pct Update #2 - The Desert
This update comes to you from Big Bear Lake at mile 266. It’s been about 150 miles since the last update. We’ve started to settle into a rhythm - pack camp, breakfast, hike, 2nd breakfast, hike, lunch, hike, snack, hike, dinner and socialize, bed by 8pm (affectionately known as “hiker midnight”).
Chapter 2.1 - The Man with the Tail
We made a long day’s trek to get to something called “Mike’s Place.” It sounded a bit too good to be true, so we had extra food just in case, but the trail rumor was that once you got there, there was a brick oven and Mike would make pizzas for you. At about 5pm we came across a small side trail, with a weather-worn, Christmas-light-lit wooden sign that simply said “Mike’s Place” with an arrow. We followed the arrow, and came to a clearing with a simple house and an outdoor kitchen, complete with brick oven. A man with no shoes excitedly introduced himself as “Strange.” He had a tail, and told us about the construction of such a tail (spring steel is apparently the key to a non-floppy, pleasantly back-and-forth swingy tail). He talked quickly and profusely while he cooked, made top rate pizza, and always seemed to walk a fine line between genius and lunacy. We camped in his yard, and left slightly begrudgingly the next morning after a hot cup of french press, and listening to Strange display a surprisingly good grasp of quantum mechanics and tortilla manufacturing machines.
Chapter 2.2 - The Business Magnate (maybe)
We hiked another long day to reach another oasis of sorts. 18 miles of hiking held the promise of overnighting at location known as “Mary’s Place.” No pizza, but there was said to be water, picnic tables, a privy (with toilet paper), and a small library. It turns out “luxuries” out here can be pretty darn simple. “Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find,” a sticker on the Little Free Library read.
Mary herself, along with her dog Scout, arrived as we were setting up the tent. She told us the small oasis was a corner of her property, and had a new theme every year - this year happens to be Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, in reference to a poem from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. For me, talking with Mary gives something of the air of a whip-smart retired business magnate. I have no idea if that’s even remotely accurate, but I’m choosing to assume it is, and that she then chose to spend her later years closer to nature in the West, gifting poetry and simple luxuries to hundreds of hikers every year.
Hiking out the next morning, we stopped for 2nd breakfast in a serendipitous spot of shade and flat ground (simple luxuries abound out here 🙂), only to be passed once more by Mary, this time taking her horse out for a morning trail walk. We thanked her profusely, and parted ways to continue our journey.
Chapter 2.3 - The Medicine Man
A half day’s hike to a highway crossing. A short hitch down the highway to the Paradise Cafe, where one (by some accounts) gets the best burger on the entire pct. Out our thumbs went. Not two minutes passed before a friendly-looking man with a ponytail and lots of turquoise emerges from the desert underbrush walking towards us. He waves, introduces himself as Dr. Jay, and asks if we need a ride to the cafe. He tells us along the way that what he was doing back there was hanging signs for his cbd business. A woman on a horse had apparently been repeatedly ripping down his signs, which Dr. Jay was quite upset about. This, of course, was Mary! The juxtaposition of these two fascinating characters, and their ongoing rivalry in a small piece of California desert, was like something out of a screenplay.
We thanked Dr. Jay for the ride, offered to buy him a drink if we saw him in Idyllwild (our upcoming and much anticipated zero day), and ate two delicious burgers. Only a bit over 2,000 miles to go before we can say whether it not it was indeed the best burger.
In Idyllwild, two days later, we took a day of rest. These are the days we use to resupply trail food, take showers, and eat delicious town food. Ohhh, the town food. It’s becoming a source of motivation that we’re always looking forward to.
I kept an eye out for Mayor Max, the canine mayor of Idyllwild (no, really!), but unfortunately we didn’t catch him. Apparently he rides around town in the back of a pickup truck most days.
Chapter 2.4 - The Snowy Desert
We may be in the desert, but there are some hefty climbs, and when you climb up to just shy of 10,000 ft, there can be snow! And indeed there was! We had microspikes at the ready to attach to our shoes, and spent a couple days making what can only be described as a “slog” through the snow. The novelty and trepidation quickly wears thin, to be replaced by exhaustion and frustration that you’re hiking less than half as quickly as normal (snow hiking is hard work).
The desert is a place of extremes though, so as quickly as we ascended to such heights, we descended right back down to the desert floor the day after. The sweltering midday sun was patiently waiting to welcome us back.
Chapter 2.5 - The Casino
We cross another highway; this time it’s the I-10. It’s right near the Coachella music festival, which is happening now, so we heard it would be easy to get an Uber/Lyft to the nearby Morongo casino. Why go there, you ask, given that I’ve probably gambled less than a single dollar in my entire life? For the all-you-can-eat buffet, of course! Hikers love those, because as I mentioned last update, we burn a lot of calories. Yum. As you can see from the attached photos, we also made a pit stop at the world’s largest dinosaur!
Chapter 2.6 - The Beach Party
Several more days of desert hiking brought us to a water crossing at a sandy spot along Mission Creek. We arrived mid-afternoon to find at least 10 hikers in various states of napping, eating, sunbathing, and swimming in the creek. Another of these of unexpected sights to come across in the middle of a day of hot, arid desert hiking.
Chapter 2.7 - The Campfire
Two more days of hiking until a town day in Big Bear Lake. The night before town, we ended our day in what turned out to be a campsite for several more hikers than just Andy and me. More picnic tables! And even a new luxury - a fire pit! After dinner, we all stayed up late to socialize over a glorious campfire. It’s funny how much I associate campfires with camping as a kid, but on a thruhike there’s often neither the time nor the energy to deal with making campfires at night. So, this was a real treat. We didn’t get to bed until an incredibly late 8:30!
That brings us to town, where I’ve showered, done laundry, and am writing you another update from another very real and very comfortable bed.
Happy trails and until next time,