Salleri – Ringmu – Nunthala

My day started at 3am. I set an alarm every day, but I always wake up before it, anxious for what a new day will bring.

Today, the day would bring a 13-hour Jeep ride through Nepal. I went through my gear the night before and was ready to go. Lord knows I was ready to get out of the city and into the mountains.

Around 4:30am, the hostel owner walked me up the street to where I met the Jeep driver. I never learned the driver’s name, because neither of us spoke a lick of the other’s language. But he threw my pack in the crate atop the Jeep, and we were off.

We spent about two hours picking others up before we started making any ground. I sat in the second row back (there were three) and was closest to the window. The seats were made for three people, but each row was lined with four passengers. I was the only English speaking passenger.

Eventually we hit the highway. The driver was speeding like crazy, but I didn’t really mind. I trusted that this was his job, and he’d do his thing. I also learned that honking your horn is a means of passing the car in front of you.

Also, when driving through the mountains, honking is a way of letting a car coming the opposite way, who you can’t see yet, know that you’re there. This was especially helpful for sharp corners up passes.

I brought my journal and my book in the Jeep with me, figuring I’d have plenty of time to read and journal. Boy was I wrong. I spent the entire time bouncing up and down as we’d go over rocks, through rivers and up mountains. My Apple Watch recorded that I exercised for 117 minutes that day, when really I just sat in a Jeep. High heart rate, eh?

We made two major stops. Both in remote villages. It was my first time using a hole in the ground as a toilet.

I’d like to think of myself as a pretty flexible person, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to the bathrooms here. After being on the PCT for so long, I’d seriously so much rather just going outside. But it wasn’t an option, there was no where to go and people everywhere. Not to sound prissy, but it was and continues to be the most foul smelling experience of my life.

Not to mention this culture don’t use toilet paper? There is just a bucket with a small pitcher for cleaning up.. and you clean up with your hands. Safe to say I’m stoked I brought my own TP, but it’s running out and I am determined to find more.

Without trying to be too critical, I am trying to embrace the different customs of a new culture. This is the way people live, and so many of them are probably so much happier than a lot of Americans. Any way to do things is a o k. Just takes some getting used to for a noob international traveler such as myself.

Wow I tend to go on tangents, don’t I?

So we were at the villages, I went pee. And then I didn’t really know what to do, how long we were staying there. Nothin. And communicating with anyone was out of the question. So thank goodness I had my book! I sat at a table and read. I was happy doing so.

Back in the Jeep we went, and through the jungle we flew. There was a beautiful, sky blue river rushing out one of my windows, and lush, green sweeping valleys out the other. The scenery kept me busy, and I watched the hours tick by.

I was a bit nervous I wouldn’t know what stop was mine. We unloaded and loaded passengers pretty often, stopping at random towns along the way. But I knew the town I was going to was called Salleri, so I figured I’d just ask.

At about the 13-hour mark we stopped in a small mountain village. The villages are lined with really colorful lodges. The lodges are often made of white or gray brick, and have green, purple, red or blue trim. They are often two stories, and the first story usually has a restaurant, ran by Nepalese women. This is where you eat, charge your devices, hangout, meet other travelers, etc.

The rooms are small and usually have two beds. The rooms often have a window or two. The beds are smaller than a twin size, and come with blankets. Sometimes. They always come with pillows.

The showers also gross me out a bit, but they’re usually warm. Made of some kind of ceramic tile, if they were cleaner they’d probably be really beautiful. The water pressure sucks, but that’s to be expected.

When I got out of the Jeep and gathered my things, I stumbled upon some nice English speaking ladies who were on vacation together. They pointed me in the direction of Hotel Everest, where I’d spend my first night.

I checked in, and was charged 200 rupees for the night. You guys this is less than $2. You pay much more for you food than you do for a night stay, and the closer I get to the Everest Region the higher prices are and the more you’re charged for things. Lodges will charge extra for charging devices, showers, using WiFi, a towel for your shower, etc.

I had mushroom curry for dinner and a bowl of fruit. I haven’t had any meat since I’ve been here and I and l o v i n g it.

I made my way to bed rather early, as I had been up since 3am.

The next day came and it was my first day of trekking. I woke up early and had an apple pancake and masala tea (kind of like chai tea) for breakfast. I gathered my things, talked to the English ladies again and some South American travelers who’d just finished a bike tour, and was out the door.

I knew where I was going and it was a bright, brisk day. I caught my first glimpse of the snow-covered Himalayas and I stopped in my tracks. I gazed at the majestic peaks and admired my first sight of tallest mountain range in the world. The mountains were breathtaking. They looked sharp, bitterly cold, and appeared to be just dusted with a frost of snow. The way my mom dusts powder sugar atop on her chocolate crinkle cookies at Christmas.

I was reminded of why I was there when I saw those mountain peaks, and I felt like just for a second I could feel their energy. Everyone that I know who’s hiked in the Himalayas say these mountains are the most healing range they’ve ever trekked in. Wooo I’m all in for some mountain therapy.

I kept walking. It was mostly road walking for the first six miles. A few jeeps passed me, and I was in a cheery mood. I was keeping my PCT pace of 20-minute miles and I was pretty stoked about that.

I heard there was a restaurant I could stop at about 6 miles in, in a town called Ringmu. I knew I must be there when I saw a smaller village that looked a bit like Salleri.

I dropped my pack next to several others and ordered lunch. I had the fried potatoes and soup. I had no idea the portion would be so large.

There I met a girl named Heidi, 44, from

Norway. She was another solo female trekker, and we shared lunch and talked about our ups and downs of the trail so far (literally and figuratively).

I took the food I couldn’t finish to go, and Heidi and I prepared for a climb ahead.

I’d say the next four miles were my first real taste of what was to come in the next couple of days. Similar to the roads, the trails are extremely unmaintained in the first part of my trek. I compare this trek to the PCT, and I really shouldn’t, because these trails don’t have an association that looks after them. I’d like to say they’re as rugged as it gets, but I haven’t been everywhere. Yet.

There are boulders and sharp rocks lining the thick, muddy trails. The incline is steeper than I’ve climbed before and I think I actually prefer the uphill to the downhill. If you know me, you know this is a BIG deal, I am your downhill gal, but maybe not in Nepal. Poles are definitely necessary for the decline, and yup you guessed it I fell on my ass numerous times.

Anyway, we made our way up, and it was another couple miles down to Nunthala, where we’d be staying for the night.

OH I totally forgot to mention! These trails have mules coming up and down, hauling massive amounts of supplies all the time. It’s extremely common to have to pull over & wait for a heard to pass you. That being said, the trails are also filed with mule shit in every direction. So on top of dodging sharp rocks, trying not to step in mud, keeping balance on steep trails, you are also dodging animal shit constantly. Sometimes I can’t believe that I paid good money to be here!

Also, my heart literally breaks for the animals. They look tired, and I bet if they could talk I bet they wouldn’t want to be hauling supplies up remote trails. Poor things. But in a way, I contribute to this cause by being a tourist in this area. In a lot of the villages, there is no other way in and out other than on foot. So to supply the tourists with food, etc, pack animals must be used. This is the ugly truth. I don’t have a solution for this, but thought it was noteworthy.

You also see natives carrying THE BIGGEST load of supplies on their backs! I can’t even believe it. The straps of the weaved baskets they carry are actually atop their head, not attached to their back. In addition to having crazy back muscles, their necks must be strong af. The most respect for these people & the work they do. Truly unbelievable.

Ok, tangent over.

Once we got to Nunthala we saw a heard of mules just hanging out. I walked over and pet them, telling them I was happy the were done working for the day. They are so stinking sweet. I’m such a sucker for animals of any kind. Except fuck mosquitos.

There were several lodges to stay at, but we picked one called Hotel Everest (there are a lot of Hotel Everest’s in the area). It was a tidy, white, two story building with forest green trim. It had a small courtyard in front that had tables and chairs, and a garden.

The stairs walking up to the second story, where I’d be sleeping, were so steep!! I guess the people who build trails and stairs in Nepal aren’t messing around. I set up shop and chilled out for a bit after my first day of hiking.

That night, Heidi and I had dinner together with another couple who are living in Switzerland. They were very kind and shared stories of their travels all around the world. They used to live in America, but moved out of the country in 1994. They’ve been working and traveling ever since.

It’s so nice to meet people from around the world and share like stories. It reminds me that living a life of travel and adventure is possible, because so many people do it.

After dinner I read for a while and then went to bed. I had no idea what the next day would have in store for me, but geeeesh I was in for it.

That story will be on my next blog 🙂

Fun facts:

⁃ When you order food in Nepal, plan for it to take at least and hour. This is because everything is made from scratch by family members in the kitchen. The food is quality, but I don’t think things are prepped as they are in the US. Truly homemade. This is a good thing, but makes it so easy to get hangry!

⁃ I didn’t wash my pack between the PCT and this journey and ya it definitely wreaks.

⁃ Ketchup is used as widely here as it is in the US.

⁃ The pollution here is terrible. My jeep driver threw his plastic water bottle out of the Jeep as he finished it and I think my mouth actually hit the floor. All of the rivers are extremely polluted with plastic and other debris.

Exploring Kathmandu

After my first day of really just chilling at the hostel and getting used to a new time zone, I was adamant about getting out on the town the next day.

So I got up, gathered my things and got ready (aka braided my hair and put on clothes). But when the time actually came to leave the hostel, I couldn’t get myself to move.

