June 22, 2018
I tossed and turned all night long. Even though I was up and out of my tent before the others it took me forever to get my stuff together and put all my food into my bear can, so I was the last one to leave the campground and head for the store/restaurant. We had to wait until the post office opened at 9:00am before we could ship anything.
I decided yesterday that even though I’d been advised to hold onto my microspikes, for now, I would definitely be sending my ice ax and most of my warm layers home. The guy who ran the post office was great! I was gonna use a large flat-rate box of some kind for my ax but he said he’d been shipping ice axes for hikers for a long time and had a much better, cheaper method. I handed him my ax and he wrapped it in Tyvek shipping bags, put an address on it, and the total cost to ship it was somewhere around $7! I still sent the layers home, just in a flat rate envelope. I’m good at packing a lot of stuff in those Tyvek envelopes and it saved me even more money.
We didn’t hike out until about 10:30am and Couch Potato stayed behind because he wanted to let his GPS charge a little more inside the store. Given how much the electrical current is being sucked up by so many phones, charging bricks, and GPS units all plugged into the same surge strip, I knew his wait would be a long one and I honestly wondered if we’d ever see him again!
Ghosthiker and her husband had hiked up the trail a little ways to Soda Spring, so Sparky and I were going to meet them there. On our way, we met Ghosthikers’ husband coming back down the trail and bid him a fond farewell. He’s a cool guy, for sure. Ghosthiker seemed happy to be a trail family again, but I know it was hard for her to say goodbye to her husband. Plus, she said she’s had a cold for a couple days. That’s no fun.
I’ll admit I was in a bit of a funk myself for those first few miles even though it was a relief to be back with my trail family after almost 2 weeks. Sparky and Ghosthiker got ahead of me, as usual, and the day was already pretty warm so I was dreading it. My feet were getting hot too quickly. I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to handle 150 miles in the Northern California desert in my water-resistant Oboz and wondered how soon it would be before I could shop for new shoes. My feet couldn’t breathe at all and my padded Darn Toughs were stifling.
I was getting cranky. It didn’t help that my new hiking friend had stayed behind and I didn’t know if he intended to catch up or hike on his own now. He’d hit it off with my “trail parents” pretty well the day before, but today he, too, seemed to be in a funk. I think the only one feeling like themselves today is Sparky!
I am not a very confident person. I’ve been working on it, but sometimes my old insecurities come creeping back in to bite me. As I hiked in the heat, feeling cranky and hungry but not really feeling like eating, I managed to convince myself that I must have said or done something to make Couch Potato decide not to join us after all. This completely unfounded notion saddened me, and I immediately started berating myself for being silly (always a good tactic, right?). The fact is that I’ve spent about a week either hanging out at the hostel or hiking primarily with Couch Potato, so his sudden absence just caught my off-guard.
In an effort to lift my mood, I pulled out my earbuds and put on some music. Almost immediately, I began to feel better. By the time I caught up to Sparky and Ghosthiker they were taking a break by a bridge, and I joined them with a smile. Ghosthiker was smiling brilliantly at me.
“It’s so good to have you back, Trooper.” She said.
“It’s good to be back!” And it was. This was familiar. This was my family.
The water looked so inviting, but I didn’t jump in. There were day hikers everywhere. We’d been sitting for about 10-15 minutes when I spotted Couch Potato coming across the bridge. Apparently, he’d started hiking about an hour after we did, and had already caught up to us! He’s so fast! He threw down his stuff next to mine and sat with us for a while, then we all set off up the trail. Well, okay then.
Even though the terrain was not technically difficult, I had a hard time getting the miles done that day. I think it was probably because my damn bear can was so full. I always overestimate how much food I’m going to need, and then I can’t even eat as much as I should be eating in a day, so I pretty much always roll into the next town with extra food. After almost 1000 miles, you’d think I’d be better at this by now.
