|At Rodriguez water tank. Picture by Flash.|
"I'm 36, I have lots of aches and pains," he said. Eye Roll. He promised to see us again in the San Felipe Hills, but we never saw him again. The lure of the town of Julian must have proven to be too much. Most hikers were already taking zero days there. Really? I thought. I wondered if I were a thru hiker, if I would be all that into the towns. I like trails, not towns. Maybe I would feel differently if I faced five months of walking, but on day four, it just seemed too soon.
|Hmm, should we go to Julian? Nah...let's keep hiking. Picture by Flash.|
Instead we contoured down a mountain and past an intriguing off-the-grid house, with shady curtains on the porch billowing in the breeze. Who were these people, and why did they live up here, with a cistern for water and a solar panel? A little-discussed truth about long distance hiking is this: You end up running out of things to think about. So I thought about those people and made up a life for them.
|The longest mile on the PCT. Ever.|
About five in the afternoon, we reached Scissors Crossing. There was indeed a cache there, but we didn't need the water. What I did need, though, was a delicious Granny Smith apple. We had about three miles to go, all uphill as the sun dipped lower on the horizon. Powered by the apple, I led the charge, and in about an hour we had a semi-protected campsite in a sandy wash. We were in Anza-Borrego State Park and it finally felt remote and wonderful.
|View from our campsite.|
The third gate water cache is huge. Thousands of gallons of water brought by volunteers. Though it was totally possible to hike the 33 waterless miles without it, I did take a liter here (and ended up hiking to our campsite with a liter left. I was sorry about that). I viewed the cache with mixed feelings. Is it really sustainable to keep trucking water out here so that a few hikers can complete a personal quest? I'm not sure. It seems like a big impact on the water resources and on the desert itself.
We fell in for a short time with two thru-hikers named Shepherd and Herro, who were taking their hike to different levels by taking it as it came, not worrying about miles, but putting them in all the same. After they stopped for a break, it was just us again, on a surprisingly deserted trail. Apparently the rumors of a massive herd was inflated, or we just were ahead of everyone.
|Look, we walked 100 miles!|
Barrel Springs was at the end of a 21 mile day, with the last two miles winding in and out of gullies in a rather monotonous manner. Finally we came through some trees festooned ominiously with poison oak, and some men sprang up from the water tank. "We've been waiting for you!" they exclaimed. What was this? It was trail magic!
I've rarely experienced trail magic, where complete strangers show up with food and drinks, and I felt a little embarrassed. All we were doing was hiking. We carried enough food and water. We weren't heroes of any sort. But that didn't prevent me from grabbing some mini Snickers.
It was our last night on the PCT. We had done it much faster than planned. Tomorrow we would head to Warner Springs, an inconsequential hike of only ten miles. It was warm here at 2,900 feet with the wind no longer a factor. We settled in, along with three other hikers. Only one more day on the trail. It was hard to know whether to be overjoyed or sad. The trail will do that to you. It's bipolar, wind or stillness, steep or flat, love or hate. There is no in between here. I've read that 40% of prospective thru hikers drop out at Warner Springs. I can see why.
I could do it, I thought. I could be one of those who made it. If I wanted it enough. But I didn't, not now. Still, there was one more day, and that would have to be enough.