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.

4 Replies to “Day 2.16-20: Magic Trail”

  1. Great work John! I see you might be hitting the summit of Baden Powell later today, sounds like a perfect day for the adventure! We definitely miss you, and look forward to connecting further on up the road! Trail magic seems to really be flowing this time 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So many folks bringing joy to others! And, John, what fantastic vistas you’ve captured. I would have trouble moving on; I’d just like to savor each one! Bless Katrina!


  3. Keegan, Cole and I discussed your encounter and decided you must have rolled a 20 on your Reflex Save against the rattler. Excellent dexterity!


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