Our biggest whirlwind adventure yet.

Pacific Crest Trail, Travel

I’m not very good at talking about my personal life online- hence the radio silence here for almost a year. But a lot of stuff has happened, and I want to blog on the Long Trail. I feel like a lot of things will make more sense with an update.

I finish the AT, I go back to Alaska and I get a job, intending to put my head down and work for a few years until I have the money to go adventure again. Then Shake n Bake comes to visit and everything changes. I never learned how to listen to my body on the trail, but I did learn how to listen to my heart. It’s no secret that I fell in love on the PCT, not just with the wilderness and the mountains, but also with the man walking beside me. There’s so much red tape to keep us apart though, and I find wading through it as I try and get a visa slower and more frustrating than the hardest days on a thru hike.

Spring comes and I find myself quitting my job yet again, this time not for a trail. Quitting my job with the changing of the seasons has become as natural as watching the leaves bud and the flowers bloom. I can’t work in Canada, and can only be there for six months, but it doesn’t matter. It’s time to do something crazy yet again.

There’s an adventure right off the bat, of course, since Shake n Bake knows me better than anyone else. We drive two hours south of Ottawa to Kingston. We’ll spend a week paddling back home. We camp at the lock station at Kingston Mills as Shake n Bake’s friends trickle in. There’s a group of ten, although our numbers will fluctuate as people leave to go to work, or join our little flotilla.

We start our morning with our first portage. I throw my pack on my back, our food barrel on my front, grab the paddles and Chester the adorable dog. Shake n Bake takes his pack and balances the canoe on his shoulders. We make it in one easy trip, but our friends don’t have the thru hiking packing light mentality and it takes them an extra trip or two. Finally, we are on the water and I fall in love a little. I have plenty rafting experience, but this is my first real time paddling a canoe. I immediately love the easy way we glide forward, our constant forward progress and the way the lakes and rivers open up a whole new world. We’re not at the mercy of the current like in a raft and the lack of whitewater makes it easy to relax.

We spend a week paddling back to Ottawa, portaging locks and fighting waves on lakes. By the time we make it back to Ottawa, Ontario feels a little more like home.

The downtime between adventures is hard. I came to Canada without a visa, sick of waiting and long distance, and demoralized by all of the hoops I can’t jump through, so I am unable to work. I explore the city by bike, finding new favorite book stores and donut shops, but I’ve never been very good at downtime.

Then we go to the Yukon. It only took moving thousands of miles away for me to visit the territory right next to Alaska. Shake n Bake is supporting some friends who are doing a canoe race. Then finally the race is over and the fun begins. We hike in Tombstone Territorial park, then find a canoe for a three day trip down the Yukon.

After, it’s back to Ottawa and I feel like we’re running out of time together. Shake n Bake has had a trip to Europe planned for the better part of a year, but it’s expensive for my unemployed butt, and besides, I’d rather go hiking. I’ve been thinking about the Long Trail since I finished the AT, and my knee is finally doing well enough to attempt it.

With the deadline of leaving for different countries hanging over us, and visa red tape making it hard to be together, Shake n Bake and I make a decision that we hope will make it easier. We go to an officient’s house. He takes my hands in his. I slide a ring onto his finger and he slips one on mine. We both say a few words, and then we are married.

I thought the story I’ve been sharing here for the last few years was an adventure story, but really, it was just as much a love story. We still have a lot of steps to take until we can be together properly, without worrying that we’ll have to go back to long distance. But we’re used to hard journeys and there’s no one else I’d rather walk next to on this adventure.

So, Shake n Bake, I’ll always get the ursacks if you make the coffee. I’ll always help you punch raccoons in the face. And I will never, ever leave you on a windy ridge. You’ve made every step I’ve taken in the past three years so much better and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life sharing adventures with you.

The Huemul Circuit

patagonia, Travel

The Huemul Circuit may be the best short hike I’ve ever done. Featuring zip line river crossings, a glacial traverse, high passes and a commanding view of the southern Patagonia ice field, it’s just challenging enough to be fun.


One of the hardest parts of the Huemel circuit is getting the permit. The paperwork itself is easy- free and you just walk into the ranger station when you are ready to head out. But the required gear is difficult to find. Everyone needs two caribeaners, a safety line and a harness, and we need a 30ft cord per group.


 There are three gear shops in town and we have to trek back and forth until we have pieced everything together. One gear shop owner takes an instant dislike to Shake n Bake and is very rude to all of us, making things infinitely more difficult. She almost refuses to rent him a harness since she doesn’t believe he knows how to use it. Finally, we have everything and can head out.


Two condors circle over head as we leave the ranger station. I’m not sure if this is an omen or not. But the sun is out, the wind is light, and massive Fitz Roy towers over everything. We turn a corner, where we get an impressive view of Mt Huemul, the peak we’ll be walking around for the next four days, and the valley we’ll camp in tonight. Tucked behind our campsite is the glacier we will have to cross the next day.


We dawdle, taking photos and enjoying the majestic snow capped peaks all around. Our campsite for the night is in a grove of trees with the other hikers on this circuit. It’s only mostly out of the wind.


We knew before heading out that we were going to have one bad weather day, and it just so happens that that day is the one featuring a zip line river crossing, glacier traverse and the highest pass on the circuit. We’re the first ones out of camp in the morning and the wind howls at us as we circumnavigate a glacial lake. We lose the trail a little and have to scramble up towards our river crossing. The boys make fun of my climbing a little, but I don’t mind.


The river crossing is terrifying. A steel wire with a pulley hangs over the river just as it starts to fall into a canyon. 20ft up, we have to trust our gear completely. A French couple, George and Camille, come up just as we’re putting on our harnesses. Tom zips across, making it look easy. George and Camille have obviously never used their harnesses before, and I suddenly become responsible for checking everyone’s gear, adding to my nerves. Camille goes, then George and then it’s my turn. Hand over hand up the wire and then I’m on the other side, clipped into a wire while I scramble up to safety, only shaking a little. Shake n Bake follows and then we are all ready to go, as the storm builds momentum on the peaks above.


We slip and slide through scree, onto the rock glacier, and then onto the glacier itself. Tiny rocks are embedded in the ice, making it easy to grip. We hop between rock glacier and glacier, trying to stay off the slippy, steeply angled surfaces. Then we are off, scrambling by a river that is sucked straight under the glacier.


We pass another lake and the trail climbs steeply. I’ve had an ice cream headache half the morning, from the wind and the icy rain that it throws in my face. Now, snow is mixed in with the rain. Half a kilometer before the pass, it turns to all snow, coating the trail, my jacket, and everything else. The wind throws it so hard it stings my cheeks. My hands are completely numb as I lead everyone up to the pass. I yell out Christmas carol lyrics and hear Shake n Bake sing back from the back of the group.


Everything is snow on the other side. The snow and wind stings my eyes. I can’t see any cairns. We dither for a moment, but it’s too cold for decision by committee, so Shake n Bake and I take the lead, walking until a cairn appears out of the blizzard. We drop down rapidly, out of the clouds, below the snowline. Everything as far as the eye can see is white. But not from the storm. This is the Southern Patagonia Icefield, and I’ve never seen anything on this scale before. It stretches as far as I can see in every direction. Massive peaks loom, white as the glacier below.


We drop down, through sun patches and snow squall to the refugio. Other hikers trickle in, as we alternate between hiding in the refugio from the snow and drying our stuff in the sun.


It snows on and off during the night. I have to pee and I stand outside in my bare feet, looking at the stars, until it gets too cold and I run back to my warm sleeping bag. I listen to the quiet rustle of snowflakes on silnylon. In the morning, the snowline has crept down but the path is clear. We pick our way along the side of the icefield. The path is cut into the side of a steep hill: it feels like the PCT but with added ice field.


We climb up and over Huemul pass. The wind buffets us, but condors soar and dive above. We say goodbye to the ice fields and head down to Lake Viedma below.


The way down starts out challenging but fun. It’s steep, but we slide from tree to tree, skidding down the loose dirt. Then, an hour from the bottom, I am no longer having fun. I slip and fall on a trekking pole. Nothing is hurt but my pride, but as the path gets even steeper, I trust my feet even less, sliding on my butt over gravel and rock. One section, I have to turn around and downclimb, gripping rope, rock and roots.


