Orange Magic

The rest of Shasta’s visit was phenomenal! Other hikers came to know here too, she did lots of trail magic, and became a very great addition to the thru-hikers world for a few days. She hiked 24 miles in one day! We met the wonderful couple, the Anderson’s, in Green Valley. Who open up their home to hikers and hug and slow clap for you on arrival. They also provide the funniest water cache. An oasis in the middle of the desert, with lawn chairs and water, as well as a funny (but kind of dreadful) painting of the dryest, deadliest desert ever, fake human skeletons lying around reaching for water, and a container of lead weights reading: LEAD WEIGHT CACHE, TAKE ONLY WHAT YOU NEED. They’re a hoot.

Shasta’s trail name is Orange Magic. She got it at a picnic table with me and Gangster and a few other hikers, as well as a shirtless man on a horse (which was incredibly random and looked remarkably like the cover of a romance novel), and a hiking couple, Toots and Aloha, who brought cold soda’s, cupcakes, and more. At that little picnic, Shasta did something bold. She put together tortilla cheese wraps with nutella. When I saw what she was doing, I gasped, “You can’t do that! You’re not even a thru-hiker!” Everybody stared and watched. She bit into it like it was normal. Blew our minds. Gangster and I decided to try it, just for a bite of our wraps, and I’ll be darned if we didn’t end up smearing nutella all over the whole dang thing before the deed was done! I’m not proud of it, but it was the right thing at the time:)

Shasta and I parted at Hikertown. We stayed in City Hall, which was cute. All the cabins you can rent are little buildings, set up like the old west. I was hoping for the jail, but ours had a bigger bed. Having her company was incredible. She’s so positive and sweet, and our talks were nothing short of life-changing. We’re both loving our lives so much these days. Both feeling so lucky to be young and alive!

Thank you Shasta (OM), you’re an amazing woman and I’m so lucky to have you!

I suck and I’m sorry

So…..big apologies for not blogging for 3 weeks. That’s something I never intended to do, and won’t let happen again. I just came out of a 7 day stretch without any contact to the outside world. Before that, I visited a town where the library is closed every other day, so I haven’t been able to sit down to write. Expect several updates in the next 2 days. I’ll try to start way back.

Coyote Song

Two nights ago, at the end of a 29 mile day, I came to a road. The angel crest highway, a beautiful spot. The sun was setting, I was done for the day, and knew my favorite red head would be by to pick me up in moments. I crossed the road to get a better view, and was compelled to sing the coyote song (I’m always singing, pretty much whenever I think I’m alone). It’s a pretty song, and a sad one too. Goes, “Oooooh-yip, Oooooh-yip, Oooh” for the chorus. Feeling really content, I went to sit by the road, got bundled up, and pulled out some oreos, thinking life couldn’t be much better.

Then, somehow not to my surprise, a coyote crossed the road. Maybe 25 feet away from me. I greeted her, sang the coyote song to her, and she just stood there, looking peacefully back at me. It was incredible. It’s all been incredible, and I know I’m exactly where I belong.

Shaylasta!

So, my favorite red head popped up out of the blue two days ago! I had just made it to interstate 15, and already had so many experiences to blog about! Then I pulled up to shady spot, kicked off my shoes, and was mauled, by the one and only Shasta Bacon. She just got back from a winter in Mexico and Guatemala, went home for 2 days, and then flew to LAX to rent a car and come find me on the trail. It absolutely blew me away. I have her lovely company until May 23rd. And how do you suppose I repay her? I try to kill her on her first day hiking. She’s passed out in the park right now, and we’re in Wrightwood for the evening. She handled it extremely well, but it was a 5,000 foot climb from I-15 to here and she pulled a really tough 16 mile day yesterday. We got in today around lunch time and are welcomed into a friendly woman’s home, just Shasta and I, to get cleaned up, fed, and spend the night. Tomorrow, Shasta will be my road support, as she gives her severed,  aching feet a break.

Here are some highlights of the last 8 days.

Lions and Tigers and Bears….No Joke!

