The Triple Crown Award is given out each year by ALDHA WEST to hikers who have completed the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. In 2015, twenty eight hikers were awarded the TC, and that number will be on the rise as thruhiking has gotten more popular. This is an incredible achievement, as one would have to complete 7,000 miles of very tough hiking here in the United States through these mountain ranges. Unfortunately, these trails are getting overwhelmed with hikers and seeing record numbers on all three trails.
I’m convinced it’s time to reconsider the Triple Crown Award. Hikers feel as they complete their second trail that they are pressured to do the missing piece of their TC. I think it would be in the best interest of the hikers, the National Trail System, and ALDHA to include other trails in the TC award. Create opportunities for long distance hikers to get on other deserving trails like The Pacific Northwest Trail (1,200 miles) or the Hayduke Trail (800 miles), The Arizona Trail, The American Discovery Trail, The Great Eastern Trail and many other great long distance trails.
Perhaps the threshold would be to complete 6,000 miles of trails in the National Trail System, utilizing 3 or more trails. That would alleviate the crowding issue, at least somewhat, on the PCT and the AT, and open up activity on some of the lesser used trails. I met plenty of people who had finished the PCT and CDT this year and didn’t feel like they wanted to do the AT but felt pressure to do it. Let’s keep them on trail, but in a more self directed way. I met others who didn’t want to do the CDT, but wanted to do the PNW Trail. I think the award should be opened up to be inclusive to all the National Scenic Trails, and it would benefit everyone.
I have hiked the Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail, The Long Trail, The New England Trail and The Colorado Trail. The Continental Divide doesn’t have great allure to me because I have hike the CT, hiked The CDT through Yellowstone National Park and hiked The CDT through Glacier National Park. Perhaps I’d be more interested in the seldom thruhiked PNW Trail? I think there are others out there that are in the same dilemma. I have chosen to eschew the TC this year, and will be hiking overseas. Perhaps if I could TC somehow without hiking the CDT, I would stay in the USA to hike in 2017.
Trails to consider inclusion into the Triple Crown Award: 1. American Discovery Trail: 5,000 + mile trail stretching from Cape Henlopen, Delaware to Point Reyes National Seashore in California . 2. The Long Trail: At 272 miles, this is the first long distance trail in the USA. It follows a very rugged path from northern Massachusetts to the Canadian Border through Vermont. 3. The Colorado Trail: 483 miles from Durango to Waterton Canyon. 4. The Arizona Trail: Nearly 800 miles from Mexico to Utah through the state. 5. The Pacific Northwest Trail: 1,200 miles from Glacier National Park in Montana to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. 6. The Hayduke Trail: 812 miles of a route connecting Grand Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Arches National Parks. 7. The Florida Trail: 1,000 miles from Big Cyprus Swamp to Alabama. 8. The Desert Trail: slightly longer than the Appalachian Trail, this one stretches 2,283 miles from the Mojave Desert to Canada. 9. The Great Eastern Trail: runs along the western ridge of the Appalachian Mountain chain. 1,600 miles in length it only been hiked in its entirety a few times. 10. North Country Trail: runs from Vermont to North Dakota, at a staggering 4,600 miles.
The Camino de Santiago, or The Way of St. James, is the most popular and beloved long distance trail in the world. I have walked this ancient path, and enjoyed my experience thoroughly. Before my “Camino”, I did all the research, purchased three different guidebooks, read some journals, and watched the films depicting a journey on the path from Pyrenees on the French border, to Santiago de Compestella. This is where the remains of the apostle St. James are interned according to legend. Virtually every account I read of The Camino, aside from a scathing review by long distance legend, Francis Tapon, were glowing. Most “pilgrims” seemed to have an meaningful experience, and fell in love with the people of northern Spain. I had a tremendous time as well, but there were some drawbacks to my pilgrimage. There were things I wish I had known before I arrived in Spain. Here are ten things to consider when planning a thruhike on the Camino de Santiago. In particular, planning for the most popular route, the Camino Frances.
1. It’s Overcrowded
I knew the Camino de Santiago was popular. Thirty years ago the Cathedral in Santiago welcomed roughly the same amount of long distance walkers as the sign on Mt. Katahdin, at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. A slew of books, documentaries and one popular Hollywood film have helped change that. Present day, over 250,000 pilgrims are expected to reach Santiago each year. The Camino’s path can easily handle the traffic, as it is usually a double track trail or a country road. If one chooses to walk the Camino in the busy season (June 15-September 15), expect to be to rise early and hike as fast as possible to your destination, to ensure a bed in a preferred alburgue (hostel). I saw many hikers turned away in towns, and forced to hike an additional ten to twenty kilometers at the end of the day in search of a bed. This creates a great deal of stress for the pilgrims, but ample opportunity to socialize with fellow walkers.
