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PCT – CA Section J, Day 1

PCT – CA Section J (Sonora Pass to Echo Lake Resort above Hwy 50)

Day 1 – Sonora Pass to Small Camp by a Creek (Mile 1016.9 to Mile 1033.7-ish)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

 

An Inauspicious Start

               My hiking buddy for this trip would be my son Jared, 18 years old and college-bound. Jared’s a good sport and one of my favorite hiking companions, despite his quietness. This would be our last hurrah together – a blistering 76-mile march in four days from Sonora Pass to Echo Summit, just above Highway 50 heading into South Lake Tahoebefore he heads off to college. Jared had everything he needed for his freshman year packed and stacked in his room, ready for an early morning departure on Monday. Time was not on our side. If he was to keep his plans intact, we had very little margin for delay if we were to make our planned nineteen miles per day.

In order to get an early start on Thursday morning, we decided to camp Wednesday night at Pinecrest Campground, some thirteen miles west of Sonora Pass along Highway 108. Jared’s grandparents, my in-laws, who are some of the most supportive in-laws in history, agreed to drive us up to the trailhead knowing that it would include a night of camping without a tent or trailer. They slept in the back of their pick up and lent Jared and I some rather comfy cots.

We awoke early enough, but still managed to get to the Ranger Station after another group of hikers who peppered the only Ranger on duty with all manner of questions and shared all manner of details about their planned excursion. Me? I’m into simplicity and efficiency. I just wanted to get my permit and to get out of there as quickly as possible. Thanks to the gabby leader of the aforementioned group, we didn’t leave the Ranger Station until roughly 8:45. We were already 40 minutes behind schedule.

No sooner did we hit the road than we came upon road construction crews and signs warning of delays. They held true as we stopped several times to wait our turn to use the only available lane. My foot began to tap involuntarily as I realized we were burning daylight and would have trouble making the necessary nineteen miles that day. That, I knew, would impact the rest of the trip. 

At 10:30 or so, we finally hit the trail after pictures and hugs and plenty of warnings from my mother-in-law to be safe and take care of her grandson. The starting elevation is 9620 feet. We came from nearly sea level the night before. I knew the first few miles were going to be killer as we had to climb up and over the highest point of our journey, a 10,500-foot saddle between two volcanic peaks, within the first three miles. What a way to start. “Welcome to back to the Sierra, boys. Here’s some thin air for you to suck on!”

2.9 miles into our first day and we were winded. We sat to rest and Jared, who is not one to complain or whinge, said with one of his patent wry smiles, “You know, Dad, we could just head back down to the highway and catch a ride home. It’d be a lot easier.” Tempting as that offer was, I remained steely in my determination to check off another section of the mighty PCT and prove to my son that I could handle a little pain and exertion. And so could he.

Oh, My!

We pressed on a few more miles, rounding the shoulder of the second volcanic mountain. We kept a steady pace as the trail undulated across the rocky, semi-barren landscape. Somewhere around mile five, part way down the first of many gradual descents between mountain passes, we stopped under the shade of a group of stubby pines overlooking a moss-green lake in a meadow several hundred feet below. Five miles in with what we thought was the toughest climb behind us and we were feeling pretty good.

The trail was mostly empty. We had passed two groups of day hikers in the first couple of miles and met a couple of southbound through hikers heading toward Yosemite. But that was it. We hadn’t seen anyone else. It felt like it might just be the two of us alone in the wilderness for the next four days. The cool thing was, we were both OK with that.

The pattern for much of the next seventy plus miles began to take form after lunch. The trail bottomed out toward the end of the canyon we had been descending. We crossed a creek or two, then began to ascend with the aid of several switchbacks which grew progressively steeper. As we neared the top of the canyon wall, one false summit gave way to another, and another, until we finally traversed a pass or saddle and began to descend another canyon. Drop a thousand to fifteen hundred feet, cross a creek, ascend a thousand feet or two. Repeat.

At one point coming down one of those canyons, I had stopped to take some pictures and Jared had kept motoring ahead of me, knowing we needed to keep an aggressive pace if he was going to get home and keep his planned timeline. I came around a bend as the trail skirted a meadow and entered a forested area. Jared leaned against a rock. His eyes were wide open and his ear turned to listen. “Thought this might be prime bear territory,” he said.

“Did you hear something?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I’m not sure what it was. Might’ve been nothing. But, you never know.”

“Smart thinking, son.”

We stayed together, smartly, and talked out loud whenever we came upon areas where our visibility was limited. I was proud of Jared for his situational awareness and for remembering some of the things I had taught him when I was his Scoutmaster.

Halfway up the second canyon wall on our way to the second of many high altitude passes on this hike, we saw the seventh person of the trip and the first one since about mile two. This was eleven or twelve miles into our journey. He had an expensive camera around his neck and a waist pack with a couple of lenses along with his rather small hiking pack. He didn’t seem to want to stop and talk, but blew past us with nothing more than a “hello.”

Toward the end of the day, our legs were weary from our long and steady march over hill and dale. Our feet were sore and hot. And, dark clouds shrouded the sky above the jagged peaks to our left. A storm looked to be blowing in from the northwest. Moments later, raindrops began hitting us intermittently.

A Couple of Heroes

That’s when we saw the eighth and ninth people of the day and trip. Two older ladies were working to put up their lightweight backpacking tents. I waved and asked them about their hike. They had started at Yosemite and were working their way to Donner Summit. Although eighty miles into a two- hundred-mile trek, these two gals, who I estimated to be in their early to mid-sixties, looked cheerful and energetic. They told me they had been rained on enough this trip and wanted to get their tents up before it really opened up again. I expressed my admiration to them, telling them that I wanted to be like them – still hiking and enjoying the outdoors at their age. They wished me and Jared well and said, “We probably won’t see you again. There’s no way we can keep that kind of pace.” Yes, Jared and I were booking, trying to get as many miles in as we could before the rain started in earnest, but I remained impressed with these two brave and hearty souls and wished I had the time to talk more with them.

