Day 6

May 4, 2018

Bushcamp (56.10) to Rodriguez Spring Road (68.43)
12.33 trail miles

We’ll call this day the day of unsolicited advice and long winded talkers. We’re going to have to figure out a better way to politely excuse ourselves from these conversations, as they are always mile stealers.

~

Happy Birthday Everett!!!

We woke up at a decent time and I went to work making a sign to take a picture with. It was my brother’s birthday and I wanted to at least send him a picture since we couldn’t be there in person. I also spent some time up on the boulders getting in the last bit of service time before heading out.

It was looking to be another hot day and I was a little anxious to get going. We packed up easily and headed out, making sure to text my brother on the way.

We were soon back in rolling hills with a clear sky ahead. Views like this are interesting to me because even in their sameness they never seem to get old. They’re like a kaliedescope that keeps turning. Even though they’re always using the same elements of rock, shrub, and sky, the way they come together is always changing, so that no two steps are the same. I would have thought I’d be bored by this section, but so far nothing has been even remotely boring.

The only change I could have wished for was a little more shade. The first day on the trail if we were going to stop we looked for two elements, shade and a nice looking rock to sit on. Now the rock requirement was out the window and if the shrub was high enough we were happily sitting on the ground to get out of the heat.

We found one such spot after a long dry spell and hunkered down for a decent sized break. We were passed first by a tall man with thick, sunburned legs who wasn’t interested in stopping. Shortly after him came two more, including the girl from Alaska and a guy from Italy she was hiking with. They had given themselves temporary trail names, Chestnut for the guy and Whinny for the girl. They were horse names, and had given themselves the names because they too had stopped at the gross horse trough and determined the only way to make drinking the water acceptable was to tell themselves they were horses. The tall man who passed earlier was also with them, who they named Samson, and while we were talking the last of their group came up, named Silky.

As they said their goodbyes Nightwalker came up behind them. We were getting ready to leave, so we offered her our spot in the shade. She took it gladly, and we remembered to take a picture with her this time. We kinda think she’s a badass, Stanley especially.

As we were getting ready to leave though, a man came the opposite way with just a day backpack on. It was the trail angel who was helping Becky, who gave his name as Wifetracker. His wife was apparently a well known hiker named Tour Guide, and they were both fantastic trail angels. He had driven up a little further to hike the opposite way on the trail and make sure everyone was doing ok and had enough water. His plan was to meet back up with Becky and keep her company for the rest of the day.

He was so friendly and nice, and had the best intentions. The only problem was that we learned all of this while standing in the sun with our packs on after having just given our shade to Nightwalker. When your pack is on you really want to be moving, not standing for 20 minutes in the hot sun.

He also wanted to give us lots of advice, and at one point pulled at the gators on my pack and told me to send them home. He may be right, but I’m sure if he remembers his PCT hike he can remember needing to figure out his own gear for himself. Each hiker is different and prefers different gear, so it always amuses me when one hiker wants to tell another what they should have or not have. I haven’t used my gators yet, but Stanley loves his, and we haven’t gotten into the scrabbley rocks yet where I may want mine, let alone any snow. (For those questioning what gators are, they’re a fabric that goes around your ankle to stop rocks and snow from getting in your shoe).

Wifetracker also tried to tell us there was no water between Sunrise trailhead and scissors crossing, which I once again knew to be false. He was a talker though, and we had a hard time extracting ourselves from the conversation. Finally he started talking to Nightwalker about something that didn’t involve us and we were able to quietly say goodbye and scoot around him. We kept looking back for Nightwalker but never saw her, so I’m guessing she was stuck there for a while.

I hope I don’t sound ungrateful. These trail angels are heroes. The fact that this man and his wife come out during the season to make sure hikers are safe and help out when needed is truly incredible. All advice is invaluable since knowledge is key out here, and even the advice we don’t end up following is still appreciated greatly. Even though my sweaty face and sore feet might have been groaning to go, my heart was happy to meet him.

Once we got going again we really started moving. We knew water was close and were thinking we’d siesta in the heat and catch up on some writing. We passed a gentleman who confirmed that the turnoff for water was just a quarter mile ahead, and to go past a trailer to an old windmill that now had a solar panel on top and that would be it.

When we got to the turnoff we saw Whinny’s pack and hurried to catch up. When we got there all four of the horse named hikers were there, and I quickly dubbed them the four horseman. They groaned a little and were already regretting telling people those names. We promised not to pass them on so they could get real trail names later.

I was a little disappointed to see that they were taking up all the shade provided by the water tank, especially since some of that space was just being occupied by their bags and gear. They didn’t seem to notice though, and I didn’t feel like asking them to move, so we focused instead on filling and filtering our water and sitting down to write.

It wasn’t too long before Nightwalker came up, and one of the four horseman finally moved some things to make space in the shade. They soon decided it was time to move on anyways, and the shade was all ours. Becky and Wifetracker arrived as well, and soon our writing was forgotten as we all got to chatting. The man who told us where to find the water also joined us, and it was a nice little party. We had a few interesting conversations and laughed about what us girls have to go through to go pee outside.

Stanley and I ended up getting sucked into conversation with the gentleman who told us about the water. He too wanted to give me advice on what kind of shoes I needed to wear. A lot of older hikers can’t fathom long hikes without heavy hiking boots and lots of ankle support, but nowadays many long distance hikers prefer lightweight trail runners, which is what I’ll be sticking with. A pound on the feet is two on the back they say. This means that the weight on your feet is extra difficult to carry because you’re lifting it with each step, while the weight on your back doesn’t move too much and is easier to carry. It’s easy to understand if you imagine the difference between having 5lb ankle weights on each foot versus carrying 10lb in your hand. One is going to be much more difficult to walk with.

Nightwalker and Wifetracker moved on, leaving just us and Becky and the older gentleman. The man was really interesting, and was telling us how he had biked through every continent except Antarctica. This included a 21 month trip through the North and South America. He had fascinating stories about what the world was like back then, including lots about when communism was more prevelant down there and what it was like. We also learned that Becky had lived three years in South Korea and had a ton of fun talking about that.

Then things started to get a little weird. The man named himself as Prana Sati, which means something about the mindfulness of the life source in sanscrit or something like that. He told us he had died four times and watched his body from the spirit world. He also told us he could teach us to read auras is two hours with an 80% success rate and recited some metaphysical poetry about the spirit whale’s tale or something. He was really interesting, but also a talker, and our siesta for napping and writing was taken over by this man’s stories.

When we got up with Becky to get ready to leave he followed us and continued to talk at us while we politely waited for a good chance to say our goodbyes. He was talking about how his way of life reversed aging and took off his glasses for the first time to show us his face and how he didn’t nearly look his age of 56. He did. But only in the face, which was probably just more from an active lifestyle out in the sun. His body was certainly fit and lean. Eventually we promised to look him up when we were done with the hike. I’d try his aura workshop for just two hours, just for fun and curiosity. If you’re into that kind of thing you can check him out at pranasati.com, though he stays mostly on the west coast now.

As interesting as he was, I found myself frustrated that it was somehow late in the afternoon and we had only gone a few miles. It seemed like the day would be a waste, and we certainly wouldn’t catch up to our friends now. We hadn’t caught up on our writing, and despite the long break it was still bloody hot out. Frustrated was not how I wanted to feel on the trail.

Somehow when you’re feeling bummed though the trail seems to pick you up. We had been leap frogging with Becky on our breaks and she had just gone on ahead of us when we came to something in the trail I had been waiting for.

Our first rattlesnake.

It was just a baby, and I’m a little surprised I saw it. I’m sure Becky had walked right past it.

It was lying straight out perpendicular to the trail, with it’s tail barely off the trail on the right side and its head facing towards the middle of the trail. It was light colored, just like the picture of the one Lumberjack had shown us back in Mount Laguna when he had accidentally stepped over one.

Baby rattlesnakes are both not as scary and scarier at the same time. They don’t seem as ready to strike, since I’ve heard of people walking right by them. However, they also don’t know how to control how much venom they release yet, so if you do get bitten it can be much worse.

From far away it just looked like a white stick, which I found odd. As I walked closer it suddenly clicked that it wasn’t a stick and I threw my arm out to make sure Stanley didn’t pass. We stood about five feet away staring and a little shocked. If I hadn’t been looking down we probably would have walked right next to it’s head. I had started the trail vigilantly looking for snakes, but had gotten lax lately. Perhaps my mind had just been in the habit though even if I was unaware.

