Life has been complicated. With the end of the semester approaching and family issues keeping me away from home and on a bizarre schedule these days, I have not been training at all like I’d planned. I can feel it some days, and I can see it in the mirror most days. It’s frustrating, though I also recognize it’s an excuse: I could be fitting in more exercise if I made it a priority. It’s my normal response to a looming chunk of work (and little looms larger than this hike, though in the best of ways): avoid it most of the time, and fret about it fiercely the rest. At least in this case it’s a thrilling, exciting, hopeful giant chunk of effort ahead, so I’m far more positive about it than, say, grading research papers.
A few weeks ago, though, I did work in a few days of hiking.
Journey the First
The first of these trips was close to home. I was making my traditional journey to town and back, when I realized that every time I do this, I pass a deep valley on Forest Service land which I had never entered. Feeling uncharacteristically flexible, I turned onto the faded and rutted path that lead steeply down. It shadowed a creek on steep hillsides, often nearly disappearing, and then finally petered out within sight of Deep Creek. I have been on the lower end of Deep Creek, but have never seen this section I’ve lived next to for over a decade.
It was lovely, though clearly a hangout for folks who have no particular devotion to Leave No Trace philosophy. Interestingly, the roads and paths here seem to be from a much earlier era of the community’s development, with some signs of old waterworks. My shot at artistry came from taking a photo of the stark, aching remains of an old bicycle that had clearly burned and melted in our last fire.
Journey the Second
The much bigger training came a week later. In an attempt to discover the path I’ll take on my departure date, I set off from home in the early morning to scout the route. I did find an old forest road on my topo map and passed over Deep Creek once again on my way up to Green Valley Lake and from thence, the trail. I was a little surprised to find a private camp at the top of that road, so had to stealth my way across the grounds in my first act of PCT-related larceny. In my defense, I was looking to find an employee to ask if I could have permission to pass through; I just didn’t find one before I got to the main road. (I do know the organization that owns the camp, though, so I will be speaking with them before I begin the full trek. I am nothing if not a coward before the law.)
The path was long and winding, but it was kind of glorious to be taking a lengthy walk with my trail gear. I managed to get to the PCT and onto a section I’d done some years before. The area had been sweptby the fires of recent years, though, so much of what I remembered a towering pine forest was now mostly charred scree and some areas of haunting desolation. Signs of returning life were beginning to show, though: it seems that clearing out the forest floor allowed a kind of manzanita nursery to appear with explosions of olive green from the sandy ground, and the stark chimneys of scoured oak trunks were sporting collars of sapling sprays.
In all, I made approximately 25 miles, which is more than I intend to do on my first days on the trail by a chunk. I was certainly pretty worn by the time I arrived at my campsite, which was on a windswept plateau that used to be a copse of pines. I got my tent up and got inside just before dark, when a haunting moon rose over the distant hills.
It was an eerie night: with so little vegetation, the wind made no sound except the ruffle against the side of my tent, and there were no insects or other night creatures that could be heard. It was so bright that I kept waking throughout the night, each time thinking it was morning.
When morning did arrive, I discovered why experienced hikers tell you to start with lower miles. I felt okay to start, but once out on the trail my body would just not respond with the gusto I had the previous day. It was slow going, and by the time I climbed back up to a main road at around mile sixteen, I realized I could make it the rest of the way but wouldn’t be very happy for it. Thanks to cell phone technology, my wife came to ship me home.
In all, I was fairly pleased. Though I was beat that second day, I did not suffer any lasting ill effects the next; I kept my feet and the rest of me in good shape; my gear all worked well; and through all the emotional heights and valleys, I felt like I had gotten a fleeting glimpse of what may await.
I leave you with a short video clip I made on the morning of the second day. Forgive the sniffing from the nose of the cold hiker. For some reason, I thought turning about while I was filming would allow for some sense of my surroundings; I think it may induce vertigo instead, so watch at your own risk (for that, and so many reasons).