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.

Broke Down

What the hell…my stove just stripped out trying to attach it to the canister for breakfast. Really!!!!! I only have the 100 Mile Wilderness to go and my stove strips out. Unbelievable! I pull out my AWOL AT Guide and see that I can go to Shaw’s Hostel in Monson, ME for a repair and if not that, I hope I can find a used one in a hiker box or purchase a new one somewhere. I really didn’t want to be spending money on gear at this stage of the game. UGH! 

I’m on trail by 6:30 am the next morning, while 10 Bear was packing. My day was spent alone going to Moxie Bald. It was a fun morning on boulders and bedrock. Once I got to the top, it was a little confusing to where to go, as the summit sign had me go in one direction and then from there it was kind of vague. After wandering around a little bit I eventually figured it out. Before I got back into the tree line I noticed the sky looked like rain as fog began to roll in.  I haven’t seen 10 Bear yet and wonder how far back she is. The minute I get to tree line, I stop and strip down and put on my rain pants. I am so afraid of getting wet feet. I put on my rain jacket next and by now the rain has begun. The rest of the day is climbing over wet roots and rocks.20160914_071312

I roll into Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to at 5:30 pm. Zuko, GI Jane, Joe and Coral are already here. I go to set up my tent and as I am doing so, I snap a tent pole at the Y junction. We all try to work on it to fix it with a stick, but the stick just cant hold up to the pressure. I set up my tent anyway and instead of it being a dome it is a pup tent. Next, I have to borrow GI Jane’s stove since that is also broken. 10 Bear has arrived and is busy setting up her camp. As I climb into bed I hope that it doesn’t rain. I should have know better than to think such thoughts.  The minute I was horizontal, I could hear rain hitting my tent.

20160915_073623.jpgI woke up early, 5:00 am and packed up and told 10 Bear I was heading to Hwy ME 15 to hitch to Monson so I could go to Shaw’s to get my gear figured out.  I would meet her there.  By 10 am I was on the Hwy trying to hitch a ride. Let me just say that a lot of cars, trucks, semis passed by without any hesitation. I was beginning to think I would be there for a long time when Shaw’s Shuttle Service showed up. The driver asked me if I wanted a ride and I said, “You bet!”

20160915_110847Poet, the owner of Shaw’s, didn’t have a fix for my stove, but he did have 1 stove left to sell and so I bought that. The tent was a little more complicated. We couldn’t get replacement poles from Big Agnes in time for me to finish by the 21st. He had a tent for sale, but I didn’t want to by a new one at the tune of $400. Another hiker had a tent he was thinking of selling, so I thought about that. In the meantime, Poet mixed up J B Weld, got a screw and took apart my poles and glued the screw and a pole together. It would need 24 hours to set.

In my determination to still summit on the 21st, I decided to stay the night, this would allow me to be brought 11 miles North on the trail today and then be able to slackpack back to Hwy ME 15. In the midst of this, 10 Bear arrives and I let her what know what my plan is. I tell her, she can hike ahead and I will try and catch her tomorrow or she can stay at Shaw’s. She decides to stay at Shaw’s and within 10 minutes we are headed up the road to start our slackpack.

The first thing that happened heading SOBO is that we had to hike a good mile just to get to the trail. 20160915_132549.jpgDSC00179.JPGNext we came upon a river that we had to ford and neither one of us brought our camp shoes. We ended up taking off our shoes. I grabbed the rope above my head and started across. I stumbled once and got wet. I was sure glad that I didn’t have a full pack on my back. We made it back to town by 6 pm. I was glad we had slackpacked this section as it was a lot of up and down over ridge lines.

20160915_151130Early the next day I got up to try my tent poles. I set up my tent in the driveway at Shaw’s. The poles held. We resupplied, had a great breakfast and continued our hike into the 100 Mile Wilderness.  We were now in the home stretch.dsc00164

Oh My…YURI!?!?!?!

At noon today, I went out to get our mail. Expecting the usual junk mail, I almost had a heart attack upon opening the mailbox door. There in all his glory stood Yuri.
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To those who don’t know about Yuri, he has been hiking with me for the past few years. Last year when launching my epic journey on the AT, Yuri went missing. I was on day 1 of the hike. Yuri was right beside me on my pack.
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At about mile 6 I sat down for a break only to discover Yuri was no longer riding high on my backpack. Heart break are the only words that come to my mind at the moment I realized my hiking partner was no more. I posted an article on Appalachian Trials of MIA Yuri. (http://appalachiantrials.com/first-days-of-trail-life/) I kept hoping someone would come across him and let me know of his where abouts. But alas, this was not to be.

Now it is March 29th, 2016 and low and behold he shows up.
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He had this fantastical tale of where he has been. I myself wonder about some of the details. (He tends to exaggerate a bit.) Here is the tale in all of it’s fine glory:

YURI. “So, there I was bumping along on your backpack enjoying the sights when out of no where there was a crash & the lights went out!!  I don’t know how long I was out but when I woke up…WOW!

Everything was white & I was in an unfamiliar place; white towels, the feeling was so soft & warm. Then this lady asked what kinds of treatment I wanted. Treatments!?! I thought, what the heck is this place. Then the woman explained to me I was at a Resort SPA! A SPA! I told them to give me the works & figured you’d be there soon to join…
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But you never came…maybe spa’s aren’t for you. (ME. A lot of eye rolling)

Anyway after waiting a year, I figured I better get in the first box out of here and head home…and…HERE I AM!

ME. Unbelievable!

YURI. I know, RIGHT!

ME. Well, you are going to be so happy in a moment, I have big news.

YURI. You do?

ME. Yes, I got hurt coming out of the Smokies and had to get off the trail at mile 309.

YURI. Oh my…that is bad news. Not big news, but bad news.

ME. Oh, that isn’t the big news. The big news is that we leave tomorrow morning to head back to the AT.

YURI. WWWWWHHHHHAAAAAAATTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!
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ME. AND, I figured a great way to make sure you don’t jump, oops I mean fall off of my backpack again!
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Story by Andrea & images by Sookie