Looking for an old man named Endurance

Alpha, Dailies, Sec H

Day 3: PCT Ethnography

Start mile: 2166.2, 6/25/2018

Woke up to big water drops filtering through the canopy. With the irony of my campmate’s trail name, I pushed forward to getting out of camp quickly so that I can get as many miles in before it gets heavier if it does. Admittedly it was tough to leave the beautiful campsite at Rock Creek (oh, and no midnight rodents by the way – at least the non-imaginary types.)

But again, the beauty of the trail beckoned starting with the bridge over the creek – what a way to begin your day!

In the morning everything was coated with drops of water from the misty spray of being in a cloud. It made for beautiful water drops sparkling like diamonds on the leaves:

I must admit I enjoyed a little bit of tasty oxalis moistened in the mist for a grazing snack:

And the trail in the mist was gorgeous:

We were definitely getting deeper into the woods. Even the signs were reverting back to natural states:

Along the way I got my first Leukotape application – the trail remedy for blisters. But not on my toes, but my hand. I’ve punishing my hands by using the poles to help me through the ascents and descents.

This next image has a great trail gift from heaven in it. Can you guess what?

Nope, not the water. The big moss covered rock. You’ll have only a few ideal spots like this in a day to set your bum on for a rest. In fact, I’m sure you can find the evidence in the image. Hardly worth a blog entry to you my dear reader, but to me on the trail – ah, it’s a gift from heaven.

Nature has its own commercialization via advertising. As I enjoyed the beauty of tiger lilies along the trail, I thought about the Darwinian adaptation these flowers have found. The quickly grow long stalks high above the foliage and then drop down an upside down beautiful flower. They reminded me of billboards along a freeway were no opportunity to sell advertising is missed (except Chuck’s brilliant idea). So flys and bees are buzzing through and have colorful flowers competing for their attention above and below them to entice them in .. or perhaps it is a special pit stop for hummingbirds. Either way, nature’s advertising has us humans beat.

While pondering Tiger Lillies, I met two older ladies doing a 4 day one way hike on the PCT. They’ve been knocking off small sections in Washington for a couple of years. They flooded me with tips of things to see further on the trail closer to their homes. One talked so fast that she reminded me of Julie – bringing me a touch of friends from home.

I also spent much of the day leap frogging three other hikers from camp last night that were doing a four day stint through Indian heaven. Their party was a gal whose trail name was Woodchip – a great name. Their camp amenities clearly showed that they were built for a 3 day hike – you can just see the wasted weight, as clearly as a thru hiker likely sees mine. But then, oh the scrumptious luxuries they had! Flannel pjs! Nalgenes! Multiple pairs of clothes! Impressive desserts! I tried to not be bitter – HYOH.

The paucity of people on the trail was compensated for in wildlife. I saw more of these endangered newts than I did people:

At one point I filled my water bottle up in a small pool that had four of these newts in it.

Another hiker I met along the way was a 6’4” blonde guy from Germany. He struggled for English at first, because in hindsight, I don’t think he had been talking too much, and to pull up the foreign language skills took a few moments to kick start. Turns out he was my first thru hiker to meet on the trail – he was headed to the Mexican border. He started in Snoqualmie (hence why he was a bit early) but that’s good enough for me :-). We chatted for a good half an hour.

So with that, it’s a good time to apply some classification skills to my ever growing database of PCT hiker types/tiers. I’ll intersperse it with imagery from the hike as it continues to progress from the day:

  1. First tier are the Day Hikers that head out and use a small stint on the PCT as part of their day hike.
  2. Second tier are the overnight or Weekend Campers that stay for one or two days on the trail.
  3. Third tier are where it gets more serious. There are a number of people out there that have been doing the PCT one week or less at a time ticking off the miles. I call these the Weekly Hikers. They are determined, but they never have to experience some of the endurance issues with sustained trail time. Woodchip falls into this tier.
  4. Fourth tier are the Section Hikers like myself that do one or two months at a time – typically a state. Here you hit into some endurance struggles. This is where myself and Weatherman fit.
  5. Fifth and final tier are the Thru Hikers that are the gods on the trail. These guys do the entire stint, typically taking four months to complete it.

Naturally there is a lot of one upmanship with these tiers, with each tier looking down on previous (particularly the single previous) tier – unfair that it is. Some people can’t get the time off, some are not interested in being disconnected that long.

