Looking for a hiker-friendly town? You’ve come to the Wright(wood) place.

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

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New pain, true pain

Day 19: Dry Camp south of Cajon Pass to Dry Camp on the climb to Wrightwood

Trail Miles 335.4-356.4

May 21, 2019

When my alarm beeped at 5:30, I felt as though I’d hardly slept. A powerful wind had blown throughout the night and was still buffeting my tent now that the sun was beginning to rise. I turned off my alarm and “slept” for another hour as my tent shuddered around me in the gusts.

I started hiking at the stroke of 7:40. In an effort to hide some of my heat from the greedy wind, I cinched my rain jacket hood snug around my face. My sunglasses shielded my eyes against the intermittent rain drops that whipped through the air.

“Why is it always windy and cold? In the desert…?” I thought to myself as I walked over a ridge and into a fresh blast of frigid air. For a few minutes, I hiked with a scowl on my face, brooding about my bad luck with the weather. But as I walked on, it occurred to me that I was allowing the wind and the low-hanging rain clouds to ruin my day. I started to imagine the situation as a competition. The wind was out to spoil my mood, and it was succeeding. The only way I could turn the tables was to enjoy myself in spite of the wind.

Miraculously, this simple change of perspective salvaged my morning. I cinched my hood tighter, pushed my sunglasses into place, and hiked faster, trying to take energy from the wind instead of giving it more of my own. I flew down the ridge towards Cajon pass, singing snatches of songs to myself and croaking at the ravens who appeared to be grounded by the strong gusts.

I made the 6.5 miles to Cajon pass in less than two hours and followed an official-looking sign down a short road to a McDonald’s, the last consistent water source before the long (22+ miles long) climb into Wrightwood.

I stepped into the McDonald’s, still wearing my tightly-drawn hood and sunglasses, looking like a dirty astronaut with bad facial hair. My friends sat at two large tables and had commandeered a third booth for packs and trekking poles.

I stashed my gear and chatted with them while I powered down my second breakfast: some hashbrowns, a cup of coffee, two apple pies, and an ice cream cone (first breakfast had been gobs of peanut butter and Nutella sandwiched between tortillas, but that was two hours ago).

We talked about the long, waterless climb ahead, and discussed the dearth of good camping on the exposed ridges we’d be walking that afternoon.

Most of my friends were interested in staying until McDonald’s started serving lunch (10:30am, for anyone wondering), but I wanted to keep the rhythm I’d found that morning, so I tanked up on water and headed out.

I felt a bit like a socially averse pelican, swooping in just long enough to catch a few social-life-sustaining laughs, before flapping away towards Wrightwood while my friends lingered. But I knew I had a tough afternoon ahead of me and really did not want to spend another moment in that “restaurant.”

For the first few miles out of Cajon Pass, the trail travels through the no-man’s land surrounding the interstate and the rail lines at the center of the valley. The trail ducks through tunnels and culverts and jogs under bridges and power lines before eventually winding its way into some low hills. From there, it crosses the rift zone of the San Andreas Fault, which appears as a long valley lined on either side by steep mountains. Then begins a steady 5000’ climb into the mountains on the western side of the valley.

I cruised up the climb, feeling strong and happy except for an occasional twinge of pain in my hip or my foot. Two of the previous three days had been essentially 20 mile days, and I looked forward to adding a 20 plus mile day to the list.

But in the last few miles of the day, the twinge in my foot exploded into full-blown tendon pain (in my extensor tendon on the top of my foot), complete with a distinct burning sensation to accompany each step. The pain demanded my attention, and I stopped numerous times to try to relace my shoe. My efforts were in vain, and by the time I reached a reasonable campsite, I was hobbling.

I ate dinner in my tent and washed down a large dose of ibuprofen with the water I’d carried from McDonald’s. When Hot Hands arrived, she lent me her tennis ball so I could try rolling the tendon out, but rubbing it was painful.