2. It’s Expensive
A typical Appalachian Trail thruhiker expects to spend between $1 and $3 per mile. On the Camino de Santiago, pilgrims spend between $5 and $10 per mile. A flight to mainland Europe will likely cost well over $1,000 round trip and then any additional bus, taxi and/or train travel getting to and from the Camino is expected to cost at least $200. Accommodations will cost between $6 and $25 per person each evening, depending on your need for certain amenities. The walk each day will bring the pilgrims past plenty of places to eat. Expect to spend roughly $6 euro for breakfast, $10 euro for lunch/ snacks and $12 euro for dinner and a drink. The pilgrims meal is available each night in popular alburgues and cafes and typically cost $10 euro. Typically, you will want your money back! The best bargain on the Camino is the baggage transport. See someone in the Pilgrims Office in France or Pamplona and your backpack will to be shuttled each day to their destination for roughly $75 euro for the entire trip! Sign me up for that one. The Camino runs directly into several villages a day, so purchases of gifts to commemorate your trip will be ever present.
3. The Food is Terrible
In my minds eye, I envisioned traditional Spanish meals in villages, with delicious and authentic versions of paella, stuffed peppers, and delicious tapas! Unless you want to pay triple the cost, in the bigger towns, what you will get is very poor American diner versions of these dishes. Canned vegetables and lots of ham (jamon) rule on the Camino. Food represents the worst value on the journey, and I often wished I had brought my backcountry stove and cooked my own meals from local grocers. One frustrating aspect of the Camino is walking past endless farms and pastures, yet very infrequently seeing that food on your plate at night. The economy on the Camino is at least 30 years behind the American system, and thus the distribution chain is very rudimentary. Fresh bread (half a euro) and wine ($2 euro a bottle) are tasty and a bargain. Near the end of your walk, Galician Broth will be available and it’s a tasty cousin of our own kale soup, made primarily of a tall collard green type vegetable called berza. The seafood is not as good as advertised, perhaps because the ocean temperatures there are simply not cold enough. Octopus is popular, and if someone tells you it’s kind of like lobster, don’t believe them.
4. Where are the Trees?
Deforestation isn’t only a Spanish problem, it’s a European issue. Once the Camino leaves Pamplona, in the east, trees become pretty sparse until you enter the final province of Galicia. Only 4% of Spain is covered in what’s known as “Primary Forests”. Primary forests are those in which there are native species covering an area with little or no human activity. Reforestation efforts are underway, and have been for some time. Previous attempts to repopulate trees have been fraught with ineptitude and corruption.
5. No Wildlife
A land without trees isn’t going to have much in the way of wildlife. Deer are plentiful in the US, but are rarely seen throughout Western Europe. Trees and forests are a important food source for deer as it is for bears. Spain is one of the few places in Western Europe with a bear population, but you won’t see one. The Cantabrian Brown Bear, is barely hanging on, with a population of about 80 in all of Spain. The Pyrenean Brown Bear has a population of as many as 70, but they need forests and animals that live in the forest to continue to survive. The penalty for killing a bear in Spain is astronomical, so that’s good news.
Nothing strikes fear into the heart of a pilgrim like the sight of a overweight, middle aged male checking into an alburgue. Earplugs, headphones and heavy doses of state sponsored medication couldn’t defend sleepers against these nighttime pests. Alburgues tend to sleep between 12 and 200 pilgrims each night and I saw pilgrims carrying their mattresses into hallways, kitchens and even outdoors to escape power snorers. The problem got so bad that it became a blessing, as I began to seek out alternative accommodation. I found that for a little more money, I could rent an apartment with a kitchen or stay with a family, where we received good tasting, healthy meals that I envisioned when I began to plan the trip!
For an outsider, siesta sounds like a cute cultural tradition, different from our pressurized American lives. In reality, it’s hindering economic growth and it’s bad for the Spanish worker. Typically, a pilgrims’ day begins around 7am and the walking finishes between 1pm and 3pm. Just when the pilgrim finishes their walk, they may need to visit a pharmacy, an outfitter, or a bank. No can do! Those businesses close each day for four to five hours for siesta. This deprives the pilgrims of some supplies, and also costs these businesses an opportunity to extract crucial tourist money, at a time when they are most free to spend it. Siesta is bad for the Spanish worker because it lengthens the day and makes their meal times awkward. There is a constant struggle between tradition and viability in the economy of Western Europe.
I have never been more convinced that our American tradition of tipping is the best than when I backpacked across Europe. Do not construe this criticism of service in Spain as to mean they are not gracious and accommodating. Service is a learned ability. When to take an order, picking up cues from the customer, when to leave a check, refill water. Pressure on the waitress or waiter to preform, in turn leads to better performance from everyone in the restaurant especially the kitchen staff. A customer on the Camino has to be aggressive in placing an order in a busy restaurant and in receiving the bill. It took us a couple of weeks to figure out that we needed to push the issue. Each time, they kindly provided it, but there was not the concern you might get here in the States. I always left a tip, regardless, and while the service staff in Spain are not expected tips, the government does. Spain has 21% VAT.
9. Not The Endurance Test It Could Be
The great thing about finishing a thruhike in the United States is that if you complete one of the three triple crown trails, you have exhausted much of your strength and emotional resources to finish the journey. The Camino is easy. It’s mostly flat and the path is smooth and wide. The much ballyhooed climb over the Pyrenees on the first day is akin to climbing Blood Mountain in Georgia on the Appalachian Trail. It’s paved at least half the time on that climb. I exhausted more energy hiking the hilly 90 km Camino Finisterre, that extends from the Cathedral in Santiago to the Atlantic Ocean, than I did in all the 850 km of The Way of St. James.
Didn’t I already touch on the topic of food? Yes, but bacon is so important it deserves its own place on this list. Breakfast is often complimentary at hotels or B & B’s and bacon is featured along with its fellow atrocity, blood sausage. European bacon evidently means a piece of dry ham with a sliver of fat beside it. It’s about half as good as the pathetic crap they call bacon in Canada. It’s not good, but don’t protest too loudly, as Spaniards are proud of their Jamon. Jamon and other cured pork products typically make up about 90% of a meat section in a larger grocery store. We met one woman, who considers herself a vegetarian, but eats jamon without pause, as if its its own category.
Despite these reasons to NOT walk the Camino de Santiago, I still encourage others to do so, with these things under advisement. I would hike it in an alternative season, or perhaps try the Camino del Norte, which is a bit more rigorous and less crowded. I’d definitely shuttle my bags ahead the whole way, and look for slightly more expensive accommodations, but with more privacy and a kitchen. I might consider taking a stove and a tent. I’d definitely take crackers with me. Snacks like Cheez Its, Goldfish, Triscuits or Ritz will not be available to you, (we went on many wild hunts for Goldfish that went nowhere.)
I’d focus on the hundreds of ancient churches, the majestic cathedrals, the beautiful people and the lovely cobblestone streets. I’d be honored to once again follow a path that millions of pilgrims have walked and died on before me.
YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) – Kittitas County authorities have suspended a search for a Pacific Crest Trail hiker who was last seen nearly a month ago.
The Yakima Herald-Republic reports that the sheriff’s office says search teams have covered sections of the trail that run through Kittitas County between Yakima, King and Chelan counties but have found no sign of 34-year-old Kris Fowler.
The Beavercreek, Ohio, man’s last confirmed sighting was Oct. 12 at White Pass.
His family reported him missing after not hearing from him and learning his cellphone had not been used for more than a week.
Fowler was hiking the full 2,660-mile Pacific Crest Trail, which begins in Southern California near the Mexico border and ends in Canada.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about what happened over the past 5 months. I’ve been home for eight weeks and some of my weight that I carried before I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail has returned to its customary place above my belt. I try to move on, be productive and use my experience to help me grow into a new and adventurous person in society. Too often, though, I drift into reminiscing of my glorious four and a half months exploring the mountains of the American west.
While I was hiking, I attempted to keep a journal, but I feel like I failed. Good writing requires deep contemplation and self analysis that I was not capable of in the throes of the PCT. When I wrote, I kept it light. I didn’t want to analyze what was happening. Even though I walked twelve hours a day, my mind could not wrap itself around the “big” questions. Mentally, I was consumed with more tangible matters. Did I have enough candy till I get to the next resupply? The next town has a Mexican restaurant, what will I order when I get there? Is there a podcast I’m not sick of? How many songs to play till I get to a campsite?
