PCT Day 43: Farewell to the Desert

May 31, 2022

Campsite at mile 676 to campsite on the South Fork of the Kern River at mile 698.3

22.3 miles

Naturally, our plan to get up early fails. It is proper cold this morning. My hands feel like little icicles. We move slowly (especially me) through breakfast, teeth-brushing, and packing up. Eventually, we start going. Just as we’re going up and over the hill and back to the trail, we see Knuckles coming along.

“I thought you were ahead of us!” I say.

“So did I!” she replies.

Not that I have favorites, but she, Power Plant, and Topo are some pretty cool cats. I was sad when I thought they’d gotten ahead of us and that we wouldn’t see them, so it’s great to catch up. Knuckles just had a birthday on trail, and she and her tramily still have kazoos that they use for semi-long-distance communication while hiking. Amazing.

We have five chill downhill miles to Chimney Creek, during which DLT and I have a very interesting and wide-reaching conversation about everything from the amazing toys McDonald’s used to have in their Happy Meals to dissertations and what we wrote ours on. Time flies, and we’re soon at the creek. Before we can get any water, a man comes down the trail, says his name is Jim, and then tells us that he has trail magic at the road. Woo hoo!

We sit around in a circle by Jim’s truck drinking coke and Gatorade. His daughter does a different section of the PCT every year, so he likes to come out and do trail magic for hikers every once in a while. So cool! I feel very hydrated and less nervous about this upcoming climb by the time we’ve finished. Thank you, Jim!

As usual, DLT goes ahead while I start out trudging behind. I have a lot of water and I feel slow. I have to stop to pee. Ugh. Another hill. This one is going to be even longer than the one yesterday. I settle into Podcast Mode. Then I eat a lemon Larabar and twenty minutes later, something magical happens. I feel a surge of energy and feel like I can go much faster. I put on Sleigh Bells, my standard uphill music, and start rocketing. The forest thins out into a burn area, and I’m still storming ahead. Nothing can stop me! I feel incredible! I’m going to the Sierras, baby!

I’m prepared to just finish the hill, but a little less than a mile from the top, I spot DLT sitting on a log under a tree. I can be persuaded to stop for lunch. I sit down on the other end of the log, which turns out to be way less sturdy than it looks, and DLT almost goes flying. Oops. We sort it out, scoot over, and then do lunch. It’s not a shoes-off lunch. It’s not that comfortable. But it’s still nice under this tree.

We start up the hill again, talking about something or another. Then we fall silent when we reach the top. There, in the distance, are the Sierra Nevada mountains. Granite and snow. Grey and white. The first glimpse of the place that hikers think and talk about from day one of the trail. The legendary Range of Light. Ancestral home of the Nüümü, the people, the Northern Paiute. An amazing and awe-inducing place: our next section.

The excitement of seeing the Sierras fuels us for the next few miles. Or at least, it fuels DLT, who continues steadily ahead while I have to sprint uphill for an urgent cathole. Do I talk about food and catholes too much? Sorry, but that’s kind of 50% of hiking. I return to the trail and keep going downwards for over three miles.

This trail is a masterpiece. There’s not a single switchback, just a continuous gentle path leading all the way down. I listen to Father of the Bride all the way through again, then Free Love by Sylvan Esso, and by the end of that I’m at the water source, where I meet back up with DLT, have a little lie-down on the ground, and filter.

We’ve both reached that “despite loving this trail, I’m completely out of energy and want to be done” phase of the day. We walk slowly together, letting everyone pass. It’s hot and sun-exposed down here on this meadow, but then we enter the pines again.

I don’t know how it happens, but we start playing this game where one of us says a superpower we’d want to have, and then the other makes it mundane. For example, I say I want the power to drink from any water source in the world without filtering it and without getting sick. Then DLT adds the caveat that I have to drink out of a child’s sippy cup with two handles and a crazy straw. I about die laughing. Can you imagine? This hiker rolls up to a stream, dips in a sippy cup, and starts drinking from it. I love it. DLT then proposes that he wants to be able to lift any object in the world, and I add the caveat that said heavy object would appear to everyone else like something that doesn’t weigh very much. For example, he picks up a car, but to everyone else, it looks like he’s picking up a stuffed rabbit.

“What?! I can’t even flex?”

“Nope.”

It goes on like this for a while until we run out of ideas, at which point, we come around a corner and magically see Catless. He’s perched on a log like a pensive squirrel.

There’s nothing better than running into a member of your tramily after a few days apart. We catch up on what we’ve been up to and how the last part of the trail has been for us. Then we walk to the South Fork of the Kern River, which is a magisterial sight. It is a deep, flowing, gurgling stream. It is so beautiful to see so much water, not a trickle or a sad spring full of frogs (nothing against frogs) that takes ten minutes to fill. DLT and I sit on a rock and put our feet in while we talk with Catless and the four Belgians who are hiking together who we’ve seen a lot in the past few days. Eventually I can’t feel my toes, and we keep going another half a mile to a campsite beside the river.

We set up for cowboy camping among the trees and bushes. Then the three of us go down to the grass by the river and eat our dinner. Turns out, pearl couscous does not rehydrate as well as regular couscous, so my dinner is a little bit sad. But it’s still so beautiful to be here with my friends in the fading daylight by this absolute unit of a river.

I’m going to miss the desert. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’re done with it or ready to be out of it. While I’m excited to be in the Sierras again, I don’t agree with this mindset. The desert is where I met my tramily, got my trail legs, and made so many memories. It’s Andy. It’s Petra. It’s DLT, Catless, and Beetle. It’s Paradise Valley Cafe, beating DLT in our packing up challenge and eating ice cream in Idyllwild. It’s San Jacinto and the long descent and losing my mind on the way to the I-10 underpass. It’s beach day by the Whitewater River and dinner at sunset up on the hill. It’s kingcup hedgehog cactus flowers and wild paintbrush. It’s so much variation and joy and love and pain and wonder. I will miss the desert.

But I will love the Sierras.

I love where I’ve been. I love my tramily and all the people we’ve met along the way. love where I’m going. I love this trail.

2 thoughts on “PCT Day 43: Farewell to the Desert

  1. HaileyB

    I think the desert is the part that intimidates me the most, thinking of my eventual hike. Probably because I’m used to the green ups and downs of the PNW. But it’s really encouraging to hear how much you’ve grown to enjoy and appreciate it. I hope I’ll have that experience too, and the world will seem that much more lovely as a result! 🏜️

    Liked by 1 person

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