Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 31 (6/17) The Race to the Sierras

This morning I woke up early at 5:30 and started getting ready. I started up by getting my pack together for a bit, then went downstairs for breakfast with my Dad again. We spent about an hour down there, then came back up to the room to finish packing. I had a major unfortunate realization that the boots were going to be a huge headache. Because of the heat, I couldn’t wear them much during this section, so I’d have to pack them, and they were a massive 8 pound load. Additionally, I happened to slip them on my feet, and my toes instantly felt squished. Not good. I’d blown out the sides of my trail runners a week or more ago, and my feet had spread out to fill that extra space. Now, although I’d broken in the boots before leaving, my feet had changed and didn’t fit right anymore. This caused me some major consternation, and fortunately my dad helped me snap out of it fairly quickly. We loaded everything up, and I tossed the full pack into the trunk. By 9:30 I was back on the trail, and after a few photos I was on my way again.

Looking down in the dirt, I noticed the tracks of Positive ID. I guess he had passed me while I took the day off yesterday. A mile up there was a trail register, and I looked a few days back to find where Noah had signed in. He was two days ahead, and had left a note telling me to catch up quick to go through the Sierras together. Well, with the two of those guys ahead, it would be a 150 mile race to Kennedy Meadows. Count me in. With the late start and my still recovering muscles, I knew today wouldn’t be a huge day, but I did want to see how things would feel if I pushed a little bit. I made great time, and by dinner I’d made 17 miles. I added three more that evening, and ended up with a nice 20 to show for my work. I wish I could’ve gone a bit further as I was sleeping near windmills and their gentle whoosh was heard all through the night.

Miles Today: 20
Trip, Mileage: 585

Photo: Orange flower that I found along the trail

Day 30 (6/16) A Day With Dad

Day 30 (6/16) A Day With Dad

I woke up around 9am, looked around, fell back asleep. Then again around 10:30, and finally at 11:15 I rolled out of bed for real. My dad was downstairs in the lobby keeping up on work and emails, so I called him and we were soon headed out to brunch at Denny’s. What a great choice. I haven’t had eggs since leaving Big Bear weeks ago. We talked about all kinds of things, but the strangest one was hearing about a month backlog of politics. Thats actually one thing I’ve been glad to avoid while out here. Apparently back when Osama bin Laden was killed, it took a few weeks before that news filtered out to people on the trail. Major catastrophes could happen, and life out here would keep on going unchanged for quite some time.

After eating we came back to the hotel and spent some time in the whirlpool. It was great to soak my feet and relax my muscles. My shin splints had hurt on that last descent yesterday, so it was really nice to give them a break today. The original plan had been that the two of us might be able to hike together for a bit, but I was in desperate need of rest, so the plan was changed. In light of that, we talked about potentially setting up another trip in late July, possibly up by Crater Lake in Oregon, so that would be awesome. I did laundry (cleaning toxic waste is somewhat hopeless, but I do it anyway) and then we went out to dinner at Hometown Buffet. $10 for an All-You-Can-Eat was the perfect thing for me, and I must’ve taken about 4 plates of dinner, and two more of dessert. On the way out I bought a small bouncy ball for a quarter, and hopefully I’ll be able to use that to roll my arches to help loosen up the plantar fascia. I’ve realized its not just the shin splints that are the issue, but rather a whole series of interconnected muscles that are all tight.

We came back to the hotel, and sorted through my food, where I finally ditched some of the extra meals that have accumulated from the times I’ve eaten off trail (like at Cajon Pass). Awfully nice to get rid of the excess weight. The tradeoff is that I picked up a pair of boots and my ice axe. I’d need these after Kennedy Meadows, so unfortunately since I was running further behind, I’d have to carry them a little further. In the end it was probably a wash with the food trading for the new gear. Then, off to bed at 11 (a very late night) for another glorious night of sleep in a real bed.

Miles Today: 0
Trip Mileage: 565

Friday, June 24, 2011

Day 29 (6/15) A Joyous Reunion

So yesterday didn’t go so well as I only made 6 miles due to shin splints and hip pain. Resting made the hip pain go away, and I was very glad for that. The shin splints were still present though, and it was clear that I pushed too hard going 37 miles the other day. I had 17 miles into Tehachapi, and this evening I was supposed to meet up with my dad. He was flying in to LA this evening, and would drive out to meet me at the trail. Unfortunately, we planned this a few weeks back, and I had hoped to be about 100 miles further up trail at Walker Pass. That was about 5 days of hiking away, but it was only an hour difference for the drive from the airport. The tough part was that my dad had booked a hotel in Bakersfield, which was pretty close to Walker Pass, but it was about an hour from Tehachapi. Oh well, we’d make do. It would be great to get into a hotel, take a shower, sleep in a bed, and spend some quality time with my dad, who I haven’t seen since in a month. So, no matter what, I had to make it up to the road, and I would meet him there.

I woke up at the normal time of 7am, rather than 5am as I had hoped. I filled up on water, and started the rest of the climb up into the hills. It was a perfect climb as I stayed on the west side of the hills for most of the morning, which kept me in the shade until the sun got well overhead. This is greatly preferable as then my hat can provide some good shade for my face and I don’t have to worry as much about sun exposure. In fact, I’ve been wearing long sleeves and long pants all trip, so the only part that is really exposed all day is the back of my hands, which have picked up an excellent tan color. Occasionally I’ll roll up my sleeves to give my arms some sun, so I hopefully won’t have a terrible farmer’s tan.

My shins were feeling really good on the climb, and even on the descents as long as I slowed down I did alright. If there is one thing I’ve always been bad at, its been throttling back, but this is helping to put that in perspective, and I’ve had to try hard to develop that slower gear. It was really neat to look back over the massive desert we’d just crossed, and to think that we did it in just a day. Of course, the PCT crosses the Mojave in one of the narrowest sections, and it would be an absolute nightmare any further east. The last two nights we’d seen the city of Lancaster glowing out in the distance, a huge city planted in the middle of nothingness. I was surprised though to find that the desert was still not plain sand, but rather a bunch of tiny plants that were well adapted to survive in these conditions. They did a good job of holding down the sand, so unlike out by Cabazon, I never had sand blowing into my eyes and face.

As I climbed further I came across a water cache on top of the mountain. I knew it was a relatively long dry stretch, but it was nice to get an extra half liter of cool water. As I was leaving I saw a pickup pull up on the adjacent road, and a trail angel named Dan got out. We chatted for a bit, and he offered me one of the apples he was leaving with the water at the cache. As we continued talking, I learned that he had lived up here for 37 years before the fire four years ago, and it sounded like he had lost everything. He wistfully talked about how the 300 year old Pinyon pines had made this a perfect shaded wonderland, but that now it would never recover to how it once was. It was sad to see how things had changed, but it was good to see some green growth coming back up everywhere. Not quite pine trees, but at least an improvement from charred blackened trees.

I came down to the road around 5:45, and was able to check in with my dad via text. He had just landed, and after getting the car and something to eat, he didn’t expect to arrive before 10:00. Well, there was another road 7 miles further up, so I decided to press on and get a few more miles done. I ran into another trail angel as I was ready to take off, and since I was in no rush I chatted with him for 30 minutes about trail conditions further up in the Sierras and what I would expect. It is 150 miles to Kennedy Meadows, the start of the Sierras, and I expected to cover that in about 7 days. He informed me it would be another 2 days past that to my first snow, so I had about 10 more days snow free. Plus, he said the snowmelt was peaking this week, so the river crossings would be a little easier by the time I would go through. All great news, and I thanked him for the information before setting off.

This was a really neat few miles as the PCT traverses a massive wind farm. I counted at least 6 generations of wind turbines, and got a bunch of photos of them. Strange how I instantly jumped back into engineer mode around some neat technology. Around 8:30 I stopped for dinner and to watch to moon rise over hundreds of turbines on the desert floor. Really neat stuff. The only problem turned out to be that the final descent down to the road was on the wrong side of the mountain, so I was forced to use my headlamp for light instead of moonlight. Too bad, I really do enjoy walking without my light on. When I got to the bottom I checked my phone, and my dad was still not quite there, so I started walking up towards the highway exit. Within a few minutes he pulled off the highway and texted me, and then there he was. It was great to see him again, and I realized how much I did miss my family while I’ve been out here. We drove back to the hotel (stopping in at McDonald’s for a McFlurry en route) where I immediately took advantage of the opportunity to clean off before bed. I was too tired to stand for a shower, so I made the decision to take a bath. Whoops - the water was a murky grey by the time I was done. Finally, I dropped into the soft bed, drifting away into sleep, with no concern as to the following day.

