PCT Day 16: A Day in the Life

I screamed at the top of my lungs but heard only silence. Ducky hiked away. I wanted to say goodbye, yet all I could manage was a breathy squeak, like Rose in the movie Titanic, when she tried to yell for rescue after bobbing around the freezing Atlantic all night. Where was my whistle?

Powerless, I awoke with a start. Ducky rustled about, down the hill, packing before sunrise. Thank God, it was only a dream.

Why did I keep having it, this occasional player in my overnight repertoire?

Though the dream came in various flavors, it always felt the same: a desperate need for help followed by a feeling of utter helplessness when I couldn’t verbalize it.

“Bye, Ducky,” I called as she headed off down the trail, happy I could say goodbye to her after all. Though I’m not sure why it mattered to me or my subconscious. Certain we’d never see her again, I was pretty sure she’d make it all the way to Canada. She had the right kind of mental fortitude, and she could do the miles.

Carson Iceberg morning views.
Carson Iceberg morning views.
Just another day on the trail.
Just another day on the trail.
gnarly old sequoia
Another amazing, gnarly old tree.

Today the novelty finally wore off. I had this sense of, well, just another day on trail, like going to some job I had to do because there was no other choice out here in the middle of nowhere.

Still, I wanted to see what scenery would unfold, so I pressed on.

The first part of the day offered up some rather dull forest with glimpse granite views, and a long, hot climb first thing in the morning. My feet and everything were back to hurting again. No mythical hiker legs.

I took a 45-minute hammock break halfway through the day, thinking I should probably do another one later in the afternoon. Fish Nugget came by and hung out for a bit. She yogi’d some mustard pretzels off me, so I made her filter water for me at the bottom of the hill.

Gotta play the mom card every once-in-a-while.

The second part of the day became more interesting, with high mountain meadows amidst volcanic rock mounds and wildflowers scattered everywhere. This was definitely the best time of year to be hiking the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness.

As usual, I hiked alone most of the day, catching up with the girls late in the afternoon. We had a 10-mile goal for the day, with no specific campground indicated on the Halfmile maps, which meant we’d be bushwacking for sleep space that evening.

We walked a little further than planned, but Squarepants and Fish Nugget had extra energy, scouting up the hill ahead of me, finding a spot with room for all. As always, the last mile nearly killed me as I hobbled into camp, dead tired and ready to collapse.

A creek running over the trail.
A creek running over the trail.
Another beautiful sierra view.
Another beautiful sierra mountain view.
Mmmmm, mustard pretzels.
Mmmmm, mustard pretzels.

My typical camp routine went like this: throw pack on the ground against a tree, thankful to have it off my back. Pace around the campsite area, talking to myself, looking for the widest, semi-flat, rock-free spot. The girls often helped me with this, knowing that my two-person tent had the largest real estate needs.

Find something with a nice view, semi-private, not too close to the trail or any body of water, but not too far from the girls, either. Compromise as necessary. Once spot is found, kick the pinecones, sticks and pebbles out of the way, smoothing the dirt with my foot.

Locate a good, fist-sized, hammer rock to pound tent stakes with. Set aside.

Unstrap tent and poles from backpack. Remove from stuff sacks, shake out and spread across cleared area with the foot of the tent pointing straight up whatever rise there was. A tip I learned from Ray Jardine, the father of ultralight backpacking (in a book, I didn’t actually meet him) this supposedly enabled blood to flow more easily from feet back to brain during the night while I slept.

The trick was to find just the right, slight incline in a place where you could pitch at an appropriate angle to the slope so that you weren’t rolling into your tent walls all night long, not always easy in a highly variable wilderness.

A hot, uphill climb.
Sunny trail.
Forest trail.
Shady trail.
Rocky trail.
Rocky trail.

Decide whether or not to use the fly, only bothering if it looks like rain, or if near a lake where it might be cold, or near a mountaintop where it might be windy. If using the rain fly, pull out 16 stakes. If not, pull out only eight.

Grab hammer rock and bang stakes into ground. Pray for forgiving earth. Be careful not to bend their perfectly straight titanium forms to avoid the hassle of having to replace them in unknown towns at excessive cost. Be sure tent body is taut.

Stop to marvel at the girls, whose tents are already up by now.

