Friday, May 13, 2016

Day 13 : Pioneertown, CA

25 miles today
2421 miles to go

Balsam? Walking down this trail smells fresh and clean. The bushes are all blooming and the smell is invigorating. We decide that the only viable option for us is to walk the alternate route. Neither of us feel right about walking the closed section. Taking a shuttle and not be able to trace a continuous footpath from Mexico to Canada completely abandons my goal for taking the trip. Thus we are walking away from the PCT. Forty-five miles around. This way we'll miss forty-one miles of the PCT. Of those miles, fifteen are closed and we couldn't walk them any way. So we are walking about four miles further. Instead of walking in the wilderness most of these miles will be along roads. 

The trail takes us to a place called Stone House in the Mission Creek Preserve. At Stone House we meet a guy named Bake and his family. I think Bake is the coolest trail name ever. Especially out here in deserty parts of California. We walk with them out to the gate. We walk past the remains of four ‘bunk houses’. They are stone buildings, each missing its roof. That must be what makes something a ‘remains’ as opposed to what it really is, a small building made of concrete and stone. If you put a roof on it you no longer have a ‘remains’ you have a rustic dwelling place. It was strange to see out behind these buildings that there was a blue cracked concrete remains of a swimming pool. So did the cowboys come home after a long day of cattle punching and go for a swim? How old are these remains? The site raised more questions for me than provided answers. After saying goodbye Bake and family hop in their car and are gone in a cloud of dust. We are surrounded by harsh desert. Scrubby bushes, stickery plants, Shade? Forget about it. We plod down the gravel road towards what looks like might be more civilized place than where we currently are.  One of the things that I've had to train myself on this hike is to live in the present. Living in a modern world where I can hop in a car and be somewhere else in a few minutes provides the luxury of imagining what it will be like once I get there. When hiking, getting ‘there’, even when ‘there’ is the next intersection, will be hours from now. Anticipation quickly exhausts me, so I try to live where I am. Experience the heat, feel the sand grind between my toes, the amazing rejuvenation of the breeze blowing through my sweat soaked shirt. The desert passes slowly by at the speed of life. The speed we were born to live. I have time to contemplate each rock, flower, or bush I pass. I let mind my wander and settle in to here and now. 

A single car passes us on the washboardy road in the hour or so it takes to reach the highway. It can be lonely out here where the horizon meets the ground in all directions without being blocked by a single man-made structure. The highway is a civilized piece of linearity in the vast chaotic rocky landscape. Cars and trucks zipping by in both directions filled with people and products from someplace going to someplace else, seemingly oblivious to the two sweaty, filthy beings standing on the side watching them.

We cross into the median strip, a fifty foot space of semi desert between the two asphalt ribbons keeping the occupants of the southbound vehicles from meeting the occupants of the northbound ones. That would be a dramatic and unfortunate event in this barren inhospitable place. It's the safest place to walk. We head north. The highway stretches on and on to the distant hills. Vast rolling miles of desert. We have a clear trail, the normal desert silence obliterated by each passing vehicle. The engineers seem to have designed most vehicles so that the sound you hear is not the rumbling roar of those thousands of micro-explosions occurring each minute within the engine compartment. Instead they sound like wind. A blob of wind blew by, and another. Other vehicles roar by, some because of their immensity, others on two wheels with roars completely outside the scale of the vehicle itself. Engineered to tell the world ‘I am here’ as they roar down they highway past us. 

Eventually we reach the hills and cross the northbound lanes into a dry sandy wash. The remains of the old highway through the mountains. Leftover bones of the two-lane highway from a simpler time. Cracked asphalt jutting out from under layers of rock and sand. Old tires with the rim still attached. How does one forget to take their rim? There it sits forgotten. A relic for some future archeologists to find and stick in a museum as a one of the few remaining examples of twentieth century technology. 

The highway goes on and on forever and ever into the future that comes at us at around two and a half miles per hour, maybe a little faster, but the math is easier at two and a half, Five miles? Two hours. We climb around the curvy wash. One of the vacationer vehicles has car trouble as we slowly pass. We, at least are going somewhere. While their five tons of technology sits in the heat at the side of the road. “Where are you headed?” They ask. “Canada,” is my favorite reply. It is so incongruous with the context of two shabby figures in the middle of the desert. 

We reach a bridge, which for us is a tunnel . A magic tunnel of cool breezes and refreshing valuable shade, something in incredibly short supply in the glaring brilliance of the desert. We aren't the first to discover this oasis. The local teenagers apparently find this the place to come, party, and paint the walls with things significant to them in the first few decades of life. Some obviously stood on the roof of dad's truck because they painted above the art below. I try to imagine the thoughts of a young person trapped in this desolate place, some of those thoughts inspired this art. I see a longing to be free and somewhere else. Someplace exciting and new, someplace far from this boring existence in the dirt and dust of the desert. New York City maybe. I wonder how many old couples live out here wondering why their kids never come by to see them. 

Morongo Valley is a spot on the road with traffic signals to slow the vehicles long enough to possibly tempt them to stop and spend their dollars here. We stop at the Circle K. The proprietress is friendly and asks us about our trip. She's seen an influx of PCT Thru-hikers passing through. We are all following the trailblazing work of Magician and his magic bypass. He recommends the Circle K. So that's where we all go. The other markets miss out on dirty, sweaty hikers that want to spend money to eat modern food and drink modern drinks. She is more than accommodating to our wishes and dreams. I walk out with two hot buffalo chicken sandwiches, a cold turkey and cheese and  sandwich and a Gatorade. I wolf that down while Braveheart decides what she wants. We spilt a pint of Breyers Hearh ice cream while sitting in our shabby heaps in front of the store. Then it's back out into the glaring heat.

We follow the highway some more. It no longer has a median strip or a sandy wash so we are stuck with walking on the left side facing the opposing traffic. We look into the distance where the highway appears to grow steeper and steeper climbing at what looks like an impossible angle up and up and up. Really? We are going up there? We’ll never get there a part of me thinks. How often have I let those false thoughts stop me from doing something difficult? We do eventually get there, it wasn't as steep as it looked, it was only a matter of time and perseverance. We eventually arrive at the thriving metropolis of Yucca Valley. It is here that we meet our first fellow thru-hiker of the day. Jazz Man is from Japan. We sit in the shade of a park and chat while resting. I hope we see him again as he seems to be a lot of fun. 

Our goal and destination for the day is Pappy and Harriet's. The last recommended place on Magician’s instructions. We want to get there because it puts us in a position to regain the PCT tomorrow night. We turn north and head through a beautiful canyon that looks like it could have been the set for the Disney movie ‘Cars.’ More climbing along a narrow windy road. Not for the faint at heart. We are walking into the setting sun and it's getting low enough that the effectiveness of my umbrella is reduced to the point of switching it out for my hat. A couple in a giant pickup truck stop to warn us about a rattlesnake on the side of the road ahead. ‘A quarter mile from here.’ A quarter mile is a long time when you're walking. The snake had moved on by the time we get to wherever it might have been. The warning did make me more aware of where I was diving every time a car came careening around the a corner.

We arrive at Pappy and Harriet's with an hour of sun left. We met Jason who told us that we could stop at his place tomorrow on the climb out of here saving us the the weight of carrying twenty miles of water. Lucky us, it's Friday night and the music festival at Pappy and Harriet's is in full swing. Lots of campers, we meet our friendly neighbors who are all here for the music. They've come from all over. Some as far as Seattle. The festivities continue long past hiker midnight. Doesn't matter to me, a couple of ear plugs and I'm out for the night.

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