May 25th- Day 34- miles from ridge before Vasquez Rocks at mile 447 to Hiker Heaven aka the Saufley's at mile 454.4
The sky is dark and I strain to see stars, without luck. Kyra's alarm goes off at 4:30 and I wake up enough to realize that we're in the middle of a cloud or fog bank. I'm warm in my sleeping bag and I don't want to get out. I'm grateful for the warm nights lately, and not having to go to sleep with cold spots and shivering.
I hike in the front, slow, my feet tired and my knee muscles achy. Kyra walks next, quiet, and then Hop Along with her freshly injured knee. It feels luxurious to hike without my hat. It's cool enough that I'm not sweating but it's so humid in the gray, dim mist that I feel gross. Ugh. I hate humidity. It makes me want to curl up in a ball.
We come over a ridge to see the highway cutting through the gray. It's overwhelming to see how many cars are coming through, on a random highway in the middle of the desert, early in the morning on a Thursday. It makes me anxious. Highways are not happy sights.
We talk and laugh as the trail teases us by winding along the road from a distance. There's a poison oak bush leaning over the trail that someone has marked with pink plastic ribbon. We finally drop down, and go through a culvert underneath the Highway. It's creepy and dark and I turn the flashlight on my phone on halfway through. A trickle of water flows in the center.
On the other side, we see Vasquez Rocks looming in front of us, curved and sculpted sediment tilted on its side and pocketed with holes. The stream running from the culvert is covered with flowers that have fallen into the water, and tadpoles wiggle along strips of algae. It's idyllic in the mist.
We stop and take pictures and laugh at ridiculous signs posted that point out different plants. How are people supposed to know what plant it's pointing out if there is a huge tangle of ten different plants by the sign?
Swayed passes by us as we wind in between the rock formations. We rise out of the for a bit into yellow grass and juniper Serengeti. We stop briefly to inspect the porta-potty at a trailhead. Hop Along comes back and reports that it's the fanciest porta potty she's ever seen, so Kyra and I have to go over to see. There's a mirror, a sink, soap, paper towels, and toilet seat covers. I see some vans drive in to Vasquez Rocks, and I find out later they're shooting a commercial.
We join a road and hike through to the center of Agua Dulce. We drop our packs at the cash register at the grocery store and get food for breakfast. Hop Along gets the avocados she's been craving, and I get a warm vegetarian breakfast burrito. We all split a four pack of cherry Reed's Ginger Ale.
As we're eating, a white truck full of hikers pulls up. It's the shuttle to Hiker Heaven, so I stuff the rest of my burrito into my mouth and jump in with Hop Along and Kyra. It's a 2 minute drive, by houses with horse pastures along a small paved road. We pull up and I get my pack from the truck bed.
We walk through a gate with a PCT marker, and immediately sit down to ogle and pet the dogs that come running over. There are 3 pit bull mix puppies that are all wriggles and hugs. We pull ourselves away for a quick tour, then back to the puppies. The mother of the 3 puppies comes up and covers my face with kisses before I can react. This is Hiker Heaven. I miss my dogs so much, and I just want lots of hugs.
We hang around and talk to people, and set up our tents. I still feel clean from my shower at the KOA but there isn't a line so I take a quick one anyway. Kyra gets on another shuttle to REI. Cotton Candy comes and she and Hop Along and I take the shuttle to town. We get Mexican, and I eat so much that I kind of want to barf. Hop Along is underage in the US (but not in Canada) and orders a mojito without them checking her ID.
Chris and Kelsey are in town to grab some food. Kelsey looks wild and dirty, his long beard mottled with dirt. Chris has a wheeze, and I say his trail name should be Wheezy, after the penguin in Toy Story, since he's a doctor for a polar expedition. He gives me the evilest eye I've ever seen, which is hilarious. I like Wheezy.
We catch the shuttle back, and hang around some more as more people I know come in. Rick is here, and Spider Bite and Galy, and the Trio, and the mermaids, the big group, Andrew, Morgan and her sister Louise, who started hiking with Morgan in Wrightwood after her college semester ended.
We get a ride into town again, and we get ice cream cones. We walk down to the liquor store to look for headphones for me. They have them, and as we're sitting in front of the hardware store while Kyra has her camera looked at, I try them out. A Vance Joy song comes on and I break into a huge smile and dance around. It's so great to be able to listen to music!!
