When a survey was sent to past PCT hikers, they were asked what their favorite and least favorite sections of the trail were. Favorite was usually the High Sierra; least favorite, however, was pretty uniformly Southern California. Today did a pretty good job of explaining to us why that is: it’s hot, there are lots and lots of miles to get through, and there’s a whole lot of up and down.
That isn’t to say it’s all bad: the desert out here can actually be quite beautiful. And it’s varied in a way you’d never notice if you were in a car: you could easily leave the Mexican border as a passenger in a car, doze off for an hour, listen to some NPR, and suddenly you’d be in Los Angeles. And you’d never once have noticed all the different stuff you passed through.
Traveling at a whole 2 MPH, however, things are very different. Sometimes things change quickly: you’ll crest a ridge and suddenly see something completely different, or pass through an altitude as you climb that suddenly turns desert into pine forest. More often, though, it’s a slow process: sand filled with cacti and dead brush starts to get a little more green, the green gets slightly bigger, and pretty soon you’re walking through shoulder-high bushes. Or you’ll descend into a canyon, and underground water will give away its presence with seemingly fluorescent-green trees in the middle, surrounded by the much darker green of plants that have learned to live in such an arid climate.
These small changes are something I learn to appreciate as I hike. Even on the days, like today, where it mostly feels like you’re just plodding through the miles, getting from A to B to get on to something else, the gentle changes percolate in your mind since you have time to actually see them. It’s not like looking through a car window at “scenery” blazing by; you’re actually out in it, feeling every rock, every minute of the hot sun, every parched throat as you grab for your water tube. That, in fact, may be a big part of why I hike: it’s life slowed down to the point where you actually savor the moments somehow, even as you don’t realize you are — they seep into your soul in a way they never quite seem into in “real life”.
As for our actual progress today, we’re headed towards Paradise Valley Café — I like to think of it as just “Paradise Café”, as if it were literally in Paradise. It’s both our next resupply point and claims it sells the “Best Burgers on the PCT”. We intend to put that claim to a very good test!
En route, we saw what happens when water facilities are not maintained well: a huge underground cistern, while it had a fair amount of water in it, also had a few additions: many dead reptiles and rodents floating in the water. While I’ve heard stories of desperate hikers filtering (and filtering, and filtering) water from such places, we chose to pass for now — having been informed of this possibility by the amazing PCT Water Report, and thus supplied ourselves with plenty at the previous water stop.