Monday, May 26, 2008

Ben's PocketMail Diary

(We recieved this "diary" from Ben today. It describes the period of roughly May 7th through May 22nd. We combined the three emails that it took to send us this account of their travels. They are currently approaching the town of Mojave, CA).

We have to say that we have been very spoiled these past 2 weeks. Last time we talked we were in Big Bear, CA at about mile 265 on the trail. In Big Bear we stayed at Nature's Inn, a small hostel nestled in the center of the quaint mountain town. There we stayed two nights in a little honeymoon suite with a stone hot tub. Though we dearly love our Big Agnes tent and we sleep in it every night - it was a welcome change to take one of our first rest days there. After Big Bear City, we continued on the trail, walking about 15-20 miles a day. At mile 306, we came to a natural hot springs in the woods called Deep Creek Hot Springs. We soaked in the natural 110 degree springs and relaxed from a 22 mile day walking through the eerie black remains of an old forest fire (the black stumps of barren, burned trees were a stark and beautiful sight against the glowing orange sunset as we arrived at camp that night). After seeing our fair share of naked hippies in the hot springs, we walked along a river and over a mile-long dam of the Mojave River. As we crossed the dam we realized that we were just 6 miles away from Rose's old house in Hesperia, CA. So we jumped off the trail, and got a ride into Hesperia. It took awhile to get a hitch, but when we did it was so worth it because this old unpainted 1932 Ford hot rod picked us up and took us into town. Rosie hadn't been in this town since 2002 when she worked there as a hair stylist. So we called her old boss, Doreen and waited for Doreen to pick us up at the local grocery store. While we waited in front of the grocery store in our dirty hiking clothes sitting atop our worn and torn backpacks, a kind old lady came up and offered us change, thinking that we were homeless. We kindly refused and explained to her that we were just hikers. She blushed and walked away a little embarrassed. Then Doreen picked us up and took us back to her beautiful desert home in Victorville, CA. It was amazing! We were magically transported from the heat of the desert to Doreen’s cool house, hot showers, and incredibly fresh, huge tortillas. Then, after we were all cleaned up, Doreen's family let us borrow their cool southern California clothes and we dressed up and their family unexpectedly set us out on a little honeymoon date. The coolest thing was that Doreen just handed us the keys to her brand new Cherry red Corvette and told us to have a good night! We couldn't believe it - we had just been offered change and mistaken as homeless folks and now one hour later we were living large and driving to Los Angeles in a shiny Corvette. What a crazy life we lead! God has been abundantly good to us and showered us with unexpected surprises. So we slept at Doreen's house after cruising around Hollywood and seeing Rosie's cousin, Christina. Then we went to church with Doreen at High Desert Christian Church and hit the trail that afternoon. After saying good-bye to Doreen, we walked around Silverwood Lake for a couple of miles with a great view of the lake. Then a day or two later we walked through the desert underneath some powerlines and over dirt bike trails to hit one of the first and only McDonald's that's just right off the trail. For those driving by on Interstate 15 through Cajon Pass (near L.A.) the golden arches was just another sign of suburbia - to us hikers it was a beacon of hope and a milestone on the trail. Every hiker knows that at mile 342 you get a welcome change from eating Mac ‘n Cheese, Ramen, and Snickers. That welcome change is the McDonalds. So as we were sitting in McDonalds chowing down, Rosie's friends, Crystal and Eddie, walk in and totally surprised us. We had told them we would be near there and left a message on their phone. Then we were hoping to call them from a payphone, but there was none at the McDonalds. So just as we were sitting there wondering how we were going to meet them they walked in, swept us up and in a few minutes we were riding crammed into their white Blazer with our packs. Like Doreen, Crystal and Eddie were some old friends of Rosie from a couple years back when Rose lived and worked in the High Desert area. Back then, Rosie was going through the lowest point of her life, struggling with the heartbreak and disappointment of a tough break up with her ex-boyfriend, Ross. Rosie had moved away from the High Desert because she needed a change from the rough road she was experiencing there. Little did she know that as she was driving away from that place she was hoping to forget, that she would again walk through the High Desert on the Pacific Crest Trail. This was a story of redemption. God has, since her heartbreak and addictions of the past, saved her from all those things. Now Rose walks through saved, whole, and completed. She has not only been saved from her past, but is married and doing something she never thought possible 5 years ago. As Doreen remarked, "Rose, we never thought you'd be here. We thought you'd be doing hair for the stars in Hollywood." It’s funny to see how God works and how things change. Anyway, Eddie dropped us off at the trail and picked us up for a couple of days and we got to slack pack and then go back to Eddie and Crystal's house and get a warm meal and a nice bed. That was Amazing! One day Eddie was scheduled to pick us up on a dirt forest road, but as he was driving he came to a closed gate. Unwilling to give up at the gate, not wanting to leave us stranded at the trail, Eddie lifted the gate, popped the lock off and cruised up the mountain to pick us up at the top. That night, after breaking through the gate and driving over several wash outs, we went to the county fair and ate funnel cake, saw a live bear show, listened to live country music, and rode the Ferris wheel.... continued in next email...

