Southern California: Idyllwild to Big Bear City

click to enlarge

May 17, 2003
Scrubbed clean and wearing fresh smelling clothes again, Glory and I tracked down Will and Sharon in the state camp ground at 8. They were fast asleep and didn't seem to motivated to go anywhere. We sat around staring at them until they got up and we marched off to breakfast at the Red Kettle. It proved to be a good choice and we arrived just before the crush of locals and climbers. After a stop at the outfitters to hear how terribly buried Fuller Ridge was (the first obstacle once we regained the PCT) and how deadly it would be if I didn't have an ice axe (mine was several thousand miles away), Will and Glory went off to resupply while I went back to the hotel to call my mother and try to make arrangements for several friends to meet me further north in Agua Dulce. I arranged for a ride (free!) with the hotel owners back to the Devils Slide trailhead, although the car could only hold three people with gear. Will and Glory showed up at the motel and we waited for the ride patiently, well aware that the day was heating up. The memories of the hard hiking the day before were fresh in my head and I was worried about being able to stand up to another rough day.

click to enlarge

When the ride pulled in to the drive, Sharon had not yet returned from her errands, and Glory and I decided to set off without her. She had warned us this might happen and that we should go without her. Will decided to wait for her and hitch hike up to the trailhead. Glory and I started up the Devils Slide around 10 and immediately ran into Jay Powell, whom we last saw on the Pines-to-Palms highway. He was heading in for the day and we would not see him again. Arriving at the top in warm sunshine, we were greeted by a large group of Boy Scouts and their leaders. All of them, including pint sized boys, were carrying massive packs. Packs that dwarfed mine. It felt so unfair for them to carry so much weight; to have to walk under a crushing burden that would force an unpleasantness upon their experience out here. I wanted to tell them how they should be hiking, that there is a better way. I did not. I could not. The boys, although tired and dragging, were laughing and enjoying themselves. That was what really mattered. My interfering would be, well, interference. They could learn enough on their own and enjoy the process at the same time. They didn't need me.

click to enlarge

Just past the Boy Scouts, Glory and I flopped over into the warm grass to rest a bit and give Will and Sharon a bit of time to catch up. Laying around, I was again struck by how fortunate I was to be out here. I had not a care in the world. All I had to do was walk for a while and enjoy the views. When I was hungry, I would eat. When I was thirsty, I would drink. When I got tired, I would rest. There were no other concerns. My fears of a difficult day were erased once I got back on trail and was again living the life I wanted to. I just had to make it to the next town before my food ran out. The rest was up to me. I could go where I wanted to, and get there in my own time, in my own way.

The lazying about ended and we again set off for Fuller Ridge, which ended up being much less difficult than the outfitters in Idyllwild had made it seem. There was a large storm here on May 3, when the main pack of hikers were moving through the area. It drove most of them off the trail and back into Idyllwild to wait for the storm to end and the snow to settle. Now, the snow was only in patches and not hard to negotiate. Fuller Ridge was exposed and steep, but there was never any danger in falling.

click to enlarge

Fuller Ridge, more or less, at Black Mountain road, a tough, unpaved road leading up from the flats around San Bernadino, high up to this entrance to the San Jacintos. Will and Sharon and still not caught up, which was a good excuse to stop hiking for the day. Much to our collective amazement, when we arrived at the campsite next to the road, there was a new Honda Civic sitting next to a fire ring with Audioslave pumping out of the opened hatchback. Two students from CSU San Bernadino were smoking and drinking Rolling Rocks and were about as happy as could be. It turned out that their fraternity went to Las Vegas for the weekend to gamble away what little money they had earned during the year or their parents had given them. The two students didn't have enough, and so came to the mountains instead. I think they got the better deal.

