A Return, Greeted by Winter Haze

Returning to trail after an extended holiday stay at home, I found that I had skipped what would’ve been the easiest portion of winter, as temps were still barely holding below freezing. western OH is mostly follows an old canal line, occaisionally with bike path routed on it. this makes for excellent stealth camping as few bike through even the light snow. I passed through Dayton, an inadequately stealth camped, and thus was woken up and evicted. It happened without much trouble or fanfare, but I’ve become a little more cautious as a result, next time may not be so easy. Little in the way of running ground water was left, and I found myself melting snow for water each night and again each morning. This practice, while simple enough is incredibly fuel intensive, leading me to run dry near Defiance. I was able to reach out to the NCTA and the Buckeye trail Association for some assistance and was greatly helped by Anita, Clark, Greg, and Joe in finding an extra fuel cannister. Getting in touch successfully this time lead me to a series of trail angels, whom would pass word of me forward, leading to many, many, more homestays than I anticipated. I probably could have avoided camping entirely if I had wished, finding ways to slack pack instead. I think I ended up spending about four in ten nights inside, throughout northwest OH and most of MI.

Overall this Section had only a few notable mishaps, including accidentally opening up my waterbag inside my sleepingbag on one of the colder nights. This lead to much discomfort, and quite a few crunches as I tried to use body heat to dry my various down garments. Overall the next day was sunny which helped me warm up, although the nightly ramifications lasted for several days. This would be my second worst accident of the season. 

Aside from being aided by Trail volunteers (of whom there are too many to thank individually, without specifically making this post about it) it was not uncommon for me to be offered a homestay when I would stop into a cafe or bar seeking some water I didn’t have to melt. One such encounter that was particularly interesting; I was passed by a man and child in a car, walking on a minor country road, north of Lowell MI. They stopped, and backed up; asking what I was up to. After a short explaination he offered to let me stay in a home he was nearly finished remodeling with the intention to flip it soon. I took him up, and once I had found my way to the home he asked if I liked pizza. (what kindof question is that?!) Leaving me there, I did my evening chores and slept in the empty living room, only to be awoken by the man who now bore Pizza and beer! Turns out, in addition to flipping houses he owns a pizzeria in Lowell. I spent a couple days in town as I passed thru Lowell, I was able to cover a bunch of gear maintenance, cleaning some mold off my sleeping pad, drying out my sleeping bag, and getting my pack swapped out on warranty from the nearest outfitter. Semi-relevant as I recently replaced that pack some 5000 miles later, and some minor patching of my tent.

Animals on the Trail v2: little guys

Preying mantis in NorCal, I’d never seen one in real life. They look super cool, I dunno if it was cold, or something else, but it seemed unable to move significantly. Nice for photos, not so much for its survivability, especially given its right in the middle of the trail. I even passed a NoBo 15 or so miles past who might be the one to spell its doom. Hope you can make it outta there little bug buddy!

This finger sized frog hanging out on a privy seat in ND, I usually avoid picking up little animals, but he was chilling out pretty hard and I wasn’t really looking to sit on him, or wait for him hop off on his own. I see a lot of toads, and hadn’t seen many frogs, atleast not since I was in the southern AT. Then they’d been mating, you could hear the frenzy of croaks for a quarter mile in either direction!

This big ol’ Beetle (?) was trying to roll this rock around ID, wasn’t making much progress, but I sat and watched him try for a few minutes. Kinda wonder why it was so intent on this little stone, probably something mundane, yet nefarious. 

Tiny Spider crawling around some asphalt near an earthen dam in OH, might’ve posted this one on the previous iteration of the blog, but it wasn’t till now that I noticed the the thin thread of silk being spun behind it.

Snowfall, and routing around and after the Sierra

This is a bit late, but after some deliberation I chose to re-route around the Sierra from Sonora Pass due to mixed signals about storms that were passing through in the last week. I intend to go back into the Sierras yet, possibly via Tioga Pass, Mammoth Lakes, or further south depending on conditions.

