PCT Day 23: The McDonald’s

May 11, 2022

Dirt road at mile 324.8 to Swarthout Canyon at mile 347.2

22.4 miles

I wake up with the start of the sunrise. My quilt is frosted over on the outside, but on the inside, I’m still toasty warm. No one is moving yet, so I think I can get away with a sneaky hot tea. It is steaming and delightful in the cold morning air. It inevitably makes me late getting ready, though. Andy is awake and packed up within minutes, and he goes ahead as soon as he’s ready. Rob, DLT, and I are moving a little more slowly, as usual.

I’m getting worried that we might lose Andy soon. His pace has been growing steadily faster, he hardly drinks water or takes breaks, and he never looks worn out. I used to be able to keep up with him, but now I don’t think my fitness is increasing at the same rate. He can just do these huge miles in so little time. Beetle is similar; he rockets ahead at a blistering pace and does his own thing, and then reappears when he feels like it. I think in this next stretch we’re really going to be putting the adage “hike your own hike” to the test. It will be interesting to see what happens and how we end up meeting up when some of us are faster than others.

Rob goes ahead, and DLT and I walk together for a while. It is a beautiful morning, and I can already tell that I feel so much better than yesterday. The world is growing lighter as we circle Silverwood Lake. It reminds me of something out of Kentucky, with rolling green hills surrounding the water.

The trail is mellow and beautiful. We cruise for a while. I have to leap off the trail for my now-customary urgent cathole, but otherwise, these few hours are peacefully uneventful. We climb higher, entering more forest, then drop down to the last water source before Cajon Pass. Andy is there when we arrive, but he’s already heading out. We also run into Christina and Andrew, as well as Frankie, Sean, and Gus. I love how you never know who you’re going to run into at water sources. It’s fun to see familiar faces as well as new ones.

After the water, Rob (whose proposed new trail name is “Catless” because he still hasn’t dug a cathole yet), DLT, and I lay out our sleeping bags to dry while we have a snack. Once we get hiking again, something happens to me. I feel like I want to move. My legs are buzzing with energy. I rocket ahead of Rob and DLT and start flying. Down, down, gentle rocky paths, around corners, and into a sweep of grass beneath green hills that are taller than what we’ve seen in a few days.

The trail turns uphill and I’m still flying. I put on Sleigh Bells and pound out miles to the heavy guitar rhythm. I feel so good. I feel so fast! I feel like my blood has been replaced with rocket fuel. I’m climbing and rounding a corner, and then I’m on a ridge surrounded by hills with the wind whipping around me and it is so beautiful and I feel so, so alive.

I pass Christina and Andrew airing out their quilts under a power line. I say a quick hello and then continue on my way so that I don’t lose my rhythm. The views are beautiful, across a series of rolling grassy hills that ripple downwards to Cajon pass. There is a snowy mountain in the distance, and there is a beautiful breeze. I start to lose steam a little as I complete my descent. The trail turns flat and enters a rocky canyon. I’m so, so close to the road. This road will take me to the legendary Cajon Pass McDonald’s that is half a mile off trail. I follow the turn of the canyon until I reach the highway and see the sign. Time to smash so much food!

I roll up to the Mickey D’s and there is SO much hiker trash. It fills my heart. Everyone is lounging on the grass and the concrete eating, napping, talking, and packing their bags. I sit next to Andy, who has already been there for several hours, and order a Big Mac, a 10-piece McNuggets, a large fry, a large Diet Coke, and an M&M McFlurry. Naturally, I consume it all. I pick up a few snacks at the gas station, fill my water bottles, and lay around for a while digesting. Then I order a cheeseburger and a spicy chicken sandwich to pack out for today and tomorrow. Gluttony! I love thee.

Beetle taking a post-lunch nap

I walk out with Andy, and soon we meet up with Christina and Andrew. We walk with them for five miles. This section starts out underwhelming, walking under the highway, through a corrugated tunnel, and over a set of train tracks, but then it turns gorgeous in the evening light. We pass a train chugging its way through the desert landscape. There are a few steep uphills, some downhills, and some familiar ridge walking with big views into the valley below. Soon, we are coming down a gentle hill into camp at Swarthout Canyon.

It is an absolutely beautiful night, but the wind makes setting up my tent a pain. When it’s finally pitched, I get inside and almost immediately fall asleep on my pad with my shoes still on, feet outside my tent. I jolt awake when I hear Andy call, “PASSPORT!” I realize how ridiculous I must look and start laughing, then finally take my shoes off and finish my setting-up-camp chores. Andy sits by my tent and we talk for a long time. Beetle gets to camp and then comes up to us and offers us a drink of his wine from his Smartwater bottle. The man packed out an entire bottle of Barefoot wine. Love that energy.

I mean to do some more things before I go to sleep, but I am so tired and I cannot be bothered. The moon is nearly full and it keeps me awake, but I enjoy the relative warmth of the night down here in the canyon and the sensation of being horizontal.

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