Off-trail PCT CA Section D

Days 68-70: 3 Days of Sitting

Day 68:Inglewood

I woke with the surprisingly early sunrise and the birds, like 5:30am, and I was on the trail before 7. It wasn’t too long before I saw the day hikers coming up. I took it as a good sign that I would have no trouble getting a ride. I consistently passed them every five minutes or so on the descent, but never said much more than a simple greeting to any of them.

I was out of water once breakfast was made, so I stopped at Lamel Spring, down a short side trail, on the way. I didn’t know where I would be or how much waiting I would have to do in the sun, so I wanted to make sure I had a little extra water on me, even if I ended up throwing most of it out.

The spring didn’t attract many tourists, but I didn’t exactly have it to myself. All the local wildlife was aware of it. It was a full-on bird party I was watching. So much water flying around as they bathed in the run-off.

That done, it was only a few more quick switchbacks to the bottom. And with that, I was completely finished with my second state of the PCT. I wished I could keep hiking south and see all the cool stuff in that section again. I could be in Wrightwood by nightfall, resupply, pass the Cajon Pass McDonald’s on the way to Lake Arrowhead, which was probably actually open this time. Another day to the Dry Creek hot springs for a nice soak. Then up to Big Bear Lake for all the cool restaurants… but there wasn’t any time. I had a flight to catch.

I wanted to stop in at the privies at the trailhead, but even I have standards. They were absolutely filled with flies and the floors were sticky from who knew what. I figured I could hold it. But nonetheless, there were people who were actually using them. I talked to one guy who was waiting on two girls to be ready who had, like me, turned them down. I told him about the little piece of PCT I had just finished and he seemed so interested that he was trying to relay it to the two girls as they started their own climb to the summit.

Another guy pulled in to the parking lot apparently only to use the privy. He seemed about to leave again, so I accosted him about a ride. Frank said he was only going five miles to Dawson Saddle, but that was five miles closer to where I was going, so I thought I might have better chances there. I took the chance.

When we got out at the Throop Peak Trailhead, there were a bunch of other people getting ready to go up as well, including a group of four older guys who had come in together. I went across the street to stick out a thumb. A few cars came by, but I wasn’t having much luck. I had to stand in the sun to see the road, but I tried to leave my pack in the shade. I started to feel hungry, so I went to grab my bags of snacks, a few remaining bars and a whole bunch of candy.

As soon as I started getting out a bar, those four guys came back down the trail, so I dropped my food and crossed the street to chat them up. The narrowness and exposure of the trail had scared them off of summiting and they were thinking of heading to Waterman Mountain instead, starting from the trailhead near Buckhorn Campground. That was another 12 or so miles in the direction I wanted to go! It took some convincing, but the driver guy who was acting as their leader was the only one who really needed convincing, as the rest seemed down to go along with whatever he said.

As soon as they agreed, I went back to get my pack, but totally forgot about the bags of bars and candy I’d carried away from it. I left them there on the roadside for the animals or whoever. There weren’t enough bars to miss, but I could have taken all those Hi-Chew I hadn’t finished with me.

So I squeezed in the middle of the back seat, and scooted way forward so as not to trip the sensor that made the seat belt warning sound. While we went, the driver quizzed me on all kinds of places I had hiked, what the mountains were like in Georgia, where and when to do hikes on the AT. Finally, they dropped me at the next trailhead, and I went up the hill to just before a pullout. After a while with no luck, I saw a bunch of returning day hikers headed for the trailhead parking lot. So I decided to go ask them. They didn’t seem particularly keen on it, so rather than press the issue, I just headed for the much cleaner privy there I’d been holding out for.

On the way out, I asked another guy who appeared to be finishing up a short nap on a picnic table bench, but he wasn’t going anywhere soon. So I returned to my post on the roadside, and this time I didn’t have to wait long at all.

And as if to pointedly undermine my observation that fancy cars don’t pick up hitchhikers (continuing the assault on my statistics begun by Oleg’s Tesla Roadster), it was a Toyota Mirai that stopped for me. And it was every bit as futuristic as the name implies.