Mikes Today: 24
Trip Mileage: 565

Photo: Wind turbines in the Mojave

Day 28 (6/14) Hiding from the Heat

I woke up from my slumber at the late hour of 7:30am when the sun rose high enough to start hitting me and heating up my sleeping bag. I pulled my ground sheet over my head and dozed off for another 30 minutes before I was finally forced to move down under the shade of a large tree next to the creek. I passed out for another four hours before I awoke to the sound of the arrival of Boyscout, Good Karma, Aslan and Space Cowboy. They had made it out about 4 miles last night before camping and starting off early this morning. It took them a total of about 9 hours to hike the 17 miles, but looking back, we did it in about 6:30. For 17 miles, and including breaks every 1.5 hours, that meant we were cruising at the breakneck speed of nearly 3.5 miles an hour. Plus, add the fact that the road was fairly sandy at spots and your every step slipped backwards halfway,and I was very impressed with us. Unfortunately, the consequence was the splitting pain in my shin when I moved my foot. I massaged it and stretched it, but it was clearly going to be painful today. I had taken a few ibuprofen last night (Vitamin I in hiker-speak), and it seemed to help a bit. Due to experiences in high school, I hate the idea of using painkillers to extend my ability to continue activities, but I am more than happy to use them to promote healing by reducing swelling.

The whole group of us, plus two older hikers whose names I never heard hung out under the bridge for most of the day. I wish I had a time lapse video of the day showing how the group of people rotated throughout the day as the shade slowly shifted. Every two to three hours the whole circle had moved, and it turned into a bit of a game to catch some rest before getting roasted by the sun. No one wanted to move at all, and even in the shade of the bridge it reached 95F in the early afternoon. The worst feeling was getting up to go to the nearby spring for more water, as it meant you would spend about 5 minutes in the blazing sunlight. I was happy to eat a few meals here as it reduced my pack weight without me carrying that food any further.

Around 7 we started rallying and considering when to head out, and finally at 8pm it was go time. We all hit the trail, in the biggest hiking group I’ve been in all trip. 7 people in all set out to finish the last 6 miles of desert, and then head up another 17 miles into Tehachapi. We weren’t sure if we’d hike all night or not, but either way the plan was to get into town pretty early and just lay low for the rest of the day. Not more than 20 minutes into the hike we ran into a tiny rattlesnake, not more than two years old, which rattled at us and moved off trail. I’ve now officially heard my first snake rattle at me, and that after over 500 miles in the desert. That was a big worry of mine coming in, and to think that I’ve really only come across two in nearly a month of hiking out hear. Just goes to show you can’t really predict which hardships you’ll have to deal with when you plan a trip like this.

After about two miles we started hitting the base of the Tehachapi Hills. As we approached this area, the wind picked up like crazy, and the 30-40 mph gusts were enough to destabilize me and force me to use my poles for lateral support. Shortly thereafter my hips started to hurt due to the strain of holding myself on the trail, and my shins were acting up again. I can deal with some amount of pain, but when it is a series of things, and it is a constant ache, that quickly becomes unbearable. Despite my plans to quickly reach Tehachapi that evening, I realized I was in no condition to make those kind of miles. When the group stopped after 6 miles at the creek in Tylerhorse Canyon, I called it a night and rolled out my bag. I hoped to be back up early in the morning to beat some of the heat, but at least I’d be going up in elevation, and there would be some shade, so I should be able to manage regardless. Everyone else moved on, mentioning they were jealous of me for calling it early, but I shot back saying I was jealous of them since they got to keep hiking and would be off their feet much earlier tomorrow.

Miles Today: 6
Trip Mileage: 541

Day 27.5 (6/13-14) Night in the Mojave

So as I mentioned previously, I rolled in to Hikertown (another hiker hostel hostel at mile 518) and there was a group getting ready to night-hike through the Mojave. We cross a 23 mile section, and it is famous for being 110F in the shade, that is, if you can find any shade. In fact, the first real spot to stop is the bridge over Cottonwood Creek, 17 miles into the hike. The plan was to knock out that section during the evening, then chill out all day in the shade by the creek. Number One, Mufasa and I took off around 10pm, followed shortly by Space Cowboy, Aslan, Boyscout and Good Karma. Things started out poorly as we had trouble finding the place where the trail picked back up on the other side of the road. Finally, Number One pulled out his GPS and we found the right spot and took off across the edge of a field. Within two miles we came to the first aqueduct, a massive concrete river bringing water to LA from the Colorado River. Crazy to think about the quantities of water required to sustain that many people in such a hot, arid climate. We walked along this open aqueduct for a few miles before crossing over and continuing along a closed pipe aqueduct. This one came down around the mountains from a different area, but was also helping to feed Los Angeles’ massive appetite for water.

The trail followed a flat dirt road for miles and miles along the aqueduct. I was feeling pretty good to start this trip, and the elevation profile showed that we would change about 200 feet of elevation over this entire section. That made this sound like the easiest section of the trail so far, so we were all confident that we could get through it in no time at all. The first few miles flew past without any problems, and we were moving at a breakneck pace. After about an hour and a half we took our first break, and we’d already covered about 5 miles. At this point Number One and Mufasa turned on the headphones and locked in, while I was left with just my thoughts to entertain me. My usual pastime of looking at scenery was made less interesting by the lack of full light, but I was impressed by how well I was able to see everything by moonlight. There was no need for my headlamp at all, and the whole trail was lit up just fine. It was eerie to see the shadows of Joshua trees along the way, as they are all contorted into strange shapes as they grow. Several more hours passed, and I took some time to reflect on the trip so far. This was four weeks, and the end of school and the start of the trip seems to be years away. Amazingly, I was able to think back to every distinct day of the trip, keep track of the mileage, who I hiked with, and what major events happened that day. Frankly, I was shocked I was able to recall all of that, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m sleeping 9-10 hours a night, and a lot of my discussions with other hikers is centered around the hiking events of each day. I realized how much more I’ve enjoyed the desert than I first expected, and how things have come along so well up to this point. Although I’m not quite on track with the schedule I set out at the beginning of the trip, I’m having the time of my life and I wouldn’t change a thing.

More hours passed, and I spent some time recalling songs in my head. When I forget lyrics, I’ve taken time to make up my own, and I think I’ve done a pretty awesome job with my new verses of “I Believe I Can Fly”. Around 2am I started to seriously fatigue, and I started falling behind the other two. I would push myself a little harder to catch up, and it is pretty easy by matching them step for step and my longer stride length slowly helps me close the gap. After about 11 miles, my shin splints started acting up. I took a few chances to stretch them out, but they were progressively getting worse. Unfortunately, there were no good shaded spots to stop, and if I went to bed now I would wake up at 10am in the heat of the day. So I pressed on, pushing through the pain, and grimacing with each step. I started realizing exactly how many miles I was doing that day, and I realized I was pushing, and probably reaching my physical limit. I slowed down a bit, and fell behind the other two. I would catch up briefly at each questionable intersection, before they would get going again at their faster pace. Finally, at 4:30am, we found the bridge over Cottonwood Creek. The moon had gone down around 3:45, and the last 45 minutes were spent hiking by headlamps. The contrast is crazy, because the headlamp limits your world to a small circular patch of bright light on the ground, and everything else goes dark as you ruin your night vision. It also makes navigation much more challenging, as you need to scan around for trail markers that would be readily evident during the day. When we pulled in at the creek, the first signs of the sun were just showing over the horizon. I groaned inwardly, and looked for some likely shade. In my pain I was unwilling to walk down the slope to sleep under the bridge by the creek, so I laid out my sleeping bag by a tallish bush and immediately fell asleep.

Personal record setting day of 37 miles complete.