Now that I am home I have gone through stages of grief. I first missed the certainty of the trail, where I knew what I was doing every day, where I was going short and long term. I missed the camaraderie of the hikers. The friendships that feel like they have always been there and would never leave us, but inevitably, they do. The beautiful landscape of the most diverse, breathtaking trail on this planet is hard to describe to friends at home. Pictures can’t really capture the stunning vistas of The Pacific Crest Trail. Slowly, I’ve adapted. I’m forcing myself to look ahead and not behind. Look at what I have, a wonderful family and a woman I love. A home in a beautiful place.
I do the things that people do. I get up and take a shower, without thought. I’m reminded there was a time when a shower was a special treat. I eat a fresh bagel for breakfast and I’m reminded how I once was excited to wake up and eat a pack of Twinkies to start my day. I go look for jobs I don’t want. I do this because that’s what people do. I feel like Bartleby the Scrivener, from the Melville story. What I do and who I am are not connected like they were on the trail. I will go home and eat a delicious dinner and lay in my big beautiful bed, and not be as happy as when I finally unfolded my Thermarest Zlite on rocky soil and gleefully laid on my back.
On trail I had a mantra. “I’m trying to enjoy the last free days of my life,” I would say when someone would ask how I’m doing. I said it without thought. The realization that those words I uttered might have been as true as the fire and the rain, terrifies me.
We are in the homestretch. The dog days of August. The last few weeks we have stumbled over the blowdowns in Oregon, then wandered through Obsidian and volcanic rock towards Bend. We have stared at the most amazing volcanic peaks; Hood, Jefferson, St. Helens and Adams. Lunches by lakes with Mt. Jefferson in the backdrop made us feel like we were in a photograph. Cowboy camping underneath peaceful skies on a mountain top staring off at a blood red sunset. These are the best days. I have walked underneath one of the most amazing waterfalls I have ever seen on the oft used alternate Eagle Creek Trail, when I encountered Tunnel Falls. I have drank water from the clearest, coldest, springs. I have filtered water from ponds filled with bugs, algae and horse dung. I have had beautiful conversations with my trail friends. We have fought. We have gone silent on one another. We forgot what we were fighting about and made up. We spent three days at PCT Days laughing and reuniting with old trail buddies. We barely slept, while naked imbeciles danced and screamed around our tents. I won a lot of gear at the festival. I badly bruised my ribs in a sleeping bag race. Frost was abducted by a band of hippies for 6 hours and we fretted for hours over her. We have come across the most amazing trail Angels lately. We have slept on a dirt road with shrubs coming up through our ground cloth. We stayed in the lap of luxury at Callahans lodge. I have eaten Atomic Fireballs for lunch. I have eaten the all you can eat buffet at the Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood. I have walked 4 miles an hour. Sometimes I walk 2 miles an hour. I have yet to walk in rain on the PCT. I have wilted in 110 degree heat constantly. I can’t wait to go home. I am having the time of my life. Three weeks to go.
Random Thoughts I Have Had On The Trail Lately
-I listened to the Alec Baldwin Podcast, (I listen just for his voice), and he spent nearly an hour talking with Actor Kevin Kline. Not once did he ask how he snagged Phoebe Cates in her prime.
-“Burn On” by Randy Newman is my favorite song about a city (Cleveland). I’ve been listening to the “Sail Away” album recently.
-PCT Days is great. It’s not good for sleeping and it was so hot, but Jason does a good job putting it together. Cascade Locks is a good trail town and the Ice Creams at Frosty’s were huge.
-Tunnel Falls was spectacular but there were a billion tourists on the last half of the Eagle Creek Alternate.
-I have seen Mt. St. Helens in recent days. Brings back memories of its explosion in my childhood. I remember newscasts would follow the ash cloud as it traveled around the world, and how it blanketed such huge areas.
-Bend is great, Sisters is great, but I liked Ashland the most.
7:30pm: I usually don’t stop and camp this early, there’s still light. The hike today was 32 miles through a 20 mile waterless stretch. The temperature today reached well over 100 degrees. The terrain was exposed and very rocky. My feet are covered in blisters and a few toenails are coming off, held together by duct tape. The last water source, seven miles back, was well off trail and uphill that led to a swamp that I unenthusiastically dipped my bottle into without filtering. I haven’t filtered in a long while, it just takes too long. I stopped here because I thought I heard trail magic a few yards away. As I approached the campsite, I heard what I thought was a dinner bell ringing. I excitedly rushed toward the sound thinking a kind person had some food set up for hikers. My elation turned to bitter disappointment when I came through the brush to find two cows walking towards a water source, with bells around their necks.
