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.