Answers to your questions (Part 2 of 2)

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My scariest wildlife encounter? Rattlesnakes and probably this guy - a hungry, young bear that wouldn't leave.

Well, here’s the second round of remaining questions you all sent in. I did the same as last time – didn’t change them, sort them or rearrange them. I kept them how you sent them, copied, pasted and answered them here.

I believe this is all I received, so if you think I missed one, or if one of these Q&A entries sparks a new question, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer, whether as a direct response, or in a later post. Thanks to you all, once again for all the fun questions. I really enjoyed answering these!

Questions are in bold:

Was the lightning experience the scariest moment of your entire journey? If there was a scarier moment, where and when was it?
After it was all said and done, yes, that was the scariest moment for me personally. I wonder if I’d had gone on those last 60 miles through the snow, however, if that would’ve beaten the lightning experience. A few folks I talked to that went through said they wouldn’t do it again if they were paid… which strangely makes me wish even more that I’d gone on! For some reason, dangerous adventure draws me in… lightning, though? I guess I can always pass on that… yeah… it’s probably still scarier – if for no other reason than it’s so unpredictable!

What have you learned about yourself?
I initially learned a lot about myself regarding confidence, strength, determination, stubbornness and all of the basics on my first thru-hike of the American Discovery Trail in 2006, and I think having that experience helped me on this trip, but I still went in with a humble mind, not knowing what to expect since the PCT is so different than the ADT. I was definitely experiencing all kinds of new things, like desert hiking as one example, but once I got into it, I felt right at home. I was able to challenge myself and actively use that confidence, strength and determination on a daily basis. One new thing I tried to focus a little more on during this trip was patience, and tried not to hurry myself through everything, and I feel as though I succeeded at that. I also wanted to be sure to always find the good in everything, everybody, and every day, mostly so I wouldn’t take any of this experience for granted. I felt blessed every day, and thanked God often for bringing me to wherever I was at that moment. I am really happy with how this part of my trip went – even on days I wasn’t feeling like hiking, felt a little crabby, or something was bothering me, I noticed it right away and tried to divert my mind. I’d focus on the small flowers, take more photos, say some prayers, or stop to listen to my surroundings more often through my stuggle. I learned that there is always something beautiful around me, no matter what the situation or mood might be. And most of all… I was reminded that I still LOVE long-distance hiking… in fact, maybe even more!

What’s important to you in life?
Well, I could start listing all the amazing people in my life, but I think that list would be never-ending. So I guess people are the number one most important thing in my life – I have such an amazing, supportive and loving network of family and friends! Other than that pretty obvious answer, is to LIVE. To keep DOING. Life really can go by pretty fast, so I hope to always have some sort of adventure lined up… and if not lined up in my timeline of life, then at least in my mind. Dreaming about what could be next is the first step into that dream actually coming to fruition. You can’t start anything without thinking or dreaming it up first! So it’ll always be important for me to keep my dreaming bug alive. I’ve recently discovered that relying less on money is important to me. I don’t see myself as someone who will work towards living off the grid or anything, so I’ll always work doing something to make money to keep me alive and moving, but I hope to one day find a better balance in that aspect. It’s a deep question! And a good one… and I could probably go on, but I’ll stop there before I get too freaky. ;)

If you think back to the person you were before the trail, how has the trail changed you?
I don’t know if I know the answer to this yet. I don’t feel too much different, and I wonder if that is yet to come as I continue this “transition” from the trail world to the “other world.” I was, however, reminded of a few things. One of the biggest things I learned from my first thru-hike and was reminded of during this one, is how little I need to be survive and be happy doing it. It really is a freeing feeling to have everything you need to survive loaded up on your back.

Is yogi’s PCT handbook as useful as everyone says?
I really enjoyed reading Yogi’s handbook before the hike. Quite a lot of it was already familiar to me, but I did learn some new things. I would recommend the guidebooks – but when it comes to using the town guide, just remember that many of the reviews of businesses are based on opinion. We found a few times that we had a better experience than expected, based on what yogi’s guide said. A specific example was the outfitter in Shasta City. That place was amazing, and from what I remember, the guide said differently. With that being said, I think it’s great to take along, read through to get familiar with towns, what they have to offer and where things are, but always keep an open mind.

How common are kilts on the PCT?
I saw a few kilts on the PCT, but only a few. I for one, say YES to kilts. I wore a skirt and LOVED it. I met a guy who’s pants ripped out at the crotch, so he went to a thrift store to replace them and walked out with a women’s polka-dot skirt. It wasn’t really too girly, but you could tell it was a skirt. He didn’t care one bit because it was so comfortable, and I thought that was pretty awesome. If you like the kilt, then go for it! Take note, however, that a girl wearing a skirt, or a guy wearing a kilt (or vice versa), there may be chafing involved. I had some inner thigh chafing when I started with a skirt, but I must have worked up a tolerance to it, because it pretty much stopped – the only time I had trouble after a couple of weeks was if it was super hot, humid and I was sweating a TON. Just carry a small bottle of Gold Bond or some sort of anti-chafe lotion that you like. Desitin works pretty well – that’s one of the things I read in Yogi’s guide. :)

Did you carry your rain gear the entire hike or mail it to yourself in Oregon?
I carried my rain gear the entire hike. I know not everyone does this, but I always felt better having it on me. I just like to always be prepared for the worst weather, and rain can happen anywhere – even in the desert. I did just have a Frog Toggs jacket for the first part of the hike, and it worked okay. I switched to my heavier Patagonia rain jacket later in Oregon and was really glad I did. It kept me much drier, was way more durable, and it kept me WARMer. I had my rain pants the entire time because I wear a skirt. I didn’t have any pants with me, so I used them if I got cold, if there were mosquitoes, and through some of the poodle dog bush. Oh, and when it rained. :) I was SUPER happy with my rain pants. I had the Mountain Hardwear Conduit pants with the zipper up to the hip. A lot of the time I’d have them zipped down to the knee for ventilation (when it was warmer out). One important thing I learned while training for the PCT that was rain gear doesn’t keep you completely dry… and I was quickly reminded of that once I experienced my first rain. It keeps you driER, but not DRY. Rain just gets in eventually, especially when it’s an all-day rain, or several days, like we experienced in Oregon. In the end, I was always happy having rain gear and a pack cover when it did rain. Sorry, that one was long-winded! Rain and cold are my nemesis, so I’ve put a lot of mental energy into dealing with it the best I can!

Do you recommend swapping out sleeping bags at the Oregon border to synthetic from down?
That’s a great question. I stuck with my same down sleeping bag the entire trip, and it worked just fine… but there were a couple of stretches in Oregon and Washington when it rained a lot and I kind of wished I’d had a synthetic bag. If you set up your tent in the rain, sleep in the rain, take it down in the rain and set it up again the next night, the tent is going to be wet — it’s wet when you roll it up or stuff it to carry it, so it’s just wet inside and out. A few days of this, and your sleeping bag slowly gets damper and damper just from contact. I never got to a point where it was soaking wet, but I was nervous I might end up in that situation. That’s when I was wishing I had a synthetic. If you can afford to have two bags, I don’t think it would be a bad idea. I think most people just stuck with what they had, though. Which ever bag you carry, no matter what, just be sure you have a waterproof stuff sack to carry it in… and I even put that inside a trash bag for when it was really raining. In my opinion, you can’t be too careful with your sleeping bag. Keep that sucker as dry as you can… as well as a set of clothes and socks to sleep in. I always figured as long as I had dry and warm things to sleep in, I would be just fine, no matter how cold and wet I was when I got to camp (and it was pretty scary-cold a few times!).

Did you carry a backup headlamp like yogi suggests?
My backup light was just a tiny push-light on a carabiner with a whistle and a tiny swiss army knife (the one with the scissor, which I used most, a small knife, file, tweezers an toothpick). I never needed the extra light, though. I carried a spare set of batteries, so if my headlamp started to die, I could always get it going again. I suppose it’s a good idea in case you lose it or it breaks for some reason, but as long as you have some sort of spare light, that would probably be good. There are apps you can even download on your phone to use your camera flash as a light if you were desperate and didn’t want to carry an extra light.

How did you do the pictures on your camera?
I ditched my actual Olympus camera in the first week of the hike. I got so used to taking photos with my phone, and I was so happy with them, I found that I wasn’t touching the camera. I carried a Samsung Galaxy S3 phone, and I really liked it. My favorite feature is that you can take the back off and take the battery out. That means I could carry 3 extra, fully-charged batteries with me and replace them when one died. They’re rechargeable, so when I got to town, I’d charge them all up (I kept an extra wall charger in my bounce box… the pickle jar). Always keep the phone in airplane mode when you’re hiking to conserve battery (with a Droid, you can use Halfmile’s app while IN airplane mode, too – which is not the same with the iPhone). Once you take your phone out of airplane mode and it starts searching for signal, the battery in any phone starts to go… fast.

Did you buy extra memory cards and mail them to yourself?
Since I didn’t use a camera, I didn’t have to deal with memory cards, which was really nice. I downloaded an app called “QuickPic,” which I’m sure there’s tons like it, but I was able to create a new folder for each day, and at the end of the day, I’d move all my photos to that folder – when I got home, all my photos were organized already. Huge time-saver! I learned to do this after my last thru-hike – those photos are still quite a jumbled mess (and I used a regular digital camera then… so this is another great feature to using your phone as a camera!). If my phone’s memory started to get full, I’d have to download some of the photos to a computer. If you don’t have access to a computer, you can check into something like Google Drive that lets you store files – but you’ll need a really good wifi connection and some time to kill to do that.

What camera did you choose?
When I did carry a camera, I used the Olympus Tough because it’s waterproof. If I were to buy a camera and carry it again, I’d do something similar. Waterproof is the way to go. That is the ONLY thing I didn’t like about my phone. The iPhone has a waterproof case you can buy to fit over it, but as far as I know, the Samsung Galaxy S3 does not. I had a water-resistant Ballistic case, and it worked well in sprinkles, but in a hard rain, I just kept it turned off and tucked away somewhere safe. I dropped it in a river once and ALMOST lost it for good… a few prayers later and a couple of hours, and it started back up… but it was a pretty scary moment.

Did you carry your ID and debit card with you the whole way?
Yes. I always had a small wallet with my ID, my debit card and some light cash. It’s always good to carry some cash, too… in case you stumble upon a small pub, convenience store, or if you want to offer something to someone giving you a ride when they pick you up from a hitch. I also liked having some cash to drop in buckets for trail angels if they had one. This can be kind of a controversial topic, and I don’t want to go there… I just enjoyed helping them continue their angeling if I could afford to.

