Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ben & Rosie Summit Mt. Whitney!

Rosie and Ben took a side trip off the trail and scaled Mt. Whitney earlier this week. At 14,505 ft., Mt. Whitney is highest peak in continental United States. When we talked with Rosie this evening she said the last four days have been the most incredible days of her life. Right after Whitney, they also went over Forester Pass (13,153 ft.), the highest point of the Pacific Crest Trail. Going up and over the pass and then coming down the steep grade was scary, but they came through fine. A couple of hundred other hikers are ahead of them so the trail was well marked and worn. Rosie said it has been comfortable hiking through the snow during the days even though they have been hiking at elevations between 9,000 and 12,000 feet every day. It does get pretty cold at night, but by the time it gets dark, Rosie said they are snuggled in their sleeping bags. Though parts of the climb have been very strenuous, Rosie said they are in the best shape of their lives so it hasn't affected them too much.

Right now they are off the trail at Bishop, CA getting resupplied. They will be staying in Independence (which is south of Bishop on Hwy 395) for the next two nights and then will pick the trail up again at Kearsarge Pass on Monday.

Their next major mail stop will be at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, arriving approximately July 1. You can mail things to them at:

C/O General Delivery
Tuolumne Meadows
Yosemite NP, CA 95389

Thursday, June 12, 2008

They Finally Make it to Kennedy Meadows

(Ben and Rosie arrived a Kennedy Meadows yesterday, the last stop before heading up into the Sierras. Kennedy Meadows marks the end of the desert, 700 miles into their hike to Canada. Here is the first part of Ben's massive Pocketmail journal entry. Most of what he is describing happened several weeks ago).

So that night at Hikertown we slept amongst shelves of old World War II hats, fuzzy Russian bombardier hats, old sheets, and a plethora of old Thrift Store clothes probably once used as props in various movies. It definitely felt like the actor's closet that time forgot. We woke up and said goodbye to the curiously intriguing sites of Hikertown into the winds of a desert filled with incredible Joshua Trees. So, we were off onto the famed aqueduct. Basically it was 20 miles of a flat, almost perfectly straight road walk that traversed the major supply of Los Angeles' water as it ran off the Sierras and was pumped to the suburban, congested metropolis south of us. As I mentioned before, this section was the subject of many a hiker story. In fact, this was supposed to be one of the hardest, hottest sections of trail, which could only be walked by night because that was the only time it was cool enough to pass through the desert safely without risking heat stroke. I recall, even, seeing a picture of some hikers (who had been brave enough to hike it under the full blazing afternoon sun) taking a mid-day nap under the only meager shade available for many miles: a small cement box that was raised above the aqueduct to allow access to the water system. For the small band of shade no bigger than a foot that the box provided, those guys were just plain desperate! Fortunately, everything we had seen and heard about the hot aqueduct walk was totally turned upside down as we sauntered along during a cold front in 70-degree temps with a nice breeze! There was even a guy who drove along on his day off and handed out cold sodas. I suppose he did that thinking that that stretch was going to be hotter than it was. So thank God for the unusual grace. We may very well have been the most