Our 41st through 43rd days. We celebrated Rick’s birthday with a trip to trail-legendary Casa de Luna and another trip to Palmdale.
THIS POST IS IN REVERSE CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER.
Most recent entries appear first.
Day 43: May 31:
Start location: Embassy Suites Palmdale
End location : stealth site at mile 503.7. Lat/lon: 34.71215, -118.62704
We woke late, as is apt for a hotel stay. The hotel includes a very large breakfast buffet in its rate, and we were there by about 9am. It’s a full spread of breakfast food- everything from hot food to fruit and yogurt, all backed by a full hotel kitchen.
Our morning was consumed by all the chores we’d neglected the day prior: laundry and gear maintenance.
We had contacted a trail angel earlier in the morning to see if she could offer us a lift out of Palmdale later in the day, and she agreed to come get us at 1pm. We paid her in popcorn and wine, the leftover loot from the preceding night’s shenanigans.
She dropped us off at the dirt road which leads up to Upper Shake Campground, USFS #7N23. We had a 1.5 hour walk up that road back to the PCT. While walking, we were faced with a choice: visit Upper Shake Campground by taking a different dirt road which intersects #7N23, or follow #7N23 only, thus skipping an additional three miles of trail. We chose the latter, to skip 3 miles of extra trail. The flora and fauna didn’t seem to change much at either end of those 3 miles- seems like we didn’t miss anything important :)
Once walking again, we battled gnats throughout the day. Perhaps the shampoo at the Embassy Suites was a bit too fancy; the gnats loved flying straight into our hair and eyes all evening long.
We took a gnat-infested break after about 2 hours of walking, and noticed a very, very low flying Sheriff’s helicopter. It had just taken off from a low spot very near the PCT. There was no infrastructure where it had been landed- just a clear patch of dirt in a forest.
We passed mile marker 500, which signified our (approx) 450th mile hiked. We arrived at a “guzzler” water source. This one was a tin roof designed to funnel rain and snowmelt into a large, underground storage barrel. The thing was of modern construction, and looked to have been installed in the past few years.
After filling up our tanks at the guzzler, we continued to a stealth site just a few miles down the trail. Coordinates at the top.
Day 42: May 30th–Rick’s birthday!
We slept in up at the “Honeymoon Sweet”, missing breakfast in the process. (In addition to providing taco salad for dinner, Terry provides pancakes and coffee for everyone in the morning. Again, insane levels of generosity at work here.) Fortunately, we were still able to get coffee when we finally made it back down to the house.
After breakfasting on Terry’s coffee and the food we had left in our packs, we broke camp and spent a little more time hanging around the front yard of Casa de Luna. One of the things that the Andersons are known for is having an arts and crafts station of sorts, where hikers can select a rock (or rocks) from a big pile out front and then paint it any way they choose. There’s a large folding table out front that is stocked with bottles of acrylic paint and paint brushes. Finished rocks are displayed around the property. Rick painted a UCI anteater on his rock and Erica painted a twilight landscape with the words “Time for the Moon” on it. Once dry, we trekked back to the Honeymoon Sweet and left our rocks there. Maybe we’ll revisit them someday…
Finally, at around 11:30 am, we got ready to leave. In honor of Rick’s birthday, we had booked a room at the Rock Inn in nearby Lake Hughes, and fortunately for us, another hiker’s mother agreed to give us a ride over there. She was from Barry, Ontario, and was waiting at Casa de Luna for her hiker daughter to arrive. She was planning to support her daughter via rental car for two weeks and decided to help other hikers as well.
We arrived at the Rock Inn a short time later, but were disappointed by what we found there: Old, outdate, filthy rooms with a shared bathroom and holes in some of the walls. The restaurant and bar portion of the establishment (downstairs of the rooms) was not much better. The bar didn’t even have beers on tap! Although popular with bikers, the Rock Inn was definitely not popular with us.
Nevertheless, we had hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch at the bar while deciding what to do next. We definitely didn’t want to spend the night; luckily, the bartender was kind enough to refund us our money for the room, so we could find somewhere else to stay. The most obvious choice was Palmdale, about 30 minutes away, where there was a wide variety of hotels to choose from. Given that we were taking the day off to celebrate, Erica snagged the last king room at the Embassy Suites in Palmdale.
Now all we needed was a ride. That ride came in the form of a local guy recommended by the bartender; it just so happened that he was headed there anyway. We piled into his truck at around 1 pm and arrived in Palmdale in no time.
By 2 pm, we were checked into a beautiful, spacious room at the Embassay Suites and by 2:30 pm we were enjoying it’s swimming pool and spa–ah, the luxury! Speaking of which, the Embassy Suites also features a free cocktail hour for guests from 5:30-7:30 pm. We sat at the bar enjoying free appetizers and free drinks (beer, wine, and well drinks) while watching Game 7 of the Ducks vs. the Blackhawks (hockey!).
We rounded out the night with a little shopping trip to a nearby Sport Chalet and Target, followed by a late dinner at the hotel restaurant, where we were the only diners. Finally, we found our way back up to our suite and stayed up late relaxing and watching Jurassic Park on TV.
