Monday, May 31, 2010

Back to the Mountain From Hell

May 10: The day before, I agreed to meet with Hiker 816 for the climb back into the snow. I felt good about him as a choice since he had a GPS device--a nice complement to my map and compass. And he seemed like a friendly fellow, even if he was a lawyer in the read world. =) I would have loved to have gone with Mad Hatter and Tomer as well, but they wouldn't go up until later in the day. They needed to pick up a mail drop from the post office now that it would finally be open (we arrived in town on Saturday after it had already closed), then Mad Hatter was having some leather work done on his pack to make it more comfortable, and that wouldn't be finished until noon. I didn't want to wait until that late in the day to get started.

Hiker 816 and I got a ride from the proprietors of the Idyllwild Inn to the trailhead at Devil's Slide, where we spotted Swazey and Dinosaur and the four of us decided to hitch our boats together. We went up Devils Slide at a our own pace--there wasn't any snow or problems on that section of trail, then stopped at Saddle Junction for everyone to group up and eat snacks. And rest. The climb up Devils Slide was long!

At the top, Dan joined our group. He sometimes called himself Danimal, which I found hard to say. Not because the pronunciation is difficult, but just because it seemed like a bad joke. He seemed a little less prepared for the rigors of snow travel than the rest of us, however, and I had reservations about him tagging along with us. But frankly, nobody should be traveling out on the snow alone. He really needed to come along with us or would need to wait to find someone else to hike with. Just as we were about to hit the trail, Hurricane came blowing in and joined our little hiking crew, now six members strong. Hurricane is from New Zealand, and I swear he sounds exactly like Russel Crowe. At least to my untrained ears. When I mentioned that to other hikers, they laughed and laughed and I think they thought I was joking. =)

The trail stayed mostly snow free for the rest of the day. There was a short section around an unnamed peak that still had snow as the sun rarely hit those north-facing slopes. Then, the last couple of miles of trail was largely on north-facing slopes as well. We lost Hurricane and Dan to some other hikers who set up camp earlier in the day than we wanted to do so, but they seemed in good hands. I was a bit glad to see our core group back to four people. We seemed to work best as a group of four. More than that, and decisions take longer to make and the hiking pace seems to slow down significantly.

The last mile or two, we started having quite a bit of fun in the snow. Swazey found a nice hill to slide down on his butt, while Dinosaur remarked that "clearly, when the rescue squad arrives, they'll see those butt slides and know we weren't in 'survivor mode' at this point." A little further on, while crossing an open area of untrammeled snow, Hiker 816 suggested that this would be a great place for snow angels. And I had to agree. It would be a great place for them, but I didn't want to get wet and cold playing in the snow.

But then I thought about all those hikers coming after me. They needed to see snow angels. They needed something to lift their spirits. So I dropped my pack and started making a snow angel. Dinosaur followed suit. And Swazey built a small snowman, perhaps six inches tall, in front of snow angels. Dinosaur found some twigs to add as arms for the snowman, and Swazey started having dreams of creating a "snowman army" of miniature snowmen. Hundreds of them, all across the open ground. It would have been awesome, but none of us had that kind of energy. But wow, that would have been a major talking point for people on the trail if we did so!

We finally set up camp, the four of us--Hiker 816, Swazey, Dinosaur, and myself--near Deer Springs Trail--on a patch of dry ground. The weather forecast called for strong gusts of wind (up to 40 mph) and a 30% chance of precipitation--probably in the form of snow at our elevation. The sunset was beautiful, though.

I set up my tarp next to a large boulder, hoping the boulder would help break the wind gusts predicted for the night. I managed to burn my mac 'n' cheese dinner, which seemed like it took me an hour to clean the pot from that disaster. The mac 'n' cheese actually tasted just fine, but the cleanup was terrible.

After sunset, we all headed into our respective tents and tarps. I wrapped up in my sleeping bag, and listened to the increasingly strong wind gusts outside, hoping it didn't get too bad.....

Saturday, May 29, 2010

An Israeli, an Englishman, a Canadian, and an American Walk Into a Bar....

May 9: I woke up at a leisurely rate, in the small apartment in Riverside that my sister calls home. We went out the night before with one of her friends--Vanessa--and got some pizza. I also met her roommate, Rachel. I knew all of my male trail buddies would be jealous that I spent the evening with three young girls. =)

I packed up my gear, ready to head back to The Trail. Tierra stopped at WinCo so I could resupply food, then she stopped at a nearby Costco to get some printer ink for herself. I took the opportunity to buy a churro and polish dog for lunch/breakfast.

Then she drove me back to Idyllwild. The weather forecast for the night looked positively gruesome with 50 mph wind gusts and the snow level dropping to 6000 feet. I decided right then to take a zero day and figure out what everyone else was doing. I didn't want to continue through the snow by myself, so I needed to find out when other hikers would brave the snow and go back to the trail.

I walked to the Idyllwild Inn to check in, then promptly panicked when I discovered my wallet missing! #*#$&@@@! I called my sister from the phone there, praying that she would answer. Praying that my wallet fell out of my pocket in her car. Praying that she'd ignore that silly little law about not talking on a cell phone while driving. Assuming she even got coverage on that narrow, windy road that we drove up on.

She did answer her cell phone however, and did confirm that my wallet was in the car. *whew* Crises averted. She started the drive back to Idyllwild--fortunately, she hadn't gone far when I discovered this problem, and was shortly rejoined with my wallet and contents.

