Aka Picnic! I am an 18 year-old homeschooler and college go-er in Reno, NV who likes to backpack and hike. I did the Tahoe Rim Trail in 2015, the John Muir Trail in 2016, and I am currently thruhiking the Pacific Crest Trail, from picnic table to picnic table all the way to Canada...
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Update, in case anyone is following my PCT journal on here and is burning with curiosity to see what happened to me - After getting off-trail, I started editing the rest of my journal posts and I decided to switch over to my old personal blog so I can keep all of my writing in the same place. My entire PCT journal is now up and finished over there, if you want to check it out:
I will also be blogging about my second PCT attempt this summer. But you'll have to finish reading my 2017 journals to find out why I'm having to start again... nah, that's mean. I broke my foot.
-Picnic, or Amelia :-)
June 2nd- Day 42- 12.7 miles from just before Tehachapi Wind Farm at mile 553.7 to Tehachapi/ Highway 58 at mile 566.4
I sleep in and wake up to someone hiking by, their trekking poles clinking on the rocks, their feet crunching on the sandy trail. The sun is well above the horizon. The windmills on the ridge ahead spin in looming unison, no longer a sea of red in the hills, but powerful white pillars with revolving wings. I woke up in the middle of the night and saw the red lights dotting the hills, while I sat up to drink water and reposition my sleeping bag.
I pull my feet out of my sleeping bag, and peel off my sleeping socks. My feet are definitely a little bit swollen, but the pain is gone. My pinky toe has the ghost of the bite, sore.
I pack up, and go over to the tentsite where I got bit last night. There are no ants, just like there where none when I set up yesterday. "FIRE ANTS," I write in the dirt in the middle of the tent pad.
I get hiking, and pull 5 miles out quickly, the trail gentle as it goes along the side of the hill, spinning giants whooshing around me. I find a hiking umbrella in the middle of the trail, where it must have fallen out of someone's pack. I shove it in my mesh pocket; I can carry it to the trailhead at Highway 58, where whoever dropped it will probably come through after resupply in town.
Then off I go. I've decided that even though I like music in the mornings, I'll save it for the afternoons when I need the distraction and the miles go by slower. I think about being so close to Kennedy Meadows; less than 2 weeks until I get there. Holy cow. I'm excited to reach it and finish the desert. But, I'm also nervous about the snow. I don't want to make a stupid decision and be in danger. People have already died in the snow in the Sierra this year; I don't think any of them have been thru-hikers, but really, what is the difference in skillset between a summer thru-hiker and a prepared dayhiker? Alarmingly little.
Below, a little green valley cuts between the ridge in on and the next, a stream banked by green winding through it. I descend down from the ridge to the bottom of the valley and the first road to access Tehachapi; I'm going to use the second road. I cross a bunch of gates, and pass a picnic table, then across the creek, brushing through plants overflowing from the creek banks into the trail. The area is maintained by a local riding club. I sign the trail register. "What a beautiful morning! I love you guys," I write with a heart next to it, in a happy, sleep-deprived, sun-warmed state of mind. I love the trail and everyone on it right now, I'm a morning person, and I laugh internally when I think about grumpy hikers who are having a bad day having to read my overly-cheerful note.
The trail veers left to where it will cross the road. I squint into the distance, where I see an RV and some other vehicles parked. I have a good feeling, and strain to pick out details as I walk forward. Could it be Mrs. Focus? She's driving along the PCT supporting her husband, Focus, as he hikes. But, then, I can see the spray-painted tropical beach and palm trees on the side of the truck parked there, and the wooden paneling and signs on the side. It's Legend! My heart swells. I get to see Legend again! I was so disappointed when I didn't see him at Cajon Pass. There's an extra spring in my step as I walk through the grassy field, cars whooshing by in the road to my right.
Legend comes out of the RV as I walk up, and I get a hug. "Legend!" I say excitedly. "I met you at Whitewater! I'm Picnic now."
"Picnic Now? That's a funny trail name," he says, and assures me he remembers meeting me. He tells me to set my pack down, and join him in the RV cabin, and sit in the swiveled driver's seat. A hiker I've seen the name of in the registers is here too, Bear Can. Legend has a huge pancake sitting on the stove, and gives it to me, and a big bottle of water. I pour some syrup on the pancake and eat it with my hands like a big pizza slice. I put peanut M&M's on top, the last of the ones I got from Twinkle in Wrightwood. Then he makes some fried eggs for us, too, and later fried egg sandwiches.
We talk with Legend for a while. He's ragging on us for carrying extra water to Tehachapi when the creek here is flowing, even though the people who have updated Water Report said it wasn't. And for using Guthook's and Halfmile's apps. I manage to brush it off because I know Legend is old-school, but I can tell it's bothering Bear Can. Then he tells us about a thru-hiker that just died near Whitewater Preserve. They don't know why he died yet, but I assume it must be dehydration or heat related. It's not been hot here, but I later do some research and learn that is was almost reaching 120 degrees in that area recently. Apparently he was 57 and had planned 10 years for his thru-hike, and it's really, really sad.
Then we talk about the snow; Bear Can heads out and his spot is replaced by Focus. Apparently there is a trail that goes lower around the eastern side of the Sierra, that would avoid all of the snow. I've heard the hike to Lone Pine is OK and not too dangerous, but afterwards is pretty dangerous and hard, with snow covering everything, avalanches, streams too deep and swollen to reach the bottom. I've talked with so many people who have no. Fucking. Clue. About how extreme the snow levels are this year. Former thru-hikers who hiked in the drought stubbornly saying that it's easy and that you'll get to lower elevations where there isn't snow where you can camp, when in reality I might not see the ground for days this year. People planning on hiking sections of the JMT in early July, when it will still be covered in snow, when the ski resorts will still be operating, when people are abandoning hard-earned JMT permits because there's no way they can hike without it being a suffer fest.
So, anyway, rant over, I could possibly take a lower route from Lone Pine and reconnect back with the PCT at Red's Meadow or Tuolumne, where the worst of the passes are over. But it's not even the passes or the snow that are the problem, but the stream crossings; I've heard they were bad north of Yosemite in 2011, which was a big snow year, but still small compared to 2017. I don't know what I'm doing yet; I'm doing this one section at a time. I'll get through to Lone Pine first and see how I feel. I don't want to die. The snow and water is on everyone's minds, is the topic of every conversation now, as we approach Kennedy Meadows.
I head out with Focus to hike the last 8 miles into Tehachapi. Legend walks with us to point us to where the trail resumes at the edge of the parking lot. "Oh, look, you just cut a switchback," he says, laughing and pointing at the official entry point a couple yards to the left.
I splutter. "What a bad influence!" I finally say, and the last I hear of Legend is his hearty laughter as he walks back to his truck. It's hardly a cut, but it still counts as the first I've taken so far. Although it's only 10 feet off and just as official and properly-graded as the other entry point, so I'm not sure if it counts.
The trail goes over another rise, through windmills and cattle fields. I have to swing open the rusty cattle gates and latch them behind me, stepping over the bars that deter bicyclists. It must be a lot of work to keep up relations with the property owners so that the trail can go through this private land. I'm impressed.
I just figured out how to pee standing up, which I'm super proud of, and now I'm experimenting with peeing with my pack on, and where I can hang my pee rag so I can reach it. My pee-game laziness grows stronger by the day. Soon I'll just wear diapers.
Focus catches up to me as we make a long descent down to the Highway, and we walk together up over the overpass to where Mrs. Focus is sitting in the shade of her RV. She gives me watermelon and a camp chair, and they offer to drive me into town. I run up and drop the umbrella I found up by the trail, then carry my pack up into the camper and sit down. Mrs. Focus is making a quilt out of hiker's signatures, so I sign a rectangle with my trail name.
The camper shakes and bumps as we get onto the highway and drive into town. We go to the airport for some reason, since both Focus and myself must be a little bit sun-addled; I want to get a hotel room, and they're not camping there, either, in the grassy area where they let thru-hikers pitch their tents. They drop me off in front of the Best Western, and I say thank you as they drive back off.
