Day 88-96: Chester (Mile 1335) to McCloud River (Mile 1468) via Lassen NP and Burney

More Foot Pain, Enjoying Lassen National Park and the Solar Eclipse with Nicole, Staying with Christians in Burney, Near-Bear Encounter, and Leaving the Trail.

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More Foot Pain

Right below the outside of my ankle, a stabbing sensation would come whenever I put my foot down. I couldn’t really put pressure on it, it felt unlike any plantar fasciitis or twisted ankle pain I’ve had before. I couldn’t remember rolling it, I just woke up like this. Maybe it was all the running downhill that I had done in the last 80 miles with Mika. I was careful not to put much weight on it but I was walking downhill, which made it hard not to. I wondered at what point my injuries will become too painful to keep hiking. So far, everything just hurts enough not to stop. But I know from past experience that 75% is when I should stop. I had a couple days off-trail in Lassen to look forward to, so that was my motivation to keep going that morning. Only 12 miles to go.

Dirty, and tortured.

Lassen National Park

I met Nicole at Drakesbad Guest Ranch where I showered, ate a delicious gourmet buffet lunch, and  a lovely care package from my cousin LuAnne, which even included much needed toothpaste.  Nicole and I took advantage of their nice hotsprings-fed swimming pool before heading back on the trail.  We then did a “short” 12-Mile overnight hike up to Summit Lake to watch the eclipse the next morning. My foot still hurt, but it wasn’t excruciating. Luckily we found a family with extra viewing glasses and were able to enjoy the awesome umbras during totality. It was such a special experience – watching everything get dark and cold, and bright and warm again within an hour. Nicole and I also had a chance to connect over nature, meditation, share our learnings around self-work and relationships, and explore business ideas and strategies, all in between lake swims and naps.

Drakesbad Guest Ranch – a rustic horse ranch, lodge, and restaurant inside Lassen NP, just off the PCT! One of my favorite non-town stops. Free shower and pool, with buffet lunch for $12. Highest quality food I’ve had on the trail, freshly prepared, real silverware.

Round 1 and Round 2

Asian treats from LuAnne – my favorites were the Korean BBQ flavored pork jerky and the macadamia nut chocolate chip cookies, thank you Lu!!!

Eclipse, Nicole’s tent fly as a great rain jacket, and lakeside naps.

In just 3 days, Nicole was able to gain some unique experiences that are typical of thru-hiking: a creek crossing, mid-afternoon thrunderstorms, lake swims, hitch-hiking, and even some trail magic. We hitched back to the car where she had a cooler full of goodies: yogurt, broccoli salad, soda, homemade asparagus casserole with saffron rice and mushrooms. But when she tried to start the car, the battery had died. I ran down the street to another couple who was packing up to leave and asked for a jump and they were very willing to help. Nicole and I explored Lassen by car a bit with a short day hike to Cold Boiling Lake and picnic at Hat Creek. Then I took a trail in the Devastated Area and hiked 4 miles back to the PCT. At times the trail felt like it had been neglected for the last 5 years since the Reading Fire in 2012. It was overgrown with so many fallen trees that it was difficult to walk through or navigate. I scratched my shins up pretty badly crawling up and over the branches at times. The burn area was great for black and white pictures through.  

A storm was coming over Lassen peak so I hiked as quickly as I could to get back to the PCT.

Trail Magic in Burney 
As I approached Hat Creek Rim at 4pm, still 12 miles to water cache 22, it started raining, followed by thunder and lightning. I asked a couple stopped at the trailhead parking lot if they were going to Burney and they said no, they were going the opposite way to Susanville. Then I asked the only other car in the trailhead parking lot, a man and his son if they were headed to Burney and they said no but that they would be willing to drop me off back at Old Station and I could get another hitch from there. As we got to know one another in the car, they decided to drop me off at Burney anyway, even though it was out of their way. Maybe they had a change of heart after getting to know me better.

Guthooks mentioned the Word of Life Church having a free shower and great trail magic so I asked them to drop me off there so that I could stay in town to pick up my package in the morning.  When I arrived at the church at 5pm, I was greeted by a woman named Kathy who said that she was closing up in a few minutes but that I could use the restroom and peruse the hiker box. The church was super spacious and clean and the hiker box was, to my surprise, large tables full of useful items like ramen, granola, oatmeal, and snack bars. I stocked up! When I was about to leave, I asked Kathy if she knew of any cheap places to stay or camp in town, and when she couldn’t think of any, she paused and I could see the wheels turning in her head about something. She smiled, and with what seemed to be some apprehension, offered me a night at her house instead. I was astonished at this warm gesture, and felt so fortunate because she said she had never hosted a hiker before.

The amazing hiker box.

Then she asked if I liked salmon. My eye widened in excitement. She said she was planning on making it for dinner, and my heart melted. I love salmon! She also had plans to go for a walk with her friend Sarah after work who was preparing for her own backpacking trip to Lassen, and asked if I’d like to join. I said, of course, I’d love to! I hadn’t hiked more than 10 miles that day so I was feeling pretty good about some bonus miles without my pack. Sarah picked my brain about ultralight backpacking gear pretty much the entire time and I was happy to share my research and experiences. We went back to the house and I conducted my first shake-down, and ended up trading out her sleeping bag, which was too big and heavy, for mine, which was at least a pound lighter, and suitable for what she would need in Lassen. I was about to get a new sleeping bag the next morning at the post office anyway, so I was glad to be able to offer some trail magic of my own.

When we sat down for dinner, Jim led us in saying grace. It had been the first time I said grace in probably 20 years since I stopped going to church, but it felt wonderful and appropriate with this group of people. We connected over the delicious food and lost track of time chatting late into the night. There indeed was a lightning storm that night, and I could only imagine how scary it would have been for me to be stuck camping out there in the exposed dry woods.

Kathy and her husband Jim turned out to be some of the most welcoming and open Christians I’ve ever met. I felt safe enough to be open about my sexuality, and talked about my girlfriend Amy freely without feeling judged. They even invited us to come back to stay with them in the winter for some skiing at Mt Shasta!

In the morning I was spoiled with fresh eggs from their backyard chickens and blueberry buttermilk pancakes from scratch. Then they took me to the store and post office before driving me back to the trail. I’m so glad they took a leap of faith with me, having never hosted a hiker in the past, I’m sure it felt risky to have a stranger in their house. I think mutually positive experiences like this, especially amongst people who you would not expect to have similar ideologies, builds trust and restores a little faith in humanity for all of us.

Fresh eggs, pancakes, even Daisy (the dog) was envious.

Back on Trail to Dunsmir

At midnight, I was woken up by loud sniffing/breathing/grunting sounds that went on for an hour. I tried to see what it was with my head lamp, but it was hidden in the trees so I couldn’t make out what it was. I was in my tent, frozen with fear. Since bear canisters were no longer required, I had been sleeping with my food in a plastic Loksak under my feet. Could it really be a bear? They have been seen frequently in this area according to Guthooks. It was also stumbling around like one, unlike deer, which are more light-footed. After making what sounded like a large circle around my camp, the noises faded, and I fell back sleep. The whole next day I was so tired and paranoid looking for bears.

Leaving the Trail

After a week of reducing my mileage down to 15-miles/day, stretching morning and evening, my left foot was still hurting. I was only 50 miles out of Burney and had another 3 days before the next town, so I was torn about how to proceed. I posted on the PCT Trail Angel’s Facebook page asking for a place to rest and assess my foot in the Dunsmir area, but no response. My options for going further north were becoming fewer due to the new fires popping up in Oregon. Even if I decided to keep going north, I would have had to skip the section from Etna to Ashland, which was my final destination anyway. I spoke to some south-bounders who said the smoke in the Crater Lake area was horrific. There were people who said that even in Etna the smoke was getting pretty bad. I felt like there were no good options for me to get to Ashland.

I thought about just going home and resting for 3 weeks before heading back to finish the Sierras section with Amy, but 3 weeks seemed like a long time to be off-trail. I wasn’t quite ready to stop hiking yet completely. I had to think fast because I was approaching McCloud River, which was the only viable option to get off-trail before the next town via a trail head. I had service, so I contacted Kathy, from Burney. She said that she would be happy to pick me up and take me to Dunsmir to figure out my next steps.  

The next morning, I asked some campers who were heading back out to town if they would be willing to give me a ride, and they were more than happy to. Being from Berkeley as well, they were happy to, and we shared stories of Berkeley life on the way.

In Dunsmir, I was able to charge my phone and get in touch with my friend Austin who was organizing a backpacking trip to Evolution Valley, a 5-day, 57 mile loop in the Inyo National Forest overlapping 26 miles with the PCT. I asked if there was still space to join the group and he said yes, and that they would love to have me! I would need to leave from San Francisco in 3 days. I was renewed with excitement about being able to hike with good friends for a change, at a slower pace, and even with a few days in between to rest my foot.

Later that day, I reunited with Kathy and Jim again, who drove up to meet me for lunch at Yak’s, their favorite burger joint in town. When I told them about my new plans, they offered to drive me to the Greyhound station in Redding, an hour away, so that I could get home sooner that evening. I couldn’t believe the kindness and generosity that these people showed me. It was so serendipitous that I had just met them a week before and now they were treating me like family. So just like that, 3 months later, my NOBO journey on the PCT was over. I still had 15 days of hiking in the Sierras to look forward to, but Dunsmir was as far north as I would get this year. It was a bittersweet end to the trail for me, but I accepted it given the circumstances and was grateful for all the transformative experiences I’ve had the pleasure to walk through.  

This isn’t goodbye, just the beginning of another adventure.

You can’t go wrong with craft beer and cilantro and garlic burgers. Best burgers I’ve had on the trail, and with Jim and Kathy!

Resting my feet at Twin Lakes, Drakesbad, and McCloud River.


