Altitude Sickness, Australian Rap, and Trail Families

Miles walked: 265

Audio: The rest of “Blood Red Road” by Moira Young, “Alexander Hamilton” biography by Henry Jones Ford, various music (see links below).

Sick Altitude, Bro!

After an incredible three zero days in Idyllwild (mile 179), I was absolutely itching to get hiking again. I wanted so badly for my trail family to stay together, and they were a bit behind because I hitched past a PCT fire closure and ten miles of road walking. And so, after three days of sitting around and eating Ben and Jerry’s, my family and I reunited to hike Mt. San Jacinto. Our first day of hiking, I was staggering around like a drunk woman at the altitude, and totally ready to set up camp. Breathless and totally discouraged, my family and I pitched our tents after a measly two miles of walking (though it was two miles straight up a mountain). I ate some ramen and fell into an uneasy sleep (we were above 8,000 feet, and I was feeling quite queasy). The next day we began booking it up the mountain, and boy, I felt like crap.

My stomach felt like I had swallowed razor blades, there were metaphorical cotton balls in my ears, my throat was bone dry, my head felt like an elephant was going to town with a sledgehammer against my temples, and I was seeing black and green splotches. Bruh. Nevertheless, after having Fritos and water basically forced down my throat by a very worried trail family, I finally made it up the mountain, and promptly took a nap. No matter what the view was from the top, I valued my brain staying inside my head, and naps always make me feel better. Again worried that I was about to fall off the mountain and die, somebody shook me awake from my slumber and told me to eat my tuna. I sat up slowly, blinking to clear my eyes, and a California fire plane whizzed past literally 100 feet away from us. Like, I’ve been to some air shows, but the planes never got that close. A tiny fire plane almost squashed me on the peak of a 10,000-foot mountain, and all I could do was blink stupidly and swallow my tuna. What a day.

The last few hundred feet of climbing was straight up sheer rocks. The rush of adrenaline I got masked my sickness and gave me superhuman strength. Maybe I should rock climb on the top of mountains more often.

Extended trail fam on top of the world. Top row (left to right): Tanner, Firecracker, me. Middle row: Lumberjack, Brendon, Jude, No Nuts. Bottom row: Kat, Charlene.

Motivational and Melodious Music

Climbing up Mt. San Jacinto, all I listened to was “Long Loud Hours” by Urthboy. Brendon had shown our trail family the song a few nights prior, and all I could think about was the wa-wa-wa at the beginning and the fact that some Australian couple had the audacity to plan a prison rescue mission that involved flying a plane into the prison yard, and it actually worked. I listened to that song on repeat for probably about eight hours as I climbed up Mt. San Jacinto, and then began the 20-mile descent into Cabazon (mile 209).

Speaking of Cabazon, as I continued the straight downhill section into the city, the song “Archangel” by Thomas Bergersen came on, and I listened to it approximately 6.5 times. All that while, I felt like I was leading an army to free some oppressed peoples from their dark overlords, and there were dragons and hobbits and dementors all over. In reality, there was just a very sweaty and filthy thru-hiker, stumbling down a mountain to get to an In-N-Out, dressed head to toe in totally stupid desert gear, hoping to find herself among the sand and sagebrush. So maybe I’m not really leading an army. But I am on a quest of sorts. A quest to know myself, to test my limits, to feel both victory and defeat, so maybe the brave crusaders of science fiction and I aren’t so different.

Does this not totally look like I’m entering a valley to battle some people? Listen to the linked song and tell me I’m wrong. Maybe I am wrong. I was just exhausted and in need of some motivation. Regardless, this was beautiful.

Out of Cabazon, I was walking ahead of my trail family and passed the wind farms around mile 220. By this time it was pitch black and the wind was screaming around me, pushing and pulling and threatening to throw me off the steep ridge down to certain death. OK, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but it felt like it at times. I took a break, put my headlamp on full brightness, and turned on my tunes. I listened to the first two songs that came up (“Flying” by James Newton Howard and “Heroes” by Peter Gabriel) on repeat for hours. For some reason, those songs, the dark night, the stars eons away, and the ferocious wind somehow made me feel elated. I was out in the middle of the desert, alone in the darkness, with the power to push away my fears and keep walking.

Soon after those dark and windy ridge walks, my trail family and I stumbled into Whitewater Preserve (mile 244ish). As we walked down a path lined with white stones and over a dark, velvety river, I began to feel very sleepy. Suddenly, rising up ahead of us, two gigantic palm trees rustled in the midnight breeze. I’m not kidding, these things were massive. I’m saying like the entrance to Jurassic Park kind of big. The preserve itself was also magical, with a small wading pool, tiny white frogs, crickets, actual toilets, and mountain lion warnings. I slept great that night but woke up feeling incredibly discouraged and frustrated. It was near 11 a.m., and my trail family and I had not yet broken camp. I quickly packed up my things and stomped away from the magical preserve, but was stopped by an elderly couple who were totally in awe of my journey. As we talked, I felt my indignation soften, and soon I was feeling as excited and grateful about my trek as I had the morning I started the trail. They gave me $20 for lunch that day (my first spot of trail magic!), and walked away shaking their heads in amazement. I walked confidently onward, in spite of the late hour, and was overjoyed when “Confident” by Demi Lovato came up on my playlist. Heck yeah. I am a boss right now, Demi!

