Day 16
Miles: 18
From lower san jacinto (mile 201) to whitewater preserve

The tarp stood up to the wind all night, but we were sand- blasted anyway. I kept pulling my sleeping bag over my head, to keep out the sand, but then I’d wake up a little later drenched in sweat. I’d wake up after that to wipe the sand off my face, and pull my bag over my head. Repeat. “I don’t think I slept all night,” moans J.
   “Shoulda tried earplugs,” I commiserate. I’ve got an entire sandbox in my ear crevices and nose. Despite the sand, we’ve overslept. Time to walk. My feet hate me.

We limp up to the spigot at the base of the mountain and collapse in relief. We’ve been thirsty since last night and hot for a lot longer. While we’re filling up and soaking our shirts to cool off, up trots an incredibly cheerful woman. “Where you coming from this morning?” I ask.
   “Idyllwild!” She replies brightly.
Idyllwild?? It’s ten in the morning! That’s 24 miles away! She has magnificent thighs, fabulous calves, and then I see her shoes. They look like regular trail runners except for the two and a half inch thick foam soles.

I knew it! I knew these shoes existed! I told the outdoor outfitter in Idyllwild that I wanted shoes like big, puffy clouds, and he just laughed at me. It turns out that the hiker we just met is an ultra marathoner – she south – bound hiked the PCT already, but she’s doing it again, this time with her husband. Ultra marathoners aren’t all minimalists. “Tell me something great about the PCT,” I ask her. I’m feeling super low today, tired, sandy, hurting. “I could use a little encouragement.”

She looks at me and says, with great enthusiasm, “the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Sizzler in Big Bear!”

That’s not quite what I had in mind.

Once we’ve watered up, we’ve got five miles across the sand to Ziggy and the Bear’s place. ( There’s water there, and I’ve heard rumors about showers. Too bad there’s so much sand in the way. The wind is blowing straight in our faces but I feel strangely hopeful. The sand is hard hard work… but it doesn’t hurt my feet. Hard work I can do. I pull J in my wake.

We’re almost there when we get to the I-10 crossing. I was here just a few weeks ago, blasting down the road 35 times faster than I’m going right now, wondering where the trail was. It feels like years ago. On the bottom of the bridge is a cardboard sign: “cold drinks 100 feet ahead”. Cold drinks? Don’t have to tell me twice… and the cooler under the bridge is totally empty. There’s a cookie package next to it, empty. Wah, wah, wah, goes the trombone inside my head. No drinks for me. There are big pieces of cardboard taped up though, filled with signatures from other hikers, from friends.

J and I aren’t even through the bridge when a white jeep pulls up.  It’s DNA minerals, the trail angel who put out the soda cache. He tells us it was trashed last night – he’s feeling dispirited and he’s come to take it down, but he pops us a couple cold ones first.

Following the signs to Ziggy and the Bear’s is like falling down the rabbit hole… or I’m just really hot and tired. I walk into the backyard and it’s totally silent except for the wind. There must be twenty hikers here! Everyone is draped over chairs and benches or just the ground. Ziggy signs us in – we’re hikers number 979 and 980 to pass through this house this year. The sign-in sheet has a space for a team name, and I write Caboose. Gizmo and J bringing up the rear.

We hang out all afternoon while the mercury climbs up to a hundred and then down, slightly. I spend most of it doing foot care. My feet are in a real bad way. I have the most foot blisters right now than I’ve had since my entire life.  I keep lancing them, but they just fill back up, so I thread them. (This is exactly what it sounds like. I use a needle to pull a piece of thread through the blister. The thread helps wick out the fluid. It’s best to do it at night when you have a long time to let the blisters drain and you can keep your feet clean. It stings like crazy at first.)

Hikers start peeling off, the ones who are leaving tonight. Apparently there’s a nature conservancy park eight miles away, free for PCT hikers, and it has grass. And flush toilets. Eight miles though – J and I join the herd.

We start out at the front but quickly end up at the back. Every step hurts so much. I can see why blisters are a big reason for people to get off the trail. It is incredibly emotionally exhausting to have the one thing you do, all day, hurt every time you do it. I’m feeling thin myself, not physically, but in my mental reserves. I’ve been tapping them hard and I can see the bottom.

The trail takes us up into the San Gorgonio foothills. Wind! Always the wind! This is a wind farm after all, so I guess it’s too be expected, but it feels like one thing too many. The hills are gold in the afternoon, draped like a woman’s dress over the country’s bones. The trail is narrow, sloped, and sandy, nearly eroded off completely. The wind gusts are terrifying.

I start throwing a full blown pity party for myself. This is just too much. I cry while walking uphill in heavy winds and next thing I know I’m hyperventilating on the top of a ridge, immobilized by the wind, and the pain, and my own weakness. I’m never as tough as I think I am.

J comes back for me. I’ve calmed down by now but I put my head on his shoulder for a minute. We still have four miles to go and it’s getting late.

We stumble to the spur trail to the preserve in the dark. Half a mile left. The spur trail crosses a huge braided river channel, which looks like it’s straight out of the Yukon. The trail disappears in its big boulder ridges and old cut banks. We follow a light for a while, but it turns out to be another hiker, standing in the dark. “I have bad night vision,” he explains. “I’m really glad you guys showed up.”

J has the great idea to look at the map, and our lost party of three moves on. We know we need to cross to the other side of the river valley. We climb up cut banks and slide down the other side. There are a lot more lights over there so we head for them. I can’t imagine a terrain harder my feet. “I quit,” I think. “When I get to Big Bear I’m going home. I’m done. I’m just too tired.”

Totally disconsolate, we make it. The path we found to get us to the preserve has a sign: Please use designated trails. We tried, buddy, we really did. There are thru-hikers everywhere.  J and I get our tarp set up. I’m horrible, but J is nicer than I deserve. I thread my blisters one more time, then pull my sleeping bag over my head to keep the misery out.

Still not down yet!

Trail crossing

Perhaps not the most scenic part of the trail… crossing the I-10.

I definitely need some magic.

This sucks.

Headed up into the San Gorgonio wilderness. You can see San Jacinto peak in the background.

Headed to the river valley.

Nighttime foot operations. Photo by J.


6 thoughts on “Day 16: new lows

  1. My daughter’s out there, a little bit ahead of you I think. Her name is Dust Bunny. Perhaps you’ll get to meet her. Hang in there and keep on truckin’!

  2. Love following you. Sorry it was a tough day. I love these barren landscapaes. Sending good thoughts from the Canadian midwest!

  3. Love your blog and your prose, it is one of the best out there. Your photos are wonderful, too. The blisters will subside once you are out of the heat, I am sure. Are your socks thin? Thick socks will keep your feet too warm and moist in heat. (I know, everyone has their suggestions). Also, love the idea of the sarong on the trail, it make’s so much sense in the heat. Looking forward to reading more. Slow and steady wins the race.

    • I’m wearing nylon men’s dress socks. They work great except when it’s over 90 degrees out, it seems. Taking more breaks and taking my shoes of every time when it’s really hot out seems to be helping a lot though. That and tougher feet!

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