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…and the winner of the PCT photo contest is…

Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.

Unknown

"Sierra Cowboy" was the winning photo of the 2019 Pacific Crest Trail photo contest in the equestrian category.
“Sierra Cowboy” was the winning photo of the 2019 Pacific Crest Trail photo contest in the equestrian category.

– me!

Well, a winner, anyway. A winner of a particular category, and frankly, I’ll take what I can get! “Sierra Cowboy” came in First Place in Equestrian for the 2020 Pacific Crest Trail Association Photo Contest. Hooray!

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PCT Day 101, saddle, north of Morris Peak to tentsite on ridge beyond Yellow Jacket spring, 22 miles

I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took an excuse. – Florence Nightingale

When ‘Flawless’ passed last night, she assured me the wind would die down. As if any of us really know. In fact, it got stronger and gustier in my little narrow spot on the ridge. But the alicoop stood up to it as she got pummeled from all sides. I was so dead tired, I fell asleep through all the racket, but woke at one point and started reading my brother Eric’s suggestion of ‘Nobody’s Fool’ by Richard Russo. It’s so good and kept me calm as the rattling, flapping and shaking never let up. I guess if you learn anything on a thru-hike, it’s to enjoy the experience while it’s happening and hope for the best. I can tell you this – dynamee makes a very special sound.

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PCT Day 100, Chimney Creek to saddle, north of Morris Peak, 24 miles

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain! – Dolly Parton

I wake earlier than normal and it’s not all that cold, which I like. I only wear my rain jacket to start. Bear Box comes over to chat while I eat, telling me she has an interview to be a flight attendant. She also made a total change to her wardrobe after all the cold in the Sierra, though I think now things will be getting hot – at least in the day – so there’s not much need for hand warmers. She shows me where to get water – and how to avoid the very healthy poison oak. A guy who calls himself ‘Number Seven’ is camped right next to the spring. I joke about his choosing the prime camp spot, and he complains about not finding flat spots anywhere so late at night. I say, “Seven is a better number than two.” But he doesn’t laugh. Some of these PCT hikers take themselves so seriously.

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PCT Day 99, Kennedy Meadows junction to Chimney Creek, 20 miles

You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through. —Rosalynn Carter

Another glorious rest at Sandy’s, though I’m still dreaming throughout the night that I’m walking. I wake up from these dreams surprised I haven’t moved at all. Which is a good thing since it’s bacon and eggs and cheesy grits for breakfast and far too much coffee. Sandy and I hang on the couch with her precious dogs – the skinny mop-top who flops, black poodle Oliver and the solid tank of a dog-shaped-like-a-penguin with silky fur, the doberman? chihuahua? mix, Hoppes. I got a reasonably decent fill of fur therapy, the two swapping positions between us as we gabbed. I am incredibly lucky to have met Sandy – and frankly all the gals this summer, Laura, Holly, Maria, Andrea, Laurie, Jayne, women I bonded with deeply.

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PCT Day 97 and 98, zeroes, Ridgecrest

Taking joy in living is a woman’s best cosmetic. – Rosalind Russell

Much needed zero days have been taken at the home of my new friend, the awesome trail angel Sandy of Ridgecrest. Resupply is accomplished and the bear canister has been sent on back to the gear closet in Saint Paul – hooray! I also sent a couple of food boxes forward to Warner Springs and Aguas Dulces because it looks like it will be trickier to get all the food I’ll need at those stops. It was Ghost in the Machine who had all the beta on that one. We dropped her off for what ended up taking five hitches for her to skip forward to Hiker Town.

Sandy and I then visited Fossil Falls, a huge magma dam from the Pleistocene era where water swirled about, carving fanciful shapes and drilling holes. We scampered over the rocks, watched climbers take on the rocks from way below and were buzzed by four biplanes in the endlessly blue sky. When I climbed up on a rock for a little ‘Hiker Vogue,’ snow geese passed by, a kinetic sculpture and all as one like a floating fabric square, silver-white-silver-white.

Sandy worked last night and most of today and so I did too producing a piece for the Schubert Club as well as a visual-audio essay and got caught up on the blog and emails. I have to say it felt amazing to voice a script, gather music, edit and produce a ten-minute piece. I love this kind of work – and I’m good at it – in the comfort of Sandy’s house, hemmed in by dogs, it was just what I needed.

I wouldn’t say it was an exciting time off since for most of it I parked myself on the couch and surfed Netflix, but Sandy and I bonded making a huge breakfast, then later sharing a superb meal of filet mignon and killer chocolate mousse cake at Indian Wells Lodge. Food has been a focal point these two days and when Sandy checked in on me midday today, I told her I’d eaten all there was to eat, but at least I’m starting to feel less Twiggy-esque.

I’m clean. I’m rested. I’m caught up on work. I’m full on food and girl talk and tear-jerker movies and fur therapy and general hanging out to digest all I’ve done so far and wrap my head around all I have ahead of me. It feels so good to be here and was such an unexpected gift.

