A Lesson in Choosing the Wrong Boots
Long before my dreams of hiking the PCT, I desperately wanted to move from the east coast to California. I wanted to experience the dramatic scenery and beautiful weather. I wasn’t happy where I was living in Virginia and I was in need of a change. A change in the people I was surrounding myself with, a change in a crappy living situation, a change in my overall happiness to be quite honest. Not to spoil the ending for you, but damn it if I didn’t exceed my expectations.
Two weeks before my lease ended in April, I made the decision to move to San Diego. I planned out a two month trip to see every national park I passed by, and tried to see as many old friends as I could. I stayed in hotels, airbnbs, hostels, and cabins (and a couch every once in a while).
At that time in my life I wasn’t a crazily avid hiker, and usually just threw on a pair of running shoes if I went hiking with some friends or Kona (my dog, for those of you who don’t already know). So, I drove to the place that is essentially crack cocaine for people who love the outdoors… otherwise known as REI. I went with my boyfriend who bragged about his crazy knowledge and experience of the great outdoors; naively I trusted his judgement in this department. I could only afford one pair of boots so I had to decide, winter boots… or summer boots?
After some discussion we decided summer boots would be best choice as I was starting in mid April, and everyone I talked to told me most all of the snow would be melted by the time I made my way cross country. Being the overtly lazy person that I am, I had confidence in their opinions and did no research of my own. Smart, I know.
Stop 1: The smokey mountains 3 inches of snow. One of my closest friends from college, Nick, and his velociraptor/German Shepherd puppy, Rowdy, met Kona and I in Tennessee to check out parts of the AT. We started down a touristy path, so, to avoid heavy foot traffic, we ventured into the woods to do a little exploring and found our way to an isolated snowy landscape. Before we knew it, the sun was starting to set and we had no fucking clue where we were. A touch of panic ensued and we started jogging (in those damn boots), uphill, in the snow, with our full backpacks, and our dogs. At this point I could barely breathe, and realized just how out of shape I really was (thanks a lot, Netflix). After a crisp 4 mile jog through the snow, jumping across streams and fallen tree trunks, we made it just in time for nightfall. A wave of paranoia came over me, this was suppose to be my warmest stop and I had already encountered snow. Lesson Learned: Do your research! Not only about your gear but the weather conditions as well. Also, it is exceedingly more difficult to hike up a snowy mountain, then down. Like I said, I’m pretty smart.
Stop 4: Boulder, Colorado 2.5 feet of snow. After passing through Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas, I finally made my way to Colorado. I met up with some old camp friends, Carlo and Jamie. They were the kind of friends that no matter what we did, we either got into trouble, got yelled at, or got kicked out of camp…. Carlo. On the night of St. Patrick’s Day, an insane blizzard hit, I barely made it back to the hostel I was staying at. Come morning time, my truck was not only stuck in the snow, but the entire bed of my truck was filled with snow, covering all of the belongings I had (most of which in cardboard boxes). I spent the next 3 hours shoveling snow in my stupid summer boots… with the help of one employee.. freezing my ass off (the picture below is an example of Kona trying to ‘help’ that day). I spent the rest of the morning with soaked boots, socks, and jeans, driving so blind that if a car was driving right next to me, I couldn’t see it. Lesson Learned: if you have never driven in heavy snow, do not practice in Colorado. Also, always bring an extra pair of boots.. or at least a pair of Gaitors.
Stop 5: Lake Tahoe, California 5 fucking feet of snow. I couldn’t believe I had made it this far. The huge pine trees, majestic lakes, and beautiful mountain views were breathtaking. When I first stepped out of the car, I remember thinking to myself that I was freezing and incredibly underdressed for the weather. I had already picked out a hiking trail the night before but at this point the trail was no where to be found.. mostly because it was hidden under a massive amount of snow. We had to climb up a tiny snow ‘cliff’ just to walk on top of it. About halfway into our hike, I had already sank up to my hips in snow. Meanwhile I’m wearing these damn warm weather boots with leggings that obviously were soaked to the core within 20 minutes. Fantastic. After trudging along for a bit, all while cursing myself about getting into this situation in the first place, we finally came over the mountain. There it was, the lake, covered in a blanket of snow. You couldn’t see a thing (I believe I was at one of the Echo Lakes). “Son of a Bitch…”, I had made it all the way here for nothing. Kona and I made our way down the mountain as she bounced around me in excitement over the snow. The ground beneath me started to level out as I made my way to a dock peaking above the snow. All of a sudden the snow gave out from under me and I fell hard into a narrow hole that was below the dock. Wedged between the dock and the snow, I was stuck, in pain, and even more frozen than before (three days later, doctors found I had slipped a disk in my neck during the fall). As I shimmied my way out, my boots filled with snow. I can honestly say the walk back was the most miserable hiking experience I have ever had. Lesson Learned: Just because a hike is beautiful, if you don’t have the right gear, it may not be worth it.
I know what you’re thinking, wow this girl has tons of knowledge about hiking and the great outdoors, I should totally ask her to guide my next hiking adventure! Kidding. I know I still have a lot to learn, but honestly the biggest lesson I took away from this experience was that no matter how much research you really end up doing, there’s no better way to learn than getting out there and trying everything for yourself.
In the end, I made it to San Diego just in time for some warm weather! Thank god I had summer boots 🙂
*I would like to point out that throughout this journey, I was unaware that you could trade your boots in for another pair at REI. Thus, proving my intelligence once again.
(Photos from top to bottom: Kona snow diving in Tahoe, Kona in the smokies, Kona outside out hostel in Colorado, and lastly Echo Lake).
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