Big Trip (Days 25-29)

We finally had the honor of experiencing the forever drenched feeling of being in the Pacific Northwest. Our tent has had so many close calls with drying out, only to have it downpour in the middle of the night. As amusing as it is to watch Evan’s frustration rise (the crazy eyes get real), he’s got nothing on me when I hit my wall. So, I guess you could say this part of the trip is where we broke.
Day 25:

We finally got the remnants of Evan’s hulk mode fixed at an auto glass place in Portland before we hit up Mount Saint Helens. As soon as we got there, we saw three school buses crowding the parking lot. Kids were screaming, dogs were barking and simply utter chaos surrounded us. Luckily, by the time it took us to find our gear in the thrown-together backseat of our tiny car, the kids were back to school. Evan and I are officially cavers now that we’ve hiked the complete darkness of Ape Caves. It was wonderful how quiet and peaceful it was if you muted Evan talking about the “cave snakes.” 


After a few scrapes on my ungraceful self, we left for Mount Rainier National Park. But as we approached the time to find a campsite, Evan kept having me turn around and backtrack because we couldn’t find the campsite he had seen as we drove in. At that moment, I was deep into the state of hangriness. My stomach was screaming and my face was scowled. To add to my lovely mood of the night, we had wifi that reached to our tent which meant Evan decided to go through all of his Instagram captions. “Can I please just go to bed?” I asked over and over again only to be met with “No! See, this caption here is funny because…” Someone please tell me he’s not as funny as he thinks he is. 

Day 26:

I woke in a good mood, but Evan was brooding while standing out in the rain, staring at the drenched tent. We wadded up the dripping tent and left for Mount Rainier, which happened to be rainy as well. 


So, with Evan being slightly sick (probably of me), we only drove around since the combination of cold and rainy would not be optimal for him. From there, we decided to be civilized humans and head to Seattle to take a look out of the Space Needle, watch the Penguins play and catch up with some local friends. Yes, I have friends–they’re not all Evan’s friends. 

Day 27:

We drove up to Olympic National Park and stopped at a visitor’s center. A nice old couple running the place gave us a list of all their favorite spots. They also nonchalantly dropped in the fact that the husband had once flung a woman over his back potato sack style on the beach to show her around. Ok. 

We drove up to Hurricane Ridge and were socked in with fog, but we got snowed on. You could see Evan jumping around just like a husky does in snow. Moving on to more pop-culture relevant moments in our trip, we stayed in La Push that evening. Hello, Twilight fans. I know you’re still out there. As you enter the town, they had a sign mentioning the treaty line and that there was a vampire threat. Quaking in our boots for sure. 


Hearing no werewolf howls, we figured we were safe to camp on Second Beach in La Push. Evan scrambled up a rock to get a better view after we set up the tent. I didn’t see how he had gotten up, so I asked and trusted him when he pointed to the almost completely vertical, crumbly looking rock face. I’m carefully placing my hands and feet all the way up to the top. As soon as I let a breath out and take in the view, Evan goes, “I didn’t go that way.” He then showed me the side that was basically a ramp. He didn’t even have to use his hands. He said, “I figured where you went would be doable.”  Thanks, Evan. 


We watched the sun set behind the large rock formations on the beach and retreated to our now nearly dry tent. As we were being lulled to sleep by the sound of crashing waves, we heard the slow start to an eventually steady rain. I promise that with each drip, Evan’s eye twitched. 

Day 28:

When we arose from our tent in the morning, we found that high tide was much higher than expected. We were lucky to not have been dragged out to sea like a raft. 


This day was slightly uneventful with merely a short stroll through the Hoh Rainforest (which was cool), eating at a restaurant called Restaurant and attempting to refill medication at the CVS with a woman who definitely had too much coffee that morning. All good and easy until I hit my wall. Usually I do tend to get slaphappy and laugh a bit when I’m tired, but this was another level. 


