Oh Where, Oh Where Have I Gone?

Bright spot on the trail.

I apologize for the absence here on Beyond the Range.  A situation on the PCT and then in our country have led me to “listen to my gut,” and go home from the trail. After traveling across our country through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and finally Minnesota, I am self quarantined at home in Northern Minnesota.

When we left for the trail on February 26, 2020, I was aware of the coronavirus cases in China. The virus was on my radar. I wasn’t too concerned about the virus as I thought, “I’m going to be on trail. What’s to worry about?”  Then the cruise ship passengers were being allowed on land at San Diego, CA. No worries, they are quarantined.  I started hiking March 2. As I headed north, I became aware of San Diego County. In fact, I was hiking in San Diego County. If I was hiking in San Diego County, that means I’m near San Diego. Which means, I am near the coronavirus.

First days on PCT.

Being on a trail hiking, mostly means, I have a disconnect from what is really going on in the world, our country and my home.  On the Appalachian Trail, I remember going in to town for a resupply and seeing the United States flag flying at half staff. I had no idea why, but I knew in my gut something bad had happened in our nation. Five police officers were killed and 9 others injured in a shooting in Dallas Texas it was July 7, 2016. I almost dreaded doing a resupply after that, I wondered, “I’m I going to see our flag at half staff again?”

Last day on the trail.

I decided as I headed up the PCT that I wouldn’t be surprised by anything happening off the trail and so I watched and listened as the virus took hold of the world and then our country. I made a decision half way through the day, of what would become my last day on the trail. “It is time to go home.” I will get to that critical last day in a future blog. For now, I will write about our journey home.

During the day of March 14, 2020, Tom and I decided on a plan to drive home.  In my mind, it made the most sense to leave before the state had us sheltering in place and unable to go home.  Kyle, who I was hiking with, and his wife Amy wanted to hang out one day before we headed home and we made a plan to go to Joshua Tree National Park to camp for 2 nights and then we would go home. Kyle was making plans to hike north from Hwy. 74, as he was thru hiking.  We got to Joshua Tree around 3:00 pm on March 15th and drove to every single campground there.  The sites were all taken.  We drove out the the park and went to the city, 29 Palms and boon-docked in the Tortoise Rock Casino parking lot for the night.  In the morning we said our goodbyes.

Betty the dog, Amy, Kyle, Tom and Sookie

Sometimes, Tom and I like to take less traveled roads to see more of our country and to get off the freeways.  We headed out on Hwy. 62. The road had fewer and fewer homes as we traveled east. In fact, there were long stretches of natural terrain and empty road. To pass the time, I Googled, “Hwy. 62, CA.” I found out that we were now traveling along a road that was 3X more dangerous than the average. Studies have been done to try and figure out why.  I thought to myself, “Yup, that’s about par for the course.” I put the article away and help Tom with my backseat driving abilities.  (haha)

Hwy 62, mile marker 108, Shoe Fence

When we crossed the border into Arizona, I thought now it won’t be long until we are home. Let me just tell you, we were still a long ass way from home! We stopped for the night in Holbrook, AZ. Tom wanted to stay an extra night so we could have a decent amount of time to check out the Petrified Forest National Park. So, the next day we headed into the park.  Social distancing had become a thing. The signs posted in the park, stated 6-10 feet. Also, only 8 people at a time could be inside any structure.  We had an enjoyable morning in the park.

Petrified Wood

The afternoon was spent at  Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. There is a spectacular collection of rocks and minerals to enjoy looking at. I also wanted to check out the Navajo County Historical Museum. I knew our chances may be small as back at home our local museum, Minnesota Discovery Center had shuttered it’s doors. I was interested in the history of the town and the ghosts that haunted within the courthouse walls. Alas, the museum had been closed to the public.  Next stop, Geronimo’s Trading Post to see the largest petrified log in the world. It is pretty big.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That night, the wind howled like crazy as a winter storm blew through the area.  We came upon snow covered roads within 30 miles east of Holbrook.DSC01167webDSC01169web By the time we had traveled into New Mexico we had seen 5 semis in the ditch.  We also started to see digital freeway signs warning us of the virus. DSC01184webWe stopped in a few groceries stores on our way as I knew we had little supplies back at our house. These stops came with more signs, limits on purchases of certain items as well as empty shelves.  All cleaning supplies and toilet paper were gone as well as rice, noodles, canned goods. One store didn’t have any meat.

One of many empty shelves through nine states.

It is interesting to see what people fear. I was always told on the trail, I would carry the most of what I was afraid of not having. I always had too much food. Since 2016, I have gotten better about not having a lot of food as I hike, but back to the present.  In Kansas people had bought up all the flour and sugar and butter. The middle of our nation went for products that they could make items with. The pizza shelves weren’t empty until southern Minnesota. Well, that is when I first noticed that item. The thing that I did notice, was that the fresh fruit and vegetables were always plentiful. We are a strange breed, us humans. Or is it WHAT the media and corporations have sold us on?

