Final PCT Thoughts

I think I may finally be done with the PCT.  Over the past two years I have done roughly 800 miles (from Campo to Independence).  I got off the trail June 1 to spend some time with my family (my wife and I  went to Mexico and New Orleans with my brother and his wife). And, while I definitely miss it, I think it is time to start planning the next adventure (the Great Loop is looking good…).

I learned a lot. Mostly about people. Mostly about what you really need. Everything I “needed” for five weeks I carried on my back and weighed less than 15 pounds (not counting food or water), which is pretty cool! Most people, Americans anyhow, have never been hungry. Most take clean, abundant water for granted. Most people have no clue what they really need. I know. I need about 1L of water for every five miles I walk. I need about 2 lbs of food a day (including at least 2 Twizzlers). I need a warm place to sleep on cold nights. And that’s pretty much it.

And the people. Strangers gave me rides, gave me food, gave me water. Just about everyone I met was nicer than I had any right to expect. The trail angels were crazy nice. Scout and Frodo and the Hiker Heaven folks and Ziggy and The Bear. They open their homes to strangers. Every year. And the other hikers were great. You become part of a rolling community.

Okay – some random memories from the trail this year…

  • Walking down to the North Fork Ranger station saw OB (Orange Blossom) sitting just off the trail.

Me: “Hey, OB, how’s it going.”
OB: “Okay – just stopped to do a little surgery.”
Me: “Blisters?”
OB: “No, I got an abscess on my waist from my pack. So I just lanced it and was draining it.”
Me: “Sounds like fun.”
OB: “Not really, but very satisfying”

  • Overheard at Hiker Heaven…”Yeah, that one 50 mile day really wiped me out… Probably not a good idea.” 50 miles??!!?
  • A  Hiker Heaven helper, Burning Time, explaining why he had done the PCT more than once…”Well, did it the first time and got home and my wife said she was leaving me. Bitch! So I did it again!”
  • I saw the Milky Way one moonless night. I have only seen it a handful of times.
  • Hikers at the Acton KOA explaining their system for eating the microwave meals sold in the the little store there..”You zap the burrito and then the little pizza. Then you roll the burrito in the pizza and eat it like a taco….”
  • Butterfly to me one morning….”wake up bitch!”
  • List of injuries other hikers told me they had:
    • Blisters (of course).
    • Septic blisters (more than one hiker)
    • “Swollen foot”
    • Achilles strain
    • Shin splints
    • Sprained ankle
    • Unexplained, strange, pains in various parts of the feet
    • Swollen knees (I saw several people with knee braces)
    • Stomach issues (maybe Giardia).
    • Cuboid Subluxation
  • And, of course, with our lovely health system, I ran into at least one hiker (from Israel I believe) that should have been at a clinic but was not going because of the money.
  • Bear (of Ziggy and the Bear) to a hiker who asked him if he could go along after overhearing The Bear say he was going to the store: “No.” Hiker: “Why not?” Bear: “I don’t want my car to stink.” Hiker: “Oh… Okay.”
  • Me, to a day hiker near the Devils Punch Bowl when asked where I started: “ The Mexican border.”

Hiker: “No!”
Me:        “Uhmmm…yes.”
Hiker:  “Where do you sleep?”
Me (looking around): “Anyplace flat.”
Hiker:   “No! Where do you go to the bathroom?”
Me:         “Anyplace kinda flat.”
Hiker:    “NO! What about showers?”
Me:          “Showers?”
She just walked away shaking her head which was too bad because she smelled really nice. Much nicer than Butterfly anyhow.

  • 73, to me, when I said I was thinking of taking an extra zero in Big Bear: “I don’t do zero days, I do zero WEEKS!”
  • Clare and Will (England) explaining their discovery of Honey Buns: “They’re like squished doughnuts…. Really wonderful!”
  • A stunned female hiker at the Acton KOA pulling a “white” hiking shirt out of the washer that still had big grey stains on it..”I JUST washed this!!!….it looks the same!”. Me: “Yeah, but I bet it smells a lot better!”
  • Clare (of Clare and Will) on being asked at a restaurant if she wanted Habiscus iced tea or black ice tea…”Uh…uh….uh…..a coke please.”
  • Butterfly to me (on more than one occasion)..”Okay, I’m calling your wife!””.
  • Overheard hiker “I used to do drugs….. I mean, I still do ‘em… But I also used to do them.”
  • Another hiker to me as I walked by at Hiker Heaven (I had a 10 day stubble going at that point) “I didn’t know John Stewart was hiking the PCT!”
My first martini in 5 weeks!

