Off-trail PCT CA Section A

Dec. 9-12: Southern Terminus/Return to Big Bear Lake

Dec. 9:

It was an interesting little section of trail down across and along the road into Campo as I could see the border wall for the first time. I kept imagining what it would be like to be a northbounder starting out here seeing all this in the other direction. It was only 4 miles to Campo, but I didn’t get out of camp as quickly as I wanted to.

I had planned to meet Mama at the Campo Green Store at 9:30, but I didn’t actually roll up until just before 10. She had brought a lot of different food and beer and the lack, and I ate a pancake right then and there. I also bought a root beer in the store and drank it. Why not?

I pulled out my day pack and packed it for the the two miles to the border and then sunscreened up. It was a hot morning and the wind wasn’t as bad as it had been. Mama did a lot of getting ready too, redressing for the trail conditions. It was probably 10:30 before we finally started walking.

The trail continued up the road, occasionally wandering a few feet away for a moment, then coming back to cross it. We passed a small hiker campground just a mile from the border, presumably for hikers who start their northbound hike really late in the evening for whatever reason. The trail crossed and tracked some dirt roads at this point, and we were constantly passed by trucks spraying water to keep down the dust. Other construction vehicles were constantly running up to the wall as it was under repair and improvement.

We reached the monument by 11:30, and I immediately signed the register. Then, I climbed all over the monument while pictures and videos were taken, frequently interrupted by the sounds of earthmoving machines next to the wall. We ate a lime, I drank a beer, and then our ride back to the store arrived to pick us up at noon.

It was one of the store operators, and she drove down to bring us back in her SUV, telling about the wall on the way. Turns out it predates the Trump Administration, and it had greatly improved the crime situation in the city since it was erected. Border jumpers used to knock on her house at night as the crossed right through her yard. Even with the CBP office right there in town, only the wall had put a stop to it all.

My opinion of it as a nonresident of Campo was that it didn’t look very good in photos. It kind of ruined the landscape, where hills had been arbitrarily cut away to make room for it. I don’t particularly begrudge it, but I sure wish there was a more attractive way to keep them safe.

Anyway, at my request, we drove back to the Oak Shores Malt Shop for lunch. I got to try one of their burgers this time. It was quite good, but I didn’t rate it above the Paradise Valley BMW burger. I also had another fancy small batch root beer.

Next was a four-hour drive to Joshua Tree National Park. It wasn’t on the trail, so I hadn’t seen it. We got into the park just after sunset, and didn’t even see any Joshua trees until well after dark by the light of our headlights. But we did get to see a fox on the side of the road. And we stopped to see a bunch of scary-looking cacti.

Just north of the park exit was 29 Palms, where we stopped at a grocery store to buy things to eat for the rest of the week. I made all the decisions here about what I wanted to cook, and it ended up as quite a lot of food in a very eclectic assortment.

Another two hour drive into the mountains followed. We came into Big Bear Lake along the same route I had walked in, and I pointed out many of the places I had visited on my long walk. On the other side of town, we found our cabin and unpacked. Dinner was instant mashed potatoes and gravy and pre-prepared fried chicken. And Julian’s famous apple pie for dessert. Thank goodness it was quick to prepare, as it was very late.

A monster furnace in the floor kept us warm, although we still built a fire in the fireplace. We had free access to Disney+ on the TV. I got a shower and a change of clothes (including underwear for the first time in months!) and didn’t get to bed in the little attic until after midnight. It wasn’t the most comfortable bed in the world, but it was quite cozy. I got a full night’s sleep.

Total distance: 6 miles

Dec. 10:

After a nice early morning fixing a breakfast filled with buttery toast, scrambled eggs, blueberry pancakes, and coffee, I happily wasted the morning doing nothing of consequence. Around midday, we went out for a drive through town to see what was happening. We continued around the lake, and then tried to take Delamar Mountain Road up to where it met the PCT. Stymied by ice on a steep hill, we had to turn around a beat a retreat just before the trail. We finished looping the lake, stopped in at the ski resort to see how popular it was, then returned to the cabin for a late lunch followed by sunset hot tubbing.

