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“Wander a whole summer if you can…time will not be taken from the sum of life. Instead of shortening, it will definitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.” John Muir

Month

May 2014

Day 32: Hikertown and the LA aqueduct

Miles: 21
Camping: PCT mile 245
Hikers seen on trail: 8

If the places we end up keep getting stranger, I think we’ll be on Mars by June. We woke up in our orchard at 5:15 and drowsily limped down the road to Hiker town. My blisters were screaming and not allowing me to walk a normal stride. All I wanted was food and more sleep, but walking is the only way to get things done, and I was too close at that point to hitch. If nothing else, I’m getting stronger, and eventually the blister days will be but a memory.

Immediately upon arriving at Hikertown, a man came out of what looked like the only actual residence there. He asked where we were from and what we did there. He only seemed to be interested in Ninja’s answer, but that was fine with me. I was too busy taking in the interesting surroundings. The whole place looked like a mini town of the old west, with a post office, sheriff, city hall, doctors office, etc. Some of these buildings housed cats or chickens, and some actually had beds for us to use. It was a $5 donation to use the facilities, which included laundry and a cold shower. There was also a litter of 11 2 week old puppies! Holy cuteness!

Several other hikers were there as well, and we were offered a ride to the store/restaurant 3 miles up the road by the man from the house. The store wasn’t open when we arrived, so we were put in a large office to wait. There were pictures of the man who gave us the ride with celebrities (cool one’s like Al Pacino), and it turns out he worked for a production agency on films like Scarface and Goodfellas. Very cool!

Once the store opened we all ordered breakfast burritos and were told to take what we wanted, but just save the wrappers to ring in later. We all took nice cool beverages from the coolers and shared a pack of mini donuts while our food cooked. It was nice to eat hot breakfast, but with only 3 hours of sleep I wanted to get a nap in ASAP.

That I did in the “doctor’s office,” until the heat of the day made it impossible to sleep. We all spent the rest of the afternoon in couches and chairs in a hiker lounge, playing with puppies, listening to music and trading food until it was cool enough to hike.

Around 5, a group of us headed out to hit the aqueduct, a 10+ mile section walking along LA’s water source. It is kind of cool knowing that we are headed to the source, soon we won’t have to worry about water as much. For now though, we walk 17 waterless miles atop a flowing river encased in concrete.

After walking the aqueduct and dirt road under the stars, we were suddenly surrounded by windmills. They were large and humming structures waving giant arms against the night. We were growing very tired as real midnight approached (hiker midnight is 9pm). Finally, we saw 4 of our friends lining up to cowboy camp beneath the machines and we rolled out next to them. Crackerjack, Landfill, Stampede, Cheeseburger, Ninja and I; under the stars, under the windmills, over the moon.

Day 31: The Anderson’s and Night Hiking

Miles: 20ish
Camping: Some old abandoned orchard on the side of the road (off the PCT)
Hikers seen on trail: 0

Waking up from the best night of sleep in weeks, I immediately felt all of my new blisters rearing their ugly heads. One was even presenting itself on a previously healed toe. “This is getting old,” I thought, but I was so well rested I hardly cared. We weren’t planning on hitting the trail until evening, so I figured I’d just let them be for a while and enjoy the day.

The Anderson’s is like the Yin to the Saufley’s Yang (or the other way around, I can’t be sure). It’s an anything goes atmosphere where Terrie and Joe Anderson rule the roost. Terrie grabs a ruler to smack the rear of any unsuspecting hiker not following rules, and Joe diligently slaves over a griddle all morning, turning out stacks of cinnamon pancakes for all.

There is a giant sheet hanging from the garage where everyone grabs sharpies and leaves their mark, with a sign reading, “hippie day care,” hanging above. Everyone is required to wear a Hawaiian shirt, and beer is the standard. I couldn’t find a soda in any of the coolers, so I was stuck hydrating with plain old water. Probably for the best after 4 pancakes and 4 cups of coffee.

Everyone was in debate over the next section of trail. There is a 40 mile closure due to the Powerhouse fire last year, with 3 options to get around it. There is an aqueduct walk, a road walk or yellow blazing (hitch hiking). Ninja was determined to walk the road, but I was trepidatious. Pavement jars my body, creating a vast array of aches and pains, but skipping sections feels like cheating.

I opted to let #1 shake down my pack and lighten my load before deciding. A shakedown is when someone goes through every item in your pack and tells you what you can get rid of to make your pack lighter. The idea makes me feel vulnerable, but my shoulders have been feeling the weight lately, and I know I have some unnecessary ounces and pounds riding me low. He managed to get at least 3 pounds of stuff off of my back, and I agreed to walk the road with my buddy Ninja. There is apparently a dirt shoulder and a restaurant 8 miles in. I figured my thumb could grab me a ride if I was feeling miserable, but I’m here to walk from Mexico to Canada, not hitchhike.

We left around 5 after a shady nap under a tree. We were both woken by fire ant bites, OUCH!! I see why they are called that, as it felt like a match head being pressed on my skin. A welt began to form, and I became ready to get marching on. The walk was long, but bearable. We stopped to eat at the historic Rock Inn, where I had a big chicken salad and we split a brownie sundae. I even convinced the waitress to mail my shaken down gear ahead for me, as my shoulder pain was beginning to feel like a knife in my back. When we shook down, I had neglected to see if there was a post office to deal with the excess weight. Bless the sweet waitress for her kind deed!

My shoulders felt great for the next 14.5 miles, and we walked through the night. Ninja is pretty fond of walking with headphones in, so I called up a couple of friends and caught up while walking the desert road under the stars. The side of the road was unpaved, and the air cool. I got real drowsy around 1am, but we needed to get farther up the road to make the night hike worth it. A rough endeavor for those who usually retire at 9pm. It’s the way of the desert though, time to flip our clocks.

We passed the 500 mile mark on the side of the road at 2am, and the Proclaimers instantly got stuck in my head. That song annoys me so.

We ended up finding a deserted orchard at 2:30 and I could hardly walk another step. I was deliriously tired. We found a spot not ridden with giant creature holes and cowboy camped beneath the old trees. Just a few hours of sleep before 3.5 miles to finish the road in the morning. My blisters had me hobbling for the last few miles and it is a big pain…but, blisters aren’t injuries and I will survive. Cheers to sleeping under the stars!

Morning pile of hikers at the Anderson’s
Terri Anderson and I

Day 30: Where Are Our Magic Feet?

Miles: 24.81
Camping: In a manzanita grove in the Anderson’s backyard. PCT mile 478.21
Hikers seen on trail: 12

It all began at 3am when Ninja woke me from my slumber. I groggily packed up my stuff, yawning, but happy to move on. It’s funny how eager I am to get to town, but how much more eager I am to get back on the trail. I guess once chores are done, there is nothing left to do but walk until chores need to be done again. Today we were only walking to the Anderson’s, 25 miles from the Saufley’s. A journey the majority of hikers traditionally make in one day.

The first 3 miles were on the road and we didn’t need our headlamps. It’s a lot harder on my feet and back to walk on pavement, but with no choice I put in the miles without complaint.

We got to the trail before sunrise and the guys, per usual, put me in the lead position. I’m typically the fastest, though not always. Today I wearily took on the role and we began the steady uphill climb until the sun officially rose. By that time I was feeling the effects of skipping breakfast, and weakness began to take over. I felt tears rising up and told them to go ahead, fighting off the urge to cry. Fortunately, they were also ready for breakfast, so we all raised our blood sugar on the hillside, watching the sky change color with the break of day.

After the climb, we hiked through shady woods and hillsides covered in flowers. The gnats were pretty ruthless, so I didn’t stop for many pictures. At one point I was singing and inhaled one of the pesky things, which was a pretty unpleasant experience. Even more so as I gagged it up. The flower show was beautiful though, which added a smile to my face.

