Nutella, Trail Sauce, Spewy? Nah, Call Me Cowgirl

The Pacific Crest Trail is like the Wild West. Hikers can be seen curled up in small patches of shade next to the trail and walk around towns caked in dirt. We are a different breed of people that don’t necessarily associate with the social norms. On the trail, we leave behind our identities from the “real world” and are met by our trail counterparts.

Trail names are a common way for us to delve into our trail identity; over the last few weeks I have had several possibilities. The finalists include Nutella, Trail Sauce, Cowgirl, and Spewy. Nutella and Trail Sauce are interchangeable in meaning, but on trail my main source of sustenance tends to be Nutella. Cowgirl seemed fitting because I have yet to set up my tent and have slept under the stars every night. And Spewy was thrown into the mix when my not so hidden talent of burping was revealed. When it came down to decision time, Cowgirl stuck.

As the days turn to weeks, life on the trail is feeling normal. Eat, sleep, hike, repeat. I am saying farewell to the person I was when I began the trail, and am being greeted by a stronger and dirtier version of myself.

With the increasing heat of the desert, this routine has changed a bit in an attempt to become nocturnal for the remainder of the desert. This, however, didn’t last long after an accidental 24-hour challenge.

The hike into Agua Dulce was a hot one, even after a 1 a.m. start. As the sun rose above the arid mountains at 5:45 a.m., I could feel the heat increasing, but I was only halfway there. With about five miles to go, I had my first sight of Agua Dulce nestled in the hills. With each step in the increasing heat, the town seemed to be slipping farther and farther away. By 11:30 a.m., the temperature had soared above 100 degrees and I was moving along at a mere shuffle.

Minutes later, I arrived at the trailhead. As I paused to check the map for my next turn, a woman drove up and asked me, “Are you going to Hiker Heaven?” My reply was yes, and she said, “Hop in, lunch is waiting.” To a weary hiker, these are the best words anyone could have ever told me. This woman, Linda, dropped me off and I was greeted by an air-conditioned room full of hikers, all chowing down on taco salad. By the time I got my plate, I ate like I hadn’t seen food in years.

Once I had my fill of food, I went outside to wait for a ride to Hiker Heaven. The usual way to transport a bunch of stinky hikers is to load us up in a truck bed. As I started to climb in, a man on a motorcycle rolled up and said, “I have room for one.” Somehow I was voted to get that ride, and before I knew it I was on the back of a motorcycle! The trail truly provides.

Now, let’s rewind to this accidental 24-hour challenge. By the time I arrived in Hiker Heaven, I already hiked 24 miles over the span of about 11 hours. Once I arrived, I had full intentions of resupplying and taking a long nap. This, however, didn’t happen.

Yes, I did resupply, shower, and do laundry, but the nap never happened. By 6:30 p.m., my pack was ready to go and for some reason, my exhaustion hadn’t kicked in. I loaded back up into a truck bed and was brought to the trail. Since the trail started on the road, I made sure to refuel before heading back out. My food choices included a Dunkin’ Donuts double shot espresso, a king-sized Slim Jim, and a double Snickers bar.

Energized and ready to go, a hoard of about 20 hikers (me being one of them) set off into the night. The pain in my swollen feet and the fatigue in my legs melted away with each step. As we wove our way up the mountains, the glow of headlamps in the distance lit up the trail.

Time was ticking by and my eyelids were getting heavy. One guy gave me a single packet of instant coffee and told me to take it straight—bad decision! But the caffeine did kick in. As the 24-hour mark hit, my eyes were barely open and I was walking like a robot. Soon afterward, we found a campsite behind a water cache. Within five minutes of arriving, I was in my sleeping bag, fast asleep.

The next day, I told myself becoming nocturnal was a bad idea. So I got back on a normal sleep schedule for two nights. And then I accidentally hiked 40 miles in one day!

This was a Forrest Gump kind of day when I just felt like walking. Despite sleeping through three alarms and waking up an hour late, I woke up like my hair was on fire. (Thank you NWOBS for bringing that phrase into my life!) The miles ticked away and I felt invincible. After only seven hours, I found myself 20 miles down the trail at a place called Hiker Town, an old western town designed for hikers. Following a bacon cheeseburger and ice cream, I apparently was ready for round two.

I set out in the afternoon sun to the Los Angeles Aqueduct and into the Mojave. One foot in front of the other over the old metal pipe. The realization of such a distance came to mind at about mile 30 when the two guys I was hiking with mentioned their destination for the night.

We were clipping along well and I continued to shut off the fatigued voice in my head. At about 11:30 p.m., my stomach started growling. Before I knew it, I was eating a Pop-Tart, apparently with my eyes closed. I kept dropping pieces and eating them off the ground, still not sure of what I was actually doing.

Just past midnight, I hit 40 miles and I was done. Being in a wind farm, it’s difficult to find a sheltered campsite, even in the daylight. I found the first flat spot and crashed. Just like that, my 40-mile day was over.

This sufferfest of a week has really showed me how strong I have become on the trail. If anyone had told me a month ago about the distances I would be walking, I would have laughed out loud. There are only six days left in the desert before the Sierra really begin. Let’s see what these coming days have in store.

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