On the Pacific Crest Trail you’re free to make your own decisions without having to take someone else’s opinion and feelings into consideration. You get to set your own pace without worrying about leaving someone behind or holding them back. You can rest when you want, eat when you want, and stop for the day when you want. You can even make Stove Top Stuffing for breakfast without an argument over their preference of oatmeal. However, hiking solo also means there is no one to blame your mistakes and misfortunate on. While I’m the first to admit that I made a few foolish decisions while on trail, none were as reckless and dangerous as the one that I made the day I met a big, mysterious mountain bird.
It was hot. Sharp rocks are stabbing my butt. Shrubs jutting out of the mountain side scratching me. A familiar sound echoes in my ear. “Turkey?” I think to myself. The bright sun stings my eyes as I slowly open them to see this mysterious mountain turkey. It’s not a turkey, but it’s big. And only a few feet away at me. It cocks its head as I say, “Hello bird”. I attempt to lean forward from the contorted position my body was in to pet the bird. With a zap of pain in almost every major muscle, I change my mind and lean back against the mountain side. My new friend let out a few more loud clucks and awkwardly bounces down the cliff flapping her wings to aid her. I suddenly realize I’m extremely thirsty, and go to reach my water bottle. Then it dawns on me…. I dumped my water hours ago, only keeping a small amount in my water pack. I become angry with myself as I remember the events leading up to this moment, and the repercussions of my reckless decision.
The day started off great. Beautiful and easy ridge walk, a light breeze. Slowly those views transitioned to marshland. Sunrays gleaming through the trees, bouncing off the many ponds. I felt like I was in some enchanted forest, like the kind you see in Disney movies. Easy hiking, agreeable weather, and the excitement of knowing I’ll be at Steven’s Pass by nightfall had my morale higher than it had been the last few days. I had an easier time pushing the pain of my foot to the back of my mind. That all changed very quickly.
Soon the terrain changed from beautiful and easy, to ugly and hard. There was no easing into this climb. The switchbacks were many and unforgiving. After only a few miles of climbing, the pain in my foot became so great I felt what true desperation feels like. I decided to dump all my water, saving only about half a litre. After all, I was going to be in civilization that night. Nobody dies of dehydration in less than a day. I nod in agreement when I hoisted my pack onto my back. “Yes, this is better.”, I say to myself. One foot in front of the other, I’m in robot mode. Right, left. Right, left. As the miles went on, the obsessive thoughts became unmanageable. Pain. Pain. Pain. Hours later pain turned into thirst.
I become light headed. My legs feel as though they are made of Jello. I start to question my ability to stay balanced on this climb. Everything is spinning, my legs are jelly, and then I see bright sparkles. “Sit down or you’re going to fall off this mountain.” I say aloud.
Cluck! Cluck! Cluck. “Turkey?”.
The turkey awkwardly bounces down the mountain with her wings spread. “How long have I been here?” I think to myself. I glance at my watch…. “An HOUR?!”. That can’t be. I think back to the feeling right before I sat down, and conclude my body was in the process of fainting. I sat down just in time. “I hope you’re happy about dumping your water to save 6 measly pounds of weight.” I scold myself. I pull myself up, grabbing at the bushes that were poking my side. I continue the push to Steven’s Pass. Less than a mile from where I picked myself back up, I reach the Steven’s Pass gondola. I finally reached that day’s Summit! It’s all down here from here. Soon, the trail is swallowed by thick forest. A sigh of relief… I’m in shade. I’m close to Steven’s Pass. And ice cream.