PCT Central CA Day 5: A Low Point

Mile 982.5 to 995.4 — Today’s miles: 12.9

I’m up and out in the morning, forcing myself to eat half a protein bar before starting the “just awful” climb. All of my food is so gross to me. Even the chocolate things. And if you know me, then you know that means something has gone terribly awry. Apart from a few bouts with the stomach flu, I can’t remember ever experiencing such intense revulsion about food. And yet I know my body is hungry. I’m working incredibly hard and — I’ve recently begun counting — barely consuming 500 calories a day. I can recognize the awfulness of this with perfect clarity and yet still cannot make myself eat. In all of my hikes, I’ve never experienced this past the first day or two, and never with this intensity. It is perplexing and worrisome.

The climb is not any worse than some of the previous ones, but I am glad not to be doing it in the heat of the afternoon. I take some boulder breaks and nearish the top am beset by mosquitos. This has quite a motivational effect on me, and I power through the last of the steep parts in short, fast bursts, relieved to reach the top and its insect-repelling breeze.

Now it’s down a few miles to Wilma Lake (sometimes called Wilmer), where I’d planned to stop for water, but the mosquitos are having a festival along the shores and there’s soft mud everywhere, so I squelch on through without stopping. I approach a wide but fairly slow-running creek amid clouds of mosquitos, and see that I can either try to navigate a long chain of logs and rocks to dry cross, or just ford. The bugs quickly decide for me, and I splash on through.

On the north side there are tentsites, and far fewer mosquitos, so I collapse onto my Tyvek in the shade and decide to stay for “lunch” (whatever I can find remotely palatable) and a nap. I lay my socks and shoes out to dry, put ramen in my jar to soak in the sun, and lie back. It is very peaceful, the creek just gently humming along as I doze lightly. Later, I tentatively try the ramen and am surprised to find I can eat it. I wouldn’t say it’s with gusto, but I finish it all and manage a few peanut m&ms as well.

I have about nine more miles in my plan for today, and it is almost all very gentle climbing. I psyche myself up and go at a decent clip for a while but after three miles am feeling crushed by the sun. I take a sit-down break and message Cyn that I will probably need to hitch into town at the bottom of Sonora Pass and recuperate. She gives me another pep talk, and I drink some electrolytes and carry on. This time I’ve got Jolly Ranchers to keep me from feeling so thirsty, and Alan Cumming reading his excellent memoir in my earbuds. Happily, although it’s still a gentle steady uphill, the trail is smooth and mostly free of rocks, and I zip along, holding my trekking poles in one hand. The trail passes many, many water sources, several of which are stagnant, and so as the heat fades, the mosquitos return. Eventually I can’t outhike them and put on my head net. I think about what I can eat, wanting to want to eat, mentally sifting through my bear can’s contents and then quickly turning my mind away because even thinking about my food makes me want to retch. What is going on?

I’ve hiked at a decent clip these last several miles, but as 6pm nears, I start to bonk. It’s almost two miles to my planned campsite, Dorothy Lake. I’m not gonna make it. This is confirmed as the trail takes a steeper uphill. I idly wonder if this is what marathoners feel like as they near the end of a race, utterly depleted and half-delirious, and I wish I had a support crew to meet me with juice and fresh fruit and — oh my god — a deli sandwich. At least some food sounds appealing, I guess? I cross a small stream, see some likely flat spots for my tent, and crash. One mile from the lake. Oh well.

I cannot eat. I drink electrolytes, sift through my bear canister for anything I could even imagine putting into my mouth, but no dice. My stomach is obviously hungry (I haven’t eaten since the ramen at 11am), but the mere thought of eating any of these things makes me nauseated immediately. So I just lock up the bear can and go to bed. In the tent, my stomach has a rock in it and I’m not sure if it’s hunger or anxiety — probably both. I am very tired but my brain will not shut off. I contemplate various plans and fret a lot about my ability to climb Sonora Pass. And yet even while part of my brain dwells on these worries, another part of it is perfectly attuned to the mountains that I can see from my tent, the absolute beauty and serenity of this place, and how grateful I am to witness it, to walk through a small part of it, to attempt to care for it as I do so. How strange to be able to hold two such different feelings at once, and to feel both so completely.

Midway through the “just awful” climb, as the sun started to heat things up.
View of the creek from my nap spot. Mosquito family reunion just on the other side of the water in those trees.
Hot but beautiful afternoon hiking.
Afternoon meadows. I didn’t take many photos today because I had to catch a ride on the struggle bus.

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