Wednesday, May 13, 2009

April 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th and May

Sorry this took so long to get up, there is a lot to catch up on! The 27th, the Sunday that we started back to the trail after skipping Fuller Ridge, was such a great day. Gumpy, "2Pack" ;) and I all agreed that it had been the best hiking day yet, we hiked eleven miles through the Mesa Wind Farm, bizarrely a junk yard, beautiful rolling hills and slept in a sandy wash out. The coolest thing of the day was when I, always on the edge of panic, saw a bush move and speedily looked to see what it was.

Well, it was a desert tortoise! They're incredibly rare and have been tracked now because of housing developments moving into their territory (they can only eat a small select group of plants). On the shell you can see a little tube shape, that's the transmitter that they use to track where it, #147, goes, we've got to remember to look it up!

The day started out wonderfully and ended even better, we had soft sand to sleep on and even made "trail cheesecake" for the first time. It was so sweet, and our bean flakes had really filled us up that night, that we couldn't finish it all. We were going to save it for breakfast when a white haired, blue-eyed man, in shorts that were short enough to show of his beautifully toned and darkest tanned legs I have ever seen, walked up. His name was "The Bear" and he had tried to go through Fuller Ridge, it had taken two days longer than he had expected and he nearly ran out of food. We gave him some "trail magic" with our cheesecake and sat down to talk for a bit before passing out.

The next few days weren't so good. We had HUGE elevation gains that were hard, but that was only after two days of "following" a creek and the trail next to it that disappeared at a moment's glance. Here is Alex trying to find the trail one of the many times that it was no where to be seen.
A lovely little surprise that I would soon learn is that as we got further and further away from our previous town and were still days and days away from the next I was getting terrible panic attacks. I had thought when I was getting them before it was due to the fact that we were in the desert and nearly out of water and the heat, etc. Now I was getting them still and they weren't getting any better. It is hard to try to explain to someone the feeling of panic when you think that should, heaven forbid, something go terribly wrong, there's not really anything you can do, for days. Aside from being air lifted out, which panic attacks most likely do not qualify for. I had an itchiness in my skin that was screaming to just get to a town. One of the hardest parts to grapple with was that my feet were finally healing, my body was adjusting to the strenuous work and now our huge goal was being threatened my a PANIC ATTACK! It was horrible and still bothers me now.
Alex and I had to try to get to Big Bear as fast as we possibly could or I felt quite honestly like I would die.
After two days of the worst panic we finally made it to Big Bear, my panic began to subside and we had to have a very serious talk about how and if there was any way we could keep going. The major problem was the fact that we were starting to get further and further away from other towns. The stretches between each town would become longer and longer. I would start to cry and hyperventilate at the very thought of being out for more than three days now. It just couldn't be done. We talked about all of the possible solutions and came up with a compromise that we would come back in a few months and do parts of the Sierra's (they are the crown jewel of the PCT) as well as sections of Oregon since they're so close to family and friends should we need them. We also plan to take a roadtrip and camp and backpack, just for shorter periods of time, what we were doing on the PCT only with a car!

We caught a very depressing bus ride from Big Bear to the town where we could pick up our rental car. We've now been in Oregon with family for the past week or so. It has really been a daily roller coaster of emotions. Alex and I are still having dreams about the trail nearly every night and every few days I seem to come up with some idea of how to go back to the trail. The bottom line in that along with all the other great discoveries we've made while on the trail, we also discovered that I get terrible panic attacks when too far from what I see as "safety". I'm glad I found this out before we were really far into the mountains, but we still miss it, a lot at times. We miss the friends we made, and can't wait for them to make it to Oregon so we can see them again and hike with them. We can't really say what our "plan" is, we're taking the time and the money (and all the food!), that we had saved for the PCT for our roadtrip, camping etc. And we will reassess later.
We had an amazing few hundred miles and weeks and we'll never forget it. See you further down the trail...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Day 12 and 13: April 24 and 25th

Shortly after getting to town I bought a much needed new pair of shoes with a MUCH wider toe box. When we took off our toe bandages that night both Alex and my right pinkie toes were well on their way to disintegrating, see picture if you dare, nails falling off and all.

With new shoes and socks we felt hopeful that at least some of our pain would soon be getting better.
We relaxed, gorged ourselves often and soaked in the hot tub as much as we could. There was an impromptu hiker’s meeting to discuss the snow on Fuller Ridge that we’re soon to encounter. Apparently an experienced hiker went up to the pass to see if it was even possible to cross, he fell and hurt himself somewhat badly. Because many of the hikers do not have extensive snow hiking experience the debate is whether to pass it by road and skip that section or not. The snow is over three miles of the trail and over five feet deep. More snow may be falling soon too. It’s a big debate because you’re skipping trail but Alex and I have decided that we’re not doing this to push our limits of safety. In the long run skipping a small section so as not to kill ourselves (the Ranger station said they’ve already had to rescue people because the trail gets lost among the snow and you can’t tell where you’re going) is worth trying to make it to the end alive.
We set out tomorrow for Big Bear City and we’re actually excited. No more tears tomorrow! Well…probably at some point in the day, but not right as we leave this time!!

Day 11: April 23rd

I had had to take two Nyquil’s the night before so that I could sleep through another solitary night with no other fellow campers and with strange scratching noises I heard coming from the dark outside our tent. After a somewhat restful sleep I woke up to someone coughing and unzipping their sleeping bag, I rolled over to discover that Alex was still soundly snoring (it’s become a bizarre hissing sound each night now as his allergies get worse) I checked the clock and realized that we had overslept. It was already 5:15 and the tiniest hints of light were starting to show in the sky. I woke Alex up and heard the cough again, we guessed that someone must have walked past us in the night after we had fallen asleep (totally possible when we passed out around 7:30).
Our solar charger finally had started working the night before and I had been able to charge our ipod. Alex and I passed a man packing up not far from where we had slept, his name was Marco. Alex went to filter some water for us out of an algae thickened “creek” and I went ahead to try to use my first wind as best as I could. I put on my headphones and sang along to Ray Lamontagne and Fiest as I watched the sun rise over the hills. Hiking by myself in the cool air in a peaceful solitude was actually nice. Listening to the soothing music cleared my head and helped me not to feel so harshly about the trail. Was I reconsidering quitting? I wasn’t quite there yet.
Ric and Ginny (Alex’s parents) were meeting up with us again at the Paradise Café ( a hiker haven that we had heard about endlessly) on the Palms to Pines highway later in the day and we had to make it there before the restaurant closed.
The day got increasingly hotter and the trail never seemed to get any shorter. Slowly the bile I had for the trail began to rise again. It was so hot, the ridges we had to cross were so steep (yet again because of private land use issues we had to go far out of our way and actually on the edge of a canyon that had been blasted into the side of a mountain, very steeply) and my feet and knees were killing me. Along with Beyonce blasting in my ears I had “WHY!!!???” screaming in my head.
I told Alex that I had to get out, as yet another panic attack began to rise in me I said through clenched teeth that if he would let me quit I would do anything, even skydive (possible more scared of flying and subsequently jumping out of a plane than I am of cougars) or walk on the glass walkway that now hangs over the Grand Canyon. We kept walking in silence until I burst out in tears uncontrollably sobbing about my life. When you are hiking for so many hours and so many days your mind will make you think of things you might normally repress. Well, I had hit my limit and now everything was spilling out. I wasn’t sure what I wanted, I cried for the pain of my body, the fact that I was giving up on something that we both had wanted so badly and for the fact that I didn’t want to quit at all, I just felt that I had to.
Alex and I talked for a long time about our options and how we were both feeling about the trail. The thing we kept coming back to was that we didn’t feel like we were done yet. Although I couldn’t imagine myself on the trail for five more months of this, I couldn’t imagine myself having quit the trail either. We picked ourselves up and hiked to another water cache, we signed our trail names (Alex is 2-Pack , because when I was about to die in the afternoons he would offer to carry my pack for me and the name caught on. My name is Budget cause I save that money) and read the note from our friend Gumpy Bear telling us that he would meet us for the Jose burger later that afternoon at the Paradise Café.
To avoid a total nervous breakdown on my part Alex called his parents to have them pick us up a few miles early before the café. While we waited for his parents Alex and I had the revelation we had been waiting for and it came in the form of a quote that Gumpy Bear had told us “Hike your own hike”.
It seems so obvious but it becomes far too easy to get pulled into a mile race where we’re trying to keep up with much more experienced hikers. Although I hated sleeping by ourselves it is much better than being absolutely miserable every day because we’re pushing ourselves further than our bodies are ready to go. As Alex and I decided that we would no longer try to go so far just to keep up with other people and that we would go just until we were tired or found a good camping spot (within reason) we felt a peace wash over us and finally a renewed sense of purpose as to why we were doing this whole trip in the first place.
Were we on our ways to finding ourselves already? I don’t know but it felt good, and a lot less scary when I thought about returning to the trail after our two zero days in Idyllwild.

Day 10: April 22nd

Alex and I had decided that because yesterday was a slow day and we had been all alone nearly the whole day, that we would get up exceedingly early (4:30am) and start hiking at first light so that we could catch up to the people that had passed us the day before.
The day started off fairly well, we had gone nearly nine miles before eleven am. Unfortunately, it was also a day that we had to descend down mountains nearly the whole day. My knee had been bothering me off and on but hadn’t been too bad since Mt. Laguna the week before. As soon as we started descending it started to get sore, but I was reluctant to put on my brace because my leg had gotten even more grotesquely swollen when I had worn it before. Suddenly amid my and Alex’s rousing “alphabet game” (you pick a topic, let’s say fruit, then each person trades off the next letter, A-apple B-banana and so on…) I felt a shock of pain travel up my leg from my knee. I was momentarily frozen in place until I was able to move it again, and then I was fine. Until it happened again two or three times and I decided I should stop walking and put on my brace. Immense pain followed and I decided no brace, just hobbling slowly until it got better. Unfortunately, we were again nearly out of water so I told Alex to go ahead and I would catch up to him. Here you’ll see it pictured just how far behind I was.

My knee eventually felt better as we began inclining again, we got water and kept on walking. Because we had gotten up so early we had agreed that we would stop mid-day when it’s the hottest and set up our tent for an afternoon nap. Our guidebook had explained a nice forested area, which was the only flat spot in miles, that would provide cool shade and a relaxing spot for a nap. As Alex and I hiked higher and higher toward the top we looked around and neither of us could see any trees to speak of, but a flat spot was coming up so we figured that we would just be able to see the trees better from up there. Well guess what? THE FOREST BURNED DOWN SINCE THE GUIDE BOOK CAME OUT! Yeah, that was a nice surprise after hiking in the scorching heat for SEVEN hours! We were able to precariously balance Alex’s sleeping mat on a rock and a flattened pokey bush so that we could huddle under an overlying scrub for the little shade we could find.
After hiking for a few more hours we saw a white post, a landmark that our guidebook told us was actually much farther than we had thought we had gone. We were really doing a lot better than we had thought, we had already gone sixteen miles that day and we were going to push to do another four for our first twenty mile day!
We practically sprinted toward our campsite so proud of ourselves, sure that our early rising was the new way to go, the early bird really does get the worm! After another hour or so of hiking we came to another white post…the guidebook had assured us that there was only one white post so we were sure this one was just a new one and we kept going.
When we saw the fourth white post we thought we might have a problem, sure enough upon checking the guidebook again we discovered that we weren’t as good as we had thought, our hard work hadn’t paid off and we indeed didn’t get the worm. We had hiked from 5:30 that morning until 7 pm that night, hadn’t even taken a long afternoon nap/break, and had only gone sixteen miles. I, out of pain, exhaustion, desperation, hunger, frustration, all of them, of course began sobbing and telling Alex once again that I was done.
I didn’t want to do the trail anymore, in fact I hated it, never wanted to do it again, was NOT having a good time and didn’t know why this had been my stupid idea in the first place. I texted my best friend Annie telling her I was done, tried calling my mom but of course our solar charger wasn’t working and the phone was getting no reception. Alex and I were once again alone camped on a ridge. We talked about it through tears and prayed together, hoping that in the morning we would feel clearer about what we should do.

Day 9: April 21st

A cloud hung over me as we started our first day back on the trail after our break. We had to say goodbye to Alex’s parents, warm food and beds, and the comfort of knowing, almost certainly, that we would not be eaten alive in our sleep.
We had decided that we would “only” do a ten mile day because we had just had our first zero day and wanted to ease back into the trail as best we could. As soon as we began walking and Ric was out of sight I began crying (again). I felt that I had completely lost sight as to why we were doing this whole hike in the first place. I began feeling like this was all selfish to just disappear from our families’ lives for five or more months. We were needed back home and we were CHOOSING to be in misery and pain and fear (for me) in the desert instead. WHY!? Neither of us had an answer to that and we just had to try to pray that the purpose would become clear again soon.
Aside from my lackluster feeling of the trail we’ve also had to deal with a lot of pain. Pain has really been one of the biggest problems for us so far, as one might imagine walking fifteen or more miles a day is made a lot harder when you can barely walk. Alex had a right pinkie toe that had essentially exploded, fallen arches that were causing him immense pain, a very painful ankle, and a knot in his shoulder that was so hard he thought it was a clip from his backpack poking him. He also had contracted a mystery rash on his legs and arm and severe neck pain. Now I had seemed to have developed Elephantitis of the legs (I didn’t even recognize my own legs, they were so swollen they literally looked like a man’s, and “cankle” doesn’t even come close to describing this!), my right pinkie toe had started to fall off, literally the whole top half of it, a hideous blister (pictured last entry) horrible arch pain and now bad knee pains, especially when descending.
I continued to feel down all day and Alex and I tried to make it better by just pacing ourselves and taking breaks in the blistering sun, or the shade out of the blistering sun rather, whenever we wanted to and making camp fairly early, by ourselves, at five or so.
Our tent was set up on a ridge overlooking Warner Springs, it was a beautiful view but it also just reminded me again of the family that we had left and how isolated I again felt.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Day 7 and 8: April 19th and 20th

Gumpy Bear (or Brian in real life) our hiking buddy for the past three days and us woke up on our random ridge before the sun rose and began hiking. We had to meet Alex's parents in Warner Springs that afternoon and couldn't wait to begin our well deserved break.

After the four miles of even more ridges and circling we finally made it down to Barrel Spring Campground by 9 am, took a quick break and pressed on to Warner Springs. Finally there was something to look at!We traveled rather flatly through flowering meadows and even saw some cows!

We made it to Warner Springs by two, met the parents and quicly lapsed into a meat and pool induced coma. Here are what my feet look like after walking 110 miles!
It was so great to see the smiling faces of our family, and the king sized Snickers bars that they were holding. Warner Springs was the BEST place to have come to after walking so far. There are two pools one is a regular one, and the other a hot spring!
We ate all that we could hold and rested up so that getting back on the trail will be well slightly less traumatic!

Day 4, 5 and 6: April 16-18

I think I can easily say that these were my least favorite three days of the...oh my life. For three days we went ridge, over endless ridge, ridgelet and gully around Scissors Crossing and the San Felipe hills. It was unbelievably hot and endless. This is a short blog because my disgust for them runs so deep that there isn't much to say (we did experience our first "trail magic" though when trail angels brought drinks and snacks to us at Scissors Crossing. Thank you Sparky, Jellybean and Shorty!).
On day six I told Alex quite honestly while collapsed in a wash in the desert while running out of water and nearly out of food that I didn't think I could make it the 21 miles to Warner Springs. It was mid afternoon and I was as collapsed as can be with a pack and sleeping pad attached to my back. As dusty tears rolled down my cheeks I looked skyward and watched the birds begin to circle us. I looked apologetically to Alex and actually thought that I might die where I lay. Luckily I didn't and we made it with Gumpy Bear to a random ridge to sleep the night.

Oh! I nearly forgot, on the night of day four Gumpy Bear and Alex and I all camped in a soft creek bed, it looked like the perfect place to set up camp. Alex and I went to bed in our tent, got a bit cold and apparently slept on our faces to keep warm.

These photos have not been doctored.