Day 115 (10/26/10)
: In the morning, we cross under the 10 freeway and hike in a sandy wash until we reach a small private community called Snow Creek. We now take on the biggest ascent of the PCT -- 8,000 ft of climbing from the desert floor. We make good time going up and across giant switchbacks despite having to bushwhack through thick, thorny bushes and crawling over newly fallen trees. Our legs are full of scratches that burn when we wash in a stream. We thought we wouldn't cover much distance today due to a total of 10,000 ft of gain over 20 miles, but we manage to make 24 miles. At the end of the day, we are pleasantly surprised with how good we still feel. It pays to be adequately trained for this ascent :-) Day 116
: Spending the night at almost 9,000 feet was chilly -- Yannick's watch reads 36 degrees F inside the tent at 6am. We are hesitant to remove ourselves from the warmth of our sleeping bags, but the thought of getting hot food and a shower in town only 6 miles away motivates us. Once we are moving, we hike at a leisurely pace and enjoy the sun that begins to seep through the pine trees. This forest feels homey and we are feeling relaxed. We meet a couple of locals (Dan and Chris) and we chat with them for a while, then walk the rest of the way into Idyllwild. We only spend 4 hours in town to eat, shower, do laundry, and buy groceries for the next 70 miles. We've been to Idyllwild dozens of times before (for rockclimbing) and as Jim (the local trail angel there) generously drives us back to the trailhead,we wish our visit could have lasted longer.
We resist the temptations of this quaint mountain town and hit the trail once again. Along the way, we make a side trip to the top of Tahquitz's summit, check out the fire lookout station, and end up chatting for a while with the gentleman of fire watch. When we finally get going we realize how much socializing we have been doing today and won't make it as far as we had hoped.
Ah well, we had a nice day -- we'll just have to put in extra miles over the next two days so we can make it in time to the Warner Springs Post Office on Saturday. We hike into the night and enjoy a great view of the lights from Palm Springs and camp along the ridge tonight. Day 117
: For the first time in a long time, we wake up to bright blue skies and warmth -- we slept through our alarm and it's almost 7am. We pack in a hurry to try to get on the move. Descending from the ridgeline, we enter a sandy, not-quite-desert environment filled with manzanita and other hearty bushes. After a while, we both get into zombie mode and feel as though we're back on the "PCT treadmill," as Jason and Cassandra call it.
We keep walking and walking, but feel as though we aren't going anywhere. At 5pm, we finally hit highway 74 and have done 20 miles -- not enough to make our Saturday appointment, so we keep on hiking despite our lack of motivation. Walking into the evening, then through part of the night seems to break the monotony and we are actually alert enough to carry on a conversation with one another. Eight more miles takes us to a nice campspot among some boulders that remind us of Joshua Tree National Park. We enjoy the warmer temperatures at lower elevation and even sit outside to have a picnic dinner under the moon and stars...nice way to end a long day. We are excited that there are less than 150 miles to the border! Day 118
: As we leave Anza Borrego State Park and enter Cleveland National Forest, we go through the worst section of thorn bushes to-date. Miles of painfully struggling to make forward progress while our legs become butchered. We are also low on food and have to ration what we have left to make it last until tomorrow morning. These two things put us both on edge and we have to be very careful with what we say to one another. By mid-afternoon, we decide to push another 12 miles to get to a good campsite, which have beome few and far between. As night falls, we have to move at a slower pace to maneuver over rocky terrain and avoid the possibility of coming into contact with poison oak as we approach Agua Caliente Creek. We find a decent clearing among the tall grass and set camp near the first creek crossing. As we prep the tent, we find at least 5 ticks on ourselves and start to get paranoid, so we check each other thoroughly before entering the tent. This is the first time we are encountering ticks on the trail and we aren't happy about it. Day 119 (10/30/10)
: It was a good thing we put in the extra effort to cover 29 miles yesterday and only have 4 miles to get to Warner Springs because it turns out Yannick's friends can meet us for a couple hours in the morning. As we near town, it starts to drizzle on us and we are glad we'll be spending some time indoors today. While we are at the post office, Tony and Laurel arrive -- talk about perfect timing! The four of us head over to the only restaurant in town for some good food and good conversation. By 11am, they need to depart, so the two of us go take care of repackaging our food, wash our socks in a sink, and share a half-gallon of ice cream. At 1pm, we are on the trail again and the rain is gone. The scenery for the first 5 miles are beautiful -- golden fields and rolling fields sprinkled with random rock piles -- then we enter "tick land" again...aaaaggghh! We've never seen so many ticks before -- every 5 minutes, we have to stop and brush off a couple crawling on our legs. By dusk, we haven't made it to the campsite indicated on the map, but feel like we've covered enough miles for the day, so we settle for the mediocre spot we find. A thorough tick check, quick dinner, and we're ready for bed at a little after 8pm. It's going to be anoher long night... Day 120 (10/31/10)
: Yannick's headlamp low battery
indicator is ON and we are out of AAA, which means that we have to refrain from moving at night until we get to the border...hopefully than means only 4 days. When we wake up in the morning, the tent and sleeping bags are covered with water droplets from dew. Fortunately, the tent was pitched facing the rising sun, so we wait patiently until 7am for the sun to begin drying our gear. We get on the move late, at 8:30am. The trail is mind numbingly monotonous with barely any elevation change. For miles, we follow the contours of the mountain with a highway on our right. Shirley sees a tarantula, which is the highlight of her day. She's feeling very emotional and hyper-sensitive and thinks it has to do with the lack of adventure the last few months has had to offer.
