Escaping my Comfort Zone

Persistence Creates Toughness

ESCAPE FROM MOJAVE

Last time we met our hero, they were recovering from heat exhaustion in Hiker Town, just outside of Mojave, CA. It was 106F, and it was a real struggle to get food down. The realization had been made that the only way to continue this trail was to get out of the desert.

And they did.

Those who have never done any long distance backpacking may look at thru hiking as a kind of vacation. That’s not too far from the truth, but a vacation is usually just a brief escape from the everyday. When thru hiking, your every day becomes the hike. You get up early, you shove food down your throat, and you hit the trail. You take regular breaks; but not too long, you have miles to make. You have a long lunch, maybe a nap, then you hike more. Finally, when you’re on the brink of exhaustion, you stumble into camp, eat dinner, make your bed, and go to bed to start it all again tomorrow. A ‘nearo’ in town is the closest you get to a weekend.

So, would you believe that you can take a vacation from thru hiking?

Driving all the way from the eastern shore of Texas, Boxes’ mother and sister met us in Hiker Town. They have a condo rented in Mammoth Lakes with room for six, and we’re all invited. I jumped at the chance to escape this hellish landscape. By this point our team had started discussing the possibility of skipping the still overwhelmingly snowy Sierra and continuing from a point farther north. This was our opportunity.

Within a day of getting out of the desert heat I was feeling better. My appetite had started to return and I stopped bouncing around the idea of quitting. Spending a week on a couch watching movies and sleeping in a real bed did wonders for my morale and outlook for the rest of this adventure. We did touristy things too; day hikes and visiting the summit of Mammoth Mountain. There were other hikers in town resupplying, I admired their strength and skill to make it that far into the Sierra Nevada. When I grow up I want to be a badass thru hiker.

Being tourists on Mt. Mammoth, 11,000+ feet!

But eventually all three of us became anxious to get back on the trail; towns are stressful places. We crafted a plan to continue our hike farther north: Boxes family would drop us off in South Lake Tahoe, where a trail angel waited to drive us another few hours north to the small town of Burney. From there we would hike north to Canada, then–weather permitting–we would return south to hike the Sierra in the fall.

 

IT’S ALL UPHILL FROM HERE

We had to wait over the weekend for our resupply package in Burney, so our generous trail angel hosts treated us to local sights: hot springs, lava tunnel caves, waterfalls, and swimming holes. In return we treated them to dinner at the end of the third day, and they dropped us off at the trailhead still tipsy from $5 margaritas. We camped just a quarter mile in, and our adventure resumed in the morning.

Northern California is a beautiful place. It’s so green, and full of mountains and ancient forests. That first morning out of Burney Falls State Park I found myself crying for joy to be in such a beautiful place after my desert nightmare. Shade is never hard to find, and water is in ample supply. For the first time since starting this hike, I found myself in great spirits. I also found myself HUNGRY. Actually hungry! I soon discovered that my food planning from the desert definitely did not translate well to up here, and I didn’t have enough food. By the second day I ate all of my daily rations by lunch, still hungry for more.

Mt. Shasta

But I’m eating! It’s so wonderful to actually want to eat, and to want more. This means I have the energy to hike faster and farther than ever. Much to my dismay, Bones started having trouble with his knee, and Boxes has ankle issues. This is such a strange predicament, to be the one who waits for the team to catch up, and wants to keep going when the others decide it’s time for camp. It’s as if Bones and I swapped roles. Time for some empathy, I suppose.

At the time of writing, I’m currently in Etna, CA. We hitched into town a few days earlier than scheduled so we could do a little something for Bones’ birthday. So far, most of our resupply packages have been lost or turned away, and the town has no cell phone service to call customer support. I’ll reiterate: towns are overwhelmingly stressful places, and I don’t want to be in them longer than I have to be. That is at least until we are done with the trail. My life is on the PCT right now, and everything else is a waste of time.

Though I do admit, it feels good to be typing on an actual keyboard for the first time in almost two months.

I just want to get back on the trail, and stay there.

Ain’t that the truth.

Actual Trudging

So, let’s talk about how much I hate the desert.

I grew up in Michigan, where the winters are characteristically cold and dry, with at least a few feet of snow. The upstairs of my childhood home had no heat, no insulation, and old drafty windows. Naturally that’s where my bedroom was, and sometimes I woke up seeing my breath, scratching ice off my windows to see outside. I wasn’t miserable though; I’m a cold loving creature.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy summers, especially dry heat! But I cannot handle the deserts of the American Southwest, especially in late June and on the PCT.

