Day 25/26: Rest Days in Acton. 0 miles.
April 19th/20th, 2017.
A recharging day (or two).
The Acton KOA had a really nice grass area to camp, but the morning dew had settled heavily. Once again, my sleeping bag was soaked.
Melanie was driving to the KOA to pick me up, so I headed for the camp shower to rinse of some of the stink. I didn’t have any soap to speak of…. So I made little headway in the stink removal department. Actually, I might’ve just humidified the stink…
'Whatever. I tried. She married this stink. Totally stuck now.' I smiled and fist-bumped my wedding ring.
Mel arrived early with a huge assortment of goodies from Bishop, including a full-size cherry pie from Great Basin Bakery, our favorite breakfast spot, and NEW PANTS!! It was so incredibly good to see Mel. It had been a couple weeks and honestly, it was starting to affect my psych on the trail.
After a long hug, I gave a (possibly longer) hug to the pie, immediately removed the tattered rags I’d previously referred to as “pants”, then went and checked in with our two huskies, Rainn and Storm.
Oh, and I put new pants on somewhere in there. I'm pretty sure KOA’s prefer their guests to be panted….
The two full days of rest were much needed. My feet were sore, almost too sore... One morning I stood up and realized I could barely weight my left heel without being in a tremendous amount of pain! I took some Ibuprofen and limped around until the pain dulled for the day, but this would be an injury that would plague me for many miles ahead...
We spent the two days putting my resupply together, laughing at my stupid pants, eating absurd amounts of breakfast food, hugging pies, drinking coffee, and visiting friends in the LA area.
I was limping around, but I just figured being in pain was the bitter reward for hiking almost 450 miles. I switched into a very light, minimalist pair of running shoes I’d owned for years, figuring the next stretch would be a good opportunity to wear them out.
Total mileage along the PCT: 444
Total mileage with detours: 460
Day 27: Acton KOA campground to Hiker Heaven. 10 miles.
April 21st, 2017.
A homeless day.
I started the day off slow. I had one more morning with Melanie, my feet were still in an abnormal amount of pain, and I wasn’t ready to be walking through the desert alone again.
We stopped at a coffee shop in Acton and enjoyed a slow breakfast. We even broke out the card game Dominion, one of our favorites, to ensure I wouldn’t head back to the trail without TOO much of my self-esteem intact.
After the crushing, Melanie took me back to the KOA where she’d picked me up and I resumed the trail, hobbling a bit more than I had even before she’d picked me up. I started to worry. Rest was supposed to lower soreness, correct?
After a bit, the pain dulled and I continued relatively pain free. I crossed some train tracks and passed a monument that signified the last bit of trail that was established to fully complete the Pacific Crest Trail in 1993, pretty cool.
It was warm and I pushed through the overgrown trail. I stopped a few times to clear the stickers out of my shoes, but eventually I gave up and just kept hiking. There was no winning that fight.
My late start meant that I was only aiming for a half-day of hiking. Agua Dulce was 10 miles from the KOA and about a mile off trail was the famous “Hiker Heaven”. I was still uneasy with the concept of strolling into a trail angel’s place and demanding them to angel me, but there wasn’t really another option. Camping and water options were almost non-existent for miles after Agua Dulce, so I decided to head to Hiker Heaven and check it out.
I crossed under another major road, the 14. The crossing was through a tight drainage tunnel almost 100 feet under the freeway! The drainage tunnel was long enough where I needed my headlamp to see through the middle of the crossing and navigate my footsteps through the flowing stream running in the tunnel.
The mouth of the tunnel opened up into the beautiful and otherworldly Vasquez Rocks. The striking rock features were within close proximity to Hollywood, and I’d seen the rock formations many times already in movies and television shows such as Star Trek, New Girl, Austin Powers, Friends, Big Bang Theory, Blazing Saddles, Joe Dirt... the list goes on and on. It was like meeting a celebrity, only in landscape form!
