Day 9: Death march to Paradise 

4/19/17 20.4 miles +1 road mile PCT 151.8

“I think” said Christopher Robin, “that we ought to eat all our provisions now, so we shant have so much to carry.” 

I awoke from a fitful sleep at around 6:30 to find camp abandoned. The hiker herd was already on the move. Last night one of the 14 hikers  crammed in a four tent sight had pointed me to some flat ground. After examination, I chose to decline as the site was filled with holes. The likely nocturnal, probably poisonous occupants, I reasoned, might be upset to wake and find our bodies were blocking their egress. I had searched the area and had found an ant-less, hole-less site that was mostly flat….mostly. It turned out my inflatable mattress acts a bit like a very slow sled on uneven ground. Every few hours Sarah would find that I had slid from a reasonably safe snore distance (she wears earplugs for this reason) to crammed right next to her, pushing her body against the shakey walls of our ultralight tent, blaring snores directly into her ear. These unrelenting snore bombs must have been quite annoying. She was surprisingly gracious about it.  I let Sarah sleep in a bit. While she was dozing, I changed my clothes, deflated my snoresled and packed up my backpack. Sarah got up a half an hour later and, in a blur of efficiency, was ready to hike before I had put on my shoes. “I’m going to go ahead and use the restroom” she said “you can catch up to me later”. 

I have, through a little luck of the timing of campgrounds and towns and Norms RV, had what I view as a noteworthy accomplishment. I have yet to “use the restroom”. Which is to say, in 8 days and 150 miles, I have not had to dig a hole and shit in it. Not once! All toilets! As I am typing this a day later, we are camped in a field in back of a diner that opens shortly and my streak will be extended. Sarah does not feel this warrants acclaim, but I disagree. There is a phrase bandied about by PCT hikers: “Hike your own hike”. So, like John Lennon suggested, I am going to celebrate anything I like. If I were to pick my trail name today it would be “No Shit”. 

The Southern California Desert portion of the trail has become a familiar routine. You wake up with your feet sore, put on a backpack that has to be a bit lighter than the day before but, nonetheless, feels heavier and set out slowly. As the day progresses the pack feels lighter and your feet feel better. Your pace increases. After twelve miles your feet begin aching again and this sensation intensifies until you stop to set up tent, eat a hurried dinner, then sleep. Along the way, you will climb several thousand feet into the hills on long, sun exposed, winding switchbacks. You will then ride mountain ridges for a few miles while gusts of wind try to blow your hat into the canyon. You will then descend into a valley. This will make your knees ache a bit. You will walk in the valley for what seems like a short amount of time while, in the distance, you will see the next series of switchbacks snaking up a large ridge and out of site. You will be there far sooner than you would like. You are hot, and very thirsty. Wash, Rinse,  Repeat. Everyday. 

I would have thought that during a 2600 mile hike the days might be a little aimless with no clear timetable. This is not true. There are always locations to get to and a time you need to reach them by.  These usually center around food and, especially in the desert, water. You are always trying to gauge how much food you should carry to the next resupply and having to decide how much weight in water you will carry to the next water source and try to take a little more water than you need, just in case the water source is dried up or putrid. For this stretch between resupplies we had taken far too much food, probably 4lbs more than needed. All our sources had said you need 4000 calories a day on the pct but, right now, we are eating half that. It might be the heat or maybe the hiker hunger hasn’t hit us yet. One particularly large food regret is my prized summer sausage. It is heavy as hell, tastes fairly bad and sweats a gross kind of meat slime in the 80 degree heat. Also it gives me horrible gas.  I forced myself to eat three meals of it until I could take it no more and finally dumped the remainder in a trash can near town. Today had a special prize waiting for us if we could make the 20 mostly uphill miles: a diner 1 mile off the trail famous for the best cheeseburger on the PCT. It closed at 8pm. The race was on. 

