Category Archives: Pacific Crest Trail

The power of nostalgia

My heart is about to explode out of my chest, either from the two cups of coffee I just consumed or the view of the Sierras I’m witnessing from Lone Pine, CA.

This town brings back a wealth of memories from the PCT five years ago. The pang of nostalgia is so sharp it physically hurts, and my desire to live the experience again is so fierce it’s overwhelming!

It’s bizarre how we revisit places we’ve travelled to knowing all too well the experience will never be the same. A place or location is really just a shell and setting for the events that take place and the connections we make. Without the people the places have a familiar yet distant feel, reminding me I can never go back to times past no matter how hard I try. I can’t turn back time and that can be a hard reality to swallow sometimes.

I had another major hit of nostalgia yesterday when I hiked 15 miles of the PCT from Onyx Summit to Hwy 18 that leads to Big Bear, (thanks to my dear friend and trail angel Betty, who bought me dinner and breakfast at Drakesbad Guest Ranch five years ago and helped me in countless ways).

I was giddy with excitement in the hours leading up to my arrival at the trailhead, but as the scorching heat showered me with fatigue, I remembered the PCT was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and that I’ve begun to romanticise the memories after all these years.

I also realised it was no longer my playground. The trail was now home to the thru-hikers of 2018. I was just an onlooker, a giddy thru-hiker groupie wanting to live vicariously through them or be them. I also wanted to do anything I could for them. Give them my food, drive them wherever they needed to go, or take the clothes off my back to give to them. I now understand why trail angels are so passionate. It’s because thru-hikers appreciate even the smallest gesture, like a cookie when all they have left in their food bags are plain tortillas.

When I was thru-hiking I never understood why people wanted to help me so much, because I was the fortunate one living out my dream. But now I get it. It’s one of the most satisfying things to help someone who is living out of a backpack and hiking for five months. Having the chance to hear about their experience and see their eyes light up with gratitude is priceless.

I must say my US road trip has been a bigger adventure than I expected, namely because I’ve visited more people than I expected to see, and those connections is what’s made it so special. I’ve seen friends from the trail, from back home in Australia, and one special person I’d never actually met before. This trip has reiterated the importance of connection. I LOVE driving alone for hours on end, but knowing I have someone to visit at the end of my drive makes the experience so much sweeter.

It only took me 30 years to figure this out and 5 additional years to put this knowledge into practise. But the older I get the more apparent this becomes, so I’m truly grateful for this opportunity to reconnect with so many special people on this trip!

A sad update on The Otter

I learned with great sadness today that Steven Olshansky, our beloved Otter, was found deceased at a campground in Northern New Mexico this weekend by north bounding CDT hikers.

His family have posted a short note on his search page, which links to the article published yesterday in the Albuquerque Journal.

My heart goes out to his family and friends who have been investigating his disappearance since November last year, and have been keeping us up to date with their investigations while living this nightmare for so many months.

I want to thank everyone who shared details of his disappearance so far and wide through Facebook and other channels. If you’d like to send a message to his family and friends, please leave a comment on this posting and I will share it with his sister Miranda, who kindly kept in touch with me throughout this agonising ordeal.

Rest in peace dear Otter, as you always said, “Life is a hike.”

May your legend and spirit live on through the trails of life.

Your PCT friend,

Muk Muk

Something to THINK about

Three years ago on this day I was setting up camp, and actually by this time passed out at Houser Creek on Day 1 of the PCT. 15 out of 2,663 miles behind me on my way towards Canada. I didn’t know back then that three years later I’d be in Canada reminiscing about that day whilst preparing for my next adventure on the water!

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Me, Rollup and Pac Man at Hauser Creek (Mile 15 of the PCT) – April 15, 2013

Before the trail if my feet, ankles, knees or hips so much as ached I’d begin to worry, much like now with any pain in my shoulders, elbows, wrists or hands. Both journeys require full body mobility… but the PCT required strong legs and feet like the Yukon River Quest requires strength in the upper body and arms.

On Tuesday night I raced well despite the thunder and lightning that whipped through the sky creating an eerie glow under the low hanging clouds of Deep Cove. I found the loud crack thrilling and an incentive to paddle harder while some opted to turn around and head back to shore. Luckily I was already on the leg back, trailing a guy by a boat’s length on a surf ski that was trying to stay ahead of me the whole race (and I think for the sake of his ego luckily did).

