Where: Pacific Crest Trail – Mile 266.1 to Mile 341.9
When: May 22 – May 26, 2017
Who: Marie and me
Distance: 75.8 Miles
Day 20: Mile 266.1 to Mile 275.0 (8.9 miles)
Fresh starts! For a stretch of ten days or so, Marie and I had been out of commission owing to her arch problems, which had continued to worsen over the course of our journey. Being in no rush, we decided to take some time off the trial to go back home and convalesce. Fortunately, her conditioned was ruled only muscle injury. And while that meant that we hadn’t done any serious harm, it also meant that there would be no quick fix to the pain. Knowing this, we held a stiff upper lip and ventured back to the trail at the start of the next week.
Civilian life had made us soft. We started the day with lunch at Mountain Munchies, a small dinner in Big Bear that afforded us enough food to stuff our face and then some. Bloated and sleepy, we donned our packs for the first time in what felt like an eternity. I felt almost exactly as I did on our first fateful day on the trail.
It only took a mile or so for us to be huffing and wheezing, and we took several breaks on what was supposed to be a short, nine mile day. We mourned the loss of the acquaintances that we had made along the trail, which now seemed eerily vacant. Luckily, our campsite was plenty crowded. We chatted a little and nibbled from our heavy packs. Then we settled into camp, dreaming of the soft mattresses and pillows.
Day 21: Mile 275.0 to Mile 293.2 (18.2 miles)
For the first time, the days seemed to blend together. The first half of the day afforded a great view of Big Bear Lake before it disappeared behind the desert hills. It’s amazing to see how just beyond Big Bear, a town I had previously recognized only for its snow mountains, existed a vast desert, just as brutal and hot as the ones we had passed earlier on the trail.
We were beginning to get our trail legs back, which unfortunately also meant that we were getting our trail aches and pains back. A southbound trail angel brightened our spirits when he gave us chips and candy. We also sat with a large gang of hikers at Caribou Creek, which was a nice change from the seemingly deserted trail.
We ended the day along the sandy banks of Holcomb Creek, a surprisingly large river that helped to keep the temperature down and our bottles full.
Day 22: Mile 293.2 to Mile 310.0 (16.8 miles)
If our days had themes, this day’s would have been water and lots of it. The day started freezing but quickly warmed to the usual desert heat. Another southbound trail angel, our second of this section, gifted us with an apple fritter the size of Marie’s head. We found cans of next on the side of the trail and enjoyed both while wading in Deep Creek.
The trail shot upwards for a good amount of ridge-walking as we baking in the sun. I was reminded of our early days on the road to Julian as the trees melted to desert shrubs. We were rewarded for our perseverance at a crossing of Grass Valley Creek, a large swimming pond, complete with waterfall and running stream.
Towards the end of the day, we came across our prize goal: hot springs! A crowded beach area led us to cobbled pools of steaming hot water. Ignoring the still hot weather, shed down to our underwater for an impromptu bath in the lime-green waters.
Feeling refreshed, we completed the last leg of our journey to a large bridge overlooking a rather intimidating chasm. The harsh winds forced us to sleep outside the tent for the first time, an experiment that we’re unlikely to repeat.
Day 23: Mile 310.0 to Mile 328.1 (18.1 miles)
An early start allowed us to make good progress before the sun could start to heat up the valley. We crossed a stream and climbed further towards the sun, which fortunately had cooled off from the previous day. However, we had another element to contend with.
The exposed hills gave way to whipping head winds that battered us around for the next ten miles or so. Every corner of every hilltop afford another gale, which threatened to knock us off balance.
We took our midday rest against the backside of a heavily graffiti-ed, which groan and shook against each blast of wind. With our hands holding our hats, we struggled over a hills before being treated to a view of Silverwood Lake, our largest body of water to date on the trail, an almost staggering expanse after so many days in the arid desert. We crawled along its edges for some time before coming across Cleghorn Picnic Area, where we celebrated our efforts with running sinks, shaded picnic benches and glorious, glorious bathrooms with plenty of toilet paper. We slept easily among such comforts.
Day 24: Mile 328.1 to Mile 341.9 (13.8 miles)
We must have snoozed the alarm clock three times this morning, hoping to never leave the comforts of Cleghorn Picnic Area. But with dreams of a hotel ahead, we blasted off the trail. Elevation was all over the place that day as we climbed up and down over sprawling mountains. The wind from earlier had not relented a bit as we again faced squalls of icy wind, which repeated threatened to knock us off our feet.
We rested little, and by just past noon, we had reached Cajon Pass. There we feasted on McDonald’s and drank fountain drinks until we were sick. Previously having planned to spend a night in Wrightwood on the following day, we instead opted to stay at a nearby Best Western, hoping that this plan would help us avoid the crowds of Memorial Day weekend. We braved the traffic of Interstate 15 to reach a convenience store, where I loaded up on slurpees and ice cream.
That night we bathed our sticky bodies, rechecked the maps for tomorrow and fell asleep to the sounds of Harry Potter on the television.