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PCT Day 96, South Fork Kern River to Kennedy Meadows (Ridgecrest) 8 miles

One of the most courageous things you can do is identify yourself, know who you are, what you believe in and where you want to go. – Sheila Murray Bethel

What a chill little spot, tucked in next to the weird rock formations, high above the river crashing below. The stars were out then the sky lightens to pink, but it’s coldest before dawn and I let out a small whimper. Today, I’ll be out of the Sierra on my way to Kennedy Meadows South, where a ‘triple crowner’ named Yogi has set up a store in a shipping container next to a restaurant and bar called Grumpy’s. Food and rest, in some form or fashion, awaits these tired, cold bones.

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PCT Day 95, Death Canyon Creek to South Fork Kern River, 25 miles

When you lose a couple of times, it makes you realize how difficult it is to win. – Steffi Graf

I’m sick of being cold. I’m cozy and warm in Big Greenie, but when it gets light, I have to get moving and every task is a frozen misery – changing my clothes, packing my mattress and sleeping bag, pooping, filtering icy water (the worst!) packing the alicoop, trying to pull apart frozen bars, sipping coffee before it freezes, washing up and putting things away, putting Olive Oyl on my back and setting my gps, walking with my hands under my armpits. But hey, it’s another shiny blue sky and the sun will be up any minute, and you are hiking outside, get over it!

It’s a bit of a late start from this lovely spot tucked into funky rocks. I was all alone except for some animal making a strange sound so I made a big, scary ruckus right back. Never heard from him again. Makes me laugh just now thinking of Rob telling me as we started the hard rocky bits up huge Forrester Pass that we shouldn’t simply coexist with bears, they ought to be afraid of us. So when he saw a bear he yelled at it, “Hey bear!” His thinking is bears really shouldn’t get too used to having us around. I don’t think he’s right about that, but the bears in the Sierra are pretty mellow and probably ignored him anyway. Just don’t make food available and we’ll all be just fine.

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PCT Day 94, Siberian Pass Junction to Death Canyon Creek, 24 miles

One likes people much better when they’re battered down by a prodigious siege of misfortune than when they triumph. – Virginia Woolf

It’s not quite as bitter cold overnight, but I’m not exactly leaping out of my warm bag. And it was not stars last night, but the new moon setting in the western sky that made pine tree shadows on my tent. This spot was not hugely special, but nestled in my favorite trees, abutting a Sierra meadow with views out to huge gray mountains it suited me just fine. No one came by, man or beast, probably because there’s no water nearby.

I drink up all I carried here then head off, crunching in sand and literally surrounded by these spectacular pine trees. I can see far into the distance, a tree carpet working its way up rounded mountains, a few pointy crags jut above. And below are huge meadows, a beautiful gold-green. I climb up and reach Cottonwood Lake where the hiker I met yesterday camped. It’s deep lapis tucked into a sweeping, triangular rocky peak. My trees are all that grow here, but if the wind picks up, they provide little protection. I think I made a good choice camping deeper in the forest.

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PCT Day 93 Tyndall Creek to Siberian Pass Junction, 20 miles

The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me. – Ayn Rand

I sleep cozily, the creek singing a lullaby, but early in the morning, the temperature drops and I dive deeper under Big Greenie. I hear the men faffing about before it’s light and once I stick out my head from the alicoop, they’re gone. It’s such a beautiful little spot, but the creek is covered in ice and it takes a good bit of time for my chococoffee to heat up. As I pack up, I think of what Nathan told me last night, that I seem happier and more delighted in all I see than many of the thru-hikers he’s met – he says I truly am blissful.

This blissful one has on her puffy and big mitts as she heads out for the final miles of the JMT. I walk through forest down towards the ranger cabin, then steeply up to the Bighorn Plateau, a huge, ghostly open area of faded grasses and one lake surrounded by mountains and inhabited by some of the most beautiful pine trees. These pines have huge, thick trunks covered with a jigsaw puzzle-like bark. The branches reach out with many fine strands where the soft needles attach many inches up, looking like a kind of bouquet of green pipe cleaners. The tree can survive an entire portion dying back, so you’ll see a green healthy side and a side where the bark is stripped revealing an orange, often beautifully twisted, but dead, wood. Even skeletal, the trees make a dramatic shape, appearing to dance with joy, one knee cocked. The logs on the ground reveal a stringy wood of parallel lines, curved and expressive. I love these magic trees and here is the first I see them in the Sierra.

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PCT Day 92, Rae Lakes to Tyndall Creek, 20 miles

The way in which we think of ourselves has everything to do with how our world see us and how we see ourselves successfully acknowledged by the world. – Arlene Rankin

It was a bitterly cold night by the lake. I wore all my clothes – including rain gear – and while I never shivered, I couldn’t quite get warm. I can hear the wind as it passes the tree tops then rattles the alicoop. I am exposed here and so do the only thing I can think of besides pile rocks on all my tent stakes. I yell, “Stop it!” Oddly enough, the wind seems to be listening, and never pushes the limits. I went out to pee and the stars were brilliant, the mountains glowing and it really didn’t feel too cold. Maybe it’s laying on the ground? I think loads of warm thoughts about saunas and hot tubs and hiking Hat Creek Rim and finally knock out, my breathing more normal even at 10,500 feet.