Wednesday, May 4th, “May The 4th Be With You” day, you know, from Star Wars…..I was the first of our group up and out of my tent. I went immediately to retrieve our food bags from up in the tree so I could make coffee. Shortly, Camel Back was up and out, so we sat on our sleeping mats on the little hill above all the sleeping hikers and drank coffee and hot cocoa discussing the strategy for the day. I watched as other hikers emerged from their various states of slumber and noted how we are all so different in our little camp routines. Some hikers are up and on trail in 20 minutes, others pack up their gear and then eat breakfast, some make coffee, some don’t, some cook oatmeal, others eat a cold meal, and then there’s MP3, whom we have to wake when we are leaving camp and he gets up and going on his own time and eventually catches up.
Today we were to enter a waterless stretch of 19 miles, but a few of us planned to go on after that for a total of 26 miles to the next water source, for afer that we would then have a 43 mile waterless stretch. If you calculate correctly in places like this, you can strategize to carry less water by only camping one night instead of two, but it means hiking further both days. This helps because of cooking meals, so one fewer dinner and one fewer breakfast means about 1.5 to 2 litres less water at least. Plus, if you camp at a water source, you can hydrate while you are there and before you get back on trail, so that helps you to carry less water too. So, leaving Golden Oak Springs on Wednesday morning, I carried about 4 litres for the day, knowing I had enough to at least make it 19 miles to Robin Bird Spring, where there would be more water. We all got back on trail at various times, myself at about 8:00am, with my mind set for a long haul kind of day, with more than 4,300 feet cumulative climbing. As we were up around 5,500 feet in elevation, we had re-entered a forest setting where fresh green grasses lined the hillsides on the edges of the trail marking a perfect 12″ wide line to easily follow in a dreamy state. I LOVE being in the trees, especially conifer forests. Here at this elevation, there were many Oaks and a few conifers.
Along the trail, Wildfire and I ran into Arrow (Randy) who is always such a joy to see. He gives great hugs, is always smiling, and he smells good! Yes, he smells like a certain herbal-vanilla scent, like a candle, and believe me, this is SO refreshing compared to other hiker smells!
The three of us continued on trail together and soon we crossed paths with a lovely and gargantuanJeffery Pine. I have a habit of hugging and kissing trees, especially large conifers, so I immediately gravitated to this particular tree and widened my arms and went in for a bug tree hug. Wildfire and Arrow joined me and we all took turns hugging this tree together, clasping our hands too. To stand at the base of a 200 foot tall and 15 foot around pine tree that smells of incense and vanilla and feel the energy of rootedness and tallness, reaching both deep into the ground and up into the sky is a very powerful feeling. I will often stop and hold my body close to a tree like this and just breathe in the energy. It is grounding, strengthening, healing and it helps to remind me of the passage of time, how this giant being started with the smallest seed. I reflected on how many hikers may have walked under the watchful eyes of this particular tree, and feel like the tree appreciates our tender touch, and I appreciate the tree’s protection and strong energy.
I have a spirit guide, who is a male gender old soul, who watches over me, and who is like a spirit brother. He is dark skinned, has long dark hair, and he is young like me, maybe even younger. He was once living on this Earth in human form, but now he lives in the spirit world. He is always with me, and he misses the Earth, especially, he misses the trees. He provokes me on my adventures and sometimes I am aware that he pushes me to go places and do things. In particular, he loves to touch trees and through my touch, he can feel the soul of the forest. I have long loved to lay my hands on trees and feel their energy, proably for more than 20 years I have done this, but it was only recently that I learned of the connection of doing this, with my male spirit guide, through a reading I had done by a friend, colleague, patient of mine who is amazing, and whom I hope reads this sometime :)… So, whenever I feel down, tired, sad, weak or maybe just drawn strongly to a particular tree, I never pass it by, I always take the time to make the connection.
Parting ways with this great tree, Wildfire, Arrow and I meandered along the beautiful winding trail, mostly flat or undulating and crossing from ridge to ridge over low saddles. To the East overlooking the great desert basin of the Northern section of the Mojave and what I know now to be Ridgecrest, my appreciation for where we were going expanded. Thousands of feet below, it was stark, hot, dry desert dotted with windfarms.
I had gotten behind after a little while, as I always do, because I love to stop and take pictures. Rounding a corner, I traversed from the golden glowing grasses blowing in the wind of an Eastern facing slope to the lush spring green grasses of a Northern facing slope. Pulling out my camera to capture that moment, I suddenly saw up ahead that several of my hiker friends had stopped on the grassy slopes to take a break in the shade. Many of them were in various states of relaxation, either reading, writing in a journal, or napping. I quietly approached and snapped a few photos of them in action, this here is Bobcat:
And this photo is Camel Back (left) and Wildfire (right), which has subsequently been nominated as the “best” PCT photo thus far:
Wildfire and I had the most serious laughing attack because of this photo. Even now, it brings me the giggles, but we were loopy that day, and we laughed to the point of belly aches and tears, very cathartic. These are the times you always remember!
Despite our lofty goals of a 26 mile day, we could not help but lay in that shade, and put up our feet a while.
