I’ve heard a new way of measuring progress in the desert, and I really like it.

  • Monday – Mile 0-100
  • Tuesday – Mile 100-200
  • Wednesday – Mile 200-300
  • Thursday – Mile 300-400
  • Friday – Mile 400-500
  • Saturday – Mile 500-600
  • Sunday – Mile 600-700 (approximately Kennedy Meadows and the start of the High Sierra)

As I write this post it is somewhere around Thursday noon, which is to say that I am halfway through the desert section of the PCT. 

Let’s catch up a little since my last post:

Started out from Big Bear

I picked up my new trekking poles at the hostel in Big Bear, where I had shipped them. 

My bag is so heavy. 5 (probably 6) days of food for the haul to Wrightwood. Mette and I weighed our food bags at the hostel and they each weighed 5.5 kg (somewhere around 13lbs). That’s just our food!

Camped at mile 285

My first 20 mile day! And we crossed mile 300 today, so it was a big day. We hiked along the edges of several canyons following rivers. Luckily, that means I only had to carry more than a litre for the last 8 miles, since my food bag still feels like it’s full of rocks. 

As I hiked the canyon, I kept seeing what looked like beautiful swimming holes, but there were a ways down from the trail. I kept hoping that we would cross the river at one of these swimming holes and we finally did. There was a crossing at a footbridge where there was a sandy beach underneath the bridge. The river was wide there and a few feet deep, and the banks were covered by leafy trees making a nice shade. The whole crew stopped for lunch there. We washed ourselves, our socks and shirts. Anything to help remove some of the hiker stink. I took my shoes off and jumped in as soon as if arrived. Wiggling my feet in the sandy river bottom was practically orgasmic, and the cold water soothed the constant ache that I have in my feet while hiking. Even my blisters were calmed for a little while. It felt better than any pedicure I’ve ever had. 

Everyone parted from the riverbank, in groups or alone. I’d gotten there last and Mette stayed to hang out with me (we’ve been gaining the nickname “Team Lollygag” amongst our group). By the time I finally was ready to get moving, we’d spent over three hours there. It was probably the best lunch break we’d had so far though. Looks like I was enjoying myself too much to take any photos, so you’ll have to take my word that it was idyllic. We crossed mile 300 that afternoon!

Camped around mile 306

My food bag is finally of a reasonable weight. I have no clue how I’ll deal with all the additional gear that I’ll need once I hit the Sierra. My bear canister alone weighs around 3lbs, microspikes are another pound, and I may need additional items for warmth (like a sleeping bag liner). I guess that’s a problem for Future Sam to deal with. 

I am getting stronger. I’ve been inching my mileage up to my first 20 yesterday. Today should be another. I’m going to try and do a 25 next week, hopefully. Part of it is just learning how I hike best. The first few days I tried to keep up with my long legged Danish friends (plus Spencer and Chris) who all hike much faster than me. By doing so, I burned myself out. I can usually do the same mileage as them in a day, but I need to take more breaks. Furthermore, I am useless in the desert midday heat. I’d rather take a couple (or many) hours in the afternoon to hide out in the shade and then come into camp around sunset. I’ve even hiked into the night a couple of times. Knowing my hiking style has really helped make the days more enjoyable and productive. 

That being said, just because I can hike 20 miles in a day, apparently does not mean that I can hike 20 miles every day. The last 3 days have been around 18, 21, and 22 miles respectively, and I’m completely fried. The last few miles of today took me forever. 

It seems that the time has come for the fellowship to truly part. Mikkel and Spencer want to press on and do 20 miles every day. They’re both planning to get to Kennedy Meadows by June 19th, when Mikkels girlfriend is coming, and they’re going to head to San Francisco together. At the moment, they are both planning to end their hikes there. 

A few people have gotten off trail so far, mostly in the first couple of days upon realizing that they were in over their head. But when those two announced to us tonight that they were planning to end their hikes at KM, it seemed like a shock. Our group will have been reduced by a third. There is no reliable way to track statistics of hikers starting, finishing, or getting off trail. It’s too remote, people get on and off trail all the time, and the PCTA is mostly a volunteer organization. 

Camped around Mile 328

Did an aggressive 14 miles by noon today to make it to the McDonalds at Cajon Pass. It was glorious. We’d been talking about our respective plans of what to order for about three days. 

Mette’s food took a while and she got hangry…

Mette, Chris, ICU and I went to REI from there. I got my popped mat and shredded leggings replaced, and returned my sun shirt/bought a new one. My old shirt was too short and would ride up, exposing my lower back to rubbing from my pack. This new one is longer, fits better, and is permethrin treated to keep bugs away. I’m very pleased with my REI experience, their customer service is top notch. Mette got the new shoes she’s been needing for at least a week already. 

Stayed at Cajon Pass Best Western. Ate a lot of McDonald’s. 

I heard from Sphagnum PI that the hiker box in the hotel was loaded up after we left – looks like one more hiker has gotten off trail. 

Today Chris headed up to Wrightwood early in the morning to get his package from the post office. Due to Memorial day weekend, the post office accessibility will be limited this weekend. Mette and I headed back to the trail and…waffled. Lolly gagged. Mette’s new shoes were turning out to be far too big and she was afraid they’d be just as bad as the last ones. I did some math and realized that I needed to cover 112 miles in the next 6.5 days, which just seemed like too much. I’m flying home for a week for a friend’s wedding, so I need to pick up my bounce box at Hiker Heaven before I go (mile 454). Also, I was still pretty burnt out from the three 20 mile days, and I hadn’t had a zero since Cabazon. Could I really average 17 miles every day for the next week including resupplying? No nearos, no zeros? So we waffled about what to do, sitting under a highway underpass. It seemed to me that both of us just wanted to start hiking again, but we both also knew that ignoring the predicaments at hand would not eliminate them. So we decided to be smart, and deal with these problems before moving forward. I decided to take a zero and get a ride up to Wrightwood, cutting 27 miles off of that total. Much more reasonable. During my zero, I went with Mette back to REI to help her get some shoes that fit properly. 

We were in a rush the day before at REI and as a result she ended up with shoes that didn’t fit right. This time, we took our time and had a much better sales associate helping out. I also bought some new insoles for my shoes after realizing that mine have been beaten into flaccidity and were pretty much useless. I figure I’m about halfway through the life of these shoes, hopefully they’ll last me until Kennedy Meadows (the end of the desert and the beginning of the Sierra Nevada). 

The trail angel Legend gave us the ride to REI and also drove me up to Wrightwood that afternoon. He and Coppertone are two trail angels who spend their summers hopping up the trail to deliver trail magic to hikers. Legend claims that he times his stops to the “optimal PCT completion schedule”, and if you stick to that schedule we’ll see him 9 or 10 times. I’ve seen him thrice already, so I think I’m doing well. Coppertone offers snacks and ice cream floats, while Legend does pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners for hikers. Very stand up guys, and it’s wonderful to see their enthusiasm for the trail community. 

So I’m at Wrightwood, trying to head up to Hiker Heaven by next week before I fly home for a week off trail. I’m calling it my “vacation from my vacation”. 

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