May 19th- Day 28- 22.1 miles from Swarthout Canyon at mile 347.2 to Highway 2 and Wrightwood at mile 369.3
I relied on the sound of other campers waking up early to wake me up, but when I open my eyes the sky is brightening and there are only two other people here, almost packed up. Dang it. I really need to get a cheap watch with an alarm.
I pack up and grab a water bottle from the cache to top off my bottles and I drink the rest of it with my breakfast, and filter the liter I carried in my dirty water bag. Then off I go, crushing the early miles up the base of the mountain with my early-morning energy. I-15 is still busy in the distance, reminding me of those video games where you need to dodge cars to get across an endless series of roads.
I feel like I'm the only hiker on the trail; that everyone is either ahead of me or vortexing at Cajon. It feels nice. I take plenty of breaks to eat snacks and pee, making my way up gentle switchbacks. It's all up today, but if it's all gradual like this I'll be a happy camper. The desert is like a crumpled piece of old parchment below, the trail rising slowly above it all through burnt areas slowly turning green with new life. Tall dried grasses line the side of the trail at points, yellow seed cases swaying like so many stars around me in the early, golden light.
I start seeing some other hikers, passing them as they lazily enjoy camp and the view, or as they take second breakfast. I'm feeling good today. Whatever knee issue I had around Big Bear is gone after Deep Creek Hot Springs; I think it was just complaining and acclimatizing to the miles. The hot springs probably loosened all of the tight muscles up and helped fix it.
I have service and look at my phone; my friends are posting group pictures of each other and it makes me a bit sad even though I love the freedom of being solo. A older guy named Minion sits with me, who says he carries one liter of water for ten miles. Im sure I look at him like he's crazy, which he is. When I get up again, the chafe on my inner thighs starts hurting, like it always does before I start walking again.
I come up on Sprite, Soulshine, Roadshow and Dr. Feelgood as they're taking a break. I plop down by them, my thigh chafe burning. I put on some Glide, which makes it sting worse. They suggest I get some men's spandex boxers for under my shorts so my thighs can't rub at all. I'll look in Wrightwood. It's good to see them all again; I started with Sprite and Soulshine and cowboyed next to them at Hauser, and probably haven't seen them since sitting with them under Sprite's tarp with Karma and Nirvana on day 5. I crush out some more miles, stopping to eat and drink often in short 5-minute breaks.
I pass Twinkle Toes, who is having a slow off-day with frequent breaks, and is not having fun. I take a sun break with Roadshow, Sprite, Soulshine and Dr. Feelgood again, and lick my chips bag clean of the last of the chip crumbs. I'm hungry pretty much all day now, and have to eat constantly so I don't hit a wall. Twinkle passes and says she's going down Acorn Trail to get to Wrightwood earlier, and I say I'll get in with her on a cheap hotel room if there are any.
Up, up, up!
Just before Guffy Camp and Springs, the trail turns very steep for a hundred yards, and I power up it, leaving Soulshine and Co. behind for a bit. A guy says the trail down to the water is very steep and it takes 8 minutes to collect a liter. I decide to move on, and text my friends behind me about the water situation. They're at Cajon Pass stuffing themselves right now.
I have enough water to make it to the Highway, so I book it there as best I can after my long day. The trail winds along the top of the mountains, snow banks crouching in the shade. There are ski lifts here, and signs marking different routes. I pass a campground where people are making campfires, the smoke washing over me and making me hungry. But I'm out of things I want to eat. A dog barks at me.
When I'm a mile out from the highway and first glimpse it, Twinkle texts me and says she's going to stay at a couple's place in town and they're picking her up in an hour. "They have a dog and a cat! Can you make it here in time?" she asks.
"Yep!" I say, and renew my pace. I hobble down into the trailhead parking area as a car is coming up. I half-heartedly stick out my thumb, not expecting anything, but they turn around and drive back. It's a couple from LA out for the weekend to hike Baden Powell and go camping. They have two dogs and a baby and I squeeze into their front seat, thankful that my pack is light and small right now, before resupply. I don't catch their names, but the guy went to UNR, the university in Reno, for a football scholarship! So cool.
They drop me off at Pine Street by the school, and I head off to the Yodeler to find Twinkle. She's at the bar with a hiker named Bug Juice. I ask the bartender if I can get a black-bean burger in less than 10 minutes, and when I get it I scarf it down. Heath and Michelle, the people who are picking us up and letting us stay at their house, show up and get a beer after going jeeping out in the desert all day.
They drive us the mile to their house, and we get to meet Thor, their pit bull and bull dog mix. He's not sure about us at all at first, but after Twinkle and I shower we meet him properly and he falls in love with me in particular. I realize I'm wearing my wind pants that I haven't washed since I wore them at the Nobody's place in Big Bear, so they probably smell like chihuahua.
We sit out on the porch and talk, while I rub Thor's tummy. He complains whenever I stop, lying on the deck with a big smile on his face.
