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PCT Day 104, below windmills to Highway 58 overpass (Tehachapi) 20 miles

I found that ultimately if you truly pour your heart into what you believe in — even if it makes you vulnerable — amazing things can and will happen. – Emma Watson

It takes huge discipline to save three Clif Bars until the last day of six out on this section, but am I ever glad I held out because they taste so good with the last of my water used for coffee. I get a late start, and I needed the rest, my whirring fans and nearly full moon as companions. I love the chill of the morning, being all alone in my dusty site, the quiet of my own thoughts.

The trail winds up and up, over towards one set of windmills on a hill and then towards another. The mountains are drab tan and green, a kind of sameness creeping in here as one pine crowds everyone else out. I walk to the final water source called golden oaks spring and glad to see it’s smack dab in the middle of the trail as I told Spark last night, who likely arrived as it was getting dark. It’s possible to camp here, but it’s crowded and smelly. I’m glad I chose beneath-the-windmills last night.

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PCT Day 103, ridge above Kelso Road to below windmills, 25 miles

If you’re one of those people who has that little voice in the back of her mind saying, ‘Maybe I could do [fill in the blank],’ don’t tell it to be quiet. Give it a little room to grow, and try to find an environment it can grow in. – Reese Witherspoon

I rushed to pack up because the sunrise from my rocks was superb, a deep reddish-orange accented by a few frilly clouds. It’s cold and my hands are cupped around the heated pot. The lighter broke on my stove. I have a backup lighter, but I loved not having to use it. It’s inevitable things give out with how much they have to endure. My pack has lost two tightening straps and a hole is widening where I keep the water bottles. A zipper on the alicoop won’t close. And one bottle cap has pulled apart. Thankfully, so far, that’s it. Even I’m holding together!

It really is cold this morning as funky stones and views give way to ponderosa pine forest and a trail of needles and cones with sharp points. I hear Prokofiev ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as I walk through this unexpected terrain that feels intimate somehow, as it goes up and down, following dry creek beds and ravines. Soon, oak join the flora in fall dress of bright yellow leaves. The color is so intense, lit by the sun it has a stained glass window effect, almost coloring the very air.

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PCT Day 102, ridge beyond Yellow Jacket Spring to ridge above Kelso Road, 24 miles

Drama is very important in life: You have to come on with a bang. You never want to go out with a whimper. – Julia Child

The night is cold, but Big Greenie keeps me warm and the wind dies down after a few hours. I have my first real throbbing headache of the thru-hike and Tylenol only slightly dulls the pain. I wonder if sun, wind, dust and pollen brought it on as I dress and pack and add an extra scoop of chococoffee to the pot.

It feels good here all by myself. I know I’m somewhere in the middle of the SOBO (southbound) pack, but I enjoy hearing the wind, an owl, a mystery twig snap and my own voice as I hum and talk to myself in the morning. There’s little view here but orange sky and that’s by design so I’m out of the wind. But it’s only a few minutes before I’m at the top of this mountain with views back into the Sierra. I can just make out higher gray peaks above the mass of peaks I’ve walked since then. I smile remembering how wonderful it was there – and how happy I am that I walked it all in relatively superb weather.

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PCT Day 101, saddle, north of Morris Peak to tentsite on ridge beyond Yellow Jacket spring, 22 miles

I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took an excuse. – Florence Nightingale

When ‘Flawless’ passed last night, she assured me the wind would die down. As if any of us really know. In fact, it got stronger and gustier in my little narrow spot on the ridge. But the alicoop stood up to it as she got pummeled from all sides. I was so dead tired, I fell asleep through all the racket, but woke at one point and started reading my brother Eric’s suggestion of ‘Nobody’s Fool’ by Richard Russo. It’s so good and kept me calm as the rattling, flapping and shaking never let up. I guess if you learn anything on a thru-hike, it’s to enjoy the experience while it’s happening and hope for the best. I can tell you this – dynamee makes a very special sound.

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PCT Day 100, Chimney Creek to saddle, north of Morris Peak, 24 miles

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain! – Dolly Parton

I wake earlier than normal and it’s not all that cold, which I like. I only wear my rain jacket to start. Bear Box comes over to chat while I eat, telling me she has an interview to be a flight attendant. She also made a total change to her wardrobe after all the cold in the Sierra, though I think now things will be getting hot – at least in the day – so there’s not much need for hand warmers. She shows me where to get water – and how to avoid the very healthy poison oak. A guy who calls himself ‘Number Seven’ is camped right next to the spring. I joke about his choosing the prime camp spot, and he complains about not finding flat spots anywhere so late at night. I say, “Seven is a better number than two.” But he doesn’t laugh. Some of these PCT hikers take themselves so seriously.

