15May- Yesterday I was able to hop on a regional bus to take me to Bakersfield. This meant that I would be missing 92 miles of the trail, not because of trail closures or dangerous sections, but because of injury. Since this will not be published until a few weeks from now, I can disclose my three reasons for heading home at this time.
My leg was going to need at least a week to recover, and I didn’t wish to wait it out in Tehachapi.
I knew that I was going to flip-flop the Sierra Nevada from Walker Pass to at least Donner Pass because of the snow situation.
I wanted to secretly be home by 25May to surprise my daughter since see is graduating as with a PhD from Nurse practitioner school.
So, I leave the trail with sadness. I was beginning to get to know a number of hikers quite well, though I’m quite sure that I’ll see at least a few of them again. I’m also concerned about being off the trail too long since I don’t wish to lose my hiker legs. At home I will be kept quite busy.
I need to strategize when and where I flip-flop up to.
I need to completely redo my Resupply packages, knowing better what works best on the trail, and better able to grasp what I’ll need and where.
I need to break in some heavier shoes that are more adept for snow. These will probably be Merrill Moab’s which I’m already accustomed to.
I need to meet with a few important people; Russ A who might wish to hike a section or two with me, and Daniel Foucachon regarding the Hike-a-thin aspect of my venture.
I will be getting new equipment including a new tent, which need to be tried out before committing it to use on the trail. I might try out a different drinking system. Currently I am using the Osprey hydration pack with an additional 2 Smartwater liter bottles. The Osprey system has a number of problems, the worst being that it leaks. I might go with the regular Sawyer Squeeze or replace the Sawyer micro that I was using, as it got fairly abused in the desert with grungy water and freezing once or twice. I’ll have to replace my hiking poles, and will need to try out the replacement.
If I can fit in an overnight or two night backpack trip, perhaps with a grandkid, I’ll do that.
I few things that I would pack different would be a) a small collapsible cup for coffee b) lightweight sandals c) maybe a heavier raincoat d) probably a different pocketknife that has a Philip’s screwdriver attachment, e) less clothes, but a Merino wool top, f) a warmer buff (maybe?) g) insect repellent! h) lastly, they now have a more indestructible case for cell phones that would be worth trying out, since your cell phone is vital for survival and wellbeing on the trail… it finds your way, it allows you to communicate with the outside world, gives you advice as to where to camp, where to find water, how far it is to the next town, etc, etc.
I’d like to arrive in Tehachapi in 6 days, which means doing 15-20 mile days. This is supposed to be the hottest stretch of the entire PCT. I woke up at 4:15 this morning and was on the trail by 5 am with a headlight to see the way. It was cloudy overhead and stayed that way all day, keeping the temperature from what is normally sweltering to quite cool, needing a jacket when stopping to rest. Typically I go through about 3-4 liters of water a day, but today I drank a liter of grapefruit juice which I put into one of my Smartwater bottles (what we use instead of canteens) and just a little bit more. I arrived in Aqua Dulce at 9:30 and stopped at a local restaurant for a coffee and breakfast burrito. Soon afterwards, Donna Saufley arrived with a load of hikers including Rescuer, I introduced myself but apologized that I was heading on. Soon afterwards I met Gerhard and Lucia, an older couple from Munich, and so we spoke German together. They had my hiking speed, and personalities so similar to Katja and Hannes that I was sometimes thinking I was walking with them. We set up camp at the same spot near to a water cache. The Lord blessed me today with very cool weather in what is typically hell-hot conditions, and the weatherman predicts the next 5-6 days to be the same. Thus, I am not wasting time in “party” mode, but rather expediting transit through the desert on feet with no name. A few things to mention. I am seeing large amounts of Monarch butterflies, sometimes in massive swarms. They must be migrating north. I am meeting huge numbers of Germans on the trail, of all ages. They seem to all be enjoying the adventure, and they are all very polite. It is amazing how many Europeans come over at attempt the PCT!
