Days 115-118; Julian to Mexican Border

Woke up in Julian to find that it had rained during the night. That was unexpected… We had breakfast, followed by pie with ice cream and warm cider. Then we did our resupply and it took a while to get a ride back out of town with five guys. We were back on trail around 11:00. The terrain was pretty forgiving and we got almost 25mi done that day. My left calf was very tight that day and I was limping a little bit. Not sure what’s going on there but it’s not going to stop me from hiking a couple more miles…

Low-hanging clouds were moving in as the sun was setting, which looked really cool and made for an awesome sunset. There was a lot of moisture in the air and most of our stuff was damp when we woke up the next morning. We were on trail early and go treated to an amazing sunrise before heading into Mt Laguna for coffee:

This was our last full day of hiking and we ended the day ~32.5 miles later in Lake Morena. We set up at the campground and then walked to the store to order huge pizzas. People were watching the World Series game and kids were coming in to trick and treat – today was Halloween. The sunset coming into town was one of the most spectacular I’ve seen on trail:

We slept in a bit and then hiked the last 20 miles to the Mexican border. Everyone was in a great mood, the weather was nice, and we were all very excited to celebrate. The hike to the border was pretty relaxed. My calf was still bothering me but it hardly mattered: we soon got into the single digits and were counting down the miles. We were in no particular rush and savored the last instances of “trail life”, taking unnecessary breaks and eating as much of the food we were still carrying as possible. We made it to the one-mile marker…

… and just a little later got to the monument:

Done. I can’t believe it. I’m a bit sad it’s over but mostly very, very happy. I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to go on this adventure. By far the longest and most exhausting vacation I ever took. It was an amazing experience and it’ll take me a while to process all of it. Can’t wait to get back to “normal life”!

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Days 110-115; Big Bear City to Julian

We got a ride from the same trail angel that took us into town and there were already a bunch of other hikers in the car: Bootstraps, Sharkbait, Nissan Pathfinder, and Stitch. Dan and I took off from the trail head a bit earlier than the other guys and hiked just past Onyx Summit before setting up camp for the night. Good day overall: ate plenty of food in town, got some admin stuff done, skyped with Kim, and bought more food. (I wish we’d gone to Big Bear Lake instead, though: the selection at the tiny store in BB City was predictably limited.) Still got 21mi done that day!

The next morning, we hiked the 14mi to the next water source and realized that we were right in the “SOBO bubble”: there was a huge group (for SOBO standards) of hikers that aggregated at the spring: Dan and I ran into the four guys we shared the ride with yesterday as well as Radio, Bites, Cockblock Moses, Larrybird, and Nutbutt. Saw them all again for lunch, which we had at a flowing stream (a rare sight in the desert…):

Hiking was good that day and we slept in the sandy shores of Whitewater Creek. I said good bye to Dan that night: his dad would meet him later on the next day to hike the next 100mi together. I decided to stick with Paul/Bootstraps, Peter/Nissan Pathfinder, Brendan/Sharkbait, and Peter/Stitch and try to keep up with them: Brendan’s return flight is on Nov 2nd so they were trying to finish on the first.

We hiked out the next morning and made our way to the water faucet at the base of San Jacinto. It was pretty hot that day (probably close to 100F in the sun) and we didn’t feel like making the climb in the scorching heat. We found the only shading-casting boulder and sat down for a couple of hours; napping, eating, and drinking water. I started the long ascend just after 3pm and expected it to suck. But by then, most of the trail was already in the shade. The way up was long but not too steep and I got to camp about six hours later. On the way up, I passed the 200 mile marker and got some great views of the valley we had crossed earlier that day:

The next morning, we went uphill for another five miles and then descended and took the Deer Springs trail down to the hwy and into Idyllwild. I had breakfast and then Stitch and I went to the Laundromat. Resupply after that and then we hitched out the the Paradise Valley Cafe. The trail out of Idyllwild is still closed after a fire had destroyed it a couple of years ago and they want the vegetation to recover before opening the trail again. I had another meal and a beer at the Cafe before heading back out to trail. I hiked into the night a bit to camp at mile maker 140 and stick to my schedule. It was hot and I was sweaty but I packed out a big bag of chips and it’s hard to feel bad if you have almost 2,000 fatty, delicious calories within your reach…

Was very slow the next day and the guys caught up with me soon. I was planning to go to Warner Springs that night so I could make it to Julian the next day. It was “only” a 31-mile day for me but the guys had camped 4 or 5 miles behind me so it was a long day for them. We hiked together most of the way but I somehow managed to get off trail twice that day. They should have “don’t text and hike” signs put up on trail down south were you get signal so frequently… I spent about an hour that day hiking away from the trail and correcting for my errors. So I got to the community center in Warner Springs last and was as exhausted as everyone else. However, everyone was in a great mood. We were getting close to the 100-mile mark and the realization that we’ll be done in a couple of days slowly sets in and everyone’s getting excited for post-trail life.

We went past Eagle Rock at the very first daylight and hiked through some pretty prairie fields for a while. Passed the 100-mile mark shortly after sunrise and had a pretty relaxed day hiking up and down the hills leading to Highway 78.

 

Took a bit to get a hitch into Julian but got picked up by a couple that had thru-hiked last year. They took me to Carmen’s Garden in Julian. The guys had arrived there about half an hour earlier and when I showed up, a veggie burger and beer was already waiting for me. Carmen was ridiculously nice to us: they cleaned up the restaurant and then she just gave us the key and told us we could stay there and help ourselves to whatever we wanted. Trail magic deluxe so close to the end of the trail! Carmen’s place was definitely one of the best stops on trail.

Julian was the very last town stop on trail. We’ll pass through a couple of other places along the way but it’s off to the Mexican border from here! Only 77.3 more miles!

Days 103-110; Agua Dulce to Big Bear City

We spent the night at Hiker Heaven and I did my laundry and took a shower there, which was great. As I said, my shoes hadn’t arrived yet, which was not great. Left the town in the afternoon after a big breakfast and a lunch. It was hot that day and I didn’t make it too much further. There were some cool rock formations just south of Agua Dulce:

The next day was pretty brutal. I didn’t make my 30-mile goal and called it a day after 28.8. Over the course of those miles I gained 9,200′. That must be a new record (for me). The next day was great and I did 31.2mi to compensate for the previous day. Still a lot of elevation gain that day (about 8,000′, I think) but it felt okay. Some pretty views that day as well:

The next morning, we were treated to a cool sunrise over low-hanging clouds that moved in from the ocean. We climbed up and followed a ridge line that gave us great views in both directions. 

We took the little spur trail up to the summit of Mt Baden-Powell, named after the founder of the Boyscouts of America. It was super windy up there but the views were great:

From there, it was all downhill to the highway from where we got a ride into Wrightwood. They had another informative sign at the trailhead, showing that we’re getting closer and closer to the border…

In Wrightwood, we had a big breakfast. I went to the post office to mail off my fleece, my sleeping bag liner, and my Kindle. Made my pack almost two pounds lighter, which is great. Did my resupply and then met Rapunzel. He’s a fellow hiker that I met up in Washington (at the Dinsmore’s) and who lives in Wrightwood. I had my shoes sent to him. So, after 1,035mi, I finally got new shoes:

Rapunzel took us back to the trailhead and we hiked for another half hour before making camp. The new shoes felt amazing!

The next day was tough because we gained 5,500′ (which isn’t too bad) but lost 9,500. Had to carry water for the first 26mi stretch of the day and the backpack was full with food fresh out of Wrightwood. Tough on the knees. We stopped at the famous on-trail McDonalds for and afternoon snack and then found a campsite about 6 miles up the hill. 

The following day, Day 108, we came past Silverwood Lake, which was a surprising sight in the desert and looked like a nice recreational area. The trail went around one side of the lake and I had a really good signal there and skyped with Kim, Berry, and Susie while walking for a while.  

Later that afternoon, we went past the on-trail Deep Creek hot springs. My feet were hurting and I was running a bit late. So I only sat down for a snack and then went on instead of joining the drunk, naked hippies. 

The last full hiking day in this stretch was kind of uneventful. It was hot and we basically went uphill for 20mi straight; and very slow, gradual uphill. In the morning, we passed the 300-mile mark and after about 31mi of hiking, camped about 7mi from the highway that take us to Big Bear City. 

We got into Big Bear City this morning and I’ll try to get back on trail by 13:00 and do another 15mi. 