Watch them dive in. Indulge in a little tent envy, then, think about the extra hundreds of dollars those tents cost and all the money I’m saving by not buying one.

Then give thanks for my trusty nineties tent and vow not to buy a new one until it utterly breaks down. Resolve to hike more often to break it down, so that I can finally get a new tent.

Another beautiful meadow.
Another beautiful meadow.
Another beautiful view.
Another beautiful view.
Squarepants checking our position, while Fish Nugget mugs for the camera.
Squarepants checking our position as Fish Nugget smiles for the camera.

Unfurl tent poles, attach tension hooks and snap into position. Voila, tent finally up. Check what girls are doing, usually cooking their dinner at this point.

Go back to backpack and dig out bear container. Set outside next to tent. Shove everything else into tent, quick, before the mosquitoes notice me. Dive in after, frantically zip up to keep the bugs out. I used to keep my shoes outside where they could air out, until the shoelace-eating incident. Now I keep everything inside, except the bear can.

First order of business, tidy the nest.

Detach the Zrest and spread it out. Pull out all my clothes and put aside in a pile. Dig out the sleeping bag from the bottom of the bag, pull out of the stuff stack and fluff out over the Zrest.

Sit down and take off my shoes and dirty socks, set aside for rinsing later. Wiggle my toes, feel the cool air and revel in the joy of being off my feet.

Thank you, feet, for taking me this far.

Take off my day clothes, hiking pants and shirt, and maybe the running bra or not, depending on how I feel. Put on my warm fleece layers and stretch pants, fleece socks, my knit cap I bought in Yosemite and gloves if it’s cold. Revel in the relative cleanliness and warmth of these items while stuffing my day clothes into the sleeping bag stuff sack to make a pillow.

Lots of big views out on the trail today.
Lots of big views out on the trail today.
Another view of the view.
Another view of the view.
A more volcanic view.
A more volcanic view.

Flop on my back for a few minutes, enjoying the peace, the rest and the sound of the wind whispering through the pine trees. Breathe for a moment, feeling the pain in my shoulders, back, legs and feet, again grateful to be off them at last.

Gather the energy to sit up. Dig my baggie of rehydrating food out of the side pocket, find my titanium spoon, and gather everything I’ll need for dinner outside.

Put on rain jacket and head net if mosquitoes are out. Deet the back of my hands, face and neck as needed. Put on camp shoes, go outside, dig around the bear can for extra virgin olive oil, mix liberally into rehydrated food aka quinoa/pasta/rice salad, sit on the bear can and eat.

Chat with the girls as appropriate.

Scrape every last bit of food out of the baggie, roll up tight, seal and put into trash bag. Lick the spoon clean and wipe with cloth, dishes done. Marvel in the genius of my no-wash, no-cook, no-hassle food system. See if I can yogi some hot water off Fish Nugget for tea.

Pull tomorrow’s breakfast, lunch and dinner to the top of the bear can for easy access in the morning. Lock it up for the night and find a hiding spot nearby behind a log or a rock, but nowhere near water or a cliff where it could be rolled by a bear and lost forever. Tuck it into a nook and head back to tent.

Dive inside before the bugs know what’s going on.

Grab my notebook and pen, lie down and write some notes on the day for blogging later. Take a moment to shake head in disbelief at those hikers who blog on their phones every night. I don’t know how they do it.

Squarepants and Fish Nugget pause for yet another picture along the trail.
Squarepants and Fish Nugget pause for yet another picture along the trail.
Another pretty meadow mountain view.
Another pretty meadow mountain view.
Squarepants visiting with Fish Nugget in camp.
Squarepants visiting with Fish Nugget in camp.

Put notebook and pen away. Pull out phone. Look at recent pictures, delete the crappy ones, laugh at the funny ones. Check battery level and plug into the Anker battery if needed. So much charge in such a small package, I love this battery.

Tidy up the tent so that I know where everything is, with water, whistle and flashlight close by in case I need them in the middle of the night. Fluff makeshift clothing pillow and snuggle down into to loft-challenged sleeping bag.

Close my eyes, feel my pain, give thanks, goodnight.

30 Days on the PCT
Day 16: July 18, mile 1036
Squarepants busts out the dance moves.
Squarepants busts out some dance moves.