08May- mile 465-mile 478
The weather continued to be cool, and I was making good time, but my left leg was hurting and so I decided to slow down a bit. When I arrived at Francisquito Valley road, there was a trail angel there waiting to shuttle me to Casa de Luna, one of those places that most hikers will stop at. It took nothing to persuade me to stop. I was able to chill out, and get in some fluids. The solder German couple arrived, and we decided to not spend the night at Casa de Luna but to be brought back to the trailhead. It was a very misty night.
09MAY- mile 478-495
I decided on a short day today, and mostly found the trail in either gentle climbs or descents. I again decided to take it easy and stopped at about 2pm. The German couple intended to spend the night in the same place. The day started out wet, and stayed wet all day. This was great that the normal hot conditions were not encountered. It began to become a bit drizzly, and soon after getting in the tent, serious rain began, which continued much of the night. I cooked dinner in the tent, and was asleep sporadically much of the night.
10MAY- mile 495-517 (Hikertown)
I awoke and wished for an early start today but it was raining and everything was drenched. Though I was dry inside the tent, and my sleeping bag was dry, the tent was dismally soaked. I packed everything in side the tent, quickly took down the tent and headed out at about 7:30, a very late start for me. Gerhard and Lucia were not yet up and we agreed to consider camping at the Horse Camp 15 miles away. I arrived at the Horse camp at about 1 o’clock, had lunch, and decided it was only 10 more miles to Hikertown, and to head down, since it seemed like it would be raining some more. It did. I wore my rain coat all day, it was cool, and I arrived at Hikertown drenched, hoping that they would have a cabin free. 40 or more other hikers hoped for the same thing. We all got shuttled to the community center at Neenach, where the mayor graciously opened up every possible room to accommodate us. It was crowded and uncomfortable but we had no other options. There was an associated restaurant and C-store where we were able to be fed, and a few hikers to satisfy their desire for beer. It wasn’t the best night, but it allowed us to get some sleep outside of the rain.
11MAY- mile 517- mile 540
Today is a day that is almost always done as a night hike, since there is no shade and one is fully exposed to the sun. On awakening, the weather appeared to be cool and overcast, so we decided to go for it. I got my belongings packed, was able to dry out my tent in a drier out back, had breakfast at the restaurant, and then got shuttled back to Hikertown. I will re-emphasize how grateful I am to the people at Neenach for caring for us hikers in desperate circumstances. It was most delightful to walk the path that almost always is walked at night. Almost the whole day was walking either roads or the Los Angeles aqueduct. Only towards the end of the day did the trail start to climb. The trail went through about 5 miles of a wind farm. Finally it started back into the mountains. At that time a thunderstorm came in. I wanted to make it to Tylerhorse Canyon campsite, but being unsure about the thunderstorm, arrived at a campsite about 1.2 miles short of my goal and quickly set up camp for the night, getting into the tent just before the downpour. The sun then came out briefly, but the anticipation is for cool weather for the next few days. Without to much difficulty, I should be able to make it to Tehachapi by tomorrow evening. Each night, I cook dinner, often in the tent, carefully inspect my feet for problem areas and sore spots, and then review the maps and Yogi’s guide and make a plan for the next day. Each morning, my tradition on the trail is that once I hit an easy spot on the trail I will sing (out loud) the Doxology and Gloria Patri. The trail has educated me on the glory of God’s beautiful world, full of the most creative and enchanting beauty, whether in the landscape, or the plant life, or all the diverse animal life on the trail. Being anthropocentric in my thoughts on the world, I realize that God created this all for our enjoyment and delight—His creation loudly bears witness to His being as well as His loving care for us, His children. Thus, it is good to start every day off with the Doxology!
