Hi, my name is Isko Salminen.
I'm an adventure seeker and I love exploring nature with my camera and Australian Shepherd called Fire

Day 90: First 30-mile day

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Date: July 28, 2017
Miles: 30.4 miles (48.9km), from mile 1,198.7 to Whiskey Spring at mile 1,229.1.
Health: Tired but happy. Knees hurt a little.

I've been trying to do a 30-mile (48,28km) day for a while now but have always felt that I needed to push too much to make it comfortably, or just ran out of daylight hours. Today everything just felt right and I managed to hit the 30-mile marker without too much trying. 

I got up around 6:30 am, expecting Kendall and Sam to have already left. I put my granola soaking and got out of my shelter to see both of them still there. I was a bit tired from staying up too late to take photos of the stars last night. 

Trail out of the camp.

Trail out of the camp.

Sam headed out first, and as Kendall was leaving, she mentioned she was having some issues with her Achilles and that she'd be just seeing how her body feels.

I left about five minutes after Kendall, fully expecting not to catch up to either of them as they’re both faster than me. And there was a big climb right out of the camp which means I’m going even slower. Kendall loves mornings, and I hate them. The combination of an early morning and climbing is the worst for me. 

We crossed 1,200 miles (1,931km) on the climb up.

We crossed 1,200 miles (1,931km) on the climb up.

But I soon catch Kendall as she's filtering water. She doesn't seem to have her usual spring in her steps and I feel a bit worried about her. I ask her how she’s doing but judging from her answer she doesn’t want me to stick around. I push onward keeping my eye on her on every shoulder, trying to see if she has gotten up and back hiking. Finally, as I’m about to turn around the corner to the other side of the mountain, I see her back on the trail way behind.

The climb is soon over, but I’m sweating buckets. It's not even 8 am. After the climb, the trail turns back down and I catch up to Sam while he's eating breakfast next to a forest road. We chat for awhile and I tell him about Kendall. Sam gets up and we both head out together but he says he’s looking to hike solo so I try to let him do his own pace.

Hiking in the shade of the mountain before the sun gets too high up above.

Hiking in the shade of the mountain before the sun gets too high up above.

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Trail junction.

Trail junction.

We end up hiking together for a long while and talking about all things the entire morning. I’m setting the pace as Sam wants to go at a slower pace. He's been burning too much energy going at a faster pace. He’s making comments about how much easier it is to hike at a little bit slower pace. I agree.

The scenery in Northern California is very much different from the desert or the Sierra sections. The mountains out here are smaller, there are more trees everywhere, and tons of small lakes. But while the mountains aren’t as high as in the Sierra, they seem to be steeper. We do a lot of up and down climbing.

We eat lunch and wait to see if Kendall catches up to us. After waiting for a while we head back out. My mood is back up thanks to having Sam to talk to while hiking. The miles seem to go faster and you don’t have to spend as much time inside your head. By this point, I’m running out of things to think by myself.

Getting ice cold water from a spring on the side of a mountain.

Getting ice cold water from a spring on the side of a mountain.

Soon we’ve done over 25 miles and it’s not even dark yet. There’s no reason to stop so we keep on hiking. According to Guthooks, there’s a water source called Whiskey Spring little over 5 miles ahead. If we make it there we’ve done over 30 miles today.

Right before reaching the spring we get up on a ridgeline from where the views are just amazing. As we stop there, I look at out mileage and realize we just crossed 30 miles for today. After a short celebration, we hike the last 0.4 miles to the spring.

Sam.

Sam.

Sunset.

Sunset.

The spring is some way off the trail, down a steep climb, and we end up climbing down for about 10 minutes. It’s already dark and we want to camp as close to the water as possible to not have to do the climb to the water again in the morning.

I've been fairly active today.

I've been fairly active today.

NorCal is dusty.

NorCal is dusty.

The spring is hard to find and we spend probably 20 minutes trying to locate it. We fill our water bottles and then start looking for a place to camp. We end up climbing some way back until we find a little flat spot where we set up camp.

My knees are hurting a bit and legs are little tire but I’m happy to have company again and doing my first thirty on the trail.

Day 89: Sierra City

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Date: July 27, 2017
Miles: 8.1 miles (13km), from Milton Creek to Sierra City, and to mile 1,198.7. 
Health: Feeling good. Shin feels good and the shoulder has almost healed. 

Today is a town day! As I only had 4.5 miles (7.2km) to do in the morning, and as nothing usually opens before 9 am, I was in no rush. I get on the trail around 7:30 am and walk the short hike to the highway 49 in an hour and a half. 

