Friday, April 18, 2014

Day 9. 10 before 10

Today I hiked 10 miles before 10 o'clock. First time I've ever done that.

Made it to Tule Springs, our first day on the PCT hiking over 20 miles. We are still trying to take it easy to prevent injury.  But it's hard to hold back sometimes because the trail is so well graded so it's much easier hiking than the trails back in Georgia. Today we climbed several thousand feet, but it was so gradual, it never seemed like work. Now I know those of you who have hiked with me are rolling your eyes because you know that I don't struggle with uphills very often, but I assure you that other people say this trail is well graded too-it's not just me!
For this first 100 miles, the PCT has definitely been easier hiking than the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail (my old stomping grounds). While the AT climbs up steeply to the top of each hill, the PCT has long gentle switchbacks and follows the contour lines. They say it's because it's graded for horses, but I like to think its because the trail constructors actually wanted us to have a positive experience. And it's not just the grades, it's also that the trail is usually nice sand or dirt with few rocks so it's gentle on the feet. It makes for delightful walking. I pretend that the trail is saying it likes us hikers and wants us to be happy. I am definitely feeling the love. 

The PCT is wonderfully maintained as well. A huge thank you to the trail maintainers who make the trail so nice.  It's been really easy to follow even when night hiking.  The other nice touch was little signs pointing out poison ivy.  I only saw one blowdown across the trail so far and it was one I could walk under without even taking down my umbrella.

I keep thinking how much my Trail Dame friends back in GA would love this trail.

Another great day!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day 8. OMG I'm actually hiking the PCT

Walking up to Eagle Rock this morning, it really hit me- I'm actually hiking the PCT. Eagle Rock is one of the most recognizable landmarks in this first section (besides the monument at the border). I knew what it looked like from photos, but being there myself, I felt such a connection to all the other PCT hikers that have come before me. When I read other hikers' trail journals, I would see their photos of Eagle Rock and try to imagine what it would be like to be a PCT hiker. When I looked at the photo of myself at Eagle Rock, it really struck me that I am treading in the footsteps of so many others. 

I think about the people that pioneered this trail and those that were the first to hike it. I think about how this is the same path taken my all my hiking heroes and the famous hikers I so admire. The 2014 PCT hikers that started before me are up ahead- they walked this trail. I see footprints of a new friend I just met today and realize I'm starting to notice people's shoes and can recognize their footprints. I think about all the footprints over time, and it makes me so happy to be part if this.
It is slowly sinking in that I'm actually hiking this beautiful wonderful trail that I've been dreaming about and reading about for years. It feels like waking from a wonderful dream only to find that reality is even more wonderful than what you had been imagining.


Today we went to Warner Springs to pick up our first resupply boxes. There was also a community center set up for PCT hikers with everything we could want- meals for $5, a great selection of inexpensive trail food, bathrooms, computers, and outlets to charge electronics. Many hikers were hanging out, trading food, and making plans for the next section. We made it to section B- yay a new set of maps.

Hanging at the last crossing of Agua Calente Creek, mile 115.5. Frogs are chirping and the air smells crisp and fresh. Another great day!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Day 6. Eclipse

Pathfinder, Susan, Farwalker and I took a fabulous "nero" in Julian. That means a day with nearly zero miles.  We spent most of the day in town resting and eating, and hiked a few miles into the San Felipe Hills in the evening.
Resupply in Julian- fresh food!
It was Farwalker's birthday. She is such an amazing person and it was a joy to spend the day with her. We had a leisurely breakfast in the Julian Lodge, resupplied at the grocery store, had a celebratory birthday lunch for Farwalker, and then ice cream at a soda fountain.  It was so great hearing Farwalker's stories of her CDT hike and about her adventurous life- she's done so many different things and has a generous spirit.  Hiking with her was incredible too because she knows so much about natural history. Truly an inspiration, especially for how to live life to the fullest.
Farwalker telling stories.
In the afternoon, we got a ride back to Scissors Crossing from a trail angel named Martie. Thank you so much Martie!
Climb out of Scissors Crossing.
I'd originally planned camp at Scissors Crossing- the last trees for 24 miles, but decided instead that I'd try cowboy camping tonight for the first time.  I wanted to camp with everyone else for the full moon, and also make it to the next hang site tomorrow. I've not slept on the ground for many years, and if I'd known I'd have to sleep on the ground, I don't think I'd have chosen to hike the PCT in SoCal. But now that I'm out here,  I want to know I can do it, so I don't have to be so nervous about it. Pathfinder found a gorgeous site with a view at mile 82.4, the sky is clear and the wind is calm.  I'm right between Pathfinder and Susan so I'm feeling very safe. What sweet hiking partners! 
I never ever imagined I'd actually choose to go to ground, but under these circumstances, I'm just thrilled.  We got to hear more stories from Farwalker and danced around giggling as the sun set.  I'm interested in this experience of being nestled here on this outcrop, under this sky, with moths buzzing about, watching the moon rise.
Dancing as the sun sets.
And the most incredible thing just happened- Farwalker just heard from her husband that there is an eclipse tonight-- a blood moon-- what a place to view it!


