Back on the Trail, The Journey Continues

It was the end of a day and a half journey on the Pacific Crest Trail(PCT) and the wheels were already in motion for the next adventure. This would be the longest attempt on the PCT, one that would take 6 days, go from one mountain range to the desert floor and up another mountain range, cross the Palm Desert and pose the biggest challenge so far. This trek would go from Idyllwild, Ca to Big Bear, Ca. There was no time to waist, the planning had begun.
The first thing that needed to happen was gear. Although the current gear was good, it was not ideal and thus the hunt began. As always with buying new stuff is money and I was on a budget. The backpack and sleeping system were the priority. After some research it seemed as if I would be getting a Z-Paks bag, that was until I found out they were custom made and it would not arrive in time. The alternative was probably better, going with an ÜLA Circuit. This was a 68 liter backpack that shaved off almost 3 pounds of my old bag, a welcome change. Next I replaced my Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite with a SeaToSummit Ultralight blow up pad. This added about 10 ounces of weight, but presented a much more comfortable sleeping surface. The mummy bag (sleeping bag) was gone, and a quilt used in its place. This was a 15° down quilt, which worried me in possible hot weather and how it would perform but only time would tell. And finally the cooking system went from JetBoil to MSR, lighter.
With all new gear it was time to pack it up. With just some food left to pack, a few clothing items and the necessary electronics the total pack weight with 3 liters of water was at 28 pounds, a great improvement from 35 pounds with no water. Excited did not even begin to describe the feeling, the pack was significantly lighter. Everything was set to go back on the trail.
The day had arrived. It was time to set off. I was excited and apprehensive. Ahead of me was the biggest descent and ascent of the entire trail, more than 25 miles through the desert with little water, areas of isolation where only a helicopter could get you out, and heat. The morning did not start well, we could not find one of my socks. Could this be an omen? Should I even go? But the sock was found and we were on our way driving the two hours to the trail head. It was on!
DAY 1 : Saturday May 26th, 2018 : Idyllwild, Ca : Devil Slide trailhead 0830 PST
Finally at the trailhead, hikers were greeted by a Ranger asking for permits. Opening my bag way before I thought I would, I dig deep into my bag and produce the permit. The Ranger reviews the permit, initials it, I stuff it back in my bag and I am on my way. Devil’s Slide Trail was my only way to get to the PCT, this would be a 2.5 mile 1,400 foot ascent to the PCT. Fortunately, it was still early, cool and I was fairly well rested. It did not take but a couple of hours for me to make my way up. However, about a half mile from Saddle Junction, where I would be back on the PCT, I met an Army Veteran. His name was Andrew and he is from Hemet, Ca. This young man had been out of the Army for a few years and was homeless. Talking to him, the subject of PTSD came up. He is afflicted and hikes to deal with his PTSD, as well as giving him a place and reason to camp in the mountains. His biggest complaint was the stigma that is often associated with having PTSD, even at the VA. After a good chat, he headed down the mountain and I up. I would think about his plight for a while and how others are affected by the stigma that is attached to PTSD. This was not a problem, this is what the Trek4PTSD is all about.
Finally I made it to Saddle Junction, mile 179.39 on the PCT and the journey continued.

Along the way I had seen Tahquitz peak soaring into the skies above and a blanket of clouds cover Idyllwild and the valleys below. The journey was still fresh and exciting, what would this day show me? What would this journey bring? There was just one way to find out. Then, just as if I was in Frost’s poem, I had a decision to make; go right off the PCT and to San Jacinto Peak or go left and stay on the PCT. Most hikers take a right in order to take in the spectacular views provided by the peak. I, however, had already seen the peak and took the trail less taken. This path would take me on the western side of the range with spectacular views as I walked above or in the clouds. This journey was also more difficult since it was not well traveled and in many spots the trail was almost gone, but I trekked on taking in the beauty and wonder of the San Jacinto Wilderness.
By midafternoon, the altitude and hours of walking had begun to wear on me and my pace began to slow. This was expected and I embraced it, there was nothing I could do to change this. Along the way I ran into a Scout troop that I would leapfrog with over the couple of miles, they were headed to Round Valley Campground for the night. Then, a junction I recognized and here is where I would last see the Scouts as their trail continued up the mountain while mine went down.
A half mile from where the trail splits and almost seven miles into the journey, I would encounter my first water source. Upon arriving at North Fork San Jacinto River, I met the first PCT hikers of the trip. Getting ready to set back out was a Frenchman and Czech whose names were too difficult to remember and Cameron, a Royal Army Veteran from Scotland. We hit it off almost immediately and I hoped that this would not be the last time our paths would cross. As I filled up my water supply we got to know each other some more and I prepared for the next 20 miles, which would be deprived of water. As we continued our conversation, a young lady arrived. Caroline was her name, a 23 year old from Nashville, Tennessee who had started two hours before me at Devil’s Slide but had gone right to the peak. This meeting would prove to be the most significant and important one of the entire trip.
It was time to finish getting my water, drinking as much as I could and pack up. There was still a lot of traveling to do that day. Just before I set off a couple arrived. Abby and Kaj from Seattle, Washington had stopped to get some water themselves. It was going to be a long and hot 20 miles and water was going to be a hot commodity. There was little time to waist and I headed out. At the same time, Caroline headed out and this was the beginning of a partnership that would last 85 miles. We both had the same pace and we began to keep each other company. For the next 5 miles we experienced some beautiful views, including some that looked like they could come out of Harry Potter. 20180526_1757298612412361522064803.jpg
As the afternoon began to fade away we drew closer to our campsite. By this point, Kaj and Abby had passed us by, but that did not deter us from pushing forward. Finally, we arrive at Fuller Ridge campsite at mile 190.53, roughly 14.5 miles into the day according to my watch. As we arrived at camp we were greeted by a warning; a bear was just spotted near camp. By now, everyone who was at the water source, minus Cameron, a father/daughter pair and an overnight hiker were at the campsite. The most welcome sight was a camp fire that was being built. We choose a spot to set up our tents, set up camp and break out our cooking gear. As we head to the table next to the fire we see Cameron head into camp. It was going to be a fun night. After cooking dinner, having some stimulating conversation and enjoying some s’mores, it was time to put our food out of the reach of the bear and try to go to sleep. The night would be a chilly and worrisome one, after all a brown bear had been spotted earlier in the night.20180526_2008096322287138256157748.jpg
Day 2 : Sunday May 27th, 2018 : PCT Mile 190.53 Fuller Ridge campsite
The day began a bit chilly. I knew that today would be a long downhill hike to the desert floor. I poured the water into my cooking system in order to have my morning coffee. As I was preparing to get it off the stove and into my cup, it spilled. This was not what I wanted to do, I needed all the water I had to make it the next 15 miles. Then I had a realization, I may not have enough fuel to make it all the way. This was the first time using this new burner and it used a lot more fuel to boil water. I voiced my concern to Matt from Temecula, California. He was headed back home today after a 10 mile hike back up the mountain. Matt offered to trade me fuel canisters, his held more fuel than mine. Apprehensive, I asked if he was sure to which he replied that I needed it more than he did. I was extremely grateful for his generosity and elated that I would have enough fuel to last me the rest of my trip. After an attempt to eat my breakfast, PopTarts, it was time to head out.
Caroline and I set off on an inspiring morning as we made our way through the pines with views of the desert floor below. As we continued our way down the mountain the forest began to thin, the trees became sparse and the shade began to dwindle. Suddenly the sun was beating down on us and the heat started to overtake us, it would prove to be20180527_0903562300358356393304453.jpg a painful 6484 foot descent. As the day progressed there were several concerns we had to deal with, the heat and pain of the descent being the obvious ones. But the heat brings a second issue, water. The conditions made us thirsty, very thirsty. Water was still miles away and rationing was the order of the day, every sip was calculated. With every mile I was doing the math as to how much water I could drink per mile. My biggest fear was a possibility today, I may run out of water in the desert, I needed to be smart. Along with the heat, pain and lack of water, there was an even more menacing threat to our wellbeing, bees. Reports had stated that there was a beehive next to the trail and around mile 198 bees became more prevalent. For me all these threats and fears went away for a minute when we reached mile 200. This was a milestone, it had only taken 2 years to do the next 100 miles of the PCT. But all things must come to an end and we soldiered on. A mile later we encountered the hive in a shady area in the rocks. We did our best to move quickly past the hive and came out the other end unscathed.
The descent had proven difficult so far and with just a few miles left I was left with just one liter of water. The rationing became more stringent and I held each sip in my mouth for a while in order to moisten my mouth and lips. Suddenly I slip on the rocks and twist20180527_16135785195678028115313.jpg my left ankle. This was not the first time I would twist my ankles nor the last, this was a common occurrence for me. What made this twist more significant is that it tweaked my knee, a problem that would plague the rest of the trip.
As we checked our mileage we knew that we were closer and closer to water and I began to drink more and more of what I had. This was a gamble since if the faucet was off or dry I would have to endure another four miles to where I hoped there would be water. Then, as we turn a corner we could see other hikers around the faucet filling up. This was a welcome sight and a reassuring one at that.
Here at mile 205.74, 15.21 miles after we left camp, we reunited with everyone and some new faces. This is where I would meet “Avatar” from Portland, Oregon. We all sat around for a while, resting our feet and joints from the descent as we filled up on water. This was the only reliable water source for the next 13 miles. And once again, it was time to head out. Now came the next decision, where to camp for the night. The next 4 miles would be over paved road and loose sand. Both provide problems of their own and the I-10 Oasis as it is known seemed as if would never come. The illusive underpass finally came into view and we arrived to the fanfare of other hikers who were under the interstate. Here we were greeted with some wonderful trail magic. The first thing I had was a Natural Light beer. Typically this would not be, by any means, my beer of choice. But after a long, hot and difficult day, it was the best beer in the world.