Yesterday it was 98F by 8am. I was trudging down the trail to Hiker Town with just a few liters of water left. Once again it had been hard to put food down for the last few days, I blame the heat and the swarms of black flies the day before. In order to eat anything I had to hide under my tent’s footprint! In 100+ heat! So, I was so hungry I felt sick, yay! I nibbled here and there to keep it at bay and otherwise filled my stomach with water. At least I wouldn’t be dehydrated too (although, since then, I’ve learned that the nausea associated with hunger could be linked to my current high-carb diet. A ‘Keto Flu’. I will be incorporating more fats into my diet from now on).

Hiding from the flies.

By 9am it was over 100F and shade was becoming less common on this stretch of trail. My sunbrella provided some relief, except when the heat reflected off the ground and turned it into a human convection oven. Every chance I got I would stop under a shady tree, throw down my pack, and sit on my butt until my head stopped swimming. At one point Trip passed my while I rested. When did I pass him? I thought I was at the rear of our crew. Welp. Now I really am. Crap. The longer I take to get out of here the hotter it’s going to be. I’m only 4 miles away! FOUR MILES IS NOTHING!

Get up, get going. Sweat a bunch, waver a little, sigh with relief in a brief gust of wind.

My favorite thing to do when there’s a breeze is to arch my back and create a passage between myself and my pack, so when I straighten up I’m gifted with a cold shock of chilled sweat on my spine.

10am, the trail joins a dirt road. Half a mile up is hiker town. I stare the road down; it’s very straight and very flat with no shade. Awesome. To my right is a field with what looks a lot like a dead heifer rotting in the grass. I know the feeling, man.

Honestly, the road walk wasn’t very long. I measure the passage of time with how many songs I can get through. I don’t think I even got through two songs, but it felt like an hour.

How do people live out here? It feels like the life is being sucked out of me with a hair dryer. Do people enjoy this?

Masochists.

I stumble to the highway and see Hiker Town across the way. There’s a big American flag and I see a row of ‘Wild West’ buildings behind the fence. Post Office… General Store… Doctors Office… I briefly consider how neat it would be if they were actual businesses to help us hikers out. It is in fact a sort of Hostel, and each building is a room one could rent.

There’s a grassy area in the center of the lot with what appears to be a gaggle of hikers.

I also see shade.

I stumble in. Someone welcomes me, and my crew begins clapping for me.

Hooray.

I didn’t die.

But I think I’d rather be dead.

I collapse into a chair under a tree as someone says ‘Someone else was sitting there… oh fuck it,’ and I gasp for breath. I’m dizzy. I want to throw up. The shade is nice but I am so hot. Time passes while I rest and sip my warm water. The crew goes to the cafe, and one of the hosts asks if I would like some watermelon. “I would love some watermelon,” I blurt out, sitting up straight. Soon enough I have a gigantic plate of melon on my lap and in my mouth. He was right, I feel better quickly, although a little uncomfortable from suddenly having something in my stomach. I feel well enough to take a cold shower and join the crew at the cafe.

The crew!

Heat exhaustion is not a fun thing to experience. I only realize this is what was happening later on; thanks Google. The question is, how do I prevent it in the future? I cooled myself as often as I could, and was drinking lots of water and electrolytes…

The answer is easy.

Get the fuck out of the desert.

And it just so happens that I am in the coming hours.

Build a Bridge and Get Over It

Here I am, in Palmdale. Yet again I’ve caught something and I’m down for the count. At least this time I knew what I came down with (a cold), and I know how to treat it (rest). But this cold did something no cold has ever done to me: clogged my ear and gave me vertigo. How the… how the heck can I hike with this?

Why the hell does this keep happening?

Is it me?

Am I doing this to myself?

Am I… a wuss?

Maybe. Maybe I am. Maybe I’m just trying to get attention, like the youngest child/only daughter I am. “Pity me! I’m miserable! Give me your love and attention!”

…didn’t I come out here to be miserable though? To test my mettle? To push my limits?

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered quitting at this point. Yeah there’d be a lot of consequences for that, and a lot of hard shit to process while I get back on my feet, but the weak part of me seems okay with that.

Anything is better than this misery, right?

Wrong.

A divorce is worse than this misery. Being alone is worse. Knowing that I dragged my ass out here for nothing is worse, and I forced Evan into this.  

The consequences of quitting are worse than the consequences of continuing.

I need to keep going and I need to be tougher on myself. Yes, it’s okay to be gentle and take it easy, but not when you’re trying to walk from Mexico to Canada. You just can’t. It won’t happen.

I’ve walked 400+ miles so far, but it took 6 weeks, and I can do so much better than that. I’m not pushing myself enough. I’m taking the easy way out each time. I’ll take a short day over a long day whenever I can because ‘I don’t know how I’ll feel’. Bullshit, Weasel, that’s the point. When you get there you’ll find out how you feel, and then you’ll deal with it. You’ll never do 20+ mile days if you never try to.

