The Most Expensive Cab Ride – Day 78: Short Sand Beach to Nehalem Bay State Park

Oregon Coast Trail

Date: July 8

I wake up around 2am and look out and the moon is setting on the horizon, so bright orange it could be the sun. This trail is full of so many surprises. 
Nobody bothers us about camping and we sleep great. It’s a little confusing where to go when we get hiking but we figure it out – the trail signs are so infrequent that sometimes I even forget to look for them to help. 
Today we climb Neah-Kah-Nie mountain, which isn’t that long or hard, but gives us a gorgeous view of the ocean. I see Dexter scramble up a steep rocky area and follow her. About 3/4 of the way up I see a headstone which makes me a little nervous but even though it’s steep, the rocks are stable. Once we’re at the top we see an easier route down. But the view from the top is worth it. 

On the way down I see a lot of dayhikers and some stop to talk about where we’re headed, which is fun. From there we hike into Manzanita. We go to the grocery store, where the staff is incredibly friendly to us, to lunch at Left Coast Siesta where I eat a massive burrito with enthusiasm, and then to ice cream. Before we get to ice cream we see two other hikers and say hello – they’d jumped from the PCT, too, but had decided not to do the OCT and had just been hanging around town before heading north for a southbound hike. 
After ice cream, it’s laundry time. It’s two miles to the laundromat and we don’t want to walk it so we call a cab. The cab takes 40 minutes to head over and the two minute ride costs $25 and, well, that settles it: no more cabs for us (unless absolutely necessary.)
While our clothes wash I start planning the upcoming sections of the trail in my notebook, which has helped a lot. There aren’t any bathrooms so we change our clothes in the middle of the building since no one else is in there (we ignore the cameras.)
I make a sign saying “Oregon Coast Hikers to Manzanita” hoping we’ll get a hitch, but no one bites, so we end up walking all the way back. I get something to bring for dinner at the grocery store and get walking. 
When we’re almost to camp, I realize: the shampoo I’d bought at the store never made it into my bag. I’d been so stoked for clean hair and now I might not get it. Bummer. But at camp, Dexter says she has some I can use. Shower saved!
An older man with long grey hair says hello when we get to the hiker camp. Some bikers are there and so are the two hikers we met earlier. We all sit around and chat, the older guy plays guitar. He turns out to be quite the character, breaking into monologues about acid and starships and near death experiences. He says he’s traveling from state park to state park. It’s 1030 by the time I go to bed.

Waves Are Magic – Day 77: Arcadia Beach to Short Sand Beach

Oregon Coast Trail

Date: July 7

Miles: 12ish

Sleeping on the beach is amazing and our tents aren’t wet and I am happy happy happy. We’ve woken up early-ish to catch the low tide and get walking. On the beach I find a whole sand dollar – I’ve seen endless amounts of broken ones but never a whole one outside of a store. I put it in my pocket. 

Hug Point is totally passable. We climb up onto the old road and I feel a little bad – I try to step without touching the anemones and other living creatures attached to the flat surface. 

A man we camped with at Tillamook Head rides by on his bicycle and then chats with me and tells me about some of the trail coming up – namely that the suspension bridge we have to cross in the next mile looks like it’s on someone’s property. 

After the bridge we enter the longest stretch of forest in the coast, according to the guidebook. It’s beautiful. And also… a little overgrown. It’s fun to be on a trail, to dodge roots and tackle mud and push through bushes. 

And then we come across a small side trail that leads to a view and I sit down and it’s one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen. The ocean crashes against rocks and has created coved and it looks like it’s out of a movie. 

After a while we keep moving. We’re not allowed to camp at Oswald West State Park but we don’t have another 9 miles in us to get to the next camp, so we look for stealth options, but there aren’t any really. We get to the picnic area and eat dinner and decide we’re just going to wait out the surfers and families and then set up our tents here. In the meantime, the crows are loud and obnoxious – they sound like the kind of noise a human would make to be irritating, and their calls are so constant that I start laughing and laughing and laughing, and then Dexter and I start making the noises with them. Ba-caw! Creeeaw! 

