A Walk Amongst Giants
On a Tuesday exactly three weeks from when we came off trail, Kilo’s brother dropped us off where he had picked us up and we were back on the PCT. While the PCT now feels like home, day one was rough. My feet were killing me, so much so it brought me to tears. We finally had to call it an early day and camp at the next tent site because I could not take another step. I initially started the PCT in Altra trail runners. I love the wide toe box of the Altras because I did not get any blisters, but my feet hated the zero heel drop. I gave them a good try, but in Utah traded the Altras in for Brooks Cascadias. I have ran and hiked in Brooks previously, so I thought I would give them a go again to see if they could cure my foot pain. While day one back on the trail was painful (I think I had a minor case of Plantar Fasciitis) over time with the Brooks, the muscles in my feet have finally decided to chill out and not hurt so bad. A lot of Aleve, stretching and massaging, slowly my feet are returning to normal. It rained that first night back, but luckily the storm passed by the time we packed up camp the next morning.
While hiking the next day, we were passed by another hiker reading a book. Yes, reading a book while hiking, and he passed us. We set up camp and again it stormed in the night. There was a guy who had cowboy camped (slept outside with no tent) right next to us who had to scramble in the night to set up his shelter. Example of why not to cowboy camp…that and the guy who showed us a picture of the tarantula that got into his sleeping bag while cowboy camping.
The next morning we had a relatively short hike down the mountain to Casa De Luna. We knocked out the miles quickly in the cool, thick fog. Casa De Luna is the home of trail angels Terrie and Joe Anderson. They have been welcoming hikers to their home for 21 years. Their backyard is a large manzanita forest that seems to go on forever with unlimited tent sites. As soon as we got our tent set up in the Anderson’s backyard it started pouring and did not stop until some time in the night. In the front yard of Casa De Luna there were couches under tarps where we hung out chatting with other hikers all day. We would watch as more hikers arrived soaking wet from the downpour. By the end of the day, there must have been 60 plus hikers crashing at Casa de Luna for the night. Terrie brought in pizza for lunch, and as expected (because they do this every night) we had Taco Salad for dinner. There was a convenient store a short walk down the street where hikers could grab beer or some liquid courage for the customary dance for the bandana. Every year the Andersons have PCT Class of (2019) bandanas made for the hikers, but in order to get your bandana you must dance for it. Good thing for “Naturdays”…Strawberry Lemonade Nati Lite. Yes, this is a beer sold by the case at the Green Valley convenient store. While we did not partake in this concoction, other hikers were loving them. I sat next to a girl from Germany eating my Swedish Fish and asked her if she would like to have some since she had never tasted Swedish Fish before. She ate one and asked, “What flavor is this? Plastic?” I found this particularly funny because I do not actually know what flavor the red Swedish Fish are. They do not taste like cherry, strawberry, watermelon or fruit punch. I ate one after she asked that and thought, “she’s right…these do taste like plastic.” If anyone knows what flavor the red Swedish Fish are, please let me know.
The next morning at Casa de Luna we awoke to a pancake breakfast and sunshine! The rain had finally stopped so after breakfast we headed back to the trail. While our gear itself was not wet per se, everything was slightly damp. And because of that, now smelled like wet dog (ourselves included). We set up camp that night with about 15 other hikers. I think the beans in the taco salads at Casa de Luna had kicked in for the three hikers that cowboy camped right outside our tent. As we lay in our tent, the three of them were having an in depth conversation, and while talking would release loud flatulence, but not even skip a beat in their conversation. It was a guy and two girls and they were all taking turns farting, but acting like it was nothing. Not laughing, not acknowledging it at all. Meanwhile in the tent, I was giggling like a 5 year old and slightly gagging. Hikers, I know gas is a normal bodily function, but if we start to normalize flatulence on the trail, what will happen when we return to real life? Will they simply release during a meeting in the boardroom?
