Big Bear to Wrightwood on the PCT (Mile 266 to 369)
I leave Big Bear feeling anxious. I’m worried about whether I can manage bigger mileage days and whether the upcoming terrain – longer water carries, without Granite to help- will be physically possible for me.
But the nice thing about hiking all day is that it’s a good way to calm nerves. After a few days of hiking, I’m feeling more hopeful about my body.
Deep Creek is a long canyon with a beautiful, wide creek below, and there are shady trees and flitting song birds to make the afternoons lighter. But there’s hardly any camping to be had, and it’s too far for us to make it through the canyon in a day. So after a tough 21 mile hike we land in a cramped, sloped, rocky, mosquito-infested site that barely holds our tent. I’m feeling tired and demoralized when we get up at 5 the next day.
But thankfully the next day brings us to Deep Creek Hot Springs, which we arrive at around 8 AM. I am prepared for the springs to be small and disappointing, but they are incredible. Granite reads a book on his phone and dangles his feet in while I strip and sink into burning hot water, all my sore muscles unclenching. Our hot pool is separated from the deep, cool stream by a few rocks, and so I slide back and forth between the hot water and the cool water, my heart pounding, fish darting by my elbow, lightheaded till all the sounds sharpen and the world looks like some sort of strange abstract art.
By the time we start hiking again, I feel reborn.
We agree to a 25 mile day to try to get to a hotel the next day and avoid a severe wind advisory, plus it’ll shorten our last two days into Wrightwood.
I spend a lot of time thinking about life, and about death. My friend Elliot, who was my age, died of cancer just a few months before I started the trail. I walk 25 miles to El Cajon Pass thinking about him. I also think about how hard it was to get through the pandemic, and to try to lead a newly-remote nonprofit through a pandemic. For most of the last two years, I felt like I’d only really know the right choice in retrospect.
But even now, looking back, I still don’t know what the right decisions were.
I haven’t found the trail very helpful for making decisions or figuring things out. Instead, I find memories wash over me and I slip beneath them as I’m walking quietly alone. And with memories come big emotions, often dark or fierce or overwhelming. And because I’m on a trail and have hours of uninterrupted walking, I try to just notice all those feelings and let them play out until they’re run through.
I don’t know if I’ll feel any more clarity or certainty when this is all over, but I’ll have felt every one of these big emotions completely.
The day is cool and misty, and Silverwood Lake almost looks like a slice of Hawaii in the rolling misty cloud.
By the time we finish our 25 mile day, my feet are aching and my calves are screaming. I drink a milkshake from Del Taco (which is heavenly and in that moment feels like the best dinner of my life), complete my 20 minute daily yoga sequence like it’s some sort of prayer, and collapse into bed. We are asleep by 8:30 am, our sleeping bags tugged over thin hotel sheets.
The best part of waking up the next day is that I’m not in terrible pain. I’m sore but I can walk just fine, and even my tight calves are OK. This leaves me full of hope that I’ll be able to tackle the big miles to come.
We eat breakfast the next day sitting on a curb in the parking lot of a McDonald’s under construction, and hit the trail around 7 AM.
The next two days of hiking are challenging as we face a relentless uphill climb – 4,000 feet the day we leave El Cajon pass, and another 2500 feet of climbing into Wrightwood. But the weather is cool and we have epic, unreal clouds wreathing the mountain tops to delight and amaze us.
As we arrive in Wrightwood, all our friends are coming back into town, including Lupine who is getting dropped off to rejoin the trail. I book a big Airbnb for us and tell Granite how delightful it is that we keep catching each other.
“It’s almost like we’re all taking the same trail in the same direction,” he teases me.
There’s a cold front in Wrightwood and we are lucky to be warm in a cozy cabin. It’s remarkable to think we were fighting the intense heat in Palm Springs just a few days back.
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