Dinner was steak, beans, and stuffing. I mixed my stuffing with leftover mashed potatoes. More beer and root beer was consumed. And of course more pie. We watched A Goofy Movie and Newsies at my request. We skipped the fire this time to save the rest of the wood for our last night. Went to bed well after midnight. My body was already adjusting to later nights, and…

Dec. 11:

…later mornings. I had zero interest to go anywhere at all this day. Cooking and grazing in a cozy cabin still felt like a treat compared to the constant motion of the trail. While Mama went to explore the town on her own, I spent a couple of hours just watching the first few episodes of Disney’s Gargoyles. (In case you don’t remember it, it was that high-budget action-adventure animated serial with more guns and gunfights than appeared in any other animation with Disney’s name on it.)

After lunch, we gathered some kindling for the night’s fire. I checked out the other houses below us near the lake. I got my things packed to go in advance of the next day’s departure. I skipped sunset this night for a shower, then went in for a several hour late night soak in the hot tub while writing more blog posts.

Dinner was late again and entirely leftovers, except for the canned beans and beets. (Speaking of cans, this cabin had every kitchen utensil you could want except a can opener. I severely dulled my knife blade just opening cans.) Also, we finished the pie!

I lit up the fire into a roaring blaze and kept it going while we watched Safety, the new Clemson University propaganda film about Ray McElrathbey. Then a preliminary bit of cleaning before getting to bed just after midnight. It couldn’t be too late because we needed to be…

Dec. 12

…up early in the morning. Relatively early anyway. There was still a minor amount of cleaning and packing to be done, especially regarding the leftover food items. We’d done a pretty good job eating through most of it, packed out some, and gave the rest away to the neighbors. Finally, around 10am or so, we got on the road.

It was a two-hour trip, descending most of the time. We went down the mountain on the opposite side we came up from, and the views were spectacular with the clouds wafting across the hills below us, though they never remained visible long enough to get a good picture. Once we were down from the mountain, we stopped going west, and instead went south to meet the I-8 freeway east to Desert Springs.

We passed right by the casino I took so many photos of as I climbed San Jacinto, and I noted the underpass the PCT went through when we went over it. I could see many of the places I had gone that day from the road. After a brief detour to fill up the gas tank, we were dropping off the car at the airport and heading inside to check my backpack. We had done such a good job getting to the airport, the baggage check desk wasn’t even open yet. Once it was, we went painlessly through security, then explored the tiny little Desert Springs Airport for a few minutes before going to chill at our gate.

The flight for the first leg wasn’t crowded despite being a small jet. I got a blog post written on the way. During a three-hour layover at Sea-Tac, we sampled every food offering in the Delta lounge. I learned that Delta has their own branded IPA served only (and freely) in their lounges, though I have no idea who brews it.

The second flight was a good bit longer, of course, as it had to cross the entire country. Mama had a first class upgrade, and I had a comfort+ row to myself. I got several more blog posts written over the course of the flight.

We didn’t land at ATL until 11pm, and we caught a Lyft back home. It was the first time I had seen my home turf in six months. Not too much had changed overall. Many things had changed in my hometown. Most hadn’t. Our driver was a newbie to Atlanta. He had a lot of interesting thoughts along the way. I followed him on Insta.

My dad did not hear the doorbell when we arrived, so I fetched a spare key. He didn’t hear us come in or call to him. As such, I scared him half out of his socks just by walking into the kitchen to offer to take out the trash for him. I’m lucky he wasn’t holding a knife he was so startled.

Anyway, I was home. I am home. I’m done hiking for a while. Since June I lost a solid 80 pounds walking some 2400 trail miles and many more besides. I haven’t bothered to add it up exactly because all that matters now is the sections I had to skip.

And I will go back to finish up. There’s nothing like home for the holidays, but once the trail becomes passable again, I’m going to be out there again. I can have it all wrapped up in just a few short weeks. And when I do, you’ll read about it here. Arigatougozaimashita for reading this far, omedetou for getting caught up, jaa matane, oyasuminasai.