It all started with finding our dinner place for the evening that tooted its horn for having “great vegarian” food. Intrigued yet confused, we waltzed into the restaurant. There was some tasty food, but all of a sudden I couldn’t stop thinking about how the sign said “great vegarian.” I was almost immediately crying from laughter, and I couldn’t contain myself for the entire span of dinner. I could barely see out of my eyes. Luckily, Evan was the designated driver for the evening. He tried telling me I should have a beer to calm myself down, but I figured I was under enough of my own influence that I shouldn’t stir the pot. 

Day 29:

Waking up in North Cascades National Park, we got the chance to check it out. We hit up Diablo lake which was a gorgeous view of “The American Alps.” 


From there, we drove up to Vancouver, British Columbia and found a bar to watch the Penguins win the Stanley Cup. After their win, the bartender said “I knew they’d do it, but two in a row is excessive.” I don’t know how being awesome can get old, but we’ll go with it. 


At the bar, Evan and I looked up campsites nearby. There were very few, so we hit up the first one we found. It ended up being on a hill in the suburbs of Vancouver. It also happened to just be a parking lot with two other people sleeping in their cars. As we rolled up, we spotted a bear right next to our car. Not feeling like being torn apart by baby bear in the dark of night, we slept in our car and tried not to venture outside. Since we were nervous about the bear and it was getting late, I used my GoGirl for only the second time (it meant I wouldn’t have to be cheeks out and vulnerable in the bear’s lair). Not a great idea if you’re nervous about bears apparently. I guess since I was looking around to check for predators (hello, cat-like instincts), I didn’t fully have the GoGirl in the “locked position.” In my rush, I dribbled all over my pants like a four year old in a diaper. Evan was dying laughing at me, but it’s not like I’ve had years of experience with the thing! I quickly threw off my pants, took a baby wipe shower and snuggled into my sweats. 


Mosquito update: that night, Evan swore he heard a mosquito buzzing in our car, and was trying to find and kill it like he was a head hunter on a mission. I think he’s definitely cracking. 

Clearly our mental stability is a bit nonexistent right now, but neither of us has yet to throw the other out of the car. I think that’s a win in my book right now–that silver lining is key. Check back in a bit for what’s next: weird coincidences, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone and the Tetons. 

The U.S. in One Big Road Trip

 

We have our backpacking, climbing, cycling and skiing gear ready to go for our U.S. road trip (and a bit of Canada, eh?). My brother, Evan, and I are embarking on our cross-country adventure to check out our top picks of National Parks. We have no time limit, no pressing deadlines and definitely no hotel reservations (hello, funemployed and newly graduated). Check out the map and follow my posts to stay up to date on our weekly progress—the car leaves this weekend!

The Route:

We are starting in the Keystone State and aiming for the Mile High City as our first official stop. From there, we will head into “the international sanctuary of dirt bags known as Moab,”* Arizona and Nevada. We will drive up California to Oregon, Washington and Canada (for Banff National Park). Swooping back into the United States, we will hit Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. After a stop in Minnesota, the drive will take us above the Great Lakes in Canada for a few days before we hit Maine. Evan and I wanted to be sure to snag some poutine on this trip! After stopping at Mt. Washington and Whiteface, we will begin our last leg back to Pennsylvania—showers and a real bed may take some getting used to again.

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The New Gear:

Both Evan and I have accumulated gear throughout the years, but here are our most recent purchases that we will be testing out throughout the trip:

  • Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1
  • Brooks Caldera Trail Runners (Women’s)
  • Jetboil Genesis Basecamp System Camp Stove
  • Osprey Kyte 36 Pack (Women’s)
  • EMS Sector 35 Pack
  • Big Agnes Happy Hooligan UL2
  • Big Agnes Two Track Sleeping Pad

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Home Stretch:

*Quote from Evan

The Everything-Went-Wrong Trip

We’ve all had those days that go to hell, and you’re sitting on your couch mulling in your own mistakes. This trip was that, but for five days straight in the Georgia wilderness. Two friends and I embarked on the Georgia Loop for our spring break trip. We had the maps, the trail explanations and our hearty gear (hefty bear canisters included). I was just getting back into backpacking after years not on the trail, and this was the first trip I’d go on without the guiding hand of my dad (also the self-proclaimed Pack Mule). My friends were using this trip as an introduction to backpacking, so we were all decently naïve about certain aspects. But after the picture at the trail head we were all smiles, not having any idea of what was ahead of us.

