Wow, what a week of wind! We last left off with us leaving behind the idle lifestyle in Idyllwild. We were finally back on trail! Since we were practically restarting as far as conditioning and fitness, we took the shorter access trail to get back to the PCT, rather than the ridiculously steep and longer trails which would put us closer to the fire closure area. We prioritized health and well-being over trail miles. Missing 4 miles is less important than stressing Steve’s newly grown skin.
Our week off proved to have taken its toll on our trail readiness. The uphill was an effort as we approached the trail to the San Jacinto peak (+10,000 peak side trail). Again, we opted out of the extra day of bonus hiking. The peak will still be there when we weren’t focused on putting everything we had into the PCT. Hell, we’ll come back and climb San Jacinto when we’re 90. Today, the priority was the recovery of his feet. After a lovely dinner break next to the last water source for the next 20 miles, we continued down trail in hopes for a lovely sunset view over the valley.
As we meandered down the trail in the dimming light, we met a hiker & his dog out for a weekend overnight. He pointed us to the location of their camp, saying he had a good overlook into the valley. We quickly set up in a nice clearing and got the tripod set on the cliff side in anticipation of a vast sunset. While the colors disappointed a bit, we enjoyed the company of our new friend, Trevor, and his 4-legged food seeker, Beacon. The light pollution from the distant cities complicated the attempt to capture the open night sky above us. But even an unsuccessful photography opportunity is still a beautiful time spent staring into the vastness of space.
We enjoyed the morning hike down with Beacon (trail name Yogi, perpetually trying to swipe our picnic baskets) leading the way, with Trevor being tugged down trail behind him. Trevor is the owner of a print company that prints animals on head covers and gifted Steve with a new head scarf with a wolf on it. Very cool gift that will now travel the trail with us! We parted ways at the trailhead as we continued ahead along our 15 mile waterless decent into the valley. Just as we thought, – downhill, no problem! – the trail gladly proved us wrong. Fifteen miles of constant downhill opens a whole new can of worms on top of the sun, wind, and general exposure brought by the desert mountainside. Catching a shrinking shadow of a rare tall bush was a greatly welcomed sight. Rationing our water supply throughout the day was a critical task, trying to find the balance between good hydration and making it last to the end of the day, where a water spigot awaited us near the valley floor. Strong muscle spasms, tender feet, new pack adjustments, and mental fatigue slowed us down enough to have us settling into camp as the sun started to settle behind the mountains we had just left.
In the desert section of the PCT, water is the great connector, as everyone has to plan their days around the limited water sources. So, though you can go all day with only seeing 3 people, you’ll typically meet many more gathered around the precious resource at the end of the day.
With our bottles and hydration packs filled, we set off the next morning across the valley floor with a new challenge being thrown at us (or rather throwing us around) – 50+ mph wind gusts. Trekking poles are assigned a new task when the wind kicks up. Instead of propulsion along the flat ground, they now get angled out sideways to keep you on trail rather than getting blown off trail.
We enjoyed a reprieve from the wind under the I-10 underpass, where some local trail angels had left some soda & fruit for hikers to enjoy. After a short break, we set out toward the Mesa Wind Farm which we’d been staring at during the entire previous day’s decent. Of course, wind farm equals strong wind potential. And boy were those turbines spinning that day. We arrived at the wind farm headquarters right at lunch time, so we took advantage of the shade provided by the dug-in psuedo-tiki hut they built for hikers. Then after a few minutes, we were invited inside where there was air conditioning, sandwiches, and gatorade. We enjoyed some microwave burritos and barbeque sandwiches while we scoped out the rest of the day’s hike.
A sharp uphill led us to a vast ridge line hike before plunging back down to the river below where the Whitewater Nature Preserve is open for hikers to stay. The location offered flushing toilets, lush grass, and a wading pool, all of which were more than enough to draw us the half mile off trail to camp there. After basic camp chores of cooking and laundry in gale force winds were completed, we were entertained thoughout the evening by the 10 big horned sheep playing around on the canyon walls.
