Trans Catalina Trail – Boushay Road to Parsons Landing to Two Harbors

9 miles / 1,969 feet ascent

In the middle of the night, I woke to the sound of my quilt draft stopper flapping in the breeze. Stars lit the night sky overhead, while below, I could see the few lights signaling Two Harbors. It was three a.m. and the temperature was warm. I tried to calculate how long it could take to hike the remaining miles to Parson’s Landing and Two Harbors. I had gone to sleep near seven p.m., so I’d already slept for eight hours. I decided I’d gotten enough sleep and that it was a good time to pack and start walking. In my hiker-brain mode, I also tried to calculate whether I would have enough water to add the out-and-back to Starlight Beach, but my brain just wasn’t going to do the math.

The Franko Map that I was carrying directed me to take Boushay Road, but the detailed map from the visitor’s center showed the trail on Fenceline Road. I decided to follow the detailed map and continued on. Once I started hiking downhill on Fenceline Road, I realized that this was the hair-raising, steep and slippery road that my friend Sunkist had written about (https://mizipatty.wordpress.com/2018/01/15/ups-and-downs-on-the-island/). At several points, even while taking the smallest, most careful steps, my feet would become forced to move faster because of sheer gravity. I kept having to stop myself by running off the road into the grass much like a runaway truck. When I was luckier, I would stop myself on the road like I was pulling the emergency breaks. I would then start inching downhill again as carefully as I could. Luckily in the dark, I couldn’t see just how long the section would be, and that kept me calm.

Eventually, that harrowing slope ended, and I reached a sign telling me I was close to Parson’s Landing. I could now hear the waves crashing along a beach. A few minutes later, I passed the quiet campground which sat along the water. It was still dark, so I continued past the campground, not to disturb anyone sleeping. Here, I checked my remaining water and decided I wouldn’t have enough to hike the ten-mile out-and-back to Starlight Beach in addition to the seven miles back to Two Harbors. Regretfully, I had to let that go.

Just after five a.m., a dim red glow lined the horizon. After miles of steep climbs and descents, West End Road was an extremely flat and fast hike. Now, seeing just how fast these last seven miles would be, I wondered if I would have had enough water to do the ten mile out-and-back to Starlight Beach. I wished I had thought to bring six liters of water instead of only four. It wouldn’t have been much more of a water carry, and I would have been able to hike to Starlight Beach. Perhaps I’ll plan this hike again, and next time, be prepared for a longer water carry.

As I reached Two Harbors, a couple in their fifties sauntered on an early morning walk, paper cups of coffee in hand. We exchanged greetings and as I passed them, I knew I was near the end.

At Two Harbors, I jumped in the hot showers rinsing myself and my clothes as much as I could, then put the rinsed clothes back on. I exchanged my ferry ticket for the noon ferry departure, and bought a coffee and breakfast burrito from the general store. I ran into two hikers, Mark and Kira, whom I had met the day before. We exchanged stories while other hikers sat at the tables around us, all of us eating much appreciated fresh food. One thing about these shorter trails in comparison to the Pacific Crest Trail, is that people are hiking to bond within their own groups, but are not very interested in talking to others. It reminded me of when I met John Muir Trail hikers after months of hiking alone on the PCT. Despite having looked forward to their company, I discovered that they weren’t as interested in meeting strangers, especially loopy-brained strangers desperate for human contact.

Perhaps I’ll come back to the Trans Catalina Trail again, next time completing the out-and-back to Starlight Beach. It’s a very new trail of mostly steep road walking, but I’m glad I took the time to do it.

Trans Catalina Trail – Black Jack Campground to Two Harbors to Boushay Road

18 miles / 4,600 feet ascent

Last night, I could hear the boys in the next campsite trying to start their campfire. They apparently weren’t very skilled, but they sounded like they were having fun. I heard them asked each other what time they would be waking up, debating between four a.m. and six thirty. Well, no one won that competition, because when I packed up at six, they were still sound asleep.

There something about an early morning start that just sets you up for a good day. In the early morning, there is an orange-pink glow that colors the terrain. Layered hues of gray, red, orange, and yellow colored the horizon.

Very shortly after leaving Black Jack campground, I passed Airport-in-the-Sky where I had a shuttle reservation for Tuesday afternoon. I tried to make note of the trail from here on, so that I could gauge the terrain that I would need to return on if I chose to return on the TCT.

I reached Little Harbor in the late morning. I was looking for a trail marker for the trail leaving Little Harbor, but it seemed that the trail disappeared into a group of tents. A very nice man in a trailer yelled from his campsite and directed me around a palm tree. Some hikers had set their tents right on the trail, and a shirt was hanging off the trail marker hiding it from view. I walked between the tents, surprised at the sight of hikers still asleep this late in the day, their clothes, packs, and gear strewn everywhere outside of their tents.

The climb out of Little Harbor started okay at first, and then it became steeper. It would climb, have a break , then climb some more, always at the same angle. Finally, I reached a breezy ridge and plopped down.

This trail has been very well marked throughout the hike. There are frequent markers as well as clear signs at each road or trail junction.

If you can’t tell, I couldn’t get enough of prickly pear cactus and it’s bright red fruit. The day before, I ate one cactus fruit that was lying on the road. I’ve had prickly pear fruit before at a friend’s house, but the ones here seem to have a lot more seeds and very little fruit. Another plant I’ve been enjoying is Lemonade Berry (Rhus Integrifolia). I love the tart fruit that is like a burst of vitamin C.

There were plenty of views of the ocean throughout the hike, views to the north as well as to the south.

By early afternoon, I’d reached the town of Two Harbors. Being a Sunday, it was full of tourists and kids who were here with the YMCA. Back when I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, I remember always feeling anxious when coming to a town stop. As I walked through the busy tourist destination, I had the same anxious feeling of arriving in a trail town. It was overwhelming, a sensory overload after quiet days of hiking.

I stopped at the Two Harbor’s visitor center, hoping to pick up my locker key for Parson’s Landing, so that I could hike out early the next morning. Unfortunately, locker keys weren’t available until the day of the reservation and also wouldn’t be ready until eight a.m. The woman at the visitor’s center was very kind and helpful. She handed me a map of Two Harbors campground where I had a reservation, a menu of the hot food at the general store, and a trail map of the west end of the island. I nodded as she outlined a recommended six-mile loop to do in the morning, feeling grateful for the new map because it was more detailed than both the Franko Map and the Gaia app that I had been using. Finally, I would have better details on mileages.

However, as it always did on the PCT, trail town anxiety got the best of me, and I knew I couldn’t stay in Two Harbors. It was only three o’clock, and if I wasn’t hiking, what in the world would I do from now until dark? I knew immediately that it was time to head out. I walked to the bathrooms that I had passed earlier and filled all of my water bottles at the faucet. It was so crowded in Two Harbors that there was even a line for the bathroom. Leaving, I clumsily inched my way through the narrow hallway with my too-wide pack, trying not to knock people over.

Catalina Cove, the south side of Two Harbors

I walked along the west bank of Catalina Cove and started the climb on Silver Peak Trail, another dirt road. On the way, I passed two hikers with rickety packs, their tents and things strapped externally. I’ve seen so many clumsy packs on this trail and it’s a wonder that their external attachments don’t fall off. The two hikers stared out at the cove, either in a fatigued daze, or just overwhelmed by the tourists.

By the time the sun set, I was near the highest point of the road at Howland Peak. The road finally started to undulate downward instead of up. A Catalina Island fox walked ahead of me, light on its feet, it’s silouette visible against a darkening sky. I continued steadily in the dark until the next road marker at Boushay Road.

Trans Catalina Trail – Avalon to Black Jack Campground

15.4 miles / 5,085 ft ascent

Two years ago, I tried to hike the Trans Catalina Trail, but was shut out by a rainstorm causing huge mud slides. Luckily, this time, I chose a less rainy season to visit the island.

After taking the first morning ferry out of Long Beach, I started my hike from Avalon at 8:30 am. Temperatures forecasted for perfect mid 60’s during the day and high 50’s at night. As I left the town of Avalon, a very friendly and very large, gray cat greeted me on the road. I said good morning and he came right up to greet me. He then went behind me, and I realized that he was sniffing my backpack. Then I remembered the well-cooked bacon stashed in the outer pocket of my backpack. I said goodbye to my new friend, and he sat on the roadside watching me leave as if to send me off.

Off-road vehicles carrying eager tourists rolled by loudly, their heavy tires churning the dirt. I stepped aside to let each one pass, the drivers waved a friendly hello. I had just learned the day before about the poor health of the Catalina buffalo living in a habitat that was not native to the species. Until I arrived, I also didn’t know just how much the small town of Avalon relies on the buffalo for their tourism. On one hand, environmentally, the current buffalo should live out their lives, but shouldn’t continue to reproduce in a non-native environment. On the other hand, the people of Avalon…

Even though I had read in books, blogs, and researched on topo maps the amount of elevation gain per day, I wasn’t quite prepared for just how it would feel on the legs. The trail is also predominantly a dirt road walk, which is so much harder on the feet. Being mostly a trail connecting dirt roads meant for off-road vehicles, the route was extremely steep with unnecessary climbing followed immediately by an unnecessary descent. Up and down, the trail continued in huge rolling waves.

Sometime mid day, I reached Haypress Reservoir where water birds floated on the further shore. The books I’ve read about this trail don’t mention natural water sources, but I found plenty throughout most of the trail that could be reliable year-round.

Later in the day around four o’clock, I was pleasantly surprised to be walking on an actual trail instead of dirt road. Just as I was reaching a shady cluster of trees, I nearly bumped right into a buffalo. It was resting in a dip in the trail perfectly the shade. I wish I had gotten a photo of its face, but I was too busy backing up and staying calm. It had the sweetest face with a puff of fur over it’s forehead and the largest, gentlest brown eyes.

I immediately retreated away from it, walking off trail and slightly up a grassy hill. I talked to it gently the entire time to let it know where I was. The buffalo slowly lumbered onto it’s feet at the tiresome presence of yet another hiker interrupting it’s afternoon nap.

After a minute, I peeked beneath the tree to see if it had moved, and there it was, still standing in the shade. In fact, it was watching me with it’s big, round eyes. I realized that this buffalo wasn’t the typical wild animal that flees at the sight of a human. It was instead, waiting for me to leave.

Then, as if it thought it needed to appear productive while I rudely continued to loiter, it slowly started foraging for food. Being the uninvited visitor, I hastily looked for a route uphill, then looked downhill. Finally, I ended up walking the dirt road below for a couple hundred feet before climbing back up to the trail.

I’ll pretend to eat this grass here while you go away.

As I was looking for a route around the buffalo, one of the tourist vehicles came thundering up the road, passing us just a few hundred feet away. It sped right past without paying any attention to us. I thought to myself, well, I guess it’s no wonder that they don’t see much wildlife, those vehicles are so loud.

