At mile 655 the trail crosses a highway. Food wise, I was good until the next town but the idea of hitching in for a burger was irresistible. So my buddy and I put out our thumbs and waited. After about thirty minutes a truck pulled over and we hopped in. Inside was a couple from San Francisco. After talking a little bit, they offered us a place to stay in town at their campsite and we accepted. Once in town, they paid for our dinner and introduced us to everyone else in their group. Their group was different from your average campers. They are white water rafters and the campsite was right on the Kern river. Our new friends invited us to go rafting with them and of course we accepted again. The next day we got our wet suits and life jackets and about fifteen of us loaded into a van pulling a trailer with three rafts. We drove up the river and after getting situated, pushed off down some class 3 rapids. For these experienced rafters it was no big deal but for me it was unlike anything I had ever done. Working as a team, we navigated down the river and eventually back to the campsite. When I started the PCT I never thought I would go white water rafting but when you are open to try new things, opportunities will arise. -Noel Nelson (pct mile 658)
Back to the Grind
After an amazing week in San Francisco it was time to get back on the trail. The section right after Tehachapi, where we took off, is not an easy one and just four miles after getting back on the trail I was curled up under a joshua tree trying conserve the little water I had left. In this section of trail water is scarce and direct sunlight is your companion all day long.
Right after starting there is a 17 mile dry stretch followed by an 18 mile dry stretch followed by another 25 mile dry stretch. I unfortunately underestimated the desert heat and did not start with enough water. That forced me to hide in the shade until the sun started its retreat and then resume my hike. Even though the section is difficult I quickly readjusted to trail life and was able to start pumping out miles just like before I took off.
Although the days are brutal the beauty of the nights makes up for it. The only way to truly enjoy the nights is to cowboy camp (Sleeping without a tent). Partially due to exhaustion, but mostly due to the stars, almost every night this section was spent tentless. Without light pollution the sky is completely lit up with tiny lights flickering all night long. It makes the hard days hike completely worth it. This is the last stretch of desert I will have before entering the snow covered Sierra’s so I am enjoying every second of its harsh glory.
-Noel Nelson (PCT mile 655)
I RAN A 12k
I’m not a runner, but when I heard about a 12k where the runners wear costumes and you run from one end of SF to the other I couldn’t resist. So I forked over the $90 to enter and bought a Hawaiian shirt from Goodwill. I didn’t know what to expect the morning of the race but upon I arrival, I saw people wearing everything from gorilla suits to nothing at all (literally). At the start of the race people throw tortillas at each other to kill time until their group is aloud to leave, so I definitely warmed up my arms. After my group was set free I actually ran the whole thing. The 7 1/2 miles went but fairly quick and at the end I was awarded my finisher medal. Let’s hear it for spontaneous adventures!
Most people go to a city, stay in a hotel and take tours on a bus to take in their new surrounding but as you know by now, that’s not how I roll. So instead of paying lots of money to hear corny jokes and be taken to tourist traps, Harry and I rented bikes to explore the city. After renting bikes from a sketchy bike rental place in a parking garage, we headed across the city straight to the beach. I never planned to swim when I got there but after Harry ran full sprint into the freezing Pacific Ocean
I couldn’t be shown up. The next hours were spent soaking up the sun and exploring cliffs and caves along the cost. Once we had seen all we could see at the beach we rode our bikes along the cost toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Biking the Golden Gate Bridge has always been a bucket list item of mine and I was able to check it off the list! Once on the opposite side we rode up into the park and enjoyed the sunset with a view of the city that was so good it felt like I was dreaming.
I think the decision to bike the city is an extremely accurate representation of my entire trip.
I could have taken a bus or cab around the city just like I could fly to canada but my journey is my destination. It’s about experiences and my experience through SF was a memory I will always have. -Noel Nelson
San Francisco or Bust
My original plan for the pct was to do about 15 miles a day, but once I started the trail I realized I could do quite a bit more. So my mileage went from 15 mile days to 30 mile days. In most cases this would be a good problem to have but this year is different. The snowpack in the High Sierra is 200% of normal and hikers haven’t yet been able to make it through that section yet. So because of my excellent pace I have reached the front of the pack. That’s a problem because I don’t want to be the first one to blaze the trail through the snow.
This realization hit me while in a town called Tehachapi. From this town you can take a bus pretty much anywhere. So my hiking buddy and I decided that the next day we would take off the trail and head to San Francisco. This decision was very spur of the moment but I guess that’s the nature of this kind of travel. It’s about just going for it and letting the details work them self out. By 6:30am the next morning we were on a grayhound headed toward San Fransico without a place to stay or a a plan of what we would do when we got there.
Iuckily I recently discovered an app called couch surfer. This app has hosts and travelers. Each writes reviews about the other so you can make sure it is safe you are a good travel match. So I contacted hosts in the area and got a response. A super nice guy named Curt is now letting me and Harry sleep on an air mattress in his apartment. Oh and his apt has an amazing location. From his apartment we can see the golden gate bridge and walk to the water in a few minutes.
