A few days prior to a 19 mile water carry from Mt. San Jacinto (10,833ft) to sea level, one of our new friends “Whitney Shoeston” had warned us about the extreme conditions we would be facing on the decent. He had hiked the trail a few years prior and ran out of water in this same section, becoming severely dehydrated before he could refill his bottles. He tried to express the importance of being prepared though I couldn’t help but brush it aside as his dreaming eyes peered through thick rimmed glasses at me, he smiled a boyish grin elated to be on trail again giving advice. He reminded me of Squince from the movie “The Sandlot” and that’s all I was really thinking about.
The day we climbed down this super important water carry we woke in a dry creek bed. One of our top 5 places to make camp. The sand was extra padding beneath our thin foam sleeping pads which helped to decrease the numbing sensations I felt at night while trying to sleep on my sides. It was cool and shady in the creek so naturally flies buzzed all around landing on my eyes and toes like the sad starving $1.00 a day commercials. The evening before this we had hiked some of the decent leaving us with almost 3 liters of water each. This should have been more than enough, our maps showed that we had 12 miles to water then another 5 to Ziggy and the Bears, a hostel where we would sleep that night.
As we set out that morning we remembered that we needed to look out for a plant called Poodle Dog Bush, it had purple flowers and smelled like chronic kush. If we came in contact with the plant we were sure to break out in blisters worse than a poison oak rash. Sure enough as we exited the last bit of forest at the edge of a barren orange desert scape, poodle dog bush spread like wild fire as far as we could see. We spent the first 2 hours of the decent doing everything we could to avoid the poodle. There were side trails formed around some of the bushes from previous hikers which totally solidified our thoughts about the bush. This was a mind fuck. DO NOT TOUCH. I started to itch, I had been contaminated for sure, there was no way I hadn’t gotten at least a little bit of the oils on myself.
We continued down with caution swearing when the slightest poodle branch would graze our bodies (A few days later we learned that this was not poodle dog bush). The sun started to rise higher in the sky and mother nature began to laugh at us beaming down an energy hotter than anything we had felt on the trail so far. 103 degrees by 12:00pm. My partner and were going at our own paces by now, he was a few switchbacks ahead of me. I scanned down the mountain, nothing more than poodle dog bush, sage brush, and boulders that made shade for rattlers. There were too many things to watch out for, my eyes began to ache. Moments later I heard my partner become startled, whooping out loud. I hurried down the trail jumping over rocks, twisting to avoid poodle, and stirring up the desert dust. As I reached my partner he whispered as loud as he could “stop, rattle snake!” He pointed to the right of the trail ahead of me near a huge rock, I moved to the left and inched forward. A rattler slept nestled in the shade of the boulder hidden by oncoming traffic, not making a sound.
We were in the cut now with a snake encounter, what we thought to be poodle dog bush, and at least 7 miles to go. It was fucking hot. “Whitney Shoeston” was right. What a nice kid, trying to warn us and all. Should have listened. We rounded a corner and could see the water below. It looked so close but we had miles to go. From here on we watched the water with dehydrated pupils, was it getting further away? Now with 1.5 liters which seemed to be more than enough was actually not. We could not replenish as mass amounts of sweat drizzled down our bodies. My partner sped forward. In times like this (hard ass times) we usually hiked apart. It was easier for our minds to overcome the situation if we could stay concentrated without any interruption. At 5 miles to water we stopped in a small shaded area with 4 or 5 other hikers. One hiker, “D1” had less than a half liter of water. He spoke as if it wasn’t a big deal but that was a fucking joke. I gave him some of my water. I am a saint sent from heaven, and this trail was my chapel. No joke I saved so many lives by sharing my water in the desert.
We hiked on, sipping sun penetrated h2o. I kept a steady pace once more. I would not over exert myself. I was a fragile flower in the palms of diablo. My partner was out of site. He had less water than me, I tried not to wonder about him. I looked around at the scenery, bland. A scab of earth that looked like a topo map, was it even real? How did people choose to live here? I couldn’t believe I was hiking in this shit. 500 more miles of desert to go I thought. FUCKK. Finally I saw a group of sweat drenched hikers cowering in the shade of a boulder near the water fountain. Wow the watering hole, a fountain in the middle of the desert. The water trickled out of the fountain, filling a liter every five minutes. I didn’t want to move. I sat with my shoes and socks off, eating crackers and slim jims. Ahead was another 5 miles to the hostel, across an open field of sand and sage brush. This was death valley if I didn’t know better.
My partner was eager to leave. I hadn’t been sitting for longer than 15 minutes and the sun was scorching down in the heat of the day. We should wait I thought, I should wait. I should just wait and let him go. I want to wait. It’s so hot, I will die. I am already dying. I could feel his anxiety penetrating my thoughts and I shushed my mind. “Okay, lets go”, I said with a tone that expressed how much I actually didn’t want to leave. We began down the asphalt that would lead us to the open desert. It was 5 degrees hotter on the road, I could feel the heat soaking through my feet. We trudged on, I walked silently behind my partner. Angry that we didn’t stay longer as chills started to creep down my body. Am I going to faint? I think I am having a heat stroke. I continued to walk, now being pulled down by sand. This is unsafe. I am risking my life right now hearing very clearly the SOS calls from my body. I am dying, I am going to faint. I am literally about to have a heat stroke I think even though I have no clue what it feels like I think it is this.
We finally reached I-10. Two overpasses stood granting us large amounts of shade for the first time that day. It was 330pm. Cars sped over us continuously, reminding us that there were other people out there doing “normal” fast life things while we chose to take the scenic life threatening route. Under the first pass was an apple and some water bottles. I sat down abruptly feeling dizzy and full of anger from not listening to my intuition. My partner moved on to the next pass where there was a group of people. Eventually I made my way down to them. Two trail angels sat with a cooler full of beer, soda, and sandwich fixings. I sat down again glancing at a syringe that lay on the dirt beside me. I could smell poop as well but this was normal. There was always poop buried somewhere near where I chose to sit and camp. Not caring I drank a soda in peace, and let the group tell me how to console my heat exhaustion. My partner chugged two beers and ate a cheese sandwich not knowing there was meat in the cooler.
The two angels that provided for us were named “Cope” and “Trail Bride”. They hiked the PCT the year before. They met on the trail and fell in love. They couldn’t stop telling us to keep going, and that when it was over it would be the only thing we thought about forever. I couldn’t grasp this. I was at mile 200. I couldn’t imagine finishing. I didn’t know if I would finish. I didn’t want to put myself that far into the future. For me it was about soaking in every second. Looking out at the views knowing that at that exact moment everyone in the world was doing something even if it wasn’t the same time. I was doing this. “D1” interrupted my spiritual thoughts by offering up magic mushrooms to all of us. The trail just kept getting better. They were called penis envy. Must be good. We got a small baggie full and thanked him graciously.
“Cope” and “Trail Bride” then began rolling up a spliff. It was packed with that cali bud and a little bit of tobacco to help get the heart pumping. We sat with our backs against the concrete over pass and dragged the harsh yet pleasing joint. My partner and I hadn’t been smoking much so the effects were instant. I began talking my face off explaining how high I was and how much I loved taking a break just for this reason blah blah blah. I looked over at my partner and noticed him turning pale, sweat beading up along his temples. “Are you okay?” “I think I am going to pass out, I can’t see or hear, I can’t see or hear anything,” he said as his head started to fall gently to the side. I got up quickly and told “Trail Bride” and “Cope” that he was passing out, they didn’t even realize it because he was just sitting there passing out, not really moving. They wetted his shirt and I made him a sandwich and brought him a soda to spike his blood sugar. He came back slowly, feeling as if he had just died and come back to life.
Everyone left a while after that. I sat with my partner for 3 hours 1 mile away from the hostel helping him and waiting for him to gain strength. I realized the poop I had been smelling was right under my backpack and I was nearly sitting on it. We just laid there, watching people one by one pass by under the bridge. Finally at 7pm we walked on. Slowly but surely we reached the hostel at Ziggy and the Bears. This was the day that granted my partner the trail name “Helen Keller” who went deaf and blind under interstate 10.