Day 11: The year of rookie mistakes

Mile 134.3
Current elevation: 4068 feet
Highest elevation: 5620 feet

I stopped counting daily miles. They’re still currently 12 to 13, but given how painful walking is, I’m considering it pretty damn good. I was just making myself crazy with numbers, and the fact that I’m getting passed again. I think we replay our old perceived failures. But I checked the calendar and my various plans, and honestly, even if I do 12 miles per day to Big Bear, because of the trail closures I still end up on schedule. Early, in fact. Which is kind of good, because in the next few days (after Idyllwyld) comes Fuller Ridge, which I believe is the highest point on the actual PCT (something like 13,000 feet) and which, I heard, is sketchy with snow. The PCT doesn’t really ease you in.

So. What sounds like rain, and drizzles on the outside of your tent, and soaks everything through, but isn’t rain? I asked myself that at 4 AM. The answer is .. fog! Cold mountain fog! And that’s what I woke up to!

I was happy to have my red pack cover, which I shopped to myself in Warner Springs. (This becomes important later.) It was windy and cold today, though. I had on my wind gear plus my rain gear plus my fleece hat and gloves. (Most people don’t bring wind pants AND rain pants, but I did and it’s been a great decision. Gives me a lot of layering options. I’ve been wearing the wind pants since I chucked my shredded clown pants.)

The morning’s trudge was through this foggy landscape of rocks. Not granite rocks, but red rounded ones, some as big as houses perched at the most unlikely angles. What makes those rocks so red? Like great red ghosts, the were. At home, we do green extraordinarily well. Here, though, the reds, roses, pinks rule the day.

There were still flowers!

At mile 126, I got to this place called Trail Angel Mike’s, which a ton of people had been aiming for yesterday. I thought he was just a nice guy with a water tank. Turns out, that place is a vortex! Kind of a party place, hippy style, where it’s easy to get sucked in for a day or three. Porches, rooms, RVs you can stay in. Loud rock music. At night, I guess people drink beer and make pizza at the wood fire. I had a cup of coffee, filled my water bottles, and headed out.

I’ve got to streamline this water system. The water carries are killing me. By the end of the day today, I couldn’t even lift my pack to put it on.

Rookie mistake 1: I inadvertently drank half a liter of water from Mike’s tank without treating it. GAH. I treat everything! I just grabbed the wrong bottle. We’ll see how that goes. Hopefully if there are any bugs in the tank, my immune system is strong enough to beat them.

It took me all freaking day to get 10 miles. At 3 o’clock, I decided to just lay in a flat spot and rest my feet and despair. 😉 And don’t you know, an older (ie, 67-year-old) hiker came trotting around the bend with a brand new red pack cover which he’d found on the trail and had clearly taken possession of. Holy shit. It was mine, of course–but I hadn’t written my name on it, and I was even having a deep brainfart about the manufacturer. I was resigned to the fact that if this guy put up a fight, I’d have to gift him the thing.

But he took me at my word! He was a real trail angel. All the Way was his trail name–retired Airborne, who also hiked the AT in 2013, in 5.5 months. He started the PCT on 4/23, three days after me. A total sweetheart. He gave me all his advice, and I listened to every word because, of course, he’d given me my pack cover back. But the best advice, completely unsolicited, was to stop as early in the day as necessary, to not push the miles, to do small miles… because we don’t even know if we’ll be able to get into the Sierra yet! That advice couldn’t have come at a better time today. I was really in the dumps. So I cranked out another couple of foggy cold miles and then tucked myself here in this sandy spot out of the wind.

Third rookie mistake: The closure thing starts at mile 152, not 142. D’oh! The food is fine. It just puts me into Idyllwyld a day later than I figured, but I’m all up in the ‘Who the hell cares?’ at this point. I need a zero to rest and regroup. This is about me and the trail, not me and the people.

There are a lot of 13ers on the trail. Pathfinder, if you’re reading this, OB is here. He’ll be in Idyllwyld tomorrow, I think. A guy named Blue Moon is here, and others I didn’t meet on the AT, so I forget their trail names. It still blows me away that I didn’t meet so many hikers! 🙂 The herd is legion.


Day 10: Up, up, and away

Mile 121.6 (12.1 miles)
Highest elevation: 5000 feet (current)

Back to the 12s! Grrr. I woke up this morning and had to admit that I really do have an injury. This is when it starts to happen to people. At Warner Springs I heard of ankle problems, foot problems, Achilles problems, knee problems… you name it. I usually wiggle out of the big stuff, but this time there’s obviously an issue.

