Day 2.29-35: Learning To Fly

Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows
Mile 566.4 – Mile 702.4

“A soul in tension that’s learning to fly, condition grounded but determined to try” –Pink Floyd

The segment of the PCT between Tehachapi and Kennedy Meadows presents hikers with a final exam of sorts before entering the Sierra. The trail runs some 136 miles through remote hills and desert with no nearby towns, scant network coverage, and the scarcest water of the entire trail. Most people plan to tackle it without resupply which means carrying a week’s worth of food for the first time.

Many calories crammed here before the test

So it was with a heavy pack that I prepared to leave the comforts of Tehachapi. As my luck would have it, I ran into MudFoots, SafetyChute, YourHighness, and MilkShake all gorging themselves at the hotel’s free breakfast buffet. MudFoots was giving MilkShake a ride back to the trailhead and offered me a ride too. I powered through an embarrassing amount of food and we were soon on our way back to the trail.
I was not looking forward to the climb that starts immediately after the trail crosses Highway 58 but falling into step with MilkShake, we proceeded to have the most uplifting conversation! She graduated from Missouri State two years ago, had never been further west than Texas, works with troubled teens, and hiked the Appalachian Trail southbound last year. Between all the shared stories and her way of speaking that reminded me of my Kayla Bear, the uphill failed to register as hardship.

Tilting at more windmills

Itend to eat on the go so after MilkShake stopped for lunch, I was back to my lonesome for the walk to first water source, Golden Oak Spring roughly 12 miles ahead.
As I have started to do whenever possible, I loaded up with extra water for my camp shower and continued on several more miles before stopping for the night amid yet another wind farm. By now, making and breaking camp have become second nature and I enjoy the efficient routine of it all. An economy of motion with everything in its place and all tasks completed in turn satisfies me. Having everything I need to be safe and comfortable (and nothing more) provides a sense of well-being. Life has become very simple.

Tent life selfie by request

Easy to remember these

Clouds obscured most of the next morning and I was challenged again to remember the trail I had walked less than a year ago. I recalled bits and pieces, the 600 mile mark, where Santa’s Helper was doing magic, the stream where I collected water, where I camped, but last year’s heat must have addled me a bit because other parts were vague at best. The relative cool weather has held and I was able to cruise through what can be very challenging piece of trail though I went a good 24+ hours without seeing another soul.

Peaceful solitudeThe only instruction, follow these

A month in to my hike I have also noticed the sun rising earlier each day. My practice of rising when the sky begins to lighten means I’m walking earlier and consequently longer each day. If nothing else, it makes for good progress.
One of the last desert stretches starts with a trail register at a place called Kelso Road. I remember it well because it was there I started tracking SilverFox last year. As an early riser I am often the first to sign in the morning but suddenly there was someone named SilverFox signed there before me and a fresh set of footprints leading away. It took me a day and a half to track him down finally at the aptly named Walker Pass where he was munching gleaned bakery items someone had left for hikers. “Let me see your shoes… SilverFox I presume?” (Shout out to Campbell River, BC!)

Not much shade or water to be found

This year I wandered into a deserted Walker Pass Campground that thankfully held plenty of cached water and less exciting, a loaf of days old bread. SkunkBear and Sashay soon joined me and just as I regaling them with the tale of last year’s delicious stale donuts, a white pickup truck rolled up and we heard a friendly hail of “Anyone hungry?”

Carlos, Ann, me, and Mike

Carlos, Ann, and Mike had driven up from Bakersfield and set a new high bar when it comes to trail magic. Dropping the truck’s tailgate, a flood of deliciousness came forth- coolers full of soda and beer, chips, Mike’s homemade smoked beef with all the fixings, baked potatoes, cantaloupe, rice crispie treats, candy- it was heaven on wheels. I enjoyed visiting with them and answering questions about the trail. Carlos and Ann were making noises like they too may someday make their way to Campo for a trek north. Should that happen, they can be assured their large karmic credit balance with the hiking community will serve them well. They were anxious to meet more hikers and I assured them more were on their way. Lady MeowMeow, GoodKarma and two more angels from nearby Lake Isabella soon joined and the party was well underway with more hikers arriving by the time I said my goodbyes around noon. I had about 50 miles left in the exam, about two and a half days, that included a fair bit of up and down before I could declare Southern California complete.

Carry water! (it says below this sign)

The rewards of climbing
You can’t hear them but the wildflowers were cheering

Suffice it to say the trail asked its questions and I answered as best I could. Armed with notes cribbed from last year, Momma’s whispered help, the encouragement of the wildflowers, and a terrific run of weather, it almost felt liked cheating. I flew through the last days and landed in Kennedy Meadows.

