miles in a single day.  Jim (PITA) had recommended this section as an easy place to start back, and Renee (Pathfinder) had taken extensive notes for me when she passed through about the terrain.  Still, I made backup plans with Steph in case something happened to my foot and I didn’t think I could make it. 
Steph drops me off at Ebbetts Pass.
Stepping onto the PCT in the late-afternoon from Ebbetts Pass filled with nervousness, I realized there was nothing I could do but hike.  I pushed aside the endless stream of thoughts, all the second-guessings.  I took a deep breath.  And I simply hiked. 
What rocks!  What trees!  What sky!
Hiking those first two miles to the first night’s camp was like no other hike I’d done.  I was fully engaged, in the moment.  All thoughts were irrelevant.  I was hiking.  HIKING!  All my senses were awake.   Listening to the birds calling.  Tasting the wind.  Pausing to pick gooseberries, to examine every flower, to touch the bright green moss.  Feeling sun on skin and earth on feet.  Every scent on the air tickled my nose.  I was so quiet I crept up on a coyote down the slope.  What wildness, what beauty!

I was hiking like it was the last hike I would ever do.  Like I wanted to stretch those miles out and make them last forever.  As if I had to savor every single moment wholeheartedly.  To appreciate the sweetness of being able to hike.   It could be all that I’d ever get.   
Feet doing a happy dance.
I sat and watched the sunset over Upper Kinney Lake.  Quiet.  Content.  For an entire two hours.  If those are the only two miles I get, that's OK.  It was worth those weeks of healing.  Worth it for everything that happened- for what I learned, for the redwoods, for time with Steph, for the visit with my parents, for who I have become.

Then, I curled up sung in my hammock.  Overwhelmed with happiness to be back home on the PCT.
Yay I made it!  I love this life of mine!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Apps for long distance backpacking

Wondering how to manage your finances, keep track of your resupply and gear, and do all the other life-maintenance stuff you have to do while you are out on the trail for months on end?  You can do all of this from your smartphone.

Here is a rundown of the apps that I found most useful on (and off) the PCT.   New apps are available all the time but this should provide ideas of the possible uses of a smartphone on a long trail.
Logistics and financial apps.
Navigation and PCT related apps.

Most hikers were good about this, but as a reminder- while on the trail, please be courteous to others who may be looking for a wilderness experience and step away from people if you need to use your phone.  Or wait til you get to town.
Catching up on blogging and email in town.
Logistics/ money
Several apps made it possible to manage my life while on the trail.  I paid my bills and accessed my bank accounts using my smartphone.  I also stored spreadsheets with information about my resupply boxes and gear (to make repairs and reordering easier).  

mSecure ($9.99)
Stores all your passwords, account information, and logins in one place, protected by a single password.  This was a huge breakthrough for me because otherwise I get lost trying to remember all of the different logins and various numbers.  Just can’t forget the single master password.

USPS Mobile (free)
Helpful for keeping track of resupply boxes.  Scan in the barcode/ QR code of your resupply packages, track your packages, and search for post offices.  I ordered pre-paid boxes to leave with my resupply person, so I stored the tracking numbers in this program and could see when they were delivered.  Can also search for PO locations.

Banking apps for your bank (free for Bank of America)
Apps for your bank are helpful for locating ATMs and for accessing your checking account.

Google Drive (free)
A cloud storage tool that allows you to store your files online so you can access and synchronize them via the web or on multiple devices like your computer or smartphone.  I’d previously written documents and worked collaboratively using Google Docs (like office so it has documents and spreadsheets) so it was easy for me to move all of my files here and which is why I use it the most.  However, dropbox and others are similar.  I cached important documents on my phone so I could access them even without a connection.  Files that were most helpful to have stored on my phone included:
    - Emergency contact numbers
    - Gear lists including weigh, size and style, and where I bought them in case I needed to order a replacement or get it repaired on the trail
    - Spare gear lists so I knew where my stuff was located at my parents’s house and how it was labeled to make it easier for them to send me anything
    - Manuals for electronics and other gear (in pdf's)
    - Resupply schedule/ distances between resupply stops created using Craig’s PCT planner
    - Food ideas and recipes for the trail for when I got to grocery stores and needed ideas on what to buy

Social Media
Posting my photos and doing a blog allowed me to share my hike with my friends, family, and blog readers and allowed me to feel connected with them. 

Facebook (free)
The ‘PCT Class of 2014’ page was a popular place for asking questions about everything PCT related, for getting rides and places to stay, lost gear, finding people, and trail updates.  Sure a lot of the information could be found on the postholer FAQ or PCTA website, but many find it easier to use to get a quick answer without having to scroll around when you have limited time and connections.

Instagram (free)
Fast, easy interface and a good alternative to facebook.  Many PCT bloggers share photos via instagram (search for #PCT or #PCT2014).  I didn’t use this while I was on the trail, but did use it when I had to get off the trail and it made it easy to keep up with other PCT hikers. 

Bloglovin (free)
Used this to follow blogs while on the trail.  At first, I followed blogs of PCT hikers that were ahead of me so I’d know what to expect and where to go on town stops.  Later, I’d use it to follow blogs of friends I met on the trial so I could find out where they were.  Much easier than going to everyone’s individual websites.  Another website that had many PCT blogs was the PCTA journalist, but I never figured out a good way to read it on my phone. 

Blogger (free)
This app is outdated and has limited functionality, but unfortunately it is the only thing I’ve found that works with my blog platform.  Do NOT do a blog on blogspot.  I’d already been using blogspot for years and didn’t want to switch to a new site, but in retrospect I almost wish I had because this was a pain in the neck and the formatting got messed up when I posted via my smartphone. I ended up typing up my blog posts in an email rather than using this app because it lost a few posts when I didn’t have service.   I used the Blogger app to add the photos to my blog posts once I’d sent them in via email. 

Looking through my photos at the end of each day was a great way to reflect on my experiences on the trail.  I ended up sending my camera home and taking all my photos using my iphone.  It turned out to be too much of a bother to have to transfer my camera photos to my iphone where they could then be uploaded or posted on my blog.  I preferred the simplicity of a single device.

ProHDR ($1.99)
Takes consistently better photos than the regular iphone camera program especially in high contrast lighting.  It has a self timer feature.

VSCOcam (free)
Awesome photo editing app with lots of features.

MyPics ($2.99)
Backup your photos every time you are in town because you don’t want to loose your pictures.  I use Picasa web albums because it works with my blog.  Whenever I had wifi, I would upload all my photos into a new album, and then share this with my family and post a link on my blog.  Other people used facebook or instagram, and there are also things like flickr, but be sure to find something that is fast and has plenty of storage, and set it up before you leave.

PCT apps/ Navigation 
The PCT is well marked for the most part but I used my phone frequently for navigation.  Especially to check my mileage and see distances to water and campsites.  I still carried and used paper maps and a compass.   They really came in handy for the snow.  Sometimes the location given by these apps was WRONG (especially under tree cover) so they are not a substitute for traditional map and compass skills.
Where are we?!?!  MeToo and Blue Yonder use their phones for navigation.
PCTHYOH app (free)
One of my favorite apps.  Stores helpful PCT information in one location for easy access.  I used this frequently to look up the water report.  This is how I also go my weather reports- locations along the trail are already entered and the format is easy to read.  It also has pdfs of Halfmile’s maps, and has lots of helpful links.  The only trick was to remember to refresh this app while in towns or when cell service is available to get the latest updates.

Halfmile PCT (free)
My most frequently used app.  Simple design and interface, so less clutter than Guthooks.  Tells you your location (i.e. your mile on the PCT) or how far you are from the trail.  It also gives distances to various landmarks like water sources, campsites, and roads.  Highly recommended!

eTrails (free)
This was another favorite app for the PCT because it had natural history and historical information.  I liked to read it in town so I would know more about what I’d be seeing the next section.  It also had lots of information about side trails especially for peak bagging and it showed roads and water sources that were not in some of the others apps.  It seems to be more set up for section hikers because the mileages were by section and didn’t coincide with Halfmile’s miles which was the only thing I really disliked about this app.

Guthook’s Hiking Guides
I had these but didn’t end up using it as much as Halfmile or eTrails.  But other people preferred the interface.  I thought it took longer to pick up a location.  I would definitely use this again though because it was valuable to have multiple sources of information on campsites and watersources.  I also really liked that it provided a place for virtual "register" entries.  This allowed users to update information such as saying if the springs were still flowing- I used that often in NorCal and appreciated the extra information.

Gaia GPS
This app allows you to use your cell phone as a GPS and functions without cell service.  It requires that you download maps and tracks or waypoints prior to your hike.  I use this often on my backpacking trips at home and really like it, but only used it once on the PCT.   Guthooks and Halfmile are what I used on the PCT for navigation.  The only time I used it was when I was taking an obscure side trail back to the PCT after getting off the trail unexpectedly.  If you are just going to stick to the PCT, you don’t need it, but if you plan to do side trails, it’s very helpful if you can download the maps beforehand.  Note that it will drain your battery life quickly if you aren’t careful, so read up on how to use it to avoid this problem.

Other related information

Adventure Alan’s how to use the iphone as gps mapping device (excellent reference for how to save battery life)

Gadgets’ Gadget Guide on Postholer- on how to choose a smartphone

Halfmile’s cell phone report (where there is cell reception from ATT, Verizon, T-Mobile and where to get WiFi along the trail)

Disclaimer: I purchased all these apps with my own funds and these opinions are my own.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Clothes Review for the PCT: SoCal and the Sierra

This is a review of the clothes I wore on my 2014 PCT hike for the 940 miles through SoCal and the Sierra.

I have already reviewed my hammock gear in this post, and I will do a review in the future of my other gear (pack, hydration, electronics, etc). 

I have divided the clothes into functional categories:
   - Hiking clothes (shirt, skirt, gaiters, underwear, bra, socks, shoes),
   - Sleeping clothes (fleece hoodie, long underwear, down coat, down booties, buff)
   - Clothes used for weather protection (sunhat, umbrella, sungloves, sunglasses, raingear).
What I wore every day for 700 miles in SoCal.
How to I choose clothes for the PCT
Before my hike, I agonized over what to wear on the PCT.   My hiking clothes were dialed in for the humid, forested southeast, but I knew it'd be sunnier and drier on the PCT.  Reading online advice and Yogi's book left me totally confused.  The best advice I got was to focus on the expected conditions that you will encounter and determine what gear to use to deal with those conditions based on your own backpacking style and preferences.  A great guide is found here.  I ended up wearing similar clothes to what I already liked wearing (with a few modifications) because I knew they worked well for me.  

For SoCal and the Sierra, temperatures might swing from 90 degrees to 30 degrees during the day.  Nights got down to freezing.  In the Sierra, it is known to drop to 20 degrees in the Sierra.  The sun and wind were intense.

One thing I did find is that a 30 degree night on the PCT didn't feel as cold as a 30 degree night in the (humid) southeast.

About my backpacking style
For dealing with the cold, you can either suffer by carrying more weight and be warmer, or you can have a lighter pack but be colder.  I choose the first option, and carried more clothes than most of the guys (women generally sleep colder than men) thought my choices still left me cold a few nights.  But most of the time I was fine.   I also have Raynaud’s syndrome, so I paid extra attention to my extremities.  One thing that was different for me on this trip was that it was my first long-distance hike and I noticed my ability to thermoregulate changed over the course of the hike.  It wasn't just me either- by Tuolumne Meadows, it was easy to pick out the PCT hikers because we were all wearing our puffy jackets during lunch or rest breaks, when all the dayhikers were strolling around in shorts and tshirts.
Layering for the cold and sun in the Sierra.
For the heat, I preferred to stay covered from the sun and carried an umbrella.  Loose fitting clothes also helped me stay cooler.  Other people go the route of wearing a tank top and fewer clothes, but I'd burn to a crisp.

One way I do save packweight- I am fairly tolerant of being dirty and smelly.  I didn’t carry a change of underwear or clothes to wear in town like others did. 

My clothing is still on the heavy side.  As I look over my gearlist while sitting inside on this nice couch, I think I could have brought less and toughed it out to save some ounces.  But when I was lying in my hammock for hours shivering in the cold, unable to sleep, I was glad I was carrying everything I had.  Probably happened only a half dozen times, but it was often enough.

Hiking Clothes (shirt, skirt, gaiters, underwear, bra, socks, trail runners)

Hiking shirt: Railriders adventure shirt  (6.5 oz)
For hiking, I wore a sun shirt in SoCal and switched to a long underwear top at Kennedy Meadows for the Sierra.

Pros:  This was a great shirt for SoCal!  The long sleeves gave excellent sun protection.  The vents on the sides kept me cool.  The pocket on the side of the arm was a good place to keep my wallet when I was in town.

Cons: The sleeves were too short for my long arms.  I also wished it came in prints or colors that weren’t so boring. 

Hiking skirt: DIY skirt (4.5 oz)
Three skirt wearing hikers on the PCT.
I loved wearing a skirt on the PCT.  A skirt was breezy and cool so it helped me avoid chafe and heat rash.  Another great thing about hiking in a skirt is that it makes it easier to pee (i.e. can go standing up without taking off your pack).  I swear it saves lots of time and bother.  I made the mistake of sending my skirt home in the Sierra and switching to pants because I thought bugs would be a bigger problem.  Pants gave me awful chafe between my thighs, so I ended up wearing my long underwear all through the Sierra while I hiked.  Should have stuck with this skirt.

Pros:  Pockets on both sides were the perfect size to fit my cell phone and tiny notebook.  Beautiful spandex galaxy print made me smile and was stretchy to allow full range of movement (especially for leaping over streams and scrambling down rocks).  The ripstop nylon on the front and back was more durable.  Both fabrics dried quickly but were cool. I was really proud of my design for this skirt, and felt good about wearing something I sewed myself.

Cons:  I wish I’d sewn it two inches longer to protect my knees from the sun.  But I was obsessed with shaving off ounces from all my gear and clothes, and didn’t anticipate just how many ounces of sunscreen I would have to apply to keep my knees from burning too badly.

Gaiters: DIY tall gaiters (3 oz)       
Pathfinder and I rocking the tall gaiters.
Pros:  Gaiters kept dirt and sand out of my shoes.  I sewed special gaiters that came up to just below my knees to protect my legs from the sun and brush.  When I went off trail to look for hang sites or went through places where the trial was overgrown, I really liked the leg protection and also that they kept my legs from being so dirty.  Other people wore long pants for these reasons, but I liked the combination of a skirt and tall gaiters- just the right balance for cool and breezy on my upper legs and protection for my lower legs.

