April 21, 2018
The next day we grabbed breakfast in town and ran some errands. Here I have to give a shout out to Norm and David at the Mountain Hardware store and outfitter in Wrightwood. They were some of the most helpful store owners I encountered along the entire trail. They were first and foremost a hardware store, but with the growing number of hikers coming through their small town, they stocked one corner of their store with the essentials – Darn Tough socks, Mountain House meals, insoles, Leukotape, protein bars, and other snacks, Gatorade, first-aid necessities, and more. They even had a trail register and metal pins in the shape of the original diamond-shaped PCT logo that they gave out free to every thru-hiker who came through their store. They also had a little area with port-a-Jon’s, picnic tables, trash cans, and hiker boxes out behind the store.
I’d ordered some Superfeet Green Insoles from Amazon and had them shipped to Wrightwood because the ones I’d purchased at Two Foot Adventures in Warner Springs, while worlds apart from those wretched custom deals I’d been wearing, still didn’t seem to be doing anything better for my feet. I’d heard and read so many great things about the Superfeet Greens that I thought surely they must be the answer. I mean, everyone was wearing them. They must be magic, right? Just like the trail runners I’d been wearing. Time would tell.
Anyway, Norm at the hardware store was kind enough to not only lend me a pair of heavy duty scissors so I could trim my new insoles, but he showed me back to their work table so I had a good surface to work on and a trash can nearby. Golden.
We hitched back to the trailhead and started making our way toward the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. Naturally, Sparky and Ghosthiker quickly disappeared ahead and we didn’t see them again until we reached the summit a solid 45 minutes after they did. I did take a little pride in being able to stay ahead of Lil’ Bro, though not TOO far ahead. It was a long climb and I saw no point in exhausting myself, but he said I was keeping a good pace and I thought hey, if the retired marine thinks my pace is good, I must be doing alright!
Lil’ Bro told us a story several days back about a time during basic training when one of his fellow marines had thrown a tantrum of sorts. They’d been jogging around the base in full gear while holding their rifles out in front of their bodies, when suddenly his friend just yelled out “Fuck this shit!” And threw his rifle on the ground in a huff. He said the marine did eventually pick it back up and jumped back in formation, but it became a classic story for all who were there.
We were pretty close to the top but had been hiking uphill along switchbacks for hours, and at one point while Lil’ Bro was coming up behind me I turned to him and yelled, “Fuck this shit!” And threw my trekking poles to the ground. He started laughing and had to stop hiking because he couldn’t laugh and climb at the same time. It was exactly the reaction I’d hoped for but in hindsight, I guess it was pretty rotten. It’s not like we weren’t already busting our asses trying to get up that mountain and catch up to the others. Baden-Powell would be our first big climb since San Jacinto, and I don’t remember now if Lil’ Bro even climbed that one. When we could breathe again, we pressed on.
When we finally reached the top, I decided to be dramatic. Without breaking stride, I threw down my poles and my pack and just collapsed facedown on the ground. Ghosthiker started laughing almost immediately.
“This is where I am, and this is where I will stay. I will not be moved.” I mumbled underneath my hat. You know, for a little more dramatic flair. I honestly can’t fathom how I had the energy to be funny by the end of that climb.
Sparky and Ghosthiker had been taking a nice, long break at the summit of Baden-Powell for about 45 minutes, which is how I knew how far behind them we’d been, and they set off down the trail almost as soon as Lil’ Bro and I arrived. To say the views from the summit were worth the climb would be a sad understatement and is essentially the same thing every other hiker says, so I won’t say it. But it was pretty awesome. Lil’ Bro took a 360 photo and a video for his YouTube channel and then we sat eating some snacks before heading back down.
