Week 13: Beat the Heat
It was hot last week going into and out of Etna. This week it remains hot, and this time instead of an airconditioned car ride down into and up out of the local mountain town, it’s all hiking. All week, I am incredibly grateful for any and all water sources. Whether it is a roaring creek to soak in, or a tiny trickling spring where it takes ages to refill my water, I am thankful to have it.
With the combination of heat and foot pain increasing throughout the day, I am waking up earlier to attempt to put more miles in before lunch. 12 by 12 is a nice goal, but usually this all just means a later lunch. The aforementioned combination also means I am hiking more slowly. Thus, despite my earlier mornings, I am still rolling into camp about 12 hours after setting out in the morning. So, my last couple miles tend to be a bit of a daze, as was the case when I walked by a 1,000-mile marker. As I passed by, I mentally said “Nope, that’s not my 1,000-mile marker.” (Because of all the flipflopping and jumping of sections that is happening this year on the PCT, different people are hitting milestones at different points on the trail.) I walked on for a couple seconds and paused. Then I checked the map. I had indeed just completed (approximately) my 1,000th mile. Coming out of my end-of-day-daze, I had to think – did I even care, really? And I did. I walked back to the 1,000 written in stones and felt accomplishment, disbelief, relief, exhaustion, and hope. 1,000 down, another 1,000 to Canada should be a breeze.
Then I trudged on, to the lake that I would call home for the evening. And, to the campsite where I didn’t know it at the time, but would later realize I had left a key piece of gear – my trowel. I hopped in the lake, hoping to bring my body temperature down after a hot day, but sadly the lake was shallow and slime-bottomed. It was more of a float and rinse my clothes than a refreshing swim. But I saw my first newt or salamander. I don’t know how to tell the difference, but I have never seen either in the wild before, and there were a bunch on the lake bottom, which at least in retrospect entirely made up for lack of refreshment.
As we well know at this point, my feet hurt. So, I do a lot of experimenting with possible solutions. In an attempt to continue this damage control, I tried different lacing patterns, and switching lacing patterns throughout the day. Switching it up seemed to do the most good. I also tried leukotape straps, hoping that giving my connective tissue some extra support from the outside would help. This seemed to help my arch pain in my right foot, but seemed to increase the pain in my left foot. It is all just trying and revising and listening and adjusting. With the new shoes especially, I am hoping to find a combo of tape and socks and lacing that is the cure, but haven’t found it yet. Not to mention, the new shoes wore down the skin on top of my right big toe to raw grossness. More damage control to be done! Much to my surprise, a bandaid (which I usually sweat off very quickly) with some hand sanitizer and paper tape has gone a looong way in healing that issue.
The other form of damage control is trying not to get heat exhaustion. Hiking down into the Seiad Valley area was incredibly hot. The weather said 101, and I believe it. Thankfully I was walking downhill, and was adjacent to a river most of the day. At one point, I just had to put down my pack and walk into the river, where I stayed for a solid 10 or 15 minutes. Later that day, when I got to camp, I laid in the river, bringing my body temperature down to shivers after about 15 minutes. Without that evening cool down, I doubt I would have been able to sleep. With the air hot, and my body just as hot, there was nowhere for my heat to go except that river. The next morning I was hiking at 6:00 a.m. (my earliest out of camp time since the San Jacintos!) in order to get pancakes and resupply in Seiad Valley, and then ascend out of the valley before it got too much hotter for the big, semi-exposed climb.
IT’S A NEW STATE!!
That day was the last major climb between me and Oregon, and it was fairly dry and mentally tough. I forced myself for the next several days to see the beauty all around me, because it was definitely there. A hummingbird swooped down and stared me in the eyes. I saw the biggest frog (or was it a toad, I don’t know) I have ever seen. There were miraculous mountain springs. Springs are so cool. Why would water just bubble out of the ground?! (I mean, in theory I understand the mechanics of groundwater, but in reality, it is still incredible to see and very directly benefit from.) Nearly as glorious as all that? There was a pit toilet at Donomore Cabin. At this point I knew I had lost my trowel, so that was a nice break from digging with sticks and tent stakes.
