Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
Pacific Crest Trail - 700 miles from Campo to Mt. Whitney, April through June, 2003
Tuesday, April 22, 2003: American West Flight 825, Somewhere between Boston and Phoenix
Now that the in flight presentation of Star Trek Nemesis has ended, I finally feel like I'm able to concentrate a bit and write my first journal entry. I found just slight irony in the use of the Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" in the movie. That just happens to be one of the songs that often ran through my mind for the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. I had a great hike in 1999, so I'm hoping this bodes well for my 2003 hike.
The last few weeks passed all too quickly. Upon my return from Australia and New Zealand, it took some getting used to being back in the familiar environment of the Boston area. It took about a week to stop occasionally turning on the wipers to signal my turns. When crossing the road on foot, I still forget which way to look first so I just look back and forth a couple of extra times to make sure it's safe.
I had just three weeks to get over jetlag, file my taxes, and plan a five month long hike. This time, I'm only getting a few mail drops from Boston. The rest, I'll be mailing to myself along the way from towns with full services and plentiful supplies.
In theory, I'm "armed" with all the information I need to have a successful hike. In reality, I have so many doubts right now. My patience for planning long-term activities suffered dramatically after or during my AT thruhike. I'm also feeling out of shape. Even though I got a fair bit of hiking in while in Australia and New Zealand, it wasn't steady enough or challenging enough to get in shape. Also in the last month since leaving New Zealand, I've only managed two easy day hikes. I'm just hoping muscle memory kicks in and keeps me going until I manage to get in shape on the trail. All this being said, I'm approaching this hike with the same "it'll all work out" attitude that I've adopted for many aspects of life since my thruhike. I'm sure that once I leave the pressures of home behind, get on the trail and start hiking, and reconnect with the real world, I'll be able to just relax and enjoy the hike rather than dwell on it.
10:30 pm - Radisson Hotel, Phoenix, AZ
I can get used to this. For the second time in a row, I find myself being put up at a nice hotel at the airline's expense at the start of a hiking/backpacking trip. Tonight, when we arrived in Phoenix, the gate where we were to transfer planes was asking for volunteers to be bumped. Given that we had no rush to get to San Diego at a late hour tonight, Shutterbug and I jumped at the opportunity. So, American West is putting us up at a Radisson, feeding us breakfast in the morning, and giving each of us a voucher with enough value that neither of us is wondering how we're ever going to get home at the completion of our hikes.
Now, we get a nice room, get to go to sleep a bit earlier, sleep to a reasonable hour, and get into San Diego at a reasonable hour, too.
Our only concern had been whether or not we could dig up the phone number of the person who was planning on picking us up at the airport in time to save him the trip. With a pay-internet terminal, we got the number and connected in time. So, this worked out really well for all involved.
Wednesday, April 23
With no need to rush this morning, we had seconds, thirds, and fourths at the AYCE (all you can eat) buffet. We were both lamenting that this buffet came a few weeks too early. What we could do if we had only had our hiker appetites!
The views from the plane were magnificent. Not only could we see the mountains, so different from eastern mountains, but we could see snow (Mt. Laguna, maybe), a big lake, likely the Salton Sea, and the rain shadow along ridges, clearly delineated by forest to the west and desert scrub to the east.
I called Bob Reiss from the airport to tell him we were in town and would take the bus to his place. It was easy to make the connection from the bus from the airport to the 4 and then 961. As we boarded the last bus, little more than a shuttle/van, we met up with two other hikers, Joe and Peggy, also headed for Bob's place. A short while later, we disembarked and walked the remaining two blocks together. There, we met Hermit George. We quickly dumped our stuff and grabbed a ride with the housekeeper to a local Mexican restaurant. It was so apparent from our bus ride how prevalent Mexican culture was in this area that Mexican seemed just the thing to eat at this point.
It was a quick walk back to Bob's place. There, we met up with Floater, Tin Cup, and my friend, Mike Aken. Mike is out to do a 600 mile or so segment.
At the house, I did some reassessing of the food I had brought and figured out what else I needed to buy. I also put together my mail drop/bounce box for Warner Springs. With time to spare, I took a ride with Bob and Mike to go get Bob's propane tank filled. He organizes the hiker feed at the ADZPCTKO (Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off) and wanted to start off with full tanks.
Then it was time for dinner. Our entire group went to the Old Towne Buffet. Once again, we wished we were a few weeks down the trail in order to really do this AYCE justice. A quick stop at the market for our last minute supplies and then we went back to Bob's to get to sleep as early as possible. Our wake-up call would be at 4:00 AM.
Day 1 Thursday, April 24: Mexican border/Campo to Lake Morena (tent), 20.2 Miles
It was just getting light as we arrived at the Mexican border in Campo, CA. We stuck our toes under the fence, marveled at the border swath, and then took the obligatory pictures at the border monument. We said good-bye to Bob knowing we would see him again at the Kick-off party.
The walk starting in rolling hills along a track with more brush than I had anticipated pressing against our legs. We started under partly clouded skies that cleared within a couple of hours.
In the desert, in April, there were bound to be flowers. But, I hadn't anticipated the sheer numbers and variety. There were purple, red, pink, yellow, peach and more. Strangely, when the flowers were at your feet, there were times when they formed a solid blanket of color. In the distance, however, the hills looked brown. But, as we walked, that beautiful blanket of flowers moved with us as we walked. The yucca were in full bloom with their single, huge stalks just covered in white flowers with maroon edges. Beautiful! Shutterbug quickly identified sage and picked a few leaves to supplement her dinner.
As we crossed some train tracks, we noted a sign for the trail denoting the PCT.
We were carrying six liters of water. There is no reliable water for the first 20 miles and not knowing if we would make it to the lake, we carried enough for 1.5 days.
We took a break, at one point, when I had a bloody nose. I'm somewhat prone to them and until I get used to this dry environment, I can probably expect a few more.
Moving down the trail, we got to a view point over Hauser Creek. From there we could see a group of people moving along the trails. It was the guys we had started with. Timing our descent, we realized they were an hour ahead of us. As we walked, we could see their group slowly spread out as they started the four mile ascent towards Lake Morena.
As we descended to the creek, we passed a few signs, all in Spanish, obviously aimed towards the illegal immigrants that may walk through that area. Once at the creek, both Shutterbug and I felt good enough to press on and complete the 20 miles into ADZPCTKO.
Along the way from the border to the lake, we also met Special Agent, Judith, Rev, and Donna.
At the party, I had a great reunion with a lot of the "listers" I know from a variety of email lists. Greg "Strider" Hummel, Ron "Fallingwater" Moak, and Carl Seichart were the first I saw. It was in short order that Ron was helping me affect a repair to my tent. Then, in no time, Monte was giving me and Shutterbug a ride to the restaurant for a burger, cottage fries, and a shake. The hikers there were already getting into the hiker feed mentality. There were quite a few bacon double cheeseburgers being ordered. I stuck with a single cheeseburger but also had cottage fries (potatoes, onions, peppers, and cheese), and a chocolate shake.
Back at the party, I set up my tent and got my "home" in order and then had time to chat with some of the other early partiers. I sat at a picnic table with Monte and others before finally heading off to sleep at the late hiker hour of about 10:00 pm.
Day 2 Friday, April 25 - Mount Laguna to Fred Canyon Road (tent) (Cibbets Flat 10.1 miles (SOBO slack) 30.3 total)
I woke up at 6:00 am to lots of condensation in the tent and a gray foggy day outside. Monte and Ron organized a shuttle so we could get some slackpacking miles in. (Slackpacking is hiking a section of trail without having to carry a full backpack.) I think there were nine of us in the group that started. A couple of miles in, I stopped to peel clothes and wait for Shutterbug who had fallen behind. We hadn't continued for long when she stopped to take a break at a convenient log.
She wasn't feeling well, was nauseous, and didn't think she could make the rest of the hike that day. We discussed options and had basically decided that she would take a nap and then slowly make her way back to Mt. Laguna, just 3 miles back. At that point, she found a grassy patch to lie down on. But just a couple of minutes later, she bent over a log and lost her breakfast and probably the previous day's dinner. Of course, she felt better almost immediately. We sat a while longer to let her stomach settle a bit. Then Shutterbug decided to keep heading south, but with nothing in her stomach and no appetite, it was slow going for the remaining seven miles.
We met the gang at the side track to Cibbets Flat Campground. Some went on and five of us headed back to Monte's jeep and Lake Morena. Kate and I stopped for a burger on the way back to the lake. Shutterbug went straight back to try to get some rest.
I finally got a shower this afternoon. The festivities continued. Ever the resourceful hiker, I heated up my meal in some hot water being used to keep a pot of coffee hot and made some rice to go with my curry. I ate that as I watched two talks on the geology and biology of the trail. Another evening sitting and talking at the picnic table, this time there was a large collection of alcohol stoves and we got to see them all in action.
Day 3 Saturday, April 26 - Like Morena Campground (tent), 0 miles, 30.3 total
I had breakfast with Mike Aken, and Hermit George at the restaurant. We got back in time to present my homemade camera case in the gear contest. Then, I met up with Datto and Tony for a trip to Alpine, the closest town large enough to pick up some extra camera batteries and film. We ate lunch there then got back to the party in time to find out I had actually won something for my camera case entry. I selected an older Ray Jardine book and will have Bob send it home with the rest of my stuff.
The first tent repair didn't hold so I tried again. I also attended the water information talk to find out about the water caches I could expect as I moved north, but I got distracted a few times. The distractions were productive though. I managed to arrange our slackpack for the next morning. I also met Lone Wolf who will send me a head net. Brick, who moderates the PCT-L list, was there, as was Tom Reynolds, another PCT-Ler. I caught the second round of the hiker feed, sorted my food, and make it to the evening’s entertainment.
Phantasmo, a hiker from last year, had carried a video camera on the trail. It was great to see a few familiar faces in his video. Han Solo, Fleischman, Caboose, and more. There was no time to socialize after tonight's video. We've got to get up early tomorrow for our slackpack back to the lake.
Day 4 Sunday, April 27 - Fred Canyon Road to Lake Morena, 12.6 miles (SOBO slack) and Mt. Laguna to Flathead Flats (tent), 3.5 miles, 46.4 total
The weather so far has been cool and beautiful with daytime temperatures in the 60s and nighttime temperatures in the 30s. This morning, my condensation covered tent froze to ice after I got out of the tent. My body heat had escaped the tent and the air temperature outside was obviously below freezing.
It was still dark when I got up at 5:00 and woke Shutterbug. The hiker feed was continuing with cold stuffs (muffin/cereal, etc) for us early risers and hot breakfast for those not in a rush.
Strider shuttled us back to Fred Canyon Road. On the way, we saw a bobcat cross the road in front of the van. What a great way to start the day!
Being the last day of the party, we knew lots of hikers would soon be leaving Lake Morena and heading north. Sure enough, around 9:00 am, we started running into all the hikers leaving the lake. Many saw fit to make sure we knew we were going the "wrong" way, telling us "Canada's that way" and then would point back the way we came. We passed about 40 or more hikers in the miles back to the campground. We also had to stand aside to let 49 horseback riders pass us. While there are no bicycles allowed on the PCT, the trail is graded for pack animals so horses, llamas, and other similar stock are allowed on the trail.
The last group we passed along the trail was the PCTA (Pacific Crest Trail Association) volunteer maintainers. It's hard work maintaining a 2700 mile trail and they were doing a great job. They are the mostly unsung heroes of the trail community. Without them, the trails either wouldn't exist or would quickly fall into disrepair. I encourage anyone who has ever had a complaint about trail conditions to volunteer for a day or two. I did (and still do whenever possible) and it's given me a new appreciation for the trail.
Back at the lake, I introduced myself to Donna Saufley, a PCT-Ler and trail angel who I hope to see again when I reach Agua Dulce. Shutterbug hadn't found Strider and thought he might have a couple of things she had dropped this AM. I found him only to find out those items were in Donna's RV, just pulling out of its parking spot. I sprinted as fast as my bad knees would allow and managed to catch her and recover Shutterbug's stuff. Woohoo!
Shutterbug and I packed as quickly as possible and then Kate, our ride back to Mt. Laguna, offered to stop at the store for one last burger. I took her up on the offer and also got a shake to go. Both were delicious and they certainly beat the food in my backpack. Kate dropped me at the store in Mt. Laguna where I picked up one last Gatorade. I like the beverage, especially when hiking in the sun, and would need the water carrying volume of the bottle as we hit some of the long waterless stretches ahead. Kate dropped Shutterbug and both of our packs off at the trailhead just 1/4 mile down the road. With no shelters, like on the AT, registers on the PCT are few and far between so I hope to make a point of signing them when possible.
At the trailhead, we both took a break with Gooner, a hiker Shutterbug had met on the AT, and Cliffhanger. Teatree, another AT '99 hiker, and one other stopped to hit the store at that point. Eventually, Shutterbug and I moved up the trail a few miles to dry camp at Flathead Flats.
Day 5 Monday, April 28 - Flathead Flats to before Mason Valley Truck Trail (tent), ~16 miles, 62.4 total
We got up at 6:00 AM after having an early morning bloody nose. We were walking by 6:45 in the beautiful light of the morning. A short side trip to an overlook allowed us to see heights of land to each side and Storm Canyon laid out below us. From here, the delineation of rain versus the rain shadow was quite obvious. We got water at the GATR Road for the next dry stretch. It was unclear whether we could count on water at Pioneer Mail just four miles ahead.
I'm glad we both took enough water. The only water at Pioneer Mail was rather yellowish greenish horse trough water. The water there was turned OFF!
By the time we got to Pioneer Mail, Shutterbug was nauseous again, so we took an extended break. This time, she was able to settle her stomach by just lying still for a while. Just past Pioneer Mail, we were walking on an old abandoned road and noticed a large batch of dirty snow. It was the first snow within reach we've encountered in California. The remainder of the day was spent walking through a huge area burned in a 1997 fire. The larger bushes were still encased in black charcoal, but the ground was green from new growth. Taking breaks was tricky in this area. The black charcoal got all over anything it touched.
We took an extended break at the Lucky 5 water cache and appreciated not only the beverages and water provided there, but also the chairs that meant we didn't have to sit on the ground.
We continued just a couple more miles looking for a place to camp. We passed a few washes and then happened upon a mostly unburned area with bushes that still have leaves. The day has been extremely windy and we needed to find some protection from the wind to set up our tents. We set up in the lee of some bushes, made dinner, sorted gear, wrote in out journals, then slept. Only saw three other hikers today which was strange given that we knew there had to large numbers of hikers in the area.
Day 6 Tuesday, April 29 - Mason Valley Truck Trail to Highway S2 (Scissors Crossing) (trailer), 15.3 miles, 77.7 total
The wind was strong all night long and pressed my tent walls in on me quite frequently. A wind shift at 2:00 AM led to a very rude awakening. My awning went flying and the two pole pieces, guy line, and stake were scattered to the wind. I was able to recover one pole piece and guy line almost immediately but had to go back to sleep not knowing if I would find the others in the morning. Needless to say, with my awning only partially contained, it flapped all night long. I got just a few winks here and there, but mostly it wasn't helpful and I was glad to finally get up and moving. Thankfully, once it was light, I did find my missing pole piece.
Even though the PCT has many fewer thruhikers each year than hikers on the Appalachian Trail, with the concentrated start dates associated with the ADZPCTKO, we were surprised to see only three other hikers yesterday. This morning seemed to make up for that. Within a few minutes and a mile or so, we saw and talked with eight other hikers. We would continue to see more throughout the day.
For the most part, the PCT is very gently graded. This morning, however, we descended a steep truck track to Chariot Canyon. Then we continued up a steep jeep track until we regained the portion of the PCT built specifically as hiker/packer track. Coming from the northeast, I find it rather ironic that the roads have steeper grades than the hiking trails.
It was during the descent into Chariot Canyon that I twisted my ankle. It was painful at the time, but resolved quickly and I could keep walking with no pain.
Other than a snack stop, our next stop of consequence was at Rodriguez Spur Truck track. There, our water source was a concrete tank. We lowered an old paint can with some rocks to weight it down into the water and poured that into our bottles. It looked like good water, but we treated it anyway.
Water sources are an oasis in the desert. It was here that hikers congregated to take a break, eat some food, don gear, and do some socializing. Our schedules aren't the same so we don't see too many people along the trail, just the gatherings at the obvious break spots.
Moving along, I managed to twist my ankle again. It still didn't hurt much after a couple of minutes, but I was worried about it weakening. Paying close attention to the trail, I made it to Scissors Crossing with no further mishaps.
The Anderson's who usually do trail magic three weeks up the trail were there on their way home from the party. They handed us cold sodas and candy bars and stayed to chat for awhile. They were still there when an SUV pulls up. Gooner jumps out and asks if Shutterbug and I would like to head to a nearby trailer park for the night. He and Cliffhanger have room for more. After the previous night's fiasco with the wind and no let up in the 20 mile an hour or so breeze, I was all for it.
The SUV was being driven by Steve, husband of Steady, who is hiking the trail. He's providing vehicle support for the first ten weeks of her hike. We checked into the Stagecoach Horse Camp, just four miles down the road. Shutterbug elected to stay for the free spaghetti dinner at the Camp but I chose to go into town with Steve, Steady, and Gooner.
Julian is an old mining town that has tried to maintain its "old west" identity with decidedly kitschy results. They no longer mine there, but now have an "apple" identity. With a large number of orchards in the area, this small town has a disproportionately large number of apple pie bakeries.
We found the Rongbranch Restaurant for dinner. It's a meat and potatoes kind of place with decent portions. They sell whole pies, so I got one to go to bring back to the rest of the hikers in the trailer park. Then I finally got a shower and did laundry.
Day 7 Wednesday, April 30 - Highway S2 (Scissors Crossing) to Montezuma Valley Road (522) (trailer), 24.3 miles (slack), 102 total
At 8:30 AM, we got a very late start for a long day of slackpacking.
With limited water, it was great to do the San Filipe Hills traveling light and fast. With breaks, we did the 16 miles to the water cache in 6 hours. We slowed down and did the remaining 8 in four hours. The trail contours around the mountains with extremely gentle grades. At times, we could talk to people across gullies or down switchbacks even though they were many minutes ahead. The descent to Barrel Springs was particularly interminable.
Steady, not wanting to slackpack, was spending the night on the trail but Steve, the wonderful trail angel that he is, picked us up at 522. Shutterbug and Cliffhanger who had slackpacked with me, elected to stay behind and cook. So, Gooner and I went with Steve back to Julian for dinner. I got to hear about Gooner's forays into town to buy new shoes. He had taken a day off to let some bad blisters heal.
Day 8 Thursday, May 1 - Montezuma Valley Road to Bridge under Highway 79 (hotel), 10.4 miles (slack). 112.4 total
Steve seems to have adopted Cliffhanger, Shutterbug and myself for as long as we're in the same area as Steady and we're loving it. This morning, he brought us up to Warner Springs so we could check into the resort, if possible and reasonable. The three of us got a large room for ~$75, dropped our stuff off, and then Steve brought us back to Montezuma Valley Road so we could slack pack to Warner Springs.
Our walk today brought us through beautiful fields over rolling hills! The walking was easy and we made great time. Knowing Steady had left the trailhead just minutes before us, we took Steve's extra key to hand off to her, just in case she got to Warner Springs before Steve got back from his last trip back to the Stagecoach Horse Camp and RV park.
We caught up with her at a beautiful tree lined creek where we all took a break together. Moving on, we passed a rock formation called Eagle Rock. We went off trail far enough to see the formation then continued on. The last part of the walk to the first crossing of Highway 79 was through more beautiful tree lined creek in cow fields. It was nice, in any case, to have some rare shade along the trail. We signed the register at the road and continued the 1.8 miles to the second crossing of 79 north of town. That stretch opened up again to beautiful fields. As we walked, we watched a tow-plane pull up a glider a couple of times.
I stopped to take a pee in a protected dry wash only to continue around the bend and find a private campground with outhouses just 50 meters away. Sigh. It always seems to work that way.
We got to the road a short while later and started walking towards town. There was a nearby campground with a group whose initial were ECV. It seemed to be mostly "mature" men. They were friendly though and stopped to inquire what we were doing when I asked about them. I've forgotten what their initial stand for, but they're a group that makes roadside monuments. They were about to place one on 79 tomorrow. [Note: ECV = E Clampus Vitus]
At that point, trail angel extraordinaire, Steve, drove up to give us a ride to town.
We took turns in the shower. Shutterbug and I went to the minimart while Cliffhanger showered. I bought a 44 oz Mountain Dew and a Ben & Jerry's Phish Stick. It didn't take long to polish them both off.
Cliff took off with Steve to scout Chihuahua Valley Road, up the trail 16 miles. We'll possible slackpack that section tomorrow.
When they returned, we all went to dinner at a Sizzler restaurant in Ramona. We all bypassed ordering a dinner and went with the AYCE salad and food bar. Us hikers had at least three plates full each, but Steve was the model of moderation and stopped at two.
We stopped at the supermarket for pints of Dreyer's ice cream. Ben & Jerry's is better.
Back at the ranch, I had time to catch up on some journal writing while staying up until after midnight knowing I could sleep late tomorrow.
Day 9 Friday, May 2 - Bridge under Highway 79 to Chihuahua Valley Road (tent), 15.9 miles (slack), 128.3 total, elev. 5050'
With no reason to get up early today, we intended to sleep late, but my body couldn't be fooled by the curtains blocking the sunlight and I woke up just after 6:00. I stayed in bed tossing and turning and snoozing, but mostly luxuriating the big double bed I had to myself. We all got up around 8:00 when Steve came by to tell us Steady was heading out.
Shutterbug and Cliffhanger ate their own food in the room. I took a nice break from Pop tarts and joined Steve and Kimber for breakfast. The french toast was great. Kimber gave me a great idea for all the extra food I now had. Bounce the food to the Pink Motel (a trail angel's place) rather than my bounce box destination of Big Bear City.
Even though I have yet to have to do significant shopping, so far, my self resupplying seems to be working. Of course, the real test will be if I have what I need when I receive them.
In any case, I'm having a great time hiking. The terrain is easy, the people are great. Cliffhanger has joined up with us for the time being. He's a nearly retired horse trainer from Alabama. I get a lot of questions about my backpack. It's a Kelty Vapor and completely white due to the extremely rugged Spectra cloth it's made out of. Supposedly, the fabric won't hold dye. But the cloth holds dirt, grease, and even some sort of blue stain from who-knows-where.
I've been keeping too busy to dwell on my doubts and as I progress along the trail, I expect to leave them all behind me.