Ghosthiker is even faster than me when she has a bad cold! She and Sparky pulled ahead and there were long stretches where I didn’t see them. I was bringing up the rear pretty much all day, but whenever I lost sight of everyone it wouldn’t be long before I found Couch Potato taking a break. He later explained that he’d fallen into a system. He’d hike until he caught up to Sparky and Ghosthiker, then take that as his cue to sit down and take a break while I caught up to him. I’d sit with him for a few minutes, then we’d hike on together. Maybe he was struggling to find his stride again when we’d hiked to Tuolomne Meadows and now he’d found it again, because that sounded like a fast hiker to me. He probably wouldn’t stick with us long, then. Oh well. I could live with that.
As we were crossing a meadow similar to the one we’d hiked through coming into Tuolumne Meadows, a song called Call it Dreaming by Iron and Wine came on my music app. It was perfect for where I was hiking at that moment, easy terrain surrounded by mountains I could admire but would not have to climb that day. I love it when my music (always my entire library on shuffle) synchs up with where I am and how I’m feeling.
The hardest thing about that day was the combination of high, dry heat and incessant mosquitoes. You couldn’t take a break in the shade because that’s where the bloodsuckers attack you the most, and the sun was beating down so much that Ghosthiker and I both used our umbrellas for a bit. And here I was hoping I wouldn’t need it and could send it home. I may still, to shed some weight. But seriously, if this was what Northern California was going to be like, I didn’t think I could handle it. It would be torture. Mosquitoes AND extreme heat? Shit.
I’d noticed that day that Couch had become very quiet and withdrawn, and even when he smiled it felt a little forced. During breaks where it was just he and I, he confessed he’d been debating quitting his hike for the past several weeks, and now he was seriously considering ending his hike in South Lake Tahoe. I wonder now what my facial expression must have looked like at that moment. Sad? Disappointed? Not disappointed for myself or that he wouldn’t be hiking with us anymore, but the kind of disappointment a parent has when they find out their kid is failing a class or something. Who in their right mind would quit a hike like this after they’d invested so much? After all the hardest bits were over?
Maybe a bigger part of me was just jealous. I’d been struggling with continuing on for God only knew how long, but the thought of quitting made me physically ill. I couldn’t even consider it. And here was Couch Potato, talking about it like it was no big deal. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I wish it were that easy for me, but there are so many people watching me, cheering me on, supporting me… I can’t let them down. I can’t let myself down. If I can’t do this, will I really be able to do anything else? Can I trust myself to tackle future tasks and obstacles, not just physically but psychologically, and actually expect to conquer them? Probably not. No, definitely not. I can’t quit this hike. So many other people have successfully thru-hiked the PCT with so much strength and grace, and I am not weak. I have no real reason to quit and, therefore, no intention of doing do.
But then the other part of my brain speaks up, reminding me just how much I am not enjoying this hike a lot of the time. The long, drawn-out periods of pain, anxiety, and depression were punctured randomly by moments of joy and awe, but they were fewer and further between than I’d ever thought they’d be. I didn’t think it would be like this and can’t understand why I’m struggling so much even though I’m perfectly capable physically, am learning to conquer my emotional hurdles, and haven’t even dealt with anything considered serious by thru-hikers like bear attacks, serious gear failure, or full-on shin splints. Why am I having such a hard time? When I watched Dixie’s videos about her thru-hike the previous year, she’d always been so upbeat even during painful moments and mosquito attacks; everything had been beautiful and enlightening and encouraging, even during some of her worst times on the trail. I’d expected it to be the same for me, but it was not. I thought I’d be cheery and strong like Dixie, but I am not. I am me. I guess I’m a little disappointed by that.
At least I managed to make some good friends. If I fail to finish this hike for whatever reason (God forbid), at least I have that. But…would we stay friends if they finished and I did not? The thought made me ill. I hiked on.
We ended up camping down in the trees in an area with tons of flat tent spots, but we were the only ones there. There were still TONS of mosquitos, so I ate in my tent, put my bear can far away, and then hurriedly put up the rain fly. I think we were all pretty tired because we were all in our tents well before hiker midnight.