You’ve just got to follow your own path. You have to trust your heart and you have to listen to the warnings. – Chaka Khan
I hit my alarm after its first semi-quaver. Jeremy pokes his head in to tell me he’s awake. He grind beans in a vitamixer and uses the jumbo size coffee press. I down it fast, plus two glasses of water, before we head back up the mountain in the pitch dark. It’s really early, but we’re tailed by a commuter and Jeremy needs to head back fast to get the girls to school.
The moon is a crescent, stars and city lights twinkle and I sit a while to let the sun lighten the trail a bit more. The air is fresh and cool, it’s absolutely silent and still before dawn. I feel so thankful for my trail angel family and think about Kim asking me what I’ve learned. Perhaps the most useful skill is patience. I can’t go any faster and I can’t know any more than I do in the moment, so I have learned to stay present and have that be enough. Of course, I plan and prepare, but there is a letting go of control on a thru-hike, a letting the day unfold and being surprised that is a real challenge to type A personalities.Soon, I begin, heading steeply uphill towards the ski lifts. I saw these from below when I came into town and it does feel I’m repeating something, but the other way into town is a very steep walk, so I’m happy I hitched from the road yesterday. Signs mark the ski area and an easier path via road. I pass a huge man-made pond but decide to grab water at the next one.
This ridge is narrow and steep on the west side. The trail goes straight up it and I breath heavily, but a breeze keeps my gnats in check – just when I have my bug net at the ready. The views look into deep canyons and out to the desert, Wrightwood tucked into the mountain in between.
I come to the final pond and my last water for nearly twenty miles. It’s lined with rubber and protected by a chainlink fence with wood slats. Signs warn not to trespass. The gate is padlocked leaving a space big enough for me to squeeze through. People must have done this before because a rope dangles over the edge and I can hold on while scooping water. A fish jumps as I scoop, top up and slip out. Jeremy told me these are storage areas for snow. I filter the water and it tastes just fine, so I decide to carry this liter up to a little campground to cook the granola Richard sent.
I have a picnic table, an absolute luxury in my life these days. There’s another hiker taking down his tent as I linger over breakfast under massive pines. I am still in the Angeles forest, but within a few minutes, I cross into San Bernardino and everything begins to change. I leave the ridge behind and enter a more desert-like environment. I can see Cajon Pass far in the distance, the huge circular ramps built for trains and traffic moving slowly up and over. It will take me all day to walk near it and I’ll cross the highway tomorrow.
But right now I delight in my solitude – and in going downhill. Trees cling to steep eroded slopes, debris rolling down and grabbing more debris on its way down creating a huge path with a bulge at the end. A canyon tells a story of water once flowing, yellow cottonwoods brilliant in the sun the cascades today. The light is dappled through the forest, huge brown needles soft under my feet. Bright orange indian paintbrush have returned.
But it doesn’t last. The trail is rockier, ghost trees of white and black appear, yucca and sage, poodle dog bush and clumps of dried flowers. I walk out on ridge-lines with a roadway below. In the bright sun, the mountains lose distinction and it’s an optical illusion that the road seems close. Once a minuscule car drives down it, I realize how high I am.
I sit on a rock in the shade for lunch and chug a liter of water. My appetite is huge and I reach for a second package of cookies when a hiker walks up and says my name. It’s Blondine! She looks happy, carrying minimal weight. We talk about how well her boyfriend did in the Sierra, but is skipping the desert. Fortunately for all PCT hikers, the Sierra is still passable. It’s cold, but no storms yet. She’s headed to the pass and I may not see her again as she just flies on the trail, but it does feel good to see someone I met in the first week still determined to finish every step.
I follow for a bit, but get a weird – and new – pain in my ankle. I purchased silicone toe spacers in Montrose since my crowded toes were causing blisters and infected ingrown toenails. The spacers really work and those issues healed right up. The only problem is they change my gait slightly, so after many hours of pounding, some muscle is reacting. I slow down and stretch. It doesn’t seem too problematic, so I continue on a seemingly endless trail heading down towards the pass.
Everything here is so huge – the mountains, the distances – I catch my shadow as I come around a zigzag and I’m tiny in this vastness. The trail can’t simply work its way down one mountain. Rather it traces numerous ones, bending deep into arroyos and coming out again, then sidling in waves. I finally see my tiny road within striking distance, but the trail accommodates dry river beds and I go up to come down, crossing the road and heading to another set of humps to negotiate. But first, there’s a wooden cupboard with about 35 jugs of water. They appear empty, but then I find the full ones below. I say a thank you to the trail angels who stashed this and then make dinner on a nearby rock.
Mashed potatoes and another liter of electrolyte-filled water goes down well before I fill both bottles and press on. As the sun makes long shadows, I get superb views of the pass, a long train with cars of red, yellow and orange blares the horn as it twists and turns up the pass. I love the chugging sound, the distant screech on the curved iron, the mournful horn. The rock is bumpy and white, I see dinosaur faces in one slab. The highway is loud, but far, so only a hum.
I set my the alicoop in a dry riverbed. A few gnats visit as I clean my feet and brush my teeth. A hunter walks by and offers me water. Darkness falls by 6:45 now and I am cozy inside, dreaming of a greasy breakfast since a McDonalds is on trail.
Like I said, I’ll never eat this way again in my life, so I might as well enjoy it. Good night gnats. Good night trains. Good night crickets. Good night any mountain lion checking me out tonight. Good night friends.