Day 21: finding my heat edge

May 15
Mileage 24
Mile 454.5 to mile 478.6

I wake at 4:20 a.m. to the others rustling in the dark.

“Is it time to hike?” I say. I feel like I haven’t slept at all. Twenty minutes later Sheriff, Twinkle and I are walking down the dark road, trekking poles clacking. The moon has just come up. After a mile we turn left, into the chaparral hills. I feel delerious, already exhausted. But at least it’s still cool. A hundred and five degrees today- is that really going to happen?

I stumble up the trail. The sun is up by the time I reach the top, the oven is on, and there’s a patch of cool shade beneath a couple of oak trees. I sit there with Twinkle and other hikers as they trickle in. We eat salami and gummi candies. Then it’s time to hike on.

Ten a.m. and it’s a hundred degrees. We march from one cache to the next in the shadeless chaparral, our minds attempting to conceptualize the heat. I can feel my brain growing warmer. I begin to feel drunk, but sort of in a fun way. I’ve just zeroed- my legs are fresh, my morale is high. So what if I’m a little warm?It’s only bikram yoga, it’s only bikram yoga, I say to my confused brain.

Partway through the morning I realize I’ve done something foolish- at the Saufley’s I switched from the thin injinji toe socks I’ve worn since the beginning (and that I wore last year) to darn tough socks, which are a little thicker. I was getting some shooting pain in my big toes, and I thought the toe socks might be the culprit- squeezing my toes when they swelled up in the heat. Now, as I hike on the hot sand in a hundred degree heat, everything I’ve read about how “cushy” socks lead to more blisters becomes a reality. I suddenly have hot spots on the pads of my feet- and not any hot spots, but the worst I’ve ever experienced. It feels as though the pads of my feet are on fire, as though there are burning coals imbedded in my feet and I’m bearing down on them with each step. I have a pair of injinjis in my pack, but I don’t want to stop long enough change into them. I laugh about it to Twinkle.

“Our pain tolerance is so high out here,” I say. “Especially this year, going this fast. All the suffering is closer together. We just take it. We just accept it.”

The day grows hotter, and hotter, and hotter. Then it’s afternoon and a hundred and five for sure. The heat is bearing down on us from the sky and radiating up from the ground. The backs of my legs are burning, the soles of my feet are burning. My water tastes funny and I’m on fire. Food sounds nauseating. Bikram yoga, I think. Bikram yoga bikram yoga.

“I think this is the most hardcore hiking I’ve ever done,” says Twinkle, who has climbed many, many fourteeners, when we’re stumbling drunkingly up last ridge.

“Hiking in this heat?” I say. For some reason I can only speak in monotone, and I’m having difficulty forming complete sentences.

“Yeah,” says Twinkle.

We check on each other as we hike the last few miles down to the road-

“You doing ok back there?” Says Twinkle.

“I’m gonna make it,” I say. “You?”

We reach the road around three- 24 miles in a hundred and five degree heat by three. We are badasses, we are invincible. Although, we both agree, just one more mile and we would’ve given up and holed up until dark. Now I limp across the road on my burning, blistered feet. Sherpa and The Boss are there, hitching. Sherpa and The Boss are a very, very wonderful couple we’ve been hiking with/around. In my head I’ve given them the award “Best PCT Couple, 2014”. They are clever and hilarious and good sports and you just want to be around them. And it’s fucking AWESOME to have another woman around. I’ve been hiking in a vast sea of 24 year-old dudes- NotaChance has literally been the only other woman hiking the miles we’re hiking, since pretty much day one. But now The Boss is here! I hope we all hike around each other for a good long while.

Within minutes of standing on the hot road we’re swooped up and taken to the Anderson’s, where there is much cheering from the wasted people on the couches in the driveway and we are forced to put on hawaiian shirts. I get a big hug from Terry, take a deleriously wonderful outdoor shower, and there is taco nacho salad of my dreams. Time slows to mollasses. I slump on the couches with the others, laughing at nothing. I’m not even intoxicated, just delerious from last night’s sleep deprivation and high from hiking 24 miles in 100+ heat. Best bikram yoga session ever.

Photos on instagram.

Day 20: zero in hiker heaven

May 14
Mileage: zero

I almost forgot to blog today, I was so relaxed.

