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PCT 2015 Day 17: Race to town

  • Start: 256.2
  • End: 266.1
  • Miles: 9.9
  • Camp: off mile 266, Big Bear Hostel

With the snow last night, and town only a day’s walk away for most people, it was important to leave camp early and get to the highway before most of the others coming behind. I knew the snow would force some people off trail (not me!) and that rooms in town would be more scarce than usual. I had set the alarm for 4:45am again and despite the unwillingness to get up was on the trail by 5:40. The two guys I had hiked in with last night, Doc and Colin, along with their third group member Brian, had also packed up and we hiked together for the morning. It was a very strange contrast to have the snow coming down as we walked. So far hiking has usually been hot work, so to feel cold even on climbs was new. We were all swathed in layers and still hiking at a furious pace to keep warm. Still weirder was seeing the cacti covered in snow! 

We took some “price is right” type bets on when we would arrive at the highway, which was 10 miles from where we had camped. By 9:05, Colin and I had made it. There was a sign at the highway with the phone numbers of several trail angels who would be willing to give rides, and Brian also had a guide book which listed a taxi firm and the number of the hostel which also offered rides when they could fit it in. Whilst he called those, Colin had already started to hitch and we had a ride within seconds. 

The euphoria I’ve come to associate with the approach to town started around 5 minutes into the drive and those of us in the back seat of the car started giggling uncontrollably at anything and nothing. In the confined space of a small car we noticed what a group of 4 hikers coming off 50 miles smells like. In my case, the last shower had been Idyllwild the day before I left. My hair is so dirty it stick to my head, my feet and socks are filthy, and I have a salt crusted face. Lovely image, right? You’re not getting one.

We parted company at the McDonald’s where we got dropped off, because the guys wanted to eat something there and I was keen to get to the hostel, get a room and pick up my box, and get breakfast. Mainly the latter – I’d been daydreaming about food for the last 3 miles of the hike, and making the first town food a McDonald’s wasn’t an option. Good job too. I walked to the hostel, where there were only 4 beds left; one in a dorm and 3 in a room of 3. Thinking of Chug and Doolittle, I took the room for 3 and sent them a message to let them know. Turns out it was a good decision as Sarge, the hostel manager, had turned a few people away from beds (they are sleeping on the sofa) because they had been reserved. Hiker bonds are strange, who would look out for whom, and why. The guys I had hiked in to mile 256 and camped with last night were less of a concern to me than two guys I’d not seen really since the day before.

Diogenes had set up Sarge for my arrival which was great news as he had a breakfast voucher already lined up. The two of us took off to Teddy Bear’s Restaurant (there are a lot of pictures of teddy bears in Big Bear Lake and Big Bear City) where we at a pretty decent breakfast with unlimited coffee for $8. I thought I’d mastered the American breakfast order (eggs over medium, hash browns vs home fries etc) but today threw a new term at me: O’Briens. These are apparently home fries. Yes. The server then took advantage of my confusion by bombarding me with a series of toast choices. I think I really have it now though. Until next time I guess.

The others turned up early afternoon whilst I was still debating my resupply strategy to Tehachapi/Mojave and I happily abandoned the admin to say hi and catch up on snow survival stories. I’m glad that they made it without bailing early like so many others. 

I took a walk to the post office to pick up boxes, and then wandered up to the village with Diogenes in search of proper coffee. In the UK I judge a coffee shop by its flat white, but I think this may not be an appropriate yardstick in the US. It was over large, and very milky with a cappuccino style foam. Essentially a rather weak latteccino. But an excellent opportunity to talk individually about something other than food, poop, gear weight, and beards. 

The afternoon was pretty quiet, laundry, a backgammon lesson from Chug, resupply planning, idle chat. Town is a strange way to get to know trail people, but it works. And somehow it’s ok to ask trail people direct questions or broach otherwise tricky subjects. I guess when you go from meeting someone to sharing a hostel room with them within 6 hours some expectations are reduced. 

We went to the sports bar around the corner for dinner so Doolittle could catch a baseball game, and I managed to find out that somehow the Rangers were down 3-1 in the Caps series. See what happens when I stop watching? But it is always interesting to learn about a new thing, especially from someone who cares about it. Baseball and backgammon. Who knew? Sort of looking forward to tomorrow’s zero. Just got to get to the grocery store in time to pack the parcel before the post office closes at noon.

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