hike blog

peeps of the PCT: John, general store owner

Sometimes, you need to spell things out explicitly so people get the point.

In a few days, I’ll return to the surgery center at Summit Orthopedics in Eagan, Minnesota to have my right hip replaced with a titanium ball, socket and post. Osteoarthritis runs in my genes and I feel incredibly blessed to have walked around 7,000 miles since I first felt any pain.

The left hip is rock solid and I feel pretty confident my awesome surgeon will have good success with the right, which right now is officially bone dust.

It’s all been a huge drama, though, with my developing painful neuropathy from a bruised nerve during surgery that should go away over the coming months. Plus both Richard and I caught Covid in the first week of recovery from the left hip replacement. Thankfully, it was a ‘mild’ case with only non-stop coughing, fever, headache and life-draining fatigue – though never requiring a hospital visit.

The virus, at least, is behind us, and there does appear to be light at the end of the tunnel as I replace the tools I need to keep walking long distances. Starting from the vantage point of my beautifully healing and strong left hip, the time has come to put my game face on for Thursday morning’s procedure.

John has seen over 2,000 PCT hikers come through Mount Laguna.

The time off from walking more than a gimpy two miles on flat ground does put me in mind to revisit my hikes. I love these conversations I had on the Pacific Crest Trail at the instigation of my friend and supporter, John Reamer. For sure, there were interesting people everywhere, but it was usually the locals, who attended to us very needy hikers, that turned out to be the most interesting interviewees.

I’d heard about John at the Laguna Mountain Lodge and Store from my brother Eric, who lives close by in San Diego, California. John is a gregarious character and Eric was curious about the increase in the number of PCT hikers after the film “Wild” was released.

John answered his question by sharing the ‘10% rule’ theory, the one that says 10% of people in a group are going to be jerks. To Eric’s surprise – and my relief – John said it was more like 1% of hikers who he’d consider jerks.

Just another bit of hiker trash hanging out on the porch and day drinking. (John, the owner of Mount Laguna General Store, is on the right)

The PCT passes around the beautiful village of Mount Laguna, though it’s easy to take a side trip for a milkshake, a meal, resupply or a bed. John and his brother own the general store, a hangout that sees over 2,000 thru-hikers (including wannabes) each season. When I walked the trail in 2019, he told me there was a day in the spring when he counted over sixty of us ‘hiker trash’ hanging out on the store’s beautiful covered porch amidst the soaring Jeffrey and Ponderosa Pines.

In typical fashion, John made me laugh about some of our shared foibles and how ridiculously seriously we take ourselves sometimes. I was definitely heartened to hear that he finds most of us thru-hikers a pretty nice bunch. It’s all a good reminder to me as I head into a bit of a trial over the coming weeks and months of two good rules to live by:

1. lighten up
2. be nice

Bonita is the friendly innkeeper at the Silver Pines, a very accommodating hotel for backpackers.
audio narrative

peeps of the PCT: Benita, Idyllwild Innkeeper

Stylish Benita made us feel welcome on a "zero-day" stop in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild.
Stylish Benita made us feel welcome on a “zero-day” stop in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild.

It’s Thanksgiving 2020, and like so many Americans, we’re home, grateful for a “warmish” day of 45 degrees and sunshine so we can sit in our courtyard and lift a glass – at a safe distance – with a few neighbors.

Last November, I was walking in the Southern California desert, slowing my pace to enjoy stops along the way and mingle with locals. It’s inconceivable in this moment to consider the freedom and assumptions I made back then – eating in restaurants, shopping at the supermarket and staying at a historic inn without wearing a mask or maintaining distance.

Heck, I even hugged hiker friends who I hadn’t seen in weeks who suddenly showed up in my space. Besides Richard – and my doctors – I haven’t touched another soul in nine months.

Staying at the Silver Pines lodge was one of the highlights of Southern California.

It was just a year ago that I completed the Pacific Crest Trail. I’d dreamed of walking it for a long time, but thought maybe my first thru-hike ought to be something exotic and far away. The reasoning was I could hike on my home-turf anytime, but to travel half-way around the world was going to take much more planning.

And then I was suddenly “boss-free” and at the urging of my husband, who seems to understand me better than I understand myself, I flew out to Washington state on a one-way ticket, joined a gang of hikers and headed up to Hart’s Pass in the North Cascades just to see how far I could go.

