Celebrating 3 trail months

Today began with coffee, pop tarts and good conversation with Fuller. It wasn’t until I hit the trail that I realised it was already 8am. My 10 by 10 routine seems to be slipping, but like I said to Fuller, some of the best trail moments are experienced between hiking. I believe it’s important to take the time to experience both.

When I did hit the trail I was lethargic and a little brain numb so a second breakfast was in order following the slight detour down Quincy-La Porte Road to a creek. It’s rare for me to go so far off trail for water (a whole 0.3 miles) but it seemed like a better source than Whiskey Spring, and in the end was worth the detour. Both Otter and Fuller had the same idea and after washing my hands and face I started to feel a little more alive.

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The trail had an incredibly flat grade for a substantial amount of miles early on in the day. This meant the miles ticked over relatively fast until I got incredibly hungry and saw that Otter had stopped to snack on salami and Kettle chips, or as he refers to it, meat and potatoes. I was unsure of which way the trail went and when I asked Otter if he knew he pointed out I was standing on probably the biggest arrow created by sticks on the trail. Whoever makes the arrows and puts sticks across the paths you shouldn’t go down, thank you!

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The shade was all too tempting so I stopped for lunch earlier than planned and had a good chat with Otter about his past two experiences on the PCT. He’s also hiked the CDT and is writing a novel while he’s out on the trail. He himself admits he’s a man of few words but has some extremely funny things to say once he gets chatting. We agreed to meet at the next spring for coffee as the lethargy from the morning seemed to creep back into the afternoon as well. I think it was due to the weather being pretty darn hot.

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The next spring had beautifully fresh cold clear water. It was a steep 500 foot climb down but well worth it. I was hoping it would be deep enough to swim, but I would have to wait for the Middle Fork Feather River which was another 5 miles down the trail. On the way down there I caught up with Woozy and Lodge Pole who I’d only met earlier that day. They started the trail at Kennedy Meadows and were still in the honey moon period. It was great feeding off their energy for the full climb down to the river where we all jumped in immediately on arrival. The water was almost warm and felt absolutely amazing after such a hot and sweaty day. Straight from the river I knew the trail was going to climb 3000 feet over 10 miles. The thought of doing this in the morning was not an option, so I cooked dinner on the beach next to the river and hit the trail again at 7:30pm.

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It got dark pretty quickly and only Otter and I decided to take on the mountain at night. I thought the moon might be bright enough to avoid using my headlamp, but there was so much tree canopy covering the trail I needed to turn on my light if I wanted to see anything in front of me. Luckily I did because there were some giant spider webs across the trail with giant spiders right in the middle of them. There were also giant centipedes on the trail. I swear I only see the really creepy bugs at night!

At about 10pm I really started to notice the pain in my shoulders. I was definitely out of my comfort zone in the dark with the spiders, and I didn’t want to stop hiking in case a mountain lion or another creature was close behind me. This meant that I hiked non stop from 7:30 – 11:00pm with a pack still full with 5 days food and two litres of water. It felt double that by the time I reached the top. I passed a few tents on the way up and found a perfect little flat spot right at the 30 mile mark for me. There was only one switch back that just went on and on and on for about 5 miles to the top after the first 5 miles of climbing. This drove me a little crazy as I prefer more switchbacks which get you to the top a lot quicker.

My body hurt so much when I got to camp that I didn’t have the energy to write, but was also in too much pain to sleep. I was happy to have done a 30 miler on my 3 month trail birthday but knew I was going to be tired and hurting in the morning!

A full day with Fuller

It’s already 44 minutes past my bedtime but I’m hoping to jot down at least a few notes from today’s activities as it felt like an eventful one (don’t they all?). My alarm went off at 4:30am and soon afterwards I heard clicking coming down the trail. It sounded like hiking poles with my bandana still covering my ears but when I looked up to see who was coming down the trail so early I saw something much larger than a person. As it was still mostly dark I couldn’t make out the shape until it got much closer, then soon realised the clicking was the hooves of a large deer. It didn’t even notice me lying there, and simply went about its morning stroll straight past my sleeping bag and over the other side of the hill. Deer are one of my favourite animals to see out here and definitely the ones I’ve had the fortune to see up close.

