Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Arrival in Agua Dulce

Wrightwood is a vortex. I could not escape. It felt like Groundhog day.

The Tretters were a great family to stay with. So generous with their living space and food and everything. But after 3 days I feared I'd never leave.

Tony arrived on Friday of Memorial Day weekend. It was snowing. We sat around the house. On Saturday the weather was still bad. We took a day hike to do the section of the PCT between Inspiration Point and Vincent Gap. The snow was slushy and wet but I had a warm home to go to to dry my socks and shoes.

The next day I had a feeling I had to get out or I never would. So Tony and I packed up and left early. It was sunny. But the clouds came in before we got started and it was cold. We drove to Vincent Gap and Tony convinced me that if the snow was wet and slushy at lower altitudes it would be drier and better at higher altitudes. So we decided to try the trail.

At Vincent Gap the trail heads up to Baden-Powell, which is over 9000ft elevation. We climbed the million switchbacks and the snow got deeper and deeper. Toward the top the foot steps we were following started to look confused. But we reached the top where the PCT meets with the side-trail to the summit. We didn't summit but instead went down the PCT, following much fewer footsteps now.

The snow was very deep. We were postholing up to our thighs. The footsteps we followed seemed to get lost every now and then. It was really difficult. My feet were getting wet.

I told Tony I was scared I would get lost because I couldn't see anything that looked like a trail. We tried to just follow the ridge for a while, aiming for Dawson Saddle Trail that would take us back down to the road. Then Tony stood above a snow chute and said he could see the road. Why yes, there it was. We decided to head down the chute.

It took us about 1 and 1/2 hours postholing down this gully. Straight down. Toward the bottom the gully narrowed and I began to get nervous. What if we reached a cliff and couldn't get past it? There was a little creek and a small waterfall. It was scary going over this stuff.

Soon the snow was very deep and the gully very narrow and I was afraid I'd fall up to my neck in one of the holes on the sides. Then a miracle: The gully emptied out to a wide area right next to the road. We were saved.

I immediately turned right, toward the Vortex of Wrightwood. My feet were wet, my legs were wet, my back and butt were wet from falling in the snow. I wanted to get out of there. I declared that I hate trees, I hate forests and I hate snow. Get me the heck out of here away from the snow and away from Wrightwood.

So we walked back to Vincent Gap. By the time I got there I was so cold I was wearing all my clothes and still shivering. We got in the car and went for Yodel burgers in Wrightwood. While there Hotel California played on the jukebox. How appropriate.

We drove south on 138, through the Cajon Pass on I15 and over to the 210 to La Canada where we stayed in a little hotel with old-fashioned wall heaters where I dried my socks and shoes. Then the next morning, fortified with Jack-in-the-Box breakfasts, we drove up to Three Points and I continued my hike, feeling defeated at cheating but terribly grateful to Tony for rescuing me out of the Vortex.

Tony hiked with me for a few hours and then we had our tearful good-bye and I continued on. I planned an easy day but ended up hiking 22 miles to a little camp under some big cone spruce trees next to a tiny little creek. I had met Yard Sale and Weeble along the way but they never made it to the little camp and I camped alone. It was a cold, damp place and my sleeping bag was barely warm enough. My new sleeping quilt that is.

The next morning I continued on. The trail was so pretty with the oaks and big cone spruce. These two days of oaks and spruce were the prettiest in my mind so far. I ended up down in Soledad Canyon and slept at an RV park. Cost me $20 for practically nothing but it was all there was around the area that I felt safe in. Yard Sale and Weeble stayed with me and pitched in $10. I slept cold there, too. I worry about my new quilt.

This morning I loaded up for an easy walk through the Vasquez Rocks into Agua Dulce. It was a really pretty hike and the rocks were amazing. I took a lot of pictures.

Now I'm at the famous Hiker Haven in Agua Dulce waiting for my turn at the shower and a chance to go to REI for a new backpack. Mine only feels comfortable with about 22lbs in it. After that it's painful on my back and shoulders. I'll look and see if there's something better.

People have heard of my death-defying adventure in the snow before I even arrived. I don't know how they would have heard about it. They tell me I should be proud, that I hiked more of the trail up in the snow than most people, and in water shoes, not real hiking boots, too. So I won't worry too much that I skipped about 20 miles of the trail. Hike your own hike. This is my hike.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Yesterday I hiked out of the Cajon Pass into the mountains above Wrightwood. It was a very long climb, about 5000ft in 20 miles. My left foot hurt a lot because it's got some bad blisters and because the trail was a lateral trail that always seemed to be tilted the wrong way.

I lurched and trudged up the trail. At one point I thought I really needed to figure out a reason why I still enjoy doing this because if I don't, I'm going to quit. I mean, my feet hurt all the time either from blisters or just tenderness, and my pack just feels way too heavy. It constantly cuts into my shoulders and I can't really get it to set right on my body. I relied on Ibuprofen to keep going much of the day.

There really is no such thing as ultra-light hiking on the PCT. My base pack weight is under 20lbs but then you have to add tons of water for the ubiquitous "water alert" sections and your food. It's always hovering at or over 30lbs and to me that's just way too heavy.

The first thing I'm going to do is embrace dehydration. It's tiresome stopping to go to the bathroom anyway. No more 5 liter carries. From now on it's 3 liters maximum.

I think I'll embrace semi-starvation as well. Too many easy side-trips I didn't even know would happen have made carrying food for every meal a silly waste of weight. Maybe one of these days I'll get lucky and instead of just a cooler full of fruit I'll stumble upon the ice cream or root beer floats being handed out on the trail.

Other than that, I'm afraid there's not much else I can eliminate from my weight. I have used everything I have more than once. I haven't even been carrying a stove. I bet without the stove the base weight has been closer to 15lbs than 20. I'm probably going to add it back in so I can have some hot drinks and mashed potatoes.

Enough complaining.

As I reached the higher altitudes yesterday the trail leveled off a bit and I started feeling less glum. It's really quite pretty up here.

Late in the afternoon I could see the town of Wrightwood below. There's a side trail called the Acorn trail that you can take to get there. I had planned to take that trail and call a friend's dad to get a ride into town. I took one look at all that lost altitude and thought there was no way in hell I'd give up all that hard-won elevation gain.

So I hiked past that trail to Guffy camp with visions of a warm, snug, sheltered happy place in the trees. Instead it was a cold, windy as heck place in the trees. I set up my tent and it didn't fall down thanks to the extremely heavy rocks they have up there. But being basically a tarp tent, the wind blew a fine dust into the tent all night. Fortunately my sleeping bag kept me warm enough with me wearing my silk underwear, hazmat suit (purchased at ACE Hardware for about $10) and my Patagonia down sweater. I hope the sleeping quilt I've ordered to hopefully shave a pound off my pack will be as warm.

In the morning I slept in a tiny bit because it was very cold. I packed up and got going around 7AM. I only had 6 miles to go to Highway 2 where I should be able to get a ride.

Along the way the clouds started to look kind of dark. I decided I better get my hazmat suit out and ready. I stopped to do that and realized I was getting really cold so I put the suit on. Just then snow began to fall.

I really enjoyed the snow. With my hiking clothes, hat and scarf, hazmat suit and my Marmot Dri-clime jacket I was plenty warm enough while hiking. Just perfectly warm that I didn't sweat. I marveled at the snow and was happy to be out hiking.

When I reached Highway 2 there was a man from Alabama sitting there eating. His name was Graybeard. I asked him if he was going to Wrightwood and he said yes but there had been no cars coming down the highway. I told him I had a phone number. So I whipped out my phone to call. No service.

No problem. I felt pretty good so a road-walk didn't bother me. The two of us took off down the road to Wrightwood.

Eventually a car with a young driver came by. We tried to thumb a ride but he didn't stop. We tried to figure out why. Maybe because he's too young and thinks hitchhikers are bad people, or maybe he was late for work. No problem. We kept walking in the driving snowfall.

After a few minutes the same car came back and made a U-turn to pick us up. The driver explained he had other hikers in his car already and that's why he didn't stop before. He and his friend had planned to go for a day hike but then the snow changed their plans so they were driving hikers into town instead.

We got the scoop from them on a good place for breakfast and that's where we were dropped off. Graybeard and I went in for breakfast, and then Gary showed up, too. One of Gary's days put my 28 mile day to shame. He basically did my 28 mile day plus another 15 or so, hiking from Deep Springs Hot Springs all the way to Interstate 15 in one day.

After breakfast I cruised the happening hardware store. They had a hiker register and hiker box (a box full of unwanted items). The register had a listing of local families that take in hikers so I called one of them. The Tretters. It's so nice of them to do this. Laundry, Internet, a nice bed in the RV, a hot shower (really super hot, too!)

So I'm going to rest my blistered feet and wait for Tony to arrive tomorrow. Then I'll mail on my bounce bucket to Agua Dulce and buy a few things to make the 90 miles to get there. I'm getting tired of trying to steal TP from outhouses along the way. Time to buy a roll. Then together we'll see what lies ahead on the trail. I hope whatever's ahead is not too disappointing for him. As nice as the trees are here, it's really not a very wild place.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I15 at Cajon Pass

When last I wrote I was staying at the hostel in Big Bear. It was so relaxing. I was totally rejuvenated.

