Day 2: Walking, Thinking (Miles 15.4-34.3)
Toxic Plants and People
My first night’s sleep wasn’t the most restful. There were helicopters all night, small critters rustling through beds of leaves, the swishy sounds of other campers adjusting to their new pads and bags, the coughs of desert neophytes, myself included, unaccustomed to the dry air and clouds of dust inhaled during the hike.
Mostly, though, I’d made a small enemy the evening prior. There’d been a guy setting up his tent along the dry creek bed, in the dead center of a vortex of poison oak. Accepting that people have varying levels of knowledge and awareness of the outdoors, and clinging to the rumors that everyone out here is so nice, brah, I walked over to…my new friend?
“Hey man,” I said, with the high-pitched customer service voice I use when I’m not sure if an individual is a misogynist or a murderer. “You, like, probably already know this, but you’re basically setting up in a patch of poison oak.”
He turned to me, sneering: “Well, I’m not planning on sleepwalking so it shouldn’t be a problem now, should it?”
Ahhh, nothing like falling asleep with the wind blowing through the leaves above and a (charcuterie) knife in your palm, amirite?
Bladders and Beauty
I woke up at 3:30 am with a full bladder. FUCK. I had no desire to rouse my buddy in the next tent with my synthetic rustling so I did makeshift Kegels and tried to sleep through the urge to pee. I also didn’t want to create a physical interaction between my feminine areas and the poison oak that reigns over Hauser Creek so I dozed in and out. At 4:30 I couldn’t take it anymore so I crept out of my tent, red light shining low, and made my way to the road. I love my small bladder, I really do, if only for getting me out of my tent in the waning night, into a dirt road in the mountains with a black, star-spilled sky. It was quiet, it was perfect, I peed in the road and thus harmed no plants during the expulsion of my urine. A beautiful moment indeed.
Town? Already? Yes, Please!
I was wound up and still on East Coast time, so I was packed up and ready a bit before 7:00. At the time I was beyond impressed with myself because that is unheard of in my life. In retrospect, I understand that 7:00 is basically midday. Could I remain jetlagged for the next five months?
I hiked 4.3 pleasant miles, mainly uphill but with many switchbacks, to Lake Morena, the first civilization on the trail. Switchbacks! Civilization within 24 hours! What novel ideas!
I know, I know – I’m not out here to lounge around in towns eating unhealthy foods and making friends with people. I’m here to hike, dammit, to pontificate. But it’s the beginning of the trail! I did stop in Lake Morena, I did eat a breakfast burrito, I did socialize with other hikers, I did leave town with a small group, I did hike in a line of people, I did alter my pace to match that of others. But also, I did have a fun time. DAMMIT!
The Trail, and Other Thoughts
The rest of the hiking day spanned seven hours and covered almost 15 more miles after Lake Morena. As with any full day of physical activity, my body and mind fluctuated frequently. One minute I felt like I could hike forever, that there was nowhere I’d rather be; a minute later – often coinciding with an ascent, mind you – I felt that the whole endeavor was pointless and was embarrassed to be wearing the same REI Sahara hoodie as a thousand other people. It’s been less than 48 hours on trail and already many hikers are presenting this frenetic desire to have The Best Hike, as though that’s a thing you can have. You can’t walk a quarter mile without someone asking if you have a trail name, what day you started, if you made it to Lake Morena on the first day, what your base weight is, or what other long trails you’ve hiked. Any fatigue I have will not be from hiking…
But the glorious, gorgeous trail! The weather has remained merciful – 62 and sunny with a light wind – and the PCT has not had a moment that lacks astonishing views that make you feel miniscule. In a strange way, what I like about hiking is what I like about cities: The way in which they make you realize how very insignificant and unimportant you are, in what I’d deem a good way. How can you have an ego in a jam-packed subway car? How can you have an ego in the middle of miles of mountains? We’re just another beating heart in the middle of millions.
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