Believe it or not, “Poodle-Dog Bush” is a real thing. And it’s horrible. A large bush that thrives after wildfires (of which California has been known to have just a few), it’s something like a super-duper version of poison oak: if you even brush against it a little bit, you get blisters considerably worse than poison oak — and it’s even been known to put people in the hospital.
We’ve been through a few brief stretches of poodle-dog bush on the trail so far; most of it has been just far enough off the trail that avoiding it wasn’t too hard. (It helps that it smells really pungent — a lot like marijuana, actually.) But the stretch of trail leaving Cajon Pass and ending at Wrightwood, we’d read, had miles of the stuff on either side. Not only that, but there was apparently no reliable water whatsoever on this stretch — making it twenty-eight miles’ worth of water we’d have to carry. That’s seriously stretching our limits, particularly for hot weather and an ascending trail, and we knew the trail climbed over 6,000 feet in this segment.
I’ve written before about how there is no “one true PCT” — various closures and changing conditions mean you can never hike the same trail from year to year. And, it turns out, there’s the PCT from Cajon Pass to Wrightwood, 28 miles with no water and lots of poodle-dog bush…but there’s also a road, Lone Pine Canyon Road, that runs from one to the other. It’s only eleven miles — easily doable in just an afternoon — and had, of course, no poodle-dog bush on it at all. We weren’t about to hitchhike it (wanting a continuous footpath from Mexico to Canada and all), but we could walk it, which sounded a whole lot easier.
And, after much careful thinking about the decision, the road walk won: the prospect of carrying 28 miles’ worth of water (which we honestly weren’t sure we had capacity for) and trying to avoid potentially awful poodle-dog bush for miles just sounded too severe. Of course, on getting to Wrightwood, we heard from fellow hikers who’d hiked the trail that it wasn’t all that bad — but, then, that’s pretty much always what anyone says after they’ve completed it. 😉
Walking roads isn’t a popular activity for hikers: while they’re obviously plenty wide, asphalt or dirt shoulders are almost always far less comfortable than actual trail, there’s rarely water or a great place to sit down, and finding a place to pee can be…tricky, at best. Also, you’re usually out under the hot sun pretty much constantly. Yet, in this case, I’m glad we did it: while it was hot and a little silly to be walking beside this road, it also shaved so much water-less trail off our hike, and avoided the poodle-dog bush, so much that it was completely worth it. While there’s definitely a part of me that agonizes over the decision (“should we” have hiked the trail instead?), I think I’ve also concluded that that part of me is ridiculous and just being compulsive.
Better yet, our road walk allowed us to catch up to some friends of ours we’d really enjoyed spending time with, but who we hadn’t seen in a couple of weeks, and seeing them again was wonderful! We got into Wrightwood relatively late this evening, but in time to have some beer and food at a local pub (it was taco night tonight!), which was also a lot of fun. Our plan is to take a zero here tomorrow, relax and catch up, and then head out early Wednesday morning.
Wrightwood also continues the tradition of trail towns being both awesome and full of the friendliest people in the world. On the way into town, we were offered a place to stay by a local trail angel who was just out walking her dog, and offered a ride across town by a local passing by. (We refused both, because we wanted to stay next to our friends in the hotel, and because we wanted to keep our continuous footpath. But it was so sweet to get these completely volunteered offers from locals, anyway!) It’s a charming, incredibly quaint little mountain town with just enough services to make it perfect for hikers, yet not so big that it feels touristy or even all that populated. It’s really pretty ridiculously great.