(Day 28) Big Bear to Cajon Pass – the full story

Magic flower


Homemade spice bags


Still alive





Ok, now that we’ve fully digested the McDonalds food and our heads, bellies, and arteries are clear, we’re ready for a real blog post complete with updates on where we came from, where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we plan to go.

So we hiked out of Big Bear (mile 266) pretty slowly, doing 9 miles that first day, and camping at mile 275 – aka. the other access point to Big Bear. Our packs were lightened and our food whittled down. The plan was, I’ll test out these shins and see what they’ve got. If they can’t hack it, we’ll go back to BB and rest more. If they can handle it, we’ll push on. And guess what? They feel so much better. Amazing. I was hesitant and nervous at first, but am very happy and surprised by the outcome. At our campsite, while bending over the stove, I noticed that my right ankle buckles inward more than my left one does, which could be the source of stress – my diagnosis is that my lower leg muscles pull on my tibia, which causes pain (aka., shin splints). Also, it doesn’t help that, because I broke my left femur in a car accident almost 15 years ago, my right leg tends to overcompensate for any shortcomings due to the left-side injury (in addition to a host of other body adjustments). I tend to favor my right leg, using it more often, turning it outward sometimes and putting more pressure on it in general. Anyhow, working hard to walk properly (which is weirdly a struggle) with both feet facing forward/not pronating, not leaning forward, taking smaller steps, and pushing off with my back foot more – combined with an ankle brace, taping my ankle every morning, compression socks, elevation, massage, and new insoles, my shin feels good. Great even. Those first two days – doing 9 and 11 miles, respectively – the shin felt a little tender and sore, but much better and not outright painful. The next day we did 15 miles, followed by a 20 miler and a 21 miler. As the days went on, my leg felt better and better. I barely can feel any tightness or tenderness in my lower leg muscles surrounding my tibia. I’m still working hard to fight off the splints, thinking about every step, massaging my shin with aspercreme often, taping/bracing, but I am very hopeful and am definitely pushing on. Thanks for all the good vibes and advice this way – much appreciated! The vibes are helping!

That first day back on the trail we hitched quickly (first car) and caught a ride from a local man who talked of hiking Mt Whitney in 2 days on his 35th birthday. We passed a few day hikers – lots of folks around Big Bear are into hiking – but no other thru-hikers. We set up camp at a place with “not great ju-ju” according to Jared, our newly dubbed official campsite ju-ju assessor. The site was close to the trail, near a road, and didn’t have great energy flow/feng shui. But on the bright side, we were at a solid spot, I was sporting my new homemade camp shoes (goodbye crocs, hello cardboard-duct tape-bandana shoes…many ounces lighter), and we were using the tiny bags for spices I made. New homemade gear excitement.

In the morning, the camp stove was knocked over and nearly boiling water spilled everywhere when Jared tossed his pack out of the tent and onto the stove which I had set up at the tent entrance. Several lessons were learned. We blame the ju-ju.  That morning, Jared hiked/hitched back into town to pick up an ankle brace and athletic tape to repair my wonky ankle. We were on the trail around noon and quickly passed a few older women (I dubbed “The Mothers”) about 1 mile into their section hike to Wrightwood. The Mothers were carrying loads 50 lb+, including 9 liters of water – eclipsing our ~25 lb packs. We chatted for a minute (and hoped they would make it safely), then trekked on, getting passed by 2 other thru-hikers. Most of the day was downhill and gradual, and we eventually set up camp at mile 284, at a site with very good ju-ju, alongside Holcomb Creek. As we made our dinner, couscous with tuna followed by hot chocolate, another thru-hiker named Andy and his dog named Moby came by our camp. He told us about getting almost-mugged in Big Bear (we’d heard rumors of this from Gator over breakfast at Teddy Bear). He hiked on, couldn’t find the trail immediately, came back, and set up camp at a site a few trees away from a jeep road. Then as we were drifting off to sleep, a lost – and possibly deranged – person was driving on the road, couldn’t find it, drove off the road, and nearly drove over Andy – missing his tent by 5 feet. He said he had to stick his head out of his tent and wave so he and his dog wouldn’t get run over. Man, this kid’s luck…

The next day, Andy was out before we were so we lost him from there. We hiked 15 miles – we hiked along Holcomb Creek, passed a sleepy rattlesnake, had a great snack at the wooded water source, watched a man pan for gold, made it to our first Deep Creek crossing, felt rejuvenated, hiked along the trail that hugged the valley wall above the creek, crossed mile 300!, and set up camp by the water around mile 301 (pretty good ju-ju) just before our second Deep Creek crossing. A good day. Low on fuel, no hot chocolate tonight.

We woke early – on the trail by 6-6:30 – and walked along the trail before the sun came up, which is always a beautiful time of day. We got to the Deep Creek Hot Springs that we had heard so much about by mid-morning. We found the springs, reported to be a crowded place riddled with nudist bathers, to not quite live up to it’s reputation. It was nice. We came across a handful of people, though none were naked. We also made the mistake of cutting back to the PCT through the “bathroom” area. Gross. Non-hikers have not gotten the memo about catholes and packing out TP. We did found our own private beach-y area just down from the hotsprings – not quite hot, but pleasant, good for washing up, and a nice place to rest on some flat rocks. We soaked our shirts in water before putting them back on as we hit the trail just before noon as they day got hot. A few miles to the next water source – dunking our shirts in the stream again. Eventually we made it out of the Deep Creek valley and past the Mojave River forks spillway, fording the creek and getting our feet wet (surprise – our feet were very clean at the end of the day as the silt got trapped in our wool socks away from our skin). We crossed closed Highway 173 and found a water cache in a bush – complete with a chair and a bucket for sitting, TP, bandaids, and a garbage can! We made it to mile 320 and debated where to camp – the site at 320 or 321? Jared won – we would stay at 320 at the site with assured good ju-ju (great views, off trail, picturesque). But then he conceded to my urging that we push on one more mile. We got to 321 – a site with bad ju-ju. But it was too late to go back to the good site, not worth the extra 2 miles it would add to our trip. There was a weird trail leading from the trail through the site to another area with a broken bench and random boards, there were dead bushes surrounding the site (cleared for the site we think), and the vibes were generally not great. The first thing we did was break a tent pole. Damn. We didn’t speak of the weird vibes or the weird noises I was convinced I could hear just beyond the wind until the next morning, after a fitful sleep.