I kept telling myself that I was going to get lost, and there was no way I’d be able to get back to the hostel. I was afraid because my language isn’t native to Nepal, and I wouldn’t be able to communicate. I didn’t have a set plan of where I wanted to go, and that freaked me out even more.

I stood up and pulled the curtains to the window in my room to the side. I saw motor bikes wipping around the corner, streets bustling with life and the birds were singing. I wanted so badly to be apart of it, but I kept telling myself I couldn’t do it.

I had a terrible time at the airport in Seattle getting on the plane, and in a way, this was a mirror of that, but this time in Kathmandu. I just didn’t feel I was capable. And so many people were telling me I was strong for going on this trip, but I felt like the epitome of weak.

I sat on my bed and just started crying. The tears kept coming, one after another , for the longest time. I didn’t even know that I could cry so freaking much. And to some degree I wasn’t sure what I was crying for. I knew I was scared to be alone, and of getting lost, but once I started, it just kept on coming.

About 20 minutes later, my friend from college, Rachel, texted me on WhatsApp (a international texting app) and asked me “how are you doing on this fine day?”

She just recently got back from spending five months in Nepal, and six months in Sri Lanka. I told her I was having a rough time, and that I felt like fear was holding me back from exploring the town.

She immediately called me. She told me that on her first day in Nepal, she went to the front desk of the hostel she was staying at, because she had to get something at a convenient store and was asking for navigational help. The receptionist drew her a map, but she was still as terrified to leave her hostel as I felt that I was.

She said she made it to the store and back to the hostel, and didn’t go anywhere else the rest of the day. The next day she ventured out a bit further, and continued to push her limits until she was comfortable. She empathized with me about being scared, and said that it was totally normal.

Being in a different country is a whole different world. People say that all the time, but you don’t actually understand the meaning until you’re in the situation. Especially if you suffer from any form of anxiety, just about anything in a foreign country can trigger you, and all the sudden you can’t think clearly, and any faith you had in yourself quickly diminishes.

Another thing Rachel said to me, was that when you’re out and about in your home country bouncing around with friends (basically what I’ve been doing the last month leading up to Nepal) life seems so easy. But it’s trip like this that really expose us to ourselves, and holy shit I couldn’t agree with her more.

More than that, I’m sure there are other things within my soul that need to be patched up. It all just came out in a flurry of tears that day.

People say when you’re breaking down to really feel it. Not look for a solution, don’t run and hide. Just sit with it. Feel the pain, realize you’re in the thick of it, and when it’s over try to let it go. So much easier said than done, but I was trying my BEST.

Alright, enough emotional shit, back to the story.

Rachel recommended I switch hostels. She had some friends in town who’s family owns a hostel, and she called them and they said they’d happily pick me up.

Before I knew it I was riding on the back of a motor bike through the streets of Nepal, on my way to the Golden Buddah Hostel.

This hostel was a bit different than the first one I stayed at, in a good way. It was family run, and I really liked that. It was also a bit tucked away from the noisy streets of Thamel, a tourist district in Kathmandu, where my first hostel was. I like the peace and quiet these days and I felt much more comfortable.

My room had a small balcony, and I loooove balconies/rooftops, anything with a view to the outside world! Even a window works.

The Golden Buddah also had really amazing roof tops. I’m telling ya, this is my favorite thing about Nepal. One of the rooftops had a lofted mattress as a seating area, with a wood table in front. The porch was lined with potted green leafy plants, and during a tour of the hostel, one of the brothers told me the plants were all potted by his dad, who has a love for gardening.

The other rooftop was a floor higher, and had a black spiral staircase. The staircase led to a lookout over the entire city. I’d never seen anything like it. Buildings stacked above one another for miles. You could see a temple in the background, that apparently everyone calls Monkey Temple because so many monkeys live there. Many of the buildings were painted in bright pastel colors, and I could see other families just hanging out on the rooftops, laundry lined out to dry. I even saw a small group of young kids dancing around to Nepalese music.

I looked around and I was in awe of my surroundings. That day I wanted to see the world, and I finally was having the opportunity to. I felt like I was catching my breath, and I was content.

I spent some time on the roof with one of the brothers talking about my upcoming trek, Three Passes Trek, in the Everest region of the Himalayas. Although he lived in Nepal, he’d never been to these mountains.

But he did have some great advice on what to bring and where to get it. He gave me advice on the permit system, how to get a SIM card (a phone card for Nepal that would work in the mountains) and I needed a micro-USB cord for my external battery that he said he knew where to get.

Moments later, he stood up and said “let’s go!” So we spent the day rummaging through town, crossing some t’s and doting some I’s before the big trip. He walked very quickly and was certain of what direction he was going in. He was a local, after all. But for someone who was just scared to leave her hostel, it was exciting to finally be out on the town and in a way feel like I knew where I was going. We spent probably 4 hours exploring the city.

One of the first places we walked through was Thamel. Thamel is definitely the most vibrant area of the city that I’ve seen. I started calling it the New York of Nepal. Although NY has tourists attractions on a much larger scale, this area is booming with tourists and locals who’re trying to appeal to them with everything you could ever need. Shopping stores are jammed in every possible nook and cranny, with walls filled to the brim of colorful products. Everywhere you turn, someone is trying to sell you something, and there are all kinds of restaurants all about.

We also walked through part of the city that wasn’t so busy. We walked past a theatre, a run down political building and across several bridges. Many of the streets were lined with pictures of China’s president, who was visiting soon. There were also pictures scattered of Nepal’s president, and several banners that read “long live Nepal’s friendship with China”.

I ended the night watching a documentary on Everest and had a home cooked meal by the mother of the family. The hostel has a menu you can order from, and everything is hand made by the mother. Rachel warned me about how good the food she made was, and that it was so delicious, Rachel calls her “Magic Hands”. I too was SO impressed with the cuisine! I had a multi-fruit lassi, which is basically a fruit smoothie (this one was made of bananas and apples) a potato “roll” and noodles with veggies. The rolls were hands down my favorite part. They’re more like a thick mini pancake of potatoes, mixed with onions and “magic” spices, and served with a rich orange-curry sauce that surprisingly wasn’t too spicy for me.

I went to bed exhausted. It was an emotional day that turned out to be quite the adventure.

The next day I was determined to navigate the streets solo, and one of my goals in Kathmandu was to do a yoga class before I head out to trek. I found a reputable studio less than a mile away, and I gathered my things and was on my way.

I had my maps app out the entire time and within about 20 minutes I’d made it! Along the way I was approached by locals several times, trying to sell me things, asking where I was going or by beggars, but I kept my eye on the prize. This may seem like a small task, but it was my first big victory in the city alone, and I was so happy about that!

I arrived to the studio at 10:35am, and saw that a class was starting at 11am. I sat at a coffee shop close by and had a blended mint-lemonade. Doesn’t that sound delicious?! I’d never even heard of the combo before in a smoothie so I was all in, and I wasn’t disappointed!

The yoga class went well. It was beginners yoga, and focused on learning poses correctly, and at the end of class piecing them all together. It lasted an hour and a half, and in a way I was hoping for something a bit more unique but I was cool with it. After class, I was on my way to visit the garden of dreams that was just a block up the road.

The Garden is peaceful and has several beautiful pieces of architecture. There is a large palace-like building that you can sit to have lunch at, and I think I saw over 50 girls take a cute Insta pose in front of a camera there. There were several different flowing water features, and even a homemade swing.

I found a shaded bench to sit on, and started reading a book I brought with me, The Alchemist.

After about an hour I left. I was on my way back home, but knew I wanted to do some window shopping. I stopped in at several stores, and found myself looking for jewelry. A opal ring I bought in Mexico on my 21st birthday has began to tarnish, and I was eager to replace it with one I’d find in Nepal. Unfortunately I didn’t find what I was looking for, but I had fun trying things on nonetheless.

I made it back to the hostel and spent the evening making sure my gear was in line for the next day, as I was planning on taking a 12-hour Jeep ride from Kathmandu to Salleri, where I’d start trekking.

The hostel let me keep a bag of things I brought but wouldn’t need with me in the mountains. What a relief, to help make my pack a bit lighter.

The night ended with two more potato rolls and another multi-fruit lassi, and I was in bed before I knew it.

Fun facts:

⁃ To get into the Golden Buddah Hostel, you ring a doorbell and the key is attached to a long string that’s thrown down to you. It’s a way of keeping the hostel safe, but totally reminded me of that (Disney?) fairytale where the princess throws her hair down to the prince. Maybe I’m getting the storyline wrong, but you get the idea.

⁃ The largest bill in Nepal is 1000 rupees, which is equivalent to a little less than $9.

⁃ The formula from feet to meters is __ feet x 3.28 = __ meters.

⁃ A momo is a Nepalese dumpling and it tastes exactly how you think it would.

⁃ Nepal is a place where you can bargain price with store owners (if you’re a tourist, you’re definitely bait for getting ripped off)

From America to Nepal

To start at the very beginning, I took a 13-hour flight from Seattle to Hong Kong that kicked off this journey.

The flight wasn’t so bad, even though it started at 1am. My anxiety before jumping on the plane, that’s a whole different story.

Before lining up to have my ticket scanned and wait in queue to get on the plane, I was super scared. This plane was actually going to take me to the other side of the world, and once I walked through the doors on the plane, there wasn’t any going back. Was I sure this was what I wanted? And was I sure I wanted to do it alone?

