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The unreal world

Monday, October 1st, 2007

San Francisco has been a blast. I’ve seen a lot of interesting things and had a lot of fun but it’s time to go home. I’ll be starting my journey home less than 12 hours from now, but it will be 36 before I’m there.

I found a hat
I found a hat

I’ve had a few days to adjust to the big city and I’ve really needed it. On Thursday I met up with Christian and he showed me the inside of a few good bars in his district. A great night followed by a terrible day. That’ll teach me a lesson I don’t need repeated. That was a shock to the body and Friday was a shock to the mind. I dropped in on Tyler and Ayumi and it happened to be brother Rowan’s birthday. The traditional American celebration ensued with beer kegs, beer pong, and loud music. I was totally out of my element. I didn’t know anyone, I wasn’t going anywhere near the alcohol and the crowd was getting raucous. I ended up sheltering in the kitchen. eating cornflakes and drinking water. I found it much easier to talk to people in that environment, and even if I wasn’t talking being in the mosh pit of the lounge just made me nervous. I think the best moment of the night was Lesley dancing to an imagined song in the kitchen. So carefree and relaxed it made me feel much more at home.

Oh bugger!
“Oh bugger!”

San Francisco is in the middle of a few festivals at the moment. Saturday was Lovefest (some photos) and it was an eye opener for sure. The parade of floats featuring the beautiful people in various revealing costumes all dancing to trance/electro/club/drum-and-bass. I couldn’t have reached of world more separate from the

dancing to her own tune
Dancing to her own tune

cold snowy mountain where I woke up a week before. In the sun of San Francisco, and the weather has been great, the fluffy, glittery, jiggly costumes were a (mostly welcome) shock to the eye. In the square outside the Civic Centre I lay on the grass and closed my eyes. I thought of that snowy mountain and of the woody hills and the sandy desert. I couldn’t quite zone out the rave music coming from the now-parked floats but I was getting close.


Apologies for the poor sound quality. My little camera couldn’t compete with the massive sound systems there

Before the run
Before the run

On Sunday Tyler and his brothers Dylan and Rowan were heading for the Bridge-to-Bridge and invited me along. I suppose if you count five months of walking I should be in pretty good shape and I did manage to knock it out pretty quickly but the pain in my knees and calves during the last few miles was enough to teach me not to do this again for a while. I’d never seen the Golden Gate Bridge like that before, we ran right up to the southern support, and I’ll be forever grateful for the chance.

Ayumi and I try on glasses
Ayumi and I try on glasses

By now you’d probably expect me to have re-entered society pretty well, and I am getting closer to it but there are still things that surprise me. But to be fair The Folsom Street Fair is bound to surprise most people. There was plenty on display there and it was mostly one sided. I was walked around with Ayumi and it was clearly more than she expected so we were both ready to leave before the others that were coming to meet us were even there. “A once in a lifetime experience” she said. That’s for sure. They’re a cool couple and if you’re reading this I want to return the favour so come visit Auckland. Maybe during the Hero parade :-)

Sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge
The sun sets on my adventure

My couch surfing continued and I moved across to Berkeley to visit Rick, a Kiwi studying here. Yet another different slice of American life as we cafe hopped, I think we hit five including dinner and dessert. The campus here is amazing. The big important looking buildings and huge underground library, purportedly the largest on the west coast. We had a Brit, an Israeli, a Peruvian and two Kiwis tonight. I am getting better at dealing with groups and though one of them tried their hardest, I wasn’t phased.
It’s now Monday evening and I’m still limping from that run. I can walk 26+ miles per day, but running 7.5 has torn me up. Hi to Blue Sky’s parents Kathy and Paul. They fed me this evening and even showed me some of her art work in the form of a commemorative Lilhammer plate :-)

