I have been on the trail for 20 days and covered 380 miles. I have taken 3 zero days (days where in I do not progress on the PCT) and a few days around 10 miles, known has a nero day (near zero). My average mileage is between 23 and 30 miles a day, which seems to be a comfortable pace for me. I begin my days early, around 6:30 am and end around dusk: 7:30 pm. When I walk, I maintain a brisk pace of 2.5 to 3.5 mph. I take at least 3 longer breaks to eat large meals and several smaller breaks to deal with water and foot needs. Day in and day out, this is how my days go: make my miles, fuel my body, sleep and recover. It is a simple life that I truly enjoy, but sometimes things get interesting.
Several days after leaving Agua Dulce and making my way around another closed section of trail (because of poisonous plants) and over Pacifico mountain, I found myself near Sulfur springs. I camped in a flat space just big enough for my tent, surrounded by thorny bushes on all sides. This camp spot set the stage for the events of the next morning. The small, cleared and enclosed section of ground seemed to be this way for a reason. The entrance to the area also had many large branches lying on the ground, as if someone had propped the branches up to complete the 360-degree barrier. Barrier from what? The only thing that made sense was that this must be mountain lion territory. I slept well despite the evidence that there may be something out there.
I awoke early and quickly packed my gear and moved down the trail without cooking my morning oatmeal. As I entered the bottom of the valley and moved along Sulfur Springs, I began to get a weird sense that I was being watched. At first, I thought it might be Bonanza, a hiker from North Carolina I had met the day before. He is the only other south-bounder I have seen so far. I turned around and he was not anywhere to be seen. Then I began to hear odd noises - huffing, grumbling, grunting and maybe even footsteps. Now it was early, and I may have hallucinated all this, but I think I was stalked by a cougar for almost a mile that morning. I walked calmly, occasionally stopping and facing the direction of my "hallucinations", then moved on until I felt there was no longer a potential predator by my side. My suspicions were confirmed later that day when I met some trail runners who told me the area was well known for being cougar territory.
The first 200 miles were very quiet - an occasional north-bound hiker, but for the most part I saw very few people. However, in the past 150 miles I have begun to see more and more north-bound hikers (up to 20 a day). I have talked to some. Most say they are headed to Canada, and most have trail names. A trail name is typically a name given to a hiker by other hikers that describes something unusual or interesting about the person. Here are some of the names I’ve heard so far: Acorn, Coach, SWICK, Bonanza, Woodchuck, Medicine Man, Troll and my favorite - Ninja Tank. I’ve even met trail celebrities such as Halfmile and Deb (the creators of the free Halfmile PCT maps), Ziggy and Bear and Donna “L-Rod” Saufley. Typically, explanations of how the name was earned are not offered. But none the less, it adds another interesting layer to the PCT adventure.
There are 3 main questions that north-bounders seem to have for me:
1. How is the water up ahead?
2. How about the snakes?
3. Why am I headed south?
1. The water has not been much of an issue. There are a couple of stretches around 20 miles where there are no natural water sources and hikers need to carry enough to get through.
2. I have only seen the one rattlesnake and a couple of harmless garter/bush snakes.
3. I like the feeling of being more alone when going southbound. The solitude during the first 200 miles was just what I needed. Even with more people on the trail now, it is still nice to maintain my own pace and not get stuck within the rhythm of the "herd" of hikers.
Only around 160 miles to Mexico. Then, I don't know. I may get back on the trail in Mojave or Kennedy Meadows up north or head back to Washington and begin preparing for the big hike with Anna this summer.
I enjoy my time on the trail in the wilderness the most and am glad for the opportunity to do some solo hiking this spring. I am constantly entertained by the wildlife and plants I encounter. It is easy to fall into the natural rhythms - waking with the birds in the morning, taking rests in the shade during the heat of the day, and going to sleep as soon as it is dark in the evening.
I also enjoy hiking with good friends like Anna. When I’m alone I have plenty of time to think, but when hiking with friends I have opportunities to share thoughts, ideas, and gain perspective that I may have otherwise missed on my own. No matter alone or with good hiking friends, the trail never fails to be an inspirational experience for all.
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