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Day 16: Into the Puke Field

Day 16: Into the Puke Field

hiker.dykes May 8th, 2024
hiker.dykes's 2024 PCT Thru-Hike

Tentsite (248.2) - Highway 18 Access to Big Bear (266.1) | Mileage: 17.9 + 4.4 (To the strip mall grocery/laundromat/restaurant and back)

So there wasn’t actually any puke or any fields in this section. This is just how I felt. For what it’s worth, we did step over a visibly soiled piece of toilet paper in the trail between the campground that had hosted a “puke fiesta” a week before and a stream that “smells like diarrhea from here on out.” So that was lovely.

I set alarms for 6 and 6:30 but woke up all on my own actually early around 5:15! I lay there listening to Sweet Pea rustle around in his tent (usually he’s long gone by the time I’m conscious) and let Katie sleep a little while longer. Her breathing was quieter than normal (her head was deep inside her quilt) and it occurred to me that she might be dead (on account of the possible norovirus) so I had to snuggle up next to her and check that her chest was rising and she was in fact not dead.

When we emerged from the tent, Sweet Pea asked how many times we’d vomited in the night and we had a quick celebration (love a fellow germaphobe) and then he was off because the sun was low and the air was still crisp and chilly in the trees. Katie checked our packs for spider scorpions, but they must have successfully returned to their holes so we packed up and hit the trail. The chatty skinny older man from the library moved aside to let us pass, but then we hit a long downhill and he sped up and hung right on our tail and so we stopped talking because it was weird to just have another person there listening and I was irritated and I started walking as fast as my frozen feet and hands would allow but I could not drop him and so I thought sir, I will race you all day but then Katie said she needed to retie her shoe and so we moved aside and he said thanks again so much as though it was the second time we were in his way and I thought THE AUDACITY and then he was gone around the corner and I was stewing (ugh MEN) and then it turned out that Katie did not need to retie her shoe at all and was just sick of me and this man having a silent face off. Ugh I hate losing.

There was a water cache provided by a nice person called Jessica at the dirt road at the bottom and I was a bit stressed about refilling there because of the germs but it seemed better than the diarrhea streams so Katie used the plastic bag holding our trowel and tent stakes to press the nozzle (probably this accomplished nothing but it was too cold to wash hands again) and Jill and Sherry showed up (no idea how) but I was too embarrassed to say hi and then we were walking again with Sweet Pea. It was a lot of downhill which strains Katie’s quad, so soon we were alone again in the trees and she was slow and focused on stepping gently and I was thinking about the dusty pine needle dirt that puffs from under your feet and fills your nose and the perfectly round light gray boulders and the big coniferous trees with the thick rusty bark. I’d only spent a day in Big Bear the summer I worked at the aquatic bird hospital, but it was the first time I’d ever visited a place that dripped with the quintessential National Park Service aesthetic of the great American outdoors. This is the dry subalpine forest that Smokey the Bear calls home. Six years ago, I hadn’t believed either of them was real.

We hiked high up the slope above the trail to dig cat holes (probably a sick person wouldn’t make it that far) and then sat among the sage brush eating peanut butter oats. Neither of the groceries in Idyllwild had natural peanut butter in a plastic jar (which under normal circumstances would be excellent but glass seemed heavy and hazardous for the trail) so we ended up with a container of Skippy full of sugar and vegetable oil. That stuff is decadent. And oh so smooth. Really up-levels the watery minute oats.

It was supposed to be a quick day into town, but the miles dragged. I hiked in all of my layers until the sun was high and then I stopped to take off my puffy only to hit a long uphill at which point I got exceedingly sweaty and had to stop again to trade my fleece for my sun shirt. I think maybe I’m getting skinnier? Or maybe I just don’t have time to eat as much because we’re always walking late so my toddler tummy is a bit less pronounced than usual. I found Katie up at the top of the ridge sitting on a rock in the sun, sad because of the pain in her leg and in need of some Advil. We each pulled a tortilla out of the bag with our teeth (most of hers ended up on the ground) and then we were walking again. I stopped under a tree to look at Big Bear hotel options on Expedia and then walk ran as fast as I could to catch Katie who was having a meltdown because her leg hurt and she couldn’t walk well. Why does this always happen when we’re trying to rush into town?

We finally hit the road and found Sweet Pea sitting in the dust against a rock, filthy feet stretched out, purple pack lying sideways on the ground. He’d skipped the last hitch to wait for us. We stood in the sun half stretching until a big white cargo van pulled up. A short weathered woman with a green cutoff and saggy arms stepped out and told us to chuck our packs in the back. Katie and I slid into the bench seat (the other three rows has been pulled out) and made Sweet Pea climb into the front because we didn’t want to chat. The woman (later learned her name was Tiana) immediately chastised him for being such a male chauvinist and taking the front seat (which was the most excellent thing I had heard all day) and we laughed and then she rambled about all the best places to get the most bang for your buck. She stopped at the smoothie shop and offered to wait while we ordered and then drive us the rest of the way into town which was incredibly kind and it honestly took a while but she was still peppy when we got back into the van and I didn’t know how to thank her. We did a quick driving tour around town (this seems to be custom among trail angels) and she dropped us at a restaurant called the Himalayan. We walked in with our large smoothies (green and chocolate blueberry and peanut butter milk that was supposed to be coffee) looking scuzzy still wearing our packs (oops) and were seated alone in the adjacent closed bar at a gigantic glass topped table with hard seats instead of in the main dining room with the nice tables and upholstered chairs. It was pretty hilarious. We ate lots of paneer and rice and garlic naan and then were back on the dusty sidewalk in the sun watching all the people in crocs and raincoats walk by (laundry day) and Sweet Pea booked the Black Forest Inn online and then we were walking on the disintegrating sidewalk and across dilapidated parking lots next to the speeding cars.

