The Desert. Fifth Stretch: Big Bear to Splinter's Cabin

Day 16: Big Bear. Zero miles.

April 10th, 2017.

An oversupply day.

My stomach growled me out of my cocoon. The night had been cold, definitely the most brutal so far. My water bottles were frozen solid, my shoes stiff from the frozen sweat.

Sleep had been fitful with my 30F bag in the 20F temps. I was also beyond excited to get into town. There was breakfast food down there. Breakfast food that needed zero rehydration, the fancy stuff.

I frantically collapsed my tent, loosely rolling up the iced-over cuban fiber with my numb fingers. I was very stiff from the long day before, but I did my best to quickly limp down toward Highway 18, eating the last few almonds I had from the day before, my last morsel of food.

I had planned on catching a ride with the hostel shuttle and had arrived at the perfect time for them to pull up and to get me to pancakes! But after 30 minutes of my stomach loudly protesting standing still, there was still no sign of the shuttle. The highway was windy and narrow, making me think twice about attempting to road walk the five miles to Big Bear.

I had never hitchhiked before, not successfully at least. Besides, it was one of those activities that moms make sure you know never to do... right up there with lying, bed-wetting, and booger eating. But I bet mom was never standing five miles away from warm pancakes/boogers in 20F weather after narrowly avoiding starving to death.

I stuck out my thumb and within three cars, I had a ride!

The hitch angel, Joe, was a computer tech who had lived out of his car at some point, and said he was paying forward the many hitches he'd received throughout his life. After dropping me off at the "best breakfast in town", he refused a donation and drove off. I floated to the front door, went to open the door and... LOCKED!

The most irrational kind of panic flooded my mind and I started walking down the road, fighting to repress the disappointment. My stomach angrily let me know its current mood.

Then I saw it: the word 'Cafe'.

I speed hobbled down the street and did my best to enter Broadway Cafe without looking like a desperate pancake lunatic. The gruff, proud Vietnam vet behind the counter tossed me a worn, sticky menu.

That's not going to be necessary.

"I'll take a breakfast burrito with every extra you have on it. Double meat. Also, a bunch of pancakes. Coffee too."

The man raised a meaty eyebrow, "That's a ton of food, bud. Our pancakes are huge, about 14 inches across. Some couples share a normal breakfast burrito".

My eyebrows lowered," I know what I'm doing, sir."

Waiting for my food, I found hiker gold: a free electrical outlet. Once my phone was charging, I sat down to excruciatingly wait to fill my belly. I sat facing an odd lady with a service dog under the table who looked up at me and said through several missing teeth, "You know we ain't got no protection agaist chemical weapons!".

Oh Lord, not now. My patience level for crazy wasn't there. I could barely think straight through the smell of my pancakes on the grill.

"Yup", I quickly agreed and changed seats so my back was facing Ms. Crazy. Soon after, the Vietnam chef walked out with two giant plates of food. All of it must've weighed five pounds. He immediately set a to-go container down on the table next to my plates, which my hunger-addled brain interpreted as passive aggression. Literally shaking with excitement, I dug in.

After eating the three amazing pancake boogie boards, I easily put down half the breakfast burrito filled to the hilt with bacon, avocado, egg, cheese, sour cream, hashbrowns, and jalapenos. After a short breather, the other half of the burrito disappeared somewhere inside of me. I wasn't even uncomfortably full. Merely satisfied.

I thanked the chef and slid the to-go container back across the counter, giving him a wink as I headed out the door.

Walking to Starbucks with a full belly.

Walking to Starbucks with a full belly.

My mom was driving in from Mesa, Arizona, so I walked the 1.5 miles to the Starbucks in town to wait for her and do some writing, finally feeling like a human again.

She showed up with a bunch of Arby's food and we caught up over coffee before heading to the nearby grocery store to resupply for the next eight day stretch. I was still hungry. The previous day's events had left me with an insatiable appetite.

You know how they say not to go grocery shopping while hungry?

$200 and probably 40 pounds of backpacking food later, I emerged from my grocery store blackout and realized I'd overdone it. I'd WAY overdone it. What the hell was I thinking??

Hanging out with my over-resupply in my Mom's "baggy" pants while waiting for laundry to finish. Hawt.

Hanging out with my over-resupply in my Mom's "baggy" pants while waiting for laundry to finish. Hawt.

