The biggest day on trail so far was on the menu, we planned to attempt a 24 hour challenge. Not that the PCT on its own is not challenging enough, but sometimes you just have to take the challenge to the next level. The rules are pretty simple, walk as many miles as you can in 24 hours. Stiina wasn’t very excited about this, but she sure wanted to at least give it a try, I on the other hand was more than excited, I have been thinking about it already before we even started the PCT. Not exactly sure why, but there is just something addictive to the type-2 fun (type-2 fun is when…). And I simply love difficult challenges, the harder the better or as I say: “Go hard or go home!” We chose to do the challenge on this section of the trail because there was the least amount of uphill, which meant that we could probably do more miles, however, it didn’t mean that it will be easy-cruising, the uphills were still there, just less of them and the path itself was not a walk in the park either. We kind of planned how far we would try to get, which was the road to Burney, 52,5 miles (84km) away and as it wasn’t a race we would still take the necessary breaks.
We got ready and started to hike at 9:30 which is later than usual but it meant that we will reach the very exposed (to sun) section later in the day when if would hopefully be less hot. The heat was actually the main challenge of the challenge as already from the beginning we moved through the area where 6 years ago there have been the forest fire which meant all the trees have been burned down or at least their canopies, so the shade was very sparse. In addition to that we had 12 mile (20km) water carry to start with. I usually enjoy morning hiking the bestcas that’s when I am the freshest and can just keep moving swiftly without many or any breaks for the first 3-4 hours. As we kept going the sun rose higher in the sky and so rose the temperatures, at around 12 o’clock we recom the temperature was somewhere between 30-35C, pretty hot. There was a slight breeze coming through, but unfortunately it didn’t make things any better, it was very similar to when you blow air on yourself while in sauna, it gets even hotter or at least it feels.
We got to the first water source before the planned lunchtime, but heat had already made us tired enough to just sit down and have quick lunch and hydrate. About 45 minutes later we continued to hike, this time we had even longer water carry 18 miles (26km). Stiina figured that on the previous stretch she only drunk half of the water she took with so on this one she would take less, what she didn’t account for was that the day will only get hotter and the water reserves in the body would not be as high as during the fresh morning hike, but more on that later.
We continued the hike and the terrain was more dessert than back when we were in the so called “desert section” it’s really hard to imagine how hot it would be 1000 miles south, but probably dangerously hot. The dust was in the air and we were kicking up even more of it as we walked. Despite moving through the area with trees around the heat was so great that the shade didn’t really help. I definitely noticed that I am drinking much more water, luckily I had taken more than previously, but it still made me a bit worried whether it will be enough, we had to keep going, there was no other option. We reached the big climb of the day and even though it was only a few hundred meters of vertical gain, it was where the fully exposed to sunshine section would begin. And previously mentioned later in the day was not any cooler than we had hoped, it was scorching and going uphill made us sweat profusely. The parking lot at the top of the climb which was also a viewpoint sounded promising as there might be some day hikers or tourists that might want to share some of their extra water or other liquids with the glorious and stinky PCT hikers. Almost at the top we met another hiker- SenSei and when we all got to the top we rested in the only place with shade which was the shade cast by the parking lot toilets. But we didn’t care much, we just lay flat down on the concrete right by the toilets. The view was pretty amazing, mount Lassen on our left and mount Shasta on our right. Even though both were pretty far and and not that clear due to some large forest fires a few hundred miles West their prominence and snowy slopes made it for very beautiful viewpoint. After a little rest and little epiphany of what our lifes have become we had to go on. We met a few people there but none of them offered any water, we had 6 miles (10km) to go to get to the next water source and Stiina was down to her last 100ml. The thirst was so great that we could have chugged a whole liter of water, I didn’t have that much more so we had to ration it all.
The trail now continued on a rim with a steep few hundred meter drop on our left and nice flower covered fields on our right. The sun was slowly setting making it slightly less hot. The trick with the our next water source was that it wasn’t on the trail, we had to go extra 0,3 miles (500m) of very steep downhill to get to it, we had no choice, as we were already out of water for the past few kilometers. I could feel that my body temperature is elevated from all the heat and lack of water so as soon as I got to the creek I took all my clothes off and jumped in. To my surprise the water was much colder than I anticipated, so I jumped out pretty quickly, and just poured it on me instead to cool down my body. The water was somehow so cold that it caused the same pain in my feet as the river crossings back in the Sierras. Anyways, we managed, and as soon as we were cooled down and rehydrated we instantly felt much better. Despite the sun now being almost behind the horizon, the heat from the ground and rocks all around remained in the air, but it wasn’t as bas as during the day. We have overcome the main challenge of the challenge the heat. It truly makes you miserable, tired and exhausted, especially without much water around.
We climbed back up out of the valley and continued the hike, it was now getting dark, but the moon was almost full and was slowly making its way up to the sky. At first we hiked without head-torches just letting our eyes to adapt to low light and using moonlight as our torch. It worked back in the desert where the path was much smoother without “invisible” rocks sticking out of it. Unfortunately this was not the case and after smashing toes on them for a few times enough was enough and we lit up our head torches. Additionally on warm nights rattle snakes might be more active despite not being nocturnal, so you would really want to spot it before you step on it.
