Mile 20 to mile 32
12 miles hiked
I have the hardest time waking up. I didn’t sleep well at all – I was buzzed on sugar from all the soda I drank throughout the day, plus I had to pee but I didn’t wanna get out of my tent because it was cold. Holding my pee just made me colder (neat fact: your body heats the urine instead of the rest of you!) and I woke up every couple of hours feeling uncomfortable.
At 6am I’m stoked that it’s morning even though I only slept about six hours. I throw my shoes on and hobble to the bathroom so I can finally empty my bladder but it’s being cleaned so no one can go in. I’m frustrated – I don’t mind just peeing on the ground by the building but that seems rude at a campground where families pay. So I stretch for a few minutes and then the bathroom cleaning is done. I thank the man as he exits and sprint into a stall. Relief.
I shuffle back to my tent and start slowly getting ready. Sarah’s said she’s gonna be out by 6:30 but she’s still packing up next to me. Avo and Gabs pack up quickly and I feel sad that they won’t be hiking with us for the next stretch – Avo has hiked the PCT already and he’s taking Gabs to section hiker Warner Springs through the Sierra, his favorite section. Gabs says she hopes we’ll catch up to them, but if their hiking skills are anything like their tent set up skills I know they’ll leave us (or me, at least) in the dust. It’s okay. I’m learning quickly that part of the PCT is meeting amazing people and then saying “see ya later” without much fanfare. We’ve all gotta keep hiking, ya know?
The trail angels have made coffee and set out breakfast, and I make my rounds saying goodbye and thank you. The Wolverines and the other volunteers are incredible – I thank Hoosier Daddy, Scott Climber, Love It or Leave It, Avo, and everyone else who has been so kind. They’re staying in Morena for the weekend to welcome more hikers as they come through, performing trail magic and making us feel special. I snap a few portraits and exchange some contact info, and then I make serious moves to leave. My blisters are taped up, my laces are tied in marathon knots, and I feel good. I’m aiming for a 12 mile day and I think I might make it. For the first time I leave before Cate and Mike and I’m off!
The landscape today is totally different. Tall trees, shade, gorgeous views in this valley. I’ve seen rabbits all three days so far and I like to pretend it’s always the same one, following me up the trail. I also see a lot of lizards, scurrying around and sunning themselves on rocks. There’s glorious shade and my feet don’t hurt too bad. I’m hiking alone, like usual, and I like it.
I make four miles in reasonable time, to the first water source of the day. I break for a while – four other hikers join me, including Cate and Mike. I’m so gleeful anytime we all meet up on trail. Friends!
I take my socks off and put my feet up and write some of this post. The others chit chat. I think I’m gonna have to dig a cat hole soon. It’s noon now and only getting hotter, so I put my shoes and socks back on and head out. I’ve still got 8 miles to make today, ideally. Let’s see what happens.
Cate and Mike leave the water source before I do, and I know I likely won’t see them much for the rest of the day. It was a mistake to take such a long break so early on because it’s only getting hotter. I stop to try to dig a cat hole and go to the bathroom but my body won’t cooperate. We are going to have to poop outside every day for the next five months, I sternly tell my intestines. Get. Over. It. But no luck right now. Frustrated, I put on my pack and keep going. Fuck, it’s so hot.
Scott Climber had described this part as “easy, I love my life hiking until the 8” and that’s fairly accurate, though the heat makes it intense. I get to the highway pass and start climbing. And climbing and climbing and climbing. I live on this ridge now I guess, I think. A couple of hikers pass me. Here we all are – living on this ridge.
I finally catch Mike and Cate. I thought they’d be swimming in a swimming hole we’d heard about, but they decided for the sake of time to keep walking instead. I ask if I can hike with them – I’m usually not fast enough to keep up but it’s late enough in the day that I’m worried about night hiking alone and I’d rather be together if that happens. Good thinking on my part, it turns out!
I feel myself going faster than usual to keep up, but it’s mostly okay. We’re all aiming for Fred Canyon but the heat has really changed the game today. I later discover there was an advisory warning to hikers today from the forest service – don’t hike if you can avoid it! But we can’t avoid it, and we didn’t know, so we hiked. “Is this what Mars feels like?” I wonder out loud. My feet are starting to hurt a lot.
On and on and on. I try to stop taking photos so I can keep up. Cate and Mike aren’t going particularly fast, they just are faster than me. It’s a fact. I learn more about them: how they met, how Cate’s moral compass works (very well!), their favorite flavor of Stinger waffle cookies (that they continue to share with me, like angels). I like them so much and am so glad to have met them that first night at Scout and Frodo’s.
