Saturday, April 11, 2015

Pacific Crest Trail Section A Day 1: Dying for Water

Flash and I stood at the Mexican border with four Israelis, one German, two Frenchmen, and one other American. Ahead of us was a trail stretching over two thousand miles, ending in Canada. Flash and I were only hiking the first section, 110 miles, but everyone else hoped to make it the entire way. Would they? It was hard to say.

Flash was here too but I don't post pics of people (except from the back, ha ha) without permission! 

The night before at the trail angels' house, I had felt like the other hikers were skeptical of us. Two of them even mistook us for volunteers, since we were helping with dinner ("we help because we are middle-aged women," Flash said, as we took in the oblivious twenty-somethings staring intently at their phones while the angels, using their own time and money, went out of their way to provide abundant food and shelter for no payment in return). But Flash and I knew that we would outwalk them all and we did. We never saw any of them again after Day 2.



We hiked along through live oaks and sand, passing the remains of unknown tragedies: cowboy boots and underwear, abandoned backpacks, bottles of water. Regardless of how you feel about illegal immigrants, the truth was here in our faces. We were out here for a week's vacation, choosing to carry six liters of water through the dry landscape. Other people were not as fortunate.



Casualties of another sort soon littered the trail. Three Liter Girl, hiking with only that amount of water, struggled along as we passed her, bent under a heavy pack. A young guy implored us for water, though we could tell he was embarrassed to ask. "I just wasn't ready for this," he said.  As we headed down toward Hauser Canyon, an older man hailed us with the news that his water container had broken and could we spare some water? He looked defeated already, trying to walk himself into shape.

The scariest of all was C, who wavered unsteadily as he held out a plastic army canteen and croaked out, "can you spare some water?" Wearing jeans and a flannel, with a pack we later learned topped seventy pounds, he was walking the line between life and death. In the end we gave out three liters, and probably saved some lives. I am not a fan of water caches, as I believe that all the plastic is bad enough and that hikers rely on them too much, but the cache at Hauser, fifteen miles in, undoubtedly prevented a few helicopter rides.

Why does this sign show someone drowning?

As for us, we felt strong. I had wondered if I could pull out a twenty mile day on Day One in eighty degrees, but even the climb out of Hauser Canyon was not overly taxing. A high cloud cover helped, and by 4:30 we dropped into the busy Lake Morena campground. You can drive here, and it appeared that everyone had. Music blared, some campers drove around blasting a cow horn, and kids peered at our gear. This was hiking the PCT? It was so...different than our other sections.

Here a camping incompatibility arose. Flash and I are a remarkably good team, but Flash likes to have tasks completed immediately. While I like to sit at camp for a moment taking it in, she wants the tent up, her stuff organized, the lay of the land figured out. We hadn't shared a tent before, so this incompatibility caused us a few tense moments. Another thing had happened that I didn't tell her was that a weird pain had arisen in my hamstring and up and down my leg. Almost like a spasm, it had appeared as we descended into Lake Morena, and I fretted. Stress fracture? So I wanted to sit, but didn't want to say anything, because saying it might make it real. (Fortunately it went away the next day. So now you know, Flash. I wasn't really tired)

Tent dithering aside, I felt good about us. We had gotten the scary part over--the first day, the day everyone talks about, how much water you had to carry, how hot it would be. The trail, though so different than Washington, felt good. It felt familiar. But now there were hot showers to take! (Some advantages of a real campground) I settled into the tent, blissfully unaware that the next days would bring a sight that could not be unseen, a camp of desperation, winds so strong I thought they would carry me away, and the longing to stay on the trail forever.

19 comments:

  1. Hey, Monkey Bars....looking good on the first day.

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    1. I always find it funny that the older women can out hike the twenty year olds. It comes down to efficiency and consistency.

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  2. MB - Love your writing! Can't wait to read about day 2-5. That was bordering on saintly for you and flash to give up 3 liters of water - you both are the real deal!
    JackandBarb

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    1. Hi Jack and Barb! We couldn't refuse them but were very careful to set our own trigger points as to how much we could share. Our years of experience backpacking really paid off on this hike.

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  3. I'll bet it felt good to get the first hot day out of the way.

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    1. Funny you should say that, since I will be writing about the freezing Temps that came on day 2!

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  4. So relieved for you that the pain went away. I've followed a number of people setting off from the border, but you have portrayed a totally different perspective to any other I have read. The numbers ill prepared I find quite staggering. I'm looking forward to the continuing story.

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    1. Yes, the trail angels we stayed with do a great job in preparing people but other hikers who do not stay with them don't get the benefit. When we went back to the house afterward I think we scared some hikers into taking more water. Which is a good thing.

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  5. Wow. You are an inspiration! Can't wait for the rest...

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    1. Anyone can do it, I think it is 90% mental really! Next segment coming soon...

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  6. Great reading about your trip! Brings back so many memories of that section, and staying with those generous trail angels. So true about not saying anything about a potential injury. You all are incredible for giving up some of you water--its a shame how unprepared so many others are.

    Can't wait to read more...

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    1. I'll have to go back and read your blog from last year to see what you experienced. It was about the same time.

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  7. Hi Mary, it's really nice of you to help those in need. I have done it many times when novices think they are ready to explore the Alaska Wilderness. I also am looking forward to reading about your trip. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. You really have to help them, right? Same as in Alaska. Can't just hike off and leave them. This was really not a hot day..I am nervous to think of those people who will be starting in 100 degree temps.

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  8. Off to a good start! I have to say, I started reading a few PCT blogs last year, and there were a number of statements that made it seem like hikers think they're entitled to water caches and train angel services. This irks me to no end, and I'm not sure I could handle being out there in the throngs of thru-hikers starting at the southern terminus in the spring, when such attitudes of entitlement and obliviousness would no doubt be on display. Good for you, giving people water.

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    1. With some exceptions, I did feel like I was at Backpacker 101. But I had to remind myself. Thru hiking is not backpacking! It's a whole different thing. As these people were finding out. Some quit on the first day.

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  9. What a contrast your story is from the many others I've read. Yours is the most real and the first to address the stories of the unprepareds. I've always thought it would be an interesting study to see what happens to many their first day and first week, blending expectations with realities, contrasting those think they were prepared, with those truly prepared, and those completely without a clue.

    Can't wait to read about the rest of your days!

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    1. Yes, it was interesting to see people slowly learning things even over the first week, that I learned over my section hikes. Like, you don't have to wait for the sun to dry out your tent at camp. You can hike on and get some miles first. And we saw people totally terrified to dry camp. Some will get it.

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