Captain's Log: An Honest Midway Assessment

July 22, 2015
Hot, sunny & dusty on trail
A crisp 67F in the Best Western's Eagle Suite, Chester CA

Status: pooped, yet content 

I'm not gonna sugar coat this: hiking this trail has easily been the least glamorous and most challenging task that I've ever voluntarily chosen to undertake. It is fucking hard hiking 20+ miles every day. Sure, it's just walking, but the enormous ups and downs and the mental doldrums are often maddening. 

Andy has been listening to a constant stream of audio books and nerdy podcasts. Meanwhile I've been shuffling between New Orleans Funk Vol. 2, the Motown mix my brother made me, various Putamayo collections (Brazil and Africa are my favs) and some Les Claypool, White Stripes, and Rage Against the Machine for those long uphill slogs. The Talking Heads are also ideal for a high energy boost, sans aggression. Dylan & the Band or Robert Johnson are reserved for downhill jaunts. And of course the Dead and Railroad Earth are good anytime.

We are tired. We admit it. 

It would be so easy to just quit and be done with it all. Day hikers we keep crossing paths with inquire with awe, "Would you do it again?" Nah. This is our once in a lifetime chance to nail this thing. This is our mission and we chose to accept it.

But this isn't all sunshine rainbows, except that it actually is.

We recently passed through Beldontown on the Monday morning after a festival had ravaged the town, surrounded by the hung over aftermath. Oddly enough, this scene provided a glimmer of normalcy amongst my otherwise very nature-centric summer. We found ourselves borrowing some inflatable rafts that were littered about the riverside and floated for a while in the Feather River beside the still bedazzled crowd, watching the crew disassemble stages and installations. Ah, to be amongst the company of people other than hikers! Beardless boys and accessorized girls!

All the boys on the trail look the same: white early thirty-somethings, long and disheveled beards, tattooed, short running shorts, thick muscled thighs, filthy, stoned as hell. They've probably hiked the AT. They probably ate weed cookies for breakfast and washed them down with Fireball. They'll probably hike more miles than you, too. They night hike with headlamps and cowboy camp without tents. 

The 5000 ft climb over the course of fifteen miles out of Beldon was a nasty bit of trail. It was a hellish, humid and grueling experience that lasted two days. Towards the top there were lots of downed trees and clambering over them took every ounce of strength you could muster.

Pre-Tahoe we had been averaging 17-19 miles/day. Now we're up to 20-25 miles/day. This may seem like a small difference in miles to you but, trust me, you feel it. Emotionally and in your butt muscles. We are working our way up to 25-30 mile days in Oregon. We have only just reached our halfway mile marker today. Only 1325 miles to go til Canada.

And for our next trick: we will complete the same amount of miles in just half the time. We want to get to Canada by mid-September. We are attempting to achieve this by upping our mileage and desperately trying to resist the allure of motel beds and hot springs.

The last few quirky little "towns" that we've passed through have been bizarre and useless, at best. Sierra City, Buck's Lake and Beldon were "hiker friendly" and sold burgers and milkshakes but their "general stores" mostly consisted of a variety of canned seafood items and expired bagged cereal. I waited over an hour at the Beldon Lodge & Bar for a slimy plate of iceberg lettuce with no dressing and a smattering of mandarin oranges. The Buck's Lake Motel was a total dump with shag carpet, a bedspread and curtains that were darkened yellow with age, and cobwebs with dead bugs in every corner. The room also boldly sported a tip jar for the housekeepers and a handwritten note encouraging you to enjoy your stay. There wasn't even a fitted sheet on the mattress.

The other upcoming Northern California towns of Chester, Mt. Shasta and Etna seem more promising. After all, Etna used to be named "Rough and Ready" in the 1800s. And Chester allegedly has the best milkshake on the whole trail.

