Hey guys, clearly we don’t have it in us to update on here that frequently. However, we are continuing to post pics and small updates to our Facebook page Strercher Family Vacation. There may be future updates here (eventually), but head on over there to keep an eye on us now.
Welp, it’s official. We can no longer in good conscience call ourselves through hikers, and we are thrilled about that. Maybe “really long section hikers” or “most of the way hikers” because we sit here at mile 658, magically transported 100 trail miles into the future by the power of bus.
Guys, the desert is The Worst! It’s so dry, so hot, and so exposed. The lack of water was our breaking point; 17-25 mile dry stretches were the norm, and we were approaching a potential 42 mile dry stretch between Tehachapi and Walker Pass. No thank you. The sketchiness and anxiety of the water report was getting to us – when the water report says a creek has “low flow” and it was updated a week ago, what can you expect to find? We had enough of it and just weren’t having fun anymore, so we made the decision to skip ahead to Walker Pass at mile 652. We are quickly approaching Kennedy Meadows at mile 702, the generally accepted change point between the desert and the Sierras. Even today, we have some tree cover and we are so excited about that!
So there you have it. No more rattlesnakes and water galore! We are happy with our decision. See you soon Kennedy Meadows!
Hello from Tehachapi! Yes it’s been a very long time since we posted on this blog, over 300 miles on the trail and double that by train and bus. Long story short, we got off the trail at Lancaster, made our way north to SF for a short break, made our way back down to Lancaster, and then hiked to Tehachapi. A few reasons for such an early jaunt off trail: 1) We knew we wanted to come to SF at some point, and it’s actually WAY easier to get up there from the trail via Lancaster->LA commuter train then LA->SF bus. When we’re in the Sierras, we’ll be closer geographically but it’s really difficult to get off trail via public transportation. 2) There was recent snow in the Sierras, and we’re hoping that the extra week will give the weather time to settle down. And 3) the desert was just bring us down man. My feet hurt!
That’s the biggest reason you haven’t heard much from us for a few weeks – we’ve had some awesome experiences but the desert in general is tough and hot and not that exciting. Besides being generally exhausted, I thought I’d spare you a bunch of posts that sound like this: “It was hot again. Saw some trees for a while! But then more scrub and no shade. Also I got a new blister.”
So here’s the desert highlight reel! Just a few miles after leaving Ziggy and the Bear, at mile 213, Sara had her first (but certainly not last!) hangry overeating incident. My poor, wonderful wife has such trouble with moderation: she wants to hike the whole PCT, and she thinks it’s a good idea to eat four cups of Marie Osmond Brand instant vanilla pudding in one sitting.
Throw a couple candy bars and other snacks on the pile and you’re ready to hike!! Except one mile later (all of four miles into our day), my poor, wonderful wife had to take a second break and sit by the trail digesting for about 30 minutes. Luckily, vomiting was narrowly averted this time. I promise I had permission to write this story. Sara says, “I’m not ashamed of who I am.”
We survived the pudding incident and eventually climbed up up up to over 8500 feet into the San Bernadino mountains. What a beautiful change of scenery! Above 6000 feet, we had trees and shade galore, with some very cool cloud action. Up so high and right near the ridge line, we could see the cloud catching action of the mountains right over our heads.
As you can see from the above picture, we got some pretty crazy weather up there, and even got snowed on the next day! No worries, we are well prepared for cold and wet and it was a really nice change from the usual hot and dry!
But as you may have seen on Facebook, we had a crazy hitch into Big Bear from mile 266. We got to the highway around 3pm just as the weather was taking a turn for the worse, with the temperature dipping into the 30s and the wind gusting like crazy. No one wanted to stop for us! But we got lucky with someone else’s bad luck – a dirt biker pulled over next to us with a flat tire and his buddy picked us all up with his huge truck. We’ve ridden in more trucks on this trip than we have in the past five years!
After a wonderful, warm night in a Big Bear motel (I took two showers!), we enjoyed another day of forest before dropping down to about 3000 feet. We followed Deep Creek for a couple days and had a very nice night at some clothing optional hot springs. (No pictures of that, sorry!)
Nothing much to report here except for (Moms, you may want to stop reading here) our third rattlesnake encounter! The fourth would follow the next day in the desert approaching Lake Silverwood. Luckily, we haven’t seen a rattlesnake or been rattled at since encounter #4 – based on what I hear from other hikers, four-ish is pretty average. As scary as these encounters are (and by encounter, I mean it rattled at us from within a couple feet), I really have to give rattlesnakes a lot of credit. They clearly don’t want to bite and they’re courteous enough to tell you that they’re REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE WITH THIS SITUATION PLEASE GO AWAY NOW. We are hyper vigilant about keeping an eye out for snakes when hiking in the desert, but sometimes, with all the brush cover, it’s just unavoidable to get too close. However, bites are extremely rare if you take action to move away when rattled at, and chances are extraordinarily slim that we will be bit. So there’s that!
