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.