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. 

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