Wow!! We set the alarm and watched the eclipse for about an hour.  Incredible it actually did look reddish.  What an experience to be out on that tiny little spot under the huge sky, with the moon putting on such a show right above us.  Pathfinder wondered about all the other people watching the eclipse at the very same moment.

As for my experience going to ground, I must say that I was able to sleep, so that was reassuring and gives me greater flexibility.  Yay!  It certainly wasn't at all comfortable and the quality of sleep wasn't great. When I was on my back my shoulders and butt hurt but I was warm with my quilt around me an my 6 sections of Zlite torso pad. When I turned over on my side, my shoulder hurt and my back was cold because I sewed my top quilt very narrow to save weight cause I normally use an under quilt.  But it was a level of discomfort that was tolerable especially when I concentrated on all the parts of my body that weren't cold or sore, and 'breathed' into the soreness like we learned to do in yoga and trapeze.  I have no desire now to carry a better pad though- I plan to find hang sites most nights.  But I 'm so glad I took the opportunity to enjoy the eclipse with everyone and it's great to know I will be ok if I have to (or choose to) go to ground in the future.

Day 7. Water

I was really nervous and anxious the week before I set off on the PCT. I had a vivid nightmare that week that I was on the PCT behind a hoard of nearly 50 hikers standing in line to get water. Maybe that doesn't sound scary to you, but I was horribly thirsty and the crowd was loud and boisterous. My fears are obvious- scarcity of water and inability to find a wilderness experience.

Thankfully, the PCT has a comfortable number of people out here- not too many yet. But water is still something I spend a lot of time on- planning how much to carry, figuring out how many miles between water sources, and going to find water. There is a "water report" that is updated often that serves as our primary resource for determining which springs are dry and which water spigots or cattle tanks are operating. The other thing it says is how much water is at "caches"-- those are places between water sources where trail angels leave water in jugs. The problem with caches is that all the water might already have been taken by other hikers, so we've been told never to rely on the caches and to carry enough water so you will be ok if the caches are dry.

Before I started the PCT, I thought that I would not take water from the caches. I wanted to take enough water from the reliable sources so I wouldn't need the caches at all. I thought it would be simple enough to judge how much water I would drink.

I started with enough water containers to hold 10 liters. Do you know how heavy that much water is?!?!? I've only carried 7 liters so far, and that was really tough. In the southeast, water carries are more like 5 miles, but the first water carry on the PCT is 20 miles! What a difference! I was so glad Pathfinder and I practiced carrying water in Guadalupe on our southwest tour.

Today, we got to the Third Gate water cache, and I still had a longways to go to the next water, it was hot, and I only had a liter and a half. So I took two more liters from the cache, which got me safely to the next water source. But I had have mixed feelings about doing so. Pathfinder and Susan keep teasing with me about how I do tend to be judgmental- judging myself the most harshly. They also remind me that the trail angels that stock the water do it to make the hike safer for everyone, and that they get a lot out of feeling like they are part of our journey. And I am thankful to the trail angels who stock the caches for us. But I am also learning to be a better judge of how much water I need in this heat. I also think that out here on the PCT, maybe I will finally learn to be less judgmental and more accepting- of both myself and others.

Now I am hanging in my hammock at Barrel Springs, mile 101. (note to other hammock hangers- plentiful trees 3.5 miles past here at San Ysirdo Creek are more scenic and further from the road) Someone is softly playing the violin. Ah what a lovely sound mixed with the dripping sound of the spring and the croaking of a frog!

Bonus PCT Story: Trail Names

When people meet on the trail, the first thing we do is exchange names and often telling little stories about how a trail name was earned serves as a way to get to know someone. I'd been given the trail name 'Hemlock' years ago by my Trail Dame friends. But when I got to the PCT on my first day, I introduced myself as 'Joan' instead. It occurred to me that I might take a new name to symbolize a fresh start.

So Pathfinder gave me a new trail name to consider on our second day. I thought I'd tell you the story even though I've decided to keep my old trail name...

Before I headed out on the PCT, I sent my gear list to several people to get suggestions about how to reduce my pack weight. My friend JJ suggested that I not bring a bra to save weight. This is a great suggestion, and while I'm more comfortable in a bra, it got me thinking -- maybe if I came up with other uses for the bra-- made it a "multi-purpose" piece of gear- then the weight of the bra could be better justified.

