Monday, May 12, 2008


Ague Dulce, CA

Dear all-

Well, our idle in Idyllwild lasted a bit longer than we planned... six days! But that was just fine. We can't reach Kennedy Meadows, the southern gateway to the High Sierras, too soon before June 15th or we'll just have to camp out there waiting for the snow to melt. For anyone interested, you can check out Postholer to see what kind of snow averages we are up against this year. Some places in Washington and Oregon have experienced more than 200% of the yearly average! And in case you don't know, postholing is when you are walking in snow up to your thighs!

As I was saying, Idyllwild was just fine with us. We even came into a routine: wake up to birdsong at the campground, walk up to Cafe Aroma and stay there as long as possible reading the NY Times, sipping coffee, eating their excellent daily omelet and chatting with the locals. In fact, we made the acquaintance of quite a few very nice folks, were treated to breakfast once and even have invitations to visit! "This journey will change your lives", we were reminded by one of our new friends. This was very true of the AT for me. I met my husband, for one thing, and didn't use a hair brush for about a year afterward for another... I can't really explain how I changed, but I did.

But the time came to move along. A Swiss-American couple, whom we have befriended and have been camping with many nights since, turned up in Idyllwild and we all hiked out together. Actually, by coincidence, a second Swiss-American couple turned up at the campground, too. They were both Triple Crown veterans, having hiked the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, and so of course gave us a ride to the jeep road back to the trail. They were on their way to a trail reunion with their two little girls.

From the other side of Fuller Ridge, we hiked down into San Gorgonio Pass where I-10 and the Southern Pacific RR cut through the mountains. Though we could see exactly where we were going, this took two days of long, long, tediously long switchbacks over about 25 miles while losing about 6000 feet of elevation. When we reached the pass we were nearly blown away by the incredible winds that have inspired multiple wind farms along the freeway. Walking the two miles through the pass was exhausting. We were walking into the wind while slogging through deep, shifting sand. I was actually delighted to reach the I-10 bridge and collapse in its shade and windbreak! Reason was very happy to see all of this renewable energy put to work! We of course camped in sight of the Mesa Wind Farm, listening to the hum of windmills throughout the night. Not surprisingly, there is a failed residential development in this very area. Something about the busy freeway, constant trains, and unrelenting winds apparently deterred buyers.

We've become much stronger and faster since then, hiking up to 25 miles a day. In fact, because we missed a sign in the dirt that our friends Scratches and Oasis left for us, we hiked a 22 and a 25 trying to catch up with them. They showed up here at the hostel very late on the third day, having hiked about the same miles trying to find us! Generally, the trail tread and grade are fairly gentle. This is in sharp contrast to the Appalachian Trail where the trail goes up and down mountains all day long, gaining and dropping thousands of feet of elevation all the way. We've now hiked just over 454 miles. By this point on the Appalachian Trail my knees and hips ached throughout the night. Haven't much thought about them on this hike so far. Mostly I notice how filthy I am: the trail is considerably dusty and we don't have the luxury of wasting water on hygiene.

We are currently in Agua Dulce, CA, north of the San Fernando valley. We are camped out at Donna and Jeff Saufley's house. Both hikers and active in the PCT community, they open their two acre yard every year for any and all hikers to take a load off. In fact, Donna even does our laundry. When a hiker walks through the gate of the Saufley's, which is marked with a PCT symbol, they are met with a bulletin board instructing the "wretched refuse of your dusty trail" to grab a towel, some sweatpants and a Saufley Electric t-shirt (Jeff is an electrician), and a laundry basket and get started with the business of getting clean. Donna is the arch angel of Trail Angels! There is an old RV and a trailer in the back yard for the hikers as well as tents with cots, a firepit and a grill. The garage is stacked to the ceiling with hiker resupply packages. There have only been about ten of us here, but in a few weeks there will be 30-40 hikers here each night. At that point Donna will have a big tank filled with water and will add some port-o-lets. Though we have been cleaning up after ourselves and pitching in with chores where we can, there is NO CHARGE to stay here or use any amenity. Reason and I plan to leave a nice donation.

Other amenities at the Saufley's include a herd of nine dogs of various shapes and sizes, two draft horses, several laptops with internet, a full kitchen, bicycles, and a car! Our little group wanted to go to REI for new gear, so off we took Big Red the enormous old Chevy Suburban to the LA suburbs. Since I actually lived in LA once upon a time, I was elected to pilot this land boat down the 14, the 5 and the 405 into town. The thing was so big that I needed passenger assistance to make the merge on the sixteen lane 405/5 interchange! My knuckles were a bit white, and 70 mph seemed so fast after topping out at 3mph on foot, but I returned Big Red to the Saufley's without a scratch!

Well, there is so much to tell. Like about how we were in a recreation area on a Saturday and came across a group of men drinking beer, steering tricked-out Jeeps down frighteningly vertiginous dirt roads, and generally having a blast on a beautiful blue day. We were as much in awe of their feat as they were of our hike. They literally showered us with sausage biscuits, iced tea and fried chicken! Yep, fried chicken!! We hiked so fast after that infectiously exciting encounter that we reached the road early, bought a twelve pack, and hiked back to find our friends and share the brew! Though we had no shotgun, we tossed the discharged shells littering our campsite near I-15 at our empty cans in celebration. When in Rome, ...

Also, we hiked over 9000 ft Mt. Baden-Powell. It was covered in soft snow, and we were a bit intimidated by the snowboarders coming down the trail. But we have to get ready for more difficult stretches in the Sierras. Though Reason and Oasis would have kept going up the snowy slopes to the exposed ridge at 3:30 in the afternoon, their wives Cruiser and Scratches suggested a more cautious approach. Let's camp at this flat, less snowy place half way up and tackle the ridge in the morning, said the wives. "The smart people get two votes," said Reason, "and the husbands get one!" Obviously, we tackled the ridge the next day without having to race the sun. It was a blast! The ridge was literally divided by north and south, the south side hot and dry and full of scampering lizards and the north side a field of snow! We simply walked along the wall of snow on the dry edge!

This may be too many switchbacks for some of you, so I will stop now. Suffice it to say that we are having fun, staying safe despite multiple sightings of rattle snakes and poison oak, eating a LOT (Scratches and I rejoice that we no longer have to pretend that we are thirsty when we are hungry!), and are inspired to hike the Continental Divide Trail, ski the Iditarod, cycle across the country, and learn more about the G series of trails in Europe!

Our love to you all!


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