Sunday, May 20, 2012

Day 19

I have an easy hitch back into town given to me by Ms. Claus (really. She volunteers every year and her husband is santa). She is very sweet and tells me she often takes hikers in but can't tonight. I caught her as she was dropping off three Italian hikers who she had hosted and was very touched and a bit amused to see her actually tearing up as she paused to watch them walk away. She beeped her horn farewell and sniffed to me "Oh, I hate goodbyes". Very adorable.

I luck out and the very friendly guy at the coffee shop offers me his couch after I ask if he is on couchsurfing or knows of anyone in town who is. He had been incredibly nice to Maya and I yesterday, even giving us our coffee on the house. I wanted to avoid the hostel because I dislike paying to share space. I was going to cave and get a hotel room but feel fortunate to have a free couch instead. Makes me feel much less guilty about the money spent on food while in town.

Instead of icing my knee I buy thrift store ski poles for five dollars and waste hours at the library updating this journal. I really should have iced more. I do carry a rapidly melting bag of ice with me as I run these errands and try to squeeze some rehab icing time in as I go.

It was really tough hitching from the thrift store to the library but a guy my age who was born in Big Bear and is studying to become a firefighter makes a u-turn and picks me up. A woman at the library learns of how I lost my poles and offers to make a bright colored poster to leave in town in hopes that the driver will see it and be able to return my poles. I've also successfully walked up to people on the street and gotten rides, which is a good sign of a friendly town.

I spend my evening being spoiled by Adam and his girlfriend - Adam hadn't even heard of the Pacific Crest trail before yesterday when he encountered Maya and I but he is taking to the role of trail angel amazingly well! He is a great host and even brings me a beer to enjoy in the shower. He and his adorable girlfriend ask me lots of questions about the hike, and I curl up on the couch to pass out contentedly as they head out to have a few drinks. He is so considerate he even sends me a text reminding me to take my clothes out of the dryer, and gives me a small ipod as a gift! In spite of the staring tourists, Big Bear has been full of friendly, kind people who have gone out of their way for me. If only the amenities were spaced just a little closer toegther!
I said goodbye to the cousins and Maya this morning. I still feel a bit sad but know it was the right decision. I hope I'll see them again on trail, or maybe even after the trail.

The time I spent with them was the first time I consistently didn't feel lonely in a very long time.

I'm hoping to have Brian, Cameron & Tim catch up, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the trail brings me to in the future.

day 18

Mile 259 - hwy 18 - Doble Cmp

In the morning we leave before P-Track wakes up and I run over and say goodbye feeling guilty at rushing off, but fairly certain he doesn't mind. We talked yesterday about how people move in and out of hiker's lives. I hope I'll see him again, though. He was really fun.

We hike down to the highway in just a few hours, greeted by roadside soada courtesy of motel-6 and an almost instant hitch (both making for a great start to the morning). We stop in Big Bear City to peek at the hostel's free hiker box (it's pretty barren) and then get another hitch into Big Bear Lake, a few miles further down. The day is another stretch of time eaten up by errands and agonizing over groceries and hours spent online emailing and journalling. The cousins of course efficiently finish much sooner and wait for Maya and I to finish. We feel guilty, but re-supplying is hard - so many decisions over what to pack, what we will want to eat, how much, if it will last. We both buy too much and our packs are heavy. 3 of us now sport matching knee braces newly purchased. I don't have high hopes that this will solve anything.

I learn that nobody seems inclined to zero at the hot springs that are 30 miles down the trail, except me. I feel a bit disheartened. I don't like rushing, and I am beginning to feel rushed. I still am having trouble accepting the fact that my body can't do the mileage teh cousins are doing. I find it interesting that 3 of us are having knee issues, yet I am the only one who thinks rest is necessary. And I don't consider a 15 mile day rest. I'm beginning to feel a lot of guilt and pressure, all self-imposed.

We hitch out on a tricky stretch of busy road and luck out with our hitch. As we get out, I am pre-occupied with teasing Maya/Focus about how she leaves behind and get this - I accidentally leave my second most expensive piece of gear in the trunk of the car I hitched in. My gossamer gear trekking poles are now speeding away in the car of a man I only know the first name of. I am screwed. I feel angry and frustrated and before I can help myself I swear. I tell everyone else to leave and not wait for me, in spite of the fact that we have a delicious group dinner planned. They walk off.

I cry.

Finally, after being consoled by a stranger who was waiting by the road for his wife (he offered me cookies) I post a sign with my contact info and hike on. It takes two miles to really fully calm down.

I apologize to everyone but nobody minds my outburst, which was fully aimed at myself, although also full of frustrations with the difficulties as travelling as a group. We decide to hike two more days together, to the Hot Springs, at my pace but in the middle of the night I decide it is best if I turn around and hike the 2 miles back to the road and spend the night in town by myself. I feel sad but think it is best. I need rest.

Day 17

Mission Camp - mile 259

After coercing the cousins into cuddling some warmth into me they depart and I linger at camp with P-track. We have an enjoyable morning where we get to know each other over shared coffee and breakfast. I get crumbs all over his gear, he forgives me, and we wind up hiking together all day. He makes me laugh often and we get along great. We hike at a decent but slower pace and it's nice to be around company. The trail passes by caged stunt animals (lions and tigers and bears - seriously!) which is a bit odd and briefly depressing.

We take a 3 or 4 hour long lunch and enjoy ourselves thoroughly. I make a killer dinner of Annie's mac & cheese plus broccoli and garlic, preparing it now to enjoy as dinner later. After moving on from our break we discover, of all things, a small sofa plopped down by the trail with a cooler of mangos. We want to kick ourselves. The two of us squatted in dirt and pebbles for hours while upholstered comfort lay just a mile away. It's been placed there as an advertisement of sorts for a hiker-friendly hostel in Big Bear. This whole stretch with the past few towns has had that - water and soda at various road crossing places there by hostels and hotels competing for our business.