Hiker Heaven (Agua Dulce)

How to describe a place like Hiker Heaven….. Well, first of all it’s someone’s (Donna Saufley) house on a large (probably 2 acre) lot about a mile from “downtown” Agua Dulce. They have 5 dogs, three horses and a bunch of chickens. They also have, at any one time, 20 to 50 hikers.

Hiker Heaven looking toward the house

I counted 35 tents this morning. There is a shower, TV and small kitchen in a trailer next to the house. They have a two night, 3 day maximum stay limit, though this appears to be flexible for people with injuries. Talked to a hiker from Australia who was on her 5th day and another guy on his 7th. 

Hiker Heaven “guard” dogs

They run a shuttle every hour to town and once a day do a run to the closest REI. They also shuttle people to the closest urgent care clinics for injuries. They have two tents set up, one with four computers with internet access and one with sodas and sewing machines for repairs.

Computer tent at HIker Heaven
The sewing tent
And the sewing machines do get used – I saw proof!
A little repair work on a favorite hiking shirt

Everyone gets a short orientation upon arrival. You put your laundry in a mesh bag with a post-it note with your name and your clean laundry comes out an hour or two later. There is only one shower so there is a line but it moves pretty quickly. And this is one of those places just about everyone stops. I’ve met four people here from my April 24 Scout and Frodo class. And I ran into Pensioner, the hiker I shared a pizza with at the KOA, in town.

Pensioner in Agua Dulce
Guitars and beers come out in the evening an the atmosphere has a laid-back summer camp vibe. Very nice. 

Acton to Agua Dulce (PCT 454)

Another short day – 10 miles from the Acton KOA to Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce and the end of my PCT adventure!

Day started early – not a very restful sleep with the train, road and RV-ers.Was hiking  by 5:30. Immediately passed the PCT completion monument (1993).

PCT Completion Monument
Then the climb out of the valley. Came over the mountain in the background yesterday. 

Climb out of Acton

And not all obstacles on the PCT are natural – the tunnel under highway 14 for instance.

Tunnel under highway 14

But the highlight of the day was the walk through the Vasquez Rocks.

Moon over one of the Vasquez Rocks formations
View of the Vasquez Rocks

The last mile or so of the day was on roads leading to Agua Dulce, and
They LOVE us here!

the days reward!

The reason we hike.

Day 33, Acton KOA (PCT Mile 444)

Short day today. Woke up early at the North Fork Ranger Station (and discovered about 10 other hikers camped around me – guess I just know how to pick ’em). Not a bad place to camp – a local trail group had a cooler with snickers and sodas for sale. Nice!

My camp at the North Fork Ranger Station

Hiked the 8 miles or so to the Acton KOA which is about a quarter mile off the trail. Short day but gave me time to take a shower (first in five days) and do laundry. Even thought they have a big welcome sign this place is really not set up for hikers. The little store has no small soaps or shampoo and they have no towels. I have only met one hiker that carried a towel. Still, lots of hot water!

And they say there is a pizza place in Acton that delivers here so dinner may be better than usual. Last nights dinner for instance was 1 Ramen Noodle, 1/4 of a powdered Idaho Potato, and a foil of salmon. Nice but not pizza!

Dinner last night (note the custom spoon)

Met a nice couple from Quebec on the trail today – they were not stopping at the KOA but headed straight to Agua Dulce – the lure of real restaurants was too strong.  At the KOA office I bumped into Kobo, the hiker from Japan that I hitched with way back at mile 151. I was surprised since he was a couple days ahead of me but he said he had to go to LA to get new gear and a new passport – his pack was stolen in San Bernadino (the shuttle around the Lake Fire closure dropped hikers off there for the bus to Big Bear)! Hikers sometimes get too casual with their packs. 

Kobo (with new passport and pack)
And a nice surprise when I came off the trail at the highway – Coppertone! The trail angel that supplied a rootbeer float just past Deep Creek (when I really needed it) was waiting with bananas and a smile. This guy really gets around!

Getting excited about finishing up and getting home to see my wife and friends. Only 10 more miles and I will bein Agua Dulce and the end of my little adventure! Hoping that getting used to indoor plumbing wont be a problem. And today’s scenery shot:

View looking toward the valley and the Acton KOA

More Trail Magic – PCT Mile 436

My tent spot became very popular late in the day yesterday – many miles of ridges and not many places to camp. It was a big flat spot but on the very top of the ridge so very exposed and it was windy and cold!

More hikers join my camp site

Woke up to a cloudy, cold morning – I’m guessing in the high 30’s. Tough getting going when it’s that cold. Hiked all day in the clouds and wind. But got a little trail magic!. Took the Poodle Dog Bush detour which is on a closed park road. A couple of rangers in a pickup came by and asked if I wanted a lift. On a road? You bet! They took me 4 or 5 miles before turning off. Very nice. Road walking is boring (and potentially dangerous).

Waling the detour in the clouds!

Hit two ranger stations today – good places to get water. And they tend to be very tolerant of PCT hikers.

Trail angel sign before a Ranger station

Got to the second ranger station in the early afternoon and it was packed with cold hikers having lunch and getting water. Me, I plan to spend the night here. Picnic tables, pit toilet and water. Heaven!

Cold hikers at a ranger station

And, finally, todays scenery shot. This is from about 6,000 feet looking north.

Today’s scenery shot

From the Trail… PCT Mile 415

Left Wrightwood early Sunday morning. A trail angel (Carol) gave Butterfly and me a ride to the trail (PCT 369).  It is now Tuesday afternoon (day 3 of this section) and I am about halfway to Agua Dulce. Yesterday was my last day with Tim (Butterfly) – he had to get back to work so he left camp early to hitch back to Wrightwood.

Yesterday was eventful – very, very hard day with many thousands of feet vertical. Also passed mile 400!

Selfie at mile 400

Also eventful because I not only lost my backup hiking sandals but my titanium spork! Had to fashion a spoon from a stick to eat dinner. 

My new spoon
It was in the 30’s this morning and cloudy all day so very cold up here in the moutains (at about 6500′ most of the day). Met a south-bound section hiker (GearTek) who offered me some trail magic – bag of chips, starbuck via or some candy. I went for the chips.

GearTek with his bag of goodies

I am curently camped on a ridge at about 6500′. Have a great view but a little concerned about how exposed this site is if the wind kicks up in the night.

View from my tent today

Saw my first Poodle Dog Bush today and since then have seen lots of it. Very nasty bush if you happen to touch it. Sort of like poison oak on steroids. It also has a very strong smell – reminiscent of pot. There is a short detour tomorrow to avoid some of the worst infestation – I will probably take it.

Poodle Dog Bush

Foot Update and Last Wrightwood Post…

Well after 350 odd miles it is time for another blister update. Or not. Anyway, I switched from sandals to Crocs about 50 miles ago. The sandals were okay but I kept having to stop to dump the gravel/rocks. The Crocs have a closed toe so they don’t gather rocks as much. 

Blisters starting to heal up….a bit

My feet feel better now than any time in the last three weeks. I actually came pretty lose to dropping out a week ago because of the blisters. Hiking is not fun when every step hurts. About half the other hikers I talk to have had serous blister issues so it is fairly common.  I met one guy  in Julian (Stefan from Germany) that had a blister that covered the entire front bottom of his foot.  Wish I had taken a picture! I saw his buddy (Roel) yesterday but not Stefan – hope he didn’t drop.
More healing blisters

I have gone through about 6 sheets of moleskin and countless bandaids (usually the first thing I resupply when I hit town). 

And  I had to show what that first shower does to your hotel towel….

What your towel looks like after that first shower!
Butterfly just showed up (Saturday morning). He did not hook up with his host Angel yesterday afternooon and ended up sleeping under an overpass with a couple of female hikers who had the same problem. Night before last he slept in the spare bedroom of one of the largest houses in Wrightwood. Mansion to overpass! Life of a hiker on the cheap!

Butterfly warming up after his night under the overpass.

