Picking up the pieces

During the last 1000 solo miles on the PCT, I learned a lot about myself and my limits. I learned how far I can be pushed by fear. I learned how far I can push myself through pain. I learned how happiness creates energy, and desperation sucks it all away. It is a mind game out here. Just as Billy Goat said to UB one day, ‘If the mind can think it, the body will follow’.

I rode the roller coaster of emotions each day, finding new thoughts to spur on motivation, and new tactics to pull myself out of some dark places. Life on the trail isn’t always as simple as eating, sleeping, shitting and hiking. Just as life off trail can easily become complicated, life on trail can follow suit. Out here, without distractions, comforts, friends or family; emotions become magnified, and the only person to talk things through with is sometimes ourselves.

Fortunately I did find some great people on trail to share the ups and downs with, and after 1000 miles alone, I realised just how much I missed sharing these incredible experiences. I also knew there was only one person I wanted to spend the remainder of the journey with.

I only discovered UB was in Oregon when I met Heidi and her family at Windigo Pass. I thought if we ever had the chance to hike together again it might happen somewhere in Washington, but little did I know UB was blitzing the trail, doing 40 and 50 miles a day, and was less than two days behind me when I reached Elk Lake.

Since our reunion on trail I’ve experienced some very powerful transformations. I thought I had learned a number of important lessons out here that the trail was destined to reveal to me, but what I have come to realise over the last few days was so far beyond what I ever expected to find out here. Today I probably had the greatest epiphany of my entire life, and it was only after I fell to rock bottom, and the trail exposed some of my darkest secrets and regrets, that I was able to start realising that the way I have been living life, on and off trail, needs some readjustment.

As the saying goes, no one is perfect, and I realised a lot of my imperfections as I walked the 15 miles from Hwy 242 to Big Lake Youth Camp this afternoon. I’ve been incredibly fortunate throughout my hike to have received a huge amount of support from so many people following my hike. From care packages of coffee to new shoes, from shirts to meal shouts, from snacks to Sofsoles. Strangers have taken me into their homes, met me on the trail, and written me words of support which have honestly helped me hike the distance I’ve travelled thus far.

But what have I given back? Sure I’m hiking from Mexico to Canada, keeping a blog and hopefully inspiring those who follow my adventure. But would I be prepared to give as much as I have taken from others? When I posed that question to myself this afternoon I realised that somewhere along the trail I got so caught up in the gifts and attention, that I lost sight of what was really important out here. I don’t think I really understood why I was out here until this afternoon, when I realised that I had taken more than I would have been prepared to give in return. That although I’ve been one to give, I’ve only parted with things I’ve been comfortable in sharing, rather than going without so another can benefit.

As I opened my eyes to these realities, I started to reflect on all the things I’ve done in my past that I’m not proud of, and how behavioural habits have seen me repeat the same mistakes multiple times. Even with good intentions we can hurt the ones we love, we can become overtaken by greed, and we can take for granted the things we are given. For all of these things I know I have been guilty of more than once, on and off trail.

I’ve never followed religion or believed in God, but today I felt like I was able to make sense of so many things that once seemed impossible to understand. Somehow a light was turned on, and it not only exposed many flaws, but a lot of answers I didn’t even know I was searching for. After hours of hiking without a break, I finally sat down in the shade of a tree and waited for UB to catch up. He understood I needed time and space to work through these thoughts, just as he had needed at the beginning of the trip. The trail has an incredible power to heal, and I only got a taste of just how powerful this journey can be for those who are willing to open themselves up, and give into the mercy of the trail.

Less than a mile up the trail, UB and I reached the 2000 mile mark. At that moment I think we both realised just how far we’d come, together and alone, and just how much we had grown, together and as individuals.

Actions speak louder than words, but for now I just want to say thank you to everyone who has played a role in my journey along the Pacific Crest Trail so far. There are many things I would do differently given the chance, but I’m grateful that I still have over 600 miles to discover more about the person I want to be when I reach the northern terminus, and step into the next chapter of my life.

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The power of people

I had an interesting self discovery today after a few people had suggested I spend more time on trail with other hikers to lighten my mood. It is definitely true that things started to pick up for me after meeting Brad and Melissa just past Crater Lake, chatting with Madam Squirrel and Madam Weasel that same day, and then spending my morning, lunch and afternoon break with Brad and Mel the next day.

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I also had a bonus pick me up by receiving a surprise package from some friends of Fuller at the water cache past highway 138, and the next day I received a message from Heidi (a wonderful trail angel in Oregon), telling me she and her family were camped at Windigo Pass with lots of extra food (which just happened to be where I’d planned to camp that night).

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I hiked with Brad and Mel for the last 6 miles to the pass which absolutely flew by, due to a lot of laughter and the thought of what delicious treats lay ahead! Heidi and her beautiful German Shepard met us about a mile down the trail before the pass. I’d seen some huge paw prints on trail and was starting to wonder what creature had created them!

