Today I feel like I have earned my wings. It has been a long haul since Warner Springs and I’m surprised that I’m not still out there, body reduced to nothing but a strip of leather. I don’t know what the temperature has been, but it was much hotter than any rational person should hike in. I guess someone hiking 2600+ miles isn’t rational anyway. One hiker told it just right. The past few days have been less of a hike and more of a fight for survival. Each day has been hotter than the last and the terrain is mostly up. I hate up. And switchbacks.
Coming out of Warner Springs was hot. At that point, I was hydrated and missing my family, so it was easy to distract myself from the heat. I was also tricked into thinking it would be lovely stream crossings the whole way, but I was so wrong. After the 5th time crossing the same creek, the trail angled upward and I feel like it never leveled out. The heat was oppressive and the breeze did little to help. I stopped every 50 steps to rest, sometimes falling asleep in the heat. I was quickly blowing through my water, even though I had just filled up at mile 115. I just needed to make it to mile 120 to fill up again. It was so steep and hot, it took me 6 hours to make the climb.
Water sources aren’t always the prettiest sight, but when you’re desperate, you’ll drink anything. Mile 120 was not pretty. What once was a gurgling spring was now a trough of foul-smelling liquid. Complete with algae, leaves, and dead bugs. It’s been 48 hours and I’m not dead. Amazing. Most people passed it up because it smelled like sulphur and looked the way it did. But I filtered it, boiled it just to be safe, and looked at it longingly as I waited for it to cool. It didn’t taste bad at all.
After nursing 8 ounces of water for 2 hours, I came upon “Mike’s Place” (basically started as a guy taking in a couple hikers and now his whole house is dedicated to them). At Mike’s place, I filled a bottle and drank it without taking a breath. I filled another bottle and drank it too. I filled a third, drank half, sat down, and fell immediately asleep for an hour. That is cutting it too close.
The next water source was even worse, but I had paced myself to where I was taking my last sip as I walked up to the source. Here, I found all the other hikers. There were at least 20, sprawled in the only shade in this part of the trail. Everyone was getting water. This one was even better than the last close-call. Imagine the Ghostbusters movie (in the 80’s) where the woman turns on the water to fill the bathtub and all that comes out is this weird, orange, otherworldly goo. That was how this source was. And it tasted like blood. It was so gross that it made you gag every time you drank. I filled my bottles with tea leaves to try to cut it, but no. It was just tea-flavored blood-water. Someone must love us, though, because there was a surprise cache of store-bought water that I was able to fill up with the next morning.
It has been an ongoing struggle. Injuries that won’t heal, heat, wind, bug bites. I hobble around like I’m 80-years-old and I’m surprised that I haven’t gotten a trail name to reflect it. I go several days at a time without talking to anyone. Loneliness and self-doubt plague me. One hiker my mom and I met said something that I have to keep chanting to myself, “Your biggest challenge is between your ears.” And it is. I constantly have to stop myself from thinking negative thoughts.
With all the things that go wrong or hurt, at the end of the day, when all the hikers make it to a destination together, the suffering becomes worth it. You look around at the 25 dirty, tired bodies and it helps you see that you’re not alone in this. I also read all of your comments from home and it lifts my spirits when I feel my lowest.