Plans, Permits, and the PCT

No new mileage to report in this post; however, I will be hiking this weekend, so I’ll update in a couple days. Aside from trying to reach my 500-mile goal by my birthday in about 11 months, I’ve got a new incentive to get out and hike.

In July, I will be section hiking the Pacific Crest Trail!

California’s Section K is where I will begin my quest to hike the PCT a section at a time. I chose Section K because its trailhead is about a nine-hour drive from my house, it doesn’t require that I trek through desert during the summer, and its 60-mile length seems doable for a someone new to backpacking.

This section of the PCT requires a permit, which I reserved last week. It also has quotas set for the trailheads because the trail passes through the Desolation Wilderness. It was a bit confusing trying to figure out how to plan around the permit and quotas, but I feel 99% confident that I did everything correctly.

Now, I need to prepare my body and my gear. I’ve been adding to my pile of things I need for backpacking, but I have a lot of work to do when it comes to being physically and mentally ready. Each of these topics deserve their own posts, so I won’t get into this now.

Instead, I’ll end this post with an image of Lake of the Woods, one of the many beautiful places I will see during my trip.

Photo attribution: brewbooks from near Seattle, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Freedom

F is for Freedom

Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary’s first listed definition of the word FREEDOM is: the quality or state of being free… the quality or state of not being coerced or constrained by fate, necessity, or circumstances in one’s choices or actions

Some of the synonyms Merriam-Webster lists are: autonomy, independence, independency, liberty, self-determination, self-governance

Freedom. Wars have been, and still are, waged to gain it. People have, and still do, sacrifice everything to keep it… to give their children and grandchildren the gift of it. Freedom means different things to different people. It can be as huge as a country and as tiny as a baby’s first step. For some, freedom lies on the other side a distant border, while others find it behind the wheel of a car. It can be as meaningful as worshiping without fear of violence or loving someone without suffering the sting of hate and prejudice. It can also be as petty as a teenager’s argument to stay out until two in the morning.

What does all of this have to do with hiking? Everything.

I hike because I am free to do so. I am blessed to reap the benefits of living where I do, and I thank God every day for this privilege. But I also hike to be free. Not everyone understands this, but those who hike probably do. There is a freedom on the trail… a moving forward, propelled by the power of my own two legs. Hiking offers an escape from the demands of life. Instead, there is peace and contentment in nature. To me, hiking and surrounding myself with nature is like coming home, going back to the person I was created to be.

I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.

Henry David Thoreau

One morning, not too long ago, I opened CalTopo on my phone. This is an app that allows its users to view and map trails. I found the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail, which is about 50 miles south of where I live and watched the entire trail slowly load as I scrolled out.

It was fascinating to see the red line that represents the PCT spread further and further north. When it finally stopped at the Canadian border, I took it all in and my heart leapt as one word flashed in my mind—a single word that sums up how I view the PCT.

Freedom!

The PCT represents freedom to me. For more than a year, I’ve dreamed of hiking the length of this trail, but until that moment, I didn’t know why. Then I thought about my ancestors, and how I come from a long line of people who traveled the world. My earliest ancestors I can trace were Vikings. Later, they were Pilgrims who came to the New World for religious freedom and/or financial gain. After that, they were homesteaders who braved the unknown of the territories.

This is the DNA that built me. I don’t feel the urge to conquer and pillage. I also don’t need to find a new home halfway across the world… or across the country. But maybe I’m drawn, in part, to the freedom of the trail because of all those who came before me.

“Every book is a quotation; and every house is a quotation of all forests, and mines, and stone quarries; and every man is a quotation of his ancestors.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Someday, I will hike the PCT, though it will likely be in sections. Maybe I’ll even take on the Appalachian Trail when I retire. In the meantime and in between, there are a lot of trails I am free to travel, and there is a lot of freedom to find on each trail I traverse.

I’ll take small bites of freedom wherever I can find it.



My Tiny Piece of the PCT, Side B

On Sunday, I returned to Warner Springs to hit a few miles of the PCT. This time, instead of going south/east on the trail, toward Eagle Rock, I went north. This is where Section B of the PCT in California begins.

Since I had never been on this side of the trail, I studied it on CalTopo—a very helpful backcountry mapping tool—and found what appeared to be a good turn-around point. This little section of the PCT crosses over the Agua Caliente Creek a few times as both trail and creek snake around the landscape. The third crossing is at around mile five. Since I wanted to go about ten miles out and back, that became my destination.

There were a several times along the way when I considered turning around. It was getting warmer, there was little shade on the trail, and a good portion of it was uphill. None of this bothered me as much as the nagging voice inside my head that my husband was going to worry about me being gone so long; it felt like I had been on the trail for hours.

But I kept going, mostly because I have this need to always see what lies beyond the next bend in any road upon which I’m traveling. And there are a lot of bends as the trail switchbacks its way up and then down to the creek. Time after time, I was rewarded for my curiosity—each twist in the trail opens to better views than the one before it.

