Posts Tagged ‘Thru-hiking’

As the previous post gave away, I will be starting the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) going sobo in mid-June of this year, 2015!

Most of the motivation to go south is that I need to finish this semester of grad school.  I’ll then take next semester off.  I’ve been getting a lot of shit for going the “wrong way,” however it’s getting me more excited.  Most (if not all) of the nobos have already started this year and their pictures are making me jealous that they get to start sooner.  While I’m waiting for some of the snow to melt in Glacier, I’ll be hanging out on the beach in Washington.

I am ready to embrace the brutality and get a firm kick in the ass!


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This title worked equally well for both a thru-hike and grad school.  In a thru-hike, the last two hundred miles or so begin to feel weird.  As the end of the trail gets nearer, an odd feeling comes up; the long, epic journey will stop in its current form and change directions.  The body rallies, excited to sit on a couch and eat for a week to regain lost weight and allow muscles to relax, but the mind begins to feel unrest.

My feet begin to hurt for a new round, probably because I should replace my sandals but I am stubborn and do not want to only for the last little bit.  My hips have absolutely no fat left on them and I’ve cut off a chunk of my sleeping pad and duct taped it to the hip belt of my pack for extra cushion.  My legs and arms show a summer full of scratched mosquito bites, gashes, scrapes, and bruises.  My stomach growls even after eating 800 calorie meals.

The destination feels great, but the mind and the body thirst for more, just moved to a new place after some rest because the journey made the highlights of the trail in its own right.

In TSS, the capstone represents the final push toward graduation.  Most of our grad class works field education in Kelly split into three teams: one team of six, one of five, and one of four (but the team of four has adopted other members).  I am in the team of four which created a course on Sustainability and Leadership, or SNL for short.  The course spans for three weeks, has nine Summer Search high school students, has two weeks in Kelly, one week front-country camping in Yellowstone National Park and visits a farm.

In true TSS style, we also had a group to teach the week before our capstone course so we work for a month straight.  Many, if not all, of those days are 12+ hour days.  Free time does not really exist.  In my “free time” right now, I’m working on this synthesis homework project…

My brain has hurt for a month straight.  My room has papers scattered everywhere.  I found a book in my bed one night.  I cannot process words very well without yerba mate in the morning.  My “to-do” list never ends and usually covers an entire page.  Teaching has somehow become more relaxing than logistics.  I’m not drinking from the fire hose, I am the fire hose!

This summer has taken the term “flexi-pants” to a whole new level.

Rainbow in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Rainbow in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

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About half way through a thru-hike, one of the common questions that plague thru-hikers begins to nag on the thru-hiker’s conscious: What are you going to do after the trail?  Many times, I want to slap the person asking it even though they do not see the harm in the question.  Yes, I should figure my life out in more detail.  Yes, I should have a five year plan, or a ten year plan…. blah, blah, blah.  But, I would rather live in the present and try to enjoy the trail as a trail and not as a transitory period in which I discover what I want to do in the “real world” of jobs, money, bosses, rent, utilities and all of that stuff that does not matter on trail.

Most often asked by day hikers, or people not experiencing the intensity of a thru-hike, the question becomes like a mosquito that you cannot kill and it just keeps biting your forehead over and over.  It seems wrong to tell people that I have no idea what I want to do afterward.  This usually begins a slight panic mode.  What if I can’t find a job?  What if I have to move back in with my parents?  What if I run out of money sooner than I anticipated?  What do I want to do with the rest of my life?

Mid-way through the year at TSS, all grad students must begin thinking about what they want to do post-TSS.  The grad program only lasts one year in the Tetons and we need to apply to another school (out of roughly six choices) to finish a Master’s Degree.  Due to application deadlines, I had to begin thinking about what I wanted to do next year.  Everyone around me began talking about it.  All of our faculty kept asking us.  My parents kept asking me.  The question was everywhere.  Where I decided to apply would determine what degree I would end up getting.

Because the University of Wyoming accredits TSS, a firm push to apply to UW exists.  In fact, all grads had to visit UW for three days despite saying that I knew I did not want to go there or live in Laramie.  I took it as an entertaining trip and good excuse to get to know my fellow grads even better.  I decided not to apply.  Instead, I applied to Prescott College.  However, once I decided I wanted to go for the Prescott program, I had another challenge: the application requires that the student applying envision and outline three courses that he or she would like to create and take as a student there.  Not only would I have to figure out what program area I wanted to continue studying, I had to come up with three classes I would like to make up and take.  Now, talk about overwhelming!

Remembering back to the beginning of the year when we, as a grad class, completed an activity in which we had three concentric circles laid out on the ground, the center representing our “comfort zone,” the middle ring representing our “stretch zone,” and the final ring representing our “panic zone.”  One of our faculty read off a list of activities and sports while we placed ourselves in one of the circles to become more aware of ourselves and to show that one person’s comfort zone is another’s panic zone.  The question, “What are you doing after TSS?” threw me straight into the stretch zone/panic zone border depending upon the day.

Eventually, I came up with something and went with it with the help of many other grads and many long talks with my Mom.

From Jackson Hole Mountain Resort when I tried not to think about next year.

From Jackson Hole Mountain Resort when I tried not to think about next year.

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Over the past year, I have completed my first year of grad school at Teton Science Schools (TSS) in Grand Teton National Park (GTNP).  The program consisted of taking block scheduled classes and teaching field education to kids pre-k through 12th grade.  If I only had two words to describe the entire year, I would use “mentally exhausting.”

To top off the year, we needed to complete a final synthesis project.  In true TSS project fashion, the assignment is incredibly open ended and can take any form where reflection on the core competencies (knowledgeable field scientist, effective educator, innovative leader, and conscientious community member) can show.  Oh, and let’s not forget that our grade also depends on the uniqueness of the project.  Typically, with these kinds of projects, three phases exist: the initial freak-out where I have no ideas what-so-ever, the idea, and the implementation of the idea.  The longest phase is invariably the first phase.

Finally, the idea came: to revive my blog and reflect on the mentally exhausting year in terms of a physically exhausting thru-hike.  In the next seven posts, the first part of the title will show a typical challenge in thru-hiking while the second will show a mentally exhausting problem of grad school.

Welcome to my past year.


My cabin for the year: one room, no bathroom, no kitchen.

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Onward! The time for a new adventure has finally come! Tomorrow, I will fly down to California, spend Saturday at the annual kick-off, and begin hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on Sunday.  The PCT runs from Campo, CA to Manning Park, BC for a total of 2663.5 miles…on foot.  Yes, that’s right, I’m walking!  No, I am not crazy. No, I don’t think a bear will eat me.  No, I am not carrying a gun.

I have spent the past few days quickly running through my last minute to-do lists such as printing out all of Halfmile’s maps which took a few printer ink cartridges, making a cat food can alcohol stove, fixing some gear issues, getting permits, finding plenty of small plastic containers for hot sauce, compiling delicious trail food etc.  My dearest most awesome mother has agreed to run my support through mail drops and excellent varieties of vegan cookies, as well as helping me sew up some clothing including replacing the zipper of my wind jacket which unbeknownst to me became horribly corroded in the past few months.  My awesome father has also pitched in, sending me amazing amounts of flavored peanut butter and chocolate bars. Big thanks to them!

I’ve been super excited about this thru-hike ever since I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2010 and the Colorado Trail in 2011.  Those stories are on this blog as well.  But in the meantime, I invite you to jump on and follow the adventure of the summer!

(Cat food can alcohol stove…goodbye canisters!)


(All of Halfmile’s maps printed double sided)

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Leaving the historical hut, our plan was to follow up a drainage which Christian described only as “slow travel,” then up a ridge just as steep as the first one we climbed for ISGE.  He was right.  We only had to go about a kilometer or kilometer and a half up the drainage, but the steep banks and a decent elevation change made river crossings sketchy at best and finding suitable terrain not covered in matagouri difficult.

Wanting to stick to our plan, we continued crossing the drainage a little early, getting knee-deep in the water, to avoid densely packed matagouri only to face a large, sketchy gully.  To get through that, we hiked up considerably high to find a somewhat suitable place to cross.  Unfortunately, at one point, our only handhold was a matagouri bush.  After getting across, I had to stop and pick a thousand matagouri needle things out of my hand.  I had an odd flashback to my mother and grandmother picking driftwood splinters out of my feet every night with needles.

Back down at the drainage, we ran into more and more of the same problems: matagouri and spaniards poking us, lack of moderately even ground, difficult sections of water to cross, and steep banks on either side.  When we finally made it to the Y we had marked, we saw the ridge we needed to climb.  Breathing a sigh of relief to be rid of that annoying drainage, we began to climb 400m in a kilometer or so – steep but preferable to getting beat up by plants.  Plus, with considerably less food, none of us found it quite so taxing as the first ridge.

Near the top, we had to follow a much more gentle slope over to a cool tarn we had marked with an x on the map.  Due to the

The tent facing the wind off the higher tarn.

terrain layout, we ended up climbing the first peak marked on the ridge, then descending the 50m or so to the tarn.  By that time, the wind had picked up in its usual fashion and sent us into a tizzy about finding the most protected area to set up the tent to avoid staying up all night in shifts to make sure the poles don’t break.

We deliberated and scouted every spot around the tarn until finally we came to the decision of just angling it directly with the wind and using the very nearby large rocks as giant anchors.  It ended up working fairly well and the wind lessened over the course of the evening into the night.


Ryan found a hole in his thermarest that the matagouri had poked through his backpack and the stuff sack and set about fixing it with some seam sealer and a patch, then weighing it down with several large rocks to dry in the remaining sunlight.  Unfortunately, we had a few large gusts of wind which decided against our will to flip all four rocks over creating another, larger rip in the thermarest which he attempted to fix again.

That evening, we saw one of the best sunsets on the whole trip.  The clouds turned a bright fire-red, making them appear like volcanic lava exploding in the sky.

I had a great night’s sleep only to wake up to James rushing out of the tent and puking his brains out.  When we peered out to check on him, all we saw was the cat hole digging ice ax gone.

Heather, Ryan, and I packed everything up and got everything for the morning ready while we tried to get some liquids and basic food to stay down in James’ stomach.  When he felt ready, we left, hiking up to the ridge opposite of the tarn to hike toward our end point.  We had placed a few super short days in toward the end to give us some leeway in case we ran into any issues and boy were we glad we did.  Our entire day’s plan was to hike up to the ridge, follow the ridge for a bit, then drop down to a small lake on the other side.  I believe the distance was a mere 5 kilometers, but of the typical New Zealand steepness, loose footing, and rock hopping.

It took us the better part of the day to get there stopping anywhere from every 10 minutes to every 30 minutes for James to use the little boys cat hole.  Toward the end of the ridge, we divided up the weighty things of his pack to make it easier for him since he was getting dehydrated from the loss of fluids.

The small lake was only a few kilometers from the end-point which we had to hit between 11am and noon.  Easy enough.  We woke up to misty rain which severely decreased visibility a few times in the short hike there.

We had one river crossing which we had been warned could be gnarly, but it ended up being super easy and gave us no problems.  Eventually we hit the marked fence on the map and followed it straight to the track leading into the beech forest and to the end parking lot where we would be picked up the next day.

Getting close to the last bit, we saw the other group’s tents set up just far enough back in the forest so Andy and Christian wouldn’t see them.  Or so they thought.  They had diverted to get there the night before because Tracy’s knees were having some issues.  Apparently, the instructors saw them anyway and pretended not to notice until nightfall when they snuck around and made bird noises until they got out of their tents to explore.

That afternoon, we ate the rest of our food and closed out the session with the usual “paperwork” and whatnot.  We repaired as much of the equipment as we could and had a rousing last night stew to top it all off.  Road brecky would come in the morning, so we sterilized the cookware and ate everything else.

So, that’s NOLS New Zealand in a nutshell.

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