Monday, May 30, 2011

51 miles in 51 hours

The Man and I just returned from hiking over San Jacinto on the PCT. We started up the Spitler Trail and then followed the PCT to just about the end of Section B.

I think the PCT hates me. Three backpack trips in a row on the PCT I've found myself trying to sleep in a hurricane. This time we had 55mph winds with gusts and rain and ice-fog.

We drove down and set up the cars on Friday night. We slept at the Spitler trailhead. We started up the Spitler Trail on Saturday. The Spitler Trail is a really nice trail and still had a lot of flowers blooming. We reached the PCT in a couple of hours.

It was a nice warm, sunny day. There were some pretty strong winds, especially in the old 2008 burn zone, that almost knocked me over a few times.

We met a backpacker who was in the middle of quitting his weekend hike. Something about running low on water and deciding to quit. I can never understand that. I had only a liter to get me the 7 miles to the next water. That didn't concern me at all. But other people will quit a whole weekend hike, even if turning back is more miles than just getting to the next water. Doesn't make any sense to me.

We took a side detour to see the lookout tower on top of Taquitz Peak. The view up there was amazing. It felt like we were on a tiny little pinhead point at the top of the world. There were dozens of people up there, many of them dayhikers who had come up from Idyllwild. We didn't stay long up there because we still had 8 miles to go to get to our campsite and we were running out of time.

There had been a little bit of snow on the trail to Taquitz Peak and there was starting to be little bits of snow on the PCT. But there wasn't much. The winds were really getting strong and the second group of rangers to check our permit said there was a chance of rain that night. It was like a repeat of my hike two weeks ago. We asked the ranger if the Strawberry camp was protected from the wind and he told us it was pretty exposed. So we asked him, if we got there and it was just too windy to set up our shelter, would we get in trouble if we just dispersal camped somewhere more protected? He said that would be okay since the most important thing is to be safe.

We reached an area that seemed a little sheltered so we stopped to cook our dinners and eat. The Man didn't like how the area was in view of the trail so we moved on and found another area. It wasn't nearly as protected, but The Man saw a small spot under a large boulder where he thought we could both sleep. I didn't think we could both sleep there so I said he could sleep under the rock and I would sleep right outside and try to set up the tarp somehow so that it might withstand the wind.

So I did that. I set up my tarp folded in half with only one corner propped up a few feet to keep it off my head. I staked it down as well as I could and hoped for the best. It flopped and puffed and flailed in the night, but it held. The wind came from at least three directions and one of them would push the tarp up against me, which would collapse the down in my bag. So I would get cold when that happened. My feet were pretty cold because the tarp was tight against them. I had trouble sleeping because of the altitude. I was breathing too hard to fall fast asleep.

I was glad when morning came but not too happy that it was raining. We packed up pretty quickly and got moving. It was very cold and only got colder. When we reached the Strawberry camp we were surprised how sheltered and nice it was. We had gotten bad advice from the ranger. We figured we wouldn't listen to them anymore. They probably never actually camp up there anyway. Truth is, though, I don't think we had had enough energy last night to make it all the way to the campsite anyway.

We continued along the PCT and then took a wrong turn down the Marion Mountain trail. We discovered our mistake after a quarter mile. The Marion Mountain trail is really steep!

We headed down Fuller Ridge. There were some large snow banks still on the trail. I was a little worried because the temperature was below freezing and the snow was hard and icy. I was hiking in Chaco sandals and I didn't feel like I got a very good grip on the snow.

We reached a large stream to cross and all the boulders you might step across on had a thick layer of ice on them. I walked through the icy water and then endured frozen feet for half an hour.

Any time we stopped I would get very cold. My hands and feet would go numb and it would take a while to warm them up. My long braid had a layer of ice attached to it and was frozen. We were walking through an ice wonderland. The trees were glazed with ice and the ferocious winds were knocking ice crystals from finger-sized to bigger than a fist off the trees. I was afraid I could get knocked out by one of the bigger chunks if it happened to hit me in the head.

On the shady side of Fuller Ridge the winds were calm. There were still lots of piles of snow on the trail. They were not difficult to navigate, though. I didn't feel unsafe. Little bits of sun would come out. The ice fog clouds were only on one side of the mountain.

At noon we reached Fuller Ridge Camp. It was absolutely freezing there. There was a frozen jug of water sitting on a log. We stopped briefly for The Man to do something. I ate a snack. I didn't want to put on layers I would just have to take off later so I ended up with frozen extremities after a few minutes. I couldn't drink my water because the water hose had frozen. I had other water in a bottle I could drink, however.

Then we set off for the descent. We really just wanted to get the heck out of there. Seems like San Jacinto is the most inhospitable place. It has always had knock-you-over high winds every time I've been there. I don't understand the popularity, except maybe it can be explained by the tram from Palm Springs.

We descended into some sunshine and it started feeling a little warmer. I still wore my balaclava and jacket. Soon I took off the rain pants because I had warmed up a little. It looked like we'd descend out of the ice-fog cloud and into the nice dry desert so I was pretty happy. The map said it would take us 15 miles to get to the water fountain. It didn't seem like such a long way until we were in the thick of it.

After many hours of descending, The Man was getting very frustrated with the trail. There are so many huge switchbacks that almost don't descend. Each and every one of them actually climbs for part of the way. Someone got paid by the mile to design this trail. The Man joked that at noon we could see where I parked my car in the desert and it would probably take 24 hours to get there. (It ended up taking 21 hours, including sleeping.)

The desert floor was coming in to view and The Man was interested in seeing where the famous drinking faucet was. I couldn't see it yet. I was getting pretty tired and hoping we might find a nice sheltered campsite somewhere on the way down. There were several flowing creeks along the way and the trail, despite its shortcomings, was pretty. The air was warmer, the wind was much less and in some places, there was no wind at all and I could enjoy the flowers and the amazing views.

The Man was getting more and more frustrated, hurling obscenities at the trail. His feet were hurting. When I said I could see the fountain and pointed it out to him, he seemed cheered a little that we were getting close. We could even see someone down there. I mean, if you can see it that closely you must be close, right? Ha! The trail had other ideas.

The trail swung the largest switchback yet clear around the mountain. I joked we must be only 500 feet straight through the rocks to where we had been standing when we saw the fountain. The Man was so mad. He sat down for a while to shake a bunch of sand out of his shoes and rest and complain. I thought about how funny it is that the PCT kind of beats a lot of this kind of frustration out of you. The PCT takes all your expectations and says, no, you can't have that. I thought maybe the PCT, if it could write a song, would sing "If you can't have the trail you want, honey, want the trail you have." So I started saying that to The Man and joking with him about everything he was mad at. "Oh yeah, you want some water at a nice fountain? Ha! You can't have that! Instead, you get overgrown switchbacks in the windy desert for all eternity!" "You want a nice Memorial Day weekend on San Jacinto, enjoying the beauty and the weekend? Ha! You can't have that! Instead you get sleepless nights, knock-you over wind, ice and below-freezing weather!"

After 30 miles of hiking for the day, we at long last reached the fountain. The Man had reached the end of his patience. I did my best to set up the shelter. It felt good to be down in the desert where it was considerably warmer and much less windy. I had hope we could get some good sleep. There was another tent there, a rather large dome tent. We never saw the person inside.

Both of us were too tired to eat so we just grabbed a snack and drank something and hit the sack. The tarp flapped rather violently as the wind picked up a bit, but it held through the night by some kind of miracle. When I went to put it away in the morning, the stakes felt like they were being held in the sand by nothing but hope.

It had been a really warm night and I woke up a few times being way too hot and having to remove layers. What a contrast! In the morning we packed up and set off across the desert. It was a beautiful morning. The Man started laughing about his anger and frustration the day before. He realized he was being a big baby but his feet were killing him. He said he never wanted to see Mt. San Jacinto ever again, though. I agreed, but I thought I'd never hike across the desert here ever again in my life and here I was doing it again, so I suspect I'll find myself on San Jacinto again someday.

We slogged through the sand and found the cache under the freeway. What a treat! It was still full. We drank some Mt. Dew and shared an apple and enjoyed being hiker trash hanging out under a freeway.

On the other side of the bridge, we continued our desert journey. I was suddenly feeling very sick. I had started the trip feeling sick to my stomach on Friday and Saturday. It went away Saturday afternoon. Now it was back, but the sick feeling was further along my intestinal track. I had to stop a few times. I worried about how I was going to drive home.

When we reached the car, an actual thru-hiker walked by. Turns out that was his large tent at the fountain. He was moving pretty quickly so perhaps he'll catch up and make it to Canada. The Man and I drove to Idyllwild and had breakfast, then drove the long miles home. No traffic.

Despite the insane weather and feeling like the PCT just wants me to go away, it was a nice trip. The Man mentioned that we had hiked 51 miles in 51 hours. That seems pretty shocking to me. We're not athletes or hard-core hikers by any means. That's just what the PCT does to you. Makes you go further than you want in search of a place to sleep.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Nice first day at my new job

What a difference it is to be surrounded by intelligent people again.