I wasn’t sure of either of those things to be completely honest, and while everyone was lining up I actually went to find a bathroom to be alone and chill out. I was SCARED and needed a moment to myself, but I knew I couldn’t be long. I filled up my water bottle, and looked myself in the mirror and told myself out loud that it was going to be okay.

I’d gone too far to turn back now, so just like anything else I’m often scared of, I just went through to motions and got myself on the damn plane.

I nearly had the entire row to myself. AND I had a window seat. Talk about the universe aligning the stars for you when you’re anxious as fuck. But then at the very last second some dude moved up and sat in the aisle seat of the row I was sitting in. Immediately, I was annoyed. But to be honest he was probably in the back of the plane crammed in the middle seat, so I decided to be kind instead of mad at him for not allowing me my own row.

The plane ride was the same song and dance. Except this time they didn’t have cranberry juice. I settled for a soda water and eventually fell asleep. To my surprise, I didn’t watch any movies. I had the map of where we were geographically on the screen in front of me the entire time and I really enjoyed watching the time clock go down from 13-hours to touch down in China.

I’d say my next layover was the worst part of the entire travel experience. I had a nearly 14-hour layover in Hong Kong. I seriously debated going into the city, but there’s a lot of political unrest there and I decided to keep my parents sane and stay at the airport. I read a little, bought a journal and wrote a decent amount while trying to keep myself busy in a foreign airport for over half a day. I called the fam, ate some food and walked arooooound. Finally I fell asleep on some chairs for maybe a few hours?

There was more people on the flight to Nepal than I had imagined. I had a window seat again, and my only goal was to try to fall asleep on the plane. No movies this time either, but the map was up.

I got into Kathmandu around 10pm (which would be around 10:30am for you Oregonians reading this) and transferred from the plane to the terminal via bus.

This airport was so different than any one I’d ever been to (I’m a noob with international travel). It was very small, had a lingering smell of mildew and was basically one large room with a few not so spread out departments.

Inside the airport was a mix of travelers alike, and we were all trying to figure out the next steps for the visa and immigration process. As usual, I should’ve done my research before but I knew going into this trip I’d pretty much be winging it, and I’d previously looked up enough to know I could get my visa at the airport as long as I had the correct documents.

There were several white, semi-tall machines everyone seemed to be using after they filled out a small card with basic info q’s. I assumed the machines were for visas, so I nixed the little forms that seemed unnecessary and stood in line and waited my turn to use this foreign machine. Hey everyone else was doing it, right?

I met an Aussie who was traveling to Nepal to do some trekking as well. We chatted while we waited, bonding over the fact that she also pretty much had no idea what she was doing, and we both hoped we were in the right line. This gave me a bit of relief to the semi-frantic mood I was in.

Finally, I stepped up to this strange machine and input the answers to the questions it was asking me. Thing like name, address, passport number, address of where I’m staying in Nepal, etc.

The machine was moving at a snails pace, and it was then that it really dawned on me that I wasn’t in America anymore where the high speed internet is such a privilege. The machine continued to stall with every typed letter, and all the other machines next to me seemed to be working so much faster.

There was a thick line of people waiting behind me, and I began to become very anxious. Another traveler came up to the machine to help me, and she also noticed the lag, and said she would get someone to help. Eventually, while the machine attempted to take my photo, it stopped working all together. So there I was, standing in line in a foreign country, not having the best idea of what I was doing, with a line of people waiting on me to figure this out and I had no solution. When things like this happen I try really hard to remind myself that the universe already knew that this was going to happen, and I am right where I need to be. I just needed to hold on, and like everything else, this too would work itself out.

About 15 minutes of awkward standing later, a Nepalese airport employee came up and reset the machine. From there, it was a damn breeze. I had my 90-day visa slip in my hand in under two minutes. Whew. Now, I just had to pay for it.

So I stood in another line that looked like it was right, handed over some cash and voila. Just one more line to go through and I was basically home free.

My last stop was the actual immigration counter. The gentleman was very nice and said “namaste” to me, where I replied with “hola”. WOW I’ve never felt like more of an idiot in my life. But focus on the present, not the past. Right? Tbh I was pretty stoked to get my Nepal stamp on my passport, and I was good to go.

Once I got out of the airport, a man from my hostel was waiting for me with my name on a sign, I had arranged this prior to my arrival through my hostel (look guys I actually organized something ahead of time!!).

He was kind, and we drove down the streets on Nepal for the first time in my life. Although it was dark, I wasn’t scared yet. I trusted this hostel worker and that we’d get to where we were going safely. The last turn into the hostel was barricaded in between two walls, and that shook me a bit. We backed up for what felt like an entire mile, and finally he said we were here.

I checked in, and was incredibly exhausted after 36-hours of travel. I tossed and turned a little bit, but finally fell asleep around 2am.

The next day came, and I realized that the sun rises much earlier in Nepal than America, around 5am. It was bright and I couldn’t sleep anymore, so I rolled over and began journaling.

I tried to sleep longer, but it just wasn’t happening. Around 7am I got up and went to the rooftop of the hostel. One of my favorite things about Nepal is the creative rooftops. So many awesome and colorful hangout spots!

This was my first real view of the city and I was amazed! A feeling of elation finally came over me, and I felt like I was where I needed to be for the first time. Man had I been waiting for that.

The rooftop was beaming with bright colors, and had prayer flags dancing all around. There were many green plants with big, palm-like leaves, and the view overlooked the city of Kathmandu. The structures here are alive with vibrant colors; reds, oranges, teals, soft pinks and yellows.

I enjoyed a breakfast of fresh fruit, watermelon juice, potatoes, toast with jam and butter, beans and some kind of white cheese. It was just enough, and I truly felt nourished once I was finished.

Later that day I spoke with the hotel manager who gave me a map and some information on the city. He pointed out where the temples were, and other happenings around the city. He also exchanged my currency, and provided some trekking information. I was super grateful for him, and he was my first introduction to the kindness of the Nepalese people.

I was pretty scared to go out and about alone, and still rather exhausted, so I spent most of my first day hanging around the hostel, sleeping and adjusting to the time change.

Fun facts:

⁃ Similar to countries other than America, Nepal has the steering wheel for their cars on the left side instead of the right. They also drive on the left side of the road, or really anywhere that’s convenient. They also honk their horns constantly? At first I thought it was just because they wanted you to get out of their way, but I’ve learned that even when no one is in the way it’s still pretty common.

⁃ Cows are sacred here. On my way into town from the airport I saw two cows chillin on the side of the road, asked my driver about this and that’s what he told me.

⁃ I still haven’t completely figured out the shower situation, as I’ve had one shower in four days. But I’ve learned it’s pretty common to use a bucket and pitcher for your shower water, and it’s also common to have a cold shower. Also the soap here doesn’t lather nearly like the soap in America, but that isn’t a knock because s/o to you Nepal hostels for not using sodium laureth sulfate.

⁃ Music is usually always playing somewhere. Whether it is someone playing an instrument, or a stereo bumping songs, if you’re outside there is always a melody to jam to.

⁃ I’m not the biggest fan of foreign food, so I was a little worried about that. But so far I have been the upmost impressed with Nepalese food! It’s seriously amazing, and it’s pretty easy to at least eat vegetarian here, which I try to do whenever I can!

⁃ There are so many stray dogs and it literally breaks my heart.

More later. Thanks for following along ♥️

Remembering how the trail provides

This blog originally appeared on The Trek. 

I had my first “moment” on trail today.

A little background: on trail I go by Soulshine. Last year I hiked two-thirds of the Pacific Crest Trail, and this year I’m back to finish it up. I’m from Oregon, 26, and a woman.

Back to the story.

I started the day off with a pretty easy six miles. I hiked through thick lava rocks that weren’t easy on the feet, but it was mostly flat.

The morning hike led me to a trailhead to Fish Lake. There, I met up with Nono, Karma, Teabags, and Bronco. We decided we were hungry and we went and got breakfast at a resort that was two miles from the trailhead. We thought I’d be an easy hitch, but we were wrong.

Convinced to not make the walk, Nono and I waited it out. We waited for probably 30 or so minutes, then we said we’d give it another 15. In the last five minutes, someone picked us up.

We got to Fish Lake Resort around 10 a.m. I ordered biscuits and gravy, and pancakes with peanut butter and syrup. Carbs with a side of carbs, please.

We hung out there for about an hour, used the facilities, and then we were ready to go. We walked out to the main highway to get a hitch, and after waiting for over an hour we finally decided to start walking. I’m so stubborn sometimes, but I really didn’t want to make the walk.

When we got back to trail we had five miles of uphill ahead of us, but being in Oregon the grade was around 300 feet per mile, which is not bad at all. I plugged in my headphones and trudged up the hill. I knew we wouldn’t have water for about 12 miles, but I drank plenty at breakfast and carried almost three liters with me. For some reason, when I leave towns, I tend to be super thirsty; maybe it’s my choice in food. Those carbs don’t do me well, I suppose.

Before I made it to the top of the climb I’d drank two and a half liters. Insane, right? I was dying of thirst for some reason. Which meant I had around one-third of a liter for about seven miles. It was downhill, though, and it was my own fault.

After about four miles my feet began to ache. They were just throbbing and felt like a thousand pounds. I slowed my pace a bit and tried to not step on any rocks. Sometimes I had luck, and sometimes I didn’t. With every step I took I thought about the pain I was in. It sucked, and I just wanted to sit down and take a break to elevate my feet, but I was so goddamn thirsty.

