Birds of Prey

So I’ve been thinking a lot about eagles. This may be a bit of a shock, but I don’t really like them. So many people admire their beauty, their magnificent wingspan, their grace……I think they’re jerks. Please, hear me out though.

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How could I admire an eagle, when I think of myself as a bunny, or a squirrel? I think everyone has an animal in them. My animal is one of a hoppity nature, something energetic, something low on the food chain. Eagles are a threat. Plus, I studied loons in Glacier National Park, and eagles ruin their day rather often. Still, nature will be nature, and I don’t question her plan. Sometimes I just don’t really like it. And obviously, those that know me, know I’m the kind of person who watches that “Planet Earth” clip of the orcas surrounding the seal, and can hardly stand not to close my eyes and hope that the seal survives.

I remember in grade school, learning that Benjamin Franklin had a problem with the Eagle being our nation’s choice of representation. I agreed with him, though most of the students laughed and rolled their eyes. I’m not crazy about the wild turkey, in fact they are my arch nemesis after a rather unpleasant encounter on the Appalachian Trail. Yet, at least they have their feet on the ground, at least their aggression is of a protective nature. I mean, don’t get me wrong, if it were up to me I’d pick a bear, or a horse. Something strong but peaceful.

Last spring, on a road trip through northern California and Oregon, I noticed a reoccurring scene. I would often see a small, farm bird chasing a crow, and intensely at that. Whenever I saw it, I would say, “You show ’em, little bird.” Thinking how us little folks can still be kickass. A week or two later, we returned to Whitefish. I went for a marathon training run, a super long one…22 miles I believe. And on my loop around the outskirts, I ran by a farm, where I saw it again. A little, feisty bird chasing away that darn crow. This time, however, I was close enough to realize that the crow had one of the little bird’s babies in it’s mouth. One thing I learned in that moment, is that we see what we want to see. Another, is that life can be awfully cruel.

I’m bringing this up, because I want to clarify that I’m aware of such birds. Or course I am. Lately, a few strangers and loved ones have accused me of being too positive, unrealistic even. I think squirrels and rabbits are fully aware of Hawks and Osprey. How do you go about being a squirrel in a world with killers swooping down from the sky? You hop. You climb. You don’t miss the flower patches. For it’s better to die in the great, wide open than to live your life hiding in the trees.

My dear friends and family, thank you for your concern. I don’t need a knife, I certainly don’t need a gun, and I don’t need to be reminded that I’m vulnerable. I just need you all to sit back, and watch me go!

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I feel like I owe a huge thank you to those of you who always have been that for me. Especially to my parents, who need me to survive, but never see the need to bring up the scary stuff. Thank you for believing in me.

Ah! Wilderness

Just the other day, I was sitting against a tree for my lunch break. Singing a little tune, putting my feet up, and cracking open some pistachios. I was cracking away, taking some time, and actually said out loud, “Man, this is a lot of work.”

That made me laugh. I knew that most of my life, in moments way less simple, I’ll be stressed with my job, actual work, and I’ll wish, with all my heart, that I was sitting against a tree, cracking open pistachios.
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On a 40 mile day, sitting with my dinner feeling proud, I heard a loud crack and looked over to see a bear. She was about 30 feet away and looked just as surprised to see me as I was to see her. I yelled at her like she was a bad dog, “Go on! Get!” She ran off right away. I felt sad for yelling at her right away. I know it’s what’s best for her, but it felt mean.

How the hell do parents do it?

I’ve decided that running water might be natures’ most extraordinary gift to us. Whenever I get to take a break by a flowing stream I feel like I could just stay there forever! I get that I belong in the woods. If I could convince my friends and family to live there with me……I would never leave.

I don’t bother pitching tents anymore. I just sleep out under the stars. It feels right. Feels like the way I should have been sleeping all of my life. Then sometimes I notice my moon shadow and fall asleep to some Cat Stevens in my head. No one is ever really all that alone.

It’s been hot! But hey, it’s July. I try not to expect to get off easy. Growing up in MN has made me tolerant. I think tolerance is one of the best traits a person can have. There is no such thing as unacceptable. There’s just everything that is, and how you handle it.

Volcanoes

About 5 days ago, I got my first good look at Mt. Shasta. It’s a big deal for me to have it in view, because it’s the gateway to the Pacific Northwest, a place I once called home. I love it. I love that there is so much innovation and friendly spirits, love the coffee, the local farms, and the beer! I appreciate the varied shades of green and the smell of that fresh, ocean air. What a place!

I am humbled by volcanoes. As I look at Shasta, I think of how easily we could all just be gone, tomorrow. How I might get proud of myself for walking this far, but then I remember that a rock could end me. A bug, even, or an overlooked decision. I think of how I could run as well as Carmelita Jetter (no, I couldn’t), and still….a pebble could bring me down. I spend so much time worrying about all kinds of things, but for some reason, these volcanoes comfort me. Imagine how small my cell phone bill will seem when this baby blows! And I’m grateful. I have so much gratitude for life being temporary, and so much for it being constant.

That day, was the most magical day of my life. I was greeted by a magic trail camp in the morning, with Pocahontas and Legasaurus, who had set up a resting area with lots of food and cold sodas. Then in Old Station for lunch, I was given a beer and a Gatorade, by two hikers. Then I stopped on a highway to get some water before hitting a dry stretch. There were two men making sandwiches in the back of their pickup. They stopped me walking by to offer me a beer, and when they found out what I was up to, they were blown away. They called me their hero. Sat with me for a while, gave me all kinds of food and drinks, and talked about life. They both had grandchildren and showed me pictures of them. They were so warm and welcoming. I walked away feeling like I was saying goodbye to my uncles or something. They even got out their wallets and threw some cash at me. I refused, but they wouldn’t let me. I was holding back tears at their generosity. Then I came to a lookout and was confronted by another nice couple, middle-aged, who asked me a bunch of questions, then said, “You have to let us give you something.” He started rummaging through his car and found a bag of pistachios, which I enjoyed thoroughly. I thanked them, and was just feeling so blown away by the kindness I come across, when a young couple woman came up to me from her car and said, “Excuse me, but did you say you’re hiking the whole trail?” I smiled and said yes. “We figured you might like a fresh mango.” “Of course I would! Thank you so much.” So in one day, I got a soda, a bagel, a cinnamon roll, a beer, a Gatorade, another beer, three avocados, two ice teas, a sizable cash handout, a lb of pistachios, and a fresh mango.

People tell me all the time that the world is a terrible place full of dangerous people. Maybe they need to go hiking.
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Bye, Sierra!

Sierra City. City is a strong word. It’s a wonderful place though. I got a quick ride from the highway and was planning a short stop, but ended up staying the night. Mostly because something happened that I’ve been hoping would happen since Mammoth, I ran into people I know from way back there! Roger Dodger and Beads, both solo, both cool, one I haven’t seen since Kennedy Meadows (500 miles ago) the other since Ziggy and the Bear’s house (990 miles ago). It felt great to see them.

At lunch, Beads and I were both realizing that we had the same rush-too-much problem. So I decided a night with another female hiker, with the same issues I have, was just something I couldn’t pass up. I’ve been trying to talk myself out of towns a lot because I’m crazy broke, but this particular town has a bar with air conditioning that you can hang out in all day, shower, do your laundry for free, and camp for free in the back yard. I’m happy to settle here for the next 12 hours and really enjoying myself.

As for my California blues, I’d say it’s clearing away! Halfway post is in sight, my mom and brother will be visiting me in a couple of weeks already, and before I know it, I’ll be in Oregon! The terrain is getting much easier, 30 mile days are no problem, and I’m stoked! I know that I need to start sticking around people a little more, they make the experience. I’m practicing my German with a nice fellow called Opa, just about to order a beer, and realizing what a gift this life truly is.

Meanwhile, I got a really meaningful bookmark from my dad and Sue. A tribute to my aunt Jane, her induction to the Royalton High Hall of Fame. She was such an amazing woman. I’d like to think that I’ve got a bit of her spirit in me as I take on this trek, I know that strong will we all got from our Grandma accounts for some of it! When people ask me why I go so fast I always explain that I come from Germans. 🙂

To more trails ahead!

