[pct-l] 2015 ADZPCTKO After Action Report
paintyourwagonhikes at gmail.com
Mon May 11 22:42:46 CDT 2015
I attended the second session of the kickoff this year, experiencing some
tumultuous, but for me, welcome weather, which is apparently getting to be
the norm. It was my second kickoff, having missed 2013, & 2014.
My trip down to the kickoff began at mile 210 of the PCT, starting at Ziggy
and The Bears' trail angel house at Whitewater.
I was delighted to be given the keys to a car, belonging to Carol, a trail
angel friend of the Whitewater House occupants. Carol permitted me to
drive, which was quite an experience, as I had been hiking since 2012, more
on than off, and had left my vehicle in IL., so driving in CA., was
practically a first for me, with a few noted exceptions however infrequent.
I chose to go over the western flank of Mt. San Jacinto (Black Mnt.) with a
stop in Idyllwild, at the Mt. San Jacinto State Park, in the hopes that any
hikers still needing a ride to the kickoff could be picked up at the last
minute for the haul south. The weather turned from sunny on the desert
floor to dense fog on the way up the serpentine mountain road, with at
times near zero visibility enveloping all motoring souls. There were no
takers at the park, but a first session attendee was there to offer us
The next stop was Paradise Valley Cafe, amid ever deteriorating weather and
driving conditions. Four valiant hikers were spotted walking along the
road's shoulder, doing the road walk the old fashioned way- facing traffic
and staying as far off the pavement as conditions would allow. Having said
that, an equestrian trail, and a mountain bike trail, were both easily
visible along the Pines to Palms Hwy., just off the road to the east, and
would have been a better choice in my humble opinion, with perhaps a little
pre-route planning for good measure.
A quick stop at the Paradise Valley Cafe, near PCT mile 152, revealed about
a dozen hikers busily engaged in the time honored tradition of scarfing
down huge burger platters and quaffing some of the delicious craft beers
that are available at this super hiker friendly oasis. All hikers were
northbound, so there were no takers for a ride to kickoff.
Undaunted, it was time to roll west the 7 miles it takes to reach Anza,
home of my personal friend and trail angel Evil Goat, whom I met in Iraq.
We established a great friendship at a large coalition military base,
working together in support of the troops, as the both of us would
enthusiastically walk seven and a half miles everyday, in order to eat our
three daily meals at one of two preferred chow halls. After a quick stop at
the local liquor store for a house warming gift of Irish whiskey, and an
equally quick stop at Evil Goat's, it was time to bolt to Warner Springs.
Warner Springs Community Center, mile 109.5 of the PCT, was packed with
hikers in various stages of rest and relaxation. The kitchen hummed with
volunteers preparing meals for hungry hikers, the laundry stack was fully
engaged in washing and drying hiker clothes, showers were busy, computers
occupied, tents, packs, and foot baths tended to, but no takers for a ride
to the kickoff. I briefly spoke with Nancy, making a promised donation that
I had pledged during my brief stay weeks ago to the head volunteer working
the well stocked supply store, then headed out the door for Barrel Springs.
It is worth noting that a San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy, was providing
hikers with a ride to the USPO at Warner Springs, in an official vehicle in
order to facilitate the retrieving of their resupply packages. Pretty cool
community relations huh?
Retracing my steps along the PCT as best I could with a car, was turning
out to be quite enjoyable- thrilling in fact. The weather was much better
at the lower elevations, but that would change shortly with a climb up to
the mountain town of Julian.
Barrel Springs, mile 101 of the PCT, had several hikers transitioning in
and out of the watering hole, but again, no takers for a ride to the
kickoff. Several enthusiastic conversations unfolded between the hikers
present, and this driver and passenger, before the two of us took off for
Looking up at the San Felipe Hills, from an automobile was a bit uncanny,
seeing how I had traversed the hills four consecutive years on foot.
Scissors Crossing, mile 77 of the PCT, was unoccupied, save for a few
bottles of water, some oranges, and a few apples that a good natured soul
had left for the inbound hikers.
I thought about staying down in the desert, eventually reaching Interstate
8, via the Overland Stage Route, which would have taken me past another
favorite stop on the trail- the Stagecoach Resort RV Park, but realized the
high route would take me to several PCT way points, not just the one, so
Julian was chosen as the way to the next "elevated" hiker water stop.
