Well, as the title states, I am no longer hiking the PCT. Due to a tragedy that has affected someone very close to me, I am back home from my journey.. for now.
But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t had any fun since my last post!
In fact, as I was finishing up that last post on day 13, I got a call from a high school friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in about 5 years. I had let a few friends of mine (who now live in California) know that I was planning to be out in their neck of the woods for almost 2 months. Long story short, my instagram post reminded one of them that I was in California, and so he reached out.
Now, I was in Idyllwild, CA when I got this call, as you recall. Idyllwild happens to be in Southern California. While I was making decent time on the trail, I had not yet made it THAT far from the Mexican border. But, the friend who gave me a call lives in San Francisco.
I let him know that I wasn’t really sure what my plans were for the next few days, as I had reached a spot on the trail with significant snow coverage, and there was to be a little bit of miserable weather for the next couple of days. My plan at that point (this was Tuesday afternoon) was to see just how bad the weather was while I stayed in town a day or two, and then hopefully head back out onto the trail on Thursday or Friday.
I figured I deserved a bit of a break after the harrowing adventure that was day 12..
My friend from SF is currently unemployed, and, therefore, had even less in the way of plans than I did. He brewed up the plan to go and pick up our other high school buddy, who was on Spring Break from veterinary school at UC Davis – about 2 hours the wrong way from San Francisco. He would then drive the two of them down to Idyllwild, which would be an 8 hour drive without the LA rush hour traffic and the road closures making it just that much harder to get to Idyllwild. They were hoping to get into Idyllwild Wednesday night.
Then, Thursday, we’d all go skiing together at Big Bear, 3 hours away from where I was. After a day of skiing and catching up, they would drive right back up to SF/UC Davis, respectively, on Friday while I hopped back on the trail in Big Bear. That would put me on the other side of the formidable Fuller Ridge, a treacherous stretch of the trail (when there is snow) that I would have encountered if I had tried to get immediately back on the trail from Idyllwild.
For me, this plan made great sense, especially as Big Bear happens to be one of the trail towns along the PCT. If there was one thing I had learned to this point in my hike, it is that one must be flexible. There are very few who are able to do each mile of a long thru-hike consecutively.
Fire, injuries, weather.. there are infinite possibilities when it comes to delaying or making impossible certain sections of a thru-hike. So, I took this delay in stride and accepted his proposal.
For most, the road trip my friends were to make wouldn’t even cross their mind. After all, they were planning to drive more than 1000 miles in just a few days. But, then again, these are the type of people I tend to surround myself with.
There is never enough time for the adventures that we need to fill our lives with. And, so, we must make the time. Plus, my buddy from SF drives a Tesla.. free vehicle motor power helps.
And, indeed, they arrived in Idyllwild at about 10:30 PM on Wednesday night, just about 30 hours after we had gotten off the phone the prior day. We stayed at the Fern Valley Inn, in a wonderfully cozy little cabin named the Heidelberg Zimmer. The almost antique amenities were a fantastic touch. The selling point that ended up getting us to stay there? A Tesla charging station on premise. Good work Fern Valley.
I was going to just leave that experience at that, but the inn owners (Marcie and Gary) went above and beyond with their services, so, so too will my review.
So, allow me to back up a bit. You’ll likely appreciate what my two-day experience in Idyllwild was like.
Tuesday afternoon, after the phone call, I left the coffee shop that I was hanging out in to go and pick up my laundry from the Idyllwild Inn (who were nice enough to let me clean my clothes after I picked up my resupply package from their little hiker hangout lounge). I then headed to Nomad Ventures, a fantastic outdoor outfitter in town that knows the needs of the town’s visitors, climbers and hikers. I picked up an ice axe that I wished I had had the day prior up on the snow-covered trail on the backside of that craggy ridge that towers above the town. Here’s a picture as a reminder.
Even with the change of plans, there would surely be other points along the trail that would be much more safely-travelled with an ice axe in hand.
As with every good outfitter that I have visited, I spent plenty of time chatting with the shop associate and perusing their inventory of toys. I learned about Jon, a retired(?) gentleman who practically lives up on in the San Jacinto mountain wilderness, no matter the weather. He runs the website sanjacjon.com, and keeps it up to date with trail conditions and such. A surely wonderful man I hope to meet someday.
Upon leaving the shop, I headed back downtown on my way to the ranger station and then to the $5 a night campground right in town where I was planning to stay the night. However, my plans were soon interrupted when I saw a group of PCT hikers, a few of which I had met at various points over the past 10 days or so. They were gathered around none other than Mayor Max (Maximus Mighty-Dog Mueller, II), a golden retriever who was the successor to Maximus Mighty-Dog Mueller, the mayor of Idyllwild who was elected in June of 2012.
This dog actually served a ten-month term as mayor of the little mountain town after his predecessor passed away after serving 14 months as a dog mayor.
I spent some time talking to the other hikers and hanging out with Max and his deputy mayors (Mikey and Mitzi), enjoying some much needed puppy love.
While there, Ratz and PK (Patch Kid) invited me to stay with them on the floor of their cabin that night. It was an offer I could not refuse. The ranger station closed at some point while I was distracted by the dogs, and so I joined Ratz and PK and headed back to their cabin. It was a cozy set up with 5 total hikers staying there.
I decided to sleep on the back porch for two reasons. 1) I had become accustomed to sleeping outside, and quite enjoy it. 2) I wanted to read Emily (back home in Brooklyn) to sleep that night because she had undergone mouth surgery earlier that day, and I didn’t want to keep anyone up. It was a great time hanging out with Ratz and PK and Steve-O, and Irv before everyone headed to sleep.
In the morning, the other 4 hikers hitched a ride out to a dirt road that would take them back to the PCT on the other side of Fuller Ridge. But, I had other plans. I had to wait for my high school friends to arrive later that night. So, I stayed on in Idyllwild where I found my hiker friends Vortex, Magic, and Greg (now called Stark).
Stark, or Tony Stark, received his name because he tends to wander off and disappear often, seemingly off saving the world or something. He’s a traveling nurse in his “real” life. Plus, he has all the gear and gadgets, and is not willing to spare any expense, or seemingly so to the rest of us dirtbag hikers. All-in-all a fitting name for Mr. Stark.
The day was spent hanging out with these now almost old friends of mine. We wandered around playing Pokemon Go in the town of Idyllwild. We explored a good bit of the town in this way, which I think is pretty neat.
After a nice long rest back at the cabin Stark had paid for, we decided it was time to go and search for food. We walked through rain and sleet to the other side of town to find a Mexican place, which ended up being closed. So, we settled for a creative vegan place nearby.
I had already started re-hydrating some buttery mac and cheese that Emily had sent me the components for from back home in Brooklyn, so I only got a bowl of lentil soup. It was quite tasty.
While there, my friends from more Northern California let me know that their ETA was approximately 10 PM and that I should go and check into the Fern Valley Inn before they closed at 8 PM. By the time I had finished my soup, it was 7:15. It had started to snow in the idyllic little town of Idyllwild.
The inn was about a mile away up the hill. So, I called to make sure that I had to check in in person before 8 PM. Marcie picked up the phone. She was expecting my call as my buddies had let her know that I would be checking in. I asked her if I needed to check in in person, to which she answered, “yes”.
I then said something to effect of, “OK, I’m currently downtown and don’t have a vehicle, so I’ll walk up there.. I should be there within a half an hour.” To which she replied, “WALK?!? You can’t walk up here in this snow!” And so, she offered to drive down the hill, in the snow, to pick me up and bring me back up there to check in.. what..?
People are so freaking nice sometimes.
She said I had 5 or 10 minutes until she’d be there, so I headed up to the counter and asked for my check. The server responded with, “Oh, some nice old lady actually just took care of your whole table. You’re all set.”
Incredulous, I asked him again to be sure. He assured me that the bill for our table of 6 hikers had been taken care of, anonymously. I went back to the table and let everyone know. Vortex, as incredulous as I, took the situation into his own hands and went up to counter with me and asked the server the same thing I just had. The server repeated what he had said to me and added, “if you say thank you loudly enough, your benefactor might hear you.” He smiled as he said this.
So, Vortex and I both loudly voiced a “Thank you so much!”, and I stepped outside the establishment to await Marcie’s arrival. She picked me up with little fanfare and drove me back up the hill to her home and mine for the night.
Upon arrival, I checked in with Marcie and her partner, Gary. We ended up chatting about all things PCT hikers, Idyllwild, business, life ambitions, and more. At one point in the conversation, I expressed my puzzlement at people’s insane generosity for these dirtbag hikers that romp through their towns, and Marcie simply explained, “you’re doing something that they only wish they could do. Anything they can do to be a part of it makes them happy.” After about 45 min of chatting, we headed our separate ways.
I took a nap while I waited for my friends to arrive in the Tesla. It was my first time sleeping in a bed in two weeks, and that was one cozy little cabin. They arrived a couple of hours later. We hugged, chatted a bit, photographed the super moon, and then headed to bed so that we could get up early enough the next morning to make those ski resort lift tickets worthwhile.
In the morning, I got to ride in a Tesla Model S for 3 hours, which would have been exciting enough in any car as I was moving through the desert at a pace that far outshined my last two weeks spent trudging through it. We drove through Palm Desert and Palm Springs, a strange suburban oasis on the desert floor that bridges the mountain ridge I had been traversing just three days prior with the mountain ridge across the way that houses Joshua Tree National Park.
We then entered the Mojave on our way up and around Mount San Gorgonio on our way to Big Bear.
Soon enough, we were whizzing our way up switchbacks back into beautiful desert mountains, past Big Bear Lake, and to the first of two sister ski resorts.
I put on all of my clothing layers that I had brought with me, grabbed my friend’s extra snowboard setup and helmet out of the trunk and frunk (front trunk), and we headed to the mountain.
Bear Mountain is a snowboarder’s haven. They have bumps and burms and all manner of snowboard-friendly features littering the slopes of the mountain. It was magical. I haven’t ridden much is the past few years, but it all came right back to me and I was in a white wonderland, enjoying the change of pace from all-day walking.
After a few fantastic morning runs, I arrived at the top of the chair lift to a bone-chilling text from Emily, “I need you to come home. I need you to come home now. Please call me when you can.”
I called her as soon as I saw the text. She had just learned that someone very dear to her had tragically died in a skiing accident on vacation with his family. We decided that I would find a flight home the next day (Friday), but that I should stay and enjoy my reunion with friends for as long as they were available.
I did my best to shake off the news. We continued on skiing for the rest of the day after a lunch break that was primarily used to look up flights. We headed over to the sister ski resort, which had big beautiful trees, a cloud covered summit, and some very good conditions for March skiing in SoCal.
It was all a bit of a magical blur.
After we got off the slopes, my friends helped me finish my search for a flight as my phone had died much earlier that day. I wanted to fly out of a more NoCal airport as I wanted to be able to drive back up with them in order to spend as much time with them as possible. Also, it would be a more convenient drive for them.
We ended up finding a flight out of Reno for the right price at 6:40 AM the next morning. Being 8 hours from us, plus a few hours for supercharging the Tesla along the way, we needed to get right on the road. We picked up my food resupply (that Emily had already shipped me in preparation for my arrival) from the Big Bear Lake Post Office and headed down out of the mountains towards San Bernardino with just 3% battery left to power the car. Fortunately, Tesla’s have an amazing ability to capture energy from gravity pulling them downhill and through regenerative braking, so we ended up rolling into the supercharging station at the mall in San Bernardino with 7% battery.
We grabbed a bite to eat, and then were on our way again. This time towards the supercharger station in Inyokern. We topped off quickly in Inyokern, which allowed us to get to Lone Pine, CA.
I had been to Lone Pine almost exactly one year earlier on my first backpacking trip, ever: a one-night adventure in the Inyo Mountain Wilderness across the valley from the Sierras. Lone Pine is a tiny little town, but it holds a special place in my heart. It is a place that speaks to me. So, upon arrival, I headed off to walk down the main strip in search of Pokemon and to reminisce a bit in the cute little town that is known as the gateway to Mt. Whitney (the tallest mountain in the lower 48).
When I got back to the car about 30 minutes later, my friends were enjoying sous-vide chicken thighs warmed and seared on a camp stove and some chips and guac.
We enjoyed a fun cookout in the parking lot next to the charging Tesla, and then took some sweet shots of the Sierras with the drone that my friend pulled out of the back of his car.
I slept most of the rest of the way while the other two took turns driving through the night to get me to the airport in time to check in for my flight.
We arrived at Reno airport at 4:30 AM, I checked my bag, waited in one of the longer security lines I’ve experienced recently, and then boarded my plane bound for Chicago Midway airport where I would catch my connecting flight back to Newark, NJ where I would get on the train that would take me to New York Penn station where I would hop on the E train back home to Emily.
I do not yet know if/when I will be getting back on the trail. For now, I am doing all I can to be present for Emily who needs me desperately right now.
Life is full of twists and turns. Emily told me that she was sorry to throw this detour into my journey on the PCT. But, in the end, that’s all life is: a series of detours. But, if we have a reason for going where we are going, for doing what we are doing, then all we can do is take those detours in stride knowing that when we come out on the other side of each one we will yet be closer to our dreams than we were before, in some way or another.
Till next time.
4 comments on “PCT on pause – The inversions of life”
Justin, you are an exceptional human. All the best to you and Emily.
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You and Emily are in my thoughts. I appreciate you sharing your personal hike with us.
I live to share. Sharing keeps me excited about life.