Today is officially 3 weeks on the trail! Since day 17 I have been without Jean, but with other hikers to keep me company for at least some of the time. Jean and I decided back at Ziggy and the Bear (Cabazon) that she should rest, but she’d be damned if I was going to rest with her. So days 17, 18, and 19 I spent slackpacking across the desert and up into the mountains around Big Bear with some of our companions. If you’re not familiar, slackpacking is when you aren’t carrying all of your own gear – Jean took one for the team and decided that she wanted to help by carrying most of my gear in a rental car, meeting me only to sleep at campgrounds. When I met her at night, I would grab what I needed to make camp, do so, and we would eat dinner together and go to sleep for the night. In the morning, we would pack the car back up, and I would carry only what I absolutely needed… which turned out to be pretty instructive.
When you’re carrying only what you need for the day, your pack is light. Really light. Checking my gear list over the past couple of days, I figure that my base weight (what I have on my back, minus consumables) has been about 18 pounds. With Jean spotting me from the roads, however, my base weight was probably more like 4 pounds. I carried only my down jacket for emergency cold, my rain jacket in case of wet or wind, about a pound of snacks, a knife, a compass, a map, and a water filter. In a word, it was amazing. Our normal pace has been somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 miles an hour, or 2 and a quarter on the high end. On days 17, 18, and 19, I hiked a total of 57 miles at an average pace of about 3.5 miles an hour – It felt like I was practically running.
On day 17, I hiked with Josh, Virginia, and String Cheese for 8.5 miles from Ziggy and the Bear to Whitewater Preserve. We were together almost the entire time, until I got to the final set of switchbacks and started moving a lot faster – Jean was at the bottom and I was eager to see her. Whitewater canyon was the first real water that I’ve seen flowing yet – it was an honest to god stream, and in California I think it probably even qualified as a river. The canyon was beautiful in the fading light, and left a real impression on me.
The next day – day 18 – I was behind our companions in the early morning but caught up to them after a couple of miles. We hiked up a ridge and down to yet another little stream – Mission Creek. We were to follow this creek all day, the trail crossing over it repeatedly, and eventually to reach Mission Creek campground up above us in the mountains. At the first crossing, we stopped to drink as much water as we could stand and refill our hydration packs. Some other hikers we had briefly met before – Andrew and Spencer – caught up to us at the creek crossing. They were on day 10 – doing 30 mile days, every day. After we talked for a bit, they decided that they’d like to hike with us for a couple of days, and our group grew a little larger.
The rest of the day was easy physically, but tough mentally. The terrain didn’t change much until the last two miles or so of the 22 total that we hiked, and it was very hot down in the canyon. We also had our first run-in with the bizarrely named Poodle Dog Bush, which as far as I can tell was invented in order to emasculate poison oak. Luckily nobody was actually exposed, but we did see an awful lot of it. That evening, we finished the day by gaining a lot of elevation – a few thousand feet from the canyon floor up to the campground over two or so miles. At the end, we had hiked up into a high stand of enormous pine trees – a welcome change of scenery from the desert we had grown so used to. Sleep came easily that night.
On day 19, Josh and Virginia decided that they were going to skip ahead to Big Bear, and not do the next stretch. Andrew, Spencer and I set out about 730am, an hour or so behind String Cheese, to do a 26 mile day. By 1030, we had made about 10 miles and found the water cache that Jean, J&V had left for us at a road crossing. The terrain was beautiful all day – basically following contours along a mountain range leading to a descent into Big Bear City at mile 266. About 25 miles in, my feet were killing me. It was 430pm, and we had been keeping a 3 mph pace or so all day. We crested a ridge and looked over to none other than Big Bear Lake, and Spencer and I started booking it for the road crossing at 266 where we would meet Jean and the others. At 5pm, we got to the crossing, found a cache of sodas and water, and sat down with String Cheese, Half Step, Change Up, and Andy to talk a few before Jean picked us up.
The past 2 days we’ve spent trying to get rid of weight. I’ve wrestled my own pack weight down by about 6 lbs! My base weight is now about 12.5, down from 18.5, and it feels amazingly light. Tomorrow, having rested Jean pretty thoroughly, we’re going to try to get about 10 more miles down the trail, crossing our fingers that her shin doesn’t act up. With any luck, my next post will be written from the McDonalds at Cajon Pass, where we will be seated in the VIP room.
Alright, day 21 on the trail and day 6 of rest without hiking! Man am I ready to get back on the trail. The shin splint is feeling much better – l’d say 95% – no pain, some slight tenderness, some tightness and knotting on my shin area – pretty much good to go. So we’re hitting the trail tomorrow! I am ready. We’ll take it easy as I get back into the swing of things. The past few days have been boring not being on the trail. I’m feeling antsy and ready to get moving. Jared and I have really grown acquainted with Big Bear City and Lake, spending 4 nights in town. Since the last blog post just north of Ziggy and the Bear’s, I spotted the crew (Jared, Josh, Virginia, String Cheese, then later Spencer and Andy) as they slack-packed to Big Bear. After 8 miles their first day, it was 22 miles, followed by a 26-mile day, with a night spent at Mission Creek Campground. That first day driving around, I drove up to Big Bear and got all of our goods from the post office (thanks for the Gatorade Emily!!) before driving the 5-6 miles of dirt Jeep roads up to the camp. There were a few tricky spots on the dirt road, but the trusty Ford Explorer made it. Everyone met me in camp that evening – we’d gained two people – Andy and Spencer who were ultra fast and ultra light – averaging 30+ miles per day and subsisting on little more than maltodextrin. We chatted over dinner, found out that Andy is a Mormon, I shared my Armenian heritage, everyone talked of the great views coming up the trail, we talked bamboozling, and Josh and Virginia who were weary and decided to join me into town the next day, bypassing the next 26 miles. The next day we woke, grabbed some water to cache for the group, and made our way down the windy, rocky roads, eventually dropping our water jug near the “Animal Cages” (yes, there are actual animals, supposedly old Hollywood stunt animals – lions, tigers, bears, raccoons, and more). We ate real food (crepes!), shopped and ran errands, and checked in to the lovely Motel 6. I picked up the group around 5:30 or 6 (they made great time!) and made it straight for Mexican food. The next day Jared and I relocated (along with J&V) to the Nature’s Inn, a quirky local hotel with great prices that prides themselves on their plentiful amenities, where we stayed in the “Raccoon Room” for the next 3 nights where I iced and elevated my leg, massaged way too much aspercreme onto my shin, stretched, and eventually donned some sweet running compression socks and superfeet insoles. We also took the time to pare down our weight – cutting our food down by 30-35% and shaving pounds from our pack (I cut 4 lb, Jared cut 6 lb). In town life is relaxing, sure, but I can’t wait to start moving. Our next resupply is in Wrightwood, 90 miles north, which should be another 5 or 6 days at a reasonable pace…