The National Park Service

I am sitting on a rock on the edge of a lake in Olympic National Park. Hiking always feels like an investment in motion that gives a return in perfect stillness. You walk and walk and walk, paying with the motion of your body to reach moments like this: moments of otherwise unachievable stillness. The rock is warm beneath me and the the air is cold and clean. Pretty little Heart Lake is rippling under shifting winds, and moments of sun warm me to my bones, down to the bottoms of my bare feet. The only noise is the wind and the occasional birdsong. There are pauses, moments of almost perfect silence. How often do we experience such profound quiet in this modern life? Rarely. It has taken much work and many miles to find this.

There is more than just quiet here though. More than sun and wind and the singing of birds. There is a heart to this place, a wild heart, and there are moments when it touches me. Sometimes it brushes up against me and disappears. Sometimes it swallows me completely, absorbing me into it’s fabric so I am no longer myself. No longer the center of my own world. My desires and troubles shrink in the face of such wild majesty. I lose myself and become a part of something far larger. It is a relief, and a gift.

I earned this gift with sweat and pain and steps. I owe it to my feet, my legs, and to the people before me who knew the value of this place long before my feet touched the earth.  There is a long line of people before me who valued these lands, who protected them, and shared them with others. They knew they would need help if they were going to preserve them. They could have kept them for themselves and left no one after them to care for them, but they didn’t. They were part of something bigger.  They understood that the fabric we are part of is more important than the threads of our own lives.

I just wanted to say thank you.



Heart Lake in Olympic National Park



Section J – B is for blisters

All my hopeful predictions were correct: I was so tired by the time I reached my camp that I slept no problem. I woke up a few times and peered out of my tent, but all in all I slept just fine. It helped that there were people camped, just out of sight, on either side of me and that the moon was incredibly bright. It lit up the whole lake so instead of waking up to a dark unknown, I woke up to a silvery fairyland. The trees cast shadows in the moonlight and the lake reflected a perfect mirror image of the ridge above.

I woke up refreshed and feeling excited again. Ned woke up with “OH MY GOSH WE’RE STILL HERE ON THIS AWESOME LAKE” and went swimming. Again. Repeatedly.

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Section J – A is for asinine

I should never have worried about bears. What I should have been worrying about was chihuahuas. Nowhere in all the wilds is there a beast that can become a more super-concentrated bundle of hate than a chihuahua. But demon dogs are a little later in the story and I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.


I planned my route using a combination of the mileages in The Pacific Crest Trail guidebook and Guthook’s PCT app. I discussed this a bit in my pre-hike post. As prudent safety planner I planned for five days but packed food for six in case we needed to take an extra day. I also packed a Fremont IPA that somehow didn’t make it into this photo. Don’t worry though, I captured a photo of it in the wild.


The scrambled eggs and the mango ended up being my favorites of the trip

I also got the idea to stick little pieces of duct tape to my trekking poles from this guy. He has a really helpful description of the route, although he must be in much better shape than me because he makes it all sound easy. Don’t listen to him. I think there’s something wrong with him, like maybe he was bitten by a radioactive mountain goat.

Packing for a solo trip was difficult because there wasn’t anyone to share weight with (Ned only carried his own food and water and emergency booties). It really added up to be carrying my own tent, stove, water filter, etc. I’m used to sharing weight with Partner and this pack got heavy, like coming up on 30 pounds heavy. I’m still thinking about ways I might cut that down. I actually ended up not bringing the camera and opting for iPhone pictures. I just didn’t have the space for a real camera and I needed to cut down on my weight. So all my photos are iPhone pictures.

It’s still kind of incredible to me that this all fit in the pack:


But it did!


So, all packed and planned, I went to bed early in preparation for a 5:30am wakeup.

There’s not much fanfare to the start of the trail at Stevens. There’s just a path heading up the hill from the main lodge and a single sign that says “Hiking Trail.” Partner kissed me goodbye and took a few photos of me and Ned before we headed up the trail. Despite grand plans of an 8am departure, we started up the trail at 8:45am. Close enough. The trail weaves up the slopes at a pretty mellow grade. Part of me is excited to finally be on the trail. Part of me is wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into…


Bye, Stevens!


