I was somewhat concerned about having the Southern California Blues. After walking through the Sierra Nevada, some may feel that the rest of the trail pales in comparison.
Kicking a flying bird
When you walk on the PCT you are like a suicide bomber in Baghdad. Animals all scurry away when they hear or see you coming. But some wait a tad too long before making a break. One tiny bird was hanging out on the edge of the trail when I came barging through.
Although I was oblivious of her presence, she tried to fly away, but my normal stride kicked her in mid-flight! She somehow stayed aloft (perhaps my swift kick gave her a boost) and then flew away. It is about time that a bird feels what it is like to get the boot.
Even the mighty bear runs away from me. Indeed, two cubs ran up a tree when they saw me at Joshua Tree Spring near Tehachapi. As I approached them, they stumbled down the tree and ran away. I saw mama bear 30 minutes later. Then I saw those who aim to kill her.
Hunting season opens
The day after seeing those 3 bears, we ran into a bunch of hunters. The day before was opening day on deer, bear, and PCT hikers.
A retired cop gave us a ride back to the trail after walking 5 miles off of it to get water.
All the hunters were extremely generous with us. I respect that hunters frequently are more observant than hikers. Hikers look at their feet or at objects 2 or more miles away. Hunters are keenly aware of the land, especially scrutinizing everything within 500