Wrightwood to Agua Dulce, Stretch 5

For me, this stretch stood out for its stunning views, steeper ups and downs, and of course, hiking with Louise! Hiking with someone else is different. Everything must be agreed upon, even if just implicitly. How many miles to go, how fast, when to break, how long, whether to camp near others. Decisions I didn’t know I was making before. This takes just a little extra energy every step of the way, but the payoff is great.

Before all my response to everything happened internally. I marvel at the views, the way the light hits the flowers and the grasses shimmer in the wind. I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I’m tired, I’m content. I meet people and make judgements. I think about what to cook for dinner. I rejoice that the creek is not dry. I remember stories and places and people from different times of my life. All in my head.

And that’s not so bad. None of it needs to come out. But it is nice to have someone to share it with. Especially my sister.

Traveling with Louise has brought about a couple changes and revelations in particular. Before Louise got her first taste of cowboy camping, I spent a couple nights in a tent with her. Of course I’d camped in a tent before, but it felt new again. It was luxurious to be in a space closed off from the dirt and bugs, but it made it harder to get up and going in the morning. Very important when it can get unpleasantly hot by 9. It’s a good option on particularly cold nights or if it rains.

Also shoes. At every lunch break and when I make camp I take my shoes off and pour out what looks like a couple tablespoons of sand. My toes are caked with dirt. No one else that I’ve traveled with accrues dirt quite like I do. I thought it must be my shoes. But Louise and I have the same shoe in the same size. And her feet do not get as dirty. I must accept that it’s just me.

Footprints are often very visible on the trail. A friend who caught up to us and did not know Louise had the same shoe as me said she thought I was just taking tiny steps. Walking behind Louise the last day of the stretch it occurred to me that if I step my left foot to the left of Weeze’s right footprint and my right foot to the right of Louise’s left footprint, it might look like one person was hopping the whole trail. I got caught up trying to step in this way for some time, at the expense of noticing the scenery. I hope I’ve confused someone.

Ok, a bit about this stretch. We started around mile 369 and made it 85 miles to mile 454 in 5 days and 4 nights, hiking about 17 miles a day. The first day we gained 3000 ft up to the top of Mount Baden Powell, at about 9400 ft- the highest I’d been so far. Kind of a tough introduction to the trail for Louise, But she powered through like a champ! From there we could see everything- mountains of the past, including San Jacinto (~200 pct miles back!), mountains yet to come, and always to the east, the brown and orange and tan Mojave.

We traveled through Angeles National Forest, making our way towards the desert. One day we did some road walking to skip 4 miles of trail housing an endangered species of frog. A couple days we spent dodging the dangerous poodle dog bush, a distint looking plant with a very distinct smell that can give you painful burns. The last couple days we were right on the edge of the forest. Green mountains to the left and brown to the right. Finally the last day we descended into the dry ‘western’ looking landscape, particularly novel and stunning to me. We pretended we were in WestWorld. 10 miles before town we hit the Acton KOA where we took a luxurious 3 hour break, eating ice cream and showering and doing laundry and sitting in chairs.

Now in Agua Dulce we are staying in ‘Hiker Heaven’, a trail angel’s home that acts as a sort of hiker hostel. The name is apt. I’ll let Louise describe it more.

Hello everyone! Louise here, reporting from a comfy 20 ft long couch at Hiker Heaven. I don’t know if I can be as concise as Morgan has been, but I will try!

Hiker Heaven is run by a very generous family-the Saufleys- who have been welcoming PCT hikers to stay on their property for twenty years. The Saufleys’ amazing commitment to helping hikers has become legendary, so on the week leading up to our arrival, ‘Hiker Heaven’ was on everybody’s lips. And it lives up to the hype!

Arriving in town yesterday, we heard there was a shuttle every hour from the grocery store to Heaven, and so we waited till the next shuttle came along. Fifteen minutes later,  23 of us piled into a pickup truck–almost, but not quite their record if you can believe it!–and then Morgan and I had to go through a quick orientation. We were introduced to the expansive property, including among other things the laundry tent, the internet tent, the sewing/repair tent, a shower area, a post office, and a sprawling lawn covered with about 40 hiker tents, chickens, dogs, cactus, and even a horse corral!

We’ve met so many interesting and kind people here, including (drumroll please) two other pairs of siblings!! In a quite ridiculous fashion, last night Morgan and I found ourselves sitting in a circle with two blond German brothers and two dark-haired and bearded brothers from Michigan, around our same ages. I don’t know how much we’ll run into them in the future, but it was really sweet to share that short bit of “family time” on the trail.

In other news, Morgan has a trail name now! I bet you could guess what it is too… Pancakes 🙂 And in true Morgan-fashion, she ate two orders of chocolate chip pancakes and a leftover blueberry pancake from my plate, making a total of 5 pancakes for breakfast. And a friend just gave her another pancake, so all-in-all it’s been a good day!

Lastly, I must mention just how patient Morgan has been with me this past week. I was really struggling in the first few days to feel steady… really my heart felt like it was going to explode! But Morgan has been very understanding and helpful and a really good foot-taper and cook. Actually, right now, Morgan cooked up a pan of spinach cornbread and is giving it out to lots of hikers. She’s got a lot of skills and passions, and I can say that we’re all benefitting from her care!

Stretch 4 and the Arrival of Louise

The day I left Big Bear Lake I made my first wildlife friend. The most relaxed lizard I’ve ever met was sunning on a picnic table by a water spigot a couple miles in. He initially gravitated towards my friend Funkle but was perfectly content to lounge on my hand as well.

That night and the following day were very cold. I was cozy at night in my bag and bivy but hiking didn’t quite warm me up. I had my hat and mittens on the whole day. That night I camped near Picnic and Twinkle Toes and we made a fire. 

For the rest of the of the stretch I tailored my pace to accommodate 4 events. Spending some time soaking in the Deep Creek hot springs, getting to the Cleghorn picnic area (where pizza can be ordered) in the afternoon, hitting McDonalds during breakfast menu hours, and of course, being in Wrightwood for Louise’s arrival. 

I would reach the hot springs 15 miles into the third day, which, if I could do 5 or 6 more miles after, would put me in a good spot to reach the pizza spot (20 miles from the hot springs) in the afternoon. Then, if I could do at least 5 miles after pizza, I could easily make it to McDonalds (14 miles from the pizza spot) by 10:30 the next morning*. Then I would have two days to finish the 27 miles to Wrightwood. *I know that McDonalds has all day breakfast but the menu is limited and they often don’t have biscuits.

I had hot springs on my mind from the very start of the third day. 6 miles and the trail crossed a ravine holding a decently sized creek. Aha! Normally I would have gotten in a body of water that large but I knew the hot springs were 9 miles ahead so I waited. The trail started following the river, traversing the ridge 200 feet above. I saw a sign. ‘Deep Creek’ I would be following this for 9 miles. Those 9 miles were truly a test of my resolve. The sun beating down on me stepping stepping stepping across the stones and dirt all the while sounds of cool gushing water below. If Tantalus was a PCT hiker he would forever be walking this stretch.

And the hot springs delivered. The creek continued as usual and very hot water flowed from a few places in the banks. People had cemented rocks together to create hot tubs along the creek. So there were still large deep pools of cold water to swim in. I spent a few hours here, swimming and soaking, eating and doing laundry. 

But the pizza spot was calling. I packed up and walked onwards, 5 more miles till the ravine opened into a large valley. Here before sunset I could see a huge spillway and the silhouette of power lines on the horizon. We were nearing civilization. That night we found friends camping on an island in a tiny creek and made camp as light disappeared. 

The next day I spent hours traversing brown, recently burnt hills looking out on some farmland and ahead to cloud shrouded mountains. Eventually the trail touched down and joined with paved sidewalk and road before back through some lush brush and trees and opening to a large lake! I found a nice picnic spot by the shore and undertook a perfect break. Swimming, eating, napping, and catching up on my journal. Before walking 1.5 miles and eating half a pizza. Man life is good. 

McDonalds in the morning was thrilling. I had set out and camped the night before with a friend I’d made at the hot springs. We were 7 miles and change from McDonalds. An early start and we arrived before 8:30. First coffee, orange juice, pancakes, and an egg and cheese biscuit. Then more orange juice, pancakes, and another biscuit. 

By ten there were at least a dozen other hikers. McDonalds was an exciting thing in itself, but it was also the last water for the next 25 miles, uphill. I set out with two others by 11:30, carrying 6 liters. We passed under the highway through a tunnel, across railroad tracks, and began to climb our way past civilization.

That morning I had woken to the most frozen condensation on my bivy and bag I’d yet experienced. Sheets of ice. So had most everyone who’d been at McDonald’s that morning. We took a nice afternoon break to dry everything and steel ourselves for the 5000 ft climb and 20 miles remaining to Wrightwood. We certainly wouldn’t finish it that day but we hoped to make it 12 miles.

Oh man what a bear it was! The longest switchbacks ever. Never particularly steep but unrelenting. I was really feeling all the extra water weight. Much of this stretch was recently scourged by fire and the trail was eroding, a slightly less slanted line across a steep steep hillside. A falter could be fatal. We had been overly optimistic and only made it 8 miles, finally camping on a dirt road as the sun set.

Wrightwood has been pleasant. I’ve had some pancakes and most importantly Louise arrived today! She is falling asleep next to me now. Tomorrow we set off on her first day. Here’s a bunch of pictures.

Stretch 3

Walking out of Idylwild there was already a couple inches of fresh snow and flakes were coming down in big clumps. 2000 feet of climbing and my shoes were sodden, my feet and hands were frozen. After the grade evened out I wasn’t able to move fast enough to keep warm so I decided to make camp after only 6 miles. Frozen fingers doing my best with the tarp and in dry clothes in the sleeping bag asap.

I hadn’t seen anyone except a day hiker at the start so I was glad when a friendly Czech woman walked by and made camp near me. Petra is not a PCT hiker, she was on her last couple days of a months long tour of many American parks. We ate together in our little shelters, dinner under my tarp and breakfast in her tent. We shared our food and I felt I was feasting! I had been conserving fuel but Petra had plenty. Hot tea, hot soup, hot oatmeal, and real cheese and real fresh fruit! 

What a treat on an otherwise bleary night. The snow had subsided and the sky cleared as the sun was setting- enough to see some lovely pink and orange hues behind the frosted trees. Good, the weather is over I thought.

Not so. After I got cozy in my sleeping bag, the wind picked up. My tarp was not taut enough because it would catch a big gust and fall, making a sound I imagine is similar to a sail catching wind. All night. Even after it stopped snowing big clumps from the trees would fall else I would have done without. Twice a gust of wind pulled a corner loose and the whole thing flapped around me letting in snow. The second time instead of resecuring the line and stake I just pulled out all the guys lines, put the tarp directly over me, and tucked it under my sleeping pad on all sides. It still made an awful sound and I still did not sleep but I stayed warm enough and dry enough that I never felt unsafe.

After breakfast with Petra I was glad to me moving the next morning. Putting my feet in my frozen trail runners was not fun, but after 20 minutes of motion I was doing great. It was a clear day- looking out at miles and miles of views rather than a white wall- and everything looked magical with a coat of fresh snow. 

The snow did make for slow hiking. Not being able to see the roots and rocks below me I had to step cautiously, and no one had made tracks ahead of me so following the trail was difficult at points. All well worth it though. I knew that soon enough, likely later that day, I would be back on the dry dersert-y setting I’d gotten used to.

Sure enough, that afternoon I was able to lay out my stuff to dry over dry orange rocks under warm sunbeams.

I only covered 20 PCT miles those first two days but that was fine with me. I had decided to do shorter days after Idylwild- 20 miles tops. It had been fun to do big miles but I was risking injury and there’s absolutely no rush. Quite the opposite- if I get to Wrightwood before Weeze, I’ll just be waiting around. It did mean saying goodbye to my speedy friends though.

On day three I finished the long descent  into a large valley bisected by interstate 10. Buzzing power lines, houses, trains, cars, and towering wind turbines- what a contrast to the peaceful winter wonderland of yesterday. In the interest of slowing things down (and of putting quesaritos in my belly) I made a little detour to the Taco Bell 6 miles west. It took a little while to get a hitch each way but even so, I was back on the trail by 1:30.

5 more miles, past the wind farm, and I was once again surrounded by a stunning landscape. You’d never know that just over the ridge 18 wheelers and SUVs and sports cars and trucks were barreling down a concrete ribbon. As always, the landscape was new. Every 20 miles things change. Here it was wide open, lowly vegetated rolling hills. Or mountains.

That night, of the third day, I made it to the largest body of water I’d seen- the White River. I camped at the White River Preserve, a lovely outdoor area mostly for day use. There I met some more fellow hikers and was treated to trail magic by Legend- former hiker and full time trail angel. Pancakes for breakfast (:

Somewhere on this stretch, the hiker hunger hit. They say it takes your metabolism a couple weeks to catch up with your activity. The first ten days, I wasn’t particularly hungry, even after hiking 30 miles. Hiker hunger turns you into a calorie churning machine. Hiking or sitting, if a couple hours pass without eating it feels as though my stomach is a pit. 

On day four, I crossed water large enough to sit in twice. Of course I got in both times. This day was great- gorgeous views, hard climbs, lush scenery, and talking and resting and soaking with new friends.

In the last couple days I passed through forest recently affected by wildfire, undertook some rocky ups and downs, soaked up some stunning views, and continued to meet more hikers. The fifth day I could often see San Jacinto’s snowy peak in the distance- beyond mountains and valleys. It was crazy to think I’d freezing up there just three nights previously. 

Getting into Big Bear was exciting. I hadn’t had my thumb out for a minute when a sheriff vehicle pulled over on the other side to let a hiker out. I asked him if he would take me back to town. Yep, all who could fit he said. I rode in the back of a cop car for the first time, crammed in with two other hikers and out packs. The sheriff was lovely and dropped me at the place he assured me had the best chocolate chip pancakes in town. The Grizzly Manor has the largest pancakes I’ve ever seen. And delicious. I may go get more now.

First here’s some pictures. I’ve tried to put them in order but it’s hard on this little phone to make it just so.

Stretch Two

Both my strong desire to get out of the heat of the desert and the lure of a zero* in the lovely mountain town of Idylwild had me speeding through the last 42 miles to the Paradise Valley Cafe. Oh boy were they a rough 42 miles. (*a zero is a day in which you hike zero miles)

I thought sleeping in the lawn of the Warner Springs community center among dozens of other hikers might be noisy so I hiked a mile and a half down the trail after the sun set. Some more cows and some lovely dusky colors above the mountains and I found a large sandy flat surrounded by grasses to roll out my bivy. Perfect. 

Except I kept hearing noises. Id never been spooked by noises camping alone in the past but that morning a local told me that the area held mountain lions. Surely I was just hearing jack rabbits but even so I became tense at every sound. I slept very little and at 2 when I realized that my bag was gathering condensation I was done. Better to hike without the sun anyway.

So I undertook my first night hiking. A bit spooky at first. The desert sage looked like a ghost plant reflecting the thin light of my headlamp and small animals rustled the brush around me as I passed. I regret passing through what I’m sure was lovely terrain in the dark.

The rest was visually spectacular as the beginning probably but with extreme heat, weariness, and a growing pain in my knee I did not appreciate it quite so much. Often looking at the views I would see a small line crossing next ridge hundred of feet away and groan a bit inside. 

Arriving at the Paradise Valley Cafe was thrilling. During the 15 mile hike there in the morning, Isaac made up a lovely country tune about heading to the Paradise Cafe and added verses along the way. That and the tenacious flowers which still persisted in the arid climate got me through.

Idylwild has been great. I slept 9 hours last night! We made salad and quesadillas and strawberry shortcake for dinner and pancakes this morning. Mike’s aunt took us out to lunch today. Tomorrow I will head into the San Jacinto mountains to see my first snow but right now enjoying much needed rest.

Again, a smattering of pictures probably not in the right order. Enjoy!

The First Stretch

Wow! It’s really happening! That’s what’s running through my mind 70% of the time that I’m walking. I can’t believe I ever doubted that this would be enjoyable and rewarding. So far I think it’s the best idea I’ve ever had. Almost 6 days and 110 miles. Too long to give a cohesive narrative so I’ll just write some things and post pictures.

This year being a heavy precipitation year has been widely discussed, mostly in the context of the challenges it poses in the Sierras. But it is great for the start! Right away I was struck by how lush the first 20 miles were, and so full of wildflowers, which I am told is very rare. Also every creek that’s usually dried up by now is flowing. This gave me the wrong impression that water would be plentiful everywhere. The past 50 miles were brutally hot with long stretches of no water. I went 18 miles on 4 liters And that wasn’t fun.

I’ve seen a handful of day hikers, especially in the beginning and it’s common they’ll see me and ask as they walk by, ‘You goin’ the whole way?’ On most hikes I’ve been on that question would be asking something like whether you planned to do the half mile scramble past the lake. But they know and I know what they’re asking. Are you planning to walk every day until you reach Canada? ‘That’s the hope’, I’d say. ‘You’ll make it’, they say. Thanks for your confidence stranger. 

I’m feeling like people are pretty great. Before I got to the trail I stayed at trail angels Scout and Frodo’s house in San Diego. With 32 other people. They coordinate everyone getting a ride from the airport or train station, they have tons of resources about the trail, they feed us, and they get us to the trailhead the next morning. All the the help of many volunteers. They do this all season and don’t take donations. Everything since then too. The third day friends and I had stopped at a water spigot just off the trail. We fed ourselves and hydrated. I washed my clothes and hung them to dry, we tended to our feet. Generally lounging. A couple came by with plastic bags and a backpack and asked if were thru hikers. They were carrying Gatorade and soda and oranges and clementines,  which we learned were from their garden. What lovely people! Their niece had hiked the PCT last year and is on the AT now.

I’ve been pretty gross. Sand and dirt are everywhere- they fill my shoes and stain my clothes and stick to my skin- toes, legs, face, hair. In the peak of the day I sweat a lot. I smell bad and look bad. My muscles are sore and my feet are raw. But I’m pretty happy and so thankful to not be experiencing any major foot or ankle problems. And averaging ~20 miles a day!

Ive made friends and friends are great. Sometimes we walk together and chat. Sometimes we’re walking paces apart. Most of the time I’m walking on my own. But we often break together and have camped together most nights.

In my time walking along I have memorized Shakespeare’s St Crispians day speech. Time to move on to another.

And now, pics. Bit of a haphazard collection. I think they uploaded in the opposite order I wanted. The first was this morning- my pancake reward at the golf course restaurant in Warner Springs.