Final Stretch

It has been a crazy week since we’ve moved out of the house. But it has all been good.

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In a nutshell, we tied up a few loose ends in Oregon and headed south. 

We spent the weekend with our resupply goddess getting a late delivery of food put together;

We drove south through California’s central valley.  We were planning on taking a couple of days to get to San Diego, but got word that there were just a handful of spaces left at our planned auto storage facility that were first-come, first-served, so we pushed hard to get there and get our spot.  We did;

Then it was last-minute chores of sending out resupply boxes and getting everything ready. But since San Diego is my old stomping grounds as a teenager and Jennifer has never been here, there was food to be enjoyed and places to see.

We will catch a breather before we hit the trail.

I hope.

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The First Days

(Originally titled “The First 20”, but there isn’t any cell phone coverage at mile 20.  Well, except for Jen’s cheapie pre-paid phone, which is working like a champ).

We started our thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) just after 7am on Sunday, April 12th, 2015.

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The trail was going to be a challenge straight from the start.  It would be 20 miles to the next reliable water source.  Since we weren’t going to make it there the first day, we would have to carry extra water.  We started off with 7 liters each (about 15.5lbs), which made the packs even heavier than they would normally be.

Thankfully it was a cool, dry morning. Perfect for hiking. Quite a few others showed up at the trailhead and many others passed us through the day.  We didn’t keep track of how many, but we saw a couple of dozen.  That’s quite a few less than the 50 permits issued for the day.

It was a day of slow going, working up and down the hills, in and out of the shade.  The temperature approached 80, but it never felt too hot, especially when the breeze kicked in.

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It was an afternoon of looking at flowers, plants and rocks. We saw a rock formation that reminded us of the migration scene in the movie “Ice Age”, which prompted the song that the vultures sang over the long line of animals – “food, glorious food”. That prompted a snack break.

At our breaks we change out our socks and look over our feet.  Even just a few miles in, some folks were already having foot issues. But we’re good, thanks to our combination of wool toe socks (Injinji for Bill, Smartwool for Jen) under a thin pair of wool Darn Tough socks.

Darn Tough is one of our very generous sponsors for this hike.

One of our favorite moments of the day was cresting a ridgeline and getting the cool breeze from the Pacific Ocean (some 40 miles west of here) in our face.  Not for the cooling effect, but for the sudden blast of sweetness from the field of blooming lilacs.  It was so good that it stopped us in our tracks.  A few good whiffs and the wind shifted, so we moved on, only to be surprised a few more times in the next mile or two.

We got into camp about an hour before sunrise, which was enough time to quietly set up.  Space was limited as others had already staked out their spot and we’re asleep.  It was a long day for everyone.

But the one thing looming over us was the first climb, which we got to stare at as we descended into our campsite.  It’s in this picture, starting lower right and climbing along those switchbacks.

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Day 1 – 15.3 miles.

Day 2 started a bit slow for us. We just didn’t have our routine together yet. That, along with the knowledge that we had a short 5-mile day ahead of us took the urgency out of the morning. So by the time we got on that climb, it was fully in the sun.  Although it was a cool morning, the sun was still beating down.

Even Lake Morena is suffering.  The ranger tells me that it’s at 3.5% capacity right now.

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We got into Lake Morena a little bit before noon, found a shady campsite, got everything set up and started relaxing.

Why such a short day?  Letting our bodies adapt to what we’re doing.  Many hikers make it to Lake Morena the first day.  They may have different goals or a tighter timeline.  But even on our schedule, we’ll make it onto the mountains by the end of May, which is a few weeks earlier than we should be if this year’s snowfall had been normal.

We call a day like this a “nero”.  It’s not a zero day, where we don’t get any miles in, but a day short enough in the overall sense that it’s nearly zero.  Nero’s are handy for rest days like this or keeping resupply stops cheaper.

On those days we’ll camp a few miles out of town, hike in to resupply and do errands, then hike a few miles out of town to camp for the night.  Cheaper than a hotel room and it keeps us moving forward.

Our average for this week is 10 miles per day (mpd) [16kmpd].  Next week it will be just under 12 mpd (19kmpd). We’ll slowly be ramping up our daily mileage until we are averaging 21 mpd (35 kmpd) going into the mountains.

