Thursday, May 30, 2019

Hiking the PCT, Southern California Section E: Foiled again by the Sierra Pelona

Flash and I left Hiker Heaven under the cover of darkness, because that was how we liked it. Hiking as the sun rises has got to be the best thing there is. It was a good thing we left so early because the heat was on. The trail in this section climbs and then drops steeply, the climbs again as we headed toward Green Valley. Shade was a sparse commodity, and we leapfrogged Rampage, True Grit, and others.

Most everyone was headed for the next trail angel house, Casa de Luna. Rumored to have taco salad and a magical manzanita forest, it held some allure, but we decided to skip it. Here is where I chose to ignore my intuition (foreshadow alert). We really didn't need to hike 24 miles, but when we passed the campsite we had planned on, it was in full sun, it was early, and we didn't have enough water to sit there the rest of the afternoon. What harm would it do to descend to the fire station, get water and find a place to camp there? It turns out that this decision cost me the rest of my hike.

We saw Mark several times. We liked Mark. We shared our ice cream with Mark.
The PCT here, and in many other places, contours endlessly around hills, in one direction. The trail is not level, having eroded out, and so one foot is always at an angle. I had started feeling a nagging pain where the ankle met the foot, and if I had stopped early, it might have resolved. But, as a person with a tendency to push on, and since most nagging pains go away, I tried to ignore it. Mistake #1.

My ankle felt good while climbing, so the next morning all was well. We woke to fog that eventually cleared off as we headed upward and down to the Lake Hughes Road. I started seeing the familiar sights from two years before, when snow forced us off the mountain. The trail wound through an enchanting oak forest and a trail angel gave us water and matzoh. It would have been a good day, except that my ankle started hurting even more. We dropped down to sit at a nice campsite and were tempted to stay there. However, there had been reports of bear activity in the area, and I was convinced that if we moved up to the nearby campground, we could store our food in bear boxes and it would be better. Mistake #2.
Pretty oak forest
There followed one of the most miserable camping experiences I have yet to endure. Arriving at the campground, we were buffeted by intense winds. Flash set her tent up on the lee side of the bathroom, but mine flapped too much to consider it. Finally I spotted some bushes halfway up the hill. They didn't appear to be moving, so I wedged my tent in between them. I clung to the slope, barely able to move. Several other hikers trickled in, facing the same predicament.

This picture does not fully capture the situation.

The rain began at one am, heralding in one of the most miserable days on trail I have yet to endure. Along with the joy of taking down a wet tent, the rain and wind made it impossible to stop. I marched on, leg throbbing, getting wetter and colder by the minute. Only the foggy oak forest made the death march halfway bearable.
I normally wouldn't post a picture where I look so bad, but I had to convey the Type II fun we were having.
Finally after 17 brutal miles, we arrived at the highway and Hiker Town. A former Wild West movie set, Hiker Town is perched on the edge of scary and fascinating. A former hiking partner refused to stop there due to its reputation as being sketchy, but we found the owners to be helpful and nice. We scored a room for $20 (in the School House) that hadn't been cleaned in the last decade, but it beat the experience of the other hikers, who had to set up tents in the wind. I lay on the foul smelling carpet, wondering what to do. A test hike in the morning revealed that the pain had crept up my leg, and I couldn't put Flash in the dubious position of being out in the mountains with no bail out, with an injured partner. Plus, the forecast was abysmal, with rumors of snow, and my raincoat wasn't getting any better. For all those reasons, we decided to bail. The owner gave us a ride to Lebec and we caught an Uber to Bakersfield.
Not as happy as I look at Hikertown
In town, I was feeling all of the emotions. I obviously had an overuse injury, which I could have prevented by doing less miles. I've always been able to jump into high mileage right away, so this made me wonder if age was catching up at last. And if I want to finish the PCT, I have to go back and get those 50 miles, which really can only be done in fall or spring. It gets logistically challenging and expensive. I felt like a failure, spending money to change my flight for the second time, and Flash had to also, which made me feel worse.

But as a wise person once said, life sometimes gives you a Plan B, and what is important is how you respond to it. I'm really lucky to be able to do this crazy thing called section hiking. The trail isn't going anywhere. I'll be back.
The tent city near the outhouse. This camp rivaled Desperation Camp from Section A of the PCT.




15 comments:

  1. 38 k's, no wonder your leg was throbbing. I can however, fully understand your frustration. So close yet so far and what will next year bring?
    You are a hero in my eyes, just saying.

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    1. Thanks. I've been able to do that mileage before so it was a surprise to have my body turn on me. Maybe it's time to "retire" to shorter hikes.

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  2. Pain and cold rain ... I completely empathize. Sorry to hear you couldn't complete this section, but really it looks gorgeous and this will be a great excuse to go back for one more round.

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    1. Seriously this spring makes me feel like I'm back in Souheast. I've worn my xtra Tufs more than any other spring. Meanwhile up there they are having a really dry spring.

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  3. From swiss-miss.com, from someone's Instagram account, from...?

    Some "ancient Sanskrit" stuff: https://www.instagram.com/p/ByDnHv1H_6z/

    But you already know your own version of this, prolly.

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    1. Thanks. I need all the wisdom I can get.

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  4. I know you won't let those elusive 50 get away from you. You will get them conquered! I'm strongly believe it was the bad trail condition and the horrid weather not your age. You are the most fit woman I know. There is no way your age had anything to do with this. Hang in there!

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    1. I hope so, I have never had this in 2,400 miles of hiking so I have to believe it was a fluke.

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  5. High points...and very low points. It's easy to look back and decide you made mistakes, but you made the right decision when you had to. I agree with the post...Not your age...one of the fittest (and most determined) hiker I know.

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    1. I get annoyed when people blame things on age, so I hope not.

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  6. I wonder if there might be something "Zen" about deciding to skip the last 50 miles? Not a defeat, but a choice. We are all so goal driven!

    Walking up Gavin Hill in Sitka--very steep--I would sometimes ask hiking partners when we were resting not far below the ridge top what they thought about turning back. No one ever wanted to, even those of us who had done the full hike many times and even if the top was in fog and clouds.

    Tom
    Fairbanks

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    1. I know that trail well and I have done the same thing. Also, I once summited Mount Whitney in the fog. Pointless! I'm trying to embrace flexibility.

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  7. I always feel humbled when nature just shuts down your plans. I feel we can take life lessons from it. Like you said, it's all about how you respond and the trail will always be there! I have no doubt you'll finish those last 50 miles ... someday.

    Also sounds like you need a new rain shell! I hear that as a testing opportunity!!

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    1. Yes!!! I'm hoping I can take lessons from this but I'm still annoyed at my body.

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  8. Oh so close! But, if you're injured, and the weather is forecast to be bad, better to quit before something really terrible happens. You're right, the trail will always be there. I know you'll be back.

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