FYI, I’m technically entering the southern Sierra, and Internet access will probably drop. I’ll probably have a signal here and there for a few days, but there’s no signal (I hear) at Kennedy Meadows, so I might be radio silent for a few weeks. Don’t worry! It’s expected. 🙂


Day 42: Zero in Tehachapi

So. Everybody is exhausted! I just saw Rose from the UK. She said she feels like the 560 miles just suddenly sat up and slapped her in the face. She’s thinking about taking a double zero. Me, too! But probably not. Because…

I feel a thousand times better this morning. There’s nothing as rejuvenating as laundry, a shower, a ridiculous amount of healthy refrigerated food, ice cold drinks, and the knowledge that you can sleep in the morning. Just sleep! I didn’t actually sleep a ton–I woke up at 5:30 out of habit. But it was a full, soft night. No wind, no parties, no ants, no bathroom visits, no cold, no hot–and that, my friends, is my definition of heaven. Sweet sleep! My response to every bad, quirky mood should be ‘Go to bed early and look at it again in the morning. Really, it should be a rule. 🙂

There are hikers up having breakfast in the hotel. Some are headed out today. Some are panicking over the difficulty of the next leg and considering skipping it entirely. But why? The next stop is (gulp) Kennedy Meadows (unless you decide to hit Lake Isabella; most hikers aren’t planning that). Snow levels are too high for the average hiker. That week will make a huge difference. “Ray Day”–the earliest day it’s advocated to enter the Sierra–is June 15. Before that, you’re just ensuring a harder time for yourself up there. (Now, after that, you have to be able to do 25s. That’s just what it is. That will be my personal challenge, as we’ve discussed. But that’s then, this is now, and one day at a time.)

In a week, two weeks, I’ll be in the Sierra. The desert will be DONE. That’s the equivalent of finally finishing Virginia on the AT.

Anyhoo. The temps on the TV this morning weren’t as dire as the hiker gossip and Facebook temps. Hot, for sure, but 90s rather than 100s. That moves things from impossible to merely very challenging. (Why do we like to fan up this sort of hysteria? That’s one of the lessons I’m learning on this pilgrimage; I’m trying to step away from engaging in the false conjecture and rumor and disaster-mongering. ‘Right speech,’ as the Buddhists say! It’s a difficult habit to work on.)

The plan for the next leg: Night hike. Or, rather, start at 3 AM if I can. (That’s closer to my habitual biorhythm, and it’s currently warm enough that I’m not fighting the cold as well as the dark.) As I learned the last couple of days, it’s way more doable here than on the AT, where you’re surrounded by gaps between trees and it’s hard to find the one gap that means ‘trail.’ This trail isn’t even blazed. And even though I’m off trail every single day (yesterday by a quarter mile), so far my nav apps have straightened me out. (Invariably it’s at a juncture with another trail or road, and I miss a turn.) One of my weight choices was a heavy headlamp with very high lumens, just in case I had to do any night-hiking. And yes, I’m nervous about the mountain lions (somebody saw one not far from here a couple of days ago), but it’s like bears–you’re cautious and aware, but you can’t let fear of bears keep you from walking. Lions still sound pretty unlikely to me.

Wow. There’s a 42-mile water carry this leg! I’ll have to carry 8 liters (17.6 pounds) (gulp) and ration it.

I’m planning to take a cab to the trailhead tomorrow. I like to use taxis when I can. You’re on your own schedule, you’re supporting local businesses, and you get a chance to show that hikers can be good tippers. 🙂 But we’ll see how the day develops.

So. I schlepped up to Albertson’s market. 1.5 miles away, to resupply. People here are so friendly! I had a great conversation with a guy taking a walk. He gives rides to hikers sometimes. He was a transplant from San Diego, but he’s lived here for 29 years.

I managed to get my food–hopefully not too much, not too little. I’m mostly concerned with bulk. It won’t all fit. That’ll be good practice for the Sierra, when the bear canister will be taking up most of the space in my pack. Also, the grocery store was out of SmartWater, which amused me. (Most thru-hikers carry SmartWater bottles these last few years; they pack well, and the threads line up with the Sawyer filters that most people use.)

I replaced my little scissors so I can do surgery on my shoes and hair. I got plenty of OTC stuff for my gut, and some probiotics and other things. Protein powder for my breakfast shake.

As I was checking out, a beautiful woman named Rachel asked me if I wanted a ride back. I was so grateful! Honestly, the kindness of people boggles. One of the reasons I like it out here is that the opportunities to be randomly kind are multiplied–not just the trail angels, but the hikers. I have so many chances to be generous every day–whether it’s putting something in a hiker box, or letting faster hikers pass, or giving somebody some extra water or the last apple, or sharing my water treatment with somebody who’s out, or leaving a big tip for a waiter. Saying please and thank-you and asking hikers on a break if they’re doing OK. The suffering breeds a general sort of compassion; the suffering feels very bad, but the compassion feels so very good! Thanks, Rachel!

So now I’m back in my room eating leftovers from dinner, under the covers, and thinking about a shower. And there’s nothing else on my agenda from noon until tomorrow morning.

Best zero ever!

Oh! And I really don’t have pictures. I tried taking some, but there really isn’t anything to Tehachapi except a couple of highways. And some stores.

Day 41: Tehachapi!

Before the trail, when I was doing my research, there were all these colorful names that I had no clue how to actually pronounce. Like this one! Teh-HATCH-a-pee!

So here I am! And I don’t think I’ve ever needed a zero more in my hiking life. I might even extend it to two. We’ll see.

This trail! Things are so big out here that I feel like I never have time to recover from one humongous wave before the next wave crashes on my head. I haven’t slept more than two or three hours in a night since Cajon Pass.

But let me tell you the full story. Last night was the worst night on the trail for me. Period. (And yesterday may have been the worst day.)

I thought I was better, but it came back, and I’m 99% certain I have giardiasis. And I’m about 85% certain I picked it up when I accidentally drank that liter of untreated water from Trail Angel Mike’s–from the tank that was clearly labeled “Treat this water.” If that’s the case, it should be getting pretty close to having run its course (no pun intended).

But in the meantime, hiking’s been really difficult since the day before the soul-crushing windstorm–maybe a couple of days. It certainly explains my fussiness! I mean, there’s the Code 2 multiple times a day and night, which is exhausting. But then there’s the dehydration, and the not wanting to eat. But worse, actually, is the damn pressure of the waist belt on my gassy gut. It’s like having bad gas pains while wearing really really tight pants that weigh 35 pounds. That’s really been the worst problem, and I’ve done a bunch of short days because I got worn out and hot and my belly hurt too much to tolerate the pack.

That’s the backstory.

Then there’s the massive heat (and this next week, temps are supposed to be 101 to 109.) When you hike 8 hours in massive heat and can’t drink cool water (the water’s hotter than the air) or get into air conditioning, it’s hard to describe the toll it takes. It’s exhausting. And nobody wants to eat.

This next leg is serious business. It’s the longest resupply so far–140 miles or so, unless you want to spend a day doing a massive hitch. It’s supposedly the driest stretch of trail, so the water carry will be huge. And yesterday I was hiking along and thought, for the first time, ‘I don’t think I can physically do this next leg.’

At around 1 PM, it was super hot. The trail had climbed and climbed, and all of a sudden there was this little bluff down to the right with a clear spot far down near the edge. Just enough room for a tent. The view was beautiful–the mountains, the wind farm far below–and my belly hurt a lot, and I was so freaking tired. I decided to schlep down that hill and just set up my tent and take a long break. Make my own shade. With the umbrella.

So I did. And I dozed off a bit. The sky was overcast, which gave nice cool shade (I even had my fleece on at one point). When I woke up at about 5, it was windy with very strong gusts, but not terrible. I had a bit of signal, so I checked the forecast; every hour, the wind was supposed to decrease. So I decided to stay there.

Huge freaking error.

The forecast was wrong, or from a different town. After dark the wind got worse and worse and worse. I was on this jutting bluff, so I had wind coming up from the valley on three sides. The tent held for a while (I didn’t have the fly on), but eventually the wind ripped out the stakes. At midnight I thought about hiking out, but I was afraid I might walk off the edge of the cliff in the dark. I’d bushwhacked down to the site. The tent was literally sideways with the wind.

And eventually the only thing holding that tent down was me and my gear. And the roar was so loud, so terrible.

How in hell, I thought, am I even going to pack up? I can’t move. I can’t move my stuff! The tent is nearly flat in these gusts. It would blow away.

Needless to say… I didn’t sleep. At about 3, the moon was bright enough that I deemed it safe enough to take a chance on getting back up to the trail.

I managed to get my gear packed in a half-assed way, then I took the tent down from the inside. It was actually quite a production. I was proud of myself for managing it without losing anything to the windbane!

Of course, by the time I got to the trail, it was Code 2 time yet again… and here came two headlamps bobbing. ‘Are you freaking serious?’ I thought. ‘It’s 4 AM.’

“How you doing?” asked the lead hiker. A Brit.

“Today sucks already!” I laughed. (Might as well laugh.)

“We completely agree!” said Brit number 2.

(By the way… yesterday I was thinking that there were no Russians on the trail. Today I met Russians.)

Today was all climb–something like 7 miles of it. A lot. But if I could squeeze out 14 miles, there’d be town at the end of it. Mojave or Tehachapi. I was leaning toward Mojave.

One of my water bottles popped out while I was stumbling in the soft sand. And I was pretty sure it was one of the full ones. I couldn’t get to it! However I tried, the trail just crumbled under my feet. Sand. Hot desert sand. I felt terrible. (Plus I needed that water!)

I had an Alka-Seltzer and chugged along. By 6 AM it was already HOT. Shit, I thought. The water.

At about 10 AM, BOOM! Trail magic! Two guys have a little oasis set up right off the trail. Chairs, water, apples. Nobody was home, but that water saved my ass.

There was another hiker there, a guy named Real Irish. And he was! (Except he lives in Mexico now.)