When we reach the next campsite we are informed by everyone there (who had passed us throughout the day as we lazed about) that the cousins and Maya had lingered for hours, right up until 6, and were only going about 3 more miles. I feel kind of touched, knowing that they definitely waited longer for me. I ask P-track if he is willing to hike on at a much faster pace and he says yes. I tell him I'd like to be able to say goodbye to everyone, and it's the truth. I am slowly acknowledging that I just can't do back to back 20 mile days right now. In fact, I'm getting really worried that it may be too late.

Life on the trail consists of an ebb and flow of people moving in and out of your life as you walk at varying paces but I keep wishing I could stay with this group. We catch them setting up just as the sun sets and I happily move into the group once again, knowing deep down it won't be for much longer

Day 16

Whitewater Preserve - Mission Camp

My knee has been feeling abused and neglected and I fully realize this today. I hike very slowly, attempting to be conscious of how it feels and where my feet land. I cross streams over 20 times today, yet am underhydrated because I don't trust the source (it's a fast flowing larger creek, but speckled with lots of horse droppings and algae). I get caught washing up with my pants down by some hikers off in the distance but luckily they seem to not notice (I hope) and never catch up to me in spite of my snail's pace. It is a long and lonely desert day, and I resort to dipping my shirt in each stream that I cross to cool off. I feel very lonely and eager to catch up with everyone, which I dislike. The sole person I interact with is a southbound weekender, and we exchange only a sentence or two. I try not to anticipate catching my friends on their now tradition of siesta break. I have a feeling I am so slow today I will never catch them, even with their habit of resting for hours. I have trouble keeping track of the stream crossings and reading the map, and with my pace so slow I have no idea where I am. The one clearly labelled sign (designating a wilderness boundary), where I think I know where I am, I later discover is not what it appears to be mileage-wise on the map. I am not overly pleased with Half-Mile's maps today.

I do catch the cousins and Focus at the end of the day, on the verge of getting ready to leave. They kindly let me make dinner before we all head off together. The cousins are much faster than Maya (Focus) and I. We have to weave through patches of poodle dog bush, which is a foolish name for something that causes a poison oak type reaction, with nasty lingering blisters. The only sign warning us is a hand made one by a fellow hiker on a small piece of bark. It is a plant that should be in a Dr. Seuss illustration, just like much of the desert vegetation. Our caution slows us down but thankfully after a while it dissipates, and hopefully the look-alike plant crowding the trail the rest of the way is just that - a look-alike. Otherwise we are all screwed.

The highlight of this hike is a cliff and an enormous pine tree. We push up into higher elevation and a Princess Bride type forest. We pause at mile 18 by a stream and tall trees and I so want to stop here. Nobody else seems inclined so I ignore my misgivings and push on for two more miles. At dusk we end up at Mission Camp, a tentsite by a dirtroad that is at least 8,000 feet in elevation. I am quiet, upset with myself for ignoring my body and needing this company too much, relying too heavily on it, being too slow, making people wait on me. I go do yoga by myself and come back to a group hug, which cheers me up considerably.I freeze all night and discover in the morning that our water actually did freeze.

Day 15

Mile 200 - Whitewater Preserve

I pack quickly and begin to walk around 6:30, hoping to beat the heat to no avail. The switchbacks here are tortuous and ludicrous, and I briefly fantasize over punishments I would like to visit on the designer. I also wish I had a copy of Desert Solitaire from the used bookstore in Idyllwild. I then resolve to have no regrets and mindlessly press onwards, my one goal to reach water and shade as quickly as possible. I spot my first sacred datura (jimson weed) and admire its blooms.
After catching the cousins and Focus at a water faucet in the middle of the desert foothills, I linger until 9 am, the last to leave the shade. I make good time over a very flat stretch of road walk and then stretches of loose sand with strong winds gusting to 30-40 mph. No wonder there are wind farms dotting the hills. The 3 mph pace would be much faster without wind and sand, but I'm happy with that as it is. My knee is not fond of the terrain, most likely due to yesterday's abuse.

I arrive at an underpass to discover unexpected trail magic: bananas, oranges, cookies, and cold soda. It's heavenly. I lounge under the bridge feeling very happy. The banana almost makes me forget my cravings for smoothies. I move over a few sections of bridge to pee only to stand up and realize a truck is barrelling over the sand straight towards me. Whoops. It's security for the construction or windfarm or desert water supply, I'm not really sure what. All I know is that they may have gotten the hobo special: pants-less dirty girl peeing under a bridge.

It's hot but my early morning coffee combined with soda and a good shuffle of music on the ipod have me moving fast. I don't stop in at the trail angel's house a bit off trail - I already had some great trail magic and I am unsure as to whether or not they are a hostel. Sometimes the map and guidebook information is a little vague. I do stop for lunch at the windfarm's office building, as they have a sign that promises shade and cold water. The workers are extremely friendly and welcoming, one even brings out a bottled water for me. I hang around until about 1 and then head off into steep desert hills. These are the most winding switchbacks yet, but I am enjoying the changes in the landscape around me and walk on unbothered by the tedium of the trail. Other hikers have clearly been more annoyed, with lots of bootleg trail jumping switchbacks and creating erosion.

I reach the trail junction and head a half mile off trail to the Whitewater Preserve, where free camping and a wading pool beckons. I have been staring at a gray gravelled strand from on high for hours now, praying it really is water. It is. And it's incredible. Before we even both to check in at the ranger station Focus and I rush straight towards the creek. A cliff veers up ahead jutting straight up from the rushing water and sandstone hills are our backdrop. We plop down fully clothed in the perfect temperature water and sigh contentedly. The cousins are nowhere to be seen and we wonder why. When we leave the water around 4 we discover they were lounging for hours besides a man-made pool that was just as lovely as the water we had been in - a tiny waterfall pounded a massage into us and smooth rocks provided areas to nap. We sign in at the ranger station and pore over a plant guidebook that they have compiled as the employees offer us their tea and coffee and fresh mint and pommelos. Everyone is kind and friendly, camping is free for thru-hikers, and this is truly the best day ever, in spite of the earlier heat. Of course, we have been calling each day the best day ever for days now. Except maybe Fuller Ridge!

We have been told there are boyscouts camping here tonight and so we wander around plotting how to ask for their leftover food. Instead we hear a call "Hey, thru-hikers!" It turns out to be Lake2lake and Warner Springs Monty, former thru-hikerswho had provided some of the trail magic at the underpass we had enjoyed earlier. They have a weekend of trail magic planned, feeding hikers each night, and we are their very first recipients. We feast on roast beef and turkey sandwiches, fried chicken, coleslaw, potato salad, chips and salsa, carrots and celery, and amazing brownies made by Lake2lake. The only downside to the evening is when I realize in the excitement of identifying flowers (yes, excitement) I forgot my maps in the now locked ranger building. I luck out when an employee returns at dusk and lets me in to find them. We watch the sun set, swallows and bats swooping, and do yoga in the parking lot with a full moon rising above cliffs that wild goats wander on. We fall asleep listening to a stream burble, and the distant boyscouts are surprisingly quiet, which makes for another perfect end to the day.

Day 14

Saddle Junction - mile 200

After watching the sunrise I am once again the dawdler and am last to depart. I like to eat before walking, while everyone else quickly stuffs everything into packs and heads out. And of course, after eating comes a very urgent bathroom break, like clockwork.

The snow here is a bit confusing and since I am zoning out just following footprints I end up having to backtrack, but only for a minute or two. Today will be another long day, with Fuller Ridge ahead of me to traverse. I feel pretty good about the day and my pace and I eat a delicious almond scone from the Idyllwild bakery and hike on, only to end up walking in a circle back to a trail junction, losing at least a half hour, and I don't even have the excuse of snow in this section. I think I accidentally missed a switchback, but am not sure. Annoyed, I hike on. There is a confusing area by a downed tree where another hiker and I both hesitate. We then have to puzzle out footprints in the snow for a few miles, but while the trail blazes are non-existent, it isn't too terrible to puzzle out. Fuller Ridge does indeed still have snow, but is far less treacherous than I had imagined. I post-hole a few times and slip and slide around, knowing that this is hard on my knees, but pushing onwards.

Focus and I meet up at a road crossing and I apologize for the delays in my arrival. I know she has no water treatment right now and my getting misdirected means she had to hang around waiting. We press on and encounter the cousins enjoying a leisurely siesta. I enjoy about an hour myself and then am ready to move on, knowing how much faster than I they are. We all agree to meet at mile 200, and camp in that vicinity. We have 10 miles of continuous downhill ahead of us.

Focus and I are hiking fast and fly past a really nice campsite that is much too early on. However as we press on we realize that the trail is growing worse and worse - seriously overgrown thorny bushes engulf us, and the trail slopes off into steep rocky valleys with no tent space at all. We push on until just before dark when Focus declares that she will just sleep on the trail. I am being stubborn and decide to push on, nighthiking to mile 200. I am tired and my knee is nagging at me, so of course I scuff through sand and trip on a rock, scraping my knee bloody. At least now I'll have scabs on both sides for a more balanced aesthetic of abuse. The ground is hard and punishing and I am second-guessing myself. I step over a misinformed celebratory 200 formed of rocks on the trail, made by a previous hiker who mis-judged mileage and snort aloud a tired laugh. I give up right before mile 200, which is a seasonal water source that I hoped would prove flat. It isn't.

I find a nice ledge of rock right beside the trail, eat dinner and watch the sunset feeling guilty at leaving Focus. The cousins never caught up. I wonder if everyone is ok. I realize this ledge has clearly sheltered a creature besides me as once again I am sitting in a nest of turds. I watch a helicopter fly over the foothills of San Jacinto shining a spotlight and feel unnerved. I decide to drop my pack and walk back to check on Focus (secretly hoping she and the cousins are already night-hiking towards me as I backtrack). This means a total of almost two more miles of walking round trip, as she is 25 minutes back and uphill, and with my pack left behind I have to return. I discover her and the cousins cozily ensconced on the trail itself and with my conscience absolved I nighthike back to my pack with only the light of the moon to guide me, watching the helicopter, visions of manhunts dancing through my mind. I wonder what to do if the spotlight shines on me. Will there be a loudspeaker commanding  "DROP YOUR HIKING POLES!"? I bed down next to my rocky ledge and sleep soundly. I wake to the cousins strolling by at 6 am and scramble up to start another day. At least I made coffee the night before. Starbucks instant is definitely all that is getting me through the desert.

Day 13

mile 175? - Idyllwild - Saddle Junction.

After waking up early we pick our way through some snow banks without any problems and are on our way into town with just a handful of miles to go. We stop and talk to Keala and P-Track, who tented at the watersource a few miles ahead of us. Keala is in flipflops and I wonder how that will work out when she hits bigger areas of snow. She is from Hawaii and is freezing. I can sympathize. My poor abused 35 degree bag seems to be on its last legs, as is my jacket. I wouldn't call myself the warmest hiker out there right now either.

We rush down to Idyllwild and Bobcat charms a ride out of a travelling salesman who likes to do his paperwork in the parking lot of the park. The town is small, the bakery delicious, the people friendly, and there is a health food store and smoothies. I kind of wish I was staying, not rushing in to resupply and then heading back to the trail, but I also don't really feel a strong desire for a shower or bed. The Bobcat decides to slow down, rest her feet and stay in town. Focus and I arrange to meet the cousins back at Saddle Junction. We spend about 6 hours in town running errands: post office, grocery store, health food store, food for us, bakery, coffee shop, etc. It's ridiculous how easily time gets eaten up. We get a hitch out of town fairly easily but Focus's water filter falls out of her pack in the car and she realizes this as our ride drives away. She handles it pretty well and plans to order a new one tomorrow to be mailed ahead.

We meet the cousins and feast on kale, tomato, garlic, mozzarella salad with dressing from the natural food restaurant. It's amazing. Dessert is ginger snap cookies. (The appetizer was tortilla chips with butter - ha) We plan to nighthike for a bit after eating but not five minutes after shouldering our packs, I spy an incredible sunset and we veer straight towards it. We watch as the most beautiful sunset to date unfolds before us on our perch on a rocky cliff and then all sleep under the branching arms of a pine tree together, before waking to watch the sunrise from the opposite direction.

