The End of Infinity

I had never really been sure that I would finish this walk in its entirety. Oh, I knew I would finish at some point, but it might very well not coincide with where the trail would finish. And I’m honest when I tell you, that for the vast majority of my walk, it didn’t really matter, I was not here to prove anything or to bag any medal or associated identity-capital with walking across America. Now that I’ve “done did it”, hell yeah, I’ll tan in that recognition ’till the day I die, but it was never about that. And if it had been, I’m pretty sure I would have failed royally. Catch 22.

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I was so conscious about not “enslaving” myself to the trail that I, willfully and childishly, rejected the challenge before I even started. So instead of starting at the actual start, the US-Canadian border that is, I chose to walk a 25-mile approach trail that intersected the Pacific Crest Trail 17 miles south of the border. Take that PCT, I don’t need you, don’t need anything, fuckin’ nothing, and I will never be able to walk the entire trail cause I didn’t even try, didn’t start at the start. Free as the birds that sang around me, I started my walk. I’m here to enjoy the scenery, photograph, tire myself out, be humbled, embrace simplicity and photograph some more. And… to think about life, values, priorities and discuss, with myself, concepts like anger, fear, hatred, love, compassion, patience, empathy, stillness, dreams and despair. Not so much “to find myself” as many might call it, cause I already kinda new who I was and what my “call” is and all that. But many years of intense adventures, cycling around the world and floating a homemade bamboo raft down The Amazon needed to settle in my mind, be processed and produce something deeper than just great photos and wild stories. I needed to calm myself and, ironically, walking a marathon a day, through the wilderness, will do just that to most people, me included. As a 32 year young man, that was likely the biggest reason why I went out for a walk.

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As days turned to weeks that turned to months, admittedly, I started to smell blood. Maybe I could walk the entire trail, just maybe. Wow, that would be cool, imagine if I could, literally, walk across the USA through the wilderness. Better yet, that meant that I had lots of miles and months left on the trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, which I by then had started to lift out of the “dead box” and giving it living attributes. I cursed it, I was in love with it, I asked it, I hated it, I got insulted and vehemently jumped to its defence if people called sections of it “boring”. By then, it would have take an immense shift or tragedy to get me off trail, not because I felt I “had”, or even wanted, to complete it but because I was ready to fight for my love, to stay with my baby, my beloved PCT and was not gonna divorce her unless the skies came trembling down. I felt like I belonged there on the trail, in this world, and that sense of belonging truly is one of the most rewarding and addictive feelings.

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But the trail was not fully over yet, I still had some 200 miles to go. I got increasingly sure that I would be able to walk the entire trail, as long as I didn’t get hit by any serious injuries or attract a severe stomach infection from the more-than-dubious water sources I was surviving on. I had even shouldered the challenges of the desert, which I wrongfully had assumed to be flat and easy, but found to be mountainous, lonely, fearfully dry and the perfect place for blisters to multiply like cockroaches in a sewer system.

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I wake up at 4 in the morning, after almost 10 hours of sleep. You do the math. Out here I go to bed earlier than my 3 year old niece does. It’s dark and cold and the sun won’t rise for the next couple of hours so I pack up camp and start walking with a headlamp, that’s how it’s been for the last couple of days. But today is different; completely, entirely, incomprehensibly different. There is 20 miles of trail left and “my world”, the trail, will come to an end. It’s an utterly ambiguous feeling and I was almost wishing that time didn’t happen and that the sun wouldn’t rise. This daily spectacle is miraculously beautiful, and there is nothing I can do to stop it. I walk for 3 hours and thereby cut the distance between me and the Mexican border in half. Eat brunch, but not the brunch you eat at the hipster-cladded cafe, ain’t no food to rave about out here. Almost cried as I ate that last meal on trail. Walk on.

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And there it was. A dilapidated, old wooden monument set against a barbed wire fence. The Mexican Border, the end of the trail, though it is the beginning for most hikers, as 95% who walk this trail go north. I just stood there and stared at it. Sat down in the sand as the wind continued it’s soft song in my ears. Popped a beer, sipped it, gazed around, confused. Didn’t really know what to do with myself, guess I’m supposed to take that photo that I’ve been thinking about for the last 2 weeks. Not surprisingly, it was anti-climatic and it didn’t merit a celebration whatsoever, contrary, I found myself in a weird emotional drift of anger and kicked my backpack in frustration when my camera wouldn’t balance for a self-timer shot. Had never kicked my loyal backpack before, what’s wrong Henrik? The end of infinity. What now?

Through the wilderness, I had walked across America.

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A Hiker Among Hippies

For quite some time I had promised myself to walk shorter days towards the end of the trail, as soon as I was away from the risk of snow. Surprisingly, here in the desert that snow risk kept lingering as the trail never dropped down into the low valleys for more than half a day and the calender kept ticking deeper and deeper into November. I had planned to slow down, bum around, chill, sleep, read and walk slow, slow days of 15, instead of 25, miles. The scarcity of water ruled out that option, and I found myself pushing on, bagging my daily marathon to reach the next water source in time and to not have to carry days worth of this terribly important yet awfully heavy liquid. Revenge came when I reached some sort of civilization, where I would kick it for a day or two, filling myself with delicious diner-food and a little too many beers. That counts, I did slow down, just not on the trail.

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I’d heard about it, both good and bad. Deep Creek Hot Springs. A bunch of natural hot springs that, primitively and somewhat naturally, had been dammed-up by a bunch of pot-smoking hippies some 20 years ago. Accessible from a 2 mile road-connected side-trail and located only 30min drive from the northernmost suburbs of sprawling Los Angeles, it attracted a bunch of party-prone day-visitors. Located in a curvy canyon shaped by a cold but swimable river, in an arid landscape, where the yellow fall-colors of the trees beckoned to be photographed. No pretentious resort, no entrance fees and isolated enough to keep rules and their enforcers away from the anarchy. And oh yeah…clothing optional. Sounds fun to me. I packed extra food and had an amazing rest day on the trail. A slackline spanned the river as naked hippies balanced themselves across the 3cm “rope”, swinging around more than just their arms. People were drinking, flexing fancy yoga positions and painting. Some spaced-out dude informed me that he was tripping on mushrooms, and I had absolutely no trouble believing him. I see how some hiking-purists could get offended by this loss of wilderness, but hey, after almost 4000km of walking, I embraced the scene. And nature is here for all of us to use, hippies, hikers and hunters. If you can’t beat them, join them, so I “dropped my draws” and entered the pools wearing my “birthday suit” as one hippie preferred to call the naked body. Above me, somebody had carved “All bodies are beautiful” into a rock. Another rock read “Don’t mistake nudity for sexuality”. Nobody did.

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But without food I’m dead, so I couldn’t get stuck too long in the hippie camp, time to get going, gotta reach new resupplies. Ahead of me, the largest, longest and most intimidating climb was luring: The San Jacinto climb. 2500m of altitude gain on a non stop 32km climb. That’s 8% average, which isn’t too bad for a trail, but is too bad when it continues for 32.000 meters. An all-day’er, in the warm desert, without shade, uphill, uphill, uphill. No water sources on the climb, so carry all the water that you think you might need and don’t guestimate wrong. Just don’t. I reached the foothills of the climb at midday and only made it halfway up that evening, a perfect excuse to split the notorious climb into 2 days. It was sooo beautiful to steadily climb out of the valley and rise to the sky and maybe that’s why I don’t remember it as being that bad. Or maybe its just because challenges, always, are so much easier in hindsight. Just ask any woman who gave birth more than once.

Getting really close to the end, I meet two other hikers on the same quest as me; one of them I had met 3 months earlier among the stunning volcanoes of Oregon. Guess they caught up with me as I was chillin’ in towns and skinny-dipping with the hippies. Company, I’ll take it! My 2 friends are on a little quest to finish the trail before Thanksgiving and their commitment is contagious. I wanna celebrate Thanksgiving, here in the US of A! That’s a major catch for a seasoned traveller with a giant appetite for culture and, after 5 months of dehydrated instant mashed potatoes, a giant appetite for a giant rich meal. Turkey with gravy, I’m goin’, that’s all there is to it. Don’t know with whom I’m celebrating yet, but that’s a minor detail that I’m sure will play out just fine. Let’s finish this trail, Thanksgiving here I come!

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Loosing a trekking pole down a steep snow-covered mountainside a week earlier, I lost the luxury of my tent, that needed both poles to pitch; I had now shipped it home to not carry a useless 738 gram of weight. Shouldn’t rain anyways.  But some clouds have been forming lately and it’s not good, cause the night temperatures are hovering just above freezing and hypothermia are hovering just above me if I get wet and can’t dry out. I go to sleep, a little wary. Drip. Fuck. Drip drip drop. No, stop, seriously! It’s 3 o’clock in the night, I’m sleeping under the open sky, it’s nearly as cold as ice. And it’s raining, it’s almost sleet, and I’m already cold. Think fast. I pack up my sleeping bag as the sky opens and the drops turns into an intense, sleety rain. Pack your gear in your bag, wear the only somewhat waterproof clothes you have, a shell-jacket, and start walking with a very fast pace. That’s my only option to stay warm. Not dry, forget that illusion. Just wanna stay warm. It keeps pouring but my strategy works, I keep warm not dry. As the sun breaks the horizon, rainbows are forming and it was beautiful beyond description. By 10 o’clock, large swaths of blue sky have pushed the rain away and I’m drying out my clothes and sleeping bag. Temperatures are climbing to 13 C, and I’m smiling.

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For nearly two-thirds of this walk, the distance to the end had been measured in 4 digits. Mile 2619. Mile 1842. Mile 1210. It was simply a point of reference to keep track of the distance to the next plausible water source or resupply town, to avoid dying of hunger and thirst. I didn’t interpret mile 1452 as being what it actually was: the distance in miles to the end of my walk, because such a distance was simply to intimidating and long and unrealistic to walk. It was just a number. Then, one day, months ago, that number decreased to 3 digits. Mile 907. Mile 652. Still just a number, but maybe a number that represented a distance that I could potentially walk, if someone held a gun to my head. It kept dropping, slowly, steadily, day after day. Mile 263. I can walk that, I think.

