Day 35: Lessons From Night Hiking, and A Magical Oasis

When you think of the elements you need to withstand hiking, several come to mind immediately: heat, cold, rain, snow, and the like. Yet we’ve discovered that, out here, there’s another one that’s every bit as important: wind. We’re also learning and re-learning this lesson constantly. When we camped at Fuller Ridge, it was so windy at night that we ended up taking down our tarp after an hour lest something on it actually break. Last night, we managed to camp right at the top of a ridge…and although nothing broke, it got so windy by the end of the night that I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep, worried about our tarp, starting at about 4:00 AM.

And that’s how we got up at 4:20 AM this morning, broke camp, and hit the trail by about 5:15. It was painfully early, but the magic of the morning had us enchanted: skies that were barely aglow with that first pre-dawn light, slowly fading into reds and oranges as the day started to break, and those beautifully cool early-morning temperatures as we started to walk off through the tall grass. Last night, after all, had been our first attempt at night hiking in the evening, and we were determined to do the same this morning as well. The advantages of hiking this early in pure beauty and in cool temperatures were immediately apparent. After a mile, we stopped at a spring to fill up our water and even found one of our trail friends, Meta, fast asleep in his tent still — it took us a long time to get our water (because the spring was just a trickle), and, even a half-hour later, he was still sound asleep. (He did wake up briefly, greet us…and then pass right back out.) It’s a cool feeling to know you’re making miles while most other hikers are still asleep — and long before most of the rest of the world wakes up at all.

Unfortunately, as the morning wore on, at least for me, one huge disadvantage of the previous day became apparent: I was tired. I mean, really, really, really tired. And while being tired on a normal day “back in civilization” can be difficult, it usually means you yawn a lot, drink even more coffee, and aren’t all that productive. Out here, it affects you physically — immediately, and profoundly. I was exhausted and couldn’t hike quickly. My pack felt like it weighed a hundred pounds, and it seemed to hurt no matter how I adjusted it. Uphills felt far worse than the numbers actually said they were, and the downhills seemed excruciating on my knees. All in all, it was, honestly, one of the worst hiking experiences I’ve had yet — it was everything I could do just to keep going and not to just give up and quit right where we were. We hiked for about five and a half hours in the morning, which isn’t unusual for us, and yet it felt like it just went on and on forever.

So, lesson #1 from our trial run at night hiking: make sure you get enough sleep. I think if we’d actually managed to spend the middle of the previous day sleeping, instead of gorging ourselves on Mexican food and having an incredibly good time talking to friends, it would’ve been far better for me.

However, I was saved by…well, the strangest and most amazing trail magic yet. At mile 471.7, the Andersons, two legendary trail angels who have been making trail magic happen for sixteen years (!), have set up something described as an “oasis”. I wasn’t sure what to expect, honestly, but…really, “oasis” is pretty much the perfect word to describe it. The trail at this point is surrounded by high manzanita trees, and they’ve created a clearing in the thick of the trees and filled it with the most amazing stuff. There are about nine lawn chairs back there, inflatable plastic flamingoes, a mobile picture frame you can use to get framed pictures of anything, a kooky painting of a clown…and two coolers absolutely stuffed to the top with sodas. And cold sodas, too, which is a serious rarity out here. It was, frankly, both amazing relief and much-needed relief after a brutal morning hiking while totally exhausted.

Better yet, it was finally midday and about time for our planned siesta. After drinking cold soda and relaxing in the lawn chairs, we found another few clearings across the trail where people had clearly camped. We threw down our groundsheet and our mattress pads, ate lunch…and I passed out for nearly two hours straight. It was blissful. I can’t explain how badly I needed that sleep. I woke up for a few minutes a couple of times as I heard voices of hikers I knew discovering the oasis (which was endlessly entertaining, as their amazement easily matched my own), but fell back asleep almost instantly afterwards. When I finally woke up for good, I felt about a million times better. Unfortunately, Clare didn’t manage to sleep much at all, and the afternoon was much rougher on her. Clearly, figuring out a sleep schedule that works for us will be critical if we want to do much more night hiking.

(Still, remembering the magic of seeing city lights far off in the distance as we climbed a mountain last night was incredible…and watching the sun rise this morning was just perfect. There’s something very appealing about hiking at the ends of the day, even beyond just the cooler temperatures, and I hope we get to do more of it soon.)

I felt much better in the afternoon, although the trail was…well, “annoying” is really the only word that comes to mind. The PCT theoretically tries not to go up and down anything very steeply. While that’s often good, this afternoon it meant — well, you cross a pass at one side of a valley, and see a pass at the other side of that same valley, not very far away, at about your same elevation. Do you go down through the valley (which isn’t all that deep) and up the other side? No, of course not. Instead, you wind around and around every damn last mountainside in that entire valley until you get around it, taking what could’ve been a 1.5–mile trip and expanding it into something more like seven or eight miles. Maddening! The trail itself wasn’t bad at all, but it just seemed to take forever to get anywhere.

That was all the more pressing, though, because we were headed to The Andersons’ house, “Casa de Luna”, which is famous on the entire trail. I’ll save a full capture of that experience for tomorrow’s post — but, in the mean time, I’ll say that we’re falling asleep incredibly content, stuffed full of delicious taco salad, and look forward to sleeping really, really well tonight.

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One response to “Day 35: Lessons From Night Hiking, and A Magical Oasis”

  1. […] Tonight, we’re at a place called Bird Spring Pass, out in the middle of nowhere — there are some ATV trails/roads that come through, but not much else — that had a spectacular sunset, and which is also supposed to have a spectacular sunrise tomorrow. We were quite worried coming in here that the wind, which was just blasting us nonstop for about the last three hours, was going to make sleeping nearly impossible; we’ve tried before to camp in very high winds, and it’s just awful, making raising our tarp impossible and making getting any actual sleep extremely difficult. But, somehow, we were some of the first people here, and so we managed to snag a campsite directly behind three or four enormous boulders that actually do a pretty good job of blocking the wind. We’re still cowboy camping tonight (i.e., just straight on the ground, no tarp or tent above us) so that we don’t have to hear things flapping in the wind all night long (and worry about whether they’ll hold up), but it’s a huge relief to find a spot like this. If we hadn’t, it could make tomorrow just brutal — hiking on only a couple of hours’ worth of sleep is truly painful, as I’ve found out before. […]

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