Day Thirty Four

Miles today: 20
Total miles: 518

I didn't sleep well last night at all. A storm blew through and the wind sounded like a freight train all night, shaking the walls of the tent like brittle leaves, threatening to blow them away.

I got up at 5:30 as Sansei, Dance Party and Buffalo were leaving. It was cold and there was a thick layer of fog lying over the campsite, making everything damp. This made the dirt stick to everything much more than usual, so even when we had only been awake ten minutes we felt filthy.

Katie, Rotisserie, Focus and I packed up and had breakfast at the picnic tables; everyone else was gone except for Boulder and Scooter, who were still sleeping in their tent, and Sunshine, who was in his. As I packed up wet gear, I heard Sunshine's plaintive voice say from inside his tent,
"So... what's the weather like out there?"
"Freezing fog," we said.
His stockinged head suddenly popped out of his tent and he wrinkled his nose in distaste.
"Ewwwwwww!" he wailed, "I'm not hiking today!"
We laughed, because we knew this was just a joke. After all, what else was there to do but hike, rain or shine?

We were on trail by 7:00, wrapped in rain coats and mittens. It wasn't really raining, but the fog was so thick that it coated the trees, and the trees rained down on us. So we were wet. And it was cold. And windy. After so many days of beating sun and relentless heat, wasn't this a better option? But it was almost worse, because the wind was so intense that it scoured our faces. I had my hood cinched as tightly around my face as I could, but still the wind ripped it away. The dirt blasted us, sticking to our wet clothing and packs, and soon we felt like little mud puddles, drenched and miserable as we hurried down the trail. We walked against the wind, and it was exhausting. The fog obscured so much of our path that I would have gotten lost if it weren't for Rotisserie's bright orange pack cover leading the way through the mist.

Soon we came upon something that lifted our spirits: the 500 mile mark! It was an amazing moment, realizing we had come so far. And something happened to me in that moment: I realized what a big accomplishment this was for me. Until today, this PCT hike has seemed something of a pipe dream. I expected to start it, and have a hard time, and perhaps not be able to finish. As much as I wanted to call myself a thru-hiker, I was afraid to use that title, because what if I didn't live up to it? What if I just couldn't cut it out there? What if I quit half way through or only made it two weeks? After all, I was slower than most hikers, had gotten so many blisters, spent most days with some sort of ache or pain that I suffered through, and still cursed my way up a difficult incline. Most days I didn't feel like I was getting stronger or faster, I just felt battered and bruised and weary. But then it struck me: I've walked 500 miles!

I've walked 500 miles despite being slower than most hikers.
I've walked 500 miles despite the blisters, and the aches, and the pains.
I've walked 500 miles despite the horrible climbs and the steep descents.
I've walked 500 miles without quitting, even when the days were difficult, even when I wanted nothing more than to go home and sit on the couch and eat a bowl of ice cream.
And in that moment I realized that I really was a thru-hiker. Because I wasn't the only one with blisters, bruises or thoughts of why the hell am I doing this? But I was one of the few who stuck it out regardless of the challenges, and I had made it. I knew in that moment that if I could walk 500 miles, I could walk 2,650, and that realization made me strong.

We made it six miles before gnawing hunger made us stop for a break. But the break was short, for if we weren't hiking the cold seeped into our bones and made us move again. We tried in vain to "brush off" the dirt on our clothes and gear, but that only managed to get everything even more dirty, and we had to live with the notion that even for thru-hikers, we were filthier than we had ever been.

We hurried through the miles as quickly as we could. At mile 10 we came upon Papa Bear's tent! Despite that it was 11:00 am, he was still sleeping, and so we stood outside and yelled his name until he woke up.
"Is it morning?" he asked.
We laughed. "It's 11:00, Papa Bear!"
"Oh," said he. "There's no sun!"
"No, it's raining," we agreed.
We told him we'd meet him at our destination for the day, Hikertown.

We hiked a steady 2.5 mph, our muscles weary, our feet sore, our bodies soaked, and then we ran into a patch of Poodle Dog Bush. "As if this day couldn't get any worse!" Focus said.

At last we dropped down to the valley floor and came upon Hikertown, a makeshift little village that looked like an old Western movie set. It was a little hostel that catered to hikers, and it was a place to sleep and get a shower for the evening. We had done 20 miles in eight hours and my feet were aching. Rotisserie, Katie and I got a room in one of the old trailers and spent the evening relaxing in a common area with our fellow hikers before bed.