On the PCT: Acton, Part One

My trail name is Rainbow Dash, but most of my time on the Pacific Crest Trail has thus far been spent Rainbow Trotting, Rainbow Moseying, Rainbow Crawling, and even Rainbow Hobbling.  However, I spent much of the time between Wrightwood and Acton dashing, and I loved every minute of it.

In keeping with the PCT’s “choose your own adventure” style, there were various detours presented to hikers leaving Wrightwood.  To avoid walking in snow over Mount Baden-Powell, we could take what Appalachian Trail hikers would call a “blue blazed” trail; to protect the endangered yellow-legged mountain frog, we could either walk a 20-mile detour with significant elevation gain or roadwalk/hitch up the Angeles Crest Highway.

Naturally, I was not about to miss the summit of Baden-Powell, and I didn’t come all this way to choose a roadwalk over a scenic hike.  Ant, Pine Nut, and I had decided to walk together for a while, but Ant’s plantar fasciitis forced them to elect to blue blaze around Baden-Powell.  And, thus, we had a problem, particularly when I spent two days so worn out that I couldn’t keep my eyes open and perfected the standing nap.

On Day 2 of the Wrightwood to Acton section, after I’d made it down to Vincent Gulch and up and over the 9000-foot behemoth that is Baden-Powell, I was more than 22 miles behind Ant and Pine Nut.  Here’s where the dashing comes in.

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The chaparral near Acton

I slept for 15 hours, woke up on Day 3 feeling “awake, alert, alive, and enthusiastic,” and set off down the mountain and toward the endangered species detour.  I’d slept on snow that night, but I soon found myself in the desert floor; a long day of climbing took me back among snow before plunging me down among the yuccas in another valley.  All day long, I never saw another backpacker.  The trail was quiet, the sun was blessedly warm, and I enjoyed alternately taking in the scenery and losing myself in my thoughts.

By the end of the day, I’d walked more than 22 miles, but Ant and Pine Nut had kept walking, too.  Exhausted, I fell asleep near a stream under pine trees and woke up to frost and sunshine and cool air and prepared for another long day.

Day 4 was the first day that the water sources, which had been replenished by the snowstorm that sent us running for cover, began drying up.  I’d been intending to fill up at Camp Glenwood, a Boy Scout camp in the middle of the woods and where the water report (our go-to guide for water sources) had reported working faucets.  However, when I got there, I was only able to gather a half-liter of water before the flow of water from the faucet was reduced to drips.

Fortunately, I soon came upon some very magical “trail magic”: a container of water and a couple boxes of fruit and veggies left in the woods for hikers.  What’s more, Cheney, a fatherly hiker, spontaneously offered me some of his extra water when he found that another water source was lackluster.

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A cairn under stormy skies

Once I was well hydrated, the miles flew by.  The day was warm, and the trail was easy.  Before I knew it, I was sitting atop a ridge, in a meadow with pine trees, eating unstuffed peppers in a tortilla and thinking about where I should sleep.  I turned on my phone, hopeful that I’d have reception.  I did!  And, I had several text messages from Ant and Pine Nut, the last message of which said that they were staying in the valley below me, just four miles further by trail.  I finished my dinner, laced up my sneakers, and hit the trail again.

By the time I got to camp, 24.6 miles and 4800+ feet of elevation from my tent site of the night before, I was exhausted and completely elated.  Trekking poles slung over my shoulders and arms hanging over my poles, I arrived, victoriously, at the Mill Creek Picnic Area, where hikers were invited to camp.

Pine Nut and Ant poked their heads out of their tent at the sound of my voice, and we shared chocolate and candy and talked until hiker midnight to celebrate.  Riding some remnants of my hiker’s high, I crawled into my tent and fell, happily, to sleep.

Since Ant is still dealing with plantar fasciitis, our daily mileage is more moderate now.  I’ve assured Ant and Pine Nut that my body is probably appreciating their speed, and that good friends are absolutely worth slowing down for, as much as they were worth my speeding up.  Our plan is to walk together through the Sierras, and no one in their right mind would want to rush that section!

However, those two days of cruising down the trail were quite special to me, and there will, no doubt be more of them in the future, further up the trail.  My journal entry from Day 4 concludes, “For the first time in a long time, I felt like me, old me, pre-Lyme me, Rainbow Dash, and it was wonderful.”

To read more about our hike, check out Pine Nut’s blog and Ant’s photos on Cycked!org.

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