Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Road Trip Part two: Bryce

Well I had great intentions of doing a blog post a day for each of these parks but we stopped over a week ago and I am just now wading through my excessively large number of photos.

We got to Bryce with plenty of time to explore the visitors center and take a hike. Close to Zion, less crowded and such a unique place! I was really happy knowing we would get at least 1.5 days of non snowy weather to explore.

We started out near Sunrise Point and headed down to the bottom

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Road Trip Part One: Zion

Well I went and did it, I've got a real full time job for the first time in what feels like forever but is really just about 2.5 years. Contract work has been a wonderful way to thruhike but I've been ready to try this sitting still thing for awhile now and it's finally looking official.

With a start date and nothing longer than a two day weekend in my near future I figured one last hurrah and a quick road trip would be a fun way to celebrate the holidays. Since it's November and not exactly warm the goal was to see a few parks I hadn't seen and keep suffering to a minimum making it from California to Texas by thanksgiving. Which meant the luxury of car camping, day hikes and hotel rooms when the temps dropped to 6 not including the wind chill and zero time in a plane.

We started our drive heading down through Southern California and Las Vegas. We weren't in any rush, enjoying rest stop bathrooms and diners along the way. The joys of running water and flush toilets never get old.

Although even in the front country water isn't always awesome... All rest areas are not created equal.

We made it to Zion late day two with enough time to squeeze in one pretty hike and enjoy sunset.

Stopping at the visitor center we found that the 10 day sunny forecast was no more and we had choices to make. We decided against staying longer in Zion, I've never been to Bryce before and would rather take advantage of nice weather somewhere I've never seen.

Stealth camping in Springdale then one more Zion overlook hike and onwards to Bryce.

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

What's next?

I started writing this weeks ago and never got around to finishing. It turns out my mind may have drifted to a million other things but this still is ringing true so here goes (a long rambling explanation about why I'm not getting ready for another long hike just yet)

On the PCT as I neared the finish I remember dreaming about couches, cats and oddly enough my old job. I fantasized about working a set schedule and day hiking just for fun. But more all encompassing were the dreams about other trails. The CDT scared me but the AT seemed so approachable that I spent the next two years working entirely towards another thru hike. I moved to get more specialized in my career just so I could become more marketable to make up for the gaps in my resume. Not hiking another long trail was inconceivable.

2 years can feel like a long time. I started to settle, make friends and even almost bought a house but I backed out because the lure of the CDT had become overwhelming (the AT was now on the back burner). Everything that wasn't thruhiking really only got half my attention. Because I felt like these trails were the most important thing holding my life together.

The CDT was ridiculously hard and stressful but absolutely amazing. I've been told that when I talk about it I tell stories about the craziness and hard times but always have the biggest grin on my face. But it was a hard hike, I dreamed about the AT as I crept closer to Canada. White blazes, grocery stores, short resupplies and never having to navigate sounded like a true vacation and nirvana. Not to mention the fact that some of my favorite fellow thruhikers are absolutely in love with the AT. So I limped back home and worked more temporary jobs, putting "real life" on hold to hike 6 months later. The trail was my real life, the place I longed to be, not the long 12 plus hour shifts I was putting in. Living on a couch wasn't ideal but rent was astronomical and I bargained it was worth it. I was surprised when I found myself actually sad to leave my job. After only 6 months I felt myself settling in again, finding potential friends I was loathe to make plans with because I knew I would soon be gone. But I couldn't shake the need to hike and felt I would hugely regret not heading to the east coast come April.

So I hit Georgia with a conflicted but eager start. Everything was so different! I didn't get lost, the grocery stores were all I had dreamt about and my lighter than ever pack made Georgia just fly by. But I was also hiking with a partner, having to become less selfish and aware than ever before. And let's face it, I struggled. The AT was gorgeous, yes there were endless PUDs but it's such a unique and pretty landscape. I loved all the small creatures, this trail was so much more about the micro than the macro. The towns, shelters and whole culture was a big shift. I battled hiking solo and partnership, with whole new levels of emotional turmoil taking over I found myself retreating. On the other two trails I would have small panic attacks in grocery stores. I'm am indecisive person and when confronted with more than just miles, direction and water sources I start to spin. It's another reason I have found hiking such an amazing retreat. Now I found myself panicking in large groups, not an ideal situation on the AT. Finding peace was easiest when pushing myself, hiking long hours lost in my thoughts. It wasn't until maybe Vermont that I started to feel like I was regaining some balance and starting to really enjoy things again. Let's face it, that was one long slog. Looking back at photos the beginning has great memories but it was a very different hike for me than anything I've done before because if the mental game.

