I take great care with planning my long-distance hikes. After all, I have been doing this for a long time now – 21 years since I took up long distance hiking. Most of the time my plans have been good and I get all, or almost all of the miles done that I plan. There have been a few exceptions – a bowel obstruction in Pennsylvania knocked me off trail toward the end of one hike, a hike in Montana was changed around some by fires and smoke; a fall on my face brought one up short. But, generally, my plans are good and most, if not all, of the hike goes as planned. Not this one.
I am a long section hiker, not a thru-hiker. That means I don’t start at one end and walk all the way through to the other end though multiple days and in one direction. A long section hiker has more leeway. I don’t care if it is in all one direction. I just care that I do it all. And, though old, I can arrange things in the easiest way for me to accomplish my goal of hiking the whole trail.
I have been working on the American Discovery Trail, which goes coast to coast, since 2015. The eastern part is quite different from the western part. My second book, Aren’t You Afraid? Is about going from the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Henlopen, Delaware to Omaha, Nebraska. I have, since that book was written, completed Nebraska, Colorado, and 99% of Utah. I also did 140 miles in Nevada before falling on my face in 2017. In the west, I cannot depend all the time on knocking on doors and finding random people to help. Although mountain ranges do not go east to west even in the west, more of the country is wilderness, so it is more like wilderness hiking on the National Scenic Trails, more of the time.
I admit to being somewhat intimidated by Nevada after having taken that fall in 2017. Nevada is just hard. It is also dry, with rare water sources. Nevada has 16 mountain ranges running north and south, separated by high desert valleys. Though the ADT doesn’t go over every mountain range in Nevada nor across every desert valley, it does hit quite a few. And the border between Nevada and California includes Lake Tahoe and the Sierra. Yet in terms of total miles, I should be able to knock off Nevada and California in two fall hikes and one spring hike. So how should I do that? In particular, how should I plan my fall hike?
I’m not getting any younger. It seemed I should get the highest parts done this fall. The highest part that one could drive to was Lake Tahoe. My friend Kathy was willing to support me for my fall hike and Bob Palin, coordinator for the Utah section of the ADT was willing to support me at the end for the last bit of Utah. Some of California, a big chunk of Nevada and the last of Utah seemed like a good fall hike.
I met Kathy in Truckee and began, according to plan: I started slowly and increased distance for three days. But the next six were to be two backpacks down to Forest Hill and California was having a heat wave. I was not interested in hiking down into high temperatures. No problem. I would just do three more days around Tahoe on the Nevada side, a bit cooler. Hopefully the heat wave would end. It would include my first two-day water carry. It went well. I had trained for carrying the excess weight.
But on the last day it seemed hazy, smoke hazy. I texted Kathy, “What’s burning?” “Forest Hill.” Uh-oh. I instantly knew that six-day backpack was a no go. There was only one road in – through Forest Hill. On the one hand, the heat wave kept me from following the schedule or doing that backpack. On the other hand, I wasn’t caught in a fire and neither Kathy nor I were trapped by the fire on that access road.
So, we headed out of Truckee past Reno to continue with the rest of my plan. 40 miles past Reno the Van computer check engine light comes on and says there are only 8 more times the engine will start. What?! The end result is we go back to Truckee. And its Friday, the weekend. Truckee can’t work on it until Monday. I don’t need 3 days off. I need to hike. A quick email to Bob in Utah. Yes, he can support me for 4 days. I drive all the way across Nevada and meet Bob in Beaver, just as storms spawned by Hurricane Kay are to reach Utah. I hike for two days, the second one a rainy day hike. Then Bob says he has the wrong truck. It is too heavy and the ground too soft for him to safely get me up sketchy mountain roads for the last two days. On the one hand, I only got two days hiking in and had to drive all the way back to Truckee still not completing Utah. On the other hand, I did get two days hiking in, and we didn’t die skidding off a mountain road or get stuck.
On the way driving back I witnessed the bad weather hit Nevada with big thunderstorms south of Highway 50 with black clouds obscuring the mountain tops and the fattest lightning bolts I have ever seen striking directly into the ground. At least I wasn’t camping in a tent in that storm. On the one hand, the Van had a mechanical problem causing lots of upset to my plans. On the other hand, we weren’t in that storm.