Now is the time to add a few comments about trail physiology. The 2nd through 5th day at the end of the day, I found myself to be increasingly dizzy and lightheaded, something that happens to me after a hard bicycle ride, when I realize that my blood pressure was dangerously low. Finally, I realized that I needed to back off on the blood pressure meds, and I’ve been feeling great since then. I’ve talked a bit about a common experience of insatiable hiker hunger. Quite honestly, I haven’t experienced that yet, and my hunger is actually diminished. Rather, I have an almost insatiable thirst, best met with ice cold sugary soda pop. After my I-10 incident, I’ve also had a strong craving for grapefruit, which is superb at quenching thirst. Something not often spoken of is hiker brain. After many exhausting days on the trail, the brain shuts down to thinking about most things. I constantly think of Betsy, but serious thought, or ability to read a book is almost impossible.
I was a little slower getting up than I had wished, but was a 5:45 start for a bit shorter day of just 18 miles. The sky was cloudless. It was fairly easy hiking, but all uphill for more than 9 miles. At the top of the climb, some precious trail angel left chairs, umbrellas, and water, which served as a nice place for a break in the day. It was mostly downhill from there. On descent, I was making good time, but started to have excruciating unbearable pain in my right leg anterior muscle compartment. It got worse the longer I was on it. I had this pain several days before descending into Hikertown, and noted mild discoloration of the skin of that area, but now the leg appeared swollen, very erythematous, and painful to touch, with pain on ascent and descent. I knew that I needed to give the muscles more than a day or two rest. Thus, I will be pausing the hike for a bit. My plan is to skip the last 85 miles of the desert and resume north of the high Sierra, returning in August/September to complete the high Sierra.
So far, I’ve gone 558 miles of the PCT. Except for a very short portion, I’ve completed the desert section of the trail. It is also the hardest section, in that one needs to be obsessed with water, which happens to be quite heavy. I’m sure the water weight had a small bearing on my leg injury. The desert was beautiful and for those who live here, it’s been the greenest ever in many years. So, even though this year is bad as a snow year, it has been a great desert experience. I’ve learned much in this short time, like gaining a better understanding as to how to deal with long sections without a Resupply, the types of foods that one would prefer while hiking, what equipment suits me best, and how to maintain a psychological positive frame of mind. Regarding equipment, a double walled tent flunks, especially in adverse weather. I will be doing with a single wall, lightweight Zpacks Duplex, weighing 19 oz versus 36 oz for the tent I’m currently using. It Is not free-standing, but uses your hiker poles rather than tent poles. Freestanding is a misnomer since the tent MUST be stakes down in all but the mildest weather, when you really don’t need a tent. I miss an inflatable air mattress and will change brands to one that seems to be more reliable, or just go with a slightly heavier pad. Though my shoes are super comfortable, my feet need to be out of them at the end of the day, and lightweight cheap sandals will soon be a part of my pack load. My Osprey hydration valve started leaking, a common problem for that brand noted on the internet, so I’ll be using a military version of the CamelBak nipple. That’s it for now. People asked me why my trail name is Pilgrim. I just sort of got that name, I’m not sure exactly how. But, we are all Pilgrims. Hebrews 11:13 (KJV) calls us strangers and pilgrims on earth. John Bunyan’s most read classic of all time, Pilgrims Progress, depicts us all as pilgrims. John Bunyan also gives Pilgrims their own song, one which has been put to music and commonly sung in the church in Bedford, England, Bunyan’s home.
Who would true valor see, let him come hither; One here will constant be, come wind, come weather; There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent his first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.
Who so beset him round with dismal stories, Do but themselves confound his strength the more is. No lion can him fight, he’ll with a giant fight, but he will have a right to be a pilgrim.
Hobgoblin nor foul fiend can daunt his spirit; He knows he at the end shall life inherit. Then fancies fly away; he’ll fear not what men say; he’ll labor night and day to be a pilgrim.
