First RV Stop: The WA Islands. Next: Canada!

To continue from yesterday’s post about breathtakingly beautiful places right under my  nose, while I visited the state of Washington, I explored a few islands and peninsulas that I thought were islands (you’ll see what I mean).

First, I visited Kingston, which is not an island but is still a 30-minute ferry ride from Edmonds, WA. It is part of the Kitsap Peninsula and absolutely had an island vibe. And yes, little navigation-challenged-me definitely thought it was an island (because a ferry took me across water to get there! haha) until an “islander” that I asked about “the island” corrected me. Yeah, I felt stupid for a second there. But–I’m getting quite used to being lost, mistaken, or utterly foolish. I’ve learned to laugh at myself instead of burn with shame. 🙂 This non-island, I explored on foot, leaving the RV south of Seattle.


On another day, I took the the ferry from Mukilteo to Whidbey Island. Yes, an actual island! I was confused how it was an island when we drove off of the island in a vehicle, but I figured it out when I saw a map and understood how we ferried over (drove onto the ferry in our borrowed car; we left the RV again as it was a pretty penny to ferry it over just for a one day excursion), drove from the south end of the island to the north, and used the Deception Pass Bridge to exit the north end of the island and get to Fidalgo Island (which is actually also not an island! Ah! So confusing!). Whidbey Island, I explored by driving from place to place, then getting out of the vehicle and going on foot for a bit before returning to the car.

The highlight of the experience was hiking around the Earth Sanctuary, a 72-acre forestland full of meandering trails and all kinds of treasures, be they strange and entirely out of place (such as a massive whale skull; at least I think that’s what it was?!), aesthetically pleasing, or spiritual. In addition to the eerie skeletefied head, I came across a stupa, all kinds of sculptures, gongs, a mini Stonehenge, prayer flags, lily pad ponds, and the lushest, greenest trails.


Whidbey Island is also the home to the Admiralty Head Lighthouse and several massive coastal artillery guns, that I found out only afterwards, due to some research, are not actually originals. If you’re curious, read the amusing story of where the guns are transported from, how long it took, and how one gun nearly slid off the ship during a freak storm.

My next plan was to take the RV over to the San Juan Islands (about $60 for vehicles over 20′–the Trek is 24′) and spend 5 days on the three ferry-served islands (San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez) and look into how we could get onto the other islands part of the archipelago that a ferry doesn’t go to. Unfortunately, we had to skip this part due to time constraints.

But our time constraints were self-enforced and occurred for a good reason. I’ve seen many films in which travelers are graciously taken in and hosted by a loving family glad to open up their home, share their food, and indulge in conversations that go late into the night. I always thought this would happen somewhere like Italy, where an Italian grandmother would insist that I stay in her home with her large family, and then proceed to wine and dine me and the rest of her extended family at a banquet-style table, after which the 29 of us stay up \talking and laughing into the wee hours of the morning.

Well, it did not happen in Italy, but rather in Washington, and not with Italians, but with Ukrainians who happened to be my family but whom I’d only had the opportunity to rekindle a relationship with a few years ago, once I became old enough to make my own decisions and not participate in a decade-old family feud. It was all so wonderful–we ate and went to the lake and stayed up until 2AM talking and painting (one of my favorite things ever!), and this repeated itself for 9 days; 4 days before I flew to California to say goodbye to a few members of my immediate family prior to taking off on my trip and 5 days afterwards. The last 5 days were the days I had saved for exploring the San Juan Islands, but I made the decision that spending time in such lovely company was worth missing the islands. The islands will (hopefully) always be there and I can come back another time. Such soul-rejuvenating moments of creativity and camaraderie don’t happen every day.

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When I realized that if I stayed another day, I’d probably stay forever, my boyfriend/fellow adventurer and I forced ourselves to pack up and head to Canada (every night had ended with, “Can you stay another day?” and answered with an “Okay, just one more day.”) Halfway there, we decided to stop in Bellingham, WA. Once there, I looked at the map and noticed how close we were to–guess what?-another island!

I couldn’t resist just one more island and decided to visit teeny-little Lummi Island. We left the RV in Bellingham, grabbed our bikes and jumped aboard another ferry. A 5 minute ride (really!), and we were there.

We biked around most of the island from north to south for approximately 14 miles, picnicked on the beach (thanks to some pre-trip Googling, we knew that all cafes/restaurants were closed on a Wednesday so we packed our own dinner), and headed back sweaty, sore, and exhausted.

If you go, please make sure you have a decent bike that can handle all of the hills–not a $30 Craigslist purchase that doesn’t shift gears very well and had to be walked up nearly every hill. Otherwise, I learned that Lummi is a great place to go if you have a mission and want zero distractions–no bars, no touristy things to stop and snap photos of, no crowds, no noise. Whether that mission is to bike around the whole island, read, write, or paint, or just to de-stress in silence, it definitely doesn’t have much to offer in the entertainment/dining field, which is exactly what you might want, I don’t know. Here’s someone’s article about the 5 things there is to do on Lummi if that’s your thing. Either way, I’m glad I went! It was interesting see how close to a thousand people chose to live on such a small island.

And in case I’ve sparked your interest in visiting a few of the little islands scattered around the US coast, here’s some fun information on 22 of them, although there’s actually at least 176 of them.