Daryl Remmler, owner of Think Kayaks kindly lent me a Think Powerwing Paddle, and it was definitely my secret weapon for keeping up with the faster high performance kayaks that evening. When I initially held the paddle in my hands it felt like a feather compared to the heavier and much larger fibreglass blade I’ve been using in my training. I took advice from some of the top paddlers and feathered the blade right 45 degrees and then hit the water to test it out.

I was gobsmacked, literally giggling to myself as it felt like there was nothing in my hands at all with the blade cutting smoothly through the water with little to no effort. I could paddle at least twice as fast and felt like I was almost cheating; though it didn’t seem to give me the same power as my larger blade. With the correct technique I’m assured I will get as much (if not more) power from the smaller blade as I do with the larger one, and it should help prevent all the wrist and elbow issues I’ve been having. For now the paddle is on loan… and thankfully Daryl said he’s in no hurry to get it back. I’m not sure if I can stretch the loan all the way to July, but that paddle is going to play a key role in helping me get all the way to Dawson City!

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Drying out the powerwing blade after my paddle on English Bay

Yesterday I tested out the paddle again down at Vanier Park through the choppy waters of English Bay. I was shocked that I didn’t fall in, but thanks to the fast boat and small blades I was able to make my 8-9km circuit in around an hour.

Tomorrow I’m off to paddle with a couple of friends around Anvil Island in Howe Sound. I’ll be back in my big heavy plastic boat with my new loaner Go Pro from my friend Dave (who has pretty much given me or lent me most of my gear) and my newly ordered boat attachment suction cap from Kayalu so I can finally capture some action shots. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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Setting up the new Kayalu Go Pro attachment

Veteran Hiker ‘The Otter’ Missing

Yesterday I was made aware that a fellow thru-hiker and dear friend from the Pacific Crest Trail in 2013 is currently missing.

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Steven Olshansky, better known as ‘The Otter’, was last seen on November 14, 2015, being dropped off by friends at Cumbres Pass in Colorado (near the border of New Mexico) on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). He was heading south on the CDT towards Ghost Ranch, expecting to be out of service for 2-2.5 weeks, but never arrived to pick up his resupply and has not been in contact with family or friends since.

It is difficult for search and rescue to access all parts of the trail during winter, though some areas have been searched on foot and by snowmobile. Family and friends have also been following a number of unconfirmed leads of possible sightings in CDT trail towns including Cuba, Grants and Lordsburg, New Mexico, and off trail near Springerville, Arizona. But there have been no possible sightings since January 5, 2016.

Otter has hiked all three of the long distance trails that constitute the ‘Triple Crown’ of hiking in the United States: the PCT, CDT and AT (Appalachian Trail) multiple times and is a very experienced hiker. It is out of character for him to be out of contact for so long with his family and friends while on trail.

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Otter is 59-years-old, 6-feet tall and 175 pounds, has grey hair and a beard, and was last seen wearing beige pants, a green baseball cap, and a blue jacket. He also has a black-and-red quarter-zip pullover and usually camps in a six-foot red-and-grey teepee-styled tent.

Otter’s friend Peter has set up a website: thesearchforotter.wordpress.com and a Facebook page where you can find the latest updates from his search and provide any information you may have about his whereabouts. For anyone who is willing and able to assist in the search for Otter, please read the guidelines posted by his family on their website. The most important thing is that all searchers stay safe.

Anyone who has seen a hiker matching Otter’s description in the past eight weeks, or has any information on his whereabouts, please call the family 24/7 at 800-444-1011 (ask for Peter). You can also use the contact form on his website or comment on his Facebook page.

Please also spread the word and share this information as far and wide as you possibly can. Thank you on behalf of his father Mark, sister Miranda and brother Neil, and his childhood friend Peter.

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A belated anniversary

When a young guy turned to me in the store today and said, “You’re Muk Muk who hiked the PCT in 2013,” it took me a second to register exactly who he was.

“Wait, who are you?” I asked in surprise, before recognising him as one of my fellow Australian thru-hikers who had treated me to a bowl of mouth-watering spaghetti bolognese in Oregon at a hostel in Ashland.

