Today, after careful consideration, I ended the real hiking portion of my trip. I feel that I probably overdid it just a tad this past few days, and I really do want my knee to recover fully and give me back the use and mobility that I once took for granted.
This morning, I bid farewell to my hiking companions, and I headed to the city to pick up a rental car. The decision to put extraneous miles on a fossil fuel consuming vehicle was a bit of a dilemma for me. I do my best when I'm at home to conserve fuel and to only drive when I can't get to my destination by another means. I have even broadened the scope of places I like to walk that are close to my home so that I don't have to be tempted with driving into the mountains several days per week. I know that I am just one person, and one might question what difference does my small little effort make in the grand scheme of our nations' energy illness, but my efforts do ease my conscience, if only a little.
So today, I am an energy pig, consuming fossil fuels for pure enjoyment. I will get over it, but it is the hardest part for me during the next leg of my adventure.
Driving into San Diego, traffic all but stood still as these valiant fire fighters donned full fire protective gear and battled a brush fire along the freeway. With the record low rainfall this year, it is going to be a tough fire season in Southern California.
Ok... so today I finished my little section hike on crutches. I can't say that I would recommend it as a mode of travel, but for me, it was way better than sitting home being bummed out.
My knees had just about had it after finally reaching camp last night. Once I got down on the ground to futz with my bag and such,there was no getting up again. I just whaled around in the sand grabbing at my stuff and squirming aound like a big fat alligator. It was quite attractive! Our campsite last night was in the sand, and thankfully, it was out of the wind. Penrod Canyon is easily accessible from Hiway 74 (Pines to Palms Hiway), and it is just a gorgeous place with huge granite boulders and so many amazing plants.One would expect such a place to be overrun by day hikers, but today this land was the exclusive dominion of the thru-hiker crowd.
I felt great this morning and was actually moving at a pretty good clip out to the hiway. Upon reaching the road, we turned around and stuck out our thumbs to hitch a ride, and we were instantly picked up by an Austrian family in a mini-van. The crutch might have helped. Literally, it was an instantaneous hitch. (Note... thru-hikers have to hitch-hike. It is not my favorite part of the gig, but it is necessary)
I have been hearing tales of the Paradise Cafe for several years. They allegedly serve the very best burger of the entire 2600 mile long Pacific Crest Trail. In 2005, I was short on cash when I reached this point, so I continued on without stopping. This morning, we actually arrived at the infamous Paradise cafe too early for lunch... so westuffed ourselves with soda waiting for the magical 11am hour when we could finally order our Jose Burgers. All I can say is Holy Cow!!!! (Or maybe it is a whole cow?) Truly the largest burger I have ever seen. Just for shits and giggles, I piled everything onto the bun that they had laid out on the plate as hamburger fixins... Mushrooms, cheese, half an avocado, jalapenos, bacon, lettuce, pickles, onion, tomato. The burger was literally 12 inches tall!! Whose mouth is that big????? One of the locals suggested smashing the enormous feast down using a dinner plate. So, on camera of course, I dutifully smashed down the burger to a more manageable 5 inch height or so. It really was an amazing burger, and well worth the hype it receives as being the best burger on the PCT. I can't believe I skipped it in 2005.
Many hikers were pouring out of the hills and descending on this little oasis in the desert... Roni, Meadow Mary, Bayou, Amtrack, and so many, many others. It was really quite a festive atmosphere. Stuffed to the gills, we called a local Idyllwild trail angel who drove down and scooped us up. We once again, checked into the Idyllwild Inn (what a great place!!!! Like a hundred times better than the Taquitz!),and set about exploring the town. I ran down to the laundromat and did a quick load... went to the ranger station and debated buying San Jacinto Peak summit patches for Squatch and Sue, but my thrifty nature won out on that score, and it just remains a quirky idea that flitted through my mind.
