To Be Alone – Day 98: Harris State Park to California border

July 28

Energizer and Dexter leave early. I don’t sit around too long, but then I realize I need to pay for my campsite so I can slackpack and leave my tent, but the ranger doesn’t show up until 8:30. I don’t want to wait that long, so I ask a biker who is awake if he’ll pay for my site for me. He says yes, but then I start chatting with him and I end up being around for an hour anyway. We talk about some of the things I found strange about the PCT, and he says he noticed similar things when he talked to some hikers he camped with while biking. He tells me about bike touring and I get half convinced I should buy a bike and spent the next month doing that instead. He’s very nice, and it’s a good way to start the morning.

Eventually I pay for my campsite and start walking to town. I get a sandwich at Fred Meyer where the cashier will barely look at me and I assume it’s because I look homeless, but I don’t know.

I eat as I walk. It’s a pleasant walk along the road past farms, with clouds up higher on the mountain. It reminds me of visiting my husband’s home in Wales, and that makes me feel calm. Maybe I’m ready to go home? I think. But my gut is quiet so I don’t know what that means.

Rather quickly I get to the visitor’s center. I look around and see that Energizer Bunny and Dexter have already been here and signed the register. Dexter texts me and says they’re back in town. I go to the beach and hang out in the driftwood and take my final photo of the OCT.

The people at the visitor center are super friendly and try to find me a way back to town, although eventually I stick my thumb out and a man who saw me walking earlier pulls over. He hurt his back and is envious of the trip I’ve done.

He drives me straight to Fred Meyer, where I get some snacks for the night. I go across the street to try to find a real outfit at Goodwill with no success. Then I get some takeout from a Mexican restaurant and walk back to camp.

At camp, Sonia and Mermaid have arrived. We chat around the dinner table.

I tell Sonia I won’t be headed back to the PCT, at least not right away. She’s surprised. I tell her I don’t really want to be around thruhikers again. She tells me: You need to stop caring about what other people think.

But I’m not sure how to do that, and I’m not sure it’s what I want to do. There are some places I don’t mind being alone, choosing aloneness even when opportunities for friendship present themselves. I don’t think the wilderness is one of them.

The Long Road Home

The next morning we wake early to catch a bus to Medford. From there, Energizer Bunny and Mermaid head off to Ashland to continue hiking on the PCT. Dexter and I are headed to Portland – Dexter to head home, and me to take some time to figure out what I want to do next.

I hear that another hiker, Tree, a woman I met on my fourth day, has died in the Sierra. How did we let someone be alone out there? How did we let Tree be alone? I am angry and sad. 

On the bus to Portland, there’s another PCT hiker. He and Dexter had met before. He had to get off trail because he’s being deployed. He talks about the miles he’s done, how 30 mile days had become no sweat, that he’d left his group of 800 miles because they were too slow. The only thing he asks Dexter is: So did you do the Sierra? I put in my headphones and feel frustrated and exhausted and glad, really, that I am not going back to the PCT today.

In Portland, Dexter and I go our separate ways. I take the train and a bus to my hostel. The first time I visited Portland it felt sweet and small, that night it feels like New York City, dirty and smelling of urine and overwhelming. Did it change, or did I?

I spend a couple of days wandering Portland. I go to the book store and buy a book of poetry and a dystopian novel about space and Antarctica. I get my hair cut and colored. I get a new bra. I get a tank top and a hair brush. I visit Scissors and have dinner with her and her girlfriend and they walk me around a rose garden. The next night I stay with Twerk and we eat delicious pizza and chat about the trail.

The next day I take a bus to Seattle. Maybe I can just hike Washington, I’ve been saying to myself. I could start at Cascade Locks. I’d be ahead of the thruhiker crowd…

In Seattle I spend hours by myself in my friend Natalie’s apartment and it’s glorious. I read. I write. I watch YouTube. I make food for Natalie and her boyfriend, Loomis. I do laundry and tidy the kitchen. “We could go backpacking this weekend,” they say. So we do. I’ll get to backpack with people I like, who like me, who I’m not trying to impress – maybe it will make me want to go back to trail.

