You never find yourself until you face the truth. – Pearl Bailey
I have seen lots of animals on this hike including black bears and marmots, rattlesnakes and golden eagles, but nothing has gotten too cozy or threatened to steal my food until my stay at one of the Warner Springs Resort cabins. There’s a mouse in the house and he chewed a little opening in my vanillacoffee. Fortunately, nothing spilled out and I simply transferred the grounds to another baggie after seeing his little body scurrying under the door. Run, little mouse, run!
Most of the morning is spent – aside from packing – talking about my favorite desert topic: water, where we’ll get it and how much we’ll need to carry. It’s a hassle to stay abreast of the nearly total lack of water in this final section, but I’m getting into a routine now. Besides, it’s not so hot in November, so I drink only a modest amount.
Part of the reason for staying in Warner Springs an extra day is to retrieve a package of food I sent from Ridgecrest. My plan is to pick it up when the post office opens at 8. It means a later start on the trail when we feel uncertain we can walk in the available light to the final water cache, nineteen miles away. We pack up and put on our hiking clothes to head across busy highway 79. I use the waiting time to dress Ted’s blistered feet at the bench in shade in front of the gallery next door.
Precisely at 8, I head into the post office lobby lined with boxes and a few framed photos congratulating the post office for their excellent service to PCT hikers. I notice the letter is dated 1988, but I assume service is still above par. The clock reads two minutes past eight and I see no one around. I check the hours to be certain I have the correct opening time. Yup And then I notice a list of holidays and closing hours. Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, Veterans Day. Hmmmm. Wait a minute, that’s today! Rats! I guess all this sunshine and warmth confused me and I forgot it’s November.
The gas mart is closed until 9, so we sit there trying to keep me from going off the deep end. We check our meager food bags and count two dinners and two bars for two people for two days. It’s definitely not going to cut it, so we just have to wait here until the convenience store opens and stock up on junk food. I’m mad at myself for goofing up, but try to let that feeling go to focus on a solution. Right now, the solution is to wait, which does not come naturally to me.
A car drives up for gas just as we decide to get a cup of coffee at the restaurant, which, of course, is also closed. Ugh. It’s back to the bench to wait. Another car drives up for gas and two people get out. Then another car comes and the driver holds a key which he uses to open the store! He leaves for a moment to attend to the two people and I simply head right on in.
“We’re not open yet!” he yells. To which I offer our sob story of all the food needed for the next section trapped in the closed post office. He relaxes and tells me to go ahead and shop while he organizes his cash drawer. What a guy! I have a feeling the resort management has asked its employees to be extra helpful to us hikers. They’re all over-the-top friendly. And it goes a long way, because a small basket of snacks cost $45. The good news is we’re all set especially when the people pumping gas offer us a ride back to the trail.
In no time we head back onto the enormous meadow of sun-bleached grass with pink highlights and isolated live oaks. It reminds us – if we squint – of the South African veld, the oak might be an acacia. Many day hikers in shorts and tanks pass us, one telling me most people have the day off and are heading to Eagle Rock. I wonder if normally she works at the post office. Wild pumpkins grow here, the vines creeping along the path with over ripe yellow fruit the size of my fist. We meet a section hiker on the verge of crossing off section A who gives us good beta on water. Two women on horses chatting loudly appear, wanting to know all about our hike. When I tell them we sleep in the open, they ate shocked we’re not scared snakes will curl up with us for warmth. They give us sliced pear and cucumber dusted with salt. I’m pleased Ted gets to experience a little trail magic, though he asks nervously as they ride off why people need to scare us by mentioning snakes.
Our first water is a piped spring into a trough where locals warn of possible contamination. The water trickles slowly into my dirty water bag, as I hold my hand as still as possible next to hundreds of honey bees, hanging around as if a kind of bee bar. Ted and I split cheese and an extra-long meat stick for lunch. We both feel good and it’s only noon, so decide to go for it and walk the ten miles to the next water, even with a thousand foot climb. I camel up, carry a few liters, and off we go.
The climb begins in the woods, its shade so welcome. When we pop out, the wind takes over where cooling shade left off. We work our way into the hills on a serpentine path that traces every bit of these hills, in and out and around. We can see the road far below at times and understand now why the trail is 12 miles longer. The climb is steady but very gradual, slowly climbing high above the meadow and eventually above a tiny farming community. In and out and around we go, climbing and climbing until around one bend I see rocks spelling out “100.” Oh boy, I’ve made it! I’m into the double digits finally, getting so close to the finish line.
I take a picture and we move on. It’s 99 miles to go, right now in long strides, the wind coaxing me on. Several hard-hat wearing trail workers pass us, all volunteers for the PCT Association. They tell us they’re working on drainage, which sounds odd with not a drop of water anywhere. I can imagine when it pours rain in the winter, the trail could become a casualty of landslips and mudslides. Right now, it’s dry and solid and we fly along fast.
Maybe too fast, as Ted walks right over a rattler that goes from straight to wavy to coiled directly in front of me. I stop just in time and create plenty of space for this tiny reddish-brown beauty, his flat head and beady eyes menacing, his minuscule rattle vibrating silently. I snap his photo then slip around him, very, very carefully, allowing him to relax. I tell Ted to be on the lookout since it’s so warm right now and the snakes are soaking it up.
We pass a small man-made cave listed as a campsite on my map app. Might be nice in scorching heat, but not at the moment. The trail heads up and over to the other side of the cliff, hundreds of feet above a thin black line of road. The shadows become longer on the folds of mountains ahead. The views are wide and deep. I love being this high. As I look out, I slip slightly and whack my thigh into a cactus. A quill stabs me and stays in place as I move away, right through my trousers. I pull it out and it really stings. I rub my thigh until the pain subsides, leaving a tiny bruise.
We curve around a kind of land bridge as the sun starts to dip behind the mountains, heading down a few long zigzags towards a farm. A side-trail leads to a water cache and here we are, just as planned, before dark. The farmer must be the one to thank for three palettes of water jugs, enough, as one hiker writes, for a thirsty third world country.
I drink so little walking here and still have two full liters on my back, we really don’t need to replenish before dinner. But tomorrow will be waterless for 14 miles and will require a substantial carry. We set up camp right near the cache, placing boulders on long, thorny tendrils pushing into the tiny space then laying out the mats. Ted arranges two log seats as I cook dinner under a candlelight-yellow full moon rising above the hills beyond. Crickets sing rhythmically in the bushes and I crawl into Bog Greenie by 6:00 for a deep sleep in this glorious desert.
Good night snakes. Sleep tight in your warm burrows, and if we meet on the trail, may I find you like a long stick, luxuriating in the last of this year’s heat. I promise to gently pass if you promise to remain stick-like.