So this is where it ends for me…

… I’m on a water-less stretch 25 miles just South of Mount Whitney, the very bottom of the high part of the Sierra Nevada. I filled up my water-supply to full capacity a couple of hours ago at Chicken Spring Lake and had been in a long decent since reaching Cottonwood Pass. I had hiked long past sunset into the darkness last night and somehow lost my maps for this part of the trail. Since the PCT gets the most traffic around here, I stuck with following the main trail. But for the last hour had been doubting this strategy. I went with my gut-feeling, pulled out my smartphone and with the last 2% of my battery remaining checked my position … I had walked four miles of the trail. I dropped down my bag and started to process this last bit of bad news.

Ten days ago I had left the small town of Lee Vining where I holed up to weather out a storm. I was now getting on to one of the most beautiful as well as daunting stretches of the Pacific Crest Trail: the High Sierras. A long stretch over several high passes with little options for resupply along the way. The first four day stretch takes me through the back country of Yosemite National Park along two pack stations, Reds Meadow and Vermilion Valley Resort. I have got a resupply package waiting for me at VVR, so I only have to carry a light backpack. I get lucky at Reds Meadow when my neighbours on the camping invite me over to their fire-pit to feed me food and beers. They even show me the way to a hot-spring nearby where I go and soak for an hour after dinner. At VVR I get my last resupply, I plan on walking the next 186 miles / 300 kilometres with leaving the trail. All the food for this stretch has to fit in my bear canister. This means I have to fit all the food for the next seven days in this bucket and actually can’t take as much food as I would want to. But even now my backpack feels heavier than I have ever felt it before.
Sierra Nevada overview
The following days are amazing. Each day I walk to postcard-like sceneries, with impressive mountains surrounding me and deep-blue lakes that beg me to stop for a swim. I cross four big passes that are over 3000 metres / 10000 feet high: Mather, Pinchot, Glenn and Forester pass. Each time I have to conquer hundreds of switchbacks upwards to get to these points and each time and each time I get rewarded with amazing 360 degree views.

But at the same time, it becomes mentally harder to motivate myself to keep going every single day. It’s already mid October and there aren’t that much other hikers out there any more. The lack tof a sociable aspect is weighing hard on me. At the same time The days are becoming shorter which means I have to hike even faster and often past sunset into the dark. I’ve already been hit by snow twice and every day feels colder out there.

In the end all these aspects come together and over the last days at the end of the High Sierra I’ve decided that I will leave the trail at Southern Kennedy Meadows. I no longer felt that the joy I got out of hiking outweighed the harshness and isolation. So when, on that faithful morning, after taking a wrong turn coming down from Cotton Pass, I all of the sudden end up in Crabtree Meadows, I decide to finally finish my hike. I no longer have the energy in me to go further.

I might return some day. Give it another attempt to complete the whole trail. But for now, I’m satisfied. I’m proud of every step I took. I hiked 927 miles or 1493 kilometres through the amazing outdoors of the American West Coast.
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It’s been almost three months since that day I decided to get off the Pacific Crest Trail and it seems that I’m finally ready to write about my last days on the trail. I believe it is just as well a testament as to how hard it was to walk away from the trail as it is a testament to difficulty of keeping a blog up-to-date. I’m now spending my last days in Belgium before I set out for another adventure.

In the last weeks I’ve put together some videos about my life on the trail. Nothing fancy, but some might like it. First bit is in Dutch, rest is in English.

And you can find some pictures right here.


This American Life …

Since starting the second leg of my PCT adventure, I have had one faithful companion: a podcast named This American Life. Hosted by the amicable Ira Glass it’s a story telling program on American Public Radio that each week touches upon a different, interesting subject. Before leaving San Francisco I downloaded about forty episodes and I’ve listened to almost all of them by now. They’ve been an amazing distraction when the hiking becomes harder or a good story at night during dinner. This weeks blogpost will be structured in a similar way. Stay with us.

