Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Station Fire Detour

May 25: Charmin and I continued hiking together the next day. Through the snow, we pretty much kept in visual sight of each other the whole day, but now we were descending in elevation and the snow going away again, we started hiking mostly at our own pace alone with our thoughts.

I also noticed that my shoes had degraded badly the day before, which surprised me since I had replaced them only in Idyllwild. It seems like whenever I travel through snow with the microspikes, it really rips up my shoes. I'd have to keep a close eye on them to see that they didn't get any worse until I had a chance to replace them.

A few miles into the day's hike, we reached Highway 2 and the official start of the Station Fire detour--the second official detour of the PCT. Unlike the Sheep Fire detour where they posted a big "trail closed" sign with maps of the detour, this one they quietly remarked the trail without any warning that the reroute was happening. This threw me off for a bit since the trail labeled as the PCT I expected to be closed and I was trying to find the trail for the reroute. I searched the parking lot for a second trail, representing the detour, and finally figured out that the original trail I found was actually the reroute. (Charmin actually told me this before I started searching the parking lot for another trail, but I was convinced that that couldn't have been the detour. Damn her for being right again!)

Speaking of 'arguments' with Charmin.... shortly after settling whether snakes poop in the woods or not (when, once again, she was right), we had another argument--this time about whether rabbits and bunnies are the same thing or not. Charmin seemed to think that they were two distinctly different types of animals (albeit with many similarities), while I felt pretty certain that the two words were largely interchangeable. When we asked Running Wolf what he thought, his response was, "Bunnies are cute and fuzzy and people turn them into pets. Rabbits are used for stew." Which made us both laugh, but didn't really settle our newest argument.

Anyhow, the detour started off wonderful, following a trail to Devil's Punchbowl, a rocky paradise of bizarre rock formations. About seven miles into the detour, Charmin and I stopped at a creek in a brief spot of shade for lunch, and Running Wolf came up from behind. We last saw him at Little Jimmy Campground, still asleep--probably wore out from his hike the day before.

So Running Wolf ran into us, and he seemed a little relieved to see us before asking, "Do you know where the detour starts?"

Charmin and I laughed. "Yeah, about seven miles ago. You're already on the detour!"

He'd been growing increasingly concerned that he was traveling in the wrong direction since the trail he was following didn't seem to match up with the map he had, and since this detour wasn't actually labeled as a detour like the previous one, he hadn't realized he was already following it. He thought maybe his map was out of date, or somehow he got onto the wrong trail. So we helped him orient himself on his map, described the detour in a bit more detail, and helped him on his way.

So the first ten miles or so of the detour were actually quite nice. A real trail, out in the woods, were PCT hikers belong. After Devil's Punchbowl, however, the dreaded roadwalk would begin. Nearly 50 miles of it. This was a big detour, and it would take at least a couple of days to cover the entire distance. Much of it was through populated areas where stealth camping could be a challenge.

Charmin stuck close to me for two reasons. First, she wasn't comfortable walking on roadwalks by herself. Fears of crazy Americans kidnapping her off the side of the road may have been haunting her. And second, she learned back in Wrightwood that I knew a letterboxer who lived almost right on the reroute who had contacted me about a place to stay for the night. We'd been reading horror stories on hiker blogs about trying to camp along the roadwalk, hiding behind bushes and behind Mexican restaurants. I had a contact that would pick me up off the trail for a house to sleep in rather than a stealth camp somewhere along the road.

From Devil's Punchbowl, I used their phone to call Dezert Ratty. I only got an answering machine, however, so I left a message and Charmin and I continued on with the road walk. Charmin filled up with water, worried that the trail magic would fall through and we'd be camped on the side of the road with 20 miles left to hike to the next known water source, but I took a minimum amount of water. I had faith.

My cell phone didn't work--not yet, at least--not on the fringe of this civilization, but I thought I'd try calling again as we got further into Pearblossom. We'd only made it a couple of miles when a car pulled up, asking if I was Green Tortuga. It was Dezert Ratty! She'd gotten my message! It was still fairly early to quit hiking for the day, however. Charmin and I wanted to get as much of the roadwalk done as we could in the coolness of the late afternoon, so Dezert Ratty agreed to pick us up a bit later. Just call when we wanted to be picked up.

So we continued hiking. Charmin stopped long enough to pour out some of the heavy water she was carrying, now reassured that she really did have a safe place to sleep for the night and didn't need enough water to carry her 20 miles.

We walked for another hour or so, and I checked my cell phone, still unable to get a signal. Hmm.... "We may have to walk farther than I thought," I told Charmin. "Maybe after we pass this ridge in front of us, I'll get a signal." I planned to call Dezert Ratty by around 6:00 that evening, but if my cell phone wasn't working, we could end up hiking a lot later than that....

Fortunately, my cell phone did finally pick up a weak signal, near where Running Wolf had stopped for a short break. I wasn't sure how much space (or food) Dezert Ratty had available, however, so I told Charmin not to tell Running Wolf about Dezert Ratty. I didn't really want to ditch him, but I really didn't want him to know I ditched him if it had to come to that. Running Wolf continued hiking, and Charmin and I stopped to "rest." In reality, I stopped to make a phone call. I knew Running Wolf could see me making a call, but he was too far off to hear the conversation. He'd probably assume I was calling friends or family and checking in or something. Yeah, or something. =)

Dezert Ratty drove up a few minutes later--she lived quite literally within a few miles of the reroute!--and picked up Charmin and myself. We asked if there was room for Running Wolf as well, who was just ahead of us on the trail, and she said absolutely, so we drove up beside him. I jumped out and asked if he wanted a house to sleep in. =) Dezert Ratty piped in about having spaghetti dinner as well. It wasn't hard to convince Running Wolf to ditch the trail and come with us. =)

Dezert Ratty cooked up a wonderful spaghetti dinner, and we talked and laughed the night away. A friend of hers, Lorraine, also stopped for dinner, and was actually whose house we would sleep at that night. I think Running Wolf and Charmin were a bit confused about our talk of letterboxes (one of which I hiked by in Devil's Punchbowl and didn't even realize it because I forgot to check the reroute for letterboxes--argh!). Charmin was interested in carving her own stamp, though, which isn't surprisingly when you consider she made her own PCT patch and draws all of the time anyhow. She carved--what else--a roll of Charmin toilet paper. =)

Dezert Ratty then drove us out to Lorraine's place, quite literally a five minute walk from the PCT detour where we picked up Running Wolf, where we took showers, cleaned up, and set up camp for the night in a guest bedroom.