This was all before the second climb, and it was already 90 degrees by 10:30am. We all set our own pace on this section, but I felt my body temperature cooking up pretty hot. I had to sit and cool off so I sent the guys ahead of me and sat in a small patch of shade. After 5 minutes, I felt a lot better and moved on slowly. This was a better strategy than maintaining a quick pace in the heat, and we soon met up at the magical water cache provided by the Andersons themselves. It was only 6.9 miles to their house, but it was lunchtime and there was shade, chairs, water, and cold sodas (beer too). We enjoyed this oasis for about 2 hours before we motivated ourselves on down the trail.

The rest of the hike was pretty easy, but we had found that the temperature was 105…and about 120+ on the ground. This in turn blessed me with 3 brand new blisters on my feet, and one on the palm of my hand from my trekking pole. We were both feeling a bit dejected hoping that all that rest at the Saufley’s would have made our feet stronger. We are ready for the blisterless days to come, though apparently we have more dues to pay. All part of the experience, I keep telling myself.

We arrived at the Anderson’s around 5:30 to a chorus of people wearing Hawaiian shirts and clapping for us. They were all lounging on couches and drinking beer in the front yard, and we were told to go claim spots out back to set up our tents. We wandered into a shady manzanita forest along a winding trail lined with multiple tent sites. I found a great spot next to Indie, and set up my tent for the first time in days. It’s nice to have my own 4 walls set up, and I was feeling the heat of the day, exhausted.

I knew dinner was in preparation, so I found my way back to the party and hung out with my comrades until the dinner bell rang. Build your own nachos were lined up, and somehow it was enough to serve all of the people…some of us even got seconds! It was delicious, and sent me off to my tent in the manzanita forest feeling satisfied. I’m ready to quit the day and air out my blistered toes…goodnight.

Day 29: All Aboard the Restoration Express

Miles: 0
Camping: Cot
Hikers: Lots of happy faces in Hiker Heaven

Everything about today was leisurely. Even though I woke up at 3:45, I stayed in my cot until 6:00. I rolled out of bed to put in my laundry early, because here at hiker heaven there are people who wash your clothes while you go about your day. No joke, it’s better than a hotel, and all of your newest, closest friends are there just hanging out. So after dropping off my laundry, I signed up for the 10am REI/In n Out run and then rode bikes with Ninja to the cafe. The bike ride to town is all downhill, so we pedal as hard as we can and basically coast a mile to breakfast, soaring through the cool desert air. The wind in my hair reminded me of childhood as we rolled up to the cafe. Pure bliss.

Breakfast today was simple, and the service comically terrible. We all laughed it off as we went on with our lovely day. There were 13 of us riding in the big van to REI, where we were let loose for an hour of gear replacement. We were like kids in a toy store, but feeling pressed for time, it was a bit of a frenzy. I tried on new shirts and pants trying to figure out my new size and shape. I’ve gone down 2 pant sizes and actually fit into things that are labeled as small. It was a little confusing, and way too much fun, as I ate up a lot of time trying stuff on. All I ended up buying was a new shirt, which was high on the list. I also grabbed a new spork, a bunch of trail bars and some electrolyte tablets before the buzzer went off. I barely got through half of my list, and we were soon whisked away for In n Out burgers. I got food and milkshakes for myself and some of the guys that didn’t get in on the ride list on time, so my arms were full getting back in the van. It was delightfully delicious, especially after McDonalds. The food at In n Out actually resembles food and I have always enjoyed it on the rare occasions I’m near one.

Back at that Saufleys, I was reunited with Landfill and Stampede who I hadn’t seen since Ziggy and the Bear’s house in Cabazon (roughly 200 miles ago). Stampede and I painted each other’s toes with blue and pink nail polish, followed by a glitter coat. We have to make these blister ridden hooves somewhat presentable, even just for ourselves. There was also a German film crew working on a documentary about the PCT, which was an interesting element…and I am pretty sure I’ll have some cameo appearances. Look for me in Germany: or here!

