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Top 5 favorite foods (halfway through)

 


5. Honey Stingers Gummies- Pink Lemonade 

I'm been a huge proponent of these guys for quite some time. Don't waste your time with any other flavors. They are inferior and hint at cough syrup. A great feature of these gummies besides their taste is the consistency. They are not too sticky and not too hard and they hold up well in both cold and hot temperatures. Go get some!

4. Chicken peanut noodles

This dish was concocted by our very own Nick Neiman. It features a heaping spoonful of peanut butter, angel hair pasta and 7 oz of prepackaged chicken. With the curry spices, coconut milk and red pepper flakes this could be the best dinner we get to eat. When we're feeling crazy we add a little hint of lemon powder. Trust me, it's crazy delicious.

3. Gem Cinnamon Maca Almond Butter

You want an easy-to-consume, high calorie, healthy choice that gives you energy now and later? Look no further. The most popular uses for the almond butter? On a tortilla with jam or honey or just straight down the pipe!

2. Dried Kiwi/mango

We don't get a ton of calories from these guys but they are so good at adding variety and flavor to our diet. Who knew that a dried kiwi could taste so good?! Completely addicted.

1. Fresh Trout

A couple moments on this trip have brought us to places with great fishing. For the most part Ben is a catch-and-release guy, but we have been able to cook a few fish fresh out of the stream. Wow! What flavor! We don't use more than tin foil, olive oil, lemon and salt. Incredibly moist and flavorful. Go to the closest trout infested waters, start your own fire on the bank, and experience this for yourself.

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Things I've learned about thru hiking while on the PCT

You can do everything with your poles on.

Trekking poles are both incredibly handy and an incredible nuisance. They certainly help the actual process of hiking, but as soon as you stop their utility often plummets to negative levels, tripping people, falling over, and increasing the levels of general chaos in your immediate area. In short, as soon as you stop hiking, your poles are somewhat of a liability. One way to help alleviate this problem, as well as increase your "doing stuff" efficiency is to keep your poles attached to your hands. Which means you have to learn to do everything with them on. Its kind of like puberty all over again when the sudden growth spurts caused your lanky arms and legs to get in the way of everything. With enough practice, though, we all managed to awkwardly gangle our way through the junior high halls. Though still awkward, going about your activities with poles on is more bearable than dropping them down the mountain you just climbed...

 

Every day you will literally stumble. And trip. And fall.

And it's almost by some mysterious power that you can't avoid it. I've been doing this for 1,300 miles, so you'd think I'd be used to my pack, the trail, walking, etc. But for reason I do not understand, I still trip over rocks, roots, trekking poles, and my own feet. What makes tripping more bizarre is how immediately infuriating and demoralizing it is. Even if you see the obstacle in your path, make a mental note, and prepare yourself to avoid it at all costs, each root, rock, shrubbery, and squirrel (not really, but I won't be surprised when it happens) jumps underneath your feet. If you're lucky, you'll just misstep. If not, you'll catapult onto your face and and garage sale your gear.Personally, the worst moments are in the middle of an uphill climb when you've hit your rhythm and are feeling strong. A sudden stumble destroys your groove with such finality that recovering requires a disproportionate amount of energy now that you're winded and angry.

 

You will smell terrible, and there's nothing you can do about it. 

Showers are rare, and lakes, though refreshing, don't clean well. It's not that you aren't aware of your stench, but you become accustomed to it because any attempts to stave off the oderous cloud are futile. The nastiness eventually permeated everything you own, including your sleeping clothes that are your last bastion of cleanliness.  

Perhaps the worst part about the smell is the moment you reenter civilization. Though your BO no longer bothers you, it is obviously and incredibly offensive to everyone within a 50ft radius. And again, there's nothing you can do about it except hang your head in shame knowing that you are the reason for the scathing glares and plugged noses. We have a stick of deodorant in each of our bounce boxes, but it is inaccessible to us until we get to the post office, which means there's still plenty of contact with other humans that is punctuated by our inhumane quality. Apologies to all those wonderful people who have given us rides into town while we have hitchhiked in our sorry state.

 

Peeing on yourself is unavoidable. 

As gross as it is, it is the truth. I can't tell you how many times I've peed on my shoes, my pants, my hands, my legs, and my trekking poles (see above). I think there are a lot of factors that contribute to this issue. For one, you drink a lot of water to stay hydrated; the inevitable outcome is that you have to pee a lot. But there's no sense to make an event of it...you have miles to tackle. So you stop wherever and whenever you want on the trail and go about your business. Additionally, unbuckling your hip belt is definitely an extra, avoidable step, as is setting down your trekking poles. Essentially, anything that slows you down or is an extra step can be easily bypassed. 

The other considerations are the external, uncontrollable factors. Wind, slopes, rock angles, and insects all throw chaos into the mix. The result is unpredictability that often ends up where you don't want it. Oh well...good thing it's sterile and rain/a shower/laundry will fix it.

 

Blogging is hard.

After a long day of racking up the miles, most often the only thing you want to do is sit down next to a fire, eat dinner, then crawl into your sleeping bag and pass out. For someone like myself, for whom composing written words has always been a tedious struggle, the idea and act of producing a document containing highlights from our adventure seems incredibly taxing and demoralizing. I wish I were a faster, more efficient writer, but I've realized that the trail is not really the place to develop those skills. Rather, it should be a place to highlight one's already trained proficiency.

Another problem with blogging is simply my mobile phone. Typing on it is terrible. Period. Sometimes, after attempting to write lengthy paragraphs on my phone, I simply give up because my frustration mounts at my inability to accurately get the words on the screen. Maybe someday someone will figure out a truly easy way to compose on a mobile device (in a lightweight, portable fashion), but today is not that day.

