I did not expect my third night on the Pacific Crest Trail to be spent on a bed in a tiny cabin in Mount Laguna (population: 57), trying to remember a few poses I learned in the Boise Downtown YMCA’s yoga classes and failing to ignore my dog, Marcy’s, farts.
I expected pain, taking on the 2,660-mile Pacific Crest Trail, which spans from Mexican to Canada. I expected blisters on my feet and I expected my 40-plus-pound backpack to leave abrasions on my shoulders. I didn’t expect a crippling pain in my left hip that left me limping into Mount Laguna at Mile 42.
On that bed in the little cabin, I felt crushed. For nearly two years, I have prepared for this journey. Saving money, testing gear, going to the gym daily, researching the trail, packing resupply boxes—it’s been all-consuming. Fear washed over me: What if I only make it 42 miles? That leaves 2,618 to go.
Herein lies Lesson One of the Pacific Crest Trail: you will encounter miles and miles of pain that makes you grip your trekking poles until your knuckles turn white. Now, a month after that night in Mount Laguna, I’ve walked 560 miles and I’ve learned that pain eventually goes away. I’ve also learned that it gets replaced with pain in a different place that is somehow worse than the pain before (see: knee tendonitis).
Of course, the trail thus far has not been all pain. It’s been full of the majestic mountaintops and incredible views you see in calendars and on your coworker’s desktop. I’ve gazed at stars and sunsets and sunrises and ridgelines and rock formations and wildflowers and acres of wind farms. I’ve met people from Switzerland, Australia, France, Germany, the U.K., Austria, Brazil and all over the United States (although, no one else from Idaho, so far).
It’s also been full of weird, little delights. At mile 77, someone gave me a free Corona. I hitchhiked from town to the trail in the back of a sheriff’s car. At mile 106, I took a shower out of a bucket and it was the most amazing shower ever. At mile 135, I cried tears of joy over a can of root beer I found in a cooler along the trail. That’s called trail magic. Mile 308 offered a dip in a euphoric hot springs. Mile 444 had a KOA campground with a pizza restaurant close enough for delivery. Ten miles later, hot showers and fresh laundry. Twenty-four miles after that: nachos.
The most delightful moment came after a grueling 8,000-foot descent over 20 miles in a relentless wind. My hiking companion, Storytime, and I reached a remote road well after dark, exhausted, and wishing for nothing but a steak dinner. Storytime checked his phone and, with great excitement, realized we were in range of an Uber. Within 17 minutes, we were riding in the back of Jamal’s black Lexus RX, traveling at a heart-stopping 55 miles per hour (cars feel very fast when you don’t ride in them anymore). Jamal dropped us at a place that can only be described as the exact opposite of the Pacific Crest Trail: the Moronogo Casino and Hotel.
We wandered through the giant, loud, bright, colorful casino—our packs hung from our shoulders, our trekking poles hung from our hands and our jaws hung from our faces. I’ve never gambled before, so just for the hell of it, I played $4 in a neon, touch screen slot machine. I won $20. Storytime sat down at a Blackjack table and won $100. That evening, we did not dine on just-add-water instant mashed potatoes. Rather, we ate Chilean sea bass.
Back on the trail the next night, the wind was so strong, it ripped tent stakes from the ground and flung them several feet away. Oh how quickly things change.
Miles tick by. Every 100 miles, a collection of rocks spell out how far we’ve come. I held Marcy close and smiled a huge smile at Mile 100. Mile 200, I crossed my arms and made a face like I defeated something. Mile 300, I was too tired to care. Mile 400, I’m laughing. Mile 500, I had The Proclaimers song “I Would Walk 500 Miles” stuck in my head the rest of the day. Still got 2,100 to go.
It was around Mile 364 when I was given my trail name. Just about everyone on the PCT has one. Mine, it was determined, is Dirty Paws—mostly because my feet smell terrible, but also as a homage to Marcy. Her paws were too sore by Mile 100, so she went home. Now more than ever, I fit in with this clan of vagabonds with names like Storytime, Ghost, Caveman, Flapjack, Hiccup, Chuckles, Little Spoon, Mash, Sarge, Challenger, Two Meals and more. We’re in this together.
Today, we reached Tehachapi, Calif.,—a town of about 14,000 people and the last largely populated area for a long time. When we leave, we’ll run through the Mojave Desert at night and reach Kennedy Meadows in about a week: the gateway to the Sierras. The desert sand will be replaced by snow, the angry heat replaced by high elevation cold. Resupply points and cell service will become much less frequent and I have to carry a bear canister for my food.
So today, we are spending the day pretending we are not thru-hikers. We saw a movie (Captain America: Civil War
, it was good), I painted my toenails (blue), and we have only walked so far as the nearest restaurant for a big plate of French Toast and a mimosa (less than a quarter mile). Tomorrow, it is back to the trail and whatever lies ahead.
For stories from Murri’s PCT journey, visit her blog at jessicamurri.wordpress.com.