Monday, May 27, 2013

Day 41 - Escaping the Casa de Luna Vortex on Memorial Day

Mie 478, Casa de Luna to Mile 498, SawMill Campground

Shockingly, the Wolfpack made it out of Casa de Luna and on to the trail by 9am, and even managed to sneak in one final pancake breakfast! I never wanted to leave but it was time to get back to work. The day's hike was fairly uneventful and we decided to make camp just a few miles shy of mile 500, so we'll have the excitement of our first huge mile marker tomorrow morning! 

Today is Memorial Day, so it was weird to be out hiking the trail and essentially getting "back to work" after our extended play time at Hiker Heaven and Casa de Luna. I thought about what I'd be doing if we were at home, and got a little homesick imagining the lakeside bbqs I was undoubtedly missing. Last Memorial Day we spent the whole day hiking then picnic-ing and relaxing in Redwood Park, and I spent some time reminiscing and thinking about how much has changed in one year. I definitely didn't realize then that I'd be almost 500 miles into the adventure of a lifetime at that point!

We stopped for lunch near a water cache at mile 486 under the shade of some large oak trees and relaxed for a while as Sensai, Starfox and Focus all joined us. After mustering the energy to continue on, we rounded the corner to find Aloha near the road with Dr. Pepper and Doritos to offer. Such a nice guy, and an awesome surprise after just leaving a trail angel's house that morning!

Lastly, it turns out that Dr. Slosh is not ACTUALLY immune to any/all trail problems afterall - he has started having some problems with his feet. With only 2 miles left to camp, he was hobbling so slowly I wasn't sure if we'd make it. We arrived before sunset and set up camp - everyone came to our site to eat and discuss plans for the following days. The rest of the Wolfpack decided to shoot for an early morning wakeup to hustle quickly to Mojave/Tehachapi, our next resupply point. Everyone but us is expecting packages in Tehachapi, whereas we'll need to go to Mojave for our bounce box and resupply from the post office. I promised to set my alarm for 5am, but also knew the chances of turning it off promptly were pretty high. We'll see how various injuries and feet feel in the morning!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Days 37-40, Hiker Heaven, Casa de Luna, and the Generosity of Strangers

Acton KOA, mile 444 to Hiker Heaven, mile 454 to Casa de Luna, mile 478

The horde of hikers occupying the KOA all hit the trail early the following morning in pursuit of Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce, a small ranch town near Lancaster. By 5a.m. most of us were on the trail in hopes of securing a space at the Saufley's house - they set up a camp in their yard for hikers with cots, and rumor had it only have space for 50 hikers each night.

The 10 miles flew by - always a pleasant surprise! We passed the Vazquez rocks which seemed like a Hollywood movie set (pictures to follow) but are just a really awesome geological formation of rocks that we crossed right through. As we entered Agua Dulce, I was surprised by how charming the town was...I'd expected desert desolation, but instead found a thriving small community with a fully stocked grocery store, a tasty bakery, and a local bbq joint with a huge sign welcoming thru-hikers to the community and also advertising all you can eat ribs. We've encountered a fair bit of trail magic to date, but we were in for a treat at Hiker Heaven...not much could have prepared me for what we found when we arrived at the Saufley's! As we arrived, a volunteer (previous thru-hiker) welcomed us to the house and gave us the grand tour - which included our pick of any of the cots set up under cabanas throughout the large and shady backyard, an entire wardrobe of loaner clothes to wear while our laundry was washed and folded for us in the garage, a full service mail station for receiving and sending packages, 5 computers set up for hiker use, a foot bath station equipped with endless supplies of epsom salts, a daily shuttle in a rented 15 passenger van to the REI 60 miles away should hikers need gear or supplies, a trailer with the designated bathroom for showers with every imaginable toiletry at our disposal, a kitchen in the trailer for cooking real food if hikers chose not to go to town, a living room with a TV and DVD/VCR and a library of classic movies, a stable of loaner bicycles to pedal into town a mile away, and to top it all off, a giant fire pit in the middle of the yard with hay bales circles around for socializing in the evening. There's really no end to what these amazing trail angels didn't think of when imagining comforts for hikers on the move. I still can't get over their generosity, particularly when I asked Donna Saufley where I could donate for my night's rest and her response was "All of you hikers are the same - so appreciative and insistent on donations!" I finally found the donation jar tucked in the back of the garage above the laundry machine...which hikers wouldn't find themselves near, naturally, because our laundry is handled for us! Needless to say, she's a pretty special lady.

I would have liked to stay at Hiker Heaven for a couple days, but only 24 miles down the trail lay the promise of good times at Casa de Luna, ANOTHER trail angel house that hosts hikers. The group decided we'd spend two near-0s at Hiker Heaven and then push on to Casa de Luna on the evening of our second day after waiting out the heat. We spent the day relaxing and making new friends, and all went to the bakery the next morning for tasty breakfast treats. The goal was for a late afternoon start but we wound up sitting around a table finishing off a few leftover beers from the night before and playing rotating dj with Chik Chak's portable speaker and our new friend Lunchbox's seemingly endless iTunes library. We FINALLY got going at 9pm - when Lunchbox was able to secure a ride to the trail for us, while simultaneously dubbing the group "the Wolfpack" which he also officially joined. We started our hike by 10, complete with a few group howlings at the moon - things are getting weird out here on the trail! We made it about halfway to the Anderson's (Casa de Luna) before calling it a night and deciding for an early start in the morning.

