Day 24: Agua Dulce Nero day

Mile 444.3 Acton KOA to mile 454.5 Hiker Heaven at Agua Dulce (10.2 miles, 16.4km)

Only a short day today which is great.

I was off by 5:30am in the cool of the morning and was sitting in a cafe eating breakfast by 10 in Agua Dulce done for the day.

r The walking was good, mostly flat and through some crazy rock formations. The trail leads right through the San Andreas fault line where two continental plates collide, one diving down and the other lifting slightly.

Through the Vasque Rocks Park I took a wrong turn somewhere as there heaps of tracks and ended up going in a circle to find the PCT again.

Before I knew it, I was walking into town. A bunch of other hikers who I knew were in the shop or cafe having arrived yesterday and taking a zero today.

After a cooked breakfast at the only cafe in town I stocked up my food bag from the only shop in town, enough food for 5 days to get to Tehachapi.

With a full shopping bag in hand all I had to do was wait for a shuttle truck to Hiker Heaven a world renowned trail angels property.

With Jan and Andrew who I met in San Diego, Jordan from Australia and Bran Sprout we jumped in the back for the short ride to the property.

Hiker Heaven is amazing. The property becomes a tent city every night. They do your laundry for free and give you loaner clothes to wear in the meantime. There is a shower tent, an IT/recharge tent, porta toilets, hourly rides to town and twice daily rides to REI in Bakersfield, 60 miles away. Incredible. They dont want anything in return.

So the rest of the day is planning ahead and resting. I’m trying to get new shoes – maybe a ride out to REI this afternoon.

Can you pick my tent?

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Day 23: Struggle Street

Day 23: Mile 418.6 to mile 444.3 Acton KOA (25.7 mile, 41.3km)

Today was hard. Not because I pulled a big one yesterday and could not back it up, it was all about blister management.

I’ve been dealing with the same blisters from my first pair of shoes for weeks. I’ve drained the fluid multiple times, allowed them to dry and keep antibiotic cream on them but they are not going away. The skin has hardened into a callus like lumps but the lumps won’t disappear; instead constantly rubbing on the heals of my current shoes with every step. I’ve been managing this by taping my heals daily but today I’m out of sports tape and having to use duct tape. Not ideal and it hurts.

From my first step to my last today, pain was constant. This became my focus for the day with every step and put me in a shitty mood. It was head down all day looking at the trail in front. My mind was not on looking up and about at the scenery around me. It was a challenge.

Away by 5:30am I’d done 11 mile by 10am and was focused on reaching the North Fork Ranger Station by lunch as they sold cold soda, fruit and snacks. I only saw a couple of people during the morning, all the early starters. Given my struggles today I let people past knowing I’d catch up with them at the Ranger Station.

The terrain wasn’t too bad really, undulating mostly with a few small steep climbs and lots of descending but it just wasn’t my day and I didn’t enjoy what I was doing at all.

Lots of negative thoughts crept in. ‘Can I do this?’, ‘Is this what the next 4 months are going to be like?’ etc… they were difficult thoughts to push aside but I did my best to distract myself listening to podcasts and popping a few Ibuprofen.

I reached the Ranger Station by 1pm, pulling off 17 mile for the day already. Everyone that past me this morning was there including Nancy, Dan who I met in Wrightwood and a Swiss guy who’s name I don’t know.

I headed straight for the snacks, purchasing a Sunkist as I’ve been craving an orange drink all day, the most juicy, succulent apple I’ve eaten in a long time, a Gatorade and a packet of chips. The chips went right into my peanut butter bagels for my lunch.

After lunch there was only another 8 miles to walk but gee they felt long. Still in pain I was having to take short breaks every half hour just to take pressure off my heals.

But my spirits were lifted. At the final trail junction Cooper Tone was back with with trail angel van. He’s moving up the trail and happened to be here, so we’re all those I was waking with today. Root beer floater’s are his speciality and boy did it go down well!

Only another 0.2 of a mile to the KOA we all walked out together. The KOA or Campgrounds of America (yeah I don’t get the K either), host PCT hikers for $15 for a site including a hot shower, much needed soap and a towel

So a long gruelling day is survived. I only have 10 miles tomorrow to Agua Dulce and hopefully I can get into town for resupply quick and basically just rest up for rest. I’m on a mission to find more sports tape well.

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Day 22: 30 Miler

Day 22: PCT Mile 389.2 to 390.2 (1 mile), endangered frog detour to 394.0 (4.8 mile); to mile 418.6 (24.6 mile). Total: 30.4 mile (48.9 km)!

Wow! My first 30 miler.

I knew I could push big miles today but I did not think I had a 30 in me. Terrain for the day was mostly flat or descending on a good grade with the exception of a 5 mile climb midday. The climb was really well graded and no problem at all.

First thing this morning I had to detour around a closed section of the PCT. It’s closed for an endangered species of frog. While the trail in this section is situated up high and I’m assuming the frog lives in the gully lines, there are a couple of creeks that I guess are fairly important for the frog that the Parks Service don’t want a bunch of hikers taking water from or more importantly not washing in.

I wanted to do the detour which is on the Angeles Crest Highway yesterday but just didn’t have it in me. But getting out the way first in the morning works well with very little traffic at 5:30am. A few miles on the road then a side trail, the Buckhart Trail, had to be taken to get back onto the open section of the PCT.

The Buckhart was great. A nice wide, flat track following down along a crystal clear creek.

Soon back on to the PCT there was a small climb that had to be dealt with which had my sun cap completely saturated and dripping off the brim – yuck so early in the day.

The trail then moderated for the bulk of the day, descending on an easy grade. This made for fast walking.

By 10am I’d reached another milestone, the 400 mark and I felt great. This was just near an old Parks building called Camp Glenwood and an important water spot for PCTers. There were 5 or 6 other hikers gathered including Guru who I haven’t seen for about a week.

Filling up I quickly moved on, wanted to see how far I could get today. My aim was the Mill Creek Fire Station as they have a water spigot and there is camping in a car park adjacent.

The trail was awesome and made for fast walking, moving down through the forest and eventually back into more desert terrain.

The big climb for the day came and went and running low on water I grabbed a top up from a spring near the summit. Here I came across another 3 hikers sitting in the shade and enjoying the cool water, probably the coldest source I’ve taken water from thus far. But no matter how refreshing and clear it looks, all water on the trail must be treated. I’m using a Sawyer Squeeze filter on this trip and it works a treat.

Reaching the summit of the climb I was stoked. By this stage I had 23.5 miles in already and the next 7.5 were all down hill to the fire station.

I made it by quarter to 6 which was a surprise as I was expecting to need to walk until dark at 8pm to get 30 miles in.

There were a bunch of other hikers here, some I’ve been playing leap frog with all day, others new but there was one familiar face that stood out – Nancy. Apparently I’ve made up enough ground to catch her up even after taking a day off in Wrightwood. Guru followed in a half hour later. Around ten of us sat around the car park like bums cooking dinner and recalling the day.

We’ve made a tent city the the Occupy movement would be proud of, although a lot fancier gear than blue tarpaulins.

Getting here today is perfect as it sets me up well for the next few days. I can get to the Acton KOA tomorrow which leaves only 10 mile the following day to get to Agua Dulce for a nero and resupply. In my initial planning for this trip I had the Wrightwood to Agua Dulce section down as 5 days but I reckon I can do it in 3.5 now.

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Day 21: Back on Trail

Day 21: Mile 369.3 to mile 389.1 (19.8 mile, 31.8 kms, 10 hours).

It’s always difficult to get back on trail after a day off. Getting out of a comfy bed, putting on your laundered but still smelly hiking clothes and walking away from on tap fresh water (hot and cold) is hard to do.

One last look around to see that I have everything I pulled the door locked and hit the road. No going back now.

Wrightwood is a great location to hitch back to the trail from but there wasn’t a lot of early traffic when I hit the main road. I was there with my sign out “PCT Hiker to Trail” but most the traffic that past was going local and turned onto side roads after passing me. I tried for around 2O minutes with not much success. I was rather annoyed when a young 20 something blonde female in short shorts and long legs arrived on scene, stuck her thumb out and instantly got a ride. WTF. Oh to be young and pretty.

