Sep 11
Looking east from our campsite at Hart’s Pass

Betsy and I had two main reasons to go to Hart’s Pass. First, we needed to pick up Intrepid. Secondly, we needed to bring Jacob back home. Betsy and I decided to add a third reason, and that was to play trail angel. Hart’s Pass is the last portion of the PCT to cross by a road, at the Hart’s Pass campground, 30 miles from the Canadian border. At this campground, thru-hikers were getting their last “hurrah” before pushing on into Canada. If they did not have a Canada entry permit, they would turn around at the border and hike back to Hart’s Pass where they would hope that they could find a ride to Mazama and thus hitch-hike home. The gravel road from Mazama to Hart’s Pass is the highest maintained road in Washington, and often designated the most dangerous road in Washington.

We had our truck totally loaded with hiker food and camping equipment. When we got to the Hart’s Pass campground, Intrepid was already there and able to find us a wonderful campsite with a great view. To our brief dismay, there was already a trail angel established there, a guy from Indiana named EZ, and was being helped by Tyler. After speaking with EZ, we quickly established how we would work together to maintain the trail angel spot. I brought my food up, as well as a 10 x 10 canopy. This came in very useful, as we arrived on a Tuesday, and it started to rain on Tuesday afternoon, the canopy providing much needed protection for our food and our hikers. Together, we actually had way too much food, so the next day, EZ went to town to get more ice and to drop off a large portion of our food at a trail angel in town, Ravensong. Several days later, EZ took off for three days to hike up to the border monument and back, leaving Betsy and I to take care of everything. We had a great time. At first, we felt that this was not an ideal site to be trail angel-ing, but quickly learned that hiker trash really appreciated our setup, and the non-hiker food, beer, and an encouraging word before their last push to Canada. What was most delightful was encountering hikers that I had met on the first few days of the trail out of Mexico finally arriving at the end. Some hikers had skipped the high Sierra, but all were eager to wrap up and move along, either returning home or returning to the high Sierra to complete that phase of their journey. Friday afternoon, a group from the Grand Coulee 7th Day Adventist Church showed up to trail angel. They apparently do this every year. They were a very kind group, and we were able to work out a transition for them to move in and us out. We had hoped that somebody would show up, since I knew that EZ would not be back from the trail until late Saturday or Sunday. Thus, the replacement group were most welcome to maintain continuity of the trail angel site at Hart’s Pass.

EZ and I have met afterwards in Tacoma to discuss the future. We think that we will again play trail angel next year for 4-5 days, a week or two after Labor Day. Perhaps next year we will improve on our mistakes and make it an even better experience for thru-hikers in the last phase of their hike.

Our tent, a six man REI Kingdom, on space #5
Our camp kitchen table
Betsy in a very relaxed mode
EZ on the left and Tyler on the right
Denise with Betsy
Umbrella Man on the left, who I met south of Snoqualmie Pass
The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse, from Lynden, WA. They were quite familiar with the VanVoorst clan. They were doing the PCT by horseback, but made sure to come and enjoy a beer from us.
Betsy offering some slightly aged apples to the horses and mules, which were eagerly devoured.
The Mule. The Mule was from France, and most delightful and friendly character. I first met the Mule several days out from Mexico in the desert. I was in a long stretch of the desert trail when I saw a short happy person from France doing pushups just off the trail (as though the trail wasn’t exercise enough!). I saw the Mule a few more times in the next few days before losing him. I often wondered whatever happened to him. Apparently, his hike was totally successful!
A great Dane, I don’t remember his trail name. He got extremely excited when I informed him that I had some Carlsberg beer (from Denmark), which he was going to pack in and drink at the monument. This guy was really funny! Apparently, he was going to be on Good Morning Denmark when he got back home.
The replacement trail angels, with some hiker trash (Intrepid and Jacob) as well as Betsy.
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Aug 26

It is now 5 months later and 1002 miles of the trail completed. I certainly wished for more miles, but a combination of factors prevented that from happening. At this time, I have no intention of attempting to put on more miles this year. What I would like to do in this blog is to summarize matters, including a) what were the problems with the hike, b) what did I learn from it all, c) what equipment did I like and dislike, and d) what positive good came out of it all. This is a really long read, so I know that most of you will probably not read it all. That’s ok. It was written mostly to consolidate my own thoughts.

Problems

This was NOT a good year for thru-hiking the PCT. As a veritable matter, it was probably one of the worst possible years to do the PCT. I didn’t think that could happen. a) Record Snow Two years ago, the high Sierra (central California) had record snowfalls, and so I felt that we would not see a high snow year in a while. I was truly fooled there. Starting in central Oregon and south, the mountains recorded record years for the amount of snowfall, including the amount of snow water content. This extended all the way down to Mexico, so that in three areas, Mt. San Jacinto (around Palm Springs), Mt. Georgiono Wilderness, and around Mt. Baden Powell, were areas of the desert that had dangerous snow build-up, especially the first and last regions mentioned. I had to carry Kahtoola microspikes (crampon like spikes that you fit over your hiking shoes) through much of the desert from Idyllwild to just past Mt. Baden Powell, and even with the microspikes, the steepness of the snow led to some very challenging situations and extreme danger. Your speed of travel drops at least in half. Your ability to find the trail is dependent entirely on your cell phone and the Guthooks app on your cell phone. After dropping off Mt. Baden Powell, I determined that I would not subject myself to extreme snow situations again on the trail. Even still, in northern California, out of Burney Falls State Park, reports had it that the snow was gone, and yet I hit about 4-5 hours of hiking through very challenging snow situations. The prospects for much more snow further on in northern California and southern Oregon were daunting, and at least a few people soon around the time I was coming through were injured and helicoptered off of the trail in southern Oregon, Second Chance being an easy example of that. Not cool. b) Mosquitoes Who would ever think that such tiny little beasts could create such misery. When I consider the worldwide fatalities from mosquito-born illnesses it leaves me no wonder. Yet, even without the diseases, mosquitoes can be a source of intense misery. Truly, one must keep every possible skin surface covered because mosquito repellent has only limited efficacy. Mosquitoes will bore through your clothing, such as through my hiking gloves. At night, no matter how hard you try to keep the mosquitoes out of your tent, you will still spend an hour swatting the residual mosquitoes that snuck in while you were entering. You can’t cook a meal or relieve yourself without vicious attacks. Unfortunately, this year was reported to have record numbers of mosquitoes on the trail. I can believe it. c) Early onset of fall Somehow, it seems like the weather got chilly much sooner than normal. Having lived for most of my life in the northwest, I’m used to fairly dry Augusts and early September. Now, it just feels chilly whenever one goes outside, and the sense that fall is in the air. Leaves are already being to turn color and fall. It just doesn’t seem like we had as long of summer as usual. It must be global cooling? d) Major areas of burn from recent years I was surprised how often I would be hiking through major forest burns. They were very frequent in the desert, but also frequent as one moved north. Most of these burns happened within the last few years, and almost certainly related to bad forest management rather than “global warming”. There is a sense of eeriness or spookiness from walking through a burn area. I oftentimes think that I am seeing a person standing just off the trail when it is actually nothing but a tree stump. The more troubling aspect of walking through a burn area is that you are getting no shelter from the sky. Whether it be the sun or rain, trees are highly protective. When the trees are gone or burned, it is like walking through a desert. It’s just not fun. e) Record number of people injured or bailing from the trail. This issue probably relates to all the other issues above, especially with the snow situation. A number of my friends with whom I hiked were later removed from the trail because of injuries. I have heard of only several trail deaths yet, thankfully. The attrition rate secondary to so many factors was a little discouraging. It also created heightened worries from Betsy about me being injured. So, multiple factors led to a disappointing performance on my part.

What did I learn?

a) trust in God You don’t have much to think about when spending all day walking. I’m used to reading books, listening to music or audio lectures, watching a movie, or something of that sort. The trail removes one from electronic media and leaves a person alone to their thoughts. My thoughts usually would go to God. It might be thoughts of contemplating the beauty of God’s world, or praying for friends or family, or singing to myself a favorite hymn. Always, I was seeking God for strength to continue on my journey, and I feel confident that I could not have walked a thousand miles without His divine intervention. It is a lesson to continue leaning on the Lord for strength in all of life’s ventures. b) friends abound Almost everybody on the trail were friendly and helpful. It was a touch amazing that there was a sense of family and helping each other out while on the journey up the trail. In fact, while you may not be hiking with any specific person, there is what is known as the trail family associated with those people moving about the same pace as you and encountered by you in camp or in resupply towns. Many of these people I have stayed in touch with. c) backpacking style Ones’ backpack style of necessity must change while on the trail. Early on, most people that I encountered were doing ultralight packing. Once into northern California, Oregon and Washington, it was not unusual to see many folk backpacking in an older traditional way, with 50-60 lb packs, loaded as fully as possible and as much strapped on the outside of the pack as possible. At the Mexican border, I had a base weight of about 19 lb. Base weight is not well defined, but usually means the weight of all that you are carrying excluding food and water. People usually do not include the weight of your clothes or shoes. Things shed as I moved northward. Stuff sacks were seen as useless added weight. I left my wonderful ultralight camera at home in preference for using my iPhone for photos. I used trail running shoes (Altra Lone Peaks) instead of my standard hiking boots (I never got a single blister while using the Altras). Every fraction of an ounce was carefully reviewed. A 2.25 inch mini-Swiss army knife was used instead of the standard size 3.5 inch knife. At every town, I’d ask myself what else I could ditch, and then mail it back home. Hydration was another issue. I was using a 3 liter hydration pack which fit into my backpack. The problem was that I could never tell how much water I had left. When refilling the bladder, it was a challenge to remove the bladder to fill it, and if I’d fill it in situ, would never know if it was really full or not. So, I went with an outside hydration unit with a bladder, and kept a 1 liter SmartWater bottle for when my pack was off of me. Distances became different. Typically, I’d hike a 15 – 20 mile day, but got up to 28 miles when I was coming to a destination town. On flat roads such mileage is easy, but on the trail it was a concerted effort with minimal dilly-dallying to achieve those distances. Not that I would not enjoy the scenery, and a beautiful scene was an excellent excuse to stop and take a photograph. d) knowing my own personal limits Before this adventure, I had no idea what I could handle for a thru-hike experience. My expectations were uncertain and I could only guess at what my actual performance on the trail would be. In the planning phases, I definitely over-estimated my hiking strength and thought that I could carry on easily hiking 20 miles a day for weeks on end. I anticipated that I would acquire my “trail feet” within the first two weeks, and then proceed with bold abandon. I learned very quickly the virtue of a day a week rest, which became my norm. The Creator’s instructions include a day in seven with minimal activity and clearly He knows best for us. Why we always question His wisdom and instructions for our lives speaks poorly of ourselves and not of the Almighty. Any question about the problem of evil (theodicy) is overwhelmed by the statements and experience of His love, goodness, kindness, wisdom and caring for us as pitiful, rebellious creatures. Trail feet are a real entity, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will go faster on your feet over time. For me, it meant that I could push myself a bit harder as time went on without becoming a total cripple. e) psychological effects of the trail The psychological effects of the trail are quite extreme. Can I do it? Will I die or require rescue in a long waterless stretch? Will the snow kill me? What in the Sam Hill got into my brain to even think about hiking the PCT? How will I contend with the monotony of every day for 150+ days waking up every morning, finding it nearly impossible to get out of the sleeping bag into the cold air, pack up all of your belongings, and then start walking, walking, walking, walking, walking. Will I reach an instance where I won’t be able to find a suitable camp spot and require to spend a sleepless night curled up in my parka and hugging a tree. Hunger combined with revulsion for food hits every moment of the day. Every part of the body hurts. The feet hurt. The ankles hurt. The hips hurt. The back hurts. The shoulders hurt. The hands hurt. The neck hurts. Mass quantities of ibuprofen only slightly alleviate the discomfort. Coupled with mosquito attacks (up north), a tipping point toward total insanity was not in the far distance. Then there are worries about back home. Will Betsy be ok? Is she surviving? Are there problems on the homefront that require my presence? Am I shirking my duties as a husband by torturing myself on the trail, even though Betsy has encouraged me to do this adventure? Perhaps she was just humoring me? Too many questions… too many episodes of skirting on the edge of insanity… I spent most of my life at a desk studying, talking to patients, reading and writing reports, or standing still at the operating table, worrying more about someone else’s life than my own. Now, I have transitioned from an essentially sedentary lifestyle to one of extreme physical activity and thought processes that pertain solely to personal survival. The contrast could not be more extreme. There were other aspects to the psychological effects of the trail. At the Mexican border, there was only one thought on my mind, which was that of walking straight to the Canadian border and then celebrating. The snow situation in the High Sierras made that an impossibility for me. I would need to flip flop and leap around. The discontinuity had a significant effect on my psyche. Then, I opted (because of snow conditions) to do some north to south hiking. This did not fit, since my brain kept telling me that I should be hiking north to Canada. Then the realization that I would not complete the PCT in one season further demoralized my efforts to persist. (Actually, that was the best realization to ever happen to me as I saw the craziness of feeling that a thru-hike MUST be in one season in straight continuity. So many of the older folk on the trail were breaking up the PCT into manageable sections and actually finding their hike pleasurable!). It was comforting to know that people were praying for me as I walked, yet, those prayers were for God’s provision, which I experienced with profound portions. My appreciation for all the prayer warriors that stood before God on my behalf.