We sat for a minute to take a picture and figure out what to do. We could go around it on the left on the trail, but that was the way it’s head was facing, and didn’t seem like a good option. We chose instead to go around behind it in the bushes, running as quickly as possible while keeping an eye out for any others that might be nearby. It was silly but thrilling, and I was once again energized and excited about the day.

We met up with Becky and told her the story, complete with reenactions of our fast hopping through the bushes to get around. She told us she had been excited to tell us about two lizards she saw wrestling but that our reptile encounter beat hers. We only leap frogged with her a couple more times after that before she set up camp and we kept going.

We also saw the four horseman again, much to our surprise since they had left the water tank at least an hour before we did since we got stuck there with Prana Sati.

We had decided we would camp at the turnoff to the Rodriguez Spring. It was a mile off trail, but if we dropped our stuff and went with just our bottles it would be easy. If we wanted to walk another 2 miles we could get to a little ranch store. I had been joking all day that I was going to go get a blue Gatorade, but now they would certainly be closed by the time we got there. It would be another short mile day due to all the stopping and talking, but we consoled ourselves by saying at least we weren’t doing another nero. One day on the trail and one day as a nero had been looking like a habit for the first few days.

When we got around our final bend we spotted something in the distance. It was a white tent. I thought I knew what that meant, but I didn’t want to get too hopeful. As we got closer though we could see the four horsemen heading towards it, and I got more excited as we quickened our pace. It was 7:30 already, and I was afraid that even if it was what I thought, it would be gone by the time we got there.

When we reached the turnoff to Rodriguez Spring where we planned to stop, Nightwalker was already there setting up her tent. She confirmed my hopes and I laughed with joy.

Trail magic. Our very first.

Next came even better news. It wasn’t just water and hot dogs, which I couldn’t eat, but he also had fruit. Glorious fruit. And he was going to be there all weekend. We grabbed our water bottles since this meant we wouldn’t have to walk a mile down to the stream, and walked up the hill with Nightwalker.

At the top was an oasis. He had a walled tent with plenty of shade, and not just hot dogs and fruit but a whole Costco run worth of food. And in the corner were several flats of Gatorade, like a gift from heaven.

The trail provides. I’ve heard this saying many times, but this was the first time I felt it. We sat in the tent with Nightwalker and the four horsemen as the trail magic provider introduced himself as Nico. He had been camping in the area for a while and had slowly gathered more and more for his trail magic supplies.

We chatted for a while before we all headed back down to set up our tents, but promised we’d be back up after. He had a small firepit so we were excited for a fire under the stars.

We set up camp and said goodnight to Nightwalker before heading back up. Three of the four horsemen were already up there around the fire, and Nico pulled up more chairs for us. We sat and talked for a very long time, snacking and laughing and sharing stories about where we’d come from. The horsemen went to bed eventually, but we stayed until midnight. Nico offered to make me a vegetable stir fry when I told him I didn’t eat meat, but it felt like way too much so I declined.

That’s how kind he was though. He was a 30 year old San Diego native, and was just what you would expect with his long hair and laid back surferesque attitude. He said he loved doing trail magic for the ego boost and because it made him feel like he had a lot of friends, but you could tell he was just being humble and truly had a big heart. We had canned mixed drinks and found all the constellations in the sky using an app on his phone while we swapped stories of traveling the world. We dropped $10 in his donation bucket before heading to bed, amazed at how such a frustrating day turned out so wonderful. Once again, the trail provides.

Day 5

May 3, 2018

Mount Laguna (41.47) to Bushcamp (56.10)
14.63 trail miles

While hiking with Pathfinder he told us that if we could make it to Warner Springs we could make it the whole way. He said most people who are going to quit will quit before then. Today we’re halfway to Warner Springs, and this makes me extra happy.

~

Alright let’s try not to judge us too much as I say that we didn’t make it out of town until 11. There were a couple reasons for this, the first being that it was just extra difficult to leave the comfort of a nice warm bed.

The other reason is that after the long evening we just seemed to stutter step back into our routine. It seemed like we had to repack our bags a couple times after having pulled everything out the night before to let it dry. I took a shower, but in my haste to jump in the water I forgot to not get my hair wet.