By Day 127, I was nearly finished, and headed down the Devil’s Slide to visit the charming mountain town of Idyllwild. A hiker friend had joined me for this section, and while we still put in a good number of miles on those short, autumn days in the high desert, after climbing 10,000 feet up and over San Jacinto Peak, we felt we deserved a day off in this truly idyllic place.

It was a sunny, dry day with a slight nip in the air when Benita welcomed us to the Silver Pines Lodge, handing us a change of clothes while we washed our hiking outfits, and giving us the run of the beautiful grounds . She told us, she’s seen her share of us ‘hiker trash’ but says we enrich the lives of her village.

Days like that, where we don’t have to worry about getting sick or making others sick, will return, I promise you, and they’ll be more precious than ever. Listening to this conversation with Innkeeper Benita, makes me feel strong and brave to face the coming months, knowing I’ll be back on the trail soon enough. I hope some rubs off on you, too.

Suicide Rock from the "Devil's Slide" above Idyllwild in Southern California.
Suicide Rock from the “Devil’s Slide” above Idyllwild in Southern California.
Bob is the caretaker at one of the oddest places along the PCT.
audio narrative

peeps of the PCT: Bob, Hiker Town

People say that you’re going the wrong way when it’s simply a way of your own.

Angelina Jolie
Bob is the caretaker at one of the oddest places along the PCT.
Bob is the caretaker at one of the oddest places along the PCT.

Along the 2600+ miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, there’s an abundance of trail angel generosity surprises.

A few that come to mind include Broken Toe’s encampment where he parked for two weeks at Hart’s Pass just to greet SOBO’s with a warm fire, a fresh vegetables and good hiker beta. Also Big Lake Youth Camp that made it part of their mission to help us hikers with kindness so deep they set aside a building just for us to hang out replete with fresh baked cookies, showers, even a box of second hand clothing to change into while our dirty ones were being washed.

In California, it was a string of pearls of hospitality like Casa de Luna near Green Valley, and Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce, owned by otherworldly souls willing to open their homes and back yards to hundreds of smelly hikers over literally decades.

By far, though, one of the strangest places I came across was Hiker Town. It’s smack dab in the middle of tumbleweeds, jumping cholla cactus and Joshua trees, mountain lions stalking and rattle snakes sunning in the middle of the trail of Southern California desert. I reached it after walking the California aqueduct, water closed in by concrete rushing below me and only available for my bottles at a single faucet before an 18 mile stretch in the blazing sun.

A tour of Hiker Town with its caretaker, Bob.

I had not heard good stories about Hiker Town, mostly that the owner is known to ask inappropriate questions and come on strong to young female hikers. He wasn’t around when I arrived – or if he was, after taking one look at me, he must have decided not to bother. I felt reasonably safe especially wince my friend Callum was right behind me on the trail.

Hiker Town’s sprawling acreage abuts a busy highway. There’s one modern house shaded by trees with a spiffy little patio, but all the others are tiny cabins, seemingly left overs from of a B movie of the Wild West variety. There’s a bank, a sheriff’s office, a school, the mining supplier, even a brothel.

I wandered about and finally found Bob building the outdoor shower. Wisps of hair on his grown and full, neatly trimmed gray beard, Bob appeared harmless enough in a black T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, far more appropriate for the Venice boardwalk than this dusty place. A videographer who won three Emmies for his work on Columbo and The Rockford Files, Bob has lived here over a decade and greeted thousands of hikers. When I asked him how he liked living in the desert, he replied resignedly, “It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter.”

Bob doesn’t move fast, but he got me quickly settled in my own private cottage, one without designation aside from a sign reading, “If you’re lucky enough to be at the beach, you’re lucky enough,” underscoring my Venice Beach association. The space was barely big enough for a brass bedstead holding a lumpy mattress and a creaky old chest of drawers missing most of its knobs. Good enough for this thru-hiker, I decided, and dumped my stuff heading to the newly constructed outdoor shower before the sun went down and the air chilled.

One of the "cottages" at Hiker Town lifted from a B movie set.
One of the “cottages” at Hiker Town lifted from a B movie set.

Callum arrived just as I dried off and was ushered to his own cottage and shower. Bob drove us (without incident) both fifteen minutes up the road to the convenience store for a mini resupply and dinner. It was dark by the time we returned. Three other hikers had arrived to stay, along with a couple I’d met on day two back in Washington. We sat out on the patio to share a soda before they head into town.