That was mile fourteen or so. Still way below our goal.

We pushed on as the rain was still only teasing. It would come down for thirty seconds then stop. Then do it again a few minutes later. Undaunted, we quickened our pace and came over another saddle. As we crested the summit, we passed through a barbed wire gate and began winding down alongside a small creek. The “gate” was really a couple of posts with several strands of barbed wire between them held against a post secured in the ground by a couple of loops of bailing wire. That should have been a clue.

“Do you hear that?”

To us, it was another milestone that marked our progress on the “Halfmile PCT” map app I use on my phone. We were roughly fifteen and a half miles from our starting point and somewhere around a mile or so from a promised creekside camp spot. An expansive meadow lay before us and to our left. Trees and another jagged peak rose toward the sky on our right. The creek headed into some trees. The trail followed, then climbed to another saddle. That’s when we heard it: a strange chorus of sorts. At first, it sounded like rushing water. Maybe there’s a waterfall ahead, I thought. No, it could be voices, Jared said. Lots of voices. That surely meant a scout troop camped where we were hoping to camp. That meant we were screwed and would have to hike longer than we had hoped, perhaps into the dark as it rained. As we continued, the trees thinned and we started through another open meadow. That’s when the origin of the sound became more clear. It was the sound of bells. Dozens of bells clattering on the collars of dozens, perhaps hundreds of cows grazing in these mountain meadows.

With the haunting sound correctly identified, our only concern now was avoiding a stampede and the occasional “trail pie” left behind. Of course, we were also worried about the rain as the clouds had thickened up and darkened considerably.

After winding our way through a gulley or two, we came around a bend and spotted a tent in a small stand of trees and heard the sound of a creek. I checked the app. Yep, this was it. Mile 16.7 and the small camp site it promised. We announced our arrival to the occupant of the tent and asked him if he minded if we camped there. He was more than gracious – almost anxious. We thanked him, learned his name was Jesse, and hastily scouted out the best spot to pitch our tent.

Within twenty minutes our tent was pitched, our raincoats were on, and our dinner was cooking. Or, I should say, was reconstituting. (Mountain House Spaghetti). As it sat in its bag soaking up the water we had boiled, we filtered more water for drinking into our water bladders and bottles. Dinner was amazing, as any food is when you’re that hungry and exhausted, and we finished it just in time. Drops started to spatter as we cleaned and repacked our utensils. Perfect timing.

During dinner we learned that Jesse, the tenth person we’d seen since starting on the trail, was from Portland and was hiking south from Belden to Yosemite, a 250-mile section of trail. Once in Yosemite, he planned to hike many of the trails in and around the park before the end of the summer.

Although we didn’t make the nineteen miles we needed to, we felt accomplished. 16.7 grueling miles in a little under eight hours. An extra mile or so each of the next three days and we’d be fine.

Exhaustion overtook us shortly after climbing into our sleeping bags. The rain stopped even before we fell asleep, but the clanging of cow bells in the distance provided an auditory backdrop to our dreams most of the night.

 

 

May 25th is the day

May 25th is the day “Off Guard” becomes available.  

The finale to the “Off” series is scheduled to be released next week.  I want to thank all those who have already ordered their copy and encourage those who haven’t to go ahead and invest three bucks into a fun, clean read that will keep you guessing.

I hope you have as much fun reading the “Off” series as I’ve had creating it.

Again, I appreciate all the support.

Enjoy the adventure!

“Off Guard” now on pre-order

“Off Guard” is now available for pre-order

I’m pleased to announce the release of the third book in the “Off” trilogy on May 25th.

I have worked hard on this third and final installment in Collin Cook’s saga. It has been a labor of love, with an emphasis on the labor. Wrapping up a series is more difficult than I suspected going in, but I feel good about how the story turned out. There’s action, drama, and more high-stakes consequences for failure.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

Knowing that his nemesis, Pho Nam Penh has a sinister plan to wreak havoc on the world’s economy and the global balance of power, Collin Cook, the everyday guy thrown into a cat-and-mouse game with global ramifications, chooses to face Penh and try to stop his diabolic scheme. Racing against the clock with the help of his good friend, Lukas, a top-ranking NSA cyber-crime expert, Collin’s journey tests every ounce of his resolve and strength. Will Collin and Lukas be able to outwit Penh one more time and prevent a catastrophe from being unleashed on the world?

I hope you’ll check it out.

Click here to order “Off Guard.”

As always, enjoy the adventure!

 

Best Ranking Ever

The Free Giveaway Continues

Look who’s #1
I like to share good news, just like I enjoy hearing everyone else’s good news. So, I hope you don’t mind indulging me in some good news sharing.
I decided to run a free promotion for my debut novel, “Off Kilter” this week (April 15-19) in the hopes of attracting more readers to my books. Well, here’s the good news: “Off Kilter” reached the top spot for Thrillers this weekend on Amazon’s Top 100 Free e-books list. That was really cool to see. It’s the first time I’ve ever hit number 1 on that list. But, what’s even better news is that it reached #3 overall across all genres! Again, that’s the highest I’ve ever ranked on Amazon’s top 100 e-books list.
That means that the promotion I paid for is doing its job and getting my name and my work out there and readers are picking it up and reading it. That’s really good news for an author.

If you haven’t picked up your Kindle e-book copy yet, hurry. The promotion ends April 19th.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading it and feel like you are part of the adventure. I also hope you’ll share your experience with other readers by leaving a review on Amazon for me. That would be very helpful.

Off Course is trending higher, too!

The other good news coming out of this weekend is that my second book, “Off Course,” is also trending upward. It reached #39 on the top 100 in the Thriller category for paid e-books and has stayed at or near the top 50 all weekend (at #51 right now). That, too, is an exciting trend that I hope continues.

And don’t forget, “Off Guard” is available for pre-sale.

Book 3 in the trilogy is now available on Amazon for pre-sale. It’s due to drop on May 25th and is only $2.99.
Happy reading everyone!

