Day 112: Of Brutal Days and Familiar Places

Of all the factors that determine how tough a day out here feels, there are some that are obvious, like how long we hike for and how much ascent and descent there is. And then there are others that are probably even more important, but which aren’t as obvious at first blush. Two big ones in this category are how long it’s been since we’ve taken a zero, and how long it is between resupplies.

As of today, it’s been twelve days since we’ve taken a zero, and this stretch is a hundred miles — nearly five days — between resupplies, which is about as long as it ever gets. We also transitioned abruptly from a part of the wilderness that was impressively flat (given that we’re in mountainous terrain) to one that seems to go up and down every little hill, meaning we were pretty much constantly climbing or descending. Throw in us having to go 25 miles, longer than our planned 23, because of the lack of a campsite near the 23-mile point, and…well, today was a brutal day. We’re headed into Etna, California tomorrow for a half-day of relaxation, and I can’t even tell you how good that feels in anticipation.

This stretch of trail is actually familiar to us, too, and it’s the last part of the PCT we’ll run across that we’re actually a little familiar with. Last year, we came out over 4th-of-July weekend and hiked along the PCT in the Trinity Alps, this area, for about twelve miles, staying two nights in the backcountry. It was really beautiful, and I remember being excited to be on the PCT itself. (We even met a through-hiker back then, which was a little surprising, because being up here over the 4th of July is really speedy for a through-hiker.) I also remember thinking that twelve miles felt like a long way to hike. It’s pretty cool coming through here once again, seeing familiar sights, yet this time having hiked here all the way from Mexico…and having twelve miles be just a morning or afternoon of hiking.

We’ve run into some interesting folks in recent days. Today I learned that one of our recent hiking friends, Firecracker, is highly motivated to hike by listening to Kanye West, and seems to be deeply into all kinds of hip-hop and rap. That might not seem too unusual, except that Firecracker is an early-20s Danish woman who looks like your mental stereotype of a young Danish woman: light blonde hair, blue eyes, bubbly personality. It’s kind of hilarious hearing her talk about going to a Kanye concert in Denmark, or in depth about all kinds of various rappers and their crews. (Having said all that, I love listening to Watch the Throne out here a whole lot myself…)

A couple of days ago, we ran into a woman who’s sixty years old and definitely on the heavyset side — but who’s hiking the entire PCT, bit by bit, by day-hiking sections of it. She’ll drive north to the next place where the PCT intersects a road, park her car, and hike back to the previous road crossing, then either hike or hitchhike back, camp for the evening, and do it all over again. She’s being incredibly methodical, and seems to never miss a piece — we saw her up here, at about mile 1550, and she’s apparently hiked every inch of the trail between here and Mexico. I love meeting people like this! I love it because she’s doing this thing that I suspect nobody who bumped into her on the street would ever imagine she’d done, or even imagine she’d be capable of doing, and I love it because she’s found her own, creative, fun way of doing it, too. Sometimes some of the section-hikers and older folks out here are the most interesting, fun, and best people to meet. I wish her luck in everything she does, and hope to someday hear about her making it all the way to Canada.

We also ran into a tiny bit of trail magic today that must be one of the single least glamorous, yet most useful, things to do out here. As we got right up next to a trailhead, there was a small sign on a tree telling us that there was a PCT hiker trash can — yep, that’s right, just a trash can — at the trailhead. And you know what? We were both really excited. It’s something rare in trail magic out here (for understandable reasons, given its lack of glamor), but it’s actually incredibly useful. By the end of hiking any stretch of the trail, any through-hiker will have several pounds of garbage on them, typically wrappers and containers that food came in. Having a trash can made available to you means your pack instantly gets several pounds lighter, which is sort of the ultimate improvement you could make to our hiking conditions. So, whoever you are who put the trash can at this PCT trailhead in the Trinity Alps…thank you, sincerely. I really appreciate it.

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