And then one day the number only had 2 digits. I had 99 miles to go.

Snow for Dessert in the Desert

Mile by mile, day by day, I was getting further and further south, closer to the Mexican border, closer to finishing my walk across America. Dealing with the challenges that the desert presented, while learning by doing, I had gotten used to play the “water game” of planning out my next plausible water sources while carrying up to 7 liters at a time to avoid the risk of running dry. Alone, out here, it could prove severely dangerous. Trusting loose information from the internet about which creeks were running was my only option, however, walking for 30 miles between water while religiously hoping to find some of this precious liquid was something I never got used to. Again, one those games on the PCT you have to play, but can’t afford to loose.

Dark clouds are gathering in the rocky, yellow-brown mountains. Rain. It felt promising, like a good omen, and the many forms of vegetation out here really seemed to need it. I put on my somewhat-waterproof jacket and soldier-on as silent, vertical water enthusiastically pours from above. Unreal stony outcrops are set against a background of rainbows and I am just as happy as I imagine the rest of the desert is. The 90s house-track by Everything But The Girl spins in my head…”and I miss you, like the desert miss the rain”. Luckily, I’m at low altitude so the temperature isn’t a real challenge, neither is there a risk of snow down here. 2 days ahead of me, the trail climbs to nearly 3000m and, up there, rain means snow. Happy I’m not there, good timing.

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The rain is, obviuosly, caused by a passing low-front. As I climb higher unto the ridges, the temperatures drop to 8 Celcius in the daytime and, combined with gale-force winds on exposed terrain, I find myself wearing all my layers, a beanie and gloves during the midday hours. So much for the “dry, quiet, hot desert”, this doesn’t look like anything as presented “in the brochure”, if any such thing existed other than in my head. In the far distance, the mountains appear to be white. Snow? Nahh, can’t be, it should have melted by now in case the low-front dropped any of that white stuff. And I’ve negotiated my share of snow on this walk, and I’m not “supposed” to encounter any more. It’s probably just some beautiful white limestone cliffs.  Denial has always been a defining trait for humans.

And there it was: Snow. Again. Of course. The rain I encountered 2 days ago, fell as snow up here and it lingers around for many days at 2500m altitude in November, even in this dry, warm part of the US. With nighttime temperatures around freezing and gusty winds, it has consolidated into ice. It’s slippery and I carefully watch my feet as I push on, as careful as you can when you try to clock 50.000 footsteps, a marathon, a day. I’m happier than ever, actually. Because nature has only strewn a fine 5cm layer, so the trail is clearly visible and, though cold and windy, the weather is clear. No risk of getting lost, and I should be able to make it over the pass before sunset and set camp at lower altitude to avoid the nuisance of camping in the snow. Lonely snow covered mountains, deep endlessly flat valleys, a myriad of intersecting animal tracks, blue skies, no risk of more snow for now, fresh cold temperatures, simplicity, alone in this stunning winter wonderland once again. And hey, now water is literally lying around me, stored in solid-state.

Beau-ti-ful! All the glory without the worry.

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Until. I lost. My trekkingpole. Yes, it really was that painful. I had walked 2500km with that trekkingpole and had grown addicted, even mentally connected, to it. Fumbling around with my camera while trying to balance my gear, one of the poles slide over the steep 60-degree sloping ice-covered mountain side. It was lost, I knew it immediately. I gaze in disbelief as it gains speed like an Olympic luge into the abyss thousands of feet below me. FUCK. No chance of retrieving it, it’s lost for good, or worse, I should say. I can easily finish the walk with one pole, it’s not the end of the world, but I need both to pitch my tent, to stay dry and warm. 400 miles of trail to go, 3 weeks of walking. Guess I’ll be “cowboy-camping” for the rest of this journey: sleeping unsheltered on the ground, beneath the freezing cold, desert sky, sincerely hoping to avoid further rain. Getting soaked in freezing temperatures, alone without a shelter in high altitudes is the exact recipe for disaster. Statiscally “exposure”, as it is called, is the biggest killer among hikers.

“I could have lost my camera”

“Good thing I didn’t fall and injured myself”

“It’s the desert! It shouldn’t rain for the next 3 weeks, don’t need a tent”

“Hell, the beauty of the snow was all worth it”

“Still got one pole to walk with, better than none”

“Maybe I can engineer some makeshift shelter, if shit hits the fan”

“Embrace the challenge, you’ll learn in the process”

I’m full of hope and quickly cheer myself up. Anger, frustration, hindsight-knowledge, regrets, blame, panic, what-if’s, fear: all of those feelings are natural and might even be merited in times of trouble. Only problem is that none of it is productive, it’s a dead-end and you simply impede yourself further, instead of moving forward. A positive outlook blended with perseverance, perspiration and planning, on the contrary, are very productive.

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So I “walk on, walk on, with hope in my heart” as The Beatles and Liverpool-fans are singing. I am walking alone though, at least physically. But with a wide smile, while gently apologizing to the pole for my negligence.

Desert Desolation

The high mountains were behind me and as I kept walking further South, the landscape would continue to turn more dry, more scrubby. The desert. I had been anticipating this section, longing for it, though it was an ambiguous sort of curiosity that drew me in. The solitude, lack of rain, desolate scenery, exotic vegetation, warm nights, coyotes and rattlesnakes all sounded enticing to me. On the other hand,  severe lack of water did cause some worries, as I know all too well how precious this liquid is to my, and everyone elses, very existence. This shadeless, dry, sun-scorched scrubland could prove outright dangerous if I run out of water, especially when you try to walk a marathon a day and the trail is empty with days between another trail-encounter with a fellow human-being.

But it would all work out just fine, I told myself. Like most things do, if you put your uncompromised effort into the task and look for opportunities and solutions, not obstacles and excuses. Desert, here I come.

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Thorny bushes and cacti starts to appear as the gritty sound of my lonely footsteps against the gravelly trail breaks the silence. The wind is low and lazy like the lizards that are tanning on each and every rock and it seems contagious; I most of all feel like seeking out some stamp-sized shade-spot and just… sit. My feet are aching and hurting which they are not suppose to at this point, not after 3000km. But the heat, the dry air and the fine sand that accumulates in my shoes, proves what others have warned me: the desert can easily be the toughest part of the trail for your feet. But I can’t just sit there, cause the heat, the scrubs, the cacti and the sun will do just the same and I’ll loose that “staring-contest” within long. Besides, I have 37km to the next water source and need to get there by the evening, so walk on, stay on.

By this time, I can’t really develop blisters on my feet anymore, they are too hardened and large parts of them have turned into rough sandpaper, like the hands of an old brick-layer. Instead you get what they call “hot spots”, and they are about as comfortable to walk with as a tattoo-in-the-making. Dress them in sports-tape and remember to take your shoes off as often as you can, let ’em breathe. And…suck up the pain.

It’s so lonely, so barren. And it isn’t flat out here either. There’s no discounts, The Pacific Crest Trail continues its course on the, well… crest, and I guess that makes good sense. Up over mountains, down into the valleys, repeat, all day, every day. The hot-spots are fluctuating and I do my best to keep them at bay a nd damage-control them as they bloom. Luckily, it’s amazing out here: the naked hills, the silence, the amazing cacti, cicadas singing. The odd spider lurks and scorpions are starting to show: the small-sized ones, the ones that are trail-rumored to be the most poisonous. Admire, wonder, respect, give them space and don’t touch; just like women and fine art.

I reach a water source, a tiny trickle that carefully can be caught and squeezed through a filter before drinking to keep you alive. I stash up on it, as I have an intimidating distance to the next trickle, a staggering 70km. I push on, with 7 liters in my backpack which makes it heavier than all of my other belongings, combined. Still have to ration it, but can’t carry more, all my containers are full. I “camel-up” as they say: forcefully drinking all the water you can while at the water source and when you can’t drink anymore and are about to puke, then you drink one more liter. Buuuurp.

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I walk and walk and walk and signs of civilization are showing around me: giant wind-farms with 5000 turbines take over the landscape. Still don’t see any humans. But the turbines are a clear sign, civilization is close and within a day I see the highway and reach it late it the evening. I’ve been walking for 6 days and need to get into town to resupply for more food, but there’s no point in hitchhiking now, as nobody picks you up after dark. And you might not even want to, after all, humans are , by far, the most dangerous animal for any adventurer. I find a little bush to shelter me from the wind and wake up next morning, walk to the highway and stand there with my thumb out and the largest smile I can muster in the stormy cold morning as the sun breaks the horizon. Within 15 minutes, a windfarm technician has picked me up and is thrilled to help a foreigner, walking across the country, with a ride into town.

I’m thrilled to be back in civilization for a quick stint and enjoy a large Mexican omelette at the local, lovely and ohh-so-American diner. The waitress laughs out loud and is deeply impressed when I top my order with 4 large blueberry pancakes, a 16oz OJ, that’s American for orange juice, and endless-refills on my coffee. Love these quick stints in civilization, though I quickly start to miss the trail, the wilderness

Now that I’m in it, the desert seems doable, I’ll pull it off, I’ll walk it. Funny how things appear more difficult and intimidating until you simply throw yourself into it and just do it, deal with it.

Out huntin’

Walking down from my succesfull summit-attempt of the highest mountain in mainland US, Mt Whitney 4420m, I felt a comfortable sense of achievement. From here, the trail will drop in altitude and I will be, mostly, safe from snow on the remaining 1100km until the Mexican border. Even if snow hits, the mountain passes are much lower and I will quickly drop back into even lower valleys with altitudes below 2000m. I’m snow-safe, -ish.

Leaving the inexplicably beauty of the Sierras was an ambiguous feeling. I’d made it safe through the snow, but I know from years of cross-continent cycling, that I miss the mountains and the strenous exhaustion they carry with them, the day I leave them behind. Luckily, the trail doesn’t disappoint. The high-alpine Ocean of Grey Granite is replaced by lower meadows and white-sandy high desert plateaus with curve old trees lonely defending their right to survive in this arid, desolate landscape. Many trees have slowly succumbed to the rough environment and are left as relic of a past time: sun-tanned and bruised from centuries of raw weather. Descending further, the high-desert is replaced by lower scrubby landscapes where only small sage-bushes and chaparral are surviving the dry ordeal. No shade and little water as I continue my southbound hike towards the Mexican border, closer and closer to the terminus of this trail. The change in scenery when leaving the Sierras is likely the fastest and most dramatic on this entire trail, that runs 4200km through all available bio-spheres in mainland US, except for savanna. Now, the desert is showing, and I’ve been anticipating it, looking forward to it. I’ve learned to appreciate the silent isolation of deserts throughout my years of adventuring and are longing for it by now.

I reach a little community with 200 inhabitants after 6 days through the wilderness. A friday-evening shared community dinner is being shared by 20 locals outside of the general store and, together with my hiker friend, we are welcomed to join it and attack the leftovers with the appetite of a bear fresh out of hibernation. Chips, dip, homemade sausage, traditional american cornbread, american chili. Ate 2 large plates of food before my stomach finally refused to accept more nutrition. Yummy.

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A local man is inviting us to join them at the local bar and we quickly accept. The Grumpy Bear is a classical american roadside-bar, could’ve been taken straight out of a movie-set. Rubbing shoulders with the locals I learn a bit about the community. “We’re one of the last communities in the US to NOT have a telephone landline connection. Better keep it that way”, “This bar got closed down until recently, a fist-fight resulted in some guns being fired and the police shut it down”. Wild Wild west out here. Our local friend, Armando, invites us for a couple of beer at his humble little part-time home, a nicely outfitted trailer in the woods. He is set for an early morning wake-up as him and his friend Mike are heading out hunting tomorrow. After 3-4 beers, I muster the courage to pop the quetion :”Can I come?”. Armando looks at me for a second or two before his granite-face breaks into a smile, “I’ll take you huntin’ “. Perfect.

Next morning we wake up at 5am and Armando cooks up some breakfast burritos to go with the freshly brewed coffee. Mike drops by, it’s dark outside and communication is whispered around the kitchen. The “huntin atmosphere” has already started. Pack water and food, “Henrik, wear this camo-shirt”, load the guns into the pick-up truck, ready to go. The pickup winds its way across the mountains as all three of us are anxiously quiet. Conversation is formed by one-liners and grunts and Mike parks his pickup at what seems to be a random location in the deep woods on the mountain. I go with Armando and we silently walk off-trail towards a little canyon. “Can’t shoot before sunrise, its the law” he whispers as he is following deer-tracks and scouting the mountains-slopes for animals. I tag along, stay quiet, follow the tracks and scout for deer, doing what Armando does. Monkey see, monkey do.

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Excitement starts when he spots a “deer bed” and concludes that a deer has spent the night there until very recently. Within long we spot the first group of deer, 100m downslope from us. “All does, I can only shoot buck” he says, referring to the regulations of only hunting the males. Within long, we spot another group of doe above us. Both groups are monitoring us, listening with their dinner-plate sized ears. “Two groups of doe, there must be a buck around” Armando says. “You monitor that group, don’t loose them. They sometimes fix their gaze in a certain direction for 5-10 seconds; possibly monitoring any nearby buck and his reaction to our presence. Don’t loose’em, keep track”. I am proud that he takes my assistance serious and not just tag me along like the ignorant tourist I am, I feel part of our little hunting team.

We never spotted a buck and hence never got to shoot at one. I still can’t decide whether that was disappointing or relieving. But the experience was unforgettable: huntin’ with the locals.

On Top of The World

So the winter had showed its teeth on the 3rd day in the Sierras, it was rough and a little scary but I made it through the winter wonderland a happy man. I still had 300 miles of this high alpine scenery to cross and was hoping that no more snow would hit me though the calendar kept ticking: it was coming to mid-October and I still had the highest mountain pass ahead of me and a summit-attempt of the highest mountain in mainland US. Nothing safe, yet.

Mirror-calm lakes are reflecting the naked vertical granite faces as I approach one of the most famous National Parks in the US: Yosemite. Having walked 8 days through the wilderness without seeing much people, it was a shock to walk into this marvelous gem of a National Park: even though it was mid-fall, Yosemite seemed like Disneyland to me: shuttle-buses, pizza restaurants and all campsites completely full. Having arrived on foot and entering the Park on some small remote trails, I didn’t even have to pay the entrance fee! I hang around the laundry building and probably look a little too “hiker-trashy” with my pack laying around me and eating a block of cheese with my hands, straight from the package, as I don’t carry a knife, it’s too heavy. Random people drop by and ask about my hike and I happily explain that I am heading to Mexico. “Get outta here!”, “for real? Mexico?”, “… and you started in Canada you said?”. The Americans have a wonderful straightforward approach and have no problems small talking to strangers, a little different than the reserved European mode of sticking to yourself. They give me left-over food and a guy even dumps a six pack of beer at my table: “that’s for the effort, dude!”. His wife, a woman my moms age, looks pitifully at me and hands me 5 dollars: “that’s for a warm shower, young man”. Thanks!

I climb out of the tourist Mecca with a loaded backpack with 8 days of food, heading towards the highest passes on the entire trail, many above 3500 meter altitude. One by one, they blow my mind and beauty is exploding around me in all directions. The weather is holding up and the days stay sunny and warm, though the nights drop well below freezing. Hardly anyone else on the trail, I see 2-3 people daily as my pack gets lighter and lighter, day by day, as I eat through my supplies and head deeper into this untouched, raw, alpine wilderness.

The highest pass is the last one: Forester Pass at 13200 feet, 4020 meter that is. Reaching the ridge-crossing at midday, the wind is dead, the sun is baking and I eat lunch on the highest point on the entire 4200km Pacific Crest Trail, happily gaining comfort that I’ll escape the Sierras before a new snowstorm rolls in.

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“Right next” to the trail is a very interesting little detour: Mt Whitney, the highest mountain in mainland USA with 14505 feet, 4420 meter. It’s only 15km off-trail so together with my new found hiker-friend, Bloody Mary, I summit the mythical mountain, ascending through spectacular postcard-pretty barren granite landscape and deep-blue lakes. We reach the top and there is a 360 degree view of peaks all around me. A couple of other people have made it up here and we salute them before they start their descend. Photograph, enjoy the moment.

Then, all of a sudden, I am all alone on the summit: the highest person out of 300 million inhabitants in the United States of America. I made it through the Sierras, It’s all downhill from here…

The White-Out

More than anything else, it was intimidating. Not to start walking again, but simply the thought of start walking. One week off trail, drinking and partying, completely and masochistically undermining my physical shape that I had spend 2,5 months and 3000 km to built up. Could I, seriously, start walking a marathon a day again? Across giant mountain ridges, the highest peak in mainland US with a loaded backpack, far far away from civilization? Did I have any other legitimate options? The thought of quitting was even more painful, so the math was simple = walk on and fail if needed, but at least fail with pride. Fail trying, not not trying.

This is The Sierras. The highest section of the trail. The coldest, the most isolated, the most oxygen-deprived, the most weather-risky, the steepest and the heaviest loaded part of the entire trail. A government-approved 20 liter bear-canister for my food is squeezed inside my tiny 45 liter backpack, a legal requirement as bears are so prevalent and habituated that they will attack and steal you food. As if bear-attacks wasn’t enough, the risk of loosing your food with 200km to civilization is another added risk. The 500 bucks fine for not carrying the bear-canister is another risk in my universe. No bear-spray, it’s too heavy, just my knowledge of how to scare and fight off the greedy ursine terrorists if they dare front me. And its October, the snow can hit anytime, though I’ve agreed with myself that it won’t. Think again.

From the beginning, it seemed wrong. The long endless blue-sky days were gone and my first day entering the Sierras was windy. Strong winds with mean gusts. Then dark clouds drifted across the sky like a scene from a poor horror flick. The trail climbs and climbs and soon I break the mythical 10.000 feet altitude marker. My tent is knocked over in the wind, but still, the sky releases no precipitation. So far so good, but I’ve just started and I have 380 miles and 3 weeks to go, everything seems possibly. Day 2 gets rough and the rain starts. Cold, horizontal rain at exposed ridges at 3000+ meters altitude. Somehow, it felt good, “bring it on, I’ll fuckin’ shoulder it, now or never” I’m thinking. It pays off and the rain stops as I descend below 3000m. I managed to keep warm. Set camp, start a fire to keep warm, but a drizzly rain starts again. Guess I go to bed early.

I wake in the middle of the night and the drippy rain-sound have stopped. Perfect, it was just a quick high-altitude mountain-shower. I leave the comfy shelter of my tent to take a wee and are shocked. The rain has turned to snow. I try not to and simply go to sleep in the illusion that the soft white stuff is not happening. I wake in the morning and my tent is covered in 10 cm of snow. Creeping out of the tent, I address my hiker-friend Loohoo. He sums it up with a one-liner: “Shit just got real…”.

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We have 90km of backtracking to escape it and 150km ahead of us to next exit-point, so there is not much to do other than to push on. Essentially, it’s not a problem yet, but if it keeps snowing the trail will soon disappear and without a GPS we are, literally, lost in the wilderness. 2,5 months and 3000km of hiking to beat the snow seems to have failed. “A marathon a day keeps the snow away” had been the saying, and it didn’t work. So walk on, mentally, physically. Optimistically we do, and the morning is a perfectly quiet, white, lonely landscape. Beautiful beyond belief. The snowfall has slowed and I am enjoying the magical scenery, in the illusion that the worst has passed. The trail is still visible and we are progressing, slowly but steadily. A 3400 meter pass is ahead of us and we cross it in the afternoon as the snow picks up and visibility drops to 20m. “We gotta get off this ridge before nightfall” we enthusiastically agree and fight our way across it “down” to a 2900m valley before we set camp, brush off the snow from some dead trees and calm ourselves in the heat from our campfire. What a day! “Tomorrow, the sun will reign” we agree, halfway sending a prayer into the unknown system of the weather-gamble.

It did. It was blue skies and the sun rose out of the clouded valleys, illuminating a scenery that looked like a painting. We are ecstatic, this will be the most mind-blowing hiking day of all times. We climb towards the next 3500m pass, but surprisingly the clouds climb out of the valley with us. Everything turns black and white and you could see, could smell, could hear the trouble. Wind moves in. Fog moves in. Horizontal snow is “falling”. A white-out, as they call it, 20m visibility and nothing but white everywhere you look: snow, fog, wind and white. Disorientation at 3500m altitude. The trail zig-zags in all directions, so our map and compass is next-to-useless. “The deer knows this terrain, let’s follow the animal-tracks” Loohoo says. He’s got a point, cause bears, deers and cats are not stupid, they use the hiking-trails just like we do. It is, after all, the easiest way to travel across the wilderness. So we are guided by the “randomness” of nature, which I by now vest a divine belief in. Rightfully so, it turns out.

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Moving across the endless white terrain we make it across miles after miles of snow and at some point the fog starts to lift. I recognize certain topographical features and compare it with the map and compass. Yup, the deer were right, were are, literally, on track. Later it starts to rain and tough it is freezing cold, it is good sign: the 2-day snowstorm is lifting. Camp at a lake and quickly hide away in my tent and sleeping bag, somewhat dry.

Next morning it happened: The sun rose from a calm, completely blue sky and not a wind is moving. No clouds, no nothing. By noon, Loohoo and I are both laughing while drying out our sleeping bags as the sun is celebrating its victory over the passing low-front.

In hindsight it was perfect: just the correct amount of high-altitude snowstorm to create a stunning scenery while making you uncomfortably scared and remember the Sierras with a vigorous respect. But that’s life: problems are always so much nicer after they are dealt with and as they become history and great memories.

Thanks dear deer, you lead the way!

Willingly derailed

Something happened a little while after reaching that halfway point of the trail. I started growing increasingly sure that I would be able to finish walking the entire length of the trail, started doing the math in my head: “If I walk this many miles and take this many days off then I will make it by this and that date” and so on. Before that, I had simply just walked and walked and then walked some more, happily accumulating mile after mile, without knowing where the trail took me. Ironically, the smell of success wasn’t a good feeling. Something was lost. The insecurity.

There was still one major obstacle for succeeding, something that not only posed as a time-challenge but a safety risk as well: I had to make it past The High Sierras of California before the snow would start to fall. Being trapped in a blizzard at 4000m altitude without any escape-options could lead to some serious consequences. So even though I had gained confidence in my legs ability to carry me across the US, the weather was still an unknown factor. By now, the only thing that could derail me.

Maybe that explains the completely illogical decision to take a week off, drinking and partying, just before I reached the notorious Sierras, the mountains that I had raced for months to reach before the snow. Playing with the fire, till the fire plays with me.

Or maybe it was simply the desire to forget the trail for a little while and have a grand old time together with a bunch of other hikers that were on the same quest as I: walking across America. I had bumped into several other of these hikers during the last couple of weeks and as I was taking a short one-day-off, we had all gathered in a little village just 100 miles before the Sierras would start. It started with one beer and the elaborate stories of each our walks: Close-encounters with bears, people hiking double-marathon days, creepy people that had picked us up while hitch-hiking and ridiculous, way-too-detailed stories of the nature of someone’s…pooh. The beer kept flowing and the stories got better. At one point, someone managed to borrow a guitar from a local and as one rest-day led to another, more hikers joined the party. We were all camped in tents next to the village church, playing with fire in case any divinity was looking. Simply having a great time.

Finally, on day three we all agreed that it was time to get back to business and start walking again. However, by now the trail in front of us was closed for the next 100 miles due to a giant fire that had exploded in size during our isolated little hiker-party. Oops.

Minke popped another beer while we all contemplated our options and got ready for a hitchhike-attempt around the fire-closure. His girlfriend, Chaga, is staring into her smartphone, and her next sentence rips the depressed atmosphere apart: “This girl called 300 is going to a Bluegrass Festival nearby. You guys coming?”. 10 minutes later and the fire-closed trail is forgotten, 8 new beers are popped open and the whole party is restarted. You bet we are coming! Let the Sierras stand right where they are and let someone pray that the weather holds up and that the snow is not about to roll-in, cause I’m going to a Bluegrass Festival! As a foreigner, I really have no choice, it’s a piece of American Culture. Or at least it’s a great excuse to keep the party going and forget the challenge of The Sierras.

We all went and it was amazing and I spent all my money and my body had never felt more violated than after that week of non-stop partying. The idea of walking to McDonalds for hangover-breakfast seemed like a physical challenge.

Just ahead of us, the greatest challenge of them all was waiting: 400 miles of saw-tooth profiled trail, several 3500m mountain-passes above the altitude-sickness level and no escape-routes out of the misery if the snow decided to drop. Long, heavy 8-day stints between resupply options. Proper Wilderness, the longest draw-a-straight-line-section in mainland USA without any roads. As the month of October was rolling in, each of us were silently and comfortably hoping that the weather would forgive our laissez-faire attitude and postpone the snow, like we had postponed our walk.

As it turned out, it didn’t. It hit us all, full-scale on day 3: horizontal snow, complete white-out. But I’m still here and I’m still walking.

Touched by Nature

Walking 8 to 10 hours daily, months on end, through the wilderness does something to your mind. Though your body is physically stressed, your mind becomes completely at easy. Life is very simply out here: walk, eat, sleep, repeat. The scenery changes slowly, day to day, and you rarely see any other humans, just their footprint and once in a while you might cross some paved road which feel strangely out of place and artificial, while it comfortingly assures you that the Normal World still exists. As I get into the Normal World, I’m stressed: shop food, wash clothes, contact family, order new gear. The trail soothes me.

Animals are more common out here. Squirrels and chipmunks are constantly present around you, fighting, hiding, eating. Giant pine cones the size of footballs drop from the soaring sugar-pine trees, as the rodents attempt to eat their seeds. “Widow makers” they call them, as myths hold tales of hunters that die from the impact as the heavy, sap-filled cones fall from 60 meters height and strike an unlucky soul.

Deers are a daily sight and always refreshing: normally gathered in small packs, they hear you well before you see them. Majestically jumping their way through the forest, they retreat in an elegant manner and stop 30 meters away with raised ears and a fixed gaze to make sure I don’t have any aggressive tendencies.
I reach a spring after dark and are too exhausted to continue, so I’m sleeping here, I conclude. There is no room to pitch a tent, so I cowboy-camp as it is called: sleeping under the open, endless starpacked sky. Wake up in the dead black night as I hear a rustle very close to me. I yell, better scare him off, in case it’s a bear. Turn on my headlamp and see a dear 5 meters from me. He is “lightstruck” and just stand there. “Fuck off, I’m sleeping!” I yell at him. Still, he just stands there looking at me. Then he continues what he came here for: eating the grass where I took a pee, to get some much needed salt. I shake my head and go back to sleep, underneath the stars.

Snakes are becoming more and more common. Some sections have rattlesnakes, which could likely be the most dangerous animal on the trail. They’ll never strike without a provocation, but should you step on one when he is tanning on the trail, he might issue a counter-strike and that’s the last thing you want and likely the last thing you’ll see in this life.
I walk for hours to reach a spring, but it’s dry as I arrive. Dammit, another 1,5 hours to the next chance of water, it’s noon and I’m frying hot. Finally I make it and gulp a liter before I even consider putting my backpack on the ground. Time for lunch. I’m boiling water in my little 200g lightweight stove, made from up-cycled beer cans, while writing a bit in my journal. Insects are always swarming next to the springs, so I occasionally wave them off me, 6 days without a shower while walking 40 km a day, and your body becomes a delicious buffet for the flies. Something is tickling on my right foot and I am about to wave it off as I raise my head from my journal: it’s not a fly. It’s a snake! He is cuddling against my warm feet, probably thinking that I am a warm dead stone. Instantly, I pull my feet away, shocked. The snake is similar shocked to find that the warm stone is alive and our little cuddly love-affair ends abruptly, as he glides off me and into the bushes.

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And bears. I’ve seen 7 by now, all of them shy, all of them black bears. And each encounter is magic, though 2 incidents stand out. Occasionally, you hear loud noises of broken tree branches, as a beer escapes. It’s not the majestic retreat that deers produce but instead a clumsy “straight line through everything” escape. Often, I don’t even see the bear, just hear it. A beautiful big male is crashing through some bushes and I see him escape unto some open stone slaps, 30 meters above me. He seems alert but calm, just like me. Like both of us are reluctantly curious about the encounter. So I do what you’re not suppose to: drop my backpack and my trekking poles to take a photograph. It worked, finally, I nice clean shot of these forest kings.
Another incident took me completely by surprise. I camp at a little creek and eat breakfast alone, in the calm morning. A rustle. I turn my head as the bear turns his and we are both completely shocked. Its an adult, full size bear, less than 10 meters from defenseless little me. Not good, a surprised bear could be dangerous, he might charge you, simply because he is caught off-guard and resolves to the “best defense is an offense” strategy. Luckily, he doesn’t. He crashes through the woods in a straight, demolishing line, as if it was his very last chance for survival. Pheeew, close call. Back to eating my miserably, tasteless instant-oatmeal.

And then, one day, it happened. I saw a cat. The first live, wild cat I’ve ever seen. Granted, I’ve never been on an African safari, where you are almost guaranteed to see the Big Cats. I’d love to go, but you’ll still be sitting on a cruise-jeep with 20 other shutter-flicking tourists.
Here, I was all alone and hadn’t seen any signs of human existence for more than a day. It was a small cat, a lynx. He ran out of the bushes as I peacefully came walking. 10 meters above me, he stopped. I stared dead into his eyes as his cautious ears raised to register my every move. He seemed at ease, like he knew that he was much faster and “at home” than the starstruck human who was looking back at him in awe. We both just stood there and I felt so extremely small compared to the lynx, which is the size of a small dog. It was obvious, so obvious, that he was much larger than silly, little me.

An extremely moving experience, never, ever to be forgotten. One of several on this “walk to infinity”. On the Pacific Crest Trail you not only walk through nature. You walk back to nature. Where we all came from.

Two-and-a-half million steps to halfway

No fires ahead, at least not for the next week or so, and that’s longer than my normal planning-horizon reaches. It kinda stops at the next option for a food resupply, and then my world starts over again. Tank up on naughty, nasty oversized burgers, fill your pack with terrible freeze-dried dehydrated food and instant mashed potatoes. And walk thru the wilderness for another 200km or so. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat…21 times and you’ve crossed The US. I’m getting there, closer and closer for every step.

A notorious section is ahead of me , a 50 km dry section without any springs, creeks or ponds. Only one sensible thing to do: a one-day’er. You don’t wanna walk with more of the disgustingly heavy, yet preciously important, thing called water than necessary. To carry water for an overnight camp would be very heavy, so better just walk it in one go. After all, water is the heaviest thing I carry, my tent is weighing in second with 738 grams. With stakes and stuff-sack, that is. It’s an average weight for a tent among “thru-hikers” as we’re called: The Dreamers who throw close to half-a-year of their life after the idea of walking the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail. Some sport tents at 15 ounces, that’s 420 grams. Some just “cowboy camp” under the open sky and hope it doesn’t rain for 5 months. I’m a princess, I actually carry a tent.

It’s hot and my pack is “heavy” as I’ve just resupplied for the next 6 days. No shady, blue skies, no water. I push and make it the 50 km to the next water supply, which is a water tap at a state-park which features a spectacular 300m underground natural “lava tunnel”. It’s off-season, so I’m here all by my self.

2 days later I cross the largest waterfall in California, Burney Falls, and marvel at the beauty. Alone, again, and it’s even a weekend!

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It was the most beautiful yet humble marker I’ve ever seen. Right there, in the dense forest was a little concrete-post. No view, just trees and this beautiful tiny concrete post. ” PCT midpoint” it said. Wow. I’m halfway. Halfway! I’ve made it halfway across this trail, halfway to infinity. I have taken, at least, 2.500.000 steps since I started.

I remember talking to another thru-hiker, heading the opposite direction, that explained the sadness of that post. “You’ve walked, literally, for months. And then you realize that you’re only halfway…” He explained. Northern California is where you make or break, this is the section where most pull the plug and admit that the trail is longer than their determination to finish it.

To me, there was nothing depressing about that post. It was a revelation, nothing less. Halfway. I started to believe that I could maybe walk it all. Just maybe. That’s the most optimistic I’ve ever been. For each step I’ve taken since July 6th, I just gotta take yet another one. Not too bad. A gulped some water as I stared at that concrete post. Water, my precious water. Bottle was half full, and that’s exactly how I felt. Not half empty. Halfway. The kliche-analogy about the half-full or half-empty glass has never been more obvious to me.

It was a beautiful post and a little register-notebook was sitting inside a metal-box with a sticker that said “USA-land of the free, home of the brave”. That’s ok, I think. The Americans can be proud to have constructed, maintained and managed a trail that runs 4300km from border to border. And it’s not the only multi-state, cross-country trail they’ve made. It’s all free, in case you’re tempted. Good job, yanks.

I took a zero-day, the trail-lingo for a no-walking day, at a little roadside restaurant that I passed, one of the tiny pockets of civilization that you get a rare glimpse of. Some other hikers were there, we sit outside, drinking some beer. A huge biker-gang stops by, Harley’s, leather vests, tattooed faces, bandanas, 50 bikes and everything. The OG Riderz from Oakland. Bad Ass Mother-effers. We raise your hands to say hello and within long, Tha Prezident is kicking it with us. ” y’all walking to fucking… fucking Mexico? That’s bad-ass!” He asks as he is sharing a puff on the wacko-tobacco that the hikers are smoking, the only light-weight mean of intoxication that is carried on the trail. “Yup, at least that’s where we’re heading” we all laugh. In good standing with the bad guys, apparently.

I walk through endless forests, crossing mountain ridge and valleys. Ready to set camp, but the promised creek is dry. No water. Luckily there’s “only” 7 km to the next water-source, a lake, that should be reliable. I walk through these dense lonely forests, all alone, haven’t seen anyone all day, it’s pitch black and my headlamp is leading my way. Reach the lake, but it’s low in water level and I need to balance out on a tree-trunk to reach the precious water. I loose my balance and fall into the 20cm murky water. An intense smell of decay and rotten mud is rising around me as I stand, surprised and slightly scared, covered in slimy swamp-water from knees and down. I curse and swear out loud: tired, cold, hungry, thirsty and angry. The night is black and thousands of stars are shining above me when I realize that no-one can hear my hysterical outburst. So then, what’s the point?

I break into a huge smile and laugh about the entire situation: alone in the dark night, fallen into the swampy lake, angry like a teenage-girl. Haha. Gotta get my water. My precious. Cause my water bottles are only halfway-full.

Lucky Luck and Life

The sun creeps above the crested horizon as I am creeping out of my tent, perfectly pitched on a ridge with 360 degree views. It’s 6.45am and I’ve slept my usual 9 hours, a fine dose of rest when you walk 8+ hours a day. The last spasms of summer are fighting to keep the morning temperature at a comfortable level. Today is a Nero for me, as trail-lingo calls it: a near-zero, that is. A day where you almost does zero miles. I’m heading into Ashland to resupply food, wash my clothes, take a shower. And maybe even a haircut. I only carry one pair of clothes so the laundry-task is always a bit funny… What to wear while “all” my clothes are being washed? “Errrrm… Guess you can borrow this bath-rope” the friendly lady at the resort informs me. I washed my clothes twice and my socks actually got almost-clean. My shirt is beyond the hope of cleanliness by now, at least visually. Granted, it only leaves my body when it’s getting washed. A sign in front of the shower requires me to pre-wash: “wash legs and feet in outdoor sink, before entering shower”. Guess they are used to “hiker-trash” around here.

“Better hitchhike from here, you’ll get stuck in Seiad Valley if you continue South. Hardly any traffic down there, due to the smoke” the resort manager tells me. The trail is closed from Seiad Valley due to wildfires and I get a bit stubborn about it: if the trail is open for the next 65 miles, then I’m walking that section, even if I end up in no-where. Don’t wanna skip more than absolutely necessary. And there seems to be a bus that leaves with the typical frequency of American Public Transport: 3 times weekly. Next bus is in 2 days, guess I’m pushing on with two long 33 mile days to get there.

“Shoot, the fires might have been brought under control in the next two days, and the trail will open” I am optimistically thinking. Gotta give luck a chance. Luck. What is luck?

I push for yet another 30+ day and make it halfway to Seiad Valley. Next day works out just fine, but 10 miles before The Goalline, I cross the last ridge and a scary view fills the horizon: the fires are very far off from being under control. A massive wall of smoke is covering an area that extends for tens of miles. Helicopters are circling around the fire-complex like tiny distant flies against a burning haystack in a failing attempt to control it. Or “To suppress it” as they say. A nearby town carries the name of Happy Camp, a reference to some serious luck during the Gold-rush days, and the official name of the fire is hence called the Happy Camp Fire. One helluva campfire, that is, and I’m not very happy.

So I make it into Seiad Valley in time for the bus. Out here, it isn’t called a bus but is referred to, in writing and in conversation, as The County Stage. It’s a modern day version of the Wild Wild West and I joined the locals for a cup of coffee in the one and only shop in town, a roadside cafe. A newspaper article from 2003 is framed on the wall, informing me that some city-slicker from New York Times made it out here and put them on the National top 10 of roadside home style diners, or “pigouts” as it apparently is referred to.
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The wildfire starts half a mile from here and everything is clouded in a dense suffocating smoke, reducing the visibility to 30 meters. The bus is scheduled to leave at 8.23am and as time ticks on to 9 o’clock, I finally admit if to myself: the “County Stage” ain’t coming today, because its Labour Day. So I’ve walked 65 miles in 2 days to catch a bus that doesn’t leave because it happens to be the one-and-only public holiday that Americans allow themselves. How ironic. Guess I’m hitchhiking from here, but the prospects are terrible: 100 miles on 3 different roads. I need to stop in some town to resupply food and there’s no cars on the road due to the fire. Not an easy hitch. For weird reasons, I was perfectly calm about the situation, something told me that it’ll all sort it self.

“Guess I’m starting with a huge American omelette for breakfast” I’m concluding to myself as I head back into the wonderful roadside cafe. Locals are reading the newspaper from the bar stools in front of the local mama that is busy frying hashbrowns and bacon. Conversation centers around the huge fire:
“Old Tom nearly had his barn burned down, but the fire crew saved’im”
“Got my stuff packed ina pickup, so I’m ready to roll if they call an evacuation”
“You know me John, I ain’t to happy about them environmentalists, but they might be right about some of that Global Warming stuff”
“Well, the drought and the fires does seem sturdier that’s fo sho”
It’s oozing of “American rural small town wild west” atmosphere here, I love the place and so would you.