Aside: This is how stupid I was today–hot and sick and exhausted. I almost told the guy his English was excellent.

Real Irish turned me around completely from Mojave to Tehachapi. He said Sherpa and Dolittle were doing the Best Western, and I know SloMo and Extreme Photo are, too. So as soon as I got a signal, I called ahead and reserved a room.

Aside: While I was there, another group rolled in, and one of them had rescued my water bottle! Twenty-somethings can scramble!

All that was left was that intimidating hitch. I’ve still only done it once.

I panted my way to the trailhead and saw a sign: “Coppertone is here.” What?

Turns out, Coppertone is an older guy who hiked a few years ago and now travels up the trail in a little RV making root beer floats for hikers.

Root. Beer. Float.

Ohmygod, was that amazing in that heat. Memorial Day, of course. And while I was slurping my root beer float, another guy drove up–Daniel, who maintains that cache up above, with the water and the apples. (He looked like Willie Nelson. A lot of people out here look like Willie Nelson.)

Daniel drove me all the way into town. No hitch!

So here we are. Laundry done. Shower enjoyed. And I walked myself to the local steakhouse, which is open, and I’m about to do serious harm to a filet and a baked potato. Because I’ve earned it this leg. And I’ll have a whole day to recover.

Tomorrow: Resupply. Eight days! But no schlepping heavy crap over mountains. I’m so glad to have a day where I don’t have to get up and walk! (Well, except to the grocery store.)

I’m gonna sleep late!

And tonight? I’m not thinking about that stinking trail, or the heat, or any of it.

Oh, and I saw a rattlesnake today. Yay!

Day 40: Back up

Mile 543.7

The Burners’ hot dog and ice cream, although delicious at the time, have not agreed with my belly. Also, when wind turbines actually move, they sound like airplanes!

Short, hot day. Have some pics! 🙂

Day 39: Marching on the spine of a dragon

Mile 534.9
Elevation: Hot

So, WOW. The day started with a dragon (Ouroboros!) and ended with Burning Man. And I sold my first 20 for a hot dog.

I couldn’t sleep much at Hikertown. The trailer reeked of old cigarette smoke–enough that it was keeping me awake, and at about midnight I got up and opened the door (which I found when the wind blew it shut). Also, the shower in the trailer became the public shower after dark, and my little room was next to it, separated by a sheet of particle board. So all the banging and splashing–plus some arguing when a belligerent guy left his soap in the shower and insisted that the hiker who was showering stop immediately and deliver his soap to him. Hikertown had a way of bringing out the ugly in people. I have theories.

My alarm went off at 3:45, and I was on the trail at 4:45. Because Mojave! Or at least, the beginning of the super hot part that also contains the Mojave. Nobody’s really sure about the exact geography–but pragmatically speaking, it’s a detail. (I did find out that we’ve been hiking very close to LA for a while now. And, of course, we’re hiking on the San Andreas fault.)

The trail was a little hard to find in the dark. But by the time I got to the beautiful Los Angeles aqueduct, that open ribbon of silver, the sky was flushing red. Morning, glory!

Except… First ARGH moment: I had to step off the trail for a Code 2, and I pooped green poop. OHMYGOD, I thought, I’M DYING. (I never have just a cold, or just an ache, or just a bump. I immediately jump to the most lethal possibility.) But then I remembered that Bob at Hikertown had plied me with a half-gallon of grape soda. And I had a handy Internet signal, so I googled. Who knew? It’s the blue food coloring interacting with the bile. Heh.

Then the fun started. Desert! It was hot by 8 AM. By 9 AM, the Snickers in my pouch had liquefied in its wrapper. Completely liquid. And the trail snaked atop the aqueduct for miles and miles and miles.

I used my umbrella all day.

The trail’s been very gentle to me. Like today–it was desert hot, but not killer hot. The breeze was constant, but so soft and unidirectional that it didn’t interfere with the umbrella. At every turn, the trail has presented hard or even deadly situations, but under the best conditions. Like that cold snap for areas that are usually baking hot. I’m very grateful.

After a lot of miles, it did start to get unpleasantly hot. My brain started to feel fried. The trail turned onto another road through private land–as far as I could tell, just plots of land where people drive their vacation RVs. And that’s when I remembered it was Memorial Day weekend. Saturday, in fact.

Two families had coolers out for hikers! I’ve never been so happy to see coolers full of ice! At the first one I grabbed an ice cold bottle of water and a hard-boiled egg. Three miles later, an ice cold iced tea. Thank you, generous people! You saved my brain from boiling!

And eventually I hit the wind farm. Dear gods, those things are HUGE. It’s like seeing a nuclear reactor for the first time. The mind just boggles at the sheer size.

The clouds today, by the way, were stunning. Just perfect.

I got to the first water source, at 17 miles–a faucet from the aqueduct. And there’s a group of Burning Man people here making food for hikers! I couldn’t believe it again! They only use their setup a couple of times a year, and they were looking for another use for it when they decided on this.

The Burners are Camp OKNOTOK. Which has a story. They only brought a piece of their setup, but it’s amazing. Red and black tenting, custom joints holding the frame, all hand-made furniture. So a couple dozen hikers ate hot dogs, and drank beers and sodas, and had ice cream sundaes and popcorn, and talked about hiking and Burning Man. It makes me want to go to Burning Man! Even though I’m past the age for it, probably, and not interested in the party.

After a couple of hours, I thanked the Burners and headed out, and left the rest of the hikers to enjoy the party.

Second ARGH moment: A hiker I’ve been leapfeogging with this leg was out of Aqua Mira. I told him I have Aqua Mira for my main water treatment, and my backup is more Aqua Mira, and that he’s welcome to take my almost finished first set, and I’ll use the second set, and I have more coming in Kennedy Meadows. So that all worked out. But when he left, I got back to my tent and couldn’t find my second set. Holy shit. I panicked. I’d just basically given away my water treatment! Except eventually I found the second set. You probably felt my relief in Philly.

(I also lost my little scissors today. That was a blow. I’ll have to replace them or get my head shaved in Tahoe.)

And that’s that! First day of the last two weeks of desert–brilliant. 🙂

Tomorrow I think I’ll do a little walking. It’s all uphill, I hear. Town in 2 or 3 days. Mojave.

Day 38: Hikertown Oh-Em-Gee

Mile 517.6–Hikertown!

They say it’s the weirdest place on the trail.

They… are right!

More on that later.

My site was windy last night, but none of the stakes pulled out, so all was well. It was chilly this morning, though, and I had a hard time motivating, as usual. I think it was 6:37 when I hit the trail, going uphill. Up, up, up.

The trail stayed foresty for a while, but by mid-morning had become… meadow. Rolling ochre grasses, flowering shrubs. And eventually I started catching glimpses of that bowl of hot that I’ve been staring at for days. Hot.

And after the meadow, came the moment: the trail started going downhill. Slowly, slowly, I was leaving the mountains. And with every few feet of elevation loss, the heat increased. Hot!

Miles 1 to 517 were school. Tomorrow begins the final exam: the Aqueduct, the Mojave, the longest dry stretch on the trail. If you pass, you get to Kennedy Meadows at mile 703–and enter phase 2. Winter hiking. 🙂

Aside: At home I find yuccas to be kind of ugly. Leggy and sterile. Out here, where they’re wild, they’re huge and beautiful. Like bells!

I managed about 17 miles today, and honestly, that was about all my feet could handle. By the time I got to Hikertown, I was parched, hot, and exhausted. How, how, how will I push it to 25? I have some ideas.



Words kind of fail me (but don’t worry; I’ll come up with some). Hikertown has a reputation for being creepy, bedbuggy, unfriendly, you name it. Creepy in the sense that at some point a few years ago, somebody allegedly found a peephole into a shower. (That could be trail gossip, or a maintenance issue, given that everything here is falling apart.) Bedbuggy in the sense of filth and disease. Also, there are reports of strange gruff people that sound somehow Norman Bates-ish.

I’m happy to report no bedbugs!

Actually, Bob, the owner, is very friendly. Very, very friendly. He showed me his private house, kind of friendly, and I’m not seeing him take anybody else in there. But, you know, he just seemed a little lonely. But I’m his age. I’m not sure how a younger hiker would interpret that.

The place itself is half junkyard, half Hollywood movie set (Western). The junkyard part is row after row of old trailers, all filthy and falling apart. No doors, or doors that don’t close. No electricity, no plumbing. (But my trailer has those things; Bob said it was a good one, just for me, lol. It also has no door, but, you know, it’s still better than cowboy camping. And I have roommates out in the living room, in case you were nervous.)

Bob grew up in Hollywood and moved here 14 years ago. Which explains the movie facade, the trailers perhaps, and the closet full of old band jackets in my room–like he rescued them from a production of The Music Man.

There are chickens crowing somewhere. Roosters, I mean. I wonder if they’re Hollywood roosters?

Up the street next to the Doc’s Office is a little building with a patio where all kinds of hikers are hanging out. I know a bunch of them, including Indra. And Sugar! I only saw three hikers all day; turns out that Terrie Anderson shuttled a bunch of them directly here. (When I don’t see people, I’m starting to always suspect a mass hitch.) Indra and her friends are night-hiking out of here tonight. I couldn’t do that even if I wasn’t afraid to night-hike (because of my vision, or lack of it). Not after a 17-mile day. But I’m going to try to be on trail (or leaving here, anyway) at 5 AM. Very big, very hot day tomorrow. I have to get a handle on how this is going to go.

Most people are carrying 3 liters of water tomorrow. I’m super nervous about that. The water report says there’s a faucet in 18 miles, but there are all sorts of disclaimers. Bob thinks the faucet is on. I’ll be thrilled when this water craziness is over. At Kennedy Meadows.

So. Hikertown! Hikertown with the hot tub full of beer cans and weeds. Hikertown with the hiker shower with the power strip tossed over the top. Hikertown with the infinite trash cans–and infinite trash!

