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8/17: Our trail family (kinda wordy and feely, lots of pics)

Reunion in Dunsmuir

Rooster: We’ve been off trail for a couple weeks now, and real life is starting to creep back in. As much as we miss the challenge and beauty of the actual hiking, we’re realizing something else as well: We miss our trail family.

Your trail family are the hikers that probably started in Campo at roughly the same time as you, and are hiking at roughly the same rate as you. You tend to hike together, pull into town for resupply and off-trail time, share hotel rooms, and you camp in some of the same campsites. Some groups are pre-planned, and some just kinda happen. Some gather together for companionship, safety, or just to meet like minded people. Trail names are bestowed based on some silly, stupid, or profound thing you’ve done or said. You start to form bonds of friendship and camaraderie around your shared experiences.

For me, this was the most surprising element of the trip. Before the trail, I had become very cynical about humanity in general, and don’t tend to make friends that easily anymore. That changed on the trail. My heart warmed to my fellow travelers in a way I didn’t know I was capable of. Maverick, by far the more social of us, felt it too.

When we stopped for six weeks in Kernville, we knew many of the bonds we had formed would be broken. Our friends either pushed through the snow, flipped forward, or got off the trail. By the time we returned to the trail, the main “bubble” of hikers was long gone. We were actually pretty lonely! In our final week on the trail, we got lucky and ran into some of our earlier trail family (Pirate, Bluebird, Poppins, and Sherpa). We were so happy to catch up. But then that was over too.

After Mav injured her back, we got a shuttle back to civilization. We rented a car in Fresno, and started the long drive up I-5 back to Seattle. We were feeling pretty melancholy. Our trip was over. In Northern California we decided to stop for dinner in a town named Dunsmuir. Ironically, it’s one of the few places where the PCT is near the freeway, and we remembered it as one of our potential resupply points. We ordered pizza, and sat down. Suddenly, Mav exclaims “No WAY!!”, and then runs out the door and into the street. She had spotted some of our favorite trail peeps! Legs, Mack, Penguin, Tall Boy, Low ‘n Slow, and Backsplash were all at the brewery up the street. We caught up over some beers and really had a great time. In a most fortuitous coincidence, it turned out that Tall Boy had been considering going back home for a couple days to see his girlfriend and catch a concert. And that home was in Seattle! So after a long, heartfelt goodbye to the others, we were able to bestow a little trail magic of our own by giving him a lift. It was the most poignant way I can think of to come off the trail.

To all of the hikers we met, we wish you a safe journey, however long that may be. We love you guys!

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8/12. Passes that kicked our asses

Rooster: The Sierras were awesome, but extremely challenging. Despite waiting 6 weeks, there was still a significant amount of snow at the higher elevations. In the early morning, it would be firm, and our microspikes gave us a lot of traction. By mid morning, it would be getting soft and slushy.

Adding to this were the rivers and streams that needed to be crossed. Sometimes we made an effort to keep our feet dry, but most of time we just plowed through. We had everything from ankle deep to waist deep. And the current ranged from mild to a serious push. And it was always painfully cold.

But the hardest part of this section was the passes. A pass is basically a low point in a ridge line or group of mountains. And by “low” I mean around 11,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation. Usually we’d attempt to get to the top before the snow softened up, and then rush down to get close to the next pass by nightfall. And they were difficult. 3-5 miles and a couple thousand feet of elevation gain. The trail was generally covered, so you’d either be route finding through patchy snow or scrambling over boulders. And then the descent was more of the same. It was slow and exhausting. The passes included Forester, Kearsarge, Pinchot, Mather, Selden; it seemed like we had to go over one every single day.

But by far the most difficult was Muir. We had heard that both the approach and descent had a solid two miles of snow on each side. Plus several crossings. We got a very early start, and still struggled to make it to the top by lunchtime. There, it was starting to rain, so we hunkered down in the stone hut. Over the next hour, the storm intensified, with some lightning and a little hail. We waited it out till we thought we had a decent break in the weather, and started down at around 2pm.

And then the storm returned. We were stuck in this shallow valley with lighting all around us, racing through the slushy snow and rocks. It alternated between rain and hail, completely obscuring what little we could see of the trail. Between the snowmelt and the rain, the crossings were getting sketchier by the minute. And we were carrying aluminum/carbon trekking poles: nice lightning rods, especially when you’re standing in water. Our rain gear put up a good fight, but it was wet through after about two hours of this madness. Hypothermia was a very real threat at this point, so our only choice was to continue rushing down valley.

After nearly four of the most harrowing hours of our lives, we were finally below the snow line, and the storm was subsiding. We camped near a lake, beyond exhausted, both physically and mentally. It was another lesson to never underestimate Mother Nature.

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8/2 “It’s a beautiful day!”

Rooster: Morning miles are the best. Mav and I usually woke up around 5am. We’d have some coffee with our breakfast, break camp, and start hiking around 6am. The air was always crisp and fresh, we’d be feeling strong, with a smile on our face.

Early on, we developed a fun habit where one of us would look around at the landscape and exclaim, “It’s a beautiful day!” And the other would simply reply, “It IS a beautiful day!” It was like we had to take a moment to revel in our good fortune. To simultaneously be present, and to briefly reflect on what it took to get to get to that point. We are truly living our best lives.