A Day in the PCT Life

A Southern California desert sunrise is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. On this particular morning I’m in a valley, and as I begin packing up my tent, the sun is getting brighter, making the mountains to the east a dark silhouette. The mountains to my west are warming up, dusky blues turning to purple and pinks—the reverse of the sunset the night before. As the sun grows higher, more and more ripples in the valley below became bathed in gold.

I set out on the trail, and the ground still smells of the night—of wet earth and fresh grass. The birds are noisy this morning. Less than a mile in and I am greeted by the most beautiful lake. I saw Silverwood Lake on the map but wasn’t prepared for its beauty. It stretches as far as the eye can see, nestled between impressive mountains on all sides. The sun is just peeking over the mountains and reflecting a bright, silver light on the water. I can barely look at it, it is so bright, but I also can’t look away. The only people who were earlier risers than me are two fishermen on the shore and several in boats, sitting in silence, waiting. My walk continues around the lake for about five miles. Every time I turn a corner and get a different view of the lake I have to stop and marvel. The PCT surprises me in this way often. You can’t plan everything or know what lies ahead until you come upon it.

I’ve decided that every day I will take a few minutes to stop walking and meditate. I do this for the first time by the lake and I start with two minutes. I clear the thoughts from my head—the worries about budgeting on the trail, about my lack of health insurance, about when the next water source is. I focus instead on the moment—on the sun on my face and the sounds around me. The birds are still a ferocious choir. Ducks splash into the water below. The fishermen’s conversation drifts up from the beach to where I am high above. There is the sound of a road in the distance and then a plane overhead. The most peaceful and constant sound is the water lapping against the shore. It sounds like summer.

Shortly after my walk takes me away from the lake, I cross a road. A car sees me and another hiker just ahead of me and quickly pulls over and a woman hops out. She first goes up to the girl in front of me and hands her something, and than walks toward me and gives me a Nutri-Grain bar! I am ravenous today and already ate my morning snack even though it’s before 9 a.m., so I am very grateful for the random act of kindness. She tells me that she is on her way to plant apple trees in an historic orchard for Earth Day. It’s Earth Day! I had no idea. I will make sure to appreciate my surroundings even more today. (Later I check and realize Earth Day isn’t for a while, but I have no sense of what day it is on trail and would believe anything.)

Soon, I make a stop at a recreation area to fill up my water bottles, wash my face in the sink, and use the bathroom, which has a real, flushing toilet! So luxurious. It’s Saturday and there is a huge family having a cookout. When I get back on the trail I meet a nice couple from Northern Nevada who are also attempting to thru-hike. A while later I pass Silvia, who I met the day before at a stream crossing. The next 12 miles I am mostly alone with my thoughts. I know there are hundreds (and will be thousands at some point) of other thru and section hikers, but I don’t see a sign of them. There is a point between towns, and even during each day, where people spread out and I’m left to enjoy my solitude. I know they are around somewhere, but I feel like it’s just me out there in the wilderness. Since today is Saturday there is the occasional day hiker—day walkers I’ve started calling them. I cross many dirt roads in this stretch and at least 50 dirt bike riders zoom by in the space of half an hour. It looks fun.

It’s a hot day, and the trail is exposed the whole time, winding along mountains and ridges, getting closer and closer to snowy Baden-Powell. I’m coming up on 15 miles for the day and I have to take a break. My feet feel the weight of the miles, my throat is parched, and my stomach is grumbling like always. There is no shade anywhere. I finally find a bush big enough to provide some shade, but I am sitting directly on the trail. After consulting my map I discover that there is a McDonald’s only two miles ahead! That changes things. I scarf down some peanut M&Ms and pretzels and start walking toward those golden arches at a feverish pace, thinking about what I’m going to order and how many.

About one-fifth of a mile before the road to McDonald’s I stop short—there is a rattlesnake blocking the path. I back up slowly and look for another way around, but there is none. He is lying directly across the trail. On one side is a rock wall and the other is a steep drop into a creek. I don’t know what to do. I try walking toward him, thinking he will want to avoid me, but he doesn’t budge. I back up some more and throw a few rocks to try to scare him. He doesn’t care. I check to see if I have service and I look up “how to make rattlesnakes move.” It says you can move them with a stick. No thank you. It says “do not startle them for it will put them on the defense and they will attack.” Good thing this one wasn’t concerned with my rock throwing because in hindsight that was not a good move. I do not want to go anywhere near him so finally I decide my only move is to climb down into the creek and them climb back up farther down. I back up and find a spot that has somewhat stable rocks I can climb down and do just that.

McDonald’s is finally in my sights. When I get there, Odo, Cruise Control, and Emilien are there, laughing and happily finishing their McFlurrys. I order a Quarter Pounder meal and a McFlurry, and when I’m done I order another Quarter Pounder meal and eat that too. My undying hunger is finally satiated. After my meal I walk two miles, under a railroad, through a tunnel, and then over the same railroad after waiting for the trains to pass (rush hour on the PCT). I come upon a beautiful grassy tent site and decide to stop for the night. It’s just before 5 p.m. so I still have plenty of daylight left. I read, write, and enjoy the last few hours of light. A few hours later Odor, Lullaby, Butch, and Taz stroll up and camp near me. We sit around chatting for a bit and wondering what creates the large light ring around the moon. Looks like something extraterrestrial. When it’s almost 9 p.m., hiker midnight, we retreat to our tents and the warmth of our sleeping bags.

A typical day in the PCT life.

 

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