If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you are lucky enough.

When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Saturday, July 22, 2017

PCT Tahoe to Lassen: snow and heat of NoCA.

"July 15th, Day 5. 8:50 am.
It is a beautiful view, and I want to sit down, damn it. I've only being on the trail for some 3 hrs, but I want to sit down now. I need to learn to live my life like that. It's not that there weren't beautiful views prior, or I didn't want to sit down before, but the combination of it with so many thoughts just pushing seemingly out of my brain forced me to - no, allowed me to - take this break. Trail always dishes out lessons for me - challenges, yes, but lessons, few for hiking, many more for life. I keep claiming I 'should walk in such a way that every step can bring us to the here and the now', and I, literally, don't walk my own talk. I fall pray to goals, hastened pace of life, pushing through...First 2 days were insane - slow, navigation issues, being the least "my" fit in the last 20 years (may be I am overreacting, but this is certainly how it feels)...I kept being behind my "proposed plan", forcing more, ready to quit, to cry. During one steep snow bank crossing, smack in the middle, I called out Larry (there was a cell reception after all!) and whined. He sent me a text back. I couldn't read a text - the sun was blaring, the snow was glaring, and my reading glasses were tacked away, not to mention my full attention was not to slide into abyss. It took me getting over that particular snow field on the side of the mountain, then some more, before I could read it. It took me another 4 hrs before his words got processed into my heart. 'Just remember that there is no finish line on your hike. It ends where you want it to end. And I'll be wherever that is to pick you up. One day at a time." Oftentimes my husband knows me more than I know me, I've said it before, and I say it again. Why am I doing it? I mean, why am I hiking this trail in the middle of the mountains, huffing and puffing with my 40 lbs backpack on, all alone? Because I love it. All of it. Trails, mountains, views. Solitude, challenges, pure thinking. Absence of daily mundane stuff. Simplicity. Air. Sunrises. God, if anything, I would do it just for morning hours and sunrises, the alpine glow and the color play on the mountain slopes and in the woods! Sometimes being a very goal oriented person bites you in the butt. It was ok when I was racing - I don't, anymore! Remember that! Relax! Don't force the nature on! Let the trail come to you...It is after processing all that, late afternoon on my day 2, did I finally take to heart what I preach. I stopped focusing on miles, only on next water source. I took breaks, took my pack off, washed my feet, wiped my body. And suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the single track started rolling. Of course, I got stronger- it takes 3 days to "hike oneself into hiking shape", and the pack lightened up some. But as I kept on walking, I was loving not only cool morning hours and easy hiking, but the heat of the day, the exposed dry climbs, and the tired evenings. I smiled as I gasped for breath. I was loving the loneliness during the day - and a little too alone during a night. Not scared alone, just lonely, missing Larry. I was respecting the slow pace, the moment that will never be the same again, and the fact that I need Larry  by my side more than I did before. That may be my hikes now need to be shorter. May be fewer miles planned - not because I physically can't, because I can, but because I shouldn't. Because, like I said at the end of my Oregon hike, this is the page of my life that needs to be read slower..."
"That"view. Technically speaking, if one didn't know I am at 7,000-8,000 feet every day, looking out one could mistake it for NH or VT easily. Hills, either green or dry, were all I saw for the most part.

That was, literally, what I scribbled on the empty spaces of my printed "miles and landmark plan". It was, in a  big scheme of things, my only real journal entry - and not even in a journal. Having gotten into diary at this ripe age suddenly a few months ago, I took a little notebook with me - but by the first night realized the best I will do is jot down some notes to remember some details of the day. There is no way I'll be able to go on and write emotionally, when I am tired, need to set the camp and dinner, clean up, prep stuff for the early morning departure, and all this in a crouched position inside the tent, with swollen fingers. So, on day 2, I left my journal behind in one of the trail angel's bag at Donner pass - it is there where the words of Larry's text hit me hard. I tore off some pages to have a place to jot the notes, but the journal stayed behind. I should have left my knitting too, because I never took it out either. This hike was not what I thought it would be. But as always, it was exactly what I needed...

Day 1 started late. Tuesday, July 11th, I flew in to Reno and shortly after got picked up by Deborah, a Texan who happened to be spending time at Tahoe. It was a coincidence I learned about her being there and it saved me hustle figuring out a way getting to the trails. But we hit the traffic, things were slow, I was growing anxious, and at the end, the gate on the road to Barker pass trailhead was down - what meant not only was I not starting on the trail at 1 pm, but at 1:25 pm I still had a 5 mile road-walk to it! I left, meagerly waving my hand, and the next couple of days were under "I am behind, and I hate it" agenda. Where was I so in a hurry? 
Setting out on the 8-day hike.

I hit the snow, literally, within a mile from the trailhead. Snow in the trees means no direction. On the slopes, you can make out landmarks and peaks and general prediction of were the trail could go. In a heavy treed forest? Not so much. You heard it here first: thank God for technology. I, a person resisting technology like a caveman, downloaded an App a few days prior my trip - and it was the smartest move. That, and the spikes Larry said I should probably still take with me. I had to learn "on the fly" how to navigate the app - and it saved my tush big time. But, the snow travel is slow, starring at the phone takes time, and first day is always hard. Add to it late start and extra miles - and I was behind and upset...Passing by a cell tower, I called Larry and whined. I was hot and out of water. Seems that this whole section was either snow or exposed hot high elevation terrain with no water. Things I haven't had to deal with in Oregon - so yes, new lessons for hiking right there. But mostly, just forcing those damn miles I wrote on the piece of paper like my life depended on it, like I had something to prove. What was that?
First snow, typical view of my "trail" in the first 3 days.

I reached a camp with a creek by 8:30 pm, with 16 miles on my feet (11 of them on PCT). That is a long day in terms of stopping just near the darkness falling, and I quickly set up the tent and cooked my noodles. At least I was somewhere, even if, Gosh, whole 3 miles behind where I wanted to be...The mornings had always being "my time". I am the one who gets up at 5 am even when I don't need to (and who needs to?). I love this time, pre-dawn, when all the grey getting lighter around you, and eventually sun spilling rays on Earth around you. The glory of Mother Land. The trail offered its path for me, and I walked. It is this day that had a combination of exhausting snow crossing on the scary slopes in the first half and the hot open altitude-induced hard breathing terrain in the second. It is in this day I told Larry, standing in the middle of the slope "I just want to sit down and cry!", and he sent me that infamous text message. It took me a nasty rocky descend to Donner Pass, walk on the road to the next trailhead, and a sudden urge to sit down, for the first time in two days, next to some weird barn with a sigh "Through-hikers stop" and a bag with oatmeal packets, to come to realization I need to cool off. In more meanings of the word than one.
Donner pass stop, an unlikely spot for a Zen moment.

I stayed there for 10 min. Took my shoes off, got the garbage out, left the journal behind. Took a deep breath. And in the next windy section, found a creek and stopped again. Washed myself off, did "laundry". I already decided not to push the the "proposed destination", Peter Grub cabin - after all, not only should I not be forcing to make up the miles I lost yesterday, I actually wasn't looking forward staying in the cabin anymore. The thing is, when I hiked in Oregon last year, I was alone and ahead of the thru-hikers wave. Here, though, I was smack in the midst, location and timing aligned such that I was leap-frogging with a bunch (over a dozen) of young mid-to-late 20 tall bearded looking-alike guys and a few gals. And the dynamics of it, while fun, wasn't something I was looking for. Not that anybody talked - they didn't, busy with their own agenda and in their own zen of walking by now for over 1100 miles. So I figured I didn't want to stay in the cabin with other people. I took my time, crossed I-80 (through the underpass knee-deep of water), hiked another 3 miles to the creek, and set the camp right in the middle of nowhere. I was a new me. I was letting things happen, letting miles come to me. And 23 miles did happen - while I was still technically "behind", despite the snow and the sitting down, I made the miles "of the plan". Let 'em come...
Camping out on barely-dry spot in the woods.

With my usual start by 5:30 am on the trail, I faced a crusted long downhill snowy slope within an hour. Here come the spikes! I was so glad I didn't fight Larry's idea of taking them. In the early hours, when the snow is hard, they gave me just enough confidence to make the trek. And the GPS trail app - confidence to wonder into the woods across the other's steps mixed with sun-cups, as people took their own paths, and not be afraid to get lost. I even crossed one creek barefoot, snow on each bank! Gosh, that was numbing cold, but almost fun (and thankfully only one like that for the whole trip). There was the most snow on this day, someone said 15 miles - not continuous miles, may be 2-3 M at a time, then dry trail, then back on the snow, sometimes open terrain, sometimes back in the woods. I got into a flow with "spikes on, spikes off", carrying them in-between wearing attached to my poles and hanging. I didn't care what mile I am at, took breaks, again, at the creek (the wet feet did end up getting blisters, of course, in a couple of places, so from there on I took extra precocious to wash the grit and change socks often throughout the day - side note: Drymax socks still rock, and Icebreaker suck ass). By the time the long dry downhill down to Jackson Meadow Reservoir campsite came, I suddenly realized - I am actually making it to the destination I had on my "plan"! Wow, that means I let the trail give me the miles, plus some, despite all the snow navigation! And I rolled there in a bright day light, 6:30 pm, with 26 miles on my legs, and feeling great! 
First of 15 miles snow for day 3. The degree of the slope is far steeper than photo shows.

With late snow, the wild flowers were just beginning to pop.

Just walking on the trail, moving along...

I didn't set up next to the bunch of thru's, rather walked a bit up the trail and plopped right next to it. That night, after doing "laundry and bath", I celebrated being "back into hiking" with a chocolate. And I slept much better for the first night.
Award for the day - one of the 2 chocolate bars I had with me.

Day 4 rolled with a long 10 miles downhill (for the most part), which always, while easier on the body, is harder on the feet. But the birds were singing, water was at every corner, I leap-frogged with a few groups of those lean-mean-bearded-walking-machines, and crossed the Hwy 49 to Sierra City at 10:20 am. Wow, that was early! Yet there was no cell service! I was hoping to text Larry my whereabouts, and as I stood there, a truck rolled in, with a local man Bernie giving a ride to a hiker from the city. I asked the man to give message to my husband - which he did - and took on a long 8-mile climb on the open ridge, in the heat of the day, with scree slopes and sun just punishing. And I never dropped a positive attitude! It was awesome, in its hard working way! One step at a time, I would glue my eyes to the single track, not wanting to slide off it, and grind up. I am still not sure what made me so happy that day in that blazing heat, but it will stay with me. Finally, the woods came, not dense, but enough to throw some shade from time to time, I crossed another road (another no cell service), and in the next section - surprise! - I walked into a real Trail Angel set up! Yeah for the people of the Land! The girl, Josie, who had hiked PCT in 2011 (under the name of Outlaw), was there with her husband, they drove from Reno with all kinds of goodies! I inhaled a number of fat-containing products (guacamole, cheese, beef jerky), chased it with a banana, and filled up on water. My 1.5 L container was proving to be barely enough during waterless stretches. They saved me right there!
Some French hiker sitting on the rock took this shot of me as I passed by walking to the river.

One of those stops to take care of my feet.

Only creek on the 8 mile slog around a dry exposed mountain ridge.

My first true Trail Angel experience. I didn't even put my pack down! "Beware of chair" :)

Because, as I kept hiking, the water sources that are marked on the map, were dry. There was a couple of fantastic campsites with open views on my way, but I knew I had to cook dinner/breakfast and have enough water to walk out to next creek - so I kept on pushing some more distance for a shorter "walk-out" to the creek in the morning. I finally stopped at some trail intersection on the spot that had no snow, and set the camp up. 28 miles. My new victory.
Lacking water and eating semi-dry noodles that night lead me to a tactical mistake the following day.

