Day Six

Today's miles: 10
Total miles: 77

Today was surprisingly difficult. The terrain not so much... I still maintain that if the SoCal section of the PCT was 70 degrees and you didn't have to carry a 30 pound pack on your back, it would be a very pleasant walk. But the mental battle is a constant game you play with yourself. Whether you should walk slow to conserve energy or fast to beat the heat. Whether you should breathe through your nose and suffer nose bleeds, or your mouth and suffer cracked lips. How long you can push yourself before the need for water overpowers the necessity to conserve it. How you daydream about cool breezes all day. How your thirst is like a deep, empty well, and no matter how you try to slack it, you're constantly craving the feel of water on your tongue and in your throat. How making light of ridiculous conditions makes it more bearable, so you laugh about the lengths you go through to fit yourself into pockets of shade, how the wind likes to beat your face with your sun hat until you have bruises, and how your blistered, dirty feet are starting to resemble tough slices of beef.

And your body grows tired. Some days the walking is easy, and you're feeling rested, and some days you haven't slept and each step feels like dragging heavy chains across the desert.

But there are always moments of peace. Though I didn't sleep last night, I got up at 4:30 and stood outside the tent, feeling the soft, morning breeze and looking up at the stars. There was a quiet sort of stillness in that moment, before the dawn. Before our daily dance with the sunlight began, always running one step ahead, but always losing the race. It is the mornings that I love best in the desert. The quiet stirring of hikers and birds, the soft dawn light hitting the hills and painting them pink. I remember how beautiful it is and how nice it would be to pause on those hillsides and reflect on the passage of time.

But we don't have time, because the race has started, and the sun is already winning.

We walk through the morning, skirting the landscape, but my feet feel heavy today. My eyelids close with exhaustion. The sun tries to lull me to sleep. I try not to give in, but the temptation is great. I am hungry, but can only stomach a few spoonfuls of peanut butter. I am thirsty, but can only allow myself a few precious sips of water. Our next water source is 30 miles away.

We cross dry desert land and find ourselves beneath an underpass at 9am, eight miles from where we started. Some wonderful trail angel has left 50 gallons of well water, carefully kept in old milk jugs and labeled for PCT hiker use. There are several other hikers already there, taking advantage of shade and water, and commenting on how something so simple can make us so incredibly happy.

We learn that we are only 12 miles from the town of Julian, an easy hitch and a tempting escape from the heat of the afternoon, which has climbed to 107 in a few short hours. Plus, the next section of trail promises to be a steep incline for many miles, on a rocky ridge with no shade, better done in late afternoon or evening.

Katie and I are lured into the promise of town comforts, and I would sell my soul for a glass of ice water at this point. So we walk up to the road, stick out our thumbs, and attempt to look adorable. The first van that passes by stops for us, with two older ladies eager to help. We become fast friends as they drop us off in town with the wise words, "never stop traveling, girls. You'll never regret it."

Town is adorable. We are immediately enamoured. The shops on Main Street look like merchantiles straight out of 1880. We stop into Mom's Pie Shop, where we find more of our hiker friends and receives huge slab of homemade apple crumble pie and cinnamon ice cream for free. We write in the trail register at the table, where someone else has written, "I've walked all this way just for mom's pie." It's amazing how wonderful a real building feels, and how real food tastes. We've known nothing but sand and dry creek beds for days.

The townspeople are so friendly. All of them are eager to talk to us, and though we are embarrassed about our dirty feet and the streaks of salt on our clothes, they welcome us with open arms. We find a little Bed and Breakfast called the Julian Gold Rush Hotel, and the receptionist gives us a discount and free laundry service. We are ecstatic and decide to stay the night. Our bodies are wrecked with sand and sun and miles and we need the rest.

The B&B is adorable, and we enjoy showers, clean clothes, tea in the parlor and a burger dinner down the road. The trees in town create a gentle breeze and a calming shade. I wish I could take them with me to the trail.

We fall asleep in a cloudy heaven of pillows at 9pm, excited at the prospect of sleeping in tomorrow.