There are many thru-hikers in town. It makes me feel a bit out of the loop and like a has been. There is a cameraderie that exists between thru-hikers on the trail that is just a bit exclusionary of anyone not thru-hiking. I doubt if it is even on a conscious level, but it really is a very exlusive club.
Keep On Truckin'
I was in a surprisingly good mood this morning given that I didn't get dinner last night. Sue has a pocket rocket stove, and bless her heart, she boiled me water for coffee this morning. This morning, I pulled Sue aside and said, " I don't care what Squatch sez, I am not hiking beyond Live Oak Spring today." She said she agreed with me.... Never say never.
It was really a beautiful day today, and finally we got out of the wind to a great degree which helped morale tremendously. We started to move into a different climactic zone which for me meant a whole slew of different plant and animal life to photograph.
So today, I think I finally got the crutching technique down solid... where I can hike fairly quickly and still keep a good deal of stress off of my knee.
We made it to the junction for live oak Springs, which was to be our destination for the night, at 3:30pm. Squatch said that if I would agree to hike 3 more miles, then he would hike the 2 mile round trip to the springs and back to get us water. I, of course said ok.
The last few miles down into Penrod Canyon were really gorgeous... big granite boulders and wonderfully exotic socal vegetation. This was a spectacular day!
I left camp early this morning and I felt really strong. I kept expecting my partners to catch up to me, but it wasn't until nearly noon when I first saw them.
The scenery was beautiful... gigantic jeffrey and ponderosa pines with the reddish puzzle bark and the gigantic limbs which spread out wildly in every direction finally topping out flat... giving the illusion of some type of monster which could at any moment pluck its roots from the ground and give chase.
I rounded red taquitz and saw the beautiful green hilltops that make up the san jacinto hills (?) The trail weaves in and out of the hills from one side to the next with balmy temperatures on one side and chilling winds on the other. It is exactly how I remembered it from 05, except that the warm and cold sides have swapped.
I nearly wet my pants with excitement today as I spotted a "snow plant" shooting up through the gravel on a ridge near red taquitz. Of course I had to drop everything to photograph from every possible angle. Twas the highlight of my day. (Gallery from the hike will be coming shortly)
Our destination today was Apache Springs... 1/2 mile off trail. There is no water on trail in this section, beyond our creek this morning. We arrived at the turnoff to Apache Springs after having endured a mile or better of excrutiatingly strong winds. The wind gusts were so mighty that they would whip my trekking pole and crutch off of the ground and into the air, leaving me completely vulnerable to the next gust which would inevitably send me sprawling into the chapparal which at this point consisted of overgrown catsclaw or silverthorn... a nasty plant with 2 inch long barbs covering its branches... needless to say, my legs are a bit bloodied and battered.
It was around 5pm, and my partners wanted to push on to Fobes saddle. I reluctantly agreed to continue the extra 2.5 miles. I think they were hoping that the wind would be less severe at the saddle, but they were mistaken. The entire distance we were pummeled by the wind. At the saddle the gusts were so strong and constant that there was no hope of erecting our tents or lighting our stoves.
We tucked in under some Manzanita bushes and I wrapped myself up in my tyvek sheet, just like a gigantic hiker taco. Sleep did not come easily on this night, and I was truly grateful when the sun finally rose announcing the start of another day.
I am totally embarrassed at how exhausted I am after hiking 8 miles. I feel so darned weak. I am at altitude shortly after surgery, so my red blood cell count is probably a bit low. Which feels a bit like I am trying to make excuses for my poor performance... nothing like calling a spade a spade. The things that I have done in my life, and here I am having my ass royally kicked by an 8 mile day. Is that irony?
I felt great this morning, but when I realized that I had only traveled 3 miles in 2 hours, it was a pretty significant hit to my morale. It was overcast and cool for most of the day... and downright cold tonight. We are camped at just above 8,000 feet at Little Taquitz Creek. Well, creek is what it once was... it is now just a couple of 2 inch deep pools of standing water. Our next water source is 7.8 miles distant. It is so funny to be worried about an 8 mile dry span, because not too long ago, 8 miles without water would have just been a couple of dry hours hiking. Now, it is all day.
