Halfway!

August 30, 2011 § 2 Comments

Sierra City to Mt Shasta – 309 miles 18 days Total: 1506 miles 105 days + 15 zero days

1325 miles. That’s the distance that lies behind us and that’s the distance that still lies ahead. The midpoint is a crucial point. You feel like celebrating and you feel depressed. It can boost your energy level and give you the strength to keep going or it can make you quit faced with the immensity of the task still at hand.

Standing at the mexican border you are crazy and unconscious; 2650 miles is just a number, a pretty big one and, yes, looking at the map you can see it’s a very long way but you don’t know what it means on the ground, you only have the faintest idea of how much sweat, energy and pain it will take you to cover that distance. Standing at the halfway point you are still crazy – some things don’t change – but you’re not so unconscious anymore, you know exactly what 1325 miles means because you’ve just hiked it, every single step of it. And you have to do it all over again! It seems so huge, it’s so daunting, there’s no way you’re hiking that distance again, it’s not possible. So I’m sorry, guys, but I have to tell you that…

… we kept on hiking. Because then you take a grip on yourself and you use the same strategy you used at the start of the trail. You break down the journey in smaller, more manageable parts: about 400 miles and we’re out of California, 400 more miles through Oregon, 500 miles in Washington and we’re in Canada. Anyway, the midway point is in the middle of the woods, you have to hike 10 miles to get to a road. By then you’ve already hiked 10 more miles so why not just keep going? And hopefully it’ll just work out the same way as when you started the PCT. You just have to give the hike the initial impulse, you just have to hike a few miles ignoring the doubts and the questions, and then, when the hike has gained enough momentum, it becomes self-sufficient, the hike feeds off itself. You don’t question the hike anymore; you hiked yesterday, you are hiking today and you will hike tomorrow.

Isabelle’s first pair of shoes took her beyond the halfway point. They bravely and faithfuly carried her 1377 miles. But by the look of them they deserved to rest in peace. After an emotional goodbye they followed my shoes in the bin.

One of my numerous falls eventually led to a fatal issue. I got the usual scratches and bruises but my hiking pole didn’t survive, it broke in two. I have now been walking about 300 miles with a shortened duct taped and wood splinted hiking pole.

The rare views we get these days are of an infinity of trees, forest as far as the eye can see. Only volcanoes break the green monotony. Lassen Peak, first looming in the distance, then growing bigger as we hiked before disappearing as Mt Shasta entered the scene. Mt Shasta is a huge mountain, made up of four volcanoes, standing tall on its own; it’s gorgeous.

We stopped at the Drakesbad Guest Ranch in Lassen National Park. This place is hiker heaven made real. It’s the kind of fancy place you expect wouldn’t welcome smelly dirty hikers but they do and what a welcome! You get shower, laundry (that is done for you!) and use of the swimming pool fed by hot springs for free. For 10$ you get dinner at the restaurant there: bread and butter, salad, main meal, dessert and hot chocolate, and the hikers get to finish all the leftovers. It’s dumpster diving without the actual dumpster diving, it’s dumpster diving in class!

One night we were camping in the woods near a road in the company of Busted Magic. It was dark, Busted Magic was cowboy camping next to our tent, Isabelle was already asleep and I was slowly drifting towards slumber when I heard noises like a large animal’s footsteps. Suddenly, Busted Magic was yelling with such urgency in her voice: “Girls, you need to get out, you need to get out!”. The next thing we knew, something was pushing against our tent. I couldn’t understand what was happening. What creature comes running out of the woods and attacks a tent just like that? Isabelle was thinking that it was a damn stupid bear as it was on the opposite side from the food and she suggested we make noise to scare it away. So here we were both screaming and I swear it was to frighten the bear and not because we were two little girls scared shitless. And that’s when we realised, as Busted Magic was now begging us to let her in, that she had been the one pushing against our tent. She had heard the loud thumping too, it had freaked her out as she was alone outside, she had looked for protection – a tent to a hiker is like the bedcovers to a kid having nightmares; you are safe in a tent, nothing can happen, nothing can get to you when you’re in your tent – she had freaked us out and that’s how you end up with 3 girls screaming in the woods in the night. We never found out what had made the noise but it was certainly gone, scared to death, the minute we all started screaming. What a night! We’ve been hiking with Busted Magic for 2 weeks now and thank God the nights have been much quieter. It’s been much fun hiking in her company. Adam and Luke joined our crew this last week but we had to say goodbye to Luke as he was going home, and Adam is skipping ahead.

