Ive reached hiker heaven, a beautiful refuge house for us smelly hikers. It has free laundry, hot showers, a kitchen for cooking real food, and a collection of all our friends met over the past month that miraculously ended up here at the same time. It also has a saguero cactus in the yard which is creating all kinds of pleasureable feelings. A cute cactus that doesn’t want to reach out and poke my delicate sleeping pad! Yes! Ive been waiting for you.
All this is good, but I want to get back to the woods asap so won’t write much today. Here are some photos instead: over the last hundred miles we circled around the coast and the smog of LA, through pinyon to massive california red cedar and pine, between burn zones and its poisonous poodle bush. This section was spectacular; my favourite so far. Surrounded by eager eight year old boy scouts we climbed mt baden powell in the fog and cold. There were no views, but saw the massive 2000 year old limber pine which made the spooky summit special and worth the extra meters of extra steep climb.
After the solitude of the trail, town time feels overwhelmingly loud. The desert floor is calling. Sitting feels odd today and my stomach is growling as if I was hiking, but we are only doing five miles today instead of the usual 18 or 20. The last week was cold. So, damn, cold. The temperatures hovered around freezing and the wind was whippy and harsh. Two mornings there was ice on the tarp! And they call this the desert. That said, it was perfect walking weather so we flew up the hills.With the frosty stretch behind us the flat hot mojave section up next is sounding mighty appealing. Away I go; please bring on the heat. But not too much. Desert life, never a moment of moderation.
Weve made it 370 miles and the flow has arrived. We move up and down mountain ranges, across landscape, through blistered feet to the bliss of hiking into sunset and setting up camp in dusk because its just too hard to stop.
This last section from Idyllwild to Wrightwood took us eight days from over 10,000 feet down to 1230 to the oven- hot valley floor and them back up again. Endless up and downs. There was one memorable day-long descent of 9300 meters from the peak of jan jacinto pine rock to the dusty blooming creosote that somehow survives 42 degree heat. Ouch. The three mile sandy walk to shade at the bottom was the hottest and most fatigued i remember: who knew that a smelly underpass would provide such sweet shade relief ? I can only imagine what the mojave will bring, especially as i have ditched my umbrella in a “my pack is too heavy” low blood sugar induced purge. Whoops.
We skipped 30 miles after cabazon due to a fire closure. While i was sad to miss miles, we made it up by hosting a memorable fruit buffet party for hiker friends on the shuttle bus. This almost felt better than walking those hot burnt miles even though everyone was torn about following the rules with rumours the trail was actually in perfect shape. Alas, with 2000 hikers this season its good to be a sensitive member of the herd instead of pushing my own singular goals.
Big bear to here was wordlessly perfect despite my feet growing out of my shoes. You would think this was impossible after thirty years of feet, but i live to tell the truth: my toes are a blistered shred and rei express is the best friend a hiker can have. New shoes, please be kind. But the feet didnt matter once one got past the initial five minute hobble and various kinds of tape. Almost.This section was cruisy. There was water! Glorious water to camp with night after night! Swimming in the creek! The lake! I could drink as much as i wanted and not worry i was over my share! There was perfection among the hippies and hot springs where the pools were large enough to cliff jump into and a pair of bay area artists left a gift of a wine bag and snickers bars. There was trail magic of root beer floats delivered at a dusty roadside. Be still my heart.
The miles fly by now; somehow its often lunch and 10 passed already in quiet contemplation or impassioned debated bliss. Walking becomes fast if its all you do 10 hours a day. Up and down and up and down. Sometimes i think about work or life but often justdaydream about much beloved hiker things like picnic tables or ice.
Add in another 9000 foot waterless climb and we’ve reached now: pinyon pines, gusty winds, and the distant lights of los angeles which im happy to avoid. Forest time, its an easy way to get home.
Ive discovered that you have to rest. This should come as no surprise but its a lesson i probably should have learned years ago. Trail life quickly teaches you to simplify your life and hike your own hike. I got to town faster than planned and my body needs a day or two to catch up- I shed some tears at the thought of getting “behind” the herd of forward moving animals but then laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. Behind in what? Walking? Its all so silly, the notion of a pure perfect hike when we are all just pawns on a made up map. Thanks pct, i knew you would be more than just a pretty piece of trail.
We are holed up in an adorable mountain town avoiding a snowstorm at 10,ooo feet. We are both nursing colds and sore knees. Idyllwild is full of excellent ways to spend all my money, and discover that yes, i can accidently eat an entire pizza and then want a panini please yes right now. I now understand why hiker talk revolves around town food: the need to eat to keep moving is so primal it takes over the parts of my brain that worry about work, finances, and dealings of my tender heart.
The last stretch of trail was all granite boulders, endless climbs and descents, and included four episodes of rattlesnack dodging, a marmot spotting, and over twenty new to me tree species. There were trail angel beers left in coolers at lonely road crossings, a library at mile 142, and a strange early morning free pancake zone at a bizarre ranch in the middle of nowhere where all were stoned but that was ok. Everyday many things and nothing happens all at once.
The bird call wakes us up and beds us down; my sleep is slowly aligning with the sun. Im itching to get back out there with a reset and a more patient state, to make slow and now my new goal.
So far, major sponsors of the PCT include ziplocks, dirty shirts, and sunburnt knuckles. Supports vying for top marks include cheese, the sawyer squeeze filtration system, nuun tabs, and trail magic soda-pop. Fails are the adorable straw hat that disintegrated immediately, my previous assumptions about what I would and would not care about, and all desire to be anywhere but here. I am enamored with everything-especially the baby desert plants and multiple kinds of adorable cactus- even though the weather has ranged from blazing hot to blisteringly cold with ice bombs to 80 km hour winds and rain on top of a mountain with fog obscured views. The desert isn’t acting quite like the desert, but that is the nature of this hike: nothing is as I thought it would be, and that is a good thing. Today I finished section A- 109 miles (!!) and arrived (almost not limping) in Warner Springs. Here is a community festival of mini tents, free mashed potatoes, hot dogs, and saucy beans. People are hiking from all around the world and water is hard to find; we hikers cluster for snack breaks and it feels collegial. It is as if I have entered an entire undiscovered continent of meshed up humanity, not simply a trail.
At dinner there was no salad, but I have been continuing my love affair for vegetables by sneaking zucchini and peppers into my pack so my hankering for town food is shockingly low. Ghislain, my desert hiking partner and i both love old school heavyweight backpack eating. We have so far avoided staples like ramen in favour of cabbage and polenta and as such been affectionately deemed “team buffet” for our glorious explosion of dinner. I am a happy woman but am getting hungry so the days of vitamins over snickers are low.
The landscape is more broad and varied than I expected and I need more adjectives for pretty- we hiked up 12,000 feet in two days and saw everything from giant manzanita trees to obscene pinecones larger than my head to massive dry washes filled with blossoming flowers pink, yellow, burnt orange. I have taken to tucking bouquets in my pack hip belt for good cheer: but honestly at this point its not even necessary. I am sore, but so content.
Next up are the San Jacinto mountains and with them: garborater style appetite, continued rumination on the value of paper vs electronic maps, and the debate every solo-ish hiker runs into: where to stay, and where to go?