Back-to-Back: Q&A with “Moonshine”
That’s the number of miles, Lindsey McKelvey (Moonshine) has hiked in the last 2 years. 2015 started off her very first thru-hike of The Pacific Crest Trail. However, that wasn’t enough, because she thru-hiked it AGAIN this past summer. Yes, back-to-back.
I’ve been following Lindsey on Instagram since this summer. I just recently discovered that she lives in Portland, that she’s a complete badass and hiked the PCT two years in a row, and has a love for showing people her butt (story to follow). Funny enough, the day I contacted her to be photographed for this blog, I ran into her less than an hour later in Forest Park in Portland – also while photographing Leah Medure (Jetpack) for her interview. Small world.
Sitting with her post-photo session was encouraging and motivating. We grabbed a drink at a local bar and chatted about personal and more intricate details of her thru-hikes. She had a lot of great insight on the trail; at least the kind I seek: the raw, vulnerable and emotional part of exploring the vast wilderness of the West Coast, and yourself.
Hiking NoBo both years, Moonshine shares highs and lows, what changed, what stayed the same, and her overall love for the trail she hiked twice, in back-to-back years.
1. Why the second thru-hike? What inspired you to hike again so soon?
I got asked that a lot during my second thru and my friends probably got sick of hearing my answers. Some people would ask because they genuinely thought I was insane or that I was doing the wrong thing by not venturing out to a new trail, so I would just say to them “because I’m insane” or “why wouldn’t I want to be out here? Look around!” Others were just curious, and with them, I enjoyed unpacking the question. I loved my first hike so much. It was so much fun, so challenging, and so incredibly rewarding and when it ended I was just not ready for it to be over. Even when it sucked, I knew I was doing what I wanted to be doing and that felt so good. I partner hiked the first thru and it got me curious about hiking solo. I like to tackle things I’m afraid of and I had been afraid of it before. It felt less intimidating for me to venture off onto a solo hike on a trail that I was already familiar with and loved. It felt like it would be a whole new experience in a familiar place, and it was. I also just flat out missed the PCT specifically, it wasn’t just hiking in general. I wanted to visit Sierra City again and Mammoth and Mojave and Stehikin. I wanted to go to the places I skipped the first go and to stop by lakes that I felt too rushed to sit by. I guess I pushed to do it the following summer because the thought of having to wait longer than that felt SO LONG. I was worried that if I waited too long I would become too entangled in other responsibilities, fall into old unhealthy patterns and never get out there again. Hiking the same trail twice is just like watching a movie with a twist ending a second time. The first time, you have no idea what’s coming your way and the second time you get to pay attention to the details. Better to do it sooner so the memories are fresh!
2. What was your trail name and how did you get it?
They call me Moonshine. Usually, when people hear my name they assume I either drink a lot or like to night hike, which isn’t very accurate at all, and is why, when I was first called Moonshine, that I didn’t take the name.
A little back story, when I was a kid my brothers and I mooned people a lot. Like, a lot. Driving down the freeway our butts would inevitably be pressed up against the conversion van windows, family reunions, and as teenagers- so much mooning. About a year before my hike I came across a picture of my brother mooning me and I was like “I never moon people anymore! This needs to change.” So it kind of started to become a thing I did often to catch people off guard. I think it’s funny and it usually brings a laugh. And I also really like taking Butt Vistas (pictures of people in pretty places with their butts out).
Day two, standing on a picnic table at Lake Morena, a crew of people cheered as a hiker made her way into camp, I pulled my shorts down and slapped my ass to welcome her in. She called me Moonshine, but I didn’t take it as a name for reasons mentioned and it felt too soon. Fast forward a few weeks to the base of San Jacinto. It was about 10am and about 12 hikers had gathered around a car with two crazy cats offering soda and booze. It was like a full bar (that might be an exaggeration, but there was so much booze)! Anyway, everyone is huddled around drinking, laughing, and so happy to be off that mountain but lingering because booze was so much better than the dreaded 4 mile trek across the sand to Ziggy and the Bear’s. We knew we needed to get going before it got too hot so we finished our drink and said our goodbyes to the crew of drunk hikers in the hot desert sun. No one had yet noticed that my pants were pulled down. Still shouting goodbyes, we turned and walked away into the desert, my butt out as if that was normal, which was a big shock to the drunk crew and got a lot of laughs. Super satisfying laughter. Later at Ziggy and the Bears, a hiker that soon became a great friend and I had the honor of naming Beaver, came up to me as I was washing my socks and said “hey, so everyone has a name for you now. Yeah, we are all calling you Moonshine.” I got a huge smile on my face. “Well, seeing as this is the second time I’ve been called that, I think it is meant to be.”
