The Gratitude Cafe Part 10
DAY 95, 96, 97, 98, 99 - Wrightwood to campsite 578.72km, to campsite 534.08km, to campsite 499.42km, to Little Bear Springs camp, to Big Bear Lake
My experience in Wrightwood I am beyond grateful for. I contacted a trail angel by the name of Dottie who was listed on the PCT angels list as having the ability to host females and couples. I thought 'why not give it a go?' So, after contacting Dottie, she very kindly offered me a place to stay for the night. As I was walking into Wrightwood, my tent was soaked from the previous night of precipitation overload from the influx of clouds over my last campsite. It was also so deliciously covered in mud and so was I! I was hoping for any accomodation to allow me to sleep indoors but dry my tent outside. Dottie said she could offer me both.
Arriving at Dottie's, I did not expect what I received! I was overwhelmed with her kindness and generosity. I couldn't believe it! An entire guest house to my own private self. A full bathroom, bathtub, washing facilities, a queen bed, kitchenette, lounge area, fireplace. It was exquisite! I was literally happy with a mattress on the ground or a couch to stay on, but when I walked into this, I was gobsmacked. My stay at Dottie's was sensational. I cooked my own dinner with fresh ingredients and the following morning, Dottie invited me upstairs to cook me breakfast. I tell you, this trail. It will open your eyes and heart to the overwhelming sense of kindness one can offer and receive. I am grateful.
That afternoon, I hit the trail again. This time taking the advice of my parents to hike the Acorn trail back to the PCT.
Holy shit. That's all I can say. Well, I can say a lot more. Mother, I will never listen to you and your great trail ideas again! Haha! A full resupply pack and 2.5 miles of severe uphill. Probably the greatest incline I have hiked up in a very long time on the PCT - and this wasn't even ON the PCT!! So, of course, I had to suck it up and get uphill. It was hell. But I made it to the top to completely forget all about it!
I camped a few miles out in order to start out early the next day. With daylight savings now in order, first light is around 5:30am and sunset is around 5pm. Earlier hiking and earlier camping. Today was warm. Desert style. I had a moment for saying goodbye to the beautiful mountains in the San Gabriels, which were luscious and green. An abundance of precipitation and wetlands, to now be stepping foot back into the dry Southern California desert - the San Bernadino mountain ranges.
As hot and dry as this section become, I still couldn't help but appreciate the spectacular landscape.
The ridges were wide open spaces with a trail that could possibly fit two abreast. This is an odd section of the PCT as there is no water source for roughly 27 miles (43.2kms). Hikers are encouraged to carry water from Wrightwood all the way through to McDonalds.
Yep. You read correctly. Maccas. Cajon pass (pronounced Cahone) is a water resupply location and the point of collection is the McDonalds.
I really enjoyed walking into the highway at Cajon pass. I felt like I was almost a 'runaway.' Crossing train tracks, walking under tunnels, eating lunch on the side of an underground tunnel off of a main 8 lane highway. I felt like a fugitive. A cast member on Prison Break. Exhilerating in a different way to what I have felt on the PCT.
I was lucky enough to score some water from a trail angel loaded cache a few miles north of Cajon Pass, so unfortunately, the McDonalds didn't see a visit from me. So onwards and upwards I continued.
The weather has definitely cooled down in the desert. The days are sunny and warm, and the nights are cold and windy. Around the 3pm mark each day, clouds begin to roll in. Not in a scary "oh god it's going to rain" concept, but just a cloud coverage begins and the temperature starts to drop, drastically.
The San Bernadinos are sensational mountains. The ranges seem to go on forever, and there was a lot of ridge hiking through this section to really appreciate the spectacle of landscape that the PCT crosses through.
With daylight savings in action, the days get warm a lot faster. The 9am sun now feels like 10am, and the 11am sun feels like midday! It's quite interesting how familiar I have become with the sunlight. It's my clock. Knowing whereabouts the sun is at certain times of the day, has become my sense of time. However, now, daylight savings has totally upset my apple cart and my mid morning feels like midday! In this section, there is very little shaded spots. A lot of exposed hiking with the sun at full warmth. Put it this way, my dad's skin complexion is definitely coming out in me!