So far it has been a shock going from seeing ten people a day to thousands, but I think this trip is one of the best things i’ve ever done. And it was all done last minute, which adds an additional excitement and uncertainty to the whole thing!
There is a 40 mile stretch of the PCT known for being the hottest and driest part of the whole trail. This section follows the aquaduct the brings water to LA but despite this fact water on the trail is almost nonexistent. Additionally shade is just as rare. As the trail follows the metal pipe it is almost discouraging to look up and see the miles and miles you will have to walk. Unlike the rest of the trail, this part is so flat that you can see the entire never ending section. This makes a 40 mile stretch seem like 400 miles.
After walking for hours in the blazing sun, we decided it was time to set up camp. It wasn’t until the sun started its retreat from the sky that I realized the beauty of the desert. The sky turned from blue to a deep reddish purple and then to black in a matter of minutes. I thought the best part was over but then the stars came out. Without any light pollution I felt like I could see every star in the galaxy. As I laid down to sleep I could hear the distant cry of coyotes. The day started out rough but in the end I was amazed at how beautiful this place is.
At PCT mile 454 the trail passes through Agua Dulce. This is a very small town with a population of about 4,000. There’s not much going for this town except Hiker Heaven. Hiker Heaven is the home of trail angels that have turned their house into the ultimate hiker hostel. And it lives up to the name. Upon entrance you are greater by a volunteer and given a tour. On the grounds there are tents scattered all over the yard and a full guest house that hikers can use. They give rides into LA and even do the hikers laundry for them! They do this all without asking for a penny.
I have passed through multiple hiker hostels so far but nothing touches this place. The hosts are so giving and have truly created a “hiker heaven”.
After taking a full day to enjoy the place, I packed up and headed back into southern California’s dry desert.
Noel Nelson (pct mile 454)
Day and Night
As I set up camp after a average day on the trail a massive fog rolled in. This isn’t necessarily rare but this fog was thicker than I had ever seen on the PCT. Despite the weather I made my dinner and went to sleep just like any other night. The next morning I awoke, surprised to see that the fog had not only stayed through the night, but that it had grown even more thick. I assumed it would be a wet gloomy day of backpacking, but as I started hiking the trail gained elevation until I had risen above the clouds. It was amazing to look down the mountain and see nothing but clouds below. It made a 7,000 ft peak seem like I was truly high in the sky.
Throughout the day the trail rose and fell, dipping me below the cloud line with every few miles. The stark contrast was amazing and kept things interesting. Below the cloud, the burnt trees surrounded by fog looked extremely ominous but when I would surface above the clouds the sky was as blue as could be. It was like stitching between two different worlds. -Noel Nelson
Boy Scout Mountain
Right outside of the town of Wrightwood lays Mount Baden Powel, a mountain named after the founder of Boy Scouts. While in town a snowstorm passed over, but it left its mark. As I ascended the mountain small patches of snow grew into large massive blankets of snow. Miles were spent following nothing but the footprints of those who have gone before me. It took a full twenty mile day to escape the snow, but eventually I was able to set up camp on dry ground. These early encounters with snow are hopefully preparing me for the snow covered Sierras I will go through in a few weeks. -Noel Nelson
From Bad to Worse
After my thirty eight mile day, I set up camp at the first open place I saw. It was on a ridge about fifty feet above the valley floor. I laid down to sleep with good weather and a belly full of McDonald’s, but my sleep was cut short. Two hours after crawling into my tent the wind picked up. Then it started to rain. Then the wind picked up even more. Eventually the wind and rain were so strong, water was getting blown into my tent from the side. That is, when my tent was still standing. About every hour a gust of wind would be so strong that it would blow my tent completely over and I would have to fix it, trying to not get soaked in the process. This made for a long night with sleep nowhere to be found.
In the morning the rain let up but the wind had blown a fog in that was so thick, visibility was about twenty feet. So I threw all my stuff into my backpack and started walking. My next resupply location was in Wrightwood, about twenty five miles from where I slept. As I trudged toward my goals I got word that a snow storm was coming in and temps would be in the low twenties. Having already suffered through a few chilly nights I knew that was not something I wanted to take on. Upon arrival to Wrightwood some hikers offered to let me sleep in a cabin they rented. Instead of paying $60 for a hotel room I could pay $20 for a cabin. Things were looking up, that is until I looked down at my wallet. In the chaos of the night hike and storm I had lost my debit card….
I had $40 in cash but that would only cover my room for the next two nights and I was out of food. A sort of panic sunk in as I tried to think of the logistics of getting money and a new card. All while moving from day to day. After a few deep breaths I figured out how to get a new card but that would take a week. That’s a week without money or food. I felt like I was getting knocked down, standing back up to only get hit again.
After seeing my struggle, my hiking buddy Harry offered to loan me money until my card arrived. A true blessing. So I was able to buy food and if all goes will I will be able to support myself again soon enough.
I think having rough days is part of the process. The uncertainty of it all is what makes it an adventure. Although horrible in the moment, these are the events in life we look back on and laugh about. So for now I continue on my path to Canada, taking each day as it comes. -Noel Nelson