Day Thirteen: Cowboy Camping

Mile 114.5 to mile 129
14.5 miles

It’s so chilly when I wake up. I have a hard time coaxing myself out of my warm down quilt, but I try to reason with myself: soon it will be so hot and I’ll be begging for a slight chill, so I may as well make the most of it. I manage to get up and out fairly quickly and hit the trail at 6:15am. Unfortunately I immediately stop at the stream to filter water, which slows me down. I don’t have a lot “to do” out here but the chores I have all take up time and it always feels like I’m not being as efficient as I could be. My mom teased me, “Only you could be busy on the PCT!” But it feels like we all are. Taking care of basic needs in the backcountry is slow, tedious, and never ending.

I walk about half a mile and see everyone else who left Warner Springs yesterday. I’m not sad that I didn’t camp with them; I kind of like doing my own thing. It’s a weird back and forth feeling – sometimes I’m lonely, sometimes I’m grateful to be alone. My Gemini moon can’t ever make up its mind.

Soon there’s a second stream crossing and I stop again to make myself drink a liter now. “Camel up” is the term hikers use. “Better to have water in your body than on your back,” Love It Or Leave It had told me on my second day. So I drink. Tommy sits with me and we gossip for a little while. Then it’s back to the trail and up up up. I’m grateful not to have done this solo last night. The landscape feels sort of swampy and it’s not my favorite. Tommy points out that he’s just glad for trees and shade, and I have to admit he’s right. Okay, I revise my thinking. This landscape is fine!

At around the 120 mile marker is a water source called Lost Valley Spring, but the notes on the water report indicate that it’s not a great source (lots of debris and dead bugs) and I still have a lot of water left over from the stream so I decide not to fill up. A group of hikers has stopped to break in the shade on some rocks nearby, and I drop by pack. I’ve only done 6 miles by 10am, but I decide it’s time for a break anyway.

It’s fun to chat with new people. I barely recognize any of these hikers. It’s wild to me how many folks are moving through so quickly; it seems like every day someone tells me they’re still in their first week. I’m almost done with week two! Wow.

The flies are making me feel crazy today. They’re extra obsessed with us. A lizard struts by and does some push-ups by the rock, making me giggle. Lion Heart shows up and chats for a while which makes me happy, and a group of people I met briefly yesterday at Warner Springs walk up soon too. We talk about all the usual stuff: our feet, our food, the heat. 

After an hour I decide I have to keep hiking even though it’s hot and I’m sluggish. I think a lot about how humans are so fragile, how there are really so many design flaws in the human body. It reminds me of Battlestar Galactica, of the monologue that annoying cylon John gives near the end of the series – about how he wants to be more machine than human, how human bodies are too soft and easily harmed, how it would be better to be all chrome, shiny, hard, smooth, strong. Honestly, he had a point. How are we all even still alive?!

I don’t have a clear end goal in mind for the day but there’s a water source called Mike’s Place that is literally at a man named Mike’s house. I’ve heard hikers often stay there but I’ve also heard mixed things about how that experience is, so I’m not sure I want to. It sounds like a lot of people might be, though, so I start to wonder if I should.

I see two snakes on my way there and try to both drink my water to hydrate and conserve my water so I’ll have enough. Honestly I was hoping my anxiety would subside on the trail, but so far, no luck. I don’t know if it’s because I have so much cell service so I feel very plugged in, or if the experience is so new it’s hard to relax, but I still feel almost as anxious as I do in my regular life. Neat. 

When I get to Mike’s there’s a huge group of hikers there but it turns out most are not spending the night. I get in my head about a bunch of different stuff and end up feeling really sad. I am not motivated to hike on but I also don’t want to stay here. Bless Lion Heart – she’s there too and she can either read that I need a boost or she is just a sweetheart. Either way, she reaches out to me and encourages me to hike a couple of miles out with her. So I do. 

She suggests I hike in front of her, which makes me nervous because I’m so slow, but she’s supportive and insistent. I don’t feel self conscious with her like I usually do when I hike in front of someone, and she assures me the pace I’m setting is great. I had been near tears at Mike’s house I was feeling so sad and alone, so I am extra grateful now for her kindness. 

As we hike, a fairly substantial climb, we chat. She asks what made me want to do this trail and tells me how she started long distance hiking. We talk about hikers we both know and she tells me stories about previous thru-hikes. I tell her I’m not brave enough to cowboy camp yet but I wish I was. We talk about how silly it is to say “I’m so slow” all the time, how that doesn’t even mean anything and we’re all just walking at our own paces. It’s a good point; I vow to try to stop saying “I’m so slow.” I am so happy to be hiking with her and so appreciative of her understated support. I don’t know if she knows it, but she got me through those final two miles of the day. 

