Sunday River Whitecap, one of the highlights of the Grafton Loop Trail, is not very easy to get to in winter (even if it was the first week of spring the other day). My hiking buddy, Nancy, and I tried to bushwhack to the peak a few years ago, and did not get very far. This year we tried it again, and made it to just below the summit. Alas, it was so windy and cold that we had to turn around. But no problem-- it was just as beautiful below the summit as up top. We were lucky to find the GLT coming out of Miles Notch at all, since the trail is incredibly difficult to find in the open birch forest. Maybe next year we'll make it all the way to the top.
"It's getting very real right about now."
I think I've said that more than half a dozen times over the course of the last two months, when the conversation turned to my 8 year old and I walking from Mexico to Utah via the Arizona National Scenic Trail (AZT). Every little milestone earned a "it's getting real now" label, no matter how insignificant.
Tonight I realized I misplaced out flight plans--to the point I couldn't remember what airline we were on, what web site I booked it through. Nothing. Thank God for some good ol' sleuthing and Paypal's documentation; Now I know we are flying on United into Phoenix next week. NOW it's real.
My anxiety over leaving isn't regular hiker anxiety, although there's a touch of that too. A few years ago I was diagnosed with actual anxiety. At the time I thought it was damn near preposterous. After all, I am one of the few people who doesn't get nervous speaking in front of crowds, or asking people for large donations, or walking through a Florida swamp. I thought anxiety meant being fearful of the things most people are terrified of, but in reality, my anxiety is more like, "I'm painting the house so in case I die on the trail it will be easier for my husband to sell." (Yes, these are actual words that came out of my mouth.)
To be clear, I don't believe I'm going to die on the trail, nor do I think bad things will happen to me. That's the sneaky part about anxiety: it makes you think things that aren't realistically going to happen are actual possibilities. The fear is real, the scenarios are borderline fiction.
That anxiety manifests itself in other people around me; they have "normal" anxieties about our hike. If I had a dollar for every time I was asked if I carry a gun while hiking....well, let's say I could buy a nice gun! I don't worry about criminals on the trail. DO they exist? Probably. But in the greater scheme, the hiking community is a group of people that fiercely protects its own. It's like a bond between outdoor misfits: most people look out for each other, and that element of humanity is what truly makes a trail pure magic.
So now you know I would rather spend four days in a swamp (or six weeks in a desert) than go to the mall or sit in a crowded movie theater. Amazon Prime is my friend, and there's an endless amount of re-packing currently occurring in our house.
Until next time...
Back to the trail
After a couple of weeks going in other directions, taking me to Scotland and Ireland, I finally got a spare 10 day window to get back on the SWCP.
Restarting in St Austell after an overnight coach trip, the views and hills are still here. The pace may be a little slower as I still have 140 race miles in the legs and recovering from a bug, but it's all forward progress.
“Hiking and happiness go hand in hand (or foot in boot).” ― Diane Spicer
I started of on February 8th with a dull ache in my left foot. A trip to the doctor confirmed I had an old bone chip floating around. There was nothing they could do, and they recommended I stay off of it, wrap it, ice it, and ultimately....rest. That's counter-intuitive to a training thru hiker. REST? Ha.
I did hobble around at work for the remainder of the week and much into the next, but eventually the pain began to subside. I purchased a pair of Vasque Breeze boots, the ones I planned on using for my hike. They seemed to keep my foot stabilized while at work. Thankfully, the pain began to subside toward the end of the week. Crisis averted!
Living in socal, we've had quite the storm in the past week or so, with more rain on the way. That leads to gorgeous seasonal waterfalls and the streams the feed to be very plentiful within the San Gabriel Mountains. I took my days off to do two short hikes to test my boots and my now pain free foot. The first trail was located in Tujunga Canyon, and I was no prepared (foolishly) for the deeper water crossing that turned me around about 2 miles in. But a short 4 mile hike after 2 weeks off was enough for me to realize that my foot pain was in fact gone, and not going to flare up on short hikes. The next day, Max and I explored a more popular trail closer to home, with much more shallow water crossings. He was definitely happy to be out and about instead of cooped up at home with me. Again, we only did about 3 miles that day as well, but i'm easing back into mileage again. I'm hoping, weather permitting, to get a good 10 miles in hiking Saturday, with a moderately weighted pack.