But it doesn’t. My body is desperately grateful for the physical movement, for a pounding heart. Hiking feels like an incredible physical relief. But it’s also clear to me that I don’t want to be here anymore. We set up camp and play Heads Up and I laugh and laugh and laugh. The PCT is only a mile or so away and there’s supposed to be a view of Mt. Rainier, so we hike to it. It’s steep, and I’m amused – the Crest trail. One has to get to the crest. Along the way, I am trying to think of how to say goodbye to the PCT. A beautiful, impossible trail stretching from one end of the country to the other. How to say thank you. How to let go. We’re passing thousands of wildflowers, and I find myself picking one. When we reach the PCT, I hold the flower out to the sign. I think: goodbye, sweet trail. The mosquitos are attacking my hands and arms and ankles. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

The next day we hike out. I guess I’ll just take a flight back home, I think. It doesn’t feel quite right, but I don’t know what else to do – I don’t feel like hiking, I don’t feel like traveling, I don’t feel like flying home. I’m scrolling Facebook when I see my friend say he’s thinking about taking a road trip and it occurs to me: I could drive home instead.

I manage to find an awesome deal on a rental car (thanks to and plan a loose itinerary of places I want to see and Monday morning, I head out.

Meanwhile, I’m lying to my husband. It’s his birthday in a week and I want to surprise him. I’m in Canada, I tell him. I’m exploring Vancouver. I may go to Victoria. I tell him the hotel room I’m in is a hostel. I’m vague about the details of my days.

But the reality of my days is driving and beauty. I stop in Spokane and get Thai food. I spend the night in Plains, MT and wonder how I could manage to live there. I drive through Glacier National Park and say wow, wow, wow over and over again. I sleep in the lawn at an RV park. I buy fruits and vegetables and snacks and sandwiches at grocery stores. I get out at rest stops near rivers and stretch and breathe. I go to Missoula, MT and chat with a couple who’d planned to bike for several weeks who had to stop because of the heavy smoke. I spend the night in a queen sized bed at a hostel outside of Boise after a dinner of burgers and fancy fries. I see Old Faithful at Yellowstone. I wander a farmer’s market in Salt Lake City.

And then I come home. I’m early, so I sleep at my brother’s apartment. I tell Mark I’ve taken the ferry to Victoria, that I’ll be getting back on the PCT. Instead, I return my rental car and take an Uber to where he’s having dinner with friends. I tell the Uber driver my goal is to make Mark cry. The Uber driver says he’d have to be missing a soul not to cry. He cries, and hugs me, and looks at me like I might be a hologram, a ghost, a disappearing girl.

The truth is that in Arizona, everything feels uncentered. It’s familiar but different somehow, or maybe I am. The life that is my life but also hasn’t been for the last four months. It feels impossible that both can be true: A me that slept on the ground, walked for hundreds of miles, met dozens of new people, walked into each day not having any idea what it might present to her… and the me climbing into the shower, commanding the dogs to behave, knowing where all the utensils are in the drawer, driving to the grocery store without thinking. I have been gone and not-gone. I am here and not-here. I am the same and somebody different entirely, starting at the very beginning, trying to figure out how to make the ground beneath her a home.

Of My Own Making – Day 97: China Beach to Harris State Park

July 27

We don’t get washed away by high tide, which is good, so we get walking. I am not feeling it this morning. My body is still saying no to the PCT and I few confused about what I’m supposed to do. I’m running scenarios through my head, paying attention to the feeling in my chest. It’s making me slow.

“What’s wrong?” Dexter asks.

“I don’t want to hike,” I say.

“You could catch a hitch,” she says.

“No… I don’t mean today.”

“Well, you’ve been trying to find a way out of hiking for a while now,” she says.

I don’t like the way she says it. It doesn’t feel true. I realize I want to be alone.

We get to a picnic area and take a break, but I want an even longer break. I tell Dexter and Energizer to go ahead. I stay behind to make lunch but my lighter is broken. I feel stupid and like I’ve proven to myself why I keep grouping up with people, like I’m incapable. The feeling is sloshing around in my chest. I try to breathe. I manage to figure out how to use the flint I’ve packed.

I look over at the parking lot full of beach-goers who could take me back to town if I wanted to. Finish the OCT? I ask my gut. Okay, it says. So I get up and head to the trail. Still, my brain spirals as I try to hike. It’s exhausting. I see beautiful views and don’t really see them. I take a wrong turn and end up backtracking walking an extra three miles. This is why you have to be in a group, a nasty voice repeats in my ear. I hit my head hard against a branch.