But omelette is eaten and its time for action: gotta try to catch a hitch. I stand outside the cafe with a “hiker sign” and nothing really happens. Only fire vehicles are around and they aren’t allowed to pick up hitchhikers. Random firecrews drop by the cafe, some of them inmates from prison that gets a discount on their sentence if they assist in fighting wildfires. More than 2000 men are involved with fighting this Happy Camp Fire. 100+ water trucks and 8 helicopters are busy, there is firefighters from many different states, a public notice informs me.

My hopes are dwindling, but I have no other option than to hitchhike, as the next County Stage leaves in 2 days. But then the miracle happened: an elderly gentleman exits the cafe and walk straight towards his car, parked next to me with my hitchhiker sign. He looks doubtfully at me and I smile back. “Where ya goan?”
“Trying to get away from the fire, the trail is closed” I answer in a positive tone. “I’m going into town, throw your stuff in the back” he says. Perfect.
“I’m heading down the highway 3, think the trail crosses down there” he continues “welcome to ride all the way if you want”. I can’t believe my own ears, cause that is literally where I need to go, exactly. “That would be perfect” I exclaim, unable to hide my enthusiasm. “I need to stop in town, I can swing by the store if you need to buy summin’ ” he says. So I can even do my resupply, what extreme luck!
However, It felt like something else, not simply “luck”. I sensed it already more than an hour ago, by my calm reaction to the non-arriving bus. Not just coincidence or luck, something more complex.

We cruise through old towns, protected by law to keep their western 1850-something settler and miner facade. My gracious driver is a retired manager for the US Forest Service. “Just at the level where you still get dirty hands and boots on the ground. One level higher and you’re just moving paper in a glass building in the city, which ain’t me” he explains. We talk about wilderness reservations and conservation issues as we moved across the dry landscape. I get off at the trailhead 95 miles further south, exactly at the point where the trail is open again. Fire 0 Henrik 2.

I walk along the empty trail, super happy about the luck that maybe wasn’t luck maybe was everything and nothing. A crackling noise bursts out of the side if the trail, like an aggressive grasshopper but louder and more consistent. A rattlesnake. He warns me politely “stay clear of me or I’ll strike”. I barely have time to write a goodbye letter if he were to bite me. I walk until sunset to reach a creek, but it’s dry as I arrive. Walk another two miles and scramble down a steep gravel-slope to reach a tiny lake in this desolate desert-landscape. Filter water, eat food, go to bed.

The hitch-around could’ve taken days. It took 2 hours. I knew now that it was more than luck. Does fortune, indeed, favor the brave and who is it and how does it choose?

Apocalypse Near

One day to rest my stressed ankle after my 100 miles-in-3-days stunt and I am anxious to get going again. The views of spectacular Crater Lake understandably attracts swarms of tourists and it gets a little hectic when you are used to the Silence of the Woods. But a memo on the notice board in front of the souvenir store brings terrible news: 45 miles of trail closure due to a wildfire. Dammit.

Talking to some other PCT hikers that are heading in the opposite direction, I realize that they had been escorted through the fire-zone and hence manage to avoid being de-railed off the trail. The risky bit is, if you disobey a fire closure you might get a steep 2500 dollar fine. That’s pretty much my budget for the entire walk and means I’ll be foraging huckleberries for dinner, together with the bears, for the remaining 3 months. And ok, the fire in itself is also a risk, if you are stupid enough to walk straight into the flames without noticing a slight rise in temperature. Natural Selection, dare I say?

The easy option is to get out on the highway with your thumb and try to hitchhike your way around the fire closure. However, Neil, a fellow hiker and friend by now, is brewing up a plan that has immense interest to me. He is downloading ancient topographic maps from the US Forest Service unto his smartphone and he might be getting somewhere. “Seems like we can take some alternative trails here and connect to these other trails and maybe reach some tiny gravel forest roads and then connect back to…” He thinks out loud. “How old are these maps?” I inquire. “Dunno” he says. “But you have a GPS in that smartphone, right?”. “Yup” he says and adds “could be a day or two longer, so stash up on food”. “Sound like great adventure, I’m game” I hear myself say.

We start walking the, officially closed, trail and are enjoying the complete silence that continues for hours. No one else are here? And we are getting closer and closer to a smoke-cloud with the mushroom-shape of a nuclear-bomb. “Guess they are serious about it, no one are being escorted through anymore” I conclude. “And we probably shouldn’t get closer to that fire, fine-wise and safety-wise” Neil adds. We look at each other. Commence Plan B, The Walkaround.

It all starts great. The alternative trail is actually a trail and we make progress, sleeping at a little meadow. Next day it becomes obvious that the trail has been abandoned, years, if not decades, before. We scramble through bushes, fight our way forward across giant fallen trees, guided by the topographic features around us and a GPS smartphone that is running low on battery. Now, this is adventure!

We are both bleeding from multiple places on our lower legs, nothing serious, just cuts and scruffles from the “bush whacking”, as they call it. Neil is a sturdy hiker, he has already hiked the entire PCT once before in 2012 when he “Northbounded” from Mexico to Canada. This year he is going the other way, against the mainstream current. SoBo’ing as its called. He is the kinda player you want on your team when you are outdoors and fooling around “behind enemy lines”.

We walk through large sections of dead forest and cross a river before we start to crash our way out of the valley. At one point, we connect back to a trail that actually seems to be in use and our “bush whacking” stops, we can return to a normal “walking mode” again. My shoes are torn, already my second pair on this walk and they have 2 large holes in them. I fetch a needle and stitch them up with dental floss, the strongest thread you can use, in case you ever want to make a serious repair job on your gear.

We make it to the tiny forest gravel road after 2 days. Eat food and celebrate our success up to now before heading off to sleep, tired, dirty and covered in cuts from knees and down. From our tents we hear noisy breathing. “I’m reading, Neil, and I don’t snore anyways”. “It’s a bear” he says. “I thought so” I reply and return to my book after we both yell to scare off the bear. “Tuck your food away, he’ll likely be back during the night”. “Sure” I reply and flip a page. Amazing how indifferent you become after spending months in Bear-Country.

I did, however, wake up that night and exited my tent to check on the fire. A strong smell of smoke is hovering around us and I check that no actual flames are close to us, within visual distance. We are west of the 2000 acres of fire and with predominantly western winds, we should be fine. Just checking. After all, we are on our own, haven’t seen any other humans for 2 days.

We continue our walk on tiny gravel forest roads and unto a larger paved road, before arriving at a fish-resort 2 miles from where the PCT is open again. Next morning we have a huge breakfast, with the lovely American tradition of free-refills on coffee, think a drank 4 large mugs. And a Root-beer float for desert: ice-cream drowned in a toothpaste-tasting soda. Calorie explosion, just what we needed!

We part ways, as Neil slows his speed to rest his feet and body a bit. I push on and reach a lake where I camp for the night. The water level is 10 meters below normal and it’s teeming with buzzing insects that seems to love the warm, stagnant, shrinking waters, perfect for breeding. The sun is “setting” 2 hours before it should, behind a red carpet of smoke from the forest fire. Ahead if me is a series of multiple, and much larger, fires and giant sections of “my trail” is closed. “It hasn’t really rained for some years and we didn’t get any snow this winter. The ski-resorts were closed, all winter. And them creeks are all dried up, ya better watcha water supply as you walk on, young man” a rancher told me with a serious tone in his voice.

I was happy to have made it around the fire closure but something felt deeply disturbing about the whole scene.
I imagined the lake with boats, people fishing, laughing bikini girls and noisy kids, playing and swimming. Now, it was a sad, little, infested and abandoned puddle. The sky was an endless orange, it was oh-so-quiet, wildfires were raging in all directions and my only company was a trizillion buzzing insects, celebrating the decline of Mankind. It felt post-apocalyptic.

“So this is how it’ll look like in 100 years when Global Warming has left the useless political discussions and entered harsh reality” I was thinking.

When the going gets tough…

Back on the trail, food for 6-7 days in my backpack and an intense sun frying away from above. I have 300 km to my next resupply point, my longest stint yet. Ahead of me is some impressive dormant volcanoes and large swaths of lava fields. And, like always, not much sign of civilization. I’m excited as ever.

I quickly drift into the lovely state of trance that this eternal trail creates around you. It winds through the wilderness and every curve, every step offers new views. It can be hard and exhausting but it never really gets boring. Watch your step, drift out on thought-tangents, admire the vast woods, sing. Listen to silence.

The lava fields take me out of this world and across red-brownish moon landscape and it starts to look, and to feel, like I actually have left this world physically, not just mentally. Time is measured in the slow westward drift of the sun, not in a 4-digit number on an iSomething. I ponder on the measurement techniques for happiness and on the concept of cultural extrapolation. Earth, moon, time, who cares?

All of a sudden, I do. I stare at my food supplies and ration them. They are… limited. And my “no-world-exist” trance quickly dissipates as I acknowledge the presence of the Real World and my need for resupplies. I have 155km to “civilization”, which means a souvenir shop at a National Park. And I have food for 3 days, at best. Time for a challenge, the kind where you can’t afford to loose. Nearly 100 miles in 3 days. The stats look ugly: my longest day yet has been a 29 miler, so I need to brake that barrier 3 days in a row and then a little more. “Keep Walking” as a mainstream Whisky distillery says. Got no other options.

I bag a 31 mile day and feel good. Then a 34 miler which causes my right angle to ache and swell. Compression tape it and sleep on a slope to elevate it at night. Last day starts ok, but the pain shows again after only 5 miles. I cross path with some other hikers that inform me of a giant 16 dollar pizza on sale at the National Park and they also sell beer. Good motivation, no time for whining, I need to continue and pray that this long push doesn’t leave me with sustainable injuries.