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PCT Day 99, Kennedy Meadows junction to Chimney Creek, 20 miles

You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through. —Rosalynn Carter

Another glorious rest at Sandy’s, though I’m still dreaming throughout the night that I’m walking. I wake up from these dreams surprised I haven’t moved at all. Which is a good thing since it’s bacon and eggs and cheesy grits for breakfast and far too much coffee. Sandy and I hang on the couch with her precious dogs – the skinny mop-top who flops, black poodle Oliver and the solid tank of a dog-shaped-like-a-penguin with silky fur, the doberman? chihuahua? mix, Hoppes. I got a reasonably decent fill of fur therapy, the two swapping positions between us as we gabbed. I am incredibly lucky to have met Sandy – and frankly all the gals this summer, Laura, Holly, Maria, Andrea, Laurie, Jayne, women I bonded with deeply.

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PCT Day 97 and 98, zeroes, Ridgecrest

Taking joy in living is a woman’s best cosmetic. – Rosalind Russell

Much needed zero days have been taken at the home of my new friend, the awesome trail angel Sandy of Ridgecrest. Resupply is accomplished and the bear canister has been sent on back to the gear closet in Saint Paul – hooray! I also sent a couple of food boxes forward to Warner Springs and Aguas Dulces because it looks like it will be trickier to get all the food I’ll need at those stops. It was Ghost in the Machine who had all the beta on that one. We dropped her off for what ended up taking five hitches for her to skip forward to Hiker Town.

Sandy and I then visited Fossil Falls, a huge magma dam from the Pleistocene era where water swirled about, carving fanciful shapes and drilling holes. We scampered over the rocks, watched climbers take on the rocks from way below and were buzzed by four biplanes in the endlessly blue sky. When I climbed up on a rock for a little ‘Hiker Vogue,’ snow geese passed by, a kinetic sculpture and all as one like a floating fabric square, silver-white-silver-white.

Sandy worked last night and most of today and so I did too producing a piece for the Schubert Club as well as a visual-audio essay and got caught up on the blog and emails. I have to say it felt amazing to voice a script, gather music, edit and produce a ten-minute piece. I love this kind of work – and I’m good at it – in the comfort of Sandy’s house, hemmed in by dogs, it was just what I needed.

I wouldn’t say it was an exciting time off since for most of it I parked myself on the couch and surfed Netflix, but Sandy and I bonded making a huge breakfast, then later sharing a superb meal of filet mignon and killer chocolate mousse cake at Indian Wells Lodge. Food has been a focal point these two days and when Sandy checked in on me midday today, I told her I’d eaten all there was to eat, but at least I’m starting to feel less Twiggy-esque.

I’m clean. I’m rested. I’m caught up on work. I’m full on food and girl talk and tear-jerker movies and fur therapy and general hanging out to digest all I’ve done so far and wrap my head around all I have ahead of me. It feels so good to be here and was such an unexpected gift.

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PCT Day 96, South Fork Kern River to Kennedy Meadows (Ridgecrest) 8 miles

One of the most courageous things you can do is identify yourself, know who you are, what you believe in and where you want to go. – Sheila Murray Bethel

What a chill little spot, tucked in next to the weird rock formations, high above the river crashing below. The stars were out then the sky lightens to pink, but it’s coldest before dawn and I let out a small whimper. Today, I’ll be out of the Sierra on my way to Kennedy Meadows South, where a ‘triple crowner’ named Yogi has set up a store in a shipping container next to a restaurant and bar called Grumpy’s. Food and rest, in some form or fashion, awaits these tired, cold bones.

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PCT Day 95, Death Canyon Creek to South Fork Kern River, 25 miles

When you lose a couple of times, it makes you realize how difficult it is to win. – Steffi Graf

I’m sick of being cold. I’m cozy and warm in Big Greenie, but when it gets light, I have to get moving and every task is a frozen misery – changing my clothes, packing my mattress and sleeping bag, pooping, filtering icy water (the worst!) packing the alicoop, trying to pull apart frozen bars, sipping coffee before it freezes, washing up and putting things away, putting Olive Oyl on my back and setting my gps, walking with my hands under my armpits. But hey, it’s another shiny blue sky and the sun will be up any minute, and you are hiking outside, get over it!

It’s a bit of a late start from this lovely spot tucked into funky rocks. I was all alone except for some animal making a strange sound so I made a big, scary ruckus right back. Never heard from him again. Makes me laugh just now thinking of Rob telling me as we started the hard rocky bits up huge Forrester Pass that we shouldn’t simply coexist with bears, they ought to be afraid of us. So when he saw a bear he yelled at it, “Hey bear!” His thinking is bears really shouldn’t get too used to having us around. I don’t think he’s right about that, but the bears in the Sierra are pretty mellow and probably ignored him anyway. Just don’t make food available and we’ll all be just fine.

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PCT Day 94, Siberian Pass Junction to Death Canyon Creek, 24 miles

One likes people much better when they’re battered down by a prodigious siege of misfortune than when they triumph. – Virginia Woolf

It’s not quite as bitter cold overnight, but I’m not exactly leaping out of my warm bag. And it was not stars last night, but the new moon setting in the western sky that made pine tree shadows on my tent. This spot was not hugely special, but nestled in my favorite trees, abutting a Sierra meadow with views out to huge gray mountains it suited me just fine. No one came by, man or beast, probably because there’s no water nearby.