Again, near zero visibility, high winds, and driving rain greeted us as we
ascended the route into Julian. Sunrise Trailhead was the next stop. Due to
the limited visibility, I blew past the turn-off for the parking lot at
Sunrise Trailhead, slowing just enough to make the second entrance, which
put us right next to the pit toilets. Good thing, because nature was
calling. I chose the door on my left as I approached the small building,
and in doing so, found an empty stall. I suspected that hikers might be
hunkered down in the stalls due to the rapidly deteriorating weather. I was
half right. While taking care of business of a standing nature, I thought
that I either heard voices or was mistaking the howling winds for the same.
Being the curious type, I opened the door to the adjoining stall to find
not one but three hikers hunkered down. After a good laugh and the exchange
of a few pleasantries, one of the hikers asked me if I knew of anywhere to
camp out of the weather. I answered in the affirmative and said that they
were presently in a campsite, and advised them to just lock the door. I
returned to the car and immediately sought out my base layer top, down
vest, and rain jacket. Finding a pack of blueberry muffins, I returned to
the hikers and offered them a couple of muffin hugs each.
Turning my attention to the task of driving to the kickoff, I returned to
the vehicle only to discover two hikers walking south across the parking
lot, in the driving rain and near zero visibility. I assumed they were
looking for the trail and yelled out to them that it was to the east,
pointing with my left arm towards the Sunrise Hwy. They replied back in a
similar fashion, shouting out that they were looking for the water source.
I turned to face it, seeing nothing but a grey fog bank and driving rain. I
yelled to them that they needed to turn around and head north, following
the gravel parking lot until they reached two corrals of metal piping,
which would be divided by a dirt road, and to take that west about two full
blocks in distance until reaching a water tower, and beyond that they would
find the livestock trough/tank. They thanked me and then we bid each other
good bye. I then got back in the car and headed south for Pioneer Mail
I spotted a tent setup at Pioneer Mail, likely put up in haste, and noticed
someone under the squalid pit toilet's entrance roof, and someone else
entering one of the stalls. Driving further onto the grounds, a hiker was
spotted approaching a parked vehicle that was unoccupied. I shouted out to
her, and she asked in reply if I could take her anywhere. Yes, anywhere. I
asked where her pants were- meaning rain gear, and she replied that they
were in her pack. She had on the most basic of short shorts, and was
getting pelted by the driving rain. I got out to make room for her gear
which she had to retrieve, and found it necessary to immediately don my
base layer bottom and rain pants, or face the real prospect of hypothermia.
The temperature had plummeted with the increase in winds, and getting wet
was now a serious matter. My companion asked why she was in such short
shorts. I could only guess. I said the boys like the kind of shorts the
young woman had on, as one educated guess. Disclosure: I am 57 years young,
and I like the short shorts. The only appropriate clothing in this kind of
threatening weather however, is the kind that will protect you to the best
of it's ability. In the face of bad weather it made no sense to have one's
weather protection in one's pack. Hey- I call it like I see it.
After making room for our new riding companion, it was time to boogie. The
next possible stop where hikers might be sheltering up, and not necessarily
looking for a ride to the kickoff, was the pedestrian vista/overlook ramp,
just north of Mt. Laguna campground on the Sunrise Hwy. I pulled in to the
parking area and quickly checked under the ramp area as the foundation was
a bulwark against the driving rain, and any hiker caught in the storm would
likely find the structure a good place to wait out the rapidly brewing and
now- somewhat fierce weather. No cigar. Nobody home. So, it was off to the
lodge in Mt. Laguna, per our new companion's request.
I know the lodge proprietors to be two no nonsense type of guys, so I
offered to arbitrate for the hiker, in the event the owners might be of a
charitable nature, and permit her to piggyback with someone that already
had a room. In fact, one of her friends was supposed to be holed up in the
lodge. The owners were not interested in revealing the name of any
occupant, due to privacy concerns, so that was a dead end. I proffered that
one could stay at the Burnt Rancheria C. G., or the Desert View Picnic
Area, although that is an unofficial site when it comes to camping,
(parsing words if ever there were any) however- the community seems to
tolerate PCT campers/squatters, so I drove over there to show the hiker a
spot that could be home for the night. The hiker knew her friend was in a
lodge room and was determined to find him. My passenger (her car) insisted
that we take her to the lodge so that she could look for her friend, so
that's what we did. The hiker knocked on adjoining doors and both were
answered, leading her to success in that she entered the room of one of the
occupants. Having successfully delivered an ill prepared hiker to an
excellent shelter, our duties were done and it was time to drive directly
to the kickoff.
