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Miles

I wasn’t supposed to fall in love out here, but I couldn’t help myself.  I met him on the CDT on my first night out of Grants, NM. His trail name was Miles, and he loved hiking.  What was worse was that he had eyes that melted my heart.  

Damnit.  Not again.  No no noooo.

Help.


I first heard about the stray dog on my walk out of Grants.  Another hiker messaged me to say that a stray dog was found wandering around on trail following hikers.  My group made it about 20 miles that day and I had forgotten about the stray dog by the time we set up camp.

I forgot about it until a dog randomly wandered into our camp.  We scratched our heads, laughed, and gave him water.  He was covered in ticks and had no collar… most likely a stray vs runaway. I ate my dinner in my tent and stared at the dog through the bug netting.  I didn’t want him to become my problem.  This was MY cheese.  Go away, dog.  And if you even touch my tent, heaven help you.  That night, he curled up to sleep inches from my head.  I heard him quietly sighing all night.

The next day, my group woke up really early for a morning summit on Mt Taylor.  As I slid on my backpack, I saw the dog heading away from the trail.  Yes!!  I could sneak away.  This would be easy!

It didn’t work.  The dog magically beat me to the summit of Mt Taylor.   When I made it up there, he gave me this judging look like “Finally..  What took so long? Are you sure you’re a thruhiker?”

Crap. I looked at the dog and then 5,000 feet down at Grants.  Why did town have to be so far away?  It wasn’t even an option to go back now.  I tried to ignore him as much as I could, but the dog just kept following us anyway.  We talked about what to do with him.  Do we throw rocks at him?  Do we feed him our “extra” food and call an animal rescue group in 80 miles?  Will the dog even last that long?  I checked my map and tried to find closer towns, but we were in the middle of nowhere.  Was there even a “right” thing to do?  I had no answers, but I started rationing my food.. just in case.


I finally gave in and started feeding the dog my food.  I am weak.  I couldn’t abandon him to his slow death. He made it obvious that he would just keep following us to our next town.  And I didn’t want to look behind me and watch him starve to death.

I finally got phone reception on the side of a mountain.  The dog and I took a break in the shade while I called an animal rescue group.  The lady on the other end listened to my story and seemed honestly concerned.  But she told me that she was currently full.  She told me to call back when I made it to town.  I clung to hope that someone could help us.

I called back the animal rescue group when I was 3 hours from town.  There was no answer, so I left a message on voicemail.  I also tried animal control and the non-emergency police number.  They all went to voicemail and I left messages for them to call me back.  A mile from town, I started to worry… Nobody had called me back, and I absolutely couldn’t keep the dog in my hotel room.  I guessed that he wasn’t housebroken, and would pee and poop all over my hotel room, not to mention his tick infestation.  In one last ditch effort, Craiglist and the animal shelter in Grants were checked for missing dogs.  Nothing came back.

I briefly thought of keeping the dog on trail.  But it wasn’t the right thing for me to do.  The unofficial motto for the CDT is “Embrace the Brutality.”  I willingly signed up for this sufferfest and the dog did not. It simply wasn’t fair for him to walk to Canada with me. Plus I am hitting some serious Colorado snow in the next section, and it would be dangerous for Miles to join me.

I had to make a painful decision.  I looked at him, tears pooling in my eyes and told him that I loved him, that he was a good dog who deserved a family, and that we were out of options.  We walked by a few farms and I turned to him and said “No!”.  He looked confused until I said it again.  “NO NO NO”.  I walked away quickly.  The last time that I saw him, he was sitting under a sage bush.  It broke my heart, but I didn’t know what else to do.  And who knows…maybe animal control would have put him down anyway.  Maybe this actually was the best option for him, even if it ripped me apart to walk away.


Miles.. happy trails to my sweet boy..  it was a pleasure to hike with you.  And I am so sorry.


For everything.

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CDT: Silver City, NM to Grants, NM

The other day, I was hiking, and suddenly, the sky opened up and it started to hail.  I looked up and smiled.  The hail was a welcome relief from the constant sun and heat.  I quickly pulled out my umbrella and kept walking without missing a beat. 

I eventually caught up to my friend sitting under a tree.  He was talking to an older gentleman– maybe mid 60s, who was dressed in a clean khaki outfit. The older man introduced himself to me as “Doug the Hermit” and told me that he had a cabin tucked away close by.

What??  A hermit?  Really??  I had never met a hermit before, but somehow I envisioned black robes, and a long white beard.  Maybe someone who looked like Gandalf or Santa Claus?  Apparently, I was totally wrong!

Hanging out with Doug the Hermit

Doug told us that he was a Roman Catholic hermit and he had been living here, alone, for 18 years.  He had friends in “the real world” and leaves his cabin once a year to get supplies.  I kept asking him if he ever got lonely, and he would laugh and shake his head. He made it sound like he had plenty to occupy his time.. making meals, gardening, hiking, and praying.  We kept asking him questions about his life… and then I asked him if his cabin had wifi and he laughed at me.  Whoops, guess not.   🙂

My hiker friend and I had more miles to make, so we had to leave Doug.  That night, I camped at the Gila River with 4 other hikers.  And I kept thinking about Doug.  And the more I thought about him, the more impressed I was with his religious hermitage.  I have spent many nights camping, but what makes this whole adventure worth it is that I’ve shared these experiences with other people.  And I admit, for me, sharing these moments and trails with other hikers makes it so much easier too.  At times, my hiking experience is like a smelly slumber party with my best friends.

We have hiked across beautiful parts of New Mexico lately, and I can’t wait to see what Northern New Mexico has in store for us!  Enjoy the photos!

photo by JPEG 🙂

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CDT: Mexico to Silver City, NM

If I had one word to sum up the CDT’s first 150 miles:  Intense.

I started my hike on May 1st with 8 other hikers.  I am slightly embarrassed to admit that the first 100 miles of trail completely kicked my butt!  It was brutal hiking due to the constant sun exposure and heat.  Unlike the PCT, the CDT desert is a nearly shadeless landscape.  Everyday, I felt like an ant caught under a magnifying lens as I crawled to the next water source. It was painful, and I scolded myself for thinking negative thoughts. 

I reminded myself: “There’s beauty in everything. Sometimes you just have to look deeper.”  I tried to find beauty in the blooming cactus flowers, or the darting jack rabbits, but it was hard.  As much as I tried to enjoy it, the first 100 miles suffocated me.  It was beautiful, but I was too drained to fully enjoy it.

One day I literally sat in a water cache box for an hour because I was so hot, and it was the only shade in that area.  On the CDT, you are forced to make things work because you literally have no other option.  I sat in the box, drank lots of water, ate snacks, read the log book, and pushed on when I felt well again. 

I have since mailed unneeded items up the trail to reduce pack weight, and I bought a silver hiking sun-umbrella to combat the exposure.  I don’t do well in heat, and I’m going to carry that silly umbrella all the way to Canada!  

The trail, and my attitude are both improving quickly. In the last 50 miles, the trail has climbed into the trees again.  It feels amazing to be in a forest again!  I have been hiking with a big goofy grin on my face.  And constantly whispering “Thank You” to the trees.

I’m currently enjoying a stay at an Airbnb rental in Silver City, NM with a great group of fellow hikers.  I think we all needed this break to regroup for the next stretch of trail.

Here are my favorite photos of the last 150 miles.  Enjoy!!  

PS: I won’t have good wifi for the next sections, so don’t be alarmed if you don’t hear much from me until further north 🙂


 



 
There’s beauty all around us.  Sometimes we just forget how to search for it.

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Getting Caught Up…

Whoops..  Here is a long overdue post of my past hiking adventures!  Sorry it took so long, and enjoy the blog post.  ❤

I start the CDT on May 1st, and hopefully, I will find the time and energy to blog regularly while on trail.   Or, maybe I can at least blog once per state?  Hey, at least I am being realistic for a change.  😉   If you have any questions about any of these hikes that I didn’t address, feel free to ask away: Rayana@gmail.com

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Colorado Trail (2015):

The Colorado Trail was a huge factor in deciding to settle in Colorado.  I loved the idea of having a long-distance trail in my backyard.  I saved up 2 weeks of vacation, and knocked out Durango to Twin Lakes in 1 shot.  I spent the rest of my summer piecing the rest of the trail together.  A huge “Thank You” to Will/Estero for all the shuttle rides.  You made this hike possible for me, and I am so grateful for such a supportive boyfriend.   🙂

The Colorado Trail would be an awesome trail for a first thru-hike.  It was easy to follow the trail, since it was so well-marked.  I thought that the Colorado Trail had the best scenery, mile for mile, of any trail.  It was a great way to spend my first summer in Colorado.  I kept thinking “This is the reason I moved to Colorado!” and “Shit, Why can’t I breathe up here?”

The only “con” for me was that I was really lonely from Salida to Denver.  I was surprised that I spent so much time alone in those sections, and I really hated camping alone.   Even after all my thru-hikes, I’m still a little scared to camp alone.  Eventually, I was so tired, that I stopped caring, and just listening to the elk calls at night, and passed out.

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Wonderland Trail (2016):

The Wonderland Trail was a total last minute idea.  In 2016, a computer glitch in the reservation system left the Wonderland Trail as a free-for-all.  The entire trail was a first-come-first-serve system.  Yes!!!  No Brainer!  Time to go hiking!  I booked a flight to Portland and got a ride to Mt Rainier National Park with my older brother, Gabriel.  I was lucky to get a permit, but it started at a different entry point… and I only hiked 5 miles of trail in the first 2 days.  Oh well.

