Updates as of 8/15/15

Hey guys, yep I’m alive and kicking.  I know that I have been absent for a while and it seems that my blog has all but withered up and died.  But I can assure you that isn’t the case.  I am still hiking and still crushing miles (all be it not as fast as some others).  This blog is something that I have put on the back burner for a number of reasons, but something that I really do care about.  Here is why…

At the start of this journey I decided to write a blog to share my adventures with friends and family along the way.  Unfortunately none of them really paid attention (in the beginning) to my blog and so I figured maybe it would be useful to other people doing research for future PCT hikes.  I specifically did not want this to be a day-by-day blog, as I did not want to be married to writing every day on trail.  I had heard from various people about the difficulties of hiking 25 miles a day, day after day, and the exhausting amount of energy that takes.  Unlike most successful bloggers, I am not a writer and therefore this doesn’t just flow for me.  I am also BRAND NEW to WordPress and it is a learning curve that I haven’t really had time to embrace.  So I decided to make video journals throughout the day as I hiked and thought I would be able to upload those to this blog site which would make it easy for those listening to see and feel what my days are like on trail.  Being in front of the camera is a lot easier for me than writing.  Unfortunately, none of this panned out the way it was supposed to.

I won’t even go into all of the technical difficulties I have had with this simple task.  When you have technical difficulties on trail, it is not easy to research and remedy the situation.  My camera shoots in .mov format which is the dumbest thing ever because NOTHING other than Apple products can view these videos easily.  I have tried changing the format in my camera, purchased 3 types of SD card transfer devices just to find out that my Fire HDX tablet doesn’t have a way to transfer files other than wirelessly… I have sent SD cards to my sister who can’t read them from her laptop because it won’t even recognise the cards… and so on and so forth.  Getting the .mov files from the SD card to my phone or tablet requires transfer software, reading able software and then of course you have to have software to convert the stupid file before you even use other software to compress that file so you can post it or email it.  It has been a tornado of problems that I’m frankly quite sick of.  I have ALL of this capability in one program on my laptop at home… but that is a 17″ laptop and it is at home.  There is no way I’m bouncing that from place to place.

So what is the outcome you may ask?  Well, as more and more people have taken notice of my adventure and as I have started to focus more and more of my energy on Vet Connect, it has become apparent that friends and some family now DO indeed care about my progress.  It just took them a while to jump on board.  I started a community Facebook page that has more people following it that I don’t know than ones that I do know.  And that is awesome.  In order to help veterans and to brand Vet Connect, we need to reach as many people as possible.  So I have decided to revive this blog as a journal and a resource for others to see my progress (even if it may not be in real time).  Let’s face it, I’m behind… WAY behind.  I write this from mile 1716 and I am now in OR.  But the reality is that I do enjoy writing about my travels and I do hope that this blog will help others.  Even if it is next year or the year after.  So I am going to update the blog as fast as I can.  I have all of my video journal entries on SD cards that I can use (along with pics) as a reference to refresh my memory about certain days that have already happened.  And I have been writing daily blog posts for the past few weeks, I just won’t post them until I am caught up. 

I do hope that I still have one or two followers left on here and I will do my best to give you some great reading material as soon as I can.  Some awesome, exciting, and even scary things have happened on this journey and I would love to share them with as many people as I can.  Just be patient and understand that we all grow in life and this journey has been no exception.  Now I am growing into a blogger and even though it would be MUCH easier to wait until I got home to update these stories, I will do my best to make that happen while I am on trail.

Thanks for reading and thanks for sticking with me on this one.  I am SUPER excited about the developments of Vet Connect that have happened lately and I can’t wait to share those with you soon.

Warm Hospitality @ Warner Springs

From the moment I entered the Warner Springs Community Center I could feel the immediate warmth that radiated from the staff of volunteers that were busy hustling around as they prepared food, supplied towels and soap for showers and even did hikers laundry for them.  It was amazing to see all of this work being done voluntarily… and they stayed busy all day, like a NASCAR pit crew.  In fact, the level of service went so far that the Center Director  (Nancy) offered to take my clothes home with her that night to wash them when I found out that the line for laundry was already full for the day.  Who does that?  As if her day wasn’t full enough with helping us out, she was willing to go home and tend to my laundry in her free time.  What an humbling honor and a show of true humanity. 

