Saturday, May 17, 2008

Big Bear

Hello from Big Bear.

Since my stay at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon it's been quite an adventure. First thing in the morning in Cabazon I walked up with my full pack to the outlet mall to purchase new shoes. I got some really comfortable almost water shoes. I think they are the Columbia Titanium Torrent in red. They are working well. My feet can breathe in the desert. They are a men's size 9 which is about 4 sizes larger than my feet actually measure. There's a lot of swelling that goes on when you backpack and you need comfortable shoes. Don't believe what shoe salespeople tell you. You need shoes that have no possible way for your toes to touch the shoe. You can fill in the spaces with socks to keep the slipping inside the shoe down. Works great this way.

After my shopping excursion I did a long road walk out to downtown Cabazon to the Post Office to pick up my mail drop. I sent back home a lot of the food because my appetite still hasn't been that great. As I was assembling my things like a vagabond in front of the busy PO a nice man made a comment and I jumped on the chance to ask for a ride to the trail. I think his name was Don and he was training to be a bus driver so I got a good ride back to the bridge at I10. I'm sure he thought I was a little nutty when I said that there was water under the bridge there. Yeah, not fresh water, bottled water in some coolers.

I took some water and began the long hot slog through the desert and the wind farms in the noonday sun. It was miserable. Had to be 100 degrees.

At the wind farm there was a sign pointing to water and shade so I followed it and found a hose with hot water and a sliver of shade next to the building. I drank a liter and filled a liter (my new water strategy) and sat for a few minutes. Stupid me. If only I had knocked on the door I could have had a shower and ice cold water and sodas like the hikers that I had no idea were inside doing at that very moment.

I continued the slog. It was the most miserable hiking ever. So steep. It was killing me. I finally reached the top of this little Teutang canyon and started down to a big river called Whitewater Creek. When I reached the creek the trail made sure to keep me far away from the water. I cursed the trail as the PCNWT, the Pacific Crest No Water Trail.

I bumped into another hiker, Joel, and passed him by. I kept going feeling insecure and nervous about this unforgiving landscape with the scorching sun and no cozy spots for a camp. I just kept plodding along no matter how painful. Finally after several miles the trail actually crossed the creek, which was aptly described as a noisesome brook in the guide book. I camped at a nice spot on the other side.

I made my dinner alone and was reclining in my tent when I heard voices. I went to investigate and met 3 hikers. One was Joel. The others were Rizzo and Warner Springs Monty. Monty says my pack is too big and I need a makeover. Perhaps he's right. I keep trying to send more stuff home to lighten it up.

They considered continuing on but ended up camping with me and keeping me company well into the evening. In the early morning I took off on my incredibly sore feet. People get really impressed with the mileage that PCT hikers do, but they don't really realize that you do the miles completely crippled, often in excruciating pain. In the early morning, and only if you got a decent night's sleep, you often have 6-10 miles of relatively painless walking so it's best to get up early as you can and maximize it. So that's what I did. I headed out at 6AM.

The trail climbed over a ridge into the next canyon over, which was Mission Creek. The desert had been left behind but the creek, which had a little riparian shade, was mostly shadeless because of a fire a couple of years ago. The profusion of wildflowers was spectacular and perfumy and the only thing that kept me from committing suicide as I trudged at a snail's pace up the increasingly steep trail. The day was still in the 90s but at least I could stop every now and then and drink as much as I wanted and put my clothes in the creek.

Eventually Mike and Kat caught up with me. They were like hiking machines. I struggled to keep up. I was hiking like an old man just trudging and rest-stepping the whole way. Eventually I made it to my goal, which was a nice trailside camp. I was hungry, as were Mike and Kat, so we all cooked our dinners at about 4pm at the camp. Then we continued on.

The trail became even more steep. I didn't know that was possible. I also trudged even slower which I didn't think was possible. We rose through all the climate zones and ended up in pine forest. Basically that day we climbed from 2000+ feet to almost 8000 feet.

The camp was called Mission Creek Trail Camp and it was full of tents but I never saw who was in them. I put up my tent, which I'm coming to love, between some bushy trees to maximize the coziness. I slept very well.

The next day I feared the Data Book's description of 2000ft elevation gain in half a mile so I got as early a start as possible, which turned out to be quite late at 7AM. It turned out the incline was very gentle and the forest was beautiful and shaded. Still, I trudged.

I bumped into some hikers along the way. Adrien and Kirsten otherwise known as Hawkeye and Danger Prone. They seemed really experienced. I managed to leap-frog with them all morning mostly because they seemed to take regular breaks while I forced myself to death march along no matter what.