A proctor for my examEnd of the beginning!

I plan to take a zero day to prepare and plan my return to the Sierra. After last year’s disappointment, I am super stoked to have another chance (and ‘I’m not throwin’ away my shot!’)If all goes well, the next leg will be a ~10 day jaunt, about 190 miles without resupply, and include a summit of Mount Whitney. I won’t be able to post anything for maybe two weeks so don’t be alarmed at a lack of updates. The ‘Where’s Johnny’ tracking will continue to provide real-time progress.
The Sierra are calling and I must go!

Day 2.24-28: Followed Footsteps

Agua Dulce – Tehachapi
Mile 454.4 – Mile 566.4

“I roamed and rambled, I followed my footsteps, to the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts” – Woody Guthrie, This Land is Your Land

Unable to finish the veritable mountain of fish and chips served at the Sweetwater Bar and Grill, I threw on my pack and turned right up the street. The PCT runs smack through the center of Agua Dulce so technically, anyone who has strolled the sidewalk there can call themselves a PCT section hiker! I attempted a pace below the sweat threshold but my nice clean clothes were soon rehydrating in the warmth of late afternoon. I moseyed only about 5 miles up into the hills before camping on a small bluff overlooking a distant farm.

Following footsteps in the clouds

I was surprised to wake the next morning to moderate condensation on all my things. As the sun was preparing to makes its appearance, I set off further uphill noticing a bank of clouds rolling up the valley toward me. Little did I know then, the sun’s appearance would be canceled for the day.
I soon became engulfed in cloudy mist blowing up and over the hills and spent the day trying to remember the trail from last year. With visibility never more than a few hundred feet, all context was lost save for the familiar track of footprints and trekking pole marks leading ever onward. The day became surreal with only a few familiar landmarks flashing briefly from the clouds. A particular spring here, a shovel signpost there, the road crossing where Joel brought me doughnuts last year, all else was obscured by weather that felt more like hiking in Washington. It never really rained but enough moisture blew about to dampen everything except my spirits. I finished the day enrobed in water and had to quickly pitch camp before losing body heat.

A memorable signpost from the Boy Scouts

The next morning was a dreary exercise in donning wet clothes and stuffing wet everything else into my sodden pack. I wandered through the unseasonable cloud bank most of the second day too, fortunately with less moisture content, and passed the 500 mile mark some time after noon. Woot! Only as I was descending in late afternoon out of the hills did the sun break through and provide a chance to dry my things. As the last practical stop before the 10 mile drop down into Antelope Valley, my camp spot proved popular with Voon, Professor, Taiwan Bob, Ping, Irene, and a few others grabbing whatever flat spot they could find.

Momma’s a 500 miler!

Camping below the roiling clouds

Mother’s Day dawned in brilliant blue majesty with hundred mile views out into the Mojave Desert from our hillside camp. An easy walk down soon had me back in HikerTown, a quirky, dusty stop for most hikers, full of derelict vehicles and miniaturized facades of an Old West town. Conventional wisdom says cool your heels in HikerTown through the heat of the day and only then set off for the 17 mile waterless jaunt along the California Aqueduct. Most people attempt it only at night. Indeed I remember last year stripped to my skivvies laid out behind the ‘saloon’ trying to beat the heat before setting off some time after 6pm.

Roaming and rambling

But did I mention it was Mothers Day? This time around it was in the mid 70’s under a bright blue sky…at noon…with a tailwind. The invitation from above did not fail to register and I set out just after noon. I somehow missed the same turn I missed last year, though in broad daylight this time, but already wary, was quickly able to course correct. It turns out the sign there has gone for a wander of its own. In any case, I arrived at the Cottonwood Creek Bridge (and more importantly the faucet tapping the aqueduct) before the sun had set. I pitched my tent, took my camp shower, made dinner, and enjoyed my providential evening.

The armies of Joshua have the technology surrounded

Beautiful Tylerhorse Canyon

Benign weather only enhances the privilege I feel for being out here. The pleasant contrast with last year’s extreme heat and wind made the climb up through the giant wind farm a relative joy. I smiled and shook my head as I passed the low scrub juniper bush I had huddled under last year for its scant shade. At the most unlikely mile 549.5 way-station- chairs, water, shade, fresh fruit(!), all seemingly in the middle of nowhere, I met up with another group of hikers. MilkShake, Mantis, ChillBill, Bohica and his son Mustang (14 years old!) had been hiking together since Warner Springs. MilkShake, who hiked the Appalachian Trail last) mentioned she had hiker friends waiting for her at the road crossing 8 miles ahead.

Looking east towards Mojave and Edwards Air Force Base

Profuse wildflowers blooming

Sure enough, when we got there MudFoots, SafetyChute, and YourHighness were there set up with hot dogs, doughnuts, sodas, and my favorite, cold beer. Note, these were not trail angels. These were current thru hikers that have already made it to Kennedy Meadows at mile 702 and who had backtracked to support the community. They are taking some time out to allow the Sierra to melt out and having fun doing it. Somewhere in the clouds I had also enjoyed a beer with Yankee, a CPA from Boston and also a current thru hiker, who had already made it over Forrester Pass and was taking two weeks to allow more snow to melt before resuming. He had visited Las Vegas, hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and was now back doing trail magic for his fellow hikers. I love how the trail’s bounty folds back on itself. Should you ever doubt the essential goodness of humanity, I’d suggest try hiking.

SafetyChute, Bohica, MudFoots, Macro, and MilkShake doing and receiving magic

Momma already knows the way home

A short 8 miles through yet another wind farm saw me to the junction with Highway 58 leading to Tehachapi. I walked the last few miles with Yoda, a guide from Flagstaff, AZ who has been waiting 35 years for his chance at the PCT. We compared notes and laughed about my ice cube story from last year. What a difference a year makes!
Today marks the end on my first 4 weeks and I’m celebrating with laundry, a shower, fresh food, and cotton sheets in beautiful Tehachapi, CA. Cheers!

My Ultimate Angel

In loving memory of Patricia Rose Betz, August 1, 1942 – December 29, 2017

Still on the job

With her new vantage and clout among the other angels, Momma has eased my way this year. A sprinkle of trail magic here, a dash of cool weather there, I can’t imagine a better beginning. She doesn’t even need to worry the GPS tracking, she need just look down. 😇

So here’s to Momma and all the other fabulous mothers in my life: Katrina, Beth, Kathryn, Ellen, Caroline, Karen, Joanne, Lisa, Robin, Annie, Jen, Heather, Liz, Sonjia, Sue, Madeleine, Bev, Chris, Heidi, MaryJo, Michelle, Suzanne, Beth, Linda, and mothers everywhere.

May the many blessings of this day be upon you as you have been upon the world.

With love,


Day 2.21-23: Like a Killer in the Sun

Wrightwood to Agua Dulce
Mile 369.3 Mile 454.4

Definitely a high point of the trail

The Angeles Crest section of the PCT starts spectacularly with a summit of Mt Baden Powell within the first 6 miles or so after leaving Wrightwood. The steep uphill climb, about 3000 feet in 4 miles, required all my best tricks including my secret weapon, Jolly Ranchers! I keep a pocketful handy for whenever I need a little juice to get up the hill. It works remarkably well and I’ve coined a new verb; ‘to jollyrancher’, to use a hard candy boost in difficult situations. Used in a sentence, ‘I jollyranchered my way up Mt Baden Powell.’


I was rewarded with sweeping views and while on the summit, I heard a loud whooshing that turned out to be a glider soaring directly overhead. The pilot’s quiet command of the mountain updrafts treated this dirt bound human to a wonderous spectacle of freedom. I hope I caught some of it in 360 degree video but won’t know for months.

Wally Waldron Tree- 1501 years old now

At the bottom of the trail spur leading to the summit, near a tree purported to be 1500 years old, there’s a sign that says 9200 feet, High Point of the Angeles Crest Trail. I know that to be literally true and I remember now that it is also figuaratively so. I recall being grumpy about the next 70 miles last year. I will say what it lacks in scenery it makes up for in sheer mileage.

I love me some Little Jimmy

Which could underpin my affection for a little place called Little Jimmy Spring. Water bubbles out if the mountain, clear, cold, and unexpected in an otherwise uniform landscape. Grabbing a couple extra liters because I camped nearby, I initiated a new ritual that I’ve come to love. Aftet sweating through your clothes day after day without laundry, a camp shower tops the list for pleasurable ways to end the day. I have a 4L water bladder with a small flip spout that, when hung in a tree, produces a glorious stream to rinse away the day’s grime. With apologies to the poor woodland creatures who fail to avert their eyes as well as any wayward hikers, this great white beast will continue the practice every chance he gets.

