*please forgive the lack of spelling, punctuation or editing. As usual, I am typing with my thumbs on an creaky iPhone 4, laying with my sleeping bag over my head so no one can see the screenglow…
Day 130-132 (paradise cafe to near julian)
Miles hiked this section: 76
PCT miles hiked (or skipped for fire closure): mile 2660 – mile 73
Miles hiked so far: 2525+ ish
We enjoy a great morning hike with Future Dad. Water sources remain scarce, but the terrain continues rolling and easy. We even benefit from shade off and on. Around 8am we encounter a water cache of 16 gallon plastic jugs. ALSO A LITTLE LIBRARY. I scour the four tiny shelves with glee and pick out a classic “Poirot” that I lovingly place in its very own protective Opsak. You can dunk opsak in 10′ of water and it’s contents stay dry. This book is in SAFE. On the other hand, we actually have enough water … This cache was a surprise.
Our next water comes from a concrete cistern 1/4 mile off trail. We eat, and dry our gear soaked from last night’s dew. Then feel like we are in an alternate reality as dark heavy clouds start to roll in. “Hey guys… Aren’t we in the desert?!”
At the first thunder we pack up. At the second rolling thunder clap we start hiking. With the third thunder vibrating our teeth the downpour starts… And then it starts hailing.
We burst into laughter. Yes… all you SOBO naysayers were correct… There definitely is a water problem in the desert, in the form of marble sized chunks of ice pelting our umbrellas.
By 5pm the rain has cleared a bit and we take a long break at Mike’s. Just a quarter mile off trail another generous angel has a huge metal cistern hikers can uses to access water. Maybe Mike is on vacation because we don’t see a soul. Wandering thru a creepy graveyard of a NOBO paradise… A huge yard, fire pit, outdoor kitchen, sleeping shack, RV and a fully enclosed porch devoted to the largest hiker box ever. It’s all a bit strange – like a ghost town, so we’re not inclined to stay haunted by the ghosts of NOBOs past.
After a dinner of hot chocolate we play odds and walk on, hoping it doesn’t rain us out tonight. We cross our fingers and cowboy camp.
We wake before dawn but I slept terribly in the cold dew last night. It didn’t rain but my bivy is soaked with moisture. Groucho leaves immediately but I dawdle making coffee to combat my exhaustion and warm my frozen fingers. As the sun rises, Future Dad and I hoist our packs… catching sight of a dark figure edging around the slope of the hill. Who do we see …but Twinless!! She’s back from the wedding and hiked late last night to catch up.
I’m so psyched I drop my breakfast bar on the ground. I pick it up and brush it off… Twinless says, “Did you just drop that on a pile of poo?” I look down. A pile of berries on the ground… Technically the animal fecal matter was mostly washed away in yesterday’s rain. And this is my favorite Luna bar, Nutz Over Chocolate. I lie – “No… Those are just berries.”
We hike out together all morning catching up on the past few days.
By noon we are walking thru the community of Warner springs. Their excellent bar and grill is open and serving enormous pizzas. We talk briefly about camping tonight… either at Eagle Rock in 3 miles, or maybe the water source in 8. Although Groucho fleetingly mentions it might be fun to get to 100-miles-to-go tonight. One mile further. But these decisions can be made closer to dark.
Sadly the community center is closed most of the week – NOBO only. Our hopes to shower and blog are foiled. But who need stinking showers, anyway?
We are mourning the loss when Huck and Bug drive by. What the what? They explain they are going south to drop the car in Julian and will hitch back to Idyllwild to start hiking south from there. We say a sad and quick goodbye to Huck who thinks he won’t catch up to us. Bug may come to see us finish in Campo but it’s all up in the air.
They leave and Groucho packs up quickly- clearly sad about our friends leaving and maybe just needing some alone time. I leave ten minutes later, FutureDad right behind me. Twinless about 30 minutes behind him. Future Dad catches up and we merrily walk by Eagle Rock and thru a beautiful and vast meadow that extends for miles. Cows are grazing and breezes tickling and the sun spills out from behind distant clouds.
Around 6:30 the light starts to fade and I start looking out for Groucho. He always waits around dark. We pass a few dirt roads, then a paved one and arrive at the water source. No Groucho. At first I’m annoyed… Future Dad wants to sleep here and I’m tired too. but if Groucho went on… I should follow. He’s my primary team, and that makes him the priority. Plus he has our shelter.
We wait for Twinless and I fret. “Probably he went on… The extra mile to mile 100… But what if he pulled over to go to the bathroom? We could somehow be in front of him?”
Future dad “No… We would’ve seen him or his pack or he would’ve caught up again…”
Twinless arrives. “No way is he behind…he would definitely have caught up to me at the back of the pack.”
Me “Well maybe he’s ahead… It’s just so weird for him to not wait at dark… But maybe it was still light when he got there.”
The team hears my anxiety and agrees to walk another mile. We scan the ground for Groucho footprints but see none. Although none of our feet appear to be leaving prints in the din of our headlamps.
We chat optimistically and suddenly reach the 100 mike mark. A plain set of stones spelling 100 subtly by the side of the trail. And no Groucho. Damn. Even if Groucho was looking for it… he still might miss this. Groucho is a smart human and a good navigator. But he doesn’t have GPS since he uses an iPod for Halfmile and Guthook. He has access to a simple map, mileage markers and waypoints but unlike the rest of us with phones he can’t push a button and know exactly where he is on that wavy red line running from Canada to Mexico. Therefore, in his quest to look for the 100 mile marker he might have overshot. And in the intervening hour maybe he’s figured that out and moved further along to the next campsite. *sigh* another 2 miles.
As the night draws in… I grow more uneasy. It’s really unlike him to not wait. But he was in a bad mood when he left, and it’s also unlike him to backtrack. So I should continue. Right?
The other choice is to stay right here. Which Future Dad decides to do. Twinless says she’ll do anything I want. I want to hike on. So we leaveFuture Dad at the 100 mile marker – he agrees to wait until light tomorrow. If – God forbid – Groucho isn’t at the campsite ahead… Then he must be behind us. Maybe lost?? Down a cattle trail ? Or abducted by the Lemurians (again)? In any rate we will want to give him time to catch up before we panic.
Twinless and I hike along. It’s already 8pm- 90 minutes past dark and past hiker midnight (roughly defined as sunset). We chat as we ascend the ridge and at 8:45 come upon the site and… no Groucho
My heart sinks. Oh crap. Now it seems clear. He must be behind us. Lost? Waylayed? I push away darkest thoughts and fears and just focus on the most obvious fact… each mile you just pressed on, is an extra mile he has fallen behind.
We set up camp, tho there is no way I will sleep tonight. In 2 thru hikes and a collected 4700 miles together, Groucho and I have never been accidentally separated at bedtime.
I try to control my emotions. They are broiling under the surface. Sleep is obviously restless. I know Groucho has food, shelter and sleeping gear. I hope he has sufficient water. I wonder if he is looking at these same stars.
FutureDad was supposed to wait for light before setting out. So he should be here by 7:30 am. I hope he has Groucho in tow. After dawdling with coffee and oats I start to pace the trail. Looking in morning light for Groucho prints. Verifying he must not be ahead.
Future Dad shows at 7:45. No Groucho.
We all have the same conclusion. He got behind… Lost somehow. Once he figures it out he’ll likely come along. This is the most logical solution. but how far behind is he? And what if we’re wrong? And what if he’s hurt and running low on water? How long should we wait before backtracking or calling actual search and rescue?
We decide to wait until 9am. We dry our soaked sleep gear in the sun and make a plan … “If he doesn’t show up… I think you guys should hike south to Julian 20 miles and confirm he’s not ahead. I’ll hike back up Warner springs 8 miles. We’ll call each other from town and if neither party has found him we’ll call people smarter than us for help.”
I’m pacing trail again and scanning the horizon when I see a tiny figure round the bend. It’s too far away to see colors or shapes but I think I know that walk. I burst into tears. All the emotions I’ve been suppressing spill forth.
We’ve positioned ourselves at a lookout where we can see someone approach for 1.5 miles so it’s over 30 minutes before I can hug Groucho.
Last night leaving Warner springs he went back to trail and started heading north instead of south. We had bypassed 2 miles of trail for the road walk into Warner Springs so he didn’t notice until he realized “the sun was on the wrong side”. He was confused because the data listed was almost exactly the same in both directions – cross thru a piped gate, private campground, road crossing.
It’s only 9 am and I’m exhausted. I wish I could say the rest of the day passed quickly but it continued excruciatingly hot. At our lunch break we run into Huck and Bug again?! Instead of hitching to Idyllwild they are hiking NOBO?!? What?! This is almost too much for the Wrong Way Gang to bear.
The afternoon continues hot, shadeless and too windy to use umbrellas as shade.
Again Groucho is in front but promises to wait at any road crossing. I look at the data and realize that is in 14 miles. Ugh. I want to stop sooner as do FD and Twinless. But after last night I need to be near Groucho so I press on to the road.
I spy Groucho, waiting under the underpass. I suggest sleeping there amidst the toilet paper and water bottles but Groucho urges me 3.6 miles further. There we find the sweetest, warmest, tucked away campsite. It’s a lovely walk together. The moon is almost full and we don’t even need headlamps.