Chapter 3: PCT Week 1: “Desert Hail and Basecamp”
Chapter 3: Week 1: “Desert Hail and Basecamp”
Days 4-7: 3/9-3/12/22
Total Trail Miles: 35.6
Total GPS Recorded Miles: 37.28
Cumulative Trail Miles: 77.10
From: Mount Laguna to Julian
Day 4 // March 9, 2022 // Trail Miles: 11.00 / GPS Recorded Miles: 11.66 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 53.94
~Destination // Closed Campground at MM 53.94~
We woke up in the lobby of Pine lodge and heard the bustle of movement in the kitchen and dining area. The owner and his friends/family were already cleaning to prepare for breakfast. Our payment was due, so we got up and started sweeping the dining room, wiping down the tables, and drinking coffee that they provided us. Everyone spoke French with some broken English. It was a wonderful morning.
By the time we were done with our agreed-to chores, we packed our bags and moved them to the furthest corner of the lobby possible to make room for customers when they wandered in. The lot of us sat down at a large table in the dining room, and started scanning the menu for our breakfast prey. Optimist, Nathan, Basecamp, and I were there first, soon to be joined by others. A German hiker, Benny, walked inside after having camped nearby, followed by Leon, and then we spotted Gazelle walking by the window. Optimist flew out of his chair and invited her in to join us. We feasted on pancakes, waffles, butter, coffee, orange juice, and anything else we could fit in our stomachs.
With our stomachs fed for the time being, we all headed out in a staggered approach. Basecamp and I left together and teamed up with an elderly hiker carrying 7 liters of water. Despite the 14 pounds of water he had on his back, his pace was faster than ours. At some point he hiked ahead of us and was gone. The miles continued up through high desert and increasing winds. With faces white from mineral sunscreen, we added on extra layers as the sun waned and the cold grew.
There was a campsite icon in FarOut that we’d eyeballed earlier in the day. If we made it there, it would sit us right at an 11-mile day, which was okay for us this early in our hike. The camp came quicker than we expected. It was largely on a slope with a few flat areas dispersed amongst bushes and a few trees. Nathan was there, and another hiker named Luke who’d done the AT. We weren’t exhausted by the time we made it, but we were cold. Despite the chill, we had dinner with Nathan at a picnic table with the only light coming from our headlamps. By 8:30PM we were in our tents ready to sleep.
Day 5 // March 10, 2022 // Trail Miles: 13.20 / GPS Recorded Miles: 14.22 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 68.16
~Destination // Hailed-On Campsite Before Julian at MM 68.16~
Luke was up and ready to go before any of us. He asked Nathan for a liter of water since the camp was dry and he hadn’t wanted to carry extra water weight the day before. When I heard him ask Deuces for water from the warmth of our sleeping bags, I looked at Marie with a disgusted face.
“Are you hearing this right now?” I asked her. “If he EVER asked me for water just because he didn’t want to carry it, I’d tell him to screw off. The nerve of that guy.”
Nathan was a kind soul and willing to help out at a compromise, so he gave Luke a half liter to tide him over until the next water source. It was his call, of course, but I felt bad that he had less water because of another hiker’s shortcomings. Before we knew it, Nathan shot a farewell to us, and was hiking out too. We were still in our tent wrapping up breakfast. Maybe we needed to reconsider hot breakfasts and just eat a bar or something?
Marie’s birthday was coming up the next day, and we needed to make it to Julian so we could celebrate her. Reluctantly we left the warm refuge of our tent, packed, and started out following the footsteps of Luke and Nathan. Water would be scarce in the coming miles, so we had to go easy on what we had: about 4 or 5 liters left between the two of us.
In an hour, we were climbing ridges and cooking in the sun where the only respite we had were a few gusts of occasional wind. About midway through our day there was a spur trail on the map leading to a water source, some sort of horse trough. The spur trail was a half mile one way. We took the spur, got to the trough, gave it a few good pumps and collected one good bladder of clear water, about 2 liters. Basecamp then gave the pump a few goes and stuck her bladder under the tap. The water came out murky orange. It could have been iron or other minerals in the well, source, or piping, but we didn’t give it the opportunity to get us sick. She dumped it. We’d hiked an extra mile out of the way, for 2 liters, but it was still worth it. Back on the PCT, we continued on another mile or so and saw Nathan resting in a small pull-off from the trail. What was there?
He’d stumbled on a small pipe spring we hadn’t noticed on the map, and the water was clear, not orange like Tang. Had we only seen mention of it in the comments…dang. But we rallied, and collected the cold, clear water. Sitting there talking to Nathan we mentioned to him how he always “deuced” out of camp early, and we couldn’t even hear him say “bye” half the time. A bulb lit above Marie’s head.
“I have a trail name for you! How do you feel about ‘Deuces’?” she asked.
“Oh, I like that,” Nathan responded.
And so, the knighting ceremony took place. Nathan became Deuces at that moment. As if an audience was summoned, two hikers walked up, Sam and Moriah. They were from NH and Sam’s inflatable sleeping bad had sprung a leak. We all said our hellos and goodbyes before continuing on. We could see the newly-named Deuces in the distance, but also the dark storm clouds rolling in.