And then there was the blister. Or should I say blistersss. I put my shoes on and immediately felt pain. When I took them off and looked again, I realized that the bubble of air on top was actually a separate blister that I hadn’t drained. I made quick work of lancing it since I was a pro now, did up my leukotape, and decided to switch to my river sandals once again. I seriously love those river sandals, and ended up spending all day in them.

After finally packing up we headed back up to the fire station to access the WiFi. WiFi is always hard to leave, so we probably stayed longer than we should have to update our blogs and contact people. At 11 we finally headed out, just 2 hours after our roomies. We wondered if we would see them again.

Instead of skipping ahead to the trail past Mount Laguna we backtracked to where we had originally left trail. We’d heard it was a beautiful section of the trail though, so we weren’t too upset about having to go back.

It was definitely beautiful. We realized quickly though that we needed to stop and eat some food. Somehow even with our late start we didn’t manage to make breakfast. I chomped down some granola bars and kept going.

The rest of the day was a day of changing scenery. We started in the morning in the woods of Mount Laguna. It was shady and perfect in the growing heat of the day. We found ourselves moving at a decent pace and getting back into our groove.

It wasn’t long until the trees thinned out and we were walking through a burn area. It must have been a while ago, because there were plenty of tall green shrubs everywhere. It was an interesting contrast to see the black trunks and branches reaching out from the green shrubs, almost like trees that were upside-down. Even more interesting was when we got to the edge of the burn area, where there were large trees outgrowing their half blackened trunks.

Eventually the trees disappeared and we were in the sun and rolling hills. We saw a few other hikers at this point, and while taking a small break got to talking to a woman from Australia named Nightwalker. She had completed the PCT in 2015, getting her nickname because she preferred to walk at night (duh). She even had her picture at the northern terminus taken at midnight. She was here to do it again, this time with her son who was somewhere miles ahead of her with his own group that he had found.

After letting her get ahead of us we continued on our way, finally getting to the edge of the hills and some spectacular views. It was hard not to stop every turn and try to take a picture. We were able to look across the valley at hills on the other side and point out the trail that we would be on eventually, marveling at the distance.

It was also a wonderful spot to watch the birds. They would float on the updrafts and hang in air, seemingly motionless, until diving deep into the valley to snatch something out of the air. Sometimes they would circle around each other as the dove, and I was awed by their dance and that they never hit each other.

We haven’t seen too many other animals so far. There have been a few bunnies and lots of birds. The bluejays are the easiest to pick out. We saw a couple wild turkeys in Lake Morena and Mount Laguna, and had a toad try to crawl under our tent one night. Other than that it’s been bugs and lizards. The lizards were out in full force again, another testament that the cold weather was behind us. I saw lots of black ones again today, but none as big as the giant one I saw on day one.

We caught up to Nightwalker having lunch at an outlook point where the trail meets the freeway. There was a whole crowd of hikers stopped to picnic and enjoy the view, so we decided to stop as well and munch for a bit.

A group got up to keep going and as they passed us a girl told us we looked like ninjas, which made me laugh. I had forgotten that we were wearing full desert face and neck masks that Stanley had gotten from his deployment. With our hats and sunglasses on I realized it was impossible to tell what we looked like. We joked that next time we would start speaking Korean and no one would be able to tell we weren’t foreigners. Well, unless they noticed my white freckled hands sticking out of my sleeves or the wisp of red hair peeking out below the mask.

We eventually continued on and came to our first water resupply point. It was a beautiful spot, covered by trees with plenty of space to lounge around. We had caught up to the girl that called us ninjas, and I found out that she was here from Alaska. She had dreads and pulled out an IPA to settle in for a siesta and wait out the heat. She was way too cool for me, but I thought my sister would like her.

We realized we didn’t really need more water until the next water resupply, but I’m glad we stopped. There were a couple people there saying the next water wasn’t for 18 miles, which I knew wasn’t true. After debating and pulling up several sources we confirmed that there was a water trough just 4 miles ahead, and then another tank 7 miles after that. Water is heavy, so not having an 18 mile carry makes a huge difference. I was glad to be able to correct them before they carried way too much out of there.