I checked into the Idyllwild Inn (a fantastic place to stay, if you ever get the chance--I stayed in the "Spring" room), then walked down to the campground where I heard rumors of a hiker BBQ going on. Most of the hikers I didn't know, but I did see one person I knew--a fellow from Canada named Morph who I had first met while we were thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. =) He was the first person I'd come across that I knew from my AT jaunt, though I know there are at least a couple of others out there from my AT class. So far, we haven't crossed paths--except for Morph.

Then a bunch of us went out to watch Iron Man 2--a fun flick, but not particularly noteworthy. I caught up with Mad Hatter and Tomer and the three of us headed to the restaurant across the street from the inn (we each got 40% coupons for the place when we checked in). Morph was already there, and he joined our table.

And it never ceases to amaze me. It's not like I try to surround myself with non-Americans, but at the table, I was the only American. Tomer was from Israel, Mad Hatter from England (and currently living in Dubai), and Morph was from Canada. The sheer number of foreigners hiking the trail just amazes me. And that's not even including the illegals!

Seems like the start of a joke, doesn't it? An Israeli, an Englishman, a Canadian, and an American walk into a bar.... I don't know what the punchline is, though. =)

After a night of story telling and laughing, we all finally retired to our respective rooms and called it a night.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Idyllwild! Idyllwild! Come here, Idyllwild!

May 8: For the rest of the snow, I decided to attach myself to John and John whether they liked it or not for safety's sake. They took their time getting ready in the morning, which was okay by me. I kind of hoped to see Mad Hatter and Tomer drop into camp before we left, and the later start we got, the better chance of that happening. And it worked--with just a few more minutes before we hit the trail, Mad Hatter and Tomer came up into camp--from a direction very different than the one I followed up. At least they made it, though!

Of the five of us, I seemed to have had the most experience with cross-country travel and navigation. Which was somewhat worrisome, I thought, since I'm not exactly an expert in the subject, but from our vantage point, we had a great view of the mountains and the terrain, and the PCT looked positively miserable to hike through, buried in snow. I suggested we head more-or-less straight for Saddle Junction rather than the lazy contour the PCT followed, which looked like it would avoid a great deal of the snow (not all of it, but a large portion of it), and Saddle Junction was an easy landmark to spot and follow. "Just follow your shadows" I suggested. (Granted, shadows move throughout the day, but I figured we'd be well off the mountain before that became an issue.)

It worked out pretty well too. It wasn't particularly steep or dangerous like a couple of the other sections we passed before. We crossed a stream, which was one of the catching features I was looking for and confirmed we were going the correct direction. We spotted a smaller trail--not the official PCT, but another one that came off of it--which I also expected to cross. (Though admittedly, I wasn't sure if we'd see the trail buried under snow or not, so I wouldn't have been too surprised if we never found that trail.)

And finally we tromped into Saddle Junction where a gaggle of hikers had already congregated. They were planning to push on through the mountains. Which made me feel a bit more confident about tackling that section myself the next day.

Then we headed down another side trail--Devil's Slide. Isn't that a wonderful name? Sounds dangerous and scary, but it wasn't. The snow was gone from that trail, and it was remarkably well graded for how much elevation one lost going down it. Day hikers were everywhere! We must have passed a hundred people going up that trail, and I'd joke to most of them to "turn around.... while you still can.... It's not worth it...."

At the trailhead, Mad Hatter got us a ride from a fellow from San Diego who was kind enough to drive us another 2 1/2 miles into Idyllwild, and the next resupply point of our hike.

We stopped at Cafe Aroma for lunch. Tomer ordered the "Dogzilla," which I mention only because I liked the name "Dogzilla" so much. =) I ordered the "Grill and Chill," which I only mention because I'm full of myself and assume you all want to know what I had for lunch on May 8, 2010. Doesn't everybody? =)

While walking the rest of the way into town--unfortunately, our hitch didn't take us as far into town as we expected--and we stopped at the Fireside Inn to inquire about prices. That was where we found a local paper describing a thru-hiker who needed to be rescued near Apache Mountain, a helicopter rescue! I wondered if it was that same patch of snow that first caused Mad Hatter, Tomer, and myself such a problem. I'm not sure what exactly the injury involved, though fortunately it didn't sound especially serious since it was reported that he was already headed back home, the end of this year's hiking for him. I'm thinking perhaps a broken leg or something? I don't really know, though.

As we continued walking further into town, I bumped into my sister, Tierra--sporting a freshly purchased hat while trying to figure out where I was. I intended to call her from my cell phone, but it wasn't working and I was hoping to find a pay phone futher into town. Bumping into her directly sure made things easier, though! From there, she whisked me away into Riverside for me to shower, resupply, and enjoy the comforts of home. (Even if it wasn't my home.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Snow Monster Cometh....

May 7: Mad Hatter and Tomer woke up and blew out of camp early. Mad Hatter likes to eat breakfast after a little hiking first. I think he likes to go somewhere with a nice view. Me? When I wake up, I'm hungry. The very first thing I like to do in the morning is eat breakfast. (Well, sometimes I have to pee first--priorities are priorities!--but I usually manage to eat breakfast first.) It might take me a little bit longer to get out of camp, but I don't have to stop as soon either.

John and John took their time breaking down camp. They were just starting to get up and move around when I finally left camp. The first mile of hiking sucked--it was up a steep hill, and wasn't even on the PCT so it wasn't even getting me any closer to Canada. Lest you've forgotten, I hiked a mile off trail to get to a water source. Now it was time to hike back to the trail.

At the trail junction, I found Gandolf and Radar waking up and taking their time getting ready. They didn't like the idea of hiking a mile off trail to get water, and they hoped to find some a little further up the trail. They wouldn't die by skipping the water--more water was to be had several miles up the trail. But they might get a bit thirsty before reaching it.

