Days 18-19: Jam sessions and beef in Pie Town

June 7-8, 340 miles hiked

We took a zero day in Pie Town, which was actually very relaxing because there’s not much to do in that town except relax at the toaster house, wander the one dirt road that the town sits on, or eat at the one open cafe. There isn’t even a store. Sometime in the afternoon, two other hikers appeared! This was very exciting for us, as we’d seen only one other hiker the entire trip so far and really missed the camaraderie of seeing other hikers (or even humans, for that matter) out on the trail. They were Mark and Monique, also from Oregon! We chatted about the trail, comparing notes and sorting our food. That afternoon we wandered over to the community center and met Nita, the owner of the toaster house. She told us about a restaurant in Datil, 20 miles down the road, that we needed to experience, mentioning their amazing beef several times. We’d also heard of this restaurant from Mark, and decided we should go. Nita let us borrow her car, and within minutes, we were there. 

Datil seemed to consist of a gas station and convenience store, which the restaurant was attached to. On a big sign outside, in place of the gas prices, the letters were arranged to read, “anyone but Hillary,” and on the other side it said “anyone but Bernie.” The walls were lined with guns, flags, and elk heads. We ordered our beef, and when our food came I ate my cheeseburger in record speed and then felt like I could eat three more. Phil worked on a huge slab of steak. Indeed, it was delicious beef. 

When we arrived back at the house, two mountain bikers had arrived. I’ve recently learned about the existence of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which goes from the Mexican border all the way up to Banff, Canada. The trail follows a similar route, so we’ve gotten used to seeing lots of mountain bikers along the way. Everyone at the house had seen my violin and convinced me to play for them, so I played fiddle tunes and some Bach. It was so nice to play for people. By this point, I had gotten very tired of carrying the violin, and was even considering sending it home in Pie Town. Playing at the toaster house gave me a new surge of inspiration, and I decided I’d carry the violin a little while longer. 

Then, Nita decided that we needed to have a jam session the following night. Arrangements were made for me and Phil to walk the trail out of town the next day, which was a thirty-mile dirt road walk, and then get picked up and taken back to the toaster house. So, the next day, we walked 28 miles down the perfectly flat, straight dirt road. The first water was 15 miles in, at the home of John and Anzie Thomas. The Thomases were an elderly couple that lived in a huge converted barn. They told us many stories, ranging from the Vietnam War to their marriage (they got married when she was 14 and he was 17). 

Radar, who was also staying at the toaster house, came to get us at 6:30. When we got back to Pie Town, the house was full of people and gigantic slabs of steak were being grilled. Various varieties of whiskey were spread out on the table. It seemed that Nita had invited the entire town, and everyone had brought their instruments. What followed was a wonderful, four-hour jam session. Everyone sang, many played guitar, and I fiddled along. After the monotony of the trail, it was just what I needed. 

One of the mountain bikers at the house that night was a musician (percussionist) doing an awesome project during his journey. He has commissioned thirty composers to write a piece for each time he crosses the Continental Divide during his bike trip, and is making a video about it. We decided to collaborate on an impromptu improv/spoken word piece before we headed back to the trail, during which he PLAYED THE TOASTERS with his mallets and Nita read haikus. Learn more about his project at http://www.sonicdivide.com. So cool! 

Pie Town was a magical place. 

nothing wrong with pie and ice cream for breakfast

toaster house crew

dirt road out of town

Days 15-17: Onward to Pie Town! 

June 4-6, 312 miles hiked

We woke early and continued our march down Bursum Road, a dirt forest service road that seemed to stretch on endlessly. It was very hard to find water – many of the wells were dry or broken – but we found a great water source that morning at Flying Y spring, and tanked up for the rest of the day. The road crossed another long, flat plain, we were passed by three pickup trucks, and one gave us cold Gatorade (thanks Forest Service boys!!!). The road climbed until we got to a high point, and from there it became trail again. We hiked along a ridge, the green mountains stretching below us. I listened to Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, which was hilarious and entertaining. We passed many cows, which all turned to stare at us. We were still in the Gila National Forest, but it was forested, dry, sometimes pastoral, and so different from the river section. Right before dark, we found an old well next to two dilapidated old cabins. There was water in there (the best water we’d seen all day, but that’s not saying much), and Phil had to get into an impressive stretching position to access it. I had decided the cabins were definitely inhabited by ghosts and was too spooked to camp there, so we walked up the road/trail and camped in a meadow. 


The trail was a forest service road the next morning, climbing again through the dry forest. All of a sudden, a herd of at least 15 elk ran by, including five calves. One of the young got separated from the rest of the herd, and they all made this high barking noise until they were reunited. It was so sweet. I didn’t know that elk made that noise!

We got to the next water source in late afternoon, a large solar tank with running water flowing out of a pipe as long as the sun was out. Running water that we don’t have to filter!! We were overjoyed. It didn’t take much to make our day. We luxuriated in the flowing water, taking “showers,” cooking food, and filling our bottles again and again. 

It was 6pm by the time we left the magical well, we still had 40 miles of dirt roads until Pie Town, and we were nearly out of food. The river section had taken longer than expected, so our food was running low and we knew we needed to get to town the next day. We crossed Highway 53 and hiked another three hours, climbing into the next set of green hills and the darkening sky. 

I woke the next morning knowing we had 29 miles and nothing but a little granola, some spoonfuls of peanut butter, and one Snickers bar left. Six miles in, we were at a lookout on top of Mangas Mountain, where we got cell service! The day stretched on, and the miles passed. Pie Town seemed like an eternity away. I took comfort in knowing that time would continue to pass, and as long as we kept walking forward, eventually we’d get there. 

We descended from the sparse, green mountains into a flat basin. I was waiting to eat my Snickers bar until a truly desperate moment, but over time it became the one thing that could keep us going. “Let’s eat it at 6,” I said. “No, how about 7,” said Phil. It seemed that we would keep walking as long as the promise of the Snickers was somewhere in our future. 

With ten miles to go, a pickup with a dog in the back passed us, the first car we’d seen all day. It slowed to a stop, and a weathered-looking man in a cowboy hat greeted us. His name was Sheridan, and he was a local rancher headed to check on his 60 cattle. He pulled two cans of Bud Light from the cooler in the back of his truck (I’m learning that having of a cooler of beer in your truck bed is not uncommon in rural New Mexico), and told us about his cows while we drank beer and pet his dog. It was a wonderful and needed morale-booster, and we left rejuvenated and ready to keep walking. 

We ate the Snickers bar with six miles to go. I listened to an old This American Life podcast episode about a boy who walked across the country, which made me cry a lot. Finally, it was 9:15 and we were one mile from town. We were headed to Nita’s Toaster House, an empty house that Nita, its owner, opened to hikers and bikers passing through. It got its name from the several toasters of various sizes and types that lined the front yard and entryway. 

We walked into the dark house – we had it to ourselves that night. We immediately raided the hiker box, looking for food of any sort. I was tired and hungry, but so relieved to be there. This had been the hardest section yet for me. The dirt roads and lack of redeeming scenery had been a bit demoralizing, but also freeing. And now, we had a day in Pie Town to look forward to: breakfast at the one open cafe, wifi, and relaxing at the toaster house. Soon we would continue north on another flat dirt road, but for now, that didn’t matter.

pretty much the extent of Pie Town

Days 12-14: Back into the Gila

June 1-3, 237 miles hiked 

We made it back to Silver City after a wonderful and very restful weekend on Bainbridge Island celebrating Ness and Emma, spending time with friends, meeting lots of new friends, and EATING. The next morning, we stood on the side of the road hoping to hitch a ride back up to Doc Campbell’s, and were finally picked up by a father and son from Texas who had just finished a backpacking trip (thanks Bruce and Matthew!). It was time to get back on the trail, and we had 125 miles until the next town of Pie Town. 

The first thirty miles or so continued along the Middle Fork of the Gila River. Soon, I was back in the Gila rhythm: find trail, hike a few minutes, cross river, bushwack through brush until we find the trail again, repeat. It was slow hiking, but it was even more beautiful than the previous section of the river. The red cliffs rose from the water dramatically, creating magical swimming holes and vistas at every turn. 

i almost stepped on this guy!



We spent the entire next day hiking through the Gila. It was such slow going that we only hiked about 15 miles, but it was so beautiful, I tried to savor the experience. I knew I’d miss all of it – the constant water, the refreshing feel of crossing the river, the scenery – when we were back to walking on hot, dirt roads in a few days. As the day continued, the cliffs became lower and lower until they changed into hills, pine trees started to appear, and the river became more shallow with each bend. We hiked until dark and camped in a meadow surrounded by frogs. 


The next day, we had only two miles until the end of the river. The river ended at Snow Lake, which was very underwhelming, especially for being the source of such a majestic river. From there, the trail followed dirt roads all the way to Pie Town. The landscape changed dramatically, and we found ourselves hiking through wide open plains towards far off mountains. We stayed on the same dirt road the rest of the day, and would spend much of the next day on it, too. It was hot, and water was scarce. We spent many hours listening to podcasts while we hiked. I felt tired all afternoon and evening, like we had been walking all day but not getting far enough – the miles were not coming easily. We camped in an open area with a big fire ring next to the forest service road, where I imagined the locals having their bonfire parties. 


CDT Days 9-11: Silver City to Doc Campbell’s Post 

May 24-26, 186 miles hiked + Gila River detour

We woke up early and got coffee and cinnamon rolls at a bakery downtown, then began the 6-mile road walk out of Silver City, which turned into a dirt road that wound into the pine forest and hills. Around mid afternoon, the trail made a sharp right onto a very rocky jeep road that seemed to climb straight up the mountain. We followed this for another few miles, the road rising and falling dramatically according to the whim of the mountain’s contour. I had been grumpy most of the morning and afternoon, for some reason, and also wasn’t feeling very good. Being in town always threw off our hiking routine, and I noticed it usually took at least a day for our bodies and minds to readjust to hiking again, and readjust to hiking food. Or maybe it was town food that we were no longer used to.  We climbed and descended, again and again, the afternoon wearing on and the miles passing slowly. Right before stopping to camp, we were at a small spring in the forest and spotted a brown bear on the hillside! It quickly shuffled up the hill away from us. 

dirt road out of Silver City

hills and cool rocks


I was excited to hike the next morning. In a few miles, we’d start our descent to the Gila River, which we’d follow for several miles to Doc Campbell’s Post, a tiny store where we’d get our next resupply box. The Gila was known for its incredible beauty and wildness, and this section was also known for being slow and difficult because there was hardly a trail and hikers had to cross the river several times during the traverse. We reached the river by mid morning, and it was every bit as beautiful as I’d read it was. We were in a deep canyon, and red cliffs rose from the water. There were bright green trees of all kinds, and perfect little beaches were everywhere. The river was calm and clear. 

We started down the river. There was almost no trail, and we had to cross the river and then bushwack through the thorny weeds and brush around the shore several times just in the first mile. It was very slow-going, yet so beautiful, we didn’t care. After three hours of this, Phil looked at his phone to see how far we’d gone. We have a CDT hiking app, made by another hiker, that has a GPS on it. 

It was then that we discovered we were going the WRONG WAY down the river. I almost didn’t believe the gps, thinking there must be some error on our phones. But no, the phones were right, and we were now three hours off the trail and in a completely different canyon than the one we were supposed to be in. When we’d started hiking down the river, we should have gone upstream instead of downstream, and neither of us had looked at our phones to see where the trail went. We’d simply gone left, since that seemed the natural “north” direction. Instead of backtracking, which is what we should have done, we decided to hike overland to the right part of the river. The river wound circuitously through several canyons, and from our maps it looked like we weren’t that far – just one canyon over! 
Those would be our famous last words. We ended up basically rock climbing out of the canyon we were in (a little scary with a pack and violin on my back), then bushwacking/climbing up the spine of the top of the canyon, often climbing through incredibly thick and thorny brush and trees. For some strange reason, there was a barbed wire fence along the spine of the mountain, so we often had to traverse the steep side of the hill. It was the first time on the trail that I felt a little scared for our safety, as we didn’t know how we’d get down the canyon on the other side. By a miracle, there happened to be a stock trail that went down into the right canyon from the mountain we were on. After a few hours of bushwacking, we started descending and found the trail using our phone’s GPS. 

It took us six hours and the rest of the day to get to the right part of the river, but we finally made it around 7pm. I was so thankful to finally see that water, and start hiking in the right direction. 

This mistake was costly for us because the next day, we were getting off the trail to fly to Seattle for our dear friends Ness and Emma’s wedding. This involved getting to Highway 15, hitch hiking to Silver City, and renting a car and driving three hours to Tucson, where we’d catch a flight to Seattle. This was complicated by the fact that we had to get to the rental car office before they closed at 5. The next morning, we hiked the remaining 12 miles along the Gila River, getting to Doc Campbell’s around two. Our entire lower halves were soaking wet from river crossings and we had run out of food. We grabbed our boxes, scarfed some ice cream, Dr. Pepper, and a Snickers down our throats, and started walking back up the highway with our thumbs out. We walked and walked, growing more stressed with each passing minute. Neither of us had realized that the 40 miles to Silver City was more than an hour’s drive down an incredibly remote, windy road. Three o’clock passed, then three-thirty, and still no one picked us up. Phil said, “if we use all of our mental energy to will a car to pick us up, it will happen.”  

Then, a car stopped. A thirty-something guy who said he’d been living out of his car for the past year hopped out and said he was going as far as Silver City.  We crammed into the already-packed shell of his pickup, facing backwards and watching the landscape unfold in reverse, like a Cliffs Notes version of what it had taken us three days to hike. We walked into the rental car office at 4:50. We had made it. 

