Day 13: A Zero

So, today is a day of rest. I purchased a new pair of light weight shorts. I tossed the old pair. I bought food for six days. I repaired gear with needle and thread. I did laundry. I’ve taken about four showers in two days. I’m ready to go but…

There is a winter storm warning here. There will be snow in the mountains. That is not a big deal. It is the wind warnings. Gusts of 70 mph and below freezing temperatures.

I have a couple of choices. I could hike on. I could zero again. I could take the Black Mountain Road alternate.

Hiking on probably breaks my wife’s rule #1. I may not allow my ego to exceed my ability.

I could zero again. I won’t stay in the hotel. It is too expensive.

I could take a 15 mile road hike that avoids the whole mess. It would keep me on schedule, but cause me to miss some beautiful parts of the trail.

After hemming and hawing, I’ve decided to move to the campsite and zero there. I’ll need to buy a day worth of food, but there is a market along the way. It is the safest and best choice.

Day 12: A Gear Related Sidetrack

Started: Campsite 146.2

Ended: Idylwild 151.8

Total: 5.6 Miles plus 2 Bonus Miles

As an experienced Wisconsin camper, my gear was designed to handle below freezing temperatures. Combined with a well placed shelter, I was out of the wind and quite comfortable.

I woke to frost everywhere. My tent was icy. My quilt was icy. My beard was icy. The desert was icy. The sign was icy.

Seriously Icy, both the beard and sign.

The views were still awesome.

The cafe opened at 8 a.m., so I was in no rush. When I was there I was told that a trail angel would be there in short order to take people to Idylwild.

I enjoyed breakfast with Sunshine. Sadly her section is done.

There are two ways to Idylwild. One is to hitch from the cafe at 151.8. The normal was is to hike to 179.4. The trail is closed from 168.6 to 179.4 due to a fire.

There is an alternative route with road hikes and Brian and I could not understand the water situation. It seems that we needed to walk up to a mile off the alternative trail for water.

We decided to hitch into Idylwild. I have a critical gear issue I needed to resolve. Being cold and wet only made things worse.

You see, so far I’ve lost quite a bit of weight. I left with pants a size too small, and now they are falling off. I cannot tighten the belt anymore and it has become quite painful. My skin is sore and the sand makes it worse. I’m going to Idylwild to go to the outfitters for new pants.

I’m going to zero here. That was eleven straight days of hiking and I need to heal up for this next haul.

Day 11: Started Strong, Ended Meh

Started: Campsite 131.5

Ended: Campsite 146.3

Total: 14.8

Achievements: Ten By Ten (2)

I got up and said goodbye to Sunshine, and really started moving. In the back of my mind was that I was in striking distance of the best hamburger on the trail at the Paradise Valley Cafe. It would be a 20 mile day, but totally worth it.

I moved with great speed and pounded out 12 miles by 11 a.m. The trail was well groomed. The air was cool.

I ran into a mother / daughter team from Green Bay, Wisconsin who I ran into on day two. The told me two important things. First, the cafe closed at 3 p.m. on Mondays. Second, the weather was expected to be below freezing tonight.

I looked at the elevation map, I had quite a bit of uphill climbing yet to do. I wasn’t going to make it by three. I would probably be better off finding a safe place to camp to get out of the heavy winds I was fighting. I found a great spot in between some bushes.

My camp was set up by 3:30 p.m. I crawled into my quilt and ate dinner. I packed all the gear that cannot freeze like my phone, battery, contacts, and water filter into my pockets.

After I finish eating, I figured I’d take a little snooze…

Day 10: Who Hired Escher?

Started: Campsite 115.4

Ended: Campsite 131.5

Total: 16.1 miles

As I last left you yesterday, I strategically placed myself at the base of a mountain so that I could hike it with fresh legs in the morning. I ate well both last night and this morning. I got up at five so I could begin before it became too hot. There is one thing I did not take into account. It seems the trail team contracted Escher to design this section.

