Ok, here are some belated photo’s that we haven’t been able to post. Everything from Ridgecrest to Walker Pass…
We made it to Kennedy Meadows, aka the Gateway to the Sierras! I feel like all of our trekking through the desert – all 700 miles – has been preparation and training for the next 400 that we will spend surrounded by beautiful and majestic epic mountain landscapes. And we will have water. So much water. No more 20-25 mile carries across hot, desolate stretches.
After we left Walker Pass, we walked a relatively short few days across the trail where the end of the Mojave meets the beginning of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Jared and I got a ride from Ridgecrest to the trail from Jodi, a very generous trail angel in the Tehachapi area. It’s really great to have Jared back on the trail.
At the trailhead/Walker Pass campground, we found the Turtles – both Sea Turtle and Tortoise – recovering from serious dehydration…they had come through the cache at mile 631 dry. They were able to get some water from ATV-ers in the area, and a liter from Happy Feet, which meant hiking a 22 mile stretch with only 1 1/2 liters between the two of them. We left them some extra food as they continued to filter water and hydrate, and we set off for the hills around 10:30. We were able to put 18 miles under our feet – we passed some beautiful metamorphic peaks that towered above the desert, we leapfrogged with Honey Buzz and Emily most of the day (us passing them, them passing us, repeat), refilled water at Spanish needle creek (at a branch that required us to walk 700 meters upstream and then back again which meant getting back on trail after dark), and set up camp in the dark in a nook-like site at mile 670. We cooked dinner late and ate our beans and rice on the trail with Honey Buzz and Emily as HB told us tales of his epic 2011 PCT adventure – hiking in a high snow year, making 2 attempts over Forrester Pass, running out of food, and finding his father had hiked in with 100 lb of food as a surprise after being without food for two days… Which made us very happy to be hiking late in the season of a low snow year.
The next day on the trail we hiked 17 miles – waking up just past Spanish needle creek, then again leapfrogging with HB and Emily. We made a mistake at Chimney Creek, bypassing the creek and heading straight for the campground (which reportedly had water) so that we might siesta in a campsite (one of our last warm days before really getting into the mountains, we hoped). I set off in my homemade foam/bandana camp shoes in search of water at site 36, and made it a respectable mile+ before calling it – forget it I’m hot and where is this site 36? I walked back to meet Jared, passing a guy named James (the only other person at the campground) who told me the water was way back there and he’d be happy to give us a ride…great! Turns out the water was over 3 miles from the campground entrance – not walkable in camp shoes…but with the help of James and his truck we picked up 10 liters. After our siesta, we walked to the top of the last ridge before Kennedy Meadows and set up camp just as the sun was setting. Too beautiful. Tomorrow – KM here we come!!
And we have arrived! Jared and I walked those last 15 miles into KM not a moment too soon…again leapfrogging with HB and Emily, nearly stepped on a huge rattlesnake, saw a real river (the Kern River), and ate the best burger upon arrival at the Kennedy Meadows General Store (KMGS). We picked up our resupply boxes and found a care package – we can’t thank you enough, Maggie and Mark, for the food and whiskey! A handful of other hikers were there too: Honey Buzz, Emily, Happy Feet, Swimmer, Hans, James, Howle, Sprinkler, Recon, Shoe Tater, Rogue, Ryan, Lindsey, Herro, and Leandra. KMGS is a famous spot on the trail for stopping over – the porch is cozy, the food is great, camping is on the hill behind the store, Scott (the owner) is super accommodating to hikers and has been for the past 24 years, and the World Cup games were playing. We’ll be here for a few days…
The stretch to Kennedy meadows was a really gratifying one. I’ve talked before about the sense of completion on the PCT. While it’s definitely very real on a daily basis (usually), 700 miles of desert makes you start to think that maybe you’ll never actually leave the desert ever again. Scott’s general store at KM broke the monotony beautifully.
I think the first thing I noticed that was obviously different was the water. A river was running, strongly even, near where we left the trail for the store. Scott was there, watering his plants… Something you seemingly wouldn’t ever dream of in say, tehachapi.
You can also see the sierras starting to rise up from the earth. Pretty awesome sight, and a great omen. It was really hard to leave KMGS and the generosity there, but the call of the sierras was stronger.
I’ve been off the trail this week – I got called away by a work meeting that was a short drive from the pct and whose subject I just couldn’t miss. That makes my trail update short, but going back to “civilization” was interesting…
First of all, cars are insanely fast. I felt like I was basically stuck in 2 mph mode – in fact, when I saw the sign for UCSB in 2.5 miles, my first thought was “ok, about another hour.” Or two minutes, whatever…
Cold drinks. I’m not sure how much there is to say about this other than that I nominate ice as the eighth wonder of the world. Iced coffee especially.
