Mile 77-about mile 96
I broke down my camp, packed up, walked quietly past the hikers still huddled in their sleeping bags under the bridge and headed over the road and up the notoriously hot hill. It was a slow start. I was fascinated by all of the new forms of cacti I was seeing- more typical of the kinds you would expect to see in the desert. I kept looking back at the road and bridge behind me, observing where I had been and thinking of those who were still there. I got hungry and decided to take an extended break, getting out my jetboil to use as a bowl to eat some granola with powdered milk. Two girls walked by and introduced themselves: Midnight Chocolate and her friend (later to be named Cowgirl) from Colorado. We chatted for a couple of minutes and they continued on. We played leap-frog when they decided it was time for a break, themselves. I didn’t see any rattlesnakes today, but I did see two slate blue ones napping on the trail, as well as a yellow and black one that slithered off the trail. I crossed paths with a German man who was hiking southbound from Warner Springs to kick-off. He wanted to know how far behind his friends he was. I continued to hike through a burn area and descended to some lower land where I saw a group of five hikers taking a break beside a bush. They said hello and we chatted for a bit. Spoonman, Werewolf, Marijke, Sierra Bum and B-rad (I believe). They invited me to join them and said they were all funny. I wanted to keep moving, however. Ahead of me, I could see a hiker who was moving a bit slowly. When I caught up to him, I realized it was Luke, who had started the same day as me. As I chatted with him, the fasted hikers from the group of five began to pass. I hiked with Luke until he realized that he had left his phone back where we had taken a small break. Our first big destination of the day was the third gate water cache. There were no natural water sources along this stretch of trail, so a generous group of trail angels took it upon themselves to stock water for us PCT hikers. This year, the cache was moved about a quarter mile down off the trail to make it easier for the angels to maintain the supply. As I approached the sign reading “water”, I began to see hikers seeking refuge under every bush in the vicinity! I had only seen the two girls and the group of five all morning and had no idea so many people were in the same area! I tried to see if I knew anyone, but it’s hard to tell when everyone is disguised in wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses and hiding under bushes! Two hikers pointed to the water sign and told me there was water that way. I felt like I had just arrived in munchkin land! (“Follow the yellow brick, road…!) Another told me to find a bush to rest under. Some had their tarps set up. I couldn’t find an unoccupied bush until I started down the water path. It was a very hot afternoon and no one was about to move! I set down my pack to claim my bit of shade and brought my water bottles down to the cache. This was a nice cache! There were lots of gallon jugs of bottles, all neatly organized and tied together with a rope. The “fun” group had found a tree off the trail to relax under and invited me over but I said I had already found a spot. I made my way back up the hill with full water bottles, opened my chrome umbrella for the first time and set it in the branches over my head. The sun was burning my feet, though! I had to keep shifting the umbrella as the sun moved. I kept expecting Luke to come down the path, but he never did. Another hiker passed by me who recognized me. I tried to recall who it was. “Greg, is that you?” I had met him briefly at the Pioneer Mail water source and he had his hat and sunglasses on then.
I didn’t allow myself to rest too long, as I had my goal for the day, so I packed up and got moving, trying my umbrella out as I walked. It was difficult to hold up, however, and a bit annoying to fit over my wide brimmed hat. By this time, I couldn’t wait to switch my hat out! I regretted my choice as soon as I took it out of my pack at the San Diego airport. It was crumbled and shapeless from being stuffed in my pack and I realized as soon as I stepped out onto the dusty and very windy desert trail that what looks good in your apartment has no bearing on how it will be on the trail! The thing would not stay on my head in the wind, even with the chin strap that I added. And white is not a good color when you are living in dirt! So, I asked my resupply people if they could ship out my western hat instead. I was counting down the miles with this hat…
As dusk approached, I began to look for a spot to set up my tent. I was now on a ridge, making this task a bit more difficult. Finally, I spotted a piece of dirt just off a bend in the trail that turned out to be just big enough to fit my tent. I set it up, cooked my pasta dinner and greeted the two girls as they continued down into lower land for the evening. I had no desire to night hike or set up camp in the dark and was thankful I had found a spot to sleep before the sun had set.