Day 24: A Strange Day

I feel like a broken record at this point, but the Pacific Crest Trail is weird. It constantly does the opposite of what you would expect, and never travels the way that makes sense. It winds around mountains and through valleys in endlessly surprising ways, as if it were made to challenge the reign of reason (and rhyme).

Today was no different, which I guess is some kind of logic. We woke early under huge draping trees and set about our work of packing everything right into the spot it has claimed in our bags. Bags in bags in bags. My mother joked that my life was about packing and unpacking, and that is certainly true. 

 From the large oaks and slender evergreens we wound around, illogically, more and more bouldered and bare hillsides. The trail, almost perfectly flat today (except the parts where I say plainly, “well this climb was certainly unexpected.”), cut across the hills for as far as the eye could follow.

The stream, that we had rested our feet in and gotten our water from last night, was left far on the valley floor as we sailed along the ridge that some unspoken trail setters had chosen long ago. We reached our next water ten miles later, at a lovely large bridge. We clambered down to reach it, under the impressively, strangely large and high steel and wood structure. It was cold and perfect. It was a welcome break as the morning heated up, a sure sign of a hot day.

The book warned us of this land — a hot, barren land full of long water carries and shameless stretches. We were nervous as the heat picked up and the shade got further apart. It was true, we discovered. We were forced to eat second breakfast on a most unpleasant sharp rock in the only spot of shade that mile. 

 And then, as if out of a dream, we came across the hot spring. There were people! After days of seeing so few (I will never know where these hikers hide), it was frightening and comforting. Were they nice? Did I know them? Would I have to say many “hello”s?

They were, I knew a few, and not at all. The hot spring, known for leeches that swim up urethras (urethrae?) and some kind of deadly disease that strikes if you put your head under water, was both intriguing and terrifying (as so many things are out here!). I put my toes in the hot, which was too hot, and legs in the cold (up to my knees, like a good girl). Then, sadly, I tore myself away to eat lunch and dream about dunking myself in the cool water.

I talked to a strange older gentleman and watched in surprise as a whole bunch of nudists of all ages enjoyed themselves in the water. Then I put my knees back in, until I couldn’t stand it any more and went in (up to my neck). One or two doggy paddles was all I needed.

Then we were back on the trail, finding another huge bridge (rainbow!) and a stunning amount of trail maintenance (Rainbow called it the Pacific Crest Highway it was so built up) and graffiti. This must be the local hangout, but we couldn’t get over how far they would have to walk (and where from?) to get out there. 

 We walked and walked on the boring, flat highway with the small stream far, far below. The graffiti was ugly, and the day was hot and hot and hot.

Then we turned a corner and saw a great big dam protecting the most comically (and sad, considering the drought) small body of water (barely a pond). It was huge and concrete and we were confused again — what was this day? 

 We had our first ford and then sleepily, tiredly tripped along to the first camp spot we found — on an exposed, super windy ridge. We fought the wind of this massive grassland or desert or whatever it is and set up camp. We ate, battling the wind, and it was madness.

We called it quits, repacked it all, and happily trotted on a mile. We are in a campsite with a merry band of tents. This is the most hikers I’ve seen on trail, twelve or fifteen of us all in a bundle. And what a happy little family we are! 

 I can never guess where I’ll be at the end of the day. But perhaps it is better that way. Perhaps it is just as I like it. And with the most miles I’ve ever walked in one day under my belt (23.31), things are just the way they should be.