That being said, please be patient with our writing. We're working on it, but it will take a while to get it into a publishable state.

 

Calves of steel.

I've always been thin, with legs that could easily be grafted onto a chicken's body without any real noticeable change. And though my thighs and butt are looking good, the true change is in my calves. though they are not particularly large, they are solid. Chris and Nick have both pre-grown their calves after their years of mountaineering, but for me, these new drumsticks are a special treat. My calves are toned, tan, and ready for any climb the trail can throw at them. Unfortunately it just took 1,000 miles to sculpt them into the hill-crushing motors they are.

It is actually unbelievable how steady our legs have become. We can walk for 25 miles a day at a brisk 2.5-3 mph pace and, though sore, they are ready to keep going, day after day after day. I never actually believed I would acclimate to this kind of strenuous exercise, but I guess the human body has a way of surprising us with what it is capable of adapting to.

 

Minimalist is the only real option. 

As the miles have accumulated, we've met a lot of people, many who do not have much hiking experience. The individuals who seem best prepared for the trail, are moving the fastest, and seem most likely to succeed are those with the smaller packs. Leave the extra stuff home. You won't use it and it weighs too much. One set of hiking clothes. One set of sleeping clothes. As few layers as necessary to keep you warm and dry when its terrible outside.

My pack is roughly 60L, and that's just because I couldn't find a 50L pack when I had to buy a new one in Tahoe. Fortunatley, my 60L can be collapsed, and the pack is lightweight, so the extra space isn't an issue. But I don't need that space. In fact, having the space invites me to fill it with more stuff, which is a temptation I am avoiding. Yes I have my luxury items, such as my fishing rod and a kindle, but everything else is a bare essential to what I would consider a safe a smart hike. Though each hiker will have a different gauge of what that level is, the lighter you go, the easier you'll be. So if you're reading this and you have some backpacking experience, but want to diver further into exploring the mountains for a few days at a time, go back through your gear and start weeding out all the pieces that are, at best, a "just in case" item. Be smart about it, but I guarantee it will make your experience better.

Which brings me to my next point...

 

Water is heavy. 

In fact, it is probably one of the densest things we will carry. Our packs might be light weight, but when we have had to travel 20 miles through the desert heat before your next water source, you load up. And loading up is not fun. On a really hot day, you should drink 1L every 3-4 miles, which means a 20 mile waterless stretch is the equivalent of 12lbs of water. 12lbs is almost my base pack weight, so doubling it just to stay hydrated sucks. 

Fortunately, as with food, your pack gets lighter as you consume the water. Which is why I live by the mantra "if i eat it, i don't have to carry it."

 

Being indoors during bad weather is a simple, wonderful luxury. 

Until thru hiking, I don't think I ever really appreciated how convenient it is to step indoors during rain, wind, lightning, hail, snow, etc. Buildings are truly extraordinary in the way they mitigate most of what nature throws our direction, particularly when that being thrown is cold and wet. When your only form of shelter is your tent, and you are 3 days from the nearest structure, your options to shield yourself from the elements are really limited. Yes, in an emergency situation you would set your tent up during the middle of the day to escape a particularly nasty, life-threatening storm (which we haven't had to do yet...don't worry), but the vast majority of cases require that you just keep walking until you get to your evening campsite. Then and only then are you able to escape the blasting winds and harsh rains in the marginally better peace of your thin nylon cocoon.

Also, AC. Enough said.

 

Avoid emotional attachments to your gear.

You will lose it. Or break it. Or throw it away. Or give up on it. As I once heard, its a tool, not a jewel. Maintain it, but don't expect it to last the entire trip, because the trail will do everything in its power to rip, tear, bend, pop, break, and crush your equipment. And each piece of your gear is prone to this outcome--nothing is safe. Even backpacks, which are arguably in the top 3 of important items, may fail, which is particularly devastating (Nick and I can both attest to this). 

So, even though some of your gear was bright and shiny when you got it, don't get attached. Don't let the disappointment break your spirit along with your broken trekking pole. Its just not worth it when you have thousands of miles to go, especially when a few dollars can often fix the problem for the next few hundred miles.

 

The mountains are the best place to wake up. 

I can't really put this one into words, but it is the greatest truth I've stumbled upon so far. Every morning I wake up around the time the sun beams start to spill over the peaks in the distance, and every morning it is a pleasure. For some reason beyond me, the mountains are a magical place and I count myself incredibly fortunate that I have the opportunity to spend these 5 months deep in the heart of the wild places still left. With each new daybreak, these wild places remind me of why I have a need to be outside, of why the mountains are close to my heart. I love them, and know my love will continue to grow with time.

If you haven't yet this summer, go spend the night in the mountains. When you wake up, you'll know deep down exactly what I mean.

 

-Ben

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cabazón to Big Bear

 

The Night of the Wind and Moon and Flowers

After Nick flew back into palm Springs, we made our way back to Ziggy and the Bear's to continue the trail where we left off. the desert heat was overbearing that day, so we hung around in the shade until the sun started to dip towards the horizon, weakening it's barrage on the desert floor. morale was high due to our collective time off, our desire to be back into the mountains, and our hesitant excitement to see a rattlesnake. We were now all together, a crew ready to tackle the remaining 2,400 miles.

As we began climbing into the sunset, we passed our first windfarm, and for good reason. On the bluffs separating the San Bernardino mountains from the desert floor the wind blew persistently and aggressively, and as to be expected, we found ourselves acting like boys, using our bodies and backpacks like sails go catch the wind and push us around. We yelled and laughed at the top of our lungs, but the powerful gusts drowned our noise in its constant roar.

Once the sun set, the wind abruptly ceased as we began the first of our many night hikes. However, this night was far different from our other night hikes. We were climbing towards the mountains through an area called the White Water Preserve, but the landscape was still desertlike—grasses and short shrubs dotted the hills and valleys. What made this night hike different, though, was the moon. It had risen over our backs bright and full, illuminating the earth with its soft silvery glow. Because there were no trees to shade it's light, we could see for miles in all directions. As it continued to rise higher, it eliminated our need for headlamps. And so we hiked for hours under the smile of the moon through the quiet, barren places that were so close to a city, yet so far from being civilized, the soft sand swishing under our feet and the dark bushes outlining the our trail.

Our destination for the evening was Mission Creek, a small stream that stretched its life-giving moisture to the desert from its source high in the mountains above. When we finally dropped into the creek bottom, sometime after midnight, we quickly found a soft spot for out tent meet feet from the water, which being this far down, was a small gurgling brook. Camp was set, sleep was around the corner, but I was greatly distracted. 

That day awed my senses. Feeling the wind tear at my skin, seeing the moon light the world, hearing the water splash over rocks, but the sensation that filled me the most was the fragrant aroma of the trees blossoming next to the creek. They say that memories are tied to the senses, and that smell is the strongest link; I believe it to be true. Never had I experienced such a wonderful aroma as this. It was like walking into a greenhouse dedicated to only growing the best flowers, except that there was no humidity and the cool breeze kept the smell from being overbearing, though I doubt there was much risk to that.

I wish I could describe a sensation that can only be experienced. But I can, without a doubt, say those flowers, whatever they were, put even the most pleasant roses to shame. I have never experienced a fragrance so sweet, rich, wonderful, and delightful in my life. As I drifted to sleep, the aroma cemented the day's hiking deep in my memory.

Who Would Have Expected?

The next two days to Big Bear were highlighted by heat, a climb, the forest, a zoo, some trail magic, and a bit of luck.

We followed Mission Creek to its source, which started off as a relatively easy grade upwards in the cool of the early morning (i think we were hiking by 5am that day). But as the sun climbed with us, temperatures began to soar. I'm order to climb the 5,000 vertical feet necessary to get us into the San Bernandinos, the grade of the trail increased, much to my dismay. My green legs were fine on the flat stretches, and I could climb the short day hikes in WA without much trouble, but I was not ready for a more 20 mile days with weight and a climbing. I was slow, and the heat made it worse. 

Before we got high enough into the mountains where the tall evergreens gave sanctuary from the heat, we went through a valley we aptly named "Valley of the Saws." There was in it made by human hands, but for a half mile stretch of trail, hundreds of some species of cicada/grasshopper/cricket/bug made a noise that sounded like a circular saw cutting, complete with the characteristic pitch change that happens as a saw moves through a board. How a creature was able to create such a metallic sound is beyond me, but it was eerily interesting nonetheless. At least it wasn't hundreds of rattlesnakes warning us to stay away.

The timber was a welcomed relief, not only because of the shade it offered, but it meant we were out of the desert. Once we were above 7,000', our path mellowed and rolled along the Ridgeline of the San Bernandinos. That night we hiked through a beautiful sunset and made camp a couple hours later.

We were on the trail again early the next morning with only a day's hike between us and Big Bear. The trail merged with old mountain road that clearly provided access for gold panning, lumber harvesting, camping, and other mountain activities. Chris and Nick pulled ahead of me again, which was fine because I was enjoying the bright morning in silence. 

I came to an intersection that, on my Guthooks app, said led to a private zoo. I was intrigued, but it looked off trail and neither Nick nor Chris were waiting expectantly for me, so I assumed we weren't going to investigate. Instead I spent 15 minutes stretching, ate a snack, and began moving again. To my surprise, 500 yards later the trail passed a series of fenced enclosures home to various creatures of all shapes and sizes, including multiple bears, a panther, and a huge male lion. Though I could only get within 25 yards due to an exterior fence, I excitedly watched the animals lounging about. It turns out it was a "zoo" that was home to retired movie animals...unfortunately it didn't seem too well maintained and the enclosures liked too small. But how often do you see a real lion while you're hiking in the woods?

A few hours later I caught up to Chris, but in an unexpected manner. I rounded a bend in the trail, and there he was with his shoes off, sitting on a couch, drinking a soda. We were still in the middle of the woods. So I too pulled a soda out of the metal dumpster next to the couch, and joined him. Turns out that every summer, the Big Bear hostel, which we stayed at later that night, takes a couch out to the trail and stocks the dumpster with goodies. It was certainly the best piece of trail magic we had come across so far.

The afternoon wore on, and we finally made it to highway 18, which was our access point to Big Bear. We sat around contemplating how to get into town since we didn't have any luck with the number associated with a trail angel that would supposedly give us a ride. Right as we decided to hitch, a little piece of luck floated our way. A full-sized Ford van with "taxi" written on the side pulled up to the small parking lot and let a single passenger out, so also liked like a through hiker. The driver quoted us a fee we were willing to pay, and within 5 minutes of deciding how to get to town, we were on our way much faster than a hitch. 

We were dropped off at the hostel, arranged our things in our room, and began the quest for food. The hostel owner had worked with restaurant and shop owners for years to set up deals for tenants, so we took advantage of one at the local Thai restaurant. We each ordered two entrées for the price of one. Unfortunately, we discovered that the common Seattle practice of designating spiciness with the star system didn't translate so well to this small-town venue. Our hunger and our difficulty handling the spiciness were in direct conflict with each other, but eventually hunger won out, much to the detriment of our palette.

