“I am a solo female long-distance hiker, but I’m not Cheryl Strayed! Wild is not a book about me! It’s not even a book about backpacking!” was what I wanted to scream from the mountaintops every time someone on the PCT asked me if I’d read Wild.
For weeks, if not months, I’d been dreaming about what I was going to do when I got off of the trail… Most of those dreams involved food… My mouth watered as I imagined the amazing cuisine that awaited me in civilization… milkshakes, hamburgers, fries, filet mignon, eggs benedict, salmon, creme brulee, cupcakes, cookies, pies… Mmmm… pies.
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” – Edward Abbey
The mountains are my mentors, and my most trusted advisers. They constantly challenge me, forcing me to think, to learn, to explore, and to grow in unanticipated ways. When I take a wrong turn, or stumble and fall, they patiently wait for me to regain my footing and continue my journey. They demand respect, and through their silence, force me to gain confidence in myself and in my own voice. When I get to the peak, they proudly share their beauty and understanding, all the while reminding me of the vastness of the world, and the infinite possibilities awaiting me as my journeys continue.
“Mreh,” I mumbled and swatted at whatever had just landed on my face. I was all curled up and cozily sleeping in my beloved zero degree sleeping bag under the stars. Even though I wasn’t quite awake yet my brain was turning its gears as another thing landed on my face. This time when I swatted at it my hand came back wet. I knew what this was! It was rain! Barely half awake, I rolled over and quickly stuffed everything into my backpack and three my pack cover over it.
Considering I was in Southern California, in the Mojave desert, and the weather forecast said that there was a 0% chance of rain for each of the 10 days in the forecast I figured it was probably just one little cloud misting on me and would blow by quickly. I didn’t mind getting a little damp as long as all of my stuff (especially my electronics) was going to be safe, secure, and dry.
As I lay back down I looked up at the sky, the moon and some stars were still visible, but clouds were definitely moving in. Some bigger droplets fell on my face. I checked my watch, it was 2 am, and I was definitely starting to get rained on. Setting up my tent still seemed like a lot of work, so I just pulled out my tent fly and rolled myself up in it figuring that it would keep both me and my down sleeping bag plenty dry.
At that point I still didn’t believe that it was really going to rain. I’d started trusting southern California’s weather forecasts, had started to trust that the low humidity over the desert was a cloud killer. I had come to terms with the fact that a 20% chance of rain meant that I was going to get soaked, but 0% chance, that should mean that I’d stay dry!
As I lay curled up in my rain fly shroud the winds began gusting and moisture continued to drip from the sky. With temperatures in the low 40s or upper 30s I couldn’t afford to let my sleeping bag get wet. *sigh* This was not just one poor misguided cloud weeping at its desert fate, this was an actual storm!
Until that moment I’d been able to make all of my rain preparations without ever really waking up or getting out of my sleeping bag, but as soon as I came to the conclusion it was a storm and not a tiny misguided cloud I was out of my sleeping bag and setting up my tent.
As the winds whipped around me I quickly scooted my sleeping pad and sleeping bag into the tent before staking it out, erecting it, and throwing the rain fly up. It was so windy at that point that I put rocks over the stakes/bottom corners of the tent to help anchor it before quickly scooting into my tent to ensure that it wasn’t going to become a giant kite.
As I crawled back into my tent I could hear the wind howling around it and the rain slamming against it. I threw a bunch of heavy stuff into the bottom my tent to help anchor it down and put the rest of my stuff on the windward side to help buffer against the winds even more.
It had been less than five minutes between when the first drop of water hit my face and when I crawled back into my sleeping bag after getting my tent set up. I was impressed with my half asleep self, and I wondered if the tent was overkill… It was Southern California after all, And I was sure it wasn’t going to rain… At least not much.
The other person cowboy camping nearby heard the commotion I made, realized it was raining and set up their tent as well, so our little camping area was full of excitement at 2 am! As the night progressed the excitement didn’t end. Temperatures dropped, wind speeds increased, ice started mixing in with the rain, and people’s tents started blowing over.
Though my tent was getting whipped around by the wind and making lots of noise, it held it’s ground, and didn’t collapse or lose any stakes. Throughout the night, however, there was intermittent swearing as other people’s tents lost the battle against the wind and collapsed on top of their occupants.
