Day 4: Safety over selfies

16.7 miles
Klum Campground to PCT 1764.7
Total miles so far: 76.4

I fall asleep around 2:30am, and at 4:30 I wake up in a panic. I have a cabin booked at Fish Lake Resort for tonight!

“Are you sure you want to reserve something this far in advance?” That’s what the guy on the other end of the phone had said when I called to give him my credit card number and reserve one of their rustic cabins last month.

“I’m sure!” I said, assuming that I would definitely arrive at Fish Lake by the end of Day 4.

Well, here I am at 4:30am on Day 4, huddled in my sleeping bag at a campground that is 25 miles from Fish Lake Resort. 25 miles! There is no way I can hike a 25 today, not when my feet are so sore and blistered that I can barely walk. And I don’t have cell reception, so I can’t call to change my reservation. And I can’t call Paul or my mother to tell them that I am behind schedule.

“Plot twist!” I say out loud to myself.

This is my new solution to inconvenient occurrences or complications in my hike, to just yell “PLOT TWIST!”, pretend it’s fun, and keep going.

At 5:50am I drag myself out of my warm sleeping bag and do something new: I get dressed in wet clothes. My hiking outfit, the one I washed in the shower last night, didn’t have time to fully dry before the sun set, so now I am faced with the unpleasant task of forcing my sore body into cold, wet clothes.

At least my shorts no longer smell like three days of crotch sweat, right? Trade-offs are real in this hiker life.

There is one bright spot in my morning, though. I get to use the pit toilet at the campground before getting back on trail. Thank goodness for being able to poop in this pit toilet, instead of having to dig myself a cathole in the woods. Just thank goodness for that small miracle right now. 

I’m on the trail by 7:05am, and I feel surprisingly upbeat. Despite my foot pain, wet clothes, poor sleep, and lack of solution to the Fish Lake Cabin Reservation Dilemma, I am hiking strong and feeling optimistic.

This, I realize, is a pattern. During the final few miles of the day out here I am positive that I am going to die, and I’m questioning everything – Why would anyone ever want to do this? Why am I making myself miserable? How do I get out of this stupid ass hike? But then the next morning, no matter how sore and tired I am I find that I do want to be out here, and my mind is filled with thoughts like, “Maybe today will be better! Maybe I can do this!”

Which speaks to the value of doing something that doesn’t have an easy out. Because as much as I’ve wished for an in-the-moment escape hatch multiple times these past few days, it’s a gift that I don’t have one. Eventually, things improve. At some point, you come out the other side.

I feel empowered now, and I hike.

A few hours later I cross a small dirt road, next to which is a tall PCT sign, perched in a cluster of rocks where the trail begins to climb uphill. This, I decide, is a great place for a photo. And so I hike over to the sign, step up onto the rocks, hold my phone out, and attempt to take a picture of myself next to this sign.

The rocks slide out from under me so quickly that I don’t even know what’s happening until I am sprawled out on the ground, scraped and bleeding on both arms and one leg, phone covered in dirt a few feet to the right.

SERIOUSLY?? This is how I sustain my first on-trail injury? Because I attempted to take a freakin’ SELFIE??

I dust myself off as much as I can, clean my cuts with a little water, wipe down my phone (all hail the Lifeproof Phone Case!) and start back down the trail feeling foolish and embarrassed and making myself a new rule of “safety over selfies,” which isn’t a rule one should be dumb enough to need to make, but here we are.

Why I so dumb whyyyy

By noon, I’m ready for a break. I’ve been pushing myself to reach Brown Mountain Shelter, where there is supposed to be a big hand pump for water, picnic tables, and a small hut stocked with snacks. Trail magic! I try (and fail) not to get too excited in case there aren’t any snacks left.

At the turn off to the shelter I meet a hiker named Battery Camel. “Are you Tinkerbell? I’ve heard all about you from Cookie!”

Battery Camel is a section-hiker too! He is only a few days into this hike, just like me! He has blisters! He can’t believe how fast and far the thru-hikers are going each day! Oh my god, A FRIEND. I have made a friend!

Best of all, he’s headed to Fish Lake right now and will tell them that I won’t be arriving until tomorrow morning. He’ll try to get my reservation changed for me! Everything is going to be okay.

Better yet, the shelter is filled with snacks. Tiny oranges and ripe apples that I devour, juice dripping down my hands and forearms, while I lay in the shade and read the trail register to learn about all the hikers who have come through here before me. How many people are even out here, wandering this thin strip of dirt for hundreds and thousands of miles?

Three hours later (oops) I leave the vortex of the shelter and hike out, lazily checking my phone for reception and oh! There’s one tiny bar of service! Through a series of dropped calls I manage to first change my reservation at Fish Lake and then tell my mother that I’m a day behind schedule. See? It all worked out. Why was I so stressed?

I attempt a more zen-like mindset as I head out for the final four miles of the day. On my map, there appears to be a small tentsite in the woods, just beyond a few sections of rocky trail, where I can sleep for the night. There’s no water there so I’ll be dry camping, but a 17 mile day is all I can handle right now.

I find the spot at 4:40pm, and there is indeed just enough room in a small triangle-shaped clearing between downed trees in which to set up my shelter. It’s still pretty early to stop for the day, and I get passed by six different hikers in the next few hours. Happy trails, strangers! Better you than me! I couldn’t hike another step if I tried.

As late afternoon turns to evening, I realize that this will be my first time sleeping totally alone in the middle of the wilderness. No other tents nearby, just me, alone. Am I afraid? I can’t decide.

As the sun goes down I crawl into my tent (okay fine, I am definitely afraid) and think about the challenges of doing this hard thing by myself. I was exhausted when I got to this spot today, and still I had to set up my tent, make my dinner, and do all my little camp chores. Hiking doesn’t care if you’re tired! There is no one else to do anything for you or with you, and you must meet all of your own needs regardless of how wrecked and hungry and thirsty you are.

In my sleeping bag I take a mental inventory of my body; I have six blisters, two incredibly sore feet, pain and tightness in my outer shins, calves, shoulders, upper back, and neck, and I haven’t looked in a mirror in four days. Is my face dirty? Do I have any pimples? Who knows! Hiking is not interested in your pimples. Hiking only cares about relentless forward progress.

I stick earplugs in my ears, close my eyes, and say a little prayer that I will be safe out here, all alone in the middle of everything and nothing.