Cold Nights, Hot Springs, and Squirrel Thieves: PCT Days 18-20

Day 18.  Miles: 17.0  Total: 283.1

My alarm is set for 7:30, but I wake up at 5:30 out of habit. I stay in bed with my face in my phone until the others begin to stir. We eat a delicious breakfast in town, and then Becky, Luca, and I stick out our thumbs to hitch to the trail while Jackrabbit catches the bus in the other direction toward the post office.
A car pulls over right away. It’s Kenny, who hosts hikers in town. He initially scoffs that we stayed at the Motel 6 but then acknowledges that he charges more than double what we paid. He takes us by his house to see if any other hikers want to go back to the trail. His house is painted loud red, white, and navy blue, and it says in huge block letters, “VOTE TRUMP 2024.” It’s garish in an otherwise tasteful little mountain neighborhood, but Kenny is nothing but kind to us, and he tells us about the town and how much he cherishes taking his grandchildren skiing during the winter. None of the hikers squeezed into his cluttered living room are getting back on trail, so we pile back into his car and he drives us to the trailhead parking lot.
I soon fall behind Becky and Luca, but the trail is gentle and fast. When I get to the first campsite we planned on, it’s barely 3 p.m. We decide to keep going, confident that Jackrabbit is fast enough to catch us if he wants to. When I reach the next campsite, Becky and Luca aren’t there either. I continue. I finish the book I’ve been listening to, Little Weirds, and I switch to a podcast instead.
I’m hiking alone at golden hour, and the temperature is dropping fast. We spent the most frigid night of the cold front indoors in Big Bear, but it’s still supposed to freeze tonight. The wind is picking up, and my fingers are getting numb when I find a small, well-sheltered campsite just off trail. It could be nice to have a quiet night alone in the woods after socializing in town. I pitch my tent and tuck my Sawyer and electronics into the foot box of my sleeping bag. I’m asleep before it’s dark out.

Day 19.  Miles: 22.8  Total: 305.9

My alarm wakes me at 5:15 because I’m hoping to catch Becky and Luca today. When I poke my head out of my warm sleeping bag cocoon, it’s freezing, so I set a new alarm for 7:15 and go straight back to sleep.
At the first water source, I find Jackrabbit and Woo. They must have passed me while I was still hiding in my sleeping bag.
It’s a mostly easy day. Instead of Big Bear’s pine forest, the trail descends into a sandy valley where it clings to the hillside above Deep Creek. The environment reminds me of Campo and the first few days of the trail.
When I reach the Deep Creek bridge, I get a text from Becky that she and Luca and Billie Goat have hitched to the Cedar Glen Malt Shop for burgers. It’s a one-mile road walk to the nearest area with traffic, so I decide to skip the detour.

Today I begin listening to Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. The author reads the book herself, and her voice is warm and kind. The material feels relevant, both to my personal experience in nature on the PCT and to the broader societal context of 2022. She writes about Native American creation stories, and how human behavior changes based on whether you view land as a commodity or a gift, the same as how you might treat socks from a store differently than socks knitted for you by your grandma.

I continue past the windy campsite where Jackrabbit has pitched his tent. A mile down the hillside, the trail crosses a creek. On the far side, I lay out my pad to cowboy camp.

Day 20.  Miles: 12.1  Total: 318.0

It’s still early when I arrive at the Deep Creek Hot Springs. Lots of tents are pitched on the hillside, a mix of locals and thru-hikers, despite the area’s “Day Use Only” designation. I read the comments on Far Out, but I still instinctively avert my eyes when I realize that four of the six people in the spring are completely naked. But one of them is a hiker I know, so I drop my pack, take off my shoes, and sit on the edge of the pool to soak my feet.
I’ve never visited a natural hot spring before. The water trickling from the ground into the pool is startlingly hot, and steam wafts upward into the cold air. I like the idea of soaking but dread being wet in the cold wind after getting out, especially since I don’t have a towel. I settle for soaking up to my knees.
There’s one other PCT hiker and five locals, two young couples and an old man. We chat about the trail until one of the young women shyly asks how she’s supposed to poop out here. I kick into guide mode and offer to lend her my trowel and TP. When we get to my pack, less than ten minutes after leaving it, I see shreds of paper and pastry crumbs strewn across the ground.
Tragedy has struck. My second breakfast, the 50¢, 500-calorie chocolate pie I’ve been carrying for three days, has been stolen by a squirrel. Dejected, I clean up the remnants. I glare at the squirrel, who is still smugly (I imagine) watching me from nearby.
After a while, the springs empty out. Other thru-hikers start to arrive and enjoy the springs while clothed, so I feel like I can take photos. I was thinking I might wait until Becky, Luca, and Billie Goat arrive, but after the pie incident, I am drawn northbound by the appeal of the Joshua Inn.
When I reach the road, I wait with eight other hikers, including four other 2018 AT alumni, until we are shuttled a few miles away to the Joshua Inn. It’s a quirky saloon-style bar straight out of the Old West. I drink a beer and eat a meatball sub accompanied by the most delicious fruit salad.
Back at the trailhead, I find Becky, Luca, and Billie Goat waiting for a ride to the bar. We agree to meet up again tonight or tomorrow, and I start hiking while they pile into the car.
It’s hot this afternoon, so I only hike enough to get within striking distance of Cajon Pass tomorrow. If I start early and hike 24 miles, I will have dinner at… the trail’s closest McDonald’s.

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Comments 2

  • Eric buerger : May 30th

    Hey there. I stumbled into your PCT postings. I walked the California portion back in 1979. What a great thing for you to do. Life long memories.

    Happy trails

  • Mark Johnson : Jun 5th

    I enjoy hearing the spiritual side of your journey. And also the social interactions..seems like there are alot of people on the trail…I’m not sure if I would like that or not..I guess we need some contact with others..also amazing is donating yourself to another, that’s commendable..God Bless out there, stay safe. ..(Mark in Yreka Ca.)


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