We head back and wait for the shuttle in front of the grocery store. Twinkle Toes comes up and shouts my name excitedly when she sees me. The shuttle comes, and we stuff 22 hikers and 10 backpacks into the truck- Cotton Candy, Hop Along, Louise and I squeezed into the backseat, Morgan and another hiker in front, and everyone else crammed into the truck bed.
Then I hang out into the evening. I call my mom, talk to people, pet the dogs and horses, and get the box my family sent me. I get off the phone with my mom as it's starting to get dark, and sit with Twinkle Toes and Rick on the porch. Someone has a guitar and is singing songs by the fire pit, the lyrics to "I'm Yours" rising and falling as people join in on the chorus. Someone comes by and passes out glow stick bracelets "for safety"; I trade my purple one for a green one. We talk, then eventually I head back to my tent organize my things and get into my sleeping bag, which is so puffy from being able to sit out all day. I decide to go to REI tomorrow and get new shoes and socks even though the ride is 20$. My feet have been sad the last couple of days and I think new shoes will make them happy again. It's been almost 500 miles, which is about the right time to replace trail runners.
People talk late into the night and turn on their air mattresses. I finish writing and put my earphones in and tune out to some music. At least, that is what I predict I will be doing.
May 24th- Day 33- 16.6 miles from Messenger Flats Campground at mile 430.4 to ridge before Vasquez Rocks at mile 447
I can hear the rustle of people packing up. I look over and it's Hop Along and Kyra. The sky is still dark, but it's warm out, warm enough that I could be perfectly comfortable naked if that were my wish, which it wasn't. I pack up quickly with my red light and force myself to chew a couple of handfuls of trail mix. I sit to put my shoes on and decide to change to my second pair of socks, since the ones I've been wearing are encrusted with a mud that is a mixture of sweat and dust. They're dark and when I move them they crinkle like paper. My second pair have holes in them, in the big toe and on the bottom of my forefoot. But they're clean and smell like laundry detergent, which is luxurious.
I fold up my accordion foam pad, and wince as I fold up my crinkly Tyvek groundsheet. Hop Along and Kyra have already left, headlamps bobbing away in the dark. The noise I've made packing up has woken up other people, and I can hear their zippers zipping. Tents begin to glow like fireflies around me.
I head out. There's the faintest smudge of sun on the horizon in the crook of the mountains, greyed-out purple and orange. I smell the Poodle Dog Bush in the dark, and realize that I need to watch out for it still. I hike slow, my feet and legs warming up. I dip into a forest with hanging mosses and dead trees piled up on the slope, and think about every single horror movie I've had to watch the previews for, the horror TV shows I've accidentally watched the pilot episode of, every creepy pasta video I've watched over my brothers' shoulders, the time when I was middle-school aged and after my classes all of the kids would play Slenderman under the tables with the lights turned off.
Then the sun breaks over the horizon and the valley below slowly fills with golden light. All of the evil things are gone. I come up on Hop Along and Kyra, and sit to eat a more proper breakfast (basically just more trail mix). Across from us, we can see the trail cutting across the sides of the mountain, so far away.
I hike with them the next couple of miles to North Fork Ranger Station, where there is a cache that is the last water source until Acton. Hop Along got in first and comes out of the restroom, and announces that there is toilet paper, to which we cheer. Then we walk down the road a little bit more, everything still shaded from the sun by the mountain we just came down from. There's a cooler of sodas and ice and trail bars maintained by the rangers, which are a dollar each. I only have a 20, so Kira throws in a dollar for me and I get a cold Coke. I sit on the picnic tables and drink it, watching the big group roll in. I lick my barbecue Kettle chips bag clean, then follow after Hop-Along and Kyra down the trail.
It's hot, and my feet are sore. I leapfrog with a couple who I don't exactly remember the names of, Cowboy and The Flash being unofficial trail names they made up and aren't taking, as the big group passes by us, practically running down the hill. I try to keep up with them for a while to see what it's like, but I have to slap my feet down clumsily to match their pace. My feet hurt so I stop. At what point do I switch to a new pair of shoes? Mine feel pretty shot, the foam compressed down to almost nothing in some places so I can feel the sharp edges of rocks.
It's hot, and I'm sweating. I can see the ribbon of green down below where the road must be. A raven croaks and circles around in the strong updraft. The wind buffets my face. The sky is so blue i have to squint. I put sunscreen on my hands and the back of my neck, but it just slides around and mixes with a film of sweat.
