PCT Day 8 : Something Old, Something New

April 1 (~07:30 – ~17:25)
Agua Caliente Creek – tentsite after Chihuahua Rd (19 mi / Total: 131.5 mi)
Weather: Hot again.

The forest is friendlier in daylight. I pack up and quickly gain elevation into a landscape that reminds me of New Zealand, with a playful path and varied green bushes. It leads down to a stream and I hop skip across over and over, back into that forest, until the trail moves away once more, and up. There are many locals and section hikers, and I want to pass them but the ascends are tiring and I have too many pictures to take. I’m not fast enough. Then I break, quickly, and find myself in the back for a short while, free to stop and take pictures without the endless leapfrogging.

As the trail leads up, everything looks familiar until that New Zealand landscape turns into the desert again, and there are mountains of rock and a glow of terracotta and sand everywhere. The trees are shunted and desaturated, bleached by the sun, and everything is quiet again. The trail is steeper and rockier than it’s been before. In the distance one single deserted road meanders through the valley, the impression of a black snake.

My new solitude soon disappears. Hikers from Warner Springs have begun to catch up and I pass people who are camped next to the trail, or who are getting water from the last faint streams. This area is busy. I worry about it until I realise the futility of it all. I’m in nature, I am free. How is it possible for a human to have nothing to worry about, but still manages to find problems to ponder over? To keep the mind occupied? What is it so afraid of? I decide to let it go, and just walk.

My only predicament left is that I’m starving. I ate all my morning snacks first thing and sit down before noon to nibble on nuts and eat the porridge I found in the hiker box yesterday. I don’t feel satiated. I’m even daydreaming about the breakfast burrito I had at Warner Springs – I can’t believe my hiker hunger has set in so early already. My obsession with food only fades with the changes in the landscape. I’ve been hiking towards a mountain of rock all day, and in the afternoon I finally turn a corner and find myself in a similar place: the surface of a red moon. Everything is rock, and giant boulders are dotted within the landscape, and then line the path I’m walking. It’s like a fairytale.

As the day goes by I get tired and thirsty. There’s been limited water and I’m counting on refilling at a stream but everything is so dry, I don’t even noticed I pass the place where it’s supposed to be. I aim for Mike’s Place instead, the ramshackle home of a local, which is looked after by someone called Strangebird.

It’s an odd though friendly place, and I meet a bunch of hikers who are drinking beer and making homemade pizza with Strangebird. I talk to Stinky Cheese and Nick about the snow on the San Jacinto mountains we’re approaching in a few days, and Paradise Valley Cafe, just 25 miles away. They’re supposed to have the best burgers on trail, which doesn’t mean much, but I can’t wait to get there and eat. Then more hikers begin to arrive, and I decide to head back to the solitude of the trail.

I’m back on a green mountainside, the round lim rocks a lifetime ago, and I follow the rocky path down. It’s less maintained here, less perfect like the rest of the PCT, and it reminds me of New Zealand again, although of course, there’s no comparison. It takes some time to reach the tentsites on this mountain, and I finally spot Speedy’s tent near some other’s. Finally rest. This felt like a long day.

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