As you start to walk out on the way, the way appears.
As spring exuberantly bounced into our lives, I knew Seattle winter hibernation was coming to a close.
Much as I longed to be on the trail again, my body wasn’t quite ready to carry a full pack. Jay, still dealing with emotions from the accident, couldn’t see sleeping in a tent yet. Obviously, we needed a new adventure.
We had often discussed hiking in Europe, and many friends had suggested that we hike the Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile pilgrimage from St. Jean Pied-du-Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Jay’s uncle gave a piece of rare advice, “If you have a dream, the time to do it is now.”
First we spent some time with my family in Tennessee. It had been a year since we’d seen them. As we hiked the Maryville College woods, I gloried in the spring flowers!
Now, here we are in Spain, getting ready for another pilgrimage. It’s been three weeks since I’ve practiced carrying a backpack. It will be interesting to see what it’s like to become a hiker again!
Winter and early spring have flown by as we explored Seattle. Opportunities to observe wildlife were surprisingly abundant in the midst of this fascinating “big city”.
One day we hiked around Green Lake which boasts a wide flat asphalt and gravel path, quite popular with groups of families and friends.
As we ambled along, several crows flew past, cawing raucously. Suddenly, a small black object whizzed by my ear, bouncing upon the pavement ahead of me.
“The crows are cracking nuts!” Jay exclaimed.
Amazed, I stopped to watch. Another crow flew overhead, dropping it’s black booty. The nut ricocheted from the pavement, thick husk splitting, shell cracking into three pieces with an audible snap. The crow quickly landed, grasping the largest piece and pecking hungrily at the nutmeat inside. A hovering flock mate scooped up a second portion of the nut, winging to a tree branch to enjoy his purloined snack.
Curious, I picked up the third chunk of nut. A woody hull clung to the outside, with a small bit of pithy seed nestled deep inside the tough corrugated shell.
“It’s a black walnut!” I exclaimed in surprise, tinged with a bit of awe. As a child, I remembered using a hammer to pound black walnuts in our backyard. Often, the indestructible seed would bound away from my hammer, refusing to deliver up its delectable nut meat.
‘Amazing!’ I thought. ‘The crows use pavement and altitude to shatter the shells. I wonder how they learned!’
For much of the winter, we lived in a tiny furnished apartment near the Lake Washington Ship Canal at the foot of Queen Anne Hill. Our second story front window gave us a view of trees and ivy, the perfect habitat for squirrels.
One morning as I ate breakfast, two squirrels ran along our railing. One squirrel gave a prodigious leap from the railing to a tree trunk. He landed with a lung emptying “whump”, clinging spread-eagled to the bark. The second squirrel chose a longer, less athletic route to the tree. The two looked at each other round the trunk, then turned and scampered the length of a branch, vaulting to the roof. I heard their footsteps drum a duet across our ceiling – thumpety, thumpety, thump, thump!
Another morning several inches of snow covered twigs and branches in an extravagance of frozen crystals. A scurrying squirrel ran down a tree trunk, then leaped for an overhanging low branch, fat with globules of clinging snowflakes. Much to the squirrel’s surprise, his thick target was actually a whippy bough, scarcely half a centimeter in diameter. The squirrel’s grasp missed, and he hurtled several feet to the ground in a shower of loose snowflakes as the tricky tree limb bounded upwards!
Living near the ship canal gave us ample opportunity to observe wildlife. We enjoyed the evening show of cormorant roosting. After spending all day on the water happily swimming and fishing, the first hint of evening brought a flock of ungainly black feathered bodies. I never did discover why the cormorants liked one particular tree in a line of what seemed to me to be identical trees. But each evening a loud squabbling hullabaloo ensued as bird after bird landed upon the tree, only to be chased by the birds already there. It was quite a sight! The show would last for about an hour, until all were settled to everyone’s satisfaction, each bird an equidistant space from it’s flockmates. Each night the tree became adorned with a burden of black bundles, wings, bills, and legs tucked into shapeless blobs perched upon its branches.
One day as we walked by the canal, we noticed a small tree with a freshly chewed section of bark missing from its trunk. “There must be beaver in this city!” Jay observed in surprise.
A couple days later, the sapling was gone, only a shin high trunk with a few wood shavings to show where it had been. I peered into the canal, and sure enough, the tree was laying in the water, one end perched upon a few rocks at the base of the embankment.