Cruise control

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

I’m becoming more and more removed from the hiking world of the last five months. From Seattle I drove to Ashland. Almost eight hours on one road gave me time to think about things but I didn’t really use it. I was busy surfing the airwaves trying to find a station that actually played music. One end of the dial is all religion all the time, and the other end is dominated by country & western. When I did find something I could put up with I couldn’t help but find some way in which the songs were picked out right for me. “Move Along”, “We are the Champions” and “Highway to Hell” are the ones that stuck in m mind. I found it a lot easier to sing along while driving than while walking uphill so I took the oppourtunity and ignored all the strange looks from passing cars. After an overnight stop in Ashland to visit Claudia and Vic I continued down to Redding to my great Aunt Agnes’ place. The PCT crosses I5 twice and I took a break at Castella to check on the PCT register and try to place myself back in the mood I was in when I reached there on foot two months ago. That was the worst part of the trail for me. The days before were hot, stuffy and exhausting. At that point I was closer to quitting than any other time, and it was there I received the memory card with videos from home and knowing everyone was willing me on gave me the kick in the junk that I needed. So thank you to all that contributed to that, and to all those that are congratulating me. I feel it’s possibly more real to you lot at the moment. I see my time in Southern California as a whole different trip and can only think about the last week in Washington as recent. When I’ve put some time between me and the hike I’ll probably merge it all into one event

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A truck on a truck on a truck on a truck

I met up with Blue Sky, now known by her civilian name of Caitlin, in Davis where she is waiting for college to start. I tagged along to a college party where the plan was, after multiple rounds of Beer Pong, get to the doughnut shop when it opened at 5:30am. None of our little troupe made it but a good time was had by all and I saw a very different side of American culture. We even took a drive by of “Frat Row” and saw all the houses with their greek letters on display. What a change in my life, last week shivering in my tent alone and tired. A week later Nicole is driving me, Caitlin, Kristen and Rebecca at about 85 mph down the highway.

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Ladder ball

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Drinking in Davis

Davis was a blast but I had to leave. I’ve driven in this area before but after following the crest for so long it’s quite a mental shift to be in a valley so wide you can’t see the edges. I spent the afternoon wandering the streets of downtown San Francisco and smiling to myself about the looks I was getting. After I’d returned my rental car I asked the guy (I’ll call him Juan for now) directions to the piers. He said which road to take and asked if I needed a ride organized.
“No, I’ll just walk”
“Really? It’s a long way”
“I can handle it”

As I walked away I heard him tell the next person in line “That guy’s going to walk all the way downtown!” haha.

I got a similar reaction in a book store. After giving me directions to another one he said, with a bit of a sarcastic attitude “enjoy your walk”.

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San Francisco from below

One minor disaster, I lost my PocketMail device. I left it in a phone booth near Pier 40.

I think this is enough for now. I have some socialising to do. My flights are booked, I’ll be back home on Oct 4th and I’m really looking forward to it.

2007-08-02 Goodbye California

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

Blue Sky and I are now camped about 4 miles from the Oregon border. It has taken nearly 1,700 miles and over 15 weeks to get here though I’m not feeling much worse than I did in the first week. I’ve learned to feel the onset of shin-splints, which I can do right now, and to slow down when I get that familiar pain. Today we pushed to 27.5 miles and it was plenty.

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From my sleeping bag I could smell the forest fires were still burning. It didn’t seem very thick but as we climbed past the Devil’s Peaks and looked back we could see it was getting pretty bad for those in Seiad Valley today. It was near white-out conditions to the south and east and a good northerly wind kept it all back there and off the ridges we were on.

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Finding water is getting to be a problem again. There are sources up here but no-one wants to carry more than they have to so we need to guess whether the next spring is still running. South bound hikers are good for that.

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After crossing Cook and Green Pass we climbed up towards the day’s high point and had lunch. I mostly ate food other hikers had offered because they bought too much. Freeze-dried fruit from Troll, tortillas from Dr. Bug and apple sauce from Blue Sky.

I noticed with a smile that Riddle has passed through here recently. The trail-side art of a sunrise made from the brilliant white rock chips (quartz?) could only be her.