Next stop for us: Canada!

PS: Sorry for the bombardment of photos; this is more of a personal journal for me than an actual blog, and I didn’t want to leave anything out!
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Breathtakingly Beautiful Places (Right Under my Nose!)

I’m not the smartest person, I have a terrible sense of navigation (thanks, Roger Easton, for the wonderful creation now called the GPS!), and I can memorize anything you want me to for a Geography quiz but will forget it right away afterwards.

So, it’s not a surprise that I have been surprised multiple times by what’s right in front of my own nose. Like, when I decided to just drive north in search of a new home after my first section hike of the PCT and discovered Big Sur. I’d lived in California for about a decade and a half at that point, and had been to Northern California many a time. But, again, thanks to the GPS giving me the fastest route instead of the more scenic one, I had always skipped Central California’s beautiful coast.

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And as I directionless-ly headed north post-hike/post-divorce in an attempt to get away from everything that held the power to destroy me in Southern California (I no longer feel this way about Southern CA, don’t worry; I was just raw after a fresh divorce), I came upon Big Sur–and my jaw dropped. It reminded me of the English coast that I’d visited a year prior (I’ll have to share the story of that visit sometime). I honestly thought we didn’t have anything like it in the states (turns out the Oregon coast resembles my beloved English coast as well, perhaps even more so), and I was blown away. Fast forward to my living there for a season (I’d have stayed longer if the slow winter didn’t cause me to be laid off with no other job prospects) and Big Sur lodging itself into my heart as one of my favorite places ever.  I promise to someday tell my Big Sur story with more details. The point is I felt so dumb that I had 17 years during which I could have visited Big Sur as often as I liked, but I had no idea it was there.

Well, the same thing happened when I went on my Europe trip last year. I planned to visit France, other parts of England (since I’d already been to the English countryside, south coast, and Oxford before this trip), and Ireland. When I was in Paris, a friend who lived in Luxembourg told me I should take a 1-hour train ride to visit him and explore his little country. Luxembourg? One hour? What is it and where is it? I searched it up (thanks, Google), and felt like a complete idiot. I knew nothing about this country, its location, its castles, its beauty, its smallness–as I said, nothing! I, of course, had to go. And it was probably my favorite part of the trip. I will also tell you the many stories I’ve yet to share about my travels around Europe, another time. Again, the reason I mentioned it is because of how something breathtakingly beautiful was right under my nose and I didn’t know it.

Likewise, I discovered the many islands the state of Washington has to offer. I looked at a map of Washington prior to beginning my 3-month road trip in my Safari Trek motorhome, and noticed something that for some strange reason I still cannot figure out I had not noticed before: islands! And so many of them! And right in the state of Washington!

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I mean, I knew that many states have little islands right next to them that are considered part of the state, such as Tybee Island in Georgia (and this one I only know about because almost 10 years ago, little 19-year-old me watched Miley Cyrus’ movie The Last Song which was filmed on Tybee Island) and Catalina Island (which I’d been to visit multiple times, my most memorable excursion being the one where I was part of a crew during a sailboat race from Long Beach, CA to Catalina; again, a story for later).

I know, I know, where had I been? Living under a rock? I don’t know. But now that I knew about them, I had to go see them.

Tomorrow, I will post about each island that I visited, along with some info about them, and of course, photos.

Stay put, those of you who find my ramblings interest enough to read! 🙂

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Leaving Oregon (and Traveling in a Motorhome!)

I am so excited to announce my newest adventure!

Although I’ve done so much since I last wrote a blog post, I have been keeping a little too busy to routinely (or in my case, really, at all) update my blog. What have I been doing that’s keeping me so busy? Well, good ol’ working and saving money (the PCT ate up all of my savings and then some!), flying home (I’m not sure what to call home really, as I move around so often, but usually this means California because that’s where I spent the longest period of time) or out of the country on short trips (such as much two-week Europe trip), and getting out of town nearly every weekend to explore parts of the beautiful state (Oregon) that I moved to just under two years ago.


After hiking the PCT in 2016, I went on a few mini-adventures that I didn’t write about either (sorry!) such as my summit of Half Dome in Yosemite and exploring hot springs in Mammoth and several failed attempts at finding a suitable new home (Portland? Nope, not my cup of tea).

A month later, I decided to move to Bend, a beautiful desert town in Central Oregon with about a dozen snow-capped mountains right nearby,  gorgeous white winters, and some of the coolest nature-loving folks settled in their homes–some of them cabins or even yurts. There are plenty of forests for hiking (when I said it’s a desert town, I didn’t mean the kind of desert I had experienced in Southern California where the scenery consisted mostly of sand and Joshua trees) and the snow transformed hiking trails into snowshoeing trails (which I did plenty of). There were lakes galore (I learned that born-and-raised Oregonians don’t experience a moment of doubt when it starts raining as they’re building a campfire–if we came out to the lake to have a fire to sit around, we will have a fire to sit around) and a river that runs right through downtown (still confused why it’s called the high desert, huh? haha), and in the summer, pretty much the entire population brings out their inflatable tubes and goes floating down the river or goes fishing at one of the 20+ lakes nearby (didn’t I tell you?–“lakes galore!”) . Sounds like a dream, right? So why did I leave?


