Tim in front of our Fish Lake Cabin
22JULY Mile 1773-1785
I was a little slow taking off from Fish Lake. A joined a bunch of other hikers for breakfast, which didn’t open until 9am. Fish tank, Tim and a few other hikers were there. Tim crashed the cabin with me. The attempt to hitch back to the trail was a little frustrating, and I had already walked a mile before somebody picked me up.
I decided on a short day. The weather was cool with some clouds, but I was still sweating. I am drinking more water than I thought. Finally reaching Christi Spring about 4 pm, there were a lot of tent sites and I decided to crash here for the night. The other hikers from Fish Lake eventually caught up with me, and all but Tim decided to go on. After a quick dinner, I became invaded by vast swarms of mosquitoes, so it was a very quick retreat to the tent and mosquito protection. I also learned the near impossibility of taking a dump without being eaten by mosquitoes. I am now happy in bed, waiting for the sun to go down and everything to cool off. Tomorrow will need to be a big day.
23JULY Mile 1785-1806I woke up this morning not feeling as well as I would have liked. The sun had not yet risen but one could see, and there was a drove of mosquitoes waiting for me just outside my tent. So, I packed everything in my backpack except the tent itself, quickly got everything together and ran. The mosquitoes remained in hot pursuit for about half the day. It got me thinking about mosquitoes. Have you ever thought about how large their brain is? For thinking, they probably have only 4 Betz cells. They don’t think! I suspect that they are direct operatives/automatons of Satan himself. Every bit of their behavior is Satanic. I can’t conceive of any good they fulfill for the kingdom of God. I certainly don’t mean to be selling bad theology since I believe that God is in total control of all things, yet comprehending the mosquito is like comprehending the whole problem of why there is evil in this world. But, back to the trail. The trail finally started climbing and offered spectacular views of Mt McLaughlin and Mt Shasta. I came to a saddle where looking north you could see Mt Thielsen, and the Crater Lake rim. This is also where I ran into some residual snow on very steep slopes. Several weeks before, this trail would have been close to impassable. I finally crossed several streams which were the last water for 20 miles until Crater Lake village. So, I am now carrying as much water as the desert. My poor back. An even longer stretch of 29 miles is coming up. You drink the water sparingly, but it is warm so your thirst never gets quenched. I stopped at a nice camp at mile 1806 with few mosquitoes, had dinner, and climbed in my tent. Just then, Fishtank comes by and chats. For reasons that will be discussed later, I decided to bail for now, maybe getting some hiking in after a longer recovery for my left shoulder/neck. I arranged that Fishtank could pick up the several resupply packages I’ve already sent in order for them to get used. My resupply packages have become known as having very enviable food items that most other people just did not think about using for a backpacking trip.
24JULY Mile 1806-1823 (Crater Lake)
It was quite cold this morning, cold enough to warrant my down jacket. The mosquitoes were already lurking outside of the tent, awaiting a feast of fresh human blood, which I would try to deny them. I knew that today would remain waterless until I reached my destination 16 miles way. The weather started as cool, but warmed up quickly, demanding increased water consumption. There was only about 2000 feet of climbing, so I was able to zip along quickly. Sadly, there was about 8 miles of forest fire to walk through, which extended well into Crater Lake National Park for about 4 miles. I took my mid-morning rest at the high point of the day, a saddle with spectacular views in both south and north directions. There was still snow about the trail on the north side slopes, which suggested prohibitive danger even just a few weeks before when hard pack snow would have completely invested the slope. Even on dropping down 1000 feet to the level of Mazama village, there were large patches of snow. At Mazama Village, the campsites were full and they had not opened up the hiker sites yet. It was like the hikers were their least concern, even though thru-hikers had few other options. I had lunch at the expensive village restaurant, which fortunately provided bottomless fountain drinks, allowing me to consume about 4 liters too partially assuage my thirst. A couple sitting next to me agreed to shuttle me up to the rim, where I could catch a shuttle into Klamath Falls. I quickly picked up my resupply package and doled it out to about 15 hiker trash people hanging out at the village store and got my ride up to the rim. Several hours later I was in Klamath Falls at a motel close to the train station, and consumed several more liters of fluid to aid my persistently raging thirst. I scheduled the Amtrak ride back to Tacoma on-line, called Betsy, and then felt relaxed.
So, I am going to terminate my journey. Toward the end of August, I might still spend several weeks going from Stevens Pass to Canada. This way, I could complete the two ends of the journey. I am sad that a complete thru-hike was not accomplished, but then I was realistic from the start at a 5-10% chance of total success, and on learning of the dismal snow year this year and expected heatwave in the mountains this summer, calculated only a fleeting chance of total success. So many of my fellow hikers (almost all of them) ended up bailing out, most of them far more capable than myself.
Why did I throw in the towel and give up? There was a combination of factors. I will quickly blame the weather and environmental factors as playing a huge role for not only me but for most of the hikers attempting the trail. Greatest in my mind was the physical aspect. I had the strength to make it, but the neck and back issues had become unbearable. Perhaps a different pack might make a difference and I’ll explore that, but it would have to be a pack weighing under 2.5 lb. I will probably still have some time this year to explore that option.
