Hiking in Reverse

Start: Blue Lake (2214)
Camp: Panther Creek (2190)
The mosquitoes were horrible last night. I woke up wanting to throw things. That buzzing! Why must they congregate at my ears? Every time I’d move enough to open up a seem – at my wrist where the jacket covered my glove, or at the waist where it was tucked into my pants – every time a gap would open up anywhere, mosquitoes would just settle in and suck away, leaving me welted and thoroughly annoyed.
I started packing at first light and, without water to prepare food, was on the trail fifteen minutes later. No one seems to be astir yet. It was 6:00 a.m.
I started my day by falling in the water at Blue Lake, distracted by mosquitoes as I log hopped to get water, of course. But things got better from there.
A redeeming view of Mt. St. Helens.
I descended gingerly. This is awesome! How come I haven’t started this early every day?
Then I met Mover. He was having a great morning. Four times on the PCT, says he knows enough people now that, “It’s like a f*ckin’ party. Every three days you’re at a trail angel’s house and everyone’s got money, you’re drinking beer. In California I mean. That’s where I’m from. It’s a good time. You’ve got a lot of cool people coming up.” He’s headed to hike the Arizona trail once he finishes next month.  He told me the shower code, 1963, for cascade locks, and where Shrek’s house is, the orange one passed the grocery store, but you can camp for free by the train tracks. I’m thinking of going in to Portland anyway, to get the world’s best ice cream.
I stopped for lunch at my last water source for 13 miles. I drank without filtering for the first time. Yesterday, Carlos told me he hadn’t filtered anything except the questionable desert sources. I drank a couple of liters, filled everything I had, and began the climb up while I forced down 1200 calories of rice, lentils and quinoa. It was way too much food and I felt sluggish and sick.
My right Achilles began to burn, almost unbearably. Yesterday it was my left. I sat in the trail and massaged my sore feet. At the time it didn’t occur to me that the searing pain was not coming from the place I was massaging. I alternated, one hand on each simultaneously, two hands on the left, two hands on the right. I took four ibuprofen but that just barely took the edge off. I breathed hard and puffed out my cheeks as I hiked, to distract myself, and soon I couldn’t tell if I was out of breath from the climb or just from my huffing. I sat in the trail and mixed up electrolytes hoping it was just a cramp. I started to wonder if it’s what I ate. Or was it my shoes? “Are they too minimal?” I asked myself. Maybe I’m just carrying too much weight. But today I have less than ever. I’m four days ahead of schedule. Everyday at lunch for three days I’ve dumped out another day of food. The northbounders I’ve seen have all been traveling very very light – lighter than me – and I know I need to make up time to make it to the Sierras before the snow.
I stop, I sit, I massage, I hike. I repeat this over and over again. The ‘stops’ get longer and the ‘hikes’ get shorter. I knew when I started this morning with no shirt that I should enjoy the little bit of nighttime cool that remained. Now, still shirtless, I poured in sweat. I didn’t need my sleeping bag last night, it was so warm. I want to replace it with a 30° down quilt, but that will only do me through northern Cali I figure, then I’ll need my full bag again, so it’s probably not worth it.
I climbed another rise and gave up. “This is the part where I sleep,” I said, despite being seven miles from water. The huge meal and the constant pain had exhausted me. I laid out my tarp and slept in the shade of a tall pine. Dirt Stew and Dormouse passed by headed south in my slumber and had the rest of the day’s northbounders calling me ‘Beach Bum’.
The pain was no better when I got back on the trail 90 minutes later. My face contorted and I moaned in agony as I slowly stepped down the trail, each step a tortuous chore. I was out of water and I thought I might not even get to the next water tonight. Then I knew I would not make it. As if to underscore my suffering I found a dry water cache that a trail angel had left. Just two dozen empty plastic water bottles now.
I tried two sappy sticks as trekking poles to soften the pressure on my feet. No help. Every mossy knoll looked like an amazing campsite. My steps slowed to a waddle and pain shot up my legs as I descended. I was so frustrated. Here I was on the smoothest trail yet and I couldn’t even take advantage of it.
I stopped and turned uphill to take a break. Then I remembered hearing somebody talking about there friend that had gotten very good at hiking the trail backwards. Everyone says I’m hiking backwards because I’m hiking from north to south, and it’s been so tough that at this point I am liable to say they’re right, but I don’t think that’s what this person meant. I looked over my shoulder and took a step backwards down the trail with my right foot. I shuffled my left to catch up. Then I took another step. It looked silly, and it felt ridiculous, but I had to admit I was moving faster this way. I kept going. I got better and soon I could take full size steps. Every time I’d try to turn forwards the searing pain in my Achilles tendons came back and I turned right back around and kept walking. The uphills hurt either way but luckily it was almost all down. Once in a while I’d take a frightening misstep off the lower edge of the trail. I was descending from 4,000′ to meet Panther Creek at 900′ on a steep mountain hillside For a little bit I turned around and pushed on forward at normal speed. The pain was too much. I went to that warm glowy place where you think you might pass out. I turned back around and I stayed that way down all the switchbacks to the bottom. At Panther Creek I sat down right in the creek. I bathed, I drank and I iced my feet. Not only was I sweaty but I smelled terribly unhealthy, a stark contrast to the healthful odor I’d had just the day before. I quickly made camp, barely able to stand. I’d been hiking for fifteen hours, and I’d hiked backwards for the last four hours.