spoiled, comfortable hikers to have ever crossed that aqueduct! As we passed the aqueduct and stepped off the flat road back onto the trail, it felt good to get back on a narrow path again. Somehow, walking on a road just feels a little unnatural and its nice to get back into what feels like wilderness again. So we walked along some rolling windswept hills and then bunkered down for a night in a teeny nook of the mountain where the wind wasn't beating us too much. Though the cold front brought with it cooler weather, it also brought pounding 60 mph winds - winds that we'd find over the next week were often hard to walk in as our bodies braced against them to try to maintain our balance without getting blown around like wind sails. So we got up from our niche in the valley the next morn, and from there walked into a mind-blowing section of the trail. Now we knew that the first 700 miles of the trail was desert. But up until this moment the desert had at least had some cactus blooms or Joshua trees or yucca - signs that even in a dry climate that received less than 10 inches of rain a year still gave some hints of green and life around us. But that morning we were walking through an entirely brown landscape. We walked over and through giant sand dunes that had traces of dead, twisted wood lying around that had been burnt and bleached by the hot sun. With not a single trace of green, this was a desolate place that felt like we were walking on an endlessly rolling beach, but there was no water or sea to be found anywhere around us. Only sultry, hot sand. The only trace of life in this area was the mountain bike tracks that ran willy-nilly across the PCT every now and again. Apparently these sand dunes were a playground for dirt bikes that plummeted down the mountainside. In fact, because the dirt bike trails cris-crossed the PCT so many times it was hard to distinguish the actual footpath at times, except that one could see the faint footprints in the loose sand. For this reason we actually came upon a girl who was hiking a section of the PCT and she had been lost for the last 4 or 5 hours all around the dunes. She had spent that morning wondering around the desert, confused and unable to find the trail after she had accidentally taken a path that was not the PCT and had aimlessly walked some 10 miles across these sandy mountains. It was very understandable that she could've gotten a bit turned around because there were no trees or rocks here and the whole place was just a vast expanse of desert that looked exactly the same. This was truly divine providence that we saw our lost friend, Quill. First of all, we had spent a good deal of the day playing around in the san dunes. This was unlike any other thing we'd ever seen and we spent a good deal of time taking photos, writing and drawing in the sand, and taking lots of breaks and naps on the soft sand. So because we spent a lot of time lollygagging around all our friends we were hiking with had gotten several hours behind us. This meant that they had all gotten ahead of Quill, although they thought she was ahead of them. You see, Quill had left camp first that morning trying to get a head start. But when she got lost off the trail all her hiking partners had unknowingly gotten ahead of her. In fact, when they got to the road to hitch into town, there was no sign of Quill and, as we later found out, had called Search And Rescue to go out and find her in the desert expanse. So had we not been taking it slow that day we would have never found Quill wondering near the PCT without even knowing that she was so close to the trail. Literally, had it been 2 minutes earlier or later, Rose and I would have never seen her.