Warm sun on the ground, the neighing of horses, lying on my cot in the shade in my flower-print loaner dress, letting the day slip by. Eating a little bit of everything until I no longer remember what I ate. Doing the tiny errands- writing postcards, updating my FAQ page, mailing things ahead. Watching a vhs movie in the cool hiker trailer, eating watermelon. Cuddling daschunds. Watching the other hikers arrive, sand-beaten and roasted from the sun, legs and clothes smeared with dirt. Dehydrated, hunched under the weight of their packs. Watching the relief flood their faces as they realize that everything they need is here.

Donna Saufley is brilliant at what she does. She’s creates the most relaxing hiker habitat on earth.

In bed now on my cot, just after dark. The sun has gone down and the moon has come up. Alarms set to four a.m.- we hike out early to beat the hundred degree heat. What does the future hold? Everything.

Photos on instagram.

Day 19: much desert, so zombie

May 13
Mileage 24
Mile 430.5 to mile 454.5

So tired
Am zombie
Death march, today, to Saufley’s hiker heaven
Much hot, so feet, so desert
Wow
Wow
fell asleep late last night b/c 35 mile ENDORPHINS!!!! Woke at 4 a.m. b/c moon, felt good for exactly two hours, sun came up to vaporize morale commence death march through the desert.

No shade! Heat radiating up from the hot sand! Leg skin roasting! I am a delerious baked potato! Why is everything so bright? A chorus of pain in my body- the tenor of chafe sting, the deep bass of hot aching feet. The lilting melody of my heel blister. The song plays on repeat.

Reached hot little agua dulce in the afternoon, roadwalk beating the soles of my feet. Bought a roast chicken. Ride to hiker heaven. Sheriff and Twinkle and NotaChance drinking cheap beer in the shade. Cool shower, said hello to Donna Saufley! Flowered loaner dress camp chair ate a green bell pepper.

They say there’s a heat wave coming in. The crew is zombied the fuck out, feet beat all to hell, we’re zeroing here for sure. Then the mojave in a hundred degrees? We become nocturnal? We’ll see.

Tonight we sleep on cots under the warm stars. No alarms.

Hikers ahead- we’re coming for you!!!

Just one disgusting photo on instagram.

Day 18: poodle dog bush day

May 12
Mileage 35
Mile 395 to mile 430.5

Today I did a thirty-five mile day. That is all.

But also! There was poodle dog bush, a long roadwalk on a detour, eating skittles and caffeinated GU, talking about Game of Thrones as the sun set. Going from up high ponderosa forest down to baking desert, back up to forest again. A creepy burned out prison camp way up at the top, and in the distance the tiny, hazy skyscrapers of LA.

What a crazy world we live in.

The Saufley’s tomorrow!

Trail gossip: NotaChance is hiking all the 24 year-old boys to their deaths. They try and keep up with her with their heavy packs, because they feel like they should be able to. But they can’t! Today, when most of us did 35, NotaChance did 41. My hero! She is an inspiration to us all.

Photos on instagram.

Day 16: turning the wheel of life

May 10
Mileage 27.8
Mile 342 to mile 369.8

Today was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The trail is about never giving up. It’s about crying alone on logs. It’s about cycling through every possible emotion in a twelve hour period to end up exactly where you started- hungry, sleepy, content for no specific reason. It’s about not quitting when you really want to, if only because you can’t think of where else you’d go or what you would do, when you got there.

I’m one of the last ones out of our hotel room at cajon pass- everyone else got up at 4:30 to tackle the 20 mile, 7 thousand foot climb in the cool. I sleep in to a leisurely 6 a.m. and then stuff myself with sausage and eggs at the continental breakfast. After breakfast I hit up del taco for seven crispy tacos, which I plan to pack out up the hill. Then I wander over the freeway and under, to the dark cool tunnel that dumps me back onto the trail- down where the hot desert folds in on itself and makes a wet jungle, vines over everything and a yellow stream running in the sand, rusted out cars in the weeds behind a “no tresspassing” sign. I climb up into the dry hills and there’s train tracks, BNSF and UP intermodals thundering east towards Texas. I watch one pass, units clicking and shaking, and then sit on a rock and eat four of my tacos. It’s 7:30 a.m. Gonna be a slow day today.

When I hit six thousand feet the elevation sickness hits me like a ton of bricks. My stomach turns over, aches, the cold hand of nausea. I’m dizzy and out of breath. I march forward in the heat, anxious at my slowness. I’m trying to make it to the highway on the other side of this mountain range by 7 pm. 27 miles. 20 of them are up. And I’m sick, so sick.

The desert turns to cool ponderosa forest as I climb and I sit on a log and cry. Why am I hiking the trail again. The trail is full of ghosts, the trail is full of suffering. The trail is a ribbon of dirt. The trail is a figment of my imagination. The trail doesn’t exist.

These things being as they may, I decide to keep walking. I reach the top after three seperate crying jags and find a flat forest swirling with cool mist and suddenly I feel fantastic. I walk faster and feel better and then, four miles before the highway, I start to run. The trail tips down, full of rocks, weather swirling all around me. I reach the highway right at sunset and catch a ride into town with a young couple in a shiny car. They drop me off in tiny wrightwood and I blink in the dark street and then wander into the bar to find it full of hikers- NotaChance, Guthrie, Hi-Tech, TikTok (who I incidentally shared a creative writing class with at PSU four years ago) and lots of other hikers I haven’t yet met- I order a massive burger and eat it very quickly, drink some ice water. I am happy.

So happy.

The grocery store is open till 10 pm so I do my resupply- chips, salami, I’m feeling wild so mustard, mayo, postcards. The others have offered to cram me into their already crowded hotel room so I go there, wash my feet, stretch, spread my sleeping bag on the couch and then all the drunk hikers come home, can’t open the door, can’t turn on the lights, we push the furniture out of the way, there are nine hikers on the floor and much giggling and it smells like feet, it’s 11 pm aka hiker 2 a.m.

Goodnight.

Photos on instagram

Day 15: the backs of dragons

May 9
Mileage 24.5
Mile 317.4 to mile 342

Here’s what we do: bedrolls by eight, asleep by 9. Wake up at five a.m., the coldest hour right before dawn, everyone’s watch alarms bleeping wildly in the dark. Water, handfuls of breakfast, walking before I’m really ready. The sun comes up and it’s hot. I lose steam, fall behind. I sit on a rock and take selfies. Here’s how it goes- NotaChance way ahead, she’s the fastest. On the whole trail? Probably. Our Lady of the Seven Pound Base Weight. She’s five, ten, fifteen miles ahead. The boys in the middle, in a pack. And me, dicking the fuck around, bringing up the rear. Loitering, looking at things, sitting awkwardly in the dirt in chunks of shade. I like it back here, where there’s no pressure. H-ing my own H.

I hike over the backs of dragons all day, feeling wilted from the heat, listening to the Game of Thrones audio book. I like that series- they are always suffering more than I am, are always more weary, have always been on horseback longer. It makes me feel better. At 4:30 I reach that rend in the fabric of space-time that is the massive freeway at Cajon Pass and turn right to walk the .4 road miles to the McDonalds, an official water source. Everyone is there, doubled over with mcnugget consumption, and the intergalactic space station of cheeseburgers is also stuffed with “regular” people, from their respective realities, clothes bright and hair carefully ironed. I drop my pack with the others. I look and smell like a homeless person but nobody stares. I feel extremely comfortable. I order and quickly consume four double cheeseburgers, a large fry, and several liters of lemonade. 2 thousand calories- a thousand less than last year. But who’s counting.

Afterwards we book a palatial room at the best western across the street and stuff it with hikers- eight of us in total. In an hour the hunger returns and everyone heads to the Del Taco. I lay in bed, feeling bleary. Tomorrow a 15 mile climb up to 8500 feel, 27 miles total to Wrightwood. It’ll be a long day. Everything is flying by. I listen to the freeway sounds out the window, the chatter of the hikers. Today, while walking on a narrow ribbon of hot sand way above everything, I asked myself why I was doing this. Why I was hiking the trail a second time. And the answer is I don’t know. But I imagine, by the end, that I will.

Photos on instagram.

Day 14: the swimming hole of our dreams

May 8
Mileage 25
Mile 292.5 to mile 317.5

We wake before dawn in our campsite in the trees (it was around freezing during the night but I was toasty on my magic, magic neoair!) and eat a little breakfast, blearily pack our things away, set out before the sun has cleared the hills. The trail slopes gently down until Cajon Pass and so it is with great regret that we leave the leafy forest behind and descend again into the hot, blistering desert. There is a consolation prize, however- deep creek, which is also and/or becomes the mojave river, making its wide cool way between the canyon walls. We can see it below us and then there’s a dusty little side trail switchbacking down and we follow it to the swimming hole of our dreams. The cold water collects in still, seemingly bottomless pools, and there is even a rock to jump off of. I swim, eat snacks (I brought too much sweet/not enough salty this section and so I am so, so sick of my food) and then lay on the warm rock without sunscreen and almost fall asleep. Then it’s time to hike and I push on, even though it’s way hot now and my hiking boner is long gone. We follow lush little deep creek to its sad fate in a massive concrete dam and then switchback up into the moisture-sucking hills. Evening finds us laid out in our bedrolls like sardines near a small spring, the air warm, our friend The Wind moving through the scrub oak. We talk excitedly about what we’re going to order at the mcdonald’s at cajon pass tomorrow afternoon; the hiker hunger is strong within us now and we are so. fucking. hungry.

