Day 19: Dry Camp south of Cajon Pass to Dry Camp on the climb to Wrightwood
Trail Miles 335.4-356.4
May 21, 2019
When my alarm beeped at 5:30, I felt as though I’d hardly slept. A powerful wind had blown throughout the night and was still buffeting my tent now that the sun was beginning to rise. I turned off my alarm and “slept” for another hour as my tent shuddered around me in the gusts.
I started hiking at the stroke of 7:40. In an effort to hide some of my heat from the greedy wind, I cinched my rain jacket hood snug around my face. My sunglasses shielded my eyes against the intermittent rain drops that whipped through the air.
“Why is it always windy and cold? In the desert…?” I thought to myself as I walked over a ridge and into a fresh blast of frigid air. For a few minutes, I hiked with a scowl on my face, brooding about my bad luck with the weather. But as I walked on, it occurred to me that I was allowing the wind and the low-hanging rain clouds to ruin my day. I started to imagine the situation as a competition. The wind was out to spoil my mood, and it was succeeding. The only way I could turn the tables was to enjoy myself in spite of the wind.
Miraculously, this simple change of perspective salvaged my morning. I cinched my hood tighter, pushed my sunglasses into place, and hiked faster, trying to take energy from the wind instead of giving it more of my own. I flew down the ridge towards Cajon pass, singing snatches of songs to myself and croaking at the ravens who appeared to be grounded by the strong gusts.
I made the 6.5 miles to Cajon pass in less than two hours and followed an official-looking sign down a short road to a McDonald’s, the last consistent water source before the long (22+ miles long) climb into Wrightwood.
I stepped into the McDonald’s, still wearing my tightly-drawn hood and sunglasses, looking like a dirty astronaut with bad facial hair. My friends sat at two large tables and had commandeered a third booth for packs and trekking poles.
I stashed my gear and chatted with them while I powered down my second breakfast: some hashbrowns, a cup of coffee, two apple pies, and an ice cream cone (first breakfast had been gobs of peanut butter and Nutella sandwiched between tortillas, but that was two hours ago).
We talked about the long, waterless climb ahead, and discussed the dearth of good camping on the exposed ridges we’d be walking that afternoon.
Most of my friends were interested in staying until McDonald’s started serving lunch (10:30am, for anyone wondering), but I wanted to keep the rhythm I’d found that morning, so I tanked up on water and headed out.
I felt a bit like a socially averse pelican, swooping in just long enough to catch a few social-life-sustaining laughs, before flapping away towards Wrightwood while my friends lingered. But I knew I had a tough afternoon ahead of me and really did not want to spend another moment in that “restaurant.”
For the first few miles out of Cajon Pass, the trail travels through the no-man’s land surrounding the interstate and the rail lines at the center of the valley. The trail ducks through tunnels and culverts and jogs under bridges and power lines before eventually winding its way into some low hills. From there, it crosses the rift zone of the San Andreas Fault, which appears as a long valley lined on either side by steep mountains. Then begins a steady 5000’ climb into the mountains on the western side of the valley.
I cruised up the climb, feeling strong and happy except for an occasional twinge of pain in my hip or my foot. Two of the previous three days had been essentially 20 mile days, and I looked forward to adding a 20 plus mile day to the list.
But in the last few miles of the day, the twinge in my foot exploded into full-blown tendon pain (in my extensor tendon on the top of my foot), complete with a distinct burning sensation to accompany each step. The pain demanded my attention, and I stopped numerous times to try to relace my shoe. My efforts were in vain, and by the time I reached a reasonable campsite, I was hobbling.
I ate dinner in my tent and washed down a large dose of ibuprofen with the water I’d carried from McDonald’s. When Hot Hands arrived, she lent me her tennis ball so I could try rolling the tendon out, but rubbing it was painful.
Danish, Brightside, and Hiccups ate dinner near my tent, and I laughed with them as we joked about the people we’ve met on the trail, but my mind was on the following morning’s hike: 13 miles with 3500’ of climbing and nearly as much descending. How would my foot hold up? And would a zero in Wrightwood be sufficient time to heal, or would I lose my trail family as they hiked on without me?
This is the PCT…
This is the trail…
Guess who figured out how to use the macro function on his camera