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. 🙂