Around 8:30 I’m tired of waiting and set up my tent and go to sleep. Dexter cowboy camps hidden behind a tree. Energizer Bunny waits a little longer and then cowboy camps too. 

The Best Sunset of Summer – Day 76: Tillamook Head to Arcadia Beach

Oregon Coast Trail

Date: July 6
Miles: 10ish
I take a while to fall asleep because I keep hearing scratching and running sounds, sometimes seemingly right by my head. But every time I look, I don’t see anything, so I put it out of my head and fall asleep.
In the morning we wake in the dark and open the door for some light. I crawl down from the top bunk and see it – mouse running across the log a few feet from my head. Energizer Bunny’s food bag has been chewed into. But otherwise, no damage. 
It’s a nice day and there is no condensation on any of our stuff which is awesome. The walk is super pleasant. We get to the trail for Ecola Point but the OCT is closed in this area, so instead we walk a forest road and dodge cars and eventually the ranger points us to a side trail with beautiful views.

In Cannon Beach, we have lunch. We go to a fish and chips shop, to the grocery store, to a coffee shop. I get a slice of pizza. We hang out there since there’s nowhere to go as we’re waiting for low tide to get around Hug Point.

People have been really nice and ask us about where we’ve come from and where we’re headed all the time 

But as I’m drinking tea and charging my electronics, I realize we’ve misread the tide – low tide is an hour earlier than we thought. We move quick and get to the beach, where we see some volunteers near one of the large rocks and tide pools. They say even the low tide tonight is probably not low enough to get where we need to go. Crap. We can’t legally camp anywhere nearby, but Dexter says we should try stealth camping so we push on.

Dexter found a starfish!

We end up at Arcadia Beach with one of the prettiest views I’ve ever seen, and an incredible sunset.

 I sit on a log and sing into the ocean breeze while Energizer Bunny and Dexter explore the beach. I have missed singing and I am thankful the sound of the waves still makes it a private thing. I call my family. At dark we set up our tents and fall asleep to the sound of the sea. 

More Vagabond than Hiker -Day 75: Bud’s RV Park to Tillamook Head Hiker Camp

Oregon Coast Trail

Miles: more than 8, less than 15, genuinely don’t know how to keep track

Date: July 5th

In the morning I wake up around 5:30 to a soaking wet tent, so I decide to deal with it maturely by going back to sleep. It’s foggy and there’s no point in getting up early. So I don’t.
Around 630 I start to get my stuff together. I buy breakfast and some snacks from the camp store. Around 830 Energizer Bunny and I get walking, back to the road. It’s only about an hour before we’re in the town of Seaside. We head to the boardwalk and walk and people watch, and then we hit a road that clearly leads to delicious restaurants and cute shops and I tell Energizer Bunny: “Um, I’m going to go explore.”

She’s down too. She doesn’t want to plan and seems happy to follow whatever itinerary I set. I spot a restaurant I want to eat at but it’s too early early for lunch so I keep walking. Then I see a bookstore. I can’t help myself and I go inside. I tell the woman the kind of book I’m in the mood for and she pulls a few off the shelf and I buy one. I sit for a few minutes and then I go back in and find some journals, too. They’re beautiful, and I’ve decided I’m not going to care much about miles in this trail so I may as well read and write. And one of the journals I’m going to use for planning this trip, which is more complicated than the PCT because there isn’t one good resource to follow mindlessly. 
We wait around until 11 and then go to lunch. I try an Oyster Po Boy and realize I don’t like oysters. Oh well. I’m happy to be eating seafood that isn’t tuna packets regardless.
From there we hike along the boardwalk and then a road and we arrive at the Trailhead for Tillamook Head, which my friend who has just finished the trail said was awesome. It’s lush and green and I’m stoked. I’m also stoked because I’ve decided I’m only going to do about 10 miles a day out here, except for when necessary otherwise, which means I only have to get 4 miles to the hiker camp. I’ve decided that on this trail I will feel more like a vagabond than a hiker, and that’s okay. There will be a lot of town meals, hot tea, people watching, and hopefully more time to reflect on what exactly I am doing out here. 