I started my new job at the university. It is nice to be around smart, nice people. People who are present to the world and don't revolve their lives around their baser instincts of greed and gluttony. It's quite a difference. I may be able to tolerate not being able to do long distance hiking for a while if things remain so good.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The secret of the PCT

As I drove home from my 5 day section hike of the PCT, the one where I endured mostly misery and terrible weather, I thought about the secret that the PCT showed me.

Our whole culture that we normally live teaches us to be concerned with three things: Comfort, security and status. It tells us the more of those things we have the happier we will be. The PCT turns all of that on its head and instead says that the less of those things we need the happier we are.

The PCT shows you how little you need to be comfortable. You need only to stay warm and dry and to eat, have enough water and a safe place to sleep. Anything more than that is luxury.

I remember when I was hiking toward a planned hiker feed in northern California. I and the two people I was with that day were hurrying, hoping to make it in time for the food. It became clear that we were probably going to be too late for the food, so we hoped there might be some leftovers. It became clear that we'd probably be late for even leftovers so we hoped there might still be chairs. Chairs! We worked ourselves into a rapture of desire over the thought of sitting in chairs. When we got there the hiker feed was gone, but there were chairs and apples. We were in heaven.

Hiking the PCT makes the tiniest things into enormous pleasures. A chair becomes a dream come true. A cup is a luxury that gives you fits of pleasure. The secret to happiness is not to have more. It is to have less. The less you have the more happiness you feel because little things bring you happiness beyond measure. In our culture we have too much and so endure a sort of law of diminishing returns where we keep trying to add things to gain happiness but find happiness eludes us. This is one of the big secrets the PCT teaches. Comforts should be minimal for maximum happiness.

Our modern world is obsessed with security on many levels. The most common level is the day-to-day preoccupation of securing enough money to afford a decent life. It takes a lot of work and a lot of money and you are never quite sure you've done enough to have made your life secure.

The PCT strips away most security from you. You are left only with a bag of stuff on your back and your wits. That stuff and your resourcefulness become your security. Your body becomes strong from strenuous exercise and you are able to do things you never thought possible. A marathon becomes an easy distance. Your resourcefulness tells you that you can fashion chopsticks from sticks if you lose your eating utensil. You can make a rain poncho from your ground sheet. You can just hike a few more hours or days to a shelter if needed. Your tools and your feet can keep you safe under most conditions.

On the PCT you walk through many different kinds of landscapes. No matter how austere the landscape, it is filled with living things. All these living things are meeting their needs for life. Nature is giving them what they need. There is no landscape that is worthless because it brings life to whatever is living in it.

You almost become a part of the landscape and the economic system that the creatures in it are living under. There is the phenomenon of trail magic, which I believe is the energy of the universe that governs the living things of nature. This magic force wants you to live and it shows you its benevolence by giving you the things you need when you need it. It is another economy outside the one we have built of money and greed. It is the economy of life, of love. Some people call it the Gift Economy where everything is freely given.

In the economy of money and greed, we never have enough. The things that give us life become mundane and taken for granted. You turn a knob and water comes out of a faucet. There is no wonder or gratitude. When you walk 20 or 30 miles in the hot sun to a spring flowing out of the ground, water becomes life embodied and you feel love and gratitude for the water. The universe wants you to be alive and it provides water. It is freely given.

I think often about the horrible things we do to the earth. The plastic filling the seas, the fracking destroying the water for a few minutes of energy and money. When we turn to money for our security we separate ourselves from the source of our true security. Hiking the PCT brings us closer to the source. You do not have to reach and grab to get what you need. You only need to walk quietly and you'll reach the next stream, the next town. Water and food will be waiting for you. We learn there is a hole in the fence of this prison we live in daily and on the other side is a different world. One of love and wonder, beauty and freedom, happiness, struggle, pain and pleasure. It asks only that we live fully and that we walk.

The PCT takes you through places that only hikers and hobos will ever see. Only a hiker or a hobo or perhaps a swallow can see a culvert under a freeway as a safe place to sleep. Only a hiker or a hobo or perhaps other woodland creatures will feel the safety and security of sleeping under a tree in the middle of nowhere. When you can sleep anywhere, the whole world becomes your home. You can never be homeless.

All of this makes you aware that we worry too much about the future. The PCT calms the fear that rises up in our daily lives that we won't have enough, that we'll lose everything, end up on the streets. There's a 2663 mile long unpaved, single track street waiting for you to call home. You carry inside your pocket the key to that street like a secret and it burns a warm secure feeling inside you.

On a long distance hike you meet people with made-up names. You don't know their real names or what they do for a living. The rankings of ordinary life go away. Being the kind of people we are, there still are ways to rank each other on the trail, but largely you are free from the status you came with. You can camp with someone of a far lower or higher social status than you and not even know it. The skills needed out there are different than the skills needed in society and it levels the field a bit. It's freeing.

