This post is a little longer, an 8- to 10-minute read. It captures three days in 2014 that started my love affair with backpacking. These are journal entries from the Pacific Crest Trail.
And no, I hadn’t read “Wild” first. :-)
August 16 // Saturday
I’m coming to the end of a great vacation with my extended family on the Oregon coast. Cousins, aunts, uncles, my husband and kids… we’ve spent a wonderful week relaxing, eating, laughing and walking the beaches.
This all seems like a warm-up, though, for the main event. I have planned a 3-day extension to this family vacation to be able to do some hiking in the Oregon mountains. I had packed all my gear into two of our big suitcases, and I keep sneaking down to my room in our vacation rental home to go through it and double-check that I have everything I need.
I spent the rainy afternoon on a 5-mile walk by myself on a rainforest-like trail, which summited some nearby cliffs. It was a challenging, steep path covered with ferns and fallen trees. I came back sweaty, soggy, soaked and grinning from ear to ear. I think my family suspects I’m crazy. I can’t wait for Monday.
August 18 // Monday
Noon – I drove to Cascade Locks, along the Columbia River, after dropping off Chuck and the kids at the Portland airport and making a quick stop at REI to get bear spray and some other essentials. I’ve scoped out a 30-mile loop hike that first follows a trail well known for its many waterfalls. Then I’ll take a connector route that will bring me to the Pacific Crest Trail. I plan to follow the PCT back into Cascade Locks, and end where the PCT meets the Bridge of the Gods. Read more
I parked at the Laurel Falls trailhead in Hampton, TN. After getting Cash’s bags strapped on him and my own pack hoisted up and strapped on, I followed a side trail that would intersect with the AT. It followed a tumbling stream along steep cliffs for about a mile and a half.
I stood at the first trail intersection I reached and tried to get my bearings from the maps I was carrying. I’d been following blue blazes and completely forgot that AT blazes are WHITE. However, the first human I’d seen all morning came into sight just as I had decided on the wrong path. He was striding quickly and was prepared to pass me without comment. “Excuse me,” I said. “I know this might be a silly question, but I’m accessing the AT from a side trail and I’m a little disoriented. Am I going the right direction, northbound on the Appalachian Trail?” “Actually, the AT is over here,” he said, and he pointed to a small path I hadn’t even seen off to one side of the one I was on. “I’m heading north. Follow me.” Who knows how long it would have taken me to figure out my error?
Robot was a thru-hiker from Germany. (Thru-hikers are people who were hiking the entire 2500-mile length of the AT, from Georgia to Maine, in one fell swoop.) He’d started in Georgia on April 1. In my short time walking with him, I learned that last year he thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. (Robot was his trail name; I’m sure it’s not his real name. I’m pretty sure it’s not polite to ask.)
Right away he commented on my pack size and proceeded to launch into a litany of opinions about lightweight hiking strategies. He was surprisingly fluent, and I politely nodded my interest. Robot was clearly going to be miles ahead of me by noon and we weren’t likely to meet again. I was right about that, although I saw his name on a couple of trail registers. (More about that later.) After we exchanged a few pleasantries, Robot took off at a brisk pace ahead on the trail. Thanks, Robot, wherever you are, for pointing me down the right path. I might be in the wrong state right now if it weren’t for you.
The rest of the morning was an uneventful walk in the woods. The path was covered with last year’s fallen leaves, making for a soft foot-landing.
Da Bears (almost)
I had chosen a beautiful stretch of trail along Watauga Lake as my stopping point for day one, about 11 miles of hiking total. I had day-hiked at the lake the last time I came to visit, and I knew there were beautiful campsites all along its edge. We stopped and ate lunch around 1pm, and Cash and I were already beat. After lunch I regretfully pulled my boots back on — blisters were forming already and my feet were ready to be finished. I was looking forward to this next segment, which would be relatively flat, and where we could pitch camp early, watch the sunset and enjoy a leisurely evening looking out over the lake.
Well, I’m finally here… I’ve dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT), and this time I’m actually doing it. I’m in Tennessee, and it’s the start of day one. Eight days on the trail is the plan, my first section hike of what I hope will be many.
My German Shepherd, Johnny Cash (Cash) will be my hiking companion. THAT was a bit of a gamble… this is his first long hike and I’m a little nervous about how he will do. We recently did a couple day hikes with his pack on, and he spent two nights in the tent with me. I am pretty confident he will be okay, although I’m worried about his paws getting sore or cut.
I left yesterday morning at o-dark-hundred, and it took about 14 hours to drive from Milwaukee to my brother Brendan’s house in Mountain City, TN. I kind of like long days of driving. I had a good audio book and iTunes playlist full of good driving tunes. In truth, I didn’t listen to them much… I always seem to have plenty to think about.
One of the things I thought about as I left in the pre-dawn yesterday was about how there was absolutely NO WAY all the stuff I needed to carry was going to fit into my backpack. Read more