The following morning we hit the trail early and had a fun, social hike in. The Anderson's stock the Oasis Cache, where we met up with even more new friends (Games, Reason, and Sunset) and found that not only was it stocked with water but also beer! We were all excited for the fun times to come. The hike to Casa de Luna is about 2 miles from the trail, but as we descended, we saw a van sitting waiting to shuttle hikers - what luck! As we pulled up to the house in Green Valley, we saw an entire front yard filled with other hikers decked out in garish Hawaiian shirts drinking beer (this was around 11am), a huge sign that said Casa de Luna, and another sign above the garage that said "Hippie Day Care" the time the van pulled up, everyone had started a slow clap that erupted into a full on cheering reception as we arrived. What an entrance! We were led to the backyard and entered what can only be described as a manzanita forest that seemed to go on forever in every which way, with small camping spots flattened out for campers in every nook and cranny. We were told to throw our stuff wherever looked good to us and then choose from a selection of Hawaiian shirts and join the crowd whenever we wanted. Our time there was more fun than we'd even expected or been promised, as we whiled away a few days eating, drinking, dancing, and lounging. We also caught up with some long lost friends! Marshall and Christian (now Burrito Grande) who we started with were also stuck in the Casa de Luna vortex, and on our second evening, Nancy and Joe from Oakland arrived after a short break from the trail! Brett busted out his best moves on the dance floor, prompting some to rename him DJ Slosh. Sour Cream ate more taco salad than I thought was possible and also promised to try and finish the trail instead of his original plan to head home to Canada after the Sierra. The whole time there was so great - unapologetically gluttonous and wonderful.

It's hard to fully explain the magic of trail angels and their generosity, but I think this is the closest I can was a magical few days and a much needed break from the rigors of the trail. The relaxation and orderly charm of Hiker Heaven followed by the party at Casa de Luna have been some of the best moments of the trip so far. I'm so grateful places like this exist to make our journey a little bit easier and a lot more fun. I feel so rested and recharged - and ready to push on! I can't believe we'll hit mile 500 so soon. Next thing you know I'll be marching towards 1000!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Day 36, May 22 Fun Times at the KOA

Believe it or not, today marked the second day in a row with a successful early wakeup and camp break! We're getting good at this - but I STILL think it's funny to set alarms hours earlier than I ever did when I actually had a job and real responsibilities. It was easy to get out of bed knowing we had a short day ahead of us, if you can call 17 miles short, I suppose!

The poodle bush was worse than yesterday, and the early morning climb made me cranky. I continue to look forward to making instant coffee a regular part of life! The boys hiked ahead and I pulled up the rear. We pumped out the first 9 miles in what seemed like the blink of an eye, and the hiking was really beautiful which made it quite pleasant. We were collecting more water at mile 436 by 10:15am! After a short break, we struck out for the final 8 to the KOA, which wound up being unexpectedly difficult, especially after incorrectly assuming it would all be downhill. It was completely exposed hiking, super feo, and too hot; no surprise I wasn't very happy hiking. Sour Cream scooted ahead - oh, to be 20 again! - while I trudged on in the heat with Dr. Slosh. I needed someone for snake patrol and moral support! After 4 long miles we hit the valley floor where I expected we'd stay, so imagine my surprise when I saw we still had over 1500 miles of climbing in that exposed desert ahead of us. Took some time off under one of the few trees to cool off and enjoy the little shade to be had. Brett handles the heat better than me, and helped with ways to stay cool - including alternating soaking bandanas on my head and around my neck.

Finally, we made it to the KOA around 2 - such a weird, interesting place. I remember camping at KOAs a few times when I was younger, but this one was a bizarre place to be - they are essentially RV camp grounds. I think most people at this one live there at least part time. I couldn't help but wonder why, if you literally have a mobile home, you'd select this particular KOA to decide to park at. As we walked in we passed by what may or may not have been the area's actual dump. There were all kinds of interesting finds we climbed over, including my personal favorite which appeared to be a discarded set from a school play. This KOA is also located directly between a highway and train tracks. Anyway, I digress. The KOA was perfect for us - $5 bucks to camp near the basketball courts on the grass with showers, laundry, a pool, and convenience store. We checked in and bought a popsicle and soda - I felt like I was 10 and it was a hot summer day at camp. I inhaled both and followed it with a handful of Fritos - started feeling guilty until I looked around and took in the scene around me - I was literally the only hiker who hadn't consumed at least one personal pint of ice cream. Apparently hiker hunger is setting in.

Headed back to the hiker area, showered, journaled, ordered pizza, and welcomed Rocky, TRex, Carrot, and ChikChak into camp. Had a great night with them and Tingo. I had some time to think about the journey, and still can't believe we've come almost 450 miles. Before we started, that seemed like an eternity to hike. But now, it doesn't seem that far. Not that it doesn't feel like an accomplishment - it definitely does! But it feels like there is still so much more to see and do. I feel like we've barely hit the tip of the iceberg.

Tomorrow, we'll shoot for an early wakeup 3 days in a row, and hopefully beat the heat on the last 10 miles to Hiker Heaven. We all plan on staying the night there and then take off the following day. I think we're still on track to make it to Mammoth by June 20, and that's one of the things that gets me through the hard times. As feared, loneliness is the hardest obstacle to overcome out here. Well, that and the heat. And ascents that go for miles and miles. etc. etc. etc!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Day 35, May 21 Strong Enough

Mile 403.5, Highway 2 to Mile 427, Mountain Ridge

I'm not sure whether or not this makes me a horrible person, but for once it's nice to know that I wasn't the most pained and broken hiker all day! We were all out of our parking lot campsite by 6:30. Angela had given us a Starbucks Via yesterday at lunchtime, so we gave that a shot today - first trail coffee, and boy did it do wonders! Made a mental note to look for single serve instant coffee at the next stop.