I think: I want to feel human again. Brush my hair. Wear a bra that fits. Smell good. Be around people who like me. Sit in a cafe and write.

When I get to the roadwalk I call Mark and chat with him. I get to camp and take a shower and eat with Dexter and Energizer Bunny. My plan had been to take the bus tomorrow, but instead I’m going to hike to the border. I tell them not to wait for me in the morning. I might get breakfast on the way, I might lay around camp. But I want my last day to be of my own making.

The Difference Between Lead and Light – Day 96: Indian Creek Campground to China Beach

July 26

We eat breakfast at the campground’s cafe. We walk into town and we resupply. We catch a shuttle to Cape Sebastian.

It’s almost over, I’m telling myself. We’ll catch a bus and then I’ll get back on the PCT. And that’s when I feel a lump of lead in my gut.

What..? My brain thinks. Hey, we have a plan…

I start running through the options.

Crater Lake? Lead.

PCT? Lead.

Hiking? Lead.

Lead lead lead.

Bus ride? Light.

What’s going on? I’m thinking. Is this a bad day? Are you just tired? Maybe you need a zero? Maybe you need some time alone?

My brain is trying to get a reason for it and my body has no answers. It just doesn’t want to go.

I spent most of my life trying to ignore these signals, sometimes still do. But they tend to be right. They tend to be smarter than me. I wish I trusted them more when they were subtler, so I didn’t have to get smacked by them in surprise, like today.

I walk and I try to listen to how my body is feeling. My confidence is a little shot, I’m realizing. I’m not sure when it started. But I have been letting myself be small. I thought I’d come to the OCT to repair that on my own, and instead a group found me, and we stuck together out of convenience. But it’s making me small. Since when am I a person who won’t do things alone?

We have dinner at an overlook with the waves crashing beneath us.

It feels like it takes me forever to get to the beach. We find a place above the high tide and set up camp. I see one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen. And all the while I’m asking my gut, are you telling me this is over? But my gut doesn’t have much in the way of answers, only one: we’re not going back to the PCT at Crater Lake.

Maybe I’ll sleep it off, I think, and try to breathe myself to sleep.

Heartache, Anger and Walking – Day 95: Humbug Mountain State Park to Indian Creek Campground

July 25

In the morning at breakfast Dexter tells me they have found the body of the missing hiker in the Sierra. Rika. Strawberry. I didn’t hike with her. Four people I did hike with were the last people reported to have seen her. The news makes me sad and circular in a way I can’t really name. My brother calls me. It adds to my heartache. I have to get off the phone in order to pack in time for the shuttle. The shuttle drives by just as we’re arriving. Damn. Dexter calls and they turn around to come get us, which is nice, although it’s clear they hate us now.

Most of the day is beach walking, and then a little road at the end. It’s one of our longer days, maybe 15 miles. I want real food, so I try to find a taxi but there are none. But there is delivery pizza, so we get that instead.

The OCT is coming to an end. It feels a little like it’s going out with a whimper. Not the trail, really – me. The trail was beautiful and a nice change. But I have the sense that I still haven’t gotten what I needed, haven’t found what I was hoping. What is it? I don’t really know.

I keep thinking over and over about Rika, and about the PCT, and about thruhikers and the culture of the PCT. And I realize I feel a little angry. We should have done better, all of us.

Rocky Point Puzzle – Day 94: Cape Blanco to Humbug Mountain State Park

July 24

I don’t feel like getting up early so I stay at camp and read my book. It’s nice to not be rushing, to not have a particular timeline, to be by myself.

I pack my things around 9 and see Sonia get out of her tent. She says I’m welcome to join her ride. Sonia is hoping we’ll meet up again before the end of the trail, she wouldn’t mind having people to hike with, but today she’s going a town ahead of us.

The people giving us a ride life at the campground either for the summer or year round, I’m not sure. They’re older and they live out of their van. It’s a nice set up, simple and uncluttered. Sonia and I sit in the back, which is their bed. We all go to breakfast and they share some facts about the town, tell us about their family, ask about our travels. And then they generously pay for our breakfast and take us on a tour around town. I wish more conversations happened like this in real life. I think about the PCT and how many conversations turned to gear, and miles, and how much someone did or didn’t do, and how little we talked about… anything else.

The couple drop me at the laundromat, where Dexter and Energizer Bunny already are. I say goodbye to the couple and Sonia.

We do our laundry. Energizer and Dexter are going to get a shuttle to camp but I want to hike, and also to be alone. They set off and I walk down the beach. It’s uneventful until I get to Rocky Point, where it’s a scramble over rocks large and small and the tide is still a little too close for comfort. I sit in the shade of some drift wood and relax for an hour instead, writing.

Rocky Point is fun once I get going. I have to be careful not to twist and ankle or scrape my shins, but the danger is limited. About halfway through I get to an area where there’s a mostly sheer cliff and a few rocks a little too far apart and I have to maneuvered my way across it, trying not to soak my shoes in the waves. But still, it’s fun. It’s a puzzle, a relatively safe puzzle, and I feel free and happy.

From the other side of the rocks I call Mark and chat with him as I walk the rest of the way to camp. It’s our 9th anniversary, the first we haven’t spent together. At camp I shower and someone has left their shampoo and conditioner in the shower and I use it instead of my Head and Shoulders and it is glorious.

Impatient for Low Tide – Day 93: BLM Campsite South of Bandon to Cape Blanco State Park

July 23

I wake up and write a long, picture-filled description of where the elusive BLM camp is located, and then Dexter, who wakes early and gets walking texts me: uh, we were in the wrong place. I quickly edit my post and take photos of the real camp. Hopefully that helps.

The sign for the real camp

It’s another long sandy stretch and then into the forest, glorious forest. We explore Blacklock Point a bit. An older man day hiking tells me some of the history of the area. Whenever we get out of the trees, the wind nearly knocks us over. I’d like to go further out into some of the rocks but they seem too narrow for the wind.

We continue down Black Lock Point and run into some other hikers – we’re going the wrong way, they say. They’d just done the same thing. We should have gone down to the beach from Blacklock instead of going down the trail. Oh, OCT and your confusing signage. We go back – luckily not far – and head down to the beach, where quickly we run into Sixes River. We’ve been told it’s only crossable at low tide (including from a helpful dayhiker familiar with the area) but I scout it out anyway, looking for the widest part, because who knows? And… nope. I get in above my knees and the river is wide and it is windy and cold and I decide I don’t feel like testing it any further. Instead, we sit and wait behind a wall of sand on the river bank to block the wind. The other hikers, two guys, are standing at the mouth of the river and look like they’re going to try it. They disappear for a little while and I start packing my things thinking they’ve made it across… until we see two backpacks bobbing back into view. It was too deep, they say.

For nearly two hours we all sit, and then I get bored. It’s still an hour or two until low tide but I pack my things and walk over. The mouth of the river spills into the ocean and the ocean washes in and adds an extra six inches of depth. I ask Dexter to take off her pack in case she needs to rescue me. The incoming waves freak me out so I try to cross more toward the river, but there it’s deep and I don’t feel great about it. I want to try to cross where the waves come in and recede but I’m trying to time in right when Energizer Bunny gets impatient and starts walking across. She’s half way when I remember that she almost drowned in the Sierra and that freaks me out, so I tromp in after her and we walk all the way across. It’s actually not that big of a deal. Nice. Dexter and the two guys follow after us.

It’s still super windy and it sometimes makes us go faster and other times nearly blows us away. We find a small trail at the end of the beach and follow it up, and then take the trail into the campground. Along the trail are wildflowers and they’re pretty so I pick a few, making my own bouquet. I also found a sand dollar earlier. When I get to camp I set them on my post. Home sweet home.

A woman hiker we haven’t met before, Sonia, is sitting at the picnic table. We start chatting – she’s hiked much of the PCT and other trails and always does it solo. I share some of my weird feelings about PCT culture and she has similar feelings but has mostly she’s been able to handle it because she has found a way not to care. I tell her my plans to get back on at Crater Lake and she approves.

Energizer Bunny and Dexter want to get up early in order to pass a section of trail at low tide… but I don’t feel like rushing. I tell them not to wait for me. Sonia says she had a ride into town and if I take a slow morning, I might join her.

Generous And Mistaken Strangers – Day 92: Bullards Beach State Park to BLM Campsite South of BandonĀ 

July 22

We’re supposed to wake up at 7am but I am not feeling it. I tell Energizer Bunny and Dexter not to wait for me but we still end up leaving around the same time. I stop by an Ace Hardware/RadioShack combo store, which I’ve never seen before, and get a plug, a cord and some batteries for my headlamp.

I meet Energizer Bunny and Dexter at the grocery store, where they are talking to Misty’s Dad. Misty is a trail angel who started the Facebook group for the OCT who lives in Bandon. I’m sad we won’t get to meet her because we’re just passing through.

I’m tired of trail food so I buy tortellini and pesto. The nice temperatures and frequent resupply stops are a real selling point of this trail.

Outside we’re packing our packs and Dexter makes a noise of despair. She’s dropped her marionberry pie all over the ground and her shoe. In that moment, she is probably the saddest hiker in the world.

Energizer Bunny and Dexter head out but I’m in no hurry and I’m still packing my food, so I stay and continue eating and packing. A woman comes up and says, “you look like you’re having a hard time” and tries to hand me money.

“Oh! I’m not homeless – I’m a hiker. But thank you!” She laughs a little and says, “I’ve just been having such a hard time myself that when I see someone struggling…” she doesn’t finish the thought. “Well, I hope it restores your faith in humanity a little bit.”

And it does. People on this trail have been generous in so many ways to us, and personable. It’s my favorite part of the trail. Not getting mistaken for homeless (both in positive and negative ways) – but how many surprising kindnesses I’ve been shown.

Bandon is awesome. There are awesome rocks and cool sand art and it’s just an overall pleasant walk. We walk a few miles and then we’re tired and we have to wait for low tide, so I set up my tent and take a nap. Genius. Dexter wraps herself in Tyvek and sleeps, too, and Energizer Bunny updates Facebook and basks in the sun.

We get moving. A fog rolls in and the sand keeps going and going. We’re walking on slightly softer sand because the firm sand is slanted steeply. We probably would have stopped earlier, but this is Snowy Plover territory, a type of bird that nests in the sand. There is only one camping area that we’re legally allowed to camp in and it’s a little mysterious and hard to find. A sign tells us it’s three miles away but there’s no real way to track miles and it’s hard to estimate when the sand is as tedious and slow as it is.

I call Mark and chat with him which makes me pay less attention the sand. Later I see Energizer and Dexter. “I think this is it,” Dexter says. When we climb over the fine there are a few flat spots and some other backpackers who are doing a section. It’s cramped, but we find spots. Well, I think I find one, and then realize it’s in the wind and tiny, so Dexter helps me move my tent over.

It’s too windy and sandy so we all eat in our tents instead of together. The tortellini is delicious and I feel like a genius. And then sleep.

Tired of Short Days – Day 91: Sunset Bay State Park to Bullards Beach State Park

July 21

It’s almost my three month anniversary of being out here. Holy cow.

We leave camp and it’s a road walk, but not the freeway, which is good. We’re walking the road because Dexter doesn’t want to hike 4 miles, which the trail says it is, and the road is only 2. This is a weird stretch that isn’t continuous – even if we were doing the longer roadwalks, we would have to backtrack down the road we came from and then walk 14 or so miles on a road to the beach.

We enter a small patch of forest and can hear seals or sea lions in the distance. We go in search of a viewpoint but don’t see one until we reach the main pullout for cars. We wish we had binoculars. We can see the seals or sea lions in the distance but not very well.

Today as I’m walking I’m thinking about how much I miss physical affection. There isn’t much cuddling going on between platonic hikers out here.

As I’m checking out the views, Dexter manages to score us a ride from an older man who gives us a ride back to town, 3 miles away. I was just going to buy a few supplies from the convenience store but then we get tempted into breakfast. I order a new ID, which I definitely lost, and a new credit card, too, because mine is coming apart.

We catch a cab – much cheaper than our initial laundromat cab, which I am wondering if was a scam – and then start walking the beach. We hadn’t caught it in time to hike at low tide so today we only have maybe 3 more miles to do. I am getting tired of doing short miles, itching to stretch my legs and get my heart pounding. I want to get back to the PCT, I think.

