Day 24: More Gear Failures

Started: Big Bear Lake (266.0)

Ended: Stealth Camp (280.0)

Total: 14.0 Trail Miles, 5 Alternate Miles

I woke up in the middle of the night with my butt on the ground. My air mattress was no longer inflated. I have had some issues with the air mattress, but I assumed it had to do with the low temperatures at night. Now it seems it has popped.

I jerry-rigged my backpack as a temporary mattress and used my camp seat for my rear end so that it stayed off the ground. I fell back asleep and woke up fine. I guess I’m used to sleeping on the ground.

We had a long no water carry of 17 miles. It also included an alternative trail avoiding a burnout area where arsenic has been found in the soil. The alternative trail was quite terrible to climb. It was designed for off road vehicles and consisted of rocks and other rubble.

Once we completed the alternative trail the main trail was quite pleasant. We moved quickly, had nice breaks, and wonderful views.

We wanted to walk at least 15 miles today, however we ran into a really beautiful campsite. While our goal is to get to Canada, sometimes you just have to stop and smell the roses.

Little John, Fishtank, and I had a wonderful dinner, told jokes, and had time to get some chores done.

My chore was the find the hole in my air mattress. After blowing it up, twisting it, and listening (which is hard to do when the wind is blowing), I found the leak. It is in the seam. It is a critical failure. I use my patch kit to try to fix it, but I don’t expect it to work. In the meantime, I am borrowing a mattress. I can buy a new one in Wrightwood.

Tomorrow looks to be a pleasant day. The trail is almost all downhill. So we’re going to aim for 19 miles.

As I am in bed early I’m going to enjoy somebody. Have a good night.

I have connection enough to post this, I cannot upload the pictures. I will update this post when I have a better connection.

Day 23: 10% Completed

Started: Big Bear Lake (250.0)

Ended: Big Bear Lake (266.0)

Total: 16 miles

I had difficulty sleeping last night. The hotel was too quiet. There is no sound of blowing wind. I longed to be back on the trail. So far the vortex around the town isn’t strong enough to make me want to stay.

We had a ride scheduled for 10 a.m. our goal today was to advance 16 miles, the way most people enter Big Bear Lake. My pack was heavy with seven days of food, but I only needed to carry two liters of water.

Little John followed closely behind me. The first interesting location from where we were was a small zoo where animals are trained for Hollywood. I was point. Somehow I missed the trail as it came off a short road hike and I miss the zoo, so I don’t have any cool pictures of tigers and bears.

I told Little John that it is tradition in my family that when my wife and I hike and someone loses the trail, the other person can ridicule the one leading until the trail is found again. Little John refuse to pick on me.

The weather and the trail were nearly ideal so we advanced quickly.

Near the end, the trail opened, and I had one of the most amazing views yet.

We also reached the 10% completed point.

Tonight the wind is blowing hard and cold. I have my tent slung low and I’m going to be wearing all my clothes to stay warm. After a late hike we will sleep in until six.

Day 22: The Next Phase of the Hike Begins

Zero Day: Big Bear Lake (250.0)

Fishtank, Little John, and I met in the hotel lobby at 8 a.m. to catch the bus into town so that we could begin the process of resupply. Before we began we ate at a local restaurant and I had a massive breakfast. Without a doubt I will eat about 10,000 calories before I leave.

During the breakfast I exclaimed that I am overjoyed that I burnt out hiking to Big Bear Lake, because I now know how far I can push, and what I need to do to make sure that never happens again. Looking in the mirror, I’ve lost at least 15 to 20 pounds since I’ve started and that is one base weight.

The plan is to return to mile to 250 and hike the portion that we missed. It takes the average hiker five days to get from Big Bear Lake to Wrightwood, so we will take six days of food to cover the missed portion, and we now have additional reserves to make sure that we never run out on trail again. Mashed potatoes are light.

I am eating a combination of complex starches, protein, fat and good old-fashioned candy to get me over the hills. I will be cooking more and adding olive oil for additional fat and calories. While it is my intention to come back in my 20 year old body I don’t need to do it in the next month.

When I trained for this hike I changed my diet focused more on losing weight. Now I need to focus in on completing the hike. That means more calories and more in the form of fat.

After we bought everything we returned to my room and broke it down into smaller portions for easier transport. We then went to Little John’s room and began the shakedown process.

In the end Little John’s pack is now a solid 9 lb lighter! Fishtank sent home another 4 pounds of gear. I’ve eliminated half a pound. We went to the post office and sent it all home.

We then took Little John to Big 5 Sporting Goods and help him purchase some of the equipment that he was missing, so now he has the proper amount of water capacity for the longer hikes without easy water supply. Little John was thinking of leaving the trail here, but he is now inspired, and he’s a better position to be successful.

So with my pack ready to go, there is nothing left to do but chill and eat a pint of well-deserved Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.

The thru-hiking diet. Eat all you want. Lose a lot of weight.

Day 21: Retreat

Started: Mission Camp (240.0)

Ended: Big Bear Lake (250.0)

Total: 10.0 miles plus 6.0 bonus miles

Fishtank, Little John and I got up at five. Having eaten all our remaing food, we had plenty of energy and made it to the escape point, ten miles away by 11:30. We hitched into Big Bear Lake.

I looked pretty sweaty, and I smelled worse.

The white crusty stuff on my shirt? That is all the salt from my sweat.

After checking in to our hotel, we showered. The washcloth will never be used again. The EPA will declare it a Superfund site and require it to be burned by fire.

Clean, Fishtank and I started the critical process of recovery. That meant calories, delicious calories.

We linked up with Little John and we committed to helping him out. He told him that we would do a complete shakedown and help him with a better resupply strategy.

I needed to make some gear changes, so I stopped off at the Big 5 Sporting Goods store in Big Bear Lake. Unfortunately, the zipper on my Outdoor Research Helium II broke. As I wear a down jacket, it is critical that I do not allow it to get wet. A wet down jacket is asking for hypothermia. My plan is to send the outer shell home and hopefully my wife can get Outdoor Research to replace it as it should last longer than 20 days into a thru-hike. In the meantime I bought a set of Froggtoggs to tide me over until this is ultimately resolved.

I’ve also decided to eliminate the use of paper maps which I’m not using, so that also means I can send home my heavy compass. This will save me roughly half a pound of base weight. As I’m hiking in a group and we all have smartphones the likelihood of all of us losing our smartphones is very unlikely, the trail is well-marked, and we are working together effectively as a team. I will still carry a small compass that’s attached to my backpack, and I have a compass on my phone as well, so I still have two compasses.

A trail angel by the name of Scott came by and took the three of us to get our laundry done, so we didn’t have to ride the local bus, and he gave us a tour of the different entrance points that run near Big Bear Lake.

No longer hungry and chores done we called it a night early.

Day 20: The Story of Little John

Started: Tent Site (230.9)

Ended: Mission Camp (239.9)

Total: 9.0 miles

We woke up at 4 a.m. with a plan to hike until the last good water source at Mission Camp. Both Fishtank and I do not have enough food to make it to the normal Big Bear exit at mile 266.

We both have enough food to last two more days, but we don’t have enough calories to do a big push.

We hiked in the dark, trying to follow the trail as best as we can. The Mission Creek area switches between gravel and marsh. As we advanced, I became tangled in some brush. I tripped over a log. I felt something jab me in the stomach, so I rolled hard.

It turns out that the log had a large branch sticking out that was quite sharp. Had I not rolled, I could have been impaled. Fishtank was very concerned. I brushed it off a bit, but in this case, it was nearly a nasty accident.

After the sun came up we ran into John from Alabama. He is 50 years old and started two weeks before us. He is struggling, badly.

We hiked through a burned out section of the trail. At one time this was a beautiful section, but now it is a wasteland of dead trees, rocks and charcoal. We stopped at was we thought was the last water hole at 238.7.

There Fishtank and I discussed how we were going to get out of this mess. Neither one of us had phone reception, but he did have a satellite pager. John from Alabama had extra food.

So, we developed a plan. Fishtank contacted a local trail angel. They told us we could bail at mile 250 and get to Big Bear. With that, our food problems were solved. Turns out that this is a very common problem.

Fishtank and I discussed in detail how to avoid getting into this problem in the future. We must change how we eat.

My biggest issue about the heat is that I get thirsty. When I drink, my stomach is full, therefore I don’t eat. I could bore you with how the body transfers calories, but your liver stores reserves. It will pass it on to where it is needed, but once it is used up, it needs calories. While I have plenty of fat on me, it takes time to convert it to energy and backpacking burns calories faster than fat is converted. Therefore, I hit the wall.

Getting to town, resting a day, properly resupplying and eating is what we will do and will consider this a learning lesson.

After things cooled off, we advanced to a nice campsite. As we started to set up camp, all these other hikers started coming up. Many we thought we in front of us. Most were out of food. Turns out that what we thought was a failure on our part was a common problem even to hikers half our age.

We ate our last meals. Tomorrow we strike out for mile 250.

Day 19: I’m Part of an Elite Club of Bobcat Survivers

Started: Whitewater Preserve (218.5)

Ended: Tent Site (230.9)

Total: 12.4 miles

Achievements: Bobcat Surviver

We slept in after our late hike the night before. I was still not 100%. Fishtank told me he felt the same. Unfortunately, getting up late meant dealing with the heat.

The good news is that this part of the trail has plenty of water.

We hiked to a shaded tree at mile 226.2, where we rested and drank, until the heat died down.

As we were hiking, Fishtank yelled to me. He thought a fox ran between him and I. I’m normally point, and there was about 30 yards between us. We both had a better look at the creature. It was not a fox, but a bobcat.

So, the question is did it run from me in fear, or was it planning on attacking me, the slow moving beast, from behind but was scared away by my hiking partner?

Personally, I think it was going to attack, but as it came close, it took one wiff of me and concluded I would not be good to eat.

