PCT Desert Day 19: Falling Down

Mile 286.69 to 304.88 — Today’s miles: 18.19
The moon is still shining into the dark when my watch alarm beeps at 4am, and again at 4:30, and still at 5am. It’s cold. But now I really do have to get up. I tape my feet. I am so tired of taping my feet, but I’m almost out of Leukotape, and the “climber’s tape” that the Idyllwild outfitter promised was a good substitute for Leukotape never stays on for more than a day. Apparently it is impossible to buy Leukotape in trail towns.

My fingers are numb with cold again, so I hike as fast as I can. When I get to little sunshine patches, I stop and try to warm my hands, as if in front of a campfire. The morning is full of interruptions: lots of blowdowns that must be climbed over or traveled around (“How much mileage is this adding to my total,” I wonder after yet another side-trip to get around enormous tree roots), plus I have to stop for a bathroom break, to shed some layers, to filter water, to inspect a hotspot on my foot.

There’s a lot of water this morning — I can hear Holcomb Creek rushing below as I descend. It’s incredible to hear the sound of running water as I hike. I’d almost forgotten how pleasant that is, out here in the dry. The trail crosses the creek several times, and I easily rock hop. But then there’s a deeper crossing, and a small beaver dam’s in the way, and the stones are too far from the edge. I see a log upstream that connects one bank to the other, and a worn path to it — this is clearly the route most hikers are taking. But it’s not a very wide log, and as I reach the point where I need to put both feet on it and tightrope-walk my way across, I realize it’s also too high above the water for me to use my trekking poles in the creek bottom on either side of me. I stand there for many minutes. It would really just take three steps to get to the other bank, and the log is sturdy and stable. But I can’t make myself do it. I consider scooting across on my butt. I look at the rocks to my right. I could maybe step onto the first one from the log here, and then hop across. I set my feet to try this, and put one trekking pole in the water to help stabilize my step down. Ah, but that beaver dam is tricky, and my pole sinks in much farther than expected, throwing my balance off juuuust enough. I hear myself make the ridiculous sounds that one involuntarily makes when one knows a fall is inevitable. “Uhhhh… ohhhh… oh nooooo…” I fall into the water, against the beaver dam, up to my knees. “Shit.”

I am fine. I clamber out and pathetically hop across the rocks to the other side. Everything from my knees down is soaked through, but at least no one witnessed that clumsy display. I can feel the residual adrenaline rush and use it to propel me through the next half mile, my feet squelching with every step. I’m fairly miserable now, dragging myself along, but unwilling to stop yet again to dry my shoes and socks. In five miles, there’s a dayhiker trailhead with a privy and picnic tables; I’ll stop there for a long lunch and dry out, I promise myself.

But two miles later, my feet are too unhappy and I have to dry out on some rocks by the trail. I see that I got a big scrape on my shin from the beaver dam, great. As I’m peeling my wet socks off my pruney feet, I hear behind me, “Apple Juice?” It’s Speck from yesterday. I confess my creek fall and ask how her day is going. She’s all good feelings and optimism, loving the mix of scenery today, the perfect hiking weather, the gentle roll of the trail so far. After she leaves, I try to recalibrate my emotions. Speck is right, it’s incredible out here. So what that I fell in a creek and had to make a million pitstops this morning. I retape some toes and assess my socks, which are still quite wet. These are the non-toesocks I bought in Idyllwild, and I’ve worn them every day since. But maybe it’s time to give the toesocks another try. I gently pull them on over the tape, slide into my shoes, and stand up. Whoa. Except for one problem toe, everything else feels great. This is amazing!

As I turn a corner, I see a sign promising a free meal for PCT hikers at Splinter’s Cabin, the trailhead parking lot where I was going to take my long lunch. It’s just after 12pm now, and I’m three miles away. I glide down the trail at top speed. Nothing gets a long-distance hiker motivated like the promise of real food. Now that my feet feel better, I can really tell how strong my legs have gotten. The trail twists and turns along a long downhill stretch at just the right steepness for me to walk/run it, and I imagine I am a slalom skiier, swooping around the turns. At two miles out there’s another sign for the lunch, and again one mile away. I cross the bridge over Deep Creek and roll into the parking lot at 1pm.

Immediately, a man comes over to me. “Welcome! Are you hungry?” YES. He asks me to sign their guestbook and calls out for a cheeseburger. I drop my pack in a row of several others, and see EarlyBird and Sprout, whom I’d met in Idyllwild. EarlyBird was the one who told me the composting privy was weird, so I ask her about it, and she clarifies that it was just weird to actually use a toilet out here! (I agree, but appreciated the increased privacy it offered. Another hiker says the trailhead toilets are often so gross that she prefers to just use the “facili-trees,” haha.)

A giant cheeseburger is presented to me, and I’m shown to a table full of food. In the end, I eat: a cheeseburger, string cheese, chips, a granola bar, an apple, a clementine, and several large handfuls of m&ms. And an orange soda. This day just turned right around. Everyone is happy here — the hikers are beside ourselves with gratitude, and the hosts (a local outdoors group) are thrilled that we’re so excited. I thank them repeatedly, and am refused when I offer a donation. They fed some forest service volunteers doing clean-up earlier, too. I chat with Speck and Mowgli, and later with Space Jam, Ironman, Anna, and Ping. Everyone’s planning to hike to mile 305ish, a bit before the Deep Creek hot springs.

I hike out by myself, winding along the mountainside above Deep Creek. Day hikers pass by regularly here. Soon I hit mile 300. Pretty cool. The miles are definitely coming easier now. If I can get my feet to shape up, I’ll really be in business. Unfortunately, they’re still slowing me down. Two miles later I stop at a bridge to check that same damn toe, which feels like it’s on fire on the bottom. (This is the toe that I’m sure will give up its nail soon, but the nail area doesn’t hurt a bit.) There’s no blister, and it’s clean and dry, so what the hell, toe? I retape it with a smidge of gauze for padding and carry on. But there’s a tiny pebble in my shoe now. I just can’t get my feet right today. I hike another few miles, and just when I’m worrying that I won’t find a tentsite on the side of this mountain, I see a small flat spot next to the trail. It’s a little slanted, but it’ll do. I eat a package of s’mores PopTarts in my tent (leaning over my open trash bag to catch the crumbs), give my feet their nightly massage, and am in bed by dusk to fall asleep to the sound of Deep Creek running below.

Morning views.

The best thing to see when you’re having a tough day. (The dorky grammar nerd in me wondered which sole hiker would get a meal.)

Some of the food. Thank you again, generous people.

Near mile 300, Deep Creek below.

Three hundred miles!

Looking down on Deep Creek.

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