Days 25 - 32:
The lodge we stayed at in Big Bear gave us a ride back to the trailhead. The hike out of Big Bear was beautiful as we curved our way around the lake and looked across at where we had stayed the night before with the snow covered mountains towering behind the city. Of all my years in SoCal, I had never been to Big Bear until now. In Big Bear during our resupply, we picked up a game-changer…Peanut Butter. We needed more calories and more protein, so now literally everything at every meal gets dipped in peanut butter…Pop Tarts, flour tortillas, Cliff Bars, Snickers Bars…or we just eat the peanut butter straight from the jar.
During the hike that day we met Ginger Balls who did the AT last year, and who has apparently cut the lining out of his hiking shorts and well, uh, that is where his trail name came from.
We camped at Bench Camp that night. Ironically Bench Camp has no benches. There were a group of four guys who also stayed at Bench Camp that night and thoroughly entertained us with their stories. They started the trail in early March and they hit Idyllwild right in the middle of a snow storm. They decided to flip up to Walker Pass and then walk south back to Idyllwild hoping for better weather the second time around. On May 1st they plan to enter the Sierra Mountains and if they do, they will likely be part of the first wave of hikers to brave that section of trail given the heavy snow pack from this year’s winter. The four of them Cowboy Camped that night (slept under the stars with no tent) closely together in what they called their “Cuddle Puddle” to keep warm.
Being the underachievers we are, once again we were the last ones out of camp the next morning, but it was Kilo’s 44th Birthday! We were pretty stoked because the Cuddle Puddle crew said today would be “cruisy,” meaning relatively easy. We quickly learned that was a load of B.S. (the Cuddle Puddle was walking south in the opposite direction which meant downhill when they covered this section) and it was actually a tough day walking the edge of a canyon above the Mojave River. I always walk behind Kilo so that I can watch his feet and if he trips I know where not to step. Kilo suddenly came to a halt and I crashed into his back. In front of him, blocking the trail, was a huge rattlesnake. We tried making noise, stomping on the ground, hitting my hiking poles together to get him to move with no luck. Eventually Swedey (a hiker from Sweden) came up behind us. This was the first rattlesnake he had ever seen (they do not have them in Sweden), so he did not know what to do either. After about a 20 minute stand off on the edge of a cliff with this rattlesnake we started throwing dirt at the snake in desperation. We needed to get moving again. Finally, he slithered off down the cliff side. Around 4pm, we hit Deep Creek Hot Springs. This portion of the creek has hot pools that lots of hikers and local hippies like to soak in. The Hot Springs are known for attracting nudists. We walked by so late in the afternoon and I was so tired, that as soon as I saw all the bare body parts down by the water, I said, “Nope, we are not swimming here or camping here tonight. I am too tired for all these penises and vaginas.” I have a fear of public swimming pools, so this was my worst nightmare. We pushed ahead two more miles and camped on a little beach underneath a Rainbow bridge with Swedey that night. In the middle of the night while in deep sleep, Kilo suddenly jumped up and pulled me up with him. It took about two seconds for me to realize there was a rock falling down the cliff side we were sleeping next to and we could not see outside our tent to know exactly where it was going to land or how big it was. I let out a small scream of fear and sleepy confusion. Good news, the rock did not land on our tent and we were able to get more sleep after the drama.
Of course Swedey was already gone in the morning by the time we stepped out of our tent. Today was an 18 mile day, but with the potential for big reward…pizza, one of my biggest motivators. We crushed the morning probably hiking more miles faster than any previous day. There is a picnic area at Silverwood Lake that a local pizza joint will deliver pizza to hikers. And as if that is not good enough, they also have bathrooms with flushable toilets AND running water. We arrived exhausted but psyched for our pizza. At first, the place was quiet, but then we walked around a corner and WOAH…every hiker we had been hiking with since Warner Springs was there (JukeBox, Fake News, Mona Lisa, Sun Bear, Notaminer, Permetheus, Casper, etc…just to give you an idea of the trail names). Party at Silverwood Lake! The pizza place not only delivered the world’s most expensive pizza, but the driver stopped at the Liquor Store along the way and delivered beer as well. Now we could celebrate Kilo’s birthday. We stayed up until 9pm, hiker’s midnight. Although not a campground, the rangers did let us camp there that night provided we were gone by 7am the next morning.
The following day was Easter, but maybe more important to our group of hikers, it was McDonalds Day (somewhere all of my former health and physical education teachers are shedding a tear for what has become of my diet). Again, this was a tough hiking day, but just 0.4 miles from the trail at the Cajon Pass is a McDonalds. And around 2pm that afternoon we filled a whole corner of the restaurant with about 20 hungry, dirty, smelly hikers. The stank has gotten so bad that now Kilo and I do not even smell ourselves. But I know I smell because as I was in line (to order my 10-piece chicken nuggets, large fries, large Sprite and Oreo McFlurry), the woman in the line next to me looked at me and then took about two steps to her left to try to stealthily move away. As we were all eating our 5,000 calorie meals, one woman walks into the McDonalds and exclaims, “These people are all wearing dirty clothes like it’s nothing!” True statement, actually. I had been wearing the same unwashed clothes, including socks, for the past five days, so it was a very keen observation. We finally left the air conditioned McDonalds, did some “grocery shopping” at the gas station next door and then camped about a mile and half back out on the trail.
The next day we entered the Angeles National Forest. We have now walked from the border of Mexico back into our home mountains. That was an awesome feeling of accomplishment even though we have so much further to go. The next day we hiked down to Highway 2 with about 10 other hikers. We were about 5.5 miles up the road from Wrightwood. With very little traffic on the 2 on a Tuesday at Noon, Kilo and I figured we would walk the road down to Wrightwood. Of course as we were about a mile down the road, all of the other hikers had managed to get a ride down and waved to us as they cruised on by. About five minutes later a Honda Civic stopped next to us and asked if we wanted a ride which we gladly accepted. In the car were two Priests from Texas (we had them drop us off at the edge of town because we weren’t sure if asking them to drop us off at the local brewery would be appropriate). As soon as we got in the car they instantly rolled the windows down. Yet another confirmation that even if we can no longer smell ourselves, we do stink.
Today we took a zero day in Wrightwood and to kick it off I ate three breakfasts all before 9am - an everything bagel toasted with butter, a chocolate chip muffin, a massive cinnamon roll covered in icing and a large coffee). And, today we had visitors! Kilo’s brother and his wife drove up to spend the day with us. It was great to see familiar faces. Tomorrow we are back on the trail with Vasquez Rocks as our next destination in approximately six days.