April 16 (~18:30 – ~20:00)
Cajon Junction / McDonalds – Swarthout Canyon / Water cache (5.1 mi / Total: 347.0 mi)
Weather: Overcast and almost a bit rainy during the day, quite a nice temperature when we get on trail at night, as it isn’t too hot or cold. Very humid during the night though.
I’m in San Bernardino with Speedy and Prince. We’re far from the trail, but I’m excited for our reason to come out here: we’re going to the Apple store to figure out why I can’t get any US SIM cards to work on my phone. Two trail angels drove us into town yesterday, and we checked into a hotel for the night. I eat a nutrition-less breakfast at the hotel, check out and we take an Uber back to the Starbucks we visited yesterday, after which we head over to the Apple store.
We’re in a typical affluent outdoor mall and everything seems expensive and very clean. Speedy and Prince have their sink-washed socks attached to the outside of their packs to dry and we stick out like sore thumbs. The Apple store is busy even though it’s early, people waiting or checking products while the bad acoustics in the building overwhelm us all somewhat. We feel very far from the PCT right now.
After a short wait I’m assigned my own Apple Genius and I explain my problem. I bought an unlocked phone in New Zealand which has worked with SIM cards in different countries, but it just doesn’t want to work with either Straight Talk or Verizon, even though my phone is compatible with both GSM and CDMI. We go through the same motions again, all those things I already did during both the Straight Talk live chat and the Verizon store. Nothing changes. More people are consulted. In the end we back up my phone and do a full iOS reinstall. We sit at a table at the back of the store and we wait.
I look around me – it’s a funny place – everyone is so cool and efficient and confident, and it’s a world of difference from my line of work as a designer, where everyone is eternally doubting themselves. Meanwhile I see employees casting odd looks at us, and all of our bulky packs, while some people come over to ask what we’re doing. We definitely look out of place. We’d wanted to take some pictures of ourselves at the store but we don’t. We’re too embarrassed.
After more than four hours, multiple Geniuses and iOS newly installed on my phone, we come to the conclusion that there’s nothing wrong with my phone. The only answer they can offer is that, despite the phone being unlocked, only the GSM has been unlocked, and not CDMI, as it’s not used in New Zealand. This means my Verizon SIM won’t work, and neither will the Straight Talk Verizon SIM card, and I’d been given incorrect advise when Straight Talk told me I wasn’t compatible with their AT&T SIM card. After all those hours resetting my phone, Prince comes to the rescue by calling Straight Talk and has my service plan linked to the AT&T SIM card. Suddenly my phone springs to life.
When we leave the store it’s been at least four and a half hours and even though I’m hugely relieved my phone is working now, we’re all in a bit of a mood. We’re not used to having all these people around us anymore, plus we’re starving. We walk around the corner to Chipotle where we all order huge plates of food and I get three soft tacos that have so many toppings on them that my hands and face are covered in all of them while I eat it. Then we head over to Walmart for our resupply. We were all hoping to get some great options, but it appears this is the worst Walmart for food ever. They have practically no fresh food section and the rest of their offer is extremely limited. I’m so confused I end up just buying lots of wraps, and when I manage to pack it all in, my backpack has never been bigger or heavier. My resupply is a huge fail. We’re about to climb another big mountain and my pack is unmanageable. I have no idea how I’m going to lug this thing uphill.
At least getting back to the trail is arranged surprisingly easy. Prince manages to contact the Homeboys of the PCT and they just come riding up in their van to take us back to the trail. I have no idea how they manage to have the time and patience to look after hikers like this, but they are amazing. They drive us all the way back up to the trailhead, while we struggle to stay bubbly and chat – this day has just been too much for all of us.
In the van we start talking about the Poodle Dog Bush that grows in this area, a poisonous plant that appears in recent burn areas, which causes severe skin irritation. It lurches around the upcoming sections, so when we get back to the trail, they point out which plant it is. It looks mean and dreary and I’ve seen it before, and now I’ll never forget it.
It’s six thirty in the evening when we finally start our hiking day. The trail continues the same way it moved up and around the erratic, small hills before we hit McDonalds, as though we’re walking in the wrong direction, and every view I think I’ve seen before. Instantly, we all feel happy again. We can see the busyness of the Interstate and the towns beyond and we’re so happy to be high above all that, back on trail, watching from a distance. It grows dark and the tiny lights get stronger and I feel calm just knowing I’m not out there.
My pack is filled with stones: it pulls, pushes me into the ground with its abhorrent weight and I’m tired already. After the first painful ascends I start to get into it, and I feel lighter despite the weight on my back, and I feel like I’m flying ahead. The trail is actually really pretty and fun and shrouded by a herby scent which I cannot place. It’s nice.
We walk only five miles, and find cowboy camping spots just before the dirt road, and just before a water cache. I hear strange sounds but I’m happy to be here, happy to be under the stars again.