Thursday, April 29, 2010

People Falling Out of the Sky and Other Unexpected Happenings

April 25: I woke up the next morning, my third day of hiking, and my feet felt worse than ever. Usually when my feet hurt at the end of the day, they undergo a miraculous recovery overnight and hurt a lot less. (The pain never goes away completely--I'm committed to sore feet for the next five to six months.) It was the blisters. Normal "wear and tear" pain goes away overnight. The blisters, not so much. They looked bigger and angrier than ever, and I finally popped one of them which made quite a mess. I'll call it Abigail. I just like that name. It's on the heel of my left foot.

The one that refuses to pop I'm calling Bastard. Just kidding.... I'm going to call it Bertha. Big Bertha. Of all my blisters, it may very well be the biggest one I've had in the past decade. It's an ugly looking thing. It's on the heel of my right foot.

Given all of the snow ahead on the trail and no incentive to rush ahead, I decided a short hike to near where the trail crosses I-8 at Boulder Oaks Rd was the way to go--a measly six miles.

Amanda drove me back to the Lake Morena Campground and dumped me off. It wasn't more than a few minutes before I ran into my first thru-hikers of the day. In the six miles, I'd run into lots more. Happy Feet, Big-e, Little Bit, Stumbling Norwegian (from Seattle!), "Willard" (not really her trail name, but it was a nickname from home that I started using after hearing it--she doesn't have an official trail name yet), Abby Normal (apparently taken from Young Frankenstein), and a lot of others whose names I didn't write down or remember. (I may have misspelled some of these trail names too--I only heard them, I didn't see how they spelled them.)

Everyone stopped for a break under the Cottonwood Bridge by a scenic stream where I chatted with most of the hikers. After introducing myself and explaning how I ended up with it because of my little rubber stamp, two of them asked if I had hiked the AT in 2003. "Well, yes, I did!" Turns out, they followed my register entries for hundreds of miles back then. I never met them, however, but they remembered that little rubber stamp I'd stamp into all of the shelter registers.

I showed them my new stamp (the original one I used on the AT was lost at a letterboxing gathering in Maine a couple of years back), and stamped it onto their maps. Others who weren't familiar with the stamp also wanted me to stamp their maps. It's funny--I carried that stamp on the entire Appalachian Trail, and I don't remember once anyone ever asking for me to stamp their stuff with it. Yesterday, the group I hiked with wanted the image, and now these people wanted the image. It seems to be quite popular, and the irony is that I've only used it once in an "official" sense so far--at the register at the beginning of the trail. There aren't shelters on the PCT, so registers are very rare compared with the AT. Yet, here, everyone seems to want an image of my stamp. I'm happy to oblige, though. =)

Today, I spotted my second snake of the hike. It looked like a non-venomous garter snake. But still, a snake is a snake, so I counted it. Snake count: 2.

Then, while walking along the trail with Big-e, another guy dropped in on us. Literally. He fell out of the sky! Well, it was a controlled fall, from a paraglider who came in for the landing. I was jealous. I want to do that, and it looked so friggin' cool! The paraglider told us he'd been up in the air for about an hour, rising as high as 9,000 feet until descending to our location at 3,000 feet above sea level.

Then, I passed the biggest milestone to date: At 26.5 miles from the border, I passed the 1% mark of the Pacific Crest Trail. Only 99% left to go!

The Cottonwood Creek was the first "dangerous" river crossing, requiring a delicate balancing act across a thin board laid across the creek. The water was a couple of feet deep--not dangerous, but certainly enough to get quite wet if one were to fall in. My guidebook describes this creek as being seasonal--it seemed shocking that a creek with this much water would dry up, but apparently it does. They did say that water is particularly plentiful this year, however, and I guess this is the proof.