The day, once again, was clear and beautiful. And the trail mostly went upwards, ever upwards throughout the day. It might go up a thousand feet, fall five hundred, then jump another thousand, fall five hundred. It wasn't steep--this is the PCT after all--but it was steeper than we had been doing before.

I caught up to Mad Hatter after a couple of hours, while he was sitting out in an open area eating breakfast. I stopped to rest and chat. "Was that you I heard crashing through the bushes?" Heh. Yes, it was. Probably a hundred feet before I found Mad Hatter sitting on the side of the trail, I stopped to "do a little business" a little off the trail, whacking my way through some bushes in the process. I can't imagine what he must have thought that noise was. A bear? A mountain lion? No, just me.... =)

The rest of the afternoon, we hiked together. Later in the afternoon, we caught up with Tomer who had set up his tent to get some shade. Mad Hatter and I didn't understand why he didn't just stop where there actually was shade. As we climbed in elevation, trees became more and more common. Beautiful pine trees. And the views became more and more impressive. It really does look like a "mini Sierras" out there in the San Jacinto wilderness. But if one wanted some shade, you usually didn't have to hike far to find it.

Mad Hatter and I continued on to find a shady place for lunch while Tomer broke down his tent again and caught up quickly. Then we came near Apache Peak and the first snow crossing the trail. Snow. Crossing the trail. It wasn't a lot of snow, but it seemed as if it were specially placed to cause maximum difficulty. It was on a very steep slope, and just high enough that slipping and sliding down the snow to the bottom could have been very, very painful. Mad Hatter started across, but reached a point where he wasn't sure how to proceed. It looked a bit sketchy to me as well, and I decided to try bushwacking off trail and go under the snow bank. Mad Hatter asked what he should do, and I told him to turn around. "How do I do that?!" I sensed a couple of curses under his breath. =) Frankly, it didn't look easy for him to turn around at this point, but there wasn't much I could do to help either.

I backtracked a ways on the PCT to find a shallower slope to descend below the snow, sliding down the loose dirt like it was a sand dune. It wasn't fun, but it was still better than sliding down snow which would be a lot harder to stop on. And at one point, I fell directly into a bush with thorns. $#!^! I picked out the thorns best I could, and saw that Mad Hatter managed to turn around and follow me down the slope as well. He fell into one of those thorn bushes as well. I don't know what those bushes were, but I don't recommend falling into them.

After I passed the first patch of snow, I turned back up towards the trail. There was another snow bank next to the first one, but it didn't look nearly as treatchorous as that first one. Mad Hatter decided to go under the second snow bank as well, though, and I wished him luck.

Once I got back onto the PCT, I put on my microspikes for the second patch of snow. My first test of the snow gear I've carried all this time.... Frankly, it was a waste of time. I walked across the snow easily enough, and I don't think the microspikes made things any easier. (They didn't make it any harder, though.)

By the time I finally reached the far side of the snow, Tomer had started walking across the first snow bank. I walked ahead on the trail to where Mad Hatter was finally getting back up on the trail and told him I was going to hang back to make sure Tomer made it across the snow okay. Tomer did make it across, but he postholed at one point up to his crotch and lost a water bottle in the process. But he made it, and we continued on another mile or so until we found Mad Hatter sitting on the side of the trail, a nice shady place for a lunch.

We ended up stopping there for a couple of hours, sleeping and resting. Gandalf, Radar, John, and John passed us by. Mad Hatter, Tomer, and I decided to hike through to a creek just short of the Devil's Slide turnoff so we could hike into Idyllwild first thing in the morning. I took off like a bat. I hadn't realized how long our lunch lasted, and I wanted to get into camp with plenty of time before sunset to cook dinner.

The trail continued to climb higher and higher, the air thinner and thinner, and the scenery better and better. Until, once again, I started hitting patches of snow. Again, it wasn't much. Not at first, at least. I didn't even bother to put on my microspikes, then promptly lost my footing and started sliding down a chute of snow. It wasn't especially steep or long, and I tried to direct my fall into a boulder sticking out of the snow to arrest my slide. Which worked, but I managed to bang up my knee a bit, with a small cut across it. Except for a little soreness, it wasn't an issue, though. But it was a huge wake-up call for me--snow can be very dangerous. I need to be especially careful hiking through the snow.

I continued on, and the snow piled up more and more. Finally, I started following footprints in the snow of hikers before me when the trail became completely obscured with snow. At this point, I decided I needed to find a good place to stop for Mad Hatter and Tomer to catch up. I didn't really feel comfortable losing the trail by myself. Safety in numbers! But standing around in the snow didn't seem appealing, so I pushed ahead a bit hoping to find some terra firma to sit down and wait.

Until I lost track of the tracks ahead of me. I followed the ridge more-or-less in the same direction I was going, but I wasn't finding anything but very old tracks. Possibly from the day before. It didn't feel right, so I sat down, pulled out my map and compass, and figured out I took a wrong turn. Or rather, I didn't turn where I was supposed to. I backtracked to the wrong turn, and continued on. Back on track! Also found some fresh tracks in the snow as well. Probably Gandolf and Radar, I thought, who I knew were ahead of me. I think they had hiked the PCT before, so they probably had a good sense of what direction to head. I hoped. =) In any case, it matched up perfectly with my map and compass skills, so I followed the footsteps.

The going was slow. I put on the microspikes, which helped secure each footstep a bit, but the going was slow. At times, I would posthole into the snow, up to my knees. Traversing slopes worried me a bit--if something bad happened, who would go for help? I really wanted to stop for Mad Hatter and Tomer, but not standing in snow. Grr.....

