Friday, May 30, 2008

May 29: Default Zero Day

We took a zero day in Mojave, kind of by default. We had planned on overnighting in Mojave and then walking a few days and overnighting in Onyx, mostly just to kill some time before hitting Kennedy Meadows and the start of the High Sierras. But while in Mojave, we found out that Onyx was basically a Post Office and a convenience store, so this, along with the coziness of our Motel room, lured us into spending two nights in Mojave instead.

We didn't do much (which is kind of the point); we slept in, ate food, hit the PO and grocery store, watched TV and just tried not to walk much.

My (Jess) parents sent us a box of great goodies, which was very cool (thanks mom and dad!). We ate some and saved some for the hike. Our friends, Chad and Kate, who are mailing our stuff to us along the way also put some fun stuff in with the box they mailed us (thanks guys!).
Also, the local librarian let me take a book to read for the couple days we were in town on the promise I'd drop it in the return box before we leave (like I would want to carry a hard-cover book anyway!). So I also got to read the fourth and final book in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. Not your most intellectual read, but easy and entertaining since I'd read the other three a few years ago. What a nice librarian :).

I got to read and Mark got to watch basketball. It was a great day!

Total Miles:558.3
Miles Today:0
Camp 32:Mojave Motel 6

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May 28: Into Mojave,CA

We began the morning with a climb up more erosive hillsides. A fire through the area burned all the plant life and with no roots in the soil the mountainsides eroded into sand. Now in some places a trail hardly exists and we traversed steep sand slopes as we switch-backed higher.

We soon were wandering along the high hills where many dirtbikes left tracks in all directions. Although there were several posts indicating no bikes of any kind were allowed, there is not really anyone around to enforce this. So, bike tracks shredded up the trail in many places. Three foot high rolling bumps would form from the bikes and would create an annoying mini roller coaster of a trail. For as much as we have seen motorbike tracks in other places this is the first time we really found them riding along the trail regularly.

We came along another wind farm with towering windmills generating energy. Some hikers find these beautiful because they know the clean energy they represent. But, if one is not biased, it's hard to not admit they have a bit of visual pollution. Still, there are many positive aspects that seem to make this something to allow to grow.

When we hit the road we found ourselves hitching with another hiker. A small road led directly into Mojave, but got little traffic. We ended up taking a ride along a busier route that was less direct. In the end we had to get three seperate rides before reaching town- including one in the back of a pick-up for a short distance. This is always an exhilerating way to let miles fly by after walking so much. We made it into Mojave in under an hour, but probably would have been in sooner if we stayed on the direct road.

"Mojave is just a truck stop," said one of our rides. But, this truck stop had all we needed. We hit the post office, got a room at Motel 6, used internet at the library, went to a restaurant, and shopped at a full grocery store. It's a bit more than a truck stop, but it's not really a flourishing small town. Our ride talked about it being a poor area, and indeed, signs of low income surrounded the rural area. Old run down buildings, closed stores, and trailer courts were initial signs of lower income. Despite this we found people in town to be very friendly and delightful. And, luckily, the trains that blaired through town during the day didn't seem to be around at night.

Total Miles:558.3
Miles Today:13.4
Camp 31:Mojave Motel 6

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

May 27:Third Anniversary!!

29We left Hikertown early hoping to beat the heat. This section we were walking today is supposed to be one of the hottest sections of trail we walk; we follow the LA Aquaduct for 15-20 miles through the flat floor of the Mojave Desert. It is usually 100+ degrees through this section, but because of the coldness lately, it probably only topped out in the upper 70's, although the sun made it feel a touch warmer. The ironic part about this hot stretch of trail is that you walk along an aquaduct and at times you can hear the water, but most of the time, you don't have access to it. We have been lucky as far as weather goes so far. We were just ahead of the snow and rain, and then got cooler weather in the Mojave. Definitely no complaints here!

The trail was fairly easy today (and at times boring b/c it was so flat), and we ended up walking our biggest day yet; by the end of the day we had walked just over a marathon in celebration of our 3rd Anniversary. It's fitting that we would be hiking in mountains on our anniversary; the last two years we had celebrated by climbing mountains. This was a natural continuation.

We celebrated by sharing a Reeses PB Cup before falling asleep in a dried up creekbed, thankful for a great day and a great three years of marriage. Thanks to everyone who remembered and sent us emails or letters!

Total Miles:544.9
Miles Today:26.5
Camp 30:3rd Anniversary Marathon

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May 26:Trail Angel Alley

We woke up under the tarp thankful we set it up since it had actually sprinkled a little the night before (granted it was only for 10 min, but, still, we were dry).

We only had a little under 18 miles to hike before we hit Hwy 138 and the mysterious Hikertown. Our notes said surprisingly little about the quality of the place, so all we knew was:hostel, shower, water, shade...stuff like that. As we took a break about half way there with a group of about 10 other hikers, we realized that there were many who were planning on staying there. Since we had considered it already, we decided we'd stay unless it was pretty scary (which it wasn't). /nce again our amazing timing allowed us to roll up just as food was being cooked, so we got hooked up with a great meal. They had communal bunkhouses and private roms, and eventually we found ourselves in a sweet room with a bed, bathroom, and TV, while the communal rooms had floorspace, and a communal TV/bathroom. It was awesome. The private rooms were in this stretch of buildings made to look like old-time storefronts. There was no heat or hot water anywhere, but there were plenty of warm blankets an!
d the walls alone provided shelter from the wind and night's chill.

Someone had dubbed this section of trail "Trail Angel Alley" because we basically hiked from one trail angel to the next for several days straight. Basically three out of the last four nights were spent @ trail angel homes/hostels. It was great, but later on the trail the TA's are more sparse, so it would be nice to spread them out a bit too. But I won't complain; we are very grateful for their generosity and thoughtfulness toward hikers and it would be very hard to do the desert section of trail without them.

