A Day in the Life of a PCT thru hiker Part Two

April 21, 2016 PCT Day 28: I woke early after a great night’s rest and decided that since I had broken into new territory passing mile 400 yesterday, and since I had a lower mileage day, that today was the day to break some more records, especially since I had the power of the Full Moon working in my favor. Well, I made it on the trail by 8:15am, which is not at all early by many hiker’s standards, but for me it was the earliest I have started since starting the PCT, so I started the day out proud. It’s the little things sometimes.

Just a few miles into the hike, I reached Three Points parking lot were off in the distance I spotted a picnic bench with a cardboard box on it. Since starting the PCT I have never been so keen on empty boxes or things that look like water spigots as I am now. I walked across the parking lot to see what may be in the box and was happy to find it full of Oranges and Apples with a nice note from a Church organization who had left it there for us hikers. I selected a juicy orange and secured it snugly in the side poscket of my pack for later.

As the day wore on and approached 12:00, I started to feel the effects of climbing uphill in the heat, when suddenly there appeared a lovely little spot under some pine trees, overlooking the vast expanse of mountains to the North and East, and I just had to stop and sit there leaning against that tree for a bit. I feverishly ate that orange and it was the most perfect juicy, sweet and sour fruit which melted my discomfort away immediately. I then migrated over to a rock which was perched in the sun and just flat enough to sit cross legged on, and began to meditate. I am trying to meditate every day, but often it does not happen because I am too “busy” trying to make miles or to “tired” to do anything but eat and sleep and set up camp at the end of the day. So, I have found that a mid-day meditation works very well. In this case it was a perfect environment, not too hot or cold or windy or anything, just comfortable. Well, I came out of this meditation about 30 minutes later and got back on the trail in a completely different head space than I had been in before. It was great. I was not thinking about mileage, or where I was going, what was next, just “be-ing” everything that was around me. I often find that in meditation I loose my sense of physical self, or being attached to that, and I am able to stretch myself, my consciousness all the way out to my surrounding environment. In this case, as I had started walking again, I became everything that was in front of me. I thouoght to myself, “I AM that blade of grass”, “I AM that rock”, “I AM that water trickling” and “I AM the dirt and sand”. It was as if I was just using this body here to look out into the world through, but I was not segregated by it, in fact I was just a part of everything. This is what I love about meditating in the wilderness. It allows me to merge so much more with my surroundings- with just some simple breathwork I have triggered another part of my brain to come alive. I continued along at quite a slow pace and let go completely of any attachment to miles for the time being. Soon, I came across a tiny little stream that bisected the trail, and I stopped to check out the water availability, but instead ended up standing still just watching the bees and other insects go about their business and listening to their little sounds of buzzing, the sound of the stream trickling over rocks, and the wind in the distance whipping over old burned trees. Just then, a butterfly swooped in and started flitting around me. I had hoped to see more of these great creatures, for it was a variation of Swallowtail, with a pointed wing tip at the bottom sides and striking design of yellow and black. The butterfly stopped on the ground in front of me long enough to take a picture.

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I started to think of the ancient story of Lao Tzu from China, the famous Taoist Philosopher, and the story he told about a dream he had about a butterfly. He concluded his story by asking whether he was Lao Tzu dreaming that he was a butterfly, or if he was a butterfly dreaming that he was Lao Tzu, and I understood.

I hiked on for the afternoon for another 4 hours and finally arrived at the Mill Creek Fire/Ranger Station at close to 5:00pm after a 6 mile stretch of downhill that was kind of fun because I was able to fly a little faster. I was very hungry by that point and I needed to fill up with near full capacity water, as hikers were informed there would not be any further water near the trail for close to 20 more miles. As I approached the station, it was eerily quiet with the exception of a radio broadcasting a weather report and two-way radio type conversations, like a dispatch, with scratchy sounds at the beginning and ending of each sentence, coming out from the back of the building. The office was closed, and the whole place just had this desserted feel about it, except for the woman’s voice on the radio, wich was a little desolate sounding as well. I snooped around the back of the building to find a wonderful concrete slab with a wooden cover for shade, a picnic table, a hose and water spigot, a trash can, a charging outlet and two BBQ’s. It was like I struck gold! My phone was nearly dead, so I gratefully charged it while airing out my sweaty hot feet, filling up on water and eating and making my plan for the upcoming section of evening hiking. This is the view on that downhill trail.

