The Good the Bad & the Itchy... Part 1

Nobody said that this was going to be easy. We knew that every day would bring new challenges, that the landscape and weather would always keep us guessing of what is around the next bend... That the trail would take us to our comfort zone push & push until we reach new thresholds of strength and determination. We don't know how we will change as individuals or how we will build our partnership, but we know the trail has begun to unleash its charms on us.

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We have completed 558 trail miles and are on our 41st day on our journey & I am writing now, poolside of the Holiday Inn in Tehachapi, CA. The last few hundred miles have been amazing and exhausting and it feels as if we have been in a constant forward motion... All energy spent & in need of a recharge, we booked two nights in town before we begin to skirt the left portion of the Mohave Desert where we will start doing night hiking to reduce our water consumption during two back-to-back 42mi waterless stretches.

Having a lot of time on the trail, it is easy to develop new material to write about but having the energy to actually "put pen to paper" is a whole other story. Over the next few blogs, I will "catch you up" on our adventure sharing some "highlights" if you will, of what Mother Nature has had her fun sharing with us.

Our first snowstorm happened in Big Bear while we were sleeping at about 7,000' elevation, we spent the day hiking through a peaceful snowy forest with very little climbing uphill. Our second snowstorm was, well let's just say... Not that. After hiking four near 20mi days in a row we spent a night at David's parents house, the next afternoon, Cheri dropped us off at the trailhead refreshed, clean and with packs filled with a full supply of food and fresh laundry!

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We found a beautiful place to camp that evening just a few miles before Mount Baden-Powell, we wanted to get an early start on the 9,400' mountain the next morning. Waking up that morning was freezing... I mean, frozen condensation on the inside and outside of our tent! So my "Molasses Mode" was in full effect, we didn't get as early of a start as had hoped but we were still out amidst the morning clouds... It was a beautiful morning, chilly & a slightly grey sky, but nothing too ominous.

We reached the base of the mountain... I knew it was only 4mi to the top but it was a solid ass kicking 2,700' climb & another 3.5mi descent to camp at the base. I have difficulty mustering energy once I get into elevations over 7,500'... Basically taking me down to about quarter speed when going up even the slightest hill, so I knew I was in for a challenging day.

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We begin our ascent... The mountain begins its snowstorm. The moment we took our first climbing steps, the snow began to fall... At first we didn't think much of the tiny, icy beads of snow. They started sticking, and about 1/4 of the way up, we realized that we may be in for a storm... A couple snow flakes turned into a couple of inches and the winds were picking up the higher we climbed. We kept moving... too cold to take many breaks, we had to.

The snow started coming in sideways, coating the trees on the ridges with thick layers of icy snow, the closer we got to the peak, the harsher the environment became. We knew that we would be okay, we were cold and exhausted, but we had plenty of daylight to summit that beast and make it down, but we had to make it up to the top before the storm became unbearable... No ifs, ands or buts about it, we were going up no matter what at this point.

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Toward the summit, we would crest a ridge and the wind would whip what felt to be an ice-storm of sand into our faces, stinging our eyeballs with each tiny pellet of frozen H2O. Trying to take a momentous photograph at the peak was near impossible, but we managed to capture the moment & how we felt perfectly then proceeded to move down the mountain as hurriedly as possible.

The descent was much needed to improve my elevation to hiking speed and we made our way, trying to keep careful footing in now 6in of snowfall, the wind occasionally popping over ridges to say hi to our faces with a fresh spray of ice-snow. The storm persisted all the way down the mountain and showed no signs of letting up when we reached Little Jimmy Campground... There was no one else camping there, we didn't expect there to be as we followed no footprints in the snow all day, we knew there was no one in front of us, but wondered if there was anyone behind us.

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We needed to clear a patch from the snow big enough for our tent's footprint and since we stopped hiking, we were starting to cool off quickly. So cold that David's hands lost almost all dexterity as he staked down our last corners and we loaded everything in as quickly as possible, working to dry our gear as much as we could before it made it inside... Our shoes were soaked and we knew they would be frozen in the morning, but luckily a thoughtful person had stacked dry firewood under the picnic bench where we set up & there were several iron wood burning stoves that the Boy Scouts built into the campground, so we knew we could defrost in the morning.

We cozied in, made a hot dinner of delicious homemade chili which was just what we needed after the day we had, following up with a warm cup of tea to top off our snowy evening. The snow continued to fall, we had to shake the snow off our tent every 10 minutes, then every 5, and pretty soon we were managing it every minute or so... It was getting late so we turned in, with about a foot surrounding the base of the tent.

About 10:30, the weight of the snow collapsed one side of the tent, taking the stake out of the ground so David bundled up to brave the cold to save our home in the night... No sooner did he get back in and start to warm back up, we heard a group of people calling out in the dark, it was a woman's voice,

"Hello?... Hikers?... Hello?"

I responded, to the voice in the night... 'Yes, we are hikers, are you?'

"We are Search & Rescue" !!!

We thought 'Oh crap are they rescuing us?' But turned out that they had just come down from the very mountain we had just barely conquered... rescuing a hiker that was stuck in the storm! I couldn't help but think that if we had started just an hour or two later that day, that could have been the difference of us making it down to safety. David couldn't help but wonder if that was the end of the journey for that hiker, or if they would keep going.

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We are always at the precipice of something intense on the trail, it is up to us to dig our heels in at the challenges and know when to re-evaluate our forward motion. We hiked out of camp that morning with a mix of emotion, relief & anxiety, there is a delicate balance of caution and gusto that is required by hikers and we saw that a little more clearly as we put one foot in front of the other on the trail, buried under almost two feet of fresh, peaceful snow.

We we got to the next road crossing, the snow was beginning to become slushy and we had another, smaller mountain to start up... We exercised that newfound caution and hitched a ride back into Wrightwood where we were just two days before. The plan was to meet up with my parents that day in Acton but due to our snowy adventure we were behind in miles and we were picked up by my Dad and his dogs and treated to a belated birthday dinner of King Crab and Steak.

We were dropped off where we left off, most of the snow had melted over the time we were off trail... We made it up and down Mount Williamson without a hitch and were on to the next challenges... An endangered species trail closure, a fire closure for wildland restoration & then a closure for the dreaded Poodle Dog Bush... More recent adventures to follow in part 2!