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


ArtGekko said...

What?! Looking for WHAT?!?!?!?!

*sheesh*. Writers.....

Okie Dog said...

I can't believe you were throwing away a perfectly fine Ziplock baggy? Some letterboxer you turned out to be....heh heh.

Anonymous said...

It was kind of you to warn that snake. Here in IL I think "Why doesn't the mama deer tell her kids what happened to uncle charlie when he stopped in the road?"

Anonymous said...

Okie Dog.... There are TWO zip lock baggies on the tray!!!!!


Anonymous said...

"We also bumped into Nobody there.."

"So it was somewhat of a relief to find Nobody to explain the reroute details to us"

In 'boxing or through hiking, fun with trail names is often sooo entertaining!! Almost felt like a part of the "Who's on First Routine" there for a bit...

Lovin' the trail stories, Ryan.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Looking for what?? You didn't finish your post. :'O

Poor snake. And he wasn't even venomous! Mean people suck.

That last photo is gorgeous! Frame worthy for sure!

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers