Fears are irrational impediments. Your mind convinces you that something dire could happen at any moment, regardless of any statistical evidence to contradict it. Hi, my name is Rachel. I’m afraid of dying by falling tree, lighting strike, avalanche, and earthquake—to name just a few ways. (continued on day 31)
24- After one last breakfast at The Grizzly Bear Cafe, we stand out on the main road to get a hitch back to the trail. A nice vacationing couple picks us up, and it turns out the lady lives and works in Everett, where I live.
25 – At around mile 308 there are some hot springs. The place is an attraction for locals. Clothing is optional. (From the PCT Water Report): “The Hot Springs pools of Deep Creek contain a rare and sometimes fatal disease called Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis…it is advisable not to submerge your head. Due to the large number of visitors…(high) Fecal Coliform counts are found in the hot springs. ” In other words, a brain-eating amoeba lives here, and could infect a person through their nose. Shade and I, as science-concerned people, worry and debate about this in the miles leading up to it. I’m hesitant to enter the pools, but end up taking a quick dip.
As we are laying in the sun, Tallboy points out that pizza can be ordered at the next highway crossing. With this on our minds, we book it there, powering through some hot miles.
Upon arrival to the highway, however, I find a dejected group sitting by the road. The pizza place is about ten miles away Witt only one delivery driver, and they are too slammed to send us pizza. We decide to Uber there instead. We head into what I assumed are the outskirts of Hesperia, CA. The pizza place has maroon carpeting, someone over 60 working the counter wearing heavy eyeliner, is a little run down, and smells funny. We end up each ordering a large pizza, and in about a half hour every slice is gone.
26 – It’s very hot. Most of the group has planned on meeting at a picnic area near the lake.
I catch up with Colleen near the lake and we chat a bit to distract ourselves from the heat. We finally make it to the spot. So many hikers are there, and they’ve ordered pizza, this time delivery actually works. A Swiss hiker passes out Bud Light to everyone. Even though we had pizza last night, I drum up excitement and we order a few more to share. We hike 10 more miles after consuming pizza. The only word that comes to mind is: indigestion.
27 – There’s a McDonald’s 0.3 miles away from the trail. It’s pretty famous. A whole congregation of hikers are here when I arrive. It’s both amusing and chaotic. I realize that this must be “the bubble”– basically a large group that forms because of the amount of people starting their hike in late April and early May. The goal is to escape the bubble by out-hiking it. I squeeze into a table. Families are coming through and a little boy goes “What smells?”
I eat a ton. Even “health nuts” are gorging themselves. Fast food has never tasted so good. I order a sundae, two strawberry pies, a filet-o-fish with two filets, a large fry, and then go back for another sundae and a small fry. Most of our group leaves but a few of us decide to stay at the hotel.
28 It’s so hot out. We eat at Del Taco and decide to night hike. Soon after we start out, I end up getting way ahead of the others. The trail is going up in elevation, heading into foothills. Soon I’m alone and I start to get a little paranoid. I’m passing through another burn area. The blackened, bare trees don’t give a comforting feeling. My headlamp is very dim. I bought it secondhand and it doesn’t charge well. I keep turning around to look and listen–for the others’ headlamps and voices, and for any animals that might be lurking. All is silent and dark. I assume the other have set up camp far behind. I prepare to camp alone. The creepiest thoughts come into my head and my mind begins to play tricks on me. I think about why my mind is doing this and try to reason with myself. I don’t have much cell service, but I text the others and tell them what mile I’m at. It turn out they aren’t far behind. I set down my pack on the slope near the trail and wait. I have 4G service here and am able to open the Amazon app and order a new headlamp and some calf sleeves since my shin has been bothering me. The others come around the corner and we sit, figuring out where to camp via the map. During this time, I nervously eat half a family-sized bag of Chex Mix, crunching in the dark.
29- We wake up late and the sun is beating down. I take some photos and do a little yoga. The goal is to get into Wrightwood tonight, where Twerk has rented and airbnb and where we’ll throw a party. Nirvana and Karma are returning from LA and it’s Karma’s birthday. I hike far ahead, with podcasts to power me. I recently discovered podcasts and my current favorites include Radiolab and My Favorite Murder, a true crime show hosted by two women from LA.
