Naked men and a flying snake

May 30, 2011 § 3 Comments

Big Bear to Wrightwood – 94 miles 7 days – Total: 369 miles 27 days + 2 zero days

(The title is crucial in writing, it’s got to be catchy. The first sentence is also very important, it has to make the reader want to read more, so here we go ;-))

“I can see half-naked guys!” “Yeah, Paradise!” No, it’s not a mirage. And no, it’s not trail magic 😉 We’re arriving at the Deep Creek hot springs. As we get closer, we notice there are even a few totally naked men as the hot springs are clothing optional. Soaking in the hot water was a pleasure for the muscles… and the eyes!

Water features have been a nice addition to the landscape in this section. We followed Deep Creek until the hot springs and beyond, before hiking along the shore of Silverwood Lake.

The weather has been extreme and changeable. One day the heat is so intense that your eyebrows give up trying to prevent the sweat on your forehead from dripping in your eyes, or as Isabelle put it in Pratchettian terms: “If I was a troll, right now I wouldn’t even know my own name!”, and the next day you get snowed on!

I was walking deep in thought, not paying much attention to my surroundings, when something moved on the side of the trail, right where I was about to put my hiking pole, and caught my eye. My brain barely registered the information “SNAKE”, ancestral instinct kicked in and the next thing I was yelling, running ahead while at the same time trying to throw the snake with my pole in the opposite direction, which moderately pleased Isabelle who was coming right behind and who complained I didn’t warn her. Well, she should have known that “Aaaah ah aargh!” is the universal code for: “Watch out for the (flying) snake!” The snake was probably more scared than I was as it was desperately trying to escape, escape I somewhat prevented as I was lifting half its body off the ground!

Lots of people are hiking the PCT so it’s impossible not to compare your own progress versus other hikers. You worry that you’re not doing as many miles as others, setting off as early in the morning or walking as fast. And then there are the hikers you get to know better and would like to hang around with. We’re still learning not to stress about our progress but we’re much more zen than at the start. We’ve given up trying to leave camp early in the morning. Isabelle is definitely not a morning person and I’ve always liked to take my time at breakfast.

We get on top of a hill and for once it’s not just another hill behind, the view opens up and we see rolling hills turning into mountains, blue and hazy from the smog coming from LA. Traffic on Interstate 15 is glinting in the distance. It’s Cajon Pass, the main communication route between LA and the rest of the US. To the PCT hiker it means a rest area with a McDonald’s and a Best Western motel! Even after 18 miles that day and 5 days of trail food McDonald’s didn’t taste that good. We had a few beers and hung around with other hikers. When it came to compare the weight of our backpacks we made quite an impression. Yep, guys, we’re not your average women. We might walk slow, these bags are heavy, but we do the miles and we’re right behind you!

… and we kept on hiking!

May 23, 2011 § 1 Comment

Warner Springs to Big Bear – 165 miles 11 days Total: 275 miles 20 days + 1 zero day

Fuller Ridge. That is the name you come to fear and pronounce with awe and respect on the PCT. You weigh the option of taking an alternate route and anxiously ask other hikers about their plans. In early season or in a heavy snow year, as is 2011, Fuller Ridge in the San Jacinto Mountains is the first place where thru-hikers might encounter snow, which can make it a potential hazard. As it turned out, Fuller Ridge was a piece of cake, almost disappointing. By the time we got there, most of the snow had melted and only a few patches were left to cross.

We hit our first real climbs in the San Jacinto Mountains. Until then the trail had been fairly level, going alongside hills, and if it was going up, it was in nice, long and lazy switchbacks. With the altitude we left the chaparral behind and reached pine forests, which was a welcome change as once chaparral has lost its novelty, it gets quite monotonous. There were fantastic views of Tahquitz Peak and San Jacinto Peak (the second highest mountain in Southern California – we’d get to see the highest, San Gorgonio Mountain, a couple days later). There’s no denying we’re Swiss, mountains hold a special place in our hearts. But when you go up, you have to go down at some point, and that was a seemingly endless descent!

Isabelle insisted on bringing a big knife so she’s carrying it on the side of her backpack. One night, we were camping on our own in the forest, it was cold so we left our stuff outside and huddled in the tent to eat – a little thought for Lysiane here as we can both SIT in the tent 😉 Later, we were gathering our stuff for the night, Isabelle was getting her pack under the tent when she asked: “Where’s the knife?” “I don’t know, I haven’t touched it.” We looked at each other and for the next five seconds a horror-movie scene played in our heads: the evil murderer stole the girls’ knife while, oblivious to the outside world, they were having dinner in the tent, he will attack anytime now that the girls’ panic level is rising at the discovery of the knife’s disappearance and of the fact that they are NOT alone… until Isabelle turned her pack on the other side and the knife was there! (sigh of relief)

We got our first rain as well as LOTS and LOTS of wind, which might have been expected as the PCT skirts a wind farm! This led to some troubled nights as our tent doesn’t hold the wind very well, but Isabelle, true daughter of her father, managed with a few tricks to solve the tent’s weaknesses.

Regarding animals on the trail, we’ve seen two bears, one panther and two lions! But you’ve certainly seen them too. In the movies. The PCT meanders close to Predators In Action, the place where they train wild beasts for Hollywood.

We turn a bend and there are iceboxes with soda cans and fresh fruit on the side of the trail. No, we are not hallucinating. This is trail magic. Trail magic is anything unexpected that brings you comfort on the trail. Trail magic is freaking awesome. It’s a bag of sweets tied to a fence, watermelon and soda under a bridge. Trail magic is like Christmas; you’re that overexcited child again that doesn’t know what’s in the box, can’t wait to find out and marvels at the wonders it discovers inside. “Oh, oranges.” “There are soda cans in that icebox.” “Look at that, marshmallows!” It doesn’t take much on the trail to make you happy.

The first week is really hard on the body. It doesn’t understand what is happening and protests in every possible way. You have to ignore the question in your head: “Why am I doing this?” as the answers – the beautiful landscapes, the challenge, having a blast with your sister – don’t hold up together as the hiking isn’t as great you thought it would be. But the first week is never great so you just have to tell yourself to hang on.

By the second week the body has understood there’s no point screaming its pains, it’s not gonna make it stop; it goes quiet and from now on feet, legs, shoulders and back will only whisper their respective aches. But the body is still adjusting, tiredness is accumulating. You’re still struggling to find a balance regarding your daily mileage. Canada is far away but the final goal is nonetheless vivid in your mind so part of you wants to push the miles as any day you’re still hiking in October you risk the snow and having to leave the trail before the end. But another part of you knows that to make it all the way you have to enjoy it so you need sleep-ins, after lunch naps and zero days.

On the third week the body feels good. It still has its bad days and always will, but it shows the first signs of becoming a junkie asking for its daily dose of miles. You push Canada at the back of your mind, you start to relax and enjoy the moment. You appreciate the after lunch naps not only as an occasion to rest but you remember they are part of THE reason you undertook this trip: to take the time. You already knew this from your last hiking trip and you bet you swore at the time that you would keep spaces for such moments once you’d be back in the fast moving world. But you forgot. Not entirely though, as that’s what’s been calling you back out here. And it took three weeks to learn again.

The third week, that’s when you start to really enjoy it!
So see you down the trail!

Still alive

May 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

E-mail 16/05/2011

“Idyllwild. 70 more miles.

Not much time to write more, we’d like to be back on the the trail tonight. And this computer is really too slow!

No more phone battery, the solar doesn’t recharge fast, will try in the next city. In 6 days, Big Bear City.

Everything is OK.

Aurelie et Isabelle”

Posted by phil

We survived the 1st week…

May 10, 2011 § 1 Comment

Campo to Warner Springs – 110 miles 8 days

Either we’re accident prone or a dark force is playing against us. Before we even left I managed to get a blister on one foot while walking along the Promenade in Galway and I dropped scissors on the other foot leaving me with a limp, Isabelle knocked her leg on the hostel bed in Los Angeles and we crossed a patch of poison oak to get to our 1st campsite on the trail. It seems a lucky star is also watching over us as none of this prevented us from keeping on.

But I’m afraid we’ve ruined the Swiss reputation in LA. It’s possible to resupply in most towns along the trail but sometimes it’s better or easier to mail yourself food packages. John, a friend we met on the JMT that lives in LA, had agreed to be our mail man – Thanks John! – so we had to prepare the resupply boxes. People in LA certainly thought we were crazy as they could watch us buy a month worth of food – the shopping cart was so full a guy asked Isabelle: “Wow! How many kids?” -, stuff it into our backpacks and haul it across the city to our hostel.

We attended the ADZPCTKO or Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off. There is a small community of past thru-hikers, thru-hikers to be, section hikers and trail angels that revolves around the PCT and that community has its own language I’ll have to explain along the way. Thru-hikers are the ones like us that (try to) do the 2650 miles in one go. Section hikers hike the PCT portion by portion. Trail angels are people that give a hand to hikers, should it be by giving a lift into town to resupply, providing accomodation, much needed showers and laundry facilities or maintaining water caches. And what is a zero day? A zero day is a rest day, a day where you hike zero mile. So every year around the end of April, the best time to start a thru-hike, the PCT community gathers at Lake Morena, near the beginning of the trail, to meet fellow hikers, give/get information on water and snow conditions on the trail and tips to a successful thru-hike, and that’s ADZPCTKO. The organization and what is done for hikers is amazing and it was nice to be among people who understand what you’re about to do but we couldn’t wait to set foot on the trail to really feel a part of that community and shake the feeling of unreality that we were actually doing this.

The 1st of May we got a ride to the border with Mexico. We took the official pictures near the monument marking the trail southern terminus and signed the register: ” The Swiss sisters hit the trail!”, quoting lyrics from the band Carrousel: “Peu importe ou ca nous mene. La route au bout des doigts. Et l’histoire que l’on traine on la reecrira.” [No matter where it leads us. The road at our fingertips. And the story we carry we will rewrite it]. And we took our first step on the trail, followed by many others…

The two main challenges of the hike so far are keeping your feet happy in the heat and carrying liters of water to get through the dry stretches.

With the heat your feet literally boil. Every so often, at each break, you have to take your shoes off to let your feet dry and breathe. Your feet swell and rub against the boots in places they usually don’t, your toes rub against each other and you get blisters in places you never expected. Every evening we go through a close inspection of our feet checking the healing of old blisters and taking care of new ones.

Your backpack weighs about 15 kilos, you’re facing a 32 mile stretch without water (well, there are two water caches on the way but you shouldn’t rely on them as they can be empty) so you load your pack with 10 liters and now you have to haul it up and across the San Felipe Hills… Over the next days your whole body hates you and you question many times your mental sanity for undertaking this trip. But when you reach the 2nd water cache and it’s empty, and you’ve managed to do 18 miles with a heavy pack, you’re happy you have the extra water and you’re proud of how far you’ve hiked.

To Isabelle’s great pleasure we had several encounters with snakes. Some were non venomous but to Isabelle it doesn’t make a difference, especially when it crosses the trail right in front of her boots!

There were also a few rattlesnakes. When we first heard that unmistakable rattle, I stopped dead in my tracks and looked around to locate the beast, I wanted to know where it was before I took the next step. I could feel Isabelle pushing on my pack and telling me to move but I couldn’t see it. So I said with a touch of panic: ” I can’t see it!” and Isabelle’s uneasy voice came in reply: ” I CAN see it! I NEED to go!” leaving no doubt that if I didn’t move she was gonna climb over me to get the hell out of there!

Another time we needed a break and there was this comfy looking log on the side of the trail. So we unloaded our pack, Isabelle sat on the log, I wandered off and it’s when I came back that I saw it. Beside the log, black and white, tiny but suspiciously snake-like. “Hum… Isabelle…” My brain was racing to find a way to break it to her without freaking her out. “I don’t want to worry you… It’s tiny…” And that was it, in no time she was off the log, with her pack on, the break was over.

Another thing of the PCT community is trailnames. You get a new name on the trail, it’s given to you by fellow hikers. So we have come to be known as the Swisters (a hybrid between Swiss and sisters). Isabelle is now Tinker Bell as she carries on her pack a Swiss cow bell, gift from Yllka and Celine to scare bears away 🙂

The landscape changes as we hike. We started walking through chaparral vegetation, expanses of dense low shrubs, dotted by yucca, every plant in bloom, the nights were freezing. Then the vegetation grew more sparse, cacti growing beautiful flowers replaced the shrubs, the nights got warmer before we crossed chaparral again and then wide meadows.

Two nights ago the wind was blowing strong and we woke up to see that the sand that used to be outside was now inside the tent! As Isabelle put it, some mornings are harder than others.

We’re now in Warner Springs trying not to get sucked in the hikers black hole – you see hikers coming in one way but you never see them coming out the other way – that are hot springs, comfy beds, showers… Between 20-30% of hikers quit after the 1st week. In some ways we totally understand them. But there is also something in the way your backpack weighs on your shoulder, in the rythm of your footsteps, in the regular sound of your breathing, in the wide expanses out there, that feels just right.

So see you in a couple of miles! And you’ll have to be patient for pictures.

News / Nouvelles

May 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

SMS received the 9th of May 2011 at 2.40 am

“Warner Springs. 100 miles in the legs. Everthing OK. Looking for internet after the shower 😉 Kiss, Aurélie”

SMS reçu le 9 mai 2011 à 2h40

“Arrivées à Warner Springs. 160km dans les pattes. Tout va bien. Vais voir s’il y a internet après la douche 😉 Bisous, Aurélie”

Posted by phil

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