Running Wolf had an amusing observation. "I was praying that I'd find somewhere good to camp for the night, then you showed up," he told me. Hmm.... a messenger from God? I doubt that, but I found the observation amusing. =)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Meeting Baden Powell

May 24: Charmin and I woke up early to tackle Mt. Baden Powell. We hoped. We were both a little apprehensive about the climb, and hadn't been able to find anyone who even knew if the route was passable. I took that as a slightly good sign--if the route weren't passable, I would have expected at least some hikers to have come back into Wrightwood, defeated. We never found any of them, however.

Charmin commented, "There's no bad weather, just bad equipment." Which I thought pretty funny, but she was just repeating a phrase she heard from somewhere else.

"Well, then," I told her, "I might have bad equipment." Which was actually more than she had. At least I had microspikes. Charmin didn't have any traction devices for her shoes.

We were packed and up and ready to go by 8:00 in the morning, and she managed to hitch us a ride before we even got off the front door step of the hotel. The owners of the hotel were getting into their vehicle, and Charmin smiled at them, and they waved us over saying they'd give us a ride to the trailhead. We had expected that we'd need to hitch a ride and were prepared to stand out on the side of the road for who knows how long with our thumbs stuck out to get the five or six miles back to the trailhead. And she nabbed us a ride before we even got three feet out the door! Sweet!

The one downside--for me, at least--was that I planned to call both my mom and Amanda while we were standing on the side of the road with nothing better to do than stick out our thumbs. Once we left town, my cell phone no longer worked, however, and I wouldn't be able to make any calls for a few days. I know my mom in particular would be worrying. She worries all of the time anyhow, and unfortunately, she actually got to see the snow from the day before which I was certain would heighten her concern. But I wasn't going to pass up a ride to the trailhead, either!

It was time to "meet" Baden Powell, as Charmin would explain. We wouldn't climb the mountain, or conquer the mountain. No, we were going to meet the mountain. For someone who doesn't know English as a first language, Charmin often surprises me with a lot of her word choices. I liked this particular wording. It sounded so elegant and formal, like a handshake with someone you've just been introduced to.

"Yes, let's go meet Baden Powell," I agreed.

From a distance, the mountain looked steep, snow-covered, and nothing short of intimidating. The first few miles of trail just got us to the base of the mountain, then we started following a long series of switchbacks directly up the side of the mountain. It didn't take long before we started seeing the first small patches of snow. About halfway up, the snow started becoming thicker and more problematic, requiring small traverses. We met three day hikers coming down, older men, who told us that they turned back. The snow was just too bad. They did meet another hiker ahead, however, Hurricane, who they thought might have the gusto to make it.

I was a little surprised to hear that Hurricane was ahead of us. He kept getting himself lost on Fuller Ridge and it seemed a little crazy to think he'd try to navigate his way through the treacherous snow alone. However, so long as we didn't see him turning around and going back down the mountain, we were optimistic that the trail was still passable. We continued ever upward.

At many of the switchbacks, where the trail turns sharply, thick piles of snow blocked the route, and we found it easier to cut the switchbacks completely and go straight up the slope on dry ground. We'd find where the trail crossed above us, then follow it until snow blocked the way away, then go off trail again to repeat the process.

Which worked pretty well for a mile or so, until finally we reached a point where there was snow as far as the eye could see, just going upwards. There was no more dry ground. There was no more trail to be seen. It was all buried in snow. Everything was buried in snow.

We could see quite a few footprints heading directly up the slope, and we started following them. "As long as we're going upward," I said to Charmin, "we're going in the right direction." The trail, we knew, switchbacked up the mountain along a steep slope. Since the trail was completely invisible, we just started going directly up. No sense bothering with switchbacks that couldn't be seen.

The slope was steep, but it wasn't too bad. The light snow from the day before helped give us extra traction that the frozen layer of ice below it wouldn't have provided. It also helped to follow the footsteps of hikers before us since they had made a lot of footholds for us to climb up with. One small section was steep enough that I was a bit concerned about my safety had I lost my footing, but it only lasted about 20 or 30 feet before I got to a location that I felt was relatively safe again.

And, after much huffing and puffing, we finally reached the summit, 9399 feet above sea level. We did high fives and took celebratory photos of ourselves, then sat down to rest and eat some snacks. The north-facing slopes were covered in a thick layer of snow down the ridgeline the trail more-or-less followed, while the south-facing slopes were completely and totally devoid of snow. According to our maps, the trail hovered somewhere near the top of the ridge, but along the north-facing, snow-covered slopes, and we decided to do some more cross-country travel along the ridge top on the south-facing slopes without snow instead. Safer and faster that way.

The register at the top of the mountain showed that we were the seventh and eighth people to make it to the top that day, and strangely, Hurricane never logged into it. (Maybe he got lost--again?) I was thrilled to see Tradja and Jess had logged in a mere two hours before us. I hadn't seen them since Warner Springs and they had gotten days ahead of me. Seems that they took a few days off in Wrightwood so now they were just around the proverbial corner.

Just as we were picking up our stuff to continue when Argentina reached the summit. He had done this section of trail a couple of times before, he told us, and could help us get through the section. I thought we had been doing pretty fine already, and I was a little annoyed at his showing off. As if we'd be lost and dead if he wasn't for him coming to the rescue. I wanted to give him the benefit of a doubt--maybe he just wants to feel helpful--but it ended up annoying me more than anything, and I hoped he'd blow past us.

We followed the ridgeline, occasionally spotting traces of the trail on the snow-covered side, but sticking to the dry land as much as possible. Argentina hiked fast, blowing past, but then he'd stop to wait for us to catch up.

During one snack break, Turbo came by, explaining that he headed up the mountain by himself. He was hiking with others, but the talk of snow scared them into the detour for the section and that he was trying to catch up to them when their detour met the trail again. (By this point, I started calling the detour to avoid Baden Powell the "Wimp Walk.")

We introduced ourselves as Green Tortuga and Charmin, and he said, "Wow! I get to meet two celebrities!" My little green turtle stamp is pretty well known by anyone hiking behind me, but Charmin draws a little roll of toilet paper whenever she signs a registry and I guess that's making her a celebrity among the folks behind us on the trail as well. She seemed pleased to think that someone would consider her a 'celebrity' for drawing rolls of toilet paper.

At one point, a side trail led off to a spring. We didn't need water (we were already surrounded by it!), but Charmin and I stopped to snack here while Argentina tore down the trail following the footprints in the snow. We didn't much care for the snow, however, and so Charmin and I clambered back up to the ridgetop, following the ridge a short ways, where it came back and intersected with the trail. I saw Argentina further down the mountain, stopped, and seemingly waiting for us. Except from my point of view, it didn't actually look like he was on the trail.

