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Sunday, June 24, 2018

PCT - Day 66: 6/23/2018 - Help from Greg and Carolyn

Trail miles: 13.7 from 1057.4 - 1071.1
Miles walked: 18.1

I received a call from my Dad while in my tent last night. He informed me that Jack passed away during surgery. I didn’t sleep much after that. That and there were multiple deer wandering around my campsite making me constantly have to inspect whether it was deer or a bear.

From the time I woke up Jack was dominating my thoughts. I desperately wanted to be off trail and to be home with my family. I have no idea how to console someone with the sudden loss of a child or sibling. I was hiking with a heavy heart with tears flowing freely for much of the morning. Three times I simply dropped my trekking poles and sat in the middle of the trail and cried. The second time this happened I ran into the first hiker I saw all day. His dog was ahead of him and it walked up and started licking the tears from my face. The guy asked me if I was doing ok. I briefly explained to him what was going on and he then politely apologized for his dog and quietly walked away.

I didn’t even really pay attention to the trail or the surroundings much today. About 7 miles into my day, I crossed Blue Lakes Road where I immediately got the idea of hitchhiking into South Lake Tahoe so I could accelerate getting to Reno for a flight to Boston. I tried hitchhiking for about ten minutes but only saw one car, which drove by and waved at me, but didn’t stop. I saw a couple other hikers a hundred yards down the road. I walked over and discovered they’d been hitchhiking for over an hour and had only seen three cars. They suggested I might have better luck getting to Tahoe by hitchhiking from Carson Pass which was another 11.1 miles north on the PCT. Just then, another car drove by, I stuck my thumb out and was again waved at as they drove by. It’s as if they were saying “I see you, but I’m not picking you up”. This angered me.  I could have chucked a rock through this guy’s rear window as he drove by. Instead I stormed off and started hiking the 11.1 extra miles to Carson Pass.

I took pictures of flowers as I went to calm myself down. The Chesse-Burg-Er birds gave me audible hugs with their song. I hiked with a purpose only focusing on my foot placement, yet I still tweaked my ailing ankle another two times in a five mile stretch. While climbing a steep hill above the Lost Lakes, I passed numerous ponds where the mosquitoes tried to use my ears like secret passageways, as if my head was a game of Ms. Pac-Man.

It was so hot, and I was in mission-mode. I refused to even stop to drink water. After a few hours my body began shutting down from lack of hydration and food. I still refused to stop until I intersected with a Jeep road in hopes of scoring a ride to town from a weekend warrior. Twenty minutes later, I sat in a small patch of shade at this intersection of a 4x4 road and the PCT. It was almost 2:00 pm. I ate a snack and drank some water. 

As I was cooling down, I caught some movement from the 4x4 road. A young couple was walking in my direction. As they approached, I asked if they knew any place closer to potentially hitch from in order to get into Tahoe. They reiterated what I already knew... Carson Pass. I explained why I was asking and thanked them. They walked off, but quickly returned and offered to drive me to South Lake Tahoe. I graciously accepted this offer and offered gas money which they refused. We introduced ourselves and this is how I met Greg and Carolyn. 

These two were the most kindhearted people I’d met in 1071 miles. We hiked two miles on the dirt road towards their truck. We were heading back south at a lower elevation from the direction I’d just come from earlier. We took a short detour to see the Lost Lakes since that was one of their objectives in the first place. We talked a bit but also hiked in silence that under most circumstances would have been awkward. Today that silence was like the silence a couple of good friends can share without it being uncomfortable.

They drove me about an hour to South Lake Tahoe. Once I received a cell signal on our drive, I was trying to coordinate my travel plans and chatting with family. Greg and Carolyn were very understanding. They dropped me at the hostel and I hugged them and thanked them profusely.

I went into the hostel explained my situation and they informed me that they were sold out and I couldn’t stay the night. They did give me a free beer and offered me a “day use” which included a shower for $10. I took this offer knowing I needed to shower before boarding a plane. 

While I was in the hostel lobby, Carolyn poked her head in and just said “We’re taking you to Reno.” This made my already fragile emotional state just crumble. I could’ve hugged Carolyn for ten minutes.

Ziploc was also at the hostel when I arrived, and she knew of what happened with Jack. She was great and offered to help in any way possible. After a hug that kept my tears going, she ran to get me a couple things from the store while I showered and stripped my pack of anything TSA would bitch about (trekking poles, knife, tent poles & stakes, fuel, etc.). All the while, Greg and Carolyn waited patiently for me to get my shit together.

