We Live Here: Week Two on the PCT
I’m writing this from my tent somewhere beyond Big Bear. The sun is setting outside and I can see snowy peaks in the distance beyond the pines. At the time of writing I’ve hiked 280 miles – over 10% of the trail which feels like a significant amount. Most of my hiking group have stayed in town for another night but I’m glad to be back out here. Last night I shared a tiny basement hostel room with my hiking family but I’m at the point now where I sleep significantly better on the trail than in town. As we hike and sleep and eat on the trail, we repeat to ourselves ‘We live here’, like a constant reality check. It still feels unbelievable that that’s true.
In the week and a half since I wrote my last post I’ve covered 170 miles, taken my first zero in Idyllwild, suffered through the San Jacinto death march, ridden in the back of a pick up truck (twice) and laughed round a fire more times than I can count. Idyllwild was a welcome break, I’ve been hiking with more or less the same group since Campo and we rented a huge nine bedroom log cabin together, complete with a fireplace, rocking chairs and everything else you’d expect from a rustic cabin in the woods. For two nights we drank and slept and laughed and ate far too much. It was hard to return to the trail, especially with six days of food in our packs and the much anticipated Fuller Ridge ahead of us.
The night we left town we built a fire and camped under the pines at 9000 feet with snow all around. The next morning we left early for Fuller ridge. I lost the group because it takes me so long to break camp in the morning. I bumped into Ryan, a British guy I knew from Facebook, and we hiked together through a long snowy stretch, with him giving me tips on how best to not fall on my face. It was slow going in the snow. We found the rest of the group taking a break at a campground and were surprised to learn that the snow we’d just crossed actually was Fuller ridge. It wasn’t at all what we thought it would be, it was tricky but barely exposed and I hadn’t even bothered putting on my microspikes.
What came next was much rougher, a 16 mile descent down the mountain back into the desert. It fast became hot and the scenery arrid. Whilst I enjoyed the downhill at first it soon became punishing. We all struggled in the heat and lack of water and the descent took most of the day. Finally we arrived at the water spigot at the bottom of the mountain overlooking a vast valley with highways and railway lines. Two of our group had found the number for a trail angel where we could stay for the night and gave him a ring – there were no tentsites for over 6 miles and it was getting late. ‘Hillbilly Dennis’ agreed to meet us at the interstate in the valley, 3.8 miles ahead.
Those miles were some of the hardest of the day, with 18 behind us already. My pack felt suddenly like lead, my shoulders and back were in a lot of pain for the first time. Under the interstate underpass we found trail magic – sodas and beers. I gratefully drank a beer and soon after Dennis arrived in his old blue pick up. We piled into the back and drove a blissful few miles to Cabazon. The house was already full of hikers so that night we cowboy camped in the backyard but none of us could sleep – the wind picked up and we all found desert sand being thrown into our faces constantly throughout the night.
Once again I was glad to get back to the trail, we got a ride back in the morning and hiked up another steep elevation gain. It was a long hot day broken by a few hours spent by a the Whitewater river where the guys ‘swam’ – lay in the water in their boxers, and the rest of us napped in the shade to avoid the midday heat. The next two days passed in a blur of desert, which gradually gave way to pines as we climbed into Big Bear yesterday morning. The terrain and scenery change so rapidly out here, from sand to snow and back again in a matter of hours. Now to see what the next 2,300 miles bring.
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