Equipment Reviews

A) Backpack I used a ULA Circuit. It is a relatively light pack at 2 lb 9 oz, and I’ve appreciated how it was designed. My main complaint was the minimal padding of the shoulder straps. The straps tended to cut into my neck and after many months of use created fairly sharp shoulder pain. I tried to prevent this by keeping the pack weight down, yet even with a base weight of 16-18 lb, when one needs to carry 5-6 liters of water and 5 days of food, a heavy (up to 35 lb) pack is unavoidable. I will probably be switching to an REI Flash 55. It is a 2 lb 3 oz pack with nicer back and shoulder/hip belt strap padding, a nice design, and very comfortable on the back. B) Tent I started with a Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 Platinum tent. It was a fairly expensive tent and reasonably light at 2 lb 10 oz. I found that it is NOT a durable tent, and the fabric tended to easily tear. You needed a ground tarp. In foul weather, it was almost impossible to set up because a wet rain fly would not fold out easily and demanded exact orientation to place over the tent, which was challenging in high winds and heavy rains. The tent did not dry out quickly and tended to hold water. For some crazy reason, Big Agnes changed the size of the clips for attaching to the ground tarp and my tent clips did not match the ground cloth clips. So, the Copper Spur flunked, regardless of its cost and popularity. I went with a Z-Packs Duplex tent, weighing 1 lb 3 oz, very easy to set up, but needing two adjustable hiking poles. It is very spacious inside and the vestibules were spacious. Because it is NOT a free-standing tent, one could not use this tent on a concrete or rock slab. The only change that I would make would be to switch out the MSR mini Ground Hog stakes which were not substantial enough, and go with the regular MSR Ground Hog stakes. The guide lines holding the hiking poles especially need to be staked down very well, which the minis did not accomplish. C) Ground pad/pillow. I started with an Exped Synmat HL MW ground pad and Exped down pillow. The ground pad was VERY slippery and formed a rip in a seam the second night out on the trail. The third night out on the trail, the down pillow would not hold air any longer. I purchased an egg crate mattress (ThermaRest Z Lite Sol) and a Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Regular pillow in Warner Springs, and they have held up well. Later, I switched back to an air mattress, this time using a ThermaRest NeoAir Uberlight mattress. It immediately developed a slow air leak, and needed to be reinflated several times a night. It was also slightly slippery, necessitating careful choice of a camping spot without a slope. There are reasons I liked the egg crate mattress in that it could also be used during the day as a pad to sit/lay down on, and was not very slippery. It was less comfortable than an air mattress. D) Sleeping bag I used a Feathered Friends Flicker UL Wide quilt, which worked wonderfully. It could be opened up in warm weather and closed down in cold weather. Only once did I need to also use my down coat with it to stay warm at night. It stuffed nicely into a sea to summit 13 liter dry sack. E) Down Coat I used the Feathered Friends EOS jacket. I did not wear this jacket while hiking, but it was wonderful for the evenings and morning. I did not use the stuff sac but simply packed it around items in my back pack. It is a perfect down parka for backpacking. F) Shoes My main shoes were the Altra Lone Peaks. They are NOT a durable shoe and wear out at 300-500 miles of use. In spite of that, I had not developed a blister while wearing these shoes, making it worth it. They are super-comfortable, to the point that I saw no use in having flip flops or slippers to wear while at camp. I used the Merrill Moab 2 shoes for a short bit, hoping that their rigidity would permit better handling in snow. Within 50 miles, I had blisters on both feet, so quickly returned to the Altras. G) Clothing Nothing special here. I used a synthetic REI long sleeve shirt that buttoned up, REI Sahara convertible pants, ExOfficio briefs, Darn Tough socks, and OR Helium rain jacket. The Helium rain jacket was wonderfully light and effective at keeping out the rain, but had no arm pit vents, and tended to create sauna like conditions when hiking. It still remained my preferred rain protection. H) Hat I used an REI Sahara hat in the desert, and had wonderful sun protection, so that I rarely ever needed to put on sun screen. Elsewhere, I used my OR Seattle Sombrero, a hat wonderful for rain, sun and the like. It is a somewhat warm hat, so that it was slightly uncomfortable in very hot weather. I) Hiking Poles/Gloves I started with Black Diamond 110 cm poles, and needed to switch to an adjustable pole when I went with the Duplex tent. For that, I utilized Z-Pack poles. I always wore OR sun gloves, and found that many other people also utilized OR gloves with their hiking poles. J) Stove I used the JetBoil Flash Lite stove, and was most happy with it. It was light, I didn’t need to worry about carrying a pot, it had a dependable ignitor, and it was extremely efficient on fuel, with a small canister easily lasting 2-3 weeks. K) Garmin InReach This is a personal locator beacon (plb) which allows for an SOS rescue signal if I ever got in trouble, and also allowed others to regularly see exactly where I was on the trail. I could also send and receive messages. It’s only problems were 1) it was heavy, and 2) though it was a Garmin product, was incompatible with all the other Garmin products, including their maps. Shame on them. If I were to do it over again, I would have used the InReach mini because it is significantly ligher. I won’t buy another plb until Garmin corrects the issues mentioned with the InReach. L) UrSack For the desert, I did not worry too much about the little critters, and simply used a dyneema food bag with an odor-proof liner. Outside of the desert, I used the regular size UrSack. The UrSack offered me protection from rats, squirrels and chipmucks eating my food (a real and serious problem), and allowed that I did not need to hang my food, but instead, I stored my food in the tent vestibule. I used an odor-proof liner also with the UrSack. M) Thru-Pack The Thru-pack is a fanny pack designed by some dude in a cottage industry. It was perfect for backpacking. I debated long and hard before the hike as to how I would carry my iPhone. The iPhone was used constantly since it was my main map system. The Thru-Pack had a pocket that very securily held my iPhone, yet the iPhone was extremely easy to quickly access. I also stored small items like lip gloss, sun glasses, mosquito repellent, and small candies in the bag. N) Pocket knife Believe it or not, some people do not carry a knife on their thru-hike. I needed the knife mostly for the scissors in order to cut things like the LeukoTape for my feet to prevent blisters. Swiss Army produces a very small 2-1/2 inch knife that has only a blade and a scissors, with a few other minor implements. This was more than adequate and worked out well for me. O) Safety equipment I carried a small amount of repair items, such as tenacious tape (which I used on the Copper Spur tent), duct tape (never used), and a small sewing kit, which was never used. For medical safety, I carried a roll of LeukoTape, which was nearly always being used on my feet to prevent blisters. I also carried superglue, blister pads, mild narcotic pain meds, antibiotics, and a sleeping pill. None of the medications were used. P) Toilet sack The toilet sac was a small stuff sac kept on the outside of my pack with a small trowel to dig holes, toilet paper, hand sterilization gel, and a small zip lock for packing out the toilet paper. The trowel was ineffective at digging a hole in northwest soil, but did allow scrapping for covering up the poo. Q) Electronics My electronics was limited to my iPhone and the Garmin inReach device. I carried a 10,000 mAh battery backup as well as the necessary cables. I carried earbuds but ended up never using them. R) Phone case I used the LifeProof Fre upon the recommendation of Halfway Anywhere, and didn’t like it. It was protective, but made the iPhone difficult to use. I just didn’t need that much protection of the phone so went back to a regular iPhone case. S) Headlamp I started with the lightest cheapest Black Diamond headlight, and noted that the case would frequently pop open. A switch to a more substantial Black Diamond light solved that problem, even though it was slightly heavier. T) Hydration system I started with an Osprey 3 liter hydration reservoir. I liked it better than the Platypus or Camelbak products, but disliked that the reservoir sat inside your pack, leaving you clueless about how much water you had left and making it very hard to refill the bladder without emptying out your pack. Outside of the desert, I rarely needed to carry more than 3 liters, so utilized the outside side pockets of the backpack, which were meant for liter water bottles. Because I like hydration systems, I found a tube system for this purpose, exchanged the mouthpiece with the Osprey mouthpiece, and utilized a Platypus 1 liter very lightweight collapsible bag for this purpose. I always carried in addition a liter SmartWater bottle but drinking when my pack was off of me. So far, this system has worked out wonderfully. U) Food choices Food is not really equipment, but it is a necessary item that weighs a lot, so it is worth discussing. I felt that it was important to eat well on the hike, and so did not consider cold-soaking food seriously. I liked a warm meal at least once a day, and was willing to carry a lightweight stove for that purpose. The popular foods that hikers used like Top Ramen were all doctored to taste better. I would add freeze-dried vegetables and beef as well as sriracha sauce to improve the nutrition and flavor. I chose foods that would require minimal cleaning of dishes, since I often dry camped, and even when camped by water, would not feel like doing dishes. I started using lots of prepared meals like the Campbells or Pace prepared foods. These were a bit more heavy but offered reasonable tasting food at the end of the day. They would come in bags that could be crunched up and inserted into my stove pot with boiling water, let it sit for five minutes, and I would have a warm meal with warm water for a cup of hot chocolate. It couldn’t get any better than that!

Positive Good of it all?

a) personal health/weight loss I was down up to 25 lb during the hike, though that weight loss was at a time when I was also markedly dehydrated. The health benefits for my heart and overall fitness were balanced by the severe strain and abuse afflicted on the musculoskeletal system. I general, I would surmise that I gained a grand total positive health effect by my activity, though it is something that only time would tell. b) spiritual growth Hiking offers the hiker must time to contemplate, reflect, meditate, ruminate, and think over one’s self, the world, and the grand scheme of things. It was a time to spend in prayer and worship. On the negative side, my brain was often in a fog, so that reading had to be forced to happen. When I was not walking, I was either eating, writing my blog, or sleeping/trying to sleep. c) Betsy My absence gave Betsy time to learn how to manage house and home. We learned more than ever that even though we often need our “space”, long periods apart become difficult. I don’t think that I’ll ever intentionally plan for more than 4-6 weeks apart. Some folk may consider that short and some long. I don’t think I could give definite times since much depends our ability to stay in touch with each other even when we are not immediately face to face. d) new friends It is fascinating how one quickly develops friends on the trail. I have yet to meet someone who is a “jerk”. Some hikers are more reclusive and wish to mostly be to themselves, some can’t tolerate loneliness, some are Macho man (or Macho woman), some are flaming drunks (just one that I met), some are quite old and putting in few miles a day, others are young jackrabbits flying down the trail, but they all are friendly folk. Perhaps because we are all striving for a common goal, we form a “fellowship” that binds us together on the trail. e) rethink of my personal Wanderlust A year ago, I attempted to bicycle the TransAm, a bicycle ride that goes from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. It was a true flaming failure, but it taught me much about tempering my expectations, and about planning for epic adventures. I would not call this year a failure at all, even though I was slightly disappointed about having to put the reality of the weather and trail conditions together with the ability of my body to endure hundreds upon hundreds of miles of sheer abuse. I believe that I got my Wanderlust out of my blood. No more attempts EVER for epic adventures. I wouldn’t mind filling in the gaps over the next few years in the PCT, like completing Washington and most of Oregon, doing the high Sierra, and other parts of northern California. I wouldn’t mind attempting the Colorado Trail. But, anything longer than 500-600 miles will not be performed. My body has spent most of its life behind a desk, reading or writing reports, or standing still in the operating room for hours, trying to avoid inflicting harm on oneself. Unlike most older hikers, I would do maybe 2 or 3 hikes a year in fair weather lasting only 2-4 days, and that was it. I’d come back as sore as imaginable and immediately return to a sedentary lifestyle. True, the last ten years of my life involved much long-distance bicycling, but that is using much different muscles, and MUCH less abusive on the body. As I write this, I’ve been off of the trail for 5 days, and yet I still ache seriously from head to toe. I’m not taking massive doses of ibuprofen any longer, and the body is really feeling it. I have competitive passions that cannot be partaken in while hiking. I love to read, I love to listen to classical music and watch opera, and I love to play my trumpet. Those activities take a true back seat on the trail. I love bicycling, but will probably never ride coast to coast or any really long distance. I’ve lost the desire to do that. With a friend, I wouldn’t mind hiking or bicycling in Europe (Betsy isn’t into that), but not for a long distance. I don’t even have the rage like I had in the past to travel to distant lands and far-away places. I think my Wanderlust has died. f) awareness of Huguenot Heritage Ministry Those who know me know that I tend toward strong passions. The work of Huguenot Heritage is one of those passions. When Betsy and I served in a hospital in extreme North Cameroon, we noted the desperate need for theological education in French-speaking Africa. Huguenot Heritage is filling that void, by providing Third Millenium materials in the French-speaking tongue. It is a vital ministry worthy of support. Several years ago, I mentioned to Francis Foucachon who runs the Huguenot Heritage of my plan to walk the PCT, and he seemed interested in seeing my walk function as a walk-a-thon. I was to do the hike last year, but then decided to attempt the TranAm bicycle ride and put off the PCT for a year. I didn’t realize that I was going from one horrible weather year on the east coast, to a horrible weather year on the west coast. It wasn’t until about February of this year that one realized the immensity of the snow situation on the west coast, yet I had already received my permit, and planned and packed 20 resupply boxes in order to attempt this adventure. While I realized soon enough that I (and almost everybody starting the hike) would not complete all 2652 miles, it was worth trying for as many as possible. I am a touch disappointed that I couldn’t get more miles in, but grateful that I was not brought home in a body bag, or needing rescue from the trail. I truly hope that the hike-a-thon spin on my trip helped bring enhanced awareness of Huguenot Heritage, and support for their work. It’s a strong conviction of mine than when I’m dead and six feet under, the church in Africa will be the center of Christianity. Christianity is dying in the west, but growing in Africa, and one of the main languages in the African church is French. Hopefully, we can see more seminaries and bible college in Africa, like the African Bible Colleges with distinguished theologians such as O. Palmer Robertson. Christianity and the Muslim religion clash in the north (Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, etc.) and so other means of accomplishing theological education for Christian pastors becomes necessary, and Huguenot Heritage fills that void. Please consider strongly support of this vital ministry.

The Future and Summary

So, what is my vision of the future for me and Betsy? a) playing trail angel Trail angels are those people who meet thru-hikers at various places where the trail crosses a road and is known to be in an area where outside contact from the trail is minimal. Typically, it’s a place where prior thru-hikers know that they would have gone a long distance without food or water resupply, and thus welcome ice-cold beverages or a snack to eat. Some trail angels tend to be more expansive when their house is close to the trail, such as at Hiker Heaven or Casa de Luna where the host family provides more extensive care and overnight capabilities for guests. Sadly, the two places just mentioned are closing this year, and we wait to see if there is any sort of replacement. Meanwhile, trail angels will provide sporadic “trail magic” which is unpredictable, but when present, is always welcomed by hikers. I don’t plan on doing this extensively. It’s a nice gesture, and in several areas of the desert, trail magic in the form of cold pop and other goodies saved the day and so were gratefully received by me. Trail angel-ing has become a preoccupation of many in towns, and there are separate Facebook pages for various trail angel groups. Much of their purpose has been to shuttle hikers from the trail to town and back. In fact, they really don’t serve totally as trail angels because they request (or should recieve!) payment for their services. As the PCT has become busier and busier, more people are getting on the trail less prepared for the task. Many do not adequately think out their resupply strategy and depend heavily on hiker boxes at the various places where resupply packages are mailed. Others hop around the trail quite casually, calling on the good nature of other folk to shuttle them around and about, to specifically allow their hike to be tailored to convenience. Many places on the trail demand hitchhiking to get to town and back, and that is awkward enough, but still different than asking people to go out of their way in order to service your whims and recreational pursuit. Betsy and I will be spending 03-08SEPT camped at Hart’s Pass and will have goodies for passing by hikers. We’re not sure how many hikers to plan for, but anticipate no more than 10 hikers/day coming through. I can envision occasionally going up to Chinook Pass with a cooler of soda pop, but other than that, I will focus on other activities to spend my time. b) Backpack conference I will be attending a Wilderness Medical Society Backpacking Medicine CME hike on 22-27SEPT. I’ll fly back to Lexington, KY where I will meet with Dr. Peter Tate, spend a few days with him, and then go together to attend this conference. I don’t need CME (continuing medical education) credit anymore since I am retired, but I still backpack and so would like to remain knowledgeable about what is the current standard for medicine in the wilds. c) volunteering for PCTA/WTA/MORA The initials are Pacific Crest Trail Association/Washington Trail Association/Mount Rainier (National Park). All three have volunteer slots for trail maintenance, which I enjoy doing. The PCTA does a phenomenally spectacular job with their volunteer vacations at making an enjoyable week of camping, doing trail work, and meeting other hikers. Because of the infirmities of my body, hard heavy lifting is no longer possible. I will probably shift toward volunteering mostly with MORA, doing things like trail walking, and giving advice to tourists lost or confused on the trails around the mountain. d) shorter adventures next year I would like to complete portions of the PCT, including the high Sierra and the northern aspect of the PCT from Snoqualmie to Canada. I’d also like to do the Timberline Trail again. The Olympics calls for me. I will probably do these trails solo but welcome others to come with if they are able to travel light. e) return to some bicycling I love cycling and would like to not only ride my bicycle on a regular basis, but also to do some touring. Maybe I’ll do something with Adventure Cycling next year, but will have to look at their tours and think about how I can mesh a cycle tour with my backpacking. I’d also like to consider how to lighten up my entire bicycle touring apparatus, similar to what’s happening with ultralight backpacking. f) car camping with Betsy Betsy and I will be car camping next week at Hart’s Pass, doubling up as trail angels. I hope that we could get away to the beach or elsewhere to spend some time just relaxing together in the woods. We have all that we need for that, save for the time and the initiative to get off our butts and out into the woods. I need to determine ways of making camping more comfortable and fun for her, but I’ll find out next week whether some of my ideas were successful. g) Overnighters with the grandkids I would like to eventually take each of the grandchildren individually out backpacking in the woods. Ethan happens to be next on the list, and hoped to do that this year, but it didn’t work out. Hopefully, next year? h) work with outdoor club at church Our church has a youth outdoor “club”, but I’ve not been involved with it. Perhaps in the future? i) more writings on conservation/the environment/wilderness ethic It is sad to say that writing related to the environment are generally poorly thought out, or solipsistic in their thinking. Now that the environment has become a political issue, it is guaranteed to be even less well thought out. Much of the writing on wilderness ethics is very self-centered—everybody should support wilderness, but please stay away and leave it for me alone to enjoy (i.e., since I am the only person that can truly “appreciate” wilderness)—sort of attitude. Leave no trace (LNT) thinking is great, but every human involvement in the wilderness leaves a trace. On my last venture, I was looked on very disapprovingly for leaving an apple core to rot in the woods. Soon, they will be telling us to pack out our feces! The Wilderness Act speaks of wilderness being an area untrammeled by man with no trace of man’s presence, yet man’s presence in the wilderness is “trammel-ment“, and trails are distinct traces of man’s presence, let alone structures built in the wilderness, a perfect example being the hut on top of Muir Pass! All of this is highly inconsistent. Perhaps the refusal to accept that this world is anthropocentric, that is, made (by a Creator) for man, with man’s responsibility to take care of his world. Wilderness ethic implies a sentient being which has the capability of appreciating beauty and acting on that appreciation, and so restricts the beings to man alone. j) home plans My favorite moments are the time I have with Betsy. We will soon be celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary, and the memories are long and fond. Betsy tends to not be so adventure minded as myself, and is content to putzing around the house, working on various projects inside the house and outside in the garden. I have a mild love-hate relation to gardening; it’s fun once in a while, but not all the time. We’ve engaged in a number of projects, the latest being that of building a backyard small raised garden for vegetables. Betsy and I also enjoy watching movies together. We do not get any form of subscription tv services and do not get television in the home, but will watch movies. Currently, we are working through the Lost in Space series from the 1960’s. It is quite corny, but also very informative as to how greatly society has changed in 50 years. I love to watch operas on our big screen, and hope to soon work through Der Ring des Niebelungen again. I happen to be a Bach and Wagner addict. I love to read, and still have stacks of books waiting for my attention. I’ll be refreshing and advancing on my French instruction, and also trying to learn a little Spanish. I hope to return to regular practice on my trumpet. I am working on a 40th anniversary get-away with Betsy. She would like to visit Lost Vegas but still have our plans wide open. I have more stuff to do now that I’m retired than when I was working. C’est la vie!

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Aug 23
Looking down on Sheep Lake, Mount Adams is in the background

I tried to make this blog post up on WordPress on my iPhone, but somehow the program went bezirk. I was in Airplane mode since you don’t have cell phone service in the woods, but the program kept trying to upload my posts as well as past posts. It would stall for minutes, and then eat up 1% of my cell phone “juice” every 5 minutes. That is NOT a sustainable situation, so I deleted WordPress from the iPhone and wrote everything in Pages, converting it to a blog post when back at home.

19AUG Mile 2323-2337 (Martinson Gap) It’s now been a month off the trail, and I still feel beat up from the trail. Yet, the weather is beautiful, the mountains are calling, and I am missing the backpack life. I met a high school student on a volunteer trail maintenance project last year, Jacob Conner, and he wanted to do some of the trail with me, so we decided to do it together, with the fathers’ support. Ken Gill took me up to the trailhead, along with Sam, Ethan, and Liam. The kids walked in for about 3 miles before turning back and leaving Jacob and myself to our own devices. After ascending to Sheep Lake, the trail further ascended and coursed around the Crystal Mountain ski area, and then through a large burn area from several years ago. Because we were just starting out, we decided to take it easy today, and just walked 14 miles.

Betsy doing a conditioning walk with me on the Foothills Trail
The starting crew, including Ken, Ethan, Liam, Sam, me, Grandpa Bill, and Jacob

We had some interesting people pass us including Eleven, who I met in Hiker Town. We met a couple of hikers from Montreal who we stayed in contact with through to Snoqualmie Pass. We were able to have a very relaxed evening. 

Norse Peak Wilderness beauty
Mount Rainier partially hidden from the trail

20AUG Mile 2337-2352

I was in the trail at 6:40, a little later than usual, and Jacob followed a bit later. Eventually he passed me as he is a fairly strong and nimble hiker with a light pack weight. I met a few people of note including an elderly lady named Rhinestone, hiking alone, heading south and doing about 8-10 miles a day. She immediately volunteered that she was a Christian lady and spoke much to me about her faith and appreciation of God’s handiwork on the trail. She was working on short hikes supported by her husband until she could finish the entire Washington section of the PCT. Then there was Hotrod, another elderly geezer, who noted strongly that one should always hike their own hike and not be affected by the young ones sprinting at breakneck speed one the trail. Jacob and I met up at a water hole, then at Ulrich cabin where I was able to get more water, and stopped early at mile 2352 where there were nice campsites plus the last water for 12 miles. Since there were no good campsites for another 7 miles we decided to set up camp a little earlier than intended and had a relaxed evening, enjoying cigars together and celebrating my birthday. At Ulrich cabin there was a 25 yo hiker that had celebrated her 25th birthday just yesterday. It was birthday time on the trail.

Rhinestone
Ulrich Cabin

21AUG Mile 2352-2371

Jacob wished to have coffee before starting the trail so we didn’t get hiking until 7 am. The day started beautiful and cloudless, but soon clouds and drizzle moved in. There were some beautiful scenes when the clouds broke but it was mostly hiking in cool, cloudy and occasionally rainy weather. We were able to hike quite quickly and made it through the 12 mile “dry” section without a problem. Soon, the rain became more persistent and the hills more demanding. I realized that though I wished to put in more miles I also wanted to have my tent up before I became completely soaked. So, we stopped at 19 miles where I had originally planned.  It felt like fall was truly in the air.

Misty day
Mountain beauty
A clue as to where you could find water
Jacob as spry as ever

22AUG Mile 2371-2393

It rained all through the night. I had my tent closed up and noted some condensation inside the tent. I also realized that my “mini” tent stakes were quite adequate for the desert but completely inadequate for the Northwest soil, so will swap out and use regular MSR stakes. I got up a little earlier and headed out with a very wet tent rolled up. I fortunately was dry as well as my sleeping bag. For the third night now, my sleeping pad, a ThermaRest Uberlight was half deflated and needed re-inflation at least once in the night. I think that I’m going to take it back and get a slightly smaller but more substantial sleeping pad. But, in my summary to follow, I’ll do a more complete summary of my equipment. We wished to reach Snoqualmie Pass by 4 pm and had 22 miles to hike. At first I led the way until Jacob caught up and dashed ahead at Mirror Lake. The trail from Mirror Lake was very rocky and not easy to hike through, so I dropped from a 2.5 – 3 mph rate to about 2 mph and ended up with considerable pain in the ankles. But, it was good to see Jacob, his mom, and his little brother. 

Stampede Pass in the mist
Beautiful Mirror Lake
Looking down on I-90

At this point, I had to make a major decision. First, I realized that I could not keep up with Jacob and that he had a time constraint in that he wished to get to Stehekin by 01SEPT, which I could not do. Secondly, with the body aches, especially in the neck, I wasn’t finding the hiking enjoyable, in fact, it was more a matter of constantly suppressing the pain, which usually started about 10 miles in for each day. If I was averaging about 15 mile days like most of the older geezers I passed, then all would be ok. But, this rate of hiking did not fit into what I could handle. I knew that the trail had won and that I really needed to fold in for the season. I had hiked a grand total of 1002 miles of the PCT this year. I am glad to have gotten the most challenging section over with (the desert), and would like to complete other sections of the trail in years to come, though at a slower pace than what I’ve been doing this year. Like Rhinestone, I would like to complete the Washington section of the PCT, do more of the Oregon and northern California PCT, and possibly even do the high Sierra. I will have the advantage of selecting optimal times to do each of these sections in the years to come. It just isn’t going to happen this year. My attitude toward epic adventures, whether on a bicycle or on foot, has come to an end. I will no longer seek for adventures that remove me from home for more than a month. ,,

There is a disappointment in this ending. I would have liked to have hiked more of the trail this year. As a fund-raiser hike-a-thon for Huguenot Heritage, I would have liked to complete a greater part of my commitment. If I physically could have, I would have. But, it just wasn’t possible. This was one of the worst years possible to commit to the PCT. First, there were record snowfalls from central Oregon south all the way to the Mexican border. Because of the late snow melts and massive water content, there were record hordes of mosquitoes. You already know how I felt about mosquitoes. Thirdly, the summer was unusually short, with fall settling in earlier than usual. The one aspect of the hike that was excellent was the desert, which was unusually green. The rivers and creeks that supply water for the hikers were flowing at a time when they are often dry, making water more available than other years. So, I am grateful for many aspects of this adventure. 

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Jul 26
Tim in front of our Fish Lake Cabin

22JULY Mile 1773-1785

I was a little slow taking off from Fish Lake. A joined a bunch of other hikers for breakfast, which didn’t open until 9am. Fish tank, Tim and a few other hikers were there. Tim crashed the cabin with me. The attempt to hitch back to the trail was a little frustrating, and I had already walked a mile before somebody picked me up.

VERY touristy Fish Lake

I decided on a short day. The weather was cool with some clouds, but I was still sweating. I am drinking more water than I thought. Finally reaching Christi Spring about 4 pm, there were a lot of tent sites and I decided to crash here for the night. The other hikers from Fish Lake eventually caught up with me, and all but Tim decided to go on. After a quick dinner, I became invaded by vast swarms of mosquitoes, so it was a very quick retreat to the tent and mosquito protection. I also learned the near impossibility of taking a dump without being eaten by mosquitoes. I am now happy in bed, waiting for the sun to go down and everything to cool off. Tomorrow will need to be a big day.

Looking out toward Upper Klamath Lake
Looking down on Four Mile Lake

23JULY Mile 1785-1806I woke up this morning not feeling as well as I would have liked. The sun had not yet risen but one could see, and there was a drove of mosquitoes waiting for me just outside my tent. So, I packed everything in my backpack except the tent itself, quickly got everything together and ran. The mosquitoes remained in hot pursuit for about half the day. It got me thinking about mosquitoes. Have you ever thought about how large their brain is? For thinking, they probably have only 4 Betz cells. They don’t think! I suspect that they are direct operatives/automatons of Satan himself. Every bit of their behavior is Satanic. I can’t conceive of any good they fulfill for the kingdom of God. I certainly don’t mean to be selling bad theology since I believe that God is in total control of all things, yet comprehending the mosquito is like comprehending the whole problem of why there is evil in this world. But, back to the trail. The trail finally started climbing and offered spectacular views of Mt McLaughlin and Mt Shasta. I came to a saddle where looking north you could see Mt Thielsen, and the Crater Lake rim. This is also where I ran into some residual snow on very steep slopes. Several weeks before, this trail would have been close to impassable. I finally crossed several streams which were the last water for 20 miles until Crater Lake village. So, I am now carrying as much water as the desert. My poor back. An even longer stretch of 29 miles is coming up. You drink the water sparingly, but it is warm so your thirst never gets quenched. I stopped at a nice camp at mile 1806 with few mosquitoes, had dinner, and climbed in my tent. Just then, Fishtank comes by and chats. For reasons that will be discussed later, I decided to bail for now, maybe getting some hiking in after a longer recovery for my left shoulder/neck. I arranged that Fishtank could pick up the several resupply packages I’ve already sent in order for them to get used. My resupply packages have become known as having very enviable food items that most other people just did not think about using for a backpacking trip.

Mt McLaughlin in the distance

24JULY Mile 1806-1823 (Crater Lake)

It was quite cold this morning, cold enough to warrant my down jacket. The mosquitoes were already lurking outside of the tent, awaiting a feast of fresh human blood, which I would try to deny them. I knew that today would remain waterless until I reached my destination 16 miles way. The weather started as cool, but warmed up quickly, demanding increased water consumption. There was only about 2000 feet of climbing, so I was able to zip along quickly. Sadly, there was about 8 miles of forest fire to walk through, which extended well into Crater Lake National Park for about 4 miles. I took my mid-morning rest at the high point of the day, a saddle with spectacular views in both south and north directions. There was still snow about the trail on the north side slopes, which suggested prohibitive danger even just a few weeks before when hard pack snow would have completely invested the slope. Even on dropping down 1000 feet to the level of Mazama village, there were large patches of snow. At Mazama Village, the campsites were full and they had not opened up the hiker sites yet. It was like the hikers were their least concern, even though thru-hikers had few other options. I had lunch at the expensive village restaurant, which fortunately provided bottomless fountain drinks, allowing me to consume about 4 liters too partially assuage my thirst. A couple sitting next to me agreed to shuttle me up to the rim, where I could catch a shuttle into Klamath Falls. I quickly picked up my resupply package and doled it out to about 15 hiker trash people hanging out at the village store and got my ride up to the rim. Several hours later I was in Klamath Falls at a motel close to the train station, and consumed several more liters of fluid to aid my persistently raging thirst. I scheduled the Amtrak ride back to Tacoma on-line, called Betsy, and then felt relaxed.

Snow past the saddle
Few of Mt Shasta (far left horizon) and Mt McLaughlin from the saddle
Lengthy area of forest fire, particularly hot to walk through
Arrival at Crater Lake National Park
Yes! Crater Lake

So, I am going to terminate my journey. Toward the end of August, I might still spend several weeks going from Stevens Pass to Canada. This way, I could complete the two ends of the journey. I am sad that a complete thru-hike was not accomplished, but then I was realistic from the start at a 5-10% chance of total success, and on learning of the dismal snow year this year and expected heatwave in the mountains this summer, calculated only a fleeting chance of total success. So many of my fellow hikers (almost all of them) ended up bailing out, most of them far more capable than myself.

Why did I throw in the towel and give up? There was a combination of factors. I will quickly blame the weather and environmental factors as playing a huge role for not only me but for most of the hikers attempting the trail. Greatest in my mind was the physical aspect. I had the strength to make it, but the neck and back issues had become unbearable. Perhaps a different pack might make a difference and I’ll explore that, but it would have to be a pack weighing under 2.5 lb. I will probably still have some time this year to explore that option.

The second issue was psycho-social. First was the psychological issues of the trail. Flip-flopping is known to demoralize the thru-hiker, and now I can see why. I had no choice in this matter, not wanting to take the huge risks of going through the snow of the high Sierra. It is also demoralizing to be hiking south like so many flip-floppers were doing when the ultimate goal is Canada. The trail was becoming unbearably monotonous. For 99% of the time, you were in forests with trees and hills that mostly all looked the same. True, the high Sierra would have offered a different venue but that wasn’t to be this year. I truly enjoyed the solitude of the woods, but then too much of a good thing can become a very bad thing. The hike really is a concatenation series of 3-6 day section hikes, starting and ending at resupply points. With each section, one needed to estimate the difficulty, available water sources, possible snow conditions, and any other possible problems.

I didn’t experience the typical hiker hunger, but often had anorexia, just not wanting to eat much of anything. The thirst was relentless no matter much I would take in. Water tastes SOOOO good right out of a cold spring, but bland when it had been warming up all day in the heat of the sun in your backpack. After about one day, you become quite dirty. Even though I always wore long pants, the dirt on my legs would be challenging to remove once I was able to take a shower. Oral hygiene was close to impossible—just try brushing your teeth without wasting a drop of water! I don’t mind getting dirty, but staying persistently filthy when one has lived his professional life in sterile conditions becomes hard to handle.,

Early on in the hike, there was a sense that once you acquired your “hiker legs” you would be able to go much faster and farther in a day. That was only partially true for me, in that once I got started in the morning, my feet would just go and go, like the Energizer bunny. I found that my heart was a serious limiting factor, in that going uphill predictably would slow me down to a crawl. I found that once I hit a bit more than 20 miles in a day, my feet just didn’t want to go further, and pain in the feet and ankles prevented me from pushing on. This could be remedied by consuming mass quantities of ibuprofen, which I would do. I would have liked to have hit at least one 30 mile day, but 28 miles ended up being my longest day, hit several times on my journey. There are those who can accomplish greater than 40 mile days, but they begin the day at 2-3 am and hike great lengths in darkness—not my cup of tea—and usually are pushing 3 mph speeds. If I tried to do that, I would have guaranteed myself a serious injury.

