Friday, June 27, 2008

What my gear ended up being so far

Here is what my gear has evolved to, along with some "reviews": 
Tent: Gossamer Gear The One. Sleeps one. Weighs just over a pound and uses my Leki ultralight trekking poles to set up. The titanium stakes barely ever hold the tent up. I have to use rocks most of the time. The spinnaker fabric is noisy in wind. Otherwise the tent is spacious and warm even though it's designed so that air blows freely through it. 

I saw a 6 Moons Designs tent made of something called Cuben fiber which is amazingly light and strong. It weighed even less than my tent and while not as tall as my tent, could sleep two. My tent sleeps only one. I was really impressed by the 6 Moons. 

The Tarptent Rainbow is impressive, too. Especially the Double Rainbow if you want to sleep 2 because each person has their own door to get out. 

All 3 of these are small companies. You have to order online. 

Shoes: I do not wear boots. I wear whatever doesn't hurt, usually shoes with a good, somewhat rugged sole and mesh uppers for breathability and quick drying. Low top because I believe strong ankles are better protection than atrophied ones. 

I wear Injinji merino wool toe socks with another sock on the outside. The other sock has been thick wool cushioning socks, thin nylon "liner" socks and many other things in between. Having another sock keeps the Injinji socks from disintegrating too quickly and helps keep less dirt from accumulating in between the toes. 

I had one pair of the Injinji socks go 600 miles. I had another pair go only 200 miles. The difference was the 200 milers were wet and my shoes full of sand almost every day. 

Pack: I started with a frameless pack but it could not handle the enormous weight of all the water I had to carry (up to 5.5 liters). I bought an Osprey Aura 65 and it makes the weight of that water feel lighter even though the pack itself is heavier. Many people do not like the Osprey because there is almost no padding on the harness. It can cut into my shoulders but it doesn't bother me too much. Others who have this pack have cut pieces of foam padding and duct taped it on the harness. I have had trouble with the hip belt pockets. The zippers are pretty much shot after less than a month of use. 

Sleeping: I use a GoLite down quilt rated to 20 degrees. Weighs less than 2 lbs. You kind of have to see it to understand, but it straps around your sleeping pad and you sleep directly on the pad. The quilt has a foot like a sleeping bag, but no zipper and it doesn't go all the way around your body. It does go all the way over your head if needed. I'm amazed how warm I have been. I use a Z-rest pad which is very warm. I usually sweat against it, which can be uncomfortable sometimes. 

About staying warm at night with a quilt and a tent that lets air blow through freely: Part of the system is that you have to choose your site well. I find that if I sleep half-way down a long descent rather than at the bottom where there is a lake or stream I am much, much warmer and there's little or no condensation on my tent. Also, I hike into camp and go right to bed. I do not sit around a camp site. A camp site is for sleeping. If I want to linger at a lake or stream I do that during the day and move on for a few more hours of hiking. I'll even eat out on the trail, hike another hour and then make camp. 

I have no idea how cold it has been, possibly the upper 30s, but the nights I have not done these things have been the coldest. 

Clothes: I wear tan long pants (the zip off kind but I never zip off, made by Ex-Officio), a polyester tank top (thrift store find, by Champion) and a tan, nylon long-sleeved shirt (by Northface). I also have nylon underwear and bra and wear a Sunday Afternoons sun hat. I carry no extras pairs of anything. 

I find this uniform is comfortable from the 40s up to the 100s without shedding any part of it. Every now and then I'll jump into a lake or creek to wash my clothes. My clothes dry quickly. In the 100 degree temperatures, I would wet my shirt and hat to stay cool. I only need sunscreen on my hands. 

Umbrella: I found a GoLite Chrome Dome umbrella in the trash. I wish I'd had it when walking through some of the more scorching desert. It's a miracle to walk under in the mid-day sun and helps me put in mid-day miles feeling less tired. I expect that it will be useful when it rains, too. 

Insulation: I have a Marmot DriClime windshirt. It's a great jacket but I've hardly ever really needed it. It works by providing a thin layer of insulation and a thin layer of wind protection. Together these two layers are very wind-proof and warm. I sometimes hike in it if it's cold enough. 

I also have a Patagonia down sweater. It works similarly to the Marmot, with a layer of insulation sandwiched between wind-resistant layers. I LOVE this thing. With the windshirt it's enough warmth for the absolute coldest I've been. I wear it when I get to my camp and sometimes sleep in it for added warmth. I never hike in it. 

I sleep with a fleece hat that has a chin strap and ear flaps. The chin strap keeps it on my head. I wear it when I get into camp until I leave in the morning, unless it's still cold. 

I have a fleece cylindrical thing that I use for a scarf. I can put it around my head or neck and cover part of my face. This is for very cold times and sometimes for sleeping to keep the micro-breezes in bed from making me cold. 

I have a pair of fleece fingerless gloves, sized XL. I can pull my fingers in because the size is so big, or push them out if I need my bare fingers. 

I have a pair of very light silk long underwear that I sometimes wear to sleep in. I have never worn them during the day. I could probably do without them, but they are handy when my clothes are wet.

Rain: I have a disposable tyvek coverall. I haven't been in any rain yet, but it worked well in light, wet snow. I also have a regular breathable rain coat by Sierra Designs but I've never used it except to sleep in one really cold night at 11,000ft. 

Camp shoes: I have some Crocs for camp shoes. I really only wear them when I have to get up in the middle of the night, or in resupply towns. My last pair of shoes were more comfortable than the Crocs and I considered sending the Crocs home. Crocs are as light as flip-flops and easier to walk around in. 

Cooking: I use an alcohol stove. I didn't make it myself. The Pepsi can stoves that people make are much better than mine. I'd recommend making your own stove. 

I use a small MSR Titan Titanium kettle for cooking and eat right out of it with a spoon. A spork is useless. A fork is even more useless. You need a spoon to get every last bite and clean off the pot when you're done. 

Some people save fuel by making a cozy for their pot out of foam or foil-lined bubble wrap. Then they can boil the food and remove from heat and let it finish cooking inside the cozy. I think this is clever, but I have not done it. 

I also have a small cup for cereal, lemonade or for measuring. I could probably do without it but I like it. 

I eat food you can get at a grocery store, not the backpacking food you get at an outfitter. Knorr dinners, Top-ramen, packets of tuna, tortillas and peanut butter, energy bars, cereal, poptarts, cookies, even onions, broccoli and hard cheeses. 

Knife: I use the small Swiss Army knife with the scissors, tweezers and toothpick. I use the scissors more than anything else. I have not felt a need for anything larger than this knife. 

I hope that's useful. Many of these things won't be listed in Backpacker magazine or available at your everyday gear outfitter. But they work best because they are lighter than most gear while possibly not as durable.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tips for a pleasant hike

Here are a few things I have done that have made my hike a pleasant trip. Perhaps some of these tips will help you prepare for a hike, too.

  • Put toenail clippers and other similar things (callous remover, hair conditioner etc) in your bounce bucket. You don't need to carry them but you do need to use them periodically, and those little scissors on the swiss army knife are just not strong enough for toenails.
  • Be flexible with your resupply plans. You can resupply as you go. In larger towns buy extra food to mail ahead to smaller towns. It doesn't have to all be completed before you go.
  • Internet is more and more available. You can order gear as you go, too. But beware that you can't use the faster shipping options to ship general delivery.
  • If sun bothers you, the Ray Jardine umbrella method really does help a great deal. But forget the mylar and buy a Golite Chrome Dome. Being able to do miles in mid-day sun comfortably is wonderful.
  • In colder climes, make your camp half-way down a descent (or halfway up) rather than near a creek or lake at the bottom of a canyon. You'll stay much warmer. Also, hike late into the evening so that you arrive at camp, eat and go right to bed. You'll stay warmer. By staying warmer you can carry less insulation. Visit lakes in the afternoon when swimming will feel good rather than at night when you'll be asleep.
  • Put a bathing suit and clean clothes in your bounce bucket. Many hotels have a no street clothes in the pool policy and I think it feels nicer to wear regular clothes while doing laundry rather than rain gear.
  • Ordinary consumer plastic bottles work better than Nalgene. They are lighter and come in many shapes and sizes to fit the nooks and crannies of your pack. They do break sometimes, but are easily replaced.
  • Resupply more often. The less food you carry the further you can travel.
  • Town stops don't have to be for resupply. They can be for fun and for replenishing extra calories. A meal eaten in a restaurant is a meal you didn't have to carry, and probably has lots of gravy on top.
  • I am not a gadget person and generally scoff at cell phones, but I've used mine to call cabs as well as family. It's helpful for coordinating things on the trail as your plans change, too. Turn it off when you're not using it. The battery will last a very long time.
  • Sporks and forks are useless. What hiking food requires a knife and fork? It's all mush you can slurp with a spoon.
  • Big shoes work for me. Really big. Like 4 sizes too big. My feet are wide and my little toes suffer with all shoes, so the bigger the better.
  • Crocs are as light as flip-flops. Both have their pluses and minuses. Best thing about extra shoes is being able to rush out of the tent in the middle of the night to go pee. My bladder control went haywire out there.
  • Scoff if you will, but I brought a travel-sized deoderant. When nearing town I'd wash up a little in a creek and apply the deoderant. Hopefully that made me a little less offensive when I arrived.
  • When it's cold, wearing your rain gear in your sleeping bag is surprisingly effective. It'll also protect your bag from your own sweating.
  • An onion and some fresh veggies and fruit is worth the weight. Not a lot of calories but they perk up your food and provide surprising energy. Some towns will have grocery stores large enough to pick up some fresh Romano, Asiago or my favorite Swiss Gruyere cheese. These last well and taste great in mashed potatoes. Tuna packets are good for protein. I ate the fresh stuff early on and saved the tuna for days when I thought my body needed protein.
  • Hand sanitizing gel gets pine sap off your hands like magic. Probably off other things, too.
  • Tactics to poop in mosquito country (not all of these are mine): 1) Dig your hole at night so it's all ready for you in the morning. 2) Dig your hole, then go stand several feet away until the mosquitos find you, then run back to your hole and do your business before they find you again. 3) Fan your fanny while you are squatting.
  • How to use less toilet paper if you are female: Carry a small squirt bottle of water. Hose yourself off instead of using TP. Now you can pee anywhere and leave no trace.
  • Many people use Tyvek home wrap for a ground cloth. I use a polycro plastic sheet. Weighs almost nothing and is incredibly resilient. You can get them online at Gossamer Gear.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lots of updates on my PCT experience

I have written several updates about my PCT experience. The High Sierras have been quite a challenge. Since the last one is so long and might make my home page take too long to load, I'll just provide a list of links to the posts I have done since my last stop in Lone Pine.

