Laughter is the best medicine

I have just had the best ab workout after Goku, a Japanese hiker who speaks limited English, has tried to convince me to stay in Seiad Valley until at least 10am tomorrow. I’m not even sure why he’s so adamant about me staying for breakfast as I only met him a couple of hours ago, but in a series of charade type motions he was able to communicate that if I try to leave at 5am as planned, he will hold onto my ankle so I can’t move. I was honestly in stitches because this went on for over half an hour following another explanation of what Muk Muk means in Japanese (from his arm movements I understood it’s something to do with smoke rising, or it could be a snowman; I’m honestly going to have to look it up). Both Goku, Messenger and I were all hysterically giggling by the end of the demonstration.

This was one of many belly laugh occasions today. This morning Mud and Dingo arrived while I was having breakfast at the cafe and after 4 hours and about 10 cups of coffee the conversations were becoming more and more ludicrous. I also met another Aussie from Perth today and a hiker called Lightning Rod, and we all sat around in the shade at the RV park mostly making fun of me and the fact that for some reason everyone seems to have heard of Muk Muk somewhere along the trail. Whether it’s because I’ve been out here for soooo long already and have gone from the front, to the middle, to maybe further back in the pack, or maybe it’s just the mountain lion incident. The south bounder I met yesterday told me about a girl who was recently stalked by one, and I laughed and replied ‘I guess that would be me’.

The RV park has some interesting rules about exactly where and when you can have your tent set up in the front yard. It was so dark last night and the ground was so hard I pitched in between a tree, picnic bench and a sprinkler. When I was told off in the morning after having my tent standing after 9am, I also discovered I’d been sleeping next to a dead bird. Welcome to Seiad Valley! But in all seriousness this was the perfect place for a zero. Between the cafe, post office, store and RV park which are all within a stones throw apart, there’s really nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. I did see my fellow Aussie attempt the 5 pound pancake challenge, but he only got through 1.5. I got to pocket one of the leftovers and chewed on it for most of the day with enough for a small breakfast tomorrow!

Because I don’t get any AT&T signal here, my brother in law had to phone the cafe to be able to tell me that I’m now an aunt for the second time to their brand new baby girl! The two women at the cafe were as excited as I was at the news and wanted to see pictures immediately once I was off the phone. I basically ate three rounds of food in 4 hours; pancakes with eggs and bacon, hash brown with gravy, then I polished off Dingo’s leftover waffle with berries. Surprisingly I still had room to nibble on the leftover pound pancake after that.

I froze water in ziplock bags to use as ice packs for my shin and hip and spent most of the day sitting or lying down. I did yet another pack shakedown and managed to cut 1 pound and 3 ounces off my base weight. Plus I got rid of a stack of extra food I was carrying so my pack will be lighter up the monster climb tomorrow morning. It’s after 10pm and I’m expecting Fuller to show up anytime now after some time at home back in Oregon. He’s kindly picked me up a new pair of shoes after I realised the new pair of Cascadias I’ve been wearing were too small because my previous pair were in fact a men’s 9.5, not a women’s 9.5 like my current pair. Honestly, will I ever get this right?

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Don’t stop me now

I’m back in video mode, and although uploading can take a long time, especially from the trail, it’s definitely quicker to speak than to write! The pain I’ve been experiencing over the last couple of days has been quite dramatic, so I wanted to give a quick update of where I’m at, now that I’ve reached Seiad Valley.

After an early start on the trail fighting my way through overgrown windflowers, I found myself on the ground as the pain in my leg and hip had crept back a lot earlier than expected.

The pain eased after this short break, but lingered just enough to constantly remind me it was there. Somehow I managed to push myself through 20 miles before I hit the final stretch of road into Seiad Valley.

I spent the entire road walk singing or talking out aloud to myself, both to distract myself from any pain but also to keep myself entertained. The conversations became more and more absurd as the time rolled by.