I limped to the bathroom in the predawn and tried to put weight on the thing. I couldn’t. I could manage a sort of duck-walk. The problem was that I couldn’t tell what was injured. That’s the same side as my bad knee, which was also throbbing. So what was it? Ankle? A bone in the foot? Something referred from my knee or my shitty toes? IT band? I couldn’t decide. So I wrapped the whole mess up with duct tape and wrapped a bandanna around my knee, and hit the trail at about 6:15.

Man, was it slow going. Hiking a bunch of miles is one thing. Limping them is something different–especially when it turns out to be one of those all-uphill days under a blazing sun. I could not get moving. Everything hurt. Everything.

I was also carrying a fresh resupply up that mountain, plus 3 liters of water. My pack was so heavy that I couldn’t lift it. My left knee is part of my mounting strategy, and that’s the one causing problems. As an aside, the food is problematic. I have about three extra days because of fhe first fire closure. I have to skip ahead 35 miles or something in a day or two, and I hadn’t factored that in when I sent my resupply. A lot of people were in that boat. The hiker box at the Community Center was crazy. But the smart people dumped the extra food so they could carry light for the climb. I was too cheap. But then I spent all day today eating food to drop weight. It’s crazy! I’ll have to reevaluate in Idyllwyld. The second fire closure follows pretty close on the heels of the first.

It took me until 2 PM to get 10 miles. Frankly, I was entirely ready to stop at that point. I realized I only have to get to mile 142 before the jump, and that’ll take two days whether I did 10 today or 15. There was a spring 2/10 mile off trail–Lost Spring–and I decided to go down and check out the camping. (There are always sites around water.) There was a young crew down there. (People, especially young hikers, crew up in these wolf packs. It’s kind of strange and amazing, and sometimes intimidating.) I recognized a few of them–Stump, and Mandolin, and Vortex. They were talking about going to mile 124. They were carrying enormous packs (Stump’s was about 50 pounds, but he’s a pipe cleaner of a guy in his twenties), and chatting with then was super inspiring. So I didn’t camp, but managed another couple of hard-earned miles. At 4:30, I couldn’t take it anymore and found fhis little sheltered hollow. I’ll rest overnight. Maybe that will help the foot and the knee. And regardless, with the two fire closure skips, I should be back on schedule, more or less, around Big Bear.

No wind or rain tonight, but we’re at 5000 feet, so it’ll be chilly. I’m alresdy snug in mt puffy and thermal base layet. I’m really wondering what my pants game should be for the Sierra, or whether I’ll need anything warmer. Not that I have amy freaking clue where I’d put it, given the bear canister and the ice axe. But that’s a problem for 500 miles from here.

Anyhoo. Parts of the trail this morning were green and creeky. Gorgeous. although it still startles me to see cacti near the bank of a lush creek. Then the climb started. There were still flowers. The flowers out here have really been magnificent. Nature can make beauty even in this sort of hostile environment, which sometimes seems like it’s straight from Mars.

The climb all day was rockier than usual, but some of the formations were incredible–boulders the size of cars. All in all, the climbing is good practice. The first of the real mountains are coming very soon.

Day 9: Best and worst

Mile 109.5–Warner Springs Community Center

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… generally at the same time. That’s how it goes out here!

So. Last night, it did, indeed, rain! A soaking rain alternating with drizzle, all night long. And my pitch was crappy–between cacti, slightly sloped. The soil out here is so drought-starved that it thinks it’s rock. I could hardly drive the stakes in, and at that, I have only half the stakes I need. (I hate that issue. I heard there’s an outfitter in Idyllwild.) The good news is that the inside of the tent stayed dry. The bad news is that I shipped my pack cover ahead to Warner Springs, so while I had a pack cover, it was sitting in the post office five miles away.

The pack got soaked. I had to pack up a heavy, soaked tent in the predawn rain, and it was COLD. The good news is that my raingear works perfectly.

Bad news: It became obvious as I started my five-mile hike that there’s something wrong with my left foot. “Stress fracture!” whispers the dark little demon. I mostly limped the five rainy miles to the Community Center. The scenery was pretty, though–green oaks, a little stream, as wet and lush as Wissahickon back home. This desert thing is odd. Are we in it, not in it? At elevation, naturally, it tends to be less baked.

On the way in, I passed the famous Eagle Rock–a giant boulder formation that looks exactly like an eagle. It was huge! There was one sad little tarp set up under it, and it was too rainy and foggy to take pictures.

So there I was, soaked, freezing, and starving when I limped into the CC–to find it not really as advertised. “Laundry,” it turns out, means a bucket. It’s too freezing cold to get my arms wet, and I lost my soap days ago. Likewise, “shower” means a bucket. The food listed in Yogi’s guide is nonexistent. But they’re kind and had coffee and apples, and plugs to charge my battery and phone. Bad news? The resupply is sparce and very expensive. Also, no sort of tape to wrap this foot, but they do have duct tape.