Tomorrow we would head out into the flats of the Mojave Desert...

Total Miles:518.4
Miles Today:17.7
Camp 29:Hikertown

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

May 25:500 Miles!!

We left the Andersons on another cold morning. This stretch of trail we are on is supposed to be one of the most unbearably hot sections we walk; normally the temps are around 100 degrees (F). But for us, because of this wierd weather system, the highs are probably only in the 50's. Part of me is thankful while the other part of me is freezing!

We hiked through fairly easy terrain- gentle ups and downs and trail carved into the sides of what looks like endless green terrain. It amazes me how sometimes we can climb 1000 feet, but since it is spread out over so many miles you can't even tell. I love those days!

Toward the end of our day we hit the 500 mile mark. There is actually a dirt road crossing at this monumental mark in the trail, and someone had carved into the dirt "I will walk 500 miles". We took a few pictures to remember the moment and headed a short ways down the trail before making camp.

Why is 500 miles so important? In the world of long-distance hiking, your hike isn't technically considered a long-distance hike until you reach 500 miles. In the same respect, you are not considered a long-distance hiker until you hike 500 consecutive miles. Mark has already done that, but today I became a long-distance hiker, which is exciting for me.

Now we only have to do that 4 more times and we are almost done with the trail! Onward we hike...

Total Miles:500.7
Miles Today:22.1
Camp 28:500 Miles!

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May 24:Angel to Angel

We woke up to another chilly morning and quickly headed out to the trail. The first few miles were road walking since the trail winds right through the heart of Agua Dulce. The sky looked like it was threatening to let loose- whether that be rain, hail, or snow we couldn't be sure. Luckily it held out and we sailed along the trail staying warm as long as we were moving.

Oddly enough we were heading to another Trail Angel's house. Joe and Terri Anderson are 24 miles down the trail and LOVE having hikers stop through. Not only do they feed you dinner AND breakfast (when we were there they probably fed 50+ hungry hikers), but they have what they call their manzanita forest behind their house that has tons of nooks and crannies for hikers to camp in. They also manage several water caches along the way as well. We rolled into the second one, dubbed "The Oasis Cache," which also happened to be in a Manzanita grove, just as Joe and a handful of other hikers rolled in to restock it. They showed up with water, soda and beer, and we enjoyed an A&W Rootbeer while sitting in lawn chairs and being watched by inflatable birds, monkeys, and flamingos. It was awesome!

We rolled into their house just as dinner was about to be served (score!), and this is how I can tell my body is in hiking mode: I, Jess, ate a cheeseburger and a huge taco salad plate without batting an eye. Normally I wouldn't make it through the taco salad. It was amazing! And I wasn't really even that full. So all you people out there who told me to make sure I eat (julie), just know I'm being taken care of :).

Since it still looked like rain, we slept under our tarp (for like the second or third time since we started) amid many a hiker in our corner of the Manzanita forest.

Total Miles: 478.6
Miles Today:24.2
Camp 27:Anderson's Manzanita Forest

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May 23:AntFarm and Swiffer

Today was the second zero day we took since being on the trail. Pretty much everyone takes a zero @ the Saufley's. In the past hikers had no limit to the number of nights they were allowed to stay, so many "got sucked into the vortex" and stayed for 1,2,3,or more days. This year, probably due to sheer numbers, there is a two night stay cap, limiting hikers to one zero day there. For example, it started getting overcast on our way into Agua Dulce, and the next day hikers were showing up with stories of rain, hail, and even 6-8 inches of snow! Because of this, there were 75 hikers there our second night. Talk about a handful! Next year they are putting a 50 person cap on a first-come, first-serve basis, which should help things from getting too overhelming.

We spent our day relaxing, eating, grocery shopping (we took the sweet old-school bikes into town to the grocery store), and sorting food and shakes to be sent ahead to a few places. We set out to the post Office, got lost, and ended up @ a totally different one than we were aiming for! But, our stuff got sent, so that's all that matters.

This was also the stop we said we needed trail names by. We mentioned earlier that most people go by a trail name because it's easier to remember and usually has a fun story behind it. So our trail names are, yep, you guessed it, Ant Farm and Swiffer.

Mark is Ant Farm. His name came about b/c he woke up one morning with loads of ants in his food. They had spent the night chewing their way into a bunch of his ziplocks; even though he got most of them out he still had a few traveling with him for most of that day.

I, Jess, am Swiffer. I got this name b/c due to my lasik surgery a couple months ago, my eyes were really dry so the doctors plugged the tear ducts in both my eyes. In the cooler hours of the day or when it's windy my eyes water. Wiping the tears off my face had caused dirt to stick (that and all the sunscreen we lather on). I just always have dirt on my face, and often when we go into town, my shirt and face are way dirtier than Mark's. I got Swiffer b/c I collect dirt easily and it was better than being called Dirtface :).

We went to sleep that night very glad to be in the RV; it was definitely still looking like rain and it was definitely still cold!

Total Miles:454.4
Miles Today:0
Camp 26:Hiker Haven RV

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

May 22: The Saufley's Hiker Heaven

We woke early and got moving as it was still quite cold and we knew we'd make it to town today. We tanked up on water for the whole day, because the one reliable water source was suspected to be the most polluted on the whole trail as it flowed along a road and through an RV park.

We eventually walked through a long tunnel under a highway and popped out into a county park with these awesome rock formations. It looked like what I picture Utah to be like- or another planet. I literaly think some old Star Trek episodes were filmed here. We wove through the park as clouds were suprisingly thick in the sky and even dark in the distance. It seemed rain was falling somewhere.

