PCT Desert Day 4: Magic

Mile 48.70 to 63.70 — Today’s miles: 15
When I wake again at 4am, it is gloriously quiet. As if the wind had never been here. I sleep in until 6 and leave Mark and Numbers still in their tents when I leave. The views are exquisite this morning, as the trail winds me around the sides of hills, overlooking endless mountains and valleys.

But unsurprisingly, I’m feeling the effects of no-dinner-or-foot-care, and the last two miles into Pioneer Mail picnic area are kind of agonizing. I hobble in and find two hikers packing up their campsites. One of them points me toward the water tank. This is my first sketchy PCT water source — a horse trough with a faucet that produces yellow-tinged water. Yikes. “Horses only — not potable!” the sign says. No kidding. I walk gingerly to a picnic table to inspect my poor feet. Yikes again. A couple new blisters, and one that worsened overnight because I didn’t take the bandage off before bed. Bad choices. I drain each of them, making good use of my Purell, and let my feet air in the sun while I filter the gross water and eat many things.

Two hikers I saw at the outfitters arrive — Tanya and Allen, who were both waylaid in Mt. Laguna for a few days to heal their feet and buy some lighter gear. Numbers and Mark soon show up too. Eventually everyone else leaves, and I doctor my feet up before tentatively putting my shoes on again. Success! Hardly any pain at all.

Fueled by Poptarts, I am a new hiker. I fly through the next several miles, enjoying the views and feeling strong. I walk past a kind of memorial with lots of plaques, but can’t figure out what it’s for. I pass Tanya and Allen resting in a tiny patch of shade and chat briefly. They follow well behind me, but the trail curves around so that I can sometimes look across the valley and see them hiking on the other side.

Despite filtering, my horse trough water tastes a bit unpleasant. About two miles from Sunrise Trailhead, I decide to dump the last half liter of it, which I can replace at Sunrise. At the junction, there is a cardboard sign taped to the Sunrise Trailhead sign: “MAGIC.” Yes, please, I think, and zip down the side trail towards it. Let’s see what this trail magic stuff is all about.

At the trailhead, there’s a large gravel parking lot with an outhouse on one side and Baby’s First Trail Magic on the other. A big RV with three white tents in front, and hikers sitting in chairs. Numbers and Mark are here, and the two folks I saw packing up at Pioneer Mail (Estefania and Steve). Thomas, the trail angel, asks my name as I walk up, then says “You don’t look like Toby!” Turns out his brother is named Toby. He offers me an icee pop (I think some people call this an otter pop? or maybe a water ice?), points me to the cooler of sodas and beers, and asks if I want him to grill me a burger. I say yes to everything, and tuck a little cash in the tip jar. On the PCT, you take all the candy from strangers.

I eat the burger in about four bites, and savor the can of 7-Up while we all chat. Mark comes back from the water source and says the faucet went dry. Estefania and I walk out to it — another horse trough. Good job I dumped that earlier water so I could get a better source! Sigh. We filter a liter each right from the trough, and all of us but Steve set off again. It’s just now 4pm, and we’re aiming to camp about 4.5 miles away.

We’re delayed by a baby rattlesnake stretched across the trail. It’s too young to have any rattles yet, but the pattern is right. Numbers throws rocks but as with my encounter yesterday, this does nothing. Mark tosses dirt toward it, and after a few tongue flicks it slides off into the brush. So I guess I know the best way to gently coax them to move, now that I’ve seen it work twice.

We speed through the first 3 miles or so, and then begin an interminable stretch of downhill. Down down down. I wonder if we have reached sea level yet, or if we are descending into the Earth’s core. Finally, we arrive at camp and all put our tents up. I get right into mine to eat alone, in need of some introvert time. Steve shows up at camp and Numbers tells him jokingly “You can join us for dinner, Toby’s being an asshole and staying in his tent.” I yell out, “Or you could join Team Asshole!” I think a good sense of humor is required to be an introvert on this kind of social trail.

I wipe down my filthy legs, deal with my feet (blisters are better but I’m getting some kind of heat rash I think), count out my food for the next three-ish days until resupply at Warner Springs. The day after tomorrow is the first big water carry — over 30 miles between water sources. As I settle into my sleeping bag, coyotes howl in the distance. It is very beautiful out here.


Water source #1.

I mean seriously, California.

My favorite of the memorial plaques.

You always want to see this sign.

Thomas’s trail magic set-up. Best.

Water source #2.

Baby rattler. So adorable, so deadly.

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