August 19, 2015

56 Miles On The PCT

Hello there. This isn't Ashlee. This is her goofy husband Andy. She asked me to write about this adventure I went on with my brother-in-law Brendan. So here we go-

Let's start by saying that when I was Brendan's age in scouts, the longest hike I ever went on was about 14 miles into the High Uintah's up Mount Emmons (elevation 13,442'). It was hard and I had a headache for a couple of days when we got there due to the elevation gain. But this PCT hike was much more difficult than it was.

When Brendan first asked me to go with him I was first- surprised that he even asked me, and second, not sure that I wanted to go because '50 miler' isn't something that is easy. My wife knows that I struggle with running a 5k let alone walking 50 miles. But after some coaxing and some thought, and the desire to get to know Brendan better, I agreed.

The Sunday before the hike, I met Brendan's leaders at church and learned a bit more about the hike. It would be 50+ miles spread across 6 days and 5 nights. That means that we would need to average about 9 miles a day. Easy-peasy right?

That night we would stuff our packs with only the essentials. And learned that the 'essentials' actually don't fit. So we cut less important things out, not once, not twice, but three times. And then my pack was 'packed up.' And weighing it on a scale, my pack was 40+ pounds. Sweet... this is going to be fun...

In the morning we all met and were trucked out to the hike location. It was a couple hour drive to get there, and was up on White Pass in Washington state. On our way up the winding mountain roads, we saw the biggest elk I've ever seen and then they dropped us off at a mile marker that was off the beaten path because it lined up with the PCT trail.

We got out of the cars, loaded our packs, said a prayer and started walking. This hike was not in a straight line and we walked until our first stop for lunch that day at a small pond. I was very sweaty and tired, and knew we weren't even half way there for the day. The other leaders had planned the hike well, so that we would be stopping at a pond or lake every evening. In short, by the time we got to camp, half of the boys wanted to go home and my shoulders and feet were sore enough that I didn't want to move for an hour or so. I remember that we had hiked 12 miles that day. The most we would need to hike to get things kicked off. -I took a bath in the lake. They thought I was crazy because it was too cold and muddy. But who wants to be sticky and stinky? Let me tell you- Boy Scouts, that's who (on day six I woke up in the middle of the night because Brendan hadn't bathed or changed his clothes the whole time). The remaining days would have shorter hikes. But guess what- they were harder.

As a side note- I was the only person on the hike to wear running shoes. Yes my running shoes. And it paid off. I didn't want hot heavy boots or the blisters that come with them. I changed my socks out half way every day and kept my laces tight. Especially on the downhill and I was the only person who didn't get any blisters the entire trip.

Day two's distance was shorter, but full of up and down terrain in the thick forest. Lots of switchbacks. And everyone was very sore from the day before. Call it getting broken in. I know my shoulders felt bruised and I cinched up my belt as tight as I could to take the weight off them ("I'm feeling skeeeny Tony"). Lots of complaining scouts and far too many breaks. I also noticed over the course of these two days that my knees were strangely tight and the pain started to make me wince when going downhill. Not good but we all made it to camp safely.

Mt. Rainier.

Day three was much like day two, but the scouts were beat. We literally hiked from sun up to sun down stopping only for lunch. It was interesting because we really were covering some serious ground. You would climb up to the ridge line of your mountain, then see the trail disappear into that next distant mountain, hike to it, see the next mountain top and hike over it too... all day. We finally stopped at a large windy lake for lunch and you could see that everyone was exhausted. But what kept the scouts going was the thought of the promised cheese burgers at the half way point. We would be crossing the highway at a parking lot and there would be junk food galore. Very motivating.

Once we got to the parking lot, all of the boys took a seat in real lawn chairs and feasted for a couple hours. It was great. We switched out some of our supplies as planned and sent one of the leaders home with the burger people. He had a difficult time because he had over packed and was likely unprepared. By the end of day two he was in big trouble, but decided to hike out on day three instead of being helicoptered out ($$$$).

When some of the scouts saw that he got to go home in a warm truck, they got their hopes up and got stubborn and one of them even played sick. It was at the same time amusing and distressing because they dug their heels in so hard and were adamant that they were going to get a ride home at this half way point. The leaders tried talking to them and their fellow scouts tried to coax them but they just wouldn't budge. Their faces swollen with tears... Then something very surprising happened. Brendan got angry with them and put them to task. After a bit of a verbal fight, Brendan essentially told them how they were letting each other down and I recall him yelling in anger that "IT'S BULLCRAP... AND UNACCEPTABLE!!!" and then he stormed off up the trail to our final lake for the day. We leaders decided that I would go ahead to be with the scouts that went to camp and they would stay behind with the boys that wanted to go home. I wasn't sure how the day would end, but later that night they all rolled into camp and everyone got their feelings smoothed out. It was a growing experience for those boys that actually bonded them together into friends. Not just members of a Scout troop and was neat to see.

The trail.

Day four. The night before was a very cold night as the lake water sat in the bowl with us. So everything was wet with dew. We waited for the sun to crest the ridge line and dried all our gear out in the sunshine. Then packed up. Both of my knees had been giving me such pain, that by this fourth day morning, it was all I could do to start moving. I had gotten used to the pack's weight, but didn't know how I would make it to the next camp. To be honest, the pain was so intense that part of me wished I was in the truck that went home yesterday too.

One of the other leaders was experiencing this same pain in one of his knees. Stepping down from one rock to another was so excruciating (even bearing the whole my weight on my poles) that I thought my ligaments on the sides of my knees were going to burst or tear and I was afraid that I would be stranded on the mountainside with an injury.

Finally, at one of our stops, while Brendan was doing his sexy dance to make the other boys lighten up, I decided that I was going to try popping my knees again. I had tried many times before but nothing had happened. This time, I was in such pain that I really planted my foot into the ground hard and then used my poles to help me twist my upper body and femur on top of the lower part of my knee and suddenly heard a very loud 'POP!' -The intense pain subsided almost immediately. So I promptly worked on the other knee until it 'POPPED!' too. Aaaahhhh... relief! I felt like a million bucks and was able to finish the whole hike out using this trick.


Days five and six were much like the others. One mountain-farsee (slang for- to travel as far as you can see) to the next. Day five we camped at a hundred-something year old ranch site and saw white mountain goats all around us and a helicopter flew down to us looking for a stranded hiker. I told the boys not to wave down the helicopter despite their excitement. We weren't the people they were looking for and we didn't need to foot that bill. By the end of day five we had seen fresh steamy bear poo (yeah, we didn't stop to smell the mountain air there), mountain goats, deer, elk, lots of little animals, stinky PCT hikers, F16s (yes the airplanes) and a helicopter. One of the scouts also had a mouse eat holes through his tent and through his backpack to snarf on his freeze dried ice cream. Not bad huh?

Clean foot, meet dirty foot.

Come day six, the boys were more than ecstatic to get down the mountain. There was a point in the hike where we stopped hiking on the PCT ridge line (which is a well beaten path by the way) and turned left off the trail heading down the steep slope. We dropped several thousand feet in a very short distance out of the fresh snow that had fallen on us and into the green forest again. At that point, I asked the boys a most serious question- I said to them "can you smell that?" The two of them I was hiking with stopped and raised their noses. "No we can't." So we kept hiking for a bit and I asked them again "Can you smell that?" and again they said "No we can't. What is it?" And I responded "DAIRY QUEEN!!" Hahaha! They hated me for that but I thought it was hilarious.

When we finally made it to the parking lot, everyone disco danced to the Bee Gees Stayin' Alive. All in all, we calculated that we had actually hiked 56 miles. I felt and looked like I had lost 10 pounds but I weighed exactly the same (muscles... right?...). If asked- would you do this again? To my own surprise I would say "yes, I would." I actually really enjoyed it. :)