Day 20: Hiker superhighway!

Mile 281.3 (15.2 miles, yo!)
Highest elevation: 7800 feet
Current: 7740 feet

You see that? 15.2 miles! It’s still not enough to cut the mustard, and I have to find a way to make 20s, but 15 has been a huge psychological hurdle for me. Given that I’m carrying heavy (ie, first day out of town with 100 miles’ worth of food, plus 3 liters of water) and the knee issues, today has been amazing! Maybe one of the best days yet.

Which is interesting because it had a shitty start. That’s how it goes out here. Every day = a week of regular time.

I’d made semi-arrangements with another hiker to share a cab to the trailhead. (I didn’t think a 5-mile roadwalk would help my knee, and I didn’t want to try hitching at 6:30 in the morning.) She bailed on the plan without texting me. Her reasons were completely legitimate–a lost package that she needed to sort out–but the fact that we didn’t communicate put me out of sorts. My problem, not hers–but it’s hard to make yourself unfussy.

I was still limping badly this morning. Big Bear has three trailheads. The earliest is mile 266, then one at 275, then one a bit later. 266 really marked the end of the fire closure rigamarole, but I was going to get back on trail at 275 because it was closest to the motel. Really, it was cheating–and I knew it in my gut. I could do the mental gymnastics to accept going around the fire closure, but that 9 miles would have bothered me. Silly, right? Anyway, my cab buddy convinced me to go to 266–and I’m grateful that she did. My conscience is clear!

I don’t know what it was–I suspect the ibuprofen–but I was really in the groove! I also have a metronome app on my phone, and I used it all day to pace myself. That made a huge difference! (And wore down the battery pretty quickly, too.)

So I’m trundling along, and I was really walking! Not limping, and although my feet were sore as hell, my knee was letting me just walk. I was in the groove! And that’s when I ran into the asshole.

Not everybody on the trail is hugs and empathy. (Less so out here, oddly enough.) This guy just wanted to talk relentlessly about how great he was, how fast, how BOTH his knees are destroyed, how he takes 8 to 12 ibuprofen per day just to manage the pain, and how he started the 27th and has been doing 25s right out of the gate. I couldn’t get him to shut up and let me walk. And you know, 10 minutes is nothing to somebody doing 25s, but to somebody doing 12s every minute is precious. I got so resentful of this guy! I finally made like I had to pee, and that sent him on his way. I told myself over and over that it wasn’t him, it was me–and I tried to figure out why I couldn’t stand him. The worst, I think, was the 27th start date–a full week after me. I knew the 24th and 25th starters were passing me, but a whole week? Depressing!

Plus, the day after town is always weird. The herd dynamics change around completely in town. As I hiked, a dozen hikers eventually passed me, and I didn’t know any of them, and I was getting surlier and surlier. So I started to ask them their start dates, masochist that I am.

The 23rd. The 24th. The 17th. “You’re really tearing it up!” that last guy said to me. I laughed.

And it was like a cloud lifted. The day became beautiful and sunny, I was laughing and happy, and I started to enjoy meeting the new guys.

Plus, I ran into some folks I know! The 13er who sounds exacly like my dentist and whose trail name escapes me–something Pantry. And of all people, this afternoon I ran into Weta and his crew! He was the Kiwi I met at the airport. Now, he left a day later than I did, and he also walked both closures, so he’s hiked more miles than I have. Today was probably the last time I’ll see him. But, dude! We were at Scout and Frodo’s together! It makes me think I still can’t rule out the poutine. Especially since my knee felt so good today.

The trail! Today it was magnificent. It started out unremarkable–rocky, with pines and cactus intermixed, which is still a really jarring juxtaposition. It changed a little to Pennsylvania rocks in spots, but then the magic happened: the dirt ribbon returned!

And me and my metronome, we walked. I stopped for a long lunch break and put my feet up. The day was intensely hot, but at 7000 feet and with shade from the pines, it was fabulous–just a summer hiking day.

There was a stream at mile 175, and hikers had gathered there to filter water, including Pantry.

And the dirt ribbon continued all afternoon. At one point there was a view of a fabulous lake (Big Bear Lake, one presumes) at the foot of a snow-covered mountain range. It took my breath away.

And that’s that! I got to 15 miles at about 5, and I was really ready to stop. My feet were killing me, and the knee was starting to throb again. Part of me wanted to try to go until 6, but I forced myself to stop at the first flat spot. (Other hikers are also here.) If the injury really is healing, no sense in overdoing it again. I hope the 15 is OK.

Hiker gossip: Hikers have started to reach the Sierra, but with tens of feet of snow and more still falling, they’re skipping them! I think they’re jumping abead and planning to come back down to do the Sierra in July.

Also, I found out I’m getting care packages at Agua Dulce! I can’t wait! It’s like Christmas!