When I was on my recent overnight hike (I can’t really call it a backpacking trip, though technically I suppose it was since I did carry a backpack, and I did spend the night in the wilderness), I got so absolutely wiped out I could not take another step.
Although I’d planned to spend three nights on the trail, I managed only one night. I can’t feel bad about that — I did get to sleep alone far from civilization, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. And though I gave up, I didn’t give up. I mean I did halt my trek, but not because I couldn’t handle it mentally or emotionally. My body simply stopped working, and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it.
Because of this experience, I figured the impossible truly is impossible, and I was too tired when I returned to care other than feeling a brief sadness for the death of a dream. The dream originally was to hike the whole Pacific Crest Trail, but I’ve been whittling away at the dream, downsizing it to fit new realities as I discovered them (or as they discovered me). So, if the dream came down to that one night on the trail, well, that’s better than no night.
But here I am, already planning the next backpacking venture, trying to utilize what I learned on this first trek to make a second overnight trip feasible.
The section I want to do is only about eleven or twelve miles long, which just a couple of weeks ago I laughingly thought was too short, but it turns out that the last eight or more miles have to be done in one day because no dispersed camping is allowed in that area, and considering that I can only do about three miles a day, it’s just too much for me. But . . . I can do the first few miles, and if I turn around and head back the way I came, it would make for a respectable overnight trek.
I’ve done most of this section as a day hike, and don’t remember it being particularly difficult despite its uphill nature, but then, I wasn’t carrying much of anything except a small bottle of water and a few nuts for a snack.
(I bought a guide book to the Southern California section of the Pacific Crest Trail, and it’s been fun going through the book and piecing together all the day hikes I’ve done. At the time of the hikes, we carpooled and I never had any idea where I was. Carrying a heavy pack must make a vast difference. Those four miles on my overnight trek were almost impossible, and yet the day hikes I did were all about three or four miles, and I don’t remember any of them being inordinately difficult or exhausting.
One impetus to do this particular hike is that a massive development (16,000 houses, ten schools, two major shopping centers) will soon be built on an erstwhile ranch within sight of the Pacific Crest Trail. Not only will the site be an unsightly sight for hikers, but its 48,000 residents will certainly have an impact on the trail.
For sure, though, I will have to do a lot more backpacking practice to get strong enough. When you are walking on the side of a mountain, with slopes above and below, there are few places to stop and relax, so there really is not much to do on the trail except walk, pause to take in the views, and walk some more. And then there is the problem of carrying all that water, but since the section of the trail I want to do is easily accessible, I might be able to stash some water ahead of time so I don’t have to carry it all.
I also have to figure out what to do about food. I brought plenty, but although I did snack along the way, I could not force myself to eat more than a few bites at the end of the day. Part of the problem, I think, was no place and no way to sit except cross-legged, and that’s hard to do for any length of time. I’ve been researching backpacking chairs, but I’m not sure they are worth their weight, especially since weight is such an issue with me.
And I need to find a way to keep insects from me. I’d sprayed my pants with the insect repellent permethrin, but I still got a couple of sharp stings — from wasps, I think. And nothing kept away the gnats.
So, lots to think about (and do!) if I want to continue being a wander woman.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Unfinished, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.