500 miles and a misty day above the Mojave

PCT miles 493.5 to 518.4 – Maxwell Camp to Hwy 138 and Hikertown – Total PCT miles 518.4

Woke this morning to the sound of a few sprinkles of rain pattering the roof of the tent. We broke camp amid overcast skies and began walking along the trail through arched tunnels of live oak and Bigcone Douglas-fir in the process of bud-break. The mist-filled air, temps around 50F and a trail meandering through Douglas-fir trees felt reminiscent of a late-spring day around Puget Sound. This wasn’t the weather we expected to encounter ~24 trail miles from the Mojave Desert (and much less mileage “as the crow flies”).

By mid-morning the rains were more than a drizzle and we were wet and soggy. I had wet hair, a wet pack, and was wet underneath my rain coat because I’d been in denial that it was really that damp out. Hence, I’d postponed stopping to pull my jacket from the depths of my pack until I was already soaked. I was starting to wish I had Gabriel’s umbrella. He looked so much drier underneath his portable shelter than I felt with my hood up. On this wet June day, it really felt like we were hiking in Washington.

While walking through this drizzle our excitement picked up as the trail crossed roads and made turns through the chaparral. Such landmarks indicated to us that we were nearing the 500-mile milestone. We’d planned to celebrate by stopping to take a few pictures. When we at last came across one of the 500-mile markers we were wet AND happy. Today marks the day that is the farthest distance we’ve ever walked in one trip!

Soon after our 500-mile celebration, the rain was coming down with more force and we decided to find shelter. Over the course of the morning, we’d walked out of the oak and Douglas-fir woodlands into the shrub-dominated chaparral. Cover was lacking, but we needed to sit down, to rest our legs and inhale a few calories to keep the internal furnaces a flame. We just wanted a few minutes out of the rain.

We finally came to the guzzler. An 18′ x 25′ panel of corrugated sheet metal with gutters, raised a few feet above the ground and used to collect rain water into a catchment. The guzzler thereby provides water for hikers and wildlife in the often dry chaparral hills. At best, the guzzler was 3 feet high on a sloped side, and provided just enough room for us to crouch beneath it as a roof. Between the cover and a mid-morning snack, we were soon warmed enough to lift our spirits from wet, grumpy and irritated to wet and happy to be out hiking.

As we were warming up internally, we heard RockLocks coming down the trail. We tried to get her to join us under our guzzler roof, but she shouted out that she could see a patch of blue sky! This motivated Gabriel and I to come out from our shelter and see the sucker hole amid the clouds. In short time, the rains had subsided and sunlight was dissolving the cloud cover.

We hiked on through the hills, traveling between chaparral, pines and oak groves. Many of the oak groves had forest floors carpeted in miner’s lettuce. The miner’s lettuce varied from pink to orange to yellow to green. The mist and the colorful forest floor lent these woodlands a sense of enchantment. We felt as if were walking into a fairy tale or the home of the Ents from Lord of the Rings. The rain and mist enhanced this trail experience-it wouldn’t have been nearly as magical on a dry, blue sky day. And so we were now grateful for the rain and the damp that the day had given us.

Later in the day, Gabriel said that for him, this was the prettiest part of the trail in the first 500 miles.

Eventually, we left the oak hills and descended down into the grassy hills and then the flat lands of ag fields bordering the Mojave Desert. We made it to Hikertown right around 7:00 pm. Just in time for a few more rain drops to fall and to see a double rainbow amid the clouds and lowering sun. A beautiful sight!

Hikertown is a little oasis for hikers to escape the winds and heat that are well-known around the Mojave. We ventured in from the cold and the wet to the hiker hostel with a western town facade. (Imagine each bunk room/guest room sided with all the trimmings of a city hall, saloon, jail, school house and hotel.) Inside the Hikertown garage we found couches, a kitchen, laundry facilities and a shower. All unexpected but much appreciated amenities to wet and dirty hikers.

We also found our fellow hikers Bigfoot Jim, Early Girl and Water Boy, and Nader and Skeeter. These five hikers are all from Seattle, Kent and Tacoma… we we’re a gathering of Puget Sound residents coming out of the rain. Bigfoot Jim handed us a beer and Early Girl, gave us a pint of delicious ice cream. Gosh, hikers from the Northwest sure are great trail companions! We enjoyed their company in between showers, laundry (clean, dry clothes are so nice) and making a hot meal. During our conversation I learned that Early Girl really enjoyed reading Blue Butterfly’s 2008 trail journal. (Blue Butterfly is our friend who helped us so much with reducing our pack weights and arranged for us to have super deluxe lightweight bear canisters for the Sierras…thank you Blue Butterfly!) Early Girl remembered Hikertown because Blue Butterfly slept in a room with kittens. Well… as it happened Gabriel and I got a room with kittens in it this year. (Side note Bob Barker style: please remember to spay and neuter your cats and dogs!!!!) Both Gabriel and I smiled at having another connection to our friends and home.

Tomorrow we head out for the walk across the Mojave, along the Los Angeles aqueduct and into the flat lands of Joshua Trees. Temps should be around 60F with blue skies and a few clouds.

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