The most important thing we can be doing right now is focusing on recovery and making sure we are well hydrated. Sure, we could try hammering out 20 miles each day, but our bodies wouldn’t have a chance to recover and adapt. That’s one thing I learned during my many years of running, riding and triathlon shenanigans.  So for now we stay focused on this process.  There will be plenty of time in Northern California, Oregon and Washington to crank out those 25-30 mpd weeks.

Until then, we’ll stick with Jen’s mantra – “Slow and steady wins the race”.

Day 2 – 4.7 miles.

Another Two Days

We’re rolling along.  Slowly but surely.  We’re watching much faster hikers pass us all day long, but we’re also passing folks whose feet look like hamburger or that they’re carrying enough for three people.

For the first group we extol the virtues of our wool toe socks covered by a thin pair of wool hiking socks.  Over 40 miles in, with thousands of feet of elevation gain and loss, over hot sand and rocks, and neither one of us have had to deal with a hot spot.  No concerns about blisters for either one of us.

For the second group, we’ve been steering them to the outdoor shop in Mt Laguna, where they do a complete shakedown of your gear and whittle it down to what you really need.  When we stopped by, we saw a few of the folks that heeded our advice.  That was good to see, knowing that they would be lighter.  Even if it meant their pocketbook was lighter.

But back to the trail.

Day 3 was a planned 12 miles. We were setting up for a “nero” in the next town, Mt Laguna, on Thursday.  A nice warm day with temps pushing 80.  That’s not bad, but a couple of stretches without wind were toasty.  But with the breeze kicking in, it was pleasant, if not chilly when we stayed in the shade too long.  Like for our mid-day siesta.

It’s wildflower season right now, so there are blooms everywhere.  Give me my camera and my macro lens and I could spends a week on just that stretch.  But that’s true for wildflower season anywhere along the PCT.

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Jen got to see her first snake in the wild on this stretch.  Figures, I had her running point for most of the day, but soon after I took over, there it was.  A harmless garter snake. We’re long forward to our first rattler.  But I’d really love to see a gila monster.  If only…

But there were other things to keep an eye out for:

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Once again, she’s on point. I’m not a dummy.

But once we made it safely to camp, we met up once again with the lovely Kat Davis, a fellow mYAMAdventure hiker, where we were finally able to catch three of the five hikers in one spot that didn’t involve at least all of us with a beverage in hand.

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Day 3 – 12 miles (+.8 mile off-trail to camp) / total – 33/2,650 miles

The next morning started off cool and stated that way.  A beautiful cool northwesterly wind kept us moving at a quick clip.  So much so that we abandoned our plans of stopping short of Mt Laguna so we could “nero” on Thursday. Instead, we decided to push on into town, resupply and see if there was a place to stay in the lodge.  If not, we’d head to the campgrounds on the other side of town.

Along the way, more of the same.  Fast hikers gliding by, slower hikers hobbled by their feet or gear.  Plants, flowers and lizards, but no gila monsters.

I stopped Jen so she could appreciate the real beauty of an in-bloom yucca plant up close.  Such a collection of textures, it’s almost like it’s own fireworks show.  Starting at ground level, the leaves are a deep green starburst.  Moving up, the trunk is dark brown, almost purple, dotted with the white husks of spent leaves.  At the top are the flowers, hanging well above my head.  Delicate bells of cream and purple, dangling from the stalks.

No, I’m not posting a picture. This phone can’t do it justice.

Lunch time at a flowing creek also means time for a siesta.  Even if I have to create my own shade.

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Back in San Diego, a friend asked what we were doing for music. Nothing electronic. Instead, I just plant a seed and hear what Jen sings.  So far, the playlist has included:

Fraggle Rock theme song,
Jefferson Airplane,
Metallica (the misheard lyrics versions),
Yellow Submarine,
and more than a fee snippets of whatever runs across her mind.

Finally, just a couple of the phrases that are in constant use so we can communicate what’s coming up on trail.  Most are self-explanatory :

Rock,
Hole,
Step,
Drop,
Poop,
It’s right around the corner,
It’s a mile, mile and a half,
It’s all downhill from here, except for the uphills,

And the one that will be heard with increasing frequency next week – Are you going to eat that?

