Day 23 – Long night, Great Day

Yeah, last night did kind of suck.  I inadvertently camped along a track that all kinds of forest creatures use to go pester the farm animals nearby.  For the most part it was coyotes going over to check things out, howling as they ran by.  As they neared the farm, the responsible and dutiful farm dogs would howl and chase them back into the forest by my tent, where the coyotes would howl back in defiance.  This repeated for most of the night.

At one particular point things were very quiet.  I had just been waken up by the last game of ‘heave-ho’ between the dogs and coyotes and felt my eyes getting heavy.  Things are dead quiet, maybe the night will calm down a bit.  I turn over to get more comfortable when I hear something large freak out right beside my tent and take off into the forest.  I bet I know what that was.  I made a note to check for cougar tracks outside my tent in the morning.  These things are spooky.  Maybe not a huge threat considering they’ll check out people cowboy camping (people camping in the dirt without a tent) without hurting a single hair on their head.  But still, it isn’t exactly settling.  I yelled into the forest and clapped my hands for good measure.

The coyotes and dogs continued their battle throughout the entire night.  The coyotes eventually gave up, but for good measure the dogs kept coming back and howling into the forest.  I didn’t sleep more than a couple hours maybe.  Eventually the birds started chirping and the night turned to grey morning.  I took advantage of the opportunity and tried sleeping one more time.

Yay!  Sleep!  From 4 am  to 8 am, I slept without a single interruption.  Of course I slept in, but hey.  I wasn’t exactly feeling rejuvenated, but I was energized enough to get out of my tent and start packing up.  I crammed a danish into my mouth (pop tart dust for breakfast sucks, I went all out this time) and went on my way.

My dumb campsite and its dumb face.

The scenery continued on with it’s desert trend and I was starting to get back into my thru-hiker groove.  Chaparral!  Even some small Joshua Trees!  My best friends!  It was so good to be back.  I don’t know why I love the desert so much, maybe because on surface it seems so empty but there’s a subtle side to it that feels so full of life.  I walked along the hills happily, it’s going to be a good day.

Eventually the trail went uphill a ways and came to a flattened area that would have been so awesome for camping.  I poked around it for a while and continued uphill a ways off-trail and came to the coolest view ever.  Views like this are earned through either hard physical work, hard mental/emotional work, or a bit of both.  I don’t know if I would appreciate it as much if I had just day-hiked in.  This is why I love the PCT.

I decided to take a little break here on the rocks.  I lit a cigarette (I have a bottle for the ashes/butts, leave no trace!) and looked at the view.  As I stared off I noticed a guy hiking along, but in the wrong direction!  I’m so used to the flow of NOBO (northbound) hikers that this seemed really weird to me.  He was an older man hauling an ultra lite pack, trail runners.. this guy’s a PCT hiker.  What gives?  He approached me.

“You a thru-hiker?” He asked.

“You bet!  Yourself?”

“Yeah, I’m going SOBO” He replied. (SOBO = Southbound)

I had images of this man trudging through snow all the way from Canada down to the desert here.  There’s no way.  Either this guy’s full of shit, he’s incredibly bad ass, or he’s section hiking.

“No shit!  That’s awesome!” I replied, hanging on any of the optomistic scenarios.  First meeting with a SOBO hiker, aw yeah!

We talked a little about the trail and what he had done.  He was indeed a section hiker.  A 76 year old man named ‘Bucket List’ due to his age and his goal to complete the PCT.  He is almost done.  In my books, the guy is still a badass even though my initial images of him pushing through the snow from Washington through the Sierra weren’t explicitly correct.  He asked if I had a trail name.

“Nah.  I’ve been hiking alone, no opportunity for a name yet”.  I’m reminded that yeah, I’m totally alone out here.  But hey, that’s how things played out.  That sentence was a bit of an affirmation to me that even if I had to do it alone, I will finish this trail.  I didn’t come out here for other people after all, this was my goal.  I’ve met some awesome people along the way, that’s all the added bonus of being out here.

We said goodbye, and he hiked off.  I opted to sit at my spot for a little longer, wishing I could walk through the desert below instead of the weird “forest” of Big Bear.  So far this isn’t forest at all, it’s just confused desert that aims to weird out people like me.

Eventually I got up and started hiking again.  As I took my fifth or sixth step, my left knee starts to protest once again.  Great.  I’d spent all that time in Big Bear giving this knee a break and it has the guts to act like a jerk again.  I defiantly hiked on, but the reality of the situation started to hit me.  What is this?  Is this going to be a persistant problem?  It’s one thing to hike through pain, it’s another thing entirely where that pain prevents you from even bending your knee.  Again my mind turns to the usual: Is this going to take me off trail?  This time however I was a little more level about it and reasoned through the situation.

So what if it takes me off trail?  Worst case scenario here:  I take some time off, then just hike the trail SOBO right?  Or, I take the time off and hop onto a different trail.  I love the PCT of course, but if my body isn’t up to getting to Canada just yet then I don’t have much choice.. do I?  Who knows.  I do of course feel frustrated at the fact that I do of course want to go the whole 2,660 miles.  I’ve already come 200+ miles in, I know I can do this.  But my body has been resisting it the entire way.  I expected that to an extent, but this is ridiculous.

I still felt great though.  I came out here for unpredictable moments like this and to work my way through them, for better or worse.  This is all part of the experience!  I got ahold of my dad, I should get off trail and see a doctor.  An actual doctor.  Weird, I know.  We’d meet at Highway 18 right along the trail and I’d go hang out with him in Victorville for a while until I could figure out what’s going on with my knee.  It’d be a couple of hours until he could get to me, and I was already two miles away from the highway.  I took it easy and sat under trees along the way whenever I felt like it.  Despite the circumstances, it was really an awesome day.

Soon enough I could make out the highway and a parking lot ahead of me.  I still had an hour to kill and I definitely didn’t want to spend it sitting in a parking lot outside of a noisy highway.  I looked for one more shaded spot, put my pack under my head, and took it easy.  I’m still not particularly worried about this knee situation, it is what it is.  I pushed myself way too hard in the beginning and this is the result, what can ya do?  Enjoy the moment.

Eventually my dad arrived, and as I walked to the truck I pass trail magic in the dirt.  I didn’t need it, and I wasn’t going to take any since I was getting off trail, but I felt like everything would work out and everything would be okay in that moment.  I have yet to run across magic at a desperate moment, but the sight of it alone just made me happy.  The PCT rocks.  I’m not ready to call it quits.  I’ll take some time off in Victorville, see a doctor, and go from there.

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