I am the luckiest girl in the world.

Day 12

Shady Grove - a very windy tentsite somewhere before Saddle Junction (mile 175?)

I am not the last to leave camp! Again! This is incredible! A feat worth celebrating. We hike for less than a mile before we discover the Bobcat perched on a rock outcropping in her sleeping bag. We chat and enjoy breakfast together. I did not discuss mileage with anyone but would like to get fairly close to the town of Idyllwild by the end of my day, which means a long day of hiking. I'm pretty sure this sentiment is shared by all.

We reach a junction with two springs: one is a mile down, the other much less... but when I head down the shorter trail (via a steep, rock littered scree slope) I encounter the Bobcat on her way back up she says that she couldn't find it. I probably should have checked myself but instead took her at her word. We both went down the one mile to Live Oak spring, which was the most beautiful water source I have seen the whole trail - an underground spring piped up to a small pool, flowing strong, clear water with healthy plants springing up around it. One of the few sources I trusted to drink without treating, and so pretty with sunlight dappling it. I end up not minding at all that I just wasted an hour seeking water.

We are entering the San Jacinto wilderness and I realize two things: 1. there are signs throughout this area that are utterly useless, such as the sign directly next to the very obvious trail that says only: "Trail" (there are two of these) as well as many blank older signs. 2. We are finally being made to work. My calves and achilles scream as the inclines finally reach Appalachian Trail standards. My whole body feels tired. The Bobcat and I both crawl through the day, which stretches on interminably.

Rather than loading up with more than a liter of water, which I feel would be too heavy for my liking on these steeper slopes with tired legs, instead I decide to drop down to yet another water source off trail, Apache Spring. WORST DECISION EVER. That was the longest, steepest half mile of my life to a lousy boxed spring that god only knows how many hikers have dunked dirty hands into.

I decide at this point if I ever work in the White Mountains again no thru-hiker on the AT will ever be allowed to bitch about poor signage or steep off-trail miles. They would not last a day on the PCT. I encounter my first patches of snow, which make for a strange contrast with the desert heat and sand I've been enduring lately. It is a windy day that makes me homesick for the mountains of New Hampshire. I am thankful for the cooler temperature and breeze.

At the end of a horribly long switchback I discover the Bobcat and the cousins with a new hiker (P-track) and rejoice! Something to distract me from my toils. I attempt to speed ahead because I am dying to eat dinner but end up sprawled on the trail on top of my pack, exhausted, watching as one of the cousins nimbly boulders on a trailside rock for fun, looking fresh as a daisy. I only curse him a little. We wind up on this windswept saddle of mountain jutting out with beautiful views and freezing cold winds. I huddle between the cousins and make the best bargain of my life: a night in one of the cousin's 15 degree bag in exchange for giving him the rest of my spray cheese. We seem to be shaping up as a group that likes to hike together, which is nice. I'm wondering exactly when my legs will stop feeling tired and sluggish, though.

Day 11

Nance Canyon - Shady Grove tentsite?

I wake up with the others at dawn and feel like efficiency is almost within my reach! I walk alone as I still am relatively slow in the morning. There is an extremely eroded portion of trail that really needs shoring up or stone steps and I wonder how the PCTA organizes its trail work. It's a small portion, though. It shapes up to be another hot day and I entertain myself very briefly with NPR on the radio before I lose it to static and entertain myself by wondering what I should do if a rattlesnake actually bites me. I have been playing with fire and keeping both earbuds in, which is just stupid. I need to be listening for rattles, however I do seem to be seeing the least amount of snakes out of everyone. Thinking about all of this while still leaving both ears blocked makes me very jumpy and several times I startle at birds or branches touching me. Thankfully my ipod dies and the problem is resolved for me.

I am hiker number 184 to sign in at the water cache and I wonder how many ahead of me failed to sign it, and how many are behind. I know there is a whole herd behind me. I would like to stay ahead of most of the crowd.

I bump into Walking Stick and the Mariner and greet them abruptly and walk away. This is the second time I have done this. My one excuse is that I withdraw deep within myself some days when I walk, and the sudden interaction, the exchanging of pleasantries... sometimes it's like surfacing after diving into deep water and I sputter and flail. So as I walk away the things I really want to say finally surface and I regret sounding so aloof. In order to remedy that I leave an encouraging note on a discarded map page for them. Walking Stick and Mariner are a father/son duo (which I find incredible and inspiring) and today Mariner has been struggling, energy-wise (he did a big 20+ day yesterday, so it's understandable!). They are very kind people. I walk on feeling glad I made a small gesture.

I reach the Paradise Cafe in Anza, getting a ride for the one mile side trip with Tom, a trail angel located further down the trail in Kennedy Meadows. We hang out for hours. It's wonderful. The beer I drank may have contributed to me not recalling where we ended up camping for the night.... all I know is that I let the cousins push on ahead, and we all met up in these incredible boulder field that Dr. Seuss would have enjoyed. I soaked my feet briefly in a seasonal slow moving water source (I feel very unapologetic about this because it was a lousy puddle and if you didn't treat it you'd be out of your mind) and then we wound up at a campsite called Shady something. The moon is waxing and we did some lazy yoga on thick cushions of leaf litter before giving up, sharing damson plum jelly as a dessert, and sleeping right beside the trail, seeking the shadows of trees to give us more darkness for the night.

Day 10

Lost Valley Spring - Nance Canyon

The day gets off to a sluggish start for me as I walk down to the spring, have to immediately sprint away to go to the bathroom a respectable distance from the water source, and then return only to spill my drops of Aqua Mira on the ground. I wait another five minutes with more drops, and then proceed to spill the newly treated water. Frustrating, but I feel fine. My pace, however, does not. I am slowly creeping along, feeling the air get hotter, knowing everyone else is hours ahead of me and I'll be hiking through the heat to make it to camp before dark. I use music to propel myself onward. I walk a quarter mile off trail to get water on private property (with the owner's permission) and realize that this may be the last patch of shade I see for a very long time. I hesitate but decide to push on and eat lunch later. I end up cursing myself as my fears prove correct. THERE IS NO SHADE. For what seems like mile after tortuous mile.