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Heidi’s husband and two beautiful children greeted us on arrival, and after setting up camp we were served tomato soup, sausages, bread and fresh salad, followed by tiramisu for dessert! I couldn’t believe how fortunate we were to stumble upon such incredible trail magic. We shared trail stories before bed, then the next morning we were spoiled with lattes, juice, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and salad for breakfast. Unbelievable! I honestly can’t thank you guys enough.

That morning after the incredible feast, I felt energised and seemed to fly through the first 12 miles to Summit Lake. There was a lot more climbing than the previous days, but I was enjoying the change of elevation which kept my mind completely occupied until it was time to break for lunch. Summit Lake was one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve had the opportunity to swim in on trail so far!

Because I didn’t hit the trail until just before 10am, I settled on a 23 mile day which left me 6 miles to the jeep road down to Shelter Cove Resort in the morning. The hike into the resort was a lot quicker than expected, and I was absolutely thrilled to discover upon arrival that they had wifi. The store had a fantastic patio and the whole place was so perfectly compact I fell in love with it immediately. The women at the store said I was like a ray of sunshine coming in the door, and I told them I’d finally broken out of a dark slump and was feeling wonderful! They grabbed my packages, made me a latte, and made me feel at home.

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So many great people arrived at the resort while I was there (Dingo, Mud, Katie, Lullaby, Bill and others). I camped with Dingo and Mud that night, and led them back to the PCT this morning as they’d come in on the Skyline Trail. It was great to hike with them, and I said it was like clocking over free miles because it almost felt like I was cheating it was so effortless.

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I broke away after the first water source, but a big group of about 10 of us kept breaking every 8 or so miles at the next lake together. This is where my self discovery took place. I’ve never been one for big groups, and much prefer to socialise either one on one or with a few people at a time. I think I feed off the energy of others, and just like in the real world, too much alone time can cause me to fall too deep into the dark thoughts that develop in my head when my own energy levels diminish. I need to find the right balance to keep the positive vibes flowing.

The magical Crater Lake

I was sceptical about the transformation I was meant to experience once I reached Crater Lake. Especially because I needed to take four litres of water from the Rim Village to make it 26 miles to the next water source, and because the trail started off incredibly steep. As I looked across the vast beauty of such an incredibly large glistening lake, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the growing nerve pain in the top of my left thigh.

I decided the only cure was to stop, rest and drink. I found a gorgeous spot overlooking the lake and found solace in the fact that the pain was forcing me to stop and enjoy the surroundings, instead of racing to the next water source. I opened up my pack of Fritos corn chips, laid on my sleeping mat, and soaked up the morning sunshine. It was blissful! I drank a litre of water, took a deep breath, and decided the lake had won me over after all.

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The trail emerged at a number of parking lots as it made its way around the rim of the lake, and at one such spot, I passed a hiker heading south. He was carrying a huge pack so I assumed he wasn’t a thru hiker, but when I said hello as we passed, he turned and asked if I was Muk Muk. As Tom was from New Zealand, a hiker ahead of me had mentioned to him there was an Australian girl heading up the trail close behind. He had an incredibly thick accent and I asked him if people had trouble understanding him because even I struggled to follow every word. There must have been some Southern Hemisphere connection because we started chatting like old mates, sharing trail stories, how we both came to be hiking across the US, and other stories we’d heard along the way. Once he told me there was water at the highway in 11 miles I immediately drank another litre, and he even told me there was a package with my name on it waiting there! How could this be?

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We must have talked for over half an hour and then cruised on in opposite directions. I honestly love bumping into south bounders, maybe because it’s such a rare one off opportunity to meet these people seeing the trail from a completely different perspective. When I told him I was having some mental struggles he said ‘you should be celebrating the fact you’re almost at the end’. I guess for them we have hiked a lot further than they have, almost 1000 miles further which helped me put things into perspective a little. He was right, I should be celebrating! Snap out of it Muk Muk and smell the roses, you have come a long way!

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Positive energy started sweeping through my body again, but my nerve pain kept creeping back despite the lighter load. I was ready for a break when I came across two women section hikers I’d met when I ran into Tom called Madam Weasel and Madam Squirrel. Madam Weasel was massaging Madam Squirrel’s feet and told me she was a massage therapist willing to give me the same treatment. A foot massage on trail!? The lake certainly had provided a little magic for the day. My feet were in absolute heaven, and I felt reenergised and fresh as soon as I put my shoes back on. Thank you ladies!

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Just as I set off two other hikers I hadn’t met before caught up to me. There names were Brad and Melissa, and because we hiked about the same speed we spent the next 5 miles talking trail and sharing stories. The time absolutely flew by and I realised what a difference it makes to walk with other people. My mind finally got a much needed break from itself! We stopped and had lunch together before they cruised on ahead. They were such nice people that it gave me an additional boost, and although the last few miles to the highway dragged a little, I was there before 6pm and excited to see what goodies awaited me! Sadly, when I got to the small cache there were only a few bottles of water.