PCT 2008 Photos

June 22, lessons learned

I woke up very early, set upon doing Bishop Pass. I packed up, ate some cereal knowing I didn't have to ration it anymore, and selected a tuna packet and a ramen to leave for Casey. I left it with a note thanking him for his kindness and set off before anybody was awake.

I soon crossed a creek over a steel bridge and wondered why they put bridges in over some creeks but not other potentially fatal ones. I passed Walt's campsite as he was packing but didn't speak with him. I found the turnoff to Bishop Pass, sighed and took it. I began to cry again.

The hike was going to be 6 miles up and 6 miles back down again to civilization, plus a 19 mile hitchhike into town. Along the way up I hiked switchbacks carved into a cliff with an enormous creek frothing in a big sheet over the smooth cliff face. It was amazing to look at.

After I crested the cliff where the creek roiled over the top I climbed through a valley full of fallen logs and eventually reached a beautiful place called Dusy Basin. There was a lovely meadow and flowers and up higher, a lake.

I passed a large group of people camping. I could smell their campfire. This made me angry because campfires are illegal above 10,000 feet and specifically illegal in Dusy Basin and these inconsiderate people had one anyway, risking the access to this place for everyone.

Despite these feelings, I tried to say hello, but despite 2 hellos they did not respond except to stare at me. That's when I realized I'd begun the transition away from the community of The Trail back to the coldness of regular life.

I plodded along at a pretty good pace despite the altitude. I could see a pass up ahead covered in snow and it filled me with dread because I was sure I could see switchbacks in the snow. I summoned up my fierce determination, knowing it would be my last pass and that I would make it somehow. Then miraculously the trail turned toward a nearly snow-free pass that was much closer. I felt relief.

There was only one large snowfield that I mostly could avoid and then I was at the summit. There were two signs up there indicating that campfires were illegal and I thought again about those inconsiderate campers below.

I crested and began the long climb down. I could see a pretty lake with trees far below and it appeared the way down would be nearly snow-free. It turned out there were only a few scary spots where I had to negotiate either slippery snow or loose rocks.

The descent went on forever. I felt so weak and sore and exhausted. My knees hurt. My right shoe broke. It has those stupid thin laces with the draw string thingie. The thin laces not only broke in 3 places but also severed the things they lace through so I couldn't replace them with more sensible laces. I walked very slowly with all these impediments.

I passed lake after beautiful lake thinking I must be getting close but never actually arriving. Some Boyscouts said I only had 3 more miles at one point but it felt a lot more like 15 miles in the end.

I met two backpackers by the side of the trail doing a loop involving South and North Lakes. They asked how far I'd come and I said I'd come up and over the pass. They were amazed I'd come from all the way down in that deep canyon on the other side. They asked how far total. When I said 800 miles they at first thought I'd said 18 miles. When they realized 800 they were amazed. How could anybody walk so far?

I started to realize that my failure was not really a failure at all. I, a woman alone, had walked 800 miles through desert and high mountain passes including the highest one on the PCT, 3 of those passes completely alone, which is stupid but still an accomplishment. I may not have hiked the whole trail but I had accomplished a great deal. Nobody in America likes a story of failure and I realized how American I am inside, feeling so dejected for failing, being so typically American by pushing myself relentlessly beyond my comfort zone, beyond my abilities, beyond my own needs for rest and recovery. I'm so typically American, too, for trying to keep up with young men almost 1/2 my age, trying to prove I'm as tough and strong as anybody.

I thought about all that and how it's really more of a weakness than a strength. The nurturing I lacked was partly my own toward myself. I felt better about my decision to go to Bishop because I was taking care of myself.

As I dropped altitude I felt stronger and less emotionally volatile inside even though I felt physically exhausted with my legs and knees nearly buckling beneath me.

It occurred to me as my mind became clearer that what had happened to me up there was that I had combined a severe food shortage with altitude, setting the stage for mental and physical exhaustion. Those two things allowed a crack to form within me for my "weaknesses" to magnify and take over. The loneliness was amplified in this crack. My desire to be independent of others, to never ask for or accept help if I can manage -- my biggest weakness of all -- was able to get in there and sabotage me.

It also occurred to me as I continued downward that I did not want to leave the trail. I just wanted to leave the scary parts of the trail. I would think about this in Bishop and try to design an alternate route that avoided these high passes and scary creeks and the long stretch of emptiness after Tuolumne Meadows.

As I neared the end of the trail I passed more and more people who looked more and more fresh and perky and were less and less friendly. I was returning to civilization where people are more closed off from each other.

At long last I reached the parking lot. I celebrated with some lemonade and ibuprofen. Now around cars, people seemed to look upon me not as a fellow hiker on the trail but as some kind of alien being, dirty, smelly, almost a threat. I was afraid to beg for a ride and decided to just begin walking the road and see if anyone would take pity on me and give me a ride.

I stuck out my thumb as people went by and got a couple of rides part way down the road. The second one dropped me off at the intersection where the road to North and South Lakes converged. The nice couple were certain I'd have better luck getting a ride all the way to Bishop right there. I tried, but had no luck.

There was a sign there saying Bishop was 14 miles down the highway. Fourteen + 12 is only 26, certainly not the longest day I've done so far so I started walking down the road. Whenever there was a place to pull over I'd stick out my thumb. People driving their cars at high speed now were very unfriendly, either giving me a huge berth to indicate their aversion toward me or else trying to show their aggressive hatred of me by buzzing me closely.

Eventually a car went by with peace symbols on it. As it blew by me I thought so much for your peace and love, buddy. Then miraculously the car stopped and turned around toward me. The man inside rolled down the window and hollered out, Hey Piper! (Piper is my trail name.) It's Rick, he said. Oh my god! Real trail magic was happening to me! Rick is the same man who gave me a ride last week into Lone Pine and here he was again. It seemed like a sign from the Universe that maybe I was doing something right.

He gave me a ride into town and I patiently and hungrily sat through haircuts and a shopping trip to the outfitters where his wife bought new sandals and I got some new shoes (some La Sportiva shoes that are mesh upper with really good hiking soles on the bottom.) Then they dropped me off at the hotel and said good-bye.

I showered and washed all my clothes except my pants and went out to dinner with dirty pants and a just a tyvek jacket on. I ate at Jack's where I devoured a hot meatloaf sandwich with real mashed potatoes all smothered in a huge layer of gravy.

I went back to the hotel and called Tony. I told him about all my struggles, how much I missed him, how it felt so wrong somehow that I was doing this alone without him. We decided on a plan that I would try to come home for a few days and next week when he's got time off from work, we'd return to Mammoth, skipping Muir Pass and deadly Evolution and Mono Creeks, and do our own hike together. We'd still have to do Donahue Pass, but I wouldn't have to do it alone. After enjoying the beauty of the High Sierra together he will drive me to wherever on the trail I'd like to continue.

My hike will not be pure, but at least it will not have to end.

After I hung up the phone, feeling so happy that I'd made such a good decision to come to Bishop, I realized my stomach was not full so I went in search of sorbet. As I searched this town depressingly devoid of any Sunday evening sources of quart-sized ice cream, I bumped into Daily Special and one of the 3 Amigos hanging out. I stopped to talk to them for a while. I was so happy to find a little hiker culture here in Bishop.

Then along came a huge entourage of people surrounding Tigger and Chuck Norris. They, too, were in search of ice cream so I joined them. Along with them were Simon and Alex, two women who I had last seen way back in Warner Springs. I had wondered how they were doing. They were the two hikers Tony and I saw preparing to begin at Lake Morena on the second day of my hike. They were doing fine. Everyone had come over Kearsarge Pass and since Independence doesn't have much, had driven up with Tigger to Bishop for some rest and relaxation in the "big" city.

As we all talked of our experiences and struggles, injuries and illnesses it became clear that a pure thru-hike experience wasn't all that common and there was nothing to be ashamed of that I couldn't "make it" and that I needed to take a little time away from the trail. Many of them were planning a "vacation" from the trail down in Los Angeles and some were planning to skip portions of the trail they didn't like, too.

After finding ice cream at Denny's and enjoying their company, I walked back to my hotel feeling pretty good that I had gotten as far as I did, which was actually further than a lot of people, and that I had done it by myself. I am not a failure. I am a strong woman. I had made a good decision by turning off the trail and coming to Bishop. It was what I needed. And my hike isn't over yet.

June 21, near Bishop Pass Trail

My camp site near Taboose Pass was such a great spot. It was mid-way on the descent toward the South Fork of the Kings River so it was toasty warm all night. I slept great and felt really good the next morning. Despite dreading Mather Pass, I decided to go for it.

For dinner the night before I decided I wouldn't eat one of my planned meals but instead eat one of the emergency meals I was saving. I was low on food. It was clear that to make it to Vermilion Valley Resort I would probably spend some days eating only peanut butter and jelly tortillas and whatever I could scrounge out of leftovers. So I made the leftovers and they turned out pretty darn good.

In the morning I looked at my food supply and realized maybe I should start eating the peanut butter and jelly tortillas now, too. I was also down to only 3 energy bars and a tiny bit of dried fruit so I knew I'd only be able to eat one bar and a small handful of nuts and fruit for lunch. I packed it in my waist pockets and off I went at 5:40am.

I came to the South Fork stream ford at 6am. It was the biggest ford yet and I sloshed into the water up past the zippers on my pant legs. The water was frigid and I moaned out loud in pain for 10 minutes when I got to the other side. My feet were frozen and painful.

I passed some people camping, including Boondock and his dad and somebody camped in a hammock all wrapped up like a giant burrito between two trees. I approached Mather Pass, steeling my will to tackle this pass alone again. Instead I bumped into Jarrow, all 17 years of him, and we tackled the pass together.

This pass at 12,100 feet was the most formidable of them all. There was a huge vertical snow field near the top and we could see 3 hikers walking an impossibly steep incline up it. As we neared this snowfield I became increasingly apprehensive. I knew I was going to have to put on my crampons and hoped I could figure out how to do it.

I did figure it out but it took at least 15 minutes to put them on. They worked like a miracle, however, and I took slow steps up the steep, nearly vertical snowfield with a lot more confidence if not any speed or strength.

We summited and I wondered if I should take the crampons off or leave them on. It's hard to walk on rocks with them on. We peered over the other side and the snow looked pretty easy to negotiate so I took them off. This was a mistake. The snow was icy, not soft and incredibly scary. I really should have taken the time to put them back on or just left them on.

At one point the foot steps ended on a steep snowfield and it was obvious whoever we were following had just slid down on their butts. I tried to walk down the path they had made with just my shoes but I could not do it. I decided to try to slide on my butt. I slid but I could not control myself on the ice. If it wasn't for Jarrow, who was a little below me and broke my fall, I would have crashed into some rocks below. Still, I thought the sliding was sort of fun and was grateful it didn't shred my pants.

Negotiating the descent was arduous. We followed footprints in the snow to a lemming-like cliff of rock with the trail visible and impossible distance below. We somehow climbed around and through the cliff on giant, sharp rocks barely clinging to the mountain. The rocks would come loose and crash into my ankle. I could break a leg up here, I realized, and walked very slowly and carefully, trying not to dislodge the rocks.

We finally got low enough we felt we could stop and rest and refill our water. Then Jarrow and I parted ways. He continued to rest and I made a beeline for the treeline. I hated these rocky, icy passes where human life barely can exist and sought a gentler landscape below.

Below Mather Pass are the Palisades lakes. The trail clings impossibly to a cliff above the lakes, but eventually it dropped right next to the lake. At that point I took everything out of my pockets and jumped into the lake with all my clothes on. I smelled really bad and wanted to wash it off if I could. I didn't even care that on the other side of the lake was a huge glacier melting. I've become quite immune to such extreme temperatures, it seems.

I sat on a rock waiting for my clothes to dry as clouds started forming in the sky. I thought it was possible it might rain this afternoon. It became colder and I figured to stay warm I better just keep moving, wet clothes and all.

I passed the second Palisades lake and reached the outlet stream. I saw a multitude of huge trout in the outlet stream. You could just scoop them up if you had a net, it seemed. I also passed someone sleeping almost on the trail. I considered waking him so he could find shelter from the coming rain but decided not to disturb him.

I crossed the outlet stream sloshing through the water because I was too tired to try to balance on rocks or logs. It seemed like I'd never hike with dry feet again.

The trail made an impossible descent along a "golden staircase" of switchbacks blasted into the cliff. There was a raging river plummiting this same descent on my left the whole way down, crashing with a noise that amplified the extreme feeling of the landscape. There were some snow patches obscuring even this trail and I hated them with all my might. The trail was long and arduous and bone crushing. I hurt.

At the "bottom" where the trail finally leveled out in some nice shady trees I saw three thru-hikers resting. I plopped down my stuff for a snack and a rest, too, and they moved on immediately, leaving me there alone.

I rested only long enough to eat my snack and went in search of a creek to make some lemonade. My new strategy for stretching out my food was to fill my belly with Crystal Light. No calories but it seemed to satisfy me anyway.

The trail kept descending for several more hours. There were many downed trees which, like the snow, left me searching cross-country for the trail every now and then. It was frustrating. Between the downed trees, the snow patches and all the water on the trail I felt like I only walked on the actual trail only half the time.

The further down I went the better I enjoyed the beauty. Trees, flowers, meadows. Why can't we just stay down here? Why is it when we get down to this beauty it is only to prepare for another arduous climb up to another scary pass? Surely John Muir enjoyed the meadows, too, didn't he?

I realized I hadn't been taking many pictures of these pretty places that I liked best, trying to take pictures of the passes and craggy, impressive peaks that people might ooh and ahh over. It was silly to be recording the landscapes I hate rather than the landscapes I loved.

When I reached the junction with Le Conte Canyon where the trail would begin it's climb up toward Muir Pass, the 3 thru-hikers were again taking a rest. I stopped again, too, but sensing that maybe they didn't want an old lady cramping their style, I didn't try to make chit-chat. They pointed out a deer grazing very close by, unfazed by us yet aware of us. We watched the deer for a while and then I felt some sprinkles. I decided to keep moving rather than just sit there and get rained on.

I started up Le Conte Canyon toward Grouse Meadow. Grouse Meadow was so serene and beautiful. I stopped under a huge boulder with a perfect overhang to wait out a storm and watch the fish jump in the oxbow creek in the meadow. How I loved this kind of scenery! I played my pennywhistle for a while to celebrate how lovely this was.

Unfortunately it didn't rain. But I took some time to think as I enjoyed the meadow. I just couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't stand anymore high passes. I couldn't stand being scared and alone and risking my life anymore. I dreaded Muir Pass, described in the book as being one pass that often times has snow all summer long. I dreaded even more the Evolution Creek crossing, described as potentially fatal should you slip. I slip all the time, constantly falling in the snow, landing like a turtle on my back, struggling to get back up. I don't even try to do most of the log crossings since I'm pretty sure I'm likely to fall in anyway.

It became clear that I didn't like the High Sierras. It became even more clear that nobody was forcing me to do it. I could quit. I could take the Bishop Pass trail to Bishop, hop a Greyhound home to Santa Barbara and be back to Tony and my birds, my music and bike rides, and my gentle Santa Barbara wilderness. I could leave these scary passes, the loneliness, the climbing a huge mountain every day while starving and tired and just go home. I made up my mind to do that and began to cry.

I cried all the way up the canyon, huge tears falling on my pants as I walked with surprising strength up the hill. I felt relief knowing I'd soon be done with this and sadness at my defeat.

I reached a couple of men camped near the trail. I asked them if I was near the turnoff to Bishop Pass and they said yes. I started to cry in front of them like a blubbering idiot and they invited me to come sit and talk about what was bothering me.

The one man, named Casey, must have been some kind of minister or counselor because he wore a huge cross around his neck and whipped out this laminated chart of emotions and the unmet needs that go with them. I pointed out my unmet needs were nurturing and belonging. I felt all alone out here, scared most of the time and beat up by the harshness of the landscape. He encouraged me to camp nearby and maybe I'd feel better in the morning. He also said he, too, had insufficient food and if I did decide to leave the trail in the morning and I had any food to spare, that he'd be grateful to have it.

As I ate dinner with him, Walt walked by. I had thought Walt would have been way far ahead by now. Walt sings and plays an awesome bluegrass guitar and still had it with him, along with a fishing pole. How anybody finds time to go fishing is beyond me. I struggle just to try to keep people like Walt within distance enough to enjoy a zero day with them. I also learned from Casey that Hawkeye and Danger Prone had passed by only 20 minutes ahead of me. That's a cruelty of the trail that you can feel so incredibly alone even when your friends are a mere 20 minutes ahead. Just 20 minutes and you may never see them again.

I went to bed that night thinking about what I should do, dreaming of my gentle Santa Barbara wilderness and my genteel life with Tony and the birds, only one more scary pass away.

June 20, below a junction with Taboose Pass trail

I got an early start and apologized for waking the family as I left by 6am. I struggled across the isthmus between the Rae Lakes over some slippery logs separating the two lakes at a small rushing stream. My legs were very sore and I felt I had little strength for Pinchot Pass, a 12,000+ foot pass which loomed ahead of me soon.

Along the way I passed the place where Treebeard had camped. How does he pass me every day like that?

I had fear and loathing in my heart as I neared the pass but I tried to console myself with information I had received from some John Muir Trail hikers that Pinchot Pass was relatively easy compared to the others.

And it was relatively easy. There was less snow and it wasn't quite as steep. But there still was enough snow that I spent considerable time searching cross-country for the trail and enough time feeling scared and sore and tired that I hated the pass with all my heart. I even hated the PCT. Why must it have such an aversion toward trees and flowers and meadows? It became clear to me that I had made a serious error in judgment. A crest trail afterall would naturally stay away from valleys. Duh. My life-long dream was just one big fantasy based not a bit on reality. I felt like an idiot.

I realized I was no longer enjoying myself. I thought about the dream I had had that night about my parrot, Fergie. I missed my birds. I missed Tony. I really wished I could talk to him. I felt so lonely. I was tired of feeling lonely and scared. I decided to camp near Taboose Pass trail and think about whether I should leave the trail and quit.

June 19, Rae Lakes

Today was very much out of my comfort zone.

I got an early start with Southern Man toward Forester Pass. Along the way we encountered our first patch of snow with those nasty sun cups. I had always thought sun cups were much smaller. Instead they are big and deep enough to break your leg.

The patches of snow would cover the trail so that we could not find the trail on the other side. We spent a lot of time walking cross-country searching for the trail.

Along the way we met an older man, a very fit, very fast mountaineer named Jeff. Together the 3 of us negotiated Forester Pass, Jeff very patiently baby-sitting the two of us novices.

The climb up Forester involved some switchbacks that were fairly clear of snow once we got high enough. The trail led through what appeared to be an impossibly small and steep notch in the huge 14,000 foot peaks all around us. The pass itself is 13,180 feet.

We summited and took some celebratory photos and began the descent across a huge snowfield. The snow was soft and not too difficult to walk on, but I did slip and fall or nearly fall several times. Treebeard wasn't too far behind us.

After we got past the last of the steep snow, Jeff said good-bye to Southern Man and I and continued on his jaunty pace. Southern Man and I continued on a little slower toward the junction with Kearsarge Pass where Southern Man was going to receive a food drop and wait for his AARP group.

The trail went down a long way and then began an incredibly steep climb up to the junction with Kearsarge Pass. It was so steep I thought I might throw up from the effort.

We finally made it and I said good-bye to Southern Man and continued on. I met the man with the horse who was bringing the food to Southern Man shortly after at the next trail junction and chatted with him a bit, letting him know where the folks he was meeting were. It's such a community up there. People find each other and relay information so easily sometimes.

The guide book for this section of trail is awfully terse. You can hike for several days carrying the same couple of pages of the book. There just isn't much description. The brief description of Glenn Pass made it sound like just a few switchbacks and you're all done, so I continued on to Glenn Pass, wondering how long until Treebeard passed me.

