Day 26: Thursday, May 30

Cowboying near Mill Creek Ranger Station (PCT mi 418.8), walked 23.7 miles today

Got out of camp in record time (21 minutes eyes open to walking), stopped after a mile to fill up water at a campground, where I talked to a family from Leavenworth, WA for a bit. The water was for the next 16 miles, at which point there was a dubiously reliable spring, after which point it was another 8 to more water. I grabbed four liters ... as soon as I left the campground I knew that wasn't good enough because it was 8:00 and it was very easy to tell already what the middle of the day was going to be like (hint: hot). Luckily after about 8 miles there was a very small cache and I was able to camel a liter there, otherwise I would have been stretched a little thin for most of the day.

Morning passed mostly without incident; there was yet another 1000-foot, steep, seemingly arbitrary climb and descent in there, making me wonder if the ATC had a hand in the last 20 miles of trailbuilding. Met up with The Captain, whom I had last seen in town. He walks about .5 mph faster than me (I do 3mph or just over for reference) at his relaxed pace, and today he was hurrying, so I didn't see him for long. Was sleepy all morning and at about 1pm I was flagging in the midday heat and brightness so I took a 3-hour break, including about 2 hours of napping, under a huge shady pine tree. Was much improved upon returning to the trail at 4pm. The temp was actually probably hotter then than when I had stopped, but there's something about the midday directness of the sun that just sucks all the life out of you, even if, as I was, you're dressed for it and not walking a particularly hard portion of trail.

Made it to the spring in question in 4 miles and it was flowing fine, which was a relief, but in the half-mile before and after it there was a gauntlet of poodle dog bush overgrown around, above, below and on the trail that was impossible to avoid. My legs and hands definitely brushed against it several times. As the Sri Lankans say, what to do. We'll find out the consequences in a day or so.

Crested a hill for the last 6 miles or so of trail and was immediately hit with a wall of smoke from what I later found out is a wildfire that started today near Green Valley, home of the Andersons, a big trail-angel family. The smoke blocked out the sun for a while and made for a weird and certainly very beautiful evening light bathing everything. The trail would have been stunning and not a little eerie anyway, seeing how it traversed a massive burn area from a 2011 fire, but the smoke from the new fire just made things all the more exceptional.

At dark, made it down here to the ranger station, which for tonight is housing a bunch of firefighters from L.A., and was pleasantly surprised to find they let hikers camp nearby. Got some company, Didi and Stealth, whom I've met before, and a guy named Andy that I first saw today.