"Are you on the trail?" I shouted to Argentina.

"No," he replied. "I think it's over there somewhere," he continued, waving his hands to my left. "I'm going to go over there to look for it, but I didn't want to leave you in the lurch."

I laughed. "No need to do that. I'm on the trail now. It's up here!"

Oh, gosh, if he's our rescuer, we're doomed..... =) He seemed a little embarrassed that we found the trail first. Though admittedly, it was largely by accident, just because we headed to the top of the ridge to avoid the snow. We knew the trail was close, but he didn't realize it was that close!

From the small patches of snow we passed, it looked like we were the first people to travel on this section of trail the entire day. At least a dozen people were ahead of us, but it appeared as if every single one of them ended out where Argentina had walked. There were absolutely no fresh footprints on that half-mile or so next section of trail we covered.

The trail eventually started descending from the ridgeline, and once again we found ourselves hiking through more and more snow. Progress slowed down, but we plodded along. Late in the day, we reached Little Jimmy Spring, where we found Hurricane resting.

He had, indeed, gotten lost during the day's hike and seemed quite upset about all the snow, but he was in good shape and seemed back on track in any case. The Little Jimmy Campground was a short way further up the trail, and fortunately most of the snow in the campground had already melted so we were able to set up camp on dry ground.

Hurricane made a campfire for us. Near sunset, Running Wolf came into camp, seemingly glad to have seen people. He actually hiked out from Wrightwood, tackling nearly ten miles more of walking than any of the rest of us, and he seemed wore out. He set up his tent, then asked where the water source was.

"You should have walked right past it," we told him. "There are big old signs and everything pointing to the spring."

He had seen the signs, but didn't realize that that was the water source. At least if he didn't want to melt snow. Then he looked around.... "Which direction did I come in from?"

Charmin and I found this particularly amusing. We wondered about his sense of direction after watching him pass by our window a dozen or more times the day before. But we wrote it off to his being exhausted. Were exhausted from the snow travel, and we did a full ten miles less than Running Wolf did. I'm not sure I'd have been capable of covering the distance he did.

So we met Baden Powell. He was a bit grumpy and rough around the corners, but nowhere near as bad as the rumors swirling around Wrightwood would have led us to believe.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Zero Day Blues

May 23: I woke up this morning, looked out the window, and saw snow blowing around wildly. I'd been checking the weather forecast, which looked a bit intimidating, but I really didn't want to take a zero day and kept hoping to get out of Wrightwood that day. With snow blowing around outside, however, I finally conceded defeat. It would be a zero day. The trail ahead would climb to the top of the 9,399 ft mountain known as Baden Powell. It was a mountain striking fear into the hearts of thru-hikers everywhere. How much snow is on it? Is the trail passable? I couldn't be certain, but nobody could have paid me enough money to attempt such a treacherous section of trail while it was snowing with particularly gusty winds. Nope, not a chance. I would zero.

Mom and to go back to work, leaving Charmin and I behind without even a laptop to play with. As it turns out, Wrightwood is a pretty small town, and there really isn't much to do. It only takes about ten minutes to walk around and see the whole place.

Charmin has also been naming features on my foot. For instance, the little toe on my right foot has a sharp, hard callus, and I once commented that it was so sharp and hard, I could cut a stick of butter with it, and she now calls it the "butter cutter blister." (It's not actually a blister, however. Just a particularly strange-shaped callus.) The Cyclonic blister she's started referring to as the "kangaroo pouch blister" because the bottom half of the blister has worn off, but the top half is still there, forming something like a pouch. To emphasis her point, she drew a little kangaroo in her logbook, cut it out, and placed it in the "pouch."

We resupplied at the grocery store. I spent an hour or so sewing up some holes in my pants. We flipped through the television channels, but choices were scarce. I did find Mythbusters on, however, and we left it there. I explained to Charmin that she might learn some science by watching it. This is a science trail, after all! =) I guess there was a Mythbusters marathon on, however, because I ended up watching about six episodes in a row. Charmin grew tired of it after a couple of episodes and would periodically go outside in search of something to do and to look for more thru-hikers to share the room with, but she always came back in empty handed and looking a little sad about there not being more to do.

At one point, we somehow ended up in a great water bottle battle, with our empty water bottles clashing like a climatic sword fight in a movie, but Charmin usually seemed to get the best of me. Later, when we switched bottles, I did remarkably better. Seemed like my bottle was just harder to grip onto.

On one of her outings, she discovered a couple of important reroutes. First was information about the Station Fire reroute. We had already picked up information about that at the hardware store the day before, but it turns out that there was a reroute of the reroute. I guess things just weren't complicated enough. So she picked up maps for the both of us about the detour reroute.

Also, she learned about a potential reroute around Baden Powell. If the snow there was too deep, too steep, and generally too dangerous to pass, there was another trail that skipped the high elevations completely. It also cut about 10 miles off of the hike, and later I would learn that a great number of PCT hikers would take that instead. Charmin and I wanted to go over Baden Powell, however, as long as it wasn't too terribly dangerous. This particular reroute would only happen if safety required it.

One of my favorite exchanges of the day started when Charmin told me she was thinking about going to the grocery store to buy "jews." I was pretty sure she didn't mean what it sounded like she said, through that German accent, I sometimes loose a few words, and I was sure "jews" was one of those words I wasn't hearing correctly. But I went along with it....

"I don't think they sell Jews at the grocery store."

"They don't?"

I shook my head sadly. "No, I don't think so."

"Where would I get jews?"

I shrugged my shoulders, not really sure. "A slave market, perhaps?"

The look on her face was clearly bewilderment, so I asked her, "What kind of Jews are you looking for?"

"Orange jews."

At this point, I finally figured out she was talking about juice, rather than jews, but I let the torture go on a bit longer. "I didn't realize that Jews came in orange."

Then I finally let her off the hook. "Oh, juice! Yes, you could definitely find orange juice at the market." =)

I suggested that if she does go to get some, not to ask the employees about where the juice is located in the store. Nothing good would come of it if she starts asking where to buy "jews"--in a German accent, no less.

Another activity we found particularly exciting was to watch Running Wolf walk past our window throughout the day. It seemed like he passed by our window at least a dozen times throughout the day, always walking in the same direction, as if he were walking around the premises over and over again, and we'd joke about how long it would take before we saw him walk by again. "Well, he is Running Wolf," we thought. "Guess he just can't stand still." Had we realized how often he'd walk around in circles, though, we would have started counting the number of times he passed by. By the time we realized that he seemed to be making circuits around the town, it seemed a little late to be counting. It did give us a lot of amusement, however.