Mental Health Day

So, I hate to admit it, but I think the California blues may have caught me a little bit. It’s nothing I can’t handle and I’m not thinking of quitting or anything. Yet it’s been a hard rush to get here, and now I’m having a bit of anxiety about it. I keep hearing Billy Joel’s voice singing, “Slow down you crazy child….where’s the fire what’s the hurry about, you better cool it off before you burn it out.”

So I’m taking a zero today, that I don’t need. I could admit that my feet hurt, and that I pulled a furry spider off myself this morning and have alarming bug bites around my ankles. But truthfully, I’m just here because I want to try sitting still and shutting my brain off for a day.

And what a day to do it! My good friend Eric, who I used to work with at Lake McDonald Lodge, has generously allowed me access to his empty apartment and keys to his car. That’s after I spent a great day with him on Tuesday and he showed me around the area.

So it’s been really amazing. I’ll love hiking again soon, I’m sure. It’s just been hard to get comfortable. Mosquitos and rain have killed my peaceful resting moments, but that’s just temporary. There are things on the horizon that I can’t wait for, like Donner Pass, Mt. Shasta, and Oregon! Plus, Tahoe is beautiful. Really, life isn’t so bad. Just when you feel proud of your 1135 miles, but realize it isn’t even halfway, and when you feel like your friends and family could use a hell of a lot more of you, it gets a little challanging. Still, I know I’m where I should be.

So tomorrow, I set off with a better attitude and a great appreciation for this wonderful way I get to spend my summer.

Quotes I Understand Better Now

“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans” -John Lennon

“I don’t always feel lucky, but I’m smart enough to try. Because humility has buoyancy and above us only sky” -Ani Difranco

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if i could not learn what it had to teach me, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” -Henry David Thoreau

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love, and be loved in return” -Moulin Rouge

“The answer to each moment must be yes, and the question can you live with that becomes the test” -Ani Difranco

“Ahhhhhhhh, forbidden doughnut” -Homer Simpson

“More and more there is this animal looking out through my eyes” -Ani Difranco

“Always rely on the kindness of strangers” -Street Car Named Desire

“I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floatin’ accidental like on a breeze. But I think maybe its both, maybe both happening at the same time.” -Forrest Gump

Hi Sierra!

What an amazing place! The high Sierra have been treat after treat. That’s even with going to fast, like a moron! I left Lone Pine, and said goodbye to Eric with a 42 lb pack and a heavy heart. I knew I had my work cut out for me. The elevation profile for the next stretched very much resembled shark teeth. I was planning 25-27 mile days through it, even knowing there would be snow and river crossings, even knowing there were 7 high passes, including Forrester Pass, the highest point of the PCT at 13,200.

On I went. I must admit, it was a bit of a slog. Hadn’t seen the trail so steep before, and my legs were already pretty tired from the big climb up Whitney. But slog on, I did. My mood completely shifted when I came over the first and highest pass. On the other side, was a dreamland! Bright blue alpine lakes, carved valleys, and epic ridgelines. Kings Canyon has officially made my top 3 national parks list. It’s an amazing place, a lot like Glacier.

It was a shame to have to rush, but the motivation of making my flight to see Eric was strong enough to get me through it. The biggest shame was running out of water treatment. I ended up having to use iodine tablets. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. It’s yucky! I was walking by the clearest, most refreshing water I’d seen just about anywhere, and drinking redish water that tasted like it came from a disgusting rusty sink in NYC. Bummer!

The bugs have began their summer season as well. It was insult to injury, rolling into camp, hobbling and exhausted, pushing through to the last bit of daylight, just enough to pitch the tent and climb in. And when it’s finally time to stop, they jump you! I’m talking Minnesota style, where one swat takes out 5 mosquitos! And there you are, swatting at yourself, exhausted and defeated, swearing and squirming like a crazy idiot in the woods (which you are). Can’t help but admit that it would be quite humorous to plant a camera at a stream crossing, just so you can watch all of us thru-hikers act like spazing children.

