Thursday, May 31, 2012

Days 31 - 35: Real Deal

PCT Mile: 558.5

Well, this week has been wild. We traveled from the Anderson's into some beautiful forest just before dropping down into the real deal desert.  We passed mile 500 which felt monumental. (And now you can all simultaneously get this song stuck in your heads.) I cannot believe my little feet have carried me this far. I can't believe that we are chipping at way at this incredible undertaking. For the first time it really felt like we are getting somewhere. And man, that feels awesome.

There were a couple of days that were a strange juxtaposition between wilderness/trail life and the marvels of the modern world.  One day we walked along aide the L.A. Aqueduct for about 15 miles.  The next day humongous wind turbines turned above us like giant, whirling daisies.

Due to lack of water sources and the escalating heat, one morning we were up and walking by 3:20 AM. Yes, that's correct. Three twenty. In the morning.  By 6:30 we'd done 10 miles and we were at our camping spot by 1:30.  We rested, ate and napped in the shade and were in our bags by 6:15 PM.  The desert is tough, and the lure of the Sierras in just over a week is overwhelming. As we look at the next stretch from here to Kennedy Meadows, we know we're in for some extreme heat, limited water sources and high winds. It's real deal desert time.

One of the best and most joyous moments happened this week. From the top of a hill, as we made our first decent into the desert, we saw a large group of people standing in some shade. A volunteer group of some kind.  As we came down the switchbacks, they too started walking the trail in front of us. We were unsure how we'd be able to pass such a large group. The looked about 40 people strong. As we got closer to them on the trail, one man from the back of the line saw us and SPRINTED to the front of the like, yelling excitedly in Korean. Then, within a split second, all 42 of them lined the sides of the trail and made us a tunnel to pass through! They cheered and hooted as we passed beneath their arms. They were so pumped. As we arrived at the parking lot with them, we learned that they are a group of senior citizens from Koreatown in LA who come up twice a month to do work in the park. And let me tell you what, they LOVE hikers. We felt like celebrities. Once at their vans they, literally, started FILLING our arms with goodies: watermelon, apples, instant Korean coffee, prune candy, granola bars, coffee candies, beef jerky, bottled water, and on and on. Many, many thanks to all 42 of them who made our day!

Pumping water from a fire tank

Whoop whoop!

Down to the desert we go...

Tunnel of love!

Trail Magic! Korean Senior Style!

Hanging at Hiker Town

Walking along the L.A. Aqueduct

Into the wind

Whirling daisy

Desert sunrise

Beetle yoga

Joshua Trees

We are zeroing here in Mojave then off we go again. Wish us luck in our LAST WEEK of the desert! Trees, shade, lakes, rivers and more await us after Kennedy Meadows. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Day 30: Fog By Day, Casa De Luna By Night

PCT Mile: 478.2

The 24 mile stretch between the Saufley's and the Anderson's is notorious for being miserably hot and shadeless. Once again, the hiking gods smiled upon us and it was a cold, cloudy, windy day. The 6 liters of water we carried (at 2.2 lbs each, by the way) didn't even get drunk. At the end of the day, we reached Casa De Luna, the home of Terry and Joe Anderson. As soon as you arrive Terry (who donated her hair to Locks Of Love at Kick Off and now sports a hot pink Mohawk) bear hugs you, points you to burgers on the grill, directs you to camping out back and then orders you to put on a Hawaiian shirt. Apparently this evening there will be chocolate syrup wrestling. Against Terry. In a baby pool.


Day 29: Dang, People Are Nice

We've experienced some amazing Trail Magic since we started. But when we showed up at the Saufley's house Thursday morning we realized that these amazing Trail Hosts have taken generosity to a whole new level.  They have turned their home/property into Hiker Heaven, a place where you show up, have your laundry done (while you wear awesome loaner clothes), take a shower, borrow a bike to go into town and do your shopping and, of course, sleep. The environment is a perfect community where people are happy to kick up their feet and rest a while. Donna and Jeff Saufley have been hosting hikers for SIXTEEN YEARS and their energy and commitment is hard to wrap your head around.  Read all about Hiker Heaven here.  Not only can they accommodate up to 50 hikers a night, but they also run, basically, the only post office in town AND shuttle people 45 minutes to Northridge to the closest REI. And then stop at In-N-Out on the way home.  You can watch this video to hear their incredible story. If you live in the LA area, or feel like participating in some PCT Trail Magic, come volunteer here. We're already planning our return in the future to help support the Saufleys and other hikers. 