I got a ride to the trailhead and I bounded down with super-woman vigor. There was a recent fire and there was a sign on the trail that said day hikers ok but PCT thru-hikers should use the road. I decided to see what the day hikers got to enjoy. My map showed other dirt roads that I could take to get to their official walk-around.

When I got to the spot the day hikers were allowed to go to I could see footsteps continuing onward. So I continued onward too, into the closed area.

I have no idea why it was closed. It was a beautiful trail, freshly worked on. You could still see the marks from the McCloud. Creeks were full, riparian areas unburned. Even burned trees give shade unlike dirt roads. I skipped down the trail feeling happy and strong.

At the end, where the trail met the walk-around again there was a nice stream crossing the road. A whole bunch of hikers were swimming in the creek. I stopped and got in the water a little bit, got out some food and ate. I talked briefly with the other hikers but they were into partying and I didn't want to be brought down. I felt too strong and healthy to be slowed down. So I continued.

I ended up at a campsite called Bench camp at the edge of where the pines grew. The camp was full of scarlet bugler penstemon and hummingbirds. Seemed like a nice place to stay. I camped alone. My first alone night after all this time. A nice 20 miles, too, which was my goal for each day on my way to Wrightwood.

In the morning I got going before 6AM. The trail headed down Deep Creek. It reminded me a lot of the Sisquoc Gorge or Red Rock on a huge scale. The water looked so inviting but as is the PCT way, you stayed way above it. It's a scenic trail so apparently water is for looking at.

At about noon I ended up at Deep Creek Hot Springs. I took a nap under a tree next to the resident naked guy. Every hot springs has one it seems. I alternated between soaking my feet in the hot and in the cold water. A guy named Jeremy was there floating on a pool mattress. He looked so comfortable.

In a couple of hours a breeze came up so I decided to get going. I didn't have as much of a super-woman feeling as yesterday, but I figured if I felt good enough to go I should get going what the getting was good. Just then a bunch of the guys I've been bumping into arrived. I think they may have stayed the night there. They thought I was crazy to keep going.

It was so hot leaving the hot springs, but the breeze and my wet clothes made it bearable. I met some local day hikers who said the temperature was 103. They thought I was crazy to have long sleeves and long pants. I find it's a lot cooler if you're not exposed to the sun. Like portable shade. I would soak my clothes any time there was a side creek. It helped a lot.

The trail reminded me of the 40 mile wall. It went on forever. Eventually I reached a dam on the Mohave river. I didn't know the Mohave had a river. I got to cross deep creek again. I crossed it then sat in the shade for an hour. A bunch of locals with gang tattoos showed up and jumped in the water. I jumped in, too.

They asked me what I was doing. I told them about the PCT. They thought the PCT was a local trail and had no idea it went from Mexico to Canada. The one woman in their group was worried about me. She gave me an apple, an orange and a coke and said she'd pray for me.

Soon I loaded up my stuff and kept going. It was getting late and I had a couple of hours to make my 20 mile goal and find a nice place to camp.

I hiked into the chaparral along a pretty valley and a strange escarpment. I guess the San Andreas Fault is in the area. There was a van-load of geology students at the trailhead.

The hours came and went and about 6PM I started thinking about camping. I knew there was a little spring coming up but the book says no camping. Near to the spring I saw what looked like obvious camping spots carved out of the chaparral. Then I saw a tent. I decided to camp at the little spring. 21 miles.

In the tent was a guy named Steve. After I set up my tent I got inside and started playing my penny whistle. That prompted Steve to come over to my tent, which was really far from his, to say hello. He's a nice guy just like all the hikers. We talked about our hikes and our former lives for a while, then I went to bed.

Early in the morning I got up to the sound of the noisiest birds ever. I got going a little before 6AM. A few hours into the hike my little pinky toe started to hurt. It seems that it's all raw like meat. I couldn't stand the feeling of my shoe against it. So I put on my flip-flop on just the one foot.

At about 8 or 9AM I stumbled upon a cooler full of oranges. So good! I rested a bit there with a guy named Emily's Dad that I had bumped into several times since the day before. After resting, I put my shoe back on.

I hiked a little longer but the shoe wasn't working. So I made a hiking sandal out of my flip-flop and a shoelace. It worked so well I ended up hiking with it on my left foot for the next 15 miles.

I walked along Silverwood lake (I think that's the name) but I didn't go swimming. It was still early and I wasn't hot enough. Too bad because once I left the lake it really heated up and the trail got steep in shadeless, harsh scrub and there was no more water, either.

The trail went up and down with no relief. I wanted to find a shady nook to rest in but couldn't find one. I came upon Steve who was eking out a sliver of shade next to a rock. I made some shade with my Z-rest pad and rested with him for a while. Then it was back to work.

