Day 2.36-46: The Three Horsemen

Kennedy Meadows to Vermillion Valley Resort
Mile 702.4 – Mile 878.8

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt, or FUD as we called it in the software industry, loom large when considering any major undertaking. The marketing teams I was involved with would of course never employ such tactics to stymie a competitor but markets react predictably as do the humans that compromise them. Given free rein, these three horsemen of inaction create any number of reasons to not move forward whatever the decision.

So when I declared that I was going to again attempt this 10 day, 176 mile segment through the remote High Sierra with no resupply, my internal FUD stampeded wildly. “This is where you stopped last year. What will the weather be? How about the snowpack? Do you have everything you need? Can you really do this? Do you want to? People died here last year. What if you get hurt? No network access? …” I could continue but you get the idea. My little horsemen produced new protests constantly. When faced with challenges that threaten to daunt and overwhelm, I discovered that simply just doing the next small thing followed by the next hobbles my internal FUD.

Launching point for Southern Sierra

I had no problem spending a relaxing day in Kennedy Meadows hanging out at Grumpy Bear’s, ordering food and drink like a teenage boy (they didn’t even card me!) There were many hikers milling about catching up, telling stories, making plans, swapping FUD, but mostly just enjoying each other’s company. The hiker community ebbs and flows so interestingly and you just never know where or when you will see someone again. For example, I met NoNo sitting at the bar that day at Grumpy Bear’s and saw her next on the summit of Mt Whitney, at 5:30am no less. While I was sitting there catching up and meeting new folks, I watched the UPS guy carry in my big resupply box from my truest angels back home.
“Uh oh”, I thought, the box said it weighed 36 pounds as I casually tried to heft it over from the bartender. To be fair it was not all food that I had to carry. Along with the required bear can were my micro spikes for steep snow, mosquito net, toiletries, yummy home baked banana bread from Anne, and even sweeter notes. Even so, getting everything into my pack proved quite a challenge and resulted in an unwieldy monster I didn’t have the guts to weigh.

Glamour shot of the beast in a meadow

The only thing to do next was shoulder that beast and set off early. I told myself it would only get lighter as I ate my way through all that food. I made good progress those first two days, steadily gaining elevation, and even managing a single bar of cell service at Cottonwood Pass, the one oasis of connectivity I remembered from last year. It would also be my last for the next 8 days.

Chicken Spring Lake

Entering Kings Canyon

Just after Cottonwood Pass, the PCT enters Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park. With names like ‘The Hermit’, ‘The Citadel’, ‘Dragon Peak’, and my favorite ‘Wotan’s Throne’, the austere majesty of the High Sierra makes an indelible impression and passage through feels like a revocable privilege.

Blissful, barefoot crossing of Whitney Creek

On the third day out I made my way to Crabtree Meadows, the launching point for a side attempt to summit Mt Whitney. At 14,495 feet, Mt Whitney’s summit marks the highest point in the lower 48 states. After making camp and trying to sleep well before sundown, it was just barely the next day when I set off around 1 am. Without my food and other unneeded equipment, my pack felt nonexistent as I picked my way up the trail using my headlamp in the clear cold night. Employing more of her clout upstairs, Momma hung me an all but full moon that reflected an ethereal glow off the surrounding snowbound peaks.

Timberline Lake in moonlight

Summit plaque

Completed in 1930 and marking the southern end of the exquisite John Muir Trail (JMT), the remarkable steep trail sports breathtaking exposure that thankfully became more evident only on the way down after sunrise. I arrived at the bitterly cold and windy summit around 5:30 just as the sun was trying to break through the boiling mass of eastern clouds. After some quick photos and shared congratulations with the handful of other hikers, I wasted no time boogieing my way back down before the mountain weather gods noticed interlopers in their midst.

Top of world Momma!

Good morning Whitney

Eastern exposure

Timberline Lake in morning

It made for a very long day but once down, I packed up and set off to see if I could get in position to get over Forester Pass the next morning. Wallace, Wright, and Tyndall Creeks lay between me and that goal. Those names have haunted me since last year when the water levels running dangerously high during my visit. Crossing Wright Creek in particular took me the better part of a day, miles of hiking upstream, and some clenching moments. This year I crossed Wright dry about 50 yards upstream hopping rocks and logs. What a difference a year makes!

Snowless Bighorn Plateau
In what would become the pattern for the days ahead, I got underway at oh dark thirty to go high, get over the pass, and down the other side while the snowpack remained firm.