The hiker biker camp is nice. I go to plug my charger in and realize I can’t find my USB cord or plug. What the fuck. I’m losing everything. Between the lack of miles and misplaced items, I feel grumpy and antisocial. I try to do some yoga but it doesn’t help much, partly because I am stiff all over and so it just feels like another big struggle. My grumpiness tends to be noticeable, a bad vibe people can feel (I like to think it’s because I’m usually so cordial…) and Dexter asks what’s wrong and I tell her about my charger and she offers to let me use hers. I’m still thinking about walking to town, just to get the anger out, but instead I call Mark and we talk for two and a half hours about what to do with our lives which helps me sink back down.

When I get off the phone there’s a park presentation about some of the cool things you can find on the beach, jasper, agate, quartz, fossils. The man giving the presentation had to put his dog down today and he keeps apologizing for being out of sorts even though he’s just fine. He hands out goody bags of tiny stones.

Dexter stays to ask about some rocks she found but I go to bed, read, and fall asleep.

A Lucky Hitch – Day 90: Siuslaw Campground and Marina to Sunset Bay State Park

July 20

It’s raining when I wake up – I’ve slept in and have finally caught up on sleep. I like waking up to rain, especially when I don’t have anywhere I need to hurry to be. I get up, go pee, grab my notebook and my book and decide to go to breakfast. Dexter is going to shower and Energizer isn’t ready yet, so I head out. The first place only takes cash and I haven’t brought any, so I go to the next one. As I walk, my brother calls. I talk to him for a half hour. Family is hard. It is hard to navigate how to help, what is not helping, what is and is not yours to carry. 
We get off the phone and I go inside the cafe. The server and cook are happy and laughing and it’s a good atmosphere. I write. I want to practice writing free-flow, kind of like morning pages, see if I can find rhythm again. I miss writing poems. I have to get less self conscious, though, practice flowing. Stop drafting and deleting in my head.
At 9:30 I start heading back to the campground. I need to pack my tent (I hope it’s dry) and my pack – we have to catch a bus at 11:20. It’ll take us 50 miles, past big chunks of road walking and dunes. As Energizer Bunny and Dexter finish packing, I walk to a nearby bookstore hoping to find some poetry, but don’t find anything that jumps out at me and I run to catch the bus. We wait and wait and wait for the bus, but it doesn’t come. I call the transportation office and they say the us broke down and won’t be coming until 5 pm. Damn. 
We try to come up with another plan. How much is a taxi? $125. Too much. The bus was $60 for all of us. “Well, if we stay here all day we’ll spend an extra $20 each on food anyway…” Dexter reasons. But we decide to give hitching a try, though we haven’t had much luck sticking our thumbs out. And surprise, after only 15 minutes a man named Al Johnson, who is heavily involved with the trail, stops to pick is up. He takes us all the way to North Bend, where we can catch a bus for $1 to Charleston, which puts us only 3 miles from where we plan to go. 
I sit in the front (as usual) and chat with Al. He tells us some interesting facts about the area, he went to grad school the same place as Dexter, and he and I talk about creative writing – he was an English major.
I am realizing one of the most interesting parts of the trail for me is conversations with people who help us, even without entirely knowing what we’re doing. What makes someone stop for a hitchhiking hiker? Or offer us a ride at a viewpoint? Or share their campfire? I don’t think it’s that these are people who are always generous and altruistic – it seems to be a combination of right time, right place, right mood. They seem to pick is up because it offers them their own bit of adventure right when they need it.
Al drops us off. I peruse Goodwill for poetry but don’t find any, then I grab a burrito. The bus comes and we take it to right outside a deli called Davey Jones’ Locker, which I look at quickly and then hike on. I realize later that I should have looked closer, because I am low on food and 1.5 days away from town. That’ll make things interesting.
It’s a roadwalk to the Sunset Bay Campground. We’d initially planned to drop our packs and hike to and back from Cape Argo, but we decide to do it in the morning instead. 
When I go to pay for my campground I realize I’ve lost my driver’s license. I’m pretty sure I had it in my pocket with some trash and when I threw the the trash away the card went with it. Oops. I’ll have to order a new one.