Download “Off Kilter” for Free

Free Giveaway

 

That’s right, I’m giving stuff away, but only for a limited time. “Off Kilter,” my debut novel, will be available on Kindle for free until April 19th.

“Off Kilter” is a fast-paced race around the world with Collin Cook, an ordinary guy thrown into extraordinary circumstances by tragedy. Collin has been targeted by the nefarious cyber-terrorist, Pho Nam Penh, who has framed Collin for a rash of recent crimes. By doing so, Penh cunningly elicits the help of Interpol and the FBI in the hunt for his targeted victim, Collin Cook. Penh is after the $30 Million insurance settlement Collin received as a result of the accident that claimed his family. With the help of his ingenious friend, Lukas Mueller, a high-ranking security expert with the NSA, Collin is on the run to save his own life and prevent Penh from gaining more power.

Enjoy the adventurefor FREE!!

And please, don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon. They are so helpful to authors like myself. They connect us with readers who are trying to figure out what to read next.

 

Kindle e-readers on sale, in case you don’t have one yet.

Cover for my new book

Almost There

 

Off Guard, book 3 of 3 in the “Off” series.

I’ve been working long and hard on the third and final installment of the “Off” series. “Off Guard” is scheduled to be released in mid-to-late May 2017. We just finalized the cover art for it. Tell me what you think. I’d love to hear your feedback.

“Off Guard” is now available for pre-sale on Amazon very soon. Click here to check it out: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06ZZ742DM

Final Stages

 

The editing/revising process is taking me longer for this book because of all the loose ends I need to tie up as I finish the series. I don’t want the third volume to be a disappointment for my readers. I’ve read many trilogies where I felt the third and final book was a let-down. More than anything, I want this piece of Collin Cook’s story to be just as exciting and fast-paced as the first two segments. So, I keep revising and tweaking and adding things to make it all come together smoothly, and yet, unpredictably. I hope the final product will meet your expectations.

All 3 books of the “Off” series.

What’s Next?

 

After I finish the “Off” series, I’m excited to announce a new book that I’m working on titled “Chosen Path.” It will be different, but still a fast-paced adventure with interesting characters and unique settings. This book will draw from my experiences living and doing business in Korea, so I hope you will learn something about the people and the country that I have come to know and love.

 

Stay tuned for more news about release dates and special offers.

PCT – CA Section A Day 6

PCT – CA Section A

Day 6 –  Barrel Spring to Warner Springs (Mile 101 to Mile 110)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Getting an Early Start

Another warm night meant that I awoke with only my feet in my sleeping bag as the first rays of sun peaked over the hills and into my tent. Again, my trail-self did what my home-self doesn’t often do. I popped up energetically and started preparing for my day. Despite having hiked twenty-two miles the day before and a hundred and one miles over the previous five days, I felt ready to go. I knocked out breakfast quickly and repacked with surprising efficiency and hit the trail by 6:45. With only three liters of water in my pack, I felt surprisingly light compared to previous days where I was so concerned about running out. This morning, I knew I could do the nine miles with water to spare, especially if I beat the heat.

My biggest frustration that day was the fact that my solar-powered battery charger had apparently not gotten enough sunlight during the previous day, despite my best efforts to angle its panels at the sun. It hadn’t added any juice to my phone, which now had 12% battery life. That was going to be a problem, I knew, when it came time to take pictures.

I spent the morning roaming over a mix of wooded and grassy hills, through meadows and oak groves. Then, halfway through my march, I crossed the first live stream of the entire trip. A running creek was indeed a site to behold. I risked running my phone battery dry and snapped a few shots of this novelty.

Wildlife Encounter

Over the next hill, I saw more “wildlife” other than lizards than I had seen all trip. First, a pair of jack rabbits crossed my path and ran into the brush. Of course, my phone was not ready, so I wasn’t able to document it. Then, over the next rise, I ran into a small herd of cattle. I’m not scared of cows, but there was a moment where I felt more vulnerable than I had the entire trek. With sore feet, tired muscles, and a forty-pound pack, my ability to escape them was quite limited. As I swooped down the trail, the fifteen congregated, black-and-white-spotted cows, all turned toward me warily. Two or three of them did that hoof scraping thing, not in a particularly threatening manner, perhaps trying to ward me off. Three of them were lying right on the path, apparently holding no reverence for the sanctity of the mighty PCT. The others huddled in close around them, leading me to believe that they would protect their lazy sisters at all costs.

I began to bang my hiking poles together. That didn’t work. I called out to them, “Move cows, get out of my way. Go, go, go.” No response from the bovines. I waved my arms and poles as I continued to march toward them. Again, a couple of them scraped the ground with their front hooves. I stopped and eyed them, trying to figure out the best option. Of course, I had no intention of walking any further than I had to, but I also did not want to get stampeded. One option included walking in a wide arc around the group and around a pile of rocks to the top of the next hill. That would have required about 200 extra yards, I figured. Or, I could be more brave and walk only a few extra yards if I split a twenty-yard gap between the main group of ten cows near the trail and the three or four spread out to my right. That seemed the most efficient way to go. It would save me the time of waiting for these heifers to clear out and would save me the extra effort of circumnavigating around the whole group. So, I proceeded as confidently as one can when in close proximity to half-ton beasts who don’t want you near them. For added protection, I held my poles out perpendicular to my body on both sides and jabbed them toward the cows as they turned toward me. They were my only protection against being trampled. Fine, fine weapons, those hiking poles. After making safe passage through the herd, I thought: this is the stuff of “Far Side” cartoons and I laughed at the scene, wishing I had either had a camera to capture this on video or the genius ability of Gary Larson to humorously encapsulate the sight in some sort of anthropomorphic duel between the will of man versus the will of cow.

A few falsely confident strides and I was beyond them, though I didn’t take my eyes off them until I was near the top of the hill.

With that “danger” behind me, I passed over several more hills until I came to a field of towering boulders. One of them, known as Eagle Rock, was worthy of pictures, but with no battery, I had to abandon that thought and press on. The contrasts in the landscape along this portion of the trail was fascinating. Green pastures to stands of humongous oaks to rock fields to more chaparral to shady streamside groves. The variations in this nine-mile stretch kept my mind off of other things, like aching feet and gnawing hunger.

