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.

PCT CA Section A

Dec. 7: Tumbledrift

Although I still had to do a small amount of repacking and also clean the pan I’d used, I didn’t have to tear down a tent or roll up a mat, so it was still easy enough to get out and lock up by 9:30am. I even had enough time to finally make use of the razors I’d been carrying around since Idyllwild, and there was a LOT of excess facial hair to remove. It took a solid 15 minutes to mow it all down.

PCT CA Section A

Dec. 6: Mt. Laguna Tiny House

It was really quite cold when I got out of bed. I had on every last bit of clothing. I decided to take a walk to the Sunrise Trailhead (because of the privy there) and back before starting my pack-up in hopes that the sun would reach it by the time I started. The walk was about half a mile each way, and I got back around an hour later. I got on the trail by 9am.

PCT CA Section A

Dec. 5: Scissors Crossing

It was a pretty cold morning tucked into that shady ravine, but I still managed to get back on the trail by 8am, just before the direct sunlight reached my nook, having been passed by a man I had not seen or heard pass who was now just a hundred yards ahead. Over the course of the next mile, I caught up to him and passed him on a switchback descending the ridge toward Scissors Crossing.

PCT CA Section A

Dec. 4: A Late Morning and an Early Night

It remained cold all night and well into the morning, so I found it very difficult to peel myself out of the warm sleeping bag, even well after it was uncomfortable to do so.

PCT CA Section A

Dec. 3: Mountain Valley Retreat

I woke up relatively early, but I knew I had no great reason to hurry, given I was only planning to go a few miles to Mountain Valley Retreat. Also, I didn’t need to conserve energy because I could plug in there. So I laid in bed for most of an hour with my phone.

PCT CA Section A PCT CA Section B

Dec. 2: Warner Springs

Once again I had great motivation to get an early start. I needed to get to Warner Springs before the post office closed to pick up my last resupply box. It was the same one I had sent from Washington to Crater Lake, where it was held for a week before being sent back to Washington, where the UPS Store forwarded it to the Etna Motel, who resent it to Warner Springs. Basically, it had been bouncing all over creation for two solid months, but it wasn’t going to waste!