I climbed and climbed forever. This was not an easy pass at all. There was a ton of snow covering the trail for great distances. It was soft and slippery. I climbed all afternoon very much alone, Treebeard nowhere in sight, scared to death in a few places. Sometimes I could not walk on the snow because it was too soft and steep and I tried to climb along the edge or around the sides, but the sand and gravel was almost more slippery. I feared for my life a few times as I slipped close to the abyss with a giant toilet-bowl blue lake far below me.

I finally reached the top glad it was over and began the long climb back down. There was a ton of snow on the other side, too. But being soft and slippery I was able to slide on my butt in one spot, which saved some time. As I slid, I could easily control my speed and direction with my feet and poles and along the way I found a pair of Superfeet insoles that appeared brand new, so I picked them up hoping I might find their owner on the way down. I had fun sliding down the hill.

After hiking down forever in hateful snow hiding the trail and exhausting me with its slippery nature and keeping my feet soaking wet, the day's shadows lengthening into evening, I met a poor soul hiking back up the trail in search of his fuel bottle. I hadn't seen it. He was not the owner of the Superfeet.

As I approached Rae Lakes I could see some people camped. I hoped they were thru-hikers, but they turned out to be a family with 4 kids and 2 dads. I was quite exhausted and in no condition to keep going so I ingratiated myself into their camp on the pretense of asking if the Superfeet belonged to them. They did not. But when they learned I was a thru-hiker I became sort of god-like to them and they pelted me with questions and free food. One of their boys seemed like it was his dream to thru-hike the PCT some day. He had even made his own alcohol stoves at home and was really interested in watching me use mine, which I didn't make myself. I'm sure he'll become a successful thru-hiker some day soon. Seems like a good strategy if you're hungry to camp near families. And hungry I was since I realized the Sierras were much harder than I expected and that I may not have enough food to get to my next resupply.

After this 19 mile day of one 13,000+ foot pass and one almost 12,000 foot pass behind me, and with my legs so exhausted they were buckling beneath me I put up my tent and went right to bed. I hoped I didn't ruin their evening by turning in so early and so close to them. I also hoped I didn't ruin their early morning's sleep the next morning as I packed up and hit the trail again by 6am the next day.

June 18, Tyndall Creek

I got an early start at 6:15 and headed down the descent to Rock Creek. I'm glad I didn't camp at Rock Creek since it was perceptably much colder down there. My little meadow was at least 20 degrees warmer. It's best not to camp low, but instead to pick spots midway in a descent. It's much warmer.

After I crossed the frosty creek on some logs I began a steep climb up and met a woman named Blue Butterfly cooking breakfast and waiting for her ibuprofen to kick in. After talking with her, I went further and met her hiking partners, Tahoe Mike, Vegematic and Tailwinds. All of these folks were older and slower than me so I kept going.

I came to another creek crossing and didn't bother trying to stay dry. I just walked right in the water up to my knees. There were a bunch of backpackers on the other side, strapping young men full of the vigor and layer of fat characteristic of being fresh from the city. You can really tell the thrus from the ordinary folks up here. Not only are they fatter, they are cleaner, wear tank tops and T-shirts and all their gear looks new. They were talking with an obvious thru-hiker. When I got to the other side I learned his name was Southern Man. I ended up hiking with Southern Man the rest of the day.

We hiked over a small pass and saw our first marmot. We also bumped into Treebeard, who hikes solo and has this strange way of passing me all the time without me ever seeing him do it only to end up behind me again.

At around 3pm we arrived at Tyndall Creek, described as a formidable crossing. It wasn't bad at all. We decided to camp right there so Southern Man could wait for his hiking partners, the AARP crowd he called them, which were Tahoe Mike and the rest. We enjoyed the afternoon taking a dip in the creek and waiting for them to arrive.

It ended up being the coldest night I had spent in the Sierras. I think that was because I camped low near the water and camped early, leaving nothing to do between 3pm and bed time which allowed my metabolism to slow down. I think you stay a lot warmer if you hike into camp, eat and go right to bed. Take your breaks in the middle of the day. Enjoy a lake or stream or take a nap, then continue a few more hours. Then you won't have to sleep in all your clothes shivering the night away.

June 17, I slept near a meadow

So much has happened since I last logged on. I can't fit it all in one post.

Before I left Lone Pine I went to the PO one last time to mail my bounce bucket to Tuolumne Meadows. I took my Grape Nuts box and made a sign that said Horseshoe Meadows and went to Whitney Portal road to begin trying to get a ride. I stood out there for 2 hours in the hot sun, unsuccessful.

A local guy found me an easy target for some chit-chat and it became pretty clear I'd never get a ride standing around talking to him so I decided to go and ask around town if there was anybody to hire to take me to the trail. The Chamber of Commerce called up a guy who charged me a whopping $60 to return to the trail. I didn't feel too bad about that since he was an older fellow, very nice, missing some teeth, and doing odd jobs was all he did. I had always been paid a great deal to do Web Development so it didn't bother me too badly to spread the wealth a bit.

He drove me to the trailhead and I went up the Trail Pass trail to return to the PCT. Along the way I saw several thru-hikers coming down the trail, including Warner Springs Monty who I hadn't seen since Mission Creek way back a day after Cabazon. It felt good to be back on the trail.

I returned to the trail and kept meeting more and more PCT hikers. It's such a community out there of thrus, section-hikers and people who have done the PCT before and are just doing day hikes now.

Despite meeting so many hikers I ended up camping alone near a dry, grassy meadow. I wondered if I'd ever see the friends I had made previously, people like Steve, Danger Prone and Hawkeye, Gary, Circle, Shake and Bake and Slowride, Wheew. Maybe we would meet up at Vermilion Valley Resort, I thought. The Sierras seemed lonelier since we didn't all gather at the few water sources and camping sources anymore. Everyone was now free to design their own strategy for their own hike. We were all on our own, it felt.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hi to Jimmy in Missouri from Lone Pine

Funny thing happened on the trail after I had just left Kennedy Meadows. A fellow hiker named Shake and Bake told me that an older couple in an RV were looking for me at Kennedy Meadows. They were the grandparents of someone named Jimmy in Missouri who was hoping to hike the PCT next year and had been following my blog. They wanted to say hi.

I did not meet them but I got the news from Shake and Bake. So hello to Jimmy and I hope you get to do the PCT. If next year isn't good, there will be a good year to do it. I have wanted to do it sine 1975 and here I am doing it the perfect year.

Anyway, they call Kennedy Meadows the gateway to the Sierras. For once the marketing matches reality. I have not dropped down into the desert again. Instead I have climbed up above 10,000 feet.

The trail began walking through the meadow, which is really a sage scrub expanse that isn't really flat. I had found a Golite Chrome Dome umbrella in the trash and had figured a way to attach it to my backpack so I wore it while hiking in the sun through this meadow and beyond. It made a great deal of difference. I wish I'd had it before. I never go anywhere without it now. Nothing was wrong with it except for being a little worn. I put some duct tape over the holes. It works great.

After the meadow the trail took me into the pinyon pine forest and then crossed the South Fork of the Kern River on a pretty bridge. There were lots of day hikers and fishermen. Then the climbing began and was in the old burn zone. The umbrella helped a lot as it was noon.

Then the old burn zone turned into the new burn zone and I walked through smoke and smoldering places and logs that had flames. A firefighter appeared out of the smoke and escorted me about 100 feet and then told me that was it for the burn area.

I emerged from the smoke into a huge meadow. A real meadow. The kind that used to be a lake and now is an expanse of grass with a meandering stream in the middle. It was beautiful. I tried to take a few pictures.

I climbed over a ridge and descended again to the South Fork of the Kern for another bridge crossing. There was a lovely grassy bank where lots of hikers were enjoying a rest and wading in the river. The water was surprisingly not cold.

I washed my feet and rested a bit and played my pennywhistle because I had to trade a tune for my shoe I had left accidentally at a previous stop. Another hiker had picked it up for me. It was one of the croc shoes I have for camp shoes. I don't wear them much except in the middle of the night when I get up to go to the bathroom. I think my hiking shoes are more comfortable, actually.

An older woman named Circle declared she would not be camping at the Kern and had decided on Cow Creek. We decided to call it Cow Crick. I like Circle. She is hiking the PCT for a 60th birthday gift to herself. I decided I would catch up to her and camp with her at Cow Creek.

I stopped along the way to Cow Creek to cook some dinner at a nice spot overlooking the meadow. I made some soup and played my pennywhistle while it cooked. It was pretty good and didn't take the whole 30 minutes to cook like the package said. I wanted to eat before I arrived in camp in case Circle was nervous about bears. This would be our first night in bear country with everybody using their new bear cannisters.

When I arrived at the campsite, Circle was cooking her dinner. She wasn't worried about bears. I was glad because I didn't have a bear cannister yet and would have to put my Ursack out instead.

The mosquitos were pretty bad. Circle let me borrow her DEET. I had never used it before. It seemed to work pretty well. I have a bug net for my head and wear long sleeves and long pants for protection, and the DEET helps with my exposed hands.

It was a little cold sleeping by the creek in the pre-dawn hours. The creek itself was really small and yet very abundant. In the morning the trail followed the creek for quite some distance as it climbed. I had this wonderful feeling of safety, of not feeling like I was going to die from lack of water, that I was finally hiking in land capable of sustaining life. Trees, water, shade, birds, flowers, meadows. It made me very happy.

As the trail climbed I passed a woman who said the altitude was bothering her. I really hadn't noticed it at all. If anything, it felt better hear nearing 10,000 feet.

I reached Olancha Pass and could see some great views of meadows and forests and the inner Sierras and the backsides of some of the famous peaks you can see from Owens Valley, including Mt. Whitney. It was spectacular. Unfortunately, my camera had decided to break. The screen just goes white and it won't take a picture or turn off.

I decided I didn't want to do anymore 20+ mile days since water isn't such a huge concern. I stopped and took a break somewhere and played my pennywhistle. A group of 3 backpackers came by and said it sounded great. We talked a little while and then they continued.

I met them again at Death Creek. Death Creek was another tiny yet abundant little creek. It was so narrow and so deep and very full of mosquitos. I stopped and talked with Wheeew. She said she wanted to start doing big 20+ mile days. I told her I was sick of those and my goal was 15+ mile days. The 3 backpackers were there and they were impressed by that comment for some reason.

