Great Expectations

I’ve been trying to boil down this experience to a life lesson. I think I’m getting there. Or at least, trying to learn what the universe is avidly attempting to teach me. I think, it’s about expectations.

Countless times, I’ve ruined things for myself by expecting too much of something before it happens. Other times, I’ve found so much more connection and gratitude for being alive by letting everything go. By waking up in the morning and feeling thankful, since waking up each morning is not a guarantee.

Each town I heard of set a kind of precedent in my mind. People would rave about Etna or Drakesbad and then I would get there expecting to be blown away. It would turn out just to be a quiet town, and the brewery a humble cafe with beer, and because I was anticipating more, I’d feel let down. Then, if I should expect little, if other hikers and locals were saying, “Good luck with that one.” or “Don’t hold your breath.” I would turn out to be so pleasantly surprised.

I compare the old with the new, as well. The energy and support I had for the AT vs. this one. That’s stupid too. For many reasons. This was my second thru-hike and family especially was probably a lot less afraid of what could happen to me, and more confident in my abilities. California, Oregon, and Washington are nothing like Appalachia and it’s important to appreciate both trails for what they are.

Cheryl Strayed wrote a good book, “Wild” about a hike on the PCT. So many people in the hiking community are p.o.-ed because “She didn’t really hike the trail.” To me, that’s just dumb. She never claimed to have achieved a thru-hike. It’s a really raw and honest account of what she went through in coping with her mother’s sudden death when she was a young woman. If you have to hold her up to your own set of standards before even giving her a chance, you’re missing out. You could have learned something beautiful from her.

The biggest lesson came at the end of the trail. I walked for months dreaming of this end. Of walking into my old restaurant in Seattle and saying “I walked here from Mexico” in Spanish to my Mexican friends. Of celebrating so proudly and feeling so much at the end of the trail. Yet, I stood at the Canadian border feeling unmoved. Not unappreciative, just subtle. I dreamed of the last couple weeks of this trail being the happiest of my life. Having Eric by my side, taking my time and soaking it up, feeling so lucky and proud. Yet, there are so many things in life you won’t see coming. Like your sisters cancer diagnosis at age 29, for example.

But truly, that’s life. To bleed is real, and you won’t be able to do so when you’re gone. I know the answer to each moment must be yes. I know you can’t expect the sun to go on shining or your legs to go on walking. So you’ve got to be grateful. As often as you can think to, be lucky, be blessed, and notice your wealth.

Shayla's PCT 154

Expect less, appreciate more. Be alive!

Kicking and Screaming

I’m back in the world now. Trying to make it fit. Trying to keep the wild in my eyes and the peace in my heart. Trying not to cry.

I think of nature. Not the woods in specific, not the mountain either, but all of it. The big everything. I hope that I can hold on to it. Take it with me.

I told a friend in Seattle that the thing that I knew was going to kill me now, is how little I feel like I need to explain in the woods. How I don’t have an urge to make anything at all understood. I can actually just be. How refreshing that has been. How well taken care of I feel, and at home too. I have no words for so many of the things I felt out there, and the things I feel now. How can you be a human without needing to be understood? I felt so loved by the raging waters, so accepted by the trees, so respected by the other creatures.

Not to say that I need poeple less, either. If anything, I find myself needing them more than ever. Friends, family, and strangers alike. I can’t feel anything but love for them. I wish I could just show them what I’ve gained, in a way that they could gain it too.

I don’t know how to say what I need to say right now. Perhaps in time.

I just don’t want life to be any less profound than it feels right now. I think I’m scared. Not of being unimportant, but of assigning things the wrong importance. I’m fearful of closing up in any way. I’m full of dread for the misunderstandings. I miss the trail.

The Home Stretch

Walking into a town like Stehekin was an unparalleled experience for me. You can only get there by boat or plane, or hike in from a trail. It feels incredible. Lake Chelan is a tropic blue and the town is tucked away along it’s corner. The bakery is incredible. Hikers had been talking about it for many miles, and even with that much to live up to, it was not at all disappointing. The cinamon rolls where big and gooey, the sticky buns were delighfully messy, and the place itself was warm and full of smiling, friendly people, locals and tourists alike.

