March 27 (~7:30 – ~19:15)
Kitchen Creek – near junction to Garnet Peak (20.4 mi / Total: 50.2 mi)
Weather: Warm. Both sunny and overcast. Crisp breeze. Very cold in the early morning and when waking up.
As I pack up in the morning I make two observations: my tent is impossible to fold back into its stuff sack, and my backpack is significantly smaller. It seems as though I have misplaced a stuff sack, but I haven’t. I don’t know how this happened – I haven’t eaten that much, but clearly it’s made a difference. Suddenly, the pack is much easier to handle and doesn’t hurt as much as it did before. Unfortunately my muscles ache more than ever. Both my legs and feet are in pain, so I take it easy as I wander up the mountain, and amble down the path. As I get closer to Mount Laguna I find myself walking through dry pine forests, one of my favourite things.
While I walk I try to focus on the trail, appreciate the moment. I think about those things I’ve been worrying about since I started the trail but finally I manage to leave most of my worries behind. I look at the huge pine cones on the ground, the shadows cast by the sun as she beams through the trees. I try to smell the scent of pine but I only get a whiff now and again. I wish I was surrounded by smells.
When I get to Mount Laguna I see Speedy at the restaurant. We have to leave our packs outside which is a little awkward, leaving all my belongings for anyone to take, but it seems the way things are in these trail towns. I take my electronics and order a coffee, and charge my battery pack for an hour at the PCT charging station. A hiker called Jukebox sits with us and gifts me some tuna packets – she had a resupply box sent here and already has way too much food. It’s perfect for me, because it means I only need to buy one extra tuna packet, some crackers and ziplock bags at the general store. My pack is still light.
When I continue my way nature’s gone quiet. I follow the trail as it meanders up and down the hills, and I seem to run along it. The pain from the morning has gone, and I just go, go, go. It’s almost effortless. Then I reach a high point that overlooks a grand desert valley. The wind has become strong and it’s cold, but the view is magnificent. The trail then keeps it elevation and skirts around the mountain, where I soon find the first tent city. A cluster of mismatching tents sticking out beyond the low bushes.
I pass the small group of hikers sitting in a circle and they all yell out ‘Cosmo!’ and I join them for a while, chatting. When I continue I’m flying again. Where’s this energy coming from? It’s only 5, it’s way too early to stop. Then I see Speedy, camping on top of the mountain, a little further away. I would’ve camped with her but I don’t have enough water. I didn’t pay attention to the water situation, and assumed it would be a while until I would set up camp anyways. So I keep going.
I continue to skirt around the mountain and gain new views of the valley with every turn. I realise there’s hardly any water and camping ahead. I wonder if I should stay on the mountain after all, and just do with the water I have. I turn around, walk back up for a short while and consider a few slanted campsites until two young Germans pass. I change my mind – if they’re continuing, so can I. I follow them down the path until I realise they are going to a paid campsite nearby. I stay behind and find a small trickle of water where I fill up my bottles. That will do.
When I continue again I look out for the few campsites close to the road, but they are all full. Tents huddling together underneath trees and on side trails. Another hiker comes up from behind me who decides to keep on going, the wind is too strong for our tents here, so I decide to do the same, and I run off, quickly well ahead of him, into a long section with supposedly no camping spots.
It seems as though it’s all I can do. Run, run. The trail is my playground. I suddenly like how my pack is small and agile, even though I still can’t take much weight. I will forever concur that my old Osprey Aura was the most comfortable pack ever, but it was also a bit of a monster, like a turtle that became part of me. This pack is like a big (and heavy) daypack. But it’s so much easier, I am so much more free.
I find myself on the side of a mountain range, moving around the valley again, watching the sun set. Some locals are on the trail and I want to get away, so I go. I lose the other hiker, he probably set up his tent somewhere along the way but I’m still walking, freezing cold now, into the night, the wind so intense I can’t stop for a moment. Along the way I see more locals, and worry about them watching me camp, but they are just taking pictures of the sun set, and I force myself to keep going, I will find something. It’s strange how I’m completely fine with all these PCT hikers I’ve never met before, but anyone else on the trail suddenly seems suspicious.
I shiver down the path as I pass the 50 mile marker and realise I’m in nomansland. All the hikers seem to either be camping before this exposed stretch, or after it, and it makes sense, because there is nothing here. Finally I find an area with a few trees and I set up my tent in the increasing cold, struggling to make dinner and eating crackers with cheese and tuna instead.
I take out my phone and check out the days ahead. It’s a Thursday and the next resupply town that doesn’t require a hitch is Warner Springs, but the community center that offers supplies has limited opening hours. At my current pace I’ll get there for Sunday, but when I read the comments on the Guthook app, I realise it’s only open until three on a Saturday, and closed on Sunday and Monday. It’s sixty miles from where I am, but I think I might just be able to make it, if I push hard. I get my old UK SIM card out and put it on roaming. I text Speedy to tell her where I am, and that I’m going to push for Warner Springs over the next few days. These are going to be an interesting few days.
As it gets later, the temperatures plummet and the wind picks up even more so. I watch my tent as it flaps in the wind and the cuben fabric screams and creaks. I put in my ear plugs and hope for the best, until I’m woken up by a huge blast…