PCT SOBO DAY 36 – the pressure is on

Tent site – big lake youth camp
29.2 miles. 3408ft up. 4517ft down

I went to sleep pretty fast but then I woke about 100 times. I was hungry. My legs were pulsing which kept waking me up, and the moon was like having a 1000 watt bulb shining into my tent. Someone turn off the moon. I’m trying to sleep!! 

And the wind. My goodness. It swirled around the tree tops which were dancing around outside my tent. Please don’t blow over. And the end of the wind would come down and whip through my tent, lifting the corners, trying to take it with it. Then the wind would loop back on itself, blowing the tent the other way and depositing a layer of dirt over the tent which then rained down, tinkling as it landed on my synthetic fibres. 

I am covered in dirt when I wake up. No one else is stirring when I pack up my stuff, but I’m up and gone by 6:10. It took me longer to pack away as I was trying to keep my tent from taking off in the wind. Last one in. First one out. 

I had a lot on my mind this morning. I had looked up places in Northern California and thought about which places I could skip if I needed to. 

Reasons to skip:
I never intended to thru-hike
I miss being with people 
I’m not sure this is fun
To relieve some of the time pressure 
To do the enjoyable bits. 

Reasons not to skip:
I will feel like a failure. 

That’s really what it all comes down to. I have put the pressure on myself to do a ‘thru-hike’. To get to the Sierra before Kennedy Meadows shuts down I have to hike 25.5 miles every day for the next 51 days straight. I can’t maintain that! I have done 4 30s in a row now and I hurt. And I’m tired. I’m walking along like a zombie this morning. All I want to do is shut my eyes. 

I move slowly. All of that is still going around my head. I feel weak. I’m moving at a round 2mph. I eat my cereal bar and my chocolate bar before 7am. I see the moon still out as the sun rises and see that it’s nearly a full moon. No wonder it’s bright. 

I stumble along slowly to Rockpile lake, it’s really windy all morning as I walk along a ridge with views of Mt Jefferson. The wind is gusting down the valley but somehow avoided the trail for the most part. It takes me 4 hours to do only 9 miles. 

I decide I need to eat something so I take a backpackers pantry meal and divide it in two in a ziplock. A tricky manoeuvre. I boil my water and then pack up and continue to walk while it takes its 20 minutes to ‘cook’. I get another mile in and I sit and eat my half serving of chipotle chicken pasta with added string cheese and Fritos. It’s pretty gross actually. I’m not keen on that brands meals. They try to make them too fancy. 
I carry on, feeling a little better, but also feeling a little worse. I feel sick. I think the hip belt is squeezing my food up. 

Then comes the burn area. Huge expanses of burnt trees. It’s exposed and rocky with a few blowdowns to negotiate. I start seeing some nobos. I had seen hardly anyone this morning but they start to steadily trickle by. As I climb up the other side the path is rocky and uneven but there is a nice gentle cooling wind which makes it ok. I am still around 6500ft so it’s not so hot up here. 

I’m walking along going over and over things in my head and a lady comes towards me. She is completely covered. The only bit of her I can see is her nose and mouth. ‘Are you heading to Campo’ she asks. Oh no, here we go I think. ‘Yep, I’m trying’ which has become my standard response. ‘Well I’m Donna Saufley, and we are open for southbounders this year’. 

The Saufleys are well known trail angels near Agua Dulce, around pct mile 450. Last year in 2015 they ‘retired’ after a very public argument with another well know big name from the trail. So the Saufley experience passed me by. She told me I was doing good and she had seen loads of southbounders, 5 of 6 just that morning. I told her I have calculated I need to do 25 miles every day to get there, and I have been doing 30s but I’m feeling it now. She told me to take care of myself and it’s not worth beating yourself up over. She looked me in the eye (well, I like to think she did. She had sunglasses on and it was hard to tell!) and she said ‘nothing is worth that’. Well that hit a nerve. I felt the sting of tears behind my eyes and a lump in my throat. She moved on and said ‘make sure you stop by, if I’m not home someone will be’. I managed to croak out a thank you before letting the tears silently fall. I only breathed out for a long time, too afraid of the noise I would make when I finally breathed in. I stood for a while and just let it all out in big sobs. I felt the tears making tracks down my dusty face. It’s better to let it out. 

 I sat in the shade for a bit. I am filthy! 

I finally neared the top of the climb, heading towards three fingered Jack and started the long descent down the other side. It got hotter and hotter as I descended through the burn. I get cell service for the first time in a few days, I stopped to send a few messages out to people. It was my Dads birthday and I wanted to make sure I spoke to him, but I somehow managed to confuse the time difference and I thought they were 8 hours behind me where in reality they are 8 hours ahead. 

I see that I’ve wasted a load of time on my phone and try and get a bit of a move on. There might be trail magic at Santiem Pass. The trail twists and turns and the temperature rises. It must be around 95° when I finally hit the road. No magic to be found. Just a box with trash in. ‘Help yourself’ no thanks, I think I’ll leave it. 