So I put up the soaking wet tent. Maybe it’ll dry a little. It’s a very Appalachian sort of day. I slackpacked a mile to the post office, still limping, and picked up my food box.

Next to the post office is a golf course. The Grill is open. They don’t usually take thru-hikers, but it’s raining, and they let a few in… then BOOM! the place was full of us. And the waitress was seriously not happy. I mean seriously. I felt bad for her. I hope everybody tipped her well! (Also, people were out golfing. And they say thru-hikers are crazy!?) 😀

So. It took until 4 in the afternoon to actually get off my sore foot. But it was good, because I had time to interview all and sundry about a big upcoming problem–two wildfire closures that have closed a couple of big chunks of trail.

The secon was obvious. The Powers that be don’t want anybody to walk around it. The roads are very dangerous. Hikers have been doing various forms of bus, Uber, hitching, trail angels, you name it. But that closure is north of mile 210.

The earlier one I hadn’t even thought about because somebody worked out an alternate. Looking at the alternate, it’s exceptionally confusing–a tenth of a mile to this side trail (probably unmarked), a tenth here, a tenth there… dozens of instructions. Out here, the trail is crisscrossed with gulleys and jeep roads. I realized that I have probably nil chance of finding my way through that alternate without getting lost, even with maps. It was really stressing me out.

It turns out that literally everybody is hitching around it, which involves skipping 11 miles of open trail. You could go up and come back, but there’s no water. So I decided to do what everybody recommends and go around that 11 miles. Like Yogi says, there are closures every year, and the trail that year is your trail. I think the penalty is that out of Idyllwyld you have to take this Devil’s Something or Other trail to get back to the PCT, and it’s supposed to suck.

So from here to Big Bear, part of this adventure is of necessity going to involve some trains, planes, and automobiles. I still haven’t had a shower or managed any laundry. That’ll have to be at Idyllwyld or Big Bear, or something. Gah. I’d still like a night in a bed. A clean bed. 🙂

I’m now in tent city behind the CC. There must be 30 tents here. It feels like a folk festival–or, as I like to call it, Norovirus Central. There’s even a guy playing guitar three feet from my head–or else he’s hiking with a cat. Supposedly there’s some sort of hiker feed across the street at 4:30. Chili dogs and a high school volleyball game. I might skip it. Today’s been rough, and this foot hasn’t gotten any rest.

I’m still right in the middle of things. I heard start dates today ranging from 4/15 to 4/23.

Day 8: One hundred!

Mile 105.5 (16.8 miles)
Highest elevation: 4400 feet

First, a little math adjustment. I didn’t do 13 yesterday. I did 14.9, then almost 17 today. So definitely improving.

I don’t even remember where I woke up. Oh! A little storm gully two miles shy of the water cache called Third Gate Cache. I slept ferociously well, woke up rested and cheerful, and managed to hit the trail by 6:15. I made it to the cache — a remarkable endeavor, hundreds of 1-gallon bottles if water in the middle of the desert — and took a liter.

It was COLD this morning! Not at the start–packing up at dawn was lovely. But later, when the trail tarted to climb, that wind that’s always there just turned chill. My knees were really aching today, which was odd, given that my pack has pretty much no food in it. Then I remembered: rain is coming. And from the way my knees felt, I’m thinking whatever happens is going to be substantial.

I walked sort of slowly all day, but it’s amazing how this trail–a plain ribbon of dirt, no obstacles, no roots–can just hypnotize you into churning out miles. I actually considered pushing through the last 5 miles to Warner Springs for a total of 21… but I decided that was nuts. My poor feet and knees don’t need the stress, and I’m planning on neroing there tomorrow. If I sleep in a tent out here or at the community center, it doesn’t matter.

Anyway, I’m ahead of myself. The dirt ribbon rambled on, like it does, and at around 1 PM, the milestone: mile 100! Literally, a milestone. There were a bunch of hikers there, most from Pennsylvania, believe it or not. We took pictures.

One of those hikers, I found out later at the next watering hole, is somebody I kind of knew, sort of. When I was getting ready for the AT, I binge-watched these YouTube videos of a hiker named Fatherman–FM on the AT. They were fun. Well, this guy was Medicine Man from those vids. Here’s a guy, Medicine Man, met his best friend in all the world, FM, on the trail. They hiked all the way from North Carolina to Katahdin.

The trail went rambling down to a horse trough in a wooded area that was full of poison oak. All the books warned about it. I was glad to finally see it so I know what to look for. Of course, later on there’s a plant that makes poison ivy and poison oak look like a petting zoo–the dread poodle dog bush.