We found our hostel and sorted through my resupply and packed my food bag with the next section's food. I knew there was too much food to bring with me, but my mind wouldn't let me bring any less. I set aside some to send ahead a few hundred miles to Tehachapi the next day, but at least 11 days worth of food made it into my pack for the next 8 day stretch.

What I left Big Bear with. Totally overkill and I ate every scrap.

What I left Big Bear with. Totally overkill and I ate every scrap.

The hostel was a bit odd. We had arrived during the shoulder season in Big Bear, so the hostel had opened just for us and a couple other people. The hostel was in an old, squeaky cabin void of insulation between rooms and those couple other people arrived at the hostel VERY horny, perhaps from being deprived of sex for the entirety of the drive to Big Bear.

As I fell asleep in the gigantic king bed I was sharing with my mother to the rhythmic, impressively sustained squeaks from the room next door, I laughed to myself at the awkward situation and let it go.

Whatever. I wasn't hungry anymore.

Total mileage along the PCT: 266

Total mileage with detours: 286.5


Day 17: Big Bear to Caribou Creek. Nine miles.

April 11th, 2017.

A family day.

I woke up early at the hostel. Even indoors, I wake up at 5 a.m. ready to go.

After a shower and packing up my backpack, I headed downstairs to a giant box of donuts Mom had brought along with her. Two French girls joined me at the table with a light breakfast of fruit, cheese, and some bread. With both hands occupied and a full, smiling mouth, I nodded in the direction of the Dunkin Donuts box and offered them one. They judgingly refused.

I'm glad I was able to represent my country proudly.

We stopped by the Grizzly Manor Cafe on the way out of town for another round of amazing breakfast food. I spend most of my hiking time daydreaming about what kind of breakfast I'll eat in the next town. Sometimes I snap out of it long enough to enjoy a beautiful view... but then it's right back to breakfast food. I'll often reminisce back to omelets I couldn't finish that I left at the restaurant and get a little misty eyed.

You only think I'm kidding.

After shipping off the excess food at the post office, we drove back to the Highway 18 crossing where I'd left the trail the previous day. John the Confederate was there! After catching up for a bit, he told us they had a nice cabin for five days in Big Bear! Their group had just been staying in a really nice cabin in Idyllwild.... This is what John the Confederate refers to as "glampacking", or glamorous backpacking.

Where do I sign up?? 

Mom taking her first steps on the PCT!

Mom taking her first steps on the PCT!

With some newfound resentment towards my tent, Mom and I headed back on the PCT. I really enjoyed being able to walk a section of this wonderful trail with her, to be able to show her firsthand what I had been doing for the last couple weeks. It was like a Bring Your Family to Work day, only all I do is walk up and down hills while dreaming of breakfast...

Mom hiking towards Caribou Creek.

Mom hiking towards Caribou Creek.

Still, we passed the time catching up, solving riddles, and mom even busted out the caramel apple suckers. Take notes, future hiking partners.

After a leisurely nine miles, we settled for the night near Caribou Creek. We met Wes, Happy Feet, and Roadrunner there. All three were very strong hikers hiking 25 miles each day!

My footprint in the soft silt at Caribou Creek.

My footprint in the soft silt at Caribou Creek.

I had heard of a trail recipe for "Ghetto Pad Thai" involving Oriental ramen, peanut butter, and hot sauce. Jellybean had mentioned it around the campfire a couple nights ago when I was low on food, so naturally it sounded incredible. I was excited to try it out, so I found it in my food bag and set it aside as soon as I dropped my pack.

I set up my tent, blew up my air mattress, and boiled some water. Excitedly, I went to grab the bag of Ghetto Pad Thai... and it was gone! I sifted through everything I had with me (which isn't much, obviously), and it had disappeared!

'How the hell does that happen out here?' I asked myself, irritated. Luckily, I had way too much food (otherwise known as the perfect amount of food), and threw the hot water into another meal. We all enjoyed dinner together and discussed the plans for the Sierra. I was still the only one who had gone over Fuller Ridge and planned on going over Baden Powell. All of the other three hikers were detouring around the snow and talking about skipping the Sierra.

As I retreated to my tent for the night, I thought, 'Why would you skip the fun part?'. I laid back and felt a crunchy ramen lump at the small of my back.

Why wouldn't it be under the tent?? After all, It was the only place I was sure it couldn't have been.

Total mileage along the PCT: 275

Total mileage with detours: 295.5


Day 18: Caribou Creek to Splinter's Cabin. 23 miles.

April 12th, 2017.

A Breezy day.

