Day 42 – Empty Campgrounds

I woke up just after sunrise.  I got out of my tent to watch the mountains glow in the morning light.  It was pretty early and there wasn’t much urgency to get going just yet, so I just sat and admired the view.  At about 7:00 I started getting my gear back into my pack and Exo followed shortly.  As we were packing up a foreign couple came by to take a break at our campsite and offered to carry one of Exo’s heavier gear items to the fire station for him.  We sat and talked for a while, then they made their way down the trail with his sleeping bag.  So many awesome people out here.

We got going uphill to the spring.  Since I filtered so much last night I only needed to grab a liter from it this morning.  When we got there we were met with a swarm of bees taking a drink break after a long day of work.  I softly made my way through them to grab a liter from the pond.  As I filtered another hiker came up.

“Hope you like bees!” I laughed.

She got to work on filtering her water as we left.  Bees are awesome, they don’t bother you so long as you’re not a jerk to them.  If it had been a swarm of wasps on the other hand…

We pushed on uphill to get to the top of the mountain.  The view from the top was amazing, but more importantly we could see the fire station downhill.  It was a long way down which might not work out for my knee too well, but I was still feeling good so maybe things will work out.  We took a break up there for a while, then got started.  We made excellent time getting down: Me because I have to hop downhill, Exo because he was eager to get out of here and get new shoes.

When we got to the bottom of the hill we ran across a sign offering rides to hikers.  Exo took a picture of the phone number listed at the bottom.  The Trail Angel wasn’t asking for anything in return other than maybe a cup of coffee if the hiker had the time.  So awesome.  We pushed up the last little hill up to a picnic area by the fire station where my next water source was.  We hung out at the picnic tables for a little while, then Exo made his way back down trail where there was service to call the Trail Angel.  He came back announcing he’d have a ride in about 40 minutes.

We’d come 8 miles today, so I figured this would be a good time for lunch.  I pulled out my food and chowed down.  As I did I also looked at my maps:  There was a campground exactly at the 20 mile mark for my day, so I decided to push there for the day.  If I wanted to make it I’d have to leave soon.  I got everything in my pack and got ready to go.

“Hey dude, if I want to make it to camp I should leave now” I said to Exo.

“Alright, see ya in Agua Dulce!” He said.

I made my way out of the picnic area, across a highway, and back to the PCT.  A big elevation gain was ahead of me and I made it up promptly.  Given that my favorite thing in the world before the PCT was to climb up peaks, I picked up some good habits going uphill.  Breathing correctly goes a long way.  One quick breath in, a couple quick out, following my stride.  I don’t know if there’s any physiological basis for this, but it works for me.  I also feel like I’m getting stronger.

I got to the top of the mountain and wrapped around it going downhill a ways to another paved road.  I took a quick break here to recover from the heat of the sun and looked at my maps.  Oh, I’m at the Poodle Dog Bush detour.  My options are to push through and hit the PCT dodging Poodle Dog Bush, or to walk along the road and meet up with the PCT in about 9.5 miles.  Both avenues have a level of excitement to them.  On the PCT you’re weaving through these bushes which are like Poison Oak on steroids, and on the road.. well.. you’re on the road.  I decided to walk along the road.

The views along the detour were so incredibly amazing.  I could look back and see mountains I had been on days previously and everything in-between.  And oddly enough there were no cars out here either.  What’s the deal with that?  In fact, there’s no hikers out here either.  I took it as an opportunity to sing out loud as much as I wanted to as I walked along the pavement.  This stretch fulfilled every teenage daydream I had of throwing stuff in a backpack and wandering around.

I eventually wound my way around the road and found myself looking downhill to see a picnic table.  Yay!  I made my way down to it and was faced with a Station Fire memorial.  In 2009 this mountain range suffered from a really bad fire (which is why there’s so much Poodle Dog Bush, which capitalizes on recent burn areas).  Two firefighters lost their lives trying to extinguish the fire, and behind me were the remains of some kind of building complex.  My excitement for the picnic table was replaced with a quick slap in the face of depression.  Staring at the memorial site, I got a little choked up and left.

Being out on trail strips you of all kinds of distractions and other things that come with being in the daily grind.  All you have is yourself and what’s around you, your environment has a much larger impact on you than it does normally.  So if I had just been in my car and drove past this, I probably would have just shrugged and thought “Sad”.  But being out here and walking by it left a completely different impression on me.

I walked down the road a little and took a break on a little hill.  From here I could see what the remainder of my day would be: I’d be going up and over one more mountain at least.  It’s been a while since I’ve done a 20, I’d usually be at camp by now.  Beyond that, walking on pavement after being on a soft dirt trail for so long kind of sucks, my legs were aching a bit.  Ready to finish this detour up, I got my pack on and started uphill.  There’s still no cars out here, what’s the deal?  As I continued walking I started seeing more obvious evidence of the fire years before: Charred wilderness park signs, blackened metal rails, etc.  Then I started passing signs indicating road closures.  Well that explains a lot.  I wondered if I’m even allowed to be here?  I reasoned that the detour wouldn’t exist on my maps if I couldn’t take it.

As I went uphill I got tired of my music and switched to my audiobook.  Listening to a story while hiking is infinitely better than music.  It made the last push uphill much easier for me and before I knew it I found myself at the top.  Yay!  I wrapped around the side of the mountain a ways and then found myself staring face to face with the most amazing view ever.  Mountains for miles submerged in a layer of cloud.

I went downhill and noted more signs of the closure.  This area must have been so nice before the fire, I imagine it was a really popular camping and recreational destination.  But now there’s no one.  Just a handful of lonely signs and dead silence.  It was really surreal walking around here, I almost felt like I was at the edge of the world.

I made my way downhill and reached my destination.  There were a handful of other hikers here sitting in their tents and eating food.  I passed them, waved, set up my tent, ate food, and continued to listen to Dune.  This book is awesome.

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