We woke early-ish for our 21 mile day into Cajon Pass. The day flew by as we listened to our 7 collective albums we had on our phones – Jared called Big Agnes to get a new tent pole sent to Wrightwood (we’ll wait only a day or so), we hiked down to Highway 138 past the power plant, back up into the hills, along Silverwood Lake, found a tiny soda cache (A&W!), made a lunch/water stop at the Cleghorn Picnic area where a ranger gave us an orange, walked uphill, got attacked by flies, paused for blister care (I have a HUGE blister on my right baby toe which I’ve drained 5 times in the past 3 days), paused again for a quick cry break where I tore off the toe bandage and ankle brace (thankfully the athletic tape is stabilization enough even though it gave me a rash and leg blister of all things), replaced toe bandage with a tiny piece of bandana, powered up and over a hill past beautiful sandstone bluffs, and then dragged our tired feet the last few miles down to Cajon Pass where our sweet, sweet McDonalds was waiting for us…

So the backstory on the McDonalds is that it’s a bit of trail legend – every hiker stops here. The stretch from Big Bear to the McD’s is flat and relatively unpunctuated by excitement (well, unless you count the power plant or the looming threat of Poodle Dog bush – a poisonous plant similar to poison oak). The thought of a burger and chicken nuggets fuels you on. It’s good for morale. 18 miles in to our 21 mile day, just as our feet were threatening to take us no further, Jared and I started talking about what kind of dipping sauce we would dunk our chicken nuggets into (me – BBQ all the way, Jared – sweet & sour and hot mustard, in case you’re curious) and we made it down that last 3 mile stretch. Normally, I don’t eat at McDonalds – sure I loved the rare occasion as a kid – but now as an adult that recognizes the health consequences and generally steer clear of the stuff. But with a hiker appetite, the appeal and lure of McDonalds is great and powerful…

And now we are lounging at the Best Western – doing our laundry, giving our feet a rest, eating Subway sandwiches, relaxing in the jacuzzi, stretching, making new (lighter!) camp sandals, watching Tom Cruise movies, pilfering the hiker box, and waiting out a day so we can time our arrival in Wrightwood to meet our new tent pole. The next 20 mile stretch promises to be rough – uphill with no sure water all the way to town. We’re entering “Section D” of the PCT now. This section is demanding. It stretches from Cajon Pass to Agua Dulce, 112 miles with 27,000 feet elevation gain and 27,000 feet elevation loss. Stay tuned…

Mile 342! Our decision to slack pack and generally rest in big bear paid off big – we made it from 266 in 5 days to 342, and really only slowed down for the first two days. Frankly, after my 26 mile day at 3mph, I was happy to take it easy for a couple of days myself… My feet are in tatters. Both of my heels have blood blisters on them, my blistered toe now has a blister on the blister, and the pad of my left foot just sort of hurts, maybe just for hurtings sake. My proverbial dogs are barking.

It was awesome watching jean get her bearings again after being injured – she was a total superstar. We had first planned to do 10, 10, 15, 15, 20, and then 20 miles to get to wrightwood. After the first day, when she realized that her ankle was the likely culprit and needed to be stabilized, I hiked into town to get an ankle brace. She spent a day hiking on her now stiffened ankle, and just took off from there. The next 3 days we put in 56 miles and made it to mcdonalds, with jean leading me the last few miles as I hobbled towards certain nuggets. I ate a double quarter pounder with cheese, large fries, 10 chicken nuggets with sweet and sour sauce, a large milkshake, and four large sodas. I wasn’t full, and I regret nothing.

Today we rested and I’m grateful. My heels are cracking and it’s very uncomfortable. Seems like vitamins and moisture are what’s needed, and these are things I can do. The uphill is always better than the down for me, too, which makes the next stretch were attacking tomorrow morning very appealing – 20 miles of pure up.

This has been the strangest stop so far I think. Up until now everywhere we’ve stopped hikers are a familiar and even welcome sight. Here in cajon pass, which is not much more than an overgrown rest area I-15, everybody is a transient – 99% of the folks you see probably don’t know the pct passes nearby, if they know the pct even exists at all! When we were in Julian, we were hikers. Here in cajon pass, we are a guy wearing the dirtiest shorts on earth carrying a small nylon purse and a gal wearing homemade duct tape shoes held together by bandanas, who are studying the gas station condiments and talking about the relationship between dehydrated foods and gas.

Being a hiker is definitely preferable, but getting weird looks is kind of fun too. Tomorrow we get back on the trail and back to being hikers.

Deep Creek


Bridge over Deep Creek


300 down!


Water. Is. Amazing.


This cache was truly amazing


Colorful Deep Creek Bridge


My foot at it’s not-finest


I ate all of this. And it was good.


Crumbly sandstone bluffs on the way to Cajon Pass


Canada was still a ways off






Camp shoes versions 1 and 2


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