PCT miles: 256 to 266
I woke up around 530 knowing I had a 10 mile walk to the hitching road for Big Bear, but it was chilly out and I stayed in bed for a little while longer. Rawhide and Tarantino seemed to have a similar desire and none of us really got on our way until around 7. My slowness was even more pronounced because my Achilles were really stiff and sore and taking quite a while to get going.
But eventually then I did get moving only to quickly pull off the trail to dig a cathole and then continued on. The terrain was so gradual most of the way, and the temperature so nice, that I kept a pretty good pace. I stopped on a saddle to see if I had cell service and I did, so I started looking for hotel rooms. I was leaning pretty heavily toward wanting to get my own. I called the hostel to ask about private rooms and Sarge was honest that his prices weren’t the best for single people, so I decided to keep looking once I got to town.
I was just about to cross a dirt road when I heard the telltale buzz of a rattlesnake right next to me. I jumped forward a bit and then got a look at it looking at me, shaking its rattle, slithering off the trail. It was only about 3 feet long. It’s the first real “encounter” I have, and I have to say it was a pretty good one – it wasn’t aggressive and it was clear the rattle was defensive and it didn’t want to hurt me. I took a pretty bad and distant picture and kept moving.
It’s in there
When I got to the road I could see about 10 hikers waiting for a hitch. Some were seated near a cooler filled with Mountain Dew and cola, which I decided to skip, and a group we’ve been calling “the Swiss Boys” were on the road with their thumbs out, and Rawhide, Tarantino, Mixed Bag and Samson and Agnes were sitting down. The Swiss Boys had been trying to get a hitch for an hour, with people slowing down and then saying they don’t have room. About 15 minutes after I arrived someone who’d driven by earlier came back and offered them a ride. Samson had called a taxi and Agnes decided to split it with him. I had a text from my dad and we figured he was about 30 minutes from where we were, so I asked him to come get us and he did.
We piled into the car with our packs on our laps and headed straight for a Mexican Restaurant. We ate a ton and then dropped Tarantino, Mixed Bag and Rawhide off to look for where they were going to stay, and my dad and I went driving around to the different gear stores in the area looking for a few things I needed, namely some new shoes.
I wanted new shoes because I’m pretty sure (though I could be wrong) part of the problem with my Achilles is that 1) the shoes hold onto my Achilles in a way that seems to irritate it a little (I’d never had Achilles issues til I wore these on a short backpacking trip) and 2) the shoes I was wearing had very little cushion and a 4mm drop, and I heard another hiker saying minimalist shoes weren’t recommended for people with high arches, which I have. All of this could be bogus but they’re so sore in the morning that I’m willing to give it a shot.
We went to all the gear stores without any luck before going to Big Bear Sporting Goods, where a man named Steve spent quite a while giving me different options to try. I ended up getting a pair of Merrels that I still think I’ll need to cut the pinky toe open on, but that offer more cushion and a higher heel and feel good on my feet. We’ll see. Shoes are a hell of a gamble out here. And expensive. But also the #1 thing worth investing in.
After that my dad took me and Amelia, who I’d texted, to the grocery store to resupply. I went a little nuts on food but my hunger has started making an appearance on trail and it really freaked me out that I had to borrow food from Rawhide – having enough and the right type of foods out here is the difference between being able to sustain a pace all day or crash early and drag yourself through the trail.
Then my dad and I looked at prices for hotels and thought we found the best deal for our own rooms at the Knights Inn at $69. We checked in and it was clear it was a pretty run down little place. Still, I was happy to have my own room and I stayed there for the rest of the night, taking a shower and calling my brother Matthew and my husband and getting lost in the internet.
The next morning I woke around 530 and laid there for a while before texting my dad and seeing if he wanted to go to breakfast. He lent me a pair of his swim trunks from his car and I wore my rain jacket so I could do all of my laundry and I looked.. uh… fashionable.
I got my laundry together and we got breakfast at the Teddy Bear restaurant, which was tasty, and then I washed my clothes at the laundromat (Big Bear Hostel has laundry service if you stay there.) We went back to our rooms and I called my brother Alec while repackaging all my resupply foods and then I called Mark again while I packed my pack and then it was time to check out… and time for lunch.
Rawhide had texted saying that the Robinhood Inn had good prices so before we hit lunch I went and got a room there – $59 for a single King bed (hiker price) and oh my gosh, this place is so much nicer. Huge upgrade. I wish I’d known it last night, too.
Lunch was delicious at Peppercorn and my dad and I chatted. He’s been trying to understand what it’s like to really be out here. Does it feel like an adventure? He asked. No, not really. It’s like I wake up and I’m in the middle of nowhere and the only thing to do is walk, so I do. So does it feel like a job? No, not really. Well, does it feel fun? Maybe? It just is. I can see the gap between how people see this trip, something full of wonder and amazement and adventure, and the way it actually feels, which is something remarkably less breathtaking (except in the very literal way) and something more understated and humming.
I told him – the thing is, I don’t think anyone can like hiking this much. It’s hard. It hurts. It’s too much. So I don’t think the people who are still hiking are hiking it because they like hiking. I’m not. But also anyone can do this. I heard some hikers saying they can’t imagine how fat hikers hike this trail. But I can. They hike it the same way I do, with their own set of physical challenges that may or may not be related to their size, and with the same mental bullshit all of us have to tackle. I don’t know how people with bad knees and backs do this hike, but they do. I don’t know how people without hiking experience do this hike, but they do. Anyone who tries this walk has exactly as much of a chance of getting through it as I do. I don’t have a special hiking gene. I don’t have insurmountable will power or the perfect gear. I am just out here, waking up in the middle of nowhere, needing to get someplace before my food runs out, trying not to let the negative stories in my head get too loud.
I should also say, whether it’s because it’s Mothers Day weekend or because I’ve now hiked 10% of the trail or just because grief shows up whenever it wants to, I’ve been missing my mom. I listened to an On Being episode with Sheryl Sandberg talking about losing her husband and I cried my way down the trail. An old friend of my moms sent us photos of her at my age and I cried when I got back to my hotel room. I looked at photos of her from the year before she died and cried. I cried about how the photos of her looking young and thin looked so much like the image in my head of her when she was sick. I cried looking at some photos of myself where people said I look like her. I cry because she spent much of her life trying to get thin in the way she was in those photos, so much so that she ignored her disappearing hunger like it was a blessing. I want to hike her down this trail and remind her of the power of her hunger, how it is the very thing to keep us alive.
These are not big heaving sobs, though if they were that would be okay. I cry because I need to and then I stop, and I move on. It’s all there is to do.
I am trying to articulate to myself the best way to be on this trail. It is not tough, because the toughness is unkind. It’s not soft, because the softness won’t push you through. So I think of my mother’s favorite flower, Black Eyed Susan’s, a flower I’d only ever seen growing along the highway. Beautiful but hardy. Determined to thrive.