Highlights: We hiked out of Idyllwild with the intention of doing the road walk around the old fire closure there, and quickly decided the road that we were on was a death trap, and found a safe(ish) place to hitchhike around it. We got a ride to the Paradise Cafe where we had humongous burgers and hiked on via the trail from there. We are hiking through lower elevation territory with many cactuses and other plants all thorny or spikey. We are lucky that the weather is staying relatively cool. We hiked into Warner Springs to pick up our package at the post office and got intercepted by a trail angel there, Lawrence the spring guy, who coaxed us into staying for leftover spaghetti dinner with blueberry pie and showers at the community center. We carried on past Eagle Rock to Julian where we decided to spend the night, although we really didn’t need a night in a hotel- it would be our last one of the trail!
Day 116: Idyllwild to Mile 140, about 16 miles
October 25th: We got up and looked for a place to eat for breakfast. As usual, our hiker schedules meant we were up before anyone else, and the only thing open was the Town Bakery. This bakery had unbelievably delicious pastries and we totally pigged out on their egg and ham turnovers and the cinnamon buns. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. This bakery is even better than the one in Stehekin. No joke!
We headed out of town looking for the road to Paradise Cafe. We were armed with a map that Ziggy and the Bear gave us, but with no road or trail names on it, we decided to just ask some locals for directions. We were meant to walk on road 243 then on route 74 to get there. We started walking, and the road got more and more hairy. It was a Saturday, and Idyllwild is a tourist town, so everyone and their families were out driving this “scenic” (read: windy as all hell with no shoulder) road going 50-60mph. It got so bad that I started not being able to walk on the correct side of the white line marking the edge of the road because it was so close to the guard rail, and the other side of the guard rail was a 45 degree cliff. I could almost feel the cars nearly brushing up against me as they were trying to squeeze through these narrow corners, still going twice the speed limit. I was shaking and yelling at Dirt Stew who was walking ahead of me. “We’re going to die! We’re going to die!”
The minute there was a tiny amount of space on the side of the road we stopped walking and with absolutely no hesitation we agreed we had to get the heck out of there. Getting killed by walking on a highway road at the end of our hike would be the stupidest way to go. I was angry that we wound up hitch-hiking because we had done so many annoying road walks that now seemed pointless. In the end, the whole hike is in some sense pointless– sometimes you get carried away in the details of keeping a continuous footpath, or being a purist, or whatever your goals are. We all create rules for ourselves and then when reality forces you to do something different, you start to question the whole thing. Oh well, we could always come back and hike around Idyllwild, we said to each other.
We got to Paradise Cafe, and ordered burgers, which of course made everything better.
As we hiked on, we ran into a trail angel, Mary, who had stocked one of the water caches for us, and was in the middle of trying to plant a cottonwood in hopes that it would provide some shade for hikers in the future. We tried to help her plant the tree, but cutting the plastic pot off of the tree roots was a one person job, so we thanked her and carried on with our hike. The trail was easy, so I worked on learning my state capitals and finally camped on a slanty spot near the trail sometime after dark.
Day 117: Mile 140 to Mile 112.5, 27.5 miles
October 26th: The water sources have been quite regular in these areas thanks to many trail angels. We came across a cistern which was set up to catch rain water. As I admired the setup and looked in at the yellowish water, a cactus came up behind me and started stabbing me repeatedly in the back of the leg. This cactus had two lines of attack: it had larger, longer pointy spines for general stabbing purposes, and then if you managed to get past those (which somehow I did), it had much smaller splinter-sized spines which it deposited all over you by the thousand. I spent most of the day trying to pick these off of me, wondering how they’d manage to get into places like the liner of my shorts. Soon after the cactus incident, I managed to walk straight into a yucca, which jabbed me javelin style right into my shin. I grabbed my bleeding leg and hopped around on one foot whimpering. Everything was out to get me. We camped not too far from Warner Springs in a valley with oak trees.