The sky grew darker and darker until Marie and I hiked by a small clearly between the bushes. With the sky as dark as it was, we didn’t want to risk getting caught in rain, or worse, so we decided to pitch our tent at least to wait out the weather. We unpacked, pitched, and crawled in the tent just as the heavens opened up. Hail. It started to hail on us in the middle of the SoCal desert. Rain followed the hail. With sunset approaching, we decided to just stay put, so blew up our mats, unpacked out bags, and settled in.
We had limited cell service but I was able to schedule a trail angel to pick us up the next day for a ride into Julian. With our plans solidified, and only 11.4 miles to the Julian access road, we were in high spirits.
Day 6 // March 11, 2022 // Trail Miles: 11.40 / GPS Recorded Miles: 11.40 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 65.7
~Destination // Julian, CA~
It was Marie’s birthday! We had a celebration breakfast of Pop Tarts and started out. We wanted to be at the pickup-point by 1:30PM, when we told her we would be there. This was the first day that we used music to truly power through miles. Each ridge looked the same as we hiked for hours listening to playlists and keeping an eye out for possible rattlesnakes. At some point, the ups and downs of ridge climbing ceased and began to descend towards a massive expanse of open, flat desert.
We hiked along cacti and agave plants through the loose sand all while keeping an eye on our watches to make sure we’d make it to the road in time. A small puff of dust cloud appeared behind us. Then another. It was a hiker coming towards us and catching up. Man, he was booking it. A half mile before the road he caught us, passed us, and left us behind. He was sitting with his pack off by the highway when we got there. His name was Tumbleweed. He’d gotten that name from his last attempt on the PCT the year before where he’d taken a literal ‘tumble’ on trail before ever reaching Lake Morena. Now he was back, and ready to finish his hike.
“Hey man, we have a ride set up into Julian. I can ask her if it’s okay for one more to join if you’re interested.” I said.
“That would be great, thank you!” Tumbleweed replied.
We were at the wrong spot, however. She wanted us to meet her at the underpass, where a cluster of hikers were hanging out, smoking, and having a few beers. Walking by them, we waved and greeted out ride. She ushered us into her truck and started the short drive to Julian, explaining the best spots to visit while there. The drive was over before it started, and she dropped us in the middle of town. Tumbleweed hopped out and waved. We got out and headed straight towards the local brewery before anything else.
We ordered wings and beers then sat down outside as a table with two men scowled at us making explicit comments about thru-hikers coming into their town. Not the warmest of welcomes, but we had all the things we needed. Afterwards, we checked into our tiny AirBnB, showered, and headed out to an Italian dinner to celebrate Marie turning 34. We’d made reservations, but when we arrived we could see that it hadn’t been all that necessary. The waitress sat us at a small table with a lit candle, we ordered wine, an appetizer, dinner, and then were able to rest our souls for a moment. We started to discuss the day, but both of our eyes grew heavy and started to close. With barely a glass of wine in us, we started to fall asleep at the table. Not the most romantic of nights. Truly we couldn’t keep out eyes open, so we asked the waitress to box up our dinners, and we went to our warm bed to pass out on a night that should have been lively and romantic. Welcome to thru-hiking.
Day 7 // March 12, 2022 // Trail Miles: 0.00 / GPS Recorded Miles: 0.00 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 77.10
~Destination // Zero in Julian, CA~
Sleeping in a bit, Marie stayed under the covers while I walked out to get us breakfast. A local spot just down the street offered up organic pancakes and bacon, basically the same thing we had in Mount Laguna, but what our body was craving. I spotted Optimist in town running a few errands. He was going to 2 Foot Adventures, the PCT outfitter, and then to the pie shop for a complementary piece of pie and coffee they offer to hikers. I told him we would meet up later in the day, but I had to get the food to Marie while it was still hot.
It was just a good, lazy day. Marie hand washed our clothes while I did a few other chores, but on the whole, we sat around, had a much-needed intimate moment, and ate. We ate, a lot. We went out and ate a huge Mexican lunch. In between fits of eating, we stopped by 2 Foot Adventures and grabbed some supplies we needed before meeting Optimist, Deuces, April, and her dad Kurt (aka 6-pack) for a few beers at the other brewery just outside of town. It was about a 15-minute walk to the brewery, but we were already seasoned veterans at walking. When we all got there, we ordered rounds and sat a table outside going over the last week, getting to know one another better, and just laughing. It was food, but food for the soul, not our bellies this time.
When the sun began to set, we made the move inside and commandeered a large table. Several beers in, our imaginations were running. Talking about trail names and who still didn’t have one, Deuces started to brainstorm on a name for Marie.
“Hrm. I feel like I always come to you with questions about camp or where the next water source is.” he said. “You’re kind of the one with the answers, especially since you planned out each day before starting. How do you feel about ‘Basecamp’ for a name since I keep coming back to you to reset or plan?”
“Oh, I like that!” Marie exclaimed.
And so, with a fireplace hot-poker in place of a sword, Marie knelt while Deuces stood above her and knighted her as “Basecamp.” She rose reborn as a new person; a hiker with a trail name.
On the walk back to our AirBnB in the pitch black, we offered to let Optimist and Deuces camp in the backyard of our rental. The inside was all of 200 sq ft. Including the bathroom, so there just wasn’t the space for 2 more people. We had a few more pints that night at the AirBnB before we had to kick them out into the yard. We’d all scheduled an early-morning lift from 2 Foot back to the trailhead and we didn’t want to miss it.
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