I need to stop hitting that snooze button and get the fuck out of my sleeping bag and tackle the day with gusto. Siestas are still good, but not super long ones. Then get the rest of the day out of the way. I need to eat my food that I take, whether I like it or not. Nothing has made me ACTUALLY vomit yet, so just eat it. Jfc.

Grow up, Weasel. Be the badass you’re meant to be.

Stop making excuses.

It’s always something isn’t it?

Day 21

Believe it or not, it’s actually difficult for me to write romantically about things I’m currently experiencing. This is probably why for the most part I’ve only written about my pain and frustrations on the trail. I haven’t had a lot of time or mental space to have romantic thoughts about the trail; pain tends to take that luxury away from you. Some parts of the day are like a vacation, sitting in the shade eating a snack, watching the colors of the hills shift as the day rolls on. Other parts are punishment, like marching across the desert under the whip of your slave master. Sometimes I make myself deals. If I can make it to X mile today, I get a really good dinner. If I don’t, I have to eat the food I’ve been leaving at the bottom of my back as if I don’t have it.

Yesterday we hiked 17 miles, from mile 201 to 218. Add in a few side trips and we probably did more like 18 miles. This seems to be our limit right now. But hey, I’ve hiked over 200 miles! I should be pretty proud, right?

Nope, that’s another luxury that pain strips from you. I feel nothing but misery. Around mile 12 yesterday, in the hot desert sun, I had an asthma attack. Not a huge one, I actually managed to get my breathing under control by the time I found my inhaler. But it really set me back for the rest of the day.

Ever since our series of zero days in Idyllwild I’ve been easily exhausted. Before I could hike uphill no problem, only stopping to catch my breath occasionally. Now I get winded just going a few feet uphill, even without my pack! Briefly I thought that maybe it was from my Nalgene and drinking hose, which I discovered to be growing mold (I’ve since discarded the tube and sent the Nalgene home), but now I think it’s simple a food issue.

Haven’t been eating much because I haven’t been hungry. But the truth is, I haven’t been eating because I don’t like my food. I can only force myself to eat so much before I literally gag on it. I was trying to eat a snickerdoodle last night on our way into Whitewater Preserve and it became gummy and glue-like on my mouth. I couldn’t swallow it. Chronic dry mouth aside, the sweets and the breads are not doing it for me. I had to stop myself from eating all my Chex-Mix in one day and when I came across some Trail Magic with baggies of Cheezits, I ended up swapping some of my cookies for extra bags. I want the salty and the savory stuff!! Just insert it into my veins!!!!

I managed to yogi some couscous (Moroccan flavor!), ramen, and Idahoans from another hiker that was carrying too much. Hopefully these get me through the next three days to Big Bear (by the way, turns out the bacon in Idahoans are vegetarian friendly. Score!)

The next town has a proper grocery store. I hope to find lots of food I can actually keep down and pack extra.

I guess you could say my hiker hunger has hit, but it’s very picky.

And that pickiness could be deadly.

Two days later, and I’m not in much better shape. My exhaustion has turned into nausea, which of course means I eat even less! Everything I eat tastes and feels disgusting, and my stomach fights it. I try filling my stomach with water, and it dislikes that even more. I haven’t thrown up yet, but man do I get close. I can’t even force myself to just get it over with!!

Britney thinks I may be experiencing some kind of dietary deficiency, not so much of a vitamin or mineral, but the shock of my system not getting something that I ate regularly in the front country. The only foods I could think of are fresh vegetables. I ate those close to every day. I seem to be craving cheese and tomato lately. I can easily inhale salty ramen as per the usual (although I don’t use the packets, msg gives me migraines as far as I can tell). So what’s the deal?

I’ve been concern that maybe I picked up norovirus, which is apparently rampant on this part of the trail… but I haven’t had all the symptoms of that. Altitude sickness? 

I think I’ve been running a fever as well, since I’m sweating myself out of my sleeping bag every night, but still freezing.

Over three days I only managed to hike 27 miles. We’ve been delayed and the extra time has eaten into our food stores. So now not only am I unable to eat, but Evan and Britney are running low on their own food. Not good. This was only supposed to be a 6 day hike from Idyllwild to Big Bear, and that was cutting it close.

Friends are good.

On day 5 of Idyllwild, still 20 miles out from town, we made the executive decision for me to jump off trail and into town while Evan and Britney hike the rest of the way.

Let’s be real. I’m slowing them down. They can go so much faster than I’m letting them.

So I managed to get a lift from a day hiker named Larry. Evan collected my food and we parted ways. While he’ll be with Britney, it’ll be his first time alone on the trail.

He’ll be alright.

Meanwhile, I’ll be resting in town, eating as much food as I can keep down, and figuring out what I CAN stomach on the trail.

Pizza kept down pretty good.

If only there were a cat rental service. Between you and me, I think I’m deficient of vitamin C.

