Thruhiking is like engaging in an eternal youth machine – like many bad ideas, it frees you from anchors (like rent and a career) that tie you to ‘adult’ life. Freedom from responsibility and the liberation of deciding your own fate on a daily basis makes you feel like you’re on an endless summer vacation.
But let’s be real – we’re basically on the candy bar diet out here, vegan or not, and at some point you gotta grow up and take responsibility for what’s happening in your dirty mouth.
Personally, I really like brushing and flossing on trail – it’s my adult time. The one time each day when I get to feel responsible for my own health. Also, trail hygiene is not only attractive but necessary if you don’t want to alienate yourself not just from society but other hikers. Please – shower, do laundry, swim in lakes whenever possible, wash your butt AND BRUSH YOUR TEETH.
Pictured above is my basic dental hygiene kit, which contains:
- a mesh bag for drying the tooth brush
- Child sized fluorescent toothbrush from Big Lake Youth Camp (why not keep it fun?)
- Dental floss
- 2oz bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Mini toothpaste
Most of these items are self explanatory. You might have some questions about what olive oil is doing in my dobb kit tho…
I recently got my first root canal (boooooo) resulting in my first gold tooth (finally!) As much as I like the gold tooth, I’m trying not to go back to the dentist for a while. I realized that I was experiencing some temperature sensitivity in another tooth – enough to bother me even drinking tepid water. Bummer, right? I had hear about oil pulling at yoga camp, but thought it was to woo-woo for me. However I was willing to try anything to stay on trail, so I tried it.
Every morning I swished about a tablespoon of EVOO (tho unfiltered sesame and coconut oil also work) for 10-20 minutes, followed by a water rinse and brushing. And you know what? IT TOTALLY WORKS DUDE. I experienced far less tooth sensitivity when I kept up the practice, tho it takes about 10 days to start being effective. So I guess 6000 years of Ayurvedic medicine can’t be wrong…
Miles hiked this section: 11
PCT traversed so far: mile 2660 – 0
Miles hiked: 2600 ish (adding miles for side trails… Subtracting miles for fire closures and othe detours)
It’s our last day on trail. At 4:00am I think about this intently as my air mattress develops a leak and slowly deflates. “Almost perfect timing mister air mattress.” I lie there anxious. Sad to get started today. The sooner we start the sooner it’s over. There is no way to truly comprehend the end of this journey and I try not to dwell on it.
Around 5:45 Wrong Way Gang rustles to life. Groucho wants to walk a little behind today so we dawdle packing. I make hot coffee and see my spoon is also broken. It’s like the gear knows.
Groucho and I walk together all morning, chanting thru a golden sunrise. Then singing. Then chatting.
At 11am we get to the community of Campo and buy snacks, waiting in the shade for Future Dad’s parents and my Cousin. By 1:15 we are walking the final 1.2 miles to the monument.
We celebrate by taking photos, signing the register, popping champagne and puffing cigars (thanks Kelly!!) and also donning our new Wrong Way Gang tshirts, designed by Groucho and printed at the screen printing shop owned by my aunt and uncle.
And then… It’s basically over. And we are shuttled to San Diego to jump in the ocean and eat vegan dinner. And a home where we take showers, washing away much of our tans and brushing out about half our hairz.
And I wake at 5am … As usual. And type this post…still from bed… in the dark and wonder if I’ll be able to share with you how this all feels, but it’s not real yet. I feel like I’m on another zero. But I’ll be back soon. For now… Here are some pictures Kelly took:
Now that Groucho has returned from the Lemurian abduction he seems different. First of all his butt does a lot of the talking. It seems really invested in weighing in on every conversation. Also he looks strangely like a young Willie Nelson. No matter. We are in love and I can put up with these new factors in our relationship… Barely.
We know future Dad and Twinless camped 5.6 miles behind us last night. We wake early to try to get miles in before it’s too hot. We’ll break in the afternoon and hope they catch up then.
The day progresses so pleasantly. We realize it’s been so long since we hiked a full day together. Just the two of us. We’re back where we started.
We leave a note at a water cistern for FutureDad and Twinless to catch us in mount Laguna tomorrow morning if not before. “Let’s finish together!”
The sparse clouds lend some shade to the day and we breeze along. finishing on a high note… Camped at the most beautiful overlook, drinking a trail hot toddy.
10 hours of sleep is too much. Like all old people I went to bed at 630pm last night. And at 5am I am wide awake. Staring at my phone till the batteries die and then staring at the sky watching 5 shooting stars. The sky lightens and I rustle around making coffee for me and Grouchy. We decided to catch sunrise here since we have a short walk to town. We pack up and take our coffees to the Foster Lookout. As the light grows, the sky pinkens. The terrain is the stuff of Star Trek alien planet renderings. Desert canyons and craggy rock faces.
Then the sound of Ravens calling in the canyon below. A flock?, murder?, crew… Maybe 30… Rise up… cawing and circling in an invisible thermal. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Another 3 crews come thru over the next 20 minutes. They’re migration reminds us of thru hikers. But their intelligence is their own. “They are so smart. How they do that… Assemble, organize, ride thermals, fly? Humans are so arrogant. Assuming our gifts are the only ones worth having.”
“Those ravens are probably looking down thinking “look at those stupid flightless humans.”
We get almost to town and what the what??? Walking toward us is Huck and Bug. I am cautiously happy… “What are you doing?”… Bug replies “We parked in campo and hitched here. We decided we want to hike with you.”
Wow. The team is almost back together. Groucho and I head to town.
I smell bad. But I’ve lost my desire to shower. A problem apparent to me when I bypass the campground showers in Mount Laguna and go straight for the EXCELLENT gear store where I buy toe socks. Gross, hu?
We have only 41 miles to go. We take a day in Laguna … Getting more food, and trying to catch up on blogging. I sit outside the gear store for hours. Looking thru photos I notice my head has grown improbably large compared to my body. I haven’t lost that much weight so it must be my ego swelling.
Eventually hunger drives me to the restaurant where I eat a garden burger. I pick the red onions off the burger and then reconsider and put them back to disguise the smells emenating from my vagina. (sorry mom.)
I look down at my dirty, disheveled body… I’m at the phase of the thru hike where my calves are as big as my thighs but much, MUCH more tan. How can I return to civilization like this??
At 5pm we hike out and continue into dark camping under an old oak tree.
The wrong way gang is back together. We only have 25 miles to get to camp tonight. Our last PCT campsite. We drag our heels taking a long morning break at a camp ground filled with Cowboys. A lady walks by with her horse in tow. “Look at that beautiful horse”. Groucho adds “and it’s slavery jewelry.” “What… Like it’s saddle?” Then from futureDad “oh you mean the lady’s diamond ring?” I’m so proud. Future dad has become a feminist.
We pass a glowing, nine year old section hiker – articulate, smart and good at spotting wildlife. Then, later on the day, two cheerful marathoners a generation older than us (from Kansas City) who are just out for a day jaunt while visiting friends. They want to thru hike in a year or two. Again – anyone can hike the PCT if they have the willingness to make space in their life for it.
We take a second break -for 3 hours- at the deserted Lake Morena campground. Drinking cider, making dinner, chillaxing.
And then just 8 more miles to camp and our last big ascent of the hike. It’s beautiful. I hike mostly with Twinless and we yammer about British history. At dusk we see the glow of eyes ahead on the trail. Curious and cautious it stares bravely into Twinless’s headlamp. Giving us a long time to look at it’s outline. It looks like a little cat with an improbably long tail. At camp Huck googles and comes up with a photo of a kit fox which might be what we saw.
Day 130-132 (paradise cafe to near julian)
Miles hiked this section: 76
PCT miles hiked (or skipped for fire closure): mile 2660 – mile 73
Miles hiked so far: 2525+ ish
We enjoy a great morning hike with Future Dad. Water sources remain scarce, but the terrain continues rolling and easy. We even benefit from shade off and on. Around 8am we encounter a water cache of 16 gallon plastic jugs. ALSO A LITTLE LIBRARY. I scour the four tiny shelves with glee and pick out a classic “Poirot” that I lovingly place in its very own protective Opsak. You can dunk opsak in 10′ of water and it’s contents stay dry. This book is in SAFE. On the other hand, we actually have enough water … This cache was a surprise.
Our next water comes from a concrete cistern 1/4 mile off trail. We eat, and dry our gear soaked from last night’s dew. Then feel like we are in an alternate reality as dark heavy clouds start to roll in. “Hey guys… Aren’t we in the desert?!”
At the first thunder we pack up. At the second rolling thunder clap we start hiking. With the third thunder vibrating our teeth the downpour starts… And then it starts hailing.