After pedicures, we rode bikes to town again. I tried to race Landfill, but my gears wouldn’t change and he won. It felt so much like being a kid in summertime, I wanted it to last forever. We got some Mexican food and finished our resupply at the grocery store before racing back to the house. Landfill and Stampede were fastest, while Ninja and I brought up the rear. Going back up the hill was a workout! You definitely use different muscles on a bike than we do for hiking.

Back at the house, I took another foot bath while eating ice cream (this was caught by the film crew), another shower and another cozy night wearing a loaner hoody (my favorite comfort item). It appropriately said, “USA,” as it is Memorial Day. The Saufleys then called everyone around the fire as they told the story of how they became trail angels. They apparently don’t tell it that often, as it was the first time in 2 years. What an honor! The story is highly entertaining and best told by them, but maybe I can tell some of you over a pint sometime if you care to hear it. They are simply amazing people, truly the cream of the crop.

Cheers to the Saufleys and their amazing work! They are a well oiled machine of angelic deeds, and it is highly impressive how efficiently they pull everything off. I tip my hat in gratitude and admiration. I hope to return to volunteer with them in the future. Thank you for everything Saufleys!!!!!

It’s now well after bedtime, as we plan to get up at 3 to hike the 25 miles to the Anderson’s, so that’s a wrap. Goodnight!

The guys who didn’t make the shuttle
Karaoke, Biscuit, Karen, Wrongway, Indie
Buddy Backpacker rides Donna Saufley’s horse
broken spork mustache

Day 28: Ten Miles to Heaven

Miles: 10
Camping: On a cot in Hiker Heaven, Agua Dulce, PCT mile 454.4
Hikers seen on trail: 5

The air was warm at 3am as I lay in the gazebo with about a dozen of my companions. I wasn’t quite ready to make a move on the day, but there was a lot to look forward to. It wasn’t long before we made the decision to move though, so Ninja and I donned our headlamps at 3:45 to start the 10 mile trek to the Saufley’s.

We started hiking through sage brush that was taller than us, and were soon facing yet another early morning climb. The air was still and warm, and we were feeling the sweat forming before the sun even shone the tiniest ray of light from the east. It was work, but that’s hiking, and soon you know the endorphins will take over, which is akin to the runners high. I guess it’s just a hikers high.

We started naming breakfast foods as we walked, shouting into the wind; biscuits, pancakes, eggs, coffee with half & half, bacon, hash browns! All words that motivate me, along with; shower, foot bath, outlets, trash cans (they have become a valuable resource), REI run…it is a moment every hiker dreams of. Hiker Heaven is an oasis you read about, but can never fully grasp until you live it. We imagined it all as we walked, melting the miles between us and this Sangri La.

Just a couple of miles before town we reached the Vasquez Rocks State Park. Simply amazing! Beautiful rock formations and abundant desert plant life surrounded us in a wonderland unlike anything we’ve seen on the trail to date. I was in awe, walking while looking all around me at the cool rocks, colors and plants, oohing and aahing.

We soon ran into Blisster, Tink, Drew and Little Spoon, and we all did the last couple of miles together, anticipation growing. We passed the sign telling us that Hiker Heaven was open, and we knew we had made it in time to get our coveted spots in Eden. This helped us on the mile long road walk to our destination, and we hurried along to check in. It did eventually fill up, and sadly, some hikers turned away.

It has turned out to be everything wonderful we had heard and more; a huge yard full of tents and cots, trailers, a shower, movie room, kitchen, barbecue, mailing facilities, loaner clothes, computers, bicycles, dogs to love on, and so much more. Every detail of hiker needs and wants has been anticipated by the angelic Saufleys! We checked in and claimed our cots and were quickly offered a ride to the cafe in town (the 20 loaner bikes had already been taken out). We descended on the cafe in a swarm of hunger, ordering everything on the menu; banana bread french toast, eggs Benedict, bacon, sausage, hash browns, omelets, entire pots of coffee, all of the things that we have been dreaming about in the trail miles since the last town. All of the food. The poor waitress was swamped, but somehow managed to get us all fed.

