A Meandering Older Hiker Crosses The PCT Hundred Mile Mark: Firsts and Lessons Learned
I passed the 100-mile mark on the PCT, and it was a real thrill! I was alone, so I danced and sang and celebrated this huge small victory. I took silly photos and even made a video for my grandkids. I have to admit, I didn’t know at my Campo start if I’d ever see that stone 100 in the dirt.
There were a lot of firsts in that 100 miles:
- I got lost in the high chaparral when I left the trail to take a photo, but I didn’t panic and found the trail by climbing a high pile of rocks when my GPS couldn’t locate the trail precisely enough, all without stepping on a rattlesnake in the process.
- I got turned around and headed south a while before I recognized a hiker with an umbrella who should have been behind me, not heading toward me.
- I almost ran out of water by following the advice of a more experienced thru-hiker to skip a water source that was a 2-mile round trip off the trail. A couple from Denmark on a day-hike became my first trail angels and shared water/Gatorade. This was the first time on a hike I ever asked for water, though I have provided it to other hikers in the past. The trail does provide.
- In Julian, a kind trail angel who picked me up and transported me to the campground turned off his AC and rolled down a few windows when I got in the car. I guess that makes me officially hiker trash. For a former Hospitalist health care provider, being that dirty and stinky was a big first. If my former colleagues could only see me now!
- This was the first time I’ve hitchhiked in 50 years—you know, as an adult who’s old enough to know better than to hitchhike.
- I experienced camping alone after not seeing anyone for more than 12 hours—really alone—and loved it.
- I found my first Southern Cal tick. I thought I left them behind in New Hampshire.
- For the first time, I rode out a sleepless night alone in a windstorm at 5,000 feet in a tent that felt like it was made of plastic wrap. Most of my duct tape went to patching my tent afterward. No sense in pretty Cuban fiber patches if you already know the material won’t hold up. Hence my pants with the hole in the butt need to wait for more duct tape to be available.
- Injinii toe socks really do prevent blisters.
- I can carry 47 pounds, but it makes my balance very precarious. Yeah, hiking poles!
- Hikers, young and older, are a really friendly group.
- Many have dropped off the trail for a variety of reasons. I’m one of the very lucky ones, as it’s all gone pretty well for me, despite my slow pace (or because of it) and despite the injuries I came to the trail with.
- I’ve learned I can be alone but not lonely.
- I’ve learned to ask for what I need, whether it’s information, reassurance, or help, and usually what I ask for is provided.
- I’ve learned to trust and rely on my own good judgment and if I do make a mistake, I’ve learned I can fix it.
- I’ve learned I am resourceful, resilient, and relentless in pursuing my goal of attempting the PCT at age 70.
- I’ve learned to carry more duct tape than I think I need.
- I’ve learned that oatmeal packets and a few other crush-proof foods added to my almost-empty-of-extra-clothes pillow-stuff sac (because I’ve sent home my extra clothes) makes for a pretty comfortable camp pillow.
- I’ve learned to enjoy other people’s stories even in the brief encounters we’ve had on the trail or at a campsite. It’s really been great fun meeting the characters and people who make up the 2021 group of PCT hikers and trail angels.
- For the first time, I think I’ve learned to value water for the precious resource that it is, never before having to do without it or experience a true scarcity of water.
- I’ve learned to hike my own hike even though my slow pace means I lose contact with many people I would’ve loved to continue to hike with. Because I can’t keep up, I often don’t see those people again. But I’m much happier going my own pace, stopping to take all the photos I like or enjoy a rock in the shade, hiking my own hike.
- I’ve learned to only sit on rocks that are on the upside of the hill, so if my heavy pack makes me wobbly and I topple over, I’m going to only fall into the rocks behind me, not down into the rocks or valley below. (Disclaimer: I haven’t needed to topple over to learn the wisdom of this bit of knowledge.)
I can only imagine what trail and life wisdom the second hundred miles hold. It’s been a steep learning curve, and I’m sure there is lots more to discover. Join me as the adventure continues!
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