The Rhythm of the Desert: PCT Days 34-40

Day 34.  Miles: 0.0  Total: 558.5

On my first true zero day of the trail, I barely leave the motel room. I snack and rest and write throughout the day. I message friends and family and compile the fragmented notes in my journal into (hopefully) coherent blog posts.
In the afternoon, Becky and I walk down to the pool to find Wild Card and Lana. We’re soon joined by Billie Goat, Poseidon, Jackrabbit, and Squirrel Daddy. If the PCT is just a long, arduous vacation, this feels like a vacation from our vacation.

We’ve heard good things about a restaurant called Thai-hachapi. After swimming, we take turns showering and painting our fingernails pink with polish we scavenged from the hiker box, and then we gorge ourselves on Thai food. At night, I finish sorting my food for my longest carry of the trail so far: seven days and six nights.

Day 35.  Miles: 14.9  Total: 573.5

Seven days of food and four liters of water is heavy. Nonetheless, as soon as we are back on trail, we fall into a routine. The desert has a rhythm to it now. Some things will change when we reach the Sierra next week, but for now, I do my best to enjoy the daily grind through the last stretch of Southern California.

Day 36.  Miles: 19.5 (+1.5 mile re-route) Total: 592.9

Each morning, I sit up, still swaddled in my mummy bag, and eat cold-soaked oatmeal. Then I brace myself for the cold, pack up, and leave camp, just as the others begin packing. We haven’t used our tents in weeks, so the morning routine is simple and fast.
For those first couple miles, I hike slowly, until I’m warm enough to strip off my layers, and then I move faster. In my head, I’ve labeled this part of the day “quiet hour.” During quiet hour, I do not use my headphones. This is the best weather for hiking, the best opportunity to see wildlife, and the best time to be reflective without exhaustion or the heat skewing my mood toward negativity. My thoughts wander widely. I think about Mary Oliver poetry, or my ex-boyfriend, or the Dungeons and Dragons podcast I’m going to listen to later, or what on earth I’m going to do with my life after I get to Canada. If I am very quiet, sometimes I manage to think about nothing at all.

Day 37.  Miles: 24.9  Total: 617.8

During quiet hour, Jackrabbit usually passes me first. Then, the others– Becky, Poseidon, and Billie Goat– each hike by while I stand aside. I know it’s pointless, but during this part of the morning, I begin to resent my lack of speed. How can I have trained so much, have become a literal professional hiker, and still be the slowest in my group? I try lengthening my stride, but then my knees start to hurt. I try increasing my cadence, but then I feel like I’m rushing, about to break into a jog, about to trip and fall on my face. I glance down at my watch each time it vibrates with a mile split: 22:00, 20:40, 24:30, 21:00.
Sometimes, I begin to resent my friends. Why can’t they just hike a little slower? Isn’t 2.5 mph plenty fast? Maybe I need to just hike my own hike and break off on my own again, and stop feeling like I need to “keep up” with anyone. Maybe I would be better off alone.
Then, when my mood is at its grumpiest, I find them all, sprawled in some scenic spot, and it’s our favorite time of day: second breakfast. We’ve started calling ourselves the Second Breakfast Club in its honor. As soon as I stop and eat some calories, I come to my senses. I remember that disparate hiking paces are natural and fine. I can wake up early, hike quietly through the sunrise, and then my friends and I can share a snack together in a shady place with a view.
Today, it’s foggy. The second breakfast party materializes from the mist, and we drink tiny bottles of rosé to celebrate 600 miles.

Day 38.  Miles: 20.6  Total: 638.4

After second breakfast, I usually pop in an earbud and listen to a podcast or an audiobook. I’m still working my way through Braiding Sweetgrass. Kimmerer’s voice is warm, but the essays are slow and methodical. I listen to a chapter or two, then switch to something with a faster pace. I’m not sure if it’s my mental health or a phone addiction or my 2020 concussion or just the state of the world, but I find it harder to focus than I used to. I used to read two or three books a month. Now, I struggle to consume any kind of long-form media. I find myself gravitating toward short soundbites, re-runs of things I’ve already seen or read, re-listens to episodes I’ve already heard.
I try a book called Six of Crows. It’s familiar enough because I read the related trilogy and watched the TV adaptation they made last year. The book takes place in a YA fantasy setting, but instead of a classic “Chosen One” narrative—that’s the other trilogy— this novel is the side-story of a group of teenagers attempting an impossible heist. Thankfully, it manages to hold my attention as the miles add up.

Day 39.  Miles: 25.4  Total: 663.8

I usually listen to books or podcasts throughout midmorning and into the hottest part of the day, until my mind begins to wander to all the ice cream I intend to eat in town. Around this time, I find the Second Breakfast Club again, huddled in another patch of shade for lunch.

Day 40.  Miles: 25.2  Total: 689.0

After lunch, I usually pack up first to give myself another headstart. Eventually, the others tend to pass by again, and sometimes we group up for an afternoon break or to filter water. I listen to more books or podcasts. Today, Six of Crows ends abruptly on a cliffhanger—I had no idea I was so close to the end.
We’ve hiked big miles all week now. It will be 117 miles in five days when I get to camp tonight, leaving us within striking distance of Kennedy Meadows tomorrow. I don’t know if it’s because we skipped the towns at Walker Pass or for some other reason, but the trail has felt less crowded than it did before Tehachapi. We’ve fallen into the same pattern as a hiker named Rookie (naturally, he’s hiked the PCT before), and two fast hikers called Tesla and Vulture, but otherwise, we don’t see many other people around.
I feel weary from the consistent big-mile days, and my pace drags on the last climb today. The trail winds upward in lazy curves along a hillside lit warmly by the golden-hour sun. This forest must have burned in recent years. The shrubs are thick and green, but the trees are black and charred, standing straight and barren like telephone poles.
In the last hour of the day, I sometimes listen to music. I have a playlist of mellow, outdoorsy, desert-y songs that fit well with the landscape. My body feels spent as I drift through the last few miles, finally downhill, to the sound of soft music. The Second Breakfast Club has saved me a patch of dirt to sleep on. I am exhausted but proud of myself, proud of all of us. Tomorrow, we reach Kennedy Meadows and the end of an era. Seven hundred miles of dry, dusty, lovely desert will be behind us, and we will begin the climb into the High Sierra.

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Comments 4

  • JP : Jun 11th

    I can relate to your difficulty with focus, especially long-form narrative. I was diagnosed with Adult ADD when I was in my 40s and getting treatment and medication changed my life. I know that probably sounds melodramatic, but that is how it felt.

    If you are open to the possibility, you may want to get tested. It certainly made a huge improvement in my quality of life.

  • Paul : Jun 11th

    Hike yer own hike…
    But you already know that 😏
    Nice blogging


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