Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Day 31 : Casa de Luna

25 miles today
2185 miles to go

I start early. I'm not the earliest. But it's dark when I walk out the gate of Hiker Heaven. My knee feels normal. No pain as I start down the road, past by commuters heading to work. This is my work. To walk, my weekend is over I have a week of work. It's supposed to be getting hotter than its been. More desert like. I pass through town, the PCT passes through town. It's the Main Street, not a trail. I walk on the left facing the oncoming traffic. I smile and wave at the commuters as they go by. Most wave back, some don't, they haven't had their coffee yet.

A giant dropped dusty drapes. The PCT crosses them from Agua Dulce to Green Valley. Bushes, very few trees; sage, manzanita; live oak. Very similar fauna to the foothills near home. Hot, HOT! The sun blazes away, no water for twenty four miles. Five liters, is it enough? I climb following the trail as it wraps around the folds in the giant’s dusty drapes. Climbing, climbing, slowly but inexorably climbing. 

A lizard sits in the trail in front of me. It takes off down the trail away from me when I get too close. It pauses, waiting for me to catch up. Then it tears off down the trail again. It seems to be trying to prove how fast it is. It leaps off the trail in time for another to take its place. This happens over and over again. One lizard replacing the previous in a ten lizard relay race. They all celebrated after I went past. They won, they probably did push-ups together in the hot sun. “Ha, we're faster than that old thru-hiker!”

I reach the top only to head down the other side of the drapes. I find the views less than satisfying. The heat continues to increase. I transition to my umbrella mode. Removing my hat and making my Buff into a headband. I know my hair sticks out the top all goofy, but it's a lot cooler. The trail is white gravel so it reflects the heat and light back up underneath my umbrella. At least I'm out of the direct sun. Time seems to slow down. It feels like I've been walking in this heat forever. The trail looks the same as it did an hour ago, or was it two, or four. Traveling in a maze of bushes that block the breezes the view doesn't change all that much. I begin to come across hikers swooning in the heat, trying to catch a little shade under some of the bigger bushes. I don't even consider stopping. I only have so much water, when it's gone I'm in trouble. By mid-afternoon I am down to a half a liter. There is a extra long stretch leading hopefully to the last pass of the day. It's miles and miles long. I take a swig of water and hold it in my mouth while trying to remember in what movie I saw that. It was a movie with a Native American Chief training his son to run a long ways and then having to spit the water into a container. I tell myself to hold out until the next turn, then the next. I end up using three swigs of water to get to the pass. It is such a wonderful refresher when I finally allow myself to swallow. 

Downhill goes fast, this is where my knee feels the worst. It's been good all day. Achy but solid. The ache may signify I need to stretch more. I always need to stretch more. Down, down, down, around twisty turns in the bushes. I go slow and favor my right knee. I really don't want to injure it again. I can see the ranger station that has the spigots mentioned in the water report. I drink the rest of my water, literally a single swig. Now I have no water and a half mile of hot walking to go. It's amazing the mental toll that places on me. I begin to really feel exhausted. “Water, water, I need water,” I see a Thru-hiker possibly filling a water container. It's Hatchet. “Is that where the water is?” I mouth the words, no sound comes out. He nods. I walk as quickly as I can and immediately fill my water bottle with cool clean water. I guzzle the entire bottle in a single chug. I refill it and another liter in my other water container, then I go sit with the other Thru-hikers under a pergola that shades a memorial. I rest for about a half hour before deciding to push on to the Casa de Luna. I start the walk but get picked up by a guy with a truckload of dirty thru-hikers. He careens down the highway like he's done this before. 

Some Thru-hikers have referred to Casa de Luna as ‘hippie daycare’ in their blogs. There is a sign hanging on the front of the house confirming it. There are scads of Thru-hikers sitting in the driveway and front yard of the place. Most of them I met at Hiker Heaven. Here they are sitting on old coaches, lounge chairs and metal folding chairs. They all yell greetings to us as we climb out of the bed of the pickup. I see Erin and Rachel who I haven't seen for hundreds of miles. Erin is now Bing. There is a magical manzanita forest in the back of the house. It's quiet there. I find a spot for my tent, set it up and unload the contents of my pack into it. I get cleaned up then don a Hawaiian shirt which is the mandatory attire for anyone choosing to stay here. I sit around talking with the other Thru-hikers until dinner is announced. All you can eat taco salad. I have two platefuls of taco salad and suddenly a deep exhaustion hits me. I am wiped out. I stumble back to the magic forest and crawl into my tent and lay there until it becomes cool enough to sleep.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Day 30 : Zero at Hiker Heaven

0 miles today
2208.5 miles to go

Memorial Day! Thank you to all those brave men and women who have sacrificed so much so that we have a place where we can hike free and without concern about being shot or captured by enemy combatants.

I found ice! Hiker Heaven truly has everything a Thru-hiker needs for a zero day. I have my knee elevated and on ice. I plan on doing this off and on every twenty minutes today. They say it promises to be warmer than yesterday but currently it's super comfortable. I get my resupply box and paw through its contents. Woo hoo! Mrs Fields cookies. Popcornopolis caramel and cheddar cheese popcorn. Most of the stuff is the predictable fare that I planned for. It's the unique items that Kelli throws in that are the real treats! I eat all the cookies while sorting and packing my food.

Today's a day of hanging around and resting. That's hard to do. It's only the pain of my knee that keeps me here. The pain is only a memory as my leg feels great today. My hope is a day of healing and rest will return the full functionality I need to put in twenty five mile days through the coming waterless stretches of the Mojave Desert.

I head down to the Sweetwater store. Agua Dulce, sweet water, get it? The store really is called Sweetwater, which I guess is the English translation of Agua Dulce. The restaurants in town are closed in honor of Memorial Day. So I buy a couple of breakfast biscuits at the deli counter. I also get some Fritos, sour cream, and salami. My favorite sources of town calories. Oh, besides ice cream and pizza. I will come back to the store this afternoon for ice cream. The shuttle returns me to Hiker Heaven where I mix up French onion soup mix with my sour cream. I sit in the shade with other thru-hikers and eat the entire sour cream with about two-thirds of the bag of Fritos. While sitting I ice my knee. Then I eat all the salami with some of the cheese that I've been carrying but neglecting to eat. Ice on, ice off. Not exactly twenty minutes on and off but as close as I can remember. I change to a different chair and sit some more. I watch half the tent city disappear quicker that it appeared. Hikers leave, other hikers come. Constant ebb and flow like tides of the ocean. The porta-potty truck shows up for routine maintenance again today. The washing machine runs from six am to eleven pm washing, washing, oh so much washing of filthy clothes. There is a stream, a rock stream in the yard. The grey water from the laundry flows all day in this seasonal stream. The plants lining the back seem quite pleased with the water, soapy and scummy that it is. The shower also runs all day. Thru-hikers signed up eighteen to twenty something names on the list at any given times. As soon as one is finished another starts. The water heater keeps up somehow. A water trucks shows up again today, just like yesterday and fills the tank. Organized and logistical planning down to ice in the freezer for the hiker with the sore knee. Like clock work, life happens here on schedule. It's time to stop icing my knee. Even I get caught up in the schedule of this place.

I lost my maps. Well, I didn't actually lose them. I just don't know where I set them down. I visit the coach where I ate my Fritos, nope. I walk out to the chair under the tree, nope again. I ask around, hikers stare at me blankly. I might as well be asking the cacti. It's not that they are hiding anything. The Thru-hikers have no information that will add to my search. They also avoid passing useless information like, “when did you last see them?” If they knew they'd say something. They don't. I check my tent, not here. I walk away then walk back and check my tent again, perhaps they'll show up the second time? Nope. I walk to where I sat soaking my feet with Dizzy and Brownie. Nope. Maybe the trailer? What about the kitchen. The table, when I got ice, yes, of course, there they are. Thru-hikers used them as a place mat. Good thing they're covered in plastic. I retrieve them then ‘clean’ off the lettuce and salsa with another hiker's foot cleaning sponge. Yay, I hate losing stuff. I sort the maps for tomorrow's hike then put them in my tent.

I receive a text from Braveheart, she's sixty miles ahead of me. Roughly three days. I wonder if I'll ever catch up. Only if she stops for more zeros than I. Time to ice the knee again. 

I shuttle back to town and buy a pint of Dreyer's Butterfinger ice cream. I sit and eat it with some thru-hikers who are heading out tonight. This is a hot section coming up. Twenty four miles to the next reliable water. Did I mention it's rumored to be hot? Tomorrow is supposed to be hotter than today. The shuttle’s not back yet, I decide to go to the Mexican restaurant for early dinner. I order the chili Colorado. While waiting I eat chips and guzzle water. Suddenly very thirsty, maybe it's the thing about tomorrow's walk. Then I see Jukebox and Ballast. Last saw them at the KOA. Jukebox has a similar injury to her right knee too. We commiserate and I suggest ice and rest at Hiker Heaven. She's got resupply boxes at the Acton Post Office. So sad, off the trail and closed on Memorial Day. She has to wait till tomorrow to pick them up. I head back out after paying my tab and catch the next shuttle back to Hiker Heaven. It's amazing how many shuttle runs are made. A regular bus service wouldn't be as efficient and this is free. The town should really honor the Saufleys for the huge impact they have on the local economy.

