Three Weeks of the PCT: A Daily Diary
One of the first pieces of gear I bought was a lightweight, compact Bluetooth keyboard. I had this idealistic vision of my life on the Pacific Crest Trail: I would wake up, greet the morning with a hot cup of coffee, and maybe jot down a morning note in my journal before packing up camp and hitting the trail. I would walk all morning and rest in the shade of a tree to wait out the heat of the afternoon sun. In the evenings, I would fill my belly with a warm meal while sharing stories with new friends. Before falling asleep, I would pull out my keyboard and pen a beautifully coherent and well-articulated account of the day’s affairs.
HA. That is so far from reality it’s funny. Most mornings, I can’t be bothered to get out my stove for coffee; I either do a shot of dry instant coffee (I’m an animal, I know) or choke down a cup of cold joe. Yum. In the evenings, I am so exhausted I barely want to get out my sleeping bag. Some days I seriously consider just curling up in a pile of pine needles. Despite my complete and utter exhaustion, each night I try to pen a few quick bullet points from the day or string off some haphazard sentences void of punctuation. If there’s service, I’ll post a quick pic to Instagram, if anything so I can keep track of my days. Well, here are those quick, tired thoughts, edited to make sense, from my first 21 days of my PCT adventure.
**Spoiler alert! Things aren’t going as planned.
I was terrified and nauseous with anxiety. About what? I’m not too sure. I was so nervous I forgot to tie one of my shoes and only put on one sock— I didn’t realize either of the two until I was two miles in. My legs felt like they were simultaneously made of lead and Jello. I was able to suppress the tears until I was out of view of my family. They flowed with a deep gratitude for my family and awe of whatever kernel of insanity within me thought this was a good idea. But the butterflies in my stomach settled a little more with each step I took. As I continued on the trail, the midday sun melted away my fears, and the desert sand absorbed my worries. This was my life now. And so, I walked. The adventure begins.
Today was freaking hard. I splashed in and out of Mission Creek all day, rock hopping, walking on makeshift log bridges, carefully following the cairns through the riverbed. This area was seriously damaged during high floods earlier the season, wiping out the trail in more than a few instances. I relied heavily on my maps. Crawling through reeds and bushwhacking when I momentarily lost the trail. I spent the day pushing hard at my own pace and rarely saw another hiker. By the time I reached camp, I set up my tent and immediately crawled inside. It was 5 p.m. and I was exhausted and my legs were scraped and my nose was sunburned and I sort of loved it.
I felt so good today! Well, considering the sun poisoning. I vomited twice and my legs look like they are going to blister. But other than that, I feel great! My legs feel strong, not sore, and my feet are blister-free. I found myself feeling immensely grateful for this body of mine. This body that has carried me on adventures all over the globe. This body that pushed me up 7,300 feet of elevation in three days with all I need to survive on my back! I’m so proud of myself for coming this far. It’s an unreal feeling. And it’s a little addicting.
My first ten miles by 10 a.m.! I woke up well-rested and motivated to hit the trail—only ten miles between me and a shower. Big Bear here I come! With my earbuds in, the morning miles flew by. The trail slowly follows along the spine of the hills north of Big Bear, eventually dipping down and crossing Highway 18, a popular spot for thru-hikers to catch a ride into town. Well, time for a hitch. I quickly downed a La Croix, offered to me by a trail angel, with one hand and stuck a thumbs up at the passing cars with the other. Success! Within a few minutes, I was headed into town thanks to a kind passerby. Time for laundry and a shower and a hot meal and a good night’s rest in a real bed.
Today was a lazy, glorious zero. Because the temperatures dipped down below 30 degrees last night and today it just rained and rained all day, my friends and I decided to stay in Big Bear to wait out the storm. Some people needed to pick up packages from the post office, some people needed to buy new shoes, and others just wanted a day of rest. This is how my day went: wake up, go get breakfast with friends, get back in bed, go get dinner with friends, go to sleep. A day of doing nothing but resting. After a dinner of pizza, I climbed into my lovely bed, turned the TV on, and ate two cupcakes while watching Friends. Ah, what a life.
Thru-hiking is truly a roller coaster of emotion. Every day follows this cycle of “Wow! I’m so strong!” to “Eff this. what am I doing?” to “I’m going to die here” to hysterical laughter with friends to immense gratitude for this life of adventure. We left Big Bear around 8 a.m. and hit the trail feeling refreshed and ready. The morning miles cruised by—the trail was mostly downhill and, with rested legs, I quickly cranked out ten miles within three hours. My legs felt awesome and I completely forgot about my blisters. Somewhere around 1 p.m., my positivity began to wane and my ankle began to ache. Being a lover of sufferfests, I pushed through—15 miles, 18 miles, 22 miles, 24 miles. I checked Guthook and the next water source was in two miles, so I pushed on. I popped on an episode of This American Life that I had been holding for moments like this; it was titled “Where There Is A Will.” The last two miles were awful but really beautiful! Finally, after a 26.2-mile day, I arrived at camp where I found a good friend waiting for me. Time for food and bed.