I’ve put almost 900 miles on my Altras, so again it’s my fault.

Also on the hike I was experiencing terrible chafe in my, for lack of a better phrase,  crotch pit, and I was dying. The skin was rubbed so damn raw and I couldn’t adjust my spandex (I hike in spandex specially to prevent chafe) correctly to negate it from continuing.

As soon as we got to the water source a lot of other hikers were there. As badly as I wanted to sit down I went directly to the stream to quench my thirst.

I couldn’t find a spout with ample flow to collect water, so I did what I could, and stepped over some logs to get to an outlet and fill my Sawyer bladder. When I did this, my foot fell in the water, knocking me off balance and landing in the water straight on my ass. I was quite annoyed to say the least. I filled up three liters, drank a whole one, and filled it up again.

Then I went back to the hangout spot. Everyone was eating and chatting, and I barely had the energy to talk. I rubbed my feet, something I spend a lot of time out here doing, and sulked in my sadness of my not-so-good-day.

Before I packed up, I went to go take a poo.

When I stood up and started walking, I realized my shorts were still soaking wet, which seriously intensified the chafe I was dealing with. The amount of pain I was experiencing on my short walk seemed unbearable. Have you ever had chafe from a long day of hiking or from a race and then tried to take a shower? I don’t recommend it.

We only had 4.6 miles to camp, but I didn’t know what to to do.

I came back to the hangout spot, and remembered I had an extra pair of shorts in my pack. My “town shorts” I’ll call them. I prefer them to my hiking shorts, they’re cute black Nike shorts with a red liner, but I don’t hike in them because when I run in them I get thigh chafe, and I assumed it would be the same hiking. But I didn’t have much of a choice. So I slipped them on, and hoped they’d aid the crotch chafe, and not create a new thigh chafe for me to deal with. My god.

My feet were still throbbing with pain and my attitude sucked. I was in a lot of pain, and I was super butthurt about it. Eventually almost everyone left the hangout spot, and it was just me and Karma. She started packing up her things and so did I.

I remembered in this moment what it was like to be out here, to really be out here. A lot of the time it isn’t watching sunsets and sharing dinner with a group of hikers you just met. A lot of the time it’s super painful, and you have to work with whatever you’ve got in your backpack. And as much pain as I was in, I knew there wasn’t anywhere in the world I’d rather be.

While packing up Karma glanced over at me, and I could just feel the tears welling up inside me, and I didn’t hold back. I think only a single tear shed from each eye, but it was such a release.

I knew that my chafe would get better, I knew that I was getting new shoes in just 36 more miles, and I knew that I was OK, and was going to be OK. But dammit, I was in some serious pain and I just needed to let it out.

Karma didn’t say much, because after the tears fell I looked at her and said, “It’s OK, you know I’m going to be just fine.” I’m not even sure she responded, but she walked over to me, wrapped me in her arms for a few seconds, and just reminded me she was there.

 

Karma and I have hiked together for over 1,000 miles. We’ve been through so much together. Physical pain, emotional pain, trail navigating, the Sierra last year. You name it. And just to have her there for that moment I had today meant the world to me. I was going to be just fine, and we both knew it. But I was hurting, so I shed a tear, and one of my best friends was there to give me a hug. Today it was the remedy I needed.

Karma eventually hiked on, and I finished packing up my things. I crossed my fingers that the shorts I was wearing would work and I set off for the final miles of the day.

A lot of the time, I listen to music on trail. But this time I didn’t. I wanted to hear the sounds of the trail, the flapping of birds wings as they took off, the pattering of my feet on the ground, and the crunching of the rocks below me. I wanted to remember that I was back on the Pacific Crest Trail with all of my senses. I thought a lot in those last miles and I felt a wild sense of gratitude.

I knew that after I got to my campsite I’d dress my wounds the best I could and by tomorrow morning they’d probably be better. And then I’d get to spend the day with some of my favorite people, in the wilderness, supporting and encouraging each other along the way. I got to use the body that I have to hike more miles than a lot of people do in a day, and I got to see the world while I was doing it. Goddamn, I was lucky.

It’s so strange how the trail really does provide. Sometimes that gift is in the form of ice cold lemonade from a trail angel providing trail magic. Sometimes it’s in the form of finding just what you needed out of a hiker box. And sometimes it’s in the form of putting on a pair of shorts you never considered hiking in and them working out better than you could’ve imagined. And sometimes it’s having one of your best friends on trail give you a hug when you’d had a hard day.

I am so grateful.

Trans-Catalina Trail: Three Days of Oceanfront Views and Steep Climbs

This post originally appeared on The Trek.

Trans-Catalina At-a-Glance

Distance: 36 miles
Elevation gain: 8,000 feet
Trail type: Point-to-point
Location: Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California.
Terrain: Desert like, sand trails. Some road walking, lots of ridgewalking.
Difficulty: Intermediate

What to expect

Most hikers finish the Trans-Catalina trail in three to four  days. The trail is 36 miles long. Parsons Landing is the finishing point for northbounders, and when hikers reach this point they have to hike back 6.5 miles to catch the ferry back to the mainland, so the trip often totals around 42 miles. The TCT has several campsites along the trail with amenities for hikers, including potable water and bathrooms.

Scenery

The Trans-Catalina Trail is absolutely stunning. The only time I’d heard of Catalina Island is on step-brothers, talking about the Catalina Wine Mixer. Recently I saw a tourism ad for backpacking the trail on the Bring Me Instagram page, and I was hooked.

The trail offers unbelievably gorgeous ocean views, similar to the coast that I’ve seen in Jamaica and Mexico. The water is bright blue and many of the campsites offer front-row ocean views, which means falling asleep to the sounds of the waves. Does it get any better?

Ocean views off the coast of Santa Catalina Island.

This hike will also have you trekking through areas of thick vegetation. These areas felt similar to hiking through the desert section of the Pacific Crest Trail, with sandy trail beneath my feet, the sun beating down on me, and signs warning hikers of rattlesnakes.

Speaking of the sun, this trail offers almost no shade (I’m not kidding), which is why the best seasons to hike it are fall or spring. I hiked the trail in June, and although the temperature said it was only around 75 degrees Fahrenheit I could’ve sworn it was around 100 degrees. I left the trail with plenty of new tan lines, including a sweet chest-strap tan line from my pack and sunburns, but it’s all part of the beautiful process of thru-hiking.

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Northbound route

Avalon → Hermit Gulch Campground (Mile 1.7)
Hermit Gulch Campground → BlackJack Campground (Mile 10.7)
BlackJack Campground → Catalina Airport (Mile 13.4)
Catalina Airport → Little Harbor (Mile 22)
Little Harbor → Two Harbors (Mile 29)
Two Harbors → Parsons Landing (Mile 36)

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Getting there

Packed up and ready to go. I departed from the San Pedro port.

The three ports in the Los Angeles area that will get you to Catalina Island are located in San Pedro, Long Beach, and Newport Beach.

There are two docks on Catalina island that visitors can access the ferry: Avalon (the city on Catalina Island, where most hikers begin their hike and the most popular tourist destination), and Two Harbors (where most hikers take the ferry back to the mainland).

San Pedro ($73 round-trip): Because I hiked the trail southbound I took a ferry from the San Pedro port to begin my trip. The San Pedro port is the only port that accesses Two Harbors. So if you are thru-hiking the trail and have to leave your car during your hike, this port is your best bet.

Long Beach ($73 round-trip): This port has the most time slots available and seemed to be a busier port than San Pedro during my time of travel. This port only takes passengers to Avalon, so if you are thru-hiking the TCT, you cannot access the Two Harbors dock from this port.

Newport Beach Port: This port has a discount option available from Groupon, for a $45 round trip instead of a $73 round trip from the other ports; however, because it does not take passengers to or from Two Harbors I never went to this location.

Once completing the hike, hikers who follow the northbound route have to hike back to Two Harbors from Parsons Landing to catch the ferry back to the San Pedro port, as there is no ferry to Parsons Landing.

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Amenities on trail

This trail is rich with amenities. It offers several stops along the way with restaurants, including the Catalina Airport and Two Harbors. I stopped into the airport where I had a burger and waited out some of the heat of the day. The staff was very welcoming. Each of these locations also have gift shops for souvenirs.

There are also several stops that offer water and bathrooms, including Haypress Recreation Area (between Hermit Gulch and BlackJack Campground) and each campground has potable water and most offer the option to have a fire. You don’t have to hike more than six miles without a source with potable water. Sweet deal, right?

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Campsites

A simple little kind of free.

Campsites require prior registration, which you can do online or in Avalon or at Two Harbors when you get there. Almost every campsite has bathrooms, potable water, most times a fire pit, and some have oceanfront views. You’re not really dirtbagging it on this trail.

Each campsite is between five to ten miles of the next, so you never have to travel far without water.

Parsons Landing (mile 36) → between $18 and $24 a night, depending on the season. Parsons Landing is known to have some of the best campsites on trail. Largely in part due to sites directly on the beach. This campground has only eight sites available, so booking well in advance is recommended. Sites offer fire rings, some picnic tables, and bathrooms and potable water.