Next section is 85 miles which is 5-6 days for me. We keep heading west through the Angeles National Forest for 50 miles or so before turning north again. We are basically 60-70 miles east-northeast of Los Angeles.
Next section. in the Angeles Natinal Forest
Met a couple of other hikers at lunch (Orange Blossom and White Sage) and we discussed the Endangered Species detour. They were going to do the Guthook detour but I said I was going to take the detour recommended in the water report (modified Halfmile detour) – it bypasses Mount Baden-Powell but avoids walking for 5 mile or so on the highway, which I hate. It is a 20 mile detour but I think adds no more than 1 or 2 miles.

Hanging in Wrightwood

Have some extra time (my flight from LAX is not until June 1) so I am taking a double-zero in Wrightwood because it is such a nice little town. Very hiker-friendly. $1 off lattes at The Village Grind and a free hot dog at the Wrightwood Market for hikers! I LOVE free stuff. Not as good as Julian but… still pretty good.

My home in Wrightwood
Enjoying my free hotdog!

Pretty much everything in town is located within a block of the main street (my hotel is one block away) which makes it a great hiker town since none of us have cars. The hardware store stocks some hiker supplies and has a list of local angels that will host hikers (for those that can’t afford or get hotel rooms) or give rides. I plan on calling a few today to see if I can schedule a ride tomorrow morning to head back out – easier than hitching! A lot of places have special hiker deals or rates.

Main street in Wrightwood

There are several hiker hangouts in town but a big one is right in front of the town grocery store…

Big hiker hangout in Wrightwood – in front of the grocery store.

Did my re-supply (six days food, new bandaids and moleskin), laundry and planning yesterday so today is pure leisure. Might check out the library.  Spent yesterday afternoon with Butterfly at the Yodeller (bar/burger place – another big hiker hangout) sampling the local brews. Maybe “sampling” is the wrong word. 

Heard from my Canadian friends (Tin Man and Kathryn). They went back to Canada to heal up (she had a “cuboid subluxation” – dislocated foot bone) but plan on coming back in a few weeks. My very unscientific sampling says about 1/3 of the people that started in Campo have either dropped out or are on long layovers. 

And it is COLD here in the mountains of Southern California!

Chilly this morning in Wrightwood!

Cajon Pass to Wrightwood

Stopped at the McDonalds for breakfast Wednesday morning before heading out of Cajon Pass and the big climb up to Wrightwood.

Fellow hikers hanging at the Cajon Pass McDonalds
Short (2 day, 30 mile) section but climbing almost the whole way, 3,000′ to 8,400′, before dropping down to Wrightwood at 6,000′.  Took the Acorn Trail from the PCT to walk into town. Always more fun to walk into a down than having to hitch. Met Butterfly about 5 miles out of Cajon Pass and ended up hiking with him all the way to Wrightwood. Another old guy, he lives in California and is section hiking part of the PCT.
Butterfly (aka “Tim”) on the trail to Wrightwood

Did 15.5 miles the first day before camping at a popular stopping spot (shade/flat). Lots of hikers stopped for a quick nap before heading down the trail. This is a common approach – hike until lunch or it gets hot, stop for a nap, and then hiking after it begins to cool down a bit.

Afternoon naps on the PCT

Ran into a couple of hikers about 10 miles from Cajon Pass. Young guys from Washington who had just started in Cajon Pass and were on their second day (only 10 miles?). They had 3 weeks of food but were down to only 1/2L of water?!? On one of the longest dry sections so far? I left with 6L of water and had only a couple swallows left when I got to Wrightwood. Talked to a couple other hikers later that said they gave them a little water and advised them to turn around. Crazy. Most of the clueless people have dropped out by now but you still run into a few. 

Looking down on the road to Wrightwood (the way normal people get there!)

Also met a nice young fellow from Germany, Robert (no trail name yet). [ By the way my trail name is Jesus (pronounced like in spanish, “heyzoos”) which I got over a week ago (walking in sandals – get it?) and have finally accepted. I get a lot of jokes about turning water in wine (or preferably beer) and walking across rivers without using rocks or logs.] Robert seemed a little depressed – having lots of foot problems – I sympathized! Foot problems can take all the fun out of hiking. Since I switched to the Crocs my feet are feeling better than in a many weks.

