Following the Return Creek crossing, the trail began a steep climb which required twenty-two switchbacks to get to the top of the Virginia Canyon Mountain, then it was on to Matterhorn Canyon and Benson Pass situated just below the ten-thousand-foot level. In all of this elevation gain and downhill descent, I just keep plodding along.
There are two separate entities making this hike – my physical body and my spiritual body. The spiritual body is who I really am, that’s where my intellect and personality reside. The physical body is just a lump of clay, that in and of itself will do nothing, but the two, for the period of mortality, are linked together. The physical body is a lazy bum, a couch potato. It would just as soon stand in a corner and hold up the wall.
The spiritual body is fully alive and alert, with energy to burn. It’s like Superman; it can leap tall buildings in a single bound. If it were free of the physical body, it could hike the trail forwards and backwards, crisscrossing the same ground numerous times, like a young dog without a hint of exhaustion. But it’s not free; it’s linked to the physical body, which has a shelf life, and as the physical body inches closer to the expiration date, it slows down, it falters, it loses vim, vigor and vitality, until one day, the mechanism stops working altogether.
The reality of this hike is that my physical body exhibits exhaustion; some days are better than others, but each day is hard. To get it to move, actually, to make it move, the spiritual me has to cajole, sweet talk, and persuade the physical body to move, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, regardless of how slow the movement is, just so long as the body keeps moving. The spiritual me has a running conversation with the physical me that goes something like this:
“You can make it to that next stick in the trail, that’s it, good boy, now go to the next big rock, good; you’ve made it this far, do you want to take a rest or keep pushing on?”
This conversation was never-ending; it extended over hundreds and hundreds of miles of trail, but it kept the physical body moving; that, and counting units of eight steps was how I hiked the PCT. Every uphill climb was a challenge, and I had to continually talk my physical body into doing what it didn’t want to do.
That in itself was a major accomplishment for this Pacific Crest Trail endeavor.
There were stream crossings in Matterhorn Canyon, Piute Creek, Kerrick Canyon, and Stubblefield Canyon. With each crossing, I noted how extremely difficult the ford would be if the water level in the stream were two feet higher.
The trail builders routed the trail through the bottom of Jack Main Canyon that followed beside Falls Creek, with a gradient that steadily moved upward towards Sonora Pass. Water was everywhere, in streams, lakes, and tarns, which ensured for a healthy population of pesky mosquitoes. I chose a campsite this evening on a windy ridge, right next to the trail, in hopes that the breeze coming down the canyon would keep the pests away from my campsite. It looked like rain tonight, so I erected my tent.
I’ve been on the trail two months now, have traveled almost a thousand miles, and was able to hike nineteen miles yesterday. I set out early this morning, but hadn’t gone a hundred feet when the rain started. At first it was just a smattering, then it became a drizzle. I had rain pants, but no rain jacket. In hopes of staying somewhat dry, I pulled my ground cloth out of my pack and wrapped it around my shoulders. The ground cloth was an old North Face ground tarp and must have been at least thirty years old. When new, it was probably waterproof, but now, it soaked up water like a cotton T-shirt.
I had only seen a few hikers in the past few days, Pia being one of them. She passed me this morning, and I noted that she was wet also, despite having a rain jacket, but no rain pants. It was not terribly cold, just miserable. There was no relief from the rain, no way to get dry, and the longer I walked, the more dejected I became.
Around noon, I found Pia sitting on the ground, huddled under her rain jacket, cooking oatmeal. When I questioned the appropriateness of her choices, considering the circumstances, she said she had promised herself that morning she was going to have hot oatmeal for breakfast, regardless of the weather, and she was keeping the promise to herself.
I envied her for having a rain jacket and a stove to cook with. They were creature comforts that I had chosen to go without, thinking the reduction in weight would outweigh the benefits, but those choices were made when the sun was shining and the weather was warm. If I were called upon to make those same choices now as I was experiencing the reality of the trail, those items would have been included in my pack.
We both knew we should quit walking, set up our tents and hunker down while waiting out the storm, but there’s something in a hiker’s ego that doesn’t want to admit defeat, even in the face of overwhelming odds. However, I told Pia that I would quit if she would, hoping that she would take the hint so that I didn’t look like a wimp for wanting to get out of the rain. I don’t remember what her response was, and I moved on.
Twenty minutes later, I knew the end of walking for the day had come. I searched for a flat place among the ground vegetation, found one, and quickly set up my tent. Once out of the rain, it was instant relief, but having a wet pack and wet clothes in the close confines of a small tent, was like bringing a wet dog into the front seat of your car with you; everything that wasn't wet, gets wet.
I placed my Z-foam pad on the tent floor, then covered it with my inflated NeoAir air mattress. Lastly, I pulled my down GoLite quilt out of its stuff bag, slipped it into the Titanium Goat bivy sack and place it on the air mattress. I removed my rain pants and wet synthetic North Face jacket, and then slipped into the warm comfort of my down quilt. I noted the time as 1:00 p.m. I slept for several hours; all the while, the rain kept falling in a steady drizzle. I stayed in my sleeping bag for the rest of the day and all night, and still the rain fell.
I awoke early, and even as I lay in my sleeping bag, I could still hear the rain falling. At eight in the morning, I searched among my scattered belongings for my satellite phone with the intent of placing a call to my friend in Salt Lake City, the fellow who had loaned me the phone, to ask him to search for a weather report for this part of California around Sonora Pass. The signal was weak, but amazingly I was able to make the call.
Russ answered, and I explain the situation to him. He said he would check and call me back. Twenty minutes later, the phone rang. It was Russ who said there were massive storm cells coming out of the Pacific and hitting up against the mountains, but the worst was over and I should be seeing blue sky by noon. I thanked him and signed off.