Day: Wednesday, June 1st 2016
Miles: 448.6 – 469.5
Remote Camp 448.6 – Remote Camp 469.5
The monotony of routine. For some it brings stability and comfort. Knowing your daily movements to a synchronized well-honed state of perfection, days or weeks in advance. To others it is the antithesis of what they seek in life, lacking spontaneity and marking the time in life where your task-list rules the roost. I’m somewhat of a creature of routine. I certainly embraced my routine based on the simple cycle of sunrises and sunsets, and enjoyed the predictability of breaking my day into 5 mile manageable chunks, allowing me to gauge water and food intake, balance breaks and evenly stage my miles through the Suns passage of the day. This routine and predictability of course, had to change. Thanks to the heat, my routine was not just going to change but be thrown into disarray with some level of resulting poor planning and suboptimal decision making.
My perch for the night last night was comfortable and surprisingly pleasant with a white-noise style of distant humm from the highway. As usual I woke a little before the sun rose and enjoyed my predictable oatmeal and breakfast smoothie, along with a cup of Barry’s tea (thanks AdamH). The sunrise led to a sneaking light gradually invading the canyons and valleys below with a very pretty scene.
I tended to my mundane routine such as fixing myself (my little toe had spawned a blister thanks to yesterday’s searing heat, dusty feet and swelling feet). Moleskin or duck tape seems to fix most issues on the trail depending on how much pain you’d like to deal with at the end of the day!
As I decamped, I immediately dropped from the ridge towards the highway below. After three miles of a cool descent I enjoyed some warmth from the early sun, much earlier than normal, by 7am. I passed Nate and Killer once again who cowboy camped close to the highway before entering a long and dank creek underpass for the highway.
The trail was surrounded on both sides of the tunnel with a huge amount of forestry debris showing the power of flash floods in this area. Obviously at times this tunnel was entirely filled with urgent waters swilling down the canyons after a sudden storm. The exit to the canyon was like the entrance to a magical land. The Rock and character was entirely different, and now approaching Vazquez Rocks on the map, obviously implied something new and unusual for a morning wander.
The rock formations were stunning, and many strange and unusual plants were officially signed on the trail, Californian Juniper, Mormon Tea and many other plants I’ve seen throughout recent weeks but had no names for their exotic scents and leaves.
The rock formations continually amazed with beautiful chocolate fudge sundae-like structures curving into the sky. If nothing else highlighting that my mind has become obsessed with food and identifying shapes of food in the landscapes!
The trail eventually circles the Vazquez Rocks and lead to the end of the rustic trail for a few miles. The Pacific Crest Trail now officially becomes a road-walk and joins the state highway as it passes the ranches and horse paddocks of Agua Dulce. The small town is home to the very welcome Sweetwater Cafe (for a huge breakfast omellet in my case), and Hiker Heaven, the welcoming hiker enclave run by the Sauffley family for the use and enjoyment of passing hikers. The cafe breakfast was blissful, complemented with some really fresh avocado and just-squeezed orange juice, before I even ordered I also bumped into my friend Eric from Amherst,Mass. He departed a little before me and I had wondered if he might be ahead or behind me by now. My first experience of Hiker Heaven was the hiker shuttle to the Sauffleys home a mile outside of town – first sighted as a bunch of hikers ran to a pickup truck, hopped in and sped down the road. I didn’t question but followed suit.
Upon arrival I was greeted by the welcome crew and introduced to the laundry process, the signup lists for the shower, the REI store run, the public transit connection along with details of computers and Internet availability and where our packages could be collected. This was a tight and efficient ship and clearly very popular given the number of hikers hanging out in the yard, still enjoying the morning sun, repacking, discussing the current fire situation at Chimney Creek along with eating, napping and generally doing what thru-hikers do.
I tended to my laundry and submitted to the efficient process and retrieved my resupply box before doing my usual routine of emptying my bag, dedusting, repacking, rethinking, readjusting and eventually crashing for a nap on my camping mat in the shade of the tree. It was a pleasant relaxing afternoon and it was clear that hiking during the day was not a feasible option. It was simply blisteringly warm and a heat haze hung on the entire valley.
The evening was pleasant although the large group and constant movement was a new dimension to the trail. It was a well oiled machine and by the time I recharged and showered in the early evening I was feeling ready to go again. The sun dropped in the sky and cool temperatures reclaimed the day. Around 6:30pm I grabbed another ride back to town with Killer and Nate (who arrived to “Heaven” in the early afternoon also). The first sections of the trail were a lowly road walk, but it was nice to get out and a large group hit the road at the same time.
The trail eventually rejoined its alignment aiming northwards towards Green Valley and thankfully off the highway after a few miles. Once again the usual meandering character of the PCT again started its gradual wander up the first series of ascents with distant views looking back towards Agua Dulce.
The next reliable water stop was a considerable distance away, and given my change to standard operating procedures through moving to a night hike, my expected water need was difficult to gauge. The presence of a potential low-volume spring and unverified cache, mandated that I carry a near full 5L water load. Along with food my pack was now likely around the 30lb mark and certainly slowed my progress significantly. The cool evening did assist greatly however and was far preferable to the alternative. I enjoyed the evening hike and as night fell, numerous distant headlamps could be seen flickering across the valley as the trail dropped into a warm valley with signicant bug activity. It seemed like every few steps, another month started persistently buzzing my headlamp. After a road crossing and the cache, the trail became quiet as hikers began to retire for the night. I munched on a pack of Starburst as a little motivator as the trail rose again, closing in on the highest point of the night, not necessarily my target as some other tent spaces were just before it according to my GPS.
The initial tent sites I found were unfortunately close to high-tension electricity wires, with an uncomfortable buzz ringing overhead, so I walked further and further towards the top of the ridge, before the trail opened to a small but sandy saddle, perfect for my tent. I put up my tent gingerly as the wind ebbed, occasionally catching he ultralight material. Thankfully the surrounding bushes were high enough to protect my hiking-pole strengthened structure, and before long I was lying in bed listing to the moths buzzing from the outside. I had seen some odd long-tailed fat and slightly funny looking nice on the trail so I decided to keep my food in the tent. The first time I’ve needed to protect it from little prying eyes!
The evening had been pleasantly cool and progress was good but my routine was ill-adjusted. I had used only 1L of the 5L I carried, and tomorrow’s descending trail of 10miles would use little of that remaining. The routine and established norms would have to change from now on, hopefully allowing me to finer tune my water and weight in particular. In terms of timing the heat, today was certainly successful, today it seemed, was the new norm. Morning hiking before the heat, and night hiking after. Good progress could be made with lower water need and a pleasant afternoons nap was seemingly the only price, although I did lament the views I missed tonight. Tomorrow I would drop further into the Mojave and hopefully finer-tune a routine more befitting of my days of experience on the trail!