There are hikers in front looking very homeless, food spread out in a pile of paper bags and priority mail boxes, In front of the sliding doors as they figure out their resupply. Obviously I've gone to the right place. There are hikers everywhere. I check in, and get a single-bed room at the far end of the motel.
I walk over, hobbling and stiff. I push my key card in and drop my pack in the corner. I strip my shoes and clothes off and leave them in a pile to go shower. Then I sit on my bed and don't move for a very long time. Rick texts me and says he's at the pool, so I rinse my hiking shorts out in the sink so I don't leave a dirt cloud behind me, and hobble to the pool. There are tons of thru-hikers here, and I hop in between the jacuzzi and the pool and talk with Rick and the other thru-hikers. I feel anxious, with so many things to do. Then I go back to my room and veg out some more. I text Twinkle Toes and Cotton Candy, and we decide to meet up for dinner in a bit. Cotton Candy walks over to my room and we hang out and talk as Twinkle finishes up a phone call and walks over. We all decide to meet at the Thai restaurant.
Cotton Candy and I walk down Tehachapi's Main Street, past murals of famous local people, past a water tower by the railroad tracks, past a cafe that sells pie. We cut through a cute cobblestone alley. We see the sign for Thai Hachapi, the Thai restaurant, and walk around to the front of the store. Kevin and Eric, the guys who I hiked with yesterday who just started their thru-hike, come across the street to say hi. Twinkle comes up, so we say goodbye to Kevin and Eric and find a seat inside the restaurant. Twinkle and Cotton Candy have never really met, which is really odd and confusing to me because I've hung out with both of them so much with Kyra and Hop Along at around the same times.
I order Thai iced tea and drain it as I'm looking at the menu, and the waitress comes and says there is one free refill! What! We order spring rolls, curry fried rice, yellow curry, and spicy rice noodles with basil and mint, and share the dishes between us. It's so delicious! We all went to the Thai restaurant in Big Bear and agree it wasn't very good, but this is incredible. We discuss Sierra plans and agree that it's too dangerous to try and go through right now, and that it's just going to get worse with the snowmelt. Both Twinkle and Cotton Candy are going to get off for a couple of weeks when they hit Kennedy Meadows, and then flip around the high Sierra when they come back. I don't know what I'm going to do, but it's not worth dying to get through the Sierra. That I know.
I eat so much food that I feel nauseated sitting there. It's worse when I think about food, and scraping my curry rice into the to-go carton is an act of bravery. And it's not even a huge amount of food; my stomach has definitely shrunken.
We say goodbye to Twinkle where she needs to cross the railroad tracks, and Cotton Candy and I head back to our motel rooms. I say goodnight to Cotton Candy and go to lie in my big, comfy queen bed, and fall asleep.
June 1st- Day 41- 20.8 miles from before Cottonwood Creek/wind farm at mile 532.9 to before another wind farm at mile 553.7
My alarm wakes me up at 5, after about as many hours of sleep. I heard people walking past me without headlamps last night, and I felt snug and secretive in my cowboy camp, where they couldn't see me even though I was less than 10 feet away. I pack up and walk through an orange sunrise, following a dirt road towards the silhouetted wind mills, milling in slow unison. The wind buffets against my bare legs. I feel cranky. There's service here, but it goes in and out with the wind.
Below the road and before a big concrete bridge, I see someone filling up their water from a spigot on the side of a concrete box. I hide behind a concrete pillar from the wind to check the water report- there's a source in only a couple more miles, but I don't know how much water I still have. I walk down to the spigot and check my water, and decide to carry on. I talk to a hiker there who says that there was really incredible trail magic last night- a guy had driven up with tons and tons of pizza and other things. He had so much that the hikers camped down in the ravine couldn't finish it all and he didn't know what to do with it. I glumly mull over the life decisions I made yesterday that got me two miles away at midnight. Was spending those extra hours at Hiker Town for laundry worth it? Just kidding. My clothes really stank horrendously.
I start walking again, having decided that I have enough water and not wanting to meet another hiker who would surely only extol the trail magic in more detail.
The wind runs right at me like a swollen stream. The PCT becomes trail again, winding through a golden landscape of bare grass, juniper and hulking wind mills. Their shadows are large enough that I could lie down length-wise in them. Every now and then the trail passes close enough to a juniper that the wind abates, enough to feel how much faster and easier it is to walk normally. As it is, I'm walking half my normal speed; I wear my sunglasses so I can even keep my eyes open, pushing them up my nose again every minute as they fall down.
I leapfrog with a hiker who got her trail name, Little Dipper, on the Colorado Trail because she liked dipping in bodies of water. The wind makes much conversation difficult at first. We come upon two hikers, Kevin and Eric, who are finishing a break in the fold of a hill to hide from the wind. They look very clean and fresh, and are carrying their ice axes. We talk and wait for them to pack up. It turns out they've just started yesterday at Hiker Town; they decided to skip most of the desert and are doing this section to get their trail legs before the Sierra. They're funny, and I hike with them and Little Dipper for a while before falling a little bit behind to drink some water.
Once we're up in the hills, the wind dies down. The trail climbs up into the beginning of the hills, then dips down into Tyler Horse Canyon. Tyler Horse Creek trickles along the bottom, the water clear and quick for such a small stream. I set my pack down in the shade of a juniper and sit for a while, drinking some water and eating. Little Dipper and I give advice to the new hikers- this is their first time filtering water and it takes them a while to figure it out. Little Dipper starts heading out, which convinces me to get up and filter some water. There's no water, only a cache, until Tehachapi in 24 ish miles. I fill up all 6 liters of my water capacity. I treat caches as surprise bonus water and generally ignore them as possible sources; they can run out quickly to it's not responsible to rely on them.
I climb out of the canyon. The trail climbs up the side of the mountains, then down again, the trail sliding away where the hill slope is made of loose sand; I can see the switchbacks going up the hill opposite, and hear people talking somewhere. I find Little Dipper, Kevin and Eric sitting almost in the middle of the trail in the shade of a large, sprawling juniper. I plop down beside them and stay and talk until they all start heading out again.
The trail switchbacks up the sandy slope onto more solid ground; I have to pee and so I wait for Little Dipper to pass me, watching for her to turn around the side of the hill. I start walking again and I consider stopping in the shade of a juniper, but someone's left a note on the trail saying there's a rattler. I set up my earphones and listen to music, put my sunglasses on against the glare of the sun. I've already walked ten miles and I feel like I'm cruising. As I walk I stop to push the sunglasses up the sweaty bridge of my nose. My earphone cords sway with the squeak of my pack, and I stay hunched over a bit so they don't fall out of my ears. I pass Little Dipper taking another break.
I crest a rise with Kevin and Eric and Kevin gives an excited shout. I look up. A battered sun umbrella sits in a clearing. Plastic lawn chairs cluster beneath it. I grin, briefly, then hurry down the trail to it. There is a long wooden shelf with a trail register, and boxes and boxes of gleaming bottled water lined up beneath it.
I sit around in a daze for a minute or two before plopping down into a lawn chair in the sun. I make a tuna wrap using another chair as a table and watch in amusement as Kevin and Eric try to make the broken umbrella relinquish a patch of shade. One of them admitted to being a structural engineer, which I tease them about as they unsuccessfully finagle the log that is propping it up for a good 15 minutes. The umbrella flutters and tilts under a contrary breeze. Finally they give up and just curl up under the chairs and take naps. Little Dipper comes and goes.
I eventually hike out with my earphones in, listening to shuffle. I go another couple of miles, leapfrogging with Kevin and Eric. The trail follows the top of the golden-brown hills. I turn a corner while singing loudly, and stop when I realize that someone is there. "I wasn't singing at all," I say sheepishly and keep walking, and they laugh. Below I can see the creek that I'll cross tomorrow, a strip of lush green across the brown valley floor. Windmills appear on the tops of the hills ahead, spiraling.
"Cacaw!" someone shouts at me. I'm absorbed in my music and jump; I turn around and it's Kevin and Eric setting up camp. They invite me to camp with them, and I sit there and think about it for a while. I always feel weird about camping alone with dudes, even if I feel completely, totally safe with them, and the sun is still pretty high, and I'm in a groove, so I reluctantly tell them that I want to make a couple more miles even though I kinda want to camp with them. I head off, but not before warning Kevin that he'll get the name Cacaw if he keeps crowing at people.
A couple of hours later, a couple of days later, months even, and I will wish I would have just camped with them.
Just as the windmills loom on the hills right before me, I decide to stop after looking at the topo maps on my phone. It looks like there's nowhere flat and I don't want to camp right by loud wind machines. Plus, I feel like I deserve to stop and get to sleep early after night hiking across the Mojave last night. My brain feels tired and my eyes heavy.
I throw down my cowboy camp after inspecting the area for the best spot, then put on my sleeping clothes and sit down on a log a bit away to cook dinner. I feel like I'm treating myself, and I'm really looking forward to a nice, relaxed evening.
I finish my Mac n cheese and walk back with my food bag. I look down and notice that there are red ants swarming all over my Tyvek groundsheet and sleeping bag. I stare at them stupidly for a few seconds, pacing back and forth a few steps in agitation. What do I do now?
A sharp pain erupts on the top of my left foot. One of the fire ants got stuck underneath my sandal straps and bit me. More ants are crawling all over my feet and sandals. I stumble back a few steps on the soft, lumpy, gopher-tilled ground and another, sharper pain erupts near the pinky toe on my right foot. I pull the fire ants off of my feet.
Oh! Damn it hurts. I pull my sandals off and pick the ants off of them, make sure there aren't any more on my feet, and sink down to the ground. I whimper through the pain. This was supposed to be a nice evening, and now I'm in pain and I have to get up and get all of the ants out of my stuff and move. For someone who has never been bitten by a fire ant- it hurts. It's worse than a bee sting, and it lasts much longer.
I force myself up, trying to ignore the fire gently lapping at my feet like waves during a rising tide. I carry everything except for my sleep set-up several yards away, since the ants haven't gotten on them. I hobble back, and pull my sleeping pad with my sleeping bag still on it off to the side. My Tyvek has gotten soft enough that the ants can cling to it; after shaking most of them off I stand there and crush their heads to pick them off individually. I have no choice; they curl up and sink their mandibles into the material, so that the only way to get them off is to hurt them. I splutter and some tears leak out of my eyes and I clench my teeth against the pain, so I can't feel too bad about killing them right now.
Then I do the same with my sleeping bag and pad, which aren't as bad. I turn my sleeping bag inside out to make absolute certain none are inside. I should have camped with Kevin and Eric. I bring myself over to my second camp, lay my sleeping bag out, flop down on top of it, and sob and howl into it to deal with the building pain. It feels like someone has broken my foot and then lit it on fire. I barely care if someone walks by, the trail less than 10 feet away.
I turn facing upright. I writhe my legs and clench my teeth and scream silently through them, my face wet with tears. If someone did walk by they'd think I was dying. I text my mom and ask how many ibuprofen I can take at a time, and then take one before waiting for a reply. A minute goes by and I take one more. I feel like a baby because I can't deal with this pain, instead I'm sitting here on top of this mountain crying my head off, but if a woman cries on top of a mountain and no one is there to hear her, then she can cry all the hell she wants if it helps her.
I have service and look up what to do about fire ant bites; I rub hand sanitizer on it and wrap my right foot, which hurts much more than my left, in a wet bandana. My nose starts bleeding in the middle of everything; I lurch to dig for my TP roll to stop the blood from getting everywhere. I pull my sleeping sock over the foot with the bandana to compress it. My mom calls and I talk to her until it's the sky is darkening and the stars come out to distract myself, the throbbing heat in my foot slowly, slowly fading.
When we finally hang up, my foot is still pulsating and feels tender. I'm exhausted from crying and my 5 hours of sleep last night. The windmills on the hill across from me rumble and their lights blink red. A warm breeze dries the last of the wetness from the corners of my nose. Tiredness laps against my body, and I decide to not write tonight. This was the crappiest evening but I still feel so happy to be here. I barely get down some notes so I can recreate my journal entry before my eyes close and I fall asleep.