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After watching a spectacular sunrise whilst eating a pop tart for breakfast, I packed up my things and headed to the first water source a couple of miles down the trail. I had less than half a litre left and was looking forward to filling up and making my morning coffee. On the way to the lake I bumped into Fuller and another hiker named Matt who were camped close by. Fuller was about to make coffee, perfect, so I headed to get some extra water while the kettle boiled. The water in the lake was very unappealing, but luckily two women hikers I met heading into Sierra City were camped there and offered me some additional water they had already collected and treated. My timing was perfect!

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After a good hit of coffee Fuller and I hit the trail and actually hiked together for some time chatting about the early days of the trail, UB’s SoBo hike and life off trail. It was the first time I’ve hiked with anyone since UB and it was a nice to have someone to chat to while the miles ticked over in the background. There were a number of water sources just off trail today and a few long stretches in between so we had to pay close attention to what was coming up. The first of which was a spring just off the trail to the right where the two ladies who gave me water this morning were sitting. Fuller and I filled up a litre each. He made Gatorade and I made my new Carnation Breakfast and granola mix. When I told him the story about the deer this morning, saying I thought it was a hiker coming down the trail because of the clicking sound of hiking poles, he exclaimed ‘why was the deer using hiking poles?’ I was in fits of laughter so many time today.

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We hiked separately to the second spring where Fuller stopped for lunch and I continued on, hoping to find higher ground for my break with a view and preferably phone signal. As it often does, the trail provided me with a large climb straight from the A Tree spring to a nice shady spot over looking the valley with 4G! You little ripper! Here I made lunch and started my ‘Insights into thru hiking’ series. Then Fuller caught up and we watched one of the funniest YouTube videos Fuller had recommended after a conversation we had about my waning excitement for my resupply food. The clip was of a Norwegian called Alexandre Gamme digging out his final food cache on his unsupported expedition to the South Pole and back (he completed the first ever return trip alongside two Aussie boys!). It’s all in Norwegian (Vidar you can translate for us) but it’s absolutely hilarious!

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vC8gJ0_9o4M

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I had to pop a blister on my heel at lunch, and once I started walking again, the pain of it rubbing on my shoe became unbearable. So much so, I had to strip off both shoes and wear my trusty purple Frocs for the next 3 miles until water. My mood turned into one of frustration as soon as I started walking again, as the memories of the first painful 700 miles came flooding back. I took a fall on a steep dusty slope about 15 minutes in and had numerous sharp rocks pierce the soles of my feet. When Bandleader past me I was super grumpy, and when he told me he was aiming to do 30 miles a day using the 10 by 10 method I simply responded ‘good luck with that’. Sorry Bandleader.

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When I did reach the next descent stream Fuller wasn’t far behind, so I called for a coffee break to regroup and lighten the mood. He accepted. It was during this break that we discussed an interesting psychological theory in which people perform better when they believe they are performing better than the average. This applies to thru hiking and the frustration I had felt the other day when being passed by a faster hiker when you think you’re hiking fast. It’s not a race out here, but it’s a constant battle to hike as efficiently as possible and maintain a steady pace. If ten hikers passed you in a day, you would definitely start to question your own methods and lose confidence in your ability. Whereas when you pass other hikers, it usually gives you an additional push to maintain the speed at which you are travelling. Bizarre hiking psychology.

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Before departing our coffee break Fuller and I discussed what to do with my blisters and decided using second skin with breathable tap over the top to keep it in place would do the trick. Sadly it did not, and during the next few miles it all became too painful again that I switched back to the Frocs. There were so many tree trunks over the trail and painful stones that I started to go a little nutty.

