Sunday, 31 May 2015

PCT Day 12

Day 12
20 miles - nero

I wake before everyone in the makeshift tent and relish in the pre-day silence. A lady comes out the house and waves at me. She must be Papa Smurfs wife. I sit up and catch up on my journal as everyone slowly wakes up. They turn on their phones and reconnect to their online worlds. After an hour Papa Smurf comes out and announces he’s making breakfast and everyone speeds up. Mini burgers, meaty scrambled eggs, buttered potatoes, pancakes and leftover doughnuts are on the menu. I eat as much as my body will allow and then eat more. It tastes so good and my body is craving it. Everyone's up and eating now. I down several cups of milk and apple juice rehydrating myself. The taste is immense compared with trail water and the flavoured packets I use.

Papa Smurf divides us into groups and drives the first lot back to the trail. Poptart and I need to resupply so we hang around with 2 others. I stretch in the tent and get a call from my sister - Nicnacs and we chat for a bit. Then I video call my Dad. After an hour Papa Smurf returns and we head to the shops. It’s nice to be back in the human world as I listening in on the conversation.

We head to Trader Joes where I get ramen, cereal bars, chocolate, skittles, Ziplock bags, juice powder and an apple. I down an iced tea trying to drink lots before I venture back onto the trail. Two hikers stay in town as Poptart and I are driven back to the wild. We repack our bags and leave our unwanted packaging with Papa Smurf who understands the needs of hikers. He then says a prayer for us before we leave.

It’s midday and hard going. My bag is so heavy but having half a day off was such a nice way to relax and my feet and blisters feel so much better. I trudge along as the sun burns me. The heat is intense and I let Poptart go ahead. I slowly walk up with  my pack ladened with food and water. It’s nice to be in a forest again. The deep smell of the woodland pine reverberating around me. I inhale deeply.

Suddenly a hummingbird flies above and observes me. I watch it amazed and also freaked by its effortless ability to hover there easily. It’s strange to see one in real time and not slowed down like in documentaries. I walk on and catch Poptart 13 miles after the drop-off point. She's at a water cache left by Papa Smurf. We chill there briefly before deciding to walk to the Little Bear Camp where we’ll spend the night. It’s 7 miles away which will make today a 20 mile half day! It's been a long day but the walk has been beautiful.

We arrive at the top and are able to look down over a lake. All I can hear is the wind through the pine trees and distant jet skis. Then we slowly descend on the winding trails, in and out of the mountain's crevasses. We’ve entered a dead forest where a fire ravaged the land recently. Its eerily beauty as the trees stand blackened with the setting sun on them. I‘m getting so tired and check my phone - the half mile ap more frequently. 5 miles 4 miles 4.5 miles, 3 miles, 3.5 miles, 3 and bit miles…

We keep going, my feet pounding the trail. 2 miles. I need new shoes pretty badly. 1 mile. The moon has appeared even though it still quite light. 0.5 miles It towers above the tall, fire-dead trees and looms watching everything. We finally arrive at the camp and find 4 guys there. One is a thru hikers, they take turns talking to us and report back to their table what they’re learnt. We are both exhausted and don’t really want to engage with them. It’s half 8 and the twilight has fallen now. We pitch up our tents for some privacy and fall asleep with ease. The moon is massive and lights up the field were in. I could read by it’s light


Saturday, 30 May 2015

PCT Day 11

Day 11
28 miles

I wake up at 4:50 am and I’m on the road for just after 5:15. I want to ascend the hills and reach 8750 feet before the peak heat strikes. I’m slow moving as it's just one gradual hike up. I pass an encampment of 3 tents and recognize the orange bag and bandanna which belongs to the trio I hitched a ride with to Idyllwild. I pass by their sleeping tents and hike on and up. The sun slowly rises and I enter a pine forest which is amazing. It smells so lovely and dry and earthy. It reminds me of being in Greece this time last summer. 

I plough upwards and pass a hiker who says there is water up ahead. Then I see a massive cat sized animal ahead of me which turns out to a hare. It keeps still eyeing me, then moves at the last second. I pause for some breakfast which consist of jelly, biscuits and porridge and then continue my slow climb up. I keep moving and the sun begins to creep up over the edge of the hills. It hits my back and the heat grows. I quicken my pace, still a long way to go. I get to 8000 ft and take a break. 

I pour water into a rehydrate pack of beans and omelet. I got it out the hiker box and thought I'd give it a go. It’s the last thing I have left and needs to be heated and I don't have a stove so eat it cold. I eat the beans and bury the rest. Up I go again and hear someone behind me. A guy wearing a lot of blue clothing, his gear is obviously very well chosen and light weight. I notice 2 curvy earrings and that he is motoring up this mountain as if he were strolling down hill. I stare. He smiles and bids me a good day. I return the gesture and follow at a much slower pace. I try to match his strides but there is just no way. He looks down on me from his position and soon disappears. Later I find out that he is Tuna-Helper - an endurance hiker hoping to set the new unaided speed record.

I eventually get to the top and whip my shoes off to let my feet breath. My blisters don’t look good. I clean the sand out off one and squeeze pus out of another. I apply fresh plasters and sort them out the best I can. Sitting back I close my eyes for a bit, glad I’m at the top and that it’s pretty much all downhill now. I hear a slight huffing and see Jeff followed by his Dad, Dan. We chat briefly and they push on. When I get up, I can descend the hill and it's a breeze, I soon forget about my foot pain and speed down. I pass the father-son pair.

That's when I arrive at the caged animal centre. It apparently trains animals for films but mistreats them. I see a grizzly bear crouch over in full sun, it has no shade at all. It’s wilting in the heat. It paws at it’s small, metal confined cage. A lion lays still resigned to it’s fate and a racoon paces round and round it’s small cage. I walk on saddened and re-enter the lush, desert pine forest, thankful for shade. Jeff spoke of some trail magic which might lie ahead. It spurs me on but in the midday heat but I am slow. They both pass me and I hike from tree to tree, shade to shade, enduring the heat in between. I come across a water cache and fill a bottle adding some pomegranate powder to flavour it. I've only peed once today which isn’t a good sign.

I walk on and find the father and son again sitting on the hiker crouch beside the huge metal bin of trail magic. It's amazing! Food, drink cans, biscuits, hand sanitiser, rubbish bags, sweets. I down a 7UP and eat biscuits so happy! Poptart joins us and we chill, savouring the magic. Then one by one we hit the trail. I descend down towards Big Bear City and soon we re-gather and hike together. We chat and the path turns stoney. My feet vibrate with every step and it's tough on my feet. 

We eventually get to the bottom and find some guys there with quad bikes. They give us Gatorade which tastes amazing! We head on for another few miles and refill at a spring. Hippie and Dan are getting picked up in 7 miles and Poptart and I decide to head into town together. I desperately need to resupply and she needs to pick up a package on Monday - 2 days away. We somehow monster up the hills at 4 miles an hour (it feels like it anyway) and get to the top - again, only a small hill but still a task. Then we go 2 miles and we find the road that Poptart and I need to hitch into Big Bear City from. We say goodbye to Hippie and Dan and wait for a hitch. 

After 20 minutes we start walking and when a hatchback drives by and we thumb it down. The guy stops and lets us in. He's a bit older than us and casually speeds down the dirt road. The lumps and rocks in the road are huge causing us to bump and crash into each other. He skids here and there and finally gets to the cement road. He tells us about how he picked up two 21 year old girls the other day and that they stayed at his and used his hot tub and says we can do the same. We politely decline (after he drove off we both agree he had creepy vibes) and he drops us off at the fire station where my book says we can get showers, but apparently there are three stations in Big Bear and this one seems closed.

Poptart calls a Trail angel who comes to pick us up. We're not waiting long until Pappa Smurf drives up and picks us up. This ride is a lot smoother. He takes us back to his home  where about 5 other hikers already are. It's in the suburbs and sits under pine trees. The needles are everywhere. His garden and house is packed full of stuff. A tent has been erected in the small space between his house and fence and we deposited our bags there.   He beckons us inside and we follow hobbling. He directs us to sit and feeds us Sloppy Joes which are amazing! I haven't eaten anything like this in ages and I eat the first one so quick I'm almost sick. I pace myself with the second one as Poptart showers. 

My shower is amazing and I sit in the bottom allowing the water to pour over me. My blisters are painful but this clean water is doing them the world of good. I sit and pick at them, cleaning the sand out. Left over plasters/band aids litter the bottom of the shower. I try and clean them out and put any other waste items in the bin. I chill outside with the others and Pappa Smurfs grandson talks at us while he has gone on a mission. He doesn't take long and he comes bearing free doughnuts! He knows the owner of the local bakery in town who has donated all his left over doughnuts to us - Hiker Trash. I eat 3 before I can't stomach any more.

I charge my things and one by one were all in bed for 9ish. Annoyingly my English phone takes ages to charge and I think it’s going to die. Luckily all my photos are backed up. I'm so glad I got an American phone when I got to LA. Even though I'm in a town its remarkably peaceful and I fall asleep with ease

Friday, 29 May 2015

PCT Day 10

Day 10 - 21 miles
214 Total miles
What a morning! I was up and ready to go by 5:15am when I noticed a lot of ants in the dawn twilight marching all over my bag.  They’d been climbing into my used bean can so I spend ten minutes getting rid of them only to stop 15 minutes later to still find them crawling all over myself. After further investigation I find them still inside my main bag and eating my biscuits!! I manage to save my food by picking them off one by one and by 6am I’d only done a mile. So much for getting an early start before the sun rose.
 I was heading up hill and my legs were already complaining so I turn around and go up backwards and fall over after a few steps….. I walk pass a trio of hikers who night hiked last night. We briefly say hello as I plow on. Then I arrive into a lush green valley with the hills all rippling into each other which reminds me of England. Green grass is everywhere and it seems some how cooler.
I weave in and out, up and down and then around out into the sun light. I finally come to the river which was named White-water River. I have a little wash, washed my socks, brushed my hair and teeth and drink up. It's so hot by 8am but I need to push on and ascend the 2000ft hill before midday. There is another river or rather a stream on the other side. I head off again and end up getting really lost... I had hoped to tackle the hottest part of the day laying down in the shade but I'm falling behind on time. Walking down the dry river bed, I pass driftwood and try to follow the misleading footprints of previous hikers. I was following the GPS on my English phone but to give finally dies. 
Annoyingly that had my water report on it and my Half-mile location ap. I’ve completely lost the trail now and I've walk too far into the dry shade less canyon. I consult my guide book but can’t find my way back on to the path. It’s been completely washed away. Cairns left behind by hikers dwindle and fade away. I drink my water and stare at the crumbling walls of the valley around me. No obvious route are visible. I follow the edge of the lower canyon but have no luck. I check my book again and compass. It says to head NE and that ends up kind of in the right direction but it stop short. I sit in the shade of the valley walls and it’s already 11am, my decent start of the day now useless. I zone out and watch heat lines wiggle over the desert floor. Then I suddenly see movement. A lone tree sprouting branches sits about 150meters away from me and has someone using the shade to their advantage. I immediately set off in his direction. I climb over rocks and jump down deeply into the sinking sand, it fills my trainers but I keep going. I see he has a little encampment. I get closer and he still doesn't hear me. He has a tent set up and make-shift table made from drift wood. Pans and bottles of water lay around him. I’m within 8 meters and he is still in his own little world.
“Hello “ I utter speaking first and trying not to alarm him out here. He flinches and recoils at my words and reaches to his chest. He recovered quickly but I bet his heart is still beating furiously not expecting company all the way out here.
“Where did you come from?”  
I explain my problem, pointing at my book and he gives me two options to get out the canyon.

            "If you head to the left of that hill you can follow a path out of the valley which joins up with the PCT or" 
He points away from us towards a white triangle small cliff with a black dot in it.
“That black dot is a ravens nest” he says “get to there and head over the right side of it"
He then explains he’s been here for about 4 days which he likes to do from time to time. He has an alcove of stoves and even a bed of grass-turf under his tent. I thank him again and rush off in search of the PCT. It's a climb when I get there and its hard to do down in the peak of heat. I take several breaks up the hill, sweating profusely and feel a tad faint. Step by step I arrive at the top - a lot happier. I spot an acceptable shady patch and chill under it. I drink 1.5litres and read the guidebook. Then I hear footsteps and see one of the night hiker trio. His name is Joyce and he’s from Korea. We chat for a bit and it turns out he’s lost his phone and walked back 3 miles for it which no luck.
I catch up in my journal and debate heading out into the heat to reach the water source. The annoying flies buzz around, climbing over everything. I give in and roll out. It’s 1:30 pm and the heat is as gruelling as ever. Luckily I'm going down hill -  gradually. Amazingly I get a data signal and talk to Joe and quickly download the Half Mile ap and the water report to my American phone. The water is about 2miles away so I press on and get there at 3ish. I strip down to my underwear and rinse everything with water taken from the stream. It’s dry within ten minutes. After downing a litre, I refill and hike out. I want to gain 11 miles due to my fail earlier. I then meet Joyce about 15 meters from where I'd been sitting. He is surrounded by the contents of his pack and cooking a meal. We have a quick chat and I hike on. The next part is a slow ascent which are sometimes worse than just ascending it in a steeper manner. I want to get another ten miles done before night fall. Meaning that I can hopefully make it to Big bear city tomorrow. I’m really short on food so have to ration it.
It is a hard slog over rocks and in deep sand. I cross back and forth over the river and pass bee laden bushes. I stop a few times to force water into me and eat a bit then it gets to 8:30pm and I begin to hike by the moon. Luckily it’s full and illuminates everything. I hit the 11 miles mark and call it a night. I camp beside the trail, finally finding the a part with no bushes in the way. I put up my inner tent, roll out my sleeping bag and I’m asleep within minutes. The moon still blanketing everything it touches in whiteness.


Thursday, 28 May 2015

PCT Day 9

Day 9 - 23miles
I'm up for 5am and walking by 5:30am. I'd spent the night sleeping on and off. My mind for no reason deciding to have a massive conversation with itself. I'm slow to get going but this is mainly as I get 4g and video call back home as I walk down the 4000ft Fuller Ridge. It takes ages. It already hot by 8am... I have breakfast which consists of a packet of crushed biscuits.
I want to get to the next water source by lunch which is 16 miles away. I brush by large desert flowers and bushes laden with Bees. Trying not to disturb them I whizz by but I'm not exactly agile with my pack on. I have enough water to get me down but my knees and feet are taking a constant pounding. I make 15 miles by 11am and find a massive shady rock to take shelter under - I'm a mile away so I wait for midday heat to pass. I have enough water and cool off. This has been the hottest day so far. I read ahead in my guide book of what is to come and eat more biscuits. I don't know what to expect in the Sierras. Out here is totally different to anything in the UK. I'm going to need a bear canister and possibly an ice axe which I've never wielded before.
 I venture out briefly and the intense rays burn me. I nap for a while and eventually decide to brave the sun just before 3pm. I speed down the last 1 mile to the water tap and hide in the shade of a large rock - I fit but only just. I fill a bottle and down it with fruit flavourings. I brush my teeth, top up my water and off I go. It's a long slog of a road followed by walking through deep sand into the wind, my hat tries to take flight several times. I want to check I'm going in the right direction. I know I must be but my paranoia sets in. Then my English phone won't turn on, maybe it's overheated? A long freight train rolls by and I pass under the bridge as it rattles along above me. I see a PCT badge which confirms I'm going in the right direction. Underneath to my delight a trail angel has left a Dr Pepper, despite this trail magic site begin targeted by vandals they've continued to supply the cooler box. I down it with ease happy to be drinking something with a lot of flavour.
I continue walking and aim to be at the Mesa wind farm before night fall. I pass a hiker box left by locals and descend upon it. My food rations are becoming depleted and I can't top up till Big Bear. I scoop out some pinto beans and mixed vegetables. The pinto beans I find out later are just plain beans with no tomato sauce. Since I don't have a tin opener I hammer at the rim with my pen knife like a ravenous cave woman. Even though they taste incredibly bland I eat them anyway and march on. A random black hatchback pulls over on the road a little down the slope from me. I stare unsure as to why they're there. They do nothing as I walk on hoping to gain ground as the temperature has now cooled.
I zone out and enter my own world and suddenly hear a hissing. I turn and see a small rattlesnake arching and uncoiling itself. I don't stop and quicken my pace. Baby rattlesnakes are extremely deadly as they can't control how much venom they give to a victim and often dispense a fatal amount. It thankfully doesn’t race after me. I walk on slowly devouring my flavourless beans as I ascend. Round a corner I find a lone hiker. I had wondered when I’d come across someone. After following so many peoples steps in the sand I thought I was bound to come across someone. This guy was called Shaun and was from Texas. We chatted briefly both exhausted by the heat and day of walking. I asked if I could camp next to him and set up my little tent. I catch up on my journal surrounded by the wind farm and their chorus of whistling and whirring. I was quite glad to have company to night even if Shaun wasn’t too talkative heading to bed after half an hour. We chill in the evenings twilight enjoying the solace its brought us. Perching I watch the 50 plus wind turbines, 29 of which were spinning successfully and once again the moon shines down casting a white aura over everything.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

PCT Day 8

Day 8 - 15miles
Up and walking by 5:45 am. It's a pleasant start to the day as I snake my way around the bends in the rocky hill. A morning rabbit is ahead of me bounding along the trail. It isn't too hot yet which is lucky. The inner corners of the path are refreshingly chilling to walk into. It's a gradual climb which then turns into a single path to the road; at the end of which is the Paradise café. I'm their first customer and order a large orange juice and 3 pancakes. I'm so full after they swell in my stomach but so happy too. I message my friend parents in-law who I'll been staying with come early July. I remain still waiting for the pancakes to settle. After charging my items and procrastinating a bit too long I plucked up the courage to hitch hike.
I write up a hitching sign and head to the main road. It's super hot but head to the road side feeling optimistic. The first car is a red car and I can see it speeding towards me. I hold out my sign, my thumb and smile meekly. The car pulls over immediately.
 Well that was easier than I thought
I pick up my bag and run over. Inside is a friendly man who signals that I put my bag in the back . His name is Thomas but goes by the name of Black Mountain due to his native heritage. He has long black head in plaits with leather and beads interwoven in them. He says he often picks up hitchers as he likes to help. He's in the area to go hiking as his wife wants him out the house and he attempts that he needs to shed a few pounds. He's a jolly man and we have a good conversation. He is only going half way so we shake hands and I hitch again.
A few cars pass by until a large hatchback (all cars are huge) pulls over. It's blaring out music and every seat is filled. I look closer and it's the trio of hikers from yesterday; one girl called Pop Tart and a father and son - the son Jeff is hiking the trail again after getting a hernia last year and had to bow out half way up California. I clamber inside and we speed off to Idyllwild frequently doing double the speed limit. We slide around in the back seats which are made of leather as he whizzes round corners. He over takes a little motorbike which gladly pulls over. We arrive and our driver offers to drive us to a second supermarket if want. We politely decline. The store is pretty barren but were able to resupply. I chat with Poptart briefly who is 27 and from North Carolina. She did the AT last year. She completes her shopping and jets off to the post office. I'm left to wander the dusty shelves and stock up with way too much sugar. To get back on the trail I decide to head up a track called Deer Springs Trail which is 5 miles in total to the PCT. It's slow going in the midday heat, luckily there is plenty of shade but still it takes me all afternoon.

I don't stop hiking till I get to the water source - North fork San Jacinto River which I reach at 4 pm. I clamber downstream on the rocks and wash my clothes and myself as best I can. I drink 2 liters while I'm there. After an hour I walk on, my backpack is so heavy when I sling it back on I nearly topple sideways. The walk to the top is long and slow, least tomorrow it's downhill - all 6000ft of downhill. I take my time and receive amazing views from the top. I see a valley of wind turbines in my direction of travel. I pass through a forest of tall pine trees, little patches of snow are present here and there.

Lizards and chipmunks scatter about and birds fly above. I make it to the top and begin the appreciated descent. I only go down 2000ft and make camp. I have a gorgeous view over the valley and after pitching my tent I still in the stillness and marvel at where I am. I can see the sun setting over a city, the haze and cloud trying to overpower each other. It takes me ages to fall asleep as my brain won't switch off and I think of things I want to accomplish. Shh brain sleep.