Here are some more great tips for becoming even more hiker trashy…
Here are some more great tips for becoming even more hiker trashy…
In addition to walking about 600 miles, I also hitched many hundreds of miles over the summer. The first epic hitching was detailed in an earlier post so I’ll pick up where I left off.
I hiked into Old Station, CA and explored the “Subway Cave” (it’s a HUGE lava tube!). Then I stuck a thumb out with two friends — we were trying to get to Burney Falls State Park.
After standing out there for a while, along came an RV. Often times I don’t even try to hitch a ride with people in an RV because they don’t typically stop. You think they would, but often times they just don’t.
However we were feeling kind of desperate and so we threw our thumbs out and waved and smiled. The RV pulled over about 200 yards away from us and at first we weren’t sure what they were doing. We were actually mad that they’re blocking our line of sight for other cars going by. Then a woman hopped out of the passenger side and ran towards us waving her arms and beckoning us towards the RV. We couldn’t believe it — we started jumping up and down grabbed our packs and ran over to meet our new friends.
It was a family on vacation: mom, dad, and two preteen daughters. We hopped in the the back of the RV and sat comfortably on the couch. The daughters, sitting on a bed situated near the couch we occupied were visibly unimpressed by us in general. They scrunched up their faces, presumably due to our ripe hiker stank. They rolled their eyes as if to say “OMG Mom and Dad, whyyy did you let these weird, stinky people in here?!?”
But they were especially dismayed by what happened next. We got to talking about the regular topics that are covered when hikers get a ride from strangers: when did you start, how much do you hike in a day, what kind of food do you eat, etc. we mentioned that we are always hungry at our food while it may be high in calories is not necessarily super tasty. The mom pulled out bags and bags of food. She insisted that we eat watermelon, pineapple, rotisserie chicken, and an entire veggie platter with ranch dressing. We were happy to oblige. The preteens watched in horror as we wolfed down the food.
You’d think it’s safe to say that this was the best hitch ever but actually there are a few more contenders for that title.
After checking out Burney Falls, my friend and I got a ride with 2 hikers who were going all the way to Ashland. We were faced with a tough choice because we wanted to end up in Ashland eventually, but we wanted to walk over the border into Oregon, not drive there. After some discussion in the backseat, we decided to get out of the vehicle where the highways diverged. This happened to be in Weed, California.
From Weed, we took a bus to Seiad Valley, then got what will forever be known as “the chicken hitch” back up to the trail. Long story short, we got in the back of a pickup truck with a live chicken in a Tupperware.
After hitting the trail and doing a bunch of smokey miles, we popped out on a road and convinced a very odd South African man to give us a lift into Ashland. Well, almost… He literally dropped us off on the onramp just outside of town. He really had not wanted to pick us up in the first place (I did my best “aren’t we so pathetic and don’t you want to help us?” routine). When he pulled over the car to let us out, he had “good riddance” written all over his face. Honestly the feeling was mutual…
From Ashland, we got a bus to Klamath falls. Upon arriving in town, we discovered that there was a big street fair happening, with vendors, food trucks, and music!
As we walked through the packed streets, people kept stopping us to ask if we were PCT hikers. I wonder what gave it away? The ground in dirt? The hiker stink? The priority mail box I clutched in my hands? Maybe it was our fully loaded and heavy-as-shit backpacks… Anyway it was a trip; they treated us like rock stars. Dirty, grimy rock stars.
The next day, we tried and failed to hitch out of Klamath falls. It was hot out and there was no shade and no good place for cars to pull over. It wasn’t good at all and we were both getting cranky and overheated. So naturally we walked about 2 miles down the freeway to McDonalds!
With renewed energy, we chose a spot and resumed hitching attempts! After only about 10 minutes, we captured the attention of a dude driving… You guessed it… an RV!! His wife was following him in her car, and she wasn’t too fond of the idea of picking up hitchhikers. But he convinced her, then turned to us.
Dude: “do you have any guns on you?”
Me: “oh God no!”
Dude: “ok, well I do.”
Turns out he works in law enforcement. Also turns out his wife was actually the one packing, not him. But we didn’t find that out until later.
The RV was brand spanking new. This was its maiden voyage so in my head I was like, “don’t touch anything! Don’t get anything dirty!”
He grew up in the area, so he regaled us with local intel, stories, anecdotes, and one warning. He said not to get stuck in the town of Chemault (where he was dropping us off) overnight because it is dangerous to be in at night.