Before I knew it, I could hear the distant sound of cars, but couldn’t quite echo-locate their position, thanks to the trees and hills around me. But I knew that meant I was approaching Highway 79 and Warner Springs, my end-goal for this trip. My mouth began to water as I thought about hamburgers and chocolate shakes. I also became pointedly aware of the dirt and grime on my skin and the untidiness of my appearance. The promised showers in Warner Springs seemed to be beckoning me, so I increased my pace.

A Parking Problem

By 9:40 that morning, I was passing through the final pipe gate of my trek and striding along the shoulder of Highway 79 in front of the Warner Springs Fire District, looking for my car. Will had texted me earlier that he had left it in a parking lot between the Fire House and the school. There it was, my little black beauty. With a sense of victory and accomplishment, I dropped my pack next to the car and hurriedly removed my boots to let my feet breathe. The log divider in the parking lot made a perfect seat for the task and I was soon in my ultra-fashionable crocks and enjoying a long pull on my water bottle, which still had half a liter.

That’s when I saw two people eying me as they approached from opposite directions. They cautiously surveyed my appearance before proffering a question from ten yards away. “Are you one of those hikers?” the woman asked warily. The man, a fairly large, but not-so-menacing figure, stood behind her like a bodyguard, arms crossed and silent.

“Yes, I am,” I responded. “Just finishing my hike.”

“Well, you can’t leave your car here.”

I cocked my head and furrowed my brow. “OK,” I said as I stood slowly.

“We were just about to have it towed,” she added with an air of both hostility and benevolence. “I decided to give you until the end of the day.”

Again, unsure of what sort of response she wanted, I said, “OK, I’m heading out soon.”

“You’re not allowed to park here,” she continued. “This is for parents and teachers of this school. There’s no overnight parking.”

“Oh,” I said. “I won’t be here that long. I’m heading out as soon as I load up my gear.”

“But your car has been here since yesterday.”

Now we’re getting somewhere, I thought. “I see. Well, the friend that dropped it off for me apparently misunderstood my directions. I told him to park on the other side of the highway, but I guess he forgot or didn’t hear me.”

“But you can’t leave it here any longer,” said the impatient principal. “You’ll have to move it over there.”

Now I was growing a bit impatient. “Right. Well, I’m heading home here as soon as I pack up my car.”

Then I looked at the scene and tried to see it from her perspective. There I sat with my backpack on the ground next to me with some of its contents spilled out on the ground, my boots on top of it, with the trunk of my car open and Brian’s backpack visible. Maybe she thought I was reloading or just starting out. I don’t know. I was confused by her persistence and she must have been confused by the mixed signals coming from the array of stuff and the half-packed status of my pack and my car.

Calmly, I reiterated: “I’m leaving – I’m driving home today – as soon as I load up my car. This is where my hike ends.”

“Oh, you’re finished? Then why are you parking here?”

“I’m not parking, I’m loading up and driving home.”

She had something in her mind and what I was saying was not jibing with what she was thinking. Knowing that actions speak louder than words, I grabbed my pack and my boots and shoved them in my back seat, closed the trunk, and sat down in the driver’s seat. “I apologize for my friend leaving my car here. I hope it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience.” I started the engine, closed the door, and rolled down the window. “I do appreciate you not having it towed away, though,” I said with a smile. “That was very nice of you.” I put it in gear and drove away, having not processed the note on my seat informing me that Will had left the key I gave him on top of one of the tires. I had my wife’s key with me, which he must have forgotten. I drove off while the principal and her bodyguard watched, probably crushing the door remote into the hard-packed dirt of the parking lot as I did.

I drove into town and realized there were not too many services available in this remote place. The one and only convenience store I saw was out of business. The only restaurant I saw was at the golf course near the Post Office, but I felt too grungy to walk into a fine establishment like that. There were several other hikers walking along the shoulder of the highway as I reached the far end of town. I turned around and gave the town another try. The only two townsfolk I saw pointed me to where the community center was, across from the school parking lot, so I headed back there in hopes of taking a shower and finding some food. There was no food. The showers consisted of a bucket of lukewarm water and a locking, open-air shower stall behind the building. There was a line of probably ten or twelve hikers waiting their turn, many soaking their feet in buckets as they waited for the “shower”. It was a little after 10:00 a.m. I didn’t want to wait in line for a bucket shower when I could be 60 miles down the road by the time it was my turn. So, I thanked the lady at the counter, stuffed a few dollar bills in the collection jar on the desk nearby, and proceeded dig my overnight bag out of the trunk. I used the restroom to change my clothes and half a pack of baby wipes to freshen up as best I could. I washed my arms and face and neck in the sink, turning the white porcelain brown in the process. I had a clean hand towel in my duffel bag, too. That was the best I could do for now, and it felt fantastic. Amazing how refreshing soap and water and a clean towel are after six days without.

An hour later, I sat in a Carl’s Jr. in Temecula, 40 miles to the west, enjoying a hamburger, fries, and a chocolate shake. Halfway back to the Bay Area, I satisfied another craving by stopping for tacos. Eight hours after leaving Warner Springs, I was home, unloading my car when some friends came by to visit, compelling me to delay my long-anticipated shower for another half an hour. If they were grossed out, they didn’t let on, but I make it a point to stay on the opposite side of the living room as we chatted.

Final Thoughts on First Section

My short stint on the PCT was everything I wanted it to be, even if it was only five and a half days. It’s fascinating to meet the people out there, hear their stories, and share a moment or two of misery with strangers. I enjoyed swapping life stories, fun memories, and heartfelt lessons with my good friend Brian, whom I now considered an even better friend for our time together.

Although this is not the first section of the PCT that I’ve completed, it is the first section of the northbound trail. As such, it gave me a chance to reflect on my time out there and on the many sections I have yet to complete. I started to wonder, at times, if this goal to complete this 2650-mile trail was worth it. My thoughts went all over the place and back again. I thought about my home, my business, my family. But I also thought about my health and my peace of mind. Like other hikes, if I can incorporate my kids, I’ll get the best of both worlds: accomplishing a major goal while spending quality time with people I truly love in a place that brings provides so much peace and beauty.

Spending time in nature and on the PCT is good for the body and good for the soul. The hiking experience, like any other life experience, is what you make it. It can grind you down or it can build you up, depending on your attitude. Hiking and time in nature can give you time to think, a chance to feel freer than you can in civilization, and provide the soul with some much-needed peace and quiet. It can isolate you or it can connect you to other humans while it also connects you to nature and the Creator.


PCT – CA Section A Day 5

PCT – CA Section A

Day 5 –  A dry creek bed two miles beyond Highway 78 to Barrel Spring (Mile 79.4 to Mile 101)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Early Riser?

After a restful sleep, my trail-acclimated body was up by 6:00 a.m. and ready to go. I’m not normally a morning person, so I wondered why I was wide awake so early. Maybe it was from the refill of somewhat normal food from the night before. Maybe it was because I knew my car was a mere 30 miles away and, near it, showers, civilized food, and the specter of returning home. Not that I don’t love the trail, but being home with my family trumps even the enjoyment of being outdoors.

Before packing up, I explored the immediate area where I had camped. Turns out there’s a fifteen-foot drop-off a hundred feet or so from my camp where, when water is flowing, there would be a waterfall and a small pool below. That, I thought, would be a cool sight to see. As I took in the view of the valley below, picking out the brownish-tannish line of the trail as it ran its way through the desert shrubs from the rocky hills to the south, I remembered my mindset and determination the day before to get through that furnace-like landscape as quickly as possible. I also remembered the desperation I felt when I swigged down the last of my water and the immense gratitude I felt for the Trail Angels who replenished my water bottle and, at the same time, rejuvenated my spirits. These thoughts made me eager to get on my way to see what new surprises and trail magic I might encounter that day.

By 7:00 a.m., my gear was loaded in my pack and I was on the trail. Nick and Matt were just beginning to rustle in their tents. They had told me the night before that they were not very good at getting out to an early start. Knowing I needed to get water and that Barrel Springs, almost 22 miles away, was the next on-trail spot to get it, putting in as many miles as possible before the sun started to bake me seemed like the best idea.

The Long and Winding Trail

The trail through the San Felipe hills is anything but direct. As I marched along the side of one hill, I looked to the north and could see the trail winding around the hill across from me, canyons or valleys of varying widths separating me from where I wanted to be. Agonizingly, I had to wend my way east around the shoulder of one hill after another, for what seemed like an eternity before crossing a dry creek at the end of the ravine and working my way west by northwest again until I was looking back at the portion of the trail I had been on several minutes earlier. The point is, it took a long time and a lot of walking to make any real northbound progress. But I was ticking off trail miles at a pretty good clip, so I was happy.

Along the side of the trail, several other campers were in various stages of making ready for the day. I recognized from the descriptions in Halfmile PCT the campsite under the dry waterfall, for example, and the others that were in dry creek beds and among the shrubs just off the trail. They were all inhabited, which made me glad I didn’t keep going the night before. It could have been dicey trying to find a suitable, vacant camp spot and set up in the dark.

As I came around one of these southward-jutting promontories, somewhere around mile 85, I noticed a hiker hiking the trail along the mountainside across the canyon. It appeared they were moving southbound toward me. That was unusual as most hikers were heading to Canada, not Mexico. Curiosity kept my mind busy for the next half hour or so as I worked my way around several more twists and turns and through several more of these gullies. Finally, the person who had appeared as a small blip across a wide canyon was now in front of me, making her way gingerly along the rocky path. I won’t give her name since I failed to ask her permission to use it. But, she was very friendly and nice. She told me that she had twisted her ankle badly and had to turn around. It was easier, she said, to hike back seven miles to Highway 78 than to try to go another 23 miles to Warner Springs. At the pace she was traveling, I knew it was going to be a long, hot, miserable journey for her. I offered to help however I could, but she insisted she would be fine. The interesting fact that surfaced during our brief conversation, besides her injury and need to abandon her friends and her plans, was our connection. As it turns out, she and I graduated from the same high school in the same, somewhat obscure, coastal town south of L.A. What are the odds of that? She was a few years younger than I and grew up as far from the high school as you could get and still be in the school’s boundaries, but we shared some stories about our home town and how it has changed over the years.

We parted ways after our friendly and surprising encounter. She treaded cautiously southward and I pressed forward northbound, eager to get to my car knowing I had to be back in my office, 500 miles away, in 48 hours. Nothing like a deadline to keep you motivated, right? The idea of a home-cooked meal and a hot shower were more alluring than the thought of being back in the office, but still, duty called.

Cheerful Challengers

As I forged ahead with my music playing in my earphones, I spotted two more hikers ahead of me. Again, they were across a canyon and I had no way of knowing how many trail-miles lay between me and them. As the crow flies, I estimated it to be no more than a quarter mile across a ravine to where they were. But with the meandering trail, it took me close to an hour to catch up to them. “Snapdragon” and “Lipstick” were not your typical, trail-harden, ultra-fit, I-got-something-to-prove type macho women you see sometimes on the trail. They didn’t strike me as the gritty, adventure enthusiast-type I had met earlier in the trip. Nor were they like Lucy who needed to find themselves in the outdoors in order to gain, or regain, perspective. No, Snapdragon and Lipstick were a mother-daughter team bent on doing something hard. Like me, these two ladies realized how easy it is to get comfortable and complacent and walled-in. Despite being novice hikers “tying it out,” this experience was energizing them emotionally while taxing them physically. They had read about the PCT (probably from the book “ Wild,” though they didn’t admit that out loud) and wanted to see what it was all about. They weren’t quite sure how long they would stay out there, but they knew they had to get to Warner Springs before their food ran out. They had worked their way up to eight or nine miles a day, having started a full week and a half ahead of me.  These two ladies had bright smiles and even brighter spirits. They were out there enjoying the challenge and feeling really good about themselves and how far they had come. Every bit of celebration and self-congratulating was well-deserved. I was impressed by their cheerfulness and went away glad to have crossed their path.

But, my deadline loomed ahead of me and drove me onward.

I passed several more hikers, some in pairs, some solo, all of whom planned to make it to Canada by mid-September. I wondered and worried about a few of them as they seemed to be struggling with foot or other issues at this early stage. One in particular seemed to not only be ailing physically, but mentally, too. Letting up mentally is worse than breaking down physically when it comes to endurance sports. When I greeted him, his surly attitude was immediately on display. Instead of the usual pleasantries and exchanges, he practically barked at me when I asked him how far he planned on going today. He let me know that nothing was going as planned and he was sick of everything breaking. A quick glance at his equipment led me to believe that he hadn’t put too much time or effort into his preparations. No wonder his attitude was sour. Boots that aren’t comfortable, a backpack that does fit right, and the wrong type of clothing can kill your best-laid plans. I felt for him and offered assistance, but he waved me off and said he’d be fine. That was somewhere near mile 88.

Lunch in the Shade

I hiked alone with my thoughts and my music most of the day, only meeting one or two other hikers the rest of the morning and on into the afternoon. By noon I was famished and needed a break. I had been planning to stop for lunch at a trail junction where there was water off the trail. When I got to the junction at mile 91, I found a small area of shade under the chaparral near the sign that pointed to water. I decided I would eat first, then assess my water situation. As had become my lunchtime ritual, I pulled out my small chair, took off my boots and socks, donned my Crocks, and quenched my thirst before I even thought about food. My feet enjoyed the freedom of the non-restrictive Crocks as they cooled off in the shade. It just about noon and I was just about halfway to my end goal for the day, so I was feeling pretty good. Even with the stops to talk to people and the generally uphill slog, I had averaged a little better than two miles per hour. Not bad for an old guy, I thought.

I pulled out the bag Will had given me with the makings for a sandwich. It was packed carefully amid my clothes so as to stay out of the heat and to not get smashed. The bread was still fairly fresh, as was the cheese. But, thanks to overuse of salami on so many other hikes, I couldn’t stomach the thought of eating more of it. When one of the hikers I had passed within the hour came to the junction, I gave him the salami, which he gladly accepted. I still had half a bag of Doritos, which I savored as I wolfed down the whole wheat bread and Swiss cheese from Will. It was heaven compared to the thought of more protein bars. I added some jerky and nuts to the feast and felt quite satisfied as I enjoyed the shade.

After a few minutes’ rest, it was time to check the water supply. My 3-liter camelback still had a liter and a half. One of my 1.5-liter bottles was full; the other had about half a liter left. My two one-liter bottles contained electrolyte mix and were each still half full. So, I emptied the full 1.5-liter bottle into my camelback and headed down the path toward the water source to refill it. The guy I gave the salami was enjoying a much better, much shadier spot than mine a hundred yards down the path to the water supply, which made me wish I had scouted out the area better before I settled for my tiny spot. He informed me that the water tank was quite a way down the trail. I started down, but as it got steeper I became wary. I would have to return up this hill. The app said it was .6 miles from the trail. That meant 1.2 miles roundtrip – at least half an hour of extra walking in the heat of the day, half of it up this steep hill. Forget it. I had enough water to last me the rest of the day if I was careful, so I returned to my chair and rested for a minute. At this point, I was focused on efficiency. No extra steps, no climbing unnecessary hills. With almost four liters of water to last half a day and ten miles, I knew I’d be alright.

The rest of the day was spent angling more northward than I had in the morning. There were fewer ravines and gullies to traverse, although there were a few doozies still. Points of interest included what the app called a “Billy Goat’s cave” at mile 96, vistas across long, green valleys, and a commemorative marker made of white rocks at mile 100. I reached that marker at 4:40 and knew I’d be in camp by 5:00 at the rate I was going. I thought I would refill with water, make dinner, eat, and push on another couple of miles.

Well, that plan didn’t work out. I got to the water source by 5:00 as expected, but by the time I finished eating, my will to put my boots back on and hike another hour was gone. It felt good to sit in the shade of the oak trees at Barrel Springs. There was a bevy of other hikers there, too. As we waited in line at the water pipe to refill, I was intrigued by the stories of these other hikers. I listened with rapt interest as I realized how fortunate I had been to avoid equipment and health problems that had plagued some of them. I also realized again the advantages of being a section hiker instead of a thru-hiker. The long detours for resupply and the careful planning and timing required to get to the post office after a package arrived instead of having to wait around for it, and the necessity to “take a zero” (the term for a layover day) occasionally to recharge were things I didn’t have to worry about.

I was nine miles from my car which would take me to a burger joint, a shower, and home. Of course, there would also be an ice cream reward in there somewhere. A good night’s sleep and I would be ready to pound out those miles in short order and get on the road.

 

PCT – CA Section A Day 4

PCT – CA Section A

Day 4 –  A ridge near Sunrise Highway to a dry creek bed two miles beyond Highway 78 (Mile 59.5 to Mile 80.4)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Trail Time

A great friend to hike with

With the increased efficiency of a well-rehearsed routine, Brian and I got moving early Sunday morning. Our 4:00 p.m. rendezvous point was still nineteen miles away across a stretch of hot, dry landscape. We wanted to get moving while it was still cool because, according to the forecasts, this was to be the hottest day of our trek and, according to the guidebook, there were few opportunities to enjoy shade for the next twenty miles. And only one place on the trail to find water.

Before setting off, we took inventory of our water and food. Even after cooking and hydrating, we each had close to five liters of water and an abundance of protein bars. We were running a bit low on jerky and dried fruit, but so what. In nineteen miles, we would have a ride to a store to replenish if we really wanted to.

Our morning conversations revolved around stories of how we came to be where we are. In other words, what educational and career choices had we made to put us and our families in the place where we found ourselves in May of 2016. My story is relatively boring – because it’s not new to me – but Brian’s story is fascinating. He’s a super smart guy who has taken advantage of some unusual opportunities in this life and made a few life-changing decisions along the way. One such opportunity was an outdoor retreat where he spent about three weeks backpacking in the mountains along the East Coast, a trip he nearly missed due to the lateness of his decision. But, always being up for an adventure is kind of what makes him tick. He’s had some things happen in his life that would upend most people. But not Brian. He faces his adversities with a cheerful, determined optimism, always looking for a lesson to learn or an opportunity to improve himself, even during the most gut-wrenching of circumstances. His story is for him to tell, but as I listened, I learned, being struck by the immense amount of strength that lies behind his quick smile and happy countenance. Through hearing his story, I gained a new perspective on trials and how they can help us grow. It goes to show that we each face challenges in life and no matter the outward appearance, everybody will encounter difficulty, sorrow, and tragedy. I gained a new and far deeper appreciation for a friend whom I had always respected and admired.

The trail took us through more and taller chaparral as it wound downward to another junction with a jeep road where we met and briefly conversed with a couple from Minnesota. Halfmile PCT said there was a water tank 75 yards away, but that it was not reliable. I was starting to worry about our water situation as the heat and wind rose. We had 15 miles to go and only about four and a half liters each. The tank was empty. Not a huge worry yet. We pressed on, eventually switch backing down to a narrow canyon, around another mountain, then down further until the trail was met by a wide dirt road. I knew there was water down that jeep road but didn’t have the time or the energy to walk an extra mile and a half each way, so we turned up the next hill to press on. That’s where we met up again with our friend Second Lunch. Guess what he was doing. That’s right – eating. He was scarfing down his first lunch of tortillas and Nutella. Not something I could do, but he seemed pretty satisfied afterward. Brian and I were in a good rhythm at this point, though our conversation had quieted down while I absorbed the impact of his story, trying to assess how I might have responded to the difficulties he had faced in his younger life. One thing I knew for sure, he had weathered some of life’s storms that I don’t think I could have survived, at least not with the optimism and positivity that is his trademark. Of course, being the son of an engineer, though I possess few of the necessary traits or skills of an engineer, I was also busy continuously calculating distances, speed, and time of arrival. I wanted to make sure Brian didn’t miss his flight because, in my mind, there’s nothing worse than having to pay for a flight that you didn’t take. And I didn’t want to be the reason for such a frivolous waste of resources (there’s my training as an economist kicking in).

Second Lunch passed us halfway up the hill. Man, that guy cruises. Near the top of the hill, a pair of young ladies caught up to us. Because of my focus on the time and distance problems, as well as the heat and heavy breathing from the uphill march, I asked them neither their names nor where they were from. They were very nice and very focused, as were we. We ended up passing them and being passed by them several times over the next few hours. They kept roughly the same pace and break schedule as we traversed across and down the mountainsides towards Scissors Crossing.

In the Heat of the Day

The sun was growing hotter as it beat straight down on us. But, we forged ahead, wrapping around one hillside after another as we made our way toward the open expanse of the desert floor below us. We could see Highways 78 and S2 like ribbons wending their respective ways through sand and sage brush. They seemed impossibly far away. Especially given the fact that it was now almost twelve noon and we had ten tough miles ahead of us. Somewhere during the morning, Brian found enough cell phone reception to confirm the arrangements with Will and to ask him to pick up some water and a sandwich for me. I was so sick of protein bars and beef jerky, I felt my salvation rested upon a nice sandwich and some cold water.

We caught up to a pair of young hikers, one from Boston and one from “the Peninsula” in the Bay Area. I told him we were from the East Bay and we struck up a lively conversation and compared notes. These two were carrying less weight than we were, but still complained of sore feet and tight muscles. It seemed that they were struggling more than Brian and I despite being twenty something years younger and less weighed down.

We reached a place called Rodriguez Spur Truck Trail. Just off the trail is a water spigot, the last sure water source for 32 long miles across hot, dry terrain. We stopped and contemplated filling up. But, there was a large group of thirsty hikers lined up to restock their supplies. I estimated at least a dozen of them. Seeing the slow trickle of the water and the number of people waiting, we had to make an executive decision. With only five miles to go until we met up with Will and the water he promised to bring and less than two hours to get there, we decided we could make it if we managed our water intake judiciously.

Never envisioned something like this as part of the Pacific Crest Trail – not too “cresty” at this point.

I had my worries about both the water situation and the timing of everything. I didn’t want to run out of that most precious of commodities, nor did I want to risk making Brian late. Without too much hesitation, we pushed on, trusting that Will would be there and would deliver.

Brian and I stuck together for much of that baking hot afternoon, solving the world’s problems and reviewing ideas we had discussed earlier in the trip. We also talked about our kids and their hopes and plans for college and beyond. We talked about how we wished we had understood the opportunity that lay before us at that time in our lives and how we hoped that we had done an adequate job of preparing our kids for their futures. This continued as we wound our way through gullies and around mounds of rock and across dry creeks, taking only small sips of water as we went. With three and a half miles to go, I drained the last of my noni-and-electrolyte-enhanced water. I also poured the last of my “storage” bottles – about half a liter’s worth – into my nearly empty camelback.

Trail Angels

When we reached the flatlands where the trail crossed a three-mile swath of desert, I found a new gear. My ear buds were in, blasting some of my favorite tunes, and I was hyper-focused on that sandwich and cold water. Three quarters of the way across the flat, sandy, shadeless expanse, I sucked the last drop of water from my camelback. About that time, the trail appeared to meet the road at a ninety-degree angle, so I thought I was there, at the rendezvous point. But I was wrong. A barbed wire fence with three times the number of strands of barbs as usual met us and forced us to take a sharp left and follow the highway for some indeterminable distance. I reached around to the side pocket of my pack and pulled out a water bottle – the only one left unemptied. There were literally two swigs of water remaining in it, so I put off drinking anything as long as I could. But, with the blistering pace I was keeping and the blistering sun overhead, it wasn’t long before I had drained those last precious drops. Now, I prayed that Will was there at Scissors crossing with that cold water Brian had requested. Otherwise, I was screwed.