Vitamin cat :’c

Update: After 4 days in town and a visit to the clinic, the docs think I’ve been dehydrated and/or dealing with something viral. If I’m not feeling better but Friday it’s recommended that I return for blood work. It’s Thursday night now, and I’m hoping that’s not the case. Hotels are expensive, town food is expensive, and I’m bored. I feel almost better again, but I think we’re going to stay here one more day just to be sure.

I checked my credit card statement the other day. I shouldn’t have.

On the bright side, Big Bear Lake is a nice town and tbh if we dropped our packs and got jobs here I don’t think I’d be upset.

But I’m joking, of course.

Canada awaits.

 

Stomp The Stress Away

Two Weeks, Over 100 miles in. Multiple sunburns, poison Oak, several heat rashes, and more bug bites than you can shake a stick at. One blister, a lightly throbbing big toe, and the hips of an eighty-year-old construction worker, but still my body will toughen up as I go. And after countless conversations with my fellow backpackers I seem to be one of the lucky ones even! I have no major complaints honestly, most of these problems will slowly dwindle away, and (here’s hoping) I will be in peak physical condition. The best in my life!

Mentally, however…

Stress and anxiety seem to be my biggest hurdles, having a couple melt-downs and teary-eyed nights. I miss my cats. I miss my friends. Hell, I miss my job even. But still, luckier than most, I can get these back at the end. I just need to hold strong and take it one step at a time. I didn’t even come close to preparing myself emotionally for life on the trail. I thought it would be simple. Walk a bit, sleep, rinse-dry-repeat. F*****g hell, was I wrong…

BUT!

In all, I am content. I find amusement in nature. Goofy looking trees with knots for eyes, a rather phallic-looking stick, simple practical jokes, and very weird conversations (with even weirder people). You meet some interesting characters on the PCT, and by characters I mean actual comedic-road-trip-movie style people. Some funny, some that scare the crap out of me. Hippies and hobos, gun-toting cowboys with a dark sense of humor, large mountain men who look for rattlesnakes for fun. Honestly I feel like I fit in. FINALLY people who don’t judge me (or if they do, they keep it to themselves). I love making people laugh, it makes me happy to see others happy. Quite frankly, I’m done with city life after this, I just wan’t to be free. Right now I am free, but only for another 2,000 miles or so…

Freedom is a state of mind to me. I’m in a good place right now. Mental breakdowns aside, I’m happy. The trail provides.

 

 

See you in another two weeks or so…

-Bones

But It Builds Character, Right?

Woah, dude.

I don’t even know what day of the hike this is. Let’s see, if we started on April 30th and today is May 11th… this is day 12. Almost 2 weeks on the trail, with only one zero day. We’ve hiked about 127 miles so far.

And my feet are screaming at me.

I have very few blisters, maybe three. They’re small and inconsequential. Those aren’t the problem. The problem is I don’t know what is wrong with my feet. I feel as if a hammer has been swung at them; from my toes to my ankle. Walking is the worst, and walking is the name of this game called Thru-Hiking.

They’ve been hurting like this for a few days, and it hurts more than my knee. I’m worried that I may have hairline fractures in my metatarsal bones (the bones between your toes and your ankles). They’re common stress fractures for thru hikers that carry packs heavier than their feet can handle. But I’m staying positive and hoping I just inflamed the tendons in my feet.

Currently we’re at a trail angel’s place in the middle of bum fucked Egypt, somebody called Mike (although Mike ain’t here). We think we’re going to take a zero tomorrow and see what happens. Maybe if I rest my feet for a day they’ll get better. That’s all we can hope for.

Oh yeah, totally legit.

Oh, and we walked through a fucking mess of poison oak and ivy earlier today, and for a while I thought I was surrounded by poodle dog bush. It was not a good day.

But.

But.

I still hiked fourteen miles today.

Not bad for some fucked up feet.

As long as I didn’t fuck them up more with those fourteen miles.

 

Day 13

If I had to pick any place for a cheap zero day, it would be this place. I spent at least 75% of my time in a cushioned couch swing, 10% napping, and the other 15% eating homemade veggie pizza.

 

A lot of folks showed up with similar injuries, and I spoke to someone who recently switched from the shoes I’m currently wearing. They said something about a rock bruise on the ball of their foot and the potential for bone breakage. They had switched to Altra Lone Peaks (I’m wearing the lesser grade Altra Superiors) and their feet had improved in just a day or so.

That’s it. I give in. My stubbornness can only go so far. Someone mentioned seeing an older pair of Lone Peaks in the hiker box, and I went to find them.

I don’t consider myself a lucky person, most of my circumstances are through hard work and good planning. But those Lone Peaks in the hiker box? They weren’t as old or worn down as I thought, and they were a men’s size 10.5. A perfect fit for my women’s size 10. They fit like they’re brand new and I instantly felt the difference on the top of my feet.

