PCT – CA Section A
Day 2 – Lake Morena to a ridge five miles south of Burnt Rancheria Campground (Mile 20 to Mile 36.5)
Friday, April 29, 2016
Getting Going Again
We got off to a slow start on this, our second day, as we attempted to leave the campground at Lake Morena. The clothes and socks we had rinsed out the night before in the shelter of the bathroom, then laid out on rocks and branches, were no drier come morning than they were the night before thanks to the marine layer and the continuing cloudy skies. In fact, those clothes wouldn’t be fully dry until the morning of the fourth day. While the clothes attempted to release their moisture, we reorganized our packs, ate our breakfast of instant oatmeal and dried fruit, and tried to formulate a routine. For me, day two of any long hike is the toughest. Your body is still not used to the strain you’re putting it through and your muscles complain about it relentlessly. At least until you’ve gotten a mile or two down the trail.
Our late start was slightly compounded by the need to make a few more adjustments as we began our hike and, to a lesser degree, by the soft, sandy soil of the trail as we trudged up the first of many hills that day. Because we had forgotten to apply sunscreen before we left, that became a necessity as soon as the marine layer burned off. That was one stop. The weight distribution in our packs was off, so we stopped again to readjust. Then we saw a cool mini arch and had to have a photo, so we stopped again. Several hikers passed us, so we chatted with each of them, adding to the delays that would inevitably reduce our mileage for the day.
Meeting New People
Many hikers take on trail names, monikers usually given by other hikers that either expose a certain element of their personalities or help them conceal their civilian identities. Early on day two, we met “Rambler” and “Second Lunch,” two thru-hikers traveling separately, but sort of together. Rambler got his name because of his constant need to be outdoors, exploring. Second Lunch got his because of his appetite. Both were amiable, fit, and determined. Second Lunch kept a blistering pace, but, as we found out later, had a tendency to take long meal breaks. Rambler was friendly, but not talkative.
Our trail brought us along the top of a flat ridge for some time. Canyons dropped off gently on either side and taller mountains loomed to our left and right in the distance. The sand and rocks were similar in color to so many trails in the High Sierra. The trail twisted and bent around until we were looking back at Lake Morena, where we had started our day some four miles and two hours earlier. This is where we dropped into a narrow, grassy valley and made our way through a stand of scrub oaks and laurels. Somewhere in there we found a nice rock to sit on and ate lunch in the shade. This is the point at which I began to feel a bit of chaffing and skin irritation along my hips and I discovered the benefits of Band Aid’s Friction Block. It worked a charm and kept my legs and hips happy. Anytime I felt any type of irritation or rubbing, I stopped and applied that stuff, which solved the problem.
Not too much further down the trail, we met Tequila John and Compass as we approached Boulder Oaks Campground. They alerted us to the location of the last known water spigot with clean water for thirty miles and encouraged us to “camel up,” which we did. This was the point at which I filled the two- 1.5 liter bottles I had carried empty to this point. Brian and I drank all we could at the spigot, then loaded up our bottles. We each carried the recommended eight liters of water. Eight liters of water weighs almost 18 pounds and we definitely felt the extra burden. But, we were later very glad we had done this.
Falling Further Behind
While still at the campground, we took a few moments to do business. My phone had been blowing up a little bit with office-related stuff, so I took a minute to answer emails and texts and make a call or two. Brian, too, got online and managed to save himself a few hundred dollars by cancelling some flights that he had double-booked. He also made arrangements with Will to get picked up at Highway 78 on Sunday so he could return and take care of business back at home. Coincidentally, Highway 78 is at trail mile 78. Boulder Oaks Campground, where we took this long break, was at mile 26.5.
Shortly after our longer-than-expected break, we passed under Interstate 8 and began a long slog up the shoulder of a mountain known as Peak 4382, hoping still to reach Burnt Rancheria Campground before dark. Problem was, it was already after 3:30 pm and we had about fourteen miles to go until we reached our intended camping spot. This called for some focus, so we each put in headphones and listened to music. Or so I thought.
Brian was actually listening to my debut novel, “Off Kilter,” on audiobook. When he caught up to me again, we began discussing the story, the characters, the setting, the plot, and every facet of the book. Later, he commented about how it should be made into a movie. I agreed and outlined my plan to make that happen. He offered a few suggestions and possible introductions, so we’ll see where that goes. I really enjoyed this in-depth conversation about something that means so much to me. I spent hours and hours developing and writing and plotting and revising and re-reading that story. It was fascinating and gratifying to listen to someone pull it apart and examine it out loud and ask insightful questions. Fortunately, I knew the answers to most of the questions, although Brian hit me with a few details that I had basically glazed over in the story. He’s really good that way. Always making me examine what I know from a different angle.
As we approached yet another ridgeline, I checked the Halfmile PCT app to find out how far we were from our intended destination. The app showed us to be four and a half miles away from the camp I had intended as our destination for the night. It was now past 6:30 p.m. That meant we’d be trying to find it in the dark with only our headlamps for illumination. It also meant two more hours before we ate something substantive. My insides were beginning to feel hollow and in want of food. See, lunches are always the most difficult meal on the trail. Weight is a huge consideration, as is protein and calories and preservability. That really limits your choices, so we stayed with trail mix, beef jerky, and protein bars. But, I was already growing tired of those and longed for a real meal, at least as real as freeze dried dinners can get.
A Unique Campsite
Half an hour later, we heard a familiar voice calling to us from somewhere up the hill to our right. It was our friend, Dutch Vegan Hiker. He had gotten ahead of us while we were stopped at Boulder Oaks and found a suitable place to camp just under the ridgeline, among the chaparral, about 200 feet from the trail near mile 35.5. It was flat and sandy and protected from the wind. What an awesome camp spot. We were grateful to our Dutch friend for his warm invite and spent what remaining daylight we had setting up our tent, preparing our dinner, and talking with our trail buddy about life, about the future, and about what brought him out to the PCT. It was a nice evening, but as darkness fell, the warmth of the day disappeared and our energy with it.
We spent the night on this obscure ridge, adequately sheltered and dog tired. Another good day, but we had only traveled 17 miles, putting us about four miles behind our tight schedule. Knowing we had two full days of hiking to make up lost ground, neither of us worried as we hunkered down and quickly fell asleep.
There’s a certain gratifying exhaustion that greets you at the end of a long day on the trail. Never is a warm sleeping bag and a thin, blow up mattress more inviting. My head hit my makeshift pillow and I was out cold. I think Brian had a similarly short ride to unconsciousness, but I couldn’t be sure as I was unaware of anything thirty seconds after I laid down.
While we slept, the fog rolled in again, keeping the clothes we had laid out on branches damp.