I can’t even. But I’m glad I’m here. It was a good decision not to be afraid simply because of the reputation. Thanks for having water and a space for hiker trash, Bob. And I hope you like that David Attenborough documentary.

Aside: I just went up to the hiker trash area to throw out my trash. Half the hikers are playing with a snake they caught (It’s terrified! I wish they’d let it go!), and half are tossing chips to a rooster (who probably shouldn’t be eating them). This trail is epically crazy! Or maybe it’s just Hikertown.

Day 37: Cue the Proclaimers!

Trite, I know, but it still makes me laugh! Because 500 miles!

Five-hundred miles. Five-hundred miles of the PCT. Who would’ve thought?

I’m in my tent (at mile 501), and I happens to grab a signal. I was just looking at new packs online. Today was slow, and it was slow because I was carrying 6 liters of water, and if I have any hope of doing the 25s after the Sierra, I need a lighter pack. Period. Bit maaaan… I do NOT want to go ultralight. Too much discomfort. I could drop $400 and save 2 pounds in about 2 months’ time, when the pack would be ready.

But then the saner part of me chimed in with the voice of reason. Will I still be on trail in 2 months? Who knows? Can I afford $400? No. Did thru-hikers have 27-ounce packs in the 1970s? No. Does your gear get you to Canada (or wherever)? No.

No, I think I have to content myself with lower water carries. I don’t think a big gear restructure at this point is going to increase my stamina. I just can’t hike from sunrise to sunset, and I can’t make my legs any longer.

How did I get off on that tangent?

500 miles, yo! I’m eating Skittles to celebrate! (Thanks Beth and Bernie!)

I couldn’t leave the hotel until after 8 AM (that’s when you can turn your key in, or they charge you 20 bucks). I’ve lost a lot of weight, so I need to be better with the town food, so I got breakfast, too. It was after 9 before I hit the road–literally. I had another 6 miles of roadwalk to get to a side trail for 2 miles to get to the PCT–the end of the fire closure. (I think that’s the last one–pending new fires later in the season, of which I hope there will be none.)

I made it a mile before I had to find some bushes. It’s one thing to poop in the woods. It’s something else entirely to do it stealthily in a neighborhood or near a highway intersection. I found a spot, though.
And it was the last viable spot I saw, which had me concerned, given that I’m at the tail end of the ‘thing.’

I made it another mile or two on the shoulder. The speed limit was 50, and the cars and trucks (not many of them) were going faster–like, 12 parsecs. I was starting to appreciate the magnitude of the stinking endless roadwalk, when a car pulled over. “Want a ride to the trailhead?”

“I love you!” I said. And got in the jeep.

It was the same guy who gave me a lift yesterday! ‘Not all who wander are lost,’ said the Jeep, on both sides.

He’s a retired LA fireman. His wife died four years ago, and he said he’s pretty much just killing time now. He’s 87. So sad! That’s the third widower I’ve met on this hike. The loneliness is palpable, even though they’ve been cheerful men.

I love hearing the one-on-one stories from people. I don’t like the vortexes or the parties… but it wrings me out to hear this poor guy, a fireman for 45 years, just marking time until he can join his wife. Killing time by driving end to end across town and giving lifts to hikers.

He dropped me off at the trailhead. The connecting trail was forested–very green and pretty, with the scent of a stream but no water. Today was pretty much woodsy! Probably the last forest-type environment we’ll see for a long time. There was a lot of poison oak around in the morning (it’s a prettier plant than poison ivy), but the trail climbed steadily (damn you, 6 liters of water, which nobody else is carrying!) and the poison oak thinned, then vanished.

I didn’t see many hikers today. Only two, in fact. An insanely cheerful guy named Gray Squirrel who started on May 8. He’s super tall and all leg, so it was easy to see that he was chewing up the trail. It’s all in the stride length! Stubby legs are a big disadvantage.

The other guy was somebody I met at the Inn. Spidah. With a ‘dah.’ I don’t know the story behind the trail name. He started the 12th but took a week off.

The Sierra resets everybody.

I was trying to get to 508 so I could avoid the reportedly creepy Hikertown, but the hills and the water killed me. After the 500 mile spot, the trail started to climb hard. I finally found this little spot in the dense growth, but it’s my worst pitch of the trail. Not enough room. And possibly windy, but we’ll see. There was a Guthook spot in 2 miles, but I’m trying to avoid those, after the powerline incident the other night. I left them for the people who don’t know how to find a spot on their own yet.

So here we are! I’m going to end up at Hikertown tomorrow night, even though I wanted to avoid it. What can you do? If things were supposed to be different, they’d be different.

Also, I declare myself 90% cured of the ‘thing’! But there was a guy at the hotel who’d just come down with it. Good luck, guy! May the Force be with you!

Day 36: Chilly with a chance of chili

Mile: I have no freaking clue. Somewhere in the middle of a detour around a fire closure.

This trail has a lot of detours!

I started this 13-mile detour at around noon. It’s an 11-mile roadwalk plus a couple of miles of other trail, to bypass about 15 miles of trail closed in a 2011 fire, I believe. Or 2015 or 2008 or some other year. But at mile 6, it passes through Lake Hughes, which has a biker hotel of sorts, and a little grocery store. I figured the hotel (which supposedly had three rooms) would be full, but I thought I’d see if they had a vacancy. Sleep in a bed, help the intestines. Plus, my two half-days left me a little short on food (you eat even when you don’t walk), and I was so goofy in Agua Dulce that I forgot to buy snacks. Snacks are critical!

Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. When you read you begin with ABC, when you… oh, shut up.

In the middle of the night, I heard more and more people arriving at my little campsite under the powerlines. Turns out, it was listed on the Guthook app. There are people out here who pretty much think they have to camp where Guthook tells them to. It’s weird; they seem to have no clue about dispersed camping, which is kind of the point. On the other hand, that stretch of trail was very dense and horizontally challenged, so we all probably just did the best we could. When I woke up, seven other tents had squeezed into the little area that Guthook designated as space for two or three. One of them was the biggest tent I’ve seen all trail. Huge! But worse, it was set up on an unfriendly piece of ground, jammed in among bushes, on top of my carefully dug, out-of-the-way cathole. Uh-oh.

I was out of there by 5:37 or so.

It was another foggy, cold morning–a real pea-souper today. I don’t know if we were in the clouds, but we weren’t in them when I set up, so I’m thinking it was actual fog–or a fog/cloud thing. All I know is that it was cold hiking again. I used my rain mittens for the first time; they made it a little more bearable. (It’s apparently been 30 degrees lower than normal, I found out a little while ago.)

And today–the last three days, really–was lather-rinse-repeat hiking. Honest to god, I was ready to scream. Wyle E. Coyote–same tree, same mountain, same bushes, same 25 feet of trail repeated over and over and over and over and over. So freaking repetitive! That’s one thing I loathe about this trail and its switchbacks. On the other hand, that probably changes entirely once we’re out of Southern California. This is really five separate hikes. A video game with five stages.

Eventually I got to the road. Turn left to go to Casa de Luna, home of the Andersons–another familous vortex–or right to start the 13-mile roadwalk detour around the Powerhouse Fire Closure. It was noon. And it was decision time.

I turned right. Yay! My gut was behaving itself (conditions trending toward improvement!), and I was thinking I could just churn out that roadwalk and hit my first 20+ day!


You know how long it takes to walk a mile? It takes me about a half-hour, even on the road. A long half-hour. A really, really, unending half-hour. Under the sun. Sometimes with no shoulder. With a 50-mph speed limit. With diarrhea.

Then 12 more of them!

I eventually took off my pants (I had shorts on!) and tarted myself up. I wouldn’t hitch, but if anybody offered me a ride, I’d take it. I left my purist card at the Paradise Cafe about 300 miles back.

Guess what? Sombody offered me a ride! A retired gentleman with a jeep. THANK YOU! I was his ninth passenger of the day. I ended up walking about half the roadwalk into Lake Hughes.

The fire damage up the hillside is incredible. So is Lake Elizabeth, dry as a bone–a dead sea, thanks to the drought.

The Rock Inn is a little like the Doyle in Duncannon–peeling paint, holes and scrapes, rings on the patched furniture. But without the exposed wiring or open gas flames or condemned upper porch floor. Or the bloodstains. (But also without the haunted feeling, like the ghosts of a Big Band at the Overlook.) And blissfully, the restaurant/bar downstairs has karaoke–but not tonight! There is a god!

SloMo and Extreme Photo are here, and another couple I met back at the ranger station the night after the wind, when I first got sick, and Rose from Hiker Heaven. There were a ton of other hikers downstairs eating when I got in, but all strangers. Sad. I fear my bellweathers have passed me by. They’re a hitching kind of people. In fact, even Sugar/Sato was here when I arrived. He and his two buddies were trying to get a hitch all the way to Hikertown (mile 515) today. That’s a substantial hitch! So I probably won’t see him again. (International hikers are usually here on a 6-month visa. Given that they usually have other stuff to see or do, they don’t mess around. The fact that I was keeping up with T. W. Horsewater for so long was comforting. But no more.)

So here we are. I got snacks. I had a Philly cheesesteak downstairs (because I like to test them), and now I’m in bed. I can’t leave here until 8 AM, and I might have breakfast at 8 and leave at 9. I’ve lost a lot of weight; maybe that’s figuring into my digestive issues. When I skip towns, I also skip town food–and town food is pretty critical on a long-distance hike. And the less body fat I have, the colder I get.

So, say I leave by 9, do the last 6 miles of the detour, then do a bunch of… oh, who the hell knows. Just gotta walk. One step at a time!

Oh, and the cold snap is supposed to turn into a heat wave next week–just in time for… the Mojave.