So we got to see and do a lot of things with Crystal and Eddie. They even took us In 'N Out Burger and Target to restock our supplies. The last day we stayed with them, Eddie was again supposed to pick us up at the trail as we walked over 9,400 foot tall Baden-Powell Mountain. But somehow, things just didn't go as planned. First of all Baden-Powell is one of the tallest mountains we have yet encountered. That means that though the surrounding lower areas are covered in desert scrub brush and hot sand, Baden-Powell is still covered in snow from this past winter. We had heard reports that many hikers had to get down off the trail because the top 1,500 feet of the mountain were absolutely unavailable because the snow pack was so thick. I had even hear rumors it was only passable with snowshoes and an ice axe. Having neither and wearing just tennis shoes, Rose and I figured we'd give it a go in hopes that some of that snow from earlier reports had melted. Some snow had indeed melted and it was pretty smooth sailing up until 8,500 feet. Then, however, the small melting, muddy patches of snow turned into an entire 5 foot thick blanket of mushy mash potato snow that made it impossible to recognize any semblance of the many switchbacks of the PCT. We were now climbing the north face of the mountain and that meant it was totally shaded and none of the snow had melted. So we fumbled around and got a bit lost, not knowing where the trail was. We tried to follow the footprints ahead of us, but they had all melted and it was hard to find any path of any sort by anyone who had walked before us. So all we knew was that the trail went through the snowy conifer forest to the bald top of Baden-Powell. With that information, we gave up on trying to find the buried trail and made a steep and straight line to what we thought was the top of the mountain. So in a frustrating and tiring last push, we bushwhacked and post holed through the deep snow, forging our own path until we reached the top. With every step, I sank into the snow and my whole mesh shoe filled with freezing snow! Many times we slipped and slid down the slick, steep side of the mountain, only to get up drenched in chilly moisture. Finally after the long slog and kicking many steps in the sinking snow, we reached the ridge where the sun had warmed the snow and it was much less thick than it was below. From there we found the trail and Summit-ed Baden-Powell. This had been one of the hardest and most trying climbs of our month of hiking. But to get to the top made it so worth it. We could see everything! As we celebrated in the 50 mph winds on the top, we could see the skyline of downtown L.A., the tips of the Sierras (where we would exit the desert in a few weeks), the brown, barren sand dunes of Death Valley, and even glimmers of the Pacific Ocean! It was kind of like how God saw everything as He looked down with loving omniscience on our busy lives! So, we headed off Baden-Powell and started a long knee-jarring descent. After again losing the trail due to the thick snow pack, we scurried down the beautiful alpine ridge, seeming so far from the smog of L.A. and the sultry desert heat we looked upon from afar. Then after a long, tiring day we dropped down to Highway 2 that ran through the San Gabriel Mountains (almost parallel with our PCT footpath) and hoped to meet Eddie there. Instead, we were extremely disappointed to find that there was, yet again, another large iron gate that read,” Road Closed". We weren't quite sure what that meant, but we knew that Eddie couldn't break through this gate and save us this time. We suddenly remembered reports that Highway 2 was closed due to rockslides. So we called Eddie and told him there was no way he'd be able to pick us up as he'd planned. We tried to figure out if he could drive around, but the only available detour meant going several hours around the mountains and meeting us on other side of Highway 2. It kind of seemed like we were stuck, and we had left all our stuff at Eddie's house not knowing the rock slides would keep him from picking us up. So we did what we had to do: we walked through the "Road closed" gate and continue back to meet Eddie. We told Eddie to drive as far as he could on the road and we'd meet him on the other side of the closure. What we didn't know was how long the closure was. We had hoped it was only closed for a mile or two and we could meet him in a few minutes just down the road... It turned out that our hopes were sadly mistaken. We had to road walk another 10 or 12 miles up and down this steep and winding mountain road! This was, of course, after we'd already walked the tiring 16 miles up and down Baden-Powell and had gotten lost a few times. Just when we thought we couldn't take any more, now we had to backtrack everything we had already walked and end up at the parking lot at the base of Baden-Powell where we had started earlier that day. So we sucked it up and road walked on our already blistered feet. The walk was quite monotonous, but at least God gave us a beautiful full moon to walk under. So, finally we made it to other side of the closure 3 or 4 hours later and went to the parking lot where we thought Eddie would be faithfully waiting for us. When we arrived, tired and worn out having just walked our first marathon day, we couldn't find Eddie's truck. We had thought for sure he'd be there since that was clearly where the road had reopened after we passed a series of marked gates and construction cranes. It was 10 o'clock at night and the trailhead was empty and quiet. We did spot 2-parked cars and decided to check them out thinking maybe one of them might somehow be Eddie. It turns out that one car was empty and one car was a homeless man who was living out of his cluttered truck in the parking lot away from society. So we rapped on his truck window and asked him if he'd seen Eddie. He startled awake and jumped out of his dimly lit truck. Once he regained his bearings we asked him if he'd seen Eddie and he said that he had and even offered to drive up the road a bit in the middle of the night to call him at a place that had cell phone reception. So we took him up the offer, though the circumstances were a little strange because we didn't know what else to do. No sooner had the kind homeless man drove away to make the call than we heard Eddie driving up to pick us up! We were so happy to see him coming to rescue us from our tired, worn out state. We slept really well that night and took a rest day the next day with Eddie and his family. But we still had one more obstacle...

