Chapter 6: Week 4: “Decades and A Big Bear”
Chapter 6: Week 4: “Decades and A Big Bear”
Days 22-28: 3/27-4/2/22
Total Trail Miles: 91.50
Total GPS Recorded Miles: 92.79
Cumulative Trail Miles: 323.60
From: San Gorgonio Wilderness to Silverwood Lake
Day 22 // March 26, 2022 // Trail Miles: 21.10 / GPS Recorded Miles: 21.42 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 253.20
~Destination // Campsite at MM 253.20 Before Big Bear Lake~
Up and moving through the pitch-black morning, our headlamp beams glistened off bat eyes in the trees and shrubs. We lost the path a few times through washed-out creek beds and overgrowth, but finally reached the San Gorgonio Wilderness. We’d lost Achilles and Anna just before sunrise, there headlamps fading off far in the distance behind trees and hills.
Our big climbs started just as the sun began to cast gold over the mountains, and I turned around in time to see Decades below us, the sun silhouetting him against the massive expanse. In the middle of a serpentine route down to a water source sat a Katadyn water filter. It must have been accidentally left behind by another hike. In fact, I recalled that Optimist used a Katadyn, so I picked it up and stuck it in my pack to carry it to town and hopefully find its owner. As the day grew, the trail changed and became less mountainous. Big climbs turned into smaller hills that wound around oak-covered terrain. The trail took us by a large, caged area for film animals. It’s well-known to hikers on trail, and we expected it, but it didn’t make the sight less saddening. I’m strongly opposed to zoos, petting farms, or anything that isn’t specifically an animal sanctuary used for the purpose of saving or rehabilitating wild animals with the intent of future release. I became angry with the thought of animals being held there against their will, likely mistreated, and then expected to perform for entertainment. In a way, we sometimes felt the same, like animals being looked at in town. We had huge packs, were always filthy, smelled, and people would stare and whisper on occasion when we’d walk by. Of course, it was of our own choosing, so not quite the same thing, but for a moment I thought I could vaguely understand how those animals might feel.
Our camp that night led us to a space just off a service road where we found Dan resting by a tree and preparing for yoga. It was nice to see a familiar face. Decades hiked in a bit after us and camped there as well. We knew a storm was on the way, after checking our Garmin device over the last few days but didn’t yet know when since it only gave us specific times/percentages for the upcoming two days. When the device dinged with the weather report that night, it showed a huge rainstorm (and subsequent snow) blowing in the next morning around 11:00 AM. We still had 13 miles to reach the access road for Big Bear/Big Bear Lake, so that meant we’d need to start hiking early if we wanted to beat it. We let Dan and Decades know we planned to get up early and start. It sounded like Decades was game. After dinner we tried our best to fall asleep quickly so we could squeeze in as much sleep as possible.
Day 23 // March 28, 2022 // Trail Miles: 12.90 / GPS Recorded Miles: 13.13 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 266.10
~Destination // Big Bear Lake, CA~
The wind raged and slammed against our tent most of the night despite tree coverage. We’d barely slept but that helped us wake up early (around 3:00 AM) to make it to town before the storm hit. Dan slept in. Decades was with us. We were wiped. The wind slapped our faces all morning through the trees and open desert expanse. We spent several hours hiking before the sun rose, and when it did, we could see the massive clouds approaching from the distance like dark waves rolling through the sky.
We were lucky enough to find a phone number on FarOut and Garmin messaged her for a possible ride into Big Bear Lake. She charged for the ride but agreed to meet us at the trailhead for the PCT and road to town. We were okay paying if it meant we wouldn’t be standing in the rain with our thumbs out trying for a hitch. As we approached the pickup location clouds were pouring in over the mountains. Snow, sleet, and rain were heading our way, but luckily, we got into town just as the heavens opened up. Decades was somewhere behind us and managed a hitch shortly after we made it to town but decided to go ahead and check into a hotel when he arrived. Our ride lived locally and showed us around the still-sleeping town as droplets began to fall on her windshield.
“Thank God, just in time” I thought to myself.
“Where would you like me to drop you off?” she asked.
“At whichever brewery opens the earliest!” Basecamp exclaimed.
She dropped us off at the Big Bear Lake Brewery.