I drink up all I carried here then head off, crunching in sand and literally surrounded by these spectacular pine trees. I can see far into the distance, a tree carpet working its way up rounded mountains, a few pointy crags jut above. And below are huge meadows, a beautiful gold-green. I climb up and reach Cottonwood Lake where the hiker I met yesterday camped. It’s deep lapis tucked into a sweeping, triangular rocky peak. My trees are all that grow here, but if the wind picks up, they provide little protection. I think I made a good choice camping deeper in the forest.

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PCT Day 93 Tyndall Creek to Siberian Pass Junction, 20 miles

The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me. – Ayn Rand

I sleep cozily, the creek singing a lullaby, but early in the morning, the temperature drops and I dive deeper under Big Greenie. I hear the men faffing about before it’s light and once I stick out my head from the alicoop, they’re gone. It’s such a beautiful little spot, but the creek is covered in ice and it takes a good bit of time for my chococoffee to heat up. As I pack up, I think of what Nathan told me last night, that I seem happier and more delighted in all I see than many of the thru-hikers he’s met – he says I truly am blissful.

This blissful one has on her puffy and big mitts as she heads out for the final miles of the JMT. I walk through forest down towards the ranger cabin, then steeply up to the Bighorn Plateau, a huge, ghostly open area of faded grasses and one lake surrounded by mountains and inhabited by some of the most beautiful pine trees. These pines have huge, thick trunks covered with a jigsaw puzzle-like bark. The branches reach out with many fine strands where the soft needles attach many inches up, looking like a kind of bouquet of green pipe cleaners. The tree can survive an entire portion dying back, so you’ll see a green healthy side and a side where the bark is stripped revealing an orange, often beautifully twisted, but dead, wood. Even skeletal, the trees make a dramatic shape, appearing to dance with joy, one knee cocked. The logs on the ground reveal a stringy wood of parallel lines, curved and expressive. I love these magic trees and here is the first I see them in the Sierra.

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PCT Day 92, Rae Lakes to Tyndall Creek, 20 miles

The way in which we think of ourselves has everything to do with how our world see us and how we see ourselves successfully acknowledged by the world. – Arlene Rankin

It was a bitterly cold night by the lake. I wore all my clothes – including rain gear – and while I never shivered, I couldn’t quite get warm. I can hear the wind as it passes the tree tops then rattles the alicoop. I am exposed here and so do the only thing I can think of besides pile rocks on all my tent stakes. I yell, “Stop it!” Oddly enough, the wind seems to be listening, and never pushes the limits. I went out to pee and the stars were brilliant, the mountains glowing and it really didn’t feel too cold. Maybe it’s laying on the ground? I think loads of warm thoughts about saunas and hot tubs and hiking Hat Creek Rim and finally knock out, my breathing more normal even at 10,500 feet.

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PCT Day 91, South Fork Kings River to Rae Lakes, 17 miles

A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That’s why they don’t get what they want. – Madonna

Icy snow hit the alicoop through the night, making a hissing sound. I looked out at night and saw it accumulating, so I pulled my sneakers, with my dusty socks stuffed in, closer under the tarp. At least the wind stopped, and when it begins to get light, I see there is not a cloud in sight. Cold with only a half inch of snow under clear and calm skies is about as perfect as gets.

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PCT Day 90, Middle Fork Kings River to South Fork Kings River, 20 miles

Whatever you do, be different – that was the advice my mother gave me, and I can’t think of better advice for an entrepreneur. If you’re different, you will stand out. – Anita Roddick

The wind picked up at night, shooting down the canyon and rattling the alicoop. It wasn’t really cold, but things are changing and it’s defintely not summer anymore. I wake with three deer grazing by my tent. Somehow I dropped a Reeses peanut butter cup before tucking in, but it’s still where it fell, totally undisturbed. The peaks are shrouded in mist and I put on my rain coat before I start.

Fred walks with me to the Bishop Pass junction while Karen stays – wisely – cuddled in. Their son has triple crowned, meaning he has walked all of America’s long walks. He also holds records for fastest times. We talk about hiking philosophy, mine being less enamored with the ‘fast and far’ approach, but I admit I’ll move steadily today to get over Mather Pass before the weather moves in as predicted at 2:00. Silver light touches corners of the monstrous crags surrounding this valley, a scene Ansel Adams would have been waiting to photograph.

Mount Rainier near the Pacific Crest Trail
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Trail Update – Sierra Nevada

A surprise text popped up on my phone last Sunday:

‘Donahue Pass!! on the JMT’.

