PCT Desert Day 39: Another Hundred Down

Mile 596.46 to 617.08 — Today’s miles: 20.62

As I expected, there is quite a lot of condensation in my tent this morning. That’s what you get for camping on grass, even dead grass. I pack up my damp belongings and am heading out of camp with Whiz Kid and Cowboy by 6:15am, into an immediate uphill. It feels ridiculously hard — harder than it should for first thing in the morning, when I’m at my most rested. I manage to keep up with the two of them, but only by constantly reminding myself that I have a built-in break at a water source soon.

We hit the 600 mile marker and stop for some photos. I reflect on how much more quickly and easily the miles come to me now, comparing today’s nonchalance with the “I am invincible!!” feeling I had at 100 miles. We keep walking, on a gentler uphill now, mostly in the shade but with unusual humidity. Not humid like Midwestern summers, of course, but humid in the context of the arid desert conditions that are our daily norm. We arrive at the morning’s water source, Robin Bird Spring — a piped spring into a trough. I officially have fewer than 100 miles left to hike. Sprout is already here, eating second breakfast. I take advantage of the flowing water to rinse out my food jar; the others spread out their sleeping bags to dry in the sun. I eat a lot of calories here and by the time we head back out, I’m feeling much stronger. Sprout steps aside to deal with a new blister, and Whiz Kid, Cowboy, and I continue on, hiking along easier trail now. We cross several small streams, and pass a woman who is moving very slowly. “Blisters?” Cowboy asks her. “No, broken foot,” she replies. Yikes! She’s pretty sure it’s a stress fracture; I’ve been hearing about these all over the trail — they seem quite common this year. She has a companion who’s carrying some of her gear and helping her along, so we keep going, leaving the streams behind and heading for our next break spot. It’s mostly down and flat on the way there, and we zip along until we hit the Landers Trail junction, a dirt road that leads to water. I decide to fill up at the end of our break, and we all spread out under the big pine trees, eat, and doze. I put my damp sleeping bag in the sun and it soon puffs up, warm and dry.

The woman with the stress fracture arrives and chats with a small group of hikers near the junction. It looks like one of them has a satellite phone and is trying to arrange a pick-up for her. We four watch this drama unfold from our spot beneath the trees. The injured hiker and some others who are assisting her hike very slowly back down the trail, retracing their steps. This seems an odd decision to me: I don’t recall any good road crossings recently, but Kelso Road is just seven more miles ahead, and since trail angels drive it to stock the water cache there, I imagine there’s a better chance of getting off trail at Kelso, as opposed to the area we’ve already passed through. A bit later, we see a small golf-cart type of vehicle come down the little dirt road. Its arrival doesn’t seem to be related to the satellite phone efforts, but after speaking to the driver, a hiker sprints back down the trail to retrieve the injured person. Eventually, they all return and the injured hiker leaves on the vehicle. I’m glad she got help, and the whole scene makes me very consciously grateful that I’ve managed to avoid any serious injuries.

The show over, Sprout and I trek down to the water source, another piped-spring-and-trough situation. We find EarlyBird down here, and she tells us she’s taking six liters. I take four, though it means relying on the cache at Kelso Road. I don’t like to depend on caches because you can’t be sure if they’re stocked, but we have some good info from crowdsourced notes on the GPS apps, and word coming back from hikers a day or so ahead of us, so I’m going to risk it this time. I leave with Sprout around 3pm, chatting as we tackle a mild uphill through big boulders. Even in the late afternoon, it’s still incredibly hot out. We crest a hill and see a vehicle and big white tarp below us. Trail magic? I’m scared to believe it. But as we get closer, I definitely see Cowboy and Whiz Kid sitting under the tarp, and I join them with delight. This magic is provided by a former thru-hiker and her friends, and it proves again that fellow hikers do trail magic the best of all. There are beach chairs under the shade of the tarp, plus a misting fan that keeps us all extra cool. Three big coolers of cold drinks and one filled with otter pops. Fruit, individual bags of chips, candy, and hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches on the portable grill. They also have a huge bottle of hand sanitizer and lots of first aid supplies.

In the early days of this trip, I tried to limit how much I ate at trail magic, not wanting to be greedy. But I’ve learned that most of the time, the angels have anticipated our monstrous appetites and they have plenty to go around. So today I inhale a hot dog, two bags of chips, two orange sodas, and a few otter pops. I try to leave a donation but am refused; the former PCTer is “paying it back,” she says. Thank you, kind people! Rosie shows up and asks the story of my trail name. A hiker I saw at the previous water source arrives. His trail name is One Hundred Pounds, because he’s intentionally carrying over 100 pounds of gear. For comparison: when I leave town with a week’s worth of food and four liters of water, I am carrying about 35 pounds. He tells us he’s a military veteran with PTSD, and I have the impression that hiking is a form of healing for him (as it is for many of us, for many different reasons). He’s training to do all three major U.S. thru-hikes (PCT, Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail) in a single calendar year, so he’s carrying a ton of weight as preparation for this future mega-hike. Everyone is very interested in his plans, and in his pack’s contents.

I don’t want to leave the comfort of this trail magic, but as always, I need to move on so I can get to my next water source in a timely fashion. Everything in the desert section is dictated by water sources. With a final thanks to our hosts, Sprout and I are back on trail around 4:30 and enjoy mostly downhill hiking to Kelso Road, where I am relieved to see that the water cache is plenty full. EarlyBird, Whiz Kid, and Cowboy are relaxing here already, but getting ready to continue on. The latter two are still hopped up on caffeine and beer from the trail magic and announce plans to do another seven or eight miles tonight. I don’t have that in me today, especially because it’s still very warm out and the sun’s starting to go down. If I need to hike in the dark, I’d rather it be in the cool pre-dawn air than this lingering evening heat. I wolf down some PopTarts and fill my bottles from the cache. Sprout and I do another mile and a half or so, just enough to get away from the road, and see EarlyBird set up next to a Joshua tree right off the trail. There’s just enough room for the two of us to join her. We all agree to a wicked early start tomorrow: it’s going to be very hot, and we may have 25 miles without water, depending on the status of another cache ahead. Better to get a good chunk of our day done before the sun comes up. So a 3am wake-up it is.

Cowboy and I both wanted a shot of this sign. We passed near a small house/cabin as we hiked the rocky road this morning. I was quite curious about who might own it and why it’s called House of Bear (I have not seen any bears on this trip, though I know they’re out here).

Whiz Kid photobombing my 600 miles picture. The “600” is marked by sticks — not as picturesque as the typical rock markers.

Cowboy, late morning.

Cowboy and me. Photo by Whiz Kid.

Afternoon climb among the boulders.

On my way to Kelso Road and water.

Not the most beautiful photo, but I think it’s nice to see what campsites look like. That’s Sprout cowboy camping in the back, there. I think EarlyBird and I are the only ones who prefer tenting.

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