Currently I am experiencing pure bliss. None of the things I am doing right now are things that anyone else would find exceptional. The facts are: I am in the shade with a strong breeze blowing, sitting on a 1/4 inch foam pad, drinking a cold Sprite and smiling. For any of you, being plucked out of your daily lives, that probably doesn’t seem like much, but for me right now, it’s bliss. Bliss seems to depend strongly on what came before. How can you have bliss without suffering? Without lows how can you know you are experiencing a high?
Have we only been out for three days? Day one we hiked out of Wrightwood with Cameron’s friend Brennan, who was joining us for the night. He picked quite the day to come out, we climbed Baden-Powell right off the bat, which tops out around 9,4000ft. Then straight back down the other side. We ended in a parking lot where we thought we were going to camp for the night, but it wasn’t very scenic or appealing, plus I hate sleeping right next to a road where anyone can find you. During dinner we decided to push on three more miles to the next camp. Normally that wouldn’t be a big deal but these three miles went back up over the top of Mount Williamson and then down again. What was supposed to be a seventeen mile day became a twenty but at the end of it was a nice flat campground filled with mosquitos. We fended them off so that we could make a pudding snack for dessert.
The next day we left Brennan huddled down in his sleeping bag, cowboy camped next to the trail and set off early in the morning. First up for that day was the endangered species detour. It involved a short road walk which became a long road walk when we missed the entrance (actually the exit) into the campground where the detour headed to meet back up with the PCT. Unwilling to backtrack we just followed HWY 2 up to where it met the PCT again, legs cramping in objection. While enjoying a snack at the road with our shoes off I made the mistake of letting Kyle look at Guthook (the app we use to figure out how far away thing are) and he hatched a cockamamie plan to hike a twenty six (possibly more) mile day. The plan had its benefits, mainly it created another long day the next day and together they shaved a whole day off our scheduled nero into Hiker Heaven. Also, it allowed us to camp at places that had reliable water sources, which is always nice. It sucks having to carry your cooking water to camp at night. Cameron and I told him we would think about it.
It was a hot day but we were still up relatively high in elevation and the trail was extremely mellow so we decided to push all the way through the day instead of taking a afternoon siesta. Frequent shade breaks and a couple of rounds of Contact got us through the hottest part of the day and we decided to push on with Kyle’s plan. Which was doable but not exactly enjoyable. When I say we pushed through the hottest part of the day I mean it was like walking through an oven. It was so hot I felt sleepy and meditative. Every time the wind would stop blowing the air would settle onto us, wrapping itself around us like a giant down blanket. An unwanted giant down blanket. The end of the day was particularly challenging because we were going through areas that had sporadic Poodle Dog bush patches. That meant I had to be on high alert at all times, carefully watching for any poisonous plants that were hiding in the grass, and not carefully watching the trail causing me to stub my toes constantly. We made it into camp a little late and hobbled around on our sore blistered feet. Overall I would say we actually felt pretty good for a surprise twenty six+ mile day. After massive amounts of pasta were consumed we walked down to the campground (a rest area by a highway) and camped with about fifteen other people.
This morning we got up early. We had another road walking detour to accomplish today around an area of dense Poodle Dog bush. There were rumors that the bush wasn’t so bad anymore but we weren’t taking any chances. The road was was actually fairly pleasant in the morning, it was extremely flat and the road is closed to cars so we were able to walk three abreast, which has resulted in a trail name for Cameron, but I’ll save the announcement for its own post. Around eight, when it was time to take a break, things were no longer pleasant. When it is already unbearably hot at eight you know your are in trouble. We stopped at a picnic table in the sun (there was no shade) for a snack, right next to an abandoned prison camp. The whole area we are walking through was burned in 2009 during the Station Fire, the tenth biggest fire in California’s history. Two hundred thousand acres burned over the course of two months. The prison camp, although we are unsure of its history, clearly went through the fire as well. It was creepy.
After the camp the road stopped being flat and started being very steep and very shade-less. I had to slow us down when I felt like my heart was going to push its way out of my chest. Having your heart beat that hard in that kind of heat – I feel like it’s a recipe for heat exhaustion. Finally, we crested the ridge and started heading down to Messenger Flat Campground where we would get back on the PCT. Things were really heating up. Hotter than the day before. We rested under a large tree at the campground for a while. I am always amazed at how effective shade is out here. In the sun you can literally feel your skin getting burned. Under a tree you can have goosebumps. Sadly we had to leave the shade of that tree and push on, back into Poodle Dog territory and, according to hiker notes in the Guthook app, poison oak. Goody.
Heat and suffering ensued. My hip felt pinched, my feet ached from the steepness of the downhill, my head hurt from the sun, and my sunburn burned. Lately I have had this terrible heat rash on my feet that feels okay early on but as it gets hotter and my feet start to get slippery and slide around inside my shoes the rash begins to prickle, like walking on a million tiny pins. And all the while, I am in CONSTANT VIGILANCE mode, searching and searching for two different kinds of poisonous plants, stubbing my toe on every other rock and feeling crazed and delirious. Ha! How did I forget to mention the tiny gnats that have been swarming us lately? They are trying to get into our ears and eyes, which means that while you are dealing with everything else you also have to deal with batting bugs out of your face. It is too hot for bug nets.
Those are all the things we were dealing with just mere moments ago, until we crested a hill and down below us was paradise. Trees and shade and breezes and water. One of the Koreans that we hike around just summed it up for me, “Sprite is a small happiness before, but now it is a huge happiness.” Exactly.
So as I lay here, doing nothing extraordinary, I am feeling the immense pleasure of my feet being free from my shoes. As they dry and are able to stretch , uninhibited by foam or fabric, they ache in a new way that is satisfyingly orgasmic. The breeze blows shaded cool wind through my hair and across my filthy skin. Sitting and being stationary, on my thin foam mat, letting my head fall back onto my backpack, which is providing the perfect backrest for my body, all the tension drains out of my body. In my hand is a cool tin can, filled with cold bubbly liquid. As I raise it to my lips the bubbles tickle my tongue, refreshing my tastebuds, filling me up inside with something fizzy and delightful. A smile feels right as it spreads across my face, eyes half open, lazy (after seventeen miles with eight more to go). The PCT is able to take a tree making some shade and a soft drink and turn them into big magic. Could that be why are all out here? And now I have to take a poop, in a privy that actually has toilet paper and no one has smeared shit all over the seat and it is going to feel so good. Peace out world, I have to go shout for joy.