It was a long time since I had felt this miserable. I had climbed uphill for 17 miles and down for three, most of those miles in an old burn zone with zero shade. A heat rash bloomed on my legs, making it look as though I had some fatal disease. I was also blessed with an uncontrollable cough. I sat forlornly in Gamble Canyon, wondering why this section always seemed so determined to break me.

When you find a random bench, you sit on it.

Of course, I was lucky. In this wet year, streams were running both through Tylerhorse and Gamble Canyons. I didn't have to carry water all that far. Some wonderful souls had put up a cache with umbrellas. I had collapsed there, planning to camp, but two millenials came by and lit up cigarettes, telling me a big group planned to night hike and would hang out there for hours. No thanks. I was soon on my way.

Cache 549. Thanks, angels!

A lot of people night hike this section, but I can't really get into night hiking. The whole point of being out here on the PCT is to see it. And I find it hard to sleep during the day, so I would become a stumbling zombie. It's easier for me to slog on through the heat than try to sleep under a sparse patch of shade. So on I walked.

The flowers were amazing!

Two hikers came to join me in Gamble Canyon, but I left before both of them, seeking the relative coolness of dawn. It was fourteen miles to the fabled bridge and water faucet that marked the beginning of what was said to be one of the most trying sections of the PCT, the 17 mile long LA aqueduct. Flat, hot, and devoid of shade, it was a stretch I had dreaded for years.
Under the bridge, a bunch of trolls, or hikers, were shaded up. They immediately began snoring, planning to hike out at six. I had good intentions of waiting until late in the afternoon to hike out too, but boredom got to me. I might as well walk, I thought, how bad can it be?
Pretty bad, it turned out. The first part southbound was a dirt road, lined by low shrubs. Nobody was around. The sun beat down mercilessly. I made my way from Joshua tree to Joshua tree, seeking out slim shade for half an hour, walk for half an hour. I was aware that this was slightly ridiculous, but I was committed. As I walked, the aqueduct became more apparent, a swath of cement under which I knew a tunnel of water ran, water running to feed LA. It all seemed sort of extravagant and sad, to be taking water from this place and sending it west.

There's water under there.

After 20 miles I was done, unable to hobble the last nine to Hiker Town. I found a patch of Joshua trees and set up my tent. Immediately a rat leapt on it. Oh for Pete's sake, I thought. I packed back up and went out to the aqueduct. I'd sleep on one of the raised concrete squares. I had no idea what they were for, but I could hear water gurgling through them. It was a full moon night next to the creepy abandoned trailers (I found out later they belonged to a hunt club). Hunting what exactly, I had no idea. Rats?
In the night I heard the crunch of hikers night walking, and even though it must have been outstanding by the light of the moon, I didn't envy them. I had my cozy concrete, which had to be the strangest place I had ever camped.

My campsite!

The morning came quickly and I shuffled my way into Hiker Town past the open aqueduct. Unlike last time I was there, Hiker Town baked in the heat. I threw myself into a chair and chatted with Silver, who was doing his third PCT thru hike. At that point, I had to ask myself why. I also had to admit that while I love the trail, and especially the people I meet on it, I am ready to go back to regular backpacking. No more dry camps, no more long water carries, no more twenty mile days.

The lovely sight of an aqueduct in the morning.

I took an outdoor shower and prepared to go back to Mammoth for a couple of days of R&R, which in my case meant day hikes. I have 22 miles left. Twenty-two! It's hard to believe.

The weirdness of Hiker Town, again.