Dear desert, it’s been a great run. Thanks for all the sun burns, dehydration episodes, and rattlesnake encounters. However, on a positive note, it’s pretty awesome that you received the most rain that you have seen in 22 years. Because of it, you provided an abnormally spectacular display of greenery, flowers, wildlife, and most importantly water… all for little ole’ me (blushing). However, this love affair must come to an end… My destiny lies in the high Sierra Mountains. Dearest desert, I will always cherish our 652 miles together. Except for the whole absurdly hot thing.
Over 3,000 people will attempt to hike the entire PCT this year. There is a two month window in which to start because of weather (mostly snow issues). Therefore, there is no shortage of other thru hikers around you, particularly at the beginning. People tend to form groups with like-minded folks. Here are the current peeps in my main crew (more fam updates to come):
Boo Boo: I met Boo Boo at the 4 mile marker of the 8 mile hike to reach the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. We went on to finish the AT together and rode bicycles from Seattle to Key West (4,014 miles). Boo Boo currently lives in Golden, Colorado (I wouldn’t mind living down the street from the birthplace of Coors Banquet) and bartends/leads kids on adventure trips. He also possesses the most untamed head of hair I’ve ever laid eyes on. Boo Boo lives to talk about outdoor gear and Widespread Panic. He also thrives on waiting to pack up camp until everyone else is ready to go.
Michigan: I met Michigan 25% of the way into the Appalachian Trail. We also finished the AT (2,175 miles) together and biked across the country. He resides in Grand Haven, (you guessed it) Michigan and sells cars like a champ. If it’s possible to be peas in a pod and come out as opposites, that is us. We do most of the planning/logistics for the group and things move relatively smoothly WHEN we agree on things… We always agree on karaoke songs to duet. Couldn’t imagine an adventure without either of the two.
Snapper: A wonderful new addition to the family. I was leery when Michigan informed us that he was bringing his girlfriend along but she couldn’t be a better fit. She fills all the motherly needs of our group and is as sweet as southern pecan pie. “Did you brush your teeth today? No…” She earned her trail name by hiking in Crocs. Yep, CROCS. Hey, any kicks that get you to Canada are the best kicks.
This installment marks the end of the desert section on the trail so it’s time for a roundup! If I had to sum it up in one sentence: “Mars + reptiles = the desert” Let’s get into some specifics:
Water: There is none. Water is obviously a precious commodity in the desert and one that has to be planned out for hydration/survival purposes. There is much rejoicing upon arriving at any type of stream or even puddle. However, it is also a very heavy commodity. For instance, 2 gallons of water weighs as much as my pack, all my gear, and a few days of food. Weight is crucial while walking 2,600 miles, so deciding how much water to carry out of each water source is a big deal.
Dehydration: This goes hand in hand with poor water planning. It results from not carrying enough water and running out or even carrying plenty of water, conserving, and not drinking enough.
Sweating: It happens plenty but it’s so dry that the sweat instantly evaporates. I have struggled with not drinking enough water because it doesn’t seem like I’m losing any. However, I greatly prefer the dry heat because of the two main body issues of long distance trekking: blisters and chaffing. Both typically require a lot of sweat that refuses to evaporate.
Sun: Relentless. It seems like I put a tube of sunscreen on every day. I learned that the hard way the first week. The tallest plants in the majority of the desert are waist high thorn bushes (that’s the scientific name if you were wondering). Shade trees are as luxurious and rare as laundry day on the trail. The best shade is supplied by clouds. FALSE. I have witnessed a grand total of two clouds in over a month. I have concluded that clouds are nearly as elusive as unicorns in the desert.
Dry skin: I totally understand why snakes shed skin now… because I am. My fingers have been through at least 3 layers. Is this what exfoliating means? That’s good right?
Plants: This part has been pretty amazing to me. There have been two desert sections. Low desert and high desert. Low desert brings out all the cacti (my fave). High desert presents the beautiful and interesting Joshua trees. High desert is also much hotter, colder, and drier. Both deserts are responsible for a lovable plant known as “poodle dog bush.” It looks and smells like marijuana but is approximately 10 times more poisonous than poison ivy or oak. Super friendly stuff.