Glory and I have thrown out our groundclothes are spending yet another night under the stars. I haven't set up my tarp since the camp at Tule Canyon road and have become slightly addicted to the night time stars. Even with the massive light pollution of the Los Angeles megaplex, the stars shine brighter out here than in my home of Indiana or hiking grounds of the Smoky mountains. Waking up in the middle of the night to adjust my pillow of clothes or to roll over is always followed with a short star gazing session before returning to the land of dreams. Seeing those billions of pinpricks of light against a black sky comforts me. Even when I have left this place, left the west, the stars will still be there. I'll always be able to come back and gawk.

With Glory well asleep, my thoughts turned to the future again. I can't think about my life or feel the environment I move through while hiking with another person. Glory is one of the nicest, sweetest persons I've ever met, but our days of hiking together must come to end soon. Even when we do not talk, the presence of another mind is felt. The clack-clack of her trekking poles disrupts me. The notion that there is another mind close by urges me to communicate with it. I just don't have the mental discipline to place these things out of mind's focus. In short, Glory is acting as a crutch for my mind: A way and an excuse not to do the hard soul searching that I so very much wanted to do while I was out here.

Glory set off a few minutes before I did and well before the CSU students had stirred. It was another cool morning, but this would not last. I was headed several thousand feet down to San Gorgonio Pass, which is less than 1,000 feet above sea level. The trail would take 16 miles to drop the 7,000 feet down to the floor. I loped along, happy to be on my own again, with Glory well ahead of me and Will and Sharon well behind. The scale of the land out here is truly grand. While standing at a perch at 6,000 feet, I could look down to a deep valley containing I-10 and up into the San Bernadino mountains on the other side, crested with the hulking, snow bound figure of Mount San Gorgonio. The trail would take me across and up, although not to the mountain itself. The juxtaposition of the wild naturalness of the San Jacinto and San Bernadino ranges with the smog flow from the LA area was striking. Thoughts flowed.

click to enlarge

Midway down to the valley floor, I passed Glory during one of her breaks, said hello, and kept pushing. I wanted so much to hike alone and continue my morning uninterrupted. The San Jacintos were ending, although the bulk of Mount San Jacinto would follow me for another week, a constant companion whenever I would glance south.

click to enlarge

Glory set out at a trot to catch up. I quickly tried to lose her, hiking with long strides, quickly down the mountain. She kept trotting and I was unable to lose her. I took off at a run, and she followed. It was my first experience not being able to out hike someone. A five foot, four inch, 19 year old was able to keep up with me. I would have to deal with this as an adult, rather than trying to run away from a conflict. Arriving at the base of mountains, Glory and I hid from the encroaching sun underneath a large boulder and next to a water spigot. The first water since Idyllwild and the last for another 14 miles. It was only 11, and we had already covered 16 miles.

click to enlarge

The time was now and there was no reason to wait. I told Glory that I wanted to hike alone for a while. She was noticeably crestfallen, like a puppy that had just been kicked by an unscrupulous child. Although she tried to put on a brave front, the hour we spent at the water under the shade of the boulder was lacking in conversation. At noon, I set out alone across the valley floor which comprised San Gorgonio Pass. There was no trail out here, just a sequence of sign posts which I followed through the desert floor. With a stiff wind, I could not feel the heat of the day, which must have been intense.

click to enlarge

The stiff wind was also the cause of the many windmills in the area. There are enough to power a city of half a million people, the guidebook said. A wonderful use of renewable energy, my mind said. Half a million people is a whole lot and the energy will last, my logic said. What an awful scar upon the land, my heart said. My heart wanted everything: The clean power without the visual intrusion of the spinning blades atop long stalks. Man is not separate from the environment, my mind told me. Man will make impressions upon the environment and compromise with it, just as the environment will influence man and force compromises upon him. Balance had to be found, and the windmills seemed to strike a good balance. These thoughts carried me well past I-10 up to a junkyard with a trail register. The junkyard was the Pink Motel (which is neither pink nor a motel), a popular spot for hikers to rest from the toils and maybe sleep a night on a mattress, which might be soiled. The register bore the names of Will and Sharon. It seemed impossible that they could have passed me, but they had. Leaving the valley floor, then wind began to drop and the heat began again. I was at 2,000 feet in elevation in the Californian desert in late spring. It was hot and my body felt it. My pace slowed and my mind became unsettled. The water on my back became superheated, much like several days before on the approach to Idyllwild. Climbing up and out of Golden Canyon, I had to rest and collapsed under a large bush that shaded me nicely. The ground here was visibly disturbed. Will and Sharon must have stopped here, too. How many hikers over how many years had failed physically and sought the comfort that this bush provided. The place seemed special, even though it was nothing more than a patch of dirt beneath an unexceptional bush. But the shade was mine, and the rest did me good. Mount San Jacinto soared above, reminding me of what I had walked through to get here, reassuring me that I could manage the rest of the climb.