After a good 45 minute break, I decided that if I was to pull off another 17 miles in the afternoon, it was going to take drugs to get me there. SO, I decided to make a cup of iced coffee and shared it with Wildfire. I am telling you, coffee is the drug of choice on the trail if you need a pick me up. I have only drank an afternoon coffee twice so far on this hike, and it really is great for pain relief, and of course, it speeds up your gate. I think the natural effect of dilating the blood vessels is what helps with the pain relief, and of course the caffeine gives you that extra zip. Well, shortly after we took off back on trail, I had a sinking realization; that water I used to make the iced coffee was not filtered water. Uh oh. I had taken an extra litre from Shaggy that morning in camp, and thought I would just filter it later. This is the first (and last) time I will do that! Fortunately, between us we had only consumed about 3 ounces each, so fingers crossed the water was fairly clean and we won’t get sick! But, and there’s a but: I also used that water to soak my dehydrated vegetables, AND I poured the rest of that bottle into my reservoir that I drink from while hiking. Triple whammy! Ugh! I had to stop immediately once I realized this and re-filter all my water, plus change out the veggie water. Wildfire and I laughed because we were stopping so often this day, hugging trees, making gear adjustments, going pee because we drank so much water, taking naps and drinking coffee and now this! Would we ever get to our destination?
By later in the afternoon, around 5:00, we were approaching our first goal of the day, Robin Bird Spring, on an uphill jeep road that seemed like an endless climb. We were all looking out for the 600 mile marker, and it was a little in disguise, but I spotted it because there was a cluster of pine cones off to the right side of the trail that seemed to be organized in an un-natural manner. If you look closely, you can see the stones surrounded by the pine cones, surrounded by dirt and grass, it’s a little hard to see, and many passed it by, but this was it:
It’s always a great feeling of accomplishment when you reach another hundred miles, but this one was somehow anticlimactic, because we were in the middle of a climb, and so close to Robin Bird Spring, many people missed the mile marker, and it didn’t match the exact spot that was on Half Miles App. So we quietly and unimpressedly moved on. Robin Bird Spring has a special meaning to me because it is actually really close to my Mom’s house, 8 miles by jeep road to be exact. I have driven out there with her before to check it out, and she has ridden there many times on her horses. Again, this was a place that I stored in my heart in a special place, thinking about how many miles, memories and steps in time would pass leading me up to this point on the trail, mile 602.
When we arrived, several other hikers were already set up to camp for the night, filtering water, cooking their dinners and chatting about the day. Camel Back, Wildfire and Bobcat and I all decided we still wanted to continue to Landers Camp, another 7 miles, so we had a quick snack and short break here and got back on trail by 6:00pm. We are so fortunate now in tje season, that it really does not get dark until 8:00pm, so with 2 more hours of daylight, we knew we could make it most of the way without the use of our head lamps. On we went, and I enjoyed getting to see the territory North of the Spring, as I had been wondering what the trail was like from there. We enjoyed more and more pine forest, and a lovely undulating trail without any steep climbs or descents. It was a perfect early evening trail and I remember thinking how lovely the that section of trail would be for the other hikers in the morning as I watched the sun go down behind the silhouette of pine trees.
Cruising along, once again in the back of the pack, I suddenly started to feel a sharp and achy pain in my right lower leg. It came on so suddenly and it was very tender to the touch, and super sharp and stabbing on the downhills. I was unnerved by this because we still had 3 more miles to camp, so I just slowed down and took an occasional break to stretch it out. There are so many fears that come up when you are out there and you suddenly have an injury or serious pain. I would not call this an injury really, because there was no “event” that occured, but it was definitely painful and obvious that it was from overuse and possibly a strain. My morale started to decline at this point, it was dark now, and I was clearly fatigued, and now I was having to slow down. I let the others know and they slowed down for me too, so we could all stick together in the dark. After about 30 minutes we came to a little gate in the forest followed by a PCT Trail Register. It’s always fun to read the trail registers and leave your own notes, seeing who came before you and when, and leaving little messages about your thoughts or impressions at that specific point in time. As it turned out, this trail register was also the source of some great Trail Magic for us. I am not sure who opened it first, maybe Camel Back, but I was trailing a tad behind and out from the dark came incredible shreiks of joy and laughter. I tried to move more swiftly toward the three headlamps up in front of me, and when I reached the gate and them, the magic was revealed: a bakery container with exactly 4 fresh baked cookies in 4 different flavors. We jumped for joy and debated for about a second on whether to eat them all or leave some behind. The answer was obvious, there were 4 cookies, and 4 of us, so…..no brainer! We dug in:
If this did not boost my morale, what could? I decided to save my chocolate chunk cookie for later, as I was still soaking my veggies and had plans for a hot meal of instant mashed potatoes once we reached camp. I pocked my cookie and on we tromped. Shortly, we made it to the turn off to Landers Camp, where we would find water and a flat ground amongst pine trees to sleep for the night. It was after 9:00pm by the time we got there thanks to my slowing everybody down from my leg pain. Wildfire and Camel Back set up and went right to bed, and Bobcat decided to cowboy camp that night so he could enjoy looking up through the pine trees at the great stars. I set up my little tent abode, washed up and cooked and ate my dinner before giving myself an acupuncture treatment. I was EXHAUSTED and my shoulders BURNED so bad from the endless hours of my heavy pack sitting on them. My leg felt like a bruise, it was swollen and I could barely stand on it. I was bummed because I knew there were over 40 miles to go until we would be back near a road and another re-supply by my Mom, with a major downhill the next morning. I was determined to heal quickly. Doing acupuncture to yourself, in the dark, in your tent or sleeping bag takes some skill, but I made it work. Fortunately, I was able to keep my right hand free and I could hold my book and read while I had the treatment. I struggled to stay awake long enough for the needles to do their magic, and after about 35 minutes I could not take it any longer. I also took some Aleve and wore my compression socks to bed (thank you Debra!). That night I slept very soundly, and I had two dreams of my leg feeling perfectly fine, which I remembered immediately upon waking in the morning, yes, a good sign indeed!
In the morning, Wildfire got captured on first “peek” out of her tent, always a smile on this woman’s face!
And the circle of trees under which we slept greeted us…