I put on my pack with my umbrella attached and the 3 backpackers just thought that was the coolest thing they ever saw. They declared me their favorite thru-hiker. I told them I was going to Horseshoe Meadow and they said that's where they were going and that they would give me a ride to Lone Pine if we were there at the same time. So they became my ride and I decided I should keep an eye on them. Also, they said they had some instruments in their packs and I thought if I could camp with them we could have a jam session.

I hiked all day without my guide book. It was difficult figuring out where I was and how far I went. In the end I ended up doing another 20 mile day, and camped at a turnoff to Diaz Creek. I didn't investigate the creek until after I set up my tent.

I saw the 3 backpackers approach and knowing they were hurting for water I told them they'd made it to the water. What water? they asked. And I pointed to the faint little trail and the note someone left that the water was worth a visit. They went down to the water immediately.

After I cooked my dinner and ate it in my tent in order to stop the lemming-like rush to suicide in my soup that the mosquitos were doing, I walked the 1/4 mile down to the creek. They had camped there. There were lots of nice places to camp and the creek was just right for washing yourself in. I had blown it as far as picking my camp site, but it did seem kind of cold down there. I didn't want to go pack up and move so I filled my water bottle and went back to my lonely campsite.

On my way back up, the 3 backpackers told me that when I set off in the morning I should look for an older man named Chris Rios. He would be our ride.

In the morning I tried to dawdle because I tend to get going early and most people don't. But I still got out at 7AM. On the way I saw an older man and knew it was Chris. He was really friendly and he described his minivan and said to wait there for my ride.

I took the Mulkey Pass trail instead of the Trail Pass trail. I got lost on the Mulkey Pass trail at the bottom where the trail ended. I ended up at least a mile or more from the parking lot for Cottonwood Pass and Trail Pass. I took a guess and started walking up the road. I found the parking lot and the minivan and waited.

Chris showed up right away so we waited and drank a beer for a couple of hours. Then the 3 backpackers showed up and we picked up another thru-hiker and went to Lone Pine.

We stopped at the Pizza Factory. "We toss 'em. They're awesome." I had a pizza with the 4 of them and a different thru-hiker who happened to be there. This thru-hiker, named Daily Special because he kept getting a new trail name every day, is from Florida. He was surprised that altitude can slow a person down. He said hills were a little hard at first for him since Florida is so flat but he was used to them now. He said he hated hiking with a passion, had never backpacked before and when his friend suggested the PCT he thought it was the Pacific Coast Trail and he'd be walking on the beach everyday. When they started with the Aqueduct portion he was pissed because that definitely was not the beach! But he said it was all worth it when they stopped each night and he was enjoying his first backpack trip.

I decided to stay at the Dow hotel in a room that has no bathroom. The hotel has a lot of character. I don't know if there are any other hikers staying there. There were several leaving a little after I arrived.

My plan is to stay here a zero day because I have a lot to do to prepare for the next sections and then hitchhike back to the trailhead again. I think I will buy less food this time. I didn't eat all my food and when I get into town lately I'm not really hungry at all. My big dream was to arrive in Lone Pine as a thru-hiker and eat a whole pizza at the Pizza Factory. Silly dreams I have, eh? I ate a whole pizza but it was a small one and I'm too full to have dinner.

I hope to catch up on the Internet again soon. My next stop is Vermilion Valley Resort. They'll probably have Internet but you never know. My new shoes will come (if the address the guy on the phone put will work -- silly computer engineers don't allow you to enter addresses that don't fit their systems) and maybe I can get a new camera sent there, too. My goal for tomorrow is to find a huge bug net I can eat under. I don't think I'll be successful but you never know.

Well, Internet access here is expensive. I better go. Thanks for reading and enjoying my journal everyone.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Still at Kennedy Meadows

I'm still at Kennedy Meadows, taking a zero day. A zero day is a day you don't progress any miles on the trail. I'm posting some thoughts here mostly because my last post was so long. Here is my last post about hiking from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows in case you missed it.

It's so nice here. It was a bit chilly last night. I'm probably going to freeze above 10,000ft. There's probably nothing I can do about that, though. I am jealous of the puffy 800-fill down jackets people got in the mail here, though. My Patagonia down sweater will have to do.

At the General Store they have a hiker box, which they usually do at these places where the hikers all stop. A hiker box is a pile of unwanted junk. Most of it should be thrown away but sometimes you find something good. I found a foam pad. I thought I would try it out tonight and see if having two foam pads is warmer and more comfortable. If it's not too much extra weight, maybe I'll bring it. I won't have to carry a ton of water any more so maybe I can add a little luxury.

I hear that Kennedy Meadows General Store is for sale. Wouldn't it be nice to own it? Well, maybe it would be too much work. How would you like to come to work with 30 hungry, dirty people already staring expectantly into the window and cooking breakfast on your porch?

Down the street from the store is the Internet cafe. It's an Airstream trailer next to a big tree that is full of hammocks. I spent a couple of hours swinging in a hammock and playing my pennywhistle. I almost fell asleep in the hammock. I may go back out there and spend a few more hours in the hammock. I think most people have their priorities all wrong. Really, what more do you need in life besides a trailer with solar-powered Internet and some hammocks?

Last night they made those of us who signed up for dinner T-bone steaks with baked potatoes, salad, roll, corn on the cob, cake and ice cream. We all enjoyed it immensely and felt sorry for the 5 SUVs full of Italian students who were turned away and really terribly sad for the two late-comer hikers who were also turned away. I have never seen such sad and hungry young men in my life. One of them ate a whole pint of Ben & Jerry's for a pre-breakfast snack this morning.

It's funny how things change when you become a long distance hiker. You read the labels and reject the low-carb, low-cal, low-whatever items. A pint of ice cream has about 1400 much-needed calories. Unfortunately, I'm not quite that kind of long distance hiker. My metabolism is slow enough that I avoid the pints and completely pigging out. I'm not really all that hungry anymore anyway. But it's definitely a shift in thinking and you really start to understand why people in America are so fat. If they would just walk 20+ miles a day they could happily eat all this food.

I hear there is going to be a huge party on Saturday. Even the Andersons of Casa de Luna are expected to come. The news has caused many hikers to decide to extend their stay, and many of us to get the heck out of town before then. I'm in the latter camp.

I'll write again at the next Internet access, whenever that will be. Maybe Lone Pine (which I may arrive at on Monday the 16th, sorry Tony). Maybe Vermillion Valley Resort. Maybe somewhere else. Thanks for your nice comments. See you down the trail.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kennedy Meadows, gateway to the High Sierra

Six days ago I was in Tehachapi. Now I'm in Kennedy Meadows, which is in the Sierra but not the High Sierra. In those days I hiked all of Section F (which I believe deserves an F) and the first part of Section G.

June 5 I slept at Golden Oak Spring, a little less than 20 miles from Highway 58 out of Tehachapi. I'll admit that I "yellow blazed" an 8 mile section of windmills between Willow Springs road and the start of Section F. I think many people do this, but not all. I'm not a purist I guess.

The trail began in Joshua tree country and went uphill quickly into pinyon pine forest. Golden Oak Spring was a cement cattle trough just below a plot of windmills in oak and pinyon pine forest. It was a nice spot with the trees buffering the wind, but the windmills were pretty noisy. The spring had lots of water and many others camped there as well. One thing about the first 700 miles is that you pretty much plan your life around water sources.

It was a tough slog to get in because I had put about 8 days worth of food and maybe a little more in my pack, plus the usual ton of water. I started worrying that it was too much food so I planned to eat it up as quickly as possible. It turned out I ate very well for the entire stretch and had no food cravings when I got in to Kennedy Meadows, except for a craving for lemonade.

June 6 I set out early as usual, before everybody else, and I saw a bear on the trail. He was walking toward me. We both stopped and then we both turned and went the other way. Just after I turned I looked back to see him galloping away and figured I would keep going forward, but carefully. I did not see him again.

The trail was really pretty all day. Lots of forest, lots of shade. The trail meandered in forest and had flat spaces all around the trail. The trail is usually, for all these hundreds of miles, just a tiny strip on the side of a steep hill, so this was a welcome change.

I ended up hiking 25 miles and camping at a place called Waterhole Mine Camp. The book said there was a picnic table, piped water and a toilet. There were none of those things. Gary was also there and he found a green plastic chair and there was a fire pit made of rocks so he made a nice little fire. There was a tiny little creek next to the campsite so it didn't really need the piped-in water.

The wind was still blowing in the evening, but after a while it settled down and the stillness of the night was so wonderful. It was so quiet and I slept well.

I got started the next day, June 7, at 6:30am. The forest was so nice and I felt like I had finally arrived at the long-awaited Sierras, that I could relax and enjoy the hike and not worry so much about sun exposure, lack of water and heat.

Then to my horror the trail suddenly dropped out of the forest and into a desert more severe than any we have done so far. Joshua trees were the only shade and the trail was hot, exposed, steep and sandy. There was a 35.5 mile stretch ahead with no water sources on the trail.

I checked my map and I could see that I could skip the trail by taking Kelso Road over to a dirt road that heads uphill to a spring and then further uphill to the PCT again. That was going to be my plan if the water cache at Kelso Road was weak. That would be my clue that the other water cache further up ahead may also be empty and to rely on the spring instead.

The cache was huge. There were a million full bottles of water. Maybe not that many, but there was enough for everyone to take as much as they might need. So I did. And I kept to the trail instead of doing my road walk.

The trail was hot, steep and sandy. This was Jawbone Canyon and there were lots of motorcycles. I could see them riding around on their trails. I could see evidence that they also ride around on the PCT, but I never actually saw anybody do that. The motorcycles turn the PCT into a deep sand and gravel series of whoopdeedoos that are horrible to walk on. I believe that they should put GPS tracking devices on the motorcycles and if they are detected riding on the PCT they should be immediately sentenced to hike on the PCT with a full pack, with 6 days of food and 5 liters of water.

Walking these whoopdeedoos is like lurching down two steps into a hole, then struggling four steps up and out, only to do it immediately again. It's tiring and painful.

At about 12:30 I sought shade under a Joshua tree and decided to wait out the heat of the day. The shade grew weaker as time passed. I felt that I was in too much sun to be doing any good to myself, so I packed my stuff back up and decided to seek shade down the trail. I walked very slowly so as not to trigger any sweating. I found better shade within 1/4 mile next to some rocks. I sat there until about 3:30 and then decided it would be best to just get the heck out of the desert as soon as I could. My destination was the next water cache at Bird Spring Road.

When I take a long mid-day break I often feel good as new. I was able to walk very fast at first. Then the trail got really steep and I was back to walking very slowly in the sandy whoopdeedoos again, but when they were over I still felt good enough to walk at top speed toward the cache. Fortunately the sun was relenting and a nice breeze was keeping me cool.

I made it to Bird Spring cache at about 6:30, still making my 20+ quota for the day despite my long 3 hour break in the shade. I camped at the cache and a couple others camped there, too. It was windy so I decided not to set up my tent. I don't know why I have always set up my tent, but I learned that if I sleep outside under the stars in a breeze the wind whips up my sleeping quilt into a huge froth of down that is super toasty warm. I slept that way next to a juniper bush and a Joshua tree. I cut the tips off the Joshua tree spines so I wouldn't keep poking myself. Sorry Mr. Tree. The desert was really pretty at dusk and again at dawn and in the middle of the night there were a million stars. The Milky Way was amazing.

In the morning, June 8, I set out at 6am for a big climb out of the desert again. The trail looked like it would be really steep but it wasn't too terrible. I got back into the pinyon pine forest again and felt happy to have shade again.

I met a group of 5 hikers going southbound. One of them, Squatch, makes documentaries about the PCT which you can buy from his Web site I have seen his number 3 and I enjoyed it. He didn't film me as he walked by, however.

As I was enjoying the pinyon pines I suddenly found myself out in full sun exposure again, walking on a road through forest that was burned to a crisp. It stayed burned to a crisp for several hours in the hottest part of the day. I started to get mad. Section F is almost all desert because as far as I'm concerned, if the trees are gone it feels just the same.

When I reached the end of the burn zone, at the very first tree, I collapsed on my sleeping pad and took a nap. After a while I heard footsteps and saw a couple hiking the PCT with their dog Hank. Hank went immediately to the second tree and built a little nest and collapsed. The couple also stopped in the shade to rest. We are all amazed at how often we hike in burned forest and how little regrowth we see other than chaparral-type scrub. It's very sad.

As we all rested and chatted, Steve showed up and he rested in the shade, too. All that was left of the hike this day was a 4 mile downhill stretch to Walker Pass where there is a campground and a highway where you can get a ride to Onyx or Lake Isabella if you want. So we had time to rest.

At 3:30 I felt ready to get going so I put on my pack and headed down the trail. I began to get really thirsty, but the water I had wasn't making me feel quenched. I started getting a headache. I was getting hyponatremia from drinking a lot of plain water and not getting enough salt to replenish what I lose from sweating. All I could think about was getting to the campsite and getting some fresh water and making some lemonade.

When I arrived at the campsite I was quite disappointed that the water spigots were turned off and I had to walk down the highway quite a long distance in the sweltering afternoon sun to a cement cattle trough filled with tulles and mosquito larvae. But it was water and I needed a lot of it. I made two trips, too.

I made my lemonade and probably by the end of the day had consumed 2 or 3 liters either as lemonade, electrolyte drink, soup or just water. I honestly don't know how other PCT hikers have made it through the previous desert parts of the trail. I have been so lucky that it's been cool and breezy. Now in this heat I'm barely able to stay hydrated and safe from the sun. I'm lucky conditions have allowed me to get this far. I don't think I could have made it otherwise. All the other PCT hikers are so much stronger than I am.

I camped at Walker Pass with a lot of the other hikers. Some hikers, like Steve and the couple with the dog were on the trail with me. Others had already been into Onyx or Lake Isabella or even Bakersfield and were camping there in order to get a fresh start in the morning. There was good conversation at the picnic table.

One funny thing that happened is we were sitting at the picnic table when a family pulls up in a car about 30 feet away. They start unpacking things from their car and they are shouting out to each other. You couldn't really hear what they were saying, but we all heard clear as day the word "sandwich". One of the guys says, did you hear that? They're asking us if we'd like a sandwich! And he starting running toward them. Halfway there he realizes what we already know that they aren't talking to us at all and dejectedly he walks back to the table where we all are laughing so hard and this hiker lust for food and trail angels.

The next morning, June 9, I woke up before everyone else, except Hank the dog who had slept with me an hour or so in the night, and headed out. I felt really bad about my troubles with hydration and was feeling like I'm not cut out for this. I was thinking how easy it would be to just hitch a ride to Onyx, take the bus to Bakersfield, catch the Greyhound to Santa Barbara and not be lonely and thirsty anymore. But I forced myself to keep going. Just make it to Lone Pine and see if you can handle the Sierras, I kept thinking.

Up on Mount Jenkins at a plaque I finally had phone service and I called and talked to Tony. It was nice to hear his voice. He got my message from the other day. Because I have been putting in 20+ mile days my schedule of when to mail things is no longer accurate and I realized much too late that if he were to send my bear cannister to Kennedy Meadows by the schedule I'd have to sit there possibly for weeks waiting for it. So I will have to have it sent to Lone Pine instead and hope my Ursack works ok for the bears.

It was nice talking to Tony. I miss him and my birds. He said he was building more stuff for the deck and doing Sierra Club hikes. Oh how easy those used to be!

The trail on this day kicked my butt. It was the hardest day I had yet. I was alone the whole day, bumping into only a couple of section hikers. The trail went way up above 7000' and then, unlike in the rest of Southern California where the trail abandons you to lengthy waterless stretches (which is why there are so many water caches), the trail plunged way down into the 5000s to allow you to visit Joshua Tree Spring.

When I got to the Spring there was a fat, hairy guy in a tent with a little white dog. The man never spoke to me and it looked like he had bad blisters. That's why I think he was probably a section hiker. Too fat, too many bad blisters. His little dog would come around the corner to where I was sitting every now and then and growl at me.

I filled up my bottles and made some lemonade and tried to rest but the bugs were really bad down there. So I loaded up for yet another mid-day slog through the shadeless desert.

The trail went up steeply way back up into nice trees again only to plunge way back down so you could visit some little tiny creeks, little tributaries of Spanish Needle creek. One of them had stream orchids and other flowers blooming all over. I stopped there and filled up more water and washed my feet and dipped my clothes and hat in the water. I felt much better after doing that.

At the second Spanish Needle creek crossing I met a section hiker resting in the shade. He was in awe of us thru-hikers who put in such long days. Or maybe he thought we were nuts. By the end of the day I spent 13 hours hiking only 22 miles and I barely took any breaks. The trail was that arduous. I probably should have rested more but it's all about water sources and trying to get to Kennedy Meadows by this time.

At the end of the day I slept on a saddle between Spanish Needle group and Lamont Peak. I camped alone, my third time this whole trip so far. It was breezy and I slept out under the stars so I could rush out in the morning. I made a feast for dinner, finally cooking something. I've avoided cooking most of the time. I made Top Ramen with fresh onion (a stroke of genius to carry an onion I'm telling you!), tuna and fried onions. I hoped its salty goodness would give me better strength for the next day and hoped the bears wouldn't smell my leftover tuna packet. Oh, but it tasted so good!

In the morning, June 10, I put my stuff away very quickly and very early and headed out at 5:30am. I didn't sleep well because my feet would have these spasms of pain and I just wasn't all that sleepy. You'd think if you walked 20+ miles you'd be tired but I just felt wired all night.

The morning's hike was really nice in pretty forest on the shady side of the mountain downhill all the way. I was so grateful for so much shade that lasted so many hours.

Along the way a group of day-hikers going southbound walked past me. They sure smelled good. I hoped they couldn't smell me.

I met a man named Treebeard who said he saw me camped the previous night so he kept going rather than disturb me. I never heard or saw him. I met him again when we reached the first water source and then he was gone. I rested there briefly with a nice cool lemonade and some poptarts with peanut butter on them.

It was so nice by the little creek but I knew I must be on my way so onward I went, uphill now. The hills in this section, Section G now, are really steep. (Section F ended at Walker Pass.) According to the guide book the trail was going to enter a burn zone and make me walk in it for 14 miles. Ugh.

At about 11am I reached the burn zone. Fortunately there was a breeze most of the time so it wasn't too horrible. The wildflowers blooming were stunning. I took a lot of pictures. The fragrance was almost overpowering. It was nice to smell something other than myself for a change.

As the day wore on I began to get very tired and really wanted to rest. There wasn't a single tree alive and not a single tree regenerating. Desertification is what this is. I could find no place to rest in the shade.

I came around a bend into a ravine and met a couple of hikers who have done the PCT before and they were eating lunch. I stopped with them for a while and rested and ate, too. I spilled jelly all over my pants and tried to lick it up again. Cleanliness is pretty relative by now.

The shadelessness was doing me no good so after they left I kept going, too. They were quick hikers and disappeared from sight quite quickly.

I kept going through this burn zone, all down hill now, over clinking little rocks that were hard to walk on. I felt so tired and so sleepy I was almost falling asleep while walking. I tried to sing the song I had been composing over the last couple of days to stay busy.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, I reached the next water source where there was a huge burned tree that actually provided a little shade as well as a cavity for a beehive. I rested there for a while with the couple I had just met and another couple, the man wearing a kilt. I think men look cool in kilts.

At the water source I filled up a little bit of water and soaked my shirt and hat again and set off for more shadeless, burned, desertified trail. The couple who had hiked the PCT before said they remember very little of the trail from their hike in 1996 but one thing they have noticed is how much of the trail is burned. It's rare to go a day without walking through a burn zone. It's not so bad in chaparral country since it's supposed to burn and comes back quickly, but the pine forest isn't coming back. None of us saw any pine seedlings and the fire happened eight years ago.

Soon the four of them were off and after I visited the water I was off, too. Everybody was excited to be reaching the Kern River in 5 more miles. I figured that I had 5 more miles left in me. So I set off hoping to reach the river.

When I got to the river I thought that there would be just one encounter with it and that there would be a campsite right there and we'd all camp together and have some hiker chit-chat before bed. But instead the trail when along the river for quite some distance and despite looking for other people I never saw them. The trail went away from the river and I got nervous that I was walking past the river without taking a chance to take a dip. I told myself it's probably just going over the rise and will reach it again, and I was right.

I saw some inviting places to stop, the sun was starting to go behind the mountain, and I kept telling myself as soon as I find the others I'll be able to go swimming.

Soon the trail started veering very much away from the river. I stopped to check my guide book. I didn't have the page with me so I looked through the other pages I keep buried in my pack and could not find it. Of all the pages to lose I'd lose this one that I really wanted! I checked the map. It did look like the trail went away from the river one time, then back, then away permanently. Oh no! I was going to miss the river if I kept going.

So I turned back and went back to a little campsite I could see down by the river. Another night alone but at least I could cool off in the water. I put my stuff down and jumped in the river with all my clothes on. The water wasn't really cold at all. I splashed around and got the stink off, the dirt off and the jelly off.

I took off all my clothes and hung them in a bush and put on my silk long underwear. I cooked a fabulous concoction of mashed potatoes, tuna, fresh onion and Asiago cheese cubes (another stroke of genius is fresh, hard cheese). Oh man it was so good!

I decided to get in my tent and relax a little. I wrote in my journal a little, then put my head down. Next thing I know I'm asleep and the sun is still up. I slept well until morning. Not until dawn like all the other days but until full-on, sun is up, birds are singing morning. I guess 20+ mile days for so many days in a row had taken their toll. I had walked over 25 miles just to get to this river.

Now, June 11, I had only 4 or less miles to walk to Kennedy Meadows, which I did quite easily well before the store opened at 9am.

I'm going to take some days off, watch the progress of the latest wildfire to burn the PCT to a crisp, and just relax and enjoy a little hiker culture.

I have worried these past few days that I'm not cut out for this. The High Sierras will probably kill me. I am going to have to say good-bye to all these super strong, super fit hikers who put in their 20+ mile days and then play frisbee in the afternoon and start doing 15+ mile days instead. I hope my quilt continues to keep me warm and that my wimpy mesh shoes will work out ok. I hope not having a bear can until Lone Pine will work out ok, too. Most of all, I hope I can continue, that I don't give up. It's lonely out here most of the time and hard work.

Here's the song I wrote. It's sung to the tune of Old Dan Tucker. Piper is my trail name and not all of what's in this song is true.

Old Lady Piper is a fine old bird
Washed her face by an old cow turd (I was down stream you dummy!)
Combs her hair about once a week
Drinks from a cattle trough because there ain't no creek

Save a root beer float for Old Bird Piper
She's too late to get trail magic
Float's are gone, trail angels drivin'
Old Bird Piper just stands there cryin'

Old Bird Piper has a heavy pack
3/4 of her body weight in water on her back
Walks 1 mile an hour up steep mountain passes
At night she fills her sleeping bag with noxious gases

Save a bowl of ice cream for Old Bird Piper
She's too late to get trail magic
Ice cream's gone, trail angels drivin'
Old Bird Piper just stands there cryin'

Old Bird Piper dreams of carrot cake
Of burgers and fries and lemonade
She hopes in time these dreams will fade
'Cause ramen and mashed potatoes is all she made

Save some taco salad for Old Bird Piper
She went to bed without her supper
Morning came, no pancakes fryin'
Old Bird Piper hit the trail cryin'

(The "down stream you dummy" is a reference to Wild Bill who claimed to bathe down stream from Barrel Spring, which was a cattle trough, not a creek; the floats and ice cream were trail magic some people got; the taco salad, which I had, and pancakes, which I didn't have, were served at the Casa de Luna.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

It's windy in Tehachapi

Go figure it would be windy as heck in Tehachapi. The wind is so strong most of us can barely walk.

The PCT Guide book breaks the hike into sections and the one I've been doing, from Agua Dulce to Highway 58 near Tehachapi is Big Bad Section E. I have one thing to say about Section E: Skip it. Really. It's just a big giant object lesson.

First thing you do is hike a couple of days westward in chaparral, weaving in and out of ravines just below the crest, completely in character with all the other days so far. Then just when the trail is really pretty, you get your first object lesson about the Mighty Tejon Ranch and how mean they are not to let you stay in the pretty mountains. You weave in and out of their property line for an eternity, heading eastward now.

Then you get your next object lesson hiking eastward through the Mojave desert. You beat your feet to a pulp on the concrete-covered aqueduct to teach you a lesson about the mighty L.A. Deptartment of Water and Power. They deign to provide you one little drinking faucet amply marked as unfit to drink next to a bridge where you can sit and enjoy the shade.

When I came through the Mojave section on June 2 it was windy and in the mid-80s. Not too bad. I hauled a lot of water out of Hikertown so I only needed to refill one liter at the faucet. I had to fill my cooking pot with the water and filter it into my bottle.

Under the bridge, which is over Cottonwood creek, a creek with one cottonwood and no creek, the wind roared and in the shade it was quite cold. People were wearing their down jackets and getting in their sleeping bags. This wasn't the deathly hot desert section we all had imagined.

Almost all of us had made the 19 mile trek from Hikertown to the bridge by noon and sat under the bridge napping and resting until about 3 or 4pm. Then we continued. The trail went uphill after the bridge. I could tell that at one time the hills, which were dotted with juniper and joshua trees, had been covered with carpets of wildflowers.

The guidebook says section E is uncharacteristic, but I found it to be quite in character. As we ascended out of the desert I could see two canyons: Pretty canyon on the left with oaks and living things and ugly canyon on the right with no living things and obviously burned to a crisp. Naturally the PCT chose the ugly, lifeless, waterless canyon.

The going was extremely difficult as the wind roared in gusts that nearly knocked me over. I could barely keep upright and go forward. Sometimes I couldn't even go forward. This was the beginning of our third object lesson.

As the shadows lengthened I grew nervous I'd never find a sheltered place to sleep. That is also in character for the PCT. The PCT is a narrow strip of trail clinging to a cliff offering you as much as 20 miles or more of cliff-side, waterless, camping-less hiking. Miss a place to lay your head and you could be out of luck for a long time.

I passed a juniper tree where somebody had sought shelter from the blasting wind under the branches. Unfortunately there was no more shelter under the tree, so I risked pressing on, hoping for better shelter somewhere else.

The trail went higher on the ridge and the wind grew fiercer. I tried leaning into the wind and letting go of all my weight to see if it would hold me. It almost did even with 4 liters of water in my pack.

I crested a ridge and there before my eyes was Tylerhorse canyon. It was dark, deep and shady and had a trickle of a creek running through it. Yay! I was going to be alright.

I got down there and Steve was filling his water. He was going to press on. I was not going to take any chances. I set up my sleeping quilt under a fallen, burned oak tree. It seemed like the most sheltered spot in this relatively calm canyon. Relatively. Instead of hurricane force wind it was merely strong enough to blow sand in your eyes.

I didn't dare cook anything so I made a peanut butter and jelly burrito. I battened down all my stuff so it wouldn't blow away and got into my quilt to keep it down.

As I rested, watching the sky grow darker, other hikers arrived. All of them gave out a Woot! when they saw this canyon. All were relieved to find shelter for the night.

I propped up my things to form some kind of windbreak and went to sleep. I had to sleep inside my quilt all the way, with it over my head. It was way too warm for that. Every gust of wind seemed to puff up the down even more and make it hotter. I have hope now that maybe my quilt will be warm enough after all. The trick is to puff it up really high.

I woke up every now and then in the night, checked on the stars and wiped the sand out of my eyes and off my teeth. I slept pretty well.

In the morning, June 3, I packed up early like I like to do and hit the trail. The trail was in awful condition in this burn area. They have marked it well but I really believe they should have marked a new route and abandoned the current route. People should not be hiking there. It's like hiking the upper Potrero trail right now only a little bit worse. Burned with nothing but falling sand to walk laterally across.

But I had no knowledge of an alternate route so I had to take what the PCT offered. It was slow going and the wind was still roaring. Eventually it calmed and I felt relieved I could deal with the burned out, motocross-ruined trail without being blown off a cliff.

There were no footprints ahead of me so when I saw fresh footprints I knew they were Steve's. When I saw them going the wrong way I worried about him. I never saw his footprints again for the rest of the day. I learned later he went way far the wrong way and ended up completely off the trail and hitchhiked into town.

After a long time the trail climbed out of the burn zone into pinyon pine forest. Pinyon pine forest is some of my favorite forest and I've been disappointed we haven't spent more time in it. The trail hiked along up and down, criss-crossed by motorcycle tracks. There were motorcycle tracks in the trail as well.

Then the trail continued with object lesson number 3, which was to take you by the windmills of Tehachapi where the wind roared in 65mph blasts that almost dashed me against rocks as if I was flotsom in the surf. The trail went in and out of ravines, took a little dip to show off the PCT's famous switchbacks that lose almost no elevation, then climbed back up to the windmills again, all the while letting me gaze longingly at a pretty canyon below where there was a creek and no wind.

Eventually I dropped down to the creek and the trailhead on Willow Springs Road or something like that. I didn't know what road it was and thought it was Highway 58, the end of Section E. There was a log book where I duly noted my least-favored status of Section E.

I walked up to the road where there was a parking area just as a man pulled up in a car. He checked on some water bottles behind a rock and said he maintains the water here at the parking lot and offers rides to Mojave. I said I was going to Tehachapi, not Mojave. He said he'd take me.

He was a retired Narcotics officer in the LA Sheriff's department. He bragged about his daughter and recommended places to eat in Tehachapi. He drove me all the way to the Post Office which was located way too far out of town. There should be a law that post offices must be located in the downtown area not miles out of town.

He waited for me and then took me to the Appleshed so I could eat. He refused my offer of money for gas and dropped me off. It's wonderful when you meet nice people like that.

I ate a lunch there and then walked down the main street, stopping at the Chamber of Commerce to see what they recommended as far as cheap motels. They said to go to the Santa Fe which was a block away and very cheap. It's run by a nice Indian family. Sadly there are no Indian restaurants in town.

I got a room for two nights. In the morning, June 4, I ate breakfast at Kelcy's and then at 9AM realized I better get to my shopping. Things always take longer than you think. I resupplied in K-Mart and at Albertsons, spending $180! Oh my! I did buy a lot of sundries, but still. That's a heck of a lot of food! There's about a 9-day stretch with no resupply opportunities so I had to buy a lot and also get the little extras I'm running out of.

I carefully measured my food. I decided to add a second breakfast to my meals. My dinners are pretty small because I'm usually pretty tired when I get to camp and a peanut butter and jelly burrito is usually quite enough. I realized as I looked at my food that most of it isn't even dehydrated. I eat things like:

Breakfast: Grapenuts with powdered milk, handfull of nuts and handfull of dried fruit
2nd Breakfast: Poptarts
Lunch (if you can call it that because I eat it over the course of the whole day): 2 or 3 Clif or other similar bars and a small snack bag of cashews and dried fruit, sometimes fresh fruit, peanut butter and jelly burrito, cookies
Dinner: Ramen or mashed potatos with dried veggies if I feel like cooking, peanut butter and jelly burrito or crackers and peanut butter if I don't.

Well, my time on the free Internet at K-Mart is running out. I have one more night in Tehachapi and then it's out into the wind storm and into a 30 mile waterless section. Ugh. If I ever do a long trail again it'll have water and not just be walking along a lateral trail near a ridge with nowhere to lay your head to rest.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Last time I wrote I had arrived at Agua Dulce. I stayed one night there at the Saufley's. Everybody stays there at least one night.

Donna Saufley does your laundry. She does it like everything there is done. First you go to the pavilion where a couple of racks of loaner clothes are available. You select your outfit then pick up a towel and a laundry basket. You write your name on a post-it and stick it to your laundry basket. Then you go to the shower.

You take your shower, put all your clothes in the basket, put on your loaner clothes and set your laundry in the garage. A few hours or so later, your clean clothes are ready for you on the porch of the guest house.

Everything works like that. It's very organized and makes for a smooth stay. One thing that's truly amazing is that there are loaner cars and you can drive them in to Los Angeles to do some shopping. That is what I did. I went to REI in Northridge and bought a new backpack, an Osprey Aura 65. I can truly say now with a few days of hiking with 5 liters in my pack that it's a miracle. It weighs a pound or two more than my old pack but it makes the 5 liters of water feel like the day before a resupply. Ultralight doesn't always work.

While at the Saufley's I read some of my mail. Looks like I caused a stir on the PCT-L list when I said I didn't have rain gear to endure the weather in Wrightwood. People were calling me a neophyte and stupid for not having proper equipment. One of those people was Mrs. Saufley. I felt a little uncomfortable being there. In my defense, I did have something for rain, just not for heavy rain and certainly not for a combination of rain and snow so deep I couldn't set up my tent. Nobody expected that storm, not even the people of Wrightwood who had to save their newly planted gardens from the unexpected winter weather.

So after a night at the Saufley's I headed out of Agua Dulce with a man named Graybeard. You have to walk the roads for several miles to get back to trail tread again. The roads are the trail. The actual trail began on a hot chaparral mountain called Sierra Pelona. The climbing was not very pleasant but not terribly steep. I started around noon so by about 5pm or so I reached a nice spot with a little spring and that's where I camped. It is called Bear Spring.

I filtered water from the spring and cooked some dinner. Graybeard is like a lot of the other hikers. He brings only chemicals and no filter so if the water doesn't look clean or isn't deep enough to fill a bottle he either waits for better water or relies upon a water cache. A lot of hikers rely on the caches. I'm starting to feel like I'm walking in a sea of discarded plastic bottles. The caches are beginning to get on my nerves. I'm sure I'll see less of them soon.

There is a little meadow there so I set up my tent in the long grass. The ground was a bit lumpy but soft and the lumps seemed to be in strategic places for good sleep. My quilt kept me warm enough and I slept well.

In the morning (May 30 and exactly one month now since I began), Graybeard took off quickly. I lingered in the nice meadow and ate my breakfast. Then I sauntered on my way. The next stop would be the Casa de Luna.

I felt great with my new pack and was hiking in the groove. I met Graybeard sitting on the trail resting. He started hiking with me again. The trail was still in chaparral and the weather was nice.

At some point in the morning we came upon a little nook carved into the chaparral filled with lawn chairs and skeletons and pink flamingos and a blow-up monkey and several bottles of water and a big cooler that had once held cactus coolers, beer and soda. I took the last 7-Up and sat on the lounge chair. What a wonderful place!

I rested there with Graybeard and two other guys. We took pictures of the place and enjoyed our rest. The spot is called the Oasis and is stocked by the Andersons, who own Casa de Luna.

Some time around noon we reached the Green Valley ranger station and had lunch with Beautiful and Gorgeous. I really wanted to go to Casa de Luna to see what it was all about, so Graybeard came with me. We made a feeble attempt at hitchhiking and failed and ended up walking the 2 miles to the place.

Casa de Luna is the Anderson's house. It is hard to describe. There were a bunch of chairs around a burning fire and a futon in the driveway. People were lounging and napping. There were coolers in the driveway full of beer, soda and water. There was a lot of junk all around, much of it interesting, and backpacks everywhere. Most people seemed to be in a state of either intoxication or its aftermath. The house was in a shady place under oak trees in this tiny little town and on the garage door was a huge cloth banner with the words Casa de Luna and everybody hiking the PCT this year had signed it.

Out in back you could walk for at least 1/4 mile into a forest of manzanita and select a site to sleep. I selected one next to a large wooly blue curls plant in full bloom. It reminded me some of Figueroa Mountain campground.

At night Mrs. Anderson fixed taco salad. Dozens of hikers appeared to eat it and seconds and thirds. After dinner, which was served pretty late at 8:30, I went to bed.

In the middle of the night I was awakened by the sound of people hooting and cheering. Much debauchery was happening. I later saw pictures of oil wrestling. I wished I hadn't seen them. I think I have scars on my retinas now.

In the morning tequila bottles and beer cans were strewn about and I pretty much figured the pancake breakfast would really be lunch so I packed up and headed out for a stop at the little Heart and Soul cafe.

At the cafe I ordered a soy cafe latte and a donut. The latte was very good. As I was chatting with the owner, Graybeard and Data appeared saying that Chuck Norris (or is it Chuck Snorris, I'm not sure) would be giving rides to the trailhead. So when he showed up we all jumped in and back to the trail we went.

It was now May 31. I set out as quickly as possible. I felt like hiking alone without chit-chat. The trail was again in chaparral, kind of uninspiring but not too hot so it was nice. I could see Lake Hughes in the distance but opted not to make a stop.

By mid-day it was pretty hot so I stopped at a place with pine trees that sort of looked like a campground in the making and made a call to Tony just to chat. I reached him and we had a nice chat. He's buying more lumber.

I continued on and the trail went on forever in and out of little ravines paralelling a road the entire time. At one spot I passed a bunch of piles of cut branches and trees each with a piece of plastic sheeting tangled within the pile. How strange.

After I passed that, the trail turned suddenly very pretty. I walked through shade cast by the prettiest oak trees and big cone spruce trees. Every one of my favorite wildflowers seemed to be in bloom. It was the prettiest trail yet.

After 20 miles I stopped at Sawmill Camp. A few others stopped as well. Data, 1000 Canadian Snow Kittens (Darren's new trail name) and Lil' Wrangler. Also Kirsten and Adrien who now go by Danger Prone and Hawkeye, and Steve who Tony met the other day.

It seemed really warm even though it was windy. My quilt was very toasty. It really does seem to work best with the straps around the pad rather than around your body. The little micro-breezes don't get in that way. I also experimented with my tent and added a couple of guy lines to the back so I can pull it away from me. When it's windy the back bows in toward my face. Now it'll stay away from me, hopefully.

In the morning, June 1, I got up very early and got started at 6AM, which I like to do. Nobody else was up yet. I headed down the trail. It continued to be as pretty as yesterday but there were less flowers. I could tell there had been carpets of them earlier in the season in some places.

At one spot there supposedly was a water source so I went to check it out. Despite being in a 30 mile no-water section, there was indeed plenty of water in the source. I filtered a liter grateful I am smart enough to carry a filter. You can get water out of difficult places with a filter. The source was a fiberglass tank designed so that small animals can get inside to get water. The surface is rough so they won't slip and drown. I'm not a small animal but my filter could reach.

The trail descended out of the pretty forest. After I rested at a nice picnic table along the way, the trail dropped into the San Andreas Rift Valley on Pine Mountain Road. I passed a sag pond, which is a pond formed in the fault in low-lying spots. There were red-winged blackbirds and ducks enjoying the pond. Shortly afterwards was a little creek. I stopped and washed my two shirts and my pits and brushed my hair and teeth. It's hard to waste water in a 30 mile no-water zone on teeth brushing so it felt nice to do it. Now I was ready for town.

But first I had to endure trail that the book described as "annoying". Annoying is right. The trail seemed to be designed by the Tejon Ranch specifically to say to you "We are the Mighty Tejon Ranch and that'll teach you to tread anywhere near our private property." The trail went in and out and up and down headed in the opposite direction I had been plodding all morning. What a waste! I should have chosen a dirt road out of Bear Camp and just walked straight down rather than endure all that.

The trail deposited me at the Pear Blossom Highway in the Antelope Valley next to a place called Hikertown. You can come here and get shade and water and even sleep over and use the Internet if you like. A bunch of people are here thinking they will sleep a little in the afternoon and then start night-hiking across the valley. I'm feeling peer pressure to do the same, but this really was my final goal for the day. 20 miles and my feet are pretty tired. I did 20 miles yesterday, too, and it's 40 to Tehachapi so that's two more 20 mile days. I think that's good enough for me.

I got a ride to Gil's Country Store down the street where there were meager provisions, unless you need Mexican spices and then there were plenty. I bought a few things. I'm not very good at estimating my food needs and I was sort of running out of the little extras like dried fruit. I bought raisins in a Mexican spice bag. I guess they're a Mexican spice. I also bought some food to eat right away. I drank a cranberry juice, a naked juice, ate a bag of sunchips and half a chicken pesto sandwhich plus a cup of ice cream that Data begged me to help him eat. That ought to tide me over until tomorrow. Or until I eat the other half of that sandwhich.

Well, that's my update for today. Next I'll make my way across the Antelope Valley along the LA Aqueduct toward Tehachapi. I hope I can get a ride into Tehachapi. It's too far to walk.

Here's a poem I wrote in honor of reaching (and passing) the 500 mile mark:

There's puss in my sock, there's puss in my sock
It came from the blister with the big blood clot
There's puss in my shoe, there's puss in my shoe
500 miles, what more can I do?

In the morning the trail tread tilted to the left
From 2pm to supper time it tilted to the right
My pinky toes look like meat, it gives me quite a fright
If I get more hungry, I might just take a bite

With 2100 miles left to go it's useless to complain
My feet will have to learn to endure the endless pain
Onward I go, my pinky toes too
500 miles, what more can I do?