Day 17: Reward for Effort

Day 17: mile 317.9 to Cajon Pass mile 341.9 (24 miles, 38.6km, 11 hours)

Today was a grind no two ways about it.

It was hot, we were out in the open and the views were unspectacular. Add this this the ever present foot pain and it was just a shit of a day. Head down, pressing miles just to get them out of the way.

Everyone had the same goal in mind today. Reach Cajon Pass, pig out at McDonalds and stay in a hotel. You see at Cajon Pass the trail heads underneath the interstate near an interchange with service stations, McDonalds, Subway and a Best Western Motel.

Sad to say but McDonalds was the highlight of my day. Hiker Hunger has definitely kicked in and I had no problem chowing down two Quarter Pounder meals and numerous Dr Peppers. That was nothing to what hikers ordered and devoured. We’d taken over half the booths. Talking to the manager she said it was fine and happens everyday in hiker season. They love us and look after us as no-one orders as much as a PCT thru-hiker.

Unfortunately I missed out on a room at the Best Western. It was near booked by 7am. Some hikers have stacked rooms with 8 people spread across floor space and beds but then again most hikers are unemployed or on really tight budgets. I’m not. I’m on paid leave and was looking forward to a room of my own.

Given it’s location as a major interchange on the outskirts of some of LA’s bigger suburbs, Cajon Pass was no place to camp. I did manage to get a room in Hisperia about 15mins north of the trail and hitched a ride in with Zack’s Dad who came to collect him for the night given he doesn’t live that far off the this trail junction. I’ll Uber back to the trail tomorrow.

So getting to pig out and stay the night in a motel is my reward for effort today. A hot shower is in order.

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Day 16: Back into the Desert

Day 16: Mile 292.4 to mile 318 (25.8 miles, 41.5km)

From leaving camp the trail continued to follow the river down but it didn’t take long for the forest to disappear and the desert re-emerge.

Back into the open country with very little shade to hide from the sun, you could feel it starting to burn by 8am. It’s all good, I know what I’m dealing with now and it’s easily managed, just hot.

At about 6 miles in a real treat – pit toilets at the Splinter picnic area. No cat hole digging this morning. They also had bins so it was a chance to offload some of my trash.

Splinter’s was great. A few tables, shelter and a chance for a quick break. It’s located right on the Mojave River and if it was mid day this would be my lunch spot. But I had a better lunch spot in mind – Deep Creek Hotsprings, I just needed to get there.

The trail followed the Mojave River for miles. Built into the side of what were pretty much canyon walls it hugged the contour high above the water. You can see numerous deep waterholes, teasing as you swelter in the sun up above.

The walking was easy, it just took forever.

Finally at around midday I hit the springs for a lunch break. Now this is a weird spot. It’s a mixture of PCT hikers who just want to cool down with a dip, grab some water and catch a break; in amongst a group of naked local hippies just there to smoke some weed and party. Fair too many dangling bits for my liking. No photos sorry – looks way to dodgy to pull a camera out here.

Swimming was mandatory after a hard, hot mornings hike. Changing between the hot and cold waters was great to soothe tired legs.

I met a bunch of new hikers here and had lunch with them. They gave me an indication on my speed as most started about 10 days before me and the May 2nd crew.

From the hot springs there was another 10 mile to complete. Easier said than done in the heat. Again the trail climbed into the cliffs above the river and stayed there, no reprieve from the sun. It was hot. I used my umbrella until the wind picked up too much.

Around 5.5 mile from the springs there is a massive dam in the middle of no-where. Now either this place floods majorly (I can’t see that happening) or it’s one of the biggest mistakes in history. If you see and it’s surroundings you’ll know what I mean. But the spillway did provide such needed shade and a chance to kickback with everyone for 40 Mina or so.

As tempting as the shade was we had to keep pushing on and up and left. Amazing just after another 3/4 mile we reached a road and more trail magic offering fresh bananas, donuts and creamy soda floaters with ice cream. Of course we all had to take another break. Some times it’s like the trail is trying to prevent us from reaching Canada.

With a full stomach it was time to press on and get the last miles out the way.

The only excited thing about the last stretch was I was so in the zone to reach camp I damn near stepped on a rattle snake. Within inches! I sure as hell go a fright, jump a good couple of feet in the air but in my panic a foot slipped and it landed right near it again. So lucky it didn’t strike. It didn’t move at all. So docile, it didn’t even rattle. Gaining my composure it threw a couple of rocks as it moved on. Phew.

Anyway at camp now with the new crew and later in roles some of the other May 2nd crew who I’ve been playing leap frog with – Zack (US), Ben (UK), Omrie (Israeli) and Shaun (US).

Oh, I passed 300 today.

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Day 15: Cruising Miles, Wearing Smiles

Day 15: Mile 266.1 to mile 292.4 (26.2 mile, 42km, 12 hours)

It was going to be tricky getting back on trail today. There were a lot of hikers in town last night and all were thinking to same thing – either go by Uber or call one of the numerous trail angels in town for a ride out. One problem was that there is only one Uber driver in town and he indicated he would not take hikers to the trail until after 9am and I didn’t want to hassle any trail angels for ferries when there is a great bus network in town. I was going with the bus option.

But looking at the bus schedules online I would have to take two buses and it didn’t look like they would connect . So I was left with one option, wake real early and walk 2 miles to catch the 5:30am bus that would take me to the trail head. So that’s what I did. Although, disappointedly on arrival at the bus terminal the posted bus scheduled differed to that online and shows the bus leaving at 6am, not 5. I could have saved myself a walk as the two buses would have connected. Not to worry. With time to kill I grabbed a coffee and got talking to a local couple who had made the early run to the bus stop as well.

By 6:15 I was on trail and not having to worry about the scramble for rides out of town or a late start like most hikers would today.

Immediately on trail I was rewarded with huge vistas looking north. When viewed as a whole in this wide context the desert looks like a wasteland. Barren, subdued colours blending into one with a constant heat haze to it. But there is so much more to this landscape. There is beauty here, it’s just in the details. Whether it be the texture or grain of wood dried in the scorching sun; patterns in individual rocks or whole rock formations; or the intricate details of flowers. The vibrant blue wings of wood peckers. The micro climates rich with life in the books and crannies of rocks. Beauty was all about me today.

It took a while for my body to get accustomed to a massively heavy pack. With a 26 mile dry section it was loaded with a gallon of water and 5 days of food. I always buy far too much food and was looking forward to lunch just to rid of some of weight. By mid morning the pack weigh felt pretty natural and caused no further problem.

The trail led through the dry forests initially although changed character all day. At one point it moved out of the pines and into a deciduous forest with millions of new leaves starting to shoot, a scene I’m unfamiliar with. In the afternoon it led into a fire area for an hour or so, with no tree cover what so ever and zero shade. In the early afternoon it moved into boulder strewn hill sides with granite soils so easily eroded. And by late afternoon it had followed narrow gully lines down to Holcombe Creek, a rare flowing river in the desert.

I’m camped next to the creek tonight. So nice to wade in the cold waters on reaching camp to soothe aching feet.

I haven’t seen any hikers all day which is rare. I bet it had to do with getting a jump start to the trailhead and getting a full 26 mile in.

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Day 14: 10% there

Day 14: mile 256.2 to mile 266.1 (10 miles, 16 km, 4 hours)

With no head torch my planned 4:30am exit had to be postpone a little. I’d have to wait another hour for enough sun light to be able to see to get packed up and hit the trail.

I love the early morning walking, I can’t say that enough. I set a cracking pace with one thing in mind – reach the interstate and get to Big Bear Lake.

The first 6 miles I knocked out in 2 hours, so averaging a 3 mile/ hour pace or 4.8km/hr. There wasn’t a lot to see anyway following a gully line down.