Miraculously my hip held out for the whole road section, but about a mile out from the RV park where I’m camped, I started developing a pain in my right shin. Don’t start with shin splints now body! Why is everything breaking down all of a sudden? I spent most of the evening with ice on my right shin talking to Bill who has a huge crack on the ball of his foot. He’s already completed the trail twice I recently learned, but he says his ego would like to finish a third time. Unbelievable! We talked about the 5,000 foot climb over 7 miles out of the valley. It’s hot and exposed so it’s probably best done early morning. I recognise my body needs rest, but it’s costing me $10 to camp on the lawn next to many other snoring hikers when I could just go a couple of miles back to the trail. We’ll see what tomorrow brings…

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Mind, body, trail…

Over the past 3 months I’ve been developing my own theory for successful hiking. Why is it that some days are great, and others we simply long to crawl into our tent at the end of it? My theory is based on three elements that must cooperate and work together like a team – your mind, your body, and the trail. The mind must stay focussed to instruct the body, the body must listen to and obey the mind, and the trail (although we have no control over it) must stimulate and motivate the mind and look after the body. At the start of each day I chant this little mantra to myself before setting off, ‘mind, body, trail; mind, body, trail’. If all three can work together it will be a good day.

Today the trail messed with the body, the body complained to the mind, and the mind got angry with the trail. It was not a healthy hiking combination, and finally the pain of the body became so great that the mind broke down. (Be warned below is another video of me crying, AGAIN).

I continued to hike on, not because I’m a tough, but because there really was no alternative. I went for another mile before I couldn’t go any further, then sat on the ground, pulled out my packet of Fritos corn chips, and stuffed my face while I massaged my hip. I don’t know if it was the distraction of the chips or the massage, but when I got up to hike again it felt a lot better. The burning, shooting pain had stopped and I could walk somewhat comfortably. At least I’ve found a short term solution that will hopefully get me to Ashland where I’ll need to have it looked at.

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The last 6 miles to Paradise Lake where I planned to camp were some of the steepest since Yosemite. The trail and mind were at odds but luckily the body was cooperating again. I made my 26 miles to the lake by just after 8pm and was relieved to have enough light to set up camp and eat before darkness rolled in. I’m a lot more nervous at night since the mountain lion incident which is a real shame. My ears prick up at every sound and I generally avoid leaving my tent once it’s dark. I still cowboy camp, but not at established campsites. I think I ‘hear’ things now like I sometimes ‘see’ things on the trail, which end up being complete hallucinations or generally tree branches or rocks that look like people or foreign objects.

I couldn’t hear the spring I’m camped near before, but suddenly it sounds like it’s right outside my tent. I was sure someone was setting up camp right near me only to find nothing when I poked my head outside, and just now I thought I heard a woman’s voice. I may need to get the specialist to check my head when I get my hip looked at!

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Roller coaster indeed

I’m still completely speechless and blown away by the comments so many of you wrote on my ‘Slipping into the dark’ post. The last section was the toughest for me mentally, for many reasons, and it took all I had to keep myself sane prior to arriving in Etna. I was actually shocked that I had signal in town, and after a very tough morning I couldn’t believe the comments I was reading. Wow, talk about feeling love and support. I guess after hearing from so many incredible people I’ve felt a refreshed passion to write again. It was just what the doctor ordered after my day started a little on the edge of sanity.

But after hitting the road and scoring a ride pretty quickly to Etna in the back of a pick up truck, the breeze managed to blow away some of the earlier frustrations. (The video’s actually a little windy).

I was dropped straight at the post office and managed the quickest resupply of the entire trip. Everything I had sent was adequate, Chris in Oregon hooked me up with coffee, carnation and chocolate, and I even got a new stove and titanium cone from the folks at Trail Designs – thank you Rand!

My second priority was, you guessed it, food! I got a milkshake from the pharmacy which has an old style ice cream parlour inside, then headed to the deli for a burger. I basically set up camp there, charged my steripen, cleaned my socks, filled up zip locks with the communal coffee mate and sugar (after receiving permission of course), then left my pack there while I made a quick trip to the grocery store. My best surprise of the day was bumping into Dingo and Mud next to the vegetables. I couldn’t have been happier to see familiar faces. They offered me a shower over at their motel which I almost passed up, but I think part of the offer was given because they were already clean and had their sense of smell tuned back in.

