Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Day 4

Day 4
Miles 39-42

-Woke up at 4:30am. Hiked out at 5:00am. Got to the Mt. Laguna store before 6:30am. Everything was closed, so Zog and I just hung out on the porch outside of the store. 
-Storytime, my buddy from last years hike texted me saying he heard I was in the area, and that he was near me doing trail magic. 1-Track (my brother) was ahead of me on trail. 1-Track called me and said every southbound hiker he passed knew me. I guess word spread across the trail about my back going out and about me still being on the trail this year. Storytime must have caught wind of my whereabouts through word of mouth from other hikers which is how he knew I was around Mt. Laguna.
-So... while I was sitting there on the porch waiting for the store to open, 
and texting Storytime, my friend Apache hiked up! He exclaimed "GIRLY GIRL!" I jumped up and we hugged and laughed and hung out. I last saw Apache in Washington this last September. Apache has a big hat with bird feathers sticking up all around it. I'm proud to say that some of those feathers were from me during last year's hike. I had recently found a pretty feather, so I took it out of my pack and added it to Apache's hat. Apache is really cool- super chill, friendly, and a great hiker. I'm stoked I got to see him. 
-While Apache and I were hanging out, Storytime drove up to us. It was such a FUN reunion! It's crazy how hiking with someone for a few weeks forms such a strong bond that would take much longer to form with someone in real life. This was just the beginning of my reunion!
-Storytime picked me up and drove me down to Julian so I could meet up with my brother 1-Track. I had already hiked that stretch last year, so I didn't feel too bad about skipping it. I have it all on video. Lol. It was all downhill which I actually prefer and didn't want to skip... but Zog pointed out that I only get a chance to hike the PCT with my brother so many times in life, and that may be more important to me than hiking those 35 miles to Scissors Crossing. 
-I got to Julian this morning, reunited with 1-Track (my brother), took a shower in some other hikers' hotel room, ate, and was preparing to get back on the trail with 1-Track at mile 77. But then... Story Time said he was getting a group together to camp tonight and invited 1-Track and I to join. Storytime also ran into another hiker from last year he said I would be excited to see. It was Tin Man, Jack Rabbit, & Magellan!!!!!! Yaaayyyyy!
-1-Track, Storytime, and I headed down the road to pick up Giggles in San Diego, take 1-Track to the ATT store, swing by Target, and drive back towards Mt. Laguna to camp with a group of friends. 
-The campsite was cold and windy, so we chilled in the car drinking and listening to music. It was so much fun and a joy to be with everyone again. I passed out in the car. Lol. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Hiking Buddy "Zog"

Me & The Germans

Mt. Laguna (Mile 42)

Day 3

Day 3
Miles 25.5-39

-I was cold last night, even though I was in my 19 degree sleeping bag. I have not set up my tent yet. Woke up at 5:00am. Left around 6:15 am (Zog isn't used to hiking out so early) which was later than I had planned, but I am really enjoying his company and he is new to this.) He says he has already learned so much from me in the 24 hours we have known each other. 
-Stopped at a campground for water and so Zog could eat breakfast. Left at 7:00am. Hiked out. It started getting hot one hour in. I've got to become totally nocturnal because this heat is killing me! 
-Hiked till about 10:00am. Found an off-trail water source at a campground. It was a 2 mile round trip detour from the trail. Zog and I headed to the campground and paid the day use fee of $5 so we could relax and siesta during the heat of the day. Later, a hiker named Essie joined us, followed by the 2 Germans Work Hard and his wife Bridget. It was a fun reunion, but I had to leave for the trail in the evening. Zog and Essie decided to night hike with me. They were both amazed at how much nicer hiking is at night when it's about 30% F cooler than the day time. I am so happy I did this massive climb at night! It would have taken me forever if I had done it in the day. Essie camped early. Zog and I pushed on to mile 39. This was Zog's highest mileage day since he got on the PCT, and he was exhausted. We decided to wake up at 4:30am so we could hike into Mt. Laguna in the cool part of the morning. We did a total of 15.5 miles. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Day 2