Which just goes to show how bored we were in Wrightwood. Counting how many times a hiker walked past our window was considered 'fun' and 'exciting.'

For dinner, we headed to the Evergreen Cafe and ordered lots of deserts. I ordered a vanilla milkshake (tragically, they didn't have strawberry as an option!) and a blackberry cobbler with ice cream. Charmin didn't know what a cobbler was, and I was doing a pitiful job of trying to explain it. "It's like a pie, but not...." So when the waitress came by, I asked her to try explaining what a cobbler was, which amounted to, "It's like a pie, except square." Yeah! It's always fun trying to communicate with someone who doesn't use English as a first language. =)

So anyhow, it was an exceedingly boring day. By late afternoon, the little snow that had fallen had already melted off and the sun came out. The weather forecast for the next day looked bright and optimistic. Back to the trail! We hoped. =)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

On to Wrightwood!

May 22: The views from the trail today were wonderful. We could see down into Wrightwood, our destination for the night, from the trail. It's a ski resort town, and a major resupply point for thru-hikers. And even better, my mom was coming for a visit, so I had already arranged to have her pick us up from the trailhead to whisk us into town. No hitchhiking for us this day!

There were some confusing road intersections along the way that we muddled through, and for several miles quite a bit of snow covered the trail. It wasn't bad, but it was slow-going and annoying, and I stuck close to Charmin in case one of us hurt ourselves going through the snow.

Ironically, there was very little snow while passing through the ski resort and ski lifts. Those were a little lower down the mountain, and we stopped for lunch at a snack shop that had closed for the season. It was nice to be on a wooden deck. I could take off my shoes and walk around without having to put on camp shoes.

We arrived at Inspiration Point along Highway 2 a little later than planned due to the snow, but my mom was there, sleeping in her car waiting. I knocked on the window, which woke her and scared her half to death, and she drove Charmin and I into Wrightwood.

Mom and I checked into a room at the Pines Motel, then headed to the hardware store where we learned there was lots of good information about the next reroute on the trail due to the Station Fire. There was also a list of trail angels who would host thru-hikers for minimal cost, and I let Charmin borrow my cell phone to call a few of them, but they were either out of town or not answering the phone. Mom suggested that she could just sleep on the floor of our room at the hotel, so that's what we ended up doing.

I had my mom shave my head bald again. No sense growing a lot of unnecessary hair! And I spent most of the night on her laptop working on Atlas Quest.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

McDonalds and Shooting Ranges

May 21: The PCT crosses I-15 at Cajon Pass, which also happens to be the location of a legendary stop on the trail: McDonalds. I've been hearing about this place since the kickoff. Several hikers scoffed at the suggestion that they would stop at a McDonalds on their hike, but it seems nearly everyone succumbs to its siren call. Ice cream, cold sodas, or whatever the case may be--its difficult for a thru-hiker to not make a quick stop at McDonalds, and Charmin and I were no exception.

This hiker hotspot was a mere 0.8 miles from where we set up camp, so we arrived pretty early in the morning. I didn't particularly feel like a cold soda or ice cream so early in the morning, though, and ordered the "deluxe breakfast" instead with a large orange juice. Charmin ordered a McFlurry when she arrived (I finished breaking up camp before she did and hiked ahead), and I ogled it then succumbed to the ice cream call myself and ordered that too.

We also bumped into Nobody there, who had thru-hiked the trail before and was now supporting his two daughter's thru-hikes. He had maps, information, and a laptop (finally settling for us once and for all whether snakes poop in the woods), and showed us maps of the Sheep Fire reroute ahead.

Charmin and I both knew a reroute started shortly after we crossed I-15, but neither of us actually got any information about it. We hoped the reroute would be easy to follow, crossed our fingers, and perhaps might have to find some other hiker that knew where to go. So it was somewhat of a relief to find Nobody to explain the reroute details to us. It was a couple of miles longer than the official PCT, and it would pass by a shooting range which had a store where hikers could buy sodas, snacks, and ammo. Ammo? Yes, ammo. That's what it said on the handout. =) I'm not aware of any hikers carrying guns, so I'm not sure there are a whole lot that will need to resupply their ammo, but hey, it's an option!

We also learned that the Tour of California was passing through the area, and several hikers planned to stop long enough to watch the bicyclists roll through. Charmin and I weren't interested in a bike race, though, and decided to miss it.

Finally we were back on the trail again, hiking mostly together at first, a little concerned one of us could get lost on the reroute. The trail crossed under a tunnel under I-15 then passed some railroad tracks while I gave a "science lesson" to her about the different parts of the railroad tracks and how they are maintained (this is a "science trail," after all). There was a machine running on the tracks doing track maintenance.

For lunch, we stopped at the Applewhite campground day use area--the last decent place for water for the next 16 miles. I cooked up a dinner there where the water was plentiful--I didn't really want to carry extra water for cooking and cleanup later on the trail.

Then it was back on the trail. The reroute had been pretty well marked up to this point and the road we now followed was pretty hard to lose. We just had to stay on the same road for the next umpteen miles. At first it was paved, then it would turn to dirt, eventually hooking up with the PCT about ten miles up. Since it seemed nearly impossible to lose the trail at this point, I went ahead without her, knowing she'd be close behind somewhere.

The paved section of road was completely miserable. It was hot, it was shadeless, and there was no shoulder to walk on. Fortunately, it wasn't a busy road, but there were certainly enough cars to make it annoying.

And I found another snake basking in the middle of the road. I started approaching cautiously, hoping to get pictures before it slithered off, when I saw a vehicle traveling down the road from the other direction and quickened my pace. I was afraid the vehicle going by would scare off the snake before I got my photo! So I pulled out my camera, turned it on, maximized the zoom on it, and waddled quickly to the snake, narrowly beating the truck to the snake by about two seconds. It was a short-lived victory, however, because two seconds later, the truck drove directly over the snake with a sickening thump! thump!

Those bastards deliberately ran over the snake! It was there, just minding its own business, and I wanted to pick up rocks and throw it at the windows of the vehicle, but it was already gone. I can't imagine it was accidental--the vehicle traveled well outside of its lane, and there I was standing in the road with my camera taking pictures of the snake. They just wanted to run over the snake. I hate road walks.

At first the snake didn't move, and I thought maybe it was dead, but it raised its head, as if to look around to figure out what happened. And it looked directly at me. The front half of it started slithering around on the ground as it looked around, and I thought maybe the snake was just paralyzed. From the waist down? Do snakes have a waist? The back half of the snake didn't move at all, though, but it seemed to look directly at me, as if I were to blame for it being run over, and moving in my direction.