It seems like a lot of people on the PCT cowboy camp (just sleeping out under the stars without a tent) most of the time since we are in the desert and the chance of precipitation is so low. As I started to get used to the desert I started to join the people cowboy camping.
For me the real appeal of cowboy camping is the night sky in the desert, which is absolutely phenomenal! Since the best time to view the stars seems to be well after hiker midnight (sunset), when I pitch my tent the only time I get to see the full night sky is when I get up in the middle of the night and inevitably have to make a bathroom run. When I cowboy camp every time I wake up I can just look up and stare at the stars. Since I often have insomnia this means that I get to look at the stars a lot, which I absolutely love…
Though getting rained on in the middle of the night is not awesome, I expect that the joy of star-gazing from my sleeping bag will eventually tempt me to continue cowboy camping! If I ever wake up with a rattlesnake curled up on my sleeping bag, however, I expect I will be permanently cured of my cowboy camping habits!
Blisters happen. Having dry feet and shoes that fit perfectly are the best ways to avoid blisters. That’s not always possible. On the AT I hatched a monster blister on the heel of my right foot. In that case I blamed my blister (named B.B. at one of the shelters in the Smokies) on the fact that my feet were constantly wet for the first 200 miles of the AT.
For hiking the PCT I employed all of the blister avoidance techniques I’d learned on the AT. I tried to keep my feet dry, I used my anti-chafing stick on my feet every morning, I used my favorite socks, I got boots that were plenty big, and as soon as I got any hot spots I covered them with athletic tape and that seemed to work really well for the first 200 miles or so.
Despite all of my efforts I ended up with a big blister on the heel of my right foot at around mile 400 of the PCT this year. I knew that I had a blister brewing.
To get shoes with a big enough toe box for my feet, the heel cup tends to be looser than it should be. At the beginning of the hike I was keeping my shoes laced tightly which seemed to be working perfectly to prevent my heel from lifting.
Unfortunately, by the time I got to Warner Springs I was getting a little bit of bruising on the tops of my feet from having my laces tied too tightly and was worried that I might be creating a perfect storm for stress fractures. At that point I made a conscious decision… I was going to loosen my laces, increasing my risk of blisters but decreasing my risk of stress fractures. Blisters I can walk through, stress fractures would take me off of the trail. It was an incredibly easy decision for me to make. I would much rather have the blisters.
Sure enough, within a couple of days I’d started developing blisters, but the pain on the top of my feet was going down, so I suppose that I’d achieved my goal. I treated the blisters with athletic tape, which was still working until… I ran out of athletic tape. Doh! I tried using duct tape and relearned what I’d learned on the AT… Duct tape doesn’t stick to my feet.
The blister got bigger… I tried using moleskin… It didn’t stick, the blister got bigger. In a desperate last ditch attempt I tried covering it with a bandaid…and the blister got bigger.
When I made it into town next I needed to do two things… Pop my blister and buy more athletic tape!
*** my mom says all the information beyond this point is too much information, but I say enquiring minds want to know! Comment at the end and let us know which one of us is right! ***
B.B the blister was not allowed to make a comeback so I prepared to eliminate my blister. Different people have different strategies for popping blisters. My illustrated strategy for blister elimination follows:
1. Head into a town or hostel where you can take a shower and prepare a relatively clean environment.
2. Clean and disinfect the area around the blister (I use one of my alcohol prep pads for this.)
3. Sterilize a needle. On the trail I carry safety pins and use one of those as a needle and I use the lighter I carry to heat the pin until it’s red hot. You could also disinfect it with an alcohol wipe.
3. I then pierce the blister in two locations (one to act as a drain and the other to act as a vent or pressure release). *note: before removing the needle make sure you have a towel under you foot for when the fluid (just the plasma component of your blood, unless it’s a blood blister) comes gushing out.
4. After the blister is drained I apply antibiotic ointment to it.
5. If I’m a clean environment (a hotel or hostel) I the leave the blister uncovered overnight so that it can dry out and toughen up a bit. If I’m on the trail (I still deal will my blisters at night so that they get at least 8 hrs of rest before I retraumatize them) I put on a pair of clean socks to wear overnight (town clean not hiker clean).
6. The next morning I reapply antibiotic ointment and then I cover my blister with tegaderm to protect it. I then cover the whole area with athletic tape as usual (since it’s the only thing that sticks to my feet and it holds the tegaderm in place.
And that is how I deal with my blisters on the trail!