“The thing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail…was how few choices I had…there was no escape or denial. No numbing it down with a martini or covering it up with a roll in the hay…There were only two (options) and they were essentially the same. I could go back in the direction I had come from, or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go.”

 – Cheryl Strayed, from her memoir, Wild.

That very sentiment—I could go back, or I can keep moving in my intended direction—has been my mantra many times. My motivation has come, largely, by seeking beauty; it’s what keeps me chasing dreams, meaning, and hope, even when darkness clouds my vision.

I am currently enjoying a chapter in life I couldn’t have written better myself, even if I’d authored each word, detail, and character. But I wouldn’t have this if I’d have turned back. While reading Wild, I somehow found myself frequenting a lovely town that pulses with the heart of the Pacific Crest Trail.

I love visiting Dunsmuir, CA. It’s where my fiancé, Mick, grew up. The tiny town is nestled in the forest among robust evergreens and offers a stunning view of Mt. Shasta. At this time of year you can walk along the roadside and pick plump, wild blackberries full of sweet juice warmed by the sun. Train tracks run right through town. I love the people, the slow pace, the vintage buildings.

A group of locals meet for coffee every morning at The Dogwood Diner. My future mother-in-law is one of them.

When we join them for breakfast at Dogwood, everyone greets us. I get a lot of compliments on my lovely children. We know Cindy, the head cook, by name. My kids order the buckwheat pancakes they love so much: a giant plate of three oversized gluten-free cakes made with hearty and healthy ingredients. Of course, they smother them with real butter and real maple syrup, and they are delicious.

Mick and I each drink several cups of coffee. I can get a breakfast sandwich with eggs and bacon and avocado on gluten-free bread (which happens almost nowhere, but somehow it happens in little ol’ Dunsmuir) and Mick can get the same on a croissant. I enjoy the brick walls and the company and the buttery sun shining in through large windows. Pacific Crest Trail hikers pop in for refuge from their long journeys, and we all get our needs (dietary and otherwise) met in this cozy diner.

The PCT hikers remind me that living wild means living presently, and that living presently means making choices and trusting our hearts and our instincts and seeing those choices through, no matter what obstacles lay along life’s trail. I’m now part of a family facing the future, moving forward—each of us with our own packs, our own supplies, and with each other. I’m happy, and full; content to eat good food, and breathe fresh air. Happy trails ahead.

Jen Cartier misses Chico! However, she has taken to the great beyond (er...The Bay Area) to be some kind of chocolate maven while simultaneously figuring out how the hell to navigate her long-ass work commute, and still kick ass at raising three munchkins, loving one soon-to-be husband, and keeping one rascally Brittany Spaniel in the damned yard. She loves Nutella, red wine, and American Spirits. She takes her dog along on runs to wear him out (sometimes he shits in someone else's yard - bonus!) and also to balance her own general consumption of all the fine tasty things life offers, ciggys included. Follow her blog at riceflourmemoirs.com


  1. Cindy Martel says:

    Lovely! I agree with every word. Thank you for your compliments to the “cook” and the beautiful words for The Dogwood Diner.

    I love Mick, your children are simply adorable, and you, Jen, will brighten Mick’s life for eternity. I only wish I could visit with you both more when you are in our sleepy little town.

    Just have to correct my title. Kate Chadwick is the Executive Chef, I am the Kitchen Manager/Part-time line cook/baker. Although, I did recreate the Buckwheat Pancakes that your children enjoy. I am glad they enjoy them so much, speaks volumes.

    Peace and Love to you and yours on your journey.