I blasted through this section in 2 days while thru hiking in 05. It is really a joy to take a bit longer... to venture off trail a bit to stay in different camp spots. To see what this section of trail has to offer... becoming an afficianado of sorts regarding this portion of trail.
My partners keep talking about pushing on to do bigger miles, so I am continually put in a position to say, I don't think I have it in me. My double surgery (shoulder and knee) was not too long ago. I know that I expect alot of myself, and it is usually too much, but I am so very weary of "not having it in me".
Hopefully a good nights rest will provide me with a much needed attitude adjustment. Thank God, tomorrow is another day!
Agony and Ecstasy
I hiked fuller ridge today with a crutch. I was just exhausted by the time we reached the turn off for Mt. San Jacinto. I just couldn't imagine how I would have either the strength or the energy to make an additional 5 mile, 2000 ft gain round trip all at 10,000 feet.
My hiking partners were very supportive of my insane endeavors, and I think my friend Squatch, in particular really wanted to film me summitting the peak on a crutch. He has produced several documentary films about the PCT, and I may be a tad prejudiced toward them, as I actually appear in one, but I think they really offer a top notch view at the life and insanity of the thru-hiker.
We started up the trail which was quite overgrown with catsclaw or silverthorne (I can't remember how to disinguish between the two)... an annoying plant with two inch long thorns covering most of its branches. Legs scratched and bloodied, we came to a little bench in the hillside which had several obvious campsites. We pitched camp. I was carrying 6 liters of water which is right around 12 extra pounds. I didn't really feel like I was heeding my docs advice to take it easy.
With our load significantly lightened, we headed on up the trail toward the summit. The trail was a bit steeper than the PCT and there were some significant rocky challenges along the way, but it was doable... even with a crutch. As I made my way up the peak, I could feel that old flame of summit fever desire begin to burn bright inside me... I could do this, and I really wanted to.
There was just one little obstacle standing in my way... and that was daylight. We arrived at the saddle which was still 1.5 miles and 1,000 feet below the summit, and it was 7:15 pm. Daylight had already begun to throw its last glow over the hillside. With the rocky trail below me, I made the only intelligent decision... I turned around and went back to camp. Squatch did a little on camera interview before I went.
I got quite a few sunset shots as I was heading down, but without reading glasses, (I lost 2 pair today) I have no idea if the settings are correct or if my shots are even in focus. Stopping to take alot of photos is great, but darkness was gaining on me. I came to a small seep in the trail, with clumps of grasses growing in and about it... as careful as I was moving, my ankle twisted out from under me. It was just like a slow motion scene in a horror flick... I knew I was going to
land on my bad knee and there was absolutely nothing I could do but watch it happen. I laid on the ground for a good five minutes... had myself a good old fashioned cryfest... then got up, dusted myself off and headed back to camp.
Around 10:30 pm, I heard a welcome... booo-yip coming through the darkness. Sue and Squatch had summitted in the dark and made it back to camp safely. They were both exhausted and fell into their respective tents without bothering to cook supper. It had been an 11.5 hour day for them.
With Southern California deep in the grip of one of the worst droughts in years, thoughts of on-trail water supplies are heavy on the shoulders of the hikers leaving Lake Morena. Already this year, there have been hikers who have gotten into serious trouble due to dehydration. When one is hiking in 90 plus degree weather, and it is 30 trail miles between water sources, even the strong can tumble.
Thankfully, for the hikers of the Pacific Crest Trail, there is alot of 'trail magic' that happens out here in the desert. There are some amazing people who dutifully stock and restock gallons and gallons of water in caches in the driest parts of the desert. All of this to help the thru-hikers stay safe and healthy, thereby assisting them in their goal of hiking border to border in one season. There are people who keep and update regularly a water report that can be accessed via the internet to let the hikers know exactly what current water conditions can be expected. There are homeowners and business owners alike, that make a hose or spigot on the side of their buildings available for hikers to use.