I reached Boulder Oaks Road, but Amanda hadn't arrived yet so I laid out in the shade under a tree and make myself comfortable, checking e-mail and reading magazines until she arrived. Two hikers I spotted walking down the road I called out to, asking if they were looking for the trail. The trail crossed the road here, and followed parallel to it, but it appeared they had missed it. Yes, they were looking for the trail, and I pointed them to the other side of the road. They asked if I was sitting out there just to direct hikers like themselves. "No, just waiting for my girl. You're lucky she hasn't showed up yet!"

Eventually Amanda showed up, though, and whisked me away back to the motel. We passed through a border patrol stop, which seems to excite Amanda. I think it's the guys with guns, but Amanda finds the stops fascinating. There's a stop on I-8 we went through the day before, but we followed the frontage road back to the motel this time where signs warned of spike strips and seemed somewhat more sinister. We figured they must try to scare the bad dudes off of I-8 onto this smaller road, then nab them at this stop where it's not expected. (The photo is from the I-8 stop.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How to Name Blisters and Other Important Topics

I woke up this morning to the sound of bagpipes. I'm not sure who was playing them or what the occasion was, but I rather liked it. I finished the Appalachian Trail to the sound of bagpipes, so it seemed appropriate to start the Pacific Crest Trail to the sound of bagpipes.

Mom cooked bacon and eggs for me, saying she wanted to fatten me up. Like a pig to the slaughter? Hmm..... But it's true--I'll lose about 20% of my body weight on this hike. Packing on a couple of extra pounds certainly won't hurt anything.

Then she drove me down to Highway 94 where I stopped the day before. This time, I wouldn't be slackpacking. My mom was leaving, but Amanda was expected to arrive later that afternoon. Between my mom's departure and Amanda's arrival, I had no day pack to hike with, or even a convenient place to store stuff I didn't want to carry, so I decided just to carry it all back to the Lake Morena Campground.

I met a group of several day hikers--six of them (Bobbie, Brenda, Clark, Michelle, Patricia, and....? Glad they didn't test me!)--who happened to be crossing at Highway 94 just as I was getting started and I fell into hiking with them for the rest of the day, which was an absolute blast. I told them about naming my blisters, and they asked if I named them like hurricanes, starting with the letter A and going alphabetically. "No, I hadn't done that, but I like that idea!" What would my first blister be called? Hmm.... Abigail? I like that name. I'd call it Amanda, but it seemed wrong to call a major pain in my foot after my girl. That could be taken the wrong way. (Later, Amanda would suggest Agnes, since it sounds a lot like Agony.)

I haven't developed a full list of names, yet, but I do like the alphabetical idea, so that's what I'll be doing for this trip.

We also spotted a rattlesnake on the trail--my first for the hike, and Brenda said that I needed to count them. "Should I name them too?" She said that wasn't necessary, but I decided to name the first rattlesnake Charlie. I don't intend to name anymore snakes I see, though. Charlie is special, a lazy snake, basking on the trail, and slowly moved off the trail into some bushes nonchalantly. Yes, nonchalantly. I didn't know snakes could be nonchalant either!

This photo of the backpack that reads, "Lost 30 days, heading west -- Footloose Tom" might need some explanation. I don't really have one, though. We found it, apparently abandoned, on the side of the trail. Below it, it says, "Don't eat the tuna!" Words to live by.

The photo below it is Brenda, Clark, and.... (sorry if you're reading this!), I forget the last guy's name. He hiked pretty fast and I didn't see him much except when he stopped for the rest of us to catch up. (I'd have probably forgotten Clark's name had he not mentioned "Clark, like Clark Kent.")

About halfway into the hike, my feet started getting sore and I had a couple of hot spots that needed to be dealt with, so I stopped to put on some moleskin. And it turns out, I already had two budding blisters! They didn't feel like blisters--just hot spots--and I poked at it with the sharp end of my safety pin but couldn't seem to pop those things. Those blisters seemed to be pretty deep under my skin. I finally gave up. Maybe after the blister got a little larger, it would be easier to pop.