In review, stops were made at Mt. San Jacinto State Park, Paradise Valley
Cafe, Anza Liquor, trail angel Evil Goat's house, also in Anza, the Warner
Springs Community Center, Barrel Springs, Scissors Crossing, Sunrise
Trailhead, via Julian, Pioneer Mail Picnic Area, the vista/overlook ramp
near Mt. Laguna C. G., Mt. Laguna Lodge, and the Desert View Picnic Area.
All in all, the drive was filled with surprise, danger, excitement,
memories, anticipation, reflection, and the expectation of great things to
come. A fine start to the day.
By the time I reached Interstate 8, I couldn't determine whether I needed
to go east, or west. A moment with an open and functioning map application
on my phone, gave me my answer. I began to remember my bicycle ride last
year, taking me from Phoenix, AZ., to Campo, and thought seriously about
taking old highway 80, which runs parallel to the Interstate, to the
kickoff. Noting the time- it was almost 5:30pm, I elected to drive on the
Interstate, shortening the time it would take to get to Lake Morena.
Buckman Springs Road, appeared almost immediately, and a quick exit had us
on a road that provided sporadic views of the PCT. I am smitten by the
trails' influence on me, and I get downright giddy whenever I am in an
automobile and I can actually see the trail. It's the closest thing to
magic for this middle aged kid.
A couple of stops and turns and then the kickoff comes into full view.
The first order of business is to register, and the second order of
business is to see if a spot can be had for Carol, my non-hiking passenger.
Due to the two session arrangement, the kickoff is noticeably less crowded
than what I remember about the 2012 kickoff. Carol is assigned to the same
site that I am signed up for, and there is plenty of room for her car,
which is a good thing because she is planing on sleeping in it, thanks to
the purchase of a luxurious inflatable mattress from REI.
The registration process was simple and a one stop affair. Welcome- check.
Questions- check. Register/pay- check. ID Badge- check. Bandana- check.
Raffle- check. Parking fee- check. T-shirts- check. Tent tag- check.
Almost immediately, familiar faces or trail names are spotted, sending the
endorphins to work. Carol and I exchange between us, what interests we have
in the kickoff programs- namely the 6:30pm talk by Pepper, on his and
Traumas' winter PCT hike. In the mean time, Carol heads over to the gear
manufacturers' quadrant, and I seek out a dear friend and trail angel
extraordinaire, Mr. Big Fig.
Guino, another dear friend from Mammoth Lakes, had spotted us pulling into
the campground, and joyfully escorted us to our site by jogging along
Carol's car, dutifully announcing to anyone within earshot that his bud
(yours truly) was in the house. I suspected that he may have been indulging
in adult beverages, and in short order, I confirm this suspicion.
Undaunted, the both of us exchange hugs and go through the usual and
customary gyrations good friends display when reunited.
Over at Mr Big Figs,' evidence of him cooking- his nearly world famous
greasy tacos, is everywhere. No surprise, as I was lucky enough to enjoy
three of those delicious culinary delights in 2012, right after reaching
kickoff after climbing up out of Hauser Canyon. That was the first time I
had met him, and the second time was at mile 702 of the PCT, at 10:30pm, on
July 31st, 2012, at Kennedy Mdws. He offered me a "canned ham" trailer to
sleep in that night. A kind and totally unexpected gesture.
Due to circumstances completely within my control, I skipped the standing
room only lecture in the pavilion featuring Pepper, electing instead to
hang with my "boys," doing what boys do, well into the night.
Unfortunately, my decision to cowboy camp later that night proved to be a
bad call, as I awoke to a rather heavy mist which quickly turned into a
light rain, then rain-rain, prompting me to go into warp drive and assemble
my tent in a most expeditious manner. Note to self: next time I engage in
late night activities with my "boys," assemble ye old tent first. Or, as
Homer Simpson would say: "DOH!"
