Thursday, March 7, 2013

Part 7 - Warner Springs

The father and I talked as we drove along.  I told him what I was feeling healthwise, and he said it sounded like I was severely dehydrated.  He recommended that after I got settled in Julian, I should go to the grocery store and purchase a couple liters of Pedialyte, an electrolyte formula given to babies who suffer from dehydration.  He dropped me off at the Julian Bed and Breakfast, a gold rush era hotel established in 1897. 

Out of the truck, and in the parking lot, I set my pack down next to the stairs, as I didn’t have the strength to walk up the stairs carrying the pack.  A front porch extended outward from the front of the building, providing shade and relief from the glaring sun.  I haltingly moved towards a bench on the porch and sat down.  I was totally wiped out; I just sat and stared at nothing. Momentarily, the proprietress of the hotel came out the front door, came to where I was sitting, and after noticing my glazed over look, asked if she could bring me a glass of water. My expression must have indicated an answer in the affirmative, as she left, then returned moments later with a large glass of water of ice cold water, swimming with large chunks of ice and several slices of lemon.
I checked in at the front desk and elected to stay for two nights.  I needed the rest and a chance to get rehydrated.  The room was small, but adequate.  At least it had an air-conditioning unit that worked.  I rested a bit, and then ventured into town to find a grocery store.  There were only two stores and the first one had no Pedialyte.  The second one had five liters and I purchased three, plus a liter of Gatorade and an ice cream bar.

 On the sidewalk in front of the store was a bench occupied by several tourists, but with space enough for one more person.  I sat down, popped the lid on a liter of Pedialyte, and chug-a-lugged the contents.  

It was Sunday and there were a lot of motorcyclists in town from the communities along the Pacific Coast.  The riders parked their bikes along the street and window-shopped, or sat in a restaurant and ordered apple pie, for which Julian is famous.  Apple orchards replaced the mines as a cash commodity after the gold veins petered out.  

I spent the rest of the day, as well as all of the second day, in my motel room resting, with the air conditioner going full blast.  I consumed a second liter of Pedialyte, plus the liter of Gatorade, and began to notice a marked improvement in my overall well-being.  Pedialyte and Gatorade both have essential electrolytes that my body needed.  These were salts and minerals that had been flushed from my body whenever I urinated.  In retrospect, I noticed that my urine was about the color of carrot juice, which was a sure indication of dehydration. To prevent further complications from dehydration, I had my wife include electrolyte pills (salt tablets) in every resupply box.

On the morning of the third day, I left the hotel early and stood out on the highway to hitch a ride to Scissors Crossing, a road junction of Highway 78 and S2, and a place where the PCT crossed the highway.  Within five minutes, I had a ride with Thurston, a black man on his way to work at the landfill somewhere beyond Scissors Crossing.

Everyone has a story, and in the twenty minutes I would spend with Thurston in his truck, I wanted to hear as much of his story as possible.  I liked Thurston; his presence and demeanor, his tone of voice and body language gave me the sense I was talking with a man of principle, a man of integrity, a man with no hidden agenda.  He talked freely and was more than willing to answer my questions.  He and his wife had moved to Julian from the California coastal area to provide a better life for their children. 

 She was a schoolteacher in the local school district, and he worked for the county at the landfill.  He said he was an Iraqi war veteran, and during his time in the military he had been assigned to a TOW unit.  Googling the term TOW, I learned that the acronym stands for, “Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided” missile and was a “weapon used in anti-armor, anti-bunker, anti-fortification and anti-amphibious landing roles.”  (Raytheon)

At the road junction, Thurston let me out on the highway.  I could have spent a lot of time in his company.  He was a good man.  I enjoyed his friendly behavior and easy conversation.  I was quickly learning that the PCT was full of such people, good people who lived by the Golden Rule - people who did unto others as they would like to be treated, people who sought for the good in others. 
After watching Thurston’s pickup truck disappear down the road, I turned my attention to finding the PC Trail.  I spotted it coming from the east, through the chaparral, crossing the San Felipe River (stream, nearly dry), and then moving up the embankment to the pavement of Highway 78. 

