I was floating. My pack light, on a day into town, and finally there was open trail: real bare ground where you could walk un0bstructed, not worry about getting lost or following melted tracks through the woods. But when this opportunity presents itself, I can’t just walk; I was practically running for joy.
Since reaching Yosemite a few days ago the snowy conditions have persisted and fellow hikers are clearly hoping the white stuff will soon disappear. Maybe it was going through the high Sierra with the dramatic passes and peaks that made myself and others think that would be the bulk of it. Those elevations are behind us now, but it seems the long winter persists even at lower levels and reaches far into Northern Cal. Every local or ranger I meet says there is snow in places during mid July that hasn’t been seen in decades. Many people remark about the grand nature of a pct through hike, but this year it’s accompanied by a “and what a year to try it” type comment. And so it is. So after I left my fairly unmemorable camp at mile 1000 I was thrilled with the open trail before me.
The last several days have set me to calculating my progress, and I’ve come to the conclusion I’m facing an uphill battle. I knew before I even set foot on the trail that it would be a challenge to finish before starting school in Oregon, but with all the snow, and facing the conditions first hand on the trail, now it is a race against the clock more than ever. With open trail, it’s not hard to imagine hiking 25-30 miles a day, or doing close to 3mph. But when the snow is piled 4, 5, 6 feet deep in the woods, the tracks melt out, each footstep is deliberate to avoid slipping, the sun cups leave you stumbling like a drunk, progress depends upon navigation skills, and snow moguls double your elevation gain for the day, the pace can easily drop to less than one mph. Add that up over hundreds of miles, take into account there are only so many sun up to sun down days you can pull, and you start to realize this thing is going to be a bear. But as with any challenge, the more difficult the task, the better the reward. And who am I to shy away from a bit of a race? So for me the trail is taking on new coloring. I’m still meeting new hikers, still heading into town to resupply, still seeking out stories from trail angels and friendly locals, but I feel the pressure of the calendar. Hiking this trail is often love-hate, and the pace is no different. There are many places where I’d love to linger, to explore another valley, bag a nearby peak, or just have a full relaxing zero day in town, but finishing the trail leaves only a small margin for such indulgences. Every thru hiker is on such a schedule: get to Canada before the first nasty winter storm. My schedule is even tighter, which is making me feel the pressure all the more. But with the pressure comes the thrill of a challenge. 1000 miles down, and I’m just getting started. Here’s to cranking out the miles, and trying to enjoy each one.