I still have 6 miles to get to big lake youth camp. I have been hearing good things about it from all the nobos so I am looking forward to it. But I need to sit in the shade, just for a bit. I take my shoes off and remove the trail from inside my shoes. Almost the whole day has been walking on dirtsand. My shoes, socks and in-between my toes are filled with it. Also my nose, mouth and lungs are coated but there isn’t so much I can do about that. I change my socks and eat a few Cheetos and cookies. 
Some girls come and chat to me and tell me they spent the day at BLYC and they sell cold Gatorade there. That’s all the encouragement I need to get going. I’m so dehydrated and so thirsty (I had one wee at 10am and that’s it for the day) I can almost feel the Gatorage going down my throat. 

I try and walk as quick as I can. I give my dad a call and realise my mistake as he tells me it’s 1am. Oops. The sand makes it tough going, but I’m powering along and I miss the turning, so I have to backtrack a little. The .8 trial to the camp is deep sand and a lot of horse shit. But I eventually make it there at 6:30

I’m directed to a half finished cabin where they let the hikers hang out. Chairs, charging, hiker boxes. The other hikers tell me dinner is about to be over and I should run if I want any. So after my 29 mile day I run for my dinner. Anything is possible when you don’t have that stupid pack on your back. 

It’s soup. Soup. Not quite the hearty filling meal I had imagined, but when beefed up with bread and cheese it was ok. I drank water but I still didn’t drink enough. 

I chatted with a nobo hiker called Slide who told me I would be running into the herd now. 

I headed back to the hiker cabin, grabbed a towel, found a dribble of body wash in the hiker box and took a shower. It was so nice to get rid of all that dust. A section hiker called Spoons offered to go to the store for me to get a Gatorade after he heard me moaning about how far away it was (well, I thought it was far away but it really wasn’t). There is also a SOBO girl there – Riley – who started a week before me. I’m hunting them down! 

We aren’t allowed to camp near the families so we are directed down to the lake where we can pitch our tents on the sand. It’s a shame we can’t just camp in the cabin but them’s the rules. 

The lake is beautiful and we watch the setting sun. There are about 7 other hikers around. 

My legs are zinging, to the point I’m finding it difficult to concentrate on writing this. I’m not setting my alarm tomorrow. I’m staying for breakfast. And I’m not doing 30 miles tomorrow. 


I’m walking thousands of miles for Just A Drop because everyone should have access to clean water. Donate here.


8 thoughts on “PCT SOBO DAY 36 – the pressure is on

  1. Donna sounds like a smart woman. The trail doesn’t care if you hike all of it or part of it, if you hike 10 miles a day or 30. You are a trail rock star in many peoples book not just because you hiked the trail last year (and then came back this year!) but because of the human you are. Take care and Happy belated Birthday to your dad.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A girl on another blog I followed made a point of never setting her alarm. She let her body have the rest it needed and ended up waking at a reasonable time anyhow. The waking was just not as abrupt. Might be worth a try.
    If you wake a little later than that will maybe force you into 25 milers instead of 30milers – which might not be so bad.
    My max is around 30km so your 30miles is just astonishing day in day out.
    One more thing – a highlights tour of the pct sounds like a heap of fun! I guess it depends on what you want your story to be.


  3. Nice picture on the lake shore. I didn’t like that spot for camping, but there you, that’s their rules.

    Thanks for sharing your doubts about what you are doing, and the pros and Cons of skipping. Been there done that, but it is part of the journey too. No Trail God is recording success and/or failure of your decisions. Whatever you end up doing is fine. It is more than most, and almost always less than some personal objective. Part of being human is never being satisfied with what you do. Skip as much as you need to be comfortable. There is NO failure there. 🙂


  4. Donna is a wise woman and really cares about you. Even if she doesn’t really know you….yet. 😀
    Enjoy your hike, it will all work out. Transcend your thoughts of logic and failure and just try to enjoy each moment. Of course that’s easier said than done, especially when one is tired, hungry and thirsty. Take care of yourself like you are somebody else. Nurture yourself a little Puff Puff. Happy Trails.


  5. JUST ME is right – there is no failure here. Plans change, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Sometimes things just don’t go as planned so you zig and zag and before you know it – there’s a new plan. This is a good thing, it shows your tenacity. It’s all amazing and incredible this thing you are doing. Whether or not you finish or change things up – it’s all good and we love your story. Please go easy on yourself and lighten up on that self induced pressure. It’s taking all of your fun out of what you’re doing. Donna is a wise woman and TJMARK gives good advice with, “nurture yourself a little.” You’re amazing, Alex, no matter how things change. From beginning to end you get to write this story.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You are not a failure!! You are amazing, an inspiration and a fabulous woman! You didn’t choose to do this to fill your head with doubt and loathing! You’re free, hiking the wilderness, so free that mind Alex and start seeing yourself through our eyes! Love you xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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