A few days passed, and the tree had been gnawed in half, all the branches stripped from its trunk. These were efficient beavers!
It reminded me of a story my father, a church camp director, tells of beavers damming a lake by the camp lodge. My father would have been happy to leave them in peace, except they were so enthusiastic, they kept raising the lake level and flooding the lodge basement.
“Periodically I’d have to go down and rip out their dam,” I remember my dad saying. “They didn’t just use branches. I’d find coat hangers, pieces of pipe, barbed wire fencing. Once I even had to pull out a railroad tie they had taken from the nearby train track! It was quite a chore!”
“I seem to remember you coming back from one of those forays, covered in mud, and saying that those beavers had figured out how to use your neighbor’s backhoe, and had made the dam almost impregnable,” I joined in his reminiscing.
“Well,” my father’s eyes twinkled. “That part might have been just a story.”
In March, we moved from the apartment at the base of Queen Anne Hill to pet sit in a house at the top of Magnolia Hill. Our wandering territory changed to include daily visits to the Ballard (Hiram M. Chittenden) Locks and hikes in Discovery Park.
One day as Jay rounded a corner of the path to the locks, a sleek river otter slid over the bank and slithered down the hill to the water! It seemed incredible that an animal which normally seeks empty bits of nature would make his home right in the middle of a very busy shipping canal! When Jay mentioned seeing the otter to a janitor cleaning the restroom, he was told, “Oh yes, there’s two resident families that live here year round. They’ve been known to get upset if tourists didn’t take their pictures.”
In early April, as we were hiking through Discovery Park, both Jay and I saw a large roundish animal scurry into the bushes. We stopped, wondering what we had just seen. Too small for a muskrat, tail too short for a squirrel, too fat for a weasel … what could it be?
A lady walking her dog came by, and her dog stopped, arrested by the invisible smell of the mystery animal.
“Your dog knows that some kind of brown, furry, roundish animal just scurried into the bushes here,” Jay told her. “We don’t know what it was.”
Just then the animal reappeared, poking it’s head between two ferns. It then proceeded to calmly harvest a large mouthful of plant stems, holding the ends in his mouth, dragging the rest of the stems behind him.
“It’s a mountain beaver,” the dog walker told us. “We’ve got one in our yard.”
We watched, fascinated, as the mountain beaver disappeared back into his ferns, dragging a sheaf of long greenery behind him.
Later I read that they like to stack cut stems in front of their dens. These animals have been traced back 40 million years, and are the last survivors of their species. They can eat many plants that are poisonous to others.
We often saw sea lions, snakes, lizards, bald eagles, coots, golden eye ducks, American widgeons, Canada geese, greater scaups, mallards, great blue herons, seagulls, and once we saw a barred owl. As spring advanced, the woods became alive with birds staking out their territory. We heard robins, song sparrows, Pacific wrens, towhees, juncos, chickadees, northern flickers, and pileated woodpeckers. The last day of walking in Discovery Park, Jay heard a varied thrush. Truly, Seattle is home to some fantastic wildlife.
While still in the hospital, I asked the question uppermost in the mind of every injured hopeful thru-hiker.
“How soon can I start walking again?”
I was delighted with the physical therapist’s answer. “You can walk every day, at least 30 minutes a day. Don’t overdo it, get plenty of rest as well, but walking will help you.”
I also received advice on eating, another topic dear to a thru-hiker’s heart. The hospital dietician told me in order to promote the healing of so many broken bones, I should consume approximately 2,000 calories including at least 130 grams of protein each day. I devoured this many calories each day on the trail! It seemed incredible to me that laying around, healing broken bones, would require as much energy as hiking ten hours per day!
After leaving the hospital, I did find myself taking frequent naps and eating often. During the first few weeks of recuperation, my eyes refused to play nicely, each insisting that her view of the world was most important. My beleaguered brain would usually give up and show double vision. This, combined with shaky balance, created many spills in the kitchen. The great thing about wiping up a spill when one has doubled vision is that one only needs to wipe half of what is seen, and suddenly the whole spill is gone!
Walking became a major source of relaxation for my soul. Of course, walking in a neck brace could be a little tricky. It’s impossible to see ones feet. The ability to balance came and went for no apparent reason. Holding Jay’s hand solved my erratic balance. It also provided much needed support whenever my enthusiasm for exploring overcame the stamina of my healing body.
