Day 30 (Apr. 23): Agua Dulce, Descanso Dulce (Sweet Water, Sweet Rest) Before sunrise, I pack up my tent as quietly as possible, since other hikers are in tents very close to mine behind the North Fork Ranger Station. Dwight and Molly are meeting me at the Acton KOA, just a little over 8 miles up the trail, and they can only stay about 2/3rds of the day, so I’m eager to spend as much time as possible with them.
I start hiking by the light of my Waka Waka solar charger and light – I clip it to my sternum strap and adjust it to focus the light on the trail ahead of me. Much better, in my opinion, than a headlamp.
Soon, the sun is out in full force, and I’m bounding mostly downhill. It turns out that this section of trail is heavily used by trail runners, and it’s great to see so many people out enjoying their local “piece” of the PCT.
Once again, hills that look brown from a distance are actually full of beautiful flowering plants, including Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon sp., at right), California Flannel Bush (Fremontodendron californicum), and some sages (Salvia sp.).
I soon see Forget-Me-Not ahead of me – she and Beast camped up the trail a bit from the North Fork Ranger Station. As the trail descends to the paved road near Acton, I catch up with them at a picnic table near a parking lot where someone has set up refreshments for the local trail running club, and I tell them that if they are going from Acton to Agua Dulce, they can slack-pack, because Dwight will be at Acton with a car, and can drive their packs to Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce. Slack-packing is hiking with a minimal pack (perhaps just water and snacks). So we take the short side-trail to the Acton KOA where we wait for Dwight and Molly to arrive. Meanwhile, we find Wildfire, a Canadian hiker, who is limping around Acton KOA with an overuse injury, and agree to transport her to Hiker Heaven as well. So when Dwight and Molly arrive, we cram four backpacks and two hikers (Wildfire and me) into the car, alongside my numerous plastic tubs with resupply stuff, and head for the most amazing Trail Angel place imaginable: Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce.
Hiker Heaven is the product of the phenomenal organizational talents of Donna Saufley. About one mile off the main street of Agua Dulce, it has a guest house with a shower and tub, a fully-equipped kitchen, several bedrooms, and a living room with lots of space for hanging out (where Dwight, above, enjoys playing the “house guitar” while I work on my resupply); lots of spaces around the property for tents; clean “loaner” clothes hikers can wear while Donna and her helpers launder our hiking clothes, which are then delivered clean and neatly folded; canister fuel for purchase; well-organized hiker boxes that hikers use to leave items they don’t need, or find items they need; and much, much more. There are horses and dogs and lovely groupings of drought-tolerant plants in bloom. The donation jar is discreetly placed, but I hope all my fellow hikers find it (hint: in the garage near the fuel canisters for sale) and leave a nice donation to help defray all the expenses involved in the services that are so generously provided by these amazing trail angels!
I use the guest house to prep my resupply for the next stretch of trail (organizing my meals, replenishing my sunblock and other supplies, etc.), while Dwight plays the guitar. Tim (“MP3”), my 19-year-old hiker friend from the Netherlands, returns from a group trip to the REI, and he plays some guitar as well.
When it is time for Dwight and Molly to leave, they drive me back to Acton KOA so that I can hike the 10-or-so miles from there back to Agua Dulce, going through the often-filmed Vasquez Rocks in the process. (Early Star Trek, anyone?) We also give Sparks a ride back to Acton so he can wait for the Post Office to open on Monday and retrieve his resupply box there – he ended up at Agua Dulce with a resupply box in Acton by a series of hilarious-in-hindsight missteps. (And this is a good example of why I see Sparks so often on trail, even though he hikes much faster than I do…)
Once I hike back to Agua Dulce, I stop at Sweetwater Farms, the local grocery store, and get a ride to Hiker Heaven, along with Team Emerson and some other hikers, from Hiker Heaven volunteer Ron, rumored to be the founder of Mountain Laurel Designs. We have the fun of watching 9-year-old Emerson take big swigs from a gallon jug of milk, and I enjoy a great evening of hiker camaraderie, with Beast, Forget-Me-Not, Tim/MP3, Team Emerson, and many others. The one thing you can count on from thru-hikers, however, is total respect for “hiker midnight,” which is 9 pm. By then, all is quiet, and I have a nice spot in the guest house living room, next to Beast, FMN, and a hiker who quietly packs up and hits the trail at around 3am, so he can do the road-walk out of Agua Dulce before it gets hot.
