South Lake Tahoe to Sierra City (1091 – 1195)

South Lake Tahoe was a whirlwind, and a bit overwhelming. As per usual, there was so much to do in the town stop that it was anything but relaxing. Going into town has become a ritual of gorging myself on food and immediately going back to the trail. 

My first order of business in Tahoe was to find a pizza. A place only a half hour walk from the Motel Six, which felt incredibly luxurious, was selling large pizzas for around $8 and as such was popular with the hikers. I hadn’t showered or done laundry in days, and ate my entire large pizza in five minutes on the curb of the restaurant. I’ve learned to do that kind of thing out of sight of most people, because otherwise I get lots of stares of disgust. Still hungry, I went to the grocery store to get ice cream. It was heavenly, even if walking over an hour to visit the pizza and grocery stores caused me to stay up super late (9pm). 

The next day was my busiest town day yet with beard trimming, haircut, post office runs, food resupply, sock swapping (mine had holes after a thousand miles), trying to figure out what I did with my hat, eating, more eating, and the 24 hour marriage license shop. 

50_through_south_lake_tahoe_by_mark_miller

One of the main streets in South Lake Tahoe.

The main challenge of the day was getting everything to the post office by 5pm, closing time. The chance to FINALLY get to send home my big, heavy bear canister was totally worth all the rush. I’d carried that monster for almost 400 miles by that point, during which its carrying capacity went from five days of food to barely three. 

My food consumption, as I mentioned previously, has been skyrocketing since the end of the High Sierra section. Nowadays I have to consume four to five thousand calories to stay reasonably comfortable, which makes sense considering I walk the equivalent of more than a marathon almost every day. In the desert we would go up to five or six days between resupplies, but nowadays four days is pushing it. 

Not only did I have to buy food to last me the 100 miles (161km) to Sierra City, but I also had to mail a food drop to the following stop of Belden. Some hikers methodically plan out how many calories per day and buy food based on that, but I just fill my bear bag until I think it’s way too much. “Way too much food” usually translates to “barely enough” by the time I get to town. 

Lake of the Sky Outfitters is the center of town for hikers in South Lake Tahoe. They let me bag and process all my food while leaving my pack in front of the store. Free wifi, tea, and a list of trail angels willing to drive hikers back to Echo Lake to rejoin the PCT are the main reasons they’re so popular. They take a picture of every thru hiker that walks through the doors, and have a wall filled with our portraits. It’s pretty fun going and seeing all my friends that are ahead. 

They said I was around hiker #145 for the season, compared to hiker #750 out of 2500 in my third week. Not everyone stops by the outfitters, but I’ve still passed probably around 400 hikers since starting. I’m moving somewhat fast, as all the trail angels keep telling the people in my bubble, and am still on track for an early September finish date. 

Apparently all the rumors I heard about “the herd” are true. I started on the edge of the main pack of thru hikers and have steadily been increasing my distance from them, the bulk of whom are in the beginning or middle of the High Sierra. The pictures posted on the PCT 2015 Facebook page of the main resupply stops earlier on in the trail are overwhelmingly crowded compared to when I was at the same locales. 

That same Facebook page is an endless source of amusement and drama, often intertwined. The arguments are so petty and banal, while the posters are largely not hikers. The latest piece of entertainment involved a guy who rented a uhaul truck in Bishop, filled it with 24 hikers, and then drove to San Francisco for a couple rest days.

On the drive to Frisco they were pulled over by the police, and every person given a seatbelt ticket. Then they were allowed to keep on going to San Francisco! Way to go in enforcing safety, California. Here are some photos from inside the truck (yes, that’s a hammock) and of everyone holding his or her seatbelt fine. 

image1

Getting pulled over.

image2

Inside the truck.

image3

Posing with the tickets.

I wrapped up my time in Tahoe at the 24 hour wedding chapel, the only place in town with a notary service available after 5pm. A Spanish visa form needed to be notarized for my job, and this was the last point at which I could get that done for quite a while. The woman running the place said she hadn’t notarized something other than a wedding license in months, and asked me questions about what I was doing in town. She had just watched the movie Wild, which almost everyone on the PCT detests because it depicts us as a bunch of promiscuous and ill equipped heroin addicts (I’ve never seen it, that’s just what I’ve heard), and did it for free because of that! She seemed to think I was really cool. I would have to agree with her. 

I cornered another hiker at the grocery store and talked him into letting me share a room with him at the motel and also riding back to the trail with an angel the next morning. Steady, a retired woman from Washington state, had called 24 people on the trail angel list before finding someone who could drive us on that weekday morning. Thankfully others are more prepared and persistent than I am! Our driver was a retired local who “only” does hikes of up to 200 miles (330km) nowadays with a group of her retired friends. All these hikers in their 60s and 70s are pretty impressive. 

Like pretty much everyone else on the trail, the other hikers in the car were from the west coast. One of them told me he’d gone to Columbus, my hometown, for some club sports competition. He claimed there was a gang fight right outside his hotel in the middle of the night (I recognized his photos he stayed in a neighborhood that’s not the nicest at night) and basically thought I grew up in a war zone. Too bad he didn’t visit Detroit or downtown Cleveland on his Midwest trip.

We followed the Tahoe Rim Trail through some very pretty mosquito infested swamplands, which wasn’t fun until we got onto the dry and bug free ridge. There were a bunch of people out for a week or so, and generally did in one day what we do in three hours. They were mostly friendly, if a little off put by the large amount of marijuana use on the trail. I was talking to one weekender while I kept dropping my food, picking it up off the ground, and eating it without pause right in front of her. She seemed pretty unfazed, but I wasn’t sure. I will not waste calories. I draw the line at eating food I find on the ground, but a lot of others don’t. 

Echo Lake

Echo Lake, just north of South Lake Tahoe.

I lost a lot of time over the couple of days near Donner Pass (yes, that Donner Pass) while reading about the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges. Opening my Facebook newsfeed was like getting blasted by rainbows, as I’m sure anyone who was on social media then knows. 

The delays worked out well because I ended up running into Reno Dave, a trail angel from Reno, Nevada just 90 minutes away, and his hotdog barbecue! Simba and I got there just as he was setting up, and it was a godsend to have hotdogs and cold pop. Reno Dave has been doing trail magic at Donner Pass for five years, and fit the typical “yo hikers, you want free food from a stranger?” trail angel profile. He said by far the biggest change in the PCT in that time, which has seen an almost doubling in the number of thru hike attempts each year, has been the big increase in the proportion of women on the trail. It seems like we’re 80% male, so I’m not really sure what it was like in 2010. 

