I left you with a cliffhanger last time, so I may need to explain what happened the next day. After climbing Forester Pass, I hiked past the first campground and challenged myself to make it to the one after (an extra mile or so would help tomorrow.) It was 11 at night, and I climbed into my floppy tent (you may remember how tired I was and how I did not even attempt to stake down my tent) and slept. By slept, I mean closed my eyes and lay there shivering all night, and in the morning, I packed up my tent and, without any breakfast, continued hiking. The day prior, I had skipped breakfast, as well as lunch and also dinner. Somewhere between (my lack of) lunch and dinner, I forced myself to sit down and eat half a cup of oatmeal because I was feeling jittery from the low blood sugar. I couldn’t eat any more than that.
First of all, I was most definitely experiencing altitude sickness. The entire week, I’d been experiencing headaches as I climbed into higher elevation than my body was used to, some of them lasting 3-4 hours and requiring me to hike much slower and with many more breaks. By the end of the day, these persisting headaches caused me to feel nauseated, and therefore, made eating nearly impossible. Same with drinking water. I was drinking maybe half a liter a day, and occasionally scooping up a handful of ice and taking a bite (which I later found out dehydrates you even more). The thought of putting solids or liquids in my stomach made me nervous. I also couldn’t stop moving long enough to sit down, take a break, chug half a liter of water, and hydrate properly. This was the other issue. It was cold. I wanted to keep moving. That meant hike all day and take no breaks. That meant no time to take out my bear can, stove, etc. and cook.
So, I’d hiked Forester Pass at over 13,000 ft. elevation, collapsed at the end of the day, neither ate nor drank nor slept, and woke up to hike Kearsarge Pass at almost 12,000 ft. elevation the next day. But Kearsarge meant a break was coming. Kearsarge Pass Trail led off the PCT and into a parking lot from where I could hitchhike to Independence.
I had never needed to get off the trail as badly as that day in particular. I believe that Forrester and Kearsage two days in a row (the most challenging passes thus far) led me to what could have potentially been my breaking point. While hiking these passes, I was full of negative emotions. I was angry, hungry, weak, hurting (a knotted mass of nerves between my shoulder blades was on fire), sore, sleep-deprived, and exhausted. Dark thoughts hovered over me as I mentally berated myself for allowing myself to toy with the idea of sitting down and crying, camping an extra night halfway through and making it to town the next day, or possibly even quitting the PCT. I focused on placing one foot before the other, but I was moving forward only inches at a time, and my backpack was pulling me backwards as I tried to force my body to go uphill. I was low on food (and I didn’t want to eat anything I had anyways and knew I probably couldn’t keep it down either), as well as low on energy, morale, motivation, and I needed to get to town to restore my spirit, balance my mind, heal my body, and soothe my soul. I wasn’t enjoying this anymore. I kept asking myself how could I have ever enjoyed this and why had I signed for this at all. I wanted to throw my backpack off and kick it, I wanted to stomp on the snow (I actually aggressively poked holes in it with my trekking poles as I passed it), I wanted hot food, a bed, a nap, and maybe friends around me, happy friends who have recovered in town and who remembered why we all crazily decided to hike the PCT in the first place.
I started off with several icy river crossings, a few empty, abandoned campgrounds, a huge cut on my foot, my first food in two days (the half a cup of oatmeal), about 37 mosquito bites, an annoying, incessant, buzzing somewhere around me, ringing in my ears, a headache, a throat so dry it felt like it was cracking (but I couldn’t muster up the strength to suck water from my Sawyer Mini; it felt like too much work), and an endless amount of irritants and nuisances that nearly drove me crazy. I hiked on towards Kearsage Trail, and right before I got there, I realized I had no energy left for the steep uphill climb that awaited for me, and so I lay down right next to the trail in the grass and dozed off. Two hours later, I awoke and realized I was taking precious time away from myself as, the later it gets, the more difficult it is to hitchhike to town.
I mustered up the strength and climbed out of the mountains (so zig-zaggy! and way too many switchbacks that made me feel like I was getting absolutely nowhere) and into a busy parking lot full of tourists. After asking two random people if they are headed to Independence or Bishop and receiving a “no,” a young man came up to me and said he was going to Lone Pine and Independence is on the way. He explained that he’s waiting for his parents to get down the same trail that I just hiked, and then they’d take me to where I was going. As soon as they arrived, they gave me a cold iced tea, I found out that the young man’s father has worked with mine at some point, and that his mother’s friend is looking for an editor for her magazine and may be interested in giving me a job after I finish the PCT. I’d call that a successful hitch!
They dropped me off in Independence, I hitched to Big Pine from there (with a friendly female geologist), and then once more from Big Pine into Bishop (with a young man who cashed in his 401k and planned to never work another day in his life). That is where I, as you now know, possibly fractured my tailbone and ripped the skin off of the right side of my body, which is actually healing up rather nicely now. More on that later.
Once in Bishop, I was surrounded with familiar and unfamiliar faces, took a shower, received a foot massage, ate a massive pizza dinner, and slept soundly all throughout the night. I soon forgot that, earlier that day, I nearly sat down and cried and (briefly) even considered getting off the trail and going home.
You toughed it out! You are a ROCK STAR in my book! I ran into a few thru hikers yesterday on the PCT mile 1154 to Peter Grubb hut. I gave them all a HIGH FIVE as I know what they went through!
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Aww! That’s great!
Great job and thanks for the update. Backpacking is hard work and I am surprised and intrigued to hear about people new to backpacking attempting the PCT. I have bonked myself on trail, but have never gone longer than 10 days on any trip. I cannot imagine how I would do hiking hundreds of miles, month after month. Maybe you are not new to this, but regardless of experience, at some point all may ask themselves, “Why am I out here doing this?” I hope you are able to get back on the trail soon and enjoy the hike. Stay tough.
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I hiked for a month last year. Besides that, this is my first such endeavor.
You are a stubborn one. Tough, too. Keep it up.
Writing looks like it is in your future.
Happy Independence Day. Have a blast!
Thanks so much! My mother would agree…I am stubborn! And I sure hope writing is in my future.