Day 11: A little bit of everything…

Day: Tuesday, May 24th 2016

Miles: 266.1 – 286.7

Highway 18 (PCT Mile 266.1) – Remote Camp 286.7

No single day on the trail (thus-far) has been mundane. There is always something to see, something new, something unusual or a challenge to focus on. Today was more diverse than normal for a few reasons – the Lake Fire Closure zone prompted the use of 4 different connections simply to get back on the trail from Ziggy and the Bears. Right there we have something to see, something new, and a significant challenge.

I had a restless night at Ziggy and the Bears. They have done their level-best to make things comfortable for all those weary souls who pass through; carpeted outdoor spaces, an amazing hot shower and plenty couch space, but the trail-house is positioned in a (spectacular) wind-tunnel shaped valley. As a result it’s cold and blustery through the night even with the huge perimeter fence they have erected. I had a more comfortable night than most, tucked into a corner in the permanent back-porch. The other hikers that were sleeping that night, had a chillier, noises experience and the general concensus was that it was time to move on the next morning.

The view from my sleeping-nook

Before leaving, I took a last search in the hiker-box. Hiker-boxes are a forum for people to cast off unused or unnecessary gear that other hikers may want. It seems a shame to dump things when the adage that one mans trash is another mans treasure is so appropriate on the trail. In my case I found treasure! In one of my worst decisions of the past week, I mailed my warm down-jacket to my sister in NYC for holding. Almost every night since I have needed it. The hiker box provides: someone had put an REI sleeveless down-vest in the box. It had a few holes (that’s what duct tape is for) and maybe isn’t my color (it might even be a women’s jacket) but what do I care if it’s warm! I excitedly took my plunder!

We had a great pancake breakfast before departing at 6:30am served by the legendary Legend (trail name), who regaled stories of his past and plans for the summer as he follows the herd up the trail and maybe hikes a little himself. Legend was an interesting guy, disabled by a broken back in a work accident, he eventually recouperated to a point where he could hike the PCT in 2013, and has been volunteering, assisting and trail angeling ever since.

Luxury pancake breakfast by Legend

At 7am, with full-bellies and with a donation tendered for the evening and mornings accommodations, we trooped out to Devilfish’s (trail name) minivan and headed for San Bernadino Transit Center. The traffic was heavy and with some Googlemaps assistance in dodging a traffic closure on the interstate, we literally made our bus to Big Bear with zero minutes to spare at 8:28am. The bus ride to Big Bear Lake was spectacular and certainly a rollercoaster ride. If it wasn’t for sheer G-force keeping the bus on the hairpin bends, I’m not sure we’d have made it in one piece! After a brief hiatus in Big Bear Lake, myself and Soren from Denmark grabbed the next bus to Big Bear City. I had a resupply box sent there however, already having 3 days food I resolved to simply bounce it to Pittsburgh where I’ll reassign it when I’m there in June. Big Bear is a friendly spot, I was approached by 3 people when waiting for the bus, asking if I needed a ride! After bouncing my package I hitched from Big Bear City to the PCT connection at mile 266.1. I caught a ride from a girl named Lily who wasn’t sure why there was so many hikers hitching in the area and decided to pick me up in order to find out. That’s fine by me! Peculiarly, the third question she asked was whether I was a Christian. America is always an interesting place as regards religion, and I’m never sure where a question like that may be aiming. In this case it went no further and we had a nice chat for the 8miles out to the trailhead. This is the 4th hitch I’ve made and in 3 out of 4, the ride giver simply drove 10-20 miles out of their way to help a complete stranger. This really has been a pleasant and surprising part of the PCT thus far!

I hit the trail at noon, the cool and sunny high altitude position of Big Bear was very pleasant to kick the next section, there was ample flowers and some new plants and trees to enjoy as the trail gently weaved its way just north of the lake itself, with some intermittent views highlighting that even up here, Big Bear lake is obviously a lot smaller than it used to be, the drought obviously affecting the area hugely.

Given the late hour that I started on the trail, I resolved to hike through to 8pm tonight and try to make up for lost time during the transfer from Ziggy and the Bears. I would see how far I could advance, hopefully not less than 20miles but I’m still trying to pin down a consistent estimation framework for my daily mileage vs altitude gain/loss. My success at doing this has been abysmal thus far and the source of some personal conjecture along the way. I do have lots of time to ponder silly questions these days! I’ve surmised that humans are bound to making enormous errors in underestimation regarding well bounded tangibles whilst being massively inaccurate in overestimating anything with some ambiguity. This seems to match my experience at work, in delivering complex technology solutions, not just on the trail!

The trail evolved this afternoon, and adding to the changes of the day, I entered a burn area of such immensity as to be quite shocking and saddening. Forest fires are a natural process but years of holding off fires over decades or forestry protection and management means that today’s fires are much higher in intensity and scale than ordinarily would occur. Add a drought and tinder-dry forests and it’s a recipe for significant fires. I walked for 8-10 miles today inside a burn area. Every view, in every direction, was of empty hillsides, scarcely a blackened trunk standing, with twisted contorted branches literring the ground and the soil all but turned to ash.

Here and there natures resurgence could be seen, as colorful flowers and bushes reached out of the scarred earth, however their happy demeanor was not sufficient to quell the simple awe inspiring devastation of the area. It’s scale difficult to comprehend even though it was laid out beneath a beautiful sunset ahead.

By 8pm and with a tired and weary body, as well as an innate sadness from the views around me, I turned in for the night by a pretty sandbar, hoping tomorrow would maybe include a few less forms of transportation, and some further understanding of this new and alien landscape that was surrounding me. I decided to get experimental with my cuisine and created a hiker-trash masterpiece – Mexican rice out of a packet, with slices of Vermont Smoke and Cure Pepperoni, some cracked up Doritos, all contained in a wheat burrito. Delicious!

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