The ankle I twisted a few days ago is still sore. There's no apparent loss of motion or strength. It's not swollen, and when poking it or prodding it, I can't find any one tender spot. But the general soreness hasn't changed in a couple of days so I started taking some ibuprofen today to see if that helps. I'm sure the slackpacking has helped in that I'm putting less weight on it, but maybe a zero day would be better. I may end up with some time off in Idyllwild. Here at 4500', we're expecting rain tonight. At 6500', they're expecting snow which could hamper our ability to get beyond Idyllwild. In any case, we'll do the 25 miles over the next couple of days and not worry about it until we get there.
Today, we left after our noon check out time to send our bounce boxes and I finally sent the first batch of journal pages to Cindy. It was while I was addressing the envelope to Cindy that Cliff came in and said we had a ride to the trailhead. So, rather rushed, I finished addressing and sealing the envelope and pushed it through the slot so I could be on my way. It was great to be able to avoid the road walk back to the trailhead.
We didn't start walking until 12:45. Our first break was just one our later. We couldn't resist the shade and creek setting. A bunch of other hikers took over our spot as we were leaving. It was very buggy in the low areas where the wind was block by tall vegetation and trees. As beautiful and cool as it was, I was glad to be back in the hot sunny open slopes with the wind to keep the gnats at bay. We've been so lucky so far with temps in the 60s to maybe low 70s. Today, high 70s are the order, so I've finally started sweating enough to actually drip.
Our second break made us realize we behind schedule, so we cut it short and started moving. We were just a bit late for our 7:00 pm rendezvous with Steve who brought us our packs. The temperature dropped dramatically, and my cold hands are going to make this entry even harder for Cindy to read. [Cindy: it's actually not that bad.]
Animal sightings: I think I forgot to mention seeing a large garter snake just before Rodriguez Spur and a Ribbon Snake yesterday. We also saw some small rodents, about the size of a red squirrel but with a skinnier tail and white across the shoulders [Note: they were ground squirrels]. We haven't seen any rattlesnakes yet though others have seen them and we have seen more lizards than I'll bother to describe.
Day 10 Saturday, May 3 - Chihuahua Valley Road, 0 miles, 128.3 total (tent), elev. 5050'
We woke up to very windy, very rainy weather and decided to wait a couple of hours to see if it would clear. At 6:30 AM, we heard a car drive up, a dog barked a bit, and people started fiddling with the water cache here. It took a few minutes to realize that they were the local trail angels who were making sure we hikers had access to water on these otherwise very long dry stretches of trail. I yelled out a "Thank you" to let them know that the work they did was truly appreciated.
A short while later, nature was calling too loud to ignore, so I took a short foray out of my tent, took care of my personal business, and then checked out the cache that I hadn't even bothered looking at the previous evening. To my amazement, not only were there many gallons of water, but one huge bucket filled with oranges and another filled with trail snacks including Luna bars, granola bars, trail mix, and more. The fact that local residents with interest in the trail can keep these many caches of water filled, often with 40 gallons of water at a time, is amazing. To also find juices, fruit, snacks and even beer is phenomenal.
Consider that water weighs eight pounds per gallon. Hauling 40 gallons from a car to a site just a few feet from the trailhead is a lot of work, and it's work that needs to be done every couple or few days during thruhiker season.
One cache is a full 1.5 miles uphill from a road. Hauling 40 empties down is easy, but bringing 320 pounds worth of water up that trail takes multiple people and/or multiple trips each time it's resupplied. It is truly a labor of love and very much appreciated by those of us who would otherwise have to haul gallons of water on our backs instead of just a few quarts.
Over the course of the morning, the weather never improved. Shutterbug came over to sit in Cliffhanger's tent, so she could join our conversation. Cliff has a large tarp tent with plenty of room for two. A few horse packers wandered by in the morning but there were almost no cars on the rain soaked and saturated, soft, and slippery road. In the afternoon, a few wet and miserable hikers wandered by. Some went ahead. Some set up camp here. After one ultralight hiker found himself ill-prepared for the elements and going hypothermic, some found an unlocked garage near a house mentioned in our guidebooks just a few tenths of a mile down the road. Seeing them, we were glad to have stayed put, warm and dry, in our tents today. I think this is the first zero day I've taken while on the trail during a long distance hike.
Having skipped a hot meal yesterday evening, I made myself a pot of pasta in the later afternoon. The rain had finally let up and my tent had started drying out. The sun was even peeking through the clouds every now and then.
Day 11 Sunday, May 4 - Chihuahua Valley Road to 2 miles past jeep road to Kamp Anza (Table Mountain) (tent), 18.5 miles, 146.8 total, elev. 4400', foggy, then sun and clouds (tent)
I was up early and eager to get moving after a day of zero activity. I woke Shutterbug and Cliff at 6:00. With the cold, damp conditions, we didn't get going until 7:15. We first climbed the shoulder of Bucksnort Mountain. When we descended, we finally got below the clouds and had a view. Eventually, the sun broke through and we started warming up and drying off.
There wasn't much to report about today's hike. The running stream we passed had a water cache just beyond it. The one place we really hoped to find water (Nance Canyon) had none. While we were pondering what to do, we realized the newer guidebook listed a cache just a few miles ahead. We had plenty to get that far.
The large group that taken shelter in the garage last night caught up with us at the Hikers Oasis water cache. We knew they were coming. Just a short while earlier, we had spied an "illegal" well off the trail and could see that group moving along the trail as well.
The illegals crossing the border are not considered a threat to the hikers. They try to avoid us if at all possible and often move at night and stay out of sight during the day. Most hikers never see, or have contact with any of the illegals.
We did pass one milestone today. This morning, we crossed the county line out of San Diego County and into Riverside County. It took almost 140 miles to get out of one county. On the Appalachian Trail, we crossed our first state line at just 70 miles. We'll take our milestones where we can find them here.
Day 12 Monday, May 5 (Cinco de Mayo) - 2 miles past jeep road to Kamp Anza (Table Mountain) to Pines to Palms Highway (motel), 6.9 miles, 153.7 total, elev. 4919', sunny and 60s (motel)
We awoke to the sound of hummingbirds buzzing around our cozy little gully and other small birds cavorting overhead. While we had been well protected from the wind last night, we didn't escape the fog and once again woke up to tents coated in condensation.
It's amazing how once again our expectations of southern California hiking have, so far, not materialized. We expected to be hiking in broiling 90 degree weather through long, dry, exposed sections of trail. Instead, we've had temperatures in the 60s and 70s with high winds that have basically kept the hiking either very comfortable or even somewhat cold. In the humid east, we expect to wake up to some condensation in our tents. In this supposedly "dry" climate of southern California, we expected to mostly have dry tents in the morning. So far, we've only had one dry morning in our tents.
It turns out , we are experiencing very unusual whether in this area. As a result, this area, which has been in drought for a couple of years, is now getting some much needed moisture. One other benefit, is the fantastic display of desert flowers. Even the locals are talking about the conditions this year.
To our detriment, however, the cool wet conditions mean that we thruhikers are faced with some difficult decisions. The San Jacinto mountains, just a couple of days ahead, still have snow on them. The trail either hits or approaches 9000' and we've heard reports of obscured trail and difficult route finding. These are conditions we expected only the high Sierra, not 150 miles into California.
Today, we had a short hike to the Pines-to-Palms Highway. We took just one short break at an overlook to the Horse Canyon. Ahead, we could see snow on a large mountain range we assumed was the San Jacinto mountains.
Along the way, Shutterbug, Cliffhanger, and I had discussions of the best way to hitch the 17 miles to town of Idyllwild. Among other things, we would use the PCT bandanas with "Hiker to Town" emblazoned on them given to us at the ADZPCTKO. We also discussed how to handle a ride that couldn't take all of us. Shutterbug and I got a bit ahead at one point and started some joking and wishful thinking, just hoping that Steve might just happen to be at the trailhead when we showed up. We finally rounded the shoulder to where we could see the highway below and the traffic on it. As SUVs went by, we would quip "there goes our ride."
We saw an SUV that looked like Steve's go by, but it was going in the wrong direction and bypassed the trailhead parking lot. But then, a few minutes later, a similar, or the same, SUV pulled into the parking lot from the other direction. Could it be? When it did a slow turn and started back towards the road and was facing us, we started waving wildly, hoping to get the attention of the driver. It was the right kind of vehicle and we figured if Steve was driving and he saw us, he would stop.
We couldn't believe it. When the SUV got to the road, it stopped, and then backed up. Then, it pulled out onto the road, but very slowly and went out of sight. Almost at the road, we picked up the pace and soon got to the road only to find Steve. We could not believe our luck. He was there to drop off another hiker. There was no way he could have expected us then. We had been due out the day before. Serendipity strikes again.
So, we went to Anza with him and got DQ Blizzards while he got gas. Then it was on to Idyllwild where we checked into the Tahquitz Inn. A typical town day followed: lunch with Steve; a trip to the Nomad Ventures, the outfitter in town where I bought a Black Diamond Whippet (self-arrest device); back to the motel where we finally got our room; library to sign up for internet time later in the afternoon; pharmacy for new sunglasses and vitamins; supermarket for the next segment's resupply; back to the motel to shower and change into rain gear so we could wash all of our clothes; back to library to get on-line for a few minutes while our clothes were at the laundromat being washed; back to motel to change; to Arriba, the local Mexican restaurant for $1 tacos; back to market for more supplies and pint of Haagen-Dazs; back to motel to sort stuff, eat ice cream, wind down, and do some writing. We caught a few minutes of TV and saw the horrible twister footage on the news before going to sleep.
Day 13 Tuesday, May 6 - Palms-to-Palms Highway 74 to past Saddle on Desert Divide, 8 miles, 162 total, elev. 6000' (tent) 60s, partly cloudy, windy!
I woke up today with an idea for dealing with some of the upcoming snow we are likely to encounter. Flyin' Brian Robinson and other trail runners sometimes use sheet metal screws on the bottom of their shoes as ersatz crampons to get extra traction on the slippery white stuff. While we know of hikers who've already left to head north over the 8700' Fuller Ridge, we haven't been able to get any trail condition updates.
I went to breakfast with George and John. George was celebrating a birthday today. Then I bought some more stuff to round out my food bag so I would have at least four days of food for the next 60 miles to the Pink Motel. Cliffhanger and Shutterbug are dealing with mail drops, which don't always arrive when expected. Or, need to be forwarded. I will occasionally put together mail drops to mail ahead to myself, but my post office duties are mostly limited to a bounce box and sending my journal pages to Cindy.
After running a bunch of errands, including buying a bunch of sheet metal screws, we finally got packed and checked out of the motel in time for lunch at the pizza place. Pat had helped us run errands this morning and was planning on taking us to the trailhead when she ran into Ziggy who would be going that way, anyway. We all had lunch and then hit the trail for a very late start. There was no way we would get as far as the Cedar Springs camping so we just decided to do what we could. We wound through the most incredible boulder garden of sorts. There was even some water running here and there. We had a break among tall pines, unfortunately suffering from both drought and pine bark beetle. It's sad to see so many turning brown and dying.
After passing a gate at the six mile mark in a very windy saddle, we started watching for tent sites. We saw a few individual sites, but none big enough for three until we had gone over a mile. Cliff and Shutterbug found a site in pine trees and behind boulders. The wind is absolutely roaring overhead but only an occasional gentle breeze manages to find its way to our site. At 8:45, it's already below 40 degrees in my tent. It promises to be a cold night.
Day 14 Wednesday, May 7 - past Saddle on Desert Divide to Cedar Spring Trail (motel), 2.4 miles, 164.4 total, elev. 6780', 40 mph blowing fog with below freezing temps
We awoke to near freezing temperatures and trees and bushes dripping moisture collected from the fog. The wind had been roaring all night long, pushing the clouds overhead at breakneck speeds. We were very thankful to have found a protected, if somewhat sloping site on which to set up our tents.
We were all packed up and ready to go when we realized Shutterbug was once again not feeling well. In these cold, wet, and drippy conditions, we quickly went through our options. But, before making any decisions, we gave Shutterbug some time, some Pepto-Bismol, and some ibuprofen. Thirty minutes later, we decided to continue the hike and started a bit more slowly than usual up the trail. It wasn't too long before Shutterbug was feeling better, and we picked up the pace.
Just 30 minutes into the day, we had ascended into fierce winds and freezing temps. Evidence of the previous night's fog and freezing temperatures was all around us in the form of a thick layer of rime ice. Rime ice forms feathery lengths of beautiful ice when fog blows onto the windward side of below freezing surfaces. Every leaf, pine needle, flower, and tree trunk had long sheets of ice on them. In the wind that frequenting gusted over 40 mph, these sheets of ice were being blown off the vegetation as we walked.
With 40 mph gusts, we were frequently being blown about. With hiking poles, I remained upright through it all but was frequently forced to step off the trail, squat down, or use my poles to maintain three points of contact as I moved forward. The going was slow and we took care to stay a bit closer together than normal.
We got to Cedar Springs trail and started talking about our options. We could go down to the spring where we were likely to be sheltered. We could continue on to Fobes Ranch Trail and either camp near there or bail down to the road. At Cedar Springs, we would have no idea when to expect the weather to break. Fobes required us to go up another 800' before descending to the saddle. We knew we didn't want to continue past that. All reports we had heard of the snow covered trail approaching Saddle Junction required decent visibility to follow the trail. In this fog, the visibility was horrible and we didn't want to get to that area until the fog cleared.
Still unsure what to do, we took out the map to further assess the situation. Yet one more option presented itself. There was a trail just opposite the Cedar Spring trail that went down to a road. From what we could tell, it was a paved road with buildings on it. Buildings mean traffic and traffic means a good chance of a ride. We could not tell how far it would be to Highway 74, where we knew we could get a ride back to Idyllwild, so a ride would be important.
It didn't take long to decided on this last option. While the trail descended on the windward side of the mountains, it quickly got warmer and then less windy. We warned two ascending groups about the conditions to expect and were told we were just about 1.5 miles to the trailhead. Once down, we hit a road and while debating whether to immediately start walking or to stop for a snack, a car pulled up. It was the first group we had passed. Based on our description, they decided to move their hike to a new location. Thankfully, they had room to give us a ride to Highway 74 and we soon found ourselves back on the busy road known to be kind to thruhikers hitching to town.
We started hitching immediately, even before we had the opportunity to neaten ourselves and our belongings. Between passing cars, we would collapse our poles and attach them to our packs, tuck in shirts, and put away other jackets or items that made us or our packs look sloppy. I pulled off my PCT bandanna and folded it so that just the "Hiker to Town" edge was visible and stretched that out against the arm I had out with my thumb up.
By then, six or eight vehicles had passed us in the five short minutes we had been waiting. Then, like with our first ride into town, we couldn't believe our luck. The next vehicle to approach us was Pat, with her "PCTXPRS" van. She's doing van support for her husband, Walter, and when not otherwise occupied, is helping other hikers. She had helped us for the previous couple of days in town and was now returning from the trailhead with an empty van and plenty of room for the three of us.
Just as Pat pulled up, one of the firemen from the Fire Station we where standing in front of and asked if we were PCT hikers. I had a little conversation with him as we loaded the fan and can't help but wonder if that would have turned into a ride had Pat not just pulled up.
It's amazing that with over 160 miles of trail behind us, we've only tried to hitch once and even then, a known friend picked us up. Also amazing is the amount of trail magic we've experienced. With the towns being so much further from the trail than on the AT and with the number of hikers being so much lower than on the AT, my impression had been that people along the way would be less aware of the trail or hikers. In fact, the people in the establishments I've visited are either very much aware of us or very interested in us when they hear of our endeavors. I've heard stories from hikers who weren't even hitching who got rides. I have yet to hear of a bad hitch unless you count the one hiker who said it took a while, but he had gotten to the road after dark when there was no traffic. The very first car that came by gave him a ride so he wasn't complaining.
Back in town, we dried our gear, got lunch, went to the library to look up some trail conditions and get some weather reports, and then sat down to make some decisions. The weather is likely to be bad for a few more days. We can either skip this section and come back later to finish it, or wait a few days and hope it clears. We're in no real rush as the snow in the Sierra is well over normal and there's no way we'll be starting that section in mid-June, as previously hoped. But, if we skip ahead, we have a ride in place and we can start walking sooner rather than later. Decisions. Decisions.
We're already thinking that we might want to skip the high Sierra in June, go ahead to Oregon, come back and do the Sierra and northern California in July and August and then finish with Washington in September. What had started out as a low snow year has, within the last couple of weeks, turned into a high snow year, the type of year that I had hoped to avoid for my PCT hike. Only time will tell what we do...
Day 15 Thursday, May 8 - Idyllwild (motel), 0 miles, 164.4 total
Given yesterday's forecast, we're taking a zero day here in Idyllwild. We can see snow in the mountains above the town. We are glad to be down here where it's a bit warmer and dryer. All of the cool temperatures we enjoyed in the warm desert to the south have turned into much colder temperatures here. Combined with the rain and snow, the danger of hypothermia is high. So, we're waiting a few days, hoping the worst of the weather passes, and we can continue our hike where we left off. Others are skipping this section, forcing themselves through the nasty conditions, or like us, waiting.
Many hikers take time here to heal. So far, their feet have taken the biggest toll. Blisters are prevalent, but sore ankles and knees are also common. Surprisingly, I'm doing quite well. I've mostly recovered from my twice turned ankle without having taken time off, and I haven't had significant blisters. I had one on the tip of a toe where I never felt it. I only know about it because I saw it. The other, I felt only when it was almost healed. For the most part, I’m still walking around without the typical hiker hobble. I might be a bit stiff when I first get up, but a few steps later, I'm feeling fine. I feel extremely fortunate to be in such good shape at this point.
Yesterday, I heard about the demise by rockslide of The Old Man of the Mountain. This rocky outcropping on New Hampshire's Cannon Mountain, had been an icon not only to those of us who frequently visited the area, but throughout the entire state where it is emblazoned on the state route signs and even the state quarter. While I know that a simple rockslide doesn't rate high on the scale of human tragedy, the news dismayed me. I always looked to the Old Man when traveling through Franconia Notch. If I had people in the car who had never seen the formation, I would pull into the viewing area to show them. Just knowing I would never again see that formation is kind of sad. I'm sure I'll still look whenever I'm in the Notch.
Having just spent time in town, I had no town chores to do today. I walked into town once with Sprout, but got distracted first by Shutterbug and then by a local real estate agent known to help hikers. I bought some chocolate covered raisins and then went back to the motel. I didn't even run that errand until the afternoon having just hung out at the motel all morning. When we got back we found some of the guys a couple of rooms down were about to watch a video of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
I joined them and brought my chocolate covered raisins. There were seven of us watching and the guys had outdone themselves. They had brought quite a selection of Wonka candies and throughout the movie, we would open a package at an appropriate moment. The plain bar looking for the gold wrapper, the Oompahs when the Oompah Loompas came out and then Everlasting Gobstoppers. We had a wonderful silly afternoon, joining in with the movie during the points when the movie displayed words. It was also interesting seeing the movie from an adult perspective. There's a lot to the movie that only adults would appreciate.
I went back to my room afterwards for some ostensibly more mature banter. Well, at least the participants were older.
Not being very hungry after all the candy, I had my last slice of leftover pizza and one fresh slice for dinner. Cookies and a banana rounded out my supper. By 9:00 pm, everyone was getting ready for bed. I finished this journal entry, started earlier in this afternoon, and am ready for bed at around 10:00.
Day 16 Friday, May 9 - Black Mountain Road to before small saddle west of knob 3252 (tent), 8 miles, 172.4 total, PCT mile 200, elev. 4200', cloudy and cold early, cold and clear late
Some difficult decisions were made this morning. The day dawned cloudy and cold. It was apparent that the conditions on the ridge had certainly not improved, and had likely worsened. Given that, and discussions about trail conditions I had the previous day with others who came off the ridge, I decided that though I had my Whippet self-arrest tool, I had neither the appropriate footwear nor clothing for the conditions on the ridge. Rather than wait, I would skip a 28 mile segment of the PCT in the San Jacinto range.
One of the most difficult parts of this decision was when Shutterbug and Cliffhanger decided to return to the Cedar Spring Trail, where the three of us had left off just two days earlier. We had all been enjoying hiking together. Now, I can only hope they might be able to catch up down the trail somewhere.
I've since added the "PCT mile" portion of the statistics at each day's heading. For now, total miles should be consistently 28 miles shorter than the PCT mile point. But, given the conditions this year with a lot of late spring moisture, I may be skipping around a lot more in the upcoming weeks. In general, the PCT mile will always be where I last left off and the total miles will be the distance I have hiked on the PCT.
So, this morning I did some laundry to start out once again with clean clothes. As I returned to the hotel, I noticed a couple of snowflakes in the air. At just over 5000', that didn't bode well for the mountain. I remained satisfied with my decision.
Rev gave us a ride to Black Mountain Road and even drove up the road part way. But we bottomed out a bit so she dropped the second group at the bottom. It's always a slog to road walk, but at least this was mostly dirt with no traffic and great scenery so it wasn't too bad. The worst part was walking six miles up a hill that doesn't include PCT miles.
I started with Redwood and Hermit George. At our second break point, Sprout, Jessie and Andy caught up. We were at the Black Mountain Group camping area and contrary to what the rangers told Hermit George in town, the piped water was intact and running. We had just climbed up a large hill carrying heavy loads of water because we knew this water source would be unavailable. How frustrating!
We continued up the road with stops to take pictures of San Gorgonio to the north. We soon arrived at the PCT and once again headed north on the trail. It was great to be hiking again. Over the next 20 miles we would descend to 6000', so already the trail was heading down. The grade was gentle though and the going quick. Sprout and I quickly out paced the others. It was interesting talking to her on and off as we hiked.
The rock formations along the trail are fantastic. We often wind our way through huge boulders strewn down the mountain. There was also an area of vertical rock formation which reminded me of the many limestone karst formations I've seen. But these aren't limestone, just columns of granite/dolomite formations.
After 5:00, as I was looking for a place to camp, my left foot started experiencing pain in the instep, just in front of the heel. I hadn't stepped wrong or on a rock. It just happened with one step and had me limping. I soon got to a camp area where Sprout had stopped so I guess I'll find out tomorrow if it's an issue. It does not hurt when I'm not walking or otherwise putting pressure on it.
I set up camp and made dinner. Then, went to take care of some personal business. In these hills, it's not unusual to find a spot with spectacular views. In this case, I was facing San Jacinto Mountain with the sunset awash over it. It was as I squatting in the waning light that heard a yell and looked over at the trail across the gully and up the hill only to realize that six hikers where coming down, finishing a late hike, and could sort of see me. Well, it wasn't too embarrassing, because if I could barely see them, they could barely see me. But we all laughed about it anyway.