The threatening weather never reached critical mass Saturday, but did in
fact do so that evening. The respite in the weather, gave everyone a chance
to commiserate, visit the gear manufacturers, participate in class
pictures, attend indoor and outdoor presentations, and have an overall
great day at the kickoff. I took interest in inspecting an 8oz. pack by
Gossamer Gear. I engaged in conversation with some BLM personnel at their
booth, educating them on several critical websites that are favorites of
hikers. Half Mile's PCT maps, the PCT water report, PCT-L, Trail Journals,
Postholer, and PCTA (in particular, the Community tab, with special
attention to PCT Live and the Journalists.) I gave one interested person a
quick tutorial on Half Mile's cell phone application. I also advised on
Guthook's app., and David Money Harris's I-trails app. The person was quite
surprised by all of the sites and by the depth at which they function.
The Wolverines were doing shakedowns as usual, and had a number of
spectators captivated by the patient and methodical ways in which the
shakedown mentors went about the task of separating unnecessary gear from
their respective owners. The conversations between gear owners and weight
reduction experts could easily be heard and provided teaching moments for
those in the "audience" open to their suggestions. Seeing is believing.
Hearing it firsthand, reinforced the lessons. One could "debate" the
choices of gear elimination being made, right inside one's own head. Keep?
Pitch? Donate? Mail? Important? Excessive? Ridiculous? Agree? Disagree?
>From my cold dead hands? OK? Yes? No?
The class pictures are always fun and this years' effort was no exception.
I had a blast as did my friend Guino, because I have hiked four consecutive
years in a row, so I was able to join the classes of 2015, 2014, 2013, and
2012. Guino, who has hiked the PCT, 9 years out of the past 10 years,
joined me for the first four class pictures, stepping away during the class
of 2011 picture, seeing how he was hiking the AT that year. He reentered
the class pictures starting in 2010. Unfortunately, for him, the subsequent
years in the past decade of 2000 to 2009, were all lumped together, so
after that- the party was over for him. He groused a bit, but I couldn't
tell how serious he really was about being lumped by the decade into a
class picture. The 80's had but one lone hiker representing the class. The
70's, always a crowd favorite due to it being founders, pioneers, and plank
holders, had the first female solo southbound hiker- Teddy Boston, and the
Funk Brothers, representing their class. There were a few other hikers
present for the 70's class picture, but regrettably, I did not know them by
I attended a couple of the presentations: the water report, and flora and
fauna. The water report presentation was packed. Half Mile, and Double Tap,
provided excellent reports. My rookie year, I carried 2 gallons just about
everywhere, and took extreme interest in most of the water sources, taking
pictures of many of them. I just about couldn't help myself by commenting
on a number of the critical water sources along the trail in southern
California. Hopefully, I did not earn the ire of anyone in the room for my
repeated contributions. I ad libbed on a few of the stops, offering perhaps
excessive details as to the services available at places like Warner
Springs, and Stagecoach RV, which weren't necessarily pertinent to the
water issues. The audience gave Half Mile (and Double Tap) a rousing and
well deserved, lengthy standing ovation.
The flora and fauna presentation was put on by Ceanothus. The format
included slides and commentary, with a casual feel permitting comments and
questions by the speaker and the audience. Several laminated field guides
and books were displayed on a table at the front of the room, giving anyone
interested hints for further material to study pertaining to the syllabus.
I plan to get my hands on one or more of the laminated guides, likely the
flora, to help in identifying most of the plants encountered along the
trail. Ceanothus was approachable outside the confines of the presentation,
for a followup question/comment I had, and would have easily devoted more
time to my questioning if I had any others to ask of her.
Due to threatening weather, a decision was made to move the video and
raffle over to the pavilion. This move proved to be on the money as the
rain came as predicted later in the evening.
The big event of the day (evening) proved to be the raffling off of donated
gear, followed by the 2014 class video.
Frodo, gave an impassioned speech regarding the PCT, enjoining everyone to
collectively roll up their sleeves and pitch in where ever their talents
could be used for the benefit and perpetuation of the trail. I believe it
was well received and coming from someone that walks the walk, left a
lasting impression on everyone in the room. The weather offered up a
contribution too- bringing much needed rain to the parched desert, adding
the appropriate ambiance to the night's program.