It’s now morning of the 14th day… 2 weeks on the trail… my feet aren’t perfect, but they feel so much better than they did. I’m optimistic for the hike out of here and into Idylwild.

My next challenge is figuring out my back pain, and I think I’m willing to switch out to a different pack at this point.

 

Day 17

The Lone Peaks gave me blisters.

I just can’t win. Not only are my extender tendons hurting on both feet, but now I have a big ol’ blister by my big toe on both feet, and two on both heels. Blarg. I think my feet are too short for them, so my toes aren’t actually in the box. Also, they’re thick and my feet quickly turn into Hot Pockets. I’m back to wearing my Superiors again for the time being.

We’re in Idyllwild now, and have been for two and a half days. We overspent and got three nights in a lovely lodge (Silver Pines!) with Britney so we can all recover. Evan’s hips are hurting, Britney has hella blisters and knee issues, and then there’s me. Two days into our recovery and I’m still walking like my friends mother. Oh, and my back still hurts. It felt good yesterday, what gives??

At the time of writing I’m sitting in a little laundromat washing my clothes for the first time since starting the trail. They’ve been rinsed in streams and bathtubs a few times but this is their first real wash. I’m excited to have a blue fleece again, not a gray one. They let us borrow clothes so we could wash *all* of them. In the extra clothes bin, I actually found an outfit that resembles my normal ‘front-country’ look. I feel like a proper gender-queer POS again instead of a femme hiker. That’s a good feeling.

 

When your socks have better posture than yourself, it’s time to do laundry.

Also, taking a shower tonight won’t be pointless because I won’t be putting on filthy clothing.

Never underestimate the sliminess of polyester saturated with old sweat.

Let’s see… after this I’m probably going to hit up the local gear shop for new shoes. I’ll pay money this time!! It is imperative that I get this figured out. I’ve got KT tape on both feet/ankles to try and help speed my recovery, because I know that even perfect shoes won’t be much good if I’m injured still.

And then we intend to hit up the library to do some real blogging and crap, and then I need to find some postcards to mail. All else fails I’ll make some out of watercolor paper (this town has an art supply store!! GAAASP), or out of poptart boxes.

The plan tomorrow is to hike out I guess, maybe climb Mt. San Jacinto. We went to the movies last night and for just two and a half hours I forgot I was supposed to be thru hiking. Talk about immersive experiences. I’m struggling with my decision lately. Why did I do this? Why am I spending so much money? To destroy my body? What happened to that craving for adventure? I feel so weak to be hesitant to continue just because I hurt.

This is why trail towns are black holes. A vortex. You feel so good here, to be vacationing on your vacation, and you don’t want to go back to the pain.

But you have to.

Otherwise you’re just a bum.

Resupply: Snackage

 

Day 17, part II

I tried on five different kinds of shoes. If I could tip the gals at Nomad Ventures, I would have. I’m sure they put up with problem hikers like me all the time, but I could really see it in one of the clerk’s face every time I said a pair of shoes wasn’t working for me. I tried three different types of Altras–men’s and women’s–and two different La Sportivas. In the end I ended up with the latter, because amazingly they didn’t rub against my already throbbing blisters (seriously, I can’t even feel them now), and they immediately relieved some of my tendon pain. Score!

…and then I decided I should get a new pack as well.

Lets be honest, most problems hikers have with their body (feet, ankles, knees, back, whatever) boil down to one thing: their packs and their pack weight. My Deuter ACT Lite 60+10, while honestly very comfortable, was not doing me any favors at this point. I have to wear it so high up on my waist to prevent shoulder pain that I feel my rib cage being constricted. It gives me so much possible volume to fill that I literally cram it full. When I left Warner Springs last week, it weighed 43 pounds. FORTY-THREE POUNDS!!! The upper limit of a backpacker’s pack weight should be no more than 15% of their body weight at the most. Last I checked I’m 165, so I shouldn’t be carrying more than 25.

My base weight out of Campo was around 19. That doesn’t leave much room for food and water.

So, I threw all caution to the wind and picked out a ULA Circuit. The pack itself weighs 2.5lbs less than my Deuter. It fits better, it fits higher, and the frame will keep me from arching my back in a way that has caused my lumbar issues. I couldn’t believe the difference when I loaded it with all my existing gear and threw it on my back. It’s like I’m wearing nothing! Granted, I wasn’t carrying full water (maybe somewhere around half capacity), but damn. 

I dropped nearly $300 on gear today, and walked out with just four items. The La Sportivas, the ULA pack, a new spork for Evan (the dummy was playing spoons with it and broke it in half. Don’t let him try and convince you that he was washing it. HE LIES), and a chocolate chip-peanut butter-banana Clif bar (the only flavor I accept now. All other bars are inferior and disgusting).

