I am on a time limit on this PC so I apologize for the briefness and lack of photographic eye candy. Hopefully I can swing by the library later for a photo-centric post.
I want to start off by saying that this hike is the hardest thing I have ever done. I've bike toured 2,000 miles, lived in a foreign country for 4 months, been through 5 years of engineering school and worked some fairly extreme conditions. None of that compared to the pounding of your feet for hours upon hours, ignoring the biting pain of blisters and the dull throb of sore muscles and tendons during the third or fourth day out of town. Often times there are ten, twelve or twenty miles between water sources in this dry year after last years dry year. I worry about water constantly. Too much and I waste time and energy carrying extra weight, not to mention sweat. Too little and my suffering increases but more important is the fear. This is 80% mental after all and fear is usually groundless and only serves to aid in preparation. The planning and the physical make up the other 20% as I have seen physically well planned people falter with bad attitudes, but the physically unprepared thrive with the right mindsets.
While this may be the hardest thing I've done/am doing, nothing has been as gratifying, intensely beautiful or fulfilling as seeing the trail wind its way up a mountain side, walking that trail and looking back at where you were that morning some ten or fifteen miles behind. Knowing that you made it another day through the desert, in the sand and heat. My blisters have healed and larger shoes are making a huge difference. My legs seem to be toughening up for the most part and my belief in my ability to walking another 2,400 miles (that's approximately 95 marathons for those of you keeping track) only increases with the miles. There are serious low points when I have to sit and motivate myself forward up yet another climb in the roasting sun but the high points always blow them out of the water.
Philosophizing aside, here's a quick summary of the past section: the 18 miles out of Warner Springs to a trail angels house at mile 177 rolled by before 2 pm but my IT band at my left knee was not in agreement with the success my feet were able to achieve. I slept in "the shack" on the most comfortable army cot I have had the pleasure of encountering after a dinner of ten fried tacos and a side of raw cabbage. The next morning things seemed to be working more smoothly and I pushed out 25 miles to Paradise Cafe, the only water source in a twenty or so mile stretch. I ate a huge prime rib steak, two sides of potatoes and half another hikers burger with a tall glass of Fat Tire beer to wash it down. The meal made sleeping on the Cafes concrete patio next to the highway much more bearable.
I didn't know it yet but the next morning would be the toughest of the trip. The fatigue of the previous day combined with multiple 1,000+ foot climbs and the two trips to get off trail water, each a mile long with a 200 to 500 foot drop made me footsore and tired leading up to "the climb". Almost all of the uphill up to this point has been along wonderfully graded trail, switchbacking its way up hills, ridges and mountains. I barely slow down for a 5% grade and ten miles later a two thousand foot climb is under my belt without much worry. "The climb" was different. Sixteen miles into the day (really nineteen miles with the off trail water and road walk from the cafe) I hit this wall of a climb, the steepest most switch backed stretch of trail yet. It took over three hours to travel less than five miles, a staggeringly slowand arduous pace compared to my usual 2.5 to 3 mph pace. I sweated my way up the ridge, having wisely taken a siesta until almost 4:30. Thankfully the trail switched sides and much of the climb remained in the shade. Still, I cannot explain the mental toll it takes to go from flying up over hills passing the less physically fit to struggling for breath at 7,000 feet up a twenty or thirty percent grade. All of this knowing the next water awaited ten dry miles away and knowing that I would have to camp and carry an additional two liters because of it. Eventually though, like all things, it ended.
The top of the ridge gave way to incredible views of Palm Springs to the east and desert, mountains and more desert to the west. The trail wound its way around knife edge ridges finding the only walkable route, often with two hundred foot drops adjacent to the barely eighteen inch wide trail. Huge rocky peaks passed by overhead and eventually I made it to a site with enough flat ground to sleep on. I arrived at 7:30, ate and slept. The next morning I was on trail by 6:30, not even twelve hours after the previous day with just one and a half liter for the remaining five miles. My knee throbbed but I pushed to the next water source five miles away with the friends I had made on the trail passing patches of snow (which made for great slushies in our almost empty water bottles). We congregated by the stream, elated that the climb and the dry stretch was over. After a long drink and a longer break the final six hundred foot climb was over and then a 1,600 foot drop down to a trailhead to talk some day hikers into driving us into town. Yesterday I rented a cabin with three friends, ate the biggest burrito of my life and iced my knee as much as I could. Today I'll sleep at a campground and push on further tomorrow.
96 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing to Big Bear City ahead.