Climbing one of the many ridges of the day I reached into my side pouch for electrolyte powder and found an Ankar battery pack that was not there before. This was the result of  a unilateral ratio decision. Days before, I had discovered a neat trick to climb up switchbacks faster. I swing my trekking poles out in front of me faster than my feet want to move and my feet just follow along at the same pace even though they don’t want to. Idiots! It was during one of these feet fooling sessions, while I was out climbing Sarah for a distance, that she asked this question, seemingly out of the blue. “How much do you think you weigh? ” I knew immediately where this was going. The last evening in Flipper she had asked Norm to bring out the scale to weigh our packs. This , I knew, would be no good for me. After finding that my pack weighed just slightly more than her’s she said “hmmm” almost inaudibly. “185?” I offered. She imediately pulled her phone out of her shirt pocket, switched to calculator mode and began tapping the screen. “Hmmm” she said, just above a whisper. Since then new items have been finding their way into my pack. A battery pack here, a sawyer filter there, a gps unit next to the tent…. my load was slowly increasing. As we reached the top of the ridge we found that our water source, an old crumbling cistern, had less than ideal water. While I started to collect some water to filter, Sarah pulled the Tyvek cover out of her pack and laid it under a shade tree in a patch of scorpion weed. “Here’s where we can sit” she said.  

Upon returning from the cistern with some water in a platypus water bag I said “I don’t think we should sit on the tarp there, it’s full of scorpion weed” “It’s fine” she said “don’t worry about it”. Scorpion weed was out in force in the desert due to the rainy winter. In Lake Havasu we had been warned by her parents not to touch it. Scorpion weed has little fibers on its stalk that stick in your skin and can cause poison ivy like rashes. Sarah, having once brushed up against some with her leg and had no reaction, decided that was all bullshit. “Besides, the tarp is covering it” she remarked, annoyed. “What happens when we fold in up and put it against things” I replied. “Also, there is some more of it exposed by our feet it just isn’t as noticeable because it isn’t blooming.” Faced with what was a pretty obvious victory for me, she deployed an old family trick: Schroeder Logic. 

When a Schroeder woman encounters an uncomfortable subject or is called out for doing something blatantly wrong, she blurts out an incongruous phrase or a reply so amazingly false that it derails the entire conversation, stopping the unwanted questioning in its tracks. Sarah rarely needs to use this tactic, but I had witnessed her mother and sister deploy it on several occasions. “We can’t talk right now, we are driving up a hill” Patti once said, avoiding a subject she was uncomfortable with. “Well, if it wasn’t such a high drop or if I hadn’t gone last and after I saw everyone do it successfully it didn’t seem safe” Lisa once explained, when she was the only one not to use a rope swing in a zip line park. “If it ain’t blooming, it can’t hurt you.” Sarah blurted. Knowing I was defeated and that the tarp was going nowhere anyway, I sat down to eat some lunch, being careful to not let my legs touch the noxious yet to bloom weed. 

When I was done eating, I put my feet up on my pack to rest and imagined Sarah’s weight calculation reaching its final conclusion, where all the money I spent on refitting myself with ultralight equipment went for naught. In my daydream we were in the high Sierra Mountains. My thighs and calves were large and swollen from having to carry more and more gear. I was half starved and dehydrated from having to ditch water to save weight and gorging myself in town so as not to carry much food. My hundred pound pack overloaded with all manner of strapped on gear, I looked like an overworked pack mule. Every step I would posthole two feet into the snow. Ahead of me Sarah, light as a feather from all her mild cardio, would be joyfully gliding along the surface, encumbered only by a jansport backpack with a pair of underwear and socks inside.  

After lunch we put on our packs and began our hike to the next water, 14 miles away. Hopefully we wouldn’t have to filter and use the cistern water, as the next source was a cache of fresh water. These are left by trail angels and, while the are a blessing, they do run out , so they should not be relied upon. “Man, I feel heavy” I remarked. “Maybe you should poop” Sarah replied, folding up the tarp and stuffing it in the netting on the back of my backpack. 

The trail was particularly hard that day. There was a lot of elevation gain and the sun was unrelenting. We did find the cache to be stocked and, as an extra treat, there was one 3 miles later complete with a library and some grapefruit in a cooler. Next to the library there were cardboard cutouts of Waldon and Theraue. As we began one of the many ascents, we passed a hiker named Toggs. She was taking respite in a rare spot of shade. “This is a deathmarch to paradise” Sarah remarked to her.  She laughed and agreed. I immediately decided to steal that phrase. We got to the cafe with an hour to spare even though we were unsuccessful in our first attempt to hitch a ride on the mile of highway from trail to cafe. As each car drove by we cursed them for not stopping. “What an asshole.” we would say, easily forgetting that neither of us has ever picked up a hitchhiker. The cafe was as good as advertised. They even had a double IPA on tap. I nearly wept with joy. 

The last cup of coffee in Flipper creating its own rainbow

Prickly Pear in bloom
Hedgehog Cactus

Sketchy Cistern

2 thoughts on “Day 9: Death march to Paradise 

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