May 8, 2018
Bushcamp (84.71) to Bushcamp (98.0)
A cold sandwich. A whole grain sub, piled high with crunchy lettuce, juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumber, spicy onions, and sweet bell peppers. With avocado spread on both sides, and plenty of oil and vinegar, salt and pepper, and a little mustard. It’s the only thing I dream of…
The day off was great for my feet. It wasn’t great for my motivation to wake up early though. By 6:30am the sky was already bright and hikers were on the trail strolling past our tent. One of them was kind enough to yell out at us that we needed to get up before it got too hot. I had to stifle a groan, both because I knew he was right and because I knew it wasn’t going to convince me to get up. The tent was too comfy and our spot was nice and soft. I was committed to hiking a bit in the heat and no one was going to convince me otherwise.
When we did finally get up it was definitely hot out. Out of nowhere the tent became unbearable and I was ready to go. We had about 6.5 miles to get to our next water, where we were also planning on taking our siesta.
The heat was brutal though, and it slowed us down a lot. I decided that everyone who said it didn’t get too hot until 11 was a liar because it was only 9 and I was already dying.
It’s amazing how fast your requirements for comfort will go out the door when you don’t have any choice. Walking on the Western side of the mountain was always a relief. Even when it was in full sun, you could feel the difference in how long it had been exposed. The Eastern sides had been baking since sunrise, and the heat coming off the ground was much more intense than on the Western sides, which had gotten a couple more hours of shade.
Shade. Any shade looks magical. You begin scrutizing shrubs and cliff sides from a distance to determine if there might be shade waiting for you. You measure the sun in the sky to guess which areas of the trail are likely to offer more options. It’s always a risk when deciding where to stop though. Sometimes you see a spot that’s just ok and decide to push on, only to find the next mile and a half barren of any relief. Other times you decide it’s just not worth the risk and sit down, but when you get up and continue on you turn the corner to an amazing spot of shade and curse the fact that you didn’t keep going. We got really lucky once and sat down on the ground in a pretty bad place, but then 30 seconds later we saw a couple emerge from around the corner. They had been much further ahead of us than that, so we knew they must have stopped in a shady spot just ahead. We grabbed our packs and hurried up around the corner and were thrilled to see both shade and rocks to sit on.
The other luxury that you soon stop caring about is cold water. Each sip through my water bladder was hot in my mouth. I didn’t care though. I had only one requirement, and that was that it was wet.
The landscape didn’t change too much as we continued on. It was mostly brown hills with lots of shrubs and cacti. Some of the cacti have really pretty flowers sprouting from the tips of them. They’re mostly pink or yellow, and they bring some much needed color to the scenery.
When we got close to the 3rd gate water cache the bushes started turning into small trees. All over were spots of shade, and we excitedly started pointing out potential spots for our siesta. Right before the gate was a group of three lounging in the shade.
“Is the 3rd gate water cache nearby?” I asked, hoping for some direction or a time estimate. I knew it was a bit off the trail and preferred to just ask rather than pull up the map. My bladder was down to it’s last steaming hot sips, and Stanley had the bad luck of getting a hole in his, so we weren’t interested in wasting any time getting to that water cache. I think that’s why the hiker’s next words were especially devastating.
“It’s just around the corner, but it’s empty”, the first hiker told us.
I stopped in my tracks and my jaw went slack. We’re going to die, I thought. My brain raced through the possibilities. The next water was 10 miles away. We would have to wait til dark and take it very slow. Maybe someone would be able to spare just a tiny bit. Maybe I could try breaking open some of these cacti to see if water would come out. I had a thousand thoughts in an instant, and none of them were good.
“I’m just kidding there’s at least a hundred gallons!” the hiker quickly yelled. Only a split second had passed, but my nerves had been shaken. The hiker apologized over and over, quickly realizing how not funny his joke had been. His two friends looked at him like he had just said something terribly dirty. I laughed as relief flooded my body, but I don’t think he’ll try that one again. He had seen the utter fear on my face. He almost tried to remind me that we weren’t supposed to rely on water caches, but this is the only one recognized as reliable by the PCTA. In a 25 mile stretch without any other water, it’s one that every hiker counts on.
We were quick to leave the three hikers behind and pass through the gate. On the other side were even more people lounging in the shady areas, including the old man who we stood with in Julian while waiting to get a hitch back to the trail. He was kind enough to tell us to leave our packs here in the shade and just bring our water bottles because the cache was a ways down.
We found a semi-decent spot and dropped our packs. It wasn’t the best spot, but we wanted to get to that water, and we could spend more time finding a better place later.
I was glad for the warning to not bring our packs. It was steep in areas and further off the path than we thought. I think Stanley was just about to lose his mind with thirst when we finally spotted the cache.
And what a cache it was. Crates and crates of gallon sized Costco bottles hidden in the shade and covered with tarps. There was a huge net for putting empty bottles, and even a foot care kit. All over were signs to only take enough water to make the next 10 miles and to use only what foot care materials you needed to get to Warner Springs. Apparently it’s really difficult to get to the cache to resupply everything. Whoever manages this cache is a true gem.