I backed away quickly. That snake was mad! I felt bad for the thing, though. The snake looked seriously injured, but I couldn't even put the poor thing out of its misery. It started slithering towards the brush on the side of the road, and a remarkable thing happened--its entire body started flexing and moving. It wasn't paralyzed after all! Stunned, perhaps? But not paralyzed. At least externally, the snake actually looked completely okay. It slithered off into the brush, never to be seen again. Maybe it had internal injuries that would still kill the snake slowly, but I hoped not. It amazed me that the snake could take such a beating and seem to survive.

I continued hiking, seeing one other snake on the road and scaring it off the road with my trekking pole. "You shouldn't lay out here," I told it. "Just ask your cousin back there."

As I approached near the shooting range, I was glad I was warned previously about its existence. First I heard the occasional shot in the distance, which progressively got louder as I got closer. Then, at one point, it sounded like a war just started, with loud explosions that sounded a heck of a lot louder than any gun I was familiar with. I don't know what they were shooting off, but it would have made me very nervous had I not known about the shooting range ahead.

Just short of the range, I found a water cache. It was marked on the road, hidden behind a barrier, and a large, cardboard cutout warning that a psychotic guy ran the shooting range who threatened to shoot any hikers going onto his property. Another message underneath it said that the crazy man actually wasn't at the shooting range, but just before it, and that the proper entrance was at the double gate rather than the single one immediately ahead. Don't go in the single gate, and we'll be fine, the note said.

It also said that the shooting range closed at 4:00, which was in another 15 minutes. Hmm.... I told Charmin that I'd wait for her at the shooting range drinking a cold soda, but I didn't think she'd get there before 4:00. So instead, I sat down at the water cache and waited. The barrier on the side of the road provided a bit of shade.

The shooting and explosions stopped about five minutes before 4:00, then half a dozen cars spend down the road away from the shooting range. Must have just closed, just like the note said.

Charmin showed up, perhaps ten minutes after 4:00, then we continued hiking again. A couple of miles past the shooting range, we saw someone in the distance hiking. We thought maybe it was another thru-hiker, but this one appeared to be going southbound. I heard that 60 or so hikers skipped up to Agua Dulce to hike southbound to give the snow more time to melt, but I hadn't seen most of them and wondered where they went. Maybe this was another one?

Except it wasn't. Actually, it was a strange sight to see as we got closer. It was an older gentleman, well-dressed, without any gear at all. By older, I'm talking perhaps 50 years old or so. He had a button-down shirt, and nice shoes, walking along the gravel road. And he explained that he was driving down the road, but his car got stuck in the dirt, and he wanted to call AAA but his cell phone wouldn't work out there.

We couldn't really offer much help. We didn't exactly have a car to take him into town to call AAA, after all, and my cell phone didn't work either. Charmin told him about the water cache, in case he needed water on the long road walk. And that maybe there was still someone at the shooting range who could help, but we weren't sure about that since it had already closed. We wished him luck, then resumed hiking.

The smoke from the day before continued to get worse during the day, and eventually was so thick we could finally smell smoke from the fire. We still didn't know where the fire was or how far away it was, and Charmin was growing increasingly concerned that maybe it was too close to us, and would run us down. I wasn't too concerned about that (not yet, at least!). We couldn't see fire anywhere, so it still was a safe distance away. Anyhow, I've walked through plenty of forest fires along the Florida Trail. Not a big deal. =)

Not to mention that we were on the reroute due to trail damage from the Sheep Fire. Most areas don't burn twice in a short period of time. The area on the road walk hadn't burned, but the mountains above us certainly had. No fire was coming from the direction we were walking.

We finally hooked back up with the main PCT late in the afternoon, near sunset, and we were pretty happy to be back on a trail rather than a road. Getting back on the PCT was the minimum goal I had in mind for the day, so then we started keeping our eyes open for a place to camp. Charmin pulled ahead of me a bit when I stopped for a break, and I caught up to her another five minutes down the trail and she asked, "How about here?"

I looked around, and there wasn't anywhere to set up camp. It was a strange suggestion, but she explained the trail was a bit protected from the wind at this location. Which was true, and an important consideration since there was a severe wind advisory in place for the night. But the only flat ground to camp on was the trail itself. "You want to camp... on the trail?" I asked.

Well, why not? =) It was late enough in the afternoon that we thought it very unlikely anyone would need to hike through at this point. So we set up camp directly on the trail. She set up her tarp tent, but I decided to cowboy camp without the tarp. It wasn't supposed to rain, after all.

Two hikers did hike through, however, and Charmin told them that if they were really purist about following the exact route of the PCT, they could crawl in under her tarp at one end and out the other, and I said that they could hike over my groundsheet. They weren't that worried about staying on the trail, however, and walked around us instead, looking for

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Does a Snake Poop In the Woods?

May 20: "Gwita Morka!" I told Charmin when I first saw her stirring in the morning. I was pretty impressed that I actually got to use this phrase for a second time. I almost never hike with anyone for more than 24 hours, and I didn't really expect to get a second usage out of it.

Charmin wished me a "guetä morgä" in return. While eating breakfast and breaking down camp, a blizzard of other hikers passed by: Half-ounce, Sticky Fingers, Abby Normal, 10 Spot, and the two sisters (whose names I can never seem to remember). Where did all of these people hide out the night before?! I had no idea that any of them were anywhere in the area. But as each one passed our campsite, I'd yell out, "gwita morka!" in my American accent. I'm sure they all thought I was insane, but a funny thing happened.... I actually ended up memorizing the phrase in the process. I'd never have to look up the pronunciation again. =)

I left camp before Charmin did. We both hike faster when hiking alone. I told her I planned to take a long two or three hour break in the middle of the day for lunch and to wait out the heat of the day at a small creek up the trail, and I'd save a place for her. Then I was off!

The trail passed by Silverwood Lake, and the dam that actually held back an actual body of water. The lake was very scenic, even if the day was warming up to an uncomfortable level.

I day dreamed for much of the day. I imagined that nobody would ever starve to death in the desert if only someone wrote The Lizard Lover's Cookbook: 101 Ways to Cook a Lizard. The damn things were everywhere. You couldn't walk ten feet without seeing another lizard skittering away. For the most part, however, there's not much to report about today's hiking. It was nice, but hot.

At the small creek I planned to stop at for lunch, shade--at first--appeared quite scarce, but I found a small spot immediately next to and upstream from the creek under the trees. The open space was perhaps only four or five feet high, so I had to crouch under it, and there was only enough space under it in the shade for about two people. Very cramped, but by golly, it was shade, and I took it. It actually hides you pretty well from the trail itself, and isn't visible until your standing just a couple of feet away from it directly at the creek.