As I was readying to leave, I realized I would likely never see Ziploc again. I gave her a big hug and my heart was again broken. This time it was with the idea that I’d probably never see my amazing German friend again. Ziploc and I clashed a lot because we both have strong personalities, but in the end, I really enjoyed her company even if I never had a chance of keeping up with her when hiking with her. By the time I get back to trail, she will be 200+ miles in front of me.

After Ziploc and I shared a teary and emotional goodbye, Greg and Carolyn drove me 90 minutes in traffic to Reno’s airport. I had reluctantly accepted that I’d be spending a long night at the airport since every single hotel in Reno and South Lake Tahoe was sold out thanks to numerous weekend events.  When they dropped me off, I gave Greg and Carolyn hugs that expressed my deepest gratitude. Thanks to them, soon I’ll be able to share hugs with my family in Massachusetts. These two angels were empathetic, classy, and truly amazing; just the kind of character Jack was. 

~ For those that follow this blog closely, my return flight to Reno is on 7/2. I hope to make it back to the PCT sometime on 7/3. Until then, this blog will be going dark. Thank you for your understanding. ~

Saturday, June 23, 2018

PCT - Day 65: 6/22/2018 - Trail Angels and Sad News

Trail miles: 21.2 from 1036.2 - 1057.4
Miles walked: 22.9

What a roller coaster of emotions today. This day was a day of dreams becoming reality, but also nightmares coming to fruition.

First, I’ll let the readers know that this post is going to be difficult to digest. Maybe don’t read this one at the office.

The morning started like most mornings on the trail. I woke up at 5:30 am and immediately pulled my hood down to block the light and went back to sleep until 6:40 am. After packing up my brand new tent (which is awesome), I was on the trail at 7:15 am and clicking off miles pretty quickly. The trail took me through a forest and past a meadow or two, some creeks, and a lake or two.

During my morning hike, I grabbed a few jelly beans from a bag of jelly beans and looked in my hand and there was a jelly bean flower. I assume this flower is for my wife who is nice enough to remove all the black jelly beans before sending me these in a resupply box.

Jellybean flower

I had stopped on a ridge to upload content for my blog when Mermaid showed up. I’d met her only once or twice before and each encounter was brief. This time we hiked together and talked for a few miles. The conversation flowed well but eventually she and a friend of hers named Raven, who’d caught up with us, turned on the jets to make it to trail magic. Text messages from people in front of us confirmed rumors of “trail magic deluxe!” at highway 4.

The last two miles before the trail magic, my ankle was really bad. I was in a lot of pain and I limped into the trail magic at Ebbetts Pass. My bad mood from the ankle troubles suddenly vanished.

Trail Magic Ahead

This trail magic was like nothing I’d ever seen. Multiple trail angels tended to each hiker. They saw I was limping and before I knew it I was sitting in a chair with a ziploc bag full of ice on my ankle. Then I was ASKED... “Pizza or Burger?” I looked at their setup and they had a grill AND a pizza oven!

I of course went with the pizza option and while it was being baked, I feasted on a banana, cookies, potato chips, and a caramel covered brownie. I washed this and the amazing pizza down with three sodas.

The trail magic is run by two guys named Alan and Tim. They are dedicated and they’ve even branded a van with the name “Limit Situation Trail Magic”. These trail angels are so generous (like all the trail angels we meet). When I asked why they do it, Alan’s response nearly brought me to tears, because it did bring him to tears. He said he does it because it’s one of the truest ways to connect with people. He said the hikers he feeds and treats like kings and queens are truly grateful. 

Hikers and Angels Connecting
He also noted that the time hikers spend lounging at his setup is quality time where hikers and the trail angels get to really connect with one another without interruptions of cell phones, etc. I have the utmost respect and gratitude for Alan and his huge heart.  Guys like him restore faith in humanity.

After spending over three hours just hanging out with Scuzi, Spiceman, Raven, Mermaid, Pants, and others I was the first to depart at 4:15 pm, knowing my ankle would give me some trouble and I still wanted to hike another 6-8 miles. 

I ended up hiking almost 10 more miles through terrain that resembled parts of Colorado. Aspens, wildflowers, and conglomerate rock dominated the afternoon’s trail. As daylight was waning, I finally exited a canyon and found a tent site.

This was right as the sun was setting. Before I even started settling up my tent, I took my phone out of airplane mode and that’s when my day took another drastic turn.

New Tent

I learned from my brother Chris that my nephew Jack had been in a very bad motorcycle accident tonight. He was airlifted to a hospital in Boston and apparently he had to be revived a few times en route. I dropped to the ground and wept after hanging up the phone. I called my other brother Eric and he answered. He was at the hospital waiting for Jack to emerge from surgery. I felt helpless. There was nothing I could say or do. Eric was emotional as any parent would be in this situation and he told me what I could do was say a prayer since I, being in the mountains, was probably closer to God than anyone else in our family at the moment. After crying on the phone with Eric, I sat in the dirt while watching the alpen glow from the sunset and uttered my first prayer in twenty years. I prayed aloud for Jack to pull through this and make a full recovery.

I then cried some more while doing routine hiker chores like treating water, making dinner, and setting up my tent. While cooking, I was staring off into the twilight and a huge buck trotted right by about 20 feet in front of me. He had an enormous rack and stopped for 2 seconds in front of me, looked at me, and then trotted off. I like to think it was a positive sign for Jack. 

I also learned tonight that HoosierDaddy is getting off trail at South Lake Tahoe and heading home due to some medical problems. That guy was a class act and I’m certain this breaks his heart. I just wish I could give him a hug and tell him what a great friend I think he is.

Tonight, I lie awake wondering how the surgery is going and waiting for any message or phone call. Thus far it’s almost two hours after hiker midnight and I’ve heard nothing. It’s almost 2:00 am now in Boston.

This morning I would have done anything to be rid of this ankle pain. Tonight I’d hike another 1600 miles to Canada with this pain or worse if it meant that Jack recovers from this.

Editorial update from Adam's Dad: It is with a heavy heart that I write this update. At 2:13 am (Boston time) just after Adam sent this email for me to post, I got a call from Eric and found out that Jack had passed away due to injuries from the accident.  I called Adam  and  updated him.  He plans to hike to South Lake Tahoe as soon as he can.  He then expects to fly to Massachusetts to be with his family in this time of sorrow.  

RIP Jack Wilbur 1997 - 2018

Friday, June 22, 2018

PCT - Day 64: 6/21/2018 - Zombie hiking, random thoughts, and Ant Power

Trail miles: 19.3 from 1016.9 - 1036.2
Miles walked: 20.5

Yes today was the international “hike naked” day. I didn’t see anyone participating unfortunately.

$35 at Kennedy Meadows North gets a shower, laundry, and a bed in a dorm. After drinking a lot of beer and wine I barely even woke up at 2:00 am when the generator turned on for some unknown reason. When it did, our room was lit up with bright light. I slept through that, but woke up at 4:45 am for no reason and never really got back to sleep.

We ate breakfast and Dan, the bartender from the saloon, gave us a ride to the trailhead. It took me a while to get into hiking mode. I felt like just taking a nap for much of the day.

I hiked by myself all day and barely talked to anyone for longer than a minute or so. I really miss my trail family from the pre-Sierra days. It was nice to have lunch with people on occasion. Now I’m often finding myself in zombie hiking mode listening to music.

The day started with a climb up over 10,500 feet. The views along this part of today’s hike were great but not as picturesque as the Sierra. 

I would have given up these views to not have to deal with more snow. On the north side, when I started descending, the trail was difficult to locate in all the snow. This made for some slow going, postholing, and route finding until I finally found a trail again.

I had started on the trail shortly after 8:30 am. By noon I’d only covered about 7 miles. I sat down and ate lunch by a creek and spent half my lunch break swatting flies. I was intrigued at the power of one ant, when it began dragging away a dead fly body.

Another random thought I had at lunch is wouldn’t it be cool to know the history behind every log you seen on the forest floor? Was it wind? Was it heavy snow? Was it bark beetles? When did this tree become a log? Was anyone ever around to see this?

I also thought about how the trail teaches us to not delay saying things to those we care about. It’s entirely possible a hiker you’re friends with and hanging out with for weeks can suddenly be ahead or behind you. Without cell signals for the majority of the time, sometimes you don’t even know. The point is, if you want to communicate how important another person is to you, do it now. I think this is a good principle to apply to off-trail life too.

As an example, I know a guy who was not super close to his father. There were conversations that were always delayed and feelings never openly communicated. Then one day the father died of a heart attack and those unsaid things died too and left a hole in that guy’s heart for a long time. The point is, express yourself. It’s good to live with no regrets.

After lunch, I zombie-hiked through the noticeable heat wave, which appropriately showed up on the first day of summer. I hiked through the forest up very steep hills and down muddy slopes. One of these muddy slopes got the best of me and I went for a 10 foot slide on my rear end. My freshly laundered shorts, now covered in mud.

My ankle was not good, but not the worst it’s been either. The outside of my left knee is now starting to bother me. Likely an issue caused by compensating for my shitty right ankle. That being said my main issue today was simply lack of sleep. I stopped and took a 30 minute nap on the ground at 3:30 pm. I woke up feeling better and hiked another 8 miles before settling up camp at a tent site in the forest. 

I’m camped by myself for the ?fourth? night in a row. I like the quiet that comes with sleeping in a campsite alone. I do however miss sharing good conversation over dinner. Tonight while eating I wondered again where Chilly Bin was since I think she’s the closest person from my trail family that’s behind me. She was one of my favorite people to hike with since she and I often hiked at the same pace and had good talks and good humor. I miss her singing too. I hope she catches me before I leave South Lake Tahoe next week.

I plan on getting to town on Sunday, and then taking two zero days. I plan on using one of my zero days to just play poker at a casino and rest my legs. The other zero day is likely involving a pool, a hot tub, Jessica Alba (in my dreams), and a few cold IPAs.

Since this blog post was merely a collection of random thoughts, here’s one last one. I really miss is watching Red Sox games with my wife while sitting on the couch with my two huskies, drinking a Firestone Union Jack and eating my homemade mashed potato pizza topped with mushrooms, red onion, fresh basil, and andouille sausage. I must hike faster to make it home in time for the playoffs.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

PCT - Day 63: 6/20/2018 - Kennedy Meadows North, new friends, best friends

Trail miles: 6.7 from 1010.2 - 1016.9
Miles walked: 7.7

I woke up at 5:15 am to catch a sunrise and then promptly went back to sleep for two hours. I finally started hiking at nearly 8:00 am.

Morning Light

My hike was fun, with a mixture of snow, rock, and mud. The trail had good views looking back at the Sierra. It’s bittersweet to think I’m done with the Sierra Nevada, but not even halfway through my hike yet.

I walked by myself singing along to music and did short standing glissades on the snow where the lack of sun-cupping made it possible. Parts of the trail were covered in snow so I just opted for a direct line down a snow gully. I really wanted to get to town. Mostly I was looking forward to my first shower in nine days.

Glissade = yes

Gllissade= no

Glissade - 100% wet
"Stanislaus" is German meaning = "glissade at your own risk"
G- li-ss-ad-e = bumpy on snow cups
When I arrived at highway 108 /Sonora Pass, I was joined by another hiker named Scuzi that I’d seen off an on for a couple days.

She and I hitchhiked together and after almost an hour we finally got a ride into Kennedy Meadows North. Mark picked us up with a van full of kids. He was an absolute sweetheart and even drove us a mile down a side road which was out of his way, just to bring us to the front door. He also gave us a Coke and a fresh baked brownie on our drive!

When we pulled up, I saw Ziploc walking out. She stopped to say Hi/Bye but then continued on her mission.

Kennedy Meadows North is way better that the similarly named shithole to the south. There are a pile of dogs roaming around and horses everywhere. It’s a place my wife would like a lot I believe. I showered, did laundry, picked up my resupply which had a touching message from my wife (and a box of Girl Scout cookies). I also picked up my new tent and shipped home my bear can, micro spikes, and a fleece.
Kennedy Meadows North

KMN dog

Scuzi introduced me to her friends Bagels and Townie. We hung out at the saloon together and had a few drinks. 

Scuzi, Bagels, and Townie (guess who is who)

We then moved our party of four to the restaurant and the fun continued with two bottles of wine with dinner. Bagels is from Seattle and oddly enough even knows the company I work for. Scuzi is from South Africa. Townie is from Winnipeg, Canada. Bagels told us a hilarious story which had the rest of us in tears from laugh. The story involved him resupplying in Lone Pine with sixteen Snickers Bars among a few other things. He also shared some information with me about the guy with the garden hose which was learned during a drunken night at Casa De Luna. Apparently that guy’s trail name is “15 Foot” and he talks telepathically to his garden hose (which is a female BTW). Somehow there’s also a connection between the hose and 15 Foot’s obsession with finding Bigfoot. Seriously, I can’t make shit up like this: non-fiction is the best.