After Vasquez Rocks, the PCT joins paved roads through Aqua Dulce for several miles. Once again, I found myself refusing the kind strangers who would stop to offer me rides to Hiker Heaven or the other side of town. Refusing those kind gestures always seems like I’m being rude, but I’m connecting steps to Canada, and I know those two miles I’d hitched past would keep me up at night for the rest of my neurotic life.
I arrived at the turn off for Hiker Heaven, which was an uphill mile detour off the trail. The heat of the day had discouraged my desire to walk that extra stretch, so I walked up to a nearby grocery store, excited at the prospect of an ice cold Gatorade and reached for my wallet.
It wasn’t there. My wallet was gone.
I panicked for a bit as I rifled through my belongings on the steps of this small town grocery store. I finally stopped and realized I’d left my wallet in the truck with Melanie. My Gatorade dreams faded away as I limped toward a table in front of the grocery store where there was a guy sitting. He kind of resembled a thru-hiker, but he was wearing high-top Converse shoes and had a dirty backpack sitting on the table that looked more like an overstuffed school backpack.
As I approached, he asked “Hey dude, you got two dollars I could use?”
I told him what led to my current Gatorade-less situation and sat down in the chair across the table from him. His name was Steven and he told me he was on the PCT, but had started at the I-15 because he had hiked the miles before that section on a previous year’s attempt to hike the whole trail.
There was something about this guy I couldn’t quite figure out. He was extremely nice and chatty. As we talked, people kept walking past us and he’d stop to ask every single person, “Hey you got two dollars I could use?”
Steven told me a story about the day he’d started the PCT at the Mexican border. He said he was so pumped to start the trail, that he started walking along the border fence, not realizing the trail headed south from the southern terminus. In hilarious disbelief, I listened to this story of him making it sixteen miles down the border fence in the rain, dressed in a garbage bag, and being stopped by the border patrol several times until he finally was told he was lost. This had earned him the trail name “Wrong Way”, which I thought was hilarious.
More absurd stories came out of Wrong Way and I enjoyed listening. Most were unbelievable, but highly entertaining. I didn’t say much. He would talk and talk, only pausing momentarily to ask passing grocery store patrons for two dollars.
The homeless vibe from Wrong Way was strong. I mean, most thru-hikers look/smell the part, but rarely are they begging for money in towns.
He finally landed his two dollars from an elderly man, and was ecstatic to get it. Wrong Way ran off into the store and appeared with two cold Arizona Iced Teas, and handed me one of them!
“I know you were looking forward to that cold drink, ya know?” he said to me, pausing to ask another stranger for two dollars.
I was taken back. This guy was homeless. Like, not me homeless, but like, homeless homeless. He had been begging for those two dollars the whole time I was with him, and he spent half of it on a drink for me? The walletless idiot he’d just met?
I didn’t know what to say. I felt like I’d been judging this guy a bit harshly and his selfless generosity had my guilt going. I opened my bursting food bag and dug out a Starbucks Mocha packet (basically a form of currency on trail) and a bag of Sierra mud cookies that Mel had brought me from Bishop. I offered him the goodies and with wide eyes he thankfully took everything I offered.
A lump in my throat formed as I looked at this guy chowing down on the delicious mud cookies. If I only had two dollars to my name, would I be able to spend half of it on someone else? Would I be able to spend any of it on someone else?
A gruff voice snapped me out of my thoughts, “You guys want a ride to Hiker Heaven?”.
The voice belonged to a local rancher who recognized us as thru-hikers. In the small town of Agua Dulce, it seemed Hiker Heaven was fairly well known. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to avoid hiking the hot, out-of-my-way mile, I jumped up and Wrong Way abandoned his panhandling post to join me.
Hiker Heaven was amazing. I was blown away by the generosity of the land owners. Their garage had racks filled with resupply packages they were holding for hikers. Large, white tents lined the property filled with different amenities. One tent had spare clothes for hikers to wear while their laundry was being done for them (not something I felt comfortable taking advantage of). One tent had electrical plugs and several laptops with Internet for hikers to use. Another had a full-blown sewing machine. A sewing machine.
A sewing machine I somehow had no use for at that moment.
