A small note about music, podcasts and audiobooks.
I started hiking the trail with the best intentions of embracing nature and everything it had to offer and minimizing distractions. I brought headphones because I figured I might want to listen to music in my tent at night. Oh, but no, I wouldn’t listen while I was walking and miss out on something. Let me tell you. A tree becomes just another tree. A creek is like all the others. A mountain, is just a mountain folks. And the pain in my ankles, knees, toes and shoulder were constantly talking to me. This is not to say by any means that I didn’t see some amazingly beautiful things. And they were all unique. But some days, the 10th creek we saw (or walked through) wasn’t beautiful enough to distract me from focusing all my attention on my pain. Or how much further I had to go. Or how many damn hills we still had to climb. The mind is a powerful ally or a pretty freaking evil enemy. Mental discipline to overcome the pain and monotony sometimes required a bandaid. In my case, it was almost always music. Many people listened to podcast after podcast. Kudos to them for learning stuff. Most of the time all I ever heard was talk talk talk talk. I mean that is what a podcast is, no? But for me, I often wanted them to just get to the damn point. I listened to audiobooks on occasion but I only had access to so many and my habit of picking history books to listen to led me down a rather boring path. But music for me, was just enough of a distraction to keep me moving and inspire me to get up the hill.
I use Spotify to listen to my music and I created and downloaded several playlists to mix it up some. I didn’t listen to much music in the desert and almost none in the Sierra because it was just too dangerous and using the phone meant using precious battery power. However, once I got back on the trail after taking my spill in the Sierra, I listened almost every day for a little while. When I was home recovering from my fall, I had a genius idea. What if Terry’s kids create playlists for me? So I asked them and they (and Terry) did. Their unique tastes in music (an entire playlist of musical soundtracks, anime music, movie soundtracks and Weird Al) definitely diversified my music selection. Spotify created an “on repeat” playlist for me. All the crap I listened to over and over. You’re curious, aren’t you? I mean of course you are. Everyone wants to know what music inspired me to get to Canada. I won’t bore you with too much but know that I must have listened to MmmBop dozens of times because it made the cut. I know, aside from the grocery store, when was the last time you heard that song? I put it on a playlist so there’s all the insight into my psyche that you could possibly need. Lots of 70s and 80s rock, Ray LaMontagne, Nahko, Dolly (of course Dolly), Paul Simon. And my theme song for the second half of my journey: Break my Stride by Matthew Wilder. “Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride. Nobody gonna slow me down. oh no. I’ve got to keep on movin!”
On July 27th, I started walking again. I had no idea what to expect in regards to the capacity of my knee. I had done a little walking while I was at home recovering and had some pain that was concerning but I knew I had to get back to it or I never would. Our first day involved a relatively significant elevation increase over an 18 mile stretch. We didn’t get on the trail until 10am so with my jelly legs, this was quite an undertaking. The first few miles I surprised myself, Frogger and Grandma. I was able to maintain a pretty quick pace and we made good time. I hit a wall with about 8 miles left in the day so the rest of the trek that day was rough. We got to camp around 8pm but this place promised to be an incredible view. The problem was that this was the only time we had a forest fire nearby (we were extremely lucky this year) and the air was quite smoky. The sunset was unremarkable and I decided to cowboy camp because there were several other people there and not a lot of space. This was the first of many times where I realized the stark contrast between where I had last hiked and where I was now. Mosquitoes. The pesky, buzzing little jerks were everywhere! I had heard from my friends that they were bad but this was my first of a few times when they were annoying. I didn’t sleep well. The morning brought some additional challenges. Our trail family was splitting up. I just couldn’t keep up and they needed to go. So UV, Mango, Recharge and Grandma made a plan to do 25+ miles that day. I couldn’t do that. Thankfully for me, Frogger agreed to stay back with me. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of one hell of a hiking partnership that sustained throughout the rest of the journey.
Over the next couple of days we would walk a long day, 20 miles or so, and then have to do 12 the next. My body just wasn’t ready to go full bore. We saw dragonflies, deer, many lakes, and Mt Shasta from several angles. We worked our way to Etna, CA and arrived two days after our friends had gotten there. They had decided to take a zero so we got to see them at the coffee shop when we arrived! It was a great reunion and we settled into our little hotel for the night. No zeroes for us as we knew we just weren’t making good enough time. We got to wear dresses while we did laundry, eat some good food and drink some good beer. It was, overall, a restful break in a pretty cool town. My pack frame had broken a very long time before this and granite gear sent me a whole new pack! We got our stuff together in the morning the next day and went to hitch to the trail head. A few cars passed by with no luck but then a very nice gal who was going for a hike gave us a ride. We got back on trail around 1pm and came upon a trail register that showed that Poppins had come through the day before! I was so excited to be able to see her again. She was a day ahead but we thought maybe we could catch her. My darn knee delayed our reunion longer than I would have liked but still we trudged.
I was feeling better and was able to do my first marathon and also my first 30 mile day right before Seiad Valley. There was a ton of poison oak along the lengthy descent down into the valley and I wasn’t paying as close attention as I should have been but thankfully I didn’t have a reaction to it. We got up early and walked the 10 miles into Seiad Valley. Ah Seiad Valley. Look up the State of Jefferson. Good food and milkshakes… Found out our friends had left the night before so they were getting ahead of us. However, as we plopped our packs down in front of the cafe, Poppins ran out and gave each of us a huge hug! I was so happy to finally be reunited with her. I hadn’t seen her since I left South Lake Tahoe over a month prior. We had intended to stay there only for a couple of hours and hike out by noon as we had several more miles we wanted to do. The climb out of Seiad Valley is notorious for being one of the harder uphills and let me tell you, it lived up to its reputation. Ten miles and 4500ft elevation gain. We left around 3 because we just wanted to spend more time with our friend who wasn’t going to hike out until later because she’s much smarter than we are. It was around 85 degrees, perhaps hotter when we left. Frogger said she wanted to “suffer” which is why she felt the need to climb this mountain in the middle of the hottest part of the day. She took off, I trudged at a reasonable pace. I finally got to the the first water source which was near the top of the climb nearly in tears. My body was not prepared for an uphill like that. I was somewhat relieved when I got there as Frogger was also very tired and agreed that trying to meet our mileage goal for that day was not going to happen. We decided to find the next sleeping spot available and not more than a mile away we found a flat spot and put the tarp up and fell asleep. We awoke to see Poppins asleep right next to us! We wanted to walk 28 miles the next day to get as close to Oregon as possible. At mile 23, we stopped for water and a snack. Something Frogger ate disagreed with her and she got pretty sick. So we just set up camp right there. And once again, Poppins just showed up. We never planned to end at the same spot each day because we had this fantasy that we were going to do these huge days and she had a much more reasonable perspective and we usually wound up going the reasonable distance. Despite my ambitions I was very excited to be able spend more time with Poppins. The reason we had wanted to go 28 miles that day was because it would get us within inches of the Oregon border. It would have to wait one more day but we were so close! While I missed 500 miles of the trail in NorCal, Frogger had already walked 1691 miles. That’s 64% of the trail. All in one very long, diverse state. I’d seen most of the changes and had completed, by that point, 1200 miles so for both of us a new state was very welcomed. We got up early to get to Oregon quickly and complete as many miles as possible to get us into Ashland the following day. We said goodbye to California while passing cows with cowbells grazing right next to the trail.