One of the thru-hiker’s articles of faith is “Hike your own hike” – go at your own pace, use the gear that makes you happy, don’t let other hikers’ opinions change your experience. This also means setting your own goals and rules for the hike. With fire closures, snow hazards, and other obstacles, it’s impossible to literally walk 2,660 consecutive miles of trail (and as the trail moves around hazards or requires extra hiking to water sources, that’s not even the exact length of the trail anyway), so it’s up to each hiker to figure out how they’ll best approximate a complete hike from Mexico to Canada. As they say, the PCTA pays you the same no matter how you hike it. Continue reading
Mile 517.59 to 634.93
This was the section where the Sierras, hitherto a distant and vague idea, suddenly started to loom large in everyone’s minds. Mile 702 (Kennedy Meadows) marks the real start of the Big Stuff, although we have been walking in the Sierra foothills for some time now.
Our feelings regarding the desert have become schizophrenic: on one hand we’re utterly sick of the 25-mile days with no water and we’re very ready for a change, but on the other hand, we’re a little terrified of the snow and roaring creeks that await us. This is one of the highest snow years on record, and it will test us.
Our tent sites in this section have been dictated by the sparse water sources, which has made for some crowded evenings, but we’ve greatly appreciated the chance to catch up with old friends whom we doubted we would see again.
Mile to 383.9 to 517.59
This section took us through three of the most famous trail angel establishments, each almost within a day’s hike of the next: Hiker Heaven, Casa de Luna and Hikertown. It felt like a much-needed final party before we enter the vast mountain wilderness of the high Sierras. Our hike is about to become a mountain survival expedition, which is why our beer intake has increased severalfold this week.
Mile 151.8 to 369.6
Another two hundred miles of trail down. Our mileage is approaching 20 per day, which should stand us in good stead to hit the Sierra at just the right time. There are more long sections without water now that we’ve reached the desert proper, which sometimes entails carrying six liters each in addition to our food.
Our homes are often thrown up in the fading light and dismantled before dawn as we seek to maximize our mileage. Such long days puts pressure on feet and knees, so this section ended with a luxurious double zero in Wrightwood while we recovered.
A lot of time on trail is spent getting very, very dirty, and getting clean in town still requires hygienic compromises you’d never make in the real world. After nearly a month on trail, we’ve developed a scale to identify our own levels of cleanliness and filth.
Miles 193-213 brutalized us.
The next morning we got up at 4:30 am, ready for a 4500′ descent into the desert basin. By 8am, the temperature was already approaching 90 degrees, and there was no shade or water until a small spigot at the base of the descent, 13 miles from our starting point: the only guaranteed water source for another 16 miles.
Mile 77.32 to 151.8
We’re now two weeks into our hike, and every day brings new refinements of gear and new ways to make our time more efficient. Our daily mileage has grown from five to ten to eighteen, helped in part by a shift to desert timing: get up before 5am, hike ten miles before the sun gets too hot, take a long siesta and then hike into the evening.
This has meant that we’re rolling into camp later. Betty gets the dinner going while I set up the tent and blow up our mats, then we have a little time to eat, watch the sunset and chat with other hikers before bedtime, usually 8 to 9 pm. This changes when things get windy, since the tent would fly away if both of us weren’t working together to stake it down.
This week has indeed been characterized by high ridge camp spots with exciting wind to match, but so far the tent has held up well. We also enjoyed a wonderful rest day in Idyllwild with some new hiking buddies.
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
–Geoffery Chaucer, Canterbury Tales
Mile 0 to 77.32, April 16th to 23rd
However, I would like to avoid the pitfall of only writing about the big picture: the huge scenery shots and massive miles traveled. My favourite part of other people’s journals is the home-making minutiae: what does your sleeping spot look like? What did you eat for dinner last night? What was the view from your tent door? This makes the story feel much more real for me.
That’s the purpose of this series, 150 Homes, which I’ll try to update once per week. Each day I’ll take a pic of our camp and describe our surroundings, sometimes focusing on the tiny details of long-distance living that might ordinarily be skipped in favour of the next huge vista. Please let me know if there’s anything you’re curious about and I’ll include it in a future post!
This weekend we’ve boxed more books than I ever remember owning, given our couch to a lovely foster home, and have really begun feeling the weight of all the work that needs to be done to fully move out of our apartment. So of course I found time to lay out and photograph all my gear!