Chapter 8: PCT Week 6: “Chili Cheese Fries and the Captain’s Quarters”

Chapter 8: Week 6: “Chili Cheese Fries and the Captain’s Quarters”
Days 36-42: 4/10-4/16/22
Total Trail Miles: 92.70
Total GPS Recorded Miles: 95.58
Cumulative Trail Miles: 523.10
From: Messenger Flats Campground to the L.A. Aqueduct and Pasadena


Day 36 // April 10, 2022 // Trail Miles: 13.90 / GPS Recorded Miles: 14.53 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 444.30

~Destination // Acton KOA~

Surprisingly, we didn’t wake up as sore as we thought we would after 31 miles. To that, we could have also been heavily motivated by the fact that we’d be at the KOA in Action in around 14 miles, but I digress. The terrain we hiked through was something that we hadn’t experienced yet. They were winding ridges through sagebrush desert, but the cliffs and ridges were sheer and set against a low-set clouds. 14 miles dragged on because we knew microwave pizza and beer waited for us.

The trail finally dumped us into a dry, overgrown area skirted by a parking lot. There was a shirtless man sitting under a picnic area at a table with a cooler. Basecamp thought he may have been a trail angel offering up some more magic like we’d had just the day before, but alas he was just hanging out enjoying his day, but he did smile and wish us a great day.

From the parking lot we had another half mile to hike. The sun was beaming down, and the asphalt walk started to slowly dry roast us. About halfway there we could hear people laughing and talking. Salvation had to be close!  Walking right by the main yard and front office, we noticed a large stage built. Our friends were scattered all around drying their gear, working on their food resupply, having a beer (or two), and just relaxing on the grassy field in the sun. We hastily checked in at the KOA, grabbed some snacks, and went out to greet everyone.

That evening we spent time catching up with people we’d been hiking on and off with, and others that we hadn’t seen in a while: Shroom Boots, Prism, Romeo, Brother Paul, Decades, Deuces, Optimist, Patricia, Robby, Mach 5, Cherub, Dan and Permafrost. Rather than microwaving pizza, we ordered delivery from a local spot (but too far for us to easily walk to) and killed the entire thing by evening. It’s not a difficult chore to finish a pizza as a thru-hiker, but even we couldn’t stomach all the crust on such a large pie. Luckily, we had Dan there. He sat down and we chatted with him while he consumed every last piece of crust before bed. We’d pitched our tent on a lovely, soft bed of grass in the field. We’d yet to learn just what camping on grass does to your tent, but we’d soon find out.


Basecamp looking out over the San Andreas Fault after the Acton KOA

Basecamp looking out over the San Andreas Fault after the Acton KOA


Day 37 // April 11, 2022 // Trail Miles: 12.00 / GPS Recorded Miles: 12.64 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 456.30

~Destination // Agua Dulce~

The tent was soaked when we woke up despite not having half the fly on overnight. It was the grass we were camping on. We should have learned our lesson after it happened to us at Whitewater Preserve, but alas.  Hikers mumbled around us packing up their things and making breakfast. The sun was just starting to peak over the hills. It was going to be a beautiful day. We had coffee and breakfast on a picnic table while a few of our things sun-dried.

Deuces and Optimist had ordered new Boa shorts. Deuces had the chilis, and Optimist had the cheese. They wanted me to be the “fries” to their “chili cheese fries” but I still had a perfectly good pair of shorts and couldn’t reason parting with them. Though, I suspected one day in the future we would reunite as the three musketeers of BOA shorts. When we were packing up our things Robby, Mach 5, and Cherub came over to talk just before Optimist came out of nowhere in his short cheese shorts and white legs. There are some things you can never unsee.

We reluctantly left the KOA and our friends behind to head towards Agua Dulce. The PCT runs straight through town, and they are known for being hiker friendly. Hiking through a tunnel that ran under the highway, we were shocked when it opened up into a weathered canyon riddled with trees and plants we hadn’t yet seen on trail. Somehow we’d overlooked it on the map, but the Vazquez Rocks (pretty famous and where an old Star Trek episode was filmed) loomed just in front of us. Huge, weathered stones surrounded us and the landscape as far as the eye could see. We took in their beauty as much as we could, but wanted to make it to Agua Dulce and Mexican food.

At Maria Bonita, we were treated like royalty and ordered more than our stomachs could handle. Mugs of beer, plates of guac, rice, beans, assorted meats, and tortillas sent us spiraling towards a place of discomfort. To finish, they gave us shots of tequila which Basecamp drank, but hates.

We discussed hiking a few more miles outside of town so that we could camp, but a local who was having dinner with his niece overheard us. He approached our table, clearly noticed we were thru-hikers, and offered to let us camp on his property just a mile or so down the road. We smiled, thanked him, and sat there in disbelief at just how much the trail had been providing. After unplugging our things from an outlet in one of the booths, we stood and packed our bags to leave. Basecamp looked sick, very sick, and she told me as much. The tequila was the icing on the cake for her.

That night, we crossed the front driveway of our host, found a cozy tree in a meadow, pitched the tent, and Basecamp groaned from discomfort. There were a few times that she looked like she might have thrown up, but she never did. I’d never seen her actually throw up since meeting her back in May of 2020. She must have had an iron stomach and resolve. I slept well that night, but she laid there uncomfortable and rigid for hours.


Vazquez Rocks approach

Vazquez Rocks approach


Day 38 // April 12, 2022 // Trail Miles: 15.10 / GPS Recorded Miles: 15.59 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 471.40

~Destination // Protected Campsites at MM 471.40~

Basecamp still didn’t feel 100% when we woke up after the volumes of food we’d had the day before, but a few miles of hiking would make the “meh” go away soon enough. It was an exceptionally chill day. We didn’t come across any other hikers. The weather was cool, and the views rewarding. Vast, expansive rolling hills soon became blanketed with lush grass and verdant trees. It reminded me of landscapes I’d seen back in Ireland and Scotland. Walking in the shade was cool enough to cause goosebumps to pop up on our arms but the sun felt like a warm comfort spotting the gray shadows. With the alpine meadows and groves behind us, we descended back to lower altitude and sagebrush. Looking on our hiking app, we spotted a campsite with photos that looked like a massive cubby carved into a tree grove. We wanted it.

Miles later, we made it. The site was perfect. We were shocked to hear other hikers in a spot next to ours, but we never saw them. Through the trees we would occasionally exchange words back and forth, but they spoke Portuguese with broken English to us so there wasn’t too much to discuss since our Portuguese was a bit rusty. We felt completely protected from any large critter or predator that may want to bother us with such thick brush. Luckily we’d made it before sunset, so we had plenty of time to make a lavish hiker dinner and even watch a few downloaded tv episodes on my phone before bed. We were waking up early again in the morning.


Our campsite grove for the night

Our campsite grove for the night


Day 39 // April 13, 2022 // Trail Miles: 26.80 / GPS Recorded Miles: 27.80 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 498.20

~Destination // Sawmill Campground~

The day was defined by burn-zone and Poodle-Dog Bush. The Bobcat burn zone quickly made itself known. What first started as lush grass and oak gardens turned into barren, sandy wastelands. The remnants of thousands of burned manzanitas covered the landscape, both charred black and lifeless gray. It was sad to see such loss of life, but also reassuring to see some greenery popping up from the sands after less than two years since the fire happened.

Small patches of grass and tenacious shrubs peaked through the surface, but one such plant that wasn’t a welcomed sight was that of the Poodle-Dog Bush. Similar to poison oak or ivy in that a good brush against it can have you reacting to a severe irritant it secretes, you can always tell when a “PDB” is nearby. They look like green fluff tails without blooms and erupt with purple flowers in certain seasons. The aroma, well, they smell like musty, skunky, sweet marijuana. The smell always precedes them. They are opportunistic, so keep an eye out when hiking through burn zones of SoCal.

Once managing to hike through the PDB invasion without a single leg graze, there was another hazard. A few precarious ridges to traverse- washouts. FarOut reviews stated the ridges were treacherous. The loose sand and pebbles gave way underneath our feet, but we passed through without any mishaps other than causing a few miniature sand-slides on the slopes. The miles continued to grow, and so did the lactic acid buildup in our legs. Both of my calves and shins ached, not in severe pain, but just a dull ache. I was starting to get crabby from exhaustion and let Basecamp know I was looking to camp soon.

There were a few flat spots in the grass we could have taken, but not “designated” campsites. She’d already checked our app and saw a split-off for a campground called Sawmill Campground ahead, if we didn’t find anything better before reaching the split. We didn’t. It was a good 0.2 miles straight uphill to the campground, but we had the entire place to ourselves. And to that, it was a bit eerie there. The trees were huge and bare like something from a horror movie, and bullet cases were scattered about. By the time we found a plot we liked, we’d already had to put on our headlamps compounding the ‘eerie’ factor. Scooting broken beer-bottle shards away from where we wanted to pitch our tent, we could see the lights of Los Angeles shimmering in the distance against the dark purple sky. Knowing that there were 3.9 million people just over there in that massive city gave me some comfort despite where we were. The cherry on top for the campground was that it had a new pit privy, and it was all ours.


Bobcat Wildfire of 2020

Bobcat Wildfire of 2020


Day 40 // April 14, 2022 // Trail Miles: 19.40 / GPS Recorded Miles: 19.68 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 517.60

~Destination // Hikertown, USA~

The birds chirped and the sun warmed up the tent. We’d slept in, but it felt great. There was just under a 20-mile stretch left to the infamous Hikertown, and we’d heard rumor of homemade tamales being served there. Taking full advantage of the warm pit privy a few hundred feet away, we started our day and long descent into Hikertown.

Marie’s friend, Megan, had agreed to pick us up the next day in the middle of nowhere by the LA Aqueduct (about 5 miles beyond Hikertown) and take us to her home in Pasadena for a few days (including a full-body massage), and Easter Sunday. On top of that, she was picking us up WITH pancakes and oat milk lattes. We had raw, uninhibited motivation.