Day 33/34: Hiker Heaven and miscellanea

Mile 458.0

First things first: Thank you so much to AT Trail Angels Beth and Bernie and to my friends in Lansdale for the care packages! Oh, mygod! Fabulous cookies, and jerky and bars and freeze-dried fruit, and cards and notes! You guys made my day! And I shared with hikers at Hiker Heaven, so you made their day, too! THANK YOU! (And thank you to my brother John for sending me my first fresh pair of shoes! Yay!)

The other news, less chipper, is that I’ve been ill. (Hence no journal yesterday.) I have some kind of intestinal issue going on, and yesterday I was completely wiped out. I fell asleep at around 3, then was up all night because of the raucus party at Hiker Heaven (which was super loud even with my earplugs in). Then this morning I sluggishly got my stuff together and made it to the trail, did a couple of miles that were painful on my belly with the heavy food carry and 5 liters of water, and called it a half-day. I’m currently stealth camped, not visible from the trail (I don’t think)–mostly because I don’t want to hear the commentary when hikers see a tent at only … whatever it is. Two o’clock. I didn’t really have time to check my maps or get my ducks in a row, and I need a lot of solid hours of sleep.

This is just a bug, I’m pretty sure–or a reaction to the ibuprofen. There’s the off chance that it could be something worse, like Giardia, but there are plenty of horses to look at before I start looking for zebras. I got real food in my resupply, I stopped the vitamin I, and I didn’t have any coffee this morning. And I got out of the hiker vortex ASAP. It’s hard enough to go 6 months in the regular world without catching some sort of cold or bug. It’s geometrically harder out here, where things are indescribably filthy with dirt, poop of all kinds, and so on, and the body is worn to a frazzle from the constant work, and nutrition is limited.

I wouldn’t be able to sit in a tent in the desert at 2 if the temperature weren’t reasonably low (for the desert). Also, my umbrella is inside the tent, partially set up to give me some shade. Two-person tent!

So… yesterday. I don’t remember a thing about it. Oh! Except the trail going into Agua Dulce was easy, easy, easy. Even under fhe weather, i managed 3 mph. Indra said Oregon is just like that, so that should help with my 600-mile deficit.

The last part of the trail was on a nature path through something called Vasquez Rocks. It was gorgeous–sandstone canyons. Apparently there was a settlement up in fhere, and there are petroglyphs. (Is that the right word?) I would have loved to see that!

On the way down I met a hiker named Geo, a rock guy, and we hiked the last couple of miles then had lunch before grabbing the shuttle to Hiker Heaven. He knew rocks and plants and we had a great conversation. His great-grandmother was a voodoo witch in New Orleans, but a devout Catholic. He said it’s like that down there.

Hikers had said that there was a shuttle to Hiker Heaven in front of the pizza place–and there was! A pickup truck. A bunch of us rode in the back.

Hiker Heaven. Jeez. Th Sauffleys own a couple of acres a mile from town (town being the grocery, pizza place, and combination cafe/hardware store). For no recompense except donations, they open the whole shebang to hikers. It was like a music festival.

Tents everywhere! Portapotties that were full to the brim! (They were sucked this morning!)

There were showers (I didn’t bother), laundry (did mine at the KOA), wifi, mailing in and out (I shipped a box to Kennedy Meadows and got my care packages), computers, sodas, haircuts if yiu wanted one, a guest house with a full kitchen and movies, and a dozen other amenities. And hikers! There weren’t 91, but almost everybody I knew was there, including Neema, Indra, the couple from Philly I hadn’t seen since the thunderhail, Medicine Man, and Rolf–now, due to “a long story,” T.W. Horsewater (Trojan Warhorse Horsewater). Plus there were a ton of people who said, “Hi, Karma!” whose names I didn’t remember because I’m old and blind. 🙂

I got the tent set up and grabbed my pack and walked down to the grocery store to resupply. Or rather, I got partway there when a pickup with a load of hikers pulled over and asked if I wanted a ride. As far as I can tell, on weekends the locals drive around and give rides to hikers. It’s kind of amazing!

By the time I was halfway through shopping, I was starting to feel really ill. Hot, thirsty, stomachy, gassy, and I really couldn’t concentrate. I put together what I could (about 14 days’ food for the two legs). The pack was heavy. I didn’t know how I was going to carry it a mile and a half.

But a local guy saw me and asked if I wanted a ride! YES! I replied! Then he pointed to his car–a piece of a John Deere tractor that was like a golf cart and must have been 50 years old. “It’s not legal,” he said, “but it works for me.” He drove it on the shoulder. No mirrors. Every time he hit a bump, I was sure I was going to go sailing out or the thing would tip over. We picked up two other hikers, who sat in the little flatbed, then we were back at Hiker Heaven.

Where I went immediately to bed. I couldn’t even eat the Greek yogurt I bought–it just sat in my tent and I dumped it this morning. I had to get up to use the overflowing portapotties at least ten times. “What’s going to happn there if they don’t empty them?” I wondered. Then, later,’when the big party started up on the porch and the whiskey started flying, I wondered what would happen with the portapotties when people started to throw up.

The party was loud, even for Hiker Heaven, apparently. A guy near me just packed up and hiked out in the middle of the night. This wasn’t a hiker midnight kind of party. They went at it hard–althoughbmost of the hikers seemed to have refired early.

This morning there were some pained, pale faces among the hikers.

And here I am. I accidentally yellow-blazed three miles when I asked for a ride to the trailhead. I forgot that part of the trail was a 3-mile roadwalk. I’m just not used to thinking that way! Anyway, as crappy as I felt, and carrying 6 days of food and 5 liters of water, it was fortuitous. That roadwalk would have been hard.

There’s another detour coming up–or two, maybe.

Eek! A hiker just found me! He made a weird little noise and left. He was probably looking for a place to use the facilities. Speaking of which…


Rolf/T. W. Horsewater:


Donna Saufley:

Day 35: Another half-day, another half-dollar

Mile 468.2

As usual, the whiny and internal stuff is up here, and the beautiful trail is all in the pictures. Feel free to just skip to that, anytime! (Not that you wouldn’t anyway. Because you’re smart like that!) 🙂

This is the new skill I’ve learned this hike: After rushing out of the tent to do your urgent business, when you’re finished just dig the next cathole. It saves time later–because later always comes.

I keep thinking things are trending toward improvement, but then I have a nasty setback. (Today almost an embarrassing one, too. I had to stop just off the trail, and it was a disaster, and I almost… almost… got caught with my pants down by two hikers who knew me. That would have been twice in two hikes! And they would have been blinded for life.)

I made it (hiking) until about 2 today–about 10 miles. Not great, and I tried to go farther (in fact, I did go farther, because I almost crapped out–no pun intended–at noon.) It was cold again today–50s with a steady breeze and cloudy skies–and that was too many unbearables.

Funny. We’ve (meaning my immediate cohort) had an odd sort of hike. This section–the climb out of Agua Dulce–is supposed to be super hot per Yogi. Most hikers today, the few that I saw, had on pants and long sleeves and jackets and fleece hats. I hope the cool trend continues–but with the Mojave coming, I’m thinking not.

I felt pretty good when I woke up this morning. I had a breakfast shake and managed to keep it down–or up–and I hit the trail at about 6:15. There was a lot of climbing today.

The first long climb was up, up, up into the clouds. I wish I understood this cloud situation better. I guess they get heavy and drop lower in the sky–but they don’t get heavy enough to rain?

It seemed very…Scottishy today. I’ve never been to Scotland, so that means pretty much nothing. But there were low grasses and shrubs, thistles, and hills. Maybe I’m thinking of the Shire. Or Skyrim.

Anyhoo, gorgeous! I saw my second rabbit. I saw the first one the day before yesterday, and I was astonished. How are rabbits alive? How are they not eaten by snakes? How are they not cooked in that fur? (I also met a hiker named Rabbit yesterday, but she had no fur and showed no evidence of having been eaten.)

I also saw two deer today! It was in the little forest around Bear Spring–a piped spring where I grabbed a liter of water. The deer bounded away when I got close. Deer! Bounding!

And you know what else I saw? A hummingbird, drinking water from the spring. It would go in, get close, and hover for a drink, sounding as loud as a helicopter, like they do. They blow me away, the hummingbirds. I see them with the same frequency that I see bluejays back home. They’re just regular birds out here! I’ve only ever seen one in my life, and now I’m seeing them on many days. Indra said the West Coast is their migration path, and there are something like seven varieties that are common. They’re curious and unafraid and sometimes come to check me out.

A sadder thing is the honeybees. There are so many honeybees here! They gather at the water sources, they’re hanging out at the flowers. I remember as a kid seeing lots of honeybees, but it’s a rare year now where I see even one. It makes me happy that they’re still all over out here, but sad to be reminded of the evidence of decline.

I didn’t see many hikers during my half-day, but I’m between vortices on a cloudy day–the Sauffleys, then the Andersons 24 miles later. (And the last place I want to be at the moment is a vortex!) A lot of hikers can do that stretch in a day now, so I imagine a bunch will cruise past here in an hour or two. I did see one hiker I knew–Sato/Sugar! He thinks I’m going fast. LOL. No, my friend. I’m afraid I’m really really not. (Although I’m currently anticipating a Kennedy Meadows date of 6/10, which is about what I was aiming for.)

There was a long climb this afternoon. I got about halfway up and just couldn’t do it anymore. I spotted this site near powerlines, with what I assume is Lake Hughes in the distance, and I gave up. Just sleep. More sleep.

It’s hard to judge when you’re taking care of a physical issue and when you’re caving mentally. I think this is physical, mostly, though.

Hopefully my cohort will take a day at the Andersons. Otherwise, I’ve probably lost them. But you never know.

I’ve set myself up for an awkward day tomorrow. There’s a 12-mile detour, and I’m not sure there’s any camping in there. Which means either another 10, or a 22. Hah. There’s also possibly a motel somewhere in the closure, so maybe that’s an option. We’ll see how things feel tomorrow.

This, too, shall pass!


Day 42: Hard left turn

Acton KOA
Mile 440.3

It was cold this morning, but blessedly, blessedly unwindy. Calm! The cold front blew in with gusto and left chill spring in its wake. I slept later than usual and hit the trail at a little after 7.