click to enlarge

Mildly refreshed, but still sweating, I continued my climb, reaching the top of Golden Canyon only 5 minutes later. I was a bit embarrassed with myself for not being able to make it to the top but, as no one was around, I didn't really care. I needed the rest and so took it. There was no one else around to appear strong to. At the top of the canyon, an entirely new world appeared to me. The landscape changed to one resembling the walls and canyons of Death Valley, the colors shifted to shades of brown, interspersed with plateaus of green. Two rattlesnakes dotting the landscape and a coyote ran along side me briefly for good measure. The heat of the day was ending and my spirits were on the rise. Leaving the rim of the canyon for another valley, I ran into a southbound hiker at the base of his climb and my descent. I said hello and he said "a mile and a half." My lack of understanding was apparent, and he repeated his statement. Not sure what he meant, I asked him what was in a mile and a half. Incredulous, he told me that water was there. It hadn't occurred to me that water might be an issue for hikers. It was only 12 miles since the last water source and I had plenty water (even if it was hot). We were trying to communicate, but could find no common basis on which to talk. Thanking him for the information, I pushed on, reaching the Whitewater river twenty minutes later.

The Whitewater was the most flowing water I'd seen since I'd started the trip: A stream perhaps six feet wide and six inches deep. Given the size of the flood plain, it was clear than after the spring snow melt the river was white and raging. Now, it was a pleasant stream. Will and Sharon were on the other bank and shouted with shock upon seeing. They assumed I was in front and had just finished cooking dinner. I lept across the river and started my dinner cooking while we chatted. Sharon had gone by alone our camp at Black Mountain Road (four feet off the trail) and missed us. Will had as well, and then he missed Sharon's camp. We were all surprised to find each other that day. In the midst of dinner I told them about my conversation with Glory earlier and that she probably would not show up again. That we would not see her again. At 9, just as we were turning in for the night, Glory came down the trail. She had rested at the Pink Motel, found it sleazy, and set out for a better camp. She found us.

click to enlarge

The stars were out and the night mild. My body was pleasantly tired after the 30 mile hike from the previous camp. My first 30 mile day ever and it came soon in the trip. I wasn't exhausted or broken and my mind was reassured again in my body's ability to perform. The moon rose and my last thoughts were of how great life was out here and what tomorrow might bring. What joys and sights, what thoughts and ideas. All I had to do was be out here, living a simple life, to experience it all.

Dawn in the desert is a happy time. The air is cool and crisp, the light bounces off the canyon walls in a magical fashion, and the creatures of the desert are active.

click to enlarge

This morning was not like that at all. The heat was already building at 6 am when the four of us began the climb out of the Whitewater river and up Mission Creek. Approximately 7,000 feet of elevation to gain to get into the heart of the San Bernadino Mountains. I set off by myself, but Glory quickly caught up. Sharon and Will were stirring when I left. Energy was lacking, as if my body was protesting from the day before. How dare it! Not enough water? Too bad! As much as I wanted to push, I could not. I stopped frequently on the climb to drink out of Mission creek, the first time on the PCT where the trail climbed up following a river. Will and Sharon soon joined my slow pace and then passed. The heat built and built until, near one in the afternoon, none of us could push on any further and we sought refuge in a shady ring of oaks next to Mission creek. Two Frenchman were resting a few hundred meters off in a similar spot. Ninety minutes drifted by as if they were two. The heat was still intense when the four of us set off to finish off our climb up to the cool heights of 8,000 feet.

