I think that passion is the secret ingredient that drives hard work and excellence. – Kelly Ayotte
Terrie warned me and they came. Tree rats exploring the manzanita in the moonlight. I’m up before sunrise, pack up and head inside where Terrie offers coffee – and another fantastic hug. She is such a generous soul, opening her home to PCT hikers for 21 years. We gab a bit as the television blared, talking about Mulholland, the man who essentially made Los Angeles possible by building the aqueduct. He’s seen as a hero and a villain all at once, his biggest failure, a disaster really, was building a dam in this very canyon. Cracks appeared and he declared it not a problem. The next day, the dam came crashing apart, killing hundreds of people, except one worker who didn’t trust Mulholland and slept above the dam.
Another program comes on that highlights desert plants – dried desert plants. People have arranged them artistically in vessels, like a tumbleweed tornado-ing out of a teapot. The curator explains most people see the desert as boring and monochromatic, but once they notice things and perhaps know what they are, they see the desert differently. Terrie mentions a hiker she met from Israel who was enamored by the desert when everyone else was just hot and tired. He compared the Mojave to the Negev, “Things are alive here!”
I’m so glad she told me this because I see things differently today. Everyone is up and packed, but only Number Seven and I are loaded in the first shuttle. I’m scared about the lack of water for this long section, so I drink several glasses of water, pack 3 1/2 liters and schedule my drink stops at 15, 10 and 5 miles to go. I know it all sounds a bit bizarre, but as I’ve gotten to know my speed and my needs, and also pretty much how I get through the day. Although I continue to be startled by how far I walk each day. Before the PCT, walking twenty miles in one day was a rare occurrence, a huge accomplishment. Now, it’s my average distance – and I am below average on the trail as many go further each day, and definitely faster.
Water still has me a bit freaked, so I take a lot and choose not to depend on the possible caches or seaps. Adding to this challenge and the unknown terrain is Terrie’s warning of Mountain Lions. She uses ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ we run into one, don’t run. Back up slowly. “They’re just curious.” I make a note to sing a lot today when coming around blind corners. With that, another hug and signing the register, we’re off, Seven flying ahead and me getting a good speed up the hill. The white sand and scrubby plants look beach dunes-like, the wind is blowing and the gnats under control. It actually couldn’t be more perfect.
The trail is well built and I think of the conversation this morning amongst the hikers objecting to the trail crew reinforcing the trail as it sidles a steep mountain. They felt instead the crew should sped their time trimming bushes. I certainly agree things are overgrown and exposed flesh gets slashed, but the trail is eroding into a sand pile and would definitely be impossible to walk if not repaired. One hiker shared when my trail crew friends in the Sierra told him they built seven stairs, he responded he hates stairs. I explained they need to build stairs on the trail or it will erode, but I was a bit shocked at the attitude – and lack of gratitude.
Oh well, I love hiking today seeing things differently and enjoying the cool air. I come to a bench dedicated to the man who created a race, the Leona Divide 50 which Minnesota native Scott Jurek won five times. Perhaps this is why the trail is so good. Horny Toad Two scrabbles out of the trail and up the bank. At the top, I see a giant, blue reservoir. I find a tiny spot off the trail in shade to lean against a rock and sip my first liter of water and eat a bagel. When I break, my entire body goes limp and I relax deeply. But I don’t stay long, deciding break two will have a wonderful symmetry at the top of the next climb.
I walk downhill and crickets pop into my hat. There is a cache at the road, but it looks empty and I’m glad I brought enough. A mother holding a baby with two little girls come down this rise. It’s humbling seeing them skipping along, happy and carefree as I tend to take myself too seriously geared up with sticks and backpack. She asks where I came from and is impressed I’ve come so far. I enter more oak forest and have to tell the gnats to ‘gnock it off!’ but it doesn’t last and I am extremely grateful.
I am way too skinny but still strong flying up this hill, at the top I can see down to Agua Dulce as numerous helicopters fly over, likely monitoring the fire which is nearly half contained now and hopefully won’t affect us. The air is cool in the wind and Vivaldi’s ‘Goldfinch’ concerto is on my lips in rhythm with my feet. A huge ranch spreads out below with one tree. I cross under snapping power lines then head down to a road that brings me right back to civilization. I head towards Hiker Heaven, another incredible trail angel offering accommodation, showers, laundry and a fantastic place to hang out. I stop for a snack, but the Mexican restaurant is closed but they offer a free soda. Then Little Legs and her pals find me and we share a pizza – well, three pizzas – and then catch a hitch to Heaven. Oh, friends, everything is clean, my toes are soaked and I’ll give ‘cowboy camping in the desert’ my first try.