Pain/body update: the skin between my big toe and the toe next to it is cracked and splitting, through many layers of skin, to the point that it’s bloody- toe sock injury?! And my legs are covered in a blotchy, itchy rash. Never a dull moment on the trail! Otherwise holding up magnificently.

Sad news!! McButter, aka the most clever and entertaining person alive, has some pain that may or may not be shin splints, and is getting off the trail tomorrow at Cajon Pass to get it checked out. McButter has so far provided near constant comic relief, and things on the trail just won’t be the same without him. Hopefully a few days’ rest do wonders and he is back with us before too long!!

Photos on instagram

Day 13: a one ounce tent and three lighters

May 7
Mileage 26.5
Mile 266 to mile 292.5

My god, what a difference fresh legs make.

We wake at 5:45 to be in time for the 6:30 shuttle, various alarms going off in the dark hotel room. We shuffle around, eating oranges and microwaved leftovers, assembling our worldy possesions into dusty backpacks. We pile into Rock Ocean’s vanagon. It’s cold outside.

The trail is easy today, gentle downhill through cool pine forest, and we’re fast. I feel great today- my legs are strong, my feet are sure and nothing hurts, not one single thing. The miles fly by and by 2 p.m. we’ve gone twenty miles. We sit at a picnic table by a horse pen where I camped last year, and I am overcome with nostalgia- this is the first place where I met Spark, Track Meat and Sagittar last year. There were a whole bunch of us, huddled around this picnic table in the dark, cooking dinner on our little alcohol stoves. I tried to put my stove out with my hanky, hoping to impress everyone, and I set my hanky on fire instead.

Now I eat MnMs on almond butter on gluten free oreos until I have a tummy ache. More hikers show up and we are all laughing, passing around a bag of gummy bears. Someone puts a brick-sized rock in NotaChance’s pack, but she finds it.

Six easy miles later and we’re in camp, a sandy flat spot in an oak forest next to a clear stream that runs over mossy stones. It’s the most beautiful spot we’ve camped yet. We spread out our bedrolls and more hikers show up and soon it’s like we’re playing sardines- nine of us in a row on the soft sand, the smell of cooking macaroni wafting over everything. The birds make noises like they do and the sun sinks over the hills. McButter makes a joke about having a base weight of five ounces-

“A one ounce tent, and three lighters,” he says. “One doubles as a rain jacket. If it’s raining, I just set myself on fire. If I need a ground sheet, I just set the ground on fire.”

And then I’m laughing so hard I can’t breathe.

This is the way it should be.

Photos on instagram.

Day 12: zero never felt so good

May 6
Mileage 0

Before bed I tell the others that I’m not hiking out in the morning; I want to take a zero. I’m tired, unimaginably so, in every part of my body. Ever since my epic dehydration I’ve felt awful, and I’ve been dragging myself down the trail. I haven’t taken a zero yet; it’s time to rest.

I wake at dawn to a little light coming in the windows of our basement room and lay in bed, scrolling on my phone. The bed is comfortable, almost overwhelmingly so, but I still didn’t sleep amazing. I don’t know what it is- I just haven’t slept well on the trail so far. Sometimes I’ve been cold, but mostly I’ve just been sort of… awake. The weeks before this hike were such a whirlwind of stress and logistical juggling, making things come together at the last minute, worrying that nothing would work out- by the time I flew to San Diego on April 24th I was epically drained and almost rigid with anxiety- and I still haven’t come off that train. It’s happening, though, bit by bit. The woods are working me down like they do. There’s nothing more healing, in my book, than turning my brain off to walk.

The others wake and we check the weather- 34 degrees outside, high winds, snow later. We’ve just learned that rooms at the Snow Bear Lodge down the road are forty bucks. Everyone’s feet are sore, everyone is a bit weary. It’s not hard to convince them to stay.

