Melinda and Henry planned to hike the PCT from south to north, but came across deep snow and dangerous river crossings in the Sierra, so flipped up north to Washington and headed south to meet the spot where they left off.
audio narrative

peeps of the PCT: ‘flippers’

Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.

Simone de Beauvoir
Melinda and Henry planned to hike the PCT from south to north, but came across deep snow and dangerous river crossings in the Sierra, so flipped up north to Washington and headed south to meet the spot where they left off.
Melinda and Henry planned to hike the PCT from south to north, but came across deep snow and dangerous river crossings in the Sierra, so flipped up to Washington and changed directions.

Change is not easy.

Most of us would prefer to keep things right where they are. We’d rather not, thank you very much, risk change that might bring on unsettling feelings of having no clue what we’re doing, or worse, having to start all over again. Kind of like when you choose that card in Monopoly – go to jail, directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

When I started walking the Pacific Crest Trail last July, it was all about survival of my spirit. If I could just get out of town for a few weeks and start walking again, I might clear my head and maybe the drastic changes happening in my life that were making me sit bolt upright in bed every night in a state of panic, would just go away.

I bought a one-way ticket to Bellingham, Washington and planned to carpool with a trail angel who organized a caravan of rented vans. She ferried thirty hikers to the trailhead at Hart’s Pass. I was surprised by the number of us and soon learned that there was only a handful actually starting the trail. Most of the hikers were what we called “flippers,” hikers who needed to change their intended route because moving forward was impossible.

The metaphor in that bleak moment of my life was not lost on me. Circumstances beyond their control forced them to reckon with the situation, make a decision, and act. Not everyone was happy or comfortable with what needed to be done, but they figured things out and finally placed themselves over a thousand miles from where they left off.

Rounded edges of 1950's cars appear like faces crowding the lot on a summer's eve.
audio narrative

peeps of the PCT: used car salesman of the border

Home is the nicest word there is.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

We’re home tonight after the concert we planned to attend was cancelled due to Covid-19. This is all a bit unnerving and scary, but hopefully drastic measures will help the medical community get control of things.

Frankly, I don’t mind a little social distancing at home. Richard and I still have a few more tasks to take care of on the voice recording booth. But first, we walked hand-in-hand to the local market, the evening clear and brisk with no snow on the ground as winter gives way to spring. We then put every Billy Joel album we own on the stereo, one after the other, singing loudly to our favorites as we sawed and glued. Home is a good place, especially when you have love, memories and hobbies surrounding you.

It made me think of meeting Sam Risjord last summer, a man who moved back to his home in Southern Washington when he really could have lived anywhere. He likes it in Stevenson, a place his family has called home for generations. Somehow its sweetness was more acute after being gone for so long.

audio narrative

peeps of the PCT: Karl and Holly, trail angels

Wherever we travel to, the wonderful people we meet become our family.

Lailah Gifty Akita
Clowning around with Karl in the camping section of the local store. Staying with these trail angels was absolutely heavenly.
Clowning around with Karl in the camping section of the local store. Staying with these trail angels was absolutely heavenly.

Last night I had vivid dreams with a cast of colleagues from my recent past. In and out popped characters with whom I’d developed deep ties working on projects, solving problems in a hectic deadline-based environment and seeing each other every day, often for far more hours than I see my own family.

These people are gone from my life now, at least in the material world. I’m pretty sure they’re still alive, but we have nothing that binds anymore. We don’t talk. We never see each other. In the dream, I was desperately trying to grab hold of a microphone just so I could speak into it and say goodbye, but they wouldn’t allow me. I failed. I was bereft.

Oddly, though, when I woke up, I didn’t feel sorrow. Rather I felt cleansed, as if I had gotten my words out and made peace before letting go.

Richard and I pose at Lake Morena the final night of the PCT.
hike blog

PCT Day 138, Mount Laguna to Lake Morena County Park, 22 miles

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.

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.

Dried tumbleweeds look like hair blowing in the wind.

This dried tumbleweed is a bit more broom-like.

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.’

hike blog

PCT Day 137, past Sunrise Trail junction to Mount Laguna general store, 18 miles

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.

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.

It was usually long walk off-trail to get water in the desert.
hike blog

PCT Day 132, Mikes’s Place to Highway 74 (Warner Springs) 17 miles

Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith. – Margaret Shepherd

A sandy track winds through dry grass near Warner Springs in Southern California.
A sandy track winds through dry grass near Warner Springs in Southern California.

No beings – animal or otherwise – came round last night. I slept soundly in our little piece of sand next to a shack, the moon’s reflection in the windows looking like eyes. Mike doesn’t show, but I am so grateful he offers a place to camp, water from a huge tank affixed with an easy-to-collect spigot and a long-drop, clean and odor-free. I eat the last of my bars with vanillacoffee and have Ted bandage my back, my spine bones taking a beating from my pack before we set off.

The PCT is wide enough in the desert to avoid the "jumping" Cholla.
hike blog

PCT Day 131, ridge above Anza to Mike’s Place, 19 miles

There is nothing more pathetic than caution when headlong might save a life, even possibly, your own. – Meryl Streep

A cluster of barrel cactus in Anza-Borrego State Park.
A cluster of barrel cactus in Anza-Borrego State Park.