We returned to Heaven via a quick hitch and began the wonderful rituals of cleanliness. I took the best shower yet, using shampoo for the first time since Big Bear, and I even shaved my legs! There was body butter to use afterwards, and Q-tips…really, they’ve thought of everything! You really don’t realize what you once took for granted and now covet, no matter how simple. Sometimes it is relaxing in a chair, hearing music, having electricity, a sink to wash up in, a bike to ride to town, seeing your normally grubby companions in a somewhat civil state. It’s all so lovely, and it feels great to be a part of this whole thing. The tough miles pay off in a lot of ways, from accomplishing difficult climbs or long mile days, to moments among kindred spirits on a vast lawn next to a cactus garden…in a chair.

After my shower, Tink joked that they couldn’t call me Dust Bunny anymore. Funny enough though, soon after my shower I was combing my hair in the shade. I was savoring the lovely post shower smells, the fresh air, the shade, the company, the chair…when out of the tree above, something plopped down in front of me. I felt the splatter before I realized that I’d been shit on by a bird! All I could do was laugh with my companions, and accept that it is my fate as the Dust Bunny. I attract dirt (and sometimes bird shit).

Now I will sleep in a cot after a few warm meals, singalongs, ice cream, showers, bike rides, foot baths, sitting around a fire on hay bales and so much more. It is all so much more than can fit in my heart, and yet it does.

Dust Bunny and Tink!
Ninja
Giant
Dayglo and Testament enjoy a food coma

Day 27: Dancing With the Devil

Miles: 18
Camping: KOA Acton PCT mile 444.5
Hikers seen on trail: 5

Set my alarm for 3 am in order to take in the meteor shower before getting up, but it was cloudy so I let myself doze back off. We all finally woke up at 4:30 and got to hiking by 5. Since we had decided on the detour from the nasty poodle-dog bush, we faced a road walk for 3 more miles. It was unfortunately a steep uphill climb, and we huffed our way up and up for what seemed like eternity. At some point Ninja told me to turn around, and the sky was aglow in a beautiful golden sunrise. We took some pictures and rested our lungs and legs before trudging back up the road for another eternity.

We eventually met up with Blisster and made it back to the PCT. “Feels good to be home.” I thought.

The poodle-dog bush was a nightmare again, and often felt like a video game. Sometimes we would walk through overgrown brush on both sides of the trail which Ninja called the carwash. Just as you broke through the claustrophobia inducing stuff, a poodle-dog bush would be waiting on the other side, keeping you on your toes for sure. It was exhausting!

Just as we thought the battle was over, the trail decided to add poison oak to the equation. Video game indeed!

We hiked and dodged our way to a ranger station to collect water, and we sat in the shade with some other hikers. There was a cooler with Snickers and cold cans of Coke for $1, and I indulged in both. I made a deal with myself to give up soda again after the desert, but right now, the sugar helps me truck on through the heat. Truck on through the heat we did, the afternoon was HOT. We’ve been spoiled for the last few days with cooler than average weather, but today reminded us how hot it can get. Sand, sage and red rock formations made up the scene, and we left the cool alpine climes once again for the aridity of desert hiking. I drank more water than I have in days, and finally stumbled sweaty into the KOA.

The manager immediately came to our aid and showed us the grounds. The place was packed with families with giant tents for Memorial Day. There was a Mariachi band and a taco truck, a swimming pool packed with kids like a fish tank in a pet store, an equally packed hot tub and so much food! Food was being consumed everywhere, and we salivated through the place before being deposited at the office/store. There were so many kinds of ice cream, chips, snacks and cold beverages; take out menus and people. So many people. I couldn’t bear the idea of being alone among the throngs, it was so overwhelming. So, when Ninja decided to go to the taco truck I followed along. They had authentic tacos with fresh onions, limes, cilantro and salsa…and they were 3 for $5. We each bought 6 and ate them with fervor. Ninja quickly went back for 3 more, while I set my sights on a shower. I got sidetracked by an ice cream bar, and then we pooled our laundry while we took our first showers in days.

With clean bodies and clothes we began to feel human again, and recruited Tink to join us for pizza. The place was filled with hikers at this point, and it began to feel like home. As we were in the office calling in our order, a woman stepped on my foot and happened to land right on my bad toe. It was a shooting pain that immediately induced a steady flow of tears. Gypsy acted quickly, getting me a bag of ice and a chair to elevate my foot as I sat there and cried like a baby. It felt good to cry and I was unapologetic, as I knew I was getting rid of more baggage than a crushed toe. It was a euphoric cry, and Gypsy and I sat and discussed the emotional roller coaster of the trail. It was a lovely moment, one of my favorite person to person moments on trail yet.

After pizza we all went to retire in a giant gazebo. Some people opted to drink beer in the grass, but most of us had our sights set on an early morning hike to the famous hiker heaven. Rumor has it the place fills up, so with a pack of people around us, we wanted to make a point to hustle. A group of pre-teens surrounded me on my way from brushing my teeth, and I didn’t know what to expect. They ended up being extremely curious about us and our hike, and I stood there answering their eager questions. It felt so good to teach them about our hike, as they complained that they have to walk 2 miles to school every day. I hope above all else that a seed was planted that will get at least one of them to take a longer walk in nature some day. It was yet another beautiful human moment, and I can feel my faith and love of humanity growing.

With an alarm set for 4 am, we will all doze off beneath the KOA gazebo.
Goodnight.

photo credit to Ninja
tacos!

Day 26: Poodle Dog Ballet

Miles: 24
Camping: Off the PCT by an old gutted out prison camp
Hikers seen on trail: 36

The morning started as I heard a few other people hitting the trail while it was still dark. I hadn’t intended on waking up that early, but the deed was done and I had gone to bed before dark. I felt rested and ready to conquer another day on the trail at 5 am sharp.

The moon was still bright enough that I didn’t really need to use my headlamp, and for the first time in a while the trail didn’t start out with a steep climb. I felt strong after 2 days of hiking less than 20 miles, and I aimed to push for 23 today. Not long up the way I caught up with the group I had woken up to, and they were discussing a hitch to a restaurant 2 miles up the road. I wanted no part of that, though secretly all I ever want is a hot breakfast served to me. I should have named my blog, “Will Hike For Bacon.”

With that, I headed onward. Soon they all gave up on the idea of breakfast, but Ninja and I walked faster and soon broke ahead of the group. I can’t hike with a lot of people at once, but it has been days since I walked with someone else, so I was happy for the company. We share the same mileage goals for the next couple of days, so we will likely walk together for a bit. It works with him, as we both like to hike alone, but can still carry on a good conversation from time to time. Sometimes he will put in headphones as we walk the same pace, but we spend that time with our own thoughts and chat it up on breaks. We have a surprising amount in common, including foot pain, so we hobble well together and laugh a lot. His foot pain is a bit worse at this time, but we have some good rest days coming up, and that has been my magic bullet as of late. I hope the same for Ninja.

We had to dodge so much poodle-dog bush today, it was a nightmare. It is this plant that grows in areas affected by forest fires and can cause some serious rashes and blistering if touched. At times it is nearly unavoidable, making for slow walking and crafty maneuvers. We ended up taking yet another road detour to end the day in order to avoid a bad stretch of it, though apparently we will be doing more dancing tomorrow.

Before the detour we had a long lunch with some other folks. Moonshine was there and he hikes with a guitar, so we had a nice sing along for a bit. This while we cooked up our various hiker meals lounging in the shade of a giant tree. Lots of people walked by, we are certainly among the pack. I hope to move ahead when they all get sucked into the party at the Anderson’s, as the trail is getting too crowded for my tastes. When we stopped for water at a fire station, we were practically a small village lounging in their shade.

Today we also met Buddy Backpacker. He is only 6 and did the AT last year when he was 5! He is full of smiles and energy, and I’m simply amazed by him. His parents keep a blog if you are interested…but I forgot to ask, so you’d have to Google him. Wow!, is pretty much all I can say about that.

We are hunkered down now by a gutted out prison camp at the Station Fire Monument. Ninja, Blisster and I are all cowboy camping and plan to get up early for meteor showers and a start on the day. We plan to hit the KOA tomorrow night for a swimming pool and rumors that a Chinese restaurant will deliver to us there. Sounds delightful. Sweet dreams!

Ninja battles around poodle dog
Ninja cooking up his dinner while Blisster looks on
None too pleased with the poodle dog

Day 25: Not So Happy Clouds

Miles: 16.93
Camping: PCT mile 400.9
Hikers seen on trail: 27

The morning was a lot warmer than I’d expected it to be, making getting up a fairly easy task. There were a lot more people camped around me than had been when I went to bed, but they were all still asleep as I slipped out of camp at 6:30. The hike immediately kept up its recent trend of going up in elevation, followed by a descent and a road crossing after which the real climbing began.

Up and up went the trail, huff and puff went me. Almost a month into this and I still get winded on the uphill stretches. Fortunately, it wasn’t as long of a climb as yesterday, though just as steep. The top offered some lovely views, which I enjoyed with a nice Japanese couple and good ol’ Cool Hand.

The next stretch went steeply back down to the highway where we would walk on the road for 2.7 miles to not disrupt the mating of the endangered yellow legged frog. This was my least favorite walk yet. The grade wasn’t bad, but the highway was winding and the pavement was hard on my feet. I hadn’t had any aches until the road walk, when my feet and shoulders were both competing for most painful body part. My shoulders only hurt when I don’t use my trekking poles, which are useless on pavement.

Fortunately, 2.7 miles on the road didn’t take long, and I was soon walking through a campground towards the trail. I set up on a picnic table and made lunch while some ominous clouds began to close in. I had heard there was a 50% chance of thunderstorms, but I was still hoping we were on the side of which that didn’t happen.

After lunch I hit the trail and heard the first rumble. The sky was darkening and I knew it was a matter of time. Right when I found a large rock with an overhanging ledge, the skies opened up and the rains came down. I sat cozily in my little cave watching a few hikers scurry by below, all decked out in rain gear and unaware of my perch. This was my favorite part of the day, and I dozed off for a quick siesta while listening to the rain.

The rain kept going, so I did too. I donned my poncho and marched forward, trying to figure out my strategy for the night. I didn’t want to get caught in the storm, and I wanted to get a bit farther along, so I set my sight on a boy scout cabin at mile 401. I climbed and climbed some more, ready to rest my aching feet in a sheltered space for the night.

As the trail crossed yet another road it finally committed to a downward grade. This is when the sky really started to darken, and thunder and lightning began to rear their heads. I quickly passed mile 400 and made it to the cabin. I set myself up on the porch, staking claim to a dry spot knowing a large group was behind me. They would all sleep inside, but I had no interest in joining the crowd. I wouldn’t sleep among that many people, and I like to get my day started early.

A bunch of people have come by, some stopping to stay inside, some moving on into the storm. I feel good about another day of taking it easy, and according to the elevation profile, there shouldn’t be too many more big climbs between here and Agua Dulce. I am cozy in my bag at 6 pm with Blisster already sawing logs on the other end of the porch. I will read a bit, drink some ginger tea and get to sleep early. Tomorrow I’ll make a bit of a push to get farther up the line. Go feet!

Day 24: Clouds, Wind and Mountain Tops.

Miles: 15
Camping: Little Jimmy Campground PCT mile 384.4
Hikers seen on trail: 22

I accidentally slept in until 6:30, my latest morning on the trail yet. It felt good, and I was in no hurry, so it didn’t matter. The whole gang was still there that had joined us at the house last night (#1, Gypsy, Brent, Testament, Snake Farm and Dayglo) much to my surprise. I had thought they had an early exit strategy, but it was nice to see them again before we went our separate ways. I had a few errands to run in town still, and they were headed straight for the trail. I suppose I’ll see them at the Saufley’s or the Anderson’s, both famous trail angel houses in the next 100 miles.

It was hard saying goodbye to Teresa, Ryan and Skyler. I really enjoyed them and didn’t really want to leave. It felt really good to be there, but I knew it was time to get back to the task at hand…hiking. my feet were doing better, and a trip to the Saufley’s also means a trip to REI where I can replace a few things for the next leg. My shirt is now huge on me and losing buttons, my pants are too heavy, I’m contemplating a bigger tent at only 4 more oz than my current one, AND my spork broke at dinner tonight, which will make the next few days of meals a little challenging. At least I’m right in time for the anniversary sale!

As I was finishing up in town, I was asked on a date by a man who was nowhere near my age. It was hard to take him seriously, but I easily told him I was on my way out of town and insinuated that I already had a ride. I was going to hitch, but didn’t want him to offer. Easy enough, I got a ride from the guy who owns the ski mountain. His name is Carl and he also owns the one in Stevens, WA where I should be in late September. He said to check in at the other end, as he loves to see who makes it.

My plan was for a 15 mile day, so I could make an easier transition for my feet from resting to hiking. It was a mountain climb today, gaining 2,500 ft in 4 miles. It was pretty straightforward, and the day was cool as clouds loitered in valleys and skirted up into the mountains. About a mile in a SAR (search and rescue) chopper started circling. I need to learn the signal that says I’m okay, as it’s the second time in 3 days they’ve circled near me when I’m on a break, and I feel the need to keep moving to prove I’m fine. There was an older man coming down the mountain, and he said they might be looking for him. He hurt his knee and some other hikers may have called, but he wasn’t sure and was quite embarrassed. They circled for a long time, which was loud and unsettling. You never know if someone is seriously injured, and you worry for your fellow hikers.

They took off after what seemed like an hour, and I was slowly making my way up the mountain. I saw 7 snow plants today as well! I thought they were pretty rare, though you wouldn’t guess it today. John Muir had something to say about having the opportunity to see them, but I forget now. They are very cool though, and I feel lucky to have seen them today. Clouds were collecting every which way, making the air cool and some great scenery. I took lots of pictures today! Once I got near the summit, I dropped my pack next to some others I recognized from town that morning. There was a sign saying the tree there was estimated to be 1500 years old! Very cool for a tree at that elevation and exposure.

I grabbed my down jacket, camera and trekking poles for the .1 mile finish to the top. I felt like I was filled with helium at that elevation, climbing with no pack. It was a truly bizarre sensation that lasted until I came back down. At the top were Wrongway (a different one than the one I met in Julian) and Dirty No Shoe Jon (he hikes in Tevas). We chatted a bit and watched the clouds roll around us from 9,339 ft. It was beautiful, but cold and windy, so I quickly went back down to reunite with my pack. It felt strangely comforting to put it back on. It’s a part of me now.

The next 5 miles were stunning with the clouds dancing about. It was freezing, so I hiked in my down jacket, but it was so very nice. I enjoyed the hike a lot today, despite the big climb. I love being way up high, the air just smells better…and I think I like the natural buzz I get from that elevation. I ran into a group of 6 I’d never seem before, as well as Brent, Gypsy and Snake Farm. They were all marching pretty fast though, so I let them all go ahead while I literally meandered with my head in the clouds.

I came to my destination at 6 pm and cooked up some quinoa, lentils and veggies with bouillon. It was ok…not my favorite trail meal, but full of important nourishment. It’s getting colder out, so I’m hunkered down in my down jacket and sleeping bag for the night. I know morning will be a bit of a challenge in the cold, but better motivation to get the blood moving faster. There will be a bit of a road walk tomorrow to avoid the breeding ground of an endangered frog…that and another mountain climb (a smaller one this time).

Goodnight.

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