In my original plan, I would hike into Idyllwild on my birthday, eat a bacon cheeseburger and drink beer that evening, zero the next day for the last time, then hike to Mexico. Whoops. The phone-fry incident in Big Bear meant I would be a day behind that plan.
Two nights out of Big Bear I faced a truly horrible 20 miles of relentless uphill to the next water, 6500′ elevation gain, scrub bushes, shade less, squiggles. Noooo, not the squiggly switchbacks again! Not on my birthday! The worst birthday ever! Yeah, yeah, I’m glad I get another birthday, I’m glad I get to spend it outdoors (but really the deserted beach at Waimanalo where I wore a new bikini for my 60th was pleasantly outdoors), I’ve got my health (if not my body fat), blah blah blah. The worst birthday ever coming up!
My typical day’s intake was going to be the same as ever.
Breakfast: Walkers Shortbread Cookies 8 X 100 calories, Starbucks Via X 4
Snacks: Snickers X 2, Clif bar, Payday X 2, Kind Bar
Lunch: 3oz cheddar on a flat bagel
Beverage: 3 L water treated with Aqua Mira drops
Dinner: Packit Gourmet entree, Tusacan Beef Stew with Polenta
Birthday cake: nope
We were camped next to a water faucet, actually a huge luxury at this point, we could fill up in the morning! As Puff Puff walked to the faucet with her headlamp on, she sang, “Happy Birthday” to me. Awww, so sweet I had to smile between curses.
The slog began in the dark. We had decided to get going super early because uphill is slow, slow, slow, and the hotter it gets the more water you need to drink and the more water you need the heavier your pack and the slower you go. 20 miles to water. I hate my life.
I saw Puff Puff at 11 am, resting and snacking in a tiny blot of shade. I flung my pack down and snarled, “The worst fucking birthday ever,” then changed the subject to try and be a little more upbeat. Uh huh, she didn’t believe it either.
I texted Sliderule, “6 hours, less than halfway, 5 hours of daylight left. I hate my birthday” with this photo showing the valley floor I’d come from for 6 hours.
More slogging. Finally the trail entered trees and granite. Enormous gray squirrels with bushy tails bounded everywhere, flinging themselves from rocks and downed logs into trees. Deer tracks, the ubiquitous black beetles and a few hiker footprints led me uphill. Puff Puff must have waited for me again because I was just behind her at around 3:30, with 10 hours of walking uphill so far, when we spotted a white cooler ahead. Coolers mean somebody has left “trail magic” for PCT thru-hikers, but for hundreds of miles they have been empty, artifacts left untended since the wave of NOBOs months ago. And then we got closer. She yells, “Open it!” but I had to take a photo first. And there was water, Gatorade, soda, beer and sandwiches.
There was so much fluid that we decided to camp then and there, we didn’t need to push on to water and it was only 13 or so miles left the next day to our next resupply in Idyllwild. Wahoo, the Ravens! Kaw, kaw, kaw! I’ve never had such an amazing birthday surprise in my life. Then as we were tucking into the bounty, Puff Puff pulled out a little box she’d been carrying for days. Tarcey had carried a box of treats to give me at the top of Mt Whitney for over 200 miles when we hiked the JMT in 2013. It means a lot. Fudge and Patron Silver, how did she know?
I wrote this little note, put it in a ziploc in the cooler, and hiked on the next day.
“Dear, dear Ravens,
I just knew it was going to be the WORST birthday of my life: 20 miles uphill to water, 20 relentless, shadeless, squiggly miles. I was hiking with a face like one of those grumpy cat photos on birthday cards. When we spotted the cooler, we thought “Leftover magic for the NOBOs, it will be empty or full of trash.” Then we saw “Happy Birthday Catwater” and Puff Puff is all “Open it!” But I was crying seeing your names and feeling the love.
BEST birthday surprise of my life!
Thank you so much! I can imagine the smiles and excitement you all had while putting together this most perfect birthday present of all time!
A thousand hugs,