So guess where we ended up stuck? Yeah, that happened. It was a bit sketch but really not that bad. We stayed in a fleabag motel, where the owner scoffed at us and begrudgingly hooked us up with a tiny, dingy room. The door to our room looked like it had been busted in at least 5 times before. But the bathroom was nice and clean so I’m not complaining. We hitched the heck out of there bright and early the next morning.
The person who pulled over actually only saw me at first, and thought he was offering a ride to ONE hiker in his overstuffed compact car. But once he realized there were two of us, he agreeably set about moving shit around to accommodate both of us. He is a hiker, and his whole car was chock full of his and his sister’s backpacking gear from their recent hike. Adding two hikers and two more packs was an gruesome game of Tetris, but we managed to squish in and he drove us all the way to Bend.
In Bend, I thought we could take a bus directly where we wanted to go, but when we boarded the bus, the driver informed us that they don’t go there on weekends AND that the bus we were on was going SOUTH when we wanted to go NORTH. So we got a pointless 5 minute joyride for $1.50 and went back to hitching… D’oh!
Luckily a hotshot firefighter picked us up. He had been fighting the Warm Springs fire, which had been raging on the reservation. He told us that where we wanted to go, the road was closed because it was still burning! Thank goodness we found that out — or we would have found ourselves in any number of bad situations!
He dropped us off in Redmond, where we stayed at the Hub motel. The lady who owns the place was so horribly judgy when I checked in; I could tell she really didn’t want me staying there and she did not appreciate my “hiker chic” style (nor possibly my smell). If it hadn’t been the cheapest place in town, I would have stayed somewhere else; she was that rude. I honestly think she wouldn’t have let me have the room, but I’d already booked it online. Normally I laugh it off and find it genuinely amusing when people treat me like in homeless or act super skeptical about having me in their establishment, but something about this lady’s judgment really bugged me. It still stings even writing about it now, more than a month later…
There was a spectacular sunset though. Not a bad consolation prize.
Getting out of Redmond was also a tough hitch. This is the theme of hitching in Southern Oregon: people really don’t want to pick you up. We stationed ourselves at the edge of town where drivers get on the highway.
We were there for HOURS! I thought we would never get out of that town!
Luckily someone who had driven past like 3 hours before saw us still standing there and took pity on us. This dude had a mattress in the back of his car, which is where I rode. It’s not as creepy as it sounds.
He took us up to Madras, and showed us a place we could stealth camp near town. It was clearly a homeless encampment so we decided to find the cheapest motel in town instead. As we were checking in to the motel, a guy rushed up and asked if we were hiking the PCT and did we needed a ride “up the mountain” tomorrow. We sure did!! He gave us his card and said to call in the morning when we were ready.
It seemed too good to be true but he and his wife cheerfully fetched us in the morning. We drove through miles and miles of scorched land from the just-extinguished Warm Springs fire. It was sobering.
They not only drove us an hour and a half out of their way, but they also gave us a care package they made for us the night before and offered some great advice too. When we got to Timberline Lodge, they even treated us to coffee!
We had planned to hike through to Cascade Locks but that plan got derailed when my friend got super sick. We only ended up doing about 10 miles and had to hitch the rest of the way.
From the Rainbow Falls parking lot, we got a ride with two guys out road tripping. They took us down to the main road.
Hours of hitching with no luck later…. we got a ride with two serious stoner dudes, who dropped us off in Government camp. This was still many miles from where we needed to be before the post office closed the following day. We hitched until dark with no luck whatsoever — we really didn’t even get smiles & waves.
We stealth camped that night in what we *think* was national forest land.
Through the magic of the hiker community on Facebook, we got a ride up to trail days with this wonderful lady hiker & adventurer! She drive a big truck, trailing a mini-trailer that seemed frikkin amazing (living the dream!). The only weird thing was she had a mannequin sitting next to me in the back seat. I’m not kidding!
So there you have it, the conclusion to my epic hitching (“yellow blazing”) adventure this summer!
While I wish I had been able to hike more of Oregon & Northern California, I’m grateful to have experienced all of these small towns and very lucky to have met some wonderful (and some strange) people.
Body image is a weird thing, especially in our looks-obsessed society. I noticed a lot of changes in my body while I was hiking this summer, some of which I like and some which caused a sleeping giant of inner-body-shaming to awaken within me. I’m writing this post as a way of dispelling the inner hater and embracing my new digs.
Some context for those of you who haven’t been following my journey: this summer I hiked about 600 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail through California and Oregon.
