If you’re looking for a quick synopsis of day 5 on the PCT, refer back to the title of this post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in a more detailed account, read on.
We got a late start today (out of camp by about 7) after a cold night last night. I found myself donning all of my warm clothing in the middle of the night including my puffy and toque to stay warm enough. After a bit of a sleep in, we headed out into a breezy, but quickly warming, morning. The hiking was beautiful, but I had a bit of a cloud hanging over my head at the thought of dropping out of the mountains and into the desert heat. My body is struggling with the fact that we’re not in Canada anymore and it still needs to function in this climate. It’s a tough sell. We had a couple of stops early in the day to deal with blisters, and so by the time we descended off the ridge there was much heat and little shade. On a long exposed piece of trail, I discovered that the trace of heat rash that had begun the previous day on the back of my knee was metastasizing to the rest of my leg in the mid-day sun. The burning was intolerable. After progressing through denial, anger, tears (which were incredibly unsatisfying as they evaporated directly from the corners of my eyes), and self-loathing, I finally agreed to accept Everett’s help in doing some damage control for my rapidly evolving heat-rashed, sunburnt legs. After tossing around a couple ideas, Everett literally took the shirt off his back so that I could swaddle my sun-tortured legs in protective cloth. And thus, the blousers were born (please reference photos). What a difference they made! I can’t even say how grateful I was to Everett for completely salvaging the day of hiking.
After another couple miles, we reached our next crucial water source – a large tank periodically filled by a fire truck. We filled up and spent a couple hours breaking in the shade. While we sought refuge in the patchy shade provided by the chapparal, suddenly a loud hum interrupted conversations and naps. As I looked up into the sky, about 10 feet away a swarm of what must have been hundreds of bees had appeared. Happily they quickly moved on without incident. A fellow hiker who keeps bees explained that they will travel in a swarm like that when looking for a new home, and aren’t dangerous unless interfered with. In spite of the bees, it was difficult to set out again at 2 PM, but we wanted to put in enough miles to make the next day an easy one to Scissors Crossing where we would catch a ride to Julian, a nearby mountain town. Let me tell you now, it was only the thought of getting nearer to Julian and eating apple pie (the town’s claim to fame) that got me back out into the heat of the day to put in another 5 miles of hiking. Some of you are probably thinking, “why are they doing this? It seems terrible!” Well, that’s fair. However, it amazes me that even when I am burning and overheating and sweating and itching and generally failing to cope, I look up at my desert surroundings and they are stunningly beautiful. The desert is not a barren expanse of sand and rock; rather, it is full of life and painted in shades of green and gold, with blooms of purple, orange, and pink from the recent rainfalls. And that evening, our tent pitched between boulders on the hillside and a warm breeze blowing as the sun set, I looked over the Anza Borrego desert and thought to myself how happy I was to be there. It’s amazing how quickly the mind forgets what the body has endured. Now, as I lie in the tent with the doors thrown open to let the breeze through, I watch the stars twinkle on one at a time and look forward to a sunrise hike tomorrow to beat the heat to Scissors Crossing.