When we woke up this morning, it was 36° outside. That’s not uncommon in the desert, but what is uncommon is that it stayed 36° — and foggy, and windy, and wet — for the entire morning. Even with the (impressive) body heat generated by hiking, that is seriously cold. We were basically walking through a cloud all morning: you couldn’t see further than a couple of hundred feet, and, when the wind blew a little, you’d get showered on if you were anywhere near a tall tree. It was beautiful, although it would’ve been somewhat easier to appreciate had we felt at all warm. It’s not that we don’t have good, warm clothes along — we certainly do — it’s that any layering you achieve that makes hiking comfortable makes stopping way, way too cold, and anything that keeps you comfortable stopped becomes sweltering the moment you move. It’s a hard balance to achieve.
We had a major achievement this morning, too: we hit the 500-mile mark of the Pacific Crest Trail! Commemorated by rocks arranged in the shape of a “500” by other hikers on the trail (at the correct 500-mile mark), and a U.S. Forest Service sign with the PCT logo and stick-on 500 letters (almost two miles later), it was pretty great to realize we’d hiked that far. Although I suspect this will be much more impressive to readers of this blog than it was to us: the PCT is so incredibly long that even this major achievement means we have hiked less than 20% of the trail, which is kind of crazy. It’s not that we don’t appreciate it ourselves — it’s that we know we’re still almost in the beginning phases of this grand adventure in many ways, which keeps us somewhat sober about all of it.
Fortunately, around the time we stopped and had lunch about 1 P.M., we’d also started descending enough that the weather got warmer — not really “hot”, but to the point where it was no longer painfully cold outside. We were actually quite fortunate from that point on: there was a “storm” coming that we’d heard was going to dump quite a bit of rain on us, but all we got was some vaguely-annoying showers and a whole lot of wind. As things go, that’s really not bad at all. A side note: we’re increasingly bemused by the number of hikers who, when they hear that “weather might be coming in” (i.e., it might rain), will actually hunker down completely and stop hiking for one, two, or even three days, staying in a hotel instead. We actually suspect a fair bit of this is due to folks taking far less-than-adequate rain gear to save weight; hopefully those people will have much better gear with them in the Sierras. For us, sure, it’s less pleasant hiking in rain than in sunshine, but it’s hardly something to run from or worry about.
As we got down further, the trail started once again doing this really annoying thing that the PCT sometimes does: winding around, and around, and around, and around hills for no particularly clear reason other than to make your journey about five times longer than it otherwise needs to be. We were particularly eager to get off the hills for three big reasons, too: one, Clare’s foot was hurting quite a bit; two, we continued to get annoying random rain in our faces; and, three, we were headed to Hikertown, and excited to be indoors.
What’s Hikertown? It’s simple to explain, but you have to suspend disbelief for a moment. Hikertown is the brain child of some folks who live out here and decided “you know, all those PCT hikers coming through should have an entire replica Wild West town to stay in when they’re here”. Yes, seriously. Take several acres of land and put on them: one private house, about a dozen hand-constructed Wild West buildings (including a hotel, town hall, jail, blacksmith, post office, bunkhouse, and so on), half a dozen no-longer-working RVs of various vintages, a number of toolsheds/garages/abandoned buildings, and — last, but not least — about fifty chickens. Now you have Hikertown. It’s the craziest place on the PCT in some ways, and almost completely different from any place else. There aren’t many rules, and hikers are left to fend for themselves: on one hand, supply your own toilet paper, soap, and towel; on the other hand, come and go at any point you want, and do whatever you want.
We walked in tired and very glad to be there, and our good friend Rally — who was already there, having hiked the road from Casa de Luna (a one-day affair) instead of hiking the trail (a two-day affair) — had scored us an RV/trailer to stay in. Amazing! While it’s not as if there was any heat, power, or working plumbing in the RV, it did mean that we three could stay there instead of sleeping in the very crowded main room…or trying to sleep, more likely, since there were about eighteen hikers crammed into the common space, which was transformed from a two-car garage.
I took a cold shower — apparently the shower is normally almost scalding hot, but was cold tonight for some reason — and we did laundry. Those two things alone invariably make us feel so vastly much better every time. Dinner was just our normal freeze-dried camping food, but heating up the water on a real stove was so much easier.
And…I got to pick up my new trekking poles, headphones, and water bottles! As you walk the PCT, you find that some of your gear gets destroyed or damaged, and other gear you realize just isn’t working for you. My ultralight, carbon-fiber Gossamer Gear trekking poles seemed great until, about a week ago, I accidentally stepped on one a little bit — and, instead of bending like metal ones do, it simply snapped in half. Trekking poles are incredibly useful equipment out here and I use mine all the time, so hiking with one for the past week straight has been very frustrating. Fortunately, Amazon meant I had new, aluminum-this-time Black Diamond trekking poles sent straight to Hikertown, and I’m so glad to have them. Similarly, my soft-sided water bottles for storing extra water for really long distances between water stops got small leaks in them; this was also quickly fixed by Amazon. And my hiking headphones, though rarely used, I discovered were sweatproof and rainproof — but had absolutely horrible sound. (And this from one of the least audiophile-like people on the planet.) Again, Amazon fixed it, and now I have new headphones, too!
All in all, Hikertown’s been a very welcome stop for us, and, as weird as it is, it’s also an incredibly charming place. Next we’re off to the trail once more…both sad and glad: sad because Rally can’t hike with us due to her painful shin splints — but glad that this means she’s headed to our next town stop (only two days away!), Tehachapi, and will get a chance to take a zero with us there. Hooray!