I’m fairly certain that the only thing the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail have in common is that they’re both long. While the AT features lots of little ascents and descents, a hiker on the PCT can spend an entire day only going up or downhill. While the AT is a “long green tunnel,” the PCT is a string of scenic vistas. While the AT is wet, the PCT is dry. Very dry. And, while I rarely saw hikers on the AT, the PCT is ridiculously crowded. (I’m only half kidding about that one!)
As I’m typing this, I’m at Mount Laguna (mile 42.6 of the PCT) enjoying a zero day. I don’t usually take zeroes early in a hike, but my body needed it. Hiking with/for Lyme has presented some new challenges, and the psychology of my hike thus far has been interesting.
It turns out that Lyme Disease looks an awful lot like heat exhaustion and dehydration, and monitoring my body for signs of any of the three (when I’m on Doxycycline and all three are very possible) is trying. However, the more ill I feel, the more determined I become to hike the entire trail and raise the $2385 thus far pledged for the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.
It probably doesn’t help that it seems I hear a new story about Lyme everywhere I turn. Bat and Brian, two other thru-hikers, have both had Lyme and described the struggle to get adequate treatment. My mother heard from a family friend whose eight-year-old grandson was just diagnosed. And, then there’s Mary Kate, a woman whose kindness I’ve written about before: When she pledged to support ILADS through my hike, she told me of a family member’s two-year battle with the disease. I’m carrying these stories with me and hope that, in some small way, I’m able to make a difference in our fight against this epidemic.
But, day to day, I’ve got smaller problems of my own to figure out. First up was Houser Ridge, an exposed climb that a hiker hoping to hit Lake Morena (and water) on her first night out would need to climb in the afternoon, when the sun is burning the ridge (and not just the Doxycycline-ingesting hiker on it) to a crisp. I’d rested in the shade and had plenty of water before starting my ascent; however, while I was climbing easily enough, the heat took its toll, and I spent 45 minutes working to cool off under a large rock before going on.
When I reached camp that night, I was on the verge of mental and physical collapse and was revived by the kindness, orange slices, and ice cubes of Dennis and Marie, two trail angels who sent me on my way with hugs and Salon Pas. (Dennis and Marie, if you’re reading this, thank you so very much!)
I vowed to have an easier hike on my second day out, and I followed through with my goal, hiking only 12 miles and setting up camp in the shade of Fred Canyon at 12:30. I enjoyed napping, snacking, and talking with a Belgian couple (Andre and Lian) who had been wilderness guides for years.
The day I hiked into Mount Laguna was a low-mile day; I only hiked 10 miles before arriving in the resort village. The 10 miles were some of the most beautiful hiking I’ve ever done, let alone my favorite section thus far of the PCT. I broke camp early and was on western slopes, so I enjoyed a liberating 2.5 hours without sun protection. When the sun did shine down in full force, it was to accompany me over a glorious ridge and among tall oak and pine trees. I doubt there will ever be a time when I will walk among such trees without feeling a deep happiness, even while struggling with more superficial issues.
One such issue is my knees. This spring’s relapse of Lyme had hurt them, and its timing hadn’t allowed me enough time to regain strength before I needed to carry 30-40 pounds along mountainous desert terrain. My main objective in taking a zero at Mount Laguna is to give them time to heal a bit from the stress of the last few days. Getting a chance to let some of my tiredness and dizziness subside is just a bonus!
Thus far, the PCT has been more amazing and more challenging than I’d expected. As I think about what lies ahead, I’m resolving to choose joy. If I hurt or the trail is too difficult for me on a given day, I’ll give my body permission to take it slow. Gone are the days of “no rain, no pain, no Maine.” My body has dealt with too much to do that. Now it’s more, as Grandpa (one of my favorite Class of 2011 hikers) always said, “Miles and smiles.”