We sleep in some interesting places out here. Some nights we’re in the Backpacker Magazine shots: an illuminated tent under an ocean of stars, views stretching to the horizon. (I don’t have any photos of this because I’m always huddled in my sleeping bag by that photogenic point in the evening.)
Other nights… not so much.
Day 33 started at 5AM under the buzz of high tension power lines at North Fork Ranger Station. It’s a pretty spot with views out toward a green valley in one direction and the brown desert in the other—but the crackle and hiss of the wires is omnipresent. Hikers can camp in an old “roadside rest” area between the station and the power lines, along a long-disused road. There are picnic tables and a pit toilet as well as a water cache and cooler of trail magic (sodas and granola bars).
That day we did a quick eight miles down to the Acton KOA, which offers mail drops, showers, laundry, a pool + (lukewarm and toddler-filled) jacuzzi, all the bins of loaner clothes and hiker supplies from the Saufleys’ now-closed Hiker Heaven, pizza + beer delivery, a small store, power outlets, and a lawn to camp on. Turns out, it’s also next to a commuter rail line, a busy highway, and an exotic animal sanctuary with what sounded like disgruntled or possibly amorous—and loud about it—large cats.
I’d never been to a KOA before, but it lived up to all my expectations: packed with huge families during the weekend and filled with RVs of all types, including what was clearly the lifer section out back. Kids throwing each other into the pool. Picnic tables covered with all-American junk food. We had pizza delivered and I ate four ice creams. Hikers bought beer and kept it cold in the ice-water tub where we’d been soaking our feet all afternoon.
On Day 34 we decided to try out night hiking, so we hung out at the Mexican restaurant in Agua Dulce all afternoon then started walking again around 5:30PM. We walked past sunset, through dusk, into night and made camp around 10PM. We unfortunately chose the first site we could find, which was a spot between two trees at the top of a ridge. A very, very windy ridge. So windy that at 4AM we took down the tarp, packed up, and started walking, still in the wind. (Turns out there was a wind-free side of the hill just a half mile further.)
The next night was spent at a truly legendary spot: Casa de Luna. Joe and Terrie Anderson have been hosting PCT hikers at their home in Green Valley for 16 years. Terrie greets everyone with a hug—every single dirty, smelly, sweaty hiker—and points them toward the rack of house Hawaiian shirts. Their driveway is filled with couches and picnic tables (and coolers of beer), and their enormous backyard includes an outdoor shower and a manzanita forest filled with winding paths leading from tent site to tent site.
Joe and Terrie are total hippies and consummate hosts. They make taco salad every night and pancakes every morning—for upwards of two dozen hikers daily. They have three friendly dogs and an entire wall in their living room dedicated to pictures they’ve received of hikers mooning the camera in various scenic spots along the trail (“The Moon Wall”). They actively cultivate a vortex but are happy to shuttle hikers back to the trail multiple times a day—but only after Terrie argues for why each hiker should stay longer. They are fabulous.
The next morning, Day 36, started with a long road walk whose sights included a car flipped onto its roof in the road, llamas, a wolf sitting on top of its wolf sanctuary wolf house, and ostrich sex (lots of flapping and swaying of feathers involved).
Our day ended at Sawmill Camp, a campground located off a dirt road that goes from nowhere to nowhere but is apparently well-travelled by gun enthusiasts. There were bullet holes in the campground signage. In the trash cans. The outhouse looked like it had hosted the dramatic finale of an FBI shootout. There was broken glass everywhere.
This, my fellow Americans, is why we can’t have nice things.
Day 37 took us to Hiker Town, another place I’d read about before starting the trail. It’s a collection of miniature buildings right off the PCT that looks like a combination of Old West movie set and junkyard trailer park. Chickens roam in packs. It’s owned by an ex(?)-Hollywood guy who built it and welcomes hikers “because his wife made him do it.” It’s an odd place. Some hikers love it, some are creeped out. We stayed in an RV where I tried not to touch any more surfaces than necessary.
Day 33: 8 miles, Mile 436.3 to 444.3, Acton KOA
Day 34: 18.5 miles, Mile 444.3 to 462.8, windstorm crest campsite
Day 35: 15.8 miles, Mile 462.8 to 478.6, Casa de Luna
Day 36: 18.2 miles, 12.9 Powerhouse Fire alternate + PCT Mile 493.4 to 498.5 + 0.2 to Sawmill Camp
Day 37: 19.3 miles, 0.2 to trail, PCT Mile 498.5 to 517.6, Hiker Town