Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Day 39 : What's A Spanish Needle, Anyway?

38 miles today
1990 miles to go

Awake before the sun, again. The wind has been blowing all night. It sounds like two teenagers are pounding my tent on both sides with swimming pool noodles. The adolescent wind is fickle and moody fighting back and forth. I am at the top of a ridge overlooking the desert I hiked through yesterday. Like an eagle perched on a cliff. The ridge is sharp and jutting up into the air . Hot desert wind argues with the relatively cooler air from somewhere else. The buffeting and banging continues into morning. Well, my morning. It's still dark as I heat water under the front vestibule flaps of my tent. The cheery blue glow from under and around the windscreen is my only light. I sit in the dark eating dehydrated apricots and granola. I am warm and filled with anticipation of the prospects of the day.

I pack quickly in the pre-morning dim light. It's not even light enough for colors beyond blue. A thin watery blue barely brushes the only blackness. It's only visible in the east. Once my gear is out of my tent it billows and roils like a living being struggling to be free of the rocks I have tethered it to. There is no way that I am going to be able to pack it like I normally do. It would simply blow of the cliff and decorate some cactus down there in the desert. I start at a single corner and remove the boulder I clutch the tent as close to my body as I can as I slowly remove the other boulders one at a time. Rolling the tent into a non-aerodynamic ball as I can. Guy lines streaming from my arms like stray pieces of spaghetti. Whipping my face and arms like a two-year old toddler wanting to be free of my grasp. I stuff it into its bag. Trapped, no longer able to interact with the wind it lays still and docilely allows itself to be attached to my pack. 

The trail is mostly downhill today. From my aerie on the roof of the world I descend to the world of mortals. From almost seven thousand feet I descend to around five thousand feet at the Walker pass campground. Will Braveheart be there? Will she have gotten all her resupply stuff done and Ridgecrest? What if she's not there? How do I know if she hasn't hiked on or is still in town? She doesn't like filling out trail registers so there are no clues there. Thoughts and questions swirl in my mind as rapidly as my steps follow each other down the path. Down, down, down, the trail is smooth and at an easy pitch. It's morning so my right knee hasn't started complaining the way it does after I start to become fatigued. I move quickly covering lots of ground. Throughout the morning I walk over and along ridges, through forests and across opened burned out areas. I follow a jeep trail for a while. Jeep trails often have high banked turns and require a lot of work to keep crossing the road to the ‘easy’ side, trying to stay off the slippery slope of the high side. I finally reach the ridge above Walker pass and can look down towards a tiny ribbon of blacktop snaking through the ridges below. Trucks and cars follow it slowly over its meandering path. It looks deserty down there. Will I ever get past the desert? Did all of California turn into desert? I follow the path down plagued by tiny flies that buzz right in front of my eyes. I invent cool devices that would zap them from the air, unfortunately the devices are only in my mind and do nothing to deter the real flies landing on my cheeks and ears. The only thing I've found the works is to wave all the fingers of both hands independently in front of my face. Like my face has invisible piano keys jutting from it and I am Mozart. I'm sure I look perfectly silly walking down the trail waving at myself with both hands. Eventually my arms tire and the flies come back. Maybe they are just sitting on top of my hat laughing and saying, “just wait, he’ll get tired.”

A good mornings work. Down from the heights and into the dusty Walker Pass campground. It looks desolate, a couple in clean clothes and brand new backpacks. Other than that, oh wait. An Izuzu truck I've seen before. A blue plate confirms it. Coppertone is here! I remove my pack and sit down in one of his comfy chairs under his shade tarp. Coppertone is an angel, I think. This if the fourth time I've seen his truck, the fourth time I've experienced his generosity. I am the only hiker here. It's ten thirty in the morning. I hiked nonstop and completed seventeen miles. I slowly eat a banana. “Would you like a float?” “Sure!” I have a cream soda float. The best ever! I eat a half of a blueberry muffin. “Have you seen Braveheart?” I ask. “She left yesterday. Came back three times. Forgot stuff, sunglasses I think, and her charger.” My heart sank. Missed her again. Now what? That was my big plan, if you could call it a plan. Where is the next water? Spanish Needle Creek, nineteen miles. That was supposed to be tomorrow's hike. We'd hike there together. She'd know how much water to bring. 

Sometimes decisions are made without enough thinking and planning. I just did seventeen miles, how hard could nineteen be? Coppertone gives me three and a half liters of clean drinkable water so I don't have to use any of my, more precious by the day, Aqua Mira. I sure hope I have more in my box in Kennedy Meadows. So a total of four and a half liters, that should be enough to get to Spanish Needle Creek. The water report says the third crossing of the creek is ‘spring fed’. So I decide that is my best bet. Nineteen miles, no problem. I'll catch up to Braveheart there. If she left yesterday that's where she'll be. If I can travel at the same pace that I did earlier today it's a little over six hours. Five pm, plenty of time to setup camp and cook dinner before dark.