At that point, my hiking slowed down considerably. The weight of the pack was taking its toll, and I dragged at the back of the pack with Brenda and Patricia who, bless their hearts, kept stopping to look for geocaches while I mostly sat around watching them and pointing, "Maybe over there." Even then, I still felt like I was probably slowing them down. And these people started the trail 2.2 miles before I did! However, in my defense, I did have a much heavier backpack than anything they carried.

I was a little disappointed that after 21 miles of hiking, I hadn't seen a single illegal alien. (At least nobody who appeared to be one.) From the stories I heard, it sounded like they were a dime a dozen. I didn't see any, but this sign in Spanish appears to be directed at them. It reads, "Caution! Do not expose your life to the elements. It's not worth it! (There's also no potable water.)" Strangely, that's exactly what we were doing. Hmm....

After 18.8 miles, I tromped back into the Lake Morena Campground, where I found Amanda waiting for me by the ranger station. Such a beautiful face in the sea of people. She told me about having 'false positives' while trying to find me. "Everyone here is shaved, wearing floppy hats, and looks like you!" she told me.

I dropped my pack in the vehicle, glad to finally be rid of it, then Amanda and I walked--okay, I hobbled--to where dinner was being served to see if I had made it in time. Dinner was served at 5:00, but it was now 6:00, and I feared I'd have to fend for myself for dinner.

They were already closing up the dinner tables, but I managed to snag some leftovers including a cheeseburger, brownies, potato salad, and a couple of sports drinks. We walked back to where my new hiking buddies were gathered so I could introduce Amanda (they knew all about her, already!)

I felt incredibly hungry, then found myself barely picking at the food. My stomach seemed to have shrunk to half its normal size, and I never did finish all of the food I took. Most of it, but not all of it.

This guy, with his tower of beer cans duct-taped together, seemed to be enjoying himself. The top can in the column actually does have beer in it, and when he's finished drinking it, tapes another full beer can on the top, so his 'hiking staff' gets longer and longer throughout the weekend. Those silly little hikers....

As for my two blisters, I'd sleep overnight on it and start thinking of names. After I finished eating what I could, we walked back to the car (okay, I hobbled back), then Amanda drove us off to a motel. She didn't have any camping gear to spend the night at the campground, so we'd use a motel instead. Which also had wi-fi access to boot. Woo-who!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day 1: Let the Hike Begin!

April 23: The day has come. It was time to start my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike. I woke up on a couch in Riverside--my sister's couch. A quick family visit to show off my shaved head. She'd never seen me without any hair, and didn't recognize me at first when I knocked on the door the night before.

It was my mom driving me out to the trail. This is the first time I've done a long distance hike where it would be relatively easy for my mom to visit me on the trail. Originally, Amanda was supposed to see me off as well, but she was delayed to that volcanic ash cloud, stranded in Manchester, England. She had finally made it back into the United States, but still needed to stop in Seattle to take care of bills, pick up mail, and run a variety of errands. She'd catch up with me soon, though.

We stopped at IHOP for breakfast--my last meal before my hike begins. I ordered blueberry pancakes, scrambled eggs, toast, and hashbrowns. The blueberry pancakes were excellent, just in case you wanted to know. The rest of the food was good too, but those didn't have blueberries either.

The trail wouldn't happen immediately, though. It was still a two hour drive, and we had another stop to make at the Lake Morena Campground where the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off (ADZPCTKO) was in full swing. A place for thru-hikers to meet and swap stories, a place for former thru-hikers to catch up, and a place for trail angels to mingle with the thru-hikers. It's a gathering of hikers, by hikers, for hikers, about hiking. I reserved a campsite for us in all the mayhem, and I wanted to stake out our claim and set up our camp while it was still light out. The campground is FULL--so full, in fact, that everyone is expected to share campsites. Eight people were assigned to our site, #76, although one of them included Amanda who, alas, couldn't make it.

