PCT Day 17: What is this, the Amazon?

May 5, 2022

Mission Creek at mile 226.2 to campsite at mile 245.3

19.1 miles

My alarm jolts me awake at 3:55. Finally, a complete night of sleep! Turns out, cowboy camping on a warm night next to a gurgling frog-filled stream with a blanket of stars overhead is great for relaxation. I sit up and start packing, and I’m ready at 4:29. Woohoo! A minute to spare!

Andy and I cross the creek and meet Petra waiting a bit up the trail. The three of us start hiking with our headlamps illuminating the path ahead. It’s fine at first, but then the trail dips down and over Mission Creek once, twice, again, again. We lose the PCT quickly, then get back on it, only to lose it again a few minutes later. We go up a bit and the path evens out, then it inevitably gravitates back to the creek.

It starts to get light, and I realize how little headway we’re making despite getting up far before dawn. There are overgrown branches, mud, and slippery rocks, and in some places there’s hardly a trace of trail. It would be lovely during the day, but this morning it is infuriating. About an hour and a half in, Andy steps across a stream on a rock and through a curtain of branches. “What is this, the fucking Amazon?” he says.

I crack up. “That’s the subtitle for my blog today.”

Finally, just as the sun starts to hit us, we cross the creek one last time, fill up on water and head up the hill. It gets hotter and more desert-y with prickly pears and scrub oak. I walk with Andy until I have to leap off the trail and dig a cathole that is uncomfortably close to a cactus. After that, I’m alone for a while.

I put in music and slow down a lot when I’m alone. I’m already roasting and it’s not even 9:00. I start up on some gross switchbacks with downed trees and piles of rocks. I feel like shit. I can barely make it up one switchback without stopping for a breath. I can tell that my body needs something. Towards the top of the hill, it comes to me: salt. My body wants electrolytes. And a good hard achilles stretch. Alright, I tell it. Just wait for some shade.

I meet Petra at the top, where she is using the cell service to call a friend. I keep going a little ways to a beautiful campsite with a log that is perfect for sitting. I sit, pour a liquid IV into my bottle, get out my chip drink, and oblige my body’s demand. Meanwhile, Petra comes to join me, looking upset. She’s had a lot of heel pain, and even getting new shoes hasn’t helped. The friend she just called is a hiker and works at a travel agency, and he has experience with hiking injuries. His advice was for her to take two or three days off in Big Bear, the next town. Petra is understandably devastated because it means she won’t be able to hike with us anymore. I’m so sad. That’s such a hard choice to make, and it will be weird not to have her with us. We sit and talk about it for a long time, eating congealed gummies and spoonfuls of Nutella straight from the jar.

Petra eating the gummies that all congealed together in the sun on beach day

It’s only 1.8 miles to the last water source of the day. I hike them slowly with Petra. We walk up the hill through shady trees until we enter a dry burn area. A few switchbacks and ridge lines later, we see Andy and Sean filling up on water. We eat lunch at the creek, and I drink a full liter of water. Then, with my full load of five liters, I trudge 1.2 more miles over stupid blowdowns and fire-scarred hills until I reach Mission Camp, where there are actual trees that are alive! Everyone gathers in the shade and takes naps for two hours. There are huge pine trees everywhere. I feel like I’m taking a nap on the Arizona Trail outside of Flagstaff.

We start moving around 4. I cruise 5.4 miles with Andy. Afternoon Cruise Mode for the win, baby! This section is gentle and gorgeous. First it goes up through rocky scrub, then it descends into gentle conifer forests and along a ridge overlooking a valley and huge snow-streaked mountains beyond. This might be Big Bear, we think. San Jacinto is looking so far away now.

The light is so beautiful this time of day. I hardly notice the weight of my water, and I feel much better now than I did earlier. I love hiking. I love hiking with Andy in the evening glow. I love running into other hikers and saying, “Where are you headed?” and “How are you doing?” I love appreciating the shift of dusk over the valleys and rolling up to a campsite at the end of a long day. I love cooking dinner and laughing so hard I cry when Beetle makes a funny sound at me. I love getting cozy in my sleeping bag while the night gets dark.

Even though today wasn’t my favorite day so far on the trail, and even though the morning Amazon bushwhack and terrible switchbacks sucked, and even though I am tired and cold, there are still so many things I love.

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