There are alot of different reasons why people are willing to give of themselves in this way. I know that I have been able to help hikers just a tad over the last couple of years, and for me, it is merely an opportunity to "pay it forward". So many people lent me support in so very many ways during my hike in 2005. It is a joy to help another hiker in return. Other 'trail angels' (people who help hikers on the trail), don't have a debt to repay in any way. It is purely the goodness of their hearts and the joy that they receive from helping others that inspires them to contribute to the PCT hiking community.
On the one hand, I love the desert and the dry climate. It is such a contrast to the dreary and cloudy weather that plagues me in the Pacific Northwest. On the other hand, the effects of the drought on the ecological systems in Southern California cannot be overlooked; the wildflowers are not blooming, the wildlife is venturing closer to the city in search of water and food sources, not to mention the agonizing loads carried by thru-hikers, who need to carry as much as 8 liters of water at a time between water sources.
I don't dare say that I pray for rain, but I do pray for a relief from the drought.
Make New Friends, but Cherish the Old...
Today was spent at the ADZPCTKO (Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off) party. This is a great forum as a send-off to this year's hopeful thru-hikers, and it is for me a warm and wonderful reunion with friends who truly understand what it means to live in the woods for an extended period of time. With nearly 600 participants at this party in the woods, it is easy to feel as though in the grips of adolescent Attention Deficit Disorder...
After a similar experience at the kick-off last year, I vowed to operate a bit differently. I tried to seek out and spend more time with people who are really important to me. Like my friend Sue. Last year, with all the 05ers here, it was a big reunion for me that left some people that I care about kinda hanging back on the fringes... they were fine with it, but I really wasn't. It was a regret I had that I didn't spend more time with those who are the most important to me.
After dinner tonight, my friend Sue and I left the noisy throng, and hiked up to the top of the butte above the lake. It was a good test for my on-trail crutching technique, and it felt so very good to be on the trail and moving! I love hiking in the twilight of evening, and the temperature was just perfect, unlike the 92 degrees that blasted our faces with uncomfortable warmth when we pulled in to the campground. 92 degrees!
We met several groups of thru hikers heading out in the cool temperature brought on by the setting of the sun, and it was both exilharating and sad at the same time... I could feel the excitement and fear in their voices, which was truly energizing. At the same time, I know that I will not be joining them this year, which as a thru-hiker alumni, is a bit of a melancholy feeling.
I feel like I really did focus on spending more time with the folks who are important to me. And, for having these people in my life to share experiences, I feel truly blessed.
I must be a California Girl
At some point during my flight from Seattle to LA, I realized that I had crossed into California. As I was sitting in my seat on the plane, trying desperately to conceal the gigantic tears that were squeezing themselves out of the corners of my eyes, I was filled with emotion. I felt as though I were coming home.
In 2005, I spent three and a half months walking through the state of California. I fell in love with the climate, the vegetation, the desert, the mountains, and the people.
I knew then that I really loved California. What I didn't realize, was that a year and a half later, the magnetic pull on my heartstrings would have cinched its grip even tighter.
So, today, I find myself... in Sunny San Diego...
Joining dear friends and fellow wanderers...
We will reminisce about the best of what was, and make plans for the dreams of tomorrow.
TTFN.... or Ta Ta For Now... in the world of "I-M'ers"
I leave in 20 minutes for the airport... destination, Sunny San Diego, CA!!!
I fly in and out of San Diego, but other than that... anything can and will happen!
I feel as though I really let myself down with my PAD gallery last month.
Life sometimes really seems to get in the way, so I am committed to making this
more of a priority, and you will hear all about it when I return in two weeks.
Keep snapping out there, and in the words of the gov of "Schwarzennegerland"
I'll be back.