PCT Day 98: Shattered

July 25, 2022

Scott Mountain Campground at mile 1560.3 to campsite at mile 1586.1

25.8 miles

My alarm goes off at the disturbing time of 4:35, and I immediately set about the very important work of ignoring it. I hear Jumbo and Tribute rustling around for at least 15 minutes, but it’s as if my body is suddenly made of lead. I’m so comfortable. I don’t want to move. My feet ache. Aghhhh. But, as is the way of things, I sit up, start my packing routine, and get ready for the day.

The boys go ahead and start while I make one more use of the claustro-privy, then I start up the hill. It’s pleasant in this predawn light. It’s definitely getting darker later now. I know that’s generally how it works the longer one gets from the solstice, but it is alarming to be so obviously reminded of the passing of time. The hill isn’t too bad, and I pass J and T before long. There are some nice views this morning, very Blue Ridge-ish in the early sunlight. I listen to my book for hours and get caught up in the world.

I stop for a second breakfast at a lovely flowing creek, then take another short break when I get water a little ways on. There is a burn zone, which gives me unpleasant Dixie flashbacks, but it’s not too bad so far. I finish my book just before noon. It’s not my favorite ever, and I think the characters were a little flat, but I was intrigued there at the end, and I couldn’t stop listening until I’d figured out what happened.

I cross over another small stream and then spot Jumbo sitting down under some shade, boiling water for tea. I excitedly tell him that I finished the book and give him some of my observations, trying not to be too critical. In his raspy, squeaky old lady voice, he tells me about the podcast episode he’s just listened to. I devour a tuna wrap, then ask if he has any protein to spare because I’m really running low now. He tosses me two extra tuna packets, in addition to the now daily Yorkshire tea with milk. I make another wrap and boil some water and try not to think about the thirteen or so miles that these sad, aching feet still have to hike today somehow. My tea is divine. I’m getting rather hooked on this routine. I’ll have to get some of my own supply in Etna tomorrow.

After lunch, there’s a long stretch in the burn zone. I get water at a creek, dunk my hat and buff, and keep going. Everything is dry within ten minutes. It’s rather blisteringly hot today, or perhaps not so much hot as exposed. It’s rough. But the views are lovely, if a bit crispy.

There’s a pretty substantial creek where Jumbo and I take a long break, drinking water and talking to Rolls and few other folks. I try to summon the energy to face this next hill, which seems like it will be steep and exposed.

While we sit, Jumbo and I talk about what we’re hoping to take from the trail and into life afterwards. He describes feeling a lot more confident, as in, “if I can walk the length of America, I can do anything.” I definitely feel that, although I think I still feel a little directionless without the goal of thru-hiking. This is Jumbo’s first big hike, but it’s my second of the Triple Crown hikes and my fifth long-distance hike. I think I look at it a little differently as a result. I also think that while the PCT has its own lessons, there will be nothing like the AT to me: my first thru, the one that set the tone for the rest of my life.

I ponder this as I start walking up the hill. Do I feel more confident than I did before? What will I take away from this that I didn’t from the AT? My one big goal in life, the one that I’ve been too scared to pursue, is writing a book. I want to write a book more than anything. I want to write a book more than I want a partner or a family, more than I want a PhD and more than I want a house. I’d like to say that the PCT has made me unflappably confident that I can do this, but that would be a lie. I still doubt if I have anything meaningful to say. But it’s still my mountain. It’s still my goal, and if I can walk slowly towards Canada bit by bit, surely I can walk towards that summit, too.

The hill turns out not to be that bad, and by the time I’m halfway up and the views expand onto mountains bathed in the start of the golden sunset, I’m feeling pretty good. I thrash around between albums and playlists for a while, trying to decide what I feel like listening to, before settling on This Old Dog by Mac Demarco. It turns out to be exactly the vibe I’m looking for: chill, but uplifting chill, addressing difficult things but with a peaceful hope. Part of the way up the climb I stop and talk to Puke n’ Rally and Potato. Jumbo joins, but he now has no voice to speak of, so he just hangs out.

I have a tiny bit left of the climb and my album is over, so I switch to the new Big Thief. Its first song, “Change,” hits me deep. It brings tears to my eyes. It sucks to deal with things changing, but what’s our alternate? Sitting like a stone in the stream? Staring at the sun? Just like on trail, you can’t linger for long. You have to keep moving. It’s a beautiful song.

I trudge the last couple of miles, get water at a spring, and almost have a face off with a cow. There’s one last steep uphill, then it’s down to a campsite where all the good spots are taken, so Jumbo and I squeeze into one passable tent site and set up for cowboy camping. Tribute is nowhere to be found. Guess he felt good today!

Jumbo slumps down on a rock, looking sweaty and exhausted and debated. I give his head a little scritch and ask, “You okay?”

“I’m shattered,” he replies, whispering.

“I feel that.”

My feet are in shambles and I am so, so tired. I’m annoyed with my glasses and I can’t wait to wash my hands and put in some new contacts. I didn’t pack enough food and I feel so ready for town. I need new shoes. I’m a mess.

Jumbo pretty much goes right to sleep, but I stay up and make couscous with cheese and olive oil and holy shit, it’s so good. Then, even though it’s late, I make a cup of hot chocolate because it’s the stupid little treat I’ve been looking forward to all day.

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