We sat and guzzled water as soon as it was in our bottles. It was nice and cool from being in the shade, and we took our time filling our bottles and enjoying not having to wait to filter it. We were careful to only take our 3 liters each though. I would hate for a hiker to one day arrive and find it really was empty.
We made the slow walk back up to our packs. Even without the weight it was still steep and the heat was relentless. We got to our shady spot and tried to put up our tarp for extra shade, but I wasn’t satisfied. I was soon back up to look for a new spot. We were going to be there for several hours, so I figured it would be worth moving if there was a better spot.
On my way out I made the mistake of walking too close to a cactus. I was rewarded with several spines in my leg. It had happened once before, but this time I also made this unwise decision of just trying to pull them out by lifting my pants away from my skin. This only resulted in the needles going through the cloth and now being on the inside of my pants, with me having to continue holding my pants away from my legs so they wouldn’t push the needles further in. Stanley had to come help me as I reached down my pants to get them all. They’re so small they don’t really hurt, but I hoped no one would walk by to see me awkwardly reaching down my pants and pulling stuff out.
When I was clear of needles again I continued on my quest to find the perfect shade. Most spots were just a little too small, but as I was wandering the old man saw me and asked if I was looking for a spot. He said he was about to leave and offered me his. I thought he must be crazy. It was the hottest part of the day. How could he be leaving right now? He said that he had camped there last night and was ready to do his 10 miles to the next water. He was Australian and looked like he had been on the road for a very very long time. He wore a hat with a feather in it and no shirt, but put his pack directly on his leathery tan back. I momentarily worried that he would die on this trail, but he was obviously a weathered traveler, and probably better suited to this heat than I was. I hoped he knew what he was doing and wished him luck.
We spent the next few hours lounging under that tree, eating couscous, taking naps, and trying to catch up on writing. I was able to kick off my shoes and check on my blisters, happy to see that nothing had gotten worse. The one on my heel might even be turning into a blister finally.
At 3 a couple of girls sleeping nearby got up to leave, complaining about how hot it still was. We had already done almost 7 miles this morning, so we were content to wait a couple more hours until the heat actually faded.
At 5 we were ready to go and the air was much better. It was still hot out, but the sun was low enough in the sky that there were plenty of shady areas and the ground was starting to cool off.
I was ready to get into my groove, and had started really going, but I was soon startled to a stop. I was staring at my feet while walking. That happens sometimes, especially on steep inclines. I often have to remind myself to stand up straight and stop bowing my back.
While staring down I passed a big rock jutting out of the side of the mountain, leaving some space under it. As I walked by I saw too late the coils writhing under the rock as if it had just left the trail to go in hiding. I recognized those tan coils, just inches away from my feet.
“Snake!!” I whisper yelled as I scurried further along the trail, trying to get out of reach as quickly as possible.
I shouldn’t have said anything though. The first time we’d seen a rattlesnake I saw it ahead of us, so we had stopped immediately. Stanley had no way of knowing that this snake wasn’t ahead of us, so he reverted to the same tactic as last time. He stopped immediately. Right next to the snake.
“Go!!!!” I yelled loudly this time. “You’re right next to it!” His eyes became as wide as mine as he jumped into a jog to get away from the rock. We stopped a couple feet down the road to let our hearts slow down and go over the last few seconds. We went over the details of what we should be on the lookout for and what we would do if we saw another, but decided we had seen enough rattlesnakes for a lifetime already.
I told myself the snake was probably heading in for the night and that should mean the rest would be asleep soon as well. We continued on a little more confidently as the shadows grew longer and longer.
It must have been a good day for wildlife, because shortly down the road we also startled a dear from the path. It was the first dear we had seen, and I tried with little luck to get a picture of it as it continued up the hill deeper into the brush.
The next few miles went by quickly. Between 7 and 9 is my favorite time to hike. I love watching the sun go down over the mountains, and the cool air makes it easier to push longer distances without stopping.
We had picked a spot on our map at the 98 mile mark. It would leave us just 3 miles in the morning to more water, and an easy 11 mile day into Warner Springs.
As we got closer I started to get nervous. Every camp site we saw was already occupied, and I was worried our chosen spot would be as well. That was one problem with choosing to do night hiking this early on. You kinda had the last pick of camping if the area was crowded.
When we got to the 98 mile mark though, no one was there. In fact, we couldn’t find the site at all. We shone our headlamps around trying to see if maybe it was down off the trail in the brush, but had no luck.
We’d spotted a dry stream a few hundred feet back that we thought would make a decent area to set up our tent and made our way there. It was a little tight, but we made it work. It was past 9 by the time we actually crawled into our bags, and both too tired to cook anything. I stuffed a granola bar down my throat, hoping it would help a little.
Tomorrow we’ll make it to Warner Springs. Supposedly that’s the first sign that you’ll make it the whole way. I sure hope everyone is right. My body is already exhausted. I feel good though. I think I can do this for 4 months. If I don’t die first.