PCT Desert Day 14: For Hikers Only

Mile 208.05 to 223.36 — Today’s miles: 15.32
I wake up a little every time the train goes by, and again around 1am when I realize the wind has pulled one of my stakes out. I stumble around in my long underwear in the dark, finding more rocks to weigh it down. In the morning it is very cold — I have to put on my windshirt and am still chilly. It’s a bit more of choose your own adventure as I make my way through the sand toward the I-10 overpass — there’s often not a clear trail, but there are regular markers, so I just look for the next one ahead in the distance and aim myself that direction.

Under the overpass, trail magic. A man is just now bringing in water, oranges and bananas, and individually wrapped peanut butter sandwiches. I think I overhear him saying it’s his first time trail angeling. We all thank him profusely. I eat a banana and look at the cardboard signs tacked to the wall: PLEASE LEAVE FOOD AND DRINK FOR PCT HIKERS ONLY! DO NOT STEAL! HIKERS ONLY! These were not made by this particular trail angel — judging from the many, many hikers who have signed their trail names on them, these signs have been up for a long time. I think again about the concept of “hiker trash” (which I’ve written about in this blog before) and how great it is that so many people are willing to give to hikers, and how much I want that generosity for all people. I’m grateful for trail magic, but why should this food and drink be only for hikers? Aren’t we probably the most privileged of the people who might find themselves under this sketchy overpass, hungry and thirsty, in need? Are we really so special, we who are voluntarily walking, that we deserve water and fruit while others do not? I think about this for the next few miles, about advice not to look “homeless” when trying to hitchhike, about the caches of water maintained for hikers and the caches of water that the Border Angels maintain for migrants literally walking through the desert for their lives. I think about our Quaker meeting making sandwiches once a month for the local soup kitchen.

Soon I find more trail magic — Mr. Lee is sitting next to his car with his two tiny dogs, and he’s got water and candies. He’s chatty, and I’d kind of like to stay longer to hear what stories he has, but there are miles to make. I pass the sign announcing that I’m beginning Section C. Two sections down, then. I pass the Mesa Wind Farm office, with a sign saying water and shade are available, but it’s early and I have plenty of water, so I hike on. It’s warm now, and we’re on a steady uphill that turns into a very steep and exposed uphill. It’s hard. There’s hardly any breeze. I’m sweating and tired, and take many small breaks. It takes forever.

At the top, finally, I make for the shade and meet Dexter, who says I “hauled ass” up the hill. Funny, didn’t feel like that. She says she spent an hour at the wind farm, which had not only water but tons of food! Including…cereal. I am crushed. Cereal! I missed it! It sounds like the best thing in the world right now.

Now that we are at the top, of course we go downhill. As soon as I begin the descent, the breeze comes. Down, down, then up, then down again, as the wind gets stronger and threatens to gust my sunhat off my head. (Pro tip: buckle your pack’s sternum strap through the loop in your hat’s chin strap. Now your hat is attached to your pack!) I reach the junction for Whitewater Preserve, where I’m told there is a water faucet, toilet, and lots of shade. But to get there I must travel through many sandy, rocky riverbeds, and I somehow lose the clear rock-lined path. My GPS leads me on a confusing route, forcing me to ford the river twice — only up to my ankles, but now my shoes and socks are soaked.

Finally I arrive at the preserve, and chat with an older couple who want to know how long I’ve been hiking and where I pick up my food. I head to a half-shaded picnic table and spread my wet footwear on the sunny side. I eat ramen and a bar and listen to children shrieking and whining all around me. This seems like a dayhiker destination? Some people are camping here but it’s too busy for me. I should get going again but decide to just close my eyes for a moment, lying on the bench with my bare feet propped on my food bag. I wake myself up with a snore over 30 minutes later. Ooops.

On my way out I see Lionheart, who may be getting off trail, and give her a hug. I am very glad to have met her. As I leave the preserve, an employee points out a large gopher snake winding its way into a shrub. Wow.

It’s almost 4pm but still hot. I follow the right path back to the PCT this time, no fording required, but get turned around on a stream crossing later and have to search out some trail markers to find my way back. Gradual uphill turns into steeper uphill, until I must be at the very very top of this mountain. I can look back and see the snowy mountain I was on yesterday, the brown dry hills I crossed this morning, and the rushing water I just left. I descend along a ridge, and though I’d hoped to make it a few more miles tonight, I give in when I see a perfect one-person spot just off the trail with a gorgeous view on the ridge. Just before bed I hear what might be hiker footsteps in the dirt, but are too irregular and never continue on the trail. It is probably an animal, I think, and feel momentarily worried, but decide to just go to sleep. I am still thinking about cereal.

I-10 overpass.


Looking back at where I hiked down yesterday.

Starting Section C! With bonus dangerous wind turbines.

Clouds, mountains, wind turbines.

After climbing out of Whitewater Preserve — the snowy mountain, the dry hills, the riverbed, all behind me now.

This sweetheart sat and looked at me for a minute and then loped right over for a photo, before scampering off into the brush. (There’s hardly any zoom in this picture, it came so close to me.) That’s some real trail magic, right there.

View from my campsite on the ridge. Almost a full moon.

One thought on “PCT Desert Day 14: For Hikers Only

  1. Those signs are intense! Maybe they just meant no day hikers, but that’s what they should say. I like what you had to say about that. I have always cringed when reading hiker stories when they talking about looking homeless in a bad way.


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