The Winds of Change

They say, “You can never go home again”, and I guess there’s some truth in that. I decided I had had enough of the trail, and was looking forward to going home, but it wasn’t what I expected.

Close readers will remember I mentioned that my car was involved in an accident while I was on the trail (when it was supposed to be parked in my backyard, but we won’t go there). The insurance appraiser came out last week and my car is “totaled”. That’s fun to come home to.

But my apartment! Oh my God. It was such a mess I could barely put my pack down. Mess in the front room, laundry on the hallway floor, kitchen full of dirty dishes and surfaces, fridge smelled like something died in there, ants, fleas. I paid a friend who needed money to clean my place while I was gone, but I guess that didn’t work!

But she was indeed industrious because she rearranged my furniture, moved all my stuff around, took down all my wall decorations, took my house plants, and after living here for 25 years, I can’t find anything. She was “just trying to help”, but it’s still extremely frustrating.

Also, my long term neighbor of 15 years or so and one of my best friends is moving. Looks like my friend Christine who is cat-sitting for me will move in next door, so that’s kind of cool. My neighbor leaving means I lose my wifi, but my computer has a bad virus anyway. Still posting from my phone.

And the “cleaner” wants money for her efforts. With the money I spent on my adventure combined with not working for four months, I’m pretty much broke. No new car for me. I could liquidate my savings, I suppose, but I really don’t want to do that.

So, I suppose it’s good news that I went back to work today and that my Forest (Six Rivers National Forest) is on fire. Ironically, or cosmically, a bunch of lightning came through the night I got home and now we have several fires over 10,000 acres, most of which are only 10-20 percent contained. I’ve been dispatched for a 14-day fire assignment beginning Thursday. The first of many, I’m sure. I’ll probably be eating smoke until it snows around Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, my toe is still bothering me. I’m back on antibiotics (infection in the bone?) and I’m back limping. I have a doctors appointment on Wednesday and hopefully the X-rays I got last week will inform the diagnosis. My fire boots kind of bend in the wrong spot.

So, I might be scarce after this post.

I added up my PCT mileage: 1275 miles. Not quite half. I thought I made a good showing until my infection. Everyone tells me I should be proud of my accomplishment, but it still feels like failure. The analogy I use is attempting to run a marathon and only making it 18 or 20 miles. Yeah, that’s great, but it’s not what I set out to do.

Not that I had much choice. Hell, my toe is still not right. As much as I wish I was still on the trail, I have to admit that’s not really one of my choices when I’m limping around town.

I tried. I guess that’s something. In time, I’m sure I’ll feel better about how cool my adventure was and how I pushed myself to my limits for weeks on end with glorious results.

It was certainly a  different world I entered, and I’m grateful for the experience, good and bad. Live!

This isn’t my last post. I would like to do a gear/strategy post before I go. With all my experimentation, I did learn a few things. I know gear posts are really useful to future hikers and I’d like to give back.

Might be a while if I’m on fires. You want to hear about that?

And to circle back to the theme of this blog, yes, I have had lots of dreams about the trail. It’s another world that may take the rest of my life to process.

Thanks for reading and all your comments!

Home Again, Home Again

I’m done.

Sorry everyone, I tried, but once I broke my thru-hike and skipped, I broke my hike. Not thru-hiking means I’m just backpacking, and I can do that anytime. Four months is a long time to be gone from home and if I’m not thru-hiking the PCT, I see no reason to keep torturing myself, I realized that what I really want is to go home.

Through the magic of friends and relatives in the right places, I was able to wake up at a beautiful lake in the wilderness, hike out six miles, and be home the same day. I called my cousin Bruce in Ashland and he was able to pick me up on the road to Etna, take me to Ashland to get all the stuff I had shipped there, and take me to the Medford airport where I could get a rental car to drive the four hours home. I got home around seven, about twelve hours after I broke camp.

Of course, it was achingly beautiful, tempting me not to go.


