Day 20 Big Bear City, CA Mile 265
The trek between cool mountainous Idyllwild and even cooler and mountainous Big Bear was full of lots of elevation, exciting weather, and a few trail oddities. Going from the San Jacinto range to the San Bernadino range required a brief but dramatic drop to San Gorgonio Pass and the dry desert between the two ranges. Here are a few glimpses of trail scenery I daresay are unique to the PCT:
-From my campsite among the boulders on the flanks of San Jacinto, I could look down over 6000 ft to I-10, a busy railroad, and the nearby developments at the pass. Probably my favorite campsite yet, I watched the evening light pour across the mountains, the sun setting on snowy Mt San Gorgonio ahead and the distant San Gabriels and LA basin to the West. Cars on the interstate were minute specks, and a river of light grew as darkness fell and headlights came on. What I thought must be a large grain elevator near the pass (being from Iowa, naturally this is a logical guess for any tall structure) suddenly seemed alive much more interesting than a repository for corn; huge neon red lettering started scrolling across the side, reminiscent of a one-time trip to Atlantic City. A casino! No wilderness trip is complete without one I believe. Care to pay for the hike anyone?
-The next evening I was trying to gain a few more miles in the cooler air after nursing my legs from the descent to the desert floor. As I approached the underpass of I-10, the traffic was no longer distant and quaint, the trains no longer quiet toy ribbons but loud, rumbling reminders of civilization hard at work. Reaching the underpass (or is it an overpass?) I was a bit thirsty and feeling quite dirty after slogging through a mile of sand. But lo and behold! Coolers of pop, Bud, Shasta Cola and peppermints were cached beneath the freeway! In the true vagabond nature of the trail, I sat down in the shade beneath the highway and guzzled a cold one while gleaming metal and freight tonnage stormed over my head. An excellent experience. I did not go all the way and sleep there however.
-If I was looking for a quieter spot to bed down though, I shouldn’t have walked on to the Mesa Wind Farm. For one, clearly it was futile trying to find a non-windy spot a stone’s throw away from several hundred wind turbines. And my does the wind really blow through San Gorgonio Pass. Second, I have never been so close to that many turbines (still waiting for an invitation from a certain Mr. Zutz) and I certainly did not anticipate the collective low shrieking they emit when really going full-bore. Combined with a nearly full moon in my face, I’m not sure how I got much sleep.
-Final oddity. After spending a colder night than anticipated in a run down forest service cabin (no windows, much graffiti) I walked with earnest toward Hwy 18 and the exit to Big Bear. Fresh ice weighed down the trees, and at 8000 ft the wind was blowing ferociously for seven in the morning. Not too long into the walk, I stumbled across a patchwork of dirt roads, a junction in my guide described as “four roads and a trail.” But what the guide failed to mention was the fenced compound that lay directly beyond. Behind two rows of very sturdy chain-link fencing were the cages of two grizzly bears, one tiger, and a huge-looking attack dog. I was at the “zoo” as locals call it, a temporary resting place for the famous big animals of Hollywood. Later I would learn that one of the bears was “wrestled” by Will Ferrell in a movie I cannot recall, and the tiger helped win an Academy Award in Gladiator. They apparently still make visits to the studio when the camera calls. But for being Hollywood famous, I was dismayed by the small size of their separate quarters. Surely the box office could pay for more. While the tiger watched us intently in a crouched position, the bears could not be bothered. One seemed completely lethargic and nearly asleep. The other paced back and forth. Suddenly a huge gust of icy wind blew through the trees and the pacing bear reared up on his hind legs and stuck his nose into the air. Whether he smelled hikers or just felt the primal adrenaline of the mountain air, I don’t know. But it was satisfying to see.