When I reach Kathy in Truckee, the smoke in Truckee and Reno was very thick. The shop in Truckee could not fix the Van. We had an appointment in Reno at the dealer for Thursday. They were a mechanic short. Friday, they think they fixed the problem. We drive away to the east. Two problems. First, we decide to start at Berlin, Ichthyosaur State Park, the next part of the plan. There is now a shell shock sounding Ranger on the Berlin answering machine. They had a flash flood in that storm I had seen. The park is now closed. Don’t know when it will open. So, the rest of my plans are pretty much trash. Also, there is a lot of smoke clear to Austin.
Also, they didn’t fix the Van. The check engine light is on again and the countdown of how many times it will start is also on again. And it is Friday afternoon, the weekend again. They will look at the Van again on Monday.
When I had packed, I had thrown in some old plans made for eastern Nevada I had made in 2017, the year I fell on my face and had to bail from the trail in Nevada. OK, new plan: we will go to Baker. We bought a number of gallons of water and a shovel and bright pink shoelaces. I figured out how to cache water, leave 2 food drops and get 7-9 days of hiking in.
Kathy dropped me off Sunday morning and drove back to Reno. I took a 4-day backpack back to my car using a two day water carry and cached water. After reaching Baker, I drove my car back to Cave Lake and hiked 3 days to Preston, using water caches and another two-day water carry. In this plan, I could stay at the motel in Preston for a rest day and hike 2 more days, hoping the van works by then and Kathy picks me up. That would give Kathy 7-9 days to get van fixed, her meds taken care of, and catch up with me.
On the one hand, all my plans are trashed. On the other hand, we weren’t caught in the flash flood, I had the old plans, knew how to cash water, and the van will start enough times to get the setup ready to hike.
And it did work. And since my computer was in the car, I could plan the next section, from Preston to an access to Eureka. The trail has been changed and there is no mileage or directions, only a route. But I could figure pretty close to the mileage with my computer. And I did. After my two backpacks we spent a day exploring the southern end of the section and discovering that there was a large gully preventing car or Van from getting as far as I wanted. It would have to do. Kathy took me to the northern end access and I started out for a two day walk with another two-day water carry. Surely glad I had trained for carrying more weight than usual.
One problem, hmm: There was that difference between where the Van could get to and where I was figuring mileage. I ended up walking that night with headlamp. On the one hand, I was walking in the dark. On the other hand, I was walking, it was a nice walk, and if I had figured it right, I might not have done it.
Three days before the end of the trip, Kathy once again dropped me off and planned to pick me up 13 miles farther along. She decided to get there early and had a lovely afternoon reading in the car, enjoying the breezes blowing through windows and opened car door. She had checked that the dome lights were not on. But she didn’t realize that there was a light under the door. So, when I arrived and climbed into the car, she turned the key and there was dead silence, the battery had drained away all afternoon.
We were three miles from the main road. We walked together for a short leg up a small hill and a miracle occurred. She had one bar of reception and connected with the tow truck. But we are on the American Discovery Trail and follow waypoints or routes. That does not translate into directions locals can understand. The tow truck doesn’t know where we are. So, I got to walk three more miles. I was almost to the main road when it got dark. I see lights coming over the hill from the main road and hold up my headlamp so I can be seen. The driver is the best friend of the tow truck driver’s ex-wife. “Are you the one Jeff is trying to find?” “Yes.” She takes me to Jeff, Jeff drives to the car and starts it. All is well. On the one hand, I had to walk an extra three miles wondering if I would find the tow truck. On the other hand, my next day was a short one as I had already walked three miles.
All along, we had been checking out both ends of sections as information about this new section of trail was lacking. The next section coming up that I wanted to get done had to be scouted. Kathy did not like that section, Monitor Valley. She refused the plans I had made. Big bummer. After the short day we also checked out the valley on the other side of the Toquima Range. It was a bicycle alternate route that I, reluctantly, think I need to take as at my advancing age, Jefferson Peak is higher than I want to go and the side of it is higher than I think I can safely camp. As I have gotten older, altitude is effecting me. I don’t think anyone has done this alternate route (New Moore’s Creek) for a very long time. As we checked that out, we found a very substantial and very locked gate. Probably best to take a slightly longer route on the New Moore’s Creek Road. We scouted that. It will be part of next year’s challenge.
I did get the range into Monitor Valley done. On the one hand I did not get the 350 miles hiked that I had planned. All those highest ranges await me next year. I will still have to train for carrying two day’s of water. On the other hand, I did get 276 miles done even when beset with multiple obstacles beyond my control. And I will know which route to take next year in the Toquima Range and not have an irate rancher come after me with a shotgun. Not bad for an old lady.