At a water cache they were sitting enjoying some lunch so I stopped there, too. I didn't need to take any water because I had plenty but I started snacking on some fruit and nuts. Before I knew it I had eaten the whole bag. But I felt a lot better. Time to trudge on.

Then the magic began. About 50 yards down the trail were some coolers with Mountain Dew, Pepsi, bananas and oranges. I took a banana and a Mountain Dew and powered them down. Now I really felt great. It was left by this hiker hostel in Big Bear Lake. Great marketing. I had been trying to decide if I wanted to make a stop in Big Bear or not and had seen the hostel's web site in Cabazon. The trailside snacks were starting to seal the deal.

With my newfound energy and the trail going very gently downhill I realized I'd make my goal of Arrestre Camp. I got there at about 2PM. Mike and Kat and the other couple arrived there shortly after and there were two men there before me. I rested with my shoes off feeling pretty groovy. I pondered my options. It was only 10 more miles to Highway 18 where that hostel would give you a free ride. I calculated out that I could probably make that in 5 more hours, maybe only 4 since it was down hill. I powered on.

I was running down the trail and bounding up the little sections of uphill. I felt great. I figured if I didn't make it to the highway for a ride I'd at least get close. As 7PM slowly approached I could see houses and things. Then I could hear the road. Then I rounded the bend and could see trailhead parking and a sign and see people. I started running because maybe those were hikers waiting for a lift to the hostel.

When I came down to the trailhead somebody yelled "It's a hiker!" They ran over to me and took my picture and handed me a beer and told me to take a seat in a comfy chair and have some chips and then proceeded to prepare barbecued hamburgers. Eventually hikers arrived from all over the trail, having gotten rides from Spiderwoman's dad who was throwing a hiker party.

The party went on until almost midnight. Many people became incredibly, even falling down drunk. I only had the one beer. I felt too good to ruin my newfound energy with a hangover. It was truly an amazing and miraculous thing to come around a bend and have a barbecue waiting for you.

There was a guy there wearing a funny puffy down suit so I took out my Tyvek hazmat suit which I carry for wind or extra layers or rain. Everybody thought that was so funny they took pictures of the two of us. Clockwork wanted to rename my trailname to Hazmat. We'll see if that sticks. I've been going by Piper since I play jigs and reels on my tin whistle.

As the party went on forever I started wishing they would go away so I could set up my tent at the trailhead and go to sleep. I figured I could get a ride to the hostel in the morning. But all these drunks were pissing everywhere so that option became increasingly less appealing. And some of the folks who have befriended me would have none of it so I ended up crashing in somebody's Motel 6 room in Big Bear City.

The next morning me and my motel room neighbors went to Thelma's for breakfast. It was about a mile walk away. I was very hungry even after chowing down a ton of food at the barbecue the night before. I ordered what's basically a grand slam breakfast. I realized from my experience the night before that I have to eat more whether I want to or not.

After breakfast I packed my things and hopped on the MARTA bus to go to Big Bear Lake, which is different from Big Bear City so I could go ahead and take another night and stay at the hostel. I also wanted to send my stove home. I hate cooking. I want food I can just sit down and eat. So I'll substitute the weight of the stove for tortillas and peanut butter and other good stuff.

I bumped into Gary and Walt and they were going out for breakfast at IHOP so I went with them and had a milkshake and tomato juice. Then I hiked over to the hostel. It's a cool place, just a big house with a lot of rooms and chairs, a coin laundry, showers and Internet. Very relaxing. I'll probably do a little more shopping, relax some more and then in the morning as early as possible get back to work on the trail. Somehow I have to get all the way across Cajon Pass (ugh, more hot desert) to Wrightwood by Friday where I'll meet Tony and pick up my package. Somehow I have to cram 100 miles into 5 days. And I can't roll into Wrightwood after the PO closes or I'm screwed.

Wish me luck.


  1. Hi Diane,

    Enjoying your PCT blog. If you see WS Monty again say Hi to him for me. We hiked Section A together.

    He is famous for the saying" When the weight goes down, the fun goes up!". Hope he was able to give you some great suggestions on how to lighten your pack.

    Happy Trails.

    The Beeman

  2. I am inspired! I have been thinking of starting to do segments of the PCT here in So. Cal. Your story is so exciting! I will be praying for safe travels for you and following your progress. At least you know there is at least 1 person inspired by you on the trail and saying special prayers for you.
    God Bless your trek!