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The afternoon walk was along the crest and it literally sparkled. Like heavy sand sprayed silver, the mica dust looked solid but gently padded the trail. It turned my shoes back to their normal grey from the red they had become after crossing Copper Butte. When the slabs of it by the side of the trail caught the sun they really shone. It probably won’t come out on camera but I tried.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Etna to Ashland


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Google Maps

2007-08-01 And up the other side

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Today definitely had the slowest miles so far. I didn’t go for the pre-dawn dip I had planned last night, instead just washing my face before starting the 6.5 mile road walk to the township of Seiad Valley. Along the quiet gravel road were numerous patches of great blackberries and luckily I had already selected a large zip-lock (note: I used Hefty brand and it leaked) and set about collecting my breakfast. Blue Sky caught up quickly as did Troll and Oblivious so we all walked to the highway together eating juicy fruit the whole way.

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Blue Sky and Troll blackberrying

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The Seiad Valley diner is famous for its pancake challenge which is to eat five 1 pound pancakes in two hours. It’s been done a dozen times in as many years and the first non-through hiker to do it was just a few weeks ago. Panther is going to try tomorrow. I had really wanted to have a go when I started this trip but I came to the realisation that even if I did complete it, which is unlikely, I wouldn’t enjoy it. So instead I bought almost half a gallon of ice-cream and ate it all myself, along with almost a pound of blackberries and the freeze-dried fruit Troll was giving away. Yes I felt pretty close to exploding afterwards, but you can’t argue with 2240+ calories in one sitting!

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More hikers came in and some from last night left. Dr. Bug and Stud were the first to go at what seemed to be totally the wrong time. There’s a 4000ft ascent north of Seiad Valley and it was crazy hot today.

Blue Sky and I got the diner to make milkshakes with the rest of the blackberries and filled up on huge sandwiches before closing time. That’s something I really like about American cuisine, great sandwiches.

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SunWalker and Blue Sky

We were now below 2000ft and throughout the day it got hotter and more humid which just made it harder to leave. Even by 6pm it was still a lot hotter than I’d have liked but we had to get some miles in if we’re going to reach Ashland on Saturday. So we did and now we’re on a thin saddle halfway to the top of our climb. Mosquitoes are swarming but a head-net and deet should see me through.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that last night at Grider Creek Campground I had less than 1000 miles to reach the Canadian border. I’m trying not to get too numbers oriented but that one is worth noting.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Etna to Ashland

Google Maps

2007-07-31 The long descent

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

The deer continued to be unafraid last night. Even to the point that it got a kick on the nose when it tried to lick the bottom of Rocket Cop’s sleeping bag.

We started with a tough climb and I was certainly glad we hadn’t tried it last night. After reaching a saddle with views back to an impressive rock formation called King’s Castle the trail goes along the crest, dips to a saddle and climbs steeply up the other side. Unfortunately we turned west on the more prominent trail at the saddle and descended a few hundred feet before finally stopping to consult our maps. We retraced our steps and before long found Tiki and RestStop taking a break, also on the wrong trail. We were glad not to be the only people dumb enough to make the mistake, and they were too because they hadn’t noticed anything was wrong and were still heading down.

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Kings Castle

Together the four of us got back to the saddle and took the real trail northwards. From that ridge we could see the smoke filled valley of Happy Camp, evidently still burning but luckily for us it is over a ridge from the PCT.

All afternoon was spent descending towards and then along Grider Creek. According to Tiki, the humidity, the forest and the lack of views are comparable to the Appalachian Trail. A hike I never intend to do.

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Tiki and Rocket Cop

After a short eternity we finally reached Grider Creek Campground, which is really just flat areas with picnic tables and a gravel car park (an American hiker told me “car park” sounds like a place cars go to have fun). It also have a flowing river with swimming holes which I intend to use before dawn tomorrow.

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A creek with no name

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Etna to Ashland

Google Maps

2007-07-30 Hiking as two

Monday, July 30th, 2007

It was a good day to hike. Bright sunshine but not too hot and the trail was relatively flat for the first ten miles to the spring. In a little while the terrain became steeper and we stayed close to the crest for quite a way. Traversing across past Marten and Fisher Lakes (which as Yogi says were far too ‘organic’ to get water from) the trail goes through a profusion of wildflowers beyond anything I’ve seen so far. The most common ones were the pale purple daisies. The Most Exotic Award would be shared by the orange flower whose petals curled so much it was almost inside-out and the red one which looks like a spikey pine cone just opening up. Off to the right there was room for a very small meadow before it dramatically plunges off into the valley below. I hope my photos do it justice, if not you’ll all have to make the trek in from the road to see for yourself.