The hike was gorgeous. We're moving away from the Sierra and the open vistas, and are currently going through more forestry areas where we hike more under the tree canopy. The trail followed along the bottom of the valley, next to the river, and snaked around massive trees. It was nice to be in the shade all morning as the summer heat, especially in the lower elevations, is really getting to be too much for me. Even this early in the morning. 

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Right before I reach the trailhead I arrive at a really cool bridge crossing the river and stop for a good ten minutes to marvel at the water below and to take photos. I had completely forgotten that my camera has an internal ND filter (Neutral Density) so I go a little overboard with water pictures. Shame I didn't remember this in the Sierra while walking through all that water. 

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As I get to the trailhead I see Kick Step there. She's standing next to a truck with her date for today. Her friend came to see her and they’re taking few days off in Sierra City. They give me a ride down to the city and as we reach the town I'm fairly surprised. I had imagined Sierra City as some large town, but it's the smallest town we've visited so far. The main street has probably about ten buildings, and the population of the town is 225. There's even no cell service so I can’t get any blog posts out. 

Not the largest city I've ever been to.

Not the largest city I've ever been to.

I get to the Red Moose Cafe & Inn for breakfast and see familiar faces–James is here. The last time I saw him was in Sonora Pass a few weeks back. We swap hiking stories as enjoy a large breakfast together. James is doing a proper thru-hike. He never accepts any rides, not even to towns, and walks every step of the way. This means that towns that are further from the trail, where we have to hitch to-and-back, he can't go. So he's carrying like two weeks worth of food at a time. He tells me that the last "town" he went to was VVR. First of all, VVR was only a small resort in the middle of the woods, and second, that was over three weeks ago. That's insane!

As James heads out, we make plans to meet again at some point on the trail. I settle my bill and head "downtown". I quickly walk through the whole town and get to the Post Office and General Store. I go into the Post Office to bounce my bounce box to Chester as I have no need for rain or thermal gear. The weather is so warm getting rained on would be a blessing. 

Sierra City Post Office.

Sierra City Post Office.

The General Store.

The General Store.

Then it's time to do the resupply. The selection at the general store is pretty minimal. I basically buy a ton of bars, a bag of chips, and Idahoan Potatoes to last me to either Quincy or Belden. 

I join the small group of hikers on the other side of the road, in the shade of the closed out hotel, to spread out my food and make sure I got all I need. I don't know any of the hikers, which is a bit strange, and there's not much small talk going on. I notice that I'm missing one day worth of food so I dash back in to get more instant potatoes. 

There's a small charging station at the side of the General Store and I take my devices there to get enough power to make it to Quincy. That reminds me that I still haven't finished the order on the new battery bank. I need a much larger bank to be able to edit photos while on the trail and to get through the longer sections we're getting to.

Honeybuns  meeting the locals.

Honeybuns meeting the locals.

As we're sitting in the shade I see a familiar figure walking down the street, Kendall! I can't believe it! I thought she was way ahead of me. I run out to hug her. After catching up, she goes to do her resupply and I continue my Amazon ordering. 

The next spot where I can send mail to is going to be Chester, and as there's a weekend between now and me getting there, the regular 5-7 day shipping might not make it in time. Kendall points out that you can join the Amazon Prime on monthly payments. I check the pricing and a single month of Prime is cheaper than what it would cost to ship this one package with the 2-day shipping. Sweet!

As everyone around me is eating, I decide to get one of the famous sandwiches from the store. Inside I see others are ordering the Gutbuster, one pound (490g) bacon-cheese-avocado burger. Looking at the massive burgers on the grill I know I'm not up for the challenge today. The sandwich is more than enough today. 

Sam  with the Gutbuster.

Sam with the Gutbuster.

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My sandwich.

My sandwich.

After the sandwich, I go back in to get a milkshake. As I'm standing there, waiting for my shake, someone comes over and says my name. I turn around and see a hiker wearing a khaki shirt, not recognizing who the hiker is. I look up and see a familiar blue hat and a big smile, Blü? What the...?!? 

We just start laughing and hugging each other. I can't even remember the last time we saw each other. And what's up with the non-blue shirt? 

Blü twisted his ankle a few days ago and is off the trail for now. He rented a car and is on his way to San Francisco to pick up Fyre and then skipping up to Chester. Wait, Fyre is getting back on the trail? How awesome is that! They're going to be few days ahead of me but hopefully, I’ll catch up to them. Blü needs to leave soon but how cool is it that we both happen to this small town, on the same day, at the same time? The trail provides. We say bye and I hope I'll see him, and Fyre, soon. 

Hiker trash resting in the shade.

Hiker trash resting in the shade.

Packing out my favorite chips.

Packing out my favorite chips.