The driver was a Vietnamese guy named Vincent who was visiting LA for a week and borrowed the car from a friend. And I don’t mean just racially Vietnamese–he actually is from Vietnam. He was studying philosophy at Boston College (at the behest of his boss–he has some religious job) and would be returning to Vietnam once he had the degree.

Anyway, more importantly, he was going all the way back to the valley. (He had wanted to go further afield, but the range of the Mirai is only a couple hundred miles on a full 70psi tank, and there aren’t many hydrogen filling stations outside the valley.) The last part of the trip we did pretty much in silence, but when he dropped me off in Flintridge-Cañada, he said it was nice to have a companion. It was an interesting contrast to being pestered with questions by the driver of the previous ride. And that was the first and probably last time I rode in a hydrogen fuel cell hybrid vehicle.

Having been without food for a couple of hours and all day without anything substantial, my first goal was lunch. I walked over the highway to a little shopping center with all the franchises you find in every city and dropped into the Panera. There was outdoor seating and tablets to order from, so I didn’t really have to bother anyone inside with my odor. I probably looked atrocious too with the sunburn on my face starting to peel. I did start with a thorough handwashing before my order came up. It was nice to have a soup and salad, some fresh familiar flavors, vegetables and bread. And one of the new tea/lemonade flavors they’ve added too. And a cookie. And when I had filled my empty stomach, I called a Lyft to my hotel airport.

It was actually more expensive than the one from Burbank to the mountains, but it also seemed like it was longer even though it was just to the other side of town. And we were using the carpool lanes, so it wasn’t just LA traffic. Anyway, I checked in to the hotel, and after a high priority shower, carried my dirty hiking garb down to the credit card controlled guest laundromat. How convenient. The hotel also gave me a razor, so a couple of hours later, I was basically presentable.

While waiting on the clothes, I put the Beachbody TV channel on, which was airing a pair of infomercials on repeat. With that as background noise, I sat at the desk and worked intently on catching up on this blog, as I was several days of writing behind. After several passes, I started being able to criticize the infomercials on their qualities as sales pitches, but also I was so familiar with how they proceeded from moment to moment (a threepeat of one followed by a threepeat of the other in an infinite loop) that I was able to completely tune them out while still using their cadence as motivation.

By the time I was all put together, it was after dark and time for supper. I decided to walk a few blocks to Denny’s. After such a hot day, I was expecting a warm night, so I went without a coat. But it was cold, cloudy, and windy. I was chilly the whole way, especially on the one east-west alley I cut through.

I got myself a steak and also ordered a nice breakfast to go. I walked back the same way and put that meal in the fridge and went to bed. I didn’t go to sleep right away because I kept thinking of things I needed to look up. But I was checked in for my flight and knew what I needed to do to get where I was going the next day, so I really was just getting distracted by the internet for nothing. So little hiking and so much food had filled me with energy, so I couldn’t get to sleep until late.

Trail miles: 2.9

Day 69: Santa Fe

I got up at 5:10 after hitting the snooze button once. I got myself another quick shower and ate the nice eggs and sausage and toast I had brought back from Denny’s. I was ready to go by and checked out at 6:15, but I had to wait for the next terminal shuttle at 6:30. LAX is not nearly as annoying an airport as SLC, so checking my bag and getting through security to my gate well before boarding time at 7:30 was a breeze.

It was a smaller plane, and I was surrounded by (and seated beside one of) a bunch of young white women who did not look at all related, but in another way, all looked exactly the same. Like they were the same type in the sense that reddit would assign them a name. I wouldn’t say they were Stacies. Let’s say they were all… Jenna? Anyway, it was a quick and quiet flight to the much more peaceful Sunport of Albuquerque. One drink service, no need even for a nap.

Inside ABQ, I was surprised to see a little jam band set up and playing on the terrace above baggage claim. That had never been happening on any previous visit, and it seemed early for such a performance. But they were pretty good.