Sure. That’s a ton of money on two things. But these are big things. I honestly believe that these new items will make the difference between me getting to Canada or not. Hell, even just the next 100 miles.

I’m incredibly optimistic for the rest of this hike now, and no longer look at our hike out tomorrow with trepidation.

Yeaaaah boooii

Don’t forget to check out my Patreon, where you can support Evan and I financially, and have access to my sketchbook and comics as I hike!

 

Making Friends

Day 3

I awoke with a sore throat. What the heck? Maybe it was all the huffing and puffing I did up the hill yesterday, or maybe it was the mountain air. Maybe it was the fact that I finally spent more than 3 minutes talking to other people? The night before was full of jokes and laughing, and was a pretty good time.

We hiked out of Mt. Laguna, through sand and rock. The morning was already warm, and my legs were itchy with horsefly bites. Sand had gotten onto my thighs where I had smeared anti-chaff cream… which kind of defeated the purpose in the end. Despite the heat, I wore my wool leggings to prevent chaff.

But I was having a good morning. We hiked a bit, stopped at a cold steam under a bridge, hiked a bit more, then spent a few hours at another cold stream where I bathed and washed all my clothes. Apparently washing your clothes in streams is frowned upon… but I didn’t use soap, so… eh? While we were here Evan figured out he had a poison oak rash on his hands and chest, shit! Laundry day for him too then.

By this point we had been hiking with Brittany for two days now. She’s pretty cool, and I feel so much better about hiking with someone ‘on my level’. Poor girl was carrying waaay too much stuff though (fell victim to her mother’s worries).

The hike after lunch was brutal. My shoulder was screaming at me, Evan’s hands burned, and Brittany pulled a muscle. Could have been worse though. We took a break and another thru hiker came hobbling down the wrong way and said she misplaced her trekking poles, got lost, ran out of water, and her knees were about to give out on her. It’s all about perspective.

(We met up with her later and she had gotten her shit together and was on the right track again).

The views were great in this section, but we were all beyond tired. We stumbled into a full camp just before darkness settled in. There were so many bugs here… and spiders… uhg. What a night. I slept well, at least.

 

Day 4

It’s strange how you can wake up early but still not get your poop in a group with time to leave camp early. Breaking camp takes way more time than you expect, upwards of an hour sometimes. Even longer if you have to filter water and still have a god damned Sawyer Mini! After trying Brittany’s larger Sawyer Squeeze we decided to just upgrade. We’re so stubborn, but it literally just took 3 days to give up on the slower filter.

Thankfully, we were starting out that morning just 10 miles to Mt. Laguna where a gear shop waited for us.

But, those 10 miles were all uphill, over 1000 feet of elevation change.

In contrast to the other day, however, I breezed up those hills. I had to stop occasionally to cool down or catch my breath of course, but my chest never felt tight and I never felt like I was going to pass out.

Until, of course, I nearly stepped on a rattlesnake.

THEN I struggled to breath, THEN my chest felt tight, and then I immediately broke into sobs when I was far enough away from it and it slithered out of sight. I’ve never been so scared in my life. Thankfully Evan had been right behind me.

We were less than a half mile from the stream we planned to break at, and I cajoled Brittany out of a pack of ramen for my lunch. I needed comfort food after that panic attack, and it did the job.

The afternoon hike was filled with noise as I clicked my sticks together to scare snakes away. The 600 foot climb up was brutal, but the 2 mile level alpine forest walk into Laguna was dreamy. If you don’t mind 6 flies in your face at all times, no matter how much you swat.

In town we were treated to cold sodas and a hiker box full of food other backpackers didn’t want but we very much did. We spent WAY too much money on a new filter, some running shorts for me, and some other stuff I can’t remember. My memory doesn’t work that well lately. Then we bought some overpriced foods at the store ($0.75 for a pack of ramen!!), went back to the campground, and had a really good time with all the folks there.

I really like the people on this trail, especially the people my age. I’ve never connected well with my peers, always gravitating towards the older folks or the younger, but finally I’ve met *my* people! Jeanie, Ryan(?), Jason, Sara, all of em. All good people ✌️

The good people in question.

We sipped some vodka, ate more ramen, burnt my tongue impatiently eating my queso noodles and rolled into bed.

No shame, tonight was the first time I had brushed my teeth so far.

Meh *shrugs*

 

Day 5

I’m still in Mt Laguna we’re taking a nearo* day and only hiking a few miles after lunch. We got breakfast and coffee (!!) at the Pine House Cafe, resupplied properly, did some sink laundry, and dumped some gear in the hiker box that we decided we didn’t want anymore. No more sleeping clothes for me, it’s just a bunch of stupid extra weight. Saved a pound there, and every one counts.