Day 4 – 10 miles (+.8 miles from camp to trail) / total 43/2,650 miles

Thanks for reading!

Mount Laguna on North

After a nice overnight stay at Mount Laguna, we woke up to a cool, windy morning.

There were wind advisories issued, with forecasts of 30-40mph winds, with gusts possibly to 60mph.  Luckily it wasn’t that bad.

Starting the morning in the forest was just like being back on Oregon.

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After a couple of miles of forest, we turned the corner to the big reveal, the overlook of the Anzo Borrego Desert. A few thousand feet below.  This would be our view for most of the day.

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The rest of the day were twists and turns along the edge of the mountain.  A cool day the entire day with a light breeze sure made the miles go quickly.

More views like this helped.

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Such a dull, lifeless landscape.  Not at all.

Then during lunch, this finally happened:

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The miles caught up and she finally took a nap at lunch.  But the shutter sound from the camera woke her up, so we hit the trail.

Then this happened:

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Only 2,600 to go.

But before we stopped for the night at a dry camp, we had to load up with water.

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Luckily this was the overflow and there was a spigot, but we will have to deal with water sources like this as we get deeper in the desert.

Needless to say, we filter the water.

As you know, water is life. It’s especially true out here. The water spots along the trail are well documented, but that doesn’t make it easier.  We’ll soon come up on a 37-mile stretch without water.  That will take some ingenuity.  Either that or carrying 12 liters (26+ lbs) of water.  We aren’t ready for that.

But we were ready to camp amongst the boulders.

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And eat dinner while watching the sun set over the hills.

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Day 5 – 13 miles / 56 miles total

On Friday we knew we needed to throttle back.  Our planned average for this stretch was 10 mile days and we had done 13 for each if the last three.  Not a big deal by itself, but we knew we had a long, heavy water carry coming up.

So we kept it short at 8 trail miles, plus one mile round-trip to load up on water since we would be dry camping and uncertainty on the reliability of a water source we’d need the next morning.

Another beautiful day walking along the high points overlooking the desert.  Not as cool as the day before, but nowhere near the “95 in the shade” that one hiker was crowing about.

On the way, Jen got to see her first horned lizard, aka a “horny toad”.  She thought it was pretty cool, but shocked when I reached down to pick it up.  It got away.

The last mile into camp was tough. We dropped 1,000′ in a mile. That’s bad enough, but we had just loaded the packs with our water.  Thankfully our trekking poles helped keep us upright on the way down.

And even though it was quite early  (2:30 pm) we found some shade and took naps.  Then we set up camp and were asleep before sunset.

A good day.

Day 6 – 8 / 64

Camel Up

The tl;dr  (too long; didn’t read) version.  We carried lots of water.  Warm, but not hot.  Handling wildlife and trying not to fly.

Our day, like most, began with a climb. Luckily it wasn’t hot, as it was on the west side of the hill and it was early morning.

A few miles in and we git our last water source for a long while.  Either 25 miles if things went well or 35 miles if not.  We rolled the dice and loaded up for the 25 mile haul.

Our packs were quite heavy, but it was downhill for the next 10 miles.  Except for the uphills.  Of which there were many.

We even had to slow down because this little guy wouldn’t give way on the trail.  He’d run several steps, then look to see if I was following. I’d step forward and we’d go through it again.  So I decided that Jen should get a closer look.

Meet Mr. Horny Toad.

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Mr. Horny Toad

I’ve share more pics from the day, but there aren’t many.  We were under quite a load and it got hotter as we descended into the valley towards Scissors Crossing, our destination.

When we got there, a trail angel had left a large cache of water, which meant we could top up and not worry about not having enough water to get to the next sure water source.  They also provided a nice apple pie for us to get a bite.

Having both meant that we didn’t need to try and hitch a ride to Julian, which could have been an expensive water stop.  Instead we could stay on trail.

So we set up camp and ate dinner while the sun set and we watched a coyote hunting arund the campsite.