I passed by some Hollywood stunt animals, all caged up in the middle of no where. I saw the Grizzly first. She was just laying there, looking all sad. In a cage barely large enough for three of her to fit into. Broke my heart. Bears are my favorite, and she kept lifting her head up from her arms, looking around, sniffling a little, then putting her head back down. Really seemed like she was crying. Surely Hollywood has enough money to buy their animals decent sized cages. Then I walked over to the kitties. The lion was roaring a lot, and when it did, I felt it in the pit of my stomach. Those vibrations are so strong. As I was walking toward the lion, I noticed a tiger head staring right at me. I stared back. I’ve always loved tigers cause I can see so much of my cat Max in them. I thought we were having a moment, so I took a step closer. The tiger reared back and started snarling and growling, then leaped forward and slashed at the side of it’s cage with brute force. My heart skipped a beat or two. Can’t say that I recall ever having been so effectively threatened in all my life! It was truly terrifying. Yet I understood. If I was that tiger, I’d hate me too.

My Very First Rattler:) Awwwwwww, Cute! 

No big deal, actually. It did its little rattle thing, froze, and let me walk by without any trouble. It was black. Weird huh?

The Best Oasis in the World.

A couple of days ago, on an atrociously hot afternoon, I came by some hot springs. Not just hot springs though. It was a multilevel swimming paradise in the middle of the desert. With cool pools in a small canyon, hot springs up high in the rocks, and lots of happy, relieved swimmers jumping off rocks and saying repeatedly, “Is this heaven?” That very well might have been the best swim of my life….so far.

Ziggy and the Bear

The most famous trail angels I know of, Ziggy and the Bear, bought a house on the trail just so they could be what they are today. You role in all sweaty and exhausted and are immediately sat down, with a tub of hot water in front of your feet for soaking. They have transformed their backyard into a hiker haven, with carpet and shade. They do a burger king run for hikers everyday, which I partook in (my first fast food veggie burger in 10 years). I was their 401st hiker this season! Can you imagine putting up with that many hikers in one spring, and then still being up for it, without any signs of resentment, day after day…..for years! On the way out there was a sign, “If you like what you got…PAY IT FORWARD!” Incredible.

Papa Smurf and Mt. Mamma

Just after to scary tiger, I came to a nice little resting spot with coolers, chairs, and beer. It was 9am, but I thought, what the heck, and had a seat to enjoy a mirror pond pale ale. It was heavenly. On the coolers was a sign for some trail angels in big bear, Papa Smurf and Mt. Mamma, who I called and was picked up by later that evening from a highway crossing. They were hosting 14 hikers that night. Let us shower and do laundry, gave us rides to town, and cooked us dinner and breakfast the next morning. It’s been astounding how many people have been generous beyond anything I’ve seen before out here.

Finally Caught that Gator!

Just now, as I was walking to the library, I saw a hiking buddy, Shashinka, and was talking to him when I looked over and saw a rather familiar face. I pointed and said, “Hey!” really loudly. And he was like, “Hey……….uhhhhhhhh……..ohhhhhh…..Kiddo!!” Mike, or Gator, was finishing up his thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2011. I had just found out he was going to be out here a week before I started and was really hoping to catch him. And I did. He interviewed me on camera. Guess he’s making a cool documentary of his experience. A familiar face goes a long long way out here. It was great to see a friend!

That’s all I can think of to say right now. Today Shasta taught me some Spanish. And I ran into Gangster, which really thrilled me. Didn’t think I’d see any of the Idyllwild crew again. I’m really settling in to the trail life. I feel at home in the wilderness. I love this life. When I crawl into my tent at the end of the day, I sometimes go. “Yes!” Being alone actually doesn’t feel so lonely. Other than the pain of missing my love, which is brutal at times, it’s all good. 369.5 miles down and feeling frisky as ever! Thanks for all the love.

First Time Zero-ing

Made it to the remarkable town of Idyllwild! It’s amazing here. Friendliest hiker town I have ever seen! I got together with a few other hikers on Sunday night and decided to hitch hike in from a restaurant a few miles back. That meant a 30 mile slack pack up some gnarly mountains yesterday. It turned out to be hell! We managed to find a great hotel and nice locals to drive us back to the trail head, but during the hike itself….we got rocked! Temps were in the mid 30s, sleet and wind were harassing us, the climb was challenging, and we were playing a fun game called, “Don’t stop moving or you may die of hypothermia.” It was scary. I booked it all day and was the first one back to our hotel. One of the hikers whose staying with us said he’d never seen a woman like me in all of his life. I ran for it. Still took 11 hours though. Last night, once everyone was in, we sat in a circle on the floor, passing around cheetos and ice cream, and told battle stories. It really felt like we went through something together. Alas, we made it. Sure earned this day of rest and pigging out!

