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Posts Tagged ‘Wind’

**From September 2015**

The wind howled that night even more than the people howled at the moon. As I attempted to sleepily chug some granola with coconut milk powder, I knew I’d have trouble getting out of the tent that morning. Gusts of wind hit my tent and all I just wanted was to pull my sleeping bag over my head. Eventually, my mind won and I put on almost all of my layers, packed up quickly, and started hiking. Impervious to the weather, Memphis headed off first as usual. E.D. poked her head out of her tent as I shivered stuffing my tent into my backpack.

9:30am – puffy still on.

New in the past few years, this stretch of trail stayed above treeline on a beautiful ridge for about 14 miles. I kept my puffy on as I hiked uphill, higher on the ridge. This ridge was by no means flat. They almost never are. This particular ridge had quite a few ups and downs. The trail shifted sides of the ridge a few times and did not duck far enough down to water for at least seven miles. I did not remove my puffy until 11am and never removed my trusty Melanzana.

The alternative to this ridgeline went over Tincup Pass on a dirt road and remained a route option for bad weather. With the amount of ATVs out and lack of thunderstorms in the foreseeable future, we had opted for the ridge.

CDT ridge walking.

Eventually, later in the day, we finally began descending in an epic plunge through trees and switchbacks. At the bottom, the dirt road from Tincup Pass linked back to the trail. Guthook showed some PUDs coming up which did not sound very exciting. However, Ley had mentioned a ghost town called St. Elmo down the dirt road the opposite way of Tincup Pass. About the same mileage without the PUDs, E.D. and I decided to explore.

Sometimes, walking down the dirt roads is a refreshing break because it requires less mental effort in navigation if the body or mind is tired. Plus, there’s a ghost town. That we’d hit at night. Perfect!

About four miles of wandering down the dirt road, we hit St. Elmo and it was, indeed, creepy. We had passed plenty of campsites on the way in with fires burning and cars pulled off to the side of the road, but no one in the “town” itself. The buildings had a stock, old feel to them and when we peered inside with headlamps, the wallpaper which was on only half on the walls moved in the breeze.

The town hosted several large signs dictating the illegality of camping within the “town” limits—not that anyone would sleep well there. We found an old sign that had lots of pictures of previous residents and a little information on who kept up the “town’s” current appearance.

It was too dark to take pictures of St. Elmo, but this was nearby at dawn.

We had to switch dirt roads in town and we had slight difficulties with this at night while simultaneously trying to not get freaked out. This road hosted some interesting cliffs and not nearly the camping opportunities that the previous road had. We ended up finding a side road toward a broken bridge to camp on. We went around the large stone blockades figuring that was for cars and not people on foot and camped. We did not notice the RV on the other side of the broken bridge until it’s generator came on mysteriously later.

We skedaddled just before dawn to try and catch Memphis, who would doubtless be confused. We jumped back on trail at the Hancock trailhead and went around a beautiful lake on the way to Chalk Creek Pass. We still hadn’t seen Memphis. We didn’t find him on the long descent down either where we’d usually catch him.

Right as we were about to head up to another ridge toward Monarch Pass, we thought we might pull a fast one on Memphis if we took a dirt road over to the main road and walked that up to Monarch Pass and beat him to town.

It worked. Right as we got to Monarch Pass, immediately after taking our headphones out a Subaru of two ultra runners playing Eddie Vedder pulled over and asked if we needed a ride into Salida. Why yes, yes please!

We found the hostel and a pizza place while we texted Memphis the plan. Halfway through a pizza, Inspector Gadget and Last on the Bus messaged us asking where we were and how long we’d be in town. They said they’d meet us tomorrow for breakfast. Memphis got to the hostel right as we had finished a pizza each and we began the laundry process.

Gadget and LB did find us in the morning as we found Axel, who we’d been following about a day or two behind for almost two thousand miles. In my resupply box, my Mom’s friend Kathy had included an amazing array of temporary tattoos. While we decided on a breakfast location, I convinced everyone in the immediate vicinity that they needed to put on a temporary tattoo. Then, we set a few aside with Gadget and LB to get Mellow Yellow one at their next stop. With thru-hikers, hostel guests, and hostel staff fully equipped with at least one temporary tattoo each, we created a breakfast plan.

Axel had contacted Karla, an amazing trail angel in South Fork, Colorado who was passing through the area. They had planned on breakfast at a specific restaurant, which I later learned was the only good breakfast place in town. While she drove in, LB, Gadget, E.D., Memphis, and I hopped in LB’s car and got on the table wait list, so they could roll right into a table, which turned into a fantastic time.

After breakfast, we went back to the hostel to pack up slowly. So slowly, in fact, we decided we needed lunch before heading to the trail. LB suggested we go to Midnight Pizza and Brewery, so we enjoyed two pizza locations in Salida. That was an awesome suggestion.

We did finally get back up to Monarch Pass that afternoon where we dallied more at the small store there because we searched the register to see how far ahead others had gotten from us in the meantime. Finally, we said goodbye to LB and Gadget and tried to get a few miles in before dark.

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**From September 2015**

Reluctantly, we left the warm hut at Berthoud Pass and headed out into the bitingly cold Colorado morning wind. Of course, we had to begin going uphill in the shade and we all had quite a few layers on to begin with despite knowing we’d all have to stop in half an hour or less to remove a layer.

Memphis, in his unending ability to shoot straight uphill went for it first while Sleepwalker hitched into Winter Park, E.D. huddled in her puffy and I mentally convinced myself to get battered by the wind. As usual, about halfway up the climb, I had to stop and take my puffy off, but kept my trusty Melanzana layer, hat, scarf, and gloves on against the wind. Most of the day, we spent high on ridgelines and I felt grateful that our main obstacle was only wind. Plus, the wind wasn’t that bad – I could still walk straight.

The Silverthorne Alternate Split

These were the kind of ridge walks that all the pictures highlight of long-distance trails but so rarely come. Offering 360-degree views, an actual trail to follow, a few cairns here and there, and the feeling that you’re on top of the world. This is not to say that they are flat up there. There were several large ups and downs to get between ridges along with a mine sight that we pondered during a break.

After twelve miles of relentless wind, but stunning views, we opted for the Silverthorne route over the Greys/Torreys route. My personal reasons went as follows for making that route choice:

  • I’ve already climbed Greys and Torreys in 2013.
  • It’s forty extra miles and therefore approximately a day and a half longer.
  • I’d rather spend that extra time in the San Juans.
  • There’s a Chipotle in Silverthorne.
  • I like Dillon Dam Brewery more than Breckinridge Brewery.

When we got to the route split, Memphis, E.D., and I took a break and looked at both routes from high above treeline. Then we enjoyed a 2,000 foot plunge back into the thick lodgepole pines on a dirt road on the Silverthorne route. We mindlessly followed the switchbacks down, enjoying a reprieve from the wind until we found the end of the road. Switching Guthook to the Silverthorne route and examining Ley’s map notes, we found the slightly obscured and overgrown trail which distracted our attention with a one log bridge over the creek. We mistakenly felt excited that we might not have to worry about navigation as much if we didn’t have to get our feet wet immediately.

E.D. and I forged ahead of Memphis a bit following the trail which became less prominent the further we hiked away from the road (classic). We saw a very large bull moose strutting his exceedingly gigantic rack around the wildflowers east of the trail. We proceeded with caution and hiked around him going further up the next valley. I paused and E.D. went ahead.

I was then looking for a sharp right turn, which I assumed should be marked somehow. This was kind of wrong. I realized I had probably passed the turn about 200 feet or so into this thinking and backtracked to find a small cairn that stood probably eight inches tall under at least a foot of wild grasses which marked a significantly less trod trail to the right. Because if you’re on a well-marked trail, you’re probably not on the CDT.

I found E.D. by the water just down the trail. As we got water, we saw Memphis passing by the same small cairn I missed and we yelled until he saw us and walked over. There wasn’t really any good camping by the water and we knew we’d wake up covered in cold frost if we stayed, so we decided to venture up to the ridges and see if we could find anything up there.

The climb that ensued from that water source immediately fell into bursts of bushwhacking. We could clearly see some trail up but nothing leading to it. E.D. tried to go where the map said it was and ended up in large patches of brush while I was too tired to try that, so I went straight up the hill through the burs until I hit one of the switchbacks two hundred feet up or so. Memphis watched from the creek. I yelled to E.D. to bushwhack over and picked the burs off of my knee braces and socks.

We had switchbacks for the middle portion of the climb out of the valley, but as we climbed higher, the “trail” became a twisting mess of game trails that looked like it could have been an actual trail at some point. In the end, we just picked between the most trodden path and the most direct path when either seemed like the best idea. Memphis was catching up as we reached this point and we hit the ridge roughly at the same time.

At this point, Ley left a large note on the map saying that going southbound, it would appear that we’d need to hike off a cliff…but don’t worry…it’s only very steep for about ten feet, then we’ll see switchbacks. Right. The three of us peered over the other side of the ridge were the trail seemed to disappear. We had hit this point before sunset, which was our goal so we did not have to navigate that with headlamps. We could see some switchbacks, but they were definitely twenty or thirty feet down. And every way to it included loose gravel.

We each found our own ways to the switchbacks which lead to a contour trail around the side of the ridge to another ridge. We walked in the dying sunlight catching views of the sunset each time we crested a different part of the steep ridges. Right as we needed to actually turn our headlamps on, we came to a steeper section with lots of loose footing. We slowed down and hiked on, eventually hitting a wide ridge.

It’s a cold sunrise at 12,000ft.

Having just squeaked through navigating the footing on the previous section in the dark, we did not feel like descending, so we camped on the ridge at 12,000+ ft. We figured that way, we’d have better star viewing opportunities as well as a good sunrise.

The ridge did not disappoint for either. While cold, we did not wake up covered in frost and we only had 14 miles to Silverthorne and, therefore, Chipotle. Of course, we all had our orders in mind already.

Well before sunrise, I heard Memphis deflate his sleeping pad and start shaking things. We had agreed a long time previously that since Memphis is a natural early alarm clock, he should not try to be quiet because it was easier to wake up to a tent being packed up than an actual alarm clock.

I ate breakfast in my sleeping bag as Memphis walked between both my tent and E.D.’s tent shaking his tent. He said, “Good morning” to which I replied “morning” through bites of granola and E.D. made a sound. It was a typical morning.

Memphis left and I managed to pack up my stuff in almost all of my layers and wave to E.D. when I finally got moving. Going downhill did not warm me up. I cursed as I hit the frost line and went down into the valley, which managed to freeze my feet further.

After plunging through the creek at the bottom of the valley, I paused in the sun to finally take off a layer and grab a quick bite to eat. The trail on that side of the creek had significantly better maintenance, so I checked Guthook. Still on trail. Sharp left turn coming up though.

I did find the left turn which, in true CDT fashion turned onto a “trail” which did not appear for twenty feet (around the corner behind the large shrubs) and had a sign that laid on the ground in dense ground vegetation. I paused to verify that I did have to leave the very well maintained trail for the turn when Memphis appeared walking toward me from the well maintained trail. He had apparently walked almost a mile down the trail before noticing he missed the turn. He took it out on the climb by shaking his head and climbing quickly. When I made it to the top, he was already there and had been for a bit.

After a snack, both of us wondered why E.D. hadn’t caught up yet when we heard someone walking up. However, much to our surprise, it was Shortstack and Action! We hadn’t seen them since Lima, Montana. The four of us chatted while looking at Silverthorne, Colorado, three thousand feet below us.

Eventually, motivated by Chipotle, we wandered down three thousand feet and directly into air conditioned burrito land with unlimited soda refills where E.D. found us a bit later.

One of the better sunsets in this stretch

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Without a zero day in over 750 miles, bad weather pushed us over the top and we decided to lounge, play Yahtzee, watch television, and enjoy the wonder of beds.  Crappy weather the following morning made us slow getting out of bed and we did not get back to the trail until after 1pm.

Steven’s Pass was covered by a decently thick fog and we had to play with our layer systems a few times before we had it dialed in.  Of course, since it was a pass and we were going out of town, the trail went upwards.  What else is new.

We also had the delight of reading one of half-miles yellow notes at the top of the map section saying, “I have yet to hike the final 193 miles of the PCT.  GPS data was provided by Jack Haskel, Tina Lippke, Joshua ‘Diversity’ Pinedo, Anna ‘North Star’ Sofranko and Bob Woods.  Some waypoints and landmarks in this section are based on TOPO! Software or Google Earth and not collected on trail with a GPS.”  Great.  They weren’t horrible, but the water definitely needed an update.

Passing a large group of shouting boy scouts in jeans and oversized backpacks, we continued past their 4-mile hike out to Lake Valhalla with joy.  We knew we had to make some miles that afternoon, so we continued for quite a while, grabbing some dinner and hiking onward.  Even if it’s a sluggish start out of town, once you’re out, it’s pretty easy to get going, especially after the first few miles.

Cruising down one of the ridges, I heard something strange.  I had that sense of another animal in a close range, but unsure of the type.  Then, not more than twenty feet in front of me a large grey and brown animal, probably weighing at least 30 pounds or so waddled along, up the trail toward me.  Naturally, I started talking to it so it knew I was there.  It paused, looked at me, and kept waddling up the side of the trail toward some trees.  I managed to swing around it in a wide arch through some underbrush and the nonchalant animal just scooted along not caring at all.

I heard footsteps and looked up to see Scout jamming to some tunes coming down the trail.  I yelled up to him and he slowly approached, arched and joined me in examining the animal.

He laughed at me, “It’s a porcupine!”

“It’s giant!” I replied.

“Yeeeaup.  Watch it waddle!” He said.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile we tried to get pictures in the bad light, Hop-a-long came up, as well as Blackout and Silky Smooth and we all watched it eat a purple mushroom the size of a dinner plate.  We then made the connection to all the mutilated large mushrooms we’d seen in the past hundred miles or so.

“I was wondering what was eating all those poisonous mushrooms,” Hop said laughing.

I had never seen a porcupine larger than a house cat.  This one was the size of three large house cats at least.  Super duper awesome.

Scout, Hop-a-long, and I walked until we tripped over ourselves so many times you’d think we never walk anywhere.  That’s usually the time that yields bed time.  We stumbled forward, each popping off to try to find a flat spot to sleep.  On top of a small ridge, we thought we might be out of luck, but the moon and the stars lit the way well and after half an hour of stumbling, I came across a small spot tucked under a few trees.  It was definitely small, but we were all beat and wanted to sleep.  Throwing our stuff down, we cowboy’ed, ate, and slept.

A beautiful sunrise woke us up streaming vivid pink and red into a bright blue sky.  We got on our way and about half a mile OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfurther or less, we found a sign that said, “campsite” with an arrow.  Gotta love that.  We had a sweet spot though, no complaints.

We got to follow amazing ridge lines for many miles that flowed into each other like waves.  With no roads or greasy civilization to be seen, we enjoyed the stillness of the Glacier Peak Wilderness.  The only other people we saw were Silky Smooth and Blackout.

The trail took a more rugged turn as we dove deeper into the wilderness and further from Steven’s Pass.  Our ridge line contours took us all over the map, cutting up on, glimpsing a great view of a glaciated peak, then plunging down the other side, crossing large melt rivers, then shooting back up until we rounded each peak.  The three of us paused to put something in our rumbling stomachs which did not seem to appreciate the extra elevation changes.  They seemed to go through more food quicker.  After the last section, all of us over packed food and it was a fantastic and completely necessary decision.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot long after we plopped down, stuffed our faces, and were grabbing water from a stream, a few drops of water fell out of the sky.  We were utterly confused.  All of us had noticed the clouds rolling in, but the brain neurons just did not fire in the clouds/rain connection for a few minutes.  When we did realized it, we began waterproofing all of our stuff as quickly as possible.  It would be our fifth day of rain in almost five months, so we had almost nothing waterproofed.

With the rain, the wind picked up and sent chills though our bones as we hiked onward. We had heard there were no flat spots what-so-ever near Milk Creek unless we cowboy’ed on the bridge, at the bottom of the next gully some five miles away.  We made it about three miles before we settled in early around 6pm just to get out of freezing, wet gear and harsh wind.  Aiming for a marked campsite near a small lake, we got there and felt the full force of the wind whipping up from the valley.  The lake had large floating ice chunks in the middle and all the edges were frozen solid.  It appeared to have never fully thawed from the winter before.  The campsite looked awesome, but had no wind protection at all, so we took a chance and went a mile further and found relatively flat and kind of protected spots near a stream.

The morning was slow.  It was wet out.  And cold.  I don’t believe we started hiking until after 8:30am.  As we packed up as slow as we could, suddenly we heard a loud “CAAAA CAAAAAW!” and Natty came hiking down in solid black ninja rain gear.

“I knew you weren’t too far ahead because I could see your footprints were fresh in the wet trail!” Natty said.

He motivated us into moving and finally we set off down to milk creek.

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After more awesome trail magic, detailed in “Pass the Beer“, we set off up the hill…it’s always up after town and full stomachs.  Hop-a-long, Scout, and I got going after lunch and planned to make it eight miles to the first campsite at Ridge Lake, a solid climb of around 2,500 ft later.

The mountains changed south of highway 90 at Snoqualmie Pass, and north of the highway.  They became more rugged, remote, and more scenic.  The most difficult sections are always the most beautiful.  They shot straight up to the sky, then dove furiously down into a valley; and let me tell you, there were many valleys in this section.  The PCT tried to contour as usual, but the contours were wrought with rocks and changed elevation quite frequently for contours.

We passed Magellan on the climb who seemed to be moving slower than normal, but ok.  He said he ate too much before leaving.  That food truck next to the gas station was dangerously enticing for thru-hikers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe top of the climb ended in a tiny pass where we made a short hop over to the other side of the ridge, looking at the sunset in one direction, and a beautiful array of clouds in the other direction.

Those beautiful, mysterious clouds that we stared at began moving in quicker and quicker until we could barely see more than twenty feet in front of us and we almost missed the tiny ridge lake that we sought.  It lay in a saddle on a rather small ridge.  Scout scouted out the best campsite in no time and no more questions were asked about how he received his trail name and we set up in the mist of the cloud that blocked the sun and sent shivers into our bones.

While we ate dinner, we saw a headlamp moving slowly through the fog, scanning the area, but unable to see much, so we called out and directed it toward our campsite.  It turned out to be Magellan, grateful for flat ground and dinner time.

The morning brought much of the same.  We had camped inside a cloud, with its lack of visibility and all of it’s moisture.  None of us wanted to get out of our nice, cozy sleeping bags.  When we did, we found the trail again through the intense fog and headed onward to Canada.

Amazingly, after we left the saddle and made it a little way up the ridge, the fog went away giving us an amazing view of the valley OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfilled with clouds while the ridge tops glowed in the morning light.  It really hit us that we had truly been inside a very small micro-climate the night before.

Compared to the long, steady climb that we accomplished the day before, the next eight miles seemed to drag on forever.  The trail shot up and down over ridge passes, shale, trees, wind, calm, all with a chill making it very difficult to keep the right layer system on and not sweat too much.

We took a break looking mostly into fog, but every few minutes, the fog would thin, giving an eerie glimpse of a jagged peak jutting upward from the ridge.  Our breaks did not last long or we would become too cold, so we kept moving.  At the top of the last ridge before a several mile descent, we caught a bit of sun and dried out our rain flies, grabbing a bite to eat.

The downhill seemed glorious, partially because we could hike easily with only one layer on.  A waterfall cascaded down across the trail and we crossed a small bridge and filled up on some delicious tasting fresh water and grabbed more to eat.  Already the afternoon, we kept trucking to the bottom of the valley, only to climb another long slog up to another large ridge.

In about half a mile as the birds fly, the PCT managed to fit six miles of switchbacks to cut the steep grade down.  I could not bring myself to count the switchbacks, because that would just be depressing, but cranked some tunes and enjoyed the increasingly better view the further I climbed.

We all stopped for a snack on top of the ridge and Snow Turtle and Agassi came walking up.  Somewhere we had passed them while they ate lunch off trail.  This particular ridge stayed fairly level for about a mile or so and we meandered along passing many small tarns and very damp ground.  All at odds of how far we wanted to go, we all stopped in different places, ironically, within a mile of each other.

I found a sweet spot with a great view over the next valley that fit my tent perfectly.  It was much easier to get up the next morning to a brightly colored sunrise instead of dense fog.  The four mile descent was still freezing because the sun had not yet hit the valley floor, just the ridge tops.  I leap-frogged Snow Turtle and Agassi all day up and down, up and down.

We passed Cathedral Rock and I pondered the creativity of the early explorers and mountain men who seemed to lack originality in their naming devises.  I understand the whole “wilderness as a church” thing, but not every mountain that has a few spires needs to have some religious crap attached to it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAgain, we hiked down off the ridge, passed Deception Lake which reflected a perfect mirror image of the trees surrounding it.  I decided to continue on a little further until I got tired and ended up camping in Deception Pass which was surprisingly thin compared to the last several passes we’ve gone though.  I found a great one-tent spot and set up shop.

In the morning, I ate breakfast with Lush and Man Party who decided to speed up to finish.  Apparently, Challenger was waiting with Only A Test’s car for them at Stevens Pass with their resupply so they could all hike out together.  Snow Turtle and Agassi passed through too and had a “you’re from Mississippi too!” moment and then kept hiking.  They said that Hop-a-long and Scout had gotten to Deception Lake the night before.

The five of us eventually set off, leap frogging through some more very annoying bumps, one of which was incredibly steep, despite obvious attempts at switch backs.  I definitely had to blast the iPod to get up that one.

We all ran into some incredibly nice older people out for a day hike who lounged in the sun.  We wanted to join them but food and beer called our names with only a few more miles to go.  Everyone seemed to have underestimated food through this section and were either running on empty or the scraps of what they had, but really did not want to eat.  The trail difficulty had surged our already large appetites into over drive.

Stevens Pass came after we dove down the ski resort and found Challenger and Only A Test who gave us beer and soda while we waited for Dead Animal who had been there, but got a call from Hop-a-long and Scout who had taken a side trail down skipping several miles of the end due to lack of food and ended up somewhere random on the side of highway 2 between Stevens Pass and Skykomish.

Clown car piling in, all of us made it down to the diner and motel for a large meal.  We went to the Dinsmore’s to grab our resupply packages and say hi to those there, but wanted a bed, so we ended up with rooms instead.  None other than Bounce Box and Major Upchuck seemed to rule to roost inspiring some good old drinking and croquet.

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Surprisingly, we had easy hitches at dusk and right after dark.  All four of us got rides into Tehachapi for pizza.  After food, we took up residence at the cheaper Best Western (there were two) and ran into many hikers there at the morning continental breakfast.  GypcGirl was there and told us she had been there for five days, had tried to leave but got blown off the trail into a ravine, had to spend the night there, and bushwhack out back to Tehachapi.  Drop Zone appeared saying his hairline fracture in his ankle was still bothering him so he and GypcGirl decided to skip the rest of the desert and hitch to Kennedy Meadows.

We spent the day attempting to get everything done in the spread out town, and of course watching the season finale of Game of Thrones.  It was an impromptu zero day, but we got everything done, even hot tub time.  We met Dubs and The Wizard, found Voodoo and Twinkle Toes, and watched a lot of meaningless television.

The next day, we got moving.  We had a large climb out from the road, going past wind turbine after wind turbine.  For the most part, I was annoyed at the 25 dry miles and the amazing amount of water and food I was carrying.  The wind was strong for the first few miles, but I could mostly walk straight.

Then, as the climb ascended the ridge, shit got ridiculous.  First, I just felt like I was ataxic (drunk walk), yet I was completely sober.  Second, I realized I would lose my hat if I left it on my head, so I stopped to put it away and tie a bandana around my hair to keep it from hitting me in the face.  Third, I had to secure all the adjustment straps on the pack, and my braids, because they began whipping me in the face.

Dead Animal and Inspector Gadget got ahead of us a ways when Hop-a-long and I stopped to talk to Sparrow, Barracuda, and Magellan.  I started first, and got a little ahead of them until I rounded a switch back straight into the wind.  It came full force at me as I leaned directly into it and dug in with my legs.  My sunglasses flew straight off my face and soared over 40 feet away.  The wind had pushed me off of the trail, just below it and to stop myself from going further, I gave out onto my stomach to crawl up on my hands and knees once I realized it was not a gust and would not let up.  I attempted a small bushwhack to find my sunglasses, but I was unsuccessful.

After we all managed to get around that curve, we had a few switchbacks of ataxic walking until a larger challenge.  We had hit a small high point on one part of the ridge and the trail formed a small knife’s edge.  The stretch was about 15 feet with a gully on either side.  As we came up to it, we could see the dust and dirt flying horizontally from one side to the other.  I attempted to go only to get whipped straight off the trail.  I laid down on my stomach and crawled back to where Sparrow, Barracuda, Magellan, and Hop-a-long had huddled together.  We waited there in a pile for a few moments, realizing the wind would not let up.  I ventured out first on my hands and knees.  I made it across and set my pack down to go help Sparrow and Barracuda.  Hop-a-long and Magellan also made it behind me crawling.

We got to some Joshua and juniper trees not far from there and we all found spots dug out under the trees to camp for the night.  Right as we were going to bed, Bolt, Navi, and Natty showed up. They found trees as well and we all made a large group to climb the rest of the ridge in the morning since the wind was still bad and supposedly would get worse.

Once we got to the top of the ridge, we found Dead Animal and Inspector Gadget still in bed (they didn’t have us to wake them up).  They had found a nice protected spot in some trees and we all took a break there.  They had also seen a bear not far from them.

The whole day we battled some wind, but most of it we could walk straight in after the top of the ridge.  When we all made it to the water source, we found Astro and Sea Hag.  The “spring” was a large trough full of leaves and gunk and a broken pipe.  Luckily, we found a white pipe that had a decent flow, but definitely had some floaties.

Loaded up with water once again, we set off another ten miles.  We camped near a dirt road, thinking no one would come by since they usually don’t come that far out at dusk.  After scouting out the best spot under a tree, we set up and ate dinner.

“A Lexus!” Dead Animal said surprised.

“A Hummer?!” Inspector Gadget said.

“Lots of cars?” Hop-a-long said.

We watched a train of really expensive cars drive up and make a circle in the campsite we almost chose.  They moved them around and around so they could use all their headlights and fog lights to set up their large Walmart tents and pull out all their coolers.  If we weren’t so beat from the wind or the 23 mile day, we would have tried to yogi some beer.

Dead Animal and I got up and walked over.  They clearly spoke another language that I knew nothing of.  We guessed they were either Middle Eastern or Russian.

“Hi,” I started, “we just want to let you know you’re right by the PCT and we’re sleeping right over there.”

“Just in case you guys are shooting guns or something,” Dead Animal added.

“Ohhh ok!” One named Sam came up and introduced himself.  “We do target practice in the morning, but we shoot that way” he said pointing in the opposite direction.

In the morning, we yogi’ed some sodas from them and promptly left when they started shooting things.  We didn’t see any targets, but we left before we could investigate.

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We passed mile 600 that morning, but didn’t celebrate too long since we still had 2 miles to water and we were all a little low.  Robin Bird spring seemed ok, but the surrounding area was covered in cow shit.  Definitely aquamira’ed the crap out of that, despite it coming clear from a pipe.

That day, we had the luxury of two water sources.  Whoa.  We had to carry extra anyway because we couldn’t rely on the Kelso Valley Road cache.  The water report was unclear on how much it could possibly have, so we loaded up.

We got to the road at dusk, and lucky for us, the cache had plenty of water and we settled down for the night.  Natty, Navi, Bolt, Magellan, and Astro joined us in the surrounding area.

Unfortunately, we knew the following day was supposed to reach 95 degrees and we entered an exposed high desert at the cache.  Basically: we had 15 miles to the Bird Spring cache, with a decent amount of climbing all exposed.

We woke up at 4am and left by 5.  A breeze prevented us from moving a little earlier.  None of us were ready to go.  I even skipped breakfast for an hour and a half while I tried to catch the cool weather.

Shade followed us for quite a while due to the position of the trail climbing up the ridge.  That was perfect.  Once the shade disappeared though, all bets were off as the sun oven turned on to bake us.  On top of that, the trail was so sandy, it was like walking on a beach.  At a small breeze point, I stopped to savor the wind and looked down.  Someone had written “Fuck Sand” in the sand.  Amen!

By 11am, I started to get a little delirious, so I threw on tunes to keep my mind distracted while I finished up.  Inspector Gadget and I made it to the cache just before noon, and Hop-a-long got in about 20 minutes after.  Dead Animal had stopped at the one shady tree about 2 miles back and took a nap.

By about 2pm, everything was silent except for snoring.  Everyone was sleeping through the heat: Dubs, The Wizard, Cheesecake, Snowflake, Ornie, Waffles, Astro, Natty, Navi, Bolt, Inspector Gadget, Hop-a-long, and myself all perched under various trees playing the game of finding shade or comfort.  When the shade leaves, the sun wakes us back up and inevitably, we move to a less comfortable spot to stay in the shade.

At 4pm, Dubs, The Wizard, and Snowflake charged on up the next 2000 ft super exposed sandy climb.  We timed them up the first switch back as they went.  At 5:15, a large group charged on: Navi, Natty, Bolt, Astro, Magellan, and Hop-a-long went.  At 5:40, Dead Animal, Inspector Gadget and I charged up it, sweating immediately.

The climb was long and hot, but gave decent views from the top.  We had a nice-ish bumpy ridge walk after that.  We found Hop-a-long staking out a flat spot for us and we crashed pretty quick.

In the morning, we set out along the ridge walk ignoring Yellow Jacket Spring which was .7 mile off the trail and the description on the water report was “dig a hole in the mud, wait for it to fill up, then filter it.”  Gross.  We had all opted for the 20 mile water carry over that and the next one, McIvers Spring, that had a description that included “surrounded by cow shit.”

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As we hiked up and over what seemed like every foothill, we began to see clouds coming in from the west.  All of our first reactions were something of a “huh…clouds” since we hadn’t seen any in at least a week.  Soon, the clouds got darker and bigger and looked like they could actually drop a wee bit of precipitation.  But no! Sand and dust began to kick up west of us and the wind began to howl and blast us on the left side.  Highway 138 was never far – I had started to see it about 10 trail miles from where we cross it, but the trail had to skirt quite a lot of private land.

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The weather had pulled a 180, going from making my eyeballs sweat to making me lean sideways into the wind in attempts to walk straight.  Luckily, we walked straight into Hikertown at the road where Sean gave us a tour around.  Hikertown was basically a home-made ghost town with the post office, city hall, the dentist, the grocery etc.  I found my box in the box office infested with ants that had gotten into 3/4 of the food.  I was super disappointed, as there was Mom-made rhubarb bread and a giant vegan cookie from Miracle Morsels (the best local granola company near my mom who resupplies me).

We called the store a few miles down the road who will pick hikers up if several wanted to go get food.  A nice guy picked us up and waited while we got food and listened to the local jabber which consisted of motorcycles, tequila, and guns. They found it amusing that we wanted to walk from Mexico to Canada.

“I should do that on my motorcycle!” One started.

“It’s foot and horse paths only,” I replied.

“Oh well, I’ll ride beside it!” He continued.

We attempted to explain contours and how it tends to drop off on one side and shoot up on the other, but then he just started talking about tequila again.

Back at Hikertown, we ran into the Canadians, Alien March, Sprinkles, Bacon Bit, and Gumby, hanging out in the hiker lounge, which really consisted of some couches in Richard the Owner’s garage.  The wind whipped up something fierce and it began to spit some rain as well while the temperature plummeted.

In the morning, the weather had not eased at all so we hung out, lounged, and ate while a few more people trickled in.  Safari came in with my sunglasses that had slipped out of my pack some 25 miles before while night hiking, Shags came in, Maverick, and a few others.  We got a surprise visit from Terri Anderson and Bounce Box too.

“The original owner of Hikertown was a little out there.  He used to paint a sign with whatever small phrase came into his head that morning.  The place was coooovered, I can see some evidence of that over there,” she said as we listened intently.

“When the place sold, we came over to make sure the water was on for the hikers and told them no one had moved in yet, so camping in the yard would be fine.  The next thing I hear is that some hikers who came by our house and had slept there, only to have the new owner wake them up with a plastic movie rifle.  There was an ‘ahhhhh’ from the hikers then and ‘ahhhhh’ from him and that just went back and forth until words explained everything.  The new owner had no idea he purchased land right smack next to the PCT or what it was.  Eventually, he gave in and reopened Hikertown.”

According to my trusty phone weather app that seems to like lying to me, the wind from the night before and that day was sustained 20-30 mph with 55 mph gusts and that would increase after 5 pm to 35-40 mph sustained with 65 mph gusts.  However, it seemed to die down a bit around 2 pm and the sun warmed us up a bit, so we left at 2:30 pm for a 16 mile walk along the aqueduct.  I was just glad to leave Hikertown.  Even for my standards it was sketchy and sleazy.

The walk along the aqueduct seemed long and mostly flat.  The wind smashed us all around but died almost completely around when we stopped for dinner with Marcus and Klondike.  Klondike had a surprise call from the New Zealand National radio which wanted a follow-up interview with him.  If you’d like to listen it’s at http://www.reallylongwalks.com.

The Mojave desert was not what I expected: it was super windy, not scorching me, and we had to follow the aqueduct in order to avoid more private land.  We passed thousands of Joshua trees and turned off wind turbines.  At one point, I leaned completely into the headwind and it held me up.  Other times, I amused myself with my shadow that was in front of me because the trail decided to take us a mile southeast at one point.  We got to the first water 16 miles in and searched for a flat and wind protected spot.

In the morning, we walked through some fresh construction near the wind turbines and began heading toward the hills.  I felt incredibly slow after battling the wind the previous night as well as that morning.  I was not the only one and we took a long ass break at the second water (the last for the day).  There, we met Tuna Helper who was on his 12th day and trying to break Scott Williamson’s speed record of the PCT.  I didn’t believe him at first because he wasn’t angry and running like every other mile hound.

“How many miles are you trying to do today” we asked.

“Probably 52 due to the water sources,” he answered.

He also warned us of the super sandy climb we had ahead up to the ridge.  He was right.  We contoured the foothills for 3.5 miles, then dropped a few hundred feet to climb 1500 ft or so.  The climb was all sand and made walking difficult, but the wind had died to a light breeze.

On top of the ridge, my stomach loudly announced that I was out of calories by rumbling until I stopped on a flat rock and raided my food bag playing the game of “how much can I eat.”  About a quarter-mile later, a blanket provided shade from a tree over a beach chair, apples, and bottled water trail magic.  It was an awesome surprise.

We then had a long, slightly bumpy descent into a functional wind farm where the wind made dodging the horse shit significantly more difficult.

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Out of Mt Laguna, after a five-hour break or so, we headed another 10 miles down the trail stopping periodically to work the junk food cramps out. I had almost a whole can of Pringle’s, a can of peaches, some mini Oreos, orange juice, and Gatorade shaking around in my stomach while Hop-a-long had coffee, bagel with cream cheese, pickle-in-a-bag, and some carrot cake.  We trotted along, getting super distracted by the amazing layer of mountains that seemed to go on forever mixed in with low laying clouds.

We stopped with Peter, Ari, and Joe for a bit when we found a bench on the trail.  From there, we had not long to meander to the Pioneer Mail Campground.  Right before getting there, the wind whipped out and cooled us off as we went the last mile. Not too shabby for taking a five-hour break in “town” (downtown consisted of three buildings, but super awesome people), seven miles before, ten after.  Drop Zone had taken a spill, rolling his ankle badly, swelling up to the size of a baseball.  He got some happy pills that night to keep him distracted; good thing he’s a Canadian paramedic.

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At the campground, we set up and all gathered around a picnic table attempting to block the wind.  I just didn’t cook and ate the lunch that I skipped to eat junk food.  The wind stayed blowing strong all night while the moon shone so bright that I thought someone was standing above my tarp with a headlamp.

When 5:30 a.m. rolled around, I was awake and cold, so I began getting ready because I knew the only thing that would get me warm was walking.  I packed up quickly, but my hands were super cold.  I ended up wearing my wind jacket under my shell and pulling it over my hands on the trekking poles so I had some protection on my hands.  The trail stretched wide going out from the campground and made its way over to outstanding views. Before leaving I made sure everything was waterproof since I swore it would rain, yet as soon as I got to the viewpoint corner, I noticed it was just really intense fog hovering over the campsites.  When the wind blew, it pushed the fog right off the cliff I walked on forcing it to fall, then disappear.

I walked on and on to keep warm. For a bit I leapfrogged Virgo and High Life, but then I stopped in some sun, huddled under bushes, for a wind block about six miles in or so.  There, Hop-a-long, Drop Zone, Dan, Landen, and a Kiwi met up with us until we couldn’t deal with the wind anymore and kept hiking.  About five miles later, we took another out of the wind break. A few times, we found ourselves walking with birds for 30 seconds or so as they tried to fly against the wind and went only as fast as we were walking.

We got to a low point and for the first time in 24 hours, the wind stopped. Dead Animal was sleeping down there as he always seems to be.  We plopped down and took a long break sprawled out.  Drop zone passed out almost immediately and snored.  When Peter got there, he pulled off his shoes and showed us his massive foot blisters, one of which was literally 3in x 1in and when he shook his foot, the fluid inside jiggled.

Another five miles and a hill later got us to Rodriguez campground.  The evening entertainment was episode 1 of draining Peter’s blisters…which made a puddle of blood and fluid on the dirt where he poked them.  Otherwise, we gathered around in a circle and chatted for a long time.  Some stars were out, but not too many because the moon leaned toward full. I cowboy camped that night because I simply didn’t feel like setting up.

The morning was still windy, but not terrible.  We hiked about ten miles to Scizzor’s Crossing and then took siesta under the overpass, napping, reading, and cooking lunch.  The trail angel filling up the cache there told us that a whopping 105 hikers went through Scizzors the day before so we shouldn’t depend on the third gate cache, meaning our next guaranteed water was 25 miles ahead.  We filled to capacity.

Hello 11 pounds of water!  Pack, you were so light before!  Feet, keep up, we’re hiking again…remember? Twenty minutes later the feet give up complaining and walk uphill.

Then, suddenly, a super loud noise startles us and we turn around to see jets soaring to the valley sideways and rushing up to the opposite ridge, pushing themselves up and over at the very last-minute.  The heat beat down on us hard and there was no shade to be found.  Finally, about five miles uphill later, I glanced down and saw two hikers, Neon and On-the-go, resting in the first shade, so I joined them for a bit, later Hop-a-long and Drop Zone did too.

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When we got it together again, we hiked on another four miles or so to campsites in the saddle of the ridge.  We all plopped down for dinner and decided not to leave.  We sucked in almost everyone else that passed: the four Israelis who set up their tents right smack dab in the middle of the trail, then made a cook fire in a camping spot.  Joe and Peter came in, then Virgo, then Ari and Inspector Gadget joined us with pie and beer from town.  Ari seized the cook fire opportunity and made Triscut pizzas for everyone.

Out of nowhere, strange noises appeared! We looked up.

“There’s two satellites!” Drop Zone said.

“No, they’re planes” an Israeli said.

“Aliens!” Shouted Peter.  “No, really, this is how they get reported…people hanging out drinking in the woods looking up at moving, flashing lights.”

Most of us just cowboy camped that night, filling a few per flat spot.  The night was warm, meaning the next day would be hot, so most of us left before 6:30 a.m.

We went in about 5 mile chunks all day through the heat.  The first of which was at the third gate cache.  It had more water than we thought, but not a lot.  The second of which was in a small cave west of the trail which was so small, only one person could fit, so we strung up my tarp and huddled under it for shade cooking some lunch up.  Then we heard a rumor of chili and beer at Barrell Springs. On the word “beer,” we packed up and walked five more miles there to find nothing but a spring.

We sat down and rested our feet for only a few minutes when a few trail angels came with coca cola and Gatorade.  Chatting with them for a while was refreshing – just to talk to other people.  After they left, we hitched into the store four miles down the road with Lawrence, who conveniently had come to round-up some hikers since business was low.

We got quite a bit of beer and some chips and headed right back for beer run number two.  More hikers came through than we thought so we went through two twelve packs and four tall boys, then hiked out at 7:45 to do 5 more miles to eagle rock.  About two miles in we paused for a safety meeting.  The moon lit the way.

“Hey, did one of you guys step on a toad back there?” Hop-a-long asked.

Everyone checked their feet. “Maybe, none of us where using headlamps,” Ari replied.

“He hopped away, but I’m pretty sure one of his eyes had popped out.”

It went by super quick with that wonderful beer buzz until we hit cows.  In the dark. Inspector Gadget and Ari started backing up and Dead Animal had to push them through while I trotted up behind them.  When we were clear, we stopped to watch as Hop-a-long and Drop Zone scurried through. It seemed as though the cows began to surround them for a moment, but then they emerged.

We got to Eagle Rock and threw down to cowboy camp there.  Eagle rock is one of those landmarks that actually lives up to its name. Not one of those areas that claims to look like something but it really doesn’t or only looks like it if you cross your eyes and stand on your head ones.

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