From the fractured and faulted Earth of McDonald's, we set out in the late afternoon sun to ascend up and into the Angeles National Forest region. Through the Hiker Telegraph system of people gossiping about the happenings of the trail about that which was behind us and what was to come, we learned there were approximately 400 - 500 thru-hikers on the trail this year. In 1997 there were only about 200 quest driven souls who took to the foot.
Rumor has it that only about 20 percent of those who attempt to hike the length of the trail in one season actually make it. The percentage who actually make it seems to be declining with each year as the popularity of the trail increases. With increased water caches and trail support crews, more people with less experience are daring to pursue such a journey where the body often walks 26 miles a day ~ which is the equivalent of engaging in the distance of a marathon each and every day for over four months. Online discussion forums are buzzing with heavy laden fears in the hope that others can alleviate their concerns and worries so that they can find the will to even begin the pursuit of their dreams.
The mountain ski town of Wrightwood was to be our next resupply station which was 372 miles into our journey. The chance to eat fresh food and greens was always appreciated as the pre-packaged meals and snacks that we carried in our packs would include mainly a diet of carbohydrates with plenty of sugar sprinkled on just about everything. Nuts, cheese, spreads, peanut butter, bagels, tortilla's, hummus, trail mix, crackers, carrots, and an assortment of junk kept us moving forward daily.
Stacey and I opted out on bringing a stove this time around. We often just feasted on scenery. The amount of energy one receives from opening one's self up to their surroundings surpasses any attempt at gaining strength from eating physical food.
By the time we finished the Trail in September, we heard that a large portion of the Angeles National Forest was burning up. Every year, new sections of the Pacific Crest are ablaze. Some hikers are forced to skip sections of the trail or are re-routed around the closed and smokey routes.
Falling below the conifer trees yet again, we enjoyed cold drinks and ice cream at a KOA campground as we approached the town of Agua Dulce. Lingering too long in one place sucks many a person off of the trail to enjoy the conveniences that one forfeits when surrendering to a more simplistic way of living life.
The morning before reaching Agua Dulce, I woke up at sunrise to find a Great Horned Owl standing within inches of my feet. We sat and looked at each other for a few moments until it decided to flush from the scene, and soon landed on someone elses tent that had been set up during the night just below us. This bird seemed to be attracted to feet. Perhaps the stench from our shoes and socks was irresistible. However, no matter the interpretation, Stacey and I felt blessed by Nature and accepted as a part of the greater whole, with this quiet visitor acknowledging our presence quite personally.
With a morning's hike into the horse heavy village of Agua Dulce, we reached mile marker 457. In some respects, this stop was the talk of the trail. The name Saufley is now a Legend along this vast pilgrimage route. Donna and Jeff Saufley spend every Spring hosting long distance hikers in an orderly and efficient manner. One gets the sense that they are in a United Nation's Refugee Camp offering a place to sleep, a place to wash clothes, and the time to regenerate and feel fresh. It is an example of the Love that people along the whole length of the trail are providing. These host families can now be found in many of the major towns along the route of the entire trail.
The Saufley's will entertain 40 to 50 hikers at a time. They have created a network system where other trail angels help out by transporting hikers to larger cities to purchase new shoes and applicable gear as needed. Mother Teresa would be happy to feel and to know that such institutions are in place and bringing additional peace, comfort, and trust into the world.
Besides the tent village with cots to sleep on, there was a trailer where hikers could watch television, cook food, call long distance for free, and to check e-mail. It was an information hub for and about the trail to come. Bear canisters for the up and coming Sierra Mountains could even be checked out and mailed ahead. This was a true paradise for us sun-soaked hikers.