Monday, September 5, 2011

Day 90 (8/15) Making Up Lost Time

Yesterday I gave in to the pain in my feet and settled for a 19 mile day. Today, I need to cover my full mileage, plus make up for some of yesterday’s. Quite a challenge indeed, considering that things definitely didn’t fully recover overnight. But starting out, as always, I was upbeat and cheerful, looking forward to another great day of hiking. Just two miles in to the morning I started hearing a quite unusual sound, at least unusual for the middle of the wilderness. I could hear a chainsaw whining up ahead, and then it would fade away, followed by the crashing noise of a tree falling to the earth. This carried on for quite awhile as I approached the highway, where I found they were doing maintenance work along the side. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone with a chainsaw in the whole time I’ve been out here, as in National Wilderness areas they are forbidden and trail crews must use the more primitive two-man saws when clearing trees.

The distant Trinity Alps
In the same area I ran into a northbound section hiker (aka not doing the full 2,600 miles this year) who was an engineering professor from Rochester. We chatted for a bit about our shared field, and then exchanged the usual trail reports about what we’d recently walked through. Amazingly, he wasn’t the most interesting person I met today. A few hours later at a trail junction I ran into an older gentleman taking a short break. He’s a 70+ CEO of a robotic automation company, and every summer takes a couple one week trips out hiking. He was a blast to talk to, and it helped reinforce in my mind that I haven’t totally lost my edge for when I go back to school. Plus, I was just astounded at the fact that he was still going that strong at his age - carrying what appeared to be approx 70 pounds of gear, and doing fine. The last time I carried that much weight I was soon sidelined for two weeks... I think I’ve learned my lesson, but clearly here is an example of someone who has experienced no ill consequences of the added load.

Two gorgeous lakes south of the PCT in the Trinity Alps
The trail today was nice and smooth for a change, so I didn’t experience nearly so many painful encounters with sharp rocks underfoot. Miles drifted past, and I entered, and then exited the Trinity Alps Wilderness. I have to say, for all the hype about this section, I was somewhat unimpressed. We just touch a corner of this wilderness area, and the coolest parts looked like they were about 10-15 miles away. I’d love to get a chance to come back and check out the Trinity Alps during another trip, but for now I just got a distant view of them. On the other hand, the section I was walking through was amazing for the number of scenic lakes I passed. First there would be one on the left, then the right, then the left, and the beautiful vistas just kept coming. I remembered Sourdough saying that this was the best spot to camp, and I now understood what he meant, but unfortunately I still had plenty of miles to make this afternoon.

The trail and two PCT markers on a post
I started running into foot trouble again right around 21 miles for the day, as I came near to Highway 3. This
was an old stage coach road that had been abandoned for years after the railroad came through, only the later be returned to use when they started building the highway system. I stopped at the campground there for dinner, and though I was finished with dinner in under 20 minutes, I delayed and delayed as I was un-enthused about the idea of getting back on my feet. After a full hour there, much of it spent lying down with my feet propped up in the air, I finally roused myself for another forward push. The break had done nothing to remedy my foot situation, and the raw spot on my right foot was persistently reminding me that I’d been mistreating it and should give it time to heal. Sadly, I had no time for that luxury, as my train and plane were already booked. From the highway I had 60 miles to go, and I was giving myself only two more days to do it. If I could put in another few tonight, it would be doable, but definitely unpleasant. And if my feet didn’t fix themselves, it would be darn nearly impossible. With that motivation I decided to do some night-hiking. The miles are the most important thing right now, and I’m running short on hours to do them.

I’ve tried a number of tricks in the past to extend my hiking hours without losing the ability to walk quickly. One strategy was to continue wearing sunglasses past dusk so that my eyes adjust more rapidly to the dark conditions, and when I tried that I could usually go an extra 30 minutes before needing a light. Tonight I decided I would be going well into dark anyway, so I did away with the gimmicks and went straight to the headlamp. Yesterday moonlight had been around 10:30, so I would have probably about 2 hours of solid darkness where that headlamp would be critical.

One of the curious deer just down the hill from me
Around dusk I spotted two deer on the trail, and it was only moments before they saw me and took off down
the hill. To my surprise as I came closer though, they had only gone a few dozen feet and then waited to see me pass. It was the perfect opportunity for a great photo, and I was amazed how well my camera did in the low light conditions. Unfortunately though, it has just started having its first problem of the trip. The zoom slider is sticking and makes it much harder to frame photos just how you want. I figure when I get home I can pop it open and clean out whatever got into that mechanism. I’m just amazed how well it has held up all trip, especially considering the dirty dusty conditions I’ve come through.

As night fell I flicked on my light and continued my southbound journey. By necessity when hiking by headlamp you have to slow down as you don’t have much ability to look ahead to see what you may have to avoid. Plus, objects on the ground don’t stand out nearly so well, so each step must be taken more carefully. Twice I looked up and saw the glow of eyes on the trail. Its an eerie feeling to know that some other creature is out there, but all you can see is a pair of eyes. Every time I hoped and prayed it was a deer, and banging together my poles confirmed my suspicion in both cases when the animal bounded off into the brush. Phew, I don’t ever want another experience like waking up to that bear nearby last week. I made about 5 miles by 10:30 as the full moon started to come up. Rather than helping, it was actually making things more difficult for me. There was moderate tree cover along the trail, so only slivers of light would shine through, dazzling me and washing out the rest of the landscape. I decided that it was getting to be late enough, and I didn’t want to have a late start tomorrow, so I found a nice shaded (from the moon) spot and laid out my gear. All I cared about was giving my body a chance to fix my feet. Like I mentioned before, if I had control of these minute responses within my body, this would’ve been resolved a long time ago. As it stands though, I just have to hope that this expanding raw spot on the bottom of my foot finally toughens up as there are 55 miles to go, and just 48 hours to hike them.

Miles Today: 26
Trip Mileage: 1299
PCT Mile Marker: 1561

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