So long and thank you

October 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

One morning you’re camping in the mountains and the evening of the next day you’re in downtown Seattle. One day you’re in the US and the next you’re back home in Switzerland. It’s sad and scary how fast and easily you are off the trail. A sense of unreality has gripped us. Did it really happen? It’s good there’s the new silhouette, a few more scars, still sore legs and feet, about a thousand pictures and a dozen or so new Facebook friends that tell us, yes, it really existed.

I had read that hikers usually get Post-Hiking Depression once they go back to “normal” life. I had jokingly said that I might still get a PHD then 😉 But so far our spirits have been good. We stayed at Lucy and Larry’s home in Seattle, they have also spent the last 5 months hiking the PCT. Their hospitality and generosity were incredible. Tiny Dancer and Anchor, other PCT hikers, showed us around Seattle. Spending time with other hikers helped us to smoothly transition from the trail to “normal” life. We weren’t hiking anymore but we could talk at length about the trail with people that truly understand what we have lived and why the trail means so much to us. They have been to the same places, they have met the same people, we could share memories of the trail. Back home, we are still carried by the excitement of our return. We are going through pictures, we are telling stories to friends and family. We haven’t landed yet, we are still out there somehow. PHD might still catch up in a few days, weeks, months. We’ll see, it’s part of the experience.

We are hungry all the time. For a week we had cramps in our calves at night. We haven’t recovered fully normal sensations in our feet. Our knees are still giving us a hard time. We probably have an iron deficiency. Back to civilization life seems so complicated. We’re having trouble following schedules and being on time, we aren’t used anymore to keep track of the hours passing by. There are too many stimuli around, we can’t focus and think straight. We don’t know how to deal with stress anymore. A slight need to rush takes huge proportions, we’re almost on the verge of panic. Isabelle said the other day: “I can’t cope with the stress of daily life here. Can I just walk 20 miles please?”. Not to mention that jetlag has kicked in. We’re completely out of phase with society, we need to readapt.

I am stunned by how gorgeous Switzerland is. The vineyards and their autumnal colours, the Leman lake and the snowy mountains across the water… I had forgotten there was so much beauty right on my doorstep. I missed it. I missed Lausanne and its numerous possibilities for activities. I’m glad I’m gonna stick around for a while.

And now it’s time for thank yous.

Thank you, Mum and Dad, for the love of the outdoors and the mountains. We’re proud to be as crazy as you, Dad.

Thank you, John, for accepting to send our resupply boxes and doing a great job as a mailman.

Thank you, Anchor, for letting us store our extra gear at your place and not minding us flooding your mail box with packages.

Thanks to everybody who helped us on our way, should it be by giving us a ride, offering us hospitality and food or simply by encouraging us, should you be yearly trail angel or trail angel for a day. Thank you, Avner and his friends, the Saufley’s, the Anderson’s, Thomas, Joe, Tom, Kevin and Micheal, Doug, Bill and Margaret at the Red Moose, Marie, the couple that paid for our breakfast in Ashland, Anthony, Robin and Brion, Roger and Sharon at the Bridge of the Gods motel, Beverly at the Trout Lake grocery store, Nick and Rachel, Lucy and Larry, and the numerous people that we haven’t met but who made sure there was water at the caches and left trail magic on our path. Our Karma debt is huge, we can’t wait to pay forward all that was given to us. One of the best thing we learnt on the trail is that there are amazing people out there who are incredibly generous and who are ready to go to great lengths to give you a hand on your journey. Humankind is not just about greed, destruction and violence. Thank you.

Thanks to every hiker for the trail moments we shared. We weren’t expecting the PCT to be such a social experience but we’re glad it was. It wouldn’t have been the same without you, you made it so much more worthwhile. Thank you, Brandon, Kolby, Ryan, Little Bug and Squirrel, Marmot and Gabriel, Krista, Wolfpack, Wild Bill, Moses, Joe Dirt, Good Karma, Boy Scout, Doug aka Bonbon Halls, Space Cowboy, Mufasa, Scarecrow, Dave, Low Card, Donatello, Clammy, Henry, Andrew, Magellan, Pepper and Mace, Tiny Dancer and Anchor, Aquaman, Corduroy, Busted Magic, Leader, Adam, Luke, The Dusty Camel, Noelle, Jake, Number One, Plant, Forever and Ever, Huffa Puffa and Map Man, Java, Mike and Jeannie, Sourdough, Sprinkles and Toby, the famous Scott Garner, Slip and Slide, Hans, The Bum, Rawhide, Flying Fish, Snager Tooth…

A special thank you to the Booze Crew for the great times in the Sierras and for making us a little bit more American. It’s sad we never got to say good-bye to you all. And a special thank you to Busted Magic for all the fun, camping on pavement and everything ridonculous!

Thank you, Ryan, for making us more than sisters, you made us Swisters for life!

Thanks to our friends and family for following our progress, encouraging us and welcoming us back so warmly. We missed you!

Thanks to you, reader, for following our adventures on the blog. It was a pleasure to write those posts and I’m happy so many of you enjoyed them. I have to give Isabelle credit for providing me with some ideas, suggesting corrections for better posts, starting the ode to Tatonka and coming up with so many rhymes.

Thanks to Carrousel for their song “On y arrivera” [We will make it]. It got us through many a long day.

Thanks to Gorilla tape. It’s strong, it can repair anything. Because, as everybody knows, gorillas can take down helicopters! 😉

Keep this blog among your bookmarks. We still have 500 miles to go. And our hiking days are far from over. We couldn’t help already checking the few long distance hikes we heard about on the trail. Te Araroa, 3000kms through New Zealand. The Israel National Trail, 1000kms through Isreal. The Colorado Trail, 500 miles in Colorado. Via Alpina, 5000kms in Europe. The Great Himalaya Trail, 1700kms through Nepal. And that’s just the beginning… 😉

The End… for now

October 13, 2011 § 5 Comments

Cascade Locks to Trout Lake – 68 miles 4 days Total: 2223 miles 181 days + 22 zero days

And the rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights. Oh, sorry, that’s another story 😉 The day we stepped into Washington it rained the whole day and the whole night. The next morning it was still raining. We packed a completely drenched tent, resisted the temptation to head back to Cascade Locks and pushed on north. After the lunch break we were that close to quitting. My throat was tight with tears at the thought that it was over. We were cold. Our shoes were soaked. Despite the raincover, the backpacks were getting wet, all we could do was hope the waterproof bags inside were holding better. There was no way the tent was going to dry during the day.

“Just walk and it’s gonna be ok.” It started as a joke many miles ago, we would say this whenever there was an issue on the trail but it became true along the way. So we walked and it got better. We warmed up, the rain eventually stopped (for that day at least…) and it wasn’t so bad to set up a wet tent at camp that night. It wasn’t over yet.

But then we learnt that several hikers had gotten caught in a snow storm in the Goat Rocks Wilderness a few days ago. We had already heard that another hiker had gotten lost in a whiteout in the same area a week ago. We were heading that way, it was at higher altitude so it was probably snowing up there and more snow storms were predicted. Snow on the ground is one thing, we can deal with that, we did in the Sierras, but a snow storm is different. It seemed unsafe to still be out there. There is crazy and there is stupid. We do crazy (obviously!) but we don’t do stupid. Our dad taught us better about the mountains than to run head first in a snow storm so we could hike about 450 more miles and reach the arbitrary number of 2650 miles. We were told Washington was a succession of amazing views, the next scenery more beautiful than the previous one. What was the point of hiking it in a white mist?

We struggled to take a decision. It was hard, there were tears. We really wanted to get to Canada. It was tough to let go and come to terms with the fact that we were not gonna make it. But we made the wise choice, we left the trail at the next road. I think we grew up more by having to take that decision than during 5 months on the trail.

We had been telling section hikers we met that they were doing it the smart way. Well, we have become section hikers. And man, what a section! 2223 miles. But we really lived it as a thru-hike and that’s the good thing, we’ll get the best of both worlds, because when we’ll be back to hike those last 500 miles, it’ll really be as smart section hikers, we’ll be able to take the time.

