Returning to college the fall after I finished the Appalachian Trail was not easy. I was homesick for the trail and getting back out there was all that I could think of. Problem #1 was that I did not have enough money to buy the food and gear that I would need for another thru-hike. The Pacific Crest Trail had caught something in me though, and I was determined to do whatever I could to get out there.
I sat down and wrote letters asking for sponsorships from every company that I could think of. I was not sure what sort of reaction I would get. Only one of the companies that I wrote to rejected me flat out and, in the end, I was able to get five different product sponsorships, which helped me a great deal. Suddenly hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was within my means. I remember jumping up and down and dancing like crazy in my dorm room when I realized it. I compiled my mail drops and gear hastily.
On May 10th I flew out to San Diego and the following day my Aunt Elaine, Grandma, cousin Brodie and family dog Scruffy drove me to the Mexican border. They hiked with me for the first three miles and then said goodbye.
Suddenly, I was alone in the desert.
Unlike on the Appalachian Trail, where I had taken a semester off to give myself plenty of time to hike the 2,175 miles, this time I only had summer break . . . a little over three months to hike 2, 650 miles. I had to average 21 miles per day with no time off in order to finish. This fact weighed on my mind at the start of the hike but the scenery and new challenges soon distracted me.
Hiking the PCT was the first time I had ever been to a desert and the first time I had ever hiked above 7,000 feet (let alone 14,000 feet!). It was the first time I had hiked anywhere outside the Appalachians! Every view was so new to me that I could barely stop myself to set up camp at night I was so excited to see what was around the next corner.
I made it through 700+ miles of desert to the High-Sierra by mid-June. I was nervous and excited to dive into the big mountains. This was around the time that I caught up to the "herd"- most thru-hikers had started a couple of weeks earlier than me.
I crossed the High Sierra solo. I took a side trip up Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48, to celebrate my 21st birthday. It was a beautiful birthday. It was a lonely birthday. Whitney was stunning. I hiked up it and down it and continued on to camp by a river after Goat Flats.
The passes of the High Sierra were the most treacherous part of the trail. I can still remember the frozen feeling in my gut as I self-belayed my shaking self with an ice axe up Mather Pass trying not to look down.
I first noticed the haze at the edge of Yosemite. Having grown up in New England, I thought it was humidity. I was wrong. Forest fires.
Somewhere around the halfway point of the trail (which is still in California!), I started to get a little homesick. In order to successfully thru-hike, you have to come up with ways to entertain yourself. I have found it helpful to resort to distance challenges. My goal was to cross the state of Oregon in under two weeks. In northern California I learned how to hike 30+ mile days. It was something that I had to figure out how to do rather than something I just needed the brute strength to do. I learned what pace I needed to hike at, when and how long I needed to take breaks, and when I needed to eat (I started eating dinner earlier in the day to give me energy). I enjoyed the physical challenge of this section and flew.
Oregon was all loveliness. Especially Crater Lake and the Sisters Wilderness. And Mackenzie Pass! And Tunnel Falls! I met Scott Williamson and Tattoo Joe by Elk Lake Resort. I was super excited to meet them and felt like a teenage girl meeting a rock star, but hopefully did not act too celebrity crazed.
And suddenly I was in Cascade Locks crossing the Bridge of the Gods and heading into Washington, the final state. The very front edge of the "herd" was in town when I arrived, including a buddy of mine who I had met on the Appalachian Trail. I ended up hiking the rest of the trail with a wonderful group. It was the most enjoyable part of the hike. I always head into these adventures excited for the places I will get to be but the people I meet along the way are always the BEST part.
Washington brought rainy, cold weather and we took a couple of days off at the Dinsmore's (PCT trail angels!). It was hard to leave their little hiker oasis and return to the cold, wet trail, but we did and were rewarded with black bear sightings and delicious thimble berries.
I made it to the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail at the Canadian Border on August 27th, two weeks ahead of schedule. I was ready to be done with the hike but sad to say goodbye to my new friends. I could not help but day dream of the Continental Divide.