Tales From the Trail -Red’s Meadows

IMG_5634IMG_5620We traveled 11.75 miles this morning after breaking camp in 5-hours! We were a tad motivated to get to Red’s Meadows. As we hiked, we talked about the upcoming luxuries of SHOWERS. REAL FOOD. CELL SERVICE. Among many, one of the things this trail has lended me was to absolutely and constantly be thankful for the little things. As I paid the $15 for 15 minutes of clean water in an actual shower I considered people who do not have this option and how easy it is to take for granted. I couldn’t believe the MUD that rolled off of me and down the drain. Serious filth! Even though I was bathing daily in whatever body of water was available to us each evening, it just didn’t compare to a warm, clean, shower. How much this relates to Jesus! I would’ve paid $100 for this luxury. We laughed! Us girls. We all three went into the shower at the same time, finding three empty stalls and as we plopped our tokens into the coin operated machine and stepped in, we laughed! Hard! We stood under the rush of warm water and felt like pampered princesses and REALLY felt clean! We didn’t shave the entire trip. It was our pact. The feeling of wanting to now was SO incredibly overwhelming. It was part of the journey and being all in. We may be clean princesses but we are hairy! And so was our dude! His facial hair was reaching epic proportion! For me, this shower washed so much more than dirt away. It washed away my bad attitude from the days before, it washed away feelings of guilt over decisions I have made, expectation I’ve placed on myself and ones that have been put there by others, it washed away things I’ve been holding on to that needed desperately to be let go of, past hurts, pride issues, being judged, negative feelings, mistakes, times in my life that I fell apart, fear, the mess of the last year and the dirt of the past…..It all ran down the drain in a puddle.

Red’s Meadows is such a great place. Magical. The gathering place for all wanderers just outside of the beautiful Mammoth Lakes/Devil’s Postpile area. IMG_5630Full of wonderful, backpacking, happy people. It’s no wonder I loved it! (“My People” as my hubs refers to them) We quickly recognized some of our trail family. Those we’ve met along the way, and continue to see on the daily. Leap- frogging along, but always ending up camping alongside each night. Our Slovakian’s whom we met WAY back on Glen Pass; two buddies hiking together, one of them barefoot. Tony, our dreadlocked farmer, who gave up an organic farm to hike the JMT, and of course the sweet 50th-anniversary couple, Brooks and Rita. We all filtered in little by little to the showers, the Mule House Cafe (that had the BEST cheeseburgers, fries, and fruit pie on the planet, ON THE PLANET!) and little general store that held our resupply. Interestingly enough, none of us rushed for our resupply. We opted instead for a shower, food, beer and hanging in the sunshine talking with other hikers…. in that order. We met Sam, a guy from the UK who is hiking the PCT. He is 3 weeks from finishing his 6-month journey and even though I have suffered some pretty rotten things out on this trail, I yearn for the opportunity to hike the PCT at some point. I was a little jealous. We talked to 2 women hikers from Maine that were having issues with sleeping bags. They were freezing at night and were asking opinions from everyone about new sacks that they were considering purchasing in Mammoth Lakes. We met a group of 4 women hiking together that were sharing a jar of queso dip and chips from the store. HEAVEN! We listened to the stories of fun and laughter, of animals, of heartbreak, of spiritual journeys, of blisters and sprained ankles, of sleeping COLD, of favorite and least favorite passes, the stories of their journeys and what brought them out here in the first place. I was happy to see so many solo-female hikers, and Ladies of the JMT (all of us wearing our blue bandanas on our pack to signify who we were) I was fascinated by these people and their stories and just wanted to take it all in! Sometimes I thought; man we must have a screw loose to do this, to want this, to enjoy (to some extent) the suffering of almost a month in the wilderness. The isolation, being dirty, being in the complete silence, the remoteness…but then I realized…Nah, it’s passion. It’s passion that drives this and every. single. one. of. us.  has. a. story.

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This was some DANG good coffee!

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With our “Slovakian’s” Igor (who hiked most of the trail barefoot and Jakob (Jakub)

We picked up our resupplies from the little general store and sifted through the contents. I dug….WAY down to the bottom for my note, but quickly saw that Greg had added a few other goodies to this bucket. A can of Pringle’s (oh sweet Jesus) about 5 lbs of Starburst, blister care items (first aid) and a few bottles of Fire Ball. That man knows exactly what I need even from thousands of miles away and not hearing from me in over 10 days! This would be our last resupply. My last note. The last little bit of correspondence until we finish this out. It excited me as much as it grieved me. It was bittersweet in several aspects and as happy as I was to be finishing up this incredibly, epic experience, I was deeply SO saddened at the same time.

My note to myself.

Paula,

Wild Mama, just because you cried today doesn’t make you weak, Allow the tears to come and wash your spirit clean. You’ve come a long way baby! You’re at Red’s Meadows. Reflect on where you have come from and where you’re heading. Continue to celebrate all that lies within you. God has created in you and adventurer, a lover of nature and of stars and extraordinary views. This is why you’re out here. Breathe it all in. You are stronger than you ever give yourself credit. Keep it up, badass warrior! Thanks be to God. Remember, you planned well and are ready for the next few days to the finish!IMG_1659

And from G.

Look at you, Lady! Wow! Bad-assery in its truest form. Your body is probably a little beat up and tired, but that’s ok. Better this than a lump on the couch. Embrace it all! You can make it this last stretch, dig in and remember, LOOK UP! Hopefully, you remember me at the end of this. I will be the guy standing with a cold beer, a super-soaker, and a razor. Ha-Ha! I love you, G

I roared with laughter as I read this. Along with his funny note, and myriad of additional goodies, he had packed the baggies of my re-packaged dehydrated meals (yes RE-PACKAGED because weight is EVERYTHING when it’s on your back) and had renamed a few for me, which brought some great laughter around our little Jet Boils as we cooked dinner at camp.IMG_5623

We had to say goodbye to Red’s Meadows  in the morning and start our way up Donahue Pass. It was hard leaving. We ate an AMAZING breakfast with WAAAAY too much coffee from a pot. Donahue is a big pass with 23-ish miles to the top. It’s long and gradual reaching 11,703 feet. We camped part way up around the Shadow Lake area. We had decided to bite this last section off in chunks. This was a gorgeous camp, with a waterfall right outside my tent door. (and for me, besides sunrises and sunsets, waterfalls rank HIGH up on the food chain of gorgeous-must-sees for me. I LOVE them) I climbed to the top of the falls and spent some alone time with God thanking Him for his creation, for His love for us through his creation. The beauty here and along this entire journey has been unsurpassed. I thanked Him for the opportunity of being out here, for His healing on my feet and body. I thanked Him for my hiking partners and keeping us all healthy (for the most part.) and safe. Out of the four of us, we had one common thread before going into this hike….our dude! K and I knew one another, but not to the depths that we did now. J and I met the day she, K and her hubs picked me up in San Bernardino to head to Lone Pine. Talk about really putting your faith into your hiking partners. So for us to make it this far with only a few small scrapes and bumps along the trail (so to say) I think I was in good company. I was so thankful for their underserved patience, and their inspiration, and kindness. I know we all had days where the raw emotion was high and we wanted to scream at one another, but in the end, we showed love, appreciation, devotion, fortitude, humility, mercy and grace. We showed friendship.  I was so grateful for that. Complete and utter favor in the most extreme conditions Their compassion was incredible. I know full well that some days, probably most days, I was deserving of NONE of it!

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That one day that J fell and K had to bandage her up with a Maxi-Pad!!

I took a deep breath as I climbed into my tent and into my mummy, the cascading sound of the falls outside the door making me dizzy with relaxation and tiredness. It had started to rain and we all retreated to our tents early. The daylight still lingered. I sat up and re-read the note from G and giggled. He has the greatest way of always making me and those around him laugh! He would love this spot. I cannot believe this journey is almost ending. I didn’t want it to. It had changed me in some pretty profound ways already. What would going home be like? What would matter to me that hadn’t before? What things would I cherish more and what would I no longer need or care to have? Would I want to go home and buy a Tiny House in the woods after living in Big Agnes for the past 3 1/2 weeks? What would I appreciate more and find unnecessary? What would food and water taste like? Different? Possibly. I do know the need to see my family was so colossal. To breathe them in deeply was all I wanted. That, and to lift and inhale the sweet, dirty, earthy, grass-smell of my puppy’s paws. (this is something her and I do several times a day) Those things that on a daily we become so accustomed to, that are so ordinary at times, that never will be again. They just can’t be.

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Start my JMT journey from the beginning HERE 

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Tales From the Trail -Onion Valley, Showers and the Defeat at Glen Pass

We had a great campsite at Kearsarge Lakes. So quiet and peaceful. We heard coyotes howling on this night for the first time.img_5182

We left our tents and packs and slacked-packed over Kearsarge Pass down to Onion Valley to meet D (K’s hubby) for our first resupply. As we descended into OV, we could see him, waiting at the trailhead into the campground. I was already so overly emotional because of the pain I was in and for the first time in seven days I was able to get in communication via cell phone with G back home while coming down off of the pass. This trip was one of the longest times we have been apart without communication. (We’ve been apart longer, but always within communication) It was hard. Talking to him made things much worse! I sobbed on the phone to him! I was hurting so terribly and told him I thought I needed to be done. I had hit the wall. He was surprised. He is not used to me being in such a low spot. He has supported me through some pretty crazy endeavors and I think my crying out made him nervous and uneasy. In his usual fashion, he spoke gently and listened to my lament. This man always has a way of talking me off any ledge and he has our entire 23 years together. He knows exactly what I need to hear. He’s honest and forthright with me, and knows how to motivate me! I cried for a good 10 minutes, talking to him. I am talking SOBBING! That gross, ugly, real, hurt-your-heart kind of cry. When the time came, I told him I couldn’t hang up. I just couldn’t. I knew it was going to be about 10 days before we could have any communication again. I just could not hang up the phone! I was miserable and he was the only balm at the moment making me feel ANY better. We eventually hung up and when we saw D, I was so overjoyed! Just the site of “familiar!” Of home. He greeted us with big hugs, and when we got to his camp, home cooked breakfast burritos (be still my starving heart) and a cold, cold beer. What a reward!

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Top of Kearsarge Pass 10,750ft. We had to stop and take a pic for our friend FG back in Idaho.

 

 

We sat and reminisced with D about our experience thus far. The trials and the complete and utter beauty this country has bestowed on us. I had already decided that I was going to skip the Immediate Care. I was in way too much pain for anyone to be able to clean out the area of my feet that were torn open. If anyone was doing it, it would be me! At least I’d know what was coming. We did, however, have to go into town and find a pharmacy so I could grab the additional supplies to take care of, clean and wrap my feet. It had reached beyond what our first aid kits were capable. While contemplating where to go, us girls (while K was in the fancy restroom of the campground, i.e. meaning he wasn’t digging a cat hole) decided that since we were going into town that m a y b e we should grab some lunch and m a y b e spend the night. Just maybe! This was met with a little struggle, but our begging sealed the deal and K gave in. We were devoted to the cause when it meant shaving our legs and eating a fat, greasy burger and fries after days of dehydrated meals. I don’t know if K stood a chance. He was a great sport about our whining and we loaded up and made our way down, down, down into town. First, stop FOOD! Real bona fide food! In seats. With other people around! Oh sweet Jesus, were we ever thankful for this diner. Possibly the best-tasting food I’ve ever consumed. So satisfying in every way! After eating and hitting the pharmacy we quickly found a nice, quiet place in Lone Pine…..WITH A SHOWER to spend the night. It’s the little things, right? We hadn’t showered in seven days. (My apologies to the people in the diner trying to enjoy their lunch) This was lesson one on appreciating the small, creature comforts we have grown accustomed to. A shower.! How it changes a person. Clean water….give that some thought.

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At our resupply in Onion Valley. Looking pretty warn out, but just had the best breakfast burritos on the EARTH!

We slept like kings and queens but had to rise early to leave at 5 am to start our way back over Kearsarge Pass.
One of the sweetest things about picking up a resupply for me, other than the food, of course, was knowing that in my buckets were notes. Notes from my sweet, husband. I also added my own notes, written by myself, for myself over the few weeks before we left for this trip. They were priceless and irreplaceable and as we continued on this journey my heart ached for them and they became to me, just as valuable as my food supply. Just the smallest of interaction with my hubs set my heart on fire! Those of you that know me well, KNOW that besides my all-loving and radically fervent God, there is NO ONE to me like my husband. He’s my north.

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What happens when J says “ACT NORMAL!”

We made our way back over Kearsarge, packed our tents and made another arduous hike to Glen Pass. Oh, Glen Pass. I could write a book JUST on Glen Pass, but I fear it would have so much cussing, that no one could read it. Glen Pass (for me, because we EACH had THAT pass) was so difficult. So severe and rough. So painful and punishing that this was what almost put me over the edge. I was also still hiking in sandals.
My only journal entry for Glen Pass says “we made it 3/4 of the way up the pass. Found a nice lake to camp at. Today totally killed me. My feet are toast. BLISTERS!”
Not that the skin that had slipped off of two toes to expose the rawest, most open, sore, form of skin possible wasn’t enough, now I am adding blisters. I am a runner and have some pretty impressive calluses that I love. I don’t wear socks when I run and never have. These calluses have graced my feet for literally YEARS! When getting pedicures, the first thing out of my mouth is “please, DO NOT remove those calluses.” Those wonderful, feet-protecting calluses are what slipped right off, like gloves being removed from fingers. It was some of the most unimaginable pain I’ve ever felt!

 


img_5188When we got to camp, I was done. I told K, K and J that I needed to be hiked out to the next ranger station in the morning, which I think was about 4 miles out. My feet looked like hamburger and I could barely stand on them. I was angry and had tried everything but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make it any further. I went to bed so defeated. So saddened and so disappointed. I was crushed in every sense of the word.img_5193

I got into my tent and read the resupply notes. One from me and one from my sweet husband.

Note to me,
You’ve made it to your first resupply. You are already a testimony to your strength, discipline, determination and straight up BADASSERY! I know in the last few days you have felt the discomfort of the trail, but this journey is way more profound than any TRUE discomfort. You asked for this and are making remarkable memories and are LIVING YOUR DASH! Happy trails Paula. Continue to be epic!

And from G-
Baby!! You are living the gift of life that God has given you. NO REGRETS! I miss you & Love you. You are amazing.
Love, your G
He added a little-printed picture of the beach (our favorite place) to the note. It said “Live Life” becasue since the day we met this has ALWAYS been our agreement with one another.

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ALWAYS looked forward to a cherished these resupply notes.

 

I remembered God’s promises; -“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

-“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions and the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

I slept.

No familiar with The Dash that I refered to in my note to myself, chick here to read it.

Link to past JMT posts

 

Lost and Found

It’s a shame when I look back and realize that the last time I wrote on this blog was January. SERIOUSLY?  Ive slipped and let it go and I’m not overly thrilled about that. Although in my defense in the time between then and now I’ve trained, traveled, had our last baby graduate high school, had parties, had visitors, hiked mountains, packed and sold a house, unpacked, packed and sold a house again.  It’s been a roller coaster that seems to have an operator that allows you to keep riding even when you’re waving like a maniac to get off!

The last time we visited I was still steeping over the “patience” thing and thinking it was pretty….amusing that my word for the year was PATIENCE, because quite frankly that word is rarely used the vocabulary of my life.

Let me tell you what, God knew exactly what he was doing laying that word down on my heart.

When May rolled around and race season started to heat up, I flew to Pittsburgh (the city of my birth) to run the Pittsburgh Marathon with my cousin. It was one of the best I’ve done, from start to finish. I had the most incredible time visiting with my family. I just soaked in the love of it all. Imagine, crazy cousins and aunts laughing hysterically over nights of wine, dinners, painting and ball games.  I also ate some AMAZING food (HELLO Primanti’s) -Ok, I have to side bar here for a second about Primanti Brothers…can I just get a shout out for those sandwiches? I mean, the genius behind a sandwich with grilled meat, coleslaw with italian dressing,  and FRENCH FRIES (yes, on the sandwich) is mind blowing!! Ok, lets stop the drooling and get back on track. The race went excellent, but MAN, was it hilly!! It was a great celebration to do with my cousin, who had decided to get back into running after taking some time off while raising her babies. We ended up doing the 5K the day before (Saturday) and the marathon on Sunday to get our extra Runner of Steel medals! Who doesn’t love that extra bling?

In June I had the inaugural Ironman Coeur d’Alene 70.3. How could I not race the half-Ironman in my own city? It was an amazing day! Being on a hometown race course with so many people and friends was truly incredible. The race brought out seasoned racers, and newbie’s looking for that next challenge. It was motivating and encouraging being out there. I think every time I looked up, there was a friendly face. It was such a fun day and I learned that I really REALLY love that half-Ironman distance.

After Ironman, I went into a waiting period. I guess this was my season starting with patience. I went into a waiting period for the month that had consumed my entire mind and calendar for the year…. August! August was the month I was going to set out to through-hike the John Muir Trail (JMT) in the Sierra Nevada’s of California. A journey that would take roughly 3 weeks and was 230-miles long.

Although I really only had a few weeks to wait after IM until I left for CA, it seemed like an eternity. I spent the time with family and friends, who asked a million questions. I studied blogs and websites about the trail. I made trial runs with my gear (I’ll post a gear list later) I doubted my ability on some days. I wondered if I could really do some of the things required of me out there in the wild. Could I make the distance daily? Could I survive almost a month on nothing but dehydrated meals? Could I deal with the cold? The altitude? The heat? The animals? Could I seriously NOT shave my legs for 3 weeks? And mostly, could I honestly not shower for that long? And HOW could I possibly carry a WAG bag (waste alleviation and gelling bag) with my waste for the entire time after coming off of Mt Whitney? Thankfully, we ended up hiking in the opposite direction and this was unnecessary, praise God! Although, having to carry a cat-hole trowel and find a decent enough place to dig a hole and “do my business” wasn’t a piece of cake for me either. ALL of this was going to be a learning experience as this was my longest through hike. AND it was going to stretch my patience in ways I couldn’t imagine.

Have you ever felt like you’ve been in a place where you’ve lost and found yourself? Where every fiber of your being seems to dismantle, peel away and come completely undone only to have the most beautiful restoration happen? To unravel to be delivered? This…this is my John Muir journey. It’s amazing that God had to get me alone and into the wild to do that type of work on me. That Ive allowed myself to get so busy at times, too busy, to sit and pay attention. That I had to be so far removed from my normal day to day life, and SO challenged, crying an agony a few days, to hear His still small voice. That he had to take me off the grid, in the middle of nowhere in the wilderness to find me. He’s always been there. He’s never left me. BUT I’ve allowed the business and the clamor of life to pull me off track. It was as beautiful as it was brutal and a journey of losing myself to find His love at an even deeper level than I could ever imagine.

 

-Con’t