Finally, I am down. We find our campspot on the shore of the lake. At this point, I have slept outside for more than 364 nights. I’ve camped on ridges and peaks and at the bottom of canyons. And this might be the most beautiful place I’ve ever slept. Glacier Viedma calves into the lake, and the wind has pushed these icebergs up to shore. They roll and break, and the glacier fills the background. I sit on the rocks, wrapped in my sleeping bag, watching everything.


The walking is easy in the morning and we spread out a little more for the first time. I’m lost in my thoughts, hiking fast the way I did on the CDT, approaching a blind corner, when a heard of horses appears right in front of me. All that pops into my head are the aggressive wild horses of the Wyoming basin. I raise my arms and shout and the horses slow. But then they keep coming. I hear Shake n Bake yelling from the distance and wonder if he’s about to witness me being trampled. I scramble up the bank, the horses come forward, and I see the Gaucho behind them. Oh. Oh well. They pass without incident, but I wait for the others, a little shaken.


We cross our second zip line without too much incident. I get a little tangled in the pulley line and have to fix it mid river, but I’m only a few feet above the much more mellow river. Then I’m safe across. A few more kilometers and we’ve officially finished the circuit, although we still have to get back to town.


There’s supposed to be a mountain bike trail that goes to a hostel on the road, but it is mostly cow tracks now. It’s hot and there’s no shade or water. I think of the CDT as we follow the meandering tracks. At the hostel there’s no trespassing signs. We follow the cow tracks. I think it will pop us out on a trail by the ranger station, but there’s a tangle of spikey brush. We get a little lost before finding a path, but not before finding the most spectacular view of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. 


In town, we find beer and cheeseburgers. Tom gets a room in the hostel, but there’s a free campground on the way up to Fitz Roy at Laguna Capri. I persuade Shake n Bake to head out. An hour of passing returning day hikers and we are sitting by the lake drinking a beer as we watch the light fade on Fitz Roy.


We are slow in the morning, drinking coffee in bed. It’s almost ten when we start hiking, although the trail is still quiet. I have somehow become faster than Shake n Bake on hills, although he can still lose me on downhill, so I tuck myself behind him as we huff and puff our way up to Lago De Los Tres.


We crest the hill and Fitz Roy is all we can see. I’ve felt magnetically drawn to this mountain foe the last few days, and I can’t take my eyes off of it as we sit hands eat lunch. Then, back down, with frequent breaks to let the hordes of hikers on the suddenly busy trail go past. We cut over to the trail to Cerro Torre for a view of those sharp, needlelike peaks, before running back to town to find Tom and round two of cheeseburgers and beer.

Ushuaia

patagonia, Travel

We score a deal on car rental in Punta Arenas from our waiter, so we drive south. Flat plains are filled with guanaco, which look like skinny llama. We hop a ferry and then we are on Isla de tierra del fuego. A few more hours and we have an uneventful border crossing into Argentina.

The plains rise into mountains an hour outside of Ushuaia. We arrive before dark (easy even after a long day of driving at this lattitude) and drop our things before dinner. 

In the morning, we hike to glacier martial, just outside of town. We pass tourists in the rain. Before the final climb, Tom decides to turn around, worried about time, and Shake n Bake and I run on ahead to the toe of the glacier.

We run back down, catch Tom, then hustle to the harbour where a boat is waiting for us. We leave Ushuaia and make for three islands. The first has cormorants, the second sea lions. But the third, the third has penguins! The boat half beaches itself and we look down at the penguins as they look up at us, everyone equally curious about the strange creatures in front of them.

In the morning, we head to Tierra del Fuego National Park. There’s free camping, so we set up our tents before heading off to climb Cerro Guanaco. We take one pack between us and I insist on carrying it. I get a lot of strange looks- hiking in a dress and carrying a large pack while the boys have nothing. The trail rises steeply to treeline. In front of us we can see the peak, part of an exposed, steep ridge. Behind us, snowcapped mountains rise from aquamarine lake.


It snows a little just before the peak and then we are up, looking back at the ridge and down at Ushuaia below. We dart back down, racing the wind. Back at the lake, we take a side trail to the Chile/Argentina border. I just can’t stop walking to borders, it seems.


