Saturday, August 30, 2014

"First Times" Make Life Worth Living

I walked out of work after successfully working on my road bike for the first time ever. With my first foray into bike touring on the horizon, knowing how to fix my bike is a must. It took me hours to do what a bike tech had done in 45 minutes but I had done it myself (with only a tiny bit of guidance) and that was what mattered.

As I approached my car in the parking lot outside, Jack stood next to his car in the space beside mine. He was pulling mounds of gear from the back seat and transferring it to the trunk and when we spoke I could immediately tell he was excited. "You should come" he said, "it's going to be awesome!" The sheer disorganization brought on by his excitement lured me in. "Pigeon Mountain. We're climbing. Come with us!" I didn't know where Pigeon Mountain was and I am a sorry excuse for a rock climber but moments later I was in the back seat of Jack's car sitting next to Bradley, Brittany in the front seat.

We drove northward up the interstate, the only direction worth going when you already live around Atlanta. Our path takes us up and over to the northwest corner of our state. We pass communities that are barely a cross roads and weave between valleys and mountains. It's a route I spent months photographing while in college and have not returned to in quite some time. As we speed further away from civilization, Jack pulls into a gas station. "Best Burger Around" it boasts. "Guess we'll have to fight for it", Bradley jokes. He and I jump out of the car to go buy some beer. We walk in and head straight for the refrigerated windows in the back but they hold no beer. It's takes us a while to find our prize, a whole row of refrigerated windows behind the cashiers counter. Bradley orders a twelve pack of Budweiser tall boys. The woman behind the counter pulls out an eighteen pack and sets in on the counter. Then she pulls out a pair of scissors and begins to preform surgery on the box of beer. First she snips the handle, then she starts down both sides. When the belly of the box will open up enough, she pulls out several beers and places them on the counter. Then she turns the box on its end and cuts the last line and it pops into two pieces. Twelve beers are stacked in one half of the box, placed in a bag and handed to Bradley. The remaining six are placed in the other half of the box and returned to the refrigerator. We thank her and are otherwise silent as we walk out the door, but are in fits of giggles by the time we are at the car. We finally realize how far out into nowhere we must be if this is a standard beer purchasing practice.

Jack pulls off the main two lane highway and the roads shrink in size from there until we switching back up the tight turns of the one way road on Pigeon Mountain. He stops and he pops a beer before he even pops the truck to get the gear out. "It's not a far hike in," he assures us. We all throw on our packs. Jack and Brittany both loaded down with the weight of gear needed by experienced climbers. Bradley and I loaded down with the weight of beers.

We throw down our gear in front of a beautiful, sheer wall. A ledge of some sort makes an easy start but it fades into a long stretch of crimps and pinches before disappearing under a big boulder holding the anchor on top. Brittany is harnessed up and tying in just moments after the anchor is set. We consistently joke Brittany about how often she says she is "psyched on climbing", "psyched on yoga" or whatever it may be at the time. It's a funny little thing she says but it's tapping in her ability to concentrate great amounts of psychical and mental power into selected areas of her life. The word to describe people like Brittany is driven, but thats not quite all with her. It misses the fun, the spunk, the contagious good energy of begin around her. While she is ready to go, the rest of us are taking a beer break. Bradley notes the division in our priorities. We start in on this first route; Jack belays Brittany, Bradley belays Jack, I belay Bradley and he returns the favor. I am the novice among us all. Bradley only started climbing a few weeks ago but he possessed upper body strength before and I am way behind with that. I make it half way up and then the harder holds get the best of me. Backpacking leaves you with no upper body strength to rely on. But I am happy because I have never been clinging to the side of the world before, brought there by the strategic placement of hands and feet.




We move about thirty yards down the trail and there is another wall. This one has a crack running down the center that even to me looks just the way it's suppose to. You couldn't have built a better crack in a wall if you tried. Brittany and Jack jump in on some trad climbing. This requires a ton of gear, heavy gear with strange names and and strange shapes. Brittany starts a lead climb up the crack. When leading there is no rope above you and no one below you belaying. You simply set pieces of gear in the crack and clip the rope that is tied to you into the gear. Brittany places pieces of gear in several locations as she ascends the wall. Correct placement is crucial and if these pieces slip, she falls. It's happened before. Six months ago she broke her back on a wall just outside of Chattanooga but a healthy mix of positivity and fearlessness has served her well in healing. This is her first time leading trad since then. It's a good wall though and she's a great climber. She reaches the top and sets an anchor for Jack. This is his first time ever leading a trad climb, so the rope at top is a safety net in case his gear fails. Brittany is technically belaying him but gives him way more slack than usual. He sets his own pieces, everything holds, and he makes it to the top with a quickness. By this time it's getting dark.

