Start point: Kitchen Creek, mile 30
Night 1: Mt Laguna, mile 42
End point: Somewhere in the north Laguna Mountains, mile 62
Highlights: Camping alone, great desert views, new friends, awesome trail runners
Lowlights: (temporarily) separating from Chris, rainy weather
I don’t think I’ll quite manage to write daily posts, but I’ll try to do at least every other day. So here is one such post.
Kitchen Creek to Mt Laguna
Our goal for Friday was to get to Mt Laguna, a little mountain town, by lunchtime to chow down on mac and cheese, and then put in a few more miles after that in the afternoon.
Wiki very kindly stuck around and stretched while we slowly packed up our camps (we’ll get faster with practice). Once we got on the trail, we hiked faster, and so quickly lost Wiki. I feel kind of bad about that because they waited for us at camp, but on the other hand, it’s important to walk at a pace that’s comfortable for you, and we wanted to go faster. I haven’t seen them since then, so hopefully no hard feelings there.
We climbed gently for a few miles, and then more steeply. As we rose in elevation above 6,000 feet (c. 1,800 m), the surroundings became less and less desert-like, and really started to remind me of northern California, down in the Yuba River canyon (Sierra City, Downieville), with lots of deciduous trees and some pines.
In fairness, I knew this was coming, but still, wtf.
We were making pretty good progress up the 12 mile ascent, but Chris’s calf started to bother him (moooo!) so he wanted to slow down. I took a 5-10 minute break to let him get ahead. As I charged up the hill behind him, a middle aged guy who was sat on the trail pointed at my guitar and asked me to play him something. He soon admitted that Chris (tricksy bastard) had told him to stall me, as I was hot on his tail. Preferring to play a bit of music and let Chris get a bit further ahead, I indulged the stalling and played Led Zeppelin’s Going to California, which I learned recently for a gig in London (he had requested Stairway to Heaven, which I don’t know, so I figured I’d at least do Zeppelin). The guy then found out I was an economist and used that as a launching point for an anti-socialist rant. 20 minutes later, I managed to put a cork in that and proceeded to chase Chris up the hill.
I caught him about half a mile before Laguna, and he was really struggling with his calf, and wanted to call it a day there. We went to the restaurant for some mac and cheese, where we were joined by Jordan and Chelsea, a hilarious southern couple who live in Johnson City, Tennessee, and Atlanta, respectively (disclaimer: I don’t actually know for a fact that they’re a couple, and I’ve traveled with platonic female friends several times and been victim to that assumption). Jordan is a veteran of the Appalachian Trail, and has subsequently gotten Chelsea into hiking.
Chelsea had tweaked her ankle, so we invited them to split a room with us at the Laguna Lodge (?). So we walked down the road, grabbed some beers and a pie, and rented out a little two-room cabin for the night. We hung out for the evening, drank some beers, ate a boysenberry apple pie, played some tunes on the guitar, did laundry in buckets, then went to bed.
A multi-use paper plate: two Cherokee place names that Northeast Tennesseans have had their way with, pronunciation-wise; lyrics to The Tractor Song, which our new friends were all about; pie stains
Laguna to wherever the hell I am now
In the morning, Chris and I decided that we should separate, at least for the time being. His body clearly isn’t yet ready to be hiking 15 miles per day, every day, while I’d prefer to go more like 20 per day. No sense breaking him or frustrating me by trying to find a compromise in that. Chris is going to take it a bit easier for a little bit to let his calf recover and build up some of that endurance, and we’ll work on getting back together once he’s capable of doing 20 miles in a day. His attitude has remained very positive throughout his difficulties, so I’m quite confident that he’ll have a great time doing his own thing for a bit. He did I think 8 miles today, so he’s not completely immobilized or anything.
Leaving the cabin this morning. Though his legs may falter, that grin will never go away.
Mt Laguna was in a storm cloud today, which made for some interesting hiking. I finally got to rig up my sunbrella to my pack, but its first use was ironically for the rain.
Also today was the PCT 50, a 50 mile ultra marathon going 25 miles out and back on yesterday’s and today’s stretch of the trail. It was a little annoying having to step off the trail constantly, but I gotta say, all the runners were so friendly that I really didn’t mind. About half said at least a sentence to me (keep in mind they’re in the middle of a race), and probably a quarter wished me well on my trek or told me to enjoy Canada. I took a picture of one runner Shane (?) and his friend Tyrell, and then asked if I could put it on my blog. We chatted for 30 seconds or so (hence how I know their names), and then on the way back (it’s an out-and-back race, remember), he asked me the name of my blog. I doubt he’ll have remembered it, as he still had 22 miles to run at that point, but if you ever read this, Shane, I hope your race finished strong, and props for representing the trail running community so well.
Shane and Tyrell emerging from the mist
I also got two breakfast burritos from the turnaround point, which, as far as I can tell, were intended as a thank you to the hikers for tolerating the runners for the day. The trail runners love the PCT and its thru hikers, and thru hikers (this author, at least) love them back.
The clouds lifted in the afternoon, revealing the most epic scenery so far in the hike, and probably the best desert views I’ve ever seen, with a view several thousand feet straight down the escarpment to the Anza-Borrego Desert.
After snapping these pics, I put my head down and didn’t break stride for about an hour and a half, which felt super good. I eventually made it to a campsite (by which I mean an area where people have placed tents before, not an actual campground) about 20 miles down the track from where I started the day, marking my first 20 mile day of this hike. No one else was there (I weirdly only saw four other hikers today after I left Laguna), so I claimed it for my own.
So here I am in my tent, alone on some desert plain. It’s some pretty great solitude, though I put on the rain fly because I saw some suspect clouds coming over the mountain, so no stars for me this time. I think this is also the first time I’ve camped totally alone, which is a little bit scary. There’s a light breeze which is fluttering my rain fly, and it’s easy to let the imagination fly to wondering who or what is on the other side of it. I should fall asleep fine, I think, but a slight lingering fear of the dark is simmering in me at the moment.
Tomorrow I go 15 miles into the little hiker town of Julian to top up my food. It’s Sunday, so I’m hoping to split a hotel room with a couple other hikers and watch this week’s Game of Thrones episode. For now, I sleep!