First published on the The Trek.
I've seen some strange things lately, I think to myself as I watch the sunset alone a few miles away from Kennedy Meadows. The southern California section of the Pacific Crest Trail has been 700 miles of wild, dry, hot, cold, challenging and mountainous terrain.
I've seen snakes that rattle, mice that jump like kangaroos, miles upon miles of trees burnt to the ground, poisonous plants that smell like marijuana, snow in the desert and trails covered in snow, countless beautiful flowers, lizards in all shapes and colours, huge trees blown accross the trail and the incredible kindness of strangers.
From Big Bear the miles seemed to flow more easily each day. I'd found my trail legs and the daylight hours were getting longer. Snow was no longer a delightful surprise but rather a small inconvenience, particularly as I had sent my micro spikes ahead.
I have been traveling with Maj or "The Beast" since I said goodbye to Mountie and Detour in Big Bear. Trail friends are everywhere but the people you choose to hike with everyday as time progresses become more like a family. Our trail friend Triage was from Big Bear so we were welcomed by his family which made it very easy for me to extend my rest time there for 5 days.
When we got back on trail snow had settled for a few miles like a beautiful Christmas carpet. A strange contrast to the flat dry sandy desert that we could see thousands of feet below. Maj and I prepared for a cold night and were surprised the next day at how warm we slept. Our secret - eat a lot, go to bed warm and careful selection of location for our tent pitches.
The next 100 or so miles hiking to Wrightwood was a dream. Incredible sunsets, easier terrain and of course a stop at Cajon Pass for the McDonald's 24 hour food resupply challenge. Our 2 night stay in Wrightwood focused mainly on eating for The Beast Feast, otherwise known as Maj's birthday. I've lost a few kilograms in body weight from hiking, so my attempts at reclaiming the calories in towns is quite a big activity when there is opportunity.
Mount Baden Powell is another mountain that most hikers are keen to summit. It was rumoured to be easier than San Jacinto Mountain. With this in mind, we planned a long day of miles to the summit and down the other side to a campground. That was a challenging day! Snow was still covering the trails and so the switchbacks could not be seen making us half scramble up snow and bush to the summit. We arrived at Little Jimmy Campground much later than hoped and continued to feel exhausted the next day. Nonetheless the next few days continued to challenge us further as we were hiking sections that had less frequent water sources, leading us to walk our first 23 mile day to get to a water source in 1 day rather than carrying a lot of water over 2 days.
We took our next rest day at Acton, an interesting small town in the desert that reminded me of western films. Visiting small towns off trail has become something I'm really enjoying. I'm not just a hiker out here, experiencing the small town culture and seeing places that I would never see otherwise adds even more colour and memories to this trip. I've met lots of different people when we've hitched in and out of towns, everyone is so curious about the PCT and are amazed at the miles we walk.
Between Acton and Kennedy Meadows we made more friends on trail and found ourselves walking more miles every day. We often made mistakes with water, weather reports, food and spending too long wasting time doing nothing. I was relaxing more into the sense of adventure and not over planning the days.
Our trail family grew bigger, by the time we left the miles of wind turbine farms around Tehachapi we were closer to 6 peoplein our group. Zinc and Lizard King have been hiking with us for a few weeks, we were then joined by Star Lord for a few days and then Triage joined us again. Daily decisions become more militant with a larger group but that was rewarded by having good people around to share the trail highs and lows with.
As we were finishing the last few 100 miles in Southern California I realised the trail had become very social and I had perhaps neglected to appreciate my surroundings. I took a few days to walk alone at a slow pace before arriving at Kennedy Meadows, choosing where I would sleep each night for scenic value and not for water strategy.
Now that I have finished the desert I'm glad that I took the time to reflect but I am ready for the next chapter, the Sierra Nevada Mountains.