Ben's PocketMail Part II

Rosie with her Mom in front of Rick Strausser's house in Tehachapi
(This is the 2nd part of Ben's most recent pocketmail journal)
So we saw our friend Quill and she was pretty shook up after being lost for near on 5 hours in the sandy desert. Her friends hiking with her had called search and rescue just in case because they hadn't seen her all day. This was very ironic considering her hiking partner's trail name was Hoffa, given to him because a search and rescue party had been sent out for him (even though he was never really lost) just weeks before due to a miscommunication with the forest service. In Hoffa's case there were even flyers posted with his picture because the forest service hadn't seen or heard from him in awhile. Fortunately, it never got that far for Quill. We found her and walked with her the rest of the way into town to help keep her mind off her aching blistered feet and her recent confusion. So we hit the road. Here a hiker has the choice to either hitch right to the town of Mojave, or left to Tehachapi, CA. Both are considered viable re-supply points for the PCT and probably each town gets about half the hikers coming through. Because we are town rats - we opted for both :) As soon as we hit the road, we saw the legendary white van that belonged to Gordon. Now Gordon is a very interesting character. The story goes - as I've heard from others and as I've talked to Gordon a few times myself - that he broke out of a nursing home to drive a giant white van that would support three of our fellow thru-hikers along their way: Nimblewill Nomad, Sheltowee, and Slider. So every day, those guys walk about 20 miles and Gordon drives his van over all sorts of backcountry roads (and his floorboards sure show lots of damage from the rocks and bumps) just so he can meet his three hiking friends and give them Gatorades, and snacks. Then the three hikers meet up with Gordon and stay wherever he has parked and then do it again the next day. The reason he is a bit of an icon on the trail, is that we (and those around us) see him at least one time a day and inevitably as we cross a road and pass his white van, he is playing the same tape with the same folk song about hiking (it's all he ever listens to). Then he hobbles slowly out of his truck and kindly offers us a free Gatorade - which is always most welcome after a hot day in the sun. Gordon is an older man who should be using a walker or a cane but refuses to do so because of his stubbornness. So when he walks, it takes him a very long time to amble out of his driver seat and to the back panel of the van where he keeps the cooler of icy Gatorade. I am pretty sure I could probably put down about two of those Gatorades in the time in takes him to walk around the van. But - we don't mind waiting a bit because this is what he loves to do. Gordon may not be able to walk very far or very fast like all the hikers around him, but he sure has a lot of love for those who do. And somehow the fact that he is out here doing this time after time and day after day getting no pay or no reward - except the sheer joy of helping us - that is just amazing. So we were very glad to see Gordon at the trailhead after descending through a wind farm with 100's of giant wind turbines hovering and whizzing over our heads as they collected free energy from the desert winds. So we jumped in Gordon's van and he took us into Mojave where we got a room at the Motel 6 to rest for a day. A side note: for anyone ever planning a trip to the west coast, I'd recommend not including Mojave in your itinerary. First of all - it is in the middle of the Mojave Desert, so it is a given that it is unbearably hot all summer long. What the winter is for the people of the Northeast and the Midwest - a time of hibernation inside - the summer is that to the people of Mojave. Often at 100 to 110 degrees, it is almost unthinkable to venture outside for anything more than just running to your car. Additionally Mojave is basically just a truck stop that runs parallel to a full service railway line (I say full service because all night long Rose and I could feel our hotel room shake from the roar of the trains as they passed by just across the street). Between the railroad ruckus and the domestic arguments that occurred in the middle of the night in the motel parking lot, our sleep was broken at best that night. On the upside, we re-supplied at the grocery store and got to go to the local Thrift store where Rosie found some fine additions to her hiker wardrobe and I bought a cute fluffy stuffed bunny with a floral dress (The purpose of the bunny was so that I could sneak it into one of my friend's packs when they weren't looking with a note that read, "Please take me to Canada, I'm cute." Thus it was merely a means to get some big, burly, bearded man hiker to carry a cute stuffed animal a a joke :) After spending a good deal of he morning overfilling our bellies with the giant potions of Denny's, we decided to make a late departure at 4 pm. This, of course, cut our miles down that we could do that day. But that was actually all part of the plan because, unexpectedly, we had just learned that we would get to see Rosie's parents in a few days and we had a few days to kill so we would meet them in the nearby town of Tehachapi. So we hitched out of the dumpy town of Mojave with hopes to walk another 8 miles, hit the next road and hitch back in to Tehachapi where we would meet Rosie's mom and dad. What we ended up with was far better than we could have ever hoped for. We stood outside of the town with our thumbs out for near to half an hour. Cars zoomed by us, pretending not to see us as we tried to look friendly for each potential ride that passed (in these instances I usually make Rosie stand in front of me because I think she looks less scary and less intimidating than a bearded man in red pleated skirt). It had become ridiculously obvious at this point that these people driving by us had probably never even heard of the Pacific Crest Trail and never had once thought about wearing a backpack for anything other than walking the halls of their former high school. After Denny's, we had tried asking some folks at the gas station for a ride and that had gone over like a lead balloon. Now we were standing on the highway with equally as much success. But then, just when we thought we might never get a hitch, a blue Chevy truck pulled over and we popped in without hesitation. This was Rick. He was a retired fire fighter and, as we would soon find out, an everyday hero of sorts. So Rick went out of his way to take us to the trail. He had performed lots of wilderness Search and Rescue work for hikers and climbers along the PCT in Central California.