Off-trail PCT CA Section C

Nov. 22: A Late Exit

Despite my late night, I still managed to at least get up at an early enough hour that I thought I could get to the trail by noon. I cut the oversize plastic covers off the aglets of my new laces, installed them on my boots, tied the excess lace around my ankles, and went out for some breakfast.

Off-trail PCT CA Section C

Nov. 21: Big Bear Lake

For various reasons, it was around 10am by the time I started hiking. The trail was just a slow climb up the side of Delamar Mountain. I stopped for a snack at Delamar Mountain Rd, where a truck was parked and people were coming by looking for the trail.

Off-trail PCT CA Section D

Nov. 9 & 10: Burbank /Vasquez Rocks

Nov. 9

So after a single deep sleep cycle, my phone alarm went off so I could get all of the following done before 2:50am when my taxi arrived:

Off-trail PCT OR Section A

Nov. 8: Rescued from the Privy (Medford)

I’m going to go out of my way to ensure this post does not see distribution on my mom’s Facebook feed by starting it off with a frank discussion of poop.

Off-trail PCT OR Section F

Oct. 19-20: Getting Ahead

So, I took a zero in Bend. Bend is a great place, but it is certainly not on trail, which means it’s time for another AmAzInG DoUbLe DaY PoSt!!!!…

Oct. 19

Honestly, my zero wasn’t very fun. I spent the vast majority of it in a coin laundromat a 20 minute walk from my motel. That is, I got one load going and ran it all the way through until done. Solid two hours. Then I changed into the clean clothes and washed the ones I was wearing, then went out for a meal of fast tacos and a trip to the grocery to pick up some limes. Then, back at my room, I realized I had forgotten to wash a critical item and walked all the way back out to wash a third load. Finally, it was so late that I had to skip drying it and go.

Why? Because I needed to get to REI, a 30 minute walk in the other direction, with enough time to try on clothes and so forth. I bought some waterproof gaiters, snow pants, a snow jacket, new trekking poles. I had meant to exchange some busted items, but I had been in such a hurry I’d forgotten to grab them. I don’t think I remembered to check whether they had canister fuel, though I expect the shortage was affecting them as well. I would end up starting the next section with only the fuel I had on hand.

Finally, after a day that was nothing but work, I set out carrying my busted, overflowing REI bag to do one fun thing in Bend. (The only bags they had were busted by default.)

I let Google route me to Crux Fermentation Project, the brewery halfway between REI and my motel that looked like it had some good stuff online. But I didn’t trust Google enough once the brewery came into site and tried to take a shortcut. I circled around a jumbled pile of stuff in the middle of a field with the sound of a generator running inside and realized I had stumbled on a homeless camp. On the other side was an impassable drop onto a railroad track. I worked my way back to the Google approved route.

Anyway, it was a nice restaurant and brewery with multiple places to order and a big field and tent beside it with a giant fire and a lot of chill people enjoying their evenings. It was the most normal social event I had seen in a town in a long time. Aside from the masks and distance between groups, of course.

I ate a bowl of something vaguely mex inspired and drank two of their favorite beers, which brought me right to closing time, then started back to the motel, which surprised me by how close it was.

Apples grown and packed in Chelan!

Oct. 20

I got up quite early and repacked my pack to incorporate the new items to get out of my room by 8:20. I turned in my key and set out down the road to my first destination…

Then I realized I didn’t have my phone and ran back to the motel to get the key back. The manager laughed heartily at my forgetfulness. But by 8:30 I was on my way again. Luckily, everything I needed was only a couple of minutes away.

My first stop was the UPS Store, where I sent home the clothes my recent purchases had obsoleted. Right across the street was Bend’s only (yet controversial) transit center. I was to meet a shuttle here that would leave me at Santiam Pass. To confirm this, I asked a stranger. “Unfortunately, yes,” he quipped, in a way that a native might have understood. He then wanted to continue talking about being careful of all the dangerous animals. Frankly, he creeped me out, so I went to sit far from him.