As I write in my journal, I can hear distant train whistles. Tomorrow, we will cross Interstate 10 and walk past the hundreds (thousands?) of windmills we can see from here in the valley below. It's only a quarter moon, but I can still my moon shadow tonight.
Day 17 Saturday, May 10 - before small saddle to Cottonwood Road, Pink Motel (trailer), 13.5 miles, 185.5 total, PCT mile 213.5, elev. 1690', sunny and warm - high 70s to 80s
I awoke to only the second dry morning so far on the PCT. No condensation on the tent meant easy packing for both a dry tent and dry sleeping bag. It was also a relatively warm morning so it was easy to get going.
Unfortunately, it didn't take long for me to realize that there was still something wrong with my foot. It would be OK for a while but then it feels like a ligament or tendon would snap like a rubber band. Then it would hurt for a while and then feel better for a while and then snap again. It was quite uncomfortable, but I could still walk on it.
We walked down some of the longest, most interminable switchbacks ever built. As we descended 6000 feet. we passed through six or seven of the vegetation zones in California. We descended into San Gorgonio's Pass and all stopped for a break at the water spigot at Snow Canyon Road. There, we camelled up and grabbed extra water to get us across the flat desert floor to I-10 and beyond to the Pink Motel, five miles away. The going was slow across the loose desert sand, but we where glad to be going across in 80 degree weather and not the 100+ degree weather they had last year.
We were a little dubious as we arrived at the Pink Motel. We already knew it was neither particularly pink nor was it a motel, but we really didn't know what it was. We had been told to watch for a pink stucco building with a couple of trailers. We hadn't been told to watch for the myriad long-unused cars, trucks, boats, refrigerators, and other "stuff" that made the land look more than a little like a junkyard. But, signs along the way ensured we were headed in the right direction.
Arriving at the first trailer with backpacks strewn about, we knew we were in the right place. Plywood floors, peeling ceilings, and exposed insulation could do nothing to temper the welcome we got from the hikers already there, and the cold beverages, fresh fruit, and promise of a good cooked dinner to come.
I dumped my pack in the shade with all the others and joined the group inside the first trailer. This was the primary hiker area which meant it was generally the primary place to hang out. I settled into position on a couch and stayed there much the rest of the day. Garlicman, Gnome, and a bevy of others were my primary company, while a group of others played Euchre at the table around the corner.
Every few minutes, we would take a look out the wonderfully huge picture windows. From there, San Jacinto Mountain dominated the view, the railroad and I-10 were one mile away, the windmill farms could be seen, and most importantly, we could see arriving hikers picking their way across the desert on their way to the Pink Motel.
All hikers at least stop by, if only to pick up water for the next 9 mile stretch. Most hikers spend at least one night.
One group went into town to pick up extra fixings for a spaghetti dinner. Garlicman did the honors and cooked up the sauce. We all had a plate or bowl of pasta for a small, $1, contribution.
I slept on the floor of the kitchen. Others chose the ancient couches in the stucco house, bunks in the RV trailer, or mostly, out under the skies. It was the first relatively warm evening I had since starting the trail.
Day 18 Sunday, May 11 - Pink Motel (stars), 0 miles, 185.5 total, PCT mile 213.5, elev. 1695', sunny and warm highs 80-95
I took a day off to let my left foot heal. Because we're not in any sort of town and the nearest transportation is a 1.5 mile walk just to start hitching, it's very easy to do nothing here.
The morning was dominated by saying "goodbye" to those hikers headed out. I also played crazy eights with So Far. I used some of my extra food for lunch and dinner, but supplemented those meals with goodies provided by Don and Helen.
Don and Helen Middleton own the Pink Motel. They live in town, but come up to their property about twice a day to see what supplies to buy, say hello to the newest batch of hikers, bring water in five gallon bottles (there's no running water here), and see if there's anything they can do for the hikers.
This morning, after a record 24 hikers spent the night, they brought up quite a bit of water, and fresh donuts. Yum! Helen also found the Mother's Day card we had made and had all the hikers sign. Of course, we left it with the contributions jar that the hikers contribute to in order that Don and Helen will continue to be able to help future hikers.
Bandanna was the first hiker in today and she arrived by car. As she had arrived at the water spigot, she ran into Gooner, Noodleman and Leprechaun. Noodleman had injured his hip and couldn't walk, so when, after missing the trail as it turned off the road, she arrived at the road in the wrong place, she decided to just hitch to town to call the appropriate authorities. To make matters worse, the guy who picked her up, while in no way threatening, did start asking some inappropriate questions. So, she got off at the next exit where there was a gas station and called Helen Middleton. Helen got in touch with Dan who picked her up and brought her to the Pink Motel. Then he went looking for Noodleman, Gooner, and Leprechaun.
A couple hours later, Dan brought the three guys to the Pink Motel.
In the meantime, So Far went to the nearby rest area to meet a friend. He returned a few hours later with a bad hitch story of his own. The guy who picked him up started making passes at him even after So Far indicated it was inappropriate. He got dropped off safe and sound at the rest area only to find out his friend couldn't make it. His hitch back was a much more positive experience. A guy with a horse trailer who works for a date company gave him a huge box of dates to bring back to share with the hikers.
While two bad hitches in one day and in one place is sort of disturbing, it's only news because it was bad. If bad hitches were the norm, we would know. Usually, we just hear good hitch stories like the day before when a woman picked up a group and ended up eating breakfast with them before she brought them back to the Pink Motel. What a great story!
Dinner was less eventful than last night. We mostly each did our own thing. But dessert was courtesy of So Far who brought back two large cups of Dairy Queen ice cream.
The night was warm at this low elevation, the sky was clear, and the wind fairly calm. I elected to sleep out under the stars for the first time on my thruhike. Once the moon set in the early morning, two satellites and four meteors caught my eye.
Day 19 Monday, May 12 - Pink Motel to East Fork Mission Creek Road (tent), 14.4 miles, 199.9 total, PCT mile 227.9, elev. 3060', hot/sunny 80s-90s high clouds late
We had a rather leisurely start for a hiking day and didn't start hiking until 8:20. I walked with Gooner, Noodleman and Leprechaun for a bit. We walked by a windmill farm and wondered why only one was turning.
It was a hot climb to the narrow pass between Gold and Teutang Canyons. Thereafter there was a lot of sidehill and a fair number of switchbacks curling all over the place. It was a hot walk to Whitewater creek and we all immediately cooled off in the surprisingly refreshing-but-not-too-cold water. Leprechaun and Noodleman built a pool down stream. Then Bandanna, who had arrived an hour after us, built another. They were marvelous to sit in. I called them the Jacuzzi, the hot tub, and the warm Jacuzzi.
The guys went ahead in the middle of the afternoon looking for shade. Bandanna and I followed along an hour later only to find them just two miles away and settled in for the evening. Bandanna and I stopped for a break, but then moved on a few more miles before settling in for the night. Of course, we managed to pick a spot full of mosquitoes. and set up in some annoying pricker type bushes. Oh, the joys of desert camping!
We must be near the Los Angeles flight path. Contrails were criss-crossing the sky all afternoon. Later in the day, not surprisingly, high thin clouds started building. Perhaps they are precursors to rain in a day or two. In any case, they were responsible for the sundog we saw around the sun during our evening hike.
Day 20 Tuesday, May 13 - East Fork Mission Creek Road to Mission Creek Trail Camp (tent), 13.6 miles, 213.5 total, PCT mile 241.5, elev. 7980', cloudy and cool light afternoon rain 60s
I got an early start with Bandanna, but it was clear from the get go that she was doing big, fast miles today and I was going slow to favor my foot and wouldn't be able to do the miles I wanted. It was a very frustrating day for me. Anytime I pushed my pace above a crawl my foot would hurt. That wouldn't have been so bad but given all the black flies around the low lying creek, all I wanted to do was go fast and get away. When I couldn't go fast to get away from them, I'm glad I finally realized that they would actually leave me alone if I stopped moving to take break. I hate it when flies act like pinballs in my ears.
There was a lot of climbing today. I'm hoping to make up some lost miles tomorrow, even if I have to go slow. There won't be as much climbing, but I've got to carry a lot of water. I'll be crossing a lot of woods roads tomorrow, but there will be no water sources for over 16 miles.
I dealt with some personal demons today. Because of my knee problems, I've long had a bigger fear of falling than most and that fear is always exacerbated by sidehill trail on steep terrain. I walked over a lot of that today, made even worse by the soft, sandy, footbed. I try to keep an attitude of mind over matter and I don't let it bother me. I'm sure I'll be seeing a lot more sidehill on this trail.
I stopped early at a water source intending to eat dinner here and move on. But, it was trying to rain, so I set up my tent. By the time I was done with dinner, I knew I was spending the night. I've got 26 miles to go to get to Big Bear City. I know I don't have enough food for two full days, so I have to get as far as I can tomorrow so that I'll have a short day the following day. I think I'm going to pull into town just a bit hungry.
Today was my first day of hiking alone and camping alone on this trail. But this is nothing new to me and I enjoy the solitude and benefits of quiet hiking. I'm now listening to the roar of strong winds overhead, thankful to be in a relatively protected area where just the occasional breeze sets my awning flapping. If the clouds continue to clear out as they had started to, the near full moon will light the night sky! The bright moon makes for haunting landscapes but useless stargazing.
Day 21 Wednesday, May 14 - Mission Creek Trail Camp to Highway 18 (motel), 25.9 miles, 239.4 total, PCT mile 267.4, elev. 6829', cloudy AM sunny PM 60/70s
If I was going to title today's entry, I think any of the following might work:
Clarkies on the trail
Lions and Tigers and Bears. Oh my!
But not one of those titles could come close to capturing the day so here's what happened:
Even though it had rained on and off yesterday, the clouds had cleared somewhat or rather lifted somewhat to a dry, condensation free, tent. I expected this to become the norm in the days ahead as we move through more desert like conditions, but for now, in this relatively wet spring, it's still a novelty for me.
I was up at 5:15 and immediately took some Ibuprofen for my ankle. By the time the painkiller kicked in 45 minutes or so, I would be ready to start hiking. As expected, camping alone with no other distractions in the morning, I was about ready to go at 6:00.
When I crawled out of my tent and looked towards the fire pit, I saw smoke. Nobody else had been here since before I had arrived yesterday, so whatever was burning had been burning then. I probably hadn't noticed because the stronger breeze yesterday had been dissipating the smoke and with the winds now still, the smoke just hung there.
I couldn't start hiking with that fire burning, so I drank some of my treated water and used the rest to put out the fire. This, of course, meant that I had to get another gallon of water and treat it before I left the area. All-in-all, it took another half hour before I could start hiking.
It's always irresponsible to leave a fire burning unattended in the woods - even in a fire pit. Given the extraordinarily dry conditions in the area, it was extremely negligent for whomever left that log burning to not make sure the fire was out. Actually, in dry conditions like this, it's just better not to have a fire in the first place.
Finally, at 6:30 am, it was time to start hiking. Since it was a fairly warm morning with temperatures about 60 in the tent and 50 outside, it was easy to get going. The trail was beautifully graded and maintained. My foot was surprisingly pain free and I was moving along at a good clip. It didn't take long to get to a beautiful, relatively flat area with large pines and an open floor. I felt like I could walk in that type of forest forever. It was so pretty. It made me, once again, realize that I could never get bored of hiking even in areas with no views. I actually appreciated having interesting things to look at in the near distance. So much of the PCT has vast views, you can forget to look close. This was a good reminder.
I hit a north facing slope and had to pass by some snow. There was nothing dangerous or threatening about the snow, but it was easy to see how even just days earlier, the trail was probably covered in places.
I finished a break at one point when Yogi and Booboo caught up with me. For the rest of the day, we often hiked together just as I finished a break. Then, a while later, they would take a break and I would go ahead. Invariably, they would catch me as I finished my breaks so we would walk together again. They had left the Pink Motel the day before me and I had apparently passed them this morning shortly after I started out. During one of the periods when I was hiking with Booboo, not only did we realize we had both gone to Clark University, but we realized we had overlapped by a couple of years. I meet Clarkies in some of the strangest places.
Crossing a road just east of Highway 38, I looked up to see a grizzly bear. Then I noticed two lions, and finally, a bunch of tigers including two albinos. Hey Toto! We're not in Kansas anymore. These animals looked well kept in nice cages that seemed a bit small. As I passed, I was just hoping these were some sort of temporary holding cages, but I had no idea why they were there or who they belonged to. In any case, given the history of the grizzly in California (on the state flag, the designated state animal, but extinct in California), I thought it ironic that the first bear I saw in California was a grizzly, albeit caged.
From the ersatz trail zoo, it was a quick few miles to the Arrastre Trail Camp where Yogi, Booboo, and I all stopped to cook an early dinner and take a long afternoon break before moving on a few miles for the day.
A Camp Oakies school trip of many young kids and their leaders passed us as we ate. We had passed them a few miles back and answered the typical questions quite a few times... Mexico... Canada... five months... Then Yogi, noting the current time and rereading a note we had picked up earlier on the trail made a suggestion. It was just 3:00 pm and Kip, a trail angel, would pick up hikers at the trailhead at 7:00 pm. This trailhead was just 9.5 miles away. We would only have to walk a 2.5 mph pace to get into town tonight. We all packed up very quickly and hit the trail minutes later.
The biggest obstacle was going to be getting past the large, slow moving group of kids. I managed to get past one group quite readily. One mile later, I came upon the lead group and was rather dismayed to find they weren't sure where they were or how to get where they were going. They also had no map with them. That was not the way to teach youngsters about responsible backwoods travel. Given that they were the same group with some carrying MREs and some leaders carrying Corona, I can't say I was too surprised.
As the day got later, the wind picked up and the temps dropped. I kept moving fast to stay warm. Shortly before we arrived at the trailhead, we passed through our first batch of Joshua Trees. We could also see a huge dust storm off in the distant desert to the east.
We arrived at the trailhead at 6:30. It was then that I realized I had successfully completed a near marathon day in just 12 hours. What a change from yesterday when I struggled to do 13.6 miles in 10 hours. This was also my longest day ever of hiking and I still felt great, though tired at the end.
Because we knew a ride would be coming at 7:00, we weren't inclined to hitch. We had moved off the parking area to pull out some warmer clothes to wear while we waited. As we were fiddling, an SUV pulled into the lot across the road. I was ignoring it when Yogi mentioned they seemed lost. I looked up and took a better look. Then it dawned on me... STEVE! I had, hours earlier, told Yogi and Booboo about Steve's incredible timing at the Pines to Palms trailhead. When I now told them it was Steve and started walking across the road, Booboo insisted it was not him. Sure enough, it was. And, as I got closer, I realized he had Shutterbug and Cliffhanger in the SUV with him. Once again, his timing was amazing.
What's more, he was only there because he had accidentally run into Cliffhanger and Shutterbug at a different trailhead and came out to scout the Highway 18 trailhead for a slackpack he was offering them the next day. What serendipity.
So, I checked into a Motel 6 room with Cliff and Shutterbug as Yogi and Booboo got their own room. Then including Steve, the six of us went to the local Sizzler for an AYCE dinner. Shutterbug, Cliffhanger, and I had a great reunion and caught up on news after dinner. What I heard about their trip across San Jacinto made me glad I had chosen to bypass it given the conditions. Bedtime did not come until the extremely late hiker hour of midnight or so.
Day 22 Thursday, May 15 - Big Bear City (motel), 0 miles, 239.4 total, PCT mile 267.4, elev. < 6800', sunny 70s
I took a zero day today so didn't have much to report today. We had breakfast at the Lumberjack Cafe, picked up bounce boxes at the Post Office, went to the library to check email and post my gear list, and then went to Burger King for lunch.
After lunch, Cliffhanger and Shutterbug got a ride with Steve up to the trail where they started a 20 mile slackpack at 1:00 pm. I went back to the motel to do laundry. Upon inquiring at the front desk about a place to get my haircut, the manager got in touch with her daughter, a licensed and practicing beautician. Lo and behold, a couple of hours later, her daughter pulled up to the motel with scissors in hand. Sitting on the walkway just outside my motel room door, I had my hair cut. How cool is that?
The only hiker to come by while getting my hair cut was Hermit George. He's in town for a week in the hopes that a knee injury will heal so that he can resume his hike. It was last year that he had injured his other knee and had to stop to heal that knee. Trying again his year and having such a similar injury must be extremely frustrating.
Steve gave me a ride to the supermarket to pick up food for the next seven days. Then Steve, Steady and I went back to the Sizzler for dinner. I managed to leave my papers there when I left, so back we went just minutes later. Thankfully, they still had them. Then, at the motel, I couldn't find my card key. It turned up in the Steve-mobile. This was not the best evening for me.
At 7:30, we left for the trailhead and found Shutterbug and Cliffhanger had just gotten there. We drove a bit further and parked the car for a view of the total lunar eclipse. What a sight! It occurred to me that in the protected areas where we try to camp, I may not have been able to see the eclipse had I been on the trail.
Another piece of regional news, I had mentioned the drought affecting the pine trees. The pine bark beetle has also affected them. Well, now that we're hiking in pine forest, there are unfortunate numbers of fallen trees. If things don't change quickly, it is likely that this could turn into one of the most predictable natural disasters in the state of California. This isn't just me talking, this is in the news hereabouts.
Day 23 Friday, May 16 - Highway 18 to Van Dusen Canyon Road 3N09 (tent), 8.9 miles, 248.3 total, PCT mile 276.3, elev. 7260, Sunny around 70
I had breakfast with Cliffhanger at the Lumberjack cafe. We had just finished when there was a bit of a commotion at an empty table a couple of booths away. Tables and chairs were pulled out, people were on their hands and knees, and a vacuum was brought out. The owners were keeping it quiet, but I realized that they had just found a bunch of termites. From a patrons point of view, I supposed that's better than cockroaches.
A library trip with Steve was frustrating when Yahoo! wouldn't let me get to my TravelsAndTrails group. I had hoped to re-upload my gear list in numbered order to prevent Yahoo from sorting it. So, I skimmed through some of David Breashears book while I was waiting for Steve to finish. I bought some Ibuprofen and new sunscreen at the pharmacy and then packed the last of my stuff back at the motel. We checked out at 12:30, just 30 minutes late, and then Steve brought us to the Post Office. I mailed my bounce box to Agua Dulce, my journal to Cindy, and a postcard to Lone Wolf who, at the Kick Off party, had offered to send me a mosquito head net.
Steve dropped us at the trailhead at 1:00. We promptly did not hike, but found a place to sit and eat lunch. Having been munching on donuts and fruit, I wasn't particularly hungry, but I ate anyway to get rid of some heavy food.
With heavy packs full of food for six or seven days, we slowly made our way to Van Dusen Canyon Road. We stocked up on water and backtracked a bit to some good, flat camping. The camping is easy here. A bed of pine needles, protected from wind. A clear night promises cold temperatures.
My ankle was complaining a bit today, but was in nowhere near the pain I had three days ago. I'm hoping it'll be better and better as I eat though, and hence lighten my load.
Snake sighting: I finally saw my first rattlesnake today. It did all the right stuff. First, it rattled like crazy and slithered off the trail and out of our way. Then, it assumed that curled up defensive posture. It was a dark snake, about 18" long, and not much fatter than a garter snake. When I pointed to it with the tip of my hiking pole, you could see its head following the pole as it rattled.
Day 24 Saturday, May 17 - Van Dusen Canyon Road to Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp, 19.4 miles, 267.7 total, PCT mile 295.7, elev. 5190, Mostly sunny 70s (tent)
I couldn't catch my breath last night. It was a classic symptom of altitude sickness. At 1:00 AM, I woke up to attend to some personal business. When I got back to my tent, I couldn't catch my breath. It's weird. When I was above 10,000' in Nepal I could understand it. Here, below 8,000', it seemed weird, especially since I camped 700' higher with no problems just a few days ago.
An hour later, I finally fell into a fitful sleep. Needless to say, I woke up this morning not quite completely rested.
Being the morning person of the group, I woke everyone up at 5:30. I started walking an hour later, knowing that Shutterbug and Cliffhanger would catch up with me at my first break. I stopped to give the two guys I had met a few days earlier a "hello" and then moved on. I took my first break a bit earlier than expected when I came across a convenient picnic table. Tables are somewhat of a rarity out here. Shutterbug and then Cliffhanger eventually joined me there.
The going was quick and easy today. We would stop here and there for breaks. Our 5 minute breaks usually turned into 30 minutes, but we weren't in a rush.
Zack and Buddha caught up with us when we stopped at Little Bear Springs Trail Camp for lunch. Once again, picnic tables made life a bit easier for a while. We took the opportunity to implement a plan I hatched earlier in the day. Steady, a day or two behind us, would be celebrating her birthday on the trail on the 19th. I made a "card" for her out of my journal notebook paper and we all signed it. Buddha and Zack donated the bag, Shutterbug some candies, and when we found a good place for it on the trail, Cliffhanger whittled the dead branch so we could hang the card where Steady could not possibly miss it. I hope I somehow get to hear her side of the story.
About 0.3 mile from the trail camp, we got water from a shallow stream. It tasted pretty earthy to me but I've had worse. Nearly six miles later, we crossed a delightful stream. While Cliffhanger filtered water for himself and Shutterbug, I went just downstream, stripped my shoes and socks off, and took a wonderful, if cold, foot bath. When I was done, Shutterbug couldn't resist and grabbed one for herself. The relevant part of the pool in this stream was about 8" deep with a sandy bottom and a perfect rock for sitting on while cooling and cleaning one's calves and feet.
We pushed on past a group at one campsite. They explained the current area had burned five years ago. We camped just beyond the burn in the Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp, the first Trail Camp we've seen without horse paddocks.
A few motocross cyclists ruined the peace on the trails above us, but they soon disappeared as the afternoon sun waned.
Black flies are prevalent here and forced us into our tents on what would be an otherwise perfect evening.
Day 25 Sunday, May 28 - Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp to Deep Creek bridge, 4.2 miles, 271.8 total, PCT mile 299.8, elev. 4580, Sunny 70s (cottage)
1:00 AM soundscape: water rushing by in the creek 100' away. Wood frogs (or those with similar voices) croaking not nearly as loud as a chorus of spring peepers. A lone owl's hooting finally being answered. Not even a whisper from the wind. A faint impression that I might be able to discern some traffic noise from a far off road.
1:00 PM: Who knew that today's entry would come in pieces? It's now 1:00 PM and I'm sitting in the Cedar Glen hospital emergency waiting room with Shutterbug. We're waiting to hear word of Cliffhanger's condition.
