Trail Angel While We Wait

The alarm went off on my phone at 3:15 a.m., but the sound was off, so it was just vibrating on my nightstand. Somehow, I woke up 2 minutes later. Julia and Jacob wanted to come along to see me off, but it is really difficult for teenagers to wake up. I hugged them both and they turned over and went back to sleep. In less than 15 minutes, Jill and I were on the road.

My flights were uneventful andI landed on time.

I picked up Fish Tank at his friend Jim’s apartment in Hollywood. Jim is the same person who came out and saved me when I was injured. Even Fish Tank had difficulty recognizing me in civilian clothes and no beard. As we grabbed some lunch we tried to figure out what we were going to do. We are waiting for Chef and Feinschmecker to get to Walker Pass. As I lived in Southern California, there really wasn’t any tourist sites I wanted to see. We pondered driving up the coast.

On a whim, I proposed that we go to Tehachapi. I believed that Chef and Fein were getting into town today and we could surprise and meet up with them. So, that is what we did. Before that, I needed to stop at REI. I didn’t want to take one, but due to the late snow I need an ice axe for the Sierra Mountains, and buying it locally means I don’t have to ship it. I also needed a fuel canister, because I can’t take one on the plane.

As we drove close to Tehachapi, we stopped at the place where hikers commonly congregate. A well-known trail angel, Coppertone, was there providing magic. I’d rather have met Coppertone as a hiker, it is still cool to meet famous trail angels. We took a thru-hiker by the name of Rogue Fireball into Tehachapi providing trail magic of our own.

We are staying at a Best Western Express, the same place Jason stayed when he hiked through town.

We texted Fein with the excuse that we were asking for his location to estimate when to be at Walkers Pass. In reality we’re trying to figure out where and when we were going to meet them. Eventually, he called and said that he was .6 miles from the bus that takes hikers into Tehachapi. We scrambled into the rental car and drove aggressively to that location. We pulled up to where they were sitting and they recognized Fish Tank immediately. Me? They had no idea who I was until I said something. They were so glad to see us.

They checked into the same hotel, showed, and we went to a wine bar for some higher end food. It is good to get the family together.

Returning to Trail and Gear Changes

I have a one-way ticket to LAX for Tuesday and a rental car reserved for a week.  I am finally returning to the trail now that I’m healthy, but there is a catch.  There is always a catch.

After I bought the ticket, Kennedy Meadows was doubly dumped upon.  First, it was dumped on with snow.  Eighteen inches in fact.  Many people who were attempting to enter the Sierra Mountains were forced to turn back.  Because of that, there are too many backpackers sitting in Kennedy Meadows.  Now, Kennedy Meadows does not have public facilities, so you are talking about a large number people digging a large number of cat holes.  That is the second dumping.  Needless to say, I’m counting my blessings.

Fish Tank has hitched out of Lake Isabella, the town before Kennedy Meadows.  When I get to Los Angeles, I will pick up Fish Tank and we will sight see for a couple of days until Chef and Feinschmecker reach Lake Isabella.  We’ll help them resupply and rest.  Once we are ready to go, the four of us will hike together to Kennedy Meadows, a 50 mile hike, with a plan of spending just one night in Kennedy Meadows to pick up our resupply boxes and hike on into the Sierra Mountains.

What we are not going to do is flip-flop like some hikers are choosing to do.

I know, you are wondering about Little John.  Well, Little John is off-trail.  While hiking with Fish Tank, his ankle started to act up.  Turns out his Achilles separated from the bone.  He is looking at eight weeks in a boot, and his hike is probably done.

While I’ve been home, I’ve made a couple of gear changes.

First, I’ve replaced my Thermarest Camp Seat with a Thermarest Z-Lite Small sleeping pad.  After loosing two sleeping pads due to failures, I’ve decided to add some weight for protection and better sleep.  I’ve tested using the Thermarest Pro-Light Regular with the Z-Lite and it is extra comfortable.  This adds 7.6 ounces to my base weight.  Sleeping on a flat inflatable sleeping pad sucks, however.

I added a small Walgreen’s ankle brace, because injuries.  It weighs 1.6 ounces.

As we are getting ready to enter the Sierra Mountains and Kennedy Meadows saw heavy snow, I upgraded my base layer to a mid-weight set.  That added about seven ounces.

It was also an opportunity to look at what I did not use.  One piece of gear that I never used was my glasses.  I wore just my contacts the whole hike.  As I’ve written before, I prefer exercising in contacts instead of glasses.  That removes not only the glasses, but the case and a small glasses repair kit.  That saved 6 ounces.

With a new mid-grade top base layer, I no longer needed my laundry shirt, so while I used it, I no longer need it.  That saved 5.6 ounces.  My cool 1.2 ounce laundry shorts, the envy of the PCT, remain.

With these changes, my base weight at 14.93 pounds, or five ounces lighter than I originally left Campo.

My gear is packed and I’m ready to go.  I’ll be in Southern California on Tuesday, but I will not immediately return to trail.  We’re looking at entering Kennedy Meadows about June 8th, assuming it is safe to hike.

 

Cleared to Resume Hiking Activities

Talked with the doctor today.  After removing the boot, I did a series of activities including fast walking, stretching exercises and sprinting — all without pain.  So, he has cleared me to ramp up my workouts with a plan to return to the trail after the Memorial Day weekend.

I will walk into Kennedy Meadows, using that 50 miles to get my hiking legs back.  I will meet up the Fish Tank and Little John well before we hike into the Sierra Mountains around June 7th.

Over the next couple of days, I will hike my normal nine mile hike, adding weight as I go.  On Saturday, I will do a section of the Ice Age Trail.  It is the best I can do here as everything is so flat.  I’m hoping that I’ll didn’t loose too much of my hiker legs.

My gear finally was delivered by UPS yesterday, five days late.  I’ll be taking it with me this time.  I’m going to make some minor changes and repairs.

I have a small hole in the back mesh from my cat hole shovel I need to repair.  Other than that, my ULA Catalyst has been outstanding.  The only issue is that it has taken on a distinct odor from all my sweating.  I replaced my sleeping pad in the box sent to Action, which I only used once.  I’m good there.  I’m going to replace a couple of my tent stakes that I bent, otherwise my shelter is good.

I’m going to upgrade my base layer for the Sierra Mountains.  Other than that, my clothing is good to go.  All in all, I’ve already replace all my broken gear.

I need to mail a box with my bear canister, micro spikes and eight days of food to Kennedy Meadows.  With that, I should be good to go.

I’m so looking forward to getting back.

 

Doctor’s Report

I had some good news on the injury front.  I’m healing faster than anticipated.  I expected as much.  I’ve suffered from a number of gruesome leg injuries playing baseball and softball and I know I heal quickly.

The doctor has told me that I can take a walk on Monday and see how it feels.  I can also start doing me stretching exercises immediately.  If after a short walk I do not have any pain, I can increase the distance and see how it goes.  If there is any amount of pain, I need to return to the boot.

So, I’m hopeful enough that I’m figuring out how I’m going to get back on trail.  The most likely scenario is that I will return to the PCT at Walker’s Pass and hike into Kennedy Meadows.  My reasoning to two fold.  First, hiking with my friends is more important to me than missing part of the desert.  Second, this will put me back on track time and strength wise.  If I return to the Mill Creek Fire Department at mile 418.5, I’m not likely to make it to the Northern Terminus by my September 26th deadline.  However, I’ll want to get some miles under my belt before attacking the Sierra Mountains.

So, if the way is made clear, I will return to the trail about May 28th at Walker Pass.  I’ll hike into Kennedy Meadows where I will have sent my bear canister and a resupply box.  I’ll have a chance to rest with Fish Tank and we’ll be off into the Sierra Mountains on June 7th.  As I’ve been demoted to Section Hiker (not that it is really a demotion), I’ll hike the missing part sometime in the future.  It may be after I reach the Northern Terminus.  It might be in a year or two.

The way made clear is also a family in agreement that I should return.

However, I’m still waiting for my gear to be delivered from California.  I’ve had a heck of a time tracking it down.  I hope I have that problem resolved and I will have it soon.  I’m going to make some changes which will be easy if I’m at home.

I wish I knew what the future held.  I’m ready to send a box now.  In the meantime, I’m going to follow the doctor’s direction and be patient.

Day 34: Off to Urgent Care

Zero at the Acton KOA

I didn’t sleep well. The numbing pain was a constant reminder that I might be done.

I got up and took a shower and did the laundry. I found an urgent care in Palmdale. I packed up my backpack and called a Lyft.

They looked at me funny. Here I am all ragged with a dirty backpack. Then I handed my insurance card. The homeless looking person has good insurance! Then they treated me better.

The good news, no broken bones. The bad news, I have some damage to the joint between my ankle and my lower leg. I have an appointment with a specialist tomorrow. I’ve also lost 25 pounds.

With the appointment done, I walked 1.7 miles to a Dick’s Sporting Goods to buy a replacement bladder. I seemed to have popped one. Everything on the trail is pokey. Should I have been walking from urgent care? I didn’t have any broken bones.

When I returned my resupply box came. I now have new shoes. I have a working sleeping pad.

Fish Tank and Little John came in at 5 p.m. I did their laundry while they showered and relaxed in the pool here. They we’re happy to see that I’m not in a boot, but I don’t have an answer when I will return. That question will hopefully be answered tomorrow.

Day 33: Houston, We Have a Problem

Started: Sulphur Springs (406.6)

Ended: Mill Creek Fire Department (418.5)

Total: 11.9 miles

My right ankle has swollen up nicely, and it throbbed all night with a numbing pain. It is clear to me, that this situation is not getting any better. I looked at the map and the best place to extract myself is the Mill Creek Fire Department.

Fish Tank used his Garmin to contact a friend of his named Jim. Jim agreed to pick me up there. Jim also brought goodies and cold soda for the hikers who were there. It was his first time as a trail angel.

Little John followed closely behind me as I led point for what may be my last time.

What I have is swelling above my ankle. It is quite painful to walk, and if I land on my foot wrong, pain shoots up my leg. This could be shin splints or it could be a fracture. The only way to know for sure is to see a doctor and have some x-rays taken.

