Aloha from Big Bear Lake, CA. We crossed Highway 18 this morning and, serendipitously, caught a ride into town within seconds. A forewarning about this post: blogging today from my phone, so formatting may get a bit wonky.

We last checked in from the adorable mountain hamlet of Idyllwild, where we connected with our good friends Brad and Alice for a few days of hiking and companionship. They made it all the way from Somerville, MA just to spend time with little old us – we were honored.

Walking out of town, we immediately started ascending. Up the main drag. Up the Devil’s Slide access trail. Up, up the PCT. Still up farther all the way to the top of Mt. San Jacinto, the second tallest peak in Southern California at 10,834 feet. Quite the wake up for our friends (and us), but worth it for the sublime view of the desert floor 9000 feet below. To the west, we watched clouds gather lazily below.

After a few minutes of reveling at the summit, we quickly descended to try to find a campsite before dusk. Our ultimate digs weren’t the most comfortable, but the sunset was unreal: The next morning we loaded up on water for a 20-mile waterless stretch down the (admittedly) mind-numbing Fuller Ridge. Mirroring the climb up Jacinto we descended interminable switchbacks all day long, forfeiting 9000 feet of hard-earned elevation. Brad and Alice remained in good spirits, even as blisters and soreness set in, and managed not to obliterate me after I insisted we tack on five laborious miles through beach sand at the end of the day. We must have looked like lost puppies as we zig-zagged our way around wind farms and beneath highway overpasses.

With unseasonable desert rain in the forecast, we huddled with about thirty other hikers that night at the home of Ziggy and the Bear, trail angels who live outside of Cabazon. From puppies to sardines for an authentic thru-hiker experience.

The next morning we opted to “zero” in Palm Springs to escape the thunderstorms. I’m not sure if it ever did open up, but Veggie was captured by a stomach bug that would have made hiking ill-advised anyways. We were grateful to be in the company of friends, experiencing the comfortable ghost-town that is a Palm Springs golf resort in the off-season.

We parted ways the next morning with Brad and Alice, who would round off their vacation at Joshua Tree and elsewhere. I’d just read the lines in On the Road about the bittersweet feeling you get when you drive away from someone and they get smaller and smaller in your mirror. Both couples were off for new adventures, but I immediately missed our time together.

The next three days were a battle for Lara, who was still weak and having trouble keeping food down. We crawled through eight miles one day, and made 13 the next. Gotta say, that girl has resolve. Whenever I thought we might bail, she rallied and kept moving. By yesterday afternoon she was crushing again, up steep inclines and along the ridges for a 24-miler. Today at lunch she destroyed plate after plate of Thai food. I’m the luckiest. End of story.

One final story worth mentioning: a raccoon stole our food bag right out from beneath our tent vestibule while we camped at the luxurious Whitewater Preserve. Dragged it clear across the campground while we slept. Fortunately nothing was lost/eaten, so I can laugh now, with admiration, at the image of two stealthy paws nabbing our loot without making a sound. Hats off to you, sir/madam!
With more than 10% of the trail under our belts, we’re still seeking our rhythm. Hopefully we’ll find it on the way to Wrightwood, but, in the meantime, loving the surprises!

With love from town,

Zack (and Lara)