The sad truth of life is, you can't stay forever in an outhouse, even if it is pouring and cold outside. Flash and I dragged ourselves out and into the storm. The trail inexplicably climbed to a point above Highway 2 and back down again, and we were at the Endangered Species Closure. This was a two mile slog along the highway because of an endangered yellow-legged frog. I'm all for saving the frog but this closure has been in place for years. It was time for a reroute, I thought resentfully.
It was only three when we stumbled into the closed Buckthorn campground, but we felt sufficiently wet and traumatized enough to stop before the rain began again. A lucky moment of sunshine along the trail had enabled us to dry everything out, a trick we had learned in rainy Washington. If the sun appears, you don't wait. Our tents were dry and we didn't relish setting them up in the rain.

A thunderstorm moves in our direction

We woke to more rain, but this was tempered by a delightful stroll through the Pleasant Ridge View Wilderness, a steep set of ridges with a clear stream running through it. The weather steadily improved as we hiked, enough for us to stop at a creek to soak our feet.

This tree lived a long time. Photo by Flash.

A thunderstorm flirted with the peaks and we hiked on long after we felt like stopping, clocking out at 23 miles on a large, flat plateau with the French hikers, an Israeli named Songbird, Vox, and "the girl with the braids" that we were secretly calling Pippi (though she was too young to get the reference). A thunderstorm blew in, buffeting our tents, and just as quickly left, providing us with a spectacular sunset.

International hiker camp

A room with a view

The next morning Flash and I left at dawn to the sound of coyotes, dropping out of the mountains to Mill Creek fire station and back up into the mountains on the other side of the road. We climbed steadily, leapfrogging the hikers from the night before, and dropped into the North Fork ranger station, one of those old school ranger compounds that are falling out of existence. This one was staffed by a volunteer who had come for one summer and had stayed for 20 years. "Sometimes people sleep in the horse corral," Todd said, pointing down the hill. Sure enough, the corral was protected from the wind and free of horses.

Todd the volunteer. I'm pretty sure there is a novel in here somewhere.
The North Fork Hilton

One of the oddities of the PCT is that you hike forever in what seems to be wilderness and then you are suddenly spit out into relative civilization. So it was the next day when we arrived at a parking lot to find, strangely enough, an RV and a woman chomping down on Reese's cereal. Just past this scene began familiar ground: I had hiked most of this section two years before. We climbed far above the town of Acton through dry hills, dropping finally to walk through Vasquez Rocks, where a Star Trek movie was being filmed. Not caring too much about Star Trek, we continued on to road walk into the town of Agua Dulce, where I looked in vain for items I wanted (a bandanna, lip balm). A woman leaned out of a car. "Want a ride to Hiker Heaven?" she asked, and we seized the opportunity, since it is a mile off the trail on pavement.

Vasquez rocks

We had made it to Hiker Heaven at last. I had heard about this place for years. An outdoor shower, laundry, charging stations, and resupply. I eyed the mountain of flat rate boxes in dismay. My resupply box hadn't shown up! After a mini meltdown, I realized that there was a grocery store a mile away, so all was not lost.

Loaner clothes while my laundry was being done. Thanks volunteers!

Donna, the owner of Hiker Heaven, knew Flash's mom, so she gave us a room in the hiker trailer, sparing us from the snores of the multiple tents set up in the yard. I lay in a small trundle bed, thinking about the strangeness of the PCT. One night in a horse corral, the next in a bed. Cowering in an outhouse and taking an outdoor shower.
Many people get sucked into the Hiker Heaven vortex, and it was easy to see why, We, however, were on a mission. Of course, if I had known what was in store for us, I might have reconsidered hiking on….
To be continued…