Bliss at day’s end

I have been super fortunate with the weather. I know it can be much, much hotter and even so, hiking long days under bright sun still drains me. Using my umbrella, snacks, and determination I hammered out the miles. People continue to ask ‘why did you start over from the beginning?!’ and I think I have a better answer now. Say you want to climb Mt Everest but only get to Camp 2 on your first attempt. Trying again does not mean flying a helicopter into Camp 2 and resuming the climb. So too I feel like I am trekking back to basecamp including the drudgery miles that some folks simply skip. If you want the summit, you gotta do the trek. By the way, the word is that the Sierra are already actively thawing and I can’t wait to return!

Look Easton! Young rattlesnake!

Lots of this

But also some of this

After a brief respite at the noisy Acton KOA, I wandered into Agua Dulce, home of Hiker Heaven. Along the way the PCT winds through Vasquez Rocks, the backdrop for many a Western movie. Hiker Heaven operates as an oasis for hikers offering showers, laundry, mail service, and camping in the middle of not much. I was thrilled to pick up my second resupply box complete with treats and sweet note from my sisters, nieces, and nephew. Y’all are the best and I am blessed by your generosity. Thank you! 😍

Anybody got any dimes?

The best resupply of all

Day 2.16-20: Magic Trail

Big Bear to Wrightwood
Mile 266.1- Mile 369.3

Snow? What snow?

After marching north for more than 250 miles, the PCT swings west at Big Bear for the next ~200 miles. After taking a fortuitous day’s rest, I set out on a spectacular Thursday morning under bright blue skies and crisp fresh air. The snow had all melted away during my day off and left the forest feeling vibrant and new.

Joshua trees standing sentinel over distant desert

After some great views of Big Bear Lake, the trail enters Holcomb Valley and though it begins in tall pine forest, I knew from last year that a burned out section lay just ahead. Resigning myself to walking the fire scar, I was surprised to find magic just around the corner. Unfortunately I did not get her name but there ahead, perched on a stump overlooking the trail, a young woman was happily playing her ukelele. She sang beautifully and enthralled a small crowd of hikers, me included. Her gift of music in the wilderness transformed that burn scar for us all.

Woodland muse

I found and again camped at my secret ‘boulder hill’ spot from last year. Right off the trail, private, with everything save water, it didn’t look like anyone had stayed there since I’d left. I slept well with a bright half moon and stars ablazing above me.

Cool clean water under Deep Creek Bridge

The next day was a long hot day spent mostly down in a canyon following Deep Creek. As I was plodding along lost in my thoughts, a rattlesnake jumped or sprang from where he was sleeping on the slope immediately uphill and left of the trail. When a three foot snake suddenly appears at your feet, things happen fast. I immediately was up on my trekking poles trying to both stop forward motion and get my feet off the ground at the same time. Picture a dog doing the tippy toe dance on its forelegs and you’ll be close. The snake for his part only got off one rattle while trying to avoid being skewered by my trekking poles. He escaped unscathed as did I but it got me thinking. After consulting my ultimate games master, my son Keegan, we agreed that if hiking were a game, there would be a +1mph speed bonus for the next 3 turns following a snake encounter. We’d call it the Rattlesnake Adrenaline Bonus.

Dawn glow over distant mountains

Flower lined trail

I used my bonus to coast into a stop at the famous Deep Creek Hot Springs, unlikely in its location and most welcome in its hot soak followed by refreshing river swim. After finally exiting the canyon, I camped that night on prairie with a distant view of the mountains ahead of me.

Silverwood Lake looks best from afar

Dramatic landscape leading to Cajon Pass

I spent following day walking a tedious path up and around Silverwood Lake before making a beeline for the famous on-trail McDonalds at Cajon Pass. I ordered too much food and drank an inordinate amount of Gatorade but it was bliss.

Table for two at McD’s

56 ounces barely made a dent

The other hikers at McDonalds were abuzz about trail magic 5 miles further ahead. Having already walked ~ 27 miles, even the promise of cold beer failed to motivate me further. I pitched my tent amid the very active nexus of train tracks that crisscross Cajon Pass. Exhaustion and a full belly trumped the trains’ horns and ground shaking passage. I slept surprisingly well!

Looking back at Cajon Pass

Morning cerveza compliments of Chaunce

Much to my delight, free cold beer was still happening when I made it there around 7:30am. That’s a fine way to start a day especially knowing I faced about 5000ft of elevatation over the next 16 miles. Chaunce, a thruhiker from last year, was making this magic happen and even gave me a mammoth bean burrito for later.
My attitude adjustment was no match for the climb up Swarthout Canyon but of course, just as things turned grim, I began to hear kid’s voices. Stopped at an intersection with a dirt road, two local men and their boys had set up more magic. Cold Powerade just when I needed it most. Incredible!

