a thing i wrote about that thing we're all super bummed about

What can we do to mend our broken country? We turn to social media, make our profile photos black. We mourn, listening to Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash on vinyl in a dim room with candles flickering, casting shadows on the walls. We protest, taking the streets by storm by the hundreds of thousands, plodding across the pavement, forlorn and disheartened, frustrated and angry. We are outraged and embarrassed. We are fucking pissed off. We feel robbed, betrayed. We are helpless, paralyzed with fear and fury. We write letters and call our local senators, pleading with them. We beg for a solution, for someone with some fucking common sense to take a stance. Someone to just be reasonable. But who can help? We’ve dug our grave. Where are Beyonce and Jay-Z now? 

What can we do but submit to our new overlord? He, who knows no discretion, no decency. He, who has no remorse. He, who wants to build a wall and hire bouncers for our borders. 

We can hate each other, point fingers, throw around words like ignorant and uneducated. It was them, they did it and they don’t understand the consequences. He is the enemy, not their mascot, but they’re too dumb to even understand that. Racist, classist, sexist. We shake our heads in utter disbelief. We can literally not comprehend the news. It’s gut wrenching, nauseating, disgusting.

And what can we do? Divided we stand, divided we fall. One nation under God. Oh, god. 

We can watch Seinfeld reruns. We can scan the headlines. We can read the comments. We can blast Bruce Springsteen. We can quote song lyrics and poems, we can repost inspirational slogans written in pretty fonts. We can be mad about the polls. Those inaccurate statistics, that false sense of security. We’ve been duped. We got played. We can be resentful, we can hold grudges, have regrets and say “I told you so.” Will that mend our broken country?

We can continue to be kind, to treat one another with respect, to read books and make weird art. We can see live music and dance until we’re sweaty and out of breath. We can bake cookies from scratch. We can ride our bicycles. We can bask in the sunshine on our front stoop and make faces at the neighbor’s cat. We can call our parents, tell them we love them. We can eat a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s and watch Stephen Colbert in our underpants. We can roll our eyes and sigh loudly. We can be cynical and sarcastic and shitty, but all in moderation. We can go to the aquarium and look at the sharks. We can have a good, hard cry in the shower. We can read Shel Silverstein poems and be nostalgic for our childhood. And we can watch cartoons. We can rant and we can rave. We can toss our heads back and howl at the moon. We can hug our loved ones tight, and even tighter still. We can write in our journals and go to our yoga classes and try to meditate, find that fucking moment of zen. We can watch Rob Zombie movies and Joss Whedon programs. We can climb mountains, walk in the woods. We can book a flight, plan a vacation and look forward to sipping stiff rum drinks with flashy garnishes on the beach in the not so distant future. We can Google search “how to immigrate to Canada.” We can make empty threats. We can withdraw all of our savings and bury the cash in a super secret location. 

We can stick together. We can prevail. We can and we will. Take your time coming to terms with reality and once it all sets in, drink a pot of coffee and smash a watermelon with a rubber mallet in your backyard. Get a pedicure. Plant a fucking tree. Adopt a puppy.   

Beneath our cloak of melancholy and doom, there is still goodness. Look again. Remember? While we stand divided, we are still standing. Hang in there, and mind your posture. Because the world is watching. And we need to remind them that he isn’t us. What he is and what he represents is ugly. It’s bad. It’s disagreeable, unbecoming and wrong. It’s sour. 

But we are still sweet. 

Silence & Noise

For five full months we breathed only fresh air. Straight outta the leaves and into our lungs. It got smoky occasionally, but you get the point. Now that we’re home, we’re all too eager to stay indoors with our hardwood floors and black-out drapes. In the woods, we absorbed all that fresh air, sat in the dirt, thought our thoughts, exhausted ourselves. We walked and walked and built up our bodies, just to beat them down as we continued to walk and walk. Now we sit. And we recline. We lay, feet propped up on couch arms or pillows. We take a stroll to the café and play short games of ping-pong in the yard, but our steps are limited. They are few. We are making up for all of the steps from this summer, over compensating our leisure to catch up.

And we absorb. We absorb the technology, recharging when the batteries get low and blink urgent red. We absorb the movies and podcasts and books and tv shows, one after the other after the other. We cram our heads full of entertainment that we’ve missed while we were idling among the trees and the mountains. We scan the internet and read the comments. Before we were turtles; now we are sponges. We buy ridiculous things to fill our house with, because we don’t have to carry these items on our backs.