As I headed through Maine I dreamed about The Great Divide Trail and the Pacific Northwest Trail, but even more I thought about a kayak and a garden, I missed my coworkers and my cats. The trail has given me some of my very favorite memories but it's a rough relationship.

I've been off the trail for about two months now and have had a whole lot of time for reflection. Not just about the AT but my whole long distance hiking lifestyle. It's funny that this feels like a confession for me. At work I'm constantly asked when I'll be settling down, married, kids, mortgage etc. When hikers found out I was finishing my triple crown the first question was always what's next? And you know I feel guilty saying my first thought still isn't the PNT or the GDT. I'm still dreaming of gardens and kayaks, but also the Wind River High Route and the Sierra High Route, maybe even the Colorado Trail. Everyone has a sweet spot with long trails and I can't imagine leaving the long distance hiking community. I had always heard you do one or you do all three, my problem with that is there are so many more than 3. There are lifetimes worth of trails out there and while the addiction runs deep I'm thinking I need to try tempering it for awhile.

The constant cycle of working towards a long hike is draining and the hike itself is no vacation, it's amazing but it's work. And let's face it, I'm still tired with somewhat fresh memories of hard long miles. So for now things move forward. I don't see a long trail this summer but stranger things have happened. For now I'll enjoy this in between. A break from vagabonding leading to different adventures.

Much more fun than mail drops

Day hikes still are pretty great, Mt Diablo

Officially a triple crowner with a snazzy new hat.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Day 130: Katahdin!!

8/27: The Birches - Katahdin
10 miles

I knew I wanted an early start today, the ranger had warned a sunny Saturday could mean upwards of 200 people on the summit and that crowd didn't sound appealing. Plus let's face it, it's pretty darn exciting to be here.

I heard Mcdubbles rustling around and packing a short time before sunrise and figured if one person was making noise I was free to go ahead. I was out with a quickness and starting up the trail by headlamp. There was a sign in sheet as I started out of the campground and there were already two people ahead of me. So no solo summit but company sounds more fun for this anyhow.

The first 2 miles were easy by headlamp, it was getting light as I passed Katahdin Stream Falls and I got a few rare glimpses through trees of sunrise and mountains. It was pretty cold but clear where I was hiking. To my west a large cloud bank loomed but I crossed my fingers and climbed.

I think this was one of my very favorite climbs of the whole trail. I'm sure my excitement didn't hurt but it was honestly fun. As it got rockier and I needed my hands more I stowed my trekking poles and really headed up. At first it was narrow and rocky with only a few weird scrambles but as I hit treeline it was full on both arms required to pull you around kind of fun. It was getting colder and I had to pull out my jacket and my poor hands didn't love me because I needed them as I climbed.

It was straight up scrambling, rebar ladders and foot holds and all around fun. I was having a blast scraping up my hands and hailing myself around.

After a few very steep spots and a false summit the trail opened up to the beautiful tabletop. I felt like I was in a totally different place, above treeline is always another world.

Lots of trail protection work in action.

I made it to the summit and excited started talking to myself only to discover a couple hundred up for warmth napping. After startling them I made some small talk and enjoyed the view. They had wine and cookies and had caught sunrise. I had a little time by myself before people started trickling up.

McDubbles was the first and we took a ton of goofy pictures. I ended up spending 3 hours up on top.

I walked the mile that was the knifes edge and back because I didn't feel like trying to hitch out of a parking lot at the end of the road.

Looking back at the Katahdin summit and ahead to the top of the knifes edge.

By the time we left we had quite the group of thruhikers and curious day hikers. But it was getting mighty crowded and we passed a ton of people heading up as we headed down.

A few of us decided to take the Abol trail down, after all we were done with the AT and it would put us about 2 miles closer to the park entrance. Near Thoreau Spring we veered a bit to the left and headed down. We were just on a different spine of the mountain and looking to our right you could see where the AT had climbed up.

It was still plenty steep and ridiculous but towards the bottom it was a little more dirt and smoother sailing but I was beat.

We had chatted with a couple on our way down and as 3 of us sat collapsed in the campground parking lot exhausted and dazed they offered us a ride to the park entrance. They were on call search and rescue so couldn't take us farther but wished us luck and off we went.

The second car that passed took us the rest of the way into the closest town in Millinocket and dropped us off right in front of the hiker hostel there. It sound like everyone else who left the summit later had about an hour longer wait than us but we all hitched into town and ended up at the hostel together.

Food and beds, laundry and plane tickets meant a busy evening but a fun one. It was a relief to take of my shoes and now I had to hike no further and my feet agree. Tired and sore but excited and happy I get to spend one more night with a bunch of hikers. What a great journey.

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