I am so stuffed. I waddle to the porch chairs and sit in the shade. I visit with Simba a bit. He and I have been hiking the same pace for the last few days. We both plan to hit the trail tomorrow. I charge my batteries and phone in preparation for not having any outlets till Mojave. The plan is to be there in six days. I am hopeful that my knee will be recovered. RICE rest, ice, elevation, I forget what the C is. I've done at least three of the things you're supposed to do for an injury like this. Has it been long enough? We’ll find our tomorrow. Sitting on the porch I've had a chance to talk to more of my fellow hikers. Mountain Goat, Korinda, Hatchet, Hog Greer, Brownie, Dizzy, all uniquely interesting, all friendly and kind. I spend some talking to new friends Tuts, Ruan, and Wolf the heat of the Mojave is one big concern, the other is the depth of the snow in the Sierra. Both issues are not today's issues so I'm choosing not to worry about them. Before heading off to bed in my tent I see my friend MAGA who I haven't seen for four days. I'm looking forward to trying out my knee bright and early tomorrow morning. Good night.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Day 29 : Trail to Hiker Heaven

11 miles today
2208.5 miles to go

I hear rustling through my earplugs. It's loud, it's Sweep packing his stuff. I remove my earplugs. Everybody near me is moving. The sound of rustling nylon as stuff gets stuffed into stuff sacks and packs. It's dark. I rustle through my sack of stuff to find my iPhone, three thirty am! They're all getting up early to beat the heat on the next stretch to Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce. Ok then, since I'm awake. Time to get up. I stuff my stuff too. I'm not hiking yet though. It's overcast and cool. It'll be cool all morning why hike in the dark if I don't have too? Time for breakfast. The more I eat now the less I have to carry in my pack. I eat the last of my granola, my last instant breakfast, my last Starbucks caffe mocha Via, the last of my raisins, the last of my dehydrated tropical fruit. And for desset I cook chicken top ramen with freeze dried beef chunks. 

I start hiking when it's light enough to see without a head lamp. I leave by myself. Walking through the dim light along the creek and out of the camp. The damp overcast makes it impossible to determine direction and I reach a fork in the trail without being able to tell which one to take. I use the compass app on my phone. North, north is the way I want to go, north to Canada. The weird thing is without the compass I was convinced I was facing south. I trust the compass and walk against my feelings, north. North and up. Up into the clouds. The clouds with huge monolithic rocks looming like giants in the gloom. The trail leads me under their feet and around and over the hills. Down then left, right, up. Zigging and zagging through the mist until I have no idea which direction I am heading except the trail leads somewhere, Canada I hope. My knee feels essentially normal, until, oops, nope. It's not normal yet. Oww, the tinge of pain is more ephemeral, but it's real. Once it triggers every step hurts. I immediately slow down. Rats! I am hopeful the a zero tomorrow will heal this up. It's definitely better, but not enough to hike at the speed I want to hike. 

One of the things that is hard to explain by writing is the smells of hiking. The smell of damp grass, sage. The blossoming wildflowers, the dank rotting wood under the trees. The dry dusty smell of the trail through this arid region. Technology provides a way to record things to see and hear, it would be cool of they invented a scent recorder. So I try to describe the smells, but understand my pictures are black and white stick figures of the rich range of scents that encompass a PCT through hike, not all are pleasant, but by far most of them are.

It's utterly silent. No, I mean utterly. No plane in the sky, no cars, no talking, no sound is wind, nothing. The fog completely seals me into a silent world of my own. The sound of the gravel crunching under my feet is quickly absorbed and muted. I see a different giant in the gray twilight before me, the trail passes beneath huge high tension electrical lines. They hum and crackle in the misty humidity, the sound of work being done at a distance. Power produced one place is doing stuff some place else. Here I am under the wires listening to the hum, sixty cycles per second. The cool mist blows softly onto my face. I think about the Thru-hikers who chose to hike out of the KOA camp last night. They are camping in this. I wonder how many neglected to setup a tent and cowboy camped under the stars until they were obscured by the gray mist off the ocean. Wet stuff, cold and wet, sleeping bags, everything soaked. I pass some of them, no tent. 

I think about all of the different hikes all happening at the exact same time. Everyone unique in its own way. Each reflective of the choices of each individual thru-hiker. ‘Hike your own hike’ is a common phrase in the Thru-hiking world. It's an important concept. Encapsulated in it is the idea that bad things happen when you try to hike someone else's hike. If you hike too fast you could injure yourself, listen to bad advice and you can run out of water at the wrong time. You feel the consequences of each bad decision. As a wise person I know once said, ‘stupid should hurt.’ With Thru-hikers it does, and rather quickly. It's a price you pay day after day as you face the consequences as a reminder, stupid really does hurt. Perhaps that's one of the things that I so love about thru-hiking. It's real, with real ups and downs, pains and ecstasies. This is living now!

My trail takes me through Vasquez Rocks park. Fascinating rock formations with rocks embedded in other rocks. The embedded rocks were already rocks when they were embedded. A sign of inconceivable time spans. Of the ancient times when those rocks were free agents. What stories would they tell if they could talk. I meet up with Sweep and we finish the path together. He tells me his wife is a geologist, what stories she could tell. All I know is that this place is special. The park has signs pointing out the different flora. I think some of the signs have outlived the plants they were naming. We walk into the town of Agua Dulce. The trail goes right through the middle of town. Right down Main Street. We walk right up to the coffee shop and sit down and order breakfast. It's somewhat surreal. One minute we are hard-core thru-hikers pounding trail in the wilderness. The next minute we are two dirty vagabonds discussing the quantity of sugar in our coffee. “Will that be one lump or two?”

The coffee shop is filled with Thru-hikers, most of the clients. I order pancakes, and bacon and eggs. I know I already had breakfast at the gazebo. Let's think of this as Sunday brunch. Whatever, it's good food. I immediately decide I'll be back tomorrow. We watch as a van pulls up and a bunch of Thru-hikers without packs hop out. Some come to eat. Others walk into the grocery store across the street. We learn about the shuttle to Hiker Heaven. I finish my breakfast, pay my tab, and hop into the shuttle. On the glory road to (hiker) heaven! 

Hiker Heaven was closed last year. It's open again this year, and from all appearances it has attracted a bumper crop of Thru-hikers. Tents sprouting from the dry dusty ground like giant fungi. Packs hanging from trellises like sides of beef. I learn that the hanging packs are to keep the five dogs that roam the place from eating your food. A mobile home with a kitchen and satellite tv just for hikers. And Internet igloo. A shipping igloo. The igloos are not made of snow, they're made of pvc pipe and tarp material. There are places to repair your equipment, order new equipment. Snacks and sodas can be had for a nominal sum. Thru-hikers are bringing cases of beer from the local store. It could be a loud night. We are given the orientation tour. Go there and get your towel and loaner clothes, go to the shower door and add your name to the bottom of the list. Setup your tent and change into the loaner clothes. Put your clothes and stuff you want washed in a laundry bag and put it at the end of the line of bags in the garage. Then relax, you're in heaven. The Saufleys are some of the most generous people on the planet. Providing all of this free of charge to any Thru-hiker that shows up. It's an amazing wonderful place. The one rule is, you can only stay two nights. Like a free resort for Thru-hikers. 

I rest, relax, visit with friends old and new. I see people I haven't seen for weeks. Others that I just met. Here we are in this magical place. I take my shower, get a shuttle ride to the pizza place and stuff myself with pizza. I walk next door and buy a pint of Dreyer's Butterfinger ice cream. I eat it waiting for the shuttle back to hiker heaven. 

I sit on the porch  and watch the animated conversations of people who share a common experience of incredible hardships, pain, and deprivation of a little over four hundred fifty miles of the PCT trail. There is no certain demographic or ethnicity that defines a Thru-hiker. My Czech friends I haven't seen since Mt Laguna are here. Hatchet is here. My favorite Israelis too. Moses, a new friend, is here after escaping a kidnapping. It's way past hiker midnight and I doubt Sweep will be saying anything about it. He'd just be ignored anyway. For me, my waking hours are done. I start my zero day here in hiker heaven tomorrow. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Day 28 : Acton KOA, Water to Spare

20 miles today
2219 miles to go

Up early, four thirty am. The temperature has to be in the low sixties. I sit on a log close to my tent heating water for coffee and eating my granola. Ho-hoooo hoooo hoooo, an owl calls somewhere in the distance. I'm on the top of the ridge. Looking south all is dark. The moon waning in the southeast, Mars is visible in the southwest. Other than that it's dark. Facing north I look down into the valley where Acton and Aqua Dulce are. A sparkling ribbon of glowing diamonds defines the highway, I think it's highway fourteen. Street lights outline the towns. Defined more by the dark areas around them rather than any other distinguishing characteristics. Lots of civilized areas are visible from here. Brownie and An Dizzy are in motion in the spot next door. The sky is lightening in the east. Colors of pink and orange outline the horizon. High clouds bring color to the entire eastern sky. We leave my favorite Israelis to their slumber and head down the trail before the sun rises. 

The air is noticeably cooler in the ravines and gullies. I am quickly by myself on the trail. This is a common experience of Thru-hikers. No matter many other hikers you camp with. As soon as you hit the trail it's you and nature. You have to work at staying together. Since everyone hikes at a different speed if two people are traveling together they are not moving at their optimum pace. I am alone, I have time to think. A chance to let my mind wander. I watch the sky, I watch the birds, but mostly I watch the trail. My leg is feeling stronger today, but if I kick a rock or stump it sends shock waves around my knee. 

The first goal today is to reach North Fork Ranger Station. There is water there. I have about a liter and a half. I think that is enough to last me for the twelve miles to North Fork. The day promises to be warm, perhaps even hot. I like days like this. The trail is mostly in a burn area. The poodle dog bushes are frequent and lining the trail in some spots. There are gullies where there are trees that survived the fire. The lower branches are burned but the upper branches and sprouting all kinds of new growth. 

I reach North Fork before ten am. They are selling sodas and snickers. I buy two of each and eat a bag of pretzels from my pocket with the first soda. Then I eat the two snickers with the second soda. I sit is the shade with Miyagi and David. Tom shows up and sits with us. I finish my snacks and head off down the trail again. For this leg I transition to my umbrella. This is the first time I have used my umbrella in a while. It is a perfect umbrella day. The trail is visible for miles, down, down, down into the valley. I follow the trail. The temperature under my umbrella is comfortable. My knee is feeling about ninety percent functional whatever that means. I am really enjoying hiking this part of the trail, it's warm, the trail twists and turns around knolls and into gullies before climbing again in a different direction. It is impossible to tell where I am going next. 

One of the things I am learning is to not worry about things I can't control. A Thru-hiker's life happens at roughly three miles per hour. You can't make things happen any faster and there are lots of things that can make it even slower. Worrying about my knee is a waste of time. I can hike today. I don't know about anything beyond today, so why worry about it. I was watching Bridge of Spies before this trip and I remember one of the major characters asking the other main character if he was worried. “Will it help?” Was his rhetorical response. It's rhetorical because it's obvious that worrying changes nothing. I could worry about having enough water, gear breaking or getting lost, not hiking fast enough, snow in the Sierra, snow in Washington, resupply boxes being lost. The correct response is “will it help?” So don't worry about it. Take life as it comes at you. At three miles per hour you have the luxury to not make snap decisions or doing something you'll regret later. 