I knew this was going to be a long uphill hike. I didn’t think it would be ten miles of unrelenting up. I should have left the atmosphere for the number of steps I took going up. Every time I turned the corner all I could see is the trail going up. My calves of steel were a burning pile of slag.

After six hours of hiking I went just 9 miles. I was so hot and tired, I curled up around a boulder, the only shade in a hundred miles. There may have been some crying.

Eventually, I reached Mike’s Place. It is a notorious resupply point and watering hole. It is styled in something you would see on an episode of the Walking Dead. The whole place screams Hepatitis C and Bed Bugs. They do maintain a water cache, so I left a donation. It seemed rather unholy, so despite wind warnings I raced up the ridge and pounded out another six miles after four p.m.

I found shelter in the bushes to protect me from the wind.

About 8 p.m., 69 year old hiker Sunshine asked if she could camp next to me. I said sure, although I might snore.

She is an amazing section hiker. She carries a 1970’s external pack with a 19 pound base weight. With food, she’s carrying 23 pounds, not including water. She does this despite some back issues. Keep in mind that I have a 15 pound base weight.

We talked past hiker’s midnight about good works, religion, and the choices I’m making after this hike. She is wonderful person who is an example to everyone.

Day 9: I Leave My Friends Behind

Started: Eagle Rock (106.2)

Ended: Campsite (115.4)

Total: 9.2 Trail + 4 Bonus miles

I woke up just before sunrise. There was no rush getting up. I need to pick up my resupply box at the Warner Springs Post Office and it did not open until 9 a.m. and it was only three miles away.

Warner Springs has an excellent community center supporting PCT hikers. I walked there first and signed in. In the back there are bucket showers and a sink to do laundry. Instead of picking up my box, I cleaned up first. Once again I strolled around town in my 1.2 ounce laundry shorts. I’m a thru hiker now and I just don’t care.

No. I will not post a selfie of me in them.

While my laundry dried, I skipped the shuttle ride to the post office and walked the mile there and back.

After I returned to the community center, I went through what I had sent myself. It was a bit too much, so I put a bunch in the hiker box. I had ten days of coffee in there, but I traded it for electrolytes.

Yeah, I know it doesn’t make sense to me either. I used to love coffee less than a week ago.

I also packed a microwave meal in the box, so instead of eating in town, I cooked that.

It was decision time. Once my laundry dried, I could advance, or I could zero like everyone else. It was during this time I earned my trail name Young Buck.

Everyone has minor injuries like blisters, pulled muscles, sore IT Bands, and sore feet. I, on the other hand, am completely healthy. A three mile day will not get me to Canada. So, I said goodbye to everyone and pushed on. I hiked six miles to the base of a large climb with plenty of flowing water. I am alone at this oasis in the desert.

I set up camp and forced myself to eat. I’m still more thirsty than hungry. With some daylight left and all alone, I searched for the lesson I was sent here to learn.

By me there are two trees. One is small and homely. It doesn’t tower over everything here, but it is so remarkable. It is growing from underneath a boulder! How it is possible, I do not know, for the rock that covered it, blocked both the rain and the sun. Despite this obstacle, not only did it reach the sky, but it cracked the rock.

I turned around and there was a tall but very dead tree. It’s roots reached the flowing water and at one time it was the biggest tree here. It stands, but its branches are bare.

I suspect that the tree growing from the boulder used to look at the once mighty tree and wished it was as tall and beautiful. Maybe it still does. Does it know that it thrives?

Does the now dead tree realize that it is no longer going to grow leaves? Maybe it refuses to fall because it believes it will grow again even though it already has full access to the sun and roots that have plenty of water. It would be better for it to fall and become the soil for a new tree.

Tomorrow I’ll get up early and attack this.

With that, I fell asleep to the sound of flowing water.

