I wake up early of my own volition. It’s dark but I’m fully awake and it’s warm out. I eventually decide I should just get up even though I don’t know what time it is, and pack up super quickly. I fold up my fresh Tyvek groundsheet as quietly as I can, as it crinkles loudly. It’s so much faster with a groundsheet for cowboying and not just using my tent!
I eat random things and fill a water bottle up at the faucet. The water is cloudy and I filter it, as suggested by the rangers here. Then I’m out, the sun rising and casting long shadows on the forest floor. The trail switchbacks down to the highway, and I pause to use the bathroom and empty my trash and eat before starting the switchbacks up to Baden Powell.
I hike behind a guy named Bill for a while, as I’m always faster when I’m matching someone else’s pace. That way I’m not lazy and fighting the urge to take breaks every ten minutes. The switchbacks are challenging but good, my pack not feeling too horrible, I’m sweating and focused on the trail above me, trekking poles pumping back and forth to keep up my momentum and pull myself upwards.
Near the top, we start hitting snow banks, and I and the other hikers head straight upwards, getting back on the trail where it switchbacks again. Catch ‘Em is here, playing rap and Disney movie soundtracks from his phone out loud. It’s kind of annoying so I hike ahead. We pass a tree along the side of the trail that has a memorial sign for a guy named Walley Waldron, with the PCT heading off on the right.
I continue straight ahead and I’m at the top and I set my pack down against a squat little obelisk memorial for Lord Baden Powell, who founded the Boy Scouts. I walk up the last hundred feet to the proper top, and look at the LA sprawl for a while before heading back to eat lunch. I sit with Catch Em and a thru hiking couple, listening to the Lion King soundtrack on Catch Em’s phone. I think it’s one of the only Disney animated classic movies I’ve actually seen.
We head down, navigating around and over even more snow banks. They’re not bad at all. Julian and Anika are down camping off the side of the trail. Apparently Julian is pretty sick. I remember that I have a probiotic drink powder and give it to Anika.
I hike behind a Canadian couple, Larry and Amanda, as they slackpack. I manage to keep up with them for a couple of miles, until Little Jimmy spring. There is cold spring water flowing out of a pipe into a trough, and someone has made flat-top log benches to sit on. We talk with two day hikers who are super excited to get to talk with us; one of them wants to hike the PCT sometime soon. They’re doing the JMT this summer and they have the same start date as I did! It feels weird to have hikers come up to us and be in awe of us; we’re just walking. But, then, I was the exact same way.
After drinking the cold, delicious water, and eating some more bagels with cream cheese, I head out. Everyone has stopped again at Islip Pass. From here, you can either do a 20 mile trail walk around an endangered frog detour, or go further along the PCT and do a short 2.7 mile road walk around. I elect to do the road walk with a bunch of other people, while Big Sky takes the trail alternate.
The PCT goes straight up for 4 miles, along the tops of ridges with views of LA. Even though we’ve been above LA all day, I haven’t had service at all. I cross the highway again and do another short section of climbing, then rest at a picnic area. I boil water for the Mountain House sticky rice and mango I got in Wrightwood, because it’s one of my favorite foods. Then I let it sit in my mesh while I start the road walk.
I decide to play music as I walk, and I sing aloud as I pick my way down the road on the shoulder. I switch from each side of the road several times to get a better shoulder. It’s not that dangerous; there aren’t that many cars, and there’s always at least 3 feet on the side of the road to walk on. It’s the first time I’ve been able to listen to music, since my earphones died and I haven’t replaced them, and I thoroughly enjoy myself. The sun gets closer to the horizon and bugs zip through the air, glowing like dust motes in the late-afternoon light.
I get to the turnoff and am hiking into the campground when I see a man jogging back and forth in a small clearing, and turn my music off. He’s blowing air out of his mouth as he runs. He isn’t wearing a shirt and car keys dangle from a loop around his neck.
“Hi!!” He says, and asks whether I actually need my trekking poles for stabilization when I’m walking. I say no, but that I like them.
“Where did you come from?”
“Mexico,” I say.
“Habla Espanol?” He asks, cocking his head to the side.
“No,” I say, and explain that I’m hiking from Mexico to Canada on the PCT.
“You’re surely not alone?”
“Please tell me you’re carrying pepper spray.”
“Nope.” I say. At this point I’m walking on, and he asks if he can jog with me into the campground for a while. He jogs in circles as he continues to talk to me.
“But, bears, cougars, and rattlesnakes come out at night and attack you,” he says. At this point we’re in the middle of the campground and he points to the information board. “It says on that sign.” I just shake my head. He points out a poster with a bunch of events listed for Memorial Day weekend. “Look, there’s a talk about snake risk,” he says.
I look at the poster. Biologist with snakes, it says. Huh.
He says he’ll make some dinner soon and I can join him after he’s finished running, and then he starts jogging around the campground. I set my pack down and open my sticky rice with mango. It’s absolutely disgusting so I throw it away; slimy, liquid mango cubes, dehydrated rice, sesame seeds and some sugary water.
I fill up my water bottles at the faucet; the running man points it out for me on one of his lackadaisical jogging loops. I reluctantly agree to join him for dinner, since we’re in the middle of the campground with a ton of other people around, so it’s not like he can do anything too weird, and I can’t turn down real food.
I sit down at his table and he pulls a paper bag out of his car. He starts pulling out peanut butter jars, baby food that he got on clearance for 10 cents, and muffins that he got for free at his college reunion. I eat a muffin and talk with him for a while, which is super weird. I realize suddenly that he might be autistic. I awkwardly explain that I need to hike on and find a campsite further up the trail for the night before the sun sets. He offers me a spot in his campsite, but I say no, and he asks if he can hike with me up the trail for a bit, and I say no thanks, I’m good. I say goodbye, and he’s super sad and says he’ll be lonely. He’s definitely on the autistic spectrum so he doesn’t mean it in a creepy way because he thinks I’m his friend, but that doesn’t make it much less creepy. I’m glad to walk away.
I walk up through the campground and see a bunch of hikers. They invite me to camp, and I quickly change my clothes and put on a hat so the guy won’t recognize me from afar, which would be awkward and unwanted. His campsite is just across the creek, the view shielded by willow and aspen. I eat the rest of my bagels and cream cheese for dinner, and we make a fire and hang out around it. Runner guy, now in a shirt, continues jogging around the campground. He runs towards where I was going, disappears for 10 minutes, and then runs back. I have a feeling he may have been looking for me, and I’m glad I stayed here with other hikers.
The couple I met on the top of Baden Powell and Godongo are here, and we talk very late, standing around the campfire long after we’ve put it out. Our senses of humor jive, and for once I seem to be on the same pop-culture bandwidth as someone else.
We realize how late it is (10:30) and we crawl into our beds. I’m cowboy camping and a huge spider keeps on scuttling up and trying to get in my sleeping bag, which freaks me out.