Hiker trash in Wrightwood outside the village market
02May- Wrightwood (mile369) to Little Jimmy Campground (384) Today was only 15 miles but a very challenging day, in that I not only needed to climb Mt. Baden-Powell ( named after the guy who started the Boy Scouts) but most of the day was walking through very challenging steep snow with Microspikes on, and often with a very indistinct trail. It was a bit exhausting. I decided against the short ascent to the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell since the snow was so challenging to walk in. The views were still quite awesome. I was able hitch a ride out of Wrightwood with Scott and Ingrid, and felt great with the hike until the snow hit. This should be the last snow of the “desert” and it gave for a real challenge. Worse yet, there wasn’t abundant water sources and I knew that I would need food for six days so the pack was heavier than appropriate. From Mt. Baden-Powell, the trail followed a snow covered ridge up and down for a number of miles. Sine most of us are wearing trail running shoes that are terrible in snow, we attach microspikes (kind of like crampons) to our shoes in hopes of keeping from slipping. Finally the trail became dirt again and I stopped at a spring to get water for tomorrow. Typically, it is advised that even spring water be filtered for organisms which I did. The camp was nice, surrounded by snow, and after cooking dinner, was able to join the 20 or so other campers around a campfire that somebody started to dry out the shoes and socks soaked from walking all day in the snow. The next few days should be a little bit shorter and tomorrow, the they-hikers must all take a detour which adds a few miles to the hike. The detour was enacted in an effort to save the yellow legged frog.
03May-mile 384-mile 395
The length of the walk today was actually about 15+ miles, since I had to walk a detour around a section of the trail blocked off to hikers, in an effort to save the yellow legged frog. After descending to the road from Little Jimmy camp, the trail ascended needlessly to near the top of Mt. Williamson, and then immediately taking you back to the road. After a short trail interlude, the detour began, with a 4 mile road walk followed by a two mile trail to take you back to the PXT. The PCT then climbed up to Cooper Canyon camp. The camp had a stream nearby, it was hot, my mojo was depleted, and knew that an early rise in the am would work wonders.
I’ve had a lot of thoughts now about the trail. The further you go, the more you think about your equipment, what you like and don’t like, and what you would do different. I detest my tent. I think that I am going to order a single wall dynemma fabric tent for the next section of this venture. I need a separate drinking cup. The sleeping bag has been awesome. The pack has been super, with the exception of how it handles hydration packs. The Osprey hydration pack is so-so, as the bite valve now has a leak. It is also hard to know how much fluid is in the reservoir while it is in backpack.
I also contemplate on how a trail is representative of life in so many ways. It is mostly a struggle, but the joys overwhelm any struggle. There are good days and bad days. Beauty surrounds you with the handiwork of God but it is so easy to not notice it. Your past experiences provide input into new decisions, but are never perfect and must be coupled with trusting God for wisdom in every decision. Each turn and bend opens up new and mostly unexpected vistas, just as in life it is impossible to predict what the future will bring. Trusting the Lord for each step of the way is for both the trail Pilgrim and the life Pilgrim. Often one wonders why the trail is running the way it does-it often seems like it should be taking an easier course, and then a bend it the trail and a view of where one is going explains things. It’s a lot like Scripture, in that we often question things in God’s Word, yet a broader view explains the wisdom of God’s commands.
04May – mile 395-419
Today ended up being a little longer than I had planned. After getting on the trail at 6 am, it started as an uphill climb top highway 2. The trail followed highway 2 for a considerable distance until leaving it for good. It was then vey up and down with a lot of climbing though the general trend was downward, leaving the ponderosa forests and again entering a desert climate. Water became my primary concern. I had missed an important water source, and then noticed that my planned camp was high on a ridge and windy without water. There was a fire station the trail passed by that provided water for hikers, and just a short distance beyond was a day only picnic area where a Scottish mathematician (Rescuer) and I decided to set up camp. I think that they are used to PCT hiker s using any available spot possible to set up camp. I cooked dinner (Idahoan mashed potatoes) and then set up camp, filtered extra water, and crashed.