It’s been said that hiking the PCT will put your faith back in humanity.  I would have to agree with that for sure.  Not only did Nancy do my laundry for me, but she also came back to the Center 2 hrs after they had closed to open the doors to us for shelter.  There was a storm coming that night with 40 mph winds expected.  Nancy said that she couldn’t sleep knowing we were all out there in the lawn camping in tents.  So she singled me out, told me I was responsible for the building, and gave me a quick tour of the inside, being thorough in showing me the security system, fire extinguisher locations and even showing me where the leak was in the kitchen  (so that I could monitor the water level in the bucket collecting rain water).  Then she told us to be safe as she drove away, headed for home and to finally get some time to herself.  There was also Jack who loaded his truck with hikers ever hr or so throughout the day to ferry us down to the post office to pick up packages.  It truly was a team effort by people who genuinely care and one that was greatly appreciated.

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A room full of hikers, safe from the storm.

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Tim and Angel camping out inside.

Unfortunately, humanity isn’t always so balanced in its concern for others.  Apparently just a week or two later the Warner Springs Community Center was shut down.  The story out there is that a local food establishment didn’t like the theoretical loss of business (from not getting hikers business) and complained about the Community Center to the authorities.  After an investigation it was proven that the Center didn’t have the proper food permit and they shut it down.  I don’t know if it has reopened, but if it has, there is no doubt that the food offering portion of their services are no longer available. 

What people don’t usually understand is that when thru hikers hit town, there is so much to do and tasks to attend to that having a one stop shop is imperative to getting the required down time needed to properly rest the body.  The Warner Springs Community Center was that place and it was the first such opportunity on the trail.  After hiking 25 mile days, many hikers just need rest, but we still have chores that we can’t do on trail like food resupply, laundry, showing and fixing gear or making calls home.  While these tasks sound mundane to normal society, after weeks on trail it is easy for these tasks to consume the better part of a day unless you have a one stop shop.  And there in lies the problem.

I hope that whoever called to complain about the Community Center have looked at the needs of hikers and I hope that they have tried to make accomodations for the hiking community.  The thing to keep in mind is that places like the Warner Springs  Community Center CREATED the influx of hikers.  Without their services, hikers wouldn’t go to Warner Springs… we would just move on to the next town that had services.  Be careful to not cut off your nose…. that’s all I have to say about that.

Thank you Nancy, Jack and the rest of the amazing volunteers who made our stay so wonderful.

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Nancy (right) and another volunteer. Sweet sweet women.

Trail Names… by Skyline

In the mainstream world a name is something that you were born with. Something sacred and often connected with family.  But in the hiking community a name is something earned. Often referred to as a “trail  name”.  It is not uncommon, in fact, for people to know you for months by a trail name while having no idea what letter your given name even starts with. 

There aren’t really any rules per say when picking a trail name.  Some hikers bring their name with them from previous thru hikes (like the Apalachian Trail).  But the unspoken rule is that you are given a trail name by your piers… it is usually representative of your personality on trail or your hiking style.  Sometimes it is representative of an item of clothing that sticks out or a food item or saying you may have an obsession with.  And sometimes a trail name is born from a mistake.  Hikers are never short on jokes and any number of mistakes on trail can live with you for hundreds of miles.  This is the case with my good friend 50.

So who decides on your trail name?  Well, it usually takes a vote of sorts.  If a tail name is suggested, it is usually put up for a informal vote (in the form of a laugh or a 2nd).  If another hiker likes it and confirms the choice then there isn’t much else stopping it from becoming law.  Some people, however, dread the unknown label that they may receive and so they give themselves a trail name and explain it as a gift from some other adventure back home.  I personally do not agree with these… if I could name myself then I would have had a kick ass name like “Diesel” (because my joints take some warming up in the morning before I can go at full speed), or Maverick  (because I do my own thing and hike alone, but I also have all the patriotism that is commonly associated with the name).  But, there are people who name themselves, and that’s ok.  They know who they are.