Danish, Brightside, and Hiccups ate dinner near my tent, and I laughed with them as we joked about the people we’ve met on the trail, but my mind was on the following morning’s hike: 13 miles with 3500’ of climbing and nearly as much descending. How would my foot hold up? And would a zero in Wrightwood be sufficient time to heal, or would I lose my trail family as they hiked on without me?

This is the PCT…

No, seriously…

This is the trail…

I swear…

Guess who figured out how to use the macro function on his camera

Tumbleweed’s campsite

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Snow Waffling

Day 18: Grass Valley Creek to Dry Camp south of Cajon Pass

Trail miles 318.0-335.5

May 20, 2019

The rain that came in the night had cleared by morning, and we stuffed our wet tents into our packs and set off under a blue sky. Up the trail towards Wrightwood (our next resupply), heavy clouds shrouded the hills. When the wind shifted, they parted, revealing glimpses of the massive, snow-covered mountains beyond. But problems of snow hiking and frosty nights are problems for the future.

Today we walked ten miles of easy trail through the low hills. We set a leisurely pace in order to arrive at the Cleghorn Picnic Area for lunch. Fire Socks had informed us that last year she was able to have pizza delivered to the park, and when we arrived, we wasted no time calling in an order for six pies. The proximity of the trail to civilization in Southern California astounds me every day.

While we waited for the delivery man (I swear I am backpacking), we pitched our still-damp tents in the sun to allow them to dry and sat at a picnic table making hot drinks with the plentiful potable water available in the park. Clean water on demand! What an idea!

Even in full sun, we wore jackets to cut the wind, which, amazingly for late May, still possessed a chilly bite.

So far, the desert has not been at all what I expected. If you’d asked me a month ago, I’d have told you cooly that the days would be hot and that I’d be lugging five liters of water through long waterless stretches to dry camps every night, where I’d cowboy camp in the warm sand under starry skies.

In reality, it has been cool, and literally every “seasonal” (in a normal year, read, “dry”) water source has been flowing. I have been setting up my tent and wearing long johns and my fleece to bed every night to stay warm. In over two weeks and nearly 250 miles, I have only contended with serious heat on one occasion. My largest water carry was 25 miles, but that was self-imposed (because I was too lazy to head to off-trail springs and because the weather was forgiving enough that I was able to be lazy instead of sucking it up and going to a spring). Cold, rainy weather has been the norm this season. As we head to Wrightwood in the next few days, snow is in the forecast.

The cool, wet spring does not bode well for an easy hike through the Sierra. In a normal year, melting is often beginning in earnest by the end of May. But in the last week, more than a foot of fresh snow has fallen near Mammoth.

I’ve been talking with different members of my trail family to get a sense of their thoughts about hiking through that kind of snow. For some, a flip-flop seems like a logical idea, allowing for continued hiking in the north while the Sierra melts out. But for others, a flip-flop is antithetical to the idea of a “continuous thru hike” from Mexico to Canada. While I find the idea of a continuous northward hike appealing, I am also concerned that conditions in the Sierra will be dangerous (primarily when crossing rivers swollen by snowmelt), miserable (because of the potential for days spent postholing through miles of soft snow), or some sick combination of the two. As much as I like to suffer a bit in pursuit of a grand adventure (or at least a good story), hiking in ultralight gear through the snowy Sierra sounds an awful lot to me like Type 3 Fun. Then again, it could make for both a grand adventure and a great story.

Stay tuned for a decision. Kennedy Meadows (around mile 700) is the gateway to the Sierra. Barring another infected bug bite or a close encounter with the dread Poodle Dog Bush, I’ll be there in about a month and will be forced to either hike thru or flip. Here’s hoping I don’t flop before I get there.

A helpful tip or a twisted prank? Only one way to find out.

This picture needs cropping.

Drying tents at the picnic area

Pizza delivered to the trail??

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Things that keep me up at night

Day 17: Splinter’s Cabin to Grass Valley Creek

Trail miles 298.5-318.0

May 19, 2019

While trying to fall asleep last night, I began to consider what a stress-free existence I am able to enjoy on the trail, where I live without worrying about school, work, or significant interpersonal drama. Then the rain started.

