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).

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