Friday, March 20, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 38: Pancakes, Mosquitoes, and Uranium in the Water

DAY 38
June 1st, Sunday
651.3 to 670ish

We woke up early the next morning, but we didn’t get an early start. Yogi was up again, fixing another batch of pancakes— and this time there was real butter for spreading on them. Zach and I ate pancakes and wondered how we were ever going to leave with such good food and good conversation to keep us in the vortex. All the other hikers were pretty quiet that morning, most of them severely hung over, and blinking as if the light hurt their eyes. One of them had four neat little puncture wounds on his cheek where he had face-planted into a fork. Still, everyone chatted over breakfast, trying to think up any excuse to stay just a bit longer.

It took us two hours to scrape together our things, and finally, with heavy feet, we set out for the trail. The Walker Pass trail magic dwindled to a little blue pavilion in the distance. Then, with a sigh, we left it behind. It was the last official trail magic we got for a long time.

We crossed the highway— there was no need to hitchhike to any town now!— and climbed up a mountain out of Walker Pass. At the crest of the hill, we found that we had cell phone reception and called home. While I was on the phone, I got bit on the shin by an ant. It hurt as bad as a wasp sting! Over the next week or so, it swelled up and left a huge red spot on my leg, making me worry if it had gotten infected. After that, I started stuffing the legs of my pants into my socks all the time.

It was a huge plunge down the other side of the mountain, winding toward a valley, almost a crevice, filled with deciduous trees. We were looking for a spring, called Joshua Tree Spring, which was reported to have uranium in the water. I was hoping for a warning sign so I could take a dramatic photo.

There were no warning signs, just a clear spring being piped into a trough. Tracks sat next to it, sitting cross-legged with his legs tucked up under his kilt. We also saw Prospector and Chop Chop, who we hadn’t seen since the Saufleys. We all chatted for a while, swapping stories about Tehachapi (everyone had great stories from that friendly town, although no one could top ours). 

Zach and I filled our water bottles, and I washed our socks. Washing socks is arduous, especially when you can’t do it in the trough. I just had to fill a water bottle and shake the water over the socks to clean them out. It didn’t work very well— instead of dry and dirty, they were now wet and dirty. Once again I thought of the Sierra, and dreamed of free-flowing water sources where I didn’t have to worry about hikers after us who’d be dipping water out of the trough.

One quarter done!
After a while, we went back to the trail, climbing out of the valley and winding along mountains, dipping in and out of deciduous-laden nooks, sometimes with trickles of water, sometimes not. We headed up one last climb— according to Tracks’s PCT app, there were a few campsites at the top of the hill. Chop Chop cheered us on as they passed.

When we reached the top of the hill, we found a spring, as promised— but it was stuck in a fold of the mountain, with not a flat spot in sight. We had passed the campsites about a mile back, all the way down the hill.

Zach scouted backward down the trail and I started filtering water from the stream, suddenly noticing a little creature that hadn’t bothered us much since the start of the trail: mosquitoes. I swatted them away, sweaty and tired. As I was filtered, Paja walked up, still determinedly wearing flip-flops. “Leftovers!” he called out warmly. He was in a pinch for a campsite, too, but he could fit into a smaller space.

Zach returned, saying that he’d found a possible spot a few tenths of a mile back. Grumpy and sweaty and swatting away mosquitoes, I followed him. We scrambled down a hill to a sandy slope. It was all we had without backtracking a full mile. We got out our head nets, and I set up the tent while Zach cooked chicken and pasta. This area looked like bear country to me, but we still ate inside our tent, watching the hungry mosquitoes poking their proboscises through the mesh. 

The slope we were camped on was awful. It felt like we were sliding off our pads all night long, and getting out took considerable force of will. While organizing our gear, I tipped over backward, crashing onto Zach’s leg, which caused him to cry out in pain and me to have a minor breakdown. “Everything is just so hard!” I sobbed. I thought about my normal life, with a stovetop for cooking, and a table for eating at. A bed I didn’t have to set up every night and tear down every morning. A washer and dryer for dirty socks. And not having to worry about bears. It was so easy, so simple. If someone had extolled the beautiful simplicity of the trail at that moment, I’m pretty sure I would’ve socked them.

Feeling grumpy (and also feeling guilty for feeling grumpy after having such awesome trail magic), Zach and I laid down on our sloped bed and tried, with limited success, to sleep.



  1. OMG I do love this blog. One question? How do you keep it up? I have never seen anything like this. I am doing all this vicariously through your postings.
    Thanks so much.

    1. Thanks so much, Jhon! I'm glad you like it. :) It's been a solid year since my husband and I set out on our journey, and six months since we returned, so I've had a lot of time to mull things over. I take my journal entries from trail (usually only a few lines long) and cross-reference them with my photos, our trail maps, and my memories, trying to make the most accurate picture possible. I'm still in the process of writing the memoir— not even halfway done! But I'm glad that I get to share what I've written so far.

  2. It's as if I'm enduring all these hardships and the grueling life of a thru-hiker. The blessings of the trail angels seems to be quickly forgotten amidst the reality of your arduous journey. How do you keep on keeping on????

  3. You are doing a great job of remembering your experience. I'm glad I am getting to read it.