The rest of the day is spent in the shade, eating, drinking, and basically trying not to move. It's over 90 degrees (32c) in the shade and no one wants to start climbing up the over 3,000 feet (910m) of elevation gain back up. Some people decide to stay for the night but Kendall, Sam, and I decide to leave once the weather gets cooler in the evening. 

As soon as the sun sets we get our gear and start walking up the road while trying to hitch. It's such a small road that there are only a handful of cars going by. We get halfway up to the trailhead before we get a ride. 

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Kendall  and  Sam  trying to get a hitch.

Kendall and Sam trying to get a hitch.

From the trailhead, the trail starts climbing and we keep a nice pace. We run into a small rattlesnake not far from the trailhead. Kendall is really pushing it fast and after getting more water at a spring 1,000 feet up, she pulls ahead and Sam and I hike at our own pace. 

We're not climbing all the way to the top tonight, so we stop at the first possible camp spot about 1/3 of the way up. The spot is pretty great and there's a nice 360 view. You can even see the lights of Sierra City down below. 

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It was fun hiking again with someone. I know that Kendall likes to hike alone, but if I can keep up with her (she's fast!), maybe I'll have some company. I also hear that KB and the others have done a 34-mile day and are kind of wrecked because of that. But that also means they're right behind us! It would be great to see them too!

As Kendall and Sam go to sleep, I stay up late taking long exposure shots of our tents and the stars. I'll get less sleep but I hope it's worth it. 

Day 88: The breakdown

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Date: July 26, 2017
Miles: 26.4 miles (42.5km), from North Creek to Milton Creek at mile 1,190.7.
Health: Trouble staying motivated.

I had my alarm set to 5:30 am but couldn't wake up at that time. Granted, last night I got to camp so late that it was a bit too early to get up. I wake up at 6:45 am and as I get out of my shelter, all the tents from last night are gone. I quickly pack my gear and I'm on the trail little past seven. 

The morning hike goes well, for some reason I can get up to my full speed right out of the gate, which never happens. I'm usually captain slow-mo for the first hour in the morning until my body fully wakes up. 

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I climb up from the valley we slept last night and get up on the ridgeline. As I climb I walk through fields of beautiful yellow wildflowers and clouds of butterflies that fly along the trail and all around me. This must be Northern California at its most gorgeous. 

I run into few southbound section hikers but no more PCT hikers. Strange. 

I keep rolling in the miles fast but can't help but feel demotivated. This has been going on for a while now. I'm not sure if it's the fact that I'm hiking alone, or the realization that there's still so much of the trail left, or that now that I've seen the Sierra everything feels underwhelming. 

More fields of wildflowers.

More fields of wildflowers.

I struggle to find the spark I had, and at times I seem to find it, but then I lose it quickly. It sucks to say this but I'm not enjoying hiking now as much as I have up to this point. These past few days have been more of a mental struggle, not as much a physical one. 

Even with all that, I'm soon done with the first 15 miles and it's time for lunch. I find a nice, shaded spot close to a stream and make my lunch. While I wait for the pasta to soak I work on some upcoming blog posts. I'm trying to get everything ready so that tomorrow when I get to Sierra City I can upload everything and get a couple of blog posts out.

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View down as the trail follows along the cliffs.

View down as the trail follows along the cliffs.

As I’m waiting for my lunch to soak, Knock On Wood and Honeybuns walk by. It’s good to see familiar faces. We chat for awhile while they get water from the stream but they soon have to head down the trail.

After lunch, I get up and keep hiking. I feel even more sluggish than I did in the morning. Damn you, head! At one point, trying to think positively, I say to myself "well, at least my shoulder and knee are healing nicely". Wouldn’t you know, less than twenty minutes later I feel a pop in my left shin and feel the familiar pain of starting shin splints. Oh, come on!

I limp for a while and find a big log to sit on. I sit down, bury my face in my hands and start crying. I feel like I’m completely breaking down, both mentally and physically. Soon I start laughing through my tears because of how absurd the situation is. I must be really tired. 

I look around and the forest looks so peaceful and beautiful. Why do I feel so down while surrounded by all this beauty? I shake myself out of the self-pity and open my pack to take out the compression sleeve and put it on my left shin. It's not as good as the shin guard I used earlier but it'll do. 

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I sit on the log for a while, massaging my shin, and then get up and keep hiking. The massage and the compression sleeve seem to help. After the breakdown, I feel much better and more connected to the nature and everything around me. I feel like everything is beautiful again. I think I’ve been too focused on not getting the miles done I’ve wanted, and forgot to enjoy the actual journey.

I remove my headphones and just enjoy the quietness of the surrounding forest. The trail is soft and feels great under my feet. Instead of hiking fast and trying to do miles, I slow down and just marvel the massive trees around me. I'm in no hurry, I'll easily do the miles I need to do today. 