Being clean made a world of difference, and although I was heading back to the trail later than anticipated, I was in a much healthier state. The hitch back took a while but everyone was super polite, and eventually a man named Jim took me and another hiker Robin Hood back to the trail head. Initially I hoped to do 7 miles, but it was already past 6pm so I figured I’d see how far I could go before 8. After only a couple of miles, my left leg and hip which has been a little numb started to niggle, until suddenly I was experiencing excruciating pain that I’d never felt before.

I’m cowboy camping where I gave into the pain and opted to stop. I figured pushing it might do more damage, and maybe after some massage tomorrow it will behave differently. I also thought worst case, WORST CASE, if I did need to go back into town I’m only 3 miles from the road. I’m really hoping it will go away like a bad dream tomorrow!

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Is it really August?

I honestly got the biggest shock this morning when I discovered the year had ticked over into August. The year’s almost over and I’m still on the trail, in fact I’m still in California! Is it possible? I haven’t had phone signal for three days and the frustration of not being able to get messages out to the real world finally got the better of me. I had to take a deep breath and give into the mercy of the trail. We’re completely surrounded by mountains and I haven’t felt this isolated since the Sierras. ‘No Signal’ is the only message I receive at the top of each mountain. I needed to give up hope as I’m not sure I’ll even have signal in Etna.

I bumped into Songbird and Banana Ripper this morning about 2 miles down the trail. They told me they coincidently bumped into Sharon, the woman who I recently met on the trail with her friend Patricia who has a fear of heights. Sharon overheard a conversation they were having in the grocery store with a staff member regarding the laundromat in town which has closed down. She kindly offered to clean the girl’s clothes, and took them in for the night and cooked them dinner! Thanks for being a wonderful trail angel Sharon!

After this much time on the trail my mind is suddenly starting to think of life after the PCT, and I’m wondering more and more about what my friends and family are up to. I have only spoken to my parents once and one of my best friends Katie when it was her birthday. Other than that I’ve been completely isolated from my ‘off trail’ life. I think my mind and body are so used to the hike that now I have more head space to dedicate to other thoughts. It’s blissful when my mind drifts into thoughts other than miles to the next water source or what I’m going to eat for lunch. It’s even better when the thoughts float in and out without too much effort on my part. Sometimes I completely forget what I’ve just been thinking. I thought my memory was bad off trail but it’s gone to complete mush out here. I can’t even remember names anymore.

The little black flies have finally left me alone but now I find myself being swarmed by bees when I eat lunch. The other day I had about 10 circling me and I had to pack up and leave because they were freaking me out too much. I had a grasshopper bounce off my lip today and about two days ago I startled a small snake and it literally threw itself off the trail, dropping about 3 meters and bounced off the ground. It looked hilarious!

This afternoon a hiker who I call the lepricorn was coming towards me and when I asked how he was doing he said he’d turned around because of the smoke of the nearby fires. He said he couldn’t go on because it was burning his throat. I asked what mile he turned around at and he couldn’t tell me because he doesn’t carry any maps. He said he turned around 1.5 hours ago. I could see the smoke in the air but wasn’t convinced it was impassable and decided to go ahead and see how bad it really was. If I hadn’t bumped into him I wouldn’t have given the smoke a second thought as the fires seemed pretty far away, but I got more nervous as I went on, as I was trying to decipher where he had run into trouble. I went as close to the smoke as the trail took me before it swung back in the opposite direction. I didn’t experience any issues with the smoke at all and was relieved that I had kept going.

I’m camped 9 miles from Etna and arrived at camp at 7pm. I had a cold dinner of cheese and salami before Banana Ripper and Songbird showed up. They also bumped into the lepricorn and had the exact same thoughts as me regarding the fire. I’m going to aim to get to Sawyers Bar Rd, the road to Etna, by 11am tomorrow and hopefully be back on the trail by late afternoon!