Donna's giant smile wasn't the only thing that greeted us here. Aside from some exciting new gear, we were THRILLED to receive our first (non-prepacked/resupply) mail. Thanks Meredith and Blair for sending us some love!!


Friday, May 25, 2012

Days 25-28: D Is For Detour

PCT Mile: 454.5

The PCT is broken up into sections, by state, that are labeled alphabetically.  We arrived yesterday to Agua Dulce, mile 454.5, putting us at the end of section D. Upon leaving Wrightwood we soon realized that D stands for DETOUR.  This section had us road walking a lot to avoid an endangered species habitat (of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog) and areas damaged by the 2009 Station Fire that has not only left the area very fragile but also COVERED in Poodle Dog bush. Poodle Dog is a hiker nemesis. It's a large, bushy shrub that can grow up to 7 or 8 feet tall. But it can also be 3 inches tall making it difficult to avoid.  Poodle Dog is like the worst combination of Poison Oak and Stinging Nettle. It apparently causes blisters and a rash, but we may not develop said rash/blisters for 2 weeks. We had to dance around this junk for a few days and man, was it stressful.  I only wish that someone had given it a more intimidating name that Poodle Dog... Anywho, With all of these sensitive areas, we walked a lot of road this week. 

On our first day out of Wrightwood we, unfortunately, took a wrong turn at a trail junction and went 1.8 miles off trail and lost 1200 feet of elevation. We were none to thrilled when we realized our mistake which added 3.6 miles on an already 25 mile day. But, such is trail life and we made it to camp that night and slept like babies. 

We decided after our long days into Wrightwood that we'd scale back a bit this section. We did a 28.5 (with those extra, getting-lost miles) mile day, a 25, a 15 and an 18 into Agua Dulce. The day we did the 15 miler was awesome. We arrived at our destination at noon and had the whole day to relax, hydrate and play cards. The next morning was the first morning in nearly 2 weeks I started walking without stiffness. It was fantastic.  We rolled into Hiker Heaven yesterday to enjoy some time off in the company of the Saufleys... some of the most famous and giving Trail Angels out here. 

Now for the visuals:

We passed the 400 mile mark with Just Retired, Branco, and Fairway. 

Road walking. 

The Mill Creek Fire Ranger Station. We slept on the back porch and are very grateful to the nice fire fighters who let us. 

Ugh. The dreaded Poodle. Now, this is a pretty tame picture of this stuff. Imagine an 18 inch trail with this stuff lining either side. And growing all the way up and down the hills on both sides. Did I mention that it stinks, too?

The PCT into Agua Dulce. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Days 23 & 24: Wrightwood, Just Right

We woke up this morning still feeling tired so we decided to stay another night and get some more rest in. Plus, Wrightwood is a pretty ideal little spot to pass time; it's quaint and friendly and easy to walk around in. Last night we got into the small town spirit and attended the first ever Wrightwood little league game under the lights. Yankee Son, Just Retired, Fairway, Iceman, Auto Pilot and I rooted for the Cubs, ate hot dogs, bought raffle tickets and chitchatted with local folks. A definite highlight was in the bottom of the fourth when the sprinklers came on and the game got delayed. The school principal had to come over from home to turn them off.

