Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Some Bad/Good News

I've been avoiding my blog, you may have noticed. As much as I would love to be on the PCT this summer, it's going to have to be postponed for a few years. The good news is, this is because I got my dream job--teaching ESL in Portland. I am so excited to be using my degree and to be in the classroom again. It's exactly what I wanted to be doing! I am planning to hike in 2016, and will continue to blog my adventures, but they will not be on a PCT thru hike this year.

I'll post an update with some lovely photos from hiking this winter soon. My mom, sister, and her dog Bently joined me for a lovely hike in Maryland around Christmas time, and Brita and I made it up to Dry Creek Falls and a bit more on the PCT on a lovely December day as well.

I've been doing a lot of bird watching of late, and got to hang out with a majestic bald eagle near Blackberry Beach for a while one Sunday morning. Last Saturday, walking to brunch, I found a lone kinglet enjoying the sunny day as much as I was. I'm doing as much hiking as possible, and doing everything I can to play outside, but have scaled back my planning and gear purchasing for now.

This summer I will be taking a trip to Europe, and will likely be doing part of the Camino de Santiago, so look for updates about that trip!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Starvation Ridge: Switchbacks, Views & Waterfalls

To the left of the parking lot is a little picnic area with a great view of the autumn foliage and Starvation Creek Falls.

Me! One of the perks of hiking with a friend.

The Starvation Ridge Loop hike is a short one but not without challenges. The first half mile is spent doing some pretty serious switchbacks up to the overlook. My calf muscles did not appreciate me climbing almost entirely on my tiptoes and I had to stop to do some stretching. It was a good reminder that this needs to be a part of my daily routine to take care of my body while on the trail, or I'm going to run into problems.

I went hiking with a friend, which is a bit unusual for me, but I really enjoyed it. Having Jenn along made me take time to enjoy being on a mountain and in the woods, instead of concentrating on mileage or getting too absorbed in my thoughts. We stopped at the overlook point to have a snack of candy, apples, cheese and crackers. Jenn brought the candy...I'm not sure I'll ever really develop the sweet tooth some hikers have. A couple of Malted Milkballs and a piece of dark chocolate with sea salt were plenty for me. I don't know how some people live on candy some days on the trail. But who knows, I may end up devouring candy with the best of them by the time I've gotten into my hike.

Praying Mantis joined us for snacktime

The oak trees were one of my favorite things on the hike. The wind in the dry leaves sounded like grasshopper wings, and they were twisted and mossy and beautiful.

Once we were done soaking up the views we headed back down to get back on the loop trail. This descent is through a meadow reminiscent of the Alpine views from The Sound of Music. I hummed a few lines from the musical’s main theme as I hopped down the switchbacks that take you back down to the forest floor. There are several waterfalls along this trail, most of which can be seen most clearly after the descent. One of my favorites was the apply named Hole-in-the-Wall Falls. 

Another waterfall takes a little scrambling up a boulder to get a clear view, which made it even more fun, in my opinion.

We finished the day with a cold pint at Thunder Island Brewing Co. We even got a close up view of  the barge we saw earlier that day from the overlook while it passed the island the brewery is named after.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I'm REALLY Going Hiking this Time

Shrek's Swamp to Tunnel Falls via Historic Highway trail and Eagle Creek

18 miles

On Sunday, after recovering from the grand opening of Thunder Island tap room the night before, I tried to go hiking again. I got to the Eagle Creek parking lot and my phone vibrated. "Can you come out and help now for a little bit?" it says next to the new brewery co-owner, Dave Lipps' name on my phone. "Yeah, I was just starting Eagle Creek, gimme 15 min and I'll be there" I replied. At least I know he appreciated my sacrifice, as he's an avid outdoor enthusiast himself. "Oh man" he said, and reassured me I didn't have to come in to help out. The full parking lot at Eagle Creek made me a bit reluctant to start hiking, knowing I would run into all those carloads of people also taking advantage of the unseasonably beautiful October weather, so I decided to put off the hike for another day.

Tuesday I finally made it into the woods. I left a bit later than I planned. It was already 11 when I walked out the front door with my day pack with snacks, water, and my puffy coat in case it got cold.

