A Third E-mail from the Pacific Hiking Trail
Hi friends and family! I've hiked from Independence to Vermillion Valley Resort to Reds Meadows (near the Devil's Postpile National monument) to Tuolomne Meadows in Yosemite National Park to Bridgeton, CA.
Miles hiked: 228
Days hiked: 21
Days rested: 2
The High Sierras were very remote from civilization, and I've been jonesing for an internet connection that wouldn't cost me $45/hour (like it did at one of the places where I took a rest day). I've been getting stronger as I keep chasing these thruhikers who've hiked all the way fom Mexico. I hiked my first 25 mile day and my first 30 mile day this week. I'm almost through the Sierras, and the hardest part of the trail is (supposedly) over. It should be smoother, lower altitude hiking from now on.
The mosquitoes have been relentless, but I've been able to come to a truce with them by using 100% DEET. I've become quite zen about the bugs, compared to how I felt when I started. Now they can buzz around and land on me, but I ignore them because they won't actually bite if I'm wearing the DEET. There've been a few choice creeks that I've camped by this past week that've afforded luxurious bath opportunities, so I haven't had to sleep in DEET, luckily.
As we've come down from the highest passes, the water sources have been warming up a little. No more ice floating on lakes. So swimming is becoming something I'm putting on my must-do list again. I just say a little prayer to the trail gods and hope that no one catches me running around in the buff, slapping at mosquitoes as I try to slide my clothes back on over my wet skin (which is harder than you might think, especially if you're trying to do it quickly!).
The wildflowers have been stupendous. I've definitely seen over 30 different varieties, and if my camera battery hadn't crapped out right after Tuolomne, I'd have proof! I've been hiking and camping at night mostly by myself, but occasionally I've met some thruhikers whose pace I can match, and we'll hike together for a few days. Those are the days I've been able to do large miles. Good conversation definitely takes your mind off of the endless walking on those big-mileage days. Yesterday I set a personal record with 30.3 miles hiked.
The first 20 were relatively flat, after 2 straight days of crazy steep up and downs, in and out of deep canyons and up and over mountain passes. I met a 2006 thruhiker who said that that section of the trail was the hardest on the whole PCT. I'm glad I've finished the canyon section. The first day of canyons, I was ready to call it a day by lunchtime. I actually blew up my thermarest mattress and slept for an hour (I've decided that naps are key). Checking out for a quick nap is super-rejuvenating.
I've seen some animals I've never seen before -- picas, Benson's ground squirrels, and these funny little squirrels that look like half squirrel, half chipmunk. Their front half is brown, and their bottom half is gray...but they have the two chipmunk stripes. Very cute, and pretty bold. I've been able to get close to all the animals I've seen.
My body is changing, which I've been looking forward to. I've lost 9 lbs, and my legs look like they belong to someone else. I love that I can now walk up these relentless, fairly steep uphills without stopping. No bear or cougar sightings yet, although a hiking buddy of mine said that he saw a pair of cougar cubs wrestling and meowling at each other down slope from where he was hiking. My first thought, as he was telling me this was, "And where was Mama?..."
I'm proud of the fact that I took 7 lbs of gear out of my pack today and mailed it home. Heavy layers of clothes, the tent fly and footprint, and the heavy bear canister, now that I'm out of the high-altitude, bear-rich Sierras. My pack now weighs 28 lbs, with 4 days of food. Which is pretty decent. Of course, I'm betting that it won't rain at night... because all I have now is the bug net shelter part of the tent, with the tent poles. It's been annoying to carry that whole tent through the Sierras and never have it rain. I have a huge plastic garbage bag that I can slide my sleeping bag into if it does start to rain. It comes down to image, I guess... am I willing to be seen sleeping in a garbage bag?... One of the highlights of last week was cowboy camping (tentless) at the top of 11,000 ft Donahue Pass, which was the last pass before climbing down into Tuolomne Meadows.
When I finally stopped reading my book and turned off my headlamp, I realized I'd been missing the real entertainment -- a sky full of blazing stars, Venus lit up like a small sun, and meteors shooting across the sky. I spent the next two hours just... looking. It was amazing. I've been living in a city for so long, I forgot what a clear night sky really looks like. I wished that Kevin could have seen it.
This morning we caught a ride down from Sonora Pass to the town of Bridgeton, where we made a beeline for a breakfast cafe. Three dirty hikers with huge backpacks always create a buzz in a place like this, and everyone started asking us about the trail and the eyes started popping when my two thruhiker friends let slip that they just passed their 1000 mile mark yesterday. I've only hiked 313.
Funny, I was feeling pretty pumped about that number until my friends casually dropped their 1000 mile accomplishment on the breakfast table. Even I was in awe. Apparently, so were the couple next to us, because the waitress came over to us after they'd bid us a safe hike and departed, telling us that they'd picked up our check for breakfast. What a beautiful start to the morning! Trail magic is a fun part of long-distance hiking. And free food is the best kind of trail magic.
As we were waiting for a ride into town, a man pulled up to us in his truck and told us that he lives in town and invites the PCT hikers home to sleep in his house, and to cook dinner/breakfast for them. He's into Christian ministry, and this is his way of "giving back". Well, I'm at his house right now with 3 of my hiking friends, and we've had the best, most relaxing day here, talking with these people and sharing dinner and fresh baked brownies and Haagen Daz with them. All of the people I've met who make a point out of seeking out and helping PCT hikers are really interesting people. Right now, everyone's talking about religion and politics out in the living room.
I've got 1240 miles to go until the WA/Canadian border. I hiked 240 miles last September in Oregon that I won't be repeating, and there's a 100 mile section of the trail up in northern California that is currently burning with wildfires that aren't being contained. Mom and I will have to take a bus north around the burning section... but still, there's plenty of beautiful trail left to hike. It's exciting that my mom will be doing it with me. She's joining me in 5 days at Echo Lake, so I'm going to enjoy my last 4 days of being able to hike high mileage and going fast and far.
I hope you're all enjoying July. I love getting people's emails, so keep 'em coming!