On the French Trail Custom of Taking Naps, or, Make Sure You Wash That Protein Powder Down With A Few TUMS
June 9, 2017
Mile 588 to Mile 604
Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike: Day 35
IN THE FOREST! I'm in the forest! We're in the forest! Camping on soft pine needles surrounded by towering old growth trees, next to a babbling brook that we followed all the way to this gorgeous campsite! The moonlight is pouring in through the breaks in the trees and our little grove with the ten-pound-four-season gargantuan circus tent from 1995 is heaven on earth.
Managed to make a last-minute Amazon order with a peep of service near the end of the burn area this morning, just in time to get a final boost of food to Kennedy Meadows south. Also managed to get ahold of Topo Designs—I'm adding a fleece to my Sierra gear kit and need them to overnight it to Kennedy Meadows in order to make sure it gets there on time. Funny how that works, you feel lucky getting 30% off an item and in the end wind up paying the difference in ultra-fast shipping. At least the customer service rep at Topo was super helpful, and I'm proud that I'll get to wear something made in the USA from a small company on the most epic part of this trek.
This morning was no easier, but we started early and the weather has been wonderfully temperate. I topped out of the first major climb of the day and headed into a lush, green valley with cattle running up one side of the ridge. At the bottom of the descent, Sonya and Ben (aka Frenchie because...er...he's French) nestled in their tents-as-sleeping bags taking a mid-morning nap. This is a habit of Sonya and Ben, and I delight in knowing I'll see them and get to take a short break to chat. They are both very centering people. They are both calm, yet excitable with this unique effervescence that is energetic but in no way reminiscent of hyperactivity. It is joyful to soak up. When I say they're using their tents as sleeping bags, I mean that, instead of unpacking a sleeping bag that is wadded/shoved/crammed into a stuff sack and shoved into the bowels of a pack, one simply unzips part of the door of one's tent, climbs in as one would climb into a sleeping bag, and lays down for a nap in a nice, grassy, sunny spot. Ben is an extremely fast hiker, but he requires naps. At least twice a day, for at least an hour per nap. Sonya seems to take well to this idea and has now become a regular napping companion. Usually, a nap is followed by a snack of something eaten cold that should be eaten hot, or something dry that should be eaten wet, but it's day 35 and all "supposed-to's" about food have long since gone out the window.
The descent into the valley is followed by a steep climb (as are most descents into valleys), and this one feels particularly horrible (as do most steep climbs). Once out of the valley there's a jeep road walk of deep, super-fine dirt. The consistency of the dirt is very important. Super fine means it seeps into every nook and cranny in your shoes, through your socks, and into your pores, sucking the moisture out of every cell that it touches. It's...unpleasant. The fact that this is a road is also important, as that means it is shade-free. Up, up, up, through the dirt-powder, kicking it up, breathing it in. There's a sign in Spanish that indicates a bear cabin is nearby, but we're headed the other direction. Water should be nearby.
Finally, we arrive at the water, and there's a small gang of hikers arguing over where the best place is to fill up a bottle. Not the trough, I'm told. Walk up the hill (of course) to get water right out of the pipe. I do, and it's much cleaner. It's actually a relief that no members of my trail family are here. I feel much more relaxed, free from the pressure of playing keep-up. This will be a long break.
The hikers at the spring are talking about the snow in the Sierra. People are feeling the pressure, beginning to feel a tangible presence of the mountains looming in the distance. We can see them now, and the conversation is unavoidable. There is a clear divide emerging—those for whom skipping the Sierra is a no-brainer, those who are waffling on the matter (and they are waffling HARD), and those who are absolutely confident they can't make the call until they're in it. In the mountains. In the Sierra. Staring the snow and the rivers in the face and having a come to Jesus moment. Push on, or turn around. I fall into camp three. I came out here to walk from Mexico to Canada, and I can't turn away from that until something looks me in the eye and I know my only option is to say to myself and to the trail
I cannot do this.
Which, consequently, is the single hardest call for me to make.
Talk at the spring gives me the impression that most of these hikers are in camp #1, with a few in camp #2. I respect the confidence to make a difficult decision (camp #1), and I expect most of those who are in camp two will default into camp one. We all have limits, and there cannot possibly be one single way to do this trail. We all came out here for so many different reasons, and a lot of folks may be able to get what they want out of the trail without continuous footsteps. In my heart, my conviction in choosing to move forward through the Sierra is that I cannot make the call to change my trajectory without going out there and seeing it for myself. It doesn't sound like something I would normally say, but, I need to go out there and commune with the mountains. To see if they will let me pass.
Sonya and Ben arrive at the spring after I've rested for about 20 minutes. Ben is running low on food, so I give him a few bars and make him a no-cook pizza, the most brilliant trail food recipe I've seen so far. Credit goes to Alex for the no-cook pizza. Tortilla, double-concentrated tomato paste (comes in a tube), parmesan cheese, garlic powder, olive oil, pepperoni, and some freeze-dried veggies. Ben has been living off way more protein powder than any stomach should attempt to digest, so I gave him some TUMS antacids as an appetizer. Lunch is followed by joining Sonya and Ben for their second nap of the day, adjusting positions every five minutes to stay in the warmth of the sun.
Water is still scarce in the desert, so the spring and its clean, ice-cold flow was a welcoming spot for afternoon break. The climb finally peaked a short ways after the spring, and we started following a creek with massive boulders and huge pines that nearly blocked out the sky. It is chilly in the shade, but the plentiful water means lighter packs and for that I am grateful.
Alex and I stop to fill bottles where the creek pools and a large boulder makes a good spot for collecting. We continue following the creek and I hear my name called out from somewhere in the woods. I'm looking everywhere, trying to figure out where this disembodied voice is coming from. Finally, I catch Sonya and Ben in the fading light, just across the creek cooking dinner. We hop a few rocks and chat for a bit, but Alex and I had planned to hike a bit further before setting up camp.
Soon after stopping, exhaustion hits me like a bag of cement dropping into my pack. I'm ready to be done, and if I don't get to stop soon my attitude will head south. Fast. Luckily, there are plush, flat, perfect tent spots everywhere. We make it no more than half a mile past Sonya and Ben and we are done, done, done.
I am so happy to take my pack of for the day, to be sleeping in such a beautiful place, and with water so close by. Oh, won't it be wonderful if the trail stays like this until Kennedy Meadows!