Had a great day of hiking with a kind fellow called Thirsty Boots. He’s been on many thru-hikes and had all kinds of great advice to share, not just on hiking, but life choices too. Having him was great! Especially since we were going over the snowiest pass. Every time I find myself in a risky situation, or almost in one, I think of my poor mother. I think of how she could have just had a normal daughter, who like, works at a bank or something, and I try to do things smarter. Company over a pass is a good one to do for Mamma!

That’s it for now, it’s off to Yosemite. This life is so incredible!

Surprise, Surprise

Walking on from Onyx, I had high hopes that my sweetheart might be waiting for me at Kennedy Meadows. I made the mistake of saying it out loud to other hikers that day, which made it go from subtle hope, to extreme motivation. I started flying through the trail. Met some really great young women, Weebee, Siesta, and Runs with Elk, all about my age, all solo hiking. We grouped up for the day, and had a girls night! We hiked over a ridge at sunset, all of us the same speed, same enthusiasm and appreciation for its beauty, and high fived like pros at the top. All 4 of us cowboy camped (no tent) in a cute little row and giggled and talked about boys. Just like a sleepover. It was amazing! They were almost as excited for me as I was, in hopes of Eric being there. When I packed up at 5:30 the next morning, chomping at the bit, the gave me some thumbs up and crossed fingers and wished me luck.

There were wings on my heels! I went the first 11 miles in 4 hours. Then 10 1/2 in less than 4. That’s faster than normal for me by a lot. Especially with my 6 days of food. 29.5 mile day, and I was looking at getting into Kennedy Meadows by 5:30. The heat starting getting to me. I suppose it was the desert’s last chance to take me down, and wasn’t going to be sat out on. I knew there was a river that I could be to ( a genuine, flowing, wet, cool river! Something I’d been dreaming of on those dry desert afternoons) and I hurried to get there. I started to hear it, and saw it beneath me, and knew everything was going to be better than ok, when suddenly I saw something I’d been dreaming of. A gorgeous man, walking up the hill toward me. I inspected for detail that would make me sure it was him. ‘That sure looks like my Eric, but I sure could be hallucinating’ I thought. But after I saw that sly, loving smile take over his face, I knew it had to be real. At least I hoped it wasn’t a cactus in disguise, cause I threw my arms around him and kissed him good (or pretty good for someone who’s about to pass out). We got me into the water right away, so that I could actually construct sentences instead of all the “but…what the….how….where….really….I uh….you…” that had been coming out so far. He told me he was going to hike with me for the next few days and climb Mt. Whitney with me. Unbelievable, and so sweet.

We had a great time together! Having him by my side meant to the world to me. The whole experience felt complete, like nothing in the world could have been better. Our first night out I sat next to him, with a river reflecting the bright orange sunset right behind us, mac and cheese, and his sweet smile, I knew I had everything. Walking with him was so great. We talked more than ever before, which tends to happen on those long walking days. It may sound weird, but I felt like I was really getting to know him and I loved what I learned. The back country has a way of really showing you what a person’s made of, this guys made of gold. No question.

The awkward part of our time together, was that I couldn’t tell him that we might have to push it a little bit, in order for me to make my flight to go surprise him a week later. What a wonderful, sit-com-esque situation to be in! I love that we both wanted to surprise each other. Love that we both were willing to go through great lengths to be there for one another in the big things coming up. Him for the big Mt. Whitney climb, me for his cousins wedding.

Mt Whitney was incredible. Took a lot out of both of us, but nothing beats standing atop the highest mountain you can find (14,495ft) with the one you love.

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I rushed through the high Sierra. A struggle, but a breathtakingly beautiful week! Made my flight, and popped in to surprise him before his family in Brainerd. He suspected it too. Guess we both aren’t that great at lying to each other, kinda cute though.

I’ve really got something amazing!

And then there was Magic!

I was a little shook up getting into Onyx. Didn’t know what to expect, and felt like the only person on the planet. Now it was time to hitch-hike, alone, and that’s where the media has done it’s evil work on me. I was nervous.