Act 1: Hospitality

I’ve been incredibly fortunate with all the people I’ve met on and off the trail. I’d like to share a story about an amazing couple I met in South Lake Tahoe. After coming off the trail at Echo Lakes, the people running the shop out there were closing up because of the upcoming winter. However they gave me a free can of soda and showed me how to get to the highway. Once I got there, I did a small attempt at making myself look presentable and then put up my thumb. After about fifty cars had passed, a car came back from the opposite direction and made a U-turn. The driver jumped out and threw some of his gear in the backseat to make room for me. Whilst driving into South Lake Tahoe, Nicholas – the driver – and me got more acquainted. He’s 26, married and working as a waiter whilst getting ready to study for his medical exams.

Once we drove into town, he invited me to stay at his house instead of going into a more impersonal hotel, off course I agreed. We picked up some sandwiches for lunch and went to his home, where I got to meet his lovely wife Kadi. Afterwards we went out to play discgolf and swim in South Lake Tahoe. In the evening we got pizza and watched Death Proof. It felt like spending a day with friends I just had never met before. The only difference was that at night, Nicholas – who is a devout christian – spent a couple of moments praying for my health and success in this undertaking. A small but very moving gesture.

Hiking near Sonora Pass

Hiking near Sonora Pass

Act 2: A lonely hiker

I’ve been out on the trail for two weeks now and I can feel that the solitude of being out there by myself sometimes gets to me. There are some other long distance hikers out there around me, but I haven’t met up with them yet. Since the days are becoming shorter and the weather is getting colder, there are less day-hikers out there as well. So I’ve spent several days out there not meeting a single soul whilst I’m hiking the trail. Sometimes it becomes a bit hard on me, missing human contact or just a listening ear for all my plans for the future that run through my head. I guess that I’m not the hermit I once thought I was and that’s not a bad thing.

The lonely hiker

The lonely hiker

Act 3: A change in weather

Leaving Nothern Kennedy Meadows, the last weather forecast gave a 20% chance of a little snowfall for the next day. Hoping the prediction was only a false alert, I set out for the next stretch of hiking. Unfortunately it turned out to be true. The following afternoon started of with a drizzle and then some hail. After hiking for three hours in near freezing temperatures I decided to call it a day and put up my tent. It turned out to be a fortunate decision, the weather turned for the worse and when I woke up in the middle of the night I was surrounded by a nice 10 cm / 4 inch layer of snow. Breaking up my camp to go out again proved to be a long task with freezing cold fingers. However beautiful the snow might be, it also slowed me down for my hiking the next couple of days.

A snow covered scenery in the Sierra Nevadas

A snow covered scenery in the Sierra Nevadas

Fortunately I could bail out to Lee Vining, a small town on the East side of the Sierras, before I ran out of food. I got here yesterday (Tuesday) and will eventually spent two unplanned nights in this sleepy town. I hope that by tomorrow the early fall storms have passed through and a spell of dry, good weather will come in (at least that’s what the locals are predicting).

So tomorrow I’m heading out again for what should be one of the most beautiful stretches, up in the the high Sierras, straight through Yosemite National Park. It’s also the stretch that will take me over several passes above 3000 metres and some nights the temperature might drop till -10 Celsius.

I’m hoping for a lot of sunshine and other hikers to run in to.

Happy trails,

On the trail again …

although it is unclear for how much longer. Still plenty of doubts ahead, but we’ll get there soon enough. First let me get you up-to-date how the last couple of weeks have been.

After my two failed attempts to restart my hike in the first weeks of August, I have hitchhiked down the West Coast to continue my adventure. After going through Bend and Oregon; I went into Humboldt County, a beautiful coastal stretch in the very North of California. I had some amazing times: sleeping on the beach at College Cove and a transformed school bus in Orick, walking through giants in Redwoods National Park, people watching in the university town of Arcata, …

Around the 20th of August I made it back to San Francisco where I could count on the amazing hospitality of my friend Tom and his housemates. After a couple of days of preparation met up some old friends from Mexico City and headed out to Burning Man. For the third time in four years I was going home.

