(Pictures to be added when I get a better internet connection)
After almost three months on the PCT, it’s gotten to the point where the majority of my dreams are about, or revolve around, the trail. Whether I am having a conversation with a friend or playing a game of soccer I always seem to have this feeling that I need to get back to something,that the activity that is occupying my attention in the dream is only secondary to some other duty or task that I really must get back to. After having this experience night after night, I realized that it was not only in my dreams that I felt this perpetual pull towards the trail, but the feeling has pervaded my waking life too.
It’s like being in the middle of writing a senior thesis. You know that no matter how many articles you read in a day, books you read in a week or pages you write, the end goal and finished project is still months away. But with that, its very difficult to be fully satisfied with the progress you make each day because that timeline is so long and it feels that you always could do more in a day. It’s always pulling at the back of your mind. There’s always progress to be made. Likewise with the trail.
I’ve spent the last week trying to find that fine line between enjoyment (the living in the moment part) and the all-consuming obsession of getting to Canada (pushing harder, getting bigger miles, finding limits). It’s made for a week of ups and downs for sure.
Last time Gus posted we were staying at a trail Angels house in Beldentown. Brenda Braaten treated us to homemade peanut butter cookies and a stirfry with vegetables freshly picked from her garden. Trail heaven. There were a few other hikers there and as we chowed down we swapped stories of bad-ass-ery (or stupidity) on the trail. One guy had just gotten back from trying to south-bound the PCT in Washington. His attempt ended when he had to get heli-evacked off a snowy ridge because he got vertigo so bad that he couldn’t move and ran out of food. Another hiker told us about how, at the beginning, he had tried to fuel his body off of pure glucose with very little protein. He lost 20 pounds in 20 days and came in to one trail angels house smelling of ammonia. He found out later that this was because his muscles had started eating themselves with so little body fat to keep him going. There were mostly tales of extremity to a stupid degree. The baddest ass award however, went to a story told by a trail angel about Anish, a woman who is attempting to break the overall speed record for unsupported PCT hike this yearn. I guess this trail angel asked Anish if she could bring anything to the trailhead for her. Anish replied “Yes please, French toast and super glue.” The French toast was for the obvious reason but the superglue, as the trail angel soon found out, was so that Anish could glue moleskin onto her tailbone. She had so little body fat left that her pack was rubbing her tailbone raw to where ( the trail angel claims) it was coming out of her skin! Nothing like a little moleskin and superglue to fix it right up.
Anyways, Gus and I were pumped up/mesmerizingly disgusted by these stories. But it also helped to realize that we were not the only ones hurting everyday out here. Pain is just part of this game, I guess.
With renewed vigor to just go, the next day we headed out of Beldentown and into Lassen National park. After ridge-climbing for the better part of the day we found a five-star campground with a stunning view of Mt. Lassen and the surrounding mountains.
The following day, day 73, we made it to the halfway point! It was a little anticlimactic seeing as how the monument was a little two foot post sticking out of the ground, but it was humbling to be there nonetheless.
A few more miles down the trail, a mountain lion jumped out in front of us. In fiercesome hand-to-paw combat, Gus fought it off, leaving him with debilitating tendinitis in his upper ankle. Well, almost all that is true. Save for the mountain lion part, a few miles after the halfway mark, the soreness that Gus had been experiencing in his lower shin region for the past few days transformed from a dull ache to searing pain. He wisely decided that this was not a “no pain, no gain” or “grin and bear it” situation (as some other thru-hikers had suggested). We were lucky enough to pass through the lovely town of Chester, CA in the next ten miles, so he wrapped it up, popped some ibuprofen and made it to civilization in one piece.
After a zero-day in Chester, Gus and I parted ways. He took the bus to Mt. Shasta where he was able to stay with Westin, the cousin of my dear best friend (thank you Strouds!!) and heal up a bit. I made my way back to the trail and NorCal bootcamp began.
The first 36 hours I did not see a single other PCT hiker. This was odd because for the last two weeks we’d seen about 5-10 others a day. This pushed me to do bigger miles at first, hoping that I’d catch up with other hikers that we’d met earlier. It wasn’t until the next resupply that I ran into people I knew and hiked with them for awhile.