 PCT Part 3 016

We got off the bus that picks up at the trailhead at about 7pm. The sun was just getting into set mode and the water looked incredible. We were greeted by a slow clap from a picnic table full of thru-hikers and we ate “dinner” and drank beer by the lakeside together. There’s this feeling in the air in Stehekin, and there’s certainly something in us too, being at the last stretch of such an amazing journey. We were clinking together our beer bottles, scarfing down our food and feeling touched. Humbled even. We’d take turns looking around and saying, “Awww! How amazing is it to be here!” “Yeah, and how amazing to have walked here from Mexico?!” Followed by a hearty cheers.

We camped right on the lake. I got sad. I was looking up at the stars and taking in the still of the night and thinking how desperately I wanted to hold on to it forever. I told Eric how scared I was to go back. I just didn’t want to give this up. He was as comforting as he could be, saying it will all work out, we’ll find an apartment, we’ll get back to work, we’ll pay our bills. I just felt like I was bargaining with my fate. “But, what if I didn’t have any bills. What if I got rid of my car and my cell phone and paid off my student loans and owned nothing so I didn’t need storage. Then can I stay?” He seemed scared to hear this, partially because he might be worried about my emotional health getting used to life again, though I wonder if it might have been partially because he’s not so sure that I won’t run a muck and take off all of my clothes and build a camp fire in the middle of downtown Steamboat this winter while dancing around it shouting, “People! You need to listen to the trees!” And you know what? I can’t promise that won’t happen. Eric deserves a cookie for what he’s put up with in me.

The next day was beautiful. There was plenty of drama (hence the last post “Basket-Case”) but once I got through it, it turned out to be amazing. Eric and I stayed at this incredible ranch. It was secluded, friendly and wonderfully slow-moving. People were actually relaxing. No gadgets, no dumb glazes into screens, just people in hammocks and chairs and on the grass talking to each other, or sinking into the ground properly with their eyes closed and a light smile across their lips. There’s a motto here, “Stehekin is what America was.” I think that says it best.

We rested a second day there, and camped again by the lake, and really enjoyed some of the best quality swimming I’d found all summer. We joined other hikers on a log that rolled from side to side every time another one of us jumped off or on. It felt great. Gave Eric just enough time to get out of excruciating pain enough to hike on.

The next morning we hit the trail. The weather was incredible. Not a cloud in the sky. We left with a group of young hikers and had the “genius” idea to road walk around a part of trail we heard was washed out. What ended up happening was a hell of a bush whack combined with free climbing against a washed out cliff side next to a raging river. Backpacks full of 40 lbs of gear are just not ideal for such endeavors, but it didn’t kill us, so I guess that made us stronger. There was a lot of that crap on the AT, and hadn’t been any on the PCT so far, so I figured it was only fair. That was just a 5 mile detour, so in a couple of hours we were back to the familiar.

The next 2 days were glorious. Eric kept doing more miles than I expected and the weather was cooperative. Too hot, if anything. On the third day, we made it to a trail camp with magic. A guy called Meander had graced us with a delicious meal and plenty of beer. As well as a roaring fire full of very happy hikers, many of whom had finished the trail and hiked back to catch a ride. So there was champagne and laughter along with this great hospitality. Meander was quite a guy too, he poured me a whiskey and root beer and we talked into the night about his thru-hike in New Zealand. Which is on my agenda. I was glad that Eric got to witness this kind of magic, because it never fails to amaze me.

The next morning we said goodbye to Meander and thanked him for the magic. Along the way we started trying to brainstorm trail names for Eric, and I thought of Gopher. I thought of it because I was thinking of how he just gets up and goes for it, like how the first mountain he climbed was Rainier, and how he’d never hiked a long day hike before, but he up and did 20 miles in the desert with me on the first day of the trail, and then 22 miles up 6,000 feet of elevation up Mt. Whitney. I like the Minnesota reference too, because no one can get three words out of him without saying, “You from Minnesota?” He’s got it pretty thick. One of the only people from my home state that I’ve ever caught saying “Oofta” and “Oh ya” in his regular dialogue. It’s quite endearing.

