April 24 (~06:40 – ~20:00)
After Agua Dulce – before Lake Hughes Road (25.1 mi / Total: 483.6 mi)
Weather: Crazy hot.
Last night I told Speedy and Prince I wouldn’t get up with them in the morning, so when I hear early morning movement in the dark, I turn over and continue to sleep. I’m just happy the coyotes aren’t there howling anymore, putting the fear into me.
When I do wake up, everyone has long gone, and something else has replaced the coyotes – a bird in the tree next to me lets out a desperate screech about every thirty seconds, which seems to last for hours. It’s a good incentive to pack up quicker, and the bird stops its pained call just before I’m done.
When I roll up my tent (I spread it out to lie on when cowboy camping) I find bits of hard, dry grass punctured through my cuben fibre bathtub floor. What? How is this possible? Cuben is supposed to be super strong – how can it get punctured by something as basic as grass? I take out the bits and decide to deal with it another time. Luckily it doesn’t rain much on the PCT, so it’s not an immediate problem. I do find it frustrating that I can’t seem to be able to count on this tent in every possible condition, though. So far it seems more like a fair weather tent to me than anything else.
Soon I’m engrossed in the hiking day. I go up and begin the first ascend into the hills. It’s a long one, long and slow, but the landscape around me is a little more grassy which is different, and it’s a nice change from the constant desert features. When I reach the top of the first hill I run into a southbound hiker who tells me I’ve got the smallest pack he’s ever seen. Later in the day I run into two other hikers, Lullaby and Lifeboy, sitting next to the trail, and Lullaby asks if I’m on the PCT as my pack is so small. I do enjoy the compliment, although I know it’s mostly de design of the pack that makes it look so small – once the actual ultralight fast hikers start running past, they’ll see my pack is actually not that small at all.
On the other side of the hill the trail meanders through small forests covered with beds of tiny white flowers. I’m thoroughly loving this change in scenery. It’s so refreshing, especially in this heat. When I climb up the second hill everything at the top is a little more desert like again and I hide between large bushes where I eat my leftover pizza from the day before. It’s nice to eat something different on trail, something not dry and prepackaged.
When I move down from the high point I sidle along the mountain range where the trail moves in short, erratic up and down motions. I’m thirsty. I’ve been drinking from just my two bottles of water all day, and I’m counting on several surprise streams during this dry stretch. There isn’t supposed to be any water until the end of the twenty mile day, but a recent comment on the Guthook app mentioned numerous streams were flowing around this area. I’m not sure where they are, but I’m relying fully on them. It’s early afternoon when I finally come across the first small stream trickling across the trail. Fresh, cold water. It’s such a luxury.
While I sidle along I begin to pass more streams. The comment mentioned there were five or so, and after the first few I find Speedy and Prince taking a midday break in the midst of some trees. I join them for a little, happy to be out of the sun, out of the burning heat, and then I continue – up and around the hills. I spot more streams, and although I lose count, there must’ve been eight or nine altogether. The last is less than a few miles before the road with the fire station, which has a tap with water for hikers to use. I decide to take enough from the stream instead, so I don’t have to fiddle with the tap at the station, and follow the trail back down, finally, to San Francisquito Valley Road.
The road marks a twenty mile day for me and although Speedy and Prince will be camping around here, I plan on walking just a few more miles. In two days I’ll be visiting Hikertown, another classic PCT stop, and I want to get there in time so that I can resupply at the supermarket, which is a few miles out. I’m the only one of us three who doesn’t have enough food to last until Tehachapi, which is another two days ahead. I figured I’ll walk a longer day so I’ll get there in time to do everything I need to.
It takes a long time to reach the road, and it’s late in the afternoon now, although it’s just as hot as it’s been all day. I rest and sit under a tree in the shade, when a man parks his car and offers me a ride to Casa de Luna, but I decline. Casa de Luna is another famous trail angel’s home in the small town of Green Valley. Just like Hiker Heaven, they offer hikers everything, but it has a bit of a party reputation, and since I’m already going to Hiker Heaven and Hikertown, I decided to skip this one.
When I’m ready to walk the last few miles, the trail throws another ascend at me, and this one is painfully steep, which I feel even more so at the end of the day. I see two others begin the climb far behind me, while I force myself up – I need to walk further, I cross all the dirt roads and mountain bike paths that keep on intersecting the trail and meander around the mountains as the light begins to fade.
Then it goes quiet. I move from the open spaced sidles to running through tight corners with lots of dark trees and I begin to worry about hiking alone, about bears, and mountain lions. I’ve walked several miles already but there’s nowhere to set up a tent, or to cowboy camp. I get a little desperate. All I can do is keep on walking but it’s just getting darker. I pass another dirt road and sidle along a beautiful, more serious mountain, bigger and more dramatic than the hills I was just in. I increase my pace until finally the trail hits a flat spot and I decide this is it: I throw down my pack.
I’m five miles beyond the road, much farther than I wanted to be, and I simply can’t walk anymore. It’s too dark and it frightens me. I want to hide in my tent but the ground is too hard to take the stakes, so the only option left is to cowboy camp right next to the trail. I set up in the dark and quickly eat some cereal instead of making a proper meal.
As I eat the couple behind me passes. I assumed they’d set up somewhere before but I’m happy to see other humans, to make this darkness less isolating. Just before I go to sleep another group passes. I’m surprised to find so many people night hiking. I couldn’t – I can’t get the thought of mountain lions out of my head. I’m not quite sure how I’ll get through the night, lying here on my own. I close my eyes and hope the next time I wake it’s morning.