PCT Day 16: Beach Day

May 4, 2022

I-10 underpass to Mission Creek at mile 226.2

16.7 miles

Freight trains woke me up at a few points last night. They blared their horns and rumbled past like huge strange animals. Other than those few times, though, I slept surprisingly well through the night. I wake up ready to hike.

We start at 5, walking under the underpass and into another expansive stretch of desert below another mountain range. I already feel so good this morning. I’m up at the front with Beetle for a while with Petra just behind, sprinting towards the mountains so that we can minimize our time in the blazing sun.

The world slowly begins to grow lighter. We pass a random mattress by the side of the trail and have a mini photo shoot.

Instead of going up into the mountain ahead of us, the trail takes a right and follows another canyon. We pass the sign welcoming us to Section C, then a sign for a wind farm, but no windmills. The trail climbs, but slowly and steadily, not a dramatic uphill. Daddy Long Toes passes me when I take a drink of water, then I put in headphones and rock up the hill. It gets a little steeper, but the light is still held at bay by the canyon walls, and I feel amazing. I listen to Glass Animals, then Maggie Rogers. I’m in love, I’m alive, oh I’m burning!

The angle of the hill forces me to take a break next to a tree, and Andy catches up. “You’re a flying fox this morning,” he says, grinning. I smile. “I feel amazing today!” I check Far Out. We’ve already gone five miles and the sun still hasn’t touched us.

Andy and I hike together for the next six miles. It’s nice. We haven’t hiked together much in the last couple of days, and I’ve missed the blend of banter and comfortable silence. We finish a steep climb straight up to a saddle at the top of the canyon, then look back and appreciate the view before we turn down and switchback into another valley.

It’s warming up now, but the terrain is gentle all the way down to the Whitewater River. We meander smoothly down switchbacks to the trail junction heading to the Whitewater Visitor Center, then turn left to stay on the PCT. It’s a wide, flat path for half a mile. We walk next to each other until the path narrows as it begins to cross the mostly dry riverbed. Finally, the actually flowing part of the river comes into view. Beetle and DLT are there already. We drop our packs and prepare for a whole day of sitting here on the beach like lazy slugs… at least until the sun abates.

It is so beautiful by this river. The water is clear and gushing and cold, flowing towards San Jacinto in the distance. Andy and I wash our shoes and socks and stand in the river. Then we find a somewhat shady spot under a tiny tree and get comfy. I eat lunch and write, then take a dip in the water and wash myself off a bit. I leave my hat, buff, and shirt to dry in the sun.

Andy making his own shade

Eventually Petra, Rob, Feather Blue, and the huge group hiking with the Brits Cam and Dirt Magnet come to join in on beach day. For hours I switch between lying in the sun, sitting in the shade, and getting in the water. At one point, all six of us sit together in the stream talking like we’re in a hot tub. DLT and I stay in for a long time talking about bookstores, oversized sweaters, and travel stories, among other topics.

Around 3:00 I realize I’m freezing, so I get out and dry off a bit. Andy, DLT, and I stay for a little while longer in the shade, talking to Cam and Dirt Magnet. Then, finally, we take off around 5 and start climbing the last six miles to our campsite.

Even though I’ve been sitting around all day, I’m absolutely gassed. The minute we start going uphill, I slow down significantly, despite Andy being decidedly in Afternoon Cruise Mode. I lose the group a few times, put in headphones and listen to music, and then catch back up when they stop for a photo at a beautiful viewpoint. It’s full on dusk now, and the sun is starting to throw Jesus beams (or, as DLT calls them, God rays) into the valley and over the mountains. It is so beautiful.

Andy, DLT, and I stop for dinner at a perfect spot on the top of a ridge. While we cook, talk, and eat, the sun sinks lower and floods the world in light. I wasn’t feeling all that great half an hour ago, but now I’m back to loving every second of this trail.

We have fewer than three miles to go after dinner. We get into a conversation about toys and games we used to have. It’s very nostalgia-inducing. Then DLT and I get on a good roll talking about books and what makes a “good” book for us. By the time we finish that, it is just about dark and we have arrived at Mission Creek.

None of us bother with tents. We just find a good spot in the dry river bed and blow up our sleeping pads and lie down under the stars. The sky is expansive with so many pinpricks of light. The frogs are singing near the water. I can hear the gurgle of the creek. Have I said it yet today? I love this trail.

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