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Blue Sky on the trail

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PCTPCT

From there it is up steeply to a tiny saddle for lunch. It reminded me a lot of FenĂȘtre d’Arpette on the Tour du Mont Blanc, except for the trees below. I remember how much of an effort that was and how worried I got about it. Now I’ve crossed that sort of thing dozens of times without a care, still huffing and puffing though.

On the way down the guide book points out Man Eaten Lake (near Kleaver Lake, I think it must have been a Who not a What that did the eating) and calls it ’stark’. I’d have called it pristine. You could see where the granite rock slides had fallen into the cool water. It was deep blue and so inviting and if I’d not been 400ft up the hill I’d have totally gone for a swim.

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Man Eaten Lake

Hiking with Blue Sky is working well. We have very similar speeds, but that makes it hard to catch up if one drops back for something. A couple of times I went past trail junctions and then waited to make sure she made the same choice. She always did so I really shouldn’t worry. We’re at Marble Valley Guard Station now where the local deer seem unafraid and have walked within a dozen feet of our camp spot.

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Rocket Cop and Tiki have just turned up too and I know Troll and Oblivious won’t be far away. Tiki has kindly given me some replacement hiking pole tips. I had mine replaced at the Kick Off and have since worn them to stubs. I couldn’t do this hike without them. On the ups they take some effort from my legs, on the flats they increase my speed, on the downs they save my knees.

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More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Etna to Ashland

Google Maps

2007-07-29 BlueSky’s in Etna

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

I think the first thing I heard today was a deer. Whatever it was it seemed to be having nasal problems, snorting and sneezing a few times before bounding off down the trail. I got up for a little walk (bear in mind it is about 2:30am) and look out across the smoke filled valley below. The moon was halfway down and I could clearly see a ridge protruding above the white cloud like an island in the mist. I took a while getting the right camera settings, hopefully it looks good on a bigger screen.

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Early morning smoke (2:40am ish)

When I really got up a couple of hours later the moon was tinted orange from the ash in the air and just setting. The run to my camera yesterday seems to have triggered shin splints again so I set off slowly and managed to keep my speed under control. The eastern valleys were worryingly full of smoke and I was watching for planes or helicopters as a sign that I should turn and run, but none came and I think the fires are a long way away.


Smoke over Etna

The first person I saw was Starman going south. He reported on trail conditions and hikers ahead. The second group included Jake the timid dog. So scared of strangers was he that as I walked past at his owner’s beckoning, he slipped his collar and took off down the very steep rock slide we were crossing. She was hysterical, but he only made it a few meters and I just got out of there. The next guy was with them and explained the dog was on heart-worm medication, and that had made him afraid of people in hats. I couldn’t help but wondering what havoc one could cause by slipping it into the water at the Melbourne Cup :-)

I reached the road well ahead of time, left a note for BlueSky and Vortex, then hitched into Etna where I ate lots and was about to head to the California Campers Training Center when the adventure duo and Aaron showed up.

CCTG trains volunteers to go do charity work in Africa, and if that wasn’t cool enough they also let PCTers stay, shower, do laundry and use the internet totally free! Someone deserves a big Christmas card.

It feels so good to be clean again. It was my 9th day since Old Station and the sweat in my shirt and trousers was quite horrific. We all went to eat at The Trailhead but to get Vortex and Aaron back on the road in time I had to rush my burger and I felt very, very bad.