The hiking was fine but we accidentally took a wrong turn and wound up walking about a mile in the wrong direction before realizing. After making it back to the trail, we had a 5 mile climb in the rising heat, but we made it up in record time. Maybe not record time, but it wasn't bad either. Took a quick break at the fire road, which looked directly out to Mt. Wilson. It was so weird to be so close yet so far from Pasadena/Sierra Madre. What I wouldn't have done for a Greek salad and grilled cheese from Corfu and a beer at the Buc!

Spent a lot of the morning avoiding the dreaded poodle dog bush we've been hearing about for seemingly years now. Poodle dog bush grows in areas that have recently burned - it's a really pretty bright green plant with purple flowers, but the hairs on the plant can be irritants to skin. They say only about 1 in 20 people are affected by the bush, but you don't want to test and find out if you're one of the ones who IS allergic. Apparently it's much worse than poison oak. I wore my goofy zip off Columbia pants for the first time to provide extra protection - one hiker mentioend that navigating through the bush was like a movie scene with a museum much to avoid it's like you're trying not to trip the laser wires. I thought that to be a pretty accurate description for our dodging in, out, under and over the bush. Afterwards, we started a walk along the fire road for about 5 miles. Five miles on a jeep road can seem like forever, and I started to get frustrated when I thought it wouldn't ever end. Just when I was about to pull off my pack and take a little break, Sheryl Crow's hit from sometime in the 90s, Strong Enough, hit my iTunes on random. I didn't even know I had that song, but for some reason, it was the perfect tempo/fe-power music to pump me up and motivate me to keep going. Hooray for pump-you-up empowered women/music to keep me going one foot in front of the other. When we finally got to the end of the road walk, there was a fire station with picnic tables and all kinds of other hikers hanging around avoiding the heat. After hiking 16 miles that morning, we were ready to join them!

After lunch, we only had 6 miles to our intended camping spot, a trail camp at mile 424. I told the boys to go ahead without me and that I'd meet them at camp - I didn't want to be holding them up and I assumed they'd beat me by a mile. But, for the first time on this entire trip, I wound up passing other young people! Finally! I've done plenty of flip-flopping with other similarly aged hikers, but this was the first time I actually was hiking significantly faster than others on the trail - I passed a few groups of people. I couldn't believe it, but I also just kept thinking "well, it's about g-d time!" It turned out the supposed camp at mile 424 either didn't exist or we are all blind. We decided to just go ahead and keep on hiking and take the first spot we could find. One of our guidebooks said there'd be another site in about a mile and a half, but we couldn't find THAT one either. It was getting late, and I started getting nervous we'd have to walk all the way to 332 (what that really means is I started getting nervous that all those folks I passed would catch back up!) Luckily, we found a nice flat area at mile 327 and joined Starfox, G-Dub, and Busted for a quick dinner.

Tomorrow, in only 17 miles, we'll all be at the Acton KOA, lounging by the pool, freshly showered, and hanging out before the last 10 miles to Agua Dulce/Hiker Heaven and the official end of Section D. I may finally be getting accustomed to this insane trip!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Day 34, May 20 Another Day, Another Milestone

Mile 384, Little Jimmy Camp to mile 403.5, Highway 2 Crossing

Well, I had the best of intentions when I set the alarm for 5:30. After snoozing and lazing in camp, we didn't leave until after 9. Oh, and that cry that I evaded the day before caught up to me! I just simply didn't want to hike. Obviously, I didn't really have much of an option.

We finally got going and quickly hit the Endangered Species Detour, a reroute of the official trail to accomodate the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog. The new detour loops down, around, up, down, back and forth for TWENTY miles  to avoid the FOUR original PCT miles. We opted for the "old"detour, which is still considered a legal option (legal meaning it's not frowned upon/considered cheating to take the old route). The old reroute includes 3 miles of road walking, but ask this girl if she cares about a nice little detour on a highway and she'll say heck no. We crossed into Buckhorn Camp for lunch at the end of the rouad walked and ran into Rocky, TRex, ChikChak, and Carrot. Unfortunately, they hadn't had the best evening/day since we'd said goodnight yesterday. Carrot got food poisoning, and Rocky got elevation sickness. They decided to call it a day at Buckhorn and hopefully press on in the morning.

We pushed on and caught up to Sour Cream a few miles ahead at a creepy abandoned Boy Scout camp, just after....mile 400! Yep, you read that right, 400 miles! I couldn't believe I've made it so far - I'm proud of that progress in 5 weeks. We all hiked together to mile 404ish. We're basically camping in a day use area parking lot, but we have access to bathrooms (with toilet paper!), picnic tables, and garbage cans! Pure luxury!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Days 32-33, May 18-19 Unexpected Wrightwood Day Zero and Hitting the Trail

Wrightwood Day 0, Leaving Wrightwood mile 369 to Mile 384, Little Jimmy Camp

The plan was to leave Wrightwood Saturday afternoon...but things rarely go according to plan, especially when it comes to leaving town.

Enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the Evergreen Cafe with Rocky, TRex, ChikChak, Sour Cream and Carrot, and then returned to the room to pack up and head out...but then decided we didn't really care to head out! Opted instead to spend a few hours watching Law & Order (we are powerless against this time suck) and take time finishing up final chores, including visiting the library for internet (which proved useless due to a 30 minute time limit that automatically logs you out), the hardware store for stove alcohol, and a few last minute groceries at the local store. I picked up fresh fruit and avocadoes to take on the trail, and kept my fingers crossed that they'd stay good long enough for me to enjoy them.

