Week 6: Breaking the Stigma

There is a saying that is used often in the thru-hiker world, “The trail provides.” It may seem a little far fetched to people who aren’t on trail, but almost every hiker who stays on the trail long enough will experience ‘trail providing’ moments. I’ve thought about this phrase a lot and I’ve come to the conclusion that it may be a hiker’s simplistic, appreciative perspective that makes us believe that the trail is constantly providing. I find myself thanking the universe for a breeze just when I’m starting to feel that dizzying heat. I am thankful for the chilly rain when people warned me of the long water-less stretch. I appreciated the endless windmills that made me feel like I was watching a Cirque de Soleil show.

Some days I get in my head about ‘miles, miles, miles’ and it takes a lot of mindful thinking to get out of that. This trail is very different than our Appalachian Trail thru-hike and I find that in many ways it is much harder. Going in to this trail I shared with Level that I wanted to work on my internal growth. I want to come away from this trail being confident with myself, not being so dependent on others. In doing so I find myself a lot more silent and introspective. Rather than getting through difficult days by distracting myself with talking I try to focus on my surroundings, my breath, or what I am thankful for.

After last week’s stay at Hiker Heaven we left feeling a bit socially exhausted. We couldn’t wait to get back on trail where the world feels so beautifully endless. Birdie, Level, and I hiked quietly as we each took in the beautiful views, climbing up the ridge. Staying in town is wonderful for repairing your body with fruits & veggies, cushioned mattresses, and showers. Usually it isn’t until I get back onto the trail where I realize how worked up my brain gets with all the social buzzing. I focused on watching the grasses sway in the breeze, appreciating the simplicity of nature. We hiked right until 8 pm that night due to our late start but found a fantastic camp spot overlooking the mountains yet still tucked away from the trail. Finding a good spot to sleep is such a great feeling. It’s like searching for the perfect land to put your house but we get to do it again and again.

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We woke up with our sleeping bags damp, as we had slept without our rain fly. The view was a perfect fog covering the tips of the mountains with the sun trying to peak out. The mist turned into a light rain and our plan to skip the next social trail angel spot, 14 miles away, slowly faded.

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We hiked hard starting the trail at 7 am and getting 14 miles done by 11:30 am. The chilly rain had me only taking 1 break throughout the morning and it only lasted about 3 minutes long. The cold is one of my most effective motivators as I know if I hike hard I won’t be cold. My feet and legs were disagreeing with me and by the time we reached the road we decided that the well-known Casa de Luna sounded better than continuing in the cold rain. We didn’t know what to expect when we got there, so we were pleased when we saw that they had acres of land with private little tent spots between the manzanita trees. Level & I immediately set up our tent and fell asleep to the pattering rain for 4 hours. When we woke up we went to find Birdie and decided to walk in the rain to buy some beer. We were at one of the most well-known party places of the trail…

We hid under the outdoor tents they had set up, which also had big couches and blankets for hikers to snuggle under. We drank our beers and there were probably over 40 hikers there that evening, all hovering underneath the tents. Level and I let loose, embracing the odd, fun experiences. Then came the most delicious meal of all you can eat Taco Salad. The Andersons are the couple that run Casa de Luna, which is their home that they lend out to hikers. They have hikers tenting in their manzanita forest backyard and then have hikers hang out in the front. There are quirky rules like, if you put your plate over the serving bowls while you get food you will be spanked by Mrs. Anderson with a wooden spoon. I got spanked many times, whoops. You also have to dance to get a free bandanna, so Level and I busted a few moves. I was happy that the weather was so rainy and cold that day because if it hadn’t we would have skipped one of the best experiences so far.

In the morning we had all you can eat pancakes that The Andersons made for all the hikers. Every hiker has to get their picture taken in front the PCT banner that The Andersons keep for their albums. What we didn’t know was that the way Mrs. Anderson gets the most candid funny photos is by suddenly mooning everyone. It had me laughing for the next few hours. I hope one day to get my hands on that photo that she took, but I think my face looked something like this…

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That morning continued to be foggy as we made the steep uphill climb. Throughout the day the skies would turn blue & the clouds would disappear and I would think to myself, “This is just perfect!” We checked out a cave that some hikers have slept in, though I’m not sure I’d be brave enough unless the weather was just horrendous.

My hiker hunger has officially kicked in, I think the cold weather jump started it. It’s all about the calories so I had a delicious meal of sriracha ramen, olive oil, chia seeds, bacon bits, peanut butter, & butter all mixed. YUMMY! In the mornings I’ve been eating wraps with peanut butter and butter then smooshed up poptarts, another good calorie enhancing boost.

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With all those calories and the thought that we may run out of food if we didn’t get our gears going we decided to hike another 20 mile day. That morning I was feeling so much worry over how much water we had. We missed the first water source, as it was off the trail and I started to worry even more. We looked at our PCT Water Report and many of the sources were unreliable for the rest of the day. The next ‘possible’ source was said to be a tank that is sometimes filled, 150 yards off trail. We kept hiking up a dirt road, thinking “It will be just around the bend.” Luckily we still had enough water that we ended up skipping that cache when we couldn’t find it and found a campground with water. We hadn’t planned on finding the campground so it was exciting to see trash cans, bathrooms, and water. We embraced the unplanned situation. We found the PCT trail again and hit the 500 mile mark!! It was so odd to think in a little over a month we had traversed so many miles and experienced so much excitement.

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The next water source we hit was called ‘The Guzzler’ and it was Level’s nightmare. It was a dark tank that captures rain water. When you take the lid off the tank the water looks black and you have to reach your arm down into the unknown abyss. I got my water which was surprisingly clear and then Level overcame his fear of the dark tank and got his water.

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The last three miles of the day seemed to go on and on, but we were thrilled to see Birdie waiting for us near a secret tent spot he found. Camping was forbidden for the next 7 miles after that because of private land. Many hikers are forced to go the extra 7 miles if they can’t find a spot. Birdie’s tent spot find was incredible. It was like entering the movie ‘The Secret Garden’, going through thorny thickets and then finding were two large tent spots on the nice sand. We ate dinner near the trail and when Level leaned back to stretch out he felt a cold substance on his hand. He looked and it was human poop, all over his hand! He was in disbelief and Birdie and I couldn’t help but laugh really hard. Level was a good sport and laughed it off and that night we had a fun dance party in our tent as we listened to songs on our iPod shuffle. It was interesting to write in my journal that night and think of how just that morning I was so full of worry. Even on the trail I realize I often worry about water, miles, or the weather but I am realizing I can’t control those things. I am in control of my perspective of our journey.

The next day we were going to enter the extremely anticipated, Mojave Desert! I wasn’t sure what I wanted the plan to be. We would either decide to night hike or we could take a risk and hike through the day. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, the cold streak that had given us cold rainy weather the past week was still lingering. The Mojave temperatures were in the high 70’s versus the usual high 90’s. We arrived at a place called Hiker Town where most hikers hang out for the day and wait out the heat. The caretaker of Hiker Town gave us a ride to the cafe where we ordered a big breakfast burrito called, The Piglet.

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Hiker Town was a desolate little place with old buildings that they converted to be mini shacks for hikers to sleep in. We had showers, did laundry, and started planning our resupply boxes for The Sierras which are coming up in a week. It was funny to talk about the snow we will encounter in a week when later that day we would head out into the hottest section on the PCT. We ended up hiking out into the Mojave at 1 pm that day, with temperatures only reaching 79. Birdie gave me his sun umbrella to use just to ease my mind.

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That night we slept under some Joshua Trees after hiking until about 8:30 pm. We were out and hiking the next morning by 5:00 am. That morning was incredible as there are few things more beautiful than a early desert morning. We were looking directly at the sun rising and as the sun came out from behind the mountains it looked fierce.

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The next section was intriguing because we hiked through hundreds of windmills. It’s amazing to be around so much green energy as we saw massive solar panels coating the desert land as well.

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It did start to get stifling hot just before noon that day, but I knew the higher elevations we were climbing up to would help reduce the heat. We got to a small stream and found a little shade. For two hours we stayed there, napping, eating, and filtering water before a very long climb up. As we continuously climbed the 9 miles up I could think of nothing else but putting one foot in front of the other. Those types of climbs are tough but often times my favorite because of the forced meditative mantra it puts in my head. Finally getting to the top my head felt clearer than it had in awhile and looking back down and seeing how far I had made it, I felt strong. I had only taken one break the whole way up, keeping a continually slow but steady pace.

The next day we came all the way back down the other side of the mountain into a town called, Tehachapi. I was ready to hitch a ride for us when a man showed up with a shuttle offering a ride and a place to stay. He was an injured hiker who was helping out at a Trail Angel’s house. We were in awe. We were coming into town without a plan and suddenly the universe worked in magical ways yet again. Trail Angel, Brenda opens her home to hikers and she even went on an 8 mile ‘slack packing’ hike with us, where we got to hike without our huge backpacks on. We have heard rumors that hikers that have entered the Sierras are hiking back out and waiting out the weather because of the amount of rain and snow. That makes it even harder to leave this haven of Tehachapi, but the trail calls.

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Level and I are so lucky to have the opportunity to hike the PCT. There is no way that we could have such a successful journey without the help of so many people around us. From family members, friends, to strangers that take us in and treat us like family; everyone has contributed to us getting this far. Thru-hiking pushes us in so many ways; physically, socially, and mentally. Not everything can be in our control but we can take every experience and make the best of it. Having gone over 500 miles now our goal is to raise $2,650 for the organization Anxiety and Depression Association of America. $1 for every mile of the PCT we will hike. Just as we receive so much help from those around us during our hike, ADAA provides resources and support for people with anxiety and depression.

If you would like to donate to this cause click here: http://www.crowdrise.com/hikingheals

To follow more of our journey you can add us on Instagram:

@chili_n_chowder

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