Day 8: 10, 20, 100

Started: Campsite (86.0)

Ended: Eagle Rock (106.2)

Total: 20.2

Achievements Unlocked:

Ten By Ten (1), Twenty Mile Day (1), One Hundred Miles, Ride the Eagle

The wind was fierce. I was cowboy camping behind a large bush. I used rocks and my pack to keep the wind off me. My outer shell is my wind breaker and I stayed reasonably warm. The wind died at some point last night.

I woke up by 5:30. I chose not to push it as I had expended quite a bit of energy hiking uphill and overcoming the wind.

The goal today is to stage myself close to Warner Springs so that I can get my resupply box. It is probably too far to hike the whole way, and who wants to sleep in town when you can sleep in nature?

I hiked five miles to my first water source, but I still had four liters. I stopped and made breakfast.

I then hiked to a small cave to rest. I looked at my clock. Ten miles by ten a.m. That is a small yet important achievement. That is what I must master to be able to hike 20 miles or more a day.

I ran into Fishtank, now hiking with a different group. I’m invited, but the other couples are married and I’m concerned that hiking with them will make me miss home more than I do. Still, we celebrated 100 miles so far.

The difference between Fishtank and I is the training. He’s hurting, I’m flying. No doubt we’ll hike together again, but for now we will part ways.

The hiking family is now Jamie from Wisconsin, Laura from Tennessee, Candace, and Brian (Maoi).

There was trail magic at mile 15 for me, and I made it pretty effortlessly. I was handed a Keystone Light. Not my favorite beer, but it was damn good. Jamie and I took a nap for two hours before rejoining the trail.

We set a goal of Eagle Rock. It would be a twenty mile day. Jamie and I had a staredown with some cows. Despite our Wisconsin heritage, these cows took a defensive position. We decided to walk around.

We hiked another five hours. I didn’t eat enough, so I was dragging, but I made it.

We took pictures and celebrated. I cowboy camped to the most beautiful sunset.

Day 7: She’s a Cruel Mistress

Started: Scissors Crossing (77.0)

Ended: Campsite (86.0)

Total: 9.0 miles

I had a relaxing morning. I ran into Fishtank in front of Mom’s Pies. He was going to visit the local doctor to see if he could get a cortisone shot in his knee.

I was walking back to the hotel when I ran into Jamie from Wisconsin and Candace. They took me back to Mom’s Pie to get my free slice of pie. I chose pecan. It was heavenly.

Brian and I bought food to get to Warner Springs.

There is some science behind all this. It is Thursday. I have a box in Warner Springs. The post office there closes at 1 p.m. on Saturday. It is closed on Sunday. If I don’t get there before the post office closes, I’m stuck there until Monday.

The trail is a cruel mistress. The local doctor refused to give Fishtank a shot without x-rays. As much as that decision sucks, I don’t blame the doctor. So the F’Tank and I agreed to part ways for now. He is going to take it slow. We’re at the same speed when healthy.

There was a high wind advisory in the mountains, so we waited to leave until 2 p.m. Ghost took us back to Scissors Crossing and I started bounding up the canyon. Just a few days ago I feared climbing Hauser Canyon. Now I’ve done a few.

The goal was a camp in the valley that would shelter us from the wind. It was nine miles in and uphill the whole way. The wind was terrible. I had to drop to the ground a couple of times as I was being pushed and it was a long long way down.

I’m still shaped like a hot air balloon, and normally they just glide in the wind, but that was not the case here. The wind would catch me and I would yaw off the path and there isn’t much of a path.

The wind would also catch me just right and go up my nose, making me gag. Good times!

I made it to camp with an hour of daylight to spare and fell asleep nearly instantly.

Week One Lookback

Now that I’ve had a week of some difficult trail, I want to take a look back at how it is going so far.

Health

I’ve written extensively about how I trained. I trained walking with a pack heavier than I’m carrying on the trail. I put miles on my feet, and because of that, so far I have no foot pain. I had one blister on the first day, but that was fixed by adjusting the tightness of my laces. My stretching exercises have helped as well. I have not used Vitamin-I to hike for the past three days.

The lack of extensive up-and-down training has not been an issue. If you want to do this, walk with a weighted backpack. The trail will teach you to climb.

