Update from PCT Mile 2144


Sandy provides a final update on our PCT progress, highlighting our time in Oregon.

The Pacific Crest Trail spans three states as it travels from Mexico to Canada: California, Oregon and Washington. The Oregon portion of the trail is the shortest of the three states, covering a distance of 455 miles. As we trekked closer to the California/Oregon border we heard all kinds of stories from other hikers. “Oregon is flat, and you can easily hike 25 to 30 miles each day,” one person told us. “It’s a “green tunnel” of shady forests with not many mountain views,” said another. All we knew was, after over 1,300 miles of hiking in California, we were ready to tackle a new state.

On Friday, July 29, we crossed the border from California to Oregon. A day and a half later we were outside of the town of Ashland. After an afternoon of resupplying and a night in a hotel, we were ready to continue our trek through the rest of the state, allotting a little over three weeks to complete the distance. As we walked, we passed through some forested areas, but had our share of ridge hiking, with views of Mount Shasta, now to the south of us. So much for the talk of no mountain vistas.

Our plan of completing about 20 miles a day continued, but we soon ran into many downed trees from the previous winter, which greatly slowed our progress. One hiker we spoke to counted over 400 trees that we needed to walk, climb, and sometimes even crawl under in one 40-mile stretch. The slow-going made us frustrated and resulted in taking all day to covered our scheduled distances.


Coming up to a group of downed trees


Crawling under downed trees

Another unexpected nuisance were the mosquitoes. We already had our share of them in the Northern Sierras, but were surprised to encounter so many mosquitoes in early August. Locals told us it was the worst mosquito year in recent memory. The conditions made camping uncomfortable, and we were even affected while hiking, as the mosquitoes would attack us as we walked. Our DEET spray and head nets greatly helped.


Wearing a mosquito net as I hiked

As we moved closer to Crater Lake National Park, we heard that a fire had started close to the PCT and that the trail had been closed. The only alternatives were either to road walk 25 miles around the affected area or to be driven to where the trail opened up again. When we arrived at the park at around noon on a Saturday, we confirmed that the trail was still closed. Disappointed, we made arrangements with a volunteer to be driven around the closure the next morning. We spent the afternoon doing laundry, showering and unpacking our resupply box. In the late afternoon a ranger came by an area where many hikers were congregated to inform us that the fire had subsided and the trail would be open again in the morning! We were happy to be able to continue walking through Oregon without any interruption.

The next morning we hiked up hill to the rim of Crater Lake. Created as a national park in 1902, Crater Lake is 1,949 feet deep, making it the deepest lake in the United States, the second deepest in North America and the ninth deepest in the world. The lake is known for its intense blue hue, and the vibrant color was apparent as we hiked along its rim.

The trail we walked on was designated as the hiker PCT until 2014, when the official PCT was moved inland to the equestrian alternative of the trail. However, most hikers still walk on the rim trail, since the official PCT has no views of the lake. Not only did we have clear lake vistas, unhindered by the fire, but the park roads were still closed to car traffic, so all the trail viewpoints were deserted, except for the other hikers on the trail with us. Our day along Crater Lake was one of our favorites of the entire PCT.


Crater Lake

Southern Oregon was dry, with many 10 mile sections without water, and even one 21 mile dry stretch near Crater Lake. The result was that the camping options were limited, making it imperative that we did not hike too late in the day, or we would risk having to walk in the dark to find another site, perhaps several more miles away. Some nights the camping areas resembled small tent cities as hikers jockeyed for a place to set up their space for the evening. We did get the opportunity to meet and talk with more people in Oregon than anywhere else on the trail, which we both greatly enjoyed.


Group of hiker tents near Crater Lake

The water situation improved as we continued north of Crater Lake and past a series of Cascade peaks. In successive days we hiked around Mount Thielsen (9,183 feet), Diamond Peak (8,743 feet), the Three Sisters (10,047 to 10,358 feet), Mount Washington (7,795 feet), Three Fingered Jack (7,844 feet) and Mount Jefferson (10,495 feet). Contrary to what we had heard, there were plenty of mountain views, which held our interest as we hiked. Unfortunately, we also encountered significant fire damage along the trail.


(Left to right) Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack and Mount Jefferson in the distance


Hiking through the Three Sisters

Near the Three Sisters were several sections of lava fields. The rocky trails were tricky to walk on and resulted in Darren dropping his cell phone and cracking the screen. Fortunately his phone still worked. We also encountered some of our steepest climbs while hiking through these areas, counter to what we had heard about Oregon being relatively “flat”.


Walking through the lava fields

Once past the lava fields, the mosquitoes subsided and we came upon a series of stunning lakes. We enjoyed camped next to several of them. Perhaps the most beautiful part of the trail was around Mount Jefferson. We hiked through the Mount Jefferson Wilderness and were treated to gorgeous lake and mountain scenery. After climbing out of a valley and walking through our final snowbank in Oregon, we camped next to Olallie Lake. The view of Mount Jefferson at sunset was breathtaking.


Mount Jefferson Wilderness


Snowbank hiking


Sunset at Olallie Lake with Mount Jefferson in the background

Our days of hiking alternated between mountains, ridges, and the “green tunnel” forests, sometimes with a few blooming flowers. The forest sections were my favorite, as I never tired of seeing all the shades of green under the canopy of trees.


Hiking through the 'Green Tunnel' forest - Central Oregon

Throughout our time in Oregon we continued to eat as much as we could to slow our weight loss. Darren, who had not lost much weight in California, was now losing significant pounds, as evidenced by his baggy clothes. At one resupply point we bought a block of cheddar cheese. That night we cut half of it up and melted it over our dehydrated chili. It was tasty!


Melted cheese and chili for dinner

About halfway through the state, I began hiking one morning, only to discover that I had a terrible pain in my right shin. I had developed a shin splint, probably caused by day after day of 20-plus mile distances while carrying a 30-pound pack. It was painful and got worse if the trail went straight up/down or was rocky. Fortunately, the next few days of hiking were on mostly packed dirt tracks with no steep ascents or descents. We still needed to cover our daily distance, so I gutted it out, sometimes almost in tears. Several times I considered quitting. I needed a goal, so closed my eyes and thought of the Columbia River ahead of us, marking the boundary between Oregon and Washington. That vision kept me going day after day.

