14.8 miles (534.9 to 549.7)
I’m camped in a wind farm. This close, wind turbines sound like a freeway. Wind gusts all night, though not nearly as strong as I anticipated (being in a wind farm), and for the most part I’m able to sleep through the night. I wake a little after 4am, contemplate getting up, convince myself I need more sleep, then wake again shortly before 6:00. I hike away at 7:00 without having seen any of the hikers I came in with last night. They’re probably asleep under the bridge. As of last night, they planned to hide from the sun all day and hike out tonight. I, on the other hand, am going to hike 6.6 miles to our next (and last) water source in Tylerhorse Canyon, and then I’m going to fall asleep in the shade. I’ll get going again this evening.
The hike to Tylerhorse is hot. I’m in a wind farm, but the breeze isn’t strong enough to rustle my umbrella. I use the umbrella the whole way. When I drop down to the creek, Martin is there brushing his teeth. I tell him I’m in search of shade. He tells me a hiker named Just Mike just walked up the canyon to pitch his tent for a nap. I set off up the canyon in search of shaded campsites. After a short scramble, a voice above says, “Hey, Martin!”
“It’s not Martin.”
I’ve seen Just Mike’s name in some of the tail registers, but this is our first meeting. He’s pitched his tent on a small shelf above the stream, as far under a live oak as he can get. He’s going to wait out the day here. I ask if there’s room for another. Possibly. I climb up and take a look. I manage to wedge my tent into an awkward position on the edge of a cliff. Good enough. I’m in shade, and flies can’t reach me. I go into such a deep sleep that when I wake, I think I’m dying. I fall asleep again, and the next time I wake I don’t panic.
By mid-afternoon, our tents are in the sun. Mike proposes moving into the channel itself. He’s right: there’s nowhere left to go to escape the sun. He drags his tent down. I juggle mine down without ripping anything. I go back inside and sleep hard for a full hour.
As we’re packing to leave, Just Mike finds coffee in his food bag. He decides to stay long enough to brew a cup. I leave at 5:40 carrying eight liters of water to get to Highway 58, 25 miles away. My pack doesn’t feel as heavy as it did the last time I carried eight liters. I must be getting stronger…or my body has become numb to pain.
As I round the first bend coming out of the canyon, I see two hikers a short distance ahead. They’re the same two hikers I leapfrogged with this morning on the way to Tylerhorse. Weird timing. I go a little farther out of the canyon and stop to photograph the view. Whoa. There’s a plume of smoke rising to the south. I walk a little farther and the plume grows. There’s definitely a wildfire to the south. It looks to be in the area through which I recently hiked. I hope everyone on the PCT is safe.
The trail climbs mildly for awhile, wrapping around the mountain, then it drops to the bottom of a dry canyon. At the bottom, I catch the two hikers, who’ve stopped for a break. I’ve seen them several times before but we’ve never said anything beyond hello to each other. Now we finally have a chance to talk. After a few sentences, the girl eyes my pack and asks how much water I’m carrying.
She’s carrying 1.5 liters. So is he.
“I have eight.”
They’re shocked. They’re counting on being able to fill up at the cache at the top of the upcoming 2,000 foot climb. I won’t rely on caches; I’ve already found one empty. I let them take off ahead of me. I’m carrying eight liters of water; I’m going to climb slowly.
Or not. Soon, I catch the two hikers on the switchbacks. As I pass, the gal says, “You’re killing it, even with all that weight.”
After a few minutes, I realize I’m killing it because of the weight: I’m drinking enough water. I always carry at least 30% more than anyone else, and look at me now. I stride up the mountain with ease, hardly aware of the weight. My body feels strong. I can go and go and go. And I do. After each switchback I pull farther away, until the two hikers are tiny figures down below. Wow. Is this my body? I hiked 34 miles yesterday, and tonight I’m flying up a mountain with eight liters on my back, leaving ultra-lighters in the dust? I’m shocked. I’m so proud of my body right now; it’s performing well above expectations. I’ve become the badass thru-hiker I’ve always wanted to be.
I climb and climb through a strange landscape. The slopes are steep and slashed with ATV tracks. Rutted paths are everywhere. Luckily the PCT is well marked at intersections. It would so easy to go astray here, especially after dark.
Dark is coming. I manage to reach the trail magic with its (fully stocked) water cache before enlisting the aid of my headlamp. I wanted to hike as far as possible tonight to make tomorrow’s trek easier, but here’s the problem: I’m alone. I’m alone in deer infested post-fire shrubbery, which means mountain lions live here, too, and I don’t want to run into one of those in the dark all by myself. I constantly swing my headlamp around, looking for eye shine. My light glints off a trail marker on the trunk of a conifer. I haven’t seen a trail marker on the trunk of a conifer since…section hiking in northern California? Briefly, I feel like I’m not so far from home.
Solo night hiking is not for me. If I had a companion, I could keep going. Instead, I reach a campsite listed in the app and set up my tent. Nearly 17 miles separate me from Highway 58. Tomorrow is going to be another long, hot day.
*More photos on Instagram.