In Which Coyote Makes a Friend
The day after a full day of rest, or a "Zero Day," it can be hard to get going. Sleeping in gets addictive, and once you go all day without having to pack up your things, you don't want to have to do it again. That's why I prefer to do "Near-Os," or half days. You still get almost a full day of rest without breaking your routine.
The area around Big Bear Lake is higher in elevation, and as a result, the air is cooler and there are more trees. It reminds me a lot of Lake Tahoe, where my grandparents used to live. When you decide to hike the PCT, this is what you have in mind.
After plenty of rest, I was movin' easy. The cooler air was probably also a factor. Halfway through the day, I was caught from behind buy a tall guy wearing a neon green running shirt. Later, it would occur to me that this was the first time that had happened.
Antoine was from Belgium and primarily spoke French. Like Monique before, that gave me an opportunity to practice. Unlike Monique, our hiking paces were nearly identical, and that gave me a lot of opportunity to practice. We leapfrogged each other for most of the afternoon, until we hiked the last four miles together and made it to a cabin just before dark. Antoine outpaced me there.
Antoine's pack had a red devil on it, the Belgian soccer mascot. Since both his shirt and pack were neon green, I suggested that he should be the Green Devil, or le Diable Verte. He smiled at the suggestion, and later the next day, I overheard him introduce himself as "Green Devil." Maybe it'll stick, and if so, I will have given my first trail name.
At one point, the two of us found ourselves at a hot spring right on the trail and stopped to take a dip. There were at least a dozen people there, about half of them PCT hikers, and a lot of them with both a hippie and a frat vibe. Various substances being consumed. Antoine and I spent about an hour in and out of the hot springs, then resumed hiking. It seems like the kind of place you could get stuck for an entire day. Some of the other PCT hikers had.
At one point, when I was hiking alone, I saw a coyote running on the trail with a fish in its mouth. Later, Antoine and I would see a bobcat. Those two were, by far, the coolest wildlife sightings so far.
Three times in one day, I saw the same guy, named Joey: once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and finally, when I finished and set up camp. If he was near me for an entire day, then like Antoine, he hikes at a solid pace. His pack and his water bottles indicated he was either current or former military. His dreadlocks and his general attitude indicated he was neither. I wonder if he simply bought his gear at an army/navy surplus store.
I got away from Antoine one afternoon when he decided to stop and rest in the shade. When I arrived at my intended destination at about 8:00, I had the idea he wouldn't make it that far, because I had busted my butt ever since leaving him. Not 10 minutes after I got there, who strolls up but Antoine. That guy can move.
"You tried to leave me," he accused, smiling.
"I didn't try to," I replied, "I just kind of did, for a while."
There were about six other hikers in the same place, a county park that probably doesn't normally allow camping, but they've given in to the PCT hikers. A few of them had ordered pizza and were now trying to give away the last half-dozen slices. Antoine and I gladly took a couple.
Just as Antoine and I were walking back to our tents, someone came over and announced that they'd seen a bear digging through the trash can by the gazebo. I was already good about it, but I made extra sure to keep my food packed away in an odor-free manner. If bears came around later that night, they would probably be much more interested in the area where people were eating pizza, and where the boxes were thrown away, which was about a quarter-mile from where Antoine and I were set up.
At about 2:00 in the morning, I heard what sounded like human footsteps. Human-like, except for how erratic they were; the rhythm of them was completely uneven. If these were bears, they were small ones. But if it were anything else, it would either sound lighter, or they would occasionally have a quicker tha-thump, tha-thump pattern, like a running dog might make.
Two or three times, I tried clapping my hands. They went quiet for maybe a minute, then went right back to their normal activity. This went on for two hours. At some point, I convinced myself they weren't bears and fell back asleep.
In the morning, Antoine asked if I had heard any animals during the night. I confirmed that I had, more than one, in fact.
"Yes, at one point, there was big sound, and now, this morning, the trash can is knocked over."
Somehow, I hadn't noticed the sound of the trash can being knocked over. Instead, I noticed everything else. I suppose it's somewhat comforting to know that bears can be close to my tent, and yet I do a good enough job protecting my food that they're not interested.
The next day involved crossing an interstate highway. At the crossing, half a mile off the trail, was a gas station and a McDonald's. From what I could tell, every single hiker plan to stop in.
Minutes after I got there, all the strong hikers camped at the park the night before had arrived, including Joey and Antoine. I bought a small amount of food at the gas station so I could bypass the next town without resupplying. Then I went to the McDonald's for lunch. Either McDonald's costs more in California, like everything else does, or they've increase their prices a lot since the last time I ate at one. Nonetheless, I had a cheeseburger, a McFlurry, and a lot of soda, then headed back on the trail ahead of the rest of the gang.
The next 20 miles of trail were exclusively uphill. Long enough that I wouldn't be able to finish the entire hill in a single afternoon. For the first two hours after leaving McDonald's, I had to stop and take care of business at least once per mile. After the fourth or fifth time, I could tell it was finally over. Good thing I didn't order fries too.
The hill was long, but never bad. The only thing that made you tired was the length. Somehow, I managed to make it 25 km past the McDonald's before dark. There was supposed to be a camping area, but when I arrived at the location described, the only thing there was a wide spot in a gravel road. I hadn't heard a car in the area all day. I figured there definitely wouldn't be one at night. I set up my tent off to one side.
from PCT South