I continued on, until I reached a particularly long, moderately steep slope that needed to be traversed. Recognizing that if I lost my footing on this slope, it could be serious, I held my trekking pole near the middle, much better positioned to self arrest myself if it became necessary. I didn't really have any experience with self arresting. I've seen diagrams about how it's supposed to work in Backpacker magazine and such, but it's always been theory to me. I didn't really feel comfortable with the thought I'd actually have to put this sort of knowledge to practice.

Until finally, I did. On that moderately steep but very long slope, my foot struck down on the snow, and the snow under it gave way, and my foot started sliding down the slope. Which caused me to lose my balance, my other foot started sliding, and I was going down the slope. Crap.

With both hands on my trekking pole, I plunged it into the snow, and my slide stopped. On a dime. It was amazing. Just like those textbook illustrations. I'd only gone a couple of feet down the hill, and about a foot and a half of my trekking pole was stuck in the snow, but it stopped my slide.

Trekking poles aren't really designed to take a lot of weight from the side, so I kept holding it close to where it went into the snow. The higher up I grabbed the pole, the more likely it would snap in half. Then using my microspikes, I started kicking footholds into the slope and working my way back up to trail. I finished going across the slope without any additional trouble, and while my adrenaline was certainly pumping, I was thrilled with the experience. I had actually experience with self arrest now! It worked! Still, I'd rather not get myself into a position where that skill would be necessary, but it made me feel better that I could actually make use of it when necessary. Even if I didn't have an ice axe either.

I continued on for another half a mile or so, finally spotting dry land ahead on a small exposed summit, and saw two hikers setting up tents on it. It was John and John, and I was THRILLED to finally have other people around. Now if something bad happened, at least I wouldn't be alone. Help could be summoned. Sunset was near--I arrived here at 7:00 in the evening--and stopped to set up camp. It wasn't the campsite I originally planned to stop at, but the snow slowed me down severely, and if Mad Hatter and Tomer arrived, I was pretty sure they wouldn't want to go on beyond this point anyhow. It was a good place to stop.

As the sun set and skies grew darker, I hoped to see Mad Hatter and Tomer drop into camp, but they didn't. I wasn't especially worried about them. I knew Mad Hatter had a GPS and couldn't get lost, while Tomer had a Spot device so if something did go seriously wrong, they could summon help with the click of the $50,000 button (as Mad Hatter liked to call it). But still, I wanted to hike with them through the rest of the snow.

John and John created a campfire, and I entertained them with stories of Sam McGee and Blasphemous Bill. They had done all of the work collecting the firewood before I even arrived, so I kind of felt guilty for taking advantage of their campfire. Not bad enough not to sit with them around it, though. =)

At one point, I thought I heard someone in the woods, a cough--which I knew Mad Hatter was getting over--and I yelled out, "Mad Hatter?! Is that you?!" And a voice yelled back, but it didn't sound like Mad Hatter with his English accent. "Who goes there?!" I shouted again.

"Radar!" It sounded like the voice was ahead of me on the trail, which should have been right since John and John said that Radar and Gandolf had hiked through past their camp about 45 minutes before I arrived. Neither of them realized how closely Radar and Gandolf had set up camp, though--within easy shouting distance. It was nice to know where two more hikers were located, though. Mad Hatter and Tomer were still MIA, however. Maybe if we waited long enough in the morning, they'd wander in camp. I hoped that would happen. This snow was certainly wrecking our plans, however.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Another Blister!

May 6: I packed up camp and hit the trail before Charmin. She's a relatively slow hiker, so I didn't really expect to see her again for the rest of the day, and I didn't. In fact, the only hiker I passed all day was a south-bound section hiker. I didn't see a single thru-hiker for my entire day of hiking. I knew Charmin planned to hitch a ride into Idyllwild from Highway 74, so I wouldn't see her that night. Everyone I knew that was ahead of me was going into town. Everyone I knew that was behind me was going into town. It seemed like I was the only hiker left on the trail!

The water cache at Highway 74, as Sam and Ryan promised, had plenty of water for me to load up. It also had boxes of snacks, tips, thru-hiker discounts in Idyllwild, and a bunch of miscellaneous stuff. I ate a bunch of Red Vines from the tubs, and picked up some duct tape. I usually like to have duct tape when I hike, but had neglected it before. I rolled a bit around my trekking pole now for whatever emergency purposes it might prove useful in the future.

I saw another two rattlesnakes, one of which I apparently pissed off enough to actually make it rattle. That was the first that rattled at me. But I saw both of them on the trail without coming anywhere near to stepping on them. I'm doing better! =)

I hiked a mile off trail at the end of the day to camp at Cedar Springs. It was a dispiriting having to hike so far off the trail, and the side trail was very steep no less (not PCT standards anymore!), but I needed water, and that's where it would be.

Which is where I found Mad Hatter and Tomer who had set up camp. Yes! More hikers! It had been a lonely day by myself, and I was glad to finally know where some other hikers were. I hoped Mad Hatter would set up his shark tent for me get a picture (I even offered to set it up for him), but he wanted to cowboy camp. Maybe the next night, I thought.....

Mad Hatter and Tomer were collecting wood for a campfire when I arrived. I started changing into my camp clothes, which is when I discovered it. The Mother of All Blisters. I felt a hot spot on the bottom of my foot a couple of days ago, slapped some moleskin on it, and forgot about it. Well, I didn't forget about it, exactly. It still felt like a hot spot, but it wasn't feeling any worse either and goes with the normal pains of thru-hiking. The moleskin finally wore off after two days, though, and what I found underneath it shocked me to my very core. A mammoth-sized blister, filled with enough liquid to fill a lake. Or at least a small puddle. I couldn't believe I could develop such a large blister and not even realize it.

