(Header photo by J)
Third gate water cache to Warner Springs
Woke up cosy and snug next to a juniper tree. A little too cosy – it’s already late. J and I don’t get started until nine. We’d like to make it to Warner Springs tonight, and it’s 19 miles away. That would be my second longest hiking day ever, the day after my first longest. Time to get started either way. First I have to put on my
torture devices shoes. I’ve got tired feet.
Not long after starting, we finally turn a corner that takes on onto the north face of the San Felipe hills. The view we had all yesterday is replaced, and the plants change too. We’re back in scrub. Beaver tail cacti are up here too though, and every corner you turn there’s a cactus exploding in incandescent pink bloom. The view is much greener to the north.
A few hours into the morning, J and I get in a spat over the name of a flower. J gets pissy and I stomp off in a white-hot temper. I make good time for a while, but then I’m just tired. This is the first time we’ve been apart since we started. J catches up and we kiss and make up. We’re both exhausted.
We muscle through the morning and make it to mile 100. That’s 1/26th of the way. I’m so proud of myself. We take the obligatory photo: “How’d it come out?”
“Uh, why don’t you try smiling this time.”
“Wasn’t I smiling? I was trying to smile.” J shows me the photo. “Oh. Ok, try 2.”
I fake it better the second time. Shortly after this we find ticks on J’s pants. We’ll have to keep our eyes peeled.
Another mile and we’re at barrel spring. There’s a whole crowd of hikers there, sprawled underneath the huge oaks, our first water source and our first trees in days. We have stale tortillas and spam for lunch (better than it sounds) and water up. Our food bags are almost empty and we’re only carrying three liters each. My pack feels weightless. I swallow a handful of ibuprofen and I’m ready to go. (J has started referring to ibuprofen as my “happy pills”. Pretty accurate description.)
One of the other hikers we keep crossing paths with here hiked the Appalachian trail last year. Buckeye totally dusts us on the trail, but he takes longer breaks, so we’ve managed to keep up. Despite two thousand miles of thru-hiking experience, he got taken to the emergency room after two days on the PCT. Hyponaetremia – not enough salt. Five IVs and he was good as new, back on trail the next day. I think back to Glide On, telling us that as soon as you think you’ve learned everything you need on the PCT, she teaches you something new. (Note to self: keep drinking electrolytes.)
Once we leave barrel spring we are out of the San Felipe hills. We’ve got a big valley to cross before our next resupply stop at Warner Springs. The trail takes up and over low scrub hills and into huge grass valleys. The golden valleys rimmed by green hills looks like places I’ve seen in movies but never been to. The coastal ranges to the west are blue shadows against the sun. The trail winds us into draws filled with giant oaks, their deep shade mingling with that of their sisters, the white sycamores. It is unbelievably lovely. This is not at all how I imagined this part of the trail. It’s been so unexpected. Between the topography and orientation of the hillsides, the plants are completely different every turn of the trail. This long stretch across the valley is amazing, and I’m glad the trail planners took us through it. “This should be the setting for a love story,” I tell J. “Yeah,” he agrees. “One with horses,” I continue. “Maybe a love story of horses,” J says.
We’re crossing another golden plain when we finally get to eagle rock. I’ve been inordinately concerned about missing it. I just MUST have my picture at eagle rock, like every other PCT hiker. When we get to it, it looks just like an eagle! Perfect. J takes my photo, then we decide to set the camera timer and take one together. The first photo I’m not fast enough, I’m still getting in place. For the second try, I hit the button then go sprinting towards J. I trip on my skirt or something, my other foot skids out, and I crashland on my ass. “Aaaah! Aaaah! Aaaah! Aaaah!” I wail. J is yelling, “are you hurt? Are you hurt?” The camera goes off and catches me lying on the ground like a fool as J comes over.
I’m off easy, with just a raspberry and a bruised backside. I stop wailing like a hurt child, dust off my pride, and get up. “We shoulda seen that coming,” J keeps muttering. One more step and I would have brained myself on a boulder. We move on.
The trail takes us back into the giant oaks. It’s getting late and everything is gold and green. We walk a mile along the Cañada Verde, which is as green as it’s name suggests, bubbling merrily along, and completely infested with poison oak. It’s absolutely idyllic (just don’t touch anything), but it’s also the last three miles of the day. The last three are always hard. Beautiful, but really tough.
We finally stumble into Warner Springs and the hot springs resort we were hoping to indulge in is permanently closed. The mini mart looks like it’s never been open, the post office is closed for the day, and the community resource center, with showers and supplies, is a mile away and closed for the day as well. We sit down on a curb next to the highway. What a bummer.
We water up at a house next to an old adobe church on the hill, then follow a little trail behind it. There’s a clump of sagebrush with a flat spot next to it and we throw down our packs. We’re not technically on the PCT and this is probably not a legal camping spot. But there are only so many miles I can walk in a day and I’m all out. We’re cowboy camping, just our sleeping bags under the stars, and although we are right by the highway, showers await. Looking forward to a shorter day tomorrow.