The weather in the desert has been quite atypical, the coldest and wettest in 40 years if what the locals say is true.
My second zero in Wrightwood ended up being a good decision, since from others’ accounts the trail was just as slushy and miserable as I’d anticipated. The local Methodist church opened up the doors of their summer camp bunkhouse to hikers so we didn’t have to spend the night in the wet, cold snow. Rather than pack up and go to bed for an early rise, a group of us made a fire and relaxed in the church lounge area. Eric and his girlfriend Allie were present, the latter of whom is taking some time off the trail to nurse an infected blister. So was Achilles, a woman from Washington state with whom I ended up spending a lot of my rest time. She’d quit her government job of 23 years to hike the PCT, which she said made her grandkids think she was crazy. But she said she’s having a great time! All the men and women in their 60s and 70s (and on a few occasions low 80s!) who bust out 20+ mile (33km) days with a full pack are incredibly inspiring and impressive. I recently met Mother Goose, a trail legend in her 60s who has done tens of thousands of miles on the PCT.
Wrightwood is a pretty small town. I’m not sure whether its population or elevation is higher. Despite its size, or perhaps because of it, it was a great trail town. The town library was open to hikers, and the cafe gave out free tea and coffee to us vagabonds. The latter ended up being the main hangout during the snowstorm (which is still so weird to think about considering we were just 90 minutes from LA). Periodically people would stumble in after having just hitched into town from the hellish winter wasteland. One guy, a self described loner who spent 30 hours waiting out the snow at 9k feet (2,740m) before deciding to bail, summed it up like this: “That’s the great thing about the coffee shop. People come here to tell you about their failures.” Although I wouldn’t have put it quite like that, I have to admit it’s fairly accurate.
The cafe in Wrightwood takes pictures of all the hikers that go through there. Apparently some guy was doing the trail in a wedding dress??
My first day back on the trail after the snowstorm wasn’t terribly exciting, except for when I managed to take a wrong turn in the snow and hike for a quarter mile (0.5km) into nowhere. A guy and a friendly golden retriever were able to show me the way back to the PCT.
Part of the trail in that area was closed due to something to do with an endangered species of toad, and a 2.7 mile roadwalk was involved. Simon convinced me to hitch with him to the trail, and the first car to come by gave us a ride. My friends have gotten some pretty cool hitches, like the falconer who had a bird of prey in the car (though not Fran, whose friend was bit by a guy’s dog during a hitch). This guy decided to tell us about how stupid it was to hike solo, especially in the Sierra Nevada. I gladly told him I’d done exactly that. When he said how it was good I had Simon with me, I let it be known I had met him 30 seconds before getting into his car. The guy then berated me for going to Ohio State, which he called an inferior school and that I should’ve gone to Michigan. I’ll be the first to critique OSU, and its notorious lack of academic rigor, but going into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt for a bachelor’s degree like he suggested just didn’t seem like a sound plan to me. I may have been rude considering the guy was giving me a lift, but at that point I didn’t care and told him my views on the subject.
I’ve had a few locals telling me I’m wasting my life by hiking from Mexico to Canada and not marrying a woman, having kids, and getting a career immediately after undergrad like them. That conversation usually ends when they ask me how old I am, as if I’m too old to be doing something like this, and I say deadpan, “I came over to what is today the United States from the Black Forest of Germany over 2000 years ago.” Or, “I love children, they’re delicious!” Their heads explode when I say I went on a 6 week solo public bus road trip in Ethiopia this winter. “What did your parents think of that?!” They got me the plane ticket to Addis Ababa as a graduation present! I’ve taken that opportunity to go into how cool it was that my friend and travel buddy I met in Ethiopia was in her 30s and still doing things like teaching English in a Botswana village, traveling across the world, and moving to London (I think she’s super cool, but some people need to put their gavel away and not judge).
The solo women have it much worse. The non-hippie baby boomer men are constantly aghast that a woman would travel by herself, especially on the PCT. Most non-thru hikers we meet aren’t like that, though. They see it more as an adventure, and say now is a good time in life to do such things. When Allie, Eric, and I got dinner together in Wrightwood one of the waitresses took Allie aside to tell her how glad she was that a young woman was going on an adventure like this. “As Oprah said,” the woman told Allie in a serious voice, “material possessions give pleasure for a short period of time, but experiences give you memories for a lifetime.” When Allie recounted the story to us afterwards we had a good laugh.
Back on the trail I ran into Loon and Griswald, a couple of former AT thru hikers from New Brunswick. Loon was telling me they did the AT over 11 family summer vacations, dragging their kids, nieces, nephews, and those kids’ friends with them. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, but apparently their kids weren’t always so enthused. She also did her education in geology and was a great conversation partner while on the trail. They’re only section hiking, so I was sad to see them leave the trail. On the plus side, they gave me some of their extra food. It consisted of meals they dehydrated at home and was phenomenal.
On our last night together we camped with a bunch of others at the North Fork Ranger Station, where I fulfilled my goal of sleeping in a horse corral. It was totally worth it and everything I ever dreamed of. It was there that I met Starfish and Wendy Bird. Starfish got her name on the AT when she lost all her toenails (I currently have 8 about to go to 7, which isn’t bad).
Wendy Bird, during the Mt. Laguna windstorm, knocked on a tent and asked if the occupant wanted to split a hotel room to get out of the elements. An 18 year old guy got out and agreed. When she got to the hotel and registered for the room, she said it was awkward when she realized and told the clerk she had no idea what the kid’s name was. She then ended up hiking with some guys, none of whom were over 20, when she met Starfish and Honey Stick. Because she was seen guiding young boys through the forest, she was named Wendy Bird from Peter Pan (Tinkerbell was the one that guided them apparently, but I’m not familiar with the story).
We all arrived en masse at the Acton KOA, which lets hikers shower, do laundry, use the jacuzzi, and lay on the lawn. It was a sunny, pleasant day and it only got better when Starfish told me Kale was putting in an order at the local pizza place. I ran into the office with my cash, grabbed Kale right before he ordered, and begged to be included because I needed a half pound burger please please please. Hiker hunger has definitely set in, and like all the others I consume vast quantities of food whenever possible.
While at the KOA I was reunited with The Animal! She was ahead of me but got sick and took some time off there. One of the camp employees came out and yelled, “I have a letter for Rachel! Does anybody know a Rachel?” My first, dehydration-induced thought was, “What the hell kind of name is that?” We all looked around at each other, realizing we didn’t know anybody’s non-trail name. Apparently The Animal is Rachel. I’ve known her for weeks and didn’t know that was her. I’ve been too long with people who introduce themselves as Panda/Chuck Norris/Moonbeam/etc.