Day 118: Mile 112.5 to Mile 100, 12.5 miles
October 27th: We woke up before the break of dawn to the sound of hooting owls and I lay there for a minute listening. We hiked into Warner Springs and waited for a short time for the Post Office to open. It was a crisp cool morning, and there was fog in the valley. By the time we got our packages and packed up, the fog had lifted and the cool air was quickly being warmed up by the sun. We had just got back on the trail when we saw a man walking up to us with a large hat on waving.
“I’ve been looking for you guys” He said. I wondered who this person was, but he obviously knew who we were.
“Looking for us?” I asked.
“Yes, Dormouse and Dirt Stew! The GPS team. Thanks to you, I met Robert and Adrian, and I’ve been looking for Sadie too.” He said.
He had read my blog and was using it to track down all the southbounders to meet them on their way through Warner Springs. He got some leftover spaghetti dinner out of his car, and promised us more food if we came over to the community center when it opened. Then he told us this whole long story about how he had done research to find an alternate route around the fire closure in Idyllwild, and printed out maps for us, driving them all the way to Ziggy and the Bear’s with an explanation of how we were supposed to go to avoid “Deadman’s road” as he called it (road 243). We had gotten the maps from Ziggy and the Bear, but with no explanation!
“You think you’re doing this low-impact hike, and then there are people like me driving all over the place trying to get you maps and burning gas…” He joked. I felt bad that we hadn’t managed to figure it out. Again, people were out there running around doing things behind our back to help us out while we are hiking along, blissfully unaware.
We hung out with Lawrence for several hours until the Community Center opened up, and then had more spaghetti with meatballs, blueberry pie and took showers in the stalls they had set up for hikers outside. They had a couple of painfully slow computers which I quickly became to frustrated to try to use to update our blog, but I did manage to check my email and found a message from Mark, the guy we had given water to at the top of Fuller Ridge. I was very happy to see the email, knowing it meant he made it safely, but when I went to read it I was in shock. Despite our best efforts to help him by giving him all our spare water, he still did not have enough. He had resorted to drinking a quart and a half of his own urine to make it to the faucet at the bottom of San Jacinto. “If we hadn’t crossed paths, I would have wound up calling in a rescue…” He wrote. He was now safely at Ziggy and the Bear’s drinking Gatorade to rehydrate. For the rest of the day, I kept rethinking the scenario and wondering what we could have done differently. He should have gone back to the last water source once he realized there was not going to me another source. The desert is no joke, and from Fuller Ridge, where you are nearly at 9,000 ft and in pine trees, you don’t necessarily think about how hellishly hot and shade-less it will be once you go down 8000ft in elevation… If only we could have helped him more.
Outside the community center, a coyote was out in plain daylight trying to hunt. Lawrence told us that was unusual, as coyote’s usually hunt a night or dusk, but given the drought, it was probably desperate. They had gotten no rain yet this year in Warner Springs, and last year they got a grand total of 3 inches. How’s that for the desert?
We left Warner Springs with full bellies and miles to hike. A scorpion sat in the middle of the trail, welcoming us back. It was poised and ready to attack when we got close to take its picture.
We made it to Eagle Rock, a rock formation that happens to look like an Eagle and then hiked a few more miles to camp.
Day 119: Mile 100 to Julian (mile 77), 23 miles
October 28th: We hiked on through what feels more and more and more like the desert. We got to another water cache, and I sat down next to the trail register to see how far ahead our friends were. “OWWWWW!” I yelped. I sat directly on a bit of cactus that was now imbedded into my butt. Dirt Stew started laughing. “Be more careful where you sit!” He said. I spent some time picking the spikes out of my butt, and cursed the desert. Half an hour later, Dirt Stew sat on the same stupid cactus.
Despite the lack of water, there are a few animals and insects that live in the desert. We came across a humongous black insect with orange wings. It was the size of several quarters next to each other. I quickly walked past it as fast as I could, and then seconds later heard Dirt Stew scream like a girl behind me. “Holly crap! That thing flew straight towards me!” He said, running frantically.
We hiked on towards Scissors Crossing through the shade-less desert and hitchhiked into town. We got a ride from a level 4 maximum security prison guard, who told us stories about the mafia members he has to guard. “Not a job for everyone” he said. No kidding. We got a hotel room and finished our chores as quickly as possible.