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While walking without my headphones, I hear a big noise about 100 feet to the right and up from where I'm walking. I see a large animal scrambling away from me and hear the noise it makes as it pushes through the thick underbrush. A bear? Or a mountain lion? It was light brown, like a mountain lion, but it didn't have a long tail. Also, I don't think I could've sneaked up on a mountain lion like this easily. Must have been a lightly colored bear. Shame I didn't get a better look at it. 

For the rest of the way, I hike lightly, not to stress my shin. The trail starts to slowly drop down to a canyon and I avoid putting too much stress on my knees as well. While crossing a small stream I see Knock On Wood and Honeybuns again. They’re having a dinner before getting to camp. It’s smart not to eat at your camp to not spread the smell of food and attract unwanted visitors. I know it’s the proper thing to do in the bear territory but I’m just too lazy. They mention a beautiful spot coming up and it sounds like a great spot for camping. We decide to meet up there.

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Washing my feet and socks downstream from others.

Washing my feet and socks downstream from others.

I soon reach the spot we talked about. It’s right next to a river, in a gorgeous canyon. Sadly there’s not enough space for camping here as there are already two other people camping here. I leave the last spot for Knock On Wood and Honeybuns and keep on walking. I cross the bridge next to the camp spot and find another spot just 100 feet (30m) down the trail, just on the other side of the river.

I set up my tarp, wash myself and my socks in the river and get to bed early. Tomorrow I have a short walk to Sierra City, a town day!

Day 87: Donner Pass

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Date: July 25, 2017
Miles: 19.6 miles (31.5km), from mile 1,144.9 to North Creek at mile 1,164.5. 
Health: Feeling better again. 

Today felt like a short day and I'm amazed I got the miles done that I did. I woke up late as I had only 8.5 miles (14.7km) to the Donner Ski Ranch. I had looked at the map incorrectly last night and instead of 10 mile waterless section, I had to only make it to the Donner Pass. As the Donner Pass Ski Ranch opens at 11 am, doing 3 miles per hour meant that I needed to leave camp luxuriously late at 8 am.

After leisurely packing up camp, I skipped the breakfast as I had my heart set on having real food at the Ski Ranch. Also, as I was out of oatmeal and granola breakfast would've meant bars. No thank you. 

I climbed the couple hundred feet up from the forest I had camped at, to the ridgeline above, and started walking. All morning I had seen hikers pass by my camp but didn't recognize any of them. I thought they were either section hikers or faster PCT hikers catching up to me. As I soon started passing by all these hikers, even though they had a pretty good lead on me, I guessed they were section hikers. I felt bad watching them struggle in climbs as I easily cruised past them. They reminded me of how hard I struggled back when I started, almost three months ago. Has it already been that long? On one hand, Campo feels like I was just there, and on the other like it was forever ago. 

Morning views. You can see the smoke from the fires in the distance.

Morning views. You can see the smoke from the fires in the distance.

I kept hiking through the ski areas and soon the climbing up switched to climbing down. I could see the Donner Pass and the highway down below but I still had to get there. On the way down I kept passing people coming up. They were either PCT hikers who flipped and were now heading towards Sierra, or day hikers. I also met an older couple who were section hiking from Donner Pass to Sonora Pass. 

As is the custom here, I greeted everyone and sometimes exchanged few words while giving them space. As they were climbing up, they had the right of passage. The person heading down should always yield way to the person climbing up.

One family of four asked me straight away if I was a thru-hiker. I said yes and their dad told me they had just seen others, and there are signs about thru-hikers posted on the trailhead. He also asked me if their daughters could ask me questions about the PCT and long-distance hiking. I told them I was in no hurry and to ask me anything they wanted. 

The highway at Donner Pass.

The highway at Donner Pass.

For about twenty minutes we talked about thru-hiking, hiking shoes, gear, where to start, can girls hike the PCT and the basic questions about the trail. I recommended that they look up PCT gear lists online and specifically woman thru-hiker gear lists (which are harder to come by). I also told them about the JMT and how it can be a great "trial run" to see how their gear works and if they actually enjoy long-distance hiking. It was nice chatting with them and their parents seemed to really encourage them to hike. I really hope they get on the trail and try long-distance hiking. 

All these interactions meant that I wasn't moving as fast as I would have without them, but I still made it to the Donner Pass on time. From the pass, I walked along the road down to the Donner Ski Ranch where the restaurant is.

When I got to the restaurant I was immediately asked if I was a PCT hiker. I said yes and was told I had a free beer coming up. Free ice cold beer, the breakfast of champions! As I was enjoying my beer, I asked what food would be thru-hiker friendly and was told the nacho platter was huge and delicious. That's all I needed to hear.