Once I rounded the bend that I swore would be my last, I heard the unmistakable sound of water rushing over rocks and stones. I knew then I was close to the turn-around point, so I allowed the path to lead me down into a small valley of oaks, green grass, and tranquility.

This being Southern California, a well-fed creek or stream is a rare sight. I wanted to leave the trail and follow the water’s flow to where the trees opened on an area adorned with large, water-carved boulders, but the way was blocked with poison oak and stinging nettle.

Instead, I crossed to the other side of the creek—just so I could say I did—then crossed back again before resting on a log that bordered a single-tent camp site, which was not in use at the time. I listened to the creek’s music while I ate my chocolate-melted Kind bar. It was shaded, peaceful, and perfect.

I could have stayed at the site all night if I had a tent and enough food… and a husband who wasn’t expecting me to come home. But, reality forced me to my feet and sent me back the way I had come.

The hike back to my car was a little more eventful than the hike in, but I’ll save that for another time. Until then, don’t worry—no mountain lions, serial killers, or flesh-eating fire ants to talk about.

This weekend, I plan to get some miles in on Palomar Mountain, which I affectionately call “my mountain.” I spent a lot of my childhood camping, fishing, and hiking on that mountain. Now, I bring my own children to experience it the way I did. I also volunteer in the mountain’s two fire towers as a forest fire lookout. I love my mountain.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

My Tiny Piece of the PCT

After about three weeks of fighting off one bug or another, I was finally feeling well enough to hit the trail on Saturday.

The hike I chose starts at Warner Springs in San Diego County, which is less than an hour from where I live. The route is part of a small stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail, where Section A ends at Highway 79 and becomes Section B. For this hike, my destination was south and east along Section A, toward Eagle Rock, which is a landmark made up of large boulders. I didn’t get a picture of Eagle Rock on this hike, but here is a photo I took during a hike about a year ago.

You can see how Eagle Rock got its name!

The day was chilly (by Southern California standards), so I layered up my clothes, including a bright yellow windbreaker my husband used to wear when he was into cycling. It was a perfect layering piece with pockets in the front and back. It did a fantastic job keeping the cold wind out. He hasn’t worn it for so long, I think I’ll just have to keep it.

I passed a few PCT thru-hikers who were heading the opposite direction, making their way to the Warner Springs Community Resource Center just west of Highway 79. The community center seems to be an amazing resource for PCT hikers. I haven’t experienced their hospitality firsthand, but you can visit their website if you would like more information. Here is their web address: https://sites.google.com/site/wscrcenter2/about-pacifc-coast-trail

Other than the thru-hikers at the beginning of my hike, I had the trail mostly to myself… until I got closer to Eagle Rock. About a mile from the landmark, I passed several day hikers who were returning to the trail head at Warner Springs. I guess they all got an earlier start than I did, which was fine by me—I enjoyed the solitude of the first three-quarters of my hike.

The best part of the hike, aside from feeding my soul by being in nature, was how green everything is right now. With all the rain we’ve gotten over the past few months, the fields, mountains, and valleys are almost the type of green I used to see while I was living in England, years ago. At every turn in the trail, I stopped and wondered how the view could be more beautiful than what I was currently seeing.

The hike to Eagle Rock and back is about six miles. When I had done the hike with my husband and son almost a year ago, we didn’t go any further than Eagle Rock. This time, I wanted to keep going to see where the trail led me. Plus, I wanted to put a couple more miles under my feet. It was definitely worth the extra effort. Next time I hike that route, I’ll start earlier and go even further.

Even after three weeks of little physical activity, I felt pretty good except for a knot in my left calf that appeared the morning of my hike (before my hike) and got worse as I walked. I wonder if I was a bit dehydrated, as I haven’t been faithfully drinking my water like I should be. When I got home, I rested my calf and massaged it for a while. It feels better now and should be ready to hit the trail again this weekend.

There is more to share about my hike—especially how much I needed it—but I will save that for another post. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this. I heard this beautiful gal on the trail before I saw her, and I admit… she startled me. As we stopped and stared at each other, I half expected her to open her mouth to tell me something important, like maybe a boy named Timmy had fallen into a well and needed saving.

She followed me until a tall patch of green grass off the trail drew her away, “Timmy” long forgotten.

Why Hiking?

About ten years ago, I permanently injured my left foot during a love affair with long-distance running. The day my podiatrist showed me the x-ray of my fallen arch, I knew he would tell me the news I had dreaded hearing for months… that I needed to stop running. In a non-sympathetic manner, he informed me that I had the foot of a seventy-year-old and unless I wanted to be disabled in my fifties, I needed to give it up.

I felt like I lost my best friend that day.

Still grieving the news, I spent the next year trying to prove him wrong. My foot would feel better, and I would hit the road and trails, only to feel that familiar twinge of pain creeping back into my left foot. I repeated this cycle multiple times, but I never pushed it too far—I had no desire to return to living with constant pain.

The need to challenge myself led me to cycling and mountain biking, but I couldn’t fall in love with it. I like to be in control of my movement, and relying on two skinny circles attached to a metallic frame doesn’t appeal to me the way running did. I participated in a couple road cycling events with my husband—one in Palm Springs and one in San Diego—but after too many near misses with cars whose drivers weren’t paying attention, I was done with “sharing the road.”

Recently, I reconnected with my first love, hiking. Like a loyal family member, hiking has been waiting in the wings while I sought new challenges to test me physically. I never forgot hiking; I have always loved being in nature, using my legs to move through the miracle of it. I just never considered it a replacement for the challenge of running a marathon.

Then a day-hike led me to a small section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

I had heard of it and remembered someone saying it stretches from the Mexican border to the border of Canada. A section of the PCT has been in my backyard all my life, and I didn’t realize it. As I studied the iconic blue-and-white trail marker, I remember thinking, “Do people hike the whole thing?”

People do!

The tiny sign that gave me a fresh perspective on hiking.

While the PCT is what planted the seed to embrace hiking as a way to challenge myself, I have no plans to hike to Canada… not yet, anyway. The trail and its amazing travelers are my inspiration to take on hiking as a way to challenge myself with tangible, reachable goals.

Hiking is my new running. It is a return to my childhood. It is where I feel closest to my Creator. Hiking brings back the best memories of my dad—the man who helped me fall in love with the outdoors almost fifties eyes ago.

Hiking is good.

Here Comes Half a Century

This the first day of March, which means in less than thirty days, I will turn forty-nine. One year from fifty. Three hundred sixty-six days from half a century. That’s half of 100!

Maybe it’s normal to do some self-reflection when faced with a milestone birthday.

But turning forty wasn’t a big deal to me. Forty actually sounded sexy… old enough to no longer be considered a “youth,” but still looking pretty good. If I turned inward, assessing the first forty years of my life and wondering how many quality years I had left to live, I don’t remember. I trained for and ran a marathon when I was thirty-nine, but that had nothing to do with stepping into a new decade—unless the motive was subconscious.

Fifty? Well, that sounds old, even to my soon-to-be-forty-nine mind. Fifty is grey hair. Fifty accounts for the wrinkles around my mouth and the loosening skin on my neck. If I had started my family a few years sooner, I could be a GRANDMA by now!

Is fifty old? I still have a year to go, but I don’t feel old. When I look in the mirror, I see a few more wrinkles than I did five years ago, but I don’t think I look old.

Or maybe I do and just don’t realize it.

The passage of time comes with certain changes that can’t be stopped. They can be covered up by plastic surgery and a visit to the hair salon, but time will always win the war when it comes to appearance. No skin-care regime will make my face look like it did when I was in my twenties… not even in my thirties and forties.

In three hundred sixty-six days, when fifty comes around that corner to embrace me, I want to be ready for it. I want to look fifty in the face and say, “All right, Big Five-Oh, here’s the deal: You can have your wrinkles and age spots, but you are NOT the boss of me. You might have some say in how I look, but you don’t get to dictate WHO I am.”

I’m going to greet fifty with courage and strength, with the confidence one can only get by taking on a monumental challenge and standing, victorious, in the aftermath. Fifty is going to have to get used to me, not the other way around.

All this is a prelude—yes, it is a long one—to explain the purpose of this blog and why the title’s tagline is “five hundred miles by fifty.” I have decided to challenge myself to hike a total of 500 miles by the time I turn fifty. I won’t be doing this all in one shot, though I wish that were the case.

If I had the time, resources, and freedom, I would take on the challenge of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. But like most people, taking six months out of my life to hike from the border of Mexico to Canada is not in the budget, nor would I want to leave my family for that long.

I bounced around the idea of taking a month during next summer and hiking a part of the PCT. On my way to work this morning, I was trying to figure out the logistics of hiking four weeks in the PCT by myself, and I was struck with how impractical that would be at this stage in my life. No, it’s not an excuse; it’s just reality.

The more tangible and immediate goal of hiking a certain number of miles seems like a good option. Besides, maybe I will take a few weeks next summer and hike a portion of the PCT. Getting 500 miles logged in before attempting such a feat will do nothing but help.

Why 500 miles? Well, besides “five” being the perfect alliterative word for “fifty,” 500 miles seems both difficult and achievable. Five hundred miles in about twelve months comes out to about ten miles per week. This is do-able, but there will likely be some weeks when I can’t get out and hike ten miles, which means a twenty-mile hike the following week.

I can do this. It will take commitment and work, but I can do it.

Ideally, some of these miles will include two- and three-day hikes, complete with tent, sleeping bag, food, and practicing the age-old art of pooping in the woods. I want to experience solo hiking for longer than two miles around a lake. I want to know how to pitch a tent, carry a pack, and be brave when I think I’m being followed by a mountain lion.

This blog will be my journal, and you may read it… if you want to. I will use it to describe my hikes, the changes I see in my body and in myself, share photos, and maybe even “meet” some other hikers.

If you’ve stuck around for this entire post, thank you! I welcome your comments and would love to follow your blog if it relates to hiking, nature, outside adventures, goals, and/or fitness.