It was from Alison of course. She had managed to find a cell signal at what is the highest point on her trek so far. A few more messages quickly followed…

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PCT Day 89, South Fork San Joaquin River to Middle Fork Kings River, 21 miles

You grow up the day you have the fit real laugh at yourself. – Ethel Barrymore

Making breakfast and packing up, I hear some twigs snap and look over towards the trail as a bear saunters by. He’s uninterested in my Clif bars and knows my coffee mix is subpar, so saunters right on by. I still like to think of him as a good luck charm. Right after he leaves, Amy and Erin walk by. It’s a happy reunion of commiserating about heavy packs stuffed with cold weather gear and bear canisters. I feel braver knowing they’re on the trail, and funny, my pack feels a teensy bit lighter with those bars in my stomach – rather than in the bear’s.

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PCT Day 88, Bear Creek trail to stream near South Fork San Joaquin River (via Muir Trail Ranch) 18 miles

My best successes came on the heels of failures. – Barbara Corcoran

I allow myself a bit more delicious sleep next to my private waterfalls wrapped up in Big Greenie, so lofty and cozy, it feels like I’m cuddled in with a warm creature. Rich invited me for breakfast and this hungry hiker has no intention of turning him down, though I think they’re a bit surprised to see me, expecting that I’d head out on trail early. It’s ‘cowboy coffee’ with grounds boiled in a giant kettle and strained into my pot lid/wide-mouth cup, then pancakes, bacon, hash browns and scrambled eggs. I eat like a linebacker for the Packers these days, but there’s plenty of food. When I ask if I can do a chore, Rich says just volunteer to work on a trail. I tell him I picked up a bit of trash and he smiles and says, “Good start.”

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PCT Day 87, stream near Mono Creek to Bear Creek junction (via VVR & Bear Creek trail) 14 miles

Champions keep playing until they get it right. – Billie Jean King

Something fell on the tent just as I was falling asleep. It banged so hard, fast and loud that I squealed. No damage at all and no evidence of any particular object either. It was probably just a cone, a piece of bark or a tiny stick, but from so high up, the crash was intense. I realize how vulnerable I am just laying here under fabric.

It’s not easy emerging from my warm cocoon, but I dress, pack and have breakfast on my granite slab with the water pouring over the edge. I need to get food for the coming seven to eight days, and it’s not terribly convenient to manage – or, it’s a pretty sweet deal when you consider the John Muir Trail section of the PCT crosses national parks and roadless wilderness for over 200 miles. To have a couple of resorts within walking distance that will hold packages, sell food and, maybe more important, have hiker boxes filled with food hikers are giving away, is mightily convenient. Just imagine the difference between a seven day carry and a fourteen day carry.

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PCT Day 86, creek near Red Cones to stream near North Fork Mono Creek, 23 miles

There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success, but if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going… you’ll know that it was you and the people who love you that put you there. – Taylor Swift

I need to put this in writing – I love my sleeping bag. It’s the Western Mountaineering Versalite, 10 degree bag or in our household, ‘Big Greenie.’ I was cozy warm all night and the Sierra is definitely the place for a full, wrap around the body, down bag. Yesterday, Patricia told me her daughter wanted to trade sleep systems since she too found her quilt inadequate for autumn in the Sierra. Yes, it’s bulkier in Olive Oyl, but being warm at night is crucial.

The truth is, it isn’t really cold yet, but it’s coming. For now, I can still have exposed skin when I get up to make breakfast. Nathan is up too, but clearly on his own schedule. I like to get going so tell him I hope we meet again and take off going up right away on crunchy ancient ash. It’s funny the things you remember and the things you forget, like this whole uphill section through fallen trees. Trail crews have worked hard to clear the path, but it is a mess in here of monster trees downed by something. The bus driver told me it was an earthquake. Definitely not a fire.

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PCT Day 85, small creek below Island Pass to small creek near Red Cones (Mammoth Lakes) 21 miles

What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make. ― Jane Goodall

A huge wind rattles the alicoop most of the night, I hear it traveling through the tree tops towards me, pleased I chose a site in the forest. It’s not cold yet, I even wake up as the moon rises feeling hot. The truth is, it’s coldest at dawn.

It’s not so cold yet, as I pop up as the sky lightens, doing the thru-hiker morning routine and setting off alone, not entirely certain if I’ll run into Nathan again. He’s so easy to be with and moves fast, but I need to try to get to Mammoth Lakes to pick up my warmer bag and clothes. Richard sent them after receiving my anxious gps message the morning I woke with ice covering the alicoop. A cold front is coming even if it feels warm now. The only thing is I’m not sure if the package will be there and it’s an ordeal to get out now since the bus has stopped running for the season. I do some quick calculations with eighteen miles to walk to Devils Postpile parking lot where I might get a hitch and the post office closing at 4:00. That means I’ll need to arrive by 2:00 to be on the safe side which calls for some, shall we say, focussed walking today.

As I leave this sweet spot on a pine needles floor by the gurgling creek, I hear coyotes yipping. The air is perfect with just a slight chill as I head up to Island Pass. It was here that I said goodbye to my new friends seven years ago then changed my mind and joined them for the remainder of the hike. Friends for life, those two Yorkshire lads, Dave reciting poetry completely from memory each night as the stars came out and our eyelids got heavy.