“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going”, another kliche proverb that I repeat to myself to raise my morals and not succumb to the challenge. The truth is, I have no other exit-plan, but to keep on keeping on.

12 miles before the pizza, the National Park offers unreal beauty: Crater Lake. A deep blue volcanic lake, the deepest in the US and a scenery that makes me drop to the ground: in awe and, admittedly, in pain. I slowly make my way around the magic lake and, for reasons I can’t explain, my ankle stops to hurt. Maybe it got past the “point of pain” and into some state if numbness. Or maybe my eyes are feeding my brain with too many impressions and the pain is mentally suppressed. On a good day, Crater Lake is one if the most beautiful places, I’ve ever seen.

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Clock is ticking and I get information that the pizza place closes at 21.00. Now, even time matters for me and I become a slave to the 4 digits on my iPod. The sun is also starting to set and I push my pace into the red zone, driven by the thought of an American sized family pizza and a beer. Loud rustle breaks the monotony of my walk and I stop abruptly: bears roam these tourist sites, foraging on trash cans so I know I have to be alert. Nope, it’s not a bear, it’s elk: a beautiful group of 7 individuals and they run away as they catch a glimpse of me. Impressive animals!

It gets completely dark and I walk with a headlamp through the dense woods, singing to keep the tourist-habituated bears away from me. Ankle hurts again. Pizza is slipping away from me as each minute passes. And then, finally, I see light ahead. I start to run, as I muster the last energy from deep inside my exhausted body. I get there at 20.52 and crash into the pizza restaurant like a burglar. “Can I order a large meat-lovers?” He stares at me, in disbelief. I’m filthy and are gasping for air. The other guests look at me, some in disgust some with a smile.
“I’m afraid we don’t have time for….”
But I interrupt him immediately ” noooo, I’m starving, I’ve walked nonstop for 3 days, pleaaaaaase”, exaggerating my accent and stare at the waiter my wide open deer-eyes.
“OK” he says. I collapse unto a wooden bench and can hardly keep my gaze focused, staring into the black air.

I eat it slowly, outside in the dark, and wash it down with a 20 ounce beer. I made it through mountains, valleys, volcanoes and endless forest. Up and over the 2 highest points on my walk so far and bagging my 3 longest days, 3 days in a row. I never thought that I could “mine out” such strength.

One hundred miles.

Deers, beers and reigning rain

Bend Beer Fest. A little city in central Oregon gathers 170 indie breweries, ten thousand people, jams music and organize a taste-for-a-token event where you browse from tent to tent and sip the liquid gold. Really, I was just here for resupplying food: a hit and run, then back to my “home”: The Pacific Crest Trail. But can’t skip a Beer Fest, so I joined the masses for a cultural excuse to a much less noble cause: getting drunk. I’m well tipsy as I write these lines. “Write drunk, edit sober” Hemmingway, the Nobel Lauret himself, said. I’ll skip the edit-part. And the Nobel-part.

Slowly but steadily it sucks the life out of you. The Rain. You walk in it, you eat in it, you camp in it, you wake up to it, you shit in it and wish you could shit on it. When the first dark clouds gathered, I found it amazing and lovely. Sun had been blasting down on me from a blue sky for 5 weeks as I negotiated the alpine high-scenery of stunningly beautiful Washington State. I had gotten to the point where I felt that I deserved rain. It, somehow, wouldn’t count if my walk was a “walk in the park” and I desired misery. Oh boy, I got it.

The first thunder was magical. The clouds drifted upwards across the mountain ridge and decreased my visibility to 20 m as I pushed on, shrouding me in dense fog. The eternal green color of the time-less evergreen pine-forest stood still and more silent than ever, as the water started to pour from above. Like even the trees could feel the presence of the loaded skies. The birds stopped singing and the chipmunks hid away as the distant rumble of thunder rolled across these lonely wooded hills. I kept walking. What else can I do?

As hours turned to days, my positivity dropped. Wet feet, wet clothes, everything wet, everything dirty and a backpack that’s a kilogram heavier with all the soaked items I’m carrying. And you can easily feel that elephant of 1 kg. Blisters spread like mushrooms on my feet. My heart nearly broke when my camera finally gave in and stopped working due to the constant dampness. I stare at the grey skies, halfway cursing, halfway praying. “Stay positive, don’t cave in” I tell myself. “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do” I repeat in my head.

Footsteps in the night. I wake up, anxiously listening, trying to assess the nature of the beast. Bears have a smelling-sense 6 times more effective than a bloodhound and can trace food from up to 3 km away. So they forage in the night, while I’m sleeping with my food in my tent. Don’t get me started on that discussion, 9 out of 10, it the safest place to store it: inside your tent. Huckleberries have been ripe for the last 2 weeks and the bears enjoy them even more than I do. My tent is surrounded by these tasty blue berries but deers also crave them. What’s out there, in the dark? I raise my head and see the unmistakeable silhouette against the grey night-sky, illuminated by the full moon: a doe, a female deer. Im halfway disappointed, halfway relieved. My movement makes the deer raise its ears and she runs off. 2 minutes later, she’s back, munching the grass where I took a pee: anything to get salt. Sure, it’s disgusting but I admire Natures way of recycling. My trash, the deers treasure. Out here, nothing is wasted. I take my smelly but sweat-salty shoes inside my tent: the deer are rumored to steal them, for the pleasure of licking off your salty feet-sweat, and that’s a risk far larger than a bear: 100 miles to civilization without shoes. Better play it safe: shoes sleep with me and my food, I can’t afford to loose either.

Finally, this morning, I cross the highway. I need new socks, new gaiters, a new water filter and more food. Stand there with my thumb out, watching cars pass by, smiling to off-set my otherwise unwelcoming dirty appearance. I have, literally, worn my only t-shirt for 8 days straight, I even sleep in it, it has almost grown in to my body. “Common, Americans, pick me up, I’m friendly and peaceful” I’m thinking. And I know the immense hospitality of The Americans, it is utterly shocking how helpful they are, more about that in a later blog. 20 minutes later and a firefighter picks me up and transports me the 70km into town. And a lively beer-festival that puts the “Budweiser-stereotype” to shame.

So cheers. To the eternal nature, to the friendly Americans, to the terrible rain, to the bears, the deers and the beers and the huckleberries. And most of all, to life.

…and I have walked 500 miles

… and I will walk 2155 more. Or at least try. Because I still have very serious doubts whether I will be able to finish the full length if this mammoth walk that takes me from glaciers to desert as it winds its way across the US of A. 4300km. That’s the distance from Paris to Afghanistan in case you wanted a geographical comparison. I’m happy, but humble, to have bagged the first 20% of the trail. And from the very beginning, I had my serious doubts of my chances for accomplishing it. It’s actually the very reason I am trying: because there are lessons to be learned when you expose yourself to challenges that you might not master and accept your own vulnerability. About the challenge and, maybe more importantly, about yourself. So I continue.

It was a tough start. I was out of shape and had very little hiking experience. I got seriously lost on my second day, all alone in the endless wilderness near the US-Canada border. But I found my way and my shape and picked myself up off the ground. At some point I started to believe that there actually was a possibility that I could walk the entire trail. That hope collapsed abruptly as my first injury hit me. Shin Splints, they said. I shiver just thinking about it. Sounds like my shin is fracturing into tiny splints and it sure did feel that way when I was walking. So I had to surrender my hopes and my proudness, and 100 dollars of my budget, and booked myself in to a roadside motel room after walking 3 days in the cold mountain rain to reach a lonely highway and ‘civilization’. That meant a gas station, a closed ski-lift and the lonely motel which reminded me of the hotel in “The Shining”. I, for sure, could’ve played my role, cause I was ready to die. Outside, it was raining and the clouds were grey. Inside, a depressed, injured and “amputated” adventurer with an identity crisis. I hated myself. Because I knew that The Walk could easily be larger than me, but I had never thought of a plan B. Now, all I could do was to hope that my Shin Splints got better. It was extra painful because I had finally started to feel like I belonged on the trail. Like I actually deserved to be there. The injury told me that I didn’t.

I took a rest day and, the day after,
decided to face my fears of failing. “You tried, with all you could. And it’s so much more graceful to attempt and fail, than never even attempting” I told myself, trying to be my own mom. I walked some short days. And the miracle happened: my shin was healing. I “compression taped” it and pitched my tent on a slope to elevate my legs while sleeping. Got mentally addicted to Ibuprofen for its anti-inflammatory properties. And 4 days later I was up and running again. Or walking I should say. Consistently clocking 35km per day. Loving, loving, loving life. And reminded myself to not take anything for granted on this walk or in this life. And be grateful for each mile I put behind me, each day that this beautiful life and planet has offered me.

Many people have mentioned the dramatic mental effects that this infinitely long trail will throw on you. I, arrogantly, had downplayed it, I thought I was immune to it after all my years of adventure. I just wanted to hike it for the beauty and the experience. I now fully understand that the PCT is not just a long trail. The mental journey of walking it could be longer than the physical trail itself. Out there, The World doesn’t exist. There is just the trail and the eternal properties that silent, grand nature holds. You’re home is your backpack and the only way is forward. I’ve held a god fearing respect for The Trail from the start. I am beginning to understand that the PCT is so much more than just a long beautiful hike. It turns the worst cynic of them all, me, into a philosophical wanderer. PCT really is made from the same material as dreams.

I saw another one. I turned a corner and instantly established eye contact with him. The split second felt like days as we both contemplated our immediate actions. The bear was fastest and he crashed through the woods in a hasty escape from me, a member of the notoriously aggressive and violent Homo Sapiens. I followed him with my eyes until his black fur merged with the trees and smiled as I walked on, apologizing for invading his territory, yet thanking him for the peaceful conclusion to our brief meeting.

