The Desert Sessions Part II
Being a 6’1 male that weighs about as much a 16 year old girl, and has the legs of a hungry skeleton. I have never experienced the woes of chafing in my life, until walking 25+ miles (40+ km) in a day in blistering desert sun that is. To all the women of the world, I now understand. Walking for 8 hours a day carrying my life on my back, my extremely chafed buttocks feel like I tried to wipe my bum with sandpaper, that was lit on fire. A humbling experience to say the least, especially when your walking like a duck that’s just had a rough day.
702 miles (1,123km) of sand and hot sun. Collecting water from some pretty suspect brown creeks, cos what’s worse, being thirsty or having giardia. I can tell you it’s definitely the former. Now that I’ve reached the solace of the Sierra Nevada mountains, I look back at the desert and wonder how I ever did it. Days consisted of walking from water source to water source, quite often 25 miles or more. Sleeping in the dirt swarming with ants, constantly keeping an ear tuned for rattlesnakes, waking up to hike at 3 am to avoid the sun and drinking enough Gatorade that I should be sponsored by now. It was a harrowing experience, one that I’m not interested in repeating, no one should sweat that much in their lives.
Some things on the trail will never be understood unless you hike it yourself. One of these things is water, or the lack thereof. As you drink a glass of water at home while reading this, consider the image of me filtering stagnant brown water, or collecting 6L of water drop by drop from a ‘spring’. On one hand I really enjoy playing Russian roulette with diarrhoea, but realistically that’s all the water there is for the next 25 mi (40km) so you will drink anything. Water controls your life out there, where to camp, how far to walk, where to break, water makes all the difference.
Over the course of 702mi there is a lot of time to ponder one’s thoughts. The thought that crossed my mind the most was, ‘why the hell would ANYONE that isn’t trying to hike across a country, hike this for pleasure’. The answer I came up with, ‘they wouldn’t’. If you think you know what sweating is, you haven’t experienced anything like this. I haven’t even mentioned the constant nose bleeds from the dry air. Coming from a country that has so much rainfall, beautiful lakes, rivers, and waterfalls on almost every hike, the total lack of water hurt me more than most. Nowhere to swim, or wash the dirt, salt and stink off (which is impressive to say the least).
Don’t get me wrong the desert was beautiful, it’s amazing vistas, beautiful desert flowers, rattle snakes trying to bite you (on several occasions), packs of Coyotes killing some random animal in the middle of the night close to your campsite. But all these things lose their glamour after the first couple of weeks. Then it becomes a game of avoid the sun, hike between the hours of 5pm and 9am and hide wherever you can to sleep for a bit.
All in all it was actually an incredible experience, but if you told me I would have to do it again. I would quit right now. No joke. As for the immediate future, it’s snow, 1200ft mountain passes, 7 day food carries (I’ll introduce you to hiker hunger later on) and beautiful, clear, cold and clen water every mile.