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PCT Day 84, view above Tuolumne Falls to small creek below Island Pass, 26 miles

My only advice is to stay aware, listen carefully, and yell for help if you need it. – Judy Blume

Shocking as it might sound, I’m too warm in the night at this exposed perch. There’s no wind. There’s no dew or frost. It’s only silence as the stars fade, a half moon shining like a lantern straight down. I pop right up, ready for the day ahead. Donuts passes by as I pack in her typically unhurried and joyful manner, saying good morning and that she’s jealous of this awesome spot I snagged.

I do love the solitude, the falls below my only very distant companion. I follow her shortly, down deep into the forest where I immediately feel a damp chill to the bones and need to put on another jacket. Good choice camping up high. It’s not far to Tuolumne Falls, crashing down off granite into a large pool. Impressive, sure, but this part is hardly the main attraction as I climb up steeply on rock, stairs and ramps assisting me to an even higher – and grander – falls, the river above leading to this moment of water doing a kind of warm up act as it races down slabs in thin shears and tumbling on boulders, the sunlight reflecting before it plunges five stories to a waiting pool.

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PCT Day 83, small lake below Seavey Pass to view above Tuolumne Falls, 24 miles

You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. – Elizabeth Gilbert

I wake up in my rocky wonderland, the sky lightening gently with just a touch of breeze. Such a heavenly place to lay my head. It felt like maybe I stopped early last night, but then I had time to eat slowly by this magical lake, so small, it has no name. Perhaps this – Perfect Sierra Pool. Works for you? My little tent site is surrounded by blocky granite in stair steps and views of magnificent mountains now turning pinky-orange.

I feel much better this morning. No dew or frost on the alicoop and I slept deeply. It’s a lesson to try to simply live through feeling down, knowing eventually I’ll feel myself again. I linger over chococoffee and a pop tart – I know, I know, I can never eat like this again, but this is how it is right now – then pack up Olive Oyl for a big day of big climbs. I do not remember the JMT having climbs this steep or relentless. This section of Yosemite is turning out to be the hardest of the PCT, at least so far.

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PCT Day 82, above Dorothy Lake to small lake below Seavey Pass, 22 miles

Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get. – Ingrid Bergman

It was not the best of nights. I am cold even wearing all my clothes, and using a liner inside the quilt. The alicoop has a coat of ice, the water bottle is chunky and frost covers my mini-meadow above Dorothy Lake. But the sunrise is beautiful on a crystal clear day, reddish-orange light on my mountains, mist hanging above the water.

I chip off the ice to pack and keep on all my clothes for the start, but not until I send Richard a series of slightly panicked texts through my gps to ask him to please send my warmer bag to Mammoth Lakes, plus a few warmer pieces of clothing. I walked the John Muir Trail seven years ago, but I would very much like to continue walking now through the Sierra, the PCT and JMT mostly the same trail after Tuolumne Meadows. But if the nights continue like this last one, it will be a chilly misery, not to mention dangerous.

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PCT Day 81, Sonora Pass (Kennedy Meadows North) to Dorothy Lake Pass, 20 miles

I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well. – Diane Ackerman 

My day started early as the resort crew was up before 6:00. I cuddled on the couch in the lobby to catch up and an older gentleman carried on with the ladies about storms coming. I tuned him out since the forecast only calls for spotty showers. At the moment, it’s pitch dark and a few hikers are waiting for a lift back to the pass. I’m happy to go mid-morning and warm up some more.

Soon, the cowboys come in wearing ten gallon hats, spurs, jeans and attitude. Several dogs come in with them, tails wagging. One cuddles in with me. Our little group sits down at the restaurant again, all ordering what’s listed as a ‘cowboy breakfast’ and multiple cups of coffee. The sky is clearing but the air is cold. I take a long, nearly scalding shower to wake up then we all compare our bear canister packing technique. My pack is heavy with several days food crammed in, but I have practice now carrying it, so feel just fine.

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PCT Day 80, Astounding view to Sonora Pass, 11 miles

Once you figure out what respect tastes like, it tastes better than attention. – Pink

The day opens pink, cold and just a shudder of wind on the alicoop. I’m in an exposed spot and taking my chances, challenging the wind in my mind to return. Of course, I will lose this fight. But my night was still and lit by a gibbous moon illuminating every scar and furrow on the giant cliffs facing me. And the best part, I was all alone in this soulful perch.

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PCT Day 79, Eagle Creek to Cliff with Astounding View, 26 miles

If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough. – Oprah Winfrey

The night is cold even if I melt the snow under the tent. My breath gets the top of the quilt wet and I would be just fine not moving.

But I do anyway, first dressing ad putting the rain gear over my clothes. My pee rag is frozen as are my shoes. It takes some doing to open the bear canister. I have no fingernails for the snaps, so use my spoon. Filtering water freezes my fingers and when my chococoffee is ready, I place my boiling pot right in my palms. Ah!