We reach a road and see a sign where the trail picks up on the other side: trail magic at Cibbets Flats, a campground a little further than we intended to hike today. Tacos and cold beer. Ugh. Mike looks tempted. My feet are dying. “Listen, I’m not gonna be able to make it more than 12 miles,” I say, wondering if I will even make it the 12 we’ve planned. “But if you wanna go you should!” I’m scared of holding Cate and Mike back, don’t want to be the weakest link. But they decide not to go either. Cate says her feet hurt too – she thinks her shoes are too small and she’s hiking in her sandals. Have I mentioned how jealous I am of everyone who has camp shoes?!?
We keep going. It’s stunning. The sun is setting and we’re walking the ridge of a canyon and it’s kind of terrifying but also literally the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I see windmills in the distance and the sky is pale pink, pale blue, with white streaky clouds stretched across it all. My goddess.
But the thing is it’s getting late. I’ve been hiking almost 12 hours and I only slept 6 hours last night. I also don’t think I really ate enough today – the heat distracted me. Fuck. I know better than that. Mike makes Gatorade and shares it. Why are these people so nice to me?! And also ugh, why am I the weakest link. I mentally add powdered Gatorade to the list of things I’d like my mom to send me. Duh, how did I not think of that before.
And then it’s kind of dusky dark. We’re going to be hiking at night. On this ridge, in this canyon. Um. Night hiking is a thing people do, especially in the PCT heat, but I didn’t really anticipate doing it on Day 3. Well okay. Cate sees a small snake and screams – she almost stepped on it and is scared of snakes. Mike insists we all stop and put on our headlamps – a very good ideas. Minutes later it is actually dark dark, and we’re still on this ridge, and my feet hurt so bad, and I’m praying we don’t die, which is dramatic, and also that we make it to camp soon, which isn’t dramatic at all but feels impossible. WHERE IS FRED CANYON.
Dark dark dark, beauty beauty beauty. As the light leaves the landscape continues to transform into even more beautiful shadows and shades. We’re all really speeding now – I’m sweating from the effort even in the evening cool – and all I want is to eat dinner and be sleeping. We stop for a moment right before getting to the campground and look to our left – the mountain peaks are black silhouettes against the sky as the sun finally disappears, leaving bright orange and yellow streaks in its wake, the absolute finale to this gorgeous sunset. We all stop for a moment. “I know we’re in a rush to get to camp,” Cate says, “but oh my god. What a moment.” It is such a beautiful moment.
We push on and suddenly see headlamps! We’re here! Oh my god we’re here. Thank you, thank you.
It’s emptier than we anticipated because of the trail magic just a mile up, and I’m so relieved. We easily find space to pitch our tents and I do a pretty good job, if I do say so myself – I use the principles Avo taught me yesterday and make a nice tight geometrically sound shape out of the cuben fiber and guy lines. Cate and Mike continue to be actual angels and tell me, in hushed tones so as not to disturb the people already sleeping, that they have an extra premade dinner and do I want it? Yes yes yes. I know it has dairy in it when I accept it – they later feel so terrible about this but I’m an adult and it’s totally on me to have made that decision – but I am so excited anyway. I boil water and make it and then take it to my tent so I can finish up my bed chores and go to sleep!
I blow up my air mattress and set my things up how I like them, sort of. I’m still getting the hang of it. I shovel the dinner into my mouth so fast – it’s delicious, and the fake powdered cheese tastes incredible with the beef and spices. I’ll pay tomorrow, probably, but that’s tomorrow. I need to pee before bed and backtrack up the trail a bit to find a good spot.
Just as I’m about to drop my pants I see more headlamps – Hot Sauce and Lucky Strike, some hikers we met a few miles back, have night hiked here too. They tell me a few more hikers are following them so I try to pee fast and hurry back to my tent.
As soon as I lie down in my sleeping bag, expecting to feel immense relief, instead I feel panic – my butt feels weird. Do I have…the dreaded…BUTT CHAFE?!?
Are you kidding me, I think. My blisters are horrible, my knee is hurting, and now you’re gonna give me butt chafe too?!? ALL AT ONCE?! Hello Vanessa, welcome to the realities of a thru hike.
I want to nip this in the bud if I can so I rip off my long pants and apply so much Body Glide to my butt. Sorry for the TMI y’all, but this is real life. I decide to sleep naked on the bottom in the hopes of resolving this. I think hiking 10 miles tomorrow, all the way to Mt. Laguna like we’ve planned, with blisters AND butt chafe might actually kill me.
I expect to fall asleep immediately, exhausted from such a long day, but it actually takes a long time. Eventually I do.