We pack up and return to the car and Jack suggests a trip to the overlook. We all agree. I don't know what the overlook is but in my experience with overlooks, they are well worth it. On the top of the mountain there is a gravel parking lot and a big open view off the side of the mountain. We pull in facing the twinkling lights of little towns below us but that's the ugly part. I open the car door, take a few steps and just lay in the dirt, content to look up forever. The night sky is crystal clear and the katydids sing their rhythmic song of the southern night. It's the kind of setting that makes you realize that the universe is built for the purpose of your exploration, for your happiness, for your constant failures and eventual successes. Why do we rob ourselves of this gift? Why do we not cash out on the promise of this beautiful world? Why can't we trust the universe?! My mind swirls with the sky as Bradley and I try to answer these questions but we can't because we are human beings and we only know what centuries of scared, untrusting humans beings have taught us.

After a while we pile back into the car but Jack has one more stop in mind. We zip down most of the mountain and pull off to the side. "It's muddy but it's safe," he tells us when Brittany and I express a bit of concern about caving. As we approach the mouth of the cave a blast of cold air over takes us. I suddenly wish I had wasn't in shorts and a tank top but as soon as we descend into the cave, the natural AC brings it down a few notches and it's a crisp but manageable temperature. Everything is slick. What rock isn't slick with sticky mud is smooth as a bowling ball from so many feet, hands and butts sliding over it. The initial climb down spits us out into a great open room. I have never been in a cave before but it's all I imagined it would be. Stalagmites and stalactites rise and fall from the floor and ceiling like drips in history. We can only see as far as the beam of our head lamps. Ahead of us and behind us is pitch black darkness. Jack leads us through a series of twists and turns as if he once lived here. After a while, after crawling deep enough into the belly of the cave to build anxiety, we came to a tight squeeze. "Beyond that, there is a waterfall," Jack tells us. But the rest of us are wholly unprepared for army crawling into the abyss. We turn back and the trek back up to the surface of the earth is a exciting as the trip in. Some places I recognize, other times I fear we are lost. Somehow Jack brings us right back to the mouth of the cave where we came in and when I hear the sounds of life above land, I am both surprised and relieved.


We climb out of the cave and my glasses fog up in the humidity of the night. One last time we pile in the car. Jack lights out for home, windows down, music up. My outstretched hand surfs the wind as we weave down out of the a mountains at twenty miles over the speed limit. I watch the night sky, the shooting starts and the barely visible Milky Way as they fade out somewhere beyond the light pollution. At that point there is only one thing to do. Have a dance party in the car. Bradley is free styling over beats. Jack and I nearly loose out voices singing heartfelt songs. It is incredible what you can do with a seven hour period when you've got friends ready for an adventure.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Knowing What You Want and Why I Respect Farmers

I want to be living a perfectly romantic life. Like, you know the way the movies roll out a cast of characters and they’re living in perfectly decorated apartments? And their hyper interesting lives become intertwined with an equally beautiful person in the push and pull of falling in love? Yeah, nothing like that…


I want morning mist. I want the sun filtering through the trees. I want fresh eggs from my chickens out back. I want to have to do the morning chores before breakfast. I want to work in the dirt and earth. I want to jar the leftovers that aren’t eaten or sold at market. I want goats and goat milk and goat cheese. I want to have a desk that is only for writing. I want to have a window that looks out into the fields, over to the mountains, or down into the valley. I want to visit the same bank on the same river or the same grove in the roots of the same tree over and over until I have the spot memorized. I want to live by the seasons. I want to have to prepare for winter.  I want to pray for spring. I want to play all summer. I want to work throughout the fall. I want to rely on the land. I want to create and build and subsist on a much of my own makings as possible. I want to gather as much as Mother Nature will create or build for me in the wild. I want to scrape by just above hungry, just above cold, far above content, far above happy. I want to return to the earth, live on her time and poke away at letter keys to describe it all.