Miles Today: 17 (37 in 24 hours)
Trip Mileage: 535

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Day 27 (6/13) Oh I Would Walk 500 Miles

I slept right next to the trail last night, and fully expected to wake up to one or more hikers passing me. That never happened, and I spent most of the day in solitude. I didn't expect this now that I'd caught up to more of the pack, but it is always nice to be alone with your thoughts. Sometimes you just space out and enjoy the scenery, watch the clouds, hum a sing, or guess how far ahead the person who made those footsteps is. Other times your mind will run at top speed, thinking through a million things at once. I had some of both today, jumbled together. The song Leader of the Band came to me and it made me think a lot about my dad. If you're not familiar with the song, now is the time to go to youtube and listen. It is part of one verse that really struck me "I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go. I thank you for the kindness, and the times when you got tough. And papa I don't think I said I love you near enough." Man, that one got to me, and I started tearing up a bit, do maybe it was a good thing I was solo today. I got lost in my thoughts of how great my family is, and how much they mean to me. One of my greatest desires is to someday provide my kids with as awesome a childhood as I've been blessed with, and I truly do hope I can be as great a father as my dad has been, and that I find a wife who is as amazing a mutter as my own mom.

Well, with all this emotional thought going on, I happened to misread the water report, and ended up staring at I scummy water tank with no flow at all. Shoot, the good tank was 4 mikes back but I'd swapped then in my head. I may have mentioned that my standards for water have changed a lot out here, but there was no way o was drinking that stuff without a real filter. Last night I'd been forced to use the bandana filter method to get rid of some bad floaties, but even that would've been insufficient. I chose to go in the next four miles on less than a liter, banking on the fact that it was reported as a good source.

Fortunately for me it was, and I drank my fill after treating it with iodine, as is the usual precaution out here to prevent picking up some nasty stomach bugs. After lunch there I dropped down to the creek and the road where I ran into Good Karma and Boyscout. Both of them were hiking from the heat before heading in to hikertown, but since I didn't need the rest I pushed ahead. The next section paralleled a hunting club, so there were plenty of signs advising that I stay on the trail. Not more than half a mike past this section, I did in fact lose the trail. I came out to a dirty road which was not on the  map, but having little choice, I followed it, looking for the trail. I waked along it for several miles before finally seeing the trail back up in the hills. In that time I had run into two sets of cows; the first group of four just stared at me, but the second group of ten took of and ran until they were out of sight. That was a kind unnerving as I half expected a stampede to reappear over the ridgeline heading straight for me. They didn't, and I made it back safely to the PCT. From there it was only a few miles to the highway and Hikertown, so I booked it all the way there, arriving around 5. There was already a decent sized group there of people I'd met at the Anderson's, and they were getting ready to go out for dinner. Well, I couldn't miss that, so as soon as Karna and Boyscout showed up, we all headed to the diner. I ordered two polishes, plus a hotdog, and a fountain drink that was refilled about a dozen times. I worked my way through all that food, even with the fact that they put mayo on all three... Strange, but it was okay. I got a mango ice cream bar for the ride back, and then dealt with my resupply box. Because I keep eating off trail, I've slowly accumulated extra food, but I hate to toss it, so my food bag keeps expanding. This time it was once again so large that I had to hang my sleeping bag from the outside of my pack.

The next section of trail has a reputation for being extremely brutal because you go 17 shadeless miles across the Mojave before coming to water. The consensus was that night hiking was the best solution, so that is exactly what we set off to do. Since it was separate from the hiking today, I've chosen to break that into its own post.

Miles Today: 20
Trip Mileage: 518

Day 26 (6/12) Out of Another Vortex

I was up around 7:30 and packing my bag in order to get out the dir as early as I could. Fair Lady also planned to leave today, so we  thought we might try to make a joint escape. The first order of business was coffee and pancakes. I didn't realize how long this would take with so many hikers, but it was well over an hour of pancake cooking before we all ate our fill. Joe is a saint for doing that for us each and every morning... Then we had to sign the banner and get our photo taken. This was complicated by the fact that as we were getting ready for the photo, the Leisure Crew, plus Java, and Stickman all rolled in. After hellos and brief catching up, we finally got our photos, and then it was time to get a ride back to the trail. Fair Lady, Number One and I got a ride with Lion King, who had so much stuff in the car we had to keep our packs on our laps. At least it was only two miles. Some people who want to stay longer yet make progress on the trail will ride to the trail then arrange to be picked up at the next road in 8 miles. This is what Number One had done, so he started ahead of us. This is also part of how people get stuck we found out, because its a lot harder to get a ride back up to that further trailhead. We finally put our feet back on the PCT  at 11:30am, a better start than at the Saufley's, but still it would make for a shortened day.

Fair Lady and I walked together through lunch, when she got going before me.  Her ankle was swelling, so she wanted to get the first few miles behind her before taking some more serious rest. During lunch we were passed by Moses, Chris and Wolfpack who had amazingly gotten out as well that morning. Sadly I never caught up to any of them again, and I am willing to bet that they all went back to the Anderson's from Lake Hughes road... A bit later in the day I ran into Pepper and Mace hiding from the heat in a shady spot. This was very curious because I would imagine being from Israel they would be better adapted to the heat than a Chicago guy.

Well in any case, I was shooting to hit the 500 mile marker this evening, but when I found a good campsite a few miles shy of it, I called it a night and went to bed. Tomorrow is the last of the three trail angels in this area, Hikertown, so we'll have to see how I fare on my third attempt to escape one final hiker black hole.

Miles Today: 20
Trip Mileage: 498

Day 25 (6/11) Casa de Luna - The Anderson's

Last night we found the last campsites before a long climb, but unfortunately being in the valley meant dew. It started settling about 15 minutes after I was in my bag, and I made the call not to get my trent, partially because I have a synthetic bag and it will still keep nge warm while weet, unlike down... Despite the wetness, Fair Lady was out of camp by 6:30 and I followed at 7:15. Half of the Leisure Crew was still sleeping. The goal today was a 20 mile hike to Casa de Luna, and if things went well, possibly hitting the trail again in the evening. That plan sounded good, especially since the Anderson's has a reputation for being nearly inescapable. The running joke is that there is a two night maximum at the Saufley's, and a two night minimum at theAnderson's. Well, two nights was out of the question, so it was between zero and one.
Today featured some awesome hiking as we started with a long climb to a ridge followed by a series if smaller climbs and descents. One of my favorite things is when you can look back and see the trail winding around the mountain as it slowly gains elevation. The other neat thing today was that the clouds hung around about 500 feet below me for most  of the morning, so they added a nice touch to the scene. Around 12 I came to the Anderson's cache, which was stocked solely with pop and beer. Who needs water anyway? Fair Lady was there, so we relaxed in the shade, and I enjoyed a Shasta Zazz, a grapefruit flavored beverage, before taking the obligatory Natty Ice. About that time a pair if hikers came up - Matt and The Escalator. They had tried the trail previously, but both were sidelined with serious injuries around 2000 miles. Wow, that had to be awful. They're trying again this year, and both are cranking out miles like crazy, so I don't expect to see them for long. They were headed down to the Anderson's as well, so we joined together for the last 6 miles. Both are excellent singers, and in fact they wrote an a capella song, ' There's a Fire in My Crotch' as an ode to the terror of chafe on the trail. Quite hilarious, and I heard it about three times throughout the evening.

We made it down to the road around 4, but had no cell service to call for a ride, so we practiced the good old thumb technique. It took about 30 minutes before one of their neighbors drive by and picked all four of us up. The Anderson's place doesn't look like anything special, in fact, the random junk scattered around made it look the exact opposite if the finely tuned machine that is the Saufley's. But Joe and Terrie were no less welcoming, and I soon had a beer in hand. There was a pretty sizable group there, and some were closing in on seven days there. Yikes, I don't want to go that route. We all hung around for awhile before the two Israeli guys, Pepper and Mace, broke out the video of how they earned their trail names. Lets just say they tested some bear spray  on themselves, with extremely painful consequences. The highlight for me was Mace washing out his eyes while muttering 'poor bear, poor bear'. They said they'd both had to go through tear gas training in the military and that this was much worse. A bit later Lion King brought out a taser he'd received as a gag gift, and people were trying it on their arms. Hikers are a slightly crazy bunch... Everyone had their stuff set up in the expansive backyard and in the 'Magical Manzanita Forest' behind that. I plopped my stuff down, then helped gather firewood before dinner. And what a dinner. Taco salad to feed an army of hikers. This was heavenly, and I found out they do this free every night. No wonder people stay so long. Plus in the morning they make pancakes and coffee for everyone. This would be a dream come true for some hungry hikers. After dinner we all sat around the fire talking, plus Matt and The Escalator provided musical entertainment. I called it around 10, and was one if the first ones to fall asleep. All the rest were too busy partying, and I have to imagine they'll all be here another night...