Many of us made the decision to camp under the interstate that night. Doing so had its pros and its cons. While it provided shelter from the wind it was noisy with the interstate above and railroad tracks a hundred feet away. This was a certain campsite and we welcomed it. We settled in for the night, ate our supper, drank a soda or two and tried to go to bed.
This night would prove to be a challenging one with temperatures in the 80’s at 8pm, a noisy interstate and the concern of being under the interstate where anyone could come by at any time. Another concern I faced was my 15° quilt, would I bake? I opened it up like a blanket and only covered a small portion of my body. To my surprise, it was the sleeping pad that would reflect my body heat back up to me while my quilt was surprisingly cool and comforting. On edge through the night I kept checking my surroundings and later in the night I saw another hiker make his way in. Later on I would find out it was Cameron making his way back to the trail after hitching a ride to In-N-Out. I would get little sleep that night.
Day 3 : Monday May 29th, 2018; Memorial Day; PCT Mile 209.48 Interstate 10
The day began watching a hiker, Cameron, leave camp. Across the street from where we were a car pulled over. This was odd because there was nothing there and if someone was coming to where we were, they could just drive up. Then a lady emerged with a few bags in her hands and made here way towards us. She passed our tents and I watched her make it to where the ice chests and hiker boxes were. She was one of the people who hiker love most, she was one of the Trail Angels that maintained the I-10 Oasis. I watched as she dumped out the water from the coolers and replaced it with new ice. Then she added more sodas to it. I walked up to her and thanked her, this is also where I learned that it was a group of people that maintained the cache. After her departure I noticed that there was something more in the hikers box, a plastic container where hikers can place unwanted items and other hikers can take them if they needed them. Upon further inspection, she had brought bananas, Kind bars and individual gas station apple pies. This was another welcome sight and would be our breakfast for the morning.
After packing up our camp and eating our trail magic breakfast, we headed out. Almost immediately the sun began to beat down on us and the cool morning air turned hot and dry. Today the plan was for a short day, ten miles, to Whitewater Preserve. We departed with just two and a half liters of water, after all it would be a short day. This was the day I was looking forward to, an afternoon of basking in the cold water of the Preserves wading pools, an easy day. The notion of an easy day was soon shattered as the poor night sleep, sweltering heat and unforgiving sun punished every step we took. Just a mile or two from camp we encountered a couple of chairs and took a break, today was not going to be easy, not at all.
As we made our way through the desert floor we encountered yet another milestone, mile 212.11. This is the end of PCT California Section B and the beginning of Section C, I 20180528_0904066985663278348145001.jpghad finished another section. But this short 3 miles were not easy or short, we trekked on through the heat.
A little over a mile into Section C we found a breezy rise on the trail to sit for a while, enjoy the breeze and have a quick bite. Just a few hundred yards after we started back up we saw a sign that said “water and shade” with an arrow pointing right. We could see the area just a hundred yards away but opted to continue. Later in the day we would find out that the water was frozen water bottles and they had Klondike bars, which would have provided much needed calories and refreshment. As the day grew longer, the trail got steeper. By this point we realized that we had been going up this whole time. This accounted for the difficulty we were facing. Suddenly we were faced with a series of steep switchbacks leading up the side of the mountain, the only way out of this valley. We mustered up every little bit of energy we had and climbed. The breaks were multiple and we made it out. At this point, we saw our mistake. The amount of water we thought would be sufficient, was not really. Worst of all, we now had to go down. Downhills are painful enough, but my knee was not really looking forward to them and neither was I. By now we had lost service and we began our descent. There were now three ways out, finish what I started, head back up and down the five miles I had just walked through or make it to the Preserve and get a ride out. I would at least make it to the Preserve.
The day did not become any easier as the trail made its way up the side of another mountain. We took a break in the little shade we could find and then a few minutes later yet another with no protection from the sun, Caroline needed some food. As she was wrapping up her snack another hiker arrived, “Giggles” from Arizona. He had started six miles further back from us and yet had caught up. He had the fortune of stopping at the “water and shade” sign and had a bottle where half the ice had melted. After offering us a drink he gave it to us. He figured we needed it more than he did. It was a welcomed sip of ice cold water. I poured some of my water into the bottle to give us a bit more ice water, soon there after the ice was gone and we consumed the little, precious water before it would warm back up.
As we made our way down the last mile, we could see where the trail splits and heads to the Preserve. The sight of this junction gave us a boost and we sped up if just a bit. We could see the vegetation where the river fed the desert floor to give life. The sound of the rushing “river” gave us a sense of hope that today was almost over. After a quarter mile we could see the rushing water and there in the middle was a young lady sitting in the middle of the water wearing a bikini while a gentleman took her picture. Although close enough to touch the river and drink from it, we made our way over the few small bridges that led to the preserve. It was Memorial Day and a few hundred yards away we could see the families making their way to another portion of the water to enjoy the day.
Over the last ten miles, there were two things that drove me to continue forward. The first was the mutual support between Caroline and me. The second one was the reason for my journey. It was not just that today was a day to remember my fallen Brothers and Sister who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. I remembered my friend, Sergeant Mark Johnson IV USMC, who died on 12 May 2015 while crewing and UH-1Y helicopter in Nepal in support of the relief efforts after a massive earthquake ravaged that country. But I also remembered the 22 Veterans who take their lives every day as they lose the battle to their demons and PTSD. Today was about all of them and I would not let them down. I made it to Whitewater Preserve hot, tired, parched and in pain, but I made it.
Upon our arrival, around 3pm, we witnessed kids playing in the wading pool fed by the cold waters of the river. There, standing at the “entrance” to the pool and trail, were two rangers. Inquiring as to where we could go and camp they pointed us south towards a wide-open space. The Preserve provided fresh water, flat grassy land to pitch our tent, flushing bathrooms, tables to sit at and the wading pools to relax in. The Rangers also informed us that we, PCT hikers, could use the phone inside and the outlets outside. The Preserve would close at 5pm, but we were welcome to stay and enjoy.
As we made our way to the area the Ranger had pointed to, we ran into some familiar faces. There, laying in the shade sleeping, was Abby, while Kaj was sitting on a bench reading his phone. Giggles was also there, as was Jeremy from Nevada who had passed us shortly after Giggles had. It was not long before we dropped our packs and changed into more comfortable attire that could let us enjoy the surroundings. I had gone in the bathroom and taken every article of clothing off my body. I put on my clean undershirt and sleeping/running shorts. I washed my socks, skivvies and shirt in the sink and then draped them over a tree to dry. After eating a snack, we made our way to the wading pool. They were freezing cold and their one-foot depth made them very difficult to get into quickly. Our bodies were still running hot and the drastic temperature change made it even harder to acclimatize. But, our desire to relax, cool off and give our bodies the regenerating time they needed, we made due. It must have only been ten minutes, but it felt like we were there for a good half hour. None the less, it was a much-needed break.
Making our way back to the picnic tables, we could see that people who came out for the day were beginning to pack up and someone suggested asking if there was anything, food or drink, that they didn’t want to take back that we would be glad to take it from them. They were referring to a Hispanic group just a few feet away from us. I decided to put my people skills, and native tongue, to work. I asked if they knew what the PCT was, they did not. I proceeded to tell them about it and how we were all hiking it in one way or another. Then I proceeded to tell them that while we were not begging, we would be grateful if there was something they could leave behind. A short while later, a lady walks over with a bread bag with a few sandwiches in it and a bag of chips. We graciously accept and find four sandwiches in the bag, there were five of us standing around. Kaj said he did not want one and the math became simple. The sandwiches were not anything special, regular picnic fare. They were simply two pieces of white bread with mayonnaise on each slice, followed by two thin slices of turkey deli meat and what we think was either American cheese or Cheese Wiz in the middle. But to us, they were the best sandwiches on the planet. As simple and plain as they were, to us they were a gift we could not expect. Shortly thereafter, a gentleman comes up to us with a whole round watermelon and a knife. After cutting it up, cleaning and returning the knife, we all take a slice, hydration and calories all in one. A while later we receive three unopened bags of chips and two which were open, we were eating great tonight. It was a reprieve from trail food and we finished every single bite.


