Finally, finally, finally! Never am I so happy to get up and go anywhere at 7 a.m. Chris’s wife has been kind enough to let Chris give us a ride up Hwy 238 to the Black Mtn. Road, which will climb its way up the mountain and dump us off at mile 191 on the PCT. We cram into his car and hold on to dear life as he careens through every sharp road curve at a speed that should only be achieved on a nice, flat highway like Hwy 5. (Note: This is something I’m finding over and over again: SoCal drivers + mountain roads= vomit)His Subaru slides into a gravel area, and we all tumble out and kiss the ground. Okay, that’s not true, but I do see relief on faces.
I hang out with Chris while everyone is assembling their packs. He’s a foster dad and moved to Idyllwild from Orange County. He mentions he’s thirty-eight, so I joke, “Oh. I thought I was flirting with a younger man,” and wink. Chris has warmed up to me by now, and takes my teasing with ease. We give each other a friendly hug before I head up the road ahead of the group. Good-bye Chris! You will always be the best thing about Idyllwild!
We’re all anxious to go, yet all but Todd seem to have a hard time getting started. I’m ahead, but quickly have to stop to change my shirts and put up my hair. Todd passes, followed by TnT. Five minutes later, I’m caught up to TnT, because Tumbler keeps pulling over to take a piss. “At least turn away from people when you do that!” laughs Texas. But Tumbler gives no fucks, and Texas throws her hands in the air, giving up. I pass them to find Todd standing at a small vista, looking out to where the PCT must be. There is snow covering all the tops of the mountains, and we both wonder when we’ll reach snow ourselves.
Todd has been surreptitiously waiting for me, I think, and we continue up the steep road at a brisk pace. Todd was given a trail name by Driftwood, the fella I met at Mt. Laguna who had his trusty little dog, Ghetto, with him. This name is Savior-faire. Todd has hesitantly accepted the name, although I think he is waiting for a better one to come along. I’ve been calling him Savvy, for short. We huff and puff up the ridiculously graded switchbacks while Savvy tells me his whole life story. He seems to really need to let it all out, because he doesn’t give me lots of room to tell my own stories. I really don’t mind, since I’m practically wheezing up the mountain; there’s no way I can talk and hike up this damned road. And it’s taking its toll on Savvy, too; he’s needing to take more and more rests. We decide to break 5 miles in, and I tell Savvy little bits about myself and complain lightly about my blisters. We wait for TnT to catch up, and take off again.
Savvy was an avid outdoors-man when he was younger, but confesses he hasn’t donned a backpack in 20 years. He has just been through a divorce, as his wife of 24 years decided she “didn’t want to be married anymore”. There was vitriol, and Savvy even sold his furniture-making business for her before they called it quits. Savvy doesn’t say that he’s out here to heal from this blow to his ego and his heart, but rather that it seems like an opportunity to tackle something of magnitude, like the PCT.
Savvy is a friendly guy, but it’s draining me to give so much of my attention to him. When he bows out to take a piss, I take it as a good moment to stretch my legs and speed up some of these hills. Its gotten snowy, and I thoroughly enjoy the way the snow pack crunches under my feet. Snow adorned trees are shedding little ice pellets left and right, making a most enjoyable clinking, tinkling sound. The sun is out, and as I fly up the road, I’m starting to see impressive views of the San Bernardino Mountains. I haven’t hiked on a lot of snow; I had no idea I would like it so much. It’s great, and the next 4 miles of what should be rife with effort, flows past easily.
I find the PCT, and break for lunch, waiting for Savvy and TnT to catch up. Within 30-40 minutes we are all here, and it sounds like all of us have enjoyed the snow and the views. Now begins the long, long downhill all the way to Hwy 10. Everyone’s lunches are much more elaborate than my sad Payday and handful of mixed nuts, so I take off first. I know Savvy is gonna catch up fast, because 1. He told me that he crushes it on downhills and 2. He couldn’t get over how far ahead I got of him, and now it’s payback time. (He didn’t say that- that’s just my impression.) Sure enough, he passes me not 15 minutes later, leaving giant footprints in the patches of snow.
Down, down. So. Much. Down. It’s killing my feet. The friendly path slowly gets thinner, overgrown with very unfriendly plants that leave long scratches on my legs. Washouts abound, and I am getting so exhausted. All my enthusiasm from earlier is extinguished. A mountain biker races up and past me, making me jump and stumble. I hear Savvy up ahead yell at the biker as he shoots by.
The views are gorgeous, looming mountains all around, with hot flat valley in the middle. I can see Hwy 10 far, far down there. The cars are so small that they look like they are barely moving; like they are being pulled by a string in someone’s model diorama. I wish I could enjoy it more, but the trail has beaten me down for the day.
I’m limping when I find Savvy at our agreed upon camp spot. TnT show up and they are just as downtrodden. I pick a spot for my tent. It’s so windy, I can’t get my tent up. I waste 15 minutes looking for a better place. There isn’t any. I go back to my original spot. Savvy happens upon me and helps me fight the wind for a pretty damn good pitched tent. “I’m capable!” I say, feeling embarrassed that I needed help. I crawl under my quilt, spent. I can’t even look at my feet right now. I glare outside at all the beauty. I hate it. I love it. I hate it. I love it. I eventually grumble myself to sleep.