Learning and Remembering As I Go

I knew it was going to be rough at the start. I understood intellectually but forgot how that would feel in my body. My introduction to the desert. The first few days.

Leaden legs. Pack and back wet with sweat. Achy feet baking blisters. Woozy from the sun, in search of a patch of shade around the next turn. Gritty mouth, tongue cemented to the roof of my mouth. Front of teeth and back of cracked lips stuck together.

“Do I have enough sunscreen on?”

And that is with the plentiful water flowing at regular intervals this drought breaking year. Fourteen miles has been the longest carry so far, with trail magic in the middle.

So much trail magic. Keeping us salted, sugared, hydrated, caloried. Much love for the trail magic organizers. Light and love on the surface. The supporters must know the aches and anguish that bring so many of us out and keep us hiking. The seeking and searching, external and internal.

I didn’t prepare adequately before the start of the PCT. One of the things I promised I would do after the 2022 AT thru hike is try travel Physical Therapy. Which I did! The long medical world hours left little time for training.

A trail magic organizer commented that climbing out of Hauser Creek was the first area that unprepared hikers are at risk of a cardiac event. “That was the day I thought I might pass out every time I stood up,” I pondered as I licked my haagen-dazs on a stick under the awning attached to his Jeep.

We successfully avoided the poison oak at Hauser Creek. “Three leaves from a single stem!” “Poodle bush may be another one to look out for up the trail!”

Water for the actual, majestic oaks. I touched the bark of a massive trunk as I walked by, feeling for connection.

The grasses rustled in time with the breeze just off the trail. I heard what sounded like the familiar warning rattle along with the waving grasses but thought I must be having an auditory hallucination. I had just stepped foot on trail. It felt too early to have a rattlesnake encounter.

“Did you see the rattlesnake?” People behind me discussed later that day and shared photos of their encounter.   Meanwhile I questioned my reasoning of it being ‘too early’ to encounter a rattlesnake.

I’ve only still ever had peaceful encounters with rattlesnakes. I see them sunning themselves, hanging out just off the trail. Or hidden, sounding out the kind warning rattle. “I am here. Don’t tread on me. I am resting. I am hunting. I don’t want to waste my venom on you.”

I’m training as I go. Learning. Remembering. After forgetting due to our amazing protective mechanism. The ability to forget so we can carry on.

Southern California is a new landscape for me. I’m learning the names and lifecycles of the plants. Yucca and agave with the tall asparagus looking stalk tipped with blooms, sphere of sticker fronds below at ground level.

The manzanita which tramily member Strider especially loves with the smooth bark. Strider who did get to train and who is being so patient with me as I get up to speed.

Tiny wildflowers. California poppy. Lupine. Desert chia. Goldfields. Baby blue eyes.

Cactus. Prickly pear. Barrel. Cholla.

My emotions like the desert weather warming and cooling in currents, from intense gratitude to wanting to go home.

And the cycles of trail talk. What to do about San Jacinto. What to do about the Sierra. What to do about that 100’ bridge across the South Fork San Joaquin River at PCT mile 854.5 between Evolution Valley and Muir Trail Ranch in Kings Canyon National Park.

The overriding scent of sage and wild lilac lifts my spirits, clears my thoughts. Brings me back to the job of putting one foot in front of the other.

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