Free beer for PCT hikers!

Free beer for PCT hikers!

I sat on the counter with few friends and as my nacho platter arrived, I could see why it was a thru-hiker favorite. This mountain of nachos could easily feed two or three people.  Everything on the plate was made at the restaurant and it was delicious. I struggled a little with the last few bites but managed to conquer the mountain. Hiker hunger is a real thing. 

The place was really cozy and hiker friendly. Free beer as you walk in the door, delicious and reasonably priced food and homemade pies! I was too full to take on the pie challenge but watched with awe as others did. 

The mountain of nachos.

The mountain of nachos.

I also charged my electronics. This has really become an issue as my battery bank takes way too long to charge and doesn’t have enough power to last me from town to town. I really need to get a larger battery bank as I'm consuming more than I thought. And as the distances between town stops are only getting longer from here on out, the issue is getting bigger. 

Others started heading out but I needed to wait for my battery bank to recharge more. Not only does the bank not last long enough, it takes too much time to fully recharge.

In the end, I spend over five hours at the Ski Ranch waiting for the battery bank to recharge and really needed to get going. I got out and started walking back towards the trail. Right as I was about to get on the trail I heard yelling and I saw some people at the trailhead giving trail magic. Well, I had already lost most of the day so why not a little more. It was a dad with his daughter and son. They were here from Bay Area. 

Trail magic at the trailhead.

Trail magic at the trailhead.

I had a Pepsi and talked with them and incoming hikers for a while but I really needed to get going. It was already late and I had lost most of the day by not hiking so I had no expectations going out. I had little under three hours left before it would get dark. Unless I wanted tonight hike, I wasn't getting 25 miles done today. 

I just put my head down, turned up the volume and started walking, deciding to stop once it got dark. I was flying over the hills and hiking felt really good. On the way, I passed a couple of hikers who had left earlier and then saw no-one on the trail. 

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Evening views.

Evening views.

Looking at the map I thought I could make it to a nice looking river to camp. The sun was already setting and I reached the river just as it got dark. I saw few other tents there so I knew I wasn't camping alone tonight. I ate my dinner under my tarp, filtered some water, and then fell asleep.

My next goal is to reach highway 49, from where you access Sierra City. The highway is 31 miles away from here. I want to get to town early in the morning so tomorrow I’ll try to get as close to the highway as possible, leaving a short day for the day after.

Looking at my progress I see I've been too slow throughout this section. Originally I wanted to get to Sierra City tomorrow morning, which means I'm a day late from the planned schedule. I feel like instead of catching up to others, I'm falling behind.

Day 86: Granite Chief Wilderness and the mental challenge

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Date: July 24, 2017
Miles: 24.5 miles (39.4km), from Miller Creek to mile 1,144.9.
Health: Shoulder is feeling better, so are my legs and elbow.

I woke up at 4:30 am, an hour before my alarm, feeling great. I pondered for a second if I should keep sleeping or get an early start. I decided that getting on the trail early would be better and started getting up. Right then I heard the sound of drops on my tarp. Rain. Nope. I pulled my sleeping bag over my head and went back to sleep. 

An hour later the alarm woke me up again but this time I felt tired and snoozed the alarm for an extra half an hour. Now it was time to get up and start moving. As I sleep with my food, the first thing I do is I put my breakfast soaking, and then finish the rest of my chores. After taking down my camp and putting everything in my pack I'm ready to head out. But feeling lazy, I eat my breakfast in camp before getting on the trail. 

Morning views.

Morning views.

Although I feel a lot better than yesterday, I still feel sluggish and simply can't get my motivation up or my body to work as I'm used to. I bust out the first three miles in less than an hour but then things slow down. I arrive at a trailhead and notice a pit-toilet. Score! But as I try to access it I find it locked. Near the pit-toilet, there’s a couple sitting at a camping table eating breakfast. They are here car camping and they tell me the toilet will be opened later in the season. Apparently, the road to the trailhead was just opened a few days ago due to heavy snow. 

Hiking along a ridgeline.

Hiking along a ridgeline.

While talking with them I notice they have their phones out. This can only mean one thing, cell reception. I take my phone out, switch the airplane mode off and get three bars. Instead of hiking further I sit down and check incoming messages. An hour goes by and I'm still on my phone. Damn. 

I get moving and climb the small climb from the trailhead up to the ridgeline. The views are amazing. Not Sierra amazing, but still great. I forgot to put my phone back in airplane mode and notice there’s still reception here as I receive new messages. And I get distracted again. 

I get a message from Cannonball and Storyteller telling me they've arrived at the Sierra City today. Damn, they've been flying. They are over sixty miles ahead. As they are doing about the same kind of mileage as I am, unless I really pump up my pace, I won't catch up to them anytime soon.