We also had an appointment we wanted to keep near Mount Hood (elevation 11,250 feet), the tallest and most northerly of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. Our daughters Lauren and Kristen, along with their boyfriends, wanted to drive from Seattle to see us along the trail. We agreed to meet them at the town of Government Camp, a short distance from the PCT, and they booked a condo for all of us to spend a Saturday night together. We had a wonderful time with them, catching up over dinner and breakfast the next morning before rejoining the trail.


Dinner with our daughters and their boyfriends in Government Camp, Oregon

When we met our daughters, I asked Kristen to bring her scale so that we could weigh ourselves. We were surprised to learn that Darren was 30 pounds lighter, which was more weight than he had lost on the Race Across USA. Even more shocking was that I had lost 40 pounds! We expected to lose 20 to 30 pounds during the entire PCT and immediately became concerned, since we were not even finished with Oregon yet.

By the time we reached Government Camp, I had walked about 170 miles on my shin injury, and it wasn’t getting any better. Looking at the Washington elevation profiles, we knew there would be very steep sections of elevation gain and loss, with many uneven rocky trails. I couldn’t imagine walking 20 miles a day through Washington’s 505 miles under those conditions. Moreover, I was having some dizzy spells and stamina issues, making me exhausted at the end of each hiking day. And we couldn’t take a significant break or slow down because we would risk running into bad weather in Washington’s North Cascades.

Finally, while in Oregon, I began to experience some hair loss during those infrequent times I could take a shower and brush out my wet hair. An Internet search returned several results stating that “starvation” dieting was a possible cause. We read that, when losing a lot of weight in a short amount of time, the body may sense that starvation is not far behind. As a protective mechanism, the body directs its energy to essential needs, such as preserving muscle, and hair growth can be compromised.

After discussions during our family visit, as well as conversations between Darren and me, we came to the conclusion that it was not prudent to continue into Washington this year. With 55 more miles to hike from Government Camp to the border of Oregon, we could end our trek there, in three days’ time.

During the final three days we came across several streams that required some of the trickiest crossings since the Sierras.


Crossing Russell Creek


Crossing Muddy Fork

On the second day of trekking after leaving our daughters, we set out to cover 21 miles, with over 4,000 of elevation gain. It was our last big day of hiking, and the weather was cold and windy. Late in the afternoon we paused for a break along a ridge. Ahead of us we could see three mountains: Mount St Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. For the first time it dawned on me that those mountains were in Washington, and we would not be hiking there this year. I began to cry; partly because we could not continue and partly because I was grateful we had made it so far.


View of Washington Mountains (Mount Rainier faintly behind the ridge on the left, Mount Adams on the right)

We woke up to clear weather on our final morning of hiking. After lingering over coffee and breakfast at our campsite at Wahtum Lake, we began hiking the final 16 miles to the Columbia River and the town of Cascade Locks.

Darren at our final campsite at Watum Lake

Darren at our final campsite at Wahtum Lake

The trail descended over 5,000 feet, and I was worried how my shin would hold up. Luckily, there were not many rocks, so I was able to hike without too much pain. As we continued downward, we got our first glimpse of the Columbia River below us. It was hard not to become emotional again as I looked at it. Even though I was still in pain from my shin, at least we could complete Oregon on our own terms. We had both been through so much during the past four months, as we hiked through the Southern California desert, portions of the Sierra Nevada Range, and the volcanic peaks of the Northern California and Oregon Cascade Mountains.


First views of the Columbia River

I was relieved to be finishing our trek, but it was bittersweet and sad not to continue. We were thankful to complete more than 1,800 miles of the 2,650-mile trail, gaining over 300,000 feet in the process. During 129 total days, we only took eight full rest days. And on those days we hiked, we averaged 15.5 miles and 2,500 feet in elevation gain each day.

While Darren had the mental and physical experience from running across the country last year, I did not. Instead, I faced my own set of difficulties from the hike. I am not the fastest, or the most gifted hiker, and have a real fear of heights and narrow ridges, making the trail a real challenge for me. Crossing raging streams and hiking along precarious ledges continually tested my will, and I felt great satisfaction in completing almost 70% of California and all of Oregon this year.

After reaching Cascade Locks, we spent the next 2 1/2 weeks traveling around the Pacific Northwest, first to Seattle to spend more time with our daughters, then on to Vancouver, British Columbia, to relax for a week in a rented downtown apartment. We delighted in sleeping in a real bed, having great food and taking daily showers, compared to our previous life on the trail.

Our travels concluded with a 35-hour train trip back to Southern California. While on the train, we sat in the dining car finishing our dinner and looking out the window at the Oregon scenery. We had already seen Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson earlier in the day, and the train was passing through a dense forest as the sun was beginning to set. The track took us next to a beautiful lake, and we both paused to look out the window. I opened the Google Maps app on my phone to see where we were. I was surprised to discover that we were traveling next to Odell Lake. We had hiked on its opposite side just a few weeks earlier, on our way to a resupply point at Shelter Cove Resort. Viewing the lake triggered a flood of memories and emotions, as I already missed the beauty and simplicity of the trail.

Our hope is that we will be able to complete the 290 miles that we skipped in the Sierras, as well as the state of Washington, at a later date. In the meantime, we are so appreciate the experience that we had, and the support from all of you following our latest Trekking the Planet journey.


Start of the PCT, Campo, CA - April 17, 2016


Finishing point, Cascade Locks, OR - August 23, 2016

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Update from PCT Mile 1689

Entering Hat Creek Rim in the late afternoon

Sandy provides an update on our PCT progress, as we reach the Cascades, end our time in Northern California and cross the Oregon border.

The Cascade Range of mountains extend about 700 miles from British Columbia, Canada to Northern California. The Cascades differ from the Sierra Nevada Mountains in their series of volcanic peaks dotting Northern California, Oregon and Washington. In fact, all of the volcanic eruptions over the past 200 years in the contiguous United States have taken place in the Cascades, notably in Mount Lassen in 1914 and Mount St Helens in 1980. The Pacific Crest Trail passes close to some of the range’s most prominent peaks and includes traverses through Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park and North Cascades National Park.