Keeping this contingency opens up some opportunities to hike by Mono lake, and possibly into Death Valley later on. Also given that I already have future plans to hike the John Muir Trail, I should be able to easily fill in my gaps. While maintaining a continuous footpath for this trip. (I am open to the possibility that if I get ahead of schedule on the CDT I may hitchhike back out here to do the Sierra while still on this trip, but that is less likely)

Finally, I intend to hike west from the PCT near Tehachapi, to complete my coast to coast objective, and return to trail by foot soon after.

Dog Towns and Cat Hotels

One of the common threads amongst people who took me in while I passed thru Southern OH, was a surprising number of animals per home, and because this is the internet, pictures of them must be shared.

These Puppies belonged to a couple of American Discovery Trail Hikers, the ADT and NCT run concurrently in South OH for a while. They had set out westbound with a pair of dogs, whom helped them pull carts of gear and water. (The ADT is almost entirely roadwalk, making carts and strollers a surprisingly common strategy.) When they were moving an old man offered them to rent a trailer for cheap, (free? Or in trade for labor?) and thusly their progress halted for about eight months before they saw me walk past. I am a little doubtful they continued after I left either, they seemed to be putting down roots. Including building improvements to their trailer, and collecting more animals. Not pictured are two cats, four more dogs, and some gerbils (hamsters?) I spent a night and the better part of a day with them, as they caught me early.

I made a big mistake in missing the window for a maildrop the saturday before Veteran’s Day, which would’ve put me waiting for two days in a town without easy stealth camping access. Unacceptable. Even moreso in that I was to receive a new fuel cannister that ration, so I found my way to a hardware store and began to work on making a Soda Can stove. Nearly done I was spotted by a man who recognized what I was upto and offered to help me out. I ended up with a couple cans of Sterno, a wire mesh potrest, groceries, and a homestay in an old camper he had aquired with the intention of fixing up. His home had been built entirely out of recycled, found, and scrap material, giving it an awesome almost cartoon-like aesthetic. He had nine cats roaming about, including a couple little guys who’d come snuggle in the camper, and a little dog whose face was the spitting image of an Ewok. His Ewok-lookin pup was well trained and accompanied him while he would work as a trucker. The Cats were kept outside the house and were very interested in my pack, to the point where they would stay atop as I harnessed up.

Lastly, and the most vortexed I’ve gotten, in Cincinnati I re-connected with Little Bird, making it to her parents home just in time to be invited not to spend Thanksgiving alone in the woods. Little Bird’s Mother operates an Animal Rescue in their basement, and had nearly forty cats and maybe ten dogs. Although a few of the dogs weren’t rescues. While helping move what could’ve been a couple tons of cat litter to their basement, and being in a good place to slackpack and figure out my plans for returning home for Xmas and some pressing business. (mainly getting health insurance, as I was about to fall off my parent’s plan.) I offered to earn my keep by helping to put in a DIY elevator capable of moving a few hundred pounds of animal supplies, and cut the distance they would have to move things by 80+%. (The route through their house and down the stairs was not straightforward at all.) Also got to play with tons of Kittens.

Wreckage v2: Broken Bridges

Had a lot of inconsequentially broken bridges in WA, but this one’s got TK on it which counts for a lot. I rarely get a subject to photo, and I’m not well versed taking selfies. His pack is super long with how he stashes his sleeping pad there. Maybe I should play around with camera timers more…

You can barely make out that bit of boardwalk sunken under the flooding from a mid-winter thaw. Not sure if it normally crosses a smaller stream, but even before submersion it would’ve been woefully inadequate for this span.

This is less a bridge and more an extended boardwalk along the bank of a river. The sections of which are undeveloped seem very prone to flood. I routed thru the woods several times within a few miles of here to avoid the calf deep plus wading while temperatures hold near freezing.

At first glance this bridge in the North Cascades doesn’t really look broken, it might’ve had some ambitious architect, intent on making a statement about trail fixtures. As you close on it though:

You find it is actually collapsed into the water. Awaiting a nice spring flood to wash it downvalley where it may find new life as driftwood, surely inspired by the legions of hiker trash who cross it each season. Atleast someone placed a rock in the middle to help keep your feet dry.