The plan was this: Get to mile 444 or so, which is where Halfmile’s
note about Hiker Heaven was. Now, this contradicted other research, which put Hiker Heaven at 454 in Agua Dulce. Their website didn’t have directions. But maybe they were a little bit outside of town or something; I had an open mind.

The day was warm and downhill, and the scenery was Wile E. Coyote repetitive, but with occasional glimpses of stunning majesty. Things are so big out here! Mountains laid out like Christmas platform dioramas.

My digestive system was (and is) giving me quite a bit of trouble. It occurred to me that I might have the stomach bug that’s going around. Thru-hikers are so relentlessly filthy and unhygienic that I’m surprised we aren’t dropping dead from gangrene.

I got to mile 444, and I was weirdly exhausted and indecisive. It was about noon. I could get as close fo Agua Dulce as possible then go in early tomorrow, do laundry and shower the first day, see what’s in my care packages and make my resupply lists, then do the shopping on day 2 and mail my food to Kennedy Meadows. Two days spent, but no real zero.

Indra and Little Bird and Mr. Bird were planning a short day. They were going to stay at the Acton KOA.

The KOA supposedly had a little camp store. It occurred to me that they might have something in the way of a fake meal–peanut butter crackers or something. So I headed in to check it out.

On the way in I bumped into one of “the girls”–that’s the group of three who went to Disneyland and called for pizza from the trail. She said there were 91 hikers at Hiker Heaven last night. It boggled–especially since the Saufleys have a 50-hiker limit. But I’ve heard there are weird backups happening in various places because the Sierra is pretty much still buried in snow down to 8000 feet.

That kind of changed everything. If there were 91 hikers, no way would I be able to do laundry or charge my battery. This is a private home; can you imagine 91 hikers lining up to ise a single washing machine? On the spur of the moment, I decided to stay here.

So I got a shower, got my laundry done, and made my resupply lists. Now I’m trying to rest my bubble-and-squeak digestive system. I’ll try to leave here at 5 AM and be at Agua Dulce at 10. Then I can sign into Hiker Heaven, get a good town lunch with maybe a vegetable in it, do my grocery shopping, and get my boxes sent out. Then be back on the trail the day after tomorrow. Maybe after town breakfast.

I’m tentatively planning a full zero in Tehachapi, in 120 miles or so. Last town stop before the Sierra.

I just ran back to the store for some fruit loops for breakfast and
noticed that Neema and Dolittle and Sherpa are here! (I saw Horsewater today, too, but he was on the way out. Unless something slows him down, I probably won’t seem him again. Safe travels, Rolf!) There are many, many hikers here, but I don’t know most of them.

By the way… it turns out that the ’91 at Hiker Heaven’ thing was totally trail gossip. No factual basis at all. Ha!

The KOA is kind of a loud, crazy scene. It’s nice to be among people who are camping for fun, family style: cooking hot dogs and listening to music and chilling. I kind of miss that–slow camping without an agenda.

Poodle-dog in flower:

Day 31: Trailiversary!

Mile 436.1
Elevation: Who cares? The clouds came to us!

The good news: One month! I survived 1 month! Let’s
see… 5 times 436 is… 2180 miles. About 600 short. So if I get that far, I’ll have to make up 600 miles in Northern California and Oregon. That’s always where I thought this thing would come off the rails, but we’ll see. That math is so far ahead that I can’t even wrap my brain around it.

The good news: I’m in my tent eating Snickers for dinner. And drinking soda.

The bad news: Today was the kind of day that makes hikers quit trails. (Generally speaking.) And it’s not just me! Everybody on this leg is having trouble at the moment because FREEZING WINDSTORM since last night! There are 30 hikers huddled at this ranger station hoping to survive this freaking wind advisory that’s
in effect until 10 tonight. My tent’s being buffeted like crazy, but after hiking 16 miles in this shit on low rations, I’m freezing. I had to at least try to get out of it. I’m wearing Cap 4 thermal bottoms, my R1 fleece, my puffy, puffy socks, and. fleece hat–and after two Snickers and two cans of soda, I’m just now starting to warm up.

Last night I hiked up the mountain and found a pretty flat spot among some trees near the ridge. It was mild–a little breezy, but nice. (With the lack of signal, I hadn’t had a weather report for 3 days, or I’d have made some different decisions. Like not climbing the mountain. Except, of course, I’m low on food so every mile counts.)

[Aside: A guy is setting up his tent on the same tent pad as me. He just said, “Last night was so vicious that we ended up just packing up at 2 AM and hiking out.” So totally true! Vicious!]

So, at some point in the night, the wind turned apocalyptic. The clouds came down and the wind picked up and BAM! Windbane squared. I didn’t sleep at all. I thought I’d be crushed by the walls of my tent, or blown away.

There was no way I was getting up before dawn. I was freezing. Overnight all the tent stakes pulled out and the tent became two dimensional. I was in Flatland! I had no clue how I was even going to pack up in that kind of a windstorm.

Outside the tent, the clouds had come down. It was wet, foggy, unbelievably nasty. And I had to poop.

[Aside: Somebody just said, “I don’t want to do that wind again. It broke my heart. It broke my soul!”]

Eventually I decided I had to at least get out and take the fly down or the tent as going to be ripped apart. So I did that–only then there was nothing between me and the freezing clouds. And let me tell you, every arthritic bone in my body hurt.

I got everything packed up as best I could and hit the trail at 6:37.

And here’s how the day went: It stayed so freaking windy that several times I was blown off the trail. I was so cold that I cried most of the morning. (And I’m not usually very emotional. Of course, I hadn’t slept and my blood sugar is low, and I’m still cranking out 16 or 17 miles per day.)

But get this. This was The Worst poodle-dog day of all. It was healthy, vibrant, and fucking everywhere, including on the trail. The trail was completely overgrown in many spots, with PDB hidden under the bushes. I’m sure I brushed it once, with a sleeve, but I’m hoping there were no ill effects. That was without doubt the ugliest, lousiest, most time-consuming and nerve-wracking section of trail yet. With a lot of uphill. And I hadn’t slept.

I bumped into Indra at about noon. I’d forgotten there was a Poodle-Dog Alternate that could have been taken for those 4 miles–a 5-mile roadwalk. But in all fairness, on Facebook they said the trail wasn’t too bad, and the alternate was a mile longer, so I would have taken the trail anyway. And I’m thinking that anybody who thought that wasn’t bad wasn’t seeing a lot of the little, hidden plants. Because that shit was everywhere.

And the day stayed cold. Fifties, with this stinking vicious wind, and gusts up into the who-knows-what. The sun would poke out, wan and pale, once in a while, but I never needed sunglasses.

I had to get to the ranger station at 436 for water. Plus, the rumor was that they had sodas for a buck. Sodas! Music to my food-rationing ears.

And the last 2 miles before the ranger station were thick with poison oak. Of course. The way today went, I’m surprised there wasn’t a minefield.

But hey, I saw the poison oak, which not every hiker here did. I saw the PDB. A month ago I couldn’t identify either one. And for all the day’s ugliness, the trail still had magical flowers. And I hiked 16 miles and ate two Snickers. I saw four snakes today, teo of them rattlesnakes. And Indra is here, and Little Bird and Mr. Bird. And according to Halfmile, Hiker Heaven is at 444 or so, not 454–so I may be getting my care packages tomorrow. (Flip side: That means I’m 10 miles from the restaurants, and my body is in dire need of town food. My true zero may have to wait until Mojave/Tehachapi.)

Aaannnddd… the crowning glory of the day! I just sharted all over my pajamas and the inside of the tent because of the sudden influx of sugar.

And I am out of wet wipes.

(But on the way back from the outhouse, I found a penny. 😀)

Day 30: Race to the fire station

Mile 420.8 (16.6 miles)
Current elevation: 5646 feet

It’s weird to me that every day, I’m at the elevation of Mt. Washington (generally speaking).

Let me start out by saying that I ran out of toilet paper this morning,
so I spent the day being three Oreos away from disaster. I remedied that by swiping a day’s worth at a public outhouse. Hikers stealing toilet paper is so common it’s a stereotype. I hate being that guy! I never swipe paper! But this was an emergency. May the hiker gods forgive me.

I’m actually out of almost everything. Wet wipes, sunblock–all of it. Not to mention the food I’m rationing so carefully. I probably would have chosen a bigger town than Agua Dulce to run out of things in, but hopefully I’ll be able to cobble together what I need. It’s hard to believe I’m only two resupplies away from the Sierra!

The first batch of hikers have successfully made it over the first two passes of the Sierra. That’s good news.

There isn’t any bad news.

I let myself sleep a little later this morning so I could have full daylight to tackle the poodle trail. I was on the trail at 6:30.

Kudos and MUCH GRATITUDE to the Trail Gorillas (trail maintainers), who made it a priority to kill the poodle-dog bush on the trail. It’s still all over the place (there’s some a dozen feet from this tent), much like rocks in Pennsylvania, but so far the trail itself has been largely clear. I can’t imagine what a nightmare it is on the years when you have to do gymnastics to avoid the stuff. Plus, the stench of it all day long was making me a little sick. And more to come, all the way to mile 440!

So, I set myself a mini-goal today: Get to mile 418, where there was a fire station with water, by 2. That was 14 miles. I took off running. (Not literally. This is all painful enough at a regular walking pace. 😀)

Aaannnddd… the trail climbed. And climbed. And climbed. For the first time, the PCT showed me false summits, one after another after another. The terrain was fabulous, though–soft ribbon through a desertscape, then up above, pine forest (with cactus and poodle-dog). When I finally reached the top, oh my gods–the vista was amazing. I had to take a pano of it. It was mountains for 180 degrees, and in the far distance that flat bowl of the Mojave looming in my future. That or just some random giant big flatness. Like maybe a landfill.