Cons: The extra fabric added 2 oz compared with dirty girl gaiters which are just 1 oz.  Also, it was important to remember to take these off prior to attempting to hitchhike.  I have been told they look pretty dorky, and that might matter to some people.

Underwear: Patagonia active hipster briefs  (1 oz)

I carried one pair of underwear.  Every other day (or so), I would wash them out in my ziplock baggy and then dry them on my hammock ridgeline or outside my pack while I hiked.  Others had two pair of underwear, and some wore compression shorts.

Pros:  I liked this style (bikini) because they didn’t chafe or ride up.  The fabric was quick drying.  The waistband was extra wide so it felt comfortable.

Cons: None.

Bra:  Moving comfort fiona  (4.2 oz)

I only had one bra, but other women preferred two (and others wore no bra).  I switched to a dark colored bra for the Sierra because I felt more comfortable wearing that for swimming.   

Pros: Supportive and good fit.  I liked that it had hooks in the back to make taking it on and off easier when it was damp from sweat.
Cons: It makes me cringe seeing how much this bra weighs, but I am a DD cup so there aren’t a lot of options.   Other bras that were lighter were not supportive enough.  This bra doesn’t dry quickly, so I took it off when I got to camp and hung it on my hammock ridgeline so it would have time to air out.
The other thing I didn't like about this bra is that the velcro adjustment on the straps were bulky and tended to slip.  To fix this problem, I cut the velcro off and sewed the strap directly to the bra.

Hiking socks: Injinji Run 2.0 lightweight minicrew (1.5 oz)

What worked for me in the southeast (i.e. smartwool socks) didn’t work for me on the PCT.  I ended up using much lighter socks and switching to toesocks.  I washed my socks out every day, as often as possible, and hung them to dry on my pack.
Drying my socks on my pack as I hiked.  Yes, this is after they'd been washed.
Pros: I loved my injinji socks because they kept me from getting blisters between my toes.  They made my feet feel like they could splay out more in my shoes.  I also really liked that these socks had little loops on the sides (the label) because I could attach the socks to my pack via a carabiner to dry.

Cons: They wore out after a few hundred miles.

Waterproof(ish) socks:  Rocky Gortex socks
Trying to warm up my feet after an icy river crossing.
I picked these up gortex socks at Kennedy Meadows, and I was happy to carry these in the Sierra.  There were a ton of ice cold water crossings.  These socks allowed me to keep my feet from being totally numb all the time.  When it was very cold at a water crossing, I took off my socks and gaiters and just wore my trail runners through the water.  On the other side, I would put on my socks and put the gortex socks over them.   I would NOT wear the gortex socks through the water or the water would go through eventually.  The great thing was that these gortex socks kept my other socks from getting soaked from my wet shoes, so my feet wouldn’t be so horribly cold.  Granted my feet were still cold and I would still have to wait to feel my toes, but it wasn’t quite as bad.  I also used these in the coldest mornings when I woke up and my shoes were frozen solid.

An alternative to gortex socks are reynolds oven bags.  I have had success with them on weekend hikes, but I tend to rip through them after a few days.  If I were to do it over, I'd stick with the oven bags it just wasn't worth the extra weight.

Pros: My toes didn’t get frostbite and fall off.  I didn't cry too often because of frozen toes.

Cons:  I didn’t like to wear them all the time because they weren’t breathable.  My socks could still get soaked with sweat when my feet started to get warm.  There was a narrow temperature range which these worked best- namely only when it was really cold.

Trail Runners: Altra lone peaks (23 oz)

Pros:  There is a good reason these are one of the most popular shoes on the PCT this year.  They allow your toes to splay out naturally, have a wide toebox, are lightweight, and have awesome grip on rocks.  I thought the zero drop felt very comfortable.

Non-gortex, highly breathable, low cut trail shoes work well on the PCT.  These shoes dried quickly which was important in the Sierra for all the water crossings.  In the heat of SoCal, I could feel the wind going right through them, cooling off my feet.  Altras already have the velcro to attach your dirty girl gaiters sewn in already- how perfect!

Cons: These shoes got holes in them relatively quickly.  I used gorilla glue to patch up the holes which extended their life a little bit and prevented bigger rocks from getting into them.  Also, that mesh that allowed these shoes to dry quickly and stay cool also let in dirt and sand, so it’s definitely a tradeoff.  The sand problem can be managed by dumping out the sand at rest breaks and rinsing out your socks.

One thing to note: I got a stress fracture in my foot at mile 800.  I don’t know if it was the shoes being too unsupportive, or me only having worn them for 6 months before the hike so my feet weren't strong enough, or the fact that I switched up half a size for the Sierra, or something else, or a combination of factors.  Tons of other PCT hikers wore them, tons of them switched into them with less time than I had, and they all didn’t get stress fractures.  So, I just don’t know.  I dream of going back to these shoes someday because they are the only shoes that never hurt my bunions. (Read more about stress fractures here)

For Sleeping (fleece hoodie, long underwear, down coat, down booties, buff, gloves/mittens)

Choice of sleeping clothes depends on the entire sleep system as a whole (details of my hammock setup here).  I found it more versatile to have warmer sleep clothes (that I could wear to hike in if needed) and go more minimal with the weight of my quilts.  Most of the time, I had one set of clothes to hike in and one warmer set of clothes to sleep in.  But in the Sierra when it was very cold at night, I slept in both my hiking and sleeping clothes and was still cold.

