I hadn’t slept well after hitting the wall yesterday on the second half of the climb. I’d eaten all my spare food knowing I was going to be in town within 24 hours, but sleep wasn’t happening. So the 13 miles to the highway today, including 5 more miles of climbing, were entirely mental. I had to push every step, particularly the uphill sections which are made harder by the altitude.
There was another slightly mental aspect from the weather. Not only was it a cold start, with a 2,000 ft climb to 8,500 ft, but it was windy with a storm on the way. Because we were all headed into town, I left camp with Chug and Dolittle, far later than I would if I was hiking a full day. We were around half a mile from the top of the hill when the temperature dropped and the snowstorm blew in. We ploughed our way through the snow, leaving fresh footprints through the forest. Out of the wind it was truly beautiful, but in the wind we had ice crystals pummelling our faces and frozen fingers on our trekking poles.
I distracted myself with Rudyard Kipling’s “If” trying to remember all the lines in the right order. It seemed appropriate for the morning’s work.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son
The last part of the trail before the road wound through a ski resort, and we could see the chair lifts and grassy pistes. The ski resorts have been closed early this year after a tough season with very little snow. California is in the fourth year of drought and is grateful for the snow, but 3 storms in 3 weeks (almost exactly a week apart) is very unusual. And another is due next week too. It’s still snowing at nearly midnight here (regular, not hiker midnight at 9pm) with no sign of stopping. A zero might be in order.
We made it to the highway in the middle of a heavy snowfall, with the only vehicles on the road snowploughs from Caltrans which couldn’t stop to pick us up. By the time there were 9 hikers, after about 30 minutes, three cars turned up driven by Forest Service volunteers who took us to town. One woman even drove back to the trail to check for other hikers. These trail angels are amazing, and we all appreciate the work they do.
Wrightwood is a hiker friendly kind of town. The hardware store is the hub, taking delivery of hiker resupply packages, holding a great hiker box and trail register, and dispensing stove fuels and camping spares. It was the first place we headed after checking into the Pines Hotel. The hiker box yielded 3 hot meal packets, some chilli sauce sachets, Q-tips, and a thin roll mat that I can use at lunchtimes when the sit pad that detaches from my pack isn’t big enough but I don’t want to risk the NeoAir.
The post office was holding a new pack stay for me, slightly smaller than my current one, which should help the carry. It is OK as it is but it pulls a bit particularly when it’s heavy or on uphills.
Sitting waiting for laundry has to be one of the most frustrating and weird parts of town visits. In a hotel room, people will be wrapped in bedsheets or towels, whilst in a laundromat or hostel people are wearing their rain gear. In the hotel room, things are compounded by a) not being able to go out wearing just a towel and b) usually having the heating cranked at up to dry shoes, tents etc. We passed the time by flipping coins to decide the sleeping arrangements, and I thought I’d made a great choice from my third place (which means no bed) in going for the mattress on the floor. Sadly there is no bedding for it, so it turns out it is a pretty poor choice. Whoops.
Even though it was only a few hours after a major lunch, we decided to go out to eat as soon as our clothes reappeared. I think it was a testament as much to the frustration of sitting still for 3 hours as it was of hunger. Our first stop was the pizza place recommended to us by so many, but it had one patron and only 2 tables with no atmosphere.
Our second choice was the Yodeler, recommended to us for its burger. As we sat down at the one remaining table in the back, we noticed someone asking for completed papers for a trivia round. We begged in, even though we were late, and someone read us the ten questions and took our buy-in money. A solid 7/10. Not a bad start. The four of us are all pretty solid on movies, and scored 10/10 for that round, even with one of the questions being a mocked-up movie poster. In the lead after two rounds, we thought we might be ok on music, particularly given Chug and Dolittle were on the team. Unfortunately we then looked at the demographic profile of the rest of the patrons. We scored a respectable 13 points, which was noted as a high scoring round so hopefully we did better than others! The last round was another general knowledge, and we were in the lead with 42 points to the next two teams on 35. We hadn’t cheated with smartphones on a single question even though we saw other teams indulging. We wagered 29 points on a single geography question, which would have meant that no one would have been able to beat us had we answered correctly. Commonly known as the “Berlin Wall of Asia” this boundary, along a major trunk road, divides which countries? Hm. We ruled out Korea and China, and settled on India-Pakistan which won us 3 free drinks (which we will have to use tomorrow, given we are all lightweights after 3 weeks on trail and have only managed a couple each tonight) and some good conversation with the next placed team. They also invited us to their house tomorrow for a barbecue, offering a place to sleep and a ride to the trail on Saturday. Sometimes it pays to be stinky hikers, and sometimes it pays to clean yourselves up and be smartasses in a pub quiz.
Camping: mile 369.9 (Pines Hotel, Wrightwood, not camping)