Friday, August 22, 2014

One Year Later: First Appalachian Trail Anniversery

It has been 365 days since I summited Katahdin. It is true! Today, August 22nd, is K-Day! What a year it has been since that incredible day. I remember being so ready for it all to end and yet I did not know how unprepared I was.

When I first began thru hiking the AT on March 3rd, 2013, I definitely KNEW that I was unprepared. I wasn't sure what coming my way at all. But it is funny to think that in reality I was exponentially less prepared on the day I finished. I had no idea about the torment I was walking into with the post-trail life. It was nice for a moment but then I soon missed my trail family with a severity I can not put into words. I failed over and over at settling back into the routine of "regular life", which felt like fighting the current of a river I was thrown into and could not escape. The months directly after the trail were quite possibly as hard as many of the months on spent the trail themselves. From September through February, I battled a strong lack of direction and misunderstanding of my own life, like I was living someone else's.

I felt aimless and alone. It was my own fault and it was everyone else's fault. I couldn't talk clothes, or make up, or popular music, or movies. They couldn't talk demolishing buffets, or mosquito hell, or bad bog experiences, or great poop stories. I had gone from a family worth dying for to a separation I didn't know how to over come. I dealt with it by bring memories back to life in a written form. If I had no one to talk trail talk with, at least I could keep these thoughts alive on paper.

But things change; hurt lessens; time pulls out the old and brings in the new like the rolling tide. I quit working so much and, subsequently hating my life, when I got a job at REI. I was seeing growth and opportunity in my writing. Most importantly, I began to build another family. Co-workers is a lack luster term for the people I share my job with. It doesn't suffice. They are becoming a whole other family. They have reminded me that I can have brothers and sisters in all stages of life, not just living in a tight, migratory pack in the woods.

We ride our bikes together; we plan big trips together; we drink beer together; we share our dreams and ideals with each other. To have a family again is an incredible feeling. I have always had an amazing family by blood; supportive and loving and fun. But to find strangers and make them into a family because you share life together is one of the most beautiful parts of being a human being. We can (and I have) had so many families over the span of my short life. They help us through life and make it, much of the time, worth living.

Still, there is something special and deep and raw about my trail family. The ease at which we can pick up and feel like we are there all over again. Like we hold the key to a secret world we used to exist in and when we travel back together it is like Neverland; no time has past. It is a beautiful feeling to reminisce. It is one of the great powers of humanity that we carry such strong memories with us for so long. To dive into this world with a brother or sister I made on the trail is a treat I relish.

So today, being my first Trail Anniversary, my world was rocked when I got to spend part of the day with Duffle Miner!! We had last been together while sitting outside of the Kroger in Waynesboro, VA, waiting for the shuttle of the aqua blazing company to come pick him and Jean Genie up. I sat with them until he arrived and then we said out final goodbyes, not knowing if we would cross paths again during out hike. Now he was headed up to the Kennesaw REI to buy a new pack. His was both beautifully and horrendously disheveled by its days on the trail. I had the honor of fitting him for his pack! It was a reminder of how great dealing with experienced hikers always is because they actually know the feel of a pack and can make the decision for themselves. It took no time and then we headed off for lunch and coffee; several hours of catching up, of trail stories, of updating each other on other hikers. The perfect way to spend K-Day!

Maineiac, Mud Mouth, Yard Sale, Gonzo and I on Katahdin.


Maineiac, Me, Duffle Miner, Gonzo and Jean Genie doing the Damascathon in Virginia.


Mud Mouth, Ocean Spray, Twilight, Umble, Maineiac, Me, Yard Sale and Gonzo on Katahdin.



Friday, August 15, 2014

Shining Rock Wilderness and Loving the Struggle

Some times you are sun burned and briar scraped, yellow jacket stung and starving, with two skinned knees and dirt caked calves, and still some how hiking feels so good. Good is vague. It feels relaxing, like suddenly turning and letting the tide take you down stream instead of futilely fighting the current. Head up, toes up, bobbing over smooth river stones, effortless. It feels like it is the one thing in the entire world you want to be doing. Above all other actions, hiking in this current moment is what keeps the world turning.

But not always…

I just spent three days backpacking in the Shining Rock Wilderness in North Carolina with Lucas, a fellow green vest at REI. Lucas and I both went to the same university for our BFA degrees. We first met years ago in a sculpture class, in which he excelled and I brown nosed my way to a passing grade. The end of summer, after so many trips and vacations have already passed, can be a slow time at REI. So when Lucas and I discovered that we both had the same three consecutive days off, we decided to make good use of them.

