Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day 84 (8/9) Scariest Morning Ever

It is quite common for me to wake up in the middle of the night out here, so I usually don't think anything of it. That's how it was around 3:30am when I woke up to get a drink of water and relieve myself. I drifted back off to sleep, but came awake again shortly after 4am. I was on edge, so something external must've disturbed me - probably a cool breeze across my face I thought. Then I heard it and everything froze. Somewhere just north of me I heard the sound of wood being torn apart; maybe a big branch falling? Then it came again, Kra-Kraack-Krunch! My mind raced to figure out what it was. Not many things were that big out here, and it took me a few long moments before I settled on a bear rooting for bugs in a downed tree. I waited and it came again, louder this time, and maybe closer, but maybe I was just fully awake now. It was close, but I had no idea how close. It could be 30 ft, it could be 300, but either way, I was scared. That bear would be hungry, and I happened to have a good bit of food right here. I didn't want anything to do with this massive creature, and it probably wasn't afraid of me, or at the very least was unconcerned by my presence. In the dead silence of night its very rare indeed that a person could go unnoticed by one of the forests' many residents. Between their hearing and smell, I knew it must be aware of me. Determined to calm my racing heart, I whipped out my headlamp, and banged my trekking poles together a few times. I didn't see anything from my position on the ground, but the sounds stopped. After a pause the sound of wood being ripped or crushed came back, and despite fear gripping me I stood up, banged my poles, and took a look around. Nothing within sight, but in the depth of night my headlamp didn't penetrate all that far. I crashed my poles together and in response two huffs, then the noise of it moving away from me.

I wasn't satisfied that I would be safe with something like that so close and potentially interested in my food bag, and there was no way I would fall back asleep now. In true record time I packed my bag, tied my shoes and set off down the trail following the bobbing circle of light from my headlamp. This is a tough way to walk, as the soft white light paints everything in dulled colors and provides little depth perception - making it easier to stumble over a rock or unexpectedly step into a divot. Your pace slows so you don't outrun the circle of light ahead of you, giving yourself just enough time to process what is ahead before placing steps. For nearly an hour and a half I carried on like this  until I finally came to rest alongside the trail to get breakfast. I peacefully watched the sunrise as the adrenaline crash sent me into a mild stupor. As I sat there basking in the moment I was startled back to reality by a crashing noise uphill from me. Though I couldn't see it, it sounded like a boulder coming down the slope. There was a massive downed tree a few feet up, and I braced myself to dive out of the way if this boulder cleared the tree. Before it came to that though it suddenly changed course and the crashing sound followed a new route and then out to the trail. And with that there stood one deer and then a second, just staring at me. I couldn't help but laugh as my heart best through my chest for the second time this morning. Its always something new out here, and today was definitely a first for me.

I got going again shortly thereafter, but by 8:30 I felt exhausted. The early start and shortened sleep were taking a toll, and I wasn't going to fight myself. I laid down beside the trail, put my feet up on my pack, then drifted off for a perfect hour-long nap. Felling refreshed I pushed on inti the morning. Based on talking to Jamz yesterday I figured I would probably see Noah today, and wondered when I'd run into him. I kept working out where he would be given this or that starting time in the morning, but as the day wore on I still didn't see him. In fact, compared to yesterday I saw very few hikers. Funny how packs form out here clustering a dozen or more people into a couple miles, and then you get long stretches without anyone around. Near 5:00 I was closing in on 20 miles for the day, and heard the sounds of two hikers ahead. Purring through the trees I recognized Noah and called out a greeting. He was hiking with Honeybuzz, who had been with him for a couple hundred miles now. Its awesome that he find a good hiking partner with a comparable pace for so long.

We found a shaded spot along the trail and sat down to chat. It was really neat to catch up abs compare notes on some of the things we'd both seen. I got to hear about the section I missed north of Yosemite, and their endless struggle with snow. I gave Noah a hard time for blasting ahead into the Sierras when I arrived later the same day to Kennedy Meadows after such hard work to gain a day on him in the last 150 miles. It was fun to catch up, reflect and reminisce. I'm going into the last week of my adventure, but these guys still had just about 1000 miles to go. I'm just a little envious... It really does put into perspective how long this trail actually is. That's something I never could've comprehended before coming out here. Two and a half months in and Noah was just now finishing the state of California, and he's been no slouch about making miles or minimizing days off. Even the fastest trip on the PCT was 61 days, and that is still a crazy long time to spend out here. Its really something else. Finally after an hour and a half we got a photo and posted ways; we both still had miles to make today. For me I put in another two or three before dinner, but afterwards was too beat from the stress of the morning plus the lack of sleep that I decided to call it a night. I'm 12 miles out from Seiad Valley, so I'll be making it there in the early afternoon tomorrow for the restaurant and post office.

Miles Today: 22
Trip Mileage: 1183
PCT Mile Marker: 1676

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