Surge is pissed. Nicknamed for the bearded rock star, he spent what he considers a delightful night at Deep Creek, near Splinter’s Cabin on the sandy beach under the bridge spanning the cool, rushing river. In the morning he awakes and checks PCT posts on Facebook. What does he find? Complaints. “This park is NOT five stars!” someone writes. “I’m giving only two!”
Others are similarly dismissive. It seems the waterfalls aren’t high enough. The campground is too small. The facilities sub-par. And: “It isn’t as pretty as supposed to be.”
“Are you kidding,” Surge asks indignantly, relating all this as he rummages in his copious backpack for antiseptic and bandages for Suzanne, who’s just slipped and taken much of the skin off her knee. “I mean, really,” he says as we survey the majesty of this stretch of trail – the sheer rock walls of the Deep Creek gorge, the deep green pools of the river below, the surrounding mountains lighted by early morning sun, an almost shocking abundance of wild flowers. He pauses before delivering his verdict on those miscreant Facebook posters. “People. Sometimes they can be just so … repugnant!”
I plan to do 25 miles today, from the confluence of Holcomb and Deep Creeks to the eastern end of Silverwood Lake. Amid the spectacular landscape, landmark mile 300 slips by unnoticed.
A few miles in, I come across Surge taking a morning break under a tree, and thank him again for helping Suzanne. He gets teased for the size of his medical kit but he tells me the story behind it. On the last day of hiking the Appalachian Trail, some years back, a guy falls on Mt Kahadin, 20 feet onto rocks. He breaks his jaw, sheds some teeth, slits open his shin and does otherwise serious damage to his corporal essence. Every bit of that hiker’s ample medical kit was used patching him up, says Surge. Now he carries the same. “Not for me; I don’t expect to get hurt” he says. “I carry it for others.” Forevermore, I will call him Surge the Samaritan.
We arrive at Deep Creek hot springs a bit before 11. What a scene! My first sight is a naked couple painted black with mud. Dozens of hikers are swimming, diving from the rocks, snoozing under trees — and, of course, partying. Bonfires, music, drinks, whatever has recently been legalized in California and possibly some that have not. Tattoos of every possible description, on every possible body part, seem to be a thing. A Tibetan-looking guy with top-knot and a guitar strapped to his back has been here for days, living in the tent city that grows and shrinks each day as hikers come and go. The fine for illegally camping, $170, does not seem to deter.
At least a third of the planet’s languages are spoken. An exaggeration, obviously, but the crowd is seriously international hippie. A Vietnamese woman immersed to her chin explains in broken English that there are three hot springs, varying in temperature from 110 to lukewarm. “Yeech,” she says of the last, discouraging me from anything so not-thermal.
Do I go for a dip? After a morning of desert heat, Duh. I paddle around the rocks in the frigid water, gasping, and emerge to try the hot tub. Back and forth, back and forth, hot to cold. The California experience.
Alas, the Facebook naysayers are right in the end. The second half of the trail is not on a par with the first: hot, barren, dull. The tone is shaped, at mile 312, by the Mohave dam and spillway, never completed for fear of disrupting the habitat of an obscure toad. A maze of jeep tracks weaves through the dust. A massive berm deteriorates in the excoriating sun. Tarmacked roads break into bits. Trail instructions include such nuggets as, “Pass by an abandoned industrial park.”
All in all, it’s the antithesis of the PCT experience. At mile 314, where Highway 173 ends at a PCT trailhead, a far cry from my anticipated 25 miles, I’ve had enough. Why waste leg power on this? And the next ten miles are, by repute, even worse. The trail hugs the highway, passing motor home parks and double-wide trailer communities on the way to the shores of that pretty but utterly fake manmade Silverwood Lake. The state “rec area” is overshadowed by a huge power plant.
Seldom have I ever been so happy than to see such sights from the windows of an air-conditioned SUV, rather than the trail itself.