Mile 129 to mile 140
Lion Heart is already dressed when I open my eyes. It’s still dark outside, an inky navy blue sky, and I spy a star or two lingering as the sun begins its slow rise. It’s 5:08am.
Everyone around me is bustling.
I get ready as quickly as I can; it’s a bit quicker without having to take down my tent, but not much – the Zpacks tent is so quick to take down that it’s just a few minutes saved. I’m one of the last people out of our camp – why am I always so slow?! – and I hit the trail at 6am sharp. 50 minutes to get ready; not bad. I get a text from my Dad: “Wow! Up earlier and earlier!” He’s right; I’m trying!
Doing the two mile climb out of Mike’s place last night paid off, because today I’m greeted with flat-ish trail right away. To be honest it already feels warm-ish at 6am – it never got very cold last night so there’s not a lot of cold lingering. The sun rises fully just as I’m starting my hike. Let’s see how long it takes for today’s heat to become unbearable.
I hike by myself but see more people than usual today, I guess because we were all camped together.
The trail smells like beeswax for a while, in a delicious way, and I try to figure out which flower is making it smell like that; I cannot figure it out. A little while later the trail seems to smell like potatoes – I’ve noticed this often, actually – I’ll round a bend and half expect to see another hiker making some Idahoan mashed potatoes at 9am because the smell of potatoes is so strong – but no, of course there’s no one there, because that would be weird. I like all the smells of the trail – earth smells so good, usually. Even the bad smells are okay – I like being so close to nature, like this.
My first goal of the day is to get to the next water source; it’s 8 miles ahead. I’ve got 2 liters of water so I should be in good shape (I aim to have 1 liter for every 4ish miles) but it’s going to be so hot again so I’m a little anxious. I want to get to the water ASAP.
As I hike I think about Alley. I’ve experimented with this, absurd as it sounds – but what I mean is, some days thinking about her is too hard, if I’m sad or lonely or feeling really down, then I can’t. But most days it brings me joy. Today it makes me grin. I think about her sweet smile, about her hand holding mine. I think about our lives stretching out together like a map, like this trail. I wish I could call her but I don’t have any service. I’m so lucky, I think. So lucky so lucky so lucky.
I’m almost at the water! It’s 10am and it’s fucking hot. If we’re being real it was hot by 7. The desert. It is hot. Surprise!
And then I’m there! It feels like I have some new blisters on my big toes which seems like total bullshit. More blisters?! My old ones are just beginning to fully heal. WHY MAKE MORE, BODY?! I’ll have to check them out once I’ve gotten water. There is a disappointing lack of shade at the rocks where everyone is congregated – will I be able to take my lengthy mid-day break here?
I approach the rocks and see Raw Hide. I ask what the deal is and she answers honestly: the water is a ways away, it’s pretty gross, the climb to get it is steep and scary, and while there’s a lot of shade by the water source it’s very buggy. WELL OKAY. “Wow, thanks for the honesty, Raw Hide,” I laugh. She shrugs and smiles.
Lion Heart appears from the mysterious far away gross water source and I’m so excited to see her. She asks how my day has been, how I enjoyed cowboy camping, what my plan is for Idyllwild. She’s so nice and so experienced and makes me feel so competent. I feel very grateful to have found her on trail. We chat for a while and exchange numbers – it sounds like she’s going much farther than I am today – maybe all the way to the cafe at mile 151! – but we’ll be zeroing in Idyllwild together. Yay.
After she leaves I decide to take my pack and myself down to the water source to see for myself what the deal is. It’s getting Really Hot, not just Hot like it has been for the past few hours, and I don’t really see myself hiking again until the hot part of the day passes. Sure, that may take until 5pm. What’s a girl to do?
The hike down to the water is not as bad as Raw Hide described, and the shade situation is actually totally sufficient. She was right about getting down to the “stream” though – it’s a treacherous sandy bank that is basically 180 degrees – near impossible for short girls like us! And she’s definitely right about the water source itself – it’s the most questionable I’ve had to drink so far. It’s a “stream” “flowing” through a red clay bank, and there are only two spots where the water is actually moving and not just sitting stagnant collecting branches and bugs. The taste is, as Lion Heart had said, “interesting!” – it is very rich in iron and Amelia quickly dubs it “Blood Water.” Yum.
But this is the desert and this is the last reliable water source for 15 miles. There’s a cache on private property 8 miles up from here that may be stocked, but it may not be. And after that the next source is the Paradise Valley Cafe. So we’re all gonna stock up on Blood Water here because that’s what we’ve got.
I drop my pack in the shade and grab two bottles to fill up. I’ll be here for a while, I figure, so I don’t need to fill all my bottles now. I’ll start with two. Getting down the sandy bank is not easy but it’s okay; getting back up is actually a bit more challenging. But I do it and then my reward is I get to rest – for what feels like forever! It’s 11am and I’m not moving until the heat subsides.
Tommy is here already, napping, and Karma, Colleen, Amelia, and Raw Hide are here too. There are also some other hikers I don’t know very well. We hang out. We eat food. Colleen cooks lunch and I wonder if maybe the key to my stove is to use it during the day instead of at night; I almost take it out but decide I’m too lazy. What am I doing? Nothing, really. Complaining about the heat. Futzing with my feet. Talking about food. Fantasizing about what food we’ll all eat when we reach the cafe. Complaining about how the water tastes. Saying hi to new people as they arrive.
