Out of the Frying Pan, Into the… Freezer?
Miles walked: 700
Audio: see below
I’m way sorry that I’ve been MIA for so long. I had reliable internet in Tehachapi (mile 566), but had no motivation to write a blog post, so I didn’t. Here is an extra long blog post that covers everything up to Kennedy Meadows (mile 700). And I’m out of the desert now. Wahoo!
A Day in the Life of Spooky
Spending a day with me on the PCT would be quite the experience. I love deciding where I want to camp and when I want to camp, commenting on how wonderful it is to slip into a sleeping bag, trying and spitting out shrimp ramen, bandaging toes that are literally splitting apart, figuring out that my numb fingers are due to a bruised radial nerve, watching episodes of Psych while walking, enjoying how perfect the sunrises and sunsets are, and being absolutely overjoyed when I’m in service and people have texted me their support and love. But that’s just a generalization of a desert day. Here is an actual day of solo hiking near the end of the desert.
Woke up at 9 a.m. (night hiking takes everything out of you, including your will to live. Just kidding. But it does take away your motivation to get up early). Ate some Nutella. Drank some questionable looking water. Lamented that I had to get out of my warm and toasty sleeping bag. Got out of my warm and toasty sleeping bag. Staggered around for about 30 minutes waiting for my feet to start working again (called hiker hobble, very painful, and hilarious to watch, I’m sure). Start walking. Listen to the following audio throughout the day:
The Bourne Ultimatum (which I had downloaded on Netflix), the entire Hamilton soundtrack (twice), a podcast on women’s self-defense, another on recognizing common hustling scams, how LSD works, one about a slave who escaped in a box, the Langdon dragon, one on serial killer memorabilia, a few hours of upbeat music, and about an hour of silence where the wind was too great for me to listen to anything.
Still, though, being alone all day isn’t fun. I think I literally saw four people all day, and most passed me while I was taking a nap after lunch. During that lunch, I felt very sad, so I ate seven GoGo Squeeze applesauce containers. That night, I thought there were headlamps approaching me in the dark, but I soon discovered that it was just the blinking red lights of wind farms.
And that was just one day of hiking in the desert. Some days I’m hiking with people, some days I don’t nap, some days I watch more than one movie. It all varies. But basically, hiking alone during the day is, well, lonely.
I’m not sure if I’ve already posted about trail angels, but they deserve every amount of praise and gratitude that we hikers can give. The trail would literally not be possible without them.
Mile 454 was the Andersons’ place, also known as Hiker Heaven. They were completely set up to host hundreds of hikers at a time, and everybody was incredibly friendly. Hikers I had only met once or twice before greeted me with huge smiles and friendliness, and I ordered a pizza for the first time. I also laughed so hard my real laugh came out (sounds like a ten-pack-a-day smoker), and truly felt elated at my decision to hike the PCT.
Mile 480 was the Saufleys, also known as Casa de Luna, where hikers camped in a manzanita forest maze and painted rocks. We were given unlimited taco salad, which is saying a lot since hikers consume upward of 3,500 calories every day.
Mile 517 was Hikertown, a literal town next to the highway with an Old West feel totally dedicated to housing hikers. I was knighted the sheriff’s deputy, and I took a very long nap on a lawn chair and ate a pint of ice cream. It’s little breaks like that from the desert heat that made sitting under a bush in the middle of nowhere worth it.
Mile 549 boasted a huge cache of food and water (which I was too tired to take a photo of). There were bags of candy, loads of vegetables, cases of muffins, and coolers of beer and Gatorade. That day I had almost mentally quit, and seeing all that food and water and friendliness made me forge ahead with confidence and happiness. At that cache, I met two new hikers (Cracker and Mike) and we were having a deep conversation within a half an hour of meeting. There’s just something about the trail that strips you of everything and shows you who you really are. On the trail, you’re already vulnerable, so it’s OK to make friends right away and forget about judging people. The trail is magic.
Mile 700 was Bob and Cari. At about 7:20 p.m. on a balmy June evening, I took a wrong turn on the PCT. My phone (so, therefore, my map and GPS) was dead, and darkness was quickly approaching. The dozens of pairs of footsteps I was following dwindled until it was just a peanut-looking tread ahead of me, but that gave me no pause. There are winds in the desert, and road walking leaves little place for footsteps. I was distracted from my doubt by a baby rattlesnake. Like. A baby. It was probably the diameter of a dime and a little shorter than my foot, and its rattle (which it was trying to shake) was silent and less than half the size of my pinky fingernail. After watching it for about a half an hour, I skipped merrily along until I heard the howling of coyotes and realized that I had no idea where I was.
I kept walking into the darkness on this abandoned road and was a little mystified to see that every single house I passed had their windows shot out. By this point, I was both out of food and water, and my phone and both portable chargers were dead. I figured that if I just kept walking, I’d eventually get somewhere, so I did. A pickup truck pulled up next to me and asked if I wanted a ride, and with zero thoughts about safety, I jumped on in. We went to their house, and by this point, I was kind of regretting not even looking at who was in the cab. Would I be murdered? Who knew. They let me use their shower, and then cooked a tri-tip steak dinner, which we enjoyed by lantern light. I fell asleep in the softest flannel-sheeted bed I had ever been in, totally full of real and not dehydrated food, and woke up to blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup. Yum. Bob and Cari were absolutely incredible trail angels who made a frustrating evening of wandering around, completely lost, into one of the best nights I’ve had so far on the PCT.
