It is Wednesday. It looks like I am back on schedule.
I have just emerged from the Sierras and have enough stories backed up in my head to fill a 12-volume “Essential of a Bobcat’s life on the trail”. As always, I love love love my life and have days when I feel my heart is going to burst from too much joy and gratitude. This is the same story every time I write here, because that is life on the trail. All this talk of love and joy and amazing serendipity might, however, become a bit obnoxious. Some of you might not even be reading anymore. So today, just to be contrary, I’ll tell you about the other side of the coin…
If hiking the PCT is so great, why doesn’t everybody do it? Let’s start from the ground up. My feet hurt. They hurt everyday, when I walk, when I sleep, when I stop, uphill, downhill, non-stop. I started the trail with a 6.5 foot. My toes are now crammed to the brim in a pair of size 8 shoes. I hear the change is permanent. So long boots I used to love, climbing shoes, etc. I am going to need a job just to replace my assortment of technical footwear left back in town. The easily popped blisters of the desert are also a thing of the past. These days, when I get one, it grows under a minimum of an eighth of an inch thick callus. Needles I used to pop blisters in the desert have been rendered useless. My foot surgery is now done with knife and scissors. I have perma-grime between my toes, dirt incrustation that might not leave me until the trail is long over and a regime of regular shower has been re-established (assuming it ever does, which is not a guarantee).
Walking less miles per day would likely help with this situation, but this is where the great tyranny of the miles comes in. You’ve all seen this in middle-school: If the Bobcat needs to walk 150 miles, and eats 3 Lbs of food per day, but can carry only 20 Lbs of food. How many miles a day will the Bobcat have to walk to avoid starvation before the next resupply town? For a bonus ten points, calculate how much food she will have to yogi (get for free) from other hikers if she decides to skip a resupply point and hike to the next, 35 miles away, because she thinks it would be fun to keep in step with a preferred hiking partner (taking into account she can get a bag of Cheetos and a can of sardine on the way)? You have 10 minutes. Please turn your answers in the comment section. Just know that your answer will be wrong, because arithmetic does not take into account the increase in appetite correlated to higher altitude, the daily elevation gain and loss, the gradual decrease in pack weight with each day of consumption, the days when it’s just too pretty to hike on, the food given to other hikers, etc.
There is also the problem of the Red Beast. The Red Beast is a case of manifestation misfiring. If you ask the universe for patience, it will not give you patience; instead, it will place you in all sorts of uncomfortable positions where you will have to learn patience. In a similar way, I wished I could be a faster hiker to have the leisure of longer breaks without compromising my daily mileage. My prayer was heard. the Universe outfitted me with the Red Beast, a big fat red Osprey “Woman specific” pack. I picked it up in Kennedy Meadows to replace my delightfully light home-made one because mine could not hold the mandatory bear canister. I went from an 11 ounce pack, to a 4+ Lbs pack and a 2 Lbs bear canister in addition to the extra warm gear, 6 days worth of food, gathered trail treasures from which I am not willing to part and random items I forgot to ship ahead. In other words, I went from a pack I could grab with one hand and swing over my back to one that necessitate the old lift-knee-twist-into-the-straps maneuver. Oh, I hated the Beast for the first week of the Sierras. Then one day, the fact that I was granted my wish for speed through training dawned on me. There is no better way to get faster than to carry a heavy Beast daily on steep uphills at high altitude. I have been thankful for it ever since and have used it as the training tool it is. 25 miles including two passes for a total of 6000 feet elevation gain in a day, no problem – that was fun too, because when I arrived at the Muir Pass hut (which is haunted) in the last glow of sunset, my friend Weathercarrot could hardly believe I had come all this way. My absolute speed is much improved since the beginning of the trail. The problem is everybody else is also getting faster, so my relative speed has not increased much if at all.
The tyranny of the miles also comes from social self-imposed constraints. I still prefer to hike alone, but ever since Kennedy Meadows, I find I happily and gladly trade my evening solitude for the great conversations and easy laughter that comes with camping where Weathercarrot does. He also has a knack for finding scenic camps. My friend LB (Last on Bus, who has fallen back due to a hurt foot) told me all about “pink blazing”. Pink Blazing is when a guy hikes longer miles just to keep up with a girl. I’ve been Orange blazing for over 9 days now (with reference to the color of his hair and beard). Orange blazing with a Red Beast on my back, climbing up to two passes in the 11,000-13,000 feet range everyday. If I were to climb Baker now, I bet I could make it to the crater in sub-two hours.
Aaawww … Baker. I miss Bake. I think about it often. All this super-human hiking power and no climbing to be had. I wish I could be in two places at once. My library computer time is about to end. No time for spell-checking …
Never mind anything I just wrote. I LOVE LOVE LOVE my life! 🙂
You knew this.
See you Wednesday.