Updated: Aug 26, 2022
Bottom Line: Even a pandemic can't keep a hiker "down."
COVID still raging in the US, Mark Reinhardt and I nevertheless had ants in our shorts, and since we both agreed to abide by the recommended precautions, our strong respective needs overcame any reservations to rendezvous at Whitewater Preserve, near Palm Springs.
On my COVID (corona vacation in-doors) breakout hike, I left my car at the graveled parking area at mile 211.6, mid-morning, under clear sky, headed north and “up canyon” on the PCT. I had hours to cover the six-to-seven-mile stretch before Mark would arrive at Whitewater Preserve. Besides, fingers crossed, I needed to test my bionic knee, implanted July 2019.
With mild elevation gain, slow and steady progress over the next few hours took me to the trail junction to Canyon View Loop.
Canyon Loop View Trail junction with PCT.
When I came to the proverbial fork in the road . . . I took it, veered right onto Canyon Loop View Trail and descended to the Whitewater Preserve entrance road.
By 4 PM, or so, I reached the road and stretched out where a tree shaded the road’s gentle-sloped gravel shoulder. There, I snoozed off and on while I waited for Mark to arrive on his way from work.
In preparation for our next day’s hike, we performed a vehicle shuffle, retrieved my car and left Mark's near the Preserve Headquarters, then proceeded to the Hacienda Mexican Restaurant in Big Bear for dinner . . . and draft beers.
Mark slept comfortably in a hotel room, I presumed, while I spent a miserable night in the back of my Toyota Camry.
By early morning, my ordeal had provided me sufficient motivation to get onto the trail, anything an improvement over remaining in my half-trunk-half-rear-seat bed.
Breakfast consumed at the Lumberjack Cafe in Big Bear, we traversed the “OHV,” Off Highway Vehicle, road to Mission Creek Trail Camp, PCT mile 239.9.
The morning air still chilly in the shade, we headed south and down-slope towards Whitewater Preserve. Tree cover soon disappeared, as charred remains of trees blanketed the surrounding area, and with no cloud cover, the air rapidly warmed.
Connard, with evidence of fire damage in the background .
Sparse green shrubs dotted the landscape as a sign of early regeneration.
Prim8 made himself known, Downhill good.
Agreed, Prim8, I responded.
When we stopped for a half-hour lunch break, Prim8 and I shared a cheese-chunk along with a slice of bread and salami, then dried fruit.
As the day wore on, and Mark hiked ahead of Prim8 and I, my questions and doubts arose, then increased as foot blisters made themselves known. My joints and muscles ached, as well.
I’d guessed we neared our destination, as the terrain flattened somewhat and the valley widened.
Though not that far ahead, I saw Mark stopped at a trail junction.
Referring to his map as I pulled alongside, he said, “We have another four-and-a-half-miles to go.”
“What?” I said. “How could that be?”
Ain’t so, Prim8 said.
“Yeah,” Mark said. “We head west from here. We’ll have hiked twenty-four-and-a-half miles today.”
We’d expected to be finished at this distance, about twenty miles. Though clearly, nowhere near running water, something was amiss and the map indicated the Whitewater lay two ridges to our west.
Crap. I’m knackered.
Prim8 whined, Quit.
Can’t do that, fella. Dusk is coming and we want to get out here without a major problem, though I wanted to sit for a long rest.
We’d never traversed this trail and getting lost in the dark wouldn’t help our situation!
“How ‘bout, I just wait here for you?” I said to Mark, understanding that absurdity.
Without reasonable alternative, Prim8 and I followed Mark westward, while we fessed up to not studying the trail maps before our hike. I’d assumed the trail distance would be a simple matter of arithmetic, subtract point A from point B. So, much for that assumption.
Wearing a headlamp, I plodded forward on leaden feet, while blisters complained and calve muscles griped, and my progress slowed as the darkness overtook us.
“We probably should stay together at this point, Mark,” I yelled, utmost caution in mind.
He slowed his pace and I caught up.
We lost the PCT trial where it crossed the Whitewater River, instead, worked our way down the river bed. At least, the white noise of running water soothed me—at least, I wouldn’t die of thirst—and I didn’t need to fight off mosquitoes.
Prim8 and I stumbled over and around boulders, as I kept an eye on Mark’s head light, looking for signs of any problems he may encounter.
Just a little farther, I reminded Prim8. Just a little farther.
When Mark finally veered to the far bank of the river, we reached a well-trod path.
“Must be the PCT,” Mark said.
“Yeah,” I said, relieved that we on smoother, easier footing.
“I’ve been looking for the reflection off the signs,” he explained.
My distance countdown grew more earnest, ticking off the miles, then reduced to the quarter-miles, until we reached a trail junction sign, where I sat down.
Connard rests at the PCT-Whitewater Headquarters Trail junction.
“About a half-mile to go,” Mark said.
“Ugh,” I said, though relieved we knew what distance remained. Not knowing had gnawed at me. Usually does.
After my brief rest, I resumed my internal pep-talk countdown, as if I could teleport to Mark's car. Another hundred yards, Prim8. Crossing the river on a foot bridge, Prim8. Close now, Prim8. Mark's car in sight. One-hundred feet . . . twenty, ten, nine. . . .
Mark drove us back to my car at Mission Creek Trail Camp . . . while I recuperated.
“Spending the night in Big Bear?” I asked him.
“No, I’m heading straight back,” Mark said. “I need to work tomorrow.”
I took an unplanned circuitous route back to the hotel where Mark had spent the previous night and booked a room. I didn’t trust remaining awake on my drive home.
(Prim8's accumulated PCT progress: mile marker 239.9.)