Wildlife: Both types of desert bring out more lizards and beetles than imaginable. Both of which have a distinct way of looking “big” to show us that it is their territory. Beetles raise their rear end and lower their head like a bull to get into battle mode while lizards simply do push-ups while coldly staring you in the eyes. Horny toads swell up like a puffer fish when you’re threatening their domain. Rattlesnakes could care less that you are present because it seems that they know that they could kill you.
Siesta: Timing your day is everything in the desert. My favorite schedule:
6am-Noon / Hike
Noon-6pm / Siesta
6pm-Midnight / Hike
Midnight-6am / Sleep
An ideal siesta involves taking a shot of rum (that you have packed out) chased by a honey bun in hopes of that helping you to pass out to get some rest under the sun’s death rays.
Titilating Trail Tidbits!:
I don’t usually break down a single day or one story for the conclusion of these blogs but I feel that this particular day is worth it. This is my 5/6/17:
– Woke up to realize that I had camped in an illegal camping area that was punishable by a hefty ticket. Fortunately, evaded said ticket.
– I hike for awhile to a “unique” spot. This spot features 6 hot springs in the middle of the desert wilderness. I enjoy them for a while until a hoard of Californians arrive. They have apparently hiked a decent amount of miles to get totally naked in my hot springs. After feeling overwhelmed by the amount of boobs I have seen in one day in the wilderness, I hike on.
– We haven’t seen a drop of weather to this point but rain/snow is starting to roll in one day. Michigan’s friend in Los Angeles catches wind of the weather and offers to pick us up from a road crossing and bring us into the big city. We say “ABSOLUTELY!” with lots of expletives in front of it.
– Michigan’s friend can’t make it until late that night so we decide to hitchhike into the closest town at the road crossing. An older gentleman by the name of Renee instantly picks us up and takes us to the nearest bar for burgers, beer, and watching the Kentucky Derby (I lost my bet with Michigan).
– He decides to hang out with us for “one beer” before heading home. Instead, he stays for hours and has multiple beers. We are about to leave and walk to the nearest laundromat but he INSISTS that we go back to his house to do our laundry for free. After politely declining 6 times while we are in the bar and 2 times on the way to the laundromat, we caved and ventured with him to his homestead.
– We arrive at his house and he is extremely hospitable. “Laundry is here; shower is there; grab something to drink; if you decide that you want to stay, then beds are here, and make yourselves at home. We put all of our clothes in the washer and kick back to relax until Michigan’s buddy gets there to pick us up to go to LA.
– That’s when things start to get weird… Renee’s mood seems to slowly change and the red flags start to fly. He mentions something odd about his therapist and starts blaring music. He asks us when our buddy is arriving to pick us up 6 times in a row. He offers us some candy and then proceeds to think that we stole it from him. We notice a sign in his window that says “BEWARE OF OWNER” with an angry man shooting a pistol at you. Then comes the final red flag that is all I need to give Michigan the “We need to get out of here ASAP” look: Renee looks at me and asks “Do you know Denise?” I say “No I don’t think so. How would I know her?” He says “She’s the dog trainer.”
– I give Michigan “the look” and he says “Renee, we can get out of here if you want us to.” Renee responds, “Yeah… I need to do my pain rituals…” We request an Uber as quickly as humanly possible and put all of our wet clothes (that are still in the washing machine) in a trash bag. We wait outside in the rain for our Uber. She is astonished how relieved we are for her to arrive and we head straight to a laundromat to dry our clothes.
– My loyal readers might remember a similar situation with a gentleman by the name of Roger in Kansas (see bike blog #4). Our night with Roger didn’t end so well…
– After drying our clothes and taking a couple of shots in celebration of barely escaping Roger #2, our friend arrives to take us into LA in the rain.
– As if this day hasn’t been sufficiently ridiculous enough already, it ends at an apocalyptic themed night club in Hollywood.
Thanks to everyone for staying tuned. As always, please critique my rum fueled ramblings in the comment option below. If anything tragically terrible is going to happen to me on this forsaken trail, it will likely occur during the following month. There is a catch 22 (no pun intended) with Cali getting the most rain/snow it has seen in 22 years: I have to learn to be a mountaineer on the fly. On a normal year, PCT hikers wait for the snow to melt in the Sierras by early June. Under current conditions the, 30 feet of snow won’t melt for the next 2 years. So we just have to go for it, or skip it. I’ll be geared up with crampons and an ice axe that I have NO IDEA how to use. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Please. Thanks. 652 miles down; here goes nothing.