It was at this moment that a chronic ailment decided to attack me. Literally. I have a muscle or something just under the right side of my rib cage that will randomly seize up. It feels like a Charlie Horse, gripping and hardening painfully to where, for several long moments, I cannot breathe. All I can do is look away casually so no one can see my face and pretend I’m gazing serenely into the distance, waiting for the muscle to relax so I can breathe and move again. This doesn’t happen too often, but it’s been going on for several years and I’m getting better at sensing it coming and sometimes, just sometimes, I’m able to stretch out or breathe deep or do something to prevent it. Usually, though, I feel it just in time to make sure no one can see how much pain I’m in.
This wasn’t one of those times.
“Trooper? Hey, are you OK?”
It was Lil’ Bro. He’s asked me a question, and it’s kind of hard to respond without the power to breathe. This cramp decided to last a good, long time, a solid 10-15 seconds before calming enough that I could catch my breath, and of course, by that point, Lil’ Bro had not only noticed something was wrong but had grown a little concerned. Once I’d regained myself I explained what it was, that it was perfectly normal (?) and nothing to worry about, and also if he could NOT mention it to Sparky or Ghosthiker, that’d be great. He looked skeptical about the whole thing but didn’t push it. Good. I’ve got enough physical problems that seem to be worrisome to other hikers without adding this nonsense to the list.
We’d planned for a low-mile day because of our late start getting out of town and the climb up Mt. Baden-Powell, so we only had about 5.6 miles to go before reaching our intended campsite. However, it was the first good campsite after the climb and assuming every other hiker was headed there as well, including all the weekend warriors, I felt like I was in a race. This was all in my head, of course, but was still kind of demoralizing after having made such a great climb at the start of the day.
The 5.6 miles were all downhill, some of which was very steep, and I was pushing really hard. When I finally reached the spring that came just before the campsite it was crawling with people and what looked like part of a boy scout troupe. Sparky and Ghosthiker were there, too, waiting their turn to fill their bottles. I didn’t even filter my water, just filled up, threw on my pack, and told Sparky and Ghosthiker who were filtering their water that I was going to hurry on and hopefully grab us some tent spots. Ghosthiker said she wanted to hike further because she was pretty sure there’d be nothing left at the campsite.
“How much further?” I asked, my feet and knees screaming from the rapid descent. She said she didn’t know, she just didn’t want to camp where there’d be a ton of loud people.
When Ghosthiker had thru-hiked the AT, she’d hiked almost entirely solo, preferring to stealth camp rather than stay in the shelters along the trail. She and Sparky both preferred camping apart from other groups of hikers, mostly because it would be quieter. I was usually all for this, but at that moment I didn’t think I could hike much further and told them so. I told them I’d scout out the campsite and see what was what.
It was definitely packed, mostly with loud and rowdy boy scouts. I’m talking like 3-4 separate groups, maybe, because there were easily 40+ boys of various middle-school ages running around the campsite and surrounding woods, yelling and jumping on logs, while the adults I saw were mostly milling around near campfires chatting and letting the boys run wild.
I found a couple nice, flat tent spots right on the edge of the campground and stood there, symbolizing that these spaces were claimed and that I was waiting for my trail family to arrive and relieve me of my duty so I could rush off and relief my bladder of IT’S duty. When they arrived, Ghosthiker took one look around and said she was gonna hike on just a little ways to see if she could find something else. Sparky decided to join her and together they set off.
As they disappeared down the trail I just stood there, kind of hurt and also angry. I had just hauled ass to get a decent tent site, found a place where we could all fit, told Ghosthiker I couldn’t hike any further, and still, they walked on. I was so upset that I just stood there for a moment, then I threw my pack down, grabbed some toilet paper and walked to the pit toilet, which I could smell 100 feet before I got to it. It was the most disgusting privy I’ve encountered yet on this trail, possibly ever. But the woods were crawling with boy scouts and there wasn’t a speck of privacy to be had, so I took a deep breath, held it, and jumped in. I touched nothing, including the seat, as I did what I’d been needing to do for the last hour but hadn’t dared stop to do for fear of not getting a camping space. I hurried out before the smell started clinging to my clothes (because I need to be smellier), took a deep breath, walked back to my pack and just stood there, feeling angry and irritable.