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Thankfully and the next break site as I was about to get out my tiny little pocket knife and take on the heels of my shoes, Fuller arrived. He knew from the change in my footprints exactly where I’d swapped to the Frocs and he insisted before I do damage to my shoes to give the tape he used on his blisters one last try. We needed to drain both heels again, then lathered on the tape. He then gave me a pair of his toe socks to wear as an additional layer to my regular socks. For the next three miles this actually worked!

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It was already 8pm when we began these last few miles to Whiskey Spring where the dribble of water was enough to cook dinner and camp with. We bumped in Otter there too and camped in the first flat spot near the spring as the light of the day quickly slipped away. It’s around 11pm and once again way past my bedtime, but a descent 23 mile day competed none the less.

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Climbing out of town

A group of us were discussing the big climb out of Sierra City this morning over breakfast. I commented that we’d made it through the Sierras so what was all the fuss over a big hill about? Well this ‘hill’ was a little bigger than I had expected. In fact most of the 12 miles I hiked today were uphill, not steep, but up none the less.

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After my delicious breakfast I had to pack up the rest of my gear and get moving. A new wave of hikers arrived as I was leaving including Horny Toad and Sexy Legs who I hadn’t seen since Yosemite. Most people were waiting until it cooled down before departing, but I’d already lost too much time this morning and was determined to put in a decent distance, knowing fully well I wouldn’t get anywhere close to 25 miles departing after 2pm.

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I was hoping to get a ride back to the trail head on Hwy 49 having walked the extra miles into town, and knowing the way back was all uphill. I made slightly more of an effort to actually stick my thumb out which resulted in the first car pulling over and popping the boot (Aussie for trunk). I was relieved to see the passenger wearing a PCT hat and coincidently the couple (Karen and Bruno) were the parents of another thru hiker due to arrive in a few days. I couldn’t have timed it better!

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We’re entering back into rattle snake territory and longer stretches without water. I filled up at the first spring but skipped the second thinking I’d make it to a campsite near the lake 14 miles in. I stopped at the 12 mile mark because I’ve got phone signal which will save me time blogging tomorrow, but I’m down to under half a litre so there’ll be no coffee or oats in bed tomorrow morning.

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At about 6pm I started getting lethargic and decided to stop and cook dinner to give me energy for the final 6 miles. I chose to eat the Alpine Aire Chicken Gumbo meal I’d packed as a treat and alternative to my regular homemade meals. It turned out to be a disaster, tasting so horrible I could barely stomach it.

I started hiking way too soon after eating and experienced reflux and heartburn for the next hour until I decided enough was enough. I went to check Halfmile’s app and realised I had phone signal for the first time since before Sierra City! I had a message from UB who was almost at the trail in Northern Washington. It’s so hard to believe he’s back on the trail this evening, sleeping under the same stars approximately 1,400 miles away. He has to walk 30 miles north to reach the Canadian border tomorrow before starting his SoBo challenge on Monday morning. Good luck UB, we’re all wishing you well!

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It’s now 10pm, my new bedtime to successfully complete 10 miles by 10am for the next 7 days. I’m looking forward to this new challenge and am feeling very positive as I head closer to the halfway point in just over 100 miles!

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Hop, skip, jump into Sierra City

In Yogi’s guide, one of the biggest regrets from thru hikers was not taking more zero days on trail, so being so close to Sierra City, I allowed myself a slow morning.

The more time I spend on my own, the crazier I seem to become. I’m now so comfortable with talking to myself out loud that I don’t even look around anymore to check if anybody’s in hearing distance. I also feel that if I have the video running I’m not really talking to myself, right?

Just before I actually hit the trail I heard the click of hiking poles coming down the switchbacks and peered out my tent to see Werewolf and Marijke and their dog ‘What’s up dog’ coming along. I hadn’t seen them since I was hiking Sobo to rescue UB when he hurt his knee near Lone Pine! This trail sometimes feels like being in high school, followed by weekly high school reunions with people you haven’t seen in over a month, all whilst hiking through the wilderness. Totally bizarre!