 Walking along I had as much fun crunching through the leaves as I did when I was a little kid. In the fall I would get "hired" by my parents to rake the leaves for some extra allowance money, and spend twice the time doing it as it should have taken because it was so satisfying to make a pile and then kick it everywhere.
Some as big as my head!
I had a really hard time getting out of my head on this hike. I thought a lot about last fall in Boyer Chute (near Omaha, NE), and the whole last year in general. About people and places I missed. My birthday is this week, and it makes me realize how much I've done to find myself over the last year. Last October was an amazing month with all of my favorite folks. Over the last year I fell in love. I finished my Master's degree. I quit my good stable job in Nebraska for an unknown existence somewhere I actually wanted to reside.

I got to the parking area and cursed the school buses that made me certain I'd be fighting for space with a bunch of noisy, obnoxious children. I walked faster, hoping to make it to the trail before the line of children snaking towards the trail. After passing them by, I realized that there were groups of children gathered all along Eagle Creek, and grownups explaining different salmon behavior and things to look for. They weren't getting on the trail after all, just staying down by the half of a mile of creek bordering the parking lot. I felt a little guilty for hating the kids for a minute. "A misunderstanding," I reassured the universe, lest it smite me for my unkind thoughts.

I spent time doing lots of math. At first the math seemed great. I had reduced my living expenses so much in the last month by paying off my car, moving, and deferring my student loans for the time being that I felt awesome. Then I started worrying about whether I would really be working enough hours to make the money I needed to get gear and have enough money for the five months I'd be on the trail. Everything went from seeming amazing to seeming unattainable.

I made lists of things to do. I thought about things that irritated me. Things that hurt my feelings. I had self-centered thoughts about how no one cared it was my birthday and wanted to celebrate my awesomeness. I had conversations with people in my head about why their actions hurt me, composing snarky retorts for their defenses.

I wrote pieces of this. I revised, edited, forgot, deleted, reworked, and unraveled my telling of the hike.

On top of all of that going on, I had "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show stuck in my head, playing in the background, and coming to the forefront whenever I managed to focus on the trail instead of everything else. Only a few lines of course: "But he's headed west, from the Cumberland gap to Johnson City, Tennessee," and "I'm a-hopin for Raleigh I can see my baby tonight," along with snatches of the chorus. So I'm out in all this beauty, on a gorgeous fall day (Gorge-ous, har har har), and I can't even pay attention. I smiled and said hello to passing hikers, but I felt like a phoney. I took pictures for the blog, and felt like a phony because they were cutesy.
"C is for cookie!" (stone placed for water crossing)
 And because they were of beauty that I wasn't even really appreciating.

Punchbowl Falls

Loowit Falls

Eventually I made it to Tunnel Falls. By then, I had hit my stride, and was singing along to "Wagon Wheel" which made the fact that it was stuck in my head seem less obnoxious. The falls were stunning and powerful. As I waited for another hiker to come back through the tunnel, a breeze stirred leaves so that they floated above and below me. It was surreal. I finally got caught up in the beauty.

After I crossed through the tunnel myself (and managed a picture with a genuine smile) I met up with a girl I had been leap frogging with and hiked back with her. Lindsey and I chatted about what brought us to the PNW, and our shared experiences working in Darden restaurants. She told me about her adventures in South Carolina, we talked about waterfalls and birds. We saw Stellar jays and American dippers in the creek. they're becoming one of my favorite birds here. I love how they drop head first into the water from a rock, then pop up and do it again. She wants to hike the PCT some day too. It was good to have someone to listen to, and to talk with. The trail flew by as we compared stories and talked about hikes we'd done, ones we wanted to do. We made plans to hike together some time.

It was dusk by the time we got back to the trailhead. The salmon were still doing their salmon thing. I even got to observe two males fighting. I did some fast walking back the 2.5 miles into town even though my feet were sore, because I was looking forward to a night with a friend. I averaged 2.25 mph, including a 20 minute stop for lunch, which was slower than I was hoping, considering I was slack packing. But I walked through the tangle in my head, and ended the day feeling tired, a little sore, and much more sane. The speed will come, I'm sure.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I had been trying for a week to get out into the woods. I headed up into the mountains south of Hood River to try to find Rainy Lake Campground for a 16 mile loop hike on Thursday afternoon. It was beautiful, and I downloaded all the directions from the Portland Hikers website. I got up towards the top of the mountain, turning down just about every side road I could find, and couldn't find the campground.

