Thursday, June 27, 2019

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the rest of Section F, CA, Tehachapi to Hiker Town. Third time is the charm

It was a long time since I had felt this miserable. I had climbed uphill for 17 miles and down for three, most of those miles in an old burn zone with zero shade. A heat rash bloomed on my legs, making it look as though I had some fatal disease. I was also blessed with an uncontrollable cough. I sat forlornly in Gamble Canyon, wondering why this section always seemed so determined to break me.

When you find a random bench, you sit on it.
Of course, I was lucky. In this wet year, streams were running both through Tylerhorse and Gamble Canyons. I didn't have to carry water all that far. Some wonderful souls had put up a cache with umbrellas. I had collapsed there, planning to camp, but two millenials came by and lit up cigarettes, telling me a big group planned to night hike and would hang out there for hours. No thanks. I was soon on my way.

Cache 549. Thanks, angels!
A lot of people night hike this section, but I can't really get into night hiking. The whole point of being out here on the PCT is to see it. And I find it hard to sleep during the day, so I would become a stumbling zombie. It's easier for me to slog on through the heat than try to sleep under a sparse patch of shade. So on I walked.

The flowers were amazing!
Two hikers came to join me in Gamble Canyon, but I left before both of them, seeking the relative coolness of dawn. It was fourteen miles to the fabled bridge and water faucet that marked the beginning of what was said to be one of the most trying sections of the PCT, the 17 mile long LA aqueduct. Flat, hot, and devoid of shade, it was a stretch I had dreaded for years.

Under the bridge, a bunch of trolls, or hikers, were shaded up. They immediately began snoring, planning to hike out at six. I had good intentions of waiting until late in the afternoon to hike out too, but boredom got to me. I might as well walk, I thought, how bad can it be?

Pretty bad, it turned out. The first part southbound was a dirt road, lined by low shrubs. Nobody was around. The sun beat down mercilessly. I made my way from Joshua tree to Joshua tree, seeking out slim shade for half an hour, walk for half an hour. I was aware that this was slightly ridiculous, but I was committed. As I walked, the aqueduct became more apparent, a swath of cement under which I knew a tunnel of water ran, water running to feed LA. It all seemed sort of extravagant and sad, to be taking water from this place and sending it west.

There's water under there.
After 20 miles I was done, unable to hobble the last nine to Hiker Town. I found a patch of Joshua trees and set up my tent. Immediately a rat leapt on it. Oh for Pete's sake, I thought. I packed back up and went out to the aqueduct. I'd sleep on one of the raised concrete squares. I had no idea what they were for, but I could hear water gurgling through them. It was a full moon night next to the creepy abandoned trailers (I found out later they belonged to a hunt club). Hunting what exactly, I had no idea. Rats?

In the night I heard the crunch of hikers night walking, and even though it must have been outstanding by the light of the moon, I didn't envy them. I had my cozy concrete, which had to be the strangest place I had ever camped.

My campsite!
The morning came quickly and I shuffled my way into Hiker Town past the open aqueduct. Unlike last time I was there, Hiker Town baked in the heat. I threw myself into a chair and chatted with Silver, who was doing his third PCT thru hike. At that point, I had to ask myself why. I also had to admit that while I love the trail, and especially the people I meet on it, I am ready to go back to regular backpacking. No more dry camps, no more long water carries, no more twenty mile days.

The lovely sight of an aqueduct in the morning.
I took an outdoor shower and prepared to go back to Mammoth for a couple of days of R&R, which in my case meant day hikes. I have 22 miles left. Twenty-two! It's hard to believe.
The weirdness of Hiker Town, again.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, California Section G, Walker Pass to Crabtree Meadow

"Why don't we just get out here?" Big Jim, who was sharing my PCT shuttle, asked. It was a fair question. We were right at Walker Pass, where the trail crossed the highway. There was a monster climb waiting, and the temperature was well on its way to the predicted high of 90 degrees.

"No!" I screamed. "I have to start where I left off!" Bemused, Jim just shook his head. But I knew: if I skipped it, that .7 miles would haunt me forever.

I headed slowly into the climb, which I knew was at least three thousand feet, maybe more; I had been too scared to look. The weight of gear I wouldn't need for miles hung heavy on my shoulders: microspikes, waterproof socks. This was, undeniably, the desert, scorching hot, only meager shade from low bushes. The next three days were punctuated only by the few water sources, small trickles of lifegiving water, most that would have been dry except in this wet year. Flowers still lined the trail, and the sunsets were spectacular, as they usually are in the desert.
Sunset at camp, day one. I came 15 miles from the pass to this really nice spot.

Sunset at camp, day 2. I shared this site on a plateau with about five other hikers, all of whom were equally mesmerized.
I quickly fell back into trail life. I saw the same hikers as we navigated the steep climbs. "Hey, Monkey Bars," they chorused as we met again at a water source. I belonged out there, I thought.
Shading up wherever possible. 

A bridge over the Kern, where swallows fly under and around. This was a place that was hard to leave. Cactus Cooler and Tye-Bye, on the bridge, seemed to agree.

At PCT mile 702 is the unofficial end of the desert and the beginning of the Sierra. Every hiker limps, crawls or bounds into the Kennedy Meadows store, and everyone on the porch claps, recognition of the difficult desert miles behind. Most everyone stays there for a day or two, resting and planning their strategy for the snowy Sierra. This year there was a particular panic around the area. The highest snow year in decades, the high Sierra loomed menacingly in some hikers' minds. The fear mongering was strong, aided by reports of frostbite, helicopter rescues, and avalanches. Reportedly, the Sierra was 99% snow-covered after Trail Pass.

I didn't want to stay at KM, so I ran through the store doing a quick resupply and headed back out, into the Sierra. The store had been slammed, so the pickings were slim. Hauling a block of cheese and a package of Oreos, I headed for the Kern River. Over the next two days, I wandered in a beautiful world of granite, water, and snow.

The end of this PCT section is at Crabtree Meadow, which meant I would have to do an out and back of 44 miles. Reports of the trail ahead were mixed, but the snow I encountered was enough to convince me to save these last 22 miles for another time. If the snow was passable, that was one thing. But I would have to cross two rivers, and with the melt in full swing, these could potentially be life-threatening. It wasn't worth it.

Gomez Meadow. Even enroute to a 24 mile day, I stopped to appreciate it.
At Trail Pass, I turned my back on the Sierra and bailed down to Horseshoe Meadow with two other hikers, floundering in sloppy snow.  All wasn't lost. I had a car and I had time. I could drive down to Hiker Town and fill in the fifty miles I had left there. Quickly reconfiguring from alpine to desert travel, I headed down to the place Flash and I had left a few weeks before. When we had last been at Hiker Town, we had been shivering in rain and wind. Now the heat baked the sparse grass. I would have to hike through a waterless landscape, one with little mercy. I had traded snow for relentless sun.
I didn't know how it would go, but I knew one thing: if I had to crawl, I was going to finish that section.
I came off the snowy pass with two other hikers, who waited for me and watched for me to cross a waist-deep river successfully on a sketchy log. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

I'm not your sage granny

"So what's the secret?" Gables asked as we hiked together toward Trail Pass. "Is it just to keep doing it?"

I could have said a lot of things, most of them being that I wasn't THAT much older than her. In fact, I wasn't even old enough to be her mom, unless I was a very young teen mom.

But it wasn't worth getting offended. I'm sure I looked old on trail. For the past one hundred miles I had slept perhaps 2 to 3 hours a night. I had been afflicted by one of the worst colds in memory (I used to never get sick before this year. When I get home, I need to overhaul my diet) And on this hike,  I left it all out there every day.

So even though I resented being placed in the sage granny role, all I could say was, "just keep doing it. Even if it's hard." Soon she stopped to filter water, I got ahead, and will probably never hear from her again. That's what happens on the trail.

I'm in Mammoth and a few thru hikers are coming into town. They are bringing tales of swimming across swollen creeks and of avalanches. The women look tired but radiant. It does make me miss being young. I was too focused on working, even though I had fun and unusual jobs. I never would have taken five months off to hike. Maybe I should have.




Monday, June 17, 2019

Spark

Greetings, friends. I just finished another 150 miles of the PCT. And as usual, it didn't go according to plan, but none of it ever has, so why should it this time?

Anyway, today I was met with two extremes. At Hikertown (wait. Wasn't I supposed to be in the Sierra? I'll explain next time) I sat with Silver, who is 68 and well on his way to a Triple Triple Crown (a Triple Crown is completing the Appalachian, PCT and the Continental Divide Trails. No easy feat). Silver looked many years younger than his true age. Then on the way to Mammoth, I gave two hikers a ride to Bishop. Rocketman is 19, and hiked the AT last year when he was 18.

Both of these hikers had what I think of as the spark. When someone has it, they glow from within. They are just interesting to be around. I'm sure we can all name people who are like this. The trick is to never give up yours, whatever it is that creates it for you.

I will miss the camaraderie of the trail. Silver and Rocketman, if by chance you read this, let me know how the trail treats you.
More to come...

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Gait Analysis

I nervously watched the video of me running barefoot on the treadmill. In my experience, watching myself on camera is not pleasant. I usually expect to look much better than I actually do. But to my surprise my running actually looked pretty good. A long ponytail swished back and forth. There were actual muscles in my legs. I was striking mid foot instead of heel. Not bad!

Well, except for the fact that one hip drops a lot lower than the other. Ann pointed it out. "There's supposed to be some drop," she said. "But not this much."

This could be the elusive reason why I am getting so many aches and pains on one side of my body. And it is likely tied to the trail running fall I took in 2012, where I hit my back on the same side as the hip drop. Darn! What to do?

The answer is nothing fancy. Strengthen the adductors doing leg lifts and lurching around like Frankenstein with a band circling my legs. Core work. Side planks, and side planks with a leg lifted (this is really hard). I would be lying if I said I really don't want to add more stuff to my exercise routine. I already find it hard to keep up while working a full time job. But I don't want to get injured anymore. So there you go. Frankenstein it is.

My tendonitis cleared up after I week but I stuck it out for three more, gritting my teeth when the weather turned nice and people started talking about all the hikes they were doing. Instead, I rode my bike and showed up at the gym way more often than I usually do. I'm ready to hike again! So I am heading down to Walker Pass to do a section of the PCT (my last long one!). The fear mongering is high this year, since there is so much snow. I hope I finish, but the conditions will dictate how far I go.

At PT, there was an older woman who was struggling to do a few exercises. She watched me run for five minutes on the treadmill. "Are you training for a marathon?" she asked.

Hardly. But I had to take a minute to be grateful that despite the aches and pains I sometimes have, I can still do this. Someday, I may not be able to. Today is not that day.