The cold drives us into our tents early, butt it stops raining just before it’s time to pack up in the morning. We drive back as fast as we can to make a bus to Puerto Natales, stopping only for food and to pick up hitchhikers. Shake n Bake and I do have a hitchhiking debt to pay back after all.

To the Ends of the Earth- Cabo Froward, Patagonia

patagonia, Travel


The sea surges to my knees as I wade around the slippery rocks. The salt stings a thousand tiny cuts on my legs. The wind throws fistfulls of rain in my face. You are made up of mostly water, I remind myself. This is your element. 


Cabo Froward lies some thirty kilometers south of where the road ends. It’s the furthest south point on the American continent. It’s not easy to get to- three large rivers, two only crossable at low tide, bushwacking, scrambling and the ever present changing tide lie between us and the white cross that marks the end of the world.


A taxi driver drops us at the end of the road a little after lunch. A few pack adjustments and we are off. It’s an hour and a half on the beach to the lighthouse, our first landmark. A seal sits on the edge of the beach and I almost walk right up to him before Shake n Bake notices. He starts to call out bear before he realizes what he is seeing. Luckily our new friend isn’t offended by this and allows us to take his picture.


We get our first taste of the famous Patagonia wind at the lighthouse. We huddle on the leeward side. Old habits die hard and within seconds of stopping, I am shoving food in my face. Then, we are in the forest, back to the beach and onto the first river. This one is crossable by log jam, never my favourite. Oh well. Soon, I am safe on the other side. We hop between beach and forest. The forest is a tangle of roots and blow downs, steep uphill and steeper downs, so we don’t make much better time than on the slippery, soft, Sandy beach.


It starts to rain hard as we make our way up the final hill for the day. The trail soon turns to marsh and our feet are instantly soaked. The wind howls, the way it always does down here, and I am chilled to the bone. We make a little campsite on the edge of the beach by the second river just before dark. 

One of the easier blow downs


Still jetlagged, I sleep late. There’s no point waking up anyway, when we have to wait for the tide. We pack up slowly and make our way down to the river, finding a spot out of the wind to wait. We study the water: there appears to be no good way to cross, but as the tide drops, it reveals sandbars and shallower channels. 


Shake n Bake goes first and Tom and I follow after. When I see the water reach mid thigh on Shake n Bake, I know I’m about to get very wet. The water, ice cold, climbs towards my waist, but no higher. Then, we are safe on the other side, drying off and watching dolphins splash in the bay.


Then we are in the forest again. I lead the charge, scrambling up steep dirt, gripping branches and tree roots. This is more climbing than hiking, and I am suddenly very greatful for my time in the rock gym this winter.


The third river is nothing major. It barely reaches my knees and I don’t even bother waiting for the boys before I wade across. On the other side, the friendly beach we know ends. The trail has gotten progressively rougher, the closer we get to the cross. Now, we have to scramble over sharp rock, coated with seaweed and slime. The tide has come up and it surges into the gaps between the stones. I don’t think about slipping and falling into the waves below. Finally, we reach another pebble beach and find a campsite out of the wind.


We wake up early, to pouring rain. We leave most of our stuff at the campsite and start the final trek to the cross. The tide is coming in, splashing over the slippery rocks. At some points, it is easier for me to venture into the waves themselves. The waves tug at my ankles and the salt stings my cuts. I am so cold I can’t stop hiking. The trail gets rougher- we have our first real scramble by a sea stack, climbing grippy sandstone. Still the rain comes down. Then, an impossible section of beach. The only way around is up a cliff- dirt and roots to start with, and then sheer rock. A rope hangs down and I don’t hesitate- no time to get nervous. I haul myself up the dirt with no problems, but hand holds and footholds are scarce on the rock and it takes me a minute of thinking through the problem before I am at the top, the wind whipping the words of encouragement I shout down to the boys away.

Then we are at the base of the cross. We have a final 300m climb and we leave the trees quickly. The wind and rain pummeled us, and the trail has turned to mud. A few times I step in a puddle to my knee. But then we are up. We take a few celebratory pictures and then the Wind drives us back down to the shelter of the trees.

