Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sand and Sand

When I chew on my couscous dinners at night, sand crunches between my teeth. My camera lens grinds when I shut it because of sand. If I take my earbuds out of my ears after listening to music, they are covered in sand. Sand is everywhere.

The high desert is an amazingly varied place. I have come to the realization that every canyon has it's own character. Yesterday after leaving Cajon Pass, hiking through the San Andreas Rift Region then through the freakish Mormon Rocks, I saw the greenest canyon I've seen yet. I didn't think much water ran through the area, but there were actually trees on the side of this low elevation canyon. After climbing about 1000 feet, and snaking around to the other side of the mountain, it was all sparse chapperal. Fun. I climbed uphill for hours, finally reached a jeep road and cooked dinner over my woodstove. The plan was to hike another mile or so to find a nice soft spot with pine needles for cushion since I'm using a really thin sleeping pad, but plans never stick with me. I got inspired out of nowhere and decided to nighthike all the way to the road crossing where I"d hitch into this town, Wrightwood. That was 12 miles, a fullish moon at Waxing Gibbous, and no need for a headlamp to see ahead of me. The hiking was slightly sketchy, nearly losing the trail at a few road crossings and at a strange ski resort, finally making it to the road to sleep at 1 am. I slept on the side of the road, which receives no traffic at night. I woke up 5 hrs later to an awesome sunrise over Mt Balden-Powell, which still has lots and lots of snow. I'll be climbing up this tomorrow, hopefully to the peak to get a view of Death Valley, miles and miles away. Now it's time to find one of the local trail angels who take in hikers, for a MUCH needed laundry session. Rinsing in lakes and streams just doesn't cut it for a white shirt in the socal desert.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Road-walkin' the PCT

What a rough stretch of days. I managed to get sick somehow in Warner Springs, sidelining me for another day. I decided to take off the next day with only a few slices of bread in my stomach over the past 24 hrs. Bad mistake, as any reader could predict. Even though I was feeling better than I was in the past 2 days, I wasn't ready for hiking. I was tired, dehydrated, etc etc. I didn't enjoy the first 17 mile day until I got to the spot I would be camping.

The spot I was camping was trail angel Mike's place. Mike is a local who lets you walk .25 mi down a dirt road, take water from his spigot when he's not even there, and even has a screened in patio that thru-hikers can sleep in. I got here and found 4 other hikers there. Greybeard, Ross (Naugty Eyes), Gopher (who I met last year on the AT), and others I barely noticed in my sickened state. We all sat around goofing around, and I was able to somehow eat a cup of Ramen noodles, which Mike left behind for hikers to eat. See, I've been having a problem eating any of my trail food. It was either too sweet or too bland.

Next day was a bit worse, but I managed to pound out 10 miles by lunch time. After sharing some shade with Ryan, Gopher, and Greybeard, I pushed on in the 90+ deg heat, desperately trying to make it to the Paradise Cafe, 14 miles further! I made it 7 more miles to a water cache, and had to fold it in there. I wasn't able to force any food down the stomach, was having terrible stomach cramps, and decided the smart decision would be to chill for the rest of the day. It was around 3:00, an early time to stop hiking.

I spent the rest of the afternoon talking to Lucky about his state of Michegan, Hawaii, and our hikes of the A.T. I gathered a bit of fuel for fire, which is plentiful here in socal with dead chapperal branches everywhere. I tried to enjoy some spaghetti, then called it a night, without even writing in my journal, which is rare.

The next day I awoke, feeling healthy and ready to hike. Still, I knew I had only 10 miles to hike so I stayed in bed a bit and waited for the sun to heat up the 36 degree air. In the meantime I listened to my mp3 player that I received in Warner Springs. Sweet bliss. When I got moving, hiking had never felt so good. I had an absurd amount of energy. I took frequent breaks when there were enormous boulders to be photographed, or insanely steep, sandy slopes magically holding up tall, purple-flowering plants. Finally I was able to make it down to the valley, and the road crossing.

At the road was another hiker from years past, Tarzan. Tarzan had a huge canopy setup for shade, and was waiting for hikers so that he could feed us his famous Lintel soup and lemonade. good stuff and I sat there for 5 hrs getting some rest.

When I was ready to move on, I hiked another mile west along the road to the Paradise Cafe. I was joined by GoodTimes and a Swiss couple. At this cool, friendly, dive of a bar, I made sure to order their legendary Jose Burger. This was an amazing burger, a burger topped with bacon, swiss cheese, avacado, and mushrooms.

I managed to pull myself away from the crowd, and told myself I would road walk a few miles before dusk set in in 2 hrs. I should say that the trail has been closed for 50 miles due to wildfire. PCT thru-hiker induced wildfire. Apparently a brilliant hiker got the idea to put his ciggarette out in a dead tree stump, then 400 acres went ablaze. Now we either road walk if you are a purist about walking north the whole way, or hitchike this roadwalk. Its 18 miles. 18 miles is a long way to walk on a road. A road without a shoulder. And blind curves.

The first 6 miles actually had a wide shoulder, and this I used until I found a fantastic camping spot 5 miles in. I slept surpisingly well in my sleeping quilt rated to 45 degrees, although it was 21 degrees out. My alarm was set for 5 am, to beat the rush hour traffic. I hiked as hard as I could to get off that damned road, and it took me until 9 to finish those 11 or so miles.

Just before town I met a really cool cyclist named, lets say John. He was cycling from Sacramento to Tijuana, and now back home in Sacramento. He had also cycled west from coast to coast in the US, from Canada to Mexico along the Continetal Divide, and even more impressively to me, from Prudhoe Bay to Homer, in Alaska. Great guy and it was fun to talk to a long-distance cyclist, something I have interest in myself.

Now I'm in town, caught up with friends at a cheap campground in town, showered (still not clean!!!), clean laundry, and stuffed with french toast, eggs, sausage, and a cinnamon roll. Life is good in the cool, small, mountain town of Idyllwild.