I’ve had a lot of time to think about what happened over the past 5 months. I’ve been home for eight weeks and some of my weight that I carried before I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail has returned to its customary place above my belt. I try to move on, be productive and use my experience to help me grow into a new and adventurous person in society. Too often, though, I drift into reminiscing of my glorious four and a half months exploring the mountains of the American west.
While I was hiking, I attempted to keep a journal, but I feel like I failed. Good writing requires deep contemplation and self analysis that I was not capable of in the throes of the PCT. When I wrote, I kept it light. I didn’t want to analyze what was happening. Even though I walked twelve hours a day, my mind could not wrap itself around the “big” questions. Mentally, I was consumed with more tangible matters. Did I have enough candy till I get to the next resupply? The next town has a Mexican restaurant, what will I order when I get there? Is there a podcast I’m not sick of? How many songs to play till I get to a campsite?
Now that I am home I have gone through stages of grief. I first missed the certainty of the trail, where I knew what I was doing every day, where I was going short and long term. I missed the camaraderie of the hikers. The friendships that feel like they have always been there and would never leave us, but inevitably, they do. The beautiful landscape of the most diverse, breathtaking trail on this planet is hard to describe to friends at home. Pictures can’t really capture the stunning vistas of The Pacific Crest Trail. Slowly, I’ve adapted. I’m forcing myself to look ahead and not behind. Look at what I have, a wonderful family and a woman I love. A home in a beautiful place.
I do the things that people do. I get up and take a shower, without thought. I’m reminded there was a time when a shower was a special treat. I eat a fresh bagel for breakfast and I’m reminded how I once was excited to wake up and eat a pack of Twinkies to start my day. I go look for jobs I don’t want. I do this because that’s what people do. I feel like Bartleby the Scrivener, from the Melville story. What I do and who I am are not connected like they were on the trail. I will go home and eat a delicious dinner and lay in my big beautiful bed, and not be as happy as when I finally unfolded my Thermarest Zlite on rocky soil and gleefully laid on my back.
On trail I had a mantra. “I’m trying to enjoy the last free days of my life,” I would say when someone would ask how I’m doing. I said it without thought. The realization that those words I uttered might have been as true as the fire and the rain, terrifies me.
Reminds me of Ray Liotta.
We are in the homestretch. The dog days of August. The last few weeks we have stumbled over the blowdowns in Oregon, then wandered through Obsidian and volcanic rock towards Bend. We have stared at the most amazing volcanic peaks; Hood, Jefferson, St. Helens and Adams. Lunches by lakes with Mt. Jefferson in the backdrop made us feel like we were in a photograph. Cowboy camping underneath peaceful skies on a mountain top staring off at a blood red sunset. These are the best days. I have walked underneath one of the most amazing waterfalls I have ever seen on the oft used alternate Eagle Creek Trail, when I encountered Tunnel Falls. I have drank water from the clearest, coldest, springs. I have filtered water from ponds filled with bugs, algae and horse dung. I have had beautiful conversations with my trail friends. We have fought. We have gone silent on one another. We forgot what we were fighting about and made up. We spent three days at PCT Days laughing and reuniting with old trail buddies. We barely slept, while naked imbeciles danced and screamed around our tents. I won a lot of gear at the festival. I badly bruised my ribs in a sleeping bag race. Frost was abducted by a band of hippies for 6 hours and we fretted for hours over her. We have come across the most amazing trail Angels lately. We have slept on a dirt road with shrubs coming up through our ground cloth. We stayed in the lap of luxury at Callahans lodge. I have eaten Atomic Fireballs for lunch. I have eaten the all you can eat buffet at the Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood. I have walked 4 miles an hour. Sometimes I walk 2 miles an hour. I have yet to walk in rain on the PCT. I have wilted in 110 degree heat constantly. I can’t wait to go home. I am having the time of my life. Three weeks to go.
Random Thoughts I Have Had On The Trail Lately
-I listened to the Alec Baldwin Podcast, (I listen just for his voice), and he spent nearly an hour talking with Actor Kevin Kline. Not once did he ask how he snagged Phoebe Cates in her prime.
-“Burn On” by Randy Newman is my favorite song about a city (Cleveland). I’ve been listening to the “Sail Away” album recently.
-PCT Days is great. It’s not good for sleeping and it was so hot, but Jason does a good job putting it together. Cascade Locks is a good trail town and the Ice Creams at Frosty’s were huge.
-Tunnel Falls was spectacular but there were a billion tourists on the last half of the Eagle Creek Alternate.
-I have seen Mt. St. Helens in recent days. Brings back memories of its explosion in my childhood. I remember newscasts would follow the ash cloud as it traveled around the world, and how it blanketed such huge areas.
-Bend is great, Sisters is great, but I liked Ashland the most.
7:30pm: I usually don’t stop and camp this early, there’s still light. The hike today was 32 miles through a 20 mile waterless stretch. The temperature today reached well over 100 degrees. The terrain was exposed and very rocky. My feet are covered in blisters and a few toenails are coming off, held together by duct tape. The last water source, seven miles back, was well off trail and uphill that led to a swamp that I unenthusiastically dipped my bottle into without filtering. I haven’t filtered in a long while, it just takes too long. I stopped here because I thought I heard trail magic a few yards away. As I approached the campsite, I heard what I thought was a dinner bell ringing. I excitedly rushed toward the sound thinking a kind person had some food set up for hikers. My elation turned to bitter disappointment when I came through the brush to find two cows walking towards a water source, with bells around their necks.
I set up my tent quickly and by 9pm I was convinced I would tenting alone in this site. Then I heard something crashing through the brush from the opposite direction of the trail. I got out of my tent to defend myself and my food from what I assumed was a bear, when a thruhiker (Penny), appeared through the trees. She had gotten lost and had bushwhacked her way back to the trail. As she arrived, “Early Bird”, came into camp via the actual trail. He is a very fast hiker, and it feels good to be in the same area as him this late into the hike.
9:00pm: It’s still hot out. I am wearing no clothes to sleep. And no sleeping bag. And my tent doesn’t extend down all the way and I’m visible to all who walk by me. Sorry, world. It’s just too hot.
5:44am: Oh crap! I got up too late. This is gonna cost me. I brush my teeth and begin packing up my stuff. This is gonna cost me.
6:05am: I’m on foot. Early Bird is getting up now, and I jam a pack of Twinkies into my pocket and head out eating them as I walk. This is breakfast every day. Sometimes, it is donuts, or Fig Newtons or honey buns, but this is how I eat in the morning. I augment this healthy breakfast with a box of Good n Plenty. The 5 minutes after six is going to cause me to go less than 2.75 miles per hour in the first hour of the day. This will bother me. I don’t know why.
8:13am: I took a wrong turn for a half a mile. This breaks my heart. A half hour wasted getting back on course. Some of the signs can be confusing. I should have had my phone on and used Half Mile’s App when I got to the junction.
Early Bird and Wahlburg are now in front of me.
11:35am: It’s hot again today. It’s very exposed as well. The high today is 112 Fahrenheit and I’m sweating like its very humid here. Cow dung and horse dung is all over the place. I still haven’t filtered my water. I’m limping a bit because it’s starting to heat up. My blisters swell in the middle of the day and my shoes get uncomfortable. I stopped and took 4 ibuprofen. I don’t like stopping. Early Bird says he is going to do 45 miles today. There’s a small chance I could too, but my feet are making that unlikely.
12:56pm: I stopped and ate lunch with Early Bird. Lunch was 5 minutes on a rock and a few handfuls of Fritos and a liter of water. Got to move.
2:07pm: Keeping your mind occupied is half the battle. I engage in internal debates about nonsense. Today I try to think up the best pop songs with accordion (“When I Paint My Masterpiece” “Frankie’s Gun” “We Can Work It Out” “Cold Cold Ground” “Sandy” “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For a Sunbeam”). It’s what I do to make an hour pass by.