We “climbed the mountains and got their good tidings,” and now we binge watch Dexter. The mountains called and we went. Now friends call and we have dinner parties. I scatter vases of fresh cut flowers throughout the house, but they wither after a few days. I try to remember to water the garden that was planted in our absence, but this is a big responsibility.

Things were so simple then: walk, eat, sleep, repeat. Don’t forget to survive and to occasionally roar with laughter. Now we are back in the swing of it. Parties, concerts, movies, activities, phone calls, headlines, junk mail, rent checks, cable boxes, wifi, gas prices, vegetables, bike rides. Work? All of these forgotten routines, so easy to pick up where we left off.

“Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before.”  —Alice Walker

The PCT is but a blurry memory that pulses occasionally from somewhere deep in the void. This thing that we did for so long that was all encompassing, that was our life. But this is our life. “How did we do that?” we marvel from the confines of our comfortable bed, contemplating the trail map that hangs crooked on our wall. The aches and pains and dirty feet and smelly socks are gone now. No more worrying about pole tips or insoles or water treatment.

I’m not complaining. Coming home has never felt so good. Rejoining society and all of its glory. Nurturing friends welcoming us back with open arms and home cooked meals. The red and gold couches beckoning to our weary bodies. Art and music, cars and motorcycles, keys and mailboxes. The scale is balanced: silence and noise.


On Nature Pooping

Our good buddy claims that his most valued piece of gear on the trail was his plastic Powerade bottle that he would flip upside down (cap side pressing into the dirt) and rest his head on the butt of the bottle, making an awkwardly angled but otherwise comfortable pillow. People love their Jetboil stoves and their Darn Tough socks (lifetime warranty!). 

My favorite thing that I carried in my backpack for five months? The most essential, can't-live-without-it item that I've cherished above all the other things? The one thing that was practical, lightweight and made my time living in the woods more comfortable? 

A little thing I like to call "Princess Buttstuff's Backcountry Bidet." (Patent pending) My backcountry bidet is actually just a little plastic squeeze tube bottle from REI, probably about 12oz or so. But this thing is the bee's knees. Shitting in the woods is one thing, but having to mess around with toilet paper and packing it out (don't you bury that stuff in the ground, you jerk!!) is utterly disgusting. Nope, no toilet paper for us. 

And the easiest way to justify the backcountry bidet, because people are easily skeeved out by the idea of getting familiar with their own buttholes and potentially getting a little of their own poop on their hands, is this: if you (accidentally) got poop on yourself (use your imagination), would you just wipe it off with toilet paper and be satisfied with that solution? Hell no. You'd wash that shit off with soap and water. Vigorously.

So why, then, when you take a poop would you be satisfied with just wiping with toilet paper? That's gross too.

It works like this: you take your backcountry bidet and you fill it with water (doesn't have to be treated water, obviously) and a few drops of your favorite Doctor Bronner's soap. You walk off trail and you dig your cat hole and you take your poop. Then- while still squatting- you simply squirt the water from your bidet with one hand down your buttcrack while using the other hand to wash your butt with said water. Repeat until clean, use remaining water to wash hand. Dry with a bandana and then use some antibacterial hand sanitizer. Done and done.

No mess, no nasty toilet paper to deal with. Leave no trace. In fact, you'll be even cleaner than you were before you pooped. 

You hear a lot about this "butt chafe" phenomenon that happens to people while they're hiking. I firmly believe this is caused by having a dirty butt. That's disgusting. We're all adults here. Grow up, it's just a little poop. Wash your butt, wash your hands. End of story.

Because anyone who buries their toilet paper (or Wet Wipes, for that matter) is an asshole. 

So next time you need to nature poop, remember to bring your "Princess Buttstuff's Backcountry Bidet." Because if you're going to live in the woods, you might as well be civilized about it. 

Welcome to the clean butt club. 