Did you carry gaiters and a beanie through California?
I carried my beanie hat the entire hike. It’s the first thing I put on if I get a chill at night. I learned before my first hike ever that most of your body heat escapes through the top of your head. I think it’s a good idea to always carry a beanie or some sort of hat… even a buff. As for gaiters, I wore Dirty Girl Gaiters the whole way – every single day, and they were one of my most favorite pieces of gear. I have always kicked up small stones, pine needles and other little stuff when I walk, and it always goes right into my shoe from the back. Those gaiters stopped that from happening. They can also extend the life of your socks. I would still get dirty feet, but that’s because I wore trail runners, and the dirt and dust would still always seep through the mesh. It’s good practice to take the shoes off and dry off your feet on breaks, so I would just brush off as much dirt as I could before putting my socks and shoes back on. Once we hit the crazy snow storm in Washington, I wished I had tall, knee-high gaiters. If you are going to be breaking through fresh snow at any time on the trip, I would recommend higher gaiters, and probably waterproof boots at that point.

Shoes – trail runners, brands, sizing… how much did your feel really grow/swell?
I have a hard time answering this one, because I just don’t know. Before the hike, I wore a size 8-1/2 running shoe, comfortably. I bought a size 9-1/2 trail runner (Brooks Cascadias) for the hike. I wore those just fine during 300 miles of training and 500 miles on the PCT, and when I got my second pair (I happened to be at an REI), I tried on a size 10, and it didn’t feel much different, so I got them. I was glad I did. A few small blisters (that didn’t hurt much) that I was getting on the tips of my toes went away. So in all, I went up a full size and a half from my standard “at-home” size. It feels a little weird at first, but you get used to it. I’d say definitely do some training hikes in them just to get used to it. I think my feet swelled as I hiked, but now that I’m home, I think I’m back to normal – and the only reason I’m comfortable saying that is because I still fit into my Vibram Five Finger shoes. If my feet were much larger, I don’t think I could’ve squeezed my toes into the toe pockets on those shoes… and to add to that, I’m still comfortable wearing my size 10 Cascadias when I hike. So maybe my running shoe size is just a size and a half smaller than my hiking shoe size. I’m really not sure, but that’s what seems to work for me. It takes a while to get the shoe thing down, but trust me, once you do… it’s a big deal. I think the shoe/sock combo thing is the toughest thing to figure out, and mostly because every one is so very different!

What items would you leave behind if you were to do it again, if any?
If I were to do it again, I’d probably actually switch out a few things, just to save some weight. Otherwise I was pretty happy with everything I had with me and actually took very little out of my pack along the way. I had a huge piece of paracord I carried so I could hang my food bag, but (to my great surprise) became comfortable using my food as something to prop my feet up on at night… sleeping with my food! I never in my life thought I’d be doing that… I sent home a larger knife, finding that my tiny Swiss Army knife worked for everything I needed it for (it’s the one with just a tiny knife, scissors, file, tweezers and toothpick). I carried an extra spoon for a while but never used it, and since I never lost my long Jetboil spoon, I eventually took the spare out of my food kit. The rest of the stuff I’d leave behind is clothing. I only needed one pair of underwear and an extra sport bra (just in case I wanted to swim), one extra pair of socks and a dry set of sleeping clothes. I started with carrying a fleece and my Nanopuff jacket and ditched the fleece until northern Oregon when it started getting damp and chilly – then I carried both. I could wear the fleece hiking and the jacket was stashed in a gallon-size ziplock so I always knew I’d have a dry jacket for camp. Oh, I also ditched my fun foldable coffee cup and just used the cup that comes with my Jetboil. I would consider trying something other than a water bladder, which is another surprise to me. I love having the hose to drink from as I hike, but I had so many problems with the darn thing leaking (just annoying drip-leaking, not like it was pouring out of my pack), that I finally would try training without one.

If you did it again, what would you do differently?
Gear — I would save up and change out a few heavier items. I’d stay with a framed backpack, because I like having the support when it’s got a lot of weight in it – carrying lots of water in the desert, and lots of food through long stretches in the Sierras. I would consider getting something a little lighter-weight, though, even though I love my backpack. I’d get a new sleeping bag that weighs less. I’d stay with my double-wall tent. I like that the single-wall tents are so light, but I can’t stand how wet they get inside from condensation. Not being able to move around in the morning without getting dripped on drives me bonkers.

Food — I’d take some time to make a few of my own dehydrated meals (or bat my eyelashes at my mom really sweet and see if she’d make some of her awesome meals for me). They were a real treat on-trail when I had them instead of Knorr sides.

Hiking — I’d probably try to take more solo camping nights. I didn’t really face my fear of camping alone at night as much as I wish I had. Also, I’d take a few more of the alternate routes if I did it again. I love how my friend Cuddles hiked. He’d already thru-hiked the trail, so when there was an alternate bypassing a section of trail he’d already seen, he’d take the alternate. I wanted to take as much of the PCT on my first run as I could, with the exception of the Crater Lake Rim Trail (which I think is the official hiking route of the PCT, anyway), and the Eagle Creek Trail. Future PCT hikers — DO NOT MISS the Eagle Creek Trail if you’ve never been along there. Tunnel Falls is along the route and it was one of the coolest things I’ve experienced!

What were your favorite stops and resupply locations?
A few that stand out for me:
Idyllwild – it’s just a really neat little town full of friendly people, and there’s an energy about it because it’s one of the first big, famous hiker-town stops.

Kennedy Meadows North – I had a lot of fun here and enjoyed the saloon. It’s a packing station, so it was just a unique environment. The convenience store had a self-serve soft-serve ice cream machine, too. Bonus!

Burney – I didn’t actually plan to stop here, but Adam picked me up off the trail, and instead of pushing out a 35-mile day, I went into town with him, resupplied for the next section a few miles early, ate an amazing salad, visited with hikers in the store, and slept in a bed. I don’t know what it was, exactly, but Adam and I just really had a nice time in this town… maybe because it was spontaneous, I don’t know.

Mt. Shasta – Another town I just had a really fun time in. I’m not sure what it was in particular – it was probably (of course) spending time with Adam, as always, there were a lot of hikers hanging around, and the Black Bear Diner had amazing milkshakes. Oh, and the outfitter there was awesome, despite what Yogi’s guide said… Definitely give them a visit if you need anything! Pole tips, backpack, gear repairs… they were really helpful with a few hikers that needed things.

Trout Lake – I don’t know what to say about this town except that I am still in awe at their kindness. Tears and I weren’t planning on stopping here, but we got caught in the crazy rain storm and took a spontaneous hitch from one of the roads because a truck of elk hunters just happened to be driving by. We got into town and there was a wedding that had all the lodging booked… but the owner of the general store was on the phone with locals seeing if they’d pick hikers up from the trail and take them into their homes… which they did! It was like the town came together to help us all out! It was an amazing display of pure generosity!! We stayed with a local resident (Gerry, bless his ginormous heart!) who, first thing, brewed us a cup of coffee, let us take a hot shower, wash our clothes, and even borrow his truck to go into town!! Oh, and a school in town took in about 40 hikers the night we were there, too… everyone was hitching into Trout Lake to dry out – it was a pretty good soaker (record-breaking, even) of a storm!!

Stehekin – The fact that you can only get here by trail, plane or boat is cool in itself. If you can get reservations, I would try the Ranch (different than the lodge), even though I didn’t stay there. The few hiker friends that did stay there wouldn’t even explain the amazing food to us… they just smiled, shook their head and said, “I won’t do that to you.” It sounds like it was pretty amazing… and all you can eat! AND. The bakery. I don’t know if it’s because you’re coming off the trail, or what, but that bakery is unlike any bakery I’ve been to. I expected good donuts, but wow. Pies, pizza, bread, sticky buns, hot coffee, cinnamon roles, scones… it was all incredibly amazing!

I know before you started the PCT you were already able to do 20 mile days, but how did your body fare those first few days/weeks on the trail logging that type of mileage?
I did a couple of 20-mile days in training, and Tears and I did one trip with back-to-back 20’s, but we didn’t do consistent 20’s until probably a month or so into the trip. We would do one here and one there, but we probably averaged 15’s or 16’s for the first part as our bodies got used to the ‘hiking every single day’ thing. I think starting a little slow and working your way up to 20’s worked really well for us. I was really happy with how my body handled the mileage – I didn’t have any trouble with injury, and I think that maybe had to do with not pushing as much as we could every single day from the start… maybe, I don’t know. It’s hard to say since everyone is so different, especially when dealing with the hot desert conditions in the beginning.

At what point did that type of mileage start to feel comfortable and routine?
That’s a great question! I think it was about a quarter of the way through, maybe? Somewhere in the Sierras? It’s hard to say. I think it may have happened sooner, but we took quite a few zero days (zero hiking miles in one day) and longer neros (almost zero miles in one day) in the beginning of the trip, so it was pretty broken up with lots of rest… which I think helped us adjust and get used to the thru-hiker lifestyle. Once we got used to everything and worked out most of the kinks, I do remember it feeling really good to just get going and hike every day… and get into that groove.

Did you ever get lost?
I don’t know that we were ever lost. There were a few spots in the Sierras where it was a little harder to navigate the trail through some of the rocks – we had to take our time, look for cairns, trail up ahead and make our way through. Sometimes we weren’t exactly on the trail, but we knew we were heading in the general direction we were supposed to. There was one time we took a spur trail just before Fuller Ridge. It was rainy and cold, and neither of us wanted to take out our maps or phones so we could keep moving to stay warm. We took the spur trail confidently, until we started descending more and more… and we stopped and said, “aren’t we supposed to be climbing to Fuller Ridge?” We then pulled up Halfmile’s app on Tears’ phone and it told us we were 1.4 miles from the trail. OOPS! We turned around and hiked up, up and up until we were reunited with the PCT. That was the biggest “wrong turn” we made that I can remember. The rest were so small that didn’t really take much time to get back on trail, but it did happen now and again. Overall, the PCT is very easy to follow.

How easy/hard is it to accidentally stray from the trail?
I guess I kind of answered this one in the previous question, but I’ll expand a little. The PCT is a well-traveled trail, so it’s pretty darn easy to follow. We joke about looking for Cascadia shoe prints in the dirt because it’s the most popular shoe on the trail, but it actually works. You eventually learn to look for the Cascadia print, as well as your friend’s shoe prints. There were quite a few times where we’d come out onto a road or something, not sure where the trail goes back into the woods on the other side, so we’d look down in the dirt on the road and see where all the shoe prints were headed. Nine times out of ten, you can follow those tracks and they’ll bring you right to the trail. The PCT is also lined on either side with trekking pole marks. I only remember a few small spots where it was especially rocky that we maybe lost the trail for 30 or 40 yards until we were able to stumble upon it again, but we were always able to find our way back pretty easily… and this is coming from me, who’s not a navigational pro. I can roughly read a topo map, I’m good with a compass, and I didn’t carry a GPS. I only carried Halfmile’s paper maps and phone app.