Once I had my bag, I called up the shuttle company that was about to leave for Santa Fe and bought a reservation for the next shuttle. I closed the deal and seconds later showed up on the driver’s list. Within five minutes, we were on the road. I rode with him all the way to his last stop, at the shuttle company’s main office. It was maybe ten or fifteen blocks up the road from the hotel I had reserved.

But I wanted to make a few stops on the way. First priority was lunch. I stopped in at Dr. Field Goods Kitchen, a small but incredible diner that did handmade pizza and sandwiches with meats they sourced themselves and sold in a butcher shop just a few doors down at the other end of the strip. I had a New Mexican style pork sandwich.sorry I didn’t take a picture for you.

I also stopped in at the Big 5 Sporting Goods in the same shopping center looking for a small can of propane, but they only had the big ones. Those hold enough fuel to last me a month or more on the trail, but I only needed five days’ worth. I couldn’t justify the cost, weight, or inconvenience.

So I walked down the road, past the Walmart, past the Courtyard at stayed in last time we were here, all the way to the Ramada. It was a pretty decent hotel given its outward appearance. I checked in, mostly emptied my pack onto the bed, and immediately left with my mostly empty pack to get my shopping done for the trail.

Walmart wouldn’t let me bring my backpack inside. The greeter made me take it off and leave it at the door. Company policy. Luckily, he had it somewhere he could see it, so I didn’t think anyone would be taking any of what I had neglected to remove (most expensively, my Garmin). I got myself five days of food for the trail and what seem when I was packing it up like way too many snacks. I also grabbed some Hot Pockets, muffins, Gatorade, and soda, so I could just eat dinner in my room.

And then, just to be petty about having to leave my pack when it could just as easily have been riding around in my cart with me, I stood in the entrance breezeway thing to unbox all the food that needed to be unboxed to fit in my pack. And then I left my cart right there in the entrance (although that was more of a good deed, since I had had to walk back out into the parking lot to find a cart on my way in–the store didn’t bring them back in very often).

And that’s how I ended my evening. It wasn’t even particularly late. I just spent the rest of the night repacking for the trail, working on this blog, and eating Hot Pockets in my room. Wow, I’m so exciting. But I feel like the title of this post was sufficient warning of the tense thrills you were in for.

Day 70: Chama

There were two main tasks I had to get done this day: get some stove fuel and get to Chama. The bus to Chama didn’t leave until after 6pm, so I basically had all day to do the former. In other words, I didn’t rush out to get to REI the moment it opened at 10. I took a slow morning. I took advantage of the nice free hotel breakfast and then supplemented it with root beer, an attempt to finish my old jar of Biscoff Cookie Butter (which had leaked all over my bear can during the last flight and had already been replaced by a jar of Walmart brand cookie butter, which is less runny and travels better), and coffee made in the room.

I checked out around maybe quarter to 11 and went out to the bus stop to catch the 2 bus headed uptown. It rolled up a few minutes later, I got on, paid my dollar for a single fare, and rode half an hour to the Railyard District where the REI lives.

I went in and grabbed some socks, then started trying on shoes. The shoes I was wearing, that had been plaguing my feet for weeks, just wouldn’t cut it in the rain. They didn’t have the shoe I started this trip in in my size, but the shoe guy eventually remembered a singleton pair someone had ordered online and returned that just happened to be exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. And because it was a return of a model not sold in stores, it was 15% off. And I got an extra 5% by complaining about the shoes I had been wearing (that despite only being a month old were too damaged to return for a refund).

The last time I came to this REI location, I stopped in for lunch at the Second Street Brewery for lunch, and that worked out so well that I did it again, although this time I had some traditional New Mexican food instead of a burger.

While I ate, I watched the swimming national championships on the TV. The first race to air was the women’s 800m. You won’t be a bit surprised to hear that Katie Ledecky won. You probably wouldn’t even be surprised to hear she bet the second place contender by 19 seconds. Imagine showing up to a competition knowing that you have no chance at gold unless one specific person comes down with a horrible illness that day. Does it feel good to get silver in such a world?