We go to breakfast with a bunch of other hikers at the Grizzly Manor, a crowded greasy spoon with fantastic portions. I eat a giant breakfast and parts of my friends’ breakfasts as well. We walk in the cold wind down the long boulevard to the huge supermarket, where I buy chicken strips and an orange. Then back to the hostel and to the Snow Bear (although it’s a zero, we walk about 4 miles) where the sweetest elderly lady in the world sells us a warm, well-lit room with three beds and a gas fireplace for forty bucks. Thus begins the long afternoon of sitting, napping, and scrolling on our phones, eating nutella on strawberries and making phone calls to friends while outside, somewhat magically, it begins to snow.

At 6 p.m. there’s a knock on the door- Himalayan food delivered from a place down the street, courtesy of Betty Wheeler, an incredibly generous woman I met at Scout and Frodo’s who wanted to buy us all dinner. (Thanks Betty!!) None of us have ever had Himalayan food, and we dig in at great speed until we’re uncomfortably full, and then we eat some more. Today has been a great party of Eat All The Things; now we’re sleepy and sort of sedated, we sprawl over the beds/floor and talk about nothing, watching the rain fall and waiting for the sun to go down. In the morning we have a ride back to the trail from Rock Ocean, the awesome trail angel, and then- then what happens?

Here are the blogs of some of the people I’m hiking with- they are good check them out!

NotaChance
Sheriff Woody
TwinkleToes

Photos on instagram

Day 11: Big Bearrrrr

May 5
Mileage 17.5
Mile 248.5 to mile 266

I sleep so good in the cold and wake up to the pale dawn rising through the trees. I’m eating a leisurely breakfast of sunflower seeds and broken tortilla chips when TwinkleToes, Sherrif Woody and McButter walk up.

“So, ah, you taking an on-trail zero?” says McButter.

“This is why I camped up here,” I say. “So peaceful, no five a.m. alarms!” I am happy to see them and they regale me with stories of their haunted cabin while I pack up my bedroll. Then it’s off, down the trail… 17 miles to Big Bear, the sprawling town where we’ll resupply. And today is brought to you by the letter C… for chafe. Cracking chafe. My chafe is cracking, everywhere. My ass, my thighs, my back where my shirt rubs it. Zingers of pain while I walk. Splittling, cracking chafe. And my big toes- I think my feet have swollen too large for the toes of my injinji toe socks. Zingers of pain in my big toes. And I feel naseous and slow again today- like I want to fall asleep leaning on my trekkin poles. Like I want to curl up in the fetal position next to the trail. But then I take a shit and it’s almost normal. So there’s that.

There’s a cache with a couch and a giant metal bin of sodas on Onyx summit, where NotaChance spent the night, and we sit there and take funny selfies. The boys pound mountain dews. Then we pass the animal cages, where sad “retired” grizzlies and tigers pace in their sad cages, making sad noises. We trudge on and at last we reach the highway, where it’s super windy. We try to hitch but the wind batters us and there are four of us. We call the Big Bear Hostel, as they offer to shuttle people into town. The owner, Grayson, picks us up in his epic station wagon and gives us a mini tour, takes us by the grocery store. He’s super nice. At the hostel we find NotaChance, drinking beers in the sun with a bunch of other hikers who look like extras playing hikers in a movie. We ask the man at the front desk, Sarge, about a room.

“Four guys and one girl,” he says. “Can I watch?”

What the fuck? I think.

“No,” is all I can think to say.

“Please?” Says Sarge.

“No,” I say. “Creepy! That’s a really creepy thing to say.”

“No it’s not,” he says turning to the boys. “I tell ’em, you can either have goofy Sarge or professional Sarge.”

“Can you tell us how much the room is?” I say.

He gives us a room for four people for $88. It’s in the basement, with overhead florescent lighting, and the bathroom is across the hall. The room looks like a busted dorm room and one of the springs in my bed stabs me in the hand when I’m putting on the sheets. Later we learn that our friends got a room at the Snow Bear Inn down the road for $40 for four people. Dang!

We eat Mexican food at a place down the road for dinner. The food is weird and overpriced. This town seems sad. The forecast for tomorrow is rain and snow, a high of 44. Many of the hikers at the hostel are zeroing, and I kind of wish I could too. Zeroing is expensive though, and would cause me to fall behind my friends, who are currently attempting to be the fastest people on the trail. I don’t know. I just don’t know about any of it. I’ll sleep and decide in the morning.

Pics on instagram.