Well, as lovely as it all is–actually, because of how lovely it all is–Bend is getting too overpopulated. Everyone wants to be here. There’s a reason why many Bendites’ vehicles carry a bumper sticker that says, “Bend Sucks. Don’t Move Here.” Too many people are moving to Bend. And yes, I was guilty of that as well. And that guilt was an unpleasant reminder of how unwelcome I was in this town. Not that I needed reminders. They were everywhere. My first day in Bend I saw a “STOP NOXIOUS WEEDS” street sign with “WEEDS” crossed out and replaced with “CALIFORNIANS.”

But let me explain a little about why Bend is this way before I get into anything else. If you search up Bend’s population, it says that 2 years ago, it was 91,122. All I can say is that all Bendites know that it’s long since surpassed 100k and is way beyond that now. It is said that, on average, 12 people move to Bend every single dayThere is a major housing crisis (not enough places to live!) and the places that are available are jacking up their rent costs significantly (my last place of residence was one bedroom I rented in someone’s home for $800, utilities not included; why this may seem just fine and dandy for someone making 100k+ in San Francisco, these prices are steep for the “small town” salaries many in Bend are still making.). And those who were born in Bend and remember that it was once a tiny horse-and-buggy logging town are getting a bit resentful at the massive boom and the way things are changing consequently–understandably so.

So, in all honesty, I felt a bit crowded out. After two years of living in town, working in town, regularly visiting probably 99% of the restaurants/cafes/bars in town, I walked around town knowing that I still wasn’t considered a local.

In fact, in a rather tactless (in my opinion) move, the Source Weekly Newspaper  “jokingly” published a quiz that asked a set of questions about what your preferences are regarding restaurants in town, or winter activities, or whether you knew what a particular building was used for before it became what it is now, and if you scored low in your knowledge of Bend’s history or choice of place to eat (which doesn’t even make sense), then the quiz results will tell you to go back to California. While the quiz no longer exists online, the article about it does, and you can see for yourself how many Bend transplants have experienced hostility from the “real locals” (even at 10 years old! from other 10-years-olds!).

Unfortunately, it is not a joke. I had lived in California for a good chunk of my life prior to moving here, but was told on my first day there to omit that part when introducing myself. “Just tell people you were born in Russia,” I was advised. “They’ll like you better if they don’t know about the California part.” I did no such thing. And while the hostility was not direct–no one ever actually shouted, “Go back to California!” at me from their car window as I walked past in a short denim skirt and UGG boots (which I never ever wear; this is a joke, I promise!)–it still could be felt. And while I met plenty of wonderful people, locals and transplants, who didn’t care where I was from and that I just moved here recently–I just couldn’t commit myself to a place that I didn’t feel welcome in.

And so, the search for a home continues.

But I didn’t walk away dejectedly. Is that ever something I’d do? I don’t think so. I celebrate even my biggest losses. Those close to me were surprised to see me absolutely thrilled when instead of an offer of condolences at finding out about my divorce, a person I just met gave me a high-five and a “Congratulations!” When the friend who introduced us berated him for being inconsiderate, he explained, “I’ve been through a divorce and I can tell when someone needs an ‘I’m sorry’ or a ‘Congratulations!’ and this girl did not need an ‘I’m sorry.’ She seems happy where she is.” I nodded as I stood there beaming. He understood. And he was right. I choose to see even my darkest moments as a building of character, and my divorce is what led me to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and so many beautiful things came after that that maybe I would’ve never experienced if I’d never gotten married and divorced.

Okay, back to not walking away dejectedly. So, instead of sighing, and downheartedly crossing out Bend while grumbling, “Where to next?”, I decided to make my search an adventure (as always). My boyfriend (whom I met in Bend and who also wanted out!) and I purchased an RV, quickly threw together a temporary itinerary, had a yard sale to sell off most of our belongings, and took off traveling around the states to see if someplace else appealed to us a little more.

We will be taking a few detours just for fun (Canada, Yellowstone, maybe Zion/Bryce), but our main objective is to drive around the states that spark our interest, park and post up for a week or two in the towns that call out to us, and decide if our hearts want to call this strange, new place “home.”

I will be blogging about our RV travels regularly, so get ready for a complete turn-around. This blog will–for the next 3 months or so–not be about getting places on foot (though I will still be doing plenty of hiking), but of taking our little house on wheels with us to some really awesome places.

Elina RV

 

 

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Going Home: Sloppy, Wet Kisses From Old Men and Other Hitchhiking Adventures

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I packed up everything that was so incredibly important to me for the past 3.5 months, everything that I didn’t even know how to properly use a year prior but now ensured my survival in the wilderness. Disheartened, I walked back to the little store in Toulomne Meadows, planted my feet on the curb, and faced north to stick my thumb out at the drivers heading south.