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PCT Day 78, Lost Lakes to Eagle Creek, 17 miles

Do you want to meet the love of your life? Look in the mirror. – Byron Katie

The Sierra welcomes me with intense, gusting wind all night, the alicoop shuddering and rattling, but she’s still upright and I’m cozy and warm. It’s a cold morning and clear – so far – as I get breakfast going, try to find my tent stake bag – a totally lost cause – and get the day started.

I head directly up onto an exposed trail over austere rock and tiny, pioneering plants, their flowers crinkly as they nod their heads in the wild wind. I’m above 9,000 feet and I can barely stay balanced, the wind blowing me over and filling my mouth. I yell into it, my voice swallowed up by the whooshing gusts. It’s exhilarating and thrills me to power up and up as the wind tries to push me back. A goshawk throws himself into the wind, heading up so he can race down it like a giant slide. Towers appear ahead, the mountains oddly shaped like rows of different sized buildings. Everything is turning yellow. Autumn is here.

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PCT Day 77, Highway 50 to Lost Lakes, 21 miles

Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got. There is no yesterday, no tomorrow, it’s all the same day. – Janis Joplin

I want to establish this rule right from the outset – always, at all times, take earplugs with you wherever you go You will never regret it. We can, for the most part, close our eyes. But our ears pick up everything and Mellow Mountain is definitely not mellow if you enjoy sleeping. Oh, and everyone smokes.

But with my ears plugged up, I slept like a baby in my upper bunk. Mark told me to scope out breakfast at a casino, but I struck out and settled for cheap motel coffee and an English muffin. I did manage to get work done on the patio and shopped for resupply. My Indian roommate had really cool music cranked and was willing to place bandaids on my sore back. I hope David’s pieces of thermarest allow me to carry pain-free Olive Oyl laden with a filled up bear canister.

Mark makes the suggestion we slackpack thirteen miles to highway 88. We’ve picked up Callum at this point and he doesn’t want to hang anyone up, but if Mark is keen to hang out, I’m happy to leave most of my gear in his truck and only carry a snack, water and rain jacket. It turns out to be an awesome decision as the trail heads up steeply and relentlessly for miles. Klaus tries to engage Callum about Brexit, but loses him quickly in the unrelenting forest ascent.

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PCT Day 76, Middle Velma Lake to Highway 50 (South Lake Tahoe) 19 miles

I try to live in a little bit of my own joy and not let people steal it or take it. —Hoda Kotb

The purple sky reflects on the lake as I slowly wake up. It’s not too cold packing and eating before I head off from this soulful spot. Granite slabs of rock heaved sideways like sliced bread breaking apart catch the morning sun. I go up right away on a very well-built trail, out of breath carrying the bear canister, but likely the strongest I’ve been in my life.

It’s not long before I reach a lake resting in a granite bowl. I wonder if Fontanillis is the place where Ursula’s grandsons jumped from a high rock into the icy blue water. Snow is cradled in the shallows, the orange light creating long shadows. I spy Milk Jug fixing his heel with tape. Water pours out at a stream I cross on rocks.

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PCT Day 75, Five Lakes Trail Junction to Middle Velma Lake, 26 miles (+3)

The best protection any woman can have is courage. – Elizabeth Cady Stanton

It’s a perfect morning, waking in a cozy bed cuddled up with a Swiss duvet. Ursula offers me eggs, bacon, toast, cereal and coffee. Yes, please! Alain arrives early ready to hike up to the ridge in his La Sportiva boots and American flag mini gaiters. I tell him I dreamed I had already climbed back up the trail. It wasn’t an anxiety-producing dream, rather a feeling of lightness, floating easily to the top.

I thank my hosts for a wonderful stay and they ply me with a few drinks before we drive back to the trailhead, Archie, the Border Collie whiny with excitement. It’s 43 degrees, clear and sunny. The bear canister is huge in my pack, but Alain takes it out and carries it in his. Perhaps I will float up?

I breath heavily as we climb on exposed granite, Alain telling me a visiting friend thought the Jeffrey Pines were planted by people from town. They are in fact beautifully placed, framing the view. Most of the way up, Alain shares the story of his wife’s death fifteen years ago. “She was strong but not lucky,” he says describing a marathon runner who succumbed to lung cancer. He also tells me about his recent heartbreak with a woman who survived twenty-one days adrift at sea. I ponder these stories realizing every moment is precious as we really don’t know what could happen to us at any time.

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PCT Day 74, ‘slackpack’ Highway 40 ‘Donner Pass’ to Five Lakes Trail Junction (Alpine Meadows), 17 miles + 3 miles

Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring. – Marilyn Monroe

It is so nice to awaken in Jayne’s beautiful, soulful home. She takes Ruby out and begins cooking the most awesome breakfast burrito ever, while I organize the bear box, warm gear and new La Sportivas Richard sent with a mug of coffee to sip. We eat slowly and talk a lot, mostly about the negative energy I’m carrying around with me on this journey and how it’s coloring all of it.

Jayne is the kind of friend I long for, one willing to give it to me straight especially if I’m full of it. She argues with me when I make a statement that I attract people who frustrate me. She disagrees, saying that I allow them in. What a shift in power that concept is! She’s on a roll and speaks about enjoying people where they are and bringing out the best, but making space for myself and bringing forethought to relationships to manage if my energy is being sucked away. It’s a paradigm shift for me to choose to be less of a victim and more a master of my own destiny. We speak of the four agreements –

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  1. Don’t take anything personally.
  2. Don’t make assumptions.
  3. Always do your best.

– and find a magic in their simplicity as well as a door to a changed life, one more positive and grounded.

I realize her intentions are to help me, but also to remind herself of the most effective way to deal with the myriad relationships she also encounters. She describes hiking as a physical manifestation of my desire for more positivity – inhale beauty and exhale the bad as I make contact with the earth, sending it into the magma to burn and dissolve. She laughs when she tells me she wants me to enter her Sierra with the negativity expunged.

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PCT Day 73, Mules Ear Creek to Highway 40 (Truckee) 26 miles

Every moment wasted looking back keeps us from moving forward. – Hillary Clinton

It’s cold now. I sleep in all my clothes and wrap my raincoat over my legs and do just fine. Richard has sent a liner and merino and I hope it’s enough for the high altitude I’ll walk. An animal came close in the night and I tell it to go away. Klaus tells me in the morning they don’t speak English.

We are both ready to roll at the same time, even though our tents are far apart. It’s up and up into biting wind, frost-covered Mules Ears and fantastic views. Snow still clings to a few spots as we pass 8,000 feet in this pre-Sierra where the wooded slopes begin to show slabs of white granite. A bird sings Chucka-cheedee! capturing my mood.

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PCT Day 72, Highway 49 to Mules Ear Creek, 16 miles

These things are ours, for God creates within our soul a mystic sense of wonder that we may hear allegro tunes among tall swaying cattails. —Gwen Frostic

Indeed, sleeping in a bed is absolutely wonderful. My legs splay akimbo, the covers are warm, swaddling my body, the mattress gives my muscles, joints and bones just the right support. I stay in my nest all morning with the river rushing musically below. I work on visual audio essays of interesting people I have met, sipping coffee and luxuriating.

By the cut off of 10, when Susan wants to clean the room, I’m finished. I am a good sound editor and work well on deadline. I come downstairs and Klaus still needs more time, so I catch up on email, call Richard, plan a visit with our amazing new friend, Mark from McCloud and set a date for my hiker friend to join me on the final weeks of this epic walk.

Klaus already has picked up a package I helped forward here from his long time friend. We share the food, maybe taking too much for the coming days but I am getting used to a heavy resupply, knowing by day two, I’m famished all the time. His friend Jeff adds a couple of small plastic wine bottles – a heavy, but delightful indulgence.

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PCT Day 71, A-Tree Spring to Highway 49 (Sierra City) 24 miles

We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better. – J.K. Rowling

I wake to a purply-orange glow on the horizon and my owl’s “Hoohoo-hoo-hoo!” It’s cold and I wonder if I’ll be warm enough in the Sierra as I pack up and start the morning routine, surprised again to be ahead of Klaus. I use the time to send a message to Richard to reserve me a room tonight in Sierra City. I’m so dirty, I’ve got to clean my clothes and myself.

The trail heads up into the rock I saw lit orange by the sunset. From the ridge, I look down to myriad glacial lakes nestled into rocky bowls. The air is brisk and the wind chills me, so I move faster. Below, cowbells tinkle at different pitches. A man passes me wearing a milk jug tied diagonally to his chest.

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PCT Day 70, Middle Fork Feather River to A-tree spring, 30 miles

Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance. – Anne Lamott

I feel much better this morning and come to this conclusion – sleep matters. Still a blareathon light, but those hikers are far across this sandy, rocky, brush-strewn dry riverbed. I don’t understand the thinking, but glad I claimed my far off spot last night. And so glad I got here early to explore and swim at such a magical place. But now, it’s time to face a long day ahead, with water scarce and off trail. I’m suited up before Klaus, so head out to the bridge to take one last look at the rock, the boulder-drilled holes and the inviting deep swimming pools.

Klaus leads with over 5,000 feet to gain. It’s dark and cool in the forest and I keep my river water clean hair out from the Mad Hatter hat for now. He’s slow but steady uphill and I feel like I’m being pulled by a rope. It’s a strange phenomenon that walking with him makes it much easier for me. I sing Kermit the Frog’s ‘Rainbow Connection’ as we ascend.

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PCT Day 69, ridge above Belden to Middle Fork Feather River, 25 miles

You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute. – Tina Fey

I can’t sleep. The view from my tent is to smoke glowing hot pink above the mountains, the sky a deep velvety blueblack. Klaus mentions it might get cold before falling asleep, and when I agree he tells me, “I don’t care if you get cold,” with a big laugh. I’m stuck on the “I don’t care” part and feel lousy. At least it’s a magnificent sunrise, right in front of me as I pack up and have breakfast.