PCT Part 3 031

The hike was beautiful too. And it was our last full day in the woods. One of my favorite thru-hikers, Chief, caught up to us at lunch that day. The three of us walked together and talked a bunch about his career as chief fire fighter in Santa Barbara, CA. It was fascinating to hear his stories, and great to see him. I’d been around him on and off since mile 1000, and secretly had hoped I get to finish the trail with him and have celebration drinks with him and his wife, Maureen, who’d been doing all kinds of trail magic in northern California and had such enthusiasm for the trail.

Chief quit for the day a few miles before us, knowing there was a washout coming up. Eric and I decided to get through it, then set up camp. It sure was interesting. We walked through quite a few small washouts, then came to the big one. It was about 15 feet deep and an alarming site. It’s not too often your trail just drops into a small canyon and you’re left to just figure it out. Yet, just like life, variety seems to spice it up.

The washout
The washout

I found a bear spray on the ground during the scramble back up the loose rocks to the trail. I liked to pick up dropped items just to clean up mother nature a bit, but I have to admit I felt like a pansy. My first day on the AT I was carrying bear spray, and a local made fun of me. He laughed and said, “Shoot, you don’t need that around here. What are you going to do with it, pepper your food?” I passed it away to my cousin, Jessie, in fear that my trail name would become Bear Spray, and was properly embarrassed. So when I saw Chief that next day, I told him not to judge me for it. That I had just picked it up on the trail. He laughed and was like, “Sure. Mrs. I’m-not-afraid-of-bears.” Which had been one of my lectures to him and his wife to comfort them about hiking in Glacier National Park.

Our last night camping was perfect. We camped on a grassy ridge, with incredible orange and red lights reflection off the great rock wall surrounding us. It felt right to have such an epic scene around me for this finale. I knew how much I was going to miss these nights.

The next day was an easy hike to the border. Chief caught up to us and we had some more good conversation to pass the time. Before we knew it, we looked up and saw the big line across the 49th parallel. We were nearly to it. I stared blankly at it. Thinking, ‘Whoa!’ and nothing more. For that was about all I could process.

We were there moments later. It was 12:01 pm, September 15th, and the trail was over. I’m still not sure I have words for it.

Chief, Eric, and I at the Border
Chief, Eric, and I at the Border

Basket-Case

Have you ever been a total basket-case? I mean full out, off your rocker, emotional wreck kinda stuff? The type where no one knows what to expect from you or if you’re even safe to be around?

Well, I think I got to have that experience. I shall explain.

First of all, the trail can be a bit demanding from time to time. It makes for some interesting emotional responses. I’ve been in circles of hikers where, even the tough could admit, you’ll be walking along, enjoying the hike, when suddenly you just start balling like a small child. The tears will come unannounced and at a nice steady flow. You may even sob. It could be because you saw something beautiful and felt grateful, or you thought of something sad, or felt so tired you couldn’t stand it, or got lost (my personal best hissy-fit), or it could be for no reason at all. This, of course, is just part of the fun. Comes with the territory, if you will.

We took it up a notch this week. With the news that my big sister, Brea, has cancer. With that news came a whole new level of insanities. Like, for example, my attachment to the woods. Eric and I came to a big, flowing stream and sat down to get water. As I reached down to fill my water bottle, I thought how much I’m going to miss getting water this way. How lame it is to get it out of the sink. How I love the sound of the rushing creek. How I know there are some really tough realities waiting for me back home and I wish I could just stay here. I heard the song, “Stay with Me” sung by Bernadette Peters from the musical “Into the Woods” and imagined the river was singing it to me. “Stay with me the world is dark and wild, stay a child while you can be a child,” and I thought, “Ok, I’ll stay, just don’t let the big scary world get me!” As soon as Eric and I walked off, I stayed behind him and cried.

