And Then the Desert Was Over – Day 55: Fox Mill Creek to Kennedy Meadows

PCT Miles: 683.1 to 702.2 (+.7 to the general store)
I have intentions of getting up at first light and setting out, but it’s chilly which makes me slow. Instead Nobody and I head out around 6. We have 19-something miles to cover to get to Kennedy Meadows today and it feels like it’s going to be a warm day. Luckily (and unluckily) much of the day is downhill or flat. Lucky, because hot is easier downhill, unlucky, because miles of downhill (at least six today) is brutal on the feet.
But first there is an uphill, and even with two poles I am not as energetic as I was the day before. It is slow going. At the top, I’m desperate for some shade and I stop. Nobody decides to look for shade a little ahead and I say I’ll catch up – I don’t. Later, he tells me he waited for me 3 separate times and I never caught him. He says my trial name should be Putter, because I just putter along. I don’t hate it, but it reminds me of golf, so I decline.
I do catch him again at the water source, Manter Creek, where yesterday there were reports of a rogue bear. We don’t see a bear, but I’m not able to relax in the way I’d like because the ants are insane. The good news is: my hunger is back, loud and consistent. Mark brought me yogurt covered pretzels and I eat them with enthusiasm with every meal. 
We get hiking again but it’s hot and a burn area and by the time we reach the trees I need another break. It’s like the desert really wants to have one last hurrah. Nobody says he’ll meet me at the water 2 miles ahead but when I get there there’s no shade and I don’t see him and I stop under the first shade I see just off the trail. Later he tells me he waited for me several times again, likely right ahead of where I stopped. Oops!
After the water I stop to quite literally pick my nose and look to see a big snake hiding in the shade. Yikes! But it doesn’t look like a rattler so I take a picture.
And then I hit the 700 mile mark. I missed the 600 mile mark, and 60 miles, but it still feels big.
And then I arrive at Kennedy Meadows. There is a round of applause which makes me happy and I see a group I’d chatted with before, Soul Sister and LiterBit and Ko and they wave me over and I sit and chat with them. They let me know the store is closing so I run inside for a Snapple and a fresh, cold water. The grill is closed which means I have to eat the beans and rice in my food bag for dinner. I find some tortillas in the hiker box and add them to the plan. 
Around 8 I head to my tent and cook dinner. I manage to spill most of the cooked rice on the ground which is a huge bummer, so I cooked some more and added beans and ate and it was actually pretty tasty. I am just happy to be hungry again.
Now I have to figure out when and who with to hit the Sierra. Wish me luck!

Seeking a Sierra Trail Family – Day 54: Spanish Needle Creek to Fox Mill Spring

PCT Miles: 668.7 to 683.1

Miles: 14.4

I wake up this morning and don’t want to get up at all. My motivation is still missing. I look at the map and decide to hike 14.7 miles today, which will let me camp by water, and will only leave me with 18 or 19 miles to Kennedy Meadows. Hopefully the promise of getting to Kennedy Meadows will wake my motivation back up.
I finally get up and walking around 7. I decide to try walking with two poles today – Mark has brought me one from home because I thought I might want both for the Sierra. I’m surprised how not annoying it is to use two (it was super annoying the last time I tried, before I started the PCT) and I feel like they help power me up the climb. 
At the top of the climb I’m hungry, so I sit down for a break and make myself half of a Mountain House meal that my friend Natalie sent me for my birthday. As I’m sitting a hiker who was close behind me the last section of the climb sits down. His name is Nobody, I met him at the water yesterday – he’s section hiking from Tehachapi to Lone Pine. 
“You have a really nice pace,” he says. “Can I hike with you?” I say sure and we chat about the trail. It’s good to have someone to talk to and it gets my head in a better space. Once we get moving I feel pretty sure he’ll want to go faster soon, but instead he keeps pace with me all day, even when I take breaks in the shade shortly after we’d already taken a break. 
We’re 2 miles from water when a south bound hiker tells us there’s trail magic ahead. Sure enough, he’s right. Saunter, a hiker who’d done the trail last year and was looking to do it again but had to stop because of a hurt foot, and another hiker who is off trail named Bethany, had sodas and hot dogs. We sat in the shade and talked about the Sierra and I chatted with a group of hikers I like. 
We stayed there for a few hours, waiting out the heat. Then Nobody and I hiked the last 2 miles to camp. It was warm and uphill and I was quickly drenched in sweat, but I was also moving fast – the two pole thing might be a game changer. At camp I had to take off my shirt and set up in my bra I was so sweaty. I climbed inside my tent and continued to try to cool down. I ate a pop tart and brushed my teeth and then sat with the group I’d chatted with earlier, Bird Dog, Mishap, Keith, Moon Burn, and Clara. Then Moon Burn kicked us out of the space, because it was her tent space, so she could set up camp. It’s 7:45. I’m hoping I can get up early and feel motivated so I can get the 19 miles to Kennedy Meadows done efficiently. 
After that, I don’t really know. I hope to find a group that has some experience and some realistic mileage goals. I found out Twerk has headed north to Redding (his family lives there) to continue hiking north. I should be able to get to Lone Pine no problem. After that is a question mark. 

Post-Family Blues – Day 53: Walker Pass to Spanish Needle Creek

PCT Miles: 652.1 to 668.7
Miles: 16.7

My stomach has one last hurrah in the hotel toilet. At least I hope that’s the last of it.
Mark drops me off at the trailhead at 7:30 and it is so very, very hard to let him go.
My body feels rested and strong but tired. The first two, then the first four miles speed by. I am not thinking about the trail much at all, but about how bad my heart hurts.
Why am I doing this? Seems to be the question of the day. I fantasize about going home and curling up on the couch. Between skipping 60 miles, approaching the “end of the desert” (the terrain I’m most comfortable with), the Sierra looming, Mark’s visit, being in between trail families… I am feeling very mixed up. What is it I really want out of this hike? If I skip around and just do the parts that interest me, would it be better? Am I looking for something that is impossible for a trail to provide? Has the trail already given me what I needed?
But I also know this is what days-out-of-town can look like, and there is nothing to do but try to be kind and patient with myself, and to hike. 
I’m sitting for a break when I see hiker Mark, a doctor I’d camped with back on the Idyllwild alternate. We make small talk and I’m glad to see a familiar face. 
I take frequent breaks once the sun makes an appearance. My goal for the day is 16.7 miles. I feel a weird mixture of incredibly strong and incredibly unmotivated. I stop for water and there’s a group of hikers there and I chat with them. They’re going to the same campsite I am which is comforting. 
On the climb out of water to camp, Campo comes hiking up behind me. We catch up and he hikes on. I see him again at camp and we talk a little more. I tell him how I’ve been trying to write my “I quit” post all day in my head. I don’t really want to quit. Not yet, anyway. It is hard to keep your momentum out here when you’re reminded what it feels like to be safe and loved and have things be easy.
I gather water and go to bed. He’s trying to hike another ten miles or so tonight. I curl up in my tent and text Mark through my Delorme and he tells me the sewage pipe at the house collapsed and everything is backing up and overflowing. He’s had a rough week. At least I know now if I went home I still wouldn’t be able to use a toilet. 

Fever Sleep – Day 49: Zero on Trail

I wake in the morning and it seems like my nausea has passed. Should I hike? I wonder. I have messages from Mark saying he knows exactly where I am and can come and get me. Okay, I think. Come and get me.

I get up to move my tent to the shade and am instantly glad I didn’t try to hike – my skin is tender to the touch and I’m pretty sure I still have a fever. It hurts to move. So for most of the day I sleep. Another hiker, Whoopie, had been puking at camp all night. He asks if he can get a ride too. Of course, I say. Later, another hiker who’d passed by us, Harvest, hiked back to us – 6 miles forward, 6 miles back – because she could feel herself getting sick. Can I get a ride? she says. Of course, of course.

So we lay there all day. Around 2 pm, Mark texts me: his car has broken down. He has to get a tow, and a rental. He’ll be a few hours later. Fine fine, I think. Sleep sleep.

At six, he texts: I’ll be there at 7:30. I let the others know. I pack up my things and we head over to the road.

