Taking Stock of the First Seven Days on the Trail
What is it like to hike the Pacific Crest Trail? Here is an honest look at the first seven days and 109.5 miles.
The nervousness as you slowly approach the Southern Terminus monument is palpable. All of your planning, training, dreaming, fears, and anxiety smack you in the face at once. Humbling, to say the least. Thankfully, excitement erases most of those last-minute panic attacks. Now before you, an epic journey that in your head is just as epic as Frodo’s to Mount Doom begins.
The first few days are nothing new, backpacking wise. Most of us have done two- to three-day trips before, so no groundbreaking activity here. The terrain is different from what we expected, in a pleasant way. Our company is fun and we enjoy their companionship. However, we hike at a faster pace and rise earlier than most, so we say goodbye to our friends on the second morning.
Then a few small innocent problems start to crop up. A blister on the bottom of my pinky toe. I have never had that before; I’m not sure of the cause, and I’m not overly concerned. Sarah has a faint pain on her left shin; muscle, she thinks, by the type of pain.
After day three, I also have a small blister under the callus on my right big toe. Another oddity like the pinky blister, and both on the left foot. I drain them each night and tape them each morning before taking off for the day. I learned that a longer stride irritates my big toe blister, so I shorten up the stride and the big toe problem is solved. The pinky blister starts the day fine but by lunch is starting to be more noticeable. I drain it each night, perplexed at the cause.
Sarah is continuing to have issues with her shin; she can hike but morphs into a flat-footed hiker with a noticeable thud when she strides. Careful not to catastrophize the problem, she assures herself it’s just normal body adaptation to thru-hiking. You gotta pay to play, right? I assure her it’s four to six weeks for the body to fully adapt to any new activity.
As a personal trainer and physical therapist assistant, I have a lot of tools at my disposal to help keep us at top form. Each night, we spend 20-30 minutes stretching out and doing some yoga moves to help recover. I also brought along a lacrosse ball and voodoo floss band to help address tight muscles and aid in recovery. Each gets a lot of use and for the weight tax it’s worth its weight in gold.
We are reluctant to share our small problems with each other (and out loud – it makes it real!) but recognize there is a issue that needs to be addressed. We want to push on but also want to respect the process of thru-hiking. Choosing rest over hiking with new friends and our bubble, we realize this is about the long game.
In Warner Springs, I ask about my blister and learn that even though I sized up shoes before we left, it wasn’t enough. My feet swell throughout the day – that’s why my irritation was worse the more I hiked and mornings were seemingly fine. I bought a pair of size 12.5 shoes and will hit the next section with a little more wiggle room.
While most of our group all planned a first rest day in Idyllwild, we had planned on Warner Springs all along. We stuck with the plan and chose to prescribe self-care while our buddies continued on. Sarah is feeling better after some massage and rest and spent lots of time massaging near her shin today. My feet are happy being outside of shoes for a day. We made the most of a day off – wine tasting, resupply activities, reading up on the next section, catching up with family, spending time with our Airbnb host (who was wonderful), working out kinks with the tent setup (the Duplex needs 120cm of pole height for better ventilation), and cleaning out water bottles and filters.
We don’t have any other aches and pains, and we seem to be holding up well so far. We did do lots of lunges beforehand, which I think helped immensely. Also, this first section doesn’t have much elevation gain and loss so it has been a relatively smooth landing.
Other trail highlights? Desert terrain now has a whole new meaning – it’s way different than I expected! Trail angels and other giving strangers are truly the best part of humanity. Seriously.
The night sky and moon have been putting on a show this past week. The feeling of our first 100 miles. The challenge of logistics. Nightly cribbage, comedy, and whiskey sips. Finally, meeting people with such diverse backgrounds: other hikers, hosts, and straight up strangers, it doesn’t matter. I really think this is a big part of what the trail is about – the trail community family.
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