July 23, 2022
Campsite at Disappearing Creek, mile ~1511.2 to Deadfall Lakes at mile 1536.8
I am conscious far earlier than I would like to be, but I suppose this is not an unusual sensation. I pull myself up and eat breakfast, then start packing up. I don’t put my contacts in because I noticed yesterday that my right eye was acting kind of weird, all itchy and cloudy. I have a sneaking suspicion that I might have an eye infection of some sort. It’s really gross, and I’m annoyed because I hate wearing my glasses during the day. But I think I should probably wear them today just in case, so I’ll leave them on. That’s going to be fun in the full afternoon sun, but that’s the way it is. At least they look cute.
My feet are already hurting despite still sitting down. I really need new shoes. I can’t wait to pick up my new Topos and insoles in Etna in a few days. But first, it’s time to walk.
It’s a big climb for the first four miles, and it takes me forever. I really wonder if I’m getting whatever Jumbo has, because I just feel so fatigued and low energy, plus my feet are killing me and I have a full food bag. On the bright side, the views are spectacular. The rocky gray Castle Crags pop up just across the valley, and there are lovely green rolling mountains all around in the distance. It’s probably the most beautiful and visually engaging day we’ve had in a hot minute. Too bad I feel like a sad painful slug.
I stop for water at the top of the steepest part of the climb, and Jumbo soon joins. We sit there mostly in silence and eat snacks. Then we get going again. I trip powerfully on a root and the contents of my water bottle pockets spill everywhere. I’m really hoping this pack makes it to Canada, but I would also not be mad about getting a new one with water bottle pockets that actually keep my water bottles in place. Just saying, Hyperlite.
The trail follows a ridge line for a few miles, climbing higher into the already baking hot sun. I’m listening to a new audiobook, one of Jumbo’s favorites that he recommended: The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair. I started it yesterday and was not super interested at first, but the story is getting a lot more engaging now, and I get a little lost in the world for several hours as I make my way up the gentle hill, past wildflowers, taking in the views. Every once in a while, Mount Shasta pops up from behind the ridge. I love that we’ve been able to see this mountain for so long and now we’re sliding past her. It feels like progress.
Around 11:15, I see Tribute sitting in a shady camp spot on the top of the hill. It’s a little early for lunch, but I am so tired and ready for a break. I plop down across from him, and I pull up my food bag. Jumbo comes to join us, looking a bit punished but not the worst I’ve seen him. We eat our lunch and enjoy the shade. I see Jumbo pulling out his pot and stove, which only means one thing: tea time. He was on a mission to find Yorkshire tea for a while, especially after he heard about Boris Johnson’s resignation. (“I need to celebrate with a proper cup of tea!”) So he’s been carrying it ever since he found it in Chester, along with powdered milk and sugar packets from restaurants whenever he can find them. There are many benefits to hiking with an English person, and this is one of them: He gives me a teabag and some of his powdered milk and I enjoy a nice post-lunch cuppa.
Then Jumbo rolls out his orange foam mat and closes his eyes. I am a little bit shocked; usually he’s the one that wants to keep going first. I’m not saying I’m happy that he’s sick, but it’s kind of nice to have that pressure removed. I follow suit and lay down my Tyvek and close my eyes. We wind up napping for a little over half an hour. Tribute leaves before us, ready to go.
I feel a little bit better once we’re moving again. It’s hot and sunny, and I really wish I could wear my sunglasses, but I’ve felt worse. I listen to my book again for a while, then switch to Stuff You Should Know. The episode on Roe v. Wade is really good, if a bit full of legal jargon that I don’t really understand. (I feel the same way when my best friend Monica, who is in law school, talks to me about what she’s studying.) I am about to start a new episode when I hit a forest service road and see Tribute sitting on a rock next to the path down to the spring. It’s a really steep trail, apparently, but I have used all of my water and I am so thirsty. I take Tribute’s water bag and my own, and start going down. It’s really not that bad, but it does take me a while to filter water because I lose my smart water bottle cap somewhere and I can’t find it at first until I realize that it’s been in my Thrupack the whole time. Then I neck a full liter of water, which almost doesn’t feel like enough, and trudge back up the long steep hill. When I get to the top, Jumbo is there. I filter some of my own water, and then give him the rest. Then, a group of hikers passes and tells us that there is trail magic right around the corner. Awesome. I love that I walked down that big hill for nothing. But trail magic is always great, so we walk over to go check it out.
The trail angel’s name is The Owl, and he lives in Palo Alto. He hands us cookies that he calls the Sonora Pass Classic: a chunky chocolate chip cookie covered in whipped cream and topped with a cherry. Not a maraschino cherry, a fresh juicy cherry that tastes like heaven. He asks if we want Coke or beer. I have discovered that beer in the middle of the day makes me so sleepy, so I opt for a Coke. We sit there in a circle talking to some other hikers: clash, who is also from the UK, along with big mags, Daisy, and Bruja. It’s cool to put names to the faces that we’ve been seeing for the last few days.
When we realize it’s 4:00, we decide to keep going. We walk more or less together for about half a mile, and then I have to leave the trail for a cathole time. Hey, at least it’s not 9 PM and all of a sudden this time.
I’m walking alone for a little while until I come to the turn off for Porcupine Lake, where we had talked about eating dinner. I start up the side trail, noticing that I don’t see Jumbo’s or Tribute’s footprints. There are a lot of day hikers though, so it’s not out of the question that I just can’t see them. But I have a feeling that they’re not there.
When I get down to the lake, my suspicions are confirmed: there are tons of hikers, but none of them are my tramily. I turn my phone off airplane mode, and I see a text from a number that I assume it is Jumbo‘s American number telling me that they overshot the lake and are not going back. Neat. I should have checked that before I took the side trail. Oh well. It’s a beautiful lake, Sierra style, blue and ringed with massive rocks. If it weren’t so late in the day, I might take a swim or a proper break. But we still have 5 miles, so I’m keen to keep moving.
Back on trail, I walk for about half a mile until I see the boys sitting on the side of the trail. “Did you get my text?“ Jumbo asks. I reply that I did, but only after I got down to the lake. I sit there with them on the side of the trail for a bit, feeling all of the day’s 20 miles in my Achilles and the arch of my left foot, which always, no matter how much ibuprofen I take, hurt.
It’s more ridge walking for a while, which I enjoy as the sun is now sinking lower. It’s that time of day when my brain isn’t really functioning anymore, and I just need some chill music to enjoy in the golden hour. It’s Alt-J tonight. I’m listening and feeling really calm as I come along a corner and there are red wildflowers everywhere—not paintbrush but a type that looks a little like scarlet bugler, I think maybe it’s called mountain pride or something?—it’s so beautiful, and it’s especially beautiful as I keep walking and the lowering sun pops up to my left.
I’m struck with the sudden and powerful feeling that this trail is going to end. I cannot stay on it forever. We are already talking about our plans for the end of the trail and the terminus and Seattle and Jumbo’s flight back to England. Every time, it hits me with an existential dread, but not in any real way because it feels like we still have so much to go. But now all of a sudden it feels real.
Every day we close the gap between how many miles we’ve done and how many we have to go. It’s a countdown now, not a count up. There’s less coming than we have already done. It does feel like progress, which is satisfying, but if I could live this way forever, I would. I would wake up with the sunrise and go to sleep next to a lake with the sunset. I would walk with people I’ve met just months before, and feel so at home with them. I wouldn’t think about money or my career or how I “should“ be doing things. I would simply wake up, walk, eat, love, exist.
But maybe the beauty of thru hiking is in the fact that it is transient, it will end, it cannot last forever. I know there is joy in “real” life, and I am excited to experience that brand of joy again too. But I’m the happiest and freest and most myself when I’m out here on the margins, listening to music and audiobooks and my friends’ laughter, meeting people from all over the world, looking at the wildflowers and the setting sun and feeling right at home.
What do I do with these feelings? What do I do with the certain knowledge that this thing that I love so much will end? I guess I do what anyone does in a world full of things that don’t last forever: try to be in the moment. Try to savor it. Try to drink in every second, knowing that it is beautiful because it will end, not in spite of this fact.
I see Tribute sitting on a rock looking at the sunset, and I join him. Jumbo rolls up a few minutes later. We have service here, so I use it to put the hilarious “heartburn in my throat” video of Jumbo on Instagram. They keep moving, and I sit there for a moment, thinking about life and love and things not working out, and things absolutely working out, even if they aren’t the way you expected.
The last four miles are gorgeous. The sun melts over the distant mountains, and I run into Jumbo. We walk the last few miles together to camp. He tells me (or tries to tell me in his sad sick voice) about the book of short stories he’s listening to. We go uphill and come back down, and there is the lake where we will camp. We find Tribute on the trail, and he leads us down a spur to the edge of the water. In the last dregs of daylight, we go down and take pictures by the lake. Jumbo skips a few stones across the surface.
We set up our tents and then eat dinner together in the dark. My cold soaked couscous with tuna and Tapatio is unironically delicious. I brush my teeth, crawl into bed, and consciously enjoy being in my tent, horizontal, in the woods in California. I still can’t believe I’m on the Pacific Crest Trail. Over three months on the PCT, and I still can’t take it in.