I woke up in the morning with dew covering my sleeping bag. Glad that the night of spooky animal sounds and border patrol helicopters was over, I packed up fairly quickly to cover the last three and a half miles to Lake Morena. It was a relief to hike in the morning, before the day got hot, but I still struggled with the hike due to an upset stomach, nausea, and overwhelming soreness. I made it in about two hours and spent some time socializing with a trio of hikers – Katie, Rachel, and James – while drying my sleeping bag in the sun. After they left I layed down and contemplated staying at the campground overnight to wait out my nausea and soreness. My feet were in good shape; for that I was thankful. But my morale had plummeted.
When I looked at the other hikers I could imagine them going all the way to Canada. I couldn’t feel the same about myself.
“Some people start hiking the PCT and realize they don’t like it,” one of the trio had said. “About a third drop out before they hit the Sierra.” I wondered if that would be me.
Later I was joined by Dan from Nevada. He was looking for his friend, James, who had been part of the trio that left half an hour ago. He said he started hiking that morning at 4:30 from the 10 mile mark. He was sore, blistered, and said he’d rest with me. We went half a mile into town for cheeseburgers and then relaxed for a couple of hours back at the campground with Doug.
We didn’t leave the campground until two o’clock that afternoon, well-rested, but with heavy packs. Our next water was at a campground six miles away.
The decision to hike in the afternoon heat might have been a bad one. We soon caught up to Doug who had left twenty minutes before us. He was waiting out the heat with a nap in the shade. I made do by making brief stops whenever shade was available, usually by large rocks. As the trail climbed, however, the rocks became smaller, and the terrain more uneven. Within half an hour I had already nearly finished the liter of Gatorade I had bought at the Morena store. I had slowed down, and sweating so much that the sunscreen I had put on my face back at the lake had started running into my eyes, nearly blinding me with burning tears.
About a mile out we heard the roar of a motorbike approaching us from behind. Around the corner came a man on an orange KTM bike who stopped and killed his engine once he saw us.
“Where am I?” He called out. “Am I in Mexico?”
“You’re on the PCT!” Dan yelled back.
“Shit, the Pacific Crest? I’m gonna be in trouble.” Bikes weren’t allowed on the trail. “What are you guys doing out here?”
“We’re walking from Mexico to Canada,” I said. “We started yesterday at the border.
“That’s insane,” he replied, laughing.
He introduced himself as Dan, 47, from Spokane. We talked for around twenty minutes, about where we were from and our plans for the trail. He offered to take our packs up-trail so we wouldn’t have to carry them uphill. I thought about the risk of losing my pack, but then about my current miserable state of mind. “Sure,” I responded, “That’d be great.”
And so for the next two miles I carried only my trekking poles and my Gatorade, practically jogging my way up the trail, occasionally catching up to Motorbike-Dan who would wait for me every couple hundred yards, while guiltfully leaving Other-Dan behind. When we came to a paved road a couple miles later, Motorbike-Dan helped me put my pack back on, and I thanked him and said goodbye before he sped off. I continued on my own for three miles to a campground where a woman was camped with her horses and trailer, and one of the most adorable puppies I had ever seen.
James was also there, waiting for Dan. Rachel and Katie had hiked on. Dan arrived an hour later as I finished setting up my tent and gave me a hard time about leaving him behind.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but it was so worth it.” It had felt great to hike without a pack. Even the sun didn’t bother me.
That night the three of us stayed up late around a campfire, talking about things like blisters and water sources and our jobs back home. We decided we’d hike out together early the next morning, around 5:30, to beat the sun. Another hiker with a headlamp passed through the campground in the dark – maybe Doug.
When I crawled into my tent I smelled like campfire instead of BO, which I thought was a slight improvement. I had only hiked around nine miles that day but I felt ok with it. I looked forward to getting stronger.