I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within. – Lillian Smith
The moon is still silvery bright as the sky over the desert turns a Crayola 64 selection of oranges and reds. Light wind riffles my little cowgirl notch as I eat my final breakfast in bed. Oh, how I’m going to miss this. Being alone after getting myself and all I need to this soulful spot is deeply satisfying. I love my little backpacking routines and simply being inside this extraordinary beauty. It’s precisely why I came.
I take a moment to list some of the favorite moments of my walk – Goat Rocks in Washington where I climbed the peak above and had it all to myself, so many berries to eat and lakes to swim in, a chain of volcanoes like jewels, balcony walk after balcony walk, extraordinary sunsets, Crater Lake’s rim and the Sierra in rain, hail, snow and cold, the desert where I learned to cowgirl camp, walking really, really far, camping all alone, seeing three bears, making friends with some extraordinary women, never using my headlamp or earbuds (not once!), butterflies everywhere in Oregon, the varied warbler’s ‘signal’ call in Washington.
I’m sure the list is longer, but my attention turns away to the present and this ridge I’m walking with mountains below and desert beyond. I mentioned to you yesterday that a few years ago, I visited my brothers and we came up to this very ridge. The visit to La Jolla was actually about seeing our dad, a man with whom, for all three of us, there is tension and unresolved issues. We shared a meal, then I changed into hiking clothes in the bathroom before we left and Eric dropped me off miles away from his house to let me walk back. It was such a natural and normal thing to do; everyone in the family knows I need to walk alone, especially if things are a bit fraught, but really, I need it all the time. It took me a few hours to walk past the university, along the beach splashing my bare feet in the waves, through the village, then over rocks and more beach before arriving back at Eric’s. I absolutely reveled in it and it made me whole again after some awkward moments at the restaurant. The PCT is the same, only this time, I was dropped off a little bit further. It’s been one long journey, but the size fits me just right.
I look at the sky from both sides, clouds adding texture, the mood not as lonely and austere as yesterday. At a parking lot, a hunter named Chris creates trail magic and offers me a gatorade. It hits the spot as I move on to more quirky rock formations, weathered smooth and leaning precariously. A sign tells me this is an ancient trail – ‘wiipuk uun’yaw’ or the desert path. It was used by Native Americans living on the desert floor but heading to the hills for supplies from the pinyon pines, oak trees and grasses.
Just as I imagine this idyllic eden, I come upon a creepy monument studded with a variety of memorials, like one for Al, “I told them I was sick!” or Penny, the spirit dog. Another speaks sorrowfully of a dear departed friend, “I will see him again, but not yet!” as well as photographs of these dear departed, most next to Harleys.
The trail is built right into the cliff, reinforced with cement, leading me to a sweet little picnic area bathed in orange from oak leaves at peak. I decide 8:30 is not too early for lunch at one of the tables, the grills covered in fluorescent pink tape. I don’t stay long though, moving up and crossing to the other side of the mountain, the desert hidden from view. I come to a crossing where a sign points towards Garnet Peak. This is the spot I came with my brothers! I told then one day I’d walk the PCT, and the day has come.
Antennae come in view atop Mount Laguna, but soon disappear as I head into Storm Canyon, scorched oaks reaching out of the narrows. I see heat rising from the desert, but it’s still cool up here when I stop to drink a liter only a few miles from town. Forest begins, pines in soft, dappled light amidst long, dry grasses punctuated by bright orange oaks, the fallen leaves in fists, crunching underfoot. Many years ago, Eric and I hiked here under a sky that changed rapidly from calm blue to angry gray and finally, a white out. We were out before the snow obscured the trail, but it was a long drive back to San Diego. I’ll never forget the loveliness of the trees that day – at least, before the snow – and now, I feel it too, a kind of Indian Summer soothing warmth.
I cross a road, then come back out over the desert. I can walk into town, but I first want to explore the campground beyond. There’s a water fountain placed on trail by the PCTA and locals, an oasis for many a hiker visited now by birds and yellow jackets. The campground is lovely, but closed with the water turned off and bathrooms locked. Hikers use it anyway, but there’s a barrier at the entrance and Richard will meet me by car.
So I walk into the tiny town, the only thing open, the general store which also houses the post office and lodge. It’s quite the hangout with a cast of characters including a guy in fatigues who tells me how he set a world speed record on a flat bottom boat; a cyclist who asks me where I’m headed, and when I say Mexico, she asks which direction I’m walking – mmmk; members of La Jolla’s Horseless Carriage Car Club proudly driving mint antique cars, all older than 1916, I’m told since those are the rules, unless you’re over 80 and then you can drive whatever you like; the owner, John, who chain smokes while regaling me with hiker stories including the many people who give up after only a few days and head home or those carrying ninety pound packs; and then one lone hiker who takes himself far too seriously – and no, that would not be me.
I eat too much junk food, hanging out as though a regular on ‘Cheers’ before Richard shows up with a barbecue sandwich and Caesar salad to take with us to the only open campground a few miles away. My hike is winding down and there will be no more camping in the wild since Richard will follow me south and we’ll camp together. But what a way to end, sharing a night with my love under the stars, the waning gibbous rising and cool, refreshing high-desert air. He asks me as I type inside my sleeping bag if this is how I do it every night and then tells me I’m cute. I think I hear him falling asleep at 7:30, and that’s my cur to say good night to you and cuddle in. Sweet dreams!