Pro Deal, emcee of the class video presentation, implored the crowd to send
a little enthusiasm his way, for the time honored tradition about to take
place, to little or no avail. I think the 5, or 20 mile hike, that most
people made to get to the kickoff, or the long drive or ride to the park,
on top of the possibility of imbibing in spirits, or stuffed with a high
calorie meal, prior to the raffle and video, may have contributed to the
crowds' subdued reaction.
I surprised myself, and probably everyone else in the room, by standing up
and saying quite confidently, that I could get the crowd enthused with
something called the rally clap. I believe I had been indulging just enough
in adult beverages prior to the gathering, that I had lost most if not all
of my inhibitions- enough so to take a huge risk without any fear of
failure whatsoever. I was granted the floor, and proceeded to instruct the
crowd on the finer points of the rally clap by giving them a demonstration,
then asking for one hiker to count out the repetitions- I suggested five
repetitions. Well, I gave it my best shot and did a rally clap for the
audience. The idea was for everyone to do something spontaneous, but for it
to work it would take every one's participation in the room, and- it
required people to react in unison, and- with much enthusiasm. I had
absolutely no idea if this act of a crazy man would work, but it was only
going to take about 2 whole seconds to find out. I slapped my hands
together; clap, clap, clap-clap-clap, clap-clap-clap-CLAP, clap-clap.
The room erupted with the most beautiful, loud, coordinated clapping that I
ever witnessed. To me, it was a group synchronized in a singular moment of
unity. It said- COMMUNITY! I just about fainted because the crowd NAILED
IT! Well, if there was going to be a grade given out for enthusiasm, this
group got an A plus. I doubt that I would ever try such a stunt again. WOW!
The video was all it was cracked up to be, and they are getting better by
the year. Great, great, great soundtrack.
Site #32. This is the site the Andersons stake out each year. They are
trail angels in Green Valley, located at mile #478 (2 miles south) and have
the trail angel thing pegged. This was my first year hanging with them at
their site, once the kickoff was over. One cool thing they do is- spot
hikers coming into Lake Morena, and at precisely the right moment, clap
hikers in to the park. Some of us rookies, kept jumping the gun, initiating
our clapping way too soon. Mrs Anderson (Terrie) would have to continually
remind us to hold our fire, until we saw the whites of their eyes... sort
of, kind of. Eventually, the problem students got it right. The hikers were
treated to chili, made by Mrs Anderson, and several hiker volunteers right
on site. This chili had everything in it INCLUDING the kitchen sink.
DE-licious. Hikers, could hang out, pitch a tent, cowboy camp, get down
with their bad selves, or rescue kittens and little puppies at site #32.
The park cuts the Andersons some slack, due to their prominent trail
angel/PCT status, plus their tradition and longevity at the kickoff, and-
seeing how it's the kickoff, or the day after the kickoff, lets the number
of hikers per site policy slide a bit. That being said, once the Andersons
left, I made the mistake of luring hikers to site #32, with the ol'
clapping routine, loading up the site beyond the normal 2 tent (8 people)
per site policy. For the record- I paid the $27 per day fee... but soon
thereafter, came under the wrath of the MAN. The park staff agreed to 4
tents (8 people) per site, on a day by day basis. I left on the following
Friday, so that was the end of the agreed upon flexibility/leeway.
FWIW: I missed the Friday evening meal, which I believe was bean burritos.
However, breakfast was oranges, apples, bananas, bagels, cream cheese,
peanut butter, multiple juices, hot coffee, and bean burritos. A decision
was made to use cabbage, instead of lettuce in the burritos, as lettuce
doesn't keep nearly as well as cabbage. It was an excellent decision. I
would rather have cabbage in my burritos anyway, having tried it this
kickoff and finding it to be a delicious alternative.
Garbage bags and recycling bags were placed at all of the picnic tables.
This was an excellent idea. Portable restrooms placed in strategic
locations, along with wash stations seemed to be sufficient in number. The
updated park sewer system held it's own. Hiker etiquette reminders,
compliments of Switchback, were abundant and said the right things in the
The organizers have the kickoff down to a science and deserve a tremendous
thank you for the awesome vibe that they impart on the hikers as they set
out on a hike of a lifetime.
Kudos to the hikers, sponsors, manufacturers, volunteers, park staff,
workers, donors, participants, angels, alumni, maintainers, and every other
sentient being that puts forth an investment in the idea that one can walk
a continuous ribbon from Mexico to Canada. How crazy is that?
Best to each and every one of you,
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