A Moment to Feel like Royalty

(The following is an installation of Ben's Pocketmail Diary, I've tried to match it up with some of the many pictures they have sent)
Well. Here I sit on the futon of Rick Strasser (more about who he is in a minute). It is the last day of May and we have June and the Sierra Nevada mountains upon us. This week has been awesome, we have hit a stretch of hostels that took us in for free over and over again. About a week ago we stayed a couple of nights at the Saufleys and got shiny new shoes at a L.A. REI (after our shoes had exploded from 450 miles and my toes were sticking out of a gaping hole in the front). Then we hit the Andersons 24 miles later and then Hikertown in the teeny town of Lancaster, CA) 40 miles after that. So there has been no lack of hospitality in the desert. That means we have seen many of our friends staying at the same places we have been staying. But, after so much love, we are definitely ready to be out a few nights in our tent and out of civilization/rest land. The hostels were all run by fantastic hiker friendly people and were all very fun. Although all our compatriots agreed, Hikertown was a bit weird. Hikertown is run by a man who used to produce movies and has been involved in some biggies like "Gone in Sixty Seconds" and a few other select titles which I didn't recognize, but any Baby Boomer might well know. Anyway, I tell you this because he has converted his entire yard into a mini faux-prop set like you'd see in an old western (you know the kind where you see the gun fight scene in the street lined with the fronts of saloons and rickety houses). So that is interesting enough, but that mini little town is where he allows hikers to stay. These aren't just storefronts - they are actual buildings (actually just sheds designed to look like saloons, or depots, or groceries) and the hikers can set up camp inside these movie-worthy structures for night or two to escape the bitter heat of the Mojave desert. All of this would seem very quaint and fun at first sight. "How very novel," thinks the hiker as he or she walks into the gate after crossing a barren road and some cattle fields in the desert. But then you take a closer look at the back. Suddenly the quaint Hollywoodish appeal turns into a backyard littered with old broken down cars, scrap metal, and the makings of an old abandoned junk yard. Among the scrap and over grown grass sit old trailers once used as makeup trailers where actors would stay and get ready for their camera appearances. Somewhere in his movie career, the owner of Hikertown acquired these old rusty trailers and stripped them down to corrugated metal on blocks and lets hikers stay there in those in addition to the "mini wild west town". Now Hikertown is an oasis of sorts. It is the only place where one can stop and refill up water in a 30 or 40-mile stretch of the desert. After that you walk along the Los Angeles aqueduct for a flat 20 mile stretch in the wasteland that is the hottest part of the Pacifc Crest Trail - normally at some 110 blazing degrees. Of course, as we walked through this part, God was most gracious to us and gave us an unusual cold front that placed it at a much more comfortable 70 degrees. Nonetheless, most hikers have to at least stop here just to get water before walking on the gigantic steel pipes of the aqueduct for 20 miles where you can hear and feel water - but can't access it because it is buried under ground (Which puts a bitterly ironic spin on the phrase, "So close, but so far away".) Needless to say, Rosie and I were delighted to come in to refuel up after a long day and before we walked over the aqueduct. So we walked into the property and went into Richard's house (that is where the owner lived). At his house he made us some burritos and then, upon hearing we were honeymooners, insisted that he take some pictures in his 1954 Rolls Royce. That seemed like a rare opportunity, so we latched onto it and said we'd love to have some pics with such a rare car. So we all went outside to Richard's garage, and while they worked on cleaning the old dusty car up so it was picture worthy, we got the scoop on the car. Apparently, this was a million dollar car (unlike its rusty cousins in the back yard:). One of four ever made. This was a maroon 1954 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost that was made for Princess Margaret of England to sleep and tour around in a half-century ago in her heyday. Not only did Princess Margaret sleep in this car, but apparently Elton John had made an appearance or two in it. So for a moment, while Rich and two of his helpers vacuumed and buffed the sleepy celebrity car, we felt like we were part of history. We just wanted one quick picture with these unusual car- 30 seconds tops. But these guys had dropped everything and had spent a half-hour pulling out the bed in the back, shining the chrome, and dusting of the headlights just for us. We really felt like royalty just like Princess Margaret! This car had once made an appearance in movies, and they spared no trouble to make it look so good for us, too! So we got in the carefully cleaned car to take some pictures in Princess Margaret's traveling bed. No sooner were we lying on the plush velvet bed in the back of the Rolls Royce, and then Richard got the maroon velvet sheets the Princess had used, a bouquet of flowers, and some Champagne glasses and we were transported from the blustery desert to this very lap of luxury. Admittedly it was quite cozy and fun to "play queen for a day" (even if we had been wearing the same clothes for months ;) So, I thanked him for the photos, and had him show us to where we could sleep. It turned out that we ended up in the backside prop closet of one of the actor's trailers out in the grungy back yard. (He had offered for us to sleep in the Rolls, but we didn't want to steal any of Princess Margaret's thunder.) Continued...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pictures from the Last Month on (and off) the Trail

Ben seeks shelteer from the sun under a towering redwood tree.
Ben snaps a picture of Rosie resting her tired feet in a cool stream.

An awesome view from one of the highest points they saw in southern California, Mt. Baden-Powell.

Eddie gives Rosie a ride back to the trail. Eddie and his wife, Crystal were "lifesavers" for Ben and Rosie during the toughest part of the hike so far.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Heading Toward the Sierras

Ben, Rosie and several PCT thru-hikers celebrate the 500 mile mark a few days before they hit Tehachapi.

We heard from Ben and Rosie yesterday after they finished a break at Lake Isabella, CA. Rosie reports that they are both in good shape but that the weather has been a lot colder since they left the desert. They had to hitchike 40 miles off the trail and head west on Route 178 toward Lake Isabella. They said the Lake is awesome and it was a nice break before they head north to the base of the Sierras. Next stop will be Kennedy Meadows, the last stop before they start to climb up the southern tip of the Sierras. They will be up in altitudes as high as 13,000 feet and will also scale Mt. Whitney, the highest point in north America. Many thru-hikers "wait the snow out" at Kennedy Meadows, hoping for some snow melt so the trail is easier to see. Most experience hikers, don't head into the Sierras until after the 15th of June so Rosie and Ben are right on schedule. The expect to arrive at Kennedy Meadows at the end of this week.

Their next mail stop is Bishop, California. If you are planning to send them something, it should be there by June 20th. Mail your cards, letters or packages to:

Ben & Rosie Cubbage

PCT Thru-Hikers

c/o General Delivery

Bishop, CA 93514

We also received a lot of pictures from them and will post them up in the next few days, so check the blog again in a couple of days.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Reunion in Tehachapi

After a quick 24-hour reunion in Tehachapi, Rosie and Ben walk off into the sunset, with just over 2000 miles and 4 months to go.
Ben explains the markings on a Pacific Crest Trail Marker near Mojave, CA, just before they head toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Rose gives her "baton twirler" routine before they hit the trail.

Rosie and Ben pause for a picture with Benson before they started out again on Sunday, June 1. They expected to walk 17 miles that day.

Ben, Rosie and Virginia pose for Benson's camera during lunch.

After visiting Benson's relatives in the San Francisco area, we drove south another 5 hours to see Ben and Rosie in Tehachapi, CA, a small town east of Bakersfield. They were resting there for a couple of days after walking over 500 miles through the desert. Outside of a few aches and pains, they looked remarkably strong and fit and ready to tackle another 2000 miles to the Canadian border.

We thought it would be fun to do a "Question and Answer" session with Ben and Rosie so everyone could get a feel for what they are thinking and experiencing.

How has the hike been so far?
We’ve been very lucky and blessed. Most of the first 500 miles has been desert where we should have encountered 115-degree heat, but it’s been usually cool and comfortable. We had a few hot days, but not as many as we expected. And outside of a few aches and pains, we haven’t sustained any serious injuries that would stop us or slow us down. We also never got into a serious water shortage, where we ran out of water between stops.