Camp site on the trail to Wrightwood

Hanging at the Cajon McDonalds…. PCT Thoughts

Taking a (sort of unplanned) zero in Cajon Pass. The Best Western is okay but there is basically nothing else here. A McDonalds, a couple of gas stations (with associated convienence stores), a Subway and a Taco Bell. The McDonalds is the nicest place to hang out in “town”. Plus it’s fun to watch the hikers straggle in. Most hang around for a few hours, charge their phones, eat a burger, get water and head back out. Us leisure hikers take advantage of all amenities.

So, after 24 days and 340 odd miles here are my thoughts so far…

What I like about the PCT:

  • Every day I am somewhere I have never been before. Every morning I am excited about where the trail will take me. It’s fun. I know I will see something new and be somewhere I have never been before. 
  • The views are stunning. And there are lots of them. It is unusual to go more than a few hours without a view. Pictures (especially phone picures) do not do them justice.
  • The other hikers. They are great. I have learned a lot from them. Tin Man, Kathryn, Tweaky, Nuke Boy, Garfield, 73, Rose and all the rest. 
  • Trail angels. Met CopperTone two days ago – with a smile and root beer float!  Ziggy and the Bear – in their 80’s and hosting hikers for 20 years. Scout and Frodo – crazy nice people. (Editorial – how come all the people I meet that are actually living the “Christian” ethic – giving of themselves, helping others, are all Democrats?)
  • Simplicity. Everything you own, everything you need, you are carrying. And it all weighs less than 30 lbs. Sometimes less than 25 lbs. Sometimes, rarely, less than 20 lbs. All the clothes I have needed for the past three weeks fit in a bag the size of a soccer ball.
  • Hiker towns. Julian, Idllewild, Big Bear Lake. These are great little towns full of friendly people and, usually, pretty good restaurants. And beer.
  • Hitching – it confirms my belief that people are basically good.

What I don’t like about the PCT:

  • Being away from family for weeks. Months. It’s hard. 
  • Being away from friends. 
  • Being away from my dog.
  • Foot pain. Blisters. BLISTERS!!! FUCKING BLISTERS! 
  • The tyranny of the miles. This is tough to explain. But you HAVE to do miles. If you see a pretty camp site 5 miles into your day, you can’t just stop and camp. You have so much food (and usually water) so you have to keep moving. You have to hike.Sometimes it just feels like a job. And I’m retired!
  • Water. Worrying about water. For the first 700 miles or so it is relentless. You go through sections (last 70 miles for instance) where it is not a problem. But then you hit a 25 or 30 mile stretch with no water. 6L of water turns your light 24lb pack into a 36 lb monster.  
  • The trail….sometimes. You gotta wonder. Coming down from San Jacinto, you could see I-10 about 3 miles away. But the trail wandered, seemingly aimlessly, seemingly just to add miles (the trail goes to Canada boys, I don’t think you need to add miles!), turning a 5 mile hike into an interminable 15 mile descent. I know I’m probably missing something but it makes me much more sympathetic with hikers who bushwhack to avoid extra trail miles. 
  • The food. Freeze-dried stuff and junk food. But you have to eat – walking for 8 hours a day burns up serious calories.


  • When hitching, you have a much better chance getting a ride from someone driving a klunker that someone in a Lexus SUV. I think this is because poor people can empathise with hitchhikers. I don’t think the Lexus drivers even see us. Put another way you have MUCH better chance getting picked up by someone with an Obama sticker than a Trump sticker.
  • The old adage about it never rainning in southern California is basically true. In 24 days the most I have seen is a light drizzle a few times. Course one of those was accompanied by 50 mph winds so not very nice.
  • And speaking of wind, it is WINDY in southern California.  There is a reason there are a ton of wind generators here.
  • Riding in a car after walking for a couple of weeks is scary. I had my foot on the imaginary passenger brake the whole 12 miles of my last hitch.

And….More  shots from the trail…

One of the many snakes I have seen. Still no rattlers though!
Pretty flowers!
And MORE pretty flowers!
300 miles! (40 miles ago)
Looking down to Cajon Pass. Climb out tomorrow over the mountains in the background.