The PCT – Desert Sec. – Days 32 – 43

Day 32: 14.9 miles

Got going kinda late. My brain likes to play tricks on me when I’m about to leave running water and clean beds. Especially when, for awhile, I haven’t been feeling enthusiastic about this trail. But I decided I’m not going home just because it’s not what I envisioned. Besides not much is happening in Cajon Pass…except for traffic.

The climb out of Cajon Pass was reported to be brutal and it was advised that one should hike it in the very early morning or at night. I found this to be funny, because this little section of trail is what gave me some amount of trail joy. Relatively speaking it was not at all hard. There were two steep portions, but they were very short. I saw many trains, cool looking rock formations, and got to walk up high on ridgelines for most of the day.

There was a water cache maintained by some very nice trail angels in honor of a man named John who was a big influence on this part of the trail. I had lunch in a nice shady spot and napped for awhile. Then it was a long and gentle climb up into the San Gabriel mountains. There were long switchbacks so it didn’t even feel like you were climbing. I began to think maybe those iron supplements were helping? Or maybe I’ve got some trail legs? Lol nah. Not yet.

Camp was a small cove of scrub brush on the side of a mountain overlooking a dramatic view of the valley below and San Bernadino in the distance. When night fell I could see the lights twinkling in the distance under a quarter moon. It really was a spectacular view when you have to get and pee in the middle of the night.

Day 33: 9.4 miles

I’ve woke chilled but energetic, which was weird. I’d heard through the trail grapevine that the miles going by Wrightwood and up Mt Baden Powell were still quite snowy. I had to go down to Wrightwood anyway to pick up a package and I decided that I was also going to find a way around the snowy trail since I sent back my microspikes already. The microspikes (kinda like cleats) are what give you traction on ice and therefore a steadier and safer experience. I wasn’t going to risk going up to that elevation without them, not after San Jacinto.

On my way into town a lady stopped and asked me if I had a place to stay. She had a tiny home that she let hikers stay in and only charged them based on their budget. I hadn’t planned to stay, but I wasn’t going to say no to this opportunity.

I kept walking into town which was quaint and very walkable which is a plus for hikers. As I’m ambling down one side street I hear “Compass!” And there eating a pizza was Bethany and Chris. I thought they were two days ahead! I started laughing so hard because of course they’d be in town eating. I still haven’t gotten my hiker hunger but they have with a vengeance. In fact anytime you see them there is food in hand. We went to a coffee shop and had a cinnamon roll. They were also giving out patches.

I went to resupply and everyone in the store was so friendly and helpful. One actually said “We love our hikers!” Next was the Mountain Hardware to pick up a package where I also recieved a pin for signing their book. All in all a very positive experience.

Day 34: 16.5 miles

Mandy drove me back to the trailhead in the morning. There was a section of Highway 2 from Vincent Gap to Islip pass that was closed to vehicles because of an avalanche the previous winter. Conveniently it also followed the same direction of the PCT and went around Mt Baden Powell. A few miles after the PCT met Hwy 2 there was also a trail closure to protect the frogs that forced hikers to roadwalk anyway.

I got to the road and cruised. It was beautiful and easy. The only people on the road were construction workers who were scraping the road and they waved enthusiastically as they passed. I’m not sure how they’d even open this part of the road because large rocks kept falling as I was walking by.

I went up into elevation but didn’t feel it because the road grade was so gentle. The views were epic and I cruised along listening to music. I barely even noticed the time or miles.

I got to Islip Pass and ate lunch next to a very clean pit toilet. After this pass the road was open to vehicles and the PCT took off up into a mountain only to cross the highway in two-ish miles. I kept on the road walk and zoomed along. There still wasn’t much traffic so I didn’t have that to worry about.

16 miles later I’m at a closed drive in campground at 4pm. I actually felt like I could keep going but the campground was so pretty I decided to stay. There was a flat tent pad that had my name on it next to a picnic bench. The sun filtered through tall pines as I ate my dinner upright and off the ground. BONUS.

Bethany texted me this picture and caption:

When you have a friend wearing orange and you convince yourself they are on break so you walk over to join them

So I sent this back:

Hanging out with the fam

Day 35: 13.8 miles

Kind of a sluggish day. Mostly just tried to not get overwhelmed by the overgrowth of prickly bushes everywhere.

Day 36: 18.7 miles

I had an awful dream that I let my cats out to wander and then I couldn’t find them. I spent the rest of the dream running around looking for them. It was so bad that I remember waking up and telling myself that they were safe at home. It left me unsettled in the morning.

The trail started going down into desert terrain where there were fewer trees. The ground was getting sandy again and the sage brush was the most popular plant. I stopped for water at Mill Creek Fire Station which had a nice little patio out back. One long hot and ridiculous climb later I’m sitting in the shade eating lunch when Austin comes rambling by! We chatted for awhile, but he moved on saying I’d probably pass him soon. Ha! It took 4 miles before I caught up with him again.

I lost him again though on the not unpleasant climb up and around Mt Gleason. By this time it was cooling down and the sun was moving to the other side of the mountain. It was a brief return to pine forest and then a dip back down into the valley as the sun set. Camp was next to a massive oak tree on a sandy bed of loam.

Day 37: 13.8 miles

It was a long hot day of climbing up to go down and dipping in and out of canyons. Everything was just so bright because the sand reflecting the sunlight back to me. I got to a nice windy ridge overlooking the KOA and then it was a breezy jaunt down listening to podcasts. I made it to the campground and saw they had Stawberry Shortcake ice cream bars which I immediately devoured. I don’t normally eat ice cream on trail (upsets the tum-tum) but I’d been thinking about these things and there they were! Also I’d be staying at the campground with its flush toilets so it was safe.

I saw a few people I knew but I mostly kept to myself because I saw the packs of beer next to them. Its not a judgement on them, but more of a precuation of me being easily persuaded to have “just one beer”. Also I had to find a ride into Acton to get food resupply which proved to be quite difficult and stressful.

It got me to thinking about how it was so much easier to resupply on the AT. And that got me pondering the other myriad of differences- one being that a lot of hikers (not all) on the PCT seem to be rather standoffish. I’m by no means a social butterfly, but it has been an adjustment to the culture of this trail. I’ve come across groups that haven’t even acknowledged my presence (like Hello! Can you see me? I’m not a ghost!) But it’s probably for the best because I’m not even sure what I’d say to them anyway. Like do you want to hear about my pandemic trauma? No? Didn’t think so.

Day 38: 10.1 miles

I woke to the power and water turned off in the KOA which solved the issue of whether I should take a zero here or not. It’s always a climb up and out of places where you resupply and today was no different. The first mile or so was steep climb after steep climb. Once I was up though it was a lovely walk along a ridge that overlooked the KOA in the valley below. The wind was kicking up and the dry oat grasses whispered their papery rustle in waves.

I saw my first orange wildflower. I don’t really know their names so I’ve been grouping them by color. There have been white ones, purple, all varieties of yellow, deep red, pink, bright fuschia, and blue. But today was and acutal orange flower! I later found out via Google that it was called a Desert Mariposa Lily.

Up top there was a murder of crows playing in the wind. There were two in particular that flew around each other in an amazing display of aerial acrobatics. They soared overhead and got so close that I could see the sun glinting off individual feathers. They were cawing and making other odd sounds. Apparently crows are technically song birds and I can see how they might be after listening their conversation.

I kept stopping so much to take pictures that it took me two hours to get 3 miles –  kinda slow. But it was so exhilarating to see all that and reminded me what I was seeking to gain out here.

I got to the tunnel that ran under Hwy 14 and was relieved to find no one in it. It was kind of neat because it was shaped like a trail marker. On the other side was the beginning of Vasquez Rocks park. It was a walk through time as you could see the layers upon layers of rock revealed by millions of years of pressure and erosion. Each layer told its own story and I could have spent hours just staring at the walls. There were many little hidey holes for breaks, but there also seemed to be a lot of poison oak.

The park put up signs for some of the plants: California Juniper, Black Sage, Yucca, Scrub Oak, and Western Sycamore. It was helpful to put a name to the plants I’ve been seeing. One sign said Beavertail Cactus, but there was none to be seen.

Eventually the trail climbed a ridge that overlooked the highway behind me and the main attraction of Vasquez Rocks in front. There is a specific rock formation that is famously featured in shows like Star Trek or Roswell, and movies too. There is a scene where Kirk fights with an alien Gorn that puts this particular sight on display. There were a bunch of people there of course and the trail didn’t even go down to the site. I was fine with going around though, because the rest of the park was so interesting.

I finally wandered out of the park and down the road to the first town (maybe only?) that the trail walks through. Agua Dulce doesn’t have much in the way of resupply but they make up for that in a welcoming atmosphere. The server at Maria Bonita let me and a group I randomly met outside sit in the booth for hours, talking and charging our electronics. He even filled our water bottles. I tipped him outrageously well. 

There is an empty lot next door that locals say hikers can sleep on, but the server – never got his name- said not to do that because kids would come at night ride their cars in donuts on the lot. Also the lot was full of broken glass and other trash. He said we could camp underneath the overhang next door in front of the closed grocery store. Which me and two other hikers ended up doing. It was kind of like sleeping in a shelter but in a town. (It was safe Mom, I swear.) I find it funny that one of my shortest days was the most fun and interesting.

Day 39: 11.1 miles

Bright and early, a guy started doing some weed wacking. It was an odd alarm clock, but gave us 30 minutes to get ready and head over to Home Grown for breakfast. I had Corned Beef Hash and the first instance of shredded hashbrowns on the trail. All the hashbrowns so far have been more like breakfast potatoes.

I met another hiker – Burglar – on the way out of town who manged to put into words what I’ve been feeling about the PCT trail culture. He mentioned that the AT seemed to have more “normal” people on it. By that I mean people who are new to hiking out to just have fun, and/or maybe aren’t as invested in thru hiking. Out here it seems that everyone I meet is so serious about getting their miles in and their gear and their plans. It is a more subtle and insidious version of gate keeping that is quietly judging.

I thought about all that on my walk out of town which I started at 0900 and was a bit late. The day was already heating up and once I got back on the actual trail it was all up, which quickly stopped all my ruminating. There was no shade for 8 miles. It was brutal. For me anyway. I’m beginning to realize I don’t like being in direct sunlight for long periods of time. A bit of a problem in the desert.

By 1100 I was fully on the incline with no whiff of cooling breeze to be found and my energy was sapped. I beginning to get dizzy and heavy feeling. I found an awkward seat in a sliver of shadow from a boulder higher on the mountain. I just sat there for 30 minutes trying to cool down and watched the crows effortlessly navigate the hillside. They seemed so chill and they’re wearing black!

I knew there would be better shade in about 2 miles so I slowly trudged up to the highest ridgeline to get there. At the saddle of one junction there it was! A stand of trees with real actual shade! I flopped down into the dirt and sat there for two hours blissing out on not being in the sun.

I saw a hiker go by and recognized Cassie, the gal I met back before the hot springs. We had another lovely chat about all the things. Then another hiker walked by who she recognized who was named Cheryl! Lol.

We all walked the next 3ish miles bouncing around each other and made it the campsite that had a water cache, trash can, and an accessible porto potty. Even though it was right next to the road, the amenities were worth it!

Day 40: 16.8 miles

Cassie woke me as she left at 0515 which was a good thing. I’ve been trying to get up early and get some miles in before the sun bakes the trail and I keep falling back asleep. Today I was successful in getting going before 0700!

We must have slept in a ditchside bird sanctuary because as I was getting ready there was a raucous avian party all around. Scrub Jays, California Towhees, Hummingbirds, and a small dark bird Google was no help in identifying all flitted about in a frenzy, also making sure I wasn’t going to go back to sleep.

I managed to get in 4.5 miles before the sun crested the horizon and started baking everything. It’s actually quite pleasant to walk through the sandy hills in the cool early morning…I should do more of it.

I caught up with the other Cheryl and she convinced me to make going to Green Valley Market part of my day (twist my arm). It was the next road crossing and conveniently near lunch time. I didn’t need anything for resupply but I’ve been a sucker for icey cold drinks along this trail. I’ll get four different cold drinks and down them all. You’ve got to have a sparkly water, a soda, a chocolate milk, and a sports drink (but I don’t drink them in that order). Maybe instead of Hiker Hunger I’ve developed Hiker Thirst. We were lucky though, a group of trail runners who passed us twice on trail, gave us a ride to the market and back. How lucky! Then we sat at the Green Valley Fire Station gazebo for a couple of hours to wait out the heat.

Around 1600 we started the long trek up the mountain and I discovered it wasn’t as hard as I was building it up to be in my mind. Eventually though I found that the fire road paralleled the trail and was much easier. So me and other Cheryl walked that all the way to camp. It was nice to chat with a fellow Cheryl. She seemed nice but she was a section hiker and leaving the trail after getting to Hiker Town. It seems that everytime I find a trail friend our pace doesn’t match or they’re a section hiker.

My nemesis, the sun arrives.

Day 41: 15.4 miles

It was a cool breezy walk down to a road and then a long hot climb back up. On the way up there were two man made caves to look at. I definitely wasn’t going in though. Around this area the trail was blanketed in  wildflowers – their blues, purples and whites softening the harsh desert landscape. The hum of busy bees going about their work hung in the air. Even though the sun was on full blast the walk up wasn’t so unpleasant.

After lunch I hopped on the “forest” road through a huge burn area. It quickly got me through the scarred and crispy landscape. The sun beat down but with the relative ease of the shorter and flatter road I zoomed through listening to podcasts.

At a junction I saw trees ahead so I got back on the trail. It zigged and zagged through a corridor of pinyon pines with green Miner’s Lettice and purple Chia blanketing the hillside. It kind of reminded me of walking through the Shenandoah mountains (which was pretty and breezy).

I’ve been planning this section of trail around getting to Hiker Town at an optimal time for the delivery of my new shoes. This means slowing down so that they have time to get there, but it makes balancing miles and campsites/water a bit  tricky. My goal was Sawmill campground for the night and according to some southbounders there were reports of a potentially mentally unwell man with a crossbow there. Whether or not that was true I was going to assess the situation for myself because I didn’t want to walk 10 miles further to the next stopping point. There was no one at the campground except for other hikers so I set up camp and laid out in the shade reading a book on my phone.

Day 42: 12.7 miles

I woke to a fine layer of dirt covering me in my tent because the wind had kicked up the powdery substance that carpeted the surrounding area. The fine grit got everywhere, but at least I had a pit toilet ot enjoy.

I saw a hiker called Mom Cut (that I met in Wrightwood) just before mile 500 and we walked together for a minute. It helps to have someone there for a photo moment such as passing mile 500. (Which is wild to me, it still feels like I just started). We had a discussion about enjoying the journey and it made realize how little credit I’ve given myself so far. Like it is only possible to enjoy thru hiking if you crush miles and get to your destination. I haven’t “crushed miles” but I’ve still gotten to my destinations. And I did it without drinking alcohol. It may seem simplistic (like duh, everyone does or knew this) but it blows my mind.

Anyways, with that in mind today was a slow day. I stopped at every shady spot. I ate alot of snacks. I looked at new flower species. I took a bunch of pictures. I got to camp way early. I took a nap. It was a good day.

This is a water source
Tan or dirt?

Day 43: 6.8 miles

I managed to get what would have been a hot slog done in the early cool hours of morning. I got into Hiker Town early enough to eat lunch. It’s an interesting little hostel (I guess?) In the middle of nowhere. It’s a nice rest spot with water and shade. If you want to go to the market down the road, you can get a resupply and eat some pretty good burgers.

Hiker Town is where I sent my shoes and I had really hoped they’d be there. But alas found no shoes so I got a “room”. Hopefully they’ll be here tomorrow. Next up is the LA Aquaduct.

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