Just a couple hours from Donner Pass was an interstate 80 rest stop popular with hikers for its electrical outlets and chance to get judged really hard by travelers who think we’re homeless/insane. I sat in the corner and ate a quarter pound of chocolate like a starving refugee, and followed it by eating a sleeve of crushed butter crackers with a spoon. When I washed my hands in the sink of the bathroom I couldn’t get the porcelain to turn white again, which was kind of embarrassing. Parents grabbed the hands of their children when they gawked at me and two other hikers, but it was worth it to recharge my iPod. 

Not too far from the rest stop was a cute little cabin in the woods. I stopped by and wrote in the trail register, “This looks like the picturesque setting of *insert Stephen King novel murder scene here*!” I decided not to stay there, partially because it creeped me out being there by myself and also because I still wanted to hike for a couple more hours. 

I slogged through it all the way to just before Sierra City, a one street town with 50 residents, and camped out in a spectacular gorge. The trail in Northern California has been going from mosquito infested, wet valley to dry ridge repeatedly through endless pine forest. It’d be pretty cool if it weren’t for the bugs and oppressive heat.

Sonora Pass to South Lake Tahoe (1017 – 1091)

right before sonora

Relaxing up high before heading down to Sonora Pass.

Sonora Pass is kind of in the middle of nowhere, and there aren’t any convenient resupply options. My hunger has gotten ridiculous on the trail, with one pound (450g) of peanut butter being classified as an afternoon snack, so three days of food was about all I could fit in my bear canister and I needed to get more. After twenty minutes of trying to hitch to North Kennedy Meadows Resort with no luck, a pickup truck stopped in front of me. “Get in the back!” Hawaii yelled at me with Beer Goddess in the backseat. I climbed into the back of the truck and we zoomed off. I realized I’d gotten into a car without knowing where we were going (Kennedy Meadows? Bridgeport?), but didn’t really care. If my friends were there we could figure something out wherever we ended up, which happened to be the Kennedy Meadows Resort.

heading away from Sonora

Heading to Kennedy Meadows Resort (KM North).

We walked in and immediately bought large amounts of ice cream and peanut butter, excitedly telling anybody who’d listen that we crossed the 1000 mile (1600km) point that morning. The cashier told Hawaii in an obviously disgusted tone, “Um, here’s your dinner.” “This is my pre-dinner snack, I’ll be back later,” she told the cashier as she ran outside. They must not have seen that many hikers yet. It is early for PCT hikers. I’ve gotten towards the head of the pack since starting the Sierras and a lot of places are just starting to see larger numbers of hikers. In our case, the “large number” of thru hikers staying at the hostel at the resort was 8.

It was a learning experience for them about hikertrash. While eating ice cream on the porch a young girl walked by me and said, “Mommy, what’s that smell?” It’d been only four or five days since I’d showered, which is practically yesterday in hiker shower time. Beer Goddess, Hawaii, and I did laundry together and just wore towels around the resort in the meantime. We got a lot of stares, though I was mainly staring at the laundry runoff water that was a deep shade of black. We were so filthy, and the shower felt so amazing even if dead mosquitos kept falling out of my hair all night from Mosquito Hell.

019c4aa44478dcf0adf8ac2138a82b55323d5e0c75

An eyeless dog outside the store.

I hung out with my hiker friends and ate thousands upon thousands of calories. Beer Goddess, Hawaii, and I got a bunk room all to ourselves. When the others saw the three of us together they hightailed it to the other room, probably because when Hawaii walked into the room and saw us she yelled, “SLUMBER PARTY WITH MY FAVORITE PEOPLE!” They went to go hang out at the bar but I stayed back to plan my resupplies because I was tired. Beer Goddess ended up riding on the shoulders of some local who said he was named Frank the Tank, and the pictures were pretty entertaining. 

We had a leisurely breakfast the next morning at the restaurant before hanging out with an eyeless dog that was incredibly adorable and finally heading back to the trail. We were finally done with the Sierra Nevada! There was 26k feet (7900m) of elevation change over the next three days, which seemed like nothing, and I was able to do 21 miles (34km) by 7ish even with a 10:30am start. In comparison, the entire state of Oregon has about 65k feet (19,800m) of elevation change. The next morning I was really on a roll, with 10 miles (16km) by 10am.

11227762_10206825911948946_6145049358228377522_n

Me and Beer Goddess enjoying breakfast at Kennedy Meadows North.

However, when I got to that point at 10am I crossed a road and found a note ordering an immediate evacuation of the trail because of an out of control wildfire. CalTrans had blocked off the road leading up there, so we couldn’t hitch down. There wasn’t really anywhere to hitch to, and the CalTrans guy told us it was fine to keep hiking into the fire. “It’s only about ten miles from the trail,” he told us. Ten miles from the trail with strong winds and burning out of control is REALLY close! Hikers like Trail Bride had turned around after an hour because the smoke was getting too intense. We told him we weren’t going on into a closed section like that, and he asked us where our cars were….he really had no idea what the PCT was and what they were going to have to deal with when the people who started the section after it was closed got through to there.

hitching

Hitching towards Tahoe.

The sheriff was called and eight of us crammed into his truck for the long, windy ride down to the middle of nowhere. It was a 200 mile hitch to bypass 40 miles of burning trail, and we split up into groups to better get rides. Me and this Canadian couple were able to get to Tahoe in four rides over five or six hours. The others hitched as a group of five over six hitches and a bus ride in eight and a half hours. Today I’m just taking a zero mile day in Tahoe, and will head back onto the trail tomorrow morning. The trail’s been closed from Sonora Pass, so lots of hikers are converging on Tahoe to continue. Every year there are multiple closures on the PCT, and you just have to hike what you can.

Mammoth Lakes to Sonora Pass (907 – 1017)

Mammoth Lakes ended up being a nice place for a zero. The John Muir Trail (JMT) hikers were everywhere and overwhelming on trail, but for some reason they were largely absent from Mammoth. Although it was pretty entertaining to see them with their massive packs (you don’t need six backup batteries for your flashlight), the younger guys consistently tried to show off to us and insist their two week hike was equivalent to the nearly two months we’d been in the desert and mountains. It was more comical than anything else, and I can definitely see now why the PCT hikers come across as so cliquish and insane to outsiders. The desert largely weeded out all the hikers who were anywhere near normal.

john-muir-trail-map

A map of the John Muir Trail. The PCT largely follows this route.

Karaoke, like me, postholed up to her waist in the snow on one of the many passes. Her leg got a nasty scratch from buried rocks during the process, and she was telling people it was from a particularly vicious marmot attack. She and her hiking buddy would relate the story in such a perfectly serious, nonchalant manner it was hard not to take it at face value. Also in the realm of marmot drama, there was a PCTer who killed one with a slingshot, roasted it on a fire in or near Sequoia National Park, and ate it. From what I heard that really weirded out and upset the hikers. 