Your planning process seemed extremely organized. Any favorite resources/programs that really helped you out with that?
Wow, what a compliment! :) I don’t remember feeling extremely organized, that’s for sure!! I’m going to plug the Yogi guide/Halfmile combo again here. It was the jump start I needed to feel confident going in. BUT… training hikes in addition to that are what really got me feeling ready to go. The rest of the stuff kind of falls into place and you learn as you go. It’s a fun part of the journey. Also, it depends on how much you want to know before you go – you can read a billion blogs and watch YouTube videos, movies, PCT Class Of videos, and read books – and you’ll know every major landmark and mountain along the way. I would suggest trying to find a balance there, so you leave some of it as a surprise. I was excited that I was able to point out Forester Pass the minute I came up over the hill and could see the teeny-tiny notch waaaay off in the distance, but I wouldn’t want that to happen every day, at least not on my first thru-hike. But those resources I just mentioned… they were what kept my motivation high while planning and saving for this experience-of-a-lifetime. I worked full-time in an office, and would take advantage of videos and blogs on my breaks and lunch hour. I obsessed over it, and the anticipation and stomach aches I would feel from excitement was a SUPER awesome part of this whole thing. Ahh, how I miss that anticipation! If you are in that stage right now, reading this… I am JEALOUS! I know you want to get out there, and you’re excited – stay that way – and EMBRACE this, because it’s an awesome part!!

I’m curious about your choice of footwear (Cascadias). How did they hold up on sketchy/slick terrain, river crossings, muck, etc.?
I loved the Cascadias. I used to always wear Merrell Moab Mid boots, and I’m really happy I made the switch to trail runners. I didn’t notice that they were any slippier on sketchy terrain compared to the boots, even when the soles were worn down. On rougher terrain, like the lava beds as an example, I think you probably feel more through the bottom of the shoe compared to a boot, but it wasn’t enough for me to ever wish I’d had my boots. I also wore green Superfeet insoles, so I think that helped with those times when the terrain was a little tougher, as well as lengthened the life of the shoe. As for river crossings, if I could rock-hop or walk along a log, I would. I always tried to keep my feet dry, but there were a few times it was easier and felt safer to just walk across. I stopped taking my shoes and socks off to cross. It takes some getting used to, but if you just walk across in your shoes, you have better balance and it doesn’t hurt your feet like crossing barefoot does. I crossed a few earlier streams in my bare feet and it always hurt. I found it much better to just get them soaking wet – the water would run out of them the first five minutes, then they’d start to dry out. After a couple of miles, if my feet were feeling cold, I’d stop and change my socks. But I usually was able to just keep going until my next break when I’d switch my socks anyway. As for muck, we didn’t have a whole lot of it, but when we did, I just walked through it, trying to keep as much out as possible. Wearing the trail runners allows a lot of dust to get in, but wasn’t too big of a problem. I was pretty proud of my filthy feet! On every break, I suggest taking the shoes and socks off and just wiping the dust off your feet, shaking out your socks (rinsing them if there’s water available to do so), and changing socks. Pin your used pair to your pack with a safety pin to let them dry as you hike, and on every break, switch socks. They get dirtier and dirtier as you go, but at least you’re always wearing the cleanest/driest pair you have. And it’s good practice to let your feet air out. I think that saved me in the desert, especially. And dangit, it just feels awesome to air them puppies out – and really, it only takes about one minute to take the shoes on and off. Sorry, I’m taking tangents on this one. OH!! Don’t forget Dirty Girl Gaiters! They keep small debris out of your shoes. You’ll still get really dirty feet, but the small pebbles, pine needles and debris will stay out, and the gaiters help lengthen the life of your socks. My Dirty Girls were one of my favorite pieces of gear, and I wore them every single day of the hike.

What was your scariest wildlife encounter?
I didn’t have very many scary wildlife encounters, so I would have to say the rattlesnakes. I think that was mostly because I was so unfamiliar with them. I’d never hiked anywhere that had big rattlesnakes like we saw. It was always a little freaky to hear them rattle, but once I knew where they were I always wanted to get in closer to observe them and take photos of them… but not too close, of course! I saw about five bears, but most of them just wanted to get as far away from me as possible as quickly as they could. The only one I got a photo of, which I suppose I would consider a scary encounter, was a yearling bear in the desert. I was with a group of people (thank goodness!), and it turns out this bear was a regular pest. Many other hikers also had problems with it. He was hanging around one of the few water sources in the desert, so while some of us filled our bottles, a couple of other hikers tried to ward off the bear off by yelling at it and swinging their poles around. He wouldn’t let up and kept circling us closely. At one point the bear even pawed at one of the hiker’s backpacks lying in the trail, picked up pocket knife in his mouth that was used to cut salami, and pulled my drying socks out of the tree (and spit them out!! Haha!). He also climbed a tree right where we were and stood on a branch hanging over the trail (and us)… as he was up in the tree, he pooped, missing one of the other hikers (Halfway) by about one second. Okay, that wasn’t that scary for me… more funny than anything… but I’m sure it was scary for Halfway!

Are there any trail towns you loved so much you plan to revisit?
I definitely plan to go back to Stehekin. My next hike will probably be Stehekin to the border or the other way around. I’ve got those 60 miles I still want to hike. I’d also love to go back to Trout Lake, Washington and visit with Gerry and some of the amazing town people we met there. Seriously… great town. I’ll be back to Bend, Portland and Seattle, I’m sure, since we now have some good friends from those areas. I would like to revisit Idyllwild, too. I would love to hike the section between Paradise Valley Cafe and Devil’s Slide again. I really enjoyed that section of trail.

What was the most physically demanding section of the trail?
Each section had a different challenge, and it was almost in a way that made each one equally physically demanding, just in very different ways. Just when you think it’s going to be easy for some reason, a new challenge would pop up. This is one of the things I loved about the trail, though. It was never easy. The challenges of things like this keep me feelin’ alive, so I love it. The desert was physically demanding because of the heat and lack of water, so it felt like we were constantly conserving water while feeling dehydrated and sweating buckets… and hiking in soft sand was hard on the feet and legs, too. The Sierras were tough because there was some pretty rocky terrain, hard surfaces, and steep climbs that challenged the lungs. Elevation is an issue in the Sierras for a lot of people, too. I’m one of the lucky ones people hate because elevation never really bothered me much (although I did feel it on Whitney! Everything just seems to move slower). Northern California brought more heat, but added in some humidity, so clothing didn’t dry out as easily, so quite a few of us were battling new blisters and chafing again. Oregon had long days (by choice) that were demanding on the body, as well as some wet days that wore us out to the core. Washington continued with that, too. It’s physically demanding to hike in wet and cold because it’s so difficult to stop and take any breaks, and everything starts to hurt when you don’t take any breaks and just keep moving. It also chews up your feet a little bit, since you can’t really keep them dry when it rains for a few days in a row and the trail turns to streams. Washington also brought on some good climbs again. Oh, don’t be fooled like I was – people say Northern California and Oregon are “flat” and you can do a lot of miles. You can do more miles, but it’s not “flat” anywhere on the PCT except for the aqueduct hike through the Mojave – and that has other challenges to make up for the “flatness.” So anyway, it’s all tough, but WORTH every single bit of it.

If a person decides to thru-hike solo without knowing anyone when they started, is it relatively easy to meet up/hike/camp with other PCT-ers along the way if loneliness sets in?
Absolutely. You will meet other hikers, and you will have a chance to hike and/or camp with others. I can almost guarantee that. There are some hikers that met day one and leapfrogged each other the entire way, even finishing together. If and when you find someone or a group that you just work well with, you’ll always have people to catch up to, wait for, camp with… and you’ll probably end up having a couple of people or groups that you get close with like this. One the flip side, you can still hike pretty alone if you ever want to, as well.

Now that you’re off the trail, what’s the luxury you’re most excited about indulging in?
Being geographically close to those I love and missed while on the hike and being able to enjoy their company. A few others are sleeping in a bed, sleeping in, and having constant access to water, outlets and wifi.

What is the number one piece of advice you would give to anyone who tells you they’re planning to thru-hike the PCT?
Keep a good record of your journey in whatever way is easiest for you to keep up on. Whether it’s through photos, an online blog, a paper journal – just something for you to look back on and read or look through. Also, find beauty in everything and enjoy every minute you can out there, because it will go by fast. And remember that even if you don’t feel 100% ready at the start, you’re not alone. If you’re there with your backpack on ready to hike, the rest will fall into place. You learn a lot as you go, and that’s part of the journey, too, so don’t stress too much over the small details.

Weight loss and fitness – I’ve always imagined this journey would turn anyone buff and fit – did it for you? Were you already in shape and never lost weight?
I started out in pretty good shape, but could still have stood to lose 15-20 pounds, which I did. It didn’t come off right away, though. It took a few weeks before I noticed my skirt was getting loose on me. I eventually had to switch out my skirt because it was too big, and it was starting to bunch up under my hip belt and cause problems with chafing. I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to weigh myself, so I’m not sure how much weight I was losing and gaining as I went along, but I do know I felt great. I don’t know that I felt “buff,” but… I felt… “hiking efficient,” I guess.

Would someone who has 5 or so pounds to lose be thrilled by the quick shedding of pounds?
With just 5 pounds to lose, I imagine you’d lose that pretty quickly – and probably more, eventually. It seems like most people were noticeably thinner after the Sierras. Some hikers we hadn’t seen for a while were hard to recognize, even, depending on how much they had to lose… and how big their beards got. :) Men definitely seemed to lose more weight overall than the women. Either way, losing a few pounds is a little perk, or bonus to a thru-hike. A couple words of caution on this subject, though — first, be sure to eat! You will not feel good at all if you’re “dieting” while trying to hike 20 miles each day. Be sure to get the calories you need, and that number will probably be higher than you think! Don’t worry about losing weight, because it’ll just happen. If you are feeling sluggish, take in more calories and water – I can almost bet you’d feel a quick change for the better. After a while, you can tell pretty easily when your body is asking for fuel. It’s actually a really cool part of the hike when you become so in tune with your body that you know right away. Second, be careful with what you’re eating when the hike is done if you don’t want to gain too much back, which is really easy to do. I don’t have any idea how metabolism works post-hike, but I’m working my buns off right now just to maintain my weight. Again, everyone is different with this sort of thing, but in my history, I gain pretty easily, so I know that I need to be careful or it’ll pack back on pretty quick. It’s just something to keep in mind, and totally depends on how your body works.

What socks caused the least blisters?
I’m probably a bad one to ask because I don’t have a ton of problems with blisters. I wear Injinji socks (the ones with the toes) and love them. That’s all I wore, too… just one pair of Performance-style Injinji socks at a time.

What socks lasted the longest?
Even though I loved my Injinji socks, I wore through them pretty quickly. This is another very personal thing. I know people that wore one pair of Injinji socks for half the hike before having a single hole. I’d start seeing holes in a couple of weeks. So it must have something to do with how you walk. A lot of hikers used Darn Tough socks because if you get a hole in them (which a few people did, eventually – they do last a long time!), you can exchange them. Darn Tough has a lifetime warranty. Some outfitters along the trail will just swap them out for you, but you have to ask. Otherwise, I know some hikers just bought new pairs and planned to send them into Darn Tough after the hike for the exchange. I hope one day that Darn Tough will make a good toe-sock for hiking!

If you go with Injinji, I would recommend against the blue NuWool version, as those got holey really fast for some reason for me. The original-weight, regular Injinjis lasted a little longer than those, and the Performance wear ones (I think they’re for running), were great. They were a little thicker, which I liked, and they lasted longer, too. I’ll go over this in my gear review, too, when I get that up.

What shoes did you like the best?
I wore Brooks Cascadia the entire way. Loved them. A lot. I would recommend them to at least try on some training hikes if you want to try a trail runner. I used green Superfeet insoles in them, too. It helped with cushion, and I appreciated the little bit of extra support they provided for my feet. I’d like to note that I was a barefoot runner before the hike, too. I thought about wearing my Vibram Five Finger shoes for about a day. After some research I learned that pretty much everyone’s feet swell to some degree due to heat and just regular pounding, and with the Five Fingers, blisters are pretty much a certainty since your toes are crammed in their individual pockets, fitting like a glove, so you can imagine with even the slightest swelling how uncomfortable that could be! A few people wore regular barefoot shoes and those worked okay for them.

Which [shoes and socks] dried out the fastest?
As for socks, the thinner the material, the quicker they’ll dry. My injinji socks did dry faster than Darn Tough socks, but I think that’s simply because they’re thinner. Some hikers wore a thin polyester dress sock, and if that works for you, great. They’re cheap, light, and they probably would dry the quickest. The only time I had trouble with my socks drying was once I hit northern Oregon and north of there. I started carrying a third pair of socks at that point.

As for shoes, light trail runners are going to dry out the fastest. Waterproof, leather, or thicker boots are going to take a while. And here’s the thing I learned from wearing my waterproof boots during a really rainy training hike – water gets onto your legs, runs down your legs, and into your boots. Once the water is inside your waterproof boots, it’s not going anywhere. Either way, if it’s pouring rain, your feet will be wet. They just will be. I found it better to be in trail runners, so that if there was a half day of sunshine or something, they had a chance to dry out. Earlier in the hike, when I’d just walk through a river with my shoes on, it would sometimes take a whole day for them to be completely dry, but they felt dry an hour or two after crossing. I recommend trying it. It’s not nearly as bad as you think it would be.

What is the best advice to avoid blisters?
Again, I never really had too much trouble with blisters, but my number one piece of advice would be to take your shoes off often and let them air out. Switch out to your driest pair of socks each time, wipe the dust off, and if you’re getting persistent blisters, try some new things without waiting too long. Try bigger shoes. This is oftentimes the issue. If that doesn’t do it, try some different types of socks. It can be a pain to figure out your perfect, personal combination for your feet, and even when you do, you might still get a blister here or there, or a few crazy-thick calluses, but everything seems a little easier once the footwear thing is figured out.

I’m guessing blisters were the biggest concern at the beginning and tenacity at the end, right?
I suppose, in a general way, that’s pretty true. Blisters do seem to be the biggest complaint overall at the beginning, but they can pop up here and there through the whole hike. Once we got into Northern California where it was a little more humid, some of those same issues with chafing and blisters came up again. But yes, mostly in the beginning. Towards the end there are all kinds of emotions going on, and I think everyone was all over the place – wanting to be done hiking, but not wanting it to ever end. Tenacity is probably a good term for it, though.

You are very up-beat, but what did others do to keep themselves going when their mind said stop?
I  think everyone just finds what they need to keep going. I can’t really speak for anyone else. I stayed pretty positive throughout, but on the days I wasn’t feeling well, or something wasn’t going as planned, I tried to refocus my thoughts on something that made me happy about where I was. Sometimes is was as simple as feeling so glad I was wherever I was at that moment, the flowers, the sky, or whatever else I could find. There was always something else I could focus on and be thankful for. Also, a lot of times the draw of food helps! “Just one more day and I’ll be in town, sitting at a table eating a bacon cheeseburger.” Sometimes that’s all you need! :) The “one stretch at a time” thing works, too. Thru-hiking is really just a whole series of short backpacking trips back-to-back. If you think about it that way it can help keep ya’ going when the going gets tough.

What food did you tire of most?
I didn’t get tired of much, just oatmeal, which really surprised me. I’m slowly starting to eat it again now, almost a month later. Oh, I got pretty tired of Gatorade powder, too. I just remembered that one.

What food did you like the best on the trail?
Breakfast: Hostess pies (I miss them so much…)
Lunch: Tortillas, salami slices, jalepeno cheese sticks and Miracle Whip (the mayo made it the best!)
Snacks: Nutrolls, Starburst jelly beans, Orchard bars, and candy bars.
Dinner: Mashed potatoes mixed with meat, cheese and crushed-up potato chips, normally. I had a couple of special meals that were homemade, sent from home.
Drink: (Besides crisp, cold, fresh spring water) A grape-flavored Nuun tablet and a packet of instant Crush drink (they have grape, strawberry and orange – all are awesome). You HAVE to try this. It’s the closest you can get to a trail soda. The Nuun tablets fizz and give you the carbonation sensation… it’s delicious!

What was your favorite treat off trail?
Cottage cheese, salads with Ranch dressing, wingies and Coke.

Did you keep the down or switch (bag & jacket) to synthetic in WA?
The jacket I carried was a Patagonia Nanopuff, which is synthetic. I carried that the whole trip. My sleeping bag is down, and I also carried that the whole time and it worked out for me. There was a point when it was so rainy and wet for a few days in a row that my sleeping bag slowly got more and more damp each night I used it. I kind of wished I’d had a synthetic bag then, but my down bag still kept me warm between town stops when I had the chance to dry it out.

What was your favorite piece of equipment?
I liked most of my equipment. I really liked my backpack. I had to get a new one mid-hike because the zippers split (I got it in 2006, so it was time). I ended up getting the same exact pack because I liked it so much. It was a Granite Gear Nimbus Latitude, which they don’t make any more. I loved the convenient panel-load design so you can access anything inside from the bottom or top of the pack. I also loved my Dirty Girl Gaiters – they kept little debris out of my shoes, and they have so many fun patterns that they’re hard not to love. Oh!!! I loved hiking in a skirt. I’m not a skirt wearer normally – never really was – but hiking? I love hiking in a skirt. It’s cooler, easier to go to the bathroom, easier to keep hidden while going to the bathroom, it’s easy to change at camp or after a swim… there are so many reasons.

Are you going to put your pictures and dialogue into a printed form?
I would really like to. I also wrote a daily journal from my American Discovery Trail thru-hike in 2006 when I hiked that with my mom (www.trailjournals.com/adtforaamds) and planned to put that into a book-form, but haven’t gotten around to it yet… so hopefully I can get that together, and I’ve been encouraged to do the same with my current one. So… maybe? I’d love to…


Tonight I love these lyrics by Imagine Dragons:

I’ve had the highest mountains, I’ve had the deepest rivers, you can have it all but life keeps moving. I take it in but don’t look down, ’cause I’m on top of the world ‘ey, I’m on top of the world, ‘ey. Waiting on this for a while now, Paying my dues to the dirt. I’ve been waiting to smile, ‘ey, Been holding it in for a while, ‘ey. Take you with me if I can, been dreaming of this as a child. I’m on top of the world.

Answers to your questions (Part 1 of 2)

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What was one of the biggest highlights from my hike? Summiting Mt. Whitney. My first 14er!

Finally! I’m posting some of the answers to the questions you sent in to me! Thank you all for the great questions, and the patience for this post!

I didn’t sort through the questions, combine them, or split them up in any way. I wanted to keep your questions as they were sent in to me, so I just copied them into a word document and answered them. So if you had more than one question, you’ll probably see them in a clump. I know there are some that are probably quite similar, but I just went through and answered them all anyway. Hopefully I was at least fairly consistent with those – I went through these at different times, so there might be slight differences in my answers depending on my mood at the time. It’ll be an adventure reading, them, I suppose – just like anything on here! I hope you enjoy!

So, without further ado… here they are, questions in bold:

Can you speak on insurance and what you and Adam did for that while you were away from work? Did you get travel insurance or just emergency?
Because of my health history with Aplastic Anemia, it was difficult for me to get health insurance. We ended up going with a travel insurance that covered us for emergency room, search and rescue and major things. We also had a Health Savings Account that we could use for smaller things – clinic visits or dental, for example. Thankfully we didn’t need either while on the hike.

What’s the plan for you and Adam now? With the exception of having family in Wisconsin it seems to me you both aren’t bound to any place in particular anymore. You two can start over anywhere you want. Any ideas?
You are right! We aren’t bound to anyplace in particular, and we love that! We are pretty happy feeling mobile, and our future plans should hopefully keep us that way for a while. We are going to stay with family and visit friends through December, then I’ll be taking classes at Fox Valley Tech in Appleton for truck driving between January and April. From there, Adam and I hope to team truck drive until we have our student loan and all other debt paid off. From there, who knows! We’ve tossed around a lot of ideas from another hike, to volunteering overseas, to running a hostel. We have no idea, but that’s the fun of it!

In your blog, you were always in a positive mindset. Were you always in that mindset or just presenting it that way?
I always tried to be in a positive mindset, on the hike and in my journal. It’s amazing what strength you can gain from that exercise. It was actually an important goal for me from the start to stay positive as much as possible throughout the journey, because I really wanted to be sure I wasn’t overlooking any of the experience I had laid out before me, and I think getting wrapped up in any sort of negativity can take so easily take over. It really wasn’t that hard to stay positive, anyway… since I was doing what I loved all day, every day! So I wrote from the heart all the time. This was a public blog, but it’s also my journal, so when I look back on what I wrote a few years down the road, I want to be able to recall the day and how I felt. The way I wrote certain things will do just that. On the days when something was bringing me down, I always tried to find the many things around me that made me happy and tried to focus on that instead. I was usually able to distract myself enough from whatever might have been bothering me to be able to focus back on all the blessings that were right in front of me.

What was the toughest part physically?
Honestly, the whole trip is tough physically, but that’s part of the draw for me and probably anyone who embarks on such an adventure. As my kickboxing instructor always said (and applies to the PCT as well), “If this was easy, then everyone would be here!” But if I were to pick one thing in particular, I would say the toughest part physically would be when my pack was at its heaviest. Like the first day out of town, heading into a 5 or more day stretch. The extra backpack weight made everything a little tougher.

What was the toughest part mentally?
The way it ended. It burned me out mentally from all the coordinating and decision making, then being turned around, then regrouping and making late-afternoon decisions about alternate ideas, then trying again and getting turned around again… we were being challenged physically at the same time, so when all the back and forth decision-making was thrown in, I hit a point where I totally burned out. I remember sitting in my hotel room (the night before we tried the road-walk – before we got turned back due to the government shutdown), and just breaking and crying because I was just so tired – both mentally and physically. I wanted nothing more than to get my feet back on the PCT and hike to the finish, but I knew we just couldn’t. The alternate route taking the road and the East Bank Trail was the best ‘for sure’ option, but that was also a pretty aggressive plan. I wanted a day off in between, but timelines just weren’t lining up, and the plan we came up with was the best option at the time. This is why I don’t regret any decisions I made, but I do wish I’d have allowed myself some more time once I decided I was done to let it all sink in… I may have gone back and tried again. We were already moving on, and I needed to keep going in that direction to save myself from more mental turmoil. It was absolutely one of the toughest few days, mentally, that I’ve had to deal with on this trip.

