The Magic Table

July 29, 2018

Dawn comes quickly in the summer, waking us at a ridiculously early hour. Forest Service Road 23, which would lead us to the town of Trout Lake, 17 miles away, had no cars and no phone service. Philosophically, we began walking, and were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise from behind nearby Mt Adams.

The second car to pass us on this seldom used road was going away from town, but stopped anyway. The couple were taking hiking friends to the trailhead, and assured us that they would pick us up on their way back!

They dropped us at Trout Lake Grocery, wishing us good hiking. Jay and I walked around the corner to eat breakfast at the only cafe in town, then asked at the grocery for lodging options.

The cashier kindly pointed to the wall which sported a list of five places. “I know for a fact that the first two are already full,” she told us.

I began phoning, and was delighted to make a reservation at Trout Lake Cozy Cabins.

“Check in time is 3:00 p.m.” I was told as I made the reservation. I looked at my watch. We still had six hours!

“Hmmm,” I was thinking fast. “We need to buy supplies, but after that, is there a shady place on your property where we could wait?”

“Oh sure,” the lady on the phone assented. “We’ve got tables and a hammock. And we could probably let you check in a bit early, once the cabin is cleaned.”

I grinned. She knew just what a tired hiker needed!

We bought food for the next week, then began loading our packs at a table beside the grocery. Scott and Teri, PCT hikers we had met two days ago, arrived, having hiked five miles to the road and gotten a ride from a local trail angel. We traded hellos, glad to see familiar faces. As we shouldered our packs, the cashier came out of the store.

“Did you find a place to stay?” she asked.

“Yes, thank you. We made a reservation at the cabins a mile away.” I smiled as I adjusted my hip belt.

“You’re not walking there, are you?” She looked concerned.

I paused, unsure of what to say. How else could we get to our destination?

“There’s a trail angel inside. I’ll just tell him to take you!” She turned and whisked away.

A few minutes later a man came out of the store and lowered the tailgate of his truck. What could we say? “Thank you,” seemed inadequate.

A couple minutes of pleasant conversation brought us to Trout Lake Cozy Cabins, a lovely place with gorgeous cabins nestled between shady trees and beautiful flowers.

Knowing we would have wait time, we had succumbed to temptation and bought a locally made huckleberry pie to keep us company.

A maid kindly loaned us dishes so we didn’t have to eat hiker-style, with our hands.

Just as we began eating, a man approached, carrying a quarter of a chocolate cake.

“We’re packing up to leave. We’ve had a family reunion here this weekend. I was wondering if you would like some of our birthday cake?”

Who could resist an introduction like that? We enjoyed talking to Jeff for a few minutes, telling him about our adventure, hearing of hikes he had taken in the past.

As he stood to go back to packing his car, he asked, “Look, we’ve got a whole watermelon. Could you use it?”

“Sure!” My mouth watered at the thought of one of my favorite summer foods. “We can always share it with other hikers. Let me walk back with you so you don’t have to make two trips.”

Back at his cabin, Jeff introduced me to Yvonne and Samantha. They asked more questions about our hike, while Jeff handed me the watermelon. Then he came out with a whole armful of groceries! “Maybe you could use these sandwich makings?”

A few minutes later, Jeff’s grown son came over with more food! He sat and talked with us, asking questions about our hike and telling us of his favorite outdoor adventures. Such friendly, generous people!

When he left, Jay looked at the bounty spread before us. “It’s as if we sat down at a magic table!”

So began two days of rest, with delicious food, friendly people, and a very comfortable place to stay!

Wind Shy

April 18, 2018

“Let’s take it a bit easier today.” Jay and I agreed. After hiking until dusk yesterday, setting up camp early sounded wonderful.

A few steps down the trail, Jay pointed out a great blue heron. I watched, enchanted, as it wheeled overhead and flew off, great wings flapping slowly.

About a mile later, we crossed a road and were greeted by two hikers in a camper van.

“I know it’s early, but would you like a soda?” 2taps asked. Jman introduced himself from inside the van. We chatted for a few minutes, talking hikes while Jay and I shared a Mountain Dew. Properly buzzed on caffeine and sugar, and happy from meeting two friendly hikers, we wished them good hiking and continued.

Jman and 2taps dispensing trail magic

We walked over and between rounded hillsides dotted with old burned tree branches and the new growth of bush poppies in bloom.

The trail crossed under Cedar Springs Dam, then climbed above Silverwood Lake. We enjoyed the view of blue water and sandy beaches for several miles, mostly high above, once dipping very near the water.

Silverwood Lake

As afternoon progressed, the wind began to rise. At 4:30 p.m., we stopped to get water from a creek and assess our position. We had hiked about 15 miles today, and it was time to find a campsite. However, a wind storm was forecast for tonight and all of tomorrow. Ever since our adventure coming down from Fuller’s Ridge, I had no desire to walk through another gale. (See my post, ‘Wind!’) But I liked even less the thought of a long night with wind beating against our tent.

“The trail will be headed uphill from here. It might be hard to find a sheltered campsite,” Jay counseled. “Tomorrow the wind might be worse.”

“I don’t see much shelter here. Let’s go on while there’s still daylight,” I urged. “I’d rather be hiking than worrying about wind ripping the tent. If we see a good spot, we can stop.”

We knew it was possible that we might have to hike another 13 miles to the Best Western hotel at I-15, at Cajon Pass. At our pace, we’d arrive at midnight. With memories of our ordeal down Fuller’s Ridge, we decided to hike a bit smarter this time. We pulled Larabars and dark chocolate bars out of our food bags. This evening’s hike would be fueled with carbohydrates, eaten once per hour. We also agreed to stop once every 30 minutes for water.