Then it is back the way we came. Over the same slippy rock, downclimbing the cliff. We reach our camp as the weather starts to break, packing up quickly. Then we reach river 3. The rain has swollen it- it churns muddy, much higher than before. Shake n Bake starts to cross, then backs out. “We need to link up for this,” he tells us. Tom forms the other end of our V and we head into the water. Midway, my feet start to float as the current takes me. I grip Shake N Bake tighter and then I am through, safe on the other bank. We hike down the beach to camp by river 2, which will let us make the morning tide.

We wake up early for 6am low tide. This river is higher too- it passes my belly button as a I wade across. I lose feeling from my waist down from the cold. And then it is just retracing our footsteps. We have a few misadventures- we lost the trail a little and hit and impossible section of shoreline, but we easily backtrack. In another section, I take the forest where the boys take the beach and get stuck on an unstable cliff, half butt sliding and half falling, terrified, to the beach below. But we make it to the lighthouse as the group’s of daytrippers are starting to leave, and Tom works his Spanish speaking magic to wrangle us a ride to town, where hot showers and cheeseburgers are waiting.

Pie Town to Grants

Continental Divide Trail, South West, Travel
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Pie Town is full of characters. We’re sitting on the porch of the Toaster House drinking beer when a man stops by. He tells us his wife is cooking stir fry and we should come over. Ten people have trickled into town by now, and we round them up and head over. Jeremy and Jennifer cook us dinner and play guitar and sing for us. Nita, the Toaster House owner stops by and says hello. For some reason, trail angel interactions on the CDT feel much more genuine. Maybe they are less burned out by the sheer number of hikers.
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In the morning, I head out for breakfast before anyone else. I need to slow down my pace – I have the latest start date of anyone at the Toaster House, but I also don’t want to be in the same place for too long. Treeman and Nita join me at breakfast, and I get sucked into staying a few hours longer than planned. I head out, warning Treeman he may find me napping under a tree five miles down the road. I’m very bad on out of town days- sluggish from too much food and caffeine.
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True to form, he finds me under a tree a few hours later, sleepy and bored from the road walk. He tells me he lost his headphones in town and is trying to hitch back to get them. Do I want anything? A soda, I tell him, half joking. A car drives by and he bursts from the bushes, instantly getting a ride.
It’s getting dusky when he catches me later. He hands me a soda, shocking me, and proceeded to tease me for doing nineteen miles when I’m supposed to be slowing down. “You must be running with those short legs,” he says. We camp together, the first time I’ve camped with anyone apart from Shake n Bake on the entire trail.
In the morning, he packs up and leaves while I “take it slow”. Too restless to sit still for long, I leave ten minutes behind him and instantly bump into Chardonnay and Kelsey. I pass them as we leave the trees and enter the plains again. Distant crags rise: ghost ships on a desert sea. The sun is already relentless.
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I stop for water at a cow pond, but it is surrounded by cows. I wait for Kelsey and Chardonnay and we form our own little herd. The cows back down. I scoop my slimey water as one of the braver ones slurps from the opposite side.
It gets hot just as I find a shade tree. I try and siesta but I’m restless, so I pick my way up the canyon, the heat making me sluggish. I stop at an abandoned house, intending to check it out since I’m taking it slow. But the wind lifts up a portion of metal roof and it clangs angrily at me. Creeped out, I climb over into Sand Canyon. The heat has made me slow and my bag is heavy with cloudy cow water that I don’t want to drink. I stop early, just as the trees begin to fade out into plain again, hoping the pine I chose will shelter me from the wind and dew.
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In the morning, a reminder of how bad the water on this section is. My first source is bone dry, despite being listed as reliable on my maps and water reports. A few miles down the road I find a tank, as brown and nasty as the litre of cow pond water I’m hoping not to drink. Oh well. I have a litre of clean, a litre of cow spit and a litre of dark, cloudy “water”. It’s fifteen miles to my next source, which might not even be there with the way my day has been going. I guess my maps did warn me that my best option for water was to beg from cars.
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A few do stop and make sure I’m ok. “I’m great!” I tell them. I wonder what they think of me, in their air conditioned cars, surrounded by hot coffee and cool clean water and fresh food and all of the other things I voluntarily deny myself. I hope they can see how big my smile is, even on this hot, dry road walk.
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A few miles down the road, a green truck pulls over a quarter mile ahead of me. I see a man hop out, run across the road, back again, and then with a squeal of tires, drive off. When I get there, I find a litre of water sweating on the asphalt. Elated, I dump my cow water and continue on.
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I make a few detours on my roadwalk. I hop up and eat lunch on the edge of a sandstone ridge, looking out over El Malpais. And then, La Ventana arch, where I sit in the shade and contemplate. But I’m getting thirsty and my water is running low. The source I’d been hoping for isn’t there, but a man on a motorbike stops to tell me there’s a spigot on at the ranger station, six miles further. I make it there by six, feet aching from the pavement and chug almost a whole litre. I camp by the station, hidden in the bushes.
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The morning roadwalk is uneventful. There are the normal crowds of cars, pulling over to make sure I’m ok. One car even stops to make sure the car in front wasn’t bothering me. I make it to Grant’s as the clouds build, sliding into town just as the first wave of thunderstorms hits.
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After.

Pacific Crest Trail, Travel, Uncategorized

The bus from Manning Park leaves at 2am. We arrive, groggy and disorientated in Vancouver. We sit at a Tim Hortons, drinking awful coffee, waiting for the city to wake up. And then it is a whirlwind of activity. We buy deodorant, clothes, and then before I know it, I’m waving goodbye to Shake n Bake as he gets into a taxi for the airport. Suddenly, I am alone on a busy city street, my last connection to the trail gone.

The next few days are tough as I try to adjust. I explore Vancouver, ducking into Stanley Park to sit under the massive trees whenever everything gets too overwhelming. I walk out to Granville Island and explore the market, sit in coffee shops for hours and watch float planes taxi past the waterfront.


Then, I take the train down to Seattle. Mike, one of my favourite people on the Grand Canyon trip, meets me at the station. He and his wife Wendy have graciously offered to let me stay with them for a few days on the Kitsap Peninsula. He shows me around Seattle as we wait for the ferry. Walking through Pikes Place Market, I see a familiar puffy jacket in front of me. It’s Bear Bait and Legit! I haven’t seen them since Cascade Locks and I am so excited to see some trail family! We catch up in the middle of the market, and then it is time to go.


I crash hard once we get to Mike and Wendy’s, but by the morning, I am ready to go hiking! But first, a favor. I hide in the woods by Mike’s house, ducking behind a fallen tree, dew soaking into my trail runners. Five minutes pass, and then I hear crashing through the bushes. A yellow lab stops in front of me, staring at this strange person hiding from her, before running back to get her handler. It’s Sahalee the search and rescue dog!

Once Sahalee has found Mike too, we load up and head to the mountains. Mt. Ellinor rises steeply and I breathe hard. I’m not used to anything apart from PCT grade now. There is a dusting of snow as we get higher and higher, until finally, we pop out from the clouds onto the summit.


The next day, we head to Olympic National Park. We hike down towards the beach, and stroll along the sand barefoot. Sea stacks rise in the distance. Then, back to the house, where we fullfill one of my most urgent on trail fantasies and curl up on the couch under blankets to watch a movie.


I say goodbye to Mike and Wendy and head back to the big city for a few days. I meet Turtle, a friend from camp, who I haven’t seen in years. She has two beautiful daughters now, and we watch them run around the Children’s Museum. I’m exhausted by the overstimulation after the quiet trail, but it is so good to catch up.


Before I head back to Anchorage, I have one last person I see. A/V posts on facebook that he’s been forced off the trail by snow and is in Seattle. I meet him for dinner and a beer. He’s so fresh off the trail whereas it’s been almost two weeks for me and I suddenly miss the trail so much it hurts. I haven’t seen him since Tahoe, and we swap stories.


Then, I’m back in Anchorage and it’s a whirlwind of trying to adjust to ordinary life. Within three days, I have a house with eight roommates. Within two weeks, a part time job and a second one just a little later. I get to know my roommates- we go hiking, biking, climbing, running.


It’s easy to slip back into the stress of ordinary life, but I try and remember what the trail taught me. Live in the moment. Spend time with the people (and dogs) you care about. Don’t stess about things until they happen. Keep moving. Always keep moving.


And when it gets too much, I plan my next adventure. The CDT is calling my name. I pour over maps, plan what gear I need to replace. In just five long months, I can be back on the trail again.


