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.