Our morning hike out led us past some fresh scat which very closely resembled that of the local mountain lions which were receently sighted in the area. But, foggy-brained Sierra didn’t get the photo that morning. No photo, no positive identification. 😦
The climb back out of the river valley was a beautiful, semi-gradual climb, paired with sweeping views of the surrounding valleys. But that good ole buddy, the wind, met us full force that morning. We literally had to hunker behind rocks and berms while waiting for the gusts to calm down to a steady wind just so we wouldn’t get blown off the ridgeline. When I stopped to take photos, I was sure to keep my pack on in hopes the extra 20+ pounds would help keep me grounded while I snapped some quick panoramas before hurrying back off the ridgeline. Lunch time brought us down into another small valley to enjoy some shelter alongside a creek.
After filling our bellies & our water bottles, we continued back up and out to find our campsite for the night. We had a site in mind, with lots of space for many tents. But it’s a good thing no other tents showed up because as we were setting up our tent, we tried to gather rocks to help anchor our Duplex down. But, every other rock we picked up had poo & poo paper under it! I mean, come on people! I understand not being able to bury it in the rocky region, but at least leave the very obvious campground area and poop across the trail in the non-camping area. After securing enough rocks sans feces, we managed to set up behind a large boulder and kept ourselves firm on the ground throughout the night.
Early the next morning, we heard some hikers passing by, trying to beat the midday heat. We exchanged greetings as they passed, with one of them sharing the information that the Mesa Wind Farms had recorded gusts of 100 mph that night before. Whew! I’m surprised we didn’t hear a cow go by in the night!
Fortunately, the day proved to be fairly mild temperatures and less wind. We met the folks that passed us around second breakfast time, then one more while at lunch. This brought our total of interactions for the week up to 4. We’d met 4 other hikers in a almost a week’s time. Talk about a big change of social life compared to the AT. The PCT was proving to be an introvert’s trail compared to the very social atmosphere that comes with hiking the Appalachian Trail. For Sierra, this isn’t much of an issue. But social butterfly Steve is finding a new challenge to contend with during this hike.
On top of the socialization challenge & persistent foot ailments, Steve also discovered this day he is in need of a new diet plan. His previous trail food plan worked great on the AT: high carb, high calorie – ramen, potatoes, tuna, sweet treats. On this day, his mental fatigue & physical fatigue combined for a big energy crash in the early afternoon. We camped early on top of a ridge, partnering up with that never ending wind blow. This night called for larger boulders to hold our stakes in while our cuben fiber tent walls blew like a sail, but kept us protected.
Upon discussion, we decided to head into Big Bear City a day early, needing to get out of this wind, reevealuate our food plan, and check in on his feet. But first, I really wanted to check out the private zoo which was a few miles up from our camp spot. We were fortunate enough to get to chat with the owner for a few minutes. There are 6 animals at his house, all of which are actors. I plan to check their full bios on their site, predatorsinaction.com, but the grizzly bear we could see from the trail was in the movie Gladiator with Russell Crowe, so I’ve pretty much met a celebrity now. They are in the midst of moving to the East coast as they settle out of the movie industry and into a calm life with larger enclosures.
We took to the nearby highway after our visit to catch a ride to town. After several cars went whizzing up and over our hill, we got a truck to stop for us. He introduced himself as Gary, a former Army combat helicopter pilot. He didn’t have room in the front with him & his 4-legged co-pilot, but we could hop in back. He handed us two beers and the warning that he drives like he flies, his foot never touches the brakes. And boy did he live up to that. Steve is a big fella, takes a lot of force to move him. But the speeds we were taking those turns down the mountain had him sliding back and forth! Since we were sharing the back with some tools we couldn’t lay down. So when we passed the CHP officer on the side of the road, whoop whoop, lights were on. We were let off with a warning that it’s illegal to ride in the back of trucks (and honestly, I don’t blame them, taking corners at 80 mph), but hitch hiking was fine. So back to the side of the road we went, half way closer to where we started. Steve, a seasoned hitch hiker, started dancing and having fun as the cars went zooming by, only to brake check quickly when they saw the CHP parked 100 yards down from us.
A general rule of thumb is the fancy sports cars won’t pick you up, so don’t get your hopes up. But not only did a suped-up Mustang pick us up, but they had went past, then turned around to come back for us. Why would they do that, you may ask? They had to meet the guy with those great dance moves. Oh boy…. I’ve got a dancing fool with me! Our new ride gave us a tour of the town as they took us to our first stop: McDonald’s.