Before I even had a trail name, I was part of the “voting” process that successfully branded two hikers.  The first one came at Warner Springs as Taz and 50 (previously known as Lane) and I sat at the table eating a meal.  Taz told the story of a moment when they took a break just after passing through a gate… After a brief break, Lane decided to hike on and set off with determination, right back through the gate.  A few feet later he realized what he had done and promptly turned around.  As he passed through the gate a 3rd time he avoided eye contact with Taz, hoping he had not noticed.  But it was too late.  “You had a 50/50 chance of going the right way…”.  As he told the story, he decided that 50/50 should be Lane’s trail name.  After a little bit of back and forth he got a 2nd vote out of me when we decided on “50”.  And that’s how it happens.

The second naming came in idlewild when Tim, Angel, Taz, Scott and myslef were sitting at a pizza place sharing some beer.  As had become the custom when PCT&A (Tim and Angel) were around, the subject of trail names came up.  For weeks now they had been trying to name me.  Luckily for me, I looked at their 2 votes as 1 on the principal that they had dated since they were in grade school and thus existed now as only 1 entity.  As we explored the subject the focus shifted to Scott when he told us he was a scientist working with penguins in Antarctica.  After a while (and I can’t remember how) the name Chili Willie was thrown onto the table.  All 4 of us immediately “voted” and poor Scott never had a chance.  The next day, Chili Willie was born.

Before my PCT hike I often wondered about my future trail name.  How would other people see me?  What would their impression of me be?  And what name would they give me?  There were a few that I had a feeling would come into play.  And sure enough, after my first night camping with PCT&A, my dreaded trail name was

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The True “Why”

The WHY

A few months ago (before we embarked on our adventure of a lifetime) I made a comment on another hikers blog in response to a piece she had written about the upcoming stresses, concerns and possible obstacles that every PCT hiker was about to face.  I told her to make sure she remembered the why… “The why will carry you through those tough times when everything else seems to be against you… it will carry you much further than you thought you could go”.  She ended up writing a beautiful piece in response to that comment where she actually tapped into why she was hiking on a much deeper level than she had before.  As for me, I knew exactly why I was hiking and it was clear and exact.

A few weeks later as my acting coach/mentor/friend and I mulled over possible reasons why I lost out on an interview by a Texas-based website, she pointed out something that struck me as odd… “I know why you are championing the Veteran cause, but why you chose the PCT hike specifically isn’t exactly clear.”  This struck me as odd because there were 2 full pages of babe available online that spelled out my reasons for taking on this challenge.  It was clear.  Or was it?  The more I thought about it the murkier the waters became.  There was writing on the wall, no doubt, but it was far from clear.  As we talked I decided to open up to her and REALLY address the reasons why I chose the PCT and why I am so charged to take on a seemingly impossible task for most people, let alone by one who harbors an injury such as mine.  And I quickly realized as tears rolled down my face, that I had not really ever tapped into my WHY… not out in the open anyway.

In order to understand this simple question of “why” you need a little background information.  And as I write this from my seat on a Southwest jet, I realize that a public place is not the ideal place for me to tap into this story.  However, my flight is headed to Washington DC where our film Tedesky is being premiered at the GI Film Festival (which is a festival for Vets and Military members only).  It is imperative for me to be able to open up and to share my story if I am to ever help other Vets who may be going through similar situations.  But my tears don’t understand the awkward nature of showing up in public… I pull my hat down low and continue to type, hoping with everything in me that I can keep it together enough to get through this and get it posted before I hit the film festival.

While in the military I suffered a rotator cuff tear in my right shoulder.  It was a common injury among athletes and one that was fairly easy to repair.  Unfortunately for me I was given a surgeon who had never performed this type of surgery before (we were later told).  The plan to fix my shoulder was to insert 5 titanium screws in my shoulder that would reattach the rotator cuff to the bone.  In a sick twisted fate that can only be described as life altering, the surgeon dropped 1 screw that he “could not retrieve”, he placed 2 screws in soft tissue by accident (that later came loose and caused damage) and then inserted the remaining 2 screws in their proper place deep into the bone where they could stay put.  The results were less than effective.  After a 2nd surgery and another year of therapy I was medically discharged from the Military.

Over the next decade I was seen by more VA doctors than I can count, in multiple cities and states.  They all agreed that the screws were all in their proper place and that my increasing shoulder pain was simply arthritis.  So I lived my life as best I could while altering many of the activities I did and ceasing many activities all together.

In Jan 2007 life was good.  I had just purchased my first house 2 years earlier, I had just booked my first 3 speaking commercials as an actor, my self-owned business was starting to pick up and things were going well.  In December I had gone to the VA to address a new “clicking and catching” sensation that had started in my shoulder.  I was again told by the doctors that everything was structurally sound and that it was just the arthritis.  But in Jan we found out that not only were they wrong, they were neglectful and absent in their medical knowledge to the point where
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The Arrogance of An Actor

On one of our first days on trail, as a group of us sat at a picnic table, one of the other hikers (in his 50’s) asked me what I did for a living.  When I told him I was an actor he questioned my resume.  After a brief description of some of my past bookings he promptly said, “Oh, so you’re a WORKING actor?”  Then, after a brief pause he added, “Wow, you must be pretty disappointed with the present company.”  I asked him what he meant by that.
“Well, you’re surrounded by a bunch of ordinary people here.”
As I swallowed my first reaction, double clutching it like a race car driver shifting gears as it slid past my Adams apple, I paused for a second and collected my thoughts.  Then I replied, “No, you only get your Better Than… card when you are an A-List actor.  I am only an E-List actor right now.  So I have a long way to go before I’m allowed to be arrogant.”

What is it with this notion that actors are all stuck up and think they are on a different level?  I mean, I don’t know of any other industry where people say that.  If you tell people you’re a painter their first question might be, “Oh, what kinds of things do you paint?” or “Do you have a gallery?” or “How long have you been paining?”.  If you are a musician, people might ask, “What type of music do you play?” or “Are you in a band?” or “Do you ever tour?”.

But for some reason with acting the majority of the response is to end the conversation right there (because they don’t know how to take it) or they immediately think you must have this “Better than…” attitude.  I just don’t understand it.  This has also caused problems in previous relationships.  One girl that I went on a few dates with once said
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Day 12: Miles 158 – Fire Reroute. “Stubbornness In Action”

Day 12
4/29/15
157.5 – Reroute (10.7 mile fire detour)
15.9 miles hiked

Last night I had a great camp spot that felt really secluded from the world.  Unfortunately I didn’t sleep worth a darn.  My shoulder has been acting up lately and the pain is flaring up more than usual.  So the entire night consisted of short 20’ish minute naps before I would have to adjust my position due to the pain.  It was pretty frustrating to say the least.

Yesterday’s feeling of seclusion was pretty spot on as I only saw 1 other thru hiker all day today.  It wasn’t until I had climbed the rest of the climb and started my decent on the fire reroute that I ran into a guy named Armstrong.  I guess he and I are the only two who decided to take the long stupid way around.  He seemed pretty cool and we ended up running into each other twice on the trail before he eventually joined me at camp at the end of the day.

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The reroute took me down a steep decent before dumping me onto a dirt road for a few miles.  The road was absolutely brutal on my ankles and had baseball sized rocks all over along with big divots and holes everywhere.  It really made for some tough hiking.  Every step I took as I went down hill just added to my pain.  Eventually I came to the main road (only a few miles past Paradise Cafe) and things flattened out as the trail joined an old logging road.  I made a stop at a new gas station for a Gatorade before making Continue reading

Day 11: Miles 144 – 157. “Paradise Cafe”

Day 11
4/28/15
144 – 157.5 (+2 miles – Paradise Cafe)
15.4 miles hiked

Wow, what a full day today was.  I had initially planned to join Tim and Angel as they hiked past my camp this morning, but it turns out they were low on water and so they actually left camp much earlier than they usually did.  I should have just had my stuff packed up and ready to go, but I took my time this morning, so I wasn’t ready when they passed me.  I did, however, have text reception so I texted my brother for his birthday (yesterday) and texted my sister Bryn.  We had to work out details for my resupply boxes and I also sent her a picture of a spider I found under my tent.  Turns out it was a camel spider… who knew there was even such a thing.  But it is ugly, I can tell you that much.