I set up my tent quickly and by 9pm I was convinced I would tenting alone in this site. Then I heard something crashing through the brush from the opposite direction of the trail. I got out of my tent to defend myself and my food from what I assumed was a bear, when a thruhiker (Penny), appeared through the trees. She had gotten lost and had bushwhacked her way back to the trail. As she arrived, “Early Bird”, came into camp via the actual trail. He is a very fast hiker, and it feels good to be in the same area as him this late into the hike.
9:00pm: It’s still hot out. I am wearing no clothes to sleep. And no sleeping bag. And my tent doesn’t extend down all the way and I’m visible to all who walk by me. Sorry, world. It’s just too hot.
5:44am: Oh crap! I got up too late. This is gonna cost me. I brush my teeth and begin packing up my stuff. This is gonna cost me.
6:05am: I’m on foot. Early Bird is getting up now, and I jam a pack of Twinkies into my pocket and head out eating them as I walk. This is breakfast every day. Sometimes, it is donuts, or Fig Newtons or honey buns, but this is how I eat in the morning. I augment this healthy breakfast with a box of Good n Plenty. The 5 minutes after six is going to cause me to go less than 2.75 miles per hour in the first hour of the day. This will bother me. I don’t know why.
8:13am: I took a wrong turn for a half a mile. This breaks my heart. A half hour wasted getting back on course. Some of the signs can be confusing. I should have had my phone on and used Half Mile’s App when I got to the junction.
Early Bird and Wahlburg are now in front of me.
11:35am: It’s hot again today. It’s very exposed as well. The high today is 112 Fahrenheit and I’m sweating like its very humid here. Cow dung and horse dung is all over the place. I still haven’t filtered my water. I’m limping a bit because it’s starting to heat up. My blisters swell in the middle of the day and my shoes get uncomfortable. I stopped and took 4 ibuprofen. I don’t like stopping. Early Bird says he is going to do 45 miles today. There’s a small chance I could too, but my feet are making that unlikely.
12:56pm: I stopped and ate lunch with Early Bird. Lunch was 5 minutes on a rock and a few handfuls of Fritos and a liter of water. Got to move.
2:07pm: Keeping your mind occupied is half the battle. I engage in internal debates about nonsense. Today I try to think up the best pop songs with accordion (“When I Paint My Masterpiece” “Frankie’s Gun” “We Can Work It Out” “Cold Cold Ground” “Sandy” “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For a Sunbeam”). It’s what I do to make an hour pass by.
4:15pm: I just ate my 15th atomic fireball today. I don’t stop to eat in this heat. It’s still way over 100 degrees. Perhaps fireballs aren’t the best way to combat this. I can feel my feet burning on the rocks. The bubbling of the blisters on my heels are making each every step squishy and painful. There is a pound of sand in each shoe.
6:15pm: Pacer and I stop to have a fifteen minute dinner. We take our shoes off and soak them in a cold stream. Almost two hours later we leave.
10:15pm: One mile from camp we run into what looks like a mountain lion by the river. We decide the best course of action is climb up the side of the mountain through poison oak to give the lion a wide birth. Our reroute takes over an hour.
11:30pm: We arrive at a campground. Well, a parking lot to a campground. Good enough for us. We set up our tents and settle down. Pacer is snoring within 30 seconds of laying down. I’m sleeping naked with no sleeping bag. It’s still over 90 degrees. We hiked 39 miles today.
8:00am: I arrive in Seiad Valley with Topo, a fellow thruhiker. I walked the last 7 miles barefoot. My feet were too swollen to fit in my Altra shoes. I ordered 5 scrambled eggs, 4 English muffins and a steak at the diner here and ate with Early Bird, Topo, and Poptart (who is about to embark on the PCT unsupported speed record attempt.)
Sure, Crater Lake is amazing. But the trail avoids mountains and it feels like it’s just walking. There are ups and downs but the climbs are usually 1,000′ or less. And there are blowdowns. I heard over 800 after Highway 140. There were two much older volunteers trying to clean it up with a handsaw. That’s like trying to win a nuclear war with a slingshot. These guys are real heroes, but they have no shot.
Also tough is the cell phone situation. AT&T is absolutely useless in Oregon. I blow my battery trying to send a text. I feel like some of these parts of Oregon still use paper cups and string.
Right now I’m in Bend, staying with a trail angel, Lian in her home. I’m here with Frost, Morning Glory, Petunia, Zombie Dust and Early Bird. We hope to be at the Washington border by the end of next week. Just in time for PCT Days celebration in Cascade Locks.