I don’t remember how long I stood there. 20 mins? An hour? More? I just remember trying not to cry as I, occasionally, saw a hiker I recognized and waved at them (this wasn’t often because most of the hikers I knew were way ahead of me by now; my injury took me off trail for a few weeks and when I began hiking again, I was still constantly in pain, and therefore, very slow). I remember getting a hug from Lapsang, whom I’d hiked with for a day and spent a few days in Bishop with. His parents were visiting, and he was showing them around Tuolomne as they gazed at their son proudly. I told him I was leaving. Saying it out loud hurt. Every word felt like a hammer pummeling me on the head, like a pickax beating down on a boulder until, finally, it gives way and crumbles . I rushed my goodbyes and went back to pleadingly gazing at every passing driver with my arm outstretched. I didn’t want to go home but neither did I want to be there, where happy hikers and proud parents explored Yosemite before wishing their children a pleasant journey as they embarked on the more-than-half of the hike that they still had the opportunity to experience. Was I jealous? You bet.

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Lapsang and I

A man in his late 50s/early 60s pulled into the parking lot and told me that he had some shopping to do but could take me southward in a little bit if I hadn’t found a ride before then. I accepted the offer, and when he was done and I was still there, got into his car. He headed toward Yosemite Junction (a much easier place to catch a ride), from where I told him I’d continue hitchhiking to Lee Vining and further south as he went on his way to Nevada. We saw another hitchhiker–a hiker I recognized–and I asked him if he wouldn’t mind picking him up too (I knew I’d feel safer as well). He turned around and came back for him, and I found out that that hiker–he’d never acquired a trail name and just went by his first name, which I’m not entirely sure about so I’ll omit it–said that he was getting off trail too, but to climb instead of hike. He said he was bored of the PCT. He didn’t like it much. I was astounded. My heart was ripping in two at the thought of leaving this beautiful trail, and here was a person who didn’t enjoy his time on the PCT at all. I get it, to each his own, but man… I wanted to throttle him, haha.

We dropped off the hiker I, luckily, refrained from throttling at the junction, and I got out to continue hitchhiking, when the man driving me said that he was in no rush to get to his hotel in Nevada and wouldn’t mind hearing more about the PCT if I’d let him drive me a little further south. He hadn’t made me feel uncomfortable in any way and seemed like a kind person (he even came back to pick up the hiker I recognized), so I said, “Sure, thank you.” It’d save me time searching out another ride. He drove me to Mammoth, bought me a crepe, and then he said asked for a hug as we said goodbye. As I leaned in for the hug, he planted a sloppy, wet kiss right on my lips. I pulled away and stood there blinking, mouth open. He began joking about how he wished he had a hotel for us here in Mammoth instead of in Nevada and how he really hoped he’d see me again, and could I give him my contact info, but I hurriedly grabbed my piece of cardboard with “SOUTH” scribbled on it and my hiking poles from his trunk. I was so shocked I was speechless. Laughing nervously (something stupid I can’t help but do in situations like this), and walked off.

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I stood beside a freeway on-ramp where people were heading further south. Eventually, after being ignored too many times, I walked onto the freeway itself, on the side of the road, a quarter of a mile from the on-ramp. A kind woman just a little older than my mother pulled over and offered to take me to Bishop, saying that her motherly instincts kicked in and that she hoped her daughter would never hitchhike and that I better know how to use a gun. She dropped me off, and I continued hitchhiking from Bishop.

A woman in her early-to-mid 30s stopped and told me she’s headed a good amount south and would consider giving me a ride, but she first has to get a feel for who I am as a person before I get in her car. I raised my eyebrows, wondering what she was going to suggest. “I’m hungry. Let’s grab a bite to eat,” she said. She drove us to a restaurant in Bishop that I’d just been to with my fellow hikers a few weeks ago. She ate, we chatted, and as she paid her bill, I asked, “So…did I pass the test?” “Definitely,” she answered. “So, here’s the deal. I’m headed all the way to Los Angeles and can drop you off anywhere on the way there. But I’m stopping by my house first, which is halfway there, and spending the night, before going to LA tomorrow. I’m extending the offer to you. I just first had to see if you’re the kind of person I’d like to invite to my house and spend so much time in the car with. And you definitely are.”

And so I showered, spent the night on a comfy couch in the room where she keeps all of her musical instruments (she’s a naval surgeon but a musician in her spare time), ate the lovely breakfast she made for us the next morning, and ended up home, in Los Angeles, where I’d stay with family (I left my home and job in Big Sur to go hiking and had nothing to come back to) until I healed and figured out what crazy thing I was going to do next.

Note: This is an old entry from a journal I kept while hiking the PCT in 2016. I am no longer on the PCT and had to get off of the trail due to my injury in late July. I wanted to share with you my last few days on the trail and explain how difficult of a decision it was to go home.

 

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If Grown Men Cry, Women Can Too

The next morning, still at Tuolomne Campground in Yosemite National Park, I couldn’t get out of my tent. I heard hikers all around me moving about and politely whispering so as not to wake the people still sleeping in their tents, but at 7 in the morning, the chatter gradually began to increase until I knew it was time to get up. But I couldn’t. I didn’t have the strength to get up, get dressed, brush my teeth, pack up, and go asking around for rides. I didn’t want to face anyone. I was so sad that I was going home and disappointed in myself that I felt too ashamed too face anyone. I wanted to continue hiking so badly, to do bigger and bigger mileage days until I made up for the 2.5 weeks off trail, to not skip another section, to get stronger and stronger, to complete my thru-hike of the PCT, and here I was, dejectedly going home. I wanted to cry. And so I tucked my knees beneath my chin and cried. Then I pulled myself together, told myself I deserved ice cream and hot coffee that did not come from an instant packet, and promised myself that I’d feel better if I got up and gave myself these things.

