The last hundred miles have been pretty easy - if you ignore yesterday's 20 mile continuous climb back up to elevation, that is. The 80 miles leaving Big Bear featured a gradual downward slope. This sounds nice and pleasant for a walk but I have to say, four days of walking on fairly flat trails through the hot, sunny desert gets a bit old. Luckily, there were a few distractions throughout the days to break it up a little.
The first of those distractions were some nice natural hot springs. I am quite glad that I did not hit them on the weekend since they are apparently a popular place for locals to hang out and take a large amount of mind altering substances. Even mid-week there were some drugged out, naked people wandering around, but I was able to find a nice 106 degree spring with just some hikers hanging out.
After spending a few hours alternating between the hot pools and a nearby cool stream I continued the hot, flat trek through the desert. A few days after the pools, I hit a highway underpass, which happened to be half a mile from a McDonalds. To add to the excitement of that, a hiker named Squarepants had been inviting everyone he met to his birthday party at this fine establishment on the day I got there. It seems people got the message and showed up in full force. When I arrived, there were probably 40-50 hikers already there. Despite the smell and cramped space, the employees were incredibly pleasant and accepting of a bunch of functionally homeless people hanging out for hours.
The downside of the McDonalds stop was that the next 25 miles of trail was up a mountain. As boring as days of flat trail can be, full days of uphill are sometimes worse. For the entire day, I hiked uphill completely exposed to the sun. It was the hardest day on the trail yet. The whole process was made more difficult by the fact that there was no water for that 25 mile stretch, as well. I think it would have been easier to handle if most of this section had not been subject to wildfires in recent years and had more tree cover. There are sections of trail that have large tree trunks alongside but these trunks provide zero shade since they are just burned trunks now. Once I completed my 20 miles of uphill and hit camp, I got some more water and added plenty of electrolytes to it. I needed them badly.
The terrible day of uphill did make for an easy 5 mile day into the town of Wrightwood at mile 369. It is a nice little mountain town that is super friendly to hikers. The local grocery store has "Welcome PCT Hikers" signs all over the store to clearly show where items we care about are located. It definitely made it easier to find everything. To add to the greatness of the town, the bakery I was sitting in front of gave away all the left over donuts at the end of the day! I will be packing a bag of donuts out of town tomorrow. The last thing that made Wrightwood so great is Rosie drove up from Los Angeles to meet up with me and Zoom. It was great seeing her again! We had a nice afternoon of just catching up and reminiscing about our time on the AT. All in all, a good town experience made me feel ready to do the next 100 miles.
I think I've been on the trail long enough now to make some observations about the people that are on the trail. There are some interesting differences between PCT hikers and AT hikers that I've noticed.
Probably the most notable difference is the gender distribution. On the AT it was somewhere around 80 percent male. On the PCT, it seems much closer to 50/50. This is the difference that I have been having the hardest time figuring out. I can't figure out a reason that the PCT would be relatively more attractive to female hikers over the AT. There is a possibility that in the last three years the percentage of female hikers has risen on both trails, but that seems like it would be too quick of a change.
Some of the other differences make at least a little more sense to me. Overall, people are far more in shape at the beginning of the PCT. I've met less than five people who were noticeably out-of-shape on this trail. At the beginning of the AT, there were dozens of people in that state. The beginning of the PCT is less forgiving than the AT so it makes some sense that people would be in better condition. It ties in with the fact that people on the PCT seem more informed and better prepared all around. I think it s related that there are very few people with an excessive amount of weight in the pack or lots of useless items. I guess the fact that you have to start with decent mileage days in order to hit water sources forces people to do research and feel prepared for the trail in a way that the AT does not. Overall, I have been more impressed with the average PCT hiker in the first few hundred miles compared with the average AT hiker.