The Oregon leg begins

I’m currently reclining on my rolled up sleeping bag inside my tent, waiting for the sky to turn dark and the Perseids (meteorite shower) to begin. It’s like waiting for a movie to begin except there’s no previews and no popcorn.

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The rest in Ashland was just what I needed. I don’t think I’m magically healed, but I’m in much better shape than when I arrived. After Dale dropped me at the hostel the owner Sid let me check in early and I was wrapped to find the room had an adjoining bathroom with a freestanding bathtub! I had three baths in the space of about 12 hours and made the most of my one day of privacy making Skype calls to my parents and eating the treats my mate Jessie in Oz had sent me. I had enough food in the room that I didn’t leave the hostel for the rest of the day, and only left my room when Sir Poppins, the Aussie hiker who attempted the pancake challenge in Seiad Valley, offered to share the huge pot of spaghetti bolognese he’d made with me and Robin Hood.

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The next morning after my third bath I moved upstairs to one of the dorm rooms and finally stepped outside the hostel. I headed towards the central plaza and scoped out a place to eat breakfast. As I wandered around I felt like I was on a weird solo vacation in a completely foreign city but with familiar faces (hikers) popping up here and there. I went to a place called Brothers and sat at the bench looking out the window feeling somewhat lonely and a little sorry for myself. As the waiter was about to take my ordered I spotted Lullaby on the other side of the road and literally jumped off my seat and ran out the door of the restaurant. I was so happy to see someone from my old original hiking group that I burst into tears as he crossed the road. I dragged him in for breakfast and we caught up on the last 1000 miles as I hadn’t seen him since just after Kennedy Meadows.

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In the afternoon I had a massage by a man named Daniel, who was recommended by a girl from Ashland I met one day on the trail. He worked on the area where I’m getting the shooting nerve pain and we talked a lot about what the possible cause is and how to reduce it. Afterwards he dropped me at the post office where I sent ahead my Olympus camera, SPOT device, water bladder and a few other items to Cascade Locks, which I believe I can live without for the Oregon leg. Even these few items have made a major difference to my base weight, and with only four days of food to Crater Lake my pack is feeling much lighter.

I went to the outdoor store and got new ends for my hiking poles which had completely worn out (again), then headed to the Ashland Food Cooperative which was full or organic goods and a juice bar where I asked for the most healthy item on their menu!

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In addition to Lullaby, I bumped into some of my other favourite hikers including Dingo and Mud who I had breakfast with on Saturday morning, Katie who I haven’t seen since the mosquito hell through Yosemite, and Leaky and Moonshine who I’m pretty sure snuck off the trail at Truckee just to get away from me! 🙂 I also met a lot of new hikers including a guy called Sunshine who told me they were planning to make a spoof video of my mountain lion encounter but weren’t sure if I’d be offended or not. Almost every hiker I meet now has heard some version of the story and I’ve probably told the story myself at least 100 times. I hope they make the spoof video, I’m looking forward to hearing someone impersonate me with an Aussie accent!

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This morning before I hit the trail again, Leaky, Moonshine and Sagitar cooked up a storm in the kitchen of the hostel and shared it with the group of us staying there. I was going to eat some stale leftover bread with peanut butter which was too painful for them to watch.

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Just as I polished off the eggs, pancake and sausage, Dale (who dropped me at the hostel on Thursday), his wife Sarah and the two Shiba Inus picked me up again and took me back to the trail. Thank you so much guys!!! I was walking again by 10:30am and felt really good after getting another massage from Daniel yesterday afternoon. I also got a new piece of padding to put between my skin and my hip belt which seems to be reducing the pressure on my nerve. I stopped 9 miles in for lunch and was feeling great until a bee got caught between my thigh and shorts and stung me just as I was about to sit down.

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After waking a sleeping hiker with the commotion of the bee sting I ate lunch with another hiker called ‘That Arsehole’ who I’ve heard about but never met before. He’d had an interesting run in with two bears one night so we shared our wild animal encounters with one another. The next descent water source was at least 11 miles away, but just as so many had promised, the miles did tick over quickly on the well graded Oregon trail! Alleluia!

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It’s 22:30 and I’m not seeing a lot of action in the sky just yet. Fuller, where are the shooting stars you promised!!??

