Archive for September, 2006


Destination: Sacramento (home)
Starting Location: Manning Park Resort
Manning Park Resort to Sacramento

Found Dirty Bird & Numskull as we checked out of Manning Park Resort. And while they were still full of hiker stink Liz agreed to provide a ride to Seattle as long as we kept the windows down.
Crossing the border was interesting. No ID requested but the officer asked how we entered Canada. We responded we walked via a 5 month trek on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. “And now you are on your way to see a shrink, right?” “Something like that” we replied as we were waved back into the greatest country, regardless of its current screwed up leadership, in the world.
After being largely isolated in the outback for nearly 5 months it seemed as if things should have changed in the so called “real” world. Truth be known it is not very real at all. In fact it is much less real than walking, eating & sleeping. Regardless, when we pulled into the gas station I was struck with a feeling of having been in a serious time warp. Everything was exactly the same physically & yet I knew everything with me was different. Somehow transformed through a process of many many steps.
The pilot just announced we were 410 miles from Sacramento and we would arrive within 90 minutes. Convenient, I guess, given it would take me 3 weeks to walk that distance, but a whole lot less interesting. The young guys behind me are getting drunk and talking a lot of smack trying to one up each other. I would have previously been annoyed & I likely will again, but tonight I just smile with a certain arrogant air that I know something they don’t and it is magic


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Destination: Manning Park Resort
Starting Location: Manning Park Resort Today’s Miles: 0.00
Trip Miles: 2600.80

Manning Park Resort
New relationships are found on the trail & existing relationships are strengthened. Sheri & Cathy arrived first & their congratulatory comments were wonderful. However, I had a feeling of being embarrassed by the attention and when Sheri said she was proud of me I thought to myself “why”. It seems there are so many things that are worthy of our adulation and to receive it for taking a hike, while wonderful, seems overstated given the range of potential accomplishments.
Liz wanted to hike to the monument and while I love her terribly and planned to go with her, I could not bring myself to walk another 16 miles. Instead I gave her a kiss, a ride to the trailhead, a map, a bottle of aqua mira and a “have fun” send off. I planned to hike in a mile or so to meet her when I figured she would be back, but I thought better of that as well and played another hand of cards with Sheri & Cathy.
My heart filled with instant joy when Pang & Swiss Miss arrived for our first, of which I hope there are many, reunions. We laughed, told stories & simply enjoyed being together again. The bonds we formed in the mountains of California with all that snow and big river crossings may fade with time but they will never leave my memory or my heart. Friends are one of life’s most important gifts and I was blessed this summer with an opportunity to strengthen old friendships, & establish new ones. Swiss Miss said she will always live in Switzerland and therefore she will see us whenever we get there or she gets back to the states. When we finally said goodbye I knew it really meant “until I see you again my friend”

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Manning Park Resort

Zero seems like an inappropriate term now.
Everyone caught the bus out this morning & I booked into a cabin in anticipation of Liz, & Sheri & Cathy’s arrival. Mom & dad could not make it as mom is too ill to travel. We spoke by phone & her congratulatory words will always be the most memorable.
My being lost feeling is getting much stronger & while very content the feeling of being adrift is very real. I am intentionally not doing anything today as a way to experience this aspect of my journey. When you travel long & far, arriving is, well, weird.

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Destination: Manning Park
Starting Location: Below Woody Pass
Today’s Miles: 20.50
Trip Miles: 2600.80
Below Woody Pass (2643.0, 6135) to Manning Park, Canada (2663.5, 3800) ascent (2326) descent (4514)