Our next town will be Julian in 2 days, hopefully before this storm hits. Heavy rain, and in the higher elevations they expect snow. Wee!

(*A ‘nearo’ day is when you hike a few miles for the day. A ‘zero’ day is when you take a rest day.)

The Hour of The Lizard

Day one.

 

My alarm startled me awake and I frantically turned it off so not to wake Sleuth or anyone else.

5am.

Scout and Frodo have a very strict schedule for us hikers, and I had 30 minutes to get my shit together and be ready for breakfast. Except when I finally got down there to eat, I didn’t have an appetite. I stared at my plate of oats, fruit, and muffin and felt more like throwing up than eating. Where did that ferocious need to consume that I had yesterday go? I didn’t even want the coffee (in that defense it wasn’t very good coffee. Sorry guys I’m spoiled by Portland java). I guiltily dropped half of my plate into the compost bin and slipped outside.

We piled our packs into cars, all 20 of us. It’s an hour and a half drive from University City to Campo down a small highway surrounded by round, golden hills. The sun was bright on the horizon and I felt sick.

Perhaps it was the silence and tension of the ride, as when we finally arrived and made our way up the hill to the terminus, those ill feelings were gone and I wanting nothing more than to walk. If you do nothing with your body, your mind picks up the slack. If you’re doing something with your body, you’ve got no time or energy to bother with thoughts.

We got up there, we took pictures, I almost fell off, and we got going. It’s time I start my thru hike.

The sun was still rising (it was 7am), and our shadows were long. After maybe 2 miles I had to stop and strip my base layers off. I was already soaked with sweat. Not much longer after that, I had to use my inhaler for the first time.

We found a small stream and rested for a bit, watering up. But soon after we left the stream I started to feel sick. My heart pounds in my head and I felt dizzy and like I needed to throw up. Seriously? Was the first stream everyone hit contaminated??

 

I rested behind a boulder. The sun was high and it was scorching. I checked the time. 10am. What the fuck. A) it’s early in the day and I’m already melting, how will I do when it’s high noon? B) it’s SPRING. I’ll be in the Mojave in less than 30 days.

I’m going to die.

I stayed behind that boulder until my head stopped pounding, but within a few yards I was miserable again.

Evan was not far ahead, waiting for me under another boulder. I rested here for another 10 minutes, applying a cold rag to my neck.

We walked a bit more, and when speaking to another hiker, she said that the hottest part of the day is 11 to 2. Hot damn. Screw this, we’re going to SIESTA.

It was a shitty siesta: our tarp wasn’t long enough to block the sun, and we were baking. Evan went up the trail to check out a water source and came back quickly to sweep me away to a watery heaven. Huge boulders lined a fast flowing stream of cold water. HALLELUJAH. Good timing too, because I was struck with a migraine.

 

5 hours and 7 different hikers later, we moved on. The headache pills I took gave me a big boost of caffeine and I flew down the rest of the trail. Our aim was Hauser Mountain to camp for the night. It was just 5 miles and we got there swiftly. Dinner was great; red curry lentils with EXTRA hot sauce.

The air was cool.

Until the huge fucking ants started crawling out of the rocks and biting us.

I don’t think we’ll ever set up our tent that fast again.

And although I had originally insisted on staying up to see the stars, I fell asleep immediately.

I know I said my sleeping pad wasn’t that comfortable, but let’s be real.

I slept like a god damned baby.

 

Day 2

 

We must have slept in, because the sun was already up by the time I opened my eyes. I checked the time, 7:30. Uhg. We broke camp, chatting with our camp mates (Frog, Brittany, Mike, and Tiffany), and started on our way. Joe arrived late last night and had to camp on the trail, but at least it seemed wide enough here.

Evan commented that sometime in the night he heard a group of people running down the trail speaking in hushed voices. Immigrants, probably.

I was in a mood. Aren’t I always in a mood? I’m just not a morning person, apparently, but maybe I’m just an asshole all the time.

9 o’clock is now deemed the hour of the lizard, as this is when all the little lizards come out to find their breakfast before the snakes find theirs. While road walking before Hauser Creek, Evan spotted a Diamondback in the grass. He always seems to spot the wildlife when I seem to be oblivious and step over them. I took some photos and we inched around it. For the next mile to the creek, we moved slowly and warily around rocks.

Snek.

 

The creek was great, if you don’t mind tons of flies and mosquitoes. We set up a small day camp to wait out the heat, and it took Evan over an hour to figure out he had bug spray. He offered some to Brittany and she snatched it from him and applied liberally with a sigh of relief. 

Despite the relaxing atmosphere, we began to bicker. I’m micromanaging things again–a known issue–and I denied like always. I’ve got to figure my shit out.