How much does water (or the lack of it) determine what you do each day?
We basically hike from “water to water”. We are aware of every stop where we can get water and try to fill up when we can. It’s not practical to carry a lot of water so we have to take just enough to last us until the next stop. Now that we are through the desert, water will be more plentiful.

How many hikers are doing the whole trail (Mexico to Canada, 2650 miles) and do you see many of them out there?
About 300 “thru hikers” (those doing the whole trail) start out each year. Only about half of them actually finish. Some get injured, have family emergencies or just get tired and stop. After you’ve spent 3 ½ months just getting through California, by the time people get to Oregon, they start to get mentally and physically tired and quit. We generally run into 2 or 3 hikers a day. There are also a lot of “section hikers” (who just do certain parts of the trail) who will come out when the weather and conditions get better.
What’s been the most surprising thing?
It’s been incredibly surprising to see how kind, generous and helpful people have been. Two days ago, we we’re trying to hitch a ride into town and this retired Forest Service guy named Rick Strausser picked us up. We struck up a conversation with him and he treated us to dinner at a Chinese buffet. Then he offered us a place to stay (at his house) and the use of his truck even though he was leaving town! We were talking to a lady in the restaurant today and she gave us $20, then there was Eddie and Crystal and Doreen who gave us unbelievable help. All along the way, we have run into wonderful, helpful people. We are truly blessed!
What do you eat on a typical day on the trail?
Ben: I usually eat a bagel for breakfast and then I just eat 8-10 energy or candy bars during the day. At the end of the day we cook a meal (generally a pasta of some kind) and that’s about it. Rosie: I try to eat a bagel or some cereal and try to eat healthy during the day. I eat Cliff Bars or vegetables or trail mix throughout the day and then dinner at night.
What do your packs weigh? And what do you carry?
Generally about 30-40 pounds. It depends on whether we are coming off the trail or starting out on the trail. We each carry different things, but it’s basically our food and water, our tent, sleeping bags, clothes, camping gear and personal items. Sometimes we get to “slackpack,” when someone drives our packs ahead (like Eddie did) and we can hike with just our food and water. That’s a real treat.
What’s been your scariest moment so far?
: Being at the top of Baden-Powell, covered with snow and not being able to find the trail. It was very steep and scary. Rosie: Getting to the bottom of Baden-Powell and seeing the gate closed and realizing Eddie couldn’t get through to us with our packs.
What have learned in the first 550 miles of the hike?
: I’ve learned a lot about how Ben and I react to different things. As we talk and learn about each other, I'm more clear about how things are going to be. I'm learning a lot about hiking and how to live completely outdoors. Ben: I'm learning to let things go and not get too worried about things and how to walk with another person because I've done most of my hiking by myself.
What are your nights like?
We generally pick a place to camp about 7 p.m. We set our tent up and make some dinner. We might hang out for a while, but by the time it’s getting dark, we’re in the tent. I read the Bible to Rosie for about 15 minutes and then it’s lights out by 9.p.m. They say at 9 p.m. is “hiker’s midnight.”

Now that you’ve come through the desert and ready to tackle the Sierras, what are your thoughts about what lies ahead?
The Sierras are a bit tricky because of the snow. We’ve been taking a pause here in Tehachapi to give the snow some time to melt. Besides the difficulty of hiking through snow, it’s a lot easier to lose the trail when it’s covered by snow. Probably the most dangerous obstacle we face is crossing rivers that might be swollen by all the snowmelt. But it’s a lot easier with two people.
Whats’ your message to your adoring fans?
We love the trail and the experience. Even the tough days are really awesome. We send our love to you all and thank you for all your support.

More Pictures of Tehachapi

Rosie and Ben pose in front of a mural-sized postcard, sending their sentiments to all their family and friends.
Enjoying the modern comforts of a h0tel room, Rosie checks the internet while Ben snacks and watches some television.

Virginia and Rosie enjoy the reunion in Tehachapi, CA

Ben, Rosie and Viriginia settle down for some lunch at the Apple Shed, a favorite of PCT hikers.