Segment 2 Mile 3.5 to end of segment 3.
I wake in a fog. An actual one made of damp cloud obscuring what should be a fine view. Having spent half the night awake quaking in my tent contemplating an electric demise, I propose putting off our 6:30 start a bit, with the expectation the sun will soon pop out and dry off the tents. Everything is so clammy. Getting dressed in clothes damp with a mix of yesterday’s sweat and humid morning air makes me feel like it’s been seven days since my last shower, which was in fact only yesterday. But the bright spot to the east fades back to gloom, so I reluctantly shove a dripping wet tent in my pack pocket and start walking. A few miles down the trail we meet other hikers shaking off the storm and making later than intended starts. We see a campsite listed in the guide book, a sweet spot among boulders on the highest point of the ridge. I can imagine the view is spectacular on a clear day but it must have been terrifying up there last night, though the empty dirt patches betray nothing of last night’s drama.
Despite the general wetness, there’s ironically no actual water to be had up here on the ridges and through the burn areas, even early in the season. We meet several hikers completely out of water with five miles to go. Steph kindly gives a half liter to a women who has been out since last night. She even tried putting her pot out in the storm to catch raindrops!
We walk the remainder of the usually scorching hot burn sections in the shady remnants of storm clouds. Those without water could have been in a serious situation on a usual summer day. I think about the Southern California PCT, but these “long” treeless-waterless bits are nothing in comparison to the 40 mile charred stretches in the mountains behind LA. And there isn’t even any dreaded poodle dog bush to up the difficulty. I got this, I think confidently, while trying to ignore a nagging pain in my heel tendon. Not a blister, but a pressure point from a design change to the most recent iteration of my beloved Altra Lone Peaks. A break for water at the North Fork fire station is cut short by the not so balmy weather. The wind is making the conditions downright chilly. I sit shaking in my puffy wondering how cold it is going to be when we hit 11,000 feet in the coming days, regretting the decision to mail my warm hat ahead to Breckenridge with my microspikes.
The trail follows a wide dirt road into segment 3 where we “share” the trail with loads of mountain bikers, some more polite than others. Some careening downhill with barely a glance, giving zero f***s about hikers.
The air stays pleasantly cool. The trail is gentle and smooth. I should be crushing miles, but I am beginning to hobble. The jabbing sensation in my right heel has gone from irritating to downright painful since I first noticed it yesterday. Why now, when I have worn this exact pair of shoes on several backpacking trips? My left foot is perfectly happy. Right foot why doth thee protest so much? We stop for lunch-snacks optimistically laying out our went tents hoping a tiny window of sunlight will linger. I sit and sew down the offending flap of shoe, hoping at least it will hold long enough to prove itself the culprit. Once I am sure that’s the cause I can do shoe surgery and amputate the pokey bit.
The results are positive. A few hours later I happily start noticing other more expected feelings. Like generally tired feet and the chafing reminder that yes, I do have thighs, a sure sign than the tendon problem is much improved because in general you only notice whatever hurts the most. And with (most of) my suffering contained, I return to noticing the scenery which has shifted to gentle forest punctuated with curious rock formations that seem transplanted here from some alien ecosystem. On we walk, taking note of which seasonal streams are still running (all the ones the guidebook awards the cup half full symbol, though some will soon be dry). But now we are camped at least partway up the giant hill. There are four other tents already here, just a hare before the end of segment 3.
I cook a package of Good To Go Pad Thai to share with Steph (who is experimenting with going stovelenss this segment) to celebrate to a great day (OK, because it is the heaviest meal in my bulging food bag). And it is Am. Aze. Ing. Like the best food I have eaten on trail ever. Except partway through eating, Steph, who was long vegetarian, realizes the meal contains shrimp (I did ask if she was OK with seafood!) and admits that she has never in her life eaten shrimp before and has no idea if she is deathly allergic. So we are about to find out here in the woods somewhere. I promise to shove liquid Benadryl down her throat at the first sign of struggle, but luckily she polishes off the rest of dinner without incident. In other news, Steph’s friend Erin who lives in Denver started at segment three today, hoping to catch us at camp. But she’s still not here. We expect that she was wooed by the lovely creekside sites a few miles back, just before the start of what is a very long climb. We took a long break at the creek and totally understand its allure. But there’s always tomorrow. Tomorrow when we will wake to keep climbing this mountain of a hill. Tomorrow when we will top out near 11,000 feet. Tomorrow, after a good sleep.