click to enlarge

At the top the air was indeed cool and we met three new hikers: Bob, from Florida, Joe from Los Angeles, and Dave from Oakland. They were gathered around a water source resting. With the cool air and more water in my system, walking was no longer a problem and we set out to play in the San Bernadinos, the second mountain system of the trip. Views off to Mount San Gorgonio were much appreciated, although everything was good up here. As the sun began to dip low, Glory and I pulled up at Coon Creek road; a little dirt road with some trees, underneath which we are camped. Joe and Dave arrived later and Will and Sharon decided to walk a little further. It is 31 miles to Big Bear from here, a distance I can make. My intense desire for solitude from the previous day was absent today and I am unsure why. It may be the new people that I have been meeting, which means that it is not solitude that I am seeking, but just company other than Glory's. Perhaps I was just feeling more sociable.

A cold night at 8,000 feet and I was still out of my bag before the sun was up. Memories of the heat of the climb up Mission creek perhaps inspired me, perhaps it was the knowledge that Big Bear City was within reach. Glory set out a few footsteps behind me. I was back in solitude mode again and wanted to be alone in the morning light. As before, however, I could not out hike Glory. She would hike at whatever pace I did, even if it was faster than she wanted. Even if she had to jog. The trail out was easy and in the cool air my body was performing well. By nine Glory and I had caught up with Sharon and Will, who had camped about three miles further than we did, but got a later start. All moods were good as the pleasures of town drew near. The sprintdrive of the morning had vanished and I was again just walking for the fun of it, even with the knowledge that a town was ahead.

click to enlarge

The afternoon brought heat and my pace slowed more. My body was hurting from lack of water. Despite my best efforts, I had not consumed enough over the past two days and I was really feeling it: Lethargy, slightly upset stomach, slight headache. A long lunch near a water source and a great privy helped, but only so much. The land grew drier and drier, much opposed to what I expected by the land surrounding a place called Big Bear Lake. Crossing HWY 18 brought tempting thoughts of hitching into town, but the rest from lunch helped push me along. The heat had peaked and I knew that it would not get any hotter.

click to enlarge click to enlarge

Will pulled away and Sharon and Glory slowed to walk together for a while. I was again at peace, alone with my thoughts, for the final push to town. It occurred to me that perhaps I was taking the wrong view of the future, or perhaps a short sighted one. Rather than trying to figure out what I was going to do in a few year, perhaps I should concentrate on how to make my life better now. How to make life in Indiana more palatable. How to be more productive in my work. Several schemes and ideas bounced around in my head, and I took the opportunity engendered by the solitude to talk about them out loud. After cresting a ridge underneath shady pines, I was in the middle of discussing how I could help the math club at Indiana University when a woman with her dog appeared in the trail. I was sure she had heard me. A bit embarrassed, I simply said hello and kept walking. I then realized that I really wasn't embarrassed. There was no reason to be. What I thought was embarrassment was just the feeling of being caught doing something that was not the social norm in a regular society. As I was out in the woods for a long time, those standards no longer applied. But, what standards did? Pleased with myself, I found a log in the shade to rest against. Glory and Sharon passed by twenty minutes later and we walked to Van Dusen Canyon Road together, the gateway to Big Bear City.

Will was waiting near the road perhaps twenty yards from another hiker. Neither knew of the other's existence. Our hopes for hitching down the road into down were immediately dispelled: Van Dusen was a hard, broken up dirt road. Little traffic would be on it. On our walk down two cars did pass, but both had no room. When we reached the start of town itself traffic picked up and we quickly had a ride from a mother and her son. They had just gotten pizza from Little Caesar's and were on their way home with it. Yet, they stopped for four smelly hikers and drove them around to the other end of town to a Motel 6, while their pizzas cooled. I thought it a rather generous gift on their part. After all, I would have committed several felonies for pizza dripping with gooey cheese and other delectable toppings at the moment.

