audio narrative

peeps of the PCT: Milk Jug

The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation. 

Pearl Buck
"Milk Jug" was the youngest solo thru-hiker on the PCT in 2019.
“Milk Jug” was the youngest solo thru-hiker on the PCT in 2019.

As I headed into the Blisstudio this morning to do my eLearning workout homework, I thought of a wonderful quote I read a while back about youth. I have to admit, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself starting all over in something new at age 55, needing to adopt a “beginner’s mind” while taking lessons from someone younger and more successful than me.

These are humbling times for all of us and I think it’s worth contemplating these words right now. They’re attributed to Luella F. Phelan, of whom I sadly can find absolutely nothing about on Dr. Google. If you have followed my blog at all, you’ll notice nearly every quote I refer to is from a woman. And if you know anything about women, our histories are often lost to time.

But at least we still have this amazing statement.

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind. People grow old only by deserting their ideals and by outgrowing the consciousness of youth. Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul…. You are as old as your doubt, your fear, your despair. The way to keep young is to keep your faith young. Keep your self-confidence young. Keep your hope young.

Luella F. Phelan
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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!

audio narrative

peeps of the PCT: Tammy & John, caretakers

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.

Margaret Mead

“Don’t mind the dust, we’re remodeling.”

It was thick forest and I was heading down – finally – on the last descent in the state of Washington, careening towards the Columbia River. It’s a natural boundary and I’d cross the Bridge of the Gods before heading straight back up again towards Mount Hood and all of Oregon. The rain let up this far south, though mosquitos were out in full force and I had no plans to linger even though I was surrounded on both sides by multitudes of black-, blue- and huckle-berries, all within easy reach. I felt happy and so alive, punch drunk that my intention of walking a little wisp of trail had grown to my being on the verge of checking off an entire state.

A rough section of dirt and rock loomed in front of me, a landslip that appeared to have just been cleared. Unlike hardcore tramping in New Zealand, a landslip of this magnitude was never going to be left there for hikers to climb over. Someone took it upon themselves to dig right into the side of the mountain and create a wider, more stable path. Aside from a bit of dust on my La Sportivas, I barely broke stride.

A Pacific Crest Trail worker in the North Cascades shows off her muscles and tatoos.
A trail crew worker in the North Cascades taking pride in her gritty job.

Ahead, two people covered head-to-toe in long sleeves, long pants, gloves and helmets were lumbering along, snipping away at errant bushes and kicking loose stones aside. Their manner was focused and meticulous, like a proud home owner. It wasn’t just respect and reverence they exhibited for this gorgeous patch of trail, they acted as if they owned the place.

And to be fair, they earned that attitude.

Tammy and John are caretakers of the PCT – perhaps more precisely, of eleven miles of the 2,653 mile-long PCT. For the past sixteen years, they’ve set aside their free time to ensure the trail is walkable by removing downed trees and limbs, cutting back overgrowth and fixing any damage like the huge landslip I managed to simply float over. Why do they do it? That’s simple – because they want the trail here.

Neither of them identify as long distance backpackers. Just like thru-hikers desperate for a break in town every so often – they begin to miss beer and flush toilets.

Gear

Post PCT Gear Review, or: how I learned what stays and what gets chucked

There is an expression among even the most advanced runners that getting your shoes on is the hardest part of the workout. – Kathrine Switzer

Merino tees are a backpackers' dream, but they're spendy and wear out quickly.
Merino tees are a backpackers’ dream, but they’re spendy and wear out quickly.

Updated gear list now available. You can access it on google docs and take it with you!

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.

guest post

GUEST POST: In Praise of “Cowgirl Camping” by Ted Adamski

Camping can be the greatest expression of free will, personal independence, innate ability, and resourcefulness possible today in our industrialized, urbanized existence.

Anne LaBastille
Cowgirl camping in the desert section of the PCT in Southern California.
“Cowgirl” camping in the desert section of the PCT in Southern California.

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. 

Mike's Place was deserted when we got there, but he left plenty of water and a spot to camp under a full moon.
Mike’s Place was deserted when we got there, but he left plenty of water and a spot to camp under a full moon.

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!

The view from our sleeping bags. We had to sleep in a wide spot on the trail.
The view from our sleeping bags. We had to sleep in a wide spot on the trail.

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!

Ted Adamski received the trail name "Terrible Ted" on the John Muir Trail.
Ted Adamski received the trail name “Terrible Ted” on the John Muir Trail.

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après PCT

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style. – Maya Angelou

A spectacular sunset played on the beach right before the rain came, but thankfully, my PCT hike was finished.
A spectacular sunset played on the beach right before the rain came, but thankfully, my PCT hike was finished.

Thank you, Marc for this beautiful quote! I received it in his comments on my diary entry for the last day of the PCT. I read it while cleaning gear to put away for now until my next walk.

hike blog

PCT Day 139, Lake Morena campground to Mexican border, 20 miles

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

The Blissful Hiker with a fresh squeezed lime margarita at the PCT southern terminus.
The Blissful Hiker with a fresh squeezed lime margarita at the PCT southern terminus.

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.