As the afternoon continued, more hikers began to arrive. First Cameron made it in, he had stopped at the “water and shade” for a few hours to get away from the heat. Then a lady, who’s name escapes me arrived, she was from Scotland as well. Then an odd character wondered in. She was a through hiker from Vancouver, who had flip flopped and was trying to maker her way to Palm Springs for whatever reason. After repeated attempts to hitchhike to Palm Springs she was able to call a cab, it would be there later in the afternoon. Then a van pulled up around 4:50pm and introduced our next interesting character “Carburetor”. The girl from Vancouver managed to get a ride in the same van that Carburetor got out of, that would be the last we would see of her. Carburetor on the other hand was an older gentleman, we figured in his 60’s, stocky and a bit short with a long white/yellowish beard. He had his pack and two big plastic bags, he had just made it in from town.
We all sat around the table eating chips, telling stories and having fun. I would go on to eat a “1 Serving” meal I had to give me even more calories for the next day. Then Carburetor made his way to us with cookies and talked to us for a few minutes. Like I said, he was a character. His stories lacked structure and there was no transition from one thought to the next. This would later provide us with entertainment thanks to Giggles uncontrollable giggles as he retold the old gentleman’s stories. Carburetor seemed like a likable individual who you could tolerate in short doses. But he had no problem carrying on a conversation, if even with himself.
Night began to fall and it was time for us to make our way into our tents. The entire afternoon had dragged on, but in a good way, and now it was time to sleep. There was one thought that I could not get out of my head as I laid down. How many times would I have to get up in the night to go to the bathroom. I had spent the entire afternoon drinking water to replenish what I had lost over the last two days. It was still a warm evening, and once again I had trouble going to sleep. I witnessed the full moon rise over the side over the side of the canyon and as predicted I rose multiple times to use the facilities. Fortunately, it was a cool night and I was able to get some much-needed rest.
Day 4 : Tuesday May 29th, 2018; Mile 218.55 Whitewater Preserve
As the sun began shine on the Preserve we all awoke to the sight of ants covering our tents. Nothing major, just enough black ants to make you take notice. The use of real facilities made the morning routine a lot better and I ate my last pack of PopTarts as I broke camp. By the time I was done packing, I had broken a slight sweat, today would be hot. As we made the final preparations to depart, most of the hikers that had spent the night there were on their way. We drank as much water as we could muster and filled our bottles just enough to get us through the next 2.5 miles. Just before we stepped off, Giggles and a German hiker made their way out of camp. Putting the packs on our backs and picking up my walking sticks we continued our journey.
The next 2.5 miles were uneventful. We could see the German a couple hundred yards ahead of us and it was getting warm as the sun started to hit us directly. Then we arrived at our last crossing at Whitewater Creek. The creek had enough flowing water that crossing it would be difficult. Finding a suitable place to cross, we carefully made our 20180529_0650314037232259015320120.jpgway over the rocks. We did not want wet shoes the rest of the day, so we tread lightly and came out dry. We stopped at the creek to fill up on the cold water that flowed down from the San Bernardino Mountains and cameled up for the next 6 miles. After soaking our buffs in the cold water and putting it around our heads, we were once again on our way.
The next six miles would present a challenge, although not as much as the ten miles of the previous day. On this day, the temperatures would climb above the century mark. Every step we took seemed to take more and more energy from our bodies. Our next source of water would be Mission Creek and we prayed for shade. As we made our descent into the valley floor we could see the faint outline of the creek. As we made our way to the creek crossing, we could see a nice tree that provided just enough shade. Our prayers were answered.
When we arrived at the creek crossing, around 11:30am, our packs were quickly off our backs and we drank all the water we had and filtered the creek water to fill our bottles up once again. It did not take long for our shoes to leave our feet and we soaked them in the creeks cool flowing water. With plenty of water to drink and a nice snack in our bellies, we settled in for an extended break. I used my pack as a pillow and some rocks to raise my feet. I placed the moist buff over my eyes to keep the few rays of light making their way through the branches out of my eyes. It was not long before we both gave into the exhaustion and were napping. A couple of hours later, slightly rested and fairly well hydrated, we were once again off on the trail. The rest of the day we would cross Mission Creek many times and water would not be a problem; the heat was a different story.
The heat would be our biggest nemesis on this day and breaks were frequent. At one point, as we rested, the Scottish lady passed us by. She would be the only hiker we would see this day. We began to contemplate where we would stop for the night. There were two campsites about a mile apart next to the creek, we would stop at the further one. As we made our way over the creek to the near campsite, we would run into the Scottish lady once again. This is where we would hear about Carburetor one last time. It appears that his pace was slow and was still carrying one of the plastic bags. He had left later in the day and with the heat and water situation it would be a source of concern for us through the rest of our journey together. It would also be the last time we would see her as we said our goodbye’s.
As we arrived at our campsite for the night, the first order of business was dinner. I opted for a Chicken and Dumplings dinner, while Caroline had a Burrito Bowl. It is amazing the freeze-dried meals you can purchase these days. As for the past two nights, hydration was the primary concern and we did our best to drink as much water as we could. To our good fortune, we had climbed above 4,000 feet and dusk was cooler. The sun made its way behind the mountain earlier than before and the mercury began to drop. This would be our most comfortable night of the trip. Without my rainfly on my tent, I could gaze up at the stars and watch the moon rise, a peaceful sight. I would get the most restful sleep on this night.
Day 5 : May 30th, 2016; Mile 232.13 Mission Creek
Dawn turned into morning I awoke rested to find a beautiful Southern California morning. It was just cool enough to not be cold and the mountains to our East shielded us from the morning sun. I stepped out of my tent and faced towards the direction of the rising light. Then, as if I was in a movie, I stretch my arms towards the skies and take a deep breath of the fresh morning air. We could see the mountain ridge in the distance with pines along the ridgeline, it was hope that the sparse desert floor would give way to alpine forests and shade from the unforgiving sun. The morning routine repeated itself and we headed out hoping that relief from the rays of the sun would arrive sooner rather than later.
By this point, our bodies had begun to get use to the weight on our shoulders and the tens of thousands of steps we would have to take each day. The climbs became much easier and we were no longer gasping for air, breathing became easier. Today would bring two challenges, neither we had not endured so far, steep ascents and lack of water. The first half of the day would allow for plenty of water, but the second half would not.
We made our way through along the creek and here we would see our first “exotic” wild 20180530_1253393738074186962900452.jpganimal, a beautiful California King snake. It made its way off the trail and into the bush, we kept on the path. Around 11am we would arrive at the last crossing of Mission Creek. Already within the burnt pines of the forest we would find a semi shady spot to take a break. As before, we rested our feet in the river and drank more water. This would not be the last water of the day, but we drank what we could. Our time was short here due to concern that Caroline might have brushed up against some Puddle-Dog Bush, a California mountain shrub known to give severe and painful skin irritation. Knowing that a mile later there would be a spring, we opted to take just enough water to get us the next mile.
Finally, out of the desert and under the protection of the forest canopy we arrived at the trailhead to the spring. This is where we would drop our packs and slack pack it the quarter mile to the spring. The walk was brisk and quick without the weight of the packs on our backs. The cold water was a welcoming change to the warmer creek water. Once again, we faced a 15 mile stretch without water. We took five liters each to get us through this section, the only relief is that the temperatures will not be as hot nor will the sun beat down on us. A couple of miles later we would reach an overlook where we could gaze down on the Palm Desert and Palm Springs. This would also be the first time since leaving I-10 that we would have direct contact with the outside world via cellular phone. We took the opportunity to call our families and friends and let the world know that we are doing well.
Temperatures began to drop quickly as the afternoon sun found its way down towards the horizon and we climbed in elevation. We arrived at Coon Creek Cabin, a dilapidated cabin a couple of hundred yards from the edge of the mountain. The cabin is “maintained” for use, but in need of repair. We had no reservation for the area, however with the lack of occupancy for the night we made it our home for the night. Taking a seat at one of the picnic tables, we prepared for dinner and enjoyed the warmth of our supper as the temperature continued to drop. There were two small structures a few feet from the cabin, this is where we would set up our tents for the night.
On this night the thermometer would plummet to the high 30’s, a sharp contrast to the triple digit temperatures of the previous few days. Cozy in my tent, rest eluded me. Every noise put me on edge thinking that either animals or non-hikers would come along. At one point I heard what sounded like someone chewing on ice, very loudly. But I tried to rest as much as I could. After all, we still had another day and some change of hiking to do. I laid my head down and did my best to sleep.
Day 6 : May 31st, 2018; PCT Mile 246.4 Coon Creek Cabin
I awoke to Caroline calling out my name about 5:30 am. We originally intended to rise at 5 am but sleeping in was not a bad idea. As I emerged from my tent I made the 200-yard walk to the edge of the mountain to catch a glimpse of the sunrise. To our misfortune, we were facing the south towards Palm Springs and there was a peak to our east which blocked view of the rising sun. However, watching the early morning light flood the desert floor in its warm glow was just as good. Then it was time to eat breakfast, pack our gear and set foot on the trail once again.
There were about 20 miles to go before Hwy 18, our stopping point on this leg. The plan was a 16 or so mile day, find a campsite for our last night and finish the last 4 miles the next morning. This plan was not perfect but we could do it. I had enough food for one more night and Caroline was almost out but we could share and manage. Less than a mile into the day we saw a deer on the trail hopping away. It was a good start.
The cold mountain air, early morning and 5 days of ups and downs meant that our bodies had started to get use to the routine. This meant that even at 7,000 feet in altitude breathing was no longer labored. As we climbed in altitude, it was not necessary to take breaks as often. Our pace seemed to be just as fast going up, down or on flat ground. The trek felt good regardless of what situation we were in. The only problem I faced was my right knee, which did not like the downhill’s most of all.
Four miles in, we arrived at the “Private Zoo”. This was one of the spots that we were looking forward to and also made us mad and sad. Here would be the only time where we would actually see a bear. Two grizzlies to be precise. The zoo houses animals that are trained for TV and film, their enclosures are relatively small and it was sad to watch them there. The facility housed lions and tigers as well, however on this day they were not there. There is a for sale sign on the fence as well as a sign that says that they are moving to a new facility with larger habitats. It was sad to watch these majestic creatures in such small enclosures. The only upside to the encounter is that I was able to see a grizzly on the trail without being in danger. This took us to mile 250 of the PCT, the second milestone on this trip.
Once again, we were on the move and moving at a pretty good pace. Just three miles after the zoo we made it to the Big Bear Hostel trail magic spot. Here, in the middle of no where is what looks like a small dumpster and a couch. The dumpster is anything but. The hostel had put it out to allow hikers to get rid of some trash, they placed 12 packs of 20180531_09514077858952245864170.jpgsodas, emergency food and hostel information. We were disappointed to find that there was no soda left, but the sentiment was well received. This was a nice little spot and we dropped our packs and sat on the couch. It was really comfortable and a great spot to take a break, eat a snack and drink some water. Time check showed that we had gone 7 miles in three hours, an excellent pace for two slow pokes like us. At this point, I ask Caroline if she wanted to push and finish today. At this pace we would be done by 4pm. The decision was made, we would do all we could to finish today. Turning on our cell phones we were lucky to have service. She made arrangements to stay in the hostel and I made my arrangements to be picked up that afternoon. Now our focus was on the margaritas we would have once we arrived at Big Bear City. The other decision we had to make was whether we tried to hitch into town or call an Uber. I suggested we wait to see if we could hitch before spending money on a ride, she concurred.
The rest of the day seemed pretty uneventful. Then the trail threw us a curve ball, we were back in the desert it seemed. The alpine forest had once again turned into an arid sparse landscape that provided no relief from the afternoon sun. To our good fortune, 20180531_1340211938245117799666236.jpgthe temperature was barely in the 70’s and there was a nice breeze. Having learned our lessons from the desert floor, we did our best to stay cool by keeping our sleeves rolled down and using as much as we could to protect any exposed skin from the rays of the sun.
Pushing on we would stop occasionally to rest or have a snack. These were usually short, we were on a mission. I am certain that from our vantage point at 7,000 feet we could see parts of the Mojave and Death Valley. It was amazing that we had experienced so many different environments in such a short period of time. The views were spectacular, this is one of the reasons we hike.
At around mile 264.8 I pulled out my cell phone and opened up the Halfmile App. I watched as the mileage crept up. Finally, the app said 265, I was overjoyed. This is when I asked Caroline to take my picture. I posed for the picture by grabbing my poles and thrusting them up in the air. After the picture was snapped and I began to explain the significance, I noticed the rocks to my right. There, “spelled” out in rocks was “265”. This was a major milestone for me, I had completed 10% of the Pacific Crest Trail. While 10% might not seem like a lot, it was a major accomplishment. We both snapped pictures of

each other next to the 265. At this point I called my wife. After some banter, I explained that none of what we were talking about was the reason for the call. Then I told her, I made it to mile 265. No explanation was necessary for the number, she responded with a very loud, “SHUT UP!”. A tear came to my eye and I did everything in my power to keep my composure. This was a moment two year in the making, a major point in my journey and the Trek4PTSD. This was also the moment that I looked at my feet, on the opposite side of the trail there was, in rocks, “10%”. Awesome does not begin to explain the feelings I had. Validation was what I felt.
With just a mile to go we kicked it into high gear. As we rounded the last few corners we could see the highway. Now we had to figure out which side of the road we needed to be in. Then as we make our last hundred yards to the road, a truck pulls over. The driver maneuvers several times and comes to a stop on the other side of the road. Our feet touch the pavement and we were done, now to get a ride into town. The driver of the truck opens the door and gives us a warm greeting. A bit confused as to the motive of the driver to pull over, we ask for a ride. As he pulls down the tailgate a familiar face comes around the truck. Jeremy, who we had not seen since Whitewater three days earlier, had hitched a ride back to the trail and was setting off once again. The timing could not have been more perfect. This meant we did not have to wait around, we had a ride. But the best part was that we were able to see one of our fellow hikers one last time before he set off once again. We threw our packs in the truck and the trail was now behind us. It was done, we had made it. Caroline would be spending two nights in Big Bear before heading back out and I would be going home. This part of my journey was complete.
Post Trail: Big Bear and Home
Our ride took us to Big Bear City where we would find a Mexican restaurant to have some drinks before going our separate ways. Caroline had promised me a margarita and I was not one to turn down a free drink. Upon our arrival at the restaurant the waitress asked us where we would like to seat. Being well aware of our odor, we told her “anywhere we won’t offend”. With a huge smile on her face, she replied that we would not and we could sit where ever we want. We took a solitary boot with some great views of the lake and the town. After ordering our libations we reminisced about our experience. Suddenly I notice a familiar face walking up the street. I rushed to the window and yelled “CAMERON”. He had become one of our best friends on the trail, a “proper” mate. He talked to us through the window and I headed out for an obligatory selfie with him. The waitress arrived with our beverages and that was Cameron’s cue to say, “I’m coming in”. We would all celebrate our minor accomplishment together. This was a joyous gathering and we ate chips, guacamole, rolled tacos and drank our margaritas. We recounted our journey and exchanged information. We knew that my wife was on the way and our time was short. Finally, my wife and son arrived. I was happy t20180531_1656145779596143648850671.jpgo see them and as I told my trail family goodbye we all parted ways.
The ride home began with a trip to McDonalds, something that I had been craving the past few days. This craving probably had something to do with the fact that it was my son’s favorite place to eat and I missed him so much. The visit was as much for him as it was for me. I ordered a 10-piece nugget meal and 3 cheese burgers. It would take me most of the two-hour trip home to finish, my Mexican restaurant indulgence had left me fairly full.
The trip was mainly quiet, something unusual for my post trail pickup. Then it hit me. I was not ready for the post trail depression to hit me so quickly and with such power. I became emotional, I already missed the trail and my friends. Knowing that it may be another year, or more, before I am back on the PCT, that I may never see these friends again, that there is always a possibility that I will not make it back was difficult to handle. I was not myself.
The next few nights I would not sleep very well, something I did not expect. For the four days following my return from the trail I would be in a slump. A week later and I am still extremely tired. Things are not back to normal and the depression has yet to subside. Everyday I think of those I met on the trail and how they are doing. How I wish I was out there with them. The knowledge that they are out there trying to complete their goals makes me happy. I met my goal for this trip, but how I wish I could have continued.
The trail changes you, it becomes a part of you and who you are. While you may leave the trail and drop your pack, the trail will never leave you. When John Muir said “The mountains are calling and I must go”, he never told us how loud and constant they would call. For the time being, they will have to wait. It is now time to plan the next adventure, to gather the gear needed and look forward to the next time my boots step on the PCT once again. Until then #TrekOn!

Back On The Trail

The clock is counting down before I set off once again on the Pacific Crest Trail. That mystical place that calls on me and pulls at my heart strings. It is Friday night and we decide to go to Olive Garden, you know to carb load. Our experience is less than spectacular. I am unable to finish my pasta and the desert was, well, frozen solid. We left disappointed at our meal but I was excited on what was to come the next day. Shortly after getting home and doing one final check it was time to get some rest, tomorrow would be brutal. Then at midnight I awoke feeling ill. This could not be, I could not go down for an illness. I tried to get some more sleep, but it was here and there and with little rest.
Saturday morning is here and it is time to get going. I was not feeling 100% but confident it would not hinder my journey. Arriving at the PCT I felt a sense of purpose, a meaning to this journey I was about to continue. As the pack settled on my hips and shoulders it was time. Then with one step the Trek4PTSD was back on the trail, back on the PCT and back to sending awareness for PTSD and mental illness. Overjoyed does not begin to describe the feelings going through me.
As I set off, once again, on the PCT the day was perfect. Not too hot and not too cold, the sun beating down enough to remind you it was there and the trail welcomed me like an old friend. As Hwy 74 disappeared beyond the winding trail I wondered what the next two days had in store for me, who would I meet. During the last mile on the road, we saw a few hikers, would I run into them again?

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At first, my pace was great at roughly 2.5 miles per hour. If I was able to maintain that pace, I could easily make my goal for the day. Then I heard voices, well more like shouts of joy. I wondered if they could be the 3 hikers I had seen on the road, but they didn’t seem like the kind to yell that way. As my pace began to slow, I could hear them getting closer. The hikers were not the ones I had seen but others that must of camped just short of Hwy 74. These 2 individuals were the most lively, friendly, warm and happy hikers I had ever met. Tony and Choy were their names. Tony is from Hong Kong while Choy is from South Korea. Their English was a bit rough and I am not sure if they both spoke the same language. Regardless of this barrier, they seem to communicate with each other relatively well and they did not allow it to impede their communication with other hikers. They passed me and continued on. Not too long after that the 3 hikers I had seen on the trail passed me by and went their way.

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Roughly six miles into the hike it was pushing mid-day. I had reached the first spot for water on the trail. This meant ditching my pack and “slack-packing” the third of a mile off trail to get water. This was a steep descent to the spring. Once I arrived at the spring I drank all the water I had taken down with me and proceeded to fill my “dirty” water bag and filter the water. The cool water was refreshing and now comes the daunting task of making my way back up the trail to where I left my pack. There I met back up with my two friends from Asia as well as two young ladies, one from Boston and one from England. I sat around for about a half hour talking with those who passed by, my two friends and the two ladies. At some point my two Asian friends set down the trail to get water. In the meantime, a young man from Denmark arrived and had his lunch. He too set down the trail and came back up. Upon his arrival we asked if he had seen Tony and Choy since it had been so long since we last saw them. To our surprise, he had not. The conclusion was that they took a different path and should be back soon. I set off not knowing the faith of these two happy, go lucky guys.
After setting off from my short break, the going began to get rougher. The trail began to get steeper and higher. By now I was over a mile above sea level and climbing. Every few hundred yards were met with a short break, sometimes shorter distance and longer break. My long and tiring ascent meant that hikers I had barely met during lunch were now passing me by. And then, to my surprise, came Tony and Choy. Their wrong turn getting to the spring had earned them the trail names of Missing 1 and Missing 2 respectfully. They made it possible for me pick up the pace if just for a little bit. For that short while my pain was alleviated. But as quickly as they caught up with me, they were off again. I wondered if I would see them again, maybe at camp that night. As my pace slowed I doubted that I would ever see them again and my chance to capture their enthusiasm in a photo had gone with them as well.
The day was getting late and the trail was still steep. With that the thought of finding a camp site was foremost in my mind and I wanted to see if I could catch up to Tony and Choy. I could see the sun beginning to set and the downhill helped me speed up to find camp. Then, as I turned the corner I saw two tents next to a boulder. My concern was that there would be no space and it was well founded. The two individuals, Paul a Britt from Australia and the other gentlemen who’s details I cannot remember, said that there was no room but to check on the other side of the boulder. There was another hiker who was South Bound on the other side of the boulder. There was just enough room for my tent and with no rain in sight I did not put up my rainfly.
As I set up camp I had realized that I had eaten very little that day and was not really hungry. However, knowing that I had to replenish calories, I made dinner while I got ready to call it a day. I cold see Palm Springs, Ca below as the sun set, I could not help but gaze in wonder how beautiful the lite up city looked. I tried to eat, but could not finish my food. I wondered if the dinner the previous night was the reason for my lack of appetite. As I finished my evening meal, I turned in for the night.

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The night was not kind to me. I tossed and turned most of the night, not to mention that I woke up half a dozen times to go to the bathroom. This seems to be a problem for me on the trail since I have no need to relieve myself during the day and it all hits me at night. Every time I awoke my legs cramped up and I could barely walk straight. This was not a good sign for the next day. I took pleasure in the view down the mountain of the city lights while I made my way to where I needed to go and upon my return I could see the stars above me while I drifted away into sleep.
20180506_0555545010350514409222508.jpgSunday morning came with a beautiful sunrise. My legs, which I was sure would be in knots by morning, were fresh and ready. I boiled some water and dug in my food bag for what would be breakfast. But once again, no appetite. I could not drink my coffee or eat my breakfast. With that realization, I broke camp and began heading down the mountain. I knew that in less than a mile I would have to begin another grueling ascent, something I was not looking forward to.
As I made my way up the final mountain I knew that once I crested it the rest of my hike would be down hill. Originally, the plan was to hike the detour all the way to Idyllwild, Ca. But sometime the previous day I had made the decision that if I was not on the PCT, that there was no reason to be out specially if it was a makeshift trail to get PCT through hikers the ability to bypass the 8 mile fire closure. This decision made the day seem a lot better, no need to rush to make it to town and then drive the two hours to get home. I needed time to recover that evening.20180506_0901062612115364258409040.jpg
As the 2 mile ascent continued, my body grew weaker by the minute. Almost two thirds of the way up, Paul and his hiking buddy caught up with me and I did my best to keep up with them. Their pace was too fast for me and they quickly vanished up the trail and switchbacks. Then, I reached the top. From here I could see to the east Palm Springs and the Palm Desert, and to the west Lake Hemet and San Diego County. Paul and his buddy had taken a break and I passed them by. Just a few hundred yards past the two of them was the fire closure and what would be the end of the PCT for this trip. The view was so wonderful that I tried to go live on Twitter and Facebook, but the signal was too weak. I was barely able to call my wife to tell here when and where to pick me up. As I was on the phone, Paul and his companion headed on down the detour.


After wrapping up my phone call and taking some pictures, I looked down on Lake Hemet and pondered the 7 mile 4000 ft descent that was in front of me. I stepped off the PCT and headed down the trail to my extraction point. Along the way I would pass Paul and his friend, then they would pass me once again. The descent was uneventful and I was doing 2.5 plus miles per hour. At times the steep descent would be painful but bearable. Five miles later I reached the end of the trail and onto a surface street. The hard pavement would send my feet into pain unlike anything I had experienced on the trail. Then the last three quarters of a mile I was joined by Mark from Sweden. We chatted a bit about the way things are in his country, the hiking/kayak trails and his hopes of finishing the PCT. He continued on the detour while I made it back towards Hwy 74 and Lake Hemet. Suddenly I hear someone yell my name, it was Paul. They had spoken to the park ranger and the rangers father was going to give them a ride into Idyllwild.
I finally made it to Hwy 74, dropped my pack, took off my boots and put on my camp shoes as I waited for my ride. As I sat by the side of the road I felt sad that I had not seen Tony and Choy before I went home. There are some people on the trail that you are immediately drawn to, these were my two for this trip. I was sad that I would not see them again and that I would only have my memories of them to serve as a reminder. How much I wish I had seen them one last time. Just as I was emptying my mind and relaxing by the side of the road I see two hikers making their way around the curve back towards the trail, they were coming my way. Once they came into full view I recognized the big blue backpack. I could not contain my excitement and yelled out “TONY, CHOY”. Upon realizing it was me they yelled back the best way they could, my name, “RAUL!”. For a couple of minutes we talked the best we could and took the pictures I longed to have. And as with any selfie, they had to take their own as well. We hugged, shook hands and went our different ways. It was the perfect sendoff for my weekend trip.

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Left to Right: Raul “Section 8”, Tony “Missing 1”, & Choy “Missing 2”

Once I was picked up by my wife and son, we headed home but not before getting some Epson salts and a big greasy burger from Calr’s Jr. We made our way home and I took a long bath to calm my aching muscles. It was now time to prepare for the next trip…how long could I stay out and how long could I go.
One thing I thought about during this trip was how much the trail and mental illness are alike. They are both a journey that will have difficult sections that will make you want to quit. However, along the way you will find that there are people who love and support you on your journey and will do what it takes to make it a success. There are people who know that you are on a difficult journey and will help you with supplies and support along the way. And most important is those on a similar journey who will lift your spirits when you are down and who know what it is that you are going through. They will help you in any way they can while they walk alongside of you. There are many times on this journey that you will want to quit, but if you stick with it the beauty of the next sunrise will be your reward.
NEVER QUIT FOR TOMORROW A SUNRISE IS WAITING FOR YOU!
#TREKON

An Emotional Awakening; My Confession

A few weeks ago as I, Trek4PTSD founder Raul, was driving through Warner Springs, California (PCT miles 109.5 and 111.4) began to get very emotional.  But I kept driving and watching for hikers.  I saw a young hiker leaving the Community Center and offered a ride.  Not paying attention to my exact location and never having known where the Community Center was at, I offered him a ride to the trailhead.  A few seconds into the ride we saw another hiker and he mentioned that he might be on the trail.  That is not possible, I thought to myself, after all the only time the trail is visible from the road is immediately after the trailhead.  After a quick assessment of our location I realized that indeed we had just passed the trailhead and I really did not need to give him a ride.  But he appreciated it and so did I.  The young Army veteran thanked me for the ride and was on his way.

After I dropped the young veteran off, I texted my wife.  I told her I was about to cry.  In response, she called me immediately.  “What is wrong?” were her first words to me and I could not hold back the tears.  My response was one of uncertainty since I did not know what was wrong.  All I knew was that it had to do with the PCT and the fact that I just drove by Warner Springs.  She responded by telling me that “it[the PCT/trail] is part of you and you need to get back out there.”  The sentiment was heard, but finding the time is difficult with so much to do before I retire from the Marine Corps at the end of the year.  Our conversation was short and I soon got over the tears, but not the emotion.

This event was a trigger, and some parts of my PTSD, anxiety and depression started to come back.  Over the next couple of weeks I watched “Wild” and “A Walk in the Woods”, again.  I started watching hiking videos on YouTube again.  I spent more time on the PCT pages on Facebook.  And I teared up along the way.

My love of hiking had not diminished.  However, I understood that due to obligations, family issues, work and my impending retirement that the trail had to work.  For almost two years I had suppressed my need to just walk in the wilderness.  On that day in Warner Springs all of the bottled up yearnings to hike exploded.  I needed to get back out, it was just a matter of  finding the time.

A week later I looked at the fire closures and found that the section between Hwy 74(Paradise Café) and Idyllwild was passable to some degree with a detour.  The detour was no problem, I would still hike the section.  Now to find the time.  With Memorial Day a little over a month away, it seemed like the perfect time.  And so it was decided.

This was my emotional awakening, and with it a new found sense of purpose.  The Trek4PTSD would continue stronger than when it first began.  More efforts to raise awareness, more content to bring to the masses, different ways to get the information out there.  Awareness starts with one step and that was my first step on this new phase of the Trek4PTSD.

Mental Illness is something we all need to talk about, specially in this day and age.  It is my goal to do so even if I have to stay up at night and work 3 jobs to do it.

Help me raise awareness, help me help those who battle their demons in silence, help me show the world what PTSD and Mental Illness is.

Thank you and Semper Fi,

Raul

“The woods are calling and I must go” -John Muir

#Trek4PTSD #PTSDAwareness #PTSD #MentalIllness #PCT

Food Review: Backpackers Country Risotto w/ Chicken

The trail is not the place you want to try out new things.  It is always imperative to test everything you are going to take on the trail before stepping off.  Food is no exception.  The last thing you want is to make a meal after a long day of hiking and you cannot stomach the smell or the taste.  Always test your gear and your food before heading out.

Backpacker’s Country: Risotto with Chicken

This meal provides a meal full of taste and sustenance.  There is very little negative, for my taste, about this meal.  This will be a future meal on the trail for me and part of my hiking supply stash.

This meal comes in at a total weight of approx. 7.8oz (216g), the meal itself is 5.8oz (164g).  That means that you will have to pack out approximately 2oz (52g).  This may be a bit heavy for those who are trying to go ultralight.

The package contains two servings.  Eating the entire bag comes in at 600 Calories, 6g of fat (3g Sat Fat), 50mg of Cholesterol, 2440mg of Sodium, 100g of Total Carbohydrates (4g of Fiber, 8g of sugar) and 38g of Protein.  Also 20% of your daily Calcium intake, 8% of Iron and 12% of  Potassium.  Not too bad to replenish most of what you have used in a day of hiking.

It does require 2 cups (470 ml) of water, a typical amount for a meal this size.

The “cooking” process requires the water to be boiled and poured into the resalable pouch.  Stir the water and meal together and seal the pouch.  After 15 to 20 minutes, the meal is ready to eat (more time may be needed at higher altitudes).

The front of the package reads, “AN ITALIAN STYLE COMBINATION OF RICE, PARMESAN CHEESE, WHITE MEAT CHICKEN, ONION, BROCCOLI, SWEET CORN, BELL PEPPER, AND TOMATO. DELIZIOSO, ABBONDANZA”.

The meal was very good with a pleasing taste.  The water was measured in a controlled environment according to the instructions.  Although 2 cups (470 ml) were used as directed, not all of the water was absorbed after 23+ minutes.  Towards the end of the meal I noticed a slight grainy feel to the meal.  The soak/cook time is double of some of the other meals and by the time I was done eating, it was getting cold.  Such a long soak/cook time will may make the meal get cold sooner at colder temperatures (meal was served in a 70° F (21.1° C)).  The weight of the packaging and the long soak/cook time may be a reason for some people to avoid.

Overall a good meal and I give it 4 spoons out of 4.

A Look Back, Retracing the First Steps (Pt. 2)

Unfinished Business

30 March 2016: Trek4PTSD Zero Day 2; Camp Pendleton, Ca.

The day started with a sense the feeling that I had some unfinished business.  The morning prior I had left Mount Laguna with the feeling of defeat.  The decision to leave the mountain the day prior was the right one, but it did not help.  As I typed away, recounting the previous days I wanted to go back, I needed to go back.  The time was there and I could go back and finish this leg, I would not be defeated.
Later that day the decision was made.  I asked my wife if she could take me back the next morning and drop me off where I had stopped.  Without hesitation she said yes.  Now it was a mad scramble to put the lessons learned in the previous three days into action and adjust my pack.  In an attempt to save a few precious ounces, about four, I checked REI’s website to see if they had received the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite mat, they did.  We rushed there and purchased the new mat.  A stop at the grocery store to buy a couple of bottles of Smart Water to replace the heavy Nalgene bottle, again a savings of probably two ounces which were replaced by the additional half liter I was carrying.
With all purchases made it was time to repack and get some rest.  The next day would have me back on the trail.

31 March 2016: Trek4PTSD T-0:30; Sunrise Trailhead Parking Area

Having prepared for the journey ahead, I had consumed large quantities of water and Gatorade.  With just 30 minutes before the journey would continue, the amount of liquid I had taken in had to start coming out.  We pulled over into the trailhead so that I may use the bathroom.  There, as we pulled in, we noticed another PCTer.  He looked familiar and I asked, “Is that Brad?”  Much to my surprise it was.  I was very excited to see him and a sense of sadness came over me.  I knew his end goal was Warner Springs and at best that was two and a half days away.  His goal was to make it there by April 1st where his wife would pick him up.  He would not be able to finish and would only make it as far as Scissors Crossing, 32 miles short of his goal.  The storm that forced me off the mountain had put a major roadblock in his plans.  The silver lining was that he would be able to continue down the mountain and do the best he could.  As if the storm had not been enough of a stumbling block, one of the major support poles for his tent had broken and he was not set up to go Cowboy Camping, the previous night he had slept in the outhouse away from the elements.
But the time to catch up had to be caught short.  He had wondered where I was and seemed glad to see me again.  I could not pass up this opportunity to see this trail friend of mine once again without capturing the moment.  With phone in hand I snapped a picture of the two of us so that I may remember this fellow PCTer.

Brad & Raul
Trek On Brad.  I am certain you will be back and will continue on your journey.  Now it is time for me to continue on mine.

31 March 2016: Trek4PTSD Day 4; Mile 47.5; Mount Laguna Campground

The time come as we arrived at the exact same spot that I had left the trail.  A scenic overview platform that gave a magnificent view of the desert floor below.  The temperature was in the low 30’s and I had just a t-shirt and light pullover on.  Better to start off cold and warm up, than to start warm and sweat.  That could lead to being colder than I would of been without it.  I strapped on my pack and had to pose for a picture with the desert behind me.  As I stepped off I would encounter two PCTers who spent the night just below the platform.  They did not know that the campsite was just less than a half mile up the road.  After talking to them for a few minutes, I was on my way.  Leaving, I said the required phrase, “see you when you pass me up” believing that it would be so.  I did not see them again.
As I made my way down the trail I was glad I made the decision to not continue on Tuesday.  With the storm gone, the views were breath taking.  I gazed at the desert below and the cool wind made the trek that much more easy.  Time seem to go by slow, but the miles were flying by.  In just a little over two hours I had made it to Pioneer Mail Trail Picnic Area, named for the pioneers of the mail service who made their way over the mountains to bring the mail out west.  Upon my arrival to take a short break, I saw two hikers in the park.  One of them was getting in a mini van and the other was getting ready to get back on the trail.  The one getting in the car was the girl I had met on day one less than a mile into the journey.  She is the one that walked four miles in the wrong direction.  I did not have the opportunity to talk to her, but I finally learned her name, Rainbow.  She was headed back to Mount Laguna to return the sleeping bag she had exchanged at the outfitter store there.  Come to find out that she had not slept for two days and when they looked at her sleeping bag up against the light, they could see patches where light was shining through.  Also, later I found out that her budget for the entire thru hike is very small.  Her luck in the first 53 miles has been disastrous and I fear for her on the trail.  I hope that she finds better luck on her journey.