Our explorations were short at first. It took fifteen minutes to slowly and carefully creep to a fountain just a quarter of a mile away.
This fountain at Seattle University remains a favorite destination!
Often after enjoying the fountain, Jay and I would swing by a dog park. Sitting on a comfortable bench, we delighted in watching deliriously happy dogs run around and around!
We also discovered St. James Cathedral, home of a huge pipe organ dating from the early 1900s. I enjoyed the beauty of the cathedral, its thrilling organ music, and the time to listen for that still, small voice inside my soul.
St James Cathedral
As bones slowly knit and stamina increased, outings became more adventurous. One day we took the monorail to Seattle Center.
My very first time ever on a monorail!
Outside the Seattle Center, we discovered an interactive sculpture called Sonic Bloom, five “flowers” towering forty feet high. Motion sensors set off harmonic notes when each metal flower was approached. Jay and I immediately participated, reveling in the sequence of harmonies. With a few more friends, I’m sure we could have composed an impromptu tune!
We also discovered two paraboloidal dishes, set approximately 60 feet apart beside a busy and very noisy street. The instructions directed me to whisper into a designated focus point, and Jay would be able to hear it far away at the other paraboloidal dish. The paraboloid shape launched sound waves from the focus point and aimed them across incredibly noisy space to be collected at the other paraboloid. Jay’s disembodied voice emerged from the focus point, a clear whisper in my ear! I was amazed!
As the pain of my injuries faded and I became stronger, I did not think of myself as a convalescent. I felt I had improved greatly, striding down sidewalks holding Jay’s hand. However, Reality raised her head the day Jay and I were passed by a man in a wheelchair. Perhaps my vision of myself was a bit skewed by hope.
Celebrated as the largest “trail town” on the PCT, Ashland is known to the rest of the world as a center for Shakespeare and other plays. Tourists mingle with bearded hikers, seekers of alternate lifestyles, and busy locals, making downtown an endlessly interesting place. Jay and I discovered this while walking through Lithia Park on our first evening…
Of course, our main job was to take care of Jay’s sister’s cat, known as ‘Kitty’. Once Kitty conveyed our roles to us, we got along fine.
“Sarah will feed me, Jay will give me cuddles, and I will entertain myself. Just make sure to leave a sunbeam on the floor in which I can bask each morning.”
We did enjoy some entertainments when two friends, Linda and Dave, visited us from Gardnerville, NV. They flew into town in a glider that Dave built himself!
We wandered the streets, stopping in several cafes for food and drink. At the Agave, the waitress gave us an impromptu lesson in margarita making. We were fascinated! (And Dave and Jay agreed that the margaritas were quite good.)
We walked along the creek in Lithia Park, and Dave and I stopped to climb a giant rope jungle gym.
We closed our day with a free concert at an outdoor stage. The Green Shows happen every evening except Mondays, featuring different fine arts performers. It’s a big draw for tourists and locals.
Often, after a day of slack packing, Jay and I wandered down to the Green Show. The eclectic nature of the Green Shows gave us new experiences nearly every night.
As Jay and I explored each evening, we were treated to tunes from street musicians. Some were very good, some were just beginners. All added to the holiday atmosphere that permeated the heart of Ashland.
We have enjoyed this time of culture and fun. Tomorrow we continue hiking the PCT. I intend to enjoy myself there, also! This world is truly a wondrous place.
There is no denying, the last two weeks of May saw us living in the lap of luxury. Double bed, hot running water, unlimited food within arm’s reach, dry shelter in the rain – all the trappings of civilization, which so many people take for granted. Our basic needs were being met with abundance!
On our last day in Eugene, we attended church with Jay’s parents. A massive pipe organ sent shock waves through my system, delighting me as the organist skillfully wove melodies and counter melodies. A visiting young men’s choir, singing glorious acapella harmonies, lifted me with transcending joy.
The afternoon saw us at King Estate Vineyard, indulging in a cheese and fruit plate along with lovely Pinot noir wine. I think this meal went a bit beyond just meeting one’s basic needs!
After satisfying our stomachs, a fascinating tour of the vineyard gave me food for thought as I satisfied curiosity about a new subject.
