We start day 7 with coffee and breakfast from the hotel. It’s a delicious meal of fresh fruit, poached egg, polenta and bread. Our gear is clean and packed in our bags. Our faces are clear of the previous days grime. We sit fresh on the hotel porch awaiting our ride back to the trail.
We arranged yesterday, to get a ride with Legend, a…. well, legend on the PCT. Yesterday, when I met him on the sidewalk of Julian he explained his system. He plays trail angel around Julian at the start of the season then shoots up to WA at the end of the season to continue his work assisting hikers in need. He’s agreed to meet us at 9 am outside our lodge and take us back to the Sunrise Highway trailhead where we escaped yesterday.
We sip coffee on the hotel porch, looking for a red truck. A large 4×4 drives by, a clean cut man behind the wheel. Several more minutes pass. Then at the corner of my left eye, there he is. His truck pulls aside to the curb. His truck is unmistakable, even if you’ve never seen it. On the right tail side are painted two palm trees and the words “CASA DE LEGEND”. And if there’s any doubt left to who it is, the truck is also red, just like he had said.
There’s another hiker in the passenger seat. Legend pops out of the drivers side, looking at us and says smiling “I’m looking for my two friends Rachel and Jon!”
We toss our bags in the bed and hop in the cab. Legend is full of energy. He says he left his bag at the brewery last night, which contain his notebook, “his life” as he puts it. Legend doesn’t use a smart phone to keep notes or calendars. It’s all in his notebook. The hikers he’s arranged to pick up and when and where. He’s a busy guy. He starts to get ahead of himself and then he talks himself down, “let me start from the top” he says, “I am Legend and this is Gypsy” patting the dashboard. “Now every ride I like to start by going around to everyone, giving everyone a minute to speak and tell Gypsy what’s on their mind. Then from there we can ask questions, or laugh and carry on.”
Legend starts by telling Gypsy about how he can’t believe he left his bag last night. In all of his 30 years of thru-hiking and 20 years of doing trail magic he knows to always check for anything he’s left.
Rachels next. She tells Gypsy about the beauty we’ve seen in past 50 or so miles, about the oak trees that grow around the sand, and that spark if you try to cut them.
Then me. I compliment Gypsy and tell her how amazing it is that she’s going at 350,000 miles. She must be loved. I’d love to hear the stories she could tell. I talk about the beauty impressed on me looking into the Anza-Boreggo desert over the last few days, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Then our other hiker friend, Jake. He talks about how he hurt his foot yesterday, and having to get off trail temporarily. He hopes it will hold out today.
Then Legend thanks us and asks if there’s any questions. Rachel asks Jake about his hurt foot. I recommend ice or a stream, even though neither are available in this situation.
As we wind around corners, in Gypsy, Legend behind the wheel, it’s apparent that this man is special. His eyes twinkle a unique bright blue and he asks us questions and makes jokes. He’s a man with much to share and say. But he’s also a man who can listen. When someone speaks, he allows them the space, and listens to interpret their meaning. He asks me what it means to be an Exercise Physiologist and then talks about how titles can be so confusing and often not convey the work they fulfill. This is how we learn that he used to do some sort of work related to fire retardant and prevention in construction of commercial buildings. He says he was among the best in his field. He even consulted on the world trade centers after 911. Today he’s a trail angel, or just an angel as he would out it.
I’d love to listen to Legend talk for hours. I wish the drive were longer, but I can see our destination up ahead, and now Gypsy is pulling over into the parking lot. Our trail is across the road. Before we go, it’s obvious that Legend deserves his name. He’s learned something about each of us in the short ride we’ve shared. He tells us that he likes to give everyone a minute to talk at the start because he knows that in that minute, every person talks about something important to them. And that’s more important than talking about gear. That’s what builds connection. He’s a bright man following his own path, a beautiful bold path indeed. That’s what creates a legend.
We cross the road to the trailhead, and as Gypsy pulls off, I turn around to wave.
We walk for a ways with our friend Jake chatting about the trail until he eventually peals off to make a call, and bids us happy trails.
The sun is back out today and we quickly are absorbed into the comfort of each footstep, winding our way down the hillsides closer to the desert floor.
My attention today becomes absorbed in the trail, noticing the small details of the tiny course sand, and the flowers that are beginning to show.
Pink flowers appear scattered in the stones.
Cactuses of different kinds. They each grab my attention. Each one of them speak without vocalizing, “you can look but please don’t touch”. When I did the other day, I was delivered a drop of blood.
There are odd ones.
Even cactus with blue flowered friends.
We notice a plant that first looks like aloe, then we decide agave, not knowing for certain what it is.
A solitary giant plant resembles asparagus. We joke about sauteing it with olive oil and salt.
The desert is strange and beautiful. The plants appear inspired by a Dr. Seuss book.
We setup our tent in the sand on the valley floor. We stare at the hills as we eat our dinner, and point at the occasional plane approaching the Air Force base on the opposite side of the ridge.
We tuck in as the sun goes down and the wind batters at our tent. Goodnight desert. That’s enough for today. One week on the trail.