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I got off to a good start and was able to hike 3mph for the first hr or so.  I only had 9 miles to get to Paradise cafe and the thought of a cheeseburger and beer were at the forefront of my mind.  But before I could even get there I came across a nice little haven of trail magic.  It was a camp of sorts that had a picnic table, fresh water, hiker box items, post cards, and even a mini library where you could trade out a book if you were carrying one.  And they had COLD water.  That is one thing you don’t think about when you are at home planning for a PCT thru hike… the fact that for weeks on end you will drink warm, REALLY WARM water.  So the little bit of cold water I grabbed was a nice surprise.

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By the time I got to the Paradise Cafe (after almost stepping on a Gardner snake) most of my friends were already drinking their 2nd or 3rd beer.  Tim and Angel were there along with Six2, Amelia, Steve, Deep, Kim, 50 and lots of other hikers.  I joined Tim, Angel, Six2 and IronHusk at a table and ordered some food.  I have to tell you, after the heat that we have been hiking in, that first beer may have been the best beer I’ve had all year.  The place was buzzing with excitement and everyone was in a very happy place.  There was also some live music provided by a guy playing an electric keyboard and singing.  It was pretty awesome… kind of like Paradise.  So much so, in fact, that at one point my sister sent me a text message

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Day 10: Miles 127 – 144. “The Hot Grind”

Day 10
4/27/15
127.5 – 144
16.5 miles hiked

Today was a bit of a grind.  I woke up early and tried to get out of camp before most of the other hikers.  Amelia and Steve had already left and Taz did his usual 5 a.m. departure.  Unfortunately my ankles were hurting right off the bat.  It turns out that it would be one of those days where you just have to put your head down and hike.  And that’s what I did.

It was hot and dry and by early afternoon I was in a bit of a dull state of numb… by that I mean that there wasn’t really anything good or bad, great or breathtaking… it was just a day that I had to hike and one that wasn’t really all that pleasant.  So I just hiked.  I did run into Amelia and Steve and the rest of their group later in the afternoon at a well known water cache.  They were just leaving as I got there and so it was a quick hello and goodbye.  And I realized that pace was going to be the common bond between people out here.  It wasn’t who you liked or got along with, it was who you hiked the same speed as.  Unfortunately my ankles dictated a much slower speed than those around me and so I hiked alone.

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Luckily I didn’t have to push it today distance wise.  Tomorrow everyone is meeting at the Paradise Cafe for a real cheese burger and some beer.  I am certainly looking forward to that.  I camped just past Tim and Angel and a few other people, so I will probably join them on trail when they

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Day 9: Miles: 111 – 127 “Trail Surprises”

Day 9:
4/26/15
110 – 127.5
17.5 miles hiked

This morning I had planned on leaving early, but the temptations of another breakfast caught up with me and I decided to stay for a quick bite. It also gave me time to hang my tent on the fence and let things dry out from the storm the night before. We stayed inside (thanks to Nancy’s hospitality) but our tents were already soaked by the time she came back to open the door for us to go inside. Then, after breakfast, I tried to sneak out as quietly as I could. It was quickly becoming aparant that when hikers get together it is easy to get stuck in conversation for hours at a time.

As I hiked out of Warner Springs, my delayed morning became even more delayed as I kept stopping to take photos of the amazing trees. It was a spectacular view of open spaces mixed with trees that were aged with charactor. And in the distance you could see the mountains that we were about to climb (from 3,000 ft to 5,200 ft).
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Unfortunately, despite the beautiful scenery and the great weather, there was no relief for my ankles. My left ankle was especially painful. The previous few days of hiking found my ankle bothering me around the end of the day or early afternoon… now it was painful for the majority of the day. And hiking in the heat, up hill with painful ankles was not something that I wanted to add to my existing shoulder pain. But I still had to do my miles. I still had to hike.
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Days 7 – 8: Miles: 84.5 – 110 – Eagle Rock – Warner Springs)

Day 7: 4/24/15
20 miles
Miles: 84.5 – 104.5

As I woke up that morning, the wind had subsided, however a storm was still lingering off in the distance.  After breaking camp, I decided to have some coffee (which, unusually I haven’t been craving on trail).  Having a leftover peanut butter container meant just one thing… a Buckeye Coffee was in store.  A “Buckeye” is a cafe mocha with peanut butter.  So I made coffee, added some chocolate protein powder and poured it all into my peanut butter container (to make full use of the leftover peanut butter).  The results were… ok.  It certainly won’t become a cultural phenomenon, but it served the immediate cause. 

