Category Archives: Pacific Crest Trail

Wild Turkey

Ten years ago, on April 15, 2013, I stepped foot on the Pacific Crest Trail to begin a 174-day journey that still blows my mind to this day. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to say to mark this 10th anniversary until Pac Man sent me a message to mark the occasion and told me he’d have a shot of Wild Turkey in my honor.

It made me think about this chapter of my unpublished memoir (that may never see the light of day) and decide why not just put it out in the world where all art should live.

So here it is, draft seven thousand of Chapter 2 of ‘Once Upon a Trail,’ chronicling my first day on the Pacific Crest Trail ten years ago. Enjoy!

Chapter 2 – Wild Turkey

I woke up fully clothed to the sound of footsteps and a voice outside my tent.

“You alive in there, kiddo?” the voice boomed. 

I sat up feeling dizzy, dazed by the sunlight, as I zipped open the mesh door of my shelter.

Larry, a middle-aged man I’d met at the end of my first day, was standing above me, grinning.

“You look like shit. Here I made you some coffee.” 

It was only day two, and my head was thumping. I took the mug from his hand. 

“How did I get here?” I asked, searching the ground in a panic for clues.

Larry roared with laughter.

“I carried your heavy arse after you passed out on my lap.”

“Your lap?” I confirmed with horror, remembering taking multiple swigs of his whiskey while making dinner but very little after that. 

Larry roared again. “You’re funny, kid. Now drink your coffee and get outa bed.”

I put the mug down beside me and curled into a tight ball, unable to face the day or any further revelations from the previous evening.

I’d arrived at the clearing by Houser Creek, a dried-up riverbed in the Anza-Borrego Desert, the afternoon before with two liters of water, stiff legs, and an appetite to celebrate my first fifteen-mile struggle along the Pacific Crest Trail. I’d begun around nine a.m., well after most thru-hikers had set off for the day due to minor navigational misjudgments and the fact I was so nervous I had to pee at least four times before leaving the house.

Relatives of a friend of my parents in San Diego had driven me to the southern terminus in Campo, a community of just over two thousand with a smattering of houses and a gas station on the border of California and Mexico. I’d only met Don and Donna four days earlier when Donna, a neuroscientist with straight black hair and serious-looking spectacles, stood at the airport holding a sign with my name like a chauffeur. 

“You don’t look like a hiker,” Donna told me as I entered the front seat of her suburban four-wheel drive.

“I’m not,” I admitted, feeling disappointed that wearing the correct gear and carrying a backpack didn’t at least make me look a little outdoorsy. 

“You look more like a ski bunny,” she reflected, to which I replied with a snort, unable to determine whether she was serious. 

“That’s funny,” I chuckled. “I can’t for the life of me ski either.”

In the six months between deciding to hike and stepping foot on the trail, I’d saved a pocketful of cash by traveling to Qatar to work on a gala dinner for the heads of state attending the United Nation’s 18th Climate Change Conference in Doha. The dinner was hosted by His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, and although I was fortunate to have the experience and skills to pick up the contract with relative ease, the millions spent on food, limousine transport, imported flower decorations, gold lettering, and Perrier alone, made me queasy. 

Events, particularly in the Middle East, paid handsomely. But the effects of that lifestyle were costly. Many of my colleagues were either divorced or in distant, unhappy marriages. If they had children, they rarely saw them, and most evenings on the job were spent in flashy hotels drinking overpriced cocktails into the early hours of the morning. You could earn enough money in three months to live for a year. But once you got used to the champagne brunches, designer clothes, weekly spa visits, dry-cleaned underwear, and weekends lounging by the pool, you needed to work year-round to afford it. 

I relished this lifestyle in my early twenties, having spent ten months in Doha working on the Asian Games Torch Relay in 2006. But six years later, having celebrated my thirtieth birthday on the job, I began to see this existence through a different lens. I didn’t want to end up like my colleagues, who seemed to carry around the same hollowness I’d felt since I ended my contract at the London 2012 Summer Olympics and broke up with my partner of two years, Anthony. So instead of drinking gin and tonics until two a.m. like my teammates, I spent the better part of my evenings training for the trail. 

I walked approximately ten kilometers each night along the paved Corniche overlooking the Persian Gulf, imagining that in a few months, the flat, arid landscape and bright lights of the city would be replaced by mountainscapes and glittering stars. This thought alone sustained me during those challenging, artificial months, and by the time my contract was over, I was on a three-month countdown to the start of the trail.

When I arrived back in Australia in January, however, I was offered another event contract to work on the Cricket World Cup in 2015. This would have been my dream job years before, as I’d been unnaturally obsessed with the sport since my early teens, plastering every inch of my bedroom walls with posters of middle-aged men dressed in white uniforms. I’d been unsuccessful in applying for a role with Cricket Australia a few years earlier, and now they were offering me my dream job to work on the World Cup; all I could think about was how this would affect my plans for the trail. 

The sizable salary, job security, and all the benefits that came with it made me seek counsel on the matter. Most people, especially those in the event world, advised me to take the job, citing sensible things like I could hike anytime and that the trail wasn’t going anywhere. But every time I considered the prospect of delaying my wilderness dream, the sense of possibility and excitement I’d unearthed upon that rock in Malta vanished, leaving me feeling hopeless and depressed. 

Something inside me had already shifted. I was no longer seeking the prestige of another high-profile event to add to my already impressive CV. I was desperate for something else, and even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, I was convinced it was waiting on the trail.

“Are you scared to hike alone?” Donna asked as I stepped foot inside her perfectly manicured home in the seaside city of Del Mar.

“Not really,” I responded honestly. 

I was more scared of people finding out how little I knew about long-distance hiking and survival in the outdoors. 

My preparation for the trail had included reading Yogi’s PCT Handbook, the trail’s bible, written by a well-respected former thru-hiker, and a handful of trail blogs I’d scanned for information about resupplying food. I’d camped in my sister’s backyard when I was learning how to set up my tent and cooked on her back veranda to test out meals on my alcohol stove. Then, two weeks before I left, I threw my month-old gear into my brand-new ULA pack and went on my one and only overnight hike on a trail near my parent’s house to ensure I wasn’t a total fraud. 

Before arriving in San Diego, I’d flown to Vancouver to spend eight days with my friend Sarah who’d inspired the idea. I’d probed her with all sorts of questions about surviving through the desert to shitting in the woods, and after buying two trolleys worth of groceries from Cosco, I borrowed her dehydrator to prepare my first three months of meals for the trail. 

A week later, Sarah drove me across the border into Washington, where I posted my thirteen resupply boxes from Bellingham to post offices in towns closest to the trail. These boxes contained printed maps, trail notes, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, sachets of electrolytes, trail mix, instant coffee, and spare batteries in addition to my dehydrated food. 

“Shouldn’t I just prepare all my boxes now?” I asked Sarah while sitting between a sea of granola bars scattered across her basement floor.

“Most post offices will only hold your box for three months,” Sarah warned. “Plus, there’s always the chance you might not make it the whole way.”

Sarah’s words triggered a surge of defiance, and I had to stifle the urge to laugh.

“I suppose so,” I mumbled agreeably, though being the A-type perfectionist I was, once I’d set my sights on something, nothing short of death was going to stop me from reaching the end of that trail.

I flew from Bellingham to San Diego that afternoon and, upon arrival, attended a three-day wilderness first aid course to boost my survival knowledge. I then spent my final days in civilization, convincing Donna I wouldn’t die. Donna was more nervous than my mother, who had bought into the concept as readily as my move to Malta. My mom had been my first and only blog follower when I set up my website weeks before until Donna eagerly signed up, too, perhaps out of morbid curiosity more than anything else.

I’d hoped the information I’d documented on my blog might reassure Donna. But she wasn’t swayed as easily as my mother, and after reading about the possibility of running into immigrants along the border, Donna insisted on phoning the PCT Association to ensure my safety. I begged her not to, sensing this type of question would only demonstrate how ill-informed I was. But Donna persisted, and I remember watching nervously from the kitchen, praying she wouldn’t use my name in case they revoked my hiking permit because of my ignorance. 

On the morning we left for the trail, I was feeling as nervous as Donna. It was April 15, 2013, and as we turned onto Highway 8 into thick mist and heavy rain, all I could think about were the waterproof pants I’d sent ahead to Kennedy Meadows at the beginning of the Sierra, as Sarah had advised. I’d been focused on crossing seven hundred miles of desert before needing them and was more concerned about surviving the first twenty miles with no creeks, springs, or spigots to collect water. But those apprehensions were now replaced by the prospect of hypothermia and walking with wet legs for the first two months of the trail.

After missing the exit off the highway and having to backtrack, I could sense Donna’s nerves were increasing too. 

“Will there be a lot of snow?” she asked, glancing at me from the rear vision mirror, her hair looking slightly more disheveled than the day we’d met.

“Probably in the High Sierra,” I replied. “But it should be gone by early June.”