Some people wanted to night-hike so they could get to church in Redding the next day so I thought, what the hay, a little night hiking is always fun. Day 78 I hiked until 1 am with a brutal 5 am wake-up the next morning. The scenery was beautiful as we walked along a rim overlooking Mt. Lassen, but around 1 pm the next day I completely bonked. As my college roommates know very well, I am not one of those people who can function, or even remain coherent, on less than 7 hours of sleep. I told the people I was with to go on and that needed take a big fat nap. And nap I did. For five hours.
My mood had become so foul from lack of sleep that I was experiencing a serious crisis of motivation to be on the trail. Everything hurt and Canada seemed so far away. However, after a refreshing nap my head was back on straight and after walking a few more miles, I was pleasantly surprised by the Wild Bird trail magic cache where I feasted on Pringles, cracker jacks, a butter finger and a beer for dinner. Yum!
I had discovered my limit on hours of sleep needed and the next few days I played with pushing miles and figuring out the most effective way to fuel myself (constant stream of sugar all day or just when tired? Snack throughout the day or three meals?). One would think that we’d have all this figured out halfway in, but I am still learning.
The low point was sugar crashing hard one day at 2 pm. I fell asleep by a stream and didn’t wake up until hikers were making dinner around me. I met some awesome new people but didnt get too many miles in that day.
The high point was (almost) getting in my first 40-miler. Around 6 pm that day, some nice dad-like campers out for the weekend stopped me and the girl I was hiking with and told us that “we hadn’t lived until we had had an espresso in the woods.” They whipped out two deluxe camping espresso makers and entertained us with stories of their kids and own youths (all the while telling classic dad jokes). We had a caffeine kick going for the rest of the night but clocked in at 38 miles when our feet finally quit. Ah well, next time.
Meanwhile, Gus was given some healing elixir from a vagabond in Shasta (his story to tell in the next post), and is feeling almost 100% better. He hiked in and met me before Castella and is now back on trail. We spent the day today picking blackberries, getting our resupply box and talking to other hikers. An enormous amount of people are becoming injured and dropping out through NorCal. We thank our lucky stars that we are healthy and have made it this far!
I know that I’ve said it before but thank you all again for your support and words of encouragement. They help re-inspire us when we’ve forgotten why we wanted to hike this dang trail in the first place. We are so looking forward to crossing a state border (finally!) this week and being that much closer to beautiful Washington (although we are very excited for Oregon, too).
Until next time,
Love reading your posts and look forward to seeing you in Winthrop when you come through. Anish came through Harts Pass yesterday! Looked like she was going to beak the record!
Hi Both. I’m Susan McKennon my sister is Mary Barger who is a friend of your Mother’s I believe they worked together. I live in Ashland beautiful but quite smoky. As you probably know we are just off the PCT. if there is anything I can do for you when you come thru please let me know. Food, bed or just a break I’ll be glad to meet you. From your schedule it looks like you be in towards the end of the month. Is this still true? I’m not sure if you have a cell but mine is 541 941-0076. I’m putting my Brother Dave and his wife Jan on this they both have hiked part of this trail and live here in Ashland Take care stay well. Susan
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Ok give us one “classic dad joke”……make it a good one!
I WISH there were words that could give you energy, hope and strength. Thank you for your ongoing e-mails… I think of you guys often, wishing you well and sending you strength. Bruce (Belfair, Wa.)
It’s all downhill now! I saw this today and it made me think of you guys http://www.adventure-journal.com/2013/08/charting-adventure-the-5-second-rule-in-the-backcountry/ Have fun and be safe.
38 miles in a day. I can’t imagine. Even in my youth! Your mom and I are hiking together on Friday. And yakking of course. She is looking forward to the sabbatic and having you guys around for a bit of it too. I hope that you have a nice reunion with Herbert and Irmgarde in Ashland. I love your posts. The thing is that this is something you can think about for a long time. I still remember my adventures in Europe more than thirty years ago (epic Greek bus journey, etc) and smile. I have no desire to do that kind of thing now, but am glad i did it then. I am about to make ratatouille to be dehydrated for our 7 lakes basin trip in early Sept. I think of you guys often all hugs susie
On 8/7/13, From Mexico to Canada with a hint of America
Elena and Gus- Just had lunch with your dad and much of the conversation focused on the two of you. Although I have not posted a reply previously, please know that we read and thoroughly enjoy all of your posts. You both convey your experiences so well through your writing, from the challenges to the humor and the magic. You remain in our thoughts. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience with all of us. Animo y abrazos para los dos!