At the start of a thru-hike people are very much concerned with their gear. How light is it? Do you have enough of it? What brand is it? As you go along, you realize your gear is just a tool. Everything you own is just a tool. Your possessions are only worth as much as the service they provide you. If they aren't providing any service, they are not worth anything. An aluminum can may provide as much utility as a $300 sleeping bag. Your expensive shoes may be destroying your feet and the cheap ones might be saving them. The money or brand name isn't what is important. What's important is the usefulness of the object and your skills.

PCT hikers are never truly outside society. (If anything, it is only because of our society that we can even do such a thing as hike the PCT.) We still need money. We still carry food bought in stores. Our gear is made with plastics and things that couldn't have existed without industrial society and made in processes that pollute the planet. We aren't at one with nature. We're just passing through. But we touch the edge of a world where you can just be and don't have to prove, and it feels good.

On the trail you learn that your body is strong. You can walk a long way. You can endure scary things. You can make it through a difficult night of bad weather. You can solve problems. It brings a sense of calm, a sense of pride. Next time someone treats you poorly you can see right through the attempt that person is making to position himself above you and it just doesn't work. You carry a secret inside of you. You can walk 2663 miles with very little possessions and endure hardships and still be comfortable, warm, safe and dry. You have the key to happiness and nobody can take it away.

This is the secret I learned from the PCT. Having less comfort makes life happier and full of luxury. Security is not fully dependent on money. The kinds of status modern society bids you to seek are irrelevant. Whenever the cold sweats come in the middle of the night, when you think of your future and how you don't have the millions of dollars the financial experts say you need to survive your old age, you can think of the trail, of the birds and other living things. They have no insurance. They have no portfolios. Yet they live in beauty that even then richest man on earth will never see. They have not hoarded and saved for the future and instead live in the present and let nature care for them. You can think of Billy Goat still hiking the trail in his old age. You can remember the hardships you endured and the priceless treasures you saw that can't be bought and you realize that somehow, everything will be okay.

Last day of my farewell PCT section hike

I slept very well at the hotel. I fell asleep early and slept well until super loud birds outside woke me up. I guess the birds here had to learn to shout even louder than the birds out on the trail, what with the raging wind and the freeway and the multiple train tracks going through this narrow canyon. It had felt good to be somewhere warm and quiet. I had never left my room at all once I entered.

The clock in my room wasn't set so I had no idea of the time. I just got up, took another shower, packed up and headed off to McDonald's for breakfast.

Cave Man, a thru-hiker I had bumped into a few times, was at McDonalds. He had slept in the tunnel under the freeway. He said there was a dry spot on the concrete big enough for himself and that it had been quiet and wind-free.

I ate an egg and bacon muffin sandwich and two cups of coffee. I think caffeine has anti-inflammatory properties because my knees and feet felt 100 times better after the coffee. I was ready for my final 5 miles.

I headed into the tunnel. Sure enough, it was quiet and free from wind in there. It was mostly wet with a small dry spot just big enough for one sleeping bag. On the other side of the tunnel, the riparian area also seemed calm and sheltered. Note to self: Next time you can avoid the hotel and sleep in the canyon beyond the tunnel.

The trail winded around in areas only hikers and hobos would ever wee. That's the thing about the trail. It conditions you to life as a homeless person. You stop fearing it. You always feel like you are home, as long as you are away from town.

I winded through chaparral and rock formations called the Mormon Rocks. I could imagine condors living in the rocks long ago. It is such a contrast between the nature of the area and the thought of condors against the horrible noise of the freeway and the trains carrying miles of containers of cheap plastic crap from China. Our modern way of life is so wrong. It struck me now that my farewell, worst backpack trip ever had been nothing of the sort. It had been more of an affirmation of how the PCT has impacted me, made me strong, made me able to endure, made me happy.

The wind was much calmer on this side of the canyon. The weather was still misty and foggy. There were few views. As I entered the sheep fire area I saw some Poodle Dog Bush and left a note on the trail warning people not to touch it. It gives you a rash worse than poison oak.

I rounded a corner and Swarthout Canyon Road came into view. A few more corners and I could see my truck. I signed in at the water cache and then walked down the road to my truck. Hike over.

Funny how the last couple of days had felt so bad but a good night's sleep had erased all bad feelings and made me feel welcoming of the hardships, the wind, the cold, the weather. I wished I was continuing on up the mountain on the other side of the road. I felt proud of myself for hiking in such difficult conditions and for hiking every step of the distance, relatively short as it was.