“What about bears?” she probed.

“Oh yeah, they’ll be bears.” 




“Most likely.”

By the time we arrived at the southern terminus, Donna had run out of questions, and the rain clouds had dispersed, causing me to breathe a deep sigh of relief. Once I stepped foot outside the air-conditioned car, the desert air warmed me instantly, and after Don opened the trunk, I attempted to lift my forty-pound pack without breaking a sweat before buckling beneath its weight. Although the bag itself was lightweight, the contents inside it were not. I’d made use of every spare inch, cramming in six liters of water, and all the gear I prayed would help keep me alive through every scenario imaginable. 

I could tell Donna was observing my struggle, so I walked as straight-backed as I could towards the monument at the southern terminus, marking the start of the trail. I’d seen countless photos of these five wooden posts before, with groups of hikers striking animated poses on or beside them before setting off on their journeys. But because of our late arrival, all my companions had left, leaving me to stand beside the tallest post alone with my arm around its shoulder like a stranger, feeling awkward while Donna snapped photos with my iPhone 4. 

Once the moment was sufficiently documented, I went to sign the trail register to complete formalities, but I couldn’t open the metal box that housed it. After Don failed to pry it open, too, we concluded it must have been rusted shut, and I had to quash the immediate feelings of incompleteness that plagued my inner perfectionist.

“Are you going to be okay?” Donna asked, attempting to hug me around my pack, which had already become an extension of my body.

“I’ll be fine,” I assured her. “Thank you both for getting me here.” 

“Hike safely,” Don urged.

“I will, I promise.”

“You look like a hiker now,” Donna said with noticeable pride, and as they walked back to their vehicle, tears of gratitude began welling in my eyes.

After losing sight of them, I sucked in a breath of warm air, wiped my cheeks on my sleeve, and turned my attention to the trail. An endless stretch of desert plants stood before me, but there was no clear direction to move in, and after a moment of contemplation, I was forced to pull out my maps. When I’d printed them back in Australia, I hadn’t realized they presented a 1:75,000 scale, displaying approximately one mile of trail per inch of paper. This meant all I could decipher from the red squiggly line was that the trail headed north, yet there was a clear junction ahead, forcing me to walk right or left. 

I stared at the footprints in the sand and followed a pair to the right until they disappeared. Scrunching my nose, I backtracked and walked the other way until I was back at the road we’d arrived on. I was shaking my head at how absurd I felt when I spotted a white wooden sign standing beside a narrow pathway carved in the dirt. 

Pacific Crest Trail, it read. Lake Morena – 19.5 miles

“Thank god,” I sighed.

Within my first short minutes, I’d learned what it felt like to be lost, along with the overwhelming sense of relief of finding my way back.

As I stepped onto the sandy footpath for the first time, I squealed with excitement, unable to fathom I was standing on the trail I’d been picturing every waking hour for the past six months. I was giddy, grinning from ear to ear, feeling the new chapter of my life beginning while snapping photos of every new sight that surrounded me. Desert flowers with pink and white buds sprouting from the top, a sachet of barbeque sauce someone ahead had either dropped or donated, a carcass of an unidentifiable animal, and the pathway itself, an uneven mix of rock and sand which would serve as my home for the next six months. 

I was so immersed in the novelty of the trail I completely forgot about the prospect of other hikers, and while searching for an appropriate place to poop around the two-hour mark, the swift sound of footsteps behind me made me jump. 

“Didn’t mean to scare you,” said a man’s voice as I leaped over an ankle-sized cactus to vacate the trail.

The man, somewhere in his mid-forties, with greying-blond hair, wore a chequered bandana around his neck and a smile larger than mine.

“That’s okay,” I replied, though being overtaken so soon had bruised my ego.

“They call me Legend,” the man introduced, stretching out his hand to shake mine. “Got the name hiking the Appalachian Trail a few years ago,” he added.

Trail names are a unique part of the thru-hiking experience, allowing hikers to abandon their civilized identity while adopting a trail persona instead. They’re designed to develop organically, though some basic rules govern their creation. You cannot name yourself, though I suspected Legend might have, and you don’t have to accept the name bestowed on you either. 

I tried not to pre-empt what mine would become in the weeks leading up to the trail, although I prayed it would be something I could be proud of. It had taken me years to come to terms with the name Rozanne, especially as the only Roseanne anyone knew of was a controversial American comedian to whom I hated being compared. I’d pictured numerous scenarios of the moment my trail name would spontaneously reveal itself and the unlikely person who would bestow the title upon me. But on the eve of my departure from Vancouver, my anticipation ended.

“I’ve got something for you,” Sarah announced after I sealed the last of my resupply boxes. 

She pulled a note from her pocket, which was rolled into a small tube and tied with a frilly pink ribbon. I was sitting on a stool in her kitchen at the time, and she tapped the parchment on each of my shoulders ceremoniously as though she were knighting me. As I unfurled the note, I noticed Sarah’s blue eyes glinting with delight. 

“Read it aloud,” she urged, bouncing on the balls of her feet, barely able to contain her excitement. 

I cleared my throat as I straightened the rectangular piece of paper in my hands.

“As you set off on this adventure, I want to send you with something that won’t weigh you down, doesn’t need to be mailed, and will see you through to the end. Trail name, Muk Muk.”

My heart skipped a beat as I read the name over.

Muk Muk was a mascot I’d loved from the Vancouver Winter Olympics, where Sarah and I had met. Sarah’s note explained that Muk Muk was a Vancouver Island marmot described as ‘small and friendly,’ whose name came from the Chinuk Wawa word ‘muckamuck’, meaning ‘food’ or ‘to eat.’ 

“Muk Muk is rare like an Australian hiking the PCT,” Sarah beamed. “He is good in the mountains, light on his feet, resourceful, and likes to eat. Plus, he indirectly brought you to Canada, which is where you learned about the trail.” 

I stared at the cartoon image of Muk Muk on the page, trying to imagine repeating this explanation to every hiker I met.

What do you think?” Sarah burst excitedly.

“Muk Muk,” I repeated, trying the name on for size. “I like it,” I responded automatically, though, in truth, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea.

After years of being associated with the voluptuous mother of Becky, Darlene, and DJ, I would now hold the name of a pudgy, naked cartoon marmot wearing a blue and orange beanie. It wasn’t exactly the name of the wilderness badass I was picturing, but it was so thoughtful and full of meaning I couldn’t refuse.

“I’m Muk Muk,” I mumbled awkwardly in response to Legend, who seemed not to hear.

“I’m planning to hike the entire trail without maps,” Legend continued unsolicited. “I’ve been training for months without drinking water too, so I only need to carry two liters between each stretch.”

“Oh, that’s cool,” I replied politely, thinking neither his approach to maps nor water was a legendary idea.

“Well, I better keep moving,” he chirped a second later. “I want to make it to Lake Morena before dark.”

With that, Legend tipped his cap to bid farewell, leaving me to pray he would not prove to be the quintessential hiker I was going to meet along the PCT.

By six p.m. that evening, I’d only hiked fifteen miles, though it was further than I’d ever walked in a single day carrying a pack. I still had five miles to make it to Lake Morena, but I decided to tackle the climb on fresh legs in the morning and camp at Hauser Creek instead. I knew from the water report the creek would be dry, but I had two liters of water remaining, which I figured would be enough to get me through the evening and over to the lake the next morning. 

But that was before I met Larry.

On arrival at the campsite, I discovered two tents and their male occupants standing beside them as I hobbled by. The younger of the men eyed me suspiciously while his counterpart, a tall, broad man in his mid-forties, bounded over to greet me. 

“Hey there, I’m Larry,” he said with an iron handshake, his radiant smile exposing a glow of white teeth. 

“I’m Rozanne,” I replied, feeling too awkward to use my trail name again.

“Nice to meet you,” Larry grinned, still shaking my hand. “You continuing on?” 

“Nah, I think I’ve had enough for one day,” I sighed.

“Good decision!” he said, releasing his grip and giving me a friendly slap to my shoulder. “We stopped here to celebrate our first day, too, right, Lucas?”

Larry looked towards his younger companion, who nodded in silent agreement.

“A bunch of hikers kept going, but we’ve got nothing to prove,” Larry continued. 

“Like that Legend guy?” I smiled.

“The jerk hiking with no maps?” Larry snorted. “Yeah, what a loser. He came strolling through here like he owned the place.”

“Is anyone else camped here?” I asked with mild suspicion, surveying the surroundings.

“There’s some antisocial chicks down there,” Larry said dismissively, pointing towards another clearing. “But there’s plenty of room for you here,” he offered, his bright blue eyes glinting while his smile spread the width of his reddened cheeks.

Larry looked like he’d just stepped off a Hollywood set, make-up and all, with his tanned face and glowing features. He was dressed head to toe in day-old hiking clothes, and his tent looked like it had just come out of plastic, which meant he likely knew as little about thru-hiking as I did. He seemed playful and gregarious and didn’t seem to take the whole thru-hiking thing too seriously, which is why I felt an immediate fondness for the man.

