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.