I wake up to birds chirping. It’s 6:30 am. The air is still cool. My legs tired from the previous two days worth of miles. We’ve done an accumulative 30 miles or so in the past two days. How far will we go today I wonder. 10 miles? 15 miles? Maybe less. Likely no more.
We’ve been trying to ease our legs into longer miles, starting with days around 10 miles, then 15. Before we continue at that rate or ramp up to 20 or more we need to give our muscles and tendons time to recover. In order to finish the trail, it’s important to average at least 15-20 miles per day. But if you hurt yourself you’re likely not to finish at all. Most of the injuries we’ve seen thus far are from people pushing into high mileage days right off the bat. You may be able to handle 15 miles or 25 miles for a few days. But sustaining that day after day is the challenge. You’re not taking one hike on the PCT. You’re taking 120-180 consecutive hikes day after day.
As we pack up our tent, it’s already clear that today will be a warm day. We charge off down the trail. It doesn’t take long for my back to become drenched in sweat.
A few miles down the trail we reach some other campers, and a trail to the water cistern. We stop in the shade to eat breakfast. I take a mental inventory of our food supply. It’s already looking low given it’s supposed to last 2-3 more days. Hmmm… this could get interesting.
At the water cache we reunite with our fellow hiker, Horse. He’s an older man with a low voice and he reminds me of a character from a western movie. We give him an electrolyte tab since he’s out and run into him several times throughout the day as we hop scotch down the trail, from shaded spot to shaded spot.
Rachel and I hike onward, discussing an audiobook we listened to the night before called You Are Not a Gadget, by Jaron Lanier. The book is about 10 years old at this point and we’re surprised about how many of his predictions about social media have come true. It’s fascinating and terrifying.
As we hike, the heat rises, and our conversation fades. All reality fades into an orange facade. All I see is brightness. All I can feel is dryness. All I can think of is water. It’s as if we’re hiking through a tunnel now. Times slows down like mollases. We become untethered from reality. Every breeze I imagine is water spraying across my body. It is not. It is just a seconds solace from the blistering heat.
This is only March I think. We are not even half way through the desert portion yet. Maybe 30%. This is hot. Somehow we stagger through 4 miles in the heat of the day to arrive at Trail Angel Mary’s. She has a water cistern on her property filled for hikers and two picnic tables with an awning strung up above them to provide shade. This is mile 145.
Several other hikers are there resting in the shade. Horse is there. A couple from Kansas. A man from Tacoma, WA who I privately nickname Motormouth, because he has a tendency to talk his way into everybody’s conversation. Rachel gets overwhelmed by the constant stream of words flowing from his mouth, and joins Horse at the water cistern.
“Yeah” Horse says to Rachel, “I’ll hangout with the kids during the day, but I won’t camp near ’em at night”.
We hangout in the shade for a couple of hours. I drink a gallon of water. Our fellow hikers continue down trail, all looking to jockey themselves in position for breakfast at the Paradise Cafe, a landmark of the trail. Rachel and I wait. I checkout the tiny library Mary has setup and snag some poems from Walt Whitman to read later on the trail.
She has cutouts with corresponding information on Walt Whitman, John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau. I haven’t met Trail Angel Mary, but I decide I like her.
As the air begins to cool, we begin to walk. We watch the sun lower behind the mountains to the west and we hike faster with the cool air it brings. “This is the time of day God made for hiking”, I tell Rachel.
The sky is beautiful. I become awake again in the cool air. It’s as if I was asleep all day. I can barely recall the scenery of the day. The sun scorched it from my memory.
We hike and pass our fellow hikers tents. I notice Horse’s setup intentionally in a private place, away from the kids.
We hike until it’s dark and setup camp near the highway. Tomorrow we will hike about 1 mile to the Paradise Cafe for breakfast. We’ve each already planned the beverages we will order. I, water, orange juice and coffee. Rachel, water, maybe a soda, and coffee.
We look up at the stars before we crawl into our tent. The trail is an amazing place to be. We feel lucky for this opportunity.