I immediately named it Cyclonic, then set about to pop it. I poked a couple of holes in it, and a couple of drops of liquid came out, but then it stopped. It was as if the holes had healed in seconds. I did it again, with the same results. "Damn you, blister! Can't you cooperate?!" No, it would not.

I finally switched to a larger needle--bigger holes, I thought, were needed. It worked a bit better, but still it would miraculously self-heal after I managed to squish out a little of the liquid. A bit of air got into the blister, and them I could actually see the air bubbles moving around in the otherwise liquid-filled blister. This was a most remarkable blister. I've never seen anything like this before.

I gave a play-by-play commentary to Mad Hatter and Tomer, who didn't seem all that thrilled to know off the gory details going on with my foot, and after a good ten minutes of fussing, I finally got all that pesky liquid out. That was one, tough blister!

Late in the afternoon, two more hikers arrived--John and John. I hadn't seen or met them before, a couple of fine lads from Boise. They didn't seem especially talkative, though, so I didn't really learn a whole lot about them.

And around the campfire, I told of the Cremation of Sam McGee. It was a wonderful campfire! Thanks guys! =)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Snakes and Lizards on Cinco de Mayo

May 5: A few hikers passed me before I hit the trail, which rather surprised me since I started pretty early myself. One hiker I didn't recognize blew past without even noticing me, and I assumed he must have been listing to an iPod or something. (Later, I would learn it was a fellow from Israel named Tomer.) Then Hiker 816 blew through, though he stopped long enough for some pleasantries. And finally Charmin, who I had briefly met in Warner Springs (and Amanda joked, "Can I squeeze you?" and she replied, "Please, do not squeeze the Charmin," but that was the full extent of our conversation.)

Charmin, it turns out, is from Switzerland and speaks with a German accent, I guess it is, and I'm not sure how I didn't pick up on the accent before. We spoke a little bit, then she headed on.

I finally got my stuff together and started hiking, and I didn't go more than a mile or two before I found Gandolf and Radar camped, quite literally, directly on the trail. They had continued past the road thinking there would be places to set up camp, but they didn't find any and camp on the trail instead. They seemed surprised at all the people tromping through their camp so early in the morning. "We thought we'd already be hiking before anyone arrived," they explained.

Further up the trail, I caught up to Charmin again and we hiked together a bit. She admitted being a little nervous about rattlesnakes, and I tried to assure her that they weren't a big deal. They don't like to eat people--we're much too big for them to digest, and they'd just as soon slither away than attack. And heck, all this time, I'd only seen one rattlesnake anyhow. It's not like they're around every corner.

And just as I finished uttering those words, she yells, "Ack! Snake!" pointing to the side of the trail I had just walked past. Sure enough, there was a rattlesnake, resting only an inch or two off the side of the trail. I practically stepped on the thing and didn't even realize it. Charmin said her adrenaline was really pumping, and somehow I found myself impressed that someone who didn't speak English as a native language would know the word adrenaline. She was still ten feet back from the snake, never close enough to be bitten by it. I, who passed within mere inches of it's head, didn't realize the danger until I was ten feet beyond it.

So I didn't get too excited about the incident. The "danger zone" was already behind me. But I don't think I did any good trying to reassure Charmin about rattlesnakes. The snake still hadn't moved--at all, which kind of surprised me. Usually they slither off. So we took pictures from a safe distance, then Charmin went off the trail around the snake and we continued hiking.

I hiked faster than Charmin, though, and eventually left her in the dust. I caught up with two other hikers, Vicki and Dennis, and accidentally scared Vicki half to death when she thought the noise behind her was a GIGANTIC rattlesnake chasing after her.

Those two were hiking pretty slow as well, though, and I eventually left them in the dust as well. Not even a  half hour after the first rattlesnake, I darned near stepped on a second one. There were a bunch of sticks in the trail, and it was in a nice, sunny spot, and I thought, "If I were a rattlesnake, I'd hang out here." So I stepped into the area slowly, looking around for lurking snakes. None on my left, none of my right, none ahead of me. Then I looked down, and there was one, not two inches from my shoe.

Now THAT scared the crap out of me. I yelled, jumped what seemed like 20 feet high, and quickly got away from it. Okay, my adrenaline was pumping now! Stupid snake blended in so perfectly with the sticks on the ground that I totally didn't see it even when I was looking for one! At least Charmin wasn't around for that incident. I've probably done enough damage to her regarding snakes as it was.

I stopped at a spring for lunch, with Hiker 816, and waited out some of the hottest part of the day under my tarp. (There wasn't much shade at the spring.) The next reliable water source was more than 20 miles away, so I loaded up with 9 1/2 liters of water, an unholy heavy weight, let me tell you, and finally started up the trail again. I also took off my shirt and hat and hosed them down with water, following Hiker 816's lead. It was COLD, at first, but once I started hiking, it felt positively wonderful. They dried off within a half hour, though. Didn't last long. *sigh*

Turns out, there was another water source a couple of miles up the trail, nicknamed "the guzzler", which I didn't even know existed. Charmin was already there, filling up, as was Hiker 816. It was Hiker 816 who peeked into the water--it was a tank covered by a plastic and cement shell, so thin it was breaking, and found a dead lizard floating in the bottom of it. Yum. =)

Charmin is a vegetarian, and we asked her about if the dead lizard in the water was a problem, and she explained that she doesn't really have a problem with the eating of animals, but rather the conditions that they are harvested in. If she raised her own animals humanely, she'd be perfectly happy to eat them.

"So free-roaming lizards are okay to consume?" I asked.

"Yes," she answered.