Day 2
Miles 14-25.5

-Okay, on my "Day 1" entry the date says "4-10-2014." That was a typo. I meant to type 4-19-2014. Just had to set the record straight. 
-Left my camp spot at 6:15 and reached Lake Morena at mile 20 at 9:00am. I was moving slowly because of the uphill climb coupled with my back pain. I did, however, get close to 12 hours of sleep last night which seems to have made a big impact on how I am feeling today. I still feel uneasy, but I don't feel as defeated as I did yesterday. Yesterday was hell; maybe today will be better. 
-Arriving to Lake Morena was great. I used the restroom (a real one!), set my pack down at the designated PCT hiker campsite, and walked to the deli/gas station down the road. I ordered a cheeseburger, potato salad, and a chocolate malt. I only had 1/2 of the burger, about 3 small bites of potato salad, and about 3 sips of the malt. I think I was too tired to eat even though I didn't eat this morning. I did guzzle one large bottle of Gatorade and I purchased another bottle to go.
-It's only 11:00am here at Lake Morena, but it is really hot outside. I am laying underneath a big tree with lots of shade. I think I'll stay here until it cools down around 4:00 or 5:00pm. I want to hike at least 6 more miles, but I might shoot for 10. I'm not sure yet- it all depends on my back pain.
-I am at mile 25.5. I slept and relaxed all day at Lake Morena. I made some friends too. I was feeling better, so I decided to night hike about 5 miles to the next water source. One of the hikers, Zog, asked if he could join. He is an old, retired fire fighter and Vietnam veteran and has never hiked the PCT. Night hiking was a new concept for him, so I gave him some glow sticks and we hiked and talked. We just stopped to camp and can hear tons of Arroyo Toads in the distance. The hike went well, especially in the coolness of the night. My back is feeling better too. I think night hiking is the best way for me to hike from now on. I'm about to go to bed.