Then my emotions got flip-floppy. I could be extremely positive. When the sun came out and the views were epic, I would think, “Take it all in. You’re so lucky to be able to have this.” When the rain got heavy I would still stay on top of things and think, “Yeah, this sucks, but you know what would suck much more……cancer!” Or, sometimes the obstacles would crush me, depending on my most recent head space. Like when I came to a log too big to climb over. Eric found his way around after a bit of difficulty, and I just sat there, all teary-eyed on the other side and said, “You go on, just leave me here.” He looked back puzzled, and I realized how unreasonable this all must have seemed. But in my head was a screaming little girl, saying, “I can’t get over this log and my sister has cancer!” I’m certain, that if it weren’t for him being there, I would have just sat down and cried for who knows how long.

Things got a little bit more publicly ugly in the town of Stehekin. There’s one phone in town, and I was anxiously awaiting news of her official diagnosis and treatment with no access to the outside world for a week. Eric wrecked both knees pushing himself to get us there a day early too. Stakes were high. That one phone turned out to be pretty well demolished by a mud slide just a couple days before. I called my father, and asked how Brea was. He said, “She starts chemo tomorrow.” And I said, “My God! How bad is it?” and he replied, “Shayla……I can’t hear you. Shayla?” We basically left it at that.

So I ran to Chief’s sisters, who I had just met that morning and knew had information on how to get to this town from the outside world (Later on, I came to wonder how much of running to them was just about seeking maternal energy). I asked them a bunch of questions about transportation out of there and tried to remain calm. Then they asked, “Is your boyfriend too hurt to go on” which was a legitimate question by how much pain he was in, but I responded with, “No, it’s for me. My sister has cancer” and then came the water-works. Full throttle, in the middle of a restaurant, these two women I had just met put there arms around me and gave me some serious stranger-to-stranger comfort. One of them even cried a little herself. I told them I knew almost nothing, except that it’s called Ewing’s Sarcoma, and that she’s starting chemo tomorrow. In my head, there was no question of finishing the trail, I had to get home. The whole restaurant kept looking over at me, but pretending not to mind that there was a hysterical young woman ruining their breakfast. But, you gotta do what you gotta do.

I settled down a bit, and asked the woman behind the store counter if I could use a phone for a family emergency. She asked no questions, dialed the number for me, and I got to have a reasonable conversation with my dad. He said sternly, “No, finish the trail Shayla. That was a terrible phone call just now and I didn’t get a chance to tell you that it’s going to be ok. She’s in good hands, she’s going to be going through this chemo for the better part of a year, and you should finish up and then come home.” Then he told me to hold on, while he got my sister to call me herself to confirm it. The super nice lady behind the counter didn’t mind me receiving a call there at all. My brother in law called within a few minutes. He gave me a full update of the good news and bad. The great thing to hear was that her cancer hadn’t spread at all. It was all in a tumor, under her collar bone. She has 12 weeks of chemo now, then a surgery to remove it, than another 22 weeks of chemo to go through. That seemed like a hell of a lot. He also said that he and Brea had talked about this and that they insist I finish the trail. My mom said the same.

So I spent a couple of cleansing, healing (emotional for me, physical for Eric) days in one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever seen.  I had the classic experience that I hadn’t before, of eating myself sick. I was up often feeling queezy and awful for most of the second night. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, till I mentioned it to Chief the next morning and he just nodded like he understood, “Ate too much, huh?” I had an immediate, “Ah-hah!” moment, and laughed at myself. Then we moved on, heavy-hearted but extra grateful. With 88 miles to go.

The Color of Wet

I know what you’re all going to say.

YOU: How’s your hike going?

ME: It’s been good. I’m feeling a little cheated by the weather habits though. I think out of my 18 days in Washington, 13 were rainy.

YOU: Yeah…….and?

ME: Well, it sucks to be in that much rain.

