My equipment is failing but I won’t
It’s hot. Really hot. The kind of heat when sweat drips from my forehead into my eyes and it stings. I feel a drop hit my bare legs. I wipe my face with my dirty sleeve and take a sip of water from my bladder. Empty. I check FarOut and see there are still six miles to the water. I pull out my umbrella and attempt to attach it to my backpack so I can keep my hands on my poles. I’m tired, I’ve been walking 20-25 miles a day for two weeks. I need to rest, but more importantly, I need to get in the water. I take the road again under the midday sun. I should be taking a nap right now, but I can’t find any shade.
I stumble over some rocks and my umbrella gets caught in a tree. I lose my footing and fall, left leg first. It hurts. I verify that I am still alive. I then check that I have not broken anything. My checks after my trip. Then I check the damage. I cut my leg again exactly the same way I had cut it a few days before.
It’s dirty. I sit for a moment wondering if I could sit in the middle of the trail forever, but blood seeps through the dirt and flies swarm in the cut, clinging to the blood. I take an antiseptic wipe from my first aid kit and try to clean it. I realize that I am scrubbing the dirt. I have 1 liter of water left, I can’t spare any. I’ll have to wait until I find enough. A bandage doesn’t stick to sweat, so I tie my bandana around my leg to keep out the flies and get up slowly.
I walk the next six miles in tears. I don’t know why I’m crying, but it feels good. I haven’t seen anyone all day, often I like solitude, I even feel like it, but right now I want my track friends, I hope they’ll be in the water, so that I can show them the cup and laugh about it together and discuss the difficulties of the day. An hour later, I see a beautiful snake, a type I’ve never seen before, lying in the late afternoon sun, and I remember once again that there is so much joy and wonder to be found in the desert. I remember why I do this. I remember that I love the desert.
The week that challenged me
It was the start of week five, a week I’ve now begun to call the week the track challenged me. I think I had it easy the first four weeks. I had started to think that I was good at hiking, that the desert wasn’t as difficult as everyone claimed. I had been prepared for the long water transports, the heat, the wind and the fatigue of exercising 12 hours a day. I had prepared for everything I thought the trail might throw at me, but there’s one thing I forgot to prepare for: what happens if your gear fails.
From the first time I tripped, slowly but surely the following happened:
My tent pole broke in a single gust of wind while putting it away one morning
I spilled superglue on my tent floor trying to fix my leaking CNOC Vecto
My Stove’s Wires Are Missing and I Couldn’t Connect It to Gas
My sunglasses suddenly got so scratched and chipped that I couldn’t even see them
My carpet pump bag stopped attaching
My cubic fiber storage bags torn at the seams
And then the worst happened.
I strapped my poles to my backpack while walking the LA Aquaduct, and managed to lose half a pole. Half a post. It was a monstrous loss. I don’t know how it happened. Realizing this, I set off to try to find it before admitting that I didn’t have enough water to go up a potential seven miles in the midday heat. This could become a potential medical evacuation. I turned around and stumbled forward, with a pole. I crossed the wind farm and climbed up the mountains with the wind blowing me back down. The only pole I had stabilized my right side; my left side worked twice as hard to fight the wind. I arrived at camp elated, exhausted, and emotionally defeated, but feeling strong, capable. I was Scorpion Queen and I had conquered the wind! I had lost half a pole on the worst possible day, but that didn’t stop me. My left ankle was throbbing from the pressure it had been under from the wind. I fell asleep exhausted, dreaming of day zero that I had planned for myself.
When I woke up the next morning, everything went back. I only had one pole. I had a long way to go and my body was exhausted. I needed sugar. I needed protein, caffeine, anti-inflammatories, whatever I could think of to get up the mountain. I didn’t want to walk, my body and my mind were crying out for rest. My mind felt drained from the week of calling equipment companies and trying to coordinate shipping times. I stopped within a mile and cried and called my mom and told her I didn’t want to walk anymore. I’ve done over 20% of the trail now, that’s an amazing feat and deep down I know I would never give up that easily, but in that moment of exhaustion and weakness I couldn’t imagine how I could walk.
My gear failing me was the thing I never expected, I expected it might happen in the second half of the trail but not the first, that’s the thing the trail chose to challenge me because he knew that would be my weak point. The first four weeks I had hiked the mountains and trudged through the heat with mental toughness because that was what I had been preparing for. I had spent hours researching and testing hardware. I was perhaps more confident in my equipment than in myself. I had begun to feel that my speed failure was because I was a failure.
But I remember that I did. I walked with a pole in the wind farm and now I realize what hiking is all about. Only part of that is the physical strength of the trek and the ability to travel the 2650 miles from Mexico to Canada. The bottom line is how we choose to meet the challenges the path throws at us. The trail will find our weak spots, it will challenge us in ways we don’t expect. But I made a decision. I decided to keep loving the desert and to keep walking, because I understand now. It’s about being strong and resilient in the face of challenges and continuing to move forward despite them.
PS My hardware repair kit has become as essential, if not more so, than my first aid kit. I’m going to add a sewing kit, more superglue, and a few other repair things. I quit the CNOC. (Worst customer service ever.) I’m also making some changes to my gear in preparation for the Sierras.
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