Everyone is a complicated human being, and everyone is strong and weak and funny and scared. – Laverne Cox
Cowboy camping amongst the cactus and waning gibbous moon is splendid. I can see my friends curled up nearby and we all seem to readjust in sequence like The Three Stooges. The horses are quiet in their stalls, but cars, planes and helicopters fill the sky. Up before dawn, coffee is brewing and food getting swapped from resupply boxes. No one even mentions the news that we received last night via the LA Times – an 8.0 earthquake is expected any day now.
I leave earlyish and walk down Darling Road towards Agua Dulce Canyon and a couple more miles of road walking, my cell jammed in my ear as I catch up with Richard. I’m caught in the middle now of wanting to finish and get home so I can get started on my new path but also not quite ready to leave here just yet, or leave this life of making my own schedule and being almost totally self-reliant. I still have over 400 miles to walk, so I imagine things will work out in time and I’ll feel ready, but at the moment I have trouble staying present.
The road takes me into Vasquez Rocks, ancient compacted rock uplifted and shifted on a tilt. It’s beautiful here as I come upon parents holding the hands of a chatty four year old telling me about his new Wonder Woman sunglasses. I hope he keeps that up! I get a bit turned around so miss signing the trail register. Looking back, I see people like ants walking up some of the massive slabs.
It’s overgrown, but helpful signs teach me the names of the desert plants. I wend through more odd-shaped rock before entering a long, dark tunnel under the highway. It takes me to a very dry section of climbing and I begin to feel a bit overwhelmed by the day. I carry two liters of water and will come upon another road soon with a KOA nearby, but I feel uncertain entering this bit, as if all the walking leading to this moment means nothing.
None-the-less, I head up the winding trail, high above the highway looking back at the beautiful folds of land – every bit of which the trail follows. Just as I feel uncertain I can manage, the trail sends me a hiker cruising a bit faster, and catching up on one of the lower wraparounds. I always feel better seeing someone else with me. He’ll pass and that may be it for our relationship today, but it means someone else is doing this too. It can be done and is no big deal. I get a spring in my step and a smile on my face and push towards the top when a see a wriggly stick in front of my next footfall. It’s a baby rattler, their bite extremely venomous. I take his picture then tap my pole to encourage him to slowly slither into the bushes and not go into attack mode. Beautiful, fascinating, but definitely not a creature to mess with.
I tell my hiker friend to be on the lookout as he passes me, then I follow him down the “snaking” path to a road. I should mention that at every road I’ve passed in 2,200 miles, I imagine someone meeting me with a drink or a snack or maybe even a massage table at the ready, but I’m always out of luck. But this time, a worker in an orange vest walks right up to me with two bottles of water! He grabs a coke too, just to ensure I have all my bases covered. Praise the goddess, what generosity! I drink them all in about two minutes and thank him profusely. “You rock!” I say, to which he replies that it’s me who rocks. What a surprise that is, and so needed.
I skip the KOA and cross the road, finding a picnic table and bathroom, just what I need. I have lunch in shade and call my friend Dave who now lives in Montrose near Los Angeles. He tells me he can pick me up at a road I’ll cross tomorrow and bring me to their home, there’s even a party on Sunday. I adore Ruth and Dave, so pick up the pace so I can get to that road tomorrow, still another 40+ miles away.
I head up from here with a long climb ahead. I realize I somehow passed the PCT ‘completion’ monument, but figure water and a coke is my form of celebrating this trail’s 51st year in existence. Much of the plant life is the same, though I pass tumbleweeds yet to tumble and arroyo willows dropping leaves in beautiful curls. Nothing goes up on this desert trail for very long before coming right back down again. I need to cross what is likely a flowing stream in spring lined with cottonwoods and a perfect tentsite, but now is bond dry. I look for a mountain lion in the cool bushes, calling, “kitty, kitty, kitty,” but it’s total silence here.
I head right back up, the steepest parts coming out of these dips. The gravely sand is bright white, hot if the wind isn’t blowing. I try to guess where I head next and see I sidle one side of a wide canyon, the ranger station with water at the saddle. But nothing is a straight line either, and I weave in and out, even backwards sometimes over long stretches before finally cresting at a tiny picnic area. I see someone just leaving as I arrive and wonder who it is before I find the cache of water. No one is there, but I still thank the air for such kindness as there is no water for nearly twenty miles.
Just as I try to negotiate the huge jug, Seven walks up. He mentions that Sandy texted and asked after me. That makes me smile as she and I really clicked as friends. I head on up for the final miles as he starts eating peanut butter out of the jar. It’s a gorgeous walk looking back at the trail I just came up on the other side of the canyon, so tiny now. As I go higher, I can also see the numerous valleys I crossed and the mountains above the windmill farm. A sign warns me that trees here have been weakened by fire and could fall. Their hulks frame my views, adding a bit of noir to this vast scene.
I see the man from earlier at the saddle and he appears to be going the wrong way. I hoot up to him and he yells back that he’s taking the road to rest his feet. I use the trail and it’s rocky and steep so maybe he chose the better path, but this offers me more views through dead trunks. Seven passes sporting pink tape on his backpack given to him by the ranger. Deer season started this week and he’s all in brown. I hope my pink hat repels trigger happy hunters. He pushes on ahead and I delight in my final miles of the day which always feel delicious, especially in this golden light. The Nutcracker is on my lips, probably because I spoke to Dave, a cellist in the Houston Ballet. I have just the amount of time left for Act I before I walk down a dirt road towards picnic tables and bathrooms. I finally meet the hiker I saw from a distance. It’s ‘Wheelz,’ a guy about my age I met at Hiker Town.
It’s just us here, so I set quickly and we share a table for dinner. He’s a cool guy, retired from the army with a family, but doing this solo. He tells me about hiking with people, some of whom I know from way at the start. They wanted to hike as a ‘tramily’ but he prefers going alone and that apparently got him into a bit of trouble with these friends. It actually gives me a boost because I share a similar desire to set my own schedule and see how the day unfolds. When talking to him, I realize I’m moving really well now and have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t work for me. Thru-hiking can definitely build confidence and self reliance and as much as it helps to see a hiker on the trail so I don’t feel utterly alone and nervous, I so enjoy being in this huge, open space by myself.
It gets dark fast and the cool sets in as a variety of crickets sing, ushering in the night. I’m tucked in and ready to rest up for a much longer hike tomorrow. I have my water sources pinned in the app, and I’ll be ready for whatever the day brings. Good night!