By some small mercy the rain had stopped by morning, although it didn’t look like the break would last for long. The wind blew even stronger and the clouds had gathered over the peak in a thick grey mass. For once I was the first one in our group to be geared up and ready to go that morning. I realized while packing, however, that my sun hat had disappeared. I’d tied it on the back of the pack with a half hitch. A note on my atrocious knot-tying skills: I sometimes accidentally tie the half hitch in reverse, rendering it useless. In my farm-living past this had resulted in several “tied” horses escaping only to graze a few yards away. In this case, my hat had jumped off my pack somewhere on the mountain, probably into a ravine, never to be found. I felt somewhat grateful for the bad weather and resulting sunless sky. And really – to be honest – I hated that hat anyway.
A mile or so out of the campsite we passed Honeybear’s tent. I couldn’t believe he’d made it so far last night after getting a late start. He must have passed right by our tents in the night. Squatchie, his aunt, stopped to talk to him before we set off; he’d stay behind and sleep in a bit more. It had been a long night.
It had only been an hour since breakfast when hunger hit me hard.
“Time for second breakfast!” I called. “I’m now on hobbit time!”
Hiker Hunger had officially landed, and it was the first day I’d felt 100% free of my sinus infection. I was ready to eat everything in my pack.
Our descent from Fuller Ridge was gradual and full of these food breaks – all with an amazing view of the storm descending over the desert, engulfing Whitewater and Cabazon and the hundreds of wind power generators spread below us.
The forest gave way to desert landscape and the trail switchbacked down through rocks and shrubs and sand, and a large chunk of the trail had even washed away. We carefully scaled along the mountainside like a pack of scrappy mountain goats until we found the trail again. Soon we hit the 200 mile mark and we stood in a circle for a photo, careful not to tumble off the side of the trail.
The descent was so gradual that it seemed to take all day. At the very bottom was a water faucet where we filled up – our first opportunity since twenty miles ago on the mountain.
There was no ideal place to camp, especially with the incoming weather, so we decided to cover the remaining five miles to Ziggy and The Bear’s in Whitewater. Ziggy and The Bear were legendary trail angels who had purchased and outfitted a home along the trail for the sole purpose of helping PCT hikers. I was excited to meet them and to visit with the other hikers staying there.
We hadn’t hiked far into the flat desert before the storm hit. The frustration of having to hike against blasting wind with rain stinging our faces and soaking our packs was exacerbated by having to also trudge slowly through deep sand. As we approached the interstate, I was overwhelmed by the heavy, nauseating smell of exhaust fumes mixed with an aroma that can be best described as “rotting cherry jolly ranchers”.
We contemplated camping under the I10 overpass, but all agreed that it was a likely place to get stabbed, so we moved on.
By the time we reached Ziggy and The Bear’s, two miles later, we were completely soaked. I was chilled to the bone. The house was overwhelmed and the outdoor sleeping area flooded; over thirty hikers were stranded and there wasn’t enough room for all of us. I recognized nearly everyone there, including Canadoug and the guitar guy from day one who’d hiked out of Hauser Canyon on a bad knee. The three of us had hiked together for the first five miles of the PCT, and here we were stranded together over two hundred miles later.
I was cradling a mug of hot chocolate like it was my infant child when Squatchie came over.
“Bucket and Fancypants are getting a hotel room. You want in?”
I nodded feebly.
Soon we were loaded up into an Uber ride to the nearby town of Banning. The motel room was overpriced, but the shower made it feel more than worth it. Our morale restored, we chatted cheerfully and exploded our packs to organize our food and dry out our gear. I washed our socks in the sink and then settled on my sleeping pad on the floor next to the heating unit, which seemed to somehow amplify outside noises. I could hear the nearby train passing so clearly, I might as well have been sleeping in a train yard.
But I was clean and warm, and that night sleep came easily.