Major mountains in the Cascade Range (source: Wikipedia)

The volcanic nature of the Cascades became apparent to us right away after leaving Belden, California as we noticed the lava rock along the trail.


Lava rock in the Cascades

We also had another new challenge to contend with, as our schedule had us increasing our hiking miles to between 17 and 24 a day. Our plan was to build upon the greater conditioning we gained from trekking through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, ensuring that we would reach Canada before cold weather hit. Although we had skipped 290 trail miles in the mountains, making our conditioning level less than optimal, we decided to stick with our new schedule.

It was another big climb for us leaving Belden and the Feather River, gaining 6,000 feet on our first day of hiking. We had a setback almost immediately, as Darren slipped on some rocks while crossing a river. He pulled a muscle in his lower back, making it painful to carry his pack full of seven days of food. Rather than cover the scheduled 18 miles, we stopped at 14 that day to give him a chance to recover. With 130 miles to go until the next resupply point and half-day break, we were concerned whether Darren would make it, but, thankfully, his back recovered over the next few days.


Darren climbing up the trail from Belden

Soon after leaving Belden, we saw our first view of Mount Lassen in the distance. We tracked our progress north as the peak got closer to us.


First views of Mount Lassen

During our hike, we were on alert for dangerous animals, such as bears and mountain lions. We never saw a bear and caught a just fleeting glimpse of a mountain lion. Ironically, we had the most animal trouble with the deer in Northern California. One night we were camping by ourselves and I woke up to a commotion outside of our tent. It was obvious that several large animals were just outside our walls. Terrified, I woke Darren up. We weren’t sure what the animals were, but we could hear them breathing next to us and running back and forth. If we made some noise they were scared away, but would return a few hours later. Needless to say, we didn’t sleep well that night.

The next morning we noticed deer prints in the dirt. Confused as to why deer would be interested in us, we asked a local woman later in the day. We were told that the deer were attracted to our salt, which they could get from our urine or anything sweaty that we left outside. As a rule, we don’t leave much outside our tent, but had peed the night before not too far away from where we slept. So we made sure that we did our business further away from our tent and brought all our items inside with us. We had a couple more deer issues in the ensuing nights, but at least we knew that they couldn’t take anything. Other hikers told us stories of losing shirts, socks, and even trekking poles to deer who ended up carrying them away during the night.


Deer at one of our campsites

The PCT went through 19 miles of Lassen Volcanic National Park. We took a side trip to Boiling Springs, a colorful hydro thermal lake with a water temperature of 125 degrees.


Boiling Springs Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

One thing that surprised us about Northern California was the lack of water sources. We expected long carries in the desert, but didn’t realize that we would need to contend with water issues here as well. The longest stretch without reliable water was 29 miles as we traversed Hat Creek Rim. The rim sits over 900 feet above a valley, and the PCT climbs up and travels along its edge, with views of Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta.

Entering Hat Creek Rim in the late afternoon

Entering Hat Creek Rim in the late afternoon


Looking down from Hat Creek Rim

The temperature was in the 80s and there was little shade, so we decided to tackle most of the ridge in one long day. We climbed up to the rim the afternoon before and camped on the top to prepare for an early start. The next day we covered 28 miles, our longest distance of the entire trek. We each carried six liters, supplemented by a small water cache and some shade that we encountered at lunchtime. It provided us with the opportunity to “camel” a liter each before continuing our hike.


Lunch in the shade of a water cache along Hat Creek Rim

Taking a half-day break at McArthur-Burney Falls State Park was a highlight for us. California’s second-oldest state park features a 129-foot waterfall, as well as a campground and general store. The store was a welcome sight for us. Our long days of hiking made us much more hungry, and we needed to supplement our resupply boxes with additional food. We added snacks, as well as second breakfasts of oatmeal and pre-dinners of ramen noodles.


McArthur-Burney Falls State Park

The PCT traveled mostly west after leaving the state park, as we headed towards Interstate 5 and the town of Dunsmuir. Our view north was dominated by Mount Shasta, the second tallest mountain in the Cascades and fifth highest in California.


Approaching Mount Shasta

As we neared Dunsmuir, I proposed to Darren that we take a “zero” (a full day break) there. I explained that we hadn’t taken a entire day off for 400 miles (since South Lake Tahoe), and that I unsure whether I could continue without a respite. Darren wanted to maintain our momentum and wait until we reached the Oregon border, but he reluctantly agreed with me. Refreshed after two nights in a real bed, he later admitted that he welcomed the break too.


Dunsmuir, California

Besides being tired from the increased mileage and limited downtime, I was becoming increasingly concerned about my weight. I had steadily been losing weight, which was to be expected when hiking eight to ten hours a day. However, I was losing pounds even faster since we increased our daily mileage. While in Dunsmuir, I ate as much as I could, having huge breakfast burritos and large lunches and dinners in an attempt to stop some of my weight loss. And we stocked up on even more snacks and extra meals as we set out on an eight-day food carry to the very top of Northern California.


Eating real food in Dunsmuir

This section of the PCT presented us with some of the most difficult hiking we had experienced since the Sierras. We climbed sharply on rocky trails through the Castle Crags Wilderness.


Castle Crags Wilderness

The steep climbs continued as we entered the Trinity Alps Wilderness. We also encountered some snow on a few sections of the trail. Even though the Trinity Alps featured stunning mountain, meadow and lake views and had some of the best scenery we had seen on the PCT, we both looked forward to Oregon, which we were told was “much flatter” than California.


Trinity Alps Wilderness

Unfortunately, two of the wilderness areas we passed through (Marble Mountain and Russian) had significant fire damage along the trail.