Well we haven't hiked in about ten whole days and upon taking the first few steps out of bed each morning, the tops of my feet still throb tenderly. But I shrug it off as I wander into the bathroom to use the toilet, my feet dangling just above the cool tiled floor, relaxed. I recall how once upon a time not long ago, I'd otherwise be squatting next to a tree and grimacing in the agony that the hunched over pose presented to my toes and joints. I brush my teeth in the sink, using water recklessly, and rinse my toothbrush when I'm through. On the trail I would dry brush, modestly conserving toothpaste from the tiny travel sized tube, spitting in the dirt and slurping my toothbrush clean of any excess before jamming it back into its home in the hip belt of my backpack. Instead of pulling my filthy, and probably still damp with sweat from the previous day, clothes back onto my aching body (I often complained to Andy that I felt like a rag doll in the mornings), I skip getting dressed entirely and hop back into bed. Grabbing my phone, I scroll indulgently through the Internet, scanning headlines of the Atlantic, the Economist, Vice, Huffington Post. Once I'm bored with (or depressed by) the day's news, I'm ready to seek out coffee and breakfast. Ah, leisure.

The daunting obligation to hike twenty-five miles each day is officially a thing of the past. I've rejoined society. I'm an indoor cat again.

It's sort of amazing how easy it is to slip back into normalcy. Staying up late to watch Colbert on the Late Show leads to sleeping (way) in, ignoring our old alarm that crooned Leonard Cohen at 6:15am each day. Passing out in an exhausted heap in our tent by 9pm is but a bittersweet memory now, as we stretch out on pillow top mattresses surrounded by fluffy down pillows playing WordFeud until 1am.

At first, arriving in Portland was overwhelming. The dining and shopping options were limitless. Everything became instantly easy again. We didn't have to hitchhike, Uber was just a click away. We didn't have to worry about the weather, we could just go inside. We acquired comfortable cotton clothes and some deodorant. And there were people everywhere. And we couldn't just pee anywhere we wanted to, as soon as we had to go. Our hands were clean, washed with soap multiple times a day. We didn't have to spend a significant portion of each shower sitting on the floor and vigorously scrubbing at our ankles and toenails. The abundance of places to sit comfortably was delightful. Ah, to eat at a table! There was art and music. There were man made curiosities around each corner of the city. Food trucks with exotic treats such as fried peanut butter and jellies and ethnic cuisine from around the world. No more forced lunches of Mission tortillas and Nutella. Thai restaurants and coffee shops on each block. No more Starbucks instant iced coffee packets shaken up in plastic Gatorade bottles. And the irony was that we weren't even nonstop famished anymore.

I purchased a large umbrella and a 500 page Harpers Bazaar. Very impractical for the trail.

Getting "off trail" was the right decision. We recently took our rental car and met our hiker friends who are still going strong at Snoqualmie Pass for dinner and to wish them well on their last couple hundred miles to Canada. Everyone seemed a little burnt out, but in good spirits. The recent cold, rain and snow that had moved into Washington was good for the wildfires, but bad for the hiking. Views from the famous Goat Rocks Wilderness were few and far between for our friends, which was both discouraging and frustrating. We gave them a bit of a pep talk ("almost done!") and they congratulated us on knowing when enough was enough. 

They complimented us on looking clean and fresh in our new clothes and we complimented them on having the strength and tenacity to finish the damn thing. It sounded like the Washington portion of the PCT, while having the best views since the High Sierras, was physically hard as hell. 

So while we are still dillydallying, we have been in full on chill mode. We've easily been the youngest folks on the scene since we took off from Portland, stopping at a few casinos on our way up the coast to Cannon Beach then Ballard then to San Juan Island. We've made lots of white haired friends around shared Bed & Breakfast tables, in line for the ferry from Anacortes, and waiting to board our sleeper train car in Seattle. Now we're en route to San Francisco to reunite with our camper and drive home to Denver.

We've been looking forward to this train ride on Amtrak's Coastal Starlight since before we began hiking, when we took the southern portion of the same train from San Francisco to LA. Barefooted in our roomette sipping hot coffee and staring mindlessly out the window as the train hurtles southbound, we have time to reflect on our crazy summer of being woodland critters. 

An elderly gentleman who works for the National Forest Service just popped in to tell us some history about the area that the train passes through, pointing out bridges and such. We tell him we've been hiking for five months on the PCT and he inquires if we will ever do it again. We lock eyes, smile knowingly and confidently shake our heads no. 

Back to Normal

Surprise! We quit!

We walked over 2100 miles from the Mexican border into Washington and then did something no one does: stopped hiking with less than 500 miles to go from the Canadian border. 

