Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, California Section B, Day 5.5: The Hardest Five Miles on the PCT

On our final day on the PCT, we woke to beautiful clear skies. We also awoke to a bubble: a small herd of PCT thru hikers (though none of them had done the actual alternate but skipped ahead to town). Plenty of people had washed up near us, and we saw them throughout the day, still looking pretty clean from Idyllwild.

But not us!  We had done the alternate and I felt good about that. We set a good pace as we embarked on the 6,000 foot descent. It is one of those where you see the valley floor hours and hours before you get to it. In times like this you have to give in to what the trail can teach you: patience, and being here now. There was no need to rush.



Suddenly Triscuit began to run. What was it? A snake? A weirdo? I soon found out as angry bees boiled around our heads. This is a notorious spot where earlier in the season at least one horse fell to its death. We hadn't done anything to disturb the bees, but they weren't happy with us passing by. Our sprint was successful.

A rare flat section.

The day began to get hotter and hotter, and we passed clumps of people collapsed in rare shade pockets: Gadget Girl, Seasoned Strider, a young couple, and the Three Musketeers (our name for them of course, and a guy we named Pop-Up because he popped up out of nowhere). "You know," Triscuit said thoughtfully, "I didn't like the rain, but now I think we lucked out." I had to agree: we had tackled some big climbs in chilly, overcast weather that might have been grueling in normal temperatures.

The valley floor. Way over there.
I had sort of hoped we would camp out one more night, but it was only two when we finally reached the mystical water faucet, a mysterious drinking fountain in the middle of nowhere. There was no shade and no good place to camp. We steeled ourselves for what ahead: the worst five miles of the PCT.

How bad could it be? I thought as we headed across sagebrush flats. Surely the people before us were just wimps! We were badasses! But soon reality bit. The wind gusted savagely, so much so that we had to lean over to keep our forward progress. We were walking in deep sand. And it was hot, blazingly so. We were headed for the unlovely sight of a highway overpass, which never seemed to get closer. As we finally passed under it, with its creepy vibe, I thought we were to the trail angels' house--but no, we still had 1.8 miles to crawl along.

We dragged ourselves onto Ziggy and the Bear's patio with looks of shock and awe. That was truly awful, I thought, as the Bear gave us each a cold Gatorade. Massive sugary drink? Okay. Feeling better, I took stock of my surroundings.

A few hikers sprawled on some ancient recliners. One of them was Wing It, who had taken the hitch. I told him what we had been calling him and he thoughtfully considered it. He may end up being called Wing it for the next two thousand miles. Strangely, two stoned waifs dressed in bizarre outfits--fishnet stockings, fur capes, and tails--poked through a resupply box. One came to hug me. They listened to tales of our journey. "Cooool," they said. They were headed to Joshua Tree with no real plan. I worried about them a little.

Triscuit escaped to call a shuttle. We had thought about staying here but the fact of no showers, waifs, and a small patio to sleep on with everyone else sent us over the edge. As we waited for our ride to Palm Springs, where we had a whole day to swim in the pool, look in expensive shops, and eat Mexican food, a clean and unruffled Welsh hiker strolled in. He looked at us as we sat by the garbage cans. Could he really have hiked the same trail we did? We marveled as we rode to Palm Springs. Would I see these people again in July, when I am in Northern California? I hoped so.

One hundred miles had gone so fast. Too fast. I looked wistfully out at the Whitewater Preserve and the trail to come. I wanted to be out there with Wing It and Slingblade and Man in Black and everyone else. But I'm not the kind of person who can live on a wing and a prayer. I don't want to be 75 and still working. I think this is why the trail is so precious to me. I know what it takes for me to get there.

There's a PCT marker on the underpass.

1200 miles down! I wish I could be out there tomorrow. However, most of the trail is still under deep snow. It's time to hunker down and wait. July in Castle Crags, I'm coming for you!

8 comments:

  1. Just as well it was descent and not ascent. Awesome photos and read. July will come round quickly.

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    1. I kept thinking about the southbounders as we hiked down. It would be brutal! Like climbing Mt. Whitney I suppose, only with a lower elevation.

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  2. I enjoyed your latest PCT adventure. Glad you finally got a rain-free day.

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    1. It was a good mix, in the end.

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  3. I thoroughly enjoyed following along on your adventure! Thank you for sharing it with us. I felt myself getting excited as you were nearing the end because I believe it was getting close to parts of the PCT that I am familiar with and where I completed day hikes. As for Castle Crags, I googled it and loved what I saw. May need to add this area to my to-do list!

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    1. I think there are lots of hikes near Palm Springs! I wish I could have checked them out. Next spring I hope to start from where I finished off and go north.

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  4. We met so many AT section hikers while working at Bears Den Hostel in VA and we both agree, section hiking is MUCH harder than thru hiking. It takes true dedication and perseverance, so kudos to you. 1200 miles! Take that, Cheryl Strayed!

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    1. I agree with you, the logistics are killer! And my goal was always to hike more than she did! Not sure why, just wanted to. 1466 more miles, more or less!

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