PCT Day 135, water cache to Scissors Crossing (Julian), 14 miles

If you have the courage to fail, then you have the courage to succeed. – Shalane Flanagan

Desert sunrises are magnificent – orange light in the east as the full moon drops, deep pink on the other horizon. I sit up and make coffee noticing a tiny animal hole right next to my mat. OK, who did this? Were you coming or going? I never saw or heard a thing – no harm, no foul – hey, Ted, can I have one of your granola bars?

We pack up then fill our water bottles from the cache, rationing out the last of the electrolyte tablets. It seems only yesterday we had a huge pile of them, but it also feels like only yesterday Ted joined me to hike a few sections, and today is his last day on the trail.

Up we go towards the PCT, the air still chilly as we begin a balcony walk high above the valley, the mountains to our left like leopard skin, and to our right, melting green wax. I can’t totally take my eyes off my feet, still on the lookout for a sun basking snake, but also thorn nightmares reaching into the trail, one tripping Ted as he sips from his shoulder-holstered coke bottle. Amidst footprints and dangling walking sticks marking in haphazard lines is some perfect S’s preserved in the sand of a large rattler on the move.

Ted will walk nearly 200 miles in Southern California’s desert, helping me manage these surprisingly tough sections while mastering his own skills of leave-no-trace, rationing water he’s filtered with his brand new Sawyer squeeze and sorting out blisters brought on by hot, dry conditions. I wouldn’t say we never argued, but, to be honest, he didn’t complain once, even when we ate potato/salmon mash three nights in a row. On day two, with huge, burned tree trunks threatening to crunch an unsuspecting camper, Ted suggested we camp on a treeless ridge out in the open – his first ‘cowgirl camping’ – and he’s hooked. Those nights with a starry landscape above us as we chatted late into the night (7:30?!) – felt like some of the best slumber parties of my youth, this time with a few awe-inspiring falling stars. It was good to share these weeks at the end. I feel ready to go home and keep walking, this time into my future, though I must say I’m just a tiny bit nervous heading out for the final miles of the PCT alone and sleeping out by myself.

But that’s tomorrow. Right now, he’s plodding on ahead, setting a superb pace and turning around to see where I’ve disappeared to when I keep stopping to take pictures of this extraordinary landscape. It’s as though someone came here specifically to design rock gardens of agave and barrel cactus, an invading army of beefy thumb-shaped robots covering the mountainside. The trail curves around my garden features, in and out of canyons, rocky and falling deeply away. There’s a balance here in this snake-shaped trail, and a snake-shaped snake on trail that Ted spies before stepping on him. We see the trail on the other side of a canyon disappearing into a crevice. There’s shade, so when we arrive ten minutes later, we break for cheese and meat, doling out sweets for the hotter mid-day and our last miles to the road.

The road gets closer around several more giant U-turns, a final one before switchbacks revealing ocotillo for the first time, its leaves falling in line for autumn. Below is scissors crossing, the roads crossing on a flat section inspiring the Road Runner cartoons. We head down and instantly lose the trail, so head towards a parking lot with a sign explaining the setting aside of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – hint: cowboys and their charges drank up all the water.

We’re told to wait at the ‘monument’ for a hitch to Julian. Ted asks if I know where it is. No. What is it for? To commemorate PCT hikers who managed a hitch – or is it for hitch fails? It makes no difference. We walk up the road against traffic and just when I see a car going our way, I run across and put out my thumb. The driver of car #1 flashes his lights and picks us up.

Kurt tells us he never does this, except for backpackers. What a guy! He also tells us we’re on the most serpentine highway in America, heading up into the little-mining-town-turned-tourist-attraction right on the Elsinore Fault. Don’t worry, it can only produce a 6.0 earthquake. He drops us at the historic Gold Rush Hotel where we’ll meet Richard, arriving in a few hours, which we fill by getting my free slice of pie at Mom’s and buying a few more items at the general store.

It’s a charming place, our room cozy in a big brass bed, a few beers are shared in the comfortable lobby accompanied by Frank Sinatra and friends on the stereo and tea is served at 5:00 in the parlor. Richard arrives safe and sound wearing an Innova discs hat – yes, he’ll be out throwing plastic and mapping while I hike four more days. I’m so happy my tall one is here at last. He sent me out here knowing I’d heal – and he was right, I have.

Reader Comments

  1. Lovely reunion photo of you two. Enjoy and be blessed with satisfaction for what you will have accomplished these coming “last’ PCT days. Thank you for sharing this journey. Blessings for your future in the next part of your life.

    1. Many thanks, Merry! Richard made me howl with laughter last night as we took over the parlor at the Julian Hotel. The three of us hiked a week in Colorado’s San Juans, so it was a good reunion all around. I am truly blessed!

  2. Alison…bless you, Ted, Richard, and the Ansel Adams landscape…..my heart
    is full with reading of your journey….how will I fill my early morning hours….
    Will you enjoy Cerveza? Zola

    1. Richard has been charged with making me a margarita at the terminus!! I am feeling so full just now, my ‘cup runneth over.’ Such joy to walk into my future (finally!!)

  3. Hi Allison, I’m fairly new to the Blissful Hiker (my friend Zola suggested I take a look) and I’m enchanted with the beauty of the trail that you’re sharing here. Lovely, lovely photos! My husband and I visited Anza-Borrego Desert State Park a couple of years ago and loved the stark beauty of the place. We limit our hikes to a few hours at a time; what you’re doing involves a lot more skill than we currently possess. What you’re doing is impressive.

    1. thank you Kathleen! Anza-Borrego must be one of my favorite places in the world. As you say, stark yet soulful and also whimsical as the cactus take on characters. I’m so glad we’re sharing it!

  4. I’m sitting in my kitchen, looking out the window and seeing about 8″ of snow and the supportive 15 degree temps, but reading your travels during day 135 brings me back to the San Jacinto Mountains. You, your extraordinary story-telling and awe-inspiring photos have become a morning routine and I feel truly #gratefulfilled.

    Thank you for sharing in a way that articulates what many of us aren’t able to, yet instantly know it when we read it from you, Alison.

    Many, many blessings to you on the final miles of your amazing journey, and much Agape love sent to you from my wife and me.

    Andrew and Lynda Radvansky (Pinecone Pals – day 127)

    1. oh my goodness! I will soon return to similar conditions and ‘cowgirl camping’ will be a distant memory. It means so much to me to share my walk, one that’s physically and emotionally taxing, but also deeply fulfilling spiritually. To see myself from far away, a tiny speck on this grand landscape is humbling, and, to use your words, gratefulfilling. I’ll have an enormous breakfast then set out on my own for the final four days. Excited and nervous! Onward and upward. Pinecone Pal Al

  5. Wowee! Reunion with Richard, how wonderful. I’m following these last few mikes with you in anticipation of seeing you soon back here!!!

  6. Wow- I really can’t find the words to express my admiration for your insight, determination, patience, incredible observation skills and endurance. Congratulations as you finish this challenge. May the love of Richard, family, and friends sustain you thru “culture shock” as you re enter the citified world. I hope you can conjure up the healing moments and feelings from your walk when you need them. Thank you so much for sharing this adventure. I will likely review the trip just for the incredible photography and writing as well as the great daily quotes. Hope to see you sometime in the Twin Cities -we have several mutual friends.

    1. I would love that, Jennine! Your comments have been so insightful. I really appreciate your being a part of this journey! 🐥👣🎒

  7. You’re amazing Alison! Two very long trails in a years time. So much growth and change as you navigated very difficult circumstances. You are READY for what comes next. Though I am not ready for you to be done with the PCT…I’ve so enjoyed your blog!

    1. Thank you, Jamie!! Let’s have coffee in the coming weeks. Isle Royale is next (in August ha) I will do some more petite hikes for a while, tho the CDT keeps calling my name!
      Thank you for sharing your spirit with me. I thought of you often at spectacular views but also difficult stretches wondering how you managed – and with a smile! 🐥👣🎒

  8. The Wellington room eh? Picked that one up.
    Why the trepidation for the final few days. If course you’ll make it. Just think of the last push to Stirling Point. You made that OK.
    TA season up and running. 4 night before last.
    All good here and all good over there

  9. Wow. You’re nearly done, so proud of you Alison!
    I hope the trail provided you with everything you needed for your body and soul. And of course an unforgettable experience and scenery! Xx

    1. Cheerio!! I so wish you were here for all of it. You made me laugh and took away some of my over-the-top seriousness right from the start. SO needed! haha I felt like Forrest Gump sometimes just walking and mulling over everything until I got a handle on things. It did take four months! But I feel so lucky I had the time to do it. Please keep in touch. I really hope NZ is next for you and I have lovely friends to introduce you to. Much love, hiking friend. You really made Washington awesome!! 🐥👣🎒

  10. We miss you on Symphonycast, Alison. I had to ask Ron Beitel what happened and he included a recommendation to Blissful Hiker. I am so sorry about what you have had happen, not just on your gig but also with your flute performance. It seems to me that in your treks you have found healing. The photos are gorgeous, and your writing is transcendent.

    1. thank you so much for this lovely note, Kathleen. This was an incredible journey of discovery and I feel lucky to have been gifted with the opportunity. 🐥👣🎒

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