Q&A post-California

A little late but as promised, here's a list of some questions and answers we've been asked during our time hiking through California. I'm working away at an Oregon update as well that will hopefully be posted within the next week. Until then, happy trails!

What is your favorite piece of gear?

Bonsai: When we met up with my parents just outside of Chester (Mile 1300 something) my mom lent me her Therm-a-rest Prolite air pad. Up till that point I had slept pretty terribly on the trail. I kept waking up in the middle of the night with this glowing pain in my hips. The sleeping pad has easily become my favorite piece of gear. I've rarely struggled to sleep since switching to the ProLite and my hip pain is almost completely gone, something I attribute mostly to the sleeping pad.

BigHorn: I'm a big fan of our Enlightened Equipment Quilt, the "Accomplice." We've only been cold one or two nights on the trail, usually due to our inability to properly use the quilt. Weighing in at just about 2.5 Lbs, being one of our only "ultra lightweight" pieces, and being incredibly comfortable, this two person sleep system has been a great investment for the trail.

What one meal do you love?

Bonsai: For dinner, Bighorn and I will sometimes mix a Knorr Pasta Side Alfredo or Cheddar and Broccoli with Kraft Mac and a handful of minute rice. Slap some of that on a tortilla with some hot sauce and you've got my all time favorite camp meal.

BigHorn: I've eaten pretty much the same thing every day on trail.
We eat Kraft Mac almost every day. So really any variety. We have found a few freeze dried backpackers meals in hiker boxes and those are always a treat!

Favorite trail town?

Bonsai: Maybe it was because I felt like I needed a break really badly, but Etna was by far my favorite stop so far. We stayed at the Hiker Hut and happened to be there at the same town as this group of people we enjoy spending time with. The Hiker Hut was one of the most peaceful places I've ever stayed. They had this beautiful lawn that you could set up your tent on and lots of space to lounge around, and they had bikes for hikers to use to get into town. Everything was really close to where we were staying and the town was really quaint- just this small, sleepy town where everything is closed on Sundays and seemingly everyone knows everyone.

BigHorn: I also really enjoyed Etna. There was a fun group of people there, and the small town vibe was incredibly welcoming.

Biggest food craved while on trail?

Bonsai: Root beer! I've never craved soda in my life yet every time I leave town, no matter how recently I've had one, I'll immediately start craving a root beer again.

BigHorn: Salt. Sugar. Fats. I can't get enough food most of the time. I'll eat a full bag of chips on trail before realizing I'm done with my 3 days worth of chip rations. I had a strange craving for caprese salad for a solid 250 mile section of the desert.

Favorite section of the trail so far?

Bonsai: As we were coming through Truckee hiking south to Tahoe. I just remember being in this area where you would round a corner and come to these incredible blue lakes, the snow was easy to navigate, and the trail never felt too steep. It was just such a beautiful area of the trail.

BigHorn: There was a section of Oregon coming into Fish Lake with fields of volcanic rock painted with streaks of red that they carted in to build the trail with. The contrast of the black rocky hills and the bright red dust that we walked on made for a beautiful chunk of trail.

Is there one profound memory that stands out to you above all else?

Bonsai: That's a hard one because after 100+ days on trail, everything kind of blends into one. The first memory that comes to mind though was one in the Sierras. We were trying hard to push a few extra miles before camp but we were going straight up hill towards a pass (Silver, I believe). We finally let exhaustion win and set up, eating dinner quickly and then getting into our tent. We both began to shut down, but within minutes we had two visitors in our camp. A mama deer and her fawn were poking around our camp, inching closer and closer to our things. I became so transfixed on watching them because of how unafraid of us they were, but every now and again the slightest movement would send them running away. Once it became dark they left and we stopped sensing them around camp, but in the middle of the night I woke up and rolled over only to hear them dart into the woods from only a couple of inches away. They didn't visit us the following morning, but I wondered how much time they spent tip toeing near our things that night while we slept.