Team Tingo (Tracy and Ingrid) arrived to town and we went to Mexican with them for dinner and enjoyed a giant margarita with our huge plates of food. Returned home and went to sleep early in hopes of an early departure on Sunday. We were so exhausted we fell asleep with the TV on, and woke up at 6am to the beginnings of a Law & Order marathon - trouble! Once again, our plans were foiled. We didn't check out until we had to at 11. I begrudgingly said my goodbyes to the goofy motel room which I'd already come to love, slanted bathroom walls/floor and all. On the bright side, it was my best town deprature yet - no tears! For now the second time ever, I had to stick up my thumb to get a ride back to the trail. A really sweet woman named Shannon and her daughter Madison turned around for us to drive us all the way back to where they'd just come from. More trail magic - she refused to let me give her gas money - and we were on the trail by around 12:30.

Mt. Baden-Powell loomed ahead - I was tired and not in the groove of hiking yet, so the prospect of climbing to the top wasn't too exciting. At the same time, I grew up not too far from said mountain, and never had the chance to hike to the top - it was fun to feel like the trail was on familiar territory. The first 5 miles loped pretty pleasantly through the trees and meadows, and I popped in my earbuds to enjoy some new music I'd bought in town. Got to the base of Mt. B-P around 3, and started climbing the 4 miles/3,000ft to the top. The trail is a popular hiking area, and all kinds of day hikers were heading down hill at that point. Most of the other girls out there were wearing freshly cleaned Lululemon tops and spandex with full makeup and hair done. I'm sure the looks of me and other thru-hikers were quite the shock to their systems. The dirt just doesn't come out of my clothes anymore...

After hiking through some really beautiful very old gnarled trees, we reached the top, which I imagine has awesome views of the LA area and possibly out to Catalina on a clear day, but the valley was pretty smoggy. We wanted to press on to camp, so snapped a few pictures then headed out. I was feeling good, but poor Dr. Slosh's feet were hurting - he sent me on my way while he attended to his new blisters. I enjoyed the solo hiking and blasted my tunes. Previously, my thoughts when I'm alone tended towards the many other things I could be doing at home - spending time with friends, bbq-ing at the lake, heck, even working! Anything but hiking. But not so today! I just enjoyed the scenery, and the relative lack of internal dialogue was peaceful, if quite unusual. It was officially the first day back on the trail after a town stop that I didn't cry.

Made it to camp around 8 to an awesome reception from the Portland crew and Sour Cream - it made me so happy to have other people happy to see us. Cooked a quick dinner and then headed to sleep in prep for a long day tomorrow.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Days 28-31, May 14-17 Busy Week from Big Bear to Wrightwood

Mile 285 Little Bear Trail Camp to Mile 363, Wrightwood

Well, I didn't do a very good job at journaling this week! Probably because I was too busy flying up/across the trail instead! ;)  Hiked at least 20 miles almost every day, including a full marathon's worth on Thursday.

Hiked pretty much the whole week with Ben (Rocky), Thyra (T-Rex), Angela (ChikChaw), Carrot, and Sour Cream (Dominic) - I hope our schedules continue to sync up, because I really enjoy hiking with them. On Tuesday, we were the first ones awake and out of camp - it was like a scene out of the twilight zone. The morning was easy and we wound up at the beginning of Deep Creek around mile 296, a great shaded spot for eating and playing in the river. As with all great spots on this trail, I never wanted to leave. However, we all pushed on and soon hit mile 300 - yay! As of yet, it's the least miserable I've been at a hundred mile marker - here's hoping this trend continues!

Pushed on to mile 308, where the Deep Creek hot springs are. Didn't expect much due to the comments in the guide book, but boy were we all surprised upon arrival! This place was so amazing! Huge, hot, hot springs! I had carried a bottle of wine in one of my liter bottles from Big Bear, and this provided the perfect opportunity to crack it open and share with the group. It was great to talk to others about the trail - the realities of highs, lows, fears, insecurities, motivations, etc. All of us agreed it was one of the best nights on the trail yet.

After the awesome evening at the hot springs, didn't bother setting an alarm, which proved to be a big mistake! Didn't get hiking til 9, and it was HOT right off the bat. Only hiked about 6 miles before I had to sit down and break for the day at the Mojave River Ford, and those 6 miles were rough. Ben & co. were just finishing lunch when we arrived, so we got to say hi but then immediately jumped into the river and spent the rest of the afternoon there. It was hot even in the shade, so I knew better at this point than to try and hike. Soon enough, Ingrid, Tracy, Vertigo, and Lola showed up and we all wound up literally sitting in the middle of the river with our sunbrellas protecting us from the heat. Quite the scene.

Even at 5, when we started hiking again, it was still hot. We'd realized that we needed to cover 20+ miles/day until Wrightwood in order to get our bounce box and send it back out again by the time the post office closed on Friday afternoon, so some night hiking was in order after our measly 6 miles that morning. But I was so tired we only made it to mile 325 before I had to conk out, right next to the lake literally on the trail. Figured nobody would be coming by before we were awake and hiking again. Got up at 4 the following morning in order to hustle to the famed McDonald's at the I-15 Cajon Pass crossing at mile 342 - known especially for turning vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, ethically minded, you-name-it eaters into craven beasts lusting after a Big Mac. (It's the only thing to think about for 80+ miles...and becomes something of a holy grail.) Gorged at McDonald's - I enjoyed a double quarter pounder, fries, a soda, a few mcchicken nuggets, and a soft serve! I won't even get started on the amount of food others consumed - Dr. Slosh's meal made mine look like a kids meal.