Here is also where I met Sheppard.  He earned his name on day one when he ran across another PCTer who didn’t look too hot.  After about half a mile after passing his fellow hiker, he decided to wait for him and make sure he was alright.  The hiker he waited for had only brought two liters of water for the first 20 miles, a substantial low amount of water for such a long stretch without a reliable water point.  Sheppard gave the hiker some of his water and stayed with him, or “shepparded” him until he could get more water.  Sheppard is from the outside of Richmond, Va. and seemed to be in his late teens or early 20’s.  I would see him again at camp that night.
As I continued on the trail I would run into one of the funniest and most entertaining characters so far.  I had met Rebo at Lake Morena on day two just a few minutes prior to leaving.  He is from Pasadena, Ca. and probably in his late 50’s or early 60’s.  I deduce this based on his stories, but I cannot be certain.  As far as his name, that is unclear as well.  He explained that he got it from a folded piece of cardboard that they saw along the way.  His stories made for great dinner time entertainment and he had met plenty of people in his prior hikes.  It also appeared that he was taking video or pictures at every turn and is working on a YouTube channel that he hopes to call something along the lines of PCT Water Report.  Having already done a thru hike of the PCT, he was only doing a fraction of the entire trail with the Class of 2016 and is planning to hike the CDT in 2018.  I look forward to his channel and hope to run into him some day.

Rebo & Raul
As I passed mile 54 I was startled by someone saying “behind you”.  Without making a noticeable sound, or just through sheer speed, a group of six cross country runners passed me by.  Shortly after that four girls from the same high school team passed me and then their coach.  I was impressed by how well they were handling the altitude and environment.  They would run past me again going the other way.  My understanding is that they were a team from Massachusetts.  A mile or so later they would pass me again going the other way.
I would pass Rebo once more before arriving at mile 59.5.  This is where I would detour off the trail to get some water.  I arrived at the Sunrise Trail head about a third of a mile off the PCT.  This is where I saw Brad earlier that day.  I walked up to the tank and filled my Gatorade bottle with water.  Spent a few minutes relaxing with my pack off before making my way back onto the trail.  Where the Sunrise Trail and the PCT meet, I ran into Rebo once again as he was taking some video for his YouTube channel.  Once more I was on the PCT.
As I continued on the trail Rebo, the seasoned hiker, would pass me up once again.  There were about four miles to what I thought would be the campsite for the night.  That would of made it a 14 mile day.  However, Rebo would convince me to keep going to his destination for the night.  As I passed mile 63.7 I saw what was originally going to be my campsite.  It was a beautiful little spot that would of provided a wonderful home for the night.  I had given my word that I would continue and as I made my way uphill on the Jeep road.  Just a few minutes into the uphill trek I began to question my decision.  But there is no going back on the trail, so I pushed forward.
At around 1830 that evening, I made it into camp where Rebo was just finishing up with his tent.  He looked at me and said, “told you, you would be here by 6:30”.  I found an area hidden by one side by bushes providing some cover in the event of some winds.  I was glad I made it to this little spot, it provided great views and most important, water.  Since I had filled up with water at every opportunity and in no real need of water at camp that night.  Once I set up my tent it was time for some dinner.  I pulled out the bottle of Gatorade that I filled with water that needed to be filtered.  Finally, here is where the water filter comes into play.  The water was clear to begin with, but there was a warning to filter it, so I did.  When the water made its way through the filter it came out gray and foamy.  I knew this was due to using the filter for the first time and the grey color was carbon and that won’t hurt me.  That night I would eat good, have great conversation and most important it was a quiet night.  The only downfall, besides getting up to go to the bathroom, was that in the 45 degree night I would wake up sweating.  Simply taking out the silk liner and changing my shirt would be enough to make the night comfortable again.  It was the first real good night of rest I would have on the trail after an almost 21 mile day.

1 April 2016: Trek4PTSD Day 5; Mile 68.4; Rodriguez Spur Fire Tank Campsite

After a good night of sleep it was time to wake up and get the day started.  Before exiting the tent, I changed into my hiking clothes and packed what was in the tent.  It was just before sunrise when I exited my tent and everything was great.  I started to get my breakfast ready, just some oatmeal and coffee.  As I waited for breakfast to be ready it was time to break camp.  The sunrise was beautiful and the moment had to be captured.  This was the first time that I had been able to witness the sunrise and one of the things I had looked forward to since planning began.  This sunrise is nothing compared to those that I am sure to come, and am looking forward to them.  The picture did not make it justice, but it is a start.
As I enjoyed my breakfast and studied my map for the day ahead one of the hikers, Hardway, made his way back on the trail.  I was the second to leave camp.  This would be the last time I would talk to Rebo, Sheppard and the other PCTers that spent the night there.  It was time to get back on the trail and make my way down the mountain.
On my way down I would run into Hardway again.  I had met him on day two at Lake Morena.  His story is still a mystery to me, but I did enjoy his company even if for just a few minutes.  On the way down we would meet two day hikers who were heading up the mountain.  They would be the first of many day hikers I would meet over the next couple of days.  As I made it to level ground I ran into Major Tom who had been following Hardway’s progress through Rebo’s Facebook page.  They had hiked together the previous year and it seemed like two brothers who had not seen each other in years meeting up again.  Hardway was having problem with his feet, so he rested with his old friend while I carried on.
As I approached Scissors Crossing I ran into my first big water cache.  Just short of mile 76.5 is where this bit of Trail Magic appeared under some small bushes.  In the distance I could see the trail I would be going up and made the decision to fill up on water in the event that I would not be able to get more water on my way up.  I also knew that the next reliable source of water was 15 long, hot, uphill miles ahead.  Half a mile later I would run into a couple waiting for their PCTer cousins.  They were part of their trail support and lived a few miles away.  I spent some time talking to them and in doing so I noticed a shotgun shell sticking out of a pipe.  While I was not looking for a cache and did not have my GPS with me or my phone out I decided to check it out.  I pulled the shell out and to my surprise there was the log.  This little treasure made the day a bit more fun.  Once again I was on my way.
Just a few hundred yards after leaving the couple and the cache I arrived under the bridge at Scissors Crossing.  This was a planned stop for lunch.  I was out of the sun and ready for a nice hardy lunch before the steep ascent and all the switchbacks.  Once again I came across even more Trail Magic.  In this case someone had even left a four pack of beer, a can of Pizza Port beer, a couple of cigarettes and it appeared that they had left some other goodies that had been taken/eaten.  Here I would log my cache, cook my lunch, text my wife and most important, wish my mom a happy birthday.  Once my lunch was ready I pulled out some Gatorade powder and proceeded to enjoy my lunch before setting off.
As I step off from mile 77 it was time for my last big ascent.  I had just a little over 1,700 feet to go up hill.  This area was familiar to me since it was the road we would take to go Jeepin’ out in the desert.  Making my way through the switchbacks I would see the S2 the entire way up.  Every time I would make it past a switchback, I would make a mark on the map to ensure that I was accurately accounting for my location.  The day prior I was always about a half a mile further back than I was because I was unable to distinguish between the features on the map as I was looking up at them.
On my way up I would see a couple that I had met first on day one and again the night prior at camp.  We tried to talk to each other, but the distance between us made it difficult to understand.  I believe that they were about a mile behind me on the trail.  I was hoping that they would eventually catch up with me where I camped and I would have someone to talk to.  As the day progressed I knew that this would not be so.
The sun was getting lower in the sky and time was starting to run out for daylight.  Here is where I had to start making decisions.  1800 came and I was looking at where to set up camp.  After studying the map my first choice was at mile 85.4.  As I arrived in the area I was not impressed with the options and opted to continue a little more than half a mile to the next possible location.  It was in a saddle and not the geographic location I would want to set up camp.  I arrived at the campsite and scouted out for a good place to set up camp.  I was not happy with the location and began to question the decision.  I pulled out my phone and called my wife.  In the process I knew that if I was not happy with the location and I could continue that I should.  Here is where my wife came along with me on the trail, via phone.  Once again, just over a half mile to go.
As I arrived at the dry creek bed I was very happy that I had continued on.  This location was in a valley with plenty of protection from the wind being provided by the mountains around me.  Someone had even made a campfire ring and left some wood, the thought of a little fire did cross my mind, but I never started one.  I set up camp and prepared dinner.  It was a quiet evening and I spent some time talking to my wife on the phone.  The only thing that was missing tonight was some company, but the solitude was pleasing.
The day had provided some great views and beautiful flowers, many of which were cactus flowers.  The only downfall of the night was about 0300 when a pack of coyotes came about a hundred yards from camp howling.  Besides that it was a very comfortable evening.

2 April 2016: Trek4PTSD Day 6; Mile 86.6; Dry Creek-bed Campsite

Day 6 would begin with a new sense of purpose.  With just 500 feet short of 23 miles to the end of section one and another night on the trail, the end was in sight.  Morning routine out of the way it was time to set off just a little bit later than planned.  There was one thing I was looking forward to today and that was the infamous third gate water cache just four miles ahead.  I made my way up the mountain once again and on the trail.  Then, shortly after crossing the pipe gate at mile 91.2 I saw the sign.  There it was another detour off the trail to water.  This time it was just an eight of a mile to go.
For days I had heard of this massive water cache at mile 91 and I wondered how accurate the reports were.  I had heard two pallets and I had heard 500 gallons.  Could these be exaggerations?  Could the amounts be accurate?  As I arrived at the location I was amazed.  This was true Trail Magic and I am so thankful for the Trail Angels that brought it here for us PCTers.  It had only been a couple of hours since my day had began, but I was grateful for what was in front of me.  Signs above the water told us which ones to use first, second and last.  They also asked for a limit of three liters per hiker and not to use the water for bathing.  By my estimations there were anywhere between 400 and 500 gallons of water out here.  That also does not include the empties in the used bottle garbage bin that was constructed just a few feet away.  So much thought had been given to this oasis in the desert that there were funnels attached to the trees with string so that we could use them to fill our bottles.  I filled up with three liters of water and had a snack, again I was on my way.
On my way back to the trail I passed the sign once again and I signed the log that was just under it.  I took a few minutes to look at past logs and saw that Haven and Kristen had been there just two days prior.  Knowing that they had made it back on the trail made me happy.  Continuing to look at the logs I hoped to see some of those that I had met in days prior, but no luck.  The rest of my time on the trail I would not encounter another section or thru hiker.
As I continued on the PCT it would be a few more miles until I stopped for lunch.  On my map there is a point called Billy Goat’s cave at the 96.1 mile point, this was my planned lunch spot spending about 30 minutes there.  As I arrived at my destination I was impressed by the work that had to go into this little cave.  My lunch was a high calorie one so that I may continue the journey before me.  After I was done I rested my head on the rocks behind me and almost fell asleep.  I could of seen myself spending the night in this cozy little cave for one maybe two.  My allotted time at this little bistro was done and with everything I had on my back I set off once again.
Roughly 20 minutes after I left the little cave I could see where the trail wound down the side of the mountain.  I had was looking across the valley about a half mile but had to traverse almost two miles of trail to get there.  From here on out it would be mostly downhill.  I took note of the time and started to time my pace.  The fastest pace so far was around two miles per hour and that was more or less what I was averaging after day two.  The worst was about one mile per hour, so what would my pace be this time.  To my surprise I was looking at around three miles an hour and I had over four hours of daylight left.  This meant that my estimates for completing section A could be off by several hours.  That was yet to be determined.
On my way down the mountain I was heading to Barrel Springs, and on my descent that I reached yet another milestone.  It was here, on the side of this mountain that I found the artwork of some intrepid PCTer or a Trail Angel.  There, in rocks, marked the 100 mile point on the PCT.  This was also where I realized that I was only nine and a half miles from my destination.  The end didn’t seem so far.  I had exactly the number of miles left on section A that I had covered on day one when I stopped for lunch.  Here is where I knew I wold finish today and I would be home for dinner.
As I arrived in Barrel Springs, mile 101.1, I saw what appeared to be sections hikers.  The odd thing was that one of them was dragging a cooler.  Could it be that someone was courageous enough drag such an odd item through the PCT?  I stopped to talk to her, Blondie, and found out that they were doing a gear check and had just come from Warner Springs.  They were getting ready to enjoy a few cold ones and some dinner.  She offered me a beer, but with just over eight miles to go I could not indulge.  Then she asked what seemed like an odd question at that moment.  She said, “Do you use Halfmile?”  My reply was obvious as many PCTers would have answered the same, “Yes”.  This is the moment that she introduced me to one of her hiking companions, Halfmile!  It took a second for it to register, but this was the man himself.  A sudo-celebrity in the PCT world.  The maps that I used were based of his data, the app I would occasionally refer to on my phone was his.  I had so many questions that I had thought about on the trail while looking at my navigational aids.  He did explain that when he was planning his thru hike of the PCT that he could not find any reliable routes or references.  So, in 2014, him and another hiker did the PCT with custom equipment and mapped the entire PCT.  The great thing about the app is that at any point on the trail it will give you the distances (crow, trail, etc) to whatever point on the PCT you wish to go to.  It will also give you the total elevation gain and loss for the selected destination.  It will also give you the information you may need about your destination, as an example coordinates, elevation and description.  I wanted to continue talking to him, but I was on a mission and I had to part ways.

Halfmile & Raul
As I made my way across a cattle grazing ground and five and a half miles from the end of the trail I stopped to take out my phone and make the call.  As the phone powered on I wondered if I would have signal, I did.  I called my wife and told here that I would be finishing today and not tomorrow, something that came as a surprise to her.  When she asked what time, my response was between 1830 and 1930.  This was a pure estimate and wondered if I would be hiking in the darkness.  But I carried on.  My phone would remain on the rest of the time.  As I crossed this section of the trail I also realized that I would not need close to four liters of water to finish.  I reached behind and grabbed the bottle full of water that needed to be filtered, about a liter.  These were two pounds that I did not need, so I dumped them out and proceeded on.
Just a short while later I walked up on what was originally my destination for the day.  A campsite with plenty of area and a stream cutting through it.  This also appeared to be a popular destination for overnight campers, but there was plenty of room.  I questioned if I would have enjoyed the evening with so many people around.  There were three locations where people had set up camp, the one in the middle seemed to be the one for PCTers but I could not be sure.  I passed the last set of campers and crossed the shallow stream, the next stop was Eagle Rock.
As I cleared the wooded hills just past the campsites, there was a vast open space.  There, about a mile away, was Eagle Rock.  Since day one, this was what I wanted to see.  It was this rock formation that I would have been disappointed if I did not reach this week.  As I approached the rocks, I could not help but wonder if this was also Brad’s ultimate destination for his trip and how he was unable to see it.  As I arrived at Eagle Rock there was a family who had made a day out of going to Eagle Rock, PCTers of years past.  I spent a few minutes talking to them and they offered me some fruit and to take my picture in front of the rocks.  I was glad for their hospitality and company.  Now it was time to complete the last 3.2 miles.
When I was leaving Eagle Rock I encountered a small herd of cows that seemed very interested in me.  I pulled out my camera and they were very kind to let me take their picture.  Some seemed skiddish while others were fearless and approached me.  It was a very interesting experience and apparently one better than some had after I left.
As the sun began to fall behind Palomar Mountain I knew that my time on the trail was almost at an end, this time.  I continued to make my way into Warner Springs and followed another stream for a little while.  Half a mile from the end of section A was a large beach like campsite with one tent.  Another great location with flowing water to set up camp.  Someone had set up their tent here, maybe another PCTer?  I was not sure since I did not see the fellow hiker, no time to stay and find out.  Finally I could see the fire station, the 109.5 mile point of the PCT and the end of the section.  I walked up to the gate and unlocked it.  Here is where I would stand for a few moments.  Stepping over the gate would mean that I was done this time, that I would have to leave the trail.  I did not want to cross it.  It was now that I understood what I had heard before about leaving the trail.  This was a bittersweet moment and one that had to take place.  I crossed the gate and dumped my gear waiting for my ride, it was exactly 1900.
As I sat on the retaining wall waiting for my way home I wondered if there was a cache nearby.  To my delight there was and only 50 feet away.  A great cap to the week.  Shortly after, the family that I had seen at Eagle Rock came through the gate and talked with me a bit more.  Here is where I found out that the cows were more aggressive with them and chased them for a bit.  A funny experience for them, after the fact.  It was only a few minutes after we parted ways that my wife arrived and I was on my way home.
Before I stepped into the car I looked across the street and the gate that I would be crossing next to get back on the trail and onto section B.  Now there was no time to rest, it was time to begin planning the next chapter.

3-8 April 2016: Trek4PTSD Week After California Section A; Camp Pendleton, Ca

This was the week to start planning the next phase.  During this week gear would be exchanged and lessons learned would be put to use.  The time to get back on the trail cannot come soon enough, it is now a question of when.  The hope is soon.  Until then, Trek On!

TREK4PTSD PACIFIC CREST TRAIL CALIFORNIA SECTION “A” SUMMARY

  • TOTAL MILES: 109.5 mi
  • ELEVATION GAIN: +16,000 ft
  • ELEVATION LOSS: -15,872 ft
  • ELEVATION CHANGE: +128 ft
  • STARTING POINT: Campo, Ca. (Elev. 2925 ft)
  • ENDING POINT: Warner Springs, Ca. (Elev. 3043 ft)
  • HIKING DAYS: 6
  • CAMPING NIGHTS: 5
  • ZERO DAYS/NIGHTS: 2/2