Water: cameled up at Buckhorn campground faucet; 1L pee water from camp Glenwood; 3L lovely spring water at sulfur spring
It’s just a few easy miles back to highway 2 which the trail crosses something like seven time today. To make things a bit more complicated, four miles of trail are closed semi-permanently in honor of the endangered yellow-legged frog. There are two ways around: an unofficial three mile road walk that I plan to take, or the official eighteen mile slog on a rough trail without water sources. Which no one will be taking on purpose.
Two lanes weave through high mountains, complete with views and tunnels. And even some falling rocks. Though the road walk is advertised as ‘dangerous’, there are only a few bits where the shoulder is lacking, and even fewer cars on this weekday morning.
Road walking requires far less concentration than the trail. You are not constantly watching your feet, avoiding pointy or itch-inducing plants, or wondering which way to go. This leaves far more time for contemplation of the little things, and/or being maddeningly alone with your thoughts. People cope in different ways. The group behind me plays twenty questions. Without actually counting the questions. Others hitch to avoid doing any road walking at all.
After a few minutes, I notice that my pack is very squeaky. With some experimentation, I discover that if I adjust the straps a certain way, and walk at the right speed, my pack will creak out a base line over which I can sing “In the Jungle”. A coyote runs straight up the road. Again with animal encounters at the boundaries rather than in the ‘wild’.
With the detour and all the road crossings, many things become tempting. Add a few more road miles, skip a bit more trail. Walking the road? Why not just hitch? I cut off a few extra trail squiggles at first, but with Shenanigans, am among the minority that heads straight back to the PCT after the detour, to put in a solid day of hiking.
The trail that most people skip is at least rewarding. Down into a deep ravine, running creek and tall trees. There are even ferns. A lush sliver of green I will remember as we trek across brown desert in days to come. We pay for this experience with a long dry climb right back to the road where we left, up out of a dry scorching lay hot area called “Devil’s Punchbowl.”
There is much confusion about water today. Lord Byron is in a bit of a tizzy, going on about how there is no water for twenty-three miles. This contradicts what I’ve read in the water report, a much consulted PDF on my phone, updated just the day before. Other people check other apps. Though results vary, there should be water somewhere today, so I carry my usual two liters, as others worry themselves into lugging five. In the end, several sources listed as dry or barely dripping are fully running, if not with the most appealing contents.
It is properly hot this afternoon, for the first time since way back at mile 77 near Julian. I sit in the shade on the porch of a closed cabin, a long afternoon break that involves eating all the things. With such ready road access, I dream of trail magic, specifically cold beverages. “Would you want a coke if it was thrown at you from a car?” I ask. Yes, but only if it was cold is my conclusion. We Imagine people throwing candy for hikers, who descend in a frenzy, like pigeons to breadcrumbs.
Around dinner time, Shenanigans and I pass Lemonade setting up camp. He is putting up his tent a few hundred feet off trail in a small clearing completely surrounded by poodle dog bush and all its noxious reek. “What are you doing there Lemonade?” I ask. “I picked it out on the map this morning,” he explains, “it’s nice and flat.” Shenanigans and I spend the next mile pointing out every place we would rather sleep than the poodle dog minefield. Namely everywhere.
Though I assumed it might be a few days before we catch our friends who took the fast road, we end up together again at camp, a tricky to find spot that rewards our thorough search with a lovely flowing, if unpleasantly named, ‘Sulphur’ spring.