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I was buzzing along with so many happy thoughts in my head for the first three miles until I bumped into three people taking a short day hike. This encounter put me on an even greater high after their amazement of the hike, the fact I am doing it solo, and their eagerness to check out the blog! They were having a huge family reunion in Sierra City with 60 relatives coming together. Insane!

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The five miles to the trail head felt longer than expected, probably because I was thinking about all the good things a town provides: food, rest (well some), shower, laundry, more food! I also didn’t factor in the additional miles to get to town from Highway 49 which I figured would be an easy hitch… ’twas not so.

I waved at every car that drove past and got such a good response I knew even before I arrived in Sierra City that it would be a welcoming place.

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Are we in Canada already?

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My first stop was the Red Moose which is run by trail angels Bill and Margaret, who offer free camping to thru hikers in their backyard! They usually offer showers too but because their two rooms were already rented, Margaret told me the river was a great alternative. With the amount of filth I’d built up over the last 100 miles I knew this option wasn’t going to fly, so I headed into town looking like true blue ‘hiker trash’.

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I hit the general store, put on a load of washing and used the store’s phone to call UB as there’s NO AT&T reception in town! Crazy! I heard the post office actually closes at 2pm so I raced there at 1:45pm to grab my packages. I had my resupply box and two packages from Dirty Girl! When they handed over my resupply box they told me it was the first one they received back in April, and couldn’t believe it arrived so early. It had become part of the PO furniture!

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As I was still getting about town in my filth, when I bumped into one of the three people I met on the trail this morning, part of their family offered me a shower in their cottage close by! Brad took me over to where they were staying and I met his wife Debbie, his daughter and another couple who all listened to me babble about trail stories until they found me a clean towel.

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It felt so good to be clean again! At this point I was soooo hungry and was on a mission to find food, but I bumped into Carrot back at the Red Moose so we chatted and laughed at the random goodies Dirty Girl had sent to me including a fly swatter, bug gummy candy, and barbie tissue packets! She also sent me some life saving items including new insoles, knee braces and coffee!!!!

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THEN, I went to get a gut buster burger from the general store while Fuller finalised his calculations of the PCT puzzle. We were honestly in fits of giggles at the comments you guys left on that post! Unbelievable!

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With so much excitement going on in town I was literally exhausted by 7pm but still had to sort through my food for the next seven days and reorder my pack! I also had a huge list of ‘to do’s’ including responding to emails, charging iPod, Steri Pen, and camera, ordering new shoes and a few other bits and pieces I ran out of time to do.

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SOOO, this morning I picked up where I left off! I won’t be making 25 miles today, but I will be hitting the trail shortly. I just had to ensure I was adequately fuelled up on pancakes and coffee before I left town!

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The new 10 by 10 routine

I’ve been mentally preparing for my goal to hike 25 miles a day from Sierra City onwards. Instead of waiting to begin, I thought I’d take the old legs for a test run today, and figured if I can push to 30 miles, then 25 will be a breeze, right?

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I had breakfast and coffee around 5am and made sure I left by 6. No more flouncing around in the mornings, I’m out here for the challenge, and if my feet aren’t hurting after 20 miles then it’s time to do more! This is of course easier said than done, and despite the gentle grade of the trail today it wasn’t just my feet that were hurting at the end of the day, all the joints had their own individual arguments to address.

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With so much phone signal I’ve also become aware of how much time I’m spending blogging from the trail, and needed assurance I could upkeep both the posts and the miles. After spending two full hours blogging from the trail today I know it can be done! It’s the writing at night which is taking it’s toll on how much sleep I’m getting. How is it already 10pm!?

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So after my bipolar episode this morning I found a gorgeous rock overlooking the valley for my first hour-long break. I had filled up water at the creek 6 miles from where I camped, and then there was a 12 mile stretch until the next source. There were a few muddy streams in between but nothing drinkable with a Steri Pen. What there were plenty of was tree trunks fallen over the trail. I felt like I was running in the steeplechase with long flat stretches and then suddenly the need to hurdle giant tree branches (sometimes with a muddy stream on the other side).