I try to learn how to whistle as I go around the flanks of the last hill before the road where I'll walk to the Acton KOA. I blow air through my lips and try my tongue in different positions, but end up just raspberry-ing in frustration. I plop down in the dirt by the side of the trail and use my service to read articles on how to whistle. Everything contradicts everything else.
Kyra catches up and we hike the last .8 miles to the road together. My shirt sticks to me with sweat, even though there's a beautiful breeze that picks up my hat and throws it onto the side of the trail.
Kyra stops to leave a note for Hop Along, whose other knee is bothering her now, and I walk past a movie warehouse place to the KOA. There's a big teepee and a field of grass with a rotating sprinkler head spraying water into the air. I see the glint of the blue pool water and squeal a bit about it with Kyra when she catches up.
We plop our packs down on a picnic table in the shade, and we go into the store to register. I pay for showers and pool access, then go back and get a pint of rum raisin ice cream. I sit with Kyra and eat it with my spoon. A guy who is looking for David (aka This Way) comes up and gives us cold sodas. I tell him I haven't seen him since he passed me walking up out of Cajon Pass.
Then I go down to the showers and clean myself, and wash my hiking clothes in the shower, rinsing them until I don't squeeze out gray water. It's glorious to have a shower room to myself and not have to rush to finish for someone waiting or for a timed shower.
I hop into the pool and swim around for a bit, stretching my left knee, which has been tight and sore like the right one was a couple of days ago, before Deep Creek. I think it's just normal grumpiness after pulling a 24 mile day yesterday. I sit in the sun to dry, almost falling asleep.
I pull myself back to the picnic tables, where Hop Along and Kira are. Cotton Candy shows up, and we all get pizza delivered from a place in Acton. I almost finish my half of a large veggie pizza, olives and mushrooms and onions and slices of green bell pepper. I shove the rest in a ziploc bag and pack up to leave with Hop Along and Kira. I will gladly pay 15$ for pizza, apparently, but I refuse to pay 15$ to set up my tent here on a patch of dirt. Priorities.
We hike out, slow, complaining about the uphills in commiseration. I've been hanging around a lot of Canadians, and I realize I've started to end some of my sentences with an "Eh?".
We hike in the wind through wavy rock formations, the beginning of Vasquez Rocks. An outlaw named Vasquez hid here for a while. A bunch of TV shows and movies have had scenes shot here, including Star Trek and The Lone Ranger. It makes me happy that Leonard Nimoy was probably in these hills.
We consider a spot along a ridge, but decide it's way too windy. Nowhere is flat, it's all hillside, but we find another ridge that is more sheltered from the wind a minute later, and set up cowboy camps side by side. Hop Along eats her leftover pizza from a ziploc with her spoon, and we show each other pictures of our families and pets. Eventually we all cuddle up into our sleeping bags and stop talking and fall asleep.
May 23rd- Day 32- 23.8 miles from Sulphur Springs Trail Camp at mile 406.6 to Messenger Flats Campground at mile 430.4
I wake up to everyone beginning to pack up around me. Swayed, Larry and Amanda are at the picnic table, almost ready to go. With my cowboy-camping superpowers, I'm up and walking before anyone else. I hop over the creek to use the outhouses there, then walk down the road, looking for the PCT sign we saw on our walk in yesterday. I can't find it, so decide to head back to the junction. The PCT split three ways, one heading south, and two heading north, which was confusing.
After bushwhacking my way across the creek, I see the PCT sign on the road, and take the trail across the creek again. I meet Swayed, Larry and Amanda there as they're walking out. Swayed starts laughing, since I got out a good 2 minutes before them and clearly got turned around.
"I went in a bit of a circle," I say sheepishly.
The trail goes along the road, and reconnects where the other trail from yesterday crosses. I think one of them was an equestrian route, but which one I'm not sure. I warm up my calves and feet, and then cruise for what feels like a hard two miles. I catch up to the Terrible Trio after falling behind for a snack break, as I will now call Swayed, Larry and Amanda, as they've all got an evil sense of humor. Or humour, since they're all either British or Canadian.
I'm surprised to come upon Anika and Julian, since Julian looked knocked low for a couple of days, sick, after Baden Powell. Apparently the probiotic drink mix I gave them helped a lot, which I'm glad about.
It turns out we've actually gone 5 miles, which is a great surprise. I sit down with them, and eat barbecue potato chip crumbs. "What is Swayed doing?" I ask, since he's further down the trail, talking to someone. They tell me there's service, after a day or two without it! Woohoo! I become the official announcer of cell service to passing hikers, and get to text my mom, and confirm my arrival date into Agua Dulce.