San Diego

Travel, Uncategorized

San Diego is grittier than I expect. I arrive exhausted from an early flight, and from a long few days in Alaska. We petsit a husky and her bulldog friend for four days. She is full of energy, desperate to be outside and run. I have never identified more with an animal. I just want to be on the trail already.

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I walk around San Diego. I know I should take it easy, but I’m full of the same restless energy that dogged me in Alaska. I walk up to Balboa park and then down by the bay. I eat Mexican food, burgers and Vietnamese, trying to pack on one last pound before the trail, but it is hard in the heat.

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And the heat! I rapidly downgrade how many miles I plan to do for the first few days. I wilt in the sun. Luckily, while the forecast for Thursday is hot, I should have a few days of cool weather after that.

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From here on, updates may be few and far between. Jerami may post photos for me occasionally, but don’t worry if you don’t hear anything for a while.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico, Travel

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Sitting in my parents house in Scotland, I struggled to find a way back to Alaska for under $1200. There were cheap cruises, but none of them started or ended anywhere useful. Flights were a dead end. And then I remembered months ago, finding a cheap flight between Las Vegas and Copenhagen. The carrier was Norwegian Air, and as I looked at their website I found my answer.

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Piecing together my flight home was like solving Jig saw puzzle. Norwegian would only fly to certain US cities and they would not connect with any US airlines. I’d need a layover somewhere of at least 12 hours, and if I was going to have to go through security anyway, it might as well be somewhere I wanted to visit so I could leave the airport.

And so I booked a flight from Rome to Madrid. An overnight layover in Madrid, and then a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Five days later, and I’d fly to Anchorage.

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For such awful connections, the Norwegian flight is incredible. The newest plane I’ve been on the whole trip flies buttery smooth over the atlantic. I doze, unable to believe that a transatlantic flight only cost me $300. I feel like I’ve gone back in time, to before oil prices soared and the price of airline tickets climbed like a jet taking off.

And then I’m back on US soil. A taxi takes me to a hostel in Old Town San Juan as I fight jet lag and sleep deprivation from my night in the airport the night before.

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I am awake obscenely early, before the heat of the day smothers everything. I walk the streets of Old San Juan and it is impossible to put my camera away. Bright buildings put Copenhagen’s Nyhavn to shame. Wooden doors are interspersed with street art and stray cats wind their way between my legs as I climb the hill to El Morro.

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The forts of El Morro and San Christobel protected Puerto Rico for centuries. I wander through cool hallways and meander through sun drenched courtyards where plaster crumbles under the combined assault of sun, wind and salt spray.

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After a lunch of mofongo (mashed plantains with ground beef), I wait out the sun. As the day cools, I walk along coastal walls, watching the waves break over the rocky coast. A tarantula dozes by the walkway- as immobilized by the heat as I am.

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I split my time in San Juan between the old town and a locals beach that I find. $2 Medalla cerveza and palm trees bending in the breeze fill me with a tranquility that I haven’t found in Europe’s busy streets. I soak up the heat, bracing myself to return to Alaska’s cold.

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Roma

Travel, Uncategorized

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Even when you’re traveling solo, seldom are you truly alone. Throughout my trip I’ve met people in hostels, in classes, in bars. Whether it’s a conversation for a few minutes, or a continuation of a ten year friendship, you will meet people. So even if you are on your own, it is difficult to ever be lonely.

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No where is this more apparent than in Rome. I arrive after three weeks of Spanish classes in Madrid, where it was easy to make new friends. I show up in Rome ready to be alone for a while, looking forward to exploring the city on my own. Instead, I stumble into a hostel room full of women traveling solo. I talk to a wonderful lady from Turkmenistan, and we quickly determine we have similar plans for tomorrow. It’s easy to convince her to walk to the Vatican via a few tourist sites rather than take the Metro.

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It’s an early start in the morning. The Vatican museums are free on the last Sunday of the month, but only with reduced opening hours. We leave before eight, wandering through Rome’s crumbling splendor. Past Trevi Fountain, by the Pantheon and through Piazza Navona, we reach the banks of the Tiber and follow the throngs of people headed to the Vatican. We’re greeted by a line of people wrapped around the block. We join the queue and wait patiently. An hour passes, then another, and then we are inside the museum, working our way past mosaics and statues on our way to the Sistine Chapel.

