After taking my first zero in Idyllwild, I felt it necessary to make up for lost time and go from Idyllwild to Cabazon in one day: a 33-mile trek (spoiler alert: this was a terrible idea).
Armed with new socks, new insoles, and a freshly laundered wardrobe I felt rather invincible (especially since 80% of the day’s travel would be either downhill or flat). However, the first 20% of the day was straight uphill to get out of Idyllwild and back on the Pacific Crest Trail.
After my three-hour sludge up the hill, my spirits were not as high as they had been upon waking up in a bed that morning. I continued onward (downhill) at a pace I considered (or at least believed) to be rather quick, but after twelve hours of hiking and the setting of the sun, I found myself standing at the 200 mile marker – ten miles from my day’s destination (and remember, miles on the PCT are longer than ordinary miles).
The sunset was not a big issue – I had my headlamp and the sky was still well illuminated by the recently disappeared ball of fire in the sky. But an hour after sunset, the real darkness (the night that doesn’t end) swept across the mountainside and blinded me from everything outside the ten feet immediately in front of me). An apparent friend of the darkness, winds strong enough to blow me off the trail began picking up, and it soon became impossible to hear anything either.
Between my frantic scans of the hillsides for mountain lions (they can see that I’m weakening), all I kept thinking of was how deep of shit I would find myself in should my headlight decided to burn out (backup light? not the way of the ultralight). Finding a campsite and erecting my tent in pitch blackness is not something I am well-practiced at (read: have never done).
I walked down the seemingly bottomless mountain until I finally reached a road – still six miles from the trail angel’s home. A one mile walk on the asphalt killed my feet, but what was to come was not any better.
The trail continued to the highway in the distance (and then another mile to my destination) through what can only be described as a giant sandbox. There was no clearly defined trail (at least none I could see in the darkness), and I navigated by searching for reflective posts with my headlamp (posts I trusted to mark the PCT). My attempts to walk from one trail maker to the next through the dark and wind were nothing short of embarrassing, and I am sure that my route through the sand was far from efficient.
The highway remained far off in the distance, never getting any closer, and the sand gave way under my feet with every step. The wind was blowing debris up into my face (the darkness had rendered my eye-shield ineffective), and it was gusting so violently that I had to fight just to move in one direction. I was out of water and at the point of wanting to fall on the ground and sleep in the sand.
Pressing on for what felt like hours, I eventually found my destination at 23:30. Scarred and sore – 33 miles after the morning’s start – I collapsed on the ground and went to sleep without sleeping pad or bag.
Needless to say, I will not be attempting any such foolishness any time in the near future, but I am sure that come the rain, sleet, and snow of the Pacific Northwest, I will have much worse to look forward to.
Party on, Wayne.