There were social aspects to the decision to quit. First, the desert was far more heavily populated with thru-hikers, and they were an enjoyable lot. You might go much of a day without seeing anybody, but then you would run into a lot of people that you could identify with. Up north, there were far fewer people on the trail and many of them were section hikers. Most of them were not prepared for the task at hand, having packed WAY too much unnecessary items resulting in pack weights in excess of 50 lbs. Most of these people were very physically fit males who didn’t think that weight mattered. Those people should limit themselves to 10-12 miles per day and go for under a week with most of their hikes, or at least learn and quickly lighten their load. So it was a matter of progressive loneliness for me. I thought constantly about Betsy at home and felt that our time of separation was a bit too long. Then there was the issue of much going on at home and Betsy feeling increasingly desperate for me to be home. She agreed before the start of my journey that she would be totally supportive, and she has kept faithful to that agreement. Yet, I could tell how she really needed me at home. I thought about the other things I should be doing like short adventures with Betsy, and getting the grandchildren out into the woods, teaching them the new style of packing. All of these matters played a part in me finally breaking. The decision came quickly but resolutely, with me giving it several days before talking with Betsy about my intention.

Was the journey worth it? Did I learn anything? Did I accomplish any good through this venture? I believe that the answer is yes to all of these questions.

It would be impossible to estimate the worth of the journey. Healthwise, I lost 25 lb, and feel much better than before the journey. While hiking, I found it necessary to stop my anti-hypertension mediations, or I would get lightheaded every time I stopped hiking. I was way over-treating myself. I always felt as strong as usual while hiking. Spiritually, it was a wonderful time with God. As mentioned before, each day as soon as I was on the trail I would sing the Doxology and Gloria Patri, and then pray for my family including Betsy, the children, as well as my siblings. Often, a special hymn would stay with me much of the day. I had in iBooks a pdf file of the lyrics to my 100 favorite hymns that were always nice to sing in my head in the evening. I have almost completed John Frame’s History of Western Philosophy, though the appendices are almost as long as the book. I experience hiker-brain on the trail which limits the amount of critical thinking that I could do.

The learning experience was massive in terms of knowing how to do long distance hiking. At this time, even shorter hikes will be different, and a focus on lightness will be key. I met many new friends, some of whom I suspect will stay in touch. The trail gave me experience in knowing how to plan and tackle various challenging circumstances such as dealing with long waterless segments of the trail, and learning how to do without many of the comforts of life.

Did I accomplish any good outside of what I gained personally? Others would have to tell me that. Betsy would have been my greatest focus on how this experience might have affected her, and you can ask her that. Doing the hike as a Hike-a-thon for Huguenot Heritage Ministry was a deep concern of mine, and hopefully my journey generated a worthwhile return for the ministry. Thinking realistically 6 months ago, I knew that completion of the trail had most odds against me, and indeed, even completion of the desert section was greatly against me. I also pledged for the hike, but have determined that I would still donate an amount equivalent to as if I had done the entire trail. The dear reader should follow their own heart, but remember that this ministry merits the best we can do to support it, in spite of my personal failure to accomplish 100% of the trail.

So, I will do more of the trail, but will need to take care of home issues and organize my thoughts as well as heal before hitting the trail again. Stay in touch.

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Jul 22
Sailor (Alicia) just before leaving back to the trail

Yesterday was busy. I took Alicia up to White Pass, a little more than two hours in each direction. It was still cloudy, though the weatherman promised than it would get sunny. After our goodbyes, I had to quickly get ready to leave. As mentioned before, the easiest way to get ack on the trail in southern Oregon was by Greyhound. Sadly, Greyhound is very poorly run, and the busses can be expected to be at least an hour late. We had to transfer in Portland. I fell asleep and woke up just as we arrived in Medford.

19JUL Mile 1719-1730. I again contacted trail Angel Mike, and after a bit, he decided to just get me and leave me at the trailhead. I was finally back on the trail, but understandably nervous about how my body would handle it. I also decided to not push it any in way. Thus, the first day was only 11 miles, though I did start a bit late, at 9am. Hiking went well, and I had some aches and pains, but minimal neck pain. I should get an earlier start tomorrow and probably start to push it more. One interesting event occurred today. As I was setting up camp, a guy comes by looking for the spring close to where I was camped. After a few interchanges, we introduced ourselves, and he was Fishbait. Alicia had mentioned that I might be seeing him.

Familiar sign
Pilot Rock
Campsite

20JULY Mile 1730-1750

I woke up early as usual, and headed out, not sure how far I’d make it. The trail had ups and downs, but no extreme climbing. The weather was perfect. I passed several lakes, though the views were imperfect. Water was present but not abundant. Thankfully it wasn’t terribly hot. I decided to stop at 20 miles at Klum Landing Camp. The next day, I wish I would have gone a bit further. This camp was filled with RVs and riff raff, with no hiker trash. Oh well.

One of the many expansive meadows

21JULY Mile 1750-1773

This was a long day of 25 miles since I had to walk 2 extra miles to get to the Fish Lake resort where I had a resupply package. It was another beautiful day with very little climbing. About half way, I came to a road where there was trail magic…fruit and ice cold soda pop with a chair to sit in. The last 8 miles had expansive lava flows. The Oregon PCTA has done an awesome job of building and maintaining these trails, making it fairly easy to get through. Finally, I reached the side trail to Fish Lake. Half way, I encounter a fellow hiker who I met on 04APR and haven’t seen since then!

Trail angel on left with lots of cold soda pop
Lava flow
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Jul 17

It is now far too long to be off the trail. Oddly, several very unexpected events occurred out of my control. They are as follows…

First, I received a call from Sailor at White Pass, noting that she was having knee problems, and wondering if she could crash at our place for several days. Of course that was ok, and we had a great time having her in. It also gave me a little more time to rest my neck. I will be dropping her off close to the trailhead tomorrow am, and then will be hopping on a Greyhound bus in the evening to head off.

Secondly, I was given some terribly unfortunate news. Betsy and I had remained close friends with Phil Muller over the years, and had taken him out to lunch or had him over for dinner whenever I was home from the trail. Last Tuesday, Phil needed help weed-whacking the growth in his backyard, so I took my trust weed whacker over, and we finished clearing out his back yard in about 2 hours, with Phil raking up the loose weeds and I running the weed whacker. Because it was too early to do lunch and with Phil a little tired out, we decided to stop work and just call it a day. Phil also wanted some help taking care of some trees in the yard, and we agreed to meet later in the week to accomplish that. I called the next day to set up a work day, and never received an answer, so just assumed that Phil perhaps didn’t wish to talk at that time. I tried again on Thursday and Friday, and still no response. Betsy was worried, so we went over to his place on Friday about noon, and there was no answer to the doorbell. I thought I heard some noises from inside the house so decided that perhaps Phil really just needed time alone, which wasn’t uncommon for him. Saturday had the event below occur, and so I didn’t try to make contact again until Sunday. Still no answer, so I became very worried. I called Dr. King and Andrew, and neither was aware of what was going on with Phil. I didn’t have Phil’s contact to his sister from Silverdale, so there was nothing that I could do to sort things out. Sunday at 18:40 I received a call from Andrew who learned that Phil was found dead in his trailer. I must have been the last person to have made contact with Phil. It is a terrible blow to see Phil go. He had a tremendous amount of personal problems, but still had struggled to live a Christian life as well as possible. These events kept me in town, answering questions to family, and sorting out whether a memorial service or anything of that sort was going to happen.

Thirdly, I was in a car accident. On Saturday, I drove out to Pinnacle Peak and ran up the hill several times. Coming home, traffic was heavy and I slowed down and stopped for traffic stalled in front of me. Suddenly, I realized that the vehicle, a black sports car, was inattentive and rammed right into my truck, pushing me several meters into the vehicle, a red Silverado, in front of me. The car was drivable to get home, and it was clearly the fault of the driver that hit me (who had good insurance) and so that lessened the pain of it all. In the process of sorting things out, USAA sent out an adjuster, who determined that my vehicle was totaled and not worth repairing, and gave me a generous quote for the vehicle. Once I finish my backpacking, Betsy and I will need to purchase a new pickup, and we will probably go again for a Toyota Tacoma, or possibly a Chevy Colorado. Meanwhile, USAA is going to pick up our truck and dispose of it where cars usually get dumped. It will be sad to see our vehicle go.

Car front
Car rear

Meanwhile, Betsy has a moderate amount of work to accomplish around the house. We will be having the carpet removed from our stairs and upstairs landing, and get wood floors in these locations like we did to most of the downstairs. This is going to tie up her time for a few days and leave her without the ability to get upstairs easily while the workers reconstruct the stairway.

My return to the trail has been under contemplation. I did not anticipate being at home this long. The weather has been very rainy in the Northwest, making it a bit miserable for hikers out there. Typical NW weather is a constant drizzle, and the trail tends to be muddy, no matter how well the trail was designed. At this time, my greatest desire is to simply a) get in as many miles as possible on trail free from snow and mud, and b) get to Canada, since I had to apply for a special permit for that to happen. Thus, I am shortening my original intentions by about 200 miles, and will be starting my hike from Ashland. I anticipate reaching Timberline Lodge in the 1st to second week of August, popping home briefly, and then doing Washington, starting at a point that seems most reasonable at the time to permit me to reach Canada before winter sets in.

Greyhound will take me to Medford, Oregon. It is an overnight trip and will arrive early on Friday. I’ve spoken with a trail angel (Mike) who will pick me up and drop me off at the trail where it crosses I-5 about 10 miles south of Ashland. This means that I will be missing about 20 miles of the PCT in Oregon, but, that’s life. I’m anxious to get back on the trail and am trying the easiest approach possible to get me there. Psychologically, it is much easier to be going north, since I am then headed toward Canada. The snow should be easily manageable. My greatest problem will probably be mosquitos. If it hasn’t occurred to the reader, mosquitos are the bane of the backpacker. I regret how seriously this hike has been chopped up. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but then, I didn’t anticipate a record snow year for the trail. This was NOT the year to be doing the PCT.

So, I ask you to keep me in your thoughts and prayers. I know that Betsy will be ok, but I don’t like leaving her when so much is happening on the home front. The Lord has so far been abundantly good to me, keeping me safe and without any serious problems on the trail or at home.

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Jul 04

I am again at home when I should be on the trail. The neck issue has been quickly addressed. I called up by dear friend Fred Bomonti, a retired chiropractor, who came over and did a few things to my back, and I now feel better. I still have some pain, but not the searing pain that I was experiencing a few days ago. I’ll see him at his office on Friday for a follow-up adjustment. There are things that chiropractors really are superb at fixing, and back/neck pain is one of them. I fear that throwing the pack on my back too soon will re-start the pain, and so wish to give it a bit of rest, and will delay a bit before jumping back on the trail.

It takes a while to get hiker feet, and my strength in walking has never been a problem. Because of my heart issues, I feared that strength to do the trail would be my greatest problem, but it hasn’t been. True, I am tired when I go to bed at night, but when I wake in the morning, I feel as strong as ever. I never question the wisdom of God is designing us to spend a ⅓ of our time unconscious and horizontal. It is a marvelous way get daily “maintenance” on the body. I also lost 25 lb since starting the hike in April, and feel much better. This hiking trip has been awesome for my general health. Twenty-five pounds is a lot of extra weight to be carrying every day, and I’m most happy to be rid of it. Hopefully, I don’t put too much back on before I return to the trail.