The second issue was psycho-social. First was the psychological issues of the trail. Flip-flopping is known to demoralize the thru-hiker, and now I can see why. I had no choice in this matter, not wanting to take the huge risks of going through the snow of the high Sierra. It is also demoralizing to be hiking south like so many flip-floppers were doing when the ultimate goal is Canada. The trail was becoming unbearably monotonous. For 99% of the time, you were in forests with trees and hills that mostly all looked the same. True, the high Sierra would have offered a different venue but that wasn’t to be this year. I truly enjoyed the solitude of the woods, but then too much of a good thing can become a very bad thing. The hike really is a concatenation series of 3-6 day section hikes, starting and ending at resupply points. With each section, one needed to estimate the difficulty, available water sources, possible snow conditions, and any other possible problems.
I didn’t experience the typical hiker hunger, but often had anorexia, just not wanting to eat much of anything. The thirst was relentless no matter much I would take in. Water tastes SOOOO good right out of a cold spring, but bland when it had been warming up all day in the heat of the sun in your backpack. After about one day, you become quite dirty. Even though I always wore long pants, the dirt on my legs would be challenging to remove once I was able to take a shower. Oral hygiene was close to impossible—just try brushing your teeth without wasting a drop of water! I don’t mind getting dirty, but staying persistently filthy when one has lived his professional life in sterile conditions becomes hard to handle.,
Early on in the hike, there was a sense that once you acquired your “hiker legs” you would be able to go much faster and farther in a day. That was only partially true for me, in that once I got started in the morning, my feet would just go and go, like the Energizer bunny. I found that my heart was a serious limiting factor, in that going uphill predictably would slow me down to a crawl. I found that once I hit a bit more than 20 miles in a day, my feet just didn’t want to go further, and pain in the feet and ankles prevented me from pushing on. This could be remedied by consuming mass quantities of ibuprofen, which I would do. I would have liked to have hit at least one 30 mile day, but 28 miles ended up being my longest day, hit several times on my journey. There are those who can accomplish greater than 40 mile days, but they begin the day at 2-3 am and hike great lengths in darkness—not my cup of tea—and usually are pushing 3 mph speeds. If I tried to do that, I would have guaranteed myself a serious injury.
There were social aspects to the decision to quit. First, the desert was far more heavily populated with thru-hikers, and they were an enjoyable lot. You might go much of a day without seeing anybody, but then you would run into a lot of people that you could identify with. Up north, there were far fewer people on the trail and many of them were section hikers. Most of them were not prepared for the task at hand, having packed WAY too much unnecessary items resulting in pack weights in excess of 50 lbs. Most of these people were very physically fit males who didn’t think that weight mattered. Those people should limit themselves to 10-12 miles per day and go for under a week with most of their hikes, or at least learn and quickly lighten their load. So it was a matter of progressive loneliness for me. I thought constantly about Betsy at home and felt that our time of separation was a bit too long. Then there was the issue of much going on at home and Betsy feeling increasingly desperate for me to be home. She agreed before the start of my journey that she would be totally supportive, and she has kept faithful to that agreement. Yet, I could tell how she really needed me at home. I thought about the other things I should be doing like short adventures with Betsy, and getting the grandchildren out into the woods, teaching them the new style of packing. All of these matters played a part in me finally breaking. The decision came quickly but resolutely, with me giving it several days before talking with Betsy about my intention.
Was the journey worth it? Did I learn anything? Did I accomplish any good through this venture? I believe that the answer is yes to all of these questions.
It would be impossible to estimate the worth of the journey. Healthwise, I lost 25 lb, and feel much better than before the journey. While hiking, I found it necessary to stop my anti-hypertension mediations, or I would get lightheaded every time I stopped hiking. I was way over-treating myself. I always felt as strong as usual while hiking. Spiritually, it was a wonderful time with God. As mentioned before, each day as soon as I was on the trail I would sing the Doxology and Gloria Patri, and then pray for my family including Betsy, the children, as well as my siblings. Often, a special hymn would stay with me much of the day. I had in iBooks a pdf file of the lyrics to my 100 favorite hymns that were always nice to sing in my head in the evening. I have almost completed John Frame’s History of Western Philosophy, though the appendices are almost as long as the book. I experience hiker-brain on the trail which limits the amount of critical thinking that I could do.
The learning experience was massive in terms of knowing how to do long distance hiking. At this time, even shorter hikes will be different, and a focus on lightness will be key. I met many new friends, some of whom I suspect will stay in touch. The trail gave me experience in knowing how to plan and tackle various challenging circumstances such as dealing with long waterless segments of the trail, and learning how to do without many of the comforts of life.
Did I accomplish any good outside of what I gained personally? Others would have to tell me that. Betsy would have been my greatest focus on how this experience might have affected her, and you can ask her that. Doing the hike as a Hike-a-thon for Huguenot Heritage Ministry was a deep concern of mine, and hopefully my journey generated a worthwhile return for the ministry. Thinking realistically 6 months ago, I knew that completion of the trail had most odds against me, and indeed, even completion of the desert section was greatly against me. I also pledged for the hike, but have determined that I would still donate an amount equivalent to as if I had done the entire trail. The dear reader should follow their own heart, but remember that this ministry merits the best we can do to support it, in spite of my personal failure to accomplish 100% of the trail.
So, I will do more of the trail, but will need to take care of home issues and organize my thoughts as well as heal before hitting the trail again. Stay in touch.