Kansas was a nice start. I had instant sensory overload despite the humble surroundings that location entailed. Access to too many distractions with lots to do. After a day of movie binging, I borrowed my dad’s trimmers and finally buzzed off the leg sweaters I have been growing for two months. I only shaved one time during the whole trip, in South Lake Tahoe. It was way overdue. Other than that I am having a hard time adjusting from a lifestyle of few decisions and responsibilities beyond food, hiking, and sleep, to a deluge of tasks pushed onto me. From posting the last trail photos, sorting four months of mail, finally dealing with four months of emails, researching life in California, and making a To Do list, I was overwhelmed. I cannot even think about the daunting task of photo work once I have my camera back, which is soon to be in the mail! Thanks Jen! I also have to focus on my food intake. Make sure I am eating appropriate quantities to my current exercise levels (that is to say no exercise…for now) and eating super healthy and low fat (not that junk food sounds at all appealing thankfully!). Having not cooked or baked in several months, my motivation started out low for wanting to even think about food that wasn’t instantly gratifying and accessible. I went from a very simple routine to one of many tasks. Sort things, go through boxes, make appointments and remember them, do things, meet up with people. I know it is only a matter of time, but my multitasking skills are low right now. I want to slowly ease myself into the mental stimulation of non trail life.
There are other challenges too. Non trail people. It is exhausting trying to answer all these questions about my trip. It’s not like I can just sum up four months of something so unique in a short three sentence overview. The end of the trail hasn’t quite fully set in either. I am partly in denial and somewhat unsure how to be around people. On the flight coming home, this girl next to me exclaimed that she thought she was seeing smoke that looked like it came from a fire. My response was that a lot of Washington is on fire currently. That was all I knew how to say without being roped into a conversation that I didn’t want to have. Can I just have some quiet solitude to reflect, absorb, and organize my brain?
I have regained some personal skills and survived the exposure to many people at a wedding I attended. Congrats Kristin and Travis! But the whole thing exhausted my energy reserves for human interaction. Which was nice timing because I then spent two days really focused on sorting through boxes and purging stuff to make a single car load to California. A daunting and not so simple task while my vehicle was sitting at a body shop away from my packing grasp. Packing took place up to the last moments before I hit the road, as per my usual, er um, timeliness. Somehow I squeezed everything in without ditching much more than I had already purged pre PCT. Go me! And I still managed to leave a space for my sister for our road trip!
I had a last minute surprise when Endless stopped in Colby at the Oasis truck stop on his grand hitchhiking adventure across the U.S. We unfortunately only had a short visit before I needed to start driving towards Colorado and he needed to get back at finding hitches. For the Endless fans out there, he made it safely to KC before flying the rest of the way home. He is currently off on numerous other adventures around the east coast.
I spent several days in Colorado tying up loose ends. My sister flew in and several of us hiked a 14er, Mount Sherman in the Colorado Mosquito Range, at 14,043 feet. My last 14er as a CO resident. I am glad I was able to have one last hike. I also took my first post-hike trail run up to Mallory Cave from Mesa and NCAR Trails. My legs felt great afterwards but had a slow start. After all the last minute prep and route investigations, my sister and I took off from Boulder for a grand road trip tour towards Santa Barbara.
We started through Estes into Rocky Mountain National Park, taking the scenic route through to the west side. Hopped onto I-70 and cruised towards Gypsum, our first night of camping.The next day we hit up Grand Junction, CO, before heading around the Colorado National Monument. So cool! Wish I had know about that place sooner! We made it into Utah and saw the beautiful Goblin Valley National Park en route to Capitol Reef National Park. We stopped for a few short hikes and sights. The views were stunning in the evening setting sun. We stopped at a gas station to try out my culinary skills, or lack there of. Apparently not cooking for four months has truly messed up my cooking logic. We ate runny Mac ’n Peazy with a slight plastic taste. Overall, pretty unappetizing. My amazing sister kept up a good show at swallowing down the disaster I had prepared. Sorry sis! On day three, we took a Devil’s Backbone detour while heading through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park. How incredible! Then into Bryce Canyon National Park with several small trail excursions. While leaving, we stopped at Thunderbird Cafe for “Ho-made Pie.” Whatever that means… A quick pie-induced lack of attention lead us on a short 30 mile detour, whoops! Then we caught Zion National Park for another stunning sunset scenery viewing. How colorful rock formations look so much more impressive when mixed with long, golden rays of the setting sun. I was particularly blown away by the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. Built in the 1920-30’s, it is 1.1 miles long, creating direct access to Zion from Bryce. Convenient and a feat of its time. Wow! The NP doesn’t allow personal vehicles on the scenic drive, so we took the bus up the valley. Had a nice walk towards the Narrows. We are already planning a big hike through these parks. I really want to do the Hayduke Trail, but maybe we could just catch a shorter portion together. It was dark as we came out of the valley, and we were chatting too much to realize we had missed our bus stop. Whoops #2! We walked the mile plus back to our vehicle, along a narrow two lane road, in the dark… Night three of setting up camp in the dark. The next day we went through Sand Hollow State Park, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Snow Canyon State Park, Valley of Fire State Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. We stopped for a long lunch with my friend Kait in Las Vegas. She generously let us shower before heading out. Good thing too, the next two days were hot and sticky! Day five was spent sweating through Death Valley National Park. So many cool places! I have been here before, but not during the season where signs are posted advising NO hiking during the month of September and all the dangers associated with heat. Fun times! We made the obligatory stop at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. At 282 feet below sea level, Death Valley was already at 98 degrees by 8 AM that morning. It definitely earns its name. A road trip wouldn’t be a road trip without our last off-roading trip to Leadville Ghost Town via the Titus Canyon Road. Quite the fun roller coaster with my Escape fully loaded down… We at least didn’t try to brave the drive out to the Racetrack Playa Hahaha! Leaving Death Valley, we went right across Walker Pass! I stopped and reminisced my PCT days. How long ago that seems, heading into the Sierras. Almost a different life. We continued on for Bakersfield. As per local custom, we turned that stop into a glutton-fest. Huge supper followed by a candy shop with a whole double-sided menu of all the ice cream desserts they were capable of. It was too much. That stop set us into a quickly impeding food coma. Which worked out perfectly. The next day, the last day of our road trip, we wandered through Los Padres National Forest and into Santa Barbara/Goleta. My new home.
We spent the rest of the weekend unpacking, spending the last of my nonexistent cash reserve to outfit my new life. What a surreal last six months. A lot has happened. I will need time to process everything that was and is now. My sister and I had one last hurrah as we drove Hwy 1 up the coast to return her to Berkeley. Taking in the mesmerizing views of the mighty Pacific. The one thing I know will be a highlight of my life in California. The never-ending mystery of water and the ocean. A sanctuary in itself. I drove back via Hwy 101 and finished some furniture building and organizing. School starts next week. This weekend I go to Channel Islands with some geology grads and faculty for some pre-quarter bonding. Jumping right in with both feet.