I drove to Wrightwood to have a celebratory second breakfast and ruin any weightloss I may have obtained. There were hikers there but I said nothing to them. I was no longer one of them. I am a post-thru-hiker. One of the changed ones. A person you may see walking down the street who carries a big secret. I drove home thinking about that secret, how it could be put into words. Perhaps it is something you can only understand through experience.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Worst backpack trip ever

I woke up thinking this was the worst backpack trip ever. Well, actually, I didn't wake up at all because I never slept.

My tent fell over soon in a big gust of wind. Since there appeared to be no clouds in the sky, I decided I would just sleep on top of my tent instead. so in the middle of the night, I attempted to pack everything so that it would not blow away in the wind and then I positioned my pack at one end of the tent as a paperweight and my water container and sandals on the other end and me in the middle.

The tent was slippery and I kept slipping down all night and every time I tried to roll over I would slip and slide everything out of place. I spent much of the night rearranging everything. Sometime in the night I got up to go pee and my whole bed flew away in the wind. I grabbed it and anchored it down with the water container, hoping that my socks and pillow were still inside. Then a little later I thought it sounded like rain was hitting my sleeping bag. I peeked my face out and saw stars in the sky but felt rain falling like a fine spray all over my face. The only thing I could do now was try to sleep inside the tent. So I threw everything inside the tent and got inside and zipped myself in like a bag. It was actually a lot better than sleeping on top and I finally got a little sleep.

Soon I could see it was dawn. I heard the birds that I remembered from 2008 as being the loudest birds I ever heard. Now I knew why. The wind had roared all night sounding like planes coming in for a landing. These birds had to yell to hear each other.

I packed my things up as quickly as I could, then set off for a creek a mile away or so. I stopped there for breakfast. I should have camped at this creek. It was much better sheltered from the wind. My goal for the day was Little Horsethief Canyon, but if it was not sheltered from the wind, I would have to continue on to Interstate 15 27 miles away. It was raining and without a shelter that could handle the wind, I was basically out in the rain without shelter.

I walked in sunshine with rain drenching me in a fine spray. There was a pretty full rainbow over Apple Valley. Silverwood Lake looked cold and brooding. Misty clouds poured over the hills. My feet and legs hurt a lot but I just walked very slowly and knew that if I put in the hours, I could go the distance.

Much of the scenery had been forgotten but seeing it again the memories popped back to me as vivid as if it had been yesterday. Here is where the cooler of fruit is supposed to be -- yep, there it is! I ate an apple. Here's where the lake is supposed to come into view -- yep, there it is. The climb up Cleghorn seemed easier than I remembered and I saw the spot wehre I had had lunch in a gully with Steve. The other side of Cleghorn was a foggy memory, but now I could see why. It was pretty forgettable scenery, boring chaparral all the way down into Little Horsethief Canyon.

The canyon was not sheltered from the wind at all. I didn't think my tent could handle it. So I pressed on. I remembered the climb up from there vividly as soon as I saw it again. There was the place where I rested. There was the windy ridge tat almost knocks you over.

It started to seem sheltered as I neared a power line, so I stopped for a while in the sun to dry my wet socks and rest in a few moments of windlessness and rainlessness. I decided I couldn't trust the weather to camp here. What if the wind shifted direction? I would be without shelter again. If I got all the way to the interstate, I was guaranteed shelter. And then it would only be 5 miles to my car so I wouldn't have to worry. No sleeping out required. I would be home a day early, but better that than to be rained on in the cold. I wondered if perhaps a flat tarp would be a better thing to bring out here. I could set it up very low so it wouldn't be such a target for the wind.

I thought about how perhaps it was a good thing my farewell to the PCT hike had been so awful. I felt no envy for the thru-hikers out here at all. I was reminded of all the things I hated about the PCT -- the wind, the rain, pushing through wet overgrow brush, wet feet for days. I don't have to endure this. I can go home and choose to hike in the fall instead if I want.

I hiked on into blasting cold wind. There were ridge walks where I was nearly blown over. On one ridge I yelled, "NO!" as the wind tried to knock me off. I considered crawling on my hands and knees. How fast does wind have to be to pick a person up off their feet? It was that fast.

I reached the McDonald's after many long, painful miles of descending in the wind. I was in a lot of pain and worried about my ability to make it. I held on to a shred of possibility that Crowder Canyon might have a sheltered spot to sleep. Not a chance. I soldiered on to the McDonald's where I ate a surprisingly good meal with a few other hikers. We all talked about how the wind made us consider crawling and almost blew each of us over the side of the cliffs.

I left the hikers at the McDonald's and walked up the road to the hotel. I was nearly blown into the road as I walked over the overpass. I staggered in and got a room for $51. As soon as I closed the door on the noise and energy of the wind, I knew it was worth every penny. It felt good to be somewhere so peaceful.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wind and rain in the sunshine

Today reminded me of everything that sucks about the So Cal section of the PCT.