When we reach the road I get a feeling of dread. What if he can’t make it here? He should have called a ranger. He’s not going to make it. He’s not going to make it. I try to quiet my brain. But 7:30 comes and goes. And 8:30. I walk up and down the dirt road hoping for headlights. I don’t see any.

At 8:45 I say we should set up our tents and we do. Harvest is too sick to do much so she continues to lay on her pad with her sleeping bag, cowboy camping. I send Mark a message – we’ll figure it out tomorrow. There are other dirt roads. I should be able to hike tomorrow. Please let me know you’re OK.

I get a message back: I went to the coordinates and you weren’t there. I’m driving to your last known InReach.

How far out are you? I ask. But he doesn’t respond.

It’s well past dark. I don’t want him on these mountain roads. And, truly – I don’t think he can get to this road. It’s too rough. The only way I’m getting out of here is by hiking. Still, I set my alarm for a half an hour. And then again. And then I shut it off. I have to sleep if I’m going to hike. He tried his hardest but he couldn’t make it.

And then, at 10:30, I wake to a voice: “Colleen.”

It’s Mark, standing outside my tent.

“What…?” I want to cry but I’m too dehydrated so I settle for a half-cry tear-welling kind of sound. I look around. There’s a massive truck in the road. “A truck…?”

“It’s a long story,” he says. “I told you I’d come get you.”

I try to pack while half-crying and then we get in the truck. Here’s what had happened:

Mark went to the place I told him we’d meet originally, the place I would have needed to hike 23 miles to get to. When that didn’t work, he drove around the roads a little looking for me. When that didn’t work, he went back to cell service to message me and pull up my last known location via my InReach, which hadn’t occurred to him to do before. He set off to find me and then came to a gate and drove around the gate. Then he came to another locked gate that seemed impassable. He was yelling, frustrated – he was only 6 miles away. That’s when Bryan approached him: “You know you’re on private property?”

So he told him the story – he’d been driving since 6 am, his car had broken down, he’d gotten a tow, and a rental (and the rental place had told him they were out of cars until the tow truck driver intervened), and he’d been trying to come to find me.

So Bryan showed him to his house and Mark connected Bryan’s iPad to the internet for him (they’d just gotten the internet) and Mark showed him the coordinates of where I was. “Oh,” he said. “I know where that is. But your car is never going to make it there. You need four wheel drive.”

So Bryan and his nephew Dylan drove for six miles up a windy, rutted dirt road in the dark to help Mark come get me and my two sick hiker friends. And then drove us back to Mark’s car, and Mark drove us to our hotel.

Mark said my name outside my tent at 10:30 p.m. We got to the hotel at 1 a.m. Harvest and Whoopie crashed on our floor before figuring out what they’re going to do tomorrow.

We’re spending the weekend near Lake Isabella. Tomorrow (Sunday) is my birthday. I’m not sure where I’ll get back on trail yet, only that I won’t be able to get back on exactly where I got off because the road is too rough. But those are problems to solve for tomorrow’s Colleen. Today I feel I’m around at 85% – my fever seems to have broken but I have a sick-hangover from lack of water and food. I am feeling really grateful to have my husband here, like magic, exactly when I needed him. I am grateful at how quickly and intelligently my body seems to be healing. And I’m happy that I wasn’t alone yesterday, not the only sick girl on the trail, not the only person wanting to me safe and healthy and happy and here.

Return of the Bad Stomach – Day 48: Windy Campsite to Shaded Meadow

PCT Miles: 571.0 to 592.0

Miles: 21

I wake up really hungry and tired. But – hungry! I feel as if my stomach is better because my appetite is back and I’m pleased. I eat a muffin in my tent and get hiking. I take several breaks for mini naps and more food. I stop and eat salami and cheese and tortillas. Hunger! I’ve missed you! You beautiful thing!

My legs and body are feeling good and I feel like I’m on track to hit the mileage I want to do today so that I can reasonably get to Mark tomorrow – a 23 mile day to see him.

I get to the water source and make myself macaroni and cheese and take a nap and by 3:10 I’m hiking the last 10 miles to camp. But then I start to feel nauseated. Not cramping, nauseated. Fuck fuck fuck.

I hike and hike and hike and unclip my hip belt and listen to podcasts and try to breathe and I keep imagining myself throwing up off the side of this mountain. Fuck you Leave No Trace, I am thinking. I will not dig a cathole for my own barf. I keep near-crying but I am too tired and nauseated and dehydrated to get very far. I take a pepto bismol which does next to nothing.

It takes me forever, but I make it to camp. I try to set up my tent from a seated position. Rawhide gives me an anti-nausea pill and I crawl into my tent and try to fall asleep. How am I going to hike 23 miles tomorrow? How? How?

At midnight I wake up from fever dreams about being rescued and send Mark a message from my InReach. I don’t think I can hike tomorrow. There’s a dirt road .1 miles ahead that someone did trail magic on a month ago – maybe you can call the forest service ranger and see if it’s passable? Maybe you can call them and they can come get me?

I fall back asleep. I am glad I have brought too much water. I am glad I am near the shade. I am glad that I can text even with no cell service, so that I don’t feel totally alone out here on this mountain.

 

First Slackpacking of the Trail – Day 47: Tehachapi to Windy Mountain Campsite

Pct miles: 558 to 570.8

Miles: 12.8
I wake up and manage to eat some continental breakfast and while everyone is still in bed I do our laundry. We slowly get our packs together for checkout, and then I drop mine off at Rachel and Mousetrap’s room and head back to the grocery store. I get the rest of what I need and then ask the grocery clerk where to get a good salad and she points me across the street to a place called Henry’s, which doesn’t disappoint. I leave and go to stick my thumb out when a mother and son who were also eating at the restaurant ask, “Do you need a ride?” and take me back to the Best Western. Tehachapi has been amazingly hiker friendly.

Back at the hotel I organize myself and then take an Uber to the Post Office and mail myself food to Kennedy Meadows. I’ll likely have to get some more things from their store, but at least it’s the bulk of what I’ll need. It’s crazy that Kennedy Meadows is less than two hundred miles away.

At the post office I stick my thumb out and a man in a truck with his tiny dog pick me up and take me back to the hotel. I hang out in Rachel/Justin/Mousetrap’s room and take a nap until Camp is ready to go – he and I are going back to where we got off the trail so we don’t miss miles, while everyone else we hiked in with are skipping ahead by 8 miles.

He and I stick our thumbs out and walk toward town and it doesn’t take long before none other than Legend picks us up. Legend has to go by the airport first so he takes us there and we talk with some other hikers. He tells us that a lot of people are “slackpacking” this section of the trail – doing it without their full pack – because he offers to drive their packs to them by 9 pm. It doesn’t take Campo and I long before we decide this is an awesome idea.

We get to the trailhead and Coppertone is there, too and we sit around chatting. My stomach starts to churn and I have to run down the trail – I have a bout of diarrhea. But, I tell myself, I bet this is the end of it, my body getting rid of the last of whatever’s pissed it off.

We stick around for Legend’s spaghetti dinner and then head out with just a water bottle and a trekking pole. It’s actually one of the most pleasant hiking experiences on the trail so far. Campo and I have great conversation and even though he could be going faster he chooses to stick with me. We get to the highway where Legend will drop off our packs just before dark. Another hiker who’d been on trail with us slackpacking is going back to town – he’d been in town for two weeks nursing a sprained ankle, but it was still giving him trouble. He’d been hopeful it was better but his body had other plans.

Legend dropped off our packs and we get walking. For a couple of miles we’re just above the highway on mostly flat ground. It’s dark, and again, though Campo could easily walk faster, he’s sticking with me because I’d shared that I’m not a big fan of nighthiking. I’m grateful, because I’m trying to make something like 57 miles in three days, including this day, when it’s already dark. The farther I can get tonight the fewer miles I’ll have to do to meet Mark for my birthday.

But the wind is insane. I’m sometimes taking one step just to take three steps to the left and right to try to regain my balance. We end up making it only a few miles up the climb before I spot some tents and trees and decide to set up camp for the night. Campo continues on.