Today’s mileage: 18.42 miles (North Fork Ranger Station, PCT Mile 436.08, to Acton KOA, Mile 444.31, then, later in the day, Acton KOA to Agua Dulce, Mile 454.50)
Day 31 (Apr. 24): A Hiker Heaven Nearo, a Mary Poppins Lunch, and a Trail that is Mostly a Road
I spend the morning lazing about Hiker Heaven, with the morning hours passing blissfully slowly so that my “nearo” (a day with very few miles hiked) almost feels like a true zero. Rainbow hikes out early, as do Beast and Forget-Me-Not, with Beast (below, left) sporting a shirt she found in the hiker box. Their packs are huge, but I’m not about to offer advice to people who can hike circles around me while wearing such beautiful smiles.
I pack up my gear in slow-motion, and then walk into town with the fabulous Mary Poppins (Milissa) for a long lunch. Mary Poppins and I are both signed up for an on-trail snow class that will take us from Chicken Spring Lake (in the High Sierra) over Forester Pass, and we discuss timing it so that we are in the same class, and can hike together from Kennedy Meadows to Chicken Spring Lake. Yay! After lunch, I hike on (in Agua Dulce, the main road through town IS the PCT), while Milissa returns to Hiker Heaven for a full zero.
The “trail” turns out to be road for quite a while, but soon enough, I’m in the kind of gentle California rolling hills that I’ve often gazed at from the road, wishing I could be hiking across them – and the PCT provides the perfect opportunity to do just that. It certainly isn’t wilderness, but the land looks cared-for, and loved.
There are a few locals walking with babies and dogs, happy to chat about the PCT; there are familiar chaparral plants in bloom.
Once I’m past the dirt roads that lace the lower sections, I have these beautiful hills all to myself, and I find a nice, tiny spot halfway up the hill and set up my tent for an early end-of-day. Today, I have no schedule, my next resupply is far away, and I can enjoy an early camp and a leisurely dinner that is quite tasty, even if it is something I “cook” and eat out of a freezer bag.
Today’s “nearo” mileage: 6.09 miles, ending at PCT Mile 460.59.
Day 32 (Apr. 25): A Beautiful Day, Right Up to the [next] Fire Closure Today is another day in gentle rolling hills, with few people in sight. A local runner passes me and simply says, “Enjoy Canada.” Sweet!
As I cross a paved road and head up the next hill, I’m thinking about Wildfire, Prince and others who have had overuse injuries, and how lucky I am to have been essentially injury-free. At that instant, I start experiencing left knee pain with every uphill step. I look down at the road I’ve just crossed, knowing it’s my best chance to get somewhere (where?) if I have an injury. I can’t face that prospect, so I take out my Leucotape and fashion what I imagine a Cho-Pat strap is like, and keep going. I take some Advil and decide it will be fine – and it is.
There’s a lovely stretch of oak-lined trail:
And then there is the morning’s water source: Bear Spring at PCT Mile 463.24, which turns out to be a small flow from a length of pipe (at right), with the next water 15 miles away.
I see some of the largest examples I’ve ever seen of Wild Cucumber (Marah macrocarpa) fruit here, though I’ve been seeing this amazing plant, which I totally love for about 12 different reasons, since Day 1 on the trail. It is sometimes called Manroot because the underground tuber can weigh more to 220 pounds and be several meters long. With winter rains, vines emerge from the tuber and scramble quickly across shrubs or the ground, using curly tendrils to grab support. Tiny flowers lead to the large, spiky fruit shown below. At some point, the fruit turns brown, then ruptures, scattering large seeds in the process. All of this happens fairly quickly, and by the time the dry summer arrives, all that remains is the underground tuber, until the next winter rains. Don’t try to sample this fruit – it’s probably toxic to humans, and there isn’t any fleshy part that looks edible, though wildlife benefit from the large seeds.
There are some Dudleya starting to bloom along the trail, as well (left).
