Despite the awesome location, I still didn’t sleep well. Who could with a broken sleeping pad? I’m in an ever-changing state of being warm then being cold and uncomfortable, I only sleep for 30 minutes at a time throughout each night. I woke up feeling ready to hike, I need to push on and get to Idyllwild and get this thing fixed. I can’t find the puncture out here on trail.
I crammed a fruit pie into my mouth and made my way back up to the trail. This morning was a little different from others, I was still really hungry after breakfast. I started to wonder if Hiker Hunger was setting in (thru-hiking and a thru-hikers diet leaves you calorie deficient which causes you to be perpetually hungry). This is going to be interesting. My nicotine withdraws were getting worse as well, which didn’t make for a very great morning. As I hiked away from my camp site, the trail wound uphill for a while and just didn’t stop. I looked up above me and felt a wave of dread and exhaustion wash over me. Towering above was a peak, and the trail started to switchback all over the place. I’m going to have to go to the top of this, aren’t I? Normally I wouldn’t be too bothered by this, but I haven’t slept since I got back on trail and my body was starting to feel the effects.
I pressed on, stopping every 30 minutes or so to hype myself back up.
“You’re on the PCT, you worked so hard to get out here, it will get better it will get better” I kept thinking. “You’ll be in Idyllwild soon.”
But the mountain wasn’t having any of that. It picked me up and threw me back onto its endless switchbacks of doom, taunting me every time I thought it would end. I started to really hate this mountain. I came up over a hill grumbling to myself when I ran into a couple of hikers breaking down their camp site. They said there was a spring off the trail a hundred yards away, and without really thinking about it I just followed the trail to the spring. When I got there I realized I didn’t even need the water. I’m so fucking tired. I threw my pack off and sat in the dirt for a moment evaluating this whole thing. I’m stuck on this stupid mountain.
I regained a little enthusiasm to hike on and just get this whole thing over with. I passed by the couple and wished them well and continued on. They were super nice people, but I doubted I’d see them again even in my exhausted state where I could barely push through the miles. They were getting a really late start to the day.
I kept pep-talking myself through the miles. The trail never really beats you down for too long, it will get better if I just keep moving. But usually it gets worse before it does get better, and the last push up the mountain was the worst. Too many negative things had built up in my mind and seemed to add pounds to my pack and I couldn’t clear them out no matter how much I tried. I found myself checking my mileage more often than I usually do, getting annoyed at how slow my progress was.
At the peak of my bad mood, the trail wrapped around a ledge and inched downward a ways, poking back up and out of the dry desert trees. As I made it through, the trail did what it usually does, it lifts you back up out of your worst moments. I found myself on a ledge looking over the coolest mountain range ever. At the end of the valley was an absolutely massive behemoth of a mountain keeping watch over the range. I set my pack down and sat on a rock absorbing the view, filling me up with positive energy once again. I lost sense of time here and ended up sitting on my humble little rock for about an hour.
I hopped down and trotted back along the trail feeling relatively normal – tired as hell – but alright all things considered. I was lead away from my happy view and dipped down into yet another amazing area littered with boulders and dust. How could things go from lush desert forest to this in such a short span of time? California is weird in the coolest way. As I hiked on I briefly talked with the hikers passing me, we were all elated that the trail took a turn for the better that day. Suddenly I didn’t feel so alone, maybe I’m not as crazy as I think I am for not appreciating every inch of the trail.
Mid-way through the boulder field I dropped my pack and sat down for lunch. My next stop for the day was a Trail Angel’s house situated in the middle of the desert where there were massive water tanks and rumors of food. I wasn’t sure if I’d hang out there for long, but decided to just wing it and see how I felt later. I sat in the sun and ate my usual while hikers passed by. Despite the fact that I was slowly roasting, I didn’t move an inch. I was feeling alright and didn’t to move in fear that somehow it might alter my mood. When I couldn’t take the sensation of being on fire any longer, I got up and went back to my conveyor belt to Canada.
The trail treated us hikers alright in the last miles to the trail angels house. It wasn’t too uphill, it wasn’t too downhill, it was just fair. I seriously needed that. I followed the signs to the water tanks and dropped my pack near them. There was an older man there filtering his water.
“You gonna head down there? They’re cooking burgers for the hikers. There’s soda and beer too”
“I dunno, I haven’t decided on that yet” I responded feebly, I didn’t have the energy to make actual conversation. But this guy was my kind of guy. He was calm, quiet, and really upbeat, so I eventually felt more inclined to talk.
“Well, it’s real interesting down there. Not what you’d expect, it’s weird but in the best way possible”.
Alright, I’m curious.
“Yeah, I think I’ll head down and check it out” I said.
I finished filtering my water and made my way down the steps. As I got through all the bushes I was introduced to Sky Ranch (I think that’s what it’s called?). A trailer was situated directly to the left along with a canopy providing much needed shade for the hikers, and all around that was just stuff. Industrial stuff, farming stuff, whatever stuff strewn about. I don’t know how to put it without making it sound junky, because it’s not. It kind of feels like there’s a long line of history behind each item, but there’s probably not. It was really cool. I made my way over to the trailer where a man was sitting in a lawn chair, cooking equipment and coolers surrounding him.
“Hey man, how’s it going” I asked
“Good! We’ve got beer here in the first cooler, and sodas in the other. You want a burger?” He offered.
My initial response, my response produced from my residual civilized life, popped into my head. My knee jerk reaction would have been to say ‘No thanks, I’m alright’. But I’m on the PCT, I need to say yes to things more often.
“Dude, that would be awesome, thank you so much” I said. He got started on frying it up, and I plunged into the soda cooler for a Coke. There was no Coke, there was Cherry Pepsi, which was infinitely better. I grabbed it and made my way over to the canopy where the other hikers were, dropped my pack and sat down on one of the logs underneath. I greeted everyone, exchanged names and such, but didn’t have the energy to keep conversation going. I just listened in and occasionally interjected with laughter and saying “No way” here and there. I felt a little awkward because people would talk to me and I couldn’t really hear them. I’ve worked a handful of noisy jobs in the past which took a toll on my hearing, and you can only say “What?” so many times without feeling like an ass.
I sipped my Pepsi every so often, savoring it’s syrupy goodness when the awesome guy at the grill screamed “Hey new guy! Food!”. I shot up and made my way over to the grills and grabbed a hamburger bun and put all kinds of condiments on the top. He threw the patty down at me and I looked at it for a moment. Food. Food. But I felt bad for eating and dashing so I talked with the guy for a little bit asking him about how many hikers were passing through, and admiring the property. He was a really cool guy, not much on conversation, but nice regardless. When the conversation ended I went back to my stump and devoured the burger. It was probably the best thing I’ve ever eaten. With it I chugged the rest of my Pepsi.
As I sat in the shade feeling content another group of hikers poured in, which was my cue to leave. It was already pretty populated, but the new group made for numbers I usually don’t sit around for. Plus it opened up a seat in the shade for someone else, I’d already sat around long enough. I grabbed my stuff, wished everyone a good hike, and thanked the hell out of the guy who gave me the burger and soda, making sure to leave a donation as well. As far as what I got on surface went, I over-donated for a burger and soda. As far as what those things actually meant to me, I could have paid at least twice as much had I had enough cash.
I climbed out of the property past the water tanks and back onto the PCT feeling alright, which didn’t really last long. My withdraws were getting the best of me once again, and my exhaustion was catching up with me after I took such a long break in the shade. I think I hit a peak of being just absolutely fed up here, because I was starting to get annoyed at the smallest things, the main one being hearing voices behind me started to drive me crazy. And on this day in particular, there happened to be dudes out here with voices suitable for radio that echoed for miles along the trail. I would eventually get fed up with it and stop and let them pass, then 20 minutes later it would happen again. Sometimes when I stopped, they would stop and take a break, so I would start hiking again and soon after they’d get up and start hiking again making it absolutely impossible for me to just be free of the group leaving the Trail Angel’s house. My annoyance turned into me just being pissed off entirely.
There really weren’t that many people out, but to me in that moment I felt like the trail was just an endless line of hikers and I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic. The trail was winding up a narrow ridge and there was no relief from the noise – as small as it may have been. I couldn’t just hop off trial somewhere and take a break to chill out, I was trapped there in my awful mood. Again, there weren’t many people out, but I kept uttering things like “These fucking people with their fucking voices, go away!”. Totally not nice, I know. Sorry guys. Really I was feeling very disappointed with the day. I was ignoring the other days on trail completely where I could go hours without seeing another person when I need a moment to myself. Today I was feeling like the PCT was too crowded, and I started thinking about getting off and going somewhere else like the Arizona Trail or something less populated, though I knew nothing about the AZT and whether or not it’s as popular. It just provided a needed escape from the situation.
Finally the ridge ended and I was able to escape down a dry river bed into some low hanging trees. I put my pack down and plopped down into the sand starting to feel a bit better. I let a line of people pass and waited for things to quiet down, then waited a bit more to chill out further. I once again reasoned through the situation and chalked it up as being part of the fun. I haven’t slept, my food isn’t filling at all, I’ve got the withdraw thing going on, and that’s great right? It’s far more interesting than my days before the trail. And all these people are really nice, I actually do enjoy them being out there, I just needed a minute to myself.
I threw on my pack and continued on trail. I was alone, things were quiet. I felt better, albeit embarrassed that a couple of hikers had the pleasure of hearing in on one of my self-rants while I walked. Hiking solo does weird things to you, like making it perfectly acceptable to talk out loud to yourself.
As I walked I felt a fire ignite somewhere in my body that has no real medical name but produces the amazing hiking juices that help you power through miles. One moment I was feeling terrible, then instantly I felt like sprinting up mountain sides. It almost felt like someone injected battery acid directly into my blood stream. What the hell is going on?! Who cares, I feel great! My pace hit a rate I’ve never hit before and I was just gliding down the trail feeling better than normal. I was stopping to talk to people every so often then continuing my near sprint through the day.
Yep, I’m doing a 20 mile day today. If I do this, it’s only 15 miles tomorrow to Paradise Valley Cafe where I can hitch into Idyllwild if I feel like doing so. As I hiked I wondered where the hell this energy was coming from, then it clicked. Pepsi. What the hell do they put in that stuff?! It’s never actually energized me before. But my body was absolutely stripped down in this last stretch, so I guess every little ounce of caffeine and sugar in the standard sized can was akin to a nuclear bomb going off in my system. I didn’t stop, I didn’t tire, I just hiked and hiked and hiked until I finally collapsed on a lonely little campsite in the bushes by the edge of a cliff. Another 20 mile day, it felt good.
I set up my tent, made dinner, waved at the last hikers of the day with their ambitious mileage goals, and talked about whether or not the water source up ahead was dry. It’s listed as dry on the water report, but word around trail is that report is false.. or is it? Who the hell knows? I’m not messing around with it, better to have the water on hand just in case.
I had the entire area to myself, so I wandered around a bit and watched the sun set over the trail. Again one of those moments where the trail beats you up and reminds you that you’re just another person dreaming to get to Canada, and that it takes more than ego to get there, but yet rewards you with amazing moments remind you that you need to keep going. I felt happy as I crawled into my tent despite the fact that I knew I wasn’t getting any sleep tonight. I looked at the sky before I zipped the tent shut. Dark clouds were rolling in. Well then.
This stretch was bad for me in a lot of ways, and in other ways it was monumentally good for me. I don’t typically stew around in negativity for long, but adapting to bad moments like this is part of the thru-hiking experience I feel. Growing pains I guess you could put it. I remember how disappointed I was when I read trail journals before my hike when people would go through things like this, thinking: “How can you feel like that?! You’re out on the PCT! Enjoy it!”. It can be that simple for some people, for others it takes a few bad days to learn how to adjust your view. I’m in the latter category I guess! Things get better, they always do. One more day to go.