Lunging tiger, twisted ankles.

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I wrote the first section below last night, but the computer I was on blue screened. Anybody who’s used Windows in the 90s will remember the blue screen of death, I am sure.

On more recent news. I found $185 in cash in a trash can this morning. I invited my peeps and a cool chick I met at the store for lunch with it. I plan on using it for shared purposes, since it was in the trash can of a shared hotel room – probably would still be there if I hadn’t accidentally dropped my knife in there. The trail provides, and then some!

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The computer I am on seems to have an aversion to blog writing, so I am typing all this in an email to myself and will post it when I can. Just a disclaimer that by the time you read this, it might be old news. This week flew by so fast that I wouldn’t believe it was already Wednesday when I was informed of the fact this morning. I try to keep track of the days along with miles in my journal, but out here, the former is rather irrelevant. Much has happened since I last wrote. I will try to recount here the highights of the week, which, yes, do involve a tiger, so read on …

Death on the trail
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I left Idyllwild in the late afternoon in a state of bliss. My friend LB, Pepper and Chili, whom I thought several days behind pulled into town that morning. We had a fun day in the lovely Idyllwild, where every person is a trail angel and every meal is delicious, where a dirty trail girl can get a shower, some sparkly blue earrings, super-hero goggles and numerous avocado sandwiches for just a few bucks. I got some new soles for my shoes, and headed back out with a joy and boyancy I hadn’t felt since the first week. I hiked uphill with a heavy fully resupplied pack and a happy heart for a couple of hours when right around a corner, bathed in the perfect light of sunset, in the middle of the trail, the sight of an injured pika stopped me dead in my track. He looked in bad shape. I dropped my packed and asked it if he was okay. It didn’t answer. It was still breathing, but was unresponsive. I tried to feed it some nuts; it jerked away. A few drops of water on its nose produced the same reaction. I was still within cell phone range, so I tried calling all the people still in town I knew, to see if they could find a wildlife rescue center in Idyllwild, but to no avail. There was only one vet in town, and they were closed, and as Pepper pointed out, they probably wouldn’t disturb themselves for a dying pika anyway. By the look of it, the pika seemed to have been bit by something, I thought it looked like snake bite marks. Why wouldn’t the snake eat it though, if that were the case? The cell reception was so spotty that Pepper had understood from my message that *I* had been bitten by a snake. I was glad I was able to speak to him again, lest my friends down in town worry further. I felt so inadequate and useless and sad. What’s the point of wearing a cape and super-hero goggles, if I can’t even save a small pika? I moved it off the trail to a comfortable protected place. I apologized to it for my unability to help and hiked on. It’s not easy to hike when tears blur your vision.

Testing the edges.
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That night I stopped up on a ridge between two leftover patches of snow. I stayed warm in my bag, but had some intense dreams. The three I remembered in the morning all involved me getting to the edge of something, and knowing that I would get hurt if I went any further. I left camp shortly after sunrise with a firm resolve to be wise in my decisions that day, and to pay attention. I hike alone. It is easy to get yourself in a pickle when you are alone in unfamiliar terrain. Most hikers chose to skip the alternate PCT route that climbs to the top of San Jacinto Peak because of the high snow level. I pondered this as I got to the fork in the trail and decided that I would know if I was being unsafe, that I could always turn around, and that I was willing to lose hours and miles in exchange for a scenic sidetrip. I made it to the top of the Peak around 10 am. I had whole top of the mountain to myself. The view down to the valley floor, 9000 feet or so below was incredible, and so worth the climb. The trouble started on the way down. It was clear from the steps in the snow that few people had gone this way, and after a few miles, it was even clearer that those who had  had all gotten lost. Any set of footprints with a semblance of a purposeful direction would invariably stop after a few hundred feet and get that “flower of indecision” look. You know, step this way, no, turn that way, no, that way, no, okay backtrack. At some point, I found myself on a blank canvas. No more steps to follow. I figured, “I have 5 days of food, 2 maps and a compass, plenty of daylight, and I can always climb back up and the way I came”. So I wasn’t worried. Somebody recently said to me, “The first thing you should do when you are lost is stop, drink some water and eat a snack”. Actually very good advice, because it removes any potential for panic. So, I did just that. I got my compass out, located myself, saw that all the creeks on this side of the mountain were intercepted by the PCT, ate some carrots and sweet potato chips, took a few photos and finally started the bushwaking adventure down. I found a creek right away and followed it down as planned. In less than two hours, I was back on the trail. I did a little victory dance, but no one was around to see it.