The meeting went very well, despite the fact that I had to go to the urgent care clinic for what may very well be giardia – the tests will come back in a couple of days. The good news is antibiotics have stemmed the tide and I should be in good shape to get back out tomorrow! And not a moment too soon, I am very tired of sitting still…
Today we are taking it easy in ridgecrest, waiting out the heat until tomorrow morning when a trail angel is giving us a ride to walker pass campground to get going again. The heat here is ferocious – it was 105 today. I have a feeling we have a siesta in store tomorrow…
A week since our last post and so much has happened! Jared and I hiked from the Saufleys in Agua Dulce (mile 454) to Casa de Luna (mile 478 – Terry and Joe were awesome! Only stopped by for a few hours), and took a ride past the road walk/Power House Fire Detour to Hikertown (mile 517). We crashed there for a night (and played with 11 adorable puppies) then we separated for nearly a week – I hiked on the 150 miles to Walker Pass (mile 652) while Jared took off a few days for a work meeting in Banta Barbara. Originally planning 20 mile days, we figured Jared would be waiting for me for days…but instead I pushed on long days and “raced” Jared. It was a tie. And I am tired. And feeling great.
I left Hikertown at 6 am on Monday and hiked my longest day! An epic 32 miles. Over the flat California aqueduct, through windy wind farms, into the hills, and up a mountain, stopping at 9:30 pm to cowboy camp (tentless) at a water cache with 3 other hikers. I hiked and overlapped with Hans and some new friends we met at the Saufleys and Hikertown – Sara aka Happy Feet, the Turtles (Crystal aka Sea Turtle and JoJo aka Tortoise), and Swimmer. The weather was mild, and so this typically hot stretch which usually requires long siestas and night hiking, I was able to do during the day with an hour lunch break. The aqueduct was flat, the winds were strong, and the sunset was beautiful.
Tuesday, the next day, held in store a short 8 mile day and a stop over in Tehachapi. A late start, more wind farms, Joshua trees, and a nap behind a cow trough punctuated the walk to the Willow Springs trailhead. Hans and I got a ride to the airport, where hikers stay for $5/night, from a very sweet older trail angel named Ken. At the airport I was greeted with food boxes (thanks for dropping them off Jared! And for shipping them Mike and Allison!) and who else but Lorna (who introduced herself by a new trail name and quickly exited the scene before I had a chance to call her out). The Turtles met us at the airport, and seeing our plan to hike out of town was foiled by windmills in place of the campsites we’d hoped for, we all camped at the airport after an all-you-can-eat Chinese food buffet…groan…
Wednesday was a mild/not hot day. I hiked 25 miles with Hans and the Turtles. We got a ride to the trailhead from pilot Bruce Lockwood (he was a stunt pilot in Pearl Harbor among other things), hiked through more windfarms, paused at a water cache where we talked to the mother of a kid named Howle just returning to trail (she was also dropping off 20 gal of water at a dodgy cache far ahead), climbed “the ascent” which seemed daunting by the account on Mike’s blog (aka Hikerbox Special – see our links page) which for us was not bad due to relatively cool weather, and we camped at the Golden Oak Spring – a tiny 1L/2 min trickle coming out of the side of the hill and home to a cow as evidenced by numerous cow pies. A large, noisy animal stalked me and Tortoise as we filled our water bottles after dark – we never saw it but were freaked out enough by the sounds…
Thursday – we are alive! We were not eaten by the large creature in the woods! I also hiked 29 miles (just shy of my 30 mile goal) across a warm 19 mile waterless stretch to the next spring, and 10 miles beyond into the woodsy desert. I hiked solo ahead of Hans and the Turtles until 4 pm when I found more hikers! at the spring – I was greeted by Swimmer, James, and Howle. As I made dinner, Hans reappeared and began cooking himself. The Turtles are behind somewhere. I went on ahead, passing several hikers – a young guy, an old guy, Honey Buzz & Emily, Swimmer, James, and Howle. Around 8:30 darkness began to set in and I started to feel a bit freaked out after the previous nights’ being-stalked experience. I cranked Cat Stevens on my iPod and planned to stop around 10 pm or the cache at mile 616, whichever came first. A deer leaped across the trail ahead and my imagination turned every bush and crackle into mountain lions and bears. I rounded a corner a saw a red headlamp light glowing in the dark. “Sara?”, I called, hoping it was Happy Feet setting up camp. “It’s Love Monkey”, the voice replied, “I dig your music”. I explained that the music was to scare away the animals of my imagination and proceeded to recount the tale of the spring. Love Monkey (there with Medicine Man) assuaged my fears like a mom explaining to her kid that there was no monster under the bed. She convinced me that the large animal at the spring was merely a noisy squirrel, and assured me that any animal out there was more afraid of me than I was of it. Feeling sufficiently soothed and calm, I forged ahead into the darkness. Not a half mile later, I rounded another corner and my headlamp beam was met by a pair of eyes, not 15 yards away. “Get the fuck out of here!”, I yelled at the mountain lion. It scampered away. My face felt hot, and fueled by adrenaline I walked as fast as I could without running or acting like pray, another mile to the campsite at mile 612. It was 9:30. I continued to blare Cat Stevens as I set up my tent. I crawled inside, safe and sound. Over the next 30 minutes, I saw the headlamps of two hikers pass by (James and Howle), then three more (Honey Buzz & Emily and Hans). Hans peeled off upon seeing my tent and set up camp nearby. Never was I happier to see Hans. A few minutes later another headlamp passed (Swimmer). I drifted off to a dreamy sleep free of mountain lions.