The brewery welcomed us in from the rain. Thank God. We sat our packs underneath the nearby staircase and were grateful they weren’t outside being soaked. Burgers, beer, fries, and satisfaction filled us to the point where we needed a warm, hot coffee just to stay awake. Basecamp had already booked us an AirBnB just outside of town, but without our own vehicle we had to problem solve getting there. Luckily, the town had free public transport: a trolly system.
Our timing was off. The public transport had a phone app that showed each vehicle, its location, and the route it took. Using it, we went to one of the pickup points, in the rain, and just missed it. It would be another 20 minutes before another one came by, and the rain was pouring in with increasing winds. So, we were standing by the street, soaked and freezing, with a bit of a wait ahead of us. We ducked into a covered corner of a lot and then into the warm protection of a laundromat keeping our eyes on the tiny trolly icon in our app. We were tempted to go grab a beer in the nearby Mexican restaurant while waiting but decided it would be better not to. Eventually we saw the trolly coming down the street and ran to the stop determined to catch it. Thankfully, we did.
It was 30 minutes before we reached the closest stop to our AirBnB and we still had to walk a bit, but the rain had calmed down. The reason(s) we chose this specific location was two-fold: it had a fireplace, and it had a washer and dryer. When we reached the unit, found the key and walked in, the first thing in front of the door was a washer unit with a handwritten note that stated, “Washer not working.” We were madder than a mangled mongoose. We immediately messaged the landlord, and his compromise was that he’d get his cleaner to come by and take our clothes to the laundromat. He did, and the sweet woman washed, dried, and folded our clothes for us. Granted Basecamp now had several holes in her puffy jacket, but at least our things were clean. Truth be told, we would have left the AirBnB and found somewhere else if we hadn’t been so exhausted. Instead of joining our friends that night, we ordered take-out, showered, watched The Last Kingdom, and passed out early. Despite everything, we were happy to be there and to have a warm room to wake up to in the morning.
Day 24 // March 29, 2022 // Trail Miles: 0.00 / GPS Recorded Miles: 0.00 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 266.10
~Destination // Zero in Big Bear Lake, CA~
A zero day is never really a zero day. While you may not be hiking, you’re rarely just sitting around and resting. You’re often out running errands, washing things, or meeting up with fellow hikers.
We slept in until 10:00 AM. Our bodies were grateful to have so much rest, but they were sore. My ankles had been especially tight over the last few weeks, probably because I wasn’t stretching as much as I should have.
Since it took at least 30 minutes for the transport into town, we had to plan our day out around travel, but that was fine. At least we had a way into town, and we wanted to run a few errands before trying to meet up with everyone there. Decades, Deuces, Chief, Optimist, Prism, Shroom Boots, ROY G BIV, and Racoon were supposed to be in Big Bear Lake staying at one of the hotels.
In town we grabbed a coffee, went to the UPS store to drop off some blown-out Darn Tough socks, grabbed a few things from a local gear store, and texted our friends. It looked like we could all meet up around the same time, 3:00PM, at a place we all agreed on. Big Bear Lake is a ski town, which means it’s not easy for hikers on a budget to find things to do. Deuces ended up finding a spot for us with “affordable” beers, called the Social. While the drinks were still a bit pricey, that evening was easily one of our favorite memories from trail. We all sat around a long fire pit outside and talked about the trail so far, the hardships, and most certainly about the laughs. To our surprise, Razor, Tumbleweed, and Cougar had just gotten into town and showed up to join us. One of them had experienced a pretty severe health scare, so we were just glad to have them all there and healthy. At some point, a random stranger let us hold onto his chocolate Labrador puppy, and Optimist gave a random group of people (who looked like they would never go on a long hike, but I could be wrong) several packets of Trail Butter. He was sponsored by them and had more than he knew what to do with.
When the sun began to set, we all went back to our rooms. Our hearts were full.
Day 25 // March 30, 2022 // Trail Miles: 0.00 / GPS Recorded Miles: 0.00 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 266.10
~Destination // Zero in Big Bear Lake, CA~
While I wanted another day of rest, we were also feeling a bit anxious to start hiking again. Town was wonderful, but only in small doses. The call of the trail was strong, like a pull back to the wild and simplicity.