Then, a landmark as glorious if not more – the California/Oregon border. I had been leapfrogging for a couple days with another solo hiker named Sketch, and we hiked the mileish from Donomore Cabin to the border together to serve as each other’s photographers.
I had been very strategic about my mileages for the past few days and set myself up to achieve another milestone on my last day into Ashland. I had about 26.5 miles to Callahan’s Lodge on I-5, where my friends would be meeting me. Not only is that quite a few more miles than I have ever done in a day, it is a significant number because it would be my first marathon (with a little extra) and my first 1% day. I am not sure if this is a thing for other people, but back in the desert, when Dino and I had passed the 10% marker together, we realized that we could conceivably hike a percent of the trail in a day. To me, that became an important achievement after that conversation.
I was apprehensive about my ability to get there by 6:00 p.m., which was the arrival time I had told my friends. I woke up early as usual, and started booking it in. Passing Sketch, still in his tent, I saw a sign that said that there would be a trail ultra-run happening on the PCT that day, and I could expect to see runners by 7:00 a.m. Inwardly, I groaned in dismay – having to step off the trail for bunches of runners all morning would definitely slow me down. The runners started zooming by soon after that. I did indeed have to step off the trail a ridiculous number of times. They were running 30, 50, or 63 miles that day, and I was trying to walk a marathon, so the more I interacted with them, cheering them on or just exchanging greetings as they whizzed by, the more inspired I felt. And, despite having to pause over and over (and over and over) again for them, I was hiking fast. That was because of them too. I picked up a fair amount of their trash, including one un-opened Gu pack. I contemplated it for a while, and finally decided to try it. Salted lime flavor with electrolytes and caffeine and some claim about amino acids. Most disgusting thing I have ever put in my mouth, and I remember licking door handles as a child. I walked into one of the aid stations for the run, and was happily greeted by their volunteers that I would either puke it up or start to feel the sugar rush in a few minutes. It took them offering a number of times, but I indulged in a ginger ale from the aid station. While gulping it down, I chatted with one of the volunteers (maybe an organizer?) who said she had thru-hiked the PCT in the 90s. Starting to feel the Gu and the sugar from the soda, I flew down the trail. I passed runners, I was going so fast. Admittedly, those runners were walking at the time, and later passed me again, but it felt good.
This marathon day was beautiful, but certainly not the most scenic on trail, but it may be one of my favorites. At one point I told a runner that I was feeling inspired by them, and she looked at me and said that the hikers were inspiring her. I have never been in a situation before where two different athletic endeavors were happening in tandem and fed off the energy from each other like this. It was pretty awesome. It was a lot of people for one day, and I am sure it would get old if it were the norm, but to be racing myself down that mountain to see friends, at the same time these folks were racing in an entirely different way was perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better set of circumstances for my first 1% and marathon day.
As I walked into the parking lot at Callahan’s Lodge, I spotted my two friends by a car at the far side of the lot. Although the ultra-runners made my day feel shorter, the last couple miles were long ones, and my feet hurt, especially walking on the road to get from trail to the lodge. But a smile breaks through – I am so excited to see them and go on our annual camping trip. We carefully hug, me trying not to transfer too much grime from my body to theirs, and I make a beeline for clean clothes and a shower. Putting on non-athletic wear and taking a shower with my own toiletries (both brought to me in said car from Seattle) has never felt better.
We head into Ashland for dinner, a play, and I hobble about, trying to keep up with their fresh feet. If you haven’t figured it out, I am headed off trail yet again. This time is (mostly) preplanned. We have had campsites reserved in Yosemite National Park since March, and none of us have ever been to the park.
We will spend several nights there, then I will get dropped off at the Sacramento airport and fly home for my grandma’s memorial. After almost two weeks of mostly hiking alone, I have a lot to say, and am so excited I get to say it to people who have been with me for so much of my life. (Hey guys! Love ya).
Mileage: 26.5 = 1% of the trail!!!
Day 6 and 7 were off trail.
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