We consoled ourselves by going to an empty bar (it was a Tuesday night) for drinks and a couple rounds of cutthroat. Passing out that night in a bed was wonderful, our bellies full and our spirits high. 

We spent the next day running our laundry list of errands required during a zero day, including laundry and finding a donut shop.  Pro tip: if you ever need to use public transportation in Big Bear, make sure you have exact change and enough of it to pay every time you step onto the bus. Turns out the big-city practice of offering a transfer ticket for multiple rides during a set time is absurd—according to the cranky bus driver that is just a free ride...

Later that night Chris attempted the Grande Burrito Challenge at a small Mexican restaurant, but he had ruined his appetite eating too many snacks and a small meal before. I don't know if I've ever seen him so disappointed. Another night in a bed made up for it, especially since we were out the door before 5am the next morning. We hitched back out to the trail and were on our way to Cajón Pass, a magical place rumored to have a Taco Bell and McDonald's right next to the trail...

-ben

 

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Seattle to Idyllwild to Cabazon

Seattle

The weekend flew by and it was already Monday, Memorial Day, the American holiday infamous for relaxing, barbecues, and anticipating the promises the upcoming summer months have in store.

 

But I was not relaxing. Instead, I was ignoring my scholarly responsibilities (sorry Alex and Joel) because I was consumed by my final trip preparations and the need to clear out my apartment, divest various possessions, and throw the rest into storage.

 

The people around me were also unable to relax. My parents, who had driven to Seattle to see me off, were hard at work helping me clean and disassemble my apartment. My sister Rachael (who had come with my parents) our really good friend Amanda were busy with the monotonous task of sorting and compiling the last of our meals into their respective resupply boxes. Monday was a long day.

 

But it improved. At 5pm we halted our labor and made our way to the party I had organized to celebrate my pending graduation from business school, my start of the PCT, my birthday, and my 10 years having lived in Seattle. I was so wonderful to be surrounded with smiling faces and laughter of the people who have made these 10 years so special and unique. I am truly lucky having met the people who have made my Seattle life what it is. It was also a treat to get one last big social gathering before venturing out for five months of near solitude. Thank you all for making that night so memorable.

 

Tuesday was much of the same. Work work work trying to sort through the stuff I had accumulated over the years. All the material possessions that I have and use fairly regularly stands out in stark contrast to months of living with nothing at my disposal except what I carry on my back. But after another day of sweat-breaking toil, we finally had everything packed and stored away, the apartment cleaned except for a few odds and ends, and the resupply packaged and ready for shipping. My family and a few close friends stayed up late that night, even though we were exhausted, so I could have one last Matador nacho before 5 months of our instant dinners, snacks, and oatmeal.

 

That night almost exactly my 7 year love affair with Matador nachos, and I was actually lucky enough to have Chauncey there who bought me my first plate on the night of my 21st birthday. Now if you aren't familiar, Matador nachos are amazing. For $5 at happy hour you can get the biggest plate of the best Texas-style nachos in the world (at least I think so). The Matador is sacred to Chris and I, and there was a time in the not so distant past when we were eating nachos twice a week. Our voracious appetites meant we could each devour at least one plate, if not more, which is no small feat for anyone who has attempted.

 

Regardless, my nachos were amazing and I went home to my empty apartment feeling an odd combination of contentment and uneasiness. Early the next morning (Wednesday), I said goodbye to my parents and Rachel before their long drive back to the Big Sky. I am absolutely positive that I would not be able to attempt this journey without their help and support, both the direct labor that they put in as well as knowing how excited they are for me to go on such a big adventure. Thank you Mom, Dad and Rachael for everything.

 

After the truck full of people and puppies drove away, I went back upstairs, finished the odds and ends, took extra time to enjoy my final Seattle shower, and packed my bag (which I had just received the night before...which is another long story). Everything that I needed for next five months fit into this single, small backpack that, without food and water, weighed less than 15lbs. I still have difficulty expressing that how odd that feeling was, knowing that my life was instantly transforming from the comfort and convenience of an urban dweller to the minimalist, bare-bones necessities of a trail warrior.

 

Amanda rolled up around 9am, and we raced around the city to complete some crucial, last minute errands, like going to REI to get my shoes in a bigger size. She let me drive her car down to the airport simply because I love driving and haven't NOT driven a car for more than a few months since I got behind the wheel 13 years ago. I definitely got two satisfactory honks in during the quick jaunt to the airport—Seattle drivers are the worst and it brings me great pleasure to let them know it. Thank you Amanda, for your tireless help and understanding how to enjoy the little things in life.

 

After a quick goodbye, I easily slid through the security line and made my way to a restaurant next to my gate. I was able to chat with my brother, who is currently overseas. We talked about the great adventure I was embarking on, how I was feeling nervous, excited, hesitant, scared, and overwhelmed. He assured me of his confidence that I could do this, and wished he were able to do it with me. Me too, bro. Wish you were here Strong Rangering the $#!% out of this trail.

 

At the final boarding call, I grabbed my bag and made my way into the plane, knowing at the very least that I was going to end up in California. To get back to Washington I would either have to walk or buy another plane ticket.