The next water source was about 8 miles (13km) away, it was a water cache and this time we had made sure that we had enough water with us, despite the temperatures now being slightly lower and so our water consumption. We hiked on and kept tripping and twisting ankles on the rocks that the light from head torch didn’t make visible. We couldn’t see any views either, only blinking red lights in the distance from wind turbines far away.
When we got to the road where the water cache was supposed to be we didn’t see, according to the map we had passed it, so I went back uphill for a few hundred meter, but didn’t see any water cache. But then looking down from the higher ground I saw someone flashing his head torch towards us, I assumed it’s probably T-bone and it was. We went there and found the water and our gang – T-bone, Tomb Raider and Coconut all camped out and they were probably already asleep for a while before we arrived and sort of woke them up, sorry, but we tried to be as quiet as possible. Stiina’s feet had already been hurting for the last couple of hours so she called it a day and told me that she will stay here with the gang, but gave me her blessings to continue on with the challenge.
While Stiina pitched up tent and got ready to get in it for the night I was cooking my dinner, ramen noodles, it was 00:30, I ate, said goodbye and continued on. It was mile 35,5 (57km) when I left the water cache, I felt fairly good, no major pains or tiredness, but I knew that I will get sleepy in a few hours and that’s when I would really have to be careful as walking through the dark while half asleep is not the safest thing to do, but I had a trick up in my sleeve. I walked for a few hours after dinner and just as predicted the sleepiness came I knew it’s time to reach for the joker. I sat down on the trail and thought that during the day it would probably be a great view, I took the energy shot, it’s a caffeine based liquid drink with different additives that keep you awake. Oh my, even a minute didn’t pass when I was already feeling it, I was ready to get up and crush it. For the next 4 hours I was going like a machine, I didn’t take any breaks, all I wanted to do was keep moving and keep moving fast. Considering I had already done close to 44 miles (70km) I was moving faster than at any point earlier during this challenge. And I felt really good, I felt completely comfortable and in my element, being a shadow simply sliding over the moonlit trail.
I was only 5 miles (8km) away from the road to Burney when the first light started to appear. That’s when the temperature actually dropped to the coldest that night, still, I was only wearing shorts and a shirt. I enjoyed the sunrise lighting up mountains in the far while walking on an open hill ridge. It had been a full cycle the sun went down on my left and came up on my right all while I was walking, usually by going to bed and waking up the next day, you don’t get the same feeling when seeing a sun rise. I saw my first wild skunks right before the road, it wasn’t to bothered by my presence and kept searching the ground for some food while I just stared at him for a few minutes.
I got to the road and I had decision to make, initially we thought that by the time we get to road it will probably be 24 hours so we will just hitch in to the town, but I had still 3 hours left and the town was 7 miles (11km) away. The town wasn’t actually on the trail as the trail simply crossed the road and continued in the woods, so I would need to road-walk by the highway the remaining distance to get to the town. Well, I definitely didn’t want to give up on the challenge and simply get a hitch to the town so I decided to have a breakfast and keep walking. I checked maps.me to see if there are any alternative routes leading to the town to avoid the road-walk and it seemed that I found one so I went for it. After about half an hour of walking on my alternative route the road simply ended in someone’s fromt yard, great. I guess road walking it is, so I walked all the way back to the highway and continued on it or right by it. Road-walking isn’t fun at all, cars and trucks shooting by you with great speed, noise and after blow of wind and dust doesn’t make you feel like it’s a place you want to be, especially after a very calm night hike, but it was something to do.
I got to the town and by the time I reached the place where I wanted to get to I had walked for 62,5 miles (100,5km) and the time was pretty much over, great job, I guess. My feet were hurting a bit from all the flat road walking that I had to do in the end, but overall I still felt good and if I would have to I could probably keep walking for another few or more hours, luckily I had arrived. The Word of Life church in Burney welcomes PCT hikers to use their facilities that would otherwise stand empty, it offers place to stay, showers and kitchen and that’s almost everything that a hiker would need. However, when I got to the door it was closed and there was nobody around, no signs or phone numbers to call. I wasn’t really hungry so I just sat down in front of the church and waited. Luckily there was cell service in the town so I at least could try and figure out some sort of alternative plan and just when I managed to arrange another place to stay a car pulled up and Kathy came out. She was the manager of the church and it’s facilities and welcomed me in. I was appointed the responsible for the sports hall and got the keys from it. The hall was the place where hikers could stay sleep, take shower and cook, there was also a basketball pitch with balls, board football and air-hockey that we could use in other words – the place was awesome! All I had to do was to make sure that only PCT hikers are let in the building and people follow a few simple rules.
I took shower and was ready for a nap while waiting for our gang to arrive. It’s surprising how fast your sleep time goes by when you are properly tired, it felt like I only closed my eyes for a few seconds but a few hours had went by and the guys had arrived. Once they got situated we went out for a lunch and then spent the rest of the evening resting and enjoying the awesome facilities!