I wake up to the sun shining in my face, far up in the sky. I pull my phone out of the recesses of my sleeping bag and turn it on; it’s 7 in the morning. I look over and Mike and Rachel’s tents are still up. I unzip my sleeping bag and go to pee behind a boulder. I think I’ve woken them with the sound of my sleeping bag unzipping, and they talk to each other softly while still inside their tents as they consider getting up. I feel a pang of sadness as I hear their voices and laughter; waking up every morning to my friend’s voices is definitely something I miss.
I pack up quickly, shoving cheese puffs into my mouth for breakfast, and am heading out just as they’re leaving their tents. The trail is cruiser, and I walk quickly and without stopping for breaks. Two guys named Phil and Austin leapfrog me; Austin is wearing a purple kilt. I sign a trail register in a mailbox sitting by the side of the trail, and leave a note for my friends. Karma and Nirvana signed it yesterday.
I take a break with a girl named Christine at the edge of a sad, weird zoo that the trail runs by. Black bears pace in small chain-link enclosures, while oldies blare over the radio on speakers. Christine says that a doctor and his brother with a long beard are up ahead, and helped her with a knee issue! It must be Chris and Kelsey!
I turn my phone off airplane mode and a flood of messages comes in. Apparently my Spot didn’t send its signal out last night properly and everyone’s been worried. I text my family for a while and send out a trial Spot message. Apparently it’s been the third or fourth time it hasn’t worked. This is exactly what I’d worried would happen with carrying a Spot device.
I’m done with 16 miles by 1, and so I’m starting to think about possibly making it into Big Bear tonight instead of tomorrow morning. I pass by the 250 mile mark, and the 400 kilometer mark; the km marks make me happy because they’re always a surprise, and because I imagine them making all of the international hikers happy, even though kilometers don’t really mean anything to me. I get to the infamous couch and soda trail magic set up by the Big Bear Hostel. There isn’t any soda, and there are hikers occupying the couch. I meet a southbounder dad/son duo hiking with their Australian Shepherd, Boo Radley. I pet Boo Radley and give them the water report page that I just finished.
My right knee starts acting up. It’s not the actual joint, but the muscles around it are getting super tight and making me walk funny. It twinges a muscle that runs from my knee up into my inner thigh when I have to put weight on it. I stop several times to stretch my quads and calves, but it’s not slowing me down too much so I keep up my speed.
I lose the PCT right after a footbridge- I’m standing in the middle of a 6-way junction and there are no PCT markers, which is always a sign that you’re off-trail. The trail I’m on connects back to the PCT in a mile or so though, and skips some nasty looking elevation changes, so I keep on it. There’s grass growing on the edges of the trail, something that you never see on the PCT. I rejoin soon enough, onto red, rocky tread. The stream the trail has been following along is now far below.
I’m going up over a rise when I see two guys with white Hyperlite Mountain Gear backpacks start heading off. One of them has a long beard. I bound after them: “Hello!” I say. They turn around and recognize me. “I haven’t seen you guys since Warner Springs!” I say. It’s Chris and Kelsey.
I hike in between them the rest of the 7 miles to the Highway. Chris, the doctor, notices that the back of my knee looks bruised (it’s looked that way for days and it hasn’t hurt) and that I’m limping. I tell him about my knee problem and he convinces me to stop and take 2 ibuprofen, my first of the trip. The first four miles go by very quickly. Chris and Kelsey hike fast but so do I at the end of the day, and it’s nice to be around people I know after hiking into the new bubble ahead of me.
The last 3.5 miles go slower, the trail teasing us as it winds around the sides of the mountain to the highway. They both live nearby and point out all of the mountains they know in the distance.
There’s a cache of water by the highway, and I’m pouring some into one of my water bottles when an older guy walks up. He offers us a ride into Big Bear and it turns out it’s Helen’s dad, scouting out the trail head so he can meet her tomorrow morning!! I say goodbye to Chris and Kelsey, since they’re meeting someone up ahead at a later road, and hop into the car. He drives me to the hostel, but they’re full. They tell me to call some trail angels called The Nobodys, who I’ve never heard of. I’m tempted to just go to the Motel 6 for the night, but decide to call anyway.
I explain my situation to Donny on the phone and he says to meet him at the Valero gas station around the corner in 10 minutes. Hal, Helen’s dad, has waited for me and drives me over. I say thank you many, many times and go into the gas station store to talk with Rachel, Donny’s wife. It was her idea to host hikers, and she tells me about her chihuahuas and the wolves that she rescued and has living in her backyard, and her boa constrictor named Ricky. I’m nervous but Rachel seems very nice and they have dogs so I feel okay.
Donny drives up in his truck and I get in. He tells me that the passenger door doesn’t open from the inside, and because of that he calls it his kidnapper car; he says he wishes he had pictures of the look on the hikers’ faces when they found out they couldn’t open the car door. The house is further away from town than the hostel, which will complicate town chores tomorrow. I’m left alone in the house with 3 barking chihuahuas while Donny drives back to give Rachel her coat. I call my mom and go to the bathroom.
Then he comes back, and I eat leftover mac n cheese and potato salad and microwaved frozen vegetables while we talk. I take a shower and we watch Star Trek: Into Darkness recorded on the TV. The chihuahuas snuggle on my lap. Rachel gets back from restocking the gas store. The wolves go crazy and she shouts at them to behave while she gives them treats. They knock out the TV cable in their excitement. Finally I head up to bed.
I crawl up a squeaky fold-up staircase into a loft area, bending over so I don’t hit my head, and put one of the folded blankets over me. And then I sleep.