4:15pm: I just ate my 15th atomic fireball today. I don’t stop to eat in this heat. It’s still way over 100 degrees. Perhaps fireballs aren’t the best way to combat this. I can feel my feet burning on the rocks. The bubbling of the blisters on my heels are making each every step squishy and painful. There is a pound of sand in each shoe.
6:15pm: Pacer and I stop to have a fifteen minute dinner. We take our shoes off and soak them in a cold stream. Almost two hours later we leave.
10:15pm: One mile from camp we run into what looks like a mountain lion by the river. We decide the best course of action is climb up the side of the mountain through poison oak to give the lion a wide birth. Our reroute takes over an hour.
11:30pm: We arrive at a campground. Well, a parking lot to a campground. Good enough for us. We set up our tents and settle down. Pacer is snoring within 30 seconds of laying down. I’m sleeping naked with no sleeping bag. It’s still over 90 degrees. We hiked 39 miles today.
8:00am: I arrive in Seiad Valley with Topo, a fellow thruhiker. I walked the last 7 miles barefoot. My feet were too swollen to fit in my Altra shoes. I ordered 5 scrambled eggs, 4 English muffins and a steak at the diner here and ate with Early Bird, Topo, and Poptart (who is about to embark on the PCT unsupported speed record attempt.)
Sure, Crater Lake is amazing. But the trail avoids mountains and it feels like it’s just walking. There are ups and downs but the climbs are usually 1,000′ or less. And there are blowdowns. I heard over 800 after Highway 140. There were two much older volunteers trying to clean it up with a handsaw. That’s like trying to win a nuclear war with a slingshot. These guys are real heroes, but they have no shot.
Also tough is the cell phone situation. AT&T is absolutely useless in Oregon. I blow my battery trying to send a text. I feel like some of these parts of Oregon still use paper cups and string.
Right now I’m in Bend, staying with a trail angel, Lian in her home. I’m here with Frost, Morning Glory, Petunia, Zombie Dust and Early Bird. We hope to be at the Washington border by the end of next week. Just in time for PCT Days celebration in Cascade Locks.
Dream Baby Dream
Okay California. This is one more song about moving down the highway. I’m hiking around all new people now. The numbers have dwindled considerably since Lake Tahoe. So many have quit. Some have quit due to injury. Some have quit due to money. Some have left because they say they are “not having fun anymore.” This last one perplexes me. Thruhiking is primarily not about the fun. It’s difficult. Was it fun for Rocky Balboa to go to Siberia to train to fight Ivan Drago in Rocky IV? No! He had a dream to avenge the death/murder of his friend Apollo. Is it fun for Tom Brady to shave in the morning? No! He does it so we can see the beautiful angles of his face and that dimple on his chin.
Dream big and hold yourself accountable to your dreams. If you set out to hike 1000 miles then that’s great. If you set out with a goal of 2,600 miles, then, if at all possible, fight hard to achieve that goal. Dream big. A half of a dream is a half of a life. We have lost a lot of good men and women out here and I’m very sad to see them go. I’m also grateful for those who have stayed the course and relish the next weeks on the trail with them.
Turn It Up
The trail has changed from the amazing vistas of the Sierra, to the forests of Northern California. The mountains are smaller but the heat is intense! It’s all about the miles now and forget about the smiles. Temperatures often go above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and that does damage to your feet. At the end of the Hat Creek Rim hike, I walked eight miles barefoot. The ground is so hot, that virtually everyone is struggling with blisters. Often my shoes will not house my foot as the day goes on. The feet swell considerably in the afternoon and I’m dealing with blisters on both heals and on several toes. It’s hard to keep them clean, near impossible. Everything is dirty out here. My feet are on fire
I’m shedding pounds big time out here. About 60 lbs since Mexico. It’s getting worse as I do more 30-40 mile days. I eat all day, but it’s not enough. I’m sick of all the trail food now. I don’t eat Cliff Bars, peanut butter, pepperoni, oatmeal, trail mix, granola or instant mashed potato anymore. Lately it’s been Fig Newtons for breakfast, spaghetti O’s for lunch and tuna wraps for dinner with Fritos. Snacks are Good n Plenty and peanut M&M’s. In town I crave salads, and milkshakes. I usually destroy 2 Coca Cola’s as soon as I hit town. And sometimes pack them out of town as well. McDonald’s Mcdoubles last a week on trail if you get them without condiments.
The psychological effects of the length of California is beating us down. 1,600 miles into this trail and I’m still in the first state! I think this has crushed some hikers. I believe some have quit due to the discouraging length still to go. We have been out here 2-3 months and to be only a bit more than halfway home can be so overwhelming. I focus on the day. I’m almost there. Like Chubbs told Happy Gilmore, “just tap it in.”
I’m developing into a very adept “Yogi-ist”. I finagled 8 gatorades and three peaches out of a local fisherman a few days ago. It was phenomenal, but hauling all the bottles out the was a pain. It was the best Yogi-ing incident since Thomas Callahan III got Betty to turn the fryolater back on in “Tommy Boy.” I’m getting better at hitchhiking. I’m beginning to master the “Pocket Technique” of hitching. The Pocket Technique was developed by a legendary Appalachian Trail thruhiker who deployed a short but enthusiastic wave before sticking out the thumb to passing cars. Very effective. I think the wave throws off the driver, makes them think, “do I know this person?” They slow down to look and by then they kinda of half committed themselves. Then you just reel them in. It’s probably effective in attracting serial rapists to pull over, but I’ll focus on the positives.
Trail update: I’m still walking. Anything else I say would be completely uninteresting to anyone not doing the same. I’m past 1,000 miles and doing ok. There is a video update of the past 100+ miles
“In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand at the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy in the instant that I preach
My existence led by confusion boats, mutiny from stern to bow”-Bob Dylan
“Killing ain’t fair but somebody got to do it”- TUPAC
Welcome to the 1st Annual Trail Haters Ball. The Trail Haters Ball gives us the opportunity on July 10 in South Lake Tahoe, CA to recognize the mark-ass bitches, yellow blazers, tweaker towns, hippies, Europeans, trail “angels”, trail blankets, pink blazers, green blazers, Eddie Van Halen’s, ultra light weenies, gear heads, and moochers.
I had a job (in the private sector), unlike most of these never showering hippies out here, pretending to have fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma or some other made up illness so they can get prescriptions for marijuana from the loony tunes that run the People’s Republic of California. Making peace with your neighbors is overrated. Who needs another friend who owns a Subaru with a “Coexist” bumper sticker? Not me. Hate is as American as apple pie. How else do you explain slavery, Manifest Destiny, Seinfeld or the Bernie Sanders Campaign?
Some of the marks I suppose will be discussed at the Trail Haters Ball:
Yellow Blazers- I thought PCT hikers were supposed to be better than Appalachian Trail thruhikers!? Yellow blaze city out here. Whatever the percentage of successful thruhikes the PCTA or ALDHA West recognize at the end of 2016, cut that number by 75%. I knew a few people on the AT that yellow blazed and of course I called them out. “Hike Your Own Hike” is tidy euphemism for I’m dirty, cheating yellow blazer who is too weak to hike the trail.
Lawton “Disco” Grinter- I might suggest you investigate the term “edit”. Are you trying to be the Stanley Kubrick of podcasts? Listening to a Trail Show from start to finish is 45% more difficult than a thruhike of the PCT.
Pox and Puss-The podcast is about as regular as a thruhiker who is overdosing on Kaopectate. It’s the best outdoor podcast by a mile, and Puss n Boots is a star, but this isn’t Curb Your Enthusiasm. Pick up the pace.
Portland, OR-Is there anybody left there? I’d like to go a single day without someone telling me they are from Portland. How great can a place be that has no football team, no hockey team and no baseball team? I don’t need to hear how great it is.
Kennedy Meadows Store-Capitalism called. They’d like to meet with you. Portable toilets should not go over the rim.
VVR-Great time, better people. Taking stuff from the hiker box to the shelf is wacky.
Hikertown-I felt like Liam Neeson’s daughter in “Taken”. I was sleeping in, what looked like a prostitution trailer. Since the bathrooms get locked at night, someone defecated on my doorstep.