Entering Granite Chief Wilderness.

Entering Granite Chief Wilderness.

I keep getting distracted by all the lure of being connected and soon notice I've missed most of the morning on my phone, not getting any miles done. This was supposed to be a thirty-mile day. 

I feel unmotivated and kicking myself for not doing enough miles and wasting time only makes the situation worse. I start thinking about Fyre and her getting off the trail, how I miss home, my parents and brothers, their fiancé and wife, my nephew and niece, and my dog Fire. I keep wondering why I'm here climbing these rocks in the scorching heat, walking for twelve to fourteen hours every day when I could be back home in Finland, relaxing at our summer place. Oh, how I miss using normal toilets instead of digging holes in the sand. 

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Walking through fields of wildflowers.

Walking through fields of wildflowers.

I know I don't want to quit, but some days are really hard. All day long I see only southbound hikers who've flipped and are now heading towards Sierra. Other than those brief encounters, I hike alone, sweat pouring from my head as the sun beats down on me. I miss my umbrella. I try to eat snacks as I hike but the sight of another melted Snickers just doesn't do it for me anymore. I’m getting tired of drinking melted chocolate bars every day.

By now we all know we can do the miles. It's not about the physical challenge anymore, it's all about the mental one. Can you find the motivation to do the grind every day, day in day out. While I hike I keep doing the calculations again in my head. I have about sixty hiking days left before the end of September and the approaching winter storms in the Cascade Mountains. This means I have to hike about 26 miles (41,8km) every day to have a safe buffer before winter. 

Walked under some ski-lifts today.

Walked under some ski-lifts today.

While on the phone again, I see a Facebook post from Wilder. He has reached the halfway point today. When arriving to Sonora Pass I almost caught up to him as he was only two days ahead of me. Now he's a week ahead of me. I put my head down and turn the music louder in my headphones as if that would make the miles go by any faster. 

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I keep thinking about my life back home a lot. My life was pretty good. I’m not here to escape anything, I just really wanted to see if I could walk from Mexico to Canada. Hiking the PCT has been my dream for a long time now. But now that I’m here, actually living my dream, I keep bringing myself down and letting these small things getting on my nerves. The excruciating heat, the monotony, and having no-one to talk to, really gets me down. I know this is all in my head and that I just need to suck it up, just keep doing the miles.

I knew that Northern California would be mentally hard and it sure has been. This is what I’m worst at, doing monotonous work for long periods of time. I’d much rather be battling the snowy high Sierra passes or crossing the dangerous streams. I enjoy the little adrenaline rush of danger more than just marching along on a two feet wide dirt path with nothing happening all day long.

More wildflowers.

More wildflowers.

During the day I hike through multiple massive wildflower fields. As I walk through them, hundreds of butterflies scatter up to the air and fly around me. I feel like I’m walking in a Disney movie.

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NorCal is dusty.

NorCal is dusty.

It’s becoming painfully clear I’m not doing thirty miles today, but a solid 25 miles might be doable. As the sun starts to set and the temperature drops I feel a lot better and crush the last miles with ease. Instead of doing the 25 miles, I had to stop a half a mile short not to end up camping on an exposed ridgeline. Instead, I stay a bit down, in the trees, on a beautiful spot overlooking the valley I just hiked around. 

Tomorrow morning starts with a ten-mile waterless section, and as I’m dry camping, I carried two extra liters from the last water source. I eat my dinner while watching the sun set behind the mountains. Although I’m feeling a little down, the scenery around me is absolutely gorgeous. This wasn't my favorite day out here but I'm hoping tomorrow will be better. 

Day 85: Desolation Wilderness and an off day on the trail

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Date: July 23, 2017
Miles: 22 miles (35.4km), from Lake Aloha to Miller Creek at mile 1,120.4.
Health: Feeling completely broken. Left shoulder hurts, right knee hurts, left shin bleeding and bruised, right elbow bruised.

Sometimes you get off days. It's completely okay on such a long hike, and it helps that you can identify them when they come. But they still suck big time when they happen and today was one of those days. 

Everything started in the morning. I overslept my alarm and instead of waking up at 5:30 am, I woke up at 7:20 am. Which pretty much meant I lost 2 hours of hiking before even getting up. Great! Not good when you’re trying to crush miles. 

Lake Aloha.

Lake Aloha.

I was on the trail by 8:00 am and as soon as I saw Lake Aloha in the morning light, I felt better–what a view! The surface was smooth as a mirror and reflected the surrounding mountains so beautifully. I pass many weekend hikers and had pretty much the same conversation with everyone. It's always the same questions, but I don't mind answering. It's great to have at least someone to talk to as I know I'll be spending the rest of the day by myself. Thanks to being sucked into the vortex in Tahoe I was now trailing way too far behind Cannonball and Storyteller to catch them before Sierra City. 