Not to worry about 5 minutes later a driver pulled over who was taking another hiker to the trail head and gave me a ride too. Turns out the driver is the manager of the Acton KOA campsite which I’ll hit on a few days time.

I found my trail legs early. After a good rest in town they were ready to get going although my shoulders were complaining with a heavy food resupply. I’ve also added a bit of weight to my pack by swapping out my Cuban fibre food day for a heavier duty Kevlar bear bag as I move into bear country.

The first 5 miles or so were easy enough then it was up, up and away for 4 torturous miles to the top of Mt Baden Powell, named after the man himself. Conditions were challenging as the steep ascent had me sweating profusely but there was a cool wind that would chill me to the bone on stopping so it was a case of keep going to the top.

Views were spectacular from the the although a little overcast. The Mojave desert stretched out to the horizon to the north, the flat expanse filling my field of vision. It is this that has to be tackled over the coming weeks.

From Baden Powell it was mostly down for the next 10 miles with some sections actually following ridgelines. Great views back to the south overlooking forested mountains rising out of a sea of low lying fog.

It from mile 386 at Islip Saddle that things got interesting. The first pointless up and down section I’ve come across. At the Saddle the trail crosses Hwy 2 to climb straight up for a mile and half to Mt Williamson, only to descend straight back down to the same Hwy. 4 miles of silliness.

I was aiming to do around 26 miles today but after Mt Williamson my body said no, 20 miles would be enough.

So I’m camped on an abandoned road 0.1 Mile back from the Hwy and picnic ground. Given I’m in bear country I’ve heard that they can be attracted to picnic areas and the like given the presence of rubbish bins (even though they are near proof bins). I’m on my own tonight and taking every precaution including cooking dinner away from camp and securing my food.

There is an endangered frog species trail closure to get around first thing in the morning as it starts from the picnic area. This will have to be a bit of road walk and the take an alternate trail back to the PCT where it is open again.

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Day 20: Wrightwood Zero

Not much to report today.

Lots of rest and good food.

Got my bounce box sorted and forwarded to Tehachapi and sent of a bunch of stuff home. Constantly looking for ways to cut my weight.

The pack will be full again tomorrow with a resupply of food.

Lots of hanging about with other hikers. Everyone hangs out the front of the grocery store as they have created a space with shade and provided recharging stations. It’s also a good place to hitch back to the trail.

Quite a few hikers have come straight into town and out again. I’m going to enjoy my day off. I know I’ll see heaps of people I know in the coming days back on trail.

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Day 19: Wrightwood Nero

Day 19: mile 364.3 to mile 369.3 (5 mile, 8km, 1.5 hours), hitch into Wrightwood.

An easy day today. Only 5 miles out the highway and a hitch into Wrightwood for a Nero day.

You see I have a bounce box waiting in Wrightwood but being a Sunday the post is closed and I have no choice but to wait until tomorrow to collect it.

I had always planned a 2 day test here so that works well.

Knowing that a virtually free day was ahead I took the opportunity to sleep in. By sleeping I mean 5:30am. Once the sun is up that is it, it’s just too hard to stay in bed and it seems appropriate to get the day underway. Zack and Ben has gone already, meeting a ride at 7am to take the opportunity for zero day at Zack’s place close by. Me, I didn’t want to hit the road too early, instead choosing to time my arrival in town when breakfast cafes would be open.

This mornings walk was leisurely with great views over looking the Mojave desert below to the north and rugged mountains on the surrounding sides. Much of this morning was walking through a ski field and past lifts.

In no time at all I was on the road and didn’t have to even stick my thumb out for a ride. A local was waiting to see who would come down the mountain and within 30 seconds my pack was in the back of the truck and I was on my wait to Wrightwood. The kindness of strangers still floors me.

A quick tour of town and I was dropped at a breakfast joint where I joined another PCTer, Diesel, for breakfast. Far too much food. I can never get through it. It seems a waste.

Let’s get political for a minute. With great service I don’t mind tipping but it seems to me an easy solution is for businesses to cut costs by offering less food, thus less food waste for them and maybe jack the prices up a bit; enabling them to pay staff higher wages. Just a thought. Food is cheap here but there is so much offered and wasted.