Forester switchbacks

Top of the PCT

Early morning success

At 13,200, Forester Pass marks the highest point on the PCT and I enjoyed having it all to myself in the dazzling early light. By the way, if you have Facebook, you can see 360 degree photos from both Whitney and Forester here. I now have about 130 video highlights that, fingers crossed, can become a PCT VR experience after I return home. Just like being there without the cold, the walking, the early wake ups,the pack weight, …

Mile 788 was notable because it was the first new mile for me after having exited over Kearsarge Pass last year at mile 787. My FUD rodeo kicked back into high gear and I found it difficult to bypass the known comforts of Bishop, CA for the uncertainty of what lay ahead. The only thing to do was the next thing and that was to get in position for Glen Pass, wake up early and start climbing though this day a surprise awaited me. In another most unlikely coincidence, at the top of Glen Pass, I hear someone call “AppleJack?” Turning, I see Tumnus née Sinatra from last year! He must be all of 20 years old now but I remember him well. He’s from Portland, likes to sing on trail, and was the photographer behind the dubiously popular ‘International Hike Naked Day’ picture last year. We had fun catching up at almost 12,000 feet.

Tumnus and AppleJack reunited

Gorgeous Upper Rae Lake

Trail wisdom suggests rising early, tackling one pass per day, and stopping when postholing in soft snow becomes the only way forward. I am convinced that most anyone exposed to both experiences would quickly forgo an hour of sleep rather than endure even 15 minutes of sinking thigh deep with every step.

Woods Creek Waterslide

Pinchot Pass on day six followed the pattern without incident and given its relative proximity to the next pass, Mather, separated by *only* 10 miles, it appeared that a 2 pass day might be possible. Uh no. I have come to learn that studying maps and actually traveling the miles can contrast greatly.

Ascending Pinchot Pass

Case in point, I was game to see if Mather was doable the same day as Pinchot so I proceeded up into the Upper Basin that guards Mather’s southern approach. Below about 10,000 feet the trail was mostly bare rocks and dirt. The higher I went snowmelt did its best to obey gravity and find the path of least resistance down, that being the trail more often than not. Hiking up in such conditions becomes a tedious side to side rock hop in a futile attempt to keep feet dry. I’m not entirely sure how it happened but I think my boot slipped off a rock at the same time as my trekking pole skittered off its intended spot. The result was a hard tumble into the rocky trail creek. I wrenched my left wrist, bruised a rib, and arose with wet feet and pants. Only close to midday, soft snow ahead halted further progress in any case so I found a last patch of dirt and spent the afternoon in my tent. Conditions were prime for another FUD stampede. As I baked in my tent become reflector oven, there was at least plenty of snow to ice my swelling wrist and plenty of time to consider what to do next. Make dinner emerged as the next thing.

Approaching Mather

Melting patterns on Palisade Lake

I found Mather Pass the most challenging with its long snowbound approach and difficult route finding on the way down back to dirt. The next pass, Muir, seemed to take forever to ascend with several false summits but finally I spied the chimney of the famous Muir Hut appear over the ridge ahead. It took another 7 miles or so of snow travel to get back under 11,000 feet and blessed dry trail.

Muir Hut money shot

After Muir Pass the PCT enters Evolution Valley where resides, not surprisingly, the infamous Evolution Creek which must be crossed. In high water years slogging through an alternate high meadow makes passage possible but I decided to try the ford. Crossing solo is not ideal and that first step took some gumption but it was the next thing and so I went. Thankfully the water never rose much above my knees and soon the ~30 yard crossing lay behind me.

Sometimes blessed technology appears

One of the last challenges was the distance to the last pass, Selden. It was too far to get close after Muir so I decided one more early morning would have to suffice, hoping I’d get over before the snow softened. Walking with a headlamp in the predawn, I somehow missed a trail junction adding an extra 4 miles and killing any early advantage I’d hoped to gain. Grumpy Bear does not begin to describe my mood at that moment. Once again Momma stepped in and ensured a good overnight freeze at about 10,000 feet so I escaped over Selden and down by 11am with only a score of bad postholes.

I had not known it when I set off but day 10 was also June 1st, the opening day for ferry service to Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR). The race was on to make the 4:45 departure but I missed it by about 15 minutes. No matter, I had enough food so I just camped near the dock and spent a pleasant evening knowing that I could catch the 9:45 run the next morning. I luxuriated in a leisurely morning watching early fishermen ply their trade.

Crossing Edison Lake

I will take a day off at VVR, resupply, take a much needed shower with soap and shampoo, do laundry, and plan my next leg. The trio of horsemen don’t have much to say on such days. I am satisfied.

Mission accomplished

Let the horses run as they may, I’m on to the next thing.

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,

AppleJack

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.’

Fuel

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!