It was that night that I suddenly felt very lonely and missing Larry. I didn't sleep (I, in general, don't sleep well on the trail, but that was extra-bad), and it was that night that lead me to way too many thoughts in my head on my morning part of the hike, that eventually made me sit down, get a piece of paper and a pen out, and write those crazy swirling thoughts down. And I felt better afterwards.

And then, that day 5, I kept coming onto streams on a long wooded downhill. It seems that the way the trail - and my miles of travel - rolled that in the morning, when it was cool, I was going down, shaded by lots of trees, and with many creek crossings as water opportunities. In the afternoon, when the sun is hot, I hike uphill, in the open, and with not a trickle of water in sight. The irony of backpacking...But I learned to appreciate every creek or spring I meet so much, that I would drink and fill my bottle at every one of them, and oftentimes take a quick wash off too. As I was climbing later that afternoon, crossing dried up creeks, I was concerned about the only potential source for the rest of the day - which was located 1/3 mile off the road I am to cross, and what if it's dry as well? Suddenly, I see a word made out of sticks on the ground: "Magic". I almost ran, tears on my face! Another Trail Angel set up! An older couple from Sacramento, who never hiked in their lives, heard about this kind of thing, and drove up - and how thankful I was...I had 3 cups of cold lemonade, a little bit of potato salad, but most importantly, filled up my water bottles.
More snow. I actually took risk once and rolled down through lots of used-to-be switch-backs to end up at the right place. My use of navigation app was getting more sophisticated:)

Self-timed photo at some spot where I just took my shoes off for a few minutes. It was dry around.

Trail Angel's stop at McQuincy road parking lot. 

Next stretch was still long and hot. I got to the campsite I aimed for that day shortly after 7 pm, nursing my water for hours (I learned to like "campsites", which technically is just a spot that has been cleared of derbies enough for one or two tents, but it had a fire ring, and that meant stocking a fire, burning trash, scarring mosquitoes away, and giving me a feeling of security from wild animals). Another 28 miler on. An hour later some guy walked in as well, and after a brief exchange of information, we retired for the night. 
Everything was great here, just wish it had a tiny creek!

I was singing next morning, if you can call it that way. It was glorious, as the downhill rolled, and I came across first a water spigot (shorts laundry!), and then a steel bridge over North Fork of Feather River. The 6 M climb after the river didn't bother me, I took it one step at a time. Met with an Australian guy (name Crash), who is aware of ultrarunning, and had hiked PCT 2 years ago. We even discussed Killian, and I mentioned I bet he just won Hardrock 100 - it actually made me look at my watch and check the day of the week. Sunday. Yep, all the Hardrockers are at the school getting their awards...memories. A mile later came across a trail angel's sign nailed on the tree mentioning that there will be a cell reception around the corner, at Outlook Rock. And it was right there - I was able to send Larry a few texts. There was nothing out of the ordinary on that day, more walking, road crossing (where trail angels left beer in a creek cooling off, too bad I don't drink), laughing to myself I was planning to stay at the Bucks lake this road leads to - but it being 3 pm, there was no way I was going to set the camp. I kept on rolling, crossed Bucks summit parking lot, and walked another 3 miles to the camp, another 28 miles down. Seems that this number had become my "natural walk". That was one of the most sophisticated camps in the woods I saw! Lots of space, fire rings, ropes strung for food sacks and clothes drying, clean...but in the deep dark woods, at night there were too many noises for me to sleep deep. Somebody was "walking" around the tent, I swear to God, and I clutched the whistle in my hand in the darkness, my only protection. 
Drying rack for my laundered shorts.

North fork of Feather river. The bridge was huge!

Outlook rock.

That fancy camp in the woods.