 

Now this is where things got interesting. Since Nick had left the trail early to deal with his leg injury and was still headed to Michigan for a wedding over the weekend, our plans to get me to Idyllwild and Nick to Palm Springs had evaporated. I was currently without the means to get myself to Idyllwild, which is where I was supposed to meet Chris. Of course, this was definitely in my mind during the flight. As we got close to Palm Springs, I started chatting with Greg, the man sitting next to me in the flight. He's from Bainbridge, but has a place in the Springs that he was going to prep for the summer heat. After telling him about my own reasons for being on the flight, he offered to drive me part of the way if I was unable to find a better ride. When we landed, I furiously started messaging friends and brainstorming ideas to find my way out to the mountains, particularly because I wasn’t too keen on starting my trip with a hitch. I had never hitched before, and hitching through the desert heat sounded unbearable to my heat-averse Seattle skin. After a blitz of calls and texts that only turned into dead ends, I remembered that just a few hours earlier, Amanda had told me that her cousin Brad and Brandon had down to Palm Springs earlier that morning for a wedding latest in the weekend. Of course, I asked her for one of their numbers and sure enough, after a brief chat, the two of them agreed to drive me an hour up to Paradise Cafe, a famous little spot where the PCT crosses a highway south of Idyllwild, which is where Chris had arranged another ride to get me the rest of the way. I couldn't believe how fortunate I was, that in a situation where I needed help the most, I got it from such unexpected places. Thanks Greg, for being willing to help a complete stranger. And thanks Brad and Brandon...it was great to see and talk with you again...I definitely owe you guys a drink when I'm back in Seattle.

 

Idyllwild

As we arrived at the Paradise Cafe, we were greeted with a raucous honking and yelling; Chris was hanging out the window of a Food Explorer that pulled in just behind us, which was just another example of the crazily convenient timing I had experienced this far. He quickly introduced me to Jules, a trail angel he had met in Idyllwild. I said my goodbyes to Brad and Brandon, and we were on our way to the small mountain town. Jules was incredibly familiar with the area and after hearing a little bit about me, began pointing out interesting landmarks, naming trees and landscape features, and tell various stories about her life before and after moving to the mountains.

 

The hour drive finally brought us to the little town of Idyllwild. About 4,000 people live there, but you'd never guess it because the town is tucked in a small mountain valley with the homes scattered throughout the forest. One of these homes, which is an old log cabin originally built in the glory days of the Californian mountains, is the residence of my good friend Ross’s grandmother, Katie. After Ross told her about my trip, she invited us to enjoy a meal with her and her friends, Pat, Alice, and Paul. The evening was wonderful; stories were shared, jokes were told, and the spaghetti and garlic bread was devoured by us two hikers, knowing that home-cooked food would be in short supply during our trip. Little did we know, but Alice and Paul were PCT veterans—Paul had hiked it twice. They are also some of the founders of the Guthooks hiking app, which is a fantastic tool for navigating the trail. After saying good byes, we got a ride back to the little inn we were staying at. I was eager with anticipation and had the cliche butterflies in my stomach, knowing that within 12 hrs I would truly begin my journey. Thank you Grandma Katie for your hospitality, Pat, for your stories, and Paul and Alice for your encouragement, guidance, and app. We appreciate these gifts far more than you know.

 

Early the next morning, Jules picked Chris and I up and took us to the trailhead. She gave us a wonderful parting gift and filled us with words of encouragement as we stepped onto the trail. Thank you Jules, for your generosity to help strangers. You were a fantastic trail angel.

 

And like that I was hiking on the PCT towards the summit of San Jacinto, the tallest mountain in the San Jacinto range. Though it was only 10 miles to the top, the high elevation, intense California sunshine, and my rusty legs made the going slow. But it was worth it, as the 10,834’ peak offered unprecedented views of the desert floor 9,000 feet below and mountain ranges in the distance. Chris pointed out the mountains he had already hiked, as well as the ranges we were headed towards. We also met Darlyn and Marsha, two fun-loving young ladies, friends since childhood, who live by the motto “friends who hike together, stay together.” We exchanged stories and summit photo taking, and began the descent back to the main portion of the PCT. After another eight miles, we set up camp for the night. Day one, my first day of the next five months, was complete.

Chris and Ben on the summit of San Jacinto

Chris and Ben on the summit of San Jacinto

 

The next morning, while making breakfast and tearing camp down, we had a ghostly visitor sneak through. This was the fabled Tuna Helper, an avid PCT hiker who is trying to set the record for the fastest un-assisted PCT hike. He barely made a sound as he strolled past, his long stride making him appear to hover above the ground. He adheres to the most extreme ultra-light style, probably carrying less than 20lbs at any given time, allowing him to much more easily hike 40-50 miles a day. When you can hike that far, you don’t need to carry nearly as much food since you have far fewer days between towns. Chris wishes we could go that fast, but Nick and I whine too much and are too much dead weight. Plus, we want to enjoy this time away from reality.

 

Anyway, Chris and I began our descent out of the San Jacintos towards Cabazon. The morning started cool and beautiful, but the farther we dropped and the higher the sun rose, the more oppressive the heat became. What’s worse is that the 4 mile distance (as the crow flies) from our day’s starting point to the next water source was stretched out to 16 miles of gradually descending trail. To further complicate matters, I had been feverish the night before I left for California, which hadn’t bothered me too bad until this moment. In the middle of the day, in the glaring heat, my fever started up again. I was disoriented, dizzy, and sluggish; thankfully Chris noticed, and we curled up in the shade of a large boulder where I was able to replenish my fluids, rest, and battle the contradictory feelings of burning up and feeling chilly. Let me just say that having a fever in the middle of the day in the middle of the desert is one of my least favorite things. The fever broke, and we were able to make our way down to the water, where we put up the rainfly for some shade, laid down, rested, and waited for the sun to weaken. In the cool of the evening, we walked the remaining five miles across the desert floor to Cabazon, the home of the trail angels Ziggy and The Bear.