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Day 7 – 13 / 77

Since we were in the valley,  that meant we had to climb. It turned out that that’s pretty much what we did all day – climb.  On what was our highest mileage day so far – 14 miles.

Fourteen miles of climbing meant that Jen was not a happy hiker. She’s getting stronger,  but hills are not her friends.  Give her the flats or rolling terrain and I’m working hard to not break into a trot to keep up with her.

For me, I have always enjoyed the climbs.  Head down, do work.

We don’t have many pics from that day, but the views were great, letting us look across the valley to see the entirety of the previous day’s hike.

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From a valley hidden by one of the hills near center frame, traversing the mountain to the left, off frame, then down across the desert to our campsite just off frame left down by the creekbed.

But this day was just work.  Work to get to a water cache, a place where supporters and trail angels place water for the hikers.  Very handy in hot, dry stretches like this, which allow us to carry not so much water weight.  Very handy on a warm, windy climb like this.

Here is the cache we were working for.  Someone goes through the expense and effort to buy, transport, place and replace hundreds of gallons of bottled water just for hikers.  For not even a donation.

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It looks to be a mess, but it really isn’t. This cache was very well organized, including a cage where to store the crushed empties.  There wasn’t a single speck of trash to be seen anywhere.

But that’s not the topic of this post, but the goal.

Most of the day we had a cool, gentle breeze.  Perfect for the climb. In the afternoon,  a few gusts.  But nothing like the desert can provide. Then I walked around a corner.

I was stopped dead in my tracks, leaning far forward on my trekking poles just hoping to stay in contact with the ground, as the roll down the hill would be a long, painful one. Especially with the cactii.

Luckily it was an isolated gust, but one strong enough that I started to backtrack to make sure Jen was still on the mountain.

She was.  With a big grin on her face.

We finally made it to the water cache, set out camp and collapsed.  We weren’t going any further and we were asleep before sunset.

Day 8 – 14 / 91

The Epicness of a Rock Star

This day was all Jennifer.

While the long climb of the day before kept her behind and chugging along, Monday was going to be all hers.

The plan was to carry just enough water to get to the next guaranteed water source, some 10 miles up the trail, then get to a campsite five miles later at a creek that has been flowing regularly this month.

For those keeping track, that would be a 15 mile day, our longest so far.

That campsite would poise us for a short 4 mile hike into town the following morning for a day of rest.

As most mornings start, we climb.  It’s always a way to wake up the legs, but not a nice way for the brain, especially after a day like the one prior.

A bit into the climb, we hit a section that was a couple of miles long that really impressed on us the importance of trail maintenance. The section had not been tended to in quite a few years and was in poor shape. To be honest, it hurt.

For you trail geeks out there, the outslope was 15-20 degrees, which meant I was walking like I had a peg leg for a while.  Overgrown and blown out tread were the rule.  But when we popped out the other side, it was all freshly rehabilitated trail, so we’re confident that section will be tended to during the next maintenance season.

It also impressed upon us the importance of our helping fund these volunteer groups. Click here for details on our efforts and please help of you can.

Working through that section, Jen already had the lead.  Once it smoothed out, she was on a tear.  It was she who kept turning around to see if I was doing OK. I was, grinning while watching her go.

Seriously, she was on a tear. She got us a full 10 miles in before noon.  If you’ll recall, that was our daily average goal for the first week.  Early in our second week and she’s pounding the same distance out before lunch!

All of that effort even included a stop to look at her favorite flower so far:

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And for this:

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100 miles down.  And as a snarky sign said, now we just have to do that 26 more times. 

I can work with that, as it’s familiar territory – we’re running a marathon and we’ve just crossed the 1-mile mark.

So she gets us to shade and flowing water by noon.  A nice siesta in the shade of the first real trees that we have seen in five days, then a leisurely 5 mile stroll to our creekside campsite with flowing water.

Except the report is outdated.  The report as of early April had it flowing at a rate of 6 liters per minute.  

There wasn’t a drop of flow.  But it was obvious that the water was moving just below the surface, as the sand was damp.  But getting to that would be too much effort unless we were in a survival situation. We weren’t.