More desert, more blisters, too much sun, but again, we climbed our way out of the desert and into the San Gabriel mountains, hitting the highest point in the trail so far, the summit of Mt Baden Powell at 9400 feet. An excellent day – at a campground that night, we were adopted by a very generous couple who let us share their campsite and fed us pasta and beer!
A few days later in Agua Dulce, we picked up our first section hiking friend, my former college roommate and badass geologist Jenni Buz. We quickly gave her the trail name Moon Rock and she fed us copious amounts of homemade jerky. We had so much fun hiking with you Moon Rock!
Speaking of trail names, Sara and I received ours right around the time of the last blog post. I’ve been dubbed Coach – for the first few weeks of the trail, when everyone’s bodies are saying “WTF are you doing to me?”, people would learn that I teach Crossfit and frequently respond with “OMG [insert body part here] hurts, how do I stretch that??” I taught many mini mobility classes, stretching out hips and IT bands and butts.
As many of you know, Sara is a very small person, often cold and constantly seeking warmth. One of our splurges for this trip was a pair of Feathered Friends down booties for each of us, and Sara has a deeply passionate relationship with hers. After more than a few midday naps wearing hers, the trail spoke and named her Bootie.
That about wraps it up through Lancaster. This post is feeling long but keep an eye out for more very soon! (Assuming my cell service holds out.)
Miles yesterday: 20.3 (our longest day yet!)
Miles so far: 210.8*
Guys, I have a confession to make: we cheated a little bit. Due to a wildfire in 2013, the trail is closed from mile 162 to 177. If we were purists, we could have hiked up the mountain from 152 to 162, back down via a side trail, then back up via Idyllwild. However, the water situation was sketchy, hiking up and down the same mountain twice sounded like the least fun, and to be honest, we just didn’t want to, so instead we hitchhiked from the Paradise Valley Cafe off mile 152 into Idyllwild and then rejoined the trail at mile 183 via Deer Springs Trail from town. We skipped about 16 miles of hikable trail but at less than 1% of total trail miles, we don’t feel bad about it. Call it a thru* hike if you take offense.
Anyway, we celebrated Sara’s birthday with beer and humongous burgers at the cafe and caught a ride into town with a very nice older couple. Our first time hitch hiking! We were worried it would take a while but we had our thumbs out for literally two minutes. We ended up taking a zero day on the 19th in Idyllwild, an adorable mountain town of about 3500, spending our time enjoying ample cell service and chatting with the folks at the historical society.
The next day, we got up bright and early to hike Deer Springs Trail up to the PCT. Over four miles we climbed from 5600 ft to over 8000 ft – the elevation was killer! We were huffing and puffing like crazy towards the top. But man, it was beautiful!
Trees! Shade! Running water! It was like being up in Washington again. Very refreshing after so much arid desert and chapparal. God I cannot wait to get out of the desert. We even saw snow!
After rejoining the PCT, we climbed another 900 ft over three miles, collecting water around 9000 ft elevation.
…and then we plunged 8000 feet down over about 20 miles back into the desert. There’s a huge wind farm in this valley and as one would expect, some of the windiest conditions I’ve experienced, on the trail or off. Coming off the mountain wasn’t so bad but as soon as we entered the valley, we were bent over with our shoulders to the wind. I’d guess it was gusting over 60mph. We’re both super grateful we had our poles to keep us upright! I wish I had some pictures of the trees growing sideways in the wind, but we were just too tired.
I am very happy to report that although I had some bad knee pain on the rough trail two days ago from 186 to 190 (switchbacks down! switchbacks up! switchbacks down again!), my knees had almost no pain yesterday on the plunge down Fuller Ridge from 190 to 206. I rolled out my IT bands a whole hell of a lot and I think that made a huge difference. We were super worried about the descent and very happy it worked out so well.
We’re resting easy this morning at the hiker house owned by trail angels Ziggy and the Bear. What a wonderful respite! This afternoon we’re going to start the climb back up into the mountains to over 8000 ft, hiking around San Gorgonio Mountain and expecting to hit Big Bear in about three days. A nice little warm up for the Sierras!
If you’re just following the blog, I encourage you to take a peek at our Facebook page as well – we’re putting some extra pictures up there.
We slept terribly the first few nights for two reasons: we’re both side sleepers, and I’m an incorrigible blanket hog. Our original sleep system consister of a thermarest Zlite closed cell foam pad each plus a shared two person Rayway quilt, which we purchased used. We were optimistic about this system: the quilt worked really well for us in the cold Iceland nights, but looking back it’s probably because we paired it with inflatable pads, which were more comfy for side sleeping and curbed my rolling around (and therefore, blanket thievery).
Anyway, this was not a good system for us. If you’re not familiar with a quilt, it is basically a sleeping bag opened up without the zipper: the quilt covers both of us together and our pads insulate us from below. It’s thin, but the idea is that you tuck it in on the sides to prevent drafts and the shared body heat keeps you warm. In theory, a single two person quilt should be lighter but just as warm as two sleeping bags. My conclusion after our experience and chatting with others is that quilts are great in theory, terrible in practice. We woke up many times during the night, me to adjust and re-tuck the quilt (and in doing so, steal more from Sara), both of us with pain in our shoulders and hips from side sleeping on the thin foam, and poor Sara freezing cold. Quilts are just too finicky to be worth the potential weight savings.