I have said before that I have chosen absolutely the worst year to be hiking the PCT. I couldn’t help it. I had to sign up in October, long before anybody knew what trail conditions were going to be like. I figured that since snow conditions were so high two years ago, snow would not be a problem this year, but it was. These conditions have led to three actions among hikers. 1. Push on through. For a few, this isn’t a bad decision, as they have the strength to push on and the knowledge of how to handle severe conditions. I don’t, and the overwhelming majority of those hiking the trail don’t have the capability, and many are getting into trouble because of that. 2. Quit. Many of my friends on the trail were content to do nothing but the desert, or to flip-flop, realize that there were no good areas (this year) to flip-flop to, and then quit, hoping to come back some other time because the trail conditions were so ugly. 3. Flip-flop with time off to let conditions improve and make it a multi-year hike. This will be my ultimate strategy. There is no consensus among hikers on the trail as to the best option.

When I started at the Mexican border, you might hike alone for half a day or more, but you would then see many people when you arrived at camp or if you stopped to rest. It was easy to get to know fellow thru-hikers. In the flip-flop mode, there are so few hikers on the trail, that the acquaintance of one day is certainly gone the next day. You meet the riff-raff hoi polloi out for their day hikes. This last segment, I met a young couple hiking from Timberline Lodge to as far north as they could get in a month. It was their honeymoon. They were WAY overpacked, so I suspect that they might call it at Cascade Locks or not too long afterward. It is quite easy to tell the real thru-hikers from the riff-raff on the trail.

There are four main segments of the PCT. 1. The Desert, 2. The High Sierra, 3. Northern California, and 4. Oregon and Washington. This year was a perfect year to hike the desert. It was green and gorgeous. Water was plentiful. It wasn’t burning hot. It was a joy to hike through. The high Sierra had 220% of average snowfall, the highest recorded in many areas, and the snow is not melting quickly. The high Sierra is usually pictured as lovely green meadows and granite lined lakes with many surrounding peaks. Right now, it is a bland sheet of whiteness. No thanks! Northern California also had record snowfalls with the snow not melting quickly. Thus, many areas remain impassable (at least, as recommended by forest rangers) at this time. Many areas of the Sierra, Northern California, and Oregon/Washington demand lengthy (multiple miles) of hiking through snow, which might not be dangerous, but definitely slows you down to under half your normal hiking speed. The risk of injury, getting lost, and other problems go up astronomically when hiking through snow. Other areas, if the snow is gone, still have the problem of intense blow-downs (fallen trees across the trail) which makes hiking the trail MUCH more difficult. I did the only portion of northern California where snow was not a dominant factor at this time of the year but even then, it was 2-3 very challenging miles of snow. In Oregon and Washington, matters are a bit different. Having grown up the Northwest, generally serious hiking at higher altitudes does not begin until late July or August. The PCT generally stays at these higher altitudes. Besides contending with snow, rain is a constant issue until late July, and insects, especially the mosquito and biting flies) are worst before August. If one was doing a typical PCT thru-hike, you would not be hitting Oregon and Washington until August/September, when conditions in the mountains are ideal. The last few days showed me swarms of mosquitos in many spots which did not even permit me to sit down and rest, lots of rain, and very muddy trails which leaves on feeling uncomfortably dirty. So, there are no good options for where and when to jump back on the trail.

With all of this in mind, I am in deep contemplation as to what to do next. This is now my third time to retreat and come home. Besides running up the cost of this venture far beyond what I expected and planned for, it is psychologically demoralizing. It is especially psychologically challenging to be hiking south when your goal is to eventually reach Canada! Assuming that my neck problem can be resolved to comfortable levels, I still wish to get in as much of the trail as possible. Too much of a good thing becomes a very bad thing, and the doldrums of the daily routine is also somewhat psychologically challenging. The adventure of discovering the trail seems to resolve most of those doldrums, though I find it incomprehensible that many would wish to hike the PCT (or AT) through many times over. I wish to complete as much of the trail as possible this year for several reasons. 1) It was my original intention, and I don’t wish to go against that, and 2) I am walking the trail as part of a hike-a-thon for the Huguenot Heritage, for whom I wish to raise as many funds as possible, and 3) most of the trail that I missed has intense beauty, and worth hiking.

I am definitely going to give my neck a few weeks of rest from the backpack. I wouldn’t mind doing an over-nighter with family or friends (Russ?), but definitely not longer out than 2-3 days. I’d like to perhaps do a car-camping trip with Betsy. Once I return to the PCT, which would be later in July or early August, my thought is to start either at Snoqualmie or Chinook Pass and hike north from there, preferably into Canada. By that time, the swarm of PCT hikers will then be coming through and I will again have company in my endeavor. Most of the snow will be gone. The insects will have died down. I will have missed from Walker Pass to Old Station, from Bridge of the Gods to Chinook/Snoqualmie Pass, and from Castella to Timberline Lodge. These are all areas that might be best to wait until next year, when weather and snow conditions are more favorable. If I recover quickly, maybe I’ll return to Timberline Lodge and complete the Timberline to Castella segment, and then come back and do the above. Next year, since I don’t need to worry about an exact “start” time, getting a permit to finish everything will be much easier to accomplish. Perhaps I might also find the right person to accompany me?

Changes? 1) I’ll go back to Altra Lone Peak shoes. I’ve actually found two blisters on my feet, one on my left medial first toe, and one on my right medial heel. The Lone Peaks did not give me such blisters. 2) The Tyvek is too slippery and doesn’t work well if there is any slope to where one is sitting. I found another simple pad which could fill other uses. 3) I’ll leave the flip-flop sandals at home as I never used them. 4) I’ll carry less food but more dinners. 4) I like the new hydration set-up and will stick with that. 5) I gave my Ursack to Chuckles as I was leaving the trail and she was having a serious problem with rodents eating into her food bag, even while hanging. I’ll get a black Ursack for this next time out. 6) I’ll try to limit my miles a bit more. 7) I’ll probably carry a larger battery backup since I’ll be on longer stretches without the possibility of recharging my iPhone or inReach PLB. 8) I’ll need to be a little better prepared for cold wet weather. Perhaps a thermal top would be appropriate.

What can you do to help? 1) Pray for me, that I might have health to continue, and safety in my travels. 2) Pray for good weather, minimal rain, cool conditions, few mosquitoes, no forest fires and minimal snow. 3) Consider meeting me at one of the resupply points (Snoqualmie, Stevens, Stehekin, or Manning Park, Canada) for a trail angel moment, 4) Provide me a ride to Chinook Pass as Betsy absolutely hates to drive in the mountains, and 5) sign up and pledge to support the ministry of Huguenot Heritage. I most certainly will not make all 2650 miles of the trail this year, but your pledges will keep me going for as far as I humanly can endure. Even I have pledged money per mile for the trail, but value the ministry of Huguenot Heritage sufficiently that I intend to donate as though I had hiked the entire PCT. You might consider the same. 6) Pray for Huguenot Heritage and III Millenium Ministries. The focus of this backpack trip should not be me but the many people who have given their lives and fortunes to bring the gospel to foreign speaking people. Francis Foucachon and others are laboring tirelessly to provide the materials that front-line missionaries and pastors need to minister to their flocks in foreign countries. Have a heart and pray that the gospel triumph through their work.

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Jul 03
Mt St Helens, Mt Rainier, and Mt Adams all in the distance

I mentioned in my last post that I would resume my hike but now hiking in a southerly direction in order to delay hitting areas of excessive snowfall. Because I am using Guthook’s app to determine my mileage, I have Guthook’s set for a SOBO (south-bound) hike, which then gives mileage as calculated from the Canadian border. It will be confusing, but don’t worry: worse things could happen. You’ll still get my total mileage easily calculated, and if I’m at a distinct site, I’ll try to mention that when mentioning the S-mileage to help you know where I’m at. Cascade Locks is 2157 miles from the Mexican border, but 495 miles from the Canadian border. Guthook is actually calling Cascade Locks 406 miles from the Canadian border, perhaps including the 8 miles from the Canadian border to the road. In any event, I’ll use the Guthook mileage with an “S” before to indicate the difference in mileage accounting. Once I reach Castella, it will all be a moot point.

I am making a few minor changes. I’ll be carrying a small sheet of Tyvek to sit or lay on at rest stops.

I’ll be using an Ursack, effective for bears, but most importantly for squirrels, chipmunks and mice that would love to eat your food.

I will no longer carry micro-spikes, but go for a little heavier shoes should I need to kick steps in the snow.

Merrell Moab IIs- NOT waterproof!

I’m no longer using an internal hydration unit for many reasons, and have gone with an external system that always allows me to know what my water supply is doing.

1 liter Platypus connected to a hydration hose and greatly modified by me

So, I am constantly changing but always keeping my weight down. If I add weight, something else has to go. That’s the wisdom of the trail.

Yesterday, I took the train down to Vancouver and Gaylon picked me up. I was able to see his new abode, which looked quite nice. For some reason, I felt really gorked out and we crashed early. I didn’t sleep too well; somehow, getting back on the trail is becoming harder with every break. This time I knew that I would be away between 4-6 weeks-not cool.

30 JUN- S505-523 (2148-2130) I started on the Washington side of the Bridge of the Gods, Gaylon having dropped me off, wanting to get photos of me walking the bridge. Today was a true grunt day, climbing nearly 6000 feet. The weather could not have been better. Most of the thru-hikers have flip-flopped and were heading north. I passed about 5 pair/couples who have done that. They all mentioned some issues with snow, but suggested that by the time I reach those places (like Mt. Jefferson) the snow should be mostly gone. I’m still trying to take it slow and easy for now. I set up camp at Wahtum Lake, expecting to reach Timberline Lodge in 2 days. Mentally, the day was hard as it was a very long climb to start after a long break. I’m thinking that perhaps a zero day at Timberline or Odell Lake might be in order. One thing that has kept me going was a batch of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies that Betsy baked up just before I left Puyallup. Boy were they nice. I’m also finding myself back into hiker-brain, not wanting to think about anything but survival on the trail. It’s hard to read before bed, as the brain shuts down.

Washington side, looking into Oregon
Climbing out of the Gorge
Large sections of forest burnt in the last forest fire.
Hiker trash
Wahtum Lake

01JULY- mile 2130-2109 (523-544S) The weather started cloudless, and Wahtum Lake was most beautiful. I was on the trail by 6am knowing that I would need to go 21 miles. It wasn’t quite as much climbing as yesterday but still was fairly demanding. About 2 o’clock it started to sprinkle and I put the rain cover on my pack. Not much happened with that. The trail went on a ridge that had Bull Run Reservoir (the drinking water for Portland) on one side and Lost Lake on the other. From the trail you could not see Bull Run and multiple signs announced it off limits. Lost Lake could be seen, and it brought back memories of a camping trip with Betsy soon after we were married.

Mt Hood getting ever closer
Lost Lake and Campground in the distance
Glacier Lilies in abundance lining the trail
Rhododendrons in full bloom

Before starting the Old Station to Castella section, I began to have terrible pains in my right neck. I could barely move my neck, and pain when trying to sleep became severe. Because I needed my full faculties of thought, I didn’t want to push the benzodiazepines (good for muscle relaxation) or narcotics to relieve the pain. On my short stay at home, most of this pain resolved. The pain began again soon after commencing hiking yesterday and today was unbearable. I could not look up or turn my head to either side without extreme pain. After setting up camp close to another thru-hiker headed south like me, Chuckles from Kotzebue, Alaska also noted that I was holding my head strangely and I explained to her the problem. The pain is extreme enough at this point that it might force me off the trail at Timberline. Tomorrow will tell.