Friday I woke early, a bit anxious about water. The next cache was 4 miles away, the one after that 15 miles from there (and dodgy…the trail angel who used to maintain the caches was no longer doing so…this is where Howle’s mom dropped off the 20 gal). Aside from that, there was one off trail spring between the two caches, one seep in 20+ miles, and 40 miles to Walker Pass. If I could do 30 miles today, then I can do 10 on Saturday and beat Jared. I walked on an easy 4 miles, leaving camp before Hans even stirred, to where I finally caught up with Sara/Happy Feet at the cache. We talked about water then I walked on, loaded down with 5 liters. The day warmed up quickly and it was starting to actually feel like the Mojave. Happy Feet and I caught some shade around noon, and trudged on through the sand taking shade breaks every few miles. We caught up with James and Howle. We reached the mile 631 cache at 4:30 and rested until 6:45, tackling the ascent as the sun was setting. Nervous about night hiking I set up camp at mile 634. A windy night on the ridge. 18 miles to go…
Saturday I woke at 4:30, determined to reach Walker Pass by early afternoon. I left camp around 5:15 – it was the longest day of the year – the Summer Solstice! (Also naked hiking day. I did not celebrate.) I zoomed across the ridge and down, overlapping with a German hiker and spying bear (?) prints. I got to the pass at 12:06! Literally as Jared pulled up in his rental. Very perfect timing. He whisked me off to Ridgecrest and we rested for the rest of the day. Hiking again on Sunday!..
Photos coming in the next post – no time!
Another 80 miles or so has brought us to 454, where we are staying at the Saufley residence – aptly nicknamed Hiker Heaven. I don’t know much about agua dulce, the town in which it is situated, but I know that the horse to human ratio is high here.
We didn’t actually mean to zero here, but after one of our big days (a 25 miler) I pulled my right quadriceps. I managed to get another 22 miles or so out of it, but today it needed rest. We got in yesterday around 6 with our friend and companion hans pilgrim and headed straight for big mouth pizza. A couple of beers and way too much pizza later, we ambled down the road to our destination.
A few minutes later, a car rolled down it’s window and the woman inside started yelling at us: “HIKER TRASH! HIKER TRASH!” This, it turns out, was Donna Saufley – who was just playing around, of course. This was the woman who along with her husband hosted us most graciously in their backyard. She gave us directions to the gate, and told us where to find towels, etc. We were shower bound.
I shaved for the first time in roughly 40 days, and washed a truly substantial portion of dirt off my legs with the benefit of a stiff bristled brush. They put us up in the “honeymoon suite” where we crashed on a nice cushy bed.
The hike here was nice. We left wrightwood and got a ride to islip saddle trailhead from two guys about college age, one of which is a professional snowboarder. The first day, we went over mount Williamson and down to the burkhardt campground, up the burkhardt trail to where it rejoined the pct, and then up to cooper canyon trail camp. It was a short hiking day – we started around 4pm and only made it about 10 miles. Along the way, we met up with a new companion named Hans Pilgrim, who was trying to hitch up the highway to the campground but decided to go with us instead.
The next day we did 18 miles through some nasty stands of the dreaded poodle dog bush. Day 3 was rough – 25 miles, including a roughly 20 mile walk up old mt Gleason road along the poodle dog bush detour. It was very hot, very exposed, and rough on the feet. We made it up and over, and finished with a 5 or so mile walk down to north fork ranger station. The ranger there told us only 20% of people actually get poodle dog bush – a fact that we were all glad we hadn’t known, as it almost certainly would have pushed us toward not taking the detour.