We met up Sunday after work and sorted out our gear and headed out early Monday morning, taking my favorite route up through the Nantahala Gorge.  Several times in my life I had been driving up US 19 just outside of Andrews, NC and I have gotten a migraine. I don’t know what it is about the valley that does that to me, but it happened again. Just before the valley narrows into the hairpin turns up through the gorge, I stopped and let Lucas drive. My blurry peripheral vision wasn’t up to the task. We stopped for a final pee break in Waynesville, NC and I barfed up all the berries I had eaten on the ride up. This is stage two of my migraines, stage one being the part where I think I’m going blind. Stage three is a wicked headache, but I know well enough by now how the cycle goes so I was able to stop it before it got too bad. Needless to say, by the time Lucas cut the engine in the gravel Big Fork parking lot I was ready to be on my feet among the fresh air.

In backpacking, all situations call for a snack break. Come across a beautiful view: snack break. Find a great campsite but it is too early to stop: snack break. Getting psyched for a big climb: snack. Just finished a big climb: snack break. In our case, got to the trail head: snack break. I had a ton of food in my pack. For all the times on the AT that I had to be careful to not eat all my food or tried to only bring the lightest foods, this trip was making up for it. I had massive protein shake mixes made up for each morning. I had an entire jar of Nutella (which I never once had on the AT even though it is very popular). And I had a bag of Campbell’s soup. Not even freeze dried! So daring! I would have never even considered such a weight wasteful dinner while thru hiking but the other day in Publix it seemed like the only edible option. (Plus, the weather called for rain and how great would a bag of Creamy Thai Style Chicken and Rice Soup be after hiking in the rain?!)

We filled our bellies. Me on my classic trashy backpacking goodies that I can only rationalize eating while in the woods and Lucas on his incredibly healthy and energy packed collection of nuts and dehydrated fruits. I never would have imagined that one could eat like a vegan king while backpacking, but I have seen it with thine own eyes, now!  We set out into the damp, grey day and went right at a fork and then went up, forever. As if my soft, fleshy body wasn’t already going to have a hard time from being out of practice, the weight of my pack and the steep climb right off made a really strong point about it all. This junk is rough! But I heard voices ahead of me and knew it must be the peak! Why else would so many people congregate?! I finally inch up to the source of jabbering and Lucas is standing at the edge. A young guy tells a bunch of rowdy boys to shape up because a lady is in their presence and I thoughtlessly spew out a curse word or two about this not being the top before my brain realizes that just beyond Lucas and a few guys our age is a gaggle of kids. The young guy who is apparently much more well mannered than me realizes that I am not actually a lady and hustles the kids forward. I feel bad about it for a while and then get over it when I realize that a bunch of twenty something year old white guys in the woods with a bunch of inner city sounding high school kids can only mean one thing: wilderness therapy.  Suddenly my sailor’s mouth doesn’t seem so bad.    

After a short break at the overlook that wasn’t the top, we push on and on up this mountain, over coming the group of kids and finally level out in Berry Land. Blueberries and black berries everywhere. We stopped every time we saw them and gorged ourselves. In less than an hour and a half I had to stop eating them from lack of space in my stomach. Never in my life have there ever been too many berries before this moment! We reach a spot that must be on the map so we stop and pull it out. This happens a million and over times over the days we are in the Shining Rock Wilderness and sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. The trails are narrow and wildly overgrown. Navigation is hard. We eventually start taking trails that look like they drop in elevation in hopes of finding a campsite worthy of Lucas hanging a hammock, something more substantial than the briars and blueberry bushes all around us. With the dark clouds above and the distant rolling thunder, I would prefer to not pitch my tent on a bald any how.

We take the first site we find and it’s a good one. I get stung by a yellow jacket collecting wood and yip and yelp around for a second before swearing off the search altogether. A fire turns out to be impossible because all the wood is too damp, which makes the sting all for nothing. Darkness falls and we sit enjoying the blackness even if a fire would be a tad better. Coyotes cackle and howl in the distance and I am grateful that I used the last remaining light to pee and promise myself that I can make it until morning to do it again. I go to bed and sleep wonderfully in my old room. Hovering one inch above the ground on my Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad, drooling on my thankfully waterproof clothes bag, enclosed in my claustrophobically small Fly Creek tent. It’s so familiar and I revel in it. I still had a pair of earplugs in the pocket of my sleeping bag so I didn’t even have to listen to the coyotes howl at the full moon all night.