All was well as I set out at 5:20 am next morning, and that was the best morning in terms of hitting the ridge views just as the sun made a rising circle. Ah, paradise...After a 4-mile rolling climb, I was on a long (LONG) descend to Belden, a "town" consistent of a motel with a restaurant and a store, and a bridge across the river. It is a thru-hiker's heaven, and I was looking forward a hot meal - somehow I made a couple of strategical mistakes, one at home (miscalculated how many days I'll be hiking, so prepared less food) and one mid-way (before I realized I don't have enough food, I decided to discard some of the dinners/breakfast pouches I did have, for some weird reason I won't dive into, but it seemed logical at the time). I walked hungry, for 6 hrs, on one power bar - and once in Belden, set down at the table waiting for the order. First, it took 30 min to even place an order - one girl serving, one girl cooking was their staff. Then it took 30 min to deliver. It looked awesome - until few bites into it, I was full, and wondering how do people go out to eat often. A variation of BLT on a bread and french fries were too greasy and too much for me, even having hiked 16 mile to get here on empty! I left a bit on a plate, but God knows I tried to consume as much as I could. It took me another 30 min to process it and not puke, sitting outside and catching up with the world via WiFi and FB (no cell reception, but plenty of internet). I didn't join the other bunch of hikers, being an introvert and all, and as I walked out at 1:30 pm to tackle an open 6 mile climb - everybody looked at me like I was crazy. Apparently, it is a thing to spend a day and a night in Belden. What??
Morning of day 6, almost dark at the start.

Most beautiful sunrise of the trip.

The glory of Earth waking up.

Belden. The hiker-town.

Yes, it was hot, and yes, I climbed up steadily, but nothing to kill me if I had the right attitude. And I did. There was even water crossings often! I splashed, I set down to chat with a south-bound hiker (about Russia, don't even start me on that, I went for 20 min non-stop!), I walked...and got to the camp by the river with a man there (Tom) and then a French couple rolling in later. We had some nice conversations, about crossing Sierra with the Frenchies (it was as scary as I thought it would be, so good thing I didn't go that route alone), and about some semi-political stuff with Tom (I rarely if ever do politics, but that was easy flowing). We even roasted marshmallows
Hot climb out of Belden

Entering Lassen National Forest at last

Group camp

Clean for the night.

Technically speaking, the next day, day 8, Tuesday, was to be my last full day on the trail. I had 2 water crossing (with wet feet) right from the get-go, one a bit swift, but low, one slow and wide, which I took too far upstream, and then had to bushwhack some to get back on the trail. It is at that time I lost my Russian Doll, my Matreshka talisman I carried on all my hikes. At first I was sad - even a bit afraid: will my luck run out? But then somehow I remembered what I read yesterday on FB at Belden stop: my good friend Georgie Velasco was having a colon cancer removed today. I stopped, said a prayer and offered that Russian Doll as a luck talisman to the Universe, so that his surgery was with great outcome. Everything happens for a reason, I thought. That was mine.
Noticed my Russian Doll lost.

Alpine glow

I wish I had much else to say about that last day. I wanted it to be special, and when I realized there are no views and only quiet forest and open meadows from time to time (even a slight wind blowing and cooling off the air, comparably speaking), I thought: well, that's good, leaves me plenty of time to contemplate. But then it became more. More "no views, thoughts ran out" kind of thing. Frankly, it became boring. I was ok with that, because I realized even that had a reason. Part of my thoughts were exactly in that direction - I will probably abandon my second hiking trip for the year, the one I wanted to do part of WA state in August. I needed to figure out if doing this more than once a year is running away from life. I mean, doing this even once is that, too. But it is fulfilling and a great time alone and a confirmation of "I can", and soul-searching, and time to re-charge. And a get-away from freaking Texas summer, and into the mountains...but I really should make my next trip with Larry, and since he can't take much time off work and life nor would he want to disappear into the woods for a full week, we'll just do some day hikes in WA in August. And that was it. My decision.
Larry would love meadows. me? Not that much. But it was pretty.

PCT mid-point!

As always, second half of the day was dry (the only water source was 0.3 miles off to the side, and as I walked there, it felt like a mirage, nothing, and then sudden green spot and a spring!). Eventually I saw a half-way point of PCT, my newly-proposed night stop. I looked at my watch, it was 6 pm, plenty of daylight, and 5 miles to the creek. I busted that donwhill, feet blisters and all! This is when my hiking ability came to play, my focus from ultrarunning days - despite not eating in the last 4 hrs (I finally did run out of food I was trying to stretch out), I was flying. 33 miles that day, baby! I am back! Just in time for it to be over...

I showed up at 7:30 pm to a camp full of people (well, 5. That's a lot of cramping!). Oh, well, it WAS a single water source, after all. I set up, ate my last small portion of noodles, and washed my clothes for a walk-out next day. I wanted not to stink much meeting with Larry:)
Campsite view on the next morning.

It was a mere 4 miles to the road where Larry was to meet me, and we arranged that he'd  walk towards me with Harrison. He waited for me in a perfect spot, in an open meadow, with a camera in hand. It was a little more awkward with his son there that I anticipated, but it was good to finally give him a hug. 
Walking out of the woods.

Back together!

We walked to the car that last mile together, all three of us, and the life was slowly getting back to normal. Lots of food and coffee, shower, clean clothes. Nothing to do. How weird. After 8 days of doing one single thing, walking with a pack up and down the mountains, I finally had nothing to do - and once the stories wore off, it was sad not to walk anymore. I did cancel my WA section, and did re-book tickets for us to just hang out in the woods for a couple of days. I saw my first bear for the trip - on the beach of lake Tahoe! The wild fires started in South Yosemite Valley, and the air got really cloudy and grey, obstructing the views and causing me to sneeze constantly (of course, for people who live in the area, there are much worse consequences of that). We were just happy we were done with our part of mountain living prior these fires began.
Hwy 36 crossing to Chester. Mile 1328, 203 miles on PCT (from 1125 at Barker pass, plus 5 mile road walk)


I ate half the pizza - Squaw Valley

All cleaned up at Tahoe Lake

Poor Bear:(

I am home, and the thoughts keep on rolling in my head. What else I want to hike - and what I don't. Who do I want to be around. And who I don't. Slow down with life, enjoy it - but not go against my personal values, and sometimes "enjoy" for me is not what the general term is.

At some point during the first night "out" I was trying to set up a trip to Oregon to see my friends on a certain week (the one I already took off from work for that WA hike) - and in a weird coincidence, EVERYONE I'd like to see was out of town. May be it's Universe's way to tell me it's time to cut my ties with Oregon for good? Why do I keep coming back? May be it's one of many things that keeps me from moving on with my life? May be this hike turned out the way it did so I can figure out where else I can go?

I loved every step of it. I loved the whiny parts, and the scary snowy parts, and the exhausting hot parts. The loneliness, and the fleeting people's interactions. The ability to sit down. Gosh, I wish there were lakes I could spend more time hanging out at! I love alpine lakes, but sadly, there were none. I am partial, but Oregon had better views than this particular section of NoCA. But it provided for more deep thinking, I guess. Or just thinking. No "entertainment" leads to more personal growth, I heard. Hopefully, I grew a little.

I should probably proof-read it, but it's time to get to work, and if I delay and re-read it, I'll start changing. Raw writing was always my forte. I know I will not like it even tonight, and surely in the next few days, until it'll fade into horizon of life and insignificance if it. So, here it is.

Link to photoalbum is here - I will eventually narrate the pictures to give a fuller detailed report the one I wrote here, so if you remember later and are still interested, come back. For now, this will suffice.


Lori said...

Thank you so much for taking time to write, and for the additional photo album! I believe you are right about no entertainment leading to increased personal growth. It's good.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love this especially the way you worded that this page of life needs to be read slowly. As I'm in my own forced yet welcomed on a deeper level season of rest and slower pace, I also find myself questioning how I want life to look as this season transitions... wonderful writing. Thank you for sharing!-- Kristin (j) Z

Anonymous said...

Great photos and Stories. Add to your scrapbook of amazing memories. - Uncle Joe

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