I showered when we got into the room and the water was warm and nice but they only had little shampoo tubes and I couldn’t get the sunscreen and dirt and oil off of my face and the dirt from under my fingernails with the soap and I couldn’t see if my legs or feet were still dirty because they were too far away so eventually I gave up and put on my freshly soaped but drippy shorts and my raincoat and my sleep socks. I emptied a pack so it was just our dirty clothes and the food bag and then Katie and I walked up the wide fast road back toward the strip mall with the smoothie shop and the Dollar Tree and the two groceries and the laundromat. It was nice to walk on the flat ground and not have to think about it except I kept getting rocks between my feet and my shoes and felt the dust permeating my socks and that was sad. We were almost through the 1.9 miles to the store when a woman who worked in a dentist office pulled over and drove us the rest of the way. I sat in the front and chatted and she was very friendly and picks up hikers all the time and asked about the trail and where we were from and how we knew each other and when we got out of the car, she gave me a mini tube of Sensodyne (excellent except I’m not out yet so this is dumb weight) and two tiny square God pamphlets her sister makes with a chimpanzee on the cover. We figured out the laundry (convert bills to coins with this super cool machine and then use them to buy detergent and operate the machines) and wandered the Dollar Tree but the sizes were too small so we resupplied at the grocery. Sweet Pea was there and had already accumulated a cart more than double the size of what we picked out and then I switched the laundry across the street and we went to the Italian place where you order at the counter but we were all tired and still full from lunch and hot and I was stressed not being hungry meant I was sick so I told Katie I would just share with her but she ordered fries and a salad and a pesto pasta that came with garlic bread and there was SO MUCH FOOD which would ordinarily be great except I thought we had also just way overdone our resupply and I didn’t know how we could ever possibly pack it out and finish it. We ended up powering through everything except the garlic bread and fries so Katie packed it up the the mint Clif bar box. I grabbed the still damp laundry from the dryer and it was dark and cold and much past bedtime so we crossed the parking lot with our now bursting packs to the free shuttle stop.

There was a stubby older man in very blah gray and green and brown clothes shuffling around behind the dumpsters where the shuttle presumably picks up and I was wondering if he was local and what he could possibly be doing there when we entered some critical distance and he shouted out HELLO FELLOW HIKERS which was extremely jarring and not necessarily wanted but made a lot of sense. He seemed very excited to see us and stood a little bit too close and asked if we had a avoided the virus in a very congenial way and I about melted into the dirty concrete when he enthusiastically shared that he had been felled just after lunch the day before yesterday with lots of dramatic arm waving and head bobbing. He said the next shuttle wasn’t for twenty more minutes but strongly recommended we wait due to the long and arduous walk but at this point I was only thinking about how to extract us from conversation with this overly energetic man who was most definitely still in his contagious window but he was blocking the sidewalk with his wide man stance so I said oh sorry we’re cold and that’s too long to stand here so we better get going goodbye and stepped off the curb and walked in the street around him as fast as I could.

Sweet Pea was weirdly quiet and walked in front with his long legs and Katie and I followed and I tried so hard not to be stressed about the germs that are still apparently everywhere and the walk was far but the shuttle only passed us just before we crossed the street for the inn so I guess we made the right call even from a timing standpoint and I wondered if the scary man saw us from the bus.

Katie hadn’t showered or washed her shorts yet, so I tried to repack the food in large containers (oats and instant coffee and chocolate protein powder and trail mix) into our now empty plastic bags and lay out or soggy clothes to dry on a towel but it was slow because the floor was dirty and the duvet a little stained and what if someone with noro had stayed here the night before and left the virus for us on all of the surfaces so I tried not to touch anything or let any of our stuff touch anything because I am very rational like that. I didn’t quite finish but we were all tired and it was time for bed so we turned off the lights and I lay there under the brown covers (sheet wrapped carefully around it so the unwashed part wouldn’t touch my face) listening to Sweet Pea snore and praying none of us would be sick. We had left our toothbrushes out on a towel on the edge of the sink and I kept worrying that they would be contaminated if he threw up in the night so finally I got back out of bed and put on my wet toe socks with my toes all in the wrong holes and put the toothbrushes away in the plastic bag in my pack and finally I could sleep.

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Comments (1)

devo May 16th, 2024

"...and she was in fact not dead." This has to be the title of the book!