The trail briefly walks the road as you enter Agua Dulce and here is where trail Angels Jeff and Donna Saufley have what is known as Hiker Heaven ( They have arranged their property to accomidate over 50 hikers at a time. There is a mobile trailer, full bathroom, kitchen, an RV,& large tents with cots. Donna does your laundry for you, while you can pick out some fresh loaner clothes to wear. There are bicycles to ride a mile into the town grocery or restaurants. And they even have two vehicles for hikers take and drive wherever they need to!(including REI!)

As we turned off the trail route and down the Saufleys street Donna herself stopped to pick us up. We arrived and got our names on the shower list and picked out clothes to wear. We grabbed cots to sleep on, but soon got upgraded to the RV! It's a small Winnebego style with the bed over the drivers seat area. It's probably early 80's vintage and doesn't look like it's moved in a decade, but it makes a plush home for us.

We get on a list to drive into an REI gear store. It turns into quite the adventure in an old Volvo station wagon and five hikers who don't really know each other. We picked up some new shoes and were able to eat at a Wood Ranch with awesome BBQ! It was a late night, but we were looking forward to our zero day!

Total Miles:454.4
Miles Today:18.2
Camp 25: Hiker Heaven RV

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

May 21: BUGS!

When the mornings are cold and you hear the wind howling it is easy to stay in your sleeping bag a little longer. We got a little later start due to this. However, the day remained very cool- even chilly- and combined with some smooth trail the miles clicked by quicker than expected.

We are still carrying a lot water- 4-5 liters is very regular.

For the last few days there have been these tiny flies. They do not bite or sting, but they are exteremely annoying. They are all up in your face and there is no real escape. They love to buzz into your ear or eye. So, I end up walking along waving my hand in front of my face every few seconds in a similar way to a horse wagging its tail as it walks along. Jessica pulls out her mosquito head net to provide a barrier of sanity.

As evening rolls around we catch up to a whole pack of hikers camping at a ranger stations that has a water spicket. We met some new faces and got reacuainted with some familar ones before settling in for the night.

Total Miles:436.2
Miles Today:24.0
Camp 24:Picnic Area Pile-Up

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May 20: The Yellow Legged Frog

Within a few mlies in the morning about three and a half miles of trail were closed due to protecting the habitat of the yellow legged frog. The frog is on the endangered species list and with that comes powerful protection. You surely wouldn't be caught if you just walked theough the area, but it seemed most all hikers respected the reroute.

So, we walked a couple miles on a road and took a side trail to reconnect to the PCT. Some hikers realized that if they walked the road a couple more miles they could reconnect with the PCT. Not only was this shorter but it avoided over a thousand feet of elevation loss, and then, gain. We were suprised how easily hikers would justify walking the road and cutting off a piece of the trail. Every hiker has his or her own set of ethics as to how they want to hike the trail. So, they decide for themselves what is cheating. Some hikers are openly not "purists," needing to walk all of the trail. Some occasionally do what is called slack-packing. This is having someone else take your gear to the road or wherever you will end up and you hike with only minimal supplies for the day. The advantage is a significantly lighter pack. Thirty-Five lbs may drop down to 10 or less this way, allowing the hiker to walk faster and have an easier day.

There is a popular saying on the trail: " Hike your own hike." Essentially don't let others tell you how to hike or what is exceptable. In many ways it is good that people hike there own hike. But, when people start skipping sections of trail and say they hiked the PCT, it seems it starts to diminish it for those who actually walk the whole thing- or at least that's my opinion. With that said, I know everyone misses 10 feet or 100 yards or a half mile somewhere. And with fires and other reroutes it gets tricky as to what hiking the whole trail really means. So in some sense, no one walks every inch of the trail; it's just that some try harder than others.

Miles seemed to roll by smoothly the rest of the day. We enjoyed a cold soda at a cooler where we met our first southbound section hiker, Beadman.

Total Miles:412.2
Miles Today:24.4
Camp 23:Windy Pines

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Friday, May 23, 2008

May 19: Mt. Baden-Powell

Our Trail Angel host cooked us a wonderful breakfast before giving us a ride back to the trail. We started hiking mid-morning, coasting through the first few miles. We soon hit the base of Mt. Baden-Powell the second of two spots before the High Sierra where snow will cover thr trail. Ice axes and crampons are sometimes used here.

We began our climb up the 3 thousand feet on a trail of numerous switch backs. Patches of snow soon covered the trail, and then up high snow totally covered any trace of a trail. We headed straight up kicking steps in the melting snow. After maybe ten minuites we found the trail again and cruised toward the summit. Our climb went rather smooth and our experience climbing and hiking on snow made this seem casual. For other hikers we heard stories of getting confused on their location and really struggling on the snow.

The summit has a marker to pay honor to the man whose name it bears and who started Boy Scouts. As an Eagle Scout I guess I had to pay some sort of homage. The summit marker has among other things a list of the 12 points of the Scout law. A Boy Scout is:


I think I'm doing pretty good on all those except maybe "Clean". Jess thought it was funny that one was even in the list in the first place.

Leaving the summit we admired this tree believed to be around 1,500 years old. It was pretty gnarled, but seemed to look good for it's age.

We walked along a ridge with more snow patches and stunning views. As a full moon was rising we made camp near the summit of Mt. Williamson in a soft bed of pine needles.

Total Miles: 387.8
Today's milage: 18.3
Camp 22: Magical Full Moon

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May 18: Into Wrightwood

The morning started with about 2,000 ft more of climbing. We had a Swiss couple right behind us. At a break we were talking and realized they are good friends with a Swiss couple we met in 2005 while hiking the JMT. We couldn't believe it. We had a great memory of sharing a whole apple pie with this other couple.

