Cumulative Miles: 252
Location: Moonridge Coffee Shop, Big Bear Lake, CA
I can and will speak for all of my friends, we are SO happy to be north of the fire closure! A logistical nightmare, a loss of control, and a mentally trying “out and back,” woof.
The week started on a beautiful Sunday morning. We had a 2.5 mile road walk to get to the Devils Slide (not exactly a good omen for a Sunday) trailhead. About a mile into our road walk, a trail angel named David pulled over and picked us up. He gave us all a stick of Lifesavers (wild cherry) and provided well wishes and an escape from another 1.5 miles on a windy uphill backroad. Thanks for being a trail angel David!
We climbed up the trail and summitted Mt. San Jacinto (yah-sinto). To summit you have to leave the PCT for a few miles, but I’m not sure how hikers resist the urge to summit a mountain when it’s literally right there. Right next to you! Bonus miles! Centerfold and I cruised up the mountain but then struggled a bit with the high elevation and steepness of the last mile. We climbed 5,000′ in just a few hours and snacked on the summit of 10,800′. Always the best feeling in the world, always.
It was clear, sunny, and filled with day hikers who were so impressed by our speed with our packs. They all thought we were camping at the top, in which I had a few smart-ass comments. I mean really? What is this, our first day? Yep we can’t wait to camp up here in the wind and hailstorm that is surely coming, we love complete exposure! Hell, we might not even set up our tents since it’s so certain to be a delightfully gentle night at 11,000 feet! Cripes, SoCal, cripes.
As we began to descend, I remembered how much I hate going downhill. There was a lot of snow and debris that made it painfully slow, and the weather was starting to get moody. The goal was to camp at mile 190, at 7,700 ft. We quickly realized that was still too high for our sissy-ass “we don’t want to be cold” legion. (I’m the leader of that club by the way, don’t you worry, I will do ANYTHING for a shot at sleeping even a degree warmer than projected).
It was getting dark, but we decided we all had at least 3 more miles in us. We raced down the mountain in efforts to find a campsite as low as possible before complete darkness.
At mile 193 we found a spot and threw up our tents as quickly and gingerly as the wind advisory let us. It was brisk. I found a bush, and decided to squeeze my tent in it for extra protection. It proved to be ineffective.
We all ate dinner in our tents that night, and I snuggled up to my new book, The Boxcar Children: THE PIZZA MYSTERY. #33. Can you think of anything more comforting while camping in a wind/hailstorm? Me neither, it proved effective.
We took down our tents in the hail (I was the last to leave by far, I was convinced the sun was going to come out as long as I laid there not moving). I knew today was going to be no fun (great attitude, Jules), 20 miles of steep downhill. My calves were in knots from the climb yesterday and my knee was stiff from the descent yesterday afternoon. I went into batshit crazy mode and decided to race down the mountain. The storm, I decided, was out to get me, and I wouldn’t let it catch me. Besides, I couldn’t feel my hands, and needed to warm up fast. So many switchbacks, so much muscle cramping. The storm subsided and ended up being sunny once a couple thousand feet lower. Felt really, really, lucky about that. The wind still threatened to push me off the cliff, but it’s been doing that all month, so I’m done taking that crap seriously. (I’m so tough).
Once getting down to sea-level, we all took the death trudge through the sandy desert towards HWY I-10, the highway we saw all day, the highway we were yearning for.
Oh the changes an hour can make. So many environments in one day, my body is so confused. I dragged my trekking poles behind me through the sand and am pretty sure I blacked out for 4 miles. Luckily, Camels old landlord came to get us in the evening and we stayed the night with him. His name is Jerry and he is a SAINT. We went in his pool/hot-tub, and slept on his floor. He went to clown college and turned off the lights, lit a candle, and told us ghost stories as we fell asleep. Big kid slumber party! Longest day ever? Yes, yes it was, but with the most terrific unexpected ending. Couldn’t have thought up anything weirder, glory.
There is an unfortunate 16 mile fire closure on the next section, so we decided to make up those miles by doing an “out and back” in the beautiful Mission Creek area. Jerry dropped us off and Camel, Centerfold and I busted out a quick 14 miles that afternoon. (We got a late start because we woke up to Jerry making eggs and coffee, thus providing the single greatest moment of my life. Thanks again Jerry!). We left behind little spoon and chuckles because they were annoying us. OR because they had lunch plans and met us later that night. Whichever.
We spent 3 days in Mission Creek. Three.long.days. The second day was the toughest for me. I felt really low-energy the previous day, and knew for sure it was an iron deficiency. I didnt feel any better the next morning, but tried to power through it. I was a little behind the pack and got lost in a swampy area. The trail hasn’t been used in a year, so we bushwhacked through a lot of overgrowth, providing tons of bloodshed and bruises. And a weird foot tumor, to be discussed at a later date. Anyways, during my time in the swamp, I lost most of my composure, got really frustrated, internalized it, and whimpered quietly for the next few miles. It was pathetic. I was also convinced I got bit by a snake (fine, was probably stinging nettle or poodle-dog bush, but felt like venom I tell ya!) my leg went numb and tingled all day, like a million little spiders were crawling around under my skin, it was a delight.
Maggie (chuckles) felt my struggle and did what any best friend would do –> start up a conversation about Mooses. I don’t know where it came from, but it was perfect. Moose are my spirit animal, I’m kind of obsessed with them. Mooses make life better. It took a few more miles but I eventually pulled myself out of my mind-funk. Thank you Chuckles, for somehow knowing exactly what I needed.
We all had an off-day. I just took the morning shift. After many miles of analysis, my emotions came from just a complete loss of control. To get around this fire closure we had to rely on so many different people and things to work it out. The beauty of this trail is that it’s A –> B. No back-tracking, no bus-taking, no reliance on anyone other than to get into towns to resupply. Progress, everyday with each step, we make progress. It’s a very self-sufficient independent venture. But when faced with a fire-closure, it became a logistical nightmare. We all felt it at different levels. Combine it with pure exhaustion and negative iron levels, and you have one emotional Toe Touch.
I’d like to thank the Mile 55 team for helping me out of my funk. Thank you, Camel, for half of your snickers bar. Thank you, Spoon, for giving me your take on every presidential candidate and completely taking my mind off of hiking for a couple miles. Thank you, Chuckles, for staying in the back with me and discussing the Moose of Maine, buttery cookies, and Catholicism. And for the pack of olives. And thank you, Centerfold, for taking your “I’m losing my mind” shift at the end of the day, choosing not to camp with us (or at all), hiking through the night, and rejoining us the next afternoon looking completely crazy and confirming how badly we all lost it that day.
We all learned a lot of stuff in Mission Creek. My biggest takeaway was to remember to stay present. Take it day by day, even mile by mile. The task ahead is daunting, but if I keep my focus on each day, I’ll be much more mentally stable (hopefully). ????