I could tell early on that my legs were a little wobbly. The strength was not there. I also was carrying 12 pounds of water, a gallon to put it simply. I didn't want to take any chances early on. Unfortunately, I quickly let my guard down when I crossed several mountain streams that were running in abundance. These sources are most likely dry this time of year during normal snow years. However, this is 2011. Snow pack was way above average in many places in the Sierra this year. I started to believe that water would be plentiful for the remaining of my hike.
Well, that wasn't really the case in this particular section. After passing Mud Lake, I crossed one more mountain spring that was still running, didn't fill up there either, and that was the last water for about 20 miles. Of course I did not know this at the time, I still had about 3 quarts left.
The sunlight was glorious on this first day of hiking. The sunlight was so intense, the colors in the flowers, rocks, trees and sky were so vivid. Only in the high country have I seen light as bright as this, and I was rejoicing in its splendor. Lake Tahoe to the south was glistening as well.
I'm a slow learner. Having had the pleasure to hike in the Sierra the last two summers, I should know by know that there are drawbacks to this sunlight. The UV beams fry the skin like an egg on a skillet. I was wearing short sleeves and shorts. When will I get it through my thick skull that I don't tan like I used to? As a kid, I remember browning quite well in the summertime. My grandmother making statements like, "You look just like a little brown berry." Well these days, she would probably say, "You look just like a little red cherry." By afternoon, I looked in horror as my skin turned a dark red, especially on my left arm. To make matters worse, the back of my legs were also sun burnt, especially behind the knees. Quickly, ailments that occurred in the early days on the PCT (such as sun burnt legs behind the knees) began to resurface in my memory. Sun burnt ears? Yep, that also was in process. Chaffing was beginning to be an issue already. Dehydration was in process. Hot spots forming on feet. Suddenly, my body was in agony.
By about 5:00, I reached Brockway Summit, having hiked about 19 miles. I was ready to be done for the day. Brockway Summit crosses the 267 and I saw several cars parked in a lot and an elderly man with a backpack. We both said hello, and he introduced himself as "Mile Eater." He was also doing the Rim Trail, but hiking the opposite direction. During our conversation, I found out that he also hiked the PCT and finished last year, having divided the trail up over 4 years. I showed him the horrible sunburn that I received on my arms that day. "Are you wearing gloves?" Mile Eater asked. "No," was my obvious answer. Mile Eater proceeded to show me one of his hands after taking off a lightweight glove. There was a couple of red, blister like bubbles on the top of his hand. "This is skin cancer. I used to do a lot of mountaineering in my younger days. You need to take care of your skin out here." Lesson learned. I was very cautious the rest of the trip.
I was still dangerously low on water and exhausted. The next water source wasn't for another 6 miles. There was no way I was going to be able to make it that far. After saying goodbye to Mile Eater, I started to look for a place to camp. I found a spot about a mile later that was doable. I was planning on cowboy camping for the night. As I lay out my sleeping pad and sleeping bag, I was swarmed by mosquitoes. Flashbacks from last year in Northern Yosemite entered my mind instantly. "I can't do this again!" my mind screamed. "Why am I out here? You call this a vacation?" I wondered in a frustrated state.
I packed up my gear and began hiking again, determined to find a spot with less mosquitoes. A couple of miles later, I could go no further. I found a spot on the side of the trail, set up my tarp, unraveled my sleeping bag, too exhausted to cook dinner. I began feeling nauseous, could feel the heat radiating off my sun burnt skin, started to shiver for some reason, and had very little water left. I had completely overdone it on the first day, a dumb, dumb mistake. Mosquitoes continued to bite and my mood plummeted.
All I could do at this point was put on my mosquito head net, down a couple of Ibuprofen, and get in my sleeping bag. My heart was beating unusually fast that night, and I was very congested while trying to sleep. All I could think about was water and how my hiking rhythm was way out of balance as day one came to a close...