Day 6 Saved By A Trail Angel

Memories from April 26

Connor, Kate, Rip Snortin, and I were slow to leave Mike’s place in the morning. The upside was that Tom and Josh made pancakes and hash browns.

A few miles down the trail Kate got internet access, downloaded a new water report and informed us that Tule Spring was dry. This was bad because Connor and I only had water to make it to Tule Spring and the 15 miles following were marked as waterless. I went started rationing my water pretty aggressively. Tom had assures us that the water in the creek below Tule Spring was running strong. The water report was emphatic that it was not. I split from Connor and the Aussies since I could walk faster without sweating. The saving grace was that it wasn’t really that hot despite only having a weak breeze.

After a couple hours of walking and considering options, I came across some hikers headed the other direction. They were finishing a section that they’d been snowed out of during their thru-hike last year. They’d also passed Tule Spring a few hours before and seen a well stocked water cache!

There were other hikers at the cache who looked familiar from Mike’s but I hadn’t talked to. They moved on shortly after a round of introductions. I stayed to make sure Connor and the Aussies wouldn’t miss it.

While I was waiting and eating lunch, Tom Firth drove by on his ATV to refill the water jugs. He’s a retired electric lineman who now works with the Backcountry Horsemen and has been refilling the Tule Spring water cache twice a day. Recently, an expert was called in who discovered that the spring itself has gone dry as have many other springs in the area. The springs are fed from underground rivers fed by the Sierra snowpack which even in this El Niño year isn’t at 100% of historical average everywhere.


Connor and the Aussies showed up as did Scott, who I’d met the night before while he was in the middle of explaining Kelvins, and Miles. They’d been taking a siesta down by the remainder of the creek which Scott had been able to get a liter from though there hadn’t been much water.

It looked like our initial plans to depart at 3pm after a siesta were going to be delayed so I headed out on my own. The seven-ish miles to some campsites among large boulders had a few other gems left by trail angels (see the note at the end if this panorama)

There were a number of half familiar faces among the boulders that night. I wound up making plans to head out the next morning with Scott and Frake (I Dutch spelled Freek). The trail is closed 10 miles after Highway 74 due to a fire and subsequent landslide a few years ago. We plan to take an alternate route which gets us as far as we can. The hope is to make all forward progress to Canada by foot and along the PCT when possible, hitchhiking only when we hitchhike back to the same place and keep walking.

Day 5: Aussies & Mike’s Place

Memories from April 25

I let the sun wake me up this morning. It’s a nice way to get up and I was still the first out of their tent.

The walk for most of the morning was across gentle fields where the light would illuminate the grass as it blew making it look like lustrous hair.

I passed Eagle Rock


And then Warner Springs:


I didn’t have a resupply in Warner springs but my water filter has been so slow that I’m looking for a new one (yes, I’ve tried a couple of back flushes). Just leaving Warner I met Kate and Rip Snorting (whom I think of as The Aussies). They were hiking with a guy named Connor who also worked in software.


They set off at a blistering pace so despite my intent to take an easy day, I kept up which was made easier when the pace quickly slackened and stayed that way for most of the day. We got to talking and Kate tried to trail name me Excel because I talked about work with Connor for half an hour.

We crossed a stream and I washed shirt and socks. But didn’t bathe. As I write this a few days later, I look back on that with regret. We also learned what poison oak looks like from a nicely marked sample.

Originally the Aussies were bound for a campsite which would have made it a low 20 mile day for me. Then someone said that they’d heard that a trail angel named Mike made pizza for hikers and Kate decided we were going to make it there instead. Kate had been the slowest all day until about 6pm with daylight burning. I think her trail name should be Flyin’ Kate.

Mike wasn’t at Mike’s Place but Tom, a trail angel, and Josh, the caretaker, were making pizzas and keeping a fire going as hikers set up for the night in one of the weather beaten buildings or pitched a tent in the yard. There was supposed to be a strong wind a good chill which underscored by a few seconds of hail. I pitched my tarp against the side of a building using a hole in the wall and the handle of an olden times laundry roller used to squeeze water out of clothing.