It's a gorgeous house, which Heath and Michelle bought when it was a dump and have slowly been restoring. We look at pictures of the house when they first got it. The room we are sleeping in was pink and neon green, with a big asymmetrical blue star painted on the ceiling and Hannah Montana posters on the walls.
Eventually we go to bed. The bed is so soft, and I'm in my pajamas fresh from the dryer. They're dropping us off back in town tomorrow early and I'll get out without taking a zero. Life is good.
May 18th- Day 27- 19.1 miles from Cleghorn Picnic Area at mile 328.1 to Swarthout Canyon at mile 347.2
I slept okay last night, but I think I was restless because I drank a bunch of water with caffeine Mio drops in it. I'd definitely recommend picnic tables for sleeping on- it's so nice to not have to stand up from the ground. My sleeping bag feels slightly damp from condensation, but everyone who didn't sleep under the pavilion has very wet sleeping bags. Pressure D, who came in late last night, leaves. Twinkle Toes heads out next, and I follow right behind after having to put on cold, wet socks. I was clever last night and washed both of my pairs.
My feet feel like frozen hamburger meat inside my shoes, and I hike fast to get blood pumping to them, back up the dirt road I took down from the trail last night. I can still clearly hear Karmel talking with a friend on the phone, which is weird since I'm well past the pavilion. The trail goes down and joins a road, and Karmel and Ram are walking along it, despite having left several minutes after me. I'm quite jealous of their little shortcut.
The plan is to hike to the Cajon Pass McDonald's for lunch and to hang out there for a couple of hours. I still feel very full from the pizza last night as I hike up to the top of the ridge- but when I start heading down, the hunger hits me. My stomach feels empty and I think about the food I'm going to be able to eat soon. I've never been to a McDonald's, so all I know for sure I'm ordering is a large chocolate shake.
It's very pretty, the trail bringing us through meadows of turning, purple grasses, and right under a power line. I'm hiking right ahead of Twinkle when the dirt bank on my left drops away and I'm hit by a view of multi-hued mountains stretching away, and blonde sand-colored cliffs falling away several hundred feet below us. Twinkle gets really excited when she realizes one of the mountains in the distance is Mt. Baldy, which she hikes often.
Then, we try to hurry to the pass. The highway comes into view, split lanes with pale semis floating along and glinting in the sun. It's so weird that there are so many cars on the road in the middle of a Thursday. Apparently LA is just behind Mt. Baldy and this is the main road to Las Vegas.
It's frustratingly close. The trail switchbacks down the hills and along ridges, until we enter a canyon with a trickling stream at the bottom. I watch for rattlers as it seems like prime habitat. I check the distance left to the Highway. "Half a mile!" I say to Twinkle, who's just walked up behind me. We move with renewed purpose down the trail.
Then we're at the road, with the sign pointing to the McDonald's. We walk down the road, the Golden Arches leading us onwards, the highway beside us spilling exhaust into the air.
I set my pack down with Mark the doctor and Buddha, who I met on the walk today. I try to find out what to order, staring at the TV screen menus that flash completely different menus every 3 seconds. "I'd like a large chocolate shake, first off," I say when I go up to order.
"Sorry, but our machine isn't working right now," he says.
"How stereotypical," I say, my heart sinking a bit. I have no idea what to get, so he helps me out. I order 2 egg mcmuffins without ham, two cheeseburgers without parties, fries, and a drink. It comes quickly and I dig in. Mark is amazed that I've never eaten McDonalds before. My grand junk food taste test continues...
We sit there for 4 hours, charging our phones and talking and updating various blogs and vlogs. We get a few strange looks from leggings-wearing LA folk, but a lot of people know about the trail or are friendly and curious. Claire comes in and says that Christine couldn't walk today on her bad knee and she had to hitch to Wrightwood from the picnic area. Karmel and Ram show up, and I see Sprite, Soulshine and Roadshow.
I head out last, after finally getting my shake and ordering an egg mcmuffin to pack out. I see Linus and tell him I've taken Picnic as my trail name, since he's the one who gave it to me. I tell him the story of the picnic cooler and he laughs and claps my shoulder. Then off I go! The trail takes a long dark underpass below the freeway, goes over and under railroad tracks, until finally we're up in the mountains and away from the slow-moving, never-ending necklace of semi-trucks.
The trail dilly-dallies along ridgtops, a view of the mountains around rising with it. It's probably the most gorgeous desert section so far. In the golden hour light, I walk through a shoulder-height field of whispering yellow grasses, through velvety green growth in a burnt section.
I pass by Twinkle setting up her tent and decide to head on in the hour or more of daylight left. Smog from LA smudges the horizon as I march down to the broad valley floor. There's a water cache by a dirt road and a bunch of people are camped here. I look at where this will put me out of Wrightwood tomorrow, and decide to stop here. A bird sits on a Yucca stalk and sings. I make a ramen for dinner and eat the egg mcmuffin I packed out- probably the least healthy dinner I've eaten in my life.
I set up camp in a sandy spot. Coyotes yip in the distance. The heat is coming back after the cold snap following the snow, and I'm planning on waking up before the sun tomorrow to avoid the heat during the long and steep climb into Wrightwood.