How Messaging a Stranger on the Internet Led Me to Kennedy Meadows – The Trek

How Messaging a Stranger on the Internet Led Me to Kennedy Meadows - The Trek

On April 23, 2022 at 10:22 am, I sent a message to a stranger on Twitter that would ultimately change my life. Most people would say something like this when they talk about meeting their spouse by “slipping into their direct messages (DM for short)” but, in my case, it was a little weirder than that.

Slipping into Tori’s DMs

To set the scene, in 2020, I began my journey as a master’s student at Utah State University (USU) pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Watershed Sciences. In the spring of 2022, I’ve been researching microplastics in a local river system for the past year and a half, and I was way over my graduate school responsibilities. While waiting for my next meeting one morning, I had hopped on Twitter and in the midst of a quick scroll, came across a post about a scientist who allegedly examined trash while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Looking back on the moment now, I imagine my sophisticated self-talk goes something like this:

Scientific brain: Wow, a waste survey! I wonder what they’ll find out there. Pieces of bar wrap and toilet paper, probably. What is it doing to the environment? That stuff is definitely breaking down into microplastics.

Brain Outdoors: So you’re hiking for research? Smart lady.

Real Brain: Nice project, maybe I’ll offer to help with the data.

So, I mustered up the courage to slip into Dr. Victoria McGruer’s “DMs,” and we scheduled a time to talk.

Visual evidence of me sliding into Tori’s DMs.

While the original message says I’d be interested in joining for “the full” path as well, that wasn’t something I initially considered. At that point I had only backpacked once in my life and that had only happened after I moved to Utah. So, in the original call with Tori, I offered to help process the data for the project as back-up on the trail.

Over the course of many months, I kept meeting with Tori and Win (our close friend and project partner at the Moore Institute for Plastic Pollution Research) to discuss the premise of No Trace Trails (NTT) and to talk about our wildest hopes and dreams for the project. Slowly, my interest had shifted from the data processor to the idea of ​​hopping onto the trail for a sectional hike with Tori to formally ask if I could join her for the whole thing.

Where are we now?

If you’ve gotten this far, me deciding to hike the PCT and Tori welcoming me with open arms, that’s how messaging a stranger on the internet changed my life. I went to Vegas to climb with Tori at Red Rocks in October 2022 and that would be the first and last time we met in person before hitting the trail together.

Me (left), a non-climber, confident Tori (right), a very talented climber and at that point an internet stranger, with my life (I’m scared of heights).

Tori and Win live in So-Cal and picked me up at Los Angeles International Airport in March. A week of pre-trail chaos ensued with NTT-related zoom meetings, last-minute gear purchases, temporary goodbyes to friends and family, and trips to the supermarket where both Tori and I cried in the mashed potato aisle.

On March 28, we set foot on PCT in Campo, California to begin our journey together. That first day, we immediately made the mistake of doing it by hiking 15 miles instead of the originally planned 11 miles because it “felt really good” and ended up looking for a campsite and eating mac’n’cheese in the dark. I knew then that Tori was the perfect accomplice.

In the weeks that followed, we walked through the chaos together. Tori and I laughed as we camped through winter storms, hiked in wind and rain, and ate more food than we ever thought we could. We made friends, grabbed our first zeros, and traversed the ever-changing wilderness. Our legs got stronger and we covered more miles with ease. Life on the trails became the new normal and I fell in love with nights under the stars.

In Idyllwild, Tori and I found the people who would become our trail family and with them we summited Mt. San Jacinto. Soon, our original group of 6 or 7 grew to 10 and we adopted the tramily name of “Dumb n Tough”. We’d spend the next 600 miles trudging through the snow and heat and rain with these people and sleeping in a lineup of “Mega-Tyvek” cowboys every night. We drove to Kennedy Meadows last week and celebrated together before splitting into the Sierra group and the Nor-Cal group. The two groups plan to stay in touch and meet again.

The desert section of the PCT offered more than we ever could have imagined and we are now excited to head north from Chester, California.

What to expect from me

Let me start by saying that as a blogger, I’m a little late to the party. Usually, people start this sort of thing on the first day of their hike or earlier, but that wasn’t my case. Because I’m late to the party, you’ll have a backlog of events I experienced during the trip. Some major things have happened to us in the last few months, ranging from dealing with fear (from which I got the trail name) to having our supplies stolen from our friend’s car, and I’d love to talk about those things. I’ll do my best to clarify that I’m going back in time when I talk about things that happened before my introductory blog today.

In general, expect to hear more from me about current and past events on the trails, anecdotes about science and environmentalism as it relates to the PCT, and the day-to-day aspects of life on the trails. I’m super excited to share my thoughts and experiences with all of you as I progress on this journey. Thanks for reading!

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