Fleece Hoodie: Melanzana Micro grid    (9 oz)                
Snug in my hoodie.
Pros: LOVE my fleece hoodie.  I slept in this every night.  I could cinch down the attached hood, leaving only a small breathing hole for my nose and mouth, and it kept my neck and face warm.  The material feels incredibly soft and fuzzy against your skin.  It has a magic kangaroo pocket to keep your hands warm and to store gloves so they warm up (or dry out).  I’ve had mine for several years and it holds up well to constant use.  I live in this thing and absolutely love it!

Cons: The sleeves were too short for my long arms.  But I sewed wristies to make up for it.

Long underwear bottoms: Icebreaker bodyfit 200’s (5.8 oz)
Wearing my long underwear while hiking in the Sierra.
Pro: I wore these every night and hiked in them through the Sierra.  Because they are wool, they were still warm when they got wet, which has come in handy a few times on stream crossings.  They've lasted many years, but this may be my last trip with them because they got a ton of holes when I went glassading down the passes.

Cons: I can't find them in this awesome print anymore.

Down coat: Montbell alpine light  (12  oz)
Puffy jackets also keep you warm while eating ice cream.
During the first hour in the mornings when it was really cold, I hiked in my puffy.  I put it on first thing when I got into camp.  At night, I used it as a hood and tucked the sleeves under my neck because my quilt doesn’t have a hood.  I considered bringing my lighter puffy in SoCal but I would have been cold a few nights.

Pros: This jacket was warm and packs down small.  I liked hiking in the morning with my hands in the toasty warm pockets.  The collar is a nice fuzzy fleece material.  I liked that my jacket has a full zipper (even though it weights more) because I could regulate the temperature more easily.  I was also glad it didn't have a hood because I didn't need it since my fleece has a hood.

Cons: none

Down booties: Goosefeet socks (3.5 oz)

Pros:  Putting these on every night was heavenly.  I slept better because my feet were toasty.  Several nights I arrived in camp with frozen and numb toes from evening stream crossings and I was so grateful to have these.  They pack down quite small.

Cons:  They seemed a bit extravagant.

Buff: DIY (0.8 oz)
I am so cold.  When is the sun gonna come up?
Pros: A great, versatile piece of gear.  I hiked with it over my head on cold mornings.  In the snow, I wore it over my face and neck because there was so much glare that I burned really easily.  I also used it as a towel for drying off when I went swimming or washed off.  Finally, it cheered me up because I sewed it out of an old tee shirt from my trapeze/aerial silks studio and it says "Sweat and Glitter." Always a good motto!

Cons: none

Gloves: Surplus Wool Liner Gloves (1.5 oz)

Pros: Warm. Versatile.  In rain or snow, I slip a pair of nitrile exam gloves over them.

Cons:  Eventually they wear out but they are so inexpensive they are easily replaced.

Mittens: Fleece convertible mittens

I bought these in Lone Pine after I got cold leaving Kennedy Meadows the first time. I was glad I had them for the Sierra.

Pros:  Warm.  They were convertible so I could keep them on while I set up and took down my hammock and packed up my gear, or ate breakfast or dinner.  At night, I tucked them around my legs for extra insulation.

Cons: Heavy and bulky.

For weather (sunhat, umbrella, sungloves, sunglasses, raingear)
Sun hat: Sunday afternoons sport hat (2.5 oz)
I liked having both a sunhat and an umbrella.  I wore the hat when it was too windy for the umbrella, and if the wind wasn’t too bad, I could use the umbrella and take off the hat when it was hot.  Though mostly I kept the hat on all the time, sunup to sundown.  I was jealous of the people that could just do a visor and bandana, but again, I was very prone to sunburn so I did what I had to do.
Another day of sun on the PCT
Pros:  This wide-brimmed hat provided excellent sun protection and made me feel cool (i.e. the temperature type cool, not the hip, hiker-babe cool).  The chin strap kept the hat on my head in the wind.  I really appreciated the extra brim around the sides to keep the sun off my neck.

Cons:  Weighs more and is more bulky than a visor. 

Sun wristies: DIY fingerless (1 oz)
Pros:  All weather protection, I absolutely loved my wristies (i.e. my own version of sungloves).  Kept my hands and wrists from getting sunburned, since I found that sunscreen doesn’t stick well to dirty, sweaty hands and fingers.  Wristies also kept my hands cleaner and from drying out too much in the harsh, dry wind.  Plus they kept my hands warmer in the cold.  Other people wore sungloves but I liked my design better because I didn’t want fabric between my fingers.  I was also able to slip them off my thumb and push them up my arms when I was at water sources and didn’t want them to get wet.  As for the other design features, I have long arms, so I added extra coverage for my wrists so that they extended to where my sleeves ended.  Mine also a lovely light blue color and had cool rainbow accents.