Day 79-87: Home – Cupertino, CA, (Mile 1167) to Chester (Mile 1335) via Belden and Quincy

Off-trail for 5 days at home, Amy’s Birthday, Meeting Landon, Making my way back on trail to Quincy, and Being Inspired by Mika

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Temporarily Adjusting Back to “Real-life”

I got home Wednesday evening and took Thursday to organize myself before picking up Amy from work to take her on a birthday climbing trip to Pinnacles National Park. It felt very odd to be so quickly assimilating to “real life” again – I was very aware of seeing the anxiety-ridden and stressful lives of everyone that I talked to and interacted with: from the rental car agents to the coffee baristas to my own family members. I was hyper aware of the fact that my speech was slower, I had more patience than I would normally, and I was more open and unassuming with strangers. I know that that will be something that I’ll need to adapt back into without letting go of all the healthy habits of stress management that I’ve built on the trail. For now, I get to insulate myself a little longer.

My cousin Ben was visiting from LA coincidentally, my aunt cooking up all our favorites including baked salmon, and grandma, glad to see me in one piece.

Climbing at Pinnacles National Park

On our way down to the little town of Soledad where we had our hotel reservation, we stopped in Monterey for dinner. The fog was coming in which made for a mystical and romantic night of outdoor dining at Schooner’s, a nice seafood restaurant right on the water.  

The next day we got an early start to beat the heat – we’ve gotten quite good at waking up early to get to crags with 100deg weather (Red Rocks, Bishop). We climbed an easy but 400′ high, 4-pitch sport route called Costanoan in The Citadel area. Since this was our first multi-pitch climb together, we both carefully reviewed our safety checks and rehearsed our rope management, belay methods, and rappelling techniques until we felt solid. And it was a good thing we did.

Everything went rather smoothly until we were half way down on the rappel from the 3rd to the 2nd pitch. I had been rappelling at such a sharp angle that once I lost control of my footing, I suddenly swung like a wrecking ball at the end of a long pendulum into the side of the sharp rocks. I lost control of the rappel, and slammed into my right arm and shoulder. The back-up safety mechanism on the rappel system caught me, but I still couldn’t move, My arm was in so much pain that I felt myself getting delirious as I screamed thinking that it might have broken from the impact. Amy rappelled down and keeping a steady head, was able to help me set up the last rappel and get me down the mountain. We then cleaned up my arm and she assessed the damage. The bleeding had already stopped on its own, it was just swollen and I couldn’t put any weight on it. Not broken, just bruised with long cuts and scrapes across the forearm. We still had a mile of rock scrambling and hiking to get back to the car and Amy was able to carry most of the gear so that I had less weight. When we finally made it back to the car, I felt so lucky to have Amy as my climbing partner that day, and as my partner in life. She’s amazing: she’s a safe, and competent climber, much stronger than she looks, and kept calm in a crisis situation so that she could save my life without putting her own in danger.  

Tassajara Zen Center and Hot Springs

After this unplanned incident, I still wanted to surprise Amy with the hot springs retreat so I insisted on driving with my one good arm so that Amy could be blindfolded. After 2 hours of mountain driving, the last hour was on a steep and treacherous dirt road – the kind that’s not covered by any rental car damage insurance. Amy was very excited with anticipation but was only allowed to remove her blindfold on 2 occasions: to see a deer crossing and to see a rattlesnake slither up the side of the road.

Once we arrived at Tassajara Zen Center, I led still-blindfolded Amy down to the retreat center (where she almost tripped down some steps) and she intuitively smelled the sulfur pools and enthusiastically guessed that we were at a hot spring. She was so happy and excited to be there that it was all worth the secrecy. We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing in the hot springs, exploring the river behind the resort, doing our own yoga, learning about za-zen meditation, and enjoying the endless plates of delicious vegetarian meals and homemade bread that the retreat center prepared for us.

It was just what I needed to feel restored from the trail and to start the healing process for my arm injury. I loved the gentleness of the zen community and the serene setting of the Los Padres Forest.

Meeting Landon

We then drove back to SF on Sunday to meet our friends Amy K and Yuri’s newborn son Landon who was just one week old! It was good timing because Amy K had some birth complications and was still healing and in a lot of pain, so we all needed the rest. We brought a box full of our favorite pastries from Neighbor Bakery, and got to hang on the couch all day chatting about the trail and Amy K’s delivery and Yuri’s great nurse skills while being taken care of by Yuri’s excellent watermelon cutting and waiter skills. Best of all, I got to hold beautiful baby Landon for hours in between his feeding and napping.  He and I will get along just fine.  Seriously though, seeing this amazing couple become parents has been such an inspirational experience for me. I’m really looking forward to watching little Landon grow, being part of his community, babysitting, and learning as much as I can from Amy K and Yuri’s parenting journey. I’m so glad I was able to catch these guys while off-trail, these visits bring me so much joy!

I think I sat with Landon and that baby boppy pillow for 3 hours straight without moving. It was glorious.

Heading back to the Trail 
On my way back to Truckee, I stopped by one of my favorite bakeries in Berkeley: Sweet Adeline for some scones and cookies. I ran into Mio who I haven’t seen since Kennedy Meadows! He told me that Lucky Feet had some health issues and they decided to get off trail for a few days as well. You know it’s a very small world when you run into a fellow PCT hiker off-trail in Berkeley.

Quincy to Lassen National Park

I hitched 70 miles with a total of 3 different people from Truckee to Quincy so that I could still meet my friend Nicole in time for the eclipse the following weekend. In the past I would have felt like this was cheating, but since my goal now was to enjoy the trail, and not do every mile to get to Canada, I felt like it was fine to skip what people said were some of the least memorable miles (Sierra City to Quincy). Quincy was a really cute small town. I had a care package from my friend Matty waiting for me at the Post Office in the morning so I stayed overnight in a trail angel’s Jen and Mark’s TeePee in their backyard. This was probably the coolest and definitely most unique accommodations I’d ever stayed on the PCT.

I was so happy to get Matty’s care package before heading back out on trail. It was full of amazing treats and useful body-care items like small packets of ibuprofen, bandaids and moleskin! Right, she’s a nurse and she thinks about this stuff everyday. My favorite was the “pork clouds” who would have though fancy pork rinds would taste so good? Now I’m addicted and buy the non-fancy ones at gas stations whenever I see them.

Loving the custom Panda packaging and small sample sized everything. Only a nurse would be so detailed and thoughtful!

Fearless Ladies on the PCT

I met Mika on the trail a couple days later and she told me she was getting off trail in Chester in a few days. I asked her why, and if she was hurt, and she said no…she’s going to college. She’s from Toronto, she’s given herself all of her own tattoos, and she’s a badass queer. We hiked together until her last day, which was so bittersweet, and reminded me that soon, it will be my last day on trail as well. She’s planning on having a big bonfire at her homecoming party where she’s going to burn her hiking shoes. So celebratory and commemorative!

As she told me the story of her crossing the south fork of kings river in the Sierras, I got PTSD again about my own water crossing experiences as well as made me tear up thinking about Strawberry and Tree, the two PCT women who recently died at river crossings. She fell and had to wrangle herself out of her backpack all the while being swept 200′ downstream by rushing snow melt. She was able to pull herself out after catching on to a log and suffering many bloody leg wounds, which she still has scars from now, more than a month later. Meanwhile, her pack was swept a mile down and a couple of guys helped her find it. She then had to walk alone, with all her injuries, 16 miles out to the town of Bishop, over Bishop Pass but not before going over Mather Pass (12,000′). Oh yea, and she’s 18, and just finished high school. My jaw was on the ground in disbelief that she’s still on trail after all this, I would have probably gone home. This 18-year old has an immense amount of determination, self-awareness and survival skills, and from my short experience with her, she’s thoughtful, eloquent, and understands how to relate to others more than any teenager I’ve ever met. I’m so happy to have crossed paths with Mika and will always remember our conversations while running downhill.

Such a privilege to be hiking with Mika on her last day on trail.

Leaving Beldentown – Plumas County

Day 77-78: Mile 1161 to 1167 (+10miles OT) – Another Turning Point: Giving Myself Permission to Slow Down, and Not Finish the Trail

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Missing My Community 

Having spent the past weekend reuniting with my friends in Lake Tahoe really made me miss home. We had just celebrated my 1,000-mile mark with a weekend of relaxing at a condo in Squaw Valley, where I got to connect with some of my best friends from home, fill up my empty muscles with tons of delicious food, picnic at the beach with summer-vacationing families, wear real-life clothes walking around town eating ice cream, and now I’m back on the trail, alone again. Having to fend off the swarms of mosquitoes, smell my own stench, live in my filthy trail clothes, deal with my annoying injuries, all on my own again. I never minded being alone, but for whatever reason, it’s now catching up to me after two and a half months.

The people I meet on the trail now are either couples or solo hikers that have established their own super fast pace (25-30miles/day) and are racing against time to get to Canada. I’ve tried to, but can’t keep up. They also have this tired and worrisome look on their faces, avoiding eye-contact, their bodies – fatiguely slumped, similar to mine. They seem to be saying, “Don’t bother us, we have work to do.” Gone are the days of friendly rest stops where you hang out just chatting away. Just barely a quick “hello,” or “good morning” with their heads-down, plowing forward, marching on. The only friendly happy people now are day hikers or section hikers who have the luxury of time. So nice to be them.

Doing the Math

The fact that I would have to average nearly a marathon a day in order to reach Canada by October 1 has been weighing on me heavily this past week. That’s 25 miles per day, not counting zero days. I had a solid strategy going into this next section: go as light and as fast as possible. I’m now using Amy’s lighter sleeping bag, switching out my 17deg bag from the Sierras to a 32deg bag now that it’s warmer at night. I also ditched the Jetboil and fuel, going stoveless, and cooking with just a titanium cup over campfires whenever I can have them. I ruthlessly cut my underwear and sports bra down to one of each instead of two, and ditched the thermal bottoms and hiking pants for a lighter pair. Altogether I was able to reduce my base weight by about 2.5 pounds. At first I thought sustaining 25 miles a day would be tough, but possible. I’d been able to pull a couple 30’s in the desert hiking into the night, and I’m in better shape now. However, I realized that I can count all the ways that I’m underestimating this crazy feat.