So on our southwest tour, I already told you about how I started using the bra strap to rig my umbrella hands free during breaks when I'm not wearing my pack. I still do this on the PCT during siesta (though one time a hiker I just met came up and talked to me and I completely forgot I was using my bra to rig my umbrella- how awkward).  I always laugh about it with Pathfinder and Susan though- my first trick with my bra.

Then I came up with another trick. It was really hot at Lake Morena. Normally I cool off in the heat by taking off my shirt or hat and soaking it in water and putting it back on dripping wet- instant air conditioning. I call this the "shirt-trick" or "hat trick" and it always gets strange looks but believe me it works wonders. Anyway, for the PCT, I have tried to keep my pack light by not bringing extra clothes, so I don't have my usual tee shirt that works best for this or my trusty but heavier cotton hat that soaks up water. So instead I soaked my bra and put it back on, and it cooled me down like instant air conditioning. When I emerged from the Lake Morena bathroom, I happily exclaimed, "bra trick #2!" And Pathfinder said that would make a great trail name for me, especially if I shortened it to B-Trick. Haha! It would be a unique! Plus it shows my love for multi- use items- a bra as air conditioning unit and umbrella holder.
Well I do like the new name, and considered it for a while. But in thinking it over, I realized how much I really did like my old name of Hemlock. This old name also takes me back to that moment the name was given to me by one of the Trail Dames- because I was just so very enthusiastic when talking about hemlock trees. The name is special to me because its part of my identity with Trail Dames- the women's hiking club that has meant so much to me and helped me get here to the PCT. And I find this connection very meaningful.

The day that I finally started introducing myself on the PCT as Hemlock, something else happened that solidified it for me. When I met Farwalker for the first time, she recognized me and said "I know you Hemlock!" I didn't know her, but she'd been reading my blog and thought she might run into me. How cool is that!?!? This helped me realize that I'm not really starting fresh out here. That this is a continuation of my journey, and that I want to use my same name to help me remember how I got here.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Day 5. Into Julian

As a weekend backpacker in Georgia, I used to see people out on the trail that looked really cool and interesting and wish I could go up and say hey lets be friends. But that never seemed like something that was socially acceptable and also I'm pretty shy.  But the thing about being a thru hiker is that it's OK to say hey do you want to hike together, or take a rest break together.  You can end up sharing your life story (or at least a piece of it), or share your problems or fears.  Then you can go to eat, or split a hotel room- all with someone you just met a few hours ago.  For me, this has really been a breakthrough because one of the things I want to do more of is connect with people on a deeper level. Out here that seems so much easier and is something that I'm so excited about.

The highlight of the day was meeting three hikers that we ended up hiking part of the day and going into the town of Juian with- Farhiker, Jordi, and Sundrizzzle.  What incredible people!  I had a blast with everyone!  We hiked down in te eat and wind, but the miles melted away as the conversations flowed.
A nice couple from San Diego stopped for us at Scissors Crossing and gave us a hitch for the 12 miles into the town of Julian in the back of their pickup.  They were amazed we are hiking all the way to Canada, and I was amazed by their kindness for giving us dirty hikers a ride. Thank you Suzie and Curt!
In Julian, we'd heard that Mom's Pies was giving hikers free pie, so we went there and ordered pie and sandwitches.  And after showing our thru hiker permits, the whole meal was free!  I couldn't believe it!  Such an amazing place and delicious pie!
Then we got a room at the Julian Lodge with our new friend Farwalker and tried to find a laundrymat but there isn't one in this town.  But then the guy from the hotel came and offered to do our laundry- once again so amazing.  

For dinner, we changed into our long underwear and walked downtown.  I have to add this is a fancy tourist town so people were looking at us but some came up to is and asked if we were hikers.  Again I could hardly believe it we looked so funny but it was so much fun and we now have clean hiking clothes and full bellies and I can't imagine being happier.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Day 4. Windy

Today I began hiking at 5:30 AM by headlamp. The sunrise was so spectacular I don't have words to describe it- the changing light, sweeping views down into the valley, and a sea of wildflowers. I was awestruck. If I had known just how absolutely mindblowingly gorgeous the PCT was, I would have spent more of my PCT preparation time on looking up synonyms for "wow" and "spectacular" cause that's all I can think to say. 
More incredible wildflowers.
I hiked my first "12 before 12" which means 12 miles before noon. It's a good strategy in the heat to hike in the cool of the morning and take several hours siesta midday, and then hike more in the evening. 
Incredible light.
Today was so windy it felt like walking in the ocean- we had to lean forward, and we kept getting tossed around, even our hiking poles felt like they were flying out of our hands.

I'm hanging from two really small trees along Chariot Canyon Road (at mile 63) that keep getting knocked around in the wind. I really hope they stay upright through the night. It was tough finding a hang site with all the big burned trees covered in poison oak.
Hanging from trees as tall as me and as thick as my wrist.
Overall it was another great day and I'm so happy to be out here!