Cajon Pass, Letter-Sending Trail Magic, and Bonking
May 25, 2017
Mile 334 to Mile 356
Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike: Day 21
It's mom and dad's wedding anniversary today, and of all the times I tried to remember, I FORGOT until just now, so I (lamely) sent a text that they probably won't get until tomorrow since it's late and they're likely already asleep.
Today was El Cajon Pass with McDonald's, and it was absolutely chock-full of hikers. Alex overheard a McDonald's guest asking an employee why there were so many dirty, smelly people taking up so much space in the restaurant. The employee told the guest that PCT hikers, in just the few months of trail season, make up 1/3 of the McDonald's annual sales and that PCT hikers are all incredibly polite, so the employees don't care how much space they take up during trail season, because one hiker eats as much as five people! I write this as a hiker sits down with what must be twelve sandwiches of various composition. It is really amazing the quantity of food we are becoming capable of consuming. Unfortunately, I smelled a sewer (or something similar) just before hitting the McDonald's. The sewer smell gave me an acute, visceral flashback of smelling factory farms while driving across the country. I couldn't do it, as irresistible as McDonald's had sounded an hour previous, I couldn't bring myself to order the McNuggets and cheeseburger I had spent days dreaming about. With a little finagling I managed to place a McDonald's order that was nearly free of animal products yet filled the hot, greasy fast food void. French fries with guacamole, hash browns, and Alex (after listening to me describe what I pictured in my head when I smelled that rank sewage) satisfied his fried breakfast food needs with a stack of pancakes.
Out from Cajon Pass we had a 2700 foot waterless climb. Just before the start of the climb, there was a cabinet with a water cache and a special kind of trail magic—stationary, stamps, envelopes and pencils. Hikers could write letters home, and trail angels would take care of sending them. One by one, everyone that had been at McDonald's stopped at the water cache to write a letter home before starting the climb. It gave me another opportunity for a head start.
I powered up the climb, turning switchback after switchback with music on full-blast to keep up my momentum. The switchbacks kept coming, and below me I could see the fifteen other hikers making their way up the mountain. I continued to push and, just as I hit the top of the hill, I bonked. Badly. I suddenly felt completely drained of all energy and will to keep moving. I couldn't believe I wasn't at the campsite yet. I still had a mile and a half to go, which seemed like an eternity. The sun was starting to set, and everyone had passed me. I was in a full-on pity party, including tears of exasperation, while I stumbled forward to the next flat spot.
Bonking on an enormous uphill at the end of the day only magnifies the effects of coming across your trail family. I stumbled upon Sam, Colten, and Alex just as the sun finished setting and their smiles and congratulations on making the climb were the ultimate relief. Turns out Colten (the strongest and fastest hiker I've met so far) bonked on the climb, bonked so hard he ate SEVEN bars to combat it. Seven. We sat in a circle and ate and ate and joked and ate. We only have thirteen miles into Wrightwood tomorrow, and most of them are downhill. I am very much looking forward to my nero and a cold beer.