It turned out to be a very intense experience, more emotional than my previous two visits. I was strongly doubting about what I would be doing after the festival and what my future would look like. There were some old friends I’ve run into and memories to be relived.

After a short time back in San Francisco I decided to head out for the Pacific Crest Trail. Doubts where raging through my head. Most of all I was afraid to go out there and have my body fail on me once again. To start hiking and realize that the pain would just be too much. At the very last moment I headed out with Ila (Tom’s girlfriend) for a practice hike in San Francisco. Hiking with a full backpack through SFO seemed like a bit odd, but the feeling in my legs was good so I decided to go out for it.

Some amazing trees along the way

A busride took me out to Truckee and from there I made my way to the trail. I had a 66 mile (106 km) stretch ahead of me, all the way to Lake Tahoe.

The first two days were going very smooth. It felt great to be back on the track, as if I had found a purpose again. Walking on the trail felt like coming home to me. You can hear me talking about this in the following fragment.

However in the following two days, the pain in my shins returned and with it returned the doubts that were going through my head.

I made it all the way to Lake Tahoe and although my shins feel painful, I can manage. The feeling is still bearable. So for the moment I will continue on this trip that takes me further in to the Sierra Nevada. Step by step, day by day. Living in the moment.

Aloha Lakes

No news …

is good news, is what people sometimes say. In this case it’s just the fact that it sometimes takes a while to process bad news.

After my six day rest in Portland, I tried to get back on the trail in Cascade Locks. My venture back on the PCT only lasted for a short while. It soon became clear that I hadn’t healed up yet. My shin splints were still hurting and I quickly returned back to society.

I didn’t want to impose myself any longer on my amazing hosts in Portland or stay longer in the little town of Cascade Locks. Instead I moved further down to Bend, an amazing outdoors town in Central Oregon. Between kayaking, sampling local micro-brews and watching movies I hoped that another week of rest would suffice for my injury.

After seven days I hitch-hiked out to Crater Lake, a beautiful National Park right on the PCT. It was the first time I ran in to other hikers again. Their trail stories made me envious of their adventures.

The following morning I set out for a trial hike, trying to see how my legs would react. It didn’t take long before a familiar painful feeling would arise.

Not being able to go further, I had to consider a new plan. From here on I will hitch-hike further down to San Francisco where I can count on the hospitality of Tom, an amazing friend I met years ago in Patagonia. It’s also there I will meet up with some friends from Mexico City and go to Burning Man festival. After the burn I will try one last time to start hiking out of Northern California. I hope that the 3 weeks of rest will be sufficient to be completely ready again. It also should give me enough time to hike the Californian state before snow hits the Sierra Nevadas.

How do I feel about this? Dissapointed off course, my goal was to walk the entire PCT. And I felt comfortable I could do it. I never figured that an injury would hold me back. But I’ve also come to accept it. My body has it’s limits and I should respect those.

In the mean time I’m still enjoying the West Coast and seeing some amazing sites. I’m in the small city of Ashland for the moment, where I saw a memorable Shakespeare performance last night. And I’ll be going to the Pacific Coast from here on.

Happy trails,

As I am standing on the Bridge of the Gods …

1004479_10153092130860173_156614112_n… I look back to the state of Washington and slowly recap the roller-coaster of emotions I have been through: joy and fear, pain and laughter, amazement and confusion, new-found friends and helpful strangers, lonely nights and shared dinners, …

The Bridge of the Gods spans the mighty Columbia River, connecting the states of Washington and Oregon. Over the last 12 days I had hiked 321 miles / 517 kilometres going from Steven’s Pass over Snoqualmie and Chinook Pass all the way to the small town of Cascade Locks. An average of 26.5 miles / 43 kilometres or more than a full marathon every day, crossing some of rugged terrain of the Cascades.

