Day 32: Running the Poodle-Dog Gauntlet

This trail changes so fast, it’s unbelievable. Yesterday afternoon, we were freezing our butts off, wading through slush and snow as it was 33° outside. This afternoon, we were sweating in the hot sun, trying desperately not to touch any of the poodle-dog bush that was absolutely everywhere on the trail.

Last time I mentioned poodle-dog bush, it was almost a novelty — something we’d just learned to recognize and knew to avoid. Today, it was an absolute nuisance. Probably 15–20 miles of the trail are covered with the stuff: beside the trail if you’re lucky, in the middle of the trail if you’re not. Hiking becomes an exercise in looking straight down, scanning your path for the stuff, and avoiding it…sometimes by simply stepping to one side or another, sometimes bending sideways, sometimes doing all kinds of crazy contortions to avoid it. And this was after the local Forest Service outpost had apparently cleared it from the trail! There used to be a full-on detour around the stuff, apparently, as it was so dense that it really was impossible to make it through without touching it.

Did we make it? I hope so. 😉 It’s too soon to tell, in many ways, since I think it takes a bit of time before the rash and blisters from contact with poodle-dog bush develop, but I have high hopes. I suppose we’ll find out tomorrow!

We actually camped last night at what was definitely the worst campsite I’ve ever been at. The local Forest Service ranger station, which is right on a busy road (the Angeles Forest Highway) had a picnic area and water for us (which is hugely appreciated by any PCT hiker), but then the sign for “overnight camping” led us down to…a different picnic area, directly off the (very busy) highway, with nothing but barren flat spots. Imagine camping just off the shoulder of your local Interstate, and you’ll get the idea. Nobody camped there, but instead we did all camp on small terrace-like paths on the side of the steep hill that the fire station was built on…right next to their chain-link fence and giant propane tank. It was sort of amusing, actually, in just how un-natural the whole thing was. But it was a place to set our heads and relax, and we were grateful for that. In the end, you’re asleep soon anyway, so that’s all that really matters.

Today’s hiking was a very welcome relief after the past couple of days of freezing. Even from the start, the climbs were moderate and the temperatures were reasonable. In the afternoon it got warmer, but never truly blazing hot like it’s been before; if it hadn’t been for the poodle-dog bush everywhere, it would’ve been just about perfect. And, at the end of the day? More trail magic provided by the wonderful people at the next fire/ranger station! A cooler full of cold sodas was sitting there, asking only a dollar or two donation for each one you took. (Believe me, $1 or $2 is a small, small price to pay for a cold soda out on the trail.) We got a chance to stop early, too, making our evening all the more pleasant and relaxing…and, since we’re much lower, we’re comfortable under our tarp, rather than huddled up in our sleeping bags for warmth.

Only downside to today? Last night I stepped on one of my trekking poles, and today it finally came apart when I used it to stop a fall. (It did stop my fall, though!) Looks like maybe the ultralight, carbon-fiber hiking poles I picked up aren’t quite up to the rigors of this trail…or at least this trail the way I hike it. Time to order some new ones online, to be delivered to our next trail town…

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