Update From PCT Mile 1090

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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New and old shoes

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Update from PCT Mile 342

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sunrise over our camp

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Preparing for the Pacific Crest Trail

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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

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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.

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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.
 

Training

Workouts

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.
 

 

Intangibles

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!

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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.

PCTmap

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!

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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.

 
 
 
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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.

 
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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

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Sunday Slideshow: Laos

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Sunday Slideshow: Tasmania, Australia

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Sunday Slideshow: Brazil’s Amazon River

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Sunday Slideshow: Croatia

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Sunday Slideshow: Morocco

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