PCT Section “F” Part Three

I woke in the morning per usual with the sounds of birds chirping and a faint light coming into my tent. I listened to figure out if anyone else was up yet and I heard some stirring, but not much. I had to pee though, which is often the final straw that gets me, and I think a lot of hikers, out of the warm cocoon of our sleeping bags. Nervous about how my leg was going to feel, I gingerly stood up outside my tent and saw that Bobcat was nestled inside his bag like a grassy green larvae. Still snoozing…

I walked very carefully as if on eggshells over to a nearby tree by which to pee, and it was then that I recalled I had had two dreams last night, both were that I was walking with no pain in my leg. Great, I thought. I hope my dreams are true. So far, so good, I walked around camp with not a hint of pain. By the time I stirred and made enough noise, making my coffee and geting food out for breakfast, the others were also stirring. Wildfire finally

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peeked out of her tent…and I greeted her by taking her photo, “good morning!”

Leaving Landers Camp we all knew this was the beginning of a 43 mile waterless stretch of trail, so it was paramount that we filtered and carried as much water as possible. Being that we had access to great fresh running water that poured from a pipe into a trough, I decided to take advantage of it’s abundance and wash my socks. I washed them twice, actually, and this is what the water looked like after the second washing:

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Not bad eh? Well, they were much improved afer this and I attribute daily feet washing and regular sock rotation to having no blisters and happy feet! Speaking of happy feet, I would also like to take this moment to express how thankful I am for all my training at Taekwondojang in San Juan Capistrano, CA. We train hard there and because of this, my legs are strong, my feet are strong, my mind is strong and I use what I have come to learn as a Black Belt a lot on the trail. It is an enormous help on so many levels! I miss everyone at TKD Jang and think of my group of friends, Master Cardenas and Master Liz and all the instructors, and I miss them and the sport and training. If any of you are reading this, know that you are close in my heart every day!

We got on trail by about 10:00am or so, pretty darn late! A big part of that had to do with getting into camp so late the night before and so we allowed ourselves to sleep in and take our time, plus we had to filter so much water! But off we went, and somehow all four of us, separated into packs of twos, missed the trail turn off from the dirt road! We all were a little stumped, but grateful we didnt get split up. Tbis is what we call “hiker brain”. Speaking of hiker brain, the best was the previous night when we were all getting into bed, and from inside her tent, Camel Back sweetly asks me “Milissa, do you have a trail name?”….we laughed hysterically because she was do earnest and had this tone of concern in her voice. It was great. Anyway, back on trail, we headed back on the correct trail, through the trees, and eventually a long downhill that I was concerned about with my leg, but that turned out to be a non-issue. We traversed back down into the hot, dry, sandy dessert washes, burn areas and once again were seeing Joshua Trees, Yucca and Cacti.

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At about mid day, we were hot. The four of us found the teeniest bit of shade under which to sit for a snack. Well, Camel Back and Wildfire were the first ones there and shared the shade, while I used my Mary Poppins umbrella and Bobcat stuck it out in the sun. Wildfire gets zapped from the heat and she took a short nap while we all chatted and ate. Following that break we had a bit of a climb that turned out to be more arduous than expected. It was not particularly steep or lengthy or difficult, but the elements made it a chalenge. I was sleepy from having just eaten lunch and I was full in my stomach as well, which led to massive burping all the way uphill, just no fun. It was hot still and we were on a Southwestern slope, so it just seemed to be like walking in slow motion.

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Eventually we reached the terminus of the climb, well, that climb anyway, and we breaked again at a picnic bench in the chilly wind. It never ceases to amaze me, how in the desert you can be both hot and cold at the same time. If the clouds happen to pass in front of the sun, not the sun going behind a cloud, because the sun does not move that fast, the cloud removes all heat instantaneously and the resulting air is actually quite chilly. This might cause me to stop and put on my wind shirt or long sleeve, but then ten minutes later I am sweating again, the cloud has moved on and I find the sun beating down on me once again. This can lead to SO many pack-on-pack-off gear changes and stops over the course of the day, they can really add up. Having said that, I really to don’t like to get too sweaty if it is windy, and especially if it is getting windy and dark, for fear of hypothermia. On this particular evening, as we all sat at the picnic bench eating another snack, we all agreed that we wanted to continue to a campsite that was still another 9 miles away, and it was alredy 5:00pm. Not all that different from yesterday, it would be an easy 9. I ate some of my favorite Spirulina Raw Chips and we all set off with a goal and destination in mind, Bird Spring Pass, PCT Mile 631, hoping to make it by dark.

As the evening descended, I began to relish the light that I love so much in the latter half of the day. It begins sometimes as early as 4:00pm, but it really starts to get good at 6:00pm. In my opinion, this is the “perfect” light, with it’s golden deep hues and the sky darkening, shadows lengthening, and everything glowing. I can get easily caught up taking photos this time of night…

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Once agian, we found ourselves on another climb, this time it was not so hot, but it was in deep sand. I love sand, actually, it is really kind on the body, but this sand, being that we were climbing, seemed more like quicksand, as each step that I took it slipped away from me and even though I was working hard to make it up the hill, my progress was slow. I was trailing Bobcat, and he kept a steady pace, so I just stayed on track with him about 200 yards ahead of me. Finally, I caught up to him and we found the 1,000km mile marker! Pretty cool when you look at it like that!

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After the climb was over and the landscape flattened out a bit, the terrain actually became like a dream. Wildfire and Camel Back were long gone, and I started to feel envious that they would be in camp sooner than I would, but usually I am just not in any rush and don’t mind walking into the night. Suddenly, the wind picked up, and it was downright freezing. I was sweaty, and I was tired and hungry from the climbing, and I had to pee. I stopped very abruptly and put on my wind shirt, my gloves, went pee and downed a few handfulls of pepitas. Quickly, I  put my pack back on and as I began to walk again, it felt as if there was an invisible hand pushing from behind me, making me go faster, making my pack lighter. It was lovely, and as I knew it was the wind at my back, it motivated me to change my gate and start to quicken my steps. Icy cold wind struck me again from the side as I turned to the West, and that chill actually got me angry. I was not going to struggle and slug it out in the wind for another hour and half to get to camp freezing and exhausted, that just sounded completely miserable. So, I just started to run. This is me pissed off at the cold wind:

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To my amazement, the running felt really great and I now understand why sometimes horses prefer a trot or canter to a walk, even on an uphill, because sometimes it is easier. The weight of my pack did not bother me, and I felt light and flowing and I knew I was making better time. I passed Bobcat at one point where he had stopped to make a shoe adjustment or the like, I am not sure exactly what he was doing because I did not even stop, he just looked at me as I passed by and said “your’re running?” and I replied something to the effect of “yes, I am so over this f*%@ing wind”, and I ran on. I only had to stop a couple of times due to the terrain or steepness of a slope, but for the next 3.5 miles I was able to keep a steady jog, knees bent, and landing on my feet gently on the sandy even trail. By 8:00pm it was dark and I had to stop to put on my headlamp, even though I was only .8 miles from camp. After about 10 minutes or so, I saw a tent in the near distance and I gave a “whoop hoop” holler, thinking I would get a similar call back from the girls, but upon a closer approach, I discovered it was another hiker I had never seen before. We chatted for just a minute, his name was Eric, and he was British, and told me he was just going out for a “wee” before getting into bed. The others were just a hundred yards ahead or so and around the corner, and I saw there were other tents pitched as well. Camel Back and Wild Fire were excited I had made it so quickly, but were already done cooking their dinners and were ducked inside of their tents out of the then howling wind, gorging themselves on hiker food. I scouted myself a place to camp, behind a rock that was a great wind block, and I set up my tent, once again in the dark, and cooked my dinner once again in the wind, and ate once again in my tent. I slept well that night, and when I emerged in the morning, the girls were long gone, apparently they were on trail by 6:23am, as they later reported. As usual, I made my coffee and allowed my body to integrate what it had done the day before, and my mind to reflect on the sights around me as the daylight infused its way into the waking desert. Only 21 miles to go to Walker Pass!

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