My sandals were frozen in the morning. It had been a cold night. The down pants were barely warm enough. I was glad I had them and couldn't imagine how cold I would have been without them.

I packed up early and set off to see the detour. The PCT had been closed at the Deep Creek bridge and a detour had been forged out of motorcycle trails. I had considered hiking through the original trail but decided since I had already seen it, why not see what the detour had to offer. Maybe it would be better than the PCT.

At first the detour was way prettier than Deep Creek. I walked along OHV routes through grass lands and oakey, piney forests. The rain had made the road soft so it didn't hurt my feet. The sun was out. Flowers bloomed all over. Lots of little creeks. No motorcycles.

The OHV route ended and the reroute followed a paved, closed road. A ranger drove by twice but nobody else. I descended into a bouldery desert.

I reached a bridge with blue swallows and the words "Paxx & Love" etched into the concrete. There was also one of the red PCT detour signs posted next to the bridge. Someone had written on the detour sign with a sharpie pen, 3 miles to Deep Creek Hot spring with an arrow. I looked and sure enough, there was a trailhead here marked with a sign to Deep Creek Hot Spring. I decided I would go.

The trail to the hot spring was sandy and scary. The bottom 1/4 of the trail was steep and slippery. The sign had said at the fork in the trail, take the left fork and it would be easier. I did that but I had to turn back. I didn't think I could make it without falling to my death. So I tried the right fork and it seemed better. When I got to some really scary sandy stuff, I just scooted on my butt. It wasn't as bad as the left fork because it was going straight down instead of across a cliff. It was a lot like hiking down the back side of Montecito Peak. I just took it slow and made it to the bottom.

I picked my way down a small creek and emerged onto the PCT. I looked around and recognized the spot with the hot springs to the right.

Nobody was in the big pool so I took off my clothes and got in. It felt so good. It was bathtub warm, just perfect. After being rained and snowed on and soaking wet and cold yesterday, this was wonderful.

Soon a young couple came to use the pool. They were nice to talk to even if they were sort of red neck types. I soaked and talked with them until I felt dizzy from the heat. I decided to get out and cool off. Since I was naked, I got dressed. Since I was dressed I figured I would head back to the trail. I rested a bit until the dizziness wore off and drank a soda the couple gave me. Pretty soon about half a dozen men appeared and got in the pool. I said good-bye to everyone and headed back to the trail.

I was sort of surprised but sort of not surprised that I didn't see any PCT hikers at the hot spring. PCT hikers get so focused on their miles they fail to take any side trips and this one would have turned back most who may have wanted to try. I didn't want to repeat that element of being a PCT hiker. I wanted to enjoy the luxury of side trips that section hiking seems to foster.

I climbed the 3 miles back up to the detour and continued down the road. It became a dirt road. It was long and painful. Roads tend to be banked around turns which hurts to walk on, especially if the road is made of sand. Some of the banked turns were very steep and it was treacherous to walk anywhere but along the high edge.

At long last, I reached the bottom of the hill somewhere beyond the Mojave Forks Dam to nowhere. I had watched as the dam and the PCT had come into view. I was glad I hadn't had to do that deep ford of the creek below the dam. It was still very cold and windy out.

The road ended at the big juniper tree where I remembered there had been a water cache. I looked and the cache was still there. Being so cold, I had barely needed any water at all this whole trip and I certainly didn't need he cache.

The trail climbed up high again on the side of the chaparral hills. I hoped the little nooks carved in the chaparral were sheltered enough from the wind. It looked like I was on schedule to camp there again. My stomach was growling, telling me, since I had no knowledge of the time, that it was dinner time.

The sky was cloudy and it looked like it might rain again. I could have slept out under the stars if it wasn't for the clouds. The wind would die down and it would seem like maybe it wasn't going to be windy tonight after all. Then it would burst back up again. My tent doesn't seem to set up well at all anymore. It seems saggy and loose. The knots were coming undone and I didn't know how to retie them properly. It didn't seem wind-worthy. I was thinking perhaps it was time for a new tent. So I really hoped for a sheltered spot to sleep tonight.

I pulled into the little nooks. There were at least half a dozen other hikers already here. I did my best to find a sheltered location. I found one and cooked dinner in it, but my tent didn't fit in the small spot so I chose another. I should have used the same spot I camped in in 2008, but I chose a different spot. It turned out not to be a good spot.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Into the snow and rain

The Man and I awoke to drizzle on the tent. I didn't want to get up so early because I didn't want to hike too many miles. My plan was to keep my miles around 18 per day so that I could stretch out the hike until Thursday (today was Sunday.) I also didn't want to go out into the cold drizzle. But The Man wanted to get going early so he could drive home. So I ended up starting hiking around 6:30 in the morning.

It soon started to snow lightly. Then it snowed heavily. It was not too bad since snow is wet. All morning it snowed. The trail was descending and I worried that soon the snow would turn to rain. I had forgotten my umbrella. I had rain pants and a jacket that can handle light rain but not all day rain or heavy rain.

I walked into the burn zone that had been closed back in 2008. The trail was pretty even in the burned area. There were lots of flowers blooming. The trail went through a swamp and my feet got quite wet. I was wearing sandals with wool socks, which worked out okay but any little wetness from wet plants or swamps got my feet instantly wet.

I stopped at Little Bear Springs camp to eat something and then got really cold. I started walking again to warm up. Then I started running because I wasn't warming up. I heard something and turned to see smoke in some bushes by the creek. Someone was having a fire. I went down to ask if it was okay if I warmed up a little by the fire and the hikers said of course. A little trail magic for my morning. Warmth just when I needed it.

I warmed by the fire for a few minutes and as soon as I felt like I was able, I got hiking again. I wanted to try to get to Splinters Cabin where I had dreams of it being like South Fork Station. I pictured a real cabin with a pot belly stove and someone tending it already. I had it all worked up in my mind, but I was also pretty certain there was likely to be nothing of the sort there.

Later I found out all Splinters Cabin offered was a shelter covering a picnic table, a nice shady place to get out of the sun. Still, it would be shelter from the rain and I felt I needed it. I was wearing my plastic ground sheet as a shawl to try and keep at least my core dry. It worked somewhat, but I still felt pretty cold and wet. I tried to remind myself that as long as I wasn't cold, I was okay. Just keep moving. It made no sense to stop if I wasn't cold. Maybe the weather would improve soon and I would be happy I had kept going.

The trail had me make several wet fords of Holcomb Creek. Knee deep creek crossings would have felt great on a hot day. Today they were pretty miserable.

The scenery all day was really beautiful. There were lots of wildflowers, mostly lupine and yellow wallflowers. I descended out of the forest and into a more mixed forest of oaks and cedars and burned manzanita. White ceanothus were in peak bloom. There were lots of tiny creeks everywhere. It was a lot wetter than the year I came through on my long hike in 2008.

I finally made it to Deep Creek bridge. I stopped under the bridge to try and dry my stuff in the sun on some rocks. The sun was out now with clouds moving in an out. It was a weak sun and it wasn't drying my stuff well. I looked up and saw a flock of Western Tanagers in a tree. They were so beautiful.

On the other side of the creek and bridge about a tenth of a mile away was Splinters Cabin. It was once a cabin but now was just a roof shading a picnic table. There was a little sun still shining so I set up my tent and made dinner and basked in the warmth the sun makes inside a tent. Tonight I planned to sleep wearing the world's best invention: down pants.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My attempted "Farewell to the PCT hiker bum years" hike

I recently got a real job so with a little time between jobs I decided to do a section of the PCT. Sort of a farewell since it will be a while before I can do a long distance hike again. I decided to hike from Big Bear to Interstate 15.

I parked my car at Swarthout Canyon Road where the PCT begins its long climb to Wrightwood. Then The Man and I drove to Big Bear. The plan was to hike from Highway 18 back to my car. In 2008 I had skipped the 8 miles between Highway 18 and Van Deusen Road and this was my chance to fix that. All the rest of the trip was just an opportunity to spend 5 days on the PCT. Very little seemed to remain in my memory from this section, so I was looking forward to seeing what I had forgotten.

When we parked the car, two hikers emerged from the trail. They had just done 20 miles before noon. Wow! The Man and I had been debating whether we should get a good lunch in Big Bear and these two hikers gave us an excuse to go get lunch. We drove them into town and we all ate lunch at Thelmas. Then we headed back to the trailhead and began our hike.

We hiked to just a little beyond Van Deusen Road, just a bit more than 8 miles and found a sheltered place to camp a little off the trail. There was mountain mahogany, juniper, cedar, pines and firs. It was a pretty area that reminded me of the Pine Mountain Lodge area near Ojai. Just before camp we spotted a large group of hikers camped below Van Deusen Road. They were talking about how much they had drunk in Big Bear and they had wine with them and planned to do more drinking. We decided that they might be a little too noisy to camp near so that is why we went a little further to our secluded campsite.

As I lay in our tent I pondered that for some reason I felt no kinship with the other hikers we had met. Was it because with my new job coming I am moving on? Or was it because I hiked so much of the PCT alone I just don't get the "herd" mentality? Perhaps it was both. I really wanted one last chance to live on the trail. The trail has been so much a part of me and my life. It changed me in some ways. I really felt like I did not want to say good-bye. I went to sleep happy to be here, home.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Good news!

