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Normal service has resumed

Monday, October 8th, 2007

I think I’ve delayed my final post as long as I can. I’m settled back in New Zealand now and about to begin the mammoth task of sorting over 4000 photos and video clips I took along the way. The journey home took me via LAX. It wasn’t nearly as confusing as I thought it would be. I had plenty of time there to people watch as they went through the usual airport rituals. Hellos, goodbyes and thinking that somehow they deserve to be at the front of queues more than others. For my part I tried to get upgraded or at least secure a seat with leg room. I played the “I just walked across your country” card with zero success. The grumpy lady in San Francisco had already assigned me a seat despite claiming I didn’t get one until LA, and I was glad to exchange it to one by the aisle.
The plane was packed and the large Samoan next to me was taking more than his share of seats. I settled in for several movies but with the schedule of the last week it wasn’t long until I dozed off, almost dropping a cup of water in my lap in the process. Landing in Auckland I went through the duty free shops and I swear the lady behind the counter was having trouble keeping a straight face as she served me. It didn’t bother me. I did look quite a sight with messy long hair and my terrible beard. Passport control, customs, bio-security (who cleaned my tent for me :-) ) and then the walk of fame. I stepped through the gate and into the arms of my awaiting family.
Everything seemed normal. It was normal. Auckland hasn’t changed since I left. My car still steers just as it did before. The house is the same. My little brothers and sister are probably taller but it’s hard to judge. I don’t know what I expected but I was almost let down by everything being the same. Maybe I wanted my view of things to be different. It still could be. Next time I go walking here I’ll be doing the same sums I have been doing along the trail. I met up with friends on Friday night, they all had a good laugh at my mountain man appearance and I got to hear the stories of the last six months.

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Home

The highlight of my return, and the reason I really feel at home, was the party on Saturday night. It was the usual crowd, the usual faces, the people I missed. Tania turned up with a surprise. Roast vegetables just as I had dreamed about back in Oregon. Then more people came. Rachel and Dave (who came up with this idea) brought wiener schnitzel and kumara chips, others brought slushies (actually popsicles run through the blender), big bars of chocolate, bananas and chocolate to dip them in, Memphis Meltdowns and more. A few people were disappointed they hadn’t gotten to see the beard, but I’ve put together a time-lapse of my trip as seen below (it’s a large file so you’ll have a bit of a wait before it loads).


Also available on YouTube

We hit the town, and I was careful not to over do it. My lesson from the night out with Christian is too fresh in my memory to make that mistake again. The sky was getting light when I finally curled up on the couch at my old flat. The same as it ever was.

I did what I set out to and I’m not modest enough to say that I’m not super proud of it. I pushed really hard some times to get it done in the only manner I knew how and I’m glad I did. Reading the blogs of people behind me, and even getting an email from one friend I met at the Kick Off as she bailed out in the last few hundred miles because of avalanches, I’m not sure if I could have finished it at a slower pace. Scout and Frodo are probably out now, their journal is coming through slowly and reporting the snow conditions that most feared. Despite that I almost wish I had experienced that with them. Team Snowplow are bound to have great stories and be a very tight group after facing such adversities. I say almost because I did finish with the people I wanted to and I did finish. Right from the beginning I was worried about snow and that I’d have to give up in the last week of the hike.

So that was my summer. What should I do next? Answers on a postcard to AfterIveHadABurger@stanton.co.nz

P.S. My brother left for England last night. At the airport I saw the cashier that was smirking at my unkempt appearance when I arrived. I went over to introduce myself and to say that I know I looked silly but I’ve smartened myself up a bit. It didn’t go so well. She denied it was her and then said they “they” (the staff) would never laugh at customers. I think she thought she was being rude but I was trying to laugh along with her. Oh well, you can’t charm them all.

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.

2007-09-23 Sleeping in Seattle

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

The loss of the trail still has me dazed. Luckily there haven’t been any major decisions apart from transport. Lucky Joe left us at Manning Park, preferring to hitch over the greyhound bus. I’d have preferred it too but I have a schedule and didn’t want to risk it. I didn’t get much time to really experience Canada on this trip. Potential 178 (last seen at The Saufleys’) is a local but won’t be back for a few days. I’ll find a way to catch up with him another time.

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We are the champions

The first bus was to Vancouver and the second to Seattle. I managed to nod off a few times and finally woke as we left Interstate 5 and entered the city about 10:30pm. Across Lake Union was the iconic Space Needle, brightly lit and reflected in the calm water. I didn’t expect to appreciate man-made beauty so quickly after coming out of the woods. So much of what we’d been driven through was just plain ugly cities.

Following Wandering Jew’s (last seen at Hiker Town) directions we found his place and let ourselves in. The PCT is a pretty cool community where a phone call to someone you spent a few hours in the shade with, four months and 2100 miles ago, can get you a place to stay in a strange city when they’re not even home. One thing to note though. Capitol Hill is an understatement. The last climb of the day was totally unexpected.

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2007-09-22 epilogue

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

My mind is still reeling from the sudden changes but at least my body is at rest. My feet look a little puffed and I prefer it to the thin, pale and wrinkled toes I had yesterday. The scars on my hips are still with me but I know they’ll fade for today I am not hiking. I’m done and the last five months seem like a blur. Even entering Washington seems like a life time ago. The High Sierras, where I met my team mates Lucky Joe, Angelhair and Rigatoni, is just a dream now.

My dreams of failure stopped after Stehekin. After that I dreamt once of returning home triumphant but the other nights were too disturbed to dream at all. Last night I can’t even remember. I know I was in a bed and the cold and the rain and the wind were locked outside away from me.

Now I have to find my way home. I’m in the wrong country and the authorities don’t even know yet.

Rigatoni has just told me about the CFT which sounds like a good idea. The Couch to Fridge Tour :-)

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2007-09-22 …and I’m done!

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

So I’ve done it. I have actually walked all the way up the west coast of America. I’m obviously a little stunned by this all so it may take a little time for my brain to settle down and deal with it all.

The night was the worst I’ve experienced on the trail (except maybe the second night, when it snowed). The rain was going non-stop and the sudden wind gusts were really worrying. Several times I heard a dramatic flapping from the direction of Lucky Joe’s tarp. One of his poles had collapsed and he was having one hell of a night. A small river formed across his ground sheet, pooling around his shoulders and a frog had decided to join him for comfort.

It quietened down in the early hours and I got just a little bit of sleep. I awoke to a calmer world and set off up the hill after breaking the ice off my tent.

The last few days have been tough and it’s still kicking us in the arse. It was snowing and the clouds swirled up the slopes, over and beyond me. Lucky Joe wasn’t far behind and we were both shivering the whole time. I was dragging my poles with my fingers balled up in my fists just staving off complete numbness.

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When we could see far enough around us it was a beautiful scene with a light dusting of snow on the rocks, the bushes and the oh-so familiar trail. Woody Pass was nothing like you’d expect and only worth mentioning because that was the point the snow got even stronger. It did eventually abate, and there were even sunny moments. All the while I was doing the sums and counting down our miles. I wasn’t thinking about the end, how far we’d come, how this was not just a town stop. I was just measuring the miles I had to walk and the time I wanted to be done by. I’ll be relieved when that is just memory. Soon we overtook the Noodleheads and emerged into a clear-cut. Then I saw it.

The line running down the hill. 20ft wide and running west to east it was the border. In four short switchbacks I was there, whooping and hollering. I even broke out a little dance.
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We spent a while doing the usual. Taking photos, signing the book, reading who else had passed this way and finally getting around to lunch. A german couple came in from the Canadian side. They’d walked in the eight miles and were surprised to see people already there.
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Lucky Joe, Angelhair, Rigatoni and SunWalker/Heaps

With the festivities over we began the final walk. It was eight miles to the road and a 1,000ft climb made it feel just like home. Nothing had really changed yet. We were still in the woods, still marching and still getting rained on. It didn’t matter though. We were done, the real world waited for us at the road.

Easy, Lizard, Samurai Joe and Monty were at Manning Park and left not long after we arrived. We four got a room at the lodge and have begun our cleansing. That shower felt so good. The dirt left me and I shall not stink that much for a very long time. My feet have dried and I’ve called home. The adventure is over, now it’s re-entry.

Quote of the day: “Have you come far?” The german tourist


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2007-09-21 The final countdown

Friday, September 21st, 2007

The call came from the Noodleheads’ tent and we all agreed, today was not a day to start early. Everyone’s shoes were frozen solid. Lucky Joe only has one pair of hiking socks with him and they were as stiff as wood too. I packed up slowly allowing time for my damp clothes to thaw a little. The last thing I did before stepping back on to the trail was swap the nice thick socks Anna sent me, for my normal ones and put on my shoes. Instantly my feet were freezing and my toes were almost numb before I could get very far. But the feeling came back and with mostly clear skies we trundled on. During the day the skies became greyer and with a cold bite to the wind it really felt like winter was arriving. The rain held off until the last few miles before camp and then it slowed enough for me to set up this tent for the last time.

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Under grey skies

It’s only 15 miles to Canada from here. It’d have to be pretty strong rain to stop us now but it wouldn’t take much to make it miserable. Tomorrow I’ll complete the Pacific Crest Trail and truly be a thru-hiker, then I’ll get a warm shower and a bed.


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2007-09-17 Still learning

Monday, September 17th, 2007

I’ve taken five months to walk this far. Something that could be driven in a few days or flown in a few hours and I’m still as impatient as ever. Proof of this comes from the fact that I woke every few minutes from well before dawn, desperate for it to be 6am, the time I judged right to break camp and walk to High Bridge Ranger Station where a bus would take me to Stehekin. It’s the last settlement on the trail and by all accounts the nicest.

On the drive down we stopped at the ranch and picked up hikers who had been there last night including Ricola (last seen leaving the Sierras via Kearsarge Pass), Totally Rachael and A-Train. Together they made a young team and I was very keen to make a quick turn around here and thus finish with them in three days. Rigatoni has been a little sullen for the last few days and it’s been awkward walking with them since he used to be so cheerful. Plus it would give me more time after the hike for socialising in San Francisco.