“Everything OK, Trooper?”
It was Longstride. I’d passed him about a mile ago and now he had claimed one of the tent spots nearby, casually unpacking his tent. “Yep!” I said with what was probably the most unconvincing smile ever. I could see Sparky walking back up the trail without his pack. I bent to unpack my own tent, obstinately pretending I hadn’t seen him and was perfectly happy to camp without them in my chosen spot because I’m an adult and can camp where I like.
My face is an open book. I’ve known this for years. It is literally the bane of my existence. My expression must have been thunderous despite all my efforts to look normal because Sparky looked almost hesitant to approach me. He said they’d found a really great stealth spot just down the trail with enough flat spots for everybody, including Longstride and Lil’ Bro who’d just arrived.
“How far?” I asked in what I hoped was a casual tone, but I know it wasn’t. Shit.
He said it wasn’t far, maybe 200 feet and a little downhill off the trail. So I slung my pack back on, grabbed my poles, and followed him. Lil’ Bro fell in behind me.
They’d found a nice secluded flat area a ways off the trail and we hiked down to it. They pointed out a nice flat spot near their tents, but I’d seen a spot a little ways away and decided on that one. I know it was probably kind of rude but I just wasn’t feeling like camping really close to anyone just then.
I was hangry, the term used when you’re so tired and hungry that you become angry, and I realized later that this whole episode was fueled by my hormones as well. I was feeling like the worst person in the world for having such an unjustifiably bad attitude but was still in the throws of said attitude and knew the best thing for everyone would be for me to put in some physical distance for the night.
It was getting dark, which was a blessing because I wept silently while setting up my tent and eating in the dark. There was a really nice stump right next to my tent and being able to sit on it while I ate was one of the reasons I’d pitched my tent there. Given my attitude, it felt like a luxury I did not deserve.
I loved hiking with Sparky and Ghosthiker. I was so thankful for them. They’d slowed down for me because of my feet and waited on me while taking their breaks, but I am still pushing to keep up with them. Part of me wondered if perhaps my feet were refusing to heal because I kept pushing myself every day? But after so much drama and several false starts in the beginning, I’d finally found a wonderful trail family and I didn’t want to lose them. It was a comfort to finally be hiking with people I felt I could really trust.
At one point while I was setting up my tent, Sparky came over and asked if I was alright. I tried to play it off like it was nothing, but he said I was being very quiet, much more so than usual.
After a pause, I said, “No, actually, I’m not OK. But I will be tomorrow.” And I attempted a smile because I knew it was true. I would feel better tomorrow. Right now I just needed to be alone. I also told him how much I appreciated that he’d taken the effort to come over and make sure I was OK, that it meant a lot to me. I did not apologize for my attitude. As far as I was concerned, I had yet to hurt anyone but myself and felt that, with all the garbage I’d been dealing with, I’d managed to maintain a good attitude for almost a solid month. I was allowed to be a little salty once in a while. Ugh, I’m such a child.
Sparky is sharper than I was giving him credit for. He said he just hoped it wasn’t anything he’d done, and that he worries about me sometimes. “You know you can talk to me.” He said, somewhat in earnest. He knew I’d been struggling a lot more than I’d been saying.
He could probably tell what a faker I am.
I’m not a hiker, I thought. I don’t even know what I’m doing half the time! That was why I didn’t want to lose Sparky and Ghosthiker. They knew what they were doing ten times over, and despite my salty attitude, they still wanted to hike with me the following day.
I knew I’d be apologizing to everyone in the morning. I’m notorious for saying “I’m sorry” for just about everything, whether it was my fault or whether I just happened to be passing by when something went wrong. But right at that moment, all I really wanted was to be alone to sulk and berate myself to sleep.