So I’m Moonshine. I love it. If you hike with me, you will see my butt often and probably start to show yours off, too.
3. How were your back-to-back thru-hikes similar?
They were similar for the obvious reason like revisiting some of the same towns and walking in my old footsteps. I used a lot of the same gear the second go as well. More on the mental side of things, with both trips I never once felt like I wanted to quit the trail (skip ahead to avoid forest fire smoke or mosquitoes- yeah I flirted with that idea a lot). I was always very confident that I was where I wanted to be- which doesn’t mean I always understood the WHY. With both hikes I met amazing people that I grew to love dearly and was able to reach the border with a crew that I was lucky to laugh and play and hike and share my heart with from early on. On both hikes I was a single gal open to meeting a guy. Without saying too much, let me tell you, there were a lot of handsome fellas out there and I had my fair share of fun in the woods both summers. I like to say I had a “trailmance” and was the recipient of trail tail or so called tail magic. Summer lovin! Hell. Yeah.
How were they different?
It was interesting how I could walk the same foot path two seasons in a row but feel like I was getting to experience something new still. So many things were different. The actual concrete things of the trail were different more often than not. The weather in each section was wildly different from the year to year, the amount of snow I had to walk through, the river crossings, the amount of water, the color of the grasses and amount of flowers, the views, the mosquitos, and the smoke from forest fires. I was MISERABLE for the last 300 miles of Northern California the first year because the smoke in the air was so thick. It was a blur. I was actually really nervous about that section this time around thinking that I wouldn’t have the stamina to go through that section again and would skip it. But it was amazing! It was like being on a whole new section of trail. There wasn’t any smoke and the views were spectacular.
Besides the trail being different, I was physically different. My first hike I started off in the worst shape of my life and walked my way towards being strong and athletic again. It was a challenging, painful process early on. I had no idea if I’d make it past the first day, let alone 5 months. There was a lot of anxiety that came with each new pain (and there was a new pain all of the time!) but also a lot of that giddiness that comes with moving forward into the great unknown. My second hike I picked up right where I left off and was able to cruise through miles with very little pain. When you’re not worrying about whether or not you are physically capable of completing a thru hike, you get to relax more and focus on different aspects of the thru. I was still giddy, but instead of the being excited about discovering the unknown it was like “O my god! If we hike just a few more miles there’s a little shaded creek that we can swim in!” or “hey! If we hitch up this road, there is a place with the BEST MILKSHAKES!”
My trail crew was different. On my first hike I hiked with a best friend. We shared a tent and gear and food, planned a lot before hand, coordinated everything together, made many compromises, took care of each other, and always had one another to laugh with and sometimes to dump our anxieties/frustrations onto (which required some apologizing). If I wanted alone time, I had to ask for it. I learned so much about collaboration and communication and was able to discover what I was capable of with the support of one of my dearest friends the whole way through. On the second hike I was out there as a solo hiker which had sounded so intimidating to me before. I was solo, but rarely ever alone. I bonded very quickly with a few other hikers, one in particular, and was able to have a solo experience with plenty of good human connection along the way. It was so fun to see what kind of hiker I was when left to call all of the shots on my own.
