PCT Day 41: Crack of Dawn

May 29, 2022

Bird Spring Pass at mile 630.8 to campsite at mile 654

23.2 miles

The alarm rings at 3:55. I wouldn’t say I exactly jump out of bed, but I get up fairly quickly. I’ve estimated that a conservative two miles an hour will get us to Walker Pass by 2, so we’re starting early in order to get there with plenty of time to spare. We pack up as quickly as we can with the wind and the cold battering us, and walk back to the trailhead.

The first three miles are a climb. A huge climb. A windy, rocky, switchbacked climb. On the bright side, it’s not as steep as I was expecting, but the wind is so angry this morning, pushing from one side, then the other, then, on one particularly terrifying switchback, right in front of us. I can hardly move. I start to disassociate for a while. This is the most miserable weather I’ve experienced on this trail: dark, evil wind. We hardly stop, just a couple of quick breaks to catch our breath, then it’s uphill again.

By the time we get to the top, it’s nearly sunrise. We find a campsite that is mildly protected from the wind and have a snack and water. I do not feel good this morning. My arch and achilles are tight and burning. I was trying to get that hill done as fast as possible, and I didn’t stretch or take ibuprofen. There’s no time to stretch here; the wind is still whipping around us, and I can’t feel my hands. Keep hiking.

Finally, the trail levels out, then starts to head down into pleasant forests. It’s an interesting forest. There are conifers but also trees that look like juniper. I can tell we’re entering serious mountains now, but there are vestiges of desert. DLT and I keep walking together until I have to bound off trail for the inevitable morning cathole, and after that I’m walking alone for a while listening to podcasts. At the start of the trail, when I was alone, it would always be music, but I think I’m getting a little tired of that. Podcasts it is for the foreseeable future.

I pass Spice and chat with her for a bit, then continue downhill listening to Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me and Ologies. I’m thinking that we got the hardest part of the day done at the beginning, so it might not take us all the way until 2 or 3 to catch our ride. I’m cruising pretty slowly now. The forest thins out and puts me in the sun, and at a road crossing, I see Beetle, Andy, Stinger, and DLT. That early morning did pay off! We caught up to them. Andy, Beetle, and Stinger are getting ready to leave, though, so we just chat about our plan for Ridgecrest for a moment; apparently Beetle called the trail angel and arranged for the ride at 4 instead of 3. Cool, but that means we got up early for nothing. Oh, well. The three of them keep going, and then I sit and eat a snack with DLT.

We walk together for a bit, but then he speeds up to leave some voice messages and I slow down because pain. It’s just a mindless sunny road walk for a while, which is not entirely unpleasant. I crack up listening to my WWDTM episode and just follow the road. Soon I run into DLT again. It’s nearly lunch time and we’ve both just now taken off our warm layers from the morning. This weather is not a joke. I hope I’ll be warm enough in the Sierras.

We walk together for a few more miles while talking about politics and when we think Petra will pass us (soon, probably). We pass Spice and Fits again, chilling on a rock. Their rock chilling inspires us to find a good rock for our own lunch, which we do a few minutes later. It’s not even 12 and we’ve already gone 15 miles. Just six left until Walker Pass! We can afford to take our time.

Speak of the devil: Petra comes around the corner just as we’re settling down for lunch. Whatever illusion of her being slow was still floating around, it’s gone now. She’s a speed demon, and there is a very real possibility that she will start getting faster than us. She joins us for lunch. It’s a socks-off lunch, and my feet appreciate the time to air out, although the wind is still blowing occasionally and it is not all that warm.

Even though we have enough time, we still want to make sure that we get to Walker just in case Beetle and Andy have any thoughts of leaving earlier without us. So we head out soon after Petra does. It’s all downhill at this point, and the views are beautiful. Across from Walker Pass towers a chain of rocky brown mountains. It’s still very much desert, but the tone is different now.

It’s downhill, but it’s also sun-exposed, and I start to leave my body a bit as we go down. DLT is a ways behind me with his headphones in, so I switch over to some music. Down, down, cruising switchbacks, leaving the forest and entering the scrubby desert brush we know so well now. Soon I reach the trail register at Walker Pass and sign it. DLT catches up, then Beetle waves us down to the campground. The trail angel, Lisa, is already there, even though it’s not even 2 yet. Beetle says he figured we’d all be done earlier than expected, so he had her come sooner. Seems fishy, but at least they didn’t leave without us. We gratefully put our packs in the back of Lisa’s truck and climb in.

She drives us to Ridgecrest. We resupply at Albertson’s, then she takes us to a patio bar restaurant across the street for dinner. It has a huge selection and ends up being really tasty, but the music is loud and… interesting. Still, I enjoy my Philly cheese steak, and Andy, Beetle, and DLT enjoy their massive burgers stuffed with just about everything you could imagine. Oh, hiking. It’s nice to talk with Lisa while we eat. She hopes to do the JMT this year, and maybe even the whole PCT one day. I always love talking to other hikers and prospective thru-hikers about their experiences and plans.

After dinner, we go through a frenetic repackaging of our food in the parking lot. My best friend Monica calls me around this time, and I talk with her for a few minutes while I transfer couscous into plastic bags and smash white cheddar cheez-its into a packable size. Then I realize that I haven’t eaten the key lime pie yogurt I bought myself as a treat, so I inhale that as we take a photo with Lisa. The chaos.

We make one more stop for water, then Lisa drives us back to the trail. Thank you, Lisa! Beetle and Andy go ahead, naturally, but DLT and I have to do some reorganizing before we start. When we do, it’s an uphill three miles (again) to a ridge where there’s supposed to be a campsite. We trudge together the whole way talking about car mishaps and wedding shenanigans, all while I am sucking in air like an elderly cat.

Finally we make it to the ridge, where all the campsites at the place we meant to stop are taken. It’s fine, though, because these are all folks we’ve been hiking around for the past few days, and we like them. We stop to chat for a bit, DLT gets all their Instagrams, and then we decide to keep going. I’m very done at this point, so it’s lucky when we find a flat, relatively sheltered spot not even a quarter of a mile later. We set up for cowboy camping and call it a day. I eat many handfuls of mini oreos, brush my teeth, and pass out.

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