BigHorn: Nope.

Do you two hike together throughout the day?

Bonsai: Bighorn would probably say we hike together a lot, but we usually will hike alone for most of the day. We might start out together and then separate before lunch, meet up for lunch, separate after, and then hike together for the last hour or two before camp.

BigHorn: What she means is that I would say we spend 75% of our time together. We hike alone for the most part.

Do you carry any luxury items?

Bonsai: I started at Campo with a deck of cards and this small, plastic cribbage board. I finally got rid of it this past week when I was at my parents because we hardly used them, and now my luxury items include a pair of camp shoes and a journal.

BigHorn: All the ladies are jealous of my hairbrush.

Have you learned anything about yourself while on the trail?

Bonsai: I've learned that I'm not as weak as I use to be. When faced with physical challenges in the past, I would allow myself to shut down and grow frustrated. This was especially true in AmeriCorps where the monotony of the job would often get to me quickly and I would shut down. One day on trail I was experiencing this frustration as I dealt with chafing, a bum knee, and all other sorts of normal hiker pains. I remember observing how my mind was operating, giving up and shutting down with each step, and I decided then and there that this mentality was useless out here. There's no way I would ever make it to Canada if I let myself crash whenever things got hard, and giving into that side of myself isn't going to make me feel better anyway. I've been working hard on trail to no allow those thoughts to bring me down when I'm struggling, and the more I strive towards this the easier it becomes to push through and succeed.

BigHorn: I've learned I need a home base, before leaving we debated going tent-less to cut down on weight. I suggested we get one anyways and we could always ship it home if we found it cumbersome. Although the tent is no replacement for a home, the comfort it has brought to have a space to end each day in has been a huge mental boost. I've found that having a place to "hang my coat" is incredibly important. Find time to explore and adventure is a great experience, but it's made all the better when you have a warm bed to come home to.

What was your worst day on trail yet?

Bonsai: This one is easy! There was a day coming into Etna, probably the day before, when we hit this bad patch of snow. I still wasn't very comfortable navigating on the snow so I ended up walking down the mountain on this rocky section of a hillside. It ended up taking us what felt like four hours to get from the beginning of the snow patch down to the bottom, and I felt so unsafe for large chunks of it. I wanted to quit so badly when we were walking into town the next day, and I had no interest in leaving after we took a break in Etna two days later.

BigHorn: Coming out of South Lake Tahoe. We had just had a few days off with my parents, my Mom had even hiked in three miles with us and camped. We were just over halfway done with the trail and had the Sierras in front of us. We woke up early, said goodbye to my Mom, and after going back to bed for an hour or so we packed up camp. That's when I broke down. I just sat on my pack and cried for a few minutes. The thought of how easy it would be to quit in that moment, my mom probably wasn't even at the car yet. I could turn around and walk out and be done with the trail. Every mile was a struggle that day. With each break I would sit, look at Bonsai, and then tear up again, thoughts of home and what was awaiting us off trail fresh in my mind. This was probably a mixture of exhaustion, low serotonin levels and dread of the intense hiking ahead, but it hit hard and put me in a funk for the next few days.

Why do you keep going?

Bonsai: Maybe some days it's stubbornness because I'm so committed to finishing this trail, but a lot of what keeps me out there when things are hard is the support we both have from loved ones. I know everyone would understand had we quit at some point, but we feel like others have invested a lot of time, money, and energy into supporting us being out here and that this is sometimes for more than just us. When I think about those people, I feel really motivated to keep going. When things are good though, what keeps me out here is the experience. It's too incredible for words sometimes… I really love the life we have and can't believe that we get to spend everyday outside in some beautiful place together.

BigHorn: Mostly I keep going because I started and set out to finish. I know I have the ability to, and quitting would leave me feeling empty and unfulfilled about the trail. Most days I feel good and don't need the motivation, but having a partner on the trail for those hard days has been a huge motivation. I can't stop and camp early when your sleeping bag is still 3 miles ahead in Bonsai's pack.