Looks like Blogger had a hiccup and didn't post my last post which was to say how amazing things can turn around in an instant. I had a 4th bounced paycheck one day and a job offer the next. Naturally I accepted and I'm once again back into the realm of the middle-class. I'll be full-time with benefits and all that. Proof you can drop out, be a bum and hike the PCT for a few years, and drop back in. Probably helps that I am educated and intelligent and not a 50 year old male looking for construction work.

I will never have to listen to the boss and his New York accent hollering "where are the orders?" "stop talking and start selling," "just do what you're told" and my least favorite, "buyers are liars." It's no wonder they were a sinking ship.

I guess it'll be 5 to 10 years before I can attempt another thru-hike. This is sad, but hopefully by then I can do thru-hikes all the rest of my days.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bounced paycheck number 4

Another bounced paycheck. I went home after that. If I don't get paid I don't want to come in. I feel like I do a good job, try to do my best work, I'm reliable and come in on time and try to make a positive contribution. I put up with what can only be described as a hostile and intimidating work environment with off-color racist jokes that turn my stomach and fellow employees who seemed stunned by Stockholm Syndrome. I've put up with it in good humor and detachment and still tried to do my best even without clear requirements or communication. But the lack of a reliable paycheck makes me feel like I'm being used and stolen from so I said that's it for me, turned off my computer and went home.

They called me later and begged me to come back. I told them they don't do business with people who don't pay them why should I do business with them if they don't pay me. They said they would issue a new check and I could come get it, so I did.

When I got there, my boss basically said it was bad form for me to walk out of the office after learning my check bounced. As if it's not bad form to issue a bad check (it's actually illegal.) I told him that if this is a job, I should be paid and if not, it's volunteer work and I'm not interested volunteer work so I will come back when they can issue checks that don't bounce. He said I should have known that the company operates this way. Nobody drives a fancy car, it's a small company, that's just the way it is and I should be more understanding. I could be if I didn't know from the bookkeeper that the boss uses a personal ATM card on the account where payroll is deposited and that it's literally a race to the bank, a race against him going out to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse on the payroll.

I feel done with the place. I don't want to go back. But I don't have another job lined up. I am not sure what I should do next. I've been interviewing for a month or so but haven't been offered a job yet. I am considering filling out an application for jobs in Stehekin. I'm considering housesitting at my mom's this summer. That wouldn't be paid work, but I could make it look like work. I'm thinking about how I could break into the glamorous world of barista-ing. I'm responding to dinky little craigslist computer gigs in the hope I can buy time and stay busy until something decent comes along. I'm a web programmer. It should not be this hard to find a decent job.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Another bad paycheck

This will be my fourth bounced paycheck in the year and a half I've been working at the company. I'm thinking of quitting and not telling The Man and just pretending I have a job. I don't sit there in that office for my health. There are lots more fun things I could be doing for free.

Monday, May 02, 2011

We spent a few nights on the PCT

Went to the PCT Kickoff. It was fun. The Man and I walked in from Boulder Oaks campground where we left the car. It was only a 5 mile hike but it was just enough to feel worthwhile. We enjoyed ourselves a lot while we were there.

The kinds of people who hike the PCT are generally really amazing and nice people. I sit in an office all day with very unpleasant people. It became clear to me as I was talking with all these amazing people how toxic my life is sitting in that office. I need to find a way to be around people who do not make me hate humanity. The kickoff people make it seem like there are nice people in the world. Where do they hide when they're not on the trail? Or is the secret that all people are horrible and evil when they are inside offices?

After the KO, we drove up to Highway 74 and had two beers and a big burger at Paradise Cafe and then headed up the Spitler Trail to the PCT. It's hard to hike after so much beer. Then we hiked over to see where The Man fell off Apache Peak last year. There was no snow there this year! I can imagine it was a pretty scary fall and I can't see how in hell he didn't slide all the way to Palm Springs.

After we visited the site, we backtracked to the Apache Spring trail and camped. That was a bad choice. We should have chosen one of the more sheltered sites we had seen a little further south. Our tent was ripped to pieces in the gale and we couldn't sleep while being beaten by our tent. We packed up at about 4am after not sleeping all night and walked out. We were both so tired when we got home we slept for several hours this afternoon.

It was good to get out on the trail again. The flowers were in full bloom and there were so many kinds. The Spitler Trail was a really nice trail, even better maintained than the PCT. We will definitely use it as an access to the PCT should we ever return to hike the San Jacinto section of the PCT.