The next stop is Idyllwild. This stretch will include the last challenge for southbound hikers: San Jacinto. It’s going to be the longest sustained climb. Should provide some awesome views! There’s a two-day heatwave moving through the area right now so we’ll probably not be spared the 100+F temperatures but I think that just adds to the desert experience…

I got some concerned messages and questions after my last post so I think I should clarify: I am still enjoying the trip very much. My self-imposed deadline requires me to hike at least 30 miles a day, which just means I am very exhausted at all times and comfort is not really part of my life right now. But that’s by choice and it’s okay. I am fine and have a great time still. It’s just that when I wake up in the morning, I am more excited about and motivated by sitting on a couch back at home than finding out what’s on the other side of the mountain I’m currently going up. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to go up the mountain anymore, though. I’m just getting increasingly excited about the prospect of sitting down for a while and letting my body recover beyond the 8 hours of sleep it currently gets.

Days 99-102; Tehachapi to Agua Dulce

I did a couple more miles leaving Tehachapi to make it a 20-mile day despite the town stop. The next day, this guy Dan caught up with me just as I was finishing my lunch. We decided to do the last 18mi to Hiker Town together. That stretch was very strange: it was almost completely flat and mostly a (dirt) road walk. We went through a huge wind farm and along the L.A. aquaduct. 

Did 31.25mi that day, had dinner in town and slept at Hiker Town. I left just after 6:00 the next morning, planning to get another 30 miles in. There was no water along the trail that day so I had to leave with a heavy pack full of water. 

I did not make my goal and set up camp as dusk was setting in. I was in quite a bit of pain for most of that day and had to take a lot of breaks. Blisters had formed under the callus on both heels and when I had a closer look, I could see that they were also slightly infected. It looked pretty gnarly and explained the pain. I set up camp and got out the small Swiss army knife Berry and Susie got me for Sinterklaas to perform some surgery. As I said to Kim: the good thing about being alone in the desert is that no-one can hear you scream. I’d rate this day 2/10 overall – at least the trail was shaded almost all day. 

I slept really well and the surgery was successful. Heels felt much better the next day and I was in a great mood. I made up for not even doing 28mi the day before and made a big push to get all the way to Agua Dulce – 35.4mi. A new record. The last two miles were a road walk that I had to do in the dark. Probably the scariest and most dangerous thing I’ve done on trail so far. Had dinner with Dan, who arrived about 45min earlier. 

We spent the night at Hiker Heaven and I basically just passed out immediately after getting there. Long day. 

The next morning, I did my laundry and took a shower. The shoes that didn’t make it to Kennedy Meadows were supposed to be sent here. But they are not here yet. How can I be faster than the USPS?! They have trucks! I really need new shoes. My feet are complaining pretty loudly. I spent about two hours today trying to figure out what to do. I ended up calling Altra and had them express-ship a new pair to Wrightwood, my next stop. I’ll just return the pair that is somewhere in postal service limbo. I’ll go another 90mi in these shoes. It’s not going to be comfortable but I don’t want to sit here and wait for new shoes…

Anyways. Now the blog is finally up to date again and I am getting ready to get back on trail. It run right through the town (the main road is the trail). Just got to get food and then I’m out. This next stretch to Wrightwood is basically all uphill. Doing 30-mile days will be very tough. We’ll see how that goes…

Days 93-99; Kennedy Meadows to Tehachapi

Day 93 was a bit of an unintentional zero day. We went to the store in the morning to get our mail: my new and warmer quilt and the last shipment of medication was there. My shoes had not arrived yet, though. 

We got a ride down the road to Grumpy Bear but they were not open yet. We spent the time until 11:00 across the street at Triple Crown Outfitters chatting with some legendary hikers. Was great to meet Matt and Jacky, really nice people!

After a huge pizza for breakfast, we went back to the store. I showered and bought food for the next stetch. Then I took care of the mail: I sent my 10° quilt back to EE and the bear can back to Joe – I won’t need to carry that beast any longer. A load off my back, literally. The guy in the store offered to forward my package to Tehachapi so I hoped to get my shoes there. 

The day was very hot and just as I was getting ready to hit the trail, I started getting pretty bad stomach cramps. Jeff had two friends come and visit for the night. They were driving up from LA. I was feeling pretty bad and wasn’t sure whether I’d be throwing up or not. Didn’t want to be out on trail for that so I stuck around and spent the night with them. Good fun and I was feeling better by the time I crawled into my new quilt…

The next day, Jeff stayed behind with his friends to hike out to some hot springs and I hit the trail just before noon. He’s in no real rush to finish but I am so I doubt he’ll catch up. So I’m on my own for now.  

I made my way through the desert and had a pretty good time. It was cool to be completely along, I didn’t see anyone until I got to Walker Pass. I had some issues getting to off-trail water sources, which took a lot of time I couldn’t spend hiking so I didn’t quite make my goals. A bit frustrating but not much I can do about it. 

I got to Walker Pass just before sunset and hitched into Ridgecrest to resupply and get dinner. I tried to hitch back out so I could get on trail early but no-one picked me up in the dark. So I just slept behind some bushes in the city. Not the best night off trail, I have to say. 

Took a while to get back to trail the next morning but then j was finally back to hiking again. After three days of hiking, I camped just up the hill from Hwy 58 on Day 98. Awesome view of the sunset over the city and a beautiful sunrise the next morning when I hiked down the last 4.4mi to the highway. I stood in the 25F cold for half an hour before a lady picked me up and took me to Tehachapi. 

I spent the day skyping with friends and on the phone with United Airlines. My return flight was booked for November 15 but I made ambitious plans to finish earlier and moved the date forward to November 8. I figured that if I hike 30mi/day and 15-20 on days I stop in town, I can be done on November 3 or 4. As I said: Ambitious. 

From here on out, I’ll be going full throttle. The desert has it’s own beauty and the short days mean I get to see every sunrise and sunset, which is cool. But I’m kind of done. I just want to go home and sit down. I’m tired and my feet hurt. Only a bit more than 500 miles to go!

Days 89-92; Kearsarge Pass to Kennedy Meadows

Woke up after one of the coldest nights on trail. My water bottle was 3/4 full and 80% frozen in the morning. We spent the morning making our way up Forester Pass. It was a sunny day but windy and not exactly warm. 

Forester Pass was awesome and the climb up to over 13,000′ wasn’t as bad as I had expected. 

We spent the rest of the day making our way to the Craptree Ranger Station. That’s where the JMT and PCT split: the PCT continues south and ignores Mt Whitney and the JMT goes up the mountain and finishes on the other side of it. 

The ranger station was the closest we could get to the summit and be allowed to camp with our PCT permits. So we made camp there. After an even colder night (my full water bottle froze solid), we went “off trail” to hike up the 7mi to the summit. It was a 3,800′ climb and took me 3.5 hours. We left all our stuff down at the ranger station and only took our phones and all our clothes. It was cold up there. I would have liked to take more pictures but my phone kept crashing as soon as it was separated from my body’s heat and I couldn’t really feel my fingers. Hiking up in the thin air was a really interesting experience. A 3,800′ climb over 7 miles would have been a piece of cake if we had started at 3,000′. Not if you start at 10,700′, though. 

The hike up and down to Whitney was gorgeous and the views from the summit were fantastic!

After making the 7mi back to camp, we had a late lunch and then got some PCT miles in. 

After another freezing night and a couple of miserable early-morning miles, the next day warmed up nicely and we finally got some PCY miles out of the way. We found a great campsite with a view over Owen’s Valley and got treated to both an awesome sunset and a very pretty sunrise. Our last night at 10,000′! 

The next day was mostly downhill and we did 29.7mi without even really trying. The landscape changed noticeably and we were clearly walking towards the desert. We arrived at the Kennedy Meadows campground just after it got dark and joined two ladies at their campfire. They were wondering what to do with their leftovers and we solved their problem promptly and free of charge. 

This is probably the last big milestone. We made it through the Sierra before the snow started for the season. That’s the big time constraint for southbound thru-hikers and we made it. So we were in a great mood!

From here, it’s just 702 miles of desert. No big deal…

Days 86-88; Rest days in Bishop

We took a bit of a longer break. Staying at the Hostel California was awesome and we had a great time hanging out with other hikers. There was a group there who had just finished their thru-hike; they started in Mexico and went to Kearsarge Pass and then flipped to Canada and went south from there. So when they made it back to K. Pass, they had “connected” and were done. Was great to see them celebrate and how excited they were for us to go out and finish the trail. 

I was a bit annoyed because we were losing time but the rest days were necessary. The High Sierra was tough and my body needed a break. 

I ordered a warmer quilt and a new pair of shoes to our next stop: Kennedy Meadows. The customer service at Enlightened Equipment is outstanding – highly recommend buying your stuff there!

We spent Day 88 hitching to Independence, getting our stuff from the post office, hitching up to the trail head, and going back over Kearsarge Pass to get bach to the PCT. Pretty mellow day overall and we were well-rested and excited to abuse our bodies again!