PCT Day 17 & 18 : An Arctic Morning Into Big Bear & My First Real Zero

April 10 (~07:30 – ~13:20) & April 11
After Private Zoo – Highway 18 Access to Big Bear (15.2 mi / Total: 266.1 mi)
Weather: Freezing cold. Only a little warmer once the sun hits.

When I wake up the wind has calmed just a little, and the side of my tent that was fighting the gusts all night has lost all tension, the wrinkly cuben fabric just hanging there loosely. It’s cold. Freezing cold. I hear movement around me – Speedy and Black Water are getting up. I reach for the soft water pouch in my vestibule and it’s frozen solid. I hear Black Water call out that his shoes are so frozen that he’s been trying to squeeze his feet into them for the past 45 minutes. He heads off soon after, desperate to get out of the cold. Speedy is struggling to get into her shoes as well, and all her water bottles and filter have frozen. It takes a while for me to get out of my tent and pack everything up myself, and my hands are so cold I have to pause constantly and try and warm them. I put on my shoes last – they are icy cold but not as solid as that day we camped in the snow. I walk away wearing all my layers, clutching my trekking poles as I don’t have the strength to collapse them. This is a horrible start of the day.

Luckily the trail stays mostly level. I try and walk fast, to warm up, but it doesn’t work. I’m still walking at an 8000 ft elevation, and everything about this environment is chilling. After half an hour my hands begin to unthaw in their gloves, and it’s the most horrid sensation I’ve ever felt. I have to clutch my poles under my arm because I’m unable to hold them, and I wail out loud from the pain. It takes another half an hour for the cold to become bearable.

As the sun illuminates the trail more, the hike into Big Bear becomes easier, and the foresight to lasagna more real. Lasagna and a day off, my first real zero. I feel like I’ve had quite a few days off already, but I’m looking forward to being in town for a real zero, a proper day and a half off. I need to sort out my phone issues once and for all, do my resupply, wash, clean, do laundry and sit in a café with a hot coffee and write some blog posts. I’ll be happy to have all those errands sorted, and go back to my hike after that. The PCT has been much more of a whirlwind than I’d expected.

The trail slowly winds towards Big Bear, out of the scenic forest and into the more frequently used open spaces, with lots of dirt road intersections and impressive, wide open views onto the dry desert floor. I’m headed for the PCT intersection with Highway 18, where we planned to hitch into Big Bear.

When I approach, I see Speedy standing next to a car, and I run towards her and the trail angel who drove up just to see if he could give some hikers a ride into town. How lucky are we – I really wasn’t too keen on the prospect of hitching. Black Water already managed to hitch into town earlier, so it’s just the two of us and we get in the car and get dropped off in the Village area, where most of the accommodation and restaurants are. It’s strange to be in town, so suddenly. Just moment ago we were on the trail, and now we are eating at a restaurant and booking a room at a hotel.

Speedy and I decide to share a room at the Robin Hood hotel, as opposed to staying in one of the busy hiker hostels. We meet with Black Water again, and we do our laundry at the local laundromat, where the WiFi is the best we’ve encountered so far. Then we decide where to head for our lasagna: Peppercorn Grille. Once we enter we realise it’s much fancier than we’d expected, but it’s the perfect choice – the lasagna is amazing. It’s a huge size, with salad, and it’s super tasty. It’s everything I wanted it to be. Even Speedy gave up being vegetarian for this lasagna.

The next day is our relaxing zero, and our full resupply day. We take a bus to the other side of town, where the supermarkets are, and head straight to the Verizon store. I can’t wait to finally sort out my phone and get a SIM card that actually works. I’ve already given up on the $300 I spent on the Straight Talk 6 month plan – right now, all I want is a working phone and Verizon is going to give it to me.

Several hours later I exit the store having spent $80 on a non-refundable plan, and my phone still doesn’t work. Somehow, the same thing happens with this Verizon SIM card as it did with the Straight Talk – my phone is compatible, will latch on to the signal for a moment, before dropping again to no service. No matter what we do, we can’t make it work, and there doesn’t seem to be a logical reason for it. We even reset my phone to factory settings but nothing helps.

I leave the store in a daze. My only option seems to find a cheap second phone I could use as a hotspot, but after running to the few stores around I realise there are none in Big Bear. I run into Speedy and Black Water again, who have now finished their resupply, and I’m utterly frenzied. I’ve spent $400 on SIM cards that don’t work, and I don’t understand why.

Black Water comes to the rescue as usual and calls Apple support. They suggest a complete iOS reboot, and he takes my phone back to Verizon to try and sort this out, while I go and get my resupply. When I join him and Speedy at the store again, they’ve set up shop at one of the desks, but they’ve been unsuccessful – the WiFi doesn’t work well enough to download the iOS onto the computer in the first place. After two failed tries, we go home. There’s only one option left: find an Apple store. In another four days we’ll reach Cajon Junction, where we could actually hitch into the LA suburbs to get help at an Apple store. It’s a crazy idea but Black Water‘s enthusiasm is intoxicating, and we decide this is the plan. We’re going to the Apple store. The snow got our little group together as a snow gang, and now the Apple store is bonding us together once again – I’m so relieved I don’t have to deal with this alone.

Not having a phone has proven more problematic than I’d thought. Being able to look up gear replacements, call trail angels for shuttles into town or looking up hostels are all taken for granted with a working phone, and of course it’s nice to be able to contact my family and friends, and update my blog on trail.

When we get back to the hotel I get another blow: I’ve lost my UK SIM card – the only card that actually works, even though the roaming costs are horrid. I had a hole in the ziplock bag I use as a wallet, and I’d put my SIM card in there while I was at the Verizon store. It burst open just as I walked to the bus, and it also broke at the supermarket, and I got it out at Starbucks. That SIM card could be anywhere. It’s the only emergency SIM card I had, and now I have nothing. I awkwardly burst out in tears in front of Speedy and Black Water. What a day. I cannot believe how the purchase of a simple SIM card for hiking a trail can cause so much trouble. But at least we have a plan, and it’s a pretty good one. Tomorrow we head back to the trail and we will slowly make our way to the Apple store, to fix my phone.

3 thoughts on “PCT Day 17 & 18 : An Arctic Morning Into Big Bear & My First Real Zero

  1. What a miserable day for you! I’m sure that phone is truly a lifeline as a solo hiker. Once again I’m in awe of your ability to brush off the temporary agony of the cold and the phone mess and just keep moving forward!


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