Day 11 – Warner Springs and Beyond

Another night went by without sleep.  Apparently the air around Barrel Springs where I camped is special air that turns into ice at night.  Given that I had no real insulation between me and the ground, that didn’t turn out to create a very good night.  But at least it was quiet.  I seem to be in a better bubble of people, and I felt bad for being so critical of them yesterday for absolutely no reason.

I was too cold to get out of my tent just yet, so I laid back down and slept for about an hour, then decided I should get going.  I have a package waiting for me in Warner Springs, I’d hate to miss my window to get it from the post office.  I was excited for the day ahead of me, I’d spent enough time pre-hike watching videos, reading journals, and looking at pictures to know that I’d be going through Warner Springs Meadows today and passing Eagle Rock.  The meadows in particular were what I was excited for, it just looked so serene and peaceful.  For the 9 months I waited to hike, a picture of the area was the wallpaper on my phone and I’d look at it whenever I felt restless.

The hike began with a short climb over a hill, where it spat me out into the meadows.  I hadn’t slept more than 3 hours last night and the night previous, but I was feeling great.  I slowed my pace to enjoy the scenery and watch the wind blow through the dry grass and over the soft hills.  By the time the hike through it ended I was sad, I wanted it to last a lot longer than it actually did.  The saving grace was the trail wrapped through another canopy of trees and along an actual stream.  It made for a great morning.  But to my elation, the trail went up and over another hill and I was suddenly in another meadow with rocks strewn here and there that went on for a couple miles.  Yay meadows!

I was flip-flopping with a couple of guys all morning.  I’d stop to let them pass, they’d stop to let me pass, etc.  We talked a little but I was too focused on the scenery and didn’t want to stop to chat much.  After a while I noticed a slightly larger pile of rocks in the distance with some day hikers wandering around, that had to be Eagle Rock.

Just then one of the other hikers said: “Do you see what I see?”

“I totally see it” I replied, we knew what was up.  We talked a bit about how amazing it is that Eagle Rock isn’t a total dump with graffiti everywhere, though it would be permissible if someone went overboard with patriotism and painted freedom propaganda all over it.  He pressed on, I stayed behind at my slower pace enjoying the field.  I saw him go uphill towards the rocks, slightly passed it, and then back a little.  He looked back as if saying “Where the hell is Eagle Rock?”  I shrugged back at him and chuckled.  It isn’t as prominent as you’d think it is just looking at pictures, you could totally pass it and not even know you’d skipped a landmark of the trail.  He wrapped around the rocks and found the right angle to see it at.  I followed shortly after.

We three stood up there and did the whole picture thang, sitting around and staring at the rock.  Yup, looks like an eagle alright.  I sat in the dirt and dug through my pack to get my gaiters, I’d forgotten to put them on the morning and had all kinds of rocks and poky plants bugging my feet.  Gaiters secured, I said goodbye to Eagle Rock and continued on in the land of soft rolling terrain and green desert grass stuff.  It went on as far as you could see and I was monumentally happy.

The meadow came to an end once again and entered a calm forest winding along with a small stream that didn’t smell all that great.  Apparently there were cows up ahead, so I wasn’t about to jump in and roll around in the water, but it was still oddly tranquil.  I walked through happily for a while and checked the time.  The post office closed mid day for what was probably the staff’s lunch break at 11:00 or so, then reopened at 11:30.  It was 10:40, I didn’t want to get there and have to sit outside a post office.  I opted to go off trail and sit by the smelly river  for a while.  My first spot was ant infested and I felt bad for squishing a group of them with my pack.  I got back on trail and looked for a better spot.  When I found it I sat down and decided to wash my socks.  I sat there in the shade for around 40 minutes feeling the cool breeze roll by and blow through the leaves of the trees around me.

Socks cleaned and roped to my pack, I made my way back to the trail.  It was a little more busy when I got back up to it as there were a lot of day hikers out enjoying the little oasis that is the Warner Springs area.  I’d totally come out here for a day hike too, it’s damn cool.

I eventually made it to the main street of Warner Springs.  I knew it was a small town, but the implications of that didn’t hit me until I saw it.  There’s nothing here, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s a cozy little quiet community with amazing people who do amazing things for the hikers.  I walked passed the school where across the street hikers are allowed to pitch their tents and get burgers and soda from the community center situated nearby.  I absolutely would not camp here since I didn’t want another Lake Morena type night, but it looked great regardless.  People were hanging out on park benches, laughing and having a great time.  It’s refreshing to see people being so happy after leaving the concrete jungle of people just rushing to get from point A to point B.