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I lost everything else I typed last night, and today my time is limited, so I’ll give you the abridged version.

Shortly after finding the trail again, on a steep downhill along Fuller Ridge, I somehow accidentally hooked my pole under my arm pit, so that when my stepped forward I found myself suspended on it. Momentum took over and twisted my entire body over this pivotal point and the whole edifice came crashing down. And that is how I sprained my ankle.

It didn’t really hurt at all at first, and I was going at a good pace, so I kept on going. It might have been okay, but there were a few agravating circumstances. First, I had been hiking in so much snow that water was the last thing on my mind. I tackled the descent from fuller ridge with less than 1/4 of a liter of water. I had gone another 5 miles before I realized that the 3.7 miles to the next water as the crows fly would take 15 miles by trail. That trail was ridiculous. Each switchbacks went all around the mountain, visiting each flower, each rock, each lizard. I ended up hiking 24 miles that day. I would have done the 27 to water if my ankle hadn’t let itself known. As for not having water, I did what my Dad told me competitive runners in Death valley do: I took a mouthfull of water and breathed through it, so that my body stayed humidified with each breath and I never actually felt thirsty. Yay for random survival skills.

I’ll skip the long crossing of the hot valley in the noon sun, the trail magic under the bridge, the free foot bath at Ziggy and the Bear’s and get to the full moon hiking.

I left Ziggy and the Bear’s house right at sunset. The moon was about twice the size of a normal full moon. It glowed orange behind a field of wind turbines. As the sun set, the decibel level fell to the lowest I have heard yet this trip. Complete silence except for the surreal sound of wind turbines in the distance and an occasional cricket. The night was cool and every plant seemed to glow. I was walking in an Ansel Adams painting. I thought about that lady at the Insurance agency who was so worried about me before I left. She would not have taken well to the idea of me hiking alone in the dark. I loved it. LOVED it. My ankle held up until about 10:30 pm, then made itself really know. I hiked down towards a creek and came to a place with picnic tables and what looked like man-made wading pool. I slept hard and fast on one of the picnic tables. There were two other hikers on other tables. I never met them.

The next morning, Sunday, I woke up to a line of cars pulling in right to my sleeping table. I was at Whitewater Preserve, a favorite hiking spot for the L.A. crowd. There was shade, green grass, creeks, pools. I decided to take a full zero (day off) there and soak my ankle in the cool creek. It was a glorious day. I did almost nothing. Played some harmonica, wrote in my journal, napped. That evening friends started pouring in from the trail, and a trail angel with beautiful legs (Lake to Lakes I think was her name) showed up with food for all of us. Despite the pain in my ankle, I cannot think of a more perfect day than that day.

The next two were long (16 and 19 miles respectively) days up along an ugly creek. I had good company though. I had not seen one single human being from the time I left the saddle above Idyllwild to Ziggy and the Bear’s house, so a little company was nice. LB made me take breaks and pain killers when I wouldn’t have on my own. The trail will even provide you with external wisdom when you don’t have much of your own.

The experience of hiking alone or with another person, or with a group, for me changes the whole trail. The focus is different. When I hike alone, I notice everything, inside and outside. When I hike with LB and we talk all day long, and sometimes too late at night too. I get to know another human being. I enjoy both the solitude and company, though I only crave the former.  Our conversations have morphed from when we first met. We’ve increased the bredth and depth, and the topic of food is daily gaining ground on other topics. I estimate in a few months, food will dominate abotu 50% of our conversations, by Washington, maybe up to 80%. This, I am told is normal for thru-hikers.

Oh, yeah, the tiger! I forgot … so, LB and I were hiking up towards Big Bear city, where the trail goes right by “Randy’s  Predators in Actins”. It’s a center for animal actors, with lions, tigers and bears, oh my! I made a bee-line for the tiger. We could hear him growl before we even could see it. There were two layers of cages between TheBobcat and that tiger, but our eyes locked. He was not happy about that. He growled and beared his fangs. I spoke to it, something abotu its beauty, magesty, fierceness. Either that really pissed it off, or I hit some magic acting word, but suddenly he lept up and towards us with a full blown roar and crashed into the first fence separating us. That got all the other animals riled up, bears gorwling, lions roaring. I couldn’t beleive it. I don’t ever condone animals in cages, but I must admit that having a tiger lunge at me really really made my day.

That’s all for now. I must hike on. My gang’s been waiting patiently reading magazines while I typed this. I’m not even proof-reading. I apologize abotu typos and non-sequiturs.

More in a week …
XOXO. The Bobcat.

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