He takes off before me and I wonder if he’s mad because I suggested he not let out a huge Tarzan yell from the ridge last night. He argues it’s how he expresses joy, like yodelers. I’m concerned I have a double standard wanting quiet for me but condoning exuberance from friends. We never quite agree on the behavior and now I have a sleep deficit. It’s only walking, how hard can that be?

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PCT Day 68, Chips Creek to ridge above Belden, 21 miles

If you don’t get out of the box you’ve been raised in, you won’t understand how much bigger the world is. – Angelina Jolie

I wake to a light in my eyes. The hikers who joined us last night are filtering water with headlamps faced at my tent. Do people have so little awareness they can’t turn away or move ten feet up the trail? The creek is loud so they can’t hear me asking them to shine it away. So I pack up and take my breakfast to the beautiful rock in the middle of the exquisite private waterfall – which, oddly, these hikers so determined to share the space when one five minutes away could have been all theirs, never visit.

The trouble with me is I take everything personally. I simply melt down, first angry, then sad. Klaus tries to say a few things, but he’s mystified by my reaction, telling me to forget about it. That makes me feel more out of control. He walks up and sees the guy blaring his headlamp while brushing his teeth, then finally leaving so let’s me know, at least, they’re gone.

I don’t know why these things make me so crazy. Is it the blinding light so early in the morning or the totally inconsiderate behavior? Or is it feeling like I can’t do anything about it. I really didn’t want to share such tight quarters in the first place, not because I’m selfish but because I don’t want to deal with this.

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PCT Day 67, Lassen view to private waterfall on Chips Creek, 25 miles

If you can’t go straight ahead, you go around the corner. – Cher

Lightning streaks the sky, but there’s no boom. Maybe we got a few drops but my tent is dry by morning. Also no visitors, neither man nor beast. Klaus uses an alarm – ugh – but I decide to let it slide. I think he has a tendency to sleep in and truly the best part of the hiking day is the morning.

I sip my chococoffee and eat Clif Bars on my yellow sit pad watching the sun rise. The valley is filled with mist. Throughout this entire hike, I would spot a mountain for the first time, then walk towards it – sometimes getting right up on it – and finally the mountain recedes into my rear view mirror. It is one of my favorite features of the walk.

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PCT Day 66, North Fork Feather River to sunset view of Lassen, 20 miles

I learned a long time ago that there is something worse than missing the goal, and that’s not pulling the trigger. – Mia Hamm

It’s a late start this morning with the sky already getting pink. In this notch made by the river, the cold air settles – even on a wee ridge above – and I was just on the edge of chilled overnight. Richard is sending my tights and sleeping bag liner, and I hope it’s enough as fall grabs hold. Klaus tells me he was so cozy, he didn’t want to move.

I get the morning routine going as he contemplates whether to stop in Chester for food, which requires a hitch. I tell him I don’t have enough for the 53 miles to the next little town which doesn’t require a hitch, though I would love to keep my momentum. He says, “I don’t want to lose you.” and I almost bust into tears. It’s not as intense as it sounds since English is not his first language, but we both enjoy hiking together and I feel the same.

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PCT Day 65, Lassen Volcanic National Park boundary to North Fork Feather River, 26 miles

The challenge is not to be perfect, it’s to be whole. – Jane Fonda

The only visitors overnight are curious deer. I hang my food away from rodents and very short bears. Nobody disturbs the food bag. Klaus uses an alarm, much to my consternation, and faffs about in the dark. I prefer a bit of light before packing up and leave after him, knowing I’ll catch up.

Mount Lassen is pink in the morning sun, but she’s hidden by folds of mountains and soon disappears for good. It’s quiet and I am all alone on a trail through burned areas and soft brown grass. It’s easy walking up and down and the air is cool, fresh. My mind wanders to the time we moved across country when I was nine. I felt so out of place in a suburban school after living in the country. In gym, we put all our clothes in a personal basket to change into a uniform. My grandmother had just died and all of her Navajo jewelry came to me, silver bracelets with turquoise, not valuable I don’t think, but precious because they were hers. I wore all of them at once to school, like nine year olds will do. They all had to come off for gym, but when I returned to my basket one day, they were gone.

I don’t know why I never told an adult. Maybe I felt ashamed that something like this could happen to me. Maybe I felt responsible. I told my classmates and one girl, Jean, took me into her confidence that it was another girl who took them. I got so wrapped up in the intrigue, I never did anything about it, just talked and talked until I forgot about it. My mom didn’t notice for some reason and I moved on.

Years later, another classmate named Mary told me Jean took them and hid the jewelry in her piano bench, then threw them away. Of course she did. I felt so betrayed and heart sick. And I blamed myself completely. I can still feel the little silver arrows on my tiny wrist.

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