Note some of these items were carries only part of the time – for example, DriDucks and Bedrocks, even the Platypus I didn’t pick up until we were out of the Sierra. Harpo and I also traded carrying some items, such as the tarp, so pack weight varied during the hike. My pack was heaviest in the northern Cascades, and again when it got cold in Cali thru the Sierra – otherwise packweight was usually just 10lbs. Listed below is an approximate value for the heavy end of my gear, including winter items. Here’s a link to the google doc – the graphic below doesn’t play nice on mobile devices for some reason.
Miles hiked this section: 11
PCT traversed so far: mile 2660 – 0
Miles hiked: 2600 ish (adding miles for side trails… Subtracting miles for fire closures and othe detours)
It’s our last day on trail. At 4:00am I think about this intently as my air mattress develops a leak and slowly deflates. “Almost perfect timing mister air mattress.” I lie there anxious. Sad to get started today. The sooner we start the sooner it’s over. There is no way to truly comprehend the end of this journey and I try not to dwell on it.
Around 5:45 Wrong Way Gang rustles to life. Groucho wants to walk a little behind today so we dawdle packing. I make hot coffee and see my spoon is also broken. It’s like the gear knows.
Groucho and I walk together all morning, chanting thru a golden sunrise. Then singing. Then chatting.
At 11am we get to the community of Campo and buy snacks, waiting in the shade for Future Dad’s parents and my Cousin. By 1:15 we are walking the final 1.2 miles to the monument.
We celebrate by taking photos, signing the register, popping champagne and puffing cigars (thanks Kelly!!) and also donning our new Wrong Way Gang tshirts, designed by Groucho and printed at the screen printing shop owned by my aunt and uncle.
And then… It’s basically over. And we are shuttled to San Diego to jump in the ocean and eat vegan dinner. And a home where we take showers, washing away much of our tans and brushing out about half our hairz.
And I wake at 5am … As usual. And type this post…still from bed… in the dark and wonder if I’ll be able to share with you how this all feels, but it’s not real yet. I feel like I’m on another zero. But I’ll be back soon. For now… Here are some pictures Kelly took:
Now that Groucho has returned from the Lemurian abduction he seems different. First of all his butt does a lot of the talking. It seems really invested in weighing in on every conversation. Also he looks strangely like a young Willie Nelson. No matter. We are in love and I can put up with these new factors in our relationship… Barely.
We know future Dad and Twinless camped 5.6 miles behind us last night. We wake early to try to get miles in before it’s too hot. We’ll break in the afternoon and hope they catch up then.
The day progresses so pleasantly. We realize it’s been so long since we hiked a full day together. Just the two of us. We’re back where we started.
We leave a note at a water cistern for FutureDad and Twinless to catch us in mount Laguna tomorrow morning if not before. “Let’s finish together!”
The sparse clouds lend some shade to the day and we breeze along. finishing on a high note… Camped at the most beautiful overlook, drinking a trail hot toddy.
10 hours of sleep is too much. Like all old people I went to bed at 630pm last night. And at 5am I am wide awake. Staring at my phone till the batteries die and then staring at the sky watching 5 shooting stars. The sky lightens and I rustle around making coffee for me and Grouchy. We decided to catch sunrise here since we have a short walk to town. We pack up and take our coffees to the Foster Lookout. As the light grows, the sky pinkens. The terrain is the stuff of Star Trek alien planet renderings. Desert canyons and craggy rock faces.
Then the sound of Ravens calling in the canyon below. A flock?, murder?, crew… Maybe 30… Rise up… cawing and circling in an invisible thermal. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Another 3 crews come thru over the next 20 minutes. They’re migration reminds us of thru hikers. But their intelligence is their own. “They are so smart. How they do that… Assemble, organize, ride thermals, fly? Humans are so arrogant. Assuming our gifts are the only ones worth having.”
“Those ravens are probably looking down thinking “look at those stupid flightless humans.”
We get almost to town and what the what??? Walking toward us is Huck and Bug. I am cautiously happy… “What are you doing?”… Bug replies “We parked in campo and hitched here. We decided we want to hike with you.”
Wow. The team is almost back together. Groucho and I head to town.
I smell bad. But I’ve lost my desire to shower. A problem apparent to me when I bypass the campground showers in Mount Laguna and go straight for the EXCELLENT gear store where I buy toe socks. Gross, hu?
We have only 41 miles to go. We take a day in Laguna … Getting more food, and trying to catch up on blogging. I sit outside the gear store for hours. Looking thru photos I notice my head has grown improbably large compared to my body. I haven’t lost that much weight so it must be my ego swelling.
Eventually hunger drives me to the restaurant where I eat a garden burger. I pick the red onions off the burger and then reconsider and put them back to disguise the smells emenating from my vagina. (sorry mom.)
I look down at my dirty, disheveled body… I’m at the phase of the thru hike where my calves are as big as my thighs but much, MUCH more tan. How can I return to civilization like this??
At 5pm we hike out and continue into dark camping under an old oak tree.
The wrong way gang is back together. We only have 25 miles to get to camp tonight. Our last PCT campsite. We drag our heels taking a long morning break at a camp ground filled with Cowboys. A lady walks by with her horse in tow. “Look at that beautiful horse”. Groucho adds “and it’s slavery jewelry.” “What… Like it’s saddle?” Then from futureDad “oh you mean the lady’s diamond ring?” I’m so proud. Future dad has become a feminist.
We pass a glowing, nine year old section hiker – articulate, smart and good at spotting wildlife. Then, later on the day, two cheerful marathoners a generation older than us (from Kansas City) who are just out for a day jaunt while visiting friends. They want to thru hike in a year or two. Again – anyone can hike the PCT if they have the willingness to make space in their life for it.
We take a second break -for 3 hours- at the deserted Lake Morena campground. Drinking cider, making dinner, chillaxing.
And then just 8 more miles to camp and our last big ascent of the hike. It’s beautiful. I hike mostly with Twinless and we yammer about British history. At dusk we see the glow of eyes ahead on the trail. Curious and cautious it stares bravely into Twinless’s headlamp. Giving us a long time to look at it’s outline. It looks like a little cat with an improbably long tail. At camp Huck googles and comes up with a photo of a kit fox which might be what we saw.
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.
Miles hiked this section: 50 something
Miles skipped for fire closures: 30ish… From onyx summit to white water preserve + 17 south of Idyllwild
PCT hiked or skipped for fire closure so far: mile 2660 – 152
Miles hiked so far: 2450+ ish
The desert is designed to destroy us. This is my mantra today as we climb from 1300 to 7000 feet over exposed rock on the face of San Jacinto in sweltering heat carrying 4 liters (8.8 lbs) of water since there are no natural sources to be found. Amidst the tarantulas, lizards, spiky cacti and rough chaparral we tromped uphill in the mid afternoon heat.
But first… Bug drives us 30 miles around a fire closure. Not an active fire… But a terrain that they haven’t repaired or deemed safe for hikers since July of 2015. It’s a 2 hour drive.
Then we climb over a hill to start the day. It’s so hot at 8am my scrunscreen melts off my face. At 11am we find a hose near a wind farm administrative building and hope it isn’t poisoned. We really need the water. We descend down to a community of homes… Here … clinging in the valley of this yellow dessert… lies the home of Ziggy and the bear. Famous trail Angels. But we don’t really need to stop so we press on breaking under the only oasis available… The underpass. Covered in graffiti it offers us delicious cool shade. We dry out our sleeping sacks… Soaked from last night’s dew and then start our long trek thru the desert meadow to the base of San Jacinto.
The desert water authority has installed a fountain here. Possibly to curb hiker deaths as it really is so hot that my head bandanna is soaked thru. I never sweat this way.
And then at 3pm we climb. Up and up and up. Huck sees tarantulas on trail moments after I have passed the same terrain. We all see a tiny baby rattlesnake coiled right by the trail. We hear these are the most deadly because they lack a warning rattle, emit a special neurotoxin, and are unable to conserve their poison… If they give-they give it their all. Again… The desert is designed for death.
We promised to meet Bug at camp tonight so despite this toughest hiking day of the trail we press on way past dark- huffing it up and up until finally at 9:15pm, we get to camp. Future dad is there and we quickly catch up before passing out.
We Wake in the trees of San Jacinto cOld and dewey. Although it is all uphill… The group hikes together, fast and cheerful. Group dynamics are good. But because of yesterday’s heat, the altitude and/or dehydration I suffer from headaches today. The summit of San Jacinto is a side trail off the PCT.. A thousand more feet or so. Groucho and Future Dad are commited to this but Huck and I opt to head down to Idyllwild. Bug and Sprout head back to the car. I love my conversation with Huck -aDane- about American politics, surveillance and gun control. In Idyllwild I have an excellent vegan Reuben at the natural food store. We buy groceries and cook dinner at the Bluebird hotel. Watching stupid movies well into the night.
Today feels traumatic. I wake at 7. Ready to roll. I make coffee. By 9am others are up and chatting. Future Dad is especially raring to go … Another fire closure I am gonna skip but he decides to road walk around. I feel befuddled that the official PCT reroute is a *freaking* road walk on a narrow, windy road with no shoulder. Given the second highest instance of hiker death on the PCT is by car… You’d think they’d find a better way. Since I was hit by a car 18 months ago I still have a hard time with traffic… So no way will I road walk.
But hardy future Dad needs to get going which inspires conversation about our “plan.” And here we go again. I start to ask around… so we can all hit The road… And Bug is preoccupied with her studying, Huck is on his phone and Groucho is in the toilet. I am talking to Future Dad about the next week… We are only a week from Campo and suddenly Huck quietly says “I think I’m gonna hike in my own awhile. I don’t want to plan.” I am suddenly very sad… But again- this is expected- the end of the hike often brings out people’s anxiety and desire to be free…or not, or sad… or happy, or alone… or together. This is natural. But now Bug also seems unsure about what she’s doing. And Future Dad is ready to go.
I realize I’m tired of trying to hear or guess other people’s desires and build consensus. I am sacrificing my own happiness to glue together a group that maybe doesn’t want to be glued.
So Groucho and I drop off future dad and go to the Post Office. There are enough snacks in packages from Lynn and my brother, Neice and nephew that we don’t have to buy anything else at the store. A miracle. Also heartwarming cards from Kate and Ross, Tania, and Kyle. They make me teary and thankful. I can do this.
We return to the hotel and pack. Bug announces she may return to Seattle. I’m not sure if to believe it… This will be the third teary goodbye. I feel crestfallen again. Huck and she and Twinless will sleep in Idyllwild tonight. Future Dad is ahead. Huck wants to hike alone. I guess me and Groucho are on our own… Ending as we began?
Huck drives us around the closure and Groucho and I start to hike. This is the first we’ve been alone in… A Month or so? It’s kinda nice. Groucho worries he’s been drinking too much … The current environment provides ample drinking opps: steady whiskey supply + town visits + care packages from home + social anxiety about group decisions. Just as we are sadly coming to peace with our sudden aloneness… Future dad texts me. “Meet at road?” He’s willing to wait. The wrong way gang hobbles back to life, getting to the road at sunset and hiking in the dark to the first available site.
Pro of the desert: so many towns and services to help you along the way. Con of the desert: as a sobo you are in good enough shape to hit vortex potential every damn day.
From Deep Creek it is *only* 33 miles until a road that leads to the town of Big Bear Lakes. Also all uphill… Just 5000 feet gain. No problem. Seriously. Even with full packs and long water carries. We are super heros now. Also Groucho and Future Dad decide it’s “grouchy the Grouch’s SOBO sweep” – a challenge we issue to all SOBOs to do a turn at litter pick up. So in addition to packs we carry trash today. All in all they will carry out 10lbs of rubbish. I find a full can of Bud Lite, which Groucho shotguns it before breakfast. My shoes are the Bain of my existence and I feel pain all day.
By 6pm we are in town and it is still light out. I told you… We are super heros.
We are swept to motel 6 where $120 can procure you 2 immaculate, adjoining rooms with cable, showers and 4 Queensized beds. We also have excellent vegan food at the Himalayan restaurant. Heaven. Everyone orders vegetarian except Huck who eats a baby sheep.
Groucho and I find excellent cheap breakfast across the street at Broadway Cafe. The group packs up and Future Dad hits the trail. We are close to a fire closure which he decides to bush whack thru to preserve his continuous footpath plan… We will skip some of these closed miles and can leave more leisurely. Twinless hits the bus terminal to get to LAX so she can attend a wedding in Minnesota. The group is splitting for a time. The rest of us blog at Starbucks until rain starts up. Perfect excuse to town vortex. So we do – Groucho’s parents have sent us a little loot which we use for a hotel room… Returning to the motel just as thunder and storms wreak havoc on the PCT spreading landslides and mudslides from Lake Hughes to Tehachipi. Cable features Harry Potter and we procure a bottle of Sparkling Wine. Thru hiking is feeling easy.
This morning is rough. I wake at the customary hour of 6am but everyone else is snoring and off gassing. By 7:30 everyone shows signs of life but are still silently looking at their phones. I want to hike, so I pack up. At 8am, Huck asks “what are you doing? What time are you going?” And I reply… I’d like to go soon. That’s my preference. It fits the schedule to meet up with future dad And Twinless in a few days down in Idyllwild. I’m invested in that. I ask the remaining three what they’d like to do. Bug says whatever everyone else likes to do. Huck looks at his phone. Groucho goes to the toilet. I am suddenly uncomfortable, realizing that the two other type-A planners of our group have deserted me and I am alone here with people who just want to hike but not necessarily plan it.
I get it. It’s a huge mantra “hike your own hike.” But for over 600 miles we’ve been a team. … Even longer with Huck. And suddenly their possible disinterest in group dynamics hangs in the air and I flail. “I’m feeling frustrated because I have stated my desires, and ask you all what you want and just feel ignored.” Huck explains “you like to plan… Sometimes weeks ahead. That makes me anxious. I am deciding right now what to do.” Bug pipes up… “Oh… Can we get burritos?” I feel crestfallen. Groucho and I have already eaten. I am ready to walk. But we either wait for these guys and preserve this half of wrong way gang… Or we hike alone in the hopes of meeting the other half of the gang on schedule. I feel irrationally trapped by this dilemma. I excuse myself to the hotel lobby for coffee.
As we return to the room, bug and Huck are leaving for Burritos. I’m going crazy with impatience and Groucho is moody so I should leave the room I go to brunch ordering $1 hash browns because I’m starting to go broke with all the town stops.
But by 11am we are packed and headed back to trail. We trail run the first 9 miles to make up time. Huck gets lost immediately. Not exactly lost, since he finds a road to traverse that intersects with the PCT. His intuition and navigations always astound. But it rattles me a little because today the AT community mourns the discovery of the remains of hiker Inchworm… Who went missing 1 day after we met her on the AT two years ago. She somehow got a few miles off trail that rainy day and was lost forever on a mountain in Maine. RIP inch worm.
The next 14 miles I hike with Bug. She says it’s like a long therapy session as she discusses life and love and thru hiking. It’s nice sharing some emotional time.
We reach the road by Onyx Summit at dark and it is blustery and lighting but Huck has warm pizza from town. We pitch our tarp as rain falls. In the desert.
Miles hiked this section: 62
PCT hiked so far: mile 2660 – 308
Miles hiked so far: 2300+ ish
Perhaps because of the rattlesnake yesterday, or maybe because of all the camo-toting dudes lurking with rifles in the shadows of opening deer season weekend… This morning I feel creeped out walking in the dark. I somehow fall slightly behind the crew… They burst out of the gate at a strong 3mile per hour pace. In the trees I imagine sleepy mountain lions attracted to my sputtering headlamp. I start to sing an old spiritual and awaken a hunting dog next to two tent sillouttes. At sunrise I find Huck Groucho and Twinless eating snacks overlooking the valley before us. It’s all downhill from here. Well… At least the next 22 miles to Cajon Pass. Groucho says, “I think we should try to make it by 2:30pm”. He wants more physical challenge if we are going to slack pack. We agree. The morning flies by. Mile after mile we walk and jog and snack and chat. Around 11am I break away from Twinless who wants to go a bit slower and jog down the hill, singing and dodging little sprigs of poodle dog. Bug meets me at the bottom of the climb with a water refill… Before the last 5 miles. It is 1pm and I learn the fellas came thru 20 minutes ago. I ditch my pack and take only a wind jacket, snack, phone, water bottle and umbrella. I feel like a clown juggling these things and a hip belt which is now too small and slides down to my knees every 5 minutes. The sun scorches my calves and torso despite my seasoned umbrella maneuvers.
A mile before Cajon pass The trail turns under a railroad trestle and I notice a human sitting inside… Maybe homeless, maybe adventuring. Who knows at this point? Then the trail dives into the earth in a concrete dark creepy tunnel under the freeway. I think this would be a perfect place for murder.
At 2:45 I am at CajonPass bypassing the the McDondalds and heading straight to the Best Western where we have 2 rooms, cable and access to a hot tub and pool. It is a good night.
I blog over continental breakfast at the best western. After 3 repetitions of the morning news, we secure the remote and watch “Coming to America”. We head out at noon, stopping by the Chevron to buy more unnecessary snacks and loiter in their shade. By 2pm we are still there and conversation begins to flirt with staying another night. Oh no. Town vortex. This is not the town you want to vortex in with only 3 gas station convenience stores and a McDonald’s. Groucho bravely gets up to go and everyone reluctantly follows. We only have 13 miles to get to camp and it passes quickly but my shoes are suddenly possessed by the devil. I calculate with horror I have worn them over 500 miles already and they have lost their will to live. I take them off and there are rocks embedded in the soles of my shoes… on the inside. We send an emergency text to Groucho’s mom to send new shoes. Also I develop a belly ache. I’ve eaten too much peanut. PBJ, PB pretzels, Nutz over chocolate Luna bar, Justin’s peanut butter cups, peanut butter packet, and a bag of lime flavored peanuts.
Around dark we get to the dirt road where the car is waiting and Bug has brought pizzas!! We camp in a little sheltered area near trail.
Groucho and I leave a few hours early today so we can spend QT with my California beauty/cousin Kelly this morning. She lives 10 minutes from trail and we meet her at a road crossing around 10:30. She brings snacks and we eat almost an entire loaf of bread while visiting in the back of her truck. It’s awesome to have these rare familial magic visits along the way.
Around 1pm we get back in trail and hike up to the famed Deep Creek hot springs in the dead heat. It’s super hot. Blazing. And the trail is covered in trash. Groucho finally grows sick of it and starts collecting garbage. By the time we arrive at the hot springs his grocery sack is half full of empty water bottles.
Deep creek is a magical, glorious place once you adjust to all the nude , gold chain-wearing, wrinkled men. We enjoy the hot spring and cold creek for several hours before finding camp up stream.
Miles hiked this section: 37
PCT hiked so far: mile 2660 – 349
Miles hiked so far: 2262 ish
Happy Birthday Twinless!! She is still about 10 miles back, so we leave her an orange Gatorade and vodka airplane bottle at the intersection of a dirt road – trail screwdriver! She will probably get it 10 miles into her day and right in the middle of a waterless stretch.
Bug really wants to hike today so we set up a relay. We are walking alongside paved road 2… For the next 20 miles or so. The PCT crosses this road every 2-6 miles… So we agree to take turns driving the car so Bug can walk. I take the first shift driving 15 minutes down from the dirt road to the first intersection with 2. It skips 4 miles of trail, so after blogging a bit in the car, I hike 20 minutes or so back up the trail to meet the gang and returning to the car for more snacks and water.
We continue in this fashion all day, leaving magic for Twinless, and slack packing easy miles.
We run into a trail closure for the endangered yellow legged frog. The detour intersects with the beautiful Cooper Canyon Creek. Our first cold, running water in days that didn’t come from a cache or spigot. We detour up to the Burkhart camp and then ride back about seven miles to wait for Twinless. We estimate she and future dad will emerge around 4pm but we get there early just in case. We are planning to kidnap her from the trail and get a hotel in the nearby town of Wrightwood tonight. We wait and nap and Groucho and I eat all our snacks. At 5pm she’s still not here. We use the trail magic to gauge where she is. She must be less than 4 miles back because she’s already retrieved the magic left at the last crossing. We worry she will play it casual today and do fewer miles so Huck jogs back to make sure they aren’t camped early tonight.
By 6pm they are back at the car having almost been abducted by overly generous men at a camp for dads bearing brownies and pomegranate seeds.
We hop in the car and drive 20 miles down the forest road. On the way we pass a landslide that has partially seeped on the road. We get to the very bottom… Just 10 miles from wrightwood… and there is a closed and very locked gate. We cannot go further. And without maps or cell service we do not know another way to town. There is no sign giving detour info. We sadly pile back in the car and decide to head back to the camp we wandered thru earlier. There was a large shelter set up over a picnic table and a cooler that looked like it was old trail magic… Just containing hand sanitizer. This looks like a spot they sometimes stash thru hikers. We drive they the camp ground and all of the 30 spots are filled with holiday weekend campers… Except the site with the canvas shelter. So we explode our packs, and our friends share various snacks with us since we didn’t make it to the grocery and are totally out of food. We set up cowboy-style and are nearly snoozing when we are kicked out of camp at 9pm by a grumpy fellow who claims he has paid for this site. We apologize and explain we thought it was a PCT site since it had the look of a backpackers site. He just gets mad at our apologies and says “oh common!” We silently pack up and are gone in 5 minutes. As we leave he shouts back “and take this tent and this other stuff with you” pulling at the shelter over the picnic table and the magic cooler. We explain it’s not ours and is precisely why we made the mistake thinking we could camp here. But he’s not having it… Clearly determined to think of us as jerky liar pantses. We try not to take it all personally and get out — camping a mile up the road in a spacious pull out.
Today someone asks how long we’ve been dating and I realize it’s Groucho and my make-out-versary… We first kissed 4 years ago this day. It’s a sweet memory and we hike together … day dreaming about future adventures.
We climb and summit Baden Powell around 1pm. There are a million day hikers on this holiday weekend. A bus full of Boy Scouts. It’s strange after having the trail mostly to ourselves the last couple weeks.
Around 4pm we near the end and Future Dad wants a photo with epic clouds behind him. FD is all about the epic photos. He leaps over a rock and screams, leaping back immediately to avoid an immense Rattle snake. “This one eats rabbits or something” says FutureDad.
Huck shuttles us to Mile High Pizza in Wrightwood by 6pm. We eat, charge, and go to the grocery. Twinless, who has lost 25 lbs on this trip and is endlessly hungry finally consults Bug on her resupply. Bug is a masters-trained dietitian, studying for her final certification exam. She also eats and advocates a plant-based diet, which makes our team even-steven—three carnivores and three vegans. Bug shakes down Twinless’ snack pack and encourages her to get plainwhole rolled oats and brown sugar instead of instant oats; peanut butter and jelly on sprouted whole wheat, multigrain bread instead of white bread bagels; And no snickers or rice crispie treats … Instead… energy bars; Also no ritz crackers…Instead wheat thins. Twinless reports tomorrow that she can now go 2.5 hours or more between snacks instead of just 2 hours. Maybe there’s something to this whole “nutrients” concept.
As we all pack up, a local business owner offers to let us camp out on the porch but there are too many lights on. At 9pm we drive back up the hill to camp at another car pull out.
PCT hiked so far: mile 2660 – 407
Miles hiked so far: 2225 ish
We wake at dawn and dawdle at the Anderson’s watching morning news. Terry makes us pancakes and coffee — she and Joe are such generous souls. It snowed in Wrightwood – we’ll be there in several days. Fall is upon us, but in these lower elevations of the desert it’s still hot and sunny.
Today Is a challenge Groucho has been dreaming about since the Appalachian Trail. Today he attempts the 24/24/24. 24 miles +24 beers in 24 hours. It is 24 miles from The Anderson’s (and a convenience store) to Agua Dulce… another little town. Also Future Dad agrees to face the challenge with Groucho. They saddle up with a duct taped 12 pack in each hand, and walk the first few miles alone.
Twinless and I run into them an hour later and learn Future Dad is a chatty drunk. Groucho’s strategy, on the other hand, Is silence and smiles.
FD reveals their safe word…. A safe sentence, really. I ask “so what is the word” and first he doesn’t want to say in case it will break the spell. We urge him on “what if Groucho is passed out and you say the safe word but we, the sober ones, don’t know it?” Future Dad can’t remember it. uh oh. Groucho reminds him “the safe word is ‘Andrea Dinsmore says you’re never going to make it.”
Soon FD says he needs a snack break at the next crest. He arrives pantsless… Or “Hucking it”… Our nominculture for this Huck-created technique. We all sit down and FD exclaims “ha! I can’t sit down because I’m not wearing any pants.” I loan him my tyvek sit mat made from a priority mail envelope.
We get up to leave, FD’s pack exploded everywhere. He needs 10 seconds more and starts counting down on repeat. Each time he gets to 3 he says “wait wait” and starts again. This goes on until the pack is full and he needs to pee. On my sit mat. He asks if I want it back and I politely decline.
Future dad has maybe had 7 beers. This can only end in tears or death.
We go another couple miles and I stop to pee behind my umbrella for privacy. FD says ” it’s so funny that you’re peeing right now because I just peed down my leg.” Apparently “Hucking it” provides enough freedom for FD to attempt and fail the don’t-stop-to-pee technique of celebrity athlete Andrew Skurka.
Ok so then FD needs to take a serious break. Twinless hikes on and after 20 minutes I hike a little ahead of Groucho and FD, looking for their sillouttes on the horizon every so often. Eventually I just stop and wait. I have cell service and confirm the pizza joint is open until 9pm. I think this might provide incentive, so I lay down the plan when they arrive. They should try to sober up enough to get to town… 12 miles in 5 hours. Then finish their beers with pizzas. They are on board. I hike with them a few hours till we crest the hill. We have under 3 hours and 8 miles to go. Huck shoulders my pack and I take off jogging the last miles… Seeking cell service to order our pizzas and hoofing it to a place Bug left the car and driving it back to the trailhead where our Heros will emerge. The night falls on me and i grow creeped out hiking alone, especially as my headlamp dims and I use my also-dwindling phone as a flashlight the last hour. Hearing rustles in the bushes I imagine the family of mountain lions hungry for pizza in these very hills. The only thing I see, however, is a toad.
Meanwhile, a couple miles back FD and Groucho are nestled in a safe group of sober Wrong Way Gang members. Groucho has turned into Kung fu panda -making “ha yah” emmissions and running downhill in the dark without a headlamp. Huck reports he only fell once.
I re-arrange our luggage in the car and swoop up Bug and Twinless to get the pizzas with me. Huck, FD and Groucho walk 2 more miles of trail along the road into Agua Dulce to finish their 24 miles. The grocery closes at 9pm too, so I race around getting Groucho and my resupply. As I’m leaving, I am approached by Tom… a PCT alum and the son of the Saufley’s… Famous trail Angels who closed their home this year after 18 years of service to PCT hikers. Tom offers to put us up at his own house, just 2 blocks away. We gratefully agree. Out inebriated friends join us and we whisk them to a beautiful home with pizza and adorable puppies. We chat into the night with the lovely new friends and fall asleep in their living room. So thankful for hospitality. Groucho finishes his 24th or 26th beer with a shot of tequila and 2 joints. He is future Dad’s new hero. He is the only person anyone has met to finish the challenge. Even Tom has only heard tell of 2 people in the two decades his parents hosted hikers. Congrats Groucho.
The main problem with California is all the town vortex potential. When I’m on trail, thinking about an upcoming town visit, I imagine getting in and out as fast as possible… just grab my town food, do my laundry and get back on trail. But one shower, one beer and 2000 calories later, I hardly feel like I”ve ever even been on trail and I start to dawdle… And the town vortex begins. Peer pressure of Wrong Way Gang really hurts any effort at efficiency to get out. Everyone promises to awake at 5am, and yet by 6:30 you’re still lying there as silent as death, hoping that everyone else will also have forgotten their alarms. Then someone secretly rouses, and heads to brunch or coffee. And everyone slowly wanders to join. We all look at our phones for several hours. And then at some point people start to make mention of leaving. Once we spring to action, things move faster, but it can still take hours to get out.
So succeptible are we after Groucho’s 24/24/24 victory in Agua Dulce, that we end up caught in a mini vortex. We wake at Tom’s. We dawdle. We play with puppies. And pack up. And go to brunch. And go to the hardware store. And the grocery. And then do internet. And then the grocery again. And finally around NOON…. we head out. By then, we realize that we can’t pull a normal-mile day. So we look at the data and aim for the Acton KOA. A fancy campground that we will need to pay a little to stay out. It’s only 10 miles away. To get there we wander through beautiful Vazquez park – filled with epic rock structures and botanical interpritive signage. We pass through a tunnel under the freeway, and then it’s easy switch backs for the last several miles down to the KOA. The new owner is present and super nice, and the staff give us a spot on the lawn to cowboy camp for only $30 (6 people, a dog and a support vehicle). We can also swim in the pool and charge devices in the community room. It’s a pleasant afternoon. As dusk falls, Huck (who has a gear addiction) drives with Bug to LA to pick up a backpack prototype he just ordered online. It’s about an hour away. They get back super late… we are already sleeping.
Late arriving hikers, bright KOA lights, and chatty caretakers make this night’s sleep super crappy. No matter. The alarm goes off at 4:30 and Groucho and I start to pack up. Huck joins in, as usual. But as soon as we’re done, we notice that Twinless, FutureDad and Bug are still down for the count. Bug whispers to me she’ll see me at the dirt road in 37 miles with the car. Motivation. We pack our stuff with us… just in case. Bug does her best on these country roads, but occasionally the precarious conditions make it difficult for her to reach us.