YOU: Yes, sure. However, it’s Washington. What did you expect?

ME: Less than 13 days of rain.

YOU: Didn’t you used to live in Washington?

ME: Yes, but this is SUPPOSED to be the dry time.

YOU: Uh huh, I see………..Seems funny to hear someone who knows Washington being surprised about the rain.

ME: I suppose it does.

YOU: Yup. (Long awkward silence). You should eat something.

And that’s pretty much how it would go. I got rained on lots. Eric got rained on. All the thru hikers got rained on, and commiserated and complained like champions. The water in my shoes made a squeaking rhythm that really spiced up my musical scores as I walked. The views popped out of the clouds on occasion. Which was awesome when they did. I didn’t get real low spirits either. Honestly, I’ve had 3 rainy days on the whole trail until I got here (Which is kid stuff compared to the A.T.). So it doesn’t seem right to complain. If you’re going to move to the woods for the summer, you might encounter some moisture. It’s just the way it is.

Here’s a list of some songs that rain will make you think of.

Rain Drops Keep Falling On My Head

Singing in the Rain

Rain Rain Go Away

Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down

Reign on Me

Sure I’m Glad It’s Raining (Only if you watched yourself some “Ernest Goes to ______” as a kid)

Who Stopped the Rain

Superhero by Matchbox 20 (From the verse that goes “I wonder what it’s like to be the rain maker?”)

Kiss the Rain

Feel the Rain on Your Skin

River in the Rain

And, if you’re lucky, The Rainbow Connection

Eric hiked like a champ. I met him at Steven’s pass. After about a week and a half of soggy walking, I crawled out of the woods to his smiling face waiting at the trail head. We went to Seattle for a long weekend, visited his family, saw a few of my closest, most wonderful friends, walked around the city (which was perhaps less than wise as a precursor to a 200 mile walk for Eric), and thought we’d enjoy the sunny weekend in the town. Just to return to the trail with the return of rain.

But he killed it. We were only going to do 15 miles a day. But it was 17 right out of the gate, then 21, then he shocked many when we rolled into a small shanty town of thru-hiker tents one evening. We’d gone 20 miles, and had a steep climb coming, all the seasoned hikers were saying, “No way! I’m sleeping here.” We rolled in and just talked to them through their tent walls, asking how far they thought it was to the next campsite. “Three or four miles.” They all seemed to agree. I turned to Eric, fully expecting to take of my pack and start pitching that tent and he goes, “Let’s do it!” The other hikers were all like, “Dude….you’re embarrassing me. I’m already in my tent, and you wanna keep going.” And keep going we did. Eric pulled a 24 mile day, with plenty of ups and downs, like it was nothing. The next morning, he woke me up, started my stove, and was all “let’s get moving!” while I was all, “just 5 more minutes.” He really went for it. Earning the trail name, “Gofer” which is two fold, with him being ridiculously Minnesotan and his surprising ability to just up and go for it.

That was our last day out. The sun stayed with us all day, and it was gorgeous! We had a yard sale (an event where you spread everything you’ve got every which way in the sweet sweet sunshine in order to get the color of wet out of it) with another hiker named Noah the Prophet. He’s a really nice guy, and I hadn’t seen him since May, so it was a pleasant surprise.

Eric’s knees really started giving him trouble at that point, which made me sad. He kept at it regardless. And it was a 19 mile, down-hill day into Stehekin. We made it just in time for the 6:15 bus to town, and felt good to know the comforts of civilization at it’s finest where at the other end of the bus line. The last town of the trail.

 

Shrek’s Swamp

Ever slept in a tree house? I did! In a whimsical magic place known as Shrek’s Swamp. This friendly trail angel has transformed his yard into something incredible. There are multi-layers of tent pads, a tree house, which will someday be multilevel,  and coming soon, a hobbit house. It’s a great place for a big dork like me! Also, it was good practice for me to climb the latter to my tree house several times on the day before walking the scary bridge, the bridge of the gods, which has never been my strong point.