“Why not just stay here?” I asked before they left. “We’re right on the trail.”

They repeated the disturbing stories I’d heard, and, as if to put a finer point on the situation I faced, asked if I’d looked under the bed yet. What could possibly be under the bed!? They gave few clues before their ride arrived but I wan’t about to look all by myself in the dark.

So I headed to Callum’s cottage, who was already in bed at 7:30 since everyone knows that 7:30 is “hiker midnight.” Even so, sweet Callum obliged bringing his headlamp. He got down on his knees on the dusty wooden floor to get a better look. “Ah, there they are!”

They??

“Black widow spiders. But don’ worry. They won’t hurt you unless you agitate them.”

I never got around to asking Callum how many spiders were calling my ned home, though I realized he was right. Those black widows had zero interest in me. So far on this hike I’d walked in a snowstorm, been visited by a bear, stirred up a rattlesnake and walked a helluva long way without incident. I was pretty sure the local residents were going to leave me alone.

And just like that, I fell deeply asleep.

The tiny cafe in Neenach about fifteen minutes drive from the trail.
The tiny cafe in Neenach about fifteen minutes drive from the trail.
hike blog

PCT Day 139, Lake Morena campground to Mexican border, 20 miles

You don’t choose the day you enter the world and you don’t chose the day you leave. It’s what you do in between that makes all the difference. – Anita Septimus

The Blissful Hiker with a fresh squeezed lime margarita at the PCT southern terminus.
The Blissful Hiker with a fresh squeezed lime margarita at the PCT southern terminus.

I wake on my final day with the moon casting leaf shadows on our tent, Rich a giant breathing blue bag next to me. He’s more of a night owl, working on projects at home until the wee hours, but he’s always awakened with me when I need an early start, sometimes even walking me to work at 4 am. What a treasure I have, his muppet face peaking out then brightening excited for me on this last bit.

The campground was mostly silent, though the three hikers sharing our space yell to each other from tent to tent about sharing a joint and coffee, every other word beginning with an ‘F.’ The sun isn’t up yet and there are posted quiet hours. We’re offered an entire area for only $5 each and I wince thinking these guys are ruining it for future hikers. I pack quickly just as they start playing music. Guys, really? I hold back lecturing them as lesson learned is to simply remove myself. We find a rock in shade near the trailhead to drink coffee as a man comes by with a pair of pugs. My self-righteous indignation melts at the sight of these cuties. Another lesson learned – everything changes. They have the softest fur, too.

Richard and I pose at Lake Morena the final night of the PCT.
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PCT Day 138, Mount Laguna to Lake Morena County Park, 22 miles

To me, there’s no greater act of courage than being the one who kisses first. – Janean Garofalo

Richard and I pose at Lake Morena the final night of the PCT.

Richard and I pose at Lake Morena the final night of the PCT.

It’s quasi cowgirl camping in our enormous tent with no fly. The stars don’t disappoint before the moon rises over the ridge obliterating them. No campfires in this tinder box means everyone’s asleep when it gets dark. It’s quiet except for an owl and a few acorn bombs.

Dried tumbleweeds look like hair blowing in the wind.

Dried tumbleweeds look like hair blowing in the wind.

This dried tumbleweed is a bit more broom-like.

This dried tumbleweed is a bit more broom-like.

Richard and I pop right up before it’s light, packing up and getting me caffeinated. He comes to the trail with me, walking through closed Burnt Rancheria campground and hoping to spot the resident mountain lion. No such luck, though we receive a bird chorus and a stunning sunrise from the ridge. Richard takes most of my gear, leaving me just food and water for a fast day of mostly downhill ‘slackpacking.’

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PCT Day 137, past Sunrise Trail junction to Mount Laguna general store, 18 miles

I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within. – Lillian Smith

A sign shows me I how far I've come and how far I have to go to finish the PCT.

A sign shows me I how far I’ve come and how far I have to go to finish the PCT.

The moon is still silvery bright as the sky over the desert turns a Crayola 64 selection of oranges and reds. Light wind riffles my little cowgirl notch as I eat my final breakfast in bed. Oh, how I’m going to miss this. Being alone after getting myself and all I need to this soulful spot is deeply satisfying. I love my little backpacking routines and simply being inside this extraordinary beauty. It’s precisely why I came.