Cons: These required patching a few times because I constantly wore them.  I wished I’d sewn two or three pair so I could have just replaced them.
Sungloves after 1500 miles.

Sunglasses: Oakley Juliet  (1.8 oz)
Wrap around sunglasses were essential for the PCT.  They protected my eyes from wind and dust too.  I wore mine sunup to sundown. 

Pros: Excellent optics.  Durable.  Oakleys are expensive but I’ve had mine for over 10 years, making them my longest-used piece of gear.  So that gives them a low per use to cost ratio. 

Cons: The metal frames sometimes felt cold on my face. 

Raincoat: Zpacks Cuben jacket (5 oz)    
Is it raining, hailing, or sunny, or all three at once?  That's the PCT for you...
I’ve had too many times I’ve gotten mild hypothermia in the rain to go without raingear.  On very cold nights in the Sierra, I tucked my raingear around me as extra insulation in my hammock.  I also wore my raingear when I was washing my clothes. 

Pros:  I was delighted with the quality of this jacket, and the nice cut.  I was a bit reluctant to pay so much for a cuben raincoat, but the weight savings won me over.   I had mine custom made with extra length at the sleeves to cover my freakishly long arms- this made me very happy because otherwise my wrists get cold and wet in the rain.  I can’t comment on how well this stands up to days of torrential rain because I never experienced those conditions, but it did well for what I experienced on the PCT.   I also loved how good this material feels against bare skin like when I wore it to while doing laundry.  Which reminds me-- when wearing this jacket at the laundromat, it is important to remember to zip up the pit zips to avoid offending the non-hikers.

Cons: None.

Rainpants:  Golite Tumalo  (8 oz)
Wearing my rainpants for protection from the dreaded poodle dog bush.
Pros: Great for warmth and wind protection.  I wore them many cold mornings.  And for protection against poodledog bush.  They aren’t very breathable, but I didn’t expect them to be.

Cons: Heavy.  I wish I’d splurged for Zpacks cuben rain pants to save a few ounces.

(Edit: After I healed from my stress fracture, I bough the Zpacks cuben rain pants and wore them the next 550 miles.  They were definitely worth the price to save ounces.  They breathe well and are comfortable.)

Umbrella: Golite chrome dome (8 oz)  (see this post for how to rig the umbrella on your pack)
Snow the day we left Kennedy Meadows.
Pros:  Loved my umbrella.  It worked for sun, snow, rain, and hail.  I used mine quite often.  I tend to be more sensitive to sun, and liked that it kept me cool so I’d sweat less and not burn through as much water.  It was also awesome to have on rest breaks for when the sun shifted or I couldn’t find a spot in full shade.

Cons:  These don’t stand up to the relentless, strong winds found on the PCT.  I tried to be careful and put it away when the gusts got bad, but my first one only lasted halfway through SoCal, and I know other people had to replace theirs too.  I wish they would make one that was more sturdy.  I also wished I'd bought the Euroshirm version which is the same but doesn't have the ugly logo.              

Questions?  Please let me know if you want any clarifications or further details.  I'm happy to talk endlessly about the PCT!

Disclaimer: I purchased all this gear with my own funds.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Foot injury- Depressive spirals

The PCT has a way of bringing you face to face with your demons.  You know, those things you’ve spend your whole life trying to escape, trying not to face.  It’s one of the best and most difficult things about long-distance hiking, and about the journey that has continued for me as I’ve been off the trail healing for the past few month from a stress fracture.

A week out of the CAM boot, I was still trying to tell if my foot was fully healed.  In the parking lot at Donner Pass, walking towards the PCT trailhead about to go on another short dayhike to test my foot, I felt a shooting pain in my foot at the stress fracture site.  Fuck!  What was happening?  Was the bone not healed?  Did I reinjure it?  It was clear and intense pain.    
This pain was off the charts. -from Hyperbole and a Half
As I hobbled back to the car, that pain let loose something inside of me.  Sorrow I didn’t know I still carried exploded.  It was as if all the inner peace I’d been feeling had evaporated, and all that was left inside me was emptiness and despair:

I was a failure.  The one thing I loved the most, I was an utter failure at.   I was mad that my friends were still on the trail and I wasn't.  I was pissed off that I still couldn't find something to blame for the stress fracture.  The entire universe was unfair and I hated everyone and everything.  I was fed up at myself for waiting around months thinking I would get back on the trail.  Why couldn't I give up and find something else to do?  My life was meaningless. 

I sat in the car for a while while the sky opened up and the rain fell hard.

