Desert Desolation

The high mountains were behind me and as I kept walking further South, the landscape would continue to turn more dry, more scrubby. The desert. I had been anticipating this section, longing for it, though it was an ambiguous sort of curiosity that drew me in. The solitude, lack of rain, desolate scenery, exotic vegetation, warm nights, coyotes and rattlesnakes all sounded enticing to me. On the other hand,  severe lack of water did cause some worries, as I know all too well how precious this liquid is to my, and everyone elses, very existence. This shadeless, dry, sun-scorched scrubland could prove outright dangerous if I run out of water, especially when you try to walk a marathon a day and the trail is empty with days between another trail-encounter with a fellow human-being.

But it would all work out just fine, I told myself. Like most things do, if you put your uncompromised effort into the task and look for opportunities and solutions, not obstacles and excuses. Desert, here I come.

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Thorny bushes and cacti starts to appear as the gritty sound of my lonely footsteps against the gravelly trail breaks the silence. The wind is low and lazy like the lizards that are tanning on each and every rock and it seems contagious; I most of all feel like seeking out some stamp-sized shade-spot and just… sit. My feet are aching and hurting which they are not suppose to at this point, not after 3000km. But the heat, the dry air and the fine sand that accumulates in my shoes, proves what others have warned me: the desert can easily be the toughest part of the trail for your feet. But I can’t just sit there, cause the heat, the scrubs, the cacti and the sun will do just the same and I’ll loose that “staring-contest” within long. Besides, I have 37km to the next water source and need to get there by the evening, so walk on, stay on.

By this time, I can’t really develop blisters on my feet anymore, they are too hardened and large parts of them have turned into rough sandpaper, like the hands of an old brick-layer. Instead you get what they call “hot spots”, and they are about as comfortable to walk with as a tattoo-in-the-making. Dress them in sports-tape and remember to take your shoes off as often as you can, let ’em breathe. And…suck up the pain.

It’s so lonely, so barren. And it isn’t flat out here either. There’s no discounts, The Pacific Crest Trail continues its course on the, well… crest, and I guess that makes good sense. Up over mountains, down into the valleys, repeat, all day, every day. The hot-spots are fluctuating and I do my best to keep them at bay a nd damage-control them as they bloom. Luckily, it’s amazing out here: the naked hills, the silence, the amazing cacti, cicadas singing. The odd spider lurks and scorpions are starting to show: the small-sized ones, the ones that are trail-rumored to be the most poisonous. Admire, wonder, respect, give them space and don’t touch; just like women and fine art.

I reach a water source, a tiny trickle that carefully can be caught and squeezed through a filter before drinking to keep you alive. I stash up on it, as I have an intimidating distance to the next trickle, a staggering 70km. I push on, with 7 liters in my backpack which makes it heavier than all of my other belongings, combined. Still have to ration it, but can’t carry more, all my containers are full. I “camel-up” as they say: forcefully drinking all the water you can while at the water source and when you can’t drink anymore and are about to puke, then you drink one more liter. Buuuurp.

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I walk and walk and walk and signs of civilization are showing around me: giant wind-farms with 5000 turbines take over the landscape. Still don’t see any humans. But the turbines are a clear sign, civilization is close and within a day I see the highway and reach it late it the evening. I’ve been walking for 6 days and need to get into town to resupply for more food, but there’s no point in hitchhiking now, as nobody picks you up after dark. And you might not even want to, after all, humans are , by far, the most dangerous animal for any adventurer. I find a little bush to shelter me from the wind and wake up next morning, walk to the highway and stand there with my thumb out and the largest smile I can muster in the stormy cold morning as the sun breaks the horizon. Within 15 minutes, a windfarm technician has picked me up and is thrilled to help a foreigner, walking across the country, with a ride into town.

I’m thrilled to be back in civilization for a quick stint and enjoy a large Mexican omelette at the local, lovely and ohh-so-American diner. The waitress laughs out loud and is deeply impressed when I top my order with 4 large blueberry pancakes, a 16oz OJ, that’s American for orange juice, and endless-refills on my coffee. Love these quick stints in civilization, though I quickly start to miss the trail, the wilderness

Now that I’m in it, the desert seems doable, I’ll pull it off, I’ll walk it. Funny how things appear more difficult and intimidating until you simply throw yourself into it and just do it, deal with it.

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