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In the morning we wake up and take off on beautiful trail that abruptly turns to overgrown briars again. It gets small and then wide again and then we loose it and find it and walk through head high brush some more. Eventually there is a river and a father and a daughter. He knows the way, or seems to at least, so we follow but they are slow. She is small and unable to ford the rushing waters alone and his pack is about 80 pounds and is a pure caricature of what a backpack is supposed to look like. They lead us over and down the river a time or two and he gives us directions and we set off on a trail that could be intended for man or may just be a rabbit path. There are many of them and we make a series of educated guesses until we are obviously lost. We begin walking down stream as best we can, sometimes on a trail and sometimes hoping over rocks in the water. An Aussie appears, who is a big fan of “hocking” and it takes me just a little extra time to figure out that he is saying “hiking”. He tells us to keep picking our way over the stones until we find a bridge downstream. We do and find the bridge that we somehow missed before. My feet had stayed dry the entire time until one last rock hop. It was technical and when one toe went in just a little too deep I gave up all hope and tromped across with splashy ease, ready to be on a discernible trail again.

The bridge led to a path that lead to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the overlook staring straight at Looking Glass Rock. Exhausted and miffed at the trail, we threw down our packs and dove into out food bags. I kicked my shoes off and answered a women’s questions about our trip as I wrung the brown, dirt water out of my socks. The sun had come out and we baked on the asphalt as cars came in and out of the pull off. I felt as hiker trashy as ever, both of us pack-sploding and stinking right in front of a great view of Looking Glass’s sheer, rock face. Grand moments like these make the difficult parts of backpacking grand as well.
We set out again and chose a trail that looked nice. It was nice, very nice. Very beautiful and everything you want a trail to be, but it led us right back to the Parkway. So we decided to road walk to where we thought we were supposed to be.  Thankfully, BRP road walking is not normal road walking. I felt like I was back in the Doahs. The grass was so green on the shoulders of the road and the sky was so deep blue above us. We walked past dripping cliff faces and up against breath taking views. We made a game out of walking on the railings that separated the road from the edge of the world.

Eventually we made it to the busy parking lot that marked the beginning of heavier trafficked (aka better maintained) trails. It was glorious. We beasted past all the day hikers with their cars sitting in the parking lot a quarter mile away and made it to a quieter place way up on a ridge. I love looking over the side of a mountain and seeing how far and high I’ve have made it. It makes the human body seem capable of so much more than we use it more on a day-to-day basis. That night we climbed up onto a ridge and camped under a grove of tall spruce trees that had spent decades of their lives making the softest, spongiest ground one could imagine. A sleeping pad was hardly needed. The dead, lower limbs of the trees also made for excellent firewood. Instead of having to go out and collect firewood, all we had to do was take a few steps and harvest it off it a nearby tree. It was the most ideal firewood situation I have ever seen. We quickly had mountains of wood, more than I thought we could use, but Lucas insisted. The sun was directly ahead of us and was pouring through the cracks in the needles of the trees as it fell lower in the sky. As it disappeared it became very chilly. The entire trip was like a journey back into spring. For a tent camper, that’s just perfect. A little bit of chill is the best you could ask for. But for hammock camping it is less than ideal. To make matters worse, Lucas left assuming that it would be August in the Mountains like it was back home so he didn’t have any warm layers. Come to find out, it’s still April up here. I brought mine thinking I wouldn’t need them but I know how much of a baby I am about the cold. Babies need base layers year round! If I had known it was going to be as cold as it was, I would have brought my down jacket. We sat and fueled the fire until the stones around it radiated heat and finished off the last of our whiskey. 

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By the first light of day Lucas is up and rebuilding the fire because he barely slept due to the cold. I sleep in as he burns up the entire spruce forest and when I awake I feel guilty about being a ground dweller for once. On the AT, I was the one in a puddle, as Gonzo swung soundly above the sopping ground. We ate and packed up between shifts of hunching by the fire and headed back down the ridge for sunshine. The trail dumped into an intersection and we chose a wide, open trail with great sun light. It led us into the heart of blueberry country. And not, stand in the trail and pick the berries off the tall bushes among briars and weeds. I mean, a bald covered in short blueberry bushes where you can lay down among the rows of them and be sheltered from the wind, soaking up the sun as you pluck the millions of fat, succulent berries one by one. True blueberry country! We stopped and filled an entire tin with berries and sat and filled ourselves as well.