I went to the campground store and sat at the picnic tables outside amidst other hikers. But I did not feel like one of them anymore and I didn’t socialize with them. Besides, I didn’t know any of them. All of these people started nearly a month after me. I’d never even seen any of them before. I pulled out pen and paper and wrote my little sister a letter. Writing always made me feel better, especially when I’m addressing it to someone, and even more so when it’s directed toward someone I feel comfortable venting to. I wrote for hours. I bought coffee and terrible-tasting breakfast potatoes. I saved the ice cream as a reward for later, for when I managed to get myself out of my dark mood (although, in hindsight, maybe the ice cream would have gotten me out of my terrible mood earlier).

I talked to a few people eating breakfast and waiting for the shuttle and admitted that I was a defeated hiker heading home; I also asked everyone with cars if they were headed north that day or the next. No one was, but everyone was very apologetic about it. At least they were kind. I felt a little better. I went to get ice cream, but they’d run out the past hour. I resorted to a common hiker snack from my pack–Belvita crackers. A family came up and asked if they could sit at my table. We made small talk, and I shared about my injury and my unwillingness but need to go home. One of them happened to be a doctor, and I told him I actually no longer believed it was my tailbone that was the problem, but some other bone in the pelvic region. I explained how the pain was more focused on the left side of my upper back and was more pronounced when I stepped onto my left leg. He said he thought it was an inflamed (sacral?) joint, which would take a much longer time to heal than a tailbone. I didn’t want to hear that at the moment, so I changed the topic.

I heard a hiker at a nearby table say something about getting off trail and going home to San Diego. I was on the way home for him! My parents live in Los Angeles and that is where I planned to recover before I attempted regular life again. I debated between getting up and feeling pain or remaining sitting comfortably and missing an opportunity. I realized that I’d felt worse pain and told myself not to be so ridiculous about it and stood up and walked over to the group of hikers at the table to ask. Too late. There was a hiker who was indeed driving to San Diego, and he’s apparently “really cool” and would most definitely have taken me to LA, but he had just left. “Maybe you’ll get lucky again!” they called out as I walked away.

I slumped back onto my wooden bench. I resumed writing. A sweet elderly couple who was hiking the side trails in Yosemite struck up a conversation with me over my writing a letter and wished they were headed my way. I found out they were taking a bus to Mammoth, from where I could find transportation to LA much more easily, so I told them I’d be taking the bus down with them. My morning had been difficult and I still hadn’t brushed my teeth or packed up, so I walked back to the campground to do so.

Bending down hurt, so I took my time, moving slowly. I eventually decided to take a break and crawled in my tent and, instantly, feelings of weakness and frustration and defeat flooded me and soon overcame me. I bit my lip and tried not to let the pooling tears go beyond the rims of my eyelids again. A man walked up to my tent and asked if he could camp near me since most of the campground was full. I said, “Sure.” He left and the tears started pouring uncontrollably. I turned on music on my phone to block out my muffled sobs as he came back carrying camping gear from his car. He left for more gear, and I began to feel pathetic, sitting there crying in my hot tent in the middle of a nice summer day in a beautiful place. But I tried to be good to myself. I reminded myself that Rosco, my fellow hiker from my first trail family, with whom I told you I had lunch the previous day, had told me that he’s had many bad days on the trail (every 3 days or so) and that he’s been mentally processing a lot and that it’s okay for grown men to cry in the woods. “It’s okay that I needed to cry,” I said to myself. “I’m grieving the loss of a great adventure, a lifestyle that was supposed to be mine for 6 whole months, an accomplishment like no other.”

He came back just as I finished taking apart my tent and packed it away. I told him he could have my spot since I was injured and was getting off the trail to go recover with family in Southern CA. “San Diego?” he asked. “No, Los Angeles,” I answered. “Well, I’m going to San Diego tomorrow if you want to come.”

And then I was unpacking and setting up my tent once again, like a silly fool.

We had a campfire and I allowed myself to spend money I didn’t have on salami, cheese and crackers to entertain and show my gratitude (the Russian in me needs to feed everyone I am fond of/am grateful to/feel indebted to), none of which he ate. We stayed up talking about his wife and kids, most of them older than me, and then I was invited to go fishing with him the next day, which sounded much better than sitting around the campground waiting.

I hiked four miles north and four miles back on the same part of the trail I had just hiked fourteen miles north, turned around, and did fourteen miles back. (The same four miles were hiked four times!) I experienced minimal pain, but this was without a pack on, mind you. Everything was back at the campground except for my beloved Sawyer filter and uneaten salami, cheese, and crackers. These I snacked on while he fished. I lost sight of him at one point throughout the day (I’d closed my eyes and sunbathed for a while) and walked down the river for two miles searching for him, asking anyone if they’d seen him, etc. No one had. It’s like he had vanished.

I hiked back to the campsite and found his things gone. I assume that he waded up the river as I hiked up in the same direction but along the trail, where occasionally, I lost sight of the river, and that, at some point, he turned around and headed back while I continued going up in search of him. Eventually, by the time I hiked south, he had been at the campsite for some time, and decided not to wait for me and began his drive home.