So we kept moving to the next water source, two miles up the trail.  That’s where we found that the two optional sources were almost 1/2 mile off trail.  A mile round-trip isn’t a big deal, but when it’s only 3 miles to town, you make choices.

So we were going to push to town.  But only after stopping at Eagle Rock.

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After a late afternoon jaunt through a beautiful old-growth oak grove, we made it to Warner Springs, a spot where we were going to resupply and take at least a zero day.

Jen crushed 19 miles, the longest she’s ever moved on foot in a single day.  With a load on her back.  And she’s still smiling.

Day 9 – 19 / 109

Zero day.  Sleep in, resupply, eat, shower and get laundry done to support the great people fund-raising for the Warner Springs schools.

Day 10 – 0 / 109

Cool Mountains

After a nice relaxing morning of breaking down camp, a hot breakfast and then a nice double cheeseburger provided by the fine volunteers at the Warner Springs Community Center, we headed off for a short day.

Those volunteers raise enough money in the two peak hiker months to cover the local school’s fundraising needs.

Our goal was to get to the next water point just five miles up the trail.  It was an easy hike and we got there mid-afternoon. Since it was so early,  we loaded up with water and kept moving.  Good thing, since the next 10 miles were uphill.  And that’s never a fun way to start the day.

We made it another 4 miles, then found the perfect spot to stay for the night.

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We were hoping to catch a glimpse of Mt Palomar in the distance and maybe some meteors, but the clouds never broke.

It was just us, alone in our thoughts, wondering how many mountain lions there were nearby.

There are only two animals in the world that absolutely spook me – tiger sharks and mountain lions.

That made the 2am potty call that much more invigorating.

Day 11 – 9 / 119

We were going to push today.  The plan was for 15 miles.  Well-spaced water sources and a cool day meant we could do some moving.

Within an hour, we came to an area that is, so far, our favorite spot on the trail.

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It’s quite a neat valley, full of boulders.

It was near here that Jen looked at me and said “You’re quite content”. 

Yeah.  Yeah I am.

Mid-day we arrived at our water source – Trail Angel Mike’s.  Mike keeps a large tank full of cold well water available for hikers, even opening his land for people to relax and find shelter.  We didn’t take advantage, but the rumbles of thunder could have been a clue.

How does the song go?  “It never rains in California”?

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At least it didn’t on our heads.   But it sure was nice to watch.

A bit of hunting for a campsite large enough for our 2-person tent stretched out our day a bit, but poised us well for the next water spot in the morning.

Day 12 – 16 / 135

California to Washington

Our day started with a light breeze and light drizzle.  The breeze stuck with us, as did the clouds, but luckily we were dry all day.

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We even pondered how many flasks of high-octane hooch would be required to get over falling in this beautiful flower.

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It was a weird day for both of us.  Apparently I hadn’t had enough to eat in the morning and slowly ground to a halt. A mid-morning snack of about 700 calories got us back on track.  In the afternoon, the chafing set in, slowing us down.

Throughout the day, the clouds hung low.  A wind advisory had been issued the night before, but we had yet to experience anything strong.  Yet.

We were aiming for what looked like meadows on our map.  But first we had some climbing to do, as well as a lot of traverses along steep hillsides.  we ascended into the clouds and that’s when the winds picked up.

That’s also when I joked that we were done, as we were already in Washington.

It was good fun setting up the tent in soft soil, with winds in the 30-40mph range with higher gusts. Not to mention temps falling into the mid-40’s.

But somehow we managed to get the tent set up and secure enough that it stayed in place all night.  Good thing, since the wind never let up.

Day 13 – 14 / 149

A wet, windy, cold morning greeted us.  But we were warmed by the notion of a food stop at Paradise Cafe, a well known food stop just off the trail.  Most go for the oversized burgers, but we were hitting it during breakfast hours.  So an oversized omelet for Jen, steak and eggs for me, biscuits and gravy for both of us.

Then it was back out into the rain and wind for a 10-mile road walk.

A large stretch of the upcoming trail over the top of Mt San Jacinto has been closed for a few years due to fire damage. There are alternates, but the road walk made the most sense to us.