 

Cabazon

Ziggy and The Bear greeted us with cold gatorade and fresh fruit, and welcomed us to their home where we were free to stay and enjoy their hospitality for as long as we needed. It was good to be off my feet, out of the sun, and have water accessible at the turn of a wrist. It had only been two days and 35 miles, but no matter what I had done to prepare myself, I was not ready for the reality of the trail. Fortunately (or maybe I’m just a little weak) Chris and I headed back into Palm Springs the next morning to hang out, relax, rest, and wait for Nick to get back from the wedding. We spent the weekend going to movies, eating delicious food, and sleeping in a hotel room. I have to admit I was quite spoiled that the first days of my journey were probably the easiest start for anyone attempting the PCT. I was fortunate. Fortunate to have family who has my back. Fortunate to have friends who will do anything to help out. Fortunate to meet strangers who are kind, generous, and hospitable. Fortunate to have two great guys at my side who are encouraging, funny, and patient as we push each others’ buttons day after day. The PCT is a great thing. Tough, but great. I’m looking forward to the future journey.

 

-Ben

 

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Hungry hungry hikers.

I am lounging under a tree at 1pm in the Mojave Desert, (We've found that it is a more ideal time for napping than for hiking in this heat.) and it occurs to me that I am hungry. Nevermind that I have probably consumed 1000+ calories already in the 2 hours I've been here. It has begun.

I've heard legend of the PCT Thru hiker appetite. By the time a friend of mine reached the middle of Oregon, she was ordering two entrees when in town to satiate the cravings of her 5'6" frame.

When we started, our miles per day was not much less than what is now, but something has signaled my metabolism to spike. When we were planning meals we knew our diets would accelerate to consumption of 4000 - 5000 calories a day per person. 

We planned accordingly and created a modified version version of a homemade oatmeal online. The oatmeal originally weighed in at 220 calories per serving. After adding copious amounts of Nido (Vitamin rich, calorie dense powdered milk) and brown sugar to each serving and doubling the recipe we came up with a breakfast that easily pushed 600 calories.

When we first got to the trail we thought we had made a huge mistake. It was too much oatmeal! We would take 2 servings and split it between three people and even then it was hard to finish the last few bites. 

Since mile 600, the individual packets are no longer "share size." We each rapidly devour our oatmeal without any problem. I know this is only the beginning, and I will keep you posted on any records shattered.

A quick side note: During our planning we found that we had to aim for 125 calories per ounce of food to make sure that our packs were not too heavy. I reached out to Nick at Gem down in Bend, OR. Nick had just the thing for us. Cinnamon Maca Nut Butter. Well over 125 calories per ounce and full of the fats, proteins, and sugars our bodies are craving. So far we have gone through 2 lbs of the stuff. Thanks to Nick and his team for a delicious and healthy source of calories!

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CJB

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More Sponsors!

We are a lucky crew; as of last week, we have two new companies who are helping us complete our journey.

Tenkara Rod Co.

The first is Tenkara Rod Co., based in Driggs, ID. Tenkara is the traditional style of Japanese fly fishing that originated about 200 years ago. Though tenkara techniques and values are similar to the more common Western style fly fishing, tenkara pares down the complexity by eliminating the reel in favor of a fixed-length line attached to the tip of the rod. To make up for the lack of control a reel offers, a tenkara rod is traditionally 12ft long so fishers can still make a perfect cast to the fish holds. Tenkara also offers a great way for beginners to take up fly fishing, as it cuts down on the amount of knowledge one needs to have before getting on the water and fishing.

I knew that hiking this summer would prevent me from my normal summertime fly fishing. If I'm honest, I'll admit that I was especially bummed considering how much time I'll be in the mountains over the next 5 months and unable to spend an hour next to a calm stream waiting to see the silver flash of a strike. However, Tenkara Rod Co.'s setups are both lightweight (about 3 oz.) and compact (collapsed length of 20 inches). Tanner at TRC understood my plight and is hooking me up with their Sawtooth model, named after the Sawtooth Mountain Range in Central Idaho. The Sawtooth is TRC's slower action rod, which means it makes playing a fish a little more lively. The rod is also a beautiful ruddy orange that matches much of my other gear.

So far, we haven't had any opportunities to fish, which is fine because I'm not going to bring the rod until we reach the Sierras. But I can't express how excited I am that I will get to spend part of this trek participating in one of my favorite pastimes. Thanks Tanner & TRC for making my summer one of the most memorable.


Guthook Hikes

Chris and I had the pleasure of meeting Paul & Alice at dinner in Idyllwild, CA. Paul & Alice, two of the founders of the Guthook Hikes PCT mobile app moved to Idyllwild after they hiked the PCT. They fell in love with the small mountain community when they passed through and decided it was going to be their next home. Paul has actually finished the PCT three times, so together they have plenty of great, first-hand experience that they've built into their app. They were kind enough to offer Chris, Nick, and I each a copy of the app for free.

While hiking, we have found Guthook Hikes app to be absolutely invaluable. Not only is it responsive, quick, and accurate, it has large amounts of media content, mostly in the form of pictures, that help us identify important land marks along the way. We haven't had paper maps for the past two legs, so we have had to rely exclusively on our iPhones for navigation. Though the trail is decently marked along the way, Guthook Hikes has kept us on track and provided us critical information regarding water sources. 