Fire damage in the Russian Wilderness

We were excited to be getting closer to Oregon and had been counting down the days since leaving Belden. Our last California resupply point was in Seiad Valley, located only about 35 trail miles from the border. We had a 24-mile hike planned the day before to get us in position to arrive in Seiad Valley for a half-day break. Darren was walking that morning with “Slim Jim”, a former Green Beret and member of a Special Forces unit, who had done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather than trying to keep up with the two of them, I decided to stay back and hike with a young woman who was having some trouble. It was hot (in the low 90s) and Darren and I agreed to meet at a certain stream to filter some water and take a lunch break.

Figuring I was walking too slow, I eventually left the young woman and picked up my pace. I was surprised to arrive at the stream with Darren nowhere in sight. Figuring he went to find some shade to wait for me, I continued a short distance up the trail. There was shade and other hikers, but no one had seen him or Slim Jim. As there was no cell service, I sent word to people hiking past me in both directions to let Darren know where I was. I sat and waited. It had been over three hours since I had last seen him, and I was getting worried. Was Darren way ahead of me? Or had he fallen down somewhere behind me, as the trail had traveled along several steep ridges?

Finally, after another 30 minutes, I saw him coming my way. Slim Jim had taken a wrong turn off the PCT and Darren had followed him. It took them a while to realize their mistake, by which time I had passed their location, so Darren had run several miles up hill to get back on the trail and find me. We were overjoyed to be reunited and to continue hiking. It made for a long day to cover our remaining miles, but we got to camp just as it was getting dark at 8:45 pm. Later that night we discussed what had happened, and we agreed to hike closer together for the rest of our trek.


Finishing our 24-mile hike

We had already completed several large elevation climbs out of Sierra City, Belden and Dunsmuir, and we were fortunate that the weather had not been too hot. Our luck ran out when we left Seiad Valley, as we climbed 5,000 feet over 11 miles in 100-degree heat. Even with an early start it was difficult, and I was having trouble. I had no energy and felt dizzy. We took several breaks on the way up, which helped, but I was worried. Climbs did not usually affect me that much – was my weight loss contributing to my lack of stamina?


Looking down to Seiad Valley during the climb

I felt a little better in the ensuing days, but did not have the same energy levels I was accustomed to in the past. We had stocked up on extra food in Seiad Valley, and I continued to eat as much as I possibly could. Oregon would not have the steep elevation gains we had experienced in Northern California, and I hoped I could slow the weight loss I was experiencing by expending less calories each day.

The moment we had looked forward to for several weeks came two days out of Seiad Valley, as we crossed into Oregon at PCT mile 1689. Although we had not covered every mile in California, we were still excited to complete the state, having hiked over 80% of its total distance during the past 3 1/2 months. And Oregon, with 455 miles of trail, would go a lot faster than our traverse of California, putting us that much closer to Canada.


We reach the Oregon border!

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Update from PCT Mile 1284


Sandy provides an update on our PCT progress, as we complete our time in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

It had been a traumatic experience for us to leave the PCT in the High Sierras, due to the raging river crossings. As we rejoined the trail in South Lake Tahoe, we weren’t sure whether we would encounter other issues that would force us to make a similar decision. We knew that we would still face some snow, but weren’t sure to what extent it would affect our hiking progress.

On a Sunday morning, we set out toward Echo Lake to begin trekking again. Almost immediately we were stunned to see many day and weekend hikers on the trail with us. It took time to weave through the people coming from both directions, and we were both overwhelmed. I decided to take a break to collect my thoughts before continuing.

The number of people were reduced somewhat once we entered the Desolation Wilderness just past Echo Lake. A Wilderness Area is congressionally designated public land that is further protected from human use. First created in 1964, the Wilderness Area Act encompasses 109 million acres of Federal land (or about 5% of the land in the United States). Desolation was the first of several Wilderness Areas that we hiked through in the ensuing days.

One of the highlights of the Desolation Wilderness was the lakes that we saw. Aloha Lake was perhaps our favorite. The rocks coming out of the water made for a surreal atmosphere.


Aloha Lake, Desolation Wilderness

As we approached Dick’s Pass (elevation 9,400 feet) on our second day back, we were surprised by the amount of snow still on the trail. It was not that much less than we had encountered in the High Sierras. When we came across snow on the passes, it necessitated either climbing up and down snow drifts on the trail (sometimes with extreme drop offs on the side), or finding our own way down to the dirt trail below. We used our phone GPS app to locate the trail and then decided which method made sense, given the amount of snow and the grade of the mountain. Either way, we had to take our time and be very careful as we picked our way along the trail. Fortunately, the streams were all manageable for us to cross.


Looking down at the snow from Dick's Pass


Dick's Pass (9,400 feet)

Since we had skipped ahead, we encountered many less PCT hikers on the trail. The ones we did see were what we termed “super hikers,” who were covering 25 to 30 miles a day. It was hard not to feel inferior as they flew past us. With less trekkers, the trail was more enjoyable, but it meant that there were not as many footprints to follow in the snow or around downed trees, so we had to rely on our GPS app to navigate through these obstacles. We also had more solitude, and we enjoyed camping along numerous lakes.


Camping at Lake Richardson

Our hiking also look us along the Tahoe Rim Trail, with great vistas of Lake Tahoe below us.


Lunch break with Lake Tahoe view

The increased navigation and snow that we encountered made it slow going. Our 31st wedding anniversary fell on our fourth day of resumed hiking. We were having a hard time with the snow, and I was almost in tears. During a break I checked my paper maps to pinpoint our location. While doing so, I noticed a highway coming up and a reference to lodge a mile off the trail. I mentioned to Darren since it was our anniversary, perhaps we could spend the night there and celebrate.

We had cell phone service, so I called the lodge. There was a room available that night and they had a restaurant serving dinner until 7:00 pm. That meant that we had to move quickly from our location, but we were able to arrive there at 6:40. The lodge was kind enough to give us a room discount and a free dinner in honor of our anniversary. Spending the night there made up for the difficulties suffered that day.


Hiking through a snow bank


Celebrating our anniversary at the lodge

After seven days of hiking, we arrived in Sierra City for a half day off (known as a “nero”). The town flourished during the California Gold Rush, with a peak population of 3,000, compared to a total of about 200 individuals today. The trail went sharply down to the highway, and we crossed the beautiful North Yuba River running through the city.