Shrek’s Swamp had some fascinating characters as well, other than the presence of Donkey in my head, there was a great couple from Ashland who I enjoyed talking to about seasonal life and living the great way I get to, an English fellow who cracked me up, and a famous hiker, Let It Be, whose spent a great deal of his life devoted to hiking and working on the trail. He was great to talk to, really humble for someone whose working on his quadruple triple crown (you get the triple crown from hiking the PCT, AT, and CDT all the way through. I hope to get mine in 2015 after completing the Continental Divide Trail, the next big adventure).

Shrek’s was great. Good conversation, laughs, good food and beer, and the tallest “small” ice cream cone I’ve ever seen. And, the scary bridge turned out not to be too scary. It was a little, but I made it. What better way to enter the final chapter of the PCT? Washington state at last!

shayla hike cont 060

Contrast

I’ve learned the meaning of the word contrast. A couple weeks ago, I decided to shoot for a 40 mile day. I wasn’t going to do more of that, but the day into the Mt. Hood area, which ends at Timberline Lodge, is supposed to be the easiest on the trail. So I figured, what better time to push it, then when you end it at the bar? And I was right, but boy was it rough.

Most of the day went by just fine, but the end really started catching up to me. My classic lack of research and preparation really had it’s way with me, when I found myself in times of trouble, walking up sinking sand dunes at 9pm, wind whipping sand and cold rain in my eyes, hardly able to see, unforgiving drop offs on either side of me and so much exposure. When I thought ‘Timberline’ I saw a heavily forested wonderland of a log-constructed lodge. With a warm fire place and lots of big pines all around. Turns out that Timberline means tree-line. Also, it turns out that I’m a bit of a moron for not knowing more what’s coming.

Alas, I found myself a cozy tent site just before the big, bright light in the distance that I assumed meant beer. I pitched quickly, and climbed out of the rain and wind to the safe haven of my tent. I was going to be good, and just eat there in the morning, since I’m on a budget. I started preparing my meal, a buttery garlic pasta side, but as I went to pour the water in my pot to boil, I realized I did not have enough. Well, well. What a lovely excuse to stumble in to the bar.

Stumble indeed. I tripped down a minor rock slide, crossed a creek in the dark, and just kept following the big, bright light. ‘Hang in there.’ I told myself, ‘the end is coming soon.’ And as I crested over a ridge, the dream became a reality. There is was, glowing with warmth and welcome. The Timberline Lodge. I snuck in the back door, and this is the moment of contrast more vivid than I’ve known. From raging winds, sand and rain pelting my face, the roar of wild water and weather, came silence and remarkable warmth and peace. I looked around at all of the people reading in comfy chairs. At the families dining all fancy-like together. I beamed heartily at the people who stared curiously at me.

Soon, I understood why. I went into the ladies room, pulled up to the mirror and actually said out loud, “Ha! That’s what I look like?!” My hair frayed in ever direction, my face and teeth speckled with sand, my eyes all squinty and blood shot. “Well then, lets just rinse off a little, shall we.” Warm water pouring out of sinks is a fascinating thing. Next time you go to the bathroom sink to wash your hands or splash warm water on your face before the mirror, be thankful. Think of a cold creek in the rain as your only source and notice how lovely it is that the water is not only warm, but comes without any elements bombarding you. It’s an amazing thing, really.

I asked the front desk where the hiker trash hangs out, and she directed me to the upstairs bar. It was a unique space, a hexagon-shaped balcony with unmatched, vintage furniture tucked in cubbies. I adored it immediately, and noticed the glorious glow of liquor bottles with neon lights behind them on the other side of the circle. I limped up to the bartender and ordered one of the tastiest beers I’ve ever had, a local IPA from Hood River. I made friends with the man next to me at the bar, he had been hiking all of Oregon. He was spending a month doing so, came from Connecticut, and he and I fantasized together about how cool life could be with a simple cabin in the woods, just doing what you love all the time. Poverty with a view, like Montana.

