We stayed in Julian until the afternoon. The next section of trail would be exposed to the sun for miles on the mountainside, all uphill and with little opportunity for shade. It would be hot, but the bigger problem was the lack of water; there would be none for 14 miles until the Third Gate water cache. And I had heard rumours that it was running low. Detour and Scott and I talked about night hiking the section. For me there was no question. I had night hiked 18.5 miles out of Mount Laguna with James and Dan and it had been my favorite part of my PCT experience so far. I was looking forward to doing it again.
I got up early for continental breakfast at the Julian Lodge. I took the last table. An older couple came in after me and I invited them to sit with me. They were Ish and Maria, visiting the town from San Diego. They had to leave that morning because they forgot their medication at home.
“He forgot the medicine,” Maria laughed, “but he remembered the camera!”
They shared stories about themselves and their children. We talked about the PCT and camping. Ish said he loved camping and had a big stove he liked to use. I loved how talking to them was like talking to family. Maria gave me her email address so that I could let them know when I made it to Canada.
That afternoon Detour and Scott and I walked to the Julian Library where some other hikers were attempting to hitch out. A female hiker stood on the shoulder with her thumb out while the male hikers sat off to the side.
“If you stick your thumb out for those guys,” one of them said, “It’ll be easier for you to get a ride. People will be more likely to pull over.” I didn’t doubt it – but there was no need. Two trucks pulled off to the side. Detour and Scott and I hustled to the rear one.
“You can have the front seat since you’re the tallest,” Detour said. I was grateful. Even after helping move the toolboxes out of the cab, there still didn’t seem to be room for any size adult back there. Somehow, those guys made it work.
We introduced ourselves.
“I’m Jerry,” the driver said. He was large, with long white hair pulled back under a cowboy hat. He said he owned 60 acres nearby, and some land in Montana. He used to hike and ride on the PCT when he was younger.
Back down the winding road he pointed out a small valley as we passed.
“That used to be Banner, back in the 1800s,” he said. “Flash floods washed it all away. It’s just farmers now.”
On the hillside was a large capital “B” outlined with what looked like thick white ribbon tape.
Jerry dropped us off at Scissors Crossing. We thanked him and helped put his toolboxes back into the cab of the truck.
“I don’t want to wait under the overpass if we don’t have to,” I said as Jerry drove off, “It’s still hot but if we get going now it will cool down in a couple of hours.”
We unanimously decided to hike on. The heat and the incline quickly took its toll, though, and we took our first break only 15 minutes in. Detour and Scott smoked and I sat on a boulder, eating popcorn that I bought in Julian.
“It’s too bulky to take with me,” I said, “I’m not even hungry but I just have to eat it.” Detour took my camera and took photos of me laughing and trying to fling popcorn into my mouth. Most landed on a nearby cactus.
We kept hiking, taking micro breaks in shady spots until it got dark, when we put on our headlamps. Eventually I hiked farther and farther ahead of Detour and Scott, since they took more breaks than me and I had a faster pace.
At one point another hiker jogged past me. I wondered if he was going to jog all the way to Canada. I passed him a few minutes later, hunched over on a rock, drinking water while breathing heavily. It did not look fun to me.
My morale ran low that night and even the stars seemed reluctant to come out. I reached the Third Gate cache many hours later, thirsty, starved and exhausted. After filling my water I cooked a Mountain House meal I’d scored from the Julian hiker box: Chili Mac and Cheese. It was all I needed in the moment.
I slept in my tent that night, in an area relatively crowded with others who’d hiked out that day. Tomorrow would be another long waterless stretch: ten miles. I wondered if I should night hike it. Maybe I should just night hike the whole desert, even if it’s not fun. I wondered where my trail friends were. I fell asleep, my eyes stinging.