Other amenities at Hiker Heaven were a giant row of hiker boxes for exchanging food and gear between hikers, an entire trailer with a full kitchen, beds, and a bathroom just for the hikers, and a giant tent area with a couple extra porta-potties.
Us hiker types do enjoy our choice of toilet.
I hung out with the many pups, horses, and fellow hikers. Jellybean was there along with a French couple named Steady Flow and Stellar Jay. It was a pleasant evening and most hikers were taking several zero days there.
Mel had been hard at work at home making some of our favorite meals and dehydrating them for me. This was the first meal I’d tried of hers, a green pea pesto pasta. It was uncontrollably delicious, filled with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, sweet mini-peppers, and mushrooms over angel hair pasta.
“Hiker heaven is right,” I muttered to my rapidly vanishing food. The veggies and flavors reminded me of our little mobile life in Bishop and I was instantly looking forward to the remaining meals she’d packed for me.
Wrong Way was excited about making something he referred to as “rice balls” for breakfast, making use out of the only communal food in the hiker kitchen: a gigantic box of instant rice. I was well rested from Acton, so I headed to bed early to set me up for a long, productive hiking day.
I’ll admit, a small part of me was upset I wouldn’t be around for rice balls.
Total mileage along the PCT: 454
Total mileage with detours:470
Day 28: Hiker Heaven to Green Valley Fire Station. 25 miles.
April 22nd, 2017.
An ultra-runner dodging day.
I woke up much later than I wanted to. My alarm had gone off and it took a couple more hours and the sun to chase me out of my tent.
It was still early for the hikers in Hiker Heaven though. As I used the bathroom in the hiker trailer, I walked past everyone still passed out. I packed up, signed the register near the gate, filled water for the long uphill carry ahead, and headed along the road toward the PCT.
I would’ve rather hitched a ride back to where I left off on the trail, but the lack of cars in the morning meant I’d be walking the extra mile. At least I had gotten a ride one way, right?
As I walked along the ranch-lined road, I was already sweating. Not a good sign for the rest of the day. A small part of me missed my old pants and their superior breathability...
I struggled to warm my left foot up. When I had stood up out of my tent that morning, a stabbing pain refused to let me weight my left heel. Something was definitely wrong, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it. Fears of a hike-ending stress fracture creeped into the back of my mind.
My new shoes I’d chosen to leave Acton in were a bad idea. The minimalist running shoes were almost void of support for my feet, which only exacerbated the pain in my left foot. I took some Ibuprofen and continued my warm-up hobble until I reached the PCT again at the grocery store.
After several miles of road walking through Agua Dulce, my left foot had warmed up enough to manage the pain. It seemed to hurt the most when I woke up and any time after a long rest throughout the day, so I was motivated to keep moving.
Nearing the end of the roadwalk, a super nice black Jaguar came to a quick stop next to me with the window rolled down. The overwhelming smell of bro cologne introduced Mr. Bro before I could even look over at the dude sitting in the driver’s seat. Through black Oakley’s under his greased back hair, he asked, “Yoo bruh. You know where the runner’s tent is?”
With no idea what he was talking about, I explained I was just hiking through and without even acknowledging I’d had words come out of my mouth in his direction, he fired off in his expensive car, spinning the tires enough to fire some pebbles in my direction.
‘What a nice fellow,’ I sarcastically joked to myself, praying that would be the last interaction with his kind that day.
The popular Leona Divide 50/50 trail race just happened to be on the day I’d be hiking this section, but I had no idea. I walked into a big parking lot with several vendor tents and a bustling runner crowd emerging from their Jaguar’s, BMW’s, and Mercedes-Benz’s. All of them were wearing similar ultra-runner style outfits consisting of mini-shorts and mini-vests, which carried mini-water bottles.
‘What is going on here?’ I silently asked myself. ‘Are poor people not allowed to run in Southern California? Does non-mini equipment make you lose races??"
These were definitely city folks. I walked through the herd of shiny cars and mini-outfits, completely out of place with my big pack and trekking poles. No one looked at me. I was looking around to see if anyone would make eye contact with this bearded stranger, but no one would dare say hello to a stinky stranger in this crowd.