The larger group with five or so hikers--10 Spot, Sticky Fingers, Half Ounce, and I don't remember who all--moved on. They wanted to stop at the creek as well, but there wasn't enough shade for all of them. The dangers of hiking in a larger group. =) So I made myself comfortable, took off my shoes, ate some snacks, and laid down for a nap.

Perhaps a half hour went by, when I heard someone shouting, "Tortuga!" from up the trail. It was Charmin, wondering where I was. I said I'd stop here, though I did say that if there wasn't shade at the creek, I'd probably continue on until I found shade. She didn't see me, though, and must have thought I continued on. I yelled up to come on down to the creek, that there was still room for her, and she filled up the other half of the pocket of shade.

I filled up my water bottle with water from the creek and started drinking from it without bothering to treat the water. Which surprised Charmin. "Where would it likely be contaminated?" I asked her. There's no development above us. Technically, of course, any water source can be contaminated--heck, you even hear the occasional report of tap water and bottled water being contaminated with something--but I don't treat that water either. So if there's no reason to suspect that water is contaminated, I don't usually treat it.

Which is when Charmin said that a snake probably pooped in the water upstream.

I'm not an expert on snakes, but I had a vague memory bouncing around in my head that snakes regurgitate any food that they can't digest, so I said that I didn't think that snakes pooped. They regurgitate, like owls. It was a great philosophical debate that would continue on until the next day when we met Nobody, who had access to the Internet and could look it up where we both learned definitively that snakes do, in fact, have an anus, and that yes, snakes do shit in the woods. Charmin 1. Tortuga 0. Drats!

It takes some imagination to kill two or three hours in the middle of the hottest part of the day, which is when I learned about another one of Charmin's talents: She can draw. Quite well, in fact. Her journal is packed full of sketches and drawings of stuff she's seen along her hike, so I pretended to take a nap while she drew a picture of me. I was pretending to nap, but actually did fall asleep for about five minutes during the process. She didn't much like the drawing, but I thought it was a remarkably good likeness in such a short period of time.

After our lunch break ended, we left the little enclosure and the smog in the valley outside was terrible! The sky was pretty clear and blue when I stopped for lunch, and I was amazed at how fast the smog could roll in, and so thickly. It seemed thick enough to cut with a knife. "LA smog," I told her, my best guess. Perhaps the wind changed and funneled the smog in our direction. (The next day, we would learn that there was a fire somewhere in the area and that the smoke was actually from the fire--not the infamous LA smog. Not this time, at least!)

The limp from my sprain a couple of days before was still there. It wasn't particularly noticeable on flat or uphill sections of the trail, but downhill still hurt. And the steeper the downhill, the more it hurt, and the more I limped. The ankle was getting better, but at an annoyingly slow pace.

After lunch, I pulled ahead of Charmin again. We both decided to hike out to a small creek less than a mile away from I-15 to camp for the night, pulling off my first 20 mile day. So the limp isn't slowing me down--just making the hike a little more painful. Especially downhill. Especially steep downhills, like going down to I-15.

My guidebook said that the campsite was a short ways past some power lines. When I first saw power lines, I thought I was making great time. Sweet! Almost there! But no, I sadly had to admit, I couldn't have traveled that fast. There must be another set of power lines involved.

Eventually I reached the second set of power lines, thrilled that I was almost to camp... until I saw another set of power lines further off in the distance. Freakin' hell, I thought. How many power lines do they need out here?!

The third set of power lines seemed to be the lucky number, though, and Charmin and I found the creek and a campsite nearby to set up. This time, I did treat the water I drank. There were train tracks, I-15, roads, businesses, and all sorts of development up stream. It wasn't "good" water, in my opinion, so I treated it this time. I'd just have soon as skipped it if it were possible, but I was out of water. It wasn't a time to be fussy. Anyhow, what if a snake pooped in the water upstream? A real possibility.....

The campsite was terrible, really. We could hear the highway traffic all night long, and trains rumbling in the distance. I actually liked the sounds of rumbling trains, but the highway traffic I could have done without. But we were still far enough away from the road that at least it wasn't loud traffic. Just the muffled noise of a distant highway. But it was noisy, and the water nowhere near as pure as I would have liked it. But you make do, and I made do.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Holy Naked Tortugas With Shades!

May 19: I woke up the next morning, flopping around, watching the sunrise, then heard Charmin stirring in her campsite. I remembered writing good morning in Swiss German, but couldn't remember what it was. I pulled out my journal, ripping velcro open to get at it. I could see Charmin looking at me, seemingly wondering what I was up to, and I flipped open my journal, read what I had written.... gwita morka, forming the sounds in my head. Then I looked up at her and said, "Gwita morka!"

She seemed to find this hilariously funny, but said it was pretty good. Not even a trace of an accent. Wow! I actually managed to say it fluently! Double points for me! =)

We packed up camp, then battled up the steep dune-like sands back up to the PCT and continued hiking. We didn't hike more than a few miles, however, before we reached hot springs on the PCT. The only hot springs directly on the trail, and even better, they were clothing optional hot springs.  I wanted to take a soak, naked. =)

When we got there, there were already two other hikers soaking in the springs naked, which was somewhat of a relief to me. Seems easier to undress when everyone else around is already naked. =) Charmin went up to lay out her stuff in the sun--condensation from the night before got a lot of her gear wet--which made me even more comfortable because I didn't really feel comfortable undressing in front of her. We'd only been hiking together for a day, but I felt like I knew her now. Better to get undressed around strangers, right?

In this case, the two strangers were Bigfoot and Stanimal. Abby Normal was also there, but he was fully clothed and sitting outside of the hot springs just chatting. I got naked, all except for the sunglasses (it was sunny and bright outside!), and really--walking around wearing nothing but sunglasses is just plain cool. =)

I didn't stick around in the closest pool very long--it was exposed to the sun and very hot--and was told that the bottom pool was still in the shade. There's a small drop to the bottom pool. Just a few feet, but I couldn't tell how deep the pool was just to jump in. Bigfoot did, however, and didn't seem to injure himself, so I followed suit and went completely underwater. That pool was deep! I paddled over to the edge, trying to find a shallow spot to sit on. That pool really isn't especially suited for sitting in--most of it is too deep to stand in much less sit in. But at least it was in the shade and a heck of a lot more comfortable as a result than the upper pool.

We soaked there for a half hour or so, before I decided that was enough and it was time to start hiking again. I scrambled up to the upper pool. Or rather, I tried to. That small drop was wet and slippery, and I was having trouble figuring out how to get up there. My first attempt, I slipped and fell back into the water with a tremendous splash. Bigfoot, who had spent the night there and clearly mastered the intricate moves necessary to get to the upper pool already, gave suggestions about where to step and grab onto the rock.