Electrolytes have also been key. The cramps I had the first day were terrible. Adding something to the water eliminated cramps.

Know how to wear your pack. I spent a couple of hours watching videos on my ULA Catalyst. Learning that the top of the shoulder straps should not actually touch your shoulder did not make sense at first, but it does now. All the weight is on your hips. That means no shoulder or back pain. The hip belt fits much better now that I’ve lost more weight.

Speaking of that, I’ve lost some serious weight in just one week. Eating more regimented and hours of exercise works. I do not have time to think about food.

Gear

I’ve lost one piece of gear, my emergency whistle. I will buy one when I can.

I have neither added or removed anything. I’m thinking about adding a full sized foam pad and dumping the camp seat. The camp seat is great, but I want to lay down. If I get rid of my t-shirt and camp seat for a foam pad, there should be no change in base weight.

Other than moving stuff around, by gear is the right gear for me.

Water

I need to carry more water than most. Oh well.

Food

I quickly lost the taste for coffee. I didn’t have any withdraw symptoms. I just gave up caffeine. Now I use coffee to trade.

Kindness

There is so many people who are willing to help you. The trail simply provides.

Goals

We are behind schedule, but gaining strength. It was interesting to see all our classmates in Julian who pushed ahead here healing up. I’m just resting and have no healing to do. Next week we need to push ourselves to 18 miles per day. There is plenty of adjusting we can do and stay on schedule early on, but we cannot become lazy. This is still a race.

I’m ready to return to the trail.

Day 6: A Return to Civilization

Started: Camp Site (64.0)

Ended: Scissors Crossing (77.0)

Total: 13.0

Our goal today was to hike to Scissors Crossing and hitch into the cool town of Julian. We got up at 5 a.m. and I was hiking by 5:30. I’ve really been pushing the idea of getting up early to beat the heat.

The trail started to scorch by nine. By 11, any climbs I made sucked the life out of me. I found relief in a little nest of grass under two bushes. That little shelter turned the scorching wind into a wonderful sweat drying breeze.

I had to pay attention during most of the hike, because the path was very thin, and one misstep and I would tumble hundreds of feet to my death. Occationally, there would be obstacles like rocks or thorny bushes that required me to lean over the edge. Not a hike for someone afraid of hights.

As this was my second big water carry, I felt that carrying eight liters for 25 miles was too much. However, I was down to my last liter with over five miles to go. Fortunately, those last miles were on the flat desert floor. It was hellishly hot, but my pack was very light, so with some good tunes, I hiked full speed. There was no sense leaving anything in the tank for later.

At the Scissors Crossing bridge, there was a water cache, so I consumed a liter in record time.

Fishtank and Brian hitched. I called for a Lyft, while waiting with to older hikers, M&M and Two Soles. These two hikers absolutely rock. Slow and steady, they do not stop. While we waited, Ghost, a famous trail angel, came by and picked us up. He refused money for gas and we received a guided tour of the little town.

Inspiring hikers M&M and Two Soles

In town I checked into the Julian Gold Rush Hotel. I am staying in the General Grant room. It is a bit more expensive, but they do your laundry. For $60, I have clean clothes, a clean body and a full stomach. After six days in the desert without a shower, the little bottle of shampoo was not enough to clean my short hair. I was that disgusting.

I supported Carmen’s, a hiker friendly restaurant that will be closing soon while waiting for my laundry. Until it was done, I cruised around town wearing my just my laundry shorts, outer shell and shoes with no socks. I am truly living the hiker lifestyle.

Now in clean clothes, Brian and I had a couple of beers at the local brew pub, followed by some Italian for dinner. I think hiker hunger is beginning to kick in.

The plan tomorrow is to take one more wonderful shower, eat breakfast, buy lunch, snacks and some breakfast bars for two days, and leave for the trail by noon. I still have two dinners left. We have another long stretch with little water. Warner Springs is 32 miles away where I’ll pick up a box for the next five days.