The Night of the Wind and Moon and Flowers
After Nick flew back into palm Springs, we made our way back to Ziggy and the Bear's to continue the trail where we left off. the desert heat was overbearing that day, so we hung around in the shade until the sun started to dip towards the horizon, weakening it's barrage on the desert floor. morale was high due to our collective time off, our desire to be back into the mountains, and our hesitant excitement to see a rattlesnake. We were now all together, a crew ready to tackle the remaining 2,400 miles.
As we began climbing into the sunset, we passed our first windfarm, and for good reason. On the bluffs separating the San Bernardino mountains from the desert floor the wind blew persistently and aggressively, and as to be expected, we found ourselves acting like boys, using our bodies and backpacks like sails go catch the wind and push us around. We yelled and laughed at the top of our lungs, but the powerful gusts drowned our noise in its constant roar.
Once the sun set, the wind abruptly ceased as we began the first of our many night hikes. However, this night was far different from our other night hikes. We were climbing towards the mountains through an area called the White Water Preserve, but the landscape was still desertlike—grasses and short shrubs dotted the hills and valleys. What made this night hike different, though, was the moon. It had risen over our backs bright and full, illuminating the earth with its soft silvery glow. Because there were no trees to shade it's light, we could see for miles in all directions. As it continued to rise higher, it eliminated our need for headlamps. And so we hiked for hours under the smile of the moon through the quiet, barren places that were so close to a city, yet so far from being civilized, the soft sand swishing under our feet and the dark bushes outlining the our trail.
Our destination for the evening was Mission Creek, a small stream that stretched its life-giving moisture to the desert from its source high in the mountains above. When we finally dropped into the creek bottom, sometime after midnight, we quickly found a soft spot for out tent meet feet from the water, which being this far down, was a small gurgling brook. Camp was set, sleep was around the corner, but I was greatly distracted.
That day awed my senses. Feeling the wind tear at my skin, seeing the moon light the world, hearing the water splash over rocks, but the sensation that filled me the most was the fragrant aroma of the trees blossoming next to the creek. They say that memories are tied to the senses, and that smell is the strongest link; I believe it to be true. Never had I experienced such a wonderful aroma as this. It was like walking into a greenhouse dedicated to only growing the best flowers, except that there was no humidity and the cool breeze kept the smell from being overbearing, though I doubt there was much risk to that.
I wish I could describe a sensation that can only be experienced. But I can, without a doubt, say those flowers, whatever they were, put even the most pleasant roses to shame. I have never experienced a fragrance so sweet, rich, wonderful, and delightful in my life. As I drifted to sleep, the aroma cemented the day's hiking deep in my memory.
Who Would Have Expected?
The next two days to Big Bear were highlighted by heat, a climb, the forest, a zoo, some trail magic, and a bit of luck.
We followed Mission Creek to its source, which started off as a relatively easy grade upwards in the cool of the early morning (i think we were hiking by 5am that day). But as the sun climbed with us, temperatures began to soar. I'm order to climb the 5,000 vertical feet necessary to get us into the San Bernandinos, the grade of the trail increased, much to my dismay. My green legs were fine on the flat stretches, and I could climb the short day hikes in WA without much trouble, but I was not ready for a more 20 mile days with weight and a climbing. I was slow, and the heat made it worse.
Before we got high enough into the mountains where the tall evergreens gave sanctuary from the heat, we went through a valley we aptly named "Valley of the Saws." There was in it made by human hands, but for a half mile stretch of trail, hundreds of some species of cicada/grasshopper/cricket/bug made a noise that sounded like a circular saw cutting, complete with the characteristic pitch change that happens as a saw moves through a board. How a creature was able to create such a metallic sound is beyond me, but it was eerily interesting nonetheless. At least it wasn't hundreds of rattlesnakes warning us to stay away.
The timber was a welcomed relief, not only because of the shade it offered, but it meant we were out of the desert. Once we were above 7,000', our path mellowed and rolled along the Ridgeline of the San Bernandinos. That night we hiked through a beautiful sunset and made camp a couple hours later.
We were on the trail again early the next morning with only a day's hike between us and Big Bear. The trail merged with old mountain road that clearly provided access for gold panning, lumber harvesting, camping, and other mountain activities. Chris and Nick pulled ahead of me again, which was fine because I was enjoying the bright morning in silence.
I came to an intersection that, on my Guthooks app, said led to a private zoo. I was intrigued, but it looked off trail and neither Nick nor Chris were waiting expectantly for me, so I assumed we weren't going to investigate. Instead I spent 15 minutes stretching, ate a snack, and began moving again. To my surprise, 500 yards later the trail passed a series of fenced enclosures home to various creatures of all shapes and sizes, including multiple bears, a panther, and a huge male lion. Though I could only get within 25 yards due to an exterior fence, I excitedly watched the animals lounging about. It turns out it was a "zoo" that was home to retired movie animals...unfortunately it didn't seem too well maintained and the enclosures liked too small. But how often do you see a real lion while you're hiking in the woods?
A few hours later I caught up to Chris, but in an unexpected manner. I rounded a bend in the trail, and there he was with his shoes off, sitting on a couch, drinking a soda. We were still in the middle of the woods. So I too pulled a soda out of the metal dumpster next to the couch, and joined him. Turns out that every summer, the Big Bear hostel, which we stayed at later that night, takes a couch out to the trail and stocks the dumpster with goodies. It was certainly the best piece of trail magic we had come across so far.
The afternoon wore on, and we finally made it to highway 18, which was our access point to Big Bear. We sat around contemplating how to get into town since we didn't have any luck with the number associated with a trail angel that would supposedly give us a ride. Right as we decided to hitch, a little piece of luck floated our way. A full-sized Ford van with "taxi" written on the side pulled up to the small parking lot and let a single passenger out, so also liked like a through hiker. The driver quoted us a fee we were willing to pay, and within 5 minutes of deciding how to get to town, we were on our way much faster than a hitch.
We were dropped off at the hostel, arranged our things in our room, and began the quest for food. The hostel owner had worked with restaurant and shop owners for years to set up deals for tenants, so we took advantage of one at the local Thai restaurant. We each ordered two entrées for the price of one. Unfortunately, we discovered that the common Seattle practice of designating spiciness with the star system didn't translate so well to this small-town venue. Our hunger and our difficulty handling the spiciness were in direct conflict with each other, but eventually hunger won out, much to the detriment of our palette.
We consoled ourselves by going to an empty bar (it was a Tuesday night) for drinks and a couple rounds of cutthroat. Passing out that night in a bed was wonderful, our bellies full and our spirits high.
We spent the next day running our laundry list of errands required during a zero day, including laundry and finding a donut shop. Pro tip: if you ever need to use public transportation in Big Bear, make sure you have exact change and enough of it to pay every time you step onto the bus. Turns out the big-city practice of offering a transfer ticket for multiple rides during a set time is absurd—according to the cranky bus driver that is just a free ride...
Later that night Chris attempted the Grande Burrito Challenge at a small Mexican restaurant, but he had ruined his appetite eating too many snacks and a small meal before. I don't know if I've ever seen him so disappointed. Another night in a bed made up for it, especially since we were out the door before 5am the next morning. We hitched back out to the trail and were on our way to Cajón Pass, a magical place rumored to have a Taco Bell and McDonald's right next to the trail...