We hike out, assuming FutureDad and Twinless will be soon behind. It’s dark and steep,… a big climb today. I’m in the middle, but at some point Huck stops to wait. He explains he saw two wide eyes peering at him 10 meters away. Maybe a coyote. Maybe a cougar. Thrilling. We wait for Groucho and hike closely until light. Around dawn we start to space apart again and I am alone as I watch the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen, humbly rise in the clouds to the East.
About an hour after dawn, I catch up to the boys and we start to watch lizards. The tan ones always run. The black ones pause and seem more intelligent somehow, peering unafraid at us from their perches. At some point Huck stops to take a photo. I realize I have to pee so I duck a few yards down trail, telling Huck that I’m retreating to pee, as Groucho has already done before me. Huck… hard of hearing because of an accident during a training exercise in the Danish military involving gun discharge… doesn’t hear me. Caught up in his camera, he glances up to realize that I have taken a crouching position a few yards back and worries that he scared the lizard away. He stares at me. I am embarrassed but don’t know what to do as he stares and asks “did the lizard run away.” finally I stand and he states “Oh! you were peeing! I thought you were photo-ing the lizard.” I don’t care anymore. We’ve thru hiked together, so basically Huck knows all my impropriety. Somehow he tolerates me anyway.
Eight miles into the day we reach the Ranger Station at the crest of the hill. We find an impeccable residnet ranger who has left us several gallons of water and also takes time to point out the imfamous Poodle Dog Bush… a new threat we’ve been awaiting for a long time. Poodle dog bush is a desert-dwelling plant that looks and smells vaguely like marijauna. Growing in burn areas and reeking havoc on anyone who comes into contact – poodle dog is similar to poison oak, creating blisters and rashes for most people who touch it… dead or alive.
The next 10 miles are riddled with Poodle Dog. It’s like an obstacle course. If we even touch it to our clothes we need to remove the clothes and wash them separately. WE feel like we’re in a video game, dodging and breezing along poodle dog branches… hoping that we don’t use up our one life.
Then suddenly, we reach an area where the “trail gorillas” have cleaned up shop and there is no more poodle dog. The next few hours pass serenely. Time begins to morph… I’ll feel like 5 minutes have passed and it’s almost an hour. I am in the intense meditivave phase of this journey.
We pass a stoner marker for the 420th mile of the trail. Just then I see sprout the dog! and Bug! They’ve hiked up from the next road crossing to meet us. We hike with Bug a mile back to her car and find surprises. Guacamole and Beers! Slack packing is the best. We hang for awhile, cooling down after a hot afternoon.
Tomorrow is Twinlesses Birthday. Bug informs us that although we left camp at 4:30am… Twinless and Future Dad didn’t leave until 7:30 this morning. We are planning to hike 37 today but there is no way they will possibly catch up today or tomorrow if we don’t wait for them.
What is the best way to celebrate Twinless’s birthday? We decide to leave easter egg style treats for Twinless along the way tonight and tomorrow for her to get throughout her birthday — and then try to kidnap her tomorrow night and take her into town. Bug’s car can facilitate so much fun!
So we get to the Mill Creek Firehouse and leave twinless a vodka and several birthday cake flavored oreos in a ziplock right at the water source. She is sure to find it because this is the only water for almost 20 miles in either direction. This is probably where she will spend the night.
We hike on – about 12 more miles up a pass, and then downhill for many miles as it darkens. At this point we realize that Groucho forgot his flashlight in Bug’s car, and Huck’s headlamp is loosing battery. IN a rare moment of responsibility I have BOTH a headlamp and a flashlight. Therefore I become the beacon in front… letting my friends know about upcoming obstacles. Huck starts speaking German (he somehow knows Danish, English, Portuguese, and a bit of German and Spanish and well as several other languages.) He begins to call out “Poodle Hund Sheise” (i.e. Shitty Poodle Dog). I… also speaking poor German… start to respond by qualifying the poodle dog… Grosse (big) poodle dog sheise. Eine kleine (a tiny) poodle dog Sheise. Etc. It amuses us much in our exhaustion.
Again, Bug – having driven ahead – hikes back to meet us a few miles from camp. It’s a relief to see her. I’m so tired and my feet are sore toward the end of the day. We camp in a dirt parking lot next to a meager trailhead.