As we hiked toward Wrightwood we went a few more miles on the PCT and got to a road to hitch, rather than walk the side trail in and out of town. The trail wound us through a campground where we met a guy with a couple horses heading out to do trail matinance. Man do we appreciate when someone saws a down tree to clear the trail! There are some enormous trees that can occasionally be a little tricky to get around. The trail wound along a ski resort with chair lifts and all. It was strange to see cleared ski runs ans directional signs with no snow. And the ski resort had no problem routing the trail straight up and down slopes. There were none of the gradual climbs we were used to.

At the road a day hiker gave us a ride into Wrightwood. We went to the hardware store which served as a information hub in this hiker friendly town. There were a list of names and phone numbers of families willing to host hikers. I haven't seen this before. So, after a couple calls we were set. We first hit a pizza place... Amazing! Jess and I erased a medium packed with toppings. We then grabbed our hiking food at the local grocery. Our host family picked us up at in front of the store and took us in. They were great! They let us take showers, do laundry, and had a little bunk area were the slanted roof makes the ceiling low for us to sleep. There was another hiker with us for the night. The family was very generous with all they had. They have had hikers from all over the states and world stay with them in the 4 years they've done this. They really blessed us and we slept well.

Total Milage: 369.5
Today's milage: 12.9
Camp 21: Trail Angels: Jeff & Colleen's house

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May 17:McDonalds

It was almost as exciting as going into town; we hiked 9 miles to interstate 15, where we took a right and walked half a mile to, yes, you guessed it, McDonalds. I have probably only eaten @ McDonalds once or twice in the passed few years, and then, only in a pinch. I'm not usually a huge fan, but when you're hiking, it sounds like heaven!

We arrived just before breakfast was over, so we ordered some breakfast food and, later, some double cheeseburgers to go (yay dollar menu!). It tastes just as good a few miles along the trail as it does fresh off the grill (what does that tell you about their food?) :)

It was extremely hot out, and the climb up from I-15 was a grueling 5000 ft. We made it up about 3000 of them before heading to bed on one of the only flat spots along the ridge, as a nearly full moon lit up the night sky.

Total Miles:356.6
Miles Today:23.5
Camp 20: Yellow Stake Ridge

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

May 16:Silverwood Lake

We walked away from our campsite and traversed long an old aquaduct-made-trail and headed toward a dam. Apparently this dam was built as a safety net in case the one a little ways away fails and the lake it's holding gets emptied. The skeptical guidebook says it's there in case a Biblical flood comes someday. We got a kick out of that.

We took a long rest next to some trees (the days are staying HOT) in the afternoon, walked 30 minutes and came over a crest to find Silverwood Lake, and decided we needed to take a side trail down to a beach to get our feet wet and wash a few things off since we've been in poison oak areas again. The first thing I saw on the beach was a snake. He was small, but when I pointed him out to Mark, he noticed it was a rattler. Luckily his mission was to climb up the steep embankment and ours was to be near the water. His mission, however, did manage to take him across both our packs and Mark's hat, but alas, our camera was there as well, so no pics until after he was passed.

Despite all our breaks we somehow managed to do our highest mileage yet and camped atop a little knoll with another guy; in the distance was Cajon Pass, with the interstate and railroad tracks in view and planes flying periodically overhead. Tomorrow we would walk to the Interstate and, yes, McDonalds.

Total Miles:333.1
Miles Today: 24.5
Camp 19:Planes,Trains,& Automobiles

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May 15: Hot Springs!

We finally got to experience some hot springs! We arrived around 5pm after good day of hiking and our muscles were excited. Natural hot springs flow out of the side of the mountain and mix with the cold water of Deep Creek. Stones have been built around three large pools or basically hot tubs. There is a small beach area and plenty of swimming potential in the cool creek. This place can be crowed on the weekends, but on a Thurs there were maybe 10 non-hikers there- 8 of whom felt the need to be clothed. We felt like Jello after soaking in the hot water and understood why such a beautiful and refreshing place was so popular.

I told a high school-aged guy I was talking with that I hoped to find some people cooking burgers. He replied, "I tell you what I got a double cheeseburger in my backpack" and he passed it right over. McDonalds never tasted so good!

This day we also spent a lunch break with 5 older hikers who refered to themselves as the Geriatrics Group since they are all over 60. They consisted of two couples and a single lady who all just met on the trail and decided to hike together. They were a lot of fun and joked with each other. I learned about all these great discounts AARP can get. And they have had fun hitching rides to town. One guy pulled over and said, "I don't normally pick up hitch-hikers but you just looked so OLD!"

Later we hiked ahead of them and I left 5 peanut M&Ms in a row for them as a treat. When they caught us at the hot spring they shared the famous AT (Appalachian Trail) quote, "The difference between a thru-hiker and a weekend hiker is that the weekend hiker will step over an M&M on the trail."

Total Miles: 308.6
Today's miles: 22.2
Camp 18: Arched Bridge

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May 14: Beauty and Bread

We didn't start hiking from the road until after 10am. We got a ride along with a couple other hikers from the owner of the hostel. Before we left we mailed some things at the P.O. and then had to wait a bit for everyone else to get ready.

Despite our late morning start the miles seemed to move by. We had our most beautiful day of weather yet. It was sunny and mildly warm with a light breeze and lots of shade. This was the weather you dream of when you're picturing your hike as the ultimate getaway and pure bliss. Most days start frigid cold and quickly turn blistering hot. Although we have yet to see just how hot the desert can really get. We meet people in town who sometimes say they want to do a hike like this, then they here a story of a hiker waking up with a spider crawling on them and quickly change their mind. It's easy to dream of the postcard perfection of hiking, but the challenges and obsticals are many. Still we find the difficulties to be minimal when compared to the beauty and joys hiking can lead to.