We get to the top of the climb where things completely level out and a huge group is there. I see Raw Hide and Amelia and Karma and also the folks who Lion Heart is sort of grouped with who I also really like, Dos Tacos and UB and Gramps and Drum Solo and some others. I resolve that I will do whatever Lion Heart does. There is room for cowboy camping but probably not to pitch two tents. Lion Heart asks if I want to try it. (!!!) I do want to, but I’m nervous. This seems like a really good time to try it though, with so many of us together and a woman I admire and respect guiding me through. I say yes, I do want to try. 

I lay out my gear and do not pitch my tent. Oh my gosh! I make dinner – a surprisingly delicious black bean soup Patagonia meal – as the sun starts to set and it’s gorgeous, really a breathtaking sunset. UB has lost a toenail and we all crowd around her to take pictures and offer advice. “You’re lightweight now,” Lion Heart jokes. I’m a bit anxious about cowboy camping. I ask UB if she’s done it before. She nods. “I love it,” she says, “you get to look at the whole sky.”

Soon the sun has fully set and we’re all in our bags. Lion Heart checks in to see that I’m okay and I am. I was so sad earlier but I’m so happy now. It really is hard to manage my emotions out here. 

My chafe is bothering me (shocker) so Dos Tacos let’s me borrow her Gold Bond. I’ve never used it before and am surprised by the tingle. 

Then I lie down, surrounded by 8 other humans, and stare up at the sky. I could stay here forever, I think. It takes a long time for me to close my eyes for bed – there’s just too much beautiful sky to stare up at.

16 thoughts on “Day Thirteen: Cowboy Camping

  1. Marie Tretiakova says:

    I got to the end of your post and am covered in goosebumps! SO MANY JAZZ HANDS to you!! Thank you for sharing this – I am working a desk in North Carolina — with some kind of long distance hike in my dreams — reading your entries is a highlight of my day. THANK YOU! Covering you in radness and glitter love!

  2. Joy de Beyer says:

    Im so happy you cowboy camped – I was hoping you would. So happy that Lion Heart was t such an excellent friend to you yesterday – she is well named! In case you havent read earlier replies – I love love love your blog and really admire you.
    Have a fabulous day, may the chafe not be with you.

  3. Yermo says:

    Oh good. I so enjoy your EARTHY ELOQUENCE with every posting. Did you get to see the stars? My favorites; the Seven Sisters, Cassiopeia, Big Dipper, Little Dipper, and the North Star? I love to see that sky spin around at night.
    I do enjoy your postings !
    Trek on . . .

  4. Michele says:

    Scissors, thank you SO much for suggesting I follow Lion Heart’s blog too. Yet another great read! Both of your blogs and writing style are fabulous and brings the trail experience to life for us stuck at home/work. I can’t wait to hear more about the cowboy camp experience!

  5. RMD says:

    I envy you the cowboy camping! The first time I slept under the open sky out in the middle of nowhere was in the open back of my pickup truck on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. So many stars that at first I had trouble finding the long-familiar constellations!

  6. Judy Newton says:

    Your “baby steps” as a PCT hiker have taken you many miles!!! You are doing great!! You got this!!!

  7. Madeleine says:

    I got chills reading this. I love that you listened to your instincts, Lion Heart picked up what you were feeling, and you hiked out together to find this magical cowboy camping experience!

  8. Jenny Bruso says:

    I got totally caught up in just the idea of cowboy camping right now and my eyes welled up! I love knowing you’re out there with Lionheart. Also, I like this part and am thinking about it a lot:

    We talk about how silly it is to say “I’m so slow” all the time, how that doesn’t even mean anything and we’re all just walking at our own paces. It’s a good point; I vow to try to stop saying “I’m so slow.” I am so happy to be hiking with her and so appreciative of her understated support. I don’t know if she knows it, but she got me through those final two miles of the day.

  9. Siv.ri says:

    Oh, the monkey butt. I live in the South and hike – even in summer. There’s a product I used for my babies for their diaper butt chafe, and I found out that it works for hiking butt chafe just as well: Boudreaux’s Butt Paste. It works. Like…very well. Best used after cleaning and patting dry.

  10. Fay Lewis says:

    Love reading about your daily adventures! Wait eagerly for the next daily episode! So proud of you 👭 You are making great strides!

  11. Schrauf says:

    Cowboy camping is good – I never sleep as well, but worth it anyway.

    Also. Extra points for “surprised by the tingle”. Ha!

  12. Anna says:

    You’ve met Lionheart! It always amazes me how small the hiking community is – I’ve been following her blog for around 2/3 years now! so good to hear she is as nice in person as she appears to be on her blog too (not that I doubted she was, you get what I mean I hope lol!) Anyway good on you for trying the cowboy camp!

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