I didn’t have to wait long. The shuttle showed up on time and the driver was super nice and chill. An hour later, I was at the PCT Trailhead, right at the southern end of the closed section I had had to skip.

The terrain I faced once I crossed the highway was some of the dullest I had seen to date. I can’t even describe how uninteresting it was. It was flat and relatively easy to move through, but there was also someone not far away using machinery that sounded like an industrial strength vacuum. I stopped at a pond to get some water because I had forgotten to get enough from my motel room, and then bypassed the side trip to Big Lake Youth Camp, though I could see Big Lake just fine from the trail.

The trail followed the edge of a lava field and I stopped early at the foot of it in a sandy, flat area that was the last marked campsite in Guthook for ten miles.

I set up camp close to the edge of the lava and climbed inside my tent to do some maintenance. Soon, I heard some activity outside.

Owl and Phoenix had arrived following two consecutive zeroes in Bend. And they had friends with them: Firefly and her partner who was entirely new to long distance hiking but would receive the trail name Grommet that very night. Not after the claymation dog character but for the way he liked to manufacture useful gear for the trail and incorporate grommets into them.

Owl and I rearranged an area next to the lava so we could have a campfire to celebrate the beginning of Grommet’s adventure. We all sat near the fire cooking and eating our own suppers until the sun was gone and a thick fog was rolling in. At that point, we all started getting the urge to turn in led by Phoenix. I was second to hit the sack, hoping to get an early start the next morning.

Total distance: 12 miles

That’s not something on the camera blurring the view
That’s just how foggy it was

Off-trail PCT WA Section H

Oct. 9-11: Weekend at Curry’s

Once again, I will be covering multiple days in a single post in lighter detail because this is a trail blog, which means off-trail is off-topic.

Off-trail PCT WA Section I

A brief summary of the family tour of Washington

This one will cover an entire week’s worth of time! But since it didn’t happen while hiking, the subject of this blog, the detail will be minimal. Lots of pictures though.

However, I did promise a while back to talk about what I want to eat when I return to civilization, and since this post documents a brief respite in civilization, this would be a good place to do that.

If you’ve paid attention to my meal photos from town days, you may have some guesses. But the basic idea is that I want hot things, I want fresh things, and I want root beer. And occasionally some just plain beer.

Common targets for consumption include:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Salad
  • Root beer
  • Steak
  • Burrito
  • Root beer
  • Pizza
  • Junky snacks
  • Root beer
  • Something I can put hot sauce on
  • IPAs
  • Sours
  • Root beer

This is why you should not be surprised to learn that on my first morning off the trail, the familia went to the hotel’s attached diner for breakfast and I ordered steak and eggs.

While checking out, a lot of northbounders gathered in front of the hotel getting ready to begin their hikes out. These included Mowgli, Sunny Side Up, and their cat, whom I had not seen since Mammoth Lakes, so we got a quick pic together.

We decided to do a little light walking in nature with the rest of the day. First, we drove to Snoqualmie to visit the falls. We walked half a mile down to the river, and when the others didn’t feel up to climbing the hill back to the parking lot, I went up and drove the car down to pick them up.

Then we had lunch. Amazing burgers from Herfy’s and a drive through coffee stand. Then to No Boat Brewery, a brewery weed been recommended by a couple at Dru Bru, but I didn’t find a single beer there that I liked. The root beer was great though.

Then a drive down to Rainier NP late in the afternoon to visit Paradise. The inn was closed and boarded up, but we walked to a nearby waterfall, ate some bilberries growing next to the the trail, and just before we left, the clouds moved enough to see the peak. We drove back down at sunset and checked out the park’s other inn before driving back to Puyallup to check in to our hotel.