I’ve secured a room for the next 2 nights but checkin isn’t until 2pm, so I have half a day to relax, read, catch up on social media and revel in my filth before I can take a shower.

Omrie just arrived in town and now we wait in the shade for most of the day.

And I just bumped into Matadore who just arrived as well. Haven’t seen her for a week and a bit. Between PCTers there are no handshakes considering how grubby hands get – it’s all fist bumps. Lots of fist bumps going around this morning.

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Day 18: Halfway to the Sierra

Day 18: Mile 341.9 to mile 364.4 (22.5 miles, 36km, 9.5 hours)

Using Uber for the first time myself I soon found myself back at the McDonalds around 6:30am. Uber is uber cool and easy to use, I’m a fan.

What is one to do at a McDonalds on a Saturday morning? Breakfast and coffee of course. Unfortunately the Americans just don’t get coffee. At home even at Macca’s you can get real coffee anyway you like it. Over here it is drip coffee or nothing. Beggars can’t be choosers though right. And seeing as the opportunity presents itself why not order more food and pack it out for lunch – you only get to do this once right.

Thick fog was laying low initially this morning as I made my way through the long black tunnel underneath the Freeway. This was probably a good thing as today was all climbing and the mountains were hidden from view. It also made for damp clothes but they would soon dry.

Knowing today was going to be major climb all day, from 2500ft to 8000, 22mile uphill, I was mentally prepared for the long haul. This made the day go much easier. Rather than charge up the hill, which couldn’t be sustained, it was going to be the game of the long, slow plod. Embrace the suck.

The sun broke through the cloud around 9 and instantly things warmed up. My first coat of sunscreen went on. Like all good painters I usually apply two coats, one around 9 and another just before heading back out after lunch, although the second coat is more like just smearing dirt around. In the afternoon their is enough accumulated dirt and muck to act as a barrier to the sun.

Despite the gruelling climb all day today was a great day. It was like someone turned a switch and it was spring time. Everything was in bloom. A riot of colour everywhere I looked. It was brilliant. Lots of bugs out as well. There are bees that look like wasps, wasps that look like bees, bright orange backed beetles and humungus black flies I think. Hope they don’t bite.

What are those flower heads that you blow and make a wishes as kids? Dandelions? Anyway there were some bigger than my fist. Huge.

I keep seeing these lizards as well. Skink like but larger. Dark cooper toned with bright aqua patterns on their backs. They look like cooper ornaments with that oxidised blue colour that happens with copper or is it bronze.

I passed a few people early on the ascent this morning but then didn’t see anyone just about all day.

The sun was intense and the sweat poured out, crystallising salt as the wind dry my shirt off when stopping for a break. The climb was through lots of burn areas with very little shade.

Just before lunch I passed the 350 mile mark which means 2 things – we’re halfway through the desert or more positively, we’re halfway to the Sierras.

At around 2pm, with 5 miles further to ascend, I came across a rock overhang that provided the perfect spot for a shady rest. Ben came around the corner shortly after and joined me in the cool.

I didn’t see anyone else for the rest of the day. This ascent is bound to claim a few victims today with most not reaching the summit camp site.

With relief, the elevation gain saw the trail move away from desert, transitioning to forest again at around 6000ft. This brought with it a cooler temperature and for the first time since on trail some cloud cover to moderate things as well.

The final 4 miles of climb were tough and required frequent drink breaks.

There is meant to be a water cache on top but I never rely on these and so was toting 5 litres today, enough to get to the top and have a reserve for tomorrow morning. The added weight of water didn’t help hauling up hill all day.

At around 5:30pm I’d made it! Finally! And in good spirits. If not mentally prepared for such a big climb I would have arrived exhausted and pissed off.

And what is better than reaching the top of a 22mile climb up? Finding that your mates have ‘yogied’ some beers from day campers and placing a cold one in your hand on arrival. Zack and Ben had made it earlier. The only other person to roll in later was Omrie. I guess the mountain claimed quite a few victims today and that most others are camped down lower.

Hmm… thought I took more photos today but obviously too tired.

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