Fear not, faithful readers. Don't be disappointed. We're not. In fact, we are thrilled to be done. Overjoyed, really. Free will, for the win.

We were stuck in a timequake and now we are free at last.

There were several reasons for making this executive decision. The PCT has proved to be much more of an emotional excursion than anticipated. I've mentioned this before, but doing the same thing all day every day for five months is tedious.

"When you're sick of all this repetition, won't you come see me Queen Jane?" 
-Bob Dylan

We've spent a lot of time on the trail daydreaming of doing other things that we enjoy, from rock climbing to playing hockey to eating lavish brunches and practicing walking on our stilts. You don't realize how many hobbies you have until you're restricted to just doing one thing day in and day out on a regimented schedule.

But most importantly, Andy's foot pain has escalated from a dull and bothersome ache to more of a debilitating degree. It's very likely a stress fracture and all the Vitamin I
(ibrueprofen) in the world isn't going to cure that. A doctor might recommend that one stop hiking twenty five miles a day as a remedy, but until we really threw in the towel that wasn't an option.

We hiked a whole lot. And most of it was really great, but five months of hiking was just enough for us. Hike your own hike, they say. And at this point, making it to Canada felt arbitrary if we weren't actually enjoying ourselves. And the days were getting shorter and "winter is coming." We spent one and a half days hiking in the cold rain in Washington, realizing that the rest of our hike may turn into this. Weather paranoia, fire paranoia, the challenge to keep hiking the big mile days that we'd been doing in Oregon in the significantly more challenging landscape of the Cascades through September with shorter days on the horizon... I'm exhausted just recapping our reasons (excuses?) for you.

There is also a threshold, physically speaking, where you become fit, you become strong and then you begin to deteriorate. Working our way through the desert and up into the Sierras, we gained strength, lost body fat, built muscles and confidence. Somewhere along the line, perhaps just around the halfway mark, things started to fall apart a bit. Whatever had been working fine so far needed readjusting, tweaking, reevaluating. The gear, the joints, the feet. Overuse and abuse of our bodies was beginning to take a toll that became hard to ignore. One "zero" day per week was just enough to tease your body into thinking it was recovering. 

All this hiking began to make me strangely depressed. I became desensitized to this over abundance of fresh air and beautiful nature and spent a majority of my days staring at my shoes and longing for the day to end. The camping portion of the day was always the best part, and it was so fleeting. We would often only have about an hour or so of daylight at camp, which we would spend cooking dinner and socializing with our hiking buddies and decompressing from all the hiking. Then back to sleep, then back to hiking, and repeat.

"All hiking and no play makes Dilly a dull girl." 

Over all, hiking over two thousand miles over the course of five months has been an insane experience. It was almost harder to quit than it may have been to finish. We invested so much energy into this thing. Would it be throwing it all away to stop just shy of our goal? Nah. Was it all for nothing? No way.

It's easy to get so caught up in the flow of the thru hike. Everyone, no matter how beaten or bruised, just keeps trucking towards Canada. Rain or shine or snow, thru hikers are like the freaking mailmen. Nothing can stop them, except themselves.

Andy described it best when he said that we basically have Stockholm syndrome, only we've kidnapped ourselves. We were stuck in a loop, so fixed on finishing this damn hike because the only real reason to do a thru hike in the first place is because you want that sense of total accomplishment, of having done the whole thing. Bragging rights. Achievement. 

But you know what? In the end, we are still the champions. Masters of our own domain. We hiked the shit outta that hike. And maybe someday we will hike the remainder of the Washington PCT, when there's more time and autumn isn't nipping at our heels. Or maybe we won't. Who knows! 

We can do whatever we want. And I think that's the moral of the story. "Paddle your own canoe. Hi ho."

Crossing Over

We've been nearly in Washington for days. Gazing out of our hotel room and across the Columbia River through the rain and clouds, we have been admiring the shore of the final state that stands between us and the Canadian border. Washington beckons from behind the mist.

I think we will actually go there tomorrow. The Bridge of the Gods, as seen from our hotel window, serves as the PCT's entryway into Washington and marks the lowest point on the entire trail. It feels like we are so close to completion, the light at the end of the tunnel. But there are still about five hundred miles of trail to conquer beyond the bridge.

So we lay here in our comfortable hotel surrounded by our temporarily clean laundry and contemplate Washington. We listen to the train chug by and the air conditioner click on and off. We watch the lazy tugboats push through the river and observe as the traffic mulls over the bridge. We watch tennis and read National Geographic and relax. Ah, sweet civilization. 

We still are tired, even though we haven't hiked anywhere in days. Coffee doesn't help, but it sure tastes good.

The small town of Cascade Locks buzzed with hikers and hiking enthusiasts this weekend during PCT Days, which is the largest backpacking gear festival in the region. Arriving late in the afternoon on Saturday just in time to buy some last minute raffle tickets (which we ended up giving away, because who wants to stand in the rain for an hour just to potentially win some socks?), we enjoyed some food truck fare and caught up with hiker friends before retreating to the hotel room.

Friday morning we dipped off trail at the nearest highway to catch a hitch to the Timberline Lodge, which serves as the ski resort to Mt. Hood. (It should be noted that the woman who gave us a ride had a mannequin in the backseat of her massive pickup truck, and no one even mentioned it as we piled in and cozied up next to it.) The impressive old building was used to film the aerial and exterior shots in The Shining and is renowned for its spectacular breakfast buffet, which absolutely lived up to the hype. We actually ate several meals at the Timberline Lodge and spent a night there, indulging in endless games of shuffleboard and pingpong. Their "dungeon" bar, the Blue Ox, had great pizza and its walls were covered in mosaic murals of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Ox.

The two story, open lodge area was stocked with thick wooden furniture and comfy couches that surrounded a four sided fireplace, the room's nucleus. The high vaulted ceilings made you feel tiny. Each door in the Timberline was uniquely shaped, often pointed at the top, as if they all lead to secret elf lairs. The perplexing door knobs were old fashioned metal hooks and latches. The windows from the mezzanine level framed spectacular views of sprawling mountainous cloudscapes. Somehow we managed to take zero pictures of the place, though.

It seems like the fire closures in Washington are slightly improving, or it may just appear that way because more people are finishing the trail these days and are posting more useful information regarding the trail conditions. Now the worries will turn to potential winter weather conditions moving in to the Cascades. It's always something. 

It's Not You, It's Me

Dear Oregon,

It's not you, it's me. You're really sweet. And your natives sure do love you. But I think we're better off just being friends.

I know you've had a weird year, but you sort of smell like a campfire. And you have a major bee problem. I've been stung twice this week. Seriously, that's just not cool.

You've got some nice lakes for swimming, but a lot of them are strange and swampy. Ambitious ponds, really. Some are even full of waist-deep gelatinous muck and slime and sharp sticks. This is not ideal for me, especially when I'm trying to literally bathe in them.

You've got some neat mountains, sure, but their volcanic nature makes the trail borderline unmanageable on my knees and ankles (not to mention gnawing apart the tread of my shoes). 

Your occasional views have often been obstructed by thick smoke. This smoke is also causing me to clear my throat excessively each morning, combined with the clouds of dust that we've been stomping through for weeks. Your dust has also penetrated my shoes and socks so thoroughly that my feet have just taken on a blackened appearance that I fear will remain that way... forever.

I must give it to you, you don't have sales tax. And Mt. Jefferson and Jefferson Park sure were scenic. Hood Wilderness has some of the best maintained trails of the PCT and Timothy Lake was just lovely. The Obsidian Falls area was also beautiful, even though a condescending National Forest volunteer insisted on checking our permits there and lecturing us on "Leave No Trace." We had to miss Crater Lake, which I'm sure is one of your finest points, but we did get to see (and drink from) "Little Crater Lake." We had a blast at Shelter Cove and the restaurant at Elk Lodge was delicious. We loved browsing antique shops and eating brunch at the Cottonwood Cafe in Sisters. Plus, there were llamas at the Best Western there!

We're also looking extremely forward to hiking the Eagle Creek alternate trail and checking out Tunnel Falls. People have been raving about that portion of the trail. Well, everyone except some guy named Costco, who wrote this review in the Guthook guide: 

Your people are kind and generous and hitchhiking has been extremely easy because of this. They also all seem to know you very intimately and are proud to point out your third highest waterfall and fifth highest mountain and second purest lake (whatever that means). In general, everywhere has been very hiker-friendly. 

But nonetheless, I'm leaving you. I'm sorry.

I'll be back in about a month to visit your capital and your coast, but let's keep it strictly platonic.

Thanks for everything,