Tuesday, August 23, 2016

PCT Prep- 2016 style

In just a few days, I fly out to start hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) again. In 2014, I hiked from Mexico to Castle Craigs, 1500 miles. That means I still have Washington and Oregon, some 1100 miles.  Here I go.

I can’t quite believe it either. Mentally, my head is still swirling with ideas for projects for my park in Montana.  (Guess I can't say "my park" anymore.)  The school field trip programs, interpretive talks, additions to the trail map I redid, and oh no it’s Wednesday my day to clean the bathrooms. Funny how when we work, there really isn’t any such thing as days off. The brain is still working on solutions to work problems. There are people that turn it off, but I’ve never figured that out. Once I get into something, I’m all in.

Which may be the best explanation for why I’m heading back to the PCT. As much as I’ve loved finding work I enjoy so much, I still can’t get the PCT out of my mind. I long to see this trail to the end. To see the places that inspired this hike in the first place- growing up with vacations with my parents to Crater Lake, Stehekin, Sisters. And even if I don’t finish, again, just giving myself the chance to try will be enough.

Will the experience of hiking the PCT be as joyful as it was in 2014, when it was the best thing I’d ever done, happiest I’d ever been? Certainly I was in a different place back then, burnt out. Am I a different person now, after two years of AmeriCorps?  How will it feel to do something so seemingly self-centered after finding such meaning in engaging in national service?  As AmeriCorps members, we'd joke about getting things done "for America!" even if it was really mundane like stocking toilet paper or picking up trash.  But that's what if felt like.
Leading a Wildflower Walk... for America!
Teaching a school field trip program... for America!
Will I have a different perspective traveling through on our public lands after working in Montana State Parks, organizing trail work projects and land improvement projects and engaging children with the natural world?  Will the PCT mean something different now?  What will it feel like doing something... for me!  Will I get something different out of hiking?


As crucial as the mental aspects are, I know you all really just want to know about planning the food and gear, right?  Well, there’s not much to say….

In 2014, I spent six month preparing. It was my first long distance hike. All that planning paid off.  Plus it was fun and I learned a lot. And wrote a lot.

This time around, 6 days getting ready seems like enough. Food prep took 3 days for 7 resupply boxes. Picked up backpacking staples at Trader Joe’s on my drive through Salt Lake City and Nature’s Oasis in Durango, Colorado.
Ingredients for stoveless dinners
At Still Water’s house, I dehydrated my two favorite meals- sushi rice with tiny shrimp and green curry vegetable. Ah what would I do if it weren't for Still Waters always opening her home to me, always supporting me when I need it? And she’s even got a garden this year. Thank you Still Waters!
Home-grown veggies from Still Water's garden
Dehydrating rice and curry veggies.  A stoveless, just add cold water favorite.
Getting my gear ready took a few days. For the past two years serving with AmeriCorps, I’ve been on the No New Gear Budget. Which means I pretty much have all the gear I had last time on the PCT and it has gotten even more use the past two years. A few extra patches, replacing worn cords and guyline, reinforcing stitching— hopefully all of this will give me another thousand miles.

The No New Gear budget is now officially over with three purchases (that I’ve had on my list for a year and a half!)- a new raincoat, the InReach (to replace my SPOT), and a custom-made hammock overcover— hopefully will keep me a bit drier.  No time for much testing. The PCT will be enough of a test.

Finally, shoes. In 2014, I got a stress fracture in my foot at mile 840 in the High Sierra. Have I figured out how to prevent another stress fracture? Do I know what shoes will give me the best chance at making it? Do I have plan for my feet?

Ummm… I still have a few days…

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The thing about Montana

The thing about Montana is that it is insanely beautiful.  I forget this constantly-- especially when I'm running errands or sitting at my computer at work.  Maybe this much beauty is too much to hold in one's tiny brain- it's bound to make one distracted or daydreamy.

But step out on the trail and Montana comes full force flooding into consciousness.  Fresh.
Bond Lake in the Swan Range of northwestern Montana
A 2,300 foot climb up the Bond Creek Trail to Bond Lake.  No one is around so I jump in.  Cool waters, fish jumping.  There is something about immersion in freezing waters that makes this landscape more comprehensible.  Or maybe it's just the brain slowing down in the cold.
Above Trinkus Lake
Going around blind corners, I hear my voice echoing across the entire valley as I announce my presence to possibly bears.  Deep, resonating, a powerful voice that means business.  I think back to the weak, quavering voice of my first few solo hikes in grizzly country.  This place has changed me.  Now I have a voice that penetrates around corners.
At the junction with the Wire Trail, there is much not-knowing.  Will the next few miles to the lake wear me out in this heat?  Do I have enough water to get me there/ will the lake be dry/ drinkable?  Will there be grizzlies?  Will the clouds bring a storm and if so will I be stuck high on a ridge in the lightening?  I weigh what I know with all the uncertainty of new territory.
Closer to sky.
The name of the next lake is “Crevice Lakes.”  I don’t know what crevice means when it comes to lakes but it sounds like something I’d like.  Time to move forward despite the uncertainty.  Don’t I have everything I could possibly need right here on my back?  Don’t I have the experience to go along with it?  Isn’t an open heart even more critical than all of that?

Strong legs carry me forward. Where they get their power, I never know.

I feel the heat in the form of light nausea at the pit of my stomach.  How far is the next lake?  Two miles in this heat seems endlessly far and I recheck my water supply to see if there is enough to spare to soak a bandana for my neck.  Then up ahead, an unexpect gift.
How is there still snow in July?  In this heat?
In mid-July!  Snow is packed into my hat cooling me off instantly. More snow goes down into my shirt— the melting water drips down cooling me twice.
Rocks cradle water
Rock spines slice through Crevice Lake
Sight is restored as the snow cools me down.  Breaking through the trees, the endless mountains with impossible angles stretch out.  Tears start to run down my checks.  Sometimes I can’t stand it all, this beautiful Montana landscape.  I shout my frustrations into the wind, “How can I ever leave you, Montana?”
Epic ridgewalking along spines of mountains, views stretching east and west
Mountains don't respond though.  There are no answers. It's up to me to make sense of all this.

The scent up here… not overly sweet, just… right. The Swan Range smells like the fitting end of a long beloved book- deliciously complex, satisfying, provoking.  I love this smell, I think.
Close up.
I wonder if this is how it goes with all wild mountain places.  Certainly I felt like this with the High Sierra.  But Montana- isn’t this more beautiful than even that?  Is it even right to compare?  What even is beauty?  What is it about the power of a place to make us gasp, to make us wonder?
Time to make camp
Then there is the slowly creeping evening light. Eager to go to bed in my hammock, but I have to wait and watch.  Bird dart and chase each other.  What if I fall asleep before all the colors turn?
Yellow hour
Pinks start to appear
Nearly there orange
I laugh because it matters not if I am hear to watch it or not.  It happens here, day after day, all of this.  Somehow that is comforting, knowing this continues to be here even when I'm back in town, even when I leave Montana.  This will all be here.  Maybe some of this will stay with me.  Maybe there is some of this that I will never forget because it has changed me so.  If not the beauty, then the scars this place has left.
Breathing it in.
Morning again
This trip will be my last solo in Montana.  I'm completing my second term with Montana State Parks Americorps.  I thought I'd stay here forever, but it's clear I have to leave now.  How can I possibly be anywhere else though!?!?  Guess I'll find out soon enough.

Trip information
Bond Creek Trail
Alpine Trail #7
Crevice Lake