The trail became horrible. It was windy, hot and shadeless. The wind blew so hard on some of the ridges it blew me off course. Unseen rattlesnakes were going off in the bushes. At least that's what I think it was.

I kept hoping to find a nice place to rest but I couldn't find anything nice. The trail just went on and on in this punishing wind and waterless, scorching sun. Eventually my flip-flop foot was hurting because my heel kept crashing into rocks. So I powered down 4 Ibuprofen and put my shoe back on and with brute force, an iron will and fierce determination I powered my way at full speed, passing Steve, passing Emily's Dad (who is a hiking machine) and storming all the way out of this horrible place to Interstate 15, itself a horrible place.

After examining the options, there was only one reasonable option: to walk the .4 miles to the McDonald's, fuel up and sleep at the Best Western. That's where I am now after 28 grueling miles. I don't ever want to walk that many miles again. It's too much. But I guess sometimes there's no choice.

See you in Wrightwood!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Big Bear

Hello from Big Bear.

Since my stay at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon it's been quite an adventure. First thing in the morning in Cabazon I walked up with my full pack to the outlet mall to purchase new shoes. I got some really comfortable almost water shoes. I think they are the Columbia Titanium Torrent in red. They are working well. My feet can breathe in the desert. They are a men's size 9 which is about 4 sizes larger than my feet actually measure. There's a lot of swelling that goes on when you backpack and you need comfortable shoes. Don't believe what shoe salespeople tell you. You need shoes that have no possible way for your toes to touch the shoe. You can fill in the spaces with socks to keep the slipping inside the shoe down. Works great this way.

After my shopping excursion I did a long road walk out to downtown Cabazon to the Post Office to pick up my mail drop. I sent back home a lot of the food because my appetite still hasn't been that great. As I was assembling my things like a vagabond in front of the busy PO a nice man made a comment and I jumped on the chance to ask for a ride to the trail. I think his name was Don and he was training to be a bus driver so I got a good ride back to the bridge at I10. I'm sure he thought I was a little nutty when I said that there was water under the bridge there. Yeah, not fresh water, bottled water in some coolers.

I took some water and began the long hot slog through the desert and the wind farms in the noonday sun. It was miserable. Had to be 100 degrees.

At the wind farm there was a sign pointing to water and shade so I followed it and found a hose with hot water and a sliver of shade next to the building. I drank a liter and filled a liter (my new water strategy) and sat for a few minutes. Stupid me. If only I had knocked on the door I could have had a shower and ice cold water and sodas like the hikers that I had no idea were inside doing at that very moment.

I continued the slog. It was the most miserable hiking ever. So steep. It was killing me. I finally reached the top of this little Teutang canyon and started down to a big river called Whitewater Creek. When I reached the creek the trail made sure to keep me far away from the water. I cursed the trail as the PCNWT, the Pacific Crest No Water Trail.

I bumped into another hiker, Joel, and passed him by. I kept going feeling insecure and nervous about this unforgiving landscape with the scorching sun and no cozy spots for a camp. I just kept plodding along no matter how painful. Finally after several miles the trail actually crossed the creek, which was aptly described as a noisesome brook in the guide book. I camped at a nice spot on the other side.

I made my dinner alone and was reclining in my tent when I heard voices. I went to investigate and met 3 hikers. One was Joel. The others were Rizzo and Warner Springs Monty. Monty says my pack is too big and I need a makeover. Perhaps he's right. I keep trying to send more stuff home to lighten it up.

They considered continuing on but ended up camping with me and keeping me company well into the evening. In the early morning I took off on my incredibly sore feet. People get really impressed with the mileage that PCT hikers do, but they don't really realize that you do the miles completely crippled, often in excruciating pain. In the early morning, and only if you got a decent night's sleep, you often have 6-10 miles of relatively painless walking so it's best to get up early as you can and maximize it. So that's what I did. I headed out at 6AM.

The trail climbed over a ridge into the next canyon over, which was Mission Creek. The desert had been left behind but the creek, which had a little riparian shade, was mostly shadeless because of a fire a couple of years ago. The profusion of wildflowers was spectacular and perfumy and the only thing that kept me from committing suicide as I trudged at a snail's pace up the increasingly steep trail. The day was still in the 90s but at least I could stop every now and then and drink as much as I wanted and put my clothes in the creek.

Eventually Mike and Kat caught up with me. They were like hiking machines. I struggled to keep up. I was hiking like an old man just trudging and rest-stepping the whole way. Eventually I made it to my goal, which was a nice trailside camp. I was hungry, as were Mike and Kat, so we all cooked our dinners at about 4pm at the camp. Then we continued on.

The trail became even more steep. I didn't know that was possible. I also trudged even slower which I didn't think was possible. We rose through all the climate zones and ended up in pine forest. Basically that day we climbed from 2000+ feet to almost 8000 feet.

The camp was called Mission Creek Trail Camp and it was full of tents but I never saw who was in them. I put up my tent, which I'm coming to love, between some bushy trees to maximize the coziness. I slept very well.

The next day I feared the Data Book's description of 2000ft elevation gain in half a mile so I got as early a start as possible, which turned out to be quite late at 7AM. It turned out the incline was very gentle and the forest was beautiful and shaded. Still, I trudged.

I bumped into some hikers along the way. Adrien and Kirsten otherwise known as Hawkeye and Danger Prone. They seemed really experienced. I managed to leap-frog with them all morning mostly because they seemed to take regular breaks while I forced myself to death march along no matter what.

At a water cache they were sitting enjoying some lunch so I stopped there, too. I didn't need to take any water because I had plenty but I started snacking on some fruit and nuts. Before I knew it I had eaten the whole bag. But I felt a lot better. Time to trudge on.

Then the magic began. About 50 yards down the trail were some coolers with Mountain Dew, Pepsi, bananas and oranges. I took a banana and a Mountain Dew and powered them down. Now I really felt great. It was left by this hiker hostel in Big Bear Lake. Great marketing. I had been trying to decide if I wanted to make a stop in Big Bear or not and had seen the hostel's web site in Cabazon. The trailside snacks were starting to seal the deal.

With my newfound energy and the trail going very gently downhill I realized I'd make my goal of Arrestre Camp. I got there at about 2PM. Mike and Kat and the other couple arrived there shortly after and there were two men there before me. I rested with my shoes off feeling pretty groovy. I pondered my options. It was only 10 more miles to Highway 18 where that hostel would give you a free ride. I calculated out that I could probably make that in 5 more hours, maybe only 4 since it was down hill. I powered on.

I was running down the trail and bounding up the little sections of uphill. I felt great. I figured if I didn't make it to the highway for a ride I'd at least get close. As 7PM slowly approached I could see houses and things. Then I could hear the road. Then I rounded the bend and could see trailhead parking and a sign and see people. I started running because maybe those were hikers waiting for a lift to the hostel.

When I came down to the trailhead somebody yelled "It's a hiker!" They ran over to me and took my picture and handed me a beer and told me to take a seat in a comfy chair and have some chips and then proceeded to prepare barbecued hamburgers. Eventually hikers arrived from all over the trail, having gotten rides from Spiderwoman's dad who was throwing a hiker party.

The party went on until almost midnight. Many people became incredibly, even falling down drunk. I only had the one beer. I felt too good to ruin my newfound energy with a hangover. It was truly an amazing and miraculous thing to come around a bend and have a barbecue waiting for you.

There was a guy there wearing a funny puffy down suit so I took out my Tyvek hazmat suit which I carry for wind or extra layers or rain. Everybody thought that was so funny they took pictures of the two of us. Clockwork wanted to rename my trailname to Hazmat. We'll see if that sticks. I've been going by Piper since I play jigs and reels on my tin whistle.

As the party went on forever I started wishing they would go away so I could set up my tent at the trailhead and go to sleep. I figured I could get a ride to the hostel in the morning. But all these drunks were pissing everywhere so that option became increasingly less appealing. And some of the folks who have befriended me would have none of it so I ended up crashing in somebody's Motel 6 room in Big Bear City.

The next morning me and my motel room neighbors went to Thelma's for breakfast. It was about a mile walk away. I was very hungry even after chowing down a ton of food at the barbecue the night before. I ordered what's basically a grand slam breakfast. I realized from my experience the night before that I have to eat more whether I want to or not.

After breakfast I packed my things and hopped on the MARTA bus to go to Big Bear Lake, which is different from Big Bear City so I could go ahead and take another night and stay at the hostel. I also wanted to send my stove home. I hate cooking. I want food I can just sit down and eat. So I'll substitute the weight of the stove for tortillas and peanut butter and other good stuff.

I bumped into Gary and Walt and they were going out for breakfast at IHOP so I went with them and had a milkshake and tomato juice. Then I hiked over to the hostel. It's a cool place, just a big house with a lot of rooms and chairs, a coin laundry, showers and Internet. Very relaxing. I'll probably do a little more shopping, relax some more and then in the morning as early as possible get back to work on the trail. Somehow I have to get all the way across Cajon Pass (ugh, more hot desert) to Wrightwood by Friday where I'll meet Tony and pick up my package. Somehow I have to cram 100 miles into 5 days. And I can't roll into Wrightwood after the PO closes or I'm screwed.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Section B Complete

I am in Cabazon now, which is at the end of Section B. Part of the PCT was closed near Idyllwild because of a recent fire so I missed about 30 miles of the trail, but still with all the side trips and things I've walked about 200 miles now.

