Breathing, Chanting, and Ma-king Pro-gress
June 16, 2017
Mile 722 to Mile 743
Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike: Day 42
Woke up to morning mosquitos, a first even for a Minnesotan. Never experienced so many before so much as a hint of twilight. Had to go to the bathroom with diligence to avoid getting eaten alive (butt bites, only better than ankle or toe bites!). The campsite was beautiful, with a big boulder to climb up for a panoramic view. There are boulders for shelter, with plenty of flat places between to put tents. For all the snow we’re expecting, there are only small patches here and there. As the group woke up, we gathered around to have breakfast, and at 6 am Justin began his ice axe instruction. I drank homemade hot chocolate (cacao powder, coconut cream powder, honey, hot water), then added oatmeal for frothy chocolate-oatmeal. Delicious! The meeting put me heading out later than I’d hoped for a 22-mile day, but it ended well.
The hiking started by winding up and down through massive, strikingly colored sequoias. It’s my first time seeing them on trail (that I know of), and their reddish-brown-striped bark practically glows against the gray gravelly ground. Now that we’ve climbed to elevation, there is an upside and a downside. The upside is that we’re already at elevation, so we don’t need to climb to it anymore. That means fewer ups and downs. The trail is still up and down today, but much milder, and I am tired but keeping pace. The downside is that I am hit by elevation, hard. There are a couple effects of this. The first is dry mouth, and as my platypus is basically incompatible with this backpack, I’m having a hard time getting enough water. The second, fitness on the downhill and flat ground feels normal—great, even. But the instant there is any kind of uphill grade, I can’t breathe. That’s not true. I can breathe, but somehow no matter how deeply I breathe, I just can’t seem to get enough oxygen. My muscles aren’t tired in the least, I just can’t get enough air. Of course this is a function of being at elevation, there is less oxygen up here, but it doesn’t make it any less perplexing to experience. Cruising, feeling great, then like getting the wind knocked out of me. Realizing the trail is heading for the most mild uphill. Madison tells me it shouldn’t take long to adjust, but I am frustrated because I don’t feel tired, I just can’t make my body do what my brain is telling it to do.
We have a coffee break in a part of trail covered in huge boulders that offer a wide selection of nooks and crannies to nestle into, and it turns out we stopped just short of the rest of the family, so we pause after our break to say hello for a minute and move on. Alex is sticking close by me even though our paces are quite different, I expect he is sensitive to keeping me from feeling abandoned.
We refill water from a flooded meadow and I realize the mosquitos haven’t been bad, which must be a function of the elevation. We haven’t used bug spray today (nobody has any) and since leaving camp I haven’t noticed mosquitos. Funny how they brought me within inches of a nervous breakdown yesterday, and today I barely notice they’ve gone.
The meadow is vibrant with spring life, and the water, even though it is essentially bog water, is clear and cool and flowing. We fill a liter and keep making progress. I tell Alex about my chant that keeps me going when trail gets hard. It's like this, to the beat of footsteps:
Ma-king pro-gress, Ma-king Pro-gress, Ma-king Pro-gress, FOR-ward Progress!
Over and over again. When I feel like I’m getting nowhere, I chant this over and over again in my head. It helps me focus on the repetition of the chant instead of the repetition of placing one foot in front of the other, and when I fall out of the rhythm, I’ve made progress without even noticing it!
We’ve been climbing for some time, and the sun is warm. Beautiful. Snow has been rare today, but when we pass a big pile that’s melting we stop for a break. It's our first experience drinking snow-melt water. It’s heavenly. Shockingly cold and crisp. Sitting, soaking up the sun, an air force jet shoots across the sky. Alex gets little-kid excited. There are more, and we try to catch them but they’re so fast that by the time the sound hits your ear the jet is nearly out of sight. He remembers that the air force does training flights over the Sierra Nevada. Strange to be in the silent wilderness and have a sonic boom explode out of the sky. One sure-fire way to give a meditative hiker a heart attack.
One mile short of the 22-mile group goal we hear a whistle, and it’s Ben, calling out to us! The group has stopped early in a big campsite and I am grateful: the next few miles ahead are uphill and I notice because I’ve just had the wind knocked out of me. As we set down our packs to join the family, there is a conversation about blowing through the Sierra and hating every moment of it. Instead of another 22-mile day tomorrow, we’ll do 17.6 miles, just past Rock Creek (our first big crossing). The next day hike to and up/down Whitney, the day after do our big day of three creek crossings (Wright, Wallace & Tyndall). We’ll slack pack up Whitney (8 miles up, 8 miles down) and Fox will watch our stuff. The same day we’ll hike up to the 3 creeks so we can cross them overnight when they’re low. I make a mental note that Colten is unnaturally silent on the proposed changes to the mileage. He is a fast hiker and likely not struggling to make the miles. No, I don’t know what he’s thinking, but if I were in his shoes I wouldn’t want to sign up for a pace change that I don’t need and probably didn’t plan enough food for. In contrast, I am desperate for some leniency in miles and thrilled that I’m not the only one.
It’s the second night hanging a bear bag and hiding bear canisters. It’s the first time I taped up my foot before getting a blister, instead of after. First time collecting drinking water directly from a pile of snow as it melted. We had service today and don’t know when we will again, so Alex called his dad, and I left mine a message for Father’s Day. We spent the evening talking about Nacho’s (Phil’s) food truck and ideas for different types of nachos he could serve out of it. Silver Fox is adamant that if Nacho wants to make any money he should stay away from the food industry, but we’re practicing idealism out here in the wilderness, and in the land of idealism, a nacho truck isn’t born to make money. I am so engrossed in the food truck conversation (primarily with Phil and Sam) that Alex patiently sets up the entire tent and hangs the bear bag with Chris while I’m completely distracted by the idea of imagining and discussing different kinds of nachos. So, so patient with me.
I’m looking forward to the relaxed itinerary, Chicken Spring Lake, and my first major creek crossing tomorrow!