...Our last obstacle was going to be figuring how to get back to the trail. We had road walked for almost 12 miles off the trail to get to the other side of the rockslide closure. That was an unplanned inconvenience to say the least, one that we didn't want to repeat if we could avoid it. But our other options to get back to the trail were looking dim; we couldn't drive to where we'd gotten off the trail and it really would have been ridiculous to drive several hours out of the way just to make up the distance we had already backtracked (especially with gas prices the way they are). So we brainstormed and came up with the answer... Early the next morning we pulled up to where the road had been closed and where we met Eddie at the parking lot. We unhooked Eddie's dirt bike and brought it out of the truck. This was the answer. A car could not go through the barriers, but this little dirt bike could. So I loaded up on the back of his motorcycle with my backpack on and he drove me over the road past the rock slides so that we didn't have to walk the road again. The rockslides weren't too much of a problem because Eddie could navigate around the debris on the side of the road furthest from the loose rock wall which much fewer rocks on it. So we got to take a sunrise ride on the dirt bike on a road that was entirely ours. Probably no one had driven on this road for years and here we were busting through to the Pacific Crest Trail on a stealth mission. So Eddie made 2 trips - first to drop me off and then he took Rose. I must say I never have ridden on the back of a dirt bike with a full backpack, but that morning that was the strange and wonderful way we got to the trail. When we showed up all our friends were curious how we showed up from nowhere and we told them the whole story. So we said goodbye to Eddie and thanked him for going to so much trouble as he drove off doing a wheelie into the morning mist. After we left Eddie, we walked more over the mountains that hovered above the desert. We walked 15 or 20 miles for three more days. After taking it slow with Eddie, there were 15 hikers that caught up with us so we found ourselves in a pretty good-sized pack. After walking through a totally exposed section of the desert that had no shade (almost at 105 degrees) we were ready again for another rest. So we camped on this beautiful ridge 5 miles from the town of Agua Dulce. After the heat (especially through the burnt remains of an old brush fire that left the desert totally barren) we were happy to come to the Saufleys. The Saufleys is the most popular hostel on the PCT run by former PCT thru-hikers, Donna and Jeff Saufley. It really is quite an amazimg place. You walk in from the trail and Donna Saufley takes your dirty hiker clothes and does all your laundry for you, then you can borrow any of their extra Thrift store clothes while they are washing your laundry. And it's always nice being honeymooners because try gave us our own honeymoon suite in their spare trailer. There must have been 30 hikers there, staying and camping all over the Saufley's yard. They even had 4 giant white circus event tents set up with 4 or 5 cots in each. Where the people didn't fit in the white tents they were sleeping willy nilly everywhere in cots and mattresses. It was like an overflowing homeless shelter for hikers! Now we are just a couple of days from the town of Mojave at mile 555. Thank God that it is cooling down now and tempertures are decreasing down to the 70's. It even rained this morning. So we're gonna keep trekking and loving the good times. We thank God and all our family for the care and the care packages at the Saufleys. We couldn't do it without you!

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