I'm reminded of a famous John Muir quote: "We all need beauty as well as bread." I'm sure I don't have the words exact from memory. I suspect many of us in America are getting more than our share of bread, but sometimes we're starving ourselves of beauty. Still others have opened their eyes to the beauty that surrounds them.

We hiked the second half of our perfect weather day through a forest fire area about 6 months old. It was dusty and barren with some large pine trees that survived. Looking in the distance Jess commented how you seemed to be looking at a black and white photo. Taking a closer look at the ground the small sprouts of green were the reminder that an abundant forest would come again. A beautiful picture of life emerging out of death. Most interesting to me were the large holes left after a stump had entirely burned. I saw one squirrel that reminded me how no other animals were present as in other areas. They all flee the barreness.

We hiked until darkness came and climbed into sleeping bags under a strong moonlight.

Total Miles: 286.4
Today's milage: 21.1
Camp 17: Boulders and Burn

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

May 13: Big Bear

Last night was cold!! This was the first night we know it got below freezing. The ice in water bottles was a clue. Luckily our sleeping bags do good at keeping us warm. And once we were out of sleeping bags we quickly wanted to get walking. It stayed quite cold and even when the sun began to hit us, the winds kept the chill on. Then the winds picked up. It can be very windy in these desert section. And we were being blown all over. Luckily we were heading to town. I can feel my calories per mile go down in a strong head wind.

We cruised to the road by 10:30am and enjoyed some cold sodas. A few places to stay in town brought water, sodas, and treats to advertise where to stay in town. Pretty clever idea! Although I enjoyed a Jones Cream soda from the Motel 6 we ended up staying at the Big Bear Hostel.

The Hostel has only been open a few months and is great. We only had a couple blocks walk to restaurants, a post office, a movie theater - all kinds of stuff. This is probably why some other hikers are on there 3rd night here. We hopped a bus to the grocery store, which was fun because the driver was more like a tour guide and she was quite fond of the ski resort where Shawn White grew up learing to snowboard. We plan to get back to the trail in the morning after hitting the post office.

Total Milage: 265.3
Today's milage: 9.4
Camp 16: Big Bear Hostel

May 12: I met Chuck Norris

This day was spent getting to know some of our new hiker friends. I'm trying to avoid writing to much about other hikers in detail and by name, but I have to mention one name. I laughed after I heard myself say to Jessica, "That Chuck Norris seems like a really nice guy." That's right, I'm hiking with Chuck Norris. Hikers go by a trail name that is usually given to them by someone else while hiking. You can never remember all the Brians, Jeffs, Sarahs and so forth, but it's easy to remember someone's trail name that usually is connected with a good story. Well, Chuck Norris looks like Chuck Norris! Really! He's middle aged and has a few extra pounds so he's not the fit Walker Texas Ranger you might be used to, but there is a strong resemblance.

He is a great guy. He hiked that Appalachian Trail last year and got the name there. At the time he didn't realize there was a resurgence of Chuck Norris jokes and lines. You know the ones like "Before the boogyman goes to bed he checks his closet for Chuck Norris." And "Chuck Norris visited the Virgin Islands and they had to rename them The Islands." He said he probably wouldn't have taken the name if he knew there were lines out there like the second one, but it had already stuck.

Later this day we crossed a dirt road and there was this place that had a bear in a cage! I saw my first bear on the PCT and it was in a cage! We're not sure what exactly what the place was, someone thought they had trained animals for movies in the area. It was a big bear in a pretty small cage. You might think I was a little scared, but luckily this was the day I was hiking with Chuck Norris.

We stopped more than an hour earlier than usual to camp with this group. We only had less than 10 miles to the next town anyway. Hikers shared some extra food with Jess and I, plus another made a campfire. We usally don't have these but this place was a designated camp with a fire ring. It was a real treat. There was also a lady with a horse camping there. She is doing the PCT with her horse for about a month. She rides some and leads the horse other times. She seemed to be loving it!

As we went to bed that night we learned why there were some that wanted rename our friend "Chuck Snorris".

Total Milage: 255.9
Today's milage: 20.9
Camp 15: Fire and a Horse

May 11: Ant Farm

Our morning miles seemed to pass quickly as we were heading to a stream that was supposed to be the largest amount of water yet. We heard the sound of water as we stood high on a ridge and peared into a vast basin around a half mile wide. We decened to the basin that seemed it could have been home to a roaring whitwater rivers during a flood, but was now shadless and nearly dry. We knew there was a small vein of water that would flow somewhere through this basin. The trail moved more up the basin than across and we hiked more than a mile without coming to the water or hearing any sound of it. In the shadeless heat we finally came over a small hump and we saw a gushing stream with what seemed to be a village of people! There really were 10 hikers sitting along the water resting, drinking, washing clothes, and even sitting in it. The stream was only about 3 feet wide and varried in depth, but it was wonderful cold water. No doubt flowing from snow melt up high somewhere on Mt. San Bernidino which was seen in the distance.

Hikers tend to congregate at water for breaks during the day. And one hiker claimed it was a glorious oasis in a dry land. I understood how civilizations are drawn to live on and near water. You could feel how this place seemed to give life. The drinks of water restored our bodies. But, the cool relief of washing and resting seemed to restore and lift everyone spirit.

I forgot to mention this was the morning that I had ants get into my [Mark] food bag. It was crazy! There were hundreds, it seemed, and they chewed through some plastic bags! I thought ants only crawled on things and got into stuff left open. These ate through my plastic bag! They were all up in my sunflower seeds and the bag had so many holes the seeds kept falling out! I worked and got rid of about 90% of the ants. There was no way to get rid of them all unless I was going to individually blow on every Cheeto. So I packed up my food and my traveling ant army and set out. Jess wants my trail name to be "Ant Farm". Yeah, I had a little ant farm in my pack most of the day. It's cool though, they don't weigh much.

We took a long afternoon break under the shade of a big tree with the new group of hikers. We spent the rest of the day leap frogging with many of these hikers. We later followed a stream bed up a valley for a few miles, and it was wonderful to be near to water. Jess remarked how uncharacteristic this is for the PCT, which likes to be up high along the ridges. We pulled off for the night camping with a group of these hikers. We have found ourselves willing to stop a mile or two shorter in order to spead some time getting to know other hikers. This has been quite fun!

Total Milage: 235.0
Today's milage: 20.9
Camp 14: Group above Creek

May 10:hot, Hot, HOT!

You know when you wake up @ 6am and crawl out of your sleeping bag in shorts and a tshirt and aren't cold,that it's going to be a hot day. Usually the desert has hot days and cool/cold nights and mornings. I knew when I woke up that it was going to be hot...and it was. We spent most of our day descending from over 7000 ft to 1200 ft, and all of it down a ridge that was scorched b fire in the past, so all the vegetation was knee-high (which equals no shade). We even passed a spot where someone else before us had scratched in the dirt "This sucks". It was pretty funny to read after hours in the hot sun and understanding where they were coming from.

It was well worth it, though because at the bottom there was a fountain with good water and only a mile to a trail angel's house where we and the guy we'd been hiking with got to enjoy some shade, cold juice, and some fresh berries.

We said goodbye to the San Jacinto mts and headed out across the flat valley toward the San Bernadino range. We camped under a hilltop filled with energy-producing windmills after passing under I-10 and downing a couple of gatorades (love that trail magic!!).

Total Miles: 214.1
Miles Today:22.6
Camp Name:Under the Windmills

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May 9: San Jacinto/ Fuller Ridge

We left the town of Idyllwild recharged and began our climb up the 4.5 mile Devil's Slide Trail. With our new socks and insoles our feet felt brand new! We climbed up the trail with a couple other hikers and before we knew it we reached the PCT. A posted sign marked the PCT closure to the south and we turned and headed north.

We are hiking on Mt. San Jacinto, a 10,000 ft mountain that stands above most of southern California. The actual PCT tops out just above 9,000 ft as it skirts around the mountain. It is quite popular to hike to the summit and then reconnect with the PCT about 5 miles later. Because we have stood on many summits, knew the views weren't any different, and wanted to stay on the actual PCT we chose not to summit. We were quite happy with that decsion.

The later afternoon took us across Fuller Ridge, a notorious slope due to the large amounts of snow that linger late in the year. The north side of mountains always hold their snow much longer. And snow there was! Much more than I expected since many hikers went through a couple weeks before us. We plunged along the top of the dense snow using our trekking poles to help balance. The trick is in kicking good footsteps, something a hiker in front of us wasn't getting. With a lot of energy he seemed to want to move fast, but was slipping all over the place. I kept envisioning him banging his knee in the wrong place and having to end his hike. The snow came with small patches of trail in places to keep you sure you're going the right direction. Our firm and steady pace soon put us in front and after about a mile of snow we were back on trail.

We hiked on as the sun set and made camp next to a large rock that offered some protection from the howling winds.

Total milage: 191.5
Todays milage: 12.9 (plus 4.5)
Camp 12: Rock Windshield

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May 8: Zero Day

Hikers commonly use the term "zero day" for a day off. It is termed this because you are hiking zero miles that day. Zero days are an important part of a long hike because everyone needs rest. Even when you still feel strong it is good to rest as this prevents injury and is often good for the spirit as well.
Idyllwild was the sight of our first zero day. We planned on this from the beginning as we mailed ourselves a large package of ingredients for making our protein shakes. We spent a few hours of the mid day mixing powders and tying our little baggies. We mailed off 3 separate packages after Jessica had made 45 shakes and myself 56. It works well to do this on a day off since the primary goal of a zero day is to take as few steps as possible.

Other purposes for the day include consuming as much food as possible and cleaning yourself and clothing. Trips to the Post office, phone calls, catching up on journals, trying to find a new pair of socks or whatever gear you might want are some of the many other tasks that begin to fill your day.

We found a local outdoor outfitter were we each bought a pair of super feet and some new socks. Superfeet are an insole for your shoe that are very popular with hikers. I knew mine were pretty worn out and after being on the trail I realized I had over 1,000 trail miles on my pair in addition to a few years of everyday use. Jessica is excited about her new socks that fit like a glove where each toe has its own pocket like your fingers would. They should help with any blisters inbetween the toes. As for looks they are quite cute, but we'll see if they work.

By the end of the day we are quite exhausted from all the little errands we had to complete, but our bodies are rested and well fed. In the morning we will begin our climb out of town 4.5 miles before we even reach the actual PCT. We don't get credit for those miles. And leaving town your pack is always heaviest because you are loaded with all new food and some water. Our packs base weight is about 10 lbs each (no food or water). We weighed them as we walked out of town and Jessica came in at 26 lbs and I at 27 lbs. Yeah, food and water are heavy! Our 4 liters of water each adds 8 lbs to our packs. We felt bad for the hiker with us whose pack weighed 42 lbs (and he had only 1 quart of water). But, he is much closer to the norm of what most hikers seem to be carrying.

