Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Big Bear to Wrightwood - Mile 369!

300 miles down! The 400 mark should pass under my feet two days from now!  Sadly this library internet connection/ancient PC is not up to the task of uploading the latest set of photos so that's all you get until I I have a better connection this Monday in Agua Dulche. 

I ended up taking a 3 day break at the hostel in Big Bear Lake.  The manager offered me a job there (more like a free place to stay for a few hours of work a day) so I have a backup plan if some future injury leads to a lengthier recovery period.  The IT band still felt a bit funny heading on that day but after massaging a knot out of whatever muscle that runs adjacent to it the pain went away.  Of course, as soon as I recovered from that the side of my knee bone started getting store.  I think it's Iliotibial band friction syndrome, which another long distance hiker said he gets near the start of every hike and eventually goes away.  I did 5 miles yesterday and plan on only doing 5 more tonight to give it some time off. 

That aside, I felt sluggish leaving big bear and did between 20 and 23 miles a day on mostly flat to rolling terrian, descending through the alpine forests outside Big Bear around 8,000 feet to the low desert at around 3,000 feet.  Most of the trail wasn't especailly inspiring until we reached Deep Creek canyon.  About midway through the canyon is a series of natural hot springs with man made walls around them forming large pools of varying water temperatures.  I pushed myself to get 22 miles in so I could spend the night there and have a good soak.  My feet, knees, blisters ankles all hurt but once I got into the water it felt amazing! The hot springs can be reached either by the PCT or a 1.5 mile hike from a parking lot, so it does attract people.  It's also a nudist hang out but only about a quarter of the other people (and some of the hikers!) there were nude but that didn't bother me.  The book that most through hikers use for information about the trail called Yogi's guide really derides the place but everyone that actually stopped there loved it.  Some hikers seemed either perturbed or embarassed and walked right through.  I guess they were expecting a totally private PCT-hiker only environment? 

On Sunday, two days later, I rolled into Cajon Pass around 11 am, the location of an infamous MacDonalds 0.4 miles off the trail.  Everyone goes there, despite claims of hating the place; hiker hunger is just too strong.  I honestly haven't eaten at one in five or ten years but a double quarter pounder, large milkshake, salad (need those veggies...) and some chicken mcnuggets really hit the spot.  I walked in with one friend, we met another we knew already there and about four more walked in over the course of the next hour or so.  The prospect of a 6,500 foot climb in front of me loomed ahead and when offered a ride up trail to a trail angels house (the Saufleys) at Agua Dulce I couldn't say no.  The offer came from a former through hiker of 2010 that was between trail crews and headed north on a slow schedule.  The friend I walked in with, Guino, and I both went with him.  He claimed that there was a daily shuttle from the Saufelys to an REI near Cajon Pass so I assumed an easy ride back.  In reality, they go to a different REI in the opposite direction.  I ended up talking (or yogi'ing) my way into a ride from a guy at the Mexican place I had dinner at in Agua Dulche.  It cost $20 for his gas but saved me a sketchy hitch hike on Memorial Day for the hour long ride back to Cajon Pass.  The guy used to be a parapalegic from some disease but had regained most of his motor functions except for his fingers and the ability to walk without a cane.  You meet so many characters on this trail it never amazes me. 

I got to Cajon Pass at 8 am the next morning, met a new through hiker named Skip already eating at Micky D's.  We ate together and headed out up the hill.  Skip and I hiked together for longer than I've hiked with anyone else on the trail, our paces were just very similar.  We came across an amazing water cache 6 miles in with couches and chairs.  Unknown to us at the time, two section hikers higher up on the mountain were watching us.  We caught up to them half way up the next ridge and got some fresh pineapple and sodas from their friend who was picking them up.  Around the corner was another water cache to break up the dry climb.  Skip and I pressed on until about 4:30.  He had already hiked in 6 miles to get to the McDonalds so that was the end of his day.  I made a bowl of ramen with him and pushed on to a campground at the height of the ridge getting there just before 7:00.  I counted it up and that day figured I hiked almost 7,000 vertical feet over 22.5 miles!  I think that's the most single day climbing of the entire trip and represents over 2% of the vertical gain of the entire PCT. 

When I got to the campground I saw three other hikers I already knew; Glide On who hiked the trail in 1979, and two lesbian girls Ninja Turtle and Raven Lady who I had been bouncing around with since before Idylwild.  When I saw the two girls I yelled out "Breakfast at Micky D's and dinner with my LGBTs!", they got a kick out of that.  I thought I might see them there since they had signed the hiker registers at the water caches earlier on the trail. 

The next day I felt like crap and was happy to only have 5 miles to get to an easy hitch hike on Route 2 to Wrightwood.  I didn't even have to stick my thumb out because a 93 year old man was just getting back from his morning walk at Inspiration Point (where highway 2 crosses the PCT the first time).  He drove me into town while telling some stories of his own hiking adventures.  He said one Memorial Day he went to hike Mount Balden-Powell (which I'll hit tomorrow) and woke up to over a foot of snow on his sleeping bag!  It's interesting because most of my rides and off trail help seem to come from either retiree's or people close to retirement that have led interesting lives.  I think it takes a few types of people to offer rides and help to strangers and most of those types make for pretty amazing people.

Most town days consist of picking up groceries and any other random things which doesn't take long.  This town I had my bounce box shipped to (thanks Mom and Dad!) so I had a lot more on my plate.  The bounce box is actually a reused deicing bucket filled with random things I only need intermittently and food that I can send up trail where grocery stores are lacking.   This means long term planning is involved for where the box is going and what food it will contain.  Some of the random stuff includes my camera battery charger and the backflushing thing for my filter which were both utilized at the bar.  I also had to figure out where to send the box and buy some groceries for it and the next stretch.  Fortunately another hiker, Slider, who I helped get rid of about 5 lbs of extra crap he didn't need in Big Bear wanted to buy me two beers as a thanks.  We ended up at a bar (my spot point) where I could spread all my crap out on some picnic tables, go grocery shopping and mail the box up trail to Independence without having to lug my pack around all over town.  Since we made the outside of the bar our home base other hikers naturally gravitated there and pretty soon there were eight of us hanging out.  The bartender Paul offered Slider, another hiker Chris and myself a place to stay in his house for the night.  We accepted and eventually learned that Paul used to be a CA state representative and later a big wig in the music industry.  He drove us around to his amazing house at the top of a ridge with a view of Las Vegas in the distance.  We cooked him a huge BBQ dinner as thanks and shot pool in his living room the rest of the night.  I actually did really well, must have been the Young's Double Chocolate Stout I was sipping on. 

Paul is an amazing guy but kept going off on long political diatribes against coporations, the government, utility companys, Wal-Mart, etc.  I agreed with most of what he said but not to the extreme extent of it.  Honestly though I'm not out here for that kind of crap but it was a small price to pay for an otherwise great night. 

Today I hung out at a coffee shop and will soon be leaving for the trail.  I'm planning an easy 5 miles to a water source and campground, then I can do 20 mile days all the way to Agua Dulche.  My brother Chris might meet me out there for 60 miles or so which will either be great fun or terrible.  Keeping my fingers crossed!

Look for another post this Monday!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A quick detour!

If you're looking at my spot points on the map and wondering how I teleported over 100 miles in a day, I used a car!  Rather than stay in Cajon Pass with a 6,000 foot climb looming ahead, surrounded by highways and freight trains for the night, I took a ride to the Saufley's in Agua Dulche for the night. I'll be hitching back to where I left off to keep my hike continuous but it's pretty cool to time travel forward through where I'll be walking after Wrightwood.  I'm also seeing the rear end of "the herd" or the large concentration of hikers about a week ahead of me.  I plan to stay at least a few days behind them until we're closer to Kennedy Medows, the start of the Sierra.  By then people will be more spread out and the risk of camping with 20 people at a time will be much lower. 

Enjoy your memorial day weekends!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Photo post! Idyllwild to Big Bear

Photos for you all!  Taking a third day here at the hostel.  My knee is stiff after a massage yesterday, hope to be moving along tomorrow morning.

After sleeping a few miles before Fuller Ridge I woke up to fog in the valleys.

Trail passed through small rockslides, big kudos to the trail builders for making it passable with nothing more than hand tools.

Looking back on "the climb"

A view from Fuller Ridge just before the start of over 6,000 feet of descent.

Evening light on pine


I was sleeping up there that morning!

Trail angels ahead and the San Jacinto range behind.  Those lines in the middle are windmills.

Ziggy and the Bears - How many hikers can you fit in one backyard? 

Someone I work with said he was jealous over my hike.  I responded that he wouldn't be jealous when he sees a picture of my feet after two weeks.  Here you are Alistair!  That's thread through my heel blister (for drainage), a few new ones on my big toe and some old dead skin from past blisters on my pinky and middle toe.

Long climb up the first Canyon after Ziggy and the Bears, more windmills on the horizon.

From the top of the second canyon, Mission Creek in the distance. Is there water down there??

Mission Creek!  Literally the most water on trail we've seen on the entire trip.

Third Canyon with the San Jacinto range in the background! 

More canyons! When will it end!

Behind the brush is another creek (name escapes me), we wound our way up this canyon and crossed the Creek for almost ten miles.

This metamorphic rock is harder than the sedimentary rock, leaving steep canyon sides with oasis' of trees, grass and shrubs to grow along the shaded creek below.

Climbing out of the last canyon with San Jacinto in the distance yet again.  Hard to imagine I slept on that ridge just a few nights earlier.

Back to typical high desert.

These guys bravely defended their sun spot but wouldn't let me pet them.  Maybe I should carry lettuce?

Easy rolling hills ahead!

Climbing above the desert we entered a dense pine forest at around 8,000 feet.

Trickling water from a spring, my favorite site, sound and smell.

Descent down a long valley into Big Bear ahead. 

Pancake challenge at the Grizzly Cafe in Big Bear Lake, that was plate 1 of 2 - six dinner plate sized pancakes in total.

Waving the white flag of surrender.  I made it halfway plus a bite...  Only 1 person has ever eaten all of it.  The remainder weighed about 3 or 4 pounds.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Idylwild to Big Bear, or Everything Hurts

After a relaxing day off in Idylwild, I stuck the thumb out and hitched the 3 miles up to the Devils Slide trail; the 1600 foot climb back to where I departed the PCT two days earlier.  A 70 year old retired man gave me a lift and we had an enlightening conversation comparing quitting your job to hike 2,600 miles (me) to starting your own timber business and staying with it for forty years (him).  We said our farewells at the trailhead and I started the climb, pausing to talk to several day hikers on the way up (and encouraging them to pick up hitch hiking PCT'ers).  Soon the knee was bothering me and I pushed on to the next water source a hilly six miles further, still gasping for the thin air above 8,000 feet.  The trail for the 10,800 foot Mount San Jacinto stared at me in the face but my knee throbbed and I turned in for the night early knowing there are 20 dry miles ahead.  There's always a next time for the mountain, it isn't going anywhere.  The next day started out with large ups and downs until reaching Fuller Ridge, almost sixteen miles of continuous downhill dropping over 6,000 feet to add onto the ~1,500 feet I had already descended that morning.  As the crow flies it is just under 5 miles to the bottom of the ridge, but the winding switchbacks of the PCT triple that distance.  Near the bottom I passed the 200 mile marker!

Often the trail would wind seemingly in the wrong direction, heading for miles away from where the end would be.  My knees held up fine on the downhill but my insoles started to flake under my heels from the wear and near the bottom I developed a heel blister on my left foot faster than I could duct tape the insoles. 20 miles into the day I was at the first water source, a drinking fountain that made filling bottles with piss warm water in the wind a test of patience.  Next to the fountain a sign reads something like "This water is brought to you by the generosity of the such and such water company, treat it as you would any other PCT water source" seemingly to mock you as the wind blows the water away from your narrow bottle mouth, unlike any other PCT water source. 

The map showed just 5 miles of downhill and flat to a trail angels house called Ziggy and The Bears. Reality showed 5 miles of the most intense wind I have felt on the trip while walking in soft sand.  The windmill farm nearby and the narrow stretch of flat desert between two 9,000 foot mountain ranges did give me a hint that there might be some wind ahead... I made it 4 miles to a highway underpass and came across empty coolers and a poster with hand written thanks from previous hikers for all the sodas and fruit.  Cars zoomed ahead in constant noise and no one else was in sight.  It was a low point.  Still, in another mile signs appeared reading "Trail angels ahead!" and "Almost there! Keep going!".  I came into the fenced in yard and was greeted by half a dozen hikers and the two hosts, subbing temporarily for Ziggy and the Bear.  To my surprise another five or ten hikers rolled in as the afternoon turned to evening. I took a shower, had a foot bath and gorged myself on fruit, salad and ice cream provided by the trail angels (plus the ramen noodles I brought..). 

The next morning I was out by 7, my heel blister getting worse despite the cut out piece of shoe insole I had taped around it.  The trail took me up two canyons and down to the largest natural water source in over 200 PCT miles; an eighteen inch wide stream six inches deep.  At this point I borrowed a needle and thread from a friend, lanced my heel blister and left thread through it to keep the drainage flowing.  I could barely walk the pain was so bad.  My calf was worn out completely from favoring the heel on the downhills and my ankle could barely move on its own.  At this point I could turn back to a nature conservancy two miles behind to heal or push on forward fifty miles to the next resupply.  I didn't have an extra days food in my back to sit and wait. Backwards felt like giving up, and forwards felt like pain.  I chose forwards.

 The trail cut a confusing path across the sandy braided river valley and up and over two more seemingly endless canyons to another smaller river valley with a narrow, spring-fed stream winding through it.  After a few hours I couldn't feel my heel blister and was ignoring my ankle.  This time we climbed a steady grade inside the river valley with steep canyon walls on either side for over ten miles.  Occasionally the canyon would narrow and the shade let huge trees and grasslands flourish in the shade and water.  I camped with two friends listening to frogs croak and the flowing stream trickle.  Just as I was starting to believe I had seen all of what southern California desert had to offer this stretch of desert was unlike everything we had seen before.  It was probably my favorite part of the trail. 

The next day we climbed out of the canyon and back above 8,000 feet.  Unlike earlier I felt strong, despite limping on a useless left ankle.  I passed a new group of people on a steady incline making introductions here and there.  The trail soon descended back to just over 7,000 feet and after  a small climb 21 miles into the day I camped near a Hollywood animal training facility.  A caged Bengal tiger whined and growled until just after dark a hundred yards from where I slept.  The cages looked tiny and I felt for the animals. Other hikers reported seeing bears but I only spotted the tiger and a baboon as I passed.

The last sixteen miles passed under my limping ankle over flat to rolling terrain through a shaded pine forest and back to open high desert.  I talked my way into a ride to the Big Bear hostel with a married couple dropping off a hiker.  Yesterday I tried my hand at a pancake challenge but only made it halfway before quitting.  About 3 or 4 pounds of pancakes remained...  Today will be zero day number 2 to let my IT band (which bothered me on and off) relax and sore muscles heal.  I may or may not leave tomorrow.  We'll see.

Photos coming soon!

Update: The intertubes are clogged here at the hostel so I'll be trying again in 6-8 hours or so. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Photo Post! Warner Springs to Idyllwyld

The intertubes have cleared here at the library so here is some eye candy but don't forget to read the post below for some poorly written narrative accompaniment:

The PCT is not often signed but obvious if you pay attention, much to the despair of many AT veterans (sorry Alison).

Leaving Warner Springs with two Australians in front.  One later rolled his ankle and had to come off trail, not sure for how long. 

Pretty sure I walked over all of that.

Trail angel spot turned hiker bum hang out at mile 177.  Great water and even better fried tacos!

THE SHACK! Probably my best nights sleep on the trail so far.

Future hiker paradise in the works.

A French guy is trying to take two donkeys on the PCT up to Oregon, cross over to the CDT and then down to Peru.  Unfortunately the one on my right is lame and they're taking a week rest.

There are gun tottin' rednecks in southern CA too!

More amazing scenery, I think that mountain in the center far off in the distance is San Jacinto (~10,800 ft) which I may or may not summit tomorrow.  It's an option off the PCT.  Look closely in the upper left of the photo and you can see the trail.


Simply stunning scenery, every day is a visual overload.

No water here.
I would have been in some dire straights without 2L of this water in the 100 degree heat that day.

\Sometimes you ascend to high enough altitude that the terrain switches to pine forest.

That's palm spring sin the distance. There's another set of mountains on the horizon that didn't show up too.

Two other hikers happy to have finished "the climb".

We walked over that...

...and that.

Snowball fight followed by slushies!

The town of Idyllwyld with the ridge I have to hike back up to in the background.  It's only 1600 feet up...

The amazing library I'm posting this from right now!

That's all for now, check back in four or five days and see the post below for some explanation.