Being Fourth of July weekend, we thought we might have trouble getting a hotel room in town, so we made a few calls a couple of days before arriving. However, there were no available rooms. We tried the RV park in town, and they had a vintage trailer we could stay in. It was comfortable and allowed us to shower and do laundry, always a welcome activity for us. The owners of the RV park gave us an option to stay another night for free, but we felt it important to keep moving, so we politely declined their offer.


Sierra City, California


Our vintage trailer for the night

After the steep descent to Sierra City, the next day we needed to climb out of the valley, gaining 5,000 feet in the process. Besides the extreme elevation gain, we had to deal with one of the worst trail conditions to date. The track was severely eroded in places, with some sections barely wider than my shoe. It was rocky and uneven. Overgrown plants made it hard to see where to walk. And to top it off, a rattlesnake appeared in one narrow section, and we had to navigate carefully around it. After a harrowing two hours we were behind the worst of it and back on solid ground.


Hiking along the trail above Sierra City

As we continued to hike this section of the PCT, one of the highlights was the Sierra Buttes. These distinctive, rugged peaks rise 8,587 feet above the valley. Each day we trekked, we could see more mountain ranges in front of us. However, the height and sharpness of each one decreased as we moved north. Looking behind us, I could make out the snow covered peaks of the High Sierras. Those ranges grew fainter as we progressed, until one day they were totally gone from our sight.


Sierra Buttes

Another advantage we gained from skipping ahead on the trail was that we were treated to a great variety of blooming flowers. Entire hillsides were bursting with color as we hiked, making some of our climbing much more rewarding.


Flowers in bloom


Flowers on a hillside

Our time in the Sierras came to an end with our arrival in Belden, located on the Feather River. The night before descending down to Belden, we camped on a high ridge and were treated to a beautiful sunrise the next morning.


Sunrise on the ridge

We had to work hard to get a hotel room there on a Thursday night, because a weekend festival was in town. And when we arrived, we were told that the room we had reserved was not available and we would have to camp. After several discussions with hotel personnel, we persevered and got our room.

Our resupply box (with new shoes) had been sent to a trail angel in town, but she was driving someone to Sacramento, so could not meet us with our package. Instead, she suggested that we go to her house and locate the package ourselves. We had to walk a mile down a narrow and twisting highway to find her house. Once inside, we searched several rooms with stacked packages from floor to ceiling before finally locating ours. There was an RV park a short distance away, and we enjoyed lunch, complete with burgers and homemade shakes, before returning to the hotel. We had a short afternoon to accomplish all of this and would have preferred an entire day off, but with no other hotel options, we decided to continue hiking north.

Crossing the Feather River marked the end of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the beginning of the Cascades. Our first few weeks back on the trail challenged us with snow, elevation gains and losses and sketchy trails. But we were excited for what lie ahead as we continued through Northern California and toward Oregon.

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Update From PCT Mile 1090


Sandy provides an update on our PCT progress. (Due to poor Internet connectivity, apologies for the delay in getting this post published.)

The past segment of the PCT from Tehachapi, CA has had a little of everything: heat, scarce water, fire worries, treacherous trail, snow, and finally, torrential rivers and streams.  It also marked the end of our desert hiking and the beginning of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Leaving Tehachapi with a full pack, we encountered steep climbs and warm temperatures.  We had been fortunate during our time in the desert and had not experienced hot days. But this was to change. It was the first week of June, and in addition to a fire in the vicinity that we needed to track, we now had to monitor our water intake as there were long stretches between reliable water sources. Several springs that had water earlier in the year were now dry.

The longest stretch without water was 42 miles. This meant that we needed to hike the distance over two days as we couldn’t carry enough water to sustain us past that period of time. Even so, we had to ration our water to ensure we didn’t run out while hiking in 80 to 90 degree temperatures,  Thankfully there were a couple of water caches that helped, but it was still a tough section, with two days of 20+ miles to cover – the most we had hiked so far.


At a water cache with Devilfish, a trail angel

After reaching Walker Pass, between Lake Isabella and Ridgecrest, we began hiking in the foothills of the Sierras.  The landscape around us was still desert but we could begin to see snow capped mountains in the distance. We traversed a series of hills, climbing up and over them to find another set before us. Close to mile 690 that changed as we hiked over the top of a hill and viewed meadows, pine trees, and the south fork of the Kern River below us. It was a dramatic and welcome  transformation from the desert to the mountains.


View of the South Kern River before us

That night we camped next to the Kern River and couldn’t resist going for a swim. After the scarcity of water we had experienced, it was wonderful to have it all around us.


Swimming in the South Kern River

At mile 702 is a major milestone on the PCT.  Kennedy Meadows is considered the symbolic entry point into the Sierras and the general store is a major resupply station. Many hikers socialize around the store. Loud applause rang out to any PCT’ers approaching from the trail as a congratulations for getting this far. 

Hikers typically receive their mountain gear here, and our resupply box included bear canisters for storing our food, micro spikes for walking on the snow, and attachments to our walking sticks to keep them from sinking in slushy snow (post holing). Because we would no longer need to carry up to seven liters of water each, our packs were actually not as heavy as when we were hiking in some of the desert segments.  Darren also took the opportunity to buy some eggs and bacon at the store and cook it on our Jetboil stove.  It  was tasty!


Darren preparing eggs and bacon at Kennedy Meadows

We left Kennedy Meadows, beginning our climb toward the high Sierras. We scheduled our miles to climb high and camp low to help us adjust to the altitude.  For example, one day our hiking took us to 10,500 feet and we slept at 8,900 feet that night. The next day we climbed to over 11,000 feet and slept at 9,600 feet and so on. Our objective was to be ready to climb the series of 11 mountain passes ranging from 10,000 to 13,000 feet. As we hiked closer to the first pass,  we walked through a series of stunning meadows.


Viewing Gomez Meadow

After climbing over Cottonwood Pass (11,140 feet), we entered Sequoia National Park, the first of seven parks that the PCT passes through. That night we camped at Rock Creek, watching deer grazing in a meadow and crossing a stream as we ate dinner at dusk.


