Sometimes, all it takes is a single moment to make you remember a day for a very, very long time. Today’s was what you see above — except that, trust me, the pictures don’t even come close to doing it justice. You’re standing on top of a mountain nearly as high as the ones in the distance, and you’re gazing out over a panorama like that for something like a 200° field of view — it’s truly just incredible. One moment of coming around a bend in the trail and seeing that…well, it made any amount of pain worthwhile.
(Better yet, we got to follow it up with a trip to McDonald’s!)
I took that photo just as we came around the corner to Cajon Pass. Cajon Pass is known on the PCT primarily for two things: it’s where you cross I–15, and it’s the only place on the PCT with a McDonald’s less than a half mile away. Needless to say, while we (and every hiker on the trail) were incredibly excited about McDonald’s, the last thing we were expecting was a spectacular sunset over an amazing panorama like that. I–15 is mostly known for being the major Los Angeles–Las Vegas route (two cities that are pretty close to the antithesis of PCT hiking), and McDonald’s is, well, McDonald’s. Yet it happened: we’d been beating through incredibly hot desert for hours on end, really just wanting our day to be over so we could get out of the heat finally, counting the miles down — and then that. Blown away.
Today was actually a pretty interesting day in other ways, too. We spent the first half hiking through some of the most industrial landscape yet: we were beside a dam, alongside power-generation equipment, along a road…it was almost like a tour of the antithesis of what people imagine a trail like the PCT to be. I, being me, still found it kind of fascinating and interesting, actually; these are places you’d never visit on your own, and there’s something a bit surreal about hiking along, pack on your back and trekking poles at your side, while you walk through industrial yards full of piles of crushed rock and giant piping, or next to barbed-wire fence guarding a State of California Water Facility (i.e., a dam).
Just as that came to an end, the trail rose up over the dam and we saw the biggest water cache yet: an enormous lake (Silverwood Lake), replete with speedboats, jetskis, and huge cookouts and parties all around the edge. The scale of this place is massive: the PCT follows the perimeter of the lake for maybe a quarter of its distance, and we spent close to two hours skirting the edge of the lake, hiking fast. It’s such an odd thing to be up high above a lake like that, watching everybody drink beer, jetski around, and grill hot dogs and hamburgers — but be sweating like crazy, hiking through 90° heat, and just thinking ahead to the picnic ground you’ll eventually end up at (water that comes from a tap! toilets that flush!).
When we did finally come to our picnic ground, too, it was another fascinating experience. As a white man, I’m not often in situations where I’m the distinct minority, but the picnic area we visited (and, as far as I can tell, most of the lake) was completely dominated by Latino families having Sunday cookouts, playing Spanish music and having a great time. It was a bit like being dropped into another country — it felt like experiencing a completely different culture in a way I probably never would have run into at home, yet I was so glad I was there. It was just the unusual chance to feel like an outsider here in the U.S., and it was a cool experience.
The afternoon we spent marching on towards our destination…and on, and on, and on, and on, and on. We’d noticed this morning that if we did something completely crazy and hiked over twenty-five miles in a single day, we could actually end up at Cajon Pass that evening — with the McDonald’s and, even better, a Best Western. (Showers! Real beds! Laundry!) Needless to say, once again, this provided some serious, serious motivation; we were determined not to let the inspiration actually drive us to injury, but, otherwise, perhaps let us drive us to a feat of hiking.
And drive us to a feat of hiking it did: as I reflect on the spectacular landscape we saw earlier in the day from here in our room at the Best Western, the single feeling I feel most is pride. For today we hiked over twenty-five miles, saw incredible things, and made yet more progress towards our eventual goal. Today…today was really, really good.