Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Day 33- Birthday on the PCT

Oregon PCT Section F

2070 (Miller Trail Junction) to 2052 (Trooper Spring)

More soft gradual trail. How can the PCT be so kind and gentle and flat? It finally makes sense how thru-hikers can do 30 mile days here. I think about my hiking group back in Georgia- the Trail Dames- and how this would make an ideal trip for beginning backpackers. I can almost hear their laughter echoing through these hills.

For me though, I miss the climbs, the challenge. Is it really backpacking if I don't break a sweat or get my heart rate up? Am I having a worthwhile experience if I'm just floating along? What is the trail teaching me today? Yellow and red maples glow in the sun. The sky continues to be blue but now there are a few white puffy things up there floating around. Weather looks like it will be changing soon.
Pathfinder walking through the maples.
Better savor the warmth while it lasts. We stop for a break in a powerline cut. Normally stumps make me sad but I sit on one and think about "The Giving Tree" - a favorite book (and one that I'd read to the kids for one of the interpretive programs back at my park in Montana)- and think about life and death and perspectives.
Soaking in the sun at a powerline cut
At the Warm Springs River getting water, we meet Monarch, who is finishing her thru hike southbound since she flipped up to Washington. I hike with her a few hours (after agreeing to meet Pathfinder at the next junction) and we cruise up the hill and share life stories the way that we do out here- with intensity and honesty, getting quickly to the heart of the matter because we don't have long. In a matter of minutes, we establish our commonalities, share life stories, and say that which is most pressing. And then we part ways just as quickly.

Today is my birthday so I think birthday thoughts about where I am in my life and what it means to be approaching 40. Thank goodness I still have another year in my 30's because what does 40 mean? Will I have to start acting my age? Does that mean quitting hanging upside-down from random ladder things or swimming across nearly-freezing lakes? Will I have to go back to having responsibilities and quit living a free life? What if I like being free of debt, free of a mortgage or lease, free of pets or even a garden? Or is my time getting shorter, the eventuality of death more real, so I should pack in even more backpacking, more adventure, while I still can? More importantly, I wonder about what I have to show for myself for my life's accomplishments? Have I made any sort of difference in the world? I told Monarch I used to do scientific research and she asked me what my research showed. When I told her, the answer seemed so pitifully small and unimportant so I told her about teaching and mentoring students and joining AmeriCorps to do conservation education at a state park.

Then again, sometimes it feels like the biggest impacts we can have are the small ways we bring brightness to our coworkers and friends and the chance people we meet along the way.

I try not to get nervous about what will happen when I get off the trail. Will I find a job that is challenging and rewarding? Please let it not be a flat easy cruiser miles job.  At least I haven't left the world a worse place. Like it is enough to follow Leave No Trace and not do anything really harmful to anything or anyone? No real or metaphorical toilet paper left lying around in the woods- nope I pack it out and bury my poop.

Trooper Springs has a sweet campsite nearby and I bushwhack around to find a sheltered spot in dense trees out of the wind. We are at camp early so there is plenty of time to repair some holes with the additional thread I picked up courtesy of Timberline Lodge. This is another result of my No New Gear experiment- most everything is threadbare and falling apart, and sewing it back together is a regular camp chore.
Mending a hole in my shirt. Photo by Pathfinder.
Pathfinder gets a bee sting today. We joke about how much benedryl and anti-itch cream we are going through. She got a whole squeeze tube full early in the trip thinking she couldn't possibly use all of it. But I've been borrowing it too for a bee sting I got a few days ago and now we pass it back and forth. Remembering days past of repackaging everything into small dropper bottles, and drying dots of toothpaste.  Now I am hauling 3 oz bottles of sunscreen and aquafor (vasaline/ antichafing/ foot cream) and we have this huge tube of anti-itch stuff and we are going through all of it and glad for it. Except maybe the sunscreen- that is only getting a little use. But I keep carrying it, putting a little on each day. It feels like carrying a little tube of hope.

Pathfinder gives me her chocolate pudding as a special birthday treat and I savor the chocolaty-goodness in a plastic bag of wonderfulness. We wander into the meadow to watch the sunset glow pink and purple and life stands still in a moment of pure joy and appreciation for everything-- this day, this hike, all the opportunities I have had my entire life, all the people I have loved and all the friends I have had. It all seems too wonderful to comprehend. 
Watching the sunset at Trooper Springs.
It rains only briefly during night. My tarp is dry before I pack it up in the morning.


  1. Is that a down hat??? I want one.

  2. Very deep and even poetic.
    Happy Birthday and I hope it is a very nice day . Such a nice gift for you in such a simple thing - chocolate pudding !! I think birthdays are a good reflection point and I sometimes reflect on what I have done to " value add" and ponder if I have had a difference .
    I think it is in the relationships you have made and maintained that make a difference.
    Life is short no matter how old you are !

    1. Thanks so much Steve! Yes its good to have a natural reflection point and an opportunity to take a step back. Its not easy to keep in mind how short life is- but it does help to remember that at turning points and helps for making brave life choices.

  3. Yes, a Black Rock down hat. Great for sleeping since my quilt doesnt have a hood and for camp since neither does my puffy. They come in various colors now too:

  4. I was wondering if you'd be able to keep hiking forever. Had hoped so, but you never know what's going to happen, so the rest of whatever could still be fun even if you need a job.

    Age is only a number, and doesn't matter that much. The only rule is that if your age keeps going up, you're doing OK. Or as Roy Stillson, a former co-worker used to say, "Any day I can get out of bed is a good day."

    Judging by the hints you gave, I'm 1.726410256 times as old as you, and not working no more, permanently. I quit my last job on July 7, 2005 when I decided I'd rather die than keep working at that place. I haven't worked since, partly because I'm good at squeaking, and managed use that minor talent to squeak myself by until pension time. And partly because I haven't really decided what I want to be when I grow up. Yet.

    Did a fair amount of tramping July through September this year, in Western Washington, living in a car, now sold again. Miss it already, the backpacking.

    Am shooting for 2018, when I can be gone from Ecuador for more than 90 days a year (residency rules). If that happens, if I'm still alive and have some health, I'll buy a van rather than a Hyundai Accent, and live in style on wheels for half the year, and live in the sun, here in Cuenca, the other half. If I can still get out of bed by then.

    But even the missteps and mishaps and mistakes on the trail this year were good. Every day some minor disaster came along. Spills, tears, falls, wrong turns, ugly weather. "Do what you can" is what I had to keep saying, and then I did what I could, because that's all a person can do, and that's enough.

    No matter what happens, something else always happens next. It's never the end. You simply go on and the world does too.

    And just in case, in case the weather holds and you happen to aim for the Three Sisters Wilderness, there's the "Obsidian Limited Entry" area on the west side, where you need a permit which is pissy hard to get (you need to buy it online or over the phone and then print it out on paper after downloading the image or getting it sent to you via email, or waiting forever and getting it by mail, and then carry the piece of paper with you), you don't need to, if you stay on the PCT. They allow you to stay in a 500-foot-wide permit-free corridor if you're just passing through north/south. That info is only printed on the signs on the trail, and not anywhere else as far as I could tell. Just a FYI there. No rangers in sight anyway, late in the season, so I didn't have to test the veracity of the sign.

    And keep writing too, no matter what, 'K?

  5. What a great way to spend your birthday. Joan, you have such a knack for putting your experiences into words. I don't think you know how much joy it is for us to "see" the places you've been, through your stories. You still have many years to do this. As a comparison, I had car camped and boat camped since I was a boy. But I went on my first backpacking trip at the age of 47. This year, I thru-hiked the Foothills Trail and turned 60. Keep hiking and keep writing. Happy Birthday!


  6. Guess that means you're a Libra and if so that makes us lights sisters. No wonder we are such great pals. I use this time of year for reflection so. What have I accomplished, what have I learned, what have I shared, do I have any regrets, what will I do differently next year, what is on my bucket list. So many questions, so much pondering. You my dear are living life right. You have wisdom much beyond your numbered age. I have every confidence you'll continue to grow and give, to live life with flexibility and courage. Cheers to another year!