Monday, August 22, 2011

Day 87 (8/12) The Postal Sprint

24 miles to walk by 5pm. Make that 4pm because I have a 10 mile hitch at the end of the 24 miles. Better make it 3pm just to be safe since it isn’t a heavily traveled road. If I was getting up at 3am that wouldn’t be too much to ask. But after a 26 mile day of hiking yesterday my body wasn’t going to settle for anything less than nine hours of sleep. Period. End of story. So my 7am departure was just about as early as I could hope for. That means I have 8 hours to walk 24 miles, just 3 mph. For the whole time, assuming no breaks. Not impossible, just improbable without some major willpower. I didn’t worry too much though, and got going right away. As I walked I set up checkpoints for myself to see if I was staying on track with the miles I needed. By 9am I was a mile behind. At 10 that had crept to a mile and a half. I was pushing myself as hard as I could, but unfortunately the terrain was pretty rocky, and the faster I walk the more often I have rocks jab me in the feet when I can’t find the perfect spot to step down. By 11am I was in trouble. I’d held things together and was still only a mile and a half behind my 3pm arrival, but my right foot was excruciatingly painful. Between the time off and the constant wet shoes in the Sierras all of my hard-earned callouses had been worn away. One spot in particular was giving me trouble and I was unable to properly walk on it without pain. Just between the ball of my foot and the second toe at the very front of my foot it had first blistered two days ago, then that had broken and the skin torn away. Now there was just raw flesh, and it was not getting along well with the ground. AT ALL. I was forced to change my gait to shift weight to the outside of the foot on the rocky sections if I wanted to keep hiking at this speed.

By 1pm I knew this wasn’t sustainable. I was hoping to push myself and get through the rocky parts onto smooth tread, but I had no such luck. Though I was trying to will myself through without breaks, the constant battle with my foot had taken a serious toll on my mental state. In frustration I shrugged out of my pack and sank down against a log, a full 9 miles from the destination. After a few minutes of glorious bliss off my feet I began to reassess my situation. Clearly, I was in no shape to continue this death march, and I would have to accept that I would miss the post office’s 5pm closing. Rather than being a depressing thought, it was actually a huge relief. I have no idea what kind of scenery I passed this morning because I’d literally put my head down and walked as fast and hard as I could. It really wasn’t why I was out here, and in no way did I find it enjoyable, especially with the addition of the foot pain. The ONLY part that stands out was a section where I walked past four waterfalls in a row alongside the trail and was able to reach over and fill up my bottles with icy refreshing water without ever leaving the trail. Everything else blurred together as a mix of pain and perspiration. Once I decided to let the deadline go, the burden was lifted from me and I was free to enjoy the experience again. After a good 30 minutes rest I resumed walking, albeit at a much slower pace. These last 9 miles weren’t necessarily any more pleasant walking on my foot, and it even gave me the motivation to write an ode to callouses in my head, which I repeated in my head in the vain hope that it would help heal my foot. During this part of the journey I was surprised to come across a hiker with his tent set up at the early hour of 3pm. I stopped to chat, and it turns out that he left Etna yesterday evening, started having stomach problems a few miles out and spent the entire day in the tent today recovering. I offered him some of my extra food and water, but he said he was all set, so I wished him the best and walked onward. I’m sure thankful I haven’t dealt with that yet on this trip, because despite how much foot problems hurt, its infinitely worse to try hiking when your insides are all scrambled.

Mt. Shasta off in the distance
Way closer than the first time I saw it from Crater Lake
My pace in this section was pretty awful, probably under 1.5 mph, and I started to wear thin on patience. Lifting my spirits was the constant stream of northbound hikers who had left Etna this morning. From the numbers that I met, I would reckon there had been 25-30 hikers in town two days ago, and they had slowly made their way back to the trail and run into this lone southbounder. It was fun giving them all reports about the people ahead of them that they were trying to catch, and I loved seeing their reactions to how many or few miles so-and-so had done already. Finally I came around a turn that indicated I had 4 miles to go. I’d been warned there was no cell service at the trailhead, and additionally I was given a number for a local who gives rides back to town if you call. That was perfect since I would be arriving later than usual and I couldn’t count on people driving past at that hour. With about 2.5 miles to the trailhead I found a good overlook with service and called Keith for a ride. I said I’d be at the road in an hour and I’d be glad to pay him for a ride down the hill. I turned my phone back off then resumed this final leg of the hike. I walked out to the road at exactly 7:20 after one of the most trying days of the trip (aside from the fracture), hoping to see a car waiting for me. Well, there were three forest service trucks there, but no Keith. I waited a good 20 minutes without any activity before a packed car passed me going towards town. No luck hitching. Then a car came from town and stopped. I figured this was Keith so I picked up my pack as the car rolled to a stop. But no, it was a couple asking for directions, and I was the last person with any clue about the roads around here. “I’ve just spent 3 months in the woods, sorry I don’t know how to get to that lake, in fact I’ve never heard of it.” Next a forest service helicopter touched down to refuel and took off again. I hoped they would drop off the people who belonged to these trucks, but no luck. It had now been most of an hour and I was running out of hope. I would have no problem camping here at the road, except for one problem. Water. I’d planned on my next drink coming in town, and the nearest on-trail water was a good 3 miles away in either direction. The half liter in my pack could keep me hydrated, but forget cooking dinner... Great.

I climbed up a nearby hill hoping for a cell signal, to no avail, and my frustration level began to rise again. Had I walked all that way today, enduring serious pain for no reason? Should I have just taken a mulligan on the day, walked a dozen miles and called it a healing day to let my foot recover? As I was sinking into a black hole of this second-guessing I heard a diesel rumble coming the right way. I jumped up and stuck out my thumb while striking a winning smile. It worked, and the truck pulled over! I was offered a prime seat in the back among a bunch of tools and coolers, and the man confirmed my earlier concern, that he figured he was likely the last one to drive this road til the morning and that I was lucky he’d been coming the right way. I agreed, and happily tossed my pack in, and jumped in right after it. We roared down the hill, and now I understood why it was not more heavily travelled. It was a narrow winding road going waaay down the mountain into the desert where the town was located. Though it was only 10 miles, I think it took nearly half an hour to drive that distance, and I was dropped at the grocery store in town. I thanked the driver profusely, then walked over and met a few hikers stocking up on food. They gave me directions to the hostel, and I set off on my way. It was a good mile walk over there, and for $25 I was able to get a bed and shower. Perfect. There were about 6 hikers there, the tail end of the massive group from two days prior. The priority for the night was a shower, which felt fantastic, though I’m not sure it was enough to remove over a week of trail grime. I’ll have to shower again in the morning. The evening’s entertainment was the TV and VHS player, and we watched Transylvania 6-5000 (from 1986), which was  absolutely hilarious. Plus, it had a great cast of future stars like Jeff Goldblum and Ed Begley Jr, plus once character who looked just like the character who plays Lupin in Harry Potter (IMDB shocked us when we found out that they are different people). It was a great way to decompress after a long and stressful day, and I slept soundly on my pull-out sofa sleeper.

I swear, if I write a book about this whole summer experience it'd be something along the lines of "No Adventure Goes According to the Plan". What a day.
Miles Today: 24 (+1)
Trip Mileage: 1254
PCT Mile Marker: 1606

Trinity Alps - I'll come back there some other time for sure. Anyone else interested?

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