After spending the first two weeks hiking alone, I had finally gotten company for this part of the hike. I spent a lot of time hiking together with Remy, who is a triple-crowner and just finished his degree in Economics-Mathematics, and Matt, like me a little bit less experienced and working on his Architecture degree.

I met them both while staying at the Dinsmore’s in Baring and we decided to try and match our hiking styles for the next stretch. I went fairly well and it was great to share dinner and stories in the camp after a day of hiking.

So what happened in these last two weeks
– I swam in a lot of lakes along the way
– I hiked up Old Snowy in the Goat Rock Wilderness during what was probably the best day in Washington
– We met our first North Bounders (people who start at the Mexican border and go up North)
– I have grown an almost unsatisfiable hiker hunger
– We got assaulted by bugs a couple of times
– We got some amazing gifts of random people we met on the trail
– Matt had to leave the trail because of a stress fracture
– I constantly raised my hiking distance up to doing even a 32 mile / 51 kilometres day
– All the snow has been melted away and I carried an ice-axe for this stretch which only helped when digging catholes
– I got injured myself on the last couple of days hiking in to Cascade Locks

That last one is probably the most important one. The last couple of days in Washington were pretty intense, long days with lots of up and down hill. At some point my left shin started hurting a lot. The only way out was just to go further, which only increased the pain.

I’ve been taking a lot of pain killers since then and actually bailed out to Portland for a couple of days of healing. It’s been great, Remy set me up with a couple of friends of him and I just spent the weekend here relaxing and gorging on great food.

I’m heading out this afternoon. Hitch-hike my way back to Cascade Locks and hope to be back on the trail again tomorrow.

You can find more pictures here!

Remy and me in Cascade Locks

Remy and me in Cascade Locks

Never, never, never Surrender

So said the wise Winston Churchill. I had them going through my mind. And then I gave up, then I didn’t, then I gave up, then I didn’t and then …

I left lovely Stehekin in the late afternoon on high spirits. It had been a lovely quiet little town in a beautiful setting. I had feasted on fresh pastries,organic cheese and sweet cherries.

Chelan Lake at Stehekin

Chelan Lake at Stehekin

The next day was my birthday. It was only half-way through the day that I realized this fact, dates are not that import while you’re hiking. I spent most of the remainder of the day singing birthday songs to myself, not thinking I would see another soul that day.

At the end of the day however I ran into two other hikers, which was a surprise for me. They were Southbounders just as me who had returned upon seeing the pass above Mica Lake. They told me it was just too dangerous to go any further. I sat down and took the blow. I’d have to turn back and skip the Washington part of the hike till the snow had melted further. I kept talking to them for a while longer and all of the sudden wasn’t ready to surrender just yet. I wanted to see this pass with my own to eyes before turning back. I asked Forest (one of the two guys) if I could buy his snow gear (ice axe and microspikes). That way I got myself a birthday gift and gave myself better chances to make it over the pass. I did.

The next two days were hard working my way up to Mica Lake which was beautiful. The way up the pass was hard but doable and I seemed to have conquered the trail.

Mica Lake

Mica Lake

The way down turned out to be much harder. I’m out there hiking without GPS or smartphone and had lost my compass the day before. I had to find my way through snow-covered trails using my topographic maps and the sun for orientation. I just kept getting lost and took some unwanted short-cuts. I felt lost and no longer sure where to go. I had been in a situation like this before in Kyrgyzstan and ended up taking a wrong and much hard pass. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again, I needed to know where to go before I would go further. I was ready to give up and already making my way back, when I suddenly saw a part of the trail. I could go further. I did not have to surrender.

The struggle continued for the following days. I spent long days on the trail, getting lost at least multiple times but always being lucky to find my way back. Thru-hiking feels like battling a heavy weight, time and time again you get punched down and you just have to keep getting up and going further.

These past six days have been the most intense and exhausting I have experienced on a physical an emotional level. I did not surrender.

And of course it was worth it. I’ve seen some amazing sights and feel like I’m slowly transforming into a hiking machine.