After the watering hole, the trail went through literally miles of fields. I felt like it was… oh, I don’t know. Virginia? The sky, meanwhile, was getting blacker and blacker, and the wind colder and colder. In the end, I found this little spot to pitch in. There were better spots down by a stream, but I don’t know what California rain is like. Hell, neither does California lately. But I didn’t want to inadvertently be in some sort of a flood zone if it suddenly started pouring. It may or may not rain tonight, or tomorrow, but I try to avoid the obvious perils–like drowning in a desert.

Tomorrow: Nero at the Warner Springs Community Center. Breakfast and lunch, pick up my resupply box and replace what I need to replace, and … dear god, I hope … laundry and my first shower in eight days of desert! Woohoo! I bet you can smell me from there.

Day 7: The sounds of silence

Mile 88.6 (13 miles, I think)
Highest elevation: 3660 ft
Week 1: 88.6 miles

Blessed silence. It’s a hot day in the desert, with that sun beating down–but when I found a rare spot of shade under a bush, I stopped to listen. You don’t realize, when you’re back in the other world, what silence really is. We forget, or I do–especially back east, when the trees are riotous with birds. There are no trees here. The silence is bone deep, and endless, and so peaceful and in the present. I heard a bird call far away, a drop in all this sunlit silence. It’s amazing, the power of nothing.

Anyway, last night that guy was half right. The wind died down, but it didn’t rain. Talk about silence! The relief was enormous. A day and a night, it felt like I was on an airplane wing.

But at 7:30, the wind came back, fiercer than ever. It was a truly miserable night, holding the tent down with each gust. Eventually I just gave up trying and nodded off. I think I got a couple of hours’ uneasy sleep, and then overslept. I was cranky and fussy all day. I’m really tired. I need a zero, I think. It’s been a week nonstop.

This morning, it was just plain windy, and not nuclear windy. My rainfly had popped the stakes, but the tent was OK. I have enough stakes for a decent pitch, but nothing strenuous. I’ll try to pick up a few more stakes somewhere. And the tent’s got some holes that’ll need fixing. All told… good. The guys who came out of Julian today said there’s a 50% chance of rain tomorrow night. I should be in Warner Springs then, or just outside. And some big heat is apparently coming.

I walked the beautiful flat valley, full of cactus, to Scissors Crossing. That’s an underpass that’s a little famous, but it just looked like… a seedy dirty underpass. Kind of depressing. A place for shady deals and public urination. But there were no hikers there.

I tackled the big climb up out of Scissors Crossing with way too much water–6 liters. It was super hard. I’m carrying stupid heavy amounts of water because I’m still trying to figure out my capacity, and how to play the water game. For instance, there’s a cache at mile 91, but 1) we’re not supposed to rely on those, and 2) I feel like they’re for people who are in trouble. I’d rather be the one who’s not in trouble. But I heard more than one person today who was carrying light–just enough to get to the cache. So I don’t know. Still figuring stuff out. I need to get bettet at the whole water skill. But I’m well hydrated!

Speaking of which–one of my bladders leaked! (A plastic bladder, that is. I only have one of the other kind.) I had it in a dry sack, so there was no damage done–except I’d inadvertently left an envelope of powdered milk in there, too. So I had to deal with a leaky bladder and a sack full of milk. Yuck. I don’t know why I keep thinking bladders are a good idea. I always end up sending them home.

So. End of week 1! I made it 88.6 miles–close to 90. Not terrible. If I can average 100 miles per week for 7 weeks, I think the dream is alive. There are a lot of people around who started within a day of me on either side, so I’m in the ballpark, anyway. I wish I were getting better faster, but it is what it is. From the winter sea-level couch to the high-altitude desert, this is what you get. If I can fix the heavy water carries and force myself to hike later than 5 PM, I’ll be good. Just gotta figure it out. (Also, I still have body weight to lose. As that goes down, the exhaustion will reduce.) All I want is to see improvement. I started the week doing 11/12, and I finished doing 13/14. That’s fine by me. Progress not perfection!

By the way, I started to feel like Wyle E. Coyote today. One brown cliff, then another brown cliff, then another brown cliff–like the old Roadrunner cartoons, when Roadrunner would pass the same cactus over and over and over. Meep-meep!

Day 6: Batten down the hatches!

Mile 73.9 (14.4 miles)
Highest elevation today: ~4250 ft

Well, holee crap. There are ways to die on this trail. I mean, the AT has dangerous parts, and certainly the cold can be serious if you start early. But day to day on the PCT, there are at least three or four different deadly things that are just status quo. Today, it was wind–easily 30 mph sustained, with gusts up to 70 (via a guy who just came out of Julian and heard it on the news).

Literally every step today was a fight. The wind kept chucking me off the trail like I was a ragdoll. Bit the scary thing was that last night and today involved probably 10 or 12 miles of trail that were a ribbon carved in the side of a mountain. Out east, if you go over the edge, a tree will eventually break your fall. Here, if you go over, you’re done. It’s nearly vertical boulder walls All you’d do is bounce your way to the bottom. Luckily, the wind was mostly pushing me in the other direction. Mostly.

Last night, my tent survived. Many didn’t. I was hearing all day about disasters. One of the New Zealanders, a guy named Weta, said his tent collapsed three times, but after that he stopped trying to put it up.

This morning it was still ferociously windy. I kept asking myself if it was dangerous. Should I stay put, move out? Those are the times I really wish I had a hiking partner. Eventually, at around 7 AM, I checked the elevation profile. It was all dowhill to Scissors Crossing. So I packed up and hit the road.

Today was HARD. It was, of course, uphill a lot of the time. But fighting that wind! It was slow walking, taking extraordinary care with balance. I got off trail once and wasted a half mile. (That’s the third time. The trail is marked at road crossings, but the signs are subtle and I’m not used to them yet.)

I made it past 14 miles, which is encouraging. And half of that was with a ton of water. There’s a 23-mile waterless stretch coming up. Some people are relying on a note in the water report from a couple if weeks ago that there’s a little stream a couple of miles from here, but I don’t trust anything out here, unless it’s marked ‘reliable.’ I sometimes think I’m too tightly wrapped for this trail; others are pretty happy-go-lucky about things. Or maybe I’m just old. 🙂

Anyway, I’ll get right to the disaster. I found a sheltered spot among big rocks and decided to set up camp. I got the tent set up, staked down, and weighted with rocks…then when I reached for my pack, one of those giant gusts came, knocked my pack over, blew me onto my ass, and sent my tent flying up in the air like a balloon, over past my heaf and away. The rocks and stakes popped into the air like confetti. “That’s it,” I thought. “Hike over.”

I was too tired to even care. But now I had a safety issue. This wind has been cold. A lot of people were hiking in puffies today. The tent had hung up in a mangled mess on a rock I could reach. I brought it down and found some of the stakes.

I thought about cowboy camping, but it’s freezing. No sense in putting up the tent in this gale with not enough stakes–or even with enough stakes, obviously! And I was too beat to walk another 3 miles down to the road crossing, with the heavy water carry. It’ll be dark soon, and down there lies a hitchike I didn’t feel up to. So I decided to put the tent up without the fly.

And here we are. It’s still gusting hard, but a guy said it’s supposed to stop right after dark. He said also it was supposed to rain starting at 4:30, though, and that hadn’t happened. The sky is cloudless.

So here I am, sleeping in my clothes and hoping the tent holds up. (There was a small hole, which I repaired. Six days in, and this trail is just destroying my gear!)

It continues to be an international experience. At the water hole at mile 68, there were two women from Mexico, a guy from Japan, a guy from Israel, a guy from New Zealand, and me–the only American. 🙂

Day 5: Rattlessssnaaaake!

Mile 59.7
Highest elevation today: 5550

Best day so far! With a bit of a surprise ending.

Last night really was the coldest yet. I know it because all the tents and the meadow were crusted in frost this morning. I’ve now worn my puffy and my fleece gloves. The clothes choices were good!

Yesterday I hobbled as far as Laguna Campground. I hate to go a mile off trail for water, but I really needed it. After a quarter-mile roadwalk then another long trek down the paved drive, I came across a giant sandwichboard sign: ‘Campground full.’ I almosf wept, I tell you! Wept! Honestly, my feet were busted. But water’s scarce out here. I needed three liters.

But! It turns out they maintain one big site for thru-hikers! Three bucks a night! So I stayed there. The crowd was very young and boisterous, but I stuck to my tent. There was something big going on with my left foot, and I was limping badly. (The next morning it was fine. I think when I fell or during one of the occasional ankle rolls, I bruised something.)

(The thing that has me more concerned is this stupid toe. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s swollen. Blah. You obsess about injuries out here, because they happen every day. You’re always thinking, “Will this be the one that ends my hike?” Knock wood on THAT account.)