I get to the turn-off trail that descends 1200 feet over two miles into Wrightwood. I’m about a half-hour down when a member of the group texts me, and I realize just how far ahead of them I am. I am feeling incredibly energetic and hike back up the mountain to the turn-off to wait for them.
The party is a success.
30- Twerk and I walk down to the store and get ingredients to cook pancake breakfast for sixteen. It’s many of our one-month trail anniversaries. We pack up, run a few errands, hitch out, and hike one mile into camp.
31 – 20 miles -This morning, a tree fell near our camp. The chance that a tree will fall on me is one of my bigger fears. I knew this prior to beginning my hike. It has been on my mind nearly every day. I know it’s irrational. My body doesn’t.
I’d dreamt last night that I was running during a lightning storm and had been struck by lightning.
The crack and crash of the tree falling causes my body to go into fight or flight mode, and I spend another hour in my tent, calming down. The control emotions can have is frustrating. The tree that fell this morning is the second tree that has fallen nearby on the PCT.
I go on to hike 20 miles overall, climbing up to the peak of Mount Baden-Powell, down, then up again near the peak of Mount Williamson, before defending back to 5693′.
Justin and I have been a little further behind the group and see Tarantino down the mountain, walking a switchback. We yell at him. He looks up. “I fell. I didn’t die. So that’s cool.” I can tell he’s a bit shaken, even form this distance. He’s limping a little. I catch up to him. “I just want to get off this mountain.” It turns out he slipped and fell about 20 feet. His ankle is a little messed up. He’s afraid of heights, and has told me before that this hike is a way of facing that fear. I can only offer my empathy and tell him about the tree that fell and kept me useless in my tent this morning. I talk with Justin later. He too had a fear of heights, which he overcame by jumping out of planes in the military.
I’ve been mulling over ways in which I could face my tree-falling fear, and part of the answer will a few days later
32 – I wake and being packing. The mosquitoes are a bit ruthless. The day’s miles begin on a road. There’s a detour in place to avoid a rare frog during mating season. 8 miles go by quickly, and the crew stop in the shade of a new-ish, but locked public? cabin around 10:30. We can’t believe how fast we’ve gone thismorning in comparison to yesterday’s intense climbs.
I sit in the sun, then put head phones in and lay down, enjoying a moment spent sitting instead of walking or preparing something. Nirvana excitedly announces that there is a resteraunt within walking distance at the next highway crossing. It seems like nearly every day is a town-food opportunity lately. Since all we talk about is food and cold Pepsi, we will unashamedly take all any chance we get for real food. At the highway crossing, we start down the road aways. Only then do I check the map and read that it’s closed on Tuesdays. Nirvana comes running down the road soon after, to break the same news and spare us from disappointment. Most of us forgive him.
We end up climbing to a gorgeous spot as the sun sets to set up camp. It’s pretty windy all night.
33- 25 miles – I wake before 6 as a consequence of drinking a liter of water before bed. I sneak out of my tent and grab my camera from my pack. The light is golden dawn beauty. I come over the crest of a hill and spot this low cloud cover, a backdrop to standing and fallen dead trees– from a forest fire. I’m on edge in this area. The trees exude impending doom. Regardless, I decide to go in and get quite a few shots. It’s here I realize that this is a way I can face my fear. I can decide to enter burn areas for photography. It’s a conscious effort this way. It’s beyond passively hiking through burn areas simply because the trail meanders through them. It’s actively stepping off-trail and walking amongst things I fear will kill me at any moment.
We make it to the fire station area and have trouble locating the water marked on the map. I finally walk up the road to the building itself, and some firefighters going through a drill outside direct me to their water spigot. From here, the trail climbs up an unwelcome hill, gaining 1200 feet. Along this stretch is so much poodle dog bush (a plant causing rashes similar to or worse thank poison oak) that I have to consciously step around it. I keep reminding myself not to get too lost in my podcasts because when I do my steps can get carelessly I enter another burn area. At the enterance there is an infographic with a tree cracking in half: “Burn area: Trees can fall at any time”. I continue and stop for a moment, only to look up and see this: