Day 8, Tentsite at Mile 85.3 to Tentsite at Mile 101.6
Some folks would be happy just to have one dream come true
Today begins the second week of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and things could not be better. The weather has been ideal. Water has been available despite the desert terrain. I have enjoyed getting to know new friends. And I have found the trail was very hikeable. In other words, last week was perfect. Today was too.
Day 7, Stagecoach Trails RV Resort to Tentsite at Mile 85.3
Wondered how tomorrow could ever follow today
I didn’t sleep well last night. Unsurprisingly, the cot I slept on was not comfortable. The one good thing that could be said about the night was it didn’t get chilly. When I finally gave up on sleeping, I had no way to know what a fun day today would be.
About 2.5 miles down the canyon from where we were camped was the former site of the Golden Chariot Mine. Gold was discovered there in 1871, and nearly $1 million worth of the precious metal was removed from it. Gold continued to be mined there until 1931, but various attempts have been made since then to restart mining. We didn’t see any gold on our hike, but we saw a lot of golden yellow California poppies.
We were camped on the edge of Storm Canyon, so I suppose by its name we should have been grateful we only got wind gusts overnight. The wind blew hard for most of the night, but being a little bit protected by trees helped. It was still windy enough that my tent flapped and shuddered with each gust. I didn’t get the best sleep, but at least I stayed warm and the tent didn’t fall down on me.
Though I moved my tent last night to a spot I thought was away from sharp locust tree needles, I was still afraid I could poke holes into my inflatable sleep pad. The night turned chilly, and I didn’t want to wake up and find myself on a flattened pad. Thankfully, that didn’t turn out to be the case. I stayed warm and cozy.
Long distance hiking is hard. It’s really hard, in fact, but I doubt anyone is surprised to learn that. You have to be willing to tolerate some discomfort, pain and monotony. Of course, if thru-hiking were easy, many more people would do it. Then again, there are many reasons why the discomfort, pain and monotony are worth the effort. Otherwise, no one would do it.
Yesterday had been a good day in every way possible. I had met new friends, the hiking was easy, and I felt strong. I didn’t begin today with expectations that this day could be any better, but I soon discovered it was. Even then, I didn’t realize how significant the day would become. I had no way to know that today would be the start of lasting bonds of friendship.
Two years ago, the thought of me standing on a small rise in the California desert would have seemed improbable. The fact is, I would not have thought of it at all. My only thoughts then were on preparing for an attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. After I successfully completed that hike, I still had no thoughts of attempting another long distance hike. Yet here I was today, standing next to an ugly corrugated metal fence that runs along the Mexican border. Nearby was a simple monument marking the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. And though I often said I never wanted to do a thru-hike again, right now hiking about 2,560 trail miles north toward Canada was all I wanted to do.
Kim and I sat quietly waiting. Few words were exchanged between us. This was a time of uncertainty. I told her I felt as if we were waiting for a hospital nurse to call me to the operating room. Neither one of us felt worry, though, only expectancy. We were spending a few extra minutes together before I boarded a plane for San Diego. When one of us did speak, the conversation was mostly about things we look forward to for the future. We spoke about when the journey that hadn’t yet started would be done.
Hardly a day went by during my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail when the Grateful Dead’s song “Box of Rain” wasn’t playing in my head. I don’t mean to say I listened to the music everyday as it played from my phone. No, it was a soundtrack playing in my head, whether I consciously heard it or not. The song sometimes played in the background while I was thinking about something else. When those thoughts paused for a moment, I’d discover the music was playing as a second track alongside my thoughts.
When I thought of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail — which I often did for more than 15 years — I never thought of my hike ending as it did today. But how could I have thought that? In my mind, there had always been only one way to finish a thru-hike and that was by standing on top of Mt. Katahdin. I know there are other ways to thru-hike. Many hikers who have finished at Springer Mountain will tell you that’s the better way to go. The weather is better going south and the trail is generally less crowded.
The Appalachian Trail from Pinkham Notch to U.S. Highway 2 in New Hampshire is only 21.2 miles long. When I decided to skip this section in order to allow my sprained ankle to heal, I wasn’t convinced I needed to come back to hike it. I tried to tell myself this was only one percent of the entire trail. Skipping it wouldn’t diminish my accomplishment. I would have still hiked more than 2,000 miles. In the end, I knew I was kidding myself. My wife saw through this. She also knew I was kidding myself and gently convinced me I needed to complete these miles. I had to do this and I wouldn't forgive myself if I didn't.
Without a doubt, this was a big day. For many hikers, this was the end of their long hike from Georgia. Once they reached the top of Mt. Katahdin they would have walked 2,189.8 miles and earned the right to call themselves thru-hikers. Though I was not in that group, this was still a big day for me. I won’t be able to say I’m a thru-hiker until I complete 21.2 miles in New Hampshire, but I also need to summit Katahdin, and that’s a big accomplishment. What’s more, I will finally be able to see my wife and sons today.
Day 176, Rainbow Lake to Katahdin Stream Campground
Everybody I talk to is ready to leave with the light of the morning
Except for the 5.2 miles we will hike tomorrow, today was Tengo and Stick's last day of hiking on the Appalachian Trail. After today, I will still have three more days of hiking before I can say I’m a thru-hiker. These are thoughts we had for much of the day. They were unavoidable, even though we needed to focus first on hiking more than 21 miles today.