Open Roads, Open Doors

As the trail began to stretch out unto road I began to experience a great deal of chairity. Many times I would stop into a little café or diner, strike up a quick conversation, and find that some unknown benefactor had bought my meal. I’d heard that these kinds of interactions are somewhat common on the AT during its regular season, but seldom experienced it. I must’ve been quite novel to them, as the NCT is so much less travelled. On occasion I was offered motel rooms, attics, or the bed of a camper van parked on a nearby lawn. It was very striking for me, exiting the woods and receiving such a reception in civilization. At first it made me uncomfortable, and I turned a couple such offers down, feeling that I was undeserving of such chairity when I had chosen and prepared for this lifestyle. In part I still feel that way, but I also no longer reject kindness when offered. One such time I was approached, sitting on the grass median of a big box store, polishing off my second pint of Ice Cream, (gotta jump when they’re BOGO) and was given two $20 notes. I returned them, and the man who had offered seemed taken aback, saying something to the effect of “I dunno what you’re doin’ but buy yourself another meal or two.” His kindness towards me was less predicated on a perception of my destitution, and more upon his ability to see himself in me. When younger he could’ve been me, I see this interaction repeated, and no longer reject such connections. The NCT has its share of dedicated Trail Angels, and while I was not yet dialed into their networks, I crossed paths with them aswell. Staying at Lake Piedmont Inn, and eating with the caretakers and their dogs. (the first of many domestic animal encounters South and East OH, would provide.) Or Shew’s Orchard, drinking cider and camping behind the barn, while very thankful for my tent as the wind howled, funneling between the rolling hills, tossing sheets of corrugated roofing about, yet not quite collapsing my tent with each burst.

Once joined to the Buckeye Trail (BET) the days began to blend together, and I spent many nights bivvied in a roadside thicket. That isn’t to say they were without wonder, and with Autumn’s slow arrival there was yet greenery on the branches. The veil between the natural world and civilization wore ever thinner. Punctuated by nights spent in cool tunnels running beneath the interstate, or following a river to a dammed reservoir, where the waters are still couched in forest. It had its moments however, there is some rugged country in the southeast of OH, and the Hocking Hills area in southern OH is particularly beautiful, with many embankments built into the stone, bridges that span the chasm at various heights, each adding to a confluence of nature and architecture, setting it apart as a major highlight of the eastern half of the NCT. It is capped westbound by Ash Cave, a massive undercut cavern with a tiny dripping waterfall at the center. The day I spend there was overcast, almost foggy, and added a distinct ethereal feeling, but detracted equally from the lighting conditions…

Winter v1

The first snow of this fall, just south of Crater Lake. It thawed fully after two days and then we had temperatures in the 90s, but here I had zigged when I should’ve zagged and found myself on the wrong side of the mountain. Nothing a little more walking wouldn’t fix, but the real trick is how much it cuts into your night hiking ability to have frantically melting snow fogging out your headlamp’s beam.

The thaw is often worse than the freeze, and this cycle repeated itself far beyond its welcome in the upper peninsula of MI. Would’ve much preferred to cross these bridges while frozen, rather than going way up stream or balance beaming across the deep cold waters.

Right after my return to trail following the new year, I was greeted by light snow. I had skipped the mildest part of the winter and had much yet to come for the year, and not much farther ahead I would cross paths with a veritable herd of deer in the suburbs of Dayton, OH. There must have been more than four dozen of them, their tread left the ground bare of all but a few motes of snow.

From way back, atop Blue Mountain in GA only a few days into the trip and already dealing with snow. That’s what you get for starting the AT in February. This was mere hours before Nemo and I met Rescue for the first time, and he got us a ride into town courtesy of the Fire Rescue Crew.

Turkey, Train Tunnels, and Ghost Towns

Whilst in NY I had made ready for that year’s total lunar eclipse, looking far forward and anticipating camping on the northwestern side of a lake. Over whose clearing I would have a wide viewing angle for the eclipse set to begin shortly after moonrise. This plan however could not go smoothly, as the lake it centered around, did not seem to exist. After exhausing efforts to find it, I gave up, setting camp in a rough parking lot which would provide a smaller yet adequate clearing. Having planned to camp near a lake I hadn’t carried in enough water for dinner and the next morning, luckily this lot had a large puddle, which even though fully opaque, would suffice for my immediate needs. The third and final misfortune of the night, wherein I was practicing sword drills and cracked the wood of the grip, the leather binding had deteriorated and finally came fully off, leaving it vulnerable to exactly this kind of failure. It did not crack into pieces, but I would need to be more careful with it going forwards. Even accounting for these I had a nice night, watching Princess Mononoke on my new (at the time) tablet before staying up for the complete cycle of the Blood Moon.