Some hikers have pre-conceived notions about the road walk and choose to hitchhike to Idyllwild instead.  That’s not for us, as we are hiking to Canada, not skipping sections that aren’t appealing or inconvenient.

All told, that stretch took just over three hours to cover and now it’s behind us.  No big deal and a very miniscule issue in the grand scheme of the hike.  But it was great prep for upcoming detours, both planned and unplanned.

Our intent is continuous footsteps.

Day 14 – 14 / 163

After getting into camp and setting up in the wind-driven cold rain, we hopped into the tent.  It was a while before sunset, but there was no sense in standing out in the mess.

While lying there trying to warm up, Jen insisted that I book a room for the following night in Idyllwild, just a short hike up the hill.  I quickly found one that showed pics of fireplaces in the rooms and the deal was sealed.  It wouldn’t help us in the tent, but visions of propping our feet up in front of the fire helped.

Overnight the storm cleared.  The 2am potty call was in brisk air but beautifully clear skies.  We slept well.

The hike up to Idyllwild was clear and warm, meandering through the burn area that caused this PCT detour.  Even with the burnt trees, it was a beautiful hike, as the low shrubs have rebounded nicely and the mountains provided the backdrop.

During the hike, we realized that we had started two weeks prior.  Already quite a few miles under the feet, but many more to go.

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Day 15 – 8 / 171

Trail Hygiene

We’ve been asked a couple of questions regarding trail hygiene, so hopefully this answers those questions.  If not, please ask in the comments.

Bathing

How often and where?

As often as we can, wherever we can.  For the first two weeks, we managed to get two showers each – the first about 4 days in when we rented a cabin in Mount Laguna.  The second was about 10 days in when we got to Warner Springs and they offered showers for $6 at the community center.

Our latest was at Idyllwild on day 15.  After a couple of cold and wet days, we rented a cabin for the night to wash us, our gear and let everything dry out.

Right now we can’t afford to carry water for bathing purposes.  It weighs too much and sources are few and far between.  So any water carried is for consumption.

I won’t lie – we do get funky.  In addition to the baby wipes, we have some dehydrated Action Wipes to help us freshen up before exposing ourselves to the public.  But that only does so much when the clothes haven’t been washed in a week.

Needless to say, we’re looking forward to the high mountain lakes.

Toilet

Wherever we can, abiding by the Leave No Trace principles of staying away from water sources and trails while burying the waste and packing out any wipes.

They are simple concepts that are apparently lost on some of our fellow hikers.

Early on we went with a hiker bidet, hoping to not carry anything out.  Go ahead and click on the link, it’s safe for work and everyone is fully clothed.  But that method required carrying extra water, a luxury we couldn’t afford here in the desert.  So we’re now using baby wipes, which are quite effective.  And lighter than a liter of water.

Deodorant

Honestly, a waste of weight. One day in and we’re dirty.  Everyone is.  Those precious ounces are better used for water.

Mind you, some people carry it.  But it’s not necessary. And once we get into bear country, it’s yet another thing that we’d have to make space for in our bear canister, as all of our toiletries and food will have to be protected.

Laundry

Like showers, when we can.  But it’s not as frequent.

When we arrived at Mount Laguna, the innkeeper handed us a 5-gallon bucket and a cup of laundry detergent.  It worked fine.

When we got to Warner Springs, the volunteers at the community center would do a load for $6.  Totally worth it to have everything machine washed.

Here in Idyllwild, we’re having to hand-wash the important things.  There’s a laundromat in town, but the location and hours aren’t convenient for our schedule.

On hiking days, we use diaper pins to hang the socks and undies off our pack.  There’s no better disinfectant than the sun and no better deodorizer than the sun and fresh air.  We just make sure to remove everything before heading into town.

Because who wants to see someone’s laundry while in the checkout line?

Dental

We’re becoming big fans of these toothpaste tablets.  Bite one in half and there’s enough for a good scrubbing.  One tablet is good for one day.

We also carry spools of dental floss and I have some tea tree chewing sticks that help brush the teeth all day long.

The dental floss does triple duty, handy for emergency sewing repairs and, more frequenly, for threading blisters.

But that’s fodder for a different post.

Any other questions? Please let us know.