So BlueSky and I are back on the trail. It sure will be different to hike with a partner again but she’s happy getting up early and we’ve both got people further north to stay with so it’s going to be good times ahead. The only downside of today was being so rushed that I didn’t replace the memory card in my GPS device and have missed 1 mile of the trail. I’m not prepared to re-hike it.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Castle Crags to Etna

Google Maps

Etna

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

Hey peeps, I’m in Etna now, 230 miles from Old Station in less than 9 days. Understandably knackered but feeling a whole heap better than in Castella. Have met up with BlueSky and will sort a plan for then next few weeks. Thanks for the videos, looking forward to seeing ya’ll soon :-)

2007-07-28 Crazy Crickets

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

Two gadget accidents today. At the first good water source I slipped on a rock and plunged my foot into the creek. Jumping quickly to get it out, my shirt pocket swung open and dropped my iPod in the water. It seems to work ok, but it has paused three times when I didn’t tell it to. At the last water source of the day I tried to avoid that mistake. I pocketed my iPod and set my camera down safely. I was more than an hour away and 1000ft higher when I realised I hadn’t picked it back up again. After a bit of shouting and swearing I took off down the hill. Without my pack on I can move pretty fast. I’d seen a car at the road not far from the stream and the fear of a day hiker taking the camera away made me risk shin splints and face-planting into the trail at full speed. As I thundered down the path to where I hoped it would be I found Old Corpus and Gary just 30 yards from the stream carrying my camera. Major relief.

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Old Corpus and Gary

So I hiked back up the hill and to my pack where I found the weirdest thing. There were dozen of crickets swarming over my pack. Some of them in pairs all over each other. I wonder what made them so keen on the bag.

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Castella had a limited and expensive selection of snack foods so I’ve run a bit low on this section. I have found I need at least 5 bars per day, one of which needs to be a big chocolate boost (Snickers or PayDay Chocolate Avalanche do well) and one protein bar. Then I need lunch, a box of Wheat Thins with peanut butter or cheese can do three days. Dinner is a choice of instant noodles with foil-packed tuna or chicken, or mac-n-cheese, couscous with meat or a freeze-dried meal if I’m splurging. When I send my food boxes from Ashland I’ll be including all that, plus some dried fruit.

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Pitcher plants

today’s food fantasy: Real, juicy mangoes. Dried ones will do in a pinch, but I just ate the last one.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Castle Crags to Etna

Google Maps

2007-07-27 Day 100

Friday, July 27th, 2007

Today is my 100th day on the trail. If I’ve remembered everything correctly this is how I have spent my nights:

17 in my own tent
6 in perma-tents at trail angels’
7 in houses
8 in motel/hotels
62 under the stars

I think I’ve had 20 zero days so far, and now for today….

I hit the trail much later than usual, so cozy in my sleeping bag and watching sunrise next to Mt. Shasta. It wasn’t that long ago that I was on the other side watching sunset, I wonder who’s over there now looking this way. The miles were surprisingly easy. So easy in fact that I can’t help but wonder if the book has exaggerated the distance between points. There were pleasant lakes, nice rolling hills and little grassy meadows. But there is no way this stuff compares to the majestic high sierras. I kept the music going all morning and soon discovered I’d come a lot further than I expected and had to slow down or I’d risk hurting myself again. So at a nice saddle above Bull Lake, with Shasta popping up just above the opposite wall, I took a good lunch break and watched through the videos again while eating the second Baileys truffle bar Bex sent me, truly a luxurious day for any hiker.

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Morning view

I’ve mostly been getting water from springs, right near the source, and thus not bothering to treat it. It’s so cold and refreshing I just can’t resist gulping it down. When I got moving again I put on some ‘chillout’ sounds to try to slow my pace. Music has such an effect on me that I can’t help but fall into step. Sometimes you could even see me dancing down the trail to a bit of Gnarls Barkley or that “Pictures” song.

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I have had to make the hard decision to send Dad’s pack home. After the belt broke I was worried about anything else going wrong. Then I removed the extra padding I used down the back because it made me sweat too much and now it’s really making my shoulders sore. I’ll be sorry to see it go, the thing’s got class and I love having several dividable pockets rather than one large one, but it’s starting to endanger my trip I don’t want anything to make this harder.

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today’s food fantasy: Chinese take-away from The Flying Horse in Takapuna

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Castle Crags to Etna

Google Maps