Two Harbors (mile 29) → between $25 and $28 a night, depending on the season. Two Harbors campground also offers sites with oceanfront views; the sites are located on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Two Harbors is the most town-like place on the island other than Avalon, with cafes, stores, and options for several excursions. Two Harbors is the only other option (other than Avalon) for hikers to catch a ferry to or from the California coast. This campground offers fire rings, picnic tables, bathrooms, and potable water. There are several sites available here.

Little Harbor (mile 22) → between $18 and $24 a night, depending on the season. Little Harbor is a more secluded campground than Two Harbors. It still has sites with ocean views, just not as scenic as the other two. There are several sites available here, and the campground offers fire rings, potable water, bathrooms, and information posted about the trail for hikers.

BlackJack Campground (mile 10.7) → between $18 and $24 a night, depending on the season. BlackJack is the only site that doesn’t allow hikers to have a fire. This campground is in the middle of the island and boasts vegetation and spacious sites. Some of them are equipped with a picnic table and there is a shower option, but it’s really just a lifted spout with cold running water. There are several sites here as well as bathrooms and potable water.

Blackjack campground.

Hermit Gulch (mile 1.7) → between $25 and $28 a night, depending on the season. This place seemed to be buzzing with tourists when I was passing through. It’s the only campground located within the city limits of Avalon and has several campsites available. Sites seemed spacious and the campground offers bathrooms, potable water, and allows hikers to have fires.

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Terrain/Difficulty

This trail is harder than I thought it would be, but I am also not in the best shape of my life at the moment. There are steep climbs, particularly during the second half of the trail, and there is almost no shade.

Because I hiked the trail southbound, I avoided a 2,000-foot climb at the beginning of the trail, but in the heat of the day this would be tough, especially for beginners. The end of the hike also has the steepest climb, from Two Harbors to Parsons Landing, which is about an 1,800-foot elevation gain in four miles

Moving from from BlackJack Campground to Two Harbors (again going northbound) has several smaller (one to two miles), steep climbs along the way. After the initial climb out of Hermit Gulch Campground, the remaining hike to BlackJack Campground is the easiest part of the trail, in my opinion. A lot of the time you are hiking on a ridgeline, and almost always hiking through open mountains. Although hikers are usually trekking through the sand on this trail, there is some road walking involved.

Wildlife

A herd of bison blocking the trail.

I never saw a rattlesnake, but I did see about 30+ bison. On my trip to Two Harbors, a girl who was living on the island told me that years ago a movie was being filmed there that featured bison, and so the filmmakers shipped them there. After the film was over the crew apparently couldn’t round up all of the bison, so they inhabited the island.

They aren’t too intimidating. They do stand right on the trail, but as I walked closer they backed away. A little intimidating as a solo female hiker, but I reminded myself that this is a popular trail and I’d hadn’t read of hikers getting stampeded (is this a word?) by a herd of angry bison, and I made it out just fine.

In addition to the bison I saw several large squirrels and a few foxes and deer. Ah, the beautiful sight of wild animals in the wilderness, it really was a joy. I did, however, wake up on day two to holes in my tent from a little creature, so beware.

I did not encounter any bugs that were a nuisance during my hike.

All in all, this trail was absolutely amazing and I would do it again. I would pick a different month to do the trail as it was very hot. I would rate this trail for intermediate to advanced hikers, but also beginners would be able to break this hike up into three to four days and complete it no problem. With all of the amenities available on the trail, it is safe and a great trail to start out with.

Check out the Catalina Island Conservancy for more info.

Gear Review: NEMO Dagger Two-Person Tent

This gear review originally appeared on The Trek. 

NEMO Dagger 2p

Includes: Tent body, rain fly, stakes, guyout cords, stuff sack, repair kit
Weight: 3lbs, 12 ounces
Capacity: Two-person
MSRP: $399

 

Space

This tent is a goddamn palace. If you’re looking to comfortably fit two people in one tent, with all of your backpacking gear, this is the tent for you. The tent floor is a rectangle, coming in 90×50 inches. The Dagger also offers 42 inches of overhead space and a total of 52 inches of trapezoidal vestibule space, or 26 inches on either side.

The tent has two side doors, which make getting in and out of the tent easy. The vestibule space created when the fly is on is 23 inches from the side door to the fly, which is ideal for cooking during a storm, and storing gear at night.

Setup

The easy pole design makes set-up a no brainer. You could probably set this tent up in less than three or four minutes without the fly. Maybe in five to six with the fly. The zippers and guyout loops are reflective which is ideal for nighttime set-up. The tent also has a mesh pocket at the overhead area inside the tent, which you can put your headlamp in and it lights up the tent.

The tent includes a sturdy rainfly that easily connects to the tent poles through what NeMo calls “Jakes Foot”. The contraption is very user-friendly and has clasps that hook the fly to the foot, and straps where you can tighten the fly to ensure a dry and low-volume setup during nights when it’s raging outside.

The zippers, poles, stakes, and clasps are all made with durable materials. It is clear this tent is made to last.

Details

Maximum Height: 42 inches
Design type: freestanding
Doors and vestibules: Two doors, side vestibules
Tent Size: 31 square feet
Vestibule Size: 23 inches
Seasons: 3 season
Tent Specs: 30-denier nylon floor, 20-denier nylon fly, 20 denier nylon/mesh walls.
Pole Specs: 8.5/9/9.6 millimeters, aluminium
Fly Specs: 12 ounces; dual-hub, 8.3mm aluminum

Things I liked

  • The space. My mom and I easily fit in this tent with all of our gear stored underneath the vestibule space. Neither of us felt crowded, and we had extra space at our feet. We are two 5ft 5in tall women, I should add, but the tent is 8 feet in length, so it would accommodate tall hikers as well.
  • I really like the side doors. It makes everything easier, there were a couple of times my mom said she woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and I didn’t even hear her. It also makes packing ideal in the mornings, I enjoy rolling over and having the ability to start packing in the same position I woke up in.
  • It was a windy night when I tested the tent and the set-up is rock solid. We both felt safe inside the tent and no moisture got inside the tent, and the volume from the wind was almost non-existent.
  • Durability of materials. Everything on this tent seems like it would be able to resist ages of use, it’s clear the tent is built to last.
  • It’s a really cool green color and who doesn’t like fun colorful gear.

Things that could be improved

  • The weight. It’s nearly four pounds when packed, but if you’re hiking with a partner, it is easy to break up with weight with NEMO’s clever divvy sack, and voila, you’re each carrying less than two pounds of tent gear. However, I wouldn’t recommend hiking partners split a tent during a thru-hike, in case of separation or emergency.
  • The tent is a little spendy, but there are more expensive tents out there that don’t offer the luxuries this tent does, so I’d say the price is worth it.
  • I wish there were more internal mesh pockets for gear storage. This is more a personal preference, I put my breakfast, socks, phone, GPS and other random crap in my internal mesh pockets every night before bed. My attempt at staying “organized” and these internal mesh pockets are very small.
  • The tent is quite large when it is set up with the fly, which could make scouting for camping on a thru-hike difficult.

This is the ideal tent for someone looking for shelter with ample space, or for hiking partners sharing a tent. It is durable, spacious and has a very easy-to-use design.

[button color=”green” size=”medium” link=”https://www.rei.com/product/880475/nemo-dagger-2p-tent” target=”blank” ]Shop the Dagger 2P Here[/button]

The PCT Desert: Myths vs. Fact

This blog originally appeared on The Trek .

Most Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers begin their journey in the desert — the first steps on the trail that they’ll be walking on for the next five months. The desert is one of the most frequent places hikers leave the PCT, and if you’re worried about what to expect in this great sandy expanse, here’s my list of myths vs. facts regarding the first 700 miles of the PCT. Hopefully this gives you a better idea of what you’re getting yourself into.

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Facts

The water tastes bad

Compared to other sections of the trail, the water is undoubtedly the worst tasting in the desert. You’ll often find yourself getting water from sketchy sources. By “sketchy” I mean sources that smell terrible, are ill-colored, or just seem plain dirty. But your thirst for water is at an all-time high in the desert, so it’s likely you’ll fill up your SmartWater bottles at any source you come to.

Tip: I learned early on to use Mio Liquid Water Enhancer. There are a variety of flavors, so you’re sure to find one you like. I stuck with flavors that had B Vitamins and electrolytes, but that’s up to you. You’ll find other ways to flavor your water as well, some of my other favorites were Crystal Light Pink Lemonade and Peach Tea.

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It’s likely you’ll get sick at least once

When Norovirus strikes for the second time.

The most common place I saw hikers get sick on trail was in the desert. Norovirus was abound on the PCT in 2017, and I didn’t just get it once, but twice. It was miserable, moreso the second time because it took my immune system longer to recover.

There is no surefire way to prevent getting sick on trail, but I always made sure to hike with Emergen-C. It contains 1000 mg of Vitamin-C, has B Vitamins, electrolytes and zinc, all which will help boost your immune system and give you energy without a crash. If you get sick, hopefully you’re close to town, so you can sweat it out (literally) in a hotel, with the AC on. To help prevent getting sick, try to avoid sharing drinks and food. This is hard on the trail, because everyone shares everything, but when you do share snacks, ask hikers to pour out their portion instead of dipping their hands in. When meeting a new hiker, try the first-bump instead of a handshake. It’s not as awkward as you think.

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Your hiking schedule will be different in the desert

Happy hikers huddled under shade waiting for the heat to fade.

