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Hey peeps! I have to apologize for the delay with my posting. A few weeks ago I wrapped up the desert section and moved into a more isolated and mountainous part of the trail where service and resupplies are much further apart and limited. My plan is to make this post about finishing the desert and talking about some topics people asked about, and then have another post about my time in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. I'm actually now officially onto the Northern California section, and just crossed over the halfway point (whoop whoop). So here is my wrap up on the desert section and talking about the things I have learned that really prepared me for the later sections of the trail.
Bathing situation Bird bath, when you get showers, what do I wipe my ass with Let's get this straight - hikers are gross. After the first few days out here, everyone really gives up on manners, cleanliness, and looking good. Some people REALLY don't care about hygiene, others are really clean out here. I would guess I'm somewhere in the middle: I try not to let it get too bad, but I'm not wiping my body down every night either. When I had athletes foot (update: things have cleared up :) ) I was wiping my feet down each night so I could put on my foot cream, otherwise that was about the only cleaning I was doing each night. When off trail, like in a town, you are usually looking for a shower as a top priority since you only get them every few days and not every town has a shower. I was able to get one in most of the town stops and overnights in town, and once from a nice Acton KOA that involved a shower beer. If you count them, there were maybe only 5-7 different showers in the first 700 miles. Another good option since towns are tough to get to - the bird bath. Find a nice stream, lake, or large body of water and take a dip. It does more than you think and if the water isn't too cold you can scrub a little. I've only had maybe 2 of those, but this is the desert where water is scarce.
More stuff about poop... Because you asked for it So you're probably wondering what I wipe my butt with, and heck maybe the whole process? Well it's usually toilet paper, and involves digging a lot of holes. I actually use a double system of wiping and using a bidet to help keep things clean. My "bidet" just consists of a cap to a smart water bottle that I cut a hole in the side of. Also for those that don't know, there's a common practice for pooping in the woods: 1.Find a location far away from any tent sites or common areas, usually while you're hiking is good since you're less likely to overcrowd an area with too many...users. 2.Dig a cathole at least 6-8 inches deep to keep it away from animals digging it up. 3.poop, wipe, bidet. The trick here is to get it done without destroying your leg muscles in a squatting position. 4.Use a stick to make sure tp is mixed within the poop and add a little dirt so it biodegrades well. This isn't super necessary but makes me feel better about leaving trash out in nature even if it grosses you out to make a poop stew. 5.Fill hole and either place a rock on top or mark with an x with two sticks so it won't be dug up by someone else by accident. BAM now you know how to poop in the woods. Not as complicated as you think actually.
Dangerous animals - rattlesnakes In terms of wildlife I was most nervous about the desert. It's the most different from Michigan and I know the least about how to handle those encounters. Really the only "dangerous" things people talk about in the first 700 miles are dehydration, desert people, and rattlesnakes. Desert people are definitely more scary. The heat, it really does things to people's brains and they can get weeeeeird. My first encounter with a snake - I actually almost stepped on his head until I saw him and did a comical skid stop, and threw sand into his face in doing so. He didn't mind it and slithered away a few minutes later. There was another time where I didn't see it until it was a foot from my leg and when I did see him, I did a funny dance down a hill yelling "nope nope nope." I think the key thing with the snakes is to just keep your eyes and ears on the trail and be ready to stop if needed. Also: if you're listening to something only use one earbud in case you catch the rattle or hissing before getting in striking range.
Who I am hiking with, matching pace, groups vs solos Since about a week or so in, I've been making really good pace, probably faster than a majority of hikers. I would estimate somewhere in the top 25% range. That means that I end up passing a lot of people and making it hard to really create a group. Also making a group later in the trail is tough because most of the people are either solo or already have a group. Luckily I have been teamed up with Cleopatra from WA for a good chunk of the trail. The main thing that sparked the friendship is just that she also hikes about 20-25 miles a day and is totally cool taking space when either of us want it. There's no pressure for us to hike together and we established that early to make sure we could bail anytime we wanted. So, sometimes we split up, sometimes we plan our days out and stick close together. We also have hiked with some others since early on, like Beep Beep from France, Patches who is a ski patrol, Beans, and Graceland. We all started around the same time, and we all hike around that same pace therefore that's how our little group formed. The best part is that you will go days without seeing each other and somehow end up in towns together and back to best friends again. We all actually ended up in Kennedy Meadows(the 700 mark and end of the desert) together which meant many pitchers of beer and a lot of stories to tell. I think the best thing to understand about making friends and groups is that time on trail is not equal to time in "real life". Hiking for a week with someone is like 3 months in normal time. You can tell if you like people within 10 minutes, and can be best buds after 10 miles. It makes no sense and makes it really easy to make a lot of friends. Cleo and I have hiked probably 1000 miles together and are practically brother and sister at this point. Also to add - in my opinion the best strategy is stay relatively solo and try hopping into different groups every few days. You get to meet a lot of people and have new interactions all the time, but if you're fast enough you can move on when the time is right. I'm still figuring out the group dynamics but I'm trying to get what I really want out of my hike.
To add some fun gossip, we came across a larger group of about 15 people and stuck with them for a few days. From the sidelines we tried to get as much details and dirt as we could, until it was all spilled to us at a random picnic table in the desert. Turns out there's about 3 different hookups going on within the group, enough to the point where everyone hates one of the couples because they bicker a lot and then have a "make up" in the tent later on. Big yikes. They actually make them camp far away from the group because of it. I really don't get how people hook up on trail, we can't figure out how it works with how dirty we are and then the complexity of having other friends as well. I'll have to get some more gossip and details and update later on. Admittedly the gossip is my guilty pleasure out here.
My current pace I think one of the most amazing lessons of the trail is learning what your body is capable of. For me, doing a 20 mile day in the first week was amazing. And then continuing to do that, well I just didn't expect it at all. I'm pacing SO much faster than I anticipated, probably somewhere around a week and a half ahead of my itinerary. For most of the desert I have been able to average about 20 miles a day, which is usually the goal for me. I'm surprised at how much I have developed and how much my body can accomplish. Sometimes I do feel a little pressure to slow down to enjoy the trail more, but there's another part of me that likes to push myself, and likes the idea of finishing sooner. I'm really loving it out here but there's a drive inside that really fuels me sometimes. It's hard to explain but most hikers have the itch and I'm one of them for sure. We will see how things develop as I move into some better sections of trail.
The conditions of the trail and change in scenery going into the Sierras The 150 mile stretch before Kennedy Meadows was definitely one of the most grueling sections of the entire desert. The terrain has gotten more hilly and mountainous, but the dryness of the desert has not let up. Natural water sources are very limited to maybe every 40 miles, so people have left caches of large jugs of water at certain roads where you cross, basically out of the goodness of their hearts. Any time you have long water carries, you are adding a lot of weight to your pack. It wasn't until the day I walked into Kennedy Meadows that I started to see the terrain change, with more trees, water, and actual green grass. As easy as it is to hate certain parts of this trail, I love how much the terrain changes from day to day, hour by hour. A very dry and sandy morning can turn into a lovely descent into a rolling valley with trees and a nice breeze. This is another part of that trail magic I talked about. Like life, sometimes the trail provides you with a gift and you have to be willing to accept it and cherish it when it does.
Aqueduct, Tehachapi, and the windmills The last stretch of the desert to get to the Sierra Nevada Mt range was a very challenging stretch of hiking. Not only did it turn into the driest section we have seen, but the resupplies for food also became the most difficult. One of those challenges was the LA aqueduct you have to hike over. It's a large, very flat, exposed area about 25 miles long from one side of the valley to the other. I ended up choosing the strategy most hikers chose: doing it at night. We left from this trashy/unique stop called hiker town at 7pm and hiked until about 1:30am, getting to the next water source. The best part was that we all covered ourselves in glow sticks and made a dancing glow parade out of it. In all it was probably 35 "spirits" walking in the middle of nowhere dancing with only glow sticks as a light source. Truly one of the more unique experiences you'd only get while thru hiking.
After that, I finally took my first zero in Tehachapi. A full day in a hotel to just do nothing but rest and eat. It was magical. Not only did I get a fix on all the tv and world news that I'd been missing, but I was also able to rest my legs after such a hot stretch. We also were able to meet with a lot of other hikers and interact with people in town. Something else I'm finding to be a lot of fun. A cool note about Tehachapi - there are a LOT of windmills in this section of trail and it's super interesting. For miles you get to walk under these tall giants and just listen to the "whooshing" that they make. Surprising, soothing and impressive. I was actually more impressed with this area than I thought I would be.
It's time to move on I'll admit, most of the hikers who get through the first 700 miles are happy to be moving on from it. For me, it was a little bittersweet. Hiking in the desert isn't something I'm used to or have experienced very much of. A lot of it was a new and exciting experience that taught me so much. I think it could end up being a more uncomfortable experience and with that it gives you more to learn and grow. Without having to deal with such a grueling and dry section the PCT wouldn't be complete. This trail after all is a combination of many biomes and terrains that creates an experience unlike any other. I'm immensely proud of myself for getting through it, and getting through it with a positive outlook for that matter. When we move on to the Sierras we have so many foundations to build on because of what I learned in Southern California.