The “Wall”: Northern California (miles 1092-1689)

(The Instruments That Carry)

In running a marathon, there is this phenomenon called “hitting the wall.”  The wall is defined as that period in a marathon when things transition from being pretty hard to being really, really hard. It’s when the physical demands and low glucose levels fatigue the body, and your mental faculties become tested.

I have run two marathons, and both times, I hit a wall between miles 16-20. I recall my mind trying to convince myself for miles that it was truly ok to  stop and walk while drinking at that next Gatorade station. When I did stop, my legs buckled beneath me and I knew going forward, if I stopped again, I wouldn’t finish the race.

(Nyc marathon 2011)
(Nyc marathon 2011 – finisher)

The Pacific Crest Trail is 2600 miles long. When I physically feel well, hiking 26.2 miles a day is no problem. However, perhaps because I ordered the wrong size shoe, perhaps because I have increased my mileage by 55%, perhaps because my feet softened by being wet for a month in the Sierras, I am physically challenged. My feet are so sore with blisters covering at least half of my forefoot pads and heels, and I can’t pop them because my upper dermis and calluses are too thick. When I do try to pop them, I have to cut an 1/8″ upper layer away, creating craters into my dermis.

 (The Instruments That Carry – Detail Shot. Feet have grown 2.5 sizes)

Once physically challenged, my mind finds itself stuck on repeat, “fuck this fuck this fuck this fuck this fuck. Other times is goes “this fuck this fuck this fuck this” (for miles! Days!). When I stop to rest, or to filter water, starting up the hobble express is even more painful. Why? I am not a neurologist, but I speculate it is because when banging your pained feet for miles upon miles, eventually the pain receptors shout to each other, “hey guys! This stupid human isn’t responding to us! Let’s go to sleep!” Once they numb out, or go to sleep, walking again feels mildly tolerable. Especially with a good podcast at hand, or the Hamilton Musical to listen to while hiking. However, if I stop for a minute, they think it’s time to shout out again, “human human, we really don’t like you walking on us!” Two miles later and they will quiet down, or numb out again.

So, if in a marathon, 4 out of the 26.2 miles feel like the wall, I speculate that 400 of the 2600 miles of the PCT are comparably a wall, and I am right in the middle of it in Northern California.

(Matt and I on the Hat Creek Rim Trail. It is notoriously dry, exposed, and hot)

(Sun setting in Lassen)


Northern California is hot like the desert. With climbs of 6000 feet in elevation, it is more rigorous. In some sections, the water is sparse. Where my average mileage was 18 miles per day in the desert, I must make bigger miles through Northern California: 25 to 30, because winter storms can hit Washington as early as mid September (I met a thru hiker who is attempting  the Pct for the third time this year. His last attempt was in 2013 when in Goat Rocks, WA, perhaps 300 miles south of Canada, there was an early winter storm that derailed his already completed 2300 mile thru hike).

So, today, I have stopped at the Gatorade station, so to speak. I am soaking my feet in waste paper baskets in the hotel room, promising my pain receptors that I will listen to them for the next few days. (After the hotel owner realized I was soaking my feet in the waste paper baskets, she provided me with this perfect tub!)

They like snoozing at the end of the bed, while I charge not only my anker battery pack, but also my own battery. Bigger shoes are coming. I will chip away this Sheetrock and get through this wall. I look forward to seeing the room on the other side. 

Highlight Photos from this leg:
(Grandma Candy marveling at the Burney Mountain Guest Ranch’s general store supplies) 
(Resupply package at Burney Mountain Guest Ranch with notes from my beloved PCT hikers and niece.)

(Thank you for having a sense of humor, landmark namers)

(Mount Shasta)

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3 Responses to The “Wall”: Northern California (miles 1092-1689)

  1. Annie I enjoyed your photos and the description of your hike so far. I admire your tenacity and your smarts. Listen to your body and rest when you can.

    Jackie H (Merced)

  2. Barb Beaudoin says:

    You are such an inspiration! Have loved reading your posts and seeing the views along your way. Glad you’re giving the barking dogs a break – tomorrow is another day!

  3. Jan says:

    I’m fascinated by your courage & doggedness! This next test of overcoming the pain and the wear and tear must be extremely challenging. We wish you all the best. Listening to Hamilton is impressive; it must be great out there in the wilderness. You are amazing! Thanks for the “posts”.

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