We departed the McD's and pushed on to Wrightwood in the afternoon. The hiking after lunch was pretty awesome. Great views, awesome rocks and critters, and crossed right under (and then over) some train tracks - got up close and personal with freight trains going through the area...very surreal after all the wilderness of the last few weeks. Around mile 347, the trail crosses the San Andreas fault line, which is pretty wild - totally different geologic areas on each side, with a valley separating them. I said a little prayer for no earthquake while I walked across the fault line - I'm sure this is impossible, but I had some paranoia that the fault line would open up and swallow me whole (maybe I'm just getting a little weird now?) After crossing the fault, the trail enters the San Gabriel Mountains, my old stomping grounds! Made it a few miles up the trail (and a few thousand feet) before calling it quits for the night at mile 350 - officially halfway done with desert hiking! Can't wait for mile 700 at Kennedy Meadows, where we'll officially enter the Sierra Nevada.

Another 4am wakeup ensure we'd make it the 17 miles into Wrightwood before the post office closed. So much uphill - almost a vertical mile! But the hiking was beautiful and I felt a little at home hiking there after all these years. Took the Acorn Trail down to the town and found a room at the Pines - they even did our laundry for us! After a few weeks apart, we bumped into Atlas for the first time as well - he seems to be doing well and it was fun to catch up. Ran around quickly to attend to chores, then enjoyed a beer and TV before going out for pizza and open mic night at the local Yodeler. And of course, another beer! I <3 towns...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Day 25-27, May 11-13 Big Bear, Day Zero

Mile 256 to 265 (Big Bear) a Day Zero, to Mile 285

Even though we got up early, we were still the last ones out of camp, and the realization we still had almost 10 miles to get to Big Bear set in quickly.  The last few miles dragged, especially because of some unanticipated climbs. When we were about .25 mi from the trailhead, we saw a big truck with hikers milling around, and veritably sprinted to the road in hopes of a ride to town. Sadly, it was a group of hikers being dropped at the trail from a car headed on in the wrong direction, but still, I think it's the fastest I've moved in a few weeks. So, for the first time in my life, I stood on the side of the road and stuck my thumb up in hopes of a ride to town. Such a weird feeling! I felt so drifting/wandering/homeless. A number of cars passed right by and it actually really did hurt my feelings - like for some reason they assumed I was up to no good. But then I had to remind myself that if I was driving, I probably wouldn't have picked me up either! Finally, got a ride from a sweet lady who dropped us off at Vons in Interlocken, close to where we needed to be. There was a shuttle just in front that was on its way out, but we chased it down and he waited for us and dropped us off right at the hostel, which is run by an ex-marine named Sarge.

All I wanted was a salad, and first order of business was to head next door where I got the most amazing wedge salad of my life...followed by a burger and fries and beer. Heaven. The Giants game was on TV too! Sat around for a few hours and made friends with a few others who offered to let us stay at their home nearby - too bad we'd already paid for the hostel! Went back to the hostel and spent the evening with other hikers which was so fun - we all went to dinner at the pizza place and then we met Ingrid and Tracy for a beer at the pub where they had dinner. After dinner, spent a few hours outside with Gummy Bear, No Mile and a few others - Brett's trail name was upgraded to Dr. Slosh - quite appropriate!

The rest of Big Bear was fairly uneventful. Spent the entire day zero with doing chores, and arranged for an early ride to the trailhead the following morning. Leaving wasn't as difficult as it was to leave Idyllwild, thank goodness! (Maybe I'm getting more accustomed to trail life?) Not that I was excited about going back to the trail, but I didn't dread it! Again - small improvements!

Somehow managed to sneak in 20 miles on Monday and had a nice long lunch with Ben (a long-lost friend from high school - how awesome is that?!), his girlfriend Thyra, and their friend Angela. They are really fun and we wound up at the same campsite with them as well. Cowboy camped for the first time, and I enjoyed watching the stars from my sleeping bag. Even caught a handful of shooting stars. Moments like that are what I love most so far.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Internet Access - Weirdly, Not Easy to Come by in the Middle of Nowhere

(many) More posts coming soon! I have been journaling my heart out on paper every day, but strangely enough, my internet access has been limited (what? shocking! I know!)

Been in Big Bear since Friday afternoon, and I had high hopes for updating this blog during the short layover at the Big Bear Hostel. Unfortunately, town errands have kept me far busier than expected, and time at this ridiculously outdated (read: slow) computer has been at a serious premium, with other wayward hikers scrambling for a chance to update their blogs, facebook, send emails, etc. Hiker midnight is considered 9pm, yet it's almost 11 on a Sunday evening and this is the first chance I've had to even log on!

In short, because I am way too tired to describe much in detail at this point - things are going well! I hitchhiked for the first time in my life on Friday was weird, but I got a ride to town! I hitched in on Highway 18, which is 265 trail miles from the border. For my fellow math geniuses out there, I'm sure you've realized that 265 is exactly 10% of the trail! Pretty exciting. Even more exciting is the prospect that within the next few hundred miles, cactus will become a thing of the past. (There's something really bizarre about seeing cactus at 9,000 feet...just moments after pine and cedar trees!)

Speaking of things of the past...blisters!...are not yet one of them. However, my feet are greatly improved, which has made the journey significantly more enjoyable. I'm still adjusting to the everyday aches, pains, and general feeling of always being a little bit sore, but I'm feeling pretty good and the mileage is increasing. While much of the hiking has been through hot desert, there's been some pretty special places along the way as well, oftentimes in the most unexpected of locations. My favorite secret oasis so far is the Whitewater Preserve just outside of Cabazon. Pictures to come soon, but suffice it to say that I was more than a little surprised to find an actual RIVER! flowing through the middle of the desert. Add to that a designated PCT camping area rife with Alder trees and wading pools to soothe the aching joints, and I was quite literally a happy camper. Pictures to come soon.

More on the journey soon! I have no hesitation saying it's the hardest thing I've ever attempted, but I'm pretty sure it's going to be well worth the effort. I'm optimistic things only get easier from here!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Day 24, May 10 Breakdowns...and Beer

Well, today was interesting! Broke camp nice and early, but I had the hardest time getting going. The climb started last night continued, and I foolishly didn't have any breakfast, so I was pooped - quickly. I could tell that Slosh was stressed ever since we left Idyllwild that we're a little behind schedule and that people we started with are now ahead of us. I felt really bad about being the "anchor" on the team, and hit a low point. I feel like I'm always the weakest link, and that's a tough feeling. I realized I usually stick to things where this isn't the case, because (duh) nobody likes to be the one who can't keep up or isn't as good as everyone else.   Being out here is really challenging because a lot of the people out here have down thru-hikes before, OR are seriously fresh out of college or high school and have boundless energy and seem to feel no pain. I realized that my 22 year old self would run circles around me now, too. Anyway, I had a little bit of a breakdown and felt really sorry for myself for a while. Always productive! (Did I mention my trail name is Smiles? If only they knew...!)

I decided to hike completely alone for a while. I needed some time to myself, and I didn't want to worry about keeping up with anyone. Usually, I'm afraid to hike alone, but it was really nice! Sounds weird, but it was nice to know I could just hike, totally on my own without anyone else around, at my own pace and everything, no comparisons to anyone else. I'm constantly stressed that I'm not going fast enough, so hiking alone was nice because I just didn't worry about anyone but me! My competitive nature has been a challenge to this thru-hiking ordeal - I've taken a little blow to the old ego, methinks. After 20 mile days day after day, it seems like some people are up for doing another 30! I envy them! But spending a day on my own was pretty relaxing. I did everything on my own and still made the same miles that everyone else did - so I can do this too! Instead of thinking about the finish line, I need to start thinking about the day I'm living and hiking in.

The actual hiking wound up being one of the prettiest days so far. We're up in the mountains and the pine trees are so amazing. They smell so fresh and stand so tall and proud. I love them. Near the end of the day, I turned the corner and stumbled upon some Trail Magic! Cold soda, beer, and camp chairs set up in the middle of the trail! I couldn't help snagging a beer - there was one of my favorites, Mirror Pond on ice! We met 2 brothers from Orange County who were interesting guys - they're attmepting to live entirely off the land by forging and hunting. They spent the last year and a half learning, applying for, and collecting all the tags they need to be able to do so. One of them worked at McDonald's to save up for all their permits, etc. They were nice enough to play a few songs for us - they were carrying a canteen as a drum AND a guitar. They treated us to a mini concert! Now, if that's not an awesome end to what started out as a tough day, I don't know what is!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Day 23, May 9 Inching Toward Big Bear

Mile 218.6, Whitewater Preserve to Side of the Mountain at Mile 236.5

As much as I hated to leave the Whitewater Preserve, I didn't have much of an alternative. Boo! Even with a relatively early, we were still almost the last ones out of camp. The first 8 miles were fairly pleasant, and we hiked up the mountain with 3 Cats, a new friend from Maine. He's a neat guy who's lived all over the place and works in land preservation. It was SO hot, so my "sun-brella" made it's first dorky appearance in the heat. It definitely kept me cool. (Side note: so many dorky hiker clothes and accessories actually do prove to be quite useful!) At mile 226, we hit Mission Creek - another oasis in the desert! There was shade and a bubbling creek to soak our feet in before eating a leisurely lunch.

After hitting Mission Creek, the trail heads up a long canyon along Mission Creek to Big Bear. The guide book warned that this section is particularly tough, but it didn't seem too bad to us, which was a nice surprise. Throughout the afternoon, a few thunderstorms blew through dropping quite a bit of rain to cool us off, as well as a decent amount of hail - sunbrellas used as umbrellas ftw!

Pushed on past a campsite that looked pretty welcoming at mile 235, but the trail started going straight up. It was getting late and another storm started raining on us again. Found a great spot right under an oak tree off the side of the trail to camp at and cozied in for the night. The goal was to make it to mile 240, but I just couldn't keep hiking. But, there's less than 30 miles to Big Bear now-so close I can taste it! I already feel the need for some rest and time off for the old feet. After chores, I think we'll probably need to wind up taking a full day zero, though that wasn't in the initial plans. We met someone who hiked last year who remarked that hiking the PCT is as much about what you do when you're NOT hiking as what you do when you are hiking, and I'm inclined to agree - the time off the feet for repair is important! As for now, I'm generally feeling a little better both physically and mentally. Improvements are slow, but improvements nonetheless!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Day 22, May 8 Happiness at Whitewater Preserve

Mile 206, Desert Water Conservancy to Mile 218.6, Whitewater Preserve

After the long day yesterday, the decision not to set alarms was a welcome one in the morning. Woke up around 7:30 bc it started getting so hot in the tent, but didn't get on the trail until 9ish, which may as well be noon in hiker land! Walked about 4 miles through the desert down to I-10, and on the way down there watched a bunch of helicopters flying directly above us working on a power line project, which was fun. A woman named Lake2Lake maintains Trail Magic under the freeway, and we walked up to find ice cold waters and soda, which was amazing! She happened to arrive while we were there, and offered us tangerines and cold canteloupe, which was just indescribably delicious. The first fruit I'd had in a little while! We met some fellow hikers Hummingbird, Faucet and Sharkbite, who all seem really nice - more friends! In the interest of making it to our campsite this evening, we decided to skip Ziggy and the Bear's house - they're trail angels who live right on the trail and offer foot baths, showers, a place to camp, and runs to get fast food from their home. I had a feeling if I went I wouldn't leave (ahem...reference my reluctance to leave the comfort of Idyllwild...for 4 days...)

Moving on from the freeway, we hiked through the Mesa Wind Farm, which was part cool, part creepy. I felt like these giant windmills were about to come to life! There's not a whole lot else going on around Cabazon (other than the outlets and Casino Morongo, both of which I frequented in high school and early years of college.) The rest of the day consisted of climbs and descents through the desert through a few drainages.

Finally hit mile 218.6 around 4pm, and then walked the 0.6 miles to the Ranger Station at the Whitewater Preserve...which is easily the most amazing place I've been on the whole trail! I feel like I'm at a resort - there are multiple wading pools filled with nice cold water that we're welcome to swim around in, and we're all allowed to camp for free under the giant alder trees on the grass in a picnic area. There is also - wait for it - a river!! Like, a legitimate flow of water! In the middle of the desert! (Are you getting how stoked I am?! I am stoked!) When we first arrived, I heard the water flowing and thought it was the auditory equivalent of a mirage - I honestly didn't believe it could be water. Assumed it was maybe the wind, and then turned the corner to see the lovely river trickling over the rocks. So much water! Spent a few lazy afternoon hours exploring this beautiful place and feeling refreshed and happy to be out here - it's been a great stop for the morale. I never want to leave! Who knew this amazing place existed just outside of Cabazon, CA?!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Day 21, May 7 Snowed In!

Mile 183, Strawberry Junction Campsite to Mile 206 Desert Water Conservancy at Base of Mt. San Jacinto

Longest day yet - 23 miles! Overall, a MUCH better day than yesterday! However, we woke up this morning to a snowstorm - the tent was under a few inches of snow, and it was coming down. Miraculously, I managed to stay warm enough while getting ready to head out into the elements, but I wasn't happy to be leaving! Out into the snow we marched forward. The first 5 miles of the day seemed to do nothing but climb up to hike straight back down, and at times the snow was deep enough to make the trail difficult to follow. To make matters worse, the trail was pretty icy in parts, and nobody else had crossed through the trail yet, so it made the progress slower than hoped. It was hard to believe that just a week before, I was overheating not too far from where I was now trekking through snow. After warming up a little, I was able to look around me and appreciate how beautiful the whiteout was - although it was still snowy and grey, it was quite pretty.

Finally the trail descended below the snow level and the sky cleared for some nice vistas overlooking the trail ahead - down to the desert floor in Cabazon. We got moving pretty quickly and covered good ground for a few hours, and then sat down for lunch - and it promptly started raining on us. Good motivation for a quick lunch and moving on! The main descent off the mountain started around mile 194ish and continued to mile 205 - 11 miles that dragged on forever! The grade was so slight that it felt like the trail hardly even descended - it just switched back and forth over and over again. I felt like I was in a madhouse at one point, because we'd switched back across the entire mountain, and then wound up on the next one down, and I looked up and saw trail we'd been on 20 minutes before just a few FEET above where we were. I started to think we were just walking in circles! We have a theory that whoever blazed the initial trail must have been paid by the mile - it was the most inefficient trail ever! So glad to be off that mountain, and now going to sleep on the desert floor. Just another crazy day on the PCT!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Days 17-20, May 3-6 Idled a While

Mile 178 to Idyllwild, 2 day 0s, to Mile 183

On Friday morning, we purposely didn't set an alarm - it was just a few miles to town and we had no real reason to hurry. It was amazing to sleep in (I didn't consider the fact that my day-to-day life would involve so many alarms) and we didn't leave camp until after 9. From mile 179.5, you take a 2.5 mile trail basically straight downhill into town. Luckily, at the end of the trail, there was a trail angel in the parking lot offering rides to us hikers for the last 2.5 into town. What a nice treat!

The cheapest place in town turned out to be awesome! Free laundry, wifi, and a whole suite, all for $50! We had to hurry to repack our bounce box and other things to send home, as the post office isn't open on the weekends. With a 6 pack of Lagunitas Little Sumpin to help make chores more bearable, they seemed to take care of themselves practically. Bumped into our friends Tracy and Ingrid at the post office, then headed next door to the pizza place after hearing they offer hiker discounts. Devoured a calzone and salad, and then bumped into more awesome hikers - The Flying Huns! Laurie, Vicki, and Chris are all from Idaho and retired, and they're fantastic. Headed back to go to sleep, and happened to find the Giants/Dodgers game on TV - the GMen won - Posey walkoff!

Fran and Jess came to visit on Saturday! They are the best friends - the 243 wound up closing due to fires nearby, and they had to backtrack to get here. It took them forever, and I felt so bad, but was so happy to see some familiar friendly faces. We spent the afternoon and evening hanging out in town - had a few beers at JoAn's and then went to Arriba's Mexican for an early Cinco de Mayo dinner. They designated themselves our official trail angels, and refused to let us pay for anything. Jess and Fran, if you're reading this, I owe you dinner and drinks! It was lots of fun, but I was so sad to see them go. Similar to the stint in San Diego, it was so great to have the company, but then it felt a little empty and more lonely when they left - the solitude was amplified.

We were supposed to get back to the trail on Sunday morning, but I just couldn't bring myself to leave - I couldn't wrap my head around the idea of hiking again. My body still had some repairs to take care of, and my spirits needed a little lifting as well. We spent the day as any good thru-hiker should spend a day zero - laying on the couch resting. Literally didn't leave the hotel all day, but I shot down the idea of ordering food in the hotel because I, of course, started to get bored. Walked around town and found Cafe Aroma, a nice, cozy little Italian place for a pretty good dinner.

The bummer about putting off getting back to the trail for a day is that the following day you actually do have to return to the trail. There was no more stalling to be had, despite the fact that there was a storm blowing in! Didn't get back on the trail until about 1:15 though. The slog just to get back to the PCT was wet and cold. I was wet and miserable. After seemingly endless switchbacks up the trail, I was more emotionally drained than I've been the whole trip, and very seriously considered the prospect of turning around and going back to Idyllwild and figuring out a way to go back home. I told Brett that if things don't get easier (and more fun!) soon, I'm not sure I can make it for the long haul. I'm drained physically and emotionally.

We only made it 6.5 miles, due to the fact that I was CRAWLING and the late start. We were freezing when we got here - it rained on us the entire hike - and pitching the tent in the pouring rain was a new challenge. Our hands were so wet and cold we couldn't do anything - taking off shoes, zipping the tent, etc. were all seriously difficult tasks. Thankfully, it warmed up quickly and dearest Slosh took care of cooking dinner while I shivered in my sleeping bag. Mashed potatoes helped warm the insides!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Day 16, May 2 - Long, Awesome Day

Mile 160, elevation 4000 to Mile 178, elevation 8200

...18 miles, 6000 total feet of climbing, 4000 net gain. Less than 2 miles to the exit for Idyllwild. Beautiful scenes in the San Jacintos, and pushed on farther than expected to be closer for the hike in to town tomrrow. Fran and Jess (2 of my good friends from high school) are driving to visit me in Idyllwild on Saturday on the day zero, and I couldn't be more excited. Another good day of hiking. I am le pooped. Time for bed.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Day 15 - Real Food and Trail Names

Mile 144 in small boulder field to small campsite near top of mountain at beginning of , mile 160 (+2 miles to/from the Paradise Valley Cafe)

18 miles today, and it's the best I've felt the whole trip, except for possibly Day 1's adrenaline rush. For the first time in a while, I feel like I'm equipped to be here and am not a total loser who is entirely unfit for the trail. At day's end, my feet hurt, but my spirits are higher than they've been in a while. Yay!

Woke up and broke camp by 5:30 this morning - way earliest yet! Hustled 9 miles up and down to Highway 74 for what is purported to be the best burger on the trail. Unfortunately, a big group of us hustled so quickly we got there by 9am. I thought about waiting until lunch was served at 11, but everyone else ordering breakfast around me got the best of me - so I went ahead and ordered a breakfast burrito and a root beer float (which came highly recommended by a fellow hiker). Thru-hiking is definitely one of the few things that makes such a meal at 9am on a Wednesday acceptable. Brett went for a modest meal of: an 8oz steak, 3 sunny side up eggs, hashbrowns, a plate of bacon, a side of biscuits and gravy, and a breakfast beer. After breakfast, a number of hikers decided they'd stay on til lunch - it was too hot to hike anyway so may as well. I was still full, but Brett's binge continued with: a half pound burger with jalapenos, avocado, and bacon, as well as fries and a few more beers. I was disgusted and impressed all at the same time. Where does he put it?!?!

Biggest news of the day is that we now have trail names! Shotput arrived at Paradise Valley Cafe shortly after us and mentioned she'd been thinking about a trail name for me, and come up with Smiles. According to her, I'm always smiling, and even if not, my eyes always smile. I thought that was sweet, and a pretty decent trail name, given some of the names I've heard so far, though I'm not sure if the fact that my "eyes are always smiling" means I have lots of wrinkles! Even if so, the wise Jimmy Buffet reminds me that "wrinkles only go where the smiles have been." So, I suppose my name on the PCT is now Smiles. Brett actually earned his trail name today - Slosh! The sloshing is the sound his stomach made as we returned to the trail.

Speaking of sloshing, Slosh himself definitely had a rough afternoon. His new pack fits great, but seems to be cutting off circulation to the outside of his thighs, and they go numbs. Add to that a hot afternoon of climbing up the side of a mountain after a seriously copious amount of food, and he was not a happy camper. I found it ironic that my best day came on his worst so far, but for once it was nice to not be the one who was miserable all day! I'm sure he appreciated the break from hearing about my woes, as well. Hopefully, tomorrow is awesome for both of us.

Only 19 miles to Idyllwild, and I'm really looking forward to the time off. We were able to reserve a room which is great, because apparently they all book up during a long weekend. The cheapest room in town - only $50! - so I'm not expecting much. A shower will be a complete luxury at this point.

There is a huge wind storm expected tonight, so the campsite was carefully selected AWAY from any dead trees, etc. The winds are already kicking in, and it's loud! It's a little eerie.  I also read a report there's a fire not far from here, so that freaked me out. Luckily, the winds are pushing the fire away from this direction for now. Something to keep an eye on though. Another night in bed by 8, and hopefully asleep by 9, with a lovely little afternoon nap in between. Yep, I now have the sleep schedule of a toddler!