Walking the Pacific Crest Trail was one of the best things I have done in my life – second only to walking the Te Araroa, and both of those hikes were accomplished in one calendar year!
btw, I just turned 55, and that’s a pretty cool feat…feet?…for a middle aged gal, wouldn’t you say? I’m feeling mildly bad ass.
Oddly enough, Richard pointed out that it took me two years to plan for my walk in New Zealand, while under the meltdown circumstances upon my return to Minnesota last spring, it took me less than two weeks to plan the PCT! I guess a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
Camping can be the greatest expression of free will, personal independence, innate ability, and resourcefulness possible today in our industrialized, urbanized existence.
I met Ted Adamski on the John Muir Trail in 2012. He is an ultramarathoner, clocking elite finishing times in the Western States, Leadville 100 and The Fellsman, a race near his home in the UK that he’s run over forty times (and me, exactly once)
Ali was excited to tell me of her new camping experience as I meet her at Van Dusen road near Big Bear Lake to join her for some 200 miles on the final stages of her thru-hike – “cowgirl camping,” camping under the stars, no tent necessary.
I look aghast, images of rattlers and scorpions slithering into my sleeping bag for warmth. She smiles knowingly, whilst memories of seeing photos of snake bite victims during my visits to South Africa, who were visited by these cuddly reptiles in just these situations, swirl round my head.
That first day was a long one for me, 18 miles to Arraste Trail Camp where we share my small two-man tent, the one I use when running a two-day mountain marathon with my son. Big on convenience, sturdy for Scottish weather, but not a space I’d deem comfortable. Cozy? A more ‘fitting’ term might be cramped, but we are safe and sound.
The following day takes us along Mission Creek, a physically challenging route of up and downs, something I love. I am born for this, but nowhere near as ready for it as is Ali. I am so glad that she is taking pictures as the beauty of the region is overpowering and difficult to comprehend. As the day begins to draw to an end, we are tired but happy and eager to find somewhere to pitch the tent, keen not to be too late as sundown at these elevations brings intense cold. We pass several sites down by the creek but the dead trees surrounding, weakened by fire, do not invite.
Finally near the path there is a flat spot that is exposed but offers a great view across the peaks we have just passed. But, horror upon horrors, my tent pegs will not penetrate the packed soil and the guy-lines are not suitable for stones. There is only one solution – cowgirl camp, of course!
And what an experience, climbing into the sleeping bag at 6pm and watching the stars come out as Ali types her blog. Then we talk and whoop with delight as shooting stars fall all about us. It is difficult to sleep through a full 12 hours and I wake often to a canopy of stars, its light throwing a shadow around the surrounding hills. It’s magical, its relaxing, it makes one feel alive.
The best part is in the fall there are no snakes! It’s far too cold for them to even think about leaving their burrows. Needless-to-say, each and every night from then on was under the stars, the tent staying safely in my backpack.
If you haven’t tried it, do so. I will be working out if it is possible in the rather damper condition of the UK when I return and I imagine Ali will offer a full update!
You don’t choose the day you enter the world and you don’t chose the day you leave. It’s what you do in between that makes all the difference. – Anita Septimus
I wake on my final day with the moon casting leaf shadows on our tent, Rich a giant breathing blue bag next to me. He’s more of a night owl, working on projects at home until the wee hours, but he’s always awakened with me when I need an early start, sometimes even walking me to work at 4 am. What a treasure I have, his muppet face peaking out then brightening excited for me on this last bit.
The campground was mostly silent, though the three hikers sharing our space yell to each other from tent to tent about sharing a joint and coffee, every other word beginning with an ‘F.’ The sun isn’t up yet and there are posted quiet hours. We’re offered an entire area for only $5 each and I wince thinking these guys are ruining it for future hikers. I pack quickly just as they start playing music. Guys, really? I hold back lecturing them as lesson learned is to simply remove myself. We find a rock in shade near the trailhead to drink coffee as a man comes by with a pair of pugs. My self-righteous indignation melts at the sight of these cuties. Another lesson learned – everything changes. They have the softest fur, too.