Our final day we descended to the koa campground, where we ate ice cream, chips, and copious quantities of Gatorade while waiting for my leg to feel better. Once it did, we were off – up and over a ridge dotted with beautiful sandstone formations to where we could see our destination, agua dulce. This, incidentally, is also where we started fantasizing about our menu options.
We descended from the ridge and went under the highway through Vasquez rocks, which was the real live hideout of a real live Mexican bandit named Vasquez. One more short but steep climb and we were making our way into town proper, headed directly for beer and pizza.
We’re in Agua Dulce now, ready to get back on the trail. Now that we’re in the 400’s and the miles are flying by, I’ve noticed that instead of keeping track of the mile or tens of miles, I’m now conscious of the hundreds of miles. I’m more in the hiking mindset – I can’t wait to get back on the trail. I’m feeling strong. My mind and body are settling into the hiking routine.
We made some solid miles between Wrightwood and Agua Dulce. 10 miles that first afternoon, setting up camp by dark. We ran into Hans Pilgrim who joined us on Route 2 after Wrightwood, and we ran into Paint Your Wagon washing his shorts in the stream who joined us in camp that night. The next morning we had a few hills to climb before the boyscout camp, and all tolled we did 17 miles that second day after Wrightwood – in full on Poodle Dog Bush territory. Day 3 we rocked 24 miles through the PDB detour – around the Station Fire detour, over pavement, up brutally paved Mount Gleason road, through more PDB, and eventually under the powerlines to set up camp at the North Fork Ranger Station/wonderful amazing water cache. The camp site was beautiful, the mountain air smelled sweet and clean, and we drifted off to sleep to the faint crackle of the powerlines. On Day 4 into Agua Dulce, we made 18 more miles: through the KOA campground where we fueled up on ice cream which powered us over the hill to Vasquez rocks and down into the town full of presumably Hollywood-famous horses and tasty pizza. We stayed in a cozy bed at the Saufleys after a shower and laundry, and met a few other hikers with large packs: Sea Turtle and Tortoise. The trail Angel IPod gave them a shakedown (or brutal gear thinning) where each lost 12 lbs of useless heavy gear. The next day Jared, Hans, and I zeroed while Jared rested his quad and Hans his ankle. We rode loaner bikes to town, ate Belgian waffles, organized food, sent a package ahead, got our own shakedown (we each lost 3 lbs!), and we opened lovely packages (thanks Nancy & Charlie, Renee, Mother Yanker, and Emily for the maple candy, gatorade, under wrap, marshmallows, magazines, and notes – we loved it all!). The next day – today – we’re just waiting to get pick up our laundry before getting back on the trail. It’s allowed us a little more time to relax (those “days off” for me are full of planning and doing) and chat with Paint Your Wagon about how he got onto the trail and how the trail has changed him and us. We could all agree that the trail has allowed us to chill out, calm down, accept the present, be in the moment, release out fears (be they snakes or lack of food), be more centered, and have more gratitude. And we hike!
So here we are, in Wrightwood CA (mike 370ish), waiting on a new tent to arrive by FedEx today (fingers crossed). We got into town Thursday morning. This is Monday morning. We’ve been in town 4 full days and counting. Since our last post in Cajon Pass, we hiked 14 miles to Wrightwood, we crossed the San Andreas fault, Jared got sick, Jared got better, we received the wrong tent pole in the mail, we were informed about an injured missing hiker, we called the sheriff, we initiated a search and rescue, we were informed that the hiker was found – fine and did not require medical attention, we hung out with “the Mothers”, we ate 2 burgers a piece (along with plenty of other real food and drank countless gatorades), we spent way too much money, we slack-packed over Baden-Powell, and we received good news about Jared’s research experiment back at UW Seattle!
Let’s start at the beginning – or the day we left Cajon Pass. That first day back on the trail, we rolled out of our room at the Best Western at a comfortable 7:30, ate a luxurious breakfast at McDonalds while we downloaded music and stalled. We were dreading this next section – a 22.5 mile uphill stretch without water. Expecting it to be epic, we filled our bellies and bottles with more electrolytes than our body knew what to do with. Off we marched at 9 am into the mountainous desert. We hiked and we hiked, up sandstone outcrops, past a wonderful water cache, across the San Andreas fault, and into another geologic regime of metamorphic schists. Up, up, and away! We saw the familiar names of our former hiking companions in the trail registers a few days ahead of us. The day went by quicker than expected. We encountered our first treacherous section of poodle-dog bush unscathed a few miles before passing Pony Boy, another thru-hiker, around 5:30 as he was setting up camp. Feeling good (well, mostly good. Jared had mentioned ill feelings that morning), we pushed on to do 20 miles and we set up camp at the top of the ridge above Wrightwood just as it was getting dark. As the sun set and the sky grew dark, the desert floor below came to life as it illuminated with town lights and a snake-like path of headlights and breaklights along I-15. A great campsite.
