Friday, June 4, 2010

The Long Drop to Civilization

May 12: Our first night after Fuller Ridge was cold, but nowhere near as cold as the previous night. None of my water froze, but I had kept one bottle of water in my sleeping bag with me just to be on the safe side. My shoelaces didn't freeze. And the wind gusts were nearly non-existent. Life was good. Definitely a chill in the air, however. It wouldn't last long, however, as dropped nearly 7,000 feet in elevation to Interstate 10. It would likely become very hot.

The first hiker I met on the trail was Double D--or maybe he just spells it DD?--which is short for Dumbass Dan. I'm not sure I'd have admitted to that, but everyone certainly makes a dumbass decision every now and then. He seems like a friendly fellow, who works at REI in Colorado, but we didn't talk all that much since we hiked at our own speeds. The only reason I even mention him in this blog is because, somewhere along the way, my bag of tent stakes fell out of my pack. Much of this section of trail is overgrown and I guess a branch or something snagged my tent stake bag and whisked it right out of my pack, unbeknownst to me. I was hiking ahead of him, and at one point when I stopped for a quick snack break, he caught up to me asking if I was missing a blue bag with tent stakes. I started looking in my pack, and sure enough, mine was missing. Double D found it and figured it belonged to one of the hikers immediately in front of him, which included myself. So I was quite grateful to get my stakes back--even before I knew they were missing!

The trail plunged down all day long, sixteen tantalizing miles, oh so close to Interstate 10. But the lazy, winding PCT sure took its time getting there.

I passed several trail workers who were fixing up the trail. The section they worked on was awesome. Wide, easy to walk, and no bushes or plants snagging stuff from my pack. The section really needed work, and sure enough, they were out there working on it! They also offered us thru-hikers a Gatorade, which I much appreciated. =)

We also passed through a 28-acre area that had burned. This particular fire happened earlier in the week and closed the trail down for a couple of days, forcing detours for many thru-hikers. Wildfires aren't uncommon on the trail, but this one we found particularly sad because it was actually started by a thru-hiker who, as the trail gossip relates, accidentally knocked over his alcohol stove. I don't know the details of the situation, but I guess there wasn't enough water nearby to put the fire out, and he ended up using his bare feet to try to stamp out the fire. Which also didn't work, but burned his feet bad enough that he needed to be rescued by a helicopter. Another thru-hiker bites the proverbial dust. The million dollar question everyone wants to know is who is this thru-hiker? Nobody I've talked to has fessed up to knowing, but it leaves a huge black eye for all those thru-hikers following him.

Eventually, the trail came out onto a small, paved road, next to a drinking fountain in the middle of the desert. Yes, you read that correctly. A drinking fountain. In the middle of the desert. I can't make this stuff up. =) A security guard was there, counting thru-hikers passing by. He seemed friendly enough, but when I first saw him from a distance, I thought maybe it was a trail angel handing out cold drinks, so it was a little disappointing to know he was just there to count me.

However, another security fellow who drove up while I was filling up my water supplies from the drinking fountain told us that there was REAL trail magic another mile or so up the road. A fellow had set up a BBQ with cold beers and Gatorade, and had quite the setup going. So I anxiously pushed on, hoping to get a little of the food. Now that we were at the lowest point of the trail in Southern California, it was positively hot. Even late in the day like it was, and a cold drink seemed like a luxury I could not resist.

The trail angels were Dave and Lisa. The day before they spent nearly the whole day looking for thru-hikers to help but couldn't find anyone. This was Lisa's first time out trail angeling, and Dave said he had to assure it that, "Really, it's a lot of fun!" At least if you can find the thru-hikers in the first place. The guard at the drinking fountain said only three hikers passed through the day before. More than 20 passed through today. Somehow, we ended up in a herd of people. I really wanted to get away from the herd myself. I liked everyone well enough, but there were just too many people around. I like hiking with smaller groups.

But that made it a lot harder for Dave and Lisa to find hikers to help out the day before. There just weren't any! The large herd of us eventually formed up into a large group at the trail magic. During the day, we spread out as we hiked at our own pace, but nobody wanted to pass by the trail magic without eating some of the food, so it tended to group us up again.

They cooked up chicken which we used for chicken burritos--absolutely delicious--and had a great time hanging out and talking. Well, I mostly watched the going ons, but there was certainly plenty of talking by others.

Then two neighbors with a large dog showed up. The woman was absolutely livid, ranting about us "disturbing the peace" and that she was about to call the police on us for "noise disturbance." I was absolutely floored. I'd never seen anything like it before. The dog was huge, but actually seemed pretty friendly, as if he wanted to run up and have us all pet it. =) The husband seemed to agree with her, but was more reluctant to say anything, trying to encourage his wife to go back to the house.

The whole "noise disturbance" thing seemed absurd, though. We were a good hundred feet away from the nearest house, with the wind blowing the chatter away from the houses, and it was friggin' 6:00 in the afternoon. It's not like we were throwing a loud, rambunctious party at midnight and keeping everyone awake. I kind of doubt I could have heard our little group if I were indoors. Hardly the kind of thing cops would normally respond to. Not to mention that two security guards for the water agency already knew we were there and had no problem with what we were doing.

Then she complained about the fire from the week before, and that our little party was happening exactly where the fire trucks who responded to the fire set up shop. And it all made sense after that. It wasn't the noise. After the fire, she just hated hikers. We--as a group--threatened her home, and now we were taking up space that should be reserved for fire trucks in case they have to respond to any more of our problems. Except that there wasn't any signage that said we couldn't be there if we wanted to.

The couple and the dog went off. I have no idea of the lady did call the cops or not. If they did, the cops didn't bother to check us out. But as the sun started setting, our party was ending anyhow. In trail time, bedtime is sunset. It was bedtime for us.

We helped Dave and Lisa break up camp. I walked up to Lisa to thank her directly for the trail magic, and she was in tears while telling me to be safe. I was surprised--she didn't even know me--but she seemed unusually concerned about our well being. The mother in her, she said. It was very sweet, though. =) Then I thanked Dave, who took it much more nonchalantly, and headed down the trail. Dave told us that when he did this the year before, it was 107 degrees out. By comparison, we had it easy--nearly 30 degrees cooler!

Originally I meant to camp on the other side of Interstate 10, but our impromptu trail party slowed me down and I set up camp on the south side of Interstate 10 instead, along a flat stretch of trail. Most of us camped there, a couple miles short of the highway. I stopped as soon as I could hear the buzzing from powerlines ahead, not wanting to have that loud buzzing all night long, and far enough away from I-10 so the traffic wouldn't disturb me.

It was a nice place to camp. A bit windy, and the night was warm--probably the warmest of the trail so far--and I went to sleep, dreaming that Barbara Walters died. I don't know why I'm dreaming about Barbara Walters, and I never heard she had died, but I've been having a lot of strange dreams on the trail.


Anonymous said...

Very sweet dream indeed!

-- Kirbert

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Do you think one day you'll give a little back for all the generosity you've been shown from all the trail angels you've encountered during your thru-hikes?

You and Amanda could set up along the trail and really brighten some fellow hikers' day. :)

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers