PCT Day 5: Primal Fears and an Ominous Soreness

March 29, 2014
Mile 77.2 to Mile 96

I’m feeling strange tonight. Not quite discouraged, but I’m not sure I’m having fun yet. My foot is sore and I’m worried about the possibility of my tendonitis relapsing or becoming chronic. Hopefully tomorrow I can rest it when David, LaVonne, and I get picked up by Warner Springs Monty on our way into town. He’s offered us showers, laundry, and “fish tacos grande,” which sounds just about like heaven right now.

Last night the coyotes were out in force. Though we camped within sight of two highways after filling up with water from a cache stocked by trail angels, we were visited in the night by multiple coyotes who were close enough to our tents that their yelping scared me a little.
I felt safe camping near David and LaVonne, but involuntarily my brain conjured images of wolf-like creatures leering at me through the gap between my tent and the ground. I kept rolling over half-expecting to find a wet, black nose and open mouth pushing against my mosquito mesh.
In the morning, when my stomach’s churning became too intense to ignore, I reluctantly abandoned the warmth of my quilt to find a suitable place for a cathole. As I walked up the hill from my tent, I found a large, fresh pile of coyote scat, proof that they had been as close as I’d thought.
None of my fear was rational. Coyotes do not charge into tents to take down backpackers. But something about the way their yips and howls played off the hills both near and far had truly affected me and had awakened a fear I didn’t think I had.
We left camp shortly before 8 and immediately began climbing. The early morning light bathed blooming ocotillos and barrel cactuses. The desert was positively majestic. As the sun rose in the sky, it banished the cool of morning and I tucked my bandana under my hat to protect myself from it’s harsh rays.
Just an hour after the sun peeked over the distant ridges to the east, I could feel my skin frying in the heat. I slapped palm-fulls of sunscreen on my legs and arms which quickly became caked with blackish grit. I smeared fresh, white zinc oxide on my face, but it was tainted by the dirt from my hands. My back became soaked with sweat as we made our way into a burned section. With no hope of shade, we tried to hold a pace through an alien landscape of blackened agaves and the skeletal remnants of cactus that had scorched in the fire. Soon, however, our energy flagged. We stopped and sat on a hot, sandy hillside to eat a little food. The cache was only three miles ahead, but the sun was sapping our strength. We muddled onward through the heat.
Finally, we reached a fire line dug by a bulldozer that had stopped the fire from further destroying the landscape. Energized by our return to healthy vegetation, we continued down the trail with raised spirits, and found the Third Gate Cache.
As I neared the sign proclaiming “H2O” and pointing to the side trail, I was greeted by another hiker. Meander (his trail name) had been leaving us hearts drawn in the sand and had even left a note at a previous cache, so it was fun to catch up to him and put a gray-bearded face to the name.
We said goodbye as Meander continued up the PCT, and then followed the signs to a stand of brush where hundreds of gallons of water were crammed into the shade.
More signs admonished hikers to tie up empty gallon jugs so they wouldn’t blow away and asked that we limit ourselves to 4 liters for the next stretch of trail so the cache could aid more people.
David, Lavonne, and I refilled our water bottles and settled into the shade for a late lunch before hiking on to our planned camp site. At the small cave we’d planned to camp near, LaVonne decided to squish into the hole in the rock for the night. David and I found sites nearby. Leave No Trace is important to me, but often at the end of the day, it’s actually impossible to camp far enough from the trail to stay true to its letter. But I hope that by scattering the rocks I use to stake out my tent and by brushing away my footprints from the sand I camp on, I’m minimizing my impact enough that I’m staying true to the spirit of LNT.
Alone for the night, I rubbed my aching feet, hoping with all my strength that the pain just means I’m adjusting. I know I need new shoes because the ones I started in are so broken down. With luck, some new soles will allow me to keep going, because even if I’m not having fun I can recognize yet, I know I don’t want to leave.

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11 Responses to PCT Day 5: Primal Fears and an Ominous Soreness

  1. buttonbright says:

    Heart-stopping to hear your worries from before, now that you’re having really to test them. Katie and I have you in mind all the time, wishing we could raise your spirits just by our fervent desire to do so.
    Your encounter with the coyotes reminded me of my own, back in high school. After a week-long, mostly unsuccessful fishing trip with my buddy at Kirkwood Lake, my grandfather sent us on the Greyhound to a rancher near Burney that he knew. They put us up in a lonely cabin, far from anyone.
    After a couple of nights, my friend indicated he had a trap, and we should set it and catch something. (Something? A Bigfoot? A bear? A crocodile?)
    We went out into the forest, through an area that I now realize was a cedar grove ruined by rust. The trees were black and orange; it was ugly and alien.
    We set the trap, and departed. My friend, who supposedly knew about these things, said we had to return at first light, in case we caught something. We had no gun or other means of subduing a trapped critter, but I didn’t think of that until later.
    That night, for the first time in my life, I heard coyotes outside our cabin. Yelping and howling, it is something that awakens a fear out of our primitive past. It sure did in me. I didn’t sleep a wink that night, envisioning us wandering back into that alien forest in the morning dark and cold, encountering only the stake of the chain on the trap, with the chain leading off into the bushes, where a pain-crazed coyote, relative to all those howling in the night, had nearly chewed off his trapped foot and was ready to tear our wicked throats out as we came down the chain to where he waited.
    Morning came. My terror remained as we dressed and went outside. It all was just as I’d feared: black, cold, and silent. We entered the Halloween cedar grove, and cautiously crept up to where we had staked the trap.

    It was right there. Unsprung. I was so happy to have become a skunked trapper. And to feel the intact skin on my throat.
    Never trapped again, never will, but I always hear coyotes with that primitive shudder.

  2. carrot quinn says:

    I got tendonitis in the beginning too, in my achilles tendon. I learned that I needed to change my gait (shorter steps w/more control and better posture, kind of like in ballroom dancing, as opposed to big stomping steps) and that I needed to saw off the top of the back of my shoe, that extra ridge thing on the back of the cascadias that bumps the achilles. We get used to how our bodies work in the regular world, and then on the trail It’s like we have to learn about our bodies all over again! The learning curve at the beginning of the trail! Don’t give up hope- the fun greatly increased for me once I’d gotten over that learning curve and didn’t hurt anymore, which took about 6 weeks. And your posts are great!!

    • I remember reading about your tendonitis and have actually been combing through your posts from last year again, searching for grains of wisdom about how you treated it. Thanks for the encouragement, Carrot.

      • carrot quinn says:

        Where is your tendonitis? Yeah all I know is gait is super important- chi running is the book that talks about that. Can you get it on audiobook? And short days/rest days when it’s imflamed. And taking an ibuprofen before bed to decrease imflammation so it can heal better while u sleep helps a lot too. I think I did max 16 mile days for a couple weeks when I had mine? If u go to kickoff there will be tons of people there who will know about tendonitis too. Good luck!!

      • It’s peroneal tendonitis that extends from my outer calf around the outside of my ankle and into the bottom of my foot. I’ll look into getting the book! I’m definitely going to drop my mileage but unfortunately I can’t make it back for kickoff this year.

  3. lbergeron2013 says:

    Hang in there Korbi. Hope the foot quits hurting and that new shoes help.

  4. scottandwild says:

    Huge props all around! I’m departing to NOBO on the 16th, and it’s great to hear your thoughts from these first stages of the trail. I’ll definitely be following your posts and wish you the best of luck down the way.

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