I decided I’d walk to the post office which was something like a mile away from the trailhead.  I walked along the main road as few cars zoomed past me.  It was kind of fun actually, I got to take in the scale of Warner Springs.  For being so small, it hardly felt empty, there’s just a great air around this place.  I made it to the post office, signed the trail register, picked up my box, and crammed all my food into my pack.  I usually buy as I go, but Warner Springs doesn’t really have a store.  I didn’t have an option on this one.

I threw my pack onto my shoulders feeling the weight of all my new food.  This feeling only really lasts for about an hour, then you hardly notice it anymore.  As I walked down the road I passed a couple hikers.  I asked the first one if there was anywhere I could get Coke.  I haven’t been able to stop drinking Coke since starting this, it’s just one of those things I usually don’t crave but can’t stop thinking about on trail.  She told me I could get some at the community center.  I had a new mission.

The hike back to the trailhead felt short, and I took a detour to the community center to secure my bubbly gold.  I walked into the community center, the air in here was heavy and humid.  There were people all around sitting at tables working on who knows what, and there were hikers lounging around charging all their electronics.  I heard “Chris!” from one of the corners of the building.  Mathew!

“Hey man, how’s it going?!” I said.  It was cool to see him again.

“Not so good.  I have infected blister, have to rest here for a day” he replied.

“That sucks man, I had to take some days off too.  Hope it gets better, how long are you going to stay here?”.

“Probably just one day then I will hike out” He replied.

I thought he’d be long gone, but now I’d be ahead of him.  Not that it’s a race, I just didn’t expect to see him hanging out here.  I kinda wanted to stay here and hang out with him, but even out here on the PCT I’m a little sensitive to crowds and didn’t want to linger around too long.  I said goodbye and continued my mission for carbonation, but I absolutely didn’t want to navigate through all the people in the building and opted to just leave.  I plopped down on the grass under a tree by the community center and took inventory of my food to make sure it was enough, then I made lunch in the shade.  I watched everyone wandering around trying to fill their time with something, or at least that’s the impression I got.  It’s hard to come off the trail and have nothing to really do.  That provided me enough reason to get up and hit the trail again, I didn’t want to get sucked into that.

The trail wound through some trees then entered yet another meadow, this one much more expansive.  I was completely alone and could act like a total idiot all I wanted.  I could sing out loud and think out loud all I wanted to.  I felt like I could breathe again.  Sometimes hiking solo is a drag, and sometimes it’s exactly what I need.

All good things come to an end however.  The trail went through another awesome canopy of trees, then went abruptly up another chaparral infested mountain.  I don’t know why this stuff puts me in such a low mood, it’s just not fun to hike through.  The trail continued upward and I started to sink back into my annoyed mood of yesterday, but before it had a chance to surface I could hear the trickle of a stream and could see yet another area with a relieving spread of trees and interesting flora.  Yay!

I crossed the river a few times as the trail wound through the valley and started to look for camp sites.  I would occasionally check the Guthook app on my phone (a guide/gps map thing for the PCT) for tent sites.  It always seems like the coolest sites are always just a few miles before my daily mileage goal.  I passed them sadly and continued on to the very edge of this beautiful place stuck in the middle of the chaparral where one camp site remained.  It wasn’t the best in the world, but it was exactly at mile 15.  I dropped my pack proclaiming it home for the night.

As I sat there kicking rocks out of the way for my tent, I looked downhill a bit and could hear water trickling through the trees.  I made my way down careful not to crush the plants as I walked and found a square of sand surrounded by logs with a large boulder overlooking it all.  This would be perfect.  A ways down from this site was a little stream.  I made a mental note not to rely on the Guthooks app for campsites anymore, I would have completely passed up the opportunity to stay here for the night.

I set up my tent, made dinner, and wandered down to the stream to sit on a rock and listen to the water flow.  It’s incredible how wonderful this sound is after being in the desert for long stretches, it’s absolutely captivating.  All I wanted to do was jump in, but the water level was way too low.  I filtered a liter of water and chugged it.  Hydration!  Yay!

I went back to camp and climbed up onto the boulder overlooking my little haven.  This is so great, this is so fucking great.  I was still feeling pretty miserable from nicotine withdraw, but it was easy to set aside here.  It was quiet, it was tranquil, it was the best.  It was a good day.

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