That morning was an incredible hike on the ridge line as the storm threatened from the west.  My previous nights blister fix worked, and the blisters on the ends of my toes had dried up and felt great.  After hiking long days (with sore ankles) you get a little stale in the brain… so I decided to challenge the weather to a race.  I had 3 or so miles to cover before the storm hit.  At least it kept me entertained for a while.  And I won!
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Later that morning I saw Tim and Angel at a high profile water cache.  (a water cache is somewhere that has a stock of water, provided and replenished by trail angels).  I say high profile because apparently everyone knows about it… except me.  Not wanting to count on unknown sources, I’ve made it a point to always carry enough water to get me to the next natural water source plus 1L (for safety sake).  After all, you never know when you may twist an ankle or something that will slow you down and not allow you to make it to the water source as intended.  It was nice catching up with them.  And we hiked the next couple of hours together.
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Getting to know Tim and Angel more was a highlight of my hike to that point.  They were close to my age and we actually talked about more pertinent things than music or parties.  They, being intuitive people, asked more indepth questions about my life and VetConnect than most of the people in my life who count.  And it was nice to learn more about them too. 

After a lunch break, I broke away from Tim and Angel and hiked on, knowing that they would catch me before the 100 mile mark.  But my ankles weren’t doing so well and I had to pull over and elevate my feet on a nearby tree.  During that time they ended up passing me, so I hit the 100 mile mark solo. What a weird sensation… In my mind it had been such an epic event (to cross the 100 mile mark).  There were balloons and streamers and lots of people clapping.  But in reality it was a “Oh, there it is” moment.  I stopped, took a picture and moved on.  There was no ceremony or celebration.  It was, just a moment.  After that I figured most of the trail “moments” would be that way.  It will be a moment between myself and… myself.  Something to remember in the future, yet something that will be hard to explain to others.
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That night, as I hiked through a wide open meadow (miles long), the wind picked up and another storm was looming.  The problem was that the epic natural structure known as Eagle Rock was just a few miles away and I wanted to hit it in the a.m.  So I was desperately looking for a place to camp, away from the wind, but there was no shelter from this gusting wind..  As I hiked through the open meadow, I noticed a tree to the left that had a nook cut out, perfect for my tent.  Yet ANOTHER nook.  That night the wind blew and howled and yet my tent moved not an inch.  It was the perfect shelter.  That was proven as a heavy fog set in just minutes after I had setup my camp.
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Day 8: 4/25/15
5.5 miles
Miles: 104.5 – 110

The next morning I woke up to a dreary, cold day.  The rain was threatening and there was a fog that had yet to lift from the previous night.  But regardless of the weather it was going to be a good day.  I only had an few miles to hike before I hit Eagle Rock and then it was a short walk from there to Warner Springs  (which I had heard lots about).

Eagle Rock was as expected.  A huge natural rock formation that looks just like an eagle with its wings spread.  I would have done a number of pics with silly poses, but the only hiker around to take my picture was a super lightweight, super fast and in a hurry woman who had hiked the trail before.  There was no room for fan fair, so I made a quick pose as she snapped my pick and then she was gone.  But silly pose aside, the rock formation was epic.
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After that it was off to see what the Warner Springs Community Center had in store.  And boy did it deliver!  As soon as I walked in there was an energy about the place.  Food was being made and eaten, hikers were laughing and telling stories, and of course there was the typical hiker reunion to be had.  Not only were Tim and Angel there, but my mate Taz was there (a guy I met the night I stayed at Scout and Frodo’s house in San Diego) and so was Lane.  It was a welcome site for sure and I quickly placed my name on the food list before sitting down and catching up with my friends.