Volcanoes, glaciers and carpets of violet wild flowers mix with soft creeks and dense, green old-growth forest. Toads, deer, squirrels and marmots abound. From a vantage point I catch the first glimpse of it: The Colombia River. That’s the border between Washington and Oregon and a spectacular old steel bridge spans the river: Bridge of The Gods, it’s called. I walked across it into Oregon and felt stronger, happier and more humble than ever. The Proclaimers were singing in my head and in my heart: “I would walk 500 miles”. Wow, I just did.

I don’t know who The Gods are. Maybe Nature. But I did feel the presence of them as I proudly crossed that aptly named bridge.

Vast White Wilderness

I was warned, so there is no complaints or self pity here. “When you start hiking south from the Canadian border in mid-summer, you’ll be facing a serious amount of snow”.

I had seen and traversed large sections of the white stuff on my very first section and had, proudly, fought my way through it. The sun had been blasting out of a blue sky for 10 days and the temperature was stabile around the high 20s. Or high 80s as the Americans would say. Either way, I am heading south and with the high temperatures, I was sure that the worst part was over. I gave away my ice-crampons to save the 460 gram of weight and began my second section of this border-to-border walk: 140 km. Like the entire PCT-hike, it is pure wilderness.

I push my way through the dense old-growth forest with giant trees that seems to have been taking out of a lord-of-the-rings movie. Moths are circling around me, birds chirping away in the distance. My breath and my footsteps are monotonously keeping the rhythm, as the Pacific Crest Trail winds its way through these untouched woods. Above 6000 feet, the snow starts to show and the north-facing slopes are completely clogged. I make my way above the tree line and fight my way through miles and miles of snow fields, guided by a compass and my own determination. “A little bit of snow shouldn’t stop you” I hear myself saying.

At the mountain passes, “a little bit” turns into “huge amounts”. The entire valley is blocked by snow and the trail, that normally zig-zags its way up the steep, steep slopes, are completely hidden under the white carpet. There is no other way than forward, cause I might run out of food if I attempt to go back. And I didn’t come here to quit so early, so easy.

No ice axe, no crampons, 60 degress snow slopes that continue below you for hundreds of hundreds of meters. Maybe a rock or some trees might stop you. Maybe not. You don’t want to fall and slide here, it could have absolutely dire and serious consequences. The d-word, that is.

Luckily, the snow is slushy and heavy and my running shoes sink deep into it as I walk, so the risk of sliding is small, as long as I stay focused. I jam one of my trekking poles into it and have the other one ready, upside-down, to slam into the snow in case I should slip. Here we go, step by step, don’t fall, don’t fall. And don’t look down either. Just walk, steady and slowly.

So I make it across multiple snow-packed mountain passes and descend into the warmer valleys and meadows again, everything safe. The views are indescribable: mountain lakes, raging rivers, giant trees and deep, silent forests. My feet and my entire body is completely exhausted and I find a flat spot next to a smaller creek where I set camp for the night. Campfire and food.

Some trees are rustling. I’ve been here, in the wilderness, for 2 weeks now. I recognize sounds. And these sounds are different. I walk to the creek and take a look at the scene, scanning around. And there they are: 2 bear cubs, playing and fighting with each other. They quickly ran off into the woods.

I smile. I am exactly where I want to be.

Lost and found

I wake up, groggy as a knockouted boxer, after sleeping only 1 hour. It’s the 5th of July, and I postponed the start of my hike to participate in the US Independence Day the night before. And, possibly, because I was and am scared of my undertaking: to walk 4300 km thru the wilderness, solo and unsupported. I force myself to wake up, say goodbye to my local couch surfing host and head towards the train station in Seattle . Another 1,5 days of hitchhiking with 5 different drivers and a local family that hosted and fed me, and I am standing at the trailhead of it all. I take the first step and things seem unreal. I now have 4.999.999 steps to go before I, hopefully, arrive at the end of the trail, 5 months from now. On my back sits a 9kg back pack plus food for a week. Ahead of me, the great untamed American Wilderness.

Now, It’s real. Very real and very isolated.

The first day takes me up a 1800 m climb and I am surrounded by snow capped peaks and standing in the white stuff myself. The views are stunning, I haven’t seen anyone all day and I feel the rush of responsibility pour over me. “Take care, Henrik, there is no one out there to help you if you get lost or injured” I tell myself. “It’s you vs nature, or essentially, you vs. you”

And it did happen. I got lost. Just south of the Canadian border in the endless pine- and snow covered wilderness. That’s exactly the place where you DON’T want to get lost.

I am surrounded by thick old-growth forest, swarms of dancing insects and a deep silence that you only find in the woods. The trail disappeared into huge patch of snow and I attempted to find it again. In doing so, I ventured 1 hour in the wrong direction and I finally mustered enough courage to admit it to myself. You’re lost !

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“Easy now, just gotta go back to the point where I last saw the trail” I remind myself. I push another hour and realize that I can’t even find my way back to where I was before. My heart is pounding, long after I stopped walking and started thinking. I am, admittedly, nervous. Lost in the wilderness. ” Fuck, fuck, fuck, you’re lost” I tell myself and try not to panic. It’s eerily atmospheric in a scary yet beautiful way, the deep silence of these bear-infested pine woods, the huge piles of snow and me, an optimistic adventurer who seemed to have bitten off more than he could chew. I have food for 5 days, good news. If I walk in the wrong direction, I’ll likely never see anybody for the remainder of my short life that can be measured in food supplies. Bad news.

“I gotta get out of this dense forest, climb a peak and gain a topographical understanding of my position, which I can translate to a location by use of my map and compass” is my conclusion. So I head straight uphill towards a rocky outcrop in my attempt to “find myself” in the landscape and then convert that to a map location. And then, I crossed the trail again, it appeared out of nowhere and the problem solved itself.

A strong reminder to not underestimate anything on this mammoth walk. It’s wild, out there.

The trail meanders its way around postcard pretty scenery and I am, day by day, getting in better shape and more confident with my new walking lifestyle. I eat away at my food supplies and my pack gets lighter by the day. And I managed to stay blister free for several days until I reached a section with lots and lots of snow. My feet get wet. And soaked, walking feet means blisters that spread like mushrooms. I tape them and dress them and fight my way forward, because it simply is my only option, there are no other way out of this beautiful yet tough and merciless trail. After a week, I reach a village and take a day off.

148 km down, 4152 to go. I shiver, just thinking about the magnitude of it. But I like it: raw, beautiful nature combined with the physical challenge and the freedom of living with everything you need on your back. It’s shockingly simple: just walk, view and stay alive. And do so for the next 5 months.

Heading out to look in

The friendly lady at the US embassy utters the nerve wrecking sentence: “I’ve approved your visa on the spot, it’ll take 7 to 10 days to process. Have a nice hike!”

I stare at her through the 3 cm thick safety glass, speechless for 2-3 seconds, before I reply with a dry “Thank you” as my head is bursting with the consequences of her approval. Turn around, walk past the line of optimistic Ecuadorians who share my desire for a US visa and past the dense security level of the US Embassy here in Quito at the Equator line in Ecuador. My mind is blank and I feel the quiet happiness rush over me, spiced with an intense fear of the coming half year.

Damn. That was my last and largest excuse and it didn’t work. Now, I have nothing holding me back, nothing to cling to: The season is right and I have just gained access to the US. Now, it is all up to me, my only opponent is my body and mind. A tiny part of me, deep inside myself, almost wish she had declined the visa.

The Pacific Crest Trail is looming ahead of me.

A 5 month and 4300 km hike from Canada to Mexico that passes through 25 National Forests and 7 National Parks, and an abundance of postcard pretty scenery, far away from human civilization, living with only the stuff I can carry on my back. Finding my way, going days without seeing other humans, hoisting my food into trees to avoid bear-theft at night, singing during the day to away bear-attacks and negotiating snow-passes with crampons and an ice-axe. Solo.

Holly F***, I am excited. And scared. Because I don’t know whether I will succeed, and that is exactly my reason for trying. I expect to meet my mental and physical limits and to push myself deep beyond my comfort line, which I already consider to be flexed after 2,5 years on a bicycle across 4 continents and 5 months on a homemade bamboo raft down the Amazon River. Because I want to flex my limits and because I, sometimes, probably have to in order to reach my next resupply point, whether I like it or not. If I break, I’ll break crying in my own hunger, pain, dirt and blood but I will make it out of there. If I surrender, I will do so at my all-time-low, meeting my own limits of body and, especially, mind and only then will I allow my own defeat and only then will it be worth it.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with my bicycle and the thought of continuing my bicycle route is, indeed, very tempting. It is an amazing form of adventure, to cross continents on a bicycle, living with the freedom and adventure that those 2 wheels can give you. But The Walk is more tempting at the moment, for several reasons:

a) as said, I don’t know whether I will succeed, and hence I can learn new stuff and push my own limits. I know, for sure, that I can cycle around the world and cross continents on a bicycle, I simply have to continue what I’ve been doing for 2,5 years. The Unknown is luring me here.
b) leaving civilization. I hate to sound like a lunatic, but the thought of living in stunningly beautiful nature for 5 months where the sounds come from only the wind, the birds, the insects, the rain and my own footsteps and not from cars, tv’s, and small-talking conversations is a highly attractive thought to me at the moment. Easy now, I’ll return again and be a normal nine-to-fiver.
c) it will be a nice way to finish off my 4 year travels around the world and to ponder on all the experiences I’ve gained and the lessons of life that I’ve learned.

Plane ticket is ready, just gotta fly to Seattle and shop for a bunch of lightweight outdoor gear. I visited the local vegetable store here in Quito and put each and every piece of my items on a scale, before entering the whole lot into an excell sheet. My home will weigh-in at around 9kg, tent, sleeping bag, mattress, -10 C clothes, camera, everything. My lip balm is 18 grams, in case you wonder. My Kindle is an elephant with its 217 grams.

So I am heading out in order to look in. Look at these photos. Wouldn’t you?