Most of the day was spent in our AirBnB resting and watching The Last Kingdom. It was as close as we’d gotten to an “actual” zero day. We even went so far as to have our food resupply delivered to us rather than head back into town on the trolly. Sure, there was a delivery fee and tip involved, but it was worth it just to sit there and do nothing after hiking 266 miles. Included in that delivery was a steak. The rental had a grill and we wholly intended to use it. Oh yes, and we made time for some much-needed intimacy. Intimacy on trail is a rarely talked-about subject, but it’s a big part of hiking as a couple, and it’s not always on the forefront of your mind when you’ve just hiked 20 miles and you’re both filthy. So, when we had the opportunity for a shower and some alone time, we took it.
Night came quickly. We binged the last of our show on Netflix and organized starting the trail next day with Decades. He’d established a ride back to trail, and we were happy to join in. The trail was calling, and we needed to answer once more.
Day 26 // March 31, 2022 // Trail Miles: 19.80 / GPS Recorded Miles: 19.72 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 285.90
~Destination // Filthy Campsite at MM 285.90~
We were so glad to be hiking again after a double zero. The rest had been great, but we were more than ready to push our bodies again. Our goal was to make it to the Deep Creek Hot Springs next day. They are naturally occurring system of springs in the middle of the desert famous for being a stop on the PCT, and also a destination for nudists.
For most of the morning we hiked on and off with Decades and eventually ran into Cuppa and Jedi again. They were doing what they did best, screwing around and enjoying their time, all while hiking. They hiked ahead. The trail alternated between forest and open desert, but the evening brought areas with downed trees and some signs of old burn. When we began to reach the end of our day, we hiked by a stick. Basecamp’s brain registered that stick as a snake and she yelped, jumping back. To be fair, it did resemble a snake, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to pick at her! False alarm, one.
Hiking down into our campsite we met a hiker who we’d been hearing about: Permafrost. He was camping with Gup. I believe they’d been hiking with ROY G BIV. Decades was just behind us. Stopping to chat with them for a bit we realized just how nice it was to see new and familiar faces out in the middle of nowhere. We wanted to make camp before the sun had completely set, however, so waved them goodnight.
We camped a bit further below them with Decades near a creek and dirt parking lot. When we went to grab water from the creek, we noticed that toilet paper and trash littered the bushes and creek bed. Brown stains where all over the white pieces of paper popping against the neutral colors of nature. What a shame that people cared so little for such a beautiful place. To anyone reading this: pack out all your trash including your used toilet paper (gross, yes, but if you don’t like it, then don’t go camping away from a pit privy), use the bathroom no less than 200 feet away from any water source (if you’re surrounded by water, figure it out), if you take kids into the wild make sure you pick up after them, and please pick up your dog’s poop (the only poop anyone should see on trail is from wild animals, horses, or mules/donkeys). I grabbed water as far upstream as I could manage given the trash and overgrown brush, but still filtered and chlorinated it in an effort to prevent us from getting sick on behalf of other people’s carelessness (both thru-hikers and non-thru-hikers alike, whoever the heck was leaving the mess).
Decades was fine waking up early to start hiking with us. It was becoming our pattern to beat the desert heat.
Day 27 // April 1, 2022 // Trail Miles: 22.00 / GPS Recorded Miles: 22.20 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 307.90
~Destination // Deep Creek Hot Springs~
We started the day early with Decades in the cool morning before the heat kicked in. We could see snowcapped mountains in the distance and wondered if they were the Sierra Nevada, but we figured they weren’t since they were still 400 miles away. While the morning was still cool and crisp, we hiked by Jedi and Cuppa’s campsite. Cuppa was still in his tent, but Jedi was sitting on a rock with breakfast watching the sunrise. It was a stunning morning with pinks and reds juxtaposed against an increasing blue sky.
The cool air soon became a suffocating heat despite it being early April. Along the trail towards Deep Creek Hot Springs, we came across Prism and Shroom Boots winding their way through canyons towards the same goal. They’d started hiking after we left Big Bear and still managed to catch up. On top of knowing Permafrost, Gup, and Decades were nearby, it was reassuring to know that we’d also be at the hot springs with Prism and Shroom. Our one concern about the springs was that it’s open to everyone and reported to be a bit of a party spot. While we enjoyed a good party as much as anyone else, we also wanted to get some quality sleep in for the next day’s hike.
