Day Thirty One

Miles today: 17
Total miles: 471

Today is our one month anniversary on trail! In some ways it seems incredible that we have been out here that long, but in other ways, I feel I have been living on the PCT for a hundred years. Each day we live so much from daybreak to sunset that we age eons in just twenty four hours.

Though the Sauffley's home was a wonderful place, we decided to get back on trail today rather than take a zero in town, tempting as it was. I woke early and tip-toed to the bathroom to brush my teeth and braid my hair. The bathroom had a scale in it, and out of curiosity I stepped on it. I wasn't prepared to see the number almost ten pounds lighter than when I left home a month ago. I didn't feel very different, but then again, my pants fit much looser than they used to, and it had been a long time since I saw myself in the mirror. I stood in front of it for a long time, quietly surveying the girl who stared back at me. She looked like a stranger: I didn't recognize her. Her face was a little thinner than mine, her skin a little darker, her eyes a little wilder.

Who are you? I asked her.
I'm Bramble, she said. I've been here all along.

She was me, but living a different world. A world where work and money and responsibilities don't exist, where girls like me who get migraines and headaches every week haven't had a single one in a month. A world where we can be the strongest versions of ourselves, walking a path that takes us through our most difficult challenges and hardest adventures. We are hikers living in a stolen summer, becoming the people we've always wanted to be.

On our way out of town we stopped by the bakery and bought ourselves some treats for the Trail. We were hiking by 8:30 and quickly immersed in the hot, dry desert that had become so familiar. Our packs were once again heavy with five days of food and water, so our breaks were more frequent. We plowed through our food bags, trying to eat all the heaviest things first.

Left to right: Papa Bear, Bramble, Honey Bunny, Rotisserie

We didn't see many hikers today. A lot of people opt to night hike this section, or hike very early in the morning, to avoid the heat. It was only 24 miles to the next Trail Angel house: the Anderson's, and many hikers try to do the whole stretch in one day. We had no such aspirations.

We made it eleven miles to our next water cache by lunchtime and stopped to eat. When we started again it was 2:30pm and the hottest part of the day. We were climbing hills all afternoon on exposed ridgelines, and I lagged behind, dragging with the heat. I could feel myself overheating, breathing hard, covered in cold sweat, my skin burning. I was dizzy and sick but I was too stubborn to stop. Katie, Rotisserie, and Papa Bear were far ahead and I was sure that I could catch up to them without taking a break.

But the heat pounded in my head, the sun was unrelenting, and the climb was unending. Just when I thought I couldn't go any farther, I took a corner and nearly tripped over Papa Bear, who was sitting in the middle of the trail taking a water break. I almost sobbed with relief and fell beside him, downing a liter of water as I wiped the sweat from my face. I was grateful for the excuse to stop, though I knew I should have made the decision on my own.

Papa Bear and I talked about our families as we sat there, letting our breathing become more regular. After ten minutes my feet became anxious; Katie liked taking short breaks and I was used to moving on quickly. But Papa Bear looked completely content and had no intention of getting up until he was ready. As if reading my mind, he said,

"Milkman gave me a good piece of advice once. He said, 'hiking isn't a race. You go at the pace you need to, take breaks when you need to, listen to your body. We all get to the same place eventually, and no one wins a medal for being the first one there.'"

I liked that advice. Sometimes I spent too many hours of my day trying to catch up with everyone in front of me. I wasn't a very fast hiker and I was constantly pushing myself father, faster, as if to prove something. I was too stubborn to quit but often too exhausted to enjoy the journey, and more often than not I ignored what my body was telling me and tried to push past my own barriers. Papa Bear was a good idol, as he hiked at his own slow, steady pace, and yet always managed to make as many miles as we did.

So we sat. For close to thirty minutes. Until we felt rested and cooled off and rejuvenated. And by then it was 4:00pm and Katie and Rotisserie were far ahead, but the sun was low enough behind the mountains that it created pockets of shade, and hiking was much easier than before. We covered the next six miles to a small grove of Manzanita trees that hid a water cache, stocked with sodas and lounge chairs to sit in. Katie, Rotisserie and Sunshine were already there, taking advantage of the little haven.

Sunshine was making dinner since he planned to make it to the Anderson's tonight, but as he ate he shared a video he had taken of himself hiking today. He had found a Horny Toad on the trail, had caught him, put him in his pocket, and affectionately named him "Spike Lee." Sunshine and Spike hiked together for two miles, during which Sunshine had tried to interview Spike in his video, though Spike was uncooperative and gave the camera a rather dour, silent stare.

"He'll come around," video Sunshine promised.

After two miles, Spike decided he had had enough and ditched the pocket to run for freedom. Sunshine was contemplating posting "Missing Pet" signs on the PCT.

As Rotisserie, Katie, Papa Bear and I cooked dinner in our little Manzanita den, we contemplated how fun it would be to make a PCT mockumentary film. There had been a lot of recent trail "hook ups" between hikers, and it was funny trying to keep track of them all. We thought Dog would be a great candidate for our show because he spent most of his hiking days trying to catch up with two hot girls who were hiking in front of him. We could picture it now:

We would interview one of the girls, who would say to the camera, "Dog? Yeah, he's cute enough, I guess, but my boyfriend back home is way hotter."

Then the camera would pan to Dog and he would say, "she's totally into me, I can tell. Just give it one week and see whose sleeping bag she wakes up in, then!"

Sunshine finished his dinner and hiked on while the rest of us finished our dinners and passed around our favorite candies for dessert. We were becoming real sweet tooths: the heat of the desert makes chocolate and other sticky, milky desserts very unappealing, but we were beginning to crave hard candies. I have never been a fan of sweets like Skittles, Jelly Bellies, Jolly Ranchers, or Gummy Worms, but I can't get enough of them on trail. Skittles were quickly becoming our veteran favorite, but on long afternoons we liked playing the Guess the Jelly Belly Flavor game, and could demolish a one-pound bag of candy between us in one day.

We contemplated hiking on, since we had only done 17 miles today, but we were all tired enough that it didn't seem worth it. Instead we found a campsite beneath another bow of Manzanita trees and stayed beside the cache for the night.