02JUL- mile 2109- 2097

It rained through the night. My tent held true to the word and kept me very dry. I didn’t sleep much because of the neck pain. The rain had stopped by morning but it was quite misty. Chuckles woke up to wish me off. I left her a bunch of food as she was getting low, and planned on doing less than ten miles today, leaving her short of Timberline Lodge. She was a professional dog musher and was doing the trail to get into shape for next season. The trail was almost all upwards with several long climbs. I did the variant that passed Ramona Falls. The Sandy River was a very swift ford with sloppy rocks but I got across uneventfully though with wet feet and pants. At some point the mist increased and by the time I reached Timberline Lodge it was pouring down rain. To be expected, the trail had lengthy segments of mud, or rivers of water. More surprisingly I was told that the trail was snow free yet there were still lengthy segments of snow, some being a bit dangerous. This sort of weather and trail conditions are very typical for this time of year in the Northwest, but I guess I was thinking that I might luck out. By the time I reached Timberline Lodge, I could not even see the Lodge until I was right on it.

I neck continued to hurt severely. I couldn’t look to the side because of pain, so had to stop hiking and turn my entire body to see anything. The pain wasn’t as severe as yesterday, perhaps because of my lighter pack, but knew that I would be getting a 4-5 day supply of food for the next section and so might expect worse pain again. I picked up my resupply box and decided that I should have my neck looked at. My dear friend Fred Bomonti, a near retired chiropractor from Puyallup, said that he would see me the next day. I hopped a shuttle bus from Timberline Lodge to Sandy, another from Sandy to the Gresham MAX station, the MAX from Gresham to Union Station, and the Amtrak back home by 10pm. My dear lovely wife picked me up, and I could not be more happy to see her.

Ramona Falls
Mist engulfing the mountain
My first blister. I’ll be going back to my old shoes, the Altra Lone Peaks
You can’t see it well, but the streets are lined with “homeless” tents. This did not exist even a few years ago. Like Seattle, Portland has become a highly undesirable place to visit thanks to seriously misguided city management

I’ll soon be writing another blog about my thoughts so far and how I plan on negotiating the future life on the trail so stay in touch.

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Jun 24
Back on the Trail

13JUN

I am now traveling north to intercept Russ and resume our journey somewhere north of Mile 652. Old Station seems to be a good starting point, though communications with those who also flip-flopped suggest that there are problems with that in that they are running into slushy half-melted snow which is very hard to walk through while breeding massive legions of Satan’s insect, the mosquito. The mosquito is the only creature that has no use other than to torment man. Russ and I will have to make some hard decisions. There still needs to be some time for the snow to melt. Maybe a week or two at the beach would be a good idea?

I’ve been able to interact with many of the PCT hikers, some being fairly normal people with an adventuresome spirit, and others appear to be tortured and tormented souls, running both from themselves and from God. They are like the Cheryl Strayed character in the book “Wild”, seeking redemption bt definitely without God’s help or guidance. The trail ultimately becomes just another way of running from the truth and facing the realities of life. You might recall me talking about the drunken hiker at Scissors Junction. We called 911 on him. Three days ago, I met a person that looked exactly like him at the Dove Spring crossing where a number of us sought for shade and rest. I asked him in an obtuse manner about the Scissors Crossing incident, but he soundly replied that it could not have been him. Last night I went to Burger King seeking an internet connection, again saw this man lying in a drunken state in the beauty rocks outside of the restaurant. At this time he confessed that it was him at Scissors Crossing and begged me not to call 911 or the police again. As another example of hikers trying to find themselves, one hiker girl confessed to rejecting the Moroni faith at a very young age, which might have been a good thing save for what she chose to replace it with. Others are simply confused as to what they are running from or where they are running. The use of Ganga is huge. A sizable proportion has more than half their body surface area tattooed. Clearly one needs a great amount of constitution and smarts to survive the trail, but are just lacking in the most important thing in life, which is to realize all created things, both living things and non-living existence like rocks and streams and stars and sky, are there to glorify God. The wonders of the variety of His creation is unsearchable and beyond comprehension. To Him be all glory, power, praise and honor.

14JUNE

Russ and I met at the Redding train station at 4 am, my train arriving an hour late. Neither of us had slept more than two hours, staring at each other with glazed eyes of an incapacitated mental case. We decided to do an easy day of just getting to the trail, and then resting. Uber was able to get us to Old Station and next to the post office was a resort that we decided quickly on staying at. It took them about 4 hours to have a room ready, so we had time to chat, sort through gear, and send home things that were superfluous in our bags. After a restful day, we were ready to start the trail in the morning bright and early.

15JUNE – Old Station to Cache 22 (mile 1373-1393)

We woke up quite early and set out in cool weather. The weather soon warmed up a bit. Hiking was somewhat akin to desert hiking in that it was dry but we knew that the next easy water was 20 miles away at cache 22, so that is where our planned camp was to be. I pictured the Hat Creek Rim as being a desolate place, but it was anything but that. The rim overlooked a valley that was mostly a lava flow. Most of our walk was open but to our right (east) was dense Ponderosa forest. It was a little sweltering later in the day, and Russ was feeling the heat more than me. Camp was easy beside the water cache. Our plan was to take it a little easy for a few days to help Russ get his hiking legs. Since the trail was flat, it was the easiest hiking for me since the start at the Mexican border.

Hat Creek Rim with Mt. Shasta in the distance

The flat nature of the trail on the Hat Creek Rim
Russ in a very happy moment

16JUNE Mile 1393-1410

Today was an even easier day, mostly downhill, with beautiful views of Mt. Shasta to our front and Mt. Lassen to our rear. Though dry, it was through lovely meadows and lava fields that we walked. Russ separated for a brief period to walk the road that paralleled the trail as the trail was wearing on him. At mile 1407 was a cool refreshing stream where I stopped to wait for Russ to catch up. From there, we passed a reservoir where many folk came to play. From there, we were able to arrive at Burney Mountain Guest Ranch, just a short walk off the trail to stay for the night. They provided dinner, breakfast, laundry, and a swimming pool. BMGR was a non-profit Christian organization that seemed (at this time of the year) to cater to thru-hikers. It was here that Russ decided to bail out, as it was much different than he expected and he had not prepared adequately for the journey. For me, it was sad to see him go as he is a delightful person. Because of daily trail weariness, the trail oftentimes is not a terribly sociable place.

Lava bed meadows
The trail going through bare lava flow
Expansive meadows off of the rim

17JUNE – mile 1410-1419

A typical trail sign

Today started with breakfast at the Burney Mountain Guest Ranch, and then saying goodbye to Russ. It was with great pain in my heart that I said goodbye and cherished his companionship, but realized that it would be brutal to expect him to continue as he really was not prepared for the concept of thru-hiking, being exceedingly overpacked, and not really doing any training hikes with a loaded pack to prepare for this. It would not have been wise for him to continue. Perhaps I had been a little harsh in criticizing his unpreparedness for the style of thru-hiking, since it is radically different from regular backpacking. I did try, but guess I failed to get through to him. So, I made a Nero day today, going only 9 miles, and camped at Burney Falls State Park. Tomorrow will be a grunt with lots of miles and climbing. I was able to pick up my resupply box and rest up for the next five hard days. I met Intrepid from Vermont at the Park store while sorting out our resupply food. She is an older lady that did the Appalachian Trail 2 years ago. She decided to not stay at the state park, and I decided to linger, though regretted that later. The hiker-biker site at the state park was somewhat inconvenient but put me in a nice spot to head out for the next challenge. This evening, I went out for a walk and had a couple of beers with some fishermen, got back to camp, and discovered that my food bag had been stolen with half of my food. I kept my food in an odor-tight LokSack bag inside of a dyneema bag. The bag with my cup, spoon, and half the food was missing. Quickly looking around, I found the sack in another open tent so took it back, then ran to the store to make possible alternatives to the food that was missing. Late in the evening, the people came back who took my stuff, apologized, and returned my food. The bag was sitting in a bear box, and they just assumed that it was a free for all hiker box to take as they pleased. I told them I’d be happy to give them food if they needed it, but they responded that they had enough, so I’m not sure why they would be taking a food bag that had absolutely NO appearance of being hiker-box material. Sometimes, fellow hikers are more dangerous than bears. At least they were honest in returning my food.

Burney Falls

18JUNE – mile 419-437

I started hiking at 5:30 this morning, a little later than I had wished. Even though it wasn’t cold out, it is still hard to get going. Leaving Burney Falls, the trail headed mostly north and west. It was flat for only a couple of miles, and then started climbing. I saw several patches of snow and was told that tomorrow I would be walking through a moderate amount of snow. There were very few people on the trail, and most of them were not thru-hikers. I queried everybody coming south about the condition of the trail between Castella and Etna, and it sounded like nobody was getting through. I might need to change my plans again. Unfortunately, I have no cell phone service to talk things over with my most trusted confidant, Betsy. So, I’ll call her in Dunsmuir and figure out what to do next at that time. Meanwhile, I am enjoying the trail with its beautiful forests and shade from the blast of the sun. I’ll probably try to get an earlier start tomorrow and should be able to make it to Dunsmuir in three more days.

Mount Shasta getting closer
First spot of snow, which would lead to 2-3 miles of nothing but snow
Mt. Shasta with beautiful rock formations

19JUNE – mile 1437-1461

Today was a big day. I was up at 4 am but hit the trail by 5. This was going to be an extreme climbing day, and I knew that I would be hitting a lot of snow. As I climbed ever upward I ran into Salty, who strongly suggested that I walk the road because the trail with snow was so challenging. I check out the parallel dirt road, which appeared to be a lengthy mud puddle and decided to stick with the trail. The was wonderful at first, then slowly, patches of snow showed up and eventually the entire trail for about three miles was completely covered with snow. Because most of this year’s PCT hikers had not yet arrived here, the tracks through the snow were non-existent. Right as I was beginning to heavily consult Guthooks app, Stick Figure shows up. He appeared very comfortable with the situation, and I made sure to stay up with him. We eventually got through the snow, and I thanked him heartily for showing up at just the right time and sticking with me. After this, it was just steady trail until I found a place to camp. I was tired enough that cooking dinner was out of the question.

A view from the top, just past the snow.
Looking back at the snow I had just gone through

20JUNE – mile 1461 – 1477

Today was a slightly shorter day, as I was still tired from yesterday, and there was still a lot of climbing to do. I had camped out last night on a dirt road that was a bit uneven, so did not sleep well. I met up a mile later with a group of three ladies hiking together that I knew, including Intrepid, Say-it-again and Buffy, who camped by a Springs where I stopped for water. We were to meet and camp again that evening at a campsite 1477. The next decision was as to whether I should do 23 miles the next day, which also included much climbing, or make it one more night on the trail. I’ll probably wake up early tomorrow and decide. Today was a very pleasant hiking day, even though the sun was out full force. I always had plenty of water, and the forest offered remarkable shade for most of my journey. Early on, I was walking with Intrepid when I took a nasty fall while trying to climb over a large downed tree. My right thigh hurt for several days afterwards, and I felt a bit unstable on my feet. Stick Figure passed me again a few times, and most of the thru-hikers were headed in a southerly direction starting from I-5 (Castella/Dunsmuir). The forest ranger was warning hikers NOT to go into the Trinity Alps area, as the snow levels remained dangerously high. Today was most beautiful. Much of the hike included descending to the McCloud River and then climbing out of that valley. The road into the McCloud River was closed from landslides, so that the usual crowds were not there save for a lone fly fisherman who must have walked several miles in. There were bugs, but they were tolerable. I arrived at camp, set up my tent, cooked a real dinner, and three hours later, the girls show up. I’m ready to crash early and do an early start tomorrow. As mentioned above, I will definitely need to alter my plans but will wait to speak with Betsy.