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His trail name was Sir Poppins, and after Ashland I never saw him again until he showed up in the sleeping bag section of my store today. We embraced not as friends, but as family who had shared their home on the trail for half a year. He asked me about the dramatic events that unfolded in Washington amidst the almighty snowstorms he had missed having finished three weeks before me. He also asked if I thought about hiking the trail again, and I told him I still thought about it every other day.

“It becomes engrained in you,” he agreed. “I’m not sure I’ll ever have a proper relationship again because of my attachment to that trail.”

It was comforting to hear a fellow 2013 thru-hiker say this, as I sometimes wonder if I think back to that experience more often than I should. We laughed at the fact we had both returned to Canada to be closer to the mountains, and like me, he had found work selling outdoor gear while determining his next chapter of destiny. I guess it’s common for thru-hikers to feel such a strong pull to the pathway that was once our home. Everyone’s experience is unique, but the connection we have to each other and the wilderness we ventured through is the same. Both become part of our blood, and will live with us forever.

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Tonight I took an evening stroll through the cemetery to walk off the enormous meal I’d consumed to celebrate the birthday of my dear friend Jill’s mother. The half moon was shining eerily between the thick fog of moving clouds, and it occurred to me that it was the first time in a long while that I was using the light of the moon to see where I was going. This became common practise on the trail, especially when the moon was full and you could walk without the assistance of your headlamp for light. It was also the first time in a while that I’d felt so alone walking at night. I figured my biggest threat was another human waiting to jump out from behind a tombstone, which was an unlikely scenario at best, allowing me to relax and enjoy the silence and solitude of the dimly lit pathway covered in a blanket of wet fallen leaves.

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Taken by T’ashii Paddle School, Tofino

The summer has finally come to a close, and following my final field course of SUP (stand up paddle board) surfing in Tofino this year, I could feel the change of seasons alter my mood. I definitely fell into a funk of post trip blues, feeling much less motivated to get out on the water and paddle when its 12°C than when it was 24. But fall has painted the streets of Vancouver with the most incredible pinks, browns, yellows and reds, that I’m enamoured by the beauty of this city every day when I peddle my bike to work. I don’t feel like the seasons are as exaggerated back in Australia, but it’s also been a long time since I’ve spent an entire year in one hemisphere.

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In a recent email from Fuller he reminded me it was my two-year anniversary of finishing the trail on October 7th. Considering how much I think about the trail I was surprised it hadn’t occurred to me, but that day I’d been returning from Tofino and my surfing trip, where I was once again treated to the spectacle of bioluminescence, and to one of the most magnificent sunsets I’d ever seen. In a way I was relieved that I hadn’t remembered, that after two years the trail wasn’t consuming my every thought. But after talking to Sir Poppins today, I realise it’s inevitable the memories will be ever present, returning through connections with its people, or those moments when we’re surrounded by the brilliance of nature.

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Taken by Dave Berrisford at Mackenzie Beach, Tofino

Two years down the track

There’s no better way to bring on nostalgia, than by rediscovering all the gear and clothing I carried for 2,650 miles along the PCT, for the first time since I finished the trail.

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Video:

It’s been 2 years since I stood at the Southern Terminus and began that life changing experience. Since then, a whole season of hikers have lived their own adventures along that twisted red line that stretches all the way from Mexico to Canada. Remember what that looks like?

I do. All too well! But now when I look at that red wiggly line and imagine walking every mile, all I can wonder is how?

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MUK AUK?? Ahh well… close enough!

I’ve had a few people contact me about their upcoming hike on the trail this year; and if I played any part in inspiring them to get there, that’s the best news I could hear. Every time someone tells me they’re off to hike the PCT, my immediate reaction is envy. I can never go back to that cloudy day on April 15, 2013, when I stood on the trail looking north to Canada and thought, ‘well, here we go!’ But as I was talking to my friend Leigh recently about repeating the experience, we concluded it just can’t be done. Sure you can hike the trail more than once, but there’s only one first time for the trail; and like the first time for anything, it’s often the most special.