The four of us split two rooms at the Motel 6, with the plan of taking a day off (a zero day, if you will) the next day. It was only 5 in the evening and I had walked 31 miles to Van Dusen, plus two miles down it. Being in town gave me an energy boost. No thoughts of sleeping or resting. I wanted to sample all that I was deprived of when I was out on the trail. As much as I loved being out in the woods, I had not lost my attachment to certain things. Which would I lose in the next two months, I thought. Would I no longer crave a soft bed? No longer want daily showers? No longer yearn for fresh cooked food? The answers didn't really matter right now.

Next door to us was an injured hiker by the name of Hermit George (no, not his real name). Hermit George had been in Big Bear City for a week with an injured knee. He had seen a doctor and was taking medication, hoping that he would get well enough to hike again next week. In the meantime, he was living in Motel 6 and eating at a run down Mexican joint across the street. The same thing had happened to him last year, only he got injured near Idyllwild. He was planning on hiking from Mexico again next year if he couldn't continue this year. I felt very lucky to be young and healthy. Hermit George tucked into his room for the night and I never saw him again

Scrubbed clean and wearing semi-clean clothes again, Will and I dragged Glory and Sharon to Firehouse Ribs, a BBQ shack across the street from Motel 6 and the Mexican joint. The man cooking knew his stuff. My plate of pulled pork, collards, and coleslaw was apportioned just right for a hungry hiker. The pork had been cooked a long time and came out without the sauce, just as it should be. Pulled pork drenched in sauce is like sushi drenched in soy: It just doesn't work. The collards were cooked slowly until they were very tender and then mixed up with some smoked turkey, the owner's concession to Californian sensibilities. I got a slice of carrot cake to go and made a run to the liquor store next door for some beer. Laying in the bed back at the motel with three friends about, watching television and eating carrot cake washed down with beer, I was in utter heaven. A time of such satisfaction that its memory is now hardwired into my head. Around midnight, I drifted off to sleep in peace. My last thoughts were of how soft the bed was and how quiet the night was. How sterile the environment inside this little pod was. My satisfaction was dulled.

Nothing to do. That was all that went through my head in the morning when I awoke at the fabulously late hour of 8 o'clock. I didn't have to worry about the heat of the day or the lack of water. Whether or not the next water source would be flowing or not. If there would be any snakes on the trail. Where the tough climb would be. Instead, I was thinking of doing nothing the entire day. Or, rather, almost nothing.

I roused Will and Sharon and Glory and we set off for breakfast at Thelma's, which thruhikers of previous years had pronounced as unmissable. Thelmas was approximately a mile up the road from the Motel 6 and the short stroll gave us a chance to see a bit of the town of Big Bear. Thelmas turned out to be exquisite. The breakfast special was the Popeye omelet (spinach, swiss, and bacon), along with hashbrowns and toast. Fresh squeezed orange juice came free with breakfast and I added a cup of coffee. Additionally, I got a cinnamons roll that came out sticky and gooey with a massive slab of melting butter on top. Sheer heaven for someone used to eating a couple of granola bars for breakfast, washed down by some iodized water.

click to enlarge

Fully breakfasted, we set out for the fire station, which used to host hikers, to sign in on the trail register and get some water information on the upcoming stretch. The receptionist at the firestation was most helpful and very sorry that they were unable to host hikers this year. Apparently they got a new chief recently and the numbers of hikers (not their behavior) made hosting them difficult. The chief thought it too much, but the firemen and staff are working on him for next summer. In the register I found that the main pack had passed through ten days before, which means I've started to run them down. Water information for the stretch into Agua Dulce was provided by the Saufley's and the firemen had a nice box of alcohol for stoves.