It was a kind of cool last day. Just as I was leaving camp at Paynes Lake I heard, “Glide! No way!” It was three of my friends from the desert! Lizzy and Shaggy were some of the first friends I made on the trail. We leapfrogged a lot in the desert, we ate at the Paradise Cafe, but I hadn’t seen them for months. They filled me in on where most of my other friends are, and comforted me about my leaving. They can spread the word that I didn’t die, I just went home. It was a good end.


While I waited for my cousin, my friends tried to hitch… for two hours. I was glad that when my ride showed up we had room to give them a ride to town also.

It’s strange to be home so quickly. There’s a lot to do here to get my life put back together, but that’s what I need to do now. It’s probably too much stuff to get done and go back to work on Monday, which is probably a good thing. I can use some time to digest what I just did and get back to regular life.

Totem Animals!

I can’t believe I left this part out. On Friday around lunchtime my totem animal ran across the trail and we looked at each other for a few seconds before it scampered away.

My totem animal is the Long-Tailed Weasel, so it’s not very often I get to see one. I wish I had a picture to show you, but there wasn’t time. It was extremely cute with its little chin patch and black tipped tail. I told all the chipmunks and Golden-mantled ground squirrels I saw for the rest of the day, “Yeah, you’re cute, but you’re not Weasel Cute!”

It’s got to be good sign.

Thru-Hiker Blues

I can’t believe how much skipping ahead messed with my mind. I’m not sure you all understand, but I’ve been thinking about it for the last week and I will try to explain some of the intricacies.

Hiking the PCT is an epic undertaking. It may have changed, but last I checked, more people had climbed Everest than completed the PCT. But unlike Everest, there’s lots of ways to hike the PCT. So there’s kind of a gradient of PCT-ness from a continuous unbroken series of footprints from Mexico to Canada (the most burly and respected) to hikes that involve skipping over the hard parts and making it easy on yourself. I was never a purist (footprints must connect all the way), but I wanted to be pretty close so I could honestly say I walked from Mexico to Canada.

There’s something hugely powerful about saying “I walked here from Mexico”, especially the farther up the trail you get. It also allows you to have an attitude when you see other hikers that skipped a hard section when you didn’t. Thru-hiking includes the hard parts. It also provides an instant antidote to any criticism about your position on the trail or hiking style when you can say, well I might be slow, but I walked here from Mexico, just like you, and here we both are in the same place at the same time, so… It is a huge blow not to be able to say, “I walked here from Mexico” without an asterisk.

And then there’s the record books. I was never intending to set any kind of speed record, but I was hoping to have an official time, as in “I hiked the PCT in X days”. That’s all gone now. We’ll never know what my official time would have been without my injury. I was on a respectable pace, but there’s no chance for me to have an official time now that I skipped trail.

And towards that end, hiking from Mexico to Canada is bit of a race. You know the snow is coming in Washington in the fall, and pretty much you can’t go too fast or get there too early. As soon as it’s daylight it’s time to hike, and hike as far as you can each day, every day. Push, push, push! It’s a clear, straightforward, massive effort. You feel the pressure to keep breaks brief and to a minimum. It’s not relaxing at all.

So, I guess that’s behind me now. Which is not all bad. Yeah, I lost my trail-cred. But I don’t have to push anymore. I already didn’t make it (i.e., failed), so now I’ll just hike for two more months until I have to go back to work and see how far I get. I’m close to where I would have been without the injury. Maybe in a few hundred more miles I’ll feel like “I walked here from Mexico”. I wanted to slow it down, change it up, after my huge push to Tahoe, and here it is.

