Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Desert Sucks


(Still no camera.  We've taken a slight detour and will be in Wrightwood, picking up the camera by Friday.  If we miss the post office, then we will be picking it up Tuesday or forwarding.  At this point, we're just winging it. :)

Every bit of the mother in me says we should just go home.  I look at my dirty, scuffed up little ruffian and know he is suffering.  He is severely dehydrated, massively lacking calories, and sweltering in the heat.  But, I also know how much his heart is in this.  I know what it would mean to him for me to stop us.  I realize that in this instance the physical sacrifice is much more important than the emotional burden of failure.

Some time ago I wrote about how every true backpacking adventure has a moment where you think "What the hell am I doing?!"  If it didn't, it wouldn't be an adventure.  This morning as I was holding my son over the sink for him to dry heave, I had that moment.

What the hell am I doing?


Let me start at the beginning.

Three days ago, The Barracuda began fussing about 3 miles into the day.  I handled it magnificently by telling him to drink a lot of water, provided a gulp of Gatorade, and demanded he suck it up.  At mile 5, he passed out.  I tried to keep the horseflies off him and let him sleep for a half hour as I contemplated my Child Protective Services report "Mother of the Year" speech.  The boy had burned every spare calorie his body had in reserve and could not eat enough to sustain the calories he had been burning during the day.  This resulted in severe sugar shock.

The day continued with 100+ degree temperatures, 100 percent exposure, contouring with no where to stop, and swarms of horseflies everywhere.  It sucked monumentally.  We did not have enough water to make a full meal (it was a lengthy waterless stretch and extreme heat so lunch was going to be tuna fish), but I pushed every spare piece of food possible into The Barracuda.  Two moon pies, a package of cheese and crackers, 4 liters of Gatorade, 3 liters of water, a block of cheese, 2 tuna fish packets, some Sun Chips, a bag of Doritos, and 4 trail bars later.  We made it Silverwood State Park.  By that time we were out of water, exhausted and had undergone the single worst day of backpacking I have ever experienced.  I had only eaten a Snickers bar the entire day and thoroughly must have looked it when a startled Ranger directed us to a closed group camp one mile away.  He said we could stay for free, following up with, "The showers are locked up, though." You forget how much you smell out here.

We took a 15 minute break where The Barracuda shared an orange with another hiker who kept flashing me nervous looks. He left us with, "Kid, you are tougher than I will ever be."

Trail Magic is a funny thing.  It perks up whenever you think everything is lost.  The group campground next to us is occupied by the Tree House of Sequoyah School - just about the greatest bunch of 3rd and 4th grade campers I've ever met!  The Barracuda and I were invited to eat dinner with them - pesto pasta, salad, bread, sausages, strawberries and cream - share a campfire, play games, and generally treated amazingly well.  There are many Trail Angels out there, but the best ones are the ones who you don't expect and aren't trying to do anything but show extreme generosity in bizarre coincidences. They made our day melt away.  They made the next day easier.  They helped in times when all seemed lost and didn't even know they were doing it.  Thank you, Emily and Treehouse.

The next day we hiked 13.6 miles to the trailside McDonalds (there is even a wooden trail marker), ate 2700 calories each.  In another bizarre coincidence, a fellow hiker lived in Riverside, California, the exact suburb of Los Angeles my high school friend works/lives in.  We were given a ride and are currently sitting out the trail on a very much needed zero day.  The Barracuda has recovered from his morning puking and is currently watching cartoons in Marjorie's air conditioned studio apartment.  The laundry has been done and giant burritos have been consumed (more calories the better).  Everything has been charged up and we head out tonight to catch our ride back to the trailhead.

Last night we got to sit in on her graduate class about the implications of manners in the development of the Novel.  It was quite an interesting experience to be sitting, stinky and covered with dirt, in a classroom full of strangers discussing what it means socially to have manners.  Oh the irony....

We are back to the trail in the morning to bust out 20+ miles to Wrightwood!


8 thoughts:

Mel said...

Wow- tough stuff. I can only imagine how much food the Barracuda (and you) need. When I think of the ridiculous number of calories my boys (3.5 and 5 years) eat on a normal day.... I would need a pack goat to carry enough food on the trail. Hopefully this was one of your toughest days. And you made it.

