Day 4 started out well, with a giant breakfast at a table full of thru-hikers in Mount Laguna. Next stop was the Laguna Mountain Sports and Supply, the most densely packed store I’ve ever been in—and that’s including Third World corner stores. It had everything you could ever imagine needing in the outdoors, including all the nerdy specialty gear you end up using as a long-distance backpacker (titanium pocket cleats? kevlar bear bag? Check!) Perfectly positioned at 41 miles into the PCT—when the consequences of bad gear choices have had a few days to sink in—the store has a constant stream of thru-hikers replacing gear, adding gear, and ditching gear (which creates one of the best hiker boxes you’ll ever find: tents, air mattresses, sleeping bag liners, it’s got it all).
After picking up a few things ourselves (waterproof matches, another fuel canister, and a water bladder to replace my old one that sprang a leak on Day 2), we retrieved our first resupply box. Since we’re a day ahead of schedule we were already ditching food in hiker boxes. (Hiker boxes, btw, are bins at resupply points where hikers discard unwanted food, gear, clothing, etc, and browse for anything that they’re lacking.)
Hiking out of Mount Laguna, the trail paralleled the highway for a while—lots of motorcyclists out for weekend rides. We left the forest and started following the edge of the arid mountains, with spectacular desert views stretching off to the east, thousands of feet below. On the trail it’s easy to forget what day of the week it is, but this was Saturday, so we were passing boy scout troops and day hikers carrying their desert-tired dogs.
At the end of the day, Andrew pointed out that we were 2% of the way to Canada—which sounded like a big accomplishment to me.
Day 5 brought more real desert hiking. Air shimmering with heat and hikers huddled under bushes in tiny patches of shade. On the trail we stepped over desiccated poops from some unknown animal (coyote?). We haven’t seen much wildlife variety so far—hundreds of little brown lizards, one horny toad, and a baby goat on a leash in Lake Morena.
We’re starting to see more and more cacti—newly blooming prickly pear and some leggy spiny things. I’ve always found it poetic when writers include lists of the flowers or trees they see—there’s something romantic about calling everything by its name. I know Indian paintbrush and manzanita, but everything else gets labeled as spiky purple flowers, small blue flowers, hot pink vagina flowers, pale orange vagina flowers (Georgia O’Keefe was onto something), and what I classify as general desert scrub brush. I’ll save my poetry for something else.
After a long, long walk down from the hills we camped next to a water tank in a tent village of about 13 hikers. We’re seeing more new people as everyone’s slightly different paces start to intersect. The desert views continue to be spectacular.
Day 4: 11.2 miles hiked, Mile 41.5 to 52.7, Pioneer Mail Picnic Area
Day 5: 15.7 miles hiked, Mile 52.7 to 68.4 Rodriguez Spring Road