Trail wound along valleys and oak groves past the 500-mile marker. Thickets of tall shrubs, cool shade, and grass carpets provided the ideal spot for a lunch break of mac n’ cheese, Basecamp’s specialty. After a lunch and a nap, however, we needed to haul tail to Hikertown before the host retired for the night. We weren’t sure exactly when that was, but we didn’t intend on finding out the hard way. That being said, and with light packs (having eaten out most of the food), we jogged downhill for miles. Surprisingly, the strain on our knees and joints wasn’t even noticeable. What we did notice, however, was the roundabout direction that the trail took us. It added several extra miles to the route whipping and winding, rather than just making a straight line for our destination. We’d come to realize that’s just the nature of the “scenic” PCT.

When we finally got there, it was like a miniature Western Town had been plopped in the middle of nowhere. We couldn’t see or hear anyone at first, only see the empty-looking tiny western homes and businesses lining the property. The deeper we walked in, the more we saw, and were finally able to hear voices coming from the garage of a normal-size house. Dan was there, eating. He’d found a stash, and sweet Martha running the place hooked him (and us) up. We were offered rice and smoked meat, little sandwich packets, and even bought the last two beers they had on site. They rented out some of the small huts there, and we chose the “Captain’s Quarters” to keep us from camping in the heavy grassland winds. I’ll give credit to Basecamp for that. I wanted to save the $25 lodging fee, especially since the units didn’t even have electricity. However, that night when I heard the ceaseless wind pounding against everything in the yard, I was glad to have four solid walls and a roof.


The front entrance to Hikertown, USA

The front entrance to Hikertown, USA


Day 41 // April 15, 2022 // Trail Miles: 5.50 / GPS Recorded Miles: 5.34 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 523.10

~Destination // Pasadena~

We woke up in the “Captain’s Quarters” of Hikertown. There hadn’t been blankets on the bed, so we used our sleeping bags. On the bright side, we’d had a bed to sleep on. The wind had been relentless all night.

During the morning we kept to ourselves and got out of Hikertown quickly. We had about 5 miles to go to the “Evac” point by the LA Aqueduct, in the middle of nowhere. Megan, was heading our way from Pasadena with pancakes, sausage, and oat milk lattes. She’d already scheduled full-body massages for us the next day. We’d be staying with her and her host family, Christeena and Dan Kale (and their kiddos). We were walking 5 short miles into pampering and blessings. We had a quick pace and pep in our step the whole way.

We walked along the ocean blue water rippling through the aqueduct until it was no longer open air. Before we knew it, there was a massive rusted pipe lining the left side of the trail. 30 minutes later we were at a crossroads in the middle of a sand-laden wasteland. All we could see were a few houses in the distance and a tiny shack that could barely fit one person. Luckily, we had enough service for Basecamp to call Megan and get her our exact location. One of the roads we’d been able to take was closed to vehicles, so Megan had to troubleshoot a route around. They were able to sort it out on the call. Shortly after Basecamp hung up, we could see a dust plume heading in our direction. Salvation was on its way. Meghan pulled up, greeted us, ushered us into the air-conditioned car, handed us our breakfast feasts, and shuttled us back to comfort. There’d be no hiking for the next two and a half days.


L.A. Aqueduct

L.A. Aqueduct


Day 42 // April 16, 2022 // Trail Miles: 0.00 / GPS Recorded Miles: 0.00 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 523.10

~Destination // Zero in Pasadena~

Megan and the Kales welcomed us with open arms. They gave us access to their kitchen, washer, and their entire home. We were truly blessed to have found such an oasis in the middle of the desert.

The house was huge, and the kitchen was stocked to the brim with food. We were sleeping in one of the main bedrooms with a king bed and using a lavish deep-basin bath tub to soak our weary bones. The only thing we had to do for the day was endure an hour-long full-body massage, one at a time, and then eat. It was hard work, but someone had to do it. I went first, Basecamp second. It was life-changing, and also the first professional massage I’d ever had. My body would undoubtedly be sore the next day, no matter how much water I drank.

When my hour was up, I traded off with Basecamp. Megan was driving us around and offered to take me to a nearby brewery. She dropped me off and I sat outside with a stout. That was the first time in forty-two days I’d been alone without Basecamp there, or any other hikers. I didn’t know a soul around me. It was nice to sit there for a moment, quiet, reflecting on the last 41 days Basecamp and I had endured together. We were stronger because of it, and I was even more grateful that chose me.

Megan and Basecamp drove up well after an hour had passed. We left and grabbed a few things from Whole Foods (a place that doesn’t really exist in trail towns) and went back to their house for dinner. Megan, Christeena, and one of her friends were making dinner for everyone, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was largely for us. Dinner was steak, and wine, and all the complex carbs our bodies needed to refuel.

I have no recollection of what happened after dinner, which means it must have been a wonderful night.


Rest and relaxation in a warm bed

Rest and relaxation in a warm bed


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Vazquez Rocks

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