I used to be a sports writer, so I know a little bit about these types of injuries. Shin splints, while painful, can be controlled with pain medication and compression socks. A fracture means 4 to 6 weeks.

Jim dropped me off at the KOA in Acton, and I took a shower and did some laundry. Like every mother has ever said, you want to wear a pair of clean underwear to the doctor.

At the KOA was Napoleon and Dreamer. We bought pizzas and talked well past hiker midnight.
I suspect I will not sleep well tonight as I am worried that I am done. I have more that I want to do.

Day 32: That Was a Pain

Started: Eagles Roost (390.2)

Ended: Sulphur Springs (406.6)

Total: 16.4 miles

Achievements: 400 Miles

I woke up in the middle of the night with a very sore leg. I took some Vitamin-I and the pain subsided enough that I could sleep. This was disconcerting.

We had agreed the night before that we were going to get up when we woke up, as opposed to a set time. Compared to what we did yesterday the trail was fairly straight and it should be a good day to put up some miles. However, my right leg was going to protest the entire way, and everyone was tired from yesterday.

We reached the 400 mile marker at lunchtime. It is hard to believe that we walked 400 miles in 32 days, but we have.

I had taken ibuprofen in the morning, but I wanted to see how much it actually hurt. By three o’clock it wore off, and the pain in my shin was pretty severe, but I wanted to see if wrapping it would work just as well as taking medication. Although wrapping it did reduce the pain somewhat, it will be necessary to continue to take vitamin-I. I do consider myself very fortunate that only now do I have any pain. Thru-hiking is a sport about pain management. You’re going to get hurt, and you just going to have to walk it off.

Despite all that, I still hiked a 16 mile day. I will be able to take a zero in a couple of days. We’ll see how it feels tomorrow.

Day 31: Mountains to Frogs

Started: Unmarked Campsite (376.3)

Ended: Eagles Roost (390.2)

Total: 13.9 Miles

Achievements: Mount Baden-Powell

Today was a long day with many ups and downs. We got up early and finished climbing Mount Baden Powell. This was the first mountain I’ve ever climbed. As I’ve got more in shape my legs continue to hike regardless of the grade as long as I take in calories.

The view from Mount Baden-Powell was amazing. After pictures were taken we proceeded to hike down as far as we had hiked up.

We rested just before starting the climb for Mount Williams. We didn’t have time to climb to the top, but it seems as though we did most of the work.

On the climb down I slid on some rocks and I seem to have given myself a high ankle sprain. It didn’t hurt too much so I continued on.

We reached the point of the PCT that is closed due to an endangered frog. There is an alternative route that we will take tomorrow. Nearby is a small campground with water where we could have a campfire and a bunch of hikers gathered with us. We cooked dinner, we talked, we laughed until hiker midnight.

We had hoped to hike more miles, however climbing a mountain and nearly a second does take a bit of time.

Day 30: Nero in Wrightwood

Started: Wrightwood (369.3)

Ended: Unmarked Campsite (376.3)

Total: 7 miles

Wrightwood is an amazing town, very friendly to hikers. In many ways, I am disappointed that we didn’t spend more time there. However, as we took an unscheduled zero due to weather earlier in the week, we committed ourselves to just spending the night.

Despite the short stay, much work was done. The hotel we stayed in, the Cedar Lodge, was the best hotel yet. Although it was expensive, everything was within short distance from us.

One little quirk about Wrightwood is that there are no laundry facilities. The motel provided buckets for us to hand wash our clothes. We were free to hang out our laundry outside our door using clothesline if we had it. I have rope from my zPacks bear bag, so Fish Tank’s and my clothes hung out to dry through the night.

I purchased a new outer shell at the local Outfitter / Hardware store, Mountain Hardwear. It is a Red Ledge outer shell and it is definitely waterproof and significantly more durable then my Helium II.

Everyone struggles on the PCT, in my case it is my gear that has giving me grief. To be honest, I consider myself very lucky. I can always buy new gear.

I bought four days of food, so my pack is now heavy again.

We made our way to the road to hitch out of town, and probably set a new record for picking up a hitch. With the three of us, we normally need two cars. Fish Tank stuck out his thumb and within one minute two cars stopped to help us. Like I said, Wrightwood is a very hiker friendly town.

With the late start, and a steep climb up Mount Baden-Powell, our goal was to just hike far enough from town that we were no longer caught in its vortex.

We hiked for seven miles, and found an excellent camping site. We are going to have a wonderful sunrise, and a quick trip up to the peak of the mountain. In the past, I talked about the difficulties the clients for me. Today, I liked it almost to the top of the mountain without sweating at all. I have learned to pace myself and now even steep inclines do not tire me.

We anticipate making it to Acton in four days. There I will have a box with new shoes, a new air mattress, and some personal items sent from home. Our goal is to have mileage in the 18 to 20 mile range per day from now on.

It is going to be a windy night, and there is no way we could avoid that. My Hexamid is slung low and is handling the wind very well. Tomorrow we will get up with the sunrise, summit Baden-Powell, and hike on.