How messaging a stranger on the internet got me to Kennedy Meadows
On April 23, 2022 at 10:22am, I sent a message to a stranger on Twitter that would ultimately end up changing my life. Most people would say something like this when talking about meeting their spouse via “sliding into their direct messages (DMs for short)” but, in my case, it was a bit weirder than that.
Sliding into Tori’s DMs
To set the scene, in 2020, I began my journey as a master’s student at Utah State University (USU) pursing my degree in Watershed Sciences. By spring of 2022, I had been researching microplastics in a local river system for the past year and a half and was over my head in responsibilities related to grad school. One morning while waiting for my next meeting, I had popped onto Twitter and amidst rapid scrolling, I came upon a post about a scientist who would be surveying for trash while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Thinking back on the moment now, I imagine my very sophisticated inner dialogue to be something like the following:
Science brain: Wow, a trail trash survey! I wonder what they’re going to find out there. Bar wrapper pieces and toilet paper, probably. What is that doing to the environment? That stuff is definitely breaking down into microplastics.
Outdoor brain: So you’re hiking for research? Smart lady.
Actual brain: Nice project, maybe I’ll offer to help with data.
Thus, I mustered up the courage to slide into Dr. Victoria McGruer’s “DMs” and we scheduled a time to talk.
Although the original message says that I’d be interested in joining for “even the entire” trail, that wasn’t something I considered initially. I had only backpacked once in my life at that point and that had only happened after moving out to Utah. So, in the original call with Tori, I offered to help process data for the project as off-trail support.
Over the course of many months, I continued to meet with Tori and Win (our dear friend and project partner at The Moore Institute for Plastic Pollution Research) to discuss the premise of No Trace Trails (NTT) and to chat about our wildest hopes and dreams for the project. Slowly, my interest had shifted from data processor to entertaining the idea of hopping onto the trail for a section hike with Tori to formally asking her if I could just join her for the whole thing.
Where are we now?
If you’ve gotten this far, me deciding to hike the PCT and Tori welcoming me with open arms, is how messaging a stranger on the internet has changed my life. I drove to Las Vegas to climb with Tori in Red Rocks in October 2022 and that would be the first and last time we met each other in person before stepping on trail together.
Tori and Win live in So-Cal and in March, they came to pick me up from Los Angeles International Airport. A week of pre-trail chaos ensued with zoom meetings related to NTT, last minute gear purchases, temporary goodbyes to friends and family, and trips to the grocery store where both Tori and I cried in the mashed potato aisle.
On March 28th, we stepped foot on the PCT in Campo, CA to begin our journey together. On that first day, we immediately made the mistake of over doing it by hiking 15 miles rather than our initially planned 11 miles because “we felt really good,” and ended up searching for a campsite and eating mac’n’cheese in the dark. I knew then that Tori was the perfect partner in crime.
In the weeks that followed, we went through chaos together. Tori and I laughed as we camped out in winter storms, hiked in wind and rain, and ate more food than we ever thought we could. We made friends, took our first zeros, and walked through the ever-changing desert. Our legs got stronger and we hiked more miles with ease. Trail life became the new normal and I fell in love with nights under the stars.
In Idyllwild, Tori and I found the people who would become our trail family and went on to summit Mount San Jacinto with them. Soon, our original group of 6 or 7 grew to 10 and we adopted the tramily name of “Dumb n Tough.” We would spend the next 600 miles trudging through snow, heat, and rain with these people and sleeping in a “Mega-Tyvek” cowboy camping line each night. Last week, we made it to Kennedy Meadows and celebrated together before splitting into the Sierra group and the Nor-Cal group. The two groups plan on staying in touch and seeing each other again.
The desert section of the PCT offered more than we ever could have imagined and now, we’re excited to be heading north from Chester, CA.
What to expect from me
Let me start by saying that as a blogger, I’m a little late to the party. Usually, people start this kind of thing on day one of their thru hike or before, but that wasn’t the case for me. Because I’m tardy to the party, you’re going to get a backlog of events that I’ve experienced on trail. Some big things have happened to us over the past few months – ranging from dealing with fear mongering (which is how I got my trail name) to having our resupply items stolen from our friend’s car – and I’d like to talk about those things. I’ll do my best to make it clear that I’m jumping back in time when I talk about things that happened previous to my intro-blog today.
In general, expect to hear more from me about current and past events on trail, anecdotes about science and environmentalism as related to the PCT, and everyday aspects of trail life. I’m super excited to be sharing my thoughts and experiences with you all as I move forward on this journey. Thanks for reading!
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