Date: May 22, 2017
Miles: 21.6 miles (34.8km), from mile 335.7 to mile 357.3.
Health: One of the toes on my left foot had swollen during the previous night, and my right heel hurts.
We wake up early but stay in our sleeping bags. We only have to do about 8 miles this morning to get to the Cajon Pass McDonalds where we're spending the day staying out of the sun. It's going to be a hot day and the section out of Cajon Pass is a long waterless and shadeless climb that you do not want to do during the day.
Queso celebrates his birthday by opening his beer the moment he wakes up. We all just lay and chat while eating our breakfast. Then it's time to go again. Queso leaves first and Sunshine and I head out after him. The trail goes up and down and the sun is already hot even though it's not even 7am.
We talk about books, Sunshine's family, and then politics. You usually avoid politics on the trail like a plague, but we've hiked so much together that we felt safe to talk about it. And it was nice. Sunshine has traveled to over 25 countries, and is what I'd call extremely well read for her age. I always find talking with her fascinating and super interesting.
My foot starts to hurt on a long downhill, but I'm too lazy, and we're too close to the McDonalds, to do anything about the issue. I limb down and we see the trail sign to the restaurant. Yeah!
I don't think I've ever been this excited about fast food. And that's saying a lot.
The last few hundred feet are on concrete and switching from sand to a hard surface feels really bad. My feet feel even worse and I tell Sunshine to just go ahead.
As we get to the McDonalds it's already full of hikers. We storm one of the empty tables and find a power outlet right next to it. Score! I open my shoes to let my feet breath a little bit and then order breakfast with extra bacon. Warm food and ice cold drinks taste amazing!
For the next 9 hours we sit at the McDonalds and greet all the incoming hikers. Soon there are only hikers in the restaurant. I calculate that I eat about 4,000 calories worth of junk food during the day. All-you-can-drink-soda is awesome!
We charge our electronics, use the toilets, and I ice my foot. It's going to be a long night hike up a big mountain so all the calories are going to come handy.
As the sun starts to set, all the hikers slowly head out. We set out in a big group and hike under the highway and train tracks and then start the climb. The mountain range looks daunting and the beautiful evening light makes the scenery look like a painting. We take a lot of breaks to take a ton of photos. Slowly our big group breaks into smaller groups and I notice I'm hiking ahead of everyone else.
As I feel really good I push on as it's not yet dark but it's already cooler. After the first mountain range we go down to a valley and then start climbing an even larger mountain. As I get some way up it gets so dark that I feel like I can't see the trail or rattlesnakes well enough. Time to switch on my headlamp.
As I look down to the valley and the opposing mountain I see small groups of headlamps following the trail. I can pretty much guess who's hiking in which group.
The trail starts to get really narrow and the overgrown vegetation makes it hard to see where I'm stepping and I start to freak myself out a little. I try to see how long of a drop I'm standing next to but my headlamp isn't strong enough to light all the way to the bottom. My morale goes down as I feel like I'm all alone in the dark. The howling wind that shakes me around isn't helping.
Soon I see headlamps ahead of me and my morale goes up again. I see few other groups ahead as well and I don't feel so alone and small anymore. I pass few groups who've already stopped for the night. I stop for a second for a small chitchat and to get a morale boost.
On one of the shoulders I see something black slithering in the brush. As I carefully get closer I notice it's a headlamp. Dang, this is a bad section to lose your headlamp. I pick up the lamp and plan to find the owner down the trail.
After some time I look at my clock and notice I've climbed for 5 hours without a break. I stop to get some more water from the back and to eat a few bars. While I'm eating a headlamp light turns around the corner and I hear Sunshine's voice greeting me. She's in the zone and doesn't want to stop so she continues on. Soon I see her light go behind a shoulder.
I head out after Sunshine and continue my climb. Every now and then I can see her light above me. After awhile I find her eating a bar on a ridge line looking at the highway down in the distance. The white headlights and red backlights of LA traffic make the highway look like a river from far above. I sit down next to her for a while and then push on.
This feels like the longest climb so far on the trail. At some point Sunshine catches up to me. We look below us and see no lights. And no lights above us. We wonder if everyone else already stopped hiking or if we're just around a corner or a hill and just can't see them.
As the clock gets closer to midnight I notice I keep on dozing off and that I have to rely on my hiking poles for support way too much. That's not a good thing in the dark on a narrow trail on a mountain. I have to stop and shake myself awake. But it's too hot and I've been up for close to 20 hours now. Sunshine catches me and I try to follow her to stay awake but end up not being able to keep her pace.
The elevation and the hours of climbing are starting to show and my legs are really telling me to stop hiking. But I can't as there's no place to stop on a mountain side. I slowly move one foot ahead of the other and use the poles to balance myself on the narrow trail. Finally I see Sunshine's headlamp and she's stopped. I climb up to where she is but this is just a road, our camping spot is still 1.2 miles away.
I just remind myself that these miles will be much harder to do tomorrow once the sun gets up again.
At 1:35am we get to our camp for tonight. One of the toughest and longest days on the PCT so far, I'm completely done. I start to look around for a spot to drop down on and there's nothing but a forest road. There are few tents close by but tonight we'll sleep on a road.
I setup my cowboy camp in no time, quickly do small feet maintenance, and then just crash. Sunshine is putting up her spot a hundred feet down the road. We agree to wake up at 4:45am to climb the rest of the mountain before the sun gets up. It's going to be a short night. I fall asleep almost immediately while looking at the stars above.