Just took this picture for the punny slogan

The next morning, we took our time leaving but eventually headed west toward the Olympics. We spent some time in Aberdeen, where I visited a sporting goods store and Walmart to pick up some things I needed. We went to a downtown coffee shop while waiting for another recommended brewery to open. But it didn’t open out enough so we visited Mount Olympus Brewing instead. Mikella and I each got a flight. On the way out of town, I got a “halfway finished” pie from a small supermarket.

From there we went to the coast to buy a famous brand of ice cream from a sweets shop in a cute coastal town. It rained the whole time. I should note it rained a bit almost every day for the entire week I spent off the trail, which was a large portion of the reason I didn’t mind the fact I wasn’t out hiking.

We ended the day at Quinault Lodge by the lake and ordered takeout dinner from a nearby restaurant. I had salmon followed by some of the pie.

The next day was a drive up the coast, starting with a visit to a beach for some tidepooling.

Then into the Olympic National Park to walk through the Hall of Mosses in the Hoh Rainforest.

Then lunch from a taqueria in Forks that only seemed to have forks available for customers.

After that, we drove to Poulsbo and made it into Sluys Bakery just before it closed. We bought nearly one of everything they had and sat outside a coffee shop on the street sampling everything. I decided to visit one of the town’s breweries, Valhalla Brewing, after that. It had an amazing cider on tap. Mikella had no interest in drinking. We ended the evening with a walk on the wharf docks after dark before driving to a hotel in a completely different town.

Forks’ forks

The next day we returned to Poulsbo to get a Viking Cup and some other things we hadn’t tried the night before, then to the water to eat at a restaurant at had spotted there overlooking the bay. Followed by another visit to Sluys, where I finally found the best item in the store, and the cafe for sweet espresso drinks to go. It occurs to me that Seattle could have become a coffee epicenter even if Starbucks had never been thanks to how much less miserable the rain is when you have a hot latte.

For the afternoon event, we drove over to Bainbridge Island to visit a vineyard tasting room. We tried a lot of wines, some pretty good, but I don’t know anything about wine, so it is never as exciting as beer. Needless to say, Mikella planned this stop.

We caught the next ferry from the island over to Seattle proper and checked into a hotel right on the waterfront. Then we spent several hours in the hotel planning and generally lounging. By the time we decided to call an Uber to go get some pho, nearly every Vietnamese restaurant had closed, including the one we had routed to. No problem. Our driver was very friendly and took us past the bridge troll on the way to another place we ordered take out from over the phone.

The other goal for the evening was a brewery visit, and there was a very nice one just a 15 minute walk from the pho place. We spent the remainder of the evening sampling Floating Bridge beers and eating pho in the tasting room. We Ubered back late and went right to bed.

The next morning, after some small delays at the hotel, we began a trek in the rain. After a brief jaunt along the piers in the wrong direction, we finally found our way to the Pike Place Market, which seemed considerably reduced in activity in the age of COVID. It stopped raining for us here, so we took the remainder of the morning and early afternoon wandering around here. The original Starbucks was closed but the Beecher’s Store was open, so cheese and crackers was had. We also stopped in at a fancy cafĂ© with drink combinations you’ve not heard of.

For the afternoon, we walked to the space needle area to visit Chihuly Gardens and Glass. On the way, Mikella got more coffee and I got a local kombucha. She wanted to walk through the garden with a coffee but that wasn’t allowed. Still, we took our time and got plenty of pictures.

We wanted to visit Holy Mountain Brewing after that but couldn’t get a beer garden reservation until the next day, so instead we Ubered back to the hotel and walked to a waterfront seafood restaurant across the street to eat fish and watch the sunset. Then we walked back to the upper edge of Pike Place so I could try out the brewpub there. We had a table outside on the edge of a precipice overlooking the city. We also had rats running around below us. The beer was very good. Some of the best I tried on this trail vacation.

A short but somewhat sketchy walk down dimly lit staircases and alleys returned us to our hotel to prepare for the next day’s drive.

