What I Have Learned One Week In
Eight days in and more than 150 miles into this epic adventure, here are some thoughts and learning from the trail so far just one week in.
The Kindness of Strangers
From arriving at the San Diego airport right through to Idyllwild I don’t think there has been a single day without a random act of kindness dished out by complete strangers. It started by getting picked up at the airport by a trail angels and being hosted by Scout and Frodo for three days (truly selfless individuals); water caches maintained on the trail (in particular Scissors Crossing, the third gate, and Mary’s at mile 145); the Warner Springs community center, and Mike’s place; and random trail magic like Nico’s oasis (@wheresnico) and the strangers who offered cold bottled water and chips at a small picnic ground; I forget which mile. Then there was the ride offered at Paradise Cafe into Idyllwild.
The Trail Itself
I have a love-hate relationship with the trail at the moment. Trail construction and grade have been outstanding thus far and make for easy miles but this also causes me some frustration. At home trails tend to follow ridge lines down to gullies and up again, often going with a steeper but shorter route overall. Most of the time I can see the PCT traversing the side slope on the other side of a gully and know that it will take twice as many miles as it would back home to reach the same point. I guess this is something I’ll just have to get used to. Also, by following the contour and staying off ridges there seem to be fewer views. Often the view in front will be the same for hours and the pace is very consistent in the gradual climbs up and down.
Adapting to the Heat
I started the trail by leaving camp around 7 a.m. each day and pushing through the heat of the day, typically walking for ten hours a day. But it soon became apparent this was not a great approach to take. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. the sun is scorching and the temp way too hot, requiring the carry of far too much water, sweating my arse off and being shattered at the end of the day worried if I had enough water to make it through to the next source. This game got old real fast and required a complete rethink on my strategy. I had to adapt to the desert; it was not going to change for me.
So my strategy changed to start walking at 4 a.m., pushing the miles in the cool of the morning and going to ground midday to wait out the sun before pushing on into the evening. Once I had this epiphany my world changed. I found I could do more miles with much less fatigue and carry less water. Often I’d be 12 miles in by 10 a.m. Carrying an umbrella helped as well – it must be 20 degrees cooler underneath.
I started hiking in a pair of size 10.5 trail runners, two sizes up from what my shoe size was two years ago but the same shoe size I ended up in on completing the Te Araroa. Naturally, I assumed this same shoe and size would be be fine to start the PCT. Wrong!
By day two I came to the realization that my shoes were already too small, with both big toes hitting the toe box and slowly turning black. I think this was due to the heat causing feet to swell much more than anticipated.
In addition to my toenails I started to get blisters. I never get blisters so something was up. I think this was a combination of wearing two pair of socks (Injinji toe liners and Darn Toughs), lots of fine dust, and sweaty feet. Without that many opportunities to wash socks with the limited water around, major friction in too small shoes was the cause. Without an opportunity to change shoes it was a matter of grinning and bearing it until I could get to Warner Springs to pick up some new size 11 Altras. Two years ago there was no way I would be wearing size 11s.
The PCT Hikers Themselves
From all ages, backgrounds, occupations, different countries, from ultralight to heavy haulers, thru-hikers are a unique bunch of people. Super friendly, right up front, willing to share just about anything (stories, tips and info). I guess it’s the common goal and shared reasons for being out here that allow people to just connect in a way that you don’t often see in the wider world.
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