Phil and the wrong part of the river

amazing swimming hole on the wrong part of the river

CDT Days 5-8: Lordsburg to Silver City

May 20-23, 141 miles hiked

We took a zero day (a day we don’t hike) in Lordsburg. It’s a little embarrassing that we took a day off this early in the hike, but it was nice, and needed. The day was filled with town errands (post office, grocery store, laundry, etc), as zeroes often are. The next morning, we left Lordsburg and began the 6-mile road walk out of town. Dogs barked at us from inside their fences and the day grew hotter as we veered off the road and cross country across a desert. I listened to an audiobook. After 10 miles of walking towards some mountains, we started climbing on a jeep road, and the terrain changed gradually as we got higher. The usual cacti and desert shrubbery were still there, but there were also TREES, things were much greener, and big, strange tan-colored rocks were starting to appear. We passed an old copper and gold mine. It looked like the kind of country those old Western movies were filmed in. After winding our way through the hills, we came to an old windmill with a FAUCET of running water (incredible luxury!) and decided to camp. It was a wonderland of woodland creatures, with rabbits everywhere and owls hooting. I don’t know if it was the rabbits, running water, or trees, but I felt incredibly happy to be there. 

Things got even better the next day. The jeep road changed to an actual trail, which we followed for several miles through the same tree-filled desert mountains. Around mid-afternoon, we crossed Highway 90 and encountered an extremely exciting thing: trail magic!! Trail magic (food/water/treats left for hikers by anonymous strangers called trail angels) was everywhere on the PCT, but I’d given up on it happening on the CDT. This particular occurrence featured water, soda, beer, and fresh fruit. Thank you to the self-named “Southwest Desert Genie,” who apparently is responsible for this!

The trail then climbed for what felt like the first time on the CDT, hitting 8,000 feet. We wound through a pine forest, then descended towards a junction that followed Dead Man’s Canyon all the way out of the mountains and to a dirt road that would connect to Highway 90. We still had a 17-mile road walk to Silver City. We got to the dirt road by evening and I played my usual scales and etudes while Phil prepared our lentil soup/mac ‘n cheese dinner concoction. 

The next morning, we hiked as fast as possible down the road. It felt strange to be coming to a town again so soon – this last section between Lordsburg and Silver City ended up being pretty short. As we’re finding out, the distances between each town seem to always be a little unknown. Many different routes are available and the trail is always in flux between previous years’ routes and newly built routes. Plus, the mileage on the maps and the CDT hiker app we’re using never quite lines up, so it’s hard to know exactly how far we’ve gone and how far the next town is. 

Silver City is a cute, colorful town with one main downtown street, filled with galleries, restaurants, and quirky businesses with murals on their walls. We spent the afternoon eating and doing the usual errands, and stayed at the semi-sketchy but kind of cute RV park that evening.

dirt road climbing into the trees


cow water

 

magical windmill


trail magic!

beautiful pine forest

CDT Days 3-4

May 18-19, miles 33-85

In an attempt to beat the heat, we woke early and were actually on trail by 7:15, which is way earlier than usual for us. The trail followed the dirt road a few miles more, then split off into a cross country marker-to-marker desert path again. We saw another javelina, this one closer! We passed the next water cache, listened to podcasts, and hiked across another basin before climbing into some hills, where we found a water tank with a shower of water flowing from it and cell service! This lifted our spirits. A few miles after the water tank came our first saddle (a high point where we pass between mountains), from which we could see for miles. I felt for the first time like we were actually on a trail, and like I knew what I was doing. For the past few days, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what the CDT is. It doesn’t feel like a normal trail, partially because of its cross country nature, and because there are no other hikers out here. It feels like the middle of nowhere, yet we pass cows and cross dirt roads and highways all the time. It definitely doesn’t feel like wilderness. Regardless of what this trail is, I was starting to feel better about hiking. 

We decided to camp two miles short of the next water cache, in a red dirt-filled wash in the hills that the cows frequented. I played scales and etudes, but got frustrated by how bad I sounded and stopped. It’s also getting increasingly hard to tune the violin. I’ve been going through periods of feeling really negative towards the violin, usually during times when I’m hot and tired and feeling stupid  that I’m trying to carry such a heavy, unnecessary thing. Other times it feels like a companion, like something familiar amidst a trail that’s very unfamiliar. It’s almost starting to take on its own persona. One thing I’ve realized is that carrying this violin adds a pressure to actually practice it, which is often the last thing I want to do after a 20-something mile day. 


The next day, we hiked across a wide, flat basin towards Pyramid Mountain for what seemed like forever. It was so hot. We had “iPod time,” as we’ve started calling it, and I listened to podcasts and a mix I made for my sister a few weeks ago. Sadly, in the mayhem of pre-hike prep, I failed to add music to my phone, and now all I have are random purchased songs from years ago, country singer Chris Stapleton’s album (which is actually perfect for this trail), and this mix. Thankfully, it’s a power mix, and I gleaned power from it as I hiked. 