Monty was in town (another reason to turn and run for the border) and he found a forecast for rain/snow tomorrow night just north of here. But it was Angelhair that tipped the balance. We talked for a while and I began to see I was still rushing everything, even down to the massive pile of fries that made my stomach ache.
“What’s the worst that will happen?” she said. Not much really, I’ll arrive in Auckland later but not too late and I’ll feel a lot stronger taking on the massive climb leaving here. So I’ve stayed, and with bad weather I will probably take a zero tomorrow.

The care packages were amazing. Kathy clearly knows what a thru-hiker needs: dried fruit, candy, little apricot rolls and Blue Sky must have tipped her off about apple sauce. Heavy but the best way to carry apples for 4 days. Anna’s one was wonderful. NZ lollies, a flag and some cool badges (pins) that look like big eyes for freaking out bears/mountain lions that are sneaking up on me.

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Stehekin Dock

Stehekin is really nice. At the lake front there’s a small store, restaurant, post office free shower and campground plus a lodge that doesn’t seem to mind hikers wandering in to use internet or air conditioning. A mile or two up the road (towards the ranch) is a bakery. Strangest place for a bakery I think, out there in the woods. It has incredible food and I’ll spend some time and money there tomorrow. The ranch is pricey, about $95 per person, but with three all-you-can-eat meals you get your money’s worth.

The restaurant in ‘town’ is very nice. I highly recommend the beef medallions with “twice baked” potatoes, and I also recommended to Holly the waitress that they call them “stuffed potatoes” because twice baked doesn’t sound good to me.

And I nearly forgot to mention the minor disaster with my passport. My NZ passport and Canadian entry papers should now be waiting in Manning Park. They almost weren’t because NZ post requires a signature on ‘track and trace’ packages and I’m not there to sign for it so Dad spent a while trying to find out just where it got delivered. It seems to all be fine now though I am definitely glad I carried my UK passport with me this whole time.


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2007-09-16 Blowdowns

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

We’d been warned that the first seven miles of today’s trail were the hardest. There were certainly a lot of blown down trees. Some as wide as 7ft fallen right across our path, or piles of trees making an up-down-around climbing frame that slowed us down considerably. Vista Creek was wide and shallow. A tree had fallen in almost exactly the same spot as the bridge had once been so we hardly even paused there. Suiattle River was another matter. Using Scatman’s guide we angled upstream across the wide wash of grit, boulders and quite sizable trees that must have come down during the storm in ‘03. We found the big log across the river and without it we’d have been stuck. Though not very wide it was very fast and deep enough to swallow a hiker whole.

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Lots of blowdowns

Up the other side we began the day’s climb and were relieved when we saw the first blowdown that had been recently cut away. The trail was clear from then on and thanks to the unseen trail crew we made great progress.
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Suiattle River

As we climbed higher, to just about 6,000ft, we entered the clouds and things started to get wet. Unfortunately we never got above the clouds and soon it was raining. My trousers were soaked through and if I leaned forward on my toes I could squeeze water from my shoes. With my rain hood up and my game face on I knocked out the miles and it wasn’t until I reached Agnes Creek I realized the rain had stopped and I was actually getting drier. The walk from there was exceptionally pleasant. Agnes Creek had cut through a layer of tough black blocky rock and ran across a bed of large smoothed pebbles. The type some people pay good money for at garden centres. When it dropped away from the trail the trees thinned out and I saw just a little blue sky above the mountains. Tomorrow will be a better day, and even if it’s not, I’ll be in Stehekin!

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2007-09-15 The Forbidden Zone

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Today there were only three of us. Three woke up under the clouds. Three had lunch high above Milk Creek. Three did 59 switchbacks down to Vista Creek and camped here. We saw no-one else at all. Tomorrow we’ll reach the point where the detour and the road-walk rejoin the official PCT and I expect to see more people then. Until then it’s just me, the Noodleheads and the bears.

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A sea of clouds

There were two bears at Pumice Creek this morning. The cub ran away pretty quickly but the mother waited a little bit then casually followed. They were the first that the Noodleheads had seen but my 7th and 8th. The next ridge brought us above the clouds and it was even more spectacular than yesterday. To the west a barren mountain range, still holding pockets of snow, pierced through the thick flowing blanket. Individual peaks became islands in the mist. There was no haze up there so I could see an incredible distance and make out details that would normally be too faint.
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Noodleheads and Heaps on Fire Creek Pass

The ridges were magnificent and truly rivaling the high sierras for my favourite place on the trail. In all we climbed 5,000ft today, and dropped that much too. The border is only 112 miles away and to be honest I don’t know if I’d make it much further. My knees are feeling the strain of all these slopes. When my feet get wet, as they did this morning from the dew on the plants, they show strange patterns as if the skin is beginning to rot away.
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The trail down from Fire Creek Pass

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