A bread bowl of vegetarian chili and a stumble back to my tent made it a great night. The next morning I slept in, and packed up quickly to hit the trail-famous breakfast buffet. I was approaching the hotel, trying to comfort myself that I knew my bladder could make it, when I saw two familiar faces poke over the stone wall, Chief and Maureen, his wife, some of my favorite trail people. We were all excited to see each other. Hugged, chatted  (after I ran to the toilets quick), and then had an unforgettably delicious breakfast together. It was the bomb! Waffles with every topping, gourmet pastries and cheeses, quiche and tasty red potatoes. I tried to eat slowly, to try to get through the maximum number of plates. It turned out to be a disappointing total of 3. Then they let me come up to their room to shower, and on my way up, I heard “Kiddo!” and turned to see a familiar face, Rum Monkey, whom I hadn’t seen since Agua Dulce, but always enjoyed having around. He was really happy to see me, and we caught up for a while. Like old friends, though we’ve only known each other on this trail, and not for a long section of it, at that. He was with some other I hadn’t seen since back then as well, Doodles, Scones, and Hummingbird, All people I swam with at deep creek hot springs, way back in the day, 1800 miles before this lodge.

What an incredible place. I vowed to come back there someday. Maybe even climb Mt. Hood and enjoy the warmth and good vibes together (someday when we’re not such broke-asses:)) Truthfully, thru-and-thru, Oregon rules! It was so great to me and I look forward to getting back to it!

The Magic-Mobile

Since my last town stop, I had the pleasure of cruising around Bend and Sisters with the most generous and fantastic couple, Pocahontas and Legasorus. They were awesome. We went around in their vehicle, humming the Mission Impossible theme , and looking for citizens dirty enough to be hikers, to offer rides to. This couple is truly amazing! Pocahontas came to Portland to pick me up, then let me stay over at their clean and very cozy home with a great yellow lab to keep us company. Then we went out for a hell of an all you can eat pasta dinner at Olive Garden, and in the morning, I made us some pancakes. Then they drove me all the way to Bend to visit the post office for my mail, and took me to McKenzie Pass to drop me off for the northbound journey.

Though we searched ambitiously, the only hiker we found was Sweet Jesus. A young man named so because he really does look like a smiley Jesus.

People like them absolutely blow my mind. I ask for a favor, and they open up their home. All the while, looking for more people to help out along the way. This is the same couple that set up trail camp at the beginning of my most magical day ever, in California. I tell you what…, this world is astounding.

Oh Yes I Did!

There’s a joke I heard from a thru hiker once, goes like this;

A day hiker walks by a loose piece of candy on the ground without noticing.

A section hiker walks by a piece of candy, notices, and thinks to themselves, “How crazy would it be if I just ate that?”

A thru hiker sees a piece of candy on the ground, picks it up, eats it, and looks around for more.

 

Well, guess what? A couple weeks ago, I was walking by a round, bright, yellow candy and I swooped down instantly to pick it up. I had a brief thought, ‘I’m really doing this, huh?’ and I ate it, right there. Wasn’t sure if it was a skittle or m&m or possibly a reeces piece. Turned out it was a plain m&m, and I know things now I never knew before. 🙂

Be Where Your Feet Are

It’s nearing the home stretch, and I’m proud to say, that I’m sad to realize it. Have you ever been at a place in life where you just want to remember every bit of it? How it smells, how your body feels, how you reason, your emotions, even the dirt under your fingernails….the taste of the air, the spring in your step…..the love.

Ooooofta. Where to begin? These last couple of weeks I’ve spent such quality time with loved ones. Great moments with both of my parents. My mom in person, my dad via phone. My best, good friend, Hannah Cooper. My Eric. Mitchell. Chelsea and her happy little one-year-old Gavin. All my relationships have grown into something deeper.

I’ve had so much fun in Oregon. What a state! The beer is hoppy, the locals are healthy and smiley, dogs are everywhere, the trail is flat and stunning, and life is being so good to me.