We finally got to the Pyramid Mountain area, the last set of hills before Lordsburg. We got to walk on a dirt road, and our surroundings became green and very beautiful, with rolling hills, a breeze, and cows everywhere. I felt happy to be out there. We finally made it to the last water cache, and from there it was only 6 more miles to Lordsburg. We had planned to camp, but the call of food/shower/beer/bed was too great. We walked the final miles into town on the dirt road, listening to the power mix on Phil’s portable speaker, our anticipation growing with every step. We finally got to town at 9:15, making it a 28-mile day. Every muscle in my body ached, but I was so happy to be in Lordsburg. We got pizza and crashed in our motel room, too exhausted to do anything but sit in silence and devour the pizza. It is 60 miles to the next town of Silver City, and apparently the trail climbs up to 8,000 feet and becomes more interesting, but right now all I can think about is pizza and bed. 

flat basin forever

 

our first water filtering experience – cow tank filled with algae

dirt road into lordsburg

CDT Days 1-2

May 16-17, 33 miles hiked

We finally made it to Lordsburg around 11:30 at night and arranged a 10am departure to the Mexican border the next morning on a shuttle organized by the CDTC (trail coalition). I’d passed through Lordsburg before, on a drive from New Mexico to Eugene over Christmas, and remembered it as the most depressing, dying town I’d ever been to. It seemed different this time, though. Somehow not as depressing. Juan picked us up and we began the long, bumpy ride. Juan tells us that around 190 hikers have started the CDT this season, and we are the last. The drive takes about 3 1/2 hours and follows a string of dirt roads until, suddenly, there’s a monument right next to a barbed wire fence (the border). We said goodbye to Juan, took some pictures, did some last-minute rigging of my violin case set-up with twine we’d found in the hiker box at the motel (thank god Phil is a sailor and knows how to tie knots and stuff), and off we went. 

The first day of hiking was pretty easy. The trail was flat across the beginning of the Ocotillo desert, and although it was hot, there was a breeze. Since we got a late start, we planned to hike only 13 miles that day, to the first water cache. I was happy about this, as my pack was much heavier than I’d expected it to be with the addition of the violin. We reached the cache and Phil started making dinner. I pulled my violin out and practiced scales and Kreutzer etudes. Playing the violin still felt comfortable and normal, even out in the middle of nowhere, under a darkening desert sky with only Phil, the lizards, and the rabbits to listen. I was a little sad going to bed, missing our kitties Bruce Lee and Spiral, and our dog, Merric. The feeling of starting this huge thing, not knowing what to expect or if I would even like it, was still there, too. 

Crazy Cook Monument!

Juan, our shuttle driver

first evening on trail

 

The wind blew furiously all night and the flapping of the tent kept me awake. We woke late, the sun already hot and high in the sky, and didn’t start hiking until 9:45. The trail wound along some low, bare mountains from trail marker to trail marker, and we kept losing the trail, only to walk cross country, dodging cactuses, until we found another marker. This was very slow, and it seemed to take hours to go only a few miles. Finally, the trail tired of these mountains and we descended into another basin towards the second water cache. I am learning that so far, hiking in southern New Mexico is walking across dry, flat basins towards low mountains you can see for miles and miles, then finally getting to mountains and traversing through them, only to descend into another basin. We were constantly surrounded by cows, rabbits, horny toads, and lizards. We also saw two javelinas that day, which are like wild pigs. They are the funniest-looking animals ever, and apparently aggressive if you get too close to them. 

Both of us were in horrible moods by the time we got to the cache, wiped out from the heat and exposure. After the cache, the trail followed a dirt road for several miles into a new set of mountains. Another thing I’m learning is that I LOVE dirt roads. There is no route finding involved, and you can just walk without worrying about stumbling on a cactus or other prickly thing (all plants in the desert seem to have spines of some sort). We followed the road another 7 miles, then camped on top of a little hill, the lights of a distant ranch below us. Both Phil and I are still not sure how we feel about this hike. I’d somehow forgotten that during a thru-hike, all you do is hike all day. And hiking through the desert in the heat, our packs heavy with water, is hard. What’s more, on the PCT we were constantly meeting new friends and hiking around other people, but here, we’re completely alone. Our bodies are not used to backpacking, and everything hurts and just feels harder than it should. I tell myself that we’re still adjusting, and this will get easier and become more fun. 

spiny things

walking from trail marker to trail marker

dirt road love

The CDT: Pre-trail thoughts

Well, here we are again!

I am writing this while on a Greyhound bus headed along I-10 for Lordsburg, New Mexico, where Phil and I will catch a shuttle that will take us south to the Mexican border, a three-hour drive on dirt roads. There, tomorrow, we’ll begin our thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail, which follows the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada.