I thought I just needed to be more careful about following the directions, and I needed to get more gas since I'd driven a lot farther in my aimless searching than I planned. I drove all the way back down, got gas, and drove up again, paying close attention to my mileage this time so I wouldn't miss it. The directions to find the trailhead get a bit...vague. "Head up FR 2820 for 6.8 miles, keeping to the main track; the road is rubbly and potholed in some places. Keep left at a junction and go 1.0 miles farther to a T-junction.Here, turn left and drive 3.3 miles to make a right turn onto the narrow spur leading to the parking area for the Rainy Lake Campground," the website says. I tried every variation of these instructions that could possibly match them in the four hours I spent driving those "roads" (and I use this term very loosely). Sometimes I could feel rocks hitting the undercarriage of my car. Poor Audrey II, she's a beast and a trouper. I sometimes drive her like she's a truck instead of a little fuel-efficient hatchback. Finally, it was getting near dark, and I settled on a spot to park my car with a fire pit near off a logging road. Upon further inspection, I thought maybe it wasn't such a good idea for a girl by herself to camp so close to the road, so I hiked in a ways to a clearing of sorts.

"Looks like a nice spot to set up camp" I said to the chipmunk that had climbed a tree to yell at me. Or maybe it was just a really tiny squirrel. It turns out the spot wasn't as flat as I thought, and had a giant root growing in the middle, making it nearly impossible to get my tent to stay upright. I finally gave up after ten minutes of fussing with it and decided to admit defeat. I stuffed the rain fly in my tent sack and wadded up my tent. I figured I'd take care of it when I got home, instead of messing with folding it up in the nearly setting sun. I was already pissed I had to take everything out of my pack, everything that I wasn't getting to use on my overnight backpacking trip I wasn't taking because I couldn't find the trailhead. The last thing I wanted to do was to try to shove my tent in there too.

And then, just like that, the sun was set and it was dark. "Fuck," I said to no one in particular as I realized I was in some sort of clearing, but not the clearing attached to the "trail" I followed. Ten steps north, no trail. Ten steps east, no trail. Ten steps south from the original spot, no trail. I panicked for .5 seconds, and took a deep breath. "It's just like going groundtruthing," I told myself. "Except it's in the dark."

On our first groundtruthing outing, Grady from Bark told everyone what to do if you get lost. "Know what direction you need to go to get back to a major landmark--a road or a stream. That way, if you do get lost, you can get back to a place where you can navigate from again." This seemed like a sensible plan of attack for this situation. I knew that I parked east and somewhat north of my current location. I also knew that the road was east of where I was currently located. Hopefully. Assuming my sense of direction wasn't entirely broken, since I hadn't bothered to check what direction I was going when I started walking.

I started bush-pushing through the conifers and stumbled on a mammal carcass I'm pretty sure was a deer. There was a dried pelt, a pile of bones, and whatever mushy thing was hiding underneath that I felt when I kicked it. "Maybe more east," I thought.

I'm still carrying my tent, because it's not practical to find a place to set everything down and try to repack my bag. It very conveniently wrapped itself around branches whenever possible. My hat also got grabbed by trees enough times I finally just wadded it up in the tangle of tent and hoped for the best. It was a casualty of the adventure I'm afraid. I hope my handmade, super soft Homespun yarn hat makes a nice home for some creature and doesn't kill anything. I do my best to LNT, but it's scary in the dark with the dead bodies.

After several false alarms when the full moon shining on trees and other things made me sure I could see my white Honda Fit gleaming just ahead, I made it back to the road. I was quite a bit farther south than I thought, but luckily, having driven around so much trying to find the damn trailhead, I knew where I was, even in the dark. I hiked up the road and laughed a little. At least I know I can trust myself to keep a calm head and use a compass in a situation where I lose the trail. A good skill to have in the off chance you lose track of the PCT, right?

So this was a bit of an adventure fail. But I saw some sort of grouse, and a whole flock of quail, and I didn't die. All positives really, in the grand scheme of things.
At least I got a pretty view of Mt. Hood

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Little Hiking, a Little Contemplating

Well, dear reader, some shit, as they say, has gone down. It's all for the best I'm sure, but it has been a rather trying couple of weeks.

The good news is, I am now moved in to the Swamp, and appropriately positioned to save up lots of money for my PCT trip, as well as to do plenty of training hikes. A fab bonus perk: I get to help Shrek work on all of the projects that need doing over the winter so it will be even more amazing for thru hikers next year (like ME!). I'm typing this from the tree fort. 

The tree fort in the day (to the right)
How awesome is that sentence!?! Feel free to read it again if you just glossed over it the first time.

My happy tree fort face!
I'm trying out my Sierra Design down jacket, as well as the Thermarest Z Lite and sleeping quilt combo to see how I like it. Funny thing about living in a trail angel house--there's plenty of slightly-loved gear to test out. 

I've been doing a little bit of hiking. Shrek and I headed out to Bagby Hotsprings last week, taking advantage of the good ole government shutdown. Nobody but us in the whole place! It was just a baby hike-3 miles total, but I confirmed my headlamp will work just fine for night hiking and managed to stay warm and dry despite the drizzle, so that felt good.

I did Beacon Rock today, which was a little boring, but not a bad view from the top. Only 3 miles or so as well. Maybe not even that. I tested out my Injinji toe socks, and so far I LOVE them. I will test them out further tomorrow on a long hike and see. Normally I don't like toe socks much. They never fit my little toe well and feel like they're cutting in between my toes, or they're too big in the toes and I feel like half a sock is bunched up in the front of my shoe. Not so with these! I put them on and my feet felt like thy were wrapped in a cloud. Super soft, super comfortable. Full report after a longer hike, but so far five stars, and bonus points for coming in my favorite color: purple!
The view from the top-can you spot Bonneville Dam?

First time over Bridge of the Gods
 Trying to decide what to do tomorrow through Friday morning. I'd like to camp overnight somewhere. Maybe test out my cold oatmeal for breakfast trick and see how awful it is. :) I am pretty confident I don't want to mess with a stove on the trail, but I also don't want to hate my food options. Carrot's blog has inspired me to try to eat healthy/semi-normally on the trail. I think I can do it, it'll just take some extra planning.

I haven't driven anywhere the last three days (although I admit I rode in a car to Portland for the Mazama night), and it feels AWESOME! Riding my bike and walking everywhere, just like I wanted to be doing!

Somehow Bill, in his extreme awesomeness has climbed up into the fort with me, so perhaps I should leave this for now and enjoy some snuggles and the stars. Sweet dreams of the trail gentle reader.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Kitten Snuggles

Tonight I'm watching X-Files and reading Carrot's trail journal. I'm learning all sorts of things, like that I should think harder about not eating crap on the trail. I learned about the awesome quilt company that makes super affordable quilts that I design. Lime green and orange!? Yes PLEASE!

I'm snuggled with Bill, and I'm thinking how much I'll miss him on the trail. He camped all the way here with me, strategically using me as a sleeping pad, and I'm sure he'd love the PCT adventure, but he would not want to follow the trail. It's not in his nature. I suppose that's one of the things I love about cats. We're shut in my room, door closed all the way, which I pretty much never do, because my housemate suddenly made it very uncomfortable to live here. I was really hurt and pissed off and confused when it happened, but I've realized that it's for the best. It's pushing me into a better situation, one that will allow me to save up bunches more to do the PCT.

One of the things I'm looking forward to about the PCT is that I just get to be a hiker. I'm me, walking, eating, sleeping, paying attention, telling myself jokes, talking to the flora and fauna, getting caught up in conversations with strangers. Nobody telling me what I am or am not, nobody making judgements about my life. It got exhausting trying to fit in boxes, live up to people's expectations. That was part of the reason I moved to Portland--I wanted more community, less conservative assumptions. But you can't run away from problems, not by moving across the country, not by hiking from Mexico to Canada. So you do what you can to make the world better, to be better understood, to assume positive intent.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Folks I'm Following

I've been enjoying a number of PCT blogs, and thought I'd share. Thanks to everyone who's been sharing their journey and letting those of us off the trail live vicariously through them a bit!

I met Legend on the trail, and have immensely enjoyed reading through his journal. The Trail Journals website has lots of folks, some more verbose than others.

A very thorough and picture filled blog with day by day entries. Hoping to trade some beers for some PCT talk when they get back to Portland!

Friend of the folks mentioned in above blog, just started reading this one. I'm inspired by the fact that she's published several pieces. I'm curious to read them for myself. I've been planning to do some self-publishing via iBook Author, but maybe Amazon is a good route to explore too.

I love the snarkiness of Scrub. Wishing the feedback he's been sending to Yogi would make it into the book instantly so I could benefit from it.

Newest find, with some great info about girl gear. I'm hoping to see her speak somewhere in the Portland area soon.

The PCTA has a great list that lead me to quite a few of the above mentioned folks.