The last sections have been really hard on the morale. Trail and environment facts, doubts and feelings converge at this point of the trail making it the most mentally challenging part. There’s the halfway point, that never seems to arrive at first, and then, once you eventually reach it, it doesn’t make it any better as it means you still have to do this all over again. Then it’s the Oregon border that never seems to come; you hike and hike and you’re still in the damn state of California, it feels like you’re not making progress.

Northern California is like the desert again. It’s freaking hot and the ground is dry and dusty, we sweat lots, our feet hurt and we get dirt all over. There are rattlesnakes again, the desperation in Isabelle’s voice when she saw the first one: “Oh no! It’s got a rattle on its tail…”. There was a 29 miles dry stretch. We did a 27 miles day to get to water that night. I ended up with a nasty blister under the sole of my foot. Spirits were low and we had dangerous ideas the next morning as by life’s weird sense of humour we were awaken by the calls of Canadian geese! As there are not many views in the forest, all you have to concentrate on is the ground and your footing. It makes for fast walking, but it’s dumb walking, it’s walking for the sake of doing miles. And we’ve been hiking a lot in the forest these days.

Hikers we know have quit or skipped whole sections. It’s always hard for the first person who takes the step. Once somebody has done it, it gets much easier to take that step, it reduces the shame and the guilt. Most hikers are feeling low at that point of the trail so we tend to drag each other down but it’s also because of other hikers that you hang on, you can’t let them down.

Depending on the weather in October up north, we might be forced to drop out before the end of the trail. We have a very purist vision of a thru-hike: in one go, in a straight line. So as doubts that we might not make it to Canada arise, a question creeps up: “What’s the point of keeping on if we don’t make it to the end?” The terrain has turned to rolling hills so as the walking has gotten easier and the window to get to Canada is getting narrower, we’ve started hiking faster and longer each day. But it has gotten too far, we’ve become obsessed by the number of miles, anything short of a 20 miles day has turned miserable to our eyes and there’s only so many days of mad hiking your body and your mind can take before you get tired, you feel you’re rushing, you’re not enjoying the hike anymore and you’re even more tempted to quit.

So we decided to take it easy for a few days. We took a zero day at Burney Falls to enjoy a swim in Britton Lake and the gorgeous waterfalls. The water rushing down the falls comes from snowmelt and travels underground before reaching the surface only one mile upstream from the falls. The next day we hiked out but stopped for a long break at a swimming hole. We’ve treated ourselves to a movie in Mt Shasta, the first movie in 4 months! We’re now ready to keep on. Only 200 miles and we’re out of California, yeah!

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1093 miles on foot wears your shoes down

August 10, 2011 § 3 Comments

Bridgeport to Sierra City – 179 miles 11 days Total: 1197 miles 87 days + 13 zero days

And being soaked for days on end in the Sierras didn’t help. So I had to get a new pair in South Lake Tahoe, which means I’ve been dealing with sore feet again lately. Isabelle too, but because her shoes are too old and damaged!

We always look forward to getting into town but usually as soon as we’re into town we only want to be back on the trail. Life is simple on the trail. We just walk. Time in towns is stressful, we have to take a shower, do laundry, buy supplies, give news, update the blog… But it was particularly hard for us in South Lake Tahoe. Too many cars, too much noise and once again a hiker-nightmare town. I cursed a lot against America but I had to take it back. Americans are great people. We were at an outfitter looking for shoes but it didn’t have my size so the owner was recommending another store 5 miles away and looking up the bus info for us to get there when another customer, Doug, offered to take us there. He drove us to the other store, waited till we were done, drove us to the post office so we could send away the snow gear and the bear canisters as we didn’t need them anymore – Thanks Anchor! Our packs are so much lighter now! – waited some more and then took us back to the trail. It was such big help, thanks so much Doug!