But then, less than a mile up the trail…

I set up camp about a mile past the second cache. My nerve pain came back and I felt like catching up on the blog and resting for the night. I’m in a much better head space this evening, and will make it my mission to keep a positive attitude through this next section to Shelter Cove Resort and onto Canada!

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Four month melancholy

The 103 miles from Ashland to Crater Lake Mazama Village were some of the flattest, but also some of the longest. By day four (today), I was so brain numbingly bored of my own thoughts, music, and the surroundings that I had to force myself into a self induced comatose state. Part of this was due to the fact I was counting down miles from about 1:30pm until 6:30pm when I finally arrived at the village via the Annie Spring Trail (Yogi’s notes don’t lie when they say it’s steep!)

When I arrived at the store I was suddenly thrown back into civilisation with holiday makers, bikers, campers and children; and was completely overwhelmed standing there in my filthy clothes, pulling food out of the hiker box. A lot of people stared at me as they shuffled past, obviously not aware of what a hiker box or a thru hiker is. When I began laying my resupply out on the picnic table a woman came along and gave me a box of warm pulled pork and a bag of hotdog buns for dinner, as she’d seen me rummaging for food and figured I was hungry.

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As I was staring into the distance worrying about where to sleep (as camping cost $20 and all sites were full), a woman named Bonnie came over to chat and told me I could camp on her site as she sleeps in her car. I must have had a ‘please help me’ expression plastered on my face because this was exactly what I needed! It meant I could spend the next day going through my food again, doing laundry, charging my devices and ticking off my to do list without being forced back into the woods prematurely.

I was going to write more about the last four days on trail, but it’s now the next day and honestly the only stand out event other than seeing the one comet during the meteor shower and meeting Rachel and Benny (two more south bounders), was having a conversation with a gentleman sitting on the ground wearing shorts while his scrotum was hanging out. It was definitely one of the more awkward situations I’ve experienced.

Today it wasn’t the trail testing me, but some force of nature was pushing me to my limits. Every time there is no reception, I desperately need to make a phone call. Today I decided to use the pay phone, and after it ate my money and the store owner told me to call the operator, the operator told me she couldn’t help me. I had bought a journal in Ashland and was about to throw it in the hiker box when I realised I needed some written therapy and headed to the Annie Creek restaurant to explode my emotions from the last 1830 miles onto paper. Sometimes it scary what comes out when you write down the truth about your feelings. I realised just how dark a place I was in and realised I needed something to pull me out.

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I had been thinking of putting together a video of the California leg to one of my favourite trail tunes and thought the trip down memory lane and creative juices would assist in altering my mental state. It worked immediately. Editing on a phone is finicky and time consuming, but I was making great progress, and when Bill arrived and came to eat at my table, I continued on with my video, completely enthralled with what I was doing. I showed him my progress each time I finished a new section, and because he’d eaten so many plates from the salad buffet, he was in a food coma and not able to converse anyhow.

I spent the entire day at the restaurant until they kicked me out around 6:00pm. Just prior to this my video started playing up. I thought it was due to me running out of memory on the phone, but after deleting some photos, restarting the phone, and adjusting some of the clips, there was a rogue clip at the end I couldn’t get rid of and couldn’t edit past. After fiddling with it for another 30 minutes I decided to end the video where the glitch started, but when I exported the video half of it came out black. Hmmm… I was running out of time and really needed to hit the trail. I threw everything back in my pack and hiked until dark, then couldn’t help but fiddle with the video again, determine to fix the glitch and the reason for the black segments during the export. In the process the program managed to delete the majority of the project. There is absolutely no explanation as to how, it’s like the glitch expanded itself and gobbled up more than half of the project I spent the better half of the day creating to distract my mind from darker thoughts. So where is that meant to leave me now?

It’s my four month trail-iversary today. I used to see each month tick over as a cause for celebration. Now I just feel I’ve been out here for so long that I should be a lot closer to the end. Bill said a lot of people experience the blues at this stage of the trip. For me at this point, that’s an understatement. Reflecting on the start of the journey brought back so many memories of the incredible experiences I’ve had and shared. The desert section will forever be a standout, even with excruciating blisters, a heavy pack and long waterless stretches, I enjoyed Southern California more than I could have imagined. Everyday was a new adventure. Then we hit the Sierras, which were breathtaking, but certainly more challenging. Then came Northern California, which brought more beauty, but also mental struggles and pain. Now we have Oregon. Apparently once I see Crater Lake my mind set will change. All I can say is, I really hope so.

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Pushing past 1800

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The final two days heading into Crater Lake Mazama Village were as high and low as the previous two. I just watched the videos I took and felt like I was riding a roller coaster once again. This has been a mentally challenging section for me. There are moments when I can’t bare the thought of walking another mile, and it takes all of my willpower to propel me forward. Other moments I’m cruising on auto pilot, but these don’t last long. There’s been no float walking in Oregon for me thus far. The videos below will take you on part of the 55 mile journey I just completed, pushing me past the 1800 mile mark.

After lunch slump: Down

End of a 30 mile day: Up

The next morning: Down

Lunchtime!: Up again

Coming into Mazama Village: Down once more