Despite the N.D.E., which is likely a big exaggeration, this trail has been an incredible journey so far. We had 4 days of trail magic in a row, including an amazing BBQ at a house in the middle of nowhere. Papa Bear, a hiker with more years on him that most of us, was telling us that it was just like the 60s! He said the only word to describe it was, “Groovy.” We sat around laughing, eating heaps of food, napping in the shade, and dancing on the porch to some two step and swing numbers. Truly a touching experience. Less LSD than the 60s had though, I think.

The trail itself has been mostly friendly. I’ve been getting off easy so far with temperatures, and still no rattlers, or scary bugs. Plus, averaging 20 miles a day has been no problem. So that’s a great beginning. I just bumped up all of my mail drops by about 5 days. It feels good!

Thanks to Dumbledore’s Army for the letters! I sure do miss you guys. Thanks Momma, you’ve always been so supportive. Big thanks for Tinman for the awesome surprises that came in the gps package! His kindness and encouragement are overwhelming! And I got some great surprises in my resupply box from Eric. I miss him madly, but love to think about him all the time when I’m hiking. I find myself thinking happy Eric thoughts and flying up the trail in the morning. A few days ago, Papa Bear goes, “Woah there, Kiddo. There’s a speed limit on the trail, you know.” He’s great.

I’m bunked up with Rotisserie (My favorite solo hiking woman on the trail, from MN), Cookie Monster (A former A.T. thru-hiker who carries great music), Gangsta (A fellow from Israel, who I just named today), and Rub-A-Dub (Another former A.T. thru-hiker from D.C.) It’s a great bunch, but we split up tomorrow. As usual, I’m going a little too fast, and will probably lose most of the people I know so far. Sad, but there’ll be great new ones up ahead!

There are hikers everywhere in this town. We are all just thrilled to be here, and happy to be out of the cold rain. This morning, after I ordered some grub at a nice little cafe, I turned to the other hikers and said, “Holy Crap! I just asked for a bunch of things, the nice lady said no problem, and they’re going to be put in front of me in moments! How amazing it this!” Already I feel so much more gratitude and appreciation for all the little things in life. How lucky am I? Seriously!

Ahead of the Game

So, I should actually be getting to Idyllwild on May 7th, instead of the 9th. If you sent me anything, don’t worry, I can leave a forwarding address with the P.O. if it doesn’t get there before I do. That’s going to bump up the whole itinerary, and I’ll edit the Mail Drop List in Idyllwild. No worries.

Onward and Upwards!

Dirrrrrrrrrt!

So, I’ve made it 109 miles, and so far….no problem! I feel strong and it only took me 24 hours to accept that I’m just going to be dirty as all get-out for the next 4-5 weeks. I’d say that it only takes about 8 hours to accumulate the kind of dirt that makes a dirt river in the shower. On the A.T. that would have taken a good 5 days to achieve. So, the dirty trail award goes to Southern California.

I’m not struggling in the heat as much as I was afraid I would. The toughest thing, I’d say so far, is the long stretches without water. So far my longest has been 24 miles, and there’s a thirty miler coming up in just a couple of days. But it’s all good. I think I got this.

I haven’t seen any rattlers, but I might be the only one. I like to believe it’s because I have a mascot who protects me. Every single day I see one small, black snake with a white stripe down it’s back. I like to say it’s the same snake, I call her Zippy, and when she passes by, I can almost here her say, “Way to go!” in a cute little snake voice. I asked around, and no one else is seeing these snakes, so I think she’s my guardian reptile. No, I haven’t gone crazy from the heat yet. I’ve always been this childish.

My body is holding on strong. I’ve been able to average 20 miles a day right out of the gate. So that puts me well ahead of schedule already. This feels great! I find it considerably easier than the A.T. so far. Way less up and down.