We set up camp, browsed the display of gear being sold, and I bought my mom one of those fold-up maps of the entire PCT for 50 cents so she could better keep track of my location on the trail. =)

We watched Ceanothus give a presentation about the flora and fauna to be found on the trail (including the plant she named herself after--ceanothus). We watched the water and snow report (lots of water, lots of snow, and don't be in a rush to get ahead because the snow pack is deep this year).  We actually drove past pockets of snow along I-8 just before the turnoff for Campo. Southern California? Snow? It's a strange combination....

But finally, it was time to get my feet dirty. It was time to stop talking about the trail, stop listening to other people talk about the trail, and get on The Trail.

We drove through the small town of Campo, down a dirt road, that ended at the Mexican border. The monument marking the beginning of the trail rested at the top of a small hill, and the border fence stretched off in both directions as far as the eye could see. A barbwire fence stopped us from going into a small No-Man's-Land, while a larger fence on the other side presumably stopped illegal immigrants from jumping over. I imagined land mines buried in the No-Man's-Land, with motion detectors that would alert a border patrol agent nearby. A plane flew overhead nearby, presumably watching for suspicious activity.

I signed into the register on the back of the monument, my mom took lots of pictures of me at the start, and we watched a border patrol vehicle drive past. Then I picked up my pack and started hiking.

My mom drove off, to a point 2.2 miles up the trail where it crossed Highway 94, to wait for me. It was fairly late in the afternoon, and I only planned to cover the first 2.2 miles of the trail, mostly a ceremonial hike. While walking, I pulled out my cell phone--my newest luxury device for the trail--and called Amanda to tell her that I had officially started my hike.

One mile down the trail, they stuck a mile post with the number 1 on it. I had completed the first full mile of the trail. I took pictures, still while talking to Amanda. Yes, that is a cell phone pressed to my ear, and I'm talking to Amanda. One mile down, only 2,649 to go! (More or less.)

Then I lost the trail. Or rather, the trail lost me. (I never get lost--only the trail does.) The trail eventually led back to the town of Campo and followed alongside the road. I saw what looked like a trail leading back into the chapparal and started following it, but the trail was thin and faded and overgrown, and I decided that this couldn't be it. I turned around back to the road, pulled out my map, and tried to figure out where to go next. It looked like a short road walk, so I followed the road. If worst came to worst, I thought, and I missed where the trail went back into the brush, I'd just turn left at Highway 94 and road walk the rest of the way on the road. Not ideal, and not an auspicious start.

I did find the trail back into the brush, however, and the rest of the hike was uneventful. I just completed 2.2 miles of my hike--approximately 0.1% of the trail by my estimates, and only got lost once. Hmmm.....

We returned to camp and watched more presentations, including one by Dicentra about her One Pan Wonders, a rousing welcome by Strider (the top banana for the event), and a series of entertaining video shorts. Eric Ryback also said a few words--he was the first person to thru-hike the PCT back in 1970, writing the book The High Adventures of Eric Ryback which first popularized the trail. Admittedly, there is some debate about whether he truly hiked the entire trail or accepted rides for part of the distance, but his name is linked in the PCT lore like no other.

After the video shorts, I pretty much crashed. I was tired. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Crash and Burn....

Let me introduce you to my favorite trail blogging device. This is the PocketMail. I used this little device, about the size of a checkbook, to type of my Appalachian Trail adventures, and my Florida Trail adventures, and if you ever communicated with me through e-mail during my hikes, there's a good chance I read and replied to your messages on this device.

It's remarkably low tech, but in the backcountry, I consider this a major advantage. It runs on two AA batteries, easily replaced when they wear out. A single set of batteries would quite literally work for weeks without replacement in the backcountry. Seems like it didn't draw any power at all just for typing. (Sending and receiving e-mail sucked up battery power much quicker, but that was always done in town where fresh batteries were always plentiful.) The keyboard is cramped to type on, but it is a full keyboard that I can actually do my touch typing on and write out a good story relatively quickly.