That really amused me. =)

Further down the trail, I met Alex, a Scottish man, and finally Sam and Ryan, who were hiking southbound. They told me that the next two water caches had plenty of water, and I joyfully poured out half the water I was carrying. Two reliable water sources up ahead! Woo-who! They also said some trail angels had set up a grill and were cooking hot dogs and all sorts of wonderful things at Highway 74. Maybe if we were lucky, they'd still be there the next day. *fingers crossed* One can hope!

I saw a third snake late in the afternoon--not a rattler this time--filled up at the next water cache, then hiked with Charmin another mile up the trail since she said there were supposedly good campsites just ahead. She was right too. We set up camp at a beautiful overlook among huge rocks. Hiker 816 and Alex decided to push on another eight miles or something to Highway 74. Not sure why--they wouldn't get there until after dark and I was pretty sure trail angels wouldn't be grilling hot dogs that late in the evening. And trying to hitch a ride (to Idyllwild) didn't seem like it was going to work very well after dark. We waved goodbye to them and wished them luck, though.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

To Walk Like a Duck

May 4: After riding with eagles, and soaring like eagles, Amanda stole off early in the morning and once again, I was grounded like a duck. I stopped in the business center briefly to get online--ancient computers slow as a three-toed sloth, but still better than nothing, packed up my gear, and headed out. I stopped at the post office to mail off some extra gear that I didn't want to carry, then hiked a mile or so up the road to the trailhead.

I caught up with Seaweed fairly quickly, who asked me to take Ben's socks since I was hiking faster. It seems he left them at a stop and Seaweed wanted to get them back to Ben. So I took over the task.

Along the hike, I met up with Dinosaur, Hiker 816, Swazey, Gandolf, and Radar. And managed to catch up with Ben and return his socks. All in all, it was a pretty dull day to report on. I set up camp along a dirt road next to a water cache. Dinosaur, Swazey, and Hiker 816 went to a house nearby to camp--a trail angel who may or may not be around and who may or may not have cold sodas. (Turns out, there weren't any.) Gandolf and Radar kept going, stopping somewhere ahead of me. Ben and Seaweed set up camp somewhere behind me. So I ended up spending the night alone this night.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Soaring With Eagles

May 3: Amanda woke up bright and early. Actually, it wasn't very bright out, and she set her alarm clock much too early. She reset it and then went back to sleep for a couple of more hours, before it went off a second time and she went off for a pedicure. Women. *shaking head*

I slept in longer, eventually wandering down to the main building with the laptop to get online. The rooms didn't have wi-fi, but the main building did, which is where I killed time until Amanda was done with her pedicure. I saw several hikers, including Big-e, who I talked with long enough to mention that Amanda and I intended to take a little glider ride. He seemed fascinated with the idea and said that he'd keep an eye open for us, but he was getting back on the trail and headed out of town. The trail passes very close to the airport, though, and he figured he'd be near the location at our scheduled departure time.

Amanda finally arrived, with sparkling nail polish on her toes, though admittedly, that was the only difference I noticed with these untrained eyes. We loaded up and drove the mile or two out of town to the airport.

Our pilot for the flight would be a fine fellow named Ryan, who I took an instant liking to. Can't say I ever met a guy named Ryan that I didn't like. =) He took us out to our glider, cleaned the glass canopy, set up a camera on the wing, and told us a bit about what to expect. I held up one of the wings to help taxi the glider onto the runway. Seemed kind of strange to be walking around an airport, even along the the runway, without a full body scan. After starting my hike at the Mexican border, I thought my feet would be grounded for at least a good five or six months. But here I was, less than two weeks later, ready to take to the air again. In a plane with no engine, no less! And who ever thought it would be a great idea to build a plane that didn't need an engine anyhow? They weren't even providing parachutes for us. *shaking head*

I got into the plane first, and Ryan strapped the safety buckles around me, then Amanda got in next to me. Both of us would fly in that back seat--an extremely tight fit for the two of us. In the sun, it was already very hot. And I was more than a little worried that Amanda's claustrophobia would be a problem. She has problems in spacious tents. I could barely wiggle a foot in my current position.

Ryan called for the tow plane to come by, which it did after a couple of minutes. I pulled a knob so he could get the tow rope attached to our glider, then he jumped into the front seat, closed the canopy, signaled to the tow plane, and we were moving down the runway!

The noise grew very loud. Although the plane had no engine, it sounded much like it would if you stuck your head out the window of a car traveling at freeway speeds. Just the air whipping by was loud, and we nearly needed to shout to be heard by Ryan.

Our plane lifted up from the runway even before the tow plane left the ground, giving us a sort of bird's eye view of the plane that was towing us the entire time. As soon as the plane started moving, a vent pushed fresh air towards Amanda and myself, a much needed cool breeze. And almost immediately, I had a problem. I was feeling motion sickness. "It's only a 30 minute ride," I thought to myself. "Buck up!"

The view out of the plane was awesome. I could see the Pacific Crest Trail snaking its way through the field I hiked the day before, and I wanted to point out features I'd seen on my hike. But because of my motion sickness, I said nothing and just looked out the window and enjoyed the view. I was afraid to open my mouth in fear that if I did, vomit would come out. A quick glance around, and I didn't see any barf bags either. Hmm..... This could get bad.....

Amanda, sensing my discomfort, asked if I was doing okay, and I mentioned about the motioned sickness, and Ryan practically threw a barf bag back to us. Oh, good, there is one. Yeah, I better have one ready. I opened it up, and almost immediately hurled into it. It was like a Pavlovian response. As soon as my head knew it had a safe place to hurl, it just had to go.

