Hello from Wrightwood, California, and hot damn do I love this place!
After a supremely lame experience in Big Bear a week before, Wrightwood feels like a breath of fresh air and I’m glad to relax in a little town that welcomes and accommodates hikers so much.
As I’m writing this, Nikita (Indiana) and I are coming up on one full month of hiking the PCT. There have been some profound changes within us, more on par with the abilities of a thruhiker, and well worth what we’ve endured so far.
High Time for High Miles
Let me just explain how we got here. We strolled into Wrightwood no later than 5 pm, wrapping up 25 miles, most of which included a deliriously gradual 8,000 foot summit. Two weeks before, sitting halfway up a 20 mile, 5,000 foot ascent at 12 pm and feeling good to go for another 12 miles- that would have been entirely unfathomable. But yesterday, it was the most natural thing in the world, and we did it.
Finally, our miles are pushing into the upper limits of what they should be (to finish on time, that is). We can now pace through 20 miles and still have time to grind out a few more, and are advancing towards our goal of 25 miles per day. As we push into the Sierras in about a month, this mileage will decrease with the elevation, but shoot up as soon as we descend to flatter terrain.
It really is incredible what the human body is capable of, especially when under strong and unique forces.
100 Miles Isn’t So Long Anymore
Finishing up our 4th week, we completed a 100 mile stretch of trail, without ever stepping back into civilization. Of course, this was only possible with our mileage increasing, but we still spent 4 nights and 5 days on our own, walking miles and miles in the wilderness.
100 miles isn’t so long, but the trail still is. As this sign points out, almost a month of hiking has gotten us just under 400 miles closer to Canada, which is still 2,239 miles away.
2,239 doesn’t look all that different from 2,650.
Food. All the Time.
We are becoming hiking machines. And with all of those miles, comes increased need for fuel.
Just as our mileage slowly crept up, so did the hunger. So sneakily in fact, that we only realized how hungry we actually were until we spread out the contents of our food bag one day, and found that we had about 1 days worth of food for 2 days left of trail.
It boggled our minds. We had packed so much food, and it didn’t feel like we were eating that much!
This is called the “hiker hunger,” and it’s the sometimes ravenous, frequently bottomless hunger that comes with hiking all day, every day.
“Your Pack is Too Heavy”
It’s not, really.
In Mount Laguna, 40 miles into the trail, hikers were ditching and swapping gear like nobody’s business. We’d all gotten our first taste of what hiking for days was like, and as our bodies began to break, we were eager to shed any amount of weight to get some relief.
Nikita and I shed a combined 7 pounds of stuff, including our Kindles. At the time, it seemed stupid to think that we would have enough time and energy to read while on the trail, and as a non-essential item, a Kindle felt way too heavy to be hauling around.
Now, we’ve adjusted to our pack-carrying lifestyle and after staring at nothing but the trail ahead for weeks on end, some reading material isn’t too heavy. Not at all. We realized that the frenzy to shed weight was more of a panic, and we’ve shipped our Kindles back.
Though there are some parents and children hiking the trail together, I mean the more of the self-assembled variety. The experiences of the trail are so intense that they create strong bonds between hikers, who often form groups for large sections or the majority of the trail.
We formed our own group in the trail town of Idyllwild, splitting a small cabin that quickly became a tiny fraternity, and cementing the bond of trail friendship after a bizarre night in the casino town of Banning.
Leaving Big Bear, I was suddenly stricken with food poisoning and had to stay behind for an unexpected zero. Some of our group pushed ahead, some stayed behind, but as we hiked on for days without seeing them, or much of anyone, I was a tad distraught at the thought that I might not ever see my close friends of the past few days again.
Of course they were all there in the next town, but ya know…
What’s more romantic than not showering for days, surviving only on granola bars and sleeping in your own filth? Everything else, obviously, but just like the bonds of friendship, the bonds of uh… loveship also forge quickly along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Within the first 400 miles, we’ve already seen a few trail romances come and go. Turns out that spending long, often grueling days with someone will show you how well suited you are for each other.
As for us? Our romance is thriving. So far, the experience has strengthened our relationship, and the only quarrel we’ve had for the past 370+ miles has been because I got hangry after we tried to skip breakfast one day.
It’s no understatement to say that the trail is a relationship maker, breaker, and tester.
When you head to town to resupply, either grabbing your box from the post office or replenishing at the grocery store, you have the option to grab some freebies out of the “hiker boxes.” Local establishments in trail towns where hikers abound leave boxes full of discarded equipment, food and supplies from hikers who have passed through.
One of our trail friends is so deliberate about his hiker box resupply that he makes the rounds around town at least twice per day, snagging the best goods before anyone else can find them. One time he found an 8 pound bag of Epsom salts, and usually finds every kind of food just short of king sized candy bars.
So far, the hiker boxes have supplied us with a steady supply of free breakfast- oatmeal. Hikers are so tired of instant oatmeal that they ditch it whenever they have the chance. So far, almost every single morning has started with hiker box oatmeal. We tell ourselves all this free oatmeal is paying for our hotel room in town…
This is What It’s Really Like
As the novelty of life on the trail fades, some hikers have realized just how far 2,650 miles really is. That means people start to cheat a little, skipping some miles to make it to the nearest town, or hitching from one town to the next if they fear falling behind.
The trail has claimed some of it’s first victims: hikers unable to recover from painful injuries, or already run out of money (the #1 reason for quitting, I’m told).
If the trail were forgiving, it wouldn’t be such an amazing accomplishment.
We’re heading out tomorrow and pressing for 22+ mile days ahead. Wrightwood has been delightful, but Canada is calling.