I always get lousy sleep my first night back on trail. My sleeping pad is comfortable, but it doesn’t hold a candle to a big bed where I can sprawl all over the place and leave limbs drooping off any of the four sides. Despite that, I woke up feeling awesome. Today I will get out of Big Bear, let’s do this! But I was slow to get going, my morning routine was done with little urgency. I sat around and watched the sun rise up over the mountains and ignite all the tree branches in its gold light for a while.
Eventually urgency caught up with me and I got my gear stuffed into my backpack. I started hiking and to my surprise my knee wasn’t really feeling like anything. No pain, no discomfort, no occasional grind of bone on bone. That combined with my burst of energy in the morning pushed me to a 3.3mph pace with no breaks going uphill to the outer rim of the mountain. The scenery remained the same from yesterday: Actual healthy forest. The air here is lighter and happier which helps me stay particularly energetic through the morning. There were also a lot of people around, something I’ve come to accept and enjoy these days despite my weird tendency to hike alone.
The trail met the ridge of the mountain I’d walked all over in the morning and I found myself looking out at Big Bear, lake and all. I could identify all the different hotels I’d stayed at and places I ate at during my time off. The scene was beautiful, but I felt an urgent need to continue hiking at the same time. I waved goodbye and pressed on. Get me out of here!
I pressed on for a while occasionally looking over my shoulder to take another glimpse of Big Bear. Eventually it disappeared behind the trees and I was back into the forest. I came downhill a ways and met up with a junction of dirt roads with a nice big flat spot to take a break on. It’s exactly five miles in from where I started, my new thing is to take a break every five miles so I don’t push my knee too hard. Perfect! I wandered around for a while and eventually set my pack down next to a tree and sat in the dirt with my back propped up on the trunk. Taking breaks out here is a bit of a skill I had to learn, at least long breaks. I get restless so easily and just want to press on, but with the situation of my knee looming over my head I suppress it easily and enjoy my surroundings.
I stood up to take pictures at some point and started walking down to one of the dirt roads, fiddling with my camera. I looked over the screen for a moment and noticed a big black branch in front of me. This only lasted maybe half a second but as I focused more I realized it was a snake. There was a rattle on the end of it. Oh! It raised its head and flicked its tongue at me but didn’t show any signs of aggression. I wasn’t exactly going to bend down and pet it though. I gave it a wide radius of “I’ll stay out of your way if you stay out of mine”. It swiveled its head around for a while and continued its lazy slither across the dirt and into a palace of bushes.
Well that was exciting. I grabbed my pack and got back to the trail. It continued going through the woods and I was loving every moment of it. The trees kept getting bigger and bigger, and the dirt under my feet was super soft. But things – as they do – started to change. I noticed there were more dead trees in the cluster. Not just dead, but burned. And the number of burned trees persisted as the miles went on until I was looking at nothing but the remains of what was probably once just another beautiful stretch of forest outside of Big Bear.
But oddly enough I didn’t find it ugly necessarily. It’s not like the area was completely devoid of life, there were plants growing all over the place. It was desert flora mostly and probably doesn’t hold a candle to the forest that once stood here, but it was beautiful in its own right. The trail went downhill, winding through the line of towering dead trees and pokey desert plants and eventually came to a campground nestled in the middle of nowhere, pit toilet and all. That’s great and all, but the water was turned off. I knew that of course since I have the water report, but a quick check doesn’t hurt right?
Down here, some trees still towered proudly alive and well. I was nearing my second five mile mark and started looking for somewhere to take a break. I eventually found my shade a ways off trail with a great view of everything around me. I got in my usual position: pack under head, legs stretched out, hands on chest. The ground was still soft out here and I damn near fell asleep. I sat up and started to make lunch just to stay awake.
When I was done eating and my shade evaporated as the sun made its way across the sky, I got up and hit the trail. There were intermittent groups of trees here and there, and when they weren’t around to provide shade there were occasional clusters of boulders or towering rock walls to help. The temperature was rising and I found myself taking breaks more often just to stay in the shade. Eventually my luck ran out and I was walking through exposed areas with no hope for a break from the sun. Regardless I was still loving it all, this area gained notoriety for being ugly. I thought it was incredible. Of course it’s sad that the forest is gone due to whatever cause, but “Life finds a way”.
I noticed my water needs starting to increase. I usually manage with 1 liter per 5 miles, now I’m looking at around a liter and a half per five miles. Resisting the urge to chug it all and dump some on my head for good measure is constant and always very hard. As I was bumping against the walls of my tolerance for the heat, I came uphill and found myself standing next to a low-lying tree providing all kind of crazy shade from the sun. I tore off my pack and dove under, plenty of space for me to lay down. You could have fit 15 hikers under this thing comfortably, but no one was stopping. Eventually it was just me and the view in front of me, looking out at the dry mountains. I considered camping here, but I only have so much water.. and food.. Too bad.
After an hour of shade, I summoned the will to get up and moving. It was only two miles to Holcomb Creek. A place with actual running water. The thought pushed me to make the miles quickly. The ground is burning my feet through my shoes and all I can think about is dipping them in cold water. When I got to the creek I just wanted to drop face first into the cold water, but there was someone else there so I restrained myself. In hindsight I don’t know why that even matters. I tried to cross the river but I slipped on a mossy rock and fell into the shin-deep water. I didn’t collapse, just a quick slip. I walked away with wet, squishy shoes at worse. I laughed and crossed the river. I filtered a liter of water and guzzled it and repeated that process until I was happy, then refilled my bottles and pushed on.
Maybe five minutes later I saw an awesome spot near the river and decided to take a break. Even though I already got my feet wet, I took my shoes and socks off and put them in the water anyways. It felt awesome. I guzzled more water and tied my socks to my pack so they could dry. I was too lazy to dig out a fresh pair so I decided to just go sockless for the last mile or so of the day. I sat on the rocks for a while admiring the sound of water.
It was getting late, so I got up and started walking towards possible camp sites. There was a huge one just up a head and decided to check it out. When I got there there wasn’t a single person around, and I found an awesome spot beside a tree providing enough shade for the remainder of the day’s sunlight. My site was near the river and there was a fleet of misquitos out to harass me. I set up my tent quickly and dove in to escape the swarm. Yeah, the Sierra is going to be a blast with all these littler jerks buzzing around.
Eventually they moved along and I came out of my tent to make dinner. As I was crawling out a hiker walked by and I waved. He came over to talk for a little bit, an action that until now has been almost unthinkable to me. Most people just want to make their mileage goals for the day. Not that I’m any better, but it caught me off guard. Apparently he was in the middle of trying to do a 30 mile day, he was only five miles away from completing his goal. We talked a while, I wished him luck, and he moved on. I kinda miss being able to really push myself sometimes, but I’m just happy to be out here. I’ll compromise and stick to 15 mile days if it means I can keep hiking.
I ate dinner and checked my maps. Tomorrow we reach mile 300! Hooray! As well as Deep Creek Hotsprings. I’m not sure if I’ll stop there yet, I hear it’s trashy and crowded. We’ll see.