Sending and receiving e-mail with this device uses technology that's more than 20 years old--an old fashioned modem. From the speed, it sounds like it must run at 2400 baud. It's unbelievably slow. You'd dial a toll free number, hold the back of the device up to the phone, and hear the screech of the modem talking to the remote server over the phone lines.

It was primitive, and for years I wondered how this company ever stayed in business. For hikers, for me on the thru-hike, the device was absolutely perfect. Oh, I would have wished the connection was faster. I would have preferred if it connected remotely through cell phone towers instead of trying to find payphones to use. It could have been improved, but it worked, and it did its job well.

Sunday, I went to reactivate my device (off trail, it's a worthless piece of junk, so I only activate service when I'm actually on long distance hikes). I went to where I've gone to activate the device before, but the website seemed to be down. Oh, well. Those things happen. I figured I'd try again later that afternoon.

And I did try later that afternoon, and their website was still down. Hmm.... Now I started to worry about. Surely their website wouldn't have been down for that long! So I did some Google sleuthing about the company and learned, sadly, that PocketMail went bankrupt. Last February, from what I gathered, a mere two months ago. With no warning at all, they shut down shop. Apparently they haven't even given any refunds for people who paid for service but are now no longer receiving it. Apparently they did it with no warning at all! Anyone hiking the Florida Trail or something earlier this year would have been caught with their proverbial pants down, hiking on a trail with their one link to e-mail no longer working. Poor fellows.

But I found myself caught when my proverbial pants down as well. The device I was depending on to write my blogs and check my e-mails--now just a worthless paperweight. I had no backup plan! This is what I always used to keep in touch from the trail. Now I had just four days to figure out how to adjust to this tragic turn of events.

I googled and googled. I googled about e-mail only devices. I googled what thru-hikers were doing to check e-mail and write blog entries. I googled and googled, and the only thing I could find that even remotely met my needs was this little device, called a Peek. It uses cell phone towers to check e-mail, and while there is a full QWERTY keyboard on it, from the pictures I could find online, I'm not sure I can do any touch-typing on it. It might just be too small for me to get my fingers on properly, which a HUGE problem. There's no way I can blog my detailed entries with just my thumbs. This little device uses a charger to charge batteries, so I'm also a little concerned about how long I can use the device in the backcountry to type up my blogs before the power goes out. I can't just pop out and replace the AA batteries like I could with the Pocketmail. When this thing runs out of juice, I need to get back into civilization where I can plug it in again.

So I have my reservations about this device. While I can certainly use it to check and reply to my e-mail messages, I'm not sure I can actually use it for blogging. Not the way I blog, at least. But as far as I can tell, it's the only real option I have anymore. I certainly need access to e-mail in trail towns. So I've purchased on online, and am having expedited on it so I can get it before I hit the trail. I won't have much time to test it or kick the wheels before I hit the trail, though.

And if it doesn't work for blogging, I'm not sure what I'll do for keeping everyone up to date on my adventures. I may have to resort to an even older method of journaling--a pad of paper and a pen, writing my adventures out longhand. (And boy howdy, do I wish I knew shorthand now! Maybe that's a skill I can teach myself on the trail? Everyone should know shorthand, right?) To get the adventures online, I'd need to either mail my journals off for someone to transcribe for me, or else wait until Amanda comes by with the laptop so I can transcribe the journal entries myself. Neither of those options will get you fast, up-to-date stores from the trail, however. You'll be lucky to hear about anything within a month of when it happened!

I'll know more once I have the device in my hands and can feel how easy it is (or not) to type with. After a week or two on the trail, I'll have a better idea of the battery life expectancy and if I can make do with charging it once every week or two, or if the device will die halfway through the week.

But one thing is certain--my blog entries may very well not be as prompt or detailed as you've read from past journeys. Only time will tell.....

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Around the Corner and Through the Woods, Is That a Cell Phone Tower I see....?

This is the week. This is the week I start my hike. Time sure seems to be ticking by awfully fast.