Miles Today: 20
Trip Mileage: 478

Day 24 (6/10) Escaping the Vortex!

So the plan today was to get out early and do a normal mileage day. Noah had skipped the Saufley's because he is bring supported by his Mom this week, so I had a few miles to do in order to catch him. Well, that plan fell apart last night somewhere around 10 when I stayed up another three hours. I woke around 8 and one guy from my tent was already on the road. Kudos to you Dan, I was impressed. Phil was planning to leave by 10, and he finally got out closer to 11, and I *should've* just gone with him. Instead I decided to grab lunch with a fun group of people who had dubbed themselves the Leisure Crew. Caddieshack, Pinky, Backyard Boogie, Hannah Montana (a guy) and Fair Lady were determined to enjoy the trail and not to focus in the big miles. That should've been warning enough. But they were a fun group to hang our with, and we went downtown for burgers at the cafe.

As if I hadn't spent enough time already, I decided I needed a haircut. I had sized my hat back when I had short hair, and as it grew out the hat became tighter and breathed less. Of course, it gets cold at night out here, so I didn't want to get rid if all my hair. I settled on a mohawk, which happened to be the haircut Tryne  was giving to Stickman and Caddieshack. Well, by the time they got to mine, there was a full system worked out, where No Pain took down the sides and Tryne shaved the actual mohawk. It was definitely a little scary having two razors going ay once around my head, but in the end it turned out really well and the guys got some good action shots too. Well, after this I still hadn't packed up, so I got to work on that pronto. I had the joyous occasion of opening my new poles from home, and shipping the bent ones back to be returned to REI. The cool thing is that the Saufley's have a post office pickup right at their house, so all I had to do was go online and prepay and print the label. What a system.

I was also woefully behind on journaling (and still am...) so I used the computer to quickly write three entries. So much easier than writing in my phone, plus the computer has spellcheck, so no weird typos. As I was working on journals, someone put on the class of 2010 PCT video compilation, so of course I had to stick around to see that. And as I looked outside, there was No Pain grilling up some chicken for dinner. Well I couldn't miss free food, so I pledged to get out right after that.

During that delicious meal, who rolls in but Toby (now Toby-won) and Sprinkles! We spent some time catching up before I said my goodbyes abs finally made it to the front to thank the Saufley's and get my photo taken. At 6:00 I rolled out of the front gate, once again with the Leisure Crew, and we walked the mile back to the trail. The alure of one more grocery stop was too much through, do I got an ice cream cone for the road.

After all that, we only made about four miles before reaching the last campsites for quite awhile. I bit the bullet and called it a night. Well, it was a minor success to get out of there at all, but frankly that was an extra unplanned rest day, and while enjoyable, I need to start putting in some big days to make up for this one.

Miles Today: 4
Trip Mileage: 458

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 23 (6/9) Hiker Heaven - The Saufley's

Today was set to be a perfect day. 18 miles to town where I would take the rest of the day off. With that in mind, I got a late start, behind Positive ID but ahead of King Toot and Orbit. Those two passed me shortly into the hike through as I was struggling with the downhill sections and had to show down a bit. At mile 6 we found out that you could order pizza to be delivered at the next road crossing in 4 miles. We were tempted, but that lack of a cell signal ended those dreams. At the highway I lot on going, still chasing Positive ID, while the others went down to the gas station for lunch.

Across the highway was one of the oddest moments on the trail, as I came up to a densely wooded area, with a stream running down the middle. This 200 feet of forest was extremely humid and muggy, but once on the other side the hot and dry desert conditions resumed. Very strange. I also got to see the Golden Spike monument for the PCT, where they finished the last section of trail in the early 90's. That was after decades of hard work, and all of us today are blessed to have things as easy as they are with the full continuous trail.

Continuing on, I climbed a series of hills before dropping down to go under the highway and into Vasquez Rocks. This was an awesome area where a river had carved away at the rocks, leaving crazy formations behind. It reminded me of Starved Rick park back home, except with dessert vegetation. I filled up on a final liter of water from the horse spigot (my definition of drinkable water had changed drastically out here) and then pushed on into town.

The PCT actually goes straight up the main street, so I walked up past the grocery store and cafe, and pizza place, all with signs welcoming hikers. Cool! My destination was a mile west on a side street - the home of the Saufleys. This couple does an amazing job of hosting hikers in their home and it is a definite stop on the trail. As I was heading that way, a man pulled up and asked if I wanted a ride there. Well, since these were off-trail miles anyway, I agreed. His name was Ken, and he was volunteering at the Saufley's to help out with all the hikers.

The Saufley's home truly deserves the name Hiker Heaven. They have racks set up in the garage for boxes hikers mail to themselves, and when you walk in you are handed a mesh bag for dirty laundry, or more appropriately, that toxic waste we've all been wearing on the trail. They have two washers, one for the first run to get rid of the worst dirt, then a second to actually clean the clothes. They also supply everyone with loaner clothes so that everything can be washed at once. Next, you are shown to the shower, where I needed two rounds of scrubbing to get most, but not all, of the dirt off. Then its off to the backyard to grab a cot and meet the other hikers. The setup out there is something else. There are five white pavilion tents each with five cots, then marsh tents with more cots, then two trailers with rooms for couples. All said and done they can host FIFTY hikers at a time.

As this is a but behind the pack, there were only about two dozen hikers, and they weren't enforcing the normal two night limit. There were a ton of awesome people, including Phil who I first met months ago at Ned's snow course at Echo Lake. Also present was a guy named No-Pain who has hiked the Appalachian Trail 8 times, the Continental Divide Trail at least once, and this is his third troop on the Pacific Crest Trail. He was really interesting to talk to, and he said he really enjoys the PCT for the brutality of it. Of course, he also refers to it as 'this bitch' which makes his every comment sound hilarious.

The fact that the Saufley's are a mile out of town clearly wasn't going to deter me from heading back to the store for some hard-earned treats. Fortunately, there is a fleet of a dozen loaner bikes for just that purpose. I went down and picked up some iced tea, apples, oreos, and a half gallon of mint chocolate chip ice cream. None of those lasted the night, and I proudly displayed my empty ice cream carton just two hours later. Dairy craving satisfied.

In the hiker lounge the tv was playing one of the PCT videos, Wizards the PCT, and it was awesome top nw able to look ahead to see what is coming. Makes you want to get up and keep walking right away! We all chilled and hung out around the fire for hours, before finally things died down around 1am. So much for an earthly exit tomorrow. Hikers talk about this place as a vortex that sucks you in and I can totally see how that happens now that I've spent a few hours here. Goal for tomorrow: get back on the trail!

Miles Today: 18
Trip Mileage: 454

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day 22 (6/8) RATTLESNAKE!!!

The title gives away the fact that I had my first rattlesnake encounter in over 400 miles if hiking, but I'm going to save that story for the end...

Today started fairly uneventfully. We would be crossing the burn area from the massive 2009 Station Fire, including a small detour. The majority of the trail in this area just reopened this year, but there is still one small section being repaired. After my last experience, I gladly took the detour, though once again some hikers chose not to do so for one reason or another. Due to the fires, we would go 22 miles without a reliable water source, so I carried a back-breaking 7 liters (15 lbs!) of water. While iw was filling up at the last spring, King Toot, Orbit and Positive ID came up as well. I hiked on with Positive ID as the other two took an early rest break.

The scenery today was pretty interesting as the new growing plants came up around the charred remains of the former forest. We came across a work crew clearing downed trees, but didn't stop to chat long. Apparently my observation skills are lacking as I later learned from the others that it was a prison work crew and that was why they were wearing orange. Fair enough, and I took some joking for not noticing the word 'Prisoner' written on the legs of the jumpsuits. We didn't stop for lunch until about 2:00 and that was after making a solid 15 miles. Orbit and King Toot caught up with us as we were getting ready to go, and we discussed campsites for the evening. Positive ID and I took off again, but it was only a minute of walking later when disaster was narrowly avoided.

