Ted and Richard hand me a bottle of water before saying goodbye as I head into the mountains for the last night alone on the PCT.
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PCT Day 136, Highway S2 to past Sunrise Trailhead junction, 18 miles

Dreams and reality are opposites. Action synthesizes them. – Assata Shakur

Ted and Richard hand me a bottle of water before saying goodbye as I head into the mountains for the last night alone on the PCT.

Ted and Richard hand me a bottle of water before saying goodbye as I head into the mountains for the last night alone on the PCT.

I wake up with the sun even though we were up late talking and laughing in the hotel’s beautiful lobby. It’s so nice to have Richard right there next to me, though he begs for more rest. I mess around with my pack on my last walk out of a town, at least my body’s clean, but dusty hiking clothes will have to suffice.

We love our stay in Julian. The guys shared a couple of pints last night at the brewery while I caught up. This morning, we’re served a two-course breakfast of granola, eggs and polenta along with wonderful homemade bread. We’re back at our table in the parlor, eating on a linen tablecloth and dabbing our chins with linen napkins, there are even doilies that fit into the historic period of Julian’s mining past. It’s very old school, but we like old school and everyone we met at tea yesterday chooses the same tables and seem quite happy to be served such awesome food. We share more stories and talk about where we want to hike next before piling into our rent car to return me to the trail.

A happy trail worker on the desert section of the PCT.
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PCT Day 134, Highway 79 to water cache, 19 miles

You never find yourself until you face the truth. – Pearl Bailey

A happy trail worker on the desert section of the PCT.
A happy trail worker on the desert section of the PCT.

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!

It was usually long walk off-trail to get water in the desert.
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PCT Day 132, Mikes’s Place to Highway 74 (Warner Springs) 17 miles

Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith. – Margaret Shepherd

A sandy track winds through dry grass near Warner Springs in Southern California.
A sandy track winds through dry grass near Warner Springs in Southern California.

No beings – animal or otherwise – came round last night. I slept soundly in our little piece of sand next to a shack, the moon’s reflection in the windows looking like eyes. Mike doesn’t show, but I am so grateful he offers a place to camp, water from a huge tank affixed with an easy-to-collect spigot and a long-drop, clean and odor-free. I eat the last of my bars with vanillacoffee and have Ted bandage my back, my spine bones taking a beating from my pack before we set off.

The PCT is wide enough in the desert to avoid the "jumping" Cholla.
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PCT Day 131, ridge above Anza to Mike’s Place, 19 miles

There is nothing more pathetic than caution when headlong might save a life, even possibly, your own. – Meryl Streep

A cluster of barrel cactus in Anza-Borrego State Park.
A cluster of barrel cactus in Anza-Borrego State Park.

I wake before dawn in time to see a grapefruit slice of moon setting. The wind picks up and I tuck deeper into Big Greenie. It’s too gusty when we wake to make coffee from my bed, so we pack up first and I notice my sit pad is gone – the third time I’ve lost it on the PCT, the first near Shasta when Pilot found it, the second near Casa de Luna when Brass found it. This time, it’s the wind’s fault and it’s only after breakfast I see it caught in some spiky grass. Hooray for the desert!

Sunset over Anza, California from a secret campsite.
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PCT Day 130, Cedar Spring to ridge above Anza, 18 miles

I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world. – Mary Anne Radmacher

Sunset over Anza, California from a secret campsite.

Sunset over Anza, California from a secret campsite.

How strange it is to cowgirl camp under the big trees, acorn bombs falling most of the night and a nearly full moon shining through the branches. When I close my eyes, I’m just in bed, then open them to see stars and hear some creature – a squirrel? – chattering loudly. I sip coffee (vanilla at the moment) with bars in bed before packing up, including four full water bottles, to head back up the steep, overgrown side trail back to the PCT.

Shadows rippling on the foothills above the desert.

Shadows rippling on the foothills above the desert.

Exposed rock in uplifted layers.

Exposed rock in uplifted layers.

Fields of dried flowers rustle against my pant legs.

Fields of dried flowers rustle against my pant legs.

Everything is prickly in the desert.

Everything is prickly in the desert.

The day's hike is uphill nearly the entire way to the last water source.

The day’s hike is easy and mostly downhill the entire way to the last water source.

The sign warns of potential hazard as the trail leads above tree line on San Jacinto Peak.
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PCT Day 126, water faucet to North Fork San Jacinto River, 20 miles

The road to success is always under construction. Lily Tomlin

The sign warns of potential hazard as the trail leads above tree line on San Jacinto Peak.
The sign warns of potential hazard as the trail leads above tree line on San Jacinto Peak.

It was a night of dueling owls and a morning of dueling doves. A falling star flew through the sky just as Ted informs me it‘s 5:00. I guess manually changing your iPhone clock ahead of daylight savings doesn’t work since my clock reads 4:00. I much prefer a bit more sleep, but he’s up surprisingly fast and packing already, so I make coffee and top up our water. One glorious part of cowgirl camping is not having to deal with a tent, setting it or packing it up, so it’s relatively easy in dry sand to pack up and go. A huge day awaits us – twenty miles and 7,200 feet of climbing, and we’ll have to carry all the water we’ll need for the climb.

San Jacinto rises dramatically from the desert, foreboding. I can see weathered rock outcroppings in funky shapes high above as well as pine trees, but not a clue as to where the trail goes. We pass a landmark on the map app of ‘rusted pipe’ before heading up on well graded switchbacks. We breath steadily, and even though it’s hard work heading up, the path is gradual and, at this time of day, still cool in the shade.