Day 5, March 3, 2022 – Rationalization, compromise and Plan E
There were two problems with Plan A, which was to just keep merrily striding down the PCT. First, I could barely walk. I knew that I could not walk the uneven, rocky, snow-covered ground of the trail. Second, I knew I would get lost if I were alone and fresh snow started to cover the trail. Too foolish, even for me.
Plan B, ride out the storm at the Mt. Laguna Lodge, eating Hot Pockets for 3-4 days. Nope.
Plan C, get a ride down to somewhere below the snow line and continue the trail. But, if I am going to skip sections, what is the point of this trek?
Plan D, get a ride to Julian, wait out the storm where there are restaurants, shops, famous pie and then decide whether to get another ride back up to Mt. Laguna or something else. This was the plan when I spoke with Cowboy.
But when I awoke Thursday morning, I developed Plan E. I would walk the road, the Sunrise Highway. Hopefully, the smooth surface would strengthen my ankles. Surely the problem is just unused muscles. I had not fallen or had any incident. I rationalized that for the next 12 miles or so, the trail runs parallel to the road. Instead of being on the trail, looking at the road, I would be on the road, looking at the trail. Thursday was to be a nice day, with no snow until that night. Most important, I could not get lost. When I reached the point where the trail left the road, to drop down to the desert, I could decide whether I felt up to the trail, or would continue on the road to Julian.
I left around 6 am, but before doing so, I wrapped the $60 I had agreed to pay for a ride, in a note to Cowboy, around the key which I dropped in the night box. I texted him about the money and that he need not come for me. Well, little did I know that this would endear me so much to Cowboy Dave. He continued to check on me throughout the day, saying that whatever I needed, I was covered.
I shuffled like a duck, one foot barely passing the other, for the next 10 miles. It was a beautiful day. But I knew I was screwed. The ankles were not getting better. After a couple of incidents of trying and wanting to leave the trail, I learned I could not walk 3 feet on the uneven ground without excruciating pain. How could I make a camp? I had looked forward to camping in the snow, but if I could not walk through it in the morning, then what? I turned a corner into a very windy pass, where it looked as though the first edge of the storm had arrived. I put on my GoreTex pants and jacket, beanie and gloves, and was toasty again. But it was just before 1:00, when I finally caved into Cowboy’s offer to come fetch me. I made it to a spot wide enough for him to pull off for me and waited the 45 minutes for his arrival. As I sat there, I questioned my choice. When I stood, I knew it was right. The plan was to take me to a Lodge he was recommending in Julian.
He arrived in a good SUV and I loaded my pack into the back. Grizzled, but sparkling at the same time. Cowboy sported a Vietnam Veterans hat, a cane and a pack of smokes. He had an interesting past, which did include a life of horses, until two hip replacements halted his riding days, and was a retired Nurse Practitioner. He took me to the PO in Julian, for the next re-supply box. When I returned, he expressed his opinion, after seeing me try to walk, that it would be days before I would be on the trail again. I knew he was right. He had mentioned that he takes people to the airport. So, I made the decision and asked if he could take me there. He said he could. He had committed to pick up a guy at the Malt Shop in Lake Moreno, take him to Campo, and back to the Malt Shop, but he could get someone else to take him. I said, well, I am not on any schedule, so I did not mind if we took care of the guy first.
So, from Julian, it was back the way we came, over the mountain, past Mt. Laguna to Lake Moreno. This Burger/shake/general/liquor store had been a block from that Regional Park. Had I only known, I would have loved a nice meal. The presumption was that the fellow needed to pick up a package at the Campo PO. Actually, he had neglected to sign the Register at the Southern Terminus. He was a thru hiker, planning to go all the way to Canada, so it was a big deal. We took him there, he signed, but we also picked up my extra can of fuel at the Campo PO, which I gave to Cowboy. We returned the fellow to the Malt Shop. Cowboy and I neither one had eaten, so we enjoyed burgers and fries, a shake for me. I made my Southwest reservation and off we went. It was an enjoyable afternoon with my new friend, and very interesting to see how close all the points of my hike are when driven.
We arrived at the airport around before 6, for my 8:05 flight (later delayed to 9:30). It was a good thing too, as it seemed to take me all that time to shuffle to my gate. Non-stop, shuffle out, home before mid-night.