Because we’ll be back. This is the end for now. We are not done yet. We’ll hike to Canada some day. A song from the band Carrousel has been the hymn of our PCT since our first steps on the trail. We would sing it when we felt good and when it was hard, to give us courage. It fits now maybe more than ever. The lyrics say: “On y arrivera quand même. Demain, une autre fois.” [We will make it anyway. Tomorrow, another time]. And more importantly: “Peu importe où ça nous mène…” [No matter where it leads us…]

We are happy. It has been an amazing experience. We have met extraordinary people, shared incredible moments and seen the most beautiful things. It’s the end but it’s also the beginning of the next adventure. We are looking forward to going home and hugging family and friends. We are not walking any more miles, at last we can rest.

We are proud. We have walked a hell of a long way! There has been more good times than bad times, but it has been hard work. We usually woke up between 6-7am and didn’t set up camp before 6-7pm. We have dedicated most of our time to the trail; in 5 months we have only read a single book! Leaving the mexican border we never thought that we would be able to walk 27 miles in a day (a marathon is 26.2 miles…). For the last 5 months we have woken up with swollen feet and have hurt every day. We have dealt with and overcome the many challenges of the trail: the heat, the lack of water, the boringness of the desert, the snow, the river crossings, the logistics of resupply, the occasional tension between sisters, the pain… Modesty is a quality but knowing your true worth is as well and I think we have earned the right to say, without sounding too boastful: THE SWISTERS ROCK!!!!!

We are wiser. We haven’t found God and the meaning of life hasn’t been revealed to us. No, it’s the little things of life that everybody knows deep down but tends to forget that the trail reminded us. Take the time. You are great. Look beyond first impressions. Listen to yourself. If I quit does it mean I failed? Live the questions…

We are sad. We couldn’t make it to Canada. It’s the end. It’s time to say goodbye. When we could. We never got the chance to say goodbye to a lot of the amazing people we met. We would give anything to hike one more time in the golden glow of the evening light, to spend one more night around the fire with the guys, to get out of the tent one morning and stand face to face with a young buck, to hear a familiar voice hail: “Hey, Swisters!”, to stand on top of a pass in the Sierras and feel tall as we stand on top of the world and be humbled at the same time by the world’s immensity…

The trail has changed us. We have changed to adapt to the trail. Our eyes have been trained to spot the next trail marker or to identify the trail after its disappearance under a snow patch. We can set up and fold our tent with our eyes closed. We sleep like a baby in our tent but can’t seem to find sleep in a bed. The way our gear fits in our backpacks has been optimised over 5 months, every item has its place. After 5 days on the trail we start to think that maybe we need a shower. We think names like Good Karma, Wolfpack, Scarecrow, Mufasa and so on are perfectly valid names for people. We have become calories freak, checking the numbers on every food packaging looking for the best ratio: the most calories for the less weight. We have experimented and learnt by trial and error that not all food can be stored in a ziploc bag. We think the only proper instrument to eat with is the spork (What!?! You don’t know what it is?!?). We fantasize over SPAM for lunch and mashed potatoes with tuna is the supreme of gourmet cuisine. In our mouth “I’m ok.” means “It hurts, but I can walk so keep going.” Our feet are called Louis and Robert, and we talk to them. We refer to 9pm as hiker’s midnight. The smell of a male thru-hiker that hasn’t showered for a few days turns us on, we think calves are the sexiest part of a man’s body and men have got to have a beard. In towns we wear rainpants as a fashion statement (no, it’s the only clean clothes that’s left while we’re doing laundry…). We don’t look at coolers the same way anymore, they are forever full of magic.

We are at a loss. The trail has been our home for the last 5 months. We have slept, eaten, pooped, puked, laughed, cried, hurt and had fun on the trail. We have loved it and hated it. It has brought us pain and joy. This line on the ground has been our whole life, our sole purpose for the last 5 months. And now it’s over. We are not walking any more miles. What are we gonna do?