Okay California. This is one more song about moving down the highway. I’m hiking around all new people now. The numbers have dwindled considerably since Lake Tahoe. So many have quit. Some have quit due to injury. Some have quit due to money. Some have left because they say they are “not having fun anymore.” This last one perplexes me. Thruhiking is primarily not about the fun. It’s difficult. Was it fun for Rocky Balboa to go to Siberia to train to fight Ivan Drago in Rocky IV? No! He had a dream to avenge the death/murder of his friend Apollo. Is it fun for Tom Brady to shave in the morning? No! He does it so we can see the beautiful angles of his face and that dimple on his chin.
Dream big and hold yourself accountable to your dreams. If you set out to hike 1000 miles then that’s great. If you set out with a goal of 2,600 miles, then, if at all possible, fight hard to achieve that goal. Dream big. A half of a dream is a half of a life. We have lost a lot of good men and women out here and I’m very sad to see them go. I’m also grateful for those who have stayed the course and relish the next weeks on the trail with them.
Turn It Up
The trail has changed from the amazing vistas of the Sierra, to the forests of Northern California. The mountains are smaller but the heat is intense! It’s all about the miles now and forget about the smiles. Temperatures often go above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and that does damage to your feet. At the end of the Hat Creek Rim hike, I walked eight miles barefoot. The ground is so hot, that virtually everyone is struggling with blisters. Often my shoes will not house my foot as the day goes on. The feet swell considerably in the afternoon and I’m dealing with blisters on both heals and on several toes. It’s hard to keep them clean, near impossible. Everything is dirty out here. My feet are on fire
I’m shedding pounds big time out here. About 60 lbs since Mexico. It’s getting worse as I do more 30-40 mile days. I eat all day, but it’s not enough. I’m sick of all the trail food now. I don’t eat Cliff Bars, peanut butter, pepperoni, oatmeal, trail mix, granola or instant mashed potato anymore. Lately it’s been Fig Newtons for breakfast, spaghetti O’s for lunch and tuna wraps for dinner with Fritos. Snacks are Good n Plenty and peanut M&M’s. In town I crave salads, and milkshakes. I usually destroy 2 Coca Cola’s as soon as I hit town. And sometimes pack them out of town as well. McDonald’s Mcdoubles last a week on trail if you get them without condiments.
The psychological effects of the length of California is beating us down. 1,600 miles into this trail and I’m still in the first state! I think this has crushed some hikers. I believe some have quit due to the discouraging length still to go. We have been out here 2-3 months and to be only a bit more than halfway home can be so overwhelming. I focus on the day. I’m almost there. Like Chubbs told Happy Gilmore, “just tap it in.”
I’m developing into a very adept “Yogi-ist”. I finagled 8 gatorades and three peaches out of a local fisherman a few days ago. It was phenomenal, but hauling all the bottles out the was a pain. It was the best Yogi-ing incident since Thomas Callahan III got Betty to turn the fryolater back on in “Tommy Boy.” I’m getting better at hitchhiking. I’m beginning to master the “Pocket Technique” of hitching. The Pocket Technique was developed by a legendary Appalachian Trail thruhiker who deployed a short but enthusiastic wave before sticking out the thumb to passing cars. Very effective. I think the wave throws off the driver, makes them think, “do I know this person?” They slow down to look and by then they kinda of half committed themselves. Then you just reel them in. It’s probably effective in attracting serial rapists to pull over, but I’ll focus on the positives.
Trail update: I’m still walking. Anything else I say would be completely uninteresting to anyone not doing the same. I’m past 1,000 miles and doing ok. There is a video update of the past 100+ miles
“In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand at the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy in the instant that I preach
My existence led by confusion boats, mutiny from stern to bow”-Bob Dylan
“Killing ain’t fair but somebody got to do it”- TUPAC
Welcome to the 1st Annual Trail Haters Ball. The Trail Haters Ball gives us the opportunity on July 10 in South Lake Tahoe, CA to recognize the mark-ass bitches, yellow blazers, tweaker towns, hippies, Europeans, trail “angels”, trail blankets, pink blazers, green blazers, Eddie Van Halen’s, ultra light weenies, gear heads, and moochers.
I had a job (in the private sector), unlike most of these never showering hippies out here, pretending to have fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma or some other made up illness so they can get prescriptions for marijuana from the loony tunes that run the People’s Republic of California. Making peace with your neighbors is overrated. Who needs another friend who owns a Subaru with a “Coexist” bumper sticker? Not me. Hate is as American as apple pie. How else do you explain slavery, Manifest Destiny, Seinfeld or the Bernie Sanders Campaign?