The trail continued into the afternoon and evening, dirt road upon dirt road, upon more dirt road, with an occasional surprise of real trail. At six thirty, a little after sun down, I was finally climbing toward Black Jack campground. The weather had cooled down quickly, and I was now pushing through a cold and brisk wind.

By the time I arrived at camp, it was dark. I dug through my pack, kicking myself for not getting out my headlamp sooner. With the help of some nice fellow campers, I was able to locate my campsite. The mood at camp was leisurely and festive. Hikers on this trail were here to take it easy, it was not what I had expected on multi-day thru hike. One group even had a string of lights hanging across their tents. I lay out my tyvek, sleeping pad, and quilt, made a hot dinner, and went to bed listening to the happy campers around me.

Gear List

Here is my current gear list.

IMG_5267

FullSizeRender_1
The Big Three

The Big Three (90 oz. / 5.625 lbs.)

  1. Backpack – Ray Way Backpack (2,200 cubic inches) (10 oz.)
    • Designed by Ray Jardine, 2,200 cu. in. is the original design of this pack.
    • Comfortably fits all of my gear as well as the BearVault 450.
    • Sewing allowed me an ultralight pack while saving cost.
  2. Shelter – Homemade Ray Way Tarp, Net Tent (26 oz.) + 6 stakes (3 oz.) img_1306
    • I spent most of the trail cowboy camping, but shelter came in handy in rainy and cold September in the Pacific Northwest.
    • Unlike a tent, a tarp won’t cause condensation.
    • The net tent was also useful in Northern California when I slept in the company of a million mosquitoes.
  3. Sleeping Pad – ThermoRest Z-Lite Sol Regular (10 oz.)
    • If temperatures were freezing or below, I would fold the sleeping pad in half to make it a double layer.
  4. Sleeping Quilt – RayWay, Alpine filling (-8F) (41 oz.)
    • The RayWay quilt is roomy and easy to move around in.
    • I had enough filling to make it a triple layer quilt.
    • The quilt was sometimes too hot in Northern California, but kept me warm in the Pacific Northwest.  With synthetic filling, you will never be cold when your quilt or bag gets damp.
IMG_5270
Kitchen – Pre-hike

Kitchen (12 oz./0.75 lbs.)

  1. Water Filter – Sawyer Squeeze (4 oz.), Backflush Syringe (1.2 oz.)
    • The backflush syringe kept the filter in great shape for the entire thru hike.  I used it every time I was in town.
  2. Water Storage – Smart Water bottles and one small Gatorade bottle
  3. Stove – Caldera Cone Stove (2.3 oz.)img_0782
    • One of my favorite pieces of gear.  Just thinking of it makes me happy.  It is so lightweight.  Liquid fuel is heavy, but the weight goes down as it’s used.
  4. Pot – MSR Titan (4.2 oz.)
    • Small and lightweight.  It was expensive for being just a pot, but I’m now glad that I have it.
  5. Plastic Camping Spoon (0.3 oz.)

Clothing (44.55 oz. / 2.78 lbs.)

  1. Hiking Shirt – Patagonia Lightweight Base Layer, Long Sleeve (worn, 0 oz.)
    • This was my first Patagonia purchase, and I can see why their products are well loved.  Compared to my generic shirts, the material is paper thin and feels like silk.  It kept me much cooler compared to other shirts I’ve had.
  2. Hiking Pants – White Sierra (worn, 0 oz.)
    • This had a fabric drawstring-type belt, so I was able to cinch the pants tighter as I lost weight.  These pants lasted me the entire hike without any problems.
  3. Mid-weight Top and Bottom – Smart Wool (6.5 oz. & 7 oz.)
    • I liked that wool doesn’t get smelly in the way that synthetics do.
    • Wool is supposed to keep you warm when wet, but I noticed that it does make me cold if it’s not completely dry.
  4. 2nd Mid-weight Top – Patagonia Midweight Base Layer (7 oz.)
    • I added a second mid-layer in September before heading to Washington.
  5. 2nd Midweight Bottom – Champion Running Tights (7 oz.)
  6. REI Co-Op Down Puffy Jacket (not used, 0 oz.)
    • I sent this home because it wasn’t useful when wet or damp.
  7. Underwear, Champion (worn, 0 oz.)
  8. Socks – Darn Tough (2.3 oz.)
    • I went through only 2 pairs.  I kept one pair in my pack for wearing only at night.
  9. Sun Hat – Sunday Afternoon (worn, 0 oz.)
    • Perfect for the desert.
  10.  Warm Hat – Ray Way Insulated (1 oz.)
    • Fun to make.  Lightweight, warm, and takes little space in your pack.
  11. Warm Gloves – REI Power Stretch (2 oz.)
    • These gloves worked fine.  I would use them again on a thru hike.
  12. Rain gloves – dish gloves
    • Dish gloves are okay for rain, but not perfect.  The rain would come in from the wrists.  Next time, I would get rain gloves meant for hiking.
  13. Rain Jacket – White Sierra (11.75 oz.)
    • Since I liked the brand so much that I also bought their rain jacket.  It worked just fine.
  14. Rain skirt – Trash bag
    • It worked okay, but not great.  I recently purchased rain pants for my next rainy hike.

Shoes (worn, 0 oz.)

  1. Running Shoes – Altra, Brooks Ghost, La Sportiva Wildcats (worn, 0 oz.)
    • Altra – I really wanted to like Altras, but these shoes gave me plantar fasciitis.  My toes had to dig into the soles of the shoes to grip them to move forward.  This caused the tendon on the bottom of my foot to shorten.  It got so bad that I could no longer lift my toes up from a flat position.  I wore these for the first 300 miles.  (Update: three years later, I’m trying this brand again, but in a bigger size.  So far, they have been good on day hikes.)
    • Brooks – I’ve been wearing Brooks for the past 20 years, so I may just be accustomed to them.  I wore Brooks for the next 500 miles.
    • La Sportiva Wildcats – My next door neighbor, an ultra-runner, gave me a pair of La Sportiva Wildcats.  These were great shoes.  They lasted 1200 miles, more than twice the number of miles that a pair of shoes should last.  The front sides did tear and split very easily on granite boulders, but the soles still had plenty of traction when I threw them away.

Food Storage (0.8 oz. / 0.05 lbs.) or (Sierras: 33.8 oz. / 2.1 lbs.)

  1. Food storage – Op Sack (0.8 oz.)
    • I would use the Op Sack again, especially in rodent territory Washington!  In Washington, I hung my food in addition to using the Op Sack.
  2. Bear Canister – BV450 (33 oz.)
    • The smaller BearVault 450 worked well.  I carried any extra food in the Op Sack.

Miscellaneous (8.5 oz. / 0.53 lbs.)

  1. First Aid – Ibuprofin, Leukotape (1 oz.)
    • I used Leukotape for the first 3 weeks at the beginning of the hike.  I didn’t really need it after that, but carried it with me anyway.
  2. Gear Repair – Tent thread and needle (1 oz.)
    • I had high quality thread that I purchased from Ray Jardine.  I bought a spool of thread and a needle on my thru hike.  It came in really handy.  I was able to patch my backpack, my socks, and hem the waistband of my hiking pants.
  3. Wallet
    • As my one and only luxury item, I took a zipper coin bag to hold my ID and check card.
  4. Mosquito Repellent (2 oz.)
    • I never use mosquito repellent, but it got so bad in Northern California that I gave in.  I bought a very small container of DEET and used it minimally, just for some sanity.  I never used it on my skin, only on my clothes and hat rim.
  5. Toiletries – Toothbrush, Floss, Comb, Signal Mirror, Sunblock, Chapstick, Alcohol Gel (4.5 oz.)

Electronics (18.6 oz. / 1.16 lbs.)

  1. Headlamp – Petzel Petzel (4 oz.)
  2. Spare batteries – 4 AAA batteries (1.6 oz.)
  3. SmartPhone and charger – iPhone (6 oz.)
    • Halfmile and Guthook apps
    • Gaia GPS for navigating trail closure detours
  4. Battery Pack – Anker 10,000 mah (7 oz.)
    • Used every night to charge the smartphone.

Snow Travel (35 oz./ 2.2 lbs) or (42 oz / 2.6 lbs.)

  1. Ice Axe – Black Diamond (13 oz.)
  2. Snow/Ice Traction – Kahtoola Micro Spikes (22 oz.)
  3. Crampons (29 oz.)
    1. In a high snow year, I would go to crampons instead of the Micro Spikes.

Total Base Weight ( 10.9 lbs.)

Total Sierra Base Weight ( 14.4 lbs.) or ( 14.84 lbs. with Crampons)

Food, Towns, and Lodging

Planning for food was one of the most overwhelming parts of planning a thru hike.  Here was my experience, and things I would do next time.

Resupply Boxes ($500 spent) (Postal Fees spent: $230):

    • Based on Halfway Anywhere’s PCT Thru Hiker Survey, I would make no more than 9 pre-made resupply boxes.
    • I purchased all of my pre-packed resupply food from bulk stores.  This saved money, but I got very tired of my repeat foods over the six months.  Next time, I would send myself some nicer foods that I might not find in bulk stores.
    • I bought bulk items based on past thru hiker’s blogs, but I should have stuck to foods that I already liked.  Just because I was hiking didn’t mean that I’d suddenly like foods I never liked before.
    • Next time I thru hike the PCT, I plan to make just the first two boxes for Warner Springs and Kennedy Meadows.  I would then make the next set of boxes after reaching the Sierras.
    • Locations recommended on Halfway Anywhere, from south to north:
      • Warner Springs (Desert)
      • Agua Dulce (Desert)
      • Kennedy Meadows (Sierra)
      • Sierra City (NorCal)
      • Crater Lake (Oregon)
      • Shelter Cove (Oregon)
      • Big Lake Youth Camp (Oregon)
      • Stevens Pass/Skykomish (Washington)
      • Stehekin (Washington)
  • What I would pack in resupply boxes next time:
    • Bars
      • I would definitely pack bars, but would add more variety and not buy them all in bulk.
    • Chips
      • I wouldn’t purchase individual packets of chips next time.  I would buy large bags to be eaten over a course of a few days.
    • Electrolytes
      • Gatorade powder wasn’t available in most trail town grocery stores.  Although I got sick and tired of Lemon-Lime and Fruit Punch Gatorade, I might put them in my first two boxes.  Or splurge and buy Nuun tabs.
    • Instant Dinners
      • I would stick with instant dinners that I like, which are Knorr Rice Sides, and skip the Idahoan Potatoes and cheap instant ramen that I don’t even like in regular life.
    • Specialty Items
      • Most importantly, I would include specialty items for a treat, foods I can’t get in town grocery stores.  Here are some specialty foods that were a real treat when I received them in a care package or found them in a hiker box:
        • Tinned Sardines, Kippers, Herring
          • These were packed in oil which tasted so good in a fat-deprived state.  I especially liked the tins of jalapeno kippers that I found in a hiker box. I also received a care package that included sardines in olive oil and lemon juice or with hot pepper.  I shared them with a hiker and we ate them like we were fine dining.
        • Freeze-dried Backpacking Meals
          • A JMT hiker gave me a Pasta Primavera pack.  She warned me that one packet was a huge portion and would need to be split into two meals.  It was delicious and actually just the perfect single serving for a thru hiker.

In-Town Resupply ($1,130)

  • During a thru hike, you will resupply at grocery stores when you reach a town.  I always liked my town resupply choices much more than what I had packed into my mailed boxes of food.
  • In towns, I was able to choose foods that I wanted at the moment, and also choose a better variety of trail food.
  • Some resupply foods that I bought during town stops:
    • Fresh baked bread
    • Bagels
    • Rotisserie chicken, shredded and put into a zip lock)
    • Tortillas
    • Ham
    • Salami
    • Cheese
    • Tuna salad with crackers
    • Knorr Sides
    • Pop Tarts
    • Cheez-Its, Tuna Packets, and hot sauce packets
    • Kettle brand potato chips (so many flavors)
    • Fritos (regular and chili cheese)
    • Granola bars, Fruit and Nut bars
    • Rice Krispy Treats
    • Candy bars – Snickers, Twix

Town Meals ($1,416)

  • Town meals were a treat and a nice break from trail food.  I tried my best to keep down costs.  I ate about two restaurant meals with each overnight stay in town.
  • Favorite Town Meals:
      • In town, I ate heavy, hearty meals.  I needed the fat and calories that I was depleting myself of.  My food preferences were so different from what I usually choose to eat.  In July, three months into my thru hike, I visited my former (and now current, again) coworkers.  They asked if I missed Thai food (my coworker who asked was Thai and wanted to hear that I did), but to her dismay I had to say no.  What I needed were the fattiest, calorie-laden meals I could find.
      • These were the meals I savored on my thru hike:
        • Chicken Fried Steak with Biscuits and Gravy followed by a huge dessert
        • Cheeseburgers, Fries, followed or preceded by a large slice of Pie a la Mode
        • Large shakes

Lodging & Travel ($1,545)

  • It’s important to have some cushion for unexpected travel and lodging.  Sometimes  the weather is just so terrible that you need to be indoors for one night.  You might also need to flip or skip to another section of trail due to closures or unexpected conditions.
  • I tried to stay in hostels whenever possible.  Hostels ranged from $25 – $45 per night, the most expensive being a hostel in Mammoth for $45 per night.
  • Only once on trail did I stay in a hotel.  This was in Washington in Snoqualmie Pass after days of traveling through snow and ice, and where there were no other options.  This cost $110, which at the time felt a huge hit to my depleting savings.
  • Other unexpected expenses included the Amtrak from Los Angeles to Dunsmuir ($126), the flight to Seattle to get to Hart’s Pass ($300), and the Greyhound from Bend, Oregon back to the Sierras ($200).

Nutrition

  • Make sure to include more fat in your meals and snacks.
  • Take probiotics and supplements, including calcium and iron.  Chew your supplements and multivitamins for easier absorption.
  • Eat a high carbohydrate meal before bed.  Muscles replenish fuel while we sleep.  And fuel for muscles means carbohydrates.

After the Thru Hike

After the thru hike, I spent the first three weeks eating endlessly while my body worked to gain back all of the lost weight.  Since I was at home and still unemployed, I cooked, ate, cooked again, and ate.  I slept as if I was catching up on rest that I hadn’t gotten for six months.  I ate, took a nap, got up again and ate.

I also noticed that I wanted to be hiking all day.  My body was used to hiking,  and it was used to doing it all day.  I needed the all-day hike in order to feel good and to feel normal.  Without ten to twelve hours of hiking, I felt mopey.  I knew from reading about post thru-hike experiences that this was due to a sudden drop in dopamine.  I knew that I needed to keep walking at least 10 miles per day while transitioning back to normal life.  I tried to hike for about 2-3 hours each day, but even then, I could not get my dopamine levels back up to the point of feeling great.  I would walk with a pack for several hours, come back home and feel just slightly better, in a state of mild depression.  It took months for an all-day hike to feel enjoyable.  

I also experienced not wanting to gain weight.  For the past six months, despite being underweight, I had had an incredible amount of energy and had been able to hike for hours from sun-up to sun-down.  Because I had been so physically fit while underweight, I had a skewed perception of what was healthy.  I had also gotten used to thinking of my food intake in calories needed per day.  After the hike, I continued to think of my food in calories per activity level.  Now that I was sedentary, I kept thinking that I needed to eat less calories than I had eaten on trail.  I wasn’t taking into account that on trail, I hadn’t eaten enough and had wasted away, losing muscle mass.  For a good three to four months, I obsessed over weight gain, trying to hold onto my ridiculously underweight condition, wanting to remain thru hiker lean and strong.  It took four months before I finally felt okay with being a normal weight.  I’ve hosted thru hikers at our home after they have competed their hikes and have seen them go through the same experience, so I suspect this is a common post-thru hike condition.

For a long time after coming home, I couldn’t drive a car.  I hadn’t driven in seven months and couldn’t get myself to drive anywhere far.  I stayed near the house, did my hikes just out of the front door and in the neighborhood.  If I absolutely needed to drive, I still wanted to stay within a 2-3 mile radius from home.  It took a two months before I could venture out of my neighborhood into other parts of the city.  

