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!