Yesterday, after exiting the San Gabriels and spending a fitful night atop a breezy tuft of chaparral-spotted dirt a few feet from the PCT, I arrived in sleepy “downtown” Agua Dulce. The PCT goes straight through Agua Dulce, via road walk, which is a rural ranching community just north of Los Angeles. In the long distance hiking community, Agua Dulce is best known for perhaps the finest hiker hostel in existence, Hiker Heaven.
Hiker Heaven, masterminded by Jeff and Donnna Saufley, has just about anything a hiker could want after sweating (or freezing) through the San Gabriels. The hostel is basically a collection of five military-style tents with cots, smaller outdoor tents, and two trailers in the backyard. One trailer holds a bathroom, living room with two laptops, phone, DVD player, and a fully stocked kitchen. The Saufleys take your dirty clothes, wash them, and provide you with temporary clothes. They offer two cars to drive anywhere in the area to run errands, no questions asked. All free of charge.
I’m well into my second day here and it’s a great scene. Hikers (probably 20 of us) are just milling about, moving slow, eating and drinking. Last night we split up. Some of us had a sing-a-long at the campfire while others hung out in the trailer to watch “Beyond Thunderdome.” You can probably guess which group I was in.
Interesting events continue to unfold since I last wrote. I took advantage of one of the free cars here (a huge old Chevy SUV with >130,000 miles) to drive to the walk-in clinic in Santa Clarita. It seems as though all the sweating I’ve been doing had caused a rather painful rash to develop, thus spawning a fungal infection. So now, $120 later I have a big tube of anti-fungal cream, which should take care of the problem in a few weeks. I also picked up a stick of Body Glide, so as to prevent re-occurrence of the problem.
Over the past 50 miles, people have encountered large and small groups of men wearing suspicious bright orange pants, participating in one or another form of physical activity. The two I met were sitting on the trail with small water bottles, taking a break after running up, then back down Mt. Gleason. They were training to fight wildfires and were required to run up and down Gleason every day for “PT.” Their orange pants read “PRISONER.” In fact, this is what they were! The trail passes very near a jail, which houses these orange-clad prisoners. According to one of the locals, the prisoners are all non-violent and have two years or less. Some are trained to fight wildfires. Others do some work for the forest service, including trail maintenance. It’s really a fantastic model. The two who I met were neither chained nor supervised. As the local put it, “where are they going to go out there?” With two years or less, it makes no sense to escape anyway.
In several instances, hikers have had very helpful encounters with the prison and its inmates. During one particularly bad weather year, hikers, unable to walk on the trail due to snow (?) were picked up on a dirt road by the prison warden, taken back to the prison, and housed for the night. They had a place to sleep and stood in the food line with everyone else.
Just yesterday, a prison supervisor assisted a hiker in getting off the trail after suffering from exhaustion. The ordeal ended when Donna Saufley came out to pick her up and took her back to the hostel. She’s been in bed since yesterday afternoon (about a day).
Another interesting tidbit: I passed through the Vasquez Rocks just before getting to Agua Dulce. The huge jagged, leaning rocks appear as if they’ve been sunk into the ground by some titanic force. They’re frequently used as a backdrop in old western films and were the hideout of the legendary bandits Tiburcio Vasquez.
Tomorrow morning I’m back on the trail, which, for the next 100 miles, traverses the western edge of the Mojave Desert proper before beginning its climb into the Sierra Nevada at Tehachapi Pass. Water and daytime temperatures are the biggest concerns on everyone’s mind. There is a 35-mile waterless stretch to negotiate and none of the cool mountain air or shade we were treated to in the San Gabriels. My strategy is to start my days at 5 a.m., take a long mid-day break, then resume in the late afternoon. Until then, I’m cooling at Hiker Heaven, finishing my pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk, bag of Ruffles, tub of guacamole, reading in the shade, and looking forward to a movie tonight.
Oh, and P.S.: I nearly caught up with my D.C. friends Cathie and Randy Cummins (a.k.a. Fruitcake and Nutz). You may remember that they got an 85-mile headstart on me and we hung out together at ADZPCTKO. It turns out that yesterday morning when I arrived in Agua Dulce, they had just left, so I missed them by a few hours. Since I’m spending a zero day here, when I get back on the trail on the 25th, Cathie and Randy will be about two days ahead. Slow down, guys!