A bit of news
This blog has been pretty quiet lately, because I recently moved from Calgary to sunny California. I took a job with Starview in San Jose, and I'm living nearby in Sunnyvale. Things are going really well with the job, and I've been working hard so that I can make an impact right out of the gate. Of course, that cuts down on the time that I have for writing blogs. So that's what I've been up to. On with the story of the hike.
Cabazon to Big Bear
Section B ends in an ugly way under an interstate highway overpass. It's sandy, and that's hard to walk on. By the time we got there, it was already after noon, and mighty hot. A wall of clouds loomed, but it was easy to disregard them, considering that we were still in what could easily be considered desert. The clouds were to one side and Palm Springs was on the other. We were moving closer to Palm Springs, so there was no way it was going to rain. (Have you guessed that it's going to rain yet?)
As we walked, we came nearer to a wind farm, the first of two that we would walk past on our hike. It is a little hard to imagine how large the turbines are when you just see them fleetingly as you drive past, but when you walk near them, you get the full experience. They aren't messing around. There is a little man-made oasis near a maintenance truck by the wind farm where there is shade and refreshments, so we took a break and tended to our feet for a while before we started moving again.
A little after we left, it started raining. At first it was a relief. We had been walking under completely blue skies in Southern California for around two weeks, and the variety was nice. However, I had been expecting the blue skies and had not packed any rain gear for this part of the journey (I sent it all to the beginning of the Sierras). So after a while, even my fleece was getting waterlogged. Our plan upon leaving the oasis had been to try to get to a fish hatchery that was about a half a mile off-trail. Since it would clearly be the only shelter for miles, it became a must.
I had been hiking in the vicinity of Garby, Raven, and Lovebird all day, and we met up near where we thought the junction with the fish-hatchery trail would be. In fact, I thought that we were at the junction because I was misreading the map. In my defense, it's pretty hard to read a map through a plastic bag in a hard rain, but that doesn't change the fact that I was misreading the map. I was lucky that Raven was more persuasive than me, and convinced us to go on until we actually found the junction.
Eventually we made it to the fish hatchery, where there was shelter (a gazebo-like structure for tourists to picnic under). We had gone over 27 miles on the day – more than 1% of the trail. I quickly set up my hammock between two beams of the gazebo, but the setup wasn't optimal, and the wind kept waking me up throughout the night by flapping the tarp.
The next day was almost completely uphill. The rain was gone and it was hot once again. I got an early start, but that only gets you so much.
We walked up the basin formed by a creek for almost the whole day. By the end of the day, we had climbed around 5000 feet. It was cold at night at that altitude and there were pine trees. We ran into some fun people at the camp site, most notably Love it or Leave it (abbreviated LoL) and Hercules. Hercules will show up again much later in the story, but we will meet LoL and his friend Boris (aka Overdrive) again much sooner.
After our long climb, Garby and I kept the next day nice and easy, setting ourselves up for a nearo into the town of Big Bear. We found a nice camp at around 3 and then just rested for the remainder of the day. We even made a camp fire. Unfortunately, Lovebird had shin splints, so he and Raven hitched in to Big Bear by an alternate road before our camp. We would see them in town, but it was the last I would hike with them for quite a while.
On the Appalachian Trail, you can tell that you are having a good day if you can do "12 by 12". That is, 12 miles by noon. Garby and I had 9 miles to go to get to the road into Big Bear the next day and we made it by 9 o'clock. 9 by 9 is so much better than 12 by 12 that I was pretty impressed, but perhaps it's one of those things that doesn't really translate.
Anyway, we spent the day in Big Bear. It's a very spread-out town, which makes it bad for hikers, so I won't say too much about it. (Other than to note that it has the smallest ski hill I think I've ever seen. Seriously, there must be sand dunes that are bigger.)
Big Bear to Cajon Pass
Following our day in Big Bear, we must have walked for a while, but I don't remember it at all. So I'll skip it. The day after that, we made one of our biggest mistakes on the trail. A section of the trail was closed due to a rock slide, and an alternate route was given. We took the alternate.
At first, it didn't look too bad. It was mostly on dirt roads, but there wasn't any traffic. However, we soon turned off the dirt road onto off-road-vehicle roads. It was a Friday, and the off-roaders were out in force. There were vehicles of all shapes and sizes from dirt bikes to Hummers. Every 20 minutes or so, there would be a procession of them. The passengers would hold up their fingers indicating how many more were coming, which is thoughtful, but also disheartening. "Really, there are 7 more of you jerks disrupting my day?"
We ate lunch by a little creek and I got some water out of it, upstream of its crossing with the road. It was a good thing that I did, because as we were eating lunch, three Jeeps came to the creek. We sat and watched as they crossed and re-crossed the creek 4 or 5 times, a different passenger getting out and taking video of the crossing each time. It was maddening.
We later heard that if we had not taken the alternate, the trail would have been beautiful and the rock slide not too bad. Also, Deep Creek, which is where the trail went, is a natural hot spring that is clothing-optional. The day that we missed it, there was a rumored nude photo shoot there. Now of course this is a only trail rumor, so who knows if it's true, but it sure sounds like the kind of thing that I would have liked to have verified for myself. For science, of course.
Anyway, by the end of the long day, we finished the alternate route and were back on the trail. We met an older lady, and being a bit dumb, I didn't realize who she was until she was already gone. Her name is Mother Goose, and she is an a true trail legend. She is still going strong – according to her trail journal, she is hiking the PCT again this year. I set up my hammock in some scrubby trees on a hillside and it rained again at night.
It kept raining the next morning, and I got as colder as the day went on. My strategy in situations like that is generally to push on and keep moving so that I generate body heat. That day, however, it was really bad. It just never let up. Eventually I met up with Garby at an underpass where we found some shelter from the rain. I tried to tear open a pack of crackers, but my fingers were so cold that they had lost the strength required even for that. Out of the rain, we warmed up again, and eventually found the courage to hike on.
It didn't rain much longer that day, and before long we were drying our tarps in the sun. The terrain also became more deserty again, which was heartening. I was really tired of rain by that point. I had not expected it or packed for it. Even when you're ready for it, cold rain isn't much fun, but when you're not ready for it, it's downright awful.
Anyway, in the afternoon, we walked by some very windy cliffs to Cajon Pass. It sounds nice, but it's really a McDonald's and a Best Western at a highway rest stop. I got my customary chocolate shake, and a room at the Best Western. I was tired from the long days and walking in the rain, so I slept deeply.
Snow and ice. Getting really lost. Finally getting back to normal weather and having to take a "frog detour". Boris and LoL get up to some shenanigans that keep people up at night. Finally, we meet some of the nicest trail angels around.