When I returned from my 2017 PCT section hike, I was in tears, and not the happy kind.
I completed one hundred miles, which was far short of my desired goal. Saying “one hundred miles” makes it sound huge. And it is, if you don’t hike like this. But for me, it felt like a defeat, even though it was clearly a victory. I had been ill from September through April…just a few months before I had planned to hit the trail again. Chronic fatigue syndrome bit me in the ass, and it wasn’t going away.
I wrote my blog from this space of victory and defeat. I couldn’t really dig into the story. It hurt too much, and besides, I didn’t want my family to worry.
I’m now two months removed from my hike, and I’m starting to gain perspective. I also know that other hikers have faced their own demons, and it is for these reasons that I wrote this.
August 8, 2017
After a handful of miles, I came to a water cache on a forest road. Water was so critical to me. Without enough hydration and electrolytes, I would be in serious trouble. My heart would start pounding. I would get dizzy. I wouldn’t be able to see straight. I certainly wouldn’t be able to walk much. This was my biggest problem…how to balance the need for far more water than normal, with the inability to carry excess water.
The cache was huge, and there was magic. I was very grateful for both…a chance to rest and snack, and fill up with the water that I needed. If the cache had been empty, I would have needed to hitch a ride to town. That had been weighing on me.
The next water source was 15 miles south, and 2000 feet of elevation gain. This isn’t a huge deal, and it certainly would have been fine the previous year. But now it was clear I couldn’t do that in one afternoon, so I needed to load up with water for a day and a half. That meant five liters, over six miles and 1100 feet, to the high point of the fifteen mile stretch, followed by nine miles of easier trail to the lake.
Mid-afternoon, I hoisted my pack. The weight had increased by more than 50%, heavier than the recommended pack weight by several pounds. This meant that I took a lot of the weight on my shoulders, which is really uncomfortable. I hurt in several different ways, and despite the snack, I was headed into despair.
I took a hit off of my inhaler, and headed up the hill, listening to my music. I focused on the rest step, and regulating my breathing. Step, straighten the knee, and breathe. Step, straighten, and breathe. Do this as long as possible. Stop and rest. Gulp some electrolytes. Repeat.
Every few stops, maybe every ten or fifteen minutes, my lizard brain screamed “GO DOWNHILL”. Retreating would have taken me down to the forest road cache, and would probably have netted me a ride to town. I fought to overcome the lizard brain, and pushed myself uphill. Step, straighten, and breathe.
Lizard brain was getting louder, when I met some northbound thru hikers. I have no clue what their words were, but it was all about encouragement. I could do this thing, they said.
Several rounds of this, multiple thru hikers, much encouragement, four miles, and 900 feet later, I reached a wide open campsite. There was a retired couple in front of me, and I dropped my pack. My body was done for the day, and I set up my tent next to the really awesome couple.
We shared some snacks, while thunder rumbled in the distance. The rain eventually started spitting at us, so I crawled into my tent and crashed.
The next morning, the couple had headed north. I had to push myself to get ready to turn right, uphill, southbound. I still had three liters, which was probably enough, but I had to be careful.
Once again, I hoisted my pack. But. My body started heading back downhill. My lizard brain started heading back downhill. I felt sick to my stomach. Everything in me was screaming “TURN LEFT! GO DOWNHILL!”
I made my feet stop. I almost literally grabbed my shoulders, and forced them to turn right. Uphill.
To this day, I’m still not sure how I did it. But I made myself take a step. Uphill. And then another. Uphill. And then another. For two miles, and then I stopped.
I had reached the high point.
It was easy from here, down to the lake. Fresh water and new friends awaited.
This is the real story of my hike.