Day 36: Feet On Fire
Wednesday, April 25, 2018 10:45 pm
Location: Agua Dulce / Hiker Heaven (454.5 miles)

I left the campground near the North Fork Ranger Station a little after 7. The morning started off with the trail winding through green mountains, with a patchy ceiling of clouds. Then, the trail dropped nearly 2,000 feet into the valley between mountains, containing the (tiny) Santa Clara River.

View east of the valley at the North Fork Ranger Station.

I took a snack break at yet another picnic area with trash cans and toilets just before the road into the town of Acton (which I would not be visiting), the river, and a set of railroad tracks. Just past some railroad tracks, is a small monument commemorating the completion of the Pacific Crest Trail, on June 5, 1993. Beyond there, the trail wound up and around the mountains, eventually paralleling and dropping below California Highway 14, passing under the highway through a drainage tunnel.

By the time I got to the end of the CA 14 underpass tunnel, after about 15 miles of hiking, my feet were massively unhappy, and almost felt like they were on fire. I took a break to air them out and give them a rest. If it wasn’t for that, though, I could have kept going. I otherwise wasn’t especially hungry or tired.

Starting almost immediately after the tunnel, a series of signs named a number of local plant species. This continued into the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area, which includes rocks that have been uplifted by the San Andreas Fault. The park appeared to have a self-guided tour, but my feet hurt so much I knew I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it; I’ll have to come back some time to visit the park properly.

Vasquez Rocks Natural Area
Vasquez Rocks Natural Area

Quoi’s plan was to camp somewhere in the park; apparently, you can camp, but tenting is not allowed. I was a little dubious of this plan to begin with (seeing no indication in my guide that this was correct), but with my feet practically on fire, I decided that, permitted or not, I needed to continue into Agua Dulce. The town center was only another mile and a half further, and I could get something to eat and get off my feet for a little while, at least, before continuing to Hiker Heaven. Plus, staying in the park would entail having to find Quoi, and there was no telling how long that would take.

From the park, the trail continued alongside the road into town. There was actually a packed dirt trail to follow, and not just walking alongside the road. There was also a separate horse trail part of the way that dipped away from the road.

I got lunch at the Sweetwater Bar & Grill, and got a Teriyaki Burger there. The burger was pretty good, but I was there during a shift change, and they forgot about me after bringing my food.

I ran into Happy Feet as I was leaving the restaurant — she had just finished eating at the Mexican restaurant across the street. We chatted for a short while, and then she hiked on out of town; given her pace, I think it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever see her again. I made the mile trek down Darling Road (which, in addition to having a hiker-friendly walking path on the side of the road, was nearly completely lined in horse ranches) to Hiker Heaven.

Hiker Heaven, run by the Saufleys out of their home, with help from a few volunteers, is a true hiker oasis. For a few months a year, the Saufleys open their backyard and guest house to hikers. There’s plenty of space to pitch a tent (or go cowboy inside two largeish tents), and they have free showers and laundry, as well as a shuttle to and from town every hour and a half. After three long days to get here, it’s a perfect respite, and I’ll be zeroing here tomorrow to resupply and take care of some gear issues.

After a shower, I caught a shuttle into town for dinner; I again ate at the Sweetwater Bar & Grill. This time sitting at the front bar, the TV was playing directly in front of me. For a while, they had on an Iron Chef show where the contestants seemed to take turns sniping at and providing commentary on the other contestants. It was weird. Then, Jeopardy! came on, and it was one of the most difficult episodes I’ve ever watched (as a spectator, and for the contestants as well). Also with me at the diner was Justin, who was also getting carry-out food for his hiking partners Karen and Laura. They were slow in getting him their orders, so he wound up missing the shuttle, but was able to get a ride back to Hiker Heaven from a local who was eating there.

The great thing about towns (or places like Hiker Heaven) is that they serve to collect people who have been spread out on the trail, so I got to see some hikers I haven’t seen in awhile, including Bob Dog and Bandit (Rowdy). Back at Hiker Heaven, I chatted with my fellow hikers for a few hours, before finally turning in somewhat later in the evening than I had planned.