PCT hiking is so weird sometimes, we all agree – we’re just a group of strangers, talking about how much our feet hurt, when we last pooped, and how much we would pay for an ice cold beverage delivered to us this very moment. Totally normal.
The day rolls on. I think about working on a blog post but can’t be bothered. The heat makes me feel so depleted, even just lying under this tree. The shade keeps disappearing, the sun finding me in different spots no matter how I shift and move.
And then Toby appears! I am so excited! “TOBY!” I yell! I didn’t know if I would see him again but now he’s here, and he’s going to take a break with us! Yay! The sight of a fellow queer makes me feel so happy; it’s hard to explain but it’s lonely sometimes being the only queer person in a group for days at a time. I feel like if you understand what I mean then you know what I mean and if you don’t then I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but suffice it to say seeing Toby makes me so so so happy.
He seems equally stoked to see me and he sits down with us to rest. We chat about our mileage goals for the day; he’s already done more than me today because he camped further back last night, so he says he’s thinking of doing 3-4 more miles once the heat dies down. Everyone else I’m with seems to be aiming for the 144 mark; I’m not sure why, it just seems to be the one everyone decided on. I suppose it’s got a big camp site and is close enough to the cafe that getting there tomorrow morning will be easy-ish.
I keep mentioning this cafe and I’m not sure if I’ve explained to y’all what it is! Paradise Valley Cafe is an extremely Hiker-friendly restaurant at mile 151.8 of the PCT. It’s just a one mile walk off trail and it is known for The Best Burger on the PCT. THE BEST ONE! It’s been on all of ours minds recently, as we’re so close. How will we all structure our hikes to get to this perfect burger?
So I guess for some people camping at the 144 mile marker tonight is the way to get to the cafe/the perfect burger easily in the morning. I think about it for a second and realize there’s no reason for me to rush to the cafe – I just want to get there at some point tomorrow and then will plan to sleep there or near there tomorrow night, and hitch into Idyllwild on Friday. And I really really want to camp with Toby. So I tell him so! “We should camp together,” I say. “I’d love that,” he agrees. “If it works with your plans.” I nod my head. My plan is to camp with Toby, so yes, that works with my plan!
With that settled, we spend the rest of the hot afternoon lounging and trying to psyche ourselves up to actually go hike. Toby and I decide we should have 4 liters of water each when we hike out and I’m so not looking forward to carrying that. The heat also stubbornly refuses to leave; even at 5pm it is still pressing down on us.
We can’t put it off any longer though. Toby and I load up our newly filtered iron-filled water and start hiking. Three to four miles – we can do this!
Toby suggests I hike in front, to set the pace, and I’m touched, like I was yesterday with Lion Heart. I insist he tell me if he needs to pass me. We start moving and after awhile he says, “So, I don’t really think you’re a slow hiker. You seem like a regular paced hiker to me.” I laugh. “I’m slower than all the people I’ve been hiking with,” I say, but I so appreciate his sweet validating comment and it does make me think, like Lion Heart made me think yesterday: what does it mean when we say we are slow, why do we do it, why am I undermining myself, who cares?
It’s really fun to hike with Toby. We chat about everything: hiking, religion, our partners, the desert. We talk about blogging while hiking and how much effort it takes at the end of a long day, but how rewarding we find it. “It’s like having a conversation with the people who are reading along,” he says, and I love that description so much. Thank you all for being in conversation with me.
We decide to stop at mile 140, at Nance Canyon. It’s the earliest I’ve ever gotten to camp, at around 6pm. I’m so excited – there’s so much daylight to do things! Toby says he loves getting to camp early, and I agree. It would be incredible to eventually be getting to camp this early regularly – it’s just hard to hike the amount of miles I want to, while avoiding the heat, and still make camp at a decent hour.
We pitch our tents and continue to chat. Toby is so cool – he’s a gender studies professor and an avid hiker and such a nice person. We both keep saying how much fun we’re having together. I’m super happy.
I have my leftover black beans for dinner on a pita and sort of roll it into a burrito; it’s surprisingly yummy and the thrill of not having to cook is amazing. I even clean out my bowl. Getting to camp early is life changing!
And then the stuff that happens every night is happening, the light is disappearing and the moon is beginning to shine and the first few stars are popping out. It’s still not cooling down; there’s barely any breeze and I’m perfectly comfortable lying fully naked on top of my quilt in my tent.
Toby and I say goodnight to each other through our cuben fiber tent walls and agree to wake up at 4am so we can be on trail by 5am.
It’s my two week anniversary on the PCT. I think maybe I can stop saying I’ve never been backpacking before, because arguably I totally have now, right? I still don’t know exactly what I’m doing, but I’m figuring it out.
Tomorrow I get to eat the best burger on the PCT, and the next day I get to meet my friends in Idyllwild for a zero! I’m camping with a fellow queer in a beautiful canyon under the waxing Leo moon and the slightest hint of a breeze just blew through my tent. I’m healthy and happy and doing my best. Happy anniversary to me!