The lower I get to more breezy it becomes. I am not sure that it is because I'm lower. It could be because the day is progressing. The desert is heating, the air is being pulled across the ridges I am walking. I expect to see a snake around each corner, but none yet. Down in the bottom is a KOA campground that is rumored to be Thru-hiker friendly. It's also Memorial Day. Will there be any room for me? I arrive in a knoll overlooking the camp. Am I here? No, the trail goes the opposite direction. It's another thirty minutes of hiking before the trail turns and drops me off on the road to the KOA. Coppertone is there, he's packing up, I eat a half a donut and move on. 

Memorial Day is busy at the Acton KOA! I have never seen as many people camping in such close proximity. There is lawn. There are tents side by side. Families camping, families cooking, grilling, barbecuing. There are tables piled high with car camping food. Fruit, fruit of all kinds. Tables with families, friends, people having fun together. This campground has a pool! I walk slowly through the camp, a dirty umbrella toting vagabond. Wait! There are more people like me. Other vagabonds wandering among the celebrating families. They all seem to be moving in the general direction of a building that might be the place to register to stay the night. In front of the building are more hikers.  Sitting in the shade. I go inside and get my arm band. Yay! I'm part of the select crowd of vagabonds that are staying here overnight. Perks? Unlimited hot showers, laundry if you want, a store with snacks. I take a long shower with all of my clothes, foregoing the more traditional laundry option. It's warm, I figure, my clothes will dry. Korinda and I decide to go swimming. There’s a jacuzzi! The perks just keep on coming. I head back to the gazebo and eat more of the food out of my pack. Korinda stops and talks with a family. Then I do too. They generously offer us some fruit and vegetables. I sit and talk about my hike and answer questions while eating fruit. They are a lot of fun to talk with and to share a little bit of what it's like to be a Thru-hiker. We are all staying in a cool gazebo which is the Thru-hiker crash pad. We are all here sleeping under a real roof. Sweep, Mouse, An Dizzy, Brownie, Jukebox, Ballast, Mountain Goat, Free Beer, and others all talking and carrying on until Sweep announces, “just so you know, it's hiker midnight.” Silence reigns supreme as a gazebo full of unusually clean hikers drift off to sleep.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Day 27 : On The Mend? And Poodle Dogs

23 miles today
2239 miles to go

Awake! It's dark except for the moonlight filtering through the trees making shadow puppets on my tent. It's quiet, completely quiet, except for a distant ho-hoooo hoooo hoooo of some sort of owl. What time is it? What is time anyway? My iPhone says 4:28 am. Close enough, it'll be light by the time I finish breakfast. I forego the coffee this morning. I want an early start. I pack quickly. The next water is in eighteen miles and I have two liters. If I hike when it's cool I won't need to drink as much. 

On the trail before the sun hits the mountain peaks. I check my phone, no signal. I haven't had a signal for a couple of days. No uploads of blogs or pictures. Someday I'll reach a place with service. My knee feels stronger this morning. I think it's getter better. I know what aggravates it and I focus on not doing those things. Don't try to step up first with my right leg, left leg for all lifting. Step over rocks instead of on them with my right leg. I really spend most of my hiking time focused on the trail. The weather system we've had for the last few days has finally blown itself out. The heat is back. I love it! I think my knee likes it too. 

I travel non-stop for eighteen miles. I love doing this. The trail is friendly to me today. My left leg has been on the uphill side of the trail all day. This lets me rest my right leg rather than having to try to climb with it. My right knee has had it easy most of the day. I am almost moving my pre-injury speed without pain! I come around a corner and surprise of surprises. I meet my favorite Israelis, Yamima and Shi. We hike the rest of the way together, getting caught up on each other's adventures. I reach the Mill Creek Ranger Station around one pm. No shade! There is cold clean water though. I wash my socks. I wash my hair. I eat lunch. There are other slovenly thru-hikers here. Sitting at picnic tables in the sun. Water is such a luxury. I rinse out my trail towel and wash my face. The cool water is so refreshing. I sit in the shade of the pit toilet and eat lunch with the Israelis. I enjoy listening to them talk to each other in Hebrew. I have no idea what they are saying but it all sounds so Biblical.

I hit the trail around twoish. My goal is to get as far as I can by four or so. The trail is sandy and uphill. I am finding that my right leg is functional. Close to eighty percent normal. The sand is brilliant white reflecting the Suns glare. The breeze is too strong to use my umbrella so I hide as best I can in the shade of my hat. The breeze feels cool on my sweat soaked shirt. I think these may be my favorite hiking conditions. I feel so much better in the heat than I do in the blowing cold of a few days ago. As I hike up the ridge I check my phone, signal! I stop and step off the trail. I stand in the glaring hot sun and post my blog entries and a bunch of Instagram pictures. Yay!

The trail is traversing the ridge. The sides are steep. Poodle dog bush is everywhere. Oh, have I not mentioned poodle dog bush? In the burn areas the PCT passes through in Southern California the poodle dog bush makes its home. From what I've heard, the rash it gives you is worse than poison oak. Sometimes requiring hospitalization. Touching poodle dog bush could end your hike. At least that what the trail rumors say. I'm not about to touch it to find out. It is a really strange looking plant. Once you've seen it, it's easy to identify. It's sticking out its poison tentacles from both sides of the trail. There are little sneaky ones popping up their branches inconspicuously between other bushes down low on the sides of the trail. Between the poodle dog bush and watching the trail for my knee. Hiking is requiring a lot of attention.

As the shadows lengthen I begin to become anxious. Where will I camp? Messenger Flats Campground is over six miles away. That's way more hiking than I want to do today. The narrow trail hugs the wall. Neither ascending or descending. I stop and pull out my Fritos and salmon jerky. Who know how long I'll be hiking. I may as well eat as I go. I finish the Fritos with a final handful of Fritos dust tossed at my open mouth. Some of it actually made it in my mouth. The rest clung to the sunscreen in my beard. I just left it there. I polished off the salmon jerky with a giant mouthful. I feel a little uncivilized and a lot filthy. Food particles sticking to my face, my feet and legs shrouded in dust. Sweaty and wind blown.

The trail finally peaks at a junction with a road. Just prior to the road is a bushy knoll. Minimal poodle dog bush. Lots of little clear places for tents. Previous Thru-hikers in my same predicament created an impromptu campground. I quickly select an ideal spot and setup my tent. There are hours of sunshine left but I am done hiking for the day. I climb into my tent on top of all my stuff. I remove my shoes and socks and my shirt. I cover my eyes with my pack towel and take a nap. I awake some time later to people speaking Hebrew. For a moment I imagine what it was like following Moses around in the desert. Then I greet my favorite Israeli neighbors. As the air cools I come out of my hovel and sit on a log cooking my beefish quinoa and mushrooms. I chat with Yamima and Shi over dinner. Watching the sunset from my tent. Brownie and Dizzy show up as the sun sets to camp in our little thru-hiker campground. Free to all comers, you just have to hike here to use it.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Day 26 : Down But Not Out

14 miles today
2262 miles to go

Injury! It is not fun to be injured. It is even less fun on the PCT. I have become one of the slowest of walkers. The first mile was easy. Then the knee reminds me with every step that it is not having fun. The pain is energy sapping. I don't think it's my knee joint. It feels more like the tendons around my knee hurt. There is nothing that I knowingly did to injure it. As soon as I stop moving it stops hurting. This is aggravating in that as soon as I stop I feel ready to continue. I hike down to highway two. Now I have options. Besides choosing to road walk, follow the PCT for three more miles, or take the twenty mile detour, I have a better choice. I choose to use the pit toilet. Luxury of luxuries. Then I rest on a picnic table with my leg elevated on my pack. I take two Motrin. Maybe that'll help? I don't know, I'm not a doctor. Is my hike over? I don't know. I rest for about thirty minutes before deciding to push on up the PCT there is a campground with running water in seven miles with two miles or so of road walking that seems to be the easiest. Then perhaps camp? I have to make it there first.

I climb up the PCT and my knee protests. Dang! What did I do to it? I struggle for about a mile going about a mile an hour. The cold wind that has dogged me since being dropped off two days ago is still chilling me. I climb up and around a corner. The wind is gone. Wow! I find a log at a switchback and lay in the dirt. I put my right foot atop my pack leaning on tech log. Nothing hurts! It's warm! I lather on some sunscreen. Then lay back with my face under my hat. So comfortable. I here hikers plodding by on their way up the hill. I lay still, pretending to sleep. How long should I lay here? I have about two liters of water. I have sevenish miles to go. Twenty minutes and I can't sit still anymore. I get up and start hiking. 

There are definitely things that I am doing that aggravate my knee tendons. I'm not a doctor, but it's definitely not my knee joint. I'll say it's my tendons. Lifting my right leg and bending my knee is a sure fire way to feel maximum pain. Let's not do that again. Going up hill is a pain in the knee. Especially if my right leg is on the uphill side. If I twist to face uphill and side step my right leg, picture a zombie walking stiff legged. That's my walk with my right leg. Going down hurts too. Especially climbing down a rocky trail. Flat level trail is the best. 

I reach the road with Anmei and her mom. They are road walking too. We walk the road until they leave me behind. I just can't walk that fast. I am trying to avoid doing anything that cause pain to my right knee. I am assuming that if its not hurting it's healing. I'd like to think so anyway. I pass And Dizzy & Brownie at the rest area. They were the hikers that originally past me as I struggled down the hill from Little Jimmy Camp to highway two. They tell me I should rest my knee. “I know,” I say. “When I get to the campground.” I walk all the way to the campground and find everyone there. Anmei, her mom, Brownie, And Dizzy, Simba, Bigfoot and his girlfriend. I lay in the dirt with my leg on my pack. I eat a peanut butter tortilla and think of Braveheart. She's the one who showed me this treat. I wonder where she is now. Walking at least twice as fast as me she gets further everyday. 