Like all of Europe’s great works of art, the Sistine Chapel is spoiled by its fame. Hordes of people crane their necks to look at it, chatting loudly while guards use loudspeakers to demand silence and respect. The irony of blaring requests for silence seems lost on them. The ceiling is stunning though, and in the few moments of silence between announcements, it’s easy to see what the fuss is about.

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After the chapel, we are funneled out of the museum. We join the (thankfully shorter) line for St. Peter’s Basilica. Once inside, my jaw drops. I’ve been to a lot of churches and cathedrals over my travels, but this one is by far the most spectacular. We explore the church, then head up to the dome. Before looking out over the city, the stairs lead you to the inside of the dome. From the dizzying heights over the alter, the clear voices of a choir ring out, the acoustics bouncing their voices from the dome and filling the air.

The outside is no less breathtaking. From high on the dome, you can look out over the Vatican and see the city of Rome beyond. A rain shower threatens the view, but cannot dampen the beauty.

From the Vatican, it’s a long walk back to the hostel, but we break it up by exploring Rome’s most famous sites that we skimmed over earlier in order to make it to the museum on time. The Pantheon is stunning from the outside, but it’s interior is somewhat of a let down after the Vatican. We sit captivated in front of Trevi fountain for a while though, eating gelato. The sky darkens and the fountain is illuminated.

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The next day, we head to the coliseum. The structure is stunning, but the informational displays are underwhelming. I’ve been spoiled lately, visiting some of the best sites in the world. Get your act together Rome, signs are not that difficult.

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After, we wander Palentine hill and the forum. Roses wind between the statues, and seagulls perch on walls, posing for tourists’s cameras. We leave, wandering past imposing buildings to the boca de la verita, and back past the Trevi fountain to the hostel.

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At the hostel, a Brazilian lady is having a tough night. She misses her home, her family, her boyfriend. I think about my first night in Stirling and how I missed my parents. Traveling to Arizona and missing my friends from Stirling. Returning to Scotland and missing America. Those of us who split our hearts around the world will always be homesick, no matter where we are. It’s faded to a dull ache for me, but I emphasize with her tears. We reassure her- it gets easier, it is worth the heartache, think about how you will look back on this experience. We realize we are all women traveling alone and it is empowering. We can turn around what people think we can’t do, what we think we can’t do. Once you’ve travelled alone through a foreign country, everything else seems a little easier.

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In the morning, I say goodbye to my new friend, promising to visit her in Turkmenistan if I can. Then I head out for a final walk – up to villa Borghese, then down the Spanish steps, and past Trevi one final time. Then I head to the airport, ready to make my way back to America.

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Madrid

Travel, Uncategorized

Madrid feels the most foreign out of all the places I have been so far. There are almost no tourists. Even at the tourist attractions, you are lucky to find someone who speaks English. It lacks the familiar culture of France, Germany or the UK.

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I adjust slowly. I can’t wait until 10pm to eat dinner, but I do shift it back to 8pm. The first few days, my head buzzes from all of the new Spanish words, but by the end of the week, I’m thinking in Spanish. After two weeks, it takes a conscious effort to switch from broken Spanish to English.

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My travelling pace here is very different. Instead of running around, cramming in as much as possible, I take my time and learn my new neighbourhood. I have a favorite place to get coffee, new favorite foods. I still haunt the museums, but I go to the small ones without English translations on their exhibits, as well as the larger, touristy ones. I plan my visit to the Museo Del Prado around its free opening hours and yawn my way around the artworks, glad I didn’t pay to enter. Museo Reina Sophia does not have a free time, but I gladly cough up my entrance fee to pour over the works by Picaso and Dali.

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Perhaps my favorite though, is my host family. They coach me through Spanish, teaching me almost as much as my classes. They share their culture with me and recomend places to visit, off of the beaten path. But my absolute favorite thing about staying with a Spanish family is the food. Oh, the food! Fried, salty and fatty, heavy on the meat and light on the vegetables, but absolutely delicious! I eat paella, and lentejas, cerdo and calamari. Restaurants pale in comparison to the home cooking of Abuela.

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