Oh Where, Oh Where Have I Gone?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

DSC00950
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)

DSC00983
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.

DSC01034web
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.

IMG_4506
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?

DSC01198web
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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

DSC01075web
Petroglyph at Petrified Forest National Park

 

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.

Blue
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

FIRE!

I wish I could tell you that I never set the woods on fire, but that just isn’t the case. When I was around 8-9 years old, I was pretending to camp with my younger brother Vern and 2 younger cousins. We were in the small woods behind our house. I couldn’t tell you if I was taught how to make a campfire by my dad or not. We had gone camping in the BWCA quite often and so I know I had observed how to make a campfire.

Anyway, I had snuck matches from the house. The 4 of us were playing camping and so I guess I figured we needed a campfire. It was a dry spring with lots of dry grass. I lit the first fire and we stomped it out and thought that was fun. I lit 3 more spots and that is when the real trouble started. The fires grew and we were no longer able to put them out. We had an empty Skippy Peanut Butter glass jar and so we were running to fill the jar with water down a dirt road behind the fire and the house. The fire was gaining in size and at this point, I sent my brother home to tell dad. I guess you could say we were lucky it was Sunday afternoon as 2 more Uncles had shown up. After that, all I remember was a lot of yelling, crying and Uncles with shovels trying to put the fire out.

Once extinguished, we were all covered in soot. I was sent to my bedroom for the rest of the afternoon. I remember watching my cousins laughing and playing outside while a was shut away. I’m not sure what my punishment was after everyone went home, but I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant.

I learned how dangerous fire can be and how fast it can get out of hand. My dad taught me the proper way to have a campfire after that.

Two September’s ago I hiked out on the KEK Trail alone for 3 days. There had been terrible blow-downs with the most recent in 2016. It was raining the day I went in but sunny and windy when I headed out. The amount of deadfall along the trail was scary. All I could do was imagine the conflagration if a wildfire broke out or a careless hiker or camper left a smoldering campfire.

Crews have worked hard the last few years to clear the trail. This trail is now a segment of the NCT in Minnesota. It will take a tremendous effort to minimize the fire danger in this area where no mechanized equipment can be used.

You may wonder why am I talking about fire? Well, I received my California Campfire Permit yesterday so that I can use my camp stove while on the PCT. We all know the fire danger that exists in the state of California. I don’t plan on having a campfire even though I will have cold temps with an early March start date. A hot breakfast and supper will be something to look forward to on cold days.Hiker midnight for me is 7 pm and with the sunset at 6pm I know I will be snuggled up in my 15 degree Thermarest sleeping bag and X-therm mattress so no campfire will be necessary.

Who knows though, I might just learn how to go stoveless.

Remember what Smokey says, “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires”.

Approved!

On November 13, 2019 I received an email from the Pacific Crest Trail Association. This email stated that my permit application for my March start date was approved.

I wanted to experience the desert section of the trail and I will get that chance. So, what might I be in store for you ask? 80 degrees during the day. Cold enough at night to warrant a 15 degree bag. Sand with wind to cover every item I bring including myself. Snow… Rattlesnakes, mountain lions, and poisonous Poodle plants. Whoa, this is going to be quite the adventure.

There are famous hikers who have completed the PCT and all of them have shared their wealth of knowledge with the rest of us. I would be foolish not to check out their vlogs, blogs, podcast interviews, trail journals and books.

I’m going to use all of my equipment from my Appalachian Trail hike. At the end of that hike, I had MSR replace my stove because the threads stripped out for attaching a canister, Big Agnes replaced my tent poles because of a junction break, Komperdell replaced my hiking pole tips and I have patched holes in stuff sacks and recoated my tent seams with sealer. I may need to add a few items like an umbrella for shade, sun gloves and shirt which has UV protection. I think I will be good for the snow, if there is any. Prediction for a low snow year in California is encouraging and also discouraging. Great for mountain passes but bad for water sources and the danger of fire.

My husband Tom will be driving along with our camper. This could be really helpful for carrying a lighter load and for resupplies. Because of this, it will be a very different hike from the AT. There I was on my own and Tom sent my prepared boxes from Minnesota.

One thing I can count on from the PCT that also occurred on the AT, was the excitement of plants, trees, animals and people so new to me and so different from northern Minnesota. I don’t know what is more exciting, the pre-planning or the actual hike. Only time will tell. Let the adventure begin.