Day 19: Splinter's Cabin to Burn Area. 23 miles.
April 13th, 2017.
A "magic" day.
Reviving from a deep sleep that can only be brought on by pure exhaustion, I opened my eyes to the dim morning light and attempted to sit up.
It didn't go well.
Through gritted teeth and a painful groan, I managed to struggle my way into the sitting position. The insane pace the previous day with Breeze had taken its toll. I could do that for one day, but that was my limit.
After a struggle resulting in a narrow victory opening my pack of Pop Tarts, I sat there letting the realization sink in; I wasn't going to be able keep up with Breeze today.
I pulled out my tattered pants from my pillow stuff sack and closed my eyes, coming to terms with the sewing I needed to do, the miles I needed to cover, and the incredible soreness that seemed to be throughout every muscle fiber in my body. Feeling overwhelmed, I told myself, 'One step at a time, Danny,' as I pulled the dental floss and veteran needle out of my pack.
Sewing in my tent proved too painful on my sore joints and muscles, so I flopped out of my tent and groaned my way to a nearby picnic table. I sat there in the cold morning, threading my pants back to a usable state for the day. My mind fought me with every stitch, 'You know this is a huge waste of time. You're better off just hiking in your underwear. Maybe just wrap your bare legs with duct tape?"
Breeze popped up from his camping spot, looking energized and ready to go.
"You sewing your britches?" he curiously asked in his deep southern accent.
I exhaustedly looked at him, "Ya man, this is like 40% of my life right now."
Breeze said he was shooting for around 20 miles that day, which I thought was reasonable, on the light side even. I scanned the map and in a stroke of sheer dumbassery (definitely a word), I suggested we try to shoot for Silverwood Lake, 31 miles away. The terrain was easy ahead of us, and I felt like I needed to step up my mileage if I was going to keep up with Breeze.
Dumb, dumb, dumb.
Breeze took off while I continued to patch up a few particularly revealing tears. I promised Mel I'd keep the sexiness to a minimum on the trail. Butt hair snaking its way out of my shredded pants is a pretty clear violation of that promise. Not trying to break hearts out here.
Leaving late from Splinter's Cabin, I knew deep down that I wasn't going to make it to Silverwood lake. I felt like a zombie trying to get my stiff joints to loosen up enough to get into a good pace. I was scanning the first couple miles for the 300 mile marker, which was an achievement that pushed me forward. But around 302 miles, I hadn't seen the marker, which was slightly disappointing.
I'd be following Deep Creek for most of the day, and I'd heard of some nice hot springs that I'd be walking by. My mind wanted to keep pushing the miles out, but my sore muscles overruled my mind.
I was going to enjoy those hot springs, dammit.
A couple miles before the hot springs, I came across a barefoot dude with a small backpack and strangely enough, a didgeridoo. I said hello and asked him about the hot springs. In the most stereotypical hippie/surfer-bum tone, he gave me the lowdown.
"Duuude, the hot springs are right around the corner. They're MAGICAL. Just sit and soak up the healing magic of the spiritual healing magic of the water. The water is purely magic. It was tested at a perfect magic alkaline pH of 8.6, bruh. You can drink the magic straight from the spring, don't use that filter, dude. It's perfect. That magic 8.6 alkaline, ya know?"
I nodded my head over and over, patiently waiting while his potentially drug-addled brain repeatedly pushed out the words 'magic', 'alkaline', and '8.6'.
I finally found a lull where I could escape down trail and shortly after arrived at the Deep Creek hot springs. Excited for a good soak, I approached a small group of people with a smile and a hello. My greeting was collectively ignored. Nobody would even look at me...
'I must be near civilization again,' I sighed to myself and continued down a faint trail along the creek I figured would lead to a secluded hot spring.
Boy, did it.
I turned a corner and a small pool came into view. Two heavy, impressively hairy individuals were in this small pool, only six feet away, right in the middle of a heated sex session.
The striking visual of the choppy water, bumping rolls, and floppy bodies brought up an unfortunate sound from inside of me. Before I could control myself, I let out a clearly audible "Ugghh...", which is similar to the same noise you make when you see a dog rolling in it's own poop, or maybe an alcoholic passed out in their own vomit. Sort of a 'well that's not pleasant' kind of sound.
Immediately I was embarrassed I'd let that noise escape me. The chunky couple heard me and rolled off each other, trying their best to play off being caught in the act.
My brain froze. I'm usually quicker on my feet, but my mind refused to come up with something to say to ease the extreme awkwardness. I offered a choppy, "Well.... these hot springs sure.... so........", and eventually just gave up, turned around, and walked away.
Turning down a side trail, I fruitlessly attempted to block the visual from searing in my memory to avoid any unfortunate dreams later. Not 20 yards later, a dog came running down the trail toward me, baring its teeth and barking aggressively. I tried to calmly greet the pup and bent down low to show him I wasn't a threat, but the dog had no interest in being friends. He stopped about 10 feet from me, growling loudly with the hair along its spine standing on end.
I slowly backed away and started bushwacking straight up the hillside back toward the PCT.
"Magic, my ass", I said out loud, irritated that my visit to these "amazing" hot springs was going so poorly.
I limped along the trail, accepting I was leaving the opportunity to soak my sore body behind. Several miles later, I came across an older man with a shovel working on a dry, steep section of the trail.
"Hello, my name is Coppertone. Would you like a pie? I have apple or pecan."
Letting the love of the PCT return to my brain, I thankfully accepted this trail magic from Coppertone and sat down on the next butt-level rock I could find to enjoy the little personal apple pie I had been given. Coppertone continued his voluntary service project repairing the rutted section of trail.
Trail angels are such a cool part of this experience, and I especially love the random moments of trail magic as they happen to me. I haven't been comfortable with the on-demand style of trail magic where you call trail angels to come help you. It just seems uncomfortable to call someone with the expectation that they help you just because they've helped others in the past. Being completely self-sufficient is an important part of this journey for me.
But I'm not about to turn down apple pie.
I walked down to Deep Creek where there was a small wade to get across, about mid-thigh deep. I was miles downstream from the hot springs, but as I crossed, my irrational mind was subliminally trying to calculate the possibility and percentages of sperm that could be swimming past me, possibly becoming lodged in my shoes.
I quickly got back up on the other shore, surprised at how simple the crossing was. I'd heard other hikers were doing a four mile roadwalk detour to avoid that crossing. There was even talk of threatening quicksand?!
Semen, sure. But quicksand? Come on.
As I emerged from the creek, I came across Coppertone's mobile rig, complete with a trail register, chairs, water, and some cookies. I sat down for a rest, tried to strike up conversations with more unfriendly people and eventually moved on toward Silverwood Lake.
Shortly after, I came across two hikers I'd seen in trail registers many times: Freebird and Raven. Freebird is doing the PCT for the fourth time. We chatted about the Sierra for a minute before I continued on.
The wind had picked up strong. Gusts were tossing me around on a steep hillside and I was getting nervous. I passed through a big burned section and winds continued to increase in intensity. Eventually, I came across a flat tent spot in a cove where the winds were still high, but tempered. I decided to stop, worried I wouldn't find anything more sheltered further down the trail.
I'd only gone 23 miles, and I knew Breeze was probably hanging out at Silverwood Lake, wondering where I was. I'd made it past what he originally had wanted to hike, but I'd failed to make it to my own goal I'd endorsed that morning.
'You're an idiot,' I told myself as I started setting up the tent in the crazy, unpredictable gusts. The ground was crazy soft and my tent stakes weren't staying put. I scrambled along the loose hillside, carrying large rocks back to my tent to help anchor it.
I crawled inside and busted out the needle and dental floss again, sewing another large tear in my pant leg. The winds meant I wasn't going to be able to safely boil water, so I ate another trail favorite: salmon burritos with horseradish and crushed up Fritos, something my buddy Miguel had shown me on the John Muir Trail the previous year. Tastes just like a fish taco!
As the winds raged on, the gusts became more and more intense. Inside the tent is deafening in those conditions, so I couldn't fall asleep. I finally called it and collapsed my trekking pole holding up my tent and rolled up in the loose fabric, finally able to sleep.
Total mileage along the PCT: 321
Total mileage with detours: 341.5
Day 20: Burn Area to El Cajon. 26 miles.
April 14th, 2017.
A McDonalds day.
My decision to collapse my tent allowed me to sleep, but the negative consequence was moisture. Lots of moisture.
The nightmarish winds overnight had died, so when I woke up around 4:30, I pitched my tent back up and realized everything was soaked. The waterproof cuben fiber trapped all of my body heat and moisture against my sleeping bag. I decided it was time to get out of camp, so I packed up everything wet and set off on the trail by headlamp.
I've come to realize that I hike very well in the early morning. A good rule of thumb that you're having a good hiking day is if you have completed 10 by 10, or 10 miles by 10 a.m.
I had completed eight miles by 8 a.m., and would complete 21 miles by 1 p.m., so I was feeling pretty good.