Day 1

Day 1
Miles 0-14

-Its hot. Really, really, really hot. I covered 5 miles in one hour, but then I started feeling overheated, nauseas, dizzy, and my skin was bright red. I'm only 7 miles in! I started thinking I might be having a heat stroke, so I told myself I would take a break at the first shady spot I came to. I walked over an hour until I could find some "decent" shade. Right now, I am in a tiny amount of shade underneath a manzanita tree. There is no room for me to lay down because I am on a ridge. I am so thankful for this tree!
-I feel a sense of urgency to catch up with my older brother who started 2 days before me. I began after him due to some last minute medical issues I had to take care of back in Texas. He is at least 32 miles ahead of me. I am trying to catch up to him, but it's pretty hard to catch a moving target. I have decided to hike my own hike, and to not get overwhelmed with catching up to him. If he wants to hike with me he can wait for me. I have to rest when I need to, as I'm doing now, otherwise I won't be able to finish this hike. 
-I take lithium because I am bipolar type II. The medication has really helped me, however it can become toxic and deadly with over exertion, excessive sweating, lack of water, sunlight, and heat. So basically everything I am doing right now and for the next 6 months is putting me at risk if I'm not careful. I get this competitive mindset where I want to keep up with everyone, and it's just not good for me- mentally or physically. This trail teaches me a ton about self acceptance, and I must accept that I have about a million medical hurdles to jump over... and I am a bad ass for even trying. I think part of my near-heat-stroke-experience is because of the lithium. I've gotta take it easy. 
-Girlscout (the trail angel who picked me up in San Diego both this year and last year) and other hikers poked fun at me. They said my trail name should be "Issues" since I'm constantly dealing with medical problems. Lol. I'm tempted to change my name to "Issues" because it's accurate and funny, but I think I'll stick with Girly Girl. She has become my warrior alter ego and she can do anything. She has no issues that will slow her down. :)
-I sat down to rest at 10:00am and it is now 11:00am. I'm feeling better and am going to hike on for a few more miles. 
-I hiked on and felt better (sort of). But then my back muscles started spasming around mile 11 or 12. It felt like a knife was digging into my low back and the pack rubbing against it didn't help. I kept trying to tell myself to stay positive, to not give up, not to cry, to keep moving forward, that it's not that bad, that it's all in my head, that I can trick the pain sensors in my brain if I just try hard enough. Pain started shooting down my legs and into my toes. The right side hurt the most. I started to cry. Then I panicked. How is it that I was doing 28 mile days in the Cascade Mountains just 6 months ago, and now I am ready to give up before even hiking 15 miles? To say I felt discouraged would be a massive understatement. I felt utterly defeated and good-for-nothing. It was as if my dream had turned to sand and it was rushing through my finger tips. 
-I hiked on because I knew a road that border patrol often uses was coming up at mile 14. I figured, worst case scenario, that they would eventually drive down the road and I could flag them down if I needed help. There weren't many flat places to camp, so I set up my camp on a slope underneath a manzanita tree.
-I sent the following texts to my family back home because I couldn't think straight: "My back is KILLING ME to the point that I'm fighting back tears. The pain is running all the way to my toes. I've been going REALLY slow and taking tons of breaks. I've been stretching. I don't know what to do. :/ It's been a very hard day. I'm at mile 13.37. Advice???? I'm about to be near a road." "If I camp where I am now (near the road that border patrol uses), then I have a HUGE 5 mile incline before I get to my first scheduled stop (Lake Morena) tomorrow. I'm not sure my back can handle this incline. It has taken me about 3 hours to go less than 5 miles. Should I camp at the road and see how I feel in the morning? I don't know what to do. This pain is outrageous. I've got pain pills but I really do not want to take them." "I just had a Phi Mu sorority sister who I met on trail last year text me (her name is Peanut and she is 55) . She said if I ever need help, she lives in SoCal and can help me with whatever. So I told her that I might be calling her tomorrow morning for help. I feel incredibly relieved to have her nearby and willing to help. I'm gonna go ahead and take a pain pill and rest up."
-While I was resting and trying to figure out what I should do, a hiker heading south approached me. He was older, had a long white beard, looked like a hippie, wore lots of necklaces that probably held some meaning, and all of his gear was really old school. He sat down on the trail and joined me for a chat. He said his name is Hard Way because he does everything the hard way. He asked why I was camping where I was camping because the spot I was in was definitely not the ideal camping spot. I told him about my back and how I didn't want to camp right on the road, and that this was my best option. I started crying as I explained how badly my head wants to hike and how my body is screaming for me to rest and slow down. He told me how he is sober for about a year, that the love of his life had been ripped away from him when she died, how angry he was, and how his life spiraled out of control. He said he knew our situations were different, but he could understand the feeling of being out of control. He said he was sorry for my pain, and he validated how frustrating it must be. He told me that no matter what, it will always be okay. He encouraged me to hang in there and to rest. He also said I look like his daughter. Hard Way talked about how much he loves to hike- that he doesn't care where or when he is going as long as he can just go. This resonated with me. It doesn't matter how much mileage I'm covering, as long as I can go. So who cares if I'm not hiking as many miles a day that I am used to hiking... I love being out here so if I can only go 5 miles then that's what I'll do. The point is for me not to give up or give in, but to just go. 
-Shortly after Hard Way left, a border patrol truck came around the bend. He approached me and could tell I was a PCT hiker and an American. He never asked for a form of ID. He did ask if I was okay, and I explained to him my situation. He asked if I needed a ride and I told him I wasn't ready to throw in the towel just yet. I asked if someone would be on patrol tomorrow if I decided I needed help, and he said yes. He was a really nice guy. He left 1 liter of spring water with me too which was incredibly nice. 
-I decided to camp at mile 14 for the night, but I was on a slope so I kept slipping throughout the night. I didn't use a tent. I put my ground cloth on the slope, followed with my blow up air mattress, with my sleeping bag on top and me in it. I put my backpack underneath my knees to alleviate the pressure on my back and to keep me from sliding a lot. I took a pain pill, my other medications, ibuprofen, and I watched Family Guy. I fell asleep around 6:30pm. I would occasionally wake when hikers would pass me. We would chat and then I'd go back to bed. I woke up around 10:30pm and could see that the valley below me was filled with mist that had rolled in off the Pacific Ocean. I watched the moonrise and looked at the stars. I fell back asleep and, aside from slowly sliding down onto the trail, I slept like a baby.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Here I Go...

I have decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) again! I cannot believe I am throwing myself into this journey for a second time! It is going to be challenging and painful but something deep within me says I have to do this. The trail is calling and I must go. 

