I woke in the canyon I’d stopped at the night before and broke camp, climbing a small distance to take my morning constitutional and loading up all my gear as the sun peeked over the crest of the ridge above, bathing the canyon in the gold light of early morning.
My primary goal for the day was making it to mile 91, where the promise of a massive water cache offered a chance to refill my water for the final push into Warner Springs the next day.
Leaving camp I met a hiker named Rasputin, who’d grown up not far from my former home in upstate New York. We marveled at the small world nature of the trail, and talked of our favorite places to eat in the tri-state area. It was a brief moment, but exciting, and got me out on the trail in a rather good mood.
I hiked for a few miles, taking breaks as I could in the few shady patches along the ridge line. It was mostly flat up there, and I was glad for my late night push the night before, though the sun quickly began to assert itself.
I began to feel the tortoise in the race of the PCT. Early in my hike I was passed by Ranger and Bubba Gump, setting a fast pace for yet another 20 mile day for them. I watched them race off into the distance only to pass them as they rested a mile or so later.
A few hours into the morning I met two sisters from Portland, Rebecca and Marisa, nice girls who were very open to conversing, and who would suffer an unfortunate turn a week later, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The landscape was bleak, to say the least. A fire had swept few some time before and the dusty brown hills were devoid of nearly any plant life. Blackened skeletal bushes and burned husks of cacti greeted me around every turn, and the oppressive heat beat down on me with no shade to be found.
It was around this time that I became keenly aware of the blisters forming on my hands and forearms. It wasn’t the first time I’d dealt with sweat blisters, but I knew it to be a sign that I was doing serious damage to my skin out in the blazing sun. I popped a few, to make sure they were in fact sweat pockets built up under the dead skin of my sun burn, and the salty squirts of sweat felt cool on my roasting skin. It was gross, but it entertained me as I walked through that barren, desolate landscape.
I found a lone juniper in a small valley around mile 87 before a large uphill section, and crawled underneath the scant shade that it offered. I ate lunch, my new favorite meal of applesauce and chia seeds poured into a peanut butter jar, and napped for nearly an hour to pass the time during the hottest part of the day. The juniper, barely a shrubby bush, proved popular in the heat, and soon two other hikers had joined me, Spectrum, who I’d seen the previous few days, and Rick, a former merchant marine from southern Washington.
After I’d worked up the courage to tackle the uphill, I pushed forward, fighting the heat as I climbed ever upward along seemingly endless switchbacks. The wind picked up, massive gusts slamming into me as I reached the high point of the section, and blowing away a kerchief I’d carried with me on innumerable hikes throughout the years. Bill and Jennifer from Ashland, who id hiked with the previous morning, were up near the top, and I hiked with them again, talking cacti and animals with them as we fought the high winds.
After another hour I finally reached the water cache, and was greeted by the sight of nearly two dozen other hikers, and dozens of huge jugs of fresh water. I lay at the cache and watched hummingbirds sip at cholla blossoms, and luxuriated in the shade provided by the trees that encircled the stash. It was a gloriously peaceful moment after a very hard day.
As I lay there the hikers from the Warrior Hikes group showed up, and I happily reintroduced myself, thinking they had left me in their dust on day three, and shocked that they had ended up behind me somehow. This time, meeting them seemed more solid, and in the coming days I would find myself running into hem repeatedly, and forming friendships that I’ve learned to truly value since. But that is a story for another day.
I filled up with 8 liters and drank nearly two more by the time I left the cache, eager to get a few more miles in before the sun went down. I pushed on, signing the trail register and camped two miles up the trail, catching the sun as it went down over the hardest section of the trail is faced to that point. I slept well that night, buffeted by the desert winds, excited to be in position to hit Warner Springs the next evening.