The next morning called for us to pack up and drive ourselves from the hotel in time to join the first group entering the Museum of Pop Culture (formerly the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Science Fiction Museum and still retaining those elements). On the way, we stopped at a FedEx so I could mail myself a resupply to White Pass. We spent three or four hours in the museum, then left to make our early afternoon reservation at Holy Mountain. We had enough time to drive through a taco restaurant on the way to get food to eat with the beer. It was a strange location for a brewery beer garden and the beer tastiness was mixed, but I did find one I liked.

The rest of the afternoon was spent driving across Stevens Pass to Leavenworth. My second visit in as many weeks! This time I got to sample the nightlife. We walked through the cool touristy part of town to a little basement bar for dinner. I tried the local brewery’s IPA but it wasn’t that exciting. I tried a cider then that was amazing.

After dinner, we visited a sweet shop and bought an incredible assortment of saltwater taffy. Flavors I’ve never even heard of before! Then we returned to the car to drive to the KOA (just so Mama could see) and Safeway (to pick up a couple of items I’d forgotten.

Back at the very fancy hotel we had booked for our last night together, we went down to sit in the hot tub. It was a very COVID-friendly hot tub because it was flower-shaped and each family could sit at the end of its own “petal” far from the others and yet still talk to each other across the way if desired.

But then it was straight to bed because we had to be up and out at the crack of dawn, even before the fancy included breakfast room opened. (The hotel did provide us bagged breakfasts to go instead.)

Last day. Up and at ’em. On the road before it’s even fully light out because we have to be in Chelan before the Lady of the Lake leaves to make its morning run. No problem. We make it with time to spare waiting in a line and visiting the restroom.

Once the boat is underway, concessions begin, and I am first in line for a coffee. It’s a leisurely two hour trip across the country’s third deepest lake before my triumphant return to Stehekin.

Cliff is right there waiting with his white school bus, very confused about our lunch plan but ultimately happy to give us a ride. We travel to High Bridge for pictures and then back to the ranch where Bethany is, of course, happy to sell us lunch. Taco salad!

Soon after lunch, we catch the bus back toward town (though Mama took her time and nearly missed it), going the scenic way this time. Another visit to Rainbow Falls, now flowing somewhat better following the week of rain, a stop in the old schoolhouse where Cliff went to school as a kid (but we couldn’t find any pictures of him inside), a stop in the organic gardens to buy some creamy goat cheese, and of course, a visit to the bakery.

Back in town, we had an hour to kill before the departure of the Lady Cat. We visited the gift shop and walked the cabin trail, just as I had done during my first visit. Then we found and boarded the catamaran just before its departure. The express trip back to Chelan took only an hour or so.

The rest of the afternoon was spent driving back to Snoqualmie Pass while listening to podcasts on the car stereo. When we finally arrived at the trailhead, it was well after dark and raining. I declined an offer to spend the night at the hotel. It might have been a mistake in terms of getting miles done, but I could see no reason to spend the money when I had the energy to get some night hiking done.

After an interminable farewell photo shoot, we did the hugs and kisses thing and I started walking in the rain while the fam drove back to Seattle to get a few hours sleep before their early flight home.

I climbed the ski slopes in the rain by headlamp light and the trail was a stream. It didn’t take long before my socks were soaked through, though my raincoat kept the rest of me fairly dry.

The trail wasn’t in the best condition for these few miles, and the little trickling streams that normally crossed the trail were now huge washes that required a bit of study to avoid letting more cold into my boots. It was much slower going than it should rightfully have been. Also, I had spent a week sitting in the back seat of a Jeep Compass, so my legs aren’t exactly in walking condition anymore.

Eventually, I reached my spot near a junction, a place where I squeezed my tent between two trees on a slightly sloped ground, crawled inside, and changed into dry things to sleep in. It’s impossible to stay completely dry in my tent when it’s that wet, but mostly dry is good enough to get some sleep.

Total distance: 2 miles


Yellow Blazing: Mount Shasta to Hart’s Pass

There will be no hiking in this post. Unless you count hitch-hiking. This, I won’t be tracking distances for each day. In the end of the last post, I was just picked up by a taxi headed to Mount Shasta (the town, not the mountain). Let’s get right into it.