I had planned on a slow day. I only had three more miles I'd be hiking with Mom until she'd head down the Cougar Crest Trail back to Big Bear, so I wasn't in any hurry.

I was still awake early, so I sat up, turned on my headlamp, and went to town sewing up a giant tear in my pant leg. 

The morning patch job with more to do right next it... wait your turn!

The morning patch job with more to do right next it... wait your turn!

Yes, I still had the same pants.

I was going to see Melanie in Acton in eight days. I have a dozen pairs of pants I need to destroy at home, so I stubbornly refused to buy another pair in Big Bear.

'I can make these last', I told myself, void of logical reasoning behind my firm conviction.

I could hear Mom stirring, so I finished my duct tape and dental floss patch job, grimaced at the multiple other tears that needed attention, and emerged from my tent to join her in the beautiful morning. The sun was up, so the other hikers had been gone for a while.

Morning camp at Caribou Creek.

Morning camp at Caribou Creek.

We enjoyed breakfast and conversation by the creek. I tried to enjoy every minute I could while I had my Mom there on the trail with me, grateful that she would make the effort to come hike with me for a little bit.

Mom high above Big Bear Lake

Mom high above Big Bear Lake

We leisurely strolled down the trail, arriving at the Cougar Crest trail around noon. After chatting for another half-hour, we parted ways and I headed toward Canada with some miles to make up. The terrain changed rapidly from forest to desert and was easy hiking. Most of the day would be rolling hills, mostly downhill. I was making solid headway when I came across an outhouse, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Random solar powered wilderness outhouse?! Yes, please!

Random solar powered wilderness outhouse?! Yes, please!

I pumped the brakes and set my pack down. At this point in the hike, I know two things:

  1. Bring more food than you think you'll need.
  2. Don't ever pass on a chance to poop with dignity.

Thoroughly dignified, I set off and shortly came across another hiker at a creek. His name was Breeze, a past winter Appalachian Trail thru hiker. From South Carolina, he had a deep Southern accent and we caught up while I filtered water. He had actually road walked around the Mountain Fire closure, hiked through Taquitz Peak, and also Fuller Ridge! Abashedly admitting to being a purist on the trail, I internally rejoiced in finally finding a kindred soul on trail. "You and me both, brother!"

We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking together at a crazy pace. This guy was fast. Much faster than me.

Determined to keep up, I pushed hard the rest of the day. Parts of the trail became choked with thorn bushes. I pushed through, grimacing to the familiar sound of my pants being ripped apart. In one particularly bad hallway of pant-hell, I had to stop to reach back and grab a shred of my pants that had been completely ripped off. I put the scrap of pants in my pocket and baselessly assured myself the pants would make it to Acton.

Pokey hallways of pant-death.

Pokey hallways of pant-death.

If not, I could always fashion a hiking g-string from duct tape or something, right? Plenty of peanut butter to solve the chaffing issues... I'm not sure the world is ready for that much sex appeal, however.

I was only planning on doing maybe 15 miles because of my late start with my Mom that morning, but we ended up at Splinter's Cabin, a historic shell of a burned down cabin, 23 miles later. We'd averaged almost four mph the entire hot afternoon! I'd finally come across someone with the same goals on this trail, I wasn't about to be left behind!

Only I was.

He'd been cruising. I'd been working my ass off. I rolled into camp a while after him, exhausted after the pace of the day. Even my appetite was beat down a bit, which is common after a stressful day. The enormous amount of food in my pack only added to that stress.

'Why'd you carry all this with you if you're not going to be hungry now?!' I silently scolded myself.

Still, I uncomfortably stuffed myself, determined to lower my pack weight. The ultralight pack I carry isn't very comfortable past 30 pounds. I estimated my pack to be around 35 pounds and I had spent the entire day in slight discomfort, which adds up to big discomfort at the end of the day.

Breeze and I hung out in the shell of Splinter's Cabin, making jokes and enjoying like-minded company. I set up my tent and collapsed, realizing how exhausted I was from the day. I had more sewing to do on my damn pants, but there wasn't any energy left for that.

Up until now, I'd been hiking too fast for everyone around me. Now that I'd come across Breeze, another hiker I finally wanted to stick with, I was bummed knowing I was the weaker hiker.

'Maybe I'll feel ready to keep up after some sleep.'

Turns out, that's not how it works. My body went to work, converting exhausted muscles into excruciatingly sore muscles. 

Total mileage along the PCT: 298

Total mileage with detours: 318.5