On we forged. Unlike our last storm adventure, this time the trail sometimes followed the lee side of a ridge, giving us an occasional respite from the cold, battering wind. Dark descended, and we kept climbing, using our flashlights. Stars peeked from above. The familiar constellations of Orion, Taurus, and the Pleides brought comfort.

I began to lag behind a bit, legs protesting against the long day of use. Suddenly, in the dark, I noticed Jay ahead of me, standing very still, flashlight focused on the ground ahead. He turned and smiled as I cautiously approached.

“You’re just in time to see the end of it,” he remarked. Puzzled, I looked at his flashlight beam, and glimpsed a couple of inches of shiny scales disappearing into the undergrowth.

“A snake?” I guessed. Jay nodded. “Was it big?”

“Probably about four feet. It was crossing the trail. It didn’t seem bothered by my light. It wasn’t a rattlesnake. It had black and white bands.”

Later we looked up snakes of southern California and concluded that Jay had been privileged to see a king snake, so-called due to their resistance to rattlesnake venom, and their ability to dine upon other snakes.

About 9:00 p.m., we noticed the wind was growing softer. By now we were 400 feet below the top of our climb. It was tempting to continue, to see the lights of the freeway below. However, when we saw a flat sandy space near a few sheltering bushes, we decided to stop for the night, while we were still on the lee side. My feet and legs had been aching for a few miles, and Jay admitted he was beginning to feel his tendons protesting.

We set up camp, weighting the tent stakes with rocks, gladly crawling into our fabric home. Train whistles blew through Cajon Pass, just a few miles away. Wind alternately whined and roared through power lines high above us, but only tendrils from the largest gusts reached our tent.

I lay, warm, stretching tired muscles, happy, but unable to stop shivering. What was wrong? Perhaps it was the last four hours of carbohydrates I had been consuming. Great for an athletic event, but not so good for relaxing. Jay was also wide awake. Perhaps some cheese would give our stomachs something to do. We ate a few ounces, and sure enough, the shivering began to abate. I gratefully let tense muscles go, quickly falling asleep after hiking 24.8 miles.

April 19, 2018

A glorious sunrise brought us awake. We packed up in the rising wind, happy in the knowledge that breakfast was just 4.5 miles away at the hotel.

A few minutes up the trail, we met two gold prospectors unloading their truck. They were surprised to see us. “My gosh, did you sleep up here?”

We, in turn, were intrigued with their hobby. Hard to imagine getting up before sunrise just for the fun of hauling shovels and bins to the desert in hopes of finding gold. Wishing them “good luck,” we hiked on.

Gold prospectors

The whole force of the wind met us at the summit. An incredible scene of eroded sandstone cliffs leading down to a far away highway stopped us in wonder.

Jay cautiously looks over the edge. Amazing!

The trail snaked around the cliffs, eventually diving over the edge. I was delighted to be hiking this in daylight, even with wind pushing us back and forth. I felt we had hiked into an exotic postcard.

The last mile followed a creek flowing between cliffs, out the mouth of Crowder Canyon. Beauty surrounded us with sparkling water, gray cliffs, level path, and breakfast, showers, and a bed awaiting.

Easter Morning and Beyond

April 1, 2018

Easter morning! I woke early, wanting to take part in the ancient tradition of greeting the sunrise. Some of my earliest memories as a child on Easter include shivering in the pre-dawn light, waiting with my family to see the fiery orange sun breach the horizon.

I sat outside the tent, trying to meditate and pray a bit, wrestling with concerns deep in my heart.

A cottontail rabbit hopped by, intent upon its own rabbit business. A bird tuned up, lifting it’s beak to the sky.

Suddenly, as the great orange orb lifted above the easternmost limit of my sight, the surrounding hillsides were bathed in streams of light and color. The illumination lasted only a moment, then the sun ducked behind a thick layer of clouds. And Easter morning was over, the hillsides turning gray-green, the wind hinting at moisture in the air, leaving only a memory of glory surrounding me. My meditation had yielded insights as brief as the sunrise. But the wonder and beauty of those few light-filled moments lingered in my heart.

We hiked under cool clouds, happy to have shade on a desert exposed trail. Just past noon, we rounded a curve and suddenly saw a huge cache of water bottles, kindly provided by Trail Angel Mary. We gladly filled our empty bottles, writing notes of thanks in the trail journal.

A sign attached to the cache announced a free Easter dinner for all hikers, served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Mile 145.4, just two miles away! Jay and I looked at each other. It seemed too good to be true! Should we forego our trail lunch and beat feet to some trail magic?

Being a practical person when it comes to my stomach, I voted for eating half of a trail lunch, then going for the trail magic. Jay agreed, so we quickly gobbled a partial lunch, then headed onwards, two miles from an adventure!

The smell of roasting meat provided the first clue of our imminent destination. Our stomachs growled. Nothing in the desert had ever smelled that good! Twenty minutes later we saw a sign, guarded by an Easter duck.

We turned, and saw a crowd of hikers, seated under shady canopies. Trail Angel Mary and her friends were busily cooking steaks and salmon, along with delicious vegetables, ice water, lemonade, and wine, with Viennese coffee and berry tarts for desert!

This is Jay’s fourth thru-hike, and he has never seen a feast like we had today! Trail Angel Mary planned on 20 hikers and ended up serving 45 of us. Everyone seemed to get enough to eat, and there was much sharing of food, along with laughter and visiting.

Even the dog got enough as he blissfully chewed on steak bones!

After two hours of feasting, we thanked our hosts several times and waddled away.  My stomach, used to simple trail meals, thought it had died and gone to heaven. But even better than the food was the camaraderie we had enjoyed, thanks to the vision and generosity of Trail Angel Mary and her friends!