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I was sad to discover recently that I barely fit into my hiking pants anymore. I’m not talking about the pair I finished the trail in, when I was a bag of bones with loose skin hanging off me. I’m talking about the pair I started in, when I was beefing up before the trail. I said in my last post that I feel more solid, well there’s probably good reason for that! But it simply makes me more determined to hit the trails. Since arriving in my new home, I’ve done a few short walks to set me back on the right track. Despite feeling pain in the front of my shins and the small bones on top of my feet, it felt good. But you better toughen up body, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

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I was also disappointed to hear recently that a fellow mountain-lion-fighting lass named Cat has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, just before starting her journey on the PCT this year. Though devastated by the news, she isn’t going to let her condition stop her from following her dream. She may not be able to hike the trail the conventional way, but she’s determined to tackle it whatever way she can. Her story is inspiring!

I also discovered in the most mysterious way that my SPOT device is out on trail again this year, being carried by a Kiwi named Stewart. The device completed the trail last year with a hiker named Brian, whom I can only assume has passed it along to Stewart for his 2015 hike. How do I know this? You’d never believe me if I told you!

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The SOS button looks worn out!

So with new footprints marking the soil of our beloved trail again this year, instead of feeling envy, I’m going to celebrate the class of 2015 beginning their epic adventure, and the fresh start of my own!

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The end of The Trail

One year ago today on October 7, 2013, I completed my 2,663-mile hike from the border of Mexico and California, to Canada – along the Pacific Crest Trail. I’ve come to realise over the past year that there is no real ‘end’ to the trail; as it continues to remind me of the lessons I learned, and teach me about who I am, well beyond the day I said goodbye to the monument at the Northern Terminus.

I refer to the PCT as ‘The Trail’. For me, there has been no other pathway through life quite the same. Like many who spend close to six months living in the wilderness with nothing but a backpack, the trail changed me. Not in a way that is visible from the outside (although I continue to wear my bandana and hiking clothes in the civilised world); not necessarily noticeable in my personality, (because yes, I’m still wandering the world looking for answers to life’s big questions); but it changed something deep in the core of my being, in the way I see the world and the people within it, that will always stay with me.

One of the hardest parts about getting to the end of The Trail is saying goodbye. You’re not just saying goodbye to the extraordinary wilderness, mountains, forests and deserts that were once your home; the community of people that became your family; or the generosity of the individuals who helped you along the way. You’re saying goodbye to the person who you were before the trail. The person who once had a dream of walking the entire length of the United States from South to North. That person no longer exists, and it’s the beginning of a new life, with the person who did just spend six months in the wilderness, walking all those miles.

Day 1 on the PCT:

Day 174 completing the PCT:

What I miss about The Trail is not just the environment, the freedom, the beauty or the mystery. It’s not the independence, the solitude, the energy or the unknown. What I miss the most is the feeling of accomplishment – the realisation that for 174 days I was achieving something exceptional. I was pushing the boundaries of what I thought possible. I was proving to myself what I was capable of, and I was growing stronger with every step.

Re-entry into mainstream life after the trail:

It’s an inevitable transition for life to go from extraordinary back to ordinary after realising your dream; and I really struggled with this when life went back to ‘normal’ after the trail (post from January 5, 2014, about reminiscing). But there’s a common saying amongst thru-hikers that ‘the trail will provide’. When you hit the bottom and were at your lowest, the trail would always come through with a little bit of magic. I also believe this to be true with the roller coaster ride we call life; and that like the trail, everyday we move a step closer to achieving our dreams (even if we don’t know what they are yet).

The trail provided me with countless gifts, and many of those are ones that will last a lifetime: an unprecedented appreciation for nature; an understanding that when you live with less, you live more; an introduction to the best of the human spirit, and to the most inspiring of people; and the belief that if you want something bad enough, you’re the only person who’s going to stand in your way.

I want to thank the trail for all it has given me, the people who shared the experience and became like family, and the support network that helped carry me (many of whom still travel along with me today).

Happy trails,

Muk Muk

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A chance to retell the story

Last week when a friend of mine asked me to present my PCT hike to a group of Year 12 women at her high school, I felt honoured to be able to share my story again.

