My Gear is Failing But I Will Not

It is hot. Really hot. The kind of hot when sweat is dripping down my forehead into my eyes and it stings. I feel a drop hit my bare legs. I wipe my face with my dirty sleeve and take a swig of water from my bladder. Empty. I check FarOut and see that it’s another six miles to water. I pull out my sun umbrella and fumble attaching it to my backpack so I can keep my hands on my poles. I’m tired, I’ve been walking between 20-25 mile days every day for the last two weeks. I need to rest, but more importantly, I need to get to water. I start back along the trail in the midday sun. I should be taking a siesta at this time, but I can’t find any shade.

I stumble down some rocks and my umbrella catches in a tree. I lose my footing and fall, left leg first. It hurts. I check I’m still alive. I then check I haven’t broken anything. My go-to checks after I trip. Then I check the damage. I’ve cut my leg again over the exact same cut as I’d cut it a couple of days prior.

It’s filthy. I sit there for a moment wondering if I could just stay sitting in the middle of the trail forever, but blood is seeping through the dirt and flies are swarming the cut, sticking to the blood. I grab an antiseptic wipe from my first aid kit and try to clean it. I realize I’m rubbing the dirt in. I have 1l of water left, I can’t spare any. It will have to wait until I find enough. A bandaid won’t stick to the sweat so I tie my bandana around my leg to keep the flies off and slowly I get to my feet.

I walk the next six miles in tears. I’m not sure why I’m crying, but it feels good to. I haven’t seen anyone all day, often I like the solitude, crave it even, but right now I want my trail friends, I hope they’ll be at the water, so I can show them the cut and laugh about it together and discuss the hardships of the day. An hour later I see a beautiful snake, a type I haven’t seen before, lying in the late afternoon sun, and I am reminded once more that there is so much joy and wonder to be found in the desert. I am reminded of the reason I am doing this. I am reminded that I love the desert.

The Week That Challenged Me

The week started off so good and I really do love the desert

This was the start of week five, a week I have now started calling the week the trail challenged me. I think I’d had it easy the first four weeks. I’d started to think I was good at hiking, that the desert wasn’t as hard as everyone makes out. I had been prepared for the long water carries, the heat, the wind, and the fatigue from exercising 12 hours a day. I had prepared for everything that I thought the trail could throw at me, but there is one thing I forgot to prepare for: what happens if your gear fails.

From the first time I tripped over, slowly but surely the following happened:

My tent pole snapped in a lone gust of wind when packing it down one morning

I spilt superglue on my tent floor trying to repair my CNOC Vecto which has a leak in it

The threads in my stove went, and I was unable to attach it to gas

My sunglasses suddenly got so scratched and chipped I couldn’t even see out of them

My pump sack for my mat stopped attaching

My cuben fiber storage sacks ripped at the seams

And then the worst yet happened.

I tied my poles to my backpack when walking the LA Aquaduct, and I managed to lose half a pole. Half a pole. It was a freak loss. I have no idea how it happened. Upon realizing it, I set off to try to find it before accepting I didn’t have enough water to go back a potential seven miles in the midday heat. It could become a potential medivac. I turned back around and stumbled forward, with one pole. I walked through the wind farm and climbed up into the mountains with the wind blowing me back down. The one pole I had stabilized my right side; my left side worked twice as hard to fight against the wind. I arrived at camp exhilarated, exhausted, and emotionally defeated, but I felt strong, capable. I was Scorpion Queen and I had conquered the wind! I had lost half a pole on the worst possible day but It hadn’t stopped me. My left ankle throbbed from the pressure it had been under from the wind. I fell asleep exhausted, dreaming of the zero day I had planned for myself.

One pole up the mountain against the wind

When I woke the following morning, it all came flooding back. I only had one pole. I had a long way to walk and my body was exhausted. I needed sugar. I needed protein, caffeine, anti-inflammatories, anything I could think of to get me up the mountain. I didn’t want to walk, my body and mind cried out for rest. My mind felt exhausted from the week of calling gear companies and trying to coordinate shipping times. I stopped less than a mile in and cried and called my Mum and told her I didn’t want to walk anymore. I have walked over 20% of the trail now, it is an amazing accomplishment and deep down I know I would never give up that easily, but in that moment of exhaustion and weakness, I couldn’t imagine how I could possibly walk anymore.

My gear failing me was the thing I had never planned for, I’d expected it could happen in the second half of the trail but not the first, it was the thing that the trail has chosen to challenge me with because it knew that would be my weak spot. The first four weeks I had walked up and down mountains and trudged through the heat with mental strength because that is what I had prepared for. I had spent hours researching and testing gear. I was perhaps more confident in my gear than I was in myself. I had started feeling that my gear failure was because I was a failure.

But I remind myself that I did it. I walked with one pole through the wind farm and it is now that I realize what thru-hiking is about. Only part of it is the physical strength of hiking and being able to walk the 2650 miles from Mexico to Canada. The main part of it is how we choose to deal with the challenges the trail throws at us. The trail will find our weak spots, it will challenge us in ways we don’t expect. But I made a decision. I have decided I will continue to love the desert and to keep walking, because I get it now. It is about being strong and resilient to the challenges and to keep on moving forward despite them.

P.S. My gear repair kit has become as essential, if not more so, as my first aid kit. I will be adding a sewing kit, more superglue, and a few other repair things. I am ditching the CNOC. (Worst customer service ever.) I’m also making some changes to my gear in preparation for the Sierras.

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Comments 5

  • Ralph B. Mahon : Jun 9th

    Juliette heat/humidity can be tough, try this. Wet a hat then wear it to cool your head.
    This should help a great deal. Re-wet it every stream crossing. The umbrella is going to snag a lot walking under trees.
    Look into buying a Leatherman multi-tool. Pliers, scissors, saw, two knives, screwdrivers, file.
    I never leave home without it. 🙂
    Problems now, later become fond memories. Good Luck 👍

  • Jhony : Jun 9th

    I must say, and I will, one of the very best postings I have ever seen. Of course I love the desert also.
    But truly I enjoyed ever word. I think you are tough and strong and resilient.
    Makes me want to jump out the door and greet the dawn (already Civil Twilight here). Yep just this 70+ year old needs to do.
    Thank you. Truly appreciate it.
    Happy good walking to you!

    • Cowpie : Jun 10th

      Beautiful write-up. I felt like I was there feeling your pain. Don’t buy a Leatherman. That’s weight you won’t need, but I know you know this.
      The suggestion to wet your hat is correct. I do that even here in Washington State. I even dip my head and soak my shirt at water crossings. However, I do understand water crossings are far and few where you are now.
      I’d advice hiking 5hose sections with others. That’s what your parents will yell you. It’s for your safety.
      I trail angel here in Washington each year. I hope to so Hi.

      • Ralph B. Mahon : Jun 10th

        That’s weight you won’t need? 8.5 oz.?
        I blew out my knee (more than once) used the very sharp saw to make a crutch.
        Cut branches for firewood, pliers, screw drivers always useful.
        Knife to clean fish, prep rabbits for food.
        Scissors handy for fishing needs, etc.
        But if 8.5 oz is a lot for you to handle, well…..

      • Jhony : Jul 2nd

        I sure agree about the leather-man. What bunch of heavy junk. I have found many along the trail (hint: hiker box please)


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