The Desert Holds Its Own Personal Beauty
After 35 days it is done. It feels great to finally be sitting in Kennedy Meadows downing a couple of beers and a burger knowing that the desert is behind us. It was great to experience it but I won’t miss it. OK, maybe I’ll miss it a little. Here are some thought on what the desert was to me, what was great, and what I could do without.
There is beauty out there
Looking from affair at the vastness of what looks to be nothingness, a harsh, aggressive dry environment of barren hills and shimmering heat waves on the horizon, you could be forgiven for thinking there is not much out here. This is how I looked at the desert initially. A dead landscape. But I was so wrong. Up close and personal, there is beauty in the desert. It’s just in the details. It’s in the diversity of plant life, the many hillsides exploding with color from wildflowers; in the lizards scampering off the trail in front of you; in the stillness of the morning air. I’ll miss these things.
Unexpected trail magic
The selflessness and kindness of complete strangers never ceased to amaze me in the desert. Countless times I came across trail angels who had given up their weekends to set up on the side of the trail in the middle of nowhere, offering an oasis of sorts in the harshness of the desert. Cold beers, watermelon, Gatorade, doughnuts, hot dogs, you name it. Always in the places where you least expect it but certainly appreciate it. They are true angels.
But have we be become too soft?
Trail angels have the best of intentions to ease our way through the trail but have they made it too easy, particularly in regard to water caches. How often do we read “don’t rely on water caches,” yet so often I’ve come across hikers doing exactly that. In the fight to drop weight, they carry less water than they should and expect water to be there for them. Don’t get me wrong; I have taken water from caches but never arrived with lack of water to get through to the next source. What is wrong with carrying a little more? Caches are making the PCT too easy. What did hikers do before the days of caches, apps, etc. I’d like to see a cache with a bag of concrete and a teaspoon, with instructions for correct dosage to toughen the [email protected]&? up. We need to take greater responsibility for ourselves and not be so reliant on others. I can understand caches for emergency use but too many are now seen as just another water source.
Of course it’s the desert and it’s going to be hot but I did not realize just how hot things could get. Initially, I tried pushing through the heat of the day but quickly realized that was not going to work in the long run. I adopted a new strategy of early morning starts, waiting out the sun, and finishing in the evening. But I don’t think it was the heat that was the major issue, it was more the lack of shade. There have been some great moments, though, waiting out the sun. One was the middle of the day with three or four other hikers all huddled under the limited shade of a Joshua tree.
Sunrise and sunsets
Adopting the early start, late finish strategy meant that I was privy to some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Vivid hues falling across the landscape. We just don’t get to see this much in our off-trail lives. Saturated colors enliven the surroundings and make for the perfect time for taking photos.
I, like many others, have carried an expensive tent through the desert only to cowboy camp about half the time. The simplicity it offers is ideal. Fast set up and pack up. Staring up at the stars at night, experiencing the wind on the face, and watching the critters come to life in the dark all put us closer to the environment in which we’ve chose to immerse ourselves in for four or five months.
I love them. They are courteous, most of the time, letting you know they are there. Coming from Australia we don’t get that early warning so I appreciate the rattlers.
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