Nagging Injuries

Yesterday I tried to hike as much as I could and only managed 20 miles with 3500′ elevation gain. My hip has started to hurt again, probably due to the higher mileage in combination with the higher elevations gains.  I was curious about my weight change since I’m usually pretty a stable 125-130, at 5’7″.  But I’ve lost a record 12 pounds since I’ve started, and so my hip bones are protruding more now. The only other time I was ever this light was back in junior high school.  I’ve had a pack rash on my hips near my lower back that’s been there for the last 300 miles. It’s fairly painful to put my pack on in the mornings, and throughout the day as I sweat, the blistering gets worse. I’ve run out of bandaids and gauze to keep dressing it, so I use duct tape. On top of that, I’ve developed plantar fasciitis, which hurts the worst in the mornings and I have to make sure to stop and stretch my calves and feet every 3-4 miles or so, otherwise I can barely walk. I know I would just be miserable if I were hiking 25 miles a day.

Hiking 25miles/day doesn’t allow me to carry enough food or eat enough to keep a healthy weight – by Sonora, I was at my lightest since middle school.

Pack rash

Why October 1? 

Most people say it starts snowing in Washington by then. Also, since the Sierras get very cold starting in October, I would need to start the 120-mile section that I missed from Kearsarge Pass to Mammoth by mid-September. I hadn’t thought of that when I made the decision to skip ahead. I was so focused on being able to reach Canada by October 1st, that skipping ahead seemed the only viable option at the time. I could just not do it this year, and wait until better weather next year. However, having spent time with Amy recently, and talking about hiking that section with her, it became more and more important for me to be able to do it with her, as my partner. It’s such a spectacular trail, all 5 of the highest passes and prettiest alpine lakes north of Forester Pass. In September, there would be no mosquitoes, and VVR (Vermillion Valley Resort) and MTR (Muir Trail Ranch) the only 2 viable resupply locations would still be open. Otherwise, we would have to haul 10 days of food with us, which would be undeniably too heavy.

Dropping Like Flies

In the past couple of weeks, as I’ve seen my trail family dwindle, leaving the trail for various reasons, I’ve really had to question my own reasons for staying with it. Although I try not to let what others do effect me, it is discouraging to see.  My Japanese friend and hiking partner from Kennedy Meadows South to Kearsarge Pass, Toshi, who just finished the Sierras, flew back to Japan. My friend Avner, who just got to Truckee, told me he was leaving to go back to Maryland to finish his dissertation and was burnt out from trying to hike 35-miles a day. My friend Barbaloot left the trail at Kennedy Meadows South to start a life with his girlfriend. Another acquaintance Anthony, is leaving because he’s running out of money. Another guy Johnny Walker left after we saw each other at Kennedy Meadows North because he was losing too much weight and was also worried about being able to finish the trail and still have fun doing it. I have shared the same sentiments with all of these people at one point or another. It seems like the only people left on the trail are those who started earlier in the season – March or April, and have either flip-flopped and are coming back south-bound, or have taken some significant chunks of time off. There are certainly less people on the trail now than there were a few weeks ago.

Facing Reality

Trying to finish the trail at this point for me would just be setting myself up for disappointment. So today, on Day 77, Tuesday August 8th, around Mile 1161, I started the process of accepting the fact that I wouldn’t be finishing the PCT this year. It was a very emotionally draining day. I don’t like to fail, especially since this was something I felt very committed to.  I don’t like to give up. I’ve been so determined to get to Canada since I developed my trail legs and I knew that it was possible. But I’ve also learned a lot from my daily meditation rituals: if the trail isn’t bringing me joy, I need to reevaluate why I’m still here.  I was fatigued, in pain, and hungry.  To think about Canada only brought up feelings of anxiety.

Since I still had service, I called Amy to let her know I was thinking about this, and that we might need permits to hike the JMT (John Muir Trail) portion of the Sierras in mid-September instead of October. She was very supportive and compassionate. I also told her that I wanted to come back home this weekend to spend time with her for her birthday, which she was very excited about. I told her that I have the deep desire to come home and start a life with her, and to that she answered, “Yes, of course, but we have our whole lives to do that, you need to follow your dreams now.” I felt so understood, and so touched by her loving patience.

My New Plan

After just 6 miles of very slow, very emotional, and pensive hiking, I set up camp to give myself the time and space to process all of this.  I settled on a new goal to finish California, get to Ashland, Oregon, and head back before 9/15 to complete the 120-Mile Sierra section with Amy.  This will allow me to keep to a 20-mile/day pace from now until Ashland. Part of me is sad to miss out on completing the PCT as a thru-hike, but I’m also feeling a huge sense of relief. This way, I’m preventing injuries and burnout, which is something I know I’ve never been good at before.

I’m extremely proud of myself for having the self-compassion to get to this decision. I know it’s the right thing to do to preserve my happiness and wellbeing. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this journey of self-discovery, it’s that I am happiest when I can truly love and accept myself for who I am, what I am capable of, and what I have already accomplished rather than what I haven’t yet completed.

I’m looking forward to being able to talk to random hikers again, swim in alpine lakes, slow down enough to appreciate the towns, connect with trail angels, bask in trail magic, and to take care of my body and my health. 

To all of you who may have thought that I would surely be walking through the northern terminus this year, thank you for believing in my stubborness and perseverance, and supporting me regardless.  I no longer fear that I’ve let you down, but instead, I celebrate how far I’ve come.  This transformation I’ve seen in myself is just the beginning, and I’m looking forward to savoring these next 600 miles to Ashland!

Like they say, “It’s all about the journey, not the destination.”

Hiked back 10 miles to the Donner Pass/Truckee area again, where I had started just the day before.

My cousin Hamilton helped me with a rental car to get me home for a few days of recovery and to spend time with my friends and family.

Day 67-76: Sonora Pass (Mile 1017) to Peter Grubb’s Cabin (Mile 1161) via South Lake Tahoe + 6 OT miles

Tahoe Reunion and Celebration of 1,000 miles on the PCT

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Longest Day: 21 miles, 3700′ elevation

Zero Days: 0 – we even hiked on my days off so that I could get some positive mileage.

Nights in Town: 2 – Condo with friends in Squaw Valley

Nearo Days:  1 – getting back on trail from Squaw Valley, 3 miles off trail plus 5 on the PCT

Back to Sonora Pass
Mike carried my pack and Jess hiked with me for 15 minutes before they had to turn back and get to Yosemite. Then it was 4 miles with patches of snow, and difficult route finding. I felt very slow.
I had received a cryptic text message that morning from my Aunt that said “Mimi, I’d like you to come back home.” Which left me with a lot of anxiety as I got to the trail since I had no reception to call. But I found some at the top of the pass so I sat there and made a couple of phone calls. First, my Cousin, then my Aunt. I was worried that something bad had happened at home, but my cousin assured me that everyone was fine. It turns out, that my Aunt had seen my river crossing video a few days ago and was worried about my safety. I reassured her that I was safe and that the trail was going to get easier north of Sonora.

And it certainly was a lot easier. Despite having 6 days of food, my pack felt much lighter, and made for easier hiking. Terrain was beautiful, not much snow and easy creeks. It rain for about an hour every afternoon so I had to stop and wait it out below the passes. The thunder and lightning were scary. I didn’t want to be caught on the exposed pass during the storm. Had some dinner while waiting for the rain to stop, and the sun came out making for a lovely walk up to Noble Lake pass.

I had the best camp site at the top of the pass, with views of Noble Lake all to myself. As a reward for making it past the thunderstorm, I made smores again for the second night in a row.

Noble Lake campfire and smores – even the deer couldn’t resist!

Noble Lake Pass – my campsite for the night

This bag of Trail magic that looked like it came from Japan was left on a trail junction post with matcha green tea short bread cream cookies from Kyoto! It was a perfect second breakfast, and I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of the last one.

Carson Pass, Desolation Wilderness and Granite Chief

While hiking in the section north of Lake Sonora, I kept noticing myself feeling just sheer happiness and joy, admiring all the beautiful lakes and smooth easy trails meandering through volcanic rock formations, then into granite mountains hugging clear alpine lakes. It really restored my love and excitement for the trail again after weeks of miserable mosquito-infested swamps in the section before.

Llamas! Anna Leigh’s 6 llamas were named after the characters from Emperors New Groove: this one was Cusco.

Blue Yonder surprised me at Carson Pass with some of her camping friends’ trail magic of grilled chicken and grape juice. What a treat!

Tahoe Reunion and Celebration of 1,000 miles

I feel so grateful to my incredible friends who came to celebrate 1,000 miles on the PCT with me in Lake Tahoe this weekend.

Thank you for all the amazing trail magic: the sunglasses, the new sleeping bag, the fresh plums and nectarines, the home-cooked meals, triple cream yogurt, the fresh coconut, Peach Blackberry Mission Pie with 1000 candles, the snack bag full of dried fruit and jerky, the rides down and up from Barker Pass with my trail friend, Blue Yonder, the luxurious Squaw Valley condo with a king size bed, chauffeuring me around to resupply, slack packing/sag-wagoning so I can hike some miles without a pack, your precious time and energy, your hugs, your emotional support, your engagement in this dream of mine. You are truly my angels, and I miss you already: Jo, Peter, Alex, Ryan, Evan, Justin, Aggie, and Amy!

P.S. I’m feeling extremely stuffed on BBQ, kale, breakfast burritos, turkey sandwiches, sea salt and vinegar chips, watermelon, and pie. Another +3 pounds for the weekend!