With my mom’s help, I got to go for a trail run. 11 miles, in just over 2 hours, felt like flying. Had a hiking buddy, Beads, for a week. Together we hiked 209 miles in 7 days. Which involved 5 days in a row over 30 miles. We got stormed on a little and yelled, “Waaaaaahooooooooo!” loudly back at the thunder. Then we climbed a ridge and turned around to see that the smoke we had smelled during the storm was a fresh lightning fire, ridiculously close to where we’d been walking. We laughed and walked on.

We found ourselves really comical. We’d put ourselves in an interesting state, having gone for a run the day before our 7 day stretch. Of course (any idiot would expect) our bodies hurt. Those just weren’t the same muscle groups. But hey, soreness is just part of being alive. And then there was the cold, hard truth. *A hiker will do just about anything…..for beer.* All this rushing, 7 days of kind of pushing it, in order to make it to the lovely town of Bend, OR for a Saturday night pub crawl.

And make it, we did. Gloriously. On the most beautiful day, through the flower-strewn meadows at the base of the 3 sisters, I sang my heart out. I skipped around, met so many nice locals and talked their ears off. So much, in fact, that we met the most enjoyable women around to get a ride to bend with from the trail head. Maria (an enthusiastic world traveler) and Chin Ling (a sweet woman on a short visit from southern Washington). They took Beads and I into Bend, and we talked the whole way about how great it is to grab life by the horns and see the world. They were even willing to pick up our friend, Cowboy, as long as he was willing to jump into a moving vehicle. Which was a joke. But we pulled up to him with the window rolled down and yelled “Now!” in case we could really get him to jump. Together, a car full of 5 people who don’t really know each other laughed heartily. I hope everyone gets that experience sometime.

When we pulled up to my friend Mike’s, he stood out on the porch and shouted, “Whoooooooooooo!” It felt like we were a rock band or something. He ran across the street and gave me an epic jump-and-hug. Spun me around and hooted and everything. Then he put me down and hugged Maria and Chin Ling and said, “Thank you for bringing my friend!” We all hugged Maria and Chin Ling and hoped to cross paths again someday. We were 6 people hugging and shouting in the street. I hope that happens to me many times in my short time on this earth.

Then, guess what? We suck-diddly-ucked at pub crawling. We ended up only hitting 2 breweries and getting super wiped out. Didn’t matter though. It was the journey to beer town, not the destination.

The next day we said goodbye to Mike and hitched to Sisters. We had our thumbs out for about 90 seconds when Todd, the A & P teacher from TN, picked us up in his open jeep. He was great. He stressed how awesome Bend is, and his appreciation for what we were doing. It was crazy to watch the pavement fly by in all that open air. First real jeep ride. Plus, I spend many days not getting my speed above 3.3 MPH, which feels fast, by the way.

Sister’s was adorable. Happy too. And, wouldn’t you know it, I got another epic jump-and-hug when my best friend Hannah Cooper came around the corner. She came bearing fresh fruit and with my mom. So many good things all at once.

I had a great afternoon with Beads, Cowboy, Hannah, and my mom in Sisters. My mom bought me a pretty dress. We had some serious ice cream. Then said goodbye to Cowboy, and hit the road to Eugene. Where we dropped off Beads and said our goodbyes. Then we were off to the farm.

Staying with Hannah and Tuula was great. They just took the most extraordinary bike trip across America. Changed the world by inspiring many. We ate a delicious meal, all right from the organic farm that they work on, and talked about adventure, people, and dirt. Hannah is a friend I truly cherish. We know each other so well, and I find so much comfort in our time spent together again. Old friends who can say so much with just thier eyes.

Of course, there’s more. There’s always more. But for now, I just want to be where my feet are. My feet are in the home of two trail angels. Pocahontas and Legasorus. I’ve had a week off. Got to be with my boyfriend for his birthday. Got to be in Portland for the weekend. Have been given gems and riches beyond my imagination. Feeling stoic, feeling strong, feeling full and steady.

Long may we walk.