 I walked down the embankment to the stream where it emerged from underneath the highway overpass, and spotted a water cache situated on dry sand above the stream.  I had plenty of water for the day’s journey, but I was hoping to find a Gatorade or soda pop, but no such luck. I shouldered my pack and shuffled through the dry sand to the top of the road embankment, crossed Highway 78, and continued my march northward, now traveling through the parched, dry, and burned-over area of the San Felipe Hills.  

The trail began a gentle climb upward into the hills.  The gradient was about 3 percent, which for comparison purposes, was about the same grade as a railroad bed.  Of course, at times it was steeper, and sometimes flatter, but overall, the builders of the trail tried their best to keep the upward climb gradient at a moderate 3 percent grade.  In retrospect, this made for some very long traverses down a mountain, and many hikers, impatient at having to walk what seemed like ridiculous distances, would take a shortcut from one switchback to another.  

As the sun rose higher in the sky, and the heat of the desert increased, I found myself moving at the speed of the Old Man Shuffle.  I was not having a lot of fun, not because it was hot, or the grade was steep, but because I couldn’t walk fast.  I couldn’t even move at a normal, human walking speed.  The PCT tread wound its way in and out of every ravine and gully, adding miles to the trail, and climbed incessantly upward via never-ending switchbacks.  The land was brown, covered with broken rubble and rotten granite and spiked with giant ocotillo shrubs that the author of the Pacific Crest Trail – Southern California guidebook referred to as “a bundle of giant, green pipe cleaners.”  

From Scissors Crossing to the next water hole at Barrel Springs, it was a blistering, hot twenty-four miles.  I was only able to cover fourteen miles before making camp.  I had started the day with four liters of water and was now down to one and a half liters.

Seeking to get a jump-start on the new day, and to make as many miles as possible before the sun started to melt the rubber on the bottom of my shoes, I arose at 4:30 a.m. and was on the trail by 5:00 a.m.  At a steady two miles per hour, I hoped to cover six miles before 8:00 a.m., and ten miles by 10:00 a.m. was a goal I would try to achieve for long stretches of the trail, but rarely did I make it.  
 By 11:00 a.m., I was exhausted and sat on a rock to recoup, have a bite to eat, and something to drink.  Presently, a hiker came by and introduced himself as Phatman Du.  He was from Australia and said his name was a play on words.  The clothes he was wearing were made by an Australian company called Kathmandu, clothes that he really liked and, accordingly, chose the trail name of Phatman Du.

I must have looked pretty bad, as he asked me if I needed water.  Actually I did, so he shared with me about a fourth of a liter, for which I was very grateful.  After he left, I continued sitting there, just trying to build up a head of steam to get the body machinery moving.  Another hiker came by and introduced himself as Whitney Houston.  He too asked me if I needed water, and again I said, “Yes.”  He blessed me with a whole liter of water, and I now had enough water to make it to the next water cache called Third Gate.  

Whitney Houston was probably in his mid thirties and was an exceptionally fast and strong hiker.  I never saw him again, but looked for his name in trail registers as I moved along the trail.  Many other hikers met him also and among ourselves we inquired about him.  He crossed the Canadian border three to four weeks before I did. 

About his name – he had hiked the Appalachian Trail the year before.  Sitting around a campfire one evening, with several other burly- and hulk-looking trail hikers, who were commenting on their very macho trail names, they asked Whitney what his trail name was.  He didn’t have one, but to offset the virility of the names being tossed around, he simply said, “Whitney Houston.”  He may have said it as a joke, but it’s a name that stuck with him
Despite being on the trail several days longer than anticipated and getting low on food, I made it to Warner Hot Springs in nine days and was able to claim my resupply box from the post office.  Warner Hot Springs is a destination resort renowned for its hot springs, relaxing atmosphere, and historic ambiance.  In times past the resort had allowed hikers to soak in the warm waters of the pools and purchase meals at reasonable prices, but due to a change in ownership the resort was temporarily closed.  

Old places and old things like Warner Hot Springs intrigue me.  I love history.  It’s the primary reason I studied archaeology during my college days.  Throughout my forty years of wanderings as a river tour operator, whenever I found the crumbling foundation of a building or a piece of metal or milled piece of wood, I wanted to know how it got there, what was the story behind it, who handled the object, and why was it left behind?  

In 1847, the Mormon Battalion camped at Warner Hot Springs on its way to San Diego to augment Union troops during the war with Mexico.  A few years later, the U.S. government called for bids for the building and operation of an overland mail route between Missouri and San Francisco, California.  The bid went to John Butterfield, who built and operated the mail route for six years, or until the beginning of the Civil War.   It took twenty-two days for the mail to travel from Missouri to San Francisco, and Warner Hot Springs was an important stagecoach stop along the route, and today it houses two original 1857 adobe buildings.  (Ormsby)

I was so looking forward to a hot restaurant meal, a chance to shower, and a place to do my laundry when I arrived at the hot springs, but with the resort off limits, it looked like grabbing my resupply box and moving on was going to be my only option. 

 However, stepping in to fill the amenities’ void left by the closed resort was the Warner Hot Springs Community Center.  They opened their doors to the weary hikers and provided, for a price, showers, laundry, meals, and a chance to relax at a table in an air-conditioned building.  I took advantage of the meals and laundry, but skipped the shower; after all, I’d just had a shower several days before in Julian, and the cost for a shower at the Community Center was ten dollars.  

The post office was only a mile and a half from the Community Center, not far as walks go, but walking back to the Community Center with a bulky box in the hands was a bit challenging.  To the rescue came seventy-four-year-old George Woodward, who offered to transport hikers back and forth from the Community Center to the post office.  George is the name his mother calls him, but on the trail, he’s known as Billy Goat.

In the past, Billy Goat has lived six to eight months on the trail; he’s a retired railroad worker, married, has a home in Nevada, and through the years has become a legend of the thru-hiking community.  Billy Goat, with his untamed and overflowing white beard, has accumulated over thirty-two thousand miles of long-distant hiking.  And this day, as he has for the past week, was providing trail magic for weary hikers by driving them to and from the post office to pick up their resupply packages.

When it was my turn to go, I climbed into the back seat of his small car.  The front passenger seat has been removed, and when I asked him about it, he said he had removed it so that he could sleep in his car when the need arose. On the return trip, I put two dollars on the console to help pay for gas.  He said it wasn’t necessary, but still, gas money came out of his own pocket.

In front of the Community Center was a small park with grass and large shade trees.  Scattered around the area were twenty or more hikers who are either resting or sorting through their supply boxes.  I was beginning to recognize faces and could associate trail names with these new acquaintances.  Most I will never see again, but Shark Bite and Faucet, Dingo and Mudd, and Lotus and Hermes were three couples with whom I would cross paths with for the next twenty-five hundred miles, and during that time I will never, ever ascertain their real names.

 Buying a few extra supplies at the Mt. Laguna store

 The trail heading up into the mountains
 Chaparral covers the mountains

The water supply at Pioneer Mail.The circular cement holding tank is for horses, while the gallon jugs of water in the crate are for the hikers.

 Looking down into the Anza-Borrego Desert

The only shade I could find at the Rodriquez Spur Fire Tank

 My gracious hosts left me the Julian Lodge 

 Downtown Julian, now known for its apple pie

The water cache under the Scissors Crossing Bridge

This is the Barrel Springs water source. Trail Angels have left soda pop in the pool.

Because Warner Hot Springs Resort was closed, the community opened up their community center to assist the trail hikers.

Inside the air conditioned community center. Famed PCT hiker Billy Goat, with blue shirt and long grey beard is seated at the table.

After retrieving my first resupply  box from the post office, I spread the contents out on the lawn, under the large shade tree and sorted through it.

This sign assures hikers that the Third Gate water cache is only a short distance.

 This the meaning of the 3rd Gate water cache. There were three of these gates, and many more across the trail, to keep cattle from moving around.

At the 3rd Gate water cache, I found Stats resting under the shade of his GoLite umbrella. The umbrellas may look out of place, but they serve a vital function, and there were many of them on the trail.

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