Coming into PA, the early snowfall was fortunate, as the bugs wouldn’t recover for the season and thus abought me 7 months to hike without being pestered by insects, an ongoing trend of good luck with the climate. I was worried that the frost would wilt all the plantlife and leave me to hike through miles of barren brown dead forest. While the colors had already peaked, much of the greenery bounced back as the thaw came quick and frost did not return until long into OH. With the change of the season I found myself sporting a blaze orange scarf on my pack, as the occasional company I would find turned from hikers to hunters. As designated camping areas became more sparse; waking up while stealth camping, to the blast of nearby gunfire of indeterminate origin became quite common. Most encounters with hunters started coldly, but I would get a warmer reception as I explained my story and their recognition of me changed from that of a vagrant, squatting in their haunts, to a fellow, and I would trade talk for advice on places to pitch my tent. To their disappointment it seemed that their hunting grounds were filled with far more hunters than game, I don’t think I saw a single one carry out a bird. After the opening weekend these meetings too seemed to taper off precipitously and I was once again, alone.

I had two rations sent to PA, although I comically misjudged the distance between them, as I shifted to the 4th (of 9…) kind of map I would use for the NCT, and once again readjusting. Carrying six days of food I found myself taking ten days between maildrops, and easily using grocery stores to bridge the gaps as I spent more time on roads. Stopping nightly in the woods, beside ghost towns, abandoned train tunnels, and the occasional derrick standing still over the original US oil patch. The fewer hunters I saw, the more I noticed the turkeys, and it came to where I would flush a half dozen groups of them each day, one such group must’ve had more than eighteen birds in its number.

10,000 Miles

Made CA at long last, the final state of the PCT (and being more than half of the trail…) and positioning myself to my best estimate, at mile 10,000 as I resupply here. Its the first significant milestone of a fall that I think will have several others!

Its kind of amazing that it falls in a town, considering the pains I take to stay away. Alas it would be far stranger, if nothing out of the ordinary happened over such a time as the past 19 1/2 months.

Gear Sprawls v2: All splayed out on the western front

Tarn Camp, WA

A somewhat rare view of my 2 person camp setup, with TK gone I had a whirlwind of gear juggling, first mailing my solo kit home, and then within a couple weeks having to coordinate to get my solo kit back. Also pictured, the wonderful Mica lake in the early morning, firmly in the halo of the morning’s alpenglow.

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Ready to go the morning after staying at an abandoned cabin, which used to serve a tungsten mine in the Pasayten wilderness. Shared it with a couple who had thru-hiked the PNT the previous year, and with Elmo an older thru-hiker who had been accompanying me for a few days, till I turned south.

pack at the beach, ID

Another shot of my pack at a beach, but no snow this time and the weather was wonderful here. Took a couple hours off from hiking to go swimming and watch people zip around the far side of the lake on their motor boats. Blue pack’s time may be running dry, and I may have even replaced it by the time this goes up, getting lots of holes in the exterior pockets and the webbing of the harness if abrading apart, its hard to complain too much though, I’ve carried it almost 5000 miles at this point.

Bivvy atop Abercrombie Mtn, WA

Having just woken up on Abercrombie Mountain for sunrise, a year out to the day from my Katahdin summit under similar circumstances. (Although I didn’t camp on top of Katahdin, don’t worry all you Baxter State park reps who scour the internet. I just climbed up under cover of darkness.) Abercrombie used to have a lookout tower on it and most of the wood components of this otherwise stone bivvy were probably salvaged from it. Mostly what’s left are the concrete footings and a little bit of twisted metal. The stones were all really flat, so it was actually super comfortable to stay in there, although I’m well insulated from ground conditions by my sleeping pad.