Going to sleep that night I could hear Connor reading to the Aussies as has apparently become their tradition.

Day 4: First 30

Memories from April 24

Zucchini, John, and I broke camp shortly after dawn.


Zucchini set a quick but steady pace. Something about it reminded me of how I used to try to hike at the same speed on uphills, flats, and downhills. It was something of a reminder of how to hike with strength. It may sound strange but the concepts of hiking quickly and hiking with strength are different for me. Hiking with strength is the mindset you use when you have to maintain an aggressive pace for a long time. Hiking quickly can be a sprint at the end of the day which isn’t sustainable.

We passed Rusty and his girlfriend camping in a wash who then passed us during a water break after which we caught up to them and hiked in to the Scissors Crossings water cash together. There was water so I took four liters to get up to five and set out with John for a 24ish mile waterless section.

The trail after Scissors Crossing is by far the driest we’d encountered so far. The cactus changed from being multi-armed or small and round to single posts up to a few feet high. John and I talked as we climbed which made the elevation gain pass more easily but also lead to me draining my first liter well ahead  of schedule.

The trail became a very flat traverse slightly under the top if the hill which went in and out of every wash in the most meandering manner possible. We took a break in the only shade we saw but lunched under the open sun.

I didn’t have enough water to be comfortable for a night out so John and I parted ways since he quite understandably didn’t want to commit a 30+ mile day. He’d also taken an extra liter. I’m trying to get over water insecurity by practicing not carrying significantly extra. Apparently I’m still working on that.

The rest of the day was mostly just a long hard push. I ran across and old man with a feeble voice moving slowly. The kind of guy who you’d think might be en route to a nursing home if he weren’t half way through a very dry and hilly, if well graded, hike.

The vegetation started getting greener but there was one specific turn around which the north side of the hills suddenly became visible. It was like going from desert to farm country in a single step. From that point my water insecurity dried up.

I passed the 100 mile marker.

I camped that night with a guy named max who had a fire going which was nice because I could keep warm while giving my upper body a sponge bath with a bandana. I had trouble setting up my tarp because the stakes wouldn’t hold in the sand and unlike a tent, it’s not freestanding.

Day 3: First Musings

Memories from April 23

I made it from the Mount Laguna Camp Ground to the Rodriguez Fire Tank about 20 miles away today. I started at 4:00am and enjoyed sunrise along a traverse over the desert valley we’d seen the day before. Unfortunately my camera stopped being able to focus so it’s just dead weight. I kill cameras so quickly.

I didn’t see any other hikers during the morning as the trail continued away from the harsh dessert to a slightly greener covering of bushes between waist and shoulder height. I’d been in reflective as tends to happens on morning solo hikes and decided to start a new section of my notebook called “musings”. I’ve never been one to journal but a good overlook can be inspiring. The grandiose end of my sophomoric personal inquiry as captured in that notebook seems to be that I enjoy diversity as long as I can find common ground. You know, because we didn’t learn that in elementary school.

A little after 11am I got to the Sunrise Spring trailhead where most of my dinner company from the night before was planning on stopping. I rested in the shade if the trailhead outhouse because when something is the only option it’s better than the alternative and dried gear which was damp. I know I have good, thick socks because of how long they took to dry.

Eventually other hikers started arriving and I went to filter water from the trough with them. My filter jammed or something because the flow is incredibly slow. Kelley tried to get me named Fresh again. She was nice about it but things started gathering steam when Lucas jovially pointed out that when someone declines a trailname, that’s when you call them it. I left for the Rodriguez Spur Fire tank.

I only got a far as the trailhead when I ran into Cita who told me a local had told her the next 32 miles were waterless. I’d seen a warning about that after the Rodriguez Spur fire tank but went back and got an extra two liters so I could get to Scissors Crossing and hitch to town if necessary.

I’d assumed the 8 miles to Rodriguez Fire Tank were downhill but they were all actually downhill then over another hill. I was hoping to make it over the sand and past the cactus in one stretch but had to eat something 2.5 miles out and dragged myself in in a sorry state.

There was a trio if ladies on a weekend trip at the fire tank. I filtered two liters and set up to cowboy camp at respectful distance. Then Zuccini came rolling in, dropped her pack and was sitting on her Z-Rest eating penutbutter in like 60 seconds. Zucchini is a 19 year old ski instructor who finished the Appalachian Trail in November and is hiking the PCT before starting college in the fall. In another few minutes she’d struck up a conversation which managed to include the entire campsite.

As the sun was setting when John pulled up. He and Zuccini had met at some point and he set down for his first cowboy camping ever by her. Zuccini was heading into Julien from Scissors Crossing and John was going on. We decided to hike out together the next morning and I’d go with John if there was water at the cache. I’m trying to get over my water insecurity and Zucchini says she packs 1 liter for every five miles so I figured I’d give that a try.

Day 2: A Diversity of Folk

Memories from April 22

Woke up at 4:00am and was out by 4:30am. Almost immediately lost the trail where it crossed a road. Eventually I turned on my headlamp and the reflective PCT sign lit up across the way. If only I’d done that before walking a quarter mile down the road. It’s nice walking to just the light of a brilliant moon though. Everything strikes you differently.

Filtered water for the first time on the trip and met a guy named Cort while doing so. He’s wanted to hike the PCT for 7 years and I for 5 so we got along well maligning the Wild effect.

Less than a mile from the Mount Laguna turn off, I snacked with Tracy and Charlie who are empty nesters from Oklahoma. Very pleasant. They’re doing about 10 miles a day until they’re back in shape. Tracy had a whippet with the tag still on it because it had come too late to ship. Charlie and I eventually got to talking politics. It turns out that we both want Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs for president. Between that and a conversation with KBar about religion yesterday I’ve successfully broken the two great conversational taboos.

At the Mount Laguna Lodge I got my resupply box and wound up meeting Mario, half of a French duo who had saved up for a winter working at a resort to hike the PCT after seeing Wild. I hiked with him, his friend Pierre, and Kaya who is most recently from Germany but has lived all over the world and works on philosophical documentaries.

Mario set a blistering pace. We reached a very windy overlook of what I think is the Mojave. It was our first sweeping overlook in a journey which I undertook ton see glorious landscapes.

At the Mount Laguna Campground that night I met a bunch of other internationals: three  Swiss siblings (Mario, Christine, and Regina) who I kept thinking were from Germany, Tosten who actually was from Germany and English Pete who is a freelance writer and despite his accent now an American.

I’d been hoping to hike with some of them the next day but the two Frenchmen hadn’t packed enough food to get to Warner Springs so they were going to hitch back to Mount Laguna. Regina or Christine had blisters to they were only going 12 miles to the Sunrise Spring trailhead. Kaya seemed undecided. I left my contact info with Mario and hope to see them again.

I was offered the trailname “fresh” today for reasons that are a little unclear but have something to do with my dehydrated food and low key attitude. It didn’t feel like a great fit because it’s an adjective and is hard to explain.

Day 1: Unexpected Heat

Memories from April 21

Woke up at 4:00am. On trail at 4:45am. Morning hiking is great. The cool air makes hiking very comfortable.

Passes someone on the ground with a tarp over them like a blanket. I haven’t seen that tarp setup before.

Around 8am, I passed KBar as he was breaking camp. He had 1 liter of water for about 8 miles. I told him I expected he wouldn’t die. KBar caught me during a break shortly thereafter and I offered a liter of water which he accepted with the rejoinder that if I ever smoke weed, I should do it with him because he has the best. He departed but I caught up and we hikes together for a while.

Hiking with KBar, we ran across the Swedes, Pontus and Linda. KBar was excited when Linda almost grudgingly accepted his offer smoke a little. They had been planning to hike to Lake Morena (20 miles) in 3 days but were making good time and had plenty of water. Linda’s hair looked dyed as was the hair of the last two Swedish women I met. She says it’s a relatively common thing there. As KBar and I departed the shady rest spot, the Swedes were kind enough to point out that we immediately missed the sign for the trail and were about to go the wrong way.

I left KBar near Hauser creek with Neema who accepted his offer to split a bowl. He was very excited. I don’t think I’ve met anyone as genuinely excited about sharing weed as KBar.

I passed Ray and Karma on the way up out of Hauser Creek. Ray is a talker who hiked the first 50ish miles last year but had to bail due to a medical condition. This year he’s back and going a little slow but has a 95 liter pack (most people have 58 or 65 liter packs and mine is 45)which he can use for snow gear if he has to push into November. Karma was the first person I’d seen on the trail with an umbrella (reflective hiking umbrellas used as parasols in the desert are one of the enjoyable oddities of distance hiking).

About 2.5 miles from Lake Morena, the sun and hunger required an emergency siesta. As I was finishing up, KBar caught up and threw himself down under the same tree. He was very red in the face and said he was dizzy. I gave him a liter and since I didn’t have plans except to leave lake Morena at 5pm decided to wait for him to take a siesta so we could walk in together.

I chatted with passing hikers which eventually woke KBar. After a little more water we headed out. He had a headache, was dehydrated, and seemed in a foul mood. He explained that he dealt with things by cursing them out.

At 2.5mi on the dot KBar said, “I think we’ve gone two and a half miles.”

KBar’s friends Yukon and Kellen had zero’d at the Lake Morena camp ground waiting. His mood improved immediately. I think he’d been worried about be left behind.

Ray and KBar had promised to buy me a beer and malt because of the water I’d given them. The made good on this at the Oak Grove Malt Shop.

I start thinking of the PCT as summer camp for adults. You run around outdoors and make new friends. Most of my hiking today was with someone.

The 6ish miles from the Lake Morena Campground to Boulder Oaks Camp Ground was very flat and I flew making it in 1:30 or 1:45 including meeting Becca and Andrew. I’ve met Andrew and Lake Morena and completely forgotten which was awkward because he recognized me.

Split a campsite with Kyle, Kyle’s friend whose name I’ve forgotten, Ralf, Andrew, and Becca. Andrew was in engineering and he and I dominated the dinner conversation for a little too long but it wasn’t too bad.

Washed clothes and rinsed off in the campground spigot.

Day 0: Starting a Day Early

Memories from April 20, 2016

Tonight, coyotes are intermittently singing me to sleep. Yesterday, I fell asleep stressing over the unfinished contents of my pre-departure ToDo list. I like tonight better.

This morning an unexpectedly harsh 5:00am alarm jolted a reminder through my head: I’d forgotten to shave. A true trail beard should start from a clean slate if it is to truly represent one’s accomplishments. Departure for the airport was delayed for a frantic 15 minutes of face scraping. An electric hair cutter, three disposable razors, and one band-aid were used in the process.

The information desk in SAN helped me figure out which ticket to buy from the MTS Compass Card vending machine. Unfortunately the machine was broken so they sent me to another terminal and gave me a $5 food voucher. The info desk in the other terminal pointed out that it was cheaper to just pay cash for the bus ride and changed a $20. It turns out that there isn’t really any food at SAN for $5 or less.

Got in touch with two friends who expressed interest in hiking in the Sierras with me. Maybe they can resupply me instead of paying $70 to get a bucket shipped by boat and donkey to Muir Trail Ranch which doesn’t open for resupply until 4 days after I’m scheduled to get there. Of course, I still need to coordinate details with only a smartphone and intermittent service. Did logistics just get easier or harder?

I met Daniel and John on the MTS Rural 894 bus. Daniel is doing about a week on the PCT and John is going to Canada. We hit it off. John has a 60lb pack but has 14 days of food and 8 liters of water. Daniel appears to have the kitchen sink but only 5 liters of water for 3 days. We talk him into buying more.

My permit starts tomorrow (4/21/2016) so I look to kill an afternoon in Campo. The railroad museum is closed. A museum in a stone building is closed. The old mill is 2 miles away and also closed. I eat lunch, check e-mail, and try to find AAA Li-Ion batteries. The grocery store sends me to the hardware store which doesn’t have them either. I still need to kill time so they send me to the bar.

The bar is actually a VFW (officially Veterans of Foreign Wars but a guy at the counter also calls it Very Few Women to which the female bar tender responds that Thursdays there are a lot of women and so they call it Very Fine Women). I am not a veteran, much less of a foreign war, but I’m welcome as long as I’m respectful and pay my bill. Maria is the bartender. I never got the name of the first guy but claimed that Campo is for people who don’t like town. I try to counter that Campo itself is a town to which they point out that it’s just a two stores and an VFW. I ask about the local industry and eventually receive a marijuana, meth, cattle, and Camel Back assembly in that order. Eventually the four other patrons leave except for Oso who takes the seat next to me and we make smalltalk and he tells stories. I’ve concluded the Bellevue needs bars like this. Mug Shots is the only thing in the same category and it just doesn’t cut it. Eventually I decide that it’s cool enough to walk and so I’m starting whether my permit lets me or not.

The Southern Terminus Monument is very anticlimactic. The scenery is actually quite pretty but the border wall, accompanying road, power lines, and smattering of trailers just doesn’t meet my expectations of a holy, sacred place whence great journey are birthed. Also, border patrol drives by and asks whether we’re planning on leaving soon.


The first few miles of the PCT are so close to Campo that they seem more like a walk in a city’s trail system than a wilderness experience. The area is chaparral which is the same environment in the hills south of where I grew up so it seems familiar.

I hike as the moon rises and try to use my GorillaPod for a long shutter exposure which captures the serenity of the scene.


Finally, here’s where I camped for the night.


Trekking in India

How I wound up in a glacial valley which my guide, Narendar, called Harkidun on May 14, 2013 is sufficiently ridden with misadventure that I’m not quite sure where to start. Starting from Dheradun, the state capital to which I flew after a business trip in Hyderabad, there’s missed e-mail, missed bus, all day cab ride which ends with water rushing across the road which the driver won’t cross, getting picked up by a bus I was told didn’t exist, a nice local who helped me find a guide but to whom I had to explain that I didn’t want a porter or cook, a night in a half-finished hostel on a cliff, and a jeep ride blocked by a rockslide. That was just to get to the trailhead. Also, I didn’t have a map. As my boss’s boss later pointed out, an Indian co-worker who’d moved back to the India office and was therefore the best prepared the likely success of my trip, was visibly concerned.

Bridges are key to connecting the several villages on the hike.


The actual trek turned out to be on a foot path down a steeply walled valley used by locals to get to their villages once the road ended. In a few places we passed teams of men and sometimes women rebuilding washed out bridges. At night, Narendar would help pitch my tarp, much to the amusement of the nearby residents with whom he kept up a rapid banter. I assume if I’d known the local idiom for gringo, I’d have heard it a lot. While I had brought dry food expecting a typical backpacking trip where you carry everything yourself, we wound up eating at little canteens, each of which had it’s own charms. The first was run by a one-eyed fellow who kept our chai cups full and visited by a Nepali forester who was so interested in my one dollar bills that after trading one for 50 rupees (the same rate I’d gotten at the airport) we repeated the trade. The next day, we ran across a canteen set up by a forester who cooked Maggi (Indian Ramen) for passerbys, in this case a group of middle school aged boys from Mumbai chaperoned by some fathers. While the most common questions I got were nation of origin, age, and martial status (nope, this Kansas anymore), I chatted with some of the dads about the open source course management system they were building. Even in rural India, one knowns a fellow techie when one sees one. I also danced to Gangnam style with one of Narendar’s friends. Globalization has a sense of humor.

They knew Gangam style, even in rural India.


We passed a village which looked like Rohan from Lord of the Rings, I doled out some aspirin to a guy with a headache, and after climbing several sets of rocky steps which left me huffing and puffing like the out of shape American I was (though not as out of shape as the guys from Mumbai), Narendar spoke the magical words, “Welcome you to Harkidun”. Despite there being a forester hut, the latrine options were still wilderness style which surprised me given the place’s apparent popularity. After pitching tarp snuggly under a large boulder, the forester made us dinner, and Narendar took me down to a glacial runoff stream where we enjoyed the colors as the sun peacefully set.

Rohan (just kidding)


The next morning we visited a nearby pond which required crossing some snowfields. Schadenfreude would perhaps be the most applicable term for watching my usually indefatigable, sure footed guide slip on the banked snow in his Converse AllStars while I stepped solidly in my hiking boots. On our way back we passed the school outing from the day before en route to the pond. Without Narendar’s dexterity or my boot tread, they had formed a pitiable, if determined, series of human chains as the attempted to make their way between uncovered rocks where sure footing could be found. Later that day, we helped a team trying to move a large rock with iron pry bars to from the base of a new bridge. In the US, I’m merely average height but found myself larger than any of the laboring residents. While they probably would have moved the stone themselves, helping them get over a particularly tough spot gave me the enjoyable feeling of being a small Sampson.

Helped these folks move one of the stones for a better bridge foundation.


I ended the tip by giving Narendar the sunglasses he’d borrowed to help with the snow-blindness acquired during our trip to the pond. I tipped well too which was almost unfortunate given that I made it back to the US with only 40 rupees (80 cents) in my pocket having used a credit card at every opportunity. I am particularly thankful to a friendly and well educated fellow I met on the trail named Guru (Indian by birth but had majored in English and worked in marketing in an international firm and I liked him instantly just because I could understand what he was saying) who changed my remaining dollars when I began running out of rupees.

The jeep ride back. There were guys on top and hanging out the back. They put me inside where I couldn’t fall out.

I was pretty clearly not ready for the trip and so now that I’m back home safe and sound with a few year’s distance I can laugh. From a few online searches, the Indian trekking industry seems to have exploded since I was there. I hope the local entrepreneurs in Sankri trying to improve their tourism industry got a fat piece of it. Without them looking after me, I’d probably have wound up out of money, 10hrs from an ATM, outside of regular mobile phone service, in a foreign country where my attempts to communicate usually just reminded me that the world is a big place.

Aborted Winter Overnight at Mason Lake

We can night hike or we can try to find the trail but we probably shouldn’t try both at the same time. That was the final reasoning when Michael and I decided to turn around after the footprints we’d been following over deepening snow disappeared. This was only my third time hiking in the snow and we’d decided to overnight at a local lake. The summer the trail is a popular, well maintained climb over a ridge to a lake with well beaten campsites. At just four miles day hikers outnumber overnighters. If that’s not enough, it’s popularity can be expressed by the fact that we’d seen 8ish people despite the three slushy bonus miles we’d had to walk to the trailhead due to fallen trees blocking the forest service road. I’d been up a fork off the same trail in the early winter (my first snow hike) and the trail had still been well defined. Given it’s popularity, I’d assumed Mason lake would be a beginner friendly introduction to winter camping even in mid March. Apparently no one had been up there for some time.

While I’d been hoping for my first snow camping experience as a chance to press the limits of my comfort before entering the Sierras this summer where rouge snowstorms can ambush hikers year round, I wound up getting a chance to practice a rare skill. The best wilderness survival skill is to not need wilderness survival skills.


I still haven’t made my mind up on hiking with umbrellas. This one got destroyed by low hanging branches. Still, my pack was heavy and it was nice to have a breeze without getting rained on.