Not too shabby for a trail birthday.
Day 41: May 29
Start location: campsite at mile 458.3, lat/lon 34.53738, -118.30991
End location: Casa de Luna, a trail angel’s house off of San Francisquito Canyon Road, mile 478.2
Miles hiked: 19.9
We were awoken at 4:45 am by another hiker’s alarm, 4 miles out of Agua Dulce, at the stealth site that we were sharing with the three hikers we’d hiked with the night before. Although not thrilled to be awake before it was light out, the early start proved useful; we were in for a long, hot, dry day.
Because of reports that Bear Spring, the only water source between Agua Dulce and Casa de Luna (24 miles up the trail) had run dry, we carried a lot of water out of town with us as we started our first and biggest climb of the day. Thanks to the early hour (we were walking by 6:40 am) the long climb went by relatively quickly and comfortably. We had shade for the first part of the morning, as well as lots of lovely views.
After about 2 hours of consistent uphill hiking, we finally reached the peak of whatever mountain we were climbing and started descending toward Bear Spring. When we got there, we were surprised to find that the spring was flowing just fine. It would seem that the PCT water report had gotten some bad information via Guthook’s users “[email protected]@R” and “sam.scuba.” We submitted an updated report on the water source, noting that it was flowing fine as of that morning. Although we had busted our butts hauling way too much water out of Agua Dulce, in these situations it is always better to plan for the worst–at least as far as water is concerned–rather than hope for the best.
After leaving Bear Spring, we still had a 15 mile water carry to San Francisquito Canyon Road, where we would have the option of staying that night at the home of trail angel Terry Anderson (aka Casa de Luna). The weather heated up quickly after Bear Spring; by 10 am it was hot enough that we had to take multiple rest breaks in the shade, just to cool down for a few minutes. We happened upon a number of other hikers doing the same thing, including one group of four sleeping hikers, hidden in a clearing of manzanita trees below a dirt road just after lunch time. This was the former site of Anderson’s Oasis, a water cache with chairs and goodies, which the USFS had asked the Anderson’s to remove within the last few years. We followed suit, stretching out in a nearby shaded clearing for an hour or so before we started walking again at 2:30.
As we walked the trail up toward the dirt road, we saw and heard a forest service crew doing work nearby. We couldn’t tell what they were doing, but they had a forest service firetruck with them and there was lots of digging and yelling as we made our way up the hill. Suddenly, the crew went quiet and we saw what we assumed to be an injured fireman being helped down the hill by two other fireman. His helmet was off and we was leaning on the other two fireman, groaning, as they made their way to the truck. We had no idea what had happened and, since there was nothing we could do to help and it seemed rude to stare, we kept walking, wondering what had happened. Snake bite? Heat exhaustion? We’ll never know…
After several more hours of slow, sweltering walking, we finally reached San Francisquito Canyon Road with about a half liter of water left between the two off us. We walked down the road a bit to a ranger station where we drank water out of a spigot and had a quick snack while deciding how to travel the ~2 miles to Casa de Luna. Although traffic on the road was moving fast, we had no cell service to call the Andersons for a ride, so we opted to try hitchhiking into town. Three other hikers who had gathered at the ranger station decided to do the same.
Fortunately, we only had to wait 10 minutes before a lady in an SUV pulled over and let all five of us cram into her vehicle. Space was tight and Erica had to sit on Rick’s lap while another hiker had to hold her pack in the front seat, but hikers will do just about anything to avoid unnecessary road walking into town and this was no exception.
A few minutes later, we pulled up to Casa de Luna, which was already overrun with hawaiian shirt-clad hikers lounging about the front yard on lawn chairs and futons. Terry, the trail angel behind Casa de Luna, greeted us with hugs and briefly explained the setup: A rack of hawaiian-themed clean clothes was provided for hikers wishing to get out of their stinky attire, there was an outdoor shower stall in the backyard, and we could camp anywhere on the property, which sprawled over who knows how many acres of manzanita-covered land.
We followed a trail back through the manzanita forest, passing plenty of established tent sites, both occupied and vacant, as we looked for our own spot away from the crowds. The property was surreal and far more spacious than we were expecting! Finally, we found a campsite called the “Honeymoon Sweet” near the end of the trail, completely apart from the other hikers. This site, unlike the ones closer to the house, was outfitted with a lawn chair, makeshift bench, and ornaments hanging from the tree. It was perfect, and we quickly set up our tent before trekking back down the hill to join the rest of the group for a dinner of “taco salad” (basically nachos), which Terry provides for all of her guests every night. Coolers of soda and beer were also provided on the front yard, along with watermelon for dessert.
Keep in mind, Casa de Luna is a donation-driven establishment; Terry doesn’t charge for the services she provides, or even solicit donations. We can only imagine that this is an expensive hobby to maintain. It’s mind-boggling how generous PCT trail angels can be! We made sure to make a donation in the morning.
After dinner, we took quick showers (because the water was cold) and then sat around on the front porch for a little while longer before finally trekking back up the hill to bed around 10 pm.