Over a “bridge” of broken logs crossing a garbage-filled green-slime creek. Past the bulldozed parking lot for the Acton KoA. Along a broken chain link fence guarding a weedy abandoned lot, through a grove of burned trees, over the Metrolink commuter rail to LA and you are back on the PCT, rising immediately and steeply over the next few miles before the famed Vasquez Rocks.
There’s supposed to be a “golden spike” nearby, marking the completion of the PCT in 1993. Either someone has stolen it or it’s covered in debris. In any case, I can’t find it.
I spent the morning at KoA doing hiker chores — eating as much calorie-bearing unhealthy food as possible, catching up on emails, posting yesterday’s blog. Charlie Brown was there, who various people have been telling me to watch for since Big Bear. He hiked the PCT last year, except for the Sierras because of the record snow. This year he’s trying again, start to finish, and expects to hit Kennedy Meadows in mid-June. A labor of obsession as much as love? “Tell me something better I could do,” he replies. BTW, CB is 72…
There’s also Monty, a retired high school science teacher from Seattle and Korea. Simon Says, an engineer, is resting his bleeding feet. Mad Max takes a long morning off to trim his lengthening beard. Other hikers trickle in, some to stay the night or take a zero, others to chillax before moving on.
It’s Saturday night. At 8 pm, when most hikers prepare for bed, the outdoor movie theater roars to life with some animated shark show for kids. A few families hunker around on the grass, young children falling asleep in their parents’ laps. Huge RVs are parked around the grounds. Their owners grill under the trees, gather for beer and talk at the picnic tables. A lot seem to be former military.
I pretend to be some nutso Marine drill sergeant here in this citadel of on-the-road freedom, the KoA Knights of America. Overhearing a couple of recent college grads talk about taking time off from careers for this hike, I put on a faux redneck accent and go at ’em.
“You kids of today. All you do is play around. You should have a job! And no mortgage? What kind of true-blooded American are you. Jesus H Christ, Holy Joseph and the Sainted Mary! Don’t you know this country is built on debt? I mean, you gotta have a mortage to keep America great!”
I could go on, so do. “Tell you what. I’ll give you a job — $16 an hour driving fence posts. Sound good? My ranch-hands know a young ‘un in need. They’ll fetch you up right here this afternoon!”
There are a few nervous titters. “You sound just like my father,” says one finally. Only the older hikers laugh. Oh, well. I was hoping to be so far from real-world reality as to be funny. After all, am I putting my own career first to be out here?
The KoA is popular, and for the first time in a long while I have company on the trail. A line of hikers is silhouetted against the sky on the ridge above me. Across the highway below, the mountains I descended yesterday — the highest before the Sierras — are wrapped in cloud.
It’s been cool and cloudy all day, but the sun comes out just as I begin what I imagined would be an easy 10-mile saunter to Agua Dulce a bit after noon. The trail rises sinuously through brown-scrub hills, under various power lines and across rocky unpaved roads. Not a stretch I would recommend. No wonder Charlie Brown hitched; he did it last year and sees no need to repeat.
All that changes at Vasquez Rocks, I’ve been told. Monty the Trekkie started making all sorts of weird hand-signs and movie references at their mere mention. I figure it’s some code I can not possibly understand. So I pick up my pace and, at last, crest the final ridge of the climb — to be greeted by the roar of the Antelope freeway, far below.
A long down is interrupted by my second rattler beside the trail, hip-high. He refuses to move, even in the face of a few thrown rocks, so I climb up and around him. (Later, at camp, another hiker just ahead told how he simply held the big snake down with his pole and scooted past.) And then, suddenly, there it is: the Gateway to Hollywood.
The Gateway to Hollywood is the long dark tunnel under the freeway — a bit like Alice’s rabbit hole. Pass through, and emerge into another world — the Vasquez Rocks.
Movies are made here. The gallery of wind-and-water sculpted stone, many tilted at eerie 45-degree angles, is made to order for Hollywood sets on a monumental scale. Now I understand. This is Monty’s Trekkie shrine, where Captain Kirk in Star Wars solo-fights the Gorn.
Countless westerns were filmed in these parts, back in the day when they were popular — Bonanza, the Wild West, Blazing Saddles. And more: the Flintstones, Dante’s Peak, MacGyver, Hail Caesar! In one episode of Big Bang Theory, our Trekkie-costumed heroes visit the sacred Gorn battle site — and have their car stolen.
All along the trail, wooden signs identify various indigenous desert plants: Arroyo Willow, Cottonwood, Giant Rye Grass, Black Sage. And then, abruptly, Agua Dulce, the only town the PCT actually passes through. Along the main street, a few Ye Olde Western bars, a hardware, grocery. A mile-long road walk takes you to one of the landmarks of the entire PCT — Hiker Heaven. A shuttle pulls up just as I arrive.
“Going our way?” asks the driver of the white pick-up loaded with hikers.
“Yes,” I say, fervently. Yes, I am.