Ryan asked if I was okay, and nodded affirmative. It's not a party unless someone throw up, right?

"I could have this thing down in a minute if you need it," he said.

"No, I'll be fine." I paid $200 for the two of us, and I was not going to land early because of a little motion sickness, damn it.

Amanda seemed to think the same thing. "He's fine! Keep going!"

At 4,000 feet, Ryan pulled a knob to release us for the tow plane. We were gliding! A thousand feet up in the air, in a plane without a motor! Quite literally, we would know fall to earth.

We could see the Pacific Crest Trail stretch into the distance--it's amazing how visible the trail was despite our height above it, but I didn't see any hikers. See the PCT wandering through the meadow?

Ryan tossed back another air sickness bag, just in case, but warned that it was the last one he had.

I remembered an incident when I got motion sickness on a bus in Central America with Amanda, and I threw up, and the smell had started making Amanda gag, so then I started worrying about the smell. Having two of us throwing up wouldn't do anyone any good! Amanda started opening up the second bag, but I waved her off. Let's leave that one in reserve. If she started gagging, she should have her own bag. =)

I threw up some more--my God! I had no idea so much food was in my stomach! It seemed like a bit missed the bag, though, and I had a pretty good mess going. I nudged Amanda for the second bag, which she opened and I stuffed the entire first bag into it, then just hold the second bag up to my mouth the rest of the flight. I didn't feel like I was about to throw up again, but heaven forbid if it came on suddenly, the bag was already in place.

Additionally, I could feel some of the vomit was now mixed up in my newly sprouting beard. Keeping the bag over it would help contain any odors. =) Ryan asked again if I was okay, and I nodded. "Keep going!" I shouted into the bag.

The view outside just got more stunning. We could see snow-covered mountains in the distance--the so called "mini-Sierras" we'd been hearing about since the kickoff, and had so much snow that detours were suggested for hikers to avoid it. I was a little surprised to still see snow on any mountains at all. There was snow on all of the mountains I'd been hiking thus far while driving to the kickoff, but it had all melted before I arrived. The trail reached a maximum height of about 6000 feet, and still no snow except for the occasional patch in snow. And that was just one day. The mountains ahead were a bit taller--as high as 9000 feet, but surely after the last several warm days, it would have been gone by now. Apparently now, as was evident now. Well, it would still take a few more days before I arrived, and no precipitation was in the forecast. It still had time to melt. One blog I read online suggested not to use the detour even if there is snow--it'll be good practice for the real Sierras further up the trail. Which actually makes quite a bit of sense. But damn, snow? Still? In Southern California? I'm hiking through a friggin' desert, and I'm seeing amazing wildflower displays and snow?

We were able to see the Palomar Observatory off in the distance as well, a place we wouldn't be visiting on this trip. Maybe next time.....

After about ten minutes, the glider hadn't lost any altitude at all. The thermals kept pushing us up, helping to maintain our elevation, and the plane soared over the ridge of a mountain--the kind of shot you only see in movies. The top of the ridge passed under us, remarkably close, but pulling over the ridge opened up a view that stretched a hundred miles. Wow!

Then I barfed again. How could there be anything left in my stomach?

We glided and soared, as Ryan pointed out features on the horizon and gave us a tour of the air. After our 30 minutes was up, he glided the plane into a steep decline--much steeper than I'm used to seeing on airplanes (apparently, you have to really force these planes to go down--they'll stay up practically forever otherwise, unlike normal planes). Then he banked toward the runway, and we landed safe and sound, stopping nearly on the exact point where we started. Remarkable.

We saw Big-e by the terminal. It's not really a terminal--more like a dilapidated building that looks like it might be used for storage, but that's where the airport operations are run from, and he was taking pictures of us as we landed and started getting out of the plane.

Ryan opened the canopy and jumped out first, then Amanda quickly followed. I said seated for a minute or two, trying to regain my stomach, and Ryan was kind enough to take the vomit bag from me as I unbuckled and exited the craft. Amanda told me that I had vomit in my beard.

"Yeah, I know. Thanks." She gave me some wipes to help clean up, but I made my way to the restroom to do a much better job of it.

Big-e thought the whole thing was so friggin' cool that he signed up for his own soaring adventure, so Amanda and I took seats on the deck and watched them take off and soar around the skies until they landed a half hour later. Big-e seemed positively radiant about the experience while getting out of the plane. We didn't get very good pictures of his exit, however, since his glider was way off at the far end of the runway. By the time we walked over there, they were already out of the plane and tying it down. We swapped contact information with Big-e so we could trade photos later. He had  lot of good pictures of us flying around, while we had pictures (and camera-movies) of him landing and taking off.

We gave Big-e a ride into town to mail a logbook of his flying time. Big-e is actually a pilot, and I guess he gets some sort of official flying credit for this little adventure. I'm not exactly sure I understand all of the details myself, but they gave him a small book with the official log of his trip, and he didn't want to carry it on the trail. (Dead weight, after all.) So we drove him into town to the post office to mail it to himself back him.

I needed to make a stop at the post office myself, to pick up a mail drop sent from my mom. Originally, I had no plans to use Warner Springs as a mail drop, until I reached the kickoff and realized that I left my official PCT permit that allowed me to thru-hike the length of the Pacific Crest Trail back at my mom's house. Whoops! So far, I haven't been required to have a permit on this section of trail, but I would eventually, and I needed that permit on me. So I had my mom send it to me here, which she did, and which arrived, and I'm now good to legally hike up to (but not through) the Canadian border. (That permit I'll have her send to me later on.)

Rather than made Big-e walk back to the PCT trailhead again, we drove him back to continue his hike.

