May 2, 2018
Long Creek Crossing (37.75) to Mount Laguna (41.47)
3.72 trail miles (yikes)
I set some rules for my hike before I left. I wouldn’t spend too much time in town because that’s where you spent money. I wouldn’t waste money on hotels. And I wouldn’t get caught up with other hikers who could convince me to go to towns. So how we ended up in a cabin on only our fourth night laughing with five other hikers I don’t really know.
I woke up miserable. At least, I would have if I had been able to fall asleep at all. It felt like I had been up all night trying not to die of hypothermia. Ok, that’s an exaggeration. I was tired enough in the morning that it didn’t feel like one though.
What’s worse was that it was still freezing and still wet. It wasn’t sprinkling so much as water was just hanging thickly in the air. Our tent was soaked. Our sleeping bags were soaked. We were soaked. I knew that this would be the case in Washington, but I thought I’d have some time to get used to breaking down camp wet, not have to go through it on my fourth morning.
Once again, we took a very long time getting on the trail. We were done trying to sleep around 6, but couldn’t convince ourselves to leave to warmth of our sleeping bags, as wet as they might be. I had to do a mad dash outside to use the bathroom when I could hold it no longer. I don’t think I was able to fully get warm again after that, and eventually we gave up trying to stay warm and decided the only warmth would be in moving.
My hands were numb and I fumbled with every clasp and every tie as we put away camp. It was slow going, but we finally made it out around 9:15. I had checked my blister and found it hadn’t receded in the night, so I had my river sandals on once again.
As we finally started climbing my body and mood wasn’t so bad. Going further yesterday meant we had an easy climb of not even four miles into Mount Laguna. I was hoping there was laundry there to wash my now muddy clothes. The climb wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone had made it sound. As we got higher into the mountains we marveled at the mist swirling around us. It reminded me of the cloud forests in the Andes in Peru, where I did my first “backpacking” trip three years ago. I didn’t have a horse to carry my equipment this time though.
At one point Stanley pointed out a large tree in the distance. We had seen plenty of shrubs so far, but not many trees, so it stood out in the fog. As I looked out towards it the mist played tricks on me and made the tree appear to be getting further away. It was the strangest trick of light that Stanley wasn’t able to see. As we kept going more trees started appearing in the distance. Each time the mist played the same tricks on me, making me a little dizzy and feeling like I was in a strange movie.
It wasn’t long before we were surrounded by trees and suddenly in a forest of evergreens. Stanley said the trees and the wetness made it feel like Washington. It was another change of scenery, and just as beautiful.
We hadn’t seen anyone all morning except one guy who snuck by us like a ninja, but about a quarter mile away from the turnoff to Mount Laguna we came across a SoBo hiker called Point. SoBo is what Southbound hikers are called, going from Canada to Mexico. Most people are NoBo’s like us though, chosing to start in Mexico for the longer hiking season.
Point was also from Washington and has been completing small sections of the PCT at a time. She was 64 and looked fantastic. She tried to give Stanley the trail name Salmon after mishearing his actual name, but he quickly vetoed it. It was only another quarter mile until the turnoff to Mount Laguna, where our “trouble” would begin.
Mount Laguna is a tiny town consisting of a campground, cafe, hotel/market combo, and a post office. There’s a fire station nearby as well, and everything is on one little road. Our plan was to check out the market for anything we needed, hopefully find a place to do a load of laundry, and get back on the trail.
The first building on the road was the cafe though, where Point had told us they had amazing food and were very hiker friendly. The ninja who had snuck by us was just coming out with a cup of coffee which looked amazing just sitting in his hands all nice and warm. I don’t even drink that much coffee, but the thought of holding it alone made me reconsider going in.
We stopped and chatted with the ninja while he waited and for his buddies and found out he was from Australia. He too had pushed himself harder than he liked in order to keep up with a group. See, groups are bad. His friends came up a short while later, and we introduced ourselves and shook hands. That is, until we got to the last guy, who kinda snobbily informed us that it was rude hiker etiquette to shake hands due to how dirty we all were. Oops. Now it made sense why Point fist bumped us when she left.
We decided that we might as well at least step into the cafe and see what they had. It couldn’t hurt to get out of the cold and figure out our next move. The group of guys headed in too, but we decided they weren’t really our type and headed for our own table.
We were going to just get a cup of coffee because the only breakfast they had were variations of eggs. Their entire menu was probably only ten items long, with breakfast served all day and lunch starting at noon. The vegan chilli caught my eye though, and it was 15 minutes until lunch. We easily decided that yes we could spare the $6 per bowl to stay in the small warm diner for a while.
It was delicious chilli. I’ve heard many times that all of their food is delicious, and the fact that they had a vegan option made them ok in my book.
Eventually we decided we needed to go check out the store and see if there was anything we needed. On the way out we passed two hikers who introduced themselves as Cat (maybe Kat?) and Nonuts. Nonuts is a German guy who got his trail name at Scout and Frodo’s when they had to make him his own separate meals because he’s allergic to nuts.
We explained as much as we knew about the town, including that the hotel might be around $70, which we’d heard from Point. We were heading that way to check out the store and told them we’d let them know what the deal was if we headed back this way.
Mount Laguna started off great with the cafe, but seemed to get worse as we headed down the road. There was supposed to be an actual hiking supply store, but it had been closed permanently for some time. The hiker box outside looked to double as a garbage can. There was a building that said it had a hotel, restaurant and bar, but everything was closed with a number to call if looking for a room. At the end we came to the Mount Laguna Lodge and general store. This looked more promising, which was good because aside from the post office and visitor center next door it was the end of the road.
We dropped our bags on the porch and stepped inside to start perusing the random shelves of souvenirs, hiking goods, and small grocery section. It was more expensive than a city grocery store, but not too bad. I took note of their options and grabbed a flyer for their hotel rooms before heading back outside.
It was here that I finally decided to check on my blister. It was not better. I was starting to worry a little when Becky from the day before came up in a car being driven by a friend of a friend who came to get her. It turned out her blister definitely had gotten worse and she needed to take a few zero days. That was exactly what I was afraid of, and was enough to convince me to go back inside and get a room. I do not want to break myself.
There weren’t any rooms available yet though, so the owner at the counter took my name and said to come back in an hour and check. He seemed to have kind of a bad attitude, but I couldn’t tell if it was in my head or not.
When we got back outside we grabbed our bags and headed back towards the cafe to tell Cat and Nonuts, and then head a little further to the fire station where we heard there might be WiFi. There was no service OR WiFi anywhere in the town. Not even in the hotel. There wasn’t laundry either, though the man at the counter said he’d give us a bucket. Ha.
As we walked we discussed skipping the hotel and just pushing on. I didn’t like how expensive they were and without laundry or WiFi it felt like a waste. We needed to decide soon though. If we were going to sleep outside again we needed to get off of this darn freezing mountain. It turned out we just got really unlucky and it was just randomly freezing for a couple nights, but would heat back up again by Thursday.
We stopped at the cafe to let the others know what was up and then headed to the fire station. I was able to make a quick call to my mom which was nice, and look over what our other options were. I kept going over and over the pros and cons to getting the hotel versus pushing on.
Pros to hotel: I would be able to sleep tonight out of the cold. I could sleep in a bed. I could let my blister heal instead of walking the 10+ miles to the next good spot. I could take a shower. I could explode my pack (take everything out) and dry everything that was wet from last night. I could even take some time to write and then walk back up to the fire station to post stuff.
Cons: It was $70. Also, if we stayed there was no way we’d get to Warner Springs by Friday. This meant we’d have to wait until Monday to pick up our resupply package that was being send there or send it forward. Also, we had been leaving the option open to have friends pick us up from there to spend a weekend camping at beerfest with them.
I was still debating on our way back down when it was decided for me. Out of nowhere my foot hurt. A lot. I didn’t even have my pack on. I knew if I kept walking it would pop or turn into a monster, and without laundry the muddy socks I was wearing would probably mean in got infected. I was frustrated but knew it was the right decision. Another nero day now was better than zero days later.
On our way back to the hotel we passed Cat and Nonuts once again, who had just put their name in for the hotel as well and were going to grab their packs. At least we weren’t the only ones. They also agreed the man behind the counter seemed grumpy.
When we got to the hotel I felt defeated. It didn’t help that there was still a wait for the rooms. We chatted with another guy from Germany, Manuel, who was also waiting for a room. He was going from the PCT to Nicaragua, to Costa Rica, to Peru. There are lots of interesting people on the PCT.
When the guy at the counter called Manuel in I went in as well because I figured our room would be ready too. While I was in there I listened as the man behind the counter told a new hiker that he didn’t know if there were enough hotel rooms, but there were plenty of cabins, which were just a few dollars more and could sleep up to four. That’s when a new idea came to me.
I grabbed the flier for the rooms again and snuck out before the man at the counter noticed me. As I waited for Stanley outside I noticed a redheaded girl had arrived and was sitting on the porch. I knew immediately who she was. “Are you Firecracker?” I asked. She looked up at me confused until I pulled my own red hair around and explained that several people had already mixed us up and thought I was her. “Oh are you JuliAnne?” she asked? We laughed at the fact that red hair seemed to suddenly make two people indistinguishable.
Firecracker was nursing a pretty bad blister on her ankle. It was in a terrible spot that no change of shoe could fix, and she was stopping for the night as well. Her and her friend Lumberjack ended up grabbing a cabin with someone they met on the trail named Lee. I watched her limp off towards their cabin and was again reminded why it was good to take care of my blister now.
When Stanley got out of the shop I told him the new plan and we headed out to find Cat and Nonuts once again. The hotel rooms were strictly for 2 people only, but if Cat and Nonuts weren’t opposed, we could save a bunch of money and get an actual cabin by splitting it.
We found them quickly and they immediately jumped on board. Now the plan to stay in seemed much better somehow. We all went back inside together to tell the man behind the counter our change of plans.
The guy behind the counter went from rude to insulting. First he insisted that Cat had come in with another man the first time. When she assured him that no she had been with Nonuts the whole time, but perhaps he had seen her talking to another friend she knew on the trail, the man behind the counter told her that that was how you become a girl with a “reputation”. Because somehow his mixup was her fault.
Then when we told him we’d like to all get a cabin together, he laughed at us for wanting to save the money. We pointed out that the cabin also came with a full kitchenette where we could cook without using our stove fuel, to which he pointed out the microwave in the hotels. I’m not sure he understood the difference.
Lastly, we pointed out that it would probably be better for his business for us to take a cabin since he had plenty of those left but no more motels, and it was still early and another freezing night so more hikers would probably want those rooms anyways. To this, he told us that all the “real hikers” had already moved on for the day.
“The real hikers? What does that make us?” Cat asked.
“Girls with reputations”, the man replied as he looked at us two girls.
I was shocked. But not quite as shocked as I was after we got our key and he followed us out to the porch to inform a few other hikers that they were in luck because we had all just given up our hotel rooms.
I honestly have no idea what was wrong with that guy. It’s like he was trying his hardest to kill his own business. It’s well known that PCT hikers are Mount Laguna’s main source of income. Perhaps he just knew that he could treat us poorly because he was the only hotel in town. Perhaps we should have called that other number on the closed building. Either way, it was clear that the man obviously hated his life. Happy people just aren’t mean like that. Maybe it was jealousy.
It certainly gave us all a bonding moment though as we angrily laughed about what that was all about and spoke about the scathing reviews we promised to post once we had service again.
The cabin was small but perfect. There was a queen bed and two twins, a full bathroom, a kitchenette, and a wood furnace in the corner.
We all went our separate ways for a little while to take care of chores like shopping for resupply, getting to the post office, and making check-ins at the WiFi spot. We dumped out all our food and decided we had made the mistake of bringing too much food and didn’t really need too much. I wanted sugar for the oatmeal and we grabbed another thing of pasta so I could eat as much as I wanted that night. It seemed everyone had brought or sent too much food because every hiker around town was asking each other if they wanted anything before it got put in the hiker box. We grabbed a couple more oatmeals, some rice noodles, and some pickles.
Once all our chores were done we all found ourselves back at the cabin chatting. We talked about the trail, about why we were all doing it. We talked about where we were from and what our plans might be after the trail. Cat has two teaching degrees but bartending pays better. Nonuts has a degree in Psychology and explained the difficulties of scientific research in Germany. Once again I couldn’t help but think how many cool people were on the trail.
After a while there was a knock on our door and Firecracker and Lumberjack joined us with a whole pie and a six pack of beer. We got a fire going and Cat pulled out one of her few luxury items, a pack of Uno cards. We were soon laughing and having a blast as we played one of the longest games of Uno ever.
After the first round we decided to play one more and Lumberjack went to go grab their roommate Lee to join. Lee had been a stock broker in New York before selling all of his things and moving to South America for three years. While training on the AT someone had given him the name Big Red, but I’m not sure if he was going to keep it.
The one more round of Uno turned into at least three. We stayed up until ten laughing and sharing stories and talking about the trail ahead. We spent a little time talking about water and camping options for the next day, and celebrated making our first 40 miles by burning the first page of my printed water report that we no longer needed.
I found myself glowing in the happiness that I’d heard you could find in the trail community. I could see how easy it would be to just hike with a group and have nights like this every night.
After Firecracker, Lumberjack, and Lee left we actually began solidifying plans for tomorrow and the spell of the group was slightly broken. Nonuts wanted to baby a cold he had picked up and only wanted to do 13 miles. Cat would probably go with him, while we were hoping to make it another 18 miles. They were also planning to stop in Julian, which we wanted to pass or make only a minimal stop in. Perhaps we’d all meet up in Warner Springs though, or somewhere else down the line.
After finalizing our plans for the next day we finished up our chores. This meant doing a little laundry for Stanley and I. The guy at the counter had not been joking about the buckets.
Bedtime also meant it was time for me to lance that blister so it could air out and heal overnight. I know it’s best to leave a blister in place, but I needed to be able to walk on it, and after comparing blisters with everyone else I felt I would be able to handle it. It was not my favorite task, but it also wasn’t as bad as I had imagined.
I made one last pot of pasta before heading to bed to write and get what I hoped would be an amazing night of sleep. Somehow I had woken up miserable and ended the day exactly the opposite. This experience has been everything I’ve hoped for so far, and I can’t wait for another tomorrow.
Not a lot of pictures today. I guess I was having too much fun 🙂