After four months, I was finally able to bike commute to work, which, before the thru hike, I’d been doing for nine years.  Since I had lost so much muscle mass, it took some time to build back the bike riding muscles that I used to have in my legs.  On the first day back to bike commuting, my legs were wobbling like jello after just ten minute of pedaling!

In the fall, I finally went on a short, three-day hike in the Tehachapi section of the Pacific Crest Trail.  I wasn’t fully recovered from post-trail blues, so unfortunately, I wasn’t as excited about the three-day hike as I could be, but I tried my best to enjoy it.  What made it much better was that I was hiking with a good friend.  

In post-trail recovery, I also needed people to talk about the PCT thru hike with.  Connecting with someone who shared the experience made me happy.  In that moment, I would be right back on the trail.

It took a lot longer than I expected to be fully integrated back into regular life, and finally appreciate things.  It took about a year before I started to enjoy my weekend hikes.  It took two years before I fully appreciated and started looking forward to long weekends to plan an overnight or two-day trip.  

My first short backpacking trip after the thru hike.

Day 154 – Acton

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Miles: Acton Metrolink Station to Carson Mesa Road, Aliso Canyon Road, and Soledad Canyon Road

On our drive home from Kennedy Meadows, I gently let Liz know that I wanted to get back on trail again after some time at home.  Verrry gently, since she took an entire day off work, had driven 3 hours to get me, and was driving another 3 hours to get us home…!

She agreed and suggested that I wait until a weekend so that she could drive me to the trail.  I thought that sounded like a good idea and putzed around at home for a few days.  I ate large amounts of food continuously throughout the day, marveled at all of the clothes I owned in my closet, hung out with my dog, and lounged with my cats.  After a few days at home, however, I was getting antsy to get moving again.  After months and months of hiking from sun up to sun down, your body gets used to all-day hiking.  When you’re not hiking, you start to feel anxious and need to get back on trail.

By Thursday, I was packed back up and heading out the door to take the local Metrolink train to Acton.

I arrived to Vincent Grade Acton Station which had stone walls and a western façade.  I looked at my map and decided to hop the fence behind the train tracks to get onto Carson Mesa Road.  I didn’t have to actually hop over, there was a small gap where I just squeezed myself through.

I walked along the dirt road feeling good that I was walking again.  The road ran alongside the train tracks, occasionally passing desert homes and ranches.  The dirt road became paved after some time.  As I walked along the road, a southbound train passed me on the tracks, heading back toward Los Angeles.

Following my map, I turned right onto Aliso Canyon Road, then left onto the highway-like, fast-moving Soledad Canyon Road.  As soon as I got onto the road, I wished I had an alternate road to take.  Unfortunately, there weren’t too many other ways to head east, it looked like this was the most direct route.  I walked on the shoulder of the road as cars flew past me at highway speeds.

About an hour and a half into the walk, I took a break in the dry grass below the road.  Being no longer in thru hiker season and on a road away from the trail, I realized that cars passing by were wondering what I was doing here.  I was looking questionably transient again, and this time, in my own city!

About two hours from leaving the train station, I reached the town of Acton.  Acton has a small shopping area with a grocery store, one restaurant, a post office, a hardware store and a few other small businesses.

Back in April when I was hiking northbound, a trail angel named Trail Angel Mary had picked us up at a road junction and stopped here before taking us to Acton KOA.  Being here in Acton reminded me of how much fun it had been to hike with friends through the Desert.  Before being picked up by Trail Angel Mary, Georgia, Jellybean, and I had walked an unexpectedly long road walk from Mill Creek Fire Station to a road near Acton.  Trail Angel Mary dropped us off at the KOA, and Georgia and I convinced Jellybean to camp with us for the night.  That evening, we met another trail angel, Sugar Mama, who treated to a delicious dinner of grilled burgers.  I really had the best time hiking through the Desert and making such good friends.

As I continued to Soledad Canyon Road, it made curvy turns along the desert hills.  Cars drove fast on this road and I realized that walking on this road wasn’t the safest way to get to the trail head.  When the road would make swift, sweeping curves, I tried to climb the high berms along the side of the road to avoid having to walk near speeding cars.

Finally, after several hill climbs to avoid blind highway curves, I found a place to climb down to the lower Crown Valley Road below.  I climbed down a hill, walked along a deep drainage crack in the hill, then carefully crossed two train tracks.

It was now late afternoon and I was still nowhere near the PCT.

I looked on the map again to see how far I was from the trail head.  I calculated that it would be 8 or 9 pm by the time I arrived.  There was an RV park on Crown Valley Road, but I was also near a juvenile detention center.  I could hear someone on the loud speaker making announcements every few minutes.  I didn’t feel like camping near a loud speaker listening to announcements all night.  Nor being harassed by anyone, either locals or the police if they thought I shouldn’t be here.  This was not the wilderness here.  

After a few more hours, I decided my plans to walk to the trail head were not working out.  I had to bail… again!  I called Liz toward the early evening.

“Its just over.  I think I’m done.”  I said.  With some final fits and bursts, my PCT thru hike was sputtering it’s engine and coming to a final stop.

Liz came to get me, again, being the trooper that she is.  She is the best trail angel I’ve had on the whole trip!  I thanked her for retrieving me, yet again, and offered to treat her to dinner in my favorite local spot of Acton.