I've made it to California, my jumping off point for my hikes. I came loaded with tons of strawberry leather and dehydrated ground beef I've been cooking up all month. I've come with supplies and spares for stuff that my mom will need to send to me along the trail.

I'm going to get a hair cut. I'm thinking of doing the bald thing again, seeing how well it worked for my Florida hike. =) One thing I can say about my baldness--it doesn't last long!

And if you saw some pigs flying outside of your window, you weren't seeing things. They really were there. Because, yes, folks, I have officially become the Last Person On Earth to buy a cell phone. For those who know me, this probably sounds like delusional crazy talk coming from me. I never imagined a day when I would ever utter those words, but it's true. I bought a cell phone.

It's one of those pre-paid deals, and I only plan to use it for the duration of my hike. At the end of the hike, I'll tuck in a drawer never to see the light of day again--at least not until the next long distance hike I do. It's not a fancy phone. It doesn't take photos, it can--in theory--do text messaging, but I didn't turn that option on. It was the cheapest phone I could find at the store, and it was small and light, and that's what I wanted.

Most of the trail, I probably won't get any cell phone coverage, but that's okay. It's not in the backcountry where the cell phone would be of most use. Trail towns and road crossings where I'm trying to meet people is where the phone will thrive. No more looking for payphones! Well, that's not strictly true--I will still look for payphones in order to use my PocketMail device, but at least I can talk to people on my cell while uploading my blog entries with PocketMail at the same time! And when Amanda and I are trying to meet at some random road crossing, I can call and say, "I'm here, but where are you?!" It also has voicemail, so if Amanda needs to leave me a message, she now has an easy way to do so.

So, for this hike, I will be more connected than ever. I have to make sure I don't get too addicted to the convenience of a cell phone, though. I do plan to give it up when the hike is over and my need for it largely disappears.

For those keeping up with my tooth extractions.... I'm eating pretty normally nowadays. I sometimes forget about the two gaping holes in my mouth, though, until I start to brush my teeth and run the brush over them. Yow! Still a little tender there.... But it's healing well and doesn't hurt at all as long as I don't do something stupid like poke it with a toothbrush.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Prep Work Continues....

A thru-hike doesn't require anywhere near as much prep work that most people assume. You'll hear stories of people "planning" their hike for years, but what they really mean is that they've been "thinking" about doing the hike for years. When I got it into my head to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, I had about two months before it would be prime thru-hiking season... or wait another 12 months after that. And remarkably, for most of those two months, I did more "thinking" than I did actual "planning."

Some people will create an itinerary for their entire hike. Every campsite, every town they plan to stop in, and every post office they plan to check for mail drops. They'll have meals carefully prepared, shipped to strategic points along their hike, with military precision. At least they have a plan, I suppose, but it typically only takes a couple of days on the trail before the best laid plans thrown in the fire. A blister might slow you down more than expected, or a remarkably sunny day pushes you on to the next shelter because, hey, it's a beautiful day! Use it or lose it! Things happen, you know?

Even maildrops become somewhat unreliable. I had prepared quite a few meals for myself before I started the AT, asking my mom to ship them out to me when I asked. Turns out, after about a month on the trail, I grew to absolutely loathe those meals. I also discovered that I hated trying to time my visits into town when the post office would be open. I started relying on them less and less, and most of the food I prepped ahead of time I never did use.

I didn't make that mistake on my next thru-hike.

But that's not to say there's nothing to prep. I'll be hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail for about five or six months, so I figured it was a good idea to get myself into a dentist before starting the trail. I remember one story I heard about a thru-hiker who had a tooth problem while hiking the AT and ended up pulling out his own tooth with some pliers. That's an extreme, to be sure, but I wanted to make sure my teeth would be happy and I'd have no need of a dentist during the hike. Being waylaid by tooth problems is not on my to-do list. Admittedly, I haven't done this with my two previous thru-hikes, but I felt it was probably a good idea this time around because I knew there was a problem with one of my wisdom teeth. It didn't hurt--not yet, at least--but you didn't have to have dental school to know there was a problem with it. And I didn't want that problem to become a Problem while hiking the trail. So off to the dentist I went....

It was, alas, as bad as I feared, and the tooth needs to come out. (He also recommended that another of my wisdom teeth come out as well.) And found a cavity on top of that. Well, better to get all that taken care of now than in the middle of my hike. =) I never liked those wisdom teeth anyhow. Stupid teeth. (And my next visit there is going to be even more unpleasant than usual. *sigh*) On the plus side, however.... it'll lighten the load on my feet. Cutting the handle off of toothbrushes is so old fashioned. The cool kids are just removing their teeth completely. ;o)

The prep work continued today. One thing I've never grown tired of on the trail is strawberry leather. So I walked over to Costco this afternoon with the intention of buying lots and lots of strawberries. I took the pack I sewed for this trip--much like the pack I used for my West Coast Trail and Juan de Fuca Trail hikes, but with fewer mistakes and a few tweaks--to give it a test run as well. I planned to load it up, primarily with strawberries (though I'd also buy a few other things since I was there), and walk home. Ended up buying nearly 50 pounds of fruit, stuffed it all into my pack (it barely fit), and staggered back home under the load. Next up--blending it all up and turning it into leather. Oh boy!

The pack worked wonderfully well. It hurts to carry 50 pounds on your back--no backpack is going to make that feel light or fun--but it carried the weight well and held together well. It fit comfortably. It will do. =)

And, I've been doing a lot of sewing. A lot of my old stuff sacks are severely worn, and I'm not sure that many of them would survive a 2,650-mile hike. So I've been making a lot of new stuff sacks. I've also decided to make a little pillowcase for myself. =) I can stuff it full of clothes and have a nice, comfortable pillow. I've used my clothes bag as a pillow in the past, but the silicone impregnated nylon is not really the most comfortable of cloth to use as a pillow. And I found some flannel with turtles on it--how could I say no?! So I'll still use the clothes bag as a pillow, but now I'll have a pillowcase to fit over it for a better experience. I have no excuse for myself--I'm obviously getting soft.

I've also been getting my "affairs" in order. That sounds seedy, but it's really not. Because of Atlas Quest, I have to file estimated tax payments each quarter. Which is kind of inconvenient for me since I'll be hiking the whole time. Most hikers who are on the trail aren't actually making any income, so they don't have this problem. Atlas Quest will still be running, though, and probably still make a few bucks even when I'm off hiking, and the tax man still wants his cut. So I've been saving money and have set up a bunch of transactions to automatically take care of everything for me. So I need to make sure those payments are made by June 15th and September 15th (both days which I expect to be hiking on the trail). PayPal will deposit money into my bank account, and the government will take out a set amount for taxes, all while I'm blissfully hiking. I'm also setting up an auto-payment scheme to pay for the hosting fees while I'm hiking as well. The only payments that I'll need to worry about while hiking will be when I actually buy food or stay in the occasional hostel or hotel along the way. But I'll be there in person to handle those. Everything else I don't have to worry about.

A week or two ago, I bought some new gear for the trail at REI. Mostly winter gear for traveling through snow and ice--which I'll likely hit plenty of when I get into the Sierra Nevadas. I bought some MicroSpikes for traction, and an ice axe. I don't really want an ice axe, but I got it based on recommendations from previous thru-hikers who said that they didn't really need it, except for a couple of locations when it would have made them feel "safer." Better to have it and not need it than to not have it but need it! So I'm now the proud owner of an ice axe. A bear canister is required in some parts of the Sierra Nevadas as well, so I'll be getting one of those shipped to me on the trail where I'll need it. (Believe it or not, I've never actually backpacked anywhere that required people to carry bear canisters, so I don't actually own one!)

So that's what my prep work consists of lately. A trip to the dentist (part 1 of 2), some sewing, setting up automatic payments, and buying gear. Lots of fun! And just 21 days to the kickoff!