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Slipping into the dark

When I hit the trail again on Monday afternoon after Jan had dropped me off and helped me with my resupply in Dunsmuir, I was feeling pumped. I felt clean, well fed and comfortable in my new hiking attire. The only thing I was lacking was sleep, having stayed up until 1:30am to update my blog for the previous two days.

Whether being tired had anything to do with it or not, my mind quickly dipped deeper and deeper into a dark place that left me zapped of energy and motivation. Where did this come from? After 3 miles I slumped onto the trail with my pack still attached and my legs sprawled out. I closed my eyes and let out a huge sigh. I had the flute whistle that the Numerologist in Sierra City sold me after telling me I’m a musical soul and have good rhythm. She either read me wrong or lied because the noise that transpired wasn’t even close to what the average person would call music. I am usually too embarrassed to play with the fear that someone may hear me, but I was so low in my own thoughts I didn’t care on this occasion. The flute actually now doubles as my bear scarer.

At the first water source I bumped into a hiker who was also in a crabby mood, and not long after Bill showed up looking glum and dissatisfied from his stop in Castella. We all grumbled as we filled up our water bottles and continued up the 4000 foot climb. I cowboy camped with a gorgeous view of Castle Crags, but woke in a worse mental state than the previous day. Not even coffee could snap me out of this one.

I had so much going on in my head that I actually hiked well this morning because I was stamping my way briskly down the trail. I had a fellow hiker step aside when they saw me coming in fear I would trample them. There’s been so many emotions to process and not a lot of time to do so. It got me thinking a lot about this blog, how much time I’m dedicating to it and whether it’s taking away from the hike itself.

The blog has grown from December when the only person reading it and commenting was my mum, now it’s impossible to know who’s viewing it. I guess I’ve become more aware of my audience and as a result less able to write down every thought, action or even names of other hikers anymore. The hiker who I met yesterday who was grumpy at the creek asked specifically not to have their name mentioned. This made me question just how ‘real’ I can be through this medium.

In my darkest mindset as I walked today, I thought about discontinuing the blog posts and starting up a written journal instead, where I can write down my thoughts without the scrutiny of an audience. I had myself settled on the idea until I thought about some of the recent comments I’d received, like the one from Nina who said she reads my posts to her two young boys to inspire them to one day take on big challenges in their own lives. I also think back to the folks at Drakesbad and Zion, the young boy who told me he was inspired, and wonder if he is still following along. I’ve had so much incredible feedback and words of support that I’m completely overwhelmed, but those comments have got me through some of my darkest days and I realised it wouldn’t be right to simply end the story now.

What I do need to do though is make some changes so I’m not focussing too much attention on telling my story rather than living it. I also need to avoid burning myself out. I’m not exactly sure what the answer is, but I think it will start with cutting down from blogging each day to maybe every second or third, or simply just when I feel like telling one of many stories from the trail. I may also need to add less pictures/videos as the upload time can be horrendous with limited reception on the trail.

My other update is that although I have loved receiving so many special gifts and goodies along the way from a number of you, I now have enough supplies to make it all the way to Canada and I simply don’t want anything sent to me to go to waste. The best gift you can give me is to make a pledge on my ‘Donate’ page to either commit to your own personal challenge or to donate to an organisation that you truly believe in. The objective of this blog was to inspire others to step outside their comfort zone and believe you can conquer any challenge you set yourself. I’m already fortunate to be living this experience, so it would be wonderful to hear what kind of adventures it has inspired you to take on in the near future.

I hadn’t felt like writing until tonight and I think taking two days off from the routine has helped alleviate some of the pressure I have been putting on myself. I am camped by a beautiful lake and watched an incredible sunset across it from inside my tent this evening. Despite some crashing sounds around the campsite earlier it’s completely silent now. I played my magic flute and the world fell silent. Goodnight from mile 1542, I believe tomorrow will be a brighter day.

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