The other end of Lake Aloha.

The other end of Lake Aloha.

The trail followed the lake and at the other end started to climb up. I was crossing one of the snowfields, following along the existing footpath when the snow below me broke and I start falling through. I was between two rocks and as I was falling down I instinctively lean towards the rock on the right, trying to stop my fall. I land on the rock with my right elbow and this stops me from falling further down. My left leg went completely through the snow, up to my hip, and scraping against the rocks. As I get up, I can see my left shin bleeding and bruised. My right elbow is also hurting from hitting the rock with the entire weight of my body and gear against it.

There's still a lot of snow on the trail but it's getting so soft that it's starting to be dangerous to hike on it. You have no idea what's below the surface, or when you're going to fall through. I'm just happy I'm not in the Sierra anymore as walking miles after miles falling through the snow would be horrible. 

As I look down to the hole I fell in, I notice I was lucky. If my left foot had been a little more ahead–what is now a cut and a bruise–could have been a lot worse. I curse the snow and keep on hiking with bruised body and ego. 

The trail along the lakes.

The trail along the lakes.

I keep climbing and come to a large snowfield where the sun has melted all the tracks away. I have no idea which direction the trail is heading so I take out the GPS and wait for it to update my location. I'm not on the PCT. This can’t be right. Refresh. Nope, I’m off trail again. Great! The trail that I've been following for the past half an hour is some other trail, not the PCT.

I start looking for ways to somehow cut back to the PCT but there's a steep mountain between me and the trail and I don't really want to get on the slippery granite to climb my way back. I have no options other than to backtrack to the trail junction I must have missed. I just hope that the hole I fell into wasn’t on the wrong trail. 

As I backtrack I see the hole again and check the map. Nope, it was on the wrong trail. Not only did I hurt myself, I did it hiking on the wrong trail. I end up losing about an hour because I missed a junction. The problem around Tahoe is that there are so many well-maintained trails that you think you're on the PCT because it looks like the best-kept trail, but you're not. My already bad mood starts getting worse. 

The junction I missed.

The junction I missed.

As I finally rejoin the PCT I see why I missed the junction. The wrong trail is much larger and looks like the highway that the PCT usually is. Whereas the PCT from the junction looks like a small dirt path. To be honest, there’s a clear sign on the junction pointing towards the right direction. I have no idea how I missed that.

As I hike further my left shoulder starts to hurt more and more and soon I have to stop to take some vitamin-I. I dislocated the shoulder while wakeboarding in Tahoe but didn't think it would cause any kind of issue on the trail. I was wrong. Apparently carrying a heavy pack on a recently dislocated shoulder hurts.

On the plus side, the trail through the Desolation Wilderness is absolutely gorgeous but I'm in such a bad mood that I can hardly enjoy it. Everything in my body seems to hurt and I can't seem to get into any kind of zone. It feels like I'm moving nowhere slow while hurting on every single step. 

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On-trail water source.

On-trail water source.

I feel like stopping and going back to sleep and just waking up to a new day but I can’t, I really need to get miles done. September is approaching way too fast and I'm still not even at the halfway point. 

I climb up Dick's Pass, which is pretty easy as far as passes go, snickering at the name. While the views are absolutely gorgeous I'm just not feeling it. I would really need a pickup, and I don't mean a truck. Sadly there's no one around so I just have to soldier on. I’m lucky that on most days I really love the trail, today is just not one of those days. 

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On the top of the pass, I get cell reception and answer few messages and read through my email. Seeing some lovely Instagram videos back from Finland brightens up my mood but soon I have to keep going. I'm taking way too many stops to rest my shoulder and to pop painkillers, it'll be a miracle if I can get 20 miles done today. The slow progress makes me feel even worse. I really needed a big day today. 

The north side of Dick’s Pass (I keep snickering at that name) is completely covered in snow and I waste more time trying to find the trail and the way down. Once at the bottom the trail clears again and wiggles around beautiful lakes. This area is one of the most beautiful spots on the trail right after Sierra. 

Resting my shoulder.

Resting my shoulder.

As I'm hiking I calculate in my head how many days it's going to take me to catch up to different people ahead of me and it makes me feel even worse. Some of my friends who flipped north are now over 300 miles (483km) ahead and to catch them, and to see them before they finish the trail, I have to start doing some really massive days. I miss our whole bubble from the desert. 

I meet a couple of south-bounders who've flipped and hear about the trail conditions up north. It doesn't sound too bad but there's still snow left in some areas. That doesn’t sound too bad.