Day 55-67: Devil’s Post Pile (Mile 908) to Sonora Pass (Mile 1017) via Tuolumne Meadows

Deciding to flip up to Mammoth – skipping 120 miles of the Sierras, Arriving in Tuolumne Meadows, Worst day of swamps and water crossings, scary Sonora Pass down-climbing, and the sweetest and unexpected trail magic in Sonora.

Track My Current SPOT GPS Location Here

Deciding to flip up to Mammoth

After my first week of the Sierras, I landed in Independence faced with a tough decision: to keep going slowly with the toughest water crossings and snowiest passes ahead (and risk not making it to Canada or getting injured trying) or skip the 120 miles of the Sierras from Kearsarge Pass to Mammoth and try to come back in October to finish it when there’s less water.

Given that the last section felt so unsafe at times that it took all of my physical and emotional capacity to not give up and just go home, I decided to avoid the potentially dangerous passes and water crossings and preserve my dwindling willpower to stay on the trail by flipping up ahead to Mammoth.

This decision gave me 2 weeks to do 150 miles to meet up with my friends in Lake Tahoe. For once, I felt like I could slow down a little and actually take my time and really enjoy the northern part of the Sierras. It was a breath of fresh air. I took the time to talk to other hikers, stop for long lunch breaks at random beautiful lakes and sunbathed while I let my laundry dry. I set up camp before 6pm almost everyday, which never happened before. There was time to make nightly campfires to ward off the mosquitoes, write more in my journal, and do yoga and stretching, which felt so good for my body and my spirit overall. This is what backpacking should be like! As a thru-hiker, we typically don’t get the luxury to walk slowly and have short days. Little did I know that this bit of self-preservation would come in handy just as the trail became more treacherous again after Tuolumne Falls.

Remembering back to the desert, when everyday ended with night-hiking and rushing to bed, I didn’t even have the energy to floss or brush my teeth every night. When we got to the Sierras and started hiking from Kennedy Meadows South, we continued the long days and usually hiked past 8pm just to try and keep a 16-miles/day pace. This burned me out. The extra 8-10 pounds of gear and food really took a toll on me physically, and mentally it was hard to keep up the miles in the rain. Most days I just felt like this was what thru-hiking was supposed to be: hard work, mental toughness, and survival. Breaks were meant to be taken in towns. That kind of hiking in the Sierras was not sustainable for me. Especially given the harder terrain, higher altitude, stressful water crossings, and heavier pack. By skipping to Mammoth, I gave myself the gift of time and the mental space to relax a bit and have more fun. Because if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?

Longest Day: 20 miles, 2300′ elevation gain – Thousand Island Lake to Tuolumne Meadows. This was super painful. Having to climb over 2 snowy passes in one day and then night hiking was really hard on my hips and feet. I ached all over the next day and vowed to never do that again. I pushed hard to get to the Tuolumne Meadows backpackers camp because I wanted to make sure I was there while others were all there in the morning so that I can ask around for menstrual supplies since I wasn’t going to be able to get my resupply until Sonora. I was in luck, the first family I asked happened to have 2 women, one of whom gave me her entire emergency stash!

Nearo Days: 3 – 1) After I got a hitch from Independence to Mammoth, I had to do a 6-mile road walk down to Devil’s Post Pile and then managed to hike another 2 miles. 2) I only managed 7 miles after the 20-mile day into Tuolumne. I was beat, but didn’t want to take a zero day because I was going to be running low on food. I could have gone down to Yosemite Valley, but there was a lot of smoke from the Mariposa Fire, and it meant taking an extra day with hitch hiking and then the YARTS bus, which only ran once a day.  3) The last day getting down to Sonora Pass was only 6 miles, but it took 4.5 hours over the terrifying snowy terrain and loose rock.

I got to get a hitch with Owen, a guide for the Grand Canyon! After we had lunch (at Schat’s Bakkery for the 6th time in 2 weeks), he drove me the 40 miles to Mammoth on his way to San Francisco to visit some friends.

Zero Days: 2 – in Sonora at Mike’s parents house (Jim and Pat).  
This was one of the most unexpected relaxing, and enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had in town – see last section below. 

Arriving in Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows was as beautiful as I have always remembered it. As I walked along Tioga road, I became nostalgic and emotional. This was a very familiar place, one that I’ve been to many times growing up for 6th and 8th grade science camps, hiking to Halfdome and Yosemite Falls, rock climbing Cathedral Peak, and starting the JMT last year. And now, I’ve just walked here, with my own two feet, from the border of Mexico. That feels amazing.  

Tuolumne Falls – my campsite for the night

Wearing my new rain skirt at Tuolumne Falls because it was really hot.

The start of Tuolumne Meadows section to Sonora – Lembert Dome

The feeling of accomplishment was juxtaposed with the hot sun and crowded trailheads. The meadows were full of families on their summer vacations in rental RVs eating delicious homemade sandwiches and real fruit. A Chinese family of 6 sat at the picnic table next to me and devoured a whole Tupperware full of cut watermelon, without offering me any. They just sat and stared at me and talked about me behind my back (unbeknownst to them, I could understand every word). I felt simultaneously annoyed and jealous of their easy access to the real-world.

Swamps and Water Crossings

Day 61: PCT Mile 973 – Piute Creek. This was definitely the worst day on the trail for me – I posted this on Facebook a couple weeks ago.

I’d like to bring awareness to the realities of the trail this year for those of us who are not the ex-marine, ex-military, or ultrarunner types… because it seems like for most of those people, this trail is just fine. However, I’m just an ordinary person who enjoys hiking and rock climbing, who decided to quit her 9-5 desk job to start hiking the PCT in May, with only one other 100-mile hiking experience last year on the first SOBO half of the JMT.

Despite the majority of the trail being a positive and transformative experience of self discovery, the reality is that the 2017 Snow Apocalypse has brought more challenges to the trail than ever before.

More snow fields than you can imagine

Sketchy logs galore

Let’s be real, it’s not always pretty sunsets and rainbow waterfalls in the Sierras, despite the impression that most of us who post pictures on Instagram and Facebook may give off. Some days are just so extremely hard that it makes me ask the questions: Am I still capable of doing this? Is it safe? Of the last 10 days on the trail from Mammoth to Sonora Pass, 4 of them felt like “Type 3 fun”. Like, “Holy crap, I’m so lucky I lived another day!” I’ve cried more often and wanted to quit more seriously in the Sierras than ever before.

I took this video on one of the worst days that I had on the trail. I had been hiking mostly alone all day, which probably made it more frightening.

It took me 5 hours to get through 6 miles of water crossings and Piute Creek was the worst. So many branching streams that it took 3 log crossings and a waist-high ford to get through it and it was scary as hell because at 8pm, the cold water felt stronger and faster than it looked. I struggled to keep a straight perpendicular path to shore and ended up getting swept downstream for 8-10 feet before I grabbed onto a log to drag my soaked pack and body out of the water. I hit an all-trail low that day.

Right after this, I was fortunate to find two guys: Dash and Johnny Walker, who had a campfire and were warmly invited to camp with them. Despite just having submerged his iPhone in the same creek, Dash was in good spirits and offered me his extra mashed potatoes and pasta, which was just the trail magic I needed to stop my cycle of despair.

Did I make the right decision to cross this creek? Looking back, probably not, but it was the best I could do in that moment. Piute Creek was so large and messy that by the time I was on the 3rd and last part of the ford, I had already spent an hour scouting (I even dropped my pack and looked for others while walking back and forth up and downstream). However, it was getting late and everyone else must have already crossed and my only choices were either to go back over sketchy logs or move forward across to camp, or stay on the swampy island and camp until morning – which I considered and quickly dismissed. My decision-making was probably not optimal, but it seemed the best choice to go on given the circumstances. I quickly learned from this experience. 3 days later, I had to cross Stubblefield Canyon, which I decided to set up camp early and waited until morning hoping there would be others to cross with. But in the morning the water level had gone down considerably and it was much safer to cross alone. No one else came through from 6pm that evening until 9am the next day! I did, however, find Blue Yonder, a woman who was section-hiking the day after to hike and camp with for the rest of the section to Sonora Pass. The first queer person I’ve met in 900 miles that I knew of. We were so glad we had each other to tackle the snowy pass.

Blue Yonder and I looking for a campsite at 10,500′ it was cold and windy.

After I posted my video on the PCT Class of 2017 Facebook page, the support was overwhelming. I’d like to quote of the guys who wrote to me this which was so motivating: 

“Those are the moments that carve a deeper well of tolerance and strength for the challenges you will face in the future. And because of it, you will be the person others look to for calm in a storm. Hang in there.”

Fancy trail blazes in Yosemite, no shortage of snow and water, and a fire in Mariposa.

Sonora with Pat and Jim 

When I started the trail, Mike had mentioned that I should consider staying in Sonora with his parents when I get closer. At the time I couldn’t fathom walking more than 200 miles yet so Mile 1,000 wasn’t even on my radar. As I got closer, we loosely made plans to meet around the Sonora Pass trailhead or Kennedy Meadows North to arrange for a one-night layover to rest and resupply. Since I had never met Jim and Pat before, the only thing I knew was that they were retired teachers and that they raised Mike, who is an awesome person. But in the back of my mind, I was still apprehensive to stay too long because all I knew about Sonora was that it was a conservative small town. What if they were gun-toting Republicans!?

When I got there a day earlier than planned, it was still 2 days until I would be able to see Mike and Jess, which meant that I would need to stay for 3 nights to be able to spend one night with my friends. At first I felt uncomfortable about staying at a strangers house for that long. What would we do? What would we talk about? How disruptive and burdensome would I be to their lives? Surely the PCT isn’t that interesting to them, I feared. 

When I arrived via a hitch from Trail Angel Half-Fast (another Mike) who happened to live in Sonora, the first thing Pat did when she saw me was give me a big warm welcoming hug. I almost cried. It felt like I was one of her own children coming home from college for the holidays. I had such a tough last 10 days on the trail, that I could just feel the stress and fear melt away.