Coming over the top of the ridge was incredible. It was like the whole trip opened up before us, possibility and adventure spreading before us.


Can you see the possibility, Ned?


The trail cuts down the valley to the left from here and heads into the forrest for a long trek through the shade.


About seven miles in I was feeling great. My pack felt light, and I felt like I was finally starting to leave my worries behind. Ned and I had been hiking for hours, enjoying sunlit forests and clean mountain air. We’d seen a few people on the trail but no dogs. Then we came around a corner and saw two little dogs. One was a piebald Pomeranian-looking thing, who looked like it was considering friendliness with some tail wagging and cautious sniffing, but then it’s friend came tearing up with it’s little demon chihuahua eyes fixed on Ned, screeching it’s shrill war cry. It came screaming at Ned, biting at whatever it could reach (not much, really). Ned starts barking, trying to stand off with these two tiny monsters (because of course little Pomeranian joined in when his buddy started scrapping). Poor Ned is not really a formidable beast. He’s sweet and dopey. I mean look at this guy:


Just not the face of a killer  (photo credit to @evanpetrie, this is the only picture not actually from my trip)

Ned is a tender soul but he will always stand his ground if he thinks Lady is threatened. So he starts barking.

“Defend Lady from tiny evil! Protect! Danger, Lady, DANGER!!”

Ned and I fend off the dual onslaught long enough for the owner to come pick up the little devil. I’m too busy confirming that Ned doesn’t have any tiny punctures to say any choice words to the person who decided that it was a good idea to have that little monster off-leash. I mean, really? But Ned is fine, I’m fine, and we’re ready to get to some lakes!

We came to the right wilderness area I think. So many lakes. The first photo is at Lake Susan Jane and the rest are at Mig Lake. I can confirm this because the iPhone maps all my photos if I click on the location now so I can see my trail of photos across the wilderness.

Ned swam in all the lakes, then we hiked, and we hiked, and we hiked. Then I saw a bumblebee.


Then we hiked some more. It was around the time of the bumblebee that I realized that I hadn’t been eating enough, and I started to get tired. And hangry. Like tired and angry and hungry and hating everything. By the time I climbed the ridge to look down on gorgeous Trap Lake I was finding the end of my rope.


Trap Lake did manage to lift my spirits a bit

Getting to the top of this ridge is the point where I start wondering what in the hell I’m doing here, and I still have two miles to go. I’ve used the word “exhaustion” so many times in my life and I realize, as I’m coming down the other side of this ridge, that I never really knew what it meant. I’m so tired that I have no defenses and every doubt or anxiety I’ve ever felt about my life rises up, filling my whole head. Suddenly everything is terrible, I feel like a failure, like I’ll never get my shit together. For two miles. I run out of water, finally coming to a stream about a mile away from my planned camp. I sit down in a tired daze and start pumping water. My inlet hose moves in the stream and I reach for it. I don’t want to get mud into my filter, but in my state I keep pumping with one hand even though I’ve let go of the other handle of my water filter. There is a loud crack that slices through my already aching heart, that reverberates all the way through me to the bottoms of my swollen feet. Part of my water filter has broken off. I experience a moment of utter despair. I’ll have to borrow someone’s filter to fill up my water and quit on day one. As I’m staring at the broken piece I realize that it’s just the outlet nozzle that attaches neatly to my water bottle that has snapped. None of the actual mechanism of the filter is damaged. A tiny ray of hope shines into my mind. It will still work, as long as I’m careful not to cross contaminate the outlet with any unfiltered water. I finish filtering water and pack up my poor maimed filter and hike the last mile into camp.

By the time I get into Glacier Lake, my camp for the night, I’m too tired to be hungry. I set up camp like a zombie and have to force myself to eat. The only thing I actually enjoy is the Fremont IPA that I cool in the creek for a while. Drinking that beer was indescribably blissful. Sitting there with my cold beer I experience a moment of real peace. Fish were jumping in the lake and a few birds were gliding over the lake, looking for fish. The pattern of their movements were the most graceful thing I’ve ever seen, floating in slow loops over the lake. A profound quiet settles over me. This might be an absurd, asinine adventure for me to be undertaking, but I feel that, right now, I am exactly where I need to be.