Watching deer at dusk

The highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail is also one of the most challenging passes to climb.  Forrester Pass is at 13,120 feet in elevation and the trail cuts across a snow chute with thousands of feet in drop-off right before the climbing over a saddle.  We camped at 10,900 feet and started our ascent at about 6:30 am to time our hike so that we would not be walking in slushy snow and risk post holing. There were some snow drifts on the mountain, making it difficult to stay on the trail, and necessitating some scrambling straight up at times. The snow chute was terrifying for me, with my fear of heights.  The only way I could cross it was to follow right behind Darren and step in his footprints, not looking down.


Darren crossing the snow chute at Forrester Pass

We entered Kings Canyon National Park as we began the climb down Forrester Pass. There was quite a bit of snow on the descent, so it was slow-going for us.  But having the micro spikes made walking through the snow much easier there and at Glen Pass. Other hikers who didn’t have them were more likely to fall.

We left the trail to resupply and for a rest day in the small town of Independence. When we rejoined the PCT,  hiking back on the same 7.5 mile trail we had exited on,  we were shocked at how much snow had melted in two days. There was a record-breaking heat wave taking place in the Southwestern US and the Sierras were not exempt. While having less snow to contend with was welcome, the accelerated melt caused a more serious problem: it made the already early season stream crossings much more dangerous. Over the next day and a half, we encountered more and more challenging crossings, sometimes having to walk on logs or knee-high through rushing currents.

At mile 802, on the way up to Pinchot Pass, we came to a crossing that took my breath away.  It consisted of a waterfall with a narrow crossing point under it.  Below the crossing was a 50-foot drop-off into a larger river below. The current was raging and you could not see the bottom of the water. As I watched a couple of people struggling through the crossing from the other side, it was clear that the water was at least thigh-high. One slip would most certainly send you over the 50-foot edge.

Darren and I discussed our options. We knew that there were other notorious crossings ahead,  and even if we made it through this one, how would those be with the increased water levels? It was then that we reluctantly decided to turn back. We had promised our family that we would not take any unnecessary risks and we did not feel comfortable continuing.

Back at mile 800 was an intersection with a trail that ended in Kings Canyon National Park, and we began a 15-mile walk to that trailhead, ending mid-morning the next day.  We had no idea how we would get a ride out of Kings Canyon but we knew that the trailhead was a popular place, so we hoped for a miracle. And we found a true angel to help us. We were at the trailhead parking lot for no more than 15 minutes before a gentleman approached us and asked if we were waiting for a ride. It turned out he was the pastor of a church in Fresno and he had come back to retrieve his car that he had left while on a few days’ hike north of us. He gladly drove us to Fresno (100 miles), repeatedly refusing our offers to pay for his gas.  What a miracle when we needed it!

In Fresno we reviewed our options. Even though we had left the trail, we wanted to continue hiking to Canada. After looking at the weather, snow levels, and logistics, we decided to skip 290 trail miles forward to South Lake Tahoe, bypassing the rest of the high Sierra passes and snow melt. Our hope is that we can make good time toward Canada and then “flip” back to complete the section we missed at a later date, either later this year or at another time. 

By a combination of train and buses, it was an easy six-hour trip between Fresno and South Lake Tahoe. Now, preparing for our reentry, we are looking forward to getting back on the trail at mile 1090 and experiencing the PCT again.

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Update from PCT Mile 566


Sandy provides another update on our PCT progress.

Since our last post we have arrived in Tehachapi, CA, located about 35 miles southeast of Bakersfield.


Tehachapi, CA

The 224-mile section we completed since leaving Cajon Junction exposed us to a variety of terrain as we hiked. We also had to deal with several long stretches without reliable water,  the first being the day we left Cajon. It was 28 miles to the next water source and the trail climbed almost the entire way. Fortunately, the weather was cool, but our backs were straining under the weight of our packs containing seven liters of water each, along with eight days worth of food until our next resupply in the town of Agua Dolce.

As we climbed from Cajon we entered the Angeles National Forest. It was established in 1908 as California’s first National forest. We walked through the mountains for several days,  climbing to a maximum elevation of 9,300 feet near the peak of Mount Baden-Powell. There were a few dicey snow patches that we had to navigate through on the trail, making me wish I had my microspikes that I would be receiving for use in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.


Navigating through the snow

Baden-Powell’s summit was only a tenth of a mile off the trail and I was tired once we got there, so initially just Darren went to the top. However, I decided I couldn’t pass up the opportunity so walked to join him on the top of the mountain, at an elevation of 9,406 feet. We also spent time hiking through several burn areas and had to leave the trail to walk through two detours: one to protect an endangered frog and one around a recent fire. Walking through the fire closure took us to the town of Lake Hughes, where we nabbed a hotel room above a bar and restaurant and spent a half day relaxing.


The Rock Inn in Lake Hughes

Back on the PCT, the trail continued through oak forests and provided some of our favorite scenery of the section.  Another thing we liked about the Angeles National Forest were the series of trail camps, which provided the opportunity to overnight with a picnic table and outhouse close by. It was a real luxury for us after sitting on rocks and logs and using natural bathrooms.


Hiking through the oaks

Finally, we left the forest and came to the Mojave Desert.  Here, we walked over 20 miles with no shade next to an aqueduct before many miles of  traversing through a series of dusty hills. Because of the heat,  many hikers take a “siesta” and rest during the hottest part of the day and still others hike the miles during a series of night hikes. We chose to hike per our regular schedule as the temperatures were only in the 80s and we felt that the heat would only add to our fitness.


The LA Aqueduct

While hiking towards Tehachapi we came across scores of Joshua Trees and also passed through (and slept in) a series of wind farms. True to the area, we encountered strong winds some days, slowing our progress and making for some noisy nights in our tent.

We also continued to come across rattlesnakes and had a running joke about “snake hour,” which took place between 8:00 am and 9:00 am each day. Inevitablely we would encounter rattlesnakes during that time,  including the day we heard one in the grass next to us only to move away and almost step on another coiled on the actual trail!