I’m staying at the Dinsmore’s Hikers Haven in Baren, Washington for the moment. They are trail angels who take hikers into their house giving us real beds, showers, food and lots of love. They’re amazing.

Statistics this part:
Distance hiked: 104 miles / 167 kilometres
Days hiked: 56 days
Altitude climbed: 28560 ft / 8705 metres
Books read: Wild – Into the wild
Days of hiking with wet feet: 6 days
Days of good weather : 6 days
People seen in 6 days: 2

More pictures here

Life is tough. And that’s why it’s worth it …

It was just a quote I had read the night before in an article with Josh Homme about their new Queens of the Stone Age album. But it was also the mantra that ran through my head as I was slowly coming down Rock’s Pass. Without any doubt the most treacherous bit of trail I had to overcome in the last seven days. A steep decent – probably a 60% angle – covered in snow that had been softened by the harsh sun. It had been a while since I did something that put me right on the edge. A miscalculated step or just a slip-up, would see me skidding down the slope at neck-breaking speed. Life is tough. But that’s why it’s worth it.

The last seven days have been absolutely fantastic. I have seen amazing landscapes, experienced feats of human kindness and had blissful weather along the way. Let me bring you quickly up-to-date.

I spent the last night in “society” couchsurfing with Erin and her five daughters in West Burlington. A home away from home. It felt nice to be around a family for once. The next morning I started hitchhiking out. I had some 130 miles to cover to get to the trailhead. I was lucky, after two shorter rides I got picked up by Sue, a fellow backpacker herself. Charmed by my story she decided to drop me off at the trailhead which was a little bit out of her way (Trail magic #1).

At Hart’s Pass, the last camp before the Canadian border, I was met by Meander/Ed. A refugee from the Netherlands who had been hiking the trail himself this year. After the leaving the trail for bureaucratic reasons, he was acting as a trail angel for starting Southbounders. He lend me his micro-spikes to make my future snow-hiking adventures safer and sent me off on my way (Trail magic #2).

Leaving camp I felt all of the sudden a little bit unsure. Was I really ready for this? Would I be able to pull this off? All these doubts running trough my mind actually made me miss my first turn-off. Reading the map a mile down the road made me realise my mistake and back up it went. I ended up hiking 8 miles (13km) that afternoon before I settled on a ridge for the night. The weather had been fine and I had successfully managed to hike most snowy patches. I felt confident about myself.

Next day was when I hit Rock’s Pass and I needed all my confidence to make it down. After slowly scrambling down the snowed-down slope and crossing the snowpacked crest Devils Stairway, I made it down to Hopkins Lake where I camped down for the night.

Following morning I made it to the Canadian border. Registered with the trail register and was ready to backtrack 30 miles back to Hart’s Pass where it all started. I got there the next evening and was welcomed by a committee of Meander and five more Southbounders ready to get going. We spent the night over pizza, beer, hobo‘s, bourbon and wine. It all went down fine after four days on the trail (Trail magic #3)

The next day it felt harder to get going on the trail. Was it the lingering hang-over from last night, a feeling of solitude after that much camaraderie or a body weary of hiking after those first days. Probably a combination of all three factors. Somewhere along the trail I found a package addressed to myself. When seeing Meander I had talked about my sunglasses I had lost on the trail and how I would have to hitch into town to buy a new pair. Turns out he bought them for me and hid them somewhere along the road (Trail magic #4)

And on I went, three more days to make it to Stehekin where I would pick up my first package. And that’s where I am at now. I met some great people just before getting of the trail, they offered me a ride into town, a great lunch and the chance to use their laptop for a while (Trail Magic #5).

It’s been a great hike till now and I’m looking forward to the rest of this trip.

Happy trails,

Distance hiked: 110 miles / 178 kilometres
Days hiked: 7 days
Altitude climbed: 25450 ft / 7757 metres
Books read: The Book of Basketball – How to make your thru-hike a success – Not Taco Bell Material
Days of hiking with wet feet: 7 days
Days of good weather : 7 days