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It has taken me months to appreciate that the trail has left a permanent impression on my life. It has become part of my mind, body and soul. The memories are so deeply engrained that there’s moments I feel I’m actually reliving them, only to realise that world is now oceans and mountains away, and months ago.

But it does shock me to think that this time last year I was on trail, very much still in the thick of things. In fact looking back at my blog, on this day last year, I was walking along the waterless Hat Creek Rim.

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Yesterday I was buzzing with nerves and excitement as the group of 200 young women filled the sports hall and sat down attentively. I had changed my presentation slightly from when I visited Judi’s schools near Agua Dulce after the hike, and focused mainly on how I prepared, what I took, what I ate, and the highs and lows.

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The reactions of the young women were priceless! They were shocked, laughed, oooooh’d and aaaaaah’d, and in the end the buzz in the room and interest from the teachers told me it was a success. Here’s a video of some of the highlights, (and a thank you to Marty for your highly professional iPhone filming!)

I jumped on a plane back to Sydney after the talk, for my last few days in Oz before my trip to Spain. When I arrived home, the yearbook Judi had sent me from Del Sur Junior High School was sitting on the kitchen table, with a page to commemorate my visit there in October. Thank you Judi for the copy, and for giving me that chance to come and speak to your students. Having the opportunity to inspire kids has been the most wonderful outcome of my PCT adventure!

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April 15 2014

With the full moon and anniversary of the start of my PCT adventure in 2013, I was tempted to camp tonight. Then suddenly the heavens opened, the thunder and lightning begun, and all the little nooks I could have hidden in were muddy and wet. I opted instead to head to the Albergue in Baamonde which wasn’t a bad choice with its wooden floors and loft style sleeping area. Today I walked just over 40km, and reminisced about the PCT for 39 of them. I even put Missy Higgins on for the last hour coming into town for a true sense of nostalgia.

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Today was an emotionally charged day which I expected, and fortunately the Camino was on actual trail or dirt roads that were far removed from society for the majority of the day; making for spectacular scenery and the chance for solitude. I had a lot of thinking time between 9am when I hit the trail and 9pm when I reached the Albergue. I was on a high at the beginning, a low after lunch, and then while I was resting on the wall of a bridge over a beautiful creek I received a comment which basically put into words exactly what I was going through and made me feel like someone else did actually understand what I’d experienced and how I must be feeling now. Somehow the words released all of the emotions I’d been carrying with me all day, and like any good crying session, I felt immediately relieved and my mind lighter afterwards.

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Today was the first day I saw a road sign to Santiago. I’ve been vaguely keeping track of how many kilometres left, but when I saw that name appear I suddenly felt the excitement growing in my stomach. I keep forgetting how long and how far this journey actually is, and hadn’t fully appreciated that I’ve waked over 700km this last month until I realised how close I must be to my destination. I am planning to walk the additional 3 days to Finisterre, but I’m avoiding thinking beyond Santiago until I actually step foot in the cathedral.

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It started pouring after my break on the bridge, but the rain and thunder were a welcome distraction from my former thoughts of the day, and in a symbolic fashion, cleared the slate for this new adventure to continue without distraction from the old.

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One year ago…

I’ve mentioned in previous posts about how much this trail reminds me of the PCT and how therapeutic it has been to have time to process the events of last year. In all honesty I think of the PCT 80% of the time I’m walking, and to tell the truth, it’s been really difficult at times. The events of the PCT deserve a novel, and perhaps even a sequel, but it’s only now I’m actually appreciating that it was in fact me living those events from April to October in 2013 and also realising that no one will ever understand what life was like unless they were out there living it.

I wanted to post a video from my first day on April 15 2013 which I never posted on my former blog, but unfortunately I don’t have access to it just now. It’s so funny to look back at what a rookie I was on Day 1, I’ll have to post it when I’m off this new trail. I started watching my California Dreaming video today to evoke a few trail memories, but it was a actually too much for me, and I had to stop it halfway through to prevent tears from appearing in front of my fellow pilgrims. The emotions are still so raw from the experience that sometimes I think maybe it was too soon to hike another trail. But in some ways the Camino is such a different experience and so different to a thru-hike that maybe it was a perfect journey at the perfect time. I’m enjoying this adventure so therefore it can’t be a bad thing.

April 15 2013:

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April 15 2014:

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