There’s a line of hikers waiting for the computer, so I should get going. I had a shower and a veggie burger here at the Werner Springs Community Center and I’m feeling like a million bucks! Last night there was the most incredible trail magic in a place that felt like Eden. Trees, running water, and a grill out with beer and all kinds of food! Two couples just sit out with their RVs for three days and cook all day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the hikers. It was amazing!

Should just be a hearty 3 days into Idyllwild, where I’ll spend my first zero. I’m really excited for it. That should mean that Tuesday is a day off, and in reception, so don’t be shy. We all know how much I love to talk:)

Thanks for all the support, it really means a lot!

 

Great Expectations

Tomorrow I head to the kickoff. I’ll be camping out with trail angels, thru-hikers, my Eric, and other great hiking enthusiasts. It’s going to be good for me to get a nice energy boost. Should help instill some bravery and excitement into me, which isn’t exaclty in short supply, but I have to say, sometimes when I really think about it, it seems a little….I don’t know….tremendous…I suppose.

I’ve had great company in the last couple of days. Meeting Eric’s uncle Jeff was extremely encouraging. He told me about some of the great area’s I’ll be walking through and hooked me up with some really nice sleeping pads for the trail. He was so supportive and enthusiastic for my trip that I felt like he was my own family! His energy really spread to me, and made me feel pretty excited. Then meeting up with my good friend Jeff in San Diego has only furthered that notion. He and his girlfriend Brittney have been so hospitable and so encouraging! It’s starting to feel real.

I chopped off 15 inches of hair today. I wanted to donate hair for a long time now, and really there’s no better time then right before 700 miles of desert hiking. I like it too. I thought it would be a sad experience, but I couldn’t stop grinning.

So…..this being my last night as a non-hiker (“townie” by hiker slang) I like to lay out my expectations. Just so we can all look back and laugh at how stupid I was, for the most part.

1. Short hair was a good choice.

2. I will see rattlesnakes, but have my fingers crossed that I will never wake up to one cuddling under my tent.

3. The trail is going to be physically easier than the A.T. was, but mentally more challenging.

4. The snow is going to be sketchy in the high Sierra’s, and my stubborn Paradeis genes might get me into a bit of trouble. But don’t worry, Mom:)

5. I will have to go more than my record 8 days without a shower.

6. I will hit that physical low, where you’re body sort of enters it’s starvation mode, somewhere in the Sierra’s.

7. I will be super happy to reach Kennedy Meadows, the end of the desert section, but happiest to get to the Oregon border! 3 months in one state is a long time.

8. I might go full days without seeing a single person.

9. I think my favorite section is a toss up between the High Sierra’s in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and the Northern Cascades at the very end.

10. There is going to be so much great beer and food!

11. I will barely be able to tolerate how much I miss Eric.

12. This will change me for the better, and be so breathtakingly beautiful, that I will just feel lucky all the time! And I already do, so it’s going to be pretty amazing!

I have to say, it’starting to get real. The backpack is loaded, the hair is gone, the final phonecalls are going out to my loved ones, and it’s time.

Here goes nothing!

Reflections

Here is a flashback to just after finishing my A.T. thru-hike. One might call it foreshadowing.

 

Reflections

It’s been 2 and a half weeks since I completed the journey. I’m having a really hard time putting into words how I feel. It’s been very strange to spend so much time in a vehicle. To watch the miles and states roll by. I somehow felt like this was erasing my hard work. Like I spent months winding up a ball of yarn, and all at once, it unraveled.

It was sad when I stopped noticing the sun going down. Losing that light was such a significant part of my day, and it certainly never went unnoticed. Sadder still, is how it all seems like a wild, fanciful dream. Thankfully, there are things I have gained from this experience that have deeply, though it may appear subtly, changed me. I’m such a feeler now. I feel closer to all of my loved ones, and in fact, closer to people I don’t even know. As though every exchange has become more significant.

On the road trip back from the A.T., I felt many things. Sore, for one, from my lack of butt padding (an issue I’ve never experienced before), and from sitting still, after many months of moving forward. I also felt sad to be driving away from New England, and the trail itself. It felt like the end of a good relationship. As if the trail was a friend of mine, that I may never see again. When I got to Pitsburg, to visit my brother, Mitch, I felt like I had never seen a big city before. I stood on the roof of his apartment, close to an impressive back drop of shiny buildings all lit up at night. I marveled, much in the same way I had in my aunt Lu and uncle Dave’s car the first time I got a good look at downtown Minneapolis. Thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe humans can make this!” And my brother pointed out how strange that was, since I’d lived in Manhattan before.