And so my search for a ride home resumed.

Note: This is an old entry from a journal I kept while hiking the PCT in 2016. I am no longer on the PCT and had to get off of the trail due to my injury in late July. I wanted to share with you my last few days on the trail and explain how difficult of a decision it was to go home.

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Dear Mother, I Broke My Promise

Dear mother, I broke my promise to you.
I camped alone in Yosemite National Park. No one chose to camp next to me last night as they all passed by hurriedly. Maybe sleeping next to the rushing river seemed unappealing. The noise, perhaps? Or the condensation? My tent and sleeping bag was soaked both mornings and I had to let it dry before packing up on the second morning. But this is my fault. I didn’t put my rainfly on my tent and only had mesh separating me from the misty air around me, which let in all the moisture through its thin walls. But I can’t blame myself. I was in too much pain to put in any extra work that wasn’t very necessary. Bending down hurts. Setting up the tent was a must or I’d go insane from the mosquitoes (remember the 50 bites I acquired in only about 4-5 hours?), but any extra bending down to affix the extra cover over my tent would not be worth the pain. I’d rather wake up soaked.

But it wasn’t so bad. My new sleeping bag dries rather quickly. While in Bishop, I upgraded from the worst of the worst to the best. I got rid of my 27 degree Thermarest down sleeping bag, which was used when I purchased it, and with the loft flattened and missing in some places, it was only suitable for the desert. I instead purchased a new 5 degree Western Mountaineering bag. It is so warm and wonderful and lofty! It was actually rather difficult to get it into my backpack–it’s that fluffy–until I acquired a compression sack from a trail angel from an old bag they didn’t need, along with some extra tightening straps they cut off from a sleep mattress. These two combined allow me to compress my bag into a fourth or fifth of the size it is when uncompressed, and now it fits nicely into the bottom of my backpack. Speaking of which, I also now have a new backpack, but that will be in another post, another time.

Anyway, this morning, I awoke with less pain in my tailbone, but still enough for me to know that it’s much smarter to hike the 14 miles back to the campground rather than the 60 to Bridgeport. Once at the campground, I can attempt to find a ride somewhere where I can rest maybe another week, maybe even see a doctor. If it indeed is something serious, I may have made it worse by hiking 20 miles in a day, twice, with a 35-40 lb. pack resting right on my lower back, and this would not be good. I’d need to make sure I’m fully healed before I set out again next time. This, of course, is extremely frustrating. I want to be hiking, moving forward, advancing, getting further and further north so badly. I already feel so behind. I’m with the stragglers, with the hikers who have either been hurt as well, or took too much time off for fun, or who only hike 10 miles a day and plan to skip ahead or don’t plan to finish at all. I don’t want to skip a section again, but it looks like I’ll have to. Since I’ve already hiked 380ish miles in Northern CA (parts of CA sections L-O: Donner Pass to Burney Falls), I know I can always skip that, but I loved that section and wanted to do it again, to relive the memories, but in a better state of mind (last year’s hike was to get away from certain difficult circumstances in my life, to mentally process things and figure out what to do, and prepare myself for properly handling them when I get home). I may have to skip another section instead, or possibly even in addition to, and come back next year to fill in the gaps. That wouldn’t too terrible, as I love the PCT and plan to do many more section hikes and hopefully even another thru-hike of the same trail one day. Nevertheless, it is very disappointing to hike 14 miles backwards and get off the trail again.

But, today, I will not let myself feel down. Yesterday was my day for that. Today is a new day, and it’s going to be great! I felt blessed as I tucked my warm and poofy sleeping bag into my gifted compression sack. I have this wonderful new bag, and it’s warm, and comfortable, and even in my favorite color (blue). It provided me with my some decent sleep last night, too, and I am feeling rested. I have an awesome tent that is protecting me from the mosquitoes that are hovering around, ready to make my life miserable, but, ha! They can’t get in! There is a pretty butterfly right outside my tent sitting on a flower, flapping its wings. The sun is coming out more and more with each half hour. I have eaten breakfast biscuits and dried fruit with cold coffee, and am full and energized. The hike back shouldn’t be too terrible, and maybe even I’ll manage to do all 14 miles today and be at the campground by nightfall. Maybe not, and that’s okay too. I can camp somewhere beautiful, and after camping alone last night in bear country, I am not as nervous. I attended to the proper precautions of storing my bear can full of food a good distance away. And I actually enjoyed the solitude, just like last time.

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This morning went well. I finished reading “The Sea-Wolf” and loved how it ended. Its adventure stories lifted my spirits and made me want to go out there and seek my own adventure, which I’m sure I will have as soon as I pack up my tent and start hiking. I also found several errors in the book, although it is a classic that has been first released over a hundred years ago and proofread many times since, and proofreading is a passion of mine and I always feel great when I spot an error someone else missed (tsk, tsk, tsk, Townsend). Since I’ll be at the campground tonight or tomorrow, I don’t have to conserve my phone battery, so I’m playing one of my new favorite songs, “Hold On” by The Brevet. I like to think of it as my PCT motto song. As he sings, “Gain strength to put your boots back on,” I’m looking at my trail runners, all dry from sitting in the sun a full day and ready to be worn again, and I’m anticipating doing some hiking today. The part I just hiked the day before was beautiful, and I don’t mind seeing it again. I’m just hoping that my tailbone doesn’t bother me too much, but, if it does, I can always stop and set up camp wherever I choose to. The section where camping is not allowed is before Tuolomne Meadows, and I am going back to Tuolomne, but not before.