The trail provides

When we surrender ourselves to the mercy of the trail, we often find this beast has a kind heart. Sometimes it needs to beat you down just enough to make the happy moments that much brighter. Although I had excruciating pain through the last 60 odd miles, I also had incredible fortune. It began with Fuller and his son Daniel arriving in Seiad Valley at 10:30pm on August 5, bringing me new shoes AND a new iPhone charge cord (having broken two in the previous section!)

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After the late night reunion it was a tough morning getting up early to beat the heat on the 4,500 foot climb out of Seiad. My pack felt a lot lighter having shed some gear and food, but a ways up the mountain the shooting pains in the top of my thigh returned. I was able to stop and massage my leg and continue walking in spurts, but the period between the pain became less and less, and I ended up trying to walk through it, only to be reduced to a balling mess less than half a mile down the trail.

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No more than 5 minutes later Fuller and Daniel came around the bend and Fuller sat down on the trail next to me to discuss options. He came up with a solution he figured would be absolutely full proof, preventing any weight from my pack aggravating the nerve causing the pain. He would carry my pack! Of course I told him this was the most absurd idea I’d ever heard but I entertained his insistence because I really had no other choice. Once he’d strapped my pack to his I helped him heave it onto his back, and although he insisted it wasn’t heavy I made him take it straight off (after fits of laughter and a photo naturally!)

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Instead of trying to wear the hip belt higher, when the shooting pain came on I simply loosened the hip belt, putting most of the weight on my shoulders. This managed to prevent the pain from worsening, and once it had subsided I could tighten it again and continue. I also discovered the lighter my pack became as I ate more and more food, the less the pain returned. I spent the next full day thinking of all the things I could possibly send ahead to Cascade Locks, to give my body the best chance to make it comfortably through Oregon.

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There was so much smoke through the valley I couldn’t see any views through this whole section. It didn’t affect my breathing though, and I was thankful that the fires weren’t any closer to the trail. I’ve been lucky so far during such a dry year not to have been rerouted along the trail. The water through this section is getting very low though in some of the springs, I was lucky if there was still water flowing as others were nothing more than a muddy puddle.

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I camped with Fuller and Daniel for our last night in California and Fuller played me an episode of a radio program called ‘This American Life’ about a 23 year old boy who walked from Virginia to California by road. It was a fascinating story as the boy asked people he met along the way what advice they would give to their 23 year old self. There were elements of the story I could definitely relate to, including the origin of the term ‘float walking’, ‘weep walking’ and ‘fear walking’. I went to sleep inspired by this boy’s achievement, and with a passion to get on my feet the next day and walk.

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The border crossing itself had highs and lows. There were some hikers there when I arrived but I was hoping that Fuller would make it in time to celebrate the occasion too. While I sat eating lunch on the Oregon side, one of the male hikers who was just about to set off again came back to share an insight with me. He said to me ‘well you can now call yourself a man.’ I paused for a minute before asking what he meant. He then proceeded to tell me walking this far was a very ‘manly’ thing to do, therefore I could call myself a man. I was so dumbfounded I didn’t even respond. But those words kept repeating in my head until 13:58 when I was just about to leave. I decided to wait until 14:00 and a second later Fuller appeared around the bend, so I was able to cheer him in as he weep walked with joy across the border into his home state hugging his son. It was a beautiful scene to be a part of.

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After many hugs and a celebratory libation, I left them at the border and carried on, determined to make enough miles for a short day into Ashland the following day. When I woke up at 4:30am the next morning I knew my head was in a negative space. I was extremely tired, hormonal, and just wanted to be in Ashland then and there. When I started walking the words ‘you can now call yourself a man’ started repeating in my head again. My blood started boiling and I became unreasonably angry, imagining scenes of myself pushing this hiker off the ridge into the valley below. I thought my head would explode until I caught up to him 15 minutes later. As I passed him I told him his comment yesterday didn’t sit well with me and I didn’t appreciate it at all. He apologised but I didn’t stick around to discuss it. I simply powered on with a sense of empowerment and a smile!

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I reached the interstate before noon, and once again as the trail provides in many forms, a day hiker I had passed 8 miles earlier happened to drive past a few moments after I reached the road. He swung around and picked me up as I was scratching my head trying to figure out which direction to hitch in. Dale and his two Shiba Inus waited for me at the post office to collect my 8 packages and then drove me to the hostel. Thank you Dale, what a perfect introduction to one of the most friendly trail towns, Ashland!

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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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