Day 6, Tuesday 5/2
Mileage: 57.7 [12.7 today]
Morale: 7->10 [Starting to meet other hikers, awesome scenery, serious concern about blisters]
B is for blisters, breathtaking beauty, breaking the r/s streak.
Blister cumulative total: 4
While I'm channeling Bryson, let me tell you about some of the characters out here on the trail.
Trail names are typically given to commemorate some memorable moment. But not always. Sometimes their origin is much more immediate. Take Barrel.
My introduction to Barrel was a low rumbling, scraping sound as I caught up to some hikers around the corner from me. I found this was because Barrel (whose trail name last year was Bob the Roller) was dragging behind him a 7-gallon drum of water, rolling it via a makeshift axle and two hiking poles to hold it behind him. (The barrel disappeared as he hiked up the trail; he only took it with him through the long waterless stretches near the beginning.)
There's also The Monk. Who is one. And Sparky, the electrician.
Highlander is apparently hiking in a kilt.
Most folks are out here alone -- but not all. Barrel is traveling with his wife. I've been hiking near a mother-son team, Suzy and Matt. Apparently there is a family of five out on the trail, the Bennetts, but nobody seems to have heard much about them since the kickoff party.
Another husband-wife pairing is Billy Goat, an older man with a long white beard, and Meadow Mary -- who isn't hiking. She's a traveling trail angel who drives along the trail as he goes and offers lifts and fruit to the other hikers while she waits for him.
Most of there, though, I would meet later in the trip. On Day 6 I was just breaking the R/S Streak.
Back at Lake Morena, Kady and I stayed with a campsite full of people whose trail names began with S -- Shrek, Shaggy Sticks, Stump [I would later find out it was "Stomp." Oops. -B], and Star. I (Redtail) met Rob coming out of camp. When I reached Mount Laguna and caught up to the pack of hikers just ahead of me, the only people whose names I caught were Starman and Speshul 41. Roy was the former thru-hiker who tipped me off to my Day 4 campsite.
Day 6 would see me encountering more hikers, on the trail and off. Steel Magnolia (S again) was hiking with Laura - my first non-R/S name. When the three of us limped into Pioneer Mail Picnic Area for lunch, I met Cadence (No. 2) and, later, The Monk (No. 3). it was kind of a relief -- it had been starting to unsettle me. I had been starting to think I was in the middle of '"R/S"quad' and was doomed to hike with a strange and select subset of thru-hikers all the way to Canada. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
After a relaxing lunch -- and blister management, and washing my socks (five rinses before the water started getting less brown!) -- I tried to hustle out of there to make up for lost time. But that plan was soon cut short by the utterly breathtaking view to the east, down 2000 feet to the desert -- the first incredible scenery of the trip.
I was literally stopping every five minutes to take photos. Often more often.
Perhaps it was for the best that I slowed down; another blister developed, and I wasn't treating the ones I had very well. I learned a hard lesson -- that taping over a blister and putting more pressure on it aggravates it. My plan of covering my left heel blister with Second Skin (fairly thick) resulted in the blister tearing open. I would try to keep the SS on it to prevent infection over the next few days, with ever more complex rigs of tape and borrowed moleskin around it to cut down on the pressure, with limited success (they kept painfully sliding around). In many ways, the first few days after the kickoff would be less a hike than Blister Management 101.
It also occurred to me on Day 6 that thru-hiking, as opposed to short-distance hiking, can best be characterized as pre-crisis management. Ideally you drink before you dehydrate, eat before you run out of energy, treat your feet before they blister, fix degraded gear before it breaks, etc. You don't always have the time luxury of stopping if something serious comes up -- there's too much ground to cover -- so, once you learn the basics of things like blister management, you have to prevent problems in order to keep going. It's just that simple.
I already had a problem, though -- blisters. So when I limped into camp well after dark -- a horse-trail trailhead across the highway, with pit toilets and a trough full of water -- I set up my tent (experimentally -- as of mid-May I still haven't needed it), slept and set about trying to manage the crisis as best I could.