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Just before lunch my mind turned back to the conversation I was having with Reno Dave yesterday about when and where UB and I would cross paths on the trail. He made a joke about having to use algebra to figure out the solution, hence the idea of the PCT puzzle. These are the sorts of things your mind thinks of when you hike everyday for over two months.

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I’d done 16 miles by the time I stopped for lunch and figured I would cook up one of my pasta dinners as I was going to be stopping for some time. There wasn’t a whole lot of water through this section compared to the abundance through the Sierras so the next source I came across involved scaling down a pretty steep embankment to reach the creek. I had extreme difficulty getting back up with 2.5 litres of water in my hands!

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At the stream I checked Halfmile’s app which said I was 11 miles from the next water source which had campsites and happened to be exactly at the 30 mile mark. It was around 4:30pm and I was surprised I’d already done 19 miles with so many breaks in between. The grade of the trail was relatively flat but after a couple of miles my feet really started to ache. It reminded me of the first few weeks on the trail and made me realise just how far I’d come since then and also how good my previous shoes must have been. I need to get my hands on a new pair of Brooks Cascadias ASAP which I’ll work on when I get to Sierra City (I should have been a LOT more proactive in getting new Cascadias before the others fell apart – another lesson learned!)

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Just as I hit a road and had to wander down the bitumen to reach the trail head about 200 feet away, I decided it was time to stop and rub my aching feet. When I reached the trail head I saw another hiker with his feet up on his pack who obviously had the same idea, and coincidently it was Fuller. I was so happy to see him having only seen one other hiker that morning. I told him about the puzzle I posted on my blog and he said he was determined to solve it!

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6 more miles to camp! I put on my top rated mix of iPod tunes and started the last two hours on a sugar high of starburst jelly beans and chewy lollies. The first 3 miles were bearable, the last 3 were painful, heading into a valley across numerous switchbacks with big spiky stones digging into my feet. I was determined not to stop and didn’t really have a choice once I began descending down the mountain.

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When I finally arrived just after 8pm, Ninja Tank and two fellows named Scott and Warren were sitting around camp eating Doritos and animal cookies. Scott and Warren had started at Echo Lake and were finishing at Sierra City. They had many questions regarding thru hiking and I had a great time telling them all kinds of stories until my blood sugar levels finally dropped and I desperately needed to set up my tent and get food into my body.

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Once in my tent Fuller arrived bursting with excitement as he’d figured out the answer to my puzzle. He talked me through his calculations and I was simply blown away that he had not only solved it without pen and paper whilst hiking down painful switchbacks, but he had also figured out the locations where we’d be closest too, places to stay and public transport to bigger towns etc. It blew my mind!

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I had a tin of sardines for dinner as I was too tired to cook and am now ready to float off into dream land!

The answers you’ve been waiting for…

View the video for Fuller’s mathematical assessment of your responses to the PCT Puzzle:

And here’s how he came to this conclusion…

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Keep your bets on the future meeting place coming in… Although my current itinerary is spot on for my arrival in Sierra City, I’m not sure even Chris with his fancy graphs can predict actual trail future!

Solve the PCT puzzle…

(Inspired by Reno Dave – don’t you wish you paid more attention during algebra class?)

PCT Puzzle:

Hiker A starts walking north from Sierra City, mile 1197.6, on Saturday 13 July, averaging 25 miles a day with 1 day off each week.

Hiker B starts walking south from the Canadian border, mile 2660.0, on Monday 15 July, averaging 30 miles a day with 0.5 days off each week.

At what mile and on what day will the two hikers meet?

For bonus points, what is the closest trail town to that mile?

You must show all workings of how you reached your answer.

The first correct response will receive a pair of Dirty Girl Gaiters provided by the one and only Dirty Girl, Xy!

Responses will be assessed on a peer judgement basis, as my trail brain already malfunctions calculating distances between water sources!

If maths ain’t your thang, feel free to take a guess at where UB and I will cross paths on the trail!

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