I was immediately offered Gatorade, ice water, watermelon, and other snacks and was given my own room with a queen size bed and clean towels for shower. Then Jim invited me to sit and chat about the trail and we started playing cards. I was given a clean dress to wear (the only thing that Pat thought would fit me) while I did laundry. Then they took me out to a huge steak dinner, which I ate for about 2.5 hours until closing. I knew then, that I could spend a long long time with these folks.

I had lost 10 pounds since I started the trail and Pat thought the only thing that would fit me was this dress. I’ll take it! Even wore it to the restaurant and pretended to be their newly adopted child from China (via Mexico, of course)

Jim and Pat fussed over me every morning cutting fresh chives from their backyard on my omelette. They should run a BnB.

The more time I spent with The Epperly’s, the more comfortable and grateful I felt about staying the extra couple days, and by the end, I had a really hard time leaving.

Pat was so dedicated to me having everything I needed on the trail that she personally chauffeured me around Sonora to buy running shorts – and even had to go to 5 different stores to find one that fit me, get replacement tips for my hiking poles, and get a much needed hipster hair cut – last one was 600 miles ago!

Best $20 haircut I’ve ever had, new running shorts, and new bling for my pack! Sewn on with love by Pat.

The best unintended trail angels: took in my letters and packages, left me cute notes with resupply essentials: bandaids, cute patches, lotion, and peanut butter, took me out to fancy steak dinner, and taught me how to play pickleball!

Our last night together was joined by Mike and Jess and we had a 3 hour feast of carnitas with every topping you can wish for – I gained 3 pounds back in 3 days!

Jim was fascinated by my bear can, apparently he’s related to bears and had a tough time opening it.

Mike and Jess slack packed with me for 0.25 miles as a send off back to the trail. Love these guys!

The 3 days I spent with the Epperly’s were some of the most loving, memorable, fun, and restorative days I’ve ever had. I felt physically ready to hit the trail, but emotionally attached to these people.

Day 47-54: Kennedy Meadows (Mile 702) to Independence (Mile 789) via Forester Pass and Kearsarge Pass (+7 miles Off-trail)

4 days of consecutive rain and hail, Forester Pass, and terrifying water crossings – all with Toshi, the only consistent hiking partner I’ve had on the trail and didn’t speak much English, only Japanese.

Track My Current SPOT GPS Location Here

1 Mile south of Forester Pass – we found a little island of a snowless patch of meadow at 12,500′ and enjoyed the most magnificent sunset.

Longest Day: 19miles, 2700′ elevation. We met up with Lobo that day, it rained again, and we night-hiked together until 10:30pm and cowboy camped because none of us had the energy to set up tents.

Cowboy camping at Mile 755 – 11,000′ is cold in the mornings!

Zero Days: 1 – we got in on Saturday to Independence and I was forced to take a zero day on Sunday since I had to wait until Monday for the post office to open for my resupply. On our way down from Kearsarge Pass, we met a nice couple from San Rafael named Tom and Barbara that were out for a few days testing out their gear for the JMT next year. They offered to not only drive us down to Independence to our motel, but also take us to Bishop for some food at Holy Smokes BBQ, then Schats Bakkery for dessert (my 5th time there in 2 weeks), and then to go shopping for gear at Sage to Summit for some much needed replacements! They were the best unintentional trail angels, so sweet and caring to us, and had many questions about our gear and our experiences, which we were happy to share.  

Barbara, Tom, Toshi and I excited about our BBQ platters at Holy Smokes in Bishop.

We stayed at Ray’s Den Motel in Indy. A cute inexpensive and clean place with WIFI. What more do you need? 

Motel cooking at its finest.

On Sunday both Toshi and I called our parents to let them know we were okay, with both conversations ending with our parents asking us to “Please come home alive!” 

Then we went to the Co-op for breakfast and Gunner’s Indy coffee and breakfast burritos were amazing. She even gave us all the left over muffins and cookies for the day since she was closing. Such amazing trail magic. That’s the kind of community that I love to support.

Nearo-days (<10 miles): 2 – 1) The approach to Forester had so much snow that it took us all day and we only made 8 miles. 2) The hike into Onion Valley from Kearsarge was about 7 miles, and were all off-trail. 

First Day in the Sierras:

I left Kennedy Meadows with a fully-loaded pack with my new Ice Axe, microspikes, rain gear, water shoes and bear can + 6 days food – my pack now weighs 30 pounds without water. It’s a 30% increase from my base weight, and it’s definitively wearing me down. Amy and I even had a huge breakfast this morning to try and lighten my load and energize me, but I’m super tired and slow, despite taking 3 days off to climb in Bishop. It’s absolutely beautiful though, and there’s tons of water. No need to keep checking for the next water source anymore.

I found Toshi just a couple miles later, the young Japanese guy that Amy and I first met at Walker Pass, and we ended up hiking this entire section together. I told him that I needed to get to Independence by Friday 2pm so I can pick up my mail and resupply so we planned to average 16miles/day.

Rain and Hail

So much for that plan. It started raining on the first day around 1pm. Then we had thunderstorms with some hail interspersed everyday for about 3 hours per day for 4 days straight. I thought about quitting every time it rained. The loud thunder and lightning flashes were frightening, and I was physically miserable. We were 4 for 4 since starting the Sierras, it was like the gods were trying to say “Hey… you wanted some water? Well here it is! Welcome to the Sierras!” I was afraid it would never stop. My rain jacket and pants got soaked through, and it was heavy and sweaty, making it cold and hard to walk in. When I tried to dry out my wet socks with a campfire later the next morning, they actually got burnt on the hot rocks and were useless because wearing them felt like I had a rock in my shoe. I was down to one of each pair of sock.   

Next day we were pummeled for 2 hours with pea-sized hail. I was excited for a few minutes, then it got cold and painful hitting my bare knuckles. The next day it hailed again and I remembered to put gloves on, even though they weren’t waterproof, they were hail-resistant!

Toshi gave me a bologna & ranch tortilla, weird novelty and not anything I would eat IRL but somehow on the trail it worked.

Terrifying Water Crossings

Despite all the rain and hail, we still managed to average 17 miles for the first 3 days. However, as we approached Forester Pass, the water crossings became more frequent. I spend time scouting up and down the creek looking for the best place to cross, while trying to calm my anxiety. Then I take off my hiking shoes (I have “waterproof” Altra Lone Peak 3.0 Neoshells now) and put on my water crossing shoes, my New Balance Minimus shoes. Once I get to the other side, I have to dry off my feet, put my socks and hiking shoes back on before I go. Altogether this process added an extra hour per stream. I also don’t like crossing on logs, so unless they are super wide and can accommodate both my feet side-by-side, I ford it through the water. My balance is horrible, I can’t even do tree pose in yoga without hopping around. On skinny logs that are high up above rushing water, I get very disoriented and I panic. I don’t feel safe on most log crossings, so I end up spending more time scouting for better ways to walk across using my water shoes.  

At Tyndall Creek, we scouted for what seemed like an hour walking upstream about 0.5 mile and finally decided on a branched area that others had also recommended. We strategized to cross together with Toshi leading in front. About half way through the 20-feet wide knee-high crossing, he slipped on a rock and fell backwards, getting swept down by the rushing water. I looked on horrified and froze in my tracks. I held on tight to my poles and waited for him to try and get up. He struggled for a few seconds, and miraculously flung himself and his heavy pack out of the water and onto the shore. I then finished crossing and rushed to him crying and laughing hysterically. He was shaken up, but in good spirits. In his broken English, he said that that day was the most fun and adventure he had ever had. I was so happy he got out with just a minor cut on his hand and unfortunately a broken camera.

When we got to another nameless “small but reliable stream” (as the Guthook’s PCT Hiker app calls it) after Bubbs Creek, I stood on the log getting ready to cross, and as I approached, I had a panic attack and could hardly breathe, my legs started to shake. The water was very fast rushing below the log sitting about 6 feet above the water. All I could imagine was losing my balance, falling down and getting swept away. I opted to not use the log even though I watched Toshi cross the log easily. I ended up walking upstream for 0.25 mile and scouting for 30min before crossing at a branched area of the stream with lots of trees and bushes. The water was still really fast and about knee deep, but I was able to carefully get my footing on some large rocks, while grabbing on to some bushes to get across. At some point my sunglasses got knocked off my face and I didn’t realize they were lost in the stream until I had already hiked back down to the trail. When Toshi saw me finally after 30min, he was worried and thought maybe I had been swept down. I told him it was a scary crossing and that I needed to take a few minutes to rest and calm down because I was still shaky with adrenaline and felt very frightened. I was also worried about my lost sunglasses because we were about to hit snow, which can be blinding without eye protection. I was just glad I made it through safely.

Forester Pass

Finally, on the 5th day, it didn’t rain, and we got to camp just 1mile from the summit of Forester Pass at 12,500′. It was a glorious day with amazing views and a very special sunset. We did a Potluck for dinner with Toshi and Art, who shared some Snickers trail magic with us, which I ate in bed, because it was much too cold to be out after sunset.  

Toshi at our camp on Forester – this is when he started feeling sick, either from too much smoking or from the altitude.

A Week with Toshi

After the weekend in Independence and getting our resupplies on Monday, we decided to go our separate ways. Toshi back to the trail at Kearsarge Pass and me, taking a hitch to Mammoth. 

 I was sad to leave him and I could tell he was sad as well, we had a really good dynamic going. We barely spoke to one another since he knew very little English, and I had to dredge up the little Japanese I could still remember from my semester of studying in Tokyo. But the little we did exchange was very meaningful and memorable. I learned a lot of Japanese hiking vocabulary! Like “I’m hungry”, “uphill”, “downhill”, “thunder”, “lightning”, “dangerous rivers”, “still wet”, and “lots of snow”. We were able to get the basics across when we were hungry and wanted to take a break, or camp. We took care of one another, helped each other get through the toughest water crossings I’ve ever experienced, shared our meals, took lots of pictures of one another, laughed a lot at the funny phrases our mutually little language skills came up with, and I made sure to check in with him periodically to help him get through his AMS (acute mountain sickness). We made each other feel safe and cared for.

We made it to the highest point on the PCT together! Forester Pass – 13,200′

He also expressed that he really appreciated hiking with me because, for the first 700 miles of the PCT, he hadn’t really been able to have a conversation with anyone else. He had never even stayed in a hotel until he was with me in Independence because he was too nervous to try and book one himself. It wasn’t until our ride down to Independence that Tom and Barbara asked why we were doing the PCT did I find out (through translating his Japanese to them) that Toshi was here on the PCT as his first time ever in the US, and in fact his first time ever leaving Japan! He was inspired to come hike the PCT because he watched the movie “Wild”, and thought it was the most beautiful trail he had ever seen. It was an honor and privilege to hike with him, and I sure hope to be able to see him again when I visit Japan.

Day 40 to 46: Walker Pass (Mile 652) to Kennedy Meadows – South (Mile 702) and a side trip to Bishop

Hiking with Amy, Kennedy Meadows, and Rock Climbing in Bishop
Track My Current SPOT GPS Location Here

Longest Day: Last day going into Kennedy Meadows with Amy. 17miles (2,200′ elevation) + 1mile off-trail Road walk into Kennedy Meadows. This was Amy’s longest hike by 5 miles!

Night-Hikes (hiking past 9pm): 2 out of 4 days – I convinced Amy that hiking at night got us out of having to hike more in the heat of the day. She agreed and suffered through hiking until 11pm, to the point of semi-hallucination, she was such a good sport. The next morning we got to enjoy a cool downhill into Kennedy Meadows, well, at least for the first 4 hours.  

Kennedy Meadows: 

Arriving In Kennedy Meadows felt like a huge milestone for me. I had a sense of accomplishment as if I had just overcome all of the trials that Hades put me through. See my separate post on finishing Kennedy Meadows (south), and it’s significance.

KM is not really a town, it’s more like a post office/store, 2 restaurants, a campground, and a gas station. It’s where all of your trail family claps to welcome you out of the desert, and where everyone reconvenes to start the Sierras together. Everyone gets their bear canisters here and eagerly organizes their resupplies so they can make sure everything fits – including the ice axe, and the microspikes.

After arriving at KM, we hung out eating pizza, sharing my amazing care package of treats from my friends Amy and Yuri in SF, caught up with some hikers, and even participated in a hiker open mic, before heading out to Bishop. Trail Angel Norm dropped off a large format hard copy of the photo he took of me and 3G – such a sweet surprise! Trail Angel Alzheimer (April) was able to drive our car from Lake Isabella to KM so that we didn’t have to make the long drive to Bishop even longer. She’s amazing. So much love for that lady.

Zero Days: 3 – at the Comfort Inn in Bishop:

Nearo Days (<10 miles): 0

Reconnecting with Amy:

While we hiked and throughout the week, Amy and I checked in about our intentions for this trip and about the future: what we wanted for ourselves and how to best navigate these next few months while I am on the trail.

We both wanted to build trust, to have fun, and reflect on what we needed to have a successful, peaceful relationship together.

We had just spent 10 days together, pretty much 24/7, and we worked together as a team beautifully. 

We spent 2 days relaxing in Lake Isabella, enjoying the hot springs, and reconnecting after 2-months of separation. The next 4 days we hiked 52 miles from Walker Pass to Kennedy Meadows, enjoying nature, giving Amy a taste of life on the trail. 

 This built a lot of trust between us: She needed to go slow and I was very compassionate to her needs and carried more weight so that she could have a lighter pack. She experienced the magic of trail angels, digging her own cat-holes, meeting some of my trail family, and hiking in the hot desert climate. She even got some blisters to take home.  

Sharing a tent with her was actually a pleasant experience! I had apprehensively expected it to be cramped, smelly, and uncomfortable. Being a smaller and more flexible person, she skillfully maneuvered around my small tent even with me inside. The best part was being able to wake up beside her everyday, something that I definitely want more of in my life.

Rock Climbing in Bishop:

We spent the first day in Bishop just recovering from the hiking and resting Amy’s blister, which had swelled up pretty badly. I was happy to take another zero day to rest my body and fuel up on town food with the comfort of a car and a hotel room to shower and do laundry. Amy washed my backpack which had not been washed since Cajon, back at Mile 342. We both loved Schats Bakkery, and filled up on sandwiches, fresh apricots, cookies, and pink lemonade.

We were here 3 times in 3 days – it was THAT good.

This just about captures what it’s like to eat a Turkey Avocado Sandwich at Schat’s – heavenly

I tried to catch up on my writing and Instagram posts while she researched the climbs that we would do in Owens River Gorge the next day.

For the next 2 days, Amy led some solid sport routes with me following nervously behind. It’s been a while since I’ve left my trail runners hugging the ground, let alone hanging out on a rope 80 feet in the air, but it felt exhilarating.  

My nerves quickly went away as we finished the first day. From my observations, Amy was solid, her confidence was apparent, and her climbing was strong. Amy and I worked really well together, and our communication, safety checks, and overall teamwork were flawless.

The steep approach down to the Warmup Wall and creek crossing to Atilla the Hun were equally difficult, especially given that Amy had to resort to wearing a single flip-flop on her blistered foot while the other one was in a normal hiking boot. It was a nice change of scenery and the 20lb rope/gear bags felt much lighter than normal compared to my backpack. We were the only crazy ones out there braving the 100deg heat, but I loved every single minute of it.

We woke up early the next 2 days to beat the sunrise and got to the gorge around 6:45am. However, the approach to the wall was super steep and with her painful blister, Amy had to resort to wearing one hiking boot and one flip-flop. Which is where her trail name came from.

We climbed from 8-12 the first day, and did 2 routes on Warm Up Wall and one route on Attila the Hun after spending about 45min trying to get across the gorge and having some trouble finding the route. Amy led everything beautifully and I cleaned and rappelled.  

The second day I had Amy leave the clips in one of the routes so that I could “gym lead” it, and it was a lot easier and more fun rather than terrifying. We had so much fun exploring, great communication throughout and overall built up a lot of trust as climbing partners.

Other than her existing blister, we were glad to have no injuries to report! She did get stuck in a mud pit for awhile though crossing the river.

Amy’s first and only water crossing – a nice mud bath for her blistered toe.

On our last day, we got back from an early morning climbing session, quickly showered, packed, and checked out of the hotel. Rather than our usual sandwich at Schat’s Bakkery, I wanted to try the holy grail of Texas BBQ in Bishop, so we went to Holy Smoke and I had enough BBQ for 2 people.

Then we stopped by Schats one last time to pick up more post cards and a yummy gift for my Aunt and Uncle and then drove back to KM.  
We spent some time hanging out in KM and organizing my food for the next 6 days before Independence. I was worried I didn’t have enough, but it was already so heavy that I was thankful to have Amy there to take away all the food I couldn’t bring (I also got a 4-pound care package from my parents!)

This is what 6-days of food looks like: 10 pounds!

Day 31 to 39: Casa de Luna (Mile 478) to Walker Pass (Mile 652) via Hiker Town, Tehachapi, and Lake Isabella

NOTE: This post is now somewhat outdated and delayed but most of it had been written in real-time. I was occupied having too much fun with Amy and without much WIFI service 😊
Mojave desert sufferfest, Reconnecting with Amy, the LA aqueduct, Wind Turbine Capital of America, and 3 back-to-back Marathons

Track My SPOT GPS Location Here

This section seems like it’s the most skipped of all the sections in the desert. No one really likes the 100degF days, the 20-Mile water carries, and the dry and windy terrain that makes your skin crack, your nose bleed, and breaks your spirit just like it breaks your sun umbrella. It take a lot of endurance and stubbornness to get through it.

3G (Sara) and I at Mile 566: Tehachapi, standing in the same location that Cheryl Strayed started her Wild journey in 1995.

Longest Day: 30-miles with 4,600ft elevation – was racing to get to Walker Pass (Lake Isabella) to meet Amy, and pulled a 13hr-day + 4hr-night hike until 12:30am so that I only had to do 23 miles the next day rather than 26 by 7pm.

Night-Hikes (hiking past 9pm): 5 out of 9 days – 15 out of 39 days total.  

Cowboy Camping Nights (sleeping without a tent): 4 out of 9 nights – 12 out of 39 days total.
Zero Days: 1 – a much needed day of relaxation in Lake Isabella with Amy after pushing 79miles in 3 days. It was the hardest physical feat I had ever accomplished (at the time) – although now I’m in the Sierras as I finish this post, things have quickly changed. I learned that my body was capable of so much more than I had thought was possible, it adapted to the heat, to running downhill on soft sand, to night hiking past the point of delirium. It was the thought of seeing her and knowing that she would take care of me that gave me the constant motivation to keep going. And she spoiled me rotten. I’d like to discuss how we reconnected and decided on this visit at a later time, in a separate post, but for now, yes, my at-the-time ex-girlfriend who I had not seen or talked to for almost 2 months, came and visited me on the trail.

She booked a clean and comfortable room at the Lakeshore Lodge and fed me as much homemade food as I could manage to eat. She showed up with a cooler full of my favorite things: her famous turkey avocado and arugula sandwiches, baked satsuma sweet potatoes, oranges, watermelon, gingerade Kombucha, coconut water, and a 12-pack of grapefruit lecroix soda. After a night of pampering me with massages at the hotel, we went to Remington Hotsprings the next day, a local favorite, and had all-you-can-eat ribs at Nelda’s diner complete with cherry pie and ice cream. There even happened to be an early 4th of July fireworks on the lake, which we got to enjoy together. It was all so very Disney-romantic.

Nearo Days (<10 miles): 1 – Amy and I night hiked from Lake Isabella for 5 miles up to a campsite for her first day. It was hot out and we didn’t want to push too hard on her first hike. I was also carrying about 10 pounds more than I had been used to with the bear can and all of our shared food for the next 4 days. 

Amy’s first night hike! We counted 14 scorpions that night.

PCT Miles Skipped: 6+8: 14. It’s been my every intention to do every mile (or more, considering the fact that I get lost and explore a lot). However, after a tough day of being on my period and suffering through the worst day of gnats and horse flies ever, and then rolling my ankle while running down the hill to Hiker Town, I opportunistically found an off-roading father-son duo that pulled over to give me a 6-mile hitch to Hiker Town. This was the most compassion I could have for myself because I had been seriously been considering quitting the trail that day. My period cramps are usually unbearable for the first 2 days, and I’m often so weak and fatigued that I would normally stay home and do nothing…if I were home. But on the trail, and knowing I still had to average 25 miles over the next 6 days, I really had no choice but to keep pushing through the pain.

Then, when I got to Tehachapi, the easiest hitch into town was from a highway that cut 8-miles off the trail, which is where I got a ride. However, after picking up my resupply and getting a care package from Bianca and Debbie, I decided that skipping the 8-miles would be the best way for me to keep up the momentum and still be able to reach Amy in time.  I’ve definitely more than made up for the miles now though through my off-trail adventures and fire detours.

Great food overall and even street tacos that were on-par with those from The Mission (SF) at Neenach Market near Hikertown. The store owners gives free shuttle rides every hour to and from Hikertown.

LA Aqueduct Night Hiking: 17miles along the (at least flat) aqueduct with no water, and would have been 105degF during the day. No thanks. We started at 8pm and didn’t camp until 17miles later at 3am. It was a great night of sharing break-up and make-up stories with Barbaloot and Philipedes, singing, and bonding over the otherwise dark and monotonous walk.

Nights Slept in Town: 2 – Lake Isabella: Lakeshore Lodge, and Trail Angel Alzheimer’s (April) house 

April opens her house in Mountain Mesa (Lake Isabella) to hundreds of hikers and is an absolutely wonderful human being.

April also dropped us off at the trailhead the next day and then even drove Amy’s rental car up to Kennedy Meadows when we got there after 5 days!


Day 43: Mile 702, Kennedy Meadows (Click Here for Current GPS Location)

Now that I’ve finally arrived at Kennedy Meadows, a place only in my imagination, was I capable of reaching just a few months ago, I’m reminded of what brought me here in the first place. And I notice within me now, a deep desire to renew my commitment to the trail.

Panda in her happy place 🐼

Why am I Hiking the PCT?

Ever wish you could press the reset button on life? I sure did.

Living in San Francisco with roommates and moving from one housing situation to another every 9 months, disentangling my 12-year relationship and financial responsibilities with my ex-partner, and working in a hectic engineering on-call support role, it was tough to find stability and peace on a day to day basis. It was only a few years ago that I had managed to wean myself from my depression medication and now I was constantly struggling to stay afloat again without them.

The neurobiology of the impact of prolonged stress on increased incidences of anxiety and depression is well-understood. I knew I had to break the cycle of my stressful environment that seemed more and more unmanageable in order to prevent myself from another depressive episode that would potentially take years to recover from.

I had been dating Amy on and off for about a year when I realized that I needed to make some drastic changes to my life in order to be really happy and healthy. I needed a new work environment, a new living situation where I had more stability and control of my own space, and I needed to decouple my financials from my ex, since we still owned our house in Oakland together.

My Love for Walking

The trail had always been in the back of my mind since hiking 100 miles of the John Muir Trail last July. Walking, I discovered, was the best form of meditation and restorative activity for me. Whatever stress I felt, no matter how overwhelming, seemed to be dissipated by walking. Unlike other forms of physical exercise such as running, cycling, yoga, or climbing that I used to de-stress, walking has never caused me any injuries. When I went to my physical therapist for my chronic IT Band, hip, and lower back issues earlier this year, she suggested that I stop riding my bike, start using my standing desk at work, and try walking everywhere that I would normally bike to for one month. I begrudgingly followed these orders since nothing else seemed to provide relief. A month later, I discovered that daily walking made a huge difference in my posture and hip pain. As it turns out, it’s extremely difficult to get repetitive stress injuries from walking!

When I discovered thruhiking, it made walking that much more intentional: a way to focus on connecting with myself and learning about the universe through meditation. It was actually a birthday present in November of 2016, a resource book for planning resupplies on the PCT, given to me by my friend Adam, who shares my love for hiking, that really planted the seed for me. Then, in March, when I applied for and received my PCT permit, that dream became a reality.

All the Pieces Falling into Place

However, to really commit to the PCT meant that I had to make some tough decisions. In April, I left my 8.5-year career as an engineer in biotech, a move that really made me feel like I had lost my professional identity. But in my departure from Genentech, I was reminded over and over that my professional network is strong, and those that know me well will be there to help me find fulfilling work when I get back. Realizing this was an immense amount of security and comfort.

On the personal side, Amy and I had been struggling to find ways to compromise and communicate through our differences, and decided that it would be best to part ways in March. It was a painful breakup, but we both knew that it was the best thing at the time for us to let go of our relationship. It was both through her support and the pain of our breakup that finally gave me the courage and motivation to leave San Francisco in pursuit of my PCT dreams.

Finally, once my ex-partner and I finalized the sale of our house at the end of April, we celebrated the end of our successful financial partnership and was able to move forward into a new phase of friendship. I had never felt so free of any financial, professional, or romantic responsibility in my life. The liberation propelled me into an ecstatic frenzy of meticulous preparation for the PCT, and with only 5 weeks to shop for gear, train, and plan my resupplies, I was more than happy to focus my energy on this new exciting journey. I pressed that reset button on May 23rd, 2017, the first night I stepped foot onto the PCT from Campo, CA.

Kennedy Meadows

Here I am now, 6 weeks into the trail, at Kennedy Meadows (KM), the “Gateway to the Sierras” as they call it. It’s a significant milestone for many reasons – according to the 2016 PCTA Survey:

  • Less than 25% completed the full trail
  • The majority quit within the first 700 miles of the Southern California desert section.
  • Most common reason for leaving the trail: emotional issues, second only to injury

Getting to KM means you’ve also completed over 25% of the trail, and you’ve survived the desert.

The desert section of the PCT is often referred to as Bootcamp – it breaks you down, and builds you up, and prepares you physically and emotionally to tackle what’s yet to come: 2,000 more miles including the highest peak in the lower US, Mt. Whitney. The last 6 weeks have been brutal: 700+ miles of dry, arid terrain, 14-hr days in 100deg heat, 20-Mile waterless stretches, sore muscles that never seem to go away, painful blisters on my feet and chafing on my hips from my pack, 60mph wind gusts that have knocked me down, endless nausea that comes with dehydration, eating the same trailmix everyday and smelling my own sweaty stench, sunburns, blackfly swarms that follow you for miles, and horsefly bites that are as painful as bee stings.

The quest to find shade in the desert never stops.

Chafing, filthy feet, and a tent repurposed for a bug net.

Yet, there’s no place I’d rather be.  

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t days that I want to quit. There’s been at least 3 days that I can distinctly remember – Day 10: When I was dehydrated and bonking on the hot 18-Mile detour around the fire closure in Idyllwild, Day 32: When I was traumatized by 15 miles of swarming black flies, and then rolled my ankle trying to run away from them, and Day 34: while on the 2nd day of my period, and after 5 hours of sleep after a night of hiking until 3am, I was getting beat up by 50-60mph gusts of headwinds going uphill in the Mojave.  

Still, this is exactly where I’m meant to be right now.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t cry when I’m overwhelmed with the idea of having to walk another mile when my feet ached so much with pain. That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss my friends and family at home. I do, so very much. It means that when I’m truly suffering with hopelessness and despair, and thinking that I won’t be able to make it to Canada, I dig deep and remind myself of why I’m out here in the first place: to grow.

It really helps when your friends at home send care packages full of treats you can’t buy at gas stations in town

It really helps to have complete strangers (and if you’re lucky like me, ex-girl friends) surprise you with warm gifts of food, water, shelter, and hugs.

The trail is transforming me every single day. My body feels strong: my skin has weathered to offer more protection, and my muscles have grown to better withstand carrying the weight of my pack up and down these mountains, and my feet move more nimbly over rocks and sand. My mind is clear, and my spirit is humble, yet tenacious and free. I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, filthy dirty, and exhausted. I’m focused on only the most basic needs for survival. And for whatever reason, this gives me so much desire for all things beautiful and true. I feel so intimately connected to the land and its plants and animals, to myself and my thoughts, to the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been. It has taught me the most valuable lesson of all, which is to always have love and compassion for myself and others. Because we’re all just here to survive.

Thank you desert, for sharing all of your beauty and your teachings. With gratitude, I will take these lessons with me into the Sierras, where new sets of challenges lie.  

It really helps when friends from home surprise you with a ginormous box of treats so that you can make it rain trail magic on the tramily.

It really helps to have tramily you can count on for night hikes and to share shade with.

It really helps when people from “the real world” volunteer to be tortured with you

Day 20-30: Holcomb Creek (Mile 293) to Green Valley (Mile 478) via Cajon Pass, Wrightwood, Acton, and Agua Dulce

I’m not homeless, I just look like it, First Rattlesnake Encounter, Terrifying Off-Trail Free-solo rock climbing, Hot Springs magic, Night Hiking, Hiker Heaven, and Summer Solstice – aka Hike Naked Day*
*Warning: PG-13 nudity below, may be NSFW

Currently @ PCT Mile 478 (Track my Spot GPS Location Here)

Mt. Baden-Powell – named after the founder of the Boy Scouts: Lord Baden-Powell. A few boy scouts were hiking up with me and none of them would take my pack.

Day 20, Mile 327, Silverwood Lake Picnic Area

​A woman who was speed boating today with her family at Silverwood Lake saw me lying on the picnic bench with my gear exploded all over the table during my midday siesta. She walked up to me with a large black garbage bag as they were leaving and said, 

“There’s some recycling in here if you want it.”

I chuckled and said, 

“No, thank you. I’m not actually homeless, I’m just hiking the PCT.”
She felt a little embarrassed but redeemed herself by offering me a bottle of water when I went to go filter from the lake.
That was a first! Clearly I could be better about my hygiene.

Injury/Illness Report:
First ever blister! I think got it after spending too much time at the Acton KOA pool, which softened my calluses. It’s a skinny and long blister, at the bottom of my pinky toe. Quite painful, so I slowed down to 15-Mile days for a couple days. Haven’t popped it, and don’t want to risk infection, so letting it rest and dry out throughout the day has been manageable. Of all the injuries that take people off the trail, the most common is an infected blister. This is the reason for my blister paranoia and good foot care management.

Happy Fathers Day!

It was Sunday when I made it to the top of Mt. Williamson so I had some service to call my dad!  Shortly after though, mom hijacked the phone.  I’m so grateful to this man for teaching me to be courageous, to believe in myself, to face my fears head-on, and to literally climb mountains. These skills have shone through and through on the trail.  I love you dad!

Longest Day: Day 21 – 30miles from Mojave Dam to Cajon

Zero Days: 1 – in Cajon after my first and ever 30 miler. It was a splendid day of stretching, massages with olive oil, and catching up on sleep.

Nearo Days (<10 miles): 0

Off-Trail Miles (Unplanned and Detours): 7 – a 4-mile section was closed from 390-394 due to the Mountain Yellow Frog, so I had to take a 3-Mile road walk and a 2 mile trail detour. A few miles for extra water, a midday siesta in the shade, and to get into towns where hitching was not practical.
Nights Slept in Town: 3 – Cajon (Best Western), Agua Dulce (Hiker Heaven’s yard), and Green Valley (Casa de Luna’s yard)

# of Nights Cowboy Camped so far: 8 out of 29 – basically whenever there is no rain, no bugs, or risk of critters like the 6 scorpions I saw in just one 12-Mile stretch.

Large scorpion, about 5″ long

# of Night Hikes (Hiking after 8:30pm): 6 out of 29

Currently Listening to: Adele, Beyoncé, Michael Jackson. Got Spotify Premium! Anyone wanna make me a playlists?

Currently Reading: Biology and Human Behavior: the Neurological Origins of Individuality – Robert Sapolsky, Stanford University

Finished the entire course of 24 lectures. Fascinating stuff that makes me wish I took more neuroscience classes at Smith. Did you know that the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for gratification postponement and thus impulsivity, among many other functions, doesn’t fully mature until the age of ~25? Also learned that pregnant mothers develop new neurons in their olfactory system which has been thought to be an evolutionary process in order to form a deeper bond with the smell of their newborns? This also explains why some women develop aversions to certain foods/smells during pregnancy.

Rattlesnake Encounters: 

1 – First sighting! Well, one sighting on my own, and another that was pointed out to me. First, there was a hiker ahead of me and pointed one out that he scared into the bushes. He was huge! Rattlesnakes can live up to 20 years – they gain one rattle per year. This guy was was dark brown and had at least 12 rattles, I was too scared to get close enough to examine in detail. He was coiled and ready to pounce, but wasn’t rattling at us.

A couple days later, just after the sun went down, I noticed a baby rattler coiled up next to a large tree on the trail as I approached, just 4-5 feet away. It was not rattling, but from the spotted patterns, I could tell it was a rattlesnake. Having heard that babies are the most dangerous due to their lack of control of their venom delivery – and thus can deliver the most lethal doses, I kept a safe distance. I tried to get it to move by throwing small rocks at it, but my aim from 5 feet away was horrendous, and couldn’t get it to move. Then, I tried to poke it with my hiking stick and he finally started rattling and slithered down the hill along the roots of the tree. His rattle was so high-pitched, that he sounded like the cutest baby rattler ever.

Baby rattler, about 12″ long

Other snakes: 2

Bags of Sea Salt and Vinegar Kettle Chips Consumed: 6
Vitamin I (Ibrubprofen) Consumed: 0 yay!

Thinking a lot About: 

My poor decision making when tired, hungry, and dehydrated.

As I approached Deep Creek, Mile 307, and from what I had heard, was one of the best hot springs on the trail in the desert section, I noticed many side trails leading down to some swimming holes and got really excited. I saw that I was only 0.3 miles away from the actual hot springs, so I took a steep side trail down to the water. I passed a heavily stickered Nalgene bottle, and picked it up, thinking a hiker had dropped it, but upon further examination, noticed that it was cracked in 3 places with a hole at the bottom. Trash. Conveniently that day, I had decided to pick up every piece of trash I encountered, to do my part in the LNT community, and so I tied it to my pack. There were many other clues that hikers had been there not too long before me, so I kept traversing the area hoping to make my way to Deep Creek. Unfortunately, I got to a spot where I was faced with 3 choices: swim around a large boulder to the springs, climb up 60 feet of boulders, or go back the way I came. I chose #2, which as OT Panda, I figured was the most efficient, and adventurous choice.

It was a very bad decision. With my 25# pack, and poles, it was very unwieldy. So I collapsed my poles and secured them to my pack and started free-soloing up the boulders looking for the trail. What appeared to be a class 5 scramble turned into chossy, loose rock and sand, requiring many high-stepping and stemming moves. At one point, I was climbing 20 feet above the water and the exposure left me terrified and I started to panic. Visuals of me slipping and tumbling down with my pack and bouncing off the rocks into the water started flashing before my eyes. Remembering the head-control techniques from my climbing clinic with Brett Harrington last year, I stopped and took deep breaths until I was able to regain my composure and think clearly. I took what I thought was the safest approach back up the trail, which required a lot of risky maneuvers involving my feet slipping down a few inches of sand and rocks at a time next to a manzanita tree that I tried to hold to regain my balance. Somehow, I made it back to the trail after 60 feet of scrambling and free soloing with my pack and the broken Nalgene bottle knocking back and forth, and I felt like the luckiest girl alive.

High-balling/free soloing this Class 5

When I got to the hot springs finally just a few minutes later, I was still shaking with adrenaline and in no mood to interact with the 12-15 other hikers there. It wasn’t until I had spent some time swimming and sitting silently in the hot springs that my nervous system finally felt a sense of peace and calm.

It was the magic of the hot springs that cured me of my fear and body aches. That night, I felt so great that I continued hiking in the evening from 7-11pm and covered another 8 miles feeling completely alive and refreshed.

Top Trail Town Experiences:

1) Cajon Pass (Phelan)

Best Western: Free breakfast with fresh fruit, tramily bonding, hair braiding services, showers, laundry, a queen size bed to myself, and olive oil massages with Arff, a photographer/film maker from Michigan at Best Western. OD’ing at McDonald’s after my first (and only) 30-Mile day, and my first Del Taco experience were the highlights of my Zero Day here.

The bubble

So meta: Teri braiding a bracelet while I braid her hair.


Railroads galore

I love evening hiking for views that shimmer like this in the setting sun

2) Wrightwood

Haircut and resupply! Got a care package from my parents with homemade beef jerky – made me very popular with the trail family.

Jesse and I both got our haircuts from Heidi – mine was her first ever hipster cut.

Mom’s homemade beef jerky and seaweed were a great nutritional boost to my food supply

3) Acton

KOA RV park here got me showered, laundered, and poolpartied for $10. The ice cream and cold drink selection was also top-notch.

4) Agua Dulce

Got here in time for Taco Tuesday at Maria Bonita’s and had chicken, carnitas, and fish tacos that could definitely hold up to ones from The Mission. Staying at Hiker Heaven and the Saufley’s was a real treat. It was relaxing, restorative, and one of the most organized and well-run host locations in this section of the PCT. I left my Mountain Hardwear down jacket there and didn’t realize it until I was already 12 miles away, and I was able to call Donna (the amazing woman that runs Hiker Heaven) the next day who quickly found it and gave it to Avner to bring up to me at the next town stop.

Trailrunners for days! A few folks upgraded their shoes here.

They took in this care package from Jo, which was filled with awesome goodies like salt and vinegar chips, bacon jerky, kale chips, and chocolate covered almonds, which quickly turned into chocolate-almond spread. So good!

Look at that pack organization!

Dedicated trailer for hikers to nap, cook, and watch Netflix.

Their backyard was perfect for cowboy camping

 5) Green Valley

Casa de Luna was only a 24-Mile night hike and a morning hike after, but a nice pit stop before tackling the heat again.

Mama T and Joe makes breakfast pancakes and taco salad dinner for all the hikers everyday, and gives ride back to the trail. They normally make hikers do a dance for a commemorative PCT bandana, but they had just run out before we got there – wheew, just narrowly escaped the embarrassment!

Too hot for pants, but Avner looks great in a dress!

Milestone Moment:

400 miles down, my first 30-miler, and my first ever naked-hiking experience.  

June 21st, was the summer solstice, and it was also Hike Naked Day. I’ve been excited to participate ever since I saw some naked hikers on the JMT last year. I thought they were just crazy hippies, and didn’t ask questions, but later found out that it was actually a thru-hiker tradition. So this year, it lined up perfectly with my night-hike plans out of Agua Dulce, so once I got on the trail, I took everything off except my shoes, socks, and gaiters, and walked about 4 miles until I felt the chaffing from my pack get to a point where it caused an open wound on my hip. Practical logic overrides tradition sometimes.

I thought there would be a group of fast hikers that would catch up to me, but they left a couple hours later and so I never even crossed paths with anyone else while hiking in my birthday suit. Lucky me!

Since if it’s not documented, it didn’t happen!