A few hours earlier, when we’d arrived at Splinter’s Cabin (really just a park with a few picnic tables, a pit toilet, and a gazebo-like structure constructed of concrete and wood), there were a few sloped tent sites available, but smart money was on cowboy camping under the gazebo. Rain was in the forecast, and the overhanging roof and waist-high walls of the structure offered ample protection. Cowboy camping rather than setting up our tents would keep our tents dry and make morning packing easier (and more pleasant). Additionally, there would be no need to try to dry our tents during the following day, which was also forecast to be wet.

We staked our claims on the concrete floor under the gazebo awning by spreading out our Tyvek groundcloths. I arrived before the bulk of the group and was able to secure what I thought was a logical spot nestled in one corner of the structure with my head at the base of two concrete walls.

Later arrivals filled in the rest of the floor space adjacent to the concrete walls. The only unoccupied space was in the center of the gazebo, where a picnic table sat directly beneath a bird’s nest, which was tucked into a slot in the gazebo rafters. The table was covered in bird droppings.

As I drifted off, mentally cataloguing the ways in which my trail life’s cares pale in comparison to my worries in the frontcountry, I heard the patter of rain on the gazebo roof and felt the wind blow a fine mist across my face. The storm had arrived, and I knew immediately that I’d made a mistake cowboy camping.

As I lay there, getting spritzed repeatedly by windblown rain, my mind turned to my quilt. At night, its fluffy down filling is my main line of defense against hypothermia. But when down gets wet, the feathers clump together and lose their ability to trap air. Without trapped air, a quilt loses its insulating power and becomes a cold, soggy bag of feathers.

As unpleasant as I found the mist on my face, I was far more deeply troubled by the thought of the same mist slowly soaking my quilt. How would I stay warm the following night without my key piece of insulation? Because the rain was expected to continue through the next night, I knew there would be no time to dry my quilt during the day.

While I debated the relative merits of getting up, putting on all my layers, and pitching my tent in the rain versus moving my Tyvek, quilt and sleeping pad to the bird-soiled picnic table at the center of the gazebo, I listened to the rustles and crinkles of other people moving their own sleeping gear away from the gazebo’s edges. Foot Juice (who earned his name after a gnarly set of infected blisters forced him off-trail for a week and nearly cost him a toe) took up residence under the picnic table and was quickly followed by Casper and Carjack.

Out-maneuvered and unwilling to confront the hassle and discomfort of a sodden midnight tent pitching, I unfurled my tent and draped its waterproof silnylon fabric over my quilt, then squeezed my eyes shut against the incoming mist and tried to sleep.

In the morning, I was surprised and more than a little pleased to find that my lazy solution had actually kept my quilt fairly dry. But looking around at my fellow cowboy campers, I seemed to be the only person in a decent mood.

Firesocks and a few latecomers had ended up in a puddle in the middle of the night. Hiccups and Danish had migrated towards the center of ths gazebo and had tugged their tent across their quilts like I had. Everyone looked disheveled and more than a little grumpy.

I packed up quickly and set off down Deep Creek Canyon, taking almost no breaks in an effort to reach a fabled hot spring ten miles downstream.

To my delight, the weather cleared as I walked, and by the time I reached the spring, just before 10am, the sun was out and the temperature was climbing.

Unfortunately, the hot spring, which consisted of a stream of hot water that traveled through three successively cooler pools before joining Deep Creek, was mobbed with people. The sandy beach surrounding the spring was dotted with feces and used toilet paper.

I have no problem with other people taking joy in the hot spring. After all, that is what I had come to do. I do, however, take offense when scores of people flout the camping ban that exists in the Deep Creek Canyon and mar the landscape with their waste. I am saddened by their lack of respect for the environment they arrived to appreciate.

I sat on a patch of clean sand, watching people walk to and from the hot spring. Many of the people responsible for defiling the spring had come from a road just a couple of trail miles away. But among the illegal campers, I also noticed a number of thru hikers.

When the rest of my friends arrived, we submerged ourselves in one of the warm pools of water. It was a truly relaxing moment, but when we returned to the sandy area where we’d left our packs, I did not want to linger.

I headed down the canyon, hoping to escape the sickening feeling the mess at the spring had left in my gut. My plan was to make another ten miles before camping for the evening.

The trail exited Deep Creek Canyon and passed the Mojave River Forks Dam and its massive spillway. It then entered a dense riparian zone along the Mojave River. This section of trail near the dam reminded me of the trail along the American River in Sacramento. In both cases, the combination of natural processes and human development has shaped the river corridor in a unique and unmistakable way. In this forgotten corner of the environment, tree branches and brush accumulate on the upstream sides of concrete platforms embedded in the riverbank: evidence of high flows in seasons past. Graffiti fades and flakes off of boulders as sunshine and weather slowly worry away the remnants of human intervention.

As we emerged from this in-between area, Carjack, Spartan and I stumbled upon Papa Bear, a PCT hiker (he has completed two thru hikes and now typically hikes multiple sections each year) traveling north with the bubble of thru hikers to perform acts of trail magic. He offered us sodas, apples, and oranges, and let us sit in folding chairs (seats with back rests are in short supply outdoors).

Across the valley, a stack of some of the most ominous clouds I have ever seen was boiling over the ridge where we planned to camp that night. “It’s looked like that since this morning,” Papa Bear said.

Firesocks arrived and suggested we look for a ride to Cajon Pass, where we could split a motel to avoid the weather. I have been indoors during all the major storms on this trip so far, as a result of luck and well-timed zero days. But I am not out here to avoid the difficulties presented by weather. I am here to experience a hike from Mexico (or Warner Springs ;)) to Canada along with all the challenges that walk entails.

Spartan and I headed for the hills as Firesocks, Carjack, and Casper discussed the details of finding a motel room.

Thankfully, the blue-black clouds didn’t open up immediately. Spartan and I arrived at our campsite, nearly 20 miles from our starting point, and were quickly joined by Hiccups, Danish, Brightside, T-Pain, and Foot Juice.

The wind was steady and the rain started just after dark, but my down was dry and I snuggled in for the night, mentally cataloguing the ways in which my frontcountry life’s cares pale in comparison to my worries on the trail.

The morning after a wet night in Splinter’s “Cabin”. I can assure you that everyone looked significantly less happy before I took out my camera.

The hot springs from afar

A typical stretch of Deep Creek

Rainbow bridge

Camp is four miles away, under those scary clouds. Someone suggests a motel room in town. Your move.

Walking into the weather

An extra set of hands is invaluable when setting up in the wind.

When there’s only one windbreak, camp can get crowded.

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Restless Legs

Day 16: Dry camp at mile 279 to Splinter’s Cabin

Trail miles 279-298.5

May 18, 2019

The walking today was mostly easy, but there was a lot of it.

In the morning, Hiccups and Danish caught up to me after a few miles and we began to talk anout photography. At one point, Danish put forward the idea that the act of photographing something (distilling a message or a feeling by composing a specific image from a larger scene) may lead to a deeper appreciation for or better understanding of the scene. I had to laugh at the similarity between this point and the idea I’d discussed the previous day with Casper that describing an experience with language can make the experience more meaningful.

In the afternoon, many people stopped for a siesta by a small tributary to Holcomb Creek. I closed my eyes for a while but didn’t feel sleepy, so after massaging my feet and enjoying the sound of the breeze in the trees, I shouldered my pack and moved on.

My new shoes seemed to be working well, although the ball of my left foot (which had been going numb in my old shoes) was painful for much of the day.

It is hard to tell on this hike which pains are worth worrying about. As T-Pain says most days, “It feels like there’s broken glass in my feet.” My feet don’t feel quite that bad, but every time I begin walking, it does take about half an hour for the aches in my foot muscles and tendons to work themselves out. As the day wears on, my feet inevitably become very tender, no matter how warm they are, but I don’t think this pain is cause for concern. I hope that as I continue doing the same thing day after day, my body will adapt to the challenge by turning my bones into carbon fiber and my muscles into industrial strength, indefatigueable rubber bands. The other option is slow degradation leading to stress fractures, ruptured ligaments, and frayed fascia. My sun-gloved fingers are crossed and my toe-socked toes are splayed for the former.

