Day 15: Short day out of Big Bear Lake
Trail miles 266.2-279.2
May 17, 2019
In the morning, I ate myself sick trying to finish all the food I’d purchased in town. Breakfast consisted of the last third of a quart of yogurt I’d opened the day before, as well as the remainder of the two pounds of strawberries and the half gallon of milk I’d started at the same time. I also had a banana, a baked potato, and an unknown quantity of chocolate chips.
When we caught a hitch to the trailhead, I was still trying to power down the stalk of broccoli I’d started eating on the walk from the AirBnB to the main road. I finished it while riding in the back of John’s pickup truck, sandwiched between Carjack, T-Pain, Hot Hands, Bright Side, and Casper, as well as all of our gear.
When John swerved his old red truck to the side of the road to pick us up, I had more than a few misgivings. I had been standing, partially obscured, behind a sign while Hot Hands, Brightside, and Carjack (all of whom are women) danced on the sidewalk with their thumbs out. Women generally have a much easier time hitchhiking than men do, so I was happy to hide my threatening visage (ha!) while they flagged down a ride.
John flashed a half smile at us as he got out and explained that we had to ride in the truck bed, as he had no room up front. He was wearing a pair of dirty coveralls and his unkempt hair and beard also looked in need of a wash (although I have little room for judgment in this regard).
My mind really started to race when he began preparing a place for us to sit. He muttered an apology for the mess as he moved a dirty cloth sack and two large shovels, motioning for us to get in.
“Riding in the bed of a pickup is illegal in California,” I whispered to Carjack in an attempt to convey my uncertainty about this plan. “Maybe we should wait for another ride.”
“Well you can wait, but we’re going,” she replied, climbing into the truck with Hot Hands and Bright Side.
I have been experimenting with following my instincts during this trip, “trusting my gut” with regards to decisions about where and when to camp and what and when to eat. As Carjack situated herself beside Hot Hands and Brightside in the bed of John’s truck, my gut was ripping itself in half, simultaneously yelling, “Get the hell out of here!” and shouting, “Stick with your friends!”
I stood for a moment, allowing this silent argument to ripple through my consciousness. Then I threw my pack into the truck and climbed in after it. As John was “reassuring us” with a description of the back road route he planned to take, T-Pain and Casper ran up and asked if they could jump in. I was relieved when John assented, saying only, “As long as you can fit.” Six of us, I reassured myself, could certainly handle anything this coverall-wearing, shovel- and sack-toting mystery man could dish out.
The back road route John drove turned out to be perfectly pleasant, and thankfully free from both large bumps in the road and law enforcement. The six of us chatted as we rode, ducking behind our packs for shelter from the chilly wind.
When we arrived at the trailhead, John refused the money we offered him for gas.
“I hope we didn’t make you late for work,” Hot Hands said concernedly.
“I work for myself,” John replied. “Hard to be late.”
He shook our hands when we thanked him again for the ride, saying “Have a good trip. Be safe.”
So much for trusting my gut.
At the trailhead, we were slow to get moving. Our packs were heavy, laden with the calories necessary to power our trek to Wrightwood, about 105 miles away, as well as the water necessary to get us through the ten dry miles to the first water source.
In the first couple miles, I had to stop repeatedly to readjust my shoelaces, trying to get comfortable in my new trail runners. Eventually I figured the lacing scheme out and fell into a rhythm. Nearing the water source, I was so lost in thought that I nearly walked right by Casper, who was stopped in the shade of a tree just off-trail. I looked up when he called to me, and seeing how comfortable he looked, decided to take a lunch break with him just half a mile short of the stream I’d been aiming for.
As we ate, we talked about the strange memories that drift through the mind as one walks. Interpersonal interactions from the past resurface unexpectedly for reexamination. Snatches of music arrive in response to the changing cadence of footsteps on the trail.
We also discussed the benefits and drawbacks of journaling while on the trail as well as in normal life. One thought that Casper shared struck me as particularly interesting: you understand experiences more deeply if you describe them in words (paraphrased).
Danish and Brightside joined us by the side of the trail and we all talked and rested (though I don’t think any of us was really tired) for nearly another hour before finally moving on to the stream, where Big Daddy (Hiccups’s name on Fridays) and Spartan were waiting.
There we found trail magic next to a jeep road: sodas sitting in a plastic bag still filled with ice, and cinnamon and butterscotch hard candies. We sat in a large circle for an hour and a half, savoring these sugary treats we’d hardly earned.
By 3:20 in the afternoon, I was antsy to get going. We had come only nine miles, and although we had intentionally planned a short day out of town, I felt as though we’d wasted most of a day.
As I walked the final four miles to camp on a dry ridge, a Pink Floyd lyric from their song Time kept returning to me: “Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way.”
I do not want to develop a warped sense of accomplishment on this trail by associating success on a given day solely with the number of miles walked. The things I will remember after the hike is over will certainly include the people I spent time with and the conversations we had. By contrast, I suspect that the number of miles we walked will fade from my memory rather quickly. Already, it is difficult to distinguish the mileages of days just two weeks in the past, while I can remember jokes people made and ideas we shared within the same time frame.
Even so, it takes effort to relax myself thoroughly enough to enjoy short, slow days like today, when time spent hiking is exceeded by time spent sitting and the most memorable sights are the faces of your companions.
Hot Hands (left) and Bright Side, expert hitchhikers on the way to the trail
Casper enjoying the breeze from the back of John’s truck
The new shoes. Like the old shoes, but gray.
From left: Danish, Bright Side, and Casper
Big Daddy himself
Dinner: egg noodles cooked with a packet of instant miso soup, a pouch of tuna, and a generous dash of chili sesame oil. Call me the Titanium Chef.