Miles: 28
Camping: Walker Pass Campground PCT mile 651.4
Hikers seen on trail: 0

They say that the Appalachian Trail is more physically challenging, where the PCT is more mentally challenging. Today, I really felt both my mental and physical limits were reached. The AT doesn’t have a desert section, the PCT’s rite of passage. I’ve given everything I can to embracing this desert, even romanticizing the experience. I love the early mornings with pink and purple skies, the early evenings just as the air begins to cool, cowboy camping under the starry nights, the diversity and tenacity of the desert life, finding water in unlikely places. These things are lovely parts of a much bigger whole.

The desert is harsh and inhospitable, pushing every button you have until you just want to give up. It’s like a bully on the playground; dumping sand in your shoes, then throwing it in your face, pushing you around with gusts of wind, poking you in unforgivable places with all sorts of spiny objects; taunting, teasing and tortuous at times. It is not for the feint of heart, and I’ve seen a fair share of hikers bow out in this section. I certainly considered leaving today, as we marched uphill in the soft sand against the wind for 2 miles. For the first time when I asked myself if I’d rather be somewhere else, the answer was a resounding, “Yes!” Anywhere that isn’t the desert. Anywhere that will not torture my poor feet any longer, burning blisters through the soles of my shoes. I still want to be hiking, but not here. I’m done with the desert and it’s agonizing waterless miles…but I’m not quite finished. My dues are almost paid, but there is still some miles to gain my rite of passage to the Sierra.

The mountains, they are welcoming. They roll out the lush pine needle carpet, trees wave hello and offer luxurious shade, rivers offer up a cold drink on a hot day, or a dip if you’re so inclined; mountains take you above the clouds, overlooking places like deserts and valleys, rivers and lakes. Yes, it will be a well deserved reward to arrive there in just a few days time. I will have passed the training ground of the PCT, and it will be a proud moment.

Today had a harsh beginning, but became more tame as it progressed. We hiked 2 miles uphill in that soft sand, against that bully wind to start off the day. My legs and butt protested each step, my feet cried in pain, “haven’t we been through enough?,” they seemed to implore. My mind was falling out of me, telling me to sit in the sand and wait for a helicopter ride. It was no way to start the day, and yet I kept climbing. I kept putting one foot in front of the other, sometimes wincing, occasionally cursing. Johnny was ahead of me, and whenever I looked forward to see where he was, he was higher up still, always above me in elevation. We just kept climbing. It was an eternity, and my shoes kept filling with sand. I’d stop to dump it, worried about my healing blisters, but it was always futile.

After climbing the hill of hell, we came upon a water cache. If it hadn’t been there, we would be in a 31 mile stretch without any water after climbing the hill of doom. To say I was appreciative would be an understatement. We stopped in the shade and I made a cup of coffee while eating my last trail bar. I tried to make light of the day, as I knew Johnny couldn’t have been any more pleased with the climb than I. We joked a little and then looked ahead to the 3.5 mile climb we were about to embark on. At least it wasn’t sandy, and there were trees up there. Trees. Shade.

It turned out to be an easy climb that sounded worse than it was. We gained a lot of elevation, but we are getting stronger every day, and it wasn’t climbing in the desert. It was climbing out of the desert. The second best part was arriving at the top with a view of the Sierra ahead. We took this in and walked easily for the rest of the day. There was no more climbing, plenty of shade and though we were running low on water, a light at the end of the tunnel. We were going to arrive at Walker Pass, where I would hitchhike to town, and Johnny would continue on to Kennedy Meadows. I’m about to lose another hiking partner, but I’m confident it will all work out.

Much to our surprise, with all of the flat shady walking, we felt strong enough to finish the 28 miles in one day. Initially, we were going to get within 8 miles and finish in the morning, but we decided to keep truckin. Not bad for 2 people who were laid up in a hotel just a few days ago. Not only did we kick butt today, but we arrived at the campground to trail magic! There were cold drinks, hard boiled eggs, cheese, apples, bagels, fresh green beans, chips, candies, and my personal favorite trail food: Peanut M&M’s! I decided to stay here and enjoy this with Johnny before we had to part ways tomorrow. It will be easier to get to town in the morning, and I won’t have to pay for a hotel. In and out, just to get errands done and eat a big breakfast. I will try to get back on trail tomorrow night, I don’t want to lose too much time here! I have a couple of boxes to pick up, and a few items to pick up at the larger market. Sadly, there will probably be no shower, which is a shame…these last few days in the desert have made me the dirtiest I’ve been in my life, but in a couple of days I can wash it away in the Kern River. In a couple of days, I can wash the desert off of me for good.