Finally I stumble across Bobcat crouched in a tiny nook of shaded trail. She shares her space and a story and I feel thankful to have made a connection with such a vibrant, interesting person. We walk together the rest of the day, talking, walking slowly, nursing blisters. In the heat of the day the blisters buried deep under layers of callous throb and my feet feel hot. Fueled by an entire bag of brazil nuts, my ego, and a desire to be done with walking I push through the final miles with the cousins. Speeding ahead at the top of a switchback we pause, called back by Maya (now known as Focus). Apparently we rushed right past the tentsite which was tucked away across a small creek on a patch of sandy beach shaded by scrub and a few small trees. Bribed by the promise of yoga, we backtrack for a few minutes and end a 20 mile day reunited with everyone who shared a campsite with us the night before. It's one of the cousin's birthday. We all soak our feet in the cold water of the creek and the Bobcat plays him a birthday harmonica serenade. We do yoga under the bright moonlight and drift off to sleep.

Thoughts before I drift away in fatigue: I resolve to stop exploding my pack like an amateur, contents splayed everywhere. You'd think after one long distance hike I'd have everything down to a science, but I most certainly do not. The cousins on the other hand, very clearly do. They have had all kinds of adventures ranging from New Zealand to Asia to cycling cross-country. We are all in awe of how in-sync they are with each other and how well they work together. They are an efficient but mellow team. I, on the other hand, am a scatter-brained ineffectual joke of a long distance hiker. I would really like for some of their preparedness to rub off on me. All this floats through my mind as I am one of the last to go to bed, but not the very last - that would be Walking Stick and the Mariner, two lights in the farthest corner of our spot bustling between tent and packs.

A meandering interruption:

I'm in LA for a few days visiting family and decided to convey my apologies to the tiny handful of dedicated readers that I have. I know I scheduled 20 posts in chronological order to post on here, but apparently blogger is opposed to that for some inexplicable reason.

Tomorrow (the 20th) is my one month trailversary! I will be spending it eating delicious food and not walking. It feels wrong to be staying still while newly made friends walk on but at least there will be some good eating to alleviate my sadness.

Fact: I arrived in LA wearing pilly, worn out, faded purple spandex and a smelly holey t-shirt and just five hours later was twirling around in a glittering dress that had been custom-made for a young, very famous celebrity who shall remain anonymous because she rejected this fancy dress. It pays to have family who work in the entertainment industry, I guess! That dress is the most beautiful thing I have ever tried on. It only stayed on me for about 5 minutes, though.

Is it weird that I actually feel prettier in the smelly holey t-shirt and spandex, even when I haven't bathed in days?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Day 9

Kick Off/ Lake Morena - Warner Springs - Lost Valley Spring

With a rough night's sleep due to be surrounded by people, I scoop up a free donut and make plans to leave early with a few other hikers whose company I've been enjoying.

I am the last one to leave the Warner Springs community center - it's been structured to accomodate hikers with computers and wireless internet as well as snacks and food for a resupply. It's staffed by volunteers and they rely on donations to make a profit. The resort that hikers used to stay at in this town has been closed so this is really the sole resource besides a gas station and a post office. It's a pretty admirable endeavor.

I hike briefly with the cousins (who really are cousins) and realize to my dismay that they are fast. Faster than me. I let them pull ahead and eventually meet up again on a ridgeline where everyone is setting up camp. It's nice to know despite feeling much slower, I show up just a few minutes after them. Bobcat, Maya, the cousins, Opus, and Joe and I all get to take in a wonderful sunset and share some food. There's a nice sense of camaraderie among all of these almost-strangers. I cowboy camp and sleep under the stars with no shelter. Letting go of any lingering worries about spiders crawling on me in my sleep is a great feeling, as is the complete lack of any need for privacy or shelter. I stare at the teeming masses of ants crawling under the clear plastic of my groundcloth and fall asleep.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day 8

Kick Off at Lake Morena

Back where I was on my second day of hiking for free food, festivities, beer, presentations, and mingling with lots of other hikers. There is an almost overwhelming amount of people here for someone who has only been camping with just a handful of others for the past few days now. I think around 600-800 people attend the weekend-long festival. It is surprisingly mellow though, with most of us in bed before 10.

I reunite with Peru, who I met on the AT and she briefly embarresses me by mentioning the three things she recalled of me from that time: 

1. I had been setting up my stove wrong for over a week when we met.
2. I got Giardia.
3. I chased down a bear.

All true, all not very flattering!

Peru also very kindly buys me a pint of ice cream, the chapstick I have been longing for, and a few other items. Thank you, Peru! You're great.

I also get to reunite with Last on the Bus (LB), Chili & Pepper, and I meet a whole slew of new and awesome hikers. Brian, Cameron & Tim make it in as well. Beers are drank, good times are had.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Day 7

Barrel Springs - Warner Springs

My worries about tent stakes blowing out prove correct, as in the early hours of the morning (or late hours of the night) several whip out and my sleeping bag gets fairly wet. The ironic thing is that the night before I spilled half a gatorade bottle's worth of water all over my groundcloth, narrowly missing my sleeping bag and gear and soaking my handkerchief and some of my clothing. Oh well.

I crouch under my tarp like a miserable sodden hobgoblin and stare outside. It is still raining. It has been for hours. I wonder if it's worth attempting to wait it out. Two men who clearly did not spend the night hustle through the campground looking for another hiker. They clearly are going to whisk him away to warmth and comfort. I grimly wave as they pass with the rescued lucky hiker. One of them cheerily calls out "You'll be glad it's cold today when you start hiking!" I bite my tongue and only say "Not really. My gear is wet."

I haven't mentioned it until now, but my credit card got cancelled due to unauthorized charges made overseas the day before I left to hike, while I was in San Diego. I was burdened with a heavy pack, a cardboard box full of things to ship, and I'd spent most of my cash. It was upsetting and frustrating and as I sat on the stone steps leading up to the downtown San Diego Post Office wondering what I should do a homeless man called out "Just smile. It'll get better." I laugh every time I think of it, because he definitely thought I was homeless too. I thought of this again as I sat under my soaked tarp. I didn't even have enough money to afford a hotel room, if I wanted one. My only choice was to get up and walk. Heather came over to say good morning, which cheered me up. As I gathered my belongings and stowed them in ziplocks, hoping they wouldn't get soaked, the sky cleared.

There are roughly 9 miles to hike before reaching a tiny town. Heather's husband Honey Badger wrote "smile, dammit" in the dirt of the trail... and I did. I hiked quickly and passed them and Michelle and Straw, another really nice couple. I discover a heavy, crappy tent left five miles before town at a campsite and decide to hike it out rather than leave it as trash. Apparently this decision led to some good karma because minutes after I reach the road to Warner Springs I am offered a ride to the Kick Off festivities by fellow hikers. We cram me and my pack into a tiny Datsun driven by Too Much and set off. Yet another ridiculously easy hitch that I don't even stick a thumb out for. As we drive through Julian I spy Brian, Cameron and Tim attempting to hitch in fog & gloom to Kick Off as well. We don't have room so I wish them goodluck and know I'll see them soon. I do learn that Cameron saw a mountain lion, though! I am very jealous.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Day 6

Hwy 78 - Barrel Springs

I wake before dawn but am off to a slow start. The three men I camped with all pass by me. I accidentally leave behind a tent stake, but at least it is in a barren ugly field by a highway, instead of on PCT trail or national forest or wilderness land. My fears about rain prove unfounded. I feel very exposed on these mountains, and constantly am in an above treeline mentality. I don't know what to expect, and it is a much harsher environment than I am used to. Thankfully it is a cloudy overcast day and the temperature is well below what it has previously been. This stretch of trail is especially harsh, and would be difficult on a hot day. The San Felipe hills are barren tracts of cactus and rock, all harsh edges and dry grit and dust and thorns and spines and prickers. Every time I set down my pack another particle of barbed plant matter embeds itself in my gear. There is no shade for miles. I feel sluggish and take excessive breaks. I eat three snickers in a row. That seems to help.

I resign myself to a slow plod of a day, toiling through 13 miles. I have lunch on a wonderful outcrop with a great view, only to realize that my lunch and i are both seated on top of piles of droppings. I feel incredibly, overwhelmingly fecal. I hope that squirrel shit doesn't harbor anything too nasty and onsessively use hand sanitizer once again, realizing that between encounters with other hikers toilet paper, my own bathroom adventures, and animal scat I am down to my last dregs of hand sanitizer. I futilely clean my hands, my knife, and even my food packaging, My nails are blackened with dirt, my whole body, in fact, has dirt embedded in it. My toes are black. My scrape is crusted with gravel. My nose and lips are chapped and raw and I feel overwhelmingly unattractive. My clothing is coated in grime and snot and is stiff with dust and sweat. I think fleetingly of the two quintessential golden blonde California girls I encountered at the grocery store in Julian, on a road trip, clean, wearing cute dresses. The moment of feeling awful about myself passes quickly. We are living in two separate worlds, those girls and I.

I meet a former PCT thru-hiker southbounding to Kick Off and we bond over a shared love of New Hampshire and the Randolph Mountain Club. This cheers me up considerably. I walk a very slow 13 miles and then reach a water cache by 3 pm. I decide that this is way too early to stop and so I chug some coffee and start flying up and down the mountain. I won't be sleeping tonight, but I will be reaching the 100 mile marker and I decide that it's a fair trade-off. Endless ridgelines and distant mountains cloaked in a gentle golden haze. For a while I convince myself that this is prime mountain lion territory and that I am setting myself up for a stalking. That passes. The rain that was forecast ends up only being a few meager drops and I reach 100 miles just as the sun drops below the horizon, giving Hans a high five, as I had just caught up with him. The rain starts at 10 pm and I sleep fitfully, worried about tent stakes blowing loose in the sandy soil. Not enough rocks to weigh everything down. I fall asleep tormented by cracked lips, longing for chapstick.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Day 5

Mason Valley firetank to Julian to hwy 78.

We watch the sunrise from a wonderful vantage point high on a mountain slope as I huddle in my sleeping bag. Everything below the road dropped away from us and we could gaze on distant mountains. This was an incredibly long day that began with a scraped and bloodied knee. We got off to a relatively early start and both bemoaned the fact that what would be an incredibly early start on the Appalachian Trail here just feels like a failure, since we were not walking by dawn. Anything after 7 am feels horribly late, since the heat begins to slowly make it's presence felt even at that early hour. By 9 it is officially very warm, and by 10 am it is hot. We idle at the watersource enjoying conversation and once again trudge off into the heat. I move slowly, burdened by lots of water and admiring wildflowers. The landscape is mesmerizing - the trail is carved into the side of mountains and winds around the topography with everything dropping away from you and just a narrow track to follow. The desert scrub is dizzying patches of shifting hues of silver and green and golden vegetation.

Noon hits and I suddenly feel terrible. I collapse against the side of a rock, clinging to a small scrap of shade. I can't even fully sit down but instead lean, clutching the rock, watching the sun creep towards my feet. I feel like a lizard. A very, very tired one, with no energy to look at maps or journal. Finally I manage to eat more food and feel better. I knew I was hydrated but was crawling along. I may have depleted my salts and overhydrated, as I felt slightly nauseaus for a while. I collapse into several more patches of shade. Really lousy patches. Finally I recover and realize I can make it into town much sooner than anticipated. I also realize that there is essentially no real shade for the final miles, so I almost have no choice but to head into town. Brian beats me by several hours and leaves a message with southbounders that he has gone in to resupply.

As I walk I brush into a cactus and end up having to pluck spines from my already scabby knee. The somewhat callous response from two other hikers spurs me to hike faster and I fly down the mountain, fueled by a desire to shed their company and end a long day. I accidentally screw over these same hikers as they unintentionally almost bogart my hitch into town. A friendly girl my age drives past my out-stretched thumb with the same look I wear when I see hitch-hikers: indecision mixed with apology. She pulls over at the last second and one of the other hikers rushed over and began babbling about the PCT. I knew the driver had no idea what this woman in crazy desert/safari hiking garb was talking about and was freaked out - and I could tell we were losing the ride as she apologized and said she only had room for one with her dog taking up space, and that she hadn't realized that I wasn't alone. So I spoke up and said that actually I was alone, and I could see relief on her face. I felt bad but I had to do it. The other hikers eventually got a ride too so my guilt was alleviated when I saw them in town.

I am rushing to resupply and hitch out of town before dark with only two hours to eat and get more food for the trail and my overwhelmed brain accidentally decides I need 5 days of food instead of 2.5 - my food bag is way too heavy and I don't realize my mistake until after I pay the cashier at the market. Incidentally, this cashier is very friendly and offers me a shower and a place to crash, but I decline because I am alone and his eyes are blinking very rapidly as he makes this offer and assures me he is married (but his wife is gone until the morning). As much as I'd love to trust him, I decide it is smarter to leave. As I walk away two rednecks in a pickup truck holler "Hey! Wanna come party?" I politely decline and start to think that maybe with an hour of daylight left in a tiny tourist town, my hitchiking prospects will be bleak. Instead I luck out and have the easiest hitch ever, with an older couple offering me a ride before I even stick my thumb out. They even give me ten dollars as I get out of the car, with worried looks on their faces as I head towards an overpass in a desolate stretch of desert, assuring them I was meeting a friend.

Unfortunately, my friend is not there. I learn he went to a campground 3 miles down the road and since I just had been informed there might be heavy rain in the near forecast, with a heavy wind and dusk falling on a rather unnerving stretch of trail besides the highway, I begin to feel very stressed. I call Ryan and beg for advice, since he hiked this 2 years ago. He can't offer me much but tells me to stay out of the mountains if it is windy and rainy. I get offered a ride to the campground just as the sun sets by a woman in a truck who tells me she just needs to cover up a few things first. She drives off, leaving me by the road in the dark, undecided. I don't want to pay for camping, but I don't want to stay here alone. Luckily at that moment three other hikers get dropped off and assure me they will be camping near by. After standing and pacing for a half hour in the dark, a car parks down the road from me and completely unnerved, I race down the trail only to meet one of the hikers, Lucky Man, as he backtracks to check up on me, his fatherly instincts kicking in since he has a daughter my age. I feel very relieved and a bit pathetic. I eat the cheeseburger that I packed out in the dark and listen to the wind whip at my tarp all night.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Day 4

Horse Heaven Campground - Mason Valley firetank.

Last night I slept on a picnic table and froze my ass off. From now on it's bumpy, uneven, insulating, cozy ground for me. And I definitely will uphold my resolution to never go off-trail to camp ever again, as in the morning we walk past lovely spots for inconspicuous tenting. I really like asking for input from others but need to remember that a thru-hiker's perspective is usually pretty different from other hikers, even experiences ones.

The sore throat has abated but now my nose is a faucet. I drench two handkerchiefs and move on to shirt sleeves. No wildlife today although Brian saw a rattlesnake. We met a guy attempting to complete the PCT with packhorses - fitting as we enter a section of trail that mail ponies used to travel through. One of his horses just became lame though, so he may be getting off trail at least temporarily. We walk though an incredibly scenic stretch of tral with amazing vistas, only to discover that the rock outcroppings have been turned into an impromptu memorial ground, with tacky plaques commemorating deceased loved ones glued onto the rock. There's also some seriously terrible grafitti, as this area is right next to road access.

I am a miserable bitch to Brian today, as I don't handle being sick and uncomfortable very well. I vow to be a better friend soon. He tells me my trail name can be New Leaf, in that case.

The peaks in the distance have an alluring cloud cover surrounding them and I long to be there, as it looks so much cooler. Eventually I do indeed get there and realize to my dismay that it is cooler, much cooler. In fact it is very cold and windy. Reynaud's kicks in and I have numb, white, very cold fingers that take an hour to warm up after we stop for water. I realize I definitely need my cold weather gear, all of it, even in the desert. Which really just means mittens and perhaps my warmer jacket.

We set up camp on the side of a dirt road by a firetank. It has a great wind break as it is carved into a brush covered hill, but my satisfaction is diminished slightly when I realize that the rock I am using to hammer in tent stakes was hiding a fecal used wet wipe and several batteries, both of which I grudgingly pack out after hand sanitizing extensively and wishing great ill on their former owner. I am sleeping in my garbage bag as a makeshift bivy, as there is so much condesnation in the air it may as well be raining. My nose keeps dripping in my journal as I write. I am pretty sure there are homeless people with cushier lives than this.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Day 3

Cibbets Flats to Mt. Laguna to Horse Heaven Campground

I wake up to a chilly morning and a horrible sore throat. I drag on through the morning until I cave and beg Brian for some of his instant coffee. Miracle! I then fly up and down the trail, revived. Walking faster seems to help me ignore my sore throat. I may have also been motivated by visions of soda and cheeseburgers with a stop in Mt. Laguna. I bump into several of the people we began hiking with when I take a break. Complete 10 miles by noon but am then running on empty towards the end. The cafe located past the outfitters has incredible food and I eat the most wonderful cheeseburger and parmesan and garlic fries. There is a row of bikers at the newly completed bar in the cafe and I secretly wish I had a photo with them, but am too sick to really care. Brian and I both collapse in the shade across the road for several hours after broadly hinting to the guy at the outfitter that we would like to nap uninterrupted for as long as possible, without walking back to the trail. Resupply at the Mt. Laguna campground store in incredibly overpriced, with mozzarella sticks retailing for over a dollar each, when usually they are roughly 60 cents. I have enough food to keep going and don't buy much. The owner of the gear shop was really nice and suggests a stealth campspot about a mile off trail... with another half mile of road walking. So we leave Mt Laguna and stupidly take him up on this suggestion in hopes of water spigots. They are off. I vow to never walk this far off trail for camping again. Still no sign of Cameron and Tim. They are behind us somewhere.

As I walked today I admired trailwork in the hardened red clay soil and decided that I have the utmost respect for anyone doing trail work in the desert.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Day 2

Hauser Creek to Cibbets Flats campground.

We had vowed to wake up at 4 am to escape the desert heat, but after a long night of border patrol interruptions we failed in our attempts. Meeting up with Cameron and Tim we learn that they arrived a bit later than us and had been stung by the bees that Brian and I had carelessly walked past earlier in the day.

In spite of a terrible night's sleep I feel enrgized and had an amazing morning. The terrain was easy compared to the rugged trails I was used to in the Whites. I saw a fox as I walked by myself ahead of the others on the descent down to the lake. I was glad I didn't push on to the campground as it was filled with car campers and I later heard it had been a noisy night there as well. I took a cold shower with all of my clothing on to cool off and hung out with Wee Bee's lovely parents beside their vw camper van. We officially inducted them as trail angels as they generously shared food and drink. The guys were dehydrated and feeling the heat, but if anything, I was over-hydrating and felt fine. We lingered for too long socializing with other hikers and as a result hiked out in the heat of the afternoon and ended up pushing past a wonderful stream with only a brief immersion and glimpse of swallows swooping into nests below a bridge. Dawdled again at the 10 mile marker and a water spigot... hiking through some of the hottest hours of the day left us all reluctant to part with shade and start walking again. The heat is relentless and as you walk you find youself constantly looking for the next patch of shade, with even the smallest patch a relief. You lean into the shadow thrown by a shrub, bowing your head down if the shade doesn't extend far enough to cover your whole height.

Brian and I finally left the water spigot after 4 pm, leaving Tim and Cameron behind. The goal of 17 miles we had set earlier that morning now seemed highly unlikely and we paused at the last road, hesitating after 14 miles. The sun was setting in half an hour and Brian wanted to camp at the trailhead, which was just a shallow stretch of dirt pull-off on a highway. With the border patrol driving past repeatedly in the few minutes we were there I refused. It was way too exposed and after last night's experience I wanted a better night's sleep. The guidebook had mentioned good camping but after walking down the road a quarter of a mile we found only mediocre spots. With the sun setting I bullied Brian into night-hiking the final miles to a campground. I saw 4 quail and tons of animal scat today, as well as a strange break in wire fencing along the highway (illegal immigrants? drug running? who knows?). I convinced myself it was prime mountain lion territory and as we walked Brian decided to tell me a terrifying mountain lion mauling story. Thanks, Brian.

We made good time and survived the horrendous road walk at the end in relatively good spirits. Seeing campfires at the site and in hopes of avoiding noisy campers, knowing it was the weekend, we stop short of the actual campground and set up by the side of the road. Since it's dirt, I feel a bit better about the odds of avoiding vehicles for the night. A few campers walk by with glow sticks and my desire to be a recluse for the night is confirmed. As we begin to fall asleep, Brian spies two shooting stars, I see none.

I slept like the dead.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Day 1

Campo to Hauser Creek.

After a few days spent wandering around San Diego (Normal Heights, Ocean Beach, Coronado Island) I spend an evening at the Mann's with other hikers preparing to start walking. The Mann's are former thru-hikers who were so moved by the kindness and generosity that they encountered on their thru-hike that they now open up their home to hundreds of hikers each spring, feeding them, housing them, and sending them off to the trail. While I departed with just 6 other hikers, they told me that just a few days from now they planned on hosting 45 hikers at their house in just one day! I am shuttled to the trail by none other than my fellow caretaker Tristan and am walking with two of my good friends from the Appalachian Trail (Brian and Cameron) which is an auspicious start.

We reach the border and while I am wracked with nerves on the drive down I am giddy once we start walking. Distracted by excitement, we foolishly attempt to hike through the mid-day desert heat. This results in many, many breaks. At one point Brian and I simply sprawl out on the trail itself. I might have ran out of water if Brian hadn't given me some of his at the end of the day, because while the water sources were plentiful, at one break I opted to not take any more and ended up drinking more than anticipated, while somehow missing the last water source before Hauser Creek. While walking I see a harmless snake, several cottontails, two dead mice, a humming bird, and many yucca plants blooming. There are also signs of illegal immigrants: discarded clothing and scraps of cloth, mostly. We end up not walking the 20 miles to Lake Morena, instead opting to call it at day at 7 pm 5 miles short of the lake. I was fascinated by the former boyscout leader who was a slightly heavy set woman with a day pack; we encountered her late in the day and both wound up at the creek with the sun setting. She clearly didn't have a shelter or sleeping bag and also had no way to treat water (Hauser Creek was not exactly the most pristine source I have encountered.) The sun was setting and she said she was going to head up the mountain for a warmer night. She seemed in good spirits and was only going to the lake, so I didn't worry about her lack of gear too much. In a worst case scenario she could walk five more miles through the night to arrive at her final destination.

The final descent was painful, as were our options for tenting. Tarps next to a damp buggy creek or pitched beside a road with border patrol SUVs and locals driving by until late in the evening. The stars were amazing though - bright spots in a deep velvet darkness.

Monday, May 7, 2012

At long last!

I am at mile 266, writing to you from the public library in Big Bear Lake. My time is limited, but I will do my best to add as many journal entries as possible.

The people in towns are incredibly friendly and the hiking community is great. I couldn't ask for more... except perhaps a hot shower and laundry! I've yet to stay overnight in any of the towns we have passed through though, so it's going to have to wait. Looking forward to a day off at some hot springs near the trail, soon. More to come! I'll probably schedule each journal update to post on a separate day. Photos may have to wait a few more weeks.

I am loving the wide open vistas, enormous peaks and giant trees, amazing campsite options (sunset on a ridgeline, anyone?) and the unfamiliar desert environments... but I do miss New Hampshire.