From the campground it's only a few miles to the PCT. I can do that. After resting, my knee feels normal until I try to do the things that aggravate it. I try avoiding those things. I make it to the PCT. I can walk slow and carefully and my knee almost doesn't hurt. Slowly, oh so slowly do the miles pass. Everything except my knee is feeling great. I plod on hour after hour. I reach mile four hundred. A brief “Yay,” I wonder if I'll reach five hundred. The hours pass and the shadows get longer. Where to camp? I reach Glenwood Boy Scout camp. It's too dusty. Ha, that's funny to say. But it's true. It's too hard to keep the dust out of my stuff. Especially if it's breezy. Which it is. I refill about three and a half liters of water. The next reliable water is the Mill Creek Fire Station in eighteen miles. I hope to make it there tomorrow. But first a place to rest. I hike another half mile or so and find a nice pine needle covers knoll. I setup my tent and cook Greek lentils and quinoa with ground beef and minute rice. I really enjoy it. Then I grab my maps and the last of my caramel popcorn and sit in the twilight planning my day tomorrow. My hope is that my knee will be doing better. Into my tent for my three wet wipe bath and to bed. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Day 25 : Little Jimmy Rescue

14.6 miles today
2279 miles to go

The door opens. It's dark, but I'm instantly awake. Shuffle, shuffle, tromp, tromp. Our fellow thru-hikers arrive from town. I saw their packs earlier. Now they are here. They bang their way through the room and upstairs to their rooms. I slept soundly till they woke me. Then I fall asleep again. I don't awaken again till the morning light is shining through the windows. 

I get up and do my normal morning routine. Making breakfast granola with instant breakfast powder, heating water and making a Starbucks via mocha. I open my resupply box and spread the contents across my coach. I am quicker at organizing than last time. I pack my pack. My goal is to get down to the hardware store when it opens to buy fuel. Then get a ride to the trailhead. 

Our wonderful and gracious hostess Novel drives me to the hardware store after dropping her son off at school. I am there early. I use the time to tape up the inside of one of my strap pockets. The store opens promptly at eight-thirty. I hand in my fuel bottle and it is filled. My cost? Eighty-six cents. That's pretty cheap for five days of fuel. The hardware store in Wrightwood is probably the friendliest store for Thru-hikers on the entire planet. 

I stand on the side of the road with my thumb out. This feels so abnormal. Cars pass by, I smile and wave. The sun is shining, it's a comfortable sixty something degrees. It's a beautiful day to be standing on the side of the road in Wrightwood. Someone will stop at some point. Another thru-hiker asks if he can join me. “Sure, why not” we stand together with our thumbs out. We wave at more cars. He decides to move down the road slightly. Bam, a guy stops. “Do you have room for two?” “Sure climb in.” I climb in, holding my pack on my lap. I mentally go through my check list. Is there anything I forgot? I think of nothing. Everything is accounted for, everything is in its proper place.

Dropped off at the trailhead at nine am I begin to hike. My goal is about twenty miles. The PCT parallels the routed of highway two, though it's on the other side of the ridge. North. The trail goes north. Dropping slightly. It weaves in and around knolls to the east of highway two. Then it drops steeply. I notice my knee. The right knee. Feels weak and wobbly. Not sure what this means. It slightly hurts to descend. Not badly, if I stop, it doesn't hurt at all. Achy and weak. Is it my joint? Don't know. I deal with this all the way down to the point where the PCT crosses the road to ascend Mt Baden Powell.

Steep uphill, switchbacks. Consistent pace, up and up and up I go. Higher and higher. Climbing back and forth across the east Dave of the mountain. Hours go by, I meet another Thru-hiker going up. He stays at my pace for awhile until he bores of our conversation. I slow down, favoring my knee. What is this? What does this pain signify. I will not be able to make it to Canada at this pace. I don't think I can even do twenty miles at this pace. 

Around lunch time I arrive at the top. Or as close to the top as I choose to get. The trail junction here is in the wind. Icy cold wind. There are other Thru-hikers here. Jukebox, Max, Anmei, I stop and make a salami wrap with the last of my salami. I eat a couple of Fritos. It's cold and I'm getting colder. “Descend, now,” I think. It's too cold up here. I leave the others and begin my descent of the northern trail, the PCT heading to Canada. My knee aches and complains. I grunt and groan. Am I making it worse by walking on it? Should I stop and make camp? There are no campsites. The ridge descends a knife-edged spur of the mountain. The wind piles the clouds on one side. Descending is painful and exhausting. I determine to camp at Little Jimmy Campground. 

I started this day with five liters of water. Five liters is more than I need to carry, especially now. I've drunk about a half a liter. It's too cold. I don't need this much water. I keep hiking. It's too cold to stop to empty water. Five liters. That's too much. No wonder my knee is sore. I am mad at myself for bringing this much water. Two liters would have been plenty for a day like today. I need to consider the temperature before hand so I don't over carry. The descent is sometimes in the sun and sometimes in the clouds. The lower I get the wetter the clouds become. The blowing moisture stick to the trees. The ground under each tree is wet, I walk under each one in a mini rainstorm. 

Little Jimmy Campground is out from under the clouds. I limp into camp. Gosh my knee hurts. Fire Angel has a fire burning. Thru-hikers are gathered around it. I walk up and stand around too. The heat feels great. I slowly warm up. Eventually I work my way over to the campground and set up my tent. This is it for me today. My knee needs to rest, I think. I don't think it's joint related. I think it might be inflamed tendons. What do I know, I'm not a doctor. I cook dinner then hang out with the other Thru-hikers. I hear stories from the others about Max. I guy I met up near the top of Baden Powell. He got a ride out by helicopter. Wow! I saw a helicopter while hiking here. That must have been his ride. Sobering, I don't want that to be my story. I suppose that's how Max felt too.

I head to my tent early. The sun is still above the horizon but I am tired and in low spirits. I suppose a few days rest would do my leg some good but it's hard to just sit around waiting. We'll see how I feel in the morning.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Day 24 : Cold Winds to Wrightwood

28 miles today
2294 miles to go

All is silent except for the fan spinning slowly on the ceiling above my head. I lay in the semi-darkness of the room. My last room for awhile. Momentum, that's what's missing. Until five days ago I felt it, I had it. It was driving me forward mile after mile. I had a group of friends, we were all traveling about the same pace. Momentum pushing, or was it pulling? Inexorably drawing me closer to Canada, like a ship steaming across the ocean. Now there is nothing, I am still, the metaphorical waves tossing me to and fro. Motionless I wait, for what? I don't know. Without the trail there is a purposeless that haunts. I need the trail, stretching out before me giving me a sense of more, there is more, something new is just around the corner. Where are my friends? Will I know anyone on the trail when I return to it? Is there anyone still on it? So many questions I find it hard to sleep. It's too early yet. Hours before the ride to the trailhead. I am ready to leave. The phrase ‘in the fullness of time’ pops into my head. Time is not full yet. It's like I am starting all over again. I want to say it's time to move but not quite. I wait, the fan spins. Silence, as if the entire world has stopped. Except the fan, I am alone with my thoughts in the deep of the night. I wonder, how long will it be until the momentum returns? 

It is invigorating to live in the anticipation of the day's events. As in today is the day I hike to Guffy campground, twenty two miles up and along the San Andreas fault. There is purpose and meaning in accomplishment. I have lived too many of my days in meaningless, unmeasurable routine. One day blurring into the next. The past being an amorphous blob of undefinable days. Each day essentially the same as the last. I want to live days that have meaning and uniqueness all their own. Each day is like a snowflake. Different and unique filled with its own purposes and potentials. I want to live in the awareness of this truth. 

My alarm jolts me awake. It's time. The ride to the trailhead is under ominous skies. Overcast, with some rain splattering on the windshield. I wonder again, am I crazy? Its sixish I am left at the end of the road at the point where I exited the PCT six days ago. The drive past McDonald's reveals no Thru-hikers. I head down into the wash and into the dark hole under the freeway. I am alone. I can't see the other end because the underpass curves. I walk further into the dark. There is no one, nothing. A vacant hole under the freeway. The other side is a jumble of branches and trees washed through the hole during previous storms. I find the trail and follow it through the tangle. The air is cool. The overcast is somewhat broken to the east. Too bad for me, I'm heading west then north. The overcast bumps up against the slope above me as I begin my climb. Under some train tracks, then across some more. Alone. I see footprints in the dust. I have no idea how long since someone past this way. It feels like I am late. The snow has come to Canada, everybody made it except me. I'm alone in the back. The trail climbs and climbs. I lose track of time. My calves scream and protest. ‘We don't want to do this!’ They say. They ache, my hamstrings are pulled as tight as banjo strings. I could play dueling banjos on them. This is what it feels like to stop hiking then try to pick it up again. This is the price I must pay. The breeze is cool and laced with mist. It feels like it's coming right off the ocean. Cold and wet. I dread climbing to the point where the wind will hit me unobstructed by the ridge I'm climbing. 

I reach the top of the ridge and for the most part the trail slides down beneath the edge, keeping the wind at bay. The ridge is right beneath the ceiling. I instinctively duck, as if my head is going to hit the cloud cover above. I feel like I am walking on a display shelf right beneath the ceiling in a giant room. The trail climbs a bit more and I am absorbed into the cloud. Misty tendrils writhe and wrap themselves around my head. The cold vapor goes down my neck and I shiver and zip up my windbreaker. The mountains and bushes below disappear and I am alone in the cloud. No sense of direction just a gray bubble about one hundred feet in diameter. I can see nothing else. The trail goes somewhere. They only way I can tell which direction to go is that my footprints lead away from me on the trail I've already walked on. So I continue to walk in the direction without my footprints. Up and up and up. Nothing to see but the immediate trail and gray shadows. As I climb my gray bubble expands slowly until I can see about a quarter mile in every direction. I pass a tent, occupied. Then a few more. I feel less alone. I come to a water cache. I decide to donate a liter of water. I don't want to carry it. I don't need it. With this cool weather I won't be drinking as much. What is the time, anyway? I've been climbing forever. There is nothing but the climb. I know I'm not dreaming only because of the pain I feel in each calf as I take a step. I really should  stop and try stretching, I think. Then I do. My legs throb as I stretch. I keep at it stretching one then the other. Slowly, slowly the muscles release. Waves of relief. 

