Day 10: It Isn’t Always Fun, Exactly…(And Then Trail Magic Happens)

Hiking the PCT isn’t something you should try if what you’re looking for is absolute enjoyment, every last minute of the way. There are days that are amazing, days that are fun, and then there are days where it can be rough — pretty much all. day. long. Days like today.

My new pack (which I picked up yesterday in Warner Springs) is fantastic and probably the first pack I’ve had in many years that actually fits me correctly. However, it also fits me differently, which, I discovered today, means that all of the breaking in and getting used to my pack I did the entire first nine days of this trip has been reset completely. The hip belt hits me in a different place — a better place, but that also means it hurts again. And hurts now, when we’re starting to increase our daily mileage, instead of on the first day, when we were taking it easy. (Relatively speaking. Hiking fifteen miles is never “easy”, exactly.)

So there’s that. And then there’s the trail today, which involved:

  • Hiking up 2,500 feet (three Empire State buildings);
  • In the full-blast sun, with no wind whatsoever for most of it;
  • In the dry, dry, dry California desert;
  • With seventeen miles until the next real water stop.

Anybody who tells you every single day out hiking is wonderful is either crazy, or lying. Days like today suck. Even the beautiful surroundings can sort of fade when you’re fighting a painful hip belt or tired of it being sweltering hot for hour #8, and it can be hard to coax motivation out of yourself to pick up and get going from your rest break yet again.

Days like today are, I think, part of the bigger picture. It reminds me a bit of being at, say, mile fifteen of a marathon — far enough along that you don’t have the high of starting out, but still too far from the end to celebrate. You’re basically just doing it for what came before, for what came after, and because you committed to do this — this is something you will accomplish. And that’s kind of how today felt. Slogging through the miles, always too hot, the hip belt hurting after the first 45 minutes on trail (and by hour seven, there being no remaining position or adjustment left for it that doesn’t cause you pain).

But you do it because it’s worth it. You do it because it’s important. You do it because the very best things in life really do require this level of effort, of delayed gratification, of perseverance. You do it because it’s meaningful, and because, deep in your soul, you know how much it matters to you.

Well, that, and beer.

“Trail magic” is a catchphrase of the hiker, used to account for those situations when something unexpectedly great happens to you, out of nowhere, just because people are wonderful. And we had that, in spades, this evening. We thought we were coming into just an area that had a fire tank (to fill up with water) and, hopefully, a flat spot or two to throw down our tent. Instead, we found Mike Herrera’s, which we’d somehow neglected to read about in our guides.

Mike apparently doesn’t spend much time here himself any more, but he’s got a place up in these mountains that is amazing. It’s a house, an enormous garage, a “hiker shack” you can sleep in, an old RV you can sleep in, and tons and tons of land you can throw your tent down on. And…beer, spaghetti and meatballs, Gatorade, music, incredible décor, the aforementioned fire tank full of water, and pretty much anything else you could want.

Talk about trail magic: this is how, at the end of this brutal day, we ended up sitting around Mike’s yard with about twenty other hikers, drinking beer, trading stories, listening to the Rolling Stones, and eventually having spaghetti and meatballs around a giant table. (Almost every hiker carries only a spoon to eat their meals with, too — freeze-dried food almost never requires anything else — so we were all shoveling it into our mouths with spoons as best we could. Trust me, we didn’t care a bit.) Trail magic, indeed!

Sometimes good things happen just when you need them. This isn’t a paean to fate — but rather just simple (and deep) gratitude to people like Mike, who make the end of a long, brutal day of hiking about a hundred times better. Thank you, Mike. I’ve never met you — but you’re awesome.

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