Oh Where, Oh Where Have I Gone?

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

Kyle

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!!!

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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.

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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.

Privy

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.

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”.

The Call of the Trail

I’m in the zone. Some of you will know what I am talking about. Others, well… I walk to where my backpacking gear is in the house. The whole time I’m thinking about how long I will be out, what basic supplies I need in my pack in case I get hurt, lost or just want to stay longer in the woods. Toilet paper, shovel, matches, tarp, compass, marking tape, water filter, stove, fuel, cup and the list goes on. Before I know it my pack is full.

My hiking shoes fit like a well oiled baseball glove. The pack, well balanced from years of practice, sits securely on my hip. I’m ready to go and as I walk out of the house, into the fresh air of the outdoors, nothing could be more perfect.

It’s these memories, that start my yearning for the trail. Whether here in Minnesota or beyond. The winter is spent wondering, planning and preparing equipment and food.

So, for me to have been contemplating stepping on the PCT, really isn’t a surprise. It was just a matter of time. My plan? 702 miles from Campo to Kennedy Meadows. One thing the Appalachian Trail taught me, I no longer wanted to be away from my family for 6 months at a time. There are also, important trails in my state, that have officially become part of the National North Country Trail. There is a call out, to help maintain these trails, with organized trail crews and I would like to be a part of that.

So, as October ticked away and the 29th fast approached, the hype of getting online to register for a PCT permit became more than I could bare. I told my husband Tom, “I’m getting ready to get in line online for the PCT.” Him, “I thought you had decided not to go?” Me, “I’ve changed my mind.” Chuckle.

I had to be in my car on the 29th. I got in line in the queue, I was #4054. I hade 2 1/2 hours to wait in line. Plenty of time to finish my errands.

You know how there are certain moments in life you will never forget where you were when they happen? This no doubt, will be added to the list. Anyone, who really knows me, knows how I don’t like to shop. Well, here I was outside of Aldi’s, of all places, when queue entered me into the registration process.

Man, this is it! Blood pumping, I entered dates, name, age etc. as fast as I could. I had 4 minutes to complete the form. Fingers tapping as fast as they could go! Double check email is correct and send. “Oh my god, what did I just do?” I just smile, chuckle and shake my head.

I check my email to see if my registration went through. There is a confirmation, with a username and password. I follow the link to a page that lets me know my permit is pending and it could be up to 3 weeks before I know if I get approval to hike my dates. There is also, required reading, on Leave No Trace principles, fire, plus two other items.

I had joined the PCT Class of 2020 on Facebook back in August. So, now I wait, watch and read. Just yesterday, hiker permits started to be confirmed. I saw #’s as high as 3600. It’s the weekend now and I might have to wait until next week. Ugh!

I think about going out for a hike this am, but it is MN deer opener. Only crazy people go out and hike this season. I respect the hunters right to our woods and it is such a short season.

I guess I will just have to research new food recipes as I impatiently wait for news.

Embrace the Gap

Like all children, I lost baby teeth and grew adult ones. I thought that my two front top teeth would continue to grow until the gap between them would just fill in. It didn’t happen. I also noticed, that my Dad’s teeth were the same as mine. I tried everything I could to try to get rid of that gap. I tried braces, an operation to remove the gum between the teeth and ultimately but unsuccessfully, I had the dentist drill a hole in the side of each tooth and put a filling that matched the color of my teeth and connected them together. That last attempt would break every time I used a spoon and accidentally hit one tooth. Snap! Separation, ugh!

Eventually, I gave up. I could accept my teeth the way they are or let the comments I hear, even now, become an upward climb.Recently, a little girl smiled at me and I smiled at her. Then, she asked me how I lost my tooth. I was about to answer her when her father said, “Shhhh, that’s not nice.” The girl looked confused at her father and then concerned at me. I shrugged and went on my way smiling. Then my dad asked me 3 weeks ago, “Why don’t you get a tooth put in your mouth?” I just answered him, “Well, I inherited your teeth.”

I suppose you are all wondering why I am talking about teeth, when this blog is about the Appalachian Trail?Well, it’s the gaps. Without those gaps in the mountains, we wouldn’t know about high points or low points. And, if we filled in all those gaps, we would just be hiking on very flat monotonous land and what would be the fun in that?

So, as I hike past Deep Gap, Low Gap and Unnamed Gap, I have the biggest smile and the hiker going past smiles back because we are both embracing the gap. What a glorious day!

SOBO, NOBO or Flip Flop: Who Care’s, I Just Want Some Cookies!

Some hikers are south bound (SOBO). Some hikers are north bound (NOBO). Some hikers start in one location and hike either south or north and then shuttle back to their starting point and hike the opposite direction. It really doesn’t matter. It’s all about personal preference. In the grand scheme, it’s all about the cookies.

Food, it’s on every hikers mind. How much to carry? How many calories? Can I count on trail magic or stores along the way so that I can carry less food?

Every hiker in the beginning, always carries more food than they will eat. I carried more food than I needed all of 2016.

My last night on the trail, I finally got it right. I had 1 breakfast left. Trouble with that, a mouse the last night just couldn’t leave my food bag alone. I guess he wanted my oatmeal more than I did. I tried to get him off my bag twice during the night, but exhaustion took me. I woke in the morning to the telltale hole in my food bag. Oatmeal gone, but at least I had my coffee.

I would have to wait till Abol Bridge to get my husband Tom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Reminiscing from Grayson Highlands 2019

End of the First Day Blues

The excitement of the trail, quickly turned in to, damn I’m getting old. Which computes to out of shape.

I haven’t really expressed how hard the beginning of any hike on the Appalachian Trail is.

Being from Northern Minnesota, a body kind of gets used to cool weather. So, going from 30 degrees to 70, well it feels hot. Then add a 25 lb backpack. It started at 21, but there is always last minute “stuff” and water. I find out within minutes of the climb, in the sun, with no breeze that I wish I was still close enough to a garbage can or hiker box so I could get rid of the last minute stuff and even a few more items.

About 10 minutes later, if that, that pack is weighing on my shoulders and hips in a way that leaves bruises behind. Then the knees start to ache and the big toe nails start to throb.

Damn that sun, I think I’m going to puke that 12 ounces of water I just guzzled. I’d like to stop on this incline, but if I do, oh the strain on the back of the legs.

When I finally get to stumble into camp at 4 pm. Every part of my body is on fire and throbbing.

I start chanting, “Vitamin I, Vitamin I, a healthy supply of Vitamin I!”

On the trail Vitamin I refers to ibuprofen. Don’t leave home without it.

Hiker midnight is, well for me it is 7:30 pm. That just means that when I finally get to lay down in my tent after supper, it’s way past my bedtime.

Within a short time I fall asleep. I wake up to the sound of Spirit’s air mattress having the air let out and I know I over slept.

Time to get up and repeat yesterday. Hikers say after repeating this routine for 5 weeks you will get your stride. Hmm, this time I’m here for 4. Looks like I’m up a creek without a paddle.

Vitamin I…