We hiked out of the creek, probably a little too early. It was hot hot hot, and steep steep steep. Before we left I used my inhaler, to help me power through it, but I don’t think it worked. My chest was tight, and I was gasping for air. The heat baked my skin. Everyone around me seemed fine and I felt defective.

Thinking about it, I figure I wasn’t actually having an asthma attack, which are described as the inflammation of the airways and the inability to exhale. I could inhale and exhale just fine, my chest was just so tight I couldn’t get it in. My heart was racing and pounding real hard. The conclusion I’m coming to is that I probably have a weak heart. Dammit. I was supposed to get this all figured out before we started. Hopefully as the rest of my body gets stronger, my heart won’t have to work so hard

Until then, I’ll be doing my uphill climbs VERY slowly, as in hike 30 steps, catch my breath, hike another 30, catch my breath. I did this for the rest of the mountain and I didn’t have another attack. Seems to work for me.

Soon enough we were at the Lake Mirena campground, and pigging out on veggie burgers, fries, and onion rings. I bought an apple juice and I must have screwed the cap on badly because I set the bag down for a second and suddenly it was sitting in a puddle. Dammit.

We forgot our headlamps when we went to the Deli, so we wandered back in the light of the crescent moon.

I did not quite sleep like a baby that night, courtesy of some chatty coyotes, turkeys, and hound dogs, but I slept well nonetheless.

 

Bored and Nervous to Tears

Although it technically stretched over three days, the train and bus trip blurs into one cohesive segment of time. I never actually ‘slept’, I simply lost consciousness for a bit. It was long, it was exhausting, it was boring.

The views were captivating, however.

At the very least, Evan and I eventually opened up and started talking to others. And by others I mean just one person, who very much looked like they were headed for the Southern Terminus as well. Their name was East, and within a few minutes of some awkward hellos they offered my starving face a vegan BBQ sandwich. I may have been a little excited and forced a hug on them. My bad. I must remember that not everyone is a hugger and most people are too polite to say no. Ask first, hug later.

Some thirty hours later, as well as too much money spent on train food (I regret this terrible bottle of wine so much), we arrived in San Diego around midnight and were whisked away by an amazing trail angel named Betty. She gave us a bed, a shower, vegan pancakes and sausage, and a ride to our hosts house in the morning.

Over the course of our trip, Evan’s nausea had evolved into a dizziness, the chills, and a high fever. Well shit. It didn’t improve by the time we woke up at Betty’s gorgeous house (we listened to the waves of the Pacific all night).

Seriously though. Look at that view!

We were driven to our second and main host: Scout and Frodo’s. These two are the trail angels to end all trail angels, and I don’t know how I can ever repay their kindness. We arrived and instead of setting up camp in their backyard in big party tents, we were placed in a bedroom where it was requested Evan stay for the day just in case he was contagious.

While he rested, I toured the neighborhood and got our errands out of the way. I picked up our munchies for the first few days of the trail, mailed half of current food to Warner Springs (so we don’t have to carry it all the way there!), all while allowing myself to enjoy the beautiful San Diego weather. I’ve always said that I sod never move someplace hot like the American Southwest, but… damn. It is so lovely here. It’s perfect.

That evening we were swept off to Adventure 16, a gear shop hosting the premier showing of the Class of 2016 PCT video. Let me say, I was honestly just expecting a few people hanging out and a video on a projector. I did not expect packed room with probably a hundred outdoor enthusiasts, as well as several members of the PCTA board. It was an inspiring evening, and while I knew there were tons of people who loved the trail, I’ve never seen them all in one place. This was a proper send off for this year’s class of hikers; filled with love, passion, and respect.

But tomorrow is our big day! Or at least I thought it was.

Evan’s condition had not improved as much as we would have liked, so Frodo generously allowed us a second day in her home.

Nerves and anxiety are terrifying things, and they can take control of your mind and your body. Take care of yourselves, folks.

I spent the following day mingling and trying to get out of my comfort zone. I’m trying to me friends, dammit!!

The view from Frodo’s. So many flowers!!

Anyways, long story short, we start tomorrow! No matter what, we’re putting our feet on that trail. I’m still not nervous, and I still don’t understand why. Am I repressing it to better support others? Did I get it out of the way a while back? Have I been ingrained with the ‘Fake it until you Make it’ mentality?

Who knows. I guess I’ll find out soon enough when I’m really smacked in the face with my new reality.

P. S: I’m currently locked out of my Patreon account and I’m trying to get back in. So if you’re a patron, I am SO SORRY that I’m not posting! I’ll get this fixed!

And if you want to receive updates via email whenever Evan or I post, look for the box at the bottom of this page (or on the sidebar to the right)!

Some more photos:

I *am* making comics! Don’t worry.
I’m bummed that I can’t keep this.
Look! At! How! Cheap! Corn! Is! In APRIL!
Local flora appreciation.
Do not upset the inky gods.