The next morning we were on the trail by 7. Our plan: hike the 4 miles in, pick up our resupply and new replacement tent pole at the post office and hardware store, maybe crash at a motel or campground that night, and hit the trail the next morning heading for Agua Dulce. Out plan didn’t work out quite as expected. Jared started feeling sick – exhausted, queasy, not hungry. We took it easy and made it those 4 miles mostly downhill by noon. Pony Boy passed us. Jared said he fell asleep twice on the trail. We reached Highway 2 and caught an easy hitch with an older Korean couple who had been day-hiking that morning. The man, 70-year old former Seattleite, told us the secret to staying young was to hike every day. He didn’t look a day over 50. They dropped us off at the post office, we picked up our heavy resupply and bounce boxes, checked in on our tent poles – not in yet, and lugged or wares to the Pines Inn, where Jared promptly crashed for 3+ hours. I unpacked a few boxes and roamed about town, buying a few veggies at Jensen’s, the grocery store in town, and chatting with The Mothers (who I was incredibly happy to see. They made it the 100 mile stretch from Big Bear with only a few hitches, and now were our neighbors at the Pines Inn). Once I was back in the hotel room and Jared was awake, he spent the better part of the afternoon in the bathroom and I walked back to Jensen’s for gatorade, pedialyte, and all other items to prevent dehydration, already feeling like a local and chatting with the grocery store clerks. I fed Jared plenty of fluids and we are some bland food in our motel room, before watching Brazil and going to sleep.
Friday morning Jared was feeling better. We went to the Mountain Hardware to look for our tent poles – and they were in! Amazing! We brought them to the room, set them up, and…wrong poles. We were on the phone right away with Big Agnes…a mistake on their part…sending a new tent…overnighting…should be in tomorrow (Saturday). Great. We spent the rest of the day bumming around, thinking about our next stop on the trail, restocking our sunscreen and moleskin, and chatting with The Mothers. We were again at Mountain Hardware that afternoon when a man who worked there, David, approached us with some unsettling news…had we seen Lorna (Trooper) Lee? He had dropped her off at Grassy Hollow Wednesday night. On Thursday morning he received texts from her…”I need help”, “I’ve hurt my leg badly”, “I’m near mile 385 off of Highway 2”. He drove to look for her, could not find her, and didn’t know what to do. We had an injured, missing hiker on our hands. We left and began searching ourselves – putting up notes on the PCT Class of 2014 Facebook page and asking everyone we knew on the trail. We stopped by the Farmers Market and had dinner with the Mothers at the Yodeller. A few hours later, with no word on the trail, no news from David, and with the guidance of the mothers, I made a 911 call to report missing hiker Lorna Lee. With 30 minutes we were talking to Deputy C. Ash of San Bernadino County at the Pines Inn, explaining the situation, and expressing our concern. While none of us had ever met or even seen Lorna, we felt a sense of responsibility toward our fellow hiker. Within another 20 minutes, we could hear the helicopters begin their search above us. A restless sleep and a midnight phone call from LA County Sheriffs Office.
Saturday morning I woke in an unsettled mood, continuing the “search” for Lorna, sending more messages on Facebook, contacting trail angels, etc. We sorted our food, checked out of our room, and checked on our tent – nothing yet at Mountain Hardware. The Mothers were kind enough to offer us a place to stay in their room if we needed it. We talked to various deputies (the case had been transferred to LA County), Ziggy, David, and Lorna’s mother. No word yet. Nobody had heard from Lorna in over 48 hours. That afternoon I got a text from Lorna’s mother – “she’s ok”. Texts from David revealed the same thing. A call to the deputy confirmed this. Lorna was fine. The story was: she got off the trail, got help, got back on the trail, and was found a few miles from where she had last been heard from, completely oblivious to the search and rescue efforts underway. Why she hadn’t contacted David or anyone else is unclear. I was glad she was safe but also irritated by failure in communication. Mother Brenda, Mother Sarah, Jared, and I ate roast chicken and drank beer that evening. We all bunked up, and Jared and I planned our 12-16 mile slack-pack over 9,400 ft Baden-Powell the next morning.
We woke at 6, had real coffee and real food (breakfast quesadilla for myself), and got a hitch within 10 minutes. A middle aged man named Bill from Wrightwood driving his wife’s car, who taught journalism in Rancho-Cucamonga, was kind enough to drive us the 18 miles to the Islip Saddle trailhead in order for us to southbound the section over Baden-Powell. With 2-3 L of gatorade and little else on our backs, we plodded easily up the slope. Many day hikers were out this beautiful Sunday. Just beyond Throop Peak, we ran into Paint-Your-Wagon, a bearded middle aged thru-hiker who had a huge 110 L pack and was on his third PCT attempt. We summitted Baden-Powell around 12:30, and man was I already feeling the elevation. Sluggish and queasy, I rested in the shade. I hope pushing myself will get my body ready for the Sierras and 15k+ ft Mt Whitney in July… We walked downhill, quickly and easily along the switchbacks and talus slopes, until we were at the Vincent Gap parking lot. Immediately, we ran into a few hikers, Steve and Beth, from LA who were training for Mt Whitney in July. They offered us cold beer, farm fresh cherries, and a ride to town. We hopped in their car, chatted about extreme hikers and Heather “Anish” Anderson (the badass PCT speed record holder), and were back in town drinking more gatorade in no time. Nap time. We took The Mothers out for a thanks-for-letting-us-crash-with-you burger dinner at the Yodeller, drank beer in celebration, talked about the weather (the high was 101 degrees today!), and were asleep by 10 pm.
The next day (hopefully tent-arrival) day, we woke slowly and bid The Mothers good-luck on their day hike up the steep Acorn Trail. Real coffee. Banana, peanut-butter, crackers, and cheese for breakfast. Jared talked to his collaborators while I wrote postcards, blogged, and tracked the status of our tent…ETA 4:30 pm today!
The next couple of days should be solid – we plan to do 20-mile days to Agua Dulce (mile 454), take a half-day, and continue our 20-milers on to Hikertown (mile 517)… Trying to get back on schedule… Stay tuned…
The hardest part of getting stuck in town for me is sitting still. This time, I was feeling pretty poorly on the way in so I was happy to see a bed. 4 days later, though, I’m a lot more excited about a tent! When you’re used to moving, and moving a lot, sitting still for extended periods of time is the pits. I myself get really antsy, I don’t sleep well, and I feel generally out of sorts. By contrast, even though my bed on the trail consists of a 3/4″ foam pad under my back and my backpack under my legs, I sleep like a baby every night and wake up feeling focused and relaxed.
With any luck we will be back on the trail tomorrow! We are expecting our tent to be delivered to mountain hardware this afternoon, and I think if we call to see if it’s there one more time they will probably block our numbers. We are planning to get a little hiking in this afternoon, and then hit it hard again tomorrow on our way to agua dulce. The terrain shouldn’t be too bad, but we will definitely be up against some desert heat in the next few days as we head into the Mojave.
Ok, now that we’ve fully digested the McDonalds food and our heads, bellies, and arteries are clear, we’re ready for a real blog post complete with updates on where we came from, where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we plan to go.
So we hiked out of Big Bear (mile 266) pretty slowly, doing 9 miles that first day, and camping at mile 275 – aka. the other access point to Big Bear. Our packs were lightened and our food whittled down. The plan was, I’ll test out these shins and see what they’ve got. If they can’t hack it, we’ll go back to BB and rest more. If they can handle it, we’ll push on. And guess what? They feel so much better. Amazing. I was hesitant and nervous at first, but am very happy and surprised by the outcome. At our campsite, while bending over the stove, I noticed that my right ankle buckles inward more than my left one does, which could be the source of stress – my diagnosis is that my lower leg muscles pull on my tibia, which causes pain (aka., shin splints). Also, it doesn’t help that, because I broke my left femur in a car accident almost 15 years ago, my right leg tends to overcompensate for any shortcomings due to the left-side injury (in addition to a host of other body adjustments). I tend to favor my right leg, using it more often, turning it outward sometimes and putting more pressure on it in general. Anyhow, working hard to walk properly (which is weirdly a struggle) with both feet facing forward/not pronating, not leaning forward, taking smaller steps, and pushing off with my back foot more – combined with an ankle brace, taping my ankle every morning, compression socks, elevation, massage, and new insoles, my shin feels good. Great even. Those first two days – doing 9 and 11 miles, respectively – the shin felt a little tender and sore, but much better and not outright painful. The next day we did 15 miles, followed by a 20 miler and a 21 miler. As the days went on, my leg felt better and better. I barely can feel any tightness or tenderness in my lower leg muscles surrounding my tibia. I’m still working hard to fight off the splints, thinking about every step, massaging my shin with aspercreme often, taping/bracing, but I am very hopeful and am definitely pushing on. Thanks for all the good vibes and advice this way – much appreciated! The vibes are helping!
That first day back on the trail we hitched quickly (first car) and caught a ride from a local man who talked of hiking Mt Whitney in 2 days on his 35th birthday. We passed a few day hikers – lots of folks around Big Bear are into hiking – but no other thru-hikers. We set up camp at a place with “not great ju-ju” according to Jared, our newly dubbed official campsite ju-ju assessor. The site was close to the trail, near a road, and didn’t have great energy flow/feng shui. But on the bright side, we were at a solid spot, I was sporting my new homemade camp shoes (goodbye crocs, hello cardboard-duct tape-bandana shoes…many ounces lighter), and we were using the tiny bags for spices I made. New homemade gear excitement.
In the morning, the camp stove was knocked over and nearly boiling water spilled everywhere when Jared tossed his pack out of the tent and onto the stove which I had set up at the tent entrance. Several lessons were learned. We blame the ju-ju. That morning, Jared hiked/hitched back into town to pick up an ankle brace and athletic tape to repair my wonky ankle. We were on the trail around noon and quickly passed a few older women (I dubbed “The Mothers”) about 1 mile into their section hike to Wrightwood. The Mothers were carrying loads 50 lb+, including 9 liters of water – eclipsing our ~25 lb packs. We chatted for a minute (and hoped they would make it safely), then trekked on, getting passed by 2 other thru-hikers. Most of the day was downhill and gradual, and we eventually set up camp at mile 284, at a site with very good ju-ju, alongside Holcomb Creek. As we made our dinner, couscous with tuna followed by hot chocolate, another thru-hiker named Andy and his dog named Moby came by our camp. He told us about getting almost-mugged in Big Bear (we’d heard rumors of this from Gator over breakfast at Teddy Bear). He hiked on, couldn’t find the trail immediately, came back, and set up camp at a site a few trees away from a jeep road. Then as we were drifting off to sleep, a lost – and possibly deranged – person was driving on the road, couldn’t find it, drove off the road, and nearly drove over Andy – missing his tent by 5 feet. He said he had to stick his head out of his tent and wave so he and his dog wouldn’t get run over. Man, this kid’s luck…
The next day, Andy was out before we were so we lost him from there. We hiked 15 miles – we hiked along Holcomb Creek, passed a sleepy rattlesnake, had a great snack at the wooded water source, watched a man pan for gold, made it to our first Deep Creek crossing, felt rejuvenated, hiked along the trail that hugged the valley wall above the creek, crossed mile 300!, and set up camp by the water around mile 301 (pretty good ju-ju) just before our second Deep Creek crossing. A good day. Low on fuel, no hot chocolate tonight.
We woke early – on the trail by 6-6:30 – and walked along the trail before the sun came up, which is always a beautiful time of day. We got to the Deep Creek Hot Springs that we had heard so much about by mid-morning. We found the springs, reported to be a crowded place riddled with nudist bathers, to not quite live up to it’s reputation. It was nice. We came across a handful of people, though none were naked. We also made the mistake of cutting back to the PCT through the “bathroom” area. Gross. Non-hikers have not gotten the memo about catholes and packing out TP. We did found our own private beach-y area just down from the hotsprings – not quite hot, but pleasant, good for washing up, and a nice place to rest on some flat rocks. We soaked our shirts in water before putting them back on as we hit the trail just before noon as they day got hot. A few miles to the next water source – dunking our shirts in the stream again. Eventually we made it out of the Deep Creek valley and past the Mojave River forks spillway, fording the creek and getting our feet wet (surprise – our feet were very clean at the end of the day as the silt got trapped in our wool socks away from our skin). We crossed closed Highway 173 and found a water cache in a bush – complete with a chair and a bucket for sitting, TP, bandaids, and a garbage can! We made it to mile 320 and debated where to camp – the site at 320 or 321? Jared won – we would stay at 320 at the site with assured good ju-ju (great views, off trail, picturesque). But then he conceded to my urging that we push on one more mile. We got to 321 – a site with bad ju-ju. But it was too late to go back to the good site, not worth the extra 2 miles it would add to our trip. There was a weird trail leading from the trail through the site to another area with a broken bench and random boards, there were dead bushes surrounding the site (cleared for the site we think), and the vibes were generally not great. The first thing we did was break a tent pole. Damn. We didn’t speak of the weird vibes or the weird noises I was convinced I could hear just beyond the wind until the next morning, after a fitful sleep.