Rattlesnake on the trail

One of the best things about this section of the PCT were the “trail angels” we encountered. These are people who help out hikers by providing food, drinks, or even a place to stay. Some, like in Agua Dolce and near Lancaster, allow you to send resupply boxes, so we spent several hours at each place, relaxing, taking a shower,  and getting ready for the miles ahead. Other trail angels turn out when you least expect it, like when we had finished a 17-mile stretch without water in the Mojave Desert, only to come across a structure in the middle of nowhere. Inside, hot dogs,  baked beans, and popcorn were being prepared and cool sodas and beers were available. Water caches set up periodically were also welcome and we used the opportunity to “camel” and drink a liter each from the stache before continuing on.


Hikers enjoying trail angel hospitality

In Tehachapi we took a couple of days off before tackling the final portion of the desert leading up to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Among other things, we received a box with new shoes to replace the ones worn out from the first 500 miles of hiking.


New and old shoes

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Update from PCT Mile 342


Sandy provides an update on our PCT progress.

We are at Cajon Junction, mile 342 on the Pacific Crest Trail, and at the end of four weeks of trekking. Already in that time we have hiked through a variety of weather, including rain, fog, gusty winds, a snowstorm, and temperatures in the 90s.


Sandy hiking through the snow near Big Bear, CA

Along the way we have been treated to the beauty of the Southern California desert, with brief interludes in the San Jacinto and San Bernardino Mountains. 


Beginning our hike at the Mexican Border

We began from the Mexican border on April 17, near the town of Campo, CA. With the increase in the amount of rain this winter we have seen a super bloom of desert flowers as we hiked. Red, yellow, pink, white, and purple flowers have been on display as we trekked through landscapes of scrub brush, cactus, oak, and manzanita trees.

We have heard the howls of coyotes at night, glimpsed lizards and horned toads, and come across several snakes in our path, three bring rattlers. Our highest elevation thus far was about 9,000 feet for a short time in the San Jacinto Mountains. Because we are primarily in the desert, we need to be cognizant about water, sometimes carrying up to 13 liters between us as we move to reliable sources.


Rattlesnake encountered on the trail

With almost a month of PCT trekking under our belt, we have developed a routine. A typical day for us starts with the sound of birds waking us up at sunrise. After coffee / tea and some bars for breakfast, we take down our tent and pack up. We generally hit the trail between 7:30 and 8:00 am. Once a week we treat ourselves to a hot breakfast, either oatmeal or powdered eggs and canned ham.


Sandy eating powered eggs

After about two hours we stop for a snack and some “energy tea.” Each night we put a tea bag in a liter bottle and let it cold brew. In the morning we add electrolyte tablets and natural juice flavor packets. We then add water to create two liters and divide the mixture between us. It is a nice change from drinking just plain water and gives us energy for any uphill climbs we have that day.

Between noon and 1:00 pm we stop for lunch, focusing on finding a shady place to sit. We usually have some kind of protein (tuna or pepperoni) on a tortilla or bagel. Accompanied with that are dried fruit and peanut M&Ms. Add more energy tea for good measure and we are off for the afternoon.

By 4:00 pm most days we have chosen a campsite and set things up for the night. I get the tent and bedding organized while Darren does the cooking. We put together a series of eight different dinners before we left with purchased dehydrated ingredients, so our meals range from six bean chili to pasta with beef to Pad Thai with rice noodles and peanuts. As the sun sets we are in our tent ready to sleep and start hiking again the next day.

The trail itself provides a continual challenge. One day we may gain thousands of feet and the next day lose it all. There are places where we have to climb over downed trees or step carefully on an eroded trail with large dropoffs. But for all that the trail throws at us, we are doing well with just a couple of blisters and achy legs and feet each night.


Desert vista from the trail

At Cajon we are now slightly less than halfway to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, one of the jewels of the PCT. But we are finding time now to enjoy the 700 miles of desert trail and all that it has to offer.


Sunrise over our camp

Posted in Destination Dispatch, North America Tagged with: , ,

Preparing for the Pacific Crest Trail

Items in resupply box for  Northern California

Sandy details some of our preparation for the Pacific Crest Trail trek.

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,650-mile trek through California, Oregon and Washington. It should take us about 5 1/2 months to complete it. We have spent about that same amount of time preparing for this journey. Our preparation falls into three categories:



Resupply boxes ready to be sent

We expect to burn up to 4,000 calories a day while hiking, so nutrition is important to us. There are several schools of thought for getting food on the trail: people either buy it en route, send it to themselves or use a combination of the two. We chose to rely primarily on resupply boxes so that we could have control over what we eat and not spend precious time shopping. Darren did research into meals and snacks, and we decided to prepare our own dinners ahead of time, using a variety of dehydrated ingredients. We have eight rotating meals, including Pad Thai, Six Bean Chili, Pasta with Beef and Kathmandu Curry, comprised of lentils, beans, potatoes, carrots, rice and curry. In total, we packed about 150 dinners for our trek.


Kathmandu Curry waiting to be packed

We also stocked up on items such as peanut butter (a high calorie and fat food), crackers, bars, jerky, dried fruit, coffee and tea.

Items in resupply box for  Northern California

Items in resupply box for Northern California

We will be picking up resupply boxes at post offices, hotels, stores and from trail angels (folks who offer to help hikers) along the route. Our daughter Kristen and my parents will be sending the boxes ahead for us as we hike. The resupply interval will vary from three to eight days.



Working out on the elliptical machine and lifting weights

We made the decision to hike the PCT at the end of October, so have had only about five months to train. Since then, we have spent time at the gym on the elliptical machines and lifting weights. Eventually, we worked up to an hour with loaded backpacks on high levels of the elliptical, giving us a feeling of progress. A couple times a week we also did some local day hiking in the hills around our Palm Desert, California home.

The first 700 miles of the PCT is through the desert, and we took several backpacking training trips to get used to that environment. It also gave us the opportunity to try gear and make adjustments. Some items, like our sleeping bag, mattress pad and tent, are the same as what we used on our Trekking the Planet RTW journey, but others, like our backpack, stove and water filtration system, are new for this hike. Going on training hikes allowed us to learn what worked and what didn’t. Just a week ago we completed a two-day 28-mile trip in Joshua Tree National Park.