I didn’t see many hikers all day. In the morning I met one–a girl named Kodiak who’s hiking with an actual poodle dog! Well, a labradoodle. Dogs on the PCT are vanishingly rare. I have no idea how she got through today’s PDB antics, but that dog (Hooley) had to have brushed against the stuff with some frequency.

I saw a trail crew today–three big guys getting ready to tackle a massive downed tree. They were wearing hard hats and pretty much body armor, considering they were standing in PDB. Tough job. I thanked them profusely.

I also saw three snakes! The first one was a baby, I think. The second one, I’m not sure. I couldn’t tell if they were rattlesnakes, but I got pictures, if anybody feels like pulling out a field guide. The third one was definitely a rattler. It was stretched across the trail, and it lifted its head and gave me the stinkeye as it slunk slowly out of the way. I got past it, but in the passing, it started to rattle. It was at the fire station at the end of a long, hot day, though, and I was out of patience. “Oh, shut the hell up,” I told it, over my shoulder. I think it actually did.

Highlight: At about 11, I passed a group of hikers including the girls who got off trail to go to Disneyland. One of them had a phone connection and was chatting away with enthusiasm. “What about soda?” I heard, and stopped to investigate, of course. Turns out they were trying to order a pizza delivery down at the fire station! Hikers are crazy ingenious about having food delivered. And they got their wish, too! It was the only fire station delivery the place made all day. I predict that those girls are going to get to Canada. 🙂

I didn’t make it to the fire stfation by 2. It was closer to 3, and after I got 5 liters of water, it was 3:30. I headed out anyway, trying to tackle this ginormous hill, or part of it–and I ended up wifth almost 17 miles. Not bad for a late start and a lot of up!

And that’s it. I don’t know where the other hikers are. Maybe they hitched to Agua Dulce! I know Indra was somewhere around the fire station, though. I also know that a lot of hikers are going to the KOA in Acton, which might be tomorrow, so maybe there’s some skipping around happening.

Tomorrow afternoon, at the next water source, is a ranger station where you can supposedly buy sodas and candy bars. I hope they have some left!

And Agua Dulce is now… roughly 35 miles away. We’ll see how things go! My body could really really use a zero, but I’d rather take it in a motel (and there are no hotels in Agua Dulce, so it’s camping at the Saufley’s Hiker Heaven).

Day 28: I don’t even

Mile 389.6
Highest elevation: 9406 (Mt. Baden-Powell)
Current: 6747

So many things happened today, I don’t even know which is the most important. It was like a month.

First up: hiker grapevine! Apparently there are two ‘things’ going around. One is a cold-type thing, and one is a stomach thing. When I heard this, I immediately stopped using outhouses (which have appeared periodically in this section at ranger stations and such). At one water source, a young fresh-faced hiker said, “Want some skittles?” and offered me her giant baggie of them. I wanted to say No, no, no, that’s how you spread the plague! But there seems to be a general lack of awareness of hiker-type things like that. Trail sense, trail etiquette.

Also, a lot of hikers apparently got sick after the hot springs. Dudes, did you not see the ‘fecal coliform bacteria’ warning? Also, I hope none of you ducked your heads.

There are cougars around. I don’t tend to fixate on that because 1) they feel as passingly exotic as unicorns, and 2) they’re nocturnal, and I couldn’t be more diurnal. But at the hot springs, apparently a hiker spotted cougar tracks. He bent down to look at the tracks, then noticed the actual cougar, plus a cub, about 25 feet away. He stood up carefully, didn’t take his eyes off the cougar, backed up slowly–and went right over the cliff. He tumbled. His poles were on his wrists, through the loops. Other shenanigans ensued, but eventually he got himself to a hospital via a ride from kind strangers. I think he had a sprained wrist, among other injuries, but no breaks, if I eavesdropped correctly. And he’s back on the trail. Whew.

And on to the day.

Last night I was camped a mile short of the Baden-Powell summit. After I settled in, a pair of hikers joined me. It was close quarters. I had to restrain myself from my usual boisterous collection of sound effects, like coughing, farting, and talking to myself in language that would make a sailor blush. Still, it was a good site–no wind! I slept really well and woke up at 4ish, and actually managed to be on the trail by 5:15 or so.

Then the shit hit the fan.

That whole climb up Baden-Powell was tough, but the last mile felt super steep. The wind had picked up, and it was frigid. I still had on my Cap 4 baselayer under my wind clothes. I hadn’t bothered with the fleece gloves because I figured I’d be up and over, and then the trail turned into this narrow harrowing strip and there was no place to open my pack.

At 8000 feet the snow appeared.

Now, this was only patches. But they were exactly the sort of thing I’m expecting in the Sierra: rock hard snow, slick as ice, too hard to jam your poles into, with a vertical slide down to the left that would result in a very bad injury, at least. And you know what? I was absolutely terrified. The whole mountain had tapped my fear of heights, but this snow thing, when it felt like the footing was slick and unsteady? That was special. I managed about one step forward every 30 seconds, by sticking my poles in other pole holes, checking the stability of my foot, and obsessing over having three firm contact points. This was only a couple of patches, maybe 10 to 20 feet wide, and for the first time I thought, “Holy shit. There’s no way I can do the Sierra.”

I wasn’t alone, I found out later at a water source. Those snow patches on that vertical trail scared the crap out of everybody I talked to. Indra’s thinking of flipping.

After the snow, my feet were blocks of ice, and the wind was just horrible. Windbane! Except up on top, the drop off the trail was a fall into nothing, if you happened to get blown in the wrong direction.

I spent a couple of icy moments with the 1500-year-old tree, and I was overwhelmed with the emotion of that. It was a deeply spiritual experience.

And I apologized to the tree for leaving so abruptly, but I wanted off that freaking mountain! It’s taken me 2600 long-distance hiking miles to realize that I don’t like mountains at all. I like forests. 🙂

But the mountain had other plans. The wind had me blowing sideways. I was going to skip the 1/10 mile to the summit because I just wanted off. But the trail kept going up anyway, and all of a sudden, BAM! I was at the summit. I’d inadvertently taken the spur trail

But then… I couldn’t find the trail back down. I fought that frigid wind for 15 minutes. Where the fuck was the trail? I started to panic because I was so cold, and I knew I needed to eat something, get my gloves out of my pack. regroup… but there was no place to do that. It was bald and exposed, with a vertical rock slide on one side and a drop off the mountain on the other.

Then I finally saw it–a 6-inch ribbon that was a slightly different shade of brown, going straight down like a drainage ditch. I made it about a half-mile before I found a place between a couple of trees where the wind was merely howling, and I had my snack and got my hat and gloves sorted out, then after that I made decent progress except where the trail went uphill.

It took me 7 hours to do 7 miles.

At Little Jimmy Spring there were a dozen hikers. It was a beautiful summery spot, surrounded by wild mint and tucked away from the wind. It was the first time I’d felt warm all day. I didn’t want to leave! Indra was there, and Kelly, and eventually Rolf and his crew, and a bunch of others. We talked about the Sierra. Personally, I think it’s too early for all this panic. We’re still 350 miles away. And at the rate I’m going, I’m still looking at getting there way too late rather than way too early. (There were two girls at that spring who started the 16th. They took off 3 days to go to Disneyland. One of them was from Australia.)

After that, I started to chew up the miles. I’m making great time when it’s not uphill, which is the only thing that gives me hope.

I thought the clouds were looking a little ominous.

Next up was the Endangered Species Detour–if I ever managed to get to it. There was another massive uphill, and then a truly massive downhill. I had maps, Yogi’s info, Halfmile’s info (which didn’t match Yogi’s), and Guthook. At about 4 PM I reached a highway intersection, and I couldn’t find the trail, and I had a meltdown. The trail just ended at that stupid highway. I didn’t know what to do. All the other hikers had vanished. I didn’t know why. Did they take the other detour? There are two choices.

I was ready to scream. I went back across the highway and looked around with deep intent–limited by the fact that I can’t see 20 feet. But I thought I saw the little triangle symbol, so I headed in that direction… and sure enough, it was the trailhead.

It went up. Steeply. Yay.

I got about a half mile, spotted this not-stealthy site, and I was done. I couldn’t face a 3-mile roadwalk tonight. I just couldn’t. I’ll tackle the road walk and the rest of the frog detour tomorrow.

Will I ever get a 20? Will I ever get 17 again?

Hey, but at least I’ll be at Agua Dulce in 3 days! And today was totally stunning, visually speaking.

And I forgot the last absurd thing: I sat on a rock that was covered in a special kind of pine sap like tar, that wouldn’t come all the way out with hand sanitizer, so now for the next 50 miles I get to look like I crapped myself! Yay, hiking! 🙂

Day 27: Mount Baden-Powell(ish)

Mile 376.9
Elevation: 8596 feet

The day got off to a rocky start. With the cold and the wind, I didn’t sleep much, and I couldn’t force myself to start in the frigid dark, so I hit the snooze about a dozen times. I eventually threw on my clothes over my base layer and scrambled a half mile to a more sheltered place to redress and repack.

On a whim at the very end of the night I checked the elevation profile and realized today would be Mt. Baden-Powell. Oh, shit.

That kind of changed everything, and I didn’t feel physically prepared to tackle that beast.

It was an uncomfortable morning: I was so tired, and cold in the relentless wind, and continuously out of breath. I wondered if I was coming down with something. Hurdy-Gurdy had to head into Wrightwood with a cold of some sort.

After about 4 fidgety uncomfortable hours at about 1 or 1.5 mph, I finally gave in to the reality that this was going to be a short day. (Tired utterly kicks my ass. And I don’t think I’d gotten an uninterrupted hour of sleep the night before.) Serenity, eh? I just plugged in the music and that was that. I’d walk until I couldn’t stand it anymore.

The trail was up and down, sometimes steeply, with giant pine trees and rocks and pinecones on a blanket of soft needles. It amazes me that in Maine at 5000 feet you’re above treeline, but here at 8000 feet the pine forest trees just keep getting bigger and bigger.

