There comes a time when you realize the tool you’re using just isn’t the right one for the job. You know, running a marathon in flip flops, editing video on your kid’s three-year-old laptop, or heaven forbid, cooking cornbread in anything other than a cast iron skillet.

I was smacked in the face (literally) with this reality by day 9 on the PCT. I had a plan. It was a good plan. I knew what I was doing. I’m a hammock backpacker, been at it for more than ten years, and I’m going to conquer the desert. Even if the desert doesn’t provide a place to hang, I’ll cowboy camp, which means throw down a groundsheet, lay out an inflatable pad, unpack my quilt, and crawl in. Beautiful. A night under the stars.

Until cowboy camp 1. Winds kick up and the sand from the soft dry wash you’re sleeping in is thrown in your face. It stings. Plus I literally wake up with grit in my mouth.

Until cowboy camp 2. You learn 20% chance of rain in the forecast doesn’t mean it’s going to be a dry night. It means you wake up at midnight with not sand in your face, but what feels like someone spitting in your face. Then the awful slow-to-come-out-of-grogginess realization that it’s raining and your down quilt is getting wet, soon rendering it useless. Which in turn begins a cartoonish mad dance to throw on a headlamp, then locate tarp, tie-downs, stakes, and trekking poles in order to erect a quick shelter. Oh, and do it at the top of a ridge where winds are kicking up to 20-30 mph. Sleep tight.

Until cowboy camp 3. The only available site to set up shelter is about 9ft long and 5ft wide. Did I mention my tarp is 12ft long and 8ft wide? Hmmm, what physics would be involved in getting it to fit in this spot?

Until cowboy camp 3, part 2. 40mph winds threaten to turn my tarp into a personal paraglider. Awesome. Now cover the flapping material with every rock I can locate and spend the wee hours of the morning physically pulling the material back to earth. “Sorry,” I say to my fellow hikers, “for all the flapping noise. Just trying to hold on to my gear!”

If this is any indicator of my future from now til June, it’s time to make a decision and retool. I’ve decided (I can’t believe I’m saying this) to forego my hammock and tarp for roughly 7-8 weeks of desert trail until I get to Kennedy Meadows. I will become a ground dweller and sleep in a tent.

The tent will solve a number of problems—wind, rain, site location, privacy, and maybe even knock off a massive 4 ounces in pack weight. Oh, I’ll feel it.

The decision means I’m stepping off trail for a few days in order to select and purchase a tent as well as offload equipment I’m currently carrying. This doesn’t come at a bad time. I had planned to be off trail in another week anyway to take care of a few things at home, so we’re all good.

This is an adventure. Sometimes plans work, sometimes they don’t. As a fellow hiker said to me just recently, “This is all about soaking up every day and collecting lifetime memories. Canada is just a bonus.”

The trek is not over by any means. Retooling is just a variation of adapt and overcome. I’ll keep you posted.

5 thoughts on “Retooling

    1. Ha, thanks Sharon! I forgot where I read it recently, but it was along the lines of, “Don’t just roll with the punches, embrace the punches.” Embrace it is!


  1. Oh John, glad you are flexible in mind and plans; may you have more comfortable accommodations with a tent; all i can guess is that 40mph wind dirt, and dust don’t mix well with contact lenses!! Take care!


  2. What a story!!! Glad you are so flexible and know what to do when the winds and rains blow. I’d be a bit lost!!!! Way to go “trooper”. dave


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