I’m actually having a hard time feeling excited about the hike right now, mostly because I am exhausted from the past few weeks of preparation and moving out of our house, and a little bit heart broken after saying goodbye to our animals, friends, and family yesterday. However, I know once we get out there, I’ll be excited.

Because of life obligations this fall, we have a shortened timeline for our hike, so we may not finish the full trail. The CDT is a route, not a single trail, and it is unfinished; thus, its length ranges anywhere from 2,500-3,100 miles. The trail traverses the Rockies by way of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. It is far less popular and more remote than the other long distance trails in the U.S., and because of life obligations on the front end, we’re starting about 3 weeks later than most hikers. So, we may not see many people out there! image

Ever since we finished the PCT in 2014, I have longed to be back on a trail. Hiking the PCT was one of the best experiences of my life, and there is nothing that parallels the freedom, simplicity, and feeling of purpose and aliveness quite like thru-hiking. For a long time I felt that the PCT had “ruined” me for normal, indoor life, and that I would never be fully happy with a traditional life. I felt this way for about a year, but then, I started to feel myself softening to the comforts of a house, bed, car, income, and growing animal family.

Phil and I have been talking about doing the CDT for the past two years, constantly going back and forth, never fully committing nor backing down, weighing pros and cons and finances and jobs and life choices and future plans and still, after every conversation, never coming to a consensus. The indecision and questioning we have felt about doing this trail has been exhausting. How would we save enough money? What life/career/future goals did thru-hiking really accomplish? Why do we want to hike from Mexico to Canada again? How could we ever leave our animals? And, the biggest question for me: how does this hike fit into the part of me that wants to be a violinist? I am no stranger to this question – I’ve grappled with this conflict throughout my life, and am not even close to answering. How can I combine my loves of outdoor adventure and music, and pursue both at the level I’d like to? Thru-hiking and classical violin don’t exactly work in tandem with each other. Plus, for the past year, I have been transitioning towards a more violin-filled life, and perhaps eventually a career as a violinist.

The draw of the trail pulled us in. We decided that if we didn’t do it now, we might never do it. Life is just getting more complicated – it was wayyyyyy harder to make this hike work this year than it was for the PCT. I realized that I most likely would never regret taking the time to do this, but I may regret not doing it.

My way of attempting to reconcile my violin conflict is to bring a violin on our hike. A HUGE thank you to my dear friend Kim for lending me a violin, despite the knowledge that it may get ruined. I’ve fashioned a sort of stripped-down styrofoam version of a case, which I’ll attach to my pack. My goal is to practice at least a little bit every day. We’ll see how it goes.

I’m still not sure what form this blog will take, but I’ll try my best to post as much as possible. If you’re interested, follow the blog this summer and join us on this adventure!

image

 

 

Mt. Shasta to OREGON: Miles 1506-1702

We took a zero day in the town of Mt. Shasta, spending the morning shopping and sorting food at Berryvale, the incredibly cute natural food store, and then wandering the streets in the afternoon and finally deciding to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that evening. The movie was so bad that it wasn’t even entertaining and never held my interest. We exited the theater, the stifling summer air enveloped us, and we found ourselves in the middle of a huge parking lot/strip mall with nowhere to sleep and nowhere to go. We wandered down a sketchy path near a large grocery store, which wound past the grocery truck unloading area and down into a field and grove of trees right along I-5. The sound of the interstate was almost deafening, but we were tired enough to sleep anywhere and probably could have passed the night just fine if we’d found a hidden place among the trees. But, for some reason, it seemed too sketchy to me. I couldn’t stop thinking about an axe murderer finding us there behind the grocery store, and envisioning the headlines: “Bodies of young hikers found along I-5.” I’m sure it would have been fine. But, after a brief argument about it, during which I tried to explain my axe murderer suspicions to Phil, we decided to walk back to the motel where we’d spent the previous night.

The next morning, we walked along an industrial-looking road in Mt. Shasta for a long time before an older man in a very beat-up car finally stopped and picked us up. He had long, white hair, and his car was littered with knick knacks of every shape and size. He said he made sage wands for a living, and as he dropped us off at the trailhead, he gave me one of the wands, saying it was his “offering” and that it would bring us good energy. I attached it to my pack and carried it as far as Etna.

We started up the trail, beginning a long ascent up past the jagged crags of Castle Crags State Park. It was noon by the time we got on trail and SO hot. Looking back, this day sticks out as one of the hottest and sweatiest. At one point, in a fit of desperation, Phil actually stripped off all his clothes and hiked naked. As the trail wound higher and higher, the day cooled and turned into a perfectly lit dusk. Mt. Shasta was omnipresent, usually behind us, but every once in a while I would turn around and feel like the mountain had shifted position somehow. Around this point in our journey I had started listening to every song on my iPod in alphabetical order, and I think I was around “G” that evening. We hiked until 10 pm, trying to get to the top of the climb, and finally found a perfect campsite. It was nestled in the sandy dirt and rocks at the top of the mountain, with a wide valley in front of us and a clear view of Mt. Shasta and the crags. Beyond the crags, we could see the orange glow of a fire.