Big difference leaving at eleven am versus five am. It's hot! The trail goes up, no shade. Steep switchbacks. I'm already tired, whether I'll admit it or not, from the first seventeen miles. My knee almost immediately begins to complain. I climb as fast as I can. The sun is merciless, blazing. The breeze at the pass does away as I turn north around the hill I'm climbing. The air is still and dense. Closing in around me. My clothes are soaked with sweat but there isn't a breeze to make it feel cool. I'm sweating more water than I have to replace it. Still I climb, up, up. The ridge above has trees on it. Will I ever make it there? Switchbacks back and forth across this exposed rocky, sandy waste. Higher and higher I go. I pass some myster line and a slight breeze brings immediate cooling relief. I try to conserve water but I'm so thirsty. It's going way to fast. My right knee is twining and twanging in protest. I pause in the shade of a campsite. A incredibly dirty Thru-hiker is curled up under a tree with his umbrella. My umbrella has a problem and isn't functioning properly. I try using it anyway. It is cooler but it drapes across my head in a floppy sort of way. Other hikers zip past me travel on twice as fast. I'll never make at this speed. I don't want to injure me knee so I'm walking slower and more gingerly. I come to another campsite. I need rest. I lay flat in the dust beneath a tree. It's so hot. I take of my shoes and socks. I lose track of time. I am so much more comfortable now than I was. Comfort is such a relative thing. Laying in the dirt with bugs flying around, leaves with poky edges sticking my feet where they touch the ground. I imagine a blueberry banana smoothie, how good would that be right now. Or even simply ice water. I should be drinking more but I don't want to run out. I've gone maybe eight miles? Still eleven miles to go? I wearily put my shoes and socks back on and stand to my feet. This is so hard. I lift my pack and put it on. I take a small swig of water and start walking.

I am finally in the trees. I am a lot higher up than the pass. It's still hot. I'm still climbing. My right knee is still complaining. I think the pain in my knee is more exhausting than anything else. I try going back to my zombie walk. The pain disappears. Well that's an improvement. I walk faster, zombie style, I can do this. The trail goes around the east edge of a mountain. A plague designates it as Mt Jenkins, I think. I think the designer of the PCT have a flair for the dramatic, or maybe it's just the stunning locations it passes through cant help but be dramatic. I slowly round the edge of the mountain above the searing barren desert and there to the north is a brilliantly white mountain of granite. A clear indication that the desert will soon, must soon, give way to the soaring granite of the high Sierra. My path continues to turn and I head west, drop over a saddle and I am back in the hot dry grassy oaks. Like hiking through the foothills where I live. Sharp rocks, stickers on every plant. Poor shade all I want is a drink, an ice cold lemonade on ice, I'd settle for a warm sip from my platypus container, but I don't dare, well maybe a small sip. Down the hill, it's hotter still, and no breeze. When you see pictures of the PCT you never see pictures of here. 

It's late afternoon the trail drags on and on forever. There is no end. Spanish Needle creek, if it exists will be in one of these ravines. The trail winds in and out of tree choked ravines. Too many trees to be able to see if there is water. There isn't. Half mile app says four more miles. My delusions tell me it's this one, nope. At least in the trees I'm out of the direct sun, but there is no breeze. Then a step over the dry dusty boulders at the bottom of the ravine and a climb back out of the trees into the sun where the oven door is open and blows dry moisture sucking air intermittently. I'm so dehydrated that I'm no longer sweating enough to keep my shirt moist. I feel like I'm wearing dry cardboard clothes. Another ravine, another disappointment. Suddenly the trail breaks out of the ravine and rushes down the hill, over a small knoll and begins climbing way steeper than anything so far. Way to steep for late in the afternoon on the sunny side of a hill in the middle of no where. The sand sifts through the mesh on the tops of my shoes and fills in between my toes and in any other empty spaces in my shoes. Still I climb. Dust from my steps filters up from behind and settles on me, my face feels gritty and hot. I reach the top and look down into a deeper valley that the one I just left. Deeper hotter drier. Mental torture, except that I volunteered for this. I stop, take off my pack and dig through it. I find my Cytomax that is my dinner drink, it replenishes electrolytes. I use half my remaining water to make a small amount of warm electrolyte replenishing liquid. It's gone too soon. I stuff everything back into my pack and begin down. Switchbacks and more switchbacks, no ravines to tempt and disappoint. Just straight forward back and forth no nonsense kind. Down most of the way and then a sharp turn to the right and off to the ravine beckoning from the lengthening shadows of early evening. I turn down into the shade, and the trees, surely this is the, nope. Another dry dusty wash. When will this nightmare end? Maybe it's a nightmare and I'm only sleeping. I'll wake up walk down to the kitchen and get an ice cold glass of ice water. Except I can't wake up. All I can do is take another step. More ravines, more disappointments. The entire valley is in the shade, the sun has set down here, below the steep mountain to the west, I turn into yet another ravine reaching the bottom there isn't dry dust. There is mud! And bright green foliage, and about a million mosquito hawks. A tiny puddle too small to put my water bottle into taunts me from the side of the trail. Spanish Needle Creek. I contemplate where the name came from. Something from the Spanish Inquisition? This is the first crossing. The water report says there are four crossings and the third is the best. 