A few small climbs offered views across to Big Bear Lake where I was headed. Stopping for a few short breaks I was keen to keep moving and get to the road.

Reaching mile 265 marks reaching the 10% line. Only 2385 to go.

Reaching the interstate just before 9am, I was greeted with some trail magic in the form of cold sodas. Despite it being breakfast time I had to crush a cold Ginger Beer. Nancy was just behind me and did the same.

It’s always easier for blokes to get hitches in the company of a female and so we tried our luck at hitching. Traffic was light and having no joy we decided to Uber into town – perfect. Before the car arrived a third hiker appeared which made it even easier to split the price. $5 each you can’t go wrong.

Straight into town Nancy and I hit up a local brewery for breakfast and much needed coffee. Spying a hotel across the road with a ‘PCT Hikers Welcome’ sign we wandered across with packs to see if one: they had a couple of vacant rooms; and two: if we could check in early. Yes on both accounts. This was perfect. Centrally located it means I can get washed up, wash my laundry just up the road and walk to an outfitter to buy much needed fuel (I just had enough to get dinner heated last night before it cut out).

Most hikers stay at a popular hostel just 2 minutes away but I’ve had my fair share of hostel time and there is no way I’m doing that again. Once all the chores are done, town time is for relaxing and there is no relaxation in hostels. Hotels all the way baby.

I’m located in the heart of the village where all the popular eateries are so I’m bound to catch up with others I know tonight.

A big day ahead tomorrow with a 26 mile dry stretch coming up so rest is much needed. No wild partying for me tonight.

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Day 13: An Easier Day

Day 13: mile 239.9 to mile 256.2 (16.3 mile, 26km, 6 hours)

A nice leisurely day today given yesterday’s epic mileage. I’m trying to set myself up for a ‘Nero’ day in Big Bear City. To reach the interstate from last nights camp and get a hitch into town would have meant another 26 miler, which would put me on the interstate late in the evening. What I really want to do, to make the most of an in town down day, is to get into town early, find a room and take advantage of the whole day to get food, get laundry done and take in some nice food and beer.

So to do that I’ve opted for a 16 miler today which puts me at a camp site 10 miles from the interstate. If I have an early get away I’ll be in town by 10am.

This morning was lovely. With no pressure to be anywhere or reach a particular water source I dosed through my alarm and got up at 5:30. Away from camp at 6 the first leg of this morning was a gentle climb through pine forest. It is great being back in the forest, especially after being in the open yesterday. The cool mountain air makes for perfect hiking conditions. The spruce and pines fragmenting the air. Lots of squirrels dart about the place and the air is filled with bird life.

Mid morning the terrain was undulating. Steady climbs and descents but all really gradual and easy to do. Today’s cooler conditions (high teens Celsius) also helped.

I saw a bear today but not in the circumstances one would like. The PCT passed on the boundary of a property that house animals for movies. Unfortunately the caged bears did not look so happy. One pacing up and down it’s tiny cage, the either propped motionless and probably bored shitless.

I was in no rush. 16 miles is probably my shortest day so far and it was easy to just to ramble on.

I reached Arrastre Camp site a little after 2 pm with the whole afternoon to laze about, look at my maps and plan for the next leg to Wrightwood. I’ve love to have a coffee but I fear my gas will run out and there won’t be enough for dinner.

Also at camp with the same plan in getting an early start and into town is Nacey, an older, super quick lady. Great chats had all afternoon.

Oh, and passed 250 miles today.

Turns out I lost my head torch too.

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Day 12: Climbing, climbing, climbing

Day 12: Amile 214.1 to mile 239.9, (25.8 miles,41.5km, 13 hours)

Not much to report today. Lots and lots of climbing all day. I had to push a big day with 25 miles because I underestimated my food by a day to get Big Bear City. I have enough for a day and a half and no more. I will just scrape by to reach town for a resupply but might be eating a few nuts, gummy bears and a slice of cheese for lunch. Fuel is running low as well so dinner tomorrow might be cold soaked cous cous.

Much of today followed a mother freaking long river bed and it was a change to actually have a flowing water source close by through the day as it means much less water to carry. I was getting by carrying only a litre and refining on every crossing.

There are lots of wild flowers out. Masses of colour in all shades of the rainbow splattered across hillsides.

Down by the water masses of electric blue dragon flies flittered about but it was hard to capture them on film.

Today’s section was also the first were you have to dodge Poodle Dog bush, nasty bush that exudes a resin that can blister the skin if contact is made. I was wearing shorts so there moments I’d have to carefully sneak through without touching it or head off trail and avoid it completely. I think I’m unscathed. No reactions thus far. Wearing pants doesn’t really help either as while you can avoid direct contact with your legs, the resin is transferable, so if later your hands rub your pants it can spread. Better off just avoiding it completely.

So there you have it today’s update. My biggest mileage do far and with mostly climbing all day. Looking forward to building into my first 30 miler but reckon I need some flatter terrain.

Happy trails.

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Day 11: 200 miles

Day 11: mile 190.5 to mile 214.1 (23.6 miles, 38km)

Today started with a 5am rise, my first cooked breakfast (oats) and a departure from camp at 6am.

Last nights wind had died down but it was still cool enough to begin today wearing wind pants and wind jacket to provide that extra layer to stave off the bite of the early morning air.

The first half of the day was all descending – 15 miles following a ridge line down. Of course taking a direct line would have made more sense in my mind but the PCT being the PCT decided to stay true to the contour, snaking it’s way down, more than tripling the distance.

Early on with fresh legs the descent was fine but after several hours it was starting to get painful. Never mind, there was only one direction to go and all I could was plod along slowly.

Along the way I passed the 200 mile marker. Woohoo!! Go me. Finally feels like I’m getting somewhere.

Everyone’s next concern was a bee hive at mile 202. This was specially mentioned on the PCT water report, which really is meant to provide updated information on water sources to hikers but does include some additional info, like bees. There were instructions on what to wear and how to walk past without stirring them up. Some previous hikers have had major run ins with the bees but not for me and the other hikers around me. The bees were definitely there, you could hear them before seeing them but didn’t cause any bother at all. I strolled right on by.

Finally after 6.5 hours the bottom of the descent approached and it was time for lunch. I joined a bunch of hikers I camped with last night in a rock overhang, one of the few shaded and sheltered spots for some lunch.

As I move up the trail I’m progressively moving through groups who started the trail a couple of days ahead of me. This is good as it means I’ve moving at a steady pace but also means I’m dropping some of the familiar faces and friendships if people I started with. It’s a long trail I’m sure I’ll see them again.

After lunch it was the first piece of road walking that had to done. Generally not a fan of road walking it was good to have a couple of mile of different tread underfoot.

Back on flat ground and working towards the Interstate 10 the ripping wind just wouldn’t relent. A head wind for the next 4 miles I basically had the head down to keep my hat on and fight to keep my footing. It was a struggle.

On reaching I10 the trail goes under the highway and my struggles were rewards with yet more trail magic. Bottled water, sodas and beers on ice awaiting hikers. The bloke that maintains the cache was there and we had a right old chat about everything. Amazing. Seeing as we are in the desert and I had a ways to go for the day yet, atypically I left the beer alone heading for a cold sprite instead. Of all the soda choices I really have a thing for lemonade at the moment.

After leaving the trail magic it was a matter of pushing as far I could today. I really wanted to get out to mile 218 where the Whitewater Preserve is but I just couldn’t make it. By 5pm my feet were done and I managed to get a couple of miles above the Mesa Wind Farm.

It’s still really gusty but I’m tucked up in bed with the wind turbines for company. Their constant whirling sounds like pounding surf.

I just remembered it was Mother’s Day back home and with a little signal managed to get a text out. It’s still Saturday in the US.

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