PCT Desert Day 5: Under the Bridge (feat. Angels)

Mile 63.70 to 79.68 — Today’s miles: 15.98 (plus 1.6 miles roundtrip on a side trail for water = 17.58 total miles walked)
I sleep like a rock down in that valley. My first night of solid sleep out here. I wake at 4:30ish and see the red light of Mark’s headlamp. Is he packing up already? Anxious to get to Julian, I guess. I sleep until 6 and dream that it snows all around us. The other three are still in their tents when I head out, 1.6 miles roundtrip down Chariot Canyon road for another liter of water. There’s only one other water source all day today, and it’s a two-mile roundtrip off the PCT, and I won’t want to do that in the heat of the day. But I second-guess my choice on my way down Chariot Canyon, because I see a lot of animal tracks, including some that might be mountain lion, and there are lots of places for a big cat to hide above me as I walk. I try to make myself look big, swing my poles around and talk out loud.

The water source is just a trickle across the trail, and it doesn’t look that great, but I collect about a liter and head back to camp to filter it. Estefania goes off for water as I arrive, and I leave Numbers and Steve breaking down their tents. Time to hike for real now. I hike alone almost all of the time, and am beginning to enjoy it more each day. At first it felt strange without Cyn, almost uncomfortable (I don’t mean I was scared or anxious — more like it felt unfamiliar). But solo hiking, it turns out, is pleasurable in a different way. Though when it’s hot and I’m struggling, I want nothing more for her to be here to talk with or do Trail Movie with.

There’s a steepish uphill right way, on a rutted out old jeep road, but then the PCT turns left and it’s back to trail tread. I can see the trail for miles ahead almost all day — it travels along the edges of the mountains, so I can look across and see where I’ll be in half an hour or so. Sometimes I can see other hikers way across ahead of me. I’m hiking fast and steady this morning, enjoying the breeze, and when I reach the Rodriguez Spring Road, two hikers are there. One is standing at a water tank and asks me where the water is. I read in the water report that this tank is dry and you have to go a mile out to get to the other tank. Both hikers seem alarmed (or maybe just dismayed?) to hear this. A third hiker shows up and says he has only half a liter left. It is still about 9 miles to the next source at Scissors Crossing (mile 77), almost all unshaded hiking. I feel very, very good now about my water collection choices this morning, and hike on.

I feel good today. I’m starting to feel like a hiker in the body now — my appetite is coming back, and my legs feel stronger. My feet are the only thing still lagging. I speed through this section and when I finally find a big shaded rock next to the trail, stop for lunch and air out my feet. I’m finally getting my daytime foot care routine down.

After this, though, it gets tough. The terrain isn’t hard, but the mid-day heat is relentless. I stop on top of a ridge to enjoy some wind. I have good cell service up here so I text Cyn a picture of the view. But it’s still unshaded, so I move on. Shortly after this, maybe mile 73ish, I turn a corner and enter the desert — or at least this is the most desert-looking landscape I’ve been in so far. Browner, drier, sandier. The plants are still blooming, but they’re a lot pricklier. I dodge cacti that poke out into the trail. It is very hot. I put up my hiking umbrella for the first time. It’s kind of a pain to fasten in, but pretty nice to have my own personal shade. It does drag on the plants that overhang the trail here, though.

I climb, the last big climb according to the elevation profile, and at the top the wind hits me and I struggle to detach my umbrella as the wind catches it. Another hiker comes up and fights with his umbrella too. He says he’s nearly out of water, “but it’s just three miles, right?” “Three and a half,” I say, and then because I don’t want to be discouraging I add, “but it’s all down and flat from here.” He sits to enjoy the wind and I take off downhill.

The wind dies down as I descend, and soon I’m roasting again in this dry heat. The trail levels out. I can see cars on the road in the distance. The next water source is a cache that a local community group stocks (one million thanks to these generous people), under a bridge. I have enough water to get there, but the shade of the bridge can’t come fast enough. When I hit the road, another hiker is trying to hitch to Stagecoach for the night. I see a sign saying “Magic — under the bridge!” And my heart leaps. The 0.7 miles from the road to the bridge are agony, but when I finally arrive it is the Trail Magic to End All Trail Magic.

Under the bridge are huge tubs filled with gallon water jugs. Just gallons and gallons. This is the regular cache. But there’s also a long table set up with an unbelievable amount of food. Bags of fruits, huge boxes of potato chips, a giant tray of cookies, big piles of candies, a tub of pretzels and one of Twizzlers, electrolyte powders, first aid supplies. Multiple coolers filled with endless bottles of Gatorade and cans of beer in ice. Folding chairs and a hammock. I grab a red Gatorade and collapse onto my groundsheet, then say hello to the only person there not wearing hiker clothes. He and the other folks who brought this stuff were PCT thru-hikers last year — most of them live in Southern California, and decided to pay it back by being trail angels at Scissors Crossing. I thank them profusely.

I arrived around 2pm and stay until after 5, resting in the cool shaded dirt under the bridge. I drink two Gatorades and eat an apple, strawberries, two bags of chips, and some cookies. More and more hikers arrive, and now everyone cheers and claps as new people come in. “Yeah! You made it! Seventy-seven!” The angels bring in more and more food and drinks, telling us to have as much as we want. They give advice and hand out Leukotape (THE best tape for blister prevention, I do not hike without it). I have decent cell service and text Cyn for a long time.

The angels start grilling hot dogs. People are setting up their tents. Looks like a party tonight. It’s not my scene but I’m tempted to stay because it’s so comfy here. But I have to use the bathroom and that sounds stressful with so many people here. (I overhear another hiker saying that all our differences just melt away on the trail, and think of my bladder as a counterargument to this fantasy.) I grab one more red Gatorade for the trail, say a million thanks to these generous people (they won’t even accept a donation!), and strike out into the — well, not exactly cool, but cooler — evening air.

I climb. A lot. I’m glad to get this out of the way now. About half of the climb is in late afternoon shadow, and I have my cold Gatorade. From over a mile up I can still hear an occasional cheer go up from the bridge. I find a snug little campsite tucked away just off the trail. First night on my own in camp, ever. It occurs to me that I should feel nervous or afraid, but I just don’t. Everything around me is blissfully quiet.

Tons of these beauties everywhere today.

Looking at the trail ahead, for miles and miles.

This looks more like the desert. Last stretch to Scissors Crossing.

Only SOME of the food the trail angels provided.

Whoever wrote this, please hike with me. (Under the bridge.)

All the different cactus plants congregating.

View down, from near my campsite. The bridge is down there but you might have to really enlarge the photo to see it!

2 thoughts on “PCT Desert Day 5: Under the Bridge (feat. Angels)

  1. ” (I overhear another hiker saying that all our differences just melt away on the trail, and think of my bladder as a counterargument to this fantasy.) ”

    Those desert scenes make me so homesick.


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