Granola Girl said...

They are back on the trail today. I hope they will take their time getting to Wrightwood and just recuperate, but they are nuts enough that they might try to knock the 20+ miles out to get to the post office today. So much of their lives and plans are dictated by the terrain and conditions. Thanks to everyone for all your support of my family. I'll keep you posted.

Anonymous said...

The stress that you are putting you son thru could have severe reprocussions on his growth and development. Constant and regular severe dehydration could also induce appendicitis which on the trail could be life threatening. Dehydration can also impair your judgement and motor skills. Heat stroke and sun sickness could over take him as well. The desert can be incredibly unforgiving and you will be faced from here on out with waterless sections and no guarantee that the cache's contain water. The Mohave desert can rise to a 120 + degrees in a matter of days and as we have seen so far this year is very unpredictable you still have this section to cross. It would be better to break his spirit than to break your son. Two hikers have been killed in the desert this year already, one in Anza Borrego and a second near the San Jacintos. Please make good rational decisions an put you son's health and safety before his pride and spirit. There are still thousands of miles ahead skipping a small portion would not make a difference in the big picture. However it could be the difference between life and death.

Granola Girl said...

Thank you for your concern, and we truly appreciate the concern for the Barracuda. As I type this, he and my wife are already in the Mojave desert. Trust me, they are aware of the dangers of dehydration, heat stroke, and the long sections of waterless terrain that lays before them. Brynn is carrying more than two gallons of water and the Barracuda is toting his maximum load also. We are aware of the dangers of the entire trail, and I can say with complete confidence that Brynn and the Barracuda are prepared and capable of meeting these challenges. If they weren't, they wouldn't be out there. While I hear you about skipping a portion if it is dangerous, I have to say that long distance hikers, my wife and kid included, are a hard headed bunch and fear the slippery slope of skipping sections. If you start skipping tough sections, it is all to easy to fall victim to that thought process. They still have the Sierras to traverse, snowfields to cross, freezing rain to face, and many difficult miles to cover. With that said, Brynn is an amazing mother and a very experienced hiker. I trust her to make wise choices concerning the safety of our child and herself.

babbaapril said...

Well said Jules, but those of us on the sidelines can't help but worry. It is one thing to be excited for the hikers during the planning phase but quite another to learn of the child's hardship. Having said that, I agree with you completely that Sparrow would never deliberately put The Barracuda in harm's way.If the PCT is anything at all like The Camino in Spain, you may be hiking alone, but so are hundreds of other people and one comes across many other hikers in the course of a day. I'm not a religious woman so I can't wish them Godspeed, but I do believe in the positive power of the Universe.

Granola Girl said...

April, Thanks for the support. And believe me when I say I understand the worrying. I'm a fairly protective person, and the Sparrow and the Barracuda are my life. I want them to always be safe, but I also feel that personal growth nearly always requires confronting personal limits. This PCT hike is an amazing opportunity for both the Barracuda and the Sparrow, and I don't want my worry to discourage them. My greatest hope for the Barracuda is that he has a life of adventure and happiness. There are going to be long, hard days in store for them, but Brynn has the knowledge, wisdom, and parenting skills required to meet any challenge they will see. While there are other great people out there hiking in the same direction as them, Brynn and the Barracuda are capable of this challenge without them. That self reliance thing is pretty core to the outdoor experience.

By the way, have you seen the movie The Way yet? I watched it the other night, and couldn't help thinking about Brynn and the Barracuda.

babbaapril said...

I have seen The Way. I cried as I remembered certain parts of my journey. It was a truly life-changing experience for me. The movie makers left out some of the most scenic spots though and they didn't make if look like it was a very difficult trek. Of course, none of it was as difficult as what Sparrow and Barracuda are doing now.

Jules said...

April, The Camino trail looks amazing. While the movie might have missed the difficult sections, I came away feeling very impressed with your walk. Regardless of which long distance trail, there is something about dedicating yourself to walking. The time to think and be quiet has a lot to do with it. I'm certainly jealous of your walk of the Camino. For those readers who don't know April, she is Brynn's mom, and she walked the amazing Camino trail in Spain a couple of years ago. It is a trip that Brynn and I have drooled over and hope to do some day.

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