I’m of the opinion that full moons truly do affect people.
I don’t know what it is about them, but I know I always tend to feel a little wilder, a little less inhibited, a little more inclined to do crazy things.
Like hike for
twenty four hours straight
sixty five kilometers
(or forty miles, if you don’t want to do the math).
Yeah, it was a full moon last night.
And we did hike for that long, to get that far.
It’s actually a bit of a blur already.
I can’t believe we covered fives TIMES our daily Sierra average in one go. I also can’t believe we just smashed out a forty miler. My body can though. Surprisingly, my feet aren’t too bad. Neither are my knees. And my legs aren’t exactly screaming… It’s more of a whole body, complete system shutdown kind of thing I’ve got going on. I think if I lie down, I won’t get back up within the next few days, and that’s not too much of an exaggeration.
The day started off like a lot of my days out here have: I got up early, packed up camp quietly, and snuck out to watch the sunrise. I’d rather get my hiking done in the morning, have an earlier lunch, and then cruise through the afternoon to wherever camp is.
There were a few familiar and friendly faces that I bumped into. As well as general catch ups on how our respective journeys have been and trading our highlights/lowlights stories, almost all of the northbound hikers I spoke to mentioned this crazy weather system that’s expected within the next 48hrs. They were all hot footing it, trying to get up and over Old Snowy and into Packwood if they could, to beat the storm and wait it out.
It’s already snowed on me twice.
And while I haven’t had a tonne* of bad weather out here – especially not compared to others!, I have absolutely no desire for it either.
The threat of this intense storm played on my mind, despite all signs of the opposite:
I had a nap by a lake (standard).
I kept walking (also standard).
I stopped for a quick pee break, and 2Beers caught up to me as I came out from behind the tree. I asked her if she’d heard the warnings about this storm front apparently rolling in. We joked that we should just hike the whole way into Trout Lake (another 40miles away). The joke petered out, but lingered in both our minds.
By midday, we reached another lake, and Nemo reached us.
We threw out the ‘hike to Trout Lake’ idea.
We all sat in shock for a moment, at the realisation that we’d all just kind of gone in and committed to hiking a FORTY MILE DAY.
This is big. This is one of the challenges that a lot of hikers set: to complete forty hiking miles in a day. Except, they generally do it in North California, or a stretch in Oregon, where it’s a heck of a lot flatter… Definitely not in Washington. There are mountains out here. And definitely not just out of nowhere, when generally a twenty mile day is a push.
But our challenge was made.
The goal was set.
Our target, agreed upon.
(While we were at it, we all also agreed we were crazy).
Now we just needed a game plan, if we were to actually legitimately do this thing.
I have to say, I’m proud of Nemo taking charge. He was what got these three Hiker Biker Gang members through those miles.
He suggested we walk for two hours, break for a half hour, and keep that up continuously throughout the night. We sorted out what food we had, and strategized as to what would cook fastest, and when we should eat it. We wanted to eat enough that we’d have the calories burning as energy, but not so much that we got sleepy and lethargic, which would be a real problem if we let it sink in.
The first few hours were fine.
And then my genius early rise got the better of me, and when it hit out second break late afternoon, I gave in to the temptation of a nap. I justified that the rest now would help me persevere through the night, and I think I was right. I ate my peanut butter and choc chip tortilla quickly, pulled my Enlightened Equipment sleeping quilt out, and snuggled down a few metres away from the others.
Just another one of my fourteen minute kips. One of the best ones.
I woke up refreshed, batteries recharged. We shared a pot of hot backcountry mocha – super strong coffee with a couple hot chocolate packets thrown in, and were back on track just behind ‘schedule’.
We walked, and talked.
And hiked, and skipped, and stopped, and continued, and walked, and talked some more.
The sun went down eventually, and we just kept going.
The full moon rose like a beacon, brighter than our headlamps.
Darkness pressed in closer and closer.
The dark didn’t scare me.
The animal noises were a little creepy, but nothing I haven’t got used to after four and a half months out here on the Pacific Crest Trail.
What sent shivers down my spine, and caused my feet to want to glue themselves on the path of ground where they were, however, was trying to see across a river.
We came to the river bank, and the water surged past. It seemed angry, frothing at the rocks along the edge. It felt merciless, spitting moisture on the makeshift branch-bridge – our only way across.
And it was the only way across.
I walked up and down the bank, searching for a safer crossing. I was prepared to wade across shoes and all, if it promised a safer journey and less chance of me slipping and getting swept away with the icy waters.
Nemo wouldn’t have it though, and rightly so. With the speed of the water and blackness all around, I had no way of knowing how deep the river was or what might be submerged in my path.
He went first across the bridge. He called out, promising it was safe and if I took my time, I would be fine. He cautioned that the branches had some give and felt flimsy, but assured me they would hold.
I said a prayer, fought to keep my eyes open, and edged my way across.
I didn’t even have long to celebrate surviving such a feat – I had to fumble through my pack quickly to whip out my phone and try get a photo of 2Beers coming behind me.
We kept hiking.
This was probably/definitely the longest I had hiked with anyone non stop. Generally, you kinda of come and go; sticking with someone for a while, and then letting one or the other start to lag behind, and finding yourself alone again – until the next hiker comes along, or reunion at a break spot happens. Never have I just continued on, hour after hour after hour with the two same people.
I think that generally, this might drive me a little mad. I’d want my own space. We’d run out of things to talk about. The urge to return to my natural pace – even if it is just a few centimeters more each stride – kicks in, because over the course of a mile, or an hour, or a day, those centimetres add up quicksmart.
The urge didn’t kick in this time, however.
It felt natural keeping pace with these two.
And we did make quite a good pace – averaging just over three miles/five kilometres and hour.
When our throats began to croak from talking for so long, we started up some tunes on the speaker. ABBA, Taylor Swift, Xavier Rudd, Disney tunes, the Grease soundtrack, Paul Simon, Celine Dion – we had a good mix going.
Our breaks were messy, but they were fast.
We learned that the quicker the break, the better – if we stopped for too long, the temptation of just lying down and sleeping for a while would nearly get the better of us, so we’d quickly empty whatever was left of our water bottles in my JetBoil, boil the water super fast, and pass around a mocha within minutes of sitting down. Someone would fill up the water bottles again, and the third member would get tortillas ready.
The hours ticked by.
The miles kept passing.
Our minds turned to mush, as our feet churned out step after step after step. Approximately 80,000 steps, to be exact.
Somehow, somewhere, I realised my eyes could make out shadows. Tree shapes. The path ahead.
Another look at Guthooks (our mileage/map app), and we were just a mile from the road.
And then, we were there.
We did it.
Climbing mountains, through forests, crossing rivers, downing countless grams of caffeine and just about a tub of peanut butter later, we made it.
It’s still way too early to hitch into town.
There are no cars yet, but hopefully one pulls over soon. It’s so cold. Like I said, I think my body is starting to shut down. Everything is cramping, I am shaking.
But the satisfaction in completing those eighty thousand steps outdoes all the pain. The pride in reaching our goal masks the lack of feeling in my lower limbs. Our bodies will make us pay for this, I’m sure, but our minds and hearts will remind us:
WE DID IT!
*Yes, American friends, our ‘tonne’ has an extra ‘n’ AND an ‘e’.