The transition from my yesterday to today is a shock that my legs are trying to cope with. The trail climbs until I find it hard to catch my breath. The elevation is up where the air is thinner. I've been walking on the side of hills all day. They no longer seem like hills. I imagine they are mountains. There are no views but gray shadows. I climb for hours until finally, at long last I reach the tops of the clouds. I am in a cloud canyon somewhere above the place I started. I stand on a steep slope. The clouds boil and roil in the wind. I have blue sky and vistas out above the clouds. I can see off into the Mojave desert where there are no clouds. The wind is stronger here. The bushes have given way to pine trees. The wind whooshes through the pines like a freight train. 

Mighty Mouse and I stand on a precipice overlooking the desert. Two miles from here is Guffy campground my planned destination. Mighty Mouse is back on the trail after a three week recovery period after being bitten by a rattlesnake. She had to be airlifted out. Her husband Tomcat is waiting at Guffy with trail magic. I snap I few photos of the desert and head to Guffy. It's windy, oh so windy, and cold. Even though there is sun, it's effect is minimal. The closer to the campground I get the colder I feel. 

Tomcat offers me a beer, a cinnamon roll, and a banana. I accept all three as I sit on a picnic table in the raging wind. I am not staying here tonight. In a few more hours I can be at highway two and perhaps hitch into Wrightwood. I down my gifts and get out my trekking poles. This is the time of day I like to use them. I'm tired, exhausted really. The last thing I want to do is strain something in my legs trying to descend a rocky trail. My hands are so cold I can no longer feel them. They are through the loops and wrapped around the tops of my poles. I traverse the ridge in the cold blowing wind. The colds to the west send fragments of vapor careening over the ridge. It's all quite loud and real. I walk on to survive. To stop is to freeze. Down the hill, past the vacant ski resort. My legs are buckling, I'm glad I have my poles. Six miles down is roughly two and a half hours. The trail leads me to the highway. I arrive just as a trail angel is dropping off a few hikers. He picks me pickup and drives me to the hardware store in Wrightwood.

Contrast abound. I am in a store. It's warmer even though I am chilled to the bone. I am able to collect my resupply box. Life, it seems, will go on. I complete the hiker register and take a picture of the PCT hiker hosts page. I arrive minutes before the store closes. Providence again. I sit in front of the store with my pack and my box. I meet Yoshin. She's from Taiwan. I call one of the hosts on the list. Voicemail. I try another. No room. Finally I reach someone. I ask if he has any availability for two hikers. He says sure. We wait, then ride in the back of a pickup back up the hill a ways, I am cold. Our accommodations are in a large log home converted to a holistic day spa. It's more in the process of being converted. We get the grand tour conducted by Kittie, an engaging hostess with a knack for stories and stories of what not to do. Such as poop in the upstairs toilet. It's for pee only. 

The water is hot! Hot! I stand under the stream from the shower head. Warmth slowly returns. I wash off the dust of the day and slowly warm. The shower is exactly what I was hoping for. After showering dress in my warm clothes and go down to the day spa and the couch I have commandeered for my bed. I open my swallowing bag and lay underneath it enjoying the warmth it provides. Eventually, I get up and cook dinner. I have a few bites of caramel corn the I bought in Redlands. I am so tired climb back on to my coach and immediately fall asleep.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Day 23 : Zero with Grandkids (last day)

0 miles today
2321 miles to go

Will I be able to hike as well as before? I have spent the last four days eating.

I eat, I eat, I eat some more. I lay around and play with a two year old and a seven month old. Someday these two will be able to read about the time I hiked to their house. Then when I left, I hiked to Canada. Right now though it's all about eating.

The trail beckons. It's amazing how quickly I was able to transition back into civilized life. I shower everyday. Eat normal food. Sleep inside. I wonder if the lazy lethargic layabout I have become in the last four days will be able to transition back into the lean, focused, hiking machine I was just becoming when I arrived. I also wonder about the cost. Will I have to relive the pain of hot-spots and blisters again? Will I have to go through muscle pain and aches as I get used to carrying my worldly possessions on my back? I feel a little anxious in the face of these unanswerable questions. 

I have set aside a number of things that I didn't need. I have been able to replace a few things that needed replacing. I feel better prepared gear wise and less prepared physically. I am getting a ride to the trailhead early tomorrow morning. I pack my stuff and double check that I have everything. Then I triple check. Time for sleep, tomorrow will be a long day. Tomorrow I answer some unanswerable questions.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Day 22 : Zero with Grandkids (day 3)

 I fixed the map on the Pacific Crest Trail 2016 page so that it now displays the complete route I have taken from the border. It is only showing ten percent of the tracking points in the interest of having the page load faster. If you want to see all of the tracking points you can click the link for the full-page view. The green flags are the places I camped, the yellow tags are points of interest.

I created another slideshow. This one takes you from the water faucet at Snow Creek, PCT mile 205, through to the McDonald's at PCT mile 342.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Day 21 : Zero with Grandkids (day 2)

I am having a great time connecting with both of my grand-kids that live with mommy and daddy down here in So. Cal.

It is for them and the rest of my grand-kids that I began this journey, and I intend to do my best to complete it.

I will be hitting the trail again early on Tuesday morning (May 24, 2016). This brief reprieve has given me a chance to prune some not-so-essentials from my gear essentials as well as replace my shoes which have become essentially as smooth as bowling shoes.

I have created another video slideshow of the second hundred miles and have provided a link to it below.

Brooks Cascadias - Gear Review

I need to replace my shoes. The pair I have been wearing have been great up to this point but they are beginning to fail. They have travelled the first two hundred sixty six miles of the PCT twice. They have travelled the sixty-four miles of the PCT between Echo Summit and Donner Summit twice. They have given me over six hundred miles of reliable and solid trail service. So its with some sadness that I will be leaving them behind. Good bye my faithful friends, my Brooks Cascadia 9s. 
Worn out Brooks Cascadia 9s
I have added a brand-new pair of Brooks Cascadia 11s to my set of tools. I am expecting the same reliable and faithful service from them that I got from my 9s. I notice the upper seems to be made of a different fabric than the 9s. While descending Mt San Jacinto I compared my 9s to Ash's 10s. We noticed that the material in the uppers of the 10s was essentially the same as the 9s. 

The reason that I am even boring you with this is that there has been a lot of chatter in the thru-hiker online community about the failure rates of the Cascadia 10's uppers at the hinge point on the inside above the ball of the foot. I see this same failure in my 9s. Even though it took six hundred miles to occur rather than the two hundred miles that some thru-hikers were reporting. 
Brand-spanking new Brooks Cascadia 11s
This is only the first of at least four shoe replacements I anticipate I will need to make to complete the entire two thousand six hundred and sixty three miles of the PCT.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Day 20 : Zero With Grandkids (day 1)

I know a lot of readers are expecting a blog entry.

However, since I am off trail and visiting family I have instead provided a link to a video slideshow of my first one hundred six miles.

And now for a brief intermission... Enjoy!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Day 19 : Of McDonald's and Friendship

14 miles today
2321 miles to go

Something’s scurrying about in the leaves outside my tent. Scratch, scratch, scrabble, scrabble. What is that? It's dark except the light of the moon, filtered thru the trees and bushes I'm camped beneath. Scratch, scratch. I dig in my bag for my light. The noise of my turning and doing so sounds like thunder in comparison to the silence. I pause. Nothing, it's quiet. I wait. Still nothing. I test my light under my sleeping bag to confirm it's on bright white. Check. Still nothing. I put my light down and rollover to sleep. A few minutes later. Scratch, scratch, scrabble, scrabble. I reach for my light and attempt to shine it out under the vestibule. The light hits the vestibule instead and reflects back into my eyes blinding me from seeing anything significant. I flick the light off. I wait. Silence. I do this whole sequence a few more times before giving up. Let the night creatures own the night. I will sleep, or at least try.

Morning comes early. The lightening of the sky lightens my spirit as well. It's funny how noises in the dark seem so much bigger than the same noise during the day. Breakfast just about empties the last of the food from my pack. Fourteen miles, two liters of water should do it. My pack will weigh less than twenty pounds today. 

The trail is filled with Thru-hikers today. Perhaps it's the nearness of McDonalds. The trail is relatively congested as all of us head there as fast as our legs will take us there. I power on without stopping. Up the trail to the ridge top. Cresting over the top, the valley containing the fabled McDs spreads out before me. The trail skirts and skews across sandstone ridges with steep gorges on both sides. This is much more dramatic than I was expecting. I twist and turn down a trail much more like the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland. Up and down turn right, turn left. at every turn is a steep drop. The difference here from the ride is the only thing keeping me on the trail is my own sense of balance and sanity. On the ride it only feels like I might fly off a cliff, here I really could. It makes for an exhilarating and exciting trek down the canyon. My feet are feeling really good. The blisters I once had have turned to hard callouses, almost like little horns on my toes.

‘McDonald's is your kind of place’ is how the old jingle went. This one is more of a Thru-hiker kind of place. Imagine that you walk into a restaurant filled with dirty, stinky hobos. They are all smiling and eating. In the corner is a guy with the filthiest clothes gulping down a McFlurry. Over there around the corner is another guy popping Chicken McNuggets in his mouth while perusing his iPhone. Another couple of hobos have about two gallons of water in various sized dirty water bottles. They are calculating the amount they will need for the next leg to Guffy campground. I am pretty sure the coach of the girls softball team would have bypassed this McDonalds if he'd known the riff-raff it contained. We are all enjoying the air conditioning and the finest mediocre food McDonald's has to offer. The service, however, was superb.

Braveheart will continue on with the rest of the pack. I, on the other hand, will be off trail for a bit of R&R with family. Braveheart has been a true friend and compatriot on this journey. We've shared some difficult trails and funny moments together. My favorite time was when we were walking along Pioneertown Road early in the morning laughing and joking about the compound with the mailbox on the inside of the fence. We found it so funny to think about the mail-carrier not being able to deliver the mail. It was even funnier to consider the long walk the owner made his wife take to get the mail and her reluctance to do so because they never got any. I guess you had to be there. I was, and so was she. Godspeed my friend, stay strong and healthy. Kennedy Meadows or before.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Day 18 : Grace, Magic, and Spigots

19 miles today
2334 miles to go

Another rest-filled night. I awaken to the sound of rushing water. The dim light of dawn is filtering down to my tent. It's brighter than it was, but not much. My unzipped sleeping bag is draped over me. The cool morning air reveals the gaps where my sleeping bag is not. All the possessions I have with me are within two feet of my body. Everything I have is either in the tent with me or right outside the zippered door under the vestibule. I ‘washed’ my shoes by rinsing them in the creek. I wonder if they are dry. I unzip the door slightly and reach out. Yes, that's awesome! No squishy squeaky walking today. I reach up to my internal clothes line in my tent. My socks and gaiters are dry too. All good omens, as if I believed in omens. It's human nature to attach significance to the experience of general grace, I am no different, I feel that this is going to be a great day!

I do exactly one sit up every morning. The one that comes right after my mattress is deflated. The purpose is to stuff my sleeping bag, change out of my sleeping clothes, roll my mattress, unzip my door, rotate ninety degrees, and put on my shoes. All that is possible because of that single sit-up. I feel pretty good because now I can do that sit-up without straining my lower back or having my feet kick the tent's ceiling/roof. I perform all these machinations flawlessly this morning. I step outside in the early dawn light. Two blackbirds compete for territory with their dreweeeeeee-et calls back and forth. It's calm and beautiful in Deep Creek canyon this morning. 

I'm still eating breakfast as Proton and Mountain Man head off down the trail. They are fast hikers I probably won't see them again. Braveheart and I finish packing close to the same time. We climb the steep trail from our camp back up to the PCT. Goodbye beach, goodbye blackbirds. We are off. The trail heads down, down the hill. Traversing the ridge slowly losing elevation as we go. Down below we can see the fifty foot wide green ribbon of the creek. Fifty feet of life is an almost barren landscape. 

Mojave Forks Dam. A flood control dam that slows the flow of water to laces downstream. It's impossible for me to imagine enough water to make the cost of building this dam pay for itself. With the dryness of this area and the creeks reduced to dribbles in the sand. This dam seems like huge overkill. A taxpayer funded project that will never provide the benefits promised during its inception. Of course, I don't know what I'm talking about. I don't know if it's doing what was promised. All I know is that the PCT drops right down below the blue blob on the map. We cross the bottom of the lake without holding our breaths of a divine miracle. The dam sits there to the north. Blocking any views in that direction. A huge pile of giant boulders. An impressive man made structure that may or not be necessary. 

Never mind that, what is this? Here at the bottom of the lake is an Izuzu box truck. The plastic plate on the side of the trail says, “Coppertone is here.” The plate speaks truth. A former Thru-hiker, Coppertone dispenses grace on the PCT. Grace is unexpected and undeserved favor. That is exactly what Coopetone does. As you walk off the trail and into the trailhead he welcomes you. Then he provides a choice. “Would like like pie-a-la-mode or a root beer float?” What did we do to deserve this treatment? Nothing! He shares his goodies with us free of charge and free of strings attached. He shares with us not because of who we are but because of who he is. He's Coppertone. What a great picture of how God treats us too. Thank you Coppertone, or is it St Coppertone? May God grant you peace.

We play leapfrog today. A bevy of Thru-hikers all traveling about the same speed. When anyone stops for any reason they are passed by the others. In this way, Nick, Flash, Braveheart, Rafiki, Beth, Will & Clare, and myself (No Skip) have intermittent conversations. We climb up, around, up some more, down, around. Wandering seemingly aimlessly. But only seeming aimless, our aim is Silverwood Lake. More specifically, spigots. Spigots are these cool metal things that have handles. When you turn the handle water comes out. Like magic, spigots are worth traveling to no matter how far. In this case, nineteen miles. After doing over twenty miles each day for a while, nineteen seems easy. As we approach mile fourteen we climb up towards the lake through some trees and bushes. Nestled inside those bushes, a cooler. Trail Magic! It has a log to sign in, but more important, it has peaches and strawberries. Cold peaches and strawberries. They are so good I find it hard to only eat a few. Thank you anonymous trail angel for the fruit. I'm sorry if I ate more than my fair share. Well, I'm not sure how sorry I really am. I'd probably do it again. 

Spigots! Flush toilets! Wow, we are in paradise. We can have all the drinkable water we want. All for a mere five bucks. I rinse out my clothes, I give myself a towel bath, I drink till I slosh when I walk. It's uncomfortable so I don't walk. I'll wait till the sloshing subsides. We leisurely cook dinner at a real table. No more sitting in the dust. At least for tonight. Dinner is a remarkable corn chowder. It's basically the same dinner I had when I was fighting the raccoons. The slight differences are: rice instead of noodles, more water, not spilling half the corn into the dirt, not working up a sweat fighting raccoons. Other than those small difference it was the identical meal. It's remarkable how much I enjoyed it this time over last time.

The sun is setting over the mountains to the west. The day was very enjoyable. My feet seem to have somehow adapted to being pounded on a dusty trail for miles on end. Blisters have hardened into callouses. My abs are able to perform my single sit-up without compliant or strain. Camping at the state park at Silverwood Lake provides luxuries that in my pre-trail life I completely took for granted. I am so thankful for clean running water, flat tables and benches, flush toilets. The campground is mostly empty except for Thru-hikers. The inmates are running the asylum! Ah, but we leave a small footprint. Early tomorrow morning the camp will empty out and it'll be as if we were never here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Day 17 : Winds Wreak Havoc in Deep Creek

22 miles today
2353 miles to go

Sunrise and I'm still in my tent. Braveheart has already left. I'm enjoying the dregs of one of the best sleeps of my life. I am now moving in slow motion. I enjoy a leisurely breakfast of granola, instant breakfast, Starbucks vanilla latte, dehydrated apricots, and banana chips. The air is slightly on the cool side of just right. I pack my gear slowly, stopping every few minutes to enjoy the view. After a few minutes in the sun I decide it's time to hike. One of the things I forgot to do yesterday was apply sunscreen I do that now, face, neck, ears, and hands, everything else is covered.

I set off at a brisk pace, a pace I couldn't even imagine last night. A good night’s sleep is a great therapy for exhaustion. I look for Braveheart’s tracks but they are obliterated by all of the other people who have passed by while I was dilly-dallying. Today's hike is down. Down from here into first the Holcomb creek drainage then into the deep creek drainage. My feet feel better than they have felt for a long time. Down, down into the valley. Off in the distance is Silverwood Lake, we should be there tomorrow. Today I'll pass the three hundred mile mark. I drop into the Holcomb Creek ecosystem and I am amazed at the beauty of it. My expectations where that it would be similar to deserty creeks I've already seen. No, this drainage is green and verdant. There are big green trees with many water loving plants in their shade. The creek is happily singing its way down the way. Bouncing from rock to rock happily as it splashes and gurgles through and around the rocks. The trail takes my across then across again, crossing on logs above the clear cool water. 

I happen upon a hiker I had met before. He’s sitting on a log. He’s sitting leisurely strumming his guitar. He got his name when he broke the G string on it and had to play without it, his fellow hikers named him G-String. Everyone seems happy today. As I meet hikers they are all smily and fun to talk with. I pass a guy about my age with a couple of boots on his pack. He's hiking in his camp shoes. I say, “I've done that before.” He chuckles and says, “they are too hot.” I pass another guy with the same type of hat as the one I'm wearing. “Nice hat!” I exclaim. He laughs like its the funniest joke he’s ever heard. Like I said, everybody seems to be in a good mood today. I approach another hiker standing on the side of the trail looking at her maps. “Good morning!” I say so as to not startle her. She startles anyway, looks up and slips at the same time falling back on her pack. She laughs uproariously. Her name is Square Pants, after a cartoon about a sponge. It happens to be her favorite show. 

I am moving quickly all morning. I seem to have a rhythm to my step. I find myself humming random songs to the beat. I come around a corner and some shouts, “No Skip!” Which has become my official trail name as it fits me and the hike that I am on. I figure if I get to someplace where I have to skip or shuttle, I might as well go home. It's Braveheart. She's just finishing getting water for the next leg. Two liters of cool clean water from Pipe Spring. It's a pipe coming horizontally out of the side of the hill with a little trickle of water coming out of the end. As I begin to replenish my water she heads off down the trail. It takes me about twenty minutes to get two liters of water. During that that I'm passed by Forty Two and Duck Man. I have no idea how they got their names and I spend the rest of the time waiting for my water imagining the stories that gave them their names. In the end I came up blank.

Deep Creek is different. First of all its in a deep canyons with steep sides. There is no getting close to it unless you choose to descend the steep side trails that show up every so often. It's here that I check my mileage and find I am almost to PCT milestone three hundred. I begin to watch the mileage count down on my phone. Whenever I do this I walk slower and the distance seems to grow longer and longer. I walk what seems like a lot longer but probably isn't. Finally I arrive, I dance a little jig, click my heels three times, and take a picture. Well actually, all I do I take a picture.

Lunch time arrives when I catch up with Braveheart as she is finishing her lunch. We side in the shade and chat while I make a tuna wrap with cheese. The water resources ahead seem plentiful but many of them we aren't really interested in because they're dry or have got questionable quality. We talk about our plans moving forward. I am getting off trail in a few days to visit my daughter and son-in-law and my two grandkids. Here I am writing this blog for there future enjoyment and they end up being in the story. How cool is that? Anyway, Braveheart and I make plans to communicate our positions and hope to be able to meet up at Kennedy Meadows. 

We reach our planned stopping point about when we'd planned. It's a prime beach on Deep Creek. It's way down stream of the clothing-optional hot springs and the crazy shenanigans that seemed to be going on there as we hiked past. The beach is in the full sun and the water looks cool clear and inviting. The sand goes right down into the water. It's coarse sand. The kind that is easy to brush off when it's dry. I take off my shoes and wade into the water until it's up to my calves. I use my pack towel to ‘wash’ my hair. Then I take off my shirt and rinse that. Then I rinse my socks, gaiters, zip-off pants legs, finally I rinse off my shoes too. I'm feeling pretty clean. I lay my stuff out to dry and grab my umbrella. Back at the water's edge I sit with my feet in the water and the umbrella blocking the sun from my upper body. It's so relaxing laying on the warm sand in the shade with a cool breeze blowing. I almost fall asleep.

Later I get up and go sit next to Braveheart leaning against a rock this is a perfect lounger. She says she'd like to journal more. This inspires me to get my phone and glasses so I can write some. Instead I ask her if she'd like to here yesterday's entry. She says, “tell me a story.” So I start reading it . We both laughed. I was laughing so hard I was tearing up. I'm not sure why it seemed as funny as it was. Maybe it was because it was about us and how the difficulties we some times face become things that we laugh about later. 

Two other hikers come down and join us on our beach. Proton and Mountain Man. Their arrival spurs us into action and we begin to set up our tents. Three of us have tents setup and Mountain Man decides he is going to cowboy camp, which is when you lay out under the stars without a tent. The sand is so soft the my tent stakes are easily buried. I think about how hard it would be to find them if my guy lines were to become detached. But what could happen to cause that? 

I sit in my tent to cook my dinner. I notice that a little light rains falling for a passing cloud. Huh, that's funny, poor Mountain Man’s sleeping bag is going to get wet. I wonder what he's going to do. I look over at him. He's nonchalantly eating a pot of food. Well it really not raining that hard. Suddenly a big gust of wind blows up stream, blowing hard! Harder and harder it blows. My tent is collapsing on me! I have my feet sticking out. Bare feet in the sand. Between my feet is my pot of water / bag of navy bean soup fortified with top ramen noodles. My alcohol stove burning merrily beneath the pot. I can't turn it off. It ‘turns off’ by itself when it runs out of fuel.. Uuuhmm, okay, I'll hold the tent up. The wind suddenly shifts and blows the opposite direction. This is crazy. Even cool Mountain Man is up trying to doing something to protect his stuff from the rain. There we stand a pathetic foursome of bedraggled thru-hikers standing in the rain hanging on to our tents. You can't let go without risking your tent being blown way. The wind has pulled most of my tent stakes right out of the ground, flinging them hither, thither and yon. I can't find one of them. I remember that I brought extra guy lines. I pull them out and begin to right my tent using my spare guy lines attached to giant rocks to keep my tent up. At some point in the process the wind and rain stopped. As suddenly as it began the squall was over. I finish fixing my tent, I remove all the tent stakes and only use rocks and my spare guy lines. I now only have seven stakes. I dig around where I think it might be. No stake. Rats! I hate losing stuff. I get my pot of food and eat it while I walk around my tent looking for my missing stake. No stake.  My tent is now solidly pitched. Oh well, it's just a stake..

I am getting ready for bed. We are in the twilight. It'll be dark soon. I always pee one last time in the hope that I'll not have to get up in the middle of the night. I walk over to where the cliff is, about thirty feet from my tent. There on the ground is my missing stake. The wind whipped my guy line hard enough to fling it here. Yay! Losing something really hurts, but finding it again makes me doubly happy. 

Now that our tents are all bomb-proofed the wind utterly dies out. The moon rises in the east over the canyon walls. All I hear is the sound of rushing water. The most soothing sound in the world. One of the ten major reasons why I love Thru-hiking, camping within earshot of rushing water. Occasionally a bullfrog croaks his big deep throated croak. A splash, nothing more. I drift off quickly and how comfortable it is to sleep on sand.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Day 16 : Exhaustion and New Records

22 miles today
2375 miles to go

Back on the trail after a quick shuttle ride. I don my pack and go. I don't wait for anybody. I am just glad to be back on the PCT. I hike on alone for the first time in a long time. It's quiet and I don't need to interact with anyone. I like it. On and on I go. The climb from the trailhead had no amazing views, the only people I see are people I pass. I don’t stop to chat. I don’t feel like talking. I hike and hike and hike. I eat through all of my snacks for the day, still I keep on. I hike until I am out of energy. Eleven miles, now I'm on empty. My pace slows, my steps unsure. I stop for lunch undee a tree by a dirt road. 

People I passed early pass by. I sit and make a tuna wrap; a tortilla with mayonnaise and tuna in it. I eat eat and then eat some cheese. I have some Buffalo Chicken Jerky. I sit under the tree in the forest. It's quiet and warm. I rest, relax, I lie back in the dirt and look up through the branches of the trees and the brilliant blue sky. I don't want to hike anymore. I just want to lie here forever. Time passes and I just sit chatting with hikers as they pass. The snow is coming to Canada, gotta keep moving… Nah, I just want to sit. 

Braveheart shows up and sits down. She pulls out her lunch and begins eating. We don't need to talk much. A giant suburban pulls up the dirt road and stops. A couple gets out and walks over. “Is this the Pacific Coast Trail?” He asks. “Yes, The Pacific Crest Trail.” I say. “Where you from?” “The Mexican border, Campo California.” “Where are you going?” “Canada,” I say, realizing that if I'm going to get to Canada I'm going to have to walk some more. We talk on a bit and I realize that even though I don't feel like it I really do want to hike on. The couple is out sight seeing the Holcomb Valley and driving around on the dirt roads. We say our goodbyes.

Braveheart finishes her lunch. “Ready to do this thing?” She asks. “I suppose but you better be in front, if I'm in front we’ll end up going really slow.” I say. She starts off at the one speed she knows, fast. I am forced to push myself to keep up. It's such a blessing to have friends who push you when you need pushing. 

We are looking for water. We come than area that burned years ago. The shade is gone, the sun is unbarably hot. My exhaustion is no longer a mental thing, it feels physical. We pass a flock of hikers gathered about a slimy green trickle on water, not really wanting to stand in line to drink green slime. Braveheart reads her water report, “there's lots of water ahead she says,” “Ok,” I rasp out. We move on Braveheart with her firm solid stride, me with more of a forward stumbling motion. She was right, like always. We find a cool rushing flow of clear clean water and refill our water containers.

Now that we have water, the question becomes where to camp. We look at our maps. There's a spot on the map that suggests a camp about two miles from here. We agree to shoot for that. Braveheart jets off up the hill leaving me in a cloud of dust. I pull out my can of spinach, metaphorically speaking, a brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tart. I munch on that as I slowly plod up the hill after her. We eventually arrive and a sunny knoll with stunning views in multiple directions. We are home. It's still warm. I slowly set up my tent in a sunny spot,toss my stuff inside then I go and lay in the shade. I am beat.

As beat as I am I reflect on the fact that this is a day of firsts. This is the first day of the longest hike of my life. When I hit the trail this morning I past my previous personal record of two hundred and sixty six miles. It's also the longest trip in consecutive days, now going on sixteen. I also have completed one tenth of the distance from Mexico to Canada. It's been my most difficult day so far, but it is also satisfying to know that I have made it this far.

The sun draws towards the horizon, a cooling breeze reaches our knoll. Ahhh… Dinner time. I whip up a bag of split pea soup fortified with sausage and minute rice. I talk about the steak and king crab legs with a baked potato covered in sour cream, butter, chives, and bacon bits that I pretended I was making. Some it it didn't quite taste the same. We have at least two more hours of daylight once dinner is done. I use mine to sleep, I am in my tent while the last few rays are still hitting it. I fall sleep as my head hits my pillow, which is really just my fleece pullover in a stuff sack. I sleep like a log.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Day 15 : Hostel Take Over in Big Bear

2 miles today
2397 miles to go

Windy all night! Flap, flap, flap. Pop, slap, pop, pop. Flap, flap, flap. On and on. Put on my ear plugs, slept till morning. Watched the sunrise over the desert. The wind brisk and clean. The sun plops above the distant horizon. Ready to scorch any unprepared thru-hikers. We pack quickly. My abbreviated breakfast of two pop tarts facilitating the ease of packing. No water to heat, yay! No coffee to drink, boo! Town day though, perhaps even a Starbucks.

We set off quickly down the trail to highway eighteen. PCT mile two sixty six. This will be where we need to return to continue our trip north. We reach the trailhead. It's Sunday, it's quiet. A car goes by, ignoring our pleading thumbs. It's a long walk to Big Bear. On a road. I'm done walking roads. Worst case, call a trail angel. It's Sunday, I wonder if angels go to church. I get bored of hitchhiking and leave Braveheart to the task. I call Kelli using FaceTime. We just start to talk when a car stops to give us a ride. “I'll call you back,” I say and run to the car before the driver changes his mind. I shout to Braveheart, “we have a ride.” She's focused on flagging the next car. “We have a ride,” she turns and comes running. Our driver is an ER Doctor headed for the hospital. I have a feeling he spends his time quickly. Moving fast and doing lots of stuff. He zips us to the hospital in less time than an ambulance. We didn't need a hospital but that got us within a mile of the Big Bear Lake Hostel.

Hostel, what does that even mean? Hotel? Host - tel? My first time being within five hundred feet of a hostel. If you're a PCT thru-hiker the Big Bear Lake Hostel is your friend. Sarge runs the place and he is an awesome human being putting up with the gajillion questions and needs of Thru-hikers in a friendly and courteous way. Sarge says he has a bed for me, just not yet. Come back in forty-five minutes. He sends me down to Teddy Bear’s Restaurant. 

Teddy Bear’s, where the entire staff where's shirts that say I EAT at TEDDY BEARS FOR BREAKFAST. The ‘at’ is small enough to almost be invisible. These are the most hard working, efficient, friendly people. The place is not big but they move gracefully and smoothly through the motions of serving more people in an hour than you can believe. I sit at the counter and watch one team member make three drinks, two of which were Bloody Marys, all of which were complicated with at least six ingredients in a particular order. While she's doing this she is interrupted by customers at least eight times. She handles each interruption with grace and aplomb. Then goes back to the complex process of completing the drinks and delivering them to the correct patrons. The food was amazing and the portions were so large that my pre-hiker self would not have been able to finish it all. I polished it off, including the large piece of warm cinnamon coffee bread with butter floating on top.

I have acquired a bed in a dorm room with six other thru-hiker guys. Sage, TRex, Duck Man are the names of a few of my roomies. We eat, we sit around resting our feet while talking and joking. Great for one night. I get a towel, I do my laundry. I take a shower. A few of us walk to the bus stop and wait for the bus to take us to Stater Brothers. While we sit there a guy pulls up and asks us if we need a ride. “For sure!” There are many friends of Thru-hikers living in Big Bear Lake. I arrive at Stater Brothers with an extra dollar fifty of unused bus fare in my pocket. I spend it on chips, salsa, and a bag of fresh sweet cherries. Then I cross the street to Starbucks. 

Yes, Big Bear has a Starbucks. I order a venti iced vanilla latte. After I pay I turn and see my two favorite Israelis, Yamima and Shi. “Hey, what you doing here!” They had started out this morning but because of knee trouble have come back to rest and recuperate. They are considering doing some sight seeing for a bit before getting back on the trail. They are such fun people I wish they were heading out tomorrow so that we could spend more time together.

I wait for the bus to take me back to the hostel. I sit on a bench in from of the KMart nursery in the warm sun with a cool breeze making the experience delightful. I stare across the valley at the ridge I will be traversing tomorrow. There are Thru-hikers up there right now staring back in my direction thinking about the cool experiences they had in Big Bear. I suppose it's possible that a Thru-hiker has had a poor experience here, but I've never met one. I eat sweet cherries. Spitting the pits in a small Starbucks cup I acquired for the purpose. I study the bus timetable. I learn the bus goes both ways, east and west. I am east of the hostel so I want to go west. According to the schedule the next bus should be eastbound. I eat more cherries. Eventually a bus arrives. The driver is looking at me and raises his hand in a stopping motion while bringing the bus to a complete stop. I mouth the word, “eastbound?” He nods. I shake my head because I'm waiting for the westbound. A very senior passenger has got up from her seat and has started moving towards the door during this exchange of lip reading and gestures. The driver, distracted by his exchange with me, assumes no passengers are disembarking and begins to roll forward. Then he lurches to a stop causing the elderly lady to fall into his lap. This creates a big commotion in the bus as other passengers help her to her feet. Once she's upright the driver opens the door and carefully helps her down to my bench. There are reports to complete, radios calls to make, lots of procedures to follow. I feel bad for the bus driver. The lady appears to be fine, her knee maybe a little strained. Her young, maybe ten year old, granddaughter is with her doting on her and leaning on her shoulder. I flash back to my childhood remembering when I rode the bus with my gramma, my dad’s mom, down to the ‘dollar day sales’ on Mission St in San Francisco. I could see the worried expression in this young girl’s eyes. She obviously loves her grandmother a lot. I feel really happy when the woman is able to get to her feet and head into the store with her granddaughter. I hope her knee isn't too out of sorts and that the bus driver doesn't lose his job because some guy eating cherries on his bench distracted him.

My bus finally arrives, back to the hostel we go. Not directly, we visit the Big Bear Ski Resort area first. We careen down the cracked uneven pavement at a breakneck pace and the bus bounces like it has no suspension. Every crack we hit the bus jolts harshly and every joint in the bus creaks and complains. I notice a sign taped to the front above the windshield, “If you feel sick, please ask for a plastic bag.”

Hostels are a fun place if you fit the profile. This hostel is geared for Thru-hikers. Since I am a Thru-hiker I'm having lots of fun. There are loads of Thru-hiker centric amenities such as a hiker-box, which is a place for hikers to donate things they no longer want to carry or pick up something that the now want to carry. There are rumors of items making it from Mexico to Canada hitching a ride from multiple hikers. The record is apparently held by a thirty two ounce jar of Nutella that completed the trip in a single season riding in the packs of twenty five different hikers. The jar got easier and easier to carry the further north it got due to the consumption of its contents by each hiker. It's funny to see some of the stuff, like the completely full and unused sixteen ounce jar of Vaseline. I doubt it's going to get a ride anytime soon. I try to imagine the state of mind of the Thru-hiker who lugged a pound of Vaseline for two hundred and sixty six miles before letting it go. It must have been a mixed bittersweet feeling as a pound is removed from the heavy burden they carry, while now they'll have to deal with their inordinate fear of chapped lips differently. I find no fault with this person and hope they carried on successfully free of the burden as well as the fear. I think we all carry stuff we don't need until we reach the point of saying this far and no further. It's when we let it go that we begin to experience a little more of that hard to find commodity called freedom.

Tomorrow we head back to the trail. This type of town experience is called a Nero (near zero).

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Day 14 : Yay! Back on the PCT

22 miles today
2399 miles to go

It's dark and silent. Silent as death. Why can't I hear anything? Ear plugs, I remove them. Still silent, though I can tell I'm not deaf.  The festivities have long since ceased. When, I can not tell. The cool moonlight night provides a restful backdrop as I drift back to sleep. 

I awaken a little later and check my clock/phone. Five am, still silent but suddenly less so as I open the valve on my air mattress. PFTSssssssssssssssss goes the mattress as the early morning stillness is shattered to life. I hear Braveheart in her tent begin to shuffle things around. I am always amazed how she pops out of her tent, pack already packed. She takes down her tent and packs it away and she's ready to go. My stuff is strewn all about and in various states of readiness. I get out and make breakfast under the early morning color show in the desert sky. Every color of the rainbow is represented though much less organized as the sun lights the clouds from beyond the horizon.

We head out before the revelers from last evening are awake. We head through downtown Pioneertown trying to understand what it means. Part tourist trap part commercial space. Part something else. Strange anachronistic mixings of real and imagined ‘olden days.’ We pass the bowling alley, a relic from nineteen forty seven and perhaps the newest building in town. Then we are on the highway heading up and out. Much less traffic on a Saturday morning. It is Saturday, right? Hard to remember when all your days blur together in a string of walking days.

We pass over the hill and into Rimrock. A place rimmed in by, you guessed it, rock. The valley’s sides appear to be walls and piles of rocks haphazardly jumbled together by a giant toddler. The properties are all unique. No CC&Rs to deal with here. You want a compound with a chain link fence and barb wire? It's yours. You want a house based on an old trailer with an A-frame atop. Build it! How about a miniature western town the scale of the bunny rabbits hopping around. Consider it done. Nothing is too outlandish, garish, or impractical. Whimsy rules the day. The dry desert climate keeps your incomplete dreams intact for the world to see. That half finished fence is still half finished. The strange monument to Toby still sits there like the day you finished it. Nobody pays for storage. You just leave your stuff out in the yard. It'll sit there until you decide to retrieve it in a decade or so. Or maybe you forget; it will sit there for eternity.

We stop by Jason's to get water. Jason has gotten the word out. Like ants visiting spilled soda pop, Thru-hikers are popping out from everywhere and gathering around Jason's water valve. Jason has one of those sturdy farm style valves that you have to pull up to unlock then pull up a little bit more to fill your water bottle. Us city-slickers have never used one of these types of valves before and more than one water bottle is blasted into the dirt by the tremendous volume of water released if you pull up too much. It's quite comical and you can tell which hikers were city dwellers in their previous life even though we all have basically the same grimy tattered appearance.

Enough water to reach the stream in fifteen miles. How much water is that? I guess about four liters and my pack feels like it. We climb, the road changes. The stripe down the middle disappears, the road narrows the pavement disappears, eventually we are following a winding canyon road with underlying bedrock jutting out in places. As we climb the canyon a black SUV approaches. The back window comes down and a budding young trail angel leans his head out and says, “There's water and goodies in a cooler around the corner, oh, and sign the book.” God bless you young angel, everything came to pass as you said. The cooler, the goodies, even your helpers, one of them I believe was your grandfather. I signed your book. 

The road seem interminable. I've forgotten what a trail is like. We are road walking to Canada. Jeeps and other four-wheel drive vehicles pass us. Some at a clip great enough to leave us in a layer of fine brown haze. Enough to make brown boogers, Eeeeew! We pass through forests of Joshua trees. The strangest tree I have ever seen. They look like they belong in a Dr Suess book. They have furry trunk, except the fur is really spiky dead leaves. When the tree is old enough the leaves finally reveal a normal looking trunk. The wood is soft and fiberous. Little birds create little holes and make nests inside the trunk. Some trees look completely dead except for a single tuft of green spiky leaves on the end of a single branch. We stop for a break under a particularly large Joshua tree and I remove my shoes. My feet are tired and hot. They feel so much better with my shoes off. Even though I have gotten over the soft blister stage, I'm hoping some additional hardening happens to them. The soles of my feet are the sorest part of me. They immediately feel better when I take off my shoes and socks.

We climb and climb, up and up inching our way closer and closer to the PCT, our home. We both miss it, with its comforting predictability. We are tired of having to constantly be listening out for motors. Are they coming from in front of us or behind us? Where to stand to avoid the dust? Some parts of the road are much steeper and more rutted than I've ever seen on the PCT. Finally late in the day we reach the stream. Only a few more miles to the PCT. The last bit stretched on and on. Five hundred feet, four hundred feet, three hundred feet, ok stop looking at the GPS App. Eighty feet. Finally, there it is. We completed the bypass around  the closure in a day and a half. We are on the north side of the lake fire closure with over two thousand miles of trail stretching on and on. A trail of magic and wonder. And the best part is I haven't violated my central tenet of a continuous footpath from border to border.

We mosey up the trail at an easy pace. It's four miles to the trailhead where we are both exiting for resupply. We want to do that in the morning. We find a clear open spot overlooking the Mojave desert. All we have to do is deal with a little bit of wind. Ok a crazy amount of wind. This is good training for those future days when not only is it windy, but also raining. My tent is flapping and fluttering in the wind. So far it hasn't come unmoored or broken anything. I am hoping and anticipating that it will die down when the sun sets.

I cook dinner on the left side of my tent. This blocks the wind and provides shelter for heating water and eating. After dinner it's time for bed. Yes, it's cooling off and still windy. Too cold to be outside or even outside my sleeping bag. We are camping at seven thousand feet the highest we've camped so far. Tomorrow, Big Bear! There might be ear plugs tonight if the wind doesn't die down.