Having to search around for water spigots and caches has become an everyday occurance, except today, I walked miles around Silverwood Lake. It was refreshing just having that water beside me. I didn't opt for a swim as I was aiming for larger miles today, with a bit of a confusing creek crossing towards the end of the day.
And yes, today was my birthday! What an incredible way to spend a birthday, hiking 30 something miles in the Southern California mountains and desert on the PCT.
Here's a surprise; I'm not a partier. Wow. Bet you didn't know that! Ha! Birthdays are never a huge deal for me. My family has always been incredibly low-key with the whole "birthday" thing. I suppose, having 6 kids, it's a lot of birthdays. A lot of money. Each of us kids were always treated the same with our birthdays. No one more special than the other. No crazy birthday presents to out-do each other. Usually, we would wait until after school, get to the dinner table, dad would roll out the party table cloth, out came the plastic plates and bowls (1 plate of chips, 1 plates of lollies, 1 plates of cheerios I STILL HATE) and a cheap cake from Coles (probably marked down needing to be sold by 5pm)! We were REAL party animals. We called everyone to the table and we would all sing happy birthday, cut the cake, take a slice and then all go back to what we were doing.
It probably seems really unfortunate to a lot of you reading this, but I never wanted anything more. I never asked for anything more and I never thought I had a birthday that was anything less than my school or dancing friends. It was simple. It was not chaotic. It was a moment we would all come together and sing 'Happy Birthday' for a sibling, have a slice of cake which was a rarity, and then listen to mum bang on about how our birthday was about her! And let's be honest, the main player of the game here is the woman who actually actually birthed you. That's a rough day for a mother. We should sing to them instead!!
So as I continued on through my birthday (or mums birthing day), I thought about all the things that I have become. The milestone I have just reached and the incredible things in my life. I have been blessed with wonderful career opportunities, all which took incredibly hard work, patience and I'm proud to say, involved no ass kissing. I have also been blessed with strength and instinct, which give me a great sense of independence and ability to actually walk thousands of miles across the USA.
As the PCT delivered me one of the most spectacular sunsets to watch at my campsite, I thought about how lucky I really am to have such an extraordinary support network (y'all know who you are) and most importantly, my family. There is not a day that goes by where I don't think about my family. I am nothing without them, and the fact that they can hold me up and cheer me on without ever making obnoxious Facebook posts about me, makes me even prouder!
The last thought that crossed my mind was this. The PCT. When my life took a crazy turn and I wasn't the human I set out to be; my health, body and mind declined, drastically. I lost myself. The PCT is different for everyone, but for me, it's created a canvas of a human. I am cleansed and ready. Not many people have the opportunity to press that reset button. It's a difficult button to find. We aren't computers. But I knew in myself at the beginning of this year, I needed to find the "me" that had been misplaced.
And tonight, on my birthday, at midnight, I stood outside my tent and looked up to the stars. The sky was a blanket of glitter and the world was still. There was a gentle breeze and a crisp chill in the air. I took in a deep breath. I exhaled and smiled to myself. I am here. And somewhere in the lost and found, I found me.
The next day, I hit my 300 miles to go mark! And it was a hot day. A hot day on ridges with oak trees means one thing... you guessed it... gnats! THEY WERE BACK! On with the headnet though, and nothing could bother me! Haha
I was heading in towards Little Bear Springs Camp tonight, and the day was scorching. It was a typical desert day. Hot, sweaty, sandy, dirty, and a beating down sun!
There were moments of the day, however, where I felt as though I was taking a hike back home in Australia. The terrain was so similar and the trees were creating a sense of Aussie characteristic. The skies were crystal blue and clouds lightly dusted the sky... but it was hot! Sounds like home right?
Suddenly at 4:15, there was a drastic drop in temperature. The air was starting to get rather chilly and darkness was setting in quite quickly. I got to camp around 5pm, to start setting up my tent. It was so cold, I put all of my clothing on first before even attempting to put my tent stakes in.
It was starting to hit freezing temperatures! Ummm?! But it's the desert? What? I had all of my gear from the Sierras on, including my tyvec bivvy over my sleeping bag. I spent majority of the night tossing and turning, trying to bundle myself up in a foetal position to get maximum warmth. It didn't work very well, but worth a try!
I awoke in the morning at my usual 4am, to a frozen tent, frozen water and frozen shoes. It was absurd to think this is Southern California! I began packing up, but was shivvering and so cold, I decided to wait until sunrise. I gathered with some sunlight, warmth might come about. Of course, I was in a valley. The official sunrise for this valley would be around 8am! So I waited a little until first light and began to pack up. Still shivering my ass off, I quickly hit the trail, attempting to warm up as I walked. I walked quicker than I possibly ever have on the trail, in order to get blood circulating. I could not, for the life of me, feel my toes or quads. Everything was cold! It was by far one of my coldest nights and mornings on trail!
Around 8am, everything warmed up and it was the most beautiful of days. Coming in to Big Bear Lake, gave incredible views over the main lake and sensational look outs. It's a heavy day hiker section, so many people were out enjoying the incredible weather. I was looking forward to getting my resupply in Big Bear. I still have a love/hate relationship with my town days. It's always frustrating hiking in to towns, because you just want to get there as quick as possible. But then once you are there, resupplying can be stressful. Dealing with the real word again. Emails. It can be a little overwhelming and you just want to get back to the trail! I don't think a thru hiker will ever truly be content with a town day, unless you really want to get off the trail!
My night in Big Bear Lake was great. A good nights sleep, a shower, a meal, planning the next chapter with mum and dad, going over water source logistics and doing my resupply. It was a quick overnight stay and back out to the trail. It was definitely one of my better town days. I may have found my town day balance. Perfect timing, with only 2 stops to go! Haha
DAY 100, 101, 102, 103, 104 - Big Bear Lake to Arrastre Trail camp, to Mission Creek camp 361.92km, to the Water Faucet, Little Round Valley Campground, to Idyllwild
Big bear was definitely a beautiful part of the USA and a place I have listed to come back to. The people were lovely, the place itself is gorgeous and rustic, and it's weather is a true 4 season town. I'll definitely be back!
This was yet another section of the so-called "desert" that is luscious and green. Pine trees for miles that were accompanied by an overcast sky. I wasn't complaining about the overcast sky. It's a lovely balance for the desert. Open and sun exposed sections are great (especially for us Australians), but light and shade is important, right? At least that's my belief to any performances I do!! Haha I'll take it with me in the desert!
For parts of this landscape, I felt a flashback to pre-high Sierras, coming in through the Sierra Buttes. This section slightly reminded me of early or latter Sierras. Some of the gravel rocks that decorated the trail, gave me slight déjà vu! It was a well earned change of scenery and a beautiful part of the desert.
Today's plan was to aim for anywhere between 25-27 miles (40-43kms). However, I pulled a 30 mile (48km) day. I haven't pushed for a 30 in a while. Not since prior to Tehachapi! So the 30 just happened, with help from a massive 15 mile downhill section!
This area however, was a result of a rather large fire a few years back. The PCT is usually closed through this section, but they have opened it back up to hikers, as long at there is no camping within a 19 mile stretch of it.
It was pretty devastating to see how much damage was actually done through this section. Every tree reminded me of the Evil Trees from HR Pufnstuf. I could only think of Witchipoo saying 'Calling all evil trees!' But I also looked up to the gods and thanked the heavens that the day was overcast! Without any proper tree growth, this area has no shade, whatsoever. It was purely exposed to all of the elements. So, today I was grateful for cloud cover!
I made it the 30 miles down to the bottom of mission creek. Mission creek was a bit of a scramble. I fell twice and slammed my knees on huge boulder rocks. I was ok and totally fine. If ever I fall, I have a moment. I just sit and not attempt to jump straight back up. I think that's when you can do more damage. I always try to manoeuvre myself into a better position with my pack, in order to steadily stand up without further hurting myself.
So I was fine. A few cuts, bruises and scratches, but I just kept going. The second negative about mission creek, is that the PCT zig zags it's way along the creek for 15 miles. In other words, you continually cross the creek about 20 times. Back and forth. But not just a simple step over. The creek section is buried amongst over grown trees, so each time, I had to navigate through the trees to jump over a flowing creek with muddy banks, to then get to the other side, walk a little further, to do it all in reverse. Lather, rinse, repeat. It's an interesting section of the PCT and a little frustrating, as wonderful as it is to have water in the desert!!
The following morning, I awoke to a beautiful red sunrise. The sunrises and sunsets in Southern California are something of a beauty. They are warm, radiant and delightful. A soul cleanse to watch as I hiked. But something was a little different today. I could feel it in the air. Something in me was 'off'. I wasn't my usual self.
The day was warming up fast and I was feeling a little angst. I was on edge. The world was bothering me today and I couldn't quite figure out why.
Aside from the heat, some gnats, uphill climbing and a huge water carry, I just couldn't shake my frustrations today. My knees were sore from yesterday's double tumble and the body wasn't in working order. I felt heavy and groggy. This is the hardest feeling to try and shake whilst walking 40 kms!
The terrain was such exquisite desert and the temperature was screaming it too! Having to carry lots of water but only 'sip' so as not to guzzle it all at once, is a frustrating task. You are so incredibly thirsty out here, that you just want to drink an entire litre at once! But when the next guaranteed water source is in approximately 30kms, allowing that water to last is complete torture.
I tend to believe water sources are part mind over matter. Ha! It's funny how you don't think twice about water until you are aware that you aren't going to have a source for miles. You aren't thirsty until you know you can't have it!! It's hilarious what the mind can do to you out here.
Crossing under the main highway near Cabazon, headed me into a roughly 10km hike across exposed desert sand. Now THIS was frustrating. The sun was at its hottest for the day, at a constant 37 degrees celcius for approximately 6 hours straight. The sand area had absolutely no tree coverage, and you guessed it, no water.
One of the most difficult things about hiking on sand, aside from the obvious feeling of bricks on your feet whilst carrying an elephant on your back, is the dirt and sand that gets in between your toes. If you don't dump out your shoes often enough, the sand and dirt rub your skin raw. These aren't blisters. It is just an area of skin that is red and burning, and becomes quite painful to walk. I tend to take my shoes off and empty out the dirt as often as possible, but the constant build up in your shoes through these sandy areas and the mileage you need to hike, makes it difficult to stop every 5 minutes.
My next water source was a fountain spigot. I had planned to hike another 10kms or so, but I stopped here for the day. My mood had eased as the day went on, but I had made the decision to camp at the water source because tomorrow was an intense 19 mile/30km climb uphill into the San Jacinto (pronounced San Hacinto) mountains. Intense meaning it was uphill for the entire day. Not one inch of downhill. And without a water source. So instead of carrying extra water to camp over night, I decided to set up camp at the spigot and do the climb in the morning carrying what I needed to get through the day only.
The next mornings sunrise absolutely blew my mind. It was like the sky was on fire. It was magical. As I packed up tent, the sunrise convinced me to side trail to actually climb San Jacinto. The PCT doesn't climb San Jacinto. It goes up towards the top, but stops about 3000ft below and stays west of the summit. I thought to myself 'What's one more climb? I've come this far!' Ha! And as much as everyone is incredibly familiar with knowing I don't necessarily enjoy uphill, part of the fun is the climb. Especially when I go at my own pace. Just like the Sierras. It's rewarding. I'm in competition with nothing and nobody. Just me and the climb.
So, I decided to pace mysełf over the uphill climb, refill at the water source, the side trail up the San Jacinto Peak trail, camp at Little round valley Campground, wake at 3am and summit San Jacinto in the morning to watch the sunrise. I had my plan!
The 19 miles climb started and guess what?! It was actually one of my favourite climbs. It was gradual and steady, and I just went at my own pace and stopped when I wanted to stop.
On the way up the mountain, I passed my 200 miles to go milestone. I had another moment. Sad to think this epic journey is coming to an end.
Today's terrain was changing mile by mile. As I climbed, I was looking at the green forest up ahead and saying goodbye to the dry and yellow desert behind me.
Entering into the Mt San Jacinto State park Wilderness was an exceptional change from yesterday. I really do mean it when I say each day gives you something different out here. A few thoughts came to my mind about this. The terrain changes moment by moment every day. The weather is completely different every day. The air feels different every day. You could literally live on one side of San Jacinto mountain and someone live on the other and have completely different weather and terrain. Yet, both within the same vacinty.
It made me think about how no two days have been the same. Just like no two people are the same. I started to think about that concept; that no two people are the same. It saddens me that people feel it necessary to be the same as someone else. To want what someone else has. To constantly be in competition. It frightens me when I look on portals like Instagram and Facebook, to see how everyone is trying to be like each other. We are no longer our own identity. Gone are the days when we just did our own thing. Don't be a copy. I've realised that each day is beautiful out here. It's just that each day is different. Doesn't mean that any day is less credible!
As I got to the top of today's climb to the water source, I had to climb a few more miles on the side trail to camp. I turned to the junction sign and sighed a huge "here we go!" Not a lot of PCT hikers do this climb. Most of the recent SOBO's have skipped it and hurried in to town. I'm in no hurry and I am great at rationing my food, so I was prepared enough for a side trail.
As I started to ascend, the boulders appeared. Wonderful! Stepping up and over big rocks. But I was ok. I was going steady and enjoying the climb. As I was approaching my campground, I turned around to look out toward the sunset. And there it was. A gorgeous farewell to the day.
So up bright and early, actually not bright at all. It was pitch black. I unzipped my tent at 4am for a bathroom call, switched my head lamp on and looked forward into the woods at my campsite. And there they were. Two pairs of bright green eyes staring back at me. Of course, one always jumps to the worse case scenario. Two mountain lions? Two bears? I don't know. I make a couple of noises to see if they spook off. Nope. Doesn't bother them at all. I do my bathroom biz, all whilst keeping an eye in their direction. Still no movement.
I headed back to my tent and did one last 'cooee' to give them warning and off they pranced. Ah! Deer. All good. I'd spotted a few the night before whilst setting up camp. They mean no harm and are very inquisitive creatures. Thus, the staring competition.
After packing up, I began my ascent again. A couple of miles to reach the top, 10,834ft. I couldn't see any views on the way up, because it was pitch black. I was merely relying on my headlamp to see the rocks and boulders, and any morning wildlife. The climb up was not too bad at all. Or maybe it was because I couldn't see the elevation in front of me, so I had no idea! Haha Blind uphill hiking is my favourite uphill hiking! Haha
The last 30 metres of the climb was a scramble. There was no clear path and it was just physically rock climbing up and over huge rocks and boulders. But I made it! To the freezing cold top of the mountain. Mount San Jacinto Peak.
And there I sat. Watching the sun break through first light into sunshine. It was pure magic and so much more than I had ever anticipated. The first light was radiant and red, giving an intense orange hue, creating a flame riddled sky. The clouds were like fairy floss, speckled with blood orange and dark purple gradients. It was a moment to capture. In the course of 20 minutes, the sky was drastically changing, from one colour palette to the next, going through each stage of a full sunrise. It was pure magic.
I had a moment thinking about how many people would miss that moment each day. It doesn't last very long at all, and it is possibly the most beautiful thing to watch when you are on top of the world.
Then everything went quiet and I remembered that I was alone. Just me and the mountain and the sun. I realised I was the only person on top of San Jacinto and the only person anywhere near it. I had a whole mountain to myself.
On my descent into Idyllwild, I was so proud and glad I hiked San Jacinto. I would never have known such beauty if I didn't make that climb. It saddens me that so many SOBO's didn't hike it.
As I ascended into town, I had a sudden overwhelming feeling of sadness. This trail is really coming to an end soon. I don't want to say goodbye to it. I don't want to stop living in the wilderness. I like it out here. Life is simpler. Less complicated. As complicated and difficult as it may seem to most of you reading this journal, I have never felt this at ease. I like not having to answer my phone everyday. I like not having to meet other people's expectations on a daily basis. I like not having to dress up and make myself feel beautiful on a day where I just don't want to be seen. I like not being judged. I like having freedom. I like my wide open spaces. I like my tent. I like the fact that life is dwindled down to one ultralight backpack and not 5 suitcases on a production truck. I like not having to live up to someone else's means. I like that I am me. And I like me out here.
I'm hoping over the space of the next week, I can feel some closure on this and really experience every bit of the trail I can before commencing this next journey. I have loved the PCT and my heart is hurting to close this chapter very soon.