The other TV, strangely enough, was showing The Breakfast Club. The last time I sat at a bar with TVs above it (in Butte, when I got a small amount of fries for dinner), one of them was showing exactly the same film. Is there just nothing interesting on TV these days?

When I got bored with sitting at that bar and felt like moving on, I walked over to the bus station at the Capitol. I was some four hours early for my bus, but I had nothing better to do. I sat in the bus stop for an hour. I saw dark clouds on the horizon, heard some thunder. Nothing happened. The wrong bus came by a few times. Some people came and got on those. I sat for an hour. I went inside the public building (some government thing, part of the Capitol complex) to use the bathroom. I came back. I sent another text to the automated system I had used to check the arrival time earlier, but nothing came back immediately.

Then, a blue bus with no lights on indicating its route came up. I stepped out to the curb to stop it, but it just blew right by without stopping for me and kept going. Out of service? Another bus came a few minutes later, also with no lights. Apparently they were just not working right on multiple busses. Anyway, that was the wrong bus but he said there was some kind of fair downtown holding up busses. So maybe it was just late.

But the website had a tracker that showed it getting farther away. And that it had already finished my stop. And the automated text had finally come in some fifteen minutes late saying the stop was done. And now the tracker showed the bus leaving town. Only possible conclusion: the bus that had blown past me a few minutes before the scheduled time had been my bus. So now I needed to find another way to the Española Transit Center in the next forty minutes.

Go go gadget rideshare! I paid the extra fee for a faster pickup and got a nearby Lyft redirected to me. The lady picked me up roadside five minutes later. She had been living and driving the area for years and assured me we’d make it in time. She was not afraid to speed and knew the spots where the reservation cops like to set speed traps. “Never been pulled over” she said at least three times.

She also said she never picked up hitchhikers and nearly didn’t pick me up, so I don’t know where she earns the karma to never get caught speeding.

On the other hand, she was definitely in my side regarding the “damned bus drivers.” The bus was arriving at the transit center while we were just halfway down the highway, yet she still managed to get me there some five minutes before my connecting bus arrived (even though I had input the wrong destination on the app and had to redirect her on the fly). I had called the bus operator to get them to pass on a complaint about the driver of the bus that had left me and to try to get them to hold the bus, but they said they couldn’t wait more than three minutes. I didn’t end up needing the three minutes.

It was very assuredly raining by this time. The earlier clouds had threatened and left, but now they were across the sky and drizzly. Luckily, I was in a bus and out of the rain for the next 50 minutes.

I rode all the way to the last stop in Chama and was the last on the bus. Since it was the end of the line for the bus driver, he just went on to drop me off right at the lobby of my motel.

I checked in, got my key, and dropped my bag in my room, then went right back to the office to inquire about getting to Cumbres Pass in the morning. The girl at the counter didn’t know, but the main man of the operation, Julio, who owned and managed the place with his wife Sandra, walked in and offered to drive me up there at 8am. I have nothing but kind things to say about the Chama River Bend Lodge.

From there, I walked ten minutes down the highway to Lowes, the local supermarket. I didn’t need to do any shopping for the trail. This trip was entirely to acquire microwaveable food and drinks for dinner and breakfast. I got two dinner bowls, blue corn chips and salsa, a Dr. Pepper, a Gatorade, and a box of four mini egg bite omelet things.

On the way back, the rain had kicked in pretty good, but it kind of felt nice. And given that the weather report showed rain almost everyday for the next week, it didn’t hurt to get used to walking in it. Back in the room, I finished off the chips before the first microwave dinner had even finished cooling.

I worked on getting the last few posts you read uploaded over and after dinner. It was a bit of a chore because the motel wifi had good download speeds and totally unusable upload speeds. Meanwhile, the cell service in town had horrible download and usable upload. However, the cell service was too weak in the room to be usable. So I ended up out on a covered platform on a child’s play structure with a leaky tin roof switching back and forth between wifi and cell service as needed until everything was ready to go.

Finally, I could head back in out of the rain, shut off the lights and go to bed, satisfied I would finally be moving again in the morning.

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