The rest of the day we spent at Warner Springs Resort. We washed some clothes--even after cleaning up in the restroom, I still smelled like vomit, and I think some transferred from my hands to the jacket I was holding before I had a chance to clean up. So we washed the vomit-smelling clothes. Amanda took a soak in the hot springs while I showed Elk how to carve stamps. Later we ate dinner at the cantina with several other hikers, including Fozzie, HoJo, and Brittany (who, so far, seems to have ducked the "Spears" trail name).

I showed Brittany my "glovelets" after learning that the back of her hands had suffered severe sunburns during the hike. (One of them is even considered a third degree burn--which is pretty darned serious!) Not sure if she'll decide to try something like that or not, although she has said that she definitely needs to do something about it because it really can't be in the sun at all anymore. It's the nastiest sunburn I've ever seen. (And drats--I didn't even think to try getting a photo of it. Maybe if I see her on the trail later.)

And, this became my first Zero Day on the trail--a day with no official miles hiked. Unless you count sky miles, and I'm not sure how many of those I covered. I did get a peak ahead from the sky, though. =)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Riding the Eagle! Yeee-haw!

May 2: On our way out of Temecula, Amanda and I made a few resupply stops. We visited the evil Wal-Mart where I bought lots of food, Gold Bond, batteries and other necessities. (A headlamp that works! Woo-who!) Then we stopped at Carls Jr, where I feasted on as many calories as I could consume because hey--why not? I'll burn them off faster than I can eat them anyhow on this hike. Then we stopped at a Best Buy at the last minute so I could buy a new card for my camera. I won't see Amanda again for probably a good month and a half after this visit, and in case my camera card gets full, I want to swap them out, send Amanda the full one to copy the photos safely elsewhere, and be able to mail me a blank card back. We probably could have gotten that at Wal-Mart, but we had already left before I thought to buy one. It wasn't until we saw Best Buy on the side of the road that the idea hit me.

We stopped in Warner Springs to check into the resort here, but just long enough to check in. We didn't even check our room before Amanda drove me out to Montemuza Valley Road by Barrel Spring for me to slackpack into town. She brought some sodas and clemintines. She threw the sodas into the spring to stay cold for hikers to enjoy, and gave out the clemintines to the hikers sitting around.

Including Mad Hatter, who apparently mailed off his signature hat in a bounce box, but picked up a tent in the shape of a shark (yes, a shark) that was designed for "kids 3 to 9" so was now calling himself Shark. The tent was packed away, but one of the other hikers showed us photos of it, and it's absolutely hilarious. I have to camp with this man so I can get a photo of this tent. It might rank as the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen on a hike, and I heartily approve. =)

I moved on, tromping toward Warner Springs. The trail dropped into meadows and followed riparian habitats (if you aren't familiar with the word riparian, it's the environment found along a riverbank). The wide-open meadows burst with wildflowers--a seemingly endless parade of colors and shapes. Already, this hike has had an amazing abundance of wildflowers (I've put only a small fraction of the pictures I took of them on this blog), but today's show topped them all--and by a wide margin.

I found another large group of hikers taking a break alongside a creek, with several soaking their weary feet in the water. I didn't stop for long, though, and pushed through to Eagle Rock, a prominent rocky point on a hill that resembled an eagle with its wings spread as if it were about to take off. Only two other hikers were there when I arrived, Bob and Chris (neither were thru-hikers, so neither bothered with trail names). Bob was limping pretty badly and looked in a lot of pain, so I asked Chris to take a picture of me climbing the eagle as I waved my hat around like I was sailing through the air.

Getting down turned out to be a lot harder, though! I couldn't really see behind me very well to see where to place my feet, and Bob joked about me being like a kitten stuck in a tree. Fortunately, however, I did not need any rescuing, and managed to get off on my own.

The rest of the hike continued through more wildflower displays, before following a river back into Warner Springs. I agreed to meet Amanda at the second road crossing--Highway 79 loops through Warner Springs, and the PCT intersects it twice, both intersections about 1.2 miles from the town center. Without Amanda to pick me up, I'd have just hoofed into town myself, but why bother when Amanda would pick me up? =) But I had her look for me at the second road crossing to extend today's hike by two miles and decrease tomorrow's hike by two miles--tomorrow would already be a much longer hike as it was.

The trail crosses a ranch between the two Highway 79 intersections, and while I saw no cattle, I certainly saw plenty of evidence of their existence in the area. I watched a couple of gliders slice through the air above. The trail exists the ranch near an airport with gliders. They're pulled into the air by a real plane, then released and left to glide for 20, 30, or 40 minutes (depending on how much you pay) until it touches down on the ground again. It looks absolutely thrilling, and Amanda and I have reserved a slot to give it a try the next day. One glider startled me--I didn't see it coming in from behind me and they do glide through the air. There is no motor on them, so they're very quiet and it was coming in for a landing from behind me. I didn't hear it until it was nearly on top of me when a heard a strange humming kind of sound directly overhead not more than 50 feet away.

The trail wound its way through a "challenge course," or what I'd describe as a high-ropes course, then a campground, and finally under a bridge for Highway 79 where I walked up the road a short ways to the parking lot and waited for Amanda's arrival a few minutes later.

She took me back to the resort where I got my first view of our accommodations, and it's absolutely adorable! It even has a fireplace already stocked with wood, although they'll charge us $10 if we light it. There's a little lobby kind of area, where Amanda posed for some staged photos where she was pretending to read. Outside, we found a rabbit sitting out in the grass, and I slowly sneaked up on it trying to get a good photo. Amanda then showed me around the joint, including a cantina painted with remarkably elaborate murals.

I give this place two thumbs up!