At 5:30 this morning, when we were getting up, Cliff informed us that he had been having abdominal pain since about midnight last night. His first thought was appendicitis, but we eliminated that almost immediately. His pain was on the left side of his body, not the right. We talked through some of the questions and indicators listed in my Wilderness First Aid book. It wasn't immediately obvious that the problem was either serious or not serious.
Cliff decided to lie down for a while longer and try drinking some water. Given the extra 30 minutes in bed, the otherwise seemingly normal other abdominal behavior (hunger, etc.) and further definition of the pain by poking and prodding, he figured he had strained an abdominal muscle.
We talked about going back 2.4 miles to the last road, going ahead 4.1 miles to the next road, or just continuing. Cliff, not in acute pain and eager to hike, wanted to continue. So we packed up and got on the trail. I did, however, insist on lifting his pack. Putting on and taking off his pack would be the biggest strain on his abdomen all day. He agreed. Following him for the 4.1 miles to the Deep Creek bridge, I could tell there were times when he was in discomfort if not pain.
We took a break along the beautiful Deep Creek. As another hiker approached, Shutterbug told me it was Apteryx, a hiker from New Zealand. So, as he approached, I surprised him with the traditional Maori greeting "Kia Ora". It took him a minute to realize he had heard that correctly. I further surprised him when, after I asked where in New Zealand he was from and he indicated the southernmost community, I knew it was Stewart Island. Turns out he's a Conservation Officer on the island. I, unfortunately, hadn't had a chance to get to Stewart Island on my recent trip. It's one of the few places in New Zealand with limited invasive species so the native species are doing relatively well.
Having snacked and gotten enough water for the next nine mile stretch, it was time to move on. We crossed the 90' bridge over the creek. Realizing that Cliffhanger had seemed more ambivalent than earlier about moving on, I asked some obvious day hikers about the trailhead and the traffic. They gave me some info about the nearby Splinters trailhead. But Cliff wanted to continue so we turned right to continue on the PCT.
A couple of minutes later, we found Shutterbug who had left a few minutes ahead of us. She had stopped to watch a couple of amorous lizards violently procreate and then realized we hadn't caught up with her.
By now, Cliff needed to go dig a hole, so we waited until he returned. Before he left, an amusing moment had left him hurting when he laughed. Now, he was very uncomfortable and decided to head for the hospital.
We turned back and in a few minutes, found ourselves at the Splinters trailhead. There were a lot of people coming in, but none leaving so we started walking. Just a minute or so later, a pickup pulled up asking where the road led. We told him and then asked if they could bring us to the hospital in town. He agreed, went to the trailhead to turn around and then picked us up. The 10 mph road with lots of speed bumps was very uncomfortable for me, much less Cliff who was trying not to stress his abdomen.
As we approached town, we slowed to stop to talk to a policeman in a passing police car. As it is illegal to have people in the back of a pickup in California, our driver wanted to indicate why and how we came to be there. So, the policeman turned around and leaving our packs in the pickup to follow us, the three of us squished into the back seat of the police car to finish the trip to the hospital.
Once there, Cliff was brought in almost immediately. It was about 11:30 and Shutterbug and I were left to wait. Within half an hour, we started breaking into our food. Eventually, I just made a sandwich and ate that as Shutterbug ate crackers and cheese.
It was hours before we heard anything. Then around 2:00, Cliff was able to have company. It turns out, he's probably got kidney stones but was waiting for the results from a CT scan that had to be sent off-site to be analyzed because there were no radiologists on duty locally on weekends. It was confirmed that Cliff has stones in both kidneys.
At this point, his pain is manageable with Vicadin so we needed to find a place to stay in town for a couple of nights. We had called a place earlier with cottages and were quoted a rate of $89/night but were told to call back when we knew what was going on and she might be able to come down. The two bedrooms, living room, kitchen sounded nice, but it was a bit pricey. Other places were a bit cheaper, but the facilities weren't as good.
When we knew we would be staying a couple of nights, we called the cottage place back. I figured she would come down to $79 or maybe $75/night if we committed to a couple of nights. So, I called back and said my friend would be released from the hospital, but had to stay in town for at least two nights. I asked about the best rate she could offer? My jaw hit the floor when she said $50/night. When I repeated that out loud both to confirm I had heard correctly and to let my friends know, the celebration commenced.
I told her we would definitely take the room for two nights and maybe more. I would call her back when we were about to leave the hospital. We knew we had a ride at 7:30, but the hospital staff were amazing and found us a ride at 6:45 with the receptionist who was leaving then.
When we got to the office, it was deserted, so we used the receptionist's cell phone and the manager/owner came down to check us in and bring us to the cottage.
We couldn't believe it when we got here. We were expecting a small "cottage" but the owner put us in one used to house large groups. It was positively cavernous. It has a huge living room with cathedral ceiling, four couches, fireplace, and TV. The kitchen is fairly well appointed with two ovens and two microwaves. There is one bedroom on the first floor with a king sized bed which we gave to Cliff so he wouldn't have to navigate the stairs. There is also a bathroom on the first floor.
The living room/dining area has a cathedral ceiling that leads to the second floor which has another bathroom (both have showers), and bunk space for 19 people. The place is decorated in ultra 70s style with exposed wood beams, cheap paneling, rust orange shag carpeting, yellow refrigerator, and a lamp hanging on a chain.
While in need of a good overhauling, the place is way more than we needed.
We suppressed our laughter until after we were out of earshot of the manager who was still putting linens on the first floor bed. We just dropped our packs and went across the street to Burger King for dinner.
Then we did some shopping, and finally returned to the 7-Eleven adjacent to Burger King to buy pints of Ben and Jerry's to bring back to the cottage. Even though we hadn't hiked much, it was an exhausting day and way past our hiker's bed time by the time we got back to the cottage.
Day 26 Monday, May 19 - Lake Arrowhead, 0 miles, 271.8 total, PCT mile 299.8, elev 5114, Sunny, high 70s (cottage)
I didn't wake up until 6:00 and then managed to snooze and doze another 45 minutes. When I got up, I watched a robin trying to get through a solid window into the cottage. It probably spent 10 unsuccessful minutes in its attempt.
Leaving Cliff to take it easy, Shutterbug and I went to the Village this morning. It's mostly a collection of kitschy shops and outlet stores appropriate for this tourist town. We visited some of the specialty food stores and mostly resisted the urge to buy overpriced food, though Shutterbug, ever hungry, succumbed a bit. Then we had Cliffhanger's prescription filled, did some food shopping, and went back to the cottage for lunch.
After lunch, Shutterbug attempted, unsuccessfully, to navigate the pedestrian unfriendly streets to a library in the neighboring town of Blue Jay, just one mile away. While she was gone, both Cliff and I ended up napping the afternoon away.
Dinner and writing rounded out the evening, and conversation today frequently centered on when Shutterbug and I will get back on the trail and when and whether Cliff will rejoin us or get back on where we left off, assuming he needs more time to pass his stones.
Day 27 Tuesday, May 20 - Lake Arrowhead, 0 miles, 271.8 total, PCT mile 299.8, elev 5114, Sunny 80s (cottage)
Cliff's morning phone call to the hospital for the analysis results of his radiology had him calling a urologist in San Bernadine and making an appointment for later in the day. The next question was how to get there. The ever helpful staff of the local 7-Eleven suggested MARTA, the regional transit authority, and using their phone book, I quickly got their number. It didn't take long not only to find out about the regularly scheduled bus from Lake Arrowhead to the San Bernadine Medical Center, but also about the local Dial-A-Ride system which we could all have been using instead of hitching everywhere. But, as it turns out, hitching seems to be easier and more convenient around here than the Dial-A-Ride service.
Cliff collected the stuff he would need for the day and then we all made our way to the supermarket, ever the best place to hitch from. The first person we asked was happy to give Cliff a ride to the hospital, just 3 miles away. Before he had even left the parking lot, the second person we asked was happy to give both Shutterbug and me a ride to the library in Blue Jay, just one mile away down the pedestrian unfriendly road.
Shutterbug and I got to the library 20 minutes before it opened so we took the time to look around the local shops and buy a couple of detergent packets at the laundromat. Then we spent 30 minutes on-line before touring the local Jensen's Finest Foods market, knowing that would be the chain we would soon have available in Wrightwood. It's a bit on the pricey side, but has a great bakery and deli and some other delicious looking options.
One of the guys from the market, just getting off-shift, gave us a ride back to Lake Arrowhead. Everyone who gave us rides today was very friendly, interested, and curious about us. We loved having a chance to meet the locals, something that doesn't usually happen when using public transportation.
Back at Lake Arrowhead Village, Shutterbug and I treated ourselves to lunch at Casa Coyote, a good Mexican restaurant. Then, we returned to a sweets shop we had visited yesterday for a chocolate dipped, frozen cheesecake on a stick. This place also had the most incredible selection of caramel, candy, cheese, chocolate, and dipped candied apples I've ever seen. At $2.50, the cheesecake was a bargain we couldn't resist. The apples ranging in price from $4.00 to $7.00 were a bit too pricey.
One last little shop at the supermarket and we went back to the cottage to finally do laundry. I took a bit of a nap and then organized a list of stuff I would have my sister send to me in anticipation of hiking through the High Sierra in a few weeks.
I left shortly before 6:00 to give myself time to talk to my sister before getting some scheduled phone calls at the 7-Eleven. One the way there, I ran into Sherry, the property manger, so paid up for our third night. Then, she let me use her phone but my sister was still busy with the kids. Then I had time to kill before our scheduled 6:45 phone call but Sherry was in a chit chatty mood so I got to see some vintage pictures of the area and hear some local history. It turns out her husband had built the properties we were staying in during the 70s.
Then, I made my way to the 7-Eleven. The phone rang promptly at 6:45. It was Cliff. His bus was obviously leaving later than the 6:30 I had been told about, but he asked me to let Carol, his wife, know he would be back by 8:30. At 7:00, Carol called and I relayed the message. Then, I got in touch with my sister again and we finally went through the gear list I would need. The list goes something like: Microfleece sweater, fleece tights, additional pocket for backpack, Kahtoola crampons, tall gaitors, film (that costs less than the $7/roll here), more journal paper, more Esbit tabs, various food stuffs.
By the time I got off the phone with my sister, Lori, it was well after 8:00. I went back inside the 7-Eleven to continue some plans with Connie, the woman working there. She had earlier given me her name and number as she regularly goes to the trailhead Shutterbug and I would need to get to the next day. She just said to call any time after 11:00 AM.
As I left, Cliff was walking up so I hung out with him until we finally found a way for him to get in touch with Carol, his wife (the 7-Eleven phone was occupied). Then, I started back to the cottage only to get into a conversation with a man who used to do business in the Boston area neighborhood I live in. Finally, 3 1/2 hours after I left to make a phone call, I got back to the cottage, very late, and very hungry.
Over dinner, Cliff related his experiences of the day. Basically, it became very apparent that he wouldn't be able to get back on the trail for at least 2-3 weeks. He is now thinking of spending that time with family and friends in Arizona. While we were talking, a thought popped out, that while entirely unlikely, did not immediately get dismissed. Maybe Shutterbug and I would take one week or so and go to Phoenix with him. Shutterbug had never been and my only time in Arizona had been in the north, not in the Phoenix/Tucson area.
Day 28 Wednesday, May 21 - bridge over Deep Creek to Deep Creek Hot Spring (stars), 9.4 miles, 281.2 total, PCT mile 309.7, elev 3535, Sunny 80s
We did one last load of laundry this morning all of Cliff's stuff and some of mine and Shutterbug's. We made a concerted effort to finish all of the town food we had bought over the last few days. We were, for the most part, successful. It was marvelous to take a shower and put clean clothes on a clean body.
Cliff, having talked to a urologist yesterday, would not be getting back on the trail with us today. Instead, he would be heading to Arizona to visit with family and friends. Shutterbug and I also made the decision to get back on the trail. It took a while, but finally, right before Shutterbug and I had planned to leave, Cliff got in touch with his sister, so at least one person there would know he was coming. Shutterbug and I could now leave knowing he would be well taken care of and as comfortable as could be.
A ride that I had arranged for Shutterbug and me to get back to the trail was a no show, but while talking to a friendly local SAR (search and rescue worker), we piqued another's interest and in short order we had a ride back to the Splinters Cabin trailhead, past all 20+ speed bumps going down this long, twisty, windy road.
We were just shy of the trailhead when we were stopped by a forest service worker. With all of the dead and dying trees in the area, they were bringing a couple of trees down preventatively. One was about to come down, so we all hopped out of the truck, I grabbed my camera, and we went to a safe place to watch. I got a couple of shots of the guy being dwarfed by the tree as he first used a chainsaw, and then an axe. Finally, with a huge CRACK! the tree came down.
After the first tree, they allowed Shutterbug and me to scoot past the area, but they still had the road closed to vehicular traffic until they could take down one more tree. About 10 minutes later, while we were still fussing at the trailhead, we could hear, but not see, that second tree come down. That one came down so that it mostly skipped over the road and down the hill.
Aside from the danger of dead trees falling, the other major danger with so many dry, dead trees is fire. When we realized that the forest workers were working out of a Smokejumpers truck, it was yet another reminder of how dangerous the situation is in this area.
Shutterbug left just ahead of me. When I left, I managed to take the wrong trail and rock hopped Deep Creek, instead of the small tributary. So I made my way back to the wrong side of the bridge and recrossed it. In all, I probably wasted 10 minutes.
Today's walk was notable for just a few reasons. The entire walk was on sidehill, up to the left and down to the right. The rock work and cribbing along portions was incredible thanks to the efforts of the builders and maintainers. There was a large stream with good flow and about two miles shy of the Hot Springs that wasn't noted in the data book. I have to wonder why not. There was also a sign that had apparently been engulfed in the last forest fire. The plastic had softened and dripped down from the flame. All wording was gone, but someone had written near the bottom "Salvador Dali was here". Definitely good for a laugh.
We also walked from pine forest back into desert today. It's amazing how quickly that can happen by just walking around the shoulder of the mountain. At one point, we could look back to pine and ahead to chaparral.
Day 29 Thursday, May 22 - Deep Creek Hot Spring to Silverwood Lake Camping (stars), 219 miles, 363.1 total, PCT mile 331.1, elev 3380, Sunny 90s ->100s
We skipped the Hot Springs this morning, but met Speed Racer while getting water. I felt OK this morning, but seemed to be moving rather slowly. The heat was probably to blame. We knew it was hot, but only realized how much so when we thought to look at my thermometer and it was well into the 90s. We started the day getting to Deep Creek and crossing it on a beautiful arched bridge. Then, for miles, we walked along the old and disused aqueduct; it's walls of stone and concrete. Late in the morning, we arrived at the Mojave River Forks Reservoir Dam, one of the biggest boondoggles I've seen. It's a huge dam for a stream with a very small flow. As our guide books suggests, it's there for "some future biblical rainfall". The PCT, routed behind the dam where there should be water, is so overgrown we walked across on top of the dam. After crossing the dam, we descended once again behind the dam where instead of encountering a reservoir, I rock hopped across the creek.
Shortly thereafter, we arrived at route 173, the same road that goes to Lake Arrowhead. Here, we found a note indicating there would be no water until we hit Silverwood Lake but there was a water cache ahead just 130 yards. We found the small cache of water empty and not having enough water went back to the road to assess our options. A neighboring house had very unfriendly "no trespassing" signs warning of both dogs and loaded guns. I started hitching in hopes of finding a nearby store. The first guy who stopped, upon hearing what I needed and why, asked how much water I needed. For the two of us, I indicated one gallon. Upon hearing that, he jumped out of his car, opened his trunk and handed me a fresh, unopened one gallon bottle of water. What a savior. We loaded up, left the remaining fraction of a quart at the stash and headed out.
As it turned out, the information about the water sources had been wrong. There was one marginal and two good water sources exactly where the Data Book indicated. We carried on with our heavy loads. Occasionally, we would stop to snatch breaks under whatever small patches of shade we could find.
We soldiered on and eventually got to the route 173 road walk. It was our first significant road walk and our first full day without Cliff. Wouldn't you know we passed a large horse ranch on the walk? I'm hoping Cliff got to Arizona OK, and will eventually get to do this section of trail himself.
We then climbed over the lip to the Lake Silverwood area. There, we circumnavigated a good portion of the lake before finally getting to the hike/bike camp area. I was exhausted and basically collapsed on the soft carpet of green grass. Once again, I was sleeping under the stars so just started pulling out gear and kitchen supplies to make dinner. Shutterbug thankfully volunteered to get water so I didn't need to move.
In the meantime, we met one of our neighbors who indicated she was hiking in a group that included Mike Davis, another hiker from Massachusetts that I had previously corresponded with by email but had never met in person.
Day 30 Friday, May 23 - Silverwood Lake to Little Horsethief Canyon (stars), 7.1 miles, 310.2 total, PCT mile 338.2, elev 3570, Sunny 80s
After drinking two gallons of liquid yesterday, and still getting dehydrated, we had a lazy morning. Last night, it was brought to our attention that the Post Office in Wrightwood would be closed for the entire long weekend. So, after I grabbed a shower, we packed up and started hitching to Wrightwood for the sole purpose of getting Shutterbug's maildrop and moving it to the Mountain Hardware store to hold until we got to town on Sunday.
At the entrance to Silverwood Lake Recreational Area, we saw what looked like two day hikers and a thruhiker walking together. We asked which way to Wrightwood and started up the ramp to Route 2. A bunch of cars had passed us before a car coming up the ramp from the lake stopped. It was the two women (mother and daughter) we had asked directions from a few minutes earlier. They brought us to a country store past route 173.
From there, we started hitching both on the road and directly from the patrons leaving the store. At one point, I was in the parking lot while Shutterbug was on the road. Then she insistently called me over, but I couldn't figure out why she was calling me as there was nobody stopping. I crossed the street in time to see a large rattlesnake that had just slithered onto the road just a few feet from where Shutterbug was standing. Our interest probably saved its life. With us blocking its way, it went back up onto the curb and back into the chaparral rather than moving into the street where it would be pancaked by a passing car.
Our next hitch was in an older Mercedes with a single Hispanic man. He was somewhat curious about what we were doing, but not much. He dropped us at Cajon Junction where we caught another ride, finally, all the way to Wrightwood. This one with a single Mom and Shutterbug in the back, not really on a seat.
We had no problems getting both Shutterbug's Post Office packages and a couple of other hikers', Mike and Karen's. Shutterbug had to mail some stuff out and the rest we just brought over to Mountain Hardware, the local hardware store that holds packages for hikers and provides other hiker services too. They have hiking gear, a hiker box, and stove fuel by the ounce. We left our boxes there knowing they would be open for the entire Memorial Day weekend.
We found the Village Grind, a local coffee shop that also specializes in quesadillas. We had a great lunch there and then each got a pint of Ben and Jerry's before starting our hitch back to Silverwood Lake. We managed to get a ride with a geologist and his dog back to the Cajon Junction. We took a different route back to the junction of 138 and I-15. Along the way, our driver pointed out the San Andreas fault running parallel to our road.
Our next hitch was with a mountain cyclist who was sort of proud of the miles he had ridden on the PCT. He brought us to within a few miles of the lake. We were picked up almost immediately and brought the last few miles by a man in a pickup. We squished in the front and once back at Silverwood Lake, quickly resumed our hike.
It was great hiking to Clearhorn Ridge with good views of Silverwood Lake. We quickly found ourselves at a good spot to spend the night and once again camped under the stars. The bats wheeling overhead provided our evening's entertainment.
Day 31 Saturday, May 24 - Little Horsethief Canyon to viewpoint on ridge top flat (stars), 20.8 miles, 331.0 total, PCT mile 359, elev 6350, Sunny 80s
Our day started with a brisk walk under huge, crackling, high-tension power lines. The promise of McDonald's was plenty to keep us moving, especially after a passing day hiker indicated it was less than one hour away. We met Jason along the trail as well as Smokey, who was standing along the trail with his thumb out, trying to hitch a ride from me.
As we got closer to I-15, we missed a turn and ended up on route 138 instead. Shutterbug elected to go back and take the trail. Jason, Smokey, and I, after looking at the map, just walked the road to Cajon Junction. Along the way, the surface of the road had some strange man-made hardware embedded in the road. At one point, I realized Smokey was about to step right near one of the man-made holes, but this one had the first two inches or so of a rattlesnake sticking out of it. Smokey saw the snake about the same time I did so he sidestepped it just as I was about to reach out and stop him. The snake slid backwards into the hole and we were left to just wonder about it.
We quickly got to Cajon Pass and checked out the supplies at the Food Mart before heading next door to McDonald's. I watched our packs while Smokey went inside. Then Shutterbug caught up and she watched our packs while I went inside. Finally, Smokey got his meal so Shutterbug could get in line. The line was very long and surprisingly slow. It is the Saturday of a three day weekend and the place was packed. We got there at 9:30 so all chose breakfast options.
Then we moved next door to the Food Mart. There, we unloaded our packs so we could dry out our wet gear from the condensation our gear had collected overnight. We got plenty of strange looks from passersby and some even asked about our endeavors. Over the course of the next few hours, I ate a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and went back to McDonald's for a lunch of a side salad (surprisingly good value for $1), chicken fajita, fries, and apple pies. We were joined by other hikers as they came throughout the morning. Finally, it was time to get back on the trail.
Cajon Pass is a highly trafficked area with the interstate highway, weigh stations, multiple train tracks, and more. To continue, we walked under the highway, over some tracks, under others, through culverts, and more. Our back drop through this area was the uplifted and wind eroded Mormon Rocks.
We climbed all day. Our first climb brought us to wind-whipped knife edge ridges. At times, I was moving just one pole or foot at a time with the drops on either side not being anything I wanted to fall off. We then contoured around Ralston Peak before coming to Swarthout Canyon Road. We were a bit dismayed to find the large water cache there empty, but we had enough water to get to the next cache we had heard about some miles ahead so we just continued. We left "the Herd" behind at the cache trying to figure out what to do.
With my light pack, I was feeling great and took off at a good pace. It was all uphill, but mostly at an easy grade. 4.4 miles later, I crossed a road and found no water cache. I waited for Shutterbug and we discussed our options. We would continue another 4.4 miles to a place with good camping and hopefully within reach of town or water given our now low and dwindling supplies. It would make for a 20 mile day on Shutterbug's sore feet and my now sore toe which had just developed an ingrown toe nail this afternoon.
Less than a mile from where we took our break, we found where the old PCT joined the newer treadway we had just been walking along. I was about to continue when I looked to the right of the trail and saw the second water cache, this one with plenty of water. Hallelujah!
We took a break, camelled up, and got plenty of water for the stretch of trail leading into town. Then we continued, as the sun set, the remaining 3.2 miles to our campsite.
It was dark as we arrived, but Karen and Mike were there and pointed out some of the better spots to camp. We just spread our gear under the stars, and munched on some snacks forgoing dinner, and went to sleep.
Day 32 Sunday, May 25 - Viewpoint to Angeles Crest Highway 2 (stars), 12.9 miles, 345.9 total, PCT mile 371.9, elev 7386, Sunny 80s
I woke up to a throbbing and very ugly toe. There was nothing I could do about it so I just started hiking and eventually, the endorphins kicked in, the pain subsided, and I could walk without limping.
While others stopped at the Gully Campground to find water, Shutterbug plowed ahead with me following. We stopped for a break a short time later only to find out, we had missed some amazing trail magic and yogiing. So we came up with a future plan to help Shutterbug's Yogi radar. If I see a yogi opportunity, I'll ask her about her shoulders, so maybe she'll slow down a bit.
We eventually passed two man-made lakes and their associated ski areas. Finally, we reached the road about the same time as Mike and Karen. With four of us hitching, we weren't having any luck. When Mike and Karen took a break, Shutterbug and I got two cars to stop at once and each could take two hikers, so we hopped in and picked up Mike and Karen further down the road in the turnout. We all got to town in short order.
We picked up boxes at Mountain Hardware then went for quesadillas at the Village Grind and then got some Ben and Jerry’s. Shutterbug and I were heading for Matt and Christine's, some local trail angels and a host family. Mike and Karen ended up with an invitation to sack out on the deck of the Village Grind. This is an incredibly hiker friendly town.
At 9:00, Matt picked us up and brought us to his house. We started laundry right away. I took a shower and borrowed a shirt from Matt to wear while my laundry was being washed. We had burritos for dinner.
Then I did the warm moist compress thing on my toe and got it to drain a bit. With any luck, it will be enough to keep hiking.
Day 33 Monday, May 20 - Angeles Crest Highway 2 to Lamel Spring (stars), elev 7765, 6.3 miles, 320.2 total, PCT mile 378.2, Sunny 70s
I woke up after a great night's sleep on the deck at Matt's place. I caught up on my journal and enjoyed a delicious blueberry turnover, courtesy of Jason.
My toe, thankfully, while not completely better is much better than yesterday. I'm going to keep walking, but know where my bailout points are in case it gets worse again.
I sent some email and figured out what I would need for food to get to Agua Dulce.
Shutterbug and I went to town for breakfast quesadillas at the Village Grind. We met up with Mike and Karen who had ended up spending the night, not on the deck of the restaurant, but at Bill and Liz's place, the proprietors.
After breakfast, we went to Jason’s, the supermarket, where I bought five day's supply of food. There, I was very happy to find Soya Snacks, the same snacks I had bought all over Australia and New Zealand. Only here, they had them in all sorts of flavors (blueberry, apple cinnamon, sour cream and chive, garden herb, etc). I happily bought three different flavors to try over the next five day stretch. It was only a bit later that we realized that the packaging was marked "Product of Australia".
We each rushed next door to get some freshly baked goods. I especially liked the turnovers (blueberry and apple) and the peanut butter cookies. The oatmeal cookies were a bit too doughy for me.
Matt drove us back to the trailhead where we organized our stuff before hitting the trail. Shutterbug got off a few minutes before me and while I was finishing packing, Jay came up. Jay and I walked together to the campground where we all met up with Petal and Elkman. From there we all walked up over the shoulder and then down 1000' to Vincent Gap from where we started up Mt. Baden Powell.
Day 34 Tuesday, May 27 - Lamel Spring to Burkhart Trail / Little Rock Creek (tent), elev 5640, 17.5 miles, 367.7 total, PCT mile 395.7, Sunny 80s/90s
If ever there was an eventful day, this was it. I woke up with the herd and got a 6:30 start with Jay. Between all the huffing and puffing, we had a great conversation on the way up the mountain. He posed an interesting question I may ponder as I walk the trail: "What three adjectives best describe my life?" It's a loaded question and the answer will change over time.
Even though we are in southern California, the upper reaches of Mt. Baden Powell are still sporting snowfields. Some were easy to cross. Many were not. I was definitely wishing I had better footwear for the conditions, but just went slow and with just one small slip and fall, made it through all the snow OK. Towards the summit, we, as had many before us, bypassed the trail and went straight up. Then we crossed the ridge to find the junction at the summit trail and the PCT.
Unlike the Appalachian Trail, the PCT goes along mountain ranges, but rarely goes to the summit of them. With the summit of Mt. Baden Powell only 0.3 miles off the trail, we dropped our packs at the junction and hit the summit. We found Shutterbug there, waiting for us. She had spent the night on the summit. Jay and I posed for a picture on top of a one foot tall rock that probably brings the 9399' summit to an even 9400'.
Moving along slowly on the ups and downs of the high mountains, Shutterbug had gone ahead. Jay and I were descending into a large flat, burned out col. I was ahead and saw something ahead on the trail. I quickly realized it was a full grown cinnamon colored, black bear. I saw it slowly ambling on all fours towards me before it realized I was there. We were still a safe distance away, so I tried to get Jay's attention and pull out my camera at the same time.
My movement probably caught the bear's attention and it quickly turned tail (I snapped one picture), then turned back and sat up on its haunches to get a better look at me (I snapped another picture). That was all it took. One good look and it turned tail and ran down the hill into the col. By the time we got down into the col, it had gone completely out of sight, like any good and wild bear should.
We soon met up with Shutterbug at the gushing Little Jimmy Spring. Once again, she went ahead as Jay and I took a break. When we continued, we stopped at the Little Jimmy Campground, just minutes away, so I could use the outhouse.
Unfortunately, all was not OK here. There was another, different, cinnamon black bear there. Only this one had a dull, stringy, coat and wasn't afraid of people. It had gotten into the garbage which was strewn all over the place. We tried yelling, banging our poles, and waving our arms to scare it off, to no avail. Not only is it upsetting that the bear was eating garbage (plastic is not good for it), but a human habituated bear like that tends to be a dead bear. I saw no tags on this bear so it might get one more chance, but it's likely to get into trouble again. After we continued on, we passed some day hikers heading up so I warned them about the bear and asked them to report the situation to the forest service at the local ranger station they would be passing on the way out.
We descended to the road and crossed the Angeles Crest Highway yet again. This road, Route 2, winds all throughout these mountains. One large section, however, is closed to traffic. It was only now that we could see why. Landslides have blocked the road. Earlier, from above, we could see a front loader on the closed road. Now we knew what it was doing.
Jay stopped to unload some trash while I took off from the parking lot at the same time as Paul. Paul quickly outdistanced me as he powered up the hill. As I got to a switchback near the top of the hill, a mule deer bounded down the hill. It was just a few minutes later when I joined Shutterbug and Paul at the top of the hill. We took a good, long break, but Jay never showed. I'm guessing he waited for the herd at the bottom of the hill.
Shutterbug, Paul and I continued down the hill, crossed the road and soon stopped to soak our feet and clean our legs in a cool stream. We continued on for just a few more miles and met up with Mike and Karen. Paul had been trying to catch up with them for days.
Day 35 Wednesday, May 28 - Burkhart Trail / Little Rock Creek to Little Rock Creek Road (tent), elev 5320, 12 miles (6 slack), 379.7 total, PCT mile 407.7, Sunny 90s
With no watch, it was impossible to tell the time, so I used Able's rule: If the birds are up, it's time to get up. I was hiking by 6:30 and as I climbed the hill, I could see Shutterbug's tent set up on the far shoulder. It looked like she was just getting going, so I yelled a "Good Morning, Janet" as I passed.
I stopped for a second breakfast at Cooper Canyon Campground where I also slathered on some DEET and made use of the pre-dug pit, aka outhouse. Moving on, my ingrown toe nail hurt, but I still made good time to the Cloudburst Summit crossing of the Angeles Crest Highway even though Smokey managed to pass me along the way. While I was waiting for Shutterbug, I took a look at my toe and found it red, swollen, and more painful than ever. Paul, Mike, and Karen passed me as I took that break, and finally, Shutterbug caught up.
We talked about the options, but in any case, I wanted to keep walking to the Three Points trailhead about five miles away. We stopped for a break once along the way and discussed whether she would come with me into town. She was feeling pressured to catch up with her pre-planned schedule and didn't really want to take the time off the trail. If she had done that, it would have been unlikely that I would have caught up with her. Our partnership agreement had only gone so far as to start the trail together. While we certainly have our different hiking styles, speeds, break patterns, etc., for the most part, we've enjoyed each other's company for 400 miles or so. Every now and then, we've split up and rejoined when it suits us. The only reason I could come up with for her to join me would be for the company. Of course, getting some town food and ice cream would also be appealing, but not a priority.
As we walked past Glenwood Camp towards yet another crossing of the Angeles Crest Highway we saw an SUV at roadside turnout. It was Donna (Eeyore). Donna is supporting Strider, her boyfriend, and a group of the hikers known as "the herd". Some time earlier, she had seen Paul, Mike, and Karen as they had come through and they let her know that I might need to see a doctor. She was there waiting for me. With such an easy "hitch", my decision was made about going to town. I turned to Shutterbug and she decided to come to town as well. A sure a quick and easy ride entered into her decision, but from my perspective, it was nice to have company.
It was about 30 miles each way down the mountains in to the town of La Canada [ed: there should be a '~' over the n], alternatively pronounced La Kanyada and in deference to Shutterbug, La Kanada. As we descended from the mountains, we entered a grimy layer of smog. When we got to town, we stopped at a gas station to find a doctor or hospital listing in the phone book. We ended up finding a family medical center down the street. When I stopped in, the people at the front desk didn't inspire confidence. They had no idea if the doctor could help with an ingrown toe nail, they couldn't get an appointment for me at a podiatrist's office, and they couldn't even tell me where the local hospital was. I was flabbergasted. A medical clinic not knowing where the hospital was? We were told that if I came back after 2:00, I could fill out the paperwork and hopefully see the doctor by 3:00.
We left, got lunch at a yuppie cafe, the Hill Street Cafe, and went back to the clinic. The doctor, when I finally saw him, inspired confidence the way his office staff didn't. He drained my toe, gave me some sample antibiotics, some Celebrex, and only charged me what the Emergency Room copayment would have been. So, I got $140 worth of services, plus drugs for $100 and it took just one hour.
Finally, Donna brought us to Von's, the Supermarket, where we got Ben and Jerry's for ourselves, a Pepsi for Donna, and a box of donuts for the herd.
On the way back up the mountains, another plan was hatched. We would be getting to the trailhead before 5:00 and Donna would be meeting the herd just six miles down the trail. Donna had a fanny pack I could borrow, so we left our packs in the SUV and quickly made our way down the trail. We were almost jogging at times. Well, Shutterbug was jogging at times just to keep up with the very fast walking pace I could maintain with a minimal pack. We ended up taking just one hour and forty minutes to cover the six miles. That's probably some of the fastest walking I've ever done.
Along the way, we went past the Three Points trailhead that we hadn't quite reached when Donna found us earlier. There, we ran into our first unattended cooler of trail magic. Unfortunately, a quick survey found the cooler full of trash. So, we coined the term, "Trash Magic", the unintentional consequences of leaving trail magic where the trail angel cannot keep up with the flow of hikers, especially at trailheads visited by holiday crowds. It is in no way intended to be derogatory and we still appreciate the effort of those who provide trail magic. As a matter of fact, I know I've provided Trash Magic at times with a friend as we've done a cooler of drinks along the Appalachian Trail.
As we neared our destination, the horse trail went one way and we stayed on the hiker trail. Soon we passed a campground below us, but continued on figuring it would be spread out between the two trails. It wasn't and we were soon paralleling the road. But with no traffic, we assumed we were beyond the gate and kept going. We eventually got to the road crossing, found the gate, and half the herd. The rest had gone on to get settled at a nearby campground. When Donna returned, she offered to make yet another trip so we could join them, but having already made a town visit and had town food, not to mention not wanting to delay the herd any longer, we declined.
Day 36 Thursday, May 29 - Little Rock Creek Road to camp post Big Buck (tent), elev ~5000, 20 miles, 399.7 total, PCT mile 427.7, Sunny 80s/90s
With the midday heat getting more and more intense, we're making efforts to get up even earlier and take midday breaks. Today we were up shortly after 5:00 and hiking around 6:00. The desert views are fantastic in the morning light. We can see large, white patches which I assume are dried salt lakes. The two springs in the data book were there as advertised. The first, a seep, wasn't so appealing. The second, with a pool, had a few floaties, but nothing a bandanna couldn't handle.
We arrived at Mill Creek Station only to find the picnic area water taps off. Without even having had time to assess our other options, a passing motorist who had stopped to use the outhouse took an interest in our endeavor. Without even yogiing, he offered to bring us to a cafe down the hill for water. So, we got a ride in a brand new pickup truck that he was still breaking in. I suspect our backpacks were the first "load" ever put in the back. It didn't take long to find out that he occasionally is sent east to work at Mitre, near Hanscom field, an airfield west of Boston. The cafe was quite the place. It was run by a guy who took things slow. He was out of ice cream, but sold us Klondike bars. I bought a Dad's Root Beer, and we got water from the hose out front. The entire landscaping was whimsical. There were more hummingbird feeders, and hence hummingbirds flitting all over, than I've ever seen. They were mostly green backed and ruby throated (one bird). Not sure of their name [Note: I think Anna's Hummingbirds]. There was also a little cave with a bear in it and a beautiful small little picnic area / garden. Our benefactor, needing to get to work, brought us back to the Station around noon.
The herd started joining us an hour later and by 3:00, having topped off from Donna's SUV, Shutterbug and I hit the trail again for another 8.3 miles. At one point, we stopped for a break. When I got up and started walking, it took a few minutes for the gnats to become bothersome again. Only then did I realize I had lost my AT bandanna.
We took a quick look back where we had been sitting and didn't see it. So, I stopped and pulled out my PCT bandanna. Continuing along, I was ahead of Shutterbug when I felt something lumpy behind my shoulder. I reached back and pulled out my AT bandanna. I still can't figure out how I could have pulled out my PCT bandanna from the depths of my pack without having seen the AT bandanna. Shutterbug was watching and she hadn't seen it either.
In any case, I was glad to have it. The bugs were getting worse than ever and I was walking at times with both poles in one hand so I could wave my bandanna with the other. It wasn't enough though and even though Shutterbug and I had agreed to go past the Big Buck campground, I was going to suggest we stop there anyway, just to be able to set up our tents and get away from the bugs a bit sooner. About then, I spotted something along the side of the trail. I picked it up and couldn't believe it. It was a mosquito head net.
Without even considering who may have lost it, whether or not they had sneezed, coughed, or worse in it, I just popped it on my head. It provided instantaneous relief from the incessant flies. Once again, I could just walk along, using my hiking poles with both hands without needing to wave my hands in front of my face all the time.
As planned, we bypassed the campground and found a wonderful little campsite with room for three or four tents along a stream that had great water. We had been carrying a heavy load because this was a seasonal stream that couldn't be relied upon. It was here, we encountered the first bicyclists flaunting the "no bicycles" rule along the trail. They passed by quickly as we set up camp. Then we had dinner and went to sleep.
Day 37 Friday, May 30 - Camp past Big Buck to Soledad Canyon Road (stars), elev 2237, 17.5 miles (11.5 slack), 417.2 total, PCT mile 445.2, Sunny 90s
We were hiking by 6:00 again and had a nice surprise when we found Donna at the Santa Clara Divide Road. She offered to slackpack us to the North Fork Ranger Station (known in the Data Book as Nork Fork) just one hour away. Just a few minutes in, we encountered our first delay. We encountered a juvenile rattlesnake in our path. It was unperturbed at our presence and was meandering in our direction. We got yet more photos, and finally moved beyond it to continue down the trail. It wasn't long before our next delay. A horned lizard caught Shutterbug's eye. She got two pictures and it still hadn't moved. So, she tried touching it. Still no movement. So I touched it. Finally, I tried picking it up. Its little legs moved like a cartoon character in the air but just stopped when it didn't go any where. We had a good look at it and finally put it down.
When we got to the ranger station, we would be taking our midday break. We knew Donna was scouting the roads so asked if she wanted company. She said sure and asked if we would drive. So, I grabbed the keys and drove the torturous roads to the town at the Sun ____ (maybe Santa Clarita?) an hour or more away. At the market, Donna did some major shopping while Shutterbug and I grabbed lunch. A southwestern chicken wrap, potato chips, soda, and ice cream were a wonderful alternative to a trail lunch.
Back at the ranger station, I taped some hot spots and hit the trail again as the herd dug into lunch. Shutterbug and I were slackpacking yet again for the afternoon. We saw another snake almost as soon as we started out. This could have been a twin of this morning's snake, but it climbed an almost vertical wall of sand to get off the trail and out of our way.
A couple of miles before our destination, I started having shin-splint like pain. It hurt less to land on my toe, so I sort of tiptoed down the hill. With the shin pain it was a frustrating walk to the camp area which we could see but not find a trail to get there. When we couldn't find it, Donna came for us. We took a quick swim with our hiking clothes on to clean the clothes and us. Cold cuts and a late night rounded out the evening. The periodic Metroliner passing on the nearby railroad tracks couldn't even wake me up.
Day 38 Saturday, May 31 - Soledad Canyon Road to Darling Road, Agua Dulce (guesthouse), elev 2530, 9.3 miles (slack), 426.5 total, PCT mile 454.9, Sunny 90s
We got up early but out late for a change. We didn't start hiking until 7:40 and then we missed our turn. By the time we regained the trail, it was 8:15. We stopped at this poorly marked section to look at the small obelisk marking the completion of the trail in 1993.
Today's walk was a hot one but the flowers were fantastic. We are now out of the San Gabriel Mountains and back in the desert. There is no shade. One canyon was dominated by ravens. We passed a cave. We came around a shoulder and found I-14 ahead of us. The tunnel under the highway proved a shady, breezy, great place for a break.
Then we hit Vasquez Rocks, a canyon-like area of wonderful rock formations that remind me very much of Pariah Canyon, a slot canyon in straddling the Utah/Arizona line. We stopped to talk to some horseback riders and then members of a Japanese walking group. Finally, we meandered into town. We stopped to take pictures at a PCT hiker welcome banner and then ate at the pizza place for lunch.
There we ran into Wahoo and Lou, and Choo Choo, too! They were all sporting Saufley Electric t-shirts, a sure sign of the welcome yet to come.
As we're sitting there, first Steve and then Steady walk in. Yahoo! Steve's back on the trail. Then Sunburn walks in. He's a friend of Shutterbug's that I had heard about. Finally, Cliffhanger walks in. What a wonderful reunion.
We ate lunch and then headed for the Saufley's, the local trail angels that as of today, have offered a welcome haven for thruhikers for seven years. We showered, changed into Saufley Electric t-shirts and borrowed shorts, and started learning our way around the place. There's a guesthouse, stable with two Percherons (a type of large draft horse), a few large cabin tents, cactus garden, and more. Donna and Jeff Saufley own the place and do what they can to help out and be an information clearinghouse for passing thruhikers.
We mostly hung out for the rest of the day. Our packs were slackpacked by Donna and arrived later in the day. Finally, we could pull our laundry together so Donna S. could wash it for us (she won't let us near the washer).
Day 39 Sunday, June 1 - Dirt road to Darling Road (sobo) (guesthouse), elev 2530, 2.1 miles (slack), 428.6 total, PCT mile 457, Sunny 80s
I woke up early as usual but with a zero day planned, sat down to catch up on my journal. I had leftover pizza and ice cream for breakfast.
At 10:00, seven of us piled into the Saufley's Ford Taurus that they make available for hikers to borrow. As I was the prime instigator, I drove. Our first stop was an REI where I exchanged my shorts for a new pair. The seams had split on my old pair. I also returned some pole expanders that slipped and bought a battery, sunglasses and mini-carabiner. While we were out, we stopped for lunch at an "In and Out" for burgers. It was a new experience for those of us living in areas without the chain. After lunch, we stopped at Sports Chalet for mosquito repellent, Ralph’s supermarket for a six day resupply, and finally back to the house. Yogi, BooBoo, Sunburn, Shutterbug, Cliffhanger, and ChooChoo were all part of the crowd. Over the course of the next few hours, many of them thanked me for driving. I hadn't realized, but the traffic on highways with eight lanes or more, combined with not knowing exactly where we were going, not to mention traveling at highway speeds, was unnerving for some hikers. Being a Boston driver, I just took it all in stride and the few times we missed a turn, found a way to get back to our destination.
To shorten our planned slackpack tomorrow, a number of us took an evening stroll along the road walk through town. If there was any doubt before, it's now confirmed that we are definitely in horse country here. A Mexican dinner followed, but I wasn't all that hungry and didn't eat much. I wonder if I'll have reserves enough for tomorrows hike.
Day 40 Monday June 2 - Dirt Road to San Francisquito Canyon Road (house), elev 3385, 20.6 miles (slack), 449.2 total, PCT mile 477.6, Sunny 90s
It was still dark when we got up at 4:00 but that put us in good stead to start walking at first light. We hit the trail by 5:20 or so. It was really nice getting in some good miles before the sun came up. Many thanks to ChooChoo for getting up early just to deliver us to the trail.
We basically walked over three ridges today. The Andersons have two conveniently placed water caches, so we never had to carry more than seven miles or so of water. The second cache was a true oasis. It was situated under trees for shade with a place to sit, plenty of soda and beer in addition to water, and an inflatable palm tree and garden style pink flamingo. We took an extended break there before the last 6.3 miles to our destination.
We got to the ranger station which, as we walked up, looked very much closed. As we approached, the door was opened for us from the inside. I guess the rangers realize their building does not look particularly inviting. While Sunburn and Cliffhanger waited by the picnic tables, Shutterbug and I were invited in, allowed to use the phone, and even given the Anderson's number when we couldn't dig it up ourselves.
Joe, who we had met at Scissors Crossing, answered the phone and remembered my name. He would "send a limo" right away. Sure enough, Rev and Ellen both drove up with enough space in their two vehicles for the four of us.
The Anderson's house, Casa de Luna, is a festive hiker's oasis. There was plenty of space to hang out, set up tents in the land behind their house, or use one of theirs, already set up. Their one bathroom is available for showers, their washing machine for laundry. Our group showered and did a load of laundry for all of us. We hadn't generated much laundry since the Saufley's.
Having just had Mexican the night before, and having been craving pizza all day, we decided to forgo Terry's taco salad, borrowed Donny's rental car, and went to "town" for pizza and yet more Ben and Jerry's. It took a while so we ended up with a later night then intended.
Day 41 Tuesday, June 3 - San Francisquito Canyon Road to 170th St / Rosamond Blvd (hotel), elev 2761, ~26 miles (slack), 475.2 total, PCT mile 503.2, Sunny 80s (70s for walking at night)
We had a relatively lazy morning at the Anderson's Casa de Luna Lunatic Lounge. We wrote in our journals a bit, ate homemade waffles, signed their banner, and I had my picture taken with Shutterbug and Sunburn.
Our little group of the last few days is splitting up. Shutterbug and Sunburn, both preferring to carry packs and not slackpack, or at least, preferring not to deal with the complexities of slackpacking, have decided to carry their packs. They have also both decided to hike the current official route of the PCT. Yogi and Booboo are hiking to Lake Hughes and stopping there for the day to deal with their maildrop and bounce box. We're not sure which route they intend to take.
Cliffhanger and I, ever the slackpackers, have arranged for our packs to stay at the Anderson's until someone comes out to Lake Hughes later in the day. With luck, someone will be able to come out shortly after we get there.
We didn't get started until around 9:30 and expected a hot day of hiking so were quite pleasantly surprised to have a relatively cool day on the trail. Our walk went quickly and we soon found ourselves on the Lake Hughes Road (marked incorrectly on our maps as Elizabeth Lake Canyon Road). I knew Cliffhanger was planning on taking the shorter, more direct route across the Mojave and I was considering joining him but, I took our morning walk to ask a few question about his intentions to stay on the trail. He still seemed committed to keep walking so I decided on the short route which was the route I had log anticipated doing when contemplating the PCT. That meant that we would do the 2.2 mile road walk to town. According to the road signs, it was more like 3 miles.
Once there, we stopped at the Rock Inn, a 1929 Stagecoach stop now turned into a restaurant/pub, for lunch. We ordered and then I phoned the Andersons to arrange for our packs to be delivered. Shutterbug and Sunburn arrived a short time later having successfully hitched a ride from a car going the wrong way. They joined us for lunch. Our packs arrived as we were finishing our meals. Just as we were going to start perusing the maps to figure out how best to tackle the Mojave Desert, in walks Steady and Steve.
It didn't take long to ascertain that she was just five miles ahead of us and planning on tackling the desert with Steve's support that very evening. Our plans quickly changed and Cliffhanger and I were soon heading for a Super 8 in Lancaster with Steve and Steady. We checked in, dumped most of the stuff from our packs, and were soon headed back to Lake Hughes. Steve dropped us off and we started hoofing it up Lake View Road to get over the last hill before the desert and catch up with Steady who was planning on leaving for the road walk at 6:00. We were a few minutes late, but joined them on 170th St. after rounding the Fairmont Reservoir, apparently part of the Los Angeles Aqueduct system.
We replenished our water at the SUV and started walking. We soon came to the open California Aqueduct and stopped to take pictures. The close proximity of these two aqueducts posed an interesting problem for engineers. Just northwest of here, these two aqueducts actually cross paths. The piped LA aqueduct goes over the California aqueduct.
The wind was incredibly strong as we walked through the desert. We were glad it wasn't a headwind, but we did have to make sure nothing we had would blow-away. Walking across the Mojave is relatively boring. We'll be doing mostly road walking on little used roads or walking along the LA aqueduct further north. Walking in our small group is great. We keep each other company and come up with ideas to stay occupied.
We crossed route 138 during the waning light of dusk and took a break. Then we walked again in the dark until 9:30 when Steve found us. With just 2.6 miles to go to Rosamond Blvd, we kept waking until 10:30 pm. Steve was waiting for us at the junction. We loaded up and headed for a fast food dinner at a Jack-in-the-Box before crashing around midnight.
Day 42 Wednesday, June 4 - 170th St / Rosamond to Tehachapi Willow Springs Road / Cameron (hotel), elev 4150, 18.3 miles (slack), 493.5 total, PCT mile 555.1, Sunny 100s (daytime), Clear 70s/80s (hike time)
Getting up at 7:30 was a late morning after our late night. Cliffhanger and I did damage to the free continental breakfast in true thruhiker fashion. We had a powwow with Steady and decided on a route for the evening's walk which would get us across the rest of Mojave. We checked out and went to the library to check email and make reservations at the Motel 6 in Mojave just down the road. While Steve stayed at the library, Steady, Cliff and I went to Subway for lunch. Just across the lot was a Wader Thrift Outlet, so when we had finished, I went across and bought a bunch of snack cakes. We had intended to pick up Steve and have him drop us at the trail, but it was still over 100 degrees so instead, we headed for Mojave and checked into our rooms at the Motel 6. With time to kill until the temperature settled down, Cliff napped while I wrote in my journal and then napped. At 4:00, we stopped at Arby's for sandwiches and then drove our intended route. It was nice to see our landmarks in the daylight knowing it would be dark by the time we walked through.
It was after 7:00 pm when we started walking. We were soon passing Joshua Trees which are sort of beautiful in a twisted sort of way. We stayed to the right where Broken Arrow Road goes left and were soon walking on or adjacent to the Los Angeles Aqueduct. This would be our route for all but the last 6.3 miles of the night's walk.
The aqueduct is covered by concrete. There are access points through which hikers used to get water, but they have all been padlocked in recent years. Now, if we listen carefully, we can hear the huge volume of water rushing by. The irony here is that the Mojave is driest portion of the PCT, and yet has the most water, albeit inaccessible, running through it. With Steve supporting Steady, however, water is not a big issue for us. We're carrying light packs and extra water isn't a problem. We only need enough for our night's miles, not enough for two days.
The night sky is magnificent. The Milky Way is fully out with the moon setting around midnight. We barely needed lights, but Cliff and Steady used them. We passed one small and pretty, but non-poisonous, snake. We also saw one mouse with a very long tail, about twice the length of its body. [Note: likely a Long-tailed Pocket Mouse]
The Mojave winds were blowing; first across and then more at our backs for a while. The worst part was when we turned left on Tehachapi Willow Road, we walked uphill almost six miles, almost all with ~25 mph headwinds gusting over 30. It's very clear why these Tehachapi mountains are absolutely covered with windmills.
We walked until 2:30 am, just 30 minutes longer then expected. On the dirt road, just one car passed us in the five hours it took us to walk the aqueduct. The paved road was some what busier and we would step off the pavement as cars passed. Just once did a car stop and ask if we were all right. I guess it is a bit unusual to see people walking on a road in the middle of the night, in the middle of a desert. We had already had one visit from Steve and knew he was ahead a mile or so. We thanked them for their concern and we all went on our ways.
Day 43 Thursday, Jun 5 - Tehachapi Willow Springs Road to Tehachapi Pass (hotel), elev 3830, 8.6 miles (slack), 502.1 total, PCT mile 563.7, Sunny 100s (80s/70s for hiking)
A 10:30 wake up is late, but still left us short on sleep after such a late night. We caught a ride to Denny's for their Grand Slam breakfast and then hung out with Leprechaun, Tea Tree, Dave and Brooke, Potato Picker, and others at White's Motel where, unfortunately, my bounce box has still not arrived.
We went back to the motel at 2:00, stopping at KFC for take-out on the way. We prepared for this evening's slackpack. I munched my chicken, finished yesterday's journal entry, and then figured out my next few mail drops. Tomorrow, we will be entering the Sierra. There will be fewer roads and the towns they lead to will be smaller and have fewer services. I've figured out that I'll need to buy 23 days worth of food for three, maybe four, mail drops I'll send to myself.
We met with Steady as planned at 4:00, but decided to hold off on going to the trailhead a bit longer. This allowed Steve to take another load of hikers to start before us and in hotter weather. The longer we delayed, the cooler our hike would be. We finally started hiking a bit after 6:00. Ronnie, the Israeli, was at the trailhead when we got there and had a Gatorade from Steve's cooler before joining us as we started hiking.
Last night, along Tehachapi Willow Springs Road, we left behind the very flat desert and started into the hills. Today, we continued into the Tehachapi Mountains, but only to cross over them to Tehachapi Pass. These Tehachapi’s are covered with wind farms. There are farms with short turbines with two blades. Humongous ones with three blades, short ones with three and everything in between. For the huge ones, the most common manufacturer name seemed to be "Vestas". Even up close, they are rather pretty to look at with the Mojave wind roaring by however, they are quite noisy. I wouldn't want to camp near here. Also, at night, the turbines have lights. Yesterday, from afar the hills either looked like they were covered with fireflies or were completely awash in light.
We spent the majority of our hike today, until we descended into the pass, walking by these windmills. Some hikers ahead of us will hopefully provide perspective for one picture I took. They were completely dwarfed by the turbines. We also had fun taking pictures of ourselves "tilting" at windmills a la Don Quixote.
We met up with Lou and Wahoo along the way. So Far came flying by, too. When we met Steve at the end, we caught up with Gnome and Burrito who decided to squish in the SUV back to town with us.
We dropped them at the hotel to check in and went to Denny's for dinner. We stopped at the Stater Brothers Supermarket for some Haagen-Dazs and then went back to the hotel room to round out the evening.
Here's a few other random notes about my hike:
1) My ingrown toe nail is still a bit bothersome. It's not nearly as bad as it was in the days before I saw the doctor, but it is still a bit swollen, red and sore. Not knowing what else to do, I'm just continuing to walk.
2) After over 400 miles, I started getting some hot spots and even one blister last week. With new shoes on the way, I'm hoping that will solve the problem.
3) I got my new shoes here in Mojave. Here's a bit of advice for those who value their shoe collection: Do NOT long-distance hike. Once upon a time, in my adult life, I could wear a women's size 12 shoe. That was equivalent to a men's 10 1/2 or so. My newest shoes are a men’s 13 and I probably should have gotten 13 1/2s. [Note: See my page on Foot size changes for more information.]
4) My general health is pretty good. I have my better days and worse days. I just hike faster or slower depending on mood. I've been using SPF 30 sunscreen, but am now about as tan as I ever get. I've managed to avoid all significant (i.e. peeling) sunburns to date. My allergies go crazy from time to time and I have to wonder if my itchy skin (legs are worst) has to do with all the desert plants and pollen. My back which had been itchy for weeks, isn't right now so I can probably attribute that to my pack being hot and sweaty against my back. It was annoying but manageable and not a worry. With a week of slackpacking behind me, I probably gave my back a well deserved break.
5) Last but not least, a discussion about my choice to cross the Mojave as I did:
On the Appalachian Trail it was somewhat important to me to walk the actual route of the trail without deviating (blue-blazing). On the PCT, I knew before I started that I would be blue blazing. This trail is designed for pack animals, and as such, avoids some beautiful trail that is inappropriate for animals but great for people.
As for the Mojave, the trail is slowly being routed around the desert. Ultimately, the route may go around the desert and hikers won't have to go through it at all. Leading up to my hike, it was always interesting to hear how hikers dealt with their desert walks. Invariably, it was with night hikes. I've always enjoyed hiking at night and looked forward to crossing the desert at night. So, with the trail through this area changing almost yearly, I decided to take a route more similar to the original route and night hike it. With Steve's support it was not the challenge that most hikers face. In fact, it turned into a very pleasant couple of evening's walk with Cliff and Steady. Our biggest challenge was staying awake while we walked.
Our route, for those wondering, was north out of Lake Hughes on 7N03 around the Fairmont Reservoir to 170th Street. Straight to the LA aqueduct to Tehachapi Willow Springs Road back to the PCT at Cameron Road.
Day 44 Friday, June 6 - Tehachapi Pass to the ridge ____ (tent), ~6 miles, 508.1 total, PCT mile 567.7, Sunny 90s
My bounce box hasn't arrived. Without it, I'm continuing along the trail without my guidebook and maps and have had to take guesses as to what to include in my next couple of resupplies. I also had to leave a note for Shutterbug, as she was expecting some of her own stuff in my box. With any luck, both she and the box will arrive tomorrow and she can send it on its way. It is important that the box catch up with me by Kennedy Meadows. It has, among other things, my "Whippet", an ice axe self-arrest tool for my hiking poles.
I had called the Post Office and been told my bounce box was there, but when I arrived it was a package from Lone Wolf, a man I had met at the ADZPCTKOP who had offered to send me a head net. Not only did he send the head net, but some yummy cookies, and other sweets. Thanks Lone Wolf!! Unlike the mosquito head net I had found on the trail, this one has small enough mesh to keep out the no-see-ums.
With Steve out scouting the roads ahead, I had walked to town. On the way back, I stopped at McDonald's and bought some breakfast for both Cliff and Steady.
My laundry was done and I finally had a chance to take inventory of my uneaten food. Finally, I was ready to go to the store with Steady. I needed to buy 23 days worth of food. The market wasn't well stocked, so I did what I could and came up a bit short, but I can resupply from the store in Tuolumne Meadows and hopefully see Katy, a friend from online and the kick off party who works in the valley.
Unlike the Appalachian Trail where I had nearly 30 mail drops, on the PCT, I'm self-resupplying for the most part. My sister, at home, has some of my extra gear and will put together a box here and there if I need it. In preparation for the Sierra, I had her send some supplies to Mojave. It was a lucky coincidence that I got that box but not my bounce box. At least I could get more journal paper and Esbit tablets.
The best part about the box from home was the wonderful artwork and letter that I got from family and friends. Not having a set plan with planned mail drops, my friends aren't able to get in touch with me by snail mail during this hike. A few keep in touch by email, so I know what's going on with them, but otherwise I don't get much news from home. So, the colorful letter with notes from lots of friends as a treat. The pictures of my car buried under feet of snow from this past winter when I was in Australia was wonderfully ironic to receive as I was doing what I could to avoid the heat of the Mojave.
I had hoped to put together a list of towns where I would definitely check the Post Offices, but it hasn't happened yet, and I'm unlikely to get around to it at this point.
When Steve came back, Cliff and I checked out and Steve brought us to the Post Office to mail our bounce boxes ahead. We had lunch at Denny's before hitting the trail around 3:30.
North of Tehachapi Pass put us officially in the Sierra Nevada. We only had time for the big climb, so once we achieved the ridge we looked for camping. My stomach had been a bit weird today, so Cliffhanger and Steady went ahead. I actually passed their campsite, but was sent back by Hatchet and Paul, also camped nearby. I set up my tent and started unpacking only to realize there was a huge gathering of ants outside my tent.
Frustrated and not feeling great, I just packed up and kept walking in search of a documented campsite. I told Cliff to say 'hi' as he passed by in the morning, so I would know he was ahead.
It was nearly dark when I set up my tent for the second time this evening. I made dinner by headlamp.
I can still hear the faint whine of turbines on the wind, though there are none nearby. The town of Mojave, with its planes, trains, and automobiles is below. During this airline slump, many planes are just parked in Mojave until needed again.
It's nearly 11:00 and I'm still awake, an almost unheard of occurrence while on the trail.
Day 45 Saturday, June 7 - ridge ____ to camping area (tent), elev 5010, 19.4 miles, 527.5 total, PCT mile 589.3, Sunny 80s
I got up shortly after 5:00 and was walking by 6:00 regardless of the lack of sleep. Walking without guidebook pages and maps is interesting. So far, the trail is marked well and the other hikers’ footprints have gone true. Cliffhanger and Steady caught up to me as I took a break. Then it was a long, hot haul to Golden Oaks Spring. I took a long break there while Cliff and Steady went ahead in the heat of the day. I think I needed the break. With the extra hour, I downed two more liters of water. I was glad to be able to replenish as the next stretch would be 18 miles and a dry camp.
Gnome, Burrito, Hatchet, Paul, and Potato Picker also took breaks at the spring. 9 1/2 miles past the spring Potato Picker has joined Cliff, Steady and me to camp in a large, windy field.
Today I saw a large, yellow skink with a red head. It moved more like a salamander than the lightening fast skinks I've seen in the east. [Note: This was likely a Northern Brown Skink.]
My bad stomach from yesterday seems to be better this afternoon. My toes, however, are worse. My ingrown toenail is infected again (I think) and a sore on my left foot is causing all sorts of grief. What to do? What to do?
Day 46 Sunday June 8 - camping area to Piute Mountain Road (tent), elev 6220, 14.7 miles, 542.2 total, PCT mile 604.0, Mostly sunny 80s
I was in quite a bit of pain to start the day, but then the ibuprofen and/or endorphins kicked in. I have a prescription for antibiotics so now I just have to figure out the best and fastest way to get it filled. I want to start them and see results before I start the twelve day crossing of the High Sierra. I'll probably head to some town from highway 128 in a couple of days.
Today we walked through pine and oak forest. The forest is beautiful with little to no undergrowth. It's shaded and cool. In places, there are some interesting rocky outcroppings, usually of large rounded boulders.
I enjoy this hiking so much more than the arid, open desert. I find myself wondering why I'm on the PCT instead of maybe doing the Appalachian Trail again. For me, I think the point is to do something new and see what there is to see, whatever that may be. The most exciting part of the trip is coming up. We'll be crossing the High Sierra, and with any luck, I'll also be summiting Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous 48 states.
In the meantime, we are definitely in a transition area. While we now have the pines, there are still yucca and cactus here and there. Yesterday we were constantly surprised as windmills kept popping up on ridges. Today there were none. We're now hiking in the 5-7000' range and the temperatures are accordingly cooler though it's still hot during the midday hours so we're still taking long breaks. Animals, or more specifically, woodland animals are more evidence here. Just this morning, I saw two squirrels, two rabbits, tracks of a big cat, and quite a few birds. The squirrels were fatter than their east coast gray squirrel counterparts. They have shorter tails making them look almost beaver-like, and they have white (or light) patches of fur above their shoulder area.
For birds, I saw a pair of yellow birds with red heads. They might have had darker colors on their beaks or tails but they were very striking. They were perhaps just a bit smaller than a robin. [Note: Western Tanager] I also saw a quail or partridge. Maybe one foot tall, very sleek, with a crown of a sort. It's not nearly as fat looking as a spruce or ruffed grouse. It was mostly gray with perhaps a bit of rusty red. [Note: likely California Quail]
There are plenty of signs of deer around (both scat and prints) as well as coyote.
I got to Robin Bird Spring today at around 10:30. There's a spring there for cattle but also one, now protected from cattle, higher up and fenced in for people. It was a pleasant place to hang out and in the four hours I spent there, in addition to Potato Picker, Cliffhanger, and Steady, we were also joined by No Way and Paul. At one point, a cow, her calf, and a yearling also showed up, probably for water, but declined to join the group. That's probably just as well.
I got moving again at 2:30 for the quick walk the rest of the miles to our campsite. Along the way, I got hungry and stopped to munch on a snack which basically ruined my appetite when I got to camp. I stuffed down a meal anyway.
Tonight, having read in the nearby register of a recent bear sighting in the area, we bear bagged for the first time. I hope I don't get hungry in the middle of the night.
After being so short on sleep the last two nights (last night due to flapping tent in wind), it seems like a nice calm night tonight. It's only 8:30 and I'm now putting away my pen to get some sleep. Good night!
Day 47 Monday, June 9 - Piute Mountain Road to another multi-road-and-trail junction (stars), elev 5382, 15.8 miles, 558.0 total, PCT mile 619.8, Sunny 90s with one rain cloud
I was startled awake when Potato Picker delivered my bear bagged food bags to my tent at 5:30. A bear had been sighted in the area just a day or two earlier. I was walking by 6:15, following No Way who had passed through our camp just as I was finishing packing. I don't pass many people so mostly it showed I was having a good morning. No Way is the only other hiker I've seen on the trail with a Spectra cloth pack. He's using the Kelty Cloud 4500, the later version of my Kelty Vapor.
I walked for over two hours before thinking about a break but decided to just go for it and wait until the upcoming water cache. That was a big mistake! We had been descending all morning and as I rounded a shoulder, I went from mixed forest to complete desert chaparral. There would be no more real shade for a long time.
At the cache, I found a little meager half shade and sat down to wait for Steady and Cliffhanger. No Way joined me after a while so we talked as we took a break. I mentioned that I wouldn't be surprised if Steady's husband showed up. Even though Steady's stocked through Onyx, we knew Steve had scouted to this point. Not ten minutes later, up drives Steve. I walked over to greet him and gave an ETA of less than 30 minutes. Cliff walked up five minutes later and Steady another five minutes after that.
My feet, not getting better, I gave Steve my prescription for Keflex, an antibiotic. With any luck, I'll start taking them in two days and will hopefully see improvement by the time I get to Kennedy Meadows. I really don't want to start that twelve day stretch with few bail points, on problematic feet.
I was at the cache for almost two hours before we took off again. Unfortunately, this was during the heat of the day. It didn’t take long before my stomach was acting up again. Just 10 minutes or so out, I was asking Steady for some Pepto-Bismol. It wasn't handy, so I waited until we took a break. With the sun beating down on us, we only went two miles before stopping at a dirt road. We set up Steady's tarp as some shade and put Cliff's out to sit on. Then all three of us crawled underneath to get out of the sun. Weirdly enough however, a cloud had started to form above us giving us a bit of shade. At first we joshed about how the tarp was unnecessary and maybe we should hike in the shade of the cloud. Then we noticed the cloud building and darkening. Then we started hearing drops. We couldn't believe it. In the middle of the desert, one cloud formed with blue sky all around it and it rained on us during our one break where we had put up a tarp for shade. We just laughed and all agreed it would make for a good journal entry.
At 2:00, still a bit early for me, we started walking again. Almost immediately, I had to stop and dig a hole. Unfortunately, taking care of business did nothing to ease my stomach. For the rest of the day, I walked at a snail's pace with my hip belt loosened and my shoulders taking the entire weight of the pack. At 3:00, I spied a bit of shade under a Joshua Tree and sat down for yet another break. At 3:45, Cliff came back down the trail looking for me. When I didn't show up at their next break spot, they had gotten concerned even though I had told them I would take more breaks. So at 4:00, I started up again. It was still hot but the wind had picked up. I finally made it to camp at 7:00.
Too tired to cook, I had cookies for dinner. It was windy here, so I'm trying to sleep out. I know it's hard to sleep with my tent flapping in the wind. Tonight I'll find out if it's too hard to sleep with the wind against my sleeping bag. I'm just hoping there are no desert critters that want to keep me company.
It was about 8:30 and at the final stages of dusk when I spotted two hikers passing by. It was Gnome and Burrito. We all thought they were ahead but Gnome had apparently been sick yesterday and we passed by them while they were camping off trail. It was almost dark, but they were still going to try to make more miles tonight.
Day 48 Tuesday, June 10 - Another multi-road-and-trail-junction to McIver’s spring (cabin), elev 6680, 20.1 miles, 578.1 total, PCT mile 639.9, Sunny 80s
I had a reasonably good night's sleep. There was a bit of dust blowing in the wind but a strategically placed backpack kept it out of my face. The wind blowing directly on the bag near my legs but not on my face was certainly preferable to having my tent flapping all night long. I was not joined by any critters while I was sleeping.
I woke up at 5:30 and knew my stomach problems were still an issue. By this point, I was doubting that the problem was heat or dehydration related. I went about my morning routine and the three of us left camp together. With my stomach and feet hurting, it was slow going. I was taking most or all of the pack weight on my shoulders to avoid having to tighten my hip belt over my abdomen. To make matters worse, the area we've been hiking in for the last two days has been well used by dirt bikes. There are plenty of other trails, but they've been on the PCT and have turned the trail into a roller coaster. It would be bad enough hiking on it when I was feeling well, but to go up and down one to two feet for every eight feet of trail just wasn't doing my stomach any good.
At the Bird Spring Pass water cache, I sat down for a while to camel up on water. This time, when Cliffhanger and Steady went ahead, they knew I may or may not make it to their final destination. In any case, they would wait for me the next day when Steve came by to pick us up. By now, I had come to the conclusion that I had somehow contracted Giardiasis or some other nasty intestinal bacteria. Once again, I'm faced with having to get more medical attention and need to do it before entering the High Sierra. Steady has already volunteered Steve to take us to town to deal with the situation.
After Cliffhanger and Steady went ahead, Frog, Zeb and Choo Choo showed up. Zeb had some Imodium and gave me a couple of doses worth. That should be enough to get me to the road tomorrow. After the three of them left, I slowly made my way up the 1600' climb. My shoulders were really starting to hurt so when the Imodium kicked in, I would tighten my belt every now and then.
I took a break at the top of the hill and then pushed for the cabin. I caught up with the entire gang here. Most are tenting to avoid the mice, but having been a shelter rat on the AT, I'll use a cot and stay inside. It's cold tonight.
Day 49 Wednesday, June 11 - McIver’s Spring to Walker Pass campground (hotel), elev 5100, 7.3 miles, 585.4 total, PCT mile 647.8, Sunny 80s
Sleeping on the cot last night was OK, but my stomach was not. I'm not a back sleeper, but I do like to stretch out every now and again. Each time I did so, my stomach would do somersaults. Not fun!
I woke up at 5:00 to my alarm having figured that inside the cabin, the sun might not wake me up. But it took a while to get going. I tried visiting the outhouse, but the stench drove me back outside. I'm not particularly prone to nausea, but with my stomach being bad and having not eaten much for dinner or breakfast, I made my own open-air privy.
With no tent or pad to pack up, I should have been ready in no time. Instead, it took until 7:00 for me to hit the trail. Even walking around the cabin area was a challenge and I was faced with a seven mile walk to the campground. It's not fun walking around when you have stomach cramps and having to shoulder a backpack didn't help.
I was quickly passed by everyone who started after me, but still made it to the campground by 10:30 or so. I gladly accepted Gatorade from Steve and started to slowly rehydrate myself. While walking, even small sips of water had been sending my stomach into paroxysms so I hadn't had nearly enough to drink.
After a short while, the group at the campground which included Steve, Steady, Chance, Gnome, Burrito, Cliffhanger and myself all piled into the Suburban to head for the Canebreak Cafe. Perhaps against my better judgment, but with a handy bathroom and a hungry (sort of) stomach, I ordered a cheeseburger and fries. Between bouts of cramping, I was actually able to enjoy my lunch, though I doubt Cliff had ever seen me eat anything as slowly. I did skip dessert even though the pies looked and apparently tasted very good.
After lunch, we dropped Gnome, Burrito and Chance off to continue their hikes and the rest of us headed to the town of Ridgecrest, basically the "home" of China Lake.
Knowing that Emergency Rooms can take forever, I had Steve drop me off at the hospital on the way to the hotel. Cliff went on with them to check into the Super 8. I signed in to an ER list and then waited maybe half an hour before a nurse came to take down the medical information about why I was there. I mentioned my ingrown toenail, the sore on my left foot and my stomach and suspected Giardiasis.
When she indicated to have a seat as it might be a while, I asked if there might be a shower available. (You never know unless you ask, right?) Lo and behold, a few minutes later, she brought me to an employees shower. How cool is that? Of course, my stench after six days out may have affected her decision. Of course, I had no soap, towel, or change of clothes, so I quickly grabbed a bunch of paper towels and was about to squirt a bunch of soap onto another towel when someone offered me a giant sized Dove bar. I quickly showered and put back on my filthy clothes, then went back to wait. Shortly thereafter, I was called to register and give my insurance information. Then, it was a long wait until 5:00 or so before being called into a room where the doctor would eventually visit me.
Dr. Shull eventually came in. He gave me some advice for my foot and agreed that I likely have Giardiasis. He gave me some tincture of benzoine and Tegaderm to dress the sore while I hike. I also got a prescription for Metronidazole, an antibiotic for Giardia. I'm to take both that and the Keflex. It was just after 6:00 and things seemed to be wrapping up. I could hear a nurse talking to someone on the phone about "1:30 pm " ... "no nobody" and then "Factor". It sounded like she didn't know my name, so I quickly piped up, "I'm Mara Factor". When she asked if I had been there since 1:30, and I said "yes" she was astounded I had been there so long and asked if I wanted company. Of course! And soon Steve walked in. He had just finished an internet session at the library and was headed back to the hotel. Having not heard from me as expected, he was checking on my progress. As usual, his timing was impeccable. We stopped at the Rite-Aid to drop off my prescription and then went back to the hotel to get the others and then head for the local Sizzler restaurant, conveniently next to a laundromat.
I couldn't do the AYCE justice but it was good nonetheless. We picked up the prescription on the way back to the hotel. So I could get on the antibiotics as soon as possible. It didn't take long to crash back at the motel.
Day 50 Thursday, June 12 - Ridgecrest, CA (near China Lake) (hotel), 0 miles 585.4 total, PCT mile 647.8, Sunny 90s
We slept late, stopped at Walmart so I could buy a trial sized powder for my feet and then had brunch at Denny's.
Steve and I then dropped Steady and Cliffhanger back at Walker Campground. With my stomach still doing flip flops, it's unclear when I'll be returning to the trail. With any luck, it'll be within the next few days. If I want to go through the High Sierra with Steve's support, I'll have to miss yet another stretch of trail but having not received my bounce box in Mojave, I don't have maps for that section anyway, so I'm likely to skip it for now. I've already figured out that it's about 250 miles from San Diego if I want to come back and do this section after next year's Kick Off party.
Back in Ridgecrest, we spent an hour on-line at the library before heading back to the motel. I spent the afternoon mostly on the phone with a break to walk to a nearby Carl’s Jr for a salad. With a Wienerschnitzels next door I stopped in to find out what they offered. It's just a hot dog and burger place with no wienerschnitzel on the menu. I watched TV with my feet up to round out the evening.
Day 51 Friday, June 13 - Ridgecrest (hotel), 0 miles, 585.4 total, PCT mile 647.8, Sunny 90s
I took yet another zero day today, this one punctuated by a visit to the hospital to sign a medical records release form and a trip to the library for yet another visit to the internet. In between, there was Thai buffet for lunch and pizza for dinner.
Other than that, I've been spending a lot of time in my hotel room so I've had a lot of time to think. I'm getting very frustrated. I expected to be feeling better by now and was looking forward to getting back on the trail. Instead, not a lot has changed, and I'm wondering if I'm taking the right antibiotics. I'm also questioning whether I really want to be continuing my thruhike. Since I didn't really question that while on the trail, I'm still hoping to get back on the trail. Hopefully, my mood will change for the better. Plus, I'm so close to the High Sierra and I really want to get through that section even though I know it'll still be there if I don't get through this time.
It's kind of hard to write such a negative journal entry like this, especially knowing so many people are reading it, but this is what's going on. Of course, with the fortune cookie I got today, even if I don't finish (continue?) my thruhike, I'm hoping to continue doing something interesting. The fortune? "You thrive on adventure. Try something new." If I decide my nearly 600 mile hike is "old" then I'll be sure to find a "new" adventure to keep me busy for a few more months.
Day 52 Saturday, June 14 - Ridgecrest (hotel), 0 miles, 585.4 total, PCT mile 647.8, Sunny 100s
Today was yet another slow day with another library visit to get online and lunch at Subway. A visit to the hospital netted an informal report that the sample I had left on Wednesday showed nothing unusual. That's not unusual for giardia, but at least it shows that there's probably nothing else that should be treated. So, I'm left to wonder why I don't see more improvement. I'll try to call again for the "official" report tomorrow.
I spent the rest of the afternoon dealing with some administrative issues at home and then talked with my sister's entire family, including my three year old nephew and one year old niece. I ate at Jack-in-the-Box for dinner and had my only pint of Ben and Jerry's for this entire four day town stay. That's probably some sort of record for me.
Day 53 Sunday, June 15 - Ridgecrest (hotel), 0 miles, 585.4 total, PCT mile 647.8, Sunny 80s
I packed up and checked out this morning. I was headed up to Kennedy Meadows with every intention of getting on the trail tomorrow regardless of my still questionable stomach. We found Steady and Cliff setting up their tents at the campground. Then we headed back to the General Store. It didn't take long for me to figure out that I had to add my name to the phone list in order to use the one phone in high demand by the many hikers hanging out in the area. I needed to call the hospital for my test results.
I settled in on the porch and started catching up with the many hikers that I hadn't seen in days, weeks, or ever.
In the meantime, my stomach started rebelling at this change of pace. With only one day left in my five day course of antibiotics, it just didn't seem like they were helping. What's more, I absolutely did not feel like getting on the trail where there were few, no, or only bad options for getting out if my stomach got bad again. Plus, feeling the way I do, I'm not going to be able to enjoy hiking and if I can't enjoy it, what's the point?
It was still morning and already, in the back of my mind, I knew I wasn't going to be hiking out of Kennedy Meadows tomorrow but I still needed to figure out what I was going to do. When Steve took Cliff, Steady, Lou and Wahoo to town, I stayed behind to pick some brains and continue to wait for my chance at the phone.
Hours later, after having had a couple of microwaved frozen burritos for lunch, I finally got my chance to use the phone. I spoke with Jesse, the same nurse I had spoken with in person yesterday. He put me in touch with another doctor who was able to confirm the results of just some of the tests (I don't have salmonella, for example), but was the first to let me know that some results won't be available until Wednesday or Thursday. Once again, I need to call back then.
That meant that I definitely wasn't going to be hiking north from Kennedy Meadows where I wouldn't find a phone for weeks unless I definitely took a long, side-trip out of the mountains. Now, once again, I took a step back and reconsidered my plans. Rev and Able were around and were able to tell me that the herd would be taking a zero day tomorrow and would be starting from Walkers Pass the next day. That got me thinking and soon I had a new plan. Tomorrow, I would go to Lake Isabella and meet up with the herd and start hiking north from Walker Campground with them the next day.
That would mean a couple of things: I wouldn't end up skipping a section of trail, and it would give me a three day, 50 mile segment of trail with a way off the trail at 30 miles if my stomach got bad. This segment of trail would allow me to see if my stomach is truly trail ready again. It would also get me back to Kennedy Meadows and a phone on Thursday which would be good timing to get my test results back from the hospital.
Finally, I was able to just sit back and enjoy the day. After four days just sitting in motel room watching TV while it was hovering around 100 degrees outside, it was really nice sitting with a bunch of hikers, outdoors, a few thousand feet higher where the temperatures were in the 70's on the shady porch.
Closing time came and went at the store. Most of the hikers had hitched rides back to the campground where I could have waited for Steve for a ride back to town, but I had become engrossed in conversation with Greg, another hiker originally from Connecticut so we just sat at the store waiting for Steve. When Steve brought the gang back from town, Lou and Wahoo got out at the store to rearrange their food and I jumped in for a ride to the campground. I hung out with Meadow Ed and the crowd while Steve did a bunch of shuttling and made arrangements to support Steady and Cliff through the Sierra. Meadow Ed, a trail angel, celebrates his birthday (June 19) at the campground and hangs out for a couple of weeks helping hikers and providing information about the trail ahead.
It was about 8:30 when Steve and I headed back down the mountains to Ridgecrest. I had a repeat dinner of Jack-in-the-Box, Southwest Chicken Salad (highly recommended as far as fast food salads go) and another pint of Ben and Jerry's. Then I checked back into the Super 8 for just one more night. I ate quickly and forced myself to stay awake (TV's good for that) for a couple of hours so I could take my antibiotics on an empty stomach.
For what it's worth, my feet are in much better shape. Either the antibiotics, the bed rest, or both have worked and neither my left foot nor my ingrown toenail are red or swollen anymore. We'll see how they fare on the trail in a couple of days.
A quick overall look at my hike has me well behind my non-existent schedule. At this point, if I'm to finish at the end of September as previously expected, I'll have to hike an average of 20 miles per day with no down time. Perhaps if the weather is good, I'll be able to stretch the hike into October, or maybe I can do those miles, or I'll just get as far as I can and finish some other time.
Day 54 Monday, June 16 - Kernville (stars), 0 miles, 585.4 total, PCT mile 647.8, Sunny 90s
An early morning for Steve had us leaving the motel by 9:30 or so. We made a quick stop at the Post Office so I could mail extra stuff home and then went to Burger King for breakfast. We ate in the car as Steve generously brought me to the intersection of 14 and 178, jump starting my hitch for the day. I was headed over Walker Pass, past Onyx, to Lake Isabella where I was happy to meet up with the herd. I grabbed a Gatorade as I got out of the car in case I ended up waiting for a while for a hitch. There was a good turnout area to hitch from and as Steve pulled out, I started pulling all my stuff (pack, poles, extra bag) together to form one neat little package. Never to miss a hitch opportunity though, I tuck my thumb out at the first couple of cars to come by. The very first car, a beat up VW van, stopped. This happened so quickly that Steve's Suburban was still in sight just turning back onto 14.
The couple that picked me up were both around 40 and mostly living from benefit check to benefit check. Along the way, their dog managed to, undetected, chew most of one of the mud baskets off one of my hiking poles. With all the stuff in their van, I sat twisted for most of the ride, but who's complaining?
Made some phone calls to Rev (to get Donna and Able's numbers) and then Donna and Able. I only got her voicemail so left messages. Then I was heading to McDonald's for lunch when I passed a fitness center. I stopped in to ask if I could leave my backpack there while spending a couple of hours in town and they were happy to help. I finally hit McDonald's. I love their "Value Menu". For $1 each, I had a double cheeseburger, french fries (in a box, not bag), a side salad, and for 59 cents, a 42 oz soda. Where else could you get all that for $3.59?
I stopped by the local bank to ask for a pen, having just that morning lost mine. They were happy to help and gave me both a pen and pencil.
In an effort to find internet access (the local library was closed an Mondays) I was directed to the Son-Rise Cafe, a local coffee stop with a decidedly Christian bent. They didn't have computers, but took it upon themselves to find out what was available. A couple of calls later, I had a time slot at the Kernville library, knew where to catch the bus to get there, and had figured out that if I didn't meet up with the herd, I would be able to get back to Walker Pass for the night.
I retrieved my pack and stopped for an ice cream at a convenience store before heading to the "mobile" hot dot stand where I had 20 more minutes to wait for the bus. I ended up talking with a couple of men while waiting. I almost missed the bus, but flagged it down just in time. It was a bit further than I expected, but a nice drive around around Lake Isabella.
Kernville was a surprise. It was a quaint town with a Wild West motif. The library, just a couple of buildings from the square in the center of town, was a tiny hole-in-the-wall with just one public computer with internet access. I was able to get quite a bit of administrative stuff done. It's amazing what you can do on-line now: banking; recharging my long-distance phone service; and keeping in touch with friends. When I finished on the computer, I left for the post office and called both Donna and Able to leave yet more messages with the time I would be catching the bus out of town if we didn't hook up. Then, I wandered the town just to see what was there. It didn't take long for Donna to pull up ahead of me. I was oblivious though and was meandering along until she finally got out of the car and started waving madly at me.
So, I joined the group camping along the river. It was good to see everyone again. Elkman, Strider, Petals, and Margherita in addition to Donna and Able. Beeker was there, too, having just joined the group a couple of days previously as he was suffering from a likely case of giardia.
We all had dinner together at That's Italian, a good restaurant in town. Then we hung out for a while before saying goodbye to Margherita who is heading back to her job, having only a few weeks vacation to hike. We had some fun tossing a Frisbee around before turning in.
Day 55 Tuesday, June 17 - Walker Pass Campground to Branch of Spanish Needle Creek (tent), elev 5160, 16.5 miles, 601.9 total, PCT mile 663.7, Sunny 90s
I bought Donna breakfast at McDonald's. Beeker who was also headed to the trail early had a bad episode of giardia and decided to head for the hospital instead to get some Flagyl. Rather than have Donna drive just one person all of the way to the trail, when we got to the edge of the town, I got out and hitched. It took all of five minutes and Donna had waited unobtrusively to make sure I got a ride. This ride was with a guy headed back to college in Ridgecrest.
It felt great to be back on the trail though with a 9:30 start up a big hill in the hot sun, I felt a bit sluggish and slow. At noon, I took a 2.5 hour break on the Mount Jenkins saddle. Continuing on, I had enough water to skip the first spring, apparently inhabited by a bear, and made it to the creek just before dark.
At one point today, I saw a bunch of butterflies swarming one group of flowers. I saw a huge gopher snake and almost stepped on a fat, but short rattlesnake. This snake, in the middle of the trail, was unperturbed by my presence, even when I tapped the trail hard with my poles right by its head. I finally used my pole to give the snake a little push. That got its attention and it started moving, unfortunately, towards me! I quickly backed up and it finally started off the trail but not as far off as I would have liked. It stretched out so I felt OK quickly going past it along the trail.
My stomach ailment seems to be under control. I can use my hip belt effectively and hike without having to stop every few minutes. I got one new blister and will have to treat my feet tomorrow, but the week off has certainly helped my feet.
Day 56 Wednesday, June 18 - Branch of Spanish Needle Creek to Long Valley Loop Road (stars), elev 7720, 20.3 miles, 622.2 total, PCT mile 684, Mostly Sunny 90s
My morning routine took a long time today. In addition to the normal stuff, I took antibiotics and then had to wait to eat. I also had to tape up my feet. Finally, eating cereal takes longer than some of my usual breakfast options.
Today's hike started with a long uphill. Beeker caught up with me on the gentle downhill and we walked for a few miles together to a road where we took a long break. Along the way, we came across a very large boulder in the trail. It blocked the whole trail and was hard to get past. On the rock was a note. It humorously read "This is the end of the PCT. Congratulations!" It gave us a good laugh.
Scooby and Shaggy passed us as we took a break and mentioned a camping spot eight miles ahead. They also mentioned a water source two miles ahead and 1000' higher. That saved us carrying an extra eight pounds of water up a huge hill. I went on alone as Beeker stopped at a nearby campground to talk to friends. It was big climb and the water source was difficult to get to. Then it was even more of a climb. We topped out over 8000' before gently descending. We were hiking in a burn area again. We knew the burn area was 14 miles long and had hoped our camping area wouldn't be ashy. Unfortunately, we found no area unburned so we ended up camping in the ashtray.
Day 57 Thursday, June 19 - Long Valley Loop Road to Kennedy Meadows (stars), elev 6020, 13 miles, 635.2 total, PCT mile 697, Sunny 90s
I got up early to try to get through the burn area before the heat of the day. It was great to see so many footprints from different animals on the trail. Even in this relatively open or barren area, there are coyote and deer tracks in addition to the rodents and birds. I flushed a family of grouse-like birds with very thin long beaks. Near the river, I flushed a family of birds living in a rock. They were tiny and there were maybe 20 birds. I arrived at Kennedy Meadows around noon and didn't get a ride to the store. Not a single car passed me for the .7 mile stretch. I hung out at the store, got a shower, and did laundry. I ate microwave burritos and ice cream. There were a lot of hikers and I eventually got a ride to the campground with Steve, a fisherman up for the week. He hung out with us, met a few hikers, and was inspired to became a trail angel.
Day 58 Friday, June 20 - Kennedy Meadows General Store to Campground (stars), elev 6150, 2.4 miles, 637.6 total, PCT mile 699.4, Mostly sunny 80s
I opted for a bagel instead of pancakes at Meadow Ed’s breakfast and then started planning my Sierra traverse. With Elkman and Strider heading to Oregon and Washington, I won't be getting any support at the Sierra trailheads. But having decided that I want to enjoy the experience more than I wanted to try to push to finish, I've decided to split up the Sierra and go to town at both Lone Pine via Trail Pass and Independence via Kearsarge Pass. Who knows though? Plans change at a moments notice.
I spent the day on the porch at the General Store and went to Grumpy's for lunch and was happy with the burger and pie, but disappointed that there were no french fries. I slackpacked the 2.4 miles back to the campground and had quesadillas for dinner.
I've been thinking quite a bit about how I might eventually finish up this hike. I have an opportunity to go to Salt Lake City, Utah in mid-August to represent BackpackGearTest.org at the outdoor Retailer show. If I do that, I could either return to the trail where I leave it or possibly flip-flop at that point and head for Canada to start walking south. The advantage to continuing northbound would be that if I set some arbitrary or weather related date to finish, then I'll be able to look forward to coming back someday to complete all or part of Washington State, likely in August with optimal weather. Washington is notoriously known for rainy weather in September when the thruhikers come through.
If, on the other hand, I flip-flop, then the weather will probably stay good enough for long enough that I might just be able to finish, albeit much later than the end of September date I originally had in mind. The biggest drawbacks with this plan are that I might miss the ALDHA-West Gathering at Lake Wenatchee and the ALDHA Gathering in New Hampshire where I'm scheduled to speak in mid-October.
Decisions! Decisions! Thankfully, this is one decision that I have the luxury of putting off for two more months. In any case, right now it seems like I'm going to be hiking a while longer. At least, I hope that's going to be the case.
The porch at the general store is large and wraps around the building. On the side porch are a couple of large picnic tables a bunch of other chairs, benches, and smaller tables. It's a comfortable place to hang out and we thruhikers, who are used to sitting on the ground, welcome the luxury. There are a couple of trees around which the porch was built that shade part of the porch and the rest is shaded by a wood structure that mostly shades it but still lets some light in.