The problem with determining where there’s water is that there are multiple sources to check, and all of them are open source. There’s the water report, which I keep a hard copy of because it seems the most complete to me. Then there’s guthooks, which is an app you have to pay for. There’s also hikerbot, which is like guthooks but free. I love it, but it’s only for Android. There’s also halfmile, but it’s just text not a map and I don’t think many people use it for water. The thing is, all of these different sources rely on people submitting whether or not water is still running at those places. Plenty of streams and tanks dry up or run out in the middle of the season. Most people won’t trust a source unless it’s been updated very recently, so you really have to check all of the different apps and the water report to find the latest update for each water. If you’re only using one app like the guy at this water spigot was, you could end up not seeing water and carrying way too much. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make an app that pulls all information into one place, but I’d need a computer programmer to help with that.

We put our packs back on and reluctantly left the shady grove to continue on. We were soon in rolling hills again, going up and down and up and down with little shade in-between.

The four miles went by quickly, and soon we found ourselves at a lovely picnic spot where the horse trough and our next water would be. There was also an outhouse, which makes it a definite yes to stop at. At the entrance there was a sign saying we had made it past 50 miles. Yay!

While climbing up to the picnic area we saw Becky once again, setting up her tent for the night. She was doing much better thanks to her trail angel friend, and I was glad to hear she would be staying on the trail. We dropped our packs and headed to the horse trough.

It was gross. It was a round cement trough with slimy green looking water sitting in it. The faucet above it that filled the trough had no flow, so we would have to use the faucet below that pulled the water straight from the trough. When the water was coming out below it was thin enough that it looked clear and I had a hopeful thought that maybe it was different water or coming from somewhere other than the trough. When I filled my bag and looked inside though, I could see that in a larger quantity you could see the brownish green tint once again.

We got just enough to last us until the next water, and filtered it with our Sawyer and threw chlorine tabs in for good measure. It looked fine in our bottles and I was glad the Sawyer worked so well.

We also realized that we didn’t actually have to climb through the picnic area. We could have just continued on the trail and it would have brought us around the park to the water. This meant once again we had to backtrack to make sure we hit every step of the trail. Nightwalker had also arrived and was setting up her tent, but we wanted to go at least a few more miles.

The area after the horse trough was a steep uphill into a rocky cliff area. It was sad to see so much graffiti, as well as a bunch of memorial plaques, some looking like they had trail names on them. I wondered if it was a common place to fall. The drop was certainly long and steep, but there were guard railings now on some of the narrower parts.

This little section was just the first part of the steep drops. We found ourselves on narrow ledges, and I kept calling out to be careful and aware. One misstep could be the end, and it had me very much on edge. It was by far the scariest part of the trail so far. Knowing that we were both getting tired also freaked me out a little because it seemed all the more possible that we could make a mistake.

We decided we wouldn’t make the 18 miles we had been hoping for due to our late start, but that meant that we would perhaps get to camp with our friends instead. We went as quickly as we could through the last few miles as the sun went down and played peekaboo with us behind the hills. We kept dipping into the shaded side of a hill, and I would be certain it was the last we’d see of the sun, until we came around the other side to be warmed by it once again.

We finally came to the big boulders that signified the camp spots we were looking for. There were a few people there who pointed out good spots for us, but unfortunately none of them were our friends from Mount Laguna. We realized they must have pushed on to try to camp where we had originally been planning. We thought about pushing on as well, but there’s something about trying to tell your body to keep going after you’ve already promised it that it was done for the day. We decided to camp by ourselves and hope that we would meet up with them tomorrow.

It was probably my favorite spot so far. It was back deep in the bushes and hidden both from sight and from the wind. The ground was soft and flat, and the air was plenty warm.

We also had fleeting service if we climbed up onto the boulders, and saw other people doing the same. I know we’re supposed to be out here in the wilderness, but it was nice being able to call my parents and get videos of our puppies in Tennessee. They look like they’re having as much fun as we are, which made me happy.

With our tent set up and us in our warm sleeping bags after eating more pasta and couscous, it wasn’t long before we were fast asleep. Nightwalker told us it was completely normal to sleep way too long the first couple weeks as our bodies adjusted, but that eventually we’d be back to 8 hours and feeling well rested. One great thing about the trail is that you don’t really have to set an alarm if you don’t want to, and I revelled in this as I snuggled down deep and fell asleep.