Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pacific Crest Trail Section A, Days 4-5: In which we see the same house for 24 hours

If I were a thru hiker, I thought as I corralled the flapping tent, with as little experience as those on the trail behind us, and didn't know it would get better, I would quit now. But it always gets better. The wind vanished as we headed for the valley floor. We shed layers as we began a rollercoaster descent through gullies and washes to our first stop, the Rodriguez tank. Here we gathered water from a spigot for a long water carry. There was rumored to be a water cache ten miles distant, but we did not want to rely on caches, so we filled up all our available platypii and hung out talking to a thru-hiker who had started three days before us.

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.
Oh the San Felipe Hills. So fascinating with flowering octotillo, prickly pear and barrel cactus. So waterless. So frustrating, as we circled the San Felipe Valley, due to landowner disputes. We could see the same darn house for twenty four hours. This is a place that some hikers skip; despite calling themselves thru-hikers, they hitch right to Warner Springs. We saw some of these, people we had left behind inexplicably showing up. HYOH. But I am glad we did it. There was a resiliency and toughness to the hills that I admired.



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.


14 comments:

  1. Loving your recaps, and your pictures are beautiful!

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    1. Thanks! I really wish I had taken more photos, but dont we always wish that!

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  2. I never thought the So Cal deserts could be so beautiful but your photos are proving me wrong! Enjoying your latest recap.

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    1. I agree, somehow I thought it was going to be sandy and flat! Glad I was wrong.

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  3. Great photos, and memories of Anza-Borrego State Park. Glad you touched a part of it. Congrats on finishing Section A in such fine fashion....so different than your Washington sections.

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    1. This is a really different part of the park! No palm oases!

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  4. I enjoyed the trip report. It brought back many memories of the Stagecoach 400, which is a mountain bike route I rode in 2012. The route intersected the PCT a number of times in that region. The Anza Borrego was a highlight, although about 95 degrees when I went through. It was also about that temperature climbing Oriflame Canyon, which was one of the more brutal two hours of my life. On day three, during the return loop into Idyllwild, I rode into Warner Springs almost completely out of food, and found nothing in town open, which was a huge disappointment. Still, yes, this region would be harsh start to the PCT. If I ever were to aspire to a thru-hike, I'm pretty sure I'd follow Leslie Gerin's lead and hike southbound from Canada in mid-summer. Someday, right? :)

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    1. Oh interesting, that would be brutal to ride through. Warner Springs community center is amazing! Too bad it was closed. There were people there who I'm pretty sure never left. And the free cookies.....

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  5. I always feel like I never take enough pictures. I felt like our family trip to Oregon Coast was going to be a Fail when I realized I forgot the cord for my battery charger at home. Our trip was far from being a Fail. We did have our phone cameras, which allowed us to take our "Throwback pictures". It reminded me that pictures can't describe how the ocean breeze felt on your faces, or the way the ocean smells. It can't tell you how cold the water was, or what it felt like to finally touch the elusive starfish that your mother has made a 12 year quest to find for you. How sticky does a sea anemone feel? A picture will never answer that question either. It cant describe the sound of the ocean waves crashing on the beach, or the "Squeee" from the kids when they dug their very first clams. Memories are made in the heart.
    Keep on hiking on!

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  6. I always feel like I never take enough pictures. I felt like our family trip to Oregon Coast was going to be a Fail when I realized I forgot the cord for my battery charger at home. Our trip was far from being a Fail. We did have our phone cameras, which allowed us to take our "Throwback pictures". It reminded me that pictures can't describe how the ocean breeze felt on your faces, or the way the ocean smells. It can't tell you how cold the water was, or what it felt like to finally touch the elusive starfish that your mother has made a 12 year quest to find for you. How sticky does a sea anemone feel? A picture will never answer that question either. It cant describe the sound of the ocean waves crashing on the beach, or the "Squeee" from the kids when they dug their very first clams. Memories are made in the heart.
    Keep on hiking on!

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  7. That campsite photo is stunning. The desert has such a unique beauty.

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    1. I've grown to appreciate it more and more, especially on this hike. It's a lot more subtle and easily overlooked than our usual places...alpine lakes for example.

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  8. Great job on the trip report. It made me laugh several time! Flash

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