We went to Wence’s Bistro in the same shopping area as the Original Acton Market.  With a name like Bistro, I thought we’d be walking into a semi fine dining restaurant, but luckily, it was a casual spot.  The restaurant specialized in not just one, not two, but three cuisines.  You could have Chinese, Mexican, or Italian, said the menu.  One table near us was having Chinese for dinner, while another table was having Mexican.  We met one of the owner’s sons who highly recommended their lasagna.  He was a young guy around his 20’s, friendly, cheerful, and talkative.  He told us very proudly that they had just made a fresh batch of lasagna that day, and that their regular customers always asked for it.  After his enthusiasm and pride of their homemade lasagna, we just had to get it.  And it was, just like he said, freshly made and delicious.

We left Acton and headed back home to Los Angeles.  As we drove south, I watching the grassy hills and deep canyons pass by us in the dim evening light.

We reached the house in the early night.  My dog and cats greeted me at the driveway, letting me know that they had been waiting.

The Original Acton Market

Day 153 – Goodbye Kennedy Meadows!

Miles 718 – 702

October 16, 2017

Early in the morning, the hiker that I hadn’t met left before sunrise to get back on the trail.  Cowboy Coffee left, too.

Since Captain Underpants needed a ride to Walker Pass, I offered for him to ride with us.

Just as promised, Liz arrived to Kennedy Meadows General Store by 7 am.  It takes about three hours to get here from Los Angeles, so she must have left the house at 4 am!

Although I was unhappy about having chosen to leave the trail, I was happy to see her after a long several months of being away.  Captain Underpants and I piled our packs into the car trunk and the three of us left Kennedy Meadows.

It was sad to leave Kennedy Meadows and even sadder to be leaving the trail.

When we got down to Highway 395, we looked for a place to have breakfast before sending Captain Underpants on his way.  We found a Mexican restaurant in a small town nearby where we ordered hearty breakfasts.

We dropped off Captain Underpants at his next trail head at Walker Pass.  It was sad to see him go, and to leave my trail friends.  He paused at the pass to read about the history of Walker Pass, then we saw him head out on his way south.

We drove home to Los Angeles, another two hours away.

Tee Pee structure at Kennedy Meadows General Store, where I set up camp in May.

Day 152 – Windy Campsite to Kennedy Meadows

October 15, 2017

Miles 718 – 702

In the morning, my water bottles had frozen water and were covered in frost!  I took a photo so that Liz could see what frost looked like.  I grew up in Chicago, and I would often tell her about how Jack Frost will come to frost curly patterns on your windows in the winter.  She’d never seen how frost forms all kinds of pretty patterns.  Here, I had frost making patterns in my water bottles.  And the water in the bottles had become solid ice.

I made hot oatmeal again this morning.  Afterward, as I was rinsing the pot with water and it was so cold that the water froze as I was rinsing it out.  I wiped the pot down with my bandanna, and instead of wiping water, it turned instantly into ice.  My fingers also hurt like they were freezing into icicles.  My toes were hurting from the cold and I had to stomped around camp while eating my oatmeal.  As soon as I was done eating and packed up, it was time to get moving to keep my toes from falling off!

Back in May, the Monarch Meadow had been snow-covered.  There had been no trail to follow.  I remember hugging the side of the meadow along tree cover to keep a general direction of where I was supposed to go.  Now the meadow was a dry, golden brown.

I reached the Kern River.  It was now a calm, quiet creek.

Next was the burn area that I had hiked through during a hail storm.  In May, I had tried to camp here just as the sky turned to night and the rain became pelting hail.  It was windy and I was in the worst possible place to camp, a place surrounded by dead trees swaying in the windy.  Two hours later, I got up to hike south back to Kennedy Meadows, then settled for a less rainy spot under a thorny lilac shrub.

After the burn area, I entered lower elevation and started to see desert plants.  The flowers here were in full bloom, carpeting the trail with lots of yellow.  I think it might be a desert shrub called rabbit brush.

As I descended in elevation, I encountered lots of little flying bugs!  Yep, I was now back in the high desert.  Gnat territory.  After a while of blowing them away from my nose and mouth, I stopped to put on my bandanna.  I tried to get a photo of how they were hovering over my face, but they moved away when I got my phone out.  

The trail crossed the Kern River again at a wooden bridge just before reaching Kennedy Meadows campground.

At Kennedy Meadows campground, I met a trail angel who was supporting southbounders as they were coming south on the PCT.  He was sitting in a camp chair when I reached the campground and offered me water, fruit and snacks set up on his truck bed.  What a treat to meet a trail angel this late in the season!  I took a Kit Kat and a banana and thanked him for being there.  

I continued onto Kennedy Meadows, reached the main road, and headed toward the General Store.  As I was walking, guess who I ran into?  It was the quick-footed Puddin’!  She had reached Kennedy Meadows the night before and was on her way back onto the trail.  She told me that Cowboy Coffee and Captain Underpants were still at the General Store.  I gave her a hug and wished her well on the rest of the SoBo hike.  That Puddin’ is so fast, I just knew that she’d make it to the Mexican border.  

As I approached the General Store, I was surprised to receive the applause given to thru hikers.  The local neighbors of Kennedy Meadows were hanging out on the store porch and giving the thru hiker welcome.  When I got close enough, I told them that I wasn’t a SoBo, but a NoBo flip flopper who already passed through here once in May.  They said they would clap for me anyway.  

Cowboy Coffee and Captain Underpants were at the store’s outdoor deck having food and beers.  The grill had already closed, but the store owner offered to cook me up some food anyway.  I got to order both a hamburger and a hot dog and bought a root beer from the store.