Next on the busy schedule was the post office, which was a couple more blocks up the street. I picked up my bounce box and sat with the others outside getting it sorted before mailing it out. While we sat, and old man in a mid 80s subcompact Mitsubishi pulled up, giving up the eye. Frank, his name was, lived in the area and spotted us as hikers immediately. Before we could introduce ourselves he had offered us a ride up Van Dusen Canyon Road tomorrow and a ride back to the motel in an hour. We were all a little shocked, but highly pleased and countered with an offer of breakfast before the ride. I went in to mail out my bounce box and came out with a trail name. The actual story is really rather boring and I'll relate part of it at the end of this section. The mailing chores over, I walked across the street to a small market and bought supplies for the short leg to Cajon Pass: The crossing of I-15. I also indulged with a copy of the Los Angeles Times and quart of iced tea. Now that cold drinks were available everywhere, I was going to take full advantage.

Frank drove us back to the motel, where we split up for various activities. I decided to lay in the grass and drink iced tea and read the paper. Murders and robberies in Los Angeles. A cop on suspension for suspected ties to organized crime. Bombings and counter-bombings in Israel. Unrest in Iraq. The possibility of Gray Davis being given the boot. I put the paper away and went with the crew next door for a butter pecan milk shake. I rifled the hiker box at the Motel 6 looking for something good, but found only one thing of interest: A dress.

click to enlarge

While I was reading, Will had figured out where a movie was and when it was showing The Matrix: Reloaded. We made plans to meet at the PO in Big Bear Lake City (a different town) and again split up. Will, Glory, and I eventually got on the city bus, where we met several other thruhikers who had been in town for a while. Toes and Scoots were apparently enjoying hitch hiking past the more difficult section of trail, while the Chaos Twigs (oops, Twins) were suffering from iodine poisoning and spending their time in Big Bear searching for some sort of magical stove made by the military. We hopped off the bus and said our goodbyes to the hikers, whom we would never meet again. Occasionally I got news of the Chaos Twigs, and it was always rather humorous.

I was hoping to buy some new socks as I had already burned through two pairs and I didn't have new socks coming until Mojave, almost three hundred miles away. The sand acts as an abrasive and chews holes in the light running socks that I like to wear. For some unknown reason, the outfitters in town was closed on Wednesday, so I bought some lady's dress socks from a $1 store and went to an ice cream parlor instead of running over to another store. Will and Glory chose the other store, while I had a huge banana split. I wandered over, quite fat and happy, to the PO and reclined on the lawn, dozing slightly, until Sharon, Will, and Glory showed up twenty minutes later. Despite having just eaten a banana split, we went off in search of dinner and then the movie.

I rather liked the movie, but getting back in the evening was rather difficult. It was quite dark out and the bus had stopped running. It was a long walk back to the motel and hitching wasn't working. We would walk on and put out our thumbs as cars raced by in the dark. No luck. Thirty minutes passed. An hour. An hour and a half. Frustrated, we found the number of a taxi and called from a pay phone outside of a gas station. Eventually the taxi showed with Toes and Scoots in the back and we got back to the motel for a tidy $11. It was still early and I didn't want my day of rest to end. A trip to the liquor store for some beer was in order and, task accomplished, I settled in for the night. When the Simpsons came on, I thought I would faint in pleasure. Life got even better when a King of the Hill episode followed. From this, I got the trail name of Suge, as in short for Sugar. It was all the result of a nice woman in the PO, the beer, and the King of the Hill episode. As the real story is somewhat boring and pointless, it is better if you simply string your own story between those three points.

With the last bottle of beer and the last bits of laughter fading, we all went to sleep, quite rested and feeling very powerful. It was almost as if I hadn't walked close to 300 miles to get here. It was as if my car was parked out front and I was on my way to someplace else. In the morning I would don my pack again and set out through the woods and mountains and desert, but right now I could not feel it. It was as if I had finished one trip and was now about to start another: The hike to Agua Dulce. The Canadian border was too far away to be visualized. Agua Dulce was close, and I knew I could make it to there, at least. Happy and feeling a little chubbier than when I came in to town, I drifted off into dreams to get what sleep I could before the morning sun brought the start of a day and the start of a hike.