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Trans-Catalina Trail: Days 2 & 3

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After the first day on the Trans-Catalina Trail, we woke up excited, but sore.

The next segment took us from Blackjack Campground to Little Harbor, with a stop at the Airport in the Sky in between. It was rumored to be a pretty easy day of slight elevation gain (Blackjack was around 2,000 feet) and then a loooot of downhills, and from what we gather, some people bypass Little Harbor altogether. So we were optimistic about a hike about half the length of the first day, with less peaks to summit.

I’ve watched a bunch of documentaries and done a ton of research on the Pacific Crest Trail and what a thru-hike is like for 2600+ miles. We were 15 miles in at this point, with about 6-8 miles to go for the day, which is NOTHING compared to what thru-hikers on the PCT pull for daily mileage. But, I can tell you this: the promise of solid food after eating food out of a bag or a wrapper is INTOXICATING.

The Airport in the Sky was all anyone was talking about at Blackjack as they were packing up. “I’m hiking for the Buffalo Burger,” was common motivation to get out of the tent and onto the trail.

(Random bonus, I found this video while looking for an image of the burger at the airport. Longer-form about the TCT.)

When we were booking the trip, there were some weird restrictions/minimums for some of the campgrounds, and the last stop, Parson’s Landing, was sold out on the day we originally intended to visit. So we picked a day Parson’s was open, and worked the trip backwards from there.

As a result, we ended up booking three nights (the minimum) at Two Harbors, and two nights at Little Harbor. We didn’t plan to stay all three nights at Two Harbors because we wanted to be at Parson’s on New Year’s Eve, but the way things worked out with Little Harbor were pretty perfect. Day 2 was hiking from Blackjack to Little Harbor, and then we had a whole day in Little Harbor to rest & recover a bit.

It ended up being exactly what we needed.

Stats from Day 2

As captured by my GearFit 2 (so take them with a grain of salt):

Steps: 28,482
“Floors” Climbed: 66
Calories Burned: 2862
Water: 100+ oz on trail, ALL THE WATER at the campground
Bison Spotted: 2 – 1 in the campground (as shown in the video) and one in the burger. 🙂
Peaks Climbed: 1?

See the peak with the Tower on it on the left? That’s where we were camping at Blackjack, this sign points us in the right direction to Little Harbor from the airport in the sky. Covering MASSIVE ground on this adventure.

More than the Highlight Reel.

I could stop this post here and leave you with highlights only, but you know that’s not my jam.

What you won’t see/hear in this video:

A lot of footage of the actual hiking. Same as Day 1, too busy with the actual feat of walking to record any actual hiking footage. After the Airport in the Sky, it was all downhill, literally and figuratively. The downhills WRECKED my blister situation.

Me gritting my teeth like a BOSS after feeling what it’s like to have your skin rip from your heel. I was watching Barry make his way down the mountain and I could feel the blister tearing. It was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever been in, and the blister was only about the size of a nickel. But I did include the big reveal of the blister in the video so you’re welcome. 

Audio of me worrying about Barry. After I assessed the heel blister situation and taped it up the best I could to keep going, Barry let me know, casually, that his knee was killing him. So he taped up his knee and we made our way, sometimes sideways, sometimes backwards, down the final 2-3 miles to Little Harbor.

Not one, but TWO, emergency bathroom situations, about 5-10 minutes after leaving the Airport in the Sky, and about 3-5 minutes apart from each other. We’ll leave it at that.

Takeaway #2

The time we spent on the trail the first day was mostly dominated by thoughts of “why the hell did we decide to do this” and “HOLY SHIT THAT VIEW!” On the second day, I realized how much one phrase can carry:

“Proud of you!” 

When things started getting dicey on the first day, specifically in the last 2-3 miles, Barry would shout “PROUD OF YOU” back down to me (because I was always waaaaay behind), and I’d shout it back. Because seriously – I was INSANELY proud of myself and him for powering through this. I didn’t want to rely on him saying that to keep me going but GOOD GOD was it helpful!

And I already knew that I hit the husband jackpot, but three simple words, sometimes shouted out of desperation, sometimes proclaimed at the top of a peak, sometimes between fits of laughter, made all the difference in the world on the second day.

After the Airport in the Sky, we started to fall apart a little bit. My heel blister ripped, Barry taped up his knee, we were walking what should be a quick pace like a bunch of stiff old people (and getting lapped by non-stiff old people), favoring joints and muscles and blisters. In my case, I was walking like a horse on the downhills, toes first, then back to my heel. At least that’s how I think how a horse walks. I wondered the whole time what I was sacrificing or further damaging by favoring my heel and then when I was about to lose my shit, I’d hear a “PROUD OF YOU!” and it would snap me out of my downward spiral in my head and back into the moment at hand.

The first two days on the trail were the most centered and present I’d felt in a long time, probably since I was actively skydiving. I didn’t have time to think about anything else but where to step, how to do it with less pain, and how to do it safely. I think that’s why I’m having such a hard time adjusting back to life off of the trail – because there are SO MANY distractions out here in civilization.

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As mentioned above, our third day was a bonus day in Little Harbor, as that was the only way we could keep the itinerary in check. And MAN was that a nice twist of fate. I figured we’d probably need the time to recover so I wasn’t too upset about it, and our day in Little Harbor turned out to be a glorious day of naps and blister healing and beach time.

Also, BUFFALO WARNING. 🙂

So here you have it, Days 2 & 3 on the Trans-Catalina Trail!

If you’re a hiker with some blister management experience, let me know your secrets in the comments below! I’ll go over our gear and all that stuff once we get through the daily recaps, but I’ll tell you and I had what I thought were well-fitting Merrells, Darn Tough Socks, and leukotape for the blisters.

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