It was 42 degrees Celsius, over 107F, and the sun was merciless, beating down on me, the air was motionless and the only available shadow came from the Joshua trees scattered throughout the area. Here it was, at last, the desert I had been expecting and fearing since I started my hike, 50 miles before she was supposed to end. On trail, the general recommendation is to carry one litre of water for every 5 miles, but even though I always carried more than that, just in case, I suddenly doubted if I would have enough. My average hiking speed in this brutal area was about 2.5 miles per hour, and half a litre per hour suddenly seemed an absurdly inadequate amount. Climbing uphill in the burning sun, I was constantly thirsty. It occurred to me that, rather than FOMO (fear of missing out), I was suffering from FORO (fear of running out). The mere thought that I wouldn’t have enough, scared the crap out of me, and it was all I could think about.
The day had already started out badly. One of my tramily (‘trail family’) members got suspected food poisoning the night before, and so we’d all had less than the ideal amount of sleep. We escorted him to the nearest road, taking it slow, and stayed with him until a car finally passed that was willing to give him a ride back to civilization and recuperation.
We were happy that it all worked out and that he was safe, but the delay meant we started our day of hiking much later than intended, when the sun was already out in full force. All throughout the desert, I made it a habit to start out early in the day, at sunrise. That way I could hike a large part of the daily miles in the cooler morning hours, and take an extended break in the afternoon. No such luck that day, on the driest and hottest stretch I had encountered so far.
Afternoon nap in the desert
It was hard going (I clearly wasn’t meant for deserts), and around 1.30 pm, me and my remaining tramily member decided to wait out the heat in the shade of a Joshua tree. We crawled under it and tried to take a nap, biding our time until the sun was on its way down.
Around 5 pm, we had another go. It was still scorching, but cooling down slowly. We had another 10 miles to go until the next water, and we arrived there around sunset. I had maybe 0.25 litres of water left. The first thing I did after arriving, was drink till I could drink no more. Then our priorities shifted to food. There’s just something about hiking up and down mountains with a heavy backpack every day for 20 miles or more, that makes your body scream for calories. I’d eat all day long, I’m sure, if only I could carry that much food.
The map showed us a steep ascent straight after, and to avoid another day like this one, we continued on straight after dinner. Up the mountain we went, in the dark. The nighttime chill felt amazing, and when we arrived at the top somewhere after midnight, I rolled out my inflatable sleeping mat and passed out underneath the stars. The day had been brutal, but the alarm went off just a few hours later, at 4 am.
We only had one more day to go until we reached the next town, and we didn’t feel like spending another day in that burning sun. Besides: the sooner you get to town, the sooner you can shower, eat and do laundry. Oh, and get ice cream, of course.
After a day of rest, the three days left to get to Kennedy Meadows, the official end of the desert section of the PCT and the start of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, suddenly seemed a lot more doable. And they were. The desert had said her goodbyes, the mountains were greener, and there was water along the trail again. It was our introduction to the next section, and everything that I had gotten used to in the last 700 miles would change…