Day Nine: Running out of Time

After 109.5 miles in one week, my hiking partner Miguel and I decided to take the day off in Warner Springs. Warner Springs is an unincorporated area that has a school, fire station, post office, golf course, senior living park, and community center. For two months of the year, they open this community center to hikers, offering a place to camp, do laundry, shower (in a 5-gallon bucket), and buy supplies. Not only does this provide a wonderful resting place on the trail, it also gives hikers an opportunity to help the community we hike through: according to one of the volunteers, hiker season is their biggest fundraiser of the year.

We stayed one day, then rolled up our tents and set off for the 50 mile journey to Idyllwild. Miguel and I had planned to walk about 15 miles that day and meet our friends Scott and Sarah, so I wasn’t in a huge rush. I had a leisurely trailside lunch with Papa Buff and another guy, then lolligagged on up the trail. However, ten miles in I met Miguel where the PCT intersects a steep dirt road that leads down to the only spring for miles around.

“So, I hear if we go about 17, we’ll get to Mike’s place, and there’s pizza there.”

Sold! I laid my tent out on the bushes to dry and went to collect water, not concerned about time at all. Miguel started walking again, agreeing to meet me at Mike’s.

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That afternoon we passed through miles of boulder fields. As the sun began to set,Ā  the fading light brought out the red hue of the rock. I probably would have appreciated this fact more if I hadn’t been trying to find this mysterious trail angel before it got dark.

Pizza. Pizza. Pizza. That thought kept me going. How long did I have before it got too dark to walk–an hour? 45 minutes? The boulders and cacti, which were so stunningly beautiful, also blocked a good many potential campsites–thanks, nature. I began to take note of every random spot that seemed big enough for my tent.

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30 minutes before dark, I finally found a sign by the trail advertising “Water and shade.” Relieved, I followed the side trail up the hill.

At the top of the trail was a road with a fork in it and tracks going both ways. Because trail angels aren’t usually on maps, I couldn’t rely on mine for direction. I also had no cell phone service. Luckily, PCT hikers have developed a much more sophisticated method of communication.

“FOOD,” someone had scrawled in the middle of the dirt road. I followed this sign to a small house with a fence and several outbuildings.

I couldn’t see any hikers, though. In broad daylight, I might have just walked in and asked if they were around. However, coming to a house in the middle of the desert with only a few minutes of daylight left and no companions made me feel a bit like the character in the first five minutes of a horror film. After walking all the way around the fence and seeing no tents or other evidence of present hikers, I decided to return to the trail and pitch my tent.

I found a space just big enough about a hundred yards down the PCT from the side trail. I was nearly done pitching my tent when I heard, from the part of the trail I had just left, Miguel’s voice.

Dropping my things, I walked toward him. Miguel and Scott had formed a search party for me. They had seen another hiker coming towards us and were going to see if he knew where I was. Instead, they helped me carry my tent to Mike’s, and I got to enjoy barbecue chicken pizza and good conversation around an outdoor brick oven before sharing an old RV with Scott, Sarah, and Skippy. Gabe, Papa Buff, Miguel, and, I think, Footloose were also there, but they stayed in a bunk house. In the morning, the caretaker of the house made us all pancakes. Needless to say, I was very grateful to have made it there.

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