05May- mile 419-mile 445 This was another long day. Starting at 6 am, I hit the trail, leaving Rescuer to wake up. The trail further became desert, and with a very dry air. Guthook suggested there might not be any water on the trail so I was loaded. The plan was for 18 miles, camping at a ranger station. Most of the bulk of hikers arrived at the ranger station at about 1 o’clock where he had jugs of water for us. In addition, he came out and offered cold pop for a dollar. I quickly consumed two cans. We all decided that since the Acton KOA was only 8 miles away, we would hike there. I made it by 5:30, and was able to order some pizza. Other hikers had a few cases of beer to drink. Most of the hikers were going to do a short hike tomorrow to Hiker Heaven, but I decided to zero tomorrow and run into Acton to Resupply for the next phase of my adventure.
06May – zero day, Acton KOA Today was restful, with well needed recovery.
I took a zero in Big Bear Lake and definitely needed a day to relax. I’ve learned than unless for a reason, two zeros together is not a good idea. But, feet get very sore after 4-6 days of hard walking, and they just need a rest. Talking to many other hikers young and old, sore feet are a universal phenomenon when doing 15-25 miles a day.
26April -mile 266- mile 286
Today my feet just felt like walking. Even thought I started 2.5 hours later than usual, I was able to get in 20 miles for the day. There was some climbing up into the hills above Big Bear Lake, but then it was a fairly level trail though Ponderosa woods with some snow still beside the trail. About the last five miles was a bit more exposed to the sun, as it went through a burn area. Camp was at the end of that burn area.
I lost Broken Arrow, though I am sure he is right behind me a few miles. Of the 30 some people I’ve seen on the trail today, about half were from Germany or Netherlands. The people on the trail now seem happier, possibly because the trail is weaning out the riff-raff. Because this next stage will be over 100 miles, our packs are quite heavy from food. Worse yet, hiker hunger is starting to hit. The first few days on the trail, I didn’t feel like eating. Now, I have a very weird appetite, and will eat anything. Tonight I had Bombay Potatoes, something I usually don’t like, and they were quite delicious. Strange things happen on the trail. I have been eating like a pig in town, yet I continue to need to snug in my belt and pack straps. Weight loss?
26April – mile 286- mile 308
This was a long hot day, mostly descending a narrow river canyon. The greatest advantage over previous desert days was the recurring shade in the canyons, and the presence of occasional streams. The route ended at a hot springs, which was also frequented by locals, leading to a raucous atmosphere. I should have gone on, but was tired and unsure that close camping accommodations could be found. It was a noisy night. As I learned the next day, there were no good campsites close so made a good decision.
I barely got any sleep at all, as it was a very noisy night, with lots of headlamps going off and on. I was on the trail before 6 am and made good time all the way. The trail started as a continuation of a steep valley with rushing river below. I then encountered a dam, had to wade across a knee high river, and then the trail went up into the hills, overlooking a large green meadow. At mile 314, there was trail magic, ex-hikers handing out ice cold sodas. I instantly downed two. Eventually the trail encountered another large dam structure with the hiker on the bottom. Gradually, the trail went upwards and a very large lake, Silverwood, became visible. Many speed boats and entertainment boats were on the lake. My decision was to end at a campground on the end of the lake by the trail. I was able to order pizza a a 2 liter root beer. Even that did not totally quench my thirst. It is odd how this breezy environment keeps one perpetually thirsty. So, I’m a bit sore and thinking about an easy day tomorrow, after talking to an elderly couple southbound on the trail.