You’ll likely wake up early, stop around 11am, and not start hiking again until about 4pm or later due to the brutal desert heat. Find a nice shady spot to sit underneath, rest your feet, and eat all the food. Just realize that the shade you’re sitting under moves with the clock, so you’re going to have to find a new spot soon. It’s a bummer. You’ll get used to it.

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Myths

You won’t have enough water

Fact: There is enough water to go around, you just need to plan carefully. I always had at least four SmartWater bottles on hand, and a 1L bladder in case of a heavy water carry. My longest carry was supposed to be 40 miles, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a large water cache at a dirt road 20 miles in. ( A water cache is a surprise spot  where trail angels leave jugs of water for hikers.) When you get to a cache, only take what you need, and leave the rest for the hikers behind you. It’s common courtesy.

It’s normal to stress about water in the desert, but it never became a serious concern during my hike. I planned accordingly and made sure my bottles were filled up when they needed to be, and took advantage of every water source along the way, no matter how far I had to walk to find it. Yes, several water sources can be three miles (or more) off trail. If you have to fill up before camp, and won’t reach another water source until the next day, make sure you plan enough water for your dinner.

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You won’t see anything green

Scenery from Mount San Jacinto near Idyllwild.

Fact: I was pleasantly surprised by the lush green plants I was often surrounded by. Some areas consist of sand, rocks and dirt, but oftentimes you’ll be hiking through Ironwood trees, tall Yucca plants, and beautiful Ocotillo plants. This makes for beautiful scenery and shady spots.

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You’ll be hiking in solitude

Fact: One of my family’s biggest worries was that I would be hiking in solitude.What would happen if I got hurt? Had an emotional breakdown? Got bitten by a snake? One thing I can assure hikers who start from late April to May is that there will be SO many other people around. I only camped alone once this year, in Washington, by choice. You WILL be surrounded by other hikers who are in the same emotional state as you. Talk to them, they want to talk to you, too.

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You’ll get bitten by a rattlesnake

Fact: Although I did see several rattlesnakes on trail—yes I was shaken by their presence—I never felt threatened. The snakes I saw were more scared of me than I was of them (they even told me so). Another hiker on trail told me rattlesnakes have a rattle for a reason—they want to warn you before they strike, and they are likely to save their venom for a rodent that they can eat, instead of wasting it on a human.

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No one actually packs out their toilet paper

Fact: Everyone I knew on trail packed out their toilet paper. I am ashamed to say that before hiking the PCT, I didn’t. Get used to it. Have a darker colored Ziplock for this purpose, so you don’t have to see the yucky toilet paper every day when you take out the bag. The Ziplock doesn’t make your pack smell, and you only make contact with it when you are doing your business, or throwing it away in town. Also, the desert ground is particularly hard, so burying toilet paper doesn’t work anyway.

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Bonus Desert Beta

-If you’re staying at Scout and Frodo’s, take advantage of doing a shakedown before you leave. Cutting weight in your pack helps make the hike more enjoyable.

-The sunsets in the desert are stellar. Get excited, you get a front row seat.

-It’s common to replace a core gear item in the first 700 miles of the trail. For me, it was my sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Budget for this adjustment, you never know what you really need until you are out there.

-Learn how to use your cookset before you leave. I had no experience using my JetBoil before I hit the trail, and the bottom of my stove is forever charred because of it.

-Take the time to dip your feet in water when you cross a stream. Many water sources in the desert aren’t large enough to do this, so when you find one that is, it’s quite an enjoyable experience.

-Blisters popped up the most for me in the desert, while my feet were still building calluses. I learned to pop them, thentape them using Leukotape. It’s 100000x better than duct tape.

-Gaiters help keep sand/rocks out of your shoes, but they aren’t necessary. I’m loyal to Dirty Girl Gaiters, but you do you.

-Don’t stress over getting a trail name. Everyone wants one, you aren’t alone. You’ll get yours soon enough, and remember if you don’t like the first one given to you, you don’t have to take it.

-Take pictures of your new friends, and they’ll return the favor. We all want to document this epic journey.

Hikers have a foot bath at Carmen’s Place, a trail angel in Julian, Calif.

-Try packing out produce. Idyllwild, Big Bear, Wrightwood, Agua Dulce, Tehachapi, and Lake Isabella have ample resupply locations to find produce, and I was so thankful for it. Produce can be heavy, but I think it’s worth it. Also try vegan sausages. They last FOREVER and are delicious.

-Give cowboy camping a go, you’ll thank me later.

How I learned to adjust to post-trail life

This article originally appeared on The Trek, which you can read here.

A deep breath of the crisp fresh air filled my lungs, and I opened my eyes. It was still dark out, and there were snow patches surrounding me. My feet were aching, my legs and body sore, but I was warm, and I was happy. I knew I’d be ascending up Pinchot Pass that morning. I had four miles and 2,800 feet of gain to hike.

I packed my sleeping bag and tent in the bottom of my pack and stacked all my other gear on top. I put my spandex shorts and hiking shirt on, braided my hair and tied my Altras. It was go time.

Once I took off, I realized the extra food and gear on back was taking a toll on my chipper mood. I was in the longest stretch of the Sierra section: 90 miles from Kearsarge Pass to Vermillion Valley Resort.  After about a mile, I started to feel sluggish. The elevation was getting to me, and I was stressed that the next few miles would be worse. So I weighed my options.

Maybe I’d filter some water. Maybe I’d snack on a Clif Bar. Maybe I wouldn’t do anything at all, I’d just take a break, lay out my sleeping pad and nap.

But I trekked on, and before I knew it, I was at the top of the pass, gazing at the snowy Sierra Nevadas. It was serene and silent up there, and I felt lucky to be able to gaze at this remote section of the world.

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Fast forward to three months later, home from the trail.

I’m waking up in a bed. My body isn’t nearly as achy. I’m not dirty, and I’m not smelly. I have laundered clothes dressing my body. A full kitchen just feet from my bedroom. My phone is next to me, fully charged.

I think about how I miss waking up to the forest. I look up to see my PCT hiker bandana framing my mirror. When I got back from the trail, I folded it so the only part I’d see is the part that reads “HIKER TO TRAIL.” My constant reminder to get back out there.

A gleam of light is being let in from my window, but the four walls surrounding me began to feel suffocating, and the newfound freedom I found on trail feels like it’s being stripped away.

I lack motivation to get out of bed. I’m not hungry. I feel drained. Something’s wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I ignore the thoughts and get out of bed, it’s just morning moodiness, right?

I get dressed, ate a banana, start my car, put on some tunes, and head to the gym. The car in front of me is going too slow. I forgot my water bottle. My phone buzzes from a message from one of my friends, and all these sounds and distractions make me irritable.

After the gym, I head to the gas station. There’s a long line, and I get stuck in my head again, wondering what I am going to do with my day. I should probably get a job soon.

But the idea of a 9 to 5 job is even more daunting than the suffocating feeling of being surrounded by four walls at home.

It’s finally my turn.

“Fill it with regular,” I say to the attendant.

“Debit or credit?”

“Debit,” I reply.

Driving back home, I think about how ungenuine that human interaction was. I should’ve asked him how his day was going. Or would that be weird?

I get home, make a protein smoothie, and scroll through social media.

An hour later, I find my thumb in the same position it was an hour ago, still scrolling.

What do I want to do today? I ask myself again.

[divider]

While I was on the trail I felt capable. I loved having a numeric mileage goal every day, and I loved the big-picture goal of getting to Canada.

I was also releasing an insane amount of endorphins.

Endorphins are chemicals that interact with receptors in brain cells that help relieve pain and control emotion. Endorphins decrease fatigue, and provide athletes with an euphoric rush for an extended period of time.

When I got back from the trail I went back to the gym and kept up with running, but my decreased level of physical activity led to a huge drop in endorphin release, and it took a toll on my mental state. The feel-good neurochemicals that were being released were replaced with feelings of sadness and stress.

I went from being in the best shape of my life, meeting new people constantly, and accomplishing goals daily, to being broke, jobless, and confused.

My backdrops changed from mountains, rivers and sunsets to concrete buildings, cars, and convenience stores. I had all of this energy with nowhere to put it. It drove me insane. I felt aimless and purposeless.

The exposure to a different lifestyle was awakening. And when I got back from the trail, I felt like I had all this energy, and nowhere to put it. Being back in the real world felt aimless and purposeless, and trying to find a solution felt paralyzing. I wanted to be free again. I wanted to run in the forest and play with my friends. I wanted to continue jumping in rivers and climbing up passes every day. To have deep conversations with hikers I’d just met about humanity.

And I couldn’t do that anymore, and I just didn’t know what to do with myself because of it. I was restless, I was frustrated and I felt alone. I didn’t talk much about it. I put myself in my own mental prison, and it felt impossible to get out.

I was mad this was the world I lived in, and that this is the society that we humans have created. I wondered why I felt so weird to ask the guy at the gas station how his day was. Is genuine conversation so lost that we question ourselves to ask how someone’s day is?

[divider]

So here’s what I did. Here’s what helped me.

First and foremost, I began being public about the struggles I was facing. That was one of the biggest difficulties for me to overcome post-trail, but I also think the trail is the reason I now have the confidence to do so.

I take time to write about what is going on in my head and process it. And when I’m ready, I share it with friends, family and post it to social media.

The responses I got from my friends, and some people I’ve never met, has literally given me life.

Being able to connect with others who share the same struggles has made me feel like I am not alone. For me, that is extremely important.

With this, I had to overcome the fear of what people would think about me being so open about my emotions. Specifically people from my hometown, who knew me before I was hiker/emotional Alex.

That was hard, and that’s still hard. But at the end of the day, if anybody doesn’t want to see what I post, they don’t have to. I have to remind myself constantly that if someone doesn’t want to see what I post, they have the freedom not to.

I’ve also progressed my hobby of running races. Before the trail, I’d ran in a couple of races, and one of the first things I did post-trail was sign up for my first marathon.

It gave me a goal to look forward to, and I reminded myself of that goal every day—especially when I was training.

Setting this goal gave me something to look forward to. It helped me fill my calendar with activities, and forced me believe in myself again. Racing also helped me connect with other runners that I found through social media, as well as people from my home town who I’d always looked up to.

Being able to chat with them about something we are both passionate about is so much more fun than talking about whatever town drama is going on at the time.

Some days when I was feeling really low, and just didn’t know how to fill my time, I would go do a simple task like grocery shopping and try to connect with someone about their day.

On trail, I’d rarely walk past another hiker that I didn’t say hi to. Sometimes the conversations would be short and sweet, and others were long and deep.

I loved having both of these type of interactions, and when I came back to society I lost that because people just aren’t as interested in talking to others about their thoughts and emotions. I am. So I had to find people like me, in the world that I live in.

It didn’t always work. Sometimes I’d go to the grocery store and chat with the checker. Sometimes they’d want to talk to me, and sometimes they didn’t. But hey, I tried, right? Maybe it’ll be better next time. And, surprisingly, it usually was.

I also began to make moves for myself, based on what I wanted to do, simply because I wanted to do so, and realized that WAS good enough.

When I got back from the trail I felt bogged down by the pressure to get a “real” job – but if I was certain of anything, it was that I knew that is NOT what I wanted to do. Eventually, I decided what I wanted was to travel. No matter how I was going to do it, I made it my number one priority.

I realized that not every trip I go on is going to be glorious and life changing, but as long as I was exploring a different neck of the woods in the world, I would be happy.

Above all, I think I began to accept who I am in the world that I live in. I loved who I was on trail, and when I got back from the trail it was easy to feel like I wasn’t the same person I was the last five months. But I was, and it just took me realizing and accepting that.

One step at a time, I’m still hiking my own hike.

 

 

 

 

 

Flippity flop

The direction I’ve been traveling on the Pacific Crest Trail recently went from Northbound to Southbound.

When we got to Shasta, we found out that fires in Northern California wouldn’t allow us to cross the state line into Oregon.

This was so disheartening. I’d been looking forward to that milestone for hundreds of miles! About 1500 miles – to be exact.

In addition to the fires in NorCal, fires in Oregon have closed areas of the trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness, Jefferson Wilderness and Cascade Locks area. The most recent closure includes the Oregon/Washington border. (Keeping our fingers crossed we will get to cross at least one state line)

If I chose to continue hiking North, I would either have to hitchhike around the fire closures, or complete miles and miles of road walking (seriously – like 120 miles of walking on hard black pavement). Not quite the same as being out in the wild wild wilderness, ya feel? Which is arguably the entire reason thru-hikers choose to, ya know, thru-hike.

A lot of the time, when there are fire closures, or closures for any reason, there are alternate routes hikers can take to still have a fluid footprint from Mexico to Canada. Some hikers have chose to hike the Oregon Coast Trail in lieu of the Pacific Crest Trail Oregon section, so they still walk across Oregon. Some hikers have found other alternates that add several miles to their journey. Whatever that journey is, hiking your own hike and doing what makes your soul happy is all that matters.

As far as road walking goes, the smoke in these areas is so detrimental to hikers, the PCTA advises hikers to hitch around the closed zones, because walking on the road doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any better for your lungs than walking on the trail would be. Some still chose to put their road walkin shoes on and make the trek – and good for them!

We chose to flip up to Harts Pass, which is 30 miles south of the Canadian border, and hope that by some miracle these fires are out by the time we reach Oregon.

Harts Pass is the closest point to the Canadian border in the state of Washington that’s accessible by vehicles. SO, our trail angel, who’s name is Matt, braved the highest dirt road in Washington to get us there. THANK YOU MATT!

We got to Harts Pass, hiked 30 miles north, touched the Canadian border, took some photos at the Northern Terminus, then turned around and hiked the same 30 miles south, beginning our hike back down to Shasta.

We hikers call this an in-and-out, or an out-and-back hike. Either way, we hiked 30 “extra” miles to be able to touch Canadian soil. Good thing Washington is STUNNING!

Flipping the trail was a tough call. I’d been looking forward to hiking in my home state for hundreds of miles. I was making plans with friends and family to meet at different stops and I was SO excited to see some beautiful souls I miss dearly.

I also realllllly (I can’t stress this enough) wanted to finish the trail at the Northern Terminus. As excited as I was to cross into Oregon, crossing into Canada after hiking 2650 miles, and finally seeing the Northern Terminus was what I fantasized about the most.

As much as the reasons to continue going North stood with me, the idea of cutting out so much trail and hitching around the closures – which would’ve been what I would personally do with the closures – was the standing in the forefront of my thoughts.

Skipping so many miles is tough to stomach for thru-hikers who are enthusiastic about completing the entire trail. Especially sections with such promising beauty! Although I’m from Oregon, I haven’t hiked through most PCT sections in the state and I’m so excited to experience what the hype is about.

Sooo flipping up to Harts Pass and southbounding the remainder of my hike gave me the best shot at completing the most possible PCT miles this year.

Our road trip started after we got a ride from a trail angel to Ashland. I’d been anticipating getting to Ashland for a long time, because my cousin lives there and we had plans to meet up.

Although I was days ahead of my original plan to get to Ashland, cousin Taylor rolled with the punches and was such an amazing trail angel to us!

We went out to a brewery for dinner, then another brewery for, uh, more beer, and ended the night with good conversation in cozy blankets. Taylor let us do our laundry, shower (without a time limit and plenty of shampoo/soap 😆) and we had so much fun just visiting and catching up. As the years pass I never get to spend enough time with this girl. I’m excited to hike back through Ashland and do it all over again! Love you so much Cuz.

Also in Ashland, I got to meet up with one of my most favorite people ever, Lauren Killgore! She was my dormmate in college, and someone who’s soul I just know and trust. We seem to find our way back to each other in some of life’s most important moments. I think that’s how our friendship will always be.

The next morning we had a few complications with renting a car – adulting is so hard – but thanks to the help of my amazing family we worked it out and were on our way to Albany, my hometown, where we’d stay the night before heading to Seattle the next day.

Pulling up to my mommas driveway was just like every time before, but this time I just couldn’t wait to run inside and hug my mom and stepdad. It’d felt like ages since I’d seen them!

Just after I pulled up, my best friend Kelsey Martinez did, too. AND she brought my favorite humans to walk the earth with her – her beautiful babies Mason and Blake! Gah I am so in love with them. It was AMAZING to see and spend time with Kels and the kids – I seriously love you guys SO dang much. When I’m home, we’ll get back to the usual routine of having breakfast/lunch/dinner together every day. Can’t wait!!

At my mommas, we spent a little time organizing our belongings and starting some more laundry before we headed over to my dads house, who was hosting a BBQ for me and my hiker friends.

This was my first time seeing my dads new house, as he closed on it just before I left for the trail. When I walked inside, Tammy, his girlfriend, had printed AND framed a photo my hiking group took just the day before in front of the Oregon state monument on the freeway. Because we didn’t get to see the state line on trail – we settled with the monument on the freeway. Seeing the photo printed and framed made us all feel at home and so welcomed – I loved that she did that. It meant a lot to me and my friends. We all signed the frame with a sharpie, a memory I will have forever.

Also at my dads was my best friend Lindsey Graham – who is a badass and HAS to hike the trail one year. Thank you for driving all the way from Eugene, and then back again just to see me. You are the BEST.

We visited, drank my dads delicious home-brewed beer, went over our trail names and feasted on ribs and barbecued chicken.

Later, we satisfied our sweet tooth with cake, cookies and lemon bars – I am so blessed to have the wonderful family that I do.

The next day we were back on the road, and headed to Seattle. We made one more pit stop in Portland to shop at Patagonia and dine at Deschutes Brewery. I got to see another best friend from when I lived in Eugene – Devyn, who joined us for dinner and drinks. Dev & I have a very special friendship and one I will literally cherish for all of my days – it was so refreshing to see you, and I’m so thankful you dropped all your plans to meet me spur of the moment in downtown Portland.

It never seems like you have enough time with your loved ones – but getting to see my friends & family gave me so much fulfillment – the fulfillment I was hoping for while I was passing through Oregon. Leaving the state, I felt satisfied, and like I was making the right decision.

Today I’m in Stehekin, Washington waiting for the Post Office to open at 10 a.m. after taking an unexpected zero day yesterday because we didn’t anticipate the Post Office closure for the Labor Day holiday.

I’m surrounded by about 15 hikers who are in the same boat as me. Yesterday, we did laundry, showered (it was such a great shower! Only $1 for five minutes AND there was a ton of super great smelling soap) and relaxed.

Stehekin sits on Chelan Lake and has a population of less than 300. Because of the holiday weekend, it was busier than normal.

The town has a restaurant, lodge, Visitor Center, post office and a wonderful bakery where I sat yesterday and began writing this blog – while enjoying a turkey sandwich and green salad. Mmmm, veggies.

Sometimes being in towns makes me anxious. Even in a town as small as Stehekin.

Some interactions consist of lots of questions about the trail & congratulatory conversations. People definitely think you’re a superhero for hiking so many miles. Others are awkward, like when you’re using the sole bathroom sink in the one public restroom to clean your stove for the first time in a week, and someone needs to, uh, wash their hands.

I worry a bit about what it’ll be like living in society again. Instead of being surrounded by nature, you’re surrounded by humans, concrete and advertisements.

I spend so much time on the trail thinking about every aspect of my life – my family, friends, passions, love, etc. and I share these thoughts and ideas with other hikers, and we bond over similarities and differences. We spend all day sharing stories and making memories, and it’s been the best thing I’ve done with my life.

I’m not sure people do that so much in society, it’s more of the hustle and bustle of daily life that takes over in towns. And that’s okay. Maybe people don’t want to talk to you, and don’t care to hear about your day – they just met you, they’re stressed out, late to work, bored or uninterested in what you have to say. And that really is okay. We’re all just humans – out here living the best life that we can.

But it’ll be a bit of an adjustment. Just like hiking your own hike, I suppose you have to live your own life. But I’m not back in society just yet – so we’ll see how that goes when I get there.

Almost out of the Sierra 

My tired feet made the transition from the dusty trail to the hard black pavement. 

Just before reaching the 3/4 mile road walk into Kennedy Meadows, Sprite and I celebrated the end of the longest, and arguably most grueling section by jumping into the Kern River – in over 100 degree weather – with all of our clothes on.

Kennedy Meadows is a real milestone for PCT hikers. At this point, we’ve walked 702 miles. This is also the last stop before the Sierra section.

When you walk up to the general store, all the hikers and patrons clap for you. It’s a moment that’s hard to describe, because it comes by such surprise. My eyes grew teary and my heart grew warmer. I was proud of myself, and thrilled that the Southern California desert was behind me.  

While prepping for the trail, the dumping of snow in the Sierra Nevadas this year was undoubtedly the most popular topic for trail skeptics. 

Rightfully so, the Sierra Nevadas have never received more snow than they have this year – over 200 percent more than normal.

The first sight of snow was a special moment for me. I remember vaguely seeing mountains off in the distance, thinking to myself, I’m about to climb this shit. Let’s do it. And I had the biggest smile on my face. 

Walking out of Kennedy Meadows the terrain starts to change. Mountains get taller, rivers start to appear. The love I had for this section began to blossom.

I fell in love with this section because the sights were magnificent. Unlike anything I’d ever seen. 

Yogi, a triple crown hiker and PCT guru, told me in Kennedy Meadows that the Sierra section was hikers reward for finishing the desert. 

I couldn’t agree with her more. 

I was overwhelmed by this new adventure, and enlightened by what was up ahead. 
The group I was hiking with was solid. We supported & encouraged each other. I felt safe with them and was so grateful to have met these beautiful souls. 

But just when you think you’ve got it figured out – everything can change. 

The first pass we went up was Forester Pass. It’s the highest point on the PCT, 13,200 ft. Just two days before Forester, we summited Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states – 14,500 ft. 

Forester was my first love in the Sierra. This was the first time I’d ever hiked up a pass, and the first time I’d hiked with an ice axe in hand and microspikes on my feet. Although I was terrified, I was confident. 

The group I was hiking Forester with was overwhelmingly supportive of each other. We were waiting for each other at the top, guiding those to the best foot holes and reiterating how to self-arrest in case of a misstep. 

When we got to the top, we celebrated with hugs and high fives. It was a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. But just as a first love ends, I was excited to see what else was out there. 

After Forester, we hiked Kearsage Pass, 11,700 feet, to get into Bishop, our next town stop. Kearsage was steep, and sometimes we had no idea where we were headed.

We were hiking the Pacific Crest general direction as Nirvana would say – because the trail was covered in snow. 

The trek was filled with gorgeous alpine lakes and plenty of snow. Any moments of frustration were quickly curbed by the stunning scenery. 

Once we made it into Bishop, I exited the trail for two weeks. This was planned, not sparatic. Every year I help with a journalism camp hosted at Stanford University. After the camp was over, I spent a wonderful four days with my momma in San Francisco. 

It was strange to be off trail, and overwhelming to be in a big city after such solace in the wilderness. I enjoyed every moment spent with my momma and at camp, but it was safe to say I was ready to be back on trail, but by now my trail family was far ahead. 

So, I had a decision to make. I could jump up and meet my friends, but that meant skipping a section. I could flip the trail and meet friends who skipped the Sierra all together to hike later once the snow has really melted. 

Or I could get back on where I left off, and keep my fingers crossed I’d make new friends. The only problem is, when you’re camping at over 10,000 feet on the regular, climbing passes and fording streams daily, this section shouldn’t be hiked alone, in my opinion. 

At the last second, Roadshow decided to jump back into the Sierra with me where we left off. The two of us began the trek back over Kearsage. This time, I had a 54 pound pack – far too much food than I needed, but better safe than sorry, right?

That day, we hiked Kearsage Pass and Glenn Pass. Altitude sickness hit me early on and I felt like I wasn’t in the shape I was in when I got off trail. That two weeks really took a toll. The heavy pack didn’t help. 

Roadshow and I didn’t have a similar hiking pace. He was much faster than me and I spent a lot of time solo hiking. 

The love I had for the Sierra began to dwindle as I spent time inside my own head. I became frustrated often and questioned what the hell I was even doing. Am I trying to prove something by being out here? Who am I trying to prove it to, and why? We’re the questions that ran through my mind all day. 

I missed the supportive network I had before getting off trail and wondered if it would be worth it to skip a section and meet my friends. I struggled with my own independence. I wanted to be content being solo in the Sierra, but I craved the comrodery, and mostly the encouragement. 

I also didn’t feel safe hiking solo. There were several white water crossings, snow bridges to cross, not to even mention the passes. 

But just as the trail goes – you keep moving forward. 

The next day I crossed Pinchot Pass, 12,100 feet. This pass was steep, but not terrifying. I was growing more comfortable with my level of confidence in the snow, but tried not to be naive that anything could happen. 

After Pinchot, Roadshow and I hiked to the base of Mather Pass. This was the last of the most difficult passes in the Sierra section, other hikers said. 

We only had 700 feet left to climb that next morning, piece of cake, we thought. 

While I was traversing up the pass, Roadshow was at the top tackling the rock scramble. I had my ice axe in hand and my spikes on. With every step I stabbed my axe into the snow beside me. One step at a time I repeatedly said to myself. When I was about two-thirds of the way across, the next step was wider than what I was used to. I picked up my foot and tried to place it in the foot hole, but I missed. 

My body began sliding down the snow covered pass. With every inch that I slid, I was absolutly terrified.

I remember reciting in my head “you know how to do this and you need to do it right now.” (In this quote I am referring to self-arresting with my ice axe)

I turn my axe as quickly as I can and try to stab the blade into the snow, but I miss.

Still sliding down the side of the mountain, I try again, this time I turn the blade sharper and stronger. There wasn’t any time for error. 

Like a dagger, the axe stuck into the snow. There I was, about 20 feet down from the foot holes, hanging on the side of a pass. I wanted to cry and cry and cry, but I just didn’t have the time. Solution first, reaction after. 

After a few deep breaths, I dug my microspikes into the snow beneath my feet and one by one made a new footpath up the mountain. With every step I stabbed my axe into the snow and lifted my body up. 

My axe completely supported me. Once I got the hang of what I was doing, I was confident I had the tool I needed in my hand. 

When I made it safely to the rocks, I was trembling. My body was shaking and my jaw felt numb. I couldn’t process what had just happened, and I just started to cry. This experience was undoubtedly the most terrifying moments of my life, but I made it. 

I dropped my pack and took a breather. I had a tough rock scramble to go before I could reach the top, but nothing could stop me now. 

Mather Pass broke my heart, but I got over it. 

Later that day, I reconnected with a group that I had crossed paths with a couple times on trail. We camped together for the first time that night, and I was excited about becoming a party of a new trail family. 

We stayed up that night, cooking dinner and talking about the passes we just crossed. Woodchuck had her own terrifying experience on Mather, where she stepped into a void on the mountain and ended up waist deep in snow. I wasn’t there for this, but we bonded over our separate experiences.  

The next day we hiked to a lake where we would take a ferry the next day to Vermilion Valley Resort. A well earned zero day was in store. 

This group is filled with incredible people. Rooster and Woodchuck, former AT hikers going for their triple crown after their wedding in the coming year, are from New York. 

Happy baby, who I spend a lot of time hiking with, is from Chicago. 

Yaya, a nurse who lives 20 minutes from my hometown (crazy, right?), is from Colorado. 

Cosmo, is also from Colorado. 

Hash Hero, who could hike 40 miles on the daily, is from Utah. 

And Lani, a former school counselor is from Los Angeles. 

I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this new trail family. The trail truly provides.

Since Mather Pass, the passes have become a lot easier. The climb can still be brutal, but the snow has lessened tremendously. 

Mileage has picked up, and the goal of getting to Canada has never been clearer.

This section doesn’t offer as much emotional refelection as the section before, because so much of my time is spent on focusing on survival. 

Yesterday, we crossed 900 miles. N about 150 miles, we’ll be out of the Sierra section and onto Northern California. 

But I have learned, and am learning every day what I am capable of. One step at a time, I’ll keep moving forward.