In the end, it comes down to a saying on the trail when one person gets to be too dogmatic about their tier and how best to hike the PCT. The saying is “Hike Your Own Hike” or simply HYOH. It’s the one thing to pull out and say to someone is telling you what you should and shouldn’t do on the trail, and their is a universal understanding that that is enough, no more. If only “Live your own life” had a similar universal understanding.

Another rich anthropological aspect of the PCT Hiker Tribe is the use of trail names. When you are on the trail, you are referred to not by your real name but by a trail name. There are a few rules to the name, and even those are not hard and fast.

But use of the trail names are frequent and commonplace – particularly for the last two tiers from above.

For myself, I chose to use the VAX/VMS username from my undergraduate days: Truth. It is the closest thing I’ve ever had to an alternate name – I was frequently referred to just as truth in computer science classes. It seem fitting to harken back to those days on my solo hike.

While deciding to use Truth was a callback to youth, it was also a reminder that who I was then is still who I am now. We don’t lose our youth, we just add to it. If we go through major changes in our identity it is a good reminder that they are not changes but rather additions.

Seeing Weatherman so comfortably using mine and his own trail name, I also realized just how much the trail names represent – a hanger so to speak – an alternate ego of people on the trail. It allows the identity to bifurcate.

The trail name is the person who is free from the perceived pressures of who they need to be. The given name person is the one lacking the ability of who they want to be because of these perceived pressures on who they need to be.

By putting a name on the person, it becomes a new set of clothes. Life becomes simpler, yet more challenging. You know where you are going. You know it is going to be tough. You know the rhythm and patterns that make biological needs fiercely important.

All these are the opposite of your parentally given name and the clothes you wear in society – you don’t know where you are headed in life, the rigors of life are … well, easy. And biological needs are … well easy and can be very sloppy.

This alternate ego is fascinating to see in the people who adopt the trail life, ethnographically speaking. I’m not really part of this tribe, but I can understand the lure. I have enough drive and direction in life that I don’t feel the need for an alter ego, but I certainly can understand the calling.

A few final pictures for today that need some description. You can see above that there were some beautiful bridges on the trail this week – I nearly titled the post “The Bridges of PCT County”. The trail went along roads and even a meadow and had some great rock outcrop viewpoints.

This next image shows one of the trials of the trail – tree falls. This one slid down the mountainside like an arrow leaving behind a trough of destruction up the hill for 200 feet. These are killers because getting around them with a 40 pound back can be exhaustingly challenging.

Here is another section that had some blow down. These are fairly common and arbitrary – like a mini tornado came through just in one spot.

As I neared my camp, I found this nice reminder in the form of scat. My best guess was bear scat filled with squirrel fur.

I arrived at Panther Creek exhausted. There is a nearby campground and it was surreal to see the big RVs with tiki torches for mosquitos and bikes for the kids and coolers filled with fresh food. I chatted up the camp host for a bit and got his life story on how he became a camp host. Different style of camping.

My tent was down the trail, away from the smells and sounds of “civilized” life. For my company, I had a beautiful Cyprus tree. I was beat and ready for sleep.

Day 3 Stats

  • Beginning mileage: 2166.2
  • Ending mileage: 2182.1
  • TrailMiles completed: 15.9
  • FitBit Steps: 42,055
  • FitBit Miles: 19.83
  • FitBit Flights of Stairs: 278
  • FitBit Calories Burned: 6055
  • Weather: rainy and chilly
  • iPhone Battery: 97% to 64%
  • InReach Battery:72%
  • People Parties Met: 4
  • Confirmed PCT hiker parties: 2 weekly PCTers, 1 thru hiker
  • Wakeup: 6:15 AM
  • Camp Departure: 8:15 AM
  • Camp Arrival: 7:30 PM
  • Sleep Attempted: 10:30 PM
  • Camp Co-Inhabitors: 1
  • Morning Pack rolls: 5
  • Sorest Body Part: Feet
  • Highlight of the Day: Vista view above bunker hill
  • What did I shed from civilization: the need for more than one of anything – in fact, the need for anything that doesn’t serve at least two purposes.
  • Realization of the day: people have alter ego of who they want to be when free from constraints, and when you can put a name to that person you can slip easily into the alternate persona like slipping on clothes
  • Trail tidbit I learned today: The Hands are important.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.