So. I was going to do 15 today! The trail was smooth terrain, with a few manageable uphills. They felt good! I’m getting stronger and more accustomed to the elevation! I’m starting to get the rhythm, the tiniest bit. But midafternoon, I was chatting with a local who was walking her dog, and she warned me: starting at 5 PM, a dangerous wind situation–50 to 60 mph. Woah. I had to go off trail a half mile to a horse trough for water, and there were a bunch of hikers there. They all knew about the wind. In fact, it was already windy as hell down there–blow you off balance windy. They didn’t seem distressed about it. Me? I was distressed! So I got back on trail as fast as I could and found a spot that’s sheltered between a couple of hills, and I battened down the hatches–stakes, rocks, you name it. Fingers crossed! Total distance: 12.2 miles. Of course. Well… it turns out that quite a few people planned 12 miles for week one. We’ll see. I need to break into increasing numbers.

Oh, the snake. Heh. I was cruising down the trail midmorning, in an area bordered by a rusted wire fence and tall brush on the right. Two of the Germans were ahead, and stopped. They turned to me and warned, “There’s a rattlesnake in there, but we can’t see where it is.” Sure enough, it was rattling like crazy. Take a step back, it stopped. Take a step forward, it rattled. We were stuck.

But a local couple came down the other side. We shouted to warn them. The woman just stomped her boots a lot, and the thing moved away! Yay! The Germans went, then I went, and suddenly I heard the rattle slightly behind us in the brush, a little farther than before. So we all started running! Oddly enough, that was the second rattler for those Germans. On day 1, they were sitting with a bunch of hikers, and one of them looked down and realized he was… like two feet from a rattlesnake. It wasn’t coiled or anything. Just lounging. 🙂

Day 3: In which I am pantsed!

Well, I had my first mini-meltdown this morning. It happens out here… but I forgot it happens! There’s so much I’ve forgotten, and when it comes back, it’s like a weird familiar surprise. The falling, the pain, the squatting, the uphill lung-sucking. So I woke up in my tent and couldn’t find anything, and I can’t kneel down because OUCH, and I lost it a little. But I had to poop, so I just wiped my nose with my filthy disgusting shirt (because at this point it can’t possibly make a bit of difference), and I went off to do my thing. (“Code 2!” I’ve taken to calling it. “Code 2!”)

My entire gear setup is designed to keep things dry and warm. Useless. I have too many layers. I’d like to reduce the bulk, but I don’t want to make the rookie mistake of sending things ahead too early. The food situation is good and bad. My breakfast plan isn’t working out. Work needs to be done. (As an example, take your food for a week out to your car and leave it there. In July. The dried fruit melts down to a revolting sludge. The spam melts into… into… a greasy wet limber mess. It’s all the uniform temperature of snot.)

The morning started chilly (but I had a puffy and base layer pants and gloves that I haven’t even used yet). It took an hour and a half to get cranking–which, frankly, considering the little meltdown and the Code 3, I count as a win.

The trail was gentle but rocky. The rocks aren’t slick, though, like they are back east. They’re clingy, instead of skating-rink sippery. Parts of this morning looked like Virginia–green and wending, with the occasional gentle tree. But everything is slightly different. The birds sing different songs. The trees have bark that’s a different color. The plants are alien. It’s all alike, but different enough that I’m perpetually unsettled on a subliminal level. And I’m on high alert for snakes and other things that want to murder me. Fire ants. Wasps. By the end of the day, between that and the heat, I’m just… utterly spent. Wet rag spent. Like… listening to music is so exhausting that it makes me want to cry.

I haven’t been able to even make notes at night. So I’m trying a different thing–journaling during short breaks all day. (Not that I’m guaranteeing I’ll keep it up, but for now I like to share things. 🙂 And I have to learn to take better breaks.

I knew today would be rough–4 mlles then a solid 10-mile uphill. The elevation gain was 3000 feet. Under that broiling relentless sun. It took me 3 hours to go 4 miles, then I stopped for a break. The meltdown confinued, at a low sort of level, and eventually I just screamed ‘Eff this ‘ And tore the legs off my pants. They already needed to be taken in 4 inches, and that fall yestrday ripped them to rags. I felt instantly cooler. I’ll need more sunblock in Mt. Lavuna tomorrow.

Speaking of gear… the umbrella is THE BOMB! It literally saved me the first two days. And today.

Critters: Tons of lizards. And a hummingbird came to check me out while I was lunching and resting at mile 30! Up close and personal! It was awesome! It’s amazing how life finds ways to survive.

The climb continued at a speedy 1 mph pace. I found a shady bit if rock at 2:00 and decided to stop for halh an hour. Shade is rare.

Injury report: Some blisters. A mangled toe from that fall yesterday ( I stubbed the toe hard first). I’ll probably lose that toenail. Old people issues like sciatica and bunions, which don’t like walking or carrying a pack. Shoulder pain from the ENORMOUS pack. The various bumps and bruises, and exercise pain now. Heh. Thru-hiking (or as-far-as-you-get hiking) is an exercise in pain management. None of these is unbearable. The toe is the worst.