I thought the moment we reached the monument at the Canadian border would be the most powerful moment of my life and that it will answer all the questions. I was wrong. That moment was the last 5 months.

Tomorrow Washington

October 6, 2011 § 1 Comment

Bend to Cascade Locks – 148 miles 7 days Total: 2155 miles 137 days + 21 zero days

There are days when you are tired and you wish that for just one day your body wasn’t sore, there are cold and rainy days, there are days when you simply long for a “normal” life, there are days when you want to give the trail up and go home. And then there are days like when you are standing on a rise looking at the north face of Mt Jefferson and you’re glad you held on. As your gaze drops down, you can see Russell Lake, then as you follow the line of the earth, you take in the gorgeous meadow of Jefferson Park, dotted with pine trees, and then your eyes are forced to rise as they hit the massive shape of Mt Jefferson, topped by impressive glaciers. And once you get to the top of the rise and look ahead, you get the first glimpse of another lonely and distant giant, Mt Hood.

But that’s all we’ve seen of Mt Hood for the next few days as the weather turned bad, again.

We stopped at Timberline Lodge to dry out. As true hiker trash till the end, we raided the breakfast buffet there, we left with our pockets full of pieces of cake wrapped in napkins and we resupplied on snacks at the vending machines. The lodge is situated at the base of Mt Hood but you had to know it was there behind the white curtain of mist and clouds, we couldn’t see a thing.

But soon we walked through beautiful forests where there was plenty to see. Moss covering the ground, lichens growing on tree trunks and hanging from branches, fern leaves glistening in the rain, the water of Ramona Falls cascading down a mossy stone wall, vegetation of all sorts and shapes, everything so green.

And then, one morning, we had just folded the tent completely soaked and hiked only for a moment when there was a break through the trees. All white from perpetual glaciers and freshly fallen snow, its summit still wrapped in immaculate clouds, like a divine apparition in the bright white light filtering from the clouds, there it was, Mt Hood.

On our way down to Cascade Locks we passed a dozen waterfalls. The trail even went through a tunnel in the rock behind one of the waterfalls. As they say here, it was badass!

The seasons are definitely changing. Bushes and maple trees along the trail are staging autumn colors. We’re often wearing our hat and gloves. It’s still dark now when we wake up at 6am and the light is fading fast from 7pm. The challenge nowadays is to stay dry and warm. No matter how breathable Gore-Tex is, no matter that you’ve fully opened the pit zippers on your rain jacket and the sides on your rain pants, when you hike, you’re boiling in there. So your gear keeps you dry from the rain, but you’re wet from sweat. As long as you hike, you’re fine but as soon as you stop, you get cold. Same story with the tent. It holds the rain well, but with the humidity and cold at night condensation forms on the inside and it’s all wet. And backpacker designers thought hikers don’t use the many outside straps and the full volume of their packs, they devised the raincovers way to small!

After we got sick, we couldn’t stand much of the food we used to eat on the trail. That’s what happens when you eat more or less the same for 5 months! We had gotten fed up of some food before and we had just replaced the snack we couldn’t stand anymore by a new one but it had only been one item at a time. Here it’s been the whole strategy that we knew worked well that failed us and we had to figure out a whole new one, finding snacks we would like to eat on the trail and that would bring us enough calories.

Tomorrow we’ll leave Oregon. We’ll cross the Columbia River and step into Washington on the Bridge of the Gods. Just that name adds a touch of grandeur to our entrance into the final American state of our journey. We loved Oregon. As a waiter at the brewery in Bend put it, it’s a gem along the west coast. We would recommend this section of the PCT to anyone and we’ll probably be back ourselves some day.

There will certainly be more of those days when we want to give up. But we’ll remember Mt Jefferson and Mt Hood and we’ll hang on. Because there will certainly be more of those days too. And anyway there are 500 miles left, it’s gonna be hard to stop us now, we have lost all reason a while ago and have been hiking on a gut feeling ever since, we’re totally insane, out of control and damn too stubborn, we’re going to Canada!

Where Am I?

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