Some of the marks I suppose will be discussed at the Trail Haters Ball:
Yellow Blazers- I thought PCT hikers were supposed to be better than Appalachian Trail thruhikers!? Yellow blaze city out here. Whatever the percentage of successful thruhikes the PCTA or ALDHA West recognize at the end of 2016, cut that number by 75%. I knew a few people on the AT that yellow blazed and of course I called them out. “Hike Your Own Hike” is tidy euphemism for I’m dirty, cheating yellow blazer who is too weak to hike the trail.
Lawton “Disco” Grinter- I might suggest you investigate the term “edit”. Are you trying to be the Stanley Kubrick of podcasts? Listening to a Trail Show from start to finish is 45% more difficult than a thruhike of the PCT.
Pox and Puss-The podcast is about as regular as a thruhiker who is overdosing on Kaopectate. It’s the best outdoor podcast by a mile, and Puss n Boots is a star, but this isn’t Curb Your Enthusiasm. Pick up the pace.
Portland, OR-Is there anybody left there? I’d like to go a single day without someone telling me they are from Portland. How great can a place be that has no football team, no hockey team and no baseball team? I don’t need to hear how great it is.
Kennedy Meadows Store-Capitalism called. They’d like to meet with you. Portable toilets should not go over the rim.
VVR-Great time, better people. Taking stuff from the hiker box to the shelf is wacky.
Hikertown-I felt like Liam Neeson’s daughter in “Taken”. I was sleeping in, what looked like a prostitution trailer. Since the bathrooms get locked at night, someone defecated on my doorstep.
Pink Blazers-euphemism for stalker? Where else is following someone on foot for days or weeks with some sexual conquest in mind, ok?
Lake Isabella-Tweaker City. As Silky Johnson would say “what can I say about it that hasn’t already been said about Afganistan?” Terrible fire. But in front of the Von’s there were more drug addicts than in front of a methadone clinic back home.
Guitar players-everyone hates you. Knock it off John Mayer.
Canadians-We know you love your health care system. Try not bringing it up in conversation. You been poking in our business unnecessarily since Neil Young got the “talk to the hand” from Lynyrd Skynnard. You are the Vermont of the world. Wall to wall white skin. Neil Young, Marty McFly and Wayne Gretzky all live in the United States.
Trail Blankets-knock it off. Not for me. For your dad. Thanks.
Appalachian Trail Thruhikers-We get it. You are on the thruhike. Flooding social media with pictures of crap anyone in America can see if they walk in their backyard. Like a billion people have done it. Chill. Except you, Super Trooper.
ALDHA West-Or whoever gives out the triple crown awards. This obsession with these three trails and this phony award for non athletes with a lot of time on their hands (aka unemployed), has led to these trails overcrowding. How about this give the award to anyone who completes three or more thruhikes on our National Scenic Trails totaling more than 7,000 miles. You are welcome.
Mosquitos-I hate you most of all. I don’t wear deet. I don’t wear long sleeves. I don’t wear pants or bug net. I am going for the kill record. Those impede my quest. By my count, Swarzenegger has the record for most kills (63) in “Commando” (featuring a preteen Alyssa Milano, before her breakout role in Poison Ivy 2!). I am getting up to 100 confirmed kills a day. Sometimes over ten per minute.
“The mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city.” -John Muir
The Sierra truly begins with the first major mountain pass. This is when the thruhiker climbs over Forrester Pass, gulps the thin air at 13,000′ and drops precipitously into the wintry bowl of Kings Canyon National Park, that will consume them for the next few weeks. It is an indescribable experience that pictures and videos cannot capture. My friend, Frost, described the Sierra as “Switzerland, if you took all the people and all the buildings out of the country.”
We awoke at 5:00am at frozen Tyndall Creek to climb up over Forrester Pass. Frost and I quickly got ready and were set to go by 5:45am, but Bingo was not. I tried to wait for her, but she insisted that we move ahead, pressed by our quick exit. Reluctantly, Frost and I climbed the pass without her. There was a very long approach to the pass in hard snow. The last half mile was very steep and included an ice chute that had Frost nervous, and when she nearly tripped over her hiking poles, it appeared she was going to plunge to a horrific death. We reached the summit and glissaded down much of the icy, steep, backside of the 13,000′ pass. Glissading is the art of sliding down the mountain on your butt. If done properly it can be a safe and fun way to descend a steep slope. Unfortunately, on part of a rocky section I joyfully crashed into a few boulders and ripped my pants. Frost’s confidence grew with this climb and we celebrated our first big pass by eating lunch by a creek below the snow line.
