Day 18: Hiker Hunger, a Trail Name, and Forest Giants
Day 18: 15 Miles
My body now processes all food by rapid fire. The hiker hunger is setting in. I can eat protein bars, followed by keto coffee with powdered butter. Then gummy worms and yogurt raisins. Tortillas and peanut butter with brown-sugar oatmeal folded in. It goes on. I guess this is a part of this new me. This new person know as Bloodline.
Today we are climbing in the San Bernardino National Forest, and it is hard work. We walk and climb, walk and climb. The breeze is just enough to keep the heat at bay, cool enough to keep me comfortable. I stop for a moment and feel so high on adrenaline and altitude.
There has been so much water in the desert thus far. We have been very lucky. Soon I’ll cross the last water source for a while, and have to carry enough water for 15 miles, including enough to dry camp. I haven’t yet had to carry that much water on the PCT, and I am grateful my food bag is lighter today. But just before the water along the mountainside, there is a massive downed tree erasing the trail. It feels daunting, the gnarled roots like a crown of thorns upon the hillside. A bird’s nest of darkness. It takes all my strength to pull myself up the steep incline of loose dirt, one step, one arm’s length at a time.
I am back on the path and reach a spot of shade that curves to the right. More incline, more climbing. More burn. The trees are charred and hollow, snow-white skins remaining. Burned alive, from the inside out. I cross a fallen and burned cedar tree and it feels like a mythical creature. A being I owe my respects. It reminds me of children’s books, dragons, and drawbridges. It is surreal in its magnitude.
Around the corner is the water source, a few hikers gathered and filtering. I stop to camel up, the rest of the group arriving in pairs and singles. Soon after, many more hikers than we’ve seen in days are here. We snack in patches of shade, leaning against backpacks and boulders. The next push goes up for a while, and our packs will be heavy with four to five liters of water. We’re all putting it off.
I make a double-strength coffee, soak my shirt and buff in the frigid stream, and prepare to hike. My steps are a bit slower and a good part of the afternoon feels like a struggle. Up and down, down and up. The coffee makes me feel a bit nauseous in the sun’s heat, and I stop after a few miles to steady myself and eat a protein bar. And some honey mustard and onion pretzels. (Because that combination will help with nausea. Hah!) While I pause beneath the tree, I meet a section hiker. New to the trail and only three days in, he needs new shoes and trekking poles. After I am gone along the trail I wish I would have asked him if he had appropriate first aid. I have my doubts. And I know how much it compounds.
I struggle on, just a few more miles. Steve Grylls is just in front of me as I arrive to the campground, Zena already scouting the best tent spots. We are near a mountaintop again, fallen pine needles padding the synthetic floors of our tiny homes. I set up my tent and join the others at the slanted picnic tables.
I make a dinner of Spam, red beans, and rice. With the help of my hiking family I also add hot sauce, tomato paste, and edamame. I eat half of it and save half for breakfast. We agree that we’ll hike the 19 miles into Big Bear, so I eat the Butterfinger I’ve been saving in celebration.
Other hikers join us. We all sit together at the world’s most uncomfortable picnic table, forcing our legs into squashed and shortened positions. Scout also writes for The Trek. Pyro started the same day as I did, and we’ve ended up in similar camps several times. Filter is know by the others in The Walking Dead, and sticks around to explain to me what “furries” are, and how they meet each other in chat rooms. After a while people disappear one by one, and eventually it is too cold and we disperse to our sleeping bags.
I stayed out too long and my feet will take awhile to warm up. I change into my wool base layers for sleeping, and my expedition-weight socks. Crawling into bed I think about all the tents surrounding me, each containing a person who chose to give it all up to sleep in a clearing with relatively perfect strangers. Cloaked in silpoly beneath the stars, we’re choosing to chase our dreams.
PS: My favorite color use to be blueberries, but now it is cactus flower.
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