We continue up the trail and several times come to a place we have been before and simply choose a different direction to take. Lucas knows of a good campsite but when we make it there it is still early in the afternoon to stop. We bust out the food bags, as it customary, and we eat in the beautiful, open spot. This always makes a solid campsite feel like it was put to good use if you are unable to stay there. We hit the trail again and are approximately parallel to the trail that brought us from the car up into the mountains. That’s means this time we are going down and it felt so nice. Until I got my foot caught in a root. One of the ones that are so perfectly arching out of two spots in the ground that you can only assume it’s a cruel joke. Getting one foot caught would have been okay if the other foot wouldn’t have also gotten caught while trying to make the saving step. I would pay a large sum of money to have the footage from the GoPro that SHOULD have been strapped to Lucas’ head at that moment as he watched me dive down the steep trail.

It was a good fall. The best I have ever had despite having backpacked well over two thousand miles. I soared and eventually land on my knees, hands and elbows. The trail is so steep that I am still on an incline, just a lesser one, and I am crunched up in a strange rendition of Child’s Pose that no yoga teacher would let fly in class. The weight of my pack is holding my head down and making it seem impossible to right myself and once I realize that I am okay, I am laughing so hard that I couldn’t sit up anyway. Lucas more and less rolls me over and asks if I’m alright and some how he isn’t laughing. Maybe he feels bad or maybe it looked really serious but I can only expect that I would have barely been able to hold it in if I had just seen some one attempted to jump and fly off of poorly chosen part of a mountain side.

I stand up, brush myself off and wipe off the dribbles of blood with my bandana. We keep on at a brisk pace but this time I am being more careful of where I step. Our plan was to find a campsite fair closer to the car so we could make an easy exit in the morning. We located one right on the creek. The whole time we had been making jokes about how we wanted the perfect campsite: good trees, good flat spots, a creek or river beside it, easy firewood, a cooler of beer. This was good enough. It was only mid afternoon though. I laid out my sleeping pad and stared up into the trees a while. Lucas sat on a rock in the creek with his sketchbook until the mosquitoes drove him away. By that time I had finished off the jar of Nutella so we sat on my pad and made a game of throwing things into the empty jar. We did this for ten minutes and then we were out of ideas.

When backpacking, there are only three things that make sense. Eating, Sleeping, Hiking.  If you’re not doing one of those, it can be difficult not to become antsy. Only an hour and a half until it’s a reasonable time to cook dinner, I told myself. We had already been there and hour and even by then the sun had began to shift. We had come down a good ways from the 5,500ft elevation of the night before but still there was a chill in the air. I could tell Lucas was already worried about it. We knew the car must be close and when he asked me how I felt about hiking on, the part of me that was counting the seconds until dinnertime was already packed and ready to go. Another part of me wanted a last night in the woods. We threw everything back into our packs and were car bound. As soon as we started walking I suddenly realized that this was what I wanted to be doing. Not going to the car, really, but moving. I just wanted to hike. I don’t know why, after being so beat up, it felt so good to just be hiking. I relished it immensely. 


We reached the car and entertained the idea of driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway until we found a nice place to camp but little else seemed to be lower in elevation and thus warmer than where we were already. It was only six o’clock so we eventually decided to head home instead of stay out another night. It is only a four hour drive back and we busted it out in record time, which is lucky for us because my pit smell alone could have killed us if it had taken much longer.
The next day at work Lucas brings me a still warm loaf of blueberry walnut bread. Mountain fresh berries, picked the day before. It’s perfectly sweet and perfectly tart.

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This trip reminded me how much I love the ups and downs of backpacking. It can suck so much and so quickly turn into everything you want it to be. Backpacking is like life but in a compressed amount of time. You always end up looking back on the difficulties and can take them for what they’re worth, great experiences that shape you and make the good times good. Can I string together 2,663 miles for a thru hike of the PCT? I’m still not sure if I can or not, but a very least I should start thinking about hiking shorter trails like the Benton MacKaye Trail, Long Trail, or John Muir Trail. Just to feel sun burned and briar scraped, yellow jacket stung and starving, with two skinned knees and dirt caked calves.