I’m what’s colloquially known as a ‘skinny bitch.’ I have a crazy metabolism, thanks to my Dad. I’m short with tiny bird bones, thanks to my Mom. When I hike long distances, I typically lose a shit-ton of weight to the point where my body can hardly sustain life.
Two years ago, I lost 12lbs in 11 days of backpacking in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I looked (and felt) like shit after that. Sometimes bigger folks think I’m so lucky that I’m so skinny and that I lose weight so easily on the trail, but it actually sucks. I have no margin for error, because my body literally has no fat (energy) reserves.
Last year, I resolved that I would not lose a single pound on my 6-week hike. I chose the most ridiculously calorie dense food to carry. I gorged myself on burgers and ice cream in town. I force fed myself constantly. I started and ended that hike at 108 lbs. Success!
This year I had the same goal: I knew it would be harder because the hike was longer but I was determined. I had watched this video by Landmark in which she describes calculating the difference between the calories she would need for her hike and what she could carry — then proceeded to GAIN weight pre-hike to make up the deficit. Fucking brilliant!
I tried my best to put on weight. I really did. But despite drinkng a medium mocha with whole milk & whipped cream (sometimes a large, and sometimes TWO) literally EVERY DAY and eating a ton of burgers, pie, ice cream, candy, cheese, and all manner of fatty foods for months, I still weighed 108 when I started the hike in June. I did manage to develop a small pot belly, which was mildly encouraging.
When I’m hiking, I’m hungry all the time. It’s basically impossible to eat (or carry) enough calories to cover what you’re burning each day. It only takes a couple of days for my ‘hiker hunger’ to set in.
All I want is meat and candy. Fat, salt, and sugar are my best friends. So I hang out with them a lot.
After the first 200 miles or so, I’d lost the tiny pot belly I’d worked to hard to grow. I was cinching the hip belt on my backpack as tight as it would go, and worrying about it. I arrived at Red’s Meadow a starving mess. I spent the last 6 miles of the hike in practically running down the trail, endlessly jabbering about all of the foods I would eat when I got there.
I sat down at the counter and ordered blueberry pie and a chocolate milkshake. They make REAL milkshakes that bring all the boys to the yard. Damn right, they’re better than yours.
I inhaled them and ordered a bacon double cheeseburger.
The waitress raised her eyebrows and the guy sitting next to me smirked, “you’re gonna eat all that?”
“Yep.” I smiled. And I did.
As she cleared my plates, the waitress whispered, “I didn’t want to say anything but, wow! I’ve never seen such a tiny person eat so much. Where do you put it?”
I showed her my “food baby” – I literally looked like I’d swallowed a bowling ball.
For the first time in weeks, I wasn’t hungry. I was fully satiated. I’m not someone who has ever turned to food for comfort so this was a new thing for me: feeling really, really good after eating a bunch of food.
I woke up the next morning at 5am with one thing on my mind: BACON. Bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon, BACON! Somehow I managed to wait 3 whole hours for the restaurant to open. The waitress from last night was excited to take my order and watch me eat.
I filled my belly with 3 pancakes, 3 eggs and glorious bacon. I put butter and endless cream in my coffee. I also had pie.
There was another layer beyond just enjoying the food; I felt oddly proud that I could eat so much. It was clearly astounding to waitresses and onlookers etc. The more it happened, the more it became like a magic trick I could do. I posted the ridiculous food I was eating to Facebook and enjoyed shocking my friends and family.
Other hikers looked forward to seeing how much I could eat, and it became a running joke among my friends. People would ask me about all the foods I’d eaten during my more epic meals and would shake their heads in disbelief until they’d seen the miracle with their own eyes. I hiked with a chef who was determined to give me “cornbread thighs” and delighted in watching me devour all the food he cooked!
It stroked my ego and I liked the attention, but it also felt kind of perverse. “Skinny girl eats lots of food” is kind of a “man bites dog” type story; I know that fat or medium size people would not get this kind of encouragement to eat mass quantities of food. So it felt weird and complicated.
But I was really fucking hungry so I kept on eating.
Then I started actually gaining weight. I really didn’t like it. Not one little bit.
My thighs started TOUCHING when I walked. I never experienced “chafing” because I’ve always had a thigh gap, but I’ve heard enough about it that I knew I didn’t want it to happen to me! I started walking funny with my legs more spread apart to keep my thighs from touching. I complained to other hikers about it. I gave my thighs a lot of side eye.
This is hard to admit, but I felt fucking horrible when I lost my “thigh gap” and gained a “muffin top.”
I got everything I wanted, didn’t want what I got. I suddenly felt painfully aware of the skinny privilege I have always had. I was terrified that it might go away.
I love being tiny and short and skinny. I don’t know who I’d be if I wasn’t those things.
I haven’t felt crappy about my body like this since I was an angsty, anxiety-filled, hormone-fueled teenager. I thought this kind of shit was supposed to be over! I’m so body positive about other people, WTF?!
I thought a lot about how steeped in body hate and fat shaming our society is, that I can be so removed from media (in the woods for months) and surrounded by people who don’t give a fuck, but still those messages repeat in my head.
It made me mad. Initially I was just mad at myself for getting “fat” and then I got mad at myself for being mad about the fat and eventually I just got mad at fat-hate in general.
It occurred to me that the reason I had cultivated this pot belly and these cornbread thighs was so I could walk really fucking far and not starve to death.
That’s literally why humans have fat: so we don’t starve to death if we don’t have enough food. This “realization” sparked the return of some acceptance and self-love.
I’m not saying I’m 100% happy with my body right now because that would be a lie, but I’m at peace with my belly and thighs. I’m grateful that they will be there if I ever need to eat them.
There were some other changes too, most notably my ass. I have one now. It’s round and muscly and no longer fits into my jeans. I’m pretty excited about it — I always wanted one!!
Also my thighs didn’t just get fat, they got strong.
My hiker legs are just solid muscles and I’m proud of them.
What have they done but serve me well? They don’t deserve all this shade I’ve been throwing.
I just gotta get some apple bottom jeans (and boots with the fur) to go with my new body.
I had planned on hiking about 50 miles to end up in Cascade Locks in time for a hiker gathering called “Trail Days” — but one of the my friends got really sick about 9 miles in. We spent a couple of days at the Sandy River (which was so silty it looked like chocolate milk). We hoped that he’d feel well enough to continue, but he was too sick to hike 40 miles in 2 days (and I didn’t want to do that either!). One great benefit of staying put was that even more friends caught up with us, and I can’t even explain how wonderful it was to see them! So we all bailed at the Ramona Falls trailhead (popular day hiker spot) and hitched the rest of the way.
The handful of miles I did in this section were really powerful, and I’m so grateful that I got to experience them. Mt Hood comes in and out of view for miles, and there are spectacular waterfalls! The camping spot by the Sandy river had a killer view of Mt Hood, complete with alpenglow in the evenings and stunning sunsets! I definitely want to return to Oregon in the future to hike more of this incredible landscape.
So much awesome it’s hard to even sum up but lemme try.
This section was physically harder than I expected it to be, mostly because of the smoke from tons of fires raging in NorCal, Oregon and Washington. It was hard to breathe so everything was more challenging. I’m also hiking faster, even when it’s hot and uphill and horrible, so it’s harder on my body even though the actual elevation gain is less than what I’m used to in the Sierra. Lots of the seasonal streams & creeks were bone dry so I had to carry more water and it’s HEAVY! The sources that were running were not ideal, but I was really grateful for the muddy little streams we did find.
I got a bus to Seiad Valley, CA (the last town in Cali on the PCT) because I wanted to walk into Oregon. It’s a tiny town that is fiercely rallied around creating an independent state of Jefferson; I had some very interesting conversations there with the locals.
From Seiad Valley, I walked up a jeep road about five miles, then got picked up by a dude in a pickup. After piling two hikers plus four packs in the back, we took off speeding up towards the pass. We stopped to load up more hikers and more packs, and the driver called out to us, “hey there’s a chicken in the Tupperware.” I thought he meant rotisserie but he meant a live one! Then he sped off again and I just clung to the side of the truck for dear life as he barreled up the road and the chicken scratched and pecked in the Tupperware.
This stretch of trail was about 60 miles through beautiful forests with lichen-covered trees and wildflowers galore! It was also opening weekend for bow hunting in Cali so we saw a lot of hunters. I really love this terrain and I hope to be able to explore it sometime when it’s not completely encased in smoke or overrun by dudes in camouflage…
What is the Vortex? It’s a place where thru hikers lose days, but I’ve learned that you should never regret a zero (a day where you hike zero miles).
Here’s a podcast featuring some of the amazing hikers who vortexed me. These are some of the people, places, and things that vortexed me along the way. I’m grateful for every single one.
Yep, everything is holey and yet somehow I’m whole.
As I recently learned (thanks to Nude Dude), it’s all the same hole.