Total milage: 178.6
Today's milage: 0
Camp 11: Idyllwild Inn

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Friday, May 09, 2008

May 7: Road Walk

We had camped about 3.5 miles short of Hwy 74- the decision point. We were hoping that when we got to the road we would find that the section of trail that was closed due to the fire (north of hwy 74 for 27 miles) would be open. Alas, it was not, and the word on the street (or trail) was that it could be days or it could be weeks. Many hikers were simply hitching into Idyllwild, the hiker-friendly town up the road, and reconnecting with the trail just north of town, skipping this section of trail. Others were walking the road 18 miles into town in order to have a continuous mexico to canada walk. We opted for the second option. If the trail were to open soon we would consider hitching back to hike the section we missed, but we didn't want to have to if we were already a long ways away. It's rare to have a year where a fire or something of the sort doesn't interrupt a thru-hike. They are just too common. we just didn't expect it to happen so soon! Road walking is much harder !
on your feet and legs than trail walking. I was way more fatigued at the end of that walk than at the end of any of our trail days. In short, it sucked, but we did it, and now we can still say we walked from mexico to canada, which is what we set out to do. We hobbled into Idyllwild, more than ready for the food, bed, and the "zero day" that was to come.

Total Miles:178.6
Miles Today:21.5 (18 road miles)
Camp 10:Idyllwild Inn

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May 6: Footprints

Mike provided a nice warm bowl of oatmeal to get us started for the day. This is especially a treat for us since we are not cooking any of our food.

We only saw a few other hikers all day.

Had a quarter mile side hike to get some water out of a large cement fire storage container. A valve allowed it to flow out looking clear and cool.

Windy and cool in the early evening. The desert can be very windy! And this helps contribute to it feeling quite cold at times. Actually very cold at times. No nights below freezing yet, but they will come.

Just before making camp we came across another couple whose tracks we had been following. I've learned many other hikers footprints and can tell who is in front of me. It is funny to know someones footprint before you actually meet them.

Made camp pitching our tarp as clouds started rolling in at dusk.

Total Milage: 147.7
Today's Milage: 20.6
Camp 9: Foggy Morning

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May 5: La Fiesta de Cinco de Mayo

We were rested and clean(er) as we hiked (hobbled) out of WSR and back to the trail. Our day today was full of climbing- the trail semed to continually take us uphill, although in actuality it was probably our legs and feet just needing to get used to hiking again after getting so much down time on our day off. We had spent the few days before hiking in a bigger pack of hikers and because we left WSR before many of them, we had a relatively quiet hike. We met a couple of new people, but it wasn't nearly as busy as the days before. We also got our first taste of what it's like to be on the lookout, not only for rattlesnakes, but also fo poison oak. It is one of the most common plants in southern california, and exists in the form of shrubs and small plants. It's similar to poison ivy in that it gives you a nasty rash if you touch it, so we were extra careful not to get near it. Luckily we seemed to get through unscathed...for now. It is much more plentiful on other parts of t!
he trail. As the day wore down, we had a fun surprise pop up. We had planned on picking up some water at a water tank at the house of a guy who has found he enjoyed helping out and meeting hikers in the last couple years. When we got to where the trail crosses the road his house is on, we found a sign that said, "Cinco de Mayo Party, May 3,4,5. Free food/Beer/Shade" with an arrow pointing us to the same house we were heading to already. We were pumped! Free food is always a treat on the trail. Although we were the only ones there for the first 30 minutes or so, eventually there were about 10 others there. Not only did we get some water, but we also got good cooked food and some cots to sleep on on the porch (the others crashed in the hiker hut or garage). Mike, the trail angel who hosted around 60 (or more) hikers in three days was more than hospitable and a lot of fun to chat with. I know many hikers are thankful for the generosity that people like him show!

Total Miles:127.1
Miles Today: 17.6
Camp 8: Cinco de Mayo Party

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May 4: Warner Springs Ranch

We woke up to a cool morning with excitement. We were headed for town! We hiked the last 8 miles into Warner Springs,which is essentially a resort community, a PO, and a gas station/mini mart. Luckily WSR is very hiker-friendly and provides a HUGE discount for hikers on their rooms. We rolled into town around 9:30am, got a room and tok our first shower since we started hiking! It was fabulous! It's amazing how the little things we take for granted in normal life (like showers, washing your clothes,and sleeping in a bed) become huge highlights on the trail! We had also just recently heard rumors of a forest fire 40ish miles up the trail and were anxious to find out more information on whether our trail would be open or closed. It was a great day of relaxing and letting our feet rest and recoup for the days ahead. We spent the day checking email, re-stocking our food for the days ahead, chatting with other hikers and eating! All we knew about the fire when we left WSR was that!
it was 100% contained, but no word on whether we'd get to hike through or not. Our one regret about staying at WSR is that we didn't get to take advantage of the one thing they are famous for: the hot springs.

Total Mileage:109.5
Miles Today:7.4
Camp 7: Warner Springs Ranch

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Hitching into Julian

In our morning hours we counted down the 9 miles until we crossed a highway. Our packs were light with little food or water, so we moved swiftly. At the highway we would be hitching a ride 12 miles into Julian. Yes, hitching as in sticking your thumb out on the side of the road. Another gal wanted to join Jessica and I as she had never hitched a ride and didn't want her virgin hitch to be solo. We welcomed her company and figured another girl would only improve the odds of a quick lift. In my experience having a female with you is an automatic-hitch and don't have to wait long.
Now, I know all our mothers told us to never hitchhike. Actually hitching is so uncommon now they didn't have to mention it by name, they just stated to never go with strangers. Well, part of going to college is to learn that not everything your parents tell you growing up is totally true. I've always chalked up hitching to this list. It's part of the hiker culture to get a ride into the nearest town to resupply food or even overnight and clean up. We are commited to hiking the trial, but when one comes to a road they can take a ride into town and a ride back to the same spot. It helps that we are in rural areas were the average homeless bum doesn't stay and our backpacks help identify us as hikers.
Today it took us about 15 min before we got a ride. A SUV going the oppsite direction pulled over and let 2 hikers out as the driver yelled, "You guys want a ride into town?" True to almost every ride I've gotten he had to move things around in the trunk and back seat to make space for us. It seems the people who stop to give you a ride never have room in their car for you until they move all the junk around. After a 15 min lift I was in line for a footlong Subway!
Julian was a small touristy type town. Everything is on one block and there is a guy giving horse carriage rides. They are most famous for their pies, which are sold all around the area. We found some picnic tables where we relaxed in the shade eating some oranges and pastery treats. We stayed in town just a few hours resisting getting sucked into all the luxery.
After hitching out of town back to the trail, we meet a few other hikers making camp near the road. We chatted with them before beginning a strong climb up from the road. With 6 inches of Sub in each calf and rested feet we hiked until dark a little over an hour later. We made camp along with another hiker who was waiting for his partner to catch up.

