I am again at home when I should be on the trail. The neck issue has been quickly addressed. I called up by dear friend Fred Bomonti, a retired chiropractor, who came over and did a few things to my back, and I now feel better. I still have some pain, but not the searing pain that I was experiencing a few days ago. I’ll see him at his office on Friday for a follow-up adjustment. There are things that chiropractors really are superb at fixing, and back/neck pain is one of them. I fear that throwing the pack on my back too soon will re-start the pain, and so wish to give it a bit of rest, and will delay a bit before jumping back on the trail.
It takes a while to get hiker feet, and my strength in walking has never been a problem. Because of my heart issues, I feared that strength to do the trail would be my greatest problem, but it hasn’t been. True, I am tired when I go to bed at night, but when I wake in the morning, I feel as strong as ever. I never question the wisdom of God is designing us to spend a ⅓ of our time unconscious and horizontal. It is a marvelous way get daily “maintenance” on the body. I also lost 25 lb since starting the hike in April, and feel much better. This hiking trip has been awesome for my general health. Twenty-five pounds is a lot of extra weight to be carrying every day, and I’m most happy to be rid of it. Hopefully, I don’t put too much back on before I return to the trail.
I have said before that I have chosen absolutely the worst year to be hiking the PCT. I couldn’t help it. I had to sign up in October, long before anybody knew what trail conditions were going to be like. I figured that since snow conditions were so high two years ago, snow would not be a problem this year, but it was. These conditions have led to three actions among hikers. 1. Push on through. For a few, this isn’t a bad decision, as they have the strength to push on and the knowledge of how to handle severe conditions. I don’t, and the overwhelming majority of those hiking the trail don’t have the capability, and many are getting into trouble because of that. 2. Quit. Many of my friends on the trail were content to do nothing but the desert, or to flip-flop, realize that there were no good areas (this year) to flip-flop to, and then quit, hoping to come back some other time because the trail conditions were so ugly. 3. Flip-flop with time off to let conditions improve and make it a multi-year hike. This will be my ultimate strategy. There is no consensus among hikers on the trail as to the best option.
When I started at the Mexican border, you might hike alone for half a day or more, but you would then see many people when you arrived at camp or if you stopped to rest. It was easy to get to know fellow thru-hikers. In the flip-flop mode, there are so few hikers on the trail, that the acquaintance of one day is certainly gone the next day. You meet the riff-raff hoi polloi out for their day hikes. This last segment, I met a young couple hiking from Timberline Lodge to as far north as they could get in a month. It was their honeymoon. They were WAY overpacked, so I suspect that they might call it at Cascade Locks or not too long afterward. It is quite easy to tell the real thru-hikers from the riff-raff on the trail.
There are four main segments of the PCT. 1. The Desert, 2. The High Sierra, 3. Northern California, and 4. Oregon and Washington. This year was a perfect year to hike the desert. It was green and gorgeous. Water was plentiful. It wasn’t burning hot. It was a joy to hike through. The high Sierra had 220% of average snowfall, the highest recorded in many areas, and the snow is not melting quickly. The high Sierra is usually pictured as lovely green meadows and granite lined lakes with many surrounding peaks. Right now, it is a bland sheet of whiteness. No thanks! Northern California also had record snowfalls with the snow not melting quickly. Thus, many areas remain impassable (at least, as recommended by forest rangers) at this time. Many areas of the Sierra, Northern California, and Oregon/Washington demand lengthy (multiple miles) of hiking through snow, which might not be dangerous, but definitely slows you down to under half your normal hiking speed. The risk of injury, getting lost, and other problems go up astronomically when hiking through snow. Other areas, if the snow is gone, still have the problem of intense blow-downs (fallen trees across the trail) which makes hiking the trail MUCH more difficult. I did the only portion of northern California where snow was not a dominant factor at this time of the year but even then, it was 2-3 very challenging miles of snow. In Oregon and Washington, matters are a bit different. Having grown up the Northwest, generally serious hiking at higher altitudes does not begin until late July or August. The PCT generally stays at these higher altitudes. Besides contending with snow, rain is a constant issue until late July, and insects, especially the mosquito and biting flies) are worst before August. If one was doing a typical PCT thru-hike, you would not be hitting Oregon and Washington until August/September, when conditions in the mountains are ideal. The last few days showed me swarms of mosquitos in many spots which did not even permit me to sit down and rest, lots of rain, and very muddy trails which leaves on feeling uncomfortably dirty. So, there are no good options for where and when to jump back on the trail.
With all of this in mind, I am in deep contemplation as to what to do next. This is now my third time to retreat and come home. Besides running up the cost of this venture far beyond what I expected and planned for, it is psychologically demoralizing. It is especially psychologically challenging to be hiking south when your goal is to eventually reach Canada! Assuming that my neck problem can be resolved to comfortable levels, I still wish to get in as much of the trail as possible. Too much of a good thing becomes a very bad thing, and the doldrums of the daily routine is also somewhat psychologically challenging. The adventure of discovering the trail seems to resolve most of those doldrums, though I find it incomprehensible that many would wish to hike the PCT (or AT) through many times over. I wish to complete as much of the trail as possible this year for several reasons. 1) It was my original intention, and I don’t wish to go against that, and 2) I am walking the trail as part of a hike-a-thon for the Huguenot Heritage, for whom I wish to raise as many funds as possible, and 3) most of the trail that I missed has intense beauty, and worth hiking.
I am definitely going to give my neck a few weeks of rest from the backpack. I wouldn’t mind doing an over-nighter with family or friends (Russ?), but definitely not longer out than 2-3 days. I’d like to perhaps do a car-camping trip with Betsy. Once I return to the PCT, which would be later in July or early August, my thought is to start either at Snoqualmie or Chinook Pass and hike north from there, preferably into Canada. By that time, the swarm of PCT hikers will then be coming through and I will again have company in my endeavor. Most of the snow will be gone. The insects will have died down. I will have missed from Walker Pass to Old Station, from Bridge of the Gods to Chinook/Snoqualmie Pass, and from Castella to Timberline Lodge. These are all areas that might be best to wait until next year, when weather and snow conditions are more favorable. If I recover quickly, maybe I’ll return to Timberline Lodge and complete the Timberline to Castella segment, and then come back and do the above. Next year, since I don’t need to worry about an exact “start” time, getting a permit to finish everything will be much easier to accomplish. Perhaps I might also find the right person to accompany me?
Changes? 1) I’ll go back to Altra Lone Peak shoes. I’ve actually found two blisters on my feet, one on my left medial first toe, and one on my right medial heel. The Lone Peaks did not give me such blisters. 2) The Tyvek is too slippery and doesn’t work well if there is any slope to where one is sitting. I found another simple pad which could fill other uses. 3) I’ll leave the flip-flop sandals at home as I never used them. 4) I’ll carry less food but more dinners. 4) I like the new hydration set-up and will stick with that. 5) I gave my Ursack to Chuckles as I was leaving the trail and she was having a serious problem with rodents eating into her food bag, even while hanging. I’ll get a black Ursack for this next time out. 6) I’ll try to limit my miles a bit more. 7) I’ll probably carry a larger battery backup since I’ll be on longer stretches without the possibility of recharging my iPhone or inReach PLB. 8) I’ll need to be a little better prepared for cold wet weather. Perhaps a thermal top would be appropriate.
What can you do to help? 1) Pray for me, that I might have health to continue, and safety in my travels. 2) Pray for good weather, minimal rain, cool conditions, few mosquitoes, no forest fires and minimal snow. 3) Consider meeting me at one of the resupply points (Snoqualmie, Stevens, Stehekin, or Manning Park, Canada) for a trail angel moment, 4) Provide me a ride to Chinook Pass as Betsy absolutely hates to drive in the mountains, and 5) sign up and pledge to support the ministry of Huguenot Heritage. I most certainly will not make all 2650 miles of the trail this year, but your pledges will keep me going for as far as I humanly can endure. Even I have pledged money per mile for the trail, but value the ministry of Huguenot Heritage sufficiently that I intend to donate as though I had hiked the entire PCT. You might consider the same. 6) Pray for Huguenot Heritage and III Millenium Ministries. The focus of this backpack trip should not be me but the many people who have given their lives and fortunes to bring the gospel to foreign speaking people. Francis Foucachon and others are laboring tirelessly to provide the materials that front-line missionaries and pastors need to minister to their flocks in foreign countries. Have a heart and pray that the gospel triumph through their work.