Excerpt from Heather ‘Anish’ Anderson’s “Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home” (Plus Your Chance for a FREE Copy)
Heather “Anish” Anderson is an all-star hiker who needs no introduction. The first woman to complete the Calendar Triple Crown, she also has set fastest known time (FKT) records for self-supported completion of the AT, PCT, and AZT. Most recently, she was named one of National Geographic’s 2019 Adventurers of the Year. Impressive as her hiking accomplishments are, she can now add one more accolade to the list: author.
In her memoir Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home, Heather details her 2015 FKT attempt of the PCT while offering readers glimpses into her personal life and background that led her to hiking. Here at The Trek, we are fortunate enough not only to bring you a sneak peek of Thirst, but also to promote a giveaway. After reading the below excerpt, leave a comment explaining why you want to read the whole book. We will pick three winners from the comments to receive a free copy.
Excerpted with permission from Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home (Mountaineers Books, March 2019) by Heather “Anish” Anderson.
Mission Creek, California
Day 8 / 44 Miles
At 5 a.m. the large thermometer hanging in the shade of the awning read 80 degrees. I got up from where I’d laid down on the ground just outside Ziggy and the Bear’s door the night before and threw my gear into my pack. The other hiker was still sound asleep a few feet away. I forced some food into my uninterested body—surprised that it still functioned on less than two thousand calories a day when I was expending five times that much energy. On my way out, I slid the thank you card and donation I’d been carrying into the box by the door. I smiled and silently asked for blessing on the two angels of the desert who were still asleep inside the house. I crept out of the gate and began my ascent into the barren hillsides.
A few hours later I was walking along Whitewater Creek. I reached the ford, which was merely a shallow rock hop, and checked my water supply. Just enough to get me up and over the dividing ridges between the Whitewater drainage and that of Mission Creek.
As I climbed so did the mercury. I pulled out my umbrella and held it aloft. There was no tangible difference in temperature under my portable shade, but the intensity of the sun was diminished and for that alone I was grateful.
I felt a bit wobbly as I walked along the ridgetops between the two large river drainages, thousands of feet below. A familiar sucking sound indicated that I’d just drained the final drops of water from my hydration bladder. Thankfully, the trail had begun to descend.
The water of Mission Creek was reddish and long blooms of algae swayed in the shallow, warm flow. I grimaced, but I was desperate. Painstakingly, I filled one bottle and stuck in my SteriPEN. Once the UV light had sterilized the water, I poured it into my hydration bladder. I repeated the process until I’d treated three liters of water. Then, as a failsafe because I found the magic of UV too good to be true, I dropped a chlorine tablet in each bottle.
I consulted the water report I’d printed before I left home. Of the many crossings of Mission Creek over the next eighteen miles, three were reported to have had good water within the last two weeks. I hedged my bets on better water ahead and departed the algae-laden oasis.
As I worked my way up the twisted canyon, carved by Mission Creek’s floods, I pondered how daily it was already sweltering when I awakened and how by noon the air shimmered with the heat. Even though no one was around to see me, I couldn’t help but wonder: what would someone think of a woman walking alone across this austere landscape, clutching a silver umbrella? And what would they think about my clothes and body, caked in dirt, salt, and sunscreen, and stained by nosebleeds brought on by the arid climate?
I wasn’t even sure what I thought of it.
I want to set a record because of the challenge. Is that really why I’m here? Or am I here because I need to thru-hike again, and the record is merely justification to repeat what most people call a once-in-a-lifetime experience?
Perhaps thru-hiking was the only way I could cope with modern life. Some people drank. Others used drugs. Some zoned out in front of the screen. My escape was the trail, where life was not easy or comfortable. It was longing for the life of a thru-hiker that had pulled me away from an otherwise comfortable and idyllic life on Bellingham Bay. My unhappiness with being a weekend warrior around a career and trips with my husband to the farmer’s market had grown to unmanageable proportions.
I stepped across a mucky bit of ground thick with vibrant green grasses. In the back of my mind I had a nagging feeling. This is the water source. I dismissed it. The water report said the creek was flowing well. These muddy puddles were nothing.
A mile or so later the trail curved and dropped back to cross Mission Creek again. I was nearly out of water and ready to plop down and get more. My internal odometer told me that I’d traveled the right distance. I reached the edge of the creek bed and saw nothing but sand.
I stood in disbelief for several moments. The creek was bone dry.
Bellingham, Washington / December 2010
“I’m not making you happy anymore.”
The words hung in the air above us as we lay in bed the morning after Christmas. I had nothing to say because I knew it was true. I wasn’t happy. With myself. With anything. I couldn’t find my way out of the depression that had been growing since we’d reached the end of our last thru-hike together four years before. I knew it wasn’t his fault—or mine. I’d left Anish there along the Mexican border at the southern terminus of the Continental Divide Trail. Her voice called to me every day.
“Please. Can we not say divorce? Just . . . splitting up?” My voice seemed tiny in the space that had opened between us. Remy nodded.
Months later as we sat in the living room, now emptied of his half of our possessions, he asked me what it was that would make me happy again.
“What can you do to stop being depressed? What will you do now that I am gone?”
I sat there, too numb to verbalize. I picked up a notepad and pen and wrote the words that were a constant mantra in my mind: “I want to make hiking my life.”
“How? How will you support yourself? Will you become a guide?”
“No. I don’t know. I just can’t do this anymore.”
He was worried that I couldn’t explain it or monetize it. He turned the notebook to a new page and wrote: Hikes I Want to Do.
I filled in a long list.
He labeled the top of the next page: Ways to Make Money Hiking.
I wrote guide and then crossed it out. Guiding was just as much of a cell as any other career. I didn’t want to babysit. I wanted to walk my own path.
“I’ll be poor and live in my tent year round. I’d rather be homeless and happy than anything else.”
He sighed and closed the notebook. We were getting nowhere.
Eventually he left.
Day 8 (Continued)
Each day on the trail I felt myself slipping a little farther into a primal state of mind, where all that mattered—all that existed—was surviving the day. I sought water and a safe place to sleep. I walked until I literally couldn’t stand up because I was driven. Yet, I still had no idea what drove me, or where the drive came from. Am I insane? I preferred to believe that at least my escape was back in the direction from which humans had evolved. That somehow digression was superior to being dispassionate. But that drive, to be here, on the Pacific Crest Trail, attempting the record alone, had led to a dangerous crossroads. I pulled out my SPOT tracking beacon. I held it in my hand and opened the cover on the SOS button. All I had to do was push it and help would come. Local emergency personnel would receive my coordinates almost instantly. They would bring me fluids. Fly me to safety. I would sleep in a cool room and eat and drink until my body recovered. I wouldn’t have to walk anymore. I could forget that I’d ever tried this.
“I might die of thirst out here,” I said to the orange SPOT in my hand.
Tears rolled down my face. The moment of quitting I’d imagined on my first day hadn’t been like this. It hadn’t involved me sitting in the desert sun, dehydrated and dizzy, three miles down trail from the nearest water. I’d imagined simply being too tired or incapable of continuing. I had imagined being in control of my journey, even the end.
“Damn it, Anish, if you can cry then you are not too dehydrated to keep going!”
Angrily, I resecured the cover on the SOS button and put the SPOT device and my phone back in my pack. I rolled onto my hands and knees, coughing from the effort of speaking aloud with my dry throat.
“Get up. You haven’t been through everything you’ve been through to quit because you’re thirsty. It’s three miles. Three fucking miles.”
I heaved myself to my feet with great effort. “I might die out here, but I refuse to let it be today.”
It was nearly 5 p.m. when I staggered into the parking area near the next water source. I looked around wild-eyed for the way to the spring. I knew it was a quarter of a mile off of the trail. A couple were just getting into their car.
“The spring?” I croaked. “Is it that way? Does it have water?”
“Yeah, follow the markers. You can’t miss it.” The man didn’t seem to sense my urgency.
I hurried across a field and entered the woods. The temperature dropped noticeably as I entered a small cove of rock. Water, percolating through the soil above the stone grotto, dripped in a small but steady stream off of roots hanging down from the ceiling, pouring into an overflowing barrel.
I held my water bottle under the strongest drip and watched anxiously as it slowly filled. Giardia be damned, I chugged the liter of icy water. Then I filled and drank another. I pulled out my hydration bladder and began to fill it. My hands began to shake, and then the rest of me. I began to feel even more dizzy and then cold. Nausea threatened to empty me of the necessary fluids I’d just consumed. Shivering uncontrollably, I dropped the bladder and fumbled in my backpack for my sleeping bag. I draped it around my shoulders, leaned against the wall of rock with my eyes closed, and resumed filling the bladder.
I knew I was in shock from the sudden drop in temperature and the massive amount of cold water I’d consumed in a matter of seconds. I felt even dizzier now than when I’d been broiling in the sun. I noted the irony of feeling like I would die of heat for hours, and then moments later wrapping myself in a sleeping bag.
My vision started to go black. Screwing the lid onto my bladder, I just managed to stumble back to the sun-drenched field between the grotto and the trail before my legs buckled. I sat on the ground, unable to move for several minutes. In the depths of the canyon of Mission Creek, Death and I had again danced under a wicked sun. How many more times will I be allowed to bow and walk away? Finally, I got to my feet and headed north.
San Gorgonio Wilderness, California
Day 8 (Continued) / 44 Miles
It was several hours before I again achieved equilibrium in both body and mind. As night was falling, I realized that it was many, many miles to the next water and that I had taken only about half of what I needed from the spring. I wished I had gone back after I’d recovered from nearly passing out, rather than simply walking off in a daze with what I’d already collected. Resigned, I knew I would simply have to walk long into the night until I found water.
One of the quirkiest landmarks of the PCT is the housing of a variety of large stage animals at a private residence fifty yards off of the trail. In between their Hollywood performances, lions, tigers, bears and other animals watch hikers pass by from within their cages. I looked at the waypoints on my map and saw with apprehension that I was almost there. Emerging onto a network of dirt roads, I wound through a dark forest, feeling edgy. What if one of the animals has escaped? What if this all ends with me getting eaten by a lion?
I tried to calm myself by repeating over and over that I was being irrational. These animals are in very strong cages. You’re afraid of all kinds of irrational things like this when you’re alone at night. Has anything ever happened? No. Now just keep walking. I focused on the repetitive sound of my footsteps crunching on the gravel and the tiny spot of illuminated ground from my headlamp a few feet ahead. Just then, I heard a faint rustle to my right—a movement I didn’t recognize. It was accompanied by a strong scent—not fecal matter or rotting carcasses—just the overwhelming odor of wild animal. I fought the rising panic that comes in the presence of an unseen predator by counting my breaths.
“Breathe 1, 2, 3 . . . breathe 1, 2, 3 . . . ”
I walked quickly, steadily. I felt eyes watching me—the eyes of instinctively curious nocturnal predators.
The road deteriorated into a two-track trail and soon the feeling of being watched dissipated. My breathing eased and the panicked feeling lessened. Still, I knew I had farther to travel before I’d be able to rest. I believed in the fences I couldn’t see, but not completely.
Near midnight I crossed a rough jeep road. The moonlight illuminated three jugs of water alongside the trail. I bent down to examine them. They were full with a note that said, “For PCT hikers.” If I’d had any energy at all I would have jumped for joy. Instead I unscrewed the cap off of one and drank half of it without stopping. Five hours later my alarm woke me. I opened my eyes and realized I was lying in the road, curled around the half empty jug. I imagined myself crawling toward a gallon jug of water beneath circling vultures, only to find it empty. My throat made a croaking noise as I tried to talk myself into sitting upright. I would need to envision survival rather than demise if I was going to make it out of the desert.
How to Win a Copy of Thirst
To enter, leave a comment below explaining why you want to read Thirst. That’s it. We’ll select three winners from the list of commenters below. Winners will be selected on 4/21/19 and notified by 4/23/19. No purchase necessary to enter.
For a limited time, use coupon code ANISH at checkout for 20% off the cover price at Mountaineers Books.
More on Anish
- Schnitzspahn, Doug. “Meet the Trailblazing thru-Hiker Who Walked 8,000 Miles in a Year.” Meet Heather Anderson, National Geographic 2019 Adventurer of the Year, National Geographic, 28 Feb. 2019, www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/2019/02/national-geographic-2019-adventurers-of-the-year/heather-anderson-hiker/.
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