I walk through what is basically a wonderland and I text my husband saying we need to move to the northwest and eventually I reach camp. There I meet another former PCT hiker, trailname Dexter, and we chat with each other.
The interesting thing about this camp is there are wooden huts with wooden bunk beds set up for use. Katie’s already set up in one. I’m a little skeptical because I’m imagining spiders and rodents. My tent is still soaking wet so I set it up to dry it and hang the rain fly. Energizer Bunny is going to sleep in the hut, too, and finally I just blow up my air mattress and set it on the top bunk.

More people arrive and a Swiss family gets a fire going. Dexter takes us to look at Terrible Tilly, a lighthouse off the coast, as well as some barracks and the slugs who live on them. 

The Swiss family cook chicken legs and offer us some. Their 14 year old son knows all the states and whether they’re republican or democratic, which I find impressive. Then they offer us Swiss chocolate.
It doesn’t get dark til 9:30, which is when we go bed. I’ve brought my rolled up tent inside and hope for no condensation. I read my book with the red light of my headlamp, and then I try to fall asleep. 

Independence on the OCT – Day 74: Northern Terminus to Bud’s RV Park and CampgroundĀ 

Oregon Coast Trail

Date: July 4th
Miles: 13? 14? 15? Unclear how to keep track out here
We were up late, 11 or so, and I’m reluctant to get out of bed. I rouse myself around 6:10 and my pack is packed and I’m dressed so there’s really not much to do. I go downstairs and have a cup of tea and chat with Scott and his family. Energizer Bunny was already up.

When I finish my tea Scott drives us to the Terminus, stopping at a sporting goods store so I can get fuel and Fred Meyer so Energizer Bunny can get a Swiss Army knife, which the airport has made her leave behind. 
We get to the Terminus around 9am and get hiking. I’m excited to be on the beach, which is beautiful, and I find myself picking up sea shells and sand dollars. The beach is littered with crab shells, which is totally new to me. I’m even singing too myself, the sea breeze making it a private sound. I’ve missed singing a lot out here.

As we’re walking I’m stopped by a woman who asks where we’re going and I tell her. She tells me about some of the Caminos she’s hiked. I walk a little further and a former PCT hiker who was headed north spots us and gives us some info about the upcoming trail.
“It’s a lot of stopping for coffee,” he says. “Very different from the PCT.”
I’m noticing that Energizer Bunny is quiet around new people but chatty with me. She’s also started looking to me to translate when people don’t understand her Hong Kong accent.

Peter Iredale Shipwreck

We walk on the beach for 6 miles or so and much to my surprise, I am downright sick of it. It’s the same view the whole way – ocean to my right, sand in front, grassy hill to my left. And there are cars zooming past is because this part of the beach is also considered a highway. And I’m a little nervous about water – the guidebook and resources talked about how plentiful water was, so I’ve only brought a liter, but I’m not seeing any notes about exactly where to g water in this stretch and it’s making me nervous.
We get to a beach entrance/exit point and I ask if she wants to keep walking the beach or wants to get on the road.
“Road,” she says. 
We find a store and I buy a bottle of water and we make lunch at the park next door. It’s a mountain house, and it’s not good. I can already tell camp food is going to feel miserable about here because real food is so nearby. 
Then we get walking. I’m not sure the road was better than the beach and I’m missing the general choicelessness of the PCT. There, there is usually only one way to get to where you’re going. Here there are a million, and constant temptation for easier modes of travel. 
Luckily the road, highway 101, has a generous shoulder. What we don’t know is where we’re going to sleep. We walk and walk and walk. I’m worried about water again. 