Family – sharing with each other, laughing and talking and telling stories, knowing we belonged together – this was the true highlight of yesterday.
And so today, we have returned to what some would consider a stark existence – the Pacific Crest Trail. Jay’s sister and brother-in-law dropped us off at Willamette Pass. Happy hugs were exchanged, and I blithely shouldered my pack, eager for more adventure!
Towering hemlocks muffled our footsteps as we entered the forest. Silence reigned as sunbeams lanced through deep shade, outlining a tree trunk here, spotlighting a wildflower there. A sense of dislocation permeated my being.
“It’s as if we’ve been snatched from Tatooine (Luke Skywalker’s desert home) and plumped down on Endor (forest home of the Ewoks in Star Wars),” Jay joked.
We hiked for three miles, enjoying our new habitat. A flower known as vanilla leaf posed next to a tree trunk, while pink trillium called good morning from beside the trail.
The rhythm of hiking began to lull me with familiarity, until suddenly I topped a rise to see … WATER! Astonishment coursed through my body. Even though my brain knew that lakes dominate much of the Cascades, actually seeing rippling blue water caused a disruption in my subconscious. The desert of southern California felt very far away.
By evening, my left Achilles tendon ached, and my pack had mysteriously gained weight throughout the day. As we lay out our dinner, I laughed over the contrast from yesterday. Our trail food could be classified as nourishing, but never sumptuous. The forest, with its quiet beauty, was so very different from the soul-thrilling music of Sunday morning. And yet, happiness pervaded my inmost being.
“Sometimes it seems that we humans need a return to the basics in order to be healthy,” Jay mused. “My brain wasn’t designed to stay at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy all the time. Maybe that’s why it’s a pyramid. We spend most of our time at the bottom – satisfying basic needs.”
I looked at Jay and smiled. Food, shelter, beauty, and a loved one. For what more could I ask? Maybe we hadn’t tumbled too far down Maslow’s hierarchy after all.
The Pacific Crest Trail traverses some very harsh environments, from baking desert valleys to frozen alpine mountain tops. These austere conditions often force hikers to push their bodily limits. Though Jay and I have been very lucky with the weather, we, too, have felt the extremes of this environment. Regularly carrying several pounds of water, often hiking over 15 miles per day, enduring pitiless sun, getting buffeted with gale-force wind – it all adds up. We knew that we needed a break, a complete rest, not just one zero day doing chores.
Ten days ago, while talking with his parents on the phone, Jay learned that they were concerned over their cat-sitting arrangements for an upcoming trip. He volunteered us to watch over a very cute, strong-minded kitty cat.
May 14-18, 2018
So, from Inyokern, CA, we took a bus to Gardnerville, NV. This also allowed us to see the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada Mtns as we traveled up Hwy 395. Miles of snowy peaks accompanied our travel!
We picked up our car and spent the night with a friend in Gardnerville, had dinner with our son and his girlfriend in Reno the next day, then drove on to Eugene, where we settled in with Clementine, the aforementioned cat.
May 19-31, 2018
And so we have been enjoying civilization for the past two weeks. We’ve slept a lot. I caught up on this blog. We’ve taken short walks to Delta Ponds, on the Willamette River. Eugene is beautiful in the spring! The flowers flaunt their beauty for the world to see, while birds enjoy the water.
We’ve enjoyed cooking and eating the kind of food one can’t get on the trail or even in a restaurant!
A typical dinner included baked fish with chard and lemon accompanied by a salad of mixed greens, cabbage, cauliflower, onion, red peppers, avocado, and goat cheese.
A friend of my mother-in-law invited me to swim each morning. We also spent one whole day visiting two old friends.
And we’ve worked at making friends with Clementine.
The first few days, she very obviously missed ‘her’ people. She would jump up beside me on the couch and ask to be petted. But when I obliged, she would only tolerate a few moments of stroking, then her tail would begin to twitch and she would jump down, sitting with her back to me, tail lashing furiously. I could imagine her thinking, ‘Can’t this human do anything? She doesn’t even know how to pet me correctly!’