Stories over wine and dinner
Our conversation also touched on real but less humorous topics, like how the trail restores faith in humanity. The trail changes one’s perspective and creates almost a sense of patriotism due to the unbridled kindness we see continually from complete strangers. People that just want to help us and get nothing in return. The hearts of people like Mark, or the ones that comment on this blog to give me motivation when I need it most are the most amazing part of the PCT! All of these people are participating in our somewhat selfish goals of getting from Mexico to Canada. With the kindness of others we might just make it, with or without a 15 foot section of garden hose.

Human's best friend - listening to trail stories
I’m getting back on trail tomorrow. My first zero day in nearly 400 miles awaits me in South Lake Tahoe, assuming my ankle doesn’t fall off in the next 74 miles.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

PCT - Day 62: 6/19/2018 - From Hell to Heavenly

Trail miles: 20.7 from 989.5 - 1010.2
Miles walked: 23.1

My ankle hurt so bad this morning. Because of that, I was sitting in my sleeping bag at 5:30 am with a question repeating itself in my mind. “Is this the end of the PCT for me?”

I could barely hobble out of my tent to take a piss. My ankle was swollen and in a lot of pain. I again cursed the day from February 2013 where the original horrific ankle injury occurred. To start the day, I was 27 miles from Sonora Pass and Kennedy Meadows North. There wasn’t even reliable cell service there. I was 100 miles away from South Lake Tahoe, which is the first place I might be able to get medical attention.

I decided I had only one choice. Hike.  

So, I got ready. I put on my repugnant shirt that had only been rinsed in a river once in the last eight days. I packed up my stuff as quickly as I could to minimize my exposure to mosquito hell.

I limped for the first mile and using my poles for crutches I covered that mile in 45 minutes. My second mile took 35 minutes. My ankle was loosening up a bit, but the pain was still very real.

This was the worst morning I’d had thus far on the PCT. My ankle was excruciating. Much of the trail was muddy or filled with puddles of muddy water. 

Mosquito Heaven
Hoards of mosquitoes engulfed me every time I stopped to do anything. I was hiking with my buff pulled up to cover my ears and mouth. I had headphones in with music playing so I couldn’t hear these evil fuckers. I was wearing hat, sunglasses, and mosquito head net. I was also wearing my rain jacket to prevent mosquitoes from biting through my shirt. My legs were drenched in deet. While treating water the cloud of mosquitoes around my head was so thick that it obscured vision. I limped along, sweating in my rain jacket, sinking up to my ankles in mud, wishing I was anywhere but in this meadow. 

A buck stopped what he was doing to laugh at my attire. Never seen a laughing deer? Just dress like I was and walk around Yosemite for a while.

Laughing Buck
Eventually I started gaining elevation and made my way to beautiful Dorothy Lake. I stopped here long enough to rinse my socks and my shirt in this pristine lake. The views of the water with snow behind it was breathtaking.

I continued up and over Dorothy Lake Pass which was also my exit from Yosemite National Park. I stopped a half a mile shy of the mile 1000 mark to eat lunch in a rare spot with only a few mosquitoes.

At lunch I wondered what I’d do with my summer if my ankle didn’t get better. Maybe I’d go play a couple of events in the World Series of Poker. Maybe I’d ride my motorcycle somewhere awesome. I also wondered about my trail family that is no longer together. How’s Chilly Bin doing? Where are Tapeworm and Opera? How’s HoosierDaddy doing after seeing the doctor? How far ahead is Ziploc? How’s Sleeping Beauty enjoying her first day back at work after the JMT? What’s up with Peanut Butter, Ranger, Gandalf, Whiplash, and so many others I’d met over the last thousand miles?

I had no answers. I ate my lunch in the same manner as I hiked and camped for the last three days, by myself.

Mile 1000 was a letdown. I didn’t feel like dancing, and I was in too much pain to even think about it. I crossed mile 1000 the same way I started the PCT at mile 0, by myself.

Hiking the rest of the day was a grind. I counted the miles remaining till Sonora Pass. I am in desperate need of a shower, laundry, and time off my feet.

Briefly during my climb I forgot about my pain and my loneliness. I even forgot about the mosquitoes for a while as the views of the mountains grew with each step up in elevation. I stopped to camp at one of the highest camp spots on the route at nearly 10,600’.

I ate in silence and tried to use a spotty LTE connection that seemed to disappear any time I tried to do something. Instead, I sat and watched the sun setting in the west and the alpenglow to the east.

It was my favorite moment of my entire PCT hike. A day that started with hell finished with heavenly views.