I pull out my phone and google restaurants nearby and see a coffee kiosk a half mile ahead, so we head there. Energizer Bunny orders a Mountain Dew and the man fills our water bottles. I ask if he knows if any campgrounds around.
“Bud’s is three miles ahead,” he says. 
It’s Fourth of July and I’m nervous we’ll be shit out of luck, but I call anyway. They have one tentsite left and I book it. I also notice on their google page that there’s a Chinese restaurant next door. I spend the next three miles fantasizing about food, and eventually we get there.
“Food first?” I ask Energizer Bunny, and she agrees.

I hiked in my new Tevas all day and got a sunburn. Pale people problems. 

After food we check in and set up our tents. I take a shower because it’s there and make a note to actually buy some shampoo and conditioner to carry, since I’ll have regular access to hiker camps. 
I’m in bed as the fireworks go off. It feels good to be back in my tent. But I’m a little nervous I’ve broken something I need for walking, some kind of momentum or spirit or willingness to suffer. I’m afraid I left it on the PCT. I’m afraid I won’t find it again. 

From the Crest to the Coast – Day 70 – 73: Bishop to Cape Mear, OR

pacific crest trail

Miles: 1.5

My panic keeps me up until 3 am, a time of morning I haven’t seen in a really long time, but eventually I get two hours of half-sleep. Then I see Denied walk past my tent, ready at the time we’d agreed upon, and so I get out to tell him the news: I won’t be going forward.
“I’m really sorry,” I tell him.
He’s chipper in the way people are when they haven’t quite processed the situation yet. “No worries!” He says. I go back to my tent and start packing my things and he sits on a rock by the trail. He’s still there as I go to leave.
“Do you have everything you need?” I ask.
“Yeah.” He is more sullen now.
“I’m really sorry. I hope you have a really awesome hike. The others should be waking up soon if you want some people to walk with.”
“I’m probably going to have to go back to town,” he says. “I wouldn’t have brought so much food if I wasn’t following your hiking plan.”
I ask if I can bring the extra food down for him and ship it ahead but he says no. I apologize again. I hope he’s okay. He did me a favor by saying he’d hike with me and I’ve let him down. I’m not usually a flake. But as guilty as I feel, I also am feeling really hopeful about the decision. I am tired of trying to fight so hard to stay on this trail, with these groups of people. I am ready to keep hiking. But not here.
I head back down and go looking for a ride back in the parking area. As I walk, I ran into another hiker who was headed in, Aika. She’d turned around the day before, too, after trying to hike by herself. I tell her about the OCT and her eyes light up. If things don’t go well, she might come out and join me.
I get a ride from a local and he seems happy to hear I’m not headed in. He tells me the bus to Reno, where I need to get, isn’t running again until Monday. He says the highway is busy, though, and getting a hitch shouldn’t be too hard.
He drops me in Independence and I catch another ride to Bishop, and then I hang out outside the hostel for a few hours. I tell some people my plans and they’re mostly supportive. 
I go to lunch. Mark is texting me saying how much he doesn’t want me to hitch that far. He’ll rent me a car. He’ll come drive me himself. Just don’t hitch, he says. 
But a hitch seems the most simple, and Aika has turned around and thinks she’ll go with me, so I make myself a sign, “PCT Hiker to Reno.”
But then another hiker says: we’re headed to Mammoth Lakes in five, anyone want a ride? The other hikers say I should take it because it puts me 40 minutes closer. I text Aika and she says to go for it. 
When I get in the car, the hikers, Kelley and Derek, say they’re trying to get a car in Mammoth Lakes to go to Reno. They’re flipping North. They say I’m welcome to ride with them.
So that’s what we do, and I don’t have to hitch at all. We have an awesome conversation the whole way. Right outside of Reno we see a PCT hiker hitching and we pick her up. Her name is Energizer Bunny. She’s planning to flip north, too, but then I mention the OCT and she asks if she can go with me so I say yes. 
We drop Energizer Bunny off at a hostel and Kelley and Derek drop me off at Amelia’s house. It is so good to see her again. She and her mom take me to Pho and then give me a bed and I am tired, so tired – I haven’t slept more than 3 hours today. So I lay down. And it takes no time at all to fall asleep. 