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Castle Crags State Park from a ridge on the other side. It was so beautiful.

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Not a very flattering picture of either of us, but you can see the crags in the distance and Phil’s transition to a feral mountain creature.

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The view from our campsite the next morning.

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Mt. Shasta!

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Our wonderful YAMA Mountain Gear tent

20140801_075523The scenery was beautiful the next day. We hiked along the top of the ridge, now in the Trinity Alps Wilderness, and each turn introduced a new view and new rows of mountains in the distance. It was rugged, dry, and almost deserted. We’d been hearing about fire problems and possible trail closures north of us, and sure enough, throughout the day we were hiking closer and closer to a huge fire in the distance. That night, we passed some fellow hikers, Optimist and Lumber, who were waiting at a road crossing for a ride into Etna, the next town. Optimist told us how he’d tried to hike north earlier in the day, but the smoke was so bad that he turned back. We decided to hike on anyway – we were still 60 miles from Etna, and the trail was still open.

DSC01509We continued to see fires the next day, but it was still beautiful and they seemed far away. The trail stayed pretty high, winding along one ridge after another. It was rocky and very dry. We got a great radio signal on our iPods in this area and spent many hours hiking in silence, listening to Morning Edition on NPR and then counting down the hours until 4 pm, when we could listen to All Things Considered. When we got good radio signals, our days fell into a schedule that revolved around NPR radio shows. It was comforting to hear about the civilized world, even if the news included beheadings and conflict in the Middle East. That evening, we got to Highway 3 around 7 pm, about 40 miles outside of Etna. There was a note on a tree from some hikers who had passed through the day before, saying they’d tried to hike past the highway but turned back because of smoke, ash, and burning debris falling from the sky. We stopped for dinner and weighed our options. By this point we’d heard that the trail was closed at Highway 93, about 17 miles ahead of us. We decided to continue hiking until Hwy 93, and climbed up the trail in the dark.

The next day, a Sunday, we hiked the last 17 miles before the trail closure. It was incredibly smoky, and got worse throughout the day. The air was a grayish-yellow color, and each step seemed to bring us closer to a plume of smoke directly in front of and below us. At one point, the fire was in a valley right below us and we could see helicopters dropping water. We got through unharmed, but we were both surprised that the trail hadn’t been closed. When we got to Highway 93, the trail was closed for the last 20 miles into Etna. We were disappointed, but I’ll admit that I was also a bit relieved. We hitched a ride with a young guy going as far as Callahan, a nearby town. Callahan was basically made up of one building – a bar – so we stopped for a beer and chatted with the locals. Everyone was talking about the fires. They made it sound like all of northern California was on fire. A cowboy with spurs on his boots and a trailer full of horses offered to take us to Etna, and spent the entire drive telling us about his cow-moving adventures that day.

DSC01517 When we got to Etna, it was full of hikers and the fire rumors were flying. It seemed like everyone was hitching to Ashland. We heard a different story from everyone we talked to – many said the trail was sure to close from Etna to Ashland. One hiker called the scene the “Etna Hysteria.” We had already missed 20 miles of the trail and didn’t want to miss any more, plus, the trail was still open. So, we decided to hike on. We had 100 miles until Ashland. We hitched a ride up into the smoky hills the next morning.

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Etna Brewery, a wonderful gem in the tiny town

I was so glad that we decided to keep hiking. The next few days were so beautiful, and we saw country I had no idea even existed. We didn’t see another person for the next two days. The smoke was bad the first few hours, but then it cleared up and the mountains, blue lakes, and endless hills around us revealed themselves. Looking back, I remember this section as rugged and peaceful, colored by the blues of the hills and the yellows of the rock, flowers, and dusty trail. It looked almost prehistoric. Here are some pictures of the area between Etna and the next town of Seiad Valley:

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There was a scorpion at our campsite the night before getting to Seiad Valley. It was a little one, but he was still mean-looking. I was excited because I’d been wanting to see a scorpion the entire hike.

