We stayed up late, the TV silent but flashing as our futures began to unfold. It was odd, ending up in town on election night; perhaps coming out of the woods a few days after, oblivious to the fact that Election Day had come and gone as days no longer had to be tracked, would’ve been preferable. But, instead, ourselves and our host stayed up until the stress of it, late hour and the miles of that day’s slack pack finally wore us down to sleep.
It feels too easy, these days. The miles fly by, augmented by fire closure after fire closure. The fires were no longer burning by this time, but on occasion sections were left closed for a few years after the fact to allow for relics to be reburied as the vegetation recovered and nature healed. We passed up the long, tedious road walks on narrow shoulders, unsafe at times, rarely fun. I ponder how I will handle the frequent and at times long, tedious road walks in New Zealand on the Te Araroa; I look at blogs, see this trail is not a wilderness experience with free camping everywhere like the American long distance trails. It will surely put me outside my comfort zone, as I knock on doors asking to set up a tent in backyards of what I have heard are very friendly kiwi strangers.
For now, in the desert of SoCal, I find the terrain easy while anything but flat. Mountain range after mountain range goes by, and the San Jacinto mountains boast the steepest, longest climb so far on the PCT quickly becoming my favorite, and a White-faced Woodpecker comes into view adding another Life Bird to the list. The wilderness is gone; we hitch into town nearly everyday for lunch, blinking wide-eyed at the simple, blaring In & Out Burger menu (3 choices) as people swirl around us, stark contrast from the heat and quiet of the chaparral mountains of moments before. Miles fly by, and now only 150miles remain.
The 500 missed in NorCal/ Oregon grate in the back of my mind, even though 2,300 miles have been walked, and the cries of SOSes and hikers being rescued in the areas I felt unsafe in reassures me that I made the right choice. At least one hiker (named Sherpa, but not my previous hiking partner) has been missing a month and is presumed dead. Nature is wild; bears and snakes are not the true threat, hypothermia and lightning rank far higher. I know I made the right choice, but I understand why others kept hiking on, even when they sometimes later had to press the ‘help’ button on their personal location devices.
And so I walk on in the deserted southern mountains, in beautiful 60s most days, walking 25-27miles even as we go into town and days fall short. The Mighty Kwen, my desert hiking partner, and I often hike into the pleasant or chilly evenings until 8pm, and I enjoy her chatty company in contrast to the days spent in relative silence with Mountain Do throughout the first 3 months. Different personalities and different experiences, each valued for its own way, but even as we rarely meet another hiker I feel less lonely these days. Perhaps it’s the more frequent town stops too, or how quickly time and miles fly by even as she and I drag our feet, headed to the border too quickly for our own agendas as we are unwilling to not hike satisfyingly distant days.
A trail angel in Idyllwild hosts us two nights, and I wonder how I’ll ever be able to repay what’s been given me by so many. My mind whirs with preparations for an entirely different kind of hike, and I scramble to buy myself extra shoes and any other gear I might need replaced, as I’m warned that prices- even post-currency exchange- are double to tripple in New Zealand. My current pair will have lasted me 1,300miles with only one insole replacement! The tread is nearly gone, but the shoe itself is fantastically intact. I wonder how many miles I might get out of the shoe…
And so, nervous and excited and so much more, I throw my few items predictably into their places within my backpack and prepare to hit the trail for the final week as a PCT thru-hiker potential.
At this moment, everything is full of potential…. I’m so not ready to be finished yet.