It’s Sunday, and I thought that I would be a little more relaxed today, so only did 15 miles. It was still a touch strenuous, with a moderate amount of climbing, even though the last few miles were all downhill. It was a beautiful day, and the landscape quite green, considering that I was in desert. I decided to stay at a hotel at Cajun Pass for several reasons. One was because I was feeling unusually dirty, and was getting mild hiking jock rash. The rash happened yesterday so I put some salve on it last night, and by morning, it was better. But, it means one needs to wash their clothes as they start rubbing rough on you. Secondly, the trail to Wrightwood has no certain water sources, 26 miles, so I wished for only one dry night of camping. This will put me into Wrightwood mid-day on Tuesday, and I’ll do a zero there, as well as pick up my Resupply. Thirdly, I’ll be able to camel up, meaning, mildly over-hydrate myself. After a couple days out in the desert and dry winds, it is easy for me to put down two liters of cold drink in a short span of time, and then still feel thirsty and not peeing well. So, fluids are consumed in mass quantities whenever possible. Finally, a hotel lets me get everything recharged up, and make a long call to my most beautiful and wonderful wife. There isn’t an hour that goes by on the trail when I don’t think about how precious she is to me.
I have a new pair of shoes coming. The desert is very hard on shoes and and I have completely worn out the ones I have on now. There are still no blisters but the feet bottoms get very tender by the end of the day. I hobble and people probably wonder about my ability to walk at all. I become clumsy without my hiking poles. Thru-hikers are a very strange bunch!
29April Mile 342-364
The mileage was actually 23 miles and about 6-7000 feet elevation gain. It could have been a horribly painful climb, but it wasn’t, as the temperature was cool and overcast. It’s supposed to be sunny tomorrow. I started the walk out alone, and about 4 miles in, after escaping the I-15 traffic (it was a traffic jam last night and remained that this morning) and getting by the train tracks, I encountered Megs (Sticks) . We hiked for about 4 hours together and then she needed to make some phone stuff so I shot ahead. The trail crossed the San Andreas fault and then shot up toward Mt Baldy (San Antonio). There were some beautiful sites. The trail climbed relentlessly from Cajun Pass at 3000 ft to over 8000 ft elevation. Toward the top destination of Guffy Campground, I started hitting a lot of snow, which slowed down the pace. Then, it started to hail. It got cold. The hail turned into a freezing rain as I tried to put up the tent, with an added strong wind. The tent went up and I was soon warm, writing this piece. Sticks showed up soon afterward and she got settled in. I’m hoping the weatherman is correct about tomorrow. Hey, this is the desert approaching summer!
30April – mile 364-369 (Wrightwood)
The wind blew hard all night, making it a challenge to sleep. I did stay warm, but it was freezing cold in the morning for getting the tent down. Like yesterday, we had to walk through a lot of snow but were able to complete the six miles to the road by 9am. Guthook claims there should be heavy traffic on the road, yet because of snow damage, the road is not open yet and there was no traffic going either direction. Thankfully a trail angel picked me and another hiker and took us to town, Sticks obtaining a ride from someone else. Wrightwood is super-friendly to PCT hikers and caters to them in the hotels, grocery, hardware store, and restaurants. I aired out my clothes, sleeping bag, tent, and other things, preparing to again hit the trail.
01May- zero day in Wrightwood
Zero days are actually somewhat busy, in that the next segment of the hike needs to be planned. One needs to decide roughly how many days it will take before the next town where one could Resupply, and then how much food to carry. Rough estimates of where to camp each night, so that daily goals could be already thought out are helpful to me, though many would claim that I am over-planning.
There remains the dilemma as to how to deal with the high Sierra and Northern California which has had record snowfalls that don’t seem to be melting too quickly. I am uncertain as to what to do, though some sort of flip-flop is a certainty. This is NOT a good year for a straightforward thru-hike, and I suspect that some of the younger hikers who plan on pushing through are going to get in trouble.
So, the next update will probably happen in Agua Dulce, as I move out of the mountains and snow and down into the Mojave desert.
I remain overwhelmed at the beauty of God’s creation, the diversity and complexity of all there is in His world. It is with great thankfulness to God that He has allowed me to have the strength to delight in His handiwork. Surely all of His creation proclaims His glory.
I am grateful to all who made pledges to Huguenot Heritage for this Hike-a-thon. May the Lord bless you for your thoughtfulness, as it also serves as a great encouragement to me to keep walking!