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Georgia Loop Background

The trail begins at Woody Gap, a section of the Appalachian Trail, then moves onto the Duncan Ridge Trail, the Benton MacKaye Trail and back to the Appalachian Trail. It’s around 55 miles in total and listed as “strenuous.” Being in decent shape at the start, I can still say that I was huffing and puffing, especially on the Duncan Ridge section. The Outcasts Hike Again said “The Georgia Loop Trail is the “toughest” trail in Georgia…it is also called the “toughest” trail this side of the Mississippi.” So, we were clearly in for a challenge.

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Where am I?

All things were going well, until we hit a stream near dinner time. This is where mistake number one happened. To the left, there was a clearly defined path that seemed the obvious choice, but what we should have done was whip out the map and compass to justify our decision. We brazenly trudged forward until we noticed we were no longer passing the markers we had read about. If we turned around, there would be (embarrassed to say) hiking to our campsite in the dark. Down the path in front of us a bit, there was a road. We made our decision and plopped ourselves down on the road with our thumbs sticking in the air.

Lucky for us, a nice couple day hiking in the area took pity on us and threw our over-packed bags into the bed of their truck. They were surprised that we were making our way on the tough trail, and the man driving gave us his card to call in case we ran into another snaffoo. For all the scary stories my mom had told me in hopes I’d stay away from hitchhiking, this was the nicest interaction I could have had.

That night, we set up our tent too close to the trail. My friends were exhausted and done with the day which meant the steep uphill trek in front of us was not about to happen before bedtime. We nearly had room to sit between us and the trail. We were basically spooning the trail, and I don’t think it appreciated the unwarranted cuddles. It was a terrible choice, and we hoped to wake up before sunrise to make sure we spent as little time there as possible. We ate our Ramen as fast as we could and passed out.

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Faints and Fire

The morning was breathtaking because of the gorgeous scenery, but also the intense ascents and descents. We took on a military-like determination and focused on each step. I no longer heard the crunch of feet behind myself. It was just me and the wilderness, and everything fell into the background; it was like one of those movie moments where everything is muted except the actor’s breathing and the intricacies of their face. But then I realized I wasn’t in a movie—there were supposed to be breathing and crunching behind me. I looked behind myself to find one of my friends passed out in the middle of the trail.

We ran toward her and started taking her vitals, giving her water and handing her trail mix to scarf down (luckily she regained consciousness very quickly). As we tried to hitch a ride from the nearby road, a group of firemen pulled up and gave us weird looks. They seemed to unsure whether they should approach, but they eventually did. They more intensely checked out our friend’s health before explaining that we had to get out of this section of the forest immediately. The area was about to have a prescribed burn. So, I guess it was lucky she passed out and we ran into them or else we would have been chased out by flames.

Take two of hitchhiking, we got in the car and the man immediately broke the ice with stories of shrooms and “real-life” accounts of Sasquatch. The man was a gentle soul, though, and seemed to help out a lot of hikers in the area. He dropped us off at an easy entrance to the Benton MacKaye trail where we soon set up camp.

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Why Everything Wrong Still Makes a Great Trip

Even though we shirked our duties as compass lovers, hitched a ride twice and chose inopportune tent locations, there was an accomplishment at the end of the trip. We made it past those bad decisions and unfortunate situations. I was hesitant to write about this trip because I didn’t want everyone to find out that I was a complete mess (but also didn’t want to let my parents know about my hitchhiking escapades). But, moral of the story: LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES, PLEASE.

The trip was still amazing, fun and well worth it. I’ve had quite a few more backpacking trips between then and now, and I’ve upped my skill set. Up next is a multi-month road trip to the U.S. National Parks and a March 2018 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. You have to learn at some point, and overcoming bumps in the road is key to building the confidence to let you do more rad trips in the future.

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