The next day we hit 500 miles on the trail. This was the day Kilo flipped out. Normally Kilo is calm, patient and typically does not lose his cool. Well, someone had moved the 500 mile marker sign and he lost it. F-bombs were flying. Kilo had a vision of how he was going to record the 500 mile marker for a video, but because the signed had been moved and knocked down, and some people riding horses rode by when we finally did see the sign, his vision did not come to fruitition and he flew off the handle. He is still angry about it now, so when you see him do not bring this up. Me, on the other hand, just thinking about his freak out makes me laugh so hard I cry. Another thunderstorm hit in the night. Damp gear again.
The next day we had a relatively short hike into Hiker Town USA. It is a random, old Wild West town that was turned into a hiker hostel. Kilo and I stayed in the “school house.” We had a bed, electricity and most importantly a shower. All I wanted to do was take a shower. I even showered with an enormous spider hanging from the shower curtain (and I have arachnophobia), but nothing could ruin that shower. After the shower, one of the guys who runs the place drove us down to the local market/restaurant where we hung out with other hikers all day. We arrived around 11am and had a brunch that consisted of hamburgers and french fries. Before we knew it, it was 4pm and so we ordered a pizza for dinner before heading back to the “school house” for bed. Again, it rained that night.
The morning was chilly, overcast and windy. The next section of the hike is notorious for being hot. Typically this section is hiked at night, but we have learned 2019 is not a typical year on the PCT. In fact, Terrie at Casa de Luna had said this year was the coldest, wettest year in all 21 years she has hosted hikers. We hiked along the Los Angeles aqueduct in the Mojave desert. The aqueduct provides water from the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains to millions of thirsty Angelenos. The aqueduct, while helpful to those in Los Angeles, is controversial because it all but shutdown agriculture in Owens Valley. We hiked around Joshua Trees which are native to the Mojave. And finally we hiked into wind farms, acres of land with hundreds of windmills. This section of the hike lived up to the hype of being windy (duh, that is why there are wind farms here). Not just slightly breezy, but pick me and the beast (my backpack) up and throw us off the trail windy. I have decided that wind is my least favorite element. It is relentless and it is uncomfortable. There is no piece of clothing you can take off or put on to make extreme wind more comfortable. Our original tent site for the night was too windy, so we hiked on until the wind died down a bit. We camped directly underneath one of the giant windmills. The wind had subsided so much when we set up our tent that the windmill had stopped spinning. We should have known better. The wind quickly picked up and once the windmills revved back up it sounded like an active taxi-way at LAX, and that is how we “slept” that night.
The next day’s hike brought a four thousand foot elevation gain out of a canyon. Our water source for the day was a grayish, clay-like color with a smokey, perhaps hickory, taste. So long as I do not get Giardia, I will take BBQ water any day. Once out of the Canyon, we experienced trail magic, an oasis in the desert, “549 Bar & Grill” (at mile 549). There was a water cache (life savor as we no longer had to drink hickory smoked water), tortillas, and chairs to sit in with a spectacular view of the wind farms we had just hiked out of). We must have sat there for over an hour before hiking 0.7 of a mile to our campsite. A hiker who looked like Robert Redford came into “549 Bar & Grill,” saw the water cache and exclaimed, “This is great. I might actually piss tonight.” We spend much of our time out on the trail dehydrated.
The next morning was a quick 9 mile hike downhill to the road where we hitched a ride to Tehachapi. We were dropped off at the German Bakery where we indulged in some baked goods and Coca-Cola before heading over to our hotel. Today we zeroed in Tehachapi so we could clean ourselves, clean our clothes and resupply for the next stretch. We are headed toward the Sierra Mountains, but are going to take a hard right at Walker Pass to either the bus station or rental car service to head North. Because there is still significant snow pack in this mountain range, we are going to bypass it for now. Once we get to Canada we will come back to complete this section. The Sierra Mountains is one of the primary reasons I wanted to do the PCT, but I want to enjoy the alpine lakes and large granite mountains, not a winter white landscape with frost bite and avalanche hazards. We will be back. For now, we will likely head to Truckee in NorCal to pick up the trail there. There will still be snow, that is inevitable this year, but hopefully a bit more manageable.