5/1/17 18.5 miles PCT mile 322.5
I awoke, like I had the day before, on the cold hard ground with my hip aching. We set out somewhat later than we had hoped (around 8 am). We planned to make at least 18 and, hopefully, 20 miles to make tomorrow a short hike into Cajon Pass, where I would sleep in a bed rather than in the dirt. Much of the trip would be a mostly level stretch through a white granite canyon overlooking deep creek. The next several miles were in a recent fire area and would be hot, waterless and barren. This portion of the PCT turns west for nearly 100 miles as it leaves southcentral California and makes its way first to the Mojave Desert and shortly after that the Sierra Mountains. The trail does a surprising amount meandering in general. Probably because most of the trail is a connection of old horse trails that were utilized to ship goods during and after the Gold Rush of 1849. These pack horse trails could not be too steep so they relied on long looping switchbacks that are unfamiliar, and occasionally infuriating, to a Pacific Northwest hiker. I see a ridge and I just want to hike up and over. Instead the trail will turn east, then west then, inexplicably, south for a while, next you will climb one small hill just to go back down again, reverse direction, go up and down two more small hills, having circled around 360 degrees all to avoid a steeper hill you could have just gone straight up in half the time. I joke that we are traveling as the moth flies. It is as if someone planned the route by having a living room sized map of California and then set a butterfly loose and traced its flight path.
Four miles in we saw what appeared to be a seven foot man hiking east, towards us. As this behemoth came closer, we realized this was actually a 5’7 young man with a full two feet of backpack above his head. He was outfitted, he said, with donated hunting gear. He had been hiking on some other trail in the western U.S. (I didn’t quite catch the name of it) and someone along that trail had mentioned the PCT to him. He had “seen that movie” so he decided to switch plans and hike here. He had gotten a ride to Cajon Pass, a town 30 miles ahead. He had gotten all of 25 miles before he happened upon Deep Creek hot springs. “It’s really one of the must see sights on the trail” he claimed, suddenly a expert. “Most people hike on, but you should stop.” There, he said, he had spent four days. During his stay he been drawing water directly from the hot spring source (he did say he was boiling it), swimming around with the nude hippies and had passed out in the hotsprings after taking a drug called TMNT or HGTV or something. He had also earned himself a trail name: Hardcore. This name was given to him by some hot springs “residents” because he planned to hike 342 miles back to the southern terminus, then turn around and hike back to Canada. His one concern with his new name was that it would be a hard sell with the “ladies”. “Oh, Hardcore, like your pants” Sarah said, pointing to the embroidered Hard Core logo on his heavy as hell, probably nonbreathable hunting pants. “Huh” he mused “I hadn’t noticed that.” He was an earnest kid and likeable. He didn’t strike me as a drug person, he had most likely just gotten caught up in the experience. His plan though, particularly on an “extreme budget” as he put it, seemed badly flawed. If he made it to Campo, which was a big if considering he was packing about twice as much weight as he should, he would be starting way too late to beat the snow in Oregon. I suggested if he wanted to hike from the southern terminus he should arrange a ride from Big Bear. He was lukewarm to this idea, given the expense. I didn’t think to explain to him that the ride would be cheaper than all the food he would need to walk that far. Nor did I mention that he would clearly have to make drastic and possibly expensive changes to his gear. I wanted him to succeed but didn’t want to dampen his spirit. Hike your own Hike. I wondered though, how would he handle the enevitable sobering discovery that the trail would not be a series of free naked breast viewing and all you can smoke drug buffets and instead something far more serious. Farewell Hardcore, I wish you well.
We arrived at the Hot Springs soon after with another hiker we had seen earlier in the day named Jeremy. The hot springs had been described on the water report as garbage riddled and disgusting. This, as many descriptions on an online forum can be, was greatly exaggerated. The site itself was quite beautiful actually, though I could see how it’s proximity to a road could cause it to be litter strewn from time to time. Also, Sarah smelled poop as we walked in, so there was that. There was also a claim that a few people ad contracted amoebic meningoencephalitis or brain eating amoeba infection. It was probably bullshit but since one: it was hot as hell outside and two: I had an open wound on my foot and don’t have brain to spare for an amoeba’s snack, I stayed out. Sarah soaked her feet in one of the pools while Jeremy and I let our feet breath. After a few minutes Jeremy said “Oh well here’s this guy he’s really…. oh wow.” He lowered his head and scratched his scalp nervously with a pained grin on his face. “Looks like he is headed our way.” he said under his breath. The hotsprings was clothing optional. In these sorts of environments there is always one guy, invariably it is a guy, who has to take it one step to far. I had seen this before at the Solstice Festival in Fremont. An unofficial part of the festivities is a naked bike ride in the morning. People paint their bodies and ride for 30 minutes or so ahead of the actual parade. Outside a coffee shop in the late afternoon, long after the parade has ended and the vendors are closing shop, you will find one creepy dude wandering around outside the cafe you stopped at for lunch with your mother. Unpainted. Bicycless. With his dick out. This exhibitionist wore sandals, a backpack and sunglasses, you know, for sun protection. He flopped along with his bare genitals at our eye level, with his wife, four steps behind, fully clothed. Later in the day, another hiker would tell us that the same couple had been walking around, in the same state of dress, hours before we had arrived. I wondered if this was some sort of marital tradeoff. “Listen, honey. I’ll go to the baby shower, ok. I’ll go. But…. next week we’re going to head back to the hotsprings. We aren’t going to swim ok? Brain parasites. But I am going to hike around for three, ok two? Two seems reasonable, right? Two hours , showing my penis to everyone, and obviously I’m going to need you there…. For emotional support. It’s only fair, quid pro quo. This is healthy.”
“I’m going to hike on” Jeremy said. Putting his shoes back on as two young women, giggling, walked by and accidentally dropped there towels. Another young women, topless, slipped into the pool where Sarah had been soaking her legs. “Are you thru hikers?” She inquired. “Yes” I replied “are you?” “No” she said and then began talking to Jeremy. We put on our shoes, shouldered our packs and began walking. Jeremy’s plans had changed, for some reason he was no longer in such a hurry. Perhaps he thought it rude not to talk for a while. “See you later on down the trail” I said” See you in four days” I thought.
The miles came slow that day. Sarah claimed it was because we were “screwing around” though I had not remembered anything of the sort. We had stopped after seeing a piece of paper under a pct marker advertising trail magic. Soon after we encountered a very entrepreneurial trail angel. She had a blanket spread out to sit on and offered us beer, soda and fresh oranges. She mentioned at least five times how she would never expect money but that other people had “paid it forward” she also suggested that we allow her to take the two of us around the upcoming burned out section to Cajon Pass. Not for money mind you, although, someone had paid before, not that she expected that…but some do….some pay…and it’s really appreciated. I explained to her that it was our intent to walk every step and that we would not skip. I also, catching her not so subtle repeated hints, paid stadium prices for my beer and orange slice. Incidentally, she was a bit of a drug expert and,when I told her about Hardcore, explained all about DMT. It’s effects, what plant it comes from, everything about it really. I would later learn Joe Rohan talks about it a lot on his podcast.
We hiked along the hot, recently destroyed state park. Eventually we were joined by Jeremy, ran across yet another rattlesnake and hiked on to a non campsite at mile 322.5. It was late and we quickly ate and went to bed. My second attempt at patching my airmat yielded the same results as before. The mat quickly deflated leaving me to curl into the fetal position with my clothes bunched under my hip and shoulders. Relief, however temporary, was a mere 20 miles away.