We celebrated the Swiss National Day and our 3 months on the trail on the 1st of August. We only remembered the three first sentences of the Swiss anthem so we sang a medley from the anthem, “Lioba” and “La haut sur la montagne l’etait un vieux chalet”. We only discovered the Swiss Chalet restaurant in South Lake Tahoe the next morning so, although we were craving for a cheese fondue, we had to make do with the closest food, geographically speaking, that we could find: greek cuisine at the Artemis Mediterrean Bar and Grill. It was delicious! We nursed our continentsickness there at dinner and lunch the next day. We miss Europe. We miss its class, its food – we’re sick of burgers – its pedestrian-friendly towns full of character and charm…

The trail has gotten much easier and is almost free of snow now. We’ve done the most difficult. We broke our record: 23 miles in one day – ah, the face of the guys when we rolled into camp that night! They weren’t expecting us. Physically, we’re capable of doing 20 miles day and more. All is in the mind now, and the power of the mind on the body is incredible. There are times when you’re so tired you think you can’t go any much further but then a storm’s coming in, mosquitoes are chasing you or you see the rest of the group is just ahead and not miles away, and suddenly you can go for miles.

Unfortunately as we dropped in elevation again, we lost the spectacular views. I didn’t feel like taking pictures for days. We mostly walked through forest, which I’m afraid as the same potential as the chaparral to become boring, but sometimes through fields of wild flowers and scented bushes. The trail got “sexy” as we went around The Nipple and over Dicks Pass 😉 We got some views back near Lake Tahoe as there was a lot of great hiking along ridges. And we slept in luxury two nights in a row in huts along the trail. We’ve been walking just the two of us again these days.

We’re now in the adorable small town of Sierra City resting for a day and enjoying Bill and Margaret’s amazing hospitality at the Red Moose Cafe.

P.S. You’ve asked for pictures so here they are! Check them out on the Photos page.

Mosquito madness

August 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Mammoth Lakes to Bridgeport – 112 miles 8 days Total: 1018 miles 76 days + 12 zero days

Terrible screams echo through the woods. They are the desperate screams of people under attack, they are the horrible screams of people in agony, being eaten alive… …by mosquitoes! Hoards of these vicious insects turned the section from Tuolumne Meadows to Sonora Pass in a living hell for hikers. They sucked our blood and our energy, they drove us mad and made us feel miserable. We fought bravely, many a bloodsucker died at the palm of our hand, but we were overwhelmed. We managed to escape with our sanity intact but we bore the scars, testimonies of that bloody battle, for several days.

After two days in town, Isabelle and I long to be back on the trail so we left the other hikers in Mammoth Lakes and hiked on our own again for a few days. Isabelle got mad at marmots after one of them chewed the handle and the strap of her hiking pole while we were having a nap on the shore of Thousand Islands Lake. We entered Yosemite National Park via Donohue Pass and along the beautiful Lyell Canyon. The group caught up with us in Tuolumne Meadows and we left as fast as we could, too many people around there for us to handle. We found the perfect spot on the smooth rock faces typical of Yosemite to watch the sunset, see the moonrise, sleep under the stars and get awaken by the first rays of the sun. Life doesn’t get any better! And on the 26th of July we camped at a 1000 miles!

The trail was still quite demanding until Sonora Pass, lots of high ups and low downs, a real rollercoaster. But as we lost altitude, the amount of snow dropped, making the going easier. Southbound hikers often nicely warned us about there being a lot of snow ahead but once we got there we couldn’t help but laughing because Einstein was right, everything is relative, it was nothing compared to what we’d had the past weeks. We have become blase. At creek crossings we usually didn’t bother anymore to look for rocks or logs but just trudge on through the water. Anyway either our shoes were already wet or they would be in a couple of miles.

As we walked on the ridge to Sonora Pass, we could see the mountains ahead had very little snow compared to the ones behind us and it dawned on us that this was the last of the High Sierras. We’d been walking fast all that morning to run away from mosquitoes but suddenly I was in no rush anymore, I wanted to prolonge our last moments in the High Sierras. As a goodbye we had our last opportunities at glissading.

Despite the ups and downs, we still managed to do a couple of 20 miles day. About 1000 miles of trail and the Sierras have made us fit. And it’s good we can push the miles and pick up speed as we’re not halfway yet, we’re short of about 300 miles, and we have about 2.5 months left to make it to Canada.

Where Am I?

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