I made it through the large lot without being able to gain anyone’s attention to ask them what was going on, but shrugged it off and kept walking along the dirt road. After a bit, the PCT branched off along a single-track trail again. Several runners passed me, most expecting me to step out of the way for them. Over and over again, I had to step out of my stride into the grass along the trail to wait for runners to pass. Not a big deal, this run couldn’t possibly follow the PCT for the fullrest of the 20 miles I would be hiking that day.
You bet it could.
The narrow trail started uphill along a steep hillside with a runner coming along every 20-30 seconds. I dodged runners all day. Over the miles, it became exhausting. Most miles throughout days of hiking disappear into the rhythm you set, but having to pause so often made sure there was no way to get into that rhythm. My pack was heavy, still full on food and carrying a lot of water for the hot, sunny hike. At times, I would pause for multiple runners to pass, allowing for way too much time to think about how far, or not far, I’d hiked that day.
Near the first large uphill, I started getting asked for water. Three different runners asked me for a refill on their mini-water bottles like I was some kind of mobile waterboy. One girl had one tiny, maybe eight ounce, bottle and said she had been out of water for while.
That 15 mile uphill run in the sun might’ve had something to do with that.
Although encouraged that extreme dehydration had prompted one of these runners to say something to me, I was less than pleased that she wanted some of the heavy water I’d responsibly carried all the way up from the valley. I offered her a drink, but explained that I also needed the water to stay hydrated. It seemed the conversation about preventing dying of dehydration was affecting her run time, so she rolled her eyes, turned down the offer, and continued to run/shuffle uphill.
Confused, I shook my head and continued on.
I put my head down and pushed up the trail. At this point in the uphill, many runners were losing steam. They were over 35 miles into the 50 mile course, with the last 25 miles being hot, exposed, and uphill. The runners had all started walking in the heat of the mid-day. I started passing runners who’d passed me previously, a satisfying feeling to say the least.
I turned it into a game, trying to catch these ultra-runners who were ahead of me. This passed the time and helped the miles flow by. I eventually caught up to the girl who had turned down my offer for a drink. This was nearly five miles later and she still didn’t have any water. By this point, there was a spring coming up in a few miles where I’d be able to filter more water for myself, so I refilled this girl’s mini water bottle. I figured I’d rather give some water to an ungrateful ass than walk up on her dead from dehydration later.
I stopped at the spring to refill my non-mini water bottles and eat some lunch. I was chased out of the area by a massive swarm of bugs around the spring. That was okay though, I had runners to catch!
I’d occasionally come along road crossings where there were support stations for the runners. Each station felt like the first area I’d come across with the shiny cars and mini-outfits. I attempted to make eye contact and say hello to some of these people, but I failed all day long. People were laid out on the ground at every station, suffering from that mysterious dehydration thing that was going around. I passed one lady being carried out on another runner’s back headed downhill toward a support station.
Rattlesnakes were out too. I’d seen two that day so far that people had been running inches from, and was amazed there weren’t people being bit.
After a long, frustrating day, I made it the Green Valley Fire Station where there was a water faucet. One of the firefighters appeared outside and I talked to him for a bit, clarifying whether I could camp near the station. He told me if I was out by 9:30 the next morning, no one would know or care, so I set up camp under a nice gazebo near the station.
Dinner for the night was another amazing dehydrated meal that Melanie had made: yellow curry with mushrooms, peppers, green onion, and peas. I shoveled the food down, smiling like a child. I was eating like a damn king out here!
At dusk, the bugs came out. I was going to cowboy camp like a man under the gazebo until I realized how many mosquitoes had appeared and chickened out.
Manly stuff is the worst.
I quickly threw the tent up, got inside, and killed the hoard of mosquitoes that had followed me into my tent.
Between the hot day and the minimalist running shoes, I’d produced a couple hefty blisters on both heels. I lanced them and built up some moleskin bandages around the blisters before rapidly falling asleep.