Wednesday, May 3
Mileage - 77.4 [today: 19.7(!)]
Morale: 3->2->6 [major blister worries, horrible morning slog, but made mileage that surprised myself]
G - for Gimpin' it; Gotta keep moving; Granite Mountain; Great mileage
Blister cumulative total: 4 (and 2 hotspots)
I woke up lonely and worried. It took me the better part of an hour to patch up my feet -- I went for broke and used up the last of my duct tape and and much of my remaining blister kit, and created over-the-arch-of-the-foot straps to hold the tape in place that had been sliding around on me so much.
I hadn't expected much of it. But it held all day -- a blessing that would soon see me tearing down the trail toward an unexpected and welcome town stop.
I would just as soon forget the day's walking. I knew it was going to be painful -- and largely it was. The limp over to Oriflamme Canyon and an empty water tank that other hikers took a break in wasn't so bad. The downhill from there was ... extreme. A dirt "road" not even a Jeep could traverse plummeted 800 feet in about a mile, as one long, dusty, steeply pitched, switchbacked line. Another hiker had left 10 minutes ahead of me and it was numbing to seeing his tiny figure 200 vertical feet below and a very small horizontal distance away.
I gimped to the bottom, more on determination than anything else, and with some relief figured the worst was behind me with the steep drop. Then came ... the bushwhacking.
The remainder of the trail down to Rodriguez Canyon's water tank, my "lunch" destination, was heavily overgrown, to the point that I would sometimes have to shoulder through brush as high as my head and not particularly yielding. It was a first for the PCT. And throughly unpleasant and draining. It was one long, painful moment of Zen: "Lunch at Rodriguez ... lunch at Rodriguez." I repeatedly wished for the machete someone had won in the Useless Gear Contest, cursed the trail maintainers or lack thereof, and (barely) kept my sanity by flipping off the most egregiously grown bushes after shoving my way through. And did I mention it was hot, insufficiently windy, and shadeless? And my feet hurt?
I stumbled into Rodriguez about 3 to find a tiny band of relaxing hikers enjoying the water and shade, including Trail Name Pending, who had pitched a tarp alongside the tank and was taking a zero day there to nurse his blisters (a few more than mine). Dinner and conversation severely boosted my spirits, along with discovering that my taping had (finally) held in place and the ominous blisters were not getting any worse. I decided then to push on and extend my Gimp Day - I was only 10 miles from a road crossing; perhaps I could take the morning bus into Julian and spend a day in town to recuperate and write. It sounded appealing, but would require reaching Scissors Crossing 10 miles away -- and I didn't feel like a 5 AM start to hike in to it in time for the bus.
My feel felt up to it. So I packed up around 5 and pushed on. 10 miles on a gentle downgrade - 5 hours. Night hiking, but I'd done some already and the half moon was enough for navigation even without a light if necessary.
I didn't get far before looking over my shoulder to see a dramatic example of mountain rain shadows in action. The ridge west of us had ominous clouds just barely breaking over the top -- a storm for sure. But they didn't spill over, not while I was hiking, not later that night -- not at all. Except for ... well.
It sent me a message.
I shit you not. One tiny cloudlet, as I watched, broke away and floated on the wind directly at me. I stopped to watch, out of curiosity and to gauge distance and wind speed. The wispy, horizontal cloud coalesced into four distinct blobs as it progressed, and those blobs soon took shape into ... letters.
It spelled out, in lowercase English, "cold".
I blinked, startled, and grabbed my camera, but the moment was gone. The cloudlet soon became formless again, then evaporated.
I thanked it for the warning.
The cloud's statement soon proved prophetic. The wind, which had been picking up all afternoon, soon became steady. By the time I descended from Granite Mountain into the valley, it was howling -- I had to zip up my jacket and often manually hold down my strap-cinched hat. When I turned west to walk the last stretch into the wind, it blasted with such intensity that my hat flap was pushed over my eyes.
The next day would be just as frigid too -- especially in Julian, high in the mountains up in that ridge that was holding the bulk of the clouds.
My feet deteriorated as I walked, but I did make it to Scissors Crossing - late at night and seeking what wind shelter I could find. Somehow, on an opened heel blister, I gimped 19 miles. And the duct tape saddle held all the way.
It was quite an accomplishment -- and the first time I really felt as though I might be able to finish the whole trip.
But that wasn't on my mind. What I needed was sleep, and I soon crumpled up in a ball and tried to get some.