This time around, Kennedy Meadows had a cabin for hikers to stay in.  It wasn’t open back in May, but it was now open for us to stay indoors.  The cabin was behind the store and just uphill.  It was still under construction and had just exposed wooden floors, but most importantly, it already had insulation in the walls to keep us warm.  There was an entryway room, a main room, and two other rooms.  One other hiker joined us for the night, so there were now four of us in the cabin.

The cabin didn’t have electricity, so we moved about with our headlamps as the sun went down.  Cowboy Coffee had a really bad cough that sounded like it was coming from his lungs.  Captain Underpants told me that he’d had the cough for weeks.  It sounded like bronchitis, and he should really get off trail to rest, but Cowboy Coffee wanted to keep hiking.  He said he was taking antibiotics, but his cough sure didn’t sound good.  Captain Underpants had a blister that had gone bad and had turned into an infection.  He was planning to get a ride from the trail angel at Kennedy Meadows campground to skip to Walker Pass.  He planned to hike at a slower pace while his friends caught up to him.

From their conversation in the dark, it sounded like the High Sierras had been tough in October.  They had been in below freezing temperatures and terrible weather.  One hiker said that when he got to Muir Hut, he was so fed up that he screamed and cursed at the top of his lungs.

When I first got to Kennedy Meadows in the late afternoon, I had called Liz to tell her that I was done with the trail and to come and get me whenever she could.  I planned to just stay perched at the general store for as long as I needed to until she could drive up to get me.  I had been hiking with a sharp headache for the past three days which become so bad in the afternoons that I would get queasy with nausea.  I had been having recurring, chronic angular chellitis, cuts on the corners of my mouth caused by nutritional deficiencies, for the past month.  And while the idea of walking home on familiar trail had sounded good in theory, it turned out that it just wasn’t exciting to be covering ground that I had already covered just a few months ago.  It felt a little ridiculous to be hiking on a part of the trail that I’d already done.  What was the point?  It felt really pointless.

Now, better rested, better fed, and lying in the warm cabin with three other thru hikers, I wished I hadn’t called her so quickly!  Now that I felt better, I felt like I could have another go at the trail.  Just like they say, “never quit on a bad day”!  But Liz was now on her way to Kennedy Meadows first thing tomorrow morning.  She had even taken a day off work to get me.  I decided I had to just stick with my new plan to head home for now.

I went to sleep feeling a little disappointed that I had chosen to leave so soon.

Frost in my water bottles
Monarch Meadow
Monarch Meadow
Kern River
Burn area
Rabbit brush along the trail
I tried to take a photo of all of the gnats, and they hid. They came back right after this photo.
Bridge over the Kern River

Day 151 – Campsite with a View to Windy Campsite

Miles 734.5 – 718

October 14, 2017

In the morning, I packed up, ate a breakfast of hot oatmeal with carnation instant breakfast (for the millionth time) and walked over to the viewpoint to use my phone to search for a plane ticket for November.  It was cold this morning, I had no idea what the temperature was, but my fingers were going numb as I tried to search for flights.  My whole body was shaking from the cold while I looked for and finally was able to buy my ticket.

As soon as that was done, I got my pack on and started walking to warm up!

It was much drier here compared to the Pacific Northwest which made camping and hiking easy, but I hadn’t realized just how dry it would be.  At night, my sinuses dried up within seconds.  If there had been a sound to drying sinuses, it would have sounded like a short two-second “ffftt!”  After that, my sinuses and head hurt all night and still hurt in the morning, and all day after that.  Whoo boy, what a trade-off for escaping rainy, cold weather.

I was so happy to be back in the Sierra I even took photos of the boulders.  I don’t remember seeing any boulders in May and June, which means they were all hidden under snow.  

Back in May and June, the snow must have been twenty feet high.  There hadn’t been any sign of a trail, and only the tops of the trees were visible which made them look like young 6-foot tall trees.  The trail back then looked like flat, white landscape without any boulders or shrubs.  Now in October, the landscape looked so different than what I remembered.

Also the creek crossings were gone.

I remembered one crossing in this section that, back in May, had been about 4 feet deep.  I remembered accidentally slipping into it and getting a quick and surprising ice bath.  I could hardly recognize the surroundings now, but the shape of the stream looked the same.  It was now about 2 inches deep.

The trail continued at its easy grade.  It is mostly flat between Horseshoe Meadow and Kennedy Meadows.  I loved seeing the Sierra in the fall.  It was beautiful.

In the afternoon when the air was the driest, I took an Advil as the sinus headache was getting bad.  Although I could still feel the headache, it helped to dull the sharpness of the pain.  I don’t like taking drugs, so I usually only take something when its really unbearably bad.

I descended a wide valley heading toward Monarch Meadow.  I recalled heading north on this valley in May.  It had been completely covered in snow and a completely smooth, flat landscape.  Now there were boulders and rocks everywhere.  And trees.  Where were these trees when I passed here earlier?

At the end of the day, I reached a flat hilltop overlooking Monarch Meadow.  Just across the meadow would be the steel bridge that crossed the Kern River.  There weren’t many trees here, but I placed my cowboy camp next to two large boulders and near a stand of about five or six trees.  It was windy here on an exposed hilltop.  As the sun set, the temperatures dropped quickly.  I put on all of my layers and heated water for a hot meal.  It must have been really cold because my meal got cold before I was halfway done.  

Tomorrow, I would reach Kennedy Meadows for a round-two visit of Kennedy Meadows General Store!

Where were these boulders back in May?
I don’t remember seeing shrubs or rocks in May, either.
Icicles hanging over a creek.
Death Canyon Creek in October
Lone burnt tree