Honestly, I don’t know what’s really going on behind the scenes. I got to spend three unexpected weeks with Kathy, which I think was good for both of us. I skipped what I expected would be the least interesting part of the trail. And I love where I am now. I’m grateful that the trail has been so awesome to come back to. I’m almost glad that my injury is making me go slow through this part. I’m “hiking my own hike” now. It won’t be the whole PCT like I planned, but it will still be a good six-month adventure. I should be able to hike at least 2,000 miles of it, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. If I make it to Canada, I think it will be closer to 2,200. I can be proud of that.

“How far is halfway there?

I didn’t see you on the trail.

Did almost become good enough?

Should a good life be so hard won?

Is that what our dreams have become?”

-Chris Cornell

Trinity Alps

I’m really enjoying this part of the trail. I think it’s my favorite so far. The mountains are beautiful, the trail isn’t too steep or rocky, and for several days I saw very few people.

Until yesterday. Last Sunday (the short day when I left from I5) I hiked 6 miles and saw only one other hiker until three others showed up and camped right next to me. Monday I did 15 miles and saw about 6 people. Tuesday I did another 15 and saw another 6 hikers. Wednesday I did 16 miles and saw four hikers, including CatWater, who gave me a ride to the trail back in Mammoth. Thursday I did another 16 and only saw three other people, one of whom I met back in Yosemite (Lady’s Man). That was a very good day! Yesterday I did eight miles to the highway and saw 26 hikers!! They were definitely not all PCT hikers, but still.


Since before I left, the plan has been for my friend Chris to pick me up at Hwy 93 and take me to Cecilville for a day of disc golf at this cool course there. He said there’s not much there but a bar and a disc golf course, and I said, “sounds good to me!” The only problem is he can’t get off work until Sunday and I will be there on Friday. He gave me his friend’s number in case I needed a ride and I told him to bring me a sleeping bag from home.

It’s a small world out here. My friend Steve runs an organic farm and has started a business making backpacking food (Featherweight Foods) which I really love, especially the burritos. I had him mail me ten burritos to Ashland, but wasn’t able to pay him from the trail. He’s heading out to hike the JMT soon so we figured we’d just settle up when we get back home. But he read my blog and said his friend would be in Cecilville on Friday so I was hoping to get to the bar in time to meet him so he could take money to Steve before he left.


My contact in Cecilville is a guy named Monkey (yes, that’s a trail name, AT I think). But I’ve never met the guy and I didn’t want our first contact to be “Hi, you don’t know me, but I need a ride from the trailhead”, so I thought I’d hitch into town. I got to the Hwy at two.


I thought I’d try it for two hours before I called for help. But there’s not a lot of traffic on Hwy 93. About two cars per hour. At four I called and introduced myself and Monkey said he’d pick me up but not until after he closed the bar at six. He told me to try to hitch and call him at six if I still needed a ride. Between four and six only one car passed and they were clearly full. I almost lay down in the road and took a nap on the warm pavement, which I guess I could have.


About five minutes before six I got a ride from a local couple. That’s when I found out the rumor is true, there really is only a bar and a disc golf course. No store, no laundry, no lodging. I have enough food, but I was wondering if I was going to have to stealth camp in the bushes on the outskirts of town, and what I really needed was tobacco.

But I got to the Salmon River Saloon around 6:30 and Monkey was still closing up. No sign of Steve’s friend, but I was quickly given a cold beer and a pack of smokes. And there is camping here and he will feed me. The grounds are beautiful and I am camping on the tee box for Hole 5.

See that? That’s what your bed looks like when you have no sleeping bag. You pretty much just lie down in your clothes. Brr…

I went from a state of extreme worry to something like euphoria. I can’t believe my luck and how good it is to have friends of friends who are so cool. Monkey and I hit it off right away and had a great time as I followed him around on his evening chores.

It’s Open Range here, so there is a herd of horses that come and go. I’ve never slept among a herd of semi-wild horses before. Everything was perfect until I took my shoes and socks off to go to bed. My toe had been hurting a little all day and feeling kind of thick. When I actually saw it, I was upset to see it looking swollen and kind of black and blue. Not good. I guess I’m not quite healed yet. I sure hope it looks better tomorrow. The closest doctor is probably back home in Arcata. Chris could take me there on Monday, but that’s really not a game I care to play. Hopefully, two days of rest will do the trick.