Day 4: Mount Laguna

Laguna Campground
Mile 47.5

Day 4: Mount Laguna

The PCT and I, right now, are not getting along. I’m mad at it. And everything hurts.

Yesterday when the sun dipped at about 4, a fierce wind started. I immediately got cold–like, teeth-chattering cold. How bizarre is that? I set up my tent at about mile 36–just in a sheltered spot off the trail– and for the first time I needed my warm base layer. Coldest night yet. Thirties, I think, plus that wind.

I woke up at 4 and the inside of the tent was soaked with condensation. Blah. I mopped up and packed up and hiked with the headlamp for the first hour. It’s pretty easy to do! Then again, the moon over the desert was foll and silver and gorgeous.

Then I hoofed the seven miles into my first trail town. Mount Laguna! I needed to replace some food. My body just isn’t tolerating my east coast diet. I need aome stuff that’s easier to digest. So I tossed some nuts and got peanut butter, and a few other things. I ate a HUGE breakfast in town, then headed out.

And I freaking fell again. Tore the scab off my knee and made a whole new one. That meant I had to waste water washing it–leaving me with a liter to get 4 or 5 miles. It’s breezy today, and cooler…but the sun, the sun.

It’s disheartening, the freaking injuries and low mileage. But I think I’ll get better as my body shapes up. Whether it’s enough to get to Canda is… well, I wouldn’t place any bets. Still, I’m fairly sure I wasn’t at mile 47.5 on day 4 of the AT. And that’s with injuries. And I avoided one town vortex where people are staying overnight.

But get this! I met a couple last night, an older guy (70s?) and his wife. They started a while back. They made eight miles on day 1, then he had a medical emergency. He was dehydrated, and the dehydration turned his medication toxic. They called SAR and got airlifted out. He was already in renal failure. They put him in an induced coma for days, then he spent 10 days in the hospital… then the doctors said he could hike if he wanted. So they’re doing 4 miles per day, carrying 2 gallons of water in an old external fram pack. Chutzpah!

The afternoon was smooth going–sandy soil and an easy path. After the fall I managed another 5 miles, for a total of 11 or 12 for the day. Same as usual.

We’ll see how it goes! I did see an amazing vista today–which reminds one of why one chooses this sort of suffering. As opposed to… you know. Needlepoint.

Day 2. Wait, really!

It’s only day 2? Jeez. Time has slipped back into trail time, wherein every day lasfs a week.

Well… mile 22 and change. I got to Lake Morena at about 2, drank about 2 liters of blissfully chill water, and tore the crap out of my pack. Meaning I dumped about two pounds of stuff. Flipflops? Gone! Pretty green bandana? Trash! It’s fire sale time, just like at Neels Gap. At least I packed my stuff out. Other hikers are just dumping crap willy-nilly. Today I saw a pair of zip-off pants, a pair of boxer briefs, two pairs of Smartwool socks, a double egg foam mattress, and a five-pound jar of peanut butter. That first massive water carry is no joke. This is the desert, baby! Hot, hot heat.

I’m not the slowest nor the most out of shape hiker out here.

The heat continues to be brutal. It’s supposed to be cooler tomorrow, though.

Critter report: Saw a HUGE rabbit, a marmot, a lot of tiny dragon lizards, some spotted gecko things, some birds that are different from East Coast birds. I didn’t see a rattlesnake, but I apparently just missed one.

This is a real United Nations of a trail. In two days I’ve met people from New Zealand, France, the UK, Sweden, Germany, Canada. For a while it seemed lile the Americans were in the minority. Most are in their 20s . A few are older. I’ve only met one other solo female–and she happens to have done the AT in 2013 and is also from Philly. She grew up in Lansdale. How weird is that! We’ll see if our paths. cross again.

It’s strange to be around people doing their first trail. Like… people sometimes ask me things, and sometimes I have an answer for them. Mostly, though, I’m just not phased by things. They’re more phased, if you know what I mean.

I’m continuing my tradition of falling every day. Yesterday I fell once, but today I took two nasty ones, one of which gave me every kid’s badge of honor–a bloody knee. 🙂 That issue should resolve now that my pack is literally 20 pounds lighter. There aren’t any huge waterless stretches tomorrow–11 miles, I think. Which is good, be ause my shoulders HURT.

I wish I were doing more miles, as usual, but overall I”m OK with it. Eleven to 12 miles ain’t bad after 800 zeroes!

This trail is much more wildernessy than the AT. Glad I did the other one first.

Telephone signal is really spotty out here. Not sure when this’ll go out or in what order. (Also, I can’t vet the photos on the phone. Sorry if they’re upside down!) 😀

Day 1: 1 versus 1

It’s not the heat. it’s the hum-… No, it’s actually the heat. It’s so hot, my spam actually melted. Melted! I kid you not.