We've met hikers named Dutchess, Gum Ball, Skeeter Bite, Daytripper, Sarge, Stump, Bucket, Fancypants, Pot, Lid, Mason Jar, Half Time, Double Time, Mr. Noodles, the Better Half, Fixie, Stop Watch, several Shaggys, Serenade, FM, Butt Plug, Blueberry, Raspberry, Grapefruit, Burgundy, Giggles, 2nd Lunch, Lucky, Lint, Justa, the Count, Rattles, Nomad, Sherpa, Dream Catcher, Meta, the Optimist, Thunder Bunny, Nutella, Simba, Ox, Cat Whacker, Prospector, Pine Stick, Wallaby, Wall Street, Snow White, Starfish, Aunt Jemima, Sando, Franklinstein, Fly Balls, Cosmic Bubbles, Zappa, Dollywood, Starboard, Good Time Grant, Steady Eddy, Llama, Bender, Take it or Leave It, Gush the Lush and his dog Beast, Let's Party and her dog Bottoms Up, Zoolander, Hedgehog, Treeman, Secret, Toolbox, Papa Smurf, the Doobie Brothers, Rally, Squatchie, Honey Bear, Kale, Square, Professor, Salt, Pepper, Glide, and two Shenanigans (male and female). Our friendly bubble we had been hiking in for a while has burst, with mostly everyone we once knew ahead of us and a few stragglers in the rear (after our week long Tahoe stint, we lost 'em all). Some friends have "gotten off trail," which is a fancy way of saying they quit. So we make new friends, and there are plenty to be had.

Some good old PCT folklore for you: legend has it that a hiker named Aqua Dump is defecating in all the water sources. And he's hiking just ahead of you...

A word to the wise: if you like to do something, I wouldn't recommend forcing yourself to do that thing every day for ten to twelve hours a day for five or six months. You may just start to resent it.

But we're already mentally planning our trip to Spain to hike Camino de Santiago, so we're clearly not too resentful towards hiking.

When I do get really sick of walking every day, all damn day, I just think of my mom-- who has MS and is stuck in a wheelchair-- and how much more it would suck to NOT be able to walk every day, all damn day. "Inspiration, move me brightly."

"Hiking is fun, hiking is fun," we remind ourselves; this is our mantra. After all, anyone should be so lucky to just be walking in the woods all day eating Snickers bars with no responsibilities other than to do just that. It's the American Dream. 

Sometimes I feel like a shepherds boy in a Paulo Cohelo book, repeatedly stabbing the dusty earth with my single hiking pole, my imaginary herd bleating encouraging words all around me. 

I was going to write more about the landscape: the volcanic "meatball" rocks clinging to the mountainsides south of Tahoe, looking as though they'd tumbled down the earth while wet, collecting everything in their path, all lumped together and multicolored and uncomfortable. About the Sequoia trees that sprout up between rocks in unlikely places, sharp dressed and doing their best broccoli impression. About the burnt and skinny tooth pick tree trunks that nonchalantly lean against the live trees, looking like pulled taffy. The white and withered ghost pines, nothing but skeletons with bared rib cages beckoning you in for a hug and secretly begging to get struck by lightning. The out of control wild flowers. The macerated tree guts that are spilled all over the forest ground, impossibly loud and crunchy beneath the hooves of deer grazing in the moonlight. The thick, looming trunks that are clothed in striped electric moss sweaters. But I'll spare you the woodsy details. More about the beautiful agony that is the Pacific Crest Trail. 

While the walking does become borderline tortuous at times, the landscape and all of its glory is still a joy, most of the time. The warm, still, silent nights beneath the stars in our open air tent and the ongoing treasure hunt for swimming holes are still entirely rewarding. So we walk on. 

The PCT: it is our ball and chain. And our baby. People ask if we've found "that intimacy" with the trail yet. Some goofy lady hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail babbled on about how hiking the PCT "gets rid of all your problems." I snickered and muttered cynical remarks to Andy as we walked away from her but... the PCT, like many things, is probably a very transformative experience. But you can't realize those experiences to their full capacity while you're having them. In hindsight, months or years from now, surely we will look back at our accomplishment with pride and wonder. But now, in the present, we're mostly just looking forward to the next shower. 
3 responses
Allison- you are a remarkable person to continue on. In addition, a brilliant writer- thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and adventure with us- very much appreciated Beth
Allison- I am a friend of your Dads- and have enjoyed hearing of your adventures over the years, especially told thru your Dads version( if you know what I mean ) --- however reading about this adventure does not compare to any other--- I laugh, I cringe, I laugh again , I admire your courage, and cheer on your strength -- this journey MUST go into print as it is a great read! Keep going missy-- there is light at the end of that long tunnel-- and so very very easy for me to say as I lounge in the comfort of my home in air conditioning, sipping on a mojito, listening to music and nursing this teeny tiny little paper cut that I am certain hurts just as bad as all the blisters I am imaging on your feet! Good luck and keep writing! Roxi
Incredible. Wow. Seriously. Inspired.