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Earlier that day, sometime before noon, I had a sneaking suspicion that I was going to break a mileage record that day. I can’t say why, I did not intend to, didn’t really even want to, but I just had a “hunch”. Well, from the Ranger Station, I had a couple of options. I could camp there, but it was terribly windy, and in my opinion it was still too early to camp. I had just eaten a decent snack, which included a Coffee Chocolate Chia Bar, which contined caffeine, do you see where this is going? Well, I had an 800 foot climb right ahead of me and I was going to carry 5 Litres of water, so I fueled up for that, after having just done 19 miles already, thinking I would hike 2-3 more miles and then stop to camp for the night. So, I got back on trail by 5:30pm and steadily, slowly made the climb. I spotted one or maybe two small little tent sites along that first mile, but I was not ready to stop. By the top of that climb I actually felt pretty good. I started scouting around to find some flat ground, which I knew would be sparse, but by reading my topo map it “looked” like there should be something. Well, there may have been, had there not been a TON of the nefarious poisionous “poodle dog bush” in various states of freshness or deadness all over the place.

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This made it double difficult to find a spot to pitch my tent. So, I kept hiking. The sun was getting lower and lower on the horizon and my views were stellar, as I continued along the Western facing ridge of the mountains. I knew I was getting myself into a tight spot, but I felt pretty good and decided I would just hike on. Just after the sun had set, I stopped on a little flat ridge that jutted out and might  have been wide enough to pitch a tent, had there not been a fresh new poodle dog bush sitting right in the middle of the potential tent spot. Bummer. I took off my pack, re-assessd my maps and guidebook notes, put on warm dry clothes, got out my headlamp, and made the decision that I was going night hiking. It was about another 4 miles from that point to what my guidebook described as a “shady camp site in a little ravine, next to a small stream crossing the trail which usually has good flow, at mile 426.0” -so I figured I could at least make it to that spot and have a solid piece of earth to pitch my tent and eat some dinner and have a good night’s rest after a long day. As I was putting on my warm dry clothes and making this decision, I looked East to see the gorgeous full moon rising over the ridgeline, and I felt blessed by her presence and her light. I stood there and reached to my right to the Western horizon, and with my left hand to the Eastern horizon and let the energies of Yin and Yang enter my system through my outstretched arms and fill me up.

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By this time it was about 7:45 and I headed into the night. I would have loved to night hike with only the light of the Full Moon, had it not been the the nasty bush that I had to watch out for. It is just like poison oak if you touch it, it can get your hospitalized. So, I kept my headlamp on and dodged the nasty stuff (hopefully) as much as I could. The trail meandered around the edges of a slope with a giant slope that dropped off to my right, full of burned old dead trees. In the darkness, everything looked a lot creepier. There was a ravine forming after I crossed a small dirt road intersection (where I should have stopped but didn’t), and as I traversed lower along the trail, that ravine got deeper and thus darker, soon looking like a giant abyss. Even if I shined my headlight into it, it was deep and black. I fortunately have the HalfMile phone App, which tells you your exact mile location, and I gratefully used it to help my find mile 426.0. Thankfull too that I had charged my phone earlier, otherwise this would have been impossible. Well, just before mile 426, I saw up ahead a reflective something of some kind, and as I approached more closely, discovered that another hiker had pitched his tent right there in the middle of the trail. It was about 8:30pm or so, and I tried to tiptoe around him, but suddenly a voice came from inside the tent, apologizing for being in the middle of the trail. “No worries” I called out, “you’re fine”, and I continued along, as I was determined at that point to make it to the exact mile 426 to find out if that flat camp spot was going to be there. Believe me, at this point I had my doubts and I had already resolved that I would continue up to a half mile after the spot and if there was no place to camp I would have to back track over a mile to that road I had crossed a while back. So, what do you think I did? Yes, I back tracked, because this is what mile 426 looked like (the next day in the daylight):

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And this is what that ravine looks likewhen it’s not pitch dark:

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So, I had to go back by the guy who was sleeping in the trail and I apologized as I crept back by his nest. I continued back UP that dark creepy ravine with the plethora of poodle dog bush lining the trail, for about 30 minutes back to where the little dirt road intersection was. It was SO much further going back up there than coming down, of course! I finally reached the spot by about 9:30pm, and my upper back, neck and shoulders burned like crazy and I could not get them to stop even after taking off my pack. I have grown accustomed to pitching my tent in the dark, and cooking and eating my dinner the same way. It really doesn’t bother me. So I continued with my usual routine, skipping the “towel bath” and putting on my sleep clothes in the filthy state I was in, unfortunately, but all I was going to do in the morning was just get up and get dirty all over again.

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I don’t like to sleep dirty because it ruins your sleeping bag, and it always feels so much better to go to bed somewhat clean, but not  this night. I cooked myself my delicious vegetarian home made chili and ate it ravenously and sumptuaously with a fresh tortilla, and then passed out. I had hiked 27 miles that day, breaking my record so far of 21 miles, and nearly breaking my record of late hiking, which is still standing at 9:30pm. When I woke up at 6:20am, the next morning, this is where I was:

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And that is me using my umbrella as a wind shiled to heat water for coffee, as it was a windy night. Day number 29 was not going to be a record day of any kind, but I was determined to hike the 19 miles to Acton, where there was a KOA campground. I never thought I would be so excited to get to a KOA, but believe me, I was!

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