When we rolled into Mt Laguna on day 4, we hit up the little sports outfitter for two fixes, one cheap and one not so cheap. The first was a super cheap and super light 1/2 inch foam pad, which we cut in half and down to size to fit under our torsos. With this new torso pad plus the Zlite, we can finally side sleep without pain. It’s no memory foam mattress topper and we kind of look like divas with our two pads strapped to the outside of our packs (especially compared to the ultralighters with only a tiny torso pad), but each new pad is just a couple ounces and it does the trick.
Second, we injected some of our tax return money back into the economy and bought two gorgeous Feathered Friends sleeping bags, shipping the quilt back to WA. We’ve learned our lesson and never again will we share an insulative layer on the trail. Oh my god guys these bags are wonderful. Sara’s is the Egret UL, magically 1lb 11oz and at 5’3″, perfectly sized for her. Mine is the Egret Nano, 1lb 15oz and 5’9″. Together, they’re actually about the same weight as the quilt and a zillion times warmer and comfier. They’re both 20 degree bags and full of piles of glorious goose down. We are in love. The first few nights with the quilt we were putting on all the warm layers we had and still cold; with these beauties we’re sleeping in our undies. Cold nights in the Sierras will be downright cozy!
Miles today: 5
Miles so far: 109
Hello from mile 109! We’re taking a “near-o” (near zero) day at Warner Springs, a tiny little rural town near the San Jacinto mountains. Our feet need a break after putting in 18+ miles a day for the last couple days! The resource center here has wifi, showers, and laundry, all of which are long overdue. We are learning the true meaning of “dirty” out here.
Back on day 5, Sara made a friend!
A true PNW girl, cactuses are exotic and fascinating to her.
As Sara said, poor cactuses. They’re the loneliest plant in the desert, always on the defense. She just wants to be friends!
Guys, the desert kind of sucks. It’s all dry and hot and brown and there’s no shade or water, as one might expect from the desert. We got seriously spoiled in the first few days of the trail – it was surprisingly green for a desert section, full of flowering yucca and wildflower and abundant smooth, red barked manzanita trees for shade. Not so bad! The last few days have been very different. Starting from the second half of day 4, the landscape became extremely arid. Day 6 (mile 68.4-86.6) was not fun – a long, hot, exposed walk down a mountain to scissors crossing, following by a long, hot, exposed climb into the San Jacinto mountains. When the wind wasn’t gusting and sucking our mucus membranes dry, it was totally still and terribly hot. The trail itself traversed the side of a steep mountain, so we put a ton of miles in that day – there wasn’t much flat area to sit in, much less shade to sit under. Thank god we had our chrome domes to provide a little portable shade! Even at night we had to sleep with our buffs over our mouths, as the wind was sucking us dry and we kept waking up parched. The desert is The Worst.
I think we’re past the worst of it though. It’s been way more pleasant lately, with a nice breeze taking us down into the valley these past couple days. And Sara made more friends!
Sara made me a promise at the beginning that if we made it 100 miles, she would finally initiate the name change process – she changed her last name on fb when we got married, but legally she’s sneakily been a Strite this whole time.
She’ll be a Kercher soon!
Miles today: 11
Miles so far: 26
(Written by Megan)
Hello from mile 26! After a rough first day, things have settled down and we are blissfully cozying up in camp #2. When the sun sets at 7:30, 8pm bedtime makes a lot of sense!
Getting down here and to the trailhead on Wednesday morning was pretty easy, aside from a few hiccups – we forgot the gps in Washington (oops, but we have paper maps and it will meet us in about a week) and the TSA took away our peanut butter (we bought more). All packed up and leaded with water, and we were off! Thank you again to my dad for putting us up for the night and taking us to the trailhead!
There’s no water for the first 20 miles of the trail, and we intended to camp at mile 15, so we had to load ourselves up with 6(!) liters apiece. Water is really freaking heavy. The morning wasn’t too bad but by mid afternoon, we were not happy campers. Frustratingly, my left hip and knee started to hurt quite a bit in the second half of the day, made worse by the fact that our last few miles were a steep descent. All my physical therapy has been for pain in my right knee; I’ve never had problems with my left side. I hike into camp angry at my knee for crapping out and at water for being so goddamn heavy. Thankfully, stretching and SMR, vitamin I (ibuprofen), and a much lighter pack on day two has made the pain manageable. Here’s hoping I get my hiker legs soon! Sara seems to be catching the cold I just beat and her body is telling her she should have gone to the gym more, but otherwise she is holding up like a champ.
Compared to yesterday, day 2 has been a dream. We’ll be hitting water every 6ish miles for a long stretch ahead, so our packs feel wonderfully light. It’s way too early to be feeling hiker hunger, but we’re doing work to get our calories in.
Thanks for all your support so far! Cell service is sporadic but we’ll post as we can.