Pacific Crest Trail: The Going Gets Tough

Our PCT correspondent faces a new set of challenges in Oregon.
Oregon Pacific Crest Trail

Photo by Amanda Jameson

Today should have just been a normal town approach day—a long one, at 23 miles, but a relatively simple day of Oregon ups and downs nonetheless. Instead, I've found myself angry, seemingly at nothing. I've got the usual "It takes too long to get into town" grumbles, but on closer inspection, it's more than that. With my partner, Speshul 41, getting off trail in Bend and the trail made up of a combination of lava rock and silt-like soft sand, I find that while my conscious mind is toiling up the hard terrain, I'm subconsciously dwelling on the more nebulous difficulties that lie ahead.

First and foremost is what Speshul calls Cumulative Fatigue Syndrome. I'm tired most of the time, even though I've gotten much, much better about eating. It doesn't help that I pinched a nerve a couple of days ago, which caused so much pain I could hardly walk. It's improved over the following days, but what if it comes back? Can I make it to Canada before the snow comes if that happens?

And then the gears start turning about the weather that's likely ahead. How will I handle the cold? How will I handle the wet? And then there's the mental side, managing that discomfort when all of my friends are either ahead or behind.

That last bit is of particular concern to me, given that the last few days on trail, I've hardly seen any other northbound hikers. Snow travel is still pretty new to me, and while I'm certainly more comfortable than I once was, I'm not certain that my reading, or the Sierras this year, have aptly prepared me for what's likely to come. I'd feel more secure knowing there were other people around, but ultimately, I'm the one who has to make the best calls for me. I don't necessarily know what those look like at this point, but I have to trust that I'm prepared enough to recognize them.

Still, it feels like a thin thread of confidence to cling to as we approach McKenzie Pass and the end of Speshul's time with me. I'll take a day in Bend to let my hip figure itself out and say goodbye, then it's back on the trail.