On the way, a stick snake caught Basecamp’s eye as it floated downstream in the canyon. This was starting to become a funny theme. At just a few miles from Deep Creek we hiked by Permafrost and Gup camped on a beautiful flat spot overlooking the canyon with 180-degree views. They had the same concern we did about being kept up at night and opted to camp there and snag a quick soak the next morning. Decades hiked in just behind us. We all chatted for a bit and started off again, but Decades decided to camp with the two gentlemen there as well. The day had been hot and exhausting. We were sad to see Decades stay there, but absolutely understood. He’d become a father-figure to both of us, and part of our daily routine. We knew to expect Decades in the morning, sporadically throughout the day, and then to camp with him at night.
We wished them all a good night and made our way to Deep Creek. There were around 8 other hikers there, and a few people from town, but certainly not a crazy party. Prism, Shroom, Dan, Daydreamer, Cuppa, Jedi, Hey Google, and a new guy named Romeo were all there. We hadn’t seen Hey Google since Idyllwild and technically we didn’t see him there, but he’d noticed our voices and called out to us in the black of night like a ninja. Hikers truly were and are a wonderful, crazy collection of unique people.
Before taking a dip, we looked for a quiet campsite and found one a few hundred feet away under a huge manzanita. It was up on a raised area and looked out over the Deep Creek. It was positively perfect, and we knew how lucky we were to have found it available. After breaking camp, we changed, found our way over to the springs with headlamps, claimed a pool and had Dan join us. He always asked such great questions. On the way out of our hour-long soak, I slipped and managed a two-inch gash on the bottom of my foot, but I was pretty sure the deadly amoebas stated to live in the springs needed to be ingested, rather than get in through a wound, right? I guess the fact that I’m alive and able to write this after the fact proves that theory correct.
Day 28 // April 2, 2022 // Trail Miles: 15.70 / GPS Recorded Miles: 16.32 / Cumulative Trail Miles: 323.60
~Destination // Powerplant Campsite at MM 323.60~
We woke up rested and exhausted (if that makes sense). I had triple bags under my eyes despite eight hours of sleep. It was already 9:00AM. Waking up late, we decided the day was half-spent anyway, so we took one more dip in the steaming pools with coffee to wake us up. A woman and her man were on a paddleboard, butt naked, taking a lil’ morning paddle with their dog. They did a lap, turned, and everything was visible for the world to see, it was like a scene from a twisted Pocahontas movie.
Life was truly grand that morning, and a nice change of pace from the daily morning routine we’d become accustomed to. After packing up, we sat down with the rest of the hikers. Cuppa was making a ‘cuppa’ tea for folks, and we gratefully accepted his offer. It may have been the best cup of tea we’d ever let touch our lips.
The day become hot; extremely hot and exposed. The trail took us along narrow desert ledges with sheer drops that we had to navigate with alternating groups of dirt bikers, and naked hikers walking towards the springs. We hiked with Cuppa, Jedi, Prism, Build-A-Bear, and Shroom until we heard footsteps rapidly approaching from behind us. Jedi had stayed at camp a bit longer than the rest of us, and now he’d caught up fueled on tequila and M&M’s. It seemed like a great combination for hiking, so when he offered the group some, I happily accepted. It had been a day of receiving gifts.
Everyone stopped for a snack/lunch break except for Basecamp and me. We hiked on and came up to a large climb. Wired on tequila and sugar, I needed to get the energy out and quick, so I asked if she’d be okay with me hiking in front for a while.
What I should have said was, “I need to burn all this energy off, so I’d like to hike ahead and power uphill, but I’ll wait for you at the top”.
But I said what I did, hiked far ahead of her and sat there under a bush at the top waiting for her to catch up. She was upset, I could tell by her body language the moment she turned the corner. When she caught up, we had a long chat about communication, hiking speeds, and compromising on trail, but that’s what you do with a partner, you work things out.
That night we ended up camping outside of a power plant just a few miles before the rest of the crew who’d chosen a lake-side picnic area as camp. Camping there technically wasn’t allowed, but who was keeping count. The space we chose was just off a country road near tall grass. With her recent snake scares, Basecamp was wary of snakes in the tall grass, but we never came across any scaled friends that night.
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