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Written Tuesday, 27 April 2021
Had my best sleep on the Trail so far last night. Barely woke up at all between the time I went to bed and 0400.
During our dinner conversation last night, I learned just how fortunate I had been yesterday, avoiding almost all of the rain. My companions had not been quite so lucky. They had been seriously doused during the hike, so now I'm feeling pretty lucky.
Don't worry. It won't last.
I was up a tad earlier than normal, and I wolfed down breakfast quickly, followed by a speedy pack-up, an "idiot check" for items left behind, and a hasty exit from camp before anyone else was up. With only 9.3 miles to go to Warner Springs on a mild morning, I didn't even need to load up with extra water. My pack was probably at my lowest weight since I started hiking a week ago.
I crossed Montezuma Valley Road, just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. In that golden hour, I hiked out of our pine oasis back into terrain that is more traditionally associated with the desert--low scrub and sand.
And then, remarkably, the vegetation changed again, from scrub to some form of low grass, not green but golden, that rippled in the breeze as I walked. I would find out later that this land is part of the Warner Ranch and prime grazing territory. No cows in sight for the moment, though.
The Trail itself was flat, wide, and relatively straight, varying only a few feet up and down and a few degrees left or right. Bird song fills the air. Skies are blue. The sun is warm but not hot. On mornings like this, you feel like you could walk forever.
Presently, I came upon a well-known PCT landmark, Eagle Rock, just a few feet off the Trail. You can see a photo above in the picture ribbon. I won't tell you which picture it is. You'll have to figure that out for yourself 🙂. The formation is all natural, but it looks like it might be used to prove the existence of an ancient civilization ("Tonight on 'In Search Of...'" Leonard Nimoy, call your office, please!)
The few remaining miles to Warner Springs roll by easily. I even spot cattle in the distance. By 0940, I find myself at a road crossing near the Warner Springs Community Information Center. In pre-COVID days, the Center provided a place for hikers to rest, shower, pick up resupply boxes, and relax. Unfortunately, in the last year, they've had to drastically reduce services. Today, it looks to be locked up right.
Departing the Trail, I turn eastward to trudge 0.8 miles up California Highway 79 toward the Warner Springs Post Office. It's uphill. The shoulders are narrow as traffic whizzes by. The sun is quite a bit higher and warmer than it was just an hour ago. And road walking always seems hotter and more tiring than Trail walking.
At least the Post Office is open and efficient. The Postmaster knows just by looking at me (or possibly by smelling) that I'm here to pick up a General Delivery resupply box. He asks for my name, locates the box, delivers it to me, and asks me not to unbox the goodies there in the lobby.
As I exit the Post Office, headed toward some picnic tables on the other side of a nearby gas station, I look at the printed label on my package. "7 lb, 10 oz," it says. Ugh! So long, lightweight pack! And that's just for 4 days...
Shortly after I sit down at the tables, two more hikers, Marcel and Regina, arrive with their own boxes. Like Silke and Florian, they are from Germany, and we talk about their home region, not too far from where my brother, sister, and I spent happy years growing up in Heidelberg and Karlsruhe.
Marcel and Regina are happy and full of laughs, although they both admit to having some difficulty breaking in some new shoes. They are already looking forward to getting to Idyllwild in a few days to get shoes that suit them better. I say a silent thank you to the hiking gods that my feet are just sore from the hiking. I can't imagine having to walk the miles in shoes that don't fit right.
Sore feet or not, Marcel and Regina are faster than me. They have their boxes emptied, broken down, and thrown away before before I am even done sorting. We take turns going to the gas station to get Gatorades and burritos for second breakfast, and they are off.
It takes me a few more minutes to get myself sorted out and re-packed. In the meantime, several more hikers show up and Silke, Lauren, and Florian also arrive. We have just a quick minute to discuss the next few days, and we decide to try to get a place to stay together in Idyllwild, and I'm on my way, staggering a bit under the weight of my fat backpack. Thank you, ZPacks, for a pack that carries (a lot) more weight than advertised.
Highway 79 forms a loop with the PCT, and I could continue around the loop to reintercept the Trail north of where I left it, but instead, I decide to double back to the Community Center where I departed the Trail earlier. So, overall, I have added 1.6 miles to my hike today. On the way back down, I meet Karolina headed to the Post Office so all 4 Ambassadors are now accounted for.
Turning back on to the Trail, the weather immediately cools, and it's not my imagination. Clouds are starting to gather, as a second wave of yesterday's frontal system begins to slide through our area.
In contrast with this morning's Trail, this afternoon's Trail becomes decidedly climby. I'm not too uncomfortable under an overcast sky, though.
Then it starts to rain... and I pass a mockingbird sitting in a tree, and she is specifically mocking me. Yes, she is looking directly at me and laughing.
Good thing I don't believe in omens or anything.
The rain never does get past the drizzle stage so I don't stop to get into my rain gear, even though it's a tad chilly. I catch up to Marcel and Regina after an hour or so. They have chosen to get into rain gear, but they are still happy and laughing.
As was the case yesterday, the views are a bit curtailed by the lowering sky, but I have a chance to think about the Ambassadors and other close friends I've made while hiking:
Skip (my "trail rabbi" from the AT with whom I have hiked about a thousand miles, off and on)
Tupelo Honey (probably the strongest hiker I know, and the only one of my first group of Trail buddies to complete the AT as a thru hike)
Blue Bunny (huge guy, strong hiker, even stronger family man)
The Count (certifiable genius mathematician and computer scientist)
Prometheus (bringer of good cheer, whom I've mentioned before)
I loved hiking with and socializing with all these great people, and I feel the same way about the Ambassadors. They are wonderful, smart, fun people with diverse perspectives on life and hiking. I feel better when I am around them, and I hope I will see them again.
But nothing--absolutely nothing--is guaranteed to long-distance hikers. The vagaries of pace, injury, differing goals and other things can easily separate hikers. On the other hand, you can often hike for days or weeks without seeing a particular friend and then you turn a corner and there she or he is, in the flesh.
Because we don't know if we'll see each other again any time soon (or ever), we just tend to say things like, "Happy Trails," or, "See you up the Trail," when we part company.
Anyway, I'm snapped out of my revery on hiking and friendship by two younger, faster guys (Bear Slayer and Hamburgler) who pass me from behind at a pace I conservatively estimate to be about 157 miles an hour. Probably more. Nimble and speedy, they make hiking look effortless.
At any rate, now that I'm back in the real world, I notice how tired I am, but I have dried out and there's a tiny camp site nearby that will just barely fit my tent. I have plenty of water to dry camp and still get me to the next water source in the morning. So, decision made. I drop my pack and get ready for the evening.
I am safe, dry(ish), and warm in my tent tonight.
Happy Trails, friends!
Miles hiked today: 21.6 Total miles hiked: 123.4
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