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Story continues in “B is for blisters”

A wayward girl (and beast)

So, I quit my job. And not because I had a new job, or for graduate school, or for any legitimate reason whatsoever. I quit only because I knew I didn’t want to do this work any more. So I just quit, deciding to take some time off before launching into the next thing for me.

The first thing on my bucket list is a solo backpacking trip, just me and my dog (a dopey black lab named Ned) and five days in the wilderness. I felt like I needed to spend some time alone in the wild to heal, to grow, and to let some of the madness of five years at the Public Defenders Office bleed out of me into the mountain air. Which sounds nice, right? Restful? Restorative?

Or terrifying. Maybe. Depending. See, the thing that I realized is that I’m afraid of sleeping alone. Ha! So why do I think solo backpacking is a good idea for me? Because I am a fool, obviously. I also do not understand why this hadn’t occurred to me previously, either. I was totally oblivious of this until I went on an overnight trial (to test out some of my gear) and was so terrified all night that I did not sleep. I lay awake in my tent listening for small noises and imagining what terrible things might be causing those noises. All night. I would tell myself,

Carol, that is the rain dripping off the trees. You know it is. There is nothing out there, and even if there is, odds are that it won’t bother you and your dog. 

No, it’s bears. Rabid bears that have teamed up with cougars to come after you.

It’s not bears. Rain. It’s rain. You know what rain sounds like and that is it. 

But I wasn’t listening to myself. I just kept thinking of absurd scenarios involving bears that would never ever happen and continuing to not sleep.

So I hiked out at 6am, exhausted and miserable. I got home and slept it off and thought about my backpacking plans. What the hell was I thinking? But, you know what I decided? To go anyway. Because, as I said, I am a fool. A stubborn fool. I’m not going to let Afraid Carol make decisions for Bold Carol. Even if I make both of us miserable in the process. And I think I want to refer to myself as Bold Carol from now on. Maybe Carol the Bold. I haven’t decided yet.

Now I’m planning to do Section J of the Pacific Crest Trail (with Ned), over the course of  five days and four nights. I get occasional little jolts of panic as I plan to sleep alone, in a tent, for four consecutive nights. Maybe it will cure me of my fears, or maybe it will be one long nightmare of sleep deprivation and terror. Either way it will be an adventure. Something to write about, and as Calvin’s (and Hobbes’) Dad would tell me, it will build character.

Did I mention that I leave in two days?

I’m almost done preparing. This morning I spent hours mapping and adding up mileages and picking my campsites.  Then I did a little online research and found this brilliant little app which makes all of that work I did totally unnecessary. It’s like the google maps of backpacking trails. I just need to make sure my phone doesn’t run out of battery… and a friend graciously allowed me to borrow his portable charger to bring along. Right now I’m about to bike to REI and buy bearspray, you know, just in case. I also need bugspray, for keeping slightly lesser creatures than bears at bay. At least I’m not afraid of bugs. Or snakes, heights, spiders, or joint pain! Not afraid at all!

I’m not even really afraid of bears and cougars during the day. It’s just sleeping alone in a tent that gets me, and I think it has more to do with the unknown than anything else. At night you can’t see what’s coming and that unnerves me. Right now that feels like a particularly uncomfortable thing because I’m dealing with so much uncertainty overall. I don’t know I’m going to do after taking this time off. Also, my miserable sleepless overnight was compounded by the fact that the mountain was covered in mist—I basically slept in a cloud. I couldn’t see more than fifteen feet off the trail and walked through what I christened as Creepy Meadows 1-4 before making camp (I also appreciate the metaphorical significance of not being able to see the trail ahead and not knowing where life will take you). But anyway, the uncertainty of nighttime, the whole not-seeing-what’s-coming problem, was doubled that night. So I’m hopeful that with a little luck and some clear, dry weather, I might have a better experience this time. Maybe I’m overly optimistic. Maybe I’m a fool.

Either way, I expect to have a whole lot of extra character by the time I get back and I’ll be sure to share it with you when I do. That is, if the cougar-bear nighttime hit squad of my overactive imagination doesn’t get me.


Carol the Bold