As we were walking along chatting, suddenly Positive ID started yelling and jumping like crazy. Only then did I see the snake that had flown out of the bushes at his bare legs. It tried two strikes, one quick one as he stepped inches from its hess, and another when it was out on the trail. The second strike flipped it onto its back so that the white belly was facing up. It recovered, coiled up, and hissing, slid back into the brush. Not once did it rattle as a warning desire a prominent rattle on its tail. We were both in shock. Everything happened so quickly, and it was a miracle Positive ID wasn't bitten. I was personally thankful I'd been walking far enough back not to step on the little best after that first strike. I ran back to warn the other two, and they cautiously avoided it in the trail. Because of how it was positioned in n the bushes, you would never see it before you were in top of it. King Toot used his trekking pole to push it further into the bushes so hopefully it wouldn't be disturbed by other passing hikers.  So, now after over 400 miles, my streak is over and I got to see a rattlesnake in one of the most hair-raising ways possible. That's plenty of excitement for quite some time...

We all hiked on after that encounter, but I couldn't keep up with Positive ID's adrenaline fueled pace. In trying to do so I turned my ankle on a rock, and was forced to slow down for the rest of the afternoon. As the sun was setting I made it I in to the North Fork ranger station where we all ate and slept. Only 18 miles until Agua Dulce tomorrow where we will stay at the home of the Saufleys - a popular hiker destination before we all head into the heat of the Mojave.

Miles Today: 25
Trip Mileage: 436

Sorry, I was too shocked to get a photo of the snake. Hopefully you enjoy this shot of desert flowers instead

Day 21 (6/7) Should've Taken that Detour...

So as the title gives away, I made my first significant mistake today. One mile into the trail today, we encountered the second closure; this one was to protect an endangered species of frogs. The closed section was 3.8 miles long, and the official detour was 18.5 miles. This had sat well with no one, and the other alternative was to walk down 5 miles on highway 2 and then backtrack to catch the PCT. Well, the two guys I was with decided to go through, and after some internal debate, I chose to do so as well, while being cautious near water. Long story short, I fell behind the others when I had to crawl under a blowdown, and ended up losing the overgrown trail and bushwhacking across a mountain to get to the PCT.The good news was that my route kept me away from water and the e endangered species habitat. The bad news was that it took forever, and I wasted 5 hours in that section. Plus I went the wrong way once I hit the trail, so I was really struggling. Right there I decided never again to violate a closure, regardless of the circumstances.

I finally got ruling along the trail around 1pm, and it was painfully clear that this would be a low mileage day. I was treated to some very nice views in the next 5 miles, so that helped soothe my spirit. Around 3:00 I had just finished answering nature's call when I heard someone coming down the trail. I still want sure if Noah was ahead or behind, but Toby and Sprinkles were definitely behind me. Surprisingly it was none of them, as Orbit came walking into view. I had met her several days prior on the way out of Cajon Pass, but didn't expect to see her again. She confirmed that  Toby and Sprinkles were still behind me, but she didn't know about Noah. We hiked together for the rest of the day, and I got to hear about her thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail last year. This year she had actually started the PCT with her brother, but unfortunately he didn't make it this far...

As early evening came around we ran into King Toot at a campground chilling out. He mentioned that there was a beer cache 2 miles up, so we all hurried down the trail. Despite our quickened pace, by the time we got there three hikers ahead of us had taken the best beer (sierra nevada ipa) and had left bud light. Well, it was cold and refreshing regardless, and we all enjoyed one as we caught up with Plant and Detour. Positive ID had already left, and I was shocked to hear he had passed me - had to be that time lost to the not detour... We took off with the plan to get a few extra miles as the other two waked down the road to a diner. I still have far too much food due to town stops and caches, so I needed to work down my food bag.

About 4 miles up we ran into Positive ID already in his sleeping bag. We chatted for awhile before we walked on a few more miles to camp. I was right about the detour - Positive ID had done the 5 mike road walk, but then had a problem reconnecting with the trail, so he walked another 3 miles on the road until he found it (bypassing another 6 mile section). Hopefully hew catches up tomorrow as it would be fun to hike with him as well in our group.

Miles Today: 21
Trip Mileage: 411

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Day 20 (6/6) Rain in the Desert?!

When I picked my campsite last night my main concern was wind. So I sheltered down next to a nice log, but later when I looked up realized I had found the one hole in the forest canopy. As the rain came down the ground softened up and two of my stakes pulled out, collapsing the tent. I tried to gut it out for awhile, but finally had to jump out in the rain and get everything straightened out again. The tent was soaked, and when I finally woke up in the morning, I had a terrible time drying it out because it was down in the 30’s and the water was frigid. I didn’t actually finish packing until 9am because I had to keep alternating between packing and warming my hands.

The first part of the day was a descent down to Highway 2, before the climb up Baden Powell. We would gain 3000 feet over the next four miles, which was a nice bit of work. The snow started around 8,000 feet, and the last 300 feet to the top were solid snow. I gave up on following the trail and cut my way straight up, digging my shoes into the snow and supporting myself with my trekking poles. After falling forward a few times to save myself, I finally gained the ridge. Man, what I would’ve given to have boots with a real sole and tread on them. We came within a few hundred feet of the summit, but my legs were so tired that I decided to skip it. I later heard that it was an easy walk up, so its too bad I decided to pass it up. The view from the ridge was amazing - one side was all clouds with a few mountains poking out, and the other was all clear to the horizon. I couldn’t tell if I could see the Sierras or if they were distant clouds, but I was informed on a good clear day that you can see Mount Whitney. The trees on the ridge were all shedding ice, so as I kept walking I had to watch out for falling projectiles. Detour and King Toot went on ahead, and we kept leapfrogging each other all day.

The majority of the rest of the day was a descent back down to Highway 2 (for the 3rd time), and then back over a set of hills, and down the the highway for the 4th time. Usually I don’t mind the fact that the PCT takes a scenic winding route, but it doesn’t help to be reminded that the short route would be 4 miles when you walk 40. To illustrate (and I hope this displays correctly / sorry if it doesn't), imagine that double lines are the road, and single lines are the trail.

   ________         _____
  |___     |___    |__
      |        |    __|
|    _|        |___|

The circuitous route is usually fine, but when you are constantly reminded of the fact that there is a much easier path, it can just be depressing. We would end up crossing this same road 7 times over three days, and it was mentally wearing for me. I camped with Detour and King Toot on top of a hill just past the fourth crossing on a nice sandy flat. I had to set up the tent again to dry it out, so this makes two days in a row sleeping inside.

Miles Today: 20
Total Miles: 390

Photos: North & South from Mount Baden Powell

Day 19 (6/5) What a Wonderful World

Today the rest of the wolfpack was headed in to Wrightwood, so I was on my own again. Toby and Sprinkles were out around 5:45, and Noah followed around 6:30. I was out around 7:15, and didn’t catch up with any of them all day. It was nice to be on my own pace and not terribly concerned about making mileage or hitting a certain place by a certain time. I’m still in the mode of developing my trail legs and I’ve promised myself I won’t worry about the schedule until at least the first month is over, and even then probably not until I made it through the worst of the snow in the Sierras. This was a gorgeous day, with blue skies, and white clouds, which made me think of the Louis Armstrong song, “What a Wonderful World”. That was looping in my head for a good couple hours as I made my way around Mount Baldy (Mount San Antonio) and towards Mount Baden Powell, which I would summit tomorrow. The goal was to get to the very base of the mountain this evening so I could start right away with the climb. As it was, that didn’t quite happen.

First, I took a nice hour and a half break for lunch and a nap, which put me back on the day a little bit. Then, as I neared 15 miles for the day, the wind started kicking up and clouds started rolling in like crazy. The temperature plummeted, and I had to layer up and put on my gloves. As dinner approached, was coming in around 20 miles and ran into Rawhide, sheltered down in a beautiful bowl, nestled between some trees under his tarp. We chatted for a bit before I walked on further to the ranger station where I picked up more water. It was here that I soaked my gloves while filling up, so I swapped those out for heavy socks. I needed a sheltered spot to fire up my stove, so I set up right next to the wall of the outhouse - not my finest moment, but I’m not so picky anymore. As I was huddled there cooking dinner, I saw a guy jump out of a car and run over to me. It was Detour, who I’d met yesterday. He offered me some venison, steak and cheese, which I gladly accepted. That was all it took to end my hiking for the night, and I camped right there with Detour and Broken Toe, now renamed King Toot. I was about 4 miles shy of the goal for the day, but it was threatening rain so I was glad to set up the tent and call it a night.

Miles Today: 20
Total Mileage: 370

Photo: Mount Baldy

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Day 18 (6/4) Hiker Disneyland

The big day had arrived. McDonald's!!!! Well, first things first. I woke up to discover that a raccoon had raided my food bag and eaten two days worth of granola. Oh well, I had extra food anyway. I cleaned up the mess and got everything together to head out. Despite an early wake up this morning, Noah managed to beat me out by about 30 minutes. I was only a few minutes ahead of Toby and Sprinkles, and they caught up to me when I had trouble finding the trail across the highway. We hiked together up through Little Horsethief Canyon, and then over down towards Cajon Pass. We were absolutely cranking as fast as we could, and there was definitely a good bit of anxiety to get there.

The worst mistake we made was right when we hit our first set of power lines. I looked at the map and said that there were power lines just 2 miles from the pass, but I didn’t think to look further back to realize there was also a set at 4 miles out. So as we started climbing again, we had the depressing realization that we had double the distance we originally thought. We also met Dan from Denver at that point, and he was doing the section up to Kennedy Meadows. We moved ahead and saw some pretty awesome vistas as we ridge-walked on the way down. There was also a really neat spot where I stopped to take a photo of Toby and Sprinkles where it looked like a scene straight out of the Sound of Music with the meadow of yellow flowers. As we dropped down to the canyon floor, we picked up an old road which appeared to have been once used for copper mining judging by the green deposits along the trail. The most amazing feeling came as we finally came around a bend into the pass, saw the highway, and then looked up to see the golden arches less than a half mile away. I practically skipped up there, and immediately ordered: a Big Mac, a jalapeno cheddar McChicken, a fruit and yogurt parfait, a sweet tea, a Rolo McFlurry, and a medium fries. This all went down right away, and the coolest part was that the calories were listed on the menu. I made it to 2450 on this first round, but was passed up by Noah’s 3000. We all walked across the bridge to Subway where we ordered footlongs for dinner, before coming back to McDonald’s for a chocolate milkshake. This brought my total up to 3200, and our group total topped 12,000 without counting the Subway. SUCCESS! Three hours later we rolled ourselves out the door and back onto the trail.

The PCT picked back up with a pair of long tunnels under the 10 lane highway, which were pretty neat. Apparently a number of hikers have camped here in inclement weather, but I would have trouble with that idea. On the other side, we came out into another section of hills, but first we had to cross the train tracks. We stood by and watched as seven locomotives pulled 130 cars past until we could carry on with our journey. We ran into a set of four hikers southbound from Wrightwood, where they had hitched from Cajon Pass in order to make it to the Post Office before the weekend. This group was Broken Toe, Detour, Orbit and Bonfire, but since they would be jumping back up to Wrightwood, we figured it would be a number of days before we caught up to them again. This was a big milestone though, as they were the first group of people that we had met who started at Kickoff. We came down into a cache, and ran into Aaron and Zeno. We officially gave Aaron his new trail name of “Plant”, and put down our Subway sandwiches. We wanted to put in a few more miles for the day, so we started the climb into the hills towards Mount Baden Powell. A kind lady informed us that there was no camping for 10 miles and it was all sheer cliffs, but that didn’t jive with what we’d seen on our maps. We walked ahead, and made about four miles before finding a nice flat area to sleep. This was Toby and Sprinkles’ first night sleeping out of the tent, so I’m curious how they’ll like it. Everyone else will be going in to Wrightwood tomorrow, but I’m passing it up, so that should help me pick up a few miles on everyone else and keep me close to my schedule.

Miles Today: 23
Trip Mileage: 350

Friday, June 10, 2011

Day 17 (6/3) The Wolfpack

Our band of four woke up this morning to the sound of an engine headed our way. Instantly alert, we all watched to make sure it would avoid our tents. It drive past without incident, and I drifted back to sleep for a short while. As everyone woke up and packed, I for the first time in quite awhile had to take down my tent, so I was the last one ready. Then, we set off to complete our road walk. It was interesting  that when we got to highway 173 we walked past the point where it was closed and turned from pavement to dirt. Right at this point when we saw a sign for a three mile spur trail to the hot springs. Though it was tempting, we decided to carry on with the trail instead of burning the rest of the day on hot springs.

The closed section of the road was pretty interesting, because it was as if the highway department had just decided that this four mile section wasn’t worth building all the way, and instead left it as a dirt road and closed it to traffic. About three miles down the road, we were able to look across and see the damage to the trail that had caused the detour - there was a 20 foot section that had slid, and it now appeared to be a 45 degree rock slope. Talking to some of the people who went through, they described that as the only sketchy or gnarly section on the real trail. I was pretty glad to miss that, but based on the discussions with people who went through, it would’ve been alright on the real PCT. Our group of four made lunch down at the point where the detour reconnected with the PCT, and there we ran into Aaron again. He pushed ahead, but within half an hour we had caught up to him and the pack had grown to four.
Sadly, this was not to last. As we were going along, Aaron suddenly caught his foot on a tree root, and had a killer faceplant. On a scale from 1 to 10, this was definitely a 10, because he planked it, standing straight up one second, and lying flat the next. Contents of his pack were spilling down the hillside, and he held up for a bit to gather himself, catch his breathe and regain his dignity. We carried on, and as we walked decided we would dub him “Plant” the next time we saw him.

The rest of the afternoon was relatively uneventful, as we walked past the massive dam holding back Silverwood Lake, and then up and around the lake itself. We were shooting for the picnic area for the night, but first came across a boat-in campsite. It was too tempting to pass up, so we bushwhacked down, and set up camp right on the lake. Tomorrow will be a big day as we are only 15 miles from Cajon Pass, where this is a McDonald's and Subway, something we have been dreaming about for the last two days.

Miles Today: 24
Trip Mileage: 327

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day 16 (6/2) For Sparta!

Sure, the title is a weak reference to 300, but what else would you shout after hiking 300 miles? So how did this momentous occasion occur? Entirely without celebration, as we were never sure exactly when we hit that milestone.

Let me back up. We all left camp st different times this morning, Noah first, then Toby and Sprinkles, and finally me. I was moving by 8:00, so definitely late, but not my worst. I hiked through an old burn area for most of the morning, and was entirely alone with my thoughts. Finally around 10 I ran into Toby and  Sprinkles filtering water at the creek. I stopped to purify some as they went ahead. I wouldn't actually oss then until they broke for lunch along a creek, while I pushed on to the river. After eating my lunch I had to try three routers beurre finding a good one across. On the other side I lost the PCT, so instead I bushwhacked up to the nearest triad and followed it down to where the trail crossed. At this point the other two caught up to me, and we all carried on to catch Noah. As it turns out, he had been having a perfect day, and blasted through the 18  miles to deep creek well ahead of us. He took a several hour break, and then when we arrived we all made dinner admad discussed our plan for the evening.

15 miles of trail ahead had been closed due to rockslides, and the alternative was a 13 mile walk along dirt roads. Additionally, we would miss the famed Deep Creek Hot  Springs, which was a real draw. Locals said the 10 miles to the springs was fine and it only got bad after that. Plus, we had heard reports of multiple other thru-hikers carrying through this section just fine. On the counterpoint was the fact that someone had fallen to their death in this section, plus walking it could cause more damage. We chose to do the road walk, so therefore the 300th mile was not evident. We ended up going several miles before night fell, and all pitched camp along the side of one of the dirt roads. To be more visible I chose to set up my tent for the first time in nearly 2 weeks, and I have now slept the same number of nights in my tent as in a real bed. That is one thing I would have never imagined coming in to this trip, but I have grown very fond of  sleeping out under the stars and plan to continue doing so as long as it is reasonable.

Miles Today: 22
Trip Mileage: 301

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day 15 (6/1) Big Appetite in Big Bear

After a seemingly short stay in Big Bear it was time to get back on the trail and heading towards Canada. We slept in until a leisurely 8:00 then asked the manager about good breakfast places. He recommended the Grizzly Cafe, both for good food and hiker sized portions. When we walked in we saw a massive pancake on the grill and immediately decided those would be a great idea. Noah and I were with Toby and Sprinkles from the previous evening, and three of us decided to get pancakes. Well, two intelligent people ordered one pancake, and I ordered two. It showed up as a pair of plate sized monstrosities, which I immediately dug in to. Between those for pancakes we actually finished a whole container of syrup and had to ask for a second. Noah on the other hand decided to order "The Mess" which was described on the menu as Don't Ask. So we were all quite interested to see what it would be, butt first there was a surprise. When he placed the order the waitress quickly asked, "Would you like mushrooms or jalapenos with that?" We were all dumbfounded since we didn't know what it even was, but Noah bravely accepted the offer. It turned out to be a frittata, and it looked awesome. I managed to work through all but the last four burrs of pancake, but I was stuffed to the seams. I hate leaving calories to waste  but thus was a painful situation.

After breakfast we went back, packed up, and headed out. A hiker named Sticks gave us directions to the post office, including which bus to take, so we speculated on how long he has been there. As we were waiting at the bus stop, Nosh decided to try hitching again, but less than 15 seconds after his thumb went out we heard a voice behind us offering a ride. Dan was a retiree who hiked in his free time, and was willing to shuttle us around town. We hit the post office where I got an extra 20 lbs to cram into my pack - while the feat. In fact, I was forced to hang my sleeping bag on the outside to make room. This was a souter friendly post office, and they even took our pictures to add to the 150 on the wall.

Out at the trailhead we thanked Dan for the ride, but as we were getting out saw Positive ID across the sheet. Dan offered to drive him back to town, so it worked out perfectly. Also, Positive ID had found Noah's lost umbrella and carried it the last three days. What a guy. Noah and I clocked in a good dozen miles in the 5 hours to dinner, and then just went in a touch longer to find a campsite. Not bad for a half day. I got a good call in with my parents, and as I was getting ready for ned I heard Sprinkles voice drifting through the trees. They had a late departure, and we considering hiking super hard to hot the Wrightwood  post office by saturday morning. My guidebook said it was closed saturdays, so they changed plans and decoded to camp with us for the time. Nice to have a few more people around, at less for now.

Miles Today: 13
Trip Mileage: 279

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Day 14 (5/31) Racing Against the Workday

The plan was to wake up at 5:00 and hike all afternoon until arriving at the Big Near post office to pick up my packages prior to closing at 4:30. This meant I would need to only hike a 2 mph pace all day - something I have been doing easily. Well, like all good plans, this one required proper execution, and that's where I made my mistake. My alarm was set for 5:00, but I managed to sleep right through it, and I left camp a full three hours late. Okay, now I just had to up the pace to 2.6 mph to make it - disable, but less comfortable. I set off down the trail and was holding a good clip for awhile, but a series of things would complicate the plan.

First, I came across the home of fine Hollywood stars, including one I recognized from The Hangover. This was ' Predators in Action' a group that trains and houses many movie animals. I saw some grizzlies, tigers and dogs, so that was pretty best, but ate into my time a little bit. As I was heading on I sae a hiker coming up from the distance, so I expected to see him in the near future. The occasion for it though was not a happy one. The PCT crossed a road and I thought that it followed the road some ways down, that is until I reached the closed gate at the end. I turned back, and there was Noah, who had apparently made the same mistake. We retraced our footsteps and found the trail a quarter mile back. More time lost - now I really needed to hike quickly. The last straw came about 12 miles out, near Onyx Summit. Right there we came upon the most amazing trail magic - coolers full of pop, bananas, and cookies. This was too good to pass up, so we spent an hour enjoying ourselves and relaxing. This fantastic cache was sponsored by the Big Bear hostel, a popular hiker lodging choice.  After it was clear we would miss the post office today, we slowed down and took the rest of the afternoon a little easier. As we were approaching the road, we came upon a series of pop and gatorade caches sponsored by the Natures Inn, the other to hiker destination. We helped ourselves, even though we were leaning towards the hostel for the night's lodging.

From the edge of the PCT at highway 18 it was 5 miles to town, and at 6pm that sounded like an awful proposition. So we decided to try our hand, or rather our thumb, at the time honored tradition of hitchhiking. Neither of us had done it before, but we were willing to tt to save our feet the walking. 30 minutes passed, no luck. We tried looking  happy, somber, needy, but nothing did the trick. Finally I ran back to grab another pop, and as I looked back, there was Noah abbott to load our packs into a truck. He must have a golden thumb I thought to myself as I ran back. We were driven to town by a plumbing contractor, who dropped us off st the best restaurant imaginable, where I demolished a salisbury steak and extra veggies. For desert we put down a huge dish of fried ice  cream, so the meal was a total success.

We walked down to the hostel, where for $25 each we got a room, showers, laundry, and time to socialize with some other hikers. We met Mondo and Sticks, along with Toby and Sprinkles (Natalie) w who we had been seeing ahead in the trail registers. We stayed up until midnight talking and hearing about everyone else's hike so far. After that I dropped in to bed and immediately the world faded away.

Miles Today: 22
Trip Mileage: 266

Friday, June 3, 2011

Day 13 (5/30) Rock Hoppin!

The highlight of the day was Mission Creek. I would hit this water source at the fourth mile of the day and stick with it for the next 15 or so. During that time the PCT crosses the creek something like 20 times. The neat thing was that over the course of the day I walked all the way up to the origin of this stream at a fast flowing spring, augmented by a handful of other springs until it became the rushing torrent I first experienced.

The thing about creek crossings us that they can really slow you down. There are essentially the options when you have to make a water crossing: find some rocks or logs to walk across on, change into sandals and walk across, or plow straight through on your shoes and walk them dry. I always prefer the first option of rock hopping as it is generally the faster than sandals and less uncomfortable than wet shoes. This means in order to successfully cross, I first have to do some scouting for a suitable path. The best ones are narrows with plenty of high, flat, dry rocks to walk straight across. The next best option is a large downed tree spanning the water. Aster that, it comes down to finding something with enough dry landings that you can make it across safely. Those can be the most challenging, and oftentimes I'll pick a route, go halfway, then return when I realize one step is impassable. Fortunately, over the course of the day, the crossings became easier as the stream narrowed, so I had lees and less of a challenge each time. I made it safely across every time, and only once did I astronaut did the your of my back foot in the water.

The other highlight of the day was snakes. If you haven't noticed, I haven't had any serious snake encounters yet, and I have yet to see a rattlesnake (though others have). Over the course of the day I would see three different snakes, none with a rattle, each over two feet long, and all clearly eager to get out of my way. The way they move is really intriguing, and it was neat to see one move effortlessly up a hillside. I am slightly concerned about the lack if rattlesnakes though, because I'm afraid that my first encounter will now be even more unexpected and frightening. One possible explanation may be the fact that I have heavy footsteps, so the snakes notice me coming and get out of the way before I bother them.

Around mile 18 I was wearing down as I started to climb out of the river valley. I decided on an early dinner of parts, mashed potatoes and spam. That did miracles for my body, and soon enough I was ready to crank out another 4 miles to being me within 23 miles of Big Bear. I camped up on the ridge, in a field of ground squirrel holes. In no time I was fast asleep, with the plan to wake up early in the morning to do my miles before the Post Office closed at 4:30.

Miles Today: 22
Trip Mileage: 244

Day 12 (5/29) Magical Trails

I was awake early as I was camped on the eastern face of the mountain. I discovered I had four more miles to descend. Ouch. Think of riding the elevator up a 300 story building, only to find our you couldn't take it back dLown. Instead the friendly man there informs you that there is a ramp that will lead you to the bottom. Awesome, ramps are easy, right? Usually that's true,  but only if they aren't 14 miles long and se to take an eternity. The ramp in question would also visit other buildings on the way down, occasionally going up a few stories before continuing the gradual descent. Essentially, after 7 hours of hiking this descent, including 2 today, I was ready for anything else. That came in the form of a one mile road walk followed by a 2.5 mile slog through sand and wind.  That was trying because you can't get a good purchase on the sand so each step slips backwards to some extent. Plus, being sandblasted by the wind is nothing short of unpleasant. So, I was already excited to come up to the I-10 underpass, but what would happen next was beyond my wildest dreams.

On the side of the underpass was a sheet of paper with a bunch of hiker signatures, and immediately below it was three coolers, full of pop and apples. My first trail magic! I dutifully signed my thanks and indulged myself in fresh fruit and carbonated beverages. As I was sitting there I decided to do some journaling, but before I made it more than a paragraph a small sedan rolled up and a cheerful lady hopped out. ' PCT Hiker?' 'Yep, started on the 18th' 'You interested in some fried chicken? Kay, a trail angel had stopped by to check on how much was left on the coolers, and offered me my fill of fried chicken, cole slaw, potato salad, strawberries, and veggies. Then, to top it off she pulled out an apple pie! This just made my day and turned it from a slight negative to a very positive. She explained that she had a friend who was a thru hiker and she just enjoyed supporting all of us. What an amazing person. If you see this, thanks again Kay!

While I was eating, another hiker named Todd from Sacramento came up, so I waited for him to finish before we took off together. We hiked past the Mesa wind farm, which was really neat to see up close, especially to compare the new and old turbines. The new ones were on the standard tube towers, but the old ones were on truss frames, and some frames were clearly damaged and the turbines had been taken down. We hiked together for about 10 miles to the whitewater trout reserve, where Todd camped, and I later found out he got more trail magic in the form of a cookout there. I pressed on another 4 miles before settling down as I am shooting to hit Big Bear on Tuesday, which is another 45 miles down the trail. In this last section did the evening, I had quite a surprise. I had just changed into sandals to cross Whitewater Creek when a dog suddenly appears from behind me barking like crazy. I had been looking for the best route across, so this took me totally by surprise, and my first reaction was to start yelling back at it. Soon enough its owners came by and apologized, but man that had my heart racing... I crossed the creek, took the opportunity to wash down my legs and then finished off the last few miles fit the evening. That was a little more excitement than I was expecting at the end of the day.

Miles Today: 21
Trip Mileage: 222

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day 11 (5/28) The Trekking Pole Incident

Today was supposed to be an early morning since Flip Flop and I had camped  very near (or on) the trail. It bYwas for one of us, as I woke up too the sound of my new friend heading down the trail to his rest day in Idyllwild. I was out of camp around 7:00, just after Noah came rolling in. He filled up on water as I stuffed the last few things into my pack, and off we went. Despite the increasing altitude, today was definitely less challenging than yesterday. The worst of the climbing was over and it would be mainly downhill later today. I parted ways with Noah at the Devils Slide Trail, which he had to take to pick up more supplies. I managed to skip this town stop by carrying more food from Warner Springs. Its a tough tradeoff - extra miles vs extra weight.

After saying goodbye to Noah, I set off to finish this mountain. It was another 20 miles to the base in the desert, but I was feeling strong. I pushed ahead and made really good time for most of the afternoon. I also ran into a thru-hiker from 1980, a guy named Larry who is an engineer at Boeing. He made me realize how easy I have it today; when he did his hike the trail wasn't completed yet, so he had to make his own way in some sections based on the guidebook recommendations. That had to be something else... Coming around the mountain I actually had to pull out my sandals to cross a creek that was flowing strong. As I sat on the other side drying my feet and re-taping my toes, I watched one couple do it barefoot and then a trio of men simply splashed across in their high waterproof boots. As I continued on I started descending the dreaded Fuller Ridge. Early in the season this was so snowed in that people were bringing ice axes or simply avoiding this section altogether. I wasn't concerned though, this was May 28th (my sister's bday - Happy 20th birthday Michelle!) so there should be nothing to worry about. I was wrong on that account. The ridge is covered in trees and is north facing, so despite the late date, there were still snow patches to be found. My trail runners do a passable job on snow, but they are less than worthless on ice. Because dozens of  people had walked over this snow in the last few weeks, there were icy footsteps in each snow bank.  I did fine going across, but at the edge where it transitioned back to dirt, the would be a two foot drop off the snow bank. Needless to say this was a bit dicey and I was relying heavily on my poles to stabilize myself on this position. At one particularly ugly looking patch of snow it was clear people had made a path around it by walling down the slope then back up after the snow. Well, that seemed pretty good to me, so I stepped off the trail to follow suit. Instantly my feet went out from under me as my shoes lost traction on the wet dirt on the incline. I jabbed out with my poles to catch myself as I have done numerous times before, but on this occasion it was insufficient and I went down on my rear. I came up laughing at myself until I reached down for my trusty poles. As I slipped they were lodged under my pack, and my fully loaded weight of 260 lbs was just too much. The lower section of one poles was bent at a 25° angle and the other at 5°. I was devastated. After less than 200 miles I was breaking gear. Well, not much I could do though but press on, so I sent an email home about ordering replacements and then I continued the trek, albeit at a slightly more subdued pace.

The next section was punishing, especially since I could no longer fully rely on my poles to support me on the downhills. Though it is only 4.3 miles directly to the base of the mountain, the PCT instead takes a 14 mile route. This may be related to the fact that over that distance I would descend over 6000 feet to the desert floor. Talk about a drastic change! This was also my first experience with high winds as a low pressure system brough in clouds and 35mph gusts. Despite the damage, the trekking poles were critical here as they allowed me to effectively brace myself against the wind without hunkering down on my knees. Progress was slower than expected and I soon found night falling with several miles to go before solid ground. Not wanting to make this a habit,  but I was forced to camp on the trail as it was the only flat (ish) place around. I found a great spot sheltered from the wind by a boulder and fell asleep almost as soon as I slipped into my sleeping bag.

Miles Today: 24
Total Miles: 201

Day 10 (5/27) Getting High on the PCT.

Today was the big day to climb mount San Jacinto. I planned to get up early and get some of the climbing done before the heat of the day. So, despite this excellent plan, I rolled out of camp at 7:45, my latest start yet. The first 8 miles featured 2000 feet of climbing, so that was a strong start to the day. As things progressed, I worked my way above 7000 and then above 8000 feet. When I hit about 7,500 I started running into problems. This was probably the highest elevation I have ever been at, and my lungs were letting me know that. Each breath seemed to provide too little oxygen, and despite no fatigue in my legs, I struggled to put one on front of the other. That was tough, so I slowed down a lot, and was soon caught by two other hikers.

Well, first, a short side story. There were two water options at midday - Live Oak Spring or Eagle Spring. They were both a long descent off trail, but eagle was a shorter distance so I choose that one. They seemed equal on the water report, but apparently I made the strong choice... This spring was a SLOW trickle at best into a large cattle trough half covered in algae. I hung a bottle under the pipe, but after 20 minutes I only had 12 oz. This would get me all of a mile, so I bit the bullet and filled my other b bottle from the through and added a strong dose of iodine. I had wanted to pick up a few more liters here so I could skip the next water source, but that wasn't in the cards. So as I was walking towards the next junction, Positive ID and Flip Flop caught up to me. They had similar water need so we so bombed down the half mile together. This spring at Fobes Trail was in better shape, so I took four liters for the last 8 miles of the day. Positive ID took off right away while Flip Flop and I did some foot care - a top hiker priority, right after food. Turns out he hiked the Appalachian Trail in '04 and was out for his second long trail. He grew up just 30 minutes from Champaign, so we got to talking about the area for awhile. We had made it about 5 miles when I stopped to check my water and realized I had chugged three liters already and I only had one left. Man, this elevation takes its toll on you. I was a struggling pretty badly, and he was kind enough to stock with me as we worked our way up to the stream.

We ran into Noah and  Positive ID camped at 176, but we had to push on due to our water situation - Flip Flop was having similar, but not quite such a severe shortage. I had about 100 mL for the last mile, and had already been using gatorade mix to help keep my body working well. Night had fallen on the east side on the mountain, so we were walking by headlamp, when suddenly we came to a large snow bank beside the trail. Prefect! I crammed snow into my water bottle and shook it fiercely. The resulting mixture looked exactly like a margherita,  except for the flavor of course. This was the humble beginning of the sno-gherita, (or maybe sno-gatorita?) which will hopefully make more delicious and refreshing appearances in the future. Re-energized, we plowed ahead to the creek where I drank my fill then looked for a suitable campsite. We had seen none coming in, and the area was littered with fallen trees and branched, so we made a tough decision - sleep ON the trail. This predicated an early morning to prevent being stepped on, but I was so wiped, I was willing to do anything in order to finally put an end to this tough day.

Miles Today: 22
Trip Mileage: 177