Today was hard. Today was the first day I hated the trail. Hated. My feet ached and my left ankle was swollen from yesterday’s marathon. I think I pushed myself too hard—I’m quickly learning that I need to listen to my body. My usual approach of “suck it up and keep on keepin’ on” just isn’t sustainable for four months. The miles today were slowww. It was a struggle just to hit ten miles. It didn’t help that the trail was sandy and carved into the side of canyons with Mission Creek flowing strong below us. And the damn wind. I practically flew off the mountain on numerous occasions thanks to massive gusts. I hit a new record for most snakes on the trail in a day—six! It seemed like every time I’d hit my stride, I’d meet a new slithery friend and have to wait patiently as they made their way across the path. After 21 miles, my tramily (trail family) and I called it quits for the day and set up camp in the river bottom behind the Mojave River Forks Dam. Bad move. Bad bad move. All night the wind whipped sand and silt onto our tents. I woke up with sand in my mouth, in my ears, in my belly button. It was awful. Somewhere around 2 a.m. it started raining and I started crying. I was exhausted and miserable. What a great day.
We all packed up camp and hit the trail pretty early—I think we were all antsy to escape our sand-coated sleeping bags. The previous night’s sandstorm and rain left us all deflated and dirtyyyy. The fine sandy silt permeated deep in all my gear (and my ears). It was in my mouth—I can still feel the gritty, mysterious particles between my teeth. Terminator, Silent Force, The Count, and I hit the trail around 5:30 a.m. We immediately lost the trail. I’m guessing the area flooded recently, wiping clear the official trail and leaving us guessing. Together we found a way to cross the river and bushwhacked through some river reeds before joining up with the trail. Then the rain came. Then the wind. Then the tears. Trail tears are real. I cried nonstop for three miles. It was raining and crazy windy and my feet hurt so so bad. I was chest-deep in thoughts that I had managed to keep out of my head for years. It was awful and amazing? That’s sort of a perfect way to describe the trail—awful and amazing. Finally, blue skies emerged and the wind settled and the tears stopped.
Days Nine to 14
It wasn’t a part of the plan, but I needed to be home. My ankle wouldn’t stop screaming at me. Every step was sharp and clear. And it was starting to swell. To be honest, I feel pretty overwhelmed— I’m angry at myself for phoning home, proud of myself for listening to my body, frustrated about getting off trail, all while confused about if this is even something I want to be doing. I’m hoping a few days at home, with full nights of sleep and daily showers, will offer some clarity. As for the ankle, rest and elevate elevate elevate!!
Back to trail!! I feel so good. Excited to get walking—there’s a literal spring in my step. I skipped ahead a bit—starting in Agua Dulce to avoid some snow around Wrightwood. I’ll swing back later to complete those miles later. The skies were blue and bright all day, with a lovely breeze to keep the afternoon sun from getting too hot. A close family friend drove me back to the trail today and we hiked the first ten miles together. It was so nice to have him there—we chatted and reminisced and laughed for the entire hike. I wasn’t prepared to receive the overwhelming kindness of others during this adventure. Trail angels, day hikers, people who have graciously given me a hitch, friends with words of support—I am so grateful. Thru-hiking requires you to shed your pride and rely on those around you. Funny enough, this has been the hardest part of this journey for me. I’m learning to be open and grateful and accepting of the kindness the universe throws my way.
Somewhere in the middle of the night, maybe 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., I woke up to the sound of rain. It was a freezing, windy messy rain— not one of those peaceful showers that lulls you to sleep. My tent whipped and shook all night. But have no fear! After last week’s blaring sandstorm, I learned my lesson and grabbed ear plugs when I was home. I popped those bad boys in and, with a grin, fell soundly asleep until morning. Despite my wishes, the rain had only persisted. The morning fog hung heavy and I couldn’t see more than ten feet in front of me. With all my layers on, I got moving quick. I needed to warm up ASAP. I knew I would be passing by Casa de Luna—the home of the Andersons, who are lovely trail angels that welcome thru-hikers to their home—but I wasn’t planning on stopping since I hadn’t been on trail very long. Fate had another idea. Right as I was crossing the road that leads to Casa de Luna to continue farther on the trail, Mrs. Anderson herself pulled up. She pulled over to the side of the road and, through her rolled down window, yelled, “Get out of the rain, you crazy!” And so I did. I didn’t realize until I was out of the rain and drinking a hot cup of coffee at Casa de Luna that my toes were completely numb and my lips were somewhere between blue and white. After chatting with other hikers, I realized this out-of-nowhere storm wasn’t set to let up for another 24 hours and temperatures were borderline freezing. And such is how I ended up back in my mom’s car, headed back home to thaw out my toes and wait out an icy, freezing, very unseasonal storm. When the heck will summer arrive?!
This adventure is freaking dang difficult. Unexpectedly home for the second time in two weeks and I’d be lying if I said my motivation to keep on keepin’ on wasn’t wavering. Nonetheless, I’m trying to take advantage of this opportunity to rest. I didn’t walk much at all today—but I did drive all over. I missed the quiet of the forest and the silence of the afternoon air. I needed to refuel my soul to last me a few more days at home until I caught a ride back to the trail. I threw my climbing gear in my trunk and drove in search of rocks. As soon as I passed the sign welcoming me to Los Padres National Forest, I couldn’t stop smiling. Despite all my blisters, it felt so good to slip on my climbing shoes and chalk up. I spent the day messing around, not exactly climbing anything, just thinking and driving from spot to spot, but loving every minute of it. The trail seems to be teaching me a lot, even when I’m not really on it.
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