If I had to walk another 700 miles through the desert to have another day like that (meeting up with my trail family, getting a free jar of Nutella, walking 21 miles with minimal pain, finding and swimming in a river, watching a few episodes of Psych and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, exploring an abandoned house, seeing a tiny baby rattlesnake, seeing that yellow truck with bullet holes, riding in the back of a pickup to some strangers back of the woods property for a delicious meal, hours of incredible conversation, and the comfiest bed I’ve ever slept in (with flannel sheets), I’d do it in a heartbeat. No questions asked. And each interaction with a trail angel— unforgettable. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. What a way to end the desert.
Smiles, Not Miles, with a Brand New Crew
Exiting Hiker Heaven, the heat became almost unbearable, and I decided to hide out at the next possible source of shade. I crawled into a shaded campsite with a few hikers I knew (Zubes, Rafi, Vincent, RayNow, Jaron, and Thor), and was quickly designated the DJ. I played a wide variety of songs, all of which were appreciated by the group. We all started talking, and they affirmed that they had my back after I shared my concerns about hiking alone. I took a very long nap, awoke to laughter, and truly felt like I belonged. It was a wonderful introduction to an incredible new trail family.
We reached 500 miles together (that’s the header photo), and kept close until Tehachapi, where we all stayed at the same hotel and enjoyed a shower, time at the pool, and real beds. The new crew totally respected me and my opinion and didn’t look down on me or coddle me because I was younger. Not being babied by those less than ten years older than me is very nice indeed. They instead thought of me as an inspiration and a badass, which was very lovely to hear. They’re all pretty great, and we make one happy tramily.
We hiked the LA Aqueduct together and enjoyed several stunning sunrises, sunsets, and starscapes together. I feel so incredibly lucky to be out here and to be seeing such unforgettable things. We entered a huge windmill farm with massively large windmills. Like, they look so tiny from the road. We napped under a bridge, and after I couldn’t fall asleep, I took off in the heat of the day. So began my short solo adventure. Still though, as I left the snoozing tramily, I felt overwhelmed by gratitude for their respect and support. My back, however, felt overwhelmed with sweat, and my arms felt overwhelmed with sunburn.
Sometime in the first few days while I was hiking with this tramily, I decided that it was more important to make memories and have experiences rather than make miles and have the frustration that I cannot pull off back-to-back 30 mile days yet. So, smiles not miles. Whenever I’m frustrated that I haven’t done more than 15 or 20 miles in a day, I just remember that my focus is on the experience, and not the daily mileage. There’s no way that I can fully complete the hike before I have to go back for college, anyway. So as I enjoy hiking upward of 20 miles a day, I’m not worried about making enough miles to reach Canada. Instead, I’m focused on having fun and learning about myself with my brand new crew.
Nightlife on the PCT
Well, when I say nightlife, I mean my nightlife. That means me, walking alone, shivering if I stop for more than five minutes, marveling at all the nightmare creatures that inhabit the trail, and walking with my head down into the wind. I pass gigantic skeletal windmills silhouetted against a velvet sky, with their massive blades swishing above me. I begin to panic as I slide down an especially sandy hill, and I have to take deep breaths and slow down until I’m not afraid anymore. That feeling of sick panic when I hear screeching in the night, or when the trees are too dense for me to see the sky, is absolutely horrific. It’s hard to let it go, my body thinks it’s time to fight or fly away, but I just have to remind myself that I’m OK and that I’m walking on a safe trail. I’ve also got pepper spray, a knife, and some sweet jiu-jitsu knowledge. I’ll be fine.
Songs listened to during an especially windy night walking through a wind farm: The Final Battle by Aaron Tveit, New York by the Boxer Rebellion, the instrumental version of Soft Collared Neck by Helios, Prophecy Theme by Toto, Sub Prime Directive by Michael Giacchino, and Bring Him Home by the Piano Guys.
The Desert, by the Numbers
Miles walked: 700
Number of rolled ankles (only counts if I had to stop and wait to see if I could put weight back on it): 93
Number of rattlesnakes seen: 4 (not including the Mojave Green I saw)
Bacon cheeseburgers eaten: eight
Number of times I seriously thought about quitting the trail: four
Number of toilet paper rolls used: 2.5
Trail cries: 0!!
Holes in my sleeping pad: three (a yucca plant was right next to where I camped)
Audiobooks listened to: seven (the first four Harry Potter books, Snow Crash, The Girl With All The Gifts , Alexander Hamilton biography, Blood Red Road)
The Desert, by the TV
The first two seasons of Psych
The Amazon Prime dock-series on the New Zealand All Blacks, All or Nothing
Two episodes of the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt before Netflix signed me out
The first half of the first season of Vikings
The movies Ladybird, Spaceballs, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Ultimate Gift, and Avengers: Infinity War (seen in theaters at mile 179)
Well, there you go. That was the last several hundred miles of the desert. Hiking alone during the day, hiking alone during the night, meeting incredible new hiking pals, benefiting from the generosity of trail angels, and listening to about half the audio I have downloaded on my phone. Overall, the desert was not what I expected. Somehow, I thought I’d be shuffling up sand dunes and drinking water one drop at a time as my skin got all leathery and burnt. And while I probably have some lasting skin damage from not using sunscreen, I’ve had so many unforgettable experiences with unforgettable people that the heat and waterless stretches of the desert were worth it.
But now I’m done with the desert, and out of the frying pan. I truly can’t remember what snow is like, but I have heard the Sierra are much much colder than the desert, especially the mountain passes. Now that I’m done with the desert, I’m out of the frying pan, but the Sierra are a whole lot colder than a fire. So out of the frying pan, into the freezer? We’ll find out. Let’s go!
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