Mile 55.9-mile 77
The morning walk along the ridge was pretty. I took my time taking pictures. As I was putting my pack back on after taking my first break, Marmot came along and said “hello.” I was surprised to see her! I thought she was ahead of me as I hadn’t seen where she had camped. I followed her a bit and she looked like she putting a lot of effort into hiking hard! She was driving her poles into the ground and it did not look like it was enjoyable to me. She let me go ahead, but stayed close behind me. It turned out that she had hiked until dark last night and camped a couple of miles beyond me. I was wishing for my own space when all of a sudden, a predatory animal made its presence known to me! It was big, brown, and loud and sprung out of the bush right next to my foot! Whoa! A huge rattlesnake! I screamed and it slithered across the trail in front of me. Unfortunately, it was too fast for me to get a picture. Adrenaline coursed through my body and knocked me out of my not- so- pleasant head space. I really wanted a picture, but Marmot wanted me to move on. “It’s a foot off the trail now. Do you see?” she implored. She called it a 9:00 rattler. “Usually, they come out around 10.”
After awhile, we started a descent. I let her go ahead (my strength is uphills) and returned to my own space. Pretty yellow flowers lined the trail. As I headed towards Rodriguez Spur tank, I had a flashback to someone’s journal that I had read a few years ago, in which they wrote about sleeping on this tank. And now, I found myself at this very place! The realization hit me hard. I reached the tank around noon and headed up the path, only to be blocked by barbed wire. I returned back down the path and Marmot called out to me from the spot she was resting at- under the only bush in the area! She handed me a broken plastic jug and told me the hose was over there. “Turn it from the side, not the top.” The whole area looked like a scene from a western movie- dry, dusty, and brown! She moved over and let me sit on her wet piece of Tyvek (wet from spilling water on it). She liked my purple striped toesocks and wanted to know where I got them from. I learned that she had thru-hiked the PCT, the AT, the CDT, the Canadian Rockies, and the Arizona Trail! She was now hiking the PCT in sections. As she ate hummus and corn chips from her tupperware container, she warned me about a tick infestation somewhere after Deep Creek. “Don’t bring your pack down there! I got 50-100 ticks on my pack and was picking them off for days!”. She packed up as I filtered my water and left me to myself again. I started walking soon after, making my way along a ridge. All of a sudden, I had to go to the bathroom! Immediately! But where was I supposed to go? I was on a ridge! It turned into an escapade. I climbed up a gravel embankment, slipping along the way, and getting scratched up by prickly bushes. The descent was even more treacherous. And then, as I was putting my pack on, one of my two liter soda bottles fell out and barreled to the edge of the trail, nearly plummeting into the abyss below! I nearly lost half of my water holding capacity in the desert! Luckily, disaster was averted as the bottle stopped rolling right at the edge of the trail! I continued on, and the trail soon began a long descent. The temperature rose and I felt tired. When I came to a rocky area in a bend of the trail, I took a 20 minute break to take off my shoes and eat a snack. It was now 4:00. I needed to get going. After I reached the floor of the desert, I still had about 3 miles to get to the highway. I could see it in the distance. There seemed to be lots of intersections in the trail once I reached the bottom. I continued to follow what I thought was the trail, but the path seemed to keep breaking up. There were bits of trail here and there, but I kept having to walk around obstacles such as prickly bushes and trees with branches that seemed to want to reach out and grab me as in the Wizard of Oz. I saw only one set of footprints in this area, and the other set of prints seemed to belong to a mountain lion! What was I doing in the path of a mountain lion? I kept going. It seemed like the right direction. Alas, I finally realized that the path I was on did not look like the PCT. I had to turn around and follow the path I had just taken back. I hurried due to the time I had just lost, but tried to remain calm. I was clear-headed, knew where I was, and had water. Finally, I made it back to the junction and found the correct trail (which was not so clear!). As I continued on, the area I had just been in became fenced off with barbed wire and signs that read, “Wildlife Boundary: Do not enter!.” No wonder I was seeing the mountain lion footprints! Finally, I made it to the highway. I turned left and still had one mile to walk before I got to Scissors Crossing. I was tired! I eventually saw the “scissors” shaped by the highways and crossed over. There was a hiker standing in the island who seemed to be changing his pants. He did not greet me. I went on and arrived at the underpass where I found Mike, who was now named “Smooth Operator”, and several other thru-hikers who I did not know, hanging out. It was a strange environment. There was trash and plastic jugs on the other side and the wind continually kicked up the dust. Mike was distant. His parents were coming to pick him up in the morning and bring him to the town of Julian. Two other guys were waiting for night to fall and the air to cool before they headed out to embark on the notoriously long and hot climb ahead. One played music from his iphone out loud. Surprisingly, it was easy listening music! After I filled up on water and emptied out my trash, someone asked if I wanted some chicken! They said some lady had dropped it off. It looked pretty picked apart, so I declined. However, there were 2 rolls left, so I had one of those. Another hiker asked if I wanted a wet wipe. “Your hands are dirty,” he said. I smiled and used the wipe. As I was eating my roll, Lion King walked in to the sound of two guys clapping out his hiking rhythm. I asked about camping spots ahead as Yogi’s guide mentioned there were some north of the bridge. One of the hikers pointed to the exposed climb ahead and said, “That’s it.” Lion King said there were some flat spots back where I had come from. He said that he felt “safe as a kitten” when he slept there in a previous year, despite lying right next to the highway. So, I headed over and searched the area until I found a nice, big spot. I set up my tent as the wind began to pick up. I cooked my pasta, tried to wipe some of the dirt off me, and did a bit of journaling for the first time on the hike. The others remained under the bridge. The wind was so strong during the night that it knocked over my hiking/tent pole support three times while I tried to sleep! Luckily, it didn’t strike my body. But, as I had predicted, I once again was hardly able to sleep.