After leaving the siesta spot, I walked for a while with Carjack, who also couldn’t sleep. We discussed the advantages and drawbacks of hiking with such a large group. Neither of us expected an experience as social as this hike has been. Although I am thrilled to have people around me who greet me by (trail-) name and care about my wellbeing, I also need solitude to sort through my thoughts and to absorb the details of the beautiful landscapes through which I have been passing. Despite the joy of shared jokes and the comfort of camping with others, time spent in a group as large as my trail family can become emotionally draining.

After talking for a few miles, Carjack and I split up and hiked alone for a couple hours. While I walked alone, my mind was able to settle into a deep rhythm, and I began to examine some of the questions I promised myself I would address while on this hike. These include what I believe are the typical problems for someone my age: Where do I want to live and work? What kind of work do I find most meaningful? What kind of life do I want to lead and how can I share that life with others in various capacities?

Progress on these matters is necessarily slow, but like walking to Canada, progress is made by addressing the challenge incrementally. So although I came to no major conclusions today, I did decide that hiking alone is something I would like to do more. It allows me to work through ideas deliberately and without distraction, and I suspect that spending part of the day in solitude will make me a better friend when I arrive at camp to rejoin my trail family.

Hiccups with a bag of crushed potato chips: a calorie dense snack that packs efficiently.

Best enjoyed with a spoon

Siesta near Holcomb Creek tributary

Holcomb Creek

I think these big pink crystals are feldspar, but please correct me if you know better.

Moss has been a rare sight on the trail so far

Any idea what kind of bird this is?

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Gluttony and Sloth

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

Spartan

Carjack

Fire Socks

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.

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Is it even a zero if you walk all the way across town?

Day 14: Zero in Big Bear Lake

May 16, 2019

After a rainy walk to the grocery store for a resupply with T-Pain and Casper, I spent most of the day forcing myself to eat food (in order to maintain my weight, I am eating roughly 4,000 calories per day while on the trail and even more while in town. Soon I will aim for 5,000 per day on trail) and walking the streets of Big Bear in search of new shoes and insoles. My old Asics running shoes and Superfeet insoles wore out so completely in the last 150 miles that the ball of my left foot began to go numb on the walk into Big Bear Lake.

Amazingly, in a town of outdoors-oriented people, the best sporting goods stores available are a bait and tackle shop and a Big 5.

I spent the morning in a sour mood, trying on shoes at the Big 5, looking for a trail runner version of the Asics road runners I have worn exclusively for the last 3 years. After a fruitless hour, I made the 45 minute walk to the Outdoor Sporting Goods store on the other side of town, only to realize they specialized in fishing gear and snowboards. I asked to look at their shoes and was directed to a wall of Vans.

As I moped my way back towards the AirBnB, I wondered how numb my feet might be by the time we arrived in Wrightwood, 105 miles up-trail.

On a whim, I stopped into a ski shop and asked about insoles. To my delight, they carried Superfeet, and happened to have one last pair in my size.

Feeling lucky, I made a second appearance at the Big 5, and sheepishly asked the same employee who had pulled 6 pairs of shoes for me a few hours ago if he would check in the back for any wide Asics trail runners he might have missed on the first go around. He brought out one pair, apologizing that he only had the shoes in one size.

When I tried them on, they felt perfect: a familiar fit with a slightly stiffer sole and a more rugged tread. The shoe was deeply discounted, and I walked out of the store grinning.

With my resupply complete and my footwear quandry resolved, I headed back to the AirBnB to ingest a couple thousand more calories before bed.

Heading to the promised land: a grocery store. Sometimes a zero just makes sense…like when it’s 40° and raining…

Rest, ice, and calories are three essential ingredients for a perfect zero day.

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