I pull myself up eventually, leaving a crowd of hikers with phones in my wake. It's another 5 ish miles to the next water source, at a fire station. I put my head down and cruise. A sobo stops me and tells me where the shortcut trail to the water is.
I come up to the water, and find about a dozen hikers crammed into the shade of the outhouse. I claim the picnic table with the Trio, and I filter water from the faucet and eat snacks from my food bag. The faucet sprays everywhere and I get soaked, which is good because it's hot. A construction crew comes up and sets up shade and tables, but they're just taking a lunch break from the heat and not feeding us. Entitled hikers, we are, who associate cars and people with magic surprise food.
Everyone leaves, one by one, and I claim a spot against the back of the outhouse where it's shady and eat some more food. I'm the second to-last one out, before only Pascal, who is part of the big group/clique I've been traveling around. These big groups are so contained and cliquey. When everyone is all together they just talk with each other and largely ignore the other hikers. I'm pretty sure that's how it was when I was with my group, which is now a day behind and completely morphed and amalgamated with another group. They're now calling themselves "the Assholes" apparently. But now I hike solo so I'm not even a part of them anymore, and I just hop around from person to person and meet new people to hang out with every couple of days.
I follow some hikers from a distance back to the trail, through the Mill Creek Fire Station complex and across a road. The sun is hot, and I hike, looking up from my feet to check for snakes or Poodle Dog Bush, or to glance at the dry, burnt-out hills. The sky is a single, harsh blue under the brim of my hat. I can't tell if I'm soaked with sweat or water from the faucet anymore. Sweat trickles down my bra. I have to wet the roof of my mouth periodically with my tongue, to keep it from being completely dry as I pant the hot air with my mouth. There's a merciful breeze that barely helps.
It gets cooler as I get higher and onto the other side of the mountain, where a wind threatens to take my hat away. I can smell the hot, sweet, cloying smell of Poodle Dog Bush before I see the little castle-cloisters of bright green. It's everywhere, and I'm careful to avoid it.
My feet start getting tired a mile before the stream, and I plop down in the shade for a couple of minutes with Cotton Candy, a hiker I haven't seen since camping in the Boulder fields near Sunrise Highway on day 4. She has blue cotton candy colored hair that sits in buns on top of her head, and a hot pink shirt, and green leggings, and is generally colorful and spunky.
We get to the stream in a mile, and I filter water while sitting by the big group. Everyone leaves except for Kyra and I. I eat some peanut M&M's from the huge ziploc Twinkle Toes gave me while Kyra soaks her feet, and then we hike together. Kira is a super quiet person, but we stop every now and then to admire a view or a bunch of flowers or a burnt out tree that fell over, blackened roots holding enormous white boulders.
We're hiking through some tall grass in an overgrown area full of Poodle Dog when the grass right by us erupts with buzzing. I freeze, and Kira jumps back. "Where is it?! Where is it?!" I ask. Kira tells me to move further down the trail. We watch the rattlesnake and wait for it to move. It disappears down the slope, and Kira moves by cautiously. We hike the long switchbacks together up to the top of a ridge, through forested slopes.
At the top, mountain tops rise faint and blue in the distance above a sea of white haze. Green mountains roll away below. The sun is bright and slowly falling to the horizon. It's so beautiful I want to cry, and I slow down to a snail's pace to enjoy it, walking with Cotton Candy while Kyra stops to put her knee brace on.
I throw down my groundsheet and sleeping pad at the campground, and dig out my sleeping bag to air out. The campground is officially closed, the tent-sites overgrown with grass, the bathrooms and trash cans locked. I sit and cook dinner with Cotton Candy, Hop Along, and Kira. We talk about our favorite Haiyao Miyazaki movies and I share the home vacuum-sealed bag of Parmesan I got in the hiker box in Wrightwood. The big group hangs out at another picnic table. We're excited about the ice cream and pool at the Acton KOA in 14 miles- we debate getting up early to hit the pool in the heat of the day.
I watch the sun set from my sleeping bag as I brush my teeth, stratified pink and orange glowing on the horizon. My dirt tan is super intense right now.
May 22nd- Day 31- 14.3 miles from Buckhorn Camp on Endangered Species Detour mile 3.1 (between miles 390.2 and 394) to Sulphur Springs Trail Camp at mile 406.6
I get my food from the bear box and go to the bathroom, and am packed quickly with my new groundsheet. I head through the campground to the trailhead that will take me back to the PCT. I'm hiking by two dayhikers and two other thru-hikers for a while before they drop behind. Soon I'm back on the PCT, along a green mossy stream. My feet ache from walking on asphalt on the road walk yesterday.
The trail has been a steady up with very few stretches of down since Cajon Pass, and today is no different. It's hot and I put my head down for the most part and push through it. I'm walking through sparse, dry pine forest, along the ridges and flanks of endless pine-covered hills. I don't see anyone all morning, which is super nice.
I am startled by a rattlesnake on the side of the trail as it moves away. It's about two and a half feet long, black, with a blonde rattle that sticks into the air as it moves unhurriedly in the shade. I watch it for a while and eat some string cheese, then move on.
I hike around a girl named Kristen as we get close to the 400 mile mark, even though we don't really talk much. I see the marker and take a picture, then move on. I've been hiking for a month today. 400 miles in a month- I'm pretty happy with that. 400 times 5.5 (the months I'll be out here, about) is 2,200. With my faster speed in Oregon and Washington I'll be set to finish on time. We'll see my time through the snow in the Sierra...
I find two girls I met in Wrightwood, Hop-Along and Kyra, at Camp Glenwood a half mile later. It's basically just a locked-up building with some outhouses, picnic tables, and a faucet that sprays everywhere when I try to fill up my dirty water bag. Hop-Along is hilarious, and Kyra is super quiet. They decide to walk to the Highway 2 crossing in another half mile, in the slim, tragic hope that there will be trail magic. At the very least there will be a trash can, an outhouse, some picnic tables, and shade.
I join them and we goof around and talk and crack up. We sit in the shade by the front of the outhouse and eat our food. Kira and I make some ramen. The outhouse vent is right by me and whenever I talk it echoes back at me. We discuss Gatorade and whether it actually tastes good; I don't think it tastes very good at all, but I say I'd definitely go for some right now. I mention that I don't have any earphones, and it turns out Hop Along has an extra pair that she upgraded from, and she gives me her old ones. Yay! I can't wait to listen to music at night, and maybe some podcasts.
There aren't many people driving by. A couple of dayhikers we saw hiking here pass by to use the bathrooms and tell Hop-Along and Kira they won't make it to Canada at the pace they're going, even though they're both recovering from knee injuries so they have to go slow; they also made rude comments about their pack sizes. Rude-jerks.
A car pulls up and a guy hops out. "Would you guys like some Gatorade?" he asks.
"Yes!" we say, and he hands us two big bottles of cold Gatorade. There was trail magic at this parking lot after all! We just had to wait for it.
We eventually head out in the heat, Hop Along and Kira right behind me. We catch up to Swayed, Larry and Amanda as they're filling up their water bottles from a small cache. I hiked with Larry and Amanda coming down from Baden Powell. We hike in front at first, and then they leapfrog us as we stop at yet another outhouse along the trail to pee.
There is a ton of Poodle Dog Bush along the trail here. It looks like such a friendly plant! Hop Along, Kira and I catch up to Swayed, Larry and Amanda again and we form a big hiker train. I hike in front because they designate me as the fastest, even though my legs are sore and tight right now. Kira and Hop Along continue hiking, and I go with Swayed & Co. to a campsite with picnic tables and outhouses along a creek.
I'm fully planning on making some dinner here and then hiking some more, but soon there are people trickling in and I don't have the motivation to leave. I hang out with Swayed, Larry, Amanda and Godongo at a picnic table, with a big group at the picnic table over. They're all hilarious and awesome. Larry and Amanda are from Canada and Larry is always saying "Eh?" At the end of his sentences.
I make a ziploc of chocolate pudding after my dinner and snacking, and I'm too full to finish it, so I trade it for some high chews with Shakedown at the other table.
As we're getting ready for bed, some puffy little cloud cover is coming over the mountain. Swayed teases me about me cowboy camping, saying it's going to rain even though it's obviously not. His 2-person tent is right next to mine, so I tell him I know who I'm crashing if it starts raining. We all crack up. I really enjoy those three. I think I need to find some people like them, who aren't super into drinking and weed and partying and other boring things.
I'm sitting in my sleeping bag in the dark, putting my new earphones from Hop Along in, when the plug snaps in half. I stare at it for a few seconds and then resign myself to another couple of days without music. I'll finally stop being lazy and get some in Agua Dulce.