The hikers fresh out of Wrightwood started to appear at 9ish. I knew quite a lot of them–Neema from Hatfield, whom I met on day 2, and Indra, and others by sight. Others I didn’t. I met a hiker today named Fox who started on the 16th. He’s a big guy, which I think is pretty brave out here. Good for him!

People are now all gossipy about the snow levels in the Sierra. Somebody said “I heard the passes will now be closed until June 23rd,” as though somebody has to open the Sierra. There’s so much conflicting info in the hiker grapevine that I decided on about day 2 to ignore all of it. I know that I, personally, have about 350 miles to do, and unless I start pulling bigger days (which I have been), I’m going to be late to the snow party. And since pigs would fly before I managed 6 weeks of 30 mpd days to compensate, I wouldn’t be able to make up the time.

My current goal is to stretch for 20s.

Anyway, yeah. So I knew I was exhausted. Baden-Powell, as it turns out, is not for sissies. It climbed. And climbed. And climbed. The summit is at mile 378. I believe there’s a 1500-year-old tree up there.

I ended up stopping a mile short, at 377. I’ll get a good night’s sleep and attack this mess fresh in the morning.

Looks like there’s a detour around an endangered species area tomorrow, too. My alternatives are 24 miles of trails or a 7-mile roadwalk. I’ll take 7 for 100, Alex!

But first… Baden-Powell at the crack of dawn.

(And guess who just passed? Rolf! He said, “How are you so fast?” 😀 And I said, “I skip the towns!”)

(I have neighbors now. I hope my morning noise doesn’t disturb them!)

Day 29: Things come together

Mile 404.2
Elevation: 5915 feet

Something finally clicked today. I don’t know how to put my finger on it. It was the usual collection of every emotion under the sun, of mishaps and mayhem and laughing and snacks, but at nearly a month on the trail, today felt for the first time like I was in the rhythm of the thing. Like I finally got my psychic trail legs.

We hit 400 miles today.

I snoozed more times than I wanted to and hit the trail at about 5:30. It was a cool morning but not frigid–good walking for the mile or two down to the road walk.

The road walk itself was beautiful. Cliff faces and pine trees.
I wanted my attention on the road, so I skipped fhe music. Instead, I listened to a Buddhist lecture on impermanence and the ability to be in the moment even when things go wrong. This would prove pertinent later.

I finished the endangered frog detour at a campground. It was filled with PCT hikers who’d spent the night there. And I found out what happened to Indra and the others. They reached that road, saw how steeply the trail went up, and hitched a ride directly to the campground. I think a lot of hikers did that, because only one or so went past my tent last night!

Start dates have become irrelevant. Miles per day have become irrelevant. This isn’t the AT, which is linear. There are so many detours and alternates that two hikers can arrive at the same place with very different mileage counts. Somebody who took the official detour yesterday would have racked up 21 non-trail miles. People who took the Old Alternate (like me) racked up 1 non-trail mile. Somebody who hitched the roadwalk around the closed trail still ended up at the same place.

The only number that matters is how many miles to Kennedy Meadows, and how many days you want to take to get there. You can do 30 miles a day right now–it puts you at the Sierra too early, and you can’t alleviate any of the suffering of Oregon by doing those big miles now.

It’s a crazy trail.

As long as I stay in the same general vicinity as Indra, Neema, and Rolf/Horsewater, I feel OK. Those guys are kind of my metric. I’ve been seeing Indra and Horsewater since Scissors Crossing, and I met Neema on day 2. I saw all three of them today.

I feel pretty good at the moment!

So. One of my other mutant powers is the ability to get lost in any and all situations, no matter how completely unlikely, or how well marked the path is. If I choose a direction, it’s invariably wrong. I can get lost in a phone booth.

I got a little lost in the campground, but somebody helped me out. Then I chatted with Indra and my two co-campers from Baden-Powell, and a guy I hadn’t met yet–an older hiker named T-Bird. After that, the detour continued on a gorgeous side trail through a green paradise for another couple of miles.

I came to the PCT junction, and checked Halfmile to make sure I was on the PCT, which made me very happy. I’d thought there’d be a sign indicating the closure, but there was nothing. So I set off!

I didn’t realize it, but I’d actually set off southbound. I missed a switchback.

The trail was clear. There were plenty of sneaker prints. I was making great time. Then the trail got confusing, with directional indicators pointing right at each other. Halfmile couldn’t decide if I was on the PCT or the frog detour. I spent some time on something called the Rattlesnake Trail. Eventually I found the PCT. It started to feel overgrown and a little dangerous–eroded trail, lots of poison oak. I took my time, but after I had to bushwack around an emormous blowdown, my spidey-sense started to tingle. ‘This,’ I said to myself, ‘feels like unmaintained trail.’ So I whipped out my Halfmile and WHAT THE HELL!? I was going backwards! I almost cried. How is that even possible, I wondered. I’d be repeating stuff I already did.

Unless, whispered a little voice, you’re in the frog closure.

At that point I was so lost I wanted to cry. But I didn’t. I kept my Halfmile out and painstakingly backtracked, checking my position every few steps. Eventually I ended up back at that original trail junction. It was now 11 AM. I’d left there at 9.

But there hadn’t been any signs! It was like the trail was only closed NOBO, and not SOBO. But I didn’t step on any butterflies, so I assume things are OK.

In the meantime, all those people were long gone. I’d already walked half my day’s miles and none of it counted. I felt the dejection looming.

So I sat down, ate a bunch of food, and decided to start my day over. Like the Buddhist monk had said that morning, ‘If things should be different, they’d be different.’ I had a beautiful walk. And there was more walking to do.

I made it a mile or two, and who did I run into but Neema! She’s hiking now with a guy called Beast of Bourbon who’s getting all the hikers he meets to sign his hat.

Seeing Neema turned the day around. The getting lost became an increasingly funny thing. I passed 400 miles and was overjoyed–and all day the trail was flat and soft and perfect. I was kicking ass. By the time I ran into Indra a few miles ago, I was having fits of the giggles. Everything was striking me funny.


Eventually they all took off, and I took off. It was about 3:30 and I felt great–like maybe I could do another 4 or 5 miles.

Then the trail crossed a roadway, and all of a sudden there was poodle-dog bush everywhere. Everywhere! It was like a poodle-dog jungle. And I remembered that serious business–that trail miles 400 to 440 are dangerous with the stuff.

And the day got serious again.

It was freaking everywhere. It was next to the trail but not hanging over, and easily avoidable, but I was concentrating on every stalk of green. And the smell was overwhelming. It’s sort of like how skunk spray a mile away is a pungent, sort of interesting smell, but skunk spray in your backyard makes you gag.

I’d been hiking for almost 12 hours then, and I was getting exhausted. Because of the concentration required, I knew I couldn’t get 2 miles to the next campground. And I definitely wasn’t stealth camping here! Fortunately, Halfmile listed a cleared site–this one. There are a few small stalks of the stuff at the very edge of the space, but it’s a wide sandy area that’s cleared. I even checked closely for tiny plants. I’ll be wearing long pants tomorrow, that’s for sure!

In other news, I have to ration my food. The unexpected delays have stretched 3 days into 4 and a bit. I hate food rationing. I pretty much have to eat every hour out here.

Also, I haven’t had a phone signal for 3 days. I miss you guys!


Day 26: All poodle-dog bush, all the time

Guffy’s Camp, mile 364.4 (17.2 miles)
Elevation: 8270 feet

There were a lot of hikers camped out at old Swarthout Csnyon last night! It made sense–last flat spot before a 5000-foot climb.

I set the alarm for ridiculous o’clock. When I woke up in the pitch dark, the whole inside of the tent was wet. Condensation? I went through my site in my mind and thought I couldn’t have done any better. Maybe it was just a low(er)-land thing. But when I opened the tent flap, I realized the issue–fog again! Thick, white rainy fog. I thought those clouds looked oddly heavy last night, but they didn’t look rainy so I thought I was good. I need to improve my cloud skills. And anyway, if the fly had been on, it would have been a sopping mess all day. I just gave the tent a quick mop. And we were off! Up the crazy all-day climb that would gain 5000 or 6000 feet in a massive uphill effort. I hit the trail at 5:30.

And climb and climb and climb it did, all day long. All day! And some of it was steep! Most, though, was the usual gradual pace. Here’s what it’s like: Get up at 5, throw a toddler on your back, set your treadmill to 10 degrees, and walk for 12 hours. 🙂

It was pretty cool for most of the day (and now at 8000+ feet it’s downright freezing!)–which was good because it was poodle-dog day! At miles 356 and 357 I had my first poodle-dog warning, so I had to wear long pants.

At about 10, I swear I flushed a grouse. Are there grouse out here? It did that same startled eruption from the trees (as the elevation increased, so did the tree cover), and whatever it was did that same sort of chubby panicked flapping, and made the same chiding sort of noise.

I was getting to the point where I was above the clouds again–pine trees, needles, enormous pinecones.

So I’m cruising along into the burn area when all of a sudden I think…


Now, this is not an unusual smell on the PCT. In fact, if the PCT
had a national smell, I’m pretty sure it would be cannabis. (Or armpits.) But marijuana smell is also the signal for…


I pivoted, and right there next to me was a plant that somebody’d attacked with weed killer with extreme prejudice. The tops of it were coming back, though.

And all doubt is stilled. Every plant I saw before that I thought was poodle-dog was NOT.

I’m posting a bunch of close-ups of the leaves in case anybody preparing for the PCT happens to read this. The area of poodle-dog was only a mile, and somebody (BLESS them!) did an excellent job of killing it all. But there was enough live stuff to give me a
sense of it. PS: It’s not flowering, so all those lush poodle pictures with the purple flowers were useles.

Here’s what it looked like: an unholy union of giant hot dogs and crazy-ass miniature aloe plants. That’s the scientific description. The leaves are a crazy mop. If you look closely, you can see the hairs. And if you throw it into a fire, it doesn’t become warm, but glows with a ring of fiery runes.