I’m not totally anti-JMT hikers, especially considering I was one last year. 90% of them are friendly and interesting, even if they’re bringing way too much. Going through the JMT section for the second time makes me realize how ill prepared I was last August, and how much better of an outdoorsman I am now. I think the nearly six weeks in the desert also likely fried my mind, which probably helped me adjust to life in the outdoors much more efficiently. 

In a further display of my tolerance for non-PCT hikers, I camped with a JMTer while in Mammoth. He was an economics major at UCLA who used to live in Madrid, which was interesting to talk with him about since I’ll be moving there after the trail. When it came up that I took an eight month break in my schooling to work for five months in Yellowstone and travel New Zealand for two months, one of the best decisions I ever made, he was aghast. I got the impression his parents tried to control almost all aspects of his life, and that the thought of taking time off from school (let alone taking time off after undergrad before starting a “real” career, whatever that is) would never fly with him.

The next morning, after stopping at the post office, I waited for the first of three buses that would take me back to the trail. A woman pulled over by the bus stop, staring at me. It was a bit unnerving, but I nursed the hope that she would offer me a ride to the main shuttle and save me an hour or so.

“I know you probably have a lot of questions about the End Times, so I brought you this pamphlet that’ll tell you everything you ever wanted to know about how the end of the world will play out,” she solemnly told me while I tried not to laugh. I accepted the pamphlet and thanked her.

“You must be wearing contacts!” she added when I looked her in the eyes. I was shocked! How could she tell? I’d never met somebody who could figure it out so easily. 

“Nobody’s eyes are naturally that color,” she told me with an all-knowing smile. 

“Well,” I responded, “my contacts are clear. I come by my green eyes honestly.” It got real awkward real fast, and she left. 

Kyle, the JMTer I camped with, was on the bus heading up to the trail. In my best deadpan voice I repeated the speech the End of Times lady gave me, and the other passengers avoided eye contact with me while trying not to laugh. I played this charade a good deal longer than would be considered socially appropriate, but he refused to accept the pamphlet.

While waiting to board the last bus the driver told me, “You must be a PCT hiker!” Somehow everyone can instantly tell I’m a thru hiker. I’m not really sure how, but assume it has something to do with my ridiculous beard, wildly curly hair, and the dirt and wear on all my gear. Then the deluge of questions started, which I don’t mind answering as long as people don’t ask snidely and obviously judge me for “wasting [my] life doing things that won’t help [my] long-term prospects.” I’ve known for quite some time that it’s part of God’s plan for me to spend some time with the stupidest and most obnoxious people on Earth, and the PCT has been no exception. Other hikers have commented on how I meet so many more judgmental people and weirdos compared to others, but that’s how I got my trail name and comes with the territory.

When we meet non-PCT hikers you have to make the decision whether or not to use your trail name. If I introduce myself as One Of Us, then I might get asked how I got that name. “Well, I was at a drug dealer’s house in the middle of nowhere in the desert and, after he gave me food I ate unquestioningly, I told my friends about how I meet the most bizarre people on the trail. And when they asked me why I meet so many strange ones, I said in a crazy voice it was because when crazy people lock eyes with me they go ‘ONE OF US’ and follow me around. My friends never let me live that down and I gave in to that being my trail name.” I’ve thought about telling non-hikers my trail name is The Zodiac Killer, but haven’t gotten around to it. 

When a stranger unfamiliar with the trail is picking up some bearded, wild-looking homeless people with trekking poles off the side of the road it’s not always wise to use trail names if they don’t know much about the trail. The introductions go something like, “Hi! Thank you so much for picking us up. I’m Alive, and he’s One Of Us. I wonder where The Animal is, she’s been following us for a while on the trail… Oh, there’s Chuck Norris! Do you mind if we give him a ride, too?” Then you have to go find a different ride to wherever you’re going.

At this point in the PCT adventure it’s pretty strange not to have a trail name. I don’t want to call you James or Ashley. That’s just weird. The evening of my first night back on the trail I ran into Logan, who claims not to have a trail name. He’s famous on the trail for packing lots of candy in his pack, and has been dubbed Candy Shop by some. He had to spend the night at Muir Pass Hut, an emergency shelter, during a snowstorm with four other hikers and pulled out four ziploc bags of some kind of candy.

snow

There’s still snow on the passes.

Candy is nice on the trail, but bringing too much can be a terrible idea. When I first met Coach and her wife, one of them was telling me about how she had an entire list of candy for dinner the night before. She then went into excruciating detail about the bright red-orange color of her vomit, and how they were scared it was going to attract bears. Too much info.

I heard more about the couple that got married two and a half weeks after meeting in San Diego, since the informant had been hiking with them. He said although they met in San Diego they didn’t really start talking to each other until after that. According to him, they’d really only been hanging out together for three or so days before getting married. 

He’d also spent much more time than I hiking with the Ravens, a family of four thru hiking the PCT. The parents hiked the trail in 96, and are now taking their 11 year old daughter (Little Crow) and 7 year old son with them on a second thru hike. He recounted me the story of them calling The Andersons/Hippie Daycare to ask if they could weather out a storm there, and how Mrs. Anderson ran through the hikers yelling, “Put away the pot, children are coming!” Hippie Daycare was pretty chill when I was there apart from the mountain lion at 2am, though I’ve heard you never really know what you’re going to get. Sometimes it’s calm, but other times you walk in to find two guys covered in chocolate sauce wrestling on the front lawn. C’est la vie.

Hippie Daycare is known as being the most powerful vortex on the PCT. Hikers use the term “vortex” to describe any place that’s hard to leave. I’ve been seeing far fewer thru hikers on the trail than before, and I’ve heard it’s because a lot of people were sucked into the Lone Pine vortex. I can see why. I spent two and a half days there myself, and I didn’t even plan on going in the first place. It happens. Another reason I’m seeing far fewer hikers than before is because a lot of people are starting to get off the trail. I thought at the beginning people would leave for physical issues, but the vast majority of it has been mental and, to a lesser extent, financial. They miss people back home, can’t handle just hiking all day every day, etc.

IMG_0483

Donner Pass, near the Yosemite National Park border.

Logan and I entered Yosemite National Park together, and it was quite picturesque with the looming spires of granite surrounding us. The Tuolumne Meadows Store is the end of the JMT section on the PCT, and a lot of hikers kept following the former to its terminus in Yosemite Valley. Almost everyone who did that came back with horror stories of overwhelming masses of humanity and judgment. When you rarely see five people at any one time on the trail, going into a town or Yosemite Valley is unfathomably overwhelming. Sobo said she got a lot of looks in the Valley when she ate three entire honey buns for breakfast while waiting for the bus. 

I’d planned on spending the night at Tuolumne Meadows until I saw the few dozen people in the store and heard the stories about bears running through the campground all night breaking into cars. My first thought on seeing the non-hikers was, “Did I ever look that clean at some point in my life?” It seemed unlikely. We couldn’t help but stare.