She misses climbing, adrenaline, and...mental stimulation -- things she is not getting by following a pre-destined trail telling her exactly where she should walk and giving her a guilt trip if she wants to deviate from said path. Because Shirley is going nuts, Yannick makes us take a time-out -- we sit, we vent, we get up, and we get going. We set up camp a little early that day because of Yannick's headlamp situation. Not many miles covered unfortunately but we feel emotionally drained for today. We only have 75 miles left...only 75 miles...and we can't wait to finish. Day 121 (11/01/10)
: Another "wet" morning where the tent and sleeping bags are soaked, only this time we pack and go quickly with the intent to dry everything while we break for lunch. It's been windy every day since we crossed the I-10 fwy (6 days ago) and today is no exception. As the trail climbs up to a ridge at 5,000 ft, we pass by two completely dry water sources that showed to be reliable on our topo map. By 2pm, our water supply runs really low and we have to detour half a mile from the trail to fill up. We stll have to deal with overgrown bushes and ticks throughout the day, which isn't fun. But by 5pm, comes the highlight of the day: a big concrete reservoir with a spicket and right next to it is a picnic area with restrooms. We call it a day after 23 miles...we can't resist this luxurious camping opportunity. Time to shower, do laundry, and pitch the tent next to a picnic table right under a giant oak tree. Only 52 miles to go and we'll have completed phase 2 of our triathlon. Day 122
: The night was warm and windy and all of our gear is dry in the morning, so we hit the trail at 7am. We stop at the store in the Mount Laguna community at 10:30am and load up on calories (chips, cottage cheese, sandwiches, and a half gallon of ice cream). Now that our stomachs are full, we have no excuses to not put in the miles, expecially because the trail is all downhill. Then comes drama #1: at 30 miles from the finish, we take a break on a big rock. As we sit and eat, Shirley's hat starts flying away with a gust of wind. As she tries to catch it, she busts her hand open on some rocks and blood drips everywhere. Nothing serious though...applying some pressure and a bandage from our medical kit takes care of things, then we're back on the move again.
We finish the day at a campground near the I-8. There was supposed to be water available here, but it's been shut off...we're on water conservation, so no luxury showers tonight. Only 26 miles from the Mexican border and it's finally starting to settle in our minds that the end of the trail is near. One more day to go! Day 123 - Final day hiking the PCT (11/03/10)
: Over the past several nights, we've been having a hard time sleeping because our nights are so long. We decide to get an early start of 5am today because we want to get to the border with enough daylight to take pictures and try to hitch out of town. The cool morning is very pleasant for hiking and we are glad we decided to get in some miles before the sun hits. We stop at Lake Morena for our last water refill and figure we might as well take 6 liters (our full capacity) because it looks like today will be a scorcher. As we continue on and get closer and closer to the border, we start to see randomly discarded jackets, shirts, and other articles of clothing in bushes along the trail...left overs from illegal immigrants making their way through the promise land!
Then comes drama #2: At 16 miles from the finish, we stop to take a quick drink of water. As usual, Shirley starts hiking as Yannick stashes his bottle away...then she suddenly hears, "AAGH!" She casually calls back, "You okay?" but when she doesn't hear a response, she hesitates for a second. "Dude...you okay!?" She looks back and Yannick is hunched over on the trail with one knee on the ground and trying to support himself with his trekking poles. She runs back to him, pulls off his backpack, and helps him to a boulder nearby. He's pinched the nerve in his back, a problem he's had in the past where he almost thought he was getting paralyzed; fortunately it isn't that
bad this time. As he sits there for a while, he slowly feels the pain relieving and becomes determined he can go on.
Shirley takes just under 15 pounds of water and food from his load and puts it in her backpack, hoping it's enough to help him continue on. We start again...slowly. If the trail takes another day, it takes another day...we just don't want Yannick to be hurt permanently. Fortuntely, we have to go uphill about another 1,000 ft, which is less stressful on his back and allows him to slowly recover. As we move on, things get better...15 miles...14 miles. Yannick is able to take on the descent at a carefully reasonable speed and even starts to pick up his pace...10 miles...5 miles! We pass through a freshly burned area and can see civilization just below. An excitement starts to well up in Shirley's belly and she can't hold back the thought that we might actually finish today. Cross the railroad tracks, cross the highway, get through the last set of hills...and we see Campo. We are SO CLOSE! We walk through town...just one more mile to go. Soon, the monument that marks the PCT's southern terminus at the Mexican border comes into view...we ARE going to make it...we are finishing the trail! When we get to the monument at 5pm, we look at each other, smile, and get a big kiss. WE ARE DONE with Phase 2 of our Transcontinental Triathlon!!!
We take photos as we send our last SPOT signal (for now) and sign the register. We sit there for a while trying to soak it all in. We really don't have to get up an hike tomorrow? Nah, it hasn't really quite hit us that we've just completed the PCT after precisely 4 months of harduous effort. We sit there and watch the border patrol zooming along the dirt trails in their SUVs and ATVs as we make phone calls to family and friends. We were expecting to hike back down to the highway and try to hitch back to Los Angeles, but instead, Tony offers to pick us up from Campo and let us stay at his place for the night. "What? We don't have to sleep in the bushes tonight!?!" A few hours later, we're at Tony and Laurel's place hanging out, taking hot showers and sleeping in a nice, zenned-out room and enjoying clean sheets and a bed. Oooh, what a wonderful way to end the day...and the trail.
Phase 2 - COMPLETED