Total miles: 82.0
Miles today: 13.6
Camp 5: Makeshift Beach

Disclaimer: Hitch-hiking is dangerous and potentially life threating. Hitching and picking up hitch-hikers is not endorsed or recommended. One should only stray from their mothers advice with fear and trembling.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Hiker Friends

We set out in the morning about 8 liters of water each. That is about 16 lbs of water! It more than doubles the weight of my pack. But, we were going to have a long dry stretch with a couple of possible water sources. One ended up being a cement horse trough with with dark stagnant liquid (suposedly water) with a few nice size bugs floating in it. Yeah, I'll pass on that water unless I'm realy dying for it.
We spent most of the day leap-frogging other hikers we camped with. We hiked some miles with various people and got to learn a bit about them. There were 2 seperate gals we hiked with that had never hiked an over night hike before! Choosing to hike all summer on the PCT is quite the first overnighter. I was really excited to see them going for it. One of the gals is in college and shared,"my parents think I am crazy for doing this."
I replied, "They wouldn't be very good parents if they didn't."
In the hot afternoon there was absolutly no shade for miles. So we pitched our lightweight tarp for a break under some shade. Later I realized I had been letting my feet hang out in sun for an hour. Normally that wouldn't be a big deal, except that my feet have been in polar hibernation all winter not seeing sun since last September. Ironically I was doing this while telling the story of a friend who fell asleep in the sun and burned their feet badly. My feet turned red but luckily we were there long enough to bring any pain.
We hiked on in the evening and I met a hiker who was planning to finish his final section hike of PCT in the next couple weeks. He started in 1997 in Washington and has hiked part of the trail 10 of the last 12 years working his way south. I was impressed by his commitment over the years and told him that in some ways it is more challenging to stick with over all that time rather than hiking it all in one summer. He had a buddy hiking with him who has shared in almost all the hikes. His friend got sucked into the trail when volunteering to pick him up from the trail and after seeing what he was doing stated, "Man I can't believe how you are living up here in the mountains. I've got to join you."
We hiked on till dusk were the 2 gals joined us for camp.
Total milage: 68.4
Tiodays milage: 20.5
Camp 4: Mark and the 3 "J" girls

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Mt. Laguna

We awoke to the usual cold morning, but this time there were low clouds and moisture in the air that kept the chill lingering all morning. We hiked our usual pace of walking an hour and then stopping to change socks and air out our feet. We really have to baby our feet until they toughen up. Blisters are best prevented rather delt with. After hiking 10 miles around noon we reached the road that lead us into Mt. Laguna. I'm not sure that it is a town, it is more of a Campground with a store and small post office. It was here that we met many other hikers, over 10 for sure. We enjoyed some microwave burritos while watching other hikers decide their pack was too heavy and they needed to mail gear home. All sorts of items were being packaged from extra clothing, to full camera and tripod gear, and even about 8 lbs worth of Ham radio gear to send Morse Code messages. He said it worked and he sent a message. I want to ask if he knew what year it was and wether or not he b!
een in Vietnam. A lot of items to carry in your pack seem like a great idea in your living room and after about 20 miles you're ready to chuck them over a cliff. Another hiker estimated he mailed home 15 lbs worth of gear, which absolutly amazed me when I saw the large size that still remained. For perspective my base weight (everthing minus food and water) is about 10 lbs. This guy just mailed home my whole pack and half of Jessica's and still seemed to have enough gear for all 3 of us. This overpacking is common for many new hikers. I'm always glad to see people lightening their pack rather getting discouraged and quitting.
We enjoyed meeting other hikers and sharing stories on a great porch. Jess particularly enjoyed the offical sign across the road that stated, "It is unlawful to throw snowballs at vehicles or their occupants." Seriously, how many snowballs does it take in the winter to get the city to post that sign?
We hiked out of the store and chose to only do 5 more miles and camp with a group of other hikers. We actually paid $2 a person to stay in a campground with water. It seemed crazy to PAY to sleep outside when we're doing that all along the trail for free. But, this was part of our sacrifice to enjoy a little hiker community. It seems you must always make some sacrifce to enjoy community.

Total miles :47.9
Miles today: 15
Camp 3: Mt. Laguna Hiker group

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Full Day

We awoke to a cold morning at 6am that left us both wanting to linger in the coziness of our sleping bags. We scurried to get our things together and start moving. The morning temps felt great to walk in. By the heat of early afternoon we reached the Lake Morena Campground where we rested next to the water spicket. We continued to walk through the desert terrain suprised by how much plant life surrounded us. Many desert flowers seem to be in bloom and often shrub type bushes surround the trail. We've seen many animals: lizards of many types, squirrels, rabbits, 2 grass snakes, birds,tons of humming birds, and one baby rattle snake. The rattler was in the middle of the trail relaxing in the shade. He was very non-aggresive as most all snakes I've encountered seem to be. With a little gentle direction of my trekking pole he moved on by. We later came to a campground with the water turned off. Luckily a few miles further we enjoyed some water from a cache near a road !
left by some trail angels. We made camp about 30 min before sundown.

Trail mile: 33
Miles today: 19.3
Camp 2: Pee Spot

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