We woke early-ish for our 21 mile day into Cajon Pass. The day flew by as we listened to our 7 collective albums we had on our phones – Jared called Big Agnes to get a new tent pole sent to Wrightwood (we’ll wait only a day or so), we hiked down to Highway 138 past the power plant, back up into the hills, along Silverwood Lake, found a tiny soda cache (A&W!), made a lunch/water stop at the Cleghorn Picnic area where a ranger gave us an orange, walked uphill, got attacked by flies, paused for blister care (I have a HUGE blister on my right baby toe which I’ve drained 5 times in the past 3 days), paused again for a quick cry break where I tore off the toe bandage and ankle brace (thankfully the athletic tape is stabilization enough even though it gave me a rash and leg blister of all things), replaced toe bandage with a tiny piece of bandana, powered up and over a hill past beautiful sandstone bluffs, and then dragged our tired feet the last few miles down to Cajon Pass where our sweet, sweet McDonalds was waiting for us…
So the backstory on the McDonalds is that it’s a bit of trail legend – every hiker stops here. The stretch from Big Bear to the McD’s is flat and relatively unpunctuated by excitement (well, unless you count the power plant or the looming threat of Poodle Dog bush – a poisonous plant similar to poison oak). The thought of a burger and chicken nuggets fuels you on. It’s good for morale. 18 miles in to our 21 mile day, just as our feet were threatening to take us no further, Jared and I started talking about what kind of dipping sauce we would dunk our chicken nuggets into (me – BBQ all the way, Jared – sweet & sour and hot mustard, in case you’re curious) and we made it down that last 3 mile stretch. Normally, I don’t eat at McDonalds – sure I loved the rare occasion as a kid – but now as an adult that recognizes the health consequences and generally steer clear of the stuff. But with a hiker appetite, the appeal and lure of McDonalds is great and powerful…
And now we are lounging at the Best Western – doing our laundry, giving our feet a rest, eating Subway sandwiches, relaxing in the jacuzzi, stretching, making new (lighter!) camp sandals, watching Tom Cruise movies, pilfering the hiker box, and waiting out a day so we can time our arrival in Wrightwood to meet our new tent pole. The next 20 mile stretch promises to be rough – uphill with no sure water all the way to town. We’re entering “Section D” of the PCT now. This section is demanding. It stretches from Cajon Pass to Agua Dulce, 112 miles with 27,000 feet elevation gain and 27,000 feet elevation loss. Stay tuned…
Mile 342! Our decision to slack pack and generally rest in big bear paid off big – we made it from 266 in 5 days to 342, and really only slowed down for the first two days. Frankly, after my 26 mile day at 3mph, I was happy to take it easy for a couple of days myself… My feet are in tatters. Both of my heels have blood blisters on them, my blistered toe now has a blister on the blister, and the pad of my left foot just sort of hurts, maybe just for hurtings sake. My proverbial dogs are barking.
It was awesome watching jean get her bearings again after being injured – she was a total superstar. We had first planned to do 10, 10, 15, 15, 20, and then 20 miles to get to wrightwood. After the first day, when she realized that her ankle was the likely culprit and needed to be stabilized, I hiked into town to get an ankle brace. She spent a day hiking on her now stiffened ankle, and just took off from there. The next 3 days we put in 56 miles and made it to mcdonalds, with jean leading me the last few miles as I hobbled towards certain nuggets. I ate a double quarter pounder with cheese, large fries, 10 chicken nuggets with sweet and sour sauce, a large milkshake, and four large sodas. I wasn’t full, and I regret nothing.
Today we rested and I’m grateful. My heels are cracking and it’s very uncomfortable. Seems like vitamins and moisture are what’s needed, and these are things I can do. The uphill is always better than the down for me, too, which makes the next stretch were attacking tomorrow morning very appealing – 20 miles of pure up.
This has been the strangest stop so far I think. Up until now everywhere we’ve stopped hikers are a familiar and even welcome sight. Here in cajon pass, which is not much more than an overgrown rest area I-15, everybody is a transient – 99% of the folks you see probably don’t know the pct passes nearby, if they know the pct even exists at all! When we were in Julian, we were hikers. Here in cajon pass, we are a guy wearing the dirtiest shorts on earth carrying a small nylon purse and a gal wearing homemade duct tape shoes held together by bandanas, who are studying the gas station condiments and talking about the relationship between dehydrated foods and gas.
Being a hiker is definitely preferable, but getting weird looks is kind of fun too. Tomorrow we get back on the trail and back to being hikers.
We made it to Cajon Pass – 76 miles north of Big Bear. Splints are on the mend with the help of an ankle brace. We just gorged ourselves on McDonalds – the light at the end of our tunnel – fries, burgers, nuggets, soda, shakes, salad…now entering food coma…more details of the last few days coming soon…