Tom, Jonas, and their boys making magic happen

I reached my destination for the night, a very windy Guffy Campground at 8200ft, and there found some welcome water cached. Just as I was counting my lucky stars, an even more fortunate super nova hit me in the form of a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon handed to me by a guy that was just leaving. It paired well with my burrito dinner. Unbelievable magic!

The best beer in the world (allowing for context)

This morning I scored an easy hitch into Wrightwood from ‘Mrs Scarf’, a woman from Boulder City, NV who is supporting her husband, Scarf, meeting him at points along the trail as he hikes north. She was just dropping him off at the trailhead when I strolled in. I headed to the Evergreen Cafe straight away for hearty breakfast in this most hiker friendly town.

Good morning Wrightwood!

With all my good fortune, the only less than magical thing right now is the guilt I carry for having left Katrina to manage all the details of our life at home while I’m out pursuing an admittedly self-centered and arbitrary goal. It seems highly unfair and all I can do is love her up from afar and thank her. I owe her a debt of gratitude that I am unsure I can repay. Without her in my life, there would be no magic.

Day 2.12-15: Mostly Good Choices

Fuller Ridge – Big Bear
Mile 191.2 – Mile 266.1

The descent from Fuller Ridge down to the crossing beneath Interstate 10 defies comprehension. Starting at an elevation of ~8500 feet, the next 15 miles or so take you down to less than 1200 feet. You can see where you are headed the whole time and it becomes a mental game that benefits from having done it last year. Looking down through the clouds should be a clue. Fortunately I knew enough this year to tackle it early and carry plenty of water.

Always good to see progress

Beware the killer bees

Two thirds of the way down marks mile 200 and though it slipped my mind at the time, it is also home to a particularly fierce nest of bees. The hue and cry within the PCT community, many reports of 20+ stings and frantic runs down the trail, should have made me at least cautious. I chose oblivious instead and passed by unnoticed and unscathed.
After reaching the valley floor and refilling water at the miraculous Snow Creek fountain, I trudged 4 miles through deep sand and strong headwind to reach the otherworldly underpass of I-10. There I met Walkabout Jim who was either camped there or living there. The line between homeless and thru hiker blurs at times. Someone had left cold soda which kept me there longer than I would have stayed otherwise.

Looking back at San Jacinto from Snow Creek

After a quick look back at Mt San Jacinto and whence I came, I set forth. My legs were saying ‘time to camp’ but the wind was saying otherwise as I headed back up into the hills of the San Gorgonio Wilderness. It was almost 5pm when, lo and behold, my pal Stormin Norman appears doing trail magic with his dog Silky. I had met the 82 year old Korean War vet last year in much the same spot. It was great fun taking a load off and catching up with Norman while enjoying cold water and a snack. As we were chatting, another group of hikers walked up apace and Norman bellowed his welcome and invitation. “I‘ve been walking 24 and a half miles!” came the non sequitur from a harried young woman who apparently could not spare the time. I think she misses so much of what makes the PCT experience magical. I for one came away from my visit with Norman sustained by more than food and water.
Stormin Norman!

A beautiful if spare landscape

The start of California Section C starts with a walk up and past the Mesa Wind Farm. It turns out there is a good reason why they chose that location. Good farming! In one of my poorer decisions I chose a camp spot that showed 2 bars of signal on my phone (I wanted to call Katrina) and set my tent into the wind. The trail gods laughed at my folly, cell service died with the sun, and the wind changed direction. Sounding like a freightliner approaching on steel wheels, the wind darn near blew me off the hill and the trains ran all night.

Only 2444.9 to go!

After a less than restful night, there was no reason not to head off early for the long slow climb up Mission Creek. At the Whitewater Preserve I encountered my first sign for Canada ensuring me I was headed the right direction. I climbed slow and steady about 5000 feet over 20 miles to camp just below Mission Springs. I found a great spot to camp, flat and close to water, where I slept snug as a bug.

Trying to avoid being flocked

A last look at distant San Jacinto

Hinting at what was to come, I was surprised to wake up to a light dusting of snow. Having seen the forecast for winter weather I had planned to spend Wednesday night in Big Bear. I walked through moderate hail and snow up high (far better than rain) and somewhere along the line I decided to accelerate my Big Bear schedule to include Tuesday night. It made for a long day but also a great decision. I beat the 8pm winter weather advisory for Big Bear and enjoyed my first bed in 2 weeks. Hot shower, cotton!

No school today!

Peeking out my door this morning at the luxurious Motel 6, it would seem I planned my first zero day wisely. 10% of the way home!