I decided to split Lake Morena into two days. I have the time, and I jneed some acclimation. The heat, after the recent resurgence of winter back home. The elevation. The GODAWFUL weight of my pack. And the fact that I’ve been running on three houra’ sleep the last couple of nights.

I’d like to be poetic, but I’m beat beyond belief. Just thought I’d drop a quick note to say that I’m here! In a tent!

T minus 2. Have we done all this before?

Well… my home internet gets shut down this afternoon. You can’t get more real than that! 🙂

Today’s the last day before I travel. The ducks aren’t in a row. They’re whirling like dervishes, dancing, poking, pecking. Happy, crazy, nervous ducks! But they’re all in the same place, anyway. The house is mostly ready. The yard is mostly ready. The car is mostly ready. Today it’s laundry — all of it — and yard work, and cleaning. And giving up my router. And enjoying my last shower — or maybe two. Because I can. Because there’s nothing I miss on the trail so much as just taking a shower at will. And wearing cotton. And sleeping in a cozy bed.

The weather’s looking brilliant on Wednesday — although it’s going to be hot (I’m seeing forecasts of 82 to 85 degrees). That’ll be a nice challenge. My biggest worry is my feet. And my shoulders. And the airport. And extreme jet lag and exhaustion. But it’ll go the way it goes — and as usual on the trail, plans and lists become so much kindling. I’m anticipating that something wonderful will happen on Wednesday, something I could never have foreseen. Maybe even several somethings wonderful. I’m expecting to shed a tear or two once my feet hit the dirt again and the trail ribbons out in front of me. It’s been so long! Gah. I want to get on my knees and kiss the dirt.

And that’s that! With the internet situation, I probably won’t be posting again (or only lightly) until maybe Warner Springs (mile 109) in about a week. But I might cheat and post a little. We’ll see. I really don’t know how the posting is going to go. I love putting the journal out there day by day, but it takes a lot of time and battery juice, and after a while it gets boring for people to read the same thing every day. So the journal will be a work in progress.

Everything about this adventure feels fresh. And… I kind of love that.

Jitters and yips

Five days! Five! Holy CRAP, how did this happen?

The weather report five days out shows the warmest day of the year so far at the southern terminus — a high of 81, and sunny. I guess I’ll find out whether that trail umbrella is a good idea.

I’m nervous as hell about the water situation. I was planning to carry five liters, but based on the forecast I’m upping it to six (with capacity for nine or ten, in case of breakage, although I won’t carry that much actual water. I hope.). I doubt I’ll manage 20 miles on day 1, and there’s no water between the terminus and mile 20. They say you need to start hydrating for days before you hit the desert, so I’m currently drinking two liters per day to get all liquid and puffy. (For me, this is a staggering amount of water. On a regular day, I might drink… like… a cup.) I’m also in the process of weaning off of coffee — which, I confess, is my least favorite part of the whole thing. We’ll be back to coffee being a town treat! Hmmm… coffee.

I’ve shipped my first resupply box to Warner Springs. I’m on the trail for 109 miles no matter what else happens!

My pack is already in San Diego, waiting for me. On Tuesday, I’ve got two hours of trains then a six-hour flight, and after I get in, get picked up by the marvelous and wondrous Scout and Frodo, and get my food repackaged and my pack packed, it’ll have been an enormously long day, chock full of jet lag and cavity searches. I’ll be starting at the border on not many hours’ sleep.

Scary! Exciting! I’m seeing the rattlesnake photos, the bug photos, from the hikers who are already on the trail (and some are 600 miles in already!)… I’m hearing about all the bees that are attacking people (one horse died last week!)… and, of course, there’s also been major snow at elevation out there.


OK, not so much freaking as being just ready to go. I was saying to somebody that I hate things where you really can’t have a dress rehearsal — you can only show up on stage and hope it all goes well. I’m glad my pack is in San Diego, because I kid you not, I’d be adding and subtracting stuff right down to the wire. Mostly adding. 🙂

Post by email

WordPress has this funky little newish feature that allows you to post by email. I’m trying it out! This may or may not work! Feel free to ignore!

Just to test, here’s a photo of a lovely international hiker named Paul Chapman who started the trail a day or two ago. Look at the brand new shiny Southern Terminus monument! Look at that trail! It looks hot and deserty.

[OK, that actually worked really well. Score! One issue, though: The Lifeproof case on the phone adds just enough width that my tiny fumbly hands can’t quite make the keys without stretching. Grr. Expect typo-laden posts, yo. Sorry in advance! :)]