Intrepid
McCloud River with lone fly fisherman

21JUNE – mile 1477-1501

This was another long day, with lots of climbing, but ending with a very long 10 mile descent into the Castle Crags State Park. I was on the trail by 5:30 am, and the weather remained cool throughout the day. This made walking quite easy. There were multiple views of Mt. Shasta, now looming very close. I could see the Trinity Alps, covered with snow, and Castle Crags. Thankfully I did not need to keep as much water on me, 2 liters being sufficient. The descent took a little more than 3 hours. On bottom, there wasn’t much of anything, and I needed to get 4.5 miles north to Dunsmuir. I tried getting in touch with Uber, Lyft, and a local taxi service with no avail, but then a fire truck stopped when my thumb was out and the kind sir gave me a ride into town. The hotel in town close to the train station announced to me that they were full, so I walked into town to contemplate my options. Out of nowhere the Flying Dutchman caught me, we had some pizza together, and decided to hang out in the train station until morning. After all, we both looked like drifters or bums! The Flying Dutchman sustained some injuries and decided to head home through Seattle. He also decided to stay at our place until he could get a plane ticket back to the Netherlands. His daughter would remain on the trail with new-found friends for another month. It was nice to have an accompanying friend again.

Mount Shasta ever closer
Castle Crags

22-24JUNE – home again???? Read on…

The Flying Dutchman and I spent the night catching momentary sleep in a very stuffy overheated waiting room. At least the toilet was open. The train came an hour late, but then we could get some sleep. Sitting close to me was the Professor, another thru-hiker, who was performing his 2-3 flip, and a guy from Israel (also thru-hiking, sitting with the Flying Dutchman), who were trying to determine his flip options but probably going from the Bridge of the Gods north into Washington. The snow dilemma remains. If I walked north into Washington, I would hit high snow at Mt Adams, very dangerous snow on Goat Rocks and the Kendall Catwalk, and have lengthy trail snow around Glacier Peak. In Oregon, though it just snowed at Timberline Lodge, the trail is free of snow, and Jefferson would soon be free of snow as well as the three Sisters area. By the time I arrived at Crater Lake three weeks later (assuming I started south from the Bridge of the Gods), the snow should be mostly gone. I’ve been able to review what other hikers were doing, and it was mostly extremely chaotic. There is no consensus on a best option, and many hikers are simply dropping out, like Pasta.

I will probably start south from Cascade Locks/Bridge of the Gods, and work my way to Dunsmuir again. I could use a rest. I’ve developed a crick in my neck that I would like to resolve. I have some bruises from falls on the trail that would be nice to resolve. . I need to make a few minor equipment changes. I will need to reorganize my resupply boxes since I am going in the opposite direction (southward) from what was originally planned. I’ll be busy next week.

Meanwhile, Betsy and I are playing trail angel to the Flying Dutchman (Michael). Yesterday, we went up to Seattle to show him the town. He thought that the town was dirty and over-run my homeless people. He was also surprised that Seattle so quickly tears down beautiful historic buildings and constructs moderns monoliths in their place. Today, I took Michael up to the Greyhound station. I was overwhelmed by how poorly Greyhound is now run. We showed up at the Greyhound station only to be told in vague terms that we needed to walk a 1/2 mile to where the bus would actually pick him up. We got there, the bus was an hour late, the bus was over-booked by about 20 people, it was completely chaotic, and if I didn’t beg and plead somebody to give Michael his place, he would never have gotten to Vancouver, BC in time to catch his plane back to the Netherlands. Fortunately, a recent text from him mentioned that all was well with him at the airport. He was a wonderful person to meet, and hope to again encounter him.

The Flying Dutchman (Michael) with the bust of Chief Seattle
Michael at the Space Needle

I will be anticipating starting on the trail again in early July. This will allow snow to melt and the weather to get a little more stable. I will probably not have any more posts until I’m ready to be back on the trail. Until then, may God be with you all.

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Jun 12
Willow Springs Road

Over the past two days, I’ve been traveling by train and bus to Tehachapi. Much of the memory of this journey escapes my memory, as I slept well on the train, transferred to a bus for an hour in Sacramento to Stockton, then boarded the train again to Bakersfield, and again boarded a bus to Tehahchapi. My anxiety was stoked, in that three weeks off the trail were great for letting the snow melt, but awful for maintaining my rhythm of the trail.

There is an 8 mile segment of trail from Willow Springs Road to Hwy 58 that many thru-hikers skip, since it is mostly hot desert with nothing but windmills. Hundreds of windmills. Maybe even thousands of windmills as far as the eye could see. It is understandable and tempting to skip this section, but I decided to do it as a warmup by slack-packing it. Slack-packing is a term we use when you don’t have your full back pack but just food and water and a few necessities. I had a Lyft driver drop me off exactly where I stopped three weeks ago, and headed north. It was nothing but windmills and fairly high wind. It was sunny, but the heat didn’t kill me like earlier parts of the desert. I anticipated needing 3-4 hours to do this segment, but finished it in under 3, just in time to catch a Kern Transit bus back to Tehachapi. So, I’m psyched to hit the trail again tomorrow.

This part of the trail had multiple gates, possibly to keep the windmills from escaping
Looking down on Tehachapi Pass

During the end of the hike, I heard an enormous thundering roar behind me. I did not even have time to turn around when an F-15 jet flew directly over me, hugging the ground and zipping out of site as quickly as it came. Soon after, I got to chat with a young farmer tending his cows, and he mentioned that these jets used to be a very frequent occurrence.

08JUN- mile 566-mile 583

I confess that I was very apprehensive about returning to the trail. It was hot. I would be in exposed territory to the full beat of the sun. There were lengthy waterless stretches of the trail so additional water needed to be carried. It is not a particularly scenic piece did the trail, and windmill farms stretched as far as the eye could see. The Mojave desert loomed far below on my right, to the east. The start was a lengthy climb out of Tehachapi Pass. Fortunately, most of the remainder of the trail did not appear to be too demanding in terms of elevation gain and loss. So, it seemed reasonable to do this stretch, mostly for completeness sake.

I woke up this morning hoping to catch the 6:15 bus, only to realize that it was Saturday, and the bus runs on a different schedule. The bus came at 9:30, dropping me off at the trailhead at 10:00, just when it was starting to get hot. My saving grace was that the wind kept the temperature down, so that at one rest stop, a few people were actually putting on their puffies. I went through about 3 liters of water, carrying 5.5 liters, but know that less than a half mile from Where I decided to camp is a spring where I can refill all my water containers. I got to set up my new tent and loved it. It will take a little practice to have the setup down perfectly. All in all, the day felt quite good, and I was able to get in 16 miles in spite of missing 4 starting hours from the hike. Tomorrow I’ll be leaving camp at about 5-6 am and hope to get in 25-28 miles. We’ll see!

Vegetation increases as one gets higher
My new tent

09JUN- mile 583-602

Today was essentially traveling from one water source to the next, from Golden Oaks Spring to Robin Bird Spring. I had hoped to go further today but the heat left me rather wasted. The absence of water sources made it especially challenging, since I needed to carry all of my water for the whole 19 miles, and I went through the majority of the 5.5 liters that I was carrying. I felt wasted at the end of the day, and the next good campsite was four miles further, so I decided to call it quits early. Today’s hike had only a small amount of dirt road walking, about two miles, compared to about 8 miles yesterday. Tomorrow, my plan is to start early, before sunrise, and try to get at least 20 miles in. We’ll see, as water will remain a critical issue.

Looking east to the Mojave
Yup, 600

10JUN Mile 602-mile 624

I was awake at 4:15 and started hiking at 5 am. It was still dark and so I needed a headlamp. It was cool, so I was able to make fast miles. The first ten miles were thorough dense ponderosa forest. I was getting near to the high Sierra, so figured that this would be the trail situation. Boy was I wrong. The trail then dipped down to 4000 feet elevation, and it was real desert just like I’ve already gone through for much of Southern California. Except, it was more sweltering. The water cache at mile 616 proved true, and so my canteens were filled, knowing that the water cache at mile 631 was also maintained. Though I had enough water, the water cache was sitting out in the direct sun, and warm water does a very poor job of quenching the thirst. By 5pm the sky has clouded over providing some relief from the heat. A cold soda pop was needed but not available. Hopefully it cools down quickly. I now have only 27-28 miles of the desert to do!

Desert beauty
Desperately needed water cache

11JUN Mile 624-mile 651

Today was another early start, waking up before the crack of dawn, and getting on the trail before sunrise, using my headlamp to see. Most of the thru-hikers has gone on to the mile 630 water cache. I decided against that, and arrived at the water cache at about 7:30 in the morning. The last few hikers were taking off while I replenished my water supply knowing that it would be a long day without water. The trail became a very long climb with complete exposure to the sun, leaving me completely wasted and dehydrated. Fortunately, once you get high enough, you start seeing vegetation which could provide shade. The trail continued on all day over a series of ridges. Except at the water cache, I never saw a single other person, and hiked alone all day. And mile 643, the trail became a dirt road which is very hard to walk on, and which persisted for two miles. I intended to stay here for the night, but it was sweltering hot with low scenic value. It was only 3 o’clock so I decided to push on the last eight miles to Walker Pass. You might notice that I stopped d 0.7 miles short of Walker Pass. That’s because there is a campground here that has trail angels. The first order of business was to consume 5 sodas before I began to feel hydrated again. I came in late for the meal the trail angels had prepared, but devoured the watermelon and cantaloupe. No grapefruit! Unlike the group I had previously been hiking with, this group of hiker trash were all kids in their 20s and thus hard for me to connect with. Besides, I was completely wasted from a long day. So, tomorrow I finish the last mile of section f California, and will proceed to pick up my resupply box in Lake Isabella and use the day to wash self and clothes before meeting Russ in several days.

Morning sun
Evening sun taken from inside my tent

12JUN- mile 651- mile 652

This was a very short hiking day, but with a well-needed rest. It took only about 20 minutes to get to Walker Pass road. The bus was a half hour late and standing in the blinding sun without doing anything was itself hard to tolerate. Surely David in Ps. 32 considered this when he stated “my strength was drained as with the heat of summer. The bus finally came, I was able to get into a hotel room early, I got my resupply package, packed up a whole box of unnecessary items and too much food, and remailed them home. I would have liked to walk around town but it was just too hot with the temperature in the high 90s. Oddly, Portland, Tacoma, Old Station and much of the west coast was having a heat wave, being coolest in San Diego. I was able to take a long needed shower, get my clothes washed, wash up all my equipment, pack up for 3-4 days of food, and prepare for resuming my journey in several days, this time with the blessing of having Russ Andersen along. My clothes, by the way, were so laden with salt from sweat that they had the stiffness of being starched. Whenever I would rub my skin, white salt powder would come off. I could not smell myself except when I’m in the tent, and the odor was putrefying. No wonder Betsy is not eager to hike with me. Bless her sweet heart. I was able to phone both Betsy and Russ several times. Betsy in getting the stairs and upstairs landing re-floored, and Russ is eager to do some hiking.

Memorial at Walker Pass

The segment from Tehachapi Pass to Walker Pass is known as Halfmile CA section F, 85.5 miles with 14,900 feet total in elevation gain, ie., a lot of climbing. It also has the least availability for water, and if not for some kind soul leaving water caches at miles 616 and 630, could be a waterless stretch all the way from Lander’s Meadow at mile 609 until Waker Pass, 43 miles being just too long in the heat of summer hiking 15-25 miles a day for a normal person to endure. It makes me angry that the PCTA is quite vocal against water caches feeling that hikers should not depend on them. Na und? Comment? Stupidity often has its profundity. Section CA-F? This indubitably was my hardest, both physically and psychologically. The first half was thousands of feet of climbing through drab windmill farms. The central part with Landers Meadow was beautiful pine and mesquite forests. The last half from mile 616 was hot, shapeless, and with steep climbs and descents; this all interfered with the possible beauty to be seen in this inferno of a land. It is the one section that I would not repeat again even if I developed a delusion to rehike parts of the trail. I have better ways to torture myself.

So, the adventure will flip-flop north. About half the hikers are doing a flip-flop, but most are uncertain as to where to restart the trail. The hot weather is both good and bad, hard to hike in and definitely reduces your daily mileage, but also is eliminating some of the vexing snow problems that we could be encountering. So, until next time, may God be gracious to all you dar readers and please don’t be shy about using this venue to support the Huguenot Heritage Ministry.

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