I was mad at myself for being so narrowly focused that I had nothing else in my life besides hiking the PCT.   Here was the awful demon I had to face:  I didn’t have another single goal to focus my life on after the PCT.  The PCT was everything.  Hiking was everything.  My life was unbalanced and limited.  It felt like I had lost interest in everything in my pursuit of the PCT, neglected my career, pushed aside other interests like trapeze, botany, books, movies, and other areas like family, relationships, community.  Now I had nothing.
Ripples on the pond.
I'd had a plan to camp at the trailhead at the PCT after the hike.  But I was too upset.  For the past 8 weeks I'd been longing for the trail, homesick for it because the trail felt like home.  But feeling that pain, the trail didn't feel like home anymore.  Nowhere felt like home.  I was totally adrift.

The next few days sucked.  I had to stay off my foot again as I waited for my appointment with the physical therapist.  No more walking.  My foot kept feeling tight.  I became convinced that the random twinges in my foot meant it was all over.  That I wasn’t getting back on the PCT.  That maybe I would never hike again.  I could feel my heart fracturing too.  My big dream that I’d been working towards for the past 5 years- hiking the PCT- that dream was over.  This injury that I thought I was slowly recovering from, this huge major hurdle that I thought I was making headway on, because of this setback, it was showing me that I had nothing.  No purpose, no passion, no home.  That I was nothing.  I wasn’t a hiker.  I would never make it to Canada.  I started looking at one way flights out of California.  I wanted to run away from everything and be far away from the PCT.

How many mental pits of despair was I gonna fall into and then have to drag myself out of on this frickin’ journey?  A journey that was suppose to be traveled on the PCT but which now taking me WAY beyond that.

I swam more circles around in the pond and looked at the sky.   There were clouds high up.  Birds.  I felt the cool resistance of the water against my skin.  I had never done much swimming before the stress fracture, but as I did circles, day after day, I noticed I was get stronger.  I thought that maybe I was even sort of starting to like swimming.
Ah clouds.
I went to yoga.  The people in my class were friendly and I liked chatting with them before class.  I started to loosen up and feel flexible.  I breathed, stretched, balanced.  I was doing poses I’d never done before.

Then, because I am a planner even when I don’t feel like I have anything in life I want to plan, I started to make lists.  I began with a list of everything I’ve always wanted to do that I could still do if my foot never healed: kayaking, biking, travel, climbing.  I listed classes I’d wanted to take but never had enough time: master naturalist, LNT master educator, wilderness first responder, native plant certificates.  I read job postings that sounded exciting and meaningful.  Things that were different but still used my skills.  Things that I wanted to learn to do.  Steph encouraged me to work on my resume.  Now, ‘After the PCT’ is not a big black hole of nothingness.  I wasn’t just a hiker after all, there was so much more to my life.  The world is my home, not just the PCT or any trail for that matter.  Wherever I go, that can be home if I want.  I’d just lost sight.
Seeing the possibility of balance.
Then, because I am an eternal optimist at heart even in my most darkest moments, I allowed that someday I might hike again, and if so, I looked at all the trails I wanted to do besides the PCT.  I dug out an old lists of winter hikes I’d started to plan: the Florida Trail, the Benton Mackaye Trail, the Pinhoti Trail.   I even got out my big spreadsheet I’ve been keeping over the years of all the long trails I wanted to do and the best seasons to do each section of them in.  I started it back when I wanted to section hike each long trail piece by piece and do each section according to best season for wildflowers and fall leaf peak.  I realized the PCT wasn’t the end.  It never was.


Oh yeah, about the pain in my foot.

When I talked to my hiking mentor, she told me that thing I felt in my foot might be a "pop" that can be the foot readjusting after being immobile for so long.  So it all clicked- this has been part of the (very long) healing process.

This was confirmed by the physical therapists- he did not think I needed to go back into the boot or that I had re-injured my foot.  He recommended I rest a few more days, and then try hiking again.  When I got back on the trail for a short dayhike, an amazing thing happened- I didn't feel any pain.  On the next few dayhikes, the twinges and nerves were gone.  It still feels weak, there is a loss in flexibility, and there is muscle-soreness after only a few miles, but I also felt some of this in my non-injured foot.

Basically, that "pop" I felt that sent me into a depressive spiral was really something that just needed to happen to set everything back in place again.  Phew!!! I feel like I’m on the slow road back to recovery once again.
Resting the feet on a dayhike.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Foot injury- Out of the boot

I’m finally out of the boot (i.e. “walking boot”), and have taken my first tentative steps on local trails.  These past 6 days mark the start of a transition period- testing out the foot to see if the stress fracture has healed completely.  Happy to say so far, no alarming pain, but I'm still not ready for backpacking.
First dayhike.  Western States Trail near Auburn, CA.
I had a tough time figuring out when to stop staying off my foot completely.  I spent an extra week wearing the boot over what the doctors suggested.  I decided I wanted to wait two weeks after it stopped hurting at all, 7 weeks total since getting off the PCT.   It helped that I went and visited my parents in Wisconsin.  It was easy to relax there.  Mom took me shoe shopping pretty much every day- I had a heck of a time finding new "sturdy and supportive" hiking shoes like the doctors recommended.  Now I’m back at Steph’s house near Auburn, CA, taking it one day at a time.