“I’ll take a quick look around,” I concluded, wanting to weigh up my options before accepting the first hand of friendship. 

“No problemo,” Larry replied casually, but as I headed towards the other clearing, his voice echoed behind me.

“There’ll be a shot of Wild Turkey waiting for you,” he called, waving a bottle filled with golden liquid above his head.

The two women Larry had mentioned were already inside their tent and appeared to be preparing for bed.

“There’s another spot over there,” one girl said mid yawn while pointing to a small exposed patch of dirt only a few feet from theirs. 

“It’ll be fine if you’re up before sunrise,” the other advised.

“Cool, thanks,” I replied, surveying the dusty space they’d suggested. 

I knew the smart thing to do would be to set up my tent and sleep. But I could hear Larry’s boisterous laughter from the other side of the campsite, and the Australian in me was ready to party.

Larry had his back to me when I returned, so I crept up behind him while Lucas pretended not to see.

“I’m back,” I announced in an ominous whisper.

“I knew you would,” Larry crooned, swinging around and throwing his arm around my shoulder. “Now set down your things and have a goddamn drink.” 

Larry had already made space for me between their tents, and after accepting his offer, I took a long swig from the bottle. The whiskey burned my throat, but I felt instantly buzzed, noticing my energy skyrocket while my muscles turned to jelly. I became chatty after my nine hours of near-solitude, and by the time I’d set up my tent, I’d already taken two more swigs.

“What’s cookin'”?” Larry asked as I rummaged through my collection of Ziplock bags. 

“Dunno,” I replied. “Maybe this,” I said, holding up a bag of couscous and dehydrated vegetables. 

“Looks revolting,” Larry scoffed as I pulled out my alcohol stove. “How long does that thing take to boil?” he continued, staring in horror at my lightweight soda can and windshield contraption. 

“Dunno, fifteen minutes maybe?” I guessed.

Larry almost spat out the whiskey he’d just sipped.

“Jesus!” he hollered. “Seriously?”

I laughed and shrugged my shoulders.

“Boy, you don’t know much, do you?” Larry observed. “Wait, I think ‘Dunno’ should be your trail name,” he suggested, jumping to his feet and beaming the same way Sarah had in Vancouver.

“Maybe,” I chuckled, lacking the heart to explain the story of the one I had.

By the time I’d finished dinner, the bottle of Wild Turkey had been in my hands three more times, and each story from our first day was becoming more elaborate, while the fact we were in the middle of the desert, miles from water, became less of a concern. My last memory was of Lucas retiring for bed around nine p.m., but following Larry’s rude awakening the next morning, he filled in the rest of the blanks, including me crawling into his lap like a drunken cat. 

I’d passed out shortly after, and although I was relieved I hadn’t set aside all my inhibitions on day one, I still felt ashamed of my loose behavior as I staggered out of my tent into the blazing sunlight in front of Lucas, who looked eager to leave with his pack strapped to his shoulders. I tried standing, but I started blacking out the moment I was vertical.

“You guys go on without me,” I conceded groggily, returning to all fours. “I’m going back to bed.” 

“To hell you are! We ain’t leaving a wounded soldier behind,” Larry insisted.  

“But I don’t think I can,” I moaned, crawling over to the tree branch that had served as my armchair the previous night. 

“Pack up your tent, and I’ll give you something to settle your stomach,” Larry offered. 

I raised one eyebrow.

“Pack. Now!” Larry ordered before I could argue. 

Twenty minutes later, I’d shoved my belongings into my pack, and on cue, Larry pulled out a small pipe and a tub filled with finely chopped marijuana. 

“No way,” I refused, taking a step back and shaking my head furiously. “That stuff will have me on my arse.”

“Shut up, will you? This is medicinal shit. You’ll be flying up that mountain in no time.” 

I’d smoked weed throughout my twenties, but it never mixed well with me. I’d greened out the first time as a teenager and fainted in the middle of a supermarket after smoking bongs at university. I couldn’t imagine being high and hiking with a forty-pound pack on my back in the sweltering heat. But I couldn’t imagine baking inside my tent in the midday sun either, which eventually swung the vote.

“Fine,” I conceded, accepting the one-hitter from Larry and inhaling a long puff.

And you know what? Larry was right.

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!

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!

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!

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.


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.


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: 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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.

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.



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?

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.


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!


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!

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!


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