Arriving at monument 78 was surprisingly a non-emotional event. In fact giving a yell in celebration felt artificial & forced. What a contrast to the interim goal of crossing into Oregon after 1700 miles of California. I am not saying I am in anyway disappointed or let down in reaching Canada. Rather the finish was put into proper context and thus the destination was / is not the point. Being finished is odd and I have a feeling of being somewhat lost right now. They claim it takes 21 days to form a habit. Well, I have been hiking for 151 days and I have a deeply engrained hiking habit and the obvious question is “what now”.
Met Eagle Eye & Jackalope at Manning. The last time I saw them was at the kickoff party in April. I would have loved to have hiked with them as they are really great people. They got married on the trail also – a huge congratulations & future happiness.
We all enjoyed Manning Park Resort with its Canadian clean facilities & super friendly staff. An hour in the hot tub got my feet remarkably clean.
I missed my friends Pang, Swiss Miss, Sunny, Tadpole, & Sugar Daddy by a few hours. I was totally bummed but I reached Pang & Swiss Miss by telephone in Vancouver and they are going to try and get back here for a reunion. How cool is that . . . I hope it works.
My international no “whining” button has faded to a point that you can no longer see the blaze across whining and thus it simply says “whining”. Now somehow that seems funny & appropriate to me.
The veins in my feet look like those in our governor’s arms when he was winning body building championships. I had not noticed this before but all those steps sent a lot of blood to my summer wings.
The greatest part of thru-hiking has to be the freedom that is experienced on the trail. This freedom comes from a simple truth that “less is more”. And “a lot less is a lot more”. That includes a lot less stuff, a lot less responsibility, a lot less expectations, & a lot less conformity. A lot more includes a lot more time to think & reflect, a lot more time to exercise, a lot more time to physically &, more difficult, mentally challenge ourselves, a lot more time getting to know oneself, a lot more time to build strong friendships.
So why did I do it? Simply put: a boy had a dream about a great adventure while not understanding what that meant. A man turned that dream into a goal & figured out the meaning in the process of achieving that goal. Would I do it again? Not likely the same hike, but the taste of what is possible beyond a “life of quiet desperation” is intoxicating and so I hope to go-BIG again. But I want Liz to be there the whole time next time.

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The Last supper

Destination: Below Woody Pass
Starting Location: Below Alpine Garden Pass
Today’s Miles: 24.40
Trip Miles: 2580.30
Alpine Garden (2618.6, 6600) to Below Woody Pass (2643.0, 6135) ascent (4080) descent (4475)

I am struggling to capture the thoughts of the last night on the trail. I have been focused on this goal for so long that to realize tomorrow is the end point is, well, unbelievable. And the goal has been rapidly fading in importance over these last days & nights. “Making it” does not seem particularly important now. Sure I am excited but it truly was about the journey. And while I am goal driven and pleased with my achievement the achievement is simply a culmination of 5 months (today) of hiking north.
At the register at Harts Pass I wrote: “Hubris is dangerous, you are not there yet”, as a reminder and to avoid ticking off the hiking gods again. But not apparently good enough as another friendly wasp stung me on my achilles tendon. I used every word of profanity I could think of and then I made a few more up. Why the hell does the guy who is allergic keep getting stung? Dr Jones 0 times, Andy 1 time, Rolling Thunder 3 times and yours truly 11 times – damn it.
One of the most scenic days of the entire trip. The miles melted away behind panoramic views as we stayed high on the crest. The colors are changing quickly now and the reds & golds lit up the landscape far into the distance.
Some best of the trails – best buffet: Timberline Lodge. I limped in and my leg began to improve after their buffet. Related? Who knows but the food was great and my hike turned back towards the positive. Best & only (but it wouldn’t matter anyway) hitch hike: Dick shit into Etna, California. It was a first for both of us & it was a great ride. Best cookies: Ryan’s (my nephew) chocolate chip with walnuts that were sent to Stehikin. Best wildlife sighting: elk in the wild during the early days of the rut. Weary animals & totally awesome in the wild. Best trail magic: Gottago & Ray who saved us from the desert heat and provided outstanding hospitality, Steve & Peggy who opened their home to me & 10 of my hiker friends, Barney & Sandy who exhibited amazing generosity & provided much needed moral support when I was injured. Best day on the trail: the traverse across the top of the world before Sonora Pass. 12 fellow hikers, views to live for, perfect weather & a sense of great achievement after the Sierra crossing.
Best restaurant: Jen’s Garden in Sisters, Oregon. 5 course meal of incredible quality. Also most expensive. Best town: Etna, California. Wonderful friendly people, more trucks than cars, and great milk shakes at the drug store. Best BBQ: Sierra City with Chris (my nephew) doing the grilling along with my whole family in attendance. Best support: my dad who drove all over 3 states to lend support to me and any other hiker in need. Best private nurses: Sheri & Cathy who cared for me in Old Station as I threw up outside their motor home, and then followed us for 5 days with food, drink, & good humor. Best inspiration: my mom who was diagnosed with breast cancer & yet still visited frequently & told me I could not quit regardless of her well being. Best wife: Lucky Liz – I am truly blessed & I know that more now than at any other point in our relationship. Best poet: the Old Goat who sent numerous pieces of supportive poetry as well as teaching me about expectation management. Best sport: Sugar Daddy who suffered through my barrage of criticism regarding the hypocrisies of Christianity or more specifically the churches & its members.
Best hiking pals: Pang, Swiss Miss, Sugar Daddy, Sunny the Puppy Grabber, Tadpole the Hippo, Rolling Thunder, 3 Gallon, Mike Unger, Andy, Dr Jones, Cadence, Weed, & Lucky Liz. Best stop: The Ranch at Stehikin. Perfect place to reflect & regroup after the snow. Best Bakery in the world: Stehikin Bakery. Best in the world describes it well enough. Best section of the trail: the Sierra Nevada & all those snow covered miles,followed by the North Cascades and the feel of true Wilderness. Best home cooked meal: Jim & Jackie Manning from Running Springs. Great vegetable soup. Best doctors: Keri & Delphine – can’t say more but their help was paramount to success. Best medicine: benadryl for obvious by now reasons. Best lake: Crater Lake, Oregon – just mind blowing beautiful. Best pizza: Happy Camp & Home of Big Foot. Best trail drama: Rolling Thunder’s personal life. Best guy on the trail: tie between Sunny & Mike Unger. Truly the nicest guys I am privileged to know.
Best attitude: Swiss Miss with a constant smile and a glass always completely full. Best vocabulary: tie between Rolling Thunder & Andy – words I truly have never heard in my life let alone know their meanings. Best fruit: trail huckleberries wet with morning dew. Best guidebook: there isn’t one. Best information regarding fires: the Klamath National Forest rocks & the Okanogan is a very close second. The Deschutes still sucks. Best motel: Sisters Motor Lodge in Sisters, Oregon. Small, clean, & hiker friendly.

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Destination: Porcupine Creek
Starting Location: Stehikin
Today’s Miles: 21.20
Trip Miles: 2532.60
Stehikin (2574.1, 1600) to Porcupine Creek (2595.3, 5080) ascent (5128) descent (1660)

In the fall the temperature feels different while the actual temperature is exactly the same. I do not know how this works but I felt it today and mentioned it to Thunder. He referred to the feeling as experiential, meaning that my experience tells me this is a fall like feeling. It is probably not just the temperature but rather the long shadows, smells, changing colors in the vegetation, and other subtle clues not even registered but providing data.
We now know what the fuss is about. The North Cascades are some rugged mountains & boy are they gorgeous. They are really steep, to the point of looking like a saw blade, and they are flanked with numerous glaciers. It was a magnificent day to be here.
On the day into Stehikin, I left first and saw perfect bear prints in the newly fallen snow. I could not have been more than a minute behind and I kept stopping, turning 360 degrees & asking “where are you bruin?” Never showed but the tracks reminded me I was the visitor.
We have seen probably a hundred ptarmigan and I am really surprised they have not gone the way of the dodo bird. These are the dumbest birds I have ever seen. In the wild they will let you get close enough to practically skewer with your hiking pole. A sling shot would be deadly, an arrow appropriate, and a shot gun would require throwing a rock first to get them out far enough as to not destroy all the meat. Pretty darn birds regardless.
We did not catch our friends from The Ranch but did get a message that we were in trouble as a result. We apparently missed them by about 5 minutes. Turns out they got dropped off farther up the trail & thus had a 5 mile & 1 hour head start. So basically they had a 3 hour head start and they were all in their early 20’s. When I told them we would likely catch them but it would take us “over 40 guys” a bit to catch them they could not believe it. Now no one has misjudged my age in a long time & having graduate school age females do so by a decade was certainly good for the ego. The trail equalizes so many things. Our clothes do not express age, we do not have bellies any more, (I hope that lasts a while), and we exhibit much less reserved behavior than our typical peers. Basically we have learned to have a lot of fun again. We laugh a lot, smile like when we thought we could change the world, and pay no attention to status or economic placement. Damn we are cool again – how about that.

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Odor control

Destination: Stehikin “The Ranch”
Starting Location: Stehikin
Today’s Miles: 0.00
Trip Miles: 2511.40
Zero – The Ranch – Stehikin, WA

An absolutely beautiful fall day in the Pacific Northwest. We have been joking that the weather is much too nice to be hiking and so we are spending a second night at The Ranch.
It was somewhat embarrassing but Cliff, the owner of The Ranch, stopped by our cabin to encourage mitigation for our odor. Apparently a guest had commented / complained and Cliff was doing the appropriate thing by responding to his guest. Fortunately, we had taken the bus into Stehikin where we could do our laundry. Because everything had gotten wet we did not have any clean clothes during our 1st night at the Ranch and even after showers our clothes were still pretty rank. We felt pretty bad that something needed to be said as we are all believers in being ambassadors for future hikers. But we blew this & are trying to redeem ourselves during our second evening.
During dinner I realized I was sitting next to the owner of the Stehikin bakery & her husband who is also Cliff’s brother. This family has been in Stehikin their entire lives & I understand why they have stayed. All the cars have been brought in by barge as the valley has no road access. Some people arrive by float plane, you take the once a day ferry, or you walk / ride (horse) in. The town was recently evacuated due to a camp fire turned wild land fire. The talk around the table is mixed with frustration regarding the management of the fire and the appreciation that the town and homes were not lost.
Tomorrow we start our last leg of our journey. The reality of that is staggering. Up to this point every stop has been a step in a process that did not seem to actually have an end point. Now this leg is all that is left – no more miles, no more distant borders and no more dreams of all you can eat buffets. I am ready to be done and yet hiking has become what I do – and in a way, who I am. So not doing it any longer is a very weird and in a way scary proposition.
A group of guests are heading out to Rainy Pass in the morning as well. They are leaving at dark to allow time to reach their car by dark. We were joking with them about leaving after a late breakfast and catching them by lunch. I predict we have a late lunch together at around 3 pm. They are really nice and this 18 mile day hike is a big adventure for them. And it is; they have a big climb & they have not been hiking – we agreed to carry their packs if need be.
Looks like everyone (mom, dad, Liz, Sheri, Cathy) are going to come up to Canada. They will likely arrive the day after us. I am so fortunate to have had & continue to have such a supportive family. Their involvement has brought such joy to my hike and I am forever indebted.
I had a nice visit with Herman who is also a guest here. He is a difficult one for me. He told a guest he likes to hike with others & that he gets along with people but that they do not always get along with him. I found this very introspective and yet odd that he does not see the cause & effect of his actions & how that is the “separating” force in his relationships with others. I can’t help but like this guy & his struggles socially remind me a lot of my early years and often still. Maybe that is why I have been so critical of him. We loathe what we are or what we are scared to be.
I think I am worried about being done – I know this hike changed my life but what does that mean for today & the future. It means today & the future are uncertain just like today was uncertain, or 5 months ago before I ever started this long journey.

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Destination: Stehikin “The Ranch”
Starting Location: Creek below Suiattle Pass Today’s Miles: 18.80
Trip Miles: 2511.40
Below Suiattle Pass (2553.3, 5730) to Stehikin “The Ranch” (2574.1, 1600) ascent (2641) descent (6811)

The only way to make today colder than yesterday would be to add some really wet snow. So that is what happened. As I walked down the trail the slushy snow fell off the thick vegetation and filled my already soaked shoes. My feet stung so bad that each step felt like a million needles piercing my water logged feet. Walk faster to warm feet – walk faster and embrace the rain until they warm up.
I would not do it. At 3 a.m. my bladder was screaming and I determined I could not wait until 6 a.m. At 3:30 I determined I could not leave my tent without losing all of my hard earned warmth. Only one solution – and I darn sure do not need two water bottles in this weather.
Unbelievable as we got near the trailhead we had finally reached the rain shadow. I knew we were getting into a much drier climate as I noticed beetle damaged trees (the beetles impact trees most significantly that are drought stressed and can not produce pitch / sap to flush out the bugs). Anyway, sun for the first time in 8 days and in one hour before the Stehikin bus arrived we got almost all of our gear dry.
Arrived at The Ranch by late afternoon. Thunder asked if they could put lunch out again and they did. We showered and now we are sitting in front of a big wood fire, drinking hot drinks, & waiting for dinner. We have a tent cabin (wood side, canvas roof) with a kerosene lantern. This place is perfect & has a wonderful backcountry feel. Out the window I am looking over a lovely pasture with grazing horses backlit by fall colors & evergreens.
Oh my god – Kristi – our fellow guest at The Ranch must have heard my comment that the only thing that could make The Ranch better would be a massage. While eating pie she started with Thunder, then worked on my back, & finished with Andy. This was absolutely a trail highlight and we now have restored blood flow to our sore backs. Seriously Kristi is a magician with the strongest thumbs imaginable & each of us let out a serious yell / moan or two. Thunder caught a photo of me & commented that I now know you have gold crowns.
The bakery in Stehikin is renowned as the best on trail & potentially best period. I had a slice of walnut pie, a sour cream pear pie, & strawberry rhubarb pie. Each with heavy whipping cream. The jury is in – best bakery period!
Dr Jones: “Heavy snow year, terrible fire year, early winter in the Pacific Northwest – 2006 thru-hikers rock!”

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go-Deep again

Destination: Creek below Suiattle Pass
Starting Location: Fire Crrrk
Today’s Miles: 26.20
Trip Miles: 2492.60

Fire Creek (2529.1, 5370) to Creek below Suiattle Pass (2555.3, 5730) ascent (8248) descent (7667)

We are 100.1 miles from Canada – holy crap batman we are getting close.
The only way to make today colder than yesterday was to add some wind – so that is what happened. My sleeping bag was dryer when I woke up than when I went to bed so my plan worked out well. And it is still raining steady tonight. I have my tent pitched so tight that the drops are bouncing and falling again. It is so wet.
This wilderness is one of the best however and actually it is how I pictured it; big mountains, green from moisture, and glacier fed rivers. We made it across the real PCT route. The flood damage is remarkable and if you ever think humans can control nature, walk this route. We had to cross a lot of downed trees & scramble down some steep slopes while using branches for support. The trail has fallen off the mountains in many spots & we had to navigate around. The infamous Suiattle River was running thigh deep & there was a log for crossing. I chose to wade & the boys walked down stream to the log. The wading was straight forward except the Suiattle is milky due to glacial till and thus you can not see into the water. Given my feet are growing webbing anyway I figured why use the log.
Raining good now.
I love my wife more as a result of this trip. Not because “absence makes the heart grow fonder” but because I appreciate her so much more. I am very fortunate to have such a woman as my life partner.
I sure would like to be at the beach right now with my feet in the warm sand . . . I am starting to shiver again.
It is probably because we are getting close, but I am getting tired. Physically I am beyond my hiking peak which happened around Mt Shasta. At that point I was totally fit & going strong. Now I am doing great but my legs are losing muscle now and the endurance is off a bit as well. Then again 8,000+ feet of climbing in these conditions might make anyone tired.
Hands are shaking too much to write anymore, going deep into bag yet again

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Life raft

Destination: Fire Creek
Starting Location: Pass Creek
Today’s Miles: 28.90
Trip Miles: 2466.40
Pass Creek (2500.2, 4200) to Fire Creek (2529.1, 5370) ascent (7520) descent (6644)

Miserable! My thermarest was functioning more as a life raft than a mattress as I woke up to a flooded tent. Not sure where the water came from exactly but my down sleeping bag is wet enough to be a potential safety concern.
Given we have not been challenged enough already, right, we decided to take the original PCT instead of the recommended detour. In 2003 the Glacier Peak Wilderness got hammered with a flood that took out all the bridge crossings. In normal years these rivers are not wadeable but Washington had a low water summer & we heard that it was doable provided it did not rain too much. We made it across several rivers, streams actually, thus far that had missing bridges & total carnage to the stream bed & surrounding landscape. Tomorrow afternoon we have the big one. And it has been raining steady all day. If we can not cross we will have to go back almost 50 miles & we will be out of food. I think it will be fine & Scott Williamson reports a good log down stream.
Walking in the clouds all day & it does not just rain below clouds. It rains in them as well. And the vegetation is real thick as the route has not been maintained in 3 years. This means you put up your arms in front of you like a boxer and you push through alder thickets as they pour ice water all over you. Then you cross dozens of blow downs that require creative navigation to get around in a forest that is 100% saturated with water.
I had to walk faster to keep warm but after climbing over 7,000 feet I was not able to go fast enough to keep the heater working at a high enough temperature. So when we finally found a crappy camp spot I was shivering as I pitched my already soaked tent. I was extra careful in the setup & hopefully I will not repeat my boating class of last evening. When I got inside I started mopping up ice water with my pack towel. When things were not dripping wet, I took my sleeping bag out & crawled in. If my plan works the 2000 calories I ate will get the furnace going & my body heat will dry my bag. If not, I am in for a long ass night.
The North Cascades feel very remote. This is amplified because we are on the old route. The forests are moss gardens with trees growing out of old tree logs & stumps. Ferns are prolific & amphibians abound. Saw the biggest mushrooms I have ever seen. They measure 18” across & likely weigh 4 lbs. This is a different environment for sure. Tree line is somewhere just above 5,000 feet & the vegetation above reminds me of parts of Alaska.
Seeing a lot of ptarmigan or at least we think that is what they are. They look like dark chickens & I know they would be good to eat.
Today really did suck but that is okay. I am sure I will remember this day & smile at it in the future. One thing for sure – I knew I was alive today.

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