Part Five – Adapt and Overcome (mile 314.3 to mile 342)

Blowin’ in the Wind

Monday, May 1st. I got dropped off at the Deep Creek trailhead after spending a night at the Joshua Inn, a biker’s bar that let hikers set up camp in the back and offered food and drinks. Like last night, the wind is still strong. So strong that it almost makes me lose balance at times. You get the picture. To add to that, I am hiking toward a humongous cloud. I have been watching it all morning, moving in the same direction as the trail. When I reach Silverwood Lake, the wind becomes stronger, and I enter the cloud. The weather instantly becomes cold and humid. Light rain falls in waves. The clouds keep rolling over the hills at such a high speed that it seems like someone has pressed the fast-forward button. It doesn’t feel like Southern California, I think.

Later in the afternoon, the sky clears up and the sun finally comes out. At the campsite, I am joined by “Kite”, his brother, and three of their friends. Soon after, Sam, his girlfriend Sophie, and Abbey, three hikers that I had met back in Idyllwild, appear from the north to my surprise. They were among the many people who had skipped the snowy San Jacinto mountains to continue from Walker Pass in a southbound direction, but I didn’t expect to meet them now. After catching up with them, I try to pitch my tent but the wind is so strong that it only takes a few minutes before it gets squashed on the ground, again. I feel defeated, to the point of considering hiking the 6 more miles that separate me from Cajun Pass and a cozy hotel room. But I stay, not because I want to, but because giving in to the appeal of comfort is not what I came here for. Embrace the suck, like they say. Tonight will be cowboy camping. At dinner, everybody gathers in a circle around my ground sheet. “Kite” takes out his camp guitar and starts playing for us. Abbey, then I, take turns and play a few tunes too. We chat and laugh all while listening to one another jamming. I don’t even think about my tent or the wind anymore. I am glad I stayed.

Two different worlds

2:00 a.m.. Drops of rain hit my face and pull me out of sleep. I look up at the dark sky and can see clouds moving rapidly over our campsite. Each one of them brings its own little shower, but not enough to worry me. The stars are shining in between the rolling clouds, and I fall back asleep watching them and hoping for the weather to calm down.

4:00 a.m.. I wake up again, this time to pouring rain. My quilt is drenched and I fear that the rest of my gear will get soaked. After a few minutes of reflection, I finally decide to get up, pack everything, and set off in the dark and lonely night. My steps are fast and composed. I am determined to get to McDonald’s as fast as possible to get out of the storm. The wind’s many attempts to destabilize me fail. In the darkness, glowing eyes appear and disappear in the light beam of my headlamp. Each time, I walk even faster toward it while making loud noises to scare off whatever is hiding behind the brushes. The idea of crossing a mountain lion haunts my mind, but the adrenaline of hiking at night pushes me forward. As I climb on a ridge and cross under big power lines, a glowing orange halo appears over the horizon to my right: the sun is rising. To my left, however, a dark and menacing cloud swallows the top of a small hill. This is where I am going. The temperature drops as I enter the cloud. My breath creates small puffers of steam.

I successfully make it to the other side of the ridge, where I am protected from the wind. Darkness fades as daylight starts to take over. In the distance, I see the red light of traffic on the highway. I’m close to my destination. So close that I can hear the rumbling sound of trucks getting passed by impatient drivers on their way to work. Suddenly, it strikes me. They have no idea that I’m there, up on this hill, watching them from afar. They have no idea what I’m doing, or what the PCT even is. They are trapped in their routine, their responsibilities, their worries, and their doubts. Trapped in a small and stressful world. I am also living in my own world, but mine is bigger. It doesn’t have any boundaries. Every day I wake up with a new horizon and a new destination. Whereas in their world, their field of view is limited to the boundaries of their own comfort zone, mine is limitless. Any obstacle, any challenge, that is thrown my way is an opportunity for me to grow. An opportunity to feel more alive. To feel free. I’m not saying my world is better than theirs. But personally, when I stand on this hill, in the chill wind and the rain, the truth is there is no place I’d rather be. Not even in one of these cars.

Around 6:30 a.m., I make it out of the rainstorm and find shelter inside McDonald’s. Before walking in, I can see a clear and sunny sky in the distance. I realized I had just been hiking under a gigantic cloud of rain all along. Luck wasn’t on my side this morning. I laugh about it. Inside the restaurant, I lay my stuff to dry in a corner and get myself a well-needed hot coffee. After sharing my misadventure from the night on social media, I get a message from Dan, the former Marine, which I’ll realize later on would become the main theme of this journey:

“Rough bro! Adapt and overcome!”

Damn right!


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