PCT Desert Day 3: Rattle Rattle

Mile 32.02 to 48.70 — Today’s miles: 16.68
I dream that my tent collapses in the wind, and feel acutely the despair of having to get out and restake it. But in the morning, I awake to find it still standing. I sleep through my watch alarm (5am) but still manage to be the first out of camp around 6:25. It’s a hearty climb for several miles right away, but mostly in shade, and with a lot of wind, for which I am grateful. The trail is very rocky, but occasionally there are flattish stretches without rocks and I have little debates with myself: should I speed up to make better time on this nice tread, or savor it? I mostly choose the savory option.

Around mile 35, I round a corner and stop short. There is a snake lying right across the trail in the sun. It is almost definitely a rattlesnake, based on its markings. I take a photo, and ponder what to do. I know snakes have poor hearing and rely mostly on vibrations, so I stomp my feet. Nothing. I toss a couple of rocks near it. Not even a twitch. Hmm. I curse myself for not learning parseltongue. These are shy creatures, I remind myself. This snake just wants to go about its day. I reach out with my trekking poles and shake a bush near it, which sends pollen and leaf debris toward it. The snake flicks out its tongue a few times. Aha! I shake the bush again. On the third try, the snake slithers silently across the trail, disappearing into the brush on the other side. I count four rattles on its tail. Taking a deep breath, I run past the spot where it was. The adrenaline from this encounter carries me a few more miles.

I’m trying to make it to Mt. Laguna before noon, which is my own arbitrary deadline. There is a cafe there, and a store and outfitter, and I want to eat, charge my phone, and rest in the hottest hours of the day. I am definitely zombie hiking by the end, but roll into town around 11:15. Nine and a half miles this morning, not bad. I stop at the car campground to use a flush toilet and clean up a bit in the sink, then head to the cafe.

It’s dark in there, but they have endless cold water and a nice little menu. I order an asparagus-tomato fritatta with cheese, a plate of salad, and an apple juice. I have good cell service here, so text Cyn while I wait. A couple other hikers say I can join them, but I’m feeling introverted. This has been a trend for me so far. The fritatta is large, and I clean both my plates in short order. I haven’t been that hungry on this trip so far, and have loads of food left in my pack. Some of the folks I’ve been seeing at camp arrive just as I’m finishing my juice. I head down to the outfitter, where everyone seems to know one another, and feel socially awkward even though the employee is friendly to me. I look at my maps while my phone charges a bit, and watch store employees give “pack shakedowns” for hikers. This entails them going through every item in your pack and advising on what you can get rid of or otherwise alter to lighten your pack weight. I head back to the campground to fill my water bottles and fix my feet (a new small blister and some irritated skin — the desert is doing a number on my feet, though it seems many folks are faring even worse).

By the time I head out, it’s nearly 3pm, but getting cooler out. It doesn’t look like much uphill on the elevation profile, and my app says there are lots of campsites within the next five miles. I walk through a lot of bees, who are totally psyched that everything’s blooming. The promised campsites don’t really materialize. Hmm. As I’m trying to decide on a possible spot, Numbers hikes up. I’ve leapfrogged with him since Lake Morena. His face looks as skeptical as I feel about this so-called tentsite — it’s close to the trail and very exposed — so I decide to hike on with him for a bit, though my feet are tired.

We pass a short spur trail to Foster’s Point lookout and take it, rewarded with incredible sweeping views of the mountains and the valley below. While we’re taking photos we’re joined by Mark, who I recognize from the outfitters earlier. The three of us hike on together. It’s well past 5pm now, and the wind is picking up something fierce. We arrive at the spot where tentsites ought to be, a big meadow, and decide against it — there’s nothing here to break the wind, which is getting stronger by the minute. I am starting to despair a bit — these guys started several miles north of me today, so I’ve hiked a lot farther than them and am not sure I have much more in me. The trail winds us around hillsides with no flat spaces to camp.

Finally, well after 6pm, we find a trailhead in a park and decide it’s our best option. I’m not 100% sure we’re allowed to camp here, but at this point I’m exhausted and pretty desperate. We find a little depression with space for tents — it’s got really lumpy, sloping ground, but it’s relatively protected from the wind. I get a good pitch on my tent but am worried that there are no rocks to help secure my stakes. I’m too tired to eat more than a few handfuls of peanut m&ms. I’ll probably pay for that tomorrow. I also fail to brush my teeth or do my nightly foot care. Instead I just collapse in my sleeping bag, the wind relentless in the distance.

I wake at 10pm to the wind still in the distance but now also whipping my tent around. And again at 11pm. I lie awake, watching my tent walls billow, wondering if the wind has uprooted the two least important stakes (if it had pulled out the important ones, I’d be lying in a collapsed tent). I watch my trekking poles wobble with each gust and am consumed with exhausted anxiety. The wind goes on and on and on, louder at some moments than others but never taking a break. It is inescapable. I feel trapped by its noise, somehow, and lie awake fretting, feeling like I will scream if the noise doesn’t end, until I remember that Numbers said he had cell service. I pull my phone out of the bottom of my sleeping bag (keeps the battery warm at night to save power) and google “desert wind patterns.” It does not yield any useful information, such as what time the winds might typically die down. I write a 12:30am email to Cyn, in which I state my awareness of this emotional overreaction, but describe all the emotions nonetheless. Finally, around 1am, my body’s exhaustion overtakes my brain’s anxiety and I fall asleep. The wind howls on.


Militarism.


Sunning snake. [Do I get to chime in and say that I do not like this picture? What are the rules on me commenting on this trip? Whatever, Toby isn’t here to stop me. I do not like this picture! –Cyn]


I hate it when snakes don’t shut the door when they leave. (Bathroom at the campground in Mt. Laguna.)


This was dry. When I tried the faucet and nothing happened, I imagined Joan Calamezzo’s “Gotcha!” dancers jumping out of the trees.


At Foster’s Point.


The beauty.


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