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Even with the good news the miles just don't seem to go by at all. I switch to listening to audiobooks and that helps for a little while. I still have to stop constantly to rest my left shoulder. I look at the map and if I keep the pace I'm doing, I might be able to do a little over 20 miles today. 

I shoulder my back only on my right shoulder and keep hiking. The trail changes from slippery rock to a nice smooth trail and I manage to pick up the pace. The miles start moving again and I'm doing little over 3 miles per hour. I pass few PCT hikers who I've never seen before. It seems I’m catching up to the last parts of a bubble that has been ahead of us as I keep passing hikers who I’ve never seen before. 

My camp for tonight.

My camp for tonight.

As the trail gets better I get back into the groove and my mood picks up instantly. But it's getting dark already. I arrive at the creek I was aiming for little earlier than I had calculated but that's good. I hope the trail continues like this tomorrow. 

I quickly set up my shelter, eat dinner with the mosquitoes, and then go to bed. Few more PCT hikers, who flipped to the north, pass by as I'm eating. Let's hope tomorrow's going to be a better day!

Day 84: Nero from South Lake Tahoe to Lake Aloha

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Date: July 22, 2017
Miles: 8,3 miles (13.4km), from Echo Summit Trailhead to Lake Aloha at mile 1,098.4.
Health: Feeling happy to be back on the trail. Shoulder hurts a bit. 

After waking up and having a big breakfast, we head out to the Post Office as everyone has something they need to either pickup or ship out. After the Post Office, we head back to the car rental place to add another driver to the car and then go do some shopping. As the gear store in South Lake Tahoe exchanges Darn Tough socks, we all go and get brand new socks.

Then we head to the Basecamp pizzeria in town for free PCT pizzas. If you show your PCT permit, you get a free pizza. After the pizza, I do a quick stop at the Patagonia store. I’ve been struggling with the heat and my shirt feels like hiking with a trash bag. It simply doesn’t breath well enough so I need something that works better in the heat.

Officially reaching the end of Sierra portion of Guthooks maps.

Officially reaching the end of Sierra portion of Guthooks maps.

I find one shirt that would work and feels great on, but it’s white. And even with the discount would be over $50. I cheap out and hope to find a better shirt from the next town.

As I’m walking back to the car I get a message from Cannonball and Storyteller telling me that a bear ate Cannonballs food last night. Apparently, the bear had cut a hole in their tents mess and taken Cannonballs food bag from right next to her leg. They had woken up to the bear emptying the bag next to their tent.

My Houdini jacket. Thanks Cannonball!

My Houdini jacket. Thanks Cannonball!

We drop everyone else at the motel and Sunshine drives me up to the trailhead. After saying goodbye again, I head out and pick up my Houdini jacket that Cannonball had stashed for me behind one of the rocks.

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Echo Lake.

Echo Lake.

The trail from Echo Summit trailhead is quite easy and there are more day hikers than usually. As soon as I get going I start to regret not getting that white Patagonia shirt. I’m sweating like a pig as my shirt is not breathing at all.

I cross few roads and then reach Echo Lake. As I get down to the lake I get to the store just as they’re closing. They let me in to quickly buy a soda and ice cream to help cool me in the heat. I eat the ice cream by the side of the lake, watching as the day hikers arrive back from the trail.

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Desolation Wilderness.

Desolation Wilderness.

It’s already quite late so I’m not going to get very far today. I continue hiking while the sun is slowly starting to set behind the mountains. The trail wiggles around the lake and the views are quite nice. I stumble upon more day hikers and we talk a little about the PCT. A couple of people ask me how far I’m going and as I say “Canada” they get good laughs.

At the end of the Echo Lake, I reach the beginning of Desolation Wilderness. I hike alone from here on out. 

Lake Aloha right after sunset.

Lake Aloha right after sunset.

The sun is setting and it’s getting dark. I have to speed up as, like an idiot, I left my headlamp at the bottom of my pack. I check Guthooks and if I’m fast I should reach Lake Aloha before it gets really dark. The last mile I basically stumble in the dark forest guessing where the trail goes.

I find a nice spot along the lake and see others camping there too. Hoping to find other PCT hikers I approach them but they are weekend hikers. I find a spot little further in the woods and set up my tarp.

Star gazing from my tarp door.

Star gazing from my tarp door.

As I’m eating my dinner I watch as some of the hikers are doing bear hangs on a tree close by. As I see at least five food bags improperly hanging from the trees, I feel confident about sleeping with my food for tonight. No bear is going to come up to my tent when they can just easily pick all that food they want right from the trees.

As I’m about to go to bed I watch the stars above the lake and take few photos. This is a really beautiful spot! It feels good to be back on the trail!