PCT day 16

May 31

Mile 197-210

13 miles

My little nook in the bushes was pretty protected but there was plenty of wind happening around me. Hearing the scrub toss around and knowing I faced a day of wind in the face makes it hard to get up, but I didn’t want to get caught in sleeping bag when more hikers started passing by. 

I had a big milestone first thing: Mile 200! How about that? I hiked 200 miles! Even with the miles I missed around Idyllwild, I am pretty impressed with myself. It’s not like I started this thing with years of hardcore hiking experience. Camping and traveling, yes. But my longest hike before this? Maybe 3 or 4 days.

The wind was wild this morning and the sun made an early, intense showing. As I switch backed down the hill, great flurrying gusts would catch me off guard and try to whip off my head coverings. I invented a new super high fashion way to keep my hat on my head. I tied my bandanna under my chin so it wouldn’t blow around. That had the added bonus of covering my ears and earbuds, so I hear my podcasts clearly. ​The wildlife seemed extra active this morning. I came upon two large lizards doing something… lizard-y. Maybe it was sex, but it could have been fighting. Later down the hill, I saw a recently killed chipmunk laying in the path. Then a severed deer leg. The bushes around me were probably teeming with predators. 

The wind was ridiculous. It puffed randomly, died down and roared back up, pushing so persistently that I stumbled around. It was completely annoying. Toward the bottom of the hill, I could see desert floor, a tiny community of homes beside a giant water tank, those spacey windmills in the distance. 

At the foot of the climb, I came to the water fountain. It’s a fountain, not a spigot, so the water bubbles up into the wind and splats all over the place. Not so easy trying to get the water spray aimed into a water bag nozzle. Plus, know who else uses the water fountain? Bees. Lots and lots of bees. 

How to describe the next couple hours? That sand, that wind – I was lost in the Sahara. ​I rested in the shade of pokey trees, mindless of the dust, the opposite side hills remaining just as distant. The hum of Interstate traffic, the hustle of freight trains, the invisible pushing wind added to my memory of being trapped in the deep sand of this valley. 

I made it to the Interstate. In the echoing underpass, I found the trail angel offerings. I fished around in the cooler, marveling at the miracle of ice and water, and found one solitary can of cream soda.

Someone told me they camped here. I can’t think of a more awful place to camp. 

The scattered houses of Whitewater huddled in the wind and beyond that the next set of hills rose up. Would I find a place out of the wind to pitch my tent? I considered my options from the shade of some sticks. One more hour, I told myself, and started out again. I saw a solitary walker, not a hiker but a local, her white dog on a leash. She saw me and a puzzled look crossed her face. I knew what she would say a split second before she spoke.

“Which way are you going? Are you hiking south?”

“Umm, north?”

“No, you’re not. You’re going south!”

Feeling like an amateur, I mentally retraced my steps. Yup, I was totally walking the wrong way. 

“I guess I got turned around back there..”

She was blond and looked a little like Goldie Hawn. After a few minutes of talking, she asked, “You can come to my house tonight if you want, I can make you some chicken if you’re not a vegetarian.”  

Leigh’s house was a brilliant artistic swirl of treasures and half-finished projects. “Sorry it’s such a mess! Let me move this out of the way!” I could tell I was making her nervous. “I’ve never had a PCT hiker into my house! This is the first time!”

“Don’t worry.” I said, “I do this all the time.” And it’s true, one thing travel has taught me is to comfortably sleep in strangers’ houses. I was flattered that out of 4000 PCT hikers, Leigh had chosen to invite me into her home. 
“You’re the first person I’ve seen walking backwards. And you were walking so slow! Usually the hikers are going so fast!” Maybe it’s not such a compliment, but I’ll take a hot shower and a real bed any way I can get it. Leigh gave me some groovy purple tie dye to wear while my clothes were in the laundry. Then she piled my plate with more salad and tortillas and chicken than I could eat. Crawling between clean sheets under a hand knit quilt felt like a real miracle that night.

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