March 29 (~07:20 – ~18:15)
Dirt Road & Water Tank / Rodrigues Rd – tentsite before Third Gate (19.5 mi / Total: 89.7 mi)
I try to get up early, but when my alarm goes off at five, I can’t for the life of me remember why I’d want to get up when it’s still that cold and dark. I snooze. Soon after I try another technique to stimulate myself to get going faster, and deflate my mattress, but it’s just making me more cold and I don’t want to leave my quilt. I can’t win. When I leave it’s pretty much the time I’d normally set off. I seems I need about an hour and a half between waking up and walking, and I really wish I could do it faster.
I leave my little campsite and pass the water cache with a few tents scattered around. Another woman is just packing up and she says good morning, and then tells me she saw me yesterday, and that I look like I’ve been hiking all my life. It makes me laugh, it must be this smaller backpack, which only works when I hardly carry any water, or food.
I resume the trail in the shade of the mountain and fly along the steep mountainside, overlooking a valley once more. It’s magnificent. As the path skirts around I find myself all alone, surrounded by cacti and a wandering path that snakes around the base of the mountainside.
It’s midday when I reach the water cache at Scissors Crossing, where the PCT crosses Highway S2. Trail Angels keep a water cache underneath the bridge in the dry riverbed, and I find gallons of water stored in buckets. I fill up to about 2.5 litres, which is a lot less than many other hikers who carry 5 litres or so, but it also means I have to make it across the mountain to the next water cache, another 14 miles away.
Once I get to the bridge I’m finally caught up by a bunch of ultralight hikers I’ve never seen before, and I hear them mention they’d walked 13 miles before noon. They all plan to hitch into Julian for the free pie that is offered to PCT hikers coming through, and I am the only one continuing the trail in the heat of day.
The mountain is something else. Dry and exposed, and burning at this time of day. There are so many cacti and wildflowers and butterflies that if feels like a botanical garden. I see local dayhikers come down and I wonder if they know something I don’t – perhaps I’m not supposed to go up this mountain at all at this time of day. But no one mentions anything so I just go, and trust it’ll be al right. I begin to climb up steeply, but the numerous switchbacks make it all so much easier – so far the PCT is much more of a wonderful, elongated walk than it is a challenge.
I break once again and watch another episode of Star Trek, when Speedy finally catches up again. I was expecting her much earlier, but it seems I’d just missed her at the water cache. We walk together for a few miles until we spot her a perfect campsite, and I continue alone.
It’s after 3 pm now, and there are only a few other hikers left on the trail, and I pass them as they set up their tents. Then it grows quiet, and I’m the only one left walking. I appreciate the solitude but at the same time it feels somewhat daunting, and I’m overly aware of the roads running in the far distance, and how alone I am.
Soon the trail begins to switchback intensely, and there are so many blue wildflowers I begin to worry that they’re actually poisonous plants, and just to be sure I try to pass without touching any. It gets later. I want to make it to the water cache but it’s still quite far. The sun is making me tired and my footing grows unsteady so I decide to go to one of the campsites about a mile before the cache. I still have water left from the cache at the bridge. It is so soft I find it difficult to drink, and I have just enough left to last me until the next day. Then I walk the last moments into the setting sun and set up camp right next to the trail, in a perfectly sheltered spot, watching the sun hide from the world for another night.