Bingo Gets Rescued Off Forrester Pass
Falling behind in the morning, Bingo never caught up with us. She slowly made her way over the pass, but slipped quite a few times on the backside, and injured her hip badly. The pain got to be so bad, she began fainting and dry-heaving. She was alone and scared. Many hikers came upon her and helped care for her and carry her to a safe spot. Eventually, she activated her SPOT device and a helicopter rescue was neccessary. Many people helped her get to safety, and we thank the many hikers that aided and comforted her in her desperate time. She is recovering nicely in Fresno, and may have to rehabilitate her injury for the rest of the summer.
Mather Pass does not immediately follow Forrester. Glen Pass sits between them and features a very steep northern slope that was covered in a few miles of snow. Mather Pass, however, was the most frightening and steepest on both sides. We climbed the pass in the late afternoon and there was one 30′ section where we climbed a vertical wall of slushy snow at over 12,000′. I had faith that others had done this so I could swallow my considerable fear of heights and proceed. I plunged my ice axe into the snow wall and tried to pull myself up. The axe moved through the snow like a speeding bullet through jello. Useless, absolutely useless. I managed to scale my way to the top without looking down. I got to the top and coached Frost with some encouraging words. She didn’t want to hear it. She barked at me like woman in labor.
“Shut the hell up!”
Despite my ineffective exhortations, she made it to the top and we were all so very happy. The snow on the backside was so soft and the slope was difficult to descend on our feet, so glissaded most of the section. Where we couldn’t, we postholed our way into the arms of the green valley at sunset at set up our tents in the first warm night of the Sierra.
Once we crossed Mather Pass we traversed a couple more snowy, but less dangerous passes over the next two days. When we began the ascent of Muir Pass, we knew it was the last 12,000′ pass on the PCT. We again rose at 5:00am and moved up the longest snow climb to date. We stepped in several frozen creeks and rose up the tortuous snow field that lie before the stone Muir Hut that sat atop the Pass. We were so happy to reach the summit because we knew the toughest part of the Sierra was now behind us. We had finally got our lungs adjusted to the elevation, and now we were going to drop down a bit. The elevation had been my biggest obstacle to date. Overall, I felt the desert was mostly easy. The gut punching thin air of the High Sierra was a different story. I was constantly out of breath for the past week or two. Labored breathing was typical even when lying in my tent. It’s a seldom discussed challenge of thruhiking this trail.
After we crossed Muir Pass, we set our sights for two days on Vermilion Valley Resort. It would be our first opportunity for “real food” and some resupply in quite a while. When we arrived we immediately attacked a reasonable breakfast. Ressupply was spotty at best. The store had very little for hiker food. Some of the product was expired and looked as though they had pulled it from the hiker box. I scraped together a bag of candy, a Danish, a bag of Fritos, and the last good ramen packet in the store. This would have to last me two days on trail. I augmented this bounty with three cans of Coca Cola, one of which fell out of my pack as I walked out of the store and sprayed all over my legs. Despite the paucity of supply at VVR, the people were nice and the boat ride off the resort was delightful.
Many Rivers to Cross
There are endless rivers to cross in the Sierra. Some you can skip across but at least four or five a day include knee to hip deep raging water that your feet get soaked in. Often hikers fall on these crossings and they get soaked in the cold water. Frost fell in a stream near Virginia Lake, and her gear was drenched. I thought Maine on the Appalachian Trail had a lot of water crossings, but it is nothing compared to the constant water hazards in the Sierras. Occasionally we sit by a beautiful alpine lake, and stare into its shimmering blue/green water and dare to jump in. This is an act that looks more delightful in a photograph than in reality. The water is mind freezing cold. Any leap into the water will be immediately followed by a sprint to the shoreline in search of the warmth of clothes and maybe a puffy jacket.
I Hope They Burn in Hell!
In the last few days the snow melt has made the rivers deep, and the rapids violent. With this melt comes the most vicious bug attacks I have ever endured. One must brave a mosquito fog each time we near water in the valleys. Frost looks like she has the measles, she has been attacked so badly. It is an obstacle that I underestimated before I began this trip. Bug defense, of some kind is an absolute necessity.
We have now finished the first half of the Sierras and enter into Yosemite Park in the coming days after a two day stop in the posh Mammoth Lakes. Here we will ressupply and restore our strength. This section has been tough, but by far the most amazing area of the world I have ever spent such a extended period in. The desolation, the frozen lakes, and the granite towers that surround us haunt and delight around every corner and over each pass.