May 9, 2014
Warner Springs to Agua Caliente Creek (mile 115)
Cowboy camping turned out to not be a great idea. It was barely dark when we got hit with a heavy dew – the tops of our sleeping bags felt drenched, but it was too late to fix it and too late to care. I slept badly. My feet ached so badly that they woke me up all night. (Although that meant that I woke up to the milky way glimmering overhead – squinting through sleep to appreciate it, just for a moment.)
We make no effort to hurry in the morning. The post office doesn’t open till 8, and our stuff is all wet. There are tiny ice crystals on my bag from where the dew froze. J already has his bag spread out on a sagebrush when I get up and hobble up the hill to the bathrooms behind the church.
The bathrooms look like outhouses, but they aren’t. They flush! With running water! And a sink! There’s even handsoap! (Four exclamation points aren’t really sufficient for how happy this made me, but they will have to do.) I wish I’d known last night; I could have washed my hands properly before bed. I wash them now though, over and over, trying to get out the dirt ingrained into all the creases. I know there are showers at the community center but I do a quick spot bathe over the sink anyway. It feels like such a luxury.
When I come back to our campsite, everything is already dry so we pack up and head to the post office, just down the road. We stop and peek inside the chapel we took shelter behind – and it’s open. It’s a small adobe, nearly two hundred years old, with smooth wooden pews and paintings on the wall. I thank St Francis for the shelter and the flush toilets and leave a couple bucks in the donation box.
At the post office there’s a familiar face – “Heidi!” I greet my fellow hiker. She’s loading up her stuff into the back of a little pickup along with another hiker I don’t recognize. A local trail angel is shuttling hikers back and forth the one mile between the community center and the post office. J picks up our box and we hop in. We go SO FAST. About 25 times faster than I’ve gone in a week (only a week? I’ve been hiking my whole life now). The mile is over in an instant, and J and I marvel that a mile could disappear like that. We’ve hiked 110 miles now and we’ve had to earn every single one of them. As it turns out, a mile is actually a long way. I guess we spend so much of our time speeding around in cars and planes or even on bicycles that we’d forgotten how far a mile really is.
The community center, when we get there, is everything we’d hoped and dreamed of last night. It’s staffed by a bunch of volunteer retirees who, for very reasonable prices, serve us hot breakfasts, provide clean towels for a shower, and make a space and a respite for a bunch of dirty people with tired feet.
“This place reminds me of the Peace Corps training center,”observes J. He’s right! We didn’t even serve in the same Peace Corps country, but the training centers are all the same – a bookshelf full of grocery store novels, some older people mothering the lost volunteers (hikers, in this case), bad tv on, people glued to their first internet in weeks, and lots of kinda dirty, somewhat homeless looking people wandering around aimlessly with no plans at all of going anywhere. The hikers limp a little more than Peace Corps volunteers.
J and I don’t get out of that trap until 4:30. It’s been a productive stop though. Two clean hikers – check. New fuel canister – free from the hiker box. More TP – also from hiker box. Almost new shoes two entire sizes bigger than the ones I’m wearing, with gel soles – another score from the hiker box! A snow peak titanium spork – lying in the dirt outside, a good find. I’m thrilled about the new shoes. All the advice I read about shoes for the PCT said: buy them a size and a half bigger than normal. “But I’ve already bought my shoes,” I said to myself, “and I love my Salomons.” Let’s be clear here – this was a mistake. The new shoes (a bit dusty but still with that new shoe smell) are actually almost two and a half sizes bigger than normal, but they feel fabulous. Spacious. I’m giving them a shot.
On the trail again – two steps in and it’s like twenty miles just happened to our feet. Wow-ee! Footsore is the name of the game. We’re only going five miles before bed; I sure hope that the short day will pay off tomorrow.
Five miles has found us in an oak grove with a creek and enough poison oak to discourage wandering around. We set up our tarp tonight, our big, blue spaceship, in the shadow of Taquitz Peak. Frogs are singing us to sleep. Every day a new day, hoping for twenty miles tomorrow.