It was easy to make a commitment to the trail last year because I was 100% naive as to what I was walking into. I had no idea how many challenges I would face, how many mountains I would climb, how much my body would ache, how difficult it would be to remain motivated and mentally sound, how hungry I would become, or how dirty and miserable I could get. I was clueless. This year, I know fair and square what exactly I am walking into... I've been having nightmares. What if the inclines never stop? What if I can't tolerate my back pain? What if I suffer a mental breakdown? What if I am too homesick? What if it's too hot? What if it gets too cold? What if I don't make any friends? What if I feel lonely? What if my asthma isn't helped by my inhaler? What if I run out of money? What if I'm not cut out for this? What if, what if, WHAT IF?!?!?!?!? Who in their right mind would willingly do this? Well, I guess... I would. Why, you ask? As stated above, I understand what I am about to do... but it's not all bad. The positives outweigh the so called 'negatives' for me:

The empowerment I gain from walking 2,665 miles is overwhelming. I remind myself how hard the simple act of walking downstairs was for me in the past. I once could not lift even a gallon of milk. I remind myself that I am no longer defined by spinal surgeries, pain medication, chronic pain, doctors appointments, and pity. I can do it... I WILL DO THIS! I will not go down without a fight. I am going to be healthy. I am walking this trail as if my life depends on it. 

Another benefit is getting to see things that most people never get a chance to see. The payoff is incredible and the sheer beauty of nature is more than anyone could ever imagine. When I hike into the wilderness and I reach a mountain pass, I often think about all the people I wish I could share the view with. I then think of all the reasons why those people cannot or will not be there with me, and I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to see certain remote sights with my very own two eyes. It's the most amazing feeling knowing that only a handful of people have seen what I've seen.

I also enjoy feeling small and knowing that the world does not revolve around me. The stars are bigger, more abundant, and they shine brighter. The animals are bigger and they could easily overtake me. I could suffer heat stroke or be bit by a rattlesnake in the desert. I could face dehydration. The San Andreas Fault is often below my feet and it could open up and swallow me whole. The mountains could crumble, a flash flood could sweep me away, I could be engulfed and buried in a mudslide. I could be hit by lightening or caught in a forest fire. The forests are dark, mysterious, and full of foreign sounds from creatures hidden from sight. When I am hiking, I am facing the reality of the world I live in, and I am humbled. Mankind always thinks we are nĂºmero uno, the top of the food chain, the end-all-be-all, the kings of the earth. This is a lie, at least in my opinion. Try sleeping alone in the forest and hiking a few days without seeing a soul or any remnants of a human being, and you will quickly learn how powerless and vulnerable you really are. I admit, feeling small is scary. But after working through that fear and seeing myself for what I really am, I am able to peacefully surrender myself to God and the Universe. Everything is out of my control, and that is okay. I don't need to control, I have no need to be "right." All I need to do in this world is to take good care of myself the best I can, be kind to others, work hard, persevere, and have love and peace in my heart. 

Another positive from walking the PCT is that I am forced to step away from materialism and inauthenticity. I can carry everything I truly need on my back and survive for 6 months. In every day life we are bombarded by advertising and marketing schemes to the point that we don't even notice them. On the trail, I feel beautiful even when I haven't showered and am covered in dirt. In normal life, I feel so much pressure to be a certain way and to fit a specific image. When I am hiking, nothing matters other than my health and well-being. It is truly freeing to realize that my appearance and material possessions are absolutely worthless. The need for me to chase after some crazy and often unattainable American dream filled with luxurious items and being able to impress everyone has long escaped me and I do not want to pursue it. I already am living the dream. I have accepted myself and I am happy with who I am. 

I value the Human Experience found on the trail. Thru-hikers are all similar in a few ways... we value nature, hard work, peace, laughter, water, good food, music, determination, and hiking. We are all free spirits drawn onto the trail. We are looking for something bigger than ourselves. Many of us are fed up with society and the idea that one ought to live a certain way. We are adventurers. We are seekers. We are wanderers. We are challenging our bodies and our minds. We are seeking a certain kind of freedom. We all find this freedom, belonging, and sense of community on the trail and with one another. We are thru-hikers. Koo-wii!

So... as I sit on Delta Flight 1967 en route to San Diego... I think about all the good experiences I am about to encounter and become a part of. I tell myself this is worth it. I tell myself I must do this in order to break through to a different side of my soul's existence. I tell myself that the 'negatives' are the things that will build character, that the 'negatives' are what make the positives seem so positive, that the 'negatives' are the things I will overcome that will make me feel proud. No more nightmares; the time has come. I am ready to take on the trail.