The climb continued. After about 5000 feet, the views became breathtaking. Unbelievable. I started to see snow-covered peaks, and I have a feeling that’s where I’m headed.

I’m camped now at a place with picnic tables. It’s freezing up here, and the wind is insane! But I think the tent is OK. I’m wearing my base layer and down socks, and at the moment I’m happy as hell to have brought them! There’s occasionally bear activity here, according to one of my sources but not the other two.

I’m now halfway finished the desert part of the trail!

Sato, an older Japanese hiker who reads English very well but may be having some trouble with the spoken stuff, has a trail name now! It’s Sugar. Now people can say ‘Hi, Sugar’ to him. 🙂

Tomorrow will be weird again. Everybody’s in Wrightwood, so the kaleidoscope will turn and all the faces will be shaken up.

Day 25: Up, up, and away

Mile 347.2
Elevation 3560 feet

At breakfast this mornin (Indra, Pantry and his partner, Sherpa, Dolittle, and two guys I don’t know–Prodigy was one of them), Indra said I’ve lost so much weight that she didn’t recognize me–so there’s the answer to that. Frankly, I blame the shower more. But that’s an aside!

I had breakfast among hiker trash in the hotel. The Best Western was a totally decent place in a desert of trashiness. Pretty weird. And pretty fun. Most rooms had multiple hikers, so it felt like some sort of a luxury hiker trash dorm.

The plan today was thus: Check out at about 10. Don’t die crossing the massive interstate. Eat lunch at McD’s. Get a burger for later. Then head up, up, up carrying 6 days of food and 6 liters of water. It’s a 28-mile waterless stretch (with potential water at 22, but it’s a hard get), all uphill, into poodle dog territory. But it only makes me stronger for the Sierra, right? All told, it’s probably the same weight as Campo. I had 6 liters of water then, if I recall, but probably 2 pounds more gear, and 12 pounds more body weight. It should be fine, I figured.

I hit the trail at 11:30! Now that’s a rough adjustment for somebody who likes to get the bulk of the day’s work done before noon. 😀

First came the scary creepy Cajon Pass underpass. I had my headlamp ready, but I hardly needed it. The tunnel did feel like something out of Stephen King’s It, though. Welcome to Derry, Maine. Hey, Pennywise would be a cool yet disturbing trail name.

Then the trail flattened out into the recently typical ugly-beautiful wasteland, always in bloom.

And climb we did. There were a lot of flats and downs mixed in there, too, ao the total elevation gain was only something like 800 feet, but tomorrow is the rest of the climb. Eventually the trail opened up again to that terrain of shrub and boulders like sheep. And specfacular views.

This trail involves a LOT of straight-up walking.

I had a chat with a guy who’s writing an article on the Santa Fe railroad and fhe PCt for Trains magazine. Apparently all this railroad activity in Cajon Pass (freight trains with hundreds of boxcars all day and night) is rooted in history. The history of trains, I suppose. That sounded a lot more interesting until I actually wrote it down. Anyway, the guy pointed out a rock formafion called Sullivan’s Curve and said it was famous for something or other. Something trainy.

It got hot today, but nowhere near as hot as yesterday. I got my nero 6 miles as intended. I could probably have done a few more, except 1) a nero is for resting, and 2) there are’t any more camping spots listed in the apps for 10 more miles, which is too far, and I’m too risk averse to stealth camp in a poodle bush stretch until I know exactly what Satan’s houseplant looks like–which should be tomorrow. I’ll grab you a picture!

So here I am, dozy and drowsy, using my umbrella inside my tent! And getting ready to eat old McDonald’s fries for dinner.

Miscellanea: I lost my first toenail today. Professional hazard. It’s a process that’s both repulsive and fascinating. Also, one of my old blisters turned into callus so sharp that it actually cut a hole in my sock! I guess I’ll sew it up. I should have new socks and my first replacement shoes in my Agua Dulce resupply box. Agua Dulce, coming up!

Day 24: Take a pass

Cajon Pass, mile 342

So! Dudes! Turns out I wasn’t just whining! It’s been 97 degrees the last 2 days! OK, I was still whining. But I feel really validated! 🙂 Yes, I bonked yesterday. But… 97! It explains why I didn’t see many other hikers on the trail. Because they weren’t idiots.

On the other hand, here at the Best Western in Cajon, there are many hikers! I was just chatting with a guy named Thor, who started the 15th. Sherpa and Dolittle from Trail Angel Mike’s are here. I don’t recognize people after they’ve showered and are sitting around in their rain gear while their clothes are washed! Some of the Ziggybear people are here, and Pantry. There are a LOT of AT hikers. And it’s a weird feeling to still be seeing people I know. (Aside: I just bumped into Kelly [now Love-Giver] and Heather [now Little Buddha] from Mt. Laguna!)

Last night in my sweet little stealth site, hikers kept going by until 9 PM. They couldn’t see me. (In fact, somebody peed nearly on my front doorstep.) I got to hear some interesting things. One guy said he rarely stops before 9:30 or 10; he’s probably one of the ones who takes a siesta. They were all headed to Silverwood Lake to camp, but I’d stopped 3 miles short, completely spent (97 degrees!) Somebody hiked past at 4:30 in the morning. Night hiking. And my sleepy little brain started to turn over possibilities–and realized that for my fiendish plan to work, I had to do 17 miles and get to Cajon Pass today, not early tomorrow. If I’d known it was 97 degrees, I wouldn’t have bothered trying. But I didn’t know! So I tried!

(97 degrees also explains why I’m suddenly sunburned after 3
weeks. My ears are sunburned! My face is like a beet! And this is after sunscreen, which I’m clearly not applying enough. I got super hot the last couple of days. Lesson learned. Sometimes you’re not really a wuss; sometimes conditions actually are that bad.)

So here was the plan. I changed the meaning of ’10 x 10.’ Usually it means ‘get 10 miles by 10 in the morning.’ But you know, that was killing my morale because it’s kind of really hard to do if you have midget legs. So I turned it around–set the mileage goal, and by 10 try to have only 10 miles left. So I needed to have 7 done by 10 to make the goal. Which meant I HAD to be on the trail at 6 AM, no dithering. None!

I made it by 6:05. It was considerably faster without the rainfly, so I’ll be leaving that off more, when possible. I’ll never be a fan of cowboy camping though–too many crazy ants, and too much history with ticks.

And I set out like I was shot out of a gun.

The first thing I did was waste 15 of my minutes by getting on the wrong trail. D’oh! Halfmile fixed me.

My issue has been this: I haven’t really been able to eat enough. It makes me literally nauseous. I get a harpoon of hunger every hour, but when I think about my food I want to throw up. Of course, it’s been 97 degrees! (I have a plan worked out to deal with that situation.) So I wasn’t sure if I’d bonk again. I literally forced myself to chew something and swallow it every hour or so.

I made it to Silverlake in great time. The trail was the dirt ribbon, but with a lot of up. (Thank gods I didn’t know what was coming in the afternoon.) There was plenty of greenery around the lake–which meant plenty of tiny eye gnats and plenty of bees, sucking on the flowers that are suddenly in bloom everywhere.

At Silverlake, there was supposed to be water and a privy. But guess what? There was a flush toilet! With a sink! Halleluia! I brushed my teeth and tossed my trash and peed on a real toilet! (That is, I disn’t actually pee ON the toilet.) I also picked up 4 liters of water, which I thought was overkill for a 13-mile stretch–because I didn’t know it was 97 degrees!

The trail stayed ugly for a while after that–swampy bits, junkyard vibe, trash land that doesn’t get love. But the ribbon persisted! At times the trail was completely grown over, which made me nervous because today’s stretch was where that stealth rattlesnake bite had happened.

I didn’t get 10 x 10 (my version). But I got close!

It was blast heat from 8 AM on–and the trail started to climb. And climb. And climb. The climbs out here are pretty gradual, but they can go on for a full day. A full day, going uphill! The umbrella got some good use today. And when I passed two other hikers–Half Moon and Hurdy-Gurdy, they remembered they had umbrellas, too. And on it went, uphill in the blazing sun and heat. I stopped for a drink and a few minutes’ rest at every shady spot, like I do, and I went up the steeper hills slowly… but progress was being made!

At 2, I pulled the plug and committed. I called the hotel and booked a room. Four miles to go, I was beat to death, and all I could think about was a quarter pounder and large fries and a HUGE lemonade at the McDonald’s at mile 142.

Up and up the trail climbed, and then–BOOM! I got to the top of the pass and the world stretched out enormous before me. It was stunning. Green hills crisscrossed with a web of sandy lines. Those can’t all be trail, I thought! But a lot of them were. ‘So that’s a pass,’ I thought.

Then it was a race down the hills–ridgewalks, hard descents, all
with a wind so fierce that I had to tie my bandanna on top of my ballcap to keep the cap from blowing away.

And the sun!

And don’t you know, eventually–beaten, burned, and exhausted, I hit mile 142 and did the 4/10 roadwalk to McDonald’s.

Seventeen miles, plus!

The worst part was walking from McDonald’s to the Best Western. I had to cross a bunch of on-ramps, then walk the shoulder of a 6-lane bridge spanning a 10-lane superhighway. My acrophobia
was kicked into high gear… and a sleezy guy asked me if I wanted to go to Vegas with him. He even looked me up and down in that particular way. And I wanted to say, Jesus, dude, do you have any idea how old I am?! But he went away and I wasn’t pancaked, and tomorrow is Saturday so hopefully the traffic will be a little less.

I’m doing what I guess is a reverse nero. I got in at the end of the day. Checkout is at 11. I’ll eat breakfast here, do my creative gas station resupply, check out, eat lunch at McDonald’s (and grab an extra burger for dinner), then just hike 5 miles or so up out of the pass.

I won’t even look at the maps tonight. I’m too busy sucking down Gatorades. 🙂

One day’s filth: