I woke up and looked at my watch: 5:30. Woke up early once again. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if I weren’t camped near other people, but not wanting to wake anyone at what may be described as a crazy hour, I sat in my tent for another hour and tapped at my phone in a desperate attempt to try and keep up with this trail journal business. It’s surprisingly difficult out there.
At 6:30 I felt it was more reasonable to start making noise, so I started to pack up my stuff with as much effort as I could to keep it quiet. It was all in my pack in 30 minutes, and I softly stepped out of the little picnic haven in the desert. I worked my way back up to the water trough and up a wide dirt pathway along a ridge. I’m in for another view here, I just know it. And sure enough, there it was. The view I’d recognized from all the trail journals and videos and google image searches.
It’s gonna be another slow day, isn’t it? I lingered here for a bit catching different views and looking at graffiti and monuments to fallen friends nailed to the rocks. I climbed up a boulder and stood on top of the desert for a little while. Screw coffee, this is how you start your morning.
I parted ways with the view for what I felt would be the last time. The trail went through a parking lot. The trail wound around for a little and I was greeted by a little metal sign indicating that – yes – I was still on the PCT. Spray-painted below was a mile marker: 55. I’ve gone 55 miles, I’ll be damned. I’ve never hiked so far in my life. In comparison to the overall trail it’s absolutely nothing, but I still felt great about it regardless.
The trail continued through some dense green desert plants of which I know nothing about (otherwise I’d say: Hey I passed chaparral here! What even is charparral?). It gradually started to ease a little bit as I hiked around some boulders scattered here and there. As the trail went forward I was thrust into a field with more and more chalk white boulders strewn about. The urge to drop my pack and climb all over them was insane, but I’d already lost so many miles yesterday, I needed to push on. On one hand, the trail experience is what you make of it, but on the other running out of food didn’t sound appealing to me. I settled for happily striding by them, occasionally stopping to stare. Another beautiful way to start the day. On top of all this, my foot wasn’t bothering me as bad. It’s gonna be a great one.
It’s so easy to get lost in moments like this on trail, you tend to forget that you have basic survival things to take care of. I pulled out my phone to double check my next water source. A water tank seven miles ahead. I totally have enough water to make it and then some, but I might as well stop there anyways. The trail progressed the way it does, transitioning from great views to a serene landscape with nothing for miles, with an occasional “OH what’s that?!” planted in the middle. This time it was plants I’d seen popping up from the desert floor here and there, but this time I got a really good up close view. I don’t know what these are called, but they are really cool.
As I neared the trail junction to get off the PCT to my next water source, I could see something bright and white glowing in contrast to the desert brush. What is that? A backpack? A grocery bag? A sign? I got closer and closer and started to make out that it was a Styrofoam cooler. I didn’t want to jump the gun and yell “Trail magic!” just yet, but I couldn’t help but wonder what was in there. As I got closer I saw that it was water, but I was elated just the same though I wasn’t going to take any. My plan for the day was to get to the water tank off trail, take a break there, then get back on the PCT. Other people didn’t want to go through the hassle to just press on, so I left it for them. But the fact that someone dragged this water out here was still really cool to me. Thank you whoever you are!
I left the PCT for something called the Sunrise Trailhead, whatever that means. It took me to a paved road, where I crossed into a dirt parking lot. I saw cars, I saw bathrooms, but I saw no water. Where is the water? I wandered around for a bit until I eventually figured out I had to walk down another trail for a little bit. In the distance I could see a metal tank protruding from the ground. I know this place! I just saw a video on it and how to get the water to work! I’m not sure why, but it was really exciting for me to be here. I was glad I got off the PCT for it, as small as it may have been. I started to talk out loud about the procedure to get the valves to work and eventually said “Hell I don’t fucking know” and laughed. I saw a head poke out of the bushes in the distance. Welp. Hey, you eventually start talking to yourself when you’re out alone in the desert long enough. The head poked down and whoever it was laid back down on their sleeping pad with their gear strewn all over.
I neared the trough where the water spits out and realized in horror that it was completely full. The hose that releases ‘clean’ water was submerged. It’s all non-potable, all the same, but the water I’d have to drink was green dead bug water. The horror wore off quickly, and I found myself oddly amused that I’d have to drink this. It was almost exciting, like “Yeah man! I’m in the desert drinking bug water!”. I dunno, I guess you’d have to be there. I filled up my bottles and took a break.
After a moment I heard the PCT calling my name in the distance. I got back up and wandered through the parking lot. I stopped for a moment to check my next water source, and realized I was at mile 60. Huh, mile 60. I sent a message to my family: “Hello from mile 60!”. The PCT continued along through the green desert over rolling hills where bees were busy landing and taking off from flowers strewn along the trail. It’s funny, in the real world you might be apprehensive about walking through a cloud of bees, but on trail they’re my hiking buddies. I wasn’t bothering them, they weren’t bothering me. I kept going feeling serene in the moment when my foot started to bother me again with a vengeance.
My pace slowed down to a limp once again. It was a lot worse than yesterday, my foot almost seemed to be screaming at me with every step until I just couldn’t put weight on it. Huh, shit. I found somewhere to sit down to try and massage it, desperate to try anything. I couldn’t get to what was causing the pain, so I put my shoe back on and limped along the trail. My break set me back a bit and suddenly I was running into people camped at the picnic area. The first guy I ran into is who pointed me to the water source the previous night, he was having a hell of a time out here apparently due to his overloaded pack. I felt really bad for the guy, it’s hard to know off the bat what you will and will not need, though I’ve felt lucky in that department where I’m happy with my setup. He was shocked to see me since I’d left so early, I explained that I had taken a break earlier. He said everyone else was up ahead a bit. This made me feel a little content, there’s people out here! But not a hoard!
I continued my sad little limp as the trail brought us uphill a ways. Shade was at a premium out here and everyone was scattering around looking for some solace from the sun. I passed one guy hiding underneath some bushes. Damn, that would have been a good place. The trail spit me out on the road and I saw the two hikers I was hanging out with the night previously. They were sitting on an embankment on the road taking whatever kind of shade they could while they ate lunch. I pushed ahead determined to find something better. The trail decided to take a huge plunge downhill which seriously aggravated my foot problem. Switchback after switchback it was feeling worse and worse, and just when I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore I found my spot. Against the hill a big bush provided enough protection for my entire body. I took off my pack, took off my shoes, put my feet on my pack and my shoes under my head. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more comfortable in my life.
I sat here for about an hour trying desperately to soothe my foot. Nothing worked. I ate lunch, got back up, and whimpered down the hill of hell. It spit me out onto another dirt road where it climbed upward towards another mountain. Uphill strangely enough doesn’t bother my foot at all, so I practically sprinted up it all. But the heat was still really intense, so I took another break under another bush. I hit an all-time low at this point, there was no way I was making it to Warner Springs at this rate and still have food. The trail has been so great the last couple days and the thought of getting off was almost devastating. I decided to ration food and push it an extra day doing lower mileage. I sat here another hour to let the sun burn off a little bit so I could at least hike in some cooler air.
I got up eventually and hobbled down the trail heading towards the next water source. There’s thru-hiking pain, and there’s the pain I was dealing with. Thru-hiking pain is something you laugh about with your hiker friends, this pain was a hell of a lot worse. I wasn’t laughing. I could barely put any weight on my foot, but I mean I have to walk right? I’m in the middle of the desert! I started to laugh about it a little bit and chalked it up as part of the experience. This is fun, right? It’s a challenge! Can I make it to Warner Springs with 2 days worth of food doing low mile days? Let’s find out!
The trail continued going down, and down, and down down down down. Eventually I was spit out onto another dirt road where I saw everyone huddled around a concrete cube hiding in the bush.
“That must be the water!” I said excitedly.
“Yep!” they responded.
I cheered and limped over. One of them asked what was going on and I explained my foot problems. At this point the gravity of the situation was hitting me, if I keep hiking on this thing it could get worse, then I’d have to get off trail for good. I’d rather chop the damn thing off honestly, I do not want to end my hike over something so small. I’m taking a day off in Julian. It’s better than the alternative. We filtered water and scattered to our individual campsites. The spot I chose that night has to be my favorite of the trail so far.
Despite the issues, I was really calm. I ate my potatoes and stared at the mountain in the distance. Do I really get to do this for 5 months? Seriously?