It has been an interesting section. I started off in oak woodland and chaparral, climbed into drier chaparral that looked a lot like how Mission Pine Springs will look in a few years after things start to grow back, then I dropped into low and hot chaparral and ended up at the Paradise Cafe, a famous hiker eating place, on Mother's Day.

I ate the hiker-famous Jose Burger which was about the best burger I've ever had. The meat was really good and had cheese, avocado, bacon, and jalapenos.

I leap-frogged a lot with the nice people I have met so far. Mike and Kat from San Diego, Tex and Karen who decided to hike the PCT through the burn area anyway, and Mark and Jean.

At the Paradise Cafe (wherever the heck it is, I'm not really sure, but about 17 miles from Idyllwild) I got a ride into Idyllwild which is another famous hiker hangout. There was a big sign in the middle of town saying "Welcome PCT Hikers." I got the $3 rate at the campground and free hot showers. Idyllwild is a great town in the forested mountains. You could really get sucked in and never leave. As soon as the Post Office was open I got my stuff and got the heck out. Don't want to sabotage the hike, you know.

From Idyllwild I hiked up the Devil's Slide trail to Saddle Junction which is a place where a bunch of trails meet, including the one to the top of San Jacinto. It felt great to climb a real mountain on a trail that has real climbing. The PCT is so level with switchbacks that go on forever. It's really only 1000 miles from Mexico to Canada but on the PCT it's 2700.

At Saddle Junction many people who have been hiking ahead of me since my 2nd day started to slow down, blaming the altitude. I don't notice altitude until about 12 or 13,000 feet or so, so I felt fabulous and continued on.

There was an option to skip a section of the PCT and climb San Jacinto. I took a pass on that. I can always return and do Cactus to Clouds for that.

I bumped into a guy I've met a few times on the trail named Gary. He hikes very fast. I can hardly keep up with him. I tried to keep up because we were talking. Before I knew it, we had passed the last reliable water source for the next 13 miles or so and were walking along Fuller Ridge in extreme winds and slippery snow. We ended up camping somewhere off the trail in the wind much later and further than I had wanted to go originally.

My tent, which is the Gossamer Gear "The One" is really noisy in the wind and flapped all night long. At least I've finally gotten better at setting it up so it won't fall down. It held, but the scary wind sound in the trees and the flapping of the sail fabric kept me up all night. At least I was warm. Hot actually. The tent, despite all the ventilation really stays warm inside.

In the morning I had only 3 sips of water left and was feeling dehydrated and very hungry since I barely ate the day before. Turned out we were only a few minutes from some water and a bunch of other guys who had camped in a nicer, yet still just as windy spot. I got some water and breakfast and said good-bye to Gary who went ahead to hike his own hike and began the arduous descent into the San Gorgonio Pass, which is the desert bottom.

What an awful decent. I think you lose something like 9000 feet of elevation on these horrible switchbacks that go on forever and ever. At the bottom your reward is a drinking faucet next to a boulder that offers about a foot of shade around it. Everybody cowered from the sun next to the boulder waiting to gain strength for the trek across the Desert Divide.

My feet were killing me. My hiking shoes do not breathe so my feet stink and get really tender when the ground gets hot. I had Tony send me my Chaco sandals and those really hurt my feet. The arches are too high so they feel bruised and I got blisters from the shape of the foot bed on the edges of my heels. I will have to send them home again.

At about 2:30 we began the hellish walk across the desert. You walk in sand following a bunch of posts rather than a real trail. Eventually you walk under Interstate 10 and some railroad tracks. Someone nice stashed some water under the bridge for another brief respite. If I had known, maybe I would not have lugged 4 liters of water across the desert.

At that point I said good-bye to the two guys I was walking with, Clockwork (who wears all orange clothes) and Darren. They went on and I was left to try to figure out how to get to Cabazon for my next Post Office stop.

Here's a tip: Don't go to Cabazon. There's no way to get there from the PCT. I started walking down a road but nobody gave me a ride. I could see the casino hotel from the road and figured it would go there. It ended in the middle of nowhere. I asked a lady if she would give me a ride but she said no and pointed to a dirt road behind a barbed wire fence on the Indian reservation and said that would probably take me there. I decided no thanks.

I hadn't intended to bring a phone but I've found it really handy. I took out my phone and called the casino hotel to see if they could connect me with a ride. I got connected to a taxi service (really low budget one) and they said they'd try to find me. I waited a while and nobody came.

I decided I'd walk back to the PCT because at least there was water and shade under the bridge. Back at the trail I called the cab again. I could see the freeway exit and figured maybe with better directions from me they could find me. As the sun was setting and I was thinking about sleeping under a bush, the taxi found me and took me to the casino at about 90 miles an hour with the car shimmying and smoking the whole way.

That is where I am. I now need to figure out how to get to the outlet mall to buy some breathable shoes and then the Post Office. I will use the taxi again to get back to the trail. All-in-all an expensive stop I wouldn't do again. Next time I'll make Big Bear my stop like everybody else. It only was one overnight from Idyllwild to Cabazon so it's pretty much a waste of my time, unless the outlet mall works out. Here's another tip: Don't put anything you can't live without in your resupply box. I put my guide book section in my box. I could have skipped the resupply if I hadn't done that.

I look forward to whatever comes next. Right away I will start climbing out of this hot desert into the mountains around San Gorgonio Peak, which is huge at over 10,000 feet. I'm not a big fan of the trees or the snow, preferring oak woodland and chaparral canyons with cute riparian oases but it'll be good to get back out on the trail again.

Thanks for reading my posts. If you are family or friends and know my email address, apparently my mailbox is full so I can't accept any email. I'm sorry. I only know how to fix that when I'm at home. And thanks for the comments. I keep moderation on and since I can only get online every now and then, that's why they don't show up quickly. I hope you understand.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Warner Springs

I am here in Warner Springs. I have walked 109 miles, not counting the mileage in search of water and camping places. It's been quite an adventure.

I have a journal I am keeping on paper and I'm in no position to type all of that here. I have written quite a bit. But here is an update.

Tony and I started at the Mexican border on April 30 in the afternoon. We hiked about 9 miles and then made camp off the trail. The border is an awful place like a war zone with helicopters and mean looking guys in trucks patroling the area and scraping the dirt to reveal new footprints. The do all this buzzing and show of bravado within the first 10 miles or so inland from the border. I'm convinced it's all for show. We saw evidence of illegal alien traffic for tens of miles inland.

The country-side is chaparral and there were lots of flowers blooming. The weather was perfect hiking weather. It was really nice.

The second day, Tony and I hiked up to Lake Morena which is a nice campground next to a reservoir that was nearly empty. PCT hikers only have to pay $5 per tent. We got there early in the day after a long climb up and over Hauser mountain. Eventually about a dozen other hikers showed up and we all camped in the same spot. I haven't seen any of these hikers again except for 2 of them because they are all way faster and way higher mileage people than me. The two I keep bumping into are Mike and Kat, a young couple from San Diego.

Tony was going to end his hike with me at Lake Morena and hike back, but when we emerged off the trail there were two hikers having some beer. Tony got a ride back to his truck with them and brought it back to Lake Morena so he could hike one more day with me.

So the next day we headed out from Lake Morena to Cibbet Flat campground which is who knows where. The country-side got a bit more arid but it was still chaparral. Just add cactus and tons of wild flowers.

The campground had a nice creek so we soaked our feet and enjoyed it for a while. Then came the boys. A whole church group of father-son campers arrived. They were noisy and kept us awake until past 3:30 in the morning. To make it up to us they let us have breakfast burritos the next morning.

Mike and Kat stayed at Cibbet Flat with us, too.

In the morning, Tony and I made the long hike up the hill back to the trail and said good-bye. It was a very tearful good-bye. Tony just stood there in the clearing where the trailhead was as I hiked on. I kept looking back to see him standing there looking so forelorn. Eventually I turned a corner and when I had another chance to look back again he was gone. It was hard to see him go.

I proceeded to Laguna Mountain. The country-side had pines and flowers growing underneath. The elevation was getting up there around 5 or 6 thousand feet. I hiked in to my first trail town experience at Laguna to a little store. There were cyclists having an organized ride that day and I got the third degree about why on Earth a solo woman would do such a crazy thing while I was trying to enjoy my burrito and energy drink. I bought a few other things because it looked like I might not have enough food.

I walked back to the trail and hiked up to a campground. It was too expensive. $17 and the showers weren't free and didn't even work cold. I stayed anyway. I wasn't going to pay but Mike and Kat showed up and they felt guilty so I payed for half. The campground was full of young children who were, thankfully, quiet.

Mike and Kat told me that Tony had driven around the area looking for me. I must have missed him when I stopped to cool off my feet on the trail.

I slept well and in the morning I packed up and got ready to begin the difficult part of this hike. At the first opportunity, I loaded up with 5 liters of water in preparation for a potential long distance without water. It was overkill because I found natural water on the way in addition to other piped water and caches of bottles.

At Pioneer Mail picnic area I swapped my too-fluffy toilet paper for much more businesslike USFS issue TP which gives you more sheets for the space. I didn't need any water so I continued on.

I walked along what seemed like a cliff. I guess hangliders come up there and often the wind is wrong and they die. There were memorials painted on the cliff and written on an old guard-rail. It was a kind of scary spot.

The trail got more and more dry, the plants were lower and scrubbier but still chaparral. I could see views of the Colorado desert in the distance.

Eventually I met a day hiker out in the middle of nowhere. He said he had seen dozens of hikers that day, more than he ever had before. I had some hope I might catch up to them and not be all alone. But I never did. The trail was very dry and rocky and not very hospitable. I decided I would walk as long as it took to get to the next water source. And so I did, for about 20 miles.

That spot was Rodriguez Road. I camped there. Another very quiet guy showed up and camped there, too, but I never really saw him. He kind of showed up and then vanished.

The night was very windy and my tent fell down. I put it back up. A hummingbird kept trying to fly inside. I decided I would give myself the trail name "Piper" because a piper is a type of bird and it's also someone who plays a musical intrument. The birds so far have been very important to me, bringing me joy, comfort and happiness as I see them.

In the morning, anticipating even worse dry conditions for the next few days, I went down to Rodriguez Spring and loaded up my 5 liters. It was a delightful spring with hummingbirds drinking the water. The spring was a 2.5 mile round trip out of my way but that's ok. I really wanted to do this without relying on plastic water bottle caches.

I hiked down toward Scissors Crossing which is in the desert proper. A fellow named Jake "Don't Panic" met up with me along they way and his conversation kept the hiking going quickly.

At the crossing, which really was in the desert, but gratefully not too hot, there was an enormous pile of water bottles (which I didn't need since I still had my 5 liters) and a trail register and a guy named Wild Bill.

Wild Bill was hiking the PCT when he got word his mom had died so he had turned around to walk back. I thought the story was a little fishy. Wild Bill reeked of alcohol and that wasn't Gatorade in his bottle. He was a nice fellow, toothless as he was, and he knew a lot about the trail and the trail towns. He talked Jake's and my ear off for a couple of hours as we waited out the middle of the day under a bridge. The quiet fellow showed up and waited with us too. The quiet fellow's name is John.

Wild Bill told us that there was a fire up ahead and part of the PCT was closed. I'm going to have to hike roads around near Idyllwild.

At about 2PM we headed out for a very long climb into the San Felipe Hills. The desert was beautiful. There were cholla and barrel cactus. Wildflowers, too. Eventually we reached a level spot noted in the Data Book as dry, sandy wash. That's where I camped with John. Jake took off for some night hiking. It was another 20 mile day for me.

It was very windy again. It also rained. Just as it was raining the hardest a violent gust came up and knocked my tent over. I had to go out again to set it up. It was bumming me out but the tent is very warm inside so if I can ever figure out how to properly set it up maybe it will be a good tent. "The One" is what it's called. If anyone has one, I'd appreciate some advice.

After a difficult night where I think I slept maybe an hour or two I got up and packed to leave. As I got going there was a beautiful sunrise with the rain clouds and the little wildflowers in the wash. All thought of my discomfort vanished. I hiked on.

Somewhere along the way to the 3rd Gate water cache I did something to my thigh muscle. I had to hobble. It really hurt bad. I started to worry because the pain wasn't going away. I got to the cache and took a soda and topped off my water because I feared I might end up camping somewhere on the trail in my condition. I ended up limping all the way down out of the San Felipe Hills and the desert into Barrel Spring. It was only 13 miles but it was the most difficult 13 miles I've ever done.

When I reached the spring I saw a cooler and a note saying help yourself to a drink from a trail angel. There was no soda in the cooler but I still had the one I grabbed from the cache. The thoughtfulness of the trail angel was greatly appreciated and I stared bawling my eyes out in relief that the agony was over. I was safe, near water and somebody out there understood. I think I cried for half an hour.

I collapsed next to the cooler and watched the birds come down to the spring to drink and bathe. Then I chose a campsite and set up my tent making sure to set it up in a way that it wouldn't flap all night and keep me awake.

Then I took a bath with the spring water, dried my hair in the sun watching the birds. (There was a Western Tanager among all the beautiful blue, brown and yellow birds.) Then I went in my tent and took a nap. When I woke up, Mike and Kat were there making their camp.

We shared tales of our ordeals over the last few days. Then we went to bed. Finally I had a really good night's rest. I looked forward to maybe my leg being ok in the morning.

I cried as I left the spring. I hated leaving such a safe place in such a lovely little oak woodland full of pretty birds (even a wild turkey). But onward I went the 8 miles to Warner Springs. My leg still hurt so I limped the entire way.

Warner Springs is where I am now. I got a room for two nights. It has a hot pool fed by natural hot springs. It's a lovely place. I picked up my packages at the post office. I'll do my laundry, lounge by the pool and just try to recuperate for the coming segment.