Campo to Warner Springs - mile 109.5
Thursday, May 9, 2013
I arrived in San Diego looking much like Indiana Jones in my white fishing shirt, tan pants and over sized sun hat (no beard though). Rob Riess (a trail angel in San Diego) picked me up, let me sleep in his house, gave me a container of alcohol for my stove and drove me and two other hikes over an hour to the trail head at Campo. I was elated, having quit my job not six days prior and finding myself in a completely foreign landscape and with no remaining commitments other than walking for 2,650 miles and sleeping outside for the next five months.
The trail wound its way around the town of Campo and out into the desert. It was unlike anything I have experienced previously; desert shrubs growing around the husks of burnt trees and dry sand. The trail is graded for horses and winds up and around hills. Vast landscapes lay alongside the path as the vegetation isn't much taller than your waist. Often the trial seems cut right from the bedrock of the slope. It makes me wonder about the history and who built each section that would eventually be linked to become the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.
The first twenty miles of trail from Campo are almost entirely free of reliable water sources. I had a great internal debate about how much water to carry on the trail. Too much and the extra weight would slow me down, too little and dehydration would make things uncomfortable. I have also never hiked twenty miles in a day before but had heard the trail was easier than most of the trails I'm used to. I ended up taking about five and a half liters, which lasted until about a mile from my first campsite at Lake Morena. The weather was so dry and the site so free of bugs that I decided to cowboy camp, or camp without shelter for the first night.
The next morning I missed a turn coming out of the campground and got lost for an hour. Six miles later I began a fourteen mile climb that I would not finish until the next morning. The temperatures rose to over ninety degrees fahrenheit and with no shade on the trail I made due with my hiking umbrella once the wind died down. Eventually I camped in a canyon and nursed my blisters. The next day I limped five miles into Mount Laguna, a small town, to take care of blisters and get a larger pair of shoes. I went from a size eleven and a half to a size thirteen! The outfitter in town was a great resource, he stocked more lightweight gear into that tiny store than you can imagine.
After my short day in town I did an easy thirteen miles that ended in the windiest conditions I have ever experienced. I reached the remote campsite called out on my map only to find all the level spots where I could pitch my tent were completely exposed to sixty mile per hour winds and light rain. Three section hikers behind me looked ahead and found sheltered sites another two hundred yards down trail so I laid low with them through intense wind and rain. My tent had a light drip in two spots but otherwise I was warm and dry in my down sleeping bag, unlike one of the section hikers who woke up in a puddle. The next morning was almost as wet and windy as the night but in fits and starts.
I stopped after 12 miles to let my blisters dry out rather than continue on soaked feet. The next morning I woke a few minutes after five a.m. and felt motivated. After a cold breakfast of granola and rehydrated milk I was on the trail by six fifteen a.m.
Three hours later I had made ten miles to a water cache under a highway at Scissors Crossing.
I stayed for a little while to talk to two other through hikers and the trail angel who stocks the water cache. I managed fourteen more miles by the time I set my ass down at the top of a huge ridge by another water cache. I was feeling pretty hammered but it was only three-thirty in the afternoon! I find I can hike very fast, typically averaging close to three miles per hour, but my blistered feet and tired ankles are limiting my range. I think that in another week or two I'll be doing twenty-five mile days regularly. Until then I try to stay ahead of any serious injury by doing a lot of stretching and self-massage.
Yesterday I was motivated by a community center in Warner Springs offering burgers and showers and managed to push out eighteen more miles. I passed a mile marker at mile one-hundred and felt like a million bucks! My longest backpacking trip prior to this was twenty-eight miles and I just did a hundred!
My I.T. band on my left knee was hurting, not severely but enough to make me stop often to stretch and massage it back into compliance. I spent last night camping out behind the community center after a burger, a shower and meeting more hikers. Overall there are many more other through hikers than I expected. I seem to meet several new people every day and run into half a dozen I've already met who I passed or are in the process of passing me. Everyone hikes their own pace. I enjoy hiking alone and socializing at water stops and camp sites. I seem to have an unusual hiking style of pushing for two hours without stopping, a quick five minute stretch break and another hour or two push before taking a longer break. I don't hike with poles so I can eat, drink and change layers all while continuing to walk. I hope my feet will toughen up after the rest day today and I can start doing longer days continuously. The next town is sixty-nine miles and an unthinkable ten-thousand feet of elevation gain away. I'm taking four days of food but hope to do it in less than that.