On the PCT: Big Bear Lake

Some people, like the fabulous Pine Nut I’m hiking with, are perfectly capable of blogging while hiking.  Not me.  When I get to camp at night, there is food to eat, water to drink, dirt to wash off, a sleeping bag to loft, and blisters to pop.  And, I’ve not yet adopted the use of a solar charger to make staying “wired” out here a little easier.

But, I have been journaling, and the past week alone has yielded enough adventures for a dozen posts, once I’m back in civilization.  But, there’s only so much I can type with my thumbs before “hiker midnight.”

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The view from Tahquitz

This string of wonderful-and-too-full-to-blog days probably started in Idyllwild, where I was amazed at the kindness of locals, including a man named Robert, who shuttled me around the community, shared thought-provoking stories, and sent me on my way with a full belly and an array of snacks.

From Idyllwild, a trail detour led to a choose-your-own-adventure hike, and I enjoyed hiking up Mounts Tahquitz and San Jacinto.  I’d never stood higher than when I climbed atop them, at 8,800ish and 10,800ish feet, respectively.

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Near the top of San Jacinto

The next challenge was my longest day yet on trail this year: a 23.5-mile descent from San Jacinto to the valley floor below.  The descent was hot and exposed and would have felt monotonous and endless, were it not for the other hikers that I kept leapfrogging and the variety of ecosystems I reentered as I descended. My knees ached as the descent wore on, and I was exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to meet my mother’s high school friend at the base of the mountain.  Sherri brought me to her family’s home, and I savored a hot shower, a home cooked meal, good conversation, and an incredibly comfortable bed.

My night off the trail turned into a full zero day when Sherri invited me to stay for a second night and I learned that Pine Nut, with whom I was planning to hike while her partner was healing his plantar fasciitis off the trail, couldn’t meet me until the following day.  Acting as a tour guide, Sherri took me to Joshua Tree National Park and showed me the highlights of Yucca Valley, 29 Palms, and Joshua Tree.  She and her husband, Craig, also ensured that I was continuously full and very happy.  I iced my aching knees and pampered them with two long soaks in a Whirlpool bathtub, each of which led to my very sound sleeping.

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I returned to the PCT rejuvenated and excited to be hiking with a friend.  Our adventure next took us to the bustling Ziggy and the Bear’s, an on-trail hostel, where I picked up a mail drop.  From there, the trail climbed up a wind-whipped valley below the turbines of a wind farm.  Conversations were abbreviated by the constant barrage of wind, but the scenery was so stark and stunning in scale that I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Against all odds, we found a place to camp out of the wind and slept soundly.

The next day, the trail took us along Mission Creek, and I spent most of our snack breaks soaking my knees in the surprisingly cool water.  Pine Nut and I talked and laughed about everything from our childhoods to current events to the trail itself.  We discussed little things and big ideas, and I enjoyed every moment of the conversations.  When we climbed to the unexpectedly cold pine forests above Mission Creek and made camp, conversation was halted when we dove into our tents early for the night, as the temperatures continues to drop.

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Snow on a cactus

That night, I learned what snow upon a tent fly sounds like.  We woke up to more than an inch surrounding our camp in the pine trees; it looked and felt like Christmas morning.  That day, my hike involved fast miles and short breaks, save for a longer one to dry my tent when the sun peeked through the snow clouds.  At 4:00, the storm finally stopped.  Exhausted, I made camp soon afterward and crawled into my amazingly warm sleeping bag, dreaming of pizza in Big Bear the next day.

While the night was well below freezing, I wasn’t miserably cold, and I enjoyed the desert beauty of the hike out to Highway 18 the next morning.  I got to the road earlier than I’d expected and hitched into town, where I met Pine Nut (who’d needed to head into town early because of the weather), picked up another mail drop, and ordered two medium cheeseless spinach pizzas from Domino’s.  I ate one immediately, but I packed the second one in my pack to eat in the mountains.

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Ant, Pine Nut, and me being blown by serious wind in Palm Springs

Pine Nut and I were given a ride to the trail by a kindhearted woman.  At the trailhead, we thanked her, climbed out of her car, retrieved our packs and trekking poles from the trunk, put on sunscreen, and began hiking north again.

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Looking back at San Jacinto

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