Following two blissful days off repairing my feet in Tehachapi, another storm kept me at bay a third night. Alas, the hotel decided in their wisdom to check a couple into the adjoining room. Not a problem - although I missed my solitude. What was a problem was they had a dog that barked a lot. My final night’s R&R was as interrupted as if I was on the trail. Bah Humbug.
I packed up and then Panic Noodles rang to ask if I’d looked out the window. I hadn’t. It was heaving it down. The trail angels she was staying with offered to pick me up and take me to theirs for pancakes. I didn’t wait to be asked twice. They were delicious. Met a pair from Belgium: Father Jo, and his son, Abel. 11 years old. Then the four of us were driven the thirteen miles back to the trail. The generosity of strangers is jaw-dropping.
Got on trail at 11:30m, began the inevitable ascension, today to 6,100ft. My feet hurt a lot, but in some perverse respite, it’s now my left foot that truly hurts.
In what is becoming a ‘first day back on the trail’ ritual - I fell over, landing smack on my nose and feeling my teeth graze the ground. I lay there and waited for the ‘thud’ of the rucksack as it wallopped me on the back of my head. It did not disappoint. Thankfully, I have a numb nose, a large scratch on the bridge and two very, very, very mildly grazed knees..
Did 11 miles. Had dinner with the Belgians. All in all, not a bad day.
Passed my personal ‘300’ mile mark today - although I have no idea where. I ‘celebrated’ by having very sore feet. I also saw my first bear paw print in some dried up mood but forgot to take a photo. But here’s another one instead…a baby one!
The most notable thing about today was the sheer number of fallen trees that have had to be traversed, or walked around - usually when there’s a sheer ravine.
Spent all day above 5,000 ft, just once nudging over 6,000ft - so you’d think I’d done some miles. Nope. Sixteen. Still better than none.
The start of my week seven. A few weeks ago, I’d be delighted with a fifteen-mile day. Today, I’m disappointed - but I may be being too hard on myself.
Firstly, I climbed from 5,000 to 6,800 feet - so I think I’m struggling with the sustained elevation a little. Secondly, I had a migraine - and although I have tablets for that, it meant I couldn’t take any painkillers for my sore feet. Thirdly, how many bloody ‘blow downs’ blocked my path. That’s ‘fallen trees’ to you and me. Each one devours a huge chunk of energy and time to get around, as they hog the trail and one must carefully work around them. I lost count of how many I’ve climbed over, tentatively edged down slopes to get around, or battered my way uphill to circumvent the damned things. And sometimes they pinned me and my rucksack in place.
My day ended with very wet feet as I crossed four rivers. I haven’t seen another soul all day.
So, I suppose fifteen miles is alright all things considered.
Woke up surrounded by enormous pine trees in thick woodland, surrounded by chirping birds and essence of Christmas. Went to bed, some 17 miles later, surrounded by Joshua Trees in arid desert being blasted by the unrelenting Southern California gales.
I still haven’t seen another person all day. Been chased by two very large bees though.
Survived the night, although sleep was elusive for most of it. Then walked down a hill, then walked up a mountain, then walked back down it, then tottered all over the place. All in all, I did 18 miles. Saw two lizards having sex - at least that’s what it looked like, and nearly peed my pants when a dark green snake with yellow ‘go faster’ stripe on its side darted across the trail in front of me.
I finally saw another human being! A man, late 70s, section-hiking the PCT, from Oregan, loves his new water filter, goes by the name Ron Cross, or Motor. For a while now, I’d concluded the human race had been wiped out and me & the two Belgians, whose tracks I am now following, were the only survivors. Seems not.
One of those days when you think you’ve got a plan, but then you realise you haven’t. I really wanted to keep doing my seventeen miles a day minimum strategy...but then I saw this:
Immediately my stomach plunged as that was the top of the mountain, and as I soon as I think of the word ‘experienced’ all my insecurities float to the service: I am a novice at this. Also rock slides didn’t sound too appealing. I decided I wouldn’t make a decision just now but have lunch and think about it. By the time I’d eaten, I had accepted that a fourteen-mile day was just how it was going to be. There’s no way I could climb up two thousand feet in five miles in one afternoon. Then, I made a pact with myself: If I made it to mile 657 by 16:30, I’d give it a go.
I was utterly stunned to find myself at the monument at 16:31. And then I ploughed on - knowing that in two miles’ time, the trail was going to get dangerous and that it would remain so for a further two miles. This at the peak of the mountain where it is steepest and my pace slowest. I had just three hours before sunset…
Then I realised that there’s no suitable tent sites on the other side of the mountain for another eight miles - so night-hiking it would have to be.
Long story cut short:
I now consider myself an experienced hiker (and some would say an idiot)
I have rock-climbed a fair bit today
I have powers of speed uphill that I had not tapped into before (I think this is called fear)
Adrenaline is the ultimate painkiller - for once I had something other to concentrate on than how much my feet hurt (I think it’s called surviving)
I found a tentsite at Mile 663 - just as it was getting dark.
I have climbed, crawled, staggered and lolloped a staggering twenty miles today - twelve hours door-to-door. Now, where’s my Brownie Badge?
And despite yesterday’s mammoth day, still I did not sleep well.
I did my first night-hike and I ran out of water five miles before the next source, and of course, it was an absolutely boiling hot day, at the beginning of a horribly craggy climb full of downed trees.
Absolutely neither was intentional!
But still both adventures survived in good nick. Although a 10pm finish is a bit much for a seventeen mile hike, me thinks. Of course, my headlamp was a source of attraction for moths. I think I’ve been twatted on the head by most of the species in South Sierra.
If I don’t sleep well tonight....
I played ‘sleeping bag slalom’ for most of the night because it turns out I’d camped on a slope. That didn’t stop me getting ‘not a bad night’s sleep’ and I was pleased to be up and back on trail by 8am. Today’s lot was to climb to the highest point yet for me: 8,001 feet, a rise of 3,000 feet or so. Then to plod back down again and take it relatively easy.
Instead, I found it significantly less gruelling than yesterday’s mountain. I ended up making it a race against the sun to get to mile 699 - the last camping opportunity before Grumpy Bears - a restaurant three miles away which serves a huge breakfast!
I was gutted when I arrived at my camping spot to find the whole place littered with large cat prints. Then figured it preferred to remain illusive and I needed to stop.
It was 7pm, I had pulled another eleven hour day, I’d climbed to my highest point to date, up six long miles, down five more, and then through the desert basin, sweltering as it was, for another nine miles. I have done eighteen miles today - that’s including the fact that I have completed (almost) one hundred and thirty-two miles in eight days. I am pretty pleased with that. It eats into my deficit and shows me I’m getting better at this. I am no less knackered than I was the first day, but I am doing this.
And now, as darkness pulls in, and I run out of juice on my laptop, I can rest up knowing there’s only three miles between me and the biggest breakfast I can consume. I just hope I can find a way back to Idyllwild tomorrow. That would be great.
Would you believe it...I stagger the remaining three miles into Kennedy Meadows South, my final destination for this section before I ‘flop-flip’ back to where I left off, and who do I see? Panic Noodles. She’s retired from the PCT and decided to hang about there and see the scenery by car. Lovely to see a friendly face after days of nothing. All going well, she may well be there when I return in a few weeks’ time.
And so I am here: full of pizza lying in a proper bed in Idyllwild. I’m taking a day tomorrow to prepare for the next heave ho…
It’s nice to see people again - with no planes in the sky for a while I thought I might be the last known survivor!