Torture by Trail (PCT)
Bottom line: Adversity need not prevent us from continuing our journey.
I've learned that nature heals. The solitude of the great outdoors, colorful vistas of the world we inhabit, encounters with other living beings (including people), camaraderie with friends (in this case Bob N.), all help me maintain a healthier perspective and gratitude.
Though can be challenged by nature, a benefit in itself, nature doesn't judge, criticize or nag. When in nature, without "the noise" from other people, I can be who I want. I can sort through what is "mine," what is not, and determine who I want to be.
"Torture by Trail" highlights my alter ego's, Prim8 (pronounced primate), hike adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican Border to Cabazon near Palm Springs, some two hundred miles.
Author, aka Prim8, on the left and Bob N., aka Dr. Bobo, on the right at the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail before Prim8 begins his northward journey.
Mid-2017- Advancing one step at a time, from Mile Zero at the Mexican Border near Campo, CA, Prim8 focused on the immediate obstacles on the trail, dismissed thoughts about the distance ahead, and how many problems he may face before he arrived at Idyllwild.
The cloudless sky and shoulder-high shrubs provided no shield from the persistent sun, while the rocks reflected heat and the temperature climbed to ninety-plus degrees F. A fellow traveler, ahead of Prim8, startled a rattlesnake and gave warning. Prim8 thereafter avoided plugging both ears as he listened to his MP3 music player.
Numerous lizards and an occasional rabbit scurried away as Prim8 navigated the winding trail that paid little heed to compass direction.
Feet fatigued, with a blister on each foot, while several small toenails had adopted a purple-black hue, Prim8 reached Lake Morena his first day, twenty miles from the border. His right knee complained of abuse from the excessive and continuous elevation gain and loss.
Prim8 realized that his pace would be impossible to maintain. Thereafter, he would act on common sense and cover distances of fourteen miles-per-day . . . some days of eight-to-ten, more than sufficient progress to warrant satisfaction.
Damn trail designers, he thought. Prim8 suspected that those responsible had taken great satisfaction in creating a trail which traversed, climbed and descended for no other reason than to maximize pain for every hiker that would follow.
Dr. Bobo, Prim8’s resupply/rendezvous buddy–an unheard of luxury for Pacific Crest Trail hikers–scouted camping sites and restaurants by car while Prim8 plodded along the trail towards their next road-crossing rendezvous. And with Dr. Bobo’s support Prim8 mostly hiked along with smaller, lighter loads on a series of “day hikes.” Not only that, Prim8 and Dr. Bobo car camped, consumed instant rice and canned chili—with respective helpings of jalapeno or Pepperoncini peppers—washed down with cold beer . . . or instead headed for cooked meals, such as pizza or half-pound burgers at nearby eateries.
After the first week, cool breezes, often cold in the higher elevations, reduced Prim8’s perspiration and water consumption during his hikes, while temperatures at night frequented the mid-to-low thirties, and a thin layer of frost covered his sleeping bag or the inside of his tent more than once.
Past Mile 91, Prim8 hiked through drizzle in wet pants and soaked trail shoes, and felt thankful that a breeze didn’t generate a case of hypothermia, even before the rain turned to wet, large clumpy snow.
Day after day, Prim8’s feet and knee suffered from the relentless pounding along the trail, until mid-way, where between Barrel Springs and Warner Springs, the constant foot and knee pain forced a decision: new shoes or a complete halt with surrender.
Prim8 exhibits an offending blister, cause of significant pain and consternation.
Dr. Bobo, to the rescue, drove Prim8 to the nearest REI outlet in Encinitas, north of San Diego. While in the area they visited friends. One, a nurse, graciously attended to Prim8's blisters, following a welcomed soak in warm water.
Both Dr. Bobo and Prim8 couldn't pass up an invitation to spend the night before returning to the PCT environs.
New boots, socks and inserts, as well as a knee brace, remedied the advancement of blisters and blackened-toenail loss, and further aggravation of Prim8's right knee. With those problems at bay—ones all too familiar to hikers—and Prim8 sufficiently girded, he soldiered onward in a state of near bliss.
Prim8 relaxes at a campground near Mount Laguna, his pleasant disposition a result of new hiking gear and cold Guinness.
More than once support by “trail angels,” otherwise complete strangers, along the way provided encouragement through “senseless acts of kindness” with their offers of food, drink and places to pitch a tent or “cowboy camp” (AKA bivouac). Prim8 discovered Mike Herrera’s Place at mile 126.9, where opportunity to camp, cooked meals and cold drinks, including beer, were provided in exchange for voluntary donations.
Each day hikers jockeyed in their overall positions in a continuous stream working their way northward—the season too young for southbound hikers at this latitude—some maintaining a fevered pace, others coping with infirmities or contemplating lizards and ants along the trail. Prim8, overtaken by almost everyone, it seemed, managed to cover similar distances as most other hikers each day, though taking longer.
By the time Prim8 neared Idyllwild, the trail across San Jacinto’s flank had cleared of the four-foot-plus snow-cover reported in April, and so with Dr. Bobo’s assistance, Prim8’s car was re-positioned to a BLM (Bureau of Land Management) parking lot north of Cabazon off Highway I-10, where Prim8 would end his journey at Mile 211.6.
Prim8 took a day off, a “zero day” as hikers say, to avoid strong winds, low temperatures and potential rain on Fuller Ridge. He and Dr. Bobo toured local sites of interest, the General Patton Memorial Museum, where they learned of desert tank training during the early stages of World War II.
Prim8 introduced Dr. Bobo to date shakes at Shields Date Garden in Indio, where they learned about the sex life of a date. Ooh!
The next morning, Dr. Bobo headed home and Prim8, readied for the last miles of his hike, headed up Devil’s Slide Trail from Humber Park in Idyllwild to rejoin the PCT where it flanked San Jacinto Peak at elevations as high as 8,000 feet.
Prim8 prepares to hike the last leg of this adventure.
Though Prim8 had prepared for two nights "on the mountain," he revised his plan after his excellent first morning's progress, and instead opted for a quicker traverse.
Gusting winds on his second day—up to 80 mph by his best estimate—threatened to blow him off his feet, or worse off the trail and down steep slope. Without water to spare, Prim8 continued on, joined a fellow hiker and reached a water faucet at Mile 206, located on an alluvial fan on the northern flank of San Jacinto.
View from San Jacinto Peak northwest flank across Coachella Valley and towards my hike's end at Cabazon.
Camped in a dry wash at Mile 207, after a trail-angel couple offered warm chili and a beer at their house—Prim8 could hardly believe their generosity—he prepared to plod the remaining distance to his car across the desert valley, accompanied by his fellow hiker companion.
Feet and right knee complaining as much as ever at the accumulated pounding, Prim8 reached his car late the next morning, eighteen days after his start.
By request, Prim8 dropped off his fellow recent hiker companion at a Post Office in Banning. As Prim8 drove home, perhaps, none the wiser, he considered he might be able to hike the entire trail PCT . . . in due time.
Photo Credits: Connard Hogan