AT Sobo Part 4 – The 100 Mile Pushes Us To Our Limits (already).
The wilderness reminded me of the Hunger Games in places. People who had hiked strongly ahead in the beginning would be found stumbling on a pathway days later; tired and overwhelmed. They might have been brought up short by a broken water-filter and be sick from bad water, or have tripped and be nursing an injury, or hungry from packing not enough food. All you can do is offer what you have in your pack (which is often not a lot as you tried to keep it light) and hope they are ok, but ultimately leave them and move on unless it’s an emergency.
Everyone out here is genuinely having to fend for themselves and get the miles done because there’s no phone signal, few ways out, and emergency help takes a long time to come. Aside from injury and illness, if it’s your focus and mental game that’s struggling then you really just have to dig deep and keep pushing. I got a terrible cold partway through and couldn’t breathe through my nose and my ears were so blocked I couldn’t hear a thing. Not fun when everything else was so physically and mentally challenging too, but I pushed on and didn’t complain because there was no point and no help. We were over halfway through; packs re-loaded and weighing us down again. We were getting better at hanging our bear bags on high trees at night, and had calmed our initial frenzied hiking chatter to listen out for the bears themselves; crashing away into the undergrowth when they knew we were approaching. We also laughed at crazy grouse bursting from the bushes at us in feathery squawk-bombs of indignation.
The weather tested us – one serious rainstorm lasted all day and all night; drenching us to the core and turning an evening descent of a mountain into a treacherous dance of feet skidding down slick rocks, and our poles saving our lives as we tripped on hidden roots and careened face-forward down sheer dark slopes. In one terrifying moment I slipped down a boulder which was much taller than me. In my struggle to right myself I turned sideways in the air and fully fell; no control. Unfortunately it was a snapped-off tree stump that broke my fall first; ripping my shirt and my bra open and impaling me between two of my ribs. As if this wasn’t bad enough, just as I thought ‘phew’ that it hadn’t pushed fully between my ribs, my pack followed behind and walloped me hard, ensuring that I had to pull myself painfully off the stick and patch the hole between my ribs. I was just grateful it hadn’t gone further in.
The storm killed my phone and my maps, so we were relying on paper for elevation tips and to figure out where we were from the various significant points of interest we passed. We were so close to emerging and oh my goodness we could feel it. We were desperate for showers and clean clothes. My mesh bug outfit had chafed my shoulders to raw meat under my backpack straps, and despite washing in streams and rivers I felt disgusting. The weather was continued to be damp and foggy, meaning that every single item we owned was half-heartedly wet and smelly.
This was probably the grungiest I’ve been since I’ve been on this planet. Despite being desperate to get out of the dense dark 100 miles of wild and catch my breath, I was also gifted with many things during the last of my days in there; a beaver dam so long and huge that I stood agape at it for at least 30 minutes, willing a beaver to come out of their house in the middle of the pond; new fresh people to befriend who had been slightly ahead or behind us; young students venturing in to the wild on camp who loaded us up excitedly with their extra snack bars and peanut butter; and some final stunning boulder scrambles, high views and deep isolated lakes.
And then that was it. We managed to reach 3 miles before the exit by 8pm on the day we wanted to get put, and phoned out on one bar of wavery service for a shuttle from the famous ‘Shaw’s Hiker Hostel’. Dreaming of beers and showers we stood, listening to the response. “So sorry no room tonight, fully booked, but we can come tomorrow morning for you?” So we slept one more night and woke at 4am to race the three slippery miles of trail in the dark to the 6am shuttle. Motivated by a shower and hot food; headlamps bobbing in the night and poles clattering on rocks as we moved as fast as we could. We got there. Cramming in the shuttle we felt jubilant – on the way to civilisation!
After 11 days in the wild it felt like being born again and my brain couldn’t quite compute all the stimulus it was receiving on the drive. Then, at 06:30 we were greeted at the door of Shaw’s with their traditional welcome beer (at whatever hour you show up out of the wild), blueberry pancakes and the best, longest shower I’ve ever had in my life; watching black water swirl down around my feet and away. We were so happy to see lots of the people who we had met in the 100 mile; eating, chatting and preparing for the next miles. Alice would leave tomorrow to fly back to the UK, and amidst all my joy at being finished with this first hurdle and seeing familiar faces I was quietly panicking. Who would I head out with in the morning? How would I cope with being alone? Who would my new companions be? These, however, were problems to be solve after a second round of pancakes.