Whitewater Preserve. Absolutely stunning.

Adopting a Trail Family

My confidence leaving Whitewater Preserve didn’t last. One and a half miles later my trail family and I stopped at a river to swim and rinse out our clothes, and they left around 2 p.m. It was amazingly hot, and I was feeling so frustrated about my lack of miles when I wasn’t even injured that I let them walk off without me. By the time they had gone, I was pitying myself, wallowing in my loneliness, and wishing my “cousins” had hung back. See, in Idyllwild, my trail family (Brendon the Australian, Tanner from the Army, Jude from New Hampshire, and Charlene from France) met another family (Kat from New Jersey, Lumberjack from Kentucky, No Nuts from Germany, and Firecracker from Georgia) and meshed so well we decided to adopt each other and hike as a mega-group. That day at the river, I watched Firecracker’s flaming hair and blue jacket disappear in the sagebrush and I felt very sorry for myself. Now I was actually alone, in the heat of the day, with practically no mileage to speak of.

That fateful river of tears. It was quite nice to swim in, but I was baked like a lobster than night. My shoulders are still peeling!

I hiked out at about 6 p.m. and ran into Firecracker (who had also been waiting out the desert heat) a mile or so later. I walked on, happy that I had seen a familiar face, and continued to walk until 10 p.m., when I finally caught up with my trail family and the cousins who had already set up camp. Walking completely alone, in the pitch blackness of night, was honestly terrifying, but seeing so many familiar faces made me feel complete joy. They all did a quiet cheer when I got to camp, expressed their happiness at seeing me, and also expressed their concern about me hiking alone at night. I love my trail family, and I also love my adopted trail family. Hey, the more the merrier, right?

A siesta (extended midday break) with the extended trail family, and I woke up from my nap to see this. What’s next, ogres? This was a spooky spot to nap.

We got up at 2 a.m. one morning to hike, and as soon as the sun rose, I snapped this picture. The trail provides, yes indeed.

We ran into a private zoo at 5 a.m. that morning, and PCT hikers had obviously let the owners know that the animals were in way too small cages. Heck yeah. Go, hikers!

A nice midday respite on a couch in the middle of the woods. Who knew clouds could exist in solid form.

Food, Glorious Food

I don’t think that I have felt more like hiker trash than when I washed my ultralight cooking pot in the Cabazon In-N-Out bathroom. I was scrubbing days old Knorrs pasta sides and ramen out of my titanium pot. Wow. I downed a double-double animal style burger, a regular burger, two fries, and two chocolate shakes at In-N-Out, which turned out to be a whopping 2,765 calorie lunch. Yum, yum, yum.

My first of two meals that day at In-N-Out. Yum!

In Big Bear (mile 265), I got a freaking massive breakfast that I downed in less than 30 minutes. A huge sausage patty, two chocolate chip pancakes bigger than my face, fried potatoes, and eggs. It was straight hiker heaven. I think it’s safe to say that my hiker hunger has hit. I’ve begun to crave sugar, and the amount of Nutella I’m eating can’t be too healthy, but eh, I only hike from Mexico to Canada once, right?

Now, this is how breakfast is supposed to be.

Ten Percent Done

Walking into Big Bear officially marks the completion of ten percent of the Pacific Crest Trail. I was switching rapidly from total elation at having walked ten percent of the way from Mexico to Canada, to feeling very frustrated that I had only walked ten percent of the way. I feel like I’ve already walked so far! Nevertheless, I’m getting this trail done, step by step, and eventually I’ll make it to Canada. I just need to be patient and enjoy this journey. On one of my almost daily phone calls with my mom, she said something like, “Too soon the race is won, and you realize the fun was in the running.” Yep, I’m now ten percent done with the PCT, and I’m slowly learning to recognize the fun in each day, each song, each bite of food in town, and each interaction with people on the trail.

Just like these charred trees, beauty can be found if one looks hard enough. After days on end of hiking through black skeleton forests, I realized what haunting beauty the trees showed. Burned and broken, they stood absolutely still in the harsh winds, poking up to the sky in dark defiance.

And at night, their haunting beauty is even starker. They slice the soft oranges and pinks of the sunset with no remorse, standing tall as the sun plunged the world into velvety darkness.

PS. The featured image is the sunset I saw on the way down from Mt. San Jacinto. It’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen!

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