Ballard and Walker: PCT Thru-Hikers

The Big Three-Oh
Gorp.com

July 21, 2000—Day 75—Belden Town, California—Angela's Diary: I've seen courageous women wince at its mention. I've watched them cower while loved ones celebrated their misfortune. I've even known friends to deny its very existence, to pretend it never happened and go on as if the day were any other day. Of course, there are those well adjusted, confident folks who accept it as part of who they are and take pride in how far they've come.

The big three-oh. To math teachers around the globe, it's just another number. But to many women in our youth culture, and plenty of men too, it comes on like a death sentence. The end of the world as they know it. Of course, rational minds recognize that not much changes between the last day of your twenty-ninth year and the first day of your thirtieth, but it's a turning point nonetheless. A junction at which many realize "Wow, I'm really supposed to be grown up now." No more excuses, when you hit thirty, it's for real.

I'll confess, I was wary of thirty too. I wasn't sure I was ready. I didn't think I was strong enough. Perhaps the burden would overwhelm. How much of the journey would show in my face? Would a thirty's-worth of sun, wind, sweat, and dirt age me?

But then again, thirty is an achievement. And no true achievement is made without a little pain. You can run from it, hide from it, or deny it, but as a thruhiker, as in "real life," you haven't lived until you've been there.

Of course, I'm not thirty years old, just twenty-six. But I've hit thirty all right (miles that is), and thirty-four, and thirty again, and it hurt like hell. But I'm a more mature hiker for it, and all subsequent thirty-mile days, like birthdays, have been a little less painful—and, unfortunately, a little less celebrated as well.

We hadn't intended to do a thirty, maybe "just" twenty-five. If I was to plan a thirty, I'd start hiking at 5 a.m. I'd make sure the terrain was going to be gentle, and I'd have a whammy of a pasta dinner the night before. But on this particular Monday, we didn't start hiking until 7 a.m. I had no idea what the day's miles had in store, and we'd eaten rice the evening prior. Sierra City was 34 miles away, and we intended to be there for breakfast on Tuesday, perhaps after a ten-mile morning hike. But by noon we'd already covered 12 miles, and the thoughts of cold beer, a shower, and a bed were dancing in our heads. It was the perfectly unplanned thirty: It just came naturally. We cruised across hillsides draped in yellow daisy-like blossoms; I even had the energy to put some in my hair. We power-napped under moss-drenched pines after lunch. I dreamed we were playing Scrabble and coming up with one hiking term after another—I was losing. A little disoriented when I awoke, the moss on the trees made me think they were wearing lime-green angora sweaters.

Adrenaline and peanut butter carried me down to Milton Creek at around 8:30 p.m. Crossing the bridge, we crossed into long-distance hiking adulthood. We'd done our first 30-mile day. Besides snapping some photos, though, we postponed our celebrations. Now that Sierra City was so close, we'd push it to 34. Those last four miles my feet ached like they did on our first day, way back on May 8th. My hamstrings tightened like rubber bands stretched near breaking point. Even my hand grew cramped around my trekking pole. The sun went down as we entered the residential neighborhoods. Dogs barked when they heard our trekking poles against the pavement, and Duffy glanced back to make sure I was still standing. Finally at 9:30 p.m. we reached the center of town, consisting of a post office, general store, and a few motels. I didn't have enough energy for bargain-hunting, so we stopped at the first motel we saw, the Sierra Buttes Inn, where we celebrated our first thirty with a Coors, lukewarm showers, and, finally, a soft bed on which to elevate my swollen feet and rest my weary head.

I didn't drift quietly off to sleep, I plummeted. How'd you celebrate your thirtieth?

Read the Pines' PCT numbers that matter.

Duffy and Angela are losing weight! Check out what gear they've dropped. Also see their original gear lists.


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