What do you miss the most about real life?

Bonsai: I miss a lot of people. Bighorn and I feel lucky in that we both we really love our lives, and leaving that behind for eight months total has been really hard. We talk about our friends and family a lot on trail and how we can't wait to see all of them again. It's all about perspective though. We're having a great time out here and we're really fortunate to have so much to go back to when we're finished.

BigHorn: It's mostly people that I miss. But the stability of having a home base is a much considered luxury. Also being able to change the activity I'm doing. I miss climbing a lot.

What do you foresee yourself missing the most about the trail?

Bonsai: Being able to pee wherever I want.

BigHorn: The guilt free breakfast beers and calorie bingeing of arriving in a town.

Has anything about your experience surprised you?

Bonsai: I got really lucky with shoes… like incredibly lucky, and I guess that surprised me a lot. My first pair I only wore for 100 miles (they already had nearly 800 miles on them and were too small by the end of that first week) and then I lucked out and found a pair of shoes in a hiker box that were a size and a half bigger and relatively new. Those trail runners lasted me 900 miles, and then I bought a new pair of the same type… those brought me through all of Northern California and the Sierras and are still in good shape (sitting at home for later use) and now I'm on my third pair, a birthday gift from my parents, which I foresee lasting me the rest of the trail. Since we're pretty budgeted hikers, only having to buy one pair of shoes was a pretty nice surprise.

BigHorn: I try to keep my expectations low, to maintain a consistent level of being surprised.

Can you tell me about a time someone was really generous to the two of you?

Bonsai: I'm going to talk about our most recent experience of trail magic, from a man named Bill Gates! When we got off at Horseshoe Meadows we were hopeful to get a hitch that night so I could let my parents know we were off trail. Bill gave us a ride all the way into town even though he was camping at Horseshoe Meadows and then offered to drive us over two hours the next day to get us closer to my parents. He dropped us off at Barstow as he was heading home, and my dad picked us up there and took us to his home inEncinitas. We kept thinking about how important timing is in situations like these. Bighorn approached Bill and asked if he was headed into town, and just because he's a kind and generous person he agreed. Had we been there any earlier or later, we would have completely missed our opportunity to meet such a wonderful person.

BigHorn: I'm going to just second what Bonsai said.

Any lessons or takeaways from the trail?

Bonsai: There's likely hundreds of lessons that have come about from this experience, so instead I'll leave you with one pretty simple backpacker hack that I've learned. When your socks are soaked at the end of the day, collapse your poles so they fit in the ground underneath your vestibule (standing up) then put your socks on the handles. They'll dry so much quicker than if you left them on a rock or on top of your tent and then deer or rodents can't get to them.

BigHorn: Don't be afraid to talk to people or be generous, networking works on the trail too. Giving an extra liter of water to someone who may only have a little could turn into a free meal in town, or a new hiking partner. Don't be afraid to ask for help or join in on the campfire. Extra food from a friend is more likely to end up in your hands than the extra food from a stranger.

Would you do something like this again?

Bonsai: Honestly, I don't know if the six month trip is for me. I don't even miss the comforts of home, it's exclusively the life I have (a.k.a the people I surround myself by) that has been so hard to leave for such a long duration. I see myself being more the three week trip type, so while three weeks isn't long enough to complete the AT or CDT, I absolutely see myself tackling some of America's shorter, equally incredible national trails in the future. This trip has also encouraged me to be a solo traveler. I love adventuring with Bighorn and I think as far as travel partners go, we're a great match. There's so much we both want to do though and this trip has taught me that I'm absolutely capable enough to do those things on my own. I'm looking forward to traveling more together and separately in the future.

BigHorn: Maybe. Similarly to Bonsai I see myself leaning more towards the 2-3 week trips in the future. The lure of the AT or the Ice Age Trail may draw me in again though.

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