After a few long days, we got to the town of Seiad Valley. The last 6 miles into town we had to walk on the road, and it was blisteringly hot. We finally met the Klamath River, and I was struck by how much it looked like Oregon. We were so close! Only 40 miles. The road opened up into a wide, green valley. We ate a late lunch at the tiny cafe in town, sorted our food, and then continued on. The trail climbed 5,000 feet out of town – the switchbacks wound up through sparse forest and then the rocky, dusty side of a mountain. We reached the top and decided to camp near an abandoned fire lookout. It looked like this:

DSC01534We were determined to make it to Oregon the next day. The trail stayed high along a ridge the next morning and we got a good radio signal, so we listened to Morning Edition and then All Things Considered that afternoon. The scenery was beautiful, the trail was hilly, and it was VERY hot. I kept looking ahead at the mountains in front of us, wondering if I was looking at Oregon. We had a mac and cheese dinner (my favorite trail meal) around 6:30 pm, still with 12 miles to go until the border. I tried to stay motivated. We were frequently surrounded by cows, or at least the sound of cow bells, and huge, grassy expanses. I counted down the miles and the minutes, waited for the ascents, descents, and dirt road crossings I knew were coming and ticked them off my mental checklist. I divided the miles up in my head in every way possible, trying to come up with the best and shortest way to think about time or distance… by this point in our hike, I did these mental subdivisions all the time. A mile, five miles, 20 minutes, an hour, two hours – they had all started to take on different meanings for me than they ever had in normal life. Two hours was just four 30-minute sections – I could get through that anytime. With an hour left you were practically there. Finally, we got to our last climb of 1,500 feet. I knew the border was near the top of this climb. We hiked on through the dark, waiting for the wooden sign I had seen in pictures. In a valley next to us, we could see the orange flames of a nearby fire. Finally, around 10 pm, there it was. Oregon. We were in our home state, finally done with the 3-month, 1,702-mile beast that was California. It felt as if we had accomplished something. I was happy and sad at the same time.

We hiked another 2 miles before finding a campsite, making it a 34-mile day. Almost instantly, everything felt different in Oregon. The fresh smell of the air, the dirt, the valleys below us, the trees – it all felt familiar somehow. With 962 miles to go, we fell into a deep, satisfied sleep.

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Halftime to Shasta: Miles 1334-1506

We reached Hwy 36, where we would start our hitching journey to San Francisco, around 3:30 pm. It took only a few minutes to get our first ride, from a Lassen National Park ranger going to the nearby town of Mineral. This got us 30 miles closer to I-5, so we took it. Mineral is a tiny town of about 105 people with one store. We stood in the parking lot in front of the store, sticking our thumbs out for each passing car and trying to smile enthusiastically. After awhile, we started doing little dances every time a car passed. People were either entertained by this or just felt sorry for us (maybe both), but either way, the dancing seemed to work. A guy in a huge pickup pulled up and said he’d take us as far as Red Bluff, which was right on I-5.

He dropped us off in front of a Burger King at the last intersection in Red Bluff before I-5. We stood there for about 2 hours until it got dark; no one picked us up. Feeling frustrated but hopeful for better luck the next day, we retreated to a Motel 6 down the road. We resumed our mission the next day, standing at various spots near the interstate. The citizens of Red Bluff did not seem sympathetic to PCT hikers. You know those semi-homeless-looking people you sometimes see on I-5 holding cardboard signs? We were those people. The only car that stopped for us was the Highway Patrol, to tell us that standing on an interstate on-ramp was illegal. A car full of adolescent boys passed, and one of them yelled out his open window, “should’ve stayed in school!” We spent 9 hours trying to find a ride until finally calling a very expensive and semi-sketchy ride service found on Craigslist.

Nevertheless, we arrived in the Bay area safely that evening. It was surreal getting off BART and finding ourselves in downtown San Francisco. We went to trivia night at a popular bar that night, bringing more culture shock. I felt so out of place in the packed pub, wearing my hiking clothes amidst all the hip San Francisco 20- and 30-somethings.

The next morning, I caught a plane to Kalispell, MT and spent the next three days relaxing with my family, eating nonstop, and celebrating the life of my grandparents. It was a wonderful and much-needed break. I flew back to Oakland and met Phil and his friend Rafael,  who gave us a ride back to the trailhead the next day.

We spent the next few days hiking through the dry forests of Northern California. It was extremely hot. We passed through the tiny towns of Old Station and Burney Falls, and then 80 miles of endless, hilly  forest until we finally met I-5 again by the town of Mt. Shasta, right before walking through Castle Crags State Park. The green mountains around us were starting to look more and more like Oregon. The hiking before Mt. Shasta was beautiful at times but also somewhat boring. I spent many hours listening to Aron Ralston’s 127 Hours and every single Miranda Lambert album. Here are some pictures from this segment:

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Exited the BART station in SF and here we were. It was SO weird to be in a city all of a sudden.

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Flathead Lake in Montana

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Hat Creek Rim, a long, dry, hot section before Old Station

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Amazing cache on the Hat Creek Rim. The cache owners happened to be there and they gave us kale chips, salad, fruit, and soda.

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Probably somewhere around mile 1450. You can see Shasta in the distance.

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Phil during the long descent to Mt. Shasta

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Sitting outside Berryvale Grocery in Mt. Shasta