4. What is your favorite part of the PCT? Did that change your second time around?
I think my favorite spots are probably the same. I loved the first 700 miles. They just feel so damn magical. The moonlit desert night hikes! The cactus! The sun! The beginning! Hiker Heaven and Casa De Luna! So good. Of course I thought the Sierras were fantastic. They were just so dramatic and the snow covered passes were mind blowing. I loved the views the last 200 miles of Washington. The Larches turning yellow, the leaves on bushes a fiery red, the peaks so scraggly and epic! There were sections I didn’t enjoy the first time that I actually liked the second go and that probably had to do with weather and whatever was going on for me physically and mentally. And there were spots that I thought were kinda just OK the first go that I found incredibly boring the second time so I’d either power through them quickly or listen to a lot of podcasts.
5. Was leaving the trail harder the first or second time? Why?
I think leaving the trail the first time was harder for me. The only way I could describe the pain I was feeling was to say that it felt like the PCT had broken up with me when I wasn’t ready. I was heartbroken. It was like I had fallen in love, become the best version of myself, and then it started to grow cold and it was time to end things. I was so proud of my accomplishment, couldn’t believe I had actually walked the whole trail and was still standing, and the thought of it just being over like that and not being a hiker anymore just was crushing. I cried a lot. I missed the simplicity of trail life, the community, and the exercise. I felt so, so sad and kept daydreaming about hiking it again as a solo hiker, to see what that was all about. Once I decided that I was going to hike again and realized it was possible for me to figure out the finances, it became a lot easier to accept where I was and not be as downhearted. This second time, it still hurt to be done, but it felt like it was ok, that I had walked enough for the time being, and that my life as a hiker wasn’t done just because the trail was. Maybe it was less devastating because I was prepared for how sad it would feel and already knew that I would continue hiking trails in my future. I’ve cried a lot post trail this year, too, but more so because saying goodbye to the relationship that I formed with another hiker has been really hard for me.
6. If you could have done any of the two hikes differently, what would you have changed?
There were things from the first hike that I would have changed that I actually got a chance to change on my second hike and it was awesome. I changed my shoes and socks and my feet were so much happier. I struggled with blisters and foot pain the first time and did not the second. I did less food drops ahead of time on the second hike and it made so much more sense and allowed me to go with the flow and plan as I went, which was super freeing. And I had WAY MORE zeros the second time and REALLY relaxed into them. I really just never knew on the first hike if I would be able to hike the whole trail. I knew mentally that I wanted to, but I was always a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to make the miles before snow hit, or that my body would fail me, or that I would run out of money. When break days came about on the first hike, there was always this little voice being like “oh, you should probably get back to the trail! what if this puts you behind schedule! what if you spend too much money here and then have to quit!” I wished I would have been able to calm myself and sink into the breaks and days off better. I would say I changed that the second time around and was also able to help calm the nerves of people around me.
7. Share your best and worst day from 2015.
This best and worst day question is the hardest to answer! There were so many amazing days that had terrible moments or terrible days that worked their way into becoming some of the best experiences. I can think of at least five answers to this question and there isn’t one that feels better than the other.
Here’s an example on how one day can be the worst and the best at the same time: We had just about a 10-15 mile hike to get into Wrightwood and that section of trail was bound to be pretty because it was above 8,000 feet and along a ridge line for most of it. Well, the elevation was kicking my ass. I was struggling so hard at keeping a good pace and had to stop a lot to catch my breath. I just felt so tired. Then my feet. Oh, my feet. They were blistered, this big blister right on the ball of my foot, and so swollen. It hurt to even stand on them, let alone walk. And I was on my period and being on your period in the back-country is never super fun. But I was pushing forward because what else is there to do? We got to a trail junction that we didn’t know much about and pulled up the information on it, realizing that we could take that trail straight into Wrightwood and cut off a few extra miles of hiking that day. I was in such a bad mood and really wanted to take the shorter route, but being a part of a partner hike, I didn’t want my bad mood to be the thing that chose which route we took, so Tom made the call after a lot of hemming and hawing and we pressed on, sticking to the PCT and committing to the higher miles. The one thing that made it feel ok was that we would probably get some crazy good views from the ridge. Boy was I wrong. A cloud rapidly came in and engulfed us, dropping the temperature drastically, obliterating any views, and slamming bone chilling wind up against us. I, usually the pace setter of the two of us, continued to fall behind, struggling and hating every step. And then I cried. I cried my first miserable tears on the trail. It was the first time I had felt so broken and beat up and negative and uncomfortable all at once. I was miserable and just wanted to be done. I felt like I was a terrible hiker, that I was holding my hiking partner back, that I was falling apart and weak, and I was scared I wasn’t capable. I was sore, tired, hungry, and sure we’d have to wait at the road for hours before getting a hitch. When we finally got to the road crossing there was a minivan sitting there. The window rolled down and it was none other than Devilfish (the most amazing trail angel! God, he has saved me more than once) and he had CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES and gave us a ride into town WHERE WE HAD THE BEST TRAIL MAGIC EVER! This amazing women Laura put me and Tom along with four other hilarious hikers up in her cabin for 2 nights. Everything terrible I was feeling just melted away. That alone could be the end of the story and it would sound great. But there was more! When we walked into the cabin we were instructed to dump all of our clothes into a pile and each got furry bathrobes (which we wore all night and the next day), a hot shower (in a shower with a disco light shower head!!), beds up in the loft for everyone, dogs to play with, and literally all of the food you could ever imagine. Laura was a chef and she went all out for two days cooking for us and spending time with us while we rested and let our swollen feet recuperate. I ate so much, laughed so hard, and it was here that Tom and I bonded with hikers that would become our trail family. It was with these people that I later hiked naked in the moonlight along the LA aqueduct, rationed dwindling supplies with at the base of Mt. Whitney only to wind up celebrating when a hiker named Blackfoot offered us tons of food that boy scouts had just gifted him, rented a townhouse in Mammoth and danced in underwear with in the late night hours on the 4th of July, and crossed into Canada with that for a perfect ending on October 5th.
Share your best and worst day from 2016.
One of my favorite days on trail in 2016 was Hike Naked Day. I knew I wanted to participate this year because I was in a town the first go around and missed out on all of the naked fun. The crew of people I was with in the Sierras wanted to participate, too, and we all agreed it would be way more fun if we made sure we were together for the big day. After a lengthy debate we figured out we would meet early morning up at the hut on Muir Pass and hike naked together from there. Snacks and I camped a few miles back from some others but we all ended up at the hut just after the sun rose and found ourselves standing on miles of snow fields with a clear sunny sky. We got a couple of the usual pictures while we were waiting for a pal that hadn’t shown up but there was no sign of him after an hour so we 6 just started getting naked. There could not have been more laughter. Other hikers started showing up to the hut and got to see a lot of butts. Giddy and laughing we rambunctiously began our trek across the crunchy snow. About a half mile into the naked hiking we saw a hiker coming down towards up, hooting and hollering and we realized it was our missing buddy. Cheers erupted and we all yelled for him to hurry up and join us. We died laughing as he caught up and put on a bit of a striptease on a lone boulder peeking out from the snow. Hiking naked in the snow for 6 miles was more hilarious than I could have guessed it would be and only a few butts got burned in the process.
The first few hundred miles of the trail felt like I was walking through all of the memories of my first hike in such a vivid and intense way- like a movie being played back. I’d be walking in some unmentionable spot and be hit with a memory of eating a kind bar. I’d turn a bend and I’d remember who was sitting on what log and the things that we said to each other. They were things that I could only remember by actually being back out on the trail and it made me incredibly lonesome for the hiker family of 2015. I was making friends and loving it, but it was so strange to go back to the trail and to not have everyone I already loved back out there with me. One particular day, I ended up camping at Little Jimmy Camp, which was a place I had camped the previous year and had a lot of great memories at. My journal entry from that night reads:
“sitting at Little Jimmy Camp with Snacks and Pepe, farting while we eat, watching chipmunks scurry around. And as good as this is, I miss Tom, Biscuit, Beaver, Kett, Judd Step, Terry, Eugene, Cold Bear and some others so badly. It hurts. It feels like they are out here because I run into memories of them everyday, but they are somewhere else on trail and I can’t seem to catch up. When I meet new hikers I compare them to the personality types from last year. Maybe this guy is the new Papa Kiwi or this girl might be this year’s Pie. I’m trying not to compare everyone, but it’s hard.”