We (Minnesota) got meat!

As we drove through Minneapolis and St. Paul, it was eerily quiet. I think the only other time I remember it like that was in 1980 when I lived down there and drove through at 5 am. I am glad my state is taking this serious.

Through St. Paul, Minnesota

We arrived back home with snow falling all around us, but I knew we were safe. My hope is, that we weren’t unknowingly carrying the virus through the areas we came through.  I had Tom wipe his hands, car handle and steering wheel after pumping gas. If that isn’t a cesspool of germs, I don’t know what is. We tried to stay as far away from people as we could. We never ate a meal out.

Carbing up for the hike.

To the hiker community.  I hope you take the cautions to heart. We have all been asked to leave the trails by the trail associations across our country. Hikers who have posted on social media that they are heeding the warnings are being vilified. It is such behavior as this, that has caused in the past few years, hostels to close for good and trail towns and trail angels to stop helping us.  Think of it this way. A pebble is tossed into a pond. The initial plop seems small. Then you see the ripple and it expands and expands and expands until the whole pond is altered.  Personally, I don’t want to be a part of that cause and effect and I hope you don’t either. May we all work together for a change. It’s a time to be selfless not selfish.

“The trail isn’t going anywhere. It will be there the next time you can set your foot on it.” -AT hiker 2016

Petroglyph at Petrified Forest National Park


Tramily, Life Long Friends

Whatever Works, High Top, Lambo, and pup Momo 2016

When I hiked the AT, I had no idea who might enter my life. I had read about trail families, fondly referred to as tramilies. When I saw Spirit in a shelter in The Smokies, I immediately knew I wanted to talk to her. Unfortunately, that first evening, Spirit was wrapped snug as a bug asleep by the time I had settled down in the cold damp shelter. I figured I could catch a word in the morning, but when I awoke, she was long gone. It was another day of cold, wet rain. With head down, I headed to Clingman’s Dome. Cold and wet, I met Tinkerbell and we decided to hitchhike to Gatlinburg. The next morning, I opened the door to do my laundry which was across the hall and there, before my eyes sat Spirit.

Sookie and Spirit 2019

Spirit, would become part of my tramily and a life long friend. Next would come Whatever Works, Lambo, High Top and Momo, 10 Bear, Little Bear, Saint Nick, and Lindsay Taylor Jackson. Being in a tramily has the same dynamics as a real family. That is life. There are ups, downs and distance.

Whatever Works, High Top, Lambo and pup Momo

As I headed out on the PCT, I wasn’t looking for a tramily. I was coming out to morn the recent death of my father, who was an avid outdoorsman. The first day on trail, the people that passed me weren’t very friendly. Barely acknowledging me as I said hello. That was fine with me. As I set up my tent that night though, two young men camped near me and were very polite. We shared a few laughs before the rain chased us into our tents for the night.

My parents

Somewhere around the end of day four, Kyle entered my husband Tom’s and my life. Tom had hiked out to met me at Mount Laguna. I had passed this man who was catching his breath. We exchanged greetings and as I mentioned Tom to him, Tom appeared on trail. Kyle asked if he could join us, as his wife was waiting for him at Mount Laguna. We said yes, and he fell in step behind us.

Kyle on the PCT

Kyle and I have been hiking together ever since. Tom and Kyle’s wife Amy and dog Betty have been helping us both move north up the trail. Some nights we camp on trail, but slackpacking has become our favorite mode of travel.


For now, we travel together. In the future we will part on the trail when I am done with my section hike and he continues with his thru. One thing I know, we will all remain friends long past the trail.

Kyle and Sookie

“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore.

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

This medieval proverb used by English farmers, meant that when circumstances where favorable to cut, dry and store hay for their animals for the winter, to take advantage of that time.

More sun here than Minnesota!

The same can be said about my time on the trail hiking. I am trying to pay as much attention to the weather forecasts as the locations and miles on the trail. Sometimes weather can take me by surprise, as you read in the last blog about the hail. Since then, I have been on the Weather Channel app and the PCTA Weather forecasts trying to look for storms.

Brrr hail!

When I was on the AT in 2016, those around me watched the weather and so I would just listen to them. I also watched the sky. Around the time I arrived in Pennsylvania, I started hiking with 10 Bear, Little Bear and Saint Nick. As time went on, I noticed that 10 Bear has this uncanny (research and planning) ability to always find refuge out of the storm. In reality, what hiker wants to add more weight to their pack with wet gear? It was awesome!!!

Coming storm.
10 Bear studying the trail guide.

Turning the clock forward, this weather watching has fallen to me by necessity. I am in a dry camper tonight with my husband Tom, listening to the rain and possibly hail at times get blown against us. I can imagine what this would be like in a tent. I have spent many nights in a tent in such weather.

Port in a storm.
Safe and dry

I knew this storm was coming. A local said so a week ago. I have read the weather updates and so the sunny days which have been many, I have been on trail making my way north.

Under 100 miles P C T
Wind in my hair.

There was a morning I hiked in a drizzle, but I knew eventually the sun was going to shine that day and dry me out. I didn’t mind it. The wind that day and the day before was amazing as was yesterday’s. I know that wind can be a warning of things to come. I trying to get out of my hiker zone long enough to register in my mind, those kind’s of changes on the trail. For tonight, I’m grateful to be in a dry bed. I bet you are too.

Hiking in rain.

“When the sun shines make hay. Which is to say…take time when the time comes, in case time wastes away.” – John Heywood

Smooth Move Sookie

Let me just apologize now about my topic of this blog. I know you were probably thinking that my first on the trail blog was going to be about my crazy day one. Well, I will tell you about that in another blog. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in by me sayin, yipPEE ki yay! Urine for the long haul.

Pony Bath

Last year, on the Appalachian Trail at the Grayson Highlands State Park, in Virginia, Tom, Spirit and myself stayed at the Thomas Knob shelter.

Tom avoiding his bath.

The wild ponies were hanging out and the three of us managed to all get licked by the ponies. Mine was more like a bath, but no sense in bragging.

Pony scratching stick.

Around supper time, a man from the Far East arrived with a backpack that weighed more than him. No joke. He only said a few words in English which led to a quiet evening from him. He slept in the shelter on the opposite side from us. In the morning while we were eating breakfast, he got up, took five steps from the shelter and emptied a full Nalgene bottle of pee. We were shocked to say the least.

Giant pack.

He hadn’t left the shelter since the day before and we all slept in there together. Hmm.

It’s not that far.

In 2016, once again Spirit and I were going to sleep in a shelter. A man came in towards hiker midnight (7 pm), he didn’t smell very good. I ended up next to him. Whenever he rolled over, I caught a whiff of him. I tell you no lie, this guy smelled like cat piss.


Let’s fast forward to three nights ago. My knee acted up the first day. Multiple reasons why. I won’t list them. At 6:30 pm it was lights out. I’m snug as a bug in my tent. It drizzled off and on. I fell right to sleep to the sounds of chirping frogs. I woke up and I think, “Boy do I feel rested. It must almost be 6:30 am.” I lay there for half an hour. I’m near Hauser Creek and I think, any minute the sun will be up. Time ticks by, no daylight in sight and so I finally turn on my phone. 2:30 am! Are you kidding me, I’m ready to start my day. Ugh!!! I feel the urge to pee. I think, “Bad knee and what were all those rustling noises around my tent. Snakes no doubt!” So…I found the largest Zip-lock bag I could find, kneeled on one knee while trying to keep the sore knee straight. All was going well until I felt wet warmth running down my kneeled leg. “Oh Crap! Turn off the water works!!!” Brother, right now I dislike all the women on Facebook who suggested this very stupid idea. Just get the hell out of your tent. Snakes be damned.

Seriously…IT RAINED!

Now I had wet long underwear and wet sleeping bag. It’s a good thing I had moved all my electronics. I wiped everything down with toilet paper and baby wipes. Took off my long underwear and curled up in my sleeping bag. “Is that urine I smell?”

“I gotta pee.” – Forrest Gump

1 Day Before Launch

My husband Tom and I spent the morning scouting out the southern terminus of the PCT. The day is overcast. There is a winter weather advisory for snow and wind in the next 24 hours. The temps have been in the high forties most of the day. The first thing we saw at the terminus, was the wall between the United States and Mexico. We weren’t there long before Border Patrol drove by. The Patrol is very active in the area. A few hikers were dropped off to start their Thru hike. We hung out for a short time talking to an Uber driver from San Diego who had just dropped off a hiker.

After a while, we thought we heard a noise along the corrugated metal wall. We went to investigate and who do we see sneaking in from Mexico, Yuri and his girlfriend Huivi. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Yuri seems to go missing for a while all the time, but he always seems to turn up when I’m starting my next adventure.

Yuri and Huivi sneaking across the border

Once the fourth of us were secure in our vehicle, Yuri started to tell us this story about his lost time in Mexico. It was something about a pack of coyotes dragging him through the drug tunnels… I could only listen for so long. I mean really, he is always telling some fantastical tale.

We returned to our camp at Lake Morena, and I went through my food pack twice, then on to gear. I decided to take my zero degree sleeping bag due to the weather, even though it is heavy.

My bag is packed and all I have to do is grab water and camera gear. I have a 20 mile hike to get back to Lake Morena. Then the next section I will head the 20 miles to Mount Laguna.

Right now I am glad I am inside our camper as it is raining in fits and starts. One more warm night before I am out in the elements.