PCT Day 5: Heaps of Miles

April 23, 2022

Mile 47.7 to mile 68.3

20.6 miles

I wake up to condensation and turkeys gobbling. I think I have more time than I really do, so I make a leisurely coffee in my tent—my first in two months—and sip it slowly. Andy comes over and asks if I’ll be able to pack all my stuff up in 10 minutes. “I only have 10 minutes?!” I pack up everything as fast as I can. What can I say. I have an underdeveloped awareness of time.

Sad face at the terrible windy campsite

Becky drives us back to the trail where we left off at mile 47.7. Thank you for everything, Becky! We immediately start hiking, and it is the most beautiful day. It becomes obvious to us that going into Julian was the right choice. Besides there being really nowhere else to camp that would have been out of the wind, we would have missed out on the absolutely choice views that the trail treats us to all day.

It’s mostly ridge walking today, occasionally flowing uphill or making a downward turn, but always with beautiful scenery. We cruise the first five gorgeous miles to the Pioneer Mail picnic area, where we set up our tents, chat with a few hikers we haven’t seen yet, and eat a snack. As we’re headed back to trail, a car pulls up. “Do you want some fresh fruit?” I hear a voice ask.

Trail magic, courtesy of Wing It

It’s a hiker named Wing It, who has hiked the Triple Crown, the Te Araroa, and a handful of other famous long distance trails. We eat the very delicious fresh fruit he brought, fill up our water from his supply, and, in my case, pack out a White Claw. Second trail magic, but first substantial trail magic! Thanks, Wing It!

A legend

The trail widens and Andy, Petra, and I walk three abreast for most of the hill. It is radically different from the section we’ve just covered, with huge rocks on the left and wide, expansive views to the right.

It ends at Kwaaymii point, where a sign discusses the importance of this place for the Kwaaymii, Kumeyaay, Cahuilla, and Colorado River Native Americans. I can’t recall seeing an interpretive sign anywhere else on a trail that directly referenced the original peoples of the land in the United States, and I appreciate this nod to the indigenous communities on whose ancestral homes we are walking. We can only walk on these lands because they were violently removed from them. It’s good to remember that.

From there, the trail coasts gently downhill, then around a section with huge rounded boulders. They remind me of biscuits, so I call them the Biscuit Boulders.

Soon, we reach the Sunrise Trailhead turnoff. We’re about to pass it when another hiker stops us and tells us that there is more trail magic and water at the parking lot. We backtrack and take the turnoff, and are greeted once again by Wing It and also by Groupie (or maybe Groovy?) the latter of whom is offering watermelon, a place to throw our trash, and, most excitingly, handwoven bracelets. We each get one. Most unique trail magic ever! Thanks, Groupie!

I realize with a start that the White Claw I packed out earlier has a hole in it and is leaking out, so I drink it right then and there and, because of who I am as a person, end up tipsy. It’s a very giggly mile after that.

We cruise all afternoon. The trail is so flat! It is a highway! Sometimes we talk, and sometimes we’re silent for long periods of time. Petra teaches us how to say “bless you” and “be careful” in Czech, but they immediately leave my mind, so I’ll have to have her write them down. I watch the backs of Andy’s feet, step, step, step, entering a trancelike flow state. I’m gliding. I’m glowing! The scenery is amazing and I love my new friends.

The trail makes a dramatic, knee-smashing downhill and I am burning up all of a sudden. I decide to break out my umbrella. It’s kind of annoying, honestly, and Andy and Petra laugh at me (Petra: “You look like Mary Poppins!”), but it’s nice for the exposed downhill and immediate uphill road walk. Haters gonna hate.

From the other ridge across the valley we can see where we just came from. The mountains are so green and rolling, uniform like smooth desert soldiers. We pass blooming prickly pear and wild paintbrush. Andy teaches us New Zealand sayings like “heaps” and “choice” and, best of all, “the wop-wops,” meaning an out-of-the-way place like where we are now. Then we’re coasting another ridge and the sun goes behind a cloud and it is so beautiful here in this high desert evening.

I hit a wall around then. It’s 18 miles, and I haven’t hiked that far in one day since the AT. I get quiet. It becomes hard to form normal sentences. I chug the rest of my Liquid IV water, salty and on the edge of gross. I go into my head then. Feeling slow. Feeling sluggish. Feeling what the hell am I doing. I give grunts and one-word answers to questions.

Finally, we stop at the campsite we were originally going to stay at, but after a snack and drink, we agree that we all feel good enough to continue. It’ll be our first 20 miler, already on day five, and it’ll make going back into Julian from Scissors Crossing a little easier tomorrow. I eat some fruit snacks and stand back up. I can do this. Here we go. Deep breath.

The light is so beautiful as we continue downhill. I love this time of day, 6 PM, in the desert. Everything is golden. We pass more prickly pear blossoms. We talk a little. We look at the shadows of the clouds passing over the far mountains. The trail has no right to be this beautiful all the time.

We make it to our camp and exhaustedly set up our tents. We have dinner with a few other hikers who are here. Their names escape me at the moment, but when I have more brain power I’ll remember again. I have tea, then Petra gives me her White Claw that she decides she doesn’t want. Definitely going to have to get up tonight. I stand and look at the fading light on the mountains in the distance for a while. I brush my teeth. I hope I sleep well, and I hope I feel more put together, pleasant, and present in the morning.

As I write it’s 8:45 PM, everyone else has gone to bed, and I’m standing under a blanket of stars. I didn’t feel like retreating to my tent yet. I felt like having a moment to myself with the Divine. I can’t see the Milky Way yet, but I think that’s coming. There are deep pinpricks of light all around me, unimaginable distances away, yet all right here. I feel small. I feel huge. I feel utterly exhausted in the best possible way. I feel reminded of what it is to be alive.

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