Day 32 Agua Dulce, CA Mile 454
A day and a half rest at the Saufley’s has refreshed the legs, quenched the cravings, and soothed the soul. This is the epic trail angel stop, and it lived up to its billing. It was a bit of a roller-coaster from Wrightwood, both topographically and mentally, but I made it through and have recharged for next leg into the Mojave.
The ups and downs came mostly from my first real experience with discomfort on the trail, not in the form of climbing a mountain itself, but in the aches and pains the climb wrought. Fifteen miles out of Wrightwood lies Mt Baden-Powell (named in honor of the Boy Scout founder of sorts), and while I was looking forward to cranking up 3000 ft to the summit for the well-lauded views, I did not expect snow drifts quite so deep, and definitely did not expect my body to falter under the strain. It seemed simple enough: follow the trail as far as you could, then follow the most logical foot prints and snow steps to the summit via the path of least resistance. My ankle had been bothering slightly throughout the day, but in the call to forge upward any pain disappeared and I reached the top only out of breath under the strain of a full food bag. Los Angeles never seems to show itself under perpetual smog or sea clouds, but to the West and South all the major mountains the trail traverses were visible: Mt San Antonio in the foreground, Mt San Gorgonio beyond, and way past them both, Mt San Jacinto. Weeks worth of walking was laid bare in one expansive view. I could not make out Mt Whitney (apparently on a clear enough day this is possible), but the Tehachapi mountains and the Mojave Desert clearly marked the route forward over the next 150 miles.
I enjoyed a pleasant break at the top, and soon realized I should probably get moving on to camp beyond the snows. Somewhere in that break, my ankle discomfort returned, and out of nowhere came shin splints on the same side. Now I have heard about these for many years, and while I try to sympathize with its victims, I really couldn’t share in the experience. But boy did I share it for the next 5 miles picking my way down that snowy ridge. Son of a !!! I thought longingly of the hot tub at my cousin Bridget’s in LA, and of the 70 miles to go before landing in Hiker Heaven at the Saufley’s. It seemed a long way. My pace was slowed considerably from the discomfort, and so as darkness fell I was really hoping for Little Jimmy spring around any turn. Finally I reached the cool waters, and just beyond spotted the orange glow of a campfire. The best sight on the trail to that point. Turns out it was several other hikers I’d been with in town, and they gave me a prime fireside seat and a bag of snow to ice my leg. Seahorse, Chilidog, Hotrod, and Gourmet, thank you.
That is as low as the story goes. My ankle was stiff the next morning, but luckily the shin pain had disappeared completely. Earlier I anticipated a very short day. Hotrod and I were both on the “injured reserves list”, but somehow we made it 16 miles. Doing 20 the next, and 24 after that, we miraculously were back in business. So the body is a funny thing. Expect to be invincible, and you’ll soon fall short. Dread a long, slow recovery, and suddenly you’re setting PRs.
Quick recovery being said, I promised myself a good day off at the Saufley’s, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Not long after marching into Agua Dulce past the Hollywood famous Vasquez Rocks, I was treated to a hot shower, a comfortable cot, laundry, soft grass, and realizing just why it is this place is called Hiker Heaven. My cousin Bridget drove all the way out from LA to treat me to wonderful Mexican dinner, and with a full belly I sat around the camp fire with the other hikers who made sure not to miss this incredible gesture of generosity from Donna Saufley, her family, and the many volunteers. All magic on the trail is appreciated, and especially so when it is unexpected, but this place is the epitome. Everything you could need is here: from a hot shower, to mailing packages, trips to REI, to just playing with their many dogs. Places like these also meeting spots with the hikers around you where drinks are shared, laughing is contagious, and all the aches and pains of hiking simply float away. (It lulls you into thinking you can go out and do it all over again). My zero day was capped off with a tremendous catered meal that filled all the gaps missing from trail food, and a jam session on the piano and guitar that will be my soundtrack for the next 110 miles to Tehachapi. My guess: the challenges and rewards of this trek are just beginning.