Day 9 and 10 fly by as Rachel and I begin to hit our stride. On day 9 we awake to better weather, after a night of rain tapping on our tent. But it’s one of our best nights of sleep yet, as the wind has let up
We wind around ridgelines looking back at the hills of Mt. Laguna from where we came. The clouds layer over the mountains like icing on a cake. They lift up higher as the day goes on, splitting to allow more blue to shine through the gaps. Occasionally a gust of wind still smacks us in the face as we round around the corners of the mountains.
Thus far, the PCT feels as if it leaves no ridgline is left untouched. It feels like we travel the outskirts of every hillside and every twist and turn, as if to leave no vantage point unseen. It makes for long goodbyes as you look back over the landscape already traveled.
You rise up into the sky and your jaw drops at the beauty. You’re stunned. Then you watch and examine the landscape from different angles, like a scientist exploring a specimen. But we’re hikers exploring the deserts, the forests, the mountainsides. Just when it feels like a view will last forever, you turn a ridge and the landscape you’ve examined for days is behind you. This moment carries with it excitement for what is next, and sorrow for what you leave behind.
There’s a desire to remain on every ridgeline forever, to lose yourself in the swirling clouds. But a dualing desire pulls you forward, causing your quadriceps to contract, propelling you further down the trail, beyond the bend to another view. This is the joy of hiking, to be absorbed in the cocktail combo of beauty and motion all at once, forever. In this motion there’s need for nothing else. This is what it’s like to hit your stride.
On day nine Rachel and I hike 14 miles. We cross our 100 mike mark and keep on going.
We take a break at a campsite on the highway outside of Ranchita, CA. Rachel gets a ride from a trail angel into town for some cortisone cream to treat her poison oak. I sit with our gear, talking to fellow hikers, eating mandarins and sipping a beer provided by the trail angel.
Rachel returns from her road trip with two mangos, kiwis, snickers and two IPAs. “I got excited” she says.
We then decide to hike 4 more miles into the sunset to get closer to Warner Springs where we have a resupply the next day. We must get to the post office before it closes at 1:30 pm. Rachel is hesitant, then in bliss as we descend into a meadow, the sunset providing a beautiful backdrop.
We cross fields that roll, then level. The horizon is golden to our left. The air chills the skin as we dip into the fields, and steam comes off our mouths. At 4 miles the trail dips into some woods by a creek and we setup camp.
Day 10 – Warner Springs
The air is cold and we wake up early. Speckles of ice fall from the tent as Rachel exits. We shake the rain fly to pack it up, and frost sticks to my gloves.
I start hiking with all my layers, then strip down to a single shirt and thin pants within 10 minutes as we come out of the creek bed and into the sun.
We walk through farmland meadows and notice a large cropping of boulders. “Eagle Rock” our map suggests, so we take a short side trail to take a look.
“Yup, I see why they call it that” I say to Rachel, as we stand before the boulders.
We eat breakfast below the eagles right breast, and marvel as herds of day hikers soon arrive, waiting in line to pose for pictures. Some take pictures in front of the monolith, posing all as eagles, stretching out their arms like wings. Others climb atop of the rocks to pose on the eagles wings.
I take a mental note. We humans are silly creatures.
After our breakfast, we hike about 4 miles through giant groves of trees into Warner Springs. We spot Shepherd near a stream and chat as we hike, then split off to head to the post office to fetch our resupply package.
After we get our package we setup at a picnic table next to a gas station and we sort food into our bags. Two young hikers sit at the table next to us. They’re impressed by our food.
“I feel like I’m attending a healthy eating seminar” one of them says. We laugh and point out a few of our favorite hiking staples: muesli, dehydrated salmon, quinoa, freeze dried chicken, etc.
We give the hiker some of our leftover lentils. He’s excited to try them out.
We chat with the hikers as we continue sorting gear. They sit smoking cigarettes. It’s funny the things you do when you’re young, I think. One of the hikers is from Mukilteo. The other recently moved to Olympia, where his girlfriend is going to Evergreen.
Another hiker shows up. We met him a few days ago. When we were getting off trail to head into Julian, he was getting back on trail. We chat with him for a while. He’s an older gentleman from Newport, OR who’s acquired the trail name Horse. He’s enjoyable to be around.
Eventually our fellow hikers move along. Rachel and I wait at the gas station charging our phones at an outlet in the sun. We drink a Gatorade, air out our feet, and nibble on crackers. Here we sit, wasting time at a gas station, barefoot, in the southern California sun. It’s at this point I feel we’ve embraced the hiker trash lifestyle. And it’s fun.
We eventually return to the trail. It’s the hottest day we’ve hiked in yet and we stop to cool off at a stream. As the air cools off we pick up our pace, stopping to eat dinner once more at the creek. Then we hike into the dark again.
We finally come to our destination spot and another tent is already there. A familiar voice says “you guys can camp there.” It’s one of our hiker friends from the gas station. It turns out he is hiking the PCT with his father who we we saw camping lower down by the stream. We setup camp underneath the stars, and tell our new friend goodnight. He’s a funny, talkative fellow.