PCT Days 11 & 12: Dirt Boogers

So we’re still hiking in the desert. Definitely still the desert. And I hear it stays the desert until about Mile 700. So that’s a thing. That we’re doing.

Hiking in the desert.

There are long stretches between water sources here, so hikers tend to congregate at the few reliable sources that exist. As with trail towns, this means you intersect with people whose wildly different hiking speeds or styles mean you wouldn’t otherwise meet them. On our 11th day of hiking, 135 miles in, we’re starting to meet people who are on their 5th day—mostly young dudes (though some ass-kicking old dudes, too) who are doing 20 or 25+ mile days every day, right from the start.

This is where the expression “Hike Your Own Hike” comes in. In some ways I’m in awe of these speed-hikers and intimidated that I’ll never be able to hike that far that fast. In less, ah, charitable moments, I smirk at their blisters and predict stress fractures and say Who’d want to race through the whole trail, anyway? But the beauty of these long trails is that everyone hikes their own hike, and that’s inherently OK. However you choose to do it, whether fast or slow or barefoot or whatever it may be, that’s your choice—and anyway, isn’t it great that any of us are out here, able to do this, at all?

 

That last bit is what I remind myself of when I’m on hour seven of that day’s dirt booger hiking. Dirt boogers are what you get out here with the dry, dusty air, and that’s what these some of these recent hiking days have been—dry, uncomfortable, not particularly attractive… but an unavoidable part of the experience.

I went so far today as to relocate my iPod with its 16 glorious gigabytes of music from inside my backpack to a hip belt pocket. I’ve been trying to delay resorting to music as a way to get me through the miles, but that moment may be approaching. Another distraction method is to play with video:

Hiking looks pretty exciting, doesn’t it?! …for nine seconds, at 6x speed 😉

We did finally see our first rattlesnake today. The German couple we’ve been leapfrogging with since the start, Hannes Treeman and Julia Hedgehog, were stopped ahead of us on the trail, with a coiled, rattling rattlesnake about three feet up the hillside in between them. Treeman detoured off trail down the slope, but after a few minutes the snake slowly turned and made her way up the hill, allowing us to pass.

We cowboy camped by a dirt road that night next to Treeman and Hedgehog, my ankles in too much pain after 15 miles of hiking to go another mile to the next water cache. I’m finally starting to sleep better than I usually do while camping, though perhaps that’s simply due to exhaustion. Normally I wake up every time I turn over, every time the wind blows, or whenever I hear the tiniest rustle and decide it’s a bear about to attack. Out here I’ve been sleeping more consistently, dreaming long, convoluted dreams filled with old friends and long journeys.

 

Everyone’s hiking mantra the next day was burger, burger, burger—we were headed for the Paradise Valley Cafe, listed in the guides as possibly the best hamburger on the trail. We did take one detour, though—our first trail magic. We’ve already been the recipients of amazing generosity from trail angels—the Third Gate water cache, Mike’s place, the entire operation at Warner Springs—but one narrower definition of trail magic is an unexpected, often temporary provision of sodas, beers, or tasty food out on the trail. At Mile 145, just off the PCT on private land, a woman maintains an emergency water cache along with a free library box, free postcards (which she then mails for you), and a few supplies—and on the weekends, she brings out coolers of sodas, ice water, and fresh fruit.

 
If you ever want to see a hiker in genuine, unadulterated ecstasy, surprise him or her with a giant, chilled strawberry during a long, hot hike. Pure glee.

 

(Thank you, trail angel!)

The burgers at Paradise Valley Cafe were pretty epic, so epic that I went straight to shoving mine into my face rather than pausing to take a picture. After shakes and burgers (and pie, for Fancypants), we sorted through our resupply box, filled up on water, and then headed back to the trail for a few more miles of hiking before dark. (For the record: Cindy, who works at the Cafe and shuttles hikers to and from the trail on her breaks, is a saint.)

That night we camped on a hillside covered with blooming manzanita and huge boulders, our first night camping alone. 
 

Day 11: 15.1 miles, Mile 127.1 to 142.2 gully campsite by dirt road
Day 12: 12.5 miles, Mile 142.2 to 154.7 boulder campsite

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