I take a moment to list some of the favorite moments of my walk – Goat Rocks in Washington where I climbed the peak above and had it all to myself, so many berries to eat and lakes to swim in, a chain of volcanoes like jewels, balcony walk after balcony walk, extraordinary sunsets, Crater Lake’s rim and the Sierra in rain, hail, snow and cold, the desert where I learned to cowgirl camp, walking really, really far, camping all alone, seeing three bears, making friends with some extraordinary women, never using my headlamp or earbuds (not once!), butterflies everywhere in Oregon, the varied warbler’s ‘signal’ call in Washington.

Ted and Richard hand me a bottle of water before saying goodbye as I head into the mountains for the last night alone on the PCT.
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PCT Day 136, Highway S2 to past Sunrise Trailhead junction, 18 miles

Dreams and reality are opposites. Action synthesizes them. – Assata Shakur

Ted and Richard hand me a bottle of water before saying goodbye as I head into the mountains for the last night alone on the PCT.

Ted and Richard hand me a bottle of water before saying goodbye as I head into the mountains for the last night alone on the PCT.

I wake up with the sun even though we were up late talking and laughing in the hotel’s beautiful lobby. It’s so nice to have Richard right there next to me, though he begs for more rest. I mess around with my pack on my last walk out of a town, at least my body’s clean, but dusty hiking clothes will have to suffice.

We love our stay in Julian. The guys shared a couple of pints last night at the brewery while I caught up. This morning, we’re served a two-course breakfast of granola, eggs and polenta along with wonderful homemade bread. We’re back at our table in the parlor, eating on a linen tablecloth and dabbing our chins with linen napkins, there are even doilies that fit into the historic period of Julian’s mining past. It’s very old school, but we like old school and everyone we met at tea yesterday chooses the same tables and seem quite happy to be served such awesome food. We share more stories and talk about where we want to hike next before piling into our rent car to return me to the trail.

Cactus nuzzle in looking down on Scissors Crossing near Julian.
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PCT Day 135, water cache to Scissors Crossing (Julian), 14 miles

If you have the courage to fail, then you have the courage to succeed. – Shalane Flanagan

Cactus nuzzle in looking down on Scissors Crossing near Julian.
Cactus nuzzle in looking down on Scissors Crossing near Julian.

Desert sunrises are magnificent – orange light in the east as the full moon drops, deep pink on the other horizon. I sit up and make coffee noticing a tiny animal hole right next to my mat. OK, who did this? Were you coming or going? I never saw or heard a thing – no harm, no foul – hey, Ted, can I have one of your granola bars?

The land seems to fold in on itself from our vantage point high above.
The land seems to fold in on itself from our vantage point high above.
Prickly plants grab my legs and I'm glad I wear long pants.
Prickly plants grab my legs and I’m glad I wear long pants.
The PCT is well-known for its grand balcony walks.
The PCT is well-known for its grand balcony walks.

We pack up then fill our water bottles from the cache, rationing out the last of the electrolyte tablets. It seems only yesterday we had a huge pile of them, but it also feels like only yesterday Ted joined me to hike a few sections, and today is his last day on the trail.

A happy trail worker on the desert section of the PCT.
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PCT Day 134, Highway 79 to water cache, 19 miles

You never find yourself until you face the truth. – Pearl Bailey

A happy trail worker on the desert section of the PCT.
A happy trail worker on the desert section of the PCT.

I have seen lots of animals on this hike including black bears and marmots, rattlesnakes and golden eagles, but nothing has gotten too cozy or threatened to steal my food until my stay at one of the Warner Springs Resort cabins. There’s a mouse in the house and he chewed a little opening in my vanillacoffee. Fortunately, nothing spilled out and I simply transferred the grounds to another baggie after seeing his little body scurrying under the door. Run, little mouse, run!

The plan for the final days to the end of the PCT.
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PCT Day 133, zero, Warner Springs

The more anger towards the past you carry in your heart, the less capable you are of loving in the present. – Barbara De Angelis

Behold! The final ‘zero mile day of this epic hike, and all I have to show for it is this haiku –

Luxurious rest
at mile one-hundred-and-nine.
Hop, skip, smile, the end!

♥️ Singet

The plan for the final days to the end of the PCT.
The plan for the final days to the end of the PCT.