I called Will to see where he was. He had missed the intersection and was turning around to come back. He said it would take him twenty minutes. Oh, crap, I thought. Twenty minutes without water? I could feel a headache coming on and with my history of migraines that is not a good thing. They literally incapacitate me sometimes. In fact, for me, going without water is about the worst thing that can happen when a headache starts. The trail continued to parallel the road and it seemed an eternity had gone by since my last sip of water. I was searching for shade, but what I found as we came to the opening in the fence where the trail crossed the highway was far better. A minivan sat parked on the opposite side of the two-lane thoroughfare, tailgate up and doors open. A couple stood in the shade of the open tailgate and greeted hikers as they crossed the road. The two ladies from earlier in the day crossed just ahead of me and joined a small group of three or four other weary souls (and six or eight weary soles, I suppose). The couple was a pair of those famed and revered “Trail Angels” offering “Trail Magic.” In the back of their van was a cooler full of cold beer and a bag of bite-size candy bars. I don’t drink beer, so that held no interest for me. But, the husband, a large and muscular man, stood with a five-gallon jug of water in his hand, dispensing it to anyone who needed a refill. That, to me, in that moment, was heaven-sent and these people were truly angels. In my exhaustion and near-delirious state of water deprivation, I failed to ask or remember their names when the ladies in front of me inquired. I just gladly accepted the offering as the husband effortlessly poured from that massive jug into my water bottle. I gulped half a liter before I returned to thank them for their kindness and generosity. The wife gave me a bite-sized Twix and Snickers bars. Boy, did they hit the spot.

Checking my watch, I realized that it was 3:58. We did it. We made it to the rendezvous point precisely on time. I can’t usually make it to church, two blocks from home, on time, so it was a victory indeed to make it 78 miles on foot by the appointed time set three days before.

A Slice of Heaven under the Highway

We made it! On time, even!

When Will arrived, he had a dozen store-bought water bottles and the makings of a sandwich in a Ziploc bag for me. But, after hearing from the Trail Angel couple of a general store and restaurant four miles down the road, I asked Will if he would mind driving me down there. We got there too late for the restaurant, which closed at 4:30, so the dream of a burger and fries blew up because it was 4:38 when we entered the establishment. But, they had pre-packed sandwiches, Cheetos, a soda machine, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in a freezer next to the counter, so I loaded up. Later in the trip, I wished I had had the foresight to throw in some chips and a couple of Snickers. Before leaving the general store, I refilled all 8 liters’ worth of water storage in my pack and drank down two of Will’s water bottles. I also accepted a bag of Ranch flavored Doritos Will offered.

Just what I needed

Will dropped me off back at Scissor’s Crossing just before 5 p.m. Brian and I took a couple parting photos as I thanked him for joining me and making a long, hard hike much more enjoyable. I then collected my things and headed to the shade of the overpass where the highway crossed San Felipe Creek. I pulled out and set up my 11-ounce REI camp chair, removed my boots and socks, and dug into my feast. Besides water and food, that chair is the best 11 ounces I carry, extraneous as it may be. A roast beef sandwich in a plastic clam shell container, Diet Coke, Cheetos, and Ben & Jerry’s never tasted so good. It was a welcome respite from the steady diet of trail mix, protein bars, beef jerky, and electrolyte-laced flavored water. Rarely am I able to pack away that much food in a single sitting, but I was even more famished than I had anticipated. The food, water, and caffeine, along with an Ibuprofen or two, staved off the migraine. Disaster averted; happiness restored. I also took advantage of the cell phone coverage to call my family, catch up on emails and texts, and check the forecast for the 32 miles ahead of me. I was feeling good.

At 5:45 that evening, after consulting my map, trail guidebook, and Halfmile PCT app, I concluded that I would go at least another two miles up into the hills to my north where there was a campsite or two in a dry creek bed near mile 80.5. When I got there, two guys had already set up camp in the narrow gully wash. I briefly contemplated pushing on to the next spot a mile farther up the mountain. Seeing my expression, which likely conveyed a certain level of exhaustion, Nick from Washington and Matt from Australia kindly invited me to camp there near them. The spot I chose was flat and soft, due to the sand, and immensely appealing after speed-walking twenty-one miles through sweltering heat. This spot has to rank up there as one of the coolest (not temperature-wise, but ambiance-wise) places I’ve ever camped.

One of the coolest camp spots ever

Nick and Matt were equally as engaging. Friendly and interesting, our conversation flowed naturally for half an hour as I set up my tent and stove and chair. We swapped trail stories until the sunlight began to wane. Matt had quite a bit of long distance hiking experience, but this was Nick’s first such adventure since his days as a Boy Scout, which were probably no more than ten years prior. Both planned to make it to Canada by mid-September and had been working up to 15 miles a day, having done zero training before hitting the trail. But being young and strong, they seemed fit enough to handle it. I smiled as their jaws dropped when they learned that I had left Campo two days after they had. I can only chalk it up as one of the advantages of section hiking.

That night, with the tent to myself, I stretched out, opened my map and studied the trail and read from the guidebook until my eyelids grew heavy. The night air was warm, so I started out on my pad with only my feet covered by the sleeping bag. By morning, I was still only halfway covered because the temperatures didn’t drop too far.

Before nodding off, I reviewed my day – no, the past several days – and felt immense gratitude and satisfaction. My prayers that night, like each previous night on the trail, included plenty of thanks for safety and protection and plenty of pleading for the same for my family. I also realized after meeting other, much younger hikers who struggled with some physical ailments induced by either the hike itself or pre-existing injury, that I was blessed to be healthy and strong enough to come this far this fast. I was 80 and a half miles into a 110-mile hike and feeling great. I had a lot to be thankful for.