Many of the locals hang out on the porch, but they mostly keep to themselves, although they are friendly and can often be found helping hikers, especially after a bribe of a can of beer. Other visitors sometimes hang out and eventually ask what the hikers are up to. They usually ask the few standard questions and then go about their business.
Today, one of the visitors, Walt(er?), went beyond the few standard questions and sat down with us to enjoy the whole social aspect of the hikers. It turns out he was on vacation, riding his motorcycle around California and obviously enjoyed having company to talk with. I told him where we were staying at the campground and invited him to join us there. He also ended up throwing a Frisbee around with some of the guys.
On my way back to the campground, my slackpack had me cross the road to the campground. Just as I was crossing, Walt came by on his way there and stopped for more detailed directions to where we were staying. By the time I got there, he had already found us and was planning on joining the group for the night. It wasn't long before he went off with Elkman and Strider to go fishing.
Later, by the campfire, after I had pointed out a few passing satellites, Walt mentioned seeing a guy with a sizable telescope in the campground. We took a walk and found him. It wasn't long before he had us looking at a cylindrical nebula and a few other interesting objects too far off to see with the naked eye. It was just last night that I had seen a sizable fireball and the guys mentioned seeing quite a few other meteors. I have to wonder if there was some minor meteor shower happening. I'm already looking forward to the Perseid meteor shower in August.
Day 59 Saturday, June 21 (Solstice) - Kennedy Meadow Campground to Deer Mountain (stars), elev 8200, 6.5 miles, 646.1 total, PCT mile 707.9, Sunny 80s
I spent the morning organizing a box for Donna to drop off in Lone Pine for me. Then I said good bye to Walt. I think his presence was a nice change of pace for a lot of us. With no hitch, I ended up walking almost all of the way to the store before Elkman picked both Solace and me up for the last little bit. I was in no rush to hit the trail and wanted more town food, such as it is at the store, before getting back on the trail.
I found a whole box of raisin bran in the hiker box, bought a pint of milk, and promptly ate most of the box. Yum! It had been left there by recent arrivals, Clover and Sweep. I think they got a kick out of how much I enjoyed what they no longer could. It's amazing how one man's trash is another's treasure out here.
A couple of hours later, a cattle car-like truck came from Grumpy's to pick up hikers. We sat in plastic chairs in the back. As one hiker put it, "it's a lawsuit waiting to happen", but we hikers can't be choosy.
Today, they had french fries and they were good. We were also serenaded first by Sweep then by Be Here Now, both of whom play guitar well. Some locals there bought a round of drinks for the entire group. It was here I used the first flush toilet I had seen in days.
Back at the General Store, I met Island Momma and The Wookie. I had met The Wookie at Trail Days a couple of years earlier. We have mutual friends in the Barefoot Sisters, Isis and Jackrabbit, who hiked the AT in both 2000 and 2001. Not surprisingly, people are still confusing him with Weathercarrot, yet another mutual friend (or at least acquaintance).
It was getting late and I did want to get some miles in. It was an easy hitch back to the campground where I said my good byes to Petals and Wrong Way, the only ones there when I left. I didn't start hiking until 4:20 and hiked mostly non-stop, until dark. My only stops were to take care of some personal business. Unfortunately, it seems my giardia might be back. I'll see what the rest of the hike to Trail Pass is like, but if it doesn't improve, I'll be off the trail, yet again, until I can somehow get it under control. Until then, I have a good supply of both Pepto Bismol and Imodium with me.
I had a good stealth campsite that was not apparently used by others. It had a good tree for bear bagging which may or may not have been necessary, but better safe than sorry. I went to sleep without eating anything here.
Unfortunately, it was a very dry camp. During one of my stops, my bite valve had come off and unbeknownst to me, had leaked all but a few ounces of water. I had hoped to make it to the bridge to camp near water, but instead, I just went to sleep and left the few remaining swallows of water for the morning.
Day 60 Sunday, June 22 - Deer Mountain to Year-round creek (tent), elev 9030, 14.7 miles, 660.8 total, PCT mile 722.6, Sunny 70s
Today's hike had big changes with dramatic changes of elevation. I woke up to a wet sleeping bag from the dew that hadn't been an issue for weeks. It was only when I moved, and could see the ice crinkle on the shell, that I realized my bag wasn't wet, it was frozen! I knew it was cold, but I didn't realize it was below freezing. A quick glance at my thermometer had it down to 25 degrees. My tent and other gear also left out were icy, too. Not wanting to wait, I packed it up with the ice on it, knowing I would stop for lunch and dry my gear at midday. My little remaining water was slushy, but I drank it all before setting off for the day. I didn't bother with breakfast, but put munchies in my pockets in case I needed to stop and eat before getting to water.
Sure enough, just half an hour later, I stopped to eat some cookies. After that It didn't take long to attained the ridge where I met a large group of Boy Scouts who had just walked up from the river. It didn't take long from there to descend to the river and get water.
The bridge was designed to look old and is now inhabited by a large flock of cliff swallows. I sat down to take a break while I waited for my water to by purified. I wrote in my journal and dealt with some gear issues. It was two hours later when I resumed my hike.
Walking along Cow Creek was beautiful. The green vegetation next to the creek was in stark contrast to the brown we had experienced in the desert. We climbed almost 3000' today. I took another two-hour break at the Olanche Pass trail junction. Skipping both dinner last night and breakfast this morning took its toll on me. Plus, I can tell my breathing is already being affected by the elevation. I'm still hoping I can make it to the 14,000' plus summit of Mt. Whitney.
All of this hinges on my health. Last night and this morning, it seemed my giardia was back but I'm already feeling better so we'll see how tomorrow goes.
Charlie joined me for my second break. Then I met some friends of his further down the trail after I had passed him and ended up stopping for another hour. Finally, I made my way here and stopped for the day, not early time-wise, but a bit earlier than I had wanted mileage-wise. It looks like it'll take me an extra day to get to the Trail Pass trailhead.
Day 61 Monday, June 23 - Year-round creek to Mulkey Pass (tent), elev 10380, 15.6 miles, 676.4 total, PCT mile 736.7, Mostly sunny 60s
Having made the decision to enjoy myself and not worry about the miles, when I woke up this morning shortly after 5:00 and felt cold, I turned over and went back to sleep. Sleeping late out here meant waking up and getting going at 6:30. While it was 40 degrees in my tent, near my feet it was colder and there was a bit of icy condensation on both the tent and my sleeping bag.
We climbed to over 10,400' this morning and the elevation is affecting my breathing so, I took it very easy, but still wonder about Whitney at over 14,000' and even Forrester Pass at over 13,000'.
Some of the folks who started from Kennedy Meadows yesterday morning have started to catch up to me. Mark needed some T.P. so I have him my extra, knowing I have plenty in Lone Pine when I resupply. Mark, Milo, Charlie and Wrong Way and I leap-frogged all day. In an effort to get used to the elevation, I took a long break and a nap near the high point of today's hike. The afternoon's climb was easier and the group of us are all camped together.
Day 62 Tuesday, June 24 - Mulkey pass to Trail Pass (hotel), elev 10,500, 0.8 miles, 677.2 miles, PCT mile 738.2, Sunny 40s
It's hard to wake up and get going when it’s below freezing as yet again demonstrated by the ice on my tent. It wasn't cold enough to freeze my water, but it was cold enough that I had to use my insulative pad with my air mattress.
When I finally got going, it took only 20 minutes of hiking to get to a junction that I thought was 2.3 miles away. Obviously, we went further yesterday than we had thought and were lucky to find water where our data book hadn't indicated any. It was a nice spring, too.
From the PCT, it didn't take long to get down to the trailhead. Only then did I realize that the side trails from both Trail Pass and Cottonwood go to the same trailhead. I had intended to go back up to Trail Pass, but might just go to Cottonwood, as that would still be the continuous line that I prefer to hike. This would be another blue blaze, I suppose.
I was surprised when I got to the trailhead. It was huge and there were a lot of cars there but there were few people and nobody was heading to town. The one moving vehicle I saw indicated a better place to stand to take advantage of traffic from Cottonwood Lakes too. It was early and I saw quite a bit of traffic heading in, but none going out. The first two vehicles going out didn't stop. The next one, with Wrong Way, did stop. It was the first vehicle leaving from the trailhead. It was a long windy road down to Lone Pine and it got warmer as we descended. It was 45 where I was hitching and probably in the 80s in town.
We got dropped off right in the middle of everything. I started at the Sporting Goods store where I bought replacement mud baskets for my dog-chewed ones, and a new bite valve for my Dromedary Bag. I also found out they had my box and would hold it until I figured out where I would be staying. Wrong Way and I ran into Toes and Scoots who told us about cheap rooms at the Dow Villa Hotel, originally built to house movie personnel during the filming of a lot of Wild West movies.
I dumped my pack, retrieved my box, got lunch at McDonald's, and took a shower in time to get to the library by 1:00 when it reopened. Internet access is first come, first served there but with little traffic, I was on for two hours before a third person came in.<
I spent the rest of the day in the comfortable hotel lobby chairs with breaks for laundry, dinner at Bonanza, the Mexican restaurant, and Ben and Jerry's from the drug store. We watched the Pelican Brief video. Bap Da ended up crashing in our room.
Day 63 Wednesday, June 25 - Trail Pass to Chicken Spring Lake (tent) elev 11235, 3.7 miles 693.3 total, PCT mile 744.4, Sunny ~70
Yesterday's mileage should be increased by 2.4 miles. Today's numbers are correct and account for yesterday's mileage.
I had a great breakfast at the Whitney Portal restaurant: a three egg, mushroom and cheese omelet with hash browns and a bagel. Then, I sent some email a from the library, did some food shopping for the upcoming section and went back to hotel to pack. I had intended to send a large bounce box from the Post Office, but when I realized how many people from Independence made their way to Lone Pine, I just left my box at the hotel and I'll somehow get back to Lone Pine in a few days. That saved me a trip to the Post Office. I was finally packed and ready to go around noon. It was a bit later than I had hoped, but still early enough to get a hitch to the trailhead. Before thumbing it, I grabbed some more McDonald's to go.
I made my way to Whitney Portal Road to hitch. Fully half or better of the cars stopped to offer me a ride, but they were all going to the Portal, not to Horseshoe Meadows. I didn't think anything of it when a blue Astro van stopped but they couldn't open the door or get the window down. The group was having fun, but they, too, were headed for the Portal. So I went back to hitching only to see them U-turn and head for the ranger station. It wasn't long before they returned with a change of plans. They were now going my way. With six people besides myself in the car, I didn't get any names, just their relationships to each other (husband, wife, sister-in-law, son, roommate, friend). It was a fun ride up the mountains. They were acclimatizing for a Whitney hike tomorrow and were headed up to Trail Pass. I sat down to eat my salad and deal with gear issues until almost 3:00 before starting up Cottonwood Pass Trail. Imagine my surprise, a couple of hours later, to run into them coming down Cottonwood. They had missed their turn, but had a good hike to the pass. They told me of making it to the high point, but not finding the PCT trail junction. Had they gone but 20 meters further, they would have seen the junction.
From the pass, I made my way along the PCT to Chicken Spring Lake, a beautiful lake nestled in a majestic cirque. With good camping there, I decided to stay even though it meant a long day tomorrow.
I camped with four others in a nicely protected flat area. When asked about a dropped loaf of bread, they were surprised when I had, in fact, seen it. It was at the pass just .6 back. It was only after two of them went back that I realized they had been the ones to give me a ride down the mountain yesterday. I ended up having a very nice evening talking with Harold, Rachel, Ann and Drew.
It's getting dark and I'm listening to the peepers chirping throughout the lake outlet area.
Day 64 Thursday, June 26 - Chicken Spring Lake to Crabtree Meadows (tent), elev 10329, 16.1 miles, 699.4 total, PCT mile 760.5, Sunny 70s
It was a slow morning after a horribly and surprisingly windy night. My tent's flapping kept me up quite a bit. I finally started hiking around 7:30 only to have to stop for water.
It was a long day of hiking with a lot of short breaks with none of the one to two hour breaks I had been taking recently. The trail today was rougher than usual with deep sandy stretches. There were some greater than average inclines with rocks to step up and down. The bugs are getting thicker and I wore my headnet again, not only while hiking but while preparing dinner. I had to remember not to try to eat through it. All of my food and toiletries are in the bear box. It was nice to find Be Here Now and Able at the meadow having dinner.
I saw a mule deer on the way here.
The many planes roaring overhead are close to impossible to find even though they are so noisy. I may be getting better at spotting them though. Three times, today, I was able to find them. I only wish they would go to sleep now.
Day 65 Friday, June 27 - Crabtree Meadow to Rock Creek Crossing (tent), elev 9550, -6 miles, 706.4? total, PCT mile 754.5, Sunny 70s afternoon clouds
Yes, you read that right. Negative miles. I'm not sure why, but I've been unable to acclimate to the elevation. Today, I attempted to hike up Mt. Whitney and couldn't get past 11,500'. I stopped at Guitar Lake with s splitting headache and feeling crappy. I spent some time there hoping the feeling would pass to no avail.
Not only did this mean that I wouldn't stand on top of the highest peak in the 48 contiguous states, but it also meant that I wouldn't be able to get over Forrester Pass, at 13,180', the highest point on the PCT just about 14 miles past Mt. Whitney. Without a good map showing bailout points ahead, I elected to return to Lone Pine the same way I got here, back along the PCT to Cottonwood Pass and then down to Horseshoe Meadow. In any case, as I did hike those miles, I added them to my total, but the PCT miles reflect where I am now.
This morning, I discovered, to my dismay, that the bear proof boxes may keep out bears, but do not deter mice. They had gotten into my Chips Ahoy cookies. I just wish they had ignored those and gone for the moldy bagels instead. Nothing like buying "fresh" bagels only to find mold on them the very next day.
I hadn't slept well last night and kept having to go find a tree, both symptoms of being at elevation. I forgot to eat breakfast until I started hiking, but didn't have much appetite. Then the funky stomach and headache set in. By the time I got near a pass at 11,500', I was in no shape or mood to continue. If I had been closer to 13,000', I would have skipped Mt. Whitney but continued on the PCT towards Forrester Pass. Being this sick over 1500' shy of the Pass elevation did not make pushing on seem like an option.
I'm now headed back south and will regroup when I get to Lone Pine. I'm not sure whether I'll skip some high trail, flip flop, or take a break and go do something else for a while (most likely).
If any of my friends, family, or fans have time to "play", let me know. I'll probably try to stay out west for a while, but will eventually head east to eventually get home.
Right now, I'm camped next to the beautiful Rock Creek. There's a bear box here, too, so I don't have to worry about bears or bear bagging. I just hope the mice can't get into this box. I'm camped under pine trees on the soft pine needle duff. The forests here are very open with no understory or brush so if the ground is flat, there is good camping. Just feet away is one of the many lush green meadows that dot the Sierra. Interesting rock and boulder formations spring up everywhere.
In bear country like this, I cook away from my tent. Here, I found a nice "kitchen" with a good rock for sitting and a good rock for cooking. After dinner, I repaired my shorts (resewed the inseam) and then wrote in my journal. It's still early and there's plenty of light, so I'm just blathering on here.
Day 66 Saturday, June 28 - Rock Creek Crossing to Horseshoe Meadow (motel), -13.8 miles, 720.2 total, PCT mile 743.8, Sunny 70s
I hiked negative miles again today, but these are the last negative miles as these got me back to Cottonwood Pass, down to Horseshoe Meadows, and then I hitched back to Lone Pine.
Last night, I had a relatively good and long night's sleep with only one bladder interruption. Sleeping at a lower elevation really does seem to help. I was happy to find no further mouse incursions into my food when I retrieved my bags from the bear proof box.
Even though the hiking went fairly quickly, it was still a long day, with a lot of uphill and deep beach-like sand. I ran into a couple of pairs of hikers, but no thruhikers. I have to wonder if Toes and Scoots bypassed Whitney while I was there. Given the crowd that had just arrived at Kennedy Meadows when I was leaving, I know there are more hikers behind unless they didn't take much of break and passed me while I was in Lone Pine the first time. Who knows?
I skipped visiting Chicken Spring Lake on the way out and found a group taking a break at Cottonwood Pass. I stopped to chat for a few minutes and was offered a ride from Horseshoe Meadows to Lone Pine if I was still at the trailhead when they descended. I continued on and was surprised, not long after, to find the group caught up with me when I stopped to chat with a lone ascending hiker. They stayed with me until the slight ascent as we got down to the meadow and approached the trailhead parking lot. I only had time to toss some trash and stash my hiking poles before they showed up. I got a ride from a woman headed to LA. We stopped to laugh at the painted rock on Whitney Portal Road. I'll have to check out http://www.outdoorsclub.org/ when I get a chance. It's an informal web-based group of people interested in outdoor activities.
Back in Lone Pine, there was absolutely no evidence of any hikers in town so, I checked into a room, took a shower, and did laundry while I went next door to the Pizza Factory for dinner. Other than some breakfast, I had only eaten two candy bars while hiking today. Elevation can do that to you but, when I came down, I was HUNGRY! Knowing I might be off the trail a while, I only ordered a "mini" rather than the "small" pizza.
With the library closed until Monday, I quickly checked my email at the Espresso bar / Internet cafe and then went back to the motel. I left a message for my friend, Husky, who lives near San Francisco, but then got in touch with his girlfriend, Lynda. It didn't take long before I had plans to try to get there the very next day.
Back in my room, I had to figure out how I could manage to take the contents of my bounce box with me. There was no way I was going to hitch with more than one physical item to carry. If I had to, I would toss most of the stuff in my box, but I really hate throwing away perfectly good supplies. If it was midweek, I would have gotten Bob and Lynda's address and mailed it there, but it was already late on Saturday and the Post Office wouldn't be open until Monday.
SI unpacked everything from both my pack and the bounce box and consolidated everything I could: my two insect repellents could now be combined into the smaller bottle; my sunscreen now fit into one bottle; etc. I found more garbage in my pack to toss. Eventually, I started packing very efficiently and somehow managed to get all of my bounce box supplies in my pack. To be sure, I left some of the stuff I was most willing to toss to the end, but even the extra toilet paper and cheese crackers ended up fitting. It helped that in anticipation of a long haul through the Sierra, I had my sister send out an extra, large pocket, for my backpack. That gave me just the extra space I needed. Of course my pack now weighs a ton, but for a one-day long hitchhike, I could manage easily. Besides, it still probably weighs less than my old pack before I got into lightweight backpacking.
Having determined I would be able to take everything with me, I went for a walk around town. First, I checked out a good hitching spot a few blocks away, past where most local businesses were but before most cars would pick up speed. Then, I grabbed an ice cream sandwich and went back to the hotel to sit in the lobby for a while. It was there that I met Amanda and her boyfriend, Patience, again. They had been here when I was last in town.
Amanda had decided to get off the trail and Patience was waiting for his one-man tent. We started talking and it wasn't long before Amanda started thinking about joining me the next day. She had a friend to visit in San Francisco and thought hitchhiking with someone else sounded like a good alternative to paying for the bus. She was eventually heading for either San Luis Obispo or Portland, OR to work at a hostel, but hadn't yet figured out which. She was expecting to hear on Monday. Being flexible, she would decide in the morning.
Day 67 Sunday, June 29 - Lone Pine to Santa Clara, 11 hours, 3.1 hitches, typical Sunny weather
I got up early and was ready to go after a couple of quick baked goods from Rutabega's, across the street. I waited until after 8:00 to knock on Amanda and Patience's door only to realize I had probably woken them up. I gave them time to have one last breakfast together, but it was still well after 10:00 before we left the hotel and almost 10:45 before we started hitching. Patience came with us to be able to say goodbye, but I think that was a mistake. Drivers couldn't tell he wasn't part of a group of three, so we probably lost rides on that account. Plus, he was wearing a sarong that also might have turned off some potential rides.
After over an hour, Amanda got word she would definitely not be working at the Portland hostel and was rethinking the hitch. San Luis Obispo is far enough south that it didn't really make sense to hitch to San Francisco.
At about this time, we were approached by another individual who had ordered a shuttle to Yosemite. Would we like to take that ride and contribute to the cost? We would play that by ear.
Finally, Amanda decided not to go north, and she and Patience finally left. I felt like I had wasted the entire morning on her behalf. I finished a Carl's Jr. salad I had been eating and went back to hitching. Within 20 minutes or so, I had a ride all the way to Lee Vining, near Mono Lake, where I would need to turn off of 395 to head up Tioga Road into Yosemite National Park.
Matt and his son, Chris, were returning from a weekend road trip to Bakersfield where they had gone to see Matt's other son play with his band for the first time. They were headed back to Carson City, Nevada with a planned stop at Mono Lake. Two hours later with just one short stop at a fireworks stand in preparation for their upcoming Independence Day celebration, I was on Tioga Road hitching into the park.
Thankfully, this was a much easier hitch. It wasn't long before Dean and Peggy picked me up. They were on their way to meet their son Jacob, and his girlfriend, Kate, who were on the PCT, doing a section from from Kennedy Meadows. I hope the good karma they were spreading gets passed back to Jacob and Kate as they move north on the trail.
My next hitch was for only a mile or so, but it got me from the lodge where there wasn't a good place to hitch to the Grill where there was a lot of good hitching and plenty of traffic. I took a break there for a burger and fries and to talk with the thruhikers who were busy dealing with their resupply boxes.
Finally, I tore myself away to start hitching again. More to give the thruhikers a laugh, I half-heartedly called out "anybody going to the valley?", not really expecting a response. Well, I caught they eye of a woman and in no time, I was sharing her back seat with Kelty, a collie, and Annie, a Border Collie. Pamela and her boyfriend, Arlyn, were not only headed to Yosemite Valley, but were headed to Sunnyvale, the next town over from Santa Clara. I couldn't believe my luck. This last hitch was for a six-hour ride, including a dinner break and a couple of leg stretching breaks for both us and the dogs.
I really enjoyed the company of everyone I rode with today. While I wouldn't hitchhike in or around major metropolitan areas, mountain and maybe rural areas seem like good bets and practical areas for hitching.
My ride dropped me off in some sort of "Suites" hotel where I called Bob and Lynda and settled into the lobby to wait. I did some writing and in short order my friends came. It had been exactly one year earlier when they were visiting me in Boston. It is great to see them and soon we were settling into their apartment and catching up on news, old and new.
While I consider this the end of my time on the PCT, I didn't go straight home. I continued my trip with a long US road trip.
Last updated, March 16, 2014.
Tips and Tricks
Gear Reviews and Discussions
AT FAQ and Stats
Trip Reports Gear Lists Mail Drops About Me Acknowledgements Photos Updates Fun Email Mara