Another important aspect of the PCT trail is that many miles are spent in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and Cascades. We will almost certainly have to hike in snow. It is one area that we don’t have much experience, so we spent time watching instructional videos, reviewing the wealth of knowledge on the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) website and reading blogs of past PCT hikers. At the end of February we drove to Seattle to visit our daughter Lauren and took the opportunity to complete a day hike in Mt Rainier National Park, where there was plenty of snow to try out our microspikes and ice axes. An ice axe is an important tool when hiking in the steep mountains. If you slip, self arresting with the ice axe can slow your fall. Having the opportunity to practice in the snow was important to us.



Sandy and Darren at the Race Across USA halfway point in Texas

Sandy and Darren at the Race Across USA halfway point in Texas

Finally, there are the items that don’t fall into any category. These are mostly around the expectations of the trek. The PCT is a demanding, remote trail and many people don’t finish it. As some of you may know, Darren completed the Race Across USA last year, running 3,080 miles from California to Washington D.C. So he is familiar with the physical and mental pain in logging mileage day after day. I was there too, as the Race Director, and I saw first-hand what all the runners went through, dealing with blisters, injuries and fatigue. I am preparing myself for a similar experience on our journey and hope I am tough enough to persevere. Having Darren’s experience is invaluable, and I think will increase our chances of making it all the way to Canada in 5 1/2 month’s time.

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Our Next Journey – The Pacific Crest Trail!

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=327692


Sandy provides an update on Trekking the Planet’s next journey!

Twenty years ago, in September 1996, Darren and I backpacked in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, hiking the 46-mile Rae Lakes Loop in Kings Canyon National Park. We got caught in a snowstorm and encountered fierce winds over the 11,978 foot Glen Pass, but had a wonderful time trekking though some of the most incredible scenery in the world. We both love to hike and camp, and that trip was the precursor of many other trekking adventures to come, including New Zealand, Switzerland, India and Peru. The culmination of our hiking was our Trekking the Planet around the world (RTW) expedition, where we trekked in 12 of the most culturally and naturally significant places in the world. Now, our focus has turned back to the United States and to our next adventure.

On April 17, 2016 we will begin hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It runs 2,650 miles from the Mexican Border in California to the Canadian Border in Washington. One of the best-known trails in the United States, the PCT is a National Scenic Trail and part of the triple crown of the Appalachian Trail and Continental Divide Trail.


The PCT is unique in that it covers a variety of terrain while traveling through California, Oregon and Washington. The trail goes through several distinct geographic regions, including alpine tundra, subalpine forest and desert. In addition to its traverse through the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, the PCT snakes through 700 miles of desert and over 50 mountain passes, crossing 24 national forests and 33 wilderness areas. The trail’s elevation ranges from 180 feet to over 13,000 feet. This year is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and we are excited to pass through seven national parks during our journey (Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite, Lassen Volcanic, Crater Lake, Mount Rainier and North Cascades). And in Kings Canyon National Park, the PCT will travel on a 12.5 mile portion of the Rae Lakes Loop that we completed 20 years ago.

Ansel Adams Wilderness, California - by Steve Dunleavy from Lake Tahoe, NV, United States (Uploaded by Hike395, CC BY 2.0) https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22262608

Ansel Adams Wilderness, California – by Steve Dunleavy from Lake Tahoe, NV, United States – (Uploaded by Hike395, CC BY 2.0), https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22262608

We plan to cover an average of 16 miles a day and be at the Canadian border on about October 1. We need to time our arrival in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to occur when the majority of snow has melted (hopefully by mid-June). Conversely, we want to finish our time in Washington’s Cascade Mountains in the early fall in order to avoid any major snowfall there. But, with any long-distance trip, we expect the unexpected and will plan accordingly.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=327692

Mt Hood Wilderness, Oregon (CC BY-SA 3.0), https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=327692

While trekking, we plan to provide updates via our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds. This will be highly dependent on cell phone service, which will be especially problematic in the mountains. Unfortunately, because of sporadic cell phone service, we will not be publishing any education modules or newsletters while we are hiking. Through our social media updates, our hope is that we can provide a feel of what it is like to be on the trail and our discoveries along the way. So check back often to keep updated about our latest journey!

By Marshmallow from Seattle, WA, USA - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=389216

Glacier Peak Wilderness, Washington – by Marshmallow from Seattle, WA, USAFlickr, (CC BY 2.0), https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=389216

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The Trekking the Planet Book is Now Available!


In 2011, 25-year corporate veteran Sandy Van Soye had a dream to travel with a purpose. Out of this vision came the Trekking the Planet expedition. Sandy and her husband Darren left their jobs and traveled 14 months to 53 countries on six continents, bringing the subject of geography to life through stories, pictures, and videos from the road. Following their travels were 55,000 students in 20 countries.

Darren and Sandy traveled to such places as the Phongsali province of Laos, the countries of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, the Tigray region of Ethiopia, and the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil. An integral part of their journey was a goal to complete 500 miles of demanding trekking in 12 of the most remote locations on the planet.

More than just about their expedition, Trekking the Planet is the story of Sandy’s perseverance in making her dream come true. This was put to the test while trekking in difficult conditions, narrowly missing a plane crash in Nepal, and being bitten by a vampire bat in Brazil. This book not only details these challenges, but how the dream of traveling with a purpose ended up giving back in its own special way, changing her life forever.

There are three versions of the book to choose from:

Softcover Deluxe Print Version

This book provides an in-depth overview of our journey, with numerous maps and hundreds of photos. Click the button below to purchase the book.


Kindle Version

Optimized for Kindles and the Kindle app, this book includes journey maps and some pictures. It is currently available to read for free if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription. Click to order the book from Amazon.com.


PDF Version

Perfect for large tablets and computers, this fixed format book contains the same expedition maps and pictures as the softcover version. Buy the PDF by clicking the button below.



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Sunday Slideshow: Mediterranean Sea


Read the accompanying story.

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Sunday Slideshow: Laos


Read the accompanying story and watch the video.

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Sunday Slideshow: Tasmania, Australia


Read the accompanying story and watch the video.

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