We slept a little late this morning, not sure if we would push all the way to Agua Dulce today. There was a KOA campground 14 miles out with a pool and showers and Chinese delivery, which sounded mighty tempting…but the day would be hot and we didn’t want to get stuck hiking in the middle of the day.
It was satisfying to be back on trail instead of a road walk, but the first 6 miles to the North Fork ranger station were tough. Not because of elevation, but because they were on rough, eroding, overgrown trail. Poodle dog continued to crowd the path and would sometimes even grow in the thicker shrubby sections, so we had to try and avoid it even when we couldn’t see the tread underneath our feet. To make everything a little more challenging, poison oak started to make an appearance. Despite all this we made good time. We were motivated by the idea of ordering lunch at the KOA while we waited out the heat of the day. After passing under a set of crackling high voltage lines we arrived at the ranger station and the water cache there. We still had a lot from the fire station thanks to a cool morning. While discussing lunch plans, we made a terrible discovery – the Chinese restaurant was closed on Sunday! Hiker dreams crushed, just like that. It took some wind out of everyone’s sails but there was nothing to do except press on.
As we started down the 8 miles to the campground it got hotter right away. Before long we were firmly back in the desert and the cool breeze from the morning was hot and intermittent. As we twisted along and over the ridges we caught glimpses of a green strip of trees – Soledad Canyon Road, our destination. Knowing where we were headed almost made it worse because every time the trail meandered we knew it meant extra miles before the shade. Of course, if we were looking to hike the most direct route north the PCT would be a bad choice. By the time we came down to the road we were seriously in need of a break.
We crossed the road and headed into the trees around the little creek, then cut east and walked through the campground to the office. Seeing the row of enormous RVs was a bit of a culture shock. We arrived just in time to jump on a food order from a nearby pizza place – score! With some ice cream and a cold Gatorade to tide us over, we joined the other hikers around a picnic table and proceeded to commiserate about all the trail we had been over today. Lunch arrived and it was wonderful. We ate and drank and talked and cooled off. Rabbit and Kiddo went swimming and we were jealous but too lazy to move. Other hikers dropped in and left as the afternoon went by. If not for the lure of the Saufley’s 10 miles further up, no one would have left. Finally we shoved off since we wanted to get there tonight instead of camping short for one more night. Rabbit left with us and we headed into the narrow band of hills separating us from Agua Dulce. We passed the “Golden Spike” of the PCT, where the final sections were joined in 1993. It was a little anticlimactic.
It wasn’t bad hiking in the cool of the afternoon. We went up gradually for a few miles, past some huge rock bluffs. Then we dropped down towards the highway. We crossed under it through another long, eerie culvert. It was so dark in the middle that I walked with hiking poles in front, feeling for anything in my way.
We came out the other side in Vasquez Rocks regional park, a famous backdrop for Hollywood westerns and at least one episode of Star Trek. Unfortunately, dusk was rapidly turning to night and by the time we got to the more impressive rock upthrusts it was too dark to get pictures. The trail we were on was a little confusing at times as it intersected other trails within the park. There were signs standing at the side of the trail identifying the various desert plants we had been seeing for 450 miles. It was nice to finally put a name to them.
As it got darker we slowed down more and more. My headlamp wasn’t bright enough for me to easily be able to pick out rocks in my way. During our stay in Agua Dulce we’ll have the chance to get a ride to REI and I might exchange it for a brighter lamp. We’ll be crossing the corner of the Mojave so some night hiking is in our future. Eventually we found our way out to the road and started towards the Saufley’s, one of the most anticipated trail stops on the trail. The main road through town doubles as an official stretch of the PCT and is actually labeled as such on Google maps. As we trudged up the road in the dark a woman pulled over and offered us a ride, which we gladly accepted. My feet were not looking forward to another mile on the concrete.
We slipped in the front gate and saw a sea of hikers and cots. A volunteer gave us the scoop on laundry and showers and other such important things. Since it was so late, the shower only had a short waiting list and before long we were clean – although laundry and package pickup would have to wait until tomorrow. We found a spot of ground out away from all the main traffic and noise and turned in for the night, happy to be clean and looking forward to breakfast.
– Posted from the PCT
Location:Pct mile 454