What was your favorite part?
So many things were my favorite, so it’s hard to pick just one. Having a new experience and seeing something new every day was a big one. Meeting so many amazing people was another one. Sharing this whole experience with my favorite person in the whole world (Adam) was another. Hiking every single day, getting that exercise, and being able to eat whatever I want in whatever quantities that I wanted was another one – but I just realized recently, after being home – what I really loved was not having to obsess or constantly think about what I was eating. I have a history of being overweight, and tend to gain weight pretty easily, so I’ve always had to watch what I eat so closely. Just being free of that for 6 months was the best EVER.

What part was your least favorite?
Town chores. I always wished I could’ve been doing something else, like eating, sleeping or just hanging out. And by the time I got done with hiker chores, I was usually antsy to get back on the trail.

Do you think you’ll have a tough time integrating back into society and living a ‘real’ life?
I’m currently in the process of this, and yes, it’s pretty hard. Going from exercising all day, every day to sitting around has been tough. For some reason it’s hard for me to get off the couch and go for a walk! I’m still working on figuring that one out! Watching what I’m eating has been… well, kind of annoying, and making plans so we can do things and see everyone (which are things I really WANT to do, and LOVE to do) is a little overwhelming.

Are you already looking at another trip or was this your last ‘big’ hike?
I don’t think it’s my last ‘big’ hike, but I don’t have another trip lined up yet. I’ve got plenty of ideas, though!

Do you have any ambitions for doing more adventurous stuff like mountaineering?
Yes, I always will. I wish I could do everything! Climbing Mt. Everest is on my bucket list, for example. I’m pretty sure I won’t have the time to become a great mountaineer and be able to afford a climb of Mt. Everest – mostly because there are so many different things I’d like to do, so even if given the opportunity, it would be tough for me to focus so much of my life on one particular thing. But the dream will always be there… so really, who knows!?

With the snow interference, do you think you will feel you have “completed” the PCT or are you left hanging out there?
Hanging out there. I thought at the time I felt completely satisfied. I’m comfortable with how it ended, as I feel as though I made the right choices when I made them, but after a couple of weeks passed, those last 60 miles kind of bothered me. It wasn’t even all that much about making the continuous line any more (maybe just a little)… it was mostly that those last 60 miles looked so amazingly beautiful and adventurous! I felt like I was missing out on a really important section of the Pacific Crest Trail. I hope my next big vacation will be backpacking that particular stretch of trail. And maybe one more visit to Stehekin and that bakery!

When is your next long distance hike?
I wish I could say tomorrow! But I really don’t know yet. Once Adam and I get into our truck driving, we’ll hopefully do that for at least a few years, and I imagine we’ll always be talking about the next big adventure.

Where is your next long distance hike?
I’ve got so many to choose from that I really don’t know! If I had to pick one, I’d probably go with the Continental Divide Trail. I’d also like to maybe rehike the PCT. I really did love that trail, and I’d like to give it another go. It would be interesting to see what I would do differently knowing what I know now about the towns, the trail, and the community.

What are your recommendations for the best parts for section hiking?
It depends on what you’re looking for. If it’s for incredible scenery, a big one is the John Muir Trail – it joins a lot of the PCT through some of the most spectacular parts of the High Sierras. The area north of Paradise Valley Cafe near Idylwild and St. Jacinto was another really great place in California. In Oregon, I would say anywhere in the Three Sisters Wilderness. In Washington, Goat Rocks Wilderness and Glacier Peak Wilderness. These were my favorite parts.

What did this thrill-of-a-lifetime cost?
The way we did it – a lot! But for a normal thru-hike for one person, a really general way to figure the cost is $2/mile. The PCT is over 2,500 miles, so $5,000 is a good general idea of what it might cost. Our expenses were more than twice that much, since we weren’t just dealing with my typical expenses and crazy hiker appetite, but the cost of gas and lodging for both of us, fuel and fun for Aloha, too. We went into this with the mindset that it is our crazy adventure and we may never get the opportunity to do something this huge again (although I hope we do!), so we didn’t hold back too much. It was expensive, but so much fun!

Do you happen to have a breakdown between your expenses and Aloha’s?
Adam (Aloha) took care of the budget while we were out, and kept a really good record of everything, including keeping receipts. We haven’t had time to sort through it all yet, and I’m not sure we’d be able to break it down to who spent what, but we hope to come up with a general idea of what percentage of our budget went for gas, for food, for lodging, etc.

Did you ever get sore?
Yes, being sore was normal. Most of the soreness I experienced was typical aches and pains from walking so many miles day after day. Sore feet, shoulders and legs became part of the experience, and honestly, without them, it wouldn’t be the same. I called it the comfort of discomfort. It’s strange, but I learned to love that part of it.

Where you always sore?
I don’t think I was always sore to the point where I could justify complaining about it, or pointing it out, but I guess so. There was always something. I was lucky and didn’t have to deal much with injury, so my soreness was always the typical stuff you’d expect.

How did day 4 compare with day 44 regarding physical pain?
I think the daily physical pains (the normal stuff) kind of stayed the same. You usually start out kind of slower to work yourself into hiking so many miles every day, then pick it up as you can. I think trying to keep that pain level comfortable and consistent is important to avoiding injury. Blisters, on the other hand… they tend to get better as you figure out footwear, socks and how to best treat them. I’ve never been one to blister too badly, and I know I’m very fortunate for that (thanks for the tough feet, dad!). I did get a few in the beginning, and they always hurt, but knowing that pain is temporary helps.

They say long distance hiking is more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge. what are your thoughts on that?
It’s definitely both, but I think the reason it becomes more of a mental challenge is the distance of the trail. After a month of hiking every single day when the newness of the experience starts to fade, I think it can start to feel monotonous. My guess is that most hikers that quit mid-trail are mentally burned out, more so than physically. It can be easy to fall into a mundane routine – wake up, eat oatmeal, walk, walk, walk, walk, eat Ramen, sleep, wake up and repeat. Of course, there’s ways to change it up, and we all do on different levels. Everybody deals with it differently, but I think we start to miss family and friends, frequent showers, brewed coffee, sleeping in… whatever it might be, and once you start thinking of those comforts and people you miss from back home, getting up and hiking every day can be mentally tough. I guess I’m saying that there are a lot of mental factors that go into something like this, and each person deals with them in different ways, but in the end, it comes down to perseverance.

Please compare and contrast your expectations to your actual experiences.
I could probably write on this topic for hours, so I’ll try to trim it down to a few things.
Scenery — it blew me away. I hoped that would happen, and it did.
Pain — I went in expecting it to hurt really bad every single day… mostly so that when I actually got out there I’d think “well, this isn’t as bad as I mentally prepared myself for.” In the end, it actually didn’t hurt as bad as I thought it would, but again… I was expecting the worst. I tend to work that way with lots of things – I’ll think worse-case scenario, then when it turns out better, I’m all like, “Waaahhh-hooooooooo! This is AWESOME!” If it does end up worse-case scenario, I’ll hopefully be somewhat prepared for it. The cold and wet of Washington was a perfect example of that. It was still really hard, but at least I was sort of mentally prepared to deal with it.
The people — I expected to meet a lot of great people. I did. What exceeded that expectation is the “great.” These people were way better than just “great.” We turned into a really unique family. I tear up just writing that because I miss them all so much. I can’t really explain this relationship that gets built amongst the thru-hiking community – you need to experience it. We’re all dealing with the same struggles and triumphs, and we’re able to share them with each other and totally understand. It’s just something very unique to a thru-hike, and this alone is worth everything it took to take this adventure.

What equipment did you think was really needed or required, but after getting into the reality of the hike you either discarded or changed?
I was going to use my NeoAir blow up mattress, but decided against it in the desert because I was afraid I’d pop it on one of the many pokey desert plants. I sent it home and used my Z-lite the whole time. I was comfortable on it and didn’t feel like I was missing much not having the NeoAir. Although, toward the end of the hike when the ground was wet and cold (and my Z-lite was starting to wear out a little bit), I wished I had a second 3-panel section for under my butt.

The other thing was clothing. Obviously, I kept what I was wearing, but I stopped carrying stuff I just simply didn’t use. I was only using what I was wearing, for the most part. I stopped carrying my extra pair of underwear, a third pair of socks, an extra shirt, and a fleece. So besides what I was wearing, I only carried a set of sleep clothes (silk weight long underwear, lightweight long-sleeve shirt and socks), a spare sport bra, one spare pair of socks, and my Nanopuff synthetic jacket.

Anything else was pretty small. The only small things I remember getting rid of is a folding knife (I already had a tiny Swiss Army knife that did everything I needed a knife for), my extra headlamp (I already had a spare mini push-light), and my emergency fire-starter kit (I figured 2 small lighters were enough).

I plan to do a gear review in a later blog entry, or spread out over a few entries, so if I think of anything else, it’ll probably come up then. I was overall pretty happy with everything I carried.

What’s the most overrated and underrated equipment even at the minute level if applicable?
Overrated? For me, it’s the blow-up mattress. They are super-comfy, but I just found blowing them up at night and deflating them in the morning was a pain in the buns. I was comfy enough and slept just fine on just the Z-lite. I guess another one for me is my camera. Even though I loved my camera, I ended up taking all my photos with my phone (Samsung Galaxy S3), and it worked great.

Underrated? Safety pins. Duct tape. Tiger Balm. Water treatment. Pee rag. Hiking skirt.

What was your biggest surprise of the hike that was unexpected (besides the government shutting down)?
The snow in Washington. I thought we were playing it safe by planning our finish the first week in October. Also, the relationships with other hikers, and the kindness of strangers (trail angels) that helped along the way.

What were some of the little things from a process standpoint or equipment standpoint that made your hike easier or more manageable?
Certainly not a little thing, but rather, a really big deal… but has to be mentioned for a question like this – Adam (Aloha). I felt like the luckiest girl on the whole trail. Not only did I get to see my husband regularly, but he did my laundry for me, picked me up so I didn’t have to hitch, drove me to the store, scoped out towns and found the best lodging, and had restaurant recommendations all lined up when he picked me up. He even sometimes had a hot cup of coffee and a cookie waiting for me in the car.
I really like the design of my backpack. It’s a panel-loading design, so you can zip it wide open from the top or the bottom, making it easy to get at stuff during the day. I didn’t have to unload my entire pack to get at my food or other miscellaneous item.
Halfmile’s phone app was a huge one. If I ever thought I might be off-trail, I just opened the app, and it let me know how far I was off the trail, or if I was on it. It also helped me always know where I was and how far away from points that were marked on my paper maps. Along the same lines as Halfmile’s app, is the PCTHYOH app, which also had the water report on it. The water report in Southern California is priceless.

Equipment Reviews?
These are coming. :)

Did you dream about hiking when you slept?
I don’t remember dreaming about hiking, but I did have some pretty insane dreams. In one, I turned someone into butter. I know… WEIRD.

How weird is it to be off trail?
It’s really weird. It’s a total adjustment for the mind, body and soul. I miss it like crazy. I was so used to getting up every day, hiking all day, going to sleep and getting up and doing it again. Being off trail, one of the first things I looked forward to was sleeping in. Well, since I’ve been off trail, I’ve gotten A LOT of sleep. Too much, in fact. It’s been a struggle to get my buns off the couch – I just wish the PCT was outside the front door so I could get out and hike it again, even if just for a day.

What was your favorite trail meal?
I enjoyed almost everything I ate on trail. I really enjoyed having Hostess pies for breakfast, mostly because I can’t eat them normally because they have so much fat and so many calories… which is perfect for a thru-hiker! I really like mashed potatoes, and I didn’t eat them too often, so I never got sick of them. I usually mixed cheese, a meat and potato chips into my dinners to give them some kick. I had refried beans a few times towards the end of the hike and wished I’d done that more. Also, Starburst jelly beans. Okay, you asked for my favorite trail MEAL, and I got a little sidetracked. That happens with a subject on food! I’ll give a shout out to two trail chefs here – Randall for his pizza Ramen he sent, and my mom for her spaghetti. Those were two of my favorites.

What was your least favorite trail meal?
Turns out that my least favorite was oatmeal. I’m still sad that I got sick of oatmeal. I ate oatmeal for breakfast almost every single day before the hike – for years – and never got sick of it. I don’t know why, but I just had trouble stomaching it towards the end of the hike. I’m just starting to get back into eating it again. Slowly.

Did you filter from springs, or drink directly from them?
There were only a couple of springs I drank directly from without treating the water. This was only when I could see right where the water was trickling out of rock. I would even treat sometimes when I figured it would be safe not to… I didn’t want to take any chances. I’m happy to say, I did not get sick from water, and it’s not like it’s not out there – there were quite a few hikers that ended up with Giardia at some point along the trail. Most, however, admitted that they weren’t treating the water at all.

What did you eat?
On trail: Hostess pies, candy bars (Peanut butter Snickers, Twix, Almond Joy, Nutrolls, to name a few favorites), tortillas with meat slices, cheese and mayo, potato chips, coffee, rice dinners, mashed potatoes, noodle dinners, jelly beans, granola bars, nuts, drink mixes, Gatorade, oatmeal, and a bunch more I’m probably forgetting.

In town: Salads, burgers, pizza, cottage cheese, fresh fruit, beer, Coke, bakery, and wingies.

What did you love?
Everything. Even the struggles. It was all part of one whole spectacular package. I especially loved the community (I know, I keep saying it, but it’s really that incredible), the scenery was usually pretty hyped up and almost always blew me away more than I thought it would, and the challenge. Drinking from natural sources, climbing mountains, abundant sunshine, cool breezes, starry nights, marmots, pikas, deer and other critters, flowers, mushrooms, and so much more. Everything. All of it.

What did you hate?
The hike having to end. I don’t usually use the word ‘hate,’ and even the end of the hike is kind of hard for me to place into that category, since ‘ending’ meant I got to see family and friends that I missed so much while I was gone… so it wasn’t all bad, but that’s probably the closest I got to ‘hating’ something on the trail.

What were your best sources of information regarding trail conditions, news on other hikers, town info, etc – both in planning stages and on-trail?
For planning, I started with obsessing about all things PCT. I’d google search it, look at photos, watch YouTube videos, and read blogs. Once the 2012 season started, I started following a handful of blogs, and that was helpful. I’d take notes as I read them when I saw something that I wanted to remember. I ordered Yogi’s guide and read through that and was able to pick up some tidbits of helpful info. During the hike, I used Halfmile’s maps, which I printed all of before leaving and had them organized into sections recommended in Yogi’s handbook. I also used Halfmile’s app, which was great for always knowing what mile I was at on the PCT, and it tells you if you’re off the trail. If I was ever unsure whether I was on the trail or not, I’d just pop up the app and it would tell me. A lot of people used Guthook’s app, too. I thought that was more helpful in Oregon and Washington, but to be fair, we didn’t open it much south of there because Halfmile worked fine. The PCTHYOH app was great for the water report, fire report and detour information. You just have to be sure to cache them in town when you have a good data/wifi connection. Facebook was a great way to see what was going on along the trail and the status of other hikers. Our PCT class of 2103 page was always a place to check out regarding anything trail-related, and also a great place to ask questions. And I love that it’s going to be a place to go back to when I’m feeling lonely for my PCT family. :)

What would you do differently next time?
I would spend some money for a lighter gear setup. I am happy with what I brought with me this time, but I learned how true it is, that if you have less weight on your back, you can go just as far, but more comfortably. Seems like common sense… and it is. I would probably at least change out a few heavier items and just try to slim my base weight down by 5 pounds or so.

I’d also probably do things a little differently with preparing, with knowing what I know now. I gathered a lot of food to send, but the way we did our maildrops didn’t require as much food as I thought. There was quite a lot to be found in hiker boxes, and I found that I wanted to explore some of the new snacks and food we found along the way.

What was your approximate budget?
Our budget is tricky to explain because of the vehicle support. It’s a rough guesstimate, but overall, I think my budget alone for the hike ran somewhere around $6,000. To add in an idea of the vehicle support cost, for example, the cost of fuel came in around $3,000. We also had to cover vehicle maintenance (tires and oil changes, for example), lodging and meals for Adam, and he also included a portion of our savings for trail magic. He always had Gatorade and goodies in the Pickle Jar as many 2013 hikers know! :) There were many other pieces to the budget, and it depends on how you look at it. You could include the cost of gear before and/or during the hike, food prep, and bills that needed to be covered while gone. Whenever I’m asked about budget, I usually tell people what I’ve read is the average for a thru-hike, which comes to around $2/mile. So if the PCT is 2,660 miles, that would come to $5,320. That would be a place to start if you’re thinking about planning a trip like this, then add in or subtract for what you’d like to do for comforts and fun (hotel stays, town meals, souvenirs, etc.).

Why “Disco Pickle?” Why not “Disco Radish,” or “Disco Kumquat?”
The name “Disco Pickle” was born one night while Adam, Rachel and I were having a few drinks before the trip started. We wanted to come up with something that was easy to remember so we could direct people to our facebook page quickly and easily. “Robin and Rachel thru-hike the PCT with Adam as vehicle support” was just too long. So we brainstormed. Lots of ideas came up, but it eventually morphed to “Disco Pickle” and stuck. The “Disco” comes more from Adam because he sometimes does this crazy disco dance that’s really fun, and the “pickle” comes from backpacking shenanigans. Rachel once snuck one of those giant pre-packaged pickles into my backpack on a weekend group trip, and I didn’t notice it until later that night at camp. I carried that darn thing all day long – we opened it and ate it, quickly learning that they’re pretty gross. Also, one time after a long training hike, Rachel bought a giant pickle from a specialty store (a homemade one), and it was so amazingly delicious after a long, sweaty hike, that it became one of our favorite post-trail snacks. Mostly, it’s just a silly name that seemed to stick… so we went with it.

For a group of 5 friends, what sections would you recommend hiking next summer that has good access to water, visually rewarding, and would be good for a one-week trip? (South of Lake Tahoe near Carson’s Pass).
Since this is a pretty specific question, I would have to do a bunch of research to figure out the best 7-day trip, but right off the top of my head, I would say to include Desolation Wilderness. It’s not a super-long section of trail, but it is really pretty, has tons of lakes, and it’s right around South Lake Tahoe. You could start at Echo Lake Chalet and hike north, or near Truckee and hike south. If you’ve got the time, it could even be fun to plan a trail zero day out there, and stay an extra day at one of the lakes you love – swim, read, do some short day-exploring around the area… I think Gilmore Lake had a side trail to a peak… you would have to double-check that, though.

Would we need to obtain permits for 7 days on the PCT?
I think in order to obtain a PCT permit, you have to plan on covering at least 500 miles of the trail, but check the PCTA website to make sure. I do know, however, that you will need a permit for Desolation Wilderness, which I think you can get from a local ranger station – there’s probably one in or near South Lake Tahoe.

Where and when do we apply for the permits?
I think we had to wait until after the first of the year to apply for a PCT permit, maybe even into February. As for a permit specifically for Desolation Wilderness, or any permit you’d get at a Ranger Station, you could call them or stop in at their offices. You can probably walk in and get one immediately. But I would call to make sure (especially to see if there’s a limit on how many they issue).

Is one week long enough to earn a trail name?
If you’re within a group of friends, you can have fun giving each other trail names, but on the PCT, we were told it usually happens around the third week of a thru-hike, which it did for all three of us (but of course, it varies with everyone). There aren’t any set rules on acquring one – it’s definitely not any sort of official thing. Some PCT thru-hikers never get a trail name – either they don’t really feel comfortable with it, or one just never sticks. Part of getting that trail name has a lot to do with the community of hikers you meet and travel with along the way. I suggest to just have fun with it, but don’t force it. The nice thing about getting a trail name on the PCT is that you have lots of time to get used to having it – it actually took a little time to get used to introducing myself at “Toots Magoots” and remembering to sign registers that way.

After following many PCT blogs this year, I noticed a pattern – some hikers reported positive interactions with rangers and townsfolk along the trail and were on the receiving end of a lot of good karma, while others complained about being viewed suspiciously or treated badly by those they encountered. Not surprisingly the folks with the good experiences seemed optimistic and outgoing in general, and those with bad experiences seemed to have a more, for lack of a better word, anarchistic attitude toward the world and often wrote openly about breaking the few actual rules on the trail. Any thoughts?
I can only really speak from my own experiences, but in general, I didn’t hear of many bad experiences from other hikers. There were a few towns in which we were “warned” that some people weren’t “hiker-friendly,” so we were always sure to show our appreciation for their services that helped keep us going, and in most cases, we were greeted by friendly folks – but other than that, I don’t really know. I didn’t meet any rangers that treated us badly. Most wanted to talk about the trail, and they would ask for our permits, but they were just doing their job, and we thought it was fun to pull it out, anyway… like “why, yes! We ARE PCT thru-hikers! Thanks for asking!” We even had them sign it as a sort of souvenir! Even the rangers we met at the East Bank Trailhead when they turned us away from the trail (because of the government shutdown) weren’t “mean” or anything. They were holding to their orders, and that bummed us out, but you can’t blame them for doing their job… I don’t know if they truly understood the magnitude of our situation, but they were apologetic. Townsfolk were generally very nice, and when I think back on town stops, I think mostly of all the great people we met there.

Will you take time off again to thru hike anywhere?
I hope so! Adam and I are excited about truck driving, and will do that for a while to get our student loans and other debts paid off first, however long that takes… but after that, I sure hope so!

Are you going to someday go back to the section you missed?
Absolutely. I think if I get a chance to get a nice chunk of vacation time in the next year or two, that will be the first backpacking trip I plan. I was pretty bummed out to miss that last section, as I hear it’s really pretty with some pretty drastic trails – drop offs and steep views, which I love!

Trucking? Are you signed up for truck school or are you ready to go with CDL in hand?
I just recently officially signed up for classes to get my CDL. Adam has his already, so he’s all set. I’ll be taking a 10-week course in Appleton, WI starting in January.

Tonight, appropriately for this entry, I love interacting with my blog readers. Thanks for the questions, and I hope to continue doing little things like this as I keep writing through whatever adventures I encounter! You really encourage me to keep going!

Taking a break

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A nice, long walk into town

Here I am. Back in my blog, taking a break from writing a different blog entry! I’ve been slowly plugging away at the questions you all sent into me – thank you for so many good ones! And sorry it’s taking so long! I’m trying to put a lot of thought into them and answer them as meaningful and best I can. I still look forward to doing a gear review, too… so you’ll probably see the Q&A, as well as the gear review being posted in a couple of big chunks.

For now, I just wanted to get on here and write. It’s been a while, and I miss it greatly. I really enjoyed blogging throughout the hike, and I’m finding that I miss having something interesting to write about every day, and I really miss having so many great things to take photos of every day. I took an 8-mile hike on some trails near my parent’s house the other day, and even though it rained on me, I enjoyed finding some fun things to photograph. I saw some wildlife, too! I took a small path down to the river, and as I glanced up river at the few autumn colors hanging on along the river bank, I heard this strange noise to my left. It was like a muffled snort. When I turned to look, there were three otters popping their heads up out of the river! It was so cute! One would pop up and snort, then disappear. Another would pop up, snort, then another, and those two would disappear just as the first one would pop back up. This continued as they floated with the current down river until I couldn’t see them any more. I couldn’t help but just watch and giggle until they faded out of view. Then, just when I couldn’t see them any more, I turned to look back up river, and a giant bald eagle swooped down and circled the river, then flew back up and gracefully hovered with giant, cupped wings above a white pine tree and landed and stood regally, still, scanning the river. It felt so good to be back in the woods! I later saw a grouse that made my heart skip a beat (as always!), three deer and an owl! One of the deer I saw loped off through the woods with a loud “HUFF,” snorting each time she landed. When I first saw the owl, I thought it was a turkey because it was such a large bird flying, but when it didn’t make a noise through the trees I knew it couldn’t be a turkey because of how they can be so loud and uncoordinated when flying! I snuck up the trail a little quieter and watched the trees, and soon it took off from a different branch and silently glided to another tree just up the trail. The next time I saw it I got a better look at its body – large and full with a huge wing span. It was definitley an owl! What a treat! I hiked on in the rain, and laughed thinking about how much it reminded me of the weather I experienced in Oregon and Washington. It was even the right temperature, in the low 40’s… but I was dressed perfectly for the conditions and hiked happily knowing I was going to be able to put dry clothes on as soon as I got to the car.

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The trail was speckled with yellow popple leaves.

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A rain droplet reflects the forest behind it upside-down.

One of the highlights from this little hike was finding a trail register at the trailhead. I opened the lid and found a notebook and pencils inside. There were a few entries, mostly from last winter during the cross-country ski season, but there were a few recent ones. I picked a pencil that was sharpened enough to write with and wrote, “CRUSH IT! Toots Magoots (PCT 2013).” Ahhh. That kind of felt like scratching a really persistent itch. It was something really small, but it just felt good…

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A trail register!

I’ve been taking jogs with my mom in the mornings when I’m at their house, I took a run with my sister-in-law, Jessica, an 8-mile walk to Flambeau Forest Inn where I met some family for a delicious chicken dinner special, and even walked the 12 miles into town to meet up with Adam, who was already there after spending some time with one of his friends. Today Adam and I walked across town to take care of some errands, too. I’m hoping to just do something each day and slowly let my metabolism level out. I think. I really don’t have any idea how it works, but I do know I feel much better when I get out and do something – do anything. I sure miss the trail, though. I had a little epiphany thinking about what I missed most about thru-hiking. When I think about diet, I always just figured, “Ah, I miss being able to eat whatever I want in whatever quantities I want without gaining weight.” But what it is that I actually miss is not obsessing about it. It’s not really about eating what I want and tons of it, but just not having to worry about it. I have a history of being overweight, and so it’s pretty easy for me to put it back on, and I always have to be careful to not let that happen. The weight I am at right now, even after putting on a few pounds already, post-hike, is where I am really comfortable. But to stay here isn’t going to be an easy chore. I’ll have to actively get out and exercise every day and eat healthier, and less. It’s just an adjustment going from the freedom of not having to worry about it – a totally stress-free diet – to having to keep track in my mind of all I’ve eaten and what I’ve done… “can I have another beer? Sure… I went for a run today…”

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A morning jog with my mom...

Besides getting out to exercise to keep my mind clear and my body happy, I’ve been spending a lot of time with family. I’ve been able to have a few great mornings with my mom and dad, sitting around in their living room drinking coffee and slowly waking up, I’ve spent some time with Adam, as well as his family. We spend a little time with his sister Melissa before she and her family left for vacation in Florida, and we were able to spend some time with his mom and other sister, Jessica and her two kids, Dean and Josie. Josie is only about 8 months old, and it was the first time I met her, and what a cutie! We are currently staying in the “Belle house,” which is a small house that Adam’s mom owns, and it’s been really nice. Yesterday we visited Adam’s dad and his wife, Dorrie, at their house for the Packer game. That was relaxing and fun, too. And later this week Adam’s friend is getting married, so we’ll be going to a wedding, too! Needless to say, it’s been busy, but it’s been fun! I have yet to get to Oshkosh to visit my friends!! I hope after the wedding and Halloween, and after things settle down a bit more, we’ll get our butts down there! I’m antsy to see everyone I haven’t seen yet!

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I got to meet my newest niece, and she's pretty darn cute!

As for little things readjusting to this “other world,” not as much is standing out from day to day. However, I did think about something today – hygiene. I’m staying a lot cleaner than I did while I was out hiking, obviously. I have access to running water, a toilet, a sink, a shower, and a washer and dryer. As much as I love taking a nice, hot shower though, it almost feels like overkill to take a shower every single day like I used to. Do I really need to shower every day? Then there’s all these smelly shampoos and conditioners. Should I find something that smells pretty? Do I really need conditioner? What about special soaps? I could get a special soap for my hair, my body, my face… and there’s so many choices. How about deodorant? I haven’t worn deodorant without any noticeable super-stink resulting from it for over six months. It’s one less thing I need to spend money on. Brushing my teeth is still regularly twice per day, and I bought new floss today to get back into that routine. I trimmed my fingernails and toenails for the first time since being back. Make-up is an easy one… I just don’t wear it any more. I stopped wearing make-up over a year before I left for the hike. I don’t miss it much at all. How about shaving? Do I need to buy a fancy razor, do I need to shave every day, and do I need a pretty-smelling lotion? There’s just so much. They all seem like simple little things, but when I walk into a store and see the plethora of scents, styles and designs of products on the shelves, I get a little overwhelmed. There were about five different types of flossers for me to choose from today. I finally just grabbed one and threw it in the basket. “Whatever, it’ll work just fine.” It’s just so different on the trail, where your first and most important concern is, “where’s the next water source and how much do I need to carry to get me there?” Keeping my hair smelling pretty, or my pits shaved smooth wasn’t even on my radar. At all. I’m back in society and have to act appropriately, I suppose… I’d like to be a rebel and fight to stay hiker trash every day, but that’s where this transition is happening. Yes, I’m proud to be considered hiker trash – it’s an endearing term in the thru-hiking community, seriously. But I guess I’ll take advantage of a few things so I can blend in with society at least a little bit, if only so that my friends and family won’t be uncomfortable or embarrassed to be around me! I don’t want to stink up the room if I have the resources not to! Haha! But in all seriousness, it’s going pretty well so far. Some days I find decisions to be harder than others, but I’m getting back into it. And I’m trying not to fight it. Well… I’m kind of trying not to fight it while I’m trying not to let go, too.

I suppose… it’s a fun ride! As soon as I get a handle on this transition, I’ll have my hands at the “10 and 2” of a giant semi truck’s steering wheel, working my way into the next adventure. I’ll be sure to post a picture of that when it first happens!


Tonight I love feeling healthy. I managed to somehow aquire a stupid cold sore, and it just makes me happy for all the times when I don’t have one. They’re such a pain!

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The poster my mom had hanging up at work. Adam's mom had a big spot at work where she hung a map and photos, and my dad had one at his desk, too! So cool!

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The beautiful river by my parent's house, blurred behind a morning fog.

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Gettin' some purring kitty time with my mom's cat, Annie. I got to visit a lot with Buckley, too.

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A couple of daisies hang on in the cold, autumn weather.

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A mini, mossy forest.

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I found some cool lichen, too!

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Another miniature landscape.

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The chilly forest, without most of its leaves as it patiently awaits the first snowfall.

Home!

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At home, enjoying a nice fire in my parent's back yard.

Our trip home went very well and very uneventful, which is a good thing when you’re traveling so much. Once we were on the road, we started getting really excited to get home. Instead of taking our time getting back, we decided to just drive hard instead. There was also a Packer game Sunday at noon… we realized that we could maybe make it back in time to watch it on a tv! Our new goal was set!

After our oil change in Portland, we got going. We drove until about 11:30 pm and slept in the car at a rest area just across the Idaho/Montana border. And darnit! We went through Coeur d’Alene, Idaho at night again. Some day I’ll see that place in the daylight. Maybe through the window of an 18-wheeler!

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Good morning!

When we woke up in the morning, we brushed our teeth and got driving right away again. We drove to Bozeman, Montana, which is one of my and Adam’s favorite cities that we’ve been to. This will have been the third time we’ve been there. We didn’t have a lot of time to visit, but we did stop in at the Soup Shack for their amazing wingies for our breakfast/lunch.

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NOM!

From there we just drove and drove. We drove through western Montana’s beautiful flat lands and enjoyed its big skies that it’s so famous for. It felt like forever, but we finally entered North Dakota, enjoyed a great sunset and changing sky all around us, then drove through past the state’s badlands. Soon we were driving in the dark. City lights were few and far between along the highway in N. Dakota, and there wasn’t very much traffic, either. I drove and Adam played DJ, selecting all kinds of fun songs to drive to. I just kept driving, kind of as a challenge… how far could I go? I ended up driving for about 11 hours. I got tired a couple of times, but Adam kept me entertained with music and conversation. A few cups of coffee helped, too.

We talked a lot about truck driving, and Adam pointed out things as we drove along – things like the legal placement of hazmat placards and where the gas tank is located on reefers (refrigerated trailers). He also picked up a trucker’s log at a gas station before we left Portland, so he had me filling that out as we went so I could get a feel for it. It was pretty fun, which I’m happy to say, since I know that might be the last time I’ll ever say it when referring to truck logs. In fact, by the end of the trip I was thinking, “this is a pain in the butt!” I hope that once I get used to it, it’ll just be second-nature and no big deal.

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My practice truck log.

We finally entered Wisconsin as the sun started to come up. We got onto Hwy. 8 and the sky turned beautiful, the trees were still showing some bright, fall colors, and there was patchy fog that added to our already great driving scenery.

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Foggy sunrise

Finally. A right turn onto Hwy. W. My butt was SO sore from sitting so long. My legs were achy, and I couldn’t stretch them enough. By the time we got to this point, about fifteen minutes from my parent’s driveway, I was sitting on one butt cheek for a minute before and alternating to the other cheek. I couldn’t wait to stand up and stretch! We were so close!

About one mile from home, I saw someone jogging down the side of the road with a dog. It was my mom with my uncle Kenny and Aunt Beth’s dog, Marley! I slowed down and rolled down the window… “Hey, need a ride?” We came up from behind her, so she didn’t see us coming. She stopped and looked at us for a second before letting out a screech and jumping up and down! It was fun to surprise her like that! She knew we were coming home, but she probably didn’t know it would be so early. We let her finish up her run and drove the rest of the way home. It was nice to walk in and give my dad a big hug. Ahhh.

I was home.

It felt good to walk into my parent’s house as though I’d never been gone. It felt normal.

Adam and I took a nap, got up and watched the Packer game, visited, stood around the fire pit for a while, ate some food, and mom made up some bloody marys for us from her homemade tomato juice. It was just a regular Sunday afternoon at the Laatsch household. I loved it.

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Packer Sunday bloody mary. And a win!

Now it’s Monday around noon. I slept in this morning, and woke up feeling like I need to find some structure to my days soon so that I can start getting some things done. I feel lazy. I don’t want to feel lazy! I dug out my Five Finger shoes yesterday, and to my surprise they still fit. Like a glove, as they should! I’m excited to start running again, and I’m already thinking about hiking and camping. Hopefully it doesn’t get too cold so that I can still do that comfortably.

A few fun realizations as we drove home:

We shouldn’t be picking up hitchhikers any more. We didn’t, by the way… but I saw a guy with an old, tattered, overstuffed backpack hitching somewhere in Montana, I think, and it crossed my mind for a second before I realized, “oh yeah… that’s probably not a hiker – we’re not along the PCT any more.”

While driving, if I see some pretty mountains or some cool clouds, I can’t stop and stare at them for as long as I want like I did when I was hiking… if I do, the car drifts to the right and hits the rumble strips. Thank goodness for rumble strips. It took me a while to get used to this one!

Miles go by a bit faster in a car. Duh, right? When I first started out driving, Adam was navigating for me. He says, “our exit is coming up in a mile and a half.” I thought right away, “okay, that’s thirty to forty minutes… wait. No it’s not, it’s more like a minute and a half!” I laughed at myself for that one.

Sigh… I suppose it’s time to switch my mind over to “other world” activities. I appreciate so much off the trail, but I will forever miss being out there with my footsteps guiding me through my days.


Today I love my mom and dad’s yard. There is something just comforting and peaceful about it.

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Jetboil dinner at a rest stop. It never gets old.

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Mom and dad's yard.

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Pretties in my mom's yard.

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Five fingers! They fit!

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Sunset on the road.

Re-entry begins

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I've finally gotten LOTS of sleep. Naps rule!

I’ve been laying low these past few days with Adam, trying to decompress and take this whole re-entry thing kind of slow. It gave me time to think, and with more thought, more would bubble to the surface. This time off has been good. I’ve laid around, napped, been lazy, ate food, watched movies, and acted as a hermit for part of it. We did get out some… I first bought an $8 pair of blue jeans at a thrift store. Then I overwhelmed myself with the task of trying to find a real bra that was comfortable. We even got to the theatre to see Gravity in 3D, immediately followed by a second movie, Rush. But our time is up. It’s time to go home. After a few more quick errands, like an oil change, we’re heading east towards Wisconsin… and our family.

I have to be honest here as the PCT gets smaller and smaller in our rear-view mirror – I still feel disappointment. I don’t like feeling this way, but it’s a feeling I can’t really ignore. Trust me, I’ve tried. The lingering what-ifs still float around in my mind. I could have done those 60 miles… dammit, I know I could have… but I chose not to. There are a lot of reasons why I chose not to, and I think all of those reasons are justified – especially at the time I decided on them. What’s been bothering me most recently is the question to myself, “Did I make these decisions too soon?” I can’t help but think, “Yes. Yes, I did. I should’ve waited a few days, rested so I wasn’t so exhausted and gone back out.” But at the time, with all the wavering, all the back-and-forth, and being turned away from that trail… I just wanted, so badly, to make a solid decision. I wanted to be strong and confident about it. I wanted to be okay with it. And I felt sure I was. I believed I was. I really did.

Adam knew it – sometimes he knows me better than I do. I’m pretty sure he saw this coming, so he asked me a number of times if I was sure. When I asked him if he would believe me if I told him it was done, I think he responded, “I’m not going to believe you but I’ll trust you.” What else could he do, really? He tried, and I love him for that.

The good part of what I’m feeling is still in progress, but I suppose good feelings can stay in progress as long as they want, right? Maybe that just means I’m starting to focus on the right things… I think! I know that it’s time to work on letting go of what-ifs and disappointment, and start working on what I have accomplished, because 2,600 miles is a lot. I hiked each one of those miles mentally positive and physically strong, and I’m really proud of that. I’m looking forward to working on ways to lock in all of the happy memories through slideshows, photos collages, and journal entries. I hope that with every day, the pain of that series of decision-making will fade. I’m pretty sure it will. The amazing experiences, memories and pride will fill in those holes. It was a great summer. It really, really was. And when I look back on it, that’s what I want to remember. Instead of “60 miles short,” its going to be “2,600 miles of freakin’ epic adventure.”

I am walking away with unfinished business… you’ll see me back on the PCT. It won’t be tomorrow, and it might not be next year, but I’ll be back. Save a cheer for us when Aloha and Toots Magoots makes that decision…

Stay tuned… answers to your questions are coming soon, as are some gear reviews. And if I can find a way, the 165 daily Instagrams from the hike. For now, we drive!


I love road trips with Adam. Here we go! To Wisconsin!

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Re-entry shopping - don't worry, some of these belonged to PRT!

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Appropriate TV.

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3D movie! Yay!

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Safe and sound

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Bye-bye west... for now!

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

What is there to miss?

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Too much to miss.

What is there to miss? A whole-freakin’ lot. Here’s a bunch of randoms that have popped into my thru-hike recovering mind… in no particular order:

●Exercise every day
●Eating as much as I want
●Eating whatever I want
●Drinking from clean mountain springs
●Drinking from nasty streams
●The warmth of thousands of feathers inside my down sleeping bag surrounding me and cuddling me to sleep each night
●Slow-closing eyelids as I fall asleep staring at the stars
●Feeling physically exhausted at the end of each day
●Feeling mentally exhausted at the end of each day
●Sensory overload
●The feeling of my backpack getting lighter and lighter as I strategically eat my food stash
●Sunrises
●Sunsets
●Woodland critters chirping and chattering as I walk past them
●The sound of my feet on a variety of trail surfaces
●The smell of pine, sage, flowers, blueberries, and fresh air
●The meaning behind aching feet
●How it feels to shower after five days on the trail
●My holey shoes (I wish I hadn’t thrown them out)
●Seeing so many smiles (especially the smiles behind overgrown beards)
●Seeing the pickle jar through the trees as I head out of the woods
●The feeling of that long-awaited hug when I get to the pickle jar
●Airing my toes out on a break
●Eating crushed potato chips with a spoon
●Breezes
●Feeling in the best shape of my life
●The beautiful, unique camaraderie of thru-hikers
●The mountains. All of them.
●Keeping my phone in airplane mode for days at a time
●Silent, thankful conversations with God about what’s in front of me
●Mushrooms
●Flowers
●Friends becoming family at “hello, my trail name is…”
●Weird bugs
●Having so many interesting things to take photos of
●Clouds
●Being above the clouds
●Being in the clouds
●Rock-hopping across streams and rivers
●Hiking
●Being outside… all the time… in any weather
●The freedom felt from being able to survive with only what’s carried on my back

Finally, I think what I’m going to miss the most is finding so much comfort in discomfort, the pride felt at the end of every day for dealing with it and being happier than I could ever be about it.

I will crave those discomforts with all of my being… every day until that pack is on my back and my feet are on the trail again. I am a thru-hiker, and I already miss it all.

♡♡♡♡♡♡♡
Tonight I love missing the trail… because it helps me remember I’ll never be done hiking. I will be back. One adventure at a time…

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

Sixty miles short

Mon. 10/7/13

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I just simply miss the trail... already.

I think it’s time for me to write about this. I’m 60 miles short of a continuous PCT thru hike, and it’s going to be that way until I can find a big chunk of vacation in the next couple of years to hike it.

I’ve thought about it, reassured myself it’s okay, cried because it’s over, laughed snd smiled at memories, regretted not pushing through, and I still come to the same conclusion. An unsure, wavering conclusion that I’m done hiking the PCT this year, and that I’ve made all the right decisions when they were placed before me to make. It’s still a hard reality to face when I’m physically so close to that 60-mile gap. Well, if a 6-hour drive out of Portland is considered close. That would be just to get me to the trailhead, which is probably closed for the government shutdown. Adam would have to drive back into Canada again. We’d have to make phone calls to see if I can get my entrance papers back. Arrest in Canada isn’t an option – and it’s entirely a possibility if I didn’t have those papers. There’s already a story of a hiker I know that was arrested for entering Canada via Ross Lake. He was released back to the US, but it doesn’t sound like it was a very fun ordeal. Oh, and there’s a bunch of snow out there, and apparently another weather front is coming in that may drop more snow, requiring snowshoes and possibly ice axes.

Thinking about all of those logistics makes me feel tired. Hiking that beautiful section of trail makes me feel excited. Laying low and cuddling with Adam makes me feel relaxed.

*sigh*

So why such an unsure, wavering decision that I’m done? A group of other hikers I know made it through those last 60 miles, and I just read on Facebook that a few others I know are heading out tomorrow for another go – it’s Fun Size, Banana Ripper and Songbird. They reached out to see if anyone wanted to join them. Um… yes. These are three people I would love to jump in with and finish. So why don’t I, right? I don’t know. Its the drive to get there. I’m looking forward to continuing the down-time Aloha and I have just began. I already handed in those papers to legally enter Canada via the PCT. Our budget is running out. We’re anxious to get home to see family and friends whom we’ve missed. And it would feel good to stomp my foot down, smile, and just confidently say, “It’s been a great journey. I’m satisfied, happy and ready to go home.”

And so it is. That’s what I’m going to try to do. I might be in tears five minutes from now when I think of HOW CLOSE I was again… but for now, it’s okay. After talking with Adam and thinking more about it, I think I’m already missing trail life in a really bad way, and that is what is really powering my emotional rollercoaster and affecting my ability to make a confident decision. There are 60 miles that I could hike, and it might make me feel better if I just did it, but it would most likely be temporary anyway. I’d be in this same position afterwards, missing the trail and wondering when I can come back. I like how Cuddles put it for me – now it’s open to come back – I’ve got a really good excuse to come back and try again one day. It’s a pretty good thought, isn’t it? I sure think so…

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)