I really didn’t need to be, though. I was picked up by a chatty, old man. Who went on and on about how much he loves women and thinks there the most beautiful things ever made, and that men are awful and don’t treat them well. He said he loves all women, including me, and gave me $50 dollars! I was like, “No, I can’t except this.” But he wouldn’t hear it. Actually, I’m pretty sure he couldn’t hear it, which is why he monopolized the conversation the whole way to the PO.

With that $50, I could no longer make up excuses not to be able to afford to stay in town, and 6 days in the sandy desert meant I needed to get cleaned up in the worst way. I got 2 more hitches that day, one from a nice brother and sister who grew up in the area and think us hikers are inspiring. Another from a layed back, cool cowboy, who reminded me of Montana. He pulled over to pick me up and said, “You can get in, as long as you don’t mind my smoking this joint.” I figured that would work just fine, cause then he wouldn’t be able to smell me:) Plus, I’ve never been one to mind what people do, and I like when they’ve got nothing to hide. Hiking has a lot to do with exposing yourself. At least, it does to me.

Lake Isabella was perfect, other than the fact that the library was closed. There was a strip mall with subs, pizza, and tacos that I hit up happily, and later that night I went out for shakes with some other hikers. One of them was The Kid. I’d been carrying his lost gator since the Saufley’s house, over 200 miles, and I was stoked to catch him and pass it on. He bought me dinner in appreciation. Being able to catch someone with their forgotten gear is the greatest feeling. You kind of get to be a hero for a couple of minutes.

That town stop was so good to me! It completely changed my outlook. I went from feeling alone and worried to feeling safe and joyful. The world is full of amazing people. The next morning, I hopped a bus back to Onyx, and the driver was a great conversationalist who played great music and told me about one of her finest experiences in life hiking through the high Sierra with a singing group. She told me how spritual and enlightening it was. It sounded incredible. Then I picked up a great hitch from Onyx back to the trail. A friendly man on his way to work in Ridgecrest. Who told me of all the great things yet to come and congratulated me for being so brave.

At Walker Pass, there were already hikers I knew sitting at the trailhead. I knew the lonely times were over for now. Right as I was getting ready to leave, a truck pulled up with the trail-famous Meadow Ed in it. He’s in Sheryl Strayed’s book, Wild. I sat and talked to him for a couple of hours, and he fed us coffee and doughnuts, and told us stories of some of the most amazing hikers ever. He talked about when Sheryl passed through, and it was neat to hear first hand from a different perspective of something I’d read about.

I left the trailhead at 10:30. The others critized me for not sticking around till lunch, but I had a feeling there was something really great waiting for me out there. I wanted to get to Kennedy Meadows! 50 miles left of desert, and the gateway to the high Sierra calling me. So, on I went.

The Lonely Walk

I said goodbye to Shasta right at the entrance to the most dreadful part of the PCT. The aqueduct walk. A long day of low, hot, desert walking through dirt roads along the LA Aqueduct. It gets hot there, my pack was 6 days of heavy, and I got lost and called my mommy in the frist few miles. (Note to self, don’t call mom when you’re afraid you’ve lost your way, it will only worry the hell out of her).

I found my way soon after, and it wasn’t a big deal. Just a bad feeling. An hour or two later, a chipper hiker named Drama caught up to me. We walked together and were great company throughout the day. It’s a good day for a hiking buddy. He’s been living in NYC, so we had lots to talk about. Then, there was trail magic! Which is way more than I ever expected! A cooler and a nice couple were waiting in the middle of nowhere with their RV. It turned out to be the best case scenario for crossing the Mojave desert. Even more so, because the high of that day was, no joke, 79 degrees. Talk about getting off easy! This trail has been so good to me!

After that it was a long, windy walk. Almost knocked me over many times. But I made a game out of it. The D.A. will appreciate it! I imagined that I was an expelliarmus curse coming out of Harry Potter’s wand, and the wind was a killing curse coming out of “you know who’s” wand. I just had to win! Had to propel forward and hold my ground for the sake of all things good in the world. It made me happy:)

I met a few hikers, but went 48 hours without seeing a soul. That’s never happened to me before. It felt a little sketchy, but I knew I was safe, knowledgeable, and strong. I pressed forward and made it to Onyx and Lake Isabella. It all ended really well.