April 12, 2018
256.2-266.1 and a hitch into Big Bear Lake
Arrastre Trail Camp was a nice spot with flat and well-cleared tent spots and a few picnic tables. The only downside was that we couldn’t find the water that was supposed to be nearby, according to Guthooks (we did find it the next morning about .1 down the trail) and the wind howled cold and harsh in sudden bursts all night long, eventually knocking Ghosthikers tent down and forcing her to cowboy camp. None of us got much sleep, but we were up early to leave nonetheless.
I’d set my alarm for 5:30 hoping to have more time to get myself ready to hike and do my stretches as opposed to being the last one ready to go, but since Sparky wasn’t sleeping either he heard me letting the air out of my sleeping pad and started getting ready, too. That was ok. The 10.5 miles to the highway into Big Bear Lake was an easy hike for the most part, but the hot spot on the ball of my foot was hurting pretty bad to the touch and some of the more jagged rocky terrain was very painful to walk on because I could feel every little pebble through the soles of my trail runners. This pain was worse than my other blisters because it was in such a sensitive area of my foot and I literally couldn’t NOT walk on it. I really hoped this resting time in Big Bear would help it heal enough that I can keep up with my friends. I was also feeling like I’d been taking way more zero days than I’d expected to, which bothered me a little but it couldn’t be helped.
We got to Hwy 18 around 10am and almost immediately got a hitch from a woman in a rugged red Jeep. It was tight, but we managed to fit all three of us and our packs and off she sped toward town. She was very friendly and dropped us off right at the Big Bear hostel because she worked at a restaurant across the street, so it was convenient for her.
The hostel owner, Sarge, was easily one of the friendliest hostel owners I’ve ever encountered. We signed the trail register, got the grand tour of Big Bear Hostel, and were shown to our 4-person room. We each got a comfy bed and a personal locker for our things, and the door to the room locked with a key code for extra security. It was perfect. We asked Sarge to keep an eye out for a hiker named Jay who shouldn’t be too far behind us, and that we’d love to have him as our 4th bunkmate. We’d been leapfrogging with him for almost a week and had come to think of him as an honorary part of our group.
Sarge then asked us if we were hiking with, or knew of, a hiker named Rowdy. He’d been hearing from other hikers that Rowdy had earned his trail name well, and Sarge was concerned that he would disrupt the sleep of the other hikers staying at the hostel. We said no, we weren’t hiking with him. Ghosthiker and Sparky didn’t know who he was, but I did and could confirm his reputation. I’d met him back in Julian, or at least, I’d observed him while at Carmen’s. He seemed like a nice enough guy but his indoor voice was pretty much non-existent and he tended to talk and laugh readily and loudly. He reminded me a little bit of Andy Samberg at the park ranger in Parks and Rec. It seemed like he just liked to have a good time and was a night owl, and maybe a bit of a party guy, but I could understand how this might be undesirable at a hostel. Sarge actually had two separate houses at his hostel, one for quiet and one for parties, it seemed. He just wanted to make sure hikers ended up in the right houses so everyone would be happy.
As luck would have it, we were just beginning to settle into our room when another hiker arrived and started putting his stuff on the bunk Sparky had already claimed. Rowdy. I recognized him instantly. After some polite hellos, Sparky surreptitiously went to find Sarge. Apparently one of Sarge’s hostel helpers hadn’t received the memo about being on the lookout for this hiker. Sarge immediately and tactfully had him moved to another room, a 2 man room with an older gentleman. I guess the party house was already full? Rowdy seemed a little disappointed as if his new room was sure to be boring or something. I felt a little bad for him, but then Jay appeared and all was right with the world – our world, anyway.
Jay is a lot of fun. He is a former Marine and has a very well-done YouTube show about his travels called Jay Wanders Out. I really enjoy his company because not only is he mature, polite, and has a great sense of humor, but he takes immeasurable delight in the simplest of things along the trail. That’s why he’s always somewhere behind us. He’s constantly stopping to film little bugs, flowers, vistas, or interesting rocks. He keeps up a slow, steady pace and takes very few sit-down breaks, so he always manages to catch up to us. At the Big Bear Hostel, we decided to christen him Lil’ Bro because it felt like he was the little brother always managing to catch up to us. No matter that he was a solid 12 years older than me!
We spent most of the rest of the day doing chores like laundry, airing out tents and sleeping quilts, cleaning or patching sleeping mats, showering, planning our next few stops, and eating. Lots of eating. I’m not too keen on doing so much dining out so early in my hike. I budgeted about $1000/month for this hike and so far have managed to stay within that, but I haven’t even technically been hiking for a solid month yet, so we’ll see how it goes.
Sparky has proven to have a ravenous appetite and makes meals his top priority when in town. Ghosthiker is a former bodybuilder so she has the speediest metabolism I’ve ever witnessed and can pack away gourmet burgers like nobody’s business, which is remarkable considering she’s a full head or more shorter than me and probably weighs 100 lbs soaking wet.
I, on the other hand, started this hike still carrying most of my winter stores, about 20 extra pounds, which I’m sure contributed to my struggles early on. I read a lot of different opinions concerning whether to deliberately lose or gain weight before starting a big thru-hike. I COULD say I gained the weight to prepare for the hike. I COULD say that. Actually, I think I did tell a few fellow hikers that. I don’t remember. The truth is, winters in Indiana can be brutal and your body literally cannot get warm enough outdoors no matter how many layers you put on. The northernmost part of the state sits right along the infamous Chicago wind belt that sweeps east along Lake Michigan and then cuts mercilessly across the open countryside. Our house sits out in the open, completely exposed to these elements. Granted, there are several large trees on our property, but other than that it’s wide open and barren farmland all around, and for days on end every winter that bitter sub-zero wind swoops across the land and cuts through everything in its path, including every layer of down coat, Carhartt suit, thermal underwear, and heavy woolen hat one may be wearing.
The body’s natural response to this kind of unavoidable cold is to a) stay indoors at all times which is not always possible, and b) eat lots of fattening foods to help keep the body warm and also to ward off seasonal depression. Having started my hike in March, I literally went from a frozen tundra to the California desert.
If there are hikers out there who swear by the weight gain method to prepare for the hefty caloric burn of thru-hiking, I say more power to ‘em! For me, hiking with 20 extra pounds around my waist, ass, and thighs was just as bad or worse than carrying it in my pack. At least if it were voluntary pack weight I could have easily shed it in the next town and relieved my feet and knees of the burden. Lesson learned.
Meanwhile, back at the Big Bear Hostel, I was not looking at my foot. I flat out refused. I’d taken a long, lukewarm shower (who takes hot showers when you’re hiking in the desert anyway? Not me!) unpacked my things, my tent and quilt were slung over a railing outside to air out, I’d had a few small snacks in-between in order to avoid over-eating whenever my trail family decided to head out to eat, and I’d even perused the hostel library and sat re-reading Ferhenheight 451 and drinking a fresh cup of Sweet and Spicy tea (literally the best American tea there is).
But I did NOT look at my foot. I limped back and forth along the hallway carrying out my various town chores, riding primarily on the extreme outer edge of my foot to take the pressure off the enormous hot spot at the base of my arch, but when people cast their concerned looks my way I simply smiled and limped on. Despite the pain, I was immensely happy to be there. I was discovering the joy of being part of a very unique community, of being surrounded by complete strangers who all had the same goal: Canada. We also shared all the same smaller goals: food, showers, laundry, food, resupply, medical needs, food, sleep, food, water.
My bed at the hostel was so comfortable I almost cried. I read my book for a little while but was pretty doped up on painkillers and I knew sleep was soon to come, but I kind of wished at that moment that I had something to hold onto while I fell asleep. I know that sounds strange, but I imagine it stems from being single in my 30’s. Sometimes it’s nice to just have someone to spoon with while you sleep. Ah well, I was hardly about to complain. I was in a comfy bed in a temperature-controlled room surrounded by trusted friends. It was just like having a sleepover! Life was good.