I finally got to the upper pool, where Charmin was talking to Abby Normal with her feet in the pool. Admittedly, I was a little disappointed she didn't want to join the naked hot spring club, but it wasn't much of a surprise either. She had already told me that she might get in, but that she'd definitely be wearing clothes. I thought Europeans were more.... well, European than that? =)

Charmin seemed to avoid looking in my direction, which was perfectly fine by me. She denies trying to glance at me, but I know I would have had our positions been reversed, so I'm not sure I believe her. =) She did, however, leave her camera behind, so at least there's no photographic evidence of my running around naked wearing nothing but sunglasses.

I got dressed again, and Charmin put her dried gear back in her pack, and we continued hiking.

We reached Mojave Dam, a large dam that seemed to be doing absolutely nothing. It was holding back no large bodies of water, and seemed like it was completed, then never used. A ghost dam. The trail actually crosses onto the spillway of the dam, then goes down the back side that was designed to hold back water. (Later, I would hear that the dams are for flood control purposes--not to actually create a reservoir of water.)

My guidebook mentions a Trail Ratz Bridge that crosses Deep Creek at the dam, but Charmin and I couldn't find it. We lost the trail in the dirt and dust at the bottom of the dam, and followed an assortment of footsteps wading across a shallow part of the creek, finding a shady location on a small 'island' in a smaller stream feeding into Deep Creek where we stopped for lunch.

Some day hikers passed us going up the creek, then about a half hour later came back down saying that the water was infested with leeches. Countless thousands of leeches! I'd never heard of leeches being in California. Maine, yes, I've seen them swimming around in the lakes of Maine, but California? Absurd!

Maybe they were leeches. They were definitely small, black things that hooked onto rocks in the creek. A lot of them, once the day hikers pointed it out to us. They seemed pretty small, though, and nothing like the leeches I'd seen in Maine. They reminded me more of very small tadpoles, the way they sometimes attach themselves to the bottom of a pool of water. Whatever they were, we didn't really feel like walking around them, but unfortunately, we had set up lunch right on an island in the middle of the creek. There really wasn't any way out without walking through them.

But they left us alone. *shrug* Who knows what those creatures were, but there are creatures in these waters. =)

We camped at a small flat area along the trail a few miles past Grass Valley Creek, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the train whistles all night long. We weren't exactly in civilization at this point, but we were certainly close enough to hear a lot of it, and those train whistles carry a long way. I find them rather nice to hear late at night.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

National Science Trail

Green Hornet passed me while I was breaking down camp. Him and his son had made it to the campsite after all, and I was a little disappointed I hiked passed it and camped alone. His son was still back there, packing up his stuff, as was Charmin who he told me was not far behind.

I finished packing up. Happily, it did not rain during the night, so all of my gear was still dry. Green Hornet didn't hike especially fast, so I caught up with him quickly and hiked with him for a half hour or so talking about planes and flying. He used to work at or for an airport in Van Nuys and flew for years, and I told him of my life-long desire to learn how to fly. So he told me a bit about flying, and I told him about my gliding experience in Warner Springs, and I got to thinking that someday, I really need to learn how to fly. It always seemed so expensive, but when I considered the cost of hiking for five or six months on the Pacific Crest Trail, it probably wasn't much worse than taking flying lessons. And for the first time, I seriously considered that that should be the next item on my Things-To-Do-Before-I-Die list. (Yes, I realize since that Bucket List movie came out, everyone calls it a bucket list, but I actually wrote down a list of 50 things to do before I die back in high school, and learning how to fly was on it, so I still call it my list of things to do before I die.)

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail was on that list, but surprisingly, thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was not. It's been quite some time since I've checked anything off that list, and it seemed like I should revisit it again. Maybe in 2011 will be the Year I Learned To Fly. =)

So anyhow, I enjoyed the conversation with Green Hornet, and gave myself a new goal for next year.

But he hiked pretty slowly, then he stopped completely to give his son some time to catch up, so I hiked on without him after that. I finally stopped for lunch at High Bridge, still limping from my sprain the day before. It was rather hot out, so I found a shady place, laid out my groundsheet, ate some snacks, and laid down for a nap.

About an hour later, a voice spoke up behind me--Charmin--and we started swapping our war stories from the trail. Apparently, Hiker 816 told her some silly story about me (but strangely, I forgot what the story was now... hmm....), and she asked if I had heard any stories of her, but sadly, I said no. I couldn't remember hearing any funny stories about her. Wait, I do remember the story.... Hiker 816 had told me about hearing that I darned near stepped on a snake without even seeing it, and I asked how he had heard that story--only Charmin was there when it happened, and she was behind us as far as I knew. I couldn't figure out where Charmin would have been able to tell him that story. He heard it in Idyllwild after hitching out on the road when I kept hiking, but Charmin hitched into town. I didn't think the story especially noteworthy, but I guess Charmin was spreading it around like it was the best story ever.

But I hadn't heard any stories about her, and I was a little disappointed that I didn't have any "dirt" on her to share.

Until.... we were about to leave, and I picked up my pack, then I looked at her pack sitting on the ground on saw the patch she pinned to it. The patch looks a little worn, perhaps like it was homemade, and that's because it IS homemade. And I suddenly did remember hearing a story about Charmin, told to me by Swazey and Dinosaur.

I turned and looked at her, smiling. "Yes.... I do remember hearing a story about you," I told her.

And she got that deer in the headlights look. She saw me see that patch, and she knew what the story was. She had decided to make her own patch (she's quite the artistic type, as it turns out), but she made a small, little error in the patch. It looks like the PCT logo, except on the bottom, where it would normally say "National Scenic Trail," she inadvertently wrote "National Science Trail." For years, she thought the Pacific Crest Trail was designated a national science trail, and didn't learn about the mistake until she arrived at the kickoff to start hiking the trail. =)

"I thought a science trail seemed weird," she explained in her Swiss accent, "but it made sense. Botany, geology, and..., stuff."

Indeed, there is a lot of science one can learn on the trail. One could study birds, insects, flowers, weather, astronomy, rocks--heck, even people on the trail could turn into an interesting study. I rather liked the idea of a national science trail. Sounds more.... intellectual than a mere national scenic trail. How boring is that? Frankly, I wanted a patch that said National Science Trail on it myself! =)

Charmin was clearly a little embarrassed about the mistake, but I assured her that she really had a coolest patch ever for the PCT. I think she's still a little embarrassed about it, but seems to have accepted it well.