We concluded that the best course of action was to camp early and get a good early morning start. We hiked to 230.9 and called it a night.

Strangely, I took no pictures this day. That gives you a good idea of how I was feeling.

Day 18: The Worst Five Miles of the PCT

Started: Water Faucet (205.7)

Ended: Whitewater Preserve (218.5)

Total: 12.8 miles.

Do you want to see euphoria? I’ve never been so excited to find water. I used to be excited about beer or ice cream. Now I find joy in water. Pure joy is camping at a water source.

After the long hike yesterday, we knew we were going to have to take it easy. The Mess Wind Farm is commonly called the worst five miles on the PCT. With daily temperatures around 110° and a strong wind, you don’t sweat. The heat is total, and it eats you up.

We hiked just three miles in loose sand where every step felt like two. We got to the I-10 where two local trail angels told us to stay there even though it was 9:30. We took their advise, and watched the tortured come in and flop down with us. It seems kind of ridiculous to be sitting here, but to travel on requires a liter of water per mile or two. The local hikers were waiting, therefore I waited.

About four o’clock we decided to make a go for it. It was no longer 110°, just 109°. Our ultimate goal was an oasis, the Whitewater Preserve, a hiker friendly place to camp. We didn’t have enough water to do that, so we would first hike to the Mesa Wind Farm office, five miles away. The workers have built a shelter for us, and leave water like you might leave out a can of tuna for a homeless kitty cat.

I pushed on for three miles, but the heat and the soft sand made for slow painful travel. I completed three miles, but I could not continue. I was completely out of gas.

The desert is beautiful, even as it tries to kill you.

Yesterday, we hiked 18 miles because we had to get to water. I spent all my reserve energy. There would be no second wind. You can’t just muscle through this. I had no choice. I needed to eat the next day’s food. I need to get out of there. That created a new problem, but it was a problem for another day.

So, I no longer have enough food to get to Big Bear…

We reached the Whitewater Preserve at 10:30, and I fell asleep within seconds of laying down.

Day 17: I Cannot Be Stopped

Started: Campsite 187.5

Ended: Water Faucet 205.7

Total: 18.2 Miles

Achievements: Survived the Killer Bees, I’ve Been Hit, Rattle Snake Staredown, 200 Miles

Just a reminder of what I’m doing.

The Fishtank and I got moving at 6:00 a.m. to take advantage of the cool air. Due to my weak performance the day before, we had to hike 18 miles to the next water source. We both had slightly more than three liters which was not enough.

We hiked to where we intended to camp and started to eat breakfast. A trail angel left fruit, snacks, and more importantly, water. I drank a liter, and filled two bottles. A rough day became much easier now that I had enough water, or so I thought.

The first ten miles had some killer views.

Eventually, we reached our secondary goal, the 200 mile marker.

We found some shade and rested for a big push to the water source.

There were rumors of killer bees at mile 202. I can say with great confidence that the rumors are true. A swarm of bees surrounded me, especially around my face. Fortunately, my beard defended me. One bee stung me on my right thumb. I ran out of there, as they followed me for some distance.

The last couple of miles were tough. We were tired. The water we carried was body temperature. As we completed the last switchback, I was surprised by a rattlesnake. It hissed and shook it’s rattle. I yelled.

Satisfied that scared the crap out of one last hiker, it slithered away.

I’m not sure how far we will hike tomorrow. We’re in the desert now, and it will be hot.

Day 16: Back On Trail (Finally)

Started: End of Closure (178.0)

Ended: Campsite (187.5)

Total: 9.5 miles, plus 6.5 bonus miles including a 4000 foot climb.

I woke up at 6:00 a.m., loaded up my gear and hung around the camp fire. Fishtank had electronics charging in the ranger’s office, and that didn’t open until 8:00 a.m.

Getting out of Idylwild was going to be a chore. Basically, it is one the most difficult climbs up to far. Nine miles up for over 4,000 feet. Idylwild is at 5,000 feet already. Even the trail to get to the PCT was all uphill.

As I’m from Wisconsin, I’m not used to high altitude. It was going to be interesting to see how I do.

Once we got over 7,000 feet, I found myself breathing hard even though I wasn’t going fast.

Eventually, there was nothing left in the tank. As Fishtank and I set up camp, our old friend Two Soles walked up. She is an older hiker who I have learned much from. It was good to see her.

Day 14: Waiting for Weather

The weather was terrible today. Snow, sleet, and rain. I laid in my tent reading for most of the morning. It was a wise choice not to advance. I can hike in rain and snow. I can hike in heavy winds. Hiking in both is stupid.

Some time in the afternoon, Fishtank texted me. He is here. I met up with his group for pizza. They asked me to join up with them. It will require another zero as they need one.

The skin behind my knees is still not healed. Of all the injuries I researched, a blister like wound behind both my knees was not expected. I’m treating it with cortisone and keeping it clean. Another day of rest to heal is probably necessary if I want it to go away for good is appropriate. So, I will rest one more day.