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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.

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7/29, Mile 875. An unexpected exit.

Rooster: It is 6am, and we are currently sitting in a coffee shop in Seattle. We just arrived after driving our rental all night from Fresno, CA. Why? In an unfortunate turn of events, Maverick slipped on a rock while crossing a creek, and tweaked her back. Nothing serious, nothing a couple trips to a chiropractor and taking it easy for a couple weeks won’t cure.

But obviously, marching up and down mountains with a pack on her back is out of the question. So we are done for the year. We’d be really disappointed, but we’d already come to terms with the fact that finishing it this year was unrealistic. We were already way behind schedule because of our incredible time in Kernville.

So, no regrets, no sorrow. Our biggest goal was to have a big adventure, to live our best lives. We hiked a third of the PCT, spent 6 awesome weeks working at a rafting company, and met some of the best people in the world. We are fortunate that we have the flexibility to come back some other year (2021?) and finish. And so now we go back to Wisconsin to start a new phase of our lives, knowing that the trail will always be there for us.

We’ve been off the grid for awhile, and we’ve got a decent backlog of pics and stories. I’ll be getting those posted over the next couple days.

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened”.

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7/19, mile 789. Mt Whitney and Forester Pass

They say there are no bad photographers in the Sierras. They would be correct; no matter where I point my camera, the views are spectacular. We did a full moon ascent of Mt Whitney, starting at midnight, and summiting just after dawn. At 14,505 feet, it is the tallest mountain in the lower 48. The following day, we went over a steep and snow covered Forester Pass. It is the tallest pass on the PCT at 13,200 feet. Just one week into the Sierra Nevada range, and we’re already overwhelmed by the challenge and beauty of these incredible mountains. Enjoy the pics and videos.

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7/12 Mile 702 Back on trail!!

Maverick: We are back on trail, and it has been a HOT few days. Technically, we’re still in the desert, so it has been hitting mid-90’s by the afternoon. Additionally, we’ve been greeted by hordes of gnats/flies. They are not interested in your arms, legs, or any other body parts. They are interested only in entering every orifice of your face all the live long day. They dive bomb your ears and swirl around, fly up your nose, and land on your cheek to get stuck in the sweat/sunscreen cocktail that resides there. You can’t outrun them (I’ve tried), they laugh at my essential oil bug spray, and I hate using DEET. Ergo…headnet. Not sexy, but sanity-saving.

Even though this short, 50-mile stretch was hot and buggy, we cowboy camped at the top of a ridge last night, and it was BEAUTIFUL. Tons of stars, the Milky Way was right above us, and Rooster even woke up to a late night visit from a lizard when he felt little feet running across his head. One of our favorite campsites yet.

Today, we are in Kennedy Meadows at Grumpy Bear’s resupplying, showering, doing laundry, and eating some non-trail food. Tomorrow, we head into the Sierras and are in for a real treat with the views to come.

NOTE: We will likely be out of phone and internet range for the next couple of weeks, so don’t worry if you don’t hear much from us. We’ll be soaking up epic views of mountain ranges and alpine lakes, along with a sunrise Mt. Whitney summit! And we’ll have tons of great pics to share when we get back to civilization in Mammoth.

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7/9 Saying goodbye to Kernville.

River guides: Evan, Gabe, Jay, and Collin

Rooster: It’s time to get back on the trail, but not before we say a heartfelt goodbye and thank you to our new friends at Mountain River Adventures. On our last day, a bunch of the guides took us out on some Class 4 rapids, and they were a blast! These guys (and girls) are hardcore, and know how to have a great time. The entire staff, from the guides, office, camp host, drivers, and maintenance crew, were some of the friendliest people we’ve ever met.

Dawn
Kate

Most of all, we want to thank the owners of MRA, John and Rhonda Stallone. They welcomed us to their world, and paid us to work in their playground! We will forever be grateful for the opportunity they gave us to further our adventure.

John and Rhonda Stallone, and their son Sebastian

Tomorrow, we’ll be getting back on the trail. Today, we are grateful for an incredible experience with great people.

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7/6: Earthquakes, and one last ride.

Rooster: We’re just about at end of our time here at Mountain River Adventures. We hit the trail next Wednesday after nearly 6 weeks off. The time has flown by because it’s been so much fun. Today I took the shuttle up the mountain for one more run down Just Outstanding, and had an incredible ride. Clean, fast, with a little bit of airtime to get the heart racing. When JO empties onto Old State Road, the views of the Valley and Lake Isabella are incredible. I am REALLY going to miss this place. Here’s a couple short videos to show what I mean.

Oh, and apparently it’s earthquake season. Our former home in Ridgecrest got hammered by two major tremblers within 36 hours. We’re about 50 miles west of there, and still felt plenty of rumbling. Doing fine, and carrying on.

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7/1 And the good times continue!

Maverick: Another week in beautiful Kernville, and we continue to make the best of this time off trail! Rooster got in three consecutive days of mountain biking last week. The first day he was the lead guide for a dozen riders, and the next day he ripped down the trail we had done a couple of weeks ago. The last day he rode with a group of guys down the infamously challenging (or as he called it, equal parts terrifying and exhilarating) local Cannell Trail. He walked away with a few scrapes, some road rash, and bruising as a result of a tumble on the last ride, but had an awesome time pushing himself on an expert level trail.

As for me, my best friend from high school (yep, that’s 30 years 😮), Angie, drove down from a business trip in San Francisco to hang with us for a few days. We had such a fantastic time and some adventures of our own, hitting up the Sequoias, Dome Rock, and some rafting on the river. We don’t see each other often, so it was a real treat to have lots of time to catch up!

The next week will be packed with holiday activities and work, getting everything ready to hit the trail again, and saying goodbye to all of our new friends at MRA. These people have all been so good to us, making us feel like family and as if we’ve always been there. We will miss them all, for sure…but the trail is calling. 🏔

Rooster giving his pre-ride talk to the group

Up on Cannell TrailSign at Dome Rock, a rock climbing hot spot

On top of Dome Rock (Needles behind us)

Our rafting guide friend, Nate, who is heading back home to Ashland

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6/25 More fun in Kernville

Rooster: It’s week 3 in Kernville, and we’re still soaking up a ton of fun. Our friend Hoops joined us again, before heading off to Tahoe. We’ve also gotten some more mountain biking in. There’s a biking trail here called Just Outstanding, and it is precisely that: lots of technical riding with great views thrown in. This past weekend we took a hike to a waterfall, and it was beautiful.

The work here has been fun. I’m still working on the rental bikes, and doing a little bit of guiding. Maverick is working in the office and also helping with the climbing wall. We really lucked out with this place: we’re getting PAID to do cool stuff!

As much fun as we’re having, we are itching to get back on the trail. After carefully watching the snow and meltoff situation, we decided that July 10 is the day that we’ll get moving again. Unfortunately, that puts us almost six weeks behind schedule, and really jeopardizes our chances of finishing this thing in one season. But as we’ve said all along, the primary goal is to have a big adventure this summer. And we are winning that one!

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6/10 Adventures in Kernville – Week 1

Maverick: It would be easy to be upset about hitting the pause button on our hike if we weren’t having so much fun at MRA and in Kernville!

This week has been busy with work, meeting new river rafting guide friends (a different tribe of outdoor enthusiasts with their own language), and getting out in the area to play! Rooster has been busy tuning up all the bikes at the campground, and was an assistant guide on a mountain bike excursion a few days ago, so he is TOTALLY in his element. I’ve been doing a variety of jobs for MRA, including landscaping, retail, and office work, and loving it.

One of the perks of working here is the access to their toys and the experts who know how to use them. Last Friday, one of the guides came up to Rooster and said, “I’m taking a raft out…do you and Maverick want to go?” Within a half hour, we had scooped up a hiker friend of ours who was in town, Hoops, and were getting our safety talk to go out on the biggest rapids any of us had been on (Class 3/3+). And it was a blast!! We got to go down a 3 mile run twice, and I almost took an unexpected swim on the second run! We were laughing the whole time, and our guide, Dakota, was awesome! We celebrated with a few beers and then brought Hoops back to our campsite for a fire with a bunch of the guides.

Yesterday, Rooster and I got to take out some mountain bikes to check out a local trail, and then drove up to see the Trail of 100 Giants. Those sequoias are so incredible! Tomorrow morning, I get to go up their outdoor climbing wall when the guides are doing a training exercise, and I’m pretty stoked about that. 😀

Who knows what else this week will bring?!

Tree Hugger

The snowy Sierras in the distance
The Needles

Dome Rock
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6/5, mile 652. Pausing for “Snowpocalypse 2019”

“So, what are you doing for the Sierras?”

Rooster: It’s the #1 topic of conversation among us hikers right now. For those that don’t know, the Sierra Nevada range received a record amount of snow this year. This presents a ton of challenges.

The gateway to the Sierras is Kennedy Meadows at mile 702, and extends roughly to Sierra City at mile 1195. On a “normal” year, you can start north from KM in the first week of June, assured that the trail will be mostly snow free, and that river/creek crossings will be reasonably safe to cross. This year, that timeframe has been pushed back by 4-6 weeks. There’s really only three things you can do:

Push: Hike in anyway. There will be long stretches where you’ll be post holing (trudging through wet snow up to your hips). You’ll want crampons for traction and an ice axe to self arrest on the icy slopes. You’ll need twice as much food, because you’ll be hiking at half speed through this mess. And the river crossings will be raging. Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?

Flip-flop: Skip the Sierras for now, do a snow free section (typically NorCal), come back and do the Sierras after they’ve melted out, then jump back up to Oregon and finish out. Logistical pain in the butt, as it involves at least 3 bus rides. Oh, and this year, even NorCal still has a bunch of snow. So does Oregon. And Washington.

Wait: Just sit and wait it out at KM or elsewhere. The drawback here is that the more time you wait, the less time you have to finish before the snow starts flying in Washington State (typically October). Plus you’re burning through money while you twiddle your thumbs.

We’ve decided to wait, with a twist. We got jobs at a whitewater rafting place in the mountain town of Kernville. We’ll be doing some maintenance, office work, landscaping, bike maintenance, and maybe even a little guiding. Although this puts our goal of finishing the whole thing in jeopardy, this assures us that we’ll experience the Sierras with less fear of sliding off a mountain or drowning, lol. Plus it will be a cool experience to work here.