Thanks Paul & Alice! It was wonderful to meet you and can't wait to share more of our stories from the trail!

 

Thanks again to all of our sponsors. You've made our trip so much better already, and we still have 90% to go!

 

-Ben

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New Sponsor: Kestrel Knives

 

I'm excited to announce that we have a new sponsor! Kestrel Knives has officially supplied each of us with a beautiful, hand-crafted, ultralight, titanium knife.

 

 

 

Though the most extreme ultralight backpacker will only pack a razor blade, I know that hiking for five months with such a dainty piece of metal would leave me disappointed. My upbringing taught me that good knife is one of the best tools you can take into the mountains. In an emergency situation, starting fires, building shelters, acquiring food, and modifying equipment (as well as fighting bears, of course) are simply much more difficult without a knife; in the most extreme circumstances, a blade can mean the difference between life and death.

Emergency preparedness aside, I also find pleasure and utility from having a true knife at my side. We'll going to need a way to cut salami and cheese, and you can't spend an evening whittling a stick with a razor blade. If I catch any fish along the way, you had better believe we are going to gut and eat them. Hence, I knew that having a strong, light, fixed blade was an essential item on my gear list.

I found Kestrel Knives through a combination of google and browsing ultralight backpacking sites. Kestrel has a very focused approach, producing tough, functional, backcountry tool in a minimalist package. After talking with Nate for a bit, I decided that the Ti Skeleton Caper was the best choice for me since it is a little stouter than the two Ultrathin models, but lighter than a stainless steel model. Altogether, the knife, kydex sheath, and paracord handle weigh about 1 oz. How's that for an ultralight fixed blade?

After I ordered my knife, Nate offered us a sponsorship that included

sending me two additional knives to give to Chris and Nick as a surprise! He even upped the cool factor and anodized them for us. Upon receiving the knives, I was stunned. They are intelligently designed, beautifully crafted, and clearly demonstrate Nate's workmanship. I think I'm just as excited to give them to Nick and Chris as they will be to receive them, which means I’m not going to publish this until I get to Idyllwild so I don't ruin the surprise. I will assuredly include their reactions.

I am definitely looking forward to carrying this knife with me for this and many future backcountry trips. I hope I have plenty of opportunities to use it along the PCT.

Thanks again Nate, for sponsoring our trip!

 

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Update: I gave the knives to Nick and Chris and they love them. We're really excited to kill bears, chop down trees, and protect ourselves from angry hippy hordes along the way!

 

If you love knives, you should get a Kestrel. They are fantastic! 

 

-Ben

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Ready (nope), Set (ummm...), GO!

I've been working on this post for a long time, and it covers multiple weeks. Hopefully I have remembered everything important.

 

May 9th  

Today I find myself in a strange loop. I took a break from the stress of school and the chaos PCT stuff to find a cathartic moment of zen, which translates to some time working with my hands. As I sat on my floor mocking up my motorcycle's wire loom, I started watching The Long Way Round, a documentary about Ewan McGregor and Charles Boorman's motorcycle journey around the world. Listening to their story unfold caught me off guard, because I felt like I was living it at that moment. Not only was I a like-minded gear head, thinking intensely about my motorcycle and it's near finished state, but I was going through the same process, thoughts, and feelings preparing for a long journey that the two actors were showing on camera. It was an unexpectedly emotional experience as I realized that in just a week, my life was going to rocket into an unknown bigger and scarier than any other I have faced so far in my (almost) 28 years.

 

May 15

We have been frantic. There have been far more logistical problems to solve than we anticipated. Chris and Nick have been moving out of their respective apartments while trying to simultaneously finish up the PCT planning that will enable them to successfully complete the first two legs. We are still waiting for 70% of our lunches and snacks to show up in the mail, which means that I'll have a lot of food organizing and packing to do before I leave in 11 short days. But it's great, because they are excited to start the trail, so no matter how stressed we've been about it, we know that the stress will melt away with the miles.

 

May 16

Their day has come. Of course, in our true form, we were trying to finish stuff until the literal last moment before Chris, Nick, and Ashley stepped on the plane. Also in true form, we got some quality goof-off time together in the form of haircuts. 

Nick and I were both of the opinion that shaving our heads was the appropriate way to start this journey, but Chris said he was just going to leave his hair the same. In order to set precedent regarding our "majority rules" decision-making policy on the trail, Nick and I promptly voted that Chris was required to shave his head as well. It turns out that what goes around comes around.

I had planned to wait and shave my head the day before I left. I will be the first to admit my hair might be my greatest point of personal vanity. Also, my friend Tava is a great stylist and I wanted to enjoy my hair add long as I could. Nick and Chris has other ideas, though. They stated that of they were shaving their heads, then I had to participate today as well. Of course, the vote went 2-1, and like that, my locks were gone.

This trip will transform us physically, mentally, and emotionally, and we're looking forward to those changes.

Our friend Taylor and I drove then to the airport, said our goodbyes, and wished them luck. I still have a lot to do...

 

May 20

This is what $900 worth of nuts, dried fruits & veggies, chocolate covered pretzels, and bagel chips looks like. We're still waiting on some other orders, but as they roll in, I'll have to divy up our 5 months of lunches and snacks into their resypply boxes.

"That's a lot of nuts!" –Kung Pow: Enter the Fist

"That's a lot of nuts!" –Kung Pow: Enter the Fist

Also, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to class on Thursday, which means I just had the last class of my formal education for the foreseeable future. That feels weird.

 

May 24

I just found out that Nick hurt his leg and is off the trail. Not only does that put his completion of the trail in jeopardy, but it might throw a wrench into how I'm supposed to get from Palm Springs to Idyllwild on Wednesday... 

 

May 25

This weekend has been great. Not only were my parents able to drive it to Seattle to see me off, but my younger sister Rachael surprised me and came out with them. And I was overwhelmed by how many people showed up to my going away/starting the PCT/birthday/graduation party. I saw friends from nearly all the circles I've made during my ten years living in Seattle, and it struck a chord deep within me knowing how much I will be missed. Maybe I'll end up back in that place, and maybe I won't, but Seattle all always feel like a city I can land and always have a smiling friend to offer me a meal and a bed. Thank you all for your friendships over the years—you have meant more to me than you know.

 

May 26

Today was a hard day, and all I can do is thank my family for their hard work and self sacrifice. My parents helped me clean and pack my apartment, which turned out to be a far greater chore than I thought. I honestly thought I could do it on my own, but I would have been up a creek without a paddlw of they hadn't helped out.  

I also need to tell how amazing my sister Rachael, and my friend Amanda are. While we were packing my stuff, the two of them spent HOURS sorting, organizing, and packing the rest of our food. It was boring, tedious, and confusing, but they did it without a single complaint. You two are rock stars.

 

I can't believe I leave tomorrow. My apartment is an empty shoebox, my life is packed away, I'm (effectively) done with school, and for the next five months, I'm going to be a homeless hiker wandering the mountains in search of discernment, commradery, and adventure.

 

-Ben

 

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Section 2 - doom

Section two went according to plan for about 15 miles and then it didn't.  

 

Chris and I hiked the the majority of our 22 miles on the first day without a hitch. In fact, we were moving along at a speedy 3.5 MPH with heavy packs containing all our new food and a ton of water due to desert conditions. In hindsight, this speed was unwise because we (a) didn't need to hike that fast, (b) weren't yet in full-on hiking shape and (c) the elevation gain was pretty large. So the unfortunate happened, my right thigh began to hurt. The rest of my body was still ready to push on so I rested it a moment and then continued. Within 2 miles the slight pain had turned into a teeth gritting limp and the majority of my weight was being transferred into my poles. We continued the next 5 miles at a crawling 1 MPH until we finally arrived at our campsite. 

 

Once at camp I went into full medical mode. Ace bandaged the thigh, elevated the leg, popped some Naproxen and crossed my fingers. Chris was nice enough to set up the tent and grab some water from the spring for cooking dinner. We ate and crashed early. 

 

By the morning the pain was gone and my leg felt tight but good. We began hiking and everything was going well until around 7 miles in when I again hit a wall of leg pain. Luckily it was only 3 more miles into town and I could get off my leg and rest it for most of a day. 

 

On day three I began with a much more subdued hope. My leg again felt tight but good as we began. We hiked on a mostly flat trail for around 3 miles and things were looking good but after that the trail started to climb and my leg declined in fashion. I traded off some heavy food from my pack to Chris and that seemed to help.

 

We hiked for another couple of miles but the trail was only getting farther from civilization and the thought of my leg getting worse and causing further damage started to creep in. If the injury was a tear that might increase in size with further use then hiking the 45 miles to our next road crossing might mean the end of my PCT. 

 

I dropped my pack, handed Chris the tent parts I was carrying and headed back from whence we came. Chris carried on to hike a couple long days in high heat and I hitch hiked to Palm Springs to see a doctor. Womp Womp.

 

These injuries are unfortunate out here on the trail but they are to be expected. The hope is that our injuries are the quick-to-heal kind and not the out-for-good kind. Fingers crossed. I'm seeing a specialist today.  

 

- NN

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a new day, a new start

I have some longer posts in queue, but i made it to Idyllwild last night. My journey to this point has been a little ridiculous, but I guess that's to be expected. Now that I'm down here you can see our last locations (little black squares) on our map. 

 

Chris and I are ready to hit the trail and meet Nick at Ziggy and The Bear's trail angel house near Cabazón, CA. 

 

Here we go! 

-ben

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Section 1 - the nitty gritty

Hiking in a dry climate can be beautiful and difficult! 

Hiking in a dry climate can be beautiful and difficult! 

There are a lot of things that just can't be planned before the trail.

This first section has been brutal for finding water. We have come across it at places we didn't anticipate water and not had it at places that absolutely promise it. Each day we look at the map of possible water caches with healthy suspicion and plan our distances.

And our feet! They take an absolute pounding each day and require careful attention and care. You can't anticipate the type 'foot focus' the trail brings. Stop every 3 hours, take off shoes, take off socks, let feet air out, check blisters, apply moleskin or K-tape, put on other set of socks, put shoes on, repeat.

We're done with 77 miles and we are in one piece. We get to bring the lessons of water and feet with us now. Section 2 here we come!

 

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Site is Live!

I finally got the website into a publishable state. Still have some work to do on the backend of the scheduling and mapping information, but that'll come.

We still have to prep our lunches in next couple of weeks, and I (Ben) still need to buy some gear. One step at a time...

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dinner party

We spent four hours tonight preparing 325 individually packaged dinners for the trip. Nick found close to 20 recipes, from Mac and Cheese to Chicken Pad Thai, that should make our dining experience far better than eating the same 4 pre-packaged meals you buy at an outdoor store.

Special thanks to Soraya, Celine, Amanda, Ashley, Taylor, and Alli for spending a beautiful Seattle evening indoors to help us out. You guys are great, and it means more than you know that you helped us out.

2 weeks until Chris, Nick, and Ashley leave...it's almost here! 

that's a lot of food 

that's a lot of food 

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