Category Archives: Pacific Crest Trail

Trail Timing

Synchronicities are a dime a dozen on the trail. Somehow, just when you desperately need it, the universe manages to serve all the correct ingredients at the right time to make you stop and think, ‘huh, now ain’t that special.’

Some synchronicities make you wonder how much time the trail gods have on their hands because the meticulous planning involved in bringing people or acts of nature together at a particular time is often astounding.

I experienced my own trail timing this week when I passed through San Diego on my way back to Vancouver. It’s the beginning of the hiker season, and I bumped into a woman named Jan who knows Scout and Frodo, two infamous trail angels in the San Diego area, who take hikers in and help them through their often scary and nerve-riddled Day Zero.

When Jan told me they were looking for drivers to take folks to the Southern Terminus this weekend, my eyes lit up. She also invited me over to Scout and Frodo’s for dinner on Friday night to meet the hikers who were staying with them.

I won’t lie. I was also riddled with nerves. Partly from excitement, partly from the idea of being in a big group of hikers when I’m not a (current) PCT hiker, and partly because I was borrowing my friend Donna’s standard 4X4 and I was scared I wouldn’t be able to drive it. Oh, and directions… I didn’t have data on my phone so no Google Maps.

Frodo and Scout serving their one of their infamous dinners

The dinner at Scout and Frodo’s was a beautifully executed operation, an A+ in my humble event planning opinion. But what I loved most were the hikers. Some were madly arranging their last bits of gear, others were helping with dinner, and some were merely basking in the afternoon sun in the back yard focussing on their journeys ahead. There were the shy types, the loud and obnoxious talkers, and the quietly confident hikers who had at least one thru-hike under their belts. I felt instantly connected to them all.

The only time the backyard was quiet was when everyone had started eating

That night, before my 4am wake-up call, I also read in the PCT’s Trail Dirt newsletter that two extraordinary people would be volunteering at the Southern Terminus the next morning. If you followed my PCT adventure, you’d remember the glow stick hike UB organised from Hiker Town along the aqueduct for a fellow hiker named Glow in the Dark. Glow in the Dark and her husband 3-Guy were hiking sections of the trail in 2013 amidst her cancer treatments. Patti has written an incredible book about her battle with cancer and her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail called Hiking Cancer, which includes in the glow stick hike and photos from the event.

Patti (Glow in the Dark), me, & Lynn (3-Guy)

Glow in the Dark had no idea I was going to be there, yet the moment she spotted me, her eyes lit up with recognition, and we fell into an emotional embrace. It’s funny because Glow in the Dark and I had never actually met before, though we’ve communicated so much through my blog and via email that it felt like both her and 3-Guy have been friends for years.

Left: 2013, Right: 2019

Once the main group set off from the terminus, I set off on my own, hoping to spend some quality time alone with the trail to reflect on my experience six years earlier. It’s amazing how many things looked familiar, and yet how much I completely didn’t recognise. I forgot how many buildings there were near Campo, and that I didn’t feel like I was in the middle of nowhere until after mile two.

I’d organised to meet Glow and the Dark and 3-Guy back at the terminus at noon for lunch, so I decided to walk as far as I could in the three hours I had. At one point I felt like I’d been transported back into trail life when I noticed there was no artificial sound, and all I could hear were the birds and the breeze whooshing through the canyon. I could feel my loose strands of hair caressing my cheeks, and remembered just how meditative hiking can feel when you’re completely removed from civilisation.

Every hiker I bumped into during my eight-mile sojourn became an instant friend. That’s the beauty of the trail community on the PCT, there’s such a profound sense of belonging you never feel alone out there because everyone’s connected, not only by a physical pathway, but their common goal of reaching Canada. I think of hikers on the PCT as electrons travelling down a wire. The trail harnesses an energy I could feel so intensely I could have run all the way home to Vancouver instead.

Everyone needs their mascot! Muk Muk, Sheepie, Groot & Hedgehog

The timing of my reunion also held significance. I finished draft five on my manuscript the day before, and it’s been almost six years since I began my PCT journey on April 15, 2013.

Left: 2013, Right: 2019

I took the below video to articulate the exact feeling of this reunion, and I think the hardest reality to swallow was the notion it’s almost time for me to move on from this experience and step into a new chapter. It’s a tough thing to do. It feels akin to breaking up with a beloved partner or the death of a life that once was. But part of me will always be on that trail, whether I’m walking it or writing about it in my memoir.

As Ravenson said in 2013, “Though we take the memories with us, we leave part of ourselves behind.”

How right she was.

Happy trails class of 2019!

Muk Muk

5 years later I’m still hiking the PCT

October 7, 2013  will always be a special date for me. It was the day I completed the hardest thing I’d ever attempted in my life. It was the day I faced snowstorms, lost snowshoes, slid down bus-sized washouts, found myself lost in a whiteout, and was saved by the trail gods when my GPS miraculously started working again – remember? If not you can relive the experience here.

I arrived at the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail alone after 176 days. I never knew if and how I would make it to the end, until those wooden posts came into view and I realised I’d actually arrived.

That was five years ago today, and it feels as though everything and nothing has changed since then. The PCT taught me what I was capable of, the power of nature, the beauty of simple living, and the importance of community. It taught me to trust in the universe, demonstrated the best of the human spirit, and showed me that anything is achievable, one step at a time.

Keeping my blog introduced me to my passion for writing, and when I finished the trail in 2013, many people urged me to write a book about my experience. I’m happy to report that I am, and am currently in the midst of draft four having started writing back in May of 2014.

Back then I realised I had to put pen to paper to make sense of it all, and my first drafts were more like therapy than articulate prose. But if I thought hiking the PCT was the hardest thing I’d ever done, writing a book about it knocks that out of the park. Imagine hiking a section of trail, and then going back to hike it again a hundred times over just to make sure you didn’t miss anything. I’ve continued to hike the PCT on paper over the past five years, and I find it amazing I still have the energy to keep going. The story never gets old, it’s just taken me years to refine my skills so I can give the characters and events the credit they deserve.

I’ve kept videos diaries of my writing process since the beginning, and am going to start posting them on my new Muk Muk YouTube channel (to which I have zero subscribers to be sure to sign up), in the hope that by the time I post the last one, I might have reached the end of draft four and be ready to send it to a publisher. I hope these videos will help other wanna-be-writers like me suffering through their own personal hell. Writing is just like hiking the trail, with moments of great beauty interspersed with pain, suffering and an insatiable hunger to be finished. I look forward to sharing the experience with you, and celebrating the moment I cross that border for the very last time.

Muk Muk

Writing a Memoir – Video 1 – The Beginning

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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