I broke my promise once already. I won’t be breaking my back trying to camp with someone else again. I’m only 14 miles from a public campground, and even though that doesn’t mean much since even the campground has strict rules in regards to putting all food into locked bear boxes at night and all trash cans have a chain and clip clasping them shut to keep bears out, I’ll be fine. I’m careful. I keep my bear not too close to my tent, and clean up well and don’t spread food smells everywhere when eating. I also sleep with my headlamp and whistle right next to me. I’ll be okay, mom. Don’t worry. I’m surrounded by beauty. I’ll be resting soon. I’m happy.

Note: This is an old entry from a journal I kept while hiking the PCT earlier in the year. I am no longer on the PCT and had to get off trail due to my injury in late July. I wanted to share with you my last few days on the trail and explain how difficult of a decision it was to go home.
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Friends, Joy, Pain, and Loneliness

I had taken the third day off, and my body repaired itself well. I felt absolutely ready to go hiking once again, as long as I was attentive to my body’s needs and warning signals and did not overwork myself again. I woke up at 8am and was going to hike out at 9, but when I went to the campground store to post a letter, I saw my friend, K-Bar, the one who the fire station captain told me was back on trail. K-Bar and I had met a few months before we began hiking the PCT and traveled to Utah to hike around Zion together and made a little detour to Vegas beforehand. We had an amazing weeklong trip full of all sorts of adventures  and knew we would be friends for life afterwards. Occasionally, I bump into him on the trail, but I hadn’t seen him since Lake Isabella, and it was very exciting to catch up a bit. We celebrated with hugs and double patty cheeseburgers (the generous soul bought me mine, along with a salad).

Full and happy, I hiked out on my own at 2pm. I wanted to do at least 8 miles that afternoon, if not 10 or 12, but I told myself that I couldn’t go beyond 12 no matter what because I knew my body didn’t want me to. After 6 or so miles, I ran into a hiker named Lost and Found, and hiked a good chunk of the day with him. We made it to 12 miles, and then split up as I sat down to take a break, with vague plans to camp at Lake McCabe where we were told by a passing hiker others would be camping. There was no flat ground to set up camp at mile 12, only rocky boulders, and so I had to go further. I hiked to mile 14 and found the trail that led to Lake McCabe, but it was an extra two miles until the lake itself. Most PCT hikers won’t hike an extra 4 (counting both there and back) for a campsite, and I worried that everyone who planned to camp there must have changed their minds and passed it when they realized how far it was off trail. But I checked my GPS to see what’s ahead on the PCT and saw no campsites for miles.

I was exhausted and unsure of what to do, but I remembered my promise to my mother and myself to camp with others in this section, and so I set out in the direction of the lake. A mile in, I noticed that the trail looked pretty unmaintained in some areas and probably wasn’t frequently used. Most importantly, I noticed that most of the recent footprints looked to be going in the opposite direction, away from the lake, and I began to suspect that it was more likely that fishermen used this lake early this morning, not PCT hikers, and had already left. But I had walked a mile, and I didn’t want to go back, and it would get dark soon. I hoped for company, maybe even a fire. I had almost done the two miles when the footprints began getting more faint, and I began getting more worried. If I got there and no one was there, and it got dark, I’d be two miles off the PCT by some isolated lake to which you could only get to via an unmaintained trail. That would not be good. I called out, “Are there people camping ahead of me?” several times, got no response, and turned around. I’d rather camp by myself along the PCT than two miles off trail and away from anyone. I now had to hike the two miles back. My feet hurt, my back hurt, it was getting to be very dark, and I was little nervous.

I got back on trail and still hoped there would be someone camping somewhere soon before me. It was now 9pm and pitch black. I tried to hurry and didn’t want to stop to get my headlamp out of my backpack. I hiked on in the dark, got to a sharp switchback that I didn’t notice and headed straight into the woods and off trail. Not more than 100 feet later, I realized there was no trail before me and found my way back to the curve I missed. I have no idea how–maybe exhaustion or nervousness?–but I somehow  got confused. One part of the curve was a downhill descent and then a sharp curve, and then still downhill but slightly more level ground. I couldn’t remember whether I had just descended the trail that went up before me or if that was where I should be heading next. I figured I must have descended, as it looked to be coming from the direction I came from, and so I continued on downwards. About half a mile down, I, for some reason, thought I made a mistake. I didn’t remember going down a steep downhill, and figured I hadn’t been on that part of the trail yet and must go up it. I turned around and did another half a mile back to that curve.

