Thursday, November 26, 2020, a totally non-special day just like any other day. A day for solitude, not for family gatherings. A day for eating the same things you’ve been eating every other day. But most importantly, a day for getting up early and seeing the sun rise!
I managed to do just that, and actually started hiking before 8 for once. The first five miles were walking across the sandy flats between dirt roads near neighborhoods, under the I-10 freeway to Palm Springs, and out into the exposed desert scrublands crisscrossed by high voltage lines.
A little after 9, I arrived at Snow Creek community, where I had intended to drop my trash in the dumpster. As I approached, a man pulled his truck in, saying he had been living there for 30 or 40 years. He was a boisterous and gruff man, the kind of no-nonsense attitude you’d expect from a Bostonite, but not unkind. He said it was okay to dump my trash, asked about my trip, then gave me his card. Turns out he’s some sort of artist. Judging by the architecture in that community, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was filled with artists. There is no doubt a lot of money lived there, though.
The trail continued up a continuously climbing closed, paved road into a rock field crisscrossed by pipelines operated by a government water management agency. A mile up this road was a water fountain left on for the use of hikers and guarded by a stoic raven. The raven grudgingly allowed me to collect and filter some water before leaving the trail and beginning the climb of San Jacinto’s north ridge system.
Despite the intimidating prospect of 19 straight miles of climbing ahead and what looked like, to all outward appearances, a huge rocky mess ahead, the climb was really quite gentle and the trail was in pretty good shape. It was a warm, clear, and pleasant day. The only negative was that cold wind that got more effective at cutting through the warmth as the trail gained elevation.
Around noon, I crawled under some huge boulders to try to find a wind-protected spot to eat lunch. It was only mildly effective. I had to sit in one very specific spot to avoid gusts coming between the boulders on either side, and it wasn’t the most convenient seat. But hey, it was worth it to eat two tuna burritos, the non-assuming lunch preferred by hikers named Blast the trail over on a date as unremarkable and ordinary as Thursday, November 26.
I wasn’t the only person out walking on the side of San Jacinto on a random Thursday in the middle of the day, surprisingly enough. An Asian man wandering down off the hill totally off-trail was very surprised to see me. He had taken the trail up but didn’t expect that he had returned to where it was. For a random day hiker, he was surprisingly excited to see me. I was surprised to see him too, but not enough that I wanted a long conversation. I had miles to get done while the sun shined now that night-hiking was off the table. I said the nice things one says when trying to avoid starting a real conversation, then say goodbye and kept climbing.
Soon, I passed a pillar supposedly marking 200 miles to the Southern Terminus, but it was actually a little north of that point according to Guthook. A bit further up was a “200” written in rocks beside the trail. This one seemed to be more accurate. 200 miles to the border meant less than two weeks left to go in the hike. A sobering reminder that the year’s sojourn was rapidly drawing to a close.
The rocks started thinning out as I climbed and the wind, when it could reach me, got stronger and colder. Soon, there was a good amount of grass and small shrubs and desert plants growing all around where the rocks weren’t showing. At one point, an entire ridge nearby seemed to be painted unnaturally red. My guess is that the red stuff was some kind of fire retardant dumped over the area by aircraft, but I have no idea if that even makes sense. It was clearly unnatural but could have been anything.
By 5pm, I hadn’t gone nearly as far as I had intended, but the sun was almost gone. I suppose climbing is just always going to be slower. I stopped at the first marked tentsite I came to. I still hadn’t reached the state park boundary, and that was probably for the best given the legal situation. The wind didn’t seem to be too bad there, but it wasn’t absent. I pulled my tent tight, staked it down deep, and put rocks on the stakes just to be sure. I made some Knorr Rice Sides with tuna just like every other day—as befits a day as non-special as Thursday, November 26—and zipped shut the tent flaps to eat it out of the wind. The tent flapped and popped with every gust the whole night while I slept.
Total distance: 17 miles