Day 1
The first day without the boot, my foot felt strange, stiff, and unfamiliar.  Like it wasn’t really my foot.  I tried not to panic when I feel the twinges of tightness and nerves.   With every tentative step, I keep expected the sharp stabs of pain to return that would indicate the healing isn’t done.  But they never did. 

I decided I didn’t want to hike that first day.  Instead, I went kayaking and paddled my heart out.  Oh the pent up energy!
Kayaking on Loon Lake in CA.
Walking on the shore of the lake to set up camp, I laced my feet into my new supportive hiking shoes.  The shoes felt oppressively stiff.  I couldn’t feel the ground.  I was wobbly and off-balance.  Oh how I missed my zero-drop, comfortable trail runners.  Even more I missed feeling agile and strong.

At the end of the day, the darkness of doubt flooded over me.  I was fearful those twinges were really the bone whispering that it wasn’t done healing.  I poked and rubbed the bone and tried to feel what was going on in there under the skin.   Was this the so-called phantom pain, or normal tingliness due to the callus and calcium buildup at the site of the injury?  Is the foot ready to start easing into hiking or does it want more rest?  I got frustrated because I don't know.  I hated that I don't know for sure.  I should know, right?

Day 2
Day two without the boot I was too afraid to take a hike.  My foot felt so strange just from walking around the house.  My foot reminded me of a plant that withered due to lack of rain.  All skinny, shriveled, translucent.  A tiny fragile creature.   Where had my muscular, weathered and calloused, boulder-hopping, mountain climbing feet gone?  How could I have been the strongest than I'd ever been my whole life, hiking 940 miles on the PCT, and then just 7 weeks later, be so weak and uncomfortable.
Was it really only two months ago that I was skipping across boulders in the Sierra?
It felt like I was inhabiting an unfamiliar body.  Doubt flooded my heart.  What was I still doing dreaming of the PCT?  Maybe I should give up, find something else to do.  I felt so lost.  Tears streamed down my face.  Then I got three emails from three awesome friends asking "how are you doing and how is your foot?"  How did they all know to check on me?  My mom told me on the phone that my uncle experienced the same tightness when he took off his boot.  And then Still Waters talked me through my fears.

I resolved to go for a hike the next day.  I was grateful that Arizona offered to walk with me.

Day 3
On my first 3-mile dayhike, I slowly ambled along a flat section of the Western States Trail above the American River.  I felt like I was learning to walk all over again.  I kept waiting for the stabs of pain to return, but they never did.  I thought about how lucky I am to have ended up here, so close to this awesome place, and I thought about of all the trail runners who compete in the 100-mile endurance run along this famous trail.  In contrast to those incredible athletes who'd journeyed on this trail before me, 3 miles shouldn’t be a big deal.  But those 3 miles were (mentally) exhausting, and took all the bravery I could muster.  When I made it back to the trailhead, I was incredibly relieved. 

Day 4
Another day of rest.  I walked less than half an hour on the way to go swimming in the pond.   I didn't want to overdo it.  I massaged my foot and iced it.  The stiffness was a little better.  My optimism renewed.

Day 5
For the second dayhike, I walked 4.8 miles and lost/gained 1200 feet in elevation.  No sharp pain, but my balance was off.  I felt like I was a baby learning to walk.  The tamest stream crossings had me stepping gingerly, testing each rock.  Side trails beckoned with the sounds of waterfalls, but I dared not go down, not trusting my feet on the steep paths.  Where is the line between being careful and being fearful?
Carefully checking the stability of each step on a tiny stream crossing.
I went for a new personal record for slowest hike ever.  I picked blackberries until my hands were sticky with purple juice.  At the turnaround spot, I swam in the refreshingly cool water of the American River.  I remembered to savor every moment and to be appreciative of where I'm at right now.
Going for a swim in the American River.  Smiles not miles.
In the evening, my foot felt random tingling twitches and the muscle felt a little sore.  I rested, iced it, and massaged it, feeling glad I didn’t hike any further.

Day 6
Third dayhike.  6.2 miles.  I was more in the moment and more in my body.  I still kept listening for a sharp stab of pain that would tell me the stress fracture hasn't healed.  But all I got were twinges and stiffness.  The twinges have me concerned but my other, non-injured foot is stiff and twingy too.  I can't be certain if it’s the new shoes or from not walking for 7 weeks or if the stress fracture hasn't healed completely.  I wonder if I'm being overly sensitive or a hypochondriac or if I'm in denial of an actual problem.  I can't tell yet so I poke at my foot and ice it and do google searches for "phantom pain stress fracture."
Stopping for a rest break to ice by foot with my frozen water bottle.
I understand now why thru hikers don’t return to the trail after a stress fracture.  Recovery requires so much patience.  I wonder why I can't give up on the idea of returning to the PCT this year.  Why I can't go do something else for a while.  It would probably be different if I had a home or a job to go back to.  But the PCT is all I can think about.
A broken wing isn't stopping this butterfly.