We burst into laughter. Yes… all you SOBO naysayers were correct… There definitely is a water problem in the desert, in the form of marble sized chunks of ice pelting our umbrellas.
By 5pm the rain has cleared a bit and we take a long break at Mike’s. Just a quarter mile off trail another generous angel has a huge metal cistern hikers can uses to access water. Maybe Mike is on vacation because we don’t see a soul. Wandering thru a creepy graveyard of a NOBO paradise… A huge yard, fire pit, outdoor kitchen, sleeping shack, RV and a fully enclosed porch devoted to the largest hiker box ever. It’s all a bit strange – like a ghost town, so we’re not inclined to stay haunted by the ghosts of NOBOs past.
After a dinner of hot chocolate we play odds and walk on, hoping it doesn’t rain us out tonight. We cross our fingers and cowboy camp.
We wake before dawn but I slept terribly in the cold dew last night. It didn’t rain but my bivy is soaked with moisture. Groucho leaves immediately but I dawdle making coffee to combat my exhaustion and warm my frozen fingers. As the sun rises, Future Dad and I hoist our packs… catching sight of a dark figure edging around the slope of the hill. Who do we see …but Twinless!! She’s back from the wedding and hiked late last night to catch up.
I’m so psyched I drop my breakfast bar on the ground. I pick it up and brush it off… Twinless says, “Did you just drop that on a pile of poo?” I look down. A pile of berries on the ground… Technically the animal fecal matter was mostly washed away in yesterday’s rain. And this is my favorite Luna bar, Nutz Over Chocolate. I lie – “No… Those are just berries.”
We hike out together all morning catching up on the past few days.
By noon we are walking thru the community of Warner springs. Their excellent bar and grill is open and serving enormous pizzas. We talk briefly about camping tonight… either at Eagle Rock in 3 miles, or maybe the water source in 8. Although Groucho fleetingly mentions it might be fun to get to 100-miles-to-go tonight. One mile further. But these decisions can be made closer to dark.
Sadly the community center is closed most of the week – NOBO only. Our hopes to shower and blog are foiled. But who need stinking showers, anyway?
We are mourning the loss when Huck and Bug drive by. What the what? They explain they are going south to drop the car in Julian and will hitch back to Idyllwild to start hiking south from there. We say a sad and quick goodbye to Huck who thinks he won’t catch up to us. Bug may come to see us finish in Campo but it’s all up in the air.
They leave and Groucho packs up quickly- clearly sad about our friends leaving and maybe just needing some alone time. I leave ten minutes later, FutureDad right behind me. Twinless about 30 minutes behind him. Future Dad catches up and we merrily walk by Eagle Rock and thru a beautiful and vast meadow that extends for miles. Cows are grazing and breezes tickling and the sun spills out from behind distant clouds.
Around 6:30 the light starts to fade and I start looking out for Groucho. He always waits around dark. We pass a few dirt roads, then a paved one and arrive at the water source. No Groucho. At first I’m annoyed… Future Dad wants to sleep here and I’m tired too. but if Groucho went on… I should follow. He’s my primary team, and that makes him the priority. Plus he has our shelter.
We wait for Twinless and I fret. “Probably he went on… The extra mile to mile 100… But what if he pulled over to go to the bathroom? We could somehow be in front of him?”
Future dad “No… We would’ve seen him or his pack or he would’ve caught up again…”
Twinless arrives. “No way is he behind…he would definitely have caught up to me at the back of the pack.”
Me “Well maybe he’s ahead… It’s just so weird for him to not wait at dark… But maybe it was still light when he got there.”
The team hears my anxiety and agrees to walk another mile. We scan the ground for Groucho footprints but see none. Although none of our feet appear to be leaving prints in the din of our headlamps.
We chat optimistically and suddenly reach the 100 mike mark. A plain set of stones spelling 100 subtly by the side of the trail. And no Groucho. Damn. Even if Groucho was looking for it… he still might miss this. Groucho is a smart human and a good navigator. But he doesn’t have GPS since he uses an iPod for Halfmile and Guthook. He has access to a simple map, mileage markers and waypoints but unlike the rest of us with phones he can’t push a button and know exactly where he is on that wavy red line running from Canada to Mexico. Therefore, in his quest to look for the 100 mile marker he might have overshot. And in the intervening hour maybe he’s figured that out and moved further along to the next campsite. *sigh* another 2 miles.
As the night draws in… I grow more uneasy. It’s really unlike him to not wait. But he was in a bad mood when he left, and it’s also unlike him to backtrack. So I should continue. Right?
The other choice is to stay right here. Which Future Dad decides to do. Twinless says she’ll do anything I want. I want to hike on. So we leaveFuture Dad at the 100 mile marker – he agrees to wait until light tomorrow. If – God forbid – Groucho isn’t at the campsite ahead… Then he must be behind us. Maybe lost?? Down a cattle trail ? Or abducted by the Lemurians (again)? In any rate we will want to give him time to catch up before we panic.
Twinless and I hike along. It’s already 8pm- 90 minutes past dark and past hiker midnight (roughly defined as sunset). We chat as we ascend the ridge and at 8:45 come upon the site and… no Groucho
My heart sinks. Oh crap. Now it seems clear. He must be behind us. Lost? Waylayed? I push away darkest thoughts and fears and just focus on the most obvious fact… each mile you just pressed on, is an extra mile he has fallen behind.
We set up camp, tho there is no way I will sleep tonight. In 2 thru hikes and a collected 4700 miles together, Groucho and I have never been accidentally separated at bedtime.
I try to control my emotions. They are broiling under the surface. Sleep is obviously restless. I know Groucho has food, shelter and sleeping gear. I hope he has sufficient water. I wonder if he is looking at these same stars.
FutureDad was supposed to wait for light before setting out. So he should be here by 7:30 am. I hope he has Groucho in tow. After dawdling with coffee and oats I start to pace the trail. Looking in morning light for Groucho prints. Verifying he must not be ahead.
Future Dad shows at 7:45. No Groucho.
We all have the same conclusion. He got behind… Lost somehow. Once he figures it out he’ll likely come along. This is the most logical solution. but how far behind is he? And what if we’re wrong? And what if he’s hurt and running low on water? How long should we wait before backtracking or calling actual search and rescue?
We decide to wait until 9am. We dry our soaked sleep gear in the sun and make a plan … “If he doesn’t show up… I think you guys should hike south to Julian 20 miles and confirm he’s not ahead. I’ll hike back up Warner springs 8 miles. We’ll call each other from town and if neither party has found him we’ll call people smarter than us for help.”
I’m pacing trail again and scanning the horizon when I see a tiny figure round the bend. It’s too far away to see colors or shapes but I think I know that walk. I burst into tears. All the emotions I’ve been suppressing spill forth.
We’ve positioned ourselves at a lookout where we can see someone approach for 1.5 miles so it’s over 30 minutes before I can hug Groucho.
Last night leaving Warner springs he went back to trail and started heading north instead of south. We had bypassed 2 miles of trail for the road walk into Warner Springs so he didn’t notice until he realized “the sun was on the wrong side”. He was confused because the data listed was almost exactly the same in both directions – cross thru a piped gate, private campground, road crossing.
It’s only 9 am and I’m exhausted. I wish I could say the rest of the day passed quickly but it continued excruciatingly hot. At our lunch break we run into Huck and Bug again?! Instead of hitching to Idyllwild they are hiking NOBO?!? What?! This is almost too much for the Wrong Way Gang to bear.
The afternoon continues hot, shadeless and too windy to use umbrellas as shade.
Again Groucho is in front but promises to wait at any road crossing. I look at the data and realize that is in 14 miles. Ugh. I want to stop sooner as do FD and Twinless. But after last night I need to be near Groucho so I press on to the road.
I spy Groucho, waiting under the underpass. I suggest sleeping there amidst the toilet paper and water bottles but Groucho urges me 3.6 miles further. There we find the sweetest, warmest, tucked away campsite. It’s a lovely walk together. The moon is almost full and we don’t even need headlamps.
Miles hiked this section: 50 something
Miles skipped for fire closures: 30ish… From onyx summit to white water preserve + 17 south of Idyllwild
PCT hiked or skipped for fire closure so far: mile 2660 – 152
Miles hiked so far: 2450+ ish
The desert is designed to destroy us. This is my mantra today as we climb from 1300 to 7000 feet over exposed rock on the face of San Jacinto in sweltering heat carrying 4 liters (8.8 lbs) of water since there are no natural sources to be found. Amidst the tarantulas, lizards, spiky cacti and rough chaparral we tromped uphill in the mid afternoon heat.
But first… Bug drives us 30 miles around a fire closure. Not an active fire… But a terrain that they haven’t repaired or deemed safe for hikers since July of 2015. It’s a 2 hour drive.
Then we climb over a hill to start the day. It’s so hot at 8am my scrunscreen melts off my face. At 11am we find a hose near a wind farm administrative building and hope it isn’t poisoned. We really need the water. We descend down to a community of homes… Here … clinging in the valley of this yellow dessert… lies the home of Ziggy and the bear. Famous trail Angels. But we don’t really need to stop so we press on breaking under the only oasis available… The underpass. Covered in graffiti it offers us delicious cool shade. We dry out our sleeping sacks… Soaked from last night’s dew and then start our long trek thru the desert meadow to the base of San Jacinto.
The desert water authority has installed a fountain here. Possibly to curb hiker deaths as it really is so hot that my head bandanna is soaked thru. I never sweat this way.
And then at 3pm we climb. Up and up and up. Huck sees tarantulas on trail moments after I have passed the same terrain. We all see a tiny baby rattlesnake coiled right by the trail. We hear these are the most deadly because they lack a warning rattle, emit a special neurotoxin, and are unable to conserve their poison… If they give-they give it their all. Again… The desert is designed for death.
We promised to meet Bug at camp tonight so despite this toughest hiking day of the trail we press on way past dark- huffing it up and up until finally at 9:15pm, we get to camp. Future dad is there and we quickly catch up before passing out.
We Wake in the trees of San Jacinto cOld and dewey. Although it is all uphill… The group hikes together, fast and cheerful. Group dynamics are good. But because of yesterday’s heat, the altitude and/or dehydration I suffer from headaches today. The summit of San Jacinto is a side trail off the PCT.. A thousand more feet or so. Groucho and Future Dad are commited to this but Huck and I opt to head down to Idyllwild. Bug and Sprout head back to the car. I love my conversation with Huck -aDane- about American politics, surveillance and gun control. In Idyllwild I have an excellent vegan Reuben at the natural food store. We buy groceries and cook dinner at the Bluebird hotel. Watching stupid movies well into the night.
Today feels traumatic. I wake at 7. Ready to roll. I make coffee. By 9am others are up and chatting. Future Dad is especially raring to go … Another fire closure I am gonna skip but he decides to road walk around. I feel befuddled that the official PCT reroute is a *freaking* road walk on a narrow, windy road with no shoulder. Given the second highest instance of hiker death on the PCT is by car… You’d think they’d find a better way. Since I was hit by a car 18 months ago I still have a hard time with traffic… So no way will I road walk.
But hardy future Dad needs to get going which inspires conversation about our “plan.” And here we go again. I start to ask around… so we can all hit The road… And Bug is preoccupied with her studying, Huck is on his phone and Groucho is in the toilet. I am talking to Future Dad about the next week… We are only a week from Campo and suddenly Huck quietly says “I think I’m gonna hike in my own awhile. I don’t want to plan.” I am suddenly very sad… But again- this is expected- the end of the hike often brings out people’s anxiety and desire to be free…or not, or sad… or happy, or alone… or together. This is natural. But now Bug also seems unsure about what she’s doing. And Future Dad is ready to go.
I realize I’m tired of trying to hear or guess other people’s desires and build consensus. I am sacrificing my own happiness to glue together a group that maybe doesn’t want to be glued.
So Groucho and I drop off future dad and go to the Post Office. There are enough snacks in packages from Lynn and my brother, Neice and nephew that we don’t have to buy anything else at the store. A miracle. Also heartwarming cards from Kate and Ross, Tania, and Kyle. They make me teary and thankful. I can do this.
We return to the hotel and pack. Bug announces she may return to Seattle. I’m not sure if to believe it… This will be the third teary goodbye. I feel crestfallen again. Huck and she and Twinless will sleep in Idyllwild tonight. Future Dad is ahead. Huck wants to hike alone. I guess me and Groucho are on our own… Ending as we began?
Huck drives us around the closure and Groucho and I start to hike. This is the first we’ve been alone in… A Month or so? It’s kinda nice. Groucho worries he’s been drinking too much … The current environment provides ample drinking opps: steady whiskey supply + town visits + care packages from home + social anxiety about group decisions. Just as we are sadly coming to peace with our sudden aloneness… Future dad texts me. “Meet at road?” He’s willing to wait. The wrong way gang hobbles back to life, getting to the road at sunset and hiking in the dark to the first available site.