April 15 (~07:25 – ~16:10)
Before Silverwood Lake – Cajon Junction / McDonalds (21.2 mi / Total: 341.9 mi)
Weather: Warm! It gets really windy towards the end, and I almost get blown off the sidles.
I wake up after another night of cowboy camping. I love it. It was windy all night but it feels so fresh, and it’s just such a fun way to the day, and watch the sun appear from behind the mountains.
The others walk ahead and I assume my own pace, walking alone until suddenly I hear a noise. I assume it’s just my imagination, or something moving in my pack – which is usually the case. But then they emerge from around the corner – it’s the marching band. It’s the group we keep overlapping with, and I started calling them the marching band. The front hiker keeps a serious pace, and everyone else is trudging behind, in formation. They say hi and pass me, walking fast, then inadvertently stand still and wait for the members in the back to catch up, and it keeps me locked in a game of leapfrog, which is always odd on a wilderness trail of about 18 inches wide. When they pass me a second time, I stay behind and wait. When they’ve grown small dots in the distance, I go again. No more leapfrogging today.
When I quickly looked on the map I anticipated the entire day to be a flat walk through a sandy desert valley, looping around a lake and crossing several highways and some houses, but it’s nothing like that. It’s another stroll over small hills, with the usual dry bushes, a lot of dirt roads to cross and a welcome pretty lake. I’m surprised when I pass over a notch and the views over the lake prove so much more impressive and hilly than I’d expected. It’s almost tropical, and I walk around it, and slowly away from it, up and over the hills, slowly towards different things.
Mostly though, the day is not mesmerising with beauty, and I daydream through most of it, as I follow the signs while the views change to new versions of landscapes I’ve seen before. Tonight is McDonalds. That’s what I’m going for today. A ridiculous aim, really, but it’s right off the trail, at the Interstate that the PCT crosses, and it’s not the dried food we’ve all been carrying and eating for days. It’s something different. That’s why we all go there. It’s not amazing but we love it because it’s something else.
Everything changes the final miles before the PCT gets to the Interstate. The land dries up, and small, distinct hills line the way to McDonalds. Intense sidles go around and over, and I watch myself grow a tiny bit closer with every turn. The wind is so intense that I almost get blown off the side of the hills several times, but it’s surreal to get close in on the busy Interstate like that, to get closer to what we call civilisation.
When I get to McDonalds, an entire corner is crowded with hikers. I’m frazzled, try and order things they don’t have and walk away with a tray with hardly anything on it – the best item being the M&M McFlurry I ordered. Speedy and Prince are already there but they are in the midst of the hiker trash, so I sit on my own to enjoy my food.
I’ve hardly finished when someone asks if anyone needs a ride to REI – suddenly the three of us are alert, that’s where we’re supposed to go. Initially, we were planning on going into town tomorrow morning, but there isn’t much camping near the Interstate, so we figure a hitch into town tonight may be easier – we could stay at a hotel and head to the Apple store in the morning.
We get up and get a ride from the Homeboys of the PCT, two trail angels who hiked the PCT themselves some years ago. They come to the junction and the towns around a lot to give trail magic to hikers, or drive them to different places. They are ridiculously easy going and helpful, and have to qualms as to take people wherever they need to go. I can hardly believe it. They drop us off in front of the REI outdoor store in San Bernardino, and we head in straight away, all needing new gear of some sort. I replace my Injinji socks as one of my pairs got riddled with holes, Speedy gets some new shorts and Prince gets both shorts and new shoes.
When we’re outside and head to the Starbucks by my request, it’s clear we don’t belong. We look like a bunch of meth addicts on these clean roads, and we’re too far from the PCT for anyone to understand we’re hikers. It’s honestly hilarious, and I can’t wait for our Apple store experience tomorrow, which should be even funnier. But first we book an Uber and get to a hotel, which in our excitement seems a lot more fancy than it really is.