We’ve gotten to the point at which people are amazed, or plainly disbelieving, when you tell them where you started your hike. It’s kind of fun because I feel like a rock star/absolute lunatic when I say, “I started at the Mexican border April 21st. The data charts say I’m on track to get to Canada September 3rd.” Then they tell me how dangerous it is that I’m doing this solo after they ask me if I’m carrying all my food for five months with me right now. With questions like that, it’s probably dangerous for them to leave their house solo.

I continued on through Mosquito Hell through the Yosemite Swamp. Seriously, it was the worst episode of mosquitos in my life and was kind of miserable. You could see the swarms against the setting sun moving in dark clouds. Luckily, on the ascent and descent to Sonora Pass the terrain was too dry and the wind too strong for them to be of any nuisance. My mosquito head net went back into my pack!

Lone Pine to Mammoth Lakes (745 – 907)

After my two and a half days in Lone Pine, Pink Lady got me and Cat Lady a ride back to the trailhead with some guy whose son was hiking the PCT somewhere near us. I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but I needed a ride from the valley floor back to the mountains and those weren’t easy to come by. From there on out was the start of the true Sierra Nevada section, with our days dominated by trying to get over passes up to 13,159 ft (4009m) before afternoon storms hit us. It stormed for at least a couple hours six out of seven days on the trail in the Sierra Nevada, but my tent and gear kept me (mostly) dry and warm. Hiker wisdom is that people do 70% of their typical mileage each day in the Sierras, but I managed to keep doing 25 to 28 miles (40 to 45km) per day.

sn2.jpg

The views from the passes in the Sierra Nevada are unparalleled.

From Lone Pine it was only two days to Independence over Kearsarge Pass, which is crossed by a 7.5 mile (12km) off-PCT trail to Onion Valley. Going 15 miles (24km) roundtrip off the PCT to resupply, with a long hitch from Onion Valley to town, would usually be less than ideal. However, the PCT in this section goes 200+ miles (300+km) without crossing so much as a dirt road so options are limited.

I got to Onion Valley in the late afternoon/early evening, after most of the dayhikers and backpackers had already left. Hitching out of there can sometimes be difficult, especially this early in the Sierra Nevada hiking season. In a typical year, the snowfall in California limits hiking in that area until sometime after mid to late June. With the snowpack at 6% of normal this year, we’re going through much earlier than typical. After waiting over half an hour with no cars leaving, and having started to contemplate the possibility of staying the night and waiting until morning to get to town, Achilles came up in a van and rolled down her window. “One Of Us, don’t get in anybody else’s car! I want to give you a ride down to Independence.”

It was really good seeing her again. She got on the trail because she promised herself when she turned 55 she would change up something in her life, so she quit her job to hike the PCT. Although I was very happy to run into her, I was sad to hear she was getting off the trail. Getting off the trail is a highly personal decision for each person, and everyone has to know what’s best for him or herself. She handed me a cold can of pop, which made my day 10,000 times better, and dropped me off at the Courthouse Motel.

0123388376307db0a29a5d1384d1b363653909b488.jpg

Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT. Not the best photo, but it’s a victory nonetheless.

Independence is where Charles Manson was tried, and is the closet town to the best preserved of the Japanese-American WWII internment camps. I wanted to go see the latter, but getting there looked difficult. So, I stayed in the hostel at the Motel and picked up both my food package and mosquito gear (mosquito season is coming). There’s no grocery store in Independence and I didn’t want to hitch to Bishop, a much larger town to the north, so I had sent myself food for the five day hike to Reds Meadow/Mammoth Lakes (where I’m at now). I learned afterwards most people do that section in around seven days, though doing the 125 miles (201km) over such ridiculous elevation changes ended up being fine. Except for the passes, where one time I sunk up to my waist in snow. That was not fun.

For $25 at the Motel I got my own little room in the bunkhouse and a pancake breakfast. Not only was it a big breakfast, but it was the most massive meal I have ever seen in my entire life (I didn’t see the 8 pound/3.6kg burrito in Big Bear). It was insane, and I could only eat a little less than half. 

01a709d9f93a7f3e36bd06b9bae3edb8956c6b33e0.jpg

Still a good amount of snow in the Sierra Nevada.

It was good getting all those calories in, though. In the grocery store in Mammoth Lakes I overheard some shoppers saying, “Oh, look! This has only 60 calories. Great!” In the next aisle over, with the $3 pints (~500mL) of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, I found the New Zealand hiker Sobo looking at the nutrition info. “Oh, look! This has over 1000 calories! Awesome! This’ll be my dessert.”

Going up over Kearsarge Pass to get back to the PCT I ran into Pot and Lid, an older couple who are friendly most of the time. Pot told me in an accusatory tone, “Your weather forecast in Lone Pine was wrong. There was no snowstorm.” Most of us realize the weather predictions are a fountain of lies, and I’m not a meteorologist. I wanted to say something about a retrospectroscope and where he could shove it, but I just smiled and wished them a good day. 

My next five days to Reds Meadow were pretty uneventful, though I did get to see a mother bear and two cubs. On one of the passes a coyote looked me in the eye as it defecated just 20 meters from me. That was kind of cool…I think?

017f4d68a68b457820516d7779e864536df93648d4.jpg

Another amazing view. I think this was heading into Yosemite/Tuolumne Meadows.

When there wasn’t an impending storm the passes would be the social foci of the trail, and on my penultimate day on the trek to Mammoth Lakes I ran back into Fievel. At Kennedy Meadows some drunk local couldn’t pronounce Fievel, so his trail name got changed to Falafel because of her. I also met Coach and her wife, who are an…interesting…couple. While I was talking to Coach, some guy mentioned he’d seen six bears ever since he started carrying honey. Coach’s wife got really interested and asked him super specific questions about what kind of honey he was carrying. Grade A, or grade B? Was it inside or out of his bear can? Did he wrap it in a tortilla when it was out of the canister? What time of day did this happen?

As I said previously, I’m currently in the metropolis of Mammoth Lakes. I was planning on just taking a brief break here and then heading out this afternoon. However, as per usual, everything is taking longer than I thought it would. Plus, season three of Orange is the New Black just came out on Netflix. I know if I start that I won’t be able to stop, so I’m thinking of bouncing my laptop up to South Lake Tahoe and not watching it until I move to Madrid after the trail. Or by celebrating finishing the Sierra Nevada by binge watching the show for 12 hours in the Tahoe hostel.

Tahoe, the end of the Sierra Nevada, is supposed to be the biggest dropout point on the PCT along with the first 100 miles. I’ve heard it’s because the Sierra Nevada are seen as the highlight of the trail, and after seeing it a lot of people don’t want to spend the weeks doing the other half of California through pine forests. Plus, people realize they’re almost halfway and not even close to being out of California, which is apparently demoralizing. I’m really looking forward to seeing Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. As a Midwesterner, this is all way different from what I’m used to seeing and I’m excited to see the rest of the trail. My next few stops/resupplies will be in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows, Northern Kennedy Meadows at Sonora Pass, and South Lake Tahoe. The longest time between them is three days, so I’ll have a comparatively light pack.

Lone Pine

I ended up taking two and a half days off in Lone Pine soaking my foot in Epsom salts, and it paid off quite well. Grawk, the crazy mushroom dealer arrested in the hostel parking lot, was no longer an issue, though I’ve since heard he was kicked out of Kennedy Meadows and was forced out of a hostel in Independence. His antics at first were ridiculously annoying, but now they just look somewhere between sad and pathetic. Hopefully things improve for him. Somewhere far away from me.

Pink Lady, a physical therapist who quit her job to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2013 and is now on the PCT, got sick around the same time and place on the trail as I had foot issues. We ended up bailing off the trail and hitching into town to recover at the same time, and once she felt better we spent a good portion of our two days hanging out together. Ghost, one of the Japanese hikers, ended up being my roommate in the hostel. Donezo and his boyfriend came to town to resupply, so it ended up being a nice reunion with friends.

The Lone Pine hostel was the center of town for the hiker crowd, and they opened up their shop/lobby to all us vagabonds. The hostel owners hired a former PCT hiker, Tom Sawyer, to “help deal with” this year’s hikers. I’m not sure what that means, or why “normal” people sometimes have trouble working with hikers. It might have something to do with the fact that, by this point in the hike, we’re all looking and acting pretty homeless.

Bigfoot and his gang

Bigfoot and his gang plus three section hikers. I remarked about how colorful they looked in their rain gear from the pass, and so I took a photo of it.

Bigfoot and three friends of his started in Mexico April 1, 20 days before I did, and got to the Sierra Nevada in early May. Impeded by snow, they skipped that section and started on Northern California. They returned to the Sierras the same time as I was starting that section, and I spent some days hiking with them. Outside of a grocery store, Bigfoot started going through the food he’d just bought for his resupply by removing boxes, discarding packaging, and sorting what he could into plastic bags. That removes a lot of weight and bulk from our food, which is especially important with the limited carrying capacity imposed by the (almost too) small dimensions of the bear canister. While Bigfoot was doing this, a man came up and tossed him 30 cents. He threw it back at the man and yelled, “Give it to someone who needs it, not me!”

I’ve heard similar stories of hikers being offered money or rides to the homeless shelter while hitching into or out of town. One woman had $20 handed to her while she was hitching. In the defense of the non-hikers, 70 to 80% of us are men and our beards are getting ridiculous. Our formerly new gear is showing signs of use, and almost everything we own gets caked in dirt until it rains. When we go into town, many of us haven’t showered or done laundry in a week or so. Our first priority is always always ALWAYS food, so immediately upon leaving the trail the first destination is a grocery store or restaurant.

The towns the trail passes through are usually not sufficiently large to warrant their own mail delivery system, so we’re enough of a noticeable presence for a few weeks each year that the locals and business owners are familiar with our kind. Sometimes, though, you walk into a food shop of some kind and instantly get what is dubbed “the hikertrash feeling.” You look around, a bit disoriented by the sudden presence of electric lights and air conditioning, before immediately focusing on the menu and figuring out how to order enough food to feed a small army. After ordering with a shaky tone of voice suggesting if you don’t do so quickly then everything will disappear and you’ll wake up in your tent from one of the ubiquitous food dreams, you look around and notice people staring at you. It’s quite an experience, and you suddenly feel like you look filthy and ridiculous (even if you don’t care by now). I’ve been told by multiple non-hikers that we all seem to have “these crazy looks in [our] eyes,” which in my theory comes from dealing with too much snow and rain.

Then again, normal people don’t read about a five month hike through desert, mountains, and rainforests only to immediately think, “Hmm, that sounds fun! I’m going to quit my job and put my life on hold for half a year to go live in the woods, starve myself, and carry a heavy pack all day every day.” I have to say, though, that it’s really fun and completely worth it.

lone pine hostel

The hostel in Lone Pine. I spent two nights here, then camped in a free campsite just outside town my last night.

Sometimes the hikers we meet are crazy even by hiker standards, as evidenced by the guy Pink Lady met who, after she introduced herself, responded, “You don’t need to know my name. Do you really have to camp near me? Why are there so many f#$@ing people around here, anyways?!” Well, that’s what you get when you camp near a bear locker (used when you can’t fit everything in your bear can), water, and lots of flat spots when the thru-hikers and John Muir Trail people are all coming through simultaneously.

There’s a weird sense of entitlement some hikers have over crowdedness on the trail, as if they’re not contributing to the crowding on trail (not that crowding is really an issue). There are thousands of trails in the US that get few, if any, people over the course of a week (my friends from working in Yellowstone know this well, since >90% of visitors to the park go no more than 100 meters from a paved surface). If you do a popular hike in peak season, then you will see people. It’s true that 3000 people requested PCT permits in 2015 compared to 50 in 1995, but I still go hours each day between seeing people and can camp solo whenever I want to do so. On average, I see 3 to 20 other people a day on the trail. The PCT can be a social or solitary experience, and you get to make the choice of what kind of hike you want.

Most of the hikers here are pretty fun and interesting people, and I get along with the vast majority. Tom Sawyer, the former hiker running the Lone Pine hostel, gave me ice cream in recompense for having to deal with that nutball Grawk. Food I don’t have to carry is always appreciated.

Speaking of giving hikers food, we’ve all started to realize how pathetic we must look to the trail angels who wait at roads and give us things like fresh fruit, cold pop, and other consumables. One told me, “We come here every Memorial Day to feed the hikers!” Kind of reminded me of the way my mother used to ask us if we wanted to go feed the geese by the river when my brothers and I were younger, and how the birds would ravenously swarm upon the bread we threw at them. One JMT hiker said he plans on doing trail magic further up the trail so he can “feel like a god when the hikers thank [him].” I’ve seen a hiker thank trail angels with a tight hug and tears in her eyes because she was given a banana. Those are very different tears from those which many of us shed in the final desert section when we independently collapsed onto flat plots of earth and wondered what the hell we were doing out there.

Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows (566 -702)

I don’t have as many photos for this section because I was preoccupied with just surviving it.

That night at the airport was pretty uneventful until I woke up at 3:30am to a really intense rainstorm…that I soon realized was only affecting half of my tent. I got out to see what was happening on the dry side until the sprinklers came on there, too, and I dived back in to await the passing of the storm. Eventually it got to the point where only one sprinkler was hitting me at a rate of about once every seven seconds. I would time it so I could grab my possessions in bundles and bolt out of my tent, which is quite waterproof and held out the water well, over a series of trips.

Big Al seemed to think it was pretty weird that when he picked us up at 6:30am we were all drying our tents and sleeping bags after a dry night in the Mojave. 

The hike out of Tehachapi was the last of the desert section, and was incredibly challenging. I did manage to pull a few 30 mile days (48km), even while carrying over four liters of water and six days of food up and down mountains in extreme heat. Most people do the trek to Kennedy Meadows from Tehachapi in seven days, but I managed to do it in about five. It was brutal, though not without entertainment.

At one of the trail registers, which are little books where we sign ourselves in and stalk those who are ahead of us, was a note from “Paiute Mama” letting us know hikers were welcome to stay at her house just a mile (1.6km) down the road. That’s waaaay too far out of the way for me, and seemed kind of sketchy since it was in the middle of the desert forest on a dirt road. Multiple people who went there said she was nice, but a little off.

“As a Texan I know country bumpkins,” Purple Princess told me at Kennedy Meadows. “And she was off the charts.” Within 30 minutes of arriving at her residence she tells people about how she spent 12 years in prison for murdering her boyfriend with a knife after he shot her in the shoulder. She’s also a practitioner of magic. Not black magic, as she assures everyone, but rather only white and blue magic. “I was only interested in her trail magic (when trail angels leave food or cold drinks for hikers),” Pink Lady, a former AT hiker, told me. 

witch-clip-art-witch11

Most of the hike to Kennedy Meadows, the last of the desert, is a painful blur of repressed memories. The desert heat, which we’d been so lucky in avoiding before then, kicked in my last two days. One day, after summiting a mountain carrying four and a half liters of water, I voluntarily collapsed a couple times into the dirt in the shade and just laid there for up to an hour. It was intense.

I did get to run into some old and new hiking buddies, though! I linked back up with Wallaby and Pine Stick, two older guys who are fun to camp with. We leapfrog each other a lot and, since they go slower but spend less time taking breaks off trail, we’ve been meeting up fairly often. I also met Grapefruit, who convinced me to follow the 6 to 12 morning and evening hiking schedule.

It got so brutally hot, over 90F/32C, during the day that hiking from noon to six was just not realistic. Instead, a group of us slept and relaxed from noon to six and then set out again. Grapefruit stopped after a few hours, reasoning how she’s “not 20 years old anymore.” Three other guys and I made it to midnight before just laying our sleeping bags out on semi level plots of earth (or on top of a boulder, as the Toronto-native Michelangelo did) just a couple hours from Kennedy Meadows. 

We’ve been hearing about Kennedy Meadows , mile 702.2 (1133km), since the Mexican border. It’s considered the last of the desert and the gateway to the High Sierras/Sierra Nevada, and directly follows the hardest 140 miles (226km) of the trail thus far. 

To call KM a “town” is a pretty huge overstatement. It’s a small store in the middle of nowhere, with a massive teepee in back that can fit around 30 or 40 sleeping hikers. They have free camping, and pretty much everyone sends a food drop there since the store is so small. 

Every hiker who walks in gets a round of applause as he or she approaches the store for having completed the desert. It’s a big accomplishment, especially in such an abysmally dry year. Everybody greets each other with “we survived!” Many took multiple days off there, usually willingly but also because of randomness with the postal service. 

Honey Stick, the woman who found a kitten by the California aqueduct and carried it for two days to find an adoptive family in Tehachapi, was pretty distraught to find out her food drop still hadn’t arrived. She used the pay phone, which the retired hikers took no end of amusement in watching the younger ones try to figure out how to operate, and got her parents to track it. The U.S. Postal Service said it had gone from Oregon to the appropriate routing center for KM before inexplicably being sent to Chicago, Ohio, and finally Japan. Eventually her package found its way from Japan to KM, and Honey Stick got her typical assortment of dozens of honey sticks. 

I didn’t take any days off other than about 30 hours of rest, which probably wasn’t enough. That did give me time to run back into a bunch of friends and reconnect before the craziness of the Sierra Nevada. 

canister-bv500-615x523

Bear canister in action.

One of the big things hikers do in KM is pick up a bear canister. These are hard plastic containers that protect food from bears, and are so difficult to open might as well be human-proof. It’s much cheaper to buy them at KM than online, and they’re required for use for the next couple of weeks up to Sonora Pass. After that, it seems like most people use an Ursack. Ursacks are bags made of really tough material bears can’t bite through or puncture, and are tied to trees so they can’t be carried away. They weigh less than a fourth of what a bear canister weighs and from what I’ve heard are pretty effective, so I’ll probably be switching to that after the High Sierra. 

The bear canister weighs 2.2 pounds (1kg), so they’re very unpopular. The guy who packs five to six pounds (2.5-3kg) of food a day, compared to the typical 1.5 to 2 pounds (<1kg), was comparing the bear canister requirement to Nazi Germany’s restrictions on Jews. It could be my bias as a descendant of Eastern European Jews, but that seemed a little extreme to me. I heard a lot of ridiculousness about bears at KM, but I have to remind myself most people at this point probably don’t have as much experience backpacking in bear areas (ie Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, etc.) as I do. 

KM had laundry and showers for hikers, which was nice after swearing in our clothes for a week. “I already washed my clothes six days ago and dunked myself in the river yesterday, so I think I’m fine,” Donezo was telling me. His boyfriend overruled him on that. 

Tehachapi

For only $5 a night the local airport lets hikers camp out on their lawn and use the pilot lounge, which has wifi, showers, and comfy chairs.

I originally planned to arrive in Tehachapi on Sunday and leave Monday evening to avoid the predicted desert heat wave, but Memorial Day got in my way. Out here I never really know what day it is, and totally forgot about the existence of Memorial Day and the resultant closures of post offices. Tehachapi’s grocery store was the last one of any size for quite a while, so it’s an opportune place to mail food drops.

Getting everything ready to get back on the trail always takes much longer than I think it will. This was exacerbated by Tehachapi’s lack of proximity for pretty much everything in town. The grocery store was over two miles (~3.5km) from the airport, with no set bus system. It took me six hours to walk to the Laundromat, do laundry, buy groceries, and sort everything out into three food packages.

Walking into the grocery store gave me a feeling akin to culture shock, like when I walked into the Bogota Northern Bus Terminal in Colombia and had absolutely no idea how to go about buying a ticket. After carrying and obsessing over food for the past days on the trail, it was incredible seeing so much of what I was craving everywhere.

I’ve gotten to the point where I actively avoid interacting with the locals in all of my town stops. They’re incredibly obnoxious. Alive pointed out to me the general rule that the fatter and less outdoorsy someone is the more likely he or she is to criticize you. That was certainly the case at the checkout lane at the Tehachapi grocery. At the self-checkout kiosk, God’s gift to introverts, I unfortunately had to keep having an obese clerk deal with my toiletries, which the machine apparently is unable to scan. He looked at my food, scoffed, and said, “Planning on eating a bit much, don’t you think?” First of all, he was easily three times my weight and shouldn’t be judging me. I wanted to say, “Put away your gavel, Judge Judy.” But instead I just said, “I’ve got 16 days of food here.”

This was followed by, “You must be a hiker. You realize there’s a grocery store at Kennedy Meadows, right?” There’s a tiny store at KM, on the edge of the desert in a “town” with a population of 20, that frequently runs out of food from its meager stock. Especially when 100 hikers are holed up there waiting for the snow to melt. I absentmindedly mentioned this while dealing with the scanner, hoping he’d take the hint and walk away. If you avoid eye contact with non-hikers and keep on going about your business sometimes they go away.

“All that talk about the snow is nonsense. It’s not real.”

“Oh, I wish I knew that during the last two snowstorms! It would’ve been so much easier if I knew it was all a figment of my imagination.” He took the hint and went away, only to return at the end to check my ID to match it with my credit card.

My ID is my driver’s license, which is quite different from those of California in that it’s bright pink and says OHIO in big letters across the top. I often get comments along the lines of “Oh, you’re far from home!” and the like. The clerk asked, “Ohio. How is the flooding in Houston affecting you guys?”

Usually when confronted with idiots on my hike I take a deep breath and try my best to be polite. “No, I’m not carrying five months of food with me right now.” “Actually, bears don’t have opposable thumbs.” “There’s not much water in the desert, so I usually do have to carry it with me.” “I sleep in a tent or, more often, just under the stars. Not in a hotel.”

This time I was frustrated and just blurted out, “Are you serious?! That’s over a thousand miles (1600km) away!” This was loud and got some stares from across the stare, but he didn’t seem embarrassed in the slightest. “Yeah, well, snow melt can affect a lot of things.” I was unaware Houston had a lot of snow being on the Gulf of Mexico and all, but what is a Midwestern hick who grew up on a farm supposed to know. 

The next day at the post office wasn’t ideal with not being able to leave until 11am because of lines. Then I lost my hat, sunglasses, and chargers. Being in town can be really stressful and overwhelming after the relative peace of the desert, and while roaming across town looking for my possessions I decided it’d be best for my mental health to just wait until the next day and, giving up on finding them, buy new things.

While walking to the stores some guy pulled over and said, “Hey, kid. Where you going? Want a ride? My name’s Big Al.” He seemed legit, so I got in the car with him and his son. He was kind enough to drive me to the store and even offered to drive me and up to three others to the trailhead at 6:30 the next morning before he had to go to work.

Trail angels are phenomenal people. Big Al spends a lot of his free time during hiker season giving rides around town, and other hikers had good encounters with various other angels in the area. Like Big Al, they’re disproportionately single, divorced men in their 50s. There are lots of people from all walks of life who are trail angels, but for some reason that group tends to dominate from what I’ve seen.

After Big Al’s ride to the store I ran back into No Boundaries, Mama Squirrel, Mr. Noodles, and Nicola! Nicola, Mr. Noodles’s girlfriend, is now The Better Half. The big conversation on the trail is the marriage between two hikers two and a half weeks after meeting.

My last night at the Tehachapi airport was great, having reunited with lots of my friends who were behind me. Alive, Poncho, and GnG (a retired couple, George and Gayle, from British Columbia) were there. George was telling us about their experiences in Hikertown, which we’ve taken to calling Tweakertown (in reference to tweakers, a term for meth addicts). In the car to the nearby store, one of the managers of the creepy-Western-movie-set-in-the-middle-of-the-desert “hostel” asked what everybody’s former professions were. One guy mentioned he was a film director. “Oh,” said the manager, “we’re making a porno and need a director. Would you be interested in helping out?” George said that kind of destroyed the atmosphere in the car and made things incredibly awkward. The guy politely declined. It’s been rumored Hikertown is a front for a porn recording company, and this conversation didn’t help.

Kennedy Meadows to Lone Pine (702 – 745)

image1

Making friends with the dog at Grumpy’s, the only restaurant in Kennedy Meadows.

The next couple days were constant ascents to around 11k feet/3350m. Higher altitudes don’t bother me as much after having spent almost 12 months of my life living in Yellowstone, but lots of others are struggling and cutting back daily mileage. As a general rule, people generally go only 70% as far each day in the High Sierra as they did in the desert. The gentle slope of the PCT is nothing compared to the high altitude hikes my friend Dani and I used to do on our weekends in Yellowstone. 

A couple days into the hike in the Sierras I started having some pain in my heel. It obviously wasn’t bad, since I did 14 miles (22km) by 11:30, but was compounded by a dried up water source and not having recent info on the upcoming streams. So, I decided to hitch the 20 miles into the small town of Lone Pine and take a day off to rest and nurse my foot in Epsom salts. 

I got a ride from Horseshoe Meadows Campground with a Vietnam vet who was out mountain biking, and he decided to pickup another hiker along the way. I think his name was Groak. He seemed pretty insane, and didn’t stop talking the entire way down the innumerable switchbacks to the valley floor. I ditched him as soon as I could and got a bunk at the hostel, where he ended up too. 

He pissed everyone in the room off by doing drugs and talking nonstop about the stupidest things. He tried to sell me shrooms, which I politely declined. Long story short, things escalated around 9:30pm and the police got involved. He was arrested, which he resisted while trying to fight the officer, and the hostel worker had to help handcuff him. Then I finally got to go to bed without somebody tripping in the room and creeping us all out. 

image3.JPG

Heading back up into the mountains!

The next week and a half or so I’ll be retracing my steps on the John Muir Trail, which is a spectacular trail I did last summer through the Sierra Nevada. It’s been a fun and deeply bizarre adventure so far. Darko, on his 13th anniversary at KM, said, “I didn’t realize the PCT takes us to the most eccentric places in the United States. I can’t believe we still have 70% left and we’ve already seen all this crazy shit.”

Andersons to Tehachapi (478 – 566)

I spent a wet, semi cold night in the mountains after leaving the Andersons and met Popsicle. She’s doing 30 mile days, and makes sure everyone knows it. I also made it to mile 500! A milestone. I booked it to Hikertown, which everyone described as being “creepy as hell and bizarre beyond description”. I’m not sure I can describe it better.

01ea4e39fcf7bb73a7985615e39b70da345eaa643e.jpg

Last stretch to Hiker Town.

After descending from the mountains to the desert valley, you cross a busy highway and arrive at an old western town movie set in the middle of nowhere… I think it’s a hostel, but nobody’s really sure. Sometimes you can stay the night. Sometimes you can’t. They had water, electricity, wifi, showers, laundry, and everything else a hiker would need. I didn’t ask questions.

They drove a group of us to a store and grill they owned, which involved walking through somebody’s house. In that house were paintings of Michael Jackson and naked women. I whispered to Ace, who’d already been there a day nursing shin splints, asking what was going on. She said she still didn’t know. We asked employees if they knew the owner or what he did, but nobody could answer. They just shrugged and looked annoyed that we would even wonder something like that. They did have a lounge for hikers, where people were watching Zombeavers. Zombie beavers, I think.

Back at the hostel-that’s-not-a-hostel, Holiday was telling us about this crazy guy in her cabin during the snowstorm at Idyllwild. Lawless, from upstate New York, started making fun of a guy from New Jersey. At first it was pretty mundane, but it escalated quickly. Soon he was screaming threatening to kill the New Jersey hiker, and said he better hike slow or he was going to drag his face through the dirt. Then he started repeatedly yelling, “NO TRAIL MAGIC FOR YOU!” They kicked out Lawless, the crazy guy, and told him not to come back to the cabin.

Hikertown was a cool place, but I wanted to get started on the aqueduct walk so I left after a few hours. The trail follows the California aqueduct for 12 miles (20km) or so. Honey Stick found a kitten in a bush there and carried it for 40 miles (65km) to Tehachapi, where the post office woman adopted it. She carried it in her jacket pocket, and it only peed on her twice.

kitten.jpg

Honey Stick and Burrito.

The roving bands of barking feral dogs made me nervous, and I had a fitful night of sleep camped near a grove of Joshua trees by myself. I was convinced a pack of dogs were going to tear off my face in my sleep if I cowboy camped, so I set up my tent. After a couple hours of my tent flapping and keeping me awake I ended up collapsing it and cowboy camping on top. Exhaustion > irrational fears.

012fda1af14f4dfb6104b56896ca54535446c97ce0

Aqueduct walk.

The next day I met Purple Princess and his boyfriend Donezo. Turns out Purple Princess is friends with one of my coworkers from Yellowstone, Ariel. Small world! They were really fun to hike with, and the three of us camped together with Ronin. I overheard the guys, who have been together for most of a decade, talking about checking online and waiting for the Supreme Court ruling to find out if they could get married back home in Texas. I joked I could perform the marriage on the trail with another hiker with whom they have this weird obsession with and fear of as a witness since I’m an ordained minister. Ronin got upset and said I wasn’t taking my “duties” as an online ordained minister seriously. I’m not sure what that meant. She’s pretty fun, though, and I’m glad I camped with them.

012a287a9c76e40da2fc7f3b63d94ffcd9deecdf8f

Purple Princess and Donezo.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, and since the post office will be closed I have to wait until Tuesday to ship out food drops to two remote places in the Sierra Nevada. I can’t believe I’m almost done with the desert! I have just six hiking days until I reach Kennedy Meadows, where I might have to wait a few days for the snow to melt. Finishing the desert is a huge trail milestone, so a lot of people celebrate there and wait for their friends to catch up so they can all enter together. That’s where I’ll pick up my bear canister and enter black bear territory. For some reason, in two weeks on the AT I saw six black bears. Moonbeam, this older hippie woman, told me it was because I had a lot of “bear energy.”

The last desert section is supposedly the hardest. This year it involves two waterless sections of 44 miles (71km) in a row. Depending on the temperature, I’ll be carrying six or seven liters of water in addition to six days of food. That’s around 13% of my body weight in water alone. Then I’ll be back on the John Muir Trail and summiting (hopefully, depending on if the recent snow melts soon enough) the highest peak in the continental United States. The next two to three weeks I won’t have wifi or cell service. I’ll send another update from Independence, California.

Acton KOA to the Andersons (444 – 478)

Agua Dulce was just 10 miles from Acton, so I booked it in a little over three hours of hiking to arrive in time to chat/say goodbye to Loon, resupply, and consume vast amounts of pizza. In the pizza place an elderly local was going on about how “there are so many homosexual men on the PCT,” and how he’s really good at telling that kind of stuff. News to me, since I hadn’t met any openly gay male hikers in my month on the trail at that point. I just kind of stood there and stared in fascination at their bizarre, misinformed conversation while I filled up my water bottles. He didn’t notice me.

I waited until after dark to hike out of Agua Dulce, which was a big mistake. It was around an hour of roadwalking on a dangerous highway. It was the only time on the PCT I felt unsafe while hiking because of cars. I couldn’t camp on the highway shoulder, though, so I just trucked on and survived. I ended up setting up my tent in a semi-flat piece of land right next to the trail.

andersons1

Darko, me, and Tater at the Andersons.

 

The next day was a mad dash to The Andersons, also known as Hippie Daycare. The Andersons live in a small town a couple miles off trail. As word on the trail pointed out, it’s also the same town where the green power ranger stabbed his roommate to death with a katana last year. Chuck Norris tried hitching while we got water, but had no luck. I think it was because he looked pretty scary. I wouldn’t pick up somebody who looks like he walked out of the movie American Sniper with a handkerchief covering his face up to his sunglasses. While he left to fill up his water bottle, I stuck out my thumb and had a ride for Wendy Bird, Chuck, and me within 5 seconds. Easiest hitch ever, and from a former PCT thru hiker!

When we stepped out of the stranger’s car at Hippie Daycare the dozen or so hikers gathered in the driveway started clapping. Tradition dictates you clap for every person who hitches a ride to the house, which I think is because it’s for some reason unnerving and perplexing all at once. Terry and Joe, a couple who open their backyard to hikers each summer, have a few rules at daycare. Everyone is required to wear a Hawaiian shirt at all times. Don’t feed their dogs nor the mountain lion that stalks the area. If you’re going to smoke something illegal, do it after sunset. And the final rule, according to Joe: “You don’t need Ten C ommandments. You just need one: don’t be a dick.”

andersons rules

Rules list.

I helped make taco salad that night, which Terry makes sure is made in vast enough quantities to feed all the hikers every night. I had three portions of it, and in the morning Joe made pancakes! It was heaven. I ended up liking it so much that I spent the night. I also ran into Popeye and Sass, the latter of whom informed me that day her name stood for “Sitting And Snacking”.

andersons

Group of hikers at Hippie Daycare.

Hippie Daycare is known as being the biggest vortex on the PCT. I had planned on leaving at 6 the next morning but just barely managed to leave at 9:30, super late for a typical hiking day. It was hard to leave. Terry said her neighbor called her at 2am to let her know the mountain lion was back in the neighborhood. Terry told us, “I decided not to run through the forest of campsites and yell at 2am to watch out for the mountain lion.” We thanked her, but I thought it would’ve been funny. Like the guy who got lost at the kickoff event while going to the bathroom and started screaming for help.

hippie daycare

Resting at Hippie Daycare.