Scott and Rachel's Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike journal: Big Bear City, Mile 267, May 5th

Big Bear City - It has been a week of ups and downs. We have spent a full day and a half descending down to San Gorgonio Pass (at 1200 feet), from the Mt. San Jacinto (our high point was about 9000 feet), only to spend the next two days climbing back up to 8700 feet again in the San Bernardino Range, behind Mt. San Gorgonio. We have seen some incredible peaks, lovely valleys, and countless traverses along steep hillsides.

It all started in Idyllwild on Monday morning. We had to wait for the Post Office to open at 9 am, so we got up, packed up camp, and headed into town to find a nice breakfast. On the way, we had to stop off at the Laundromat again to search for a missing sock. (Under normal circumstances, one missing sock out of a couple of loads of laundry wouldn't be that big a deal, but when hiking, those socks are critical to our feet's happiness. Scott rotates through three pairs of liners, while Rachel makes do with two. One missing sock means that we are down 10% of our footwear!) Fortunately the laundromat opened early and we were able to retrieve the missing sock.

Now that we were whole again, we were off in search of breakfast. We made a couple inquiries about where we could get a good, cheap breakfast, and the general consensus had been that Jan's Red Kettle was the place to go. We found Jan's right in the center of town and climbed the steps to the front porch. It was then that we saw the menu posted outside and realized that we wouldn't be able to get anything for under $6. Our frugal nature came roaring to the surface as we quickly did the calculations and realized that the exchange rate on our Canadian dollar, meant that $6 was closer to ten. One look at each other and we decided to pass on Jan's Red Kettle (although we have heard that the food there is great), and head over to the grocery store where we could purchase some orange juice, yogurt, and fresh citrus at a fraction of the cost.

The Idyllwild Post Office is a busy place in the morning as there is no mail delivery in town. All three thousand residents make a daily trip to the P.O. to pick up their mail, and from the looks of things, most of them stop by first thing in the morning. We stood around greeting the locals as they whizzed in and out, while we waited patiently for the P.O. to open. At last the postal worker opened the door, early (not at all like a Canadian Government worker) and handed us our General Delivery parcels so that we could get a jump start on our day. With our boxes sorted out, our float box mailed on ahead of us, and our packs fully laden once again, we were left to ponder the 2 miles slog back up the hill to the trailhead that would lead us back to the PCT. As we were standing there contemplating our options with a fellow hiker, a local walked by and asked if we were ready. We quickly threw our pack in the back of his pick-up and enjoyed the two-mile lift up the hill.

Even after the lift, we still had a 2.5-mile climb back up to Saddle Junction and the PCT. The left the trail junction at about noon and began to climb even higher to navigate around Mt. San Jacinto peak. We hiked with some great scenery back down into the Idyllwild valley and beyond and finally made our way around the North-west shoulder of the peak before setting up camp on the hillside, sheltered from the wind by some large boulders.

The following morning we were up with the dawn again, ready to face Fuller Ridge, a sharp ridgeline jutting out from the side of Mt. San Jacinto, with huge vertical relief on either side. The guidebook had prepared us for a tough crossing with miniature switchbacks climbing up and down as we traversed the ridge, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that there was only one such bad section, of only about a half mile, rather than the two miles that we had feared. From there, the trail began a long, and sustained decent down towards San Gorgonio Pass, 7000 feet below us.

We had both been worried about the decent because of Scott's knee problems, but with the aid of his new trekking poles and a relatively gentle grade, we were able to make good time. Down and down we went, one step at a time, until we had traveled 19 miles and we still weren't at the bottom. We had been striving to push on towards a PCT legacy, The Pink Motel, at Highway I-10, but it was still another six miles and we were exhausted. At last we found ourselves a moderately level spot in which to pitch the tent, and we hunkered down for the night, only moderately sheltered from the incredible winds that whip through San Gorgonio Pass.

It was a good thing that we didn't push on the day before to make it into The Pink Motel because the next day, after making our way the last 1000 feet down into San Gorgonio Pass, we were confronted with a four mile slog through the sand, into relentless headwinds. San Gorgonio Pass is renowned for it's incredible winds and is covered with wind turbines capitalizing on the wind energy that drives through the pass. At last we made it to Highway I-10, the end of the second section of this great trail. We made our way through an underpass and experienced culture shock as we entered into a world of garbage and graffiti, but it wasn't more than a hundred yards before we were out on the other side again.

A mile or so past the I-10, up the alluvial fans of the San Bernardino Mountains, we finally came across the legendary Pink Motel. As we approached sign declared "Private Property. No Trespassing. PCT Hikers welcome." We made our way up the dirt driveway, around the junk yard, and soon found ourselves at the half trailer and storage shed that have been made available to PCT hikers. The Trailer had been fixed up into a functioning kitchen area, complete with food supplies and pop and beer in the fridge. The storage shed was a good sized room filled with a table, chairs, and four sofas covered out with sheets and pillows. The facilities were complete with a Port-a-potty out back, and all had been made available to PCT hikers by the owners Don and Helen Middleton. While we didn't get the opportunity to meet these wonderfully gracious people, we did meet another thru-hiker, Andrew (from Georgia) and his Rottweiller, Dude. We hung our for an hour or so and then pushed on as the day was still young.

As we left the Pink Motel, we made our way up the alluvial fans and around the back side of Mesa Wind Farm where we got to see lots of wind turbines up close. We climbed a couple of ridges and descended down into a couple of valleys before we found our way into Whitewater River basin. As we descended the switchbacks into the basin we crossed paths with our second rattlesnake. Unlike the first one we saw, however, this one warned us of his presence with a quick buzz of his tail. We quickly stepped back, and then again as he advanced towards us before leisurely making his way off the trail.

A mile and a half further up the river bank we found ourselves at a great camp spot, sheltered from any potential down-winds behind a large outcrop of basalt. We pitched our tent and then quickly headed over to the river to bathe and launder some of our socks and other garments. Whitewater River was the first actual river that we have encountered on this trip so far, and it was really nice to be able to wash off the dust and grime that so quickly accumulates on our bodies. While Rachel sponged off, Scott lay down in the warm flowing river and let the water rush over his whole body.

The next morning we climbed the ridge out of Whitewater Canyon and made our way down into the next canyon, North Fork of Mission Creek. Unlike other canyons that we have dropped into, we were to follow this canyon upstream for 6 miles or so. While we had originally been looking forward to the canyon walk, anticipating that it would be a gentle grade and easy walking, it ended up being a really tough day's hike. The heat in the canyon was much greater as we didn't get the breeze that we had learned to expect upon the ridges, and the terrain was rocky and often overgrown. We crisscrossed back an forth across the creek about 15 times in five miles and slowly meandered our way up the canyon. At last we made our way to the base of climb and joined up with Andrew and his dog Dude to camp for the night.

While water had not been a concern all day because we had been crossing Mission creek time and again, we were a little dismayed to find the creek seemly dry as we pulled into camp. Andrew, however, was quick to point us in the direction of a seep running for about 20 feet up behind where we were camped. We quickly got what water we needed for the night and then retired to our tent to eat and relax.

Right off the bat the following morning, we were confronted with a 1500 foot climb out of the river canyon. Rachel was having a hard time finding her legs that morning and was lagging behind as Scott blazed on ahead. At last we made it a long 4 miles up the hill to Mission Springs Trail Camp and refilled our water bottles from another seep in the ground. After the rest at Mission Springs, Rachel was feeling much stronger and we were able to make some good time up and along another couple of ridges until we finally peaked out at 8700 feet. We pushed on that day, trying to make it to Arrastre Trail Camp, (the next water supply) 16.5 miles down the trail, but we stopped about two miles short to dry camp in a nice hillside grove of Pinot Pines.

Yesterday morning we were up in the usual cold of the morning (about 28 degrees, or -3 Celsius) and treated ourselves to a hot breakfast of oatmeal before heading out on the trail. The oatmeal must have done it's thing because we made good time, about 12 miles done by noon. At that point we stopped to enjoy a bit of lunch and ponder our options, and that's when the debate began. We were within a few hundred yards of Highway 18 which would take us directly into Big Bear City, our next re-supply point The Post Office in town was scheduled to be open between 2 and 3 p.m. for parcel pick-up only, and if we hitched in we might be able to make it in time. The alternative was to stay on the trail and follow the guidebooks route into town, another 8 trail miles and then a three mile walk down a dirt road. Scott was reluctant to waste time standing at the side of the road, trying to hitch, but Rachel was more than eager to get into town, pick up our packages at the P.O. and then enjoy a big juicy burger. It wasn't until we met Ted, a segment hiker from Bellevue, WA, at the side of the highway who informed us that previous hikers hadn't had a problem getting a ride, that the decision was made... into town we would go.

We crossed the road and stuck out our thumbs, and the second car to drive by stopped to give us a lift. They moved boxes around in the trunk, pilled papers here and there and finally managed to squeeze Scott's pack into the trunk and Rachel's in the back seat between us. We mentioned that we were trying to get to the Post Office and they dropped us off right there. As we pulled into the parking lot the lady hauled out a take-out container filled with B.B.Q.-ed pork bits and a good sized tub of coleslaw. We gratefully accepted and then waved good-bye.

At the Post Office we met up with a whole group of other PCT hikers waiting for their parcels. Andrew and his dog were there, along with Pete and Ed, (father and son from Toronto Ontario), Ed and Nancy (segment hikers from Vermont) and Ron Strickland (friend of Ted whom we met at the Highway, both of whom are segment hikers from Seattle, WA). We lined up for our packages and were dismayed to find that our float box had not arrived yet, but at least we had the what we really needed, our supply box with all our food.

We hung out at the Post Office for a little while before heading the two blocks down the road to the Big Bear City Fire Station. The Fire Department here has opened up there station to PCT hikers to use their washrooms, showers, and pitch the tents on their lawn. The fire hall has apparently become quite the hiker hangout and some people even hitch-hike back here to recuperate if they injure themselves further along the trail. So far, the hospitality of the fire department has been exceptional, but then, just like our experiences on the Big Ride, we have been delighted to find how hospitable some people can be.

We all hung out at the fire station a while longer, getting to know everyone and setting up our camp before we headed into town to pick up a few supplies. Scott wanted a second long sleeved hiking shirt and some sandals, while Rachel needed a "town dress" (a light weight dress that can be put on in town while everything else is being laundered; a nice alternative to rain gear), some new gloves, and a mini notepad. We were successful in finding everything except a suitable long sleeved shirt for Scott. After our little shopping expedition, we went out for a double cheeseburger dinner and were then joined by Ed, Nancy and Ron for dessert before heading back to the fire station for a cold nights sleep.

While still lying in the tent this morning we decided that rather than day hike the eight mile segment up to Van Dusen Canyon Road, that we would rather take the day off and relax. After almost three weeks of hiking and about 280 miles, our bodies can use the rest. We got up this morning and joined Ed, Nancy, Ron, Ted, and Ted's wife (who arrived via the airport) for a delicious breakfast before we waved good-bye to Ron and Ted who are pulling off the trail here. As a parting gift, Ron gave Rachel his Columbia Sportswear sun-hat to provide her with more protection than her baseball cap as her ears are getting blistered and scabbed... just one more example of the wonderful people we are meeting along this trip. Thanks Ron!

After our sad good-byes we were off to do laundry and then catch up on a little relaxation. As we have sat here in the yard of the fire station we have greeted the next batch of hikers to come into town. We are beginning to realize that trail towns are for socializing. It is here that you get to meet the other hikers, exchange stories and gear, and have some fun. Out on the trail, you can go without a day or more without encountering other hikers because most people are traveling at around the same speed. Today is our day for socializing, and tomorrow we will be back on the trail after the Post Office opens a we mail back some gear.