Long Trails

Dealing With Aches and Pains on a Thru-Hike

With the finish line of the Pacific Crest Trail fast approaching, our correspondent deals with an uncooperative body.

After nearly five months on trail, exhaustion is finally starting to take its toll on me. The Glacier Peak Wilderness, as beautiful as it is, is also some of the hardest trail, I’ve encountered, relentlessly sending me thousands of feet up and down. I honestly wish I’d gotten a better chance to see it—my time here has been marked primarily by glimpses, what with all the cloud cover and rain.

While the days are mostly dry, the middling times, dawn and dusk, are generally marked by some sort of precipitation. When I pack my tent up in the morning, my rain fly and the exposed parts of my tent body are usually sopping wet; my sleeping bag is also damp from an evening marinating in the moisture of my breath. The cloud cover – and the relative chill of the days now – makes it difficult to get everything drier, let alone dry. So every night since Stevens Pass, I’ve either set up a wet tent or gotten my tent soaked while setting up in the rain and hail of a thunderstorm. I’ve spent a lot of time hoping that everything’s dry enough to keep me warm and worrying that I’m going to wake up in a puddle, but so far, so good. The worry is still draining, though.

My body’s officially slowing down as well. My left IT band—which runs from the outside of the knee up to the glute—is particularly angry with me, a constant soreness that only increases from day to day. My left knee and right hip have started popping occasionally, which isn’t exactly painful so much as odd and off-putting. I’ve also developed a weird rash on both ankles that I suspect is related to the damp. So there’s a lot of stopping to stretch in the middle of the day, a lot of vague concern that everything’s not going to keep cooperating, particularly since I haven’t been able to push miles as per usual.

I’ve felt like I’ve been goading a particularly stubborn mule through this last section. I know I should be going faster, but I feel like I’m pushing as hard as I can without inviting injury. Still, until today, I’d only made a max of 23 miles, and I felt like that was a stretch. Sure, the trail was sending us straight up and down again, but when the people around me were doing upwards of 38 miles in a day, I’ve felt my progress to be a little inadequate. Today felt better, at just over 27 miles, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to maintain that.

Still, they say the last one to Canada wins—and while I’m not even close to being the last one, I intend to enjoy the final stretch as much as possible, even if the weather or my body doesn’t cooperate as I’d like. I’ve got 80 miles left between me and the terminus, a milestone that I’m at once looking forward to and dreading.