Pink Blazers-euphemism for stalker? Where else is following someone on foot for days or weeks with some sexual conquest in mind, ok?
Lake Isabella-Tweaker City. As Silky Johnson would say “what can I say about it that hasn’t already been said about Afganistan?” Terrible fire. But in front of the Von’s there were more drug addicts than in front of a methadone clinic back home.
Guitar players-everyone hates you. Knock it off John Mayer.
Canadians-We know you love your health care system. Try not bringing it up in conversation. You been poking in our business unnecessarily since Neil Young got the “talk to the hand” from Lynyrd Skynnard. You are the Vermont of the world. Wall to wall white skin. Neil Young, Marty McFly and Wayne Gretzky all live in the United States.
Trail Blankets-knock it off. Not for me. For your dad. Thanks.
Appalachian Trail Thruhikers-We get it. You are on the thruhike. Flooding social media with pictures of crap anyone in America can see if they walk in their backyard. Like a billion people have done it. Chill. Except you, Super Trooper.
ALDHA West-Or whoever gives out the triple crown awards. This obsession with these three trails and this phony award for non athletes with a lot of time on their hands (aka unemployed), has led to these trails overcrowding. How about this give the award to anyone who completes three or more thruhikes on our National Scenic Trails totaling more than 7,000 miles. You are welcome.
Mosquitos-I hate you most of all. I don’t wear deet. I don’t wear long sleeves. I don’t wear pants or bug net. I am going for the kill record. Those impede my quest. By my count, Swarzenegger has the record for most kills (63) in “Commando” (featuring a preteen Alyssa Milano, before her breakout role in Poison Ivy 2!). I am getting up to 100 confirmed kills a day. Sometimes over ten per minute.
Bring your own hate.
Come one, come all. Hate, hate, hate.
July 10, South Lake Tahoe.
“The mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city.” -John Muir
The Sierra truly begins with the first major mountain pass. This is when the thruhiker climbs over Forrester Pass, gulps the thin air at 13,000′ and drops precipitously into the wintry bowl of Kings Canyon National Park, that will consume them for the next few weeks. It is an indescribable experience that pictures and videos cannot capture. My friend, Frost, described the Sierra as “Switzerland, if you took all the people and all the buildings out of the country.”
We awoke at 5:00am at frozen Tyndall Creek to climb up over Forrester Pass. Frost and I quickly got ready and were set to go by 5:45am, but Bingo was not. I tried to wait for her, but she insisted that we move ahead, pressed by our quick exit. Reluctantly, Frost and I climbed the pass without her. There was a very long approach to the pass in hard snow. The last half mile was very steep and included an ice chute that had Frost nervous, and when she nearly tripped over her hiking poles, it appeared she was going to plunge to a horrific death. We reached the summit and glissaded down much of the icy, steep, backside of the 13,000′ pass. Glissading is the art of sliding down the mountain on your butt. If done properly it can be a safe and fun way to descend a steep slope. Unfortunately, on part of a rocky section I joyfully crashed into a few boulders and ripped my pants. Frost’s confidence grew with this climb and we celebrated our first big pass by eating lunch by a creek below the snow line.
Bingo Gets Rescued Off Forrester Pass
Falling behind in the morning, Bingo never caught up with us. She slowly made her way over the pass, but slipped quite a few times on the backside, and injured her hip badly. The pain got to be so bad, she began fainting and dry-heaving. She was alone and scared. Many hikers came upon her and helped care for her and carry her to a safe spot. Eventually, she activated her SPOT device and a helicopter rescue was neccessary. Many people helped her get to safety, and we thank the many hikers that aided and comforted her in her desperate time. She is recovering nicely in Fresno, and may have to rehabilitate her injury for the rest of the summer.
Mather Pass does not immediately follow Forrester. Glen Pass sits between them and features a very steep northern slope that was covered in a few miles of snow. Mather Pass, however, was the most frightening and steepest on both sides. We climbed the pass in the late afternoon and there was one 30′ section where we climbed a vertical wall of slushy snow at over 12,000′. I had faith that others had done this so I could swallow my considerable fear of heights and proceed. I plunged my ice axe into the snow wall and tried to pull myself up. The axe moved through the snow like a speeding bullet through jello. Useless, absolutely useless. I managed to scale my way to the top without looking down. I got to the top and coached Frost with some encouraging words. She didn’t want to hear it. She barked at me like woman in labor.
“Shut the hell up!”
Despite my ineffective exhortations, she made it to the top and we were all so very happy. The snow on the backside was so soft and the slope was difficult to descend on our feet, so glissaded most of the section. Where we couldn’t, we postholed our way into the arms of the green valley at sunset at set up our tents in the first warm night of the Sierra.
Once we crossed Mather Pass we traversed a couple more snowy, but less dangerous passes over the next two days. When we began the ascent of Muir Pass, we knew it was the last 12,000′ pass on the PCT. We again rose at 5:00am and moved up the longest snow climb to date. We stepped in several frozen creeks and rose up the tortuous snow field that lie before the stone Muir Hut that sat atop the Pass. We were so happy to reach the summit because we knew the toughest part of the Sierra was now behind us. We had finally got our lungs adjusted to the elevation, and now we were going to drop down a bit. The elevation had been my biggest obstacle to date. Overall, I felt the desert was mostly easy. The gut punching thin air of the High Sierra was a different story. I was constantly out of breath for the past week or two. Labored breathing was typical even when lying in my tent. It’s a seldom discussed challenge of thruhiking this trail.
After we crossed Muir Pass, we set our sights for two days on Vermilion Valley Resort. It would be our first opportunity for “real food” and some resupply in quite a while. When we arrived we immediately attacked a reasonable breakfast. Ressupply was spotty at best. The store had very little for hiker food. Some of the product was expired and looked as though they had pulled it from the hiker box. I scraped together a bag of candy, a Danish, a bag of Fritos, and the last good ramen packet in the store. This would have to last me two days on trail. I augmented this bounty with three cans of Coca Cola, one of which fell out of my pack as I walked out of the store and sprayed all over my legs. Despite the paucity of supply at VVR, the people were nice and the boat ride off the resort was delightful.
Many Rivers to Cross
There are endless rivers to cross in the Sierra. Some you can skip across but at least four or five a day include knee to hip deep raging water that your feet get soaked in. Often hikers fall on these crossings and they get soaked in the cold water. Frost fell in a stream near Virginia Lake, and her gear was drenched. I thought Maine on the Appalachian Trail had a lot of water crossings, but it is nothing compared to the constant water hazards in the Sierras. Occasionally we sit by a beautiful alpine lake, and stare into its shimmering blue/green water and dare to jump in. This is an act that looks more delightful in a photograph than in reality. The water is mind freezing cold. Any leap into the water will be immediately followed by a sprint to the shoreline in search of the warmth of clothes and maybe a puffy jacket.
I Hope They Burn in Hell!
In the last few days the snow melt has made the rivers deep, and the rapids violent. With this melt comes the most vicious bug attacks I have ever endured. One must brave a mosquito fog each time we near water in the valleys. Frost looks like she has the measles, she has been attacked so badly. It is an obstacle that I underestimated before I began this trip. Bug defense, of some kind is an absolute necessity.
We have now finished the first half of the Sierras and enter into Yosemite Park in the coming days after a two day stop in the posh Mammoth Lakes. Here we will ressupply and restore our strength. This section has been tough, but by far the most amazing area of the world I have ever spent such a extended period in. The desolation, the frozen lakes, and the granite towers that surround us haunt and delight around every corner and over each pass.
Here is an update on the past 100 miles. After taking a week off the trail, I got back on the PCT at Walker Pass (mile 652). Poobah and I hiked 50 miles in two days through the previously closed area of the trail. The trail was the most challenging yet. There was pointless ups and downs, deep beach sand, and temperatures scorching us at over 100 degrees! Water was scarce and we were practically filtering mud at Spanish Needle Creek. The second day out of Walker Pass, we pushed to make Kennedy Meadows General Store before they close at 5:00pm. The 26 miles were terrible. Deep beach sand followed a 2,500′ climb as we plunged to the desert floor. I drank 8.5 liters of water by 3pm and it was as if I swallowed not a drop. My mouth was dry and my throat raw. Desire for a cold beverage drove me to reach the Kennedy Meadows Store at 3:30pm, with XC and Poobah. We were greeted with applause from the hikers already on the porch. Over 700 miles of desert in my back pocket. No more deep beach sand. No more drinking hot water. No more ass chafe (for a while I hope). No more waking up at 3am in effort to evade the blistering midday sun. No more carrying 8lbs of water.
The General Store was a good time. Hikers hang out on the porch all day and celebrate the first victory of this long journey. There is a good hamburger stand, that wasn’t terribly overpriced. The store wasn’t very well stocked, though. There wasn’t gear of any kind, outside of the bear canisters they sell. There was little on the barren, dark shelves and the mail drop retrieval system was marked by frustration, delayed wait times and disorganization. After readingCheryl Strayed’s elaborate descriptions of Snapple Lemonade in Wild, I expected one here. They carried only flavors of Snapple offered by discount wholesalers. Weird, discontinued varieties. The overfilled portable toilets offered a unpleasant aroma to the area. This only offered minor distraction from the absolute joy I had being finished with the desert. After a hot shower, I spent the night in a teepee on the property.
The following day, I headed out at sunset with Poobah, Frost and Bingo into the Sierra. Over the next three days we explored the most beautiful scenery the PCT had to offer thus far. Sequoia’s and Ponderosa Pines lined the trail as we passed giant meadows and climbed to fantastic vistas of the snowy peaks in our future. We ascended 5,000′ over the next couple of days arriving at our first alpine lake, Chicken Spring Lake in the mid afternoon of the third day. At 11,200′ the lake water was near freezing, and the temperature dropped when the sun hid behind ominous grey clouds in the afternoon. I secured my Zpacks Hexamid tent as best as I could to ensure stability in, what I thought, would be a possible overnight rain.
Over the next eight hours our campsite endured near constant lightening strikes, occasional hail stones, and then a little bit of rain, followed by an overnight snowfall. The light flashed on the ceiling of my miniscule Zpacks tent all night as if I were in a discoteque. The trekking pole that propped up my tent rattled against the stiff alpine winds. I slept and awoke. An hour for an hour. I tried to distract my mind from my impending doom, by listening to my headphones. I would intermittently shut off my phone because my imagination would drift and I’d convince myself that listening to music would actual attract lightening.
When I left my tent in the morning, I was pleased it held up through the night. The walls had caved in considerably from the three to four inches of snow, but it still stood. The same could not be said of Frost’s tent. Her walls were so sunken that it seemed she were a giant burrito.
Her troubles aside, the scenery was breathtaking. Snow blanketed the trees and rocks and ice covered the shallow parts of the lake like a cloudy glass. We took a few minutes to take it all in. Some of the group needed to get to town to get a bear canister required for further travel into the two National Parks that lie before us (Kings Canyon and Yosemite), so we descended down to Horseshoe Meadow and escaped the sudden winter landscape to the town of Lone Pine. Here we will regroup before further tackling the High Sierra.
-Yellow blazing is rampant on the PCT. It’s so pervasive that it is hard to find the folks who don’t engage heavily in it. I thought it would be harder to find on this trail than on the AT. It’s not.
-I think a lot of people drop off the trail at the end of the desert.
-Kennedy Meadows General Store should have twice the portable toilets of Hiker Heaven, not half.
-Virtually every bad decision I have made on a trail involved proceeding up a mountain despite ominous clouds upon me. Yet I do it time and again. Dummy.
To somewhat explain what I did while off trail for a week. </b>
They shit on our rug. Well, not on our rug, but our hardwood floor.
I walked into Walker Pass, (PCT mile 652), after four and a half hot and grueling days. The trail between Tehachapi and here were a bit more of a roller coaster than the trail had been previously. The trail was marked with the most amazing wildflowers yet. Beach sand was the predominant track. Though the climbs on the PCT are fairly gradual, they are much more problematic when dragging your feet through three inches of fine gravel. This is a generally waterless stretch that wasn’t as hard as first imagined, thanks to the incredible trail angels that stocked water caches in three or four crucial places on this Memorial Day weekend. The entire section was very hot, almost completely exposed and the group I am hiking with, decided to alter our hiking habits. We woke each morning at 3:00am and hiked 15 miles by 10:00am. We would then take six hours off in the middle of the day to siesta in the shade during the most brutal heat. We would then hike out in the evening as the sun went down.
On the morning of the fifth day out of Tehachapi, Poobah, Action Jackson, Nimbles, Tenure, Pockets, Corndoggie, Six Taco and myself to walked out of the wilderness onto the highway at Walker Pass. We rented a house for a couple of days, and planned a cookout. It wasn’t a great place, but it was nice for the trail. The neighborhood was fairly sketchy, like I was walking down the mean streets of Long Beach in the “Nothing But a G Thang” video where Dre comes over to Snoop’s house.
Action Jackson and Poobah cooked a fantastic meal and we had very spirited discussions in the very comfortable home. Later, some friends from the trail stopped by and we took the discussion outside on the patio. Everything was going along fine, when suddenly our guests simply left. Not slowly. One minute they were in the side yard engaged in colorful trail talk, and then they were gone. Five guys left immediately without discussion or even a goodbye. After they left, we all cleaned the kitchen and remarked how rudely and expeditiously our guests had fled the scene. We prepared to go to sleep and “Tenure” came out to say goodnight to those of us who were not fortunate to get beds.
“Is that shit?” He asked.
“I think I just stepped in shit!”
I walked to inspect the bottom of the sandal he was fortunately wearing. It was shit. Human shit in fact. It was dabbed in 4 different spots on the floor beside the futon that Poobah was sleeping in. I tried my best to clean up the poo as quickly as possible. We were grossed out and laughing at the same time. We immediately understood why our guests left in such a hurry.
“One of them was shitstruck,” I claimed.
“The culprit had a bit too much to drink and they crapped their pants outside on our patio. He came into the house, and headed to the bathroom which was occupied. He returned to the patio, told the others that they needed to leave ASAP. Somewhere between the bathroom and the patio, a poop nugget fell out his pants. Tenure stepped on that poop nugget and smeared it on the floor. Case closed.”
Thoughts On Completing The Desert Section Of The Pacific Crest Trail
-The ultralight umbrella was a giant waste of eight ounces and space in my pack. I used the thing twenty minutes the entire trip. It doesn’t keep you as cool as one might suspect and it’s awkward and unwieldy to hike with.
-Food drops are unnecessary. I could buy what I needed easily along the way. I do appreciate the dinners that a mail drop affords me, but breakfast, lunch and snack options are easily accessed on the PCT.
-The desert wasn’t as consistently blazing as I thought and was colder than I ever imagined at times.
-“Hike Your Own Hike”, was a catchphrase coined by an absolute shameless “Yellow Blazer”. HYOH is popular phrase to emphasize that however one may decide to hike it’s all ok as long as it doesn’t interfere with another persons hike. There is a lot of yellow blazing going on out here. Not just around the fire closures either.
-I read “Wild” again this past week. I have criticized the book in the past and I appreciated it a bit more this time. Perhaps because I’m on the trail. The flashy, hyper descriptive style comes across much better on trail. I like Cheryl Strayed. She doesn’t pretend to be a thruhiker, nor did she attempt to be. Like “Wild” or not, she presents the PCT as place to “find your best self.” She loves the PCT and loves thruhikers, which is more than we will ever get out of Bill Bryson.
-We got 25 hikers under a single Joshua Tree during one siesta a few days ago. Insanity. Only Action Jackson slept.
-Campsites on this portion of the PCT feature four times more campers than they do on the AT.
-Poobah and I paid Corndoggie $20 apiece to stay in this rat, snake and spider infested Shack.