Day 20: Dry Camp north of Cajon Pass to Wrightwood
Trail Miles 356.4-369.0
May 22, 2019
Morning dawned cold, and I hiked away from my dry camp wearing all my layers. The wind had come again last night to tear at the walls of my tent. It arrived in large gusts, each one audible in the distant trees as a low rushing that gradually gathered strength until it sounded as though the whole world had turned to crashing chaos and the gust slammed into my tent, making the poles quake and the silnylon buzz.
All day, I walked carefully, placing each foot deliberately, feeling intently for signs of pain in my extensor tendon. The night before, with my modicum of cell service, I’d googled the hell out of extensor tendonitis and had relaced my shoes to relieve pressure on the offending tendon. Extensor tendonitis, I learned, can be triggered by “extended uphill walking” or by “walking on uneven terrain.” Check and check. The previous day (not to mention the previous 19 days…) had included 20+ miles of uneven terrain, most of which were uphill. My only scrap of hope lay in the fact that my foot didn’t hurt too badly as I worked my way, ginger step by turmeric step (that might not be the right way to spice up this language…), up the hill.
My friends and I leapfrogged as they hiked fast and then stopped for long breaks while I muddled forward, taking few breaks and moving slowly but deliberately toward Highway 2 and a hitch into Wrightwood.
We reached the top of the ridge. Hot Hands and Bright Side stopped to poke at a frozen puddle with their trekking poles. I flapped my arms and dropped to the ground to do pushups, trying to regain feeling in my fingers.
At a memorial stone honoring a pair of hikers who died in a fall while attempting a thru hike in winter of 1983, I thought about the extraordinary challenge of navigating the snow-covered trail with fewer hours of daylight and harsh winter weather.
But in this section of trail, harsh weather seems to arrive at any time of year. On our descent toward Highway 2, soft balls of graupel began to fall. I cinched up my rain jacket and tried to move faster, only to ease up a few minutes later when my foot began to flare with pain.
As I approached the highway, I could see that the traffic at this crossing was minimal. I was warm enough as I hiked, but knew that the moment I stopped moving, the cold would begin to win. I crossed my fingers for a quick hitch.
I arrived at the road just in time to watch a car full of hikers pull away, headed for Wrightwood and food and warmth. Feeling dejected, I began unstrapping my pack and preparing for a lonely wait at the side of the road when I saw a day hiker coming down the trail on the opposite side of the road, carrying large shards of bright blue plastic. He called to me and I made my way towards him to hear what he was saying.
“Do you need a ride?”
The popular thru hiker truism, “the trail provides,” could not have been more appropriate.
Rich opened his Subaru for me, then went to a dumpster at the trailhead to discard the remnants of a plastic saucer sled he’d picked up on his hike.
“Families come up here from LA and they bring the sleds for the kids,” he told me. “When the sleds break, they leave them.”
Rich asked me whether I was hiking alone, and I told him that Hot Hands, Bright Side, and Danish were right behind me.
“We can wait for them,” he said. I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me, knowing that my friends wouldn’t have to stand in the incoming storm for a ride that might not come.
On the way to town, Rich explained to us that he’d been exploring the mountains (primarily the Sierra Nevada) with his friends since he was a young man.
“I can’t tell you how many times we were exhausted after a hard trip, standing on the side of the road in a gathering snow storm thinking, ‘We’re in for it now.’ But the kindness of strangers always seemed to save us.”
He said he was doing his best to return those favors by offering rides and housing to hikers arriving in Wrightwood.
As he drove us to the Grizzly Cafe to meet Hiccups, Rich gave us the “Two Minute Tour” of Wrightwood, pointing out the hiker friendly grocery store, restaurants, and coffee shop. As he dropped us off, he offered to let us stay at his house. Unfortunately we had to decline, as we’d already made other arrangements, but as we walked into the cafe, we couldn’t stop talking about how friendly this utter stranger had been to us.
Over sandwiches and pie, we looked out the window at the worsening weather and speculated about the fates of our friends who were still on the mountain. Soon, T-Pain and Fire Socks arrived after taking a side trail off the PCT to get out of what had turned into a full-blown snow storm. Foot Juice and Carjack were still up high, but we were comforted by the fact that they had camped together the night prior and had likely remained together as they hiked into the storm.
After lunch, which was discounted because we were hikers(!), I stopped by the hardware store, which holds resupply boxes for hikers and stocks Altras (a shoe brand wildly popular among hikers), stove fuel, toe socks, Clif Bars, and other thru hiker essentials. Then I shopped at the grocery store, where hikers are allowed to pick up free snacks from a basket near the checkout. A row of power strips at a picnic table outside the store’s entrance was labeled “PCT Hiker Charging Station.” At dinner with Carjack and Foot Juice, a local resident guessed that we were hikers (we were wearing our rain gear because we had showered and did not want to put on our as-yet unlaundered hiking clothing), and offered to let us stay at her house. Rich’s generosity had been just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. At every turn, Wrightwood had proven itself more hiker friendly than I could have imagined.
Poodle-dog Bush. Cute name. Nasty bite. If you want nightmares, read about the “memory response” in the “skin irritant” section of the Wikipedia article.
Casper having a cup of tea and drying his quilt before heading to Wrightwood
Warming up at the top of the hill. Video courtesy of Danish