(Cue up your very best Jeremy Clarkson impression)
Today, on The Pacific Crest Trail:
- Clare sees a lion;
- Andrew drinks a cola;
- They both sit on a couch
Yes, all of the above really happened today. Plus: we went farther than ever before, and did our first “twenty” — 21.5 miles, to be exact!
It began before dawn, when we set an alarm for 5:00 AM.
We I am not particularly fast when it comes to getting ready in the morning, but this let us watch the sun rise slowly over the mountains…and still leave camp by 6:30 AM. Why get up so early? Because we’d decided that if we could make it all the way that day to Big Bear Lake, our next town stop, we’d allow ourselves to take a full zero — to sleep two full nights in a hotel, starting that very night. Now that’s motivation.
Ah, but where does the lion come in? It’s true — we saw a lion, and a tiger, and a grizzly bear! In one of the strangest sights there is on the entire PCT, there’s a private zoo right next to the PCT that houses exotic animals of many kinds. So, yes: we were hiking along, trekking through the desert, when suddenly we saw a (safely caged) grizzly bear, lion, and tiger. Even though we knew about it beforehand, it’s such an incredibly strange sight to see. What we weren’t prepared for is just how sad it was, too. These are not happy animals with lots of room to roam and playthings in their cages; these are animals cooped up in incredibly small spaces, with nothing more than the bare essentials in their cages, in the hot sun. It made us really depressed — it’s a terrible place. So, after marveling at the sheer fact of seeing exotic animals while on the PCT, we moved on.
And the cola? Well, the Big Bear Hostel is, unquestionably, the hardest-working hostel on the trail so far. There are posters up for literally ten miles on the trail, advertising the hostel and telling you how awesome it is (and it really is, from everything I’ve heard). But the best advertising of all: thirteen miles before you even get to the road leading to Big Bear, there’s an entire dark-green dumpster by the side of the trail, chock-full of goodies: candy, nuts, trash bags (relieving yourself of the weight of your garbage is a huge advantage out here), water, emergency food, all kinds of supplies…and, yes, cold soda! In the middle of the afternoon, after you’ve spent the day going up and down mountains, that’s pretty amazing. We also looked in the trail journal to see who we knew who’d been there before us — some people we’d met earlier now had four full days on us! — and left our own entry.
But the most impressive of all: the couch. Next to the dumpster of trail magic (which, by the way, has an amazing bit of decoration on the front) is an entire sleeper sofa. When we came upon it, there were no fewer than eight people sitting or lying on it, relaxing on a sofa in the middle of the woods. Exactly as you’d guess, it feels amazing to sit on a sofa after spending days sleeping on the ground and sitting on rocks. In the end, it’s really more of a novelty than anything else — but the most impressive kind of novelty, because it means someone actually hauled that entire thing out there. (Many parts of the PCT are accessible via side trails, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone hauled the couch all thirteen miles…but, still, even a hundred feet would be incredibly impressive.)
We saw a lot of trail today, too — more specifically, twenty-one and a half miles! Breaking twenty miles in a day for your first time is quite an achievement, and a time I think every PCT hiker remembers. It helped that the trail was relatively flat or downhill, but make no mistake: twenty miles is a really long way, no matter what the trail is like. By the end, we ached pretty much everywhere — but we weren’t in actual intense pain, and that’s what really mattered: we pushed ourselves but didn’t actually hurt ourselves. Motivation was key, too: as I mentioned before, we knew that, at the end of that twenty-one miles, we had showers, all the food we could possibly want, and a warm, soft bed to sleep in. That’s some serious motivation when you’re out here, and it managed to keep us going the entire time.
Big Bear Lake isn’t actually on the PCT, though; few “trail towns” actually are. It’s a twelve-mile drive from the point where the PCT crosses a local highway. So, we had to hitch into town. And this is how I had another first: the local who picked us up, an incredibly friendly, middle-aged guy named Alan who worked in building maintenance, was driving a large pickup truck with no room in the back, but room in the bed — so I rode in the bed of a pickup for the first time in my life. It was actually a ton of fun; we kept low because riding like that is (understandably) illegal in California (and, I presume, most other states), but now I completely understand why any dog in the back of a pickup will stick its head out the side and wag its tongue. It’s so much fun!
He dropped us off at a local, major intersection, and yet more trail magic (which in this case means “incredibly friendly locals”) happened: as we were looking for a good place to hitchhike to our hotel, a woman walked out of the donut shop across the street and just point-blank offered us a ride. Hell, yes! Not only that, but her husband, who’s the baker at the donut shop, walked out and proudly informed us that he makes the best biscuits and gravy in the entire Big Bear area. And…biscuits and gravy just happens to be Clare’s very favorite…and the shop opens at 5:00 AM — early enough for even we early-bird hikers to eat and get out of town. So now our plans for leaving Big Bear involve a stop for donuts and biscuits and gravy ealry in the morning. Complaints here? None at all.
Our dinner tonight was also worth writing about (see, I told you it’s been a long day!). Big Bear is an incredibly touristed town (as it is, I believe, the closest ski town to Los Angeles); it’s full of really friendly, great locals, but has fancy boutiques and restaurants all over the place. This time of year, though, all the tourists are gone: there’s no snow any more, but the summer season isn’t here, either. So almost all the restaurants, while open, are mostly deserted…except for the one that we basically randomly stumbled across from Yelp. Apparently we picked out the bar where a whole swath of locals actually hangs out, because we were the only out-of-towners in there…and everybody else knew each other by first name. It was fantastic. The guy we saw at the door checked IDs, took our orders, tended bar, and helped set up the karaoke machine. We got to listen to locals watch baseball (Oakland vs. the Anaheim Angels; we knew better than to cheer for Oakland there), talk, and, best of all, sing karaoke. Fleetwood Mac by a woman who looks not unlike Stevie Nicks now, and Billy Idol by a guy who really truly knew how to belt it out. All this while we ate fish tacos and stuffed mushrooms (just for appetizers), seared Ahi tuna and a gigantic burger with blue cheese, avocado, and bacon on it. Believe it or not, it was so much food we didn’t even manage to finish it — which an increasingly difficult thing these days. All in all, it made a fantastic finish to the night.
Best part of all? Our room has a freakin’ jacuzzi tub in it. This is gonna be the best thing ever for sore muscles tomorrow.
But why tomorrow?
Because, after twenty-one miles today, neither of us even has the energy to get into it tonight. Sleep, sweet sleep, is what we need now.