We hiked the rest of the afternoon together. At one point, she was hiking ahead of me, and I spotted a small snake on the side of the trail. I exclaimed, "Snake!" pointing at it, and Charmin jumped a little, then seemed surprised to learn she had just walked passed a snake without even seeing it herself. The shoe was on the other foot, and I loved it! =) She told me that she didn't actually believe me at first, thinking I was making up the snake.

"Me?" I shook my head sadly. "Why would you think I'd joke about snakes like that?"

Clearly, she saw right through my nice facade, but she didn't seem to hold it against me. But there really was a snake. It would certainly blunt the impact of my almost stepping on a snake now that she was guilty of the same thing.

It was very interesting hiking with Charmin. She's a farmer in Switzerland, and is absolutely fascinated by the plants on the trail. She'd grab miner's lettuce to eat, grazing like a cow. She was also fascinated by the horny toad lizard, and I encouraged her to try to catch one. (I saw Motor catch one earlier on the trail. The first time, she seemed proud of catching a lizard. After catching the second one, she noted, almost sadly, that she didn't think the lizards were very fast.) Charmin made a half-hearted attempt to catch it, but didn't seem to think that a lizard could be caught.

So I tried to catch it myself. I chased it around the trail for a good ten feet or so, slowly trying to sneak up on it, and finally nabbed it when it made a run for a bush. Two thoughts went through my head when I caught it. First, "Wow, I actually caught it!" (I had doubts that I'd actually succeed, despite Motor's claim that they're just naturally slow.) And second, "This is so cool!"

Charmin wanted to know if the lizard would bite, and I said I didn't really know. It didn't try to bite me, however, and Motor never reported any lizard bites. Charmin tried to get the lizard to bite her, all but forcing a finger down its throat. (Those Swiss folks.... they're a strange bunch, I guess.) It wouldn't bite her, though. I gave her the lizard to hold, then we released it back into the bush it tried to hide in.

Charmin didn't want to camp alone that night and convinced me to stop a few miles short of my goal along the banks of Deep Creek. The trail followed the creek for miles, but rather high up the canyon with a very steep slope down to the river and no trails leading down to it. We had a great vantage point of the river and could see what looked like great places to camp along the edge... if only we could find a way down to it.

We scrambled down the hillside, sliding in the sand, to a flat area near the river and set up camp. Charmin took out a harmonica to entertain me with, along with another 'musical' instrument I'd never seen before that she'd pluck at and seemed designed to make noise more-so than music. Perhaps it sounds better when it's just an accessory to a larger musical instrument. Kind of like how kettle drums don't really sound like music all by themselves.

Just before going to sleep, I asked her how to say "Good morning" in Swiss German--her native language--so I could wish a good morning in her own language. Actually, I started with "good night," but that sounded really hard for me to say correctly, so then I tried "good morning" as the next best option, which sounded learnable to me.

So I had her say it several times, slowly, and I wrote in my journal like it sounded in my ear, "Gwita Morka!" I knew that likely wasn't the proper way to spell good morning in Swiss German, but I didn't need to write it for her--just pronounce it correctly. She wanted to see how I spelled it, however, and cracked up laughing at the way I butchered the written phrase. I had her write the correct spelling--just to make my notes complete, of course--which was "Guetä Morgä". Just in case you ever find yourself in Switzerland and wanted to write a good morning to someone.

Then we went to sleep.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Injury On the Trail!

May 17: I took my time getting out of Big Bear. I wasn't in any particular rush, so I watched the Early Show. (I decided I liked the Today show better, but I was open minded enough to try something new.) Eventually I got my pack together and started walking to the post office a mile or two away.

I didn't want to take my chances trying to hitch a ride back to the trailhead, so I used my cell phone to arrange for a ride from Lee, who offered rides to the trailhead for $5/person. I ended up paying him $10 since he had a $10 minimum, but it was well worth it in my opinion. =) He told me he'd pick me up at the post office and that he'd be driving the big yellow truck. "You can't miss it."

Indeed--you'd have to have been blind to miss it. It was honking huge, a monster able to tackle the roughest of 4WD roads, in brilliant yellow that you could probably see from space on a clear day. Lee dropped me off at the trailhead five or six miles out of town, and I started hiking.

I hiked passed a garbage dump. The scenery you see on the trail is sometimes amazing. Sometimes, it's not. =)

I didn't see many hikers for the most part, though. It was largely a day of hiking alone contemplating the meaning of life. Two sisters who are thru-hiking passed me hiking southbound--slackpacking for the day. I passed a group of a dozen or so kids laid out--perhaps a church group or something?--but they didn't seem especially talkative so I didn't get their story. A group of three day hikers going southbound seemed amazed to meet a thru-hiker and were fascinated by my hike, wishing me up, but nothing particularly noteworthy there either.

Late in the afternoon I finally caught up with a thru-hiker going in my direction. Wide Angle, from Germany, took a wrong turn on the trail losing a half hour walking in the wrong direction, which is the only reason I even caught up to him.

Even later in the afternoon, I met up with another couple of thru-hikers--Green Hornet and his son. (Alas, I've forgotten the son's name--Green Hornet was the talkative one.) They planned to hike to Little Bear Camp, which they thought was two or three miles further down the trail, but I sadly informed them that I thought it was a good seven or more miles away. I didn't think it likely they would make that campsite that night. Green Hornet's son seemed to be hurting pretty bad. I wished them luck, however, and planned to hike to the camp myself in any case. =)

The last part of the trail had been there a severe wildfire, which allowed for wonderful views far in the distance. And frankly, I was getting a little bored during the hike today. I started poking my trekking pole at burnt-out stumps and logs, chipping off pieces of ash and watching them fly through the air along the way. And late in the afternoon, when I was most tired and anxious to stop for the night, I did that one too many times. I lost my balance--just a little bit--but it was enough to throw my step off and twist an ankle. Hard.

"ARGHHH!" I stumbled, but caught myself before actually falling onto the ground. (Catching myself, ironically, with the trekking pole that was partially responsible for my losing my balance in the first place.)

A flash of pain shot up my leg, and I knew I'd be feeling this sprain for quite some time. I kept walking, limping severely at first, which grew to a more subtle limp after several minutes. It certainly wasn't bad enough to take me off the trail, but it would make hiking the next several days distinctly more unpleasant. Yeah, I know you were all hoping for a juicier injury story, but not every day is an adventure. I am, however, blogging about every single day. =) You get what happens, and some days are just dull....

I limped on another mile or so, setting up camp just past Little Bear Camp. The weather forecast called for strong winds and a 30% chance of rain, so the camp seemed a little more exposed that I preferred, and instead set up camp just past it, in the protection of some trees, on a nice layer of pine needles.