Day 29: The Crucible

Started: Swarthout (347.2)

Ended: Wrightwood (369.3)

Total: 22.1 miles

Achievements: Ten By Ten (4)

On day two, Fish Tank and I spent two hours climbing out of Hauser Canyon, a mere 1,500 climb. Things certainly have changed.

The hike from Swarthout to Wrightwood has all the components that makes hiking the PCT difficult.

  • Long Distance
  • Twenty Miles of No Water
  • 5,000 Feet of Incline
  • High Temperature
  • High Altitude
  • Exposed

Put any one of those items and I’m going to struggle. Put them together and it is going to be a long lousy day. Or, should I say used to struggle?

We cowboy camped and we’re up at 4 a.m. and hiking by 4:30. About 6:30, we ran into some young hikers. One young woman asked how much water I was carrying. I said three liters. She said “I will pray for you.”

At 10 a.m. we were chilling in a rare unexposed part of the trail having completed a Ten By Ten.

At 2 p.m., we were done for the day. That young woman came up, surprised we beat her to the end. I told her I had one liter left.

That is where we are now. Twenty-Eight days on the trail training, and our hiker legs are fully developed. As long as I keep taking in calories, my legs will not stop. It does not matter what is in front of me.

We came down to Wrightwood. We will resupply for five days. Our focus will be more milage. I will also buy a new outer shell. The Frog Toggs are meant to be cheap and in a week are covered in little pieces of duct tape. I use my outer shell too much. What I have wasn’t designed to do that.

No pictures today. My head was down, my legs were moving and I was focused.

Day 28: I’m Loving It

Started: Tentsite (333.8)

Ended: Swarthout (347.2)

Total: 13.4 miles plus .8 Bonus miles

Achievements: Pig Out At Micky-D’s

We woke up to a beautiful sunrise. Our immediate goal was to hike to the Cajon Pass McDonald’s. In that eight mile hike, we saw one of the most amazing panoramic views. If I wasn’t blogging off my phone, I’d edit the site so I could display large images. In the meantime, you’ll have to settle for this.

There we ran into Napoleon and Dreamer. They are hey hiking team like Fish Tank and I. They met at Scout and Frodo’s and hiked together ever since. They remind me of an old married couple. They pick on each other. Napoleon is a trivia machine and it drives Dreamer crazy. What makes it truly interesting is that Dreamer is from Germany and Napoleon is Dutch. They are both speaking a second language to each other and making fun of the other’s accent.

After yesterday’s long hike, both Fish Tank and Little John have sore feet. As it was hot, we hung around McDonald’s until it cooled off. We finished the day with a five mile hike to a water cache.

It is going to be hot tomorrow and the hike brutal. We have 16.2 miles and 5,000 feet of incline to get to Wrightwood. I’ve directed everyone to eat all their heavy food tonight. Did I mention that it is a no water carry? This might the second worst hike day. We’ll see.

Day 28: Twenty Miles

Started: Deep Creek (313.5)

Ended: Tentsite (333.8)

Achievements: Twenty Mile Day

We had a later start today. Camping with us was a young pre-med student who wrapped Chef’s foot with the hope that she could hike on. Chef told us to go and it wasn’t long before we were texted that they had left the trail.

Our goal today was at least 15 miles with a stretch goal of 20. At a water source at Mile 318, there was a note in the sand that there was Trail magic at Mile 328. That is what you call hiker motivation.

I told Fishtank that there was Trail magic at 328 and he asked how I knew and I said it was written in the sand, it had to be true. Needless to say, he spent most of the day not believing me.

The three of us have come a long way since we started. It was hot, with many ups and downs, but we just muscled through, not really even tired at all.

We reached the trail magic at mile 328 about 2:30. It was put together by two former PCT hikers, Swiss Army Knife and Hee Haw. There was all you could eat hot dogs, chips, soda, beer, and Snickers bars. As this was the 15 mile mark for us, we could have stopped there, but we decided to continue to complete our quest of a 20 mile day. We are going to have to complete 20 mile days regularly if we hope to finish on time.

By 6:30 I found a single tent site for the three of us, and we are cowboy camping beneath the stars, victorious.

Tomorrow is going to be hotter and we have a long water carry to get past, so we will hike eight miles to McDonald’s, rest there for the most of the day, and hopefully complete a simple 15-mile day.

Day 27: 300 Miles

Started: Splinter’s Cabin (298.5)

Ended: Deep Creek (313.5)

Total: 15.0 Miles

Achievements: 300 Miles, Rattlesnake Staredown (2), Primary Amoebic Meningoencewphalitis Can’t Hurt You When You Are Already Out of Your Mind

Staying in the $15 a night condo with a hot tub was a fine choice. The patio furniture on the deck was covered in ice. I really did not want to sleep in that.

While it is nice to sleep in a bed and be warm, it is not the best way to get miles done. Our ride was able to get us to the trail by 9:30, so we had a late start.

While I have discussed Fishtank and Little John, I have never mentioned the other two hiking with us, Chef and Feinschmeckei. The reason is simple, I could not spell Feinschmeckei. It is cool trail name. It means someone who likes the finer things in life.

They are married couple hiking together. They were one of the reasons Fishtank and I hiked separate after Julian, because Chef and Feinschmeckei make me miss my wife.

As we started at 298.5, it did not take long to get to the 300 mile marker. However, in that short period of time, we nearly had two major injuries. I was point and Little John was right behind me. We we’re walking on a steep ridge and there were large bushes with branches overlapping the trail. I passed through without incident (for a change), but Little John lost his footing. He was struggling to recover, so I turned around and bent over to help him back up. While bending over, I watched one of my Smart Water bottles bounce down the hill.

I apologise for breaking a Leave No Trace principal, but it was not possible to get it. It is also the reason why we use Smart Water bottles. Distributing your water means if something happens to one bottle, you still have water.

Once we cleared out, we tried to find a high point so that we could warn the others. They did not come right away. It turnes out that Chef tripped and heard something pop in her foot. She muscled through to the 300 mile marker so we could take pictures.

She told us to not wait for her, so Fishtank, Little John and I continued.

Our second milestone was the Hot Springs. There is plenty of strange things to see there. The water is hot and comforting, but there are some risks. Most hot, sweaty, completely unsanitary PCT hikers take a dip there. That and many just swim naked.

The PCT Water Report states that there is a brain eating amoeba in the water as well. Normally I would catch something like that, but the warning that you could die a slow and painful death was in the small print, not the normal flashing red on a yellow background like all the other things that could kill me on the trail. So, yeah, I relaxed in the hot springs. It was awesome.

The three of us hiked most of the day wondering what happened to Chef. Did they leave the trail? Did they continue? As we were in a canyon, we had no reception.

We eventually left the canyon and had reception again. We called and texted. We didn’t get a reply, and that was a good sign.

A couple of miles before we stopped, once again I was surprised by a rattle snake on the trail obscured by a rock. This one was the largest yet. It hissed, but I quickly flicked it with my trekking pole, flipping it in the air.

We reached a good campsite with water about 5:30. As we started to set up camp, Chef texted us. They were right behind us. She hiked 15 miles on a swollen foot. Together we ate and joked before bed.

Tomorrow, we need to do some miles. We don’t want to run out of food again.

Day 26: Picking Battles You Can Win

Unplanned Zero (Weather)

I woke up this morning and looked at the weather. A high in the mid-30’s and a low of below freezing. Our ride wasn’t able to return us to the trail until 11 a.m., so we were not in any rush. At breakfast I proposed that we remain in the condo until the weather improved. I’m from Wisconsin, and I don’t want to backpack in these conditions, especially in light weight gear. We are much better off staying warm and dry for $15 a night than struggling out in the cold and wet. The hot tub is nice as well.

We’ve been watching Facebook. People around us are hiding in bathrooms, calling for extraction from trail angels, and are miserable. One of the hikers I know who scaled Everest even called for an extraction. We went to see the Avengers.

It is supposed to rain until 7 p.m. tomorrow, but it will be warmer. It will be in the mid-40’s. The day after will be sunny. The PCT is risky enough. There is no sense in compounding the danger when you have an option to wait a day.

Eat, Sleep, Hike, and Blog

My intent for this blog is to keep it raw. I do not have anyone proofing it. I write it exhausted after the day, using my phone. Trying to type on this little keyboard is challenging. I’m not able to edit or adjust photos.

Still, this is a good reflection of what it is really like. Thru hiking has a glamour about it. In reality, it is hot, gritty, and exhausting. You make friends quickly, only to never see them again. Gear breaks and you have to make do. You have to keep your eyes down and concentrate, because one misstep and you can really hurt yourself. I am often on a ridge where to the side of me is a 100 foot drop or more.

It is amazing, however. I can see the transfiguration in me after 300 miles. The way I look and feel is completely different than before I left. I am forced to make changes. All my senses have become acute. Despite the dangers, I feel calm.

So, I apologise if content isn’t perfect. I’m often too tired to fix it.

Day 25: Hamburger Motivation

Started: Stealth Camp (280.0)

Ended: Splinter’s Cabin (298.5)

Total: 18.5 Miles

I managed to sleep well with my makeshift bedding the night before. It did not work last night. I barely slept. In the middle of the night I tried to use my air mattress, but it did not work. The patching kit isn’t designed to fix seams.

In the meantime, this is an opportunity to “embrace the suck”. This is a hike of the PCT, not a weekend at Disneyland.

It is going to be cold the next couple of nights, so I’ll keep the mattress and use it as a very heavy ground cloth due to it’s R-value. There is a good outfitter in Wrightwood.

We were on the trail by 6. As we were about to leave, Little John told me that Candice had camped next to him and left about 30 minutes ago. Candice, now called Mammoth, is the young woman who helped me out on day one with my leg cramps. As we needed to hike 19 miles so Scott, the trail angel we met in Big Bear, was going to host us, I decided to charge down the hill and catch up with her. She is young and fast, and she’s catching her stride. I might never see her again.

With Little John on my tail, I kicked it into overdrive. About two hours later, I caught up with her. We hiked together for a while and talked. She was as happy to see me as I was her, but she was not walking as briskly as she normally does. Honestly, I should not have been able to catch her so quickly.

She stopped to stretch and Little John and I advanced to a water source to filter and enjoy Second Breakfast.

When she got to the water source she admitted that she has struggled with a pain in her hip, and she cannot lift that foot up without ever greater pain.

Chef, a hiker who had joined us, had some topical Vitamin-I for a similar injury. As I walked past Mammoth one last time, I could see the combination of pain and worry in her eyes. She helped me my first day. Now when she needs help, there is nothing I can do.

We hiked through terrain similar to areas I have struggled in the past. Hot, exposed, and thick sand, but the combination of hiker legs, better nutrition, and the promise of a hamburger and milkshake at the end made short work of the miles.

Scott picked us up. After we ate, he took us to a condo. We showered and spent a good hour in the clubhouse hot tub. The pullout bed was much more comfortable than a popped air mattress.

We will sleep in tomorrow and leave for the trail about 11.