Day 71: 
I wake up and hang out in bed for a while and then eat cereal with Amelia and her mom. I rearrange my bag and take my bear can, ice axe, microspikes and about 7 days of food to a local shipping store. 
After that, we relax. Amelia and I catch up on Dr Who. I am happy about how easy it is to be around Amelia. I download maps and guides to the Oregon Coast Trail. I am feeling good about the decision to hike this trail, and excited. I wonder if I will miss the PCT or not. 

Day 72:
I wake up in the middle of the night and think I’m on the edge of a mountain. I see the slope of snow ahead of me and it looks impossibly steep. I see a headlamp below me. I’m alone out here.
But then I remember: I’m in a bed. The snow is a curtain. The headlamp is a light on the floor. The edge is the bed. My brain thinks I’m outside as a default, now. It tries to make wilderness patterns out of domestic shapes. 
In the afternoon we go to REI and Sierra Trading Post. I buy a pair of Tevas and consider a better rain jacket but decide against it. 
Amelia’s brothers and Dad come home and I am surprised that this does not make me feel more out of place. I feel more welcome here than I have for a while on the PCT. 
That night, we watch The Handmaid’s Tale. Am I brave? I wonder. Would I fight? Do I know when to run?
I call Mark. I tell him how I scared I am of the end of this summer of hiking. How do I live real life after this? 
Day 73: 
I lay on the couch into the morning. I watch more Handmaid’s Tale. I take a shower and throw my hiking clothes in with a load of laundry. They smell bad so quickly, even without hiking. But I am itching to hike again, to see new things, to move forward. 
Amelia, her mom and I go to Chipotle and then they pick up Energizer Bunny, who has booked the same flight as me, and drop us off at the airport. 
Loner, a hiker who regularly section hiked the PCT and just thru hiked the OCT, picks us up from the airport and takes us to his family’s beach vacation home. We chat with his family – his dad is 91, his mother a few years younger and they still backpack – and then go upstairs to bed at well past hiker midnight. Tomorrow Loner drops us off at the border or Oregon and Washington, and then we hike south. 

Nero in Bishop, Panic on Trail – Day 69: bishop to Onion Valley Trail Head

pacific crest trail

Date: June 29

PCT miles: no
Miles: 1.5
I get up early and ride a loaner bicycle to the grocery store. Well, first I go for a mile in the wrong direction, but I genuinely don’t mind because riding bikes is fun and the weather is perfect. 
When I get back I have to try to pack my bear can which is comical. We’re carrying 10 days of food, the biggest carry on the trail, and I have to use both my bear can and my opsack to fit it all. 
I go get breakfast and go to the gear store where I get some new shoes. Karma and Soulshine get my attention by banging on a window as I walk by. “Did you get my text?” She asks me. No. She says she’s hiking with a group and I can go with them. But that group is close with the one that just left me, and I don’t want to hold Karma back. I tell her about my plans to hike with Denied but our itineraries sound similar so we’ll likely see each other anyway. 
I go to the post office and ship myself some food to VVR, our next resupply stop. I grab lunch with Denied and then we catch a ride back to the trail with Santa’s Helper. 
I am hiking up the mountain and feeling a heavy weight in my chest. It’s just the post-town blues, I am trying to tell myself. 
We get to one of the camping options for the night, a mile and a half in, and some hikers who were close with my group are camping there. Denied wants to camp there and they say it’s okay, but before our tents are set up they have all gone to bed. It’s early, 8. Am I imagining things, or are they avoiding me? I can’t tell. 
I crawl in my own tent and try to go to sleep, but suddenly it’s like my body has forgotten how to breathe. I take a deep, calming breath and then choke on the following breaths. Too shallow ones that make my lungs tingle, like they’re collapsing. Is this altitude sickness? I wonder. I try to run through all the symptoms I know of, but this feeling feels familiar – it feels like a panic attack. 
It’s then that I notice my brain is racing. I’m imagining climbing up over Kearsarge, Glen, Mather, Muir with this bubble of people watching me, waiting for me to freak out, waiting for me to fail. I’m imagining them hiking purposefully ahead of me so that I can’t follow their paths. I’m imagining Denied, young and unsure and trying to find his own way up the mountain, trying to help me out of my fears entirely on his own. In this bubble, I am a burden, my brain believes. That is too heavy a thought to carry through these mountains. 
And this feeling isn’t new. Before starting the PCT I read on and in about trail families, how they are some of the best friendships you’ll ever have. But that isn’t what I’ve found out here, though I’ve truly wanted to. In the desert, it wasn’t a problem. The casual friendships were enough, and hiking in my own was safe. I thought a family would happen organically. But it didn’t. And for the last section of the Sierra, I’ve been left feeling lost. The trail has been perfect and enlivening and humbling. But the community, not so much. It feels like a taboo to say, really. Everyone says the people are what make the trail. But so often, for me, they are what is unmaking it. 
I send Mark a series of text messages about how I’m feeling, knowing he is asleep. In the flurry of sending them I have a moment of clarity: what I need is to by myself, so I can rebuild my confidence as a hiker. I don’t like how desperate I have felt for friendship, how small i was willing tinned in order to have people near me. But the PCT – the Sierra, NorCal, Oregon, Washington – they are all too full of snow for me to feel comfortable on my own right now. 

And then I remember photos from a friend’s recent hike of the OCT, that many former PCT hikers have headed there, and I feel a sense of relief. 
That relief, of course, quickly turns into desperation to plan. I make notes to myself about gear. I call my friend in Washington and talk to her about the possibility, how she might hike with me for a few days. I like the idea of being around people who like me, who I’m not constantly trying to endear myself to. She tells me some friends of a friend quit the trail because they weren’t loving the culture, too. 
You didn’t really go out there because you needed to be a thruhiker, she says. So what does it matter what trail you’re on?
And she’s right. What I wanted was to spend 5-6 months hiking, learning about myself, learning how to take care of myself. Thruhiking was the simplest way to do that. I can still do that. I can southbound the OCT and then hike north to Canada from the Oregon/California border on the PCT once the snow has melted.
I am still sad that I’m not able to test myself more in the Sierra. The trail itself has been such an incredible comfort to me. I crave it’s neutrality. But I haven’t been able to figure out how to live with people out here, or I suppose how to live without them. Maybe it’s time I do that, somewhere a little more safe. 

A Risk to Others – Day 68: Zero in Bishop

pacific crest trail

Date: June 28

I wake up and grab breakfast with Rainfly. He pays for my breakfast which is sweet and then we have a nice conversation about the trail. Afterward I go to do laundry and the whole group is there. They’re planning the next section of the trail.
“Anything I can do to help?” I ask.
“No,” they say.
I listen to their planning and put my clothes in the dryer and then they all go and sit on the floor. I think this is funny, how hikers get so used to sitting on the floor that they avoid chairs. I sit in a chair.
“I think we need to have a talk,” Sole says. I already know what’s coming.
“We’re worried about you in this next section,” she says. “And we’re worried about Co and LiterBit exposing themselves to extra risk by having to help you so much.”
She says a little more and asks if I have anything I’d like to say. I say I think I’ve grown and learned a lot from the last section but I understand if they want to move forward without me.
“I think that’s what we’re saying,” LiterBit says. 
I say thank you for what they did to help me. They go back to the hostel. Rainfly and my clothes are still drying. He sits next to me. “I wasn’t sure if I should have said something earlier.” Ah. This is why he bought me breakfast.
We get our clothes and I pack my bag back at the hostel and we’re doing that weird thing where we’re trying to be polite and casual but it’s not quite working.
I start considering my options. I can’t go into the Sierra alone. There are people doing it, but it won’t be me. I can ask Karma and Nirvana if I can hike with them, but part of me feels like if we were going to hike together we would already be doing it. I ask anyway. But I also start considering other options. Too snowy to go north. I could go west, maybe, and hike the California Coast Trail, a trail made of mostly road walking.
One thing I know: I am not going home.
But I am also sad, and angry. It hurts to be rejected, and I’m angry because I genuinely think I can do this section if I had a solid group. Not a group to baby me or cut my steps or find every river crossing – but a group I could trust and rely on and who knew they could trust and rely on me. I’m angry because I may not get a chance to see what I am capable of in the Sierra. I’m sad because I really wanted to be part of a trail family. I’m sad because I picked the wrong one. I’m sad because I wasn’t worth waiting for. 
I’m glad, at least, that the vibes I was picking up on were not all in my head. 
I spend the rest of the day trying to pull together information on the coast trail. I call Mark, and my friend Sarah, two people I know would drag me up a mountain if that’s what it took. I wish they were hiking with me. 
I get another night at the hostel. Denied is staying in the same room. I mention my dilemma and he says: you can hike with me. I try to make it clear why I am in the dilemma I am in – I am afraid of heights, I am new to the equipment, I slowed my group down. But he says he’s been wanting to hike with someone and to hike slower. He seems to mean it. So I say, okay. 
Tomorrow I’ll resupply and try to find new shoes and we’ll try to get back to the trail. 

Kearsarge Pass Day 67: Campsite before Kearsarge to Bishop

pacific crest trail

Date: June 27

PCT miles: ?

Miles: 8ish

We get up around 5 and immediately head up steep switchbacks, but they’re dry and so I’m happy to have them. The group waits for me where the snow begins and Co navigates us through trees and sun cups around Bullfrog Lake. At one point I get ahead of everyone and it’s unclear which direction to take, although I can see on my GPS the general direction we’re headed, and the pass we need to get to – but there’s no footpath and I want us all to stay together so I wait for them. 
“I’m pretty sure the pass is over there, but I’m not sure which way you’d rather go.”
“No,” Co says. “We have to go around the lake.”
But as we head around the lake she realizes where the pass is and starts taking us in the direction I’d pointed out. This is the hard part of new groups – nobody knows if they can trust you or not.

It’s a mostly uneventful walkup except for a steep snow shoot surrounded by rock scrambles. At first Sole and I try to scramble up some boulders but I quickly decide it’s more effort than it’s worth and cross the snow, where LiterBit and Co are scrambling up some loose rock and dirt – my least favorite. They try to tell me how to get up the scramble but I’m looking at the snow thinking that it seems way more secure. After debating a bit with myself, I decide to go for the snow, even though it’s steep. It’s the right decision for me. My spikes are grippy and Forester has taught me how to work with my ice axe and I move slow but I feel confident on the ice. We get to the top and I feel redeemed – I am not a helpless hiker in the snow. I am capable. 

Of course, heading down Kearsarge is slushy and steep and scary and LiterBit heel-kicks steps into the snow for me to use. There are a few glissades that are fun and a little sketchy and we take turns almost running into rock walls or almost sliding off edges around corners.
It feels like it takes forever to get to the Trailhead, but I’m still happy to be headed there because I know I’ll be getting to town. The last switchbacks in particular, even though they’re dry, seem never ending. 

My feet are wet from snow and streams that run down the trail and they start to hurt from being wet for so long. When I get to the parking lot I put on dry socks and walk to the end of the road closure without shoes. 
There, the Swiss Boys and Taylor are climbing out of a car. It is good to see familiar faces. The man who gave them a ride is Santa’s Helper, a section hiker who took time off trail to shuttle hikers around. I ask if he can give me and the group a ride and he says yes. We wait for them and eventually they turn up, but they’ve already found another ride with a day hiker. Another hiker named Denied starts to walk by and I ask if he wants a ride and he says yes and climbs in. Yoav and Dean pull up and we hug and Yoav shows me a video of him glissading for a solid 2 minutes down Whitney Portal, which is insane. Then they hike on. Denied and I chat with Santa’s Helper while waiting to see if any other hikers come by. They don’t. So we head to town. 
Santa’s Helper drops us off at the hostel but the group is having lunch at a diner so I go join them. We’re all unshowered and when I walk in a man waves his hand in front of his face as if to say, “you stink.” Ah, to be hiker trash. We all go back to the hostel and decide to share a private room. I shower last because they’re headed out for drinks and I’m going to stay in to call Mark.
The call with Mark is good. I miss him, but I know that I want to keep walking, that there is something about being out here and having the chance to walk, to carry everything I need on my back, that is necessary right now. I am not ready to go home. 

Forester Pass, aka The Trail Made Me Cry, Part 2 – Day 66: Tyndall Creek Campground to Campsite Before Kearsarge

pacific crest trail

PCT miles: 774.5 to 787.2
Miles: 12.7*
We wake early and are hiking around 4:30. I’m feeling apprehensive but the pass has to be climbed, so onward we go. 
Last night I told the group I would really like to not be left alone, and they do a good job of waiting for me when I lag behind. Rainfly joins us as does another hiker, Nick, and Diggs. Diggs is normally a pretty fast, confident hiker but today she’s lagging. Someone asks if she’s okay and she says she feels weird, a little dizzy. I tell to the others that we need to wait, but she insists she’s fine. She tries to keep pushing but has to keep stopping, and eventually Rainfly takes off his pack and insists she eat. This seems to help and she’s able to continue.
The approach is honestly kind of fun. The snow and sun ups are firm and I mostly just stare at my feet as I walk and then look up to gorgeous sunrise views.

But then we get to the approach of Forester. I can see that the switchbacks are largely covered by snow and there are a series of footprints winding up or going straight up the ice. I follow them, and eventually they run out. Sole is ahead of me going straight up, but I start to get nervous. Co catches up to me and starts telling me to take one step at a time, leading me toward a loose rock scramble. At the scramble, I start to really get afraid – the dirt falls beneath my feet and I’m having to have Co test out safe spaces to step. She’s patient. “One step. Good job.” When I finally get back to ice she has me take out my ice axe, which we haven’t had any time to practice with and feels strange in my hands. I still can’t seem to move and I don’t trust my microspikes on the incline. So Co starts creating steps with her ice axe for me, and LiterBit follows behind. I can see how much effort they are putting in for me and I am insanely grateful, while also having a sense that this will count against me. 
When I finally get to dry trail, I sob. I know I’m safe but I need to let go of the fear I was tamping down in order to get through it. I take my spikes off and put my pack on and walk up the switchbacks. The ice shoot that everyone talks about is nothing compared to what we just did and I walk across it without issue. 
We get to the top at 9am. Hikers are taking pictures. 3 women get naked and pose with their crampons and ice axes. Nature Monster climbs up the ice shoot. But we don’t stick around for long – we head down to get the descent started. The descent is scary too, slushy snow and steep drop offs. We hope for glissades but they are few and far between and don’t relieve us of much walking. Sole’s head starts to pound again and I stick near her to make sure she’s okay. The descent seems to trigger and altitude headache for her. 

Meanwhile, Co is doing an excellent job of navigating us safely down the mountain. My muscles are getting used to sliding on the snow and moving in new ways. The river crossing continue to be completely manageable. The trail goes from completely snow covered, to mush, to thick patches, to small patches as we descend. It is nice to end the day stretching out my legs on relatively dry trail at the end of the day. 
It feels like a week of trail life packed into one day. We camp a few miles short of the junction to Kearsarge and make a campfire and try to dry our shoes and eat dinner. 
Even though it was hard and very scary for me on the traverse, I feel like I learned a lot for next time. I hope this group would still be comfortable hiking with me because they’re a solid team in sketchy situations. But I don’t know that they will. I don’t feel like I’m growing closer to them, and I’m feeling a strange sense of… pity? Patronization? I’m not sure. I don’t feel like an equal, and it’s hard to tell how much of that is a problem and how much of it is just a function of being new. 
But I’m not dreading tomorrow. It’s hard to think of anything stopping me, because tomorrow is town day. There’s only one pass between me and hot food and a shower. 
*at this point these are estimates – there is enough snow coverage that we’re often traversing across snow without trail and so may be going less (or more)… just in case you’re a stickler for these things