I walk another half mile. A half mile gets longer the later in the day you walk it. I arrive finally after a long walk out and about on a switchback. It's slightly cooler. There are some thru-hikers camping here and the second crossing. “Is there water?” I croak out. “Yes, up this little path about three hundred feet.” So I walk pack and all up the path scrambling over branches and roots to a tiny trickle of water in the mud. Someone had cutoff and stuck the top half of a water bottle and the water flowed through it like a spout. If you carefully set your water bottle beneath it you could get a liter in about five minutes. There was a line. I wait and wait finally get about a liter. Something inside said, “this isn't even the best one, move on.” So I did. Exhausted and with a single liter of water I move on another six tenths of a mile. Up a hill, past happy Thru-hikers sitting and talking, camp already setup. I'm slowly moving up the hill. Another sixth tenths of a mile and it's almost dark. There is no one here. I am able to get another four liters in a few minutes. The problem now is I have no way to purify it without dipping into my last drops of Aqua Mira. I am thirsty, but to be able to drink as soon as possible would require me to use five drops on three quarters of a liter. If instead I put the same five drops in three liters I would need to wait over an hour. I decide to put the drops into both three liter containers. I will have five liters of drinkable water in a few hours. I have no where to camp and it's getting darker by the minute. I study my map and find that there is a campsite in four more miles. Four miles all uphill. I need to drink something, I'm desperately thirsty. At least the sun has set. I dig through my pack and pull out two Starbucks Caffe Mocha Via packets. I can't drink plain hot water, but if it was a large mocha maybe I can do it. I could cool it with the remaining six ounces of clean water that I have. So I boil about three quarters of a liter and make a giant caffe mocha. While the water is heating I pull out my headlamp. I am sitting in the dark with a red light on my head drinking a mocha. I closed my eyes and pretended that I was relaxing at a Starbucks. I pull out my last handful of nut mix and choke it down. Maybe that will provide enough energy to make it to camp. 

I pack away my cooking gear, switch my light to white and start climbing into the darkness. Away from the laughing voices and into the stillness and quiet. The trail switchbacks up and up one side of the trail is a wall, a steep hillside. The other side, well there isn't another side. It drops away into darkness. I think about how long it would take for me to be found if I slipped off the edge. I remember my Spot and think, “at least they'd know where to look.” Once I slipped, my foot rolling on a roundish rock. I caught myself with my right leg as I listened to the rock roll on and on down the hill in the blackness. It is a warm night, I am sweating my shirt is soaked. A slight breeze wafts by every now and again. All I know is a narrow white beam of existence through a steep and treacherous path. How long I walk I don't know, just focus on the next step. Will I walk all night? What if the sun never comes up. On and on until the trail levels. I seem to be traversing across the top but it's too dark and I'm to tired to care. 

In the darkness before me is a small beacon. A white beam in the darkness is moving slightly. A Thru-hiker is adjusting some gear while sitting up in his sleeping bag. I am so happy to see another person. It is mentally challenging to hike to your limits, it's even more difficult when you're utterly alone. “Is this the campsite?” I ask. He puts his finger to his lips and points. There on the ground in every direction are what appear to be giant colored sausages. Thru-hikers in their sleeping bags dot the landscape. I wander amongst them. I don't see Braveheart’s tent, finding her is secondary to getting some rest. For the first time I cowboy camp and become a snot green sausage among the others. I lay in my sleeping bag looking up at the vastness of space. Stars twinkle and there are no clouds to be seen. The breezes can be heard in some distant trees. All here is silent, except for the snores of some. I am safe, warm, completely and utterly spent. I am so glad to be here and be alive.


  1. That was insane! I hope you were able to walk the next day. Be careful out there... :)