I wake before dawn in time to see a grapefruit slice of moon setting. The wind picks up and I tuck deeper into Big Greenie. It’s too gusty when we wake to make coffee from my bed, so we pack up first and I notice my sit pad is gone – the third time I’ve lost it on the PCT, the first near Shasta when Pilot found it, the second near Casa de Luna when Brass found it. This time, it’s the wind’s fault and it’s only after breakfast I see it caught in some spiky grass. Hooray for the desert!

Sunset over Anza, California from a secret campsite.
hike blog

PCT Day 130, Cedar Spring to ridge above Anza, 18 miles

I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world. – Mary Anne Radmacher

Sunset over Anza, California from a secret campsite.

Sunset over Anza, California from a secret campsite.

How strange it is to cowgirl camp under the big trees, acorn bombs falling most of the night and a nearly full moon shining through the branches. When I close my eyes, I’m just in bed, then open them to see stars and hear some creature – a squirrel? – chattering loudly. I sip coffee (vanilla at the moment) with bars in bed before packing up, including four full water bottles, to head back up the steep, overgrown side trail back to the PCT.

Shadows rippling on the foothills above the desert.

Shadows rippling on the foothills above the desert.

Exposed rock in uplifted layers.

Exposed rock in uplifted layers.

Fields of dried flowers rustle against my pant legs.

Fields of dried flowers rustle against my pant legs.

Everything is prickly in the desert.

Everything is prickly in the desert.

The day's hike is uphill nearly the entire way to the last water source.

The day’s hike is easy and mostly downhill the entire way to the last water source.

Terrible Ted negotiates the rock fall trying not to look down.
hike blog

PCT Day 129, Saddle Junction via Devil’s Slide to Cedar Spring, 20 miles

I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes. – Edna St. Vincent Millay

Terrible Ted negotiates the rock fall trying not to look down.

Terrible Ted negotiates the rock fall trying not to look down.

I set my alarm a bit too early this morning thinking I’d need more time to organize since going back after a ‘zero’ day is always a bit of a shock. I fill the time eating too much yogurt and granola and reading the Times. An article grabs my interest as I wait outside under a sky just beginning to lighten for handyman Dean to take us back to the trailhead. It’s about grieving and highlights a book by David Kessler where he takes the five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – and adds one more, meaning. “Loss is simply what happens to you in life. Meaning is what you make happen,” he writes, offering something hopeful, optimistic and, most important to me, active to the peace and groundedness of acceptance.

Dean arrives right on time and we pile our bags in the bed of his truck and head up to Humber Park. I think about the kind of meaning I’ll create out of the ashes of my loss, and decide, as Ted and I retrace our steps up to the saddle, that my experience will be meaningful and I will carry it with grace and dignity. It’s fitting to consider these things here as I walk up what I just came down, as though offered a kind of do-over and a chance to gain a new perspective.

Ted leads and powers up even with a full resupply. Taquitz – pronounced tah-quits or tah-keets, take your pick – looms over us, seemingly inviting me to come climb him. Giant firs hold their enormous cones at the tip of the boughs like poorly placed oversized Christmas decorations. Several dead trunks stand as beheaded sentinels, their bark stripped revealing a twist underneath from root to crown. Birds sing good morning and we’re at our junction before we know it.

It was hard work getting to the top of San Jacinto Peak, a surprisingly huge mountain in Southern California.
hike blog

PCT Day 127, San Jacinto River to Saddle Junction (Idyllwild via Devil’s Slide) 10 miles

You have to allow for the impossible to be possible. – Lupita Nyong’o

It was hard work getting to the top of San Jacinto Peak, a surprisingly huge mountain in Southern California.

It was hard work getting to the top of San Jacinto Peak, a surprisingly huge mountain in Southern California.

I’m pleased we found a site to cowgirl camp at the bend in the switchback, but it’s not completely flat and we wake up cranky and sore. The three sets of night hikers park themselves close by also on sketchy terrain. We pass them still in their bags not yet ready to face the crisp, cold air. One places a tent nearly in the trail and we float quietly. Another spring comes down in beautiful faucet-like falls just a small distance in the wrong direction from the peak. I collect for our climb, but soon my fingers are numb as I filter.

Such a success yesterday climbing in tough conditions and this morning proves a frustration. I tell myself, “This too shall pass,” and to try and not let things get the best of me.

But they do anyway in spite of my good intentions, as the climb begins in earnest over granite boulders flanked by sharp scrub oak and thorn bushes. The sun does not reach this side of the mountain for hours and I’m freezing cold – well, my hands are. I hope climbing warms me, though it’s fingertips that need to hold walking sticks, not my core. Maybe I should have stayed in my bag a little longer, or skipped the peak like the other hikers do. But I’m in it now, rising slowly to a flat area filled with designated campsites, a ranger station and a rushing stream. Hmmmm, could we have gotten here last night? Everything is silent now way past hiking season. Bright purple lupine blooms like it’s early spring, ignoring the coming snow. No, we would not have gotten here and the climb surely would prove a misery, or worse, in the dark.

Another steep uphill on switchbacks brings us to a saddle, Ted begging to take five and my yelling down to him to keep going l just a few more meters to the junction. I feel like a drill sergeant, but it turns out to be a good idea as the sun is bright and warm shining on a large log begging for us to sit on. The mood lightens a bit, and lightens even more when Ted pulls out the last of the smarties.

Spooky trees at the cowgirl campsite on the flanks of San Jacinto Peak.

Spooky trees at the cowgirl campsite on the flanks of San Jacinto Peak.

Limber pine heart.

Limber pine heart.