Where The Wild Things Are

Yesterday was pretty uneventful after I saw the big bear. I walked until I was very tired, about 15 miles, and made camp around 1730. I found a stealth spot near the trail that was perfect in most respects.

Except for the ants. After I was all set up and lying down, I noticed there sure was a lot of those big black ants crawling all over me and everything else. But they don’t generally bite, so I spent the evening flinging ants off me and swatting mosquitoes.

At dark I zipped my rainfly down to stay a little warmer, which stopped the mosquito problem, although the ants could still get under. That’s when the deer came out. They would come close to me and huff at each other, then get spooked and bound off. Then a little later they would come back and do it again. And again. For about two hours.

It was during this time I heard coyotes yipping not too far away.

Then around midnight, when I was finally getting some sleep, I got visited by Mr. Mouse. He was very persistent for about three hours and I would have gladly killed the fucker if I could have. I was able to successfully defend my food (there in the shelter with me), but it ate part of my hat and some of a trekking pole grip and a little of my umbrella grip. Where’s an owl when you need one?

Then it got cold and I eventually got up to hike (right at first light) so I could get warm. It’s another nice day but there is a lot of drift smoke so I can’t see much of the Trinitys.

I’m feeling much better about my hike. Once I accepted that I still have two months of suffering, I decided to buck up and get on with it. Also, talking to other hikers it seems like everyone has had some kind of hiccup in their hike. I’ll just hike my own hike and it will be what it is. I really like going slow and taking lots of breaks, not that I could do much else right now. I plan to keep enjoying myself and moving north until my time runs out.

Thanks for all the encouragement!

Gliding On

I had a bit of a scare when I woke up. My phone was completely and totally dead. I had sent the paper maps for this section up the trail to Drakesbad Guest Ranch, but I skipped that part of the trail and so I don’t have paper maps again until I get to Ashland. But I’ve been fine with Halfmile’s App on my phone. I can find the trail no problem, it’s knowing where to get water that I really need.

But I plugged it into my “brick” right away, and by the time I broke camp it was working again. Whew! And it was good too, because up the trail aways I got service on this rock and called my Dad. I told him about my indecisions and fears and had a bit of a cry. I don’t know what I’m doing out here anymore.

Then I hiked back up to the trail and moved on.

It really is too pretty to stop here. I’m absolutely walking to Ashland before I do anything hasty like quit the trail. Right?


And Lucy is absolutely right about how beautiful Washington is. I really want to see that, which is whole reason I skipped ahead in the first place. I’m not out of this game yet.

The trail has been pretty easy the last few days, for which I’m grateful. My legs are sore from the time I get up, but everything else seems fine, so I hope to be in good form pretty soon.

I can see the Trinity Alps now, which is exciting. I’m trying to see the high mountains on the other side where I work sometimes, but it’s hard to tell what I’m looking at from this side.

Coming out here with out a sleeping bag was a big mistake, we’ll leave it at that. I’m getting off in Cecilville for a few days and my friend Chris will meet me there and bring me a sleeping bag from home. Folks, don’t go backpacking above 5,000 feet without a sleeping bag.

Otherwise, pretty quiet day on the trail. Saw a big bear. Looks like we may be out of the thunderstorms for a while.

You didn’t really think I was going to quit, did you?

Mojo Rollercoaster

It wasn’t as quiet as I hoped last night. A group of three or four showed up at dark and camped on the other side of the creek, making noise long after I was trying to sleep. Anyway, they were all asleep when I left at dawn, so I never met them.

It’s been hard getting back on the trail. It’s been really hot, even at night. My toe seems better, but stills aches. My trail-legs feel like they’re gone. It’s back to sore feet and tired legs all day. And now with thunderstorms!

But the worst is that some how by skipping ahead I seem to have lost my mojo. If I can’t finish a thru-hike this year, why the hell am I out here? I’ve proved I could do it (theoretically, without injury that is). I’ve accomplished most of what I set out to do. Why torture myself any more? Why not go back to the nice foggy coast and my nice clean apartment and my sweet cat?

But it IS pretty here. Castle Crags was cool to walk by, and I like the mountains here and the views of Mt Shasta.


So, I’ve spent hours determined to quit and plotting my escape, and hours thinking of all the reasons I want to stay out on the trail.


The advice I’ve heard from past hikers is, “Don’t quit on a bad day”, and I haven’t. It will be four days until I could quit, if that’s what I decide to do. I think I just need to go slow again for a week or three until I get stronger again. Hopefully, these next few days will bring some clarity. I intend to keep walking until I’m absolutely sure what I want to do.

Back In The Traces

I was going to call this post “Back in the Saddle”, but I’m not riding a horse. I feel more like a Sled-dog that wants to pull.

Except I didn’t want to pull much today. For some reason our hotel was blessed with lots of foreigners. I made friends with some dudes from Switzerland and we drank margaritas until 2 or 3. I was hoping to be on the trail by 8, but that doesn’t happen when you stay up drinking margaritas and smoking and partying until three. I had a great time though.

I rallied around nine and we were at the trailhead by ten something. We hung out too long. I was reluctant to leave Kathy and town behind. She said I could call any time today, or tomorrow, and she’d come back and pick me up and drive me home. So sweet!

I started walking around 11:30.

And it was HOT!

Yes, my toe hurt, and all the rest of me felt whimpy after so much time off. I would say I “started slow and then tapered off”, but I was pretty slow all day.

But thats all fine. I’ve got nowhere to be. I love being back in my biome, where I know what’s going on.

I’m quitting early today, but I feel good about the six miles I did. I like being outside. It’s good to be back!


I’m camping right by the trail near the East Fork of Sulphur Creek, but I’ve only seen one other hiker today, so it should be a nice quiet night. It’s so hot, even sleeping just in my clothes is too warm, but there’s too many bugs to sleep naked.

Moving On

After three weeks of more or less bed rest, I am moving back to The Trail. My wonderful Trail Angel Kathy drove me to the outfitter in Mt. Shasta City today where I picked up some supplies and got my trekking pole tips replaced. They were super nice and efficient – I can recommend The Fifth Season for your outfitter needs. Tomorrow Kathy will drive me back to where the trail crosses I-5 and I will head north into Castle Crags and she will head back home.

I was incredibly fortunate to have such a good friend to scoop me up and house me for three weeks while I limped around and couldn’t do all that much for myself. I also got to stay in the little cabin, which gave us a little space and was a nice quiet place to rest.


Yeah, there’s pretty much only room for a bed in there. But it was a nice bed.



The last few days, once I was pain-free, I started to feel like I was on vacation, or something. My surface wound is almost completely healed. The last bad part was waiting for the vascular damage to heal. My foot would feel and look great when it was elevated, but when I put my foot on the ground my toe would swell up, turn purple, and start to hurt. That seems to have ended in the last 36 hours, so I should be good to go. I just wonder how much muscle and strength I lost sitting around for three weeks. My left calf is noticeably smaller than my right.

And I’ve had no air-conditioning for the last three weeks, so I hope I have built some tolerance to the heat. Looks like next week is going to be a hot one! If you remember all the fiddling I did with my shelter, I’m messing with it again. I sent my sleeping bag ahead to Ashland. I still have my long-johns and down jacket. I think I’ll be just fine.

So, I’m excited to get back on trail tomorrow and head into some new country. I’ve never hiked in Oregon at all and only in the Olympic Mountains in Washington. But the pictures I’ve seen look beautiful! I’ll post some of my own soon.