I went for a short morning walk and looked all around me. At the buildings, the people, the cars, the trees, and I just felt so in tune. Like my eyes were good and open. I noticed my heart beating in my chest and my tired feet, aching slightly against the pavement. And I just started grinning at each person that walked by. A Mona Lisa smile, “I know something you don’t know.” Feeling like the luckiest person alive for my beating heart and own two feet. What a gift!

It’s hard to accept how quickly the A.T. has melted out of my life, though not completely. I was sad when my final scabs rubbed off my shins. And though the weight gain is a good thing, I’ll miss my bones. I’ve never been so well acquainted with them. Plus, that was the body of a thru-hiker. Direct proof that I had to give it all I’ve got. Representation of the struggle and commitment and longevity and sacrifice. I lost 18% of my body!

Driving back to Montana was almost too easy. I didn’t get bored or tired, and I think it’s because I’ve gotten so accustomed to being alone with my thoughts. Even as I write this, I feel so glad to have time again to be reminiscing and paying respect to my own achievement. Like my conscience is my best buddy, and I haven’t spent much time with her lately.

I learned so much. The biggest thing being about bravery. Which I think means having faith. It means believing that you can go on, even if you’re scared out of your mind. Even when you think you’ve got nothing left. It’s approaching the world with an open heart and wide-spread arms, not because you’re fearless, and not because you’re naive, but because you chose to believe that life is good. That people are good. And that you’ve got everything you need right there with you.

Things always work out in the end. And as my mom has taught me, “if it hasn’t worked out, then it’s just not the end.”

Almost That Time

So, my boyfriend Eric and I are on the way to the trail head. We’re having one great last week together, hiking national parks along the way. Right now we’re in Zion. I love Zion! It’s my second time here this year and I already wonder when I’ll be back. Having this trip with Eric has been just what I needed, not only do I get to soak up some quality time with him, but I get to do what I love to do.

We’ve hiked the last four days in a row, and in some hot weather, and it’s giving me this great little opportunity to check in with myself. ‘Now Shayla, are you sure you want to do this everyday for 5 months? Can you handle this heat? Are you a strong enough hiker to carry all that weight? Are these shoes going to be ok?’ And the answers are yes, yes, yes, and yes. It’s all going to be ok….better than ok. It’s all going to be remarkable.

I thought a lot today on our hike up to Observation Point. I thought about how different I am than most people I know. My ridiculous issues with the way human life is changing. I thought about how we don’t have to worry about any of the essentials. We don’t grow our own food, build our own shelter, find our own water sources, deal with our own waste, and yet with computers now we don’t even have to find our own way or remember our own tidbits. I feel like life is getting away from me, and leaving me behind. And I’m not saying I don’t participate in it. I google stuff too. I just feel lucky to control my own worries, and I chose to worry about water and shelter this summer. To me, it feels more like living my life. I know I’ll feel at home.

On the Appalachian Trial, I remember when I realized that my brain was the original tv. That I could replay scenes, listen to music, and create without any outside help. I learned that a fallen log was the original couch and a flat rock the original dining room table. That water is amazing! So versatile and useful. It can clean you, hydrate you, cool you, sooth your muscles, cook your food, do your laundry….it’s got endless capabilities. I learned that everything makes sense when you sync to the rhythm of the sun. It can be your alarm clock in the morning, your lunch bell mid-day, and your soothing, bedtime mood-setter each night. I am so incredibly grateful for my time spent learning to entertain myself. Truly, I’m set for life now. Many an otherwise painful hour of pretending to pay attention to things I’m not interested it can be spent retreating into my dynamic, boundless imagination. Alas, now I feel I’ve lost a great portion of my ability to take things for granted. I wake up in the morning and I say thank you, to my aching feet, and to the sun for coming out again. Nothing is a given. It’s nice to be aware of that. Because of that, everything is a miracle. One big mess of tiny, beautiful things!