I cruised around Silverwood Lake in the early morning light, trying to move quickly while avoiding the persistent poison oak. I came across Freebird and Raven again! My first thought being, 'how'd they get down trail from me?' I'd passed them yesterday and never saw them again. It turns out they'd avoided the monotonous burn section by bailing down to a paved road and road walking past a long section of trail.
That definitely sounded easier than hiking the trail....
I continued on and a few miles later I saw a familiar hiker on the trail ahead.
It was good to see her again, we hadn't been hiking in the same area since before Big Bear. After catching up for a minute, we decided we'd meet up again at McDonalds at the Interstate 15 crossing in a couple hours.
Daydreaming of mediocre fast food kept me hiking strong. I knew I was going to overdo it when I got to McDonalds, so I stopped and forced myself to eat my lunch that I had in my pack.
It didn't help.
When I stepped onto pavement next to the freeway, a mustang pulled up and the guy inside unexpectedly asked "Are you Daniel??". I was taken back, not expecting anybody to meet me. The guy's name was Rob, and he'd been following my blog and progress online. He offered some trail magic and water and we chatted for a few minutes, but there was the prospect of endless fast food consuming my brain, so I said goodbye and headed up the short detour to McDonalds.
It was crowded, and I smelled terrible. I didn't care.
When I first walked in, there was a clear hiker corner. There was an electrical plug next to a trash can, so we all hung out next to the trash can and enjoyed not walking for a bit.
I walked up to the counter and started ordering, unable to show any kind of respectable restraint. By the time I left, I'd ordered a Big Mac, large fries, two cheeseburgers, an Oreo McFlurry, two parfaits, three cookies, and a large soda. I comfortably ate all that and still had an appetite! With the future me in mind, I decided I'd stop there.
Breeze was there and had left McDonalds about an hour before me with Jellybean, Roadrunner, and Happy Feet, aiming to camp about six miles away from the I-15. I had planned on catching them and camping together, but between charging electronics and absurdly long gas station lines, it was 6:30 before I was finally on the trail.
The sun was setting quickly. I headed under the creepy, graffiti-ridden I-15 overpass. I was motivated to put space between civilization and my camp for the night, so I charged ahead. I wanted to catch up to Breeze's group, but I doubted I'd have enough daylight to find them.
Despite having five liters of water and a heavy food bag, I held a quick pace, charging up the steep hills in strong winds. In five miles, I arrived at a nice camp site as the last bit of daylight faded away and decided to stop for the night. One of my least favorite things is setting up camp in the dark.
I did the math and figured that I'd hiked the five miles in just over an hour, gaining 2400 vertical feet. I had held over a four mph pace on a steep uphill section for five miles after already hiking 21 miles that day! Definitely a personal best that was a good sign that my hiking ability was improved.
As darkness set, I could see headlamps in the distance. I figured it was the group I was hoping to camp with. I had been warned about mountain lion activity in the hills I was camping in, so I was paranoid while cooking and setting up camp alone.
The mind can be your greatest asset and your greatest enemy.
I hurriedly set up camp, ate dinner, and got inside my tent. Everything was still wet from the night before. I scolded myself for not pausing to dry things during the day sometime. My furious pace in both the morning and the evening had set off some hot spots on my feet, so I had a couple blisters to tend to.
As I drained the fluid from my blisters and cut some moleskin patches, my stomach grumbled angrily. I thought it was weird, but figured that I'd willingly consumed enough McDonalds to hurt me.
Boy, it was about to hurt me.
Total mileage along the PCT: 347
Total mileage with detours: 368
Day 21: El Cajon to Blue Ridge Campground. 21 miles.
April 15th, 2017.
A miserable day.
My eyes shot open.
'You're going to vomit', my brain informed me. I sat up, and looked at my phone. It was 2:30 a.m.
My stomach was uneasy and I knew what was coming. I thoroughly feared what was coming.
“Please, no. Not right now.” I pleaded into the indifferent darkness of my tent.
I shot through the list of possibilities. Too much McDonalds? Food poisoning from McDonalds?? I had swallowed my toothpaste when I brushed my teeth, bad idea? I had eaten a muesli dinner I had found in a hiker box, was that it?? Karma for all the stinkbugs I’d stepped on along the trail?? Maybe the germs on my never-ending disgusting hands had finally found their way inside me?
‘Doesn’t matter. Get outside.’ my subconscious told me.
But I resisted. It was cold out. I could feel a stiff breeze in the upper 30’s creeping under the walls of my tent. I was barely warm in my sleeping bag! How was I going to handle being outside right now?! How was I going to get warm again afterwards??
My stomach rumbled. It was both ends. Both ends were angry at whatever I’d done to it.
“No, no, no.”
I continued to resist. But after another aggressive rumble, my mind forcibly reminded me, “You either get up NOW or spend the next five nights in a shit-encrusted sleeping bag!!”
I grumpily agreed with myself and accepted the horrific prospect of dealing with this out of a tent. I sat up, grabbed my headlamp, and started putting on layers, every layer I had. My stomach was set in motion, and I desperately threw my feet into my shoes and stumbled out into the cold, empty night, immediately releasing the contents of my stomach only feet from my tent.
I was already shivering through the repeated waves of nausea as my body purged whatever demon was inside of me. I noticed the splash-back of my vomit was getting on the sleeves of my jackets and onto my pant legs. I knew I didn’t have water to clean anything up. I was in a big water carry section. I didn’t have water to spare. I needed every drop for keeping me hydrated.
‘So much for that.’ I thought as I watched liters of irreplaceable fluids leaving my body and quickly soaking into the thirsty desert dirt.
My stomach angrily rumbled to let me know this hell was about to get worse. I was in full-blown toilet hugging territory and there wasn’t a toilet for miles.
With nothing to lean against or any way to control what bodily fluids were going where in the darkness, I knew I had to strip down to keep my clothes clean. I connected a never-ending string of expletives together as I took every piece of clothing off. Two jackets, my thermal bottoms, underwear, gloves… but as I went to take off my thermal shirt, I couldn’t do it. My limbs were trembling uncontrollably. I was beyond cold already.
This was getting serious in more directions than I wanted it to.
Before I could further try to convince myself to remove the shirt, more waves of awfulness took me back down to my hands and knees, further removing precious fluids from my body.
I expelled every ounce of possible evil inside of me, trembling for over an hour in the vicious, unforgiving wind, dressed only in a thermal top and trail running shoes like some horrific version of Donald Duck.
I’d lost feeling completely in my hands and feet. Then my shivering stopped. I felt too exhausted to even react to the cold around me. Oddly, I had an overwhelming desire to just lie down on the harsh, pokey desert ground and close my eyes.
“You need to get warm, dude.” I muttered out loud.
I didn’t feel done, but I crawled back into my tent anyways. In a daze, I used a few baby wipes to clean what I could before sliding back into my sleeping bag. Almost immediately, I fell asleep. Although I’m sure I was blurring the line between falling asleep and losing consciousness.
I awoke to a beautiful morning, but I was exhausted. I only had so much water, and I needed to get moving to beat the heat of the day for the long uphill ahead of me. I knew I’d be fighting my already-dehydrated body the whole day. I had four liters of water left where I needed closer to six liters to rehydrate and stay hydrated for the climb up to Wrightwood.
Soon after I’d started hiking, I came across a surprise water cache next to a dirt road! I let out a huge sigh of relief, unbelievably grateful for the wonderful humans who had put the water there.
Even with the added water, I struggled slowly up the 5,000 foot elevation gain toward Wrightwood. My energy levels were on the floor and my pack was heavy with water and food. My stomach felt okay, which I was grateful for. The trail was washed out and sandy in several large sections. Sand made its way into my socks, proceeding to rub the balls of my feet raw, but I didn’t have the energy to deal with it. I trudged uphill, daydreaming about sleeping that night, vaguely aware of the sores opening on the soles of my feet.
Seemingly just from walking uphill, new holes had appeared in my pants. I sat down on a perfectly smooth log and felt the tear in my ass rip open even further.
“Nobody cares, you unbelievable pile of suck”, I told my pants.
That’s right. I talk to my pants these days. Abusively.
After 25 impossibly long miles, I came up on the ghost town ski resort, Mountain High, with an empty summer campground. I was out of water and needed to get to a source before camping for the night. I wandered into the campground to see if there was a faucet anywhere.
A standoffish group of Hispanic guys were sitting at one of the tables with a German Shepherd on a leash. Exhaustion had replaced any apprehension I should’ve had. I approached them and immediately noticed their bloodshot eyes. The pup barked at me as I got closer. They were all very obviously stoned and suspicious of me. I asked if there was any water in the campground that they knew of. Once they realized I was just a thirsty PCT hiker, they eased up and one of the guys offered me some of their water, allowing me to camp there for the night.
I was super grateful and after holding as much of a conversation as one can with three stoned guys, I settled in for the night.
I barely had time to close both eyelids before I was out.