As I was heading back, a loud noise of twigs snapping caught my attention to my right. I called out, “Is someone there?” thought I knew no hiker would be in a densely forested part of the woods at nighttime. I knew that deer made noise, and smaller creatures too, but this was loud, as if the animal was heavy, and this was bear country. This was the part of the PCT where the most bears are seen and encountered. I put my whistle in my mouth just in case, ran past the noise, got to the curve in the trail, threw my pack down, and got my headlamp out. I then checked my Halfmile GPS application on my phone, and walked a few steps back and a few forward. I saw that when I went down, my mileage increased, and when I went up, my mileage decreased. But the mileage towards the next river decreased as I went down, and increased as I went up. This made sense. If I was at mile 955.5, then if I continued north on the PCT, my mileage would go up to 955.6, 955.7, and so on. And the river in front of me, if it was .67 miles away, would go down to .50, and then .40 miles away as I approached it.

For some reason, maybe the fear of having possibly just walked past a bear, I processed this backwards. I thought I had to go up the trail so that the decimal numbers after 955 would decrease. I started going up again, did almost half a mile, and then got my senses back. I realized that my mileage numbers decreasing and the distance between me and the river before me was increasing meant that I was walking southbound, in the direction I had just come from! I felt like such an idiot! I turned around and ran back down, past the place where I heard the twigs snapping, and hoped I wouldn’t hear anything this time. I didn’t, but I kept my whistle untangled and hanging from my backpack strap at an easily reachable distance.

My Halfmile map told me that there was a river ford about a mile ahead of me. I so hoped that I’d find a campsite before that so that I wouldn’t have to cross a river at nighttime. That was not the case. Just a rocky ridge walk to the river, and then there was nothing to do but cross. I looked for a log or rocks to hop in order to stay dry as I crossed the rather wide river, but no such luck. Just then my headlamp reflected something shiny across the water. Two bright, glowing circles. Eyes! I instantly turned cold as I feared that across the river was a bear. Then I realized they were too spread out, and it would be a very deformed bear, and beside the circles there were also two lines that reflected just as brightly. A tent! They were the guy-lines of a tent, made of reflective material. I plunged into the water happily, shoes and all, nearly toppling over due to the unexpected cold and force. I then realized there were deep spots in the river where I’d sink in at least to my waist, and the current was very strong. So I used my headlamp to find the biggest rocks that were closer to the surface, and tested each one out with one foot first to make sure they weren’t too slippery. I managed to get across without going more than knee-deep, and nearly skipped towards the tent.

A lady’s voice called out from inside, asking if I was looking for a campsite. I said, “Yes!” She told me where there was another flat spot over a log a few feet away from her, and I could have hugged her if she were not tucked away inside her tent. I pitched my tent as quickly as possible, climbed in to finally get away from the mosquitoes (my first day on trail after my break, I counted 50 bites…in under 5 hours!), and ate both lunch and dinner (I’d skipped lunch when I hiked with Lost and Found, mostly to keep his pace so I could camp next to someone, although I “lost” and never “found” him again), but also because anytime I stopped, the mosquitoes would eat me alive. It was now about 10:30pm. I was beat. Instead of 8 or 10 or 12, I had done another 20 mile day (at least one mile at the campground as I walked to the wilderness center to ask questions and then back to the store, then 14 to my current campsite, the four or so to the lake and back when I made the detour, and about one extra mile when I got lost). I fell asleep easily, with the soothing noise of the rushing river less than 50 feet from me, but woke up frequently due to some kind of pain somewhere. I didn’t yet realize what it was.

I woke up at 8:30. The lady near me had packed up her tent and was getting ready to go. I didn’t have my glasses on and all was blurry, but she never turned around enough for me to see her face anyways. I have no idea whom I slept next to. I felt a sharp pain and knew I’d overdone it again. Oh well, today I will do only 8 miles or so, I thought. I can sleep in and hike later. I woke up again at 11. Some hikers were sunbathing in the distance by the river. I got up to pee. As I bent down to climb out of my tent, I felt a familiar traveling electrical current in my lower back, followed by a dull ache. Oh no! My old tailbone pain was back, and with a vengeance. I spent most of the day cooking, eating, washing my utensils and clothes, drying my shoes and socks from last night, and hiding in my tent from the incessantly hungry mosquitoes. I took vitamins, allowed myself one pain killer, and hoped that the pain would be gone tomorrow. If not, I couldn’t hike the 60 miles to Bridgeport. I’d have to hike the 14 back to Tuolomne, in pain, and take another break, God knows for how long. I tried not to think about having to do that.

I felt really alone. I felt I could really use someone at that moment. I wanted to share my pain and frustration with someone. I wanted company, laughter, someone to lift my spirits.

I hoped someone would eventually camp beside me, maybe the people I knew who stayed behind at the campground in Tuolomne for extra night. Necktie and I had decided we weren’t going to be hiking partners, but I now secretly hoped he’d catch up and we’d camp together one more time. I realized that, during moments like these, one could really use a hiking partner. It’s great to learn to depend on yourself, but sometimes, when you’re in pain and scared that the injury hasn’t healed enough to hike and won’t for a long time and worried about having to hike back even if it’s only 14 miles and sad that you have to camp alone on a day when you’d rather have someone else beside you, you really understand the reason why people stick together, even if solitude can be beautiful at times.

Instead, I ended up eating a lot, journaling, and reading my book as I lounged on top of my sleeping bag, with my z-rest and most of my clothes thrown over my tent to provide shade. Such is life. Not all days are magical. Some simply sort of suck.

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