Week 2: Bonus Miles and Exhaustion
Leaving Mt. Shasta with an ungodly amount of food to conquer the next 100 miles, I was prepared to blaze full speed to Etna. My feet were happy and the extra “zero mile day” in town left my belly full and my legs yelling at me in a very different tone — “Josh why are we NOT on trail hiking!?”
Waking up early consumed in those gentle, white hotel linens I was energized and looking forward to catching the bus to get back on trail. The day was supposed to leave us at 13 miles and I had it planned to only put in two 17 mile days— little did I know the theme of the next week would be “bonus miles and exhaustion”.
My body is starting to recognize the day-to-day rhythm of a thru-hike— wake up, breakdown camp, eat, hike, eat, hike…hike until the feet are numb, setup camp, eat, sleep, repeat. Each day is structured chaos; the routine holds, yet magnificent landscapes and abundance of life’s stimulation is unique with every passing mile. Viewing these vast mountain ranges and the immersion in nature comes at a cost— the bill being every ligament, tendon, and joint in subtle pain from the day before.
Each day starts with a reluctant hand sweep to twist the knob to release that rush of loud air deflating my warm “bed”. Behind squinted eyelids my quilt gets shoved into its stuff-sack and the process of breaking down camp begins. In spite of the non-existent recovery time I look at my parter and we both know the only way to rest is to walk.
Underneath the Northern California heat the miles come slow as our blistered feet acclimate to the daily beating. The beauty encapsulating us makes every step worth the pain; however, we underestimated the state of exhaustion that awaited us each evening. Nearly crawling into camp using our trekking poles as a life source, we threw our packs to the ground and downed candy bars— just for the minimal energy to get camp set up and dinner made.
Every night was a haze of Tarzan talk: “Make tent. Set food. Eat. Sleep!” Every night was watching the sunset with heavy eyelids. Every night was scribbling down in my journal “too tired to write.” Each night as all my muscles ached, I fell asleep smiling, dreaming of what the next day might bring.
The plan for two 17 + miles day turned into FOUR 17+ mile days. This was partly due to poor planning, and partly due to my stubbornness. The bonus miles tacked onto 2 out of the 7 days felt like a cruel joke we played on ourselves. What made hurting worse a bonus?!
This theme of Bonus Miles equals Exhaustion began on day 1 of this section. It felt wrong to just throw away the extra food from the resupply and other unwanted items, so we decided to add to the hiker box at the closest campsite. Coming off of a zero day, the extra 3.4 miles out-n-back to the campsite did not seem so long; with a cookie and 9:30 AM beer from the hiker box, the detour seemed even more worth it. But the bonus miles’ cost would become apparent later, by day 4.
Day 4. Again waking up with determination, each mile feeling worth the surrounding beauty, we had an itch to jump in a lake. Telling ourselves that a lake was “the move,” we took another detour. Over a steep climb, I looked out and the three lakes below urged us on. The lakes, albeit beautiful, were unaware of the cost it took us to get there. What could have been 15 miles ended-up becoming 17.6 hard miles, leaving us exhausted for the remaining days on trail.
Bonus miles often seem inviting. Bonus miles will tempt you with a glimmering lake to make a 1000ft elevation gain/loss seem worth it. From now on, bonus miles will be evaluated with more caution and scrutiny.
The trail continues to call and my feet will continue to respond. Each town feels like a prize earned, promising burgers and beer. The exhaustion is a part of the call. The bonus miles aren’t always worth the cost; but sometimes, even when my body regrets them, they gift unforgettable views and experiences, leaving me with heavy eyelids and a grin on my face come sundown.
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