One day while I was typing on the computer, Clementine seemed determined to snuggle, climbing all the way into my lap. I petted her, and the teeniest purr started deep within, only to be quelled instantly. Encouraged, I kept stroking. Clementine closed her eyes, still not completely relaxed, but heading that way. My eyes wandered to the computer, thoughts returning to my interrupted blog. One hand kept petting the cat while the other hand began surreptitiously typing. Clementine’s eyes flew open, legs coiling beneath her. With a bound she left my lap and stalked across the floor, tail quivering with indignation! I could imagine her thinking, ‘How dare she! The cheek of that woman, to think she could pet me and type at the same time! That’s it, I’m done with her!’
One thing Clementine did love from the beginning was to be outside with us. As I sat in the sun on the back deck, the cat would wind around my legs. I would reach down with her grooming comb, and Clementine held still while I pulled loose hair from her fur.
After ten days of caregiving, Clementine was beginning to accept us. She put her paw on Jay’s chest when he sang to her, a sure sign of approval. And yesterday she let loose with a full, continuous purr while sitting on my lap – at least for a few moments!
We will return to the PCT in a couple of days. We’ve enjoyed our time off trail, and it has been lovely to know that the snow continues to melt in the high mountains!
When we started in March, we agreed that we would be hiking from March through October. We still hold to that goal. I’m looking forward to quiet nights and sun-kissed days.
Since we are already in Oregon, we have decided to return to the PCT at Willamette Pass, mile 1,908. We will hike north, to Canada. We think it will take us about two months. Then in August, we will find transportation from Canada back to Walker Pass, and start hiking north again, hoping to finish the high Sierras during August and then hike through the rest of California and Oregon in September and October. It will be very interesting to see whether we can finish the whole PCT in one go, hiking at our slow pace. We will strive to keep the idea of pilgrimage in our hike, seeking to learn from our journey, not just check off miles. I hope the readers of this blog will continue to enjoy reading of our trek, chopped up as it might be. I know I’m looking forward to seeing the trail again!
P.S. I will continue to take notes and try to post blogs regularly. There are fewer towns along the PCT in northern Oregon and Washington than there were in the first 650 miles, so there will probably be a lag of a week or ten days between each time I get a chance to post. I’ll keep writing as I hike!
So many things to do, when preparing for a long hike. How does a person prioritize?
Our first month after last year’s AT thru-hike focused upon recovery. Our bodies were ready for an extended rest, as well as some specific rehabilitation. Thanks to a fortuitous find from our son’s friend, the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, by Clair Davies, gave us direction for healing painful tendons and muscles.
The next three months, as we purged our belongings and sold our house, we also ate like we were still hiking. We did take time to get permits and maps, but this only took one afternoon with a computer. Planning a few resupplies took a couple of evenings. Reassuring friends and family members has taken several sessions. But our over-riding highest priority has been taking daily hikes to reaffirm our connection with nature and remind our bodies of their main job in life – burning calories in order to support our eating habits!
Recently I overheard an acquaintance tell about sorting her garage. “Sort, declutter, simplify, clean out – they’re all just civilized words for an act of violence. I’m engaged in a yearly purge!”
Her description caught my imagination. For the last three months, Jay and I have been actively occupied with selling our house, the ultimate goal being to simplify our life. It sounded so clean and enlightened, to live a life uncluttered.
Reality has not been clean, simple, or tidy. We’ve lived in the same house for half our married life. Our worldly goods were collected there, along with 15 years of memories.
We sold a few items, we gave many things to our son, and we still had a houseful of belongings. Eventually we hired a U-Haul, filled it, and jettisoned it at the thrift store. The house was emptier, but required several more trips to the dump, the thrift store again, and gifting sessions to friends before becoming bare!
Just a few short weeks ago, Jay and I had completed eight months of hiking the Appalachian Trail, with all that we needed in a backpack and a box. I had naively imagined that it would be easy to go home and get rid of everything. Instead, I found myself beset with tempestuous emotions. I cried over souvenirs, books, pictures, dishes. I cried over the contents of the linen closet, for heaven’s sake!
In spite of my tears, the day to list the house finally dawned. The photographer arrived. I was happy. The house was empty, and we were so close to our goal! And suddenly, I was sitting in my son’s empty bedroom, tears pouring down my face. The problem with grief is that it often hits at very inconvenient times!
Many people talk of the joys of down-sizing. In three months, we went from 1500 square feet of possessions to a five foot closet and a car. It was painful, distressing, and traumatic. It was also liberating, freeing, exhilarating.