Today we've run errands and relaxed at the Pines Motel. More hands of Spades got played and more delicious food was eaten. A pretty nice little Zero, I'd say.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Days 19-22: Long Days

PCT Mile 369.5

Right out of the gate from Big Bear City, we started putting in big miles. We left town and hiked our planned 20 miles by 3 pm. So we decided to keep going. 7 miles later we stopped to camp at Holcomb Creek with tired feed and many other hikers. The day had perfect hiking weather and easy, level terrain. It was lovely, and maaaybe we got a little arrogant because after that we just kept plugging away at big mile days. The next day, things started out bright and sunny, we passed the 300 mile mark, and took a long siesta with friends under a big tree at a creek oasis.  We passed the Deep Creek hot springs and moved on to the spillway.  Exhausted and hot, we cooked dinner and decided (due to limited/no camping options nearby) to push on to the next spring... miles and miles away. We (along with the Usual Suspects: Bronco, Fairway, Auto Pilot and Brother Man) got our first night hike in, arriving at Grass Valley camp at 8:30 (after nearly 25 miles).


Burnt forest

Deep Creek bridge one

Deep Creek

MILE 300! Kanji, Brother Man, Auto Pilot, YS, and Fairway (Hallmark up front)

The next morning we woke up exhausted, but somehow made the decision to keep up our high mileage... this time, the end goal was a Best Western at I-15. This turned out to be the most exhausting day yet for me and Trav.  At some point we were so hot, dehydrated and worn out, we stopped taking care of ourselves like we normally do. We didn't eat enough, didn't change our socks, didn't hydrate enough.  Around 3pm, we nearly totally bonked. Sitting right in the dirt, in the shade of a power line transformer, I put the hurt on a Clif Bar and other snacks,  just in time for Auto Pilot to pass with the info that we were a mere mile away from the Best Western. So we charged off toward the highway to reap our reward of a king sized bed and a shower. The following morning we faced a big climb up Cajon Pass and through what is usually extremely hot, dry terrain.  The hiking gods smiled upon us and brought in that great California marine layer... meaning we had a foggy sky and diffused sun for hours. We came upon an excellent cache where we enjoyed bubbly water, lounge chairs and a Funfetti cupcake. First class!

Foggy morning under the underpass

First class cache!

Just loungin'.

The afternoon came and went, and we completed our 22 miles with time in the evening to hang out and build a fire with friends.  Iceman, Just Retired, Matt and Maple joined us at Guffy Campground.

Enthusiastic hitchhiking, 8:30 am

This morning we made our quick 5 miles trip out the Highway 2, caught a ride into Wrightwood and promptly visited the Evergreen Cafe for the Mountain Man breakfast.  Tonight we'll rest at the Pine Motel and resupply at the grocery store so that we can head out tomorrow.

This last stretch was tough. But we did it. We put in long miles and realized what we can do and what is too much.  Though my feet ache, they continue to propel me Northward.  

Days 17 & 18: Big Bear City

Our layover days in Big Bear City were busy with errands, phone calls and card playing. Oh and pizza and burgers.  Here are some scenes from town days...

Air those puppies OUT!

Gear explosion and reorganization at the Motel 6.

Spades playing with Auto Pilot, Yankee Son, and Fairway.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Days 13-17: What Goes Up, Must Come Down (And Up And Down Again)

PCT Mile: 265.5

This last section was a pretty tough one. Upon leaving Idyllwild, we hiked up and across Fuller Ridge. We didn't quite know what to expect because in years past it has been snow covered and sometimes difficult.  This being an unbelievably low snow year, we crossed the ridge with ease, passing through snow and only post holing/sliding around a little bit.  The next day, we faced the longest continual downhill on the whole PCT.  For about 14 miles we traveled steep and winding switchbacks and lost thousands of feet of elevation. Going downhill is a bit grueling on the knees, but the really rough part was that we could see our destination below us for about 5 hours.  And we kept slogging on... mile after mile, staring at I-10 and the road we wanted to cross. It really started to mess with our minds.  One highlight of this infamous downhill climb, however, is that we passed MILE 200 (!!!) which was incredibly thrilling. 

MILE 200!

We finally reached the road and a water fountain where we took a break with other hikers. The sun was high and incredibly hot.  There was one option for shade: a giant boulder with about 20 inches of shade below it. The two of us, along with maybe 6 other hikers, spent an hour nearly spooning in this small sliver of shade.  We ate our lunches, shared candy, and lamented about that damn downhill climb.  Then we set off on to the desert floor, heading towards Interstate 10...

Hangin' under the bridge

Under the bridge we found some amazing trail magic: sodas.  They were cold and crisp and we were very hot and sweaty. The bridge provided some much appreciated shade. 

Ziggy And The Bear!

From there we cruised on to the Whitewater Hiker House, the home of Ziggy and The Bear.  These two are such dedicated Angels that when they started looking for a new home last year their main requirement was it's proximity to the PCT. And boy, are they close. You walk about 200 feet from the trail to get to their home, which they have set up for weary hikers.  When you enter their backyard (through the Hiker Entrance) you are immediately greeted by Ziggy, who has you sign in and then takes you picture.  You are then ushered into a seat where another amazing volunteer, Ron, brings you a steaming bucket of hot water and Epsom Salts. Ahhh. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging with other hikers, using computers, and helping prepare for dinner and the ice cream social. Yeah, that's right! Ice cream social! Nearly 30 hikers stayed in their yard last night...what an amazing place. 

Mesa Wind Farm

Brother Man and Yankee Son charging in the desert heat

Bronco under his shade umbrella

The next day was incredibly hot. We ventured uphill and past the Mesa Wind Farm making our way towards Mission Creek.  Brother Man, Bronco (Jim), and Fairway hiked with us that day in the pounding heat. We enjoyed a nearly 3 hour siesta under a tree along side the creek where we were joined by nearly 10 other hikers. That night both Trav and I got the best night sleep we've had since we started hiking.

Trail Magic: A couch and sodas in the shade!

Saturday we put in a very long day: 25.5 miles.  We faced some pretty long uphills and got up over 8000 feet again. We traveled most of the day with Brother Man, Iceman, Bronco, Fairway and Wade and leapfrogged with some new hiker friends, QBall, Beardo, Wolf Pack and more.  This long day of hiking took us past two new/interesting experiences: 1. We had our first run in with Poodle Dog Bush, a nasty plant that creates a rash worse that Poison Oak or Ivy.  We made it out okay, and dread having to meet it again.  2. We passed a chain-link fenced-in area that holds Hollywood stunt animals... so there we were, on the PCT, face to face with two Grizzly Bears and two Tigers. Seriously, it was a very strange sight. When we arrived to our destination campground that evening, we found three hikers from last year, Honey Badger, Dump Truck and Murph, with a little more magic... hot dogs, cookies, beer and sangria... Delish. There were 19 hikers in the campground that night and we were all looking forward to our arrival the next day in Big Bear. 

We arrived here in Big Bear yesterday morning after a 10 mile walk.  We had a lovely afternoon hanging out with hiker friends, catching up with friends and family over the phone, listening to music and playing Spades with Wade and Fairway.  We enjoyed burgers at Thelma's and pizza for dinner.  This hiker appetite thing is nuts... you can eat and eat and never really feel full.  We're looking forward to celebrating Wampus Cat's birthday tonight! OH! And making it to Big Bear at mile 265.5 means we're 10% through!!

Overall, we're both feeling pretty dang good. We can feel that we are getting stronger and our aches and pains seem to be (somewhat) subsiding.  Trav's knee is feeling sturdier and, while my blisters have calloused and no longer bother me, my feet are still tight and my Achilles has started hurting... time will tell on that one. My wild hair is bleaching out in the sun and Trav's beard is growing longer by the minute. 

We're off in the morning, back into the desert... but in the meantime, you might recognize a couple goofs in the San Diego Union Tribune slideshow from Kick Off!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Days 11 & 12: Wild About Idyllwild

Needless to say, our nearly two day stay in Idyllwild has been fantastic. It's an artsy/mountain town that fits the two of us just right. We rested our weary bodies, ate great food, and visited with locals. We got here Monday for a Nero Day (nearly zero) and spent Tuesday as a Zero Day (no miles hiked). It was perfection.

Mad props to the Idyllwild Inn, The Red Kettle, and Cafe Aroma