We knew coming out here that not every day was going to be fun. That some days would be just putting one foot in front of the other and getting it done. This section was our first taste of that.
Getting out of Wrightwood proved to be more difficult than we had expected. Our sore feet and swollen knees just didn’t seem to want to budge. A few other hikers had shown up at the Methodist Camp where we stayed the night before, and staying to enjoy their company and a few beers was an enticing idea. But we eventually got ourselves around, figuring that even if we only made it a couple miles out of town that afternoon, at least when we woke the next morning we’d already be on the trail and wouldn’t have the possibility of a delicious cafe breakfast to delay our hiking. We got a ride to the trailhead at about 5:30 pm but then stood around chatting with the couple who drove us out for about a half hour. We ended the day with a total of four miles hiked but at least we were back out on the trail.
The next day brought an early morning summit of Mt. Baden-Powell, the highest point of elevation we’ve seen so far (9399 feet). It was beautiful and a perfect time to make the climb, before the heat got out of hand. We spent the rest of the day up and down in elevation, stopping at Little Jimmy Spring for lunch where we parked right on the trail in the only shade we could find. While chowing down, I thought I heard a rattle from behind me but it was gone quickly and I didn’t spot anything behind me so I dismissed it. I thought I heard it again but once again let it go, thinking maybe it was my imagination or the cicadas we hear out here from time to time. A few minutes later, Edwin’s eyes widened a bit while looking beyond me. “Sh-t, there’s a rattlesnake behind you.” But he failed to mention how far. I don’t think I’ve ever jumped so fast. Turns out it was about three feet behind me, headed across the trail and not the least bit interested in us. It just didn’t want to be stepped on. But I think Edwin may resort to using that same tactic to get me moving quicker in the morning from now on.
Taking a turn for a road-walk stint as part of an official Endangered Species Detour, we ran into a group of runners we had seen earlier on the trail, now recovering in the parking lot. We learned that they are ultra-marathoners who were out training for a 100-mile race coming up in a few months. And they thought we were crazy for what we’re trying to do. If I tried to run 10 miles at a time, I’d probably die, let along 100. They gave us each a beer and we spent a while swapping stories and laughing there in the parking lot. We hiked away happy and refreshed and ended up sharing a campsite with a fellow thru-hiker at a nearby campground complete with soap! trashcans! and water! Perfect end to a long day.
The next day had less fun in store. Ever heard of Poodle Dog Bush? It’s only found in Southern California, and only pretty recently cropped up, so not a lot of people have. It’s a very pretty, very nasty plant that can cause severe oozing sores after coming into contact with it – like poison oak, only worse. We learned about Poodle Dog Bush before we hit the trail and knew that we would see some of it along the Southern California desert as it’s found in recent burn areas and unfortunately this area has a lot of them. What we didn’t expect was just how much we would encounter literally lining the trails, in many areas impossible to avoid. For two days we cursed and sweated in our long sleeves and long pants, playing the world’s least fun game of High-Stakes-Twister as we tried to avoid contact as much as possible. We found ourselves dangling off of cliff edges, jumping from rock to rock, and carrying our packs on our shoulders at times (to be honest, Edwin did that with his and then had to come back and do mine) to keep from getting it all over our skin, clothes, and bags. There weren’t a lot of fun moments to be had, and both of us were about at the end of our rope. When, on the second day, the trail intersected with a Jeep road that was closed to traffic, we finally decided we’d had it and decided to make a detour to further up the trail in the hopes that there was less Poodle Dog Bush to be found there. On our road walk, we came upon a monument honoring two fireman who lost their lives in the Station Fire of 2009.
Perspective. That’s what I’d been missing. These two men gave their lives attempting to put that fire out, and there I was whining about being inconvenienced by the resulting insurgence of a plant that may or may not give us a bad rash. I won’t say I found the Poodle Dog Bush any more charming when we hit the trail again, but I tried to remember why it was there. I figure it’s the earth’s way of saying, “Please stop setting me on fire.”
The last day our trip into Agua Dulce more than made up for any frustration we felt the previous days. About 8 miles into the day, we came upon an RV campground who offered up the use of their shower and pool for free. We only had 10 miles left to go before hitting Hiker Heaven (the home of well-known trail angels in Agua Dulce), but we couldn’t pass up the chance to pass a few hours in the pool. We convinced another hiker to hang out there as well, and all agreed it was one of the best stops on the trail so far. Leaving there, we got to hike through the incredibly cool Vasquez Rocks area. We made it into Agua Dulce at about 7 pm that night – it was great to sleep in a bed, hang out with the other hikers holed up there, and just be off the trail for a bit.
The Powerhouse fire near San Francisquito Canyon is still burning, and a large section of the PCT is closed between Agua Dulce and Tehachapi which was to be our next leg. The Pacific Crest Trail Association is re-routing hikers through the Mojave Desert along the LA Aqueduct but we’ve decided to skip forward to Tehachapi and come back and do the 104 miles from Agua Dulce to Tehachapi once the trail is reopened and safe to travel on (after we’ve made it back from Canada). Neither of us are particularly interested in the detour – we want to see the trail. And completing it at a later date has the added bonus of allowing us to do it when the temperatures are cooler. If we didn’t live so close, we would likely have no choice but to do the detour, but thanks again to both of us having very patient parents (all sets of whom have spent several hours driving to various locations along the trail for drop-offs, pick-ups, or both), we have been shuttled forward to Tehachapi and spent the last 24 hours or so being bumps on a hotel room bed, lazily resting our feet and spending several lovely hours visiting with Edwin’s mom. We’re headed out this afternoon to begin a very hot and dry section – our last in the desert for now before hitting the southernmost point of the Sierras sometime late next week. Wish us luck!