At PCT Mile 478.23, the trail crosses the paved San Francisquito Road, where water is available from an outdoor spigot at the nearby fire / ranger station. But where the trail continues on the far side of San Francisquito Road, hikers encounter the set of signs below – the first marking the PCT, and the second marking the beginning of yet another fire closure, this one from the 2013 Powerhouse Fire, which apparently was caused by the electric arcing of improperly maintained power lines owned by the L.A. Department of Water and Power:
I realize that I’ve hit the Powerhouse Fire Closure at a fairly inconvenient time of day, because the Halfmile Unofficial Alternate around the Powerhouse Fire Closure involves a 12.9 mile detour that is mostly a road walk. I don’t have enough daylight left to hike 12 miles to something that resembles “trail,” where I could safely camp. (Somehow, camping in the narrow space between a paved road and a barbed-wire fence with “no trespassing” signs seems unwise…) I contemplate these facts as I road-walk San Francisquito Road toward the turn-off to Lake Hughes. Two cars that have passed me make a u-turn and stop just in front of me, and several hiker-types hop out to offer me a ride to Casa de Luna, the nearby home of trail angels Joe and Terri Anderson, who host hikers. I say I don’t want to go there, having just neroed at Hiker Heaven, but mention I wouldn’t mind going to Rock Inn, which is at the midpoint of the Unofficial Alternate roadwalk. Perfect, they say — we’re going there for dinner! So I accept a 6-mile ride to the historic Rock Inn, that includes a restaurant-bar that is a favorite with motorcyclists, with 3 motel rooms above the restaurant.
I pay $80 for a hilariously decrepit (but historic!) room, with a TV that hasn’t worked since the Kennedy administration, a sink with no running water, and a shower and bathroom down the hall. At dinner downstairs, one of the people who gave me a ride asks, “Did you give me and my then-girlfriend a ride from Scissors Crossing to Julian two years ago when we were hiking the PCT?” And indeed, it turns out that two years ago, and more than 400 PCT miles away, I gave Sasquatch and his then-girlfriend a 12-mile ride from Scissors Crossing to Julian, where they enjoyed the free sandwich and slice of pie that Mom’s Pies gives to thru-hikers. So my good deed was repaid in full, with interest – and it was fun to get an update from Sasquatch about his current PCT hike. A big lesson of the PCT seems to be that the world is far larger than you might have imagined; and the world is much smaller than you might have believed.
Today’s mileage: 17.61 miles (from PCT Mile 460.59 to 478.20), plus an approx. 6-mile ride to the Rock Inn in lieu of a portion of the roadwalk that is part of Halfmile’s Unofficial Powerhouse Fire Detour.
Day 33 (Apr. 26): A Roadwalk, then the “True” Trail
After loitering a ridiculously long time over my coffee cup at the Rock Inn’s restaurant, I start the remainder of the road walk that is part of the Unofficial Powerhouse Fire Detour. Lake Hughes used to be right on the PCT, and yesterday, the small store across from the Rock Inn asked me to sign their Trail Register that included signatures all the way back to the 1990s. Today, Lake Hughes strikes me as a forlorn place, as I pass sights like this one:
The road provides regular long-distance views of the fire damage that still scars this area heavily, but there are also some fun surprises, like the ostriches that walked to the edge of their pens to check me out as I passed by. Between the Rock Inn and the point where hikers leave the road to hike a side trail back to the PCT, very few cars pass by, none of which are interested in giving a ride to a hiker trying to hitch, so I have plenty of time to enjoy the amusements along the way.
Soon enough, I’ve completed the Unofficial Powerhouse Fire Detour and am enjoying being back on the “real” PCT, including this lovely path under oaks:
There are occasional big views all the way down the mountain to the next “flatland” area, with more mountains on the far side:
I wind my way around and though big swaths of hills like this:
At 4:08 pm, I send an InReach message to Dwight and my pal Lynn, announcing that I am at Mile 500. What a great, round number! Though I am hiking alone, I take a “milestone” photo that includes evidence that I am there – my shadow, plus one of my trekking poles:
The day holds one more special delight, which is a new “guzzler” that captures rainwater and provides a fantastic water resource for hikers. I crawl under its corrugated “roof”:
Under the “roof” (at left), I find this big plastic “lid” that I can open to access the water stored in some kind of undergound tank:
The bubbles mean nothing – this is fabulous rainwater that I filter and drink with relish. Later, I hear from Rainbow that it actually snowed on him while he was getting water here, but I was here just a little earlier, or just a little later, in perfect weather. As we used to say in Texas, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.”
Supposedly, it is not advisable to camp or night-hike in this area because of “law enforcement activity,” but I find a sheltered little site and sleep soundly, my guzzler water handy for dinner, tomorrow’s breakfast, and whatever the next day might hold until I get to the next water source.
Today’s mileage: 16.53 miles, including approx. 6.90 miles of the Unofficial Powerhouse Fire Detour and 9.63 miles of “true” PCT.