I can definitely feel a little pre-hike anxiety kicking in. Will I have enough money saved up in time? Will I be ready, physically, mentally? Will everything work out? Will Max be ok? It's more of his hike, than mine, after all. I feel like I have so many loose ends to tie up before I begin, and time is ticking. With my permit officially approved, it all just seems so much more real. This is happening, and I can't wait. Time to fine tune my gear list and start logging miles!
Week 2. 148 miles. 275/643 complete (days turn to weeks)
Due to the patchy nature of phone coverage the further West you go on the SWCP it's been harder to get to a place where I can comfortably blog. I may unexpectedly get a signal on a windswept hillside at 7am but frozen fingers aren't very good at typing.
The hike has been going well, with no further injury and strength building on what are now becoming incessant short, sharp hills. Before I set off I made a mileage chart between major towns and colour-coded it with severity. All the green and yellow (easy, mild) are now gone and we're into big blocks of red.
The daily mileage has dropped, mostly due to my aversion to walk clifftops in the dark, so now I'm limiting the day to 07:00-17:00.. 10 hours hiking into which I have to fit the regulation Full English Breakfast, lunch with a pint of local ale, and an evening fish supper. This is turning out to be more a culinary tour than a hike.
The weather has been amazingly good so far, with crisp clear sunny days and mild nights. I've only had bad frost once which froze the condensation inside the tent, but my layers and down bag coped well, and I still have a fleece and long sleeve top in reserve. I think it got down to -7c and not knowing what temperatures I'll encounter on the AT, I may add a microfleece liner to the bag. Just to be on the safe side. Nobody wants to be carried off the mountain as a human popsicle.
Training hikes I attempted Mt. Wilson, a fixture of the San Gabriel mountains. From every area of the San Gabriel valley, the large towers and observatory are visible.
But the trail, it's gruelling and not for the faint of heart. My first attempt was a success a few years ago for my birthday, despite the cold temps and hail that began at Manzanita Pass. I've hiked it in it's entirety 3 or so times since.
A 7 mile climb with 4,000'+ elevation gain is sure to help you figure out where you stand fitness wise. Needless to say, this past Sunday was a certain reality check for me.
Max and I hit the trail at 6:45 Sunday morning. LA had quite a bit of rain the week before and Sunday was clear, the pollution levels finally down a bit, also. Water was flowing through various seasonal water fall and canyon streams. It was an ideal day to tackle my favorite trail.
Max did great, as always. I did not have him wear his pack for this trek, as we've both been slacking on training. I carried my pack, with a few items to add weight to 20lbs including water.
This trail kicked my butt this past weekend. I made it to Manzanita ridge before the familiar twinge in my back started to make an appearance. I figured instead of pushing myself and potentially injuring my back, I decided to call it a day and head back down. I was very happy to tackle 10 miles and a considerable amount of elevation. I work all weekend this week, but plan on trying again the next. We'll see if there's any improvement.
Day 6. 22 miles. 128/643 complete
After a lot of patching, fixing, washing and drying last night I packed away all my clean, dry kit and set off towards Exmouth in beautiful sunshine. It was bitterly cold to start with but a huge improvement on yesterday's rain, and with a cloudless sky the temperature soon climbed and I was eventually walking in a Tshirt.
The section from Seaton to Sidmouth was marked as "Challenging" on the SWCP website, and though there were plenty of short, sharp hills I was still taking things easy trying to protect my knee as much as possible, so felt relatively fresh and decided to continue on to Exmouth.
The day passed without event until I reached a field of ponies. One was standing by the gate and I had to shoo him away to get through. As I walked up the hill he followed closely behind, stopping each time I turned around. As I got my phone out for a picture he nipped the foam mat at the back of my pack, pulled from the webbing and galloped off with it, so I chased. Eventually the pony realised it wasn't edible and dropped it. Apart from some mud, a hoof print and some minor nibbling it was unscathed.
Last time I trust ponies. Keep your kit close, people. You don't know what's out there.
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