To me, there’s no greater act of courage than being the one who kisses first. – Janean Garofalo
Richard and I pose at Lake Morena the final night of the PCT.
It’s quasi cowgirl camping in our enormous tent with no fly. The stars don’t disappoint before the moon rises over the ridge obliterating them. No campfires in this tinder box means everyone’s asleep when it gets dark. It’s quiet except for an owl and a few acorn bombs.
Dried tumbleweeds look like hair blowing in the wind.
This dried tumbleweed is a bit more broom-like.
Richard and I pop right up before it’s light, packing up and getting me caffeinated. He comes to the trail with me, walking through closed Burnt Rancheria campground and hoping to spot the resident mountain lion. No such luck, though we receive a bird chorus and a stunning sunrise from the ridge. Richard takes most of my gear, leaving me just food and water for a fast day of mostly downhill ‘slackpacking.’
I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within. – Lillian Smith
A sign shows me I how far I’ve come and how far I have to go to finish the PCT.
The moon is still silvery bright as the sky over the desert turns a Crayola 64 selection of oranges and reds. Light wind riffles my little cowgirl notch as I eat my final breakfast in bed. Oh, how I’m going to miss this. Being alone after getting myself and all I need to this soulful spot is deeply satisfying. I love my little backpacking routines and simply being inside this extraordinary beauty. It’s precisely why I came.
I take a moment to list some of the favorite moments of my walk – Goat Rocks in Washington where I climbed the peak above and had it all to myself, so many berries to eat and lakes to swim in, a chain of volcanoes like jewels, balcony walk after balcony walk, extraordinary sunsets, Crater Lake’s rim and the Sierra in rain, hail, snow and cold, the desert where I learned to cowgirl camp, walking really, really far, camping all alone, seeing three bears, making friends with some extraordinary women, never using my headlamp or earbuds (not once!), butterflies everywhere in Oregon, the varied warbler’s ‘signal’ call in Washington.
Dreams and reality are opposites. Action synthesizes them. – Assata Shakur
Ted and Richard hand me a bottle of water before saying goodbye as I head into the mountains for the last night alone on the PCT.
I wake up with the sun even though we were up late talking and laughing in the hotel’s beautiful lobby. It’s so nice to have Richard right there next to me, though he begs for more rest. I mess around with my pack on my last walk out of a town, at least my body’s clean, but dusty hiking clothes will have to suffice.
We love our stay in Julian. The guys shared a couple of pints last night at the brewery while I caught up. This morning, we’re served a two-course breakfast of granola, eggs and polenta along with wonderful homemade bread. We’re back at our table in the parlor, eating on a linen tablecloth and dabbing our chins with linen napkins, there are even doilies that fit into the historic period of Julian’s mining past. It’s very old school, but we like old school and everyone we met at tea yesterday chooses the same tables and seem quite happy to be served such awesome food. We share more stories and talk about where we want to hike next before piling into our rent car to return me to the trail.
If you have the courage to fail, then you have the courage to succeed. – Shalane Flanagan
Desert sunrises are magnificent – orange light in the east as the full moon drops, deep pink on the other horizon. I sit up and make coffee noticing a tiny animal hole right next to my mat. OK, who did this? Were you coming or going? I never saw or heard a thing – no harm, no foul – hey, Ted, can I have one of your granola bars?
We pack up then fill our water bottles from the cache, rationing out the last of the electrolyte tablets. It seems only yesterday we had a huge pile of them, but it also feels like only yesterday Ted joined me to hike a few sections, and today is his last day on the trail.
You never find yourself until you face the truth. – Pearl Bailey
I have seen lots of animals on this hike including black bears and marmots, rattlesnakes and golden eagles, but nothing has gotten too cozy or threatened to steal my food until my stay at one of the Warner Springs Resort cabins. There’s a mouse in the house and he chewed a little opening in my vanillacoffee. Fortunately, nothing spilled out and I simply transferred the grounds to another baggie after seeing his little body scurrying under the door. Run, little mouse, run!