The trees don’t help much and I’m grateful, though honestly surprised, that my tent poles don’t snap in the wind. I don’t get much sleep.

 

 

Will Hike For McDonald’s – Day 28: Silver Wood Lake Campground to Swarthout Canyon

PCT miles: 328 to 347
Miles: 19

Well, I didn’t get eaten by a mountain lion. I did have a dream that I heard something outside my tent which led to a mountain lion pawing at my tent near my back. I couldn’t scream and as I tried to get myself to make noise in the dream, ended up making a small murmur that woke me from the dream. 

Still, I was actually fine and woke up having slept well and, since I didn’t have a bunch of other campers around to judge whether I should start packing or not – and with the looming idea of being behind Rawhide and wanting McDonalds – I managed to start walking a half an hour earlier than usual, at 6:30. I quickly ran into some other hikers who passed me so it was good to know there were other people on the trail.

I managed to get into a good rhythm and was feeling strong and did 4 miles, so wondered if I could do 8 without stopping. I was still feeling good so I thought, I wonder if I can hike until 10 without stopping. At 9:40 my body let me know it was hitting a sugar low and by 9:50 I was stopped in the shade drinking Gatorade. 

I stopped long enough to finish the drink and then got myself hiking again. I was only 5 miles outside of the McDonald’s and I wanted to try to get there without stopping. The trail definitely made it a challenge for me with some pretty steep downhills.


It was gorgeous, though, and I let myself take it slow that I wouldn’t beat up my feet and need to stop. I popped in a podcast and just focused on getting to McDonald’s. 


I ended up arriving right around 1230, which meant I’d hiked 14 miles in 6 hours, which is pretty damn fast for me. Today was the first day I really felt like I could tell that I’ve been getting stronger and that my body is capable of a little pushing.

At McDonald’s there were SO many hikers. Nonhikers would walk in and say “woah.” People would make “what stinks in here?” faces. Our packs were everywhere. Our phones and chargers were piled by the two outlets on the wall. One hiker, Squarepants, who was also celebrating his birthday, managed to plug his phone into a ceiling outlet and duct taped his phone to the wall. 


The employees didn’t seem particularly phased – we’re not their first round of hiker trash I guess. And a few people asked is what we were doing. One man thought we were skiing (because of our trekking poles.) Many thought we were a hiking group. One group of women, sisters and two high school friends, stopped and chatted with us a while and told us how impressed they were. 

I ate a chicken sandwich and fries – McDonald’s has really upped their game because my sandwich was delicious. I debated for a minute and then also ordered a strawberry shake, which was not as fresh but still tasty. I sat with Caddy and Hobo and Francoise, and eventually table hopped and talked to various people. Twerk and Rawhide were there, as were Mousetrap, Tallboy, Rachel, Mermaid, David, Julia, and a whole host of people. Even Tarantino showed up, telling us he’d done a 26.5 mile day to catch us.

I’d planned to get back on trail at 3 but when I went to leave at 330 I realized my phone, which I’d plugged in, hadn’t actually been charging. My phone charger is near dead, too, and I’m two days out of town, so I decided to wait to get my phone to charge. I ordered some chicken nuggets and a side salad and chatted with more hikers. Rawhide’s thighs are really hurting her again so Mousetrap gave her some Desitin cream to try to help and we laughed about her smelling like diaper rash cream. 

All of us were bummed that there’s no water for 22 miles, which meant carrying 5 liters of water out of McDonald’s, which means a very heavy pack.

Rawhide and I didn’t head out (with Julia – now Hungry G – along for the ride) until 545, with plans to do 5 miles. Rawhide quickly got ahead of us (she later apologized and said she’d booked it because her thighs were killing her, but she’s just a fast lady) and Julia and I chatted for a good remainder of the hike, which made the last 5 miles pass quickly, although my feet started yelling at me as we approached camp. 

Also, I wanted to say that the trail isn’t always sweeping views of nature. Lately we’ve been passing a lot of roads, rail road tracks, etc. Tonight as we’re falling asleep we can hear a woman yelling – at first I thought it was at a dog but it sounds like a person? 


But it’s still pretty darn nice out here.