I went to bed that night so sad in the quiet campground, confronted with my memories, lonesome for my trail family, and unnecessarily anxious that the new bonds forming wouldn’t grow, that people wouldn’t like me enough to want to hike with me, and that I’d just compare people to last year’s family the whole trail. Sleep didn’t ease my sadness and the fear that I wouldn’t bond with hikers the same way grew the next morning. As I hiked out of camp, into more memories, the tears came along with loud ugly sobs. I hiked two miles half blind from the tears before I started to settle down, but then just felt exhausted for the rest of the day. It felt like one of my worst days. My biggest anxiety as a solo hiker was that I wouldn’t have a hiker family. But I did. I had a few. And I had already met one hiker that would become my closest friend the whole way and just didn’t know it yet. Things got easier for me when I stopped trying to recreate the same sorts of experiences and just let myself enjoy what was happening around me without comparison to my first crew and remembered that bonding takes a few hundred miles sometimes.
8. Will there be a 3rd PCT hike in the near future?
I wouldn’t be surprised if I hiked the trail for a 3rd time, but I don’t have one planned right now. There are other trails I’d like to experience and I do feel satisfied with the two hikes having provided two really unique experiences that added up to feeling like I’m good and ready to move onto something else now.
9. Do you have a year that was more memorable than the other? Does one stand out more? Why?
Answering this question feels uncomfortable in the same way that I imagine a parent would feel if they were asked which of their children they liked more. There’s this weird thing happening where I treat the trail as a living, breathing being and it just feels wrong to put them up against each other.
In all honesty, one hike does not stand out more than the other, but the memories of the most recent one are more fresh in my mind. I fell in love with the PCT on that first hike. I was giddy, anxious, in awe of everything new I was seeing everyday, and blown away by how it was so much better than I ever could have imagined. The second hike felt like revisiting my love and with that comes more confidence, less anxiety, and more strength, and an understanding of how to navigate the details with ease.
10. What is your overall best memory from your thru-hikes?
The first best memory that comes to mind is too private to tell, but I can say the countless runner ups all involve in one way or another the people that were with me along the way. The time with my hiker pals was really the best thing ever. Tom the Deadly Amoeba, Risky Biscuit, Cold Bear, Beaver, Bear Bait, Terry, Judd Step, Ellen Boxers, Nightwalker, Pumpkin, Snacky Snacks, Cheesy Momma Bear, Burrito, Golden Boy, Rambler, Danger Noodle, General Burnsides, Trigger, Dude Man, Pepe, Clockwork, Squirrel…the list goes on. The BEST of the runner ups? Maybe it was the time we had a snowball fight on top of Mather Pass, or saw baby bear cubs in the Sierra, or lined up cowboy camping like little burritos in our sleeping bags next to Joshua trees, giggling ourselves to sleep as the stars lit up the sky and mice jumped on our heads, or waking up to tom holding a cup of coffee out to me with jokes at the ready, or trail running our way towards those Siead Valley pancakes, or getting such bad heat rash that I had to hike in what amounted to a thong for three days in Northern California, or Tom and I twerking everytime we saw something we loved, or singing at the top of our lungs as we walked in and out of the bends and folds of the trail into Scissors Crossing, or the running joke with my hiker pals that had one too many handfuls of pot-corn at Casa De Luna that insisted they were actually still flying high off their asses in the Manzanita forest and everything we were experiencing along the trail wasn’t actually real, or that unintended nero swimming all day at Odell lake, or sneaking off behind boulders and trees and ridges with a very cute boy, or saying yes to jumping naked into almost every lake we passed in the Seirra, or singing and dancing our way down the aqueduct as the sun set, or eating salad out of a bag at the Motel 6 in Mojave and yelling at Dude Man because his farts were ruining our fine dinner, or spending a day at the Stehikin Bakery reminiscing about the trail, planning for our futures, and eating a shit ton of baked goods, or that time we smoked weed at lunch and then had to cross a raging creek on a log and I was laughing so hard at the prospect of falling in that I had to drop my pants in front of everyone or pee all over myself, or the time……
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.