In Which I Focus on the Little Things (plus some big cows)
Miles walked: 150
Audio: The rest of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, the beginning of Blood Red Road by Moira Young, SYML, Rooney, Sleeping at Last, AC/DC
I’m now at 179 miles. The last 137 miles have been a crazy mess of pain, laughter, trying to sleep, eating pop-tarts… this trail is amazing! There were several wonderful things that happened this past week, and also a few miserable times as well. I’ll start with the bad, since it’s always better to end on a positive note, and this week was overall very positive.
Well, I am hiking in the desert, but I did not expect the heat to come on all of a sudden. My trail fam and I arrived at the water cache at mile 91.2 and ate a wonderful lunch in the shade. Then, I’m not quite sure why, we walked away from the water cache at noon, determined to make camp 8 miles away. By 1:30 pm, we were all staggering like drunken pirates on a rough sea, and we wisely decided that it was high time to find shade. Jude checked the temperature, and it was a wild 100 degrees. We literally couldn’t find any shade, so we made our own. By this point, sweat was literally pouring off my face, dripping down my legs and arms, and making my socks even grosser than they already were. I tried setting up my rain fly to make shade, but it felt like I was relaxing in a double boiler. Heck. No. I grabbed my emergency blanket and tied it to some small bushes, then laid down underneath it. Unfortunately, the wind was incredibly intense, so my emergency blanket (which was only tied at the top) either completely consumed me in a thin layer of vacuum packed emergency preparedness, or it blew fiercely outwards like Dorthy’s house. I kept my elbows and knees on it as long as I could, but eventually, I’d drift off and wake up to thin plastic whacking me with unbelievable strength, and the sun literally burning my skin. What a day. Suffice it to say that I was absolutely miserable. I hated the sun, I hated the desert, I hated myself for thinking that hiking this was a good idea… it was awful. We left when the sun went down, and hiking in the silent night was much better than sniffling through the burning day. We crossed mile 100 at 8:26 pm, and the elation I felt almost made me forgot that I was considering quitting the trail earlier that day. The PCT is a wild ride, that’s for sure. From now on, my team and I are hiking from 5am-10am, waiting out the shade until about 6 pm, then hiking from 6pm-10 or 11 pm.
I guess it goes without saying that the human body will go through some significant adjustments during the course of a 2000+ mile hike. My body is no different. I wake up staggering, with aching feet and blisters that just keep filling up (no matter how many times I drain them). I’m sunburnt and blistered on the back of my neck, which is very frustrating when I’m trying to put on my desert shirt and backpack. I also had my menstrual cycle. In the desert. With no toilet paper or showers. But nevertheless, the pain I’m feeling in my body is temporary, and the memories of this trail will last forever. For now, as my out-of-shape body adjusts to constant exercise, I will just have to suck it up.
Boy, did we see a ton of animals this week. On night hikes, we’ve seen 2 baby tarantulas, a baby rattlesnake, and a tiny scorpion. During the day, I have seen literally countless lizards, beetles, birds, tiny lilac butterflies, and cows. In fact, for about a half an hour as a came into Warner Springs (mile 110), I was stuck behind a very slow cow who was simply hiking his own hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Seeing tons of cows was easily the most unexpected and wonderful time I’ve had so far on the PCT.
At the water cache at mile 77, I was surprised to find a rooster just strutting around. He came over very aggressively and demanded some of my pop-tart, and I was happy to oblige (I only gave him the crusts, so no sugar or strawberry filling). I named him Buckley and convinced the other exhausted hikers that he was better alive than as a drumstick. After about an hour of making friends with him, a woman came with a cage and said that her neighbor had lost a rooster. Dang it. Buckley couldn’t be my hiking partner after all. We tried to catch him for an hour with lettuce, but he was NOT having it. She eventually left but entrusted me to catch him. After several hours and an epic/ tense showdown, we finally got Buckley secured in the cage (after Brendon used a trekking pole as an extended arm, and I sacrificed the rest of my pop-tarts to the little bastard of a bird). What an experience. After a day of dehydration, sunburn, and discouragement, I made friends with an aggressive rooster named Buckley who liked pop-tarts.
I’m beginning to fall in love with the desert. Not the heat or the sun, but the plants and the rocks. The towering rock formations and picturesque plants really make each day unique. Since I took a plant identification class right before I began this hike, I’ve noticed tons of brome (both ripgut and red brome), Triticeae, salt cedar, chamise… it’s a never-ending stream of desert plants! Who thought the desert would be so lush?
My Trail Family
Let me just say that I think I have the best family on the trail. Each one of us is so unique and gets along so well with each other, and I feel like I’ve known each of them for years, even though it’s only been around 2 weeks! Jenni‘s foot is feeling better, and she caught up with us in no time. The rest of us (Tanner, Brendon, Jude, Charlene, and I) have been night hiking constantly, setting up camp in less than 10 minutes, joking around with each other, swapping food (I am way sick of Idahoans), and having very deep conversations ranging from the meaning of life to the best flavor of pop-tarts. Truly, I have been blessed with some amazing friends out here in the middle of nowhere. I was going to hike out of Idyllwild at night and alone (since Brendon and Tanner hadn’t made it to the town yet, and I had already taken my 0 day), but I decided to take another 0 so our family doesn’t get split up. Honestly, they’re the best!
When I first told my mom about my plan to hike the Pacific Crest Trail solo, her first concern was about the people I’d meet on the trail. She bought me a tracking device, and I set out at the Mexican border with pepper spray, two large knives, and a year of jiu-jitsu and self-defense practice. The fears both she and I had about creeps on the trail have turned out to be totally unfounded, as each and every person I’ve met on the trail has been nothing but amazing and respectful. Seriously. The culture and community on this trail have been nothing short of astonishing. Strangers will constantly ask you how you’re feeling, if you need water, if you want extra food, if you’re lost… and when you really get to know the people around you, you’ll find that each one of them is incredibly complex and motivated and introspective.
My first night in Idyllwild, I shared a cabin with Jude and 3 guys whom we had met a few days prior. They had hiked the AT together and had tons of stories about adventures on the AT and insights into life. One of them was a guy named Big Spoon who was really philosophical, had great ideas, and helped me find the right kind of shoes to get in town. Another one was a guy named Pizza who had a scruffy red beard, was completely convinced that Bigfoot was real (he said there were Sasquatch believers, and then there were Sasquatch knowers. He was a knower), and had about 4 intricate tattoos of pizza in various settings (hence his trail name Pizza). The last guy was named Bad Apple, and he served in Afghanistan for a few years, easily downed 6 beers over the course of an evening, was a welder by trade, and had sold everything to hike this trail. And those were just 3 guys that Jude and I had met. I’ve met dozens of crazy and incredible people who are nicer than most people I meet in everyday life! The people definitely make the trail worth walking. And even in town, there are some very unique individuals. The guy I got a hitch from into Idyllwild smoked pot with Metallica back in the day, is married into the Apache tribe, and loves PCT hikers more than anything!
Julian, Warner Springs, Idyllwild… each town has been just incredible and loving towards hikers. In Julian (mile 77), I ate a massive waffle and cinnamon roll for breakfast, received free pie and ice cream because I was a PCT hiker, and ate fries and a milkshake for dinner. Town meals totally beat any concoction of Mountain House or Knorrs that I could whip up. Warner Springs (mile 110) was one of the friendliest little towns I’ve ever been in. I got a free bucket shower, could do my laundry for a dollar, and could charge my devices in the community center all day if I wanted. The people in that town constantly asked if there was anything they could do for me, they gave me maps and pack advice, showed me where I could nap, and gave me clothes to wear while I was doing laundry and after I showered. I have never felt so welcome anywhere in my life! Warner Springs is amazing! Idyllwild (mile 179) was a completely idyllic town with tons of restaurants, gear shops, cabins with laundry and showers, and a dog for a mayor! There was an ice cream and jerky store that sold earthworm and swordfish jerky, among other exotic flavors. They were sold out of the earthworm variety, or else I totally would have gotten some! Idyllwild, and every town I’ve been in has been an incredibly memorable experience.
So to sum up (since this blog post was wayyyyyy too long, I’m sorry! I’m still trying to get a hang of this whole blogging thing), this trail has its ups and downs. My body is constantly in pain, and the desert heat and sun are absolutely miserable. Yet still, I look back on these past days with only happiness. During the time I’m walking, it’s hard to think about what an incredible experience I’m having. But with each step, I can find little things that make the pain worth it. Each tiny plant I can identify, each cow and rooster I meet, each conversation I have with my trail family, each stranger I get to know and love, each morning waking up to trees above me and falling asleep under the stars, each town meal and hitch and miles made for the day, each little thing adds up. Even the fact that I realized I looked like a stormtrooper with my desert hat made that blistering day better!
I think what Jude said was right, “nobody is on this trail just to hike the trail. We all have reasons we want to be here that have nothing to do with walking or camping.” I’m learning to focus on the little things that make each day better, I’m learning to appreciate the strength and resilience of my body, and I’m learning to treasure every moment. There are totally times out here where I’m discouraged and feel like I can’t move on. But focusing on the little things makes each moment just a little better. One step seems like nothing compared to the 2,660ish miles of the PCT, but the journey of a thousand miles (or in this case, 2,660ish miles) begins with a single step. So I’ll keep stepping, keep looking for the little things, keep dreaming of reaching Canada and keep remembering that I’m one of the luckiest people in the world to be here, right now, having these unforgettable experiences with absolutely unforgettable people.
PS. The featured image is of my resupply until Big Bear (mile 265). It’s wayyyyy too much. I almost can’t lift my pack, and even when I get my pack on, my heart is strained and my lungs can’t fill to capacity. The next few days are going to be a huge physical struggle as I summit Mt. San Jacinto then walk 20 miles straight downhill into Cabazon.
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