I didn’t care.  I enjoyed a slow start, and then hiked the rest of the trail in 5 days.  It was a ton of fun, but I made a mistake in shoe selection by going too light, and my arches fell.  As a result, I ended up with painful shin splints.

Just goes to show that even a “short” trail can kick your butt!

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San Diego Trans-County Trail (2017):

A few months ago, I joined a group of hikers to hike the San Diego Trail-County Trail.  It was so fun to be among “hiker trash” again, but we got hit with lots of rain and cold weather.  The group ended up splintering into smaller groups due to weather, and that was a little disappointing.   Maybe I’ll give it a shot next year and hope for better weather?  At one point, it was just down to 4 crazy hikers bushwhacking our way up a mountain.  It was fun, and I’m glad at least some hikers wanted to suffer with me  😉

I should mention, it’s more like a route, than an actual trail.  It was a mixture of following GPS tracks near Salton Sea, hiking the California Hiking and Riding Trail, skirting trails and green belts around San Diego, small amount of road walks and one really annoying bushwhack/trespass (?) up El Cajon Mountain.

If you are interested in this trail, please check out this facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/542292329178926/

It was raining too much, so I ditched my camera on this hike.  A lot of these photos are from other hikers.  I probably won’t go that ultralight in the future.  Photos are what help me remember my hikes, and ditching a camera isn’t worth it, to me.

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Acorn is back.

Wow–  it has been 2 years since I last blogged!

Honestly, I spent the last 2 years working a lot (yuck).  Everyday, I would wake up before the sun, put on my blue scrubs, and go to the hospital. I tried to be normal. I stopped carrying toilet paper in my pocket. I made some wise investments, flipped a house and saved my pennies. And everyday, I would miss the trail. Everyday, I would dream about my next adventure.  I constantly looked at Estero’s triple crown plaque over the fireplace and wondered “When will it be my turn?”

I did shorter trails in my spare time and climbed 14ers.  I hiked the Colorado Trail (Durango to Denver) in 2015, and earlier this year, I hiked the Wonderland Trail around Mt Rainier. In those brief periods of time, I felt alive again.

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Home.

During this time, things at work were changing for the worse.  A merger contract was signed which would move my job to another location.  Worst of all, this new location would be ridiculously understaffed.  I was asked to resubmit my resume, interview, and fight my coworkers for the job.  Umm… What?  Why did I want to fight for a job that would make me miserable?  Hives started to break out all over my stomach from the increased stress.

Yep….

….You know exactly where this is going.

I am free again.  And dammit, I’m going hiking.  Estero is a wonderful partner, and so supportive of my crazy dreams, even if he can’t drop everything and hike with me again (I wish he could!).

 

I will be kicking off 2017 with a short ~150 mile hike in California:  San Diego Trans-County Trail.

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Every year, 15-20 people hike this trail together in January.  I’m so excited to experience the southern California desert again, and be among “my people”.   And yes, we all jump in the Ocean at the end.  🙂

And, I am praying for a low snow year, because these trails are both high on my list:

 

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(Ahhhh!!)

 

I am very eager to see where 2017 will lead me.  And hopefully, I can find a less stressful career when I finish.  (Maybe a traveling Microbiologist?)

It’s late now, but maybe this week, I’ll finally upload my Colorado Trail and Wonderland Trail photos.  I have so much to show you.

It feels good to be back.

Love Always,   Acorn

 

 

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Home

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The train slows as it approaches the station in Harpers Ferry.

Finally.

I slide my arms through my pack’s straps and clip the belt around my hips.

Click.

Oh, how I missed her! It has been a long time since we have been together and I missed our abusive relationship.

I depart the train, and I’m pulled back to the white blazes like a magnet.

It’s been two weeks since I left the trail to organize my life.

It is done.

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The apartment in Chicago is empty. My cat, Doodle, is safe in my parents house in Kansas with the few possessions I wanted to keep. Luke is relaxing in Kansas City before flying to Africa for the year. My paperwork to renew my Medical Lab Scientist certification has been sent. I’ll probably need a job at some point? Right?

The strings are tied.

I’m back. I kiss the white blazes on the lamppost (my first ones!) and head north to finally cross the bridge into Maryland.

I am home.
I am walking to Maine.
I am so eager for the next 1000 miles.

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Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere; and sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself.

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Fragile

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I hear screaming and quickly realize this isn’t normal.

I am near the end of the hiker parade at Trail Days and am armed with a tiny squirt gun, face paint, and a big smile. Seconds before, I was laughing and in a water gun fight with an 8 year old boy, who was waiting on the sidewalk.

The screams are chilling. I spin around in time to see a dented old Cadillac plowing through the hikers. I’m confused.. Is this a joke? Hikers hit the car and are tossed aside. It keeps coming. I leap out of the way and stand paralyzed on the side of the road. The car stops a few yards away and I watch as hikers lift the car up to free a trapped hiker.

Paramedics are already attending to the injured within seconds of the accident. Thank goodness.

I rush into my friend’s arms. Keep me safe. Don’t let go. Life is so fragile.

I am back on the trail already. Today, I glanced at the faded Trail Days bracelet on my wrist. And I thanked the universe that I wasn’t also wearing a hospital ID band as well.

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Day in the Life of a Thru-Hiker

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This is what my life is like on the AT:

 

  • Wake up
  • Wish you could go back to sleep
  • Roll out of hammock. Brush teeth. Change into smelly hiking outfit. Splash water on face
  • Pack hammock, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad
  • Eat a healthy breakfast of tortillas smeared with peanut butter and Little Debbie snacks
  • “Camel up” with water at stream
  • Glance at map
  • Hike 5 miles
  • Eat Lunch
  • Hike 10 more miles
  • Take stupid pictures
  • High-five a hiker
  • Carry a conversation with a squirrel
  • Arrive at shelter around 5
  • Collect and sterilize water. Inspect feet. Send SPOT GPS Map update
  • Cook pasta for dinner. Glance at food pack. Consider eating everything in there. Try to control yourself since you still have 3 days before the next town
  • Set up hammock and sleeping bag
  • Sign shelter book. Use cute acorn stamp. Read messages from other hikers who have already been here
  • Chat with smelly hikers. Compare gear. Compare injuries. Discuss weather. Look at the AT guide for upcoming day’s terrain. Ponder how many miles you can hike tomorrow
  • Brush teeth. Try to clean filth off body with a tiny baby wipe. Realize you will always be filthy. Give up
  • Crawl into hammock. Pass out. Dream of walking. Dream of Maine. Dream of finishing. Dream of doing this forever
  • Wake up. Was that a bear????
  • Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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I hit a major milestone recently. I have hiked 500 miles!! I’m still in a stage of disbelief that I’ve hiked so far without any issues or injuries. To tell you the truth, I spent all winter in a stage of constant worry — Now, I’m beginning to realize that worrying is a huge waste of brain power. Center your power on the present day.
(and before you leave mean comments, I didn’t tag the shelter. And it’s chalk)

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I’ve spent the last few days doing a work-for-stay with a few other hikers at a farm/camp in the Virginia mountains. This was exactly what I needed to renew my commitment to this hike. And my love for this amazing miracle called life.

I’ll be enjoying a festival called Trail Days this weekend– I can’t help but feel slightly guilty for not “making miles,” but what is that saying again?

Oh, right…

“Last one to Katahdin wins.”

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Adventures in Hitchhiking

I knew I would have to do this at some point. I’m nervous as I stand by the road with my magic thumb.

A minute passes.

“Am I doing this right?? Should my thumb go the other way?”

A few more cars drive by. I try to smile wider.

Look, I’m innocent.

Wait, this smile makes me look loony.

I try to look normal.

Finally, after 3 entire minutes of waiting, a Lexus slows down. A beautiful angelic woman rolls her window down and asks “Are you Acorn??”

And that’s how I scored my first hitchhike… in a Lexus with leather seats.

Today, I rest at a beautiful hostel at the base of the mountains. It’s a wonderful sunny day. My toenails are freshly painted red and I am ready for the next 70 miles in more ways than just physically.

(Thanks Janet!!)

PS: Much love to Becky for your sweet postcard. It made me so very happy.

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Willpower and Cheese

It begins.

2186 miles. People to meet. Mountains to climb. Bears to run from. Blisters to pop. Strange smells to create and questions to answer (like how many burgers can a girl eat in 1 sitting?)
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I can’t promise Maine. I won’t promise Harper’s Ferry. I don’t even know if I’ll get out of Georgia. I’m not a Magic 8 Ball. However, I can make 1 promise: I will give this hike my best shot.
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White Blazes: Guide me. Show me the path to mighty Katahdin. From henceforth, I am yours.
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“Truth be told, you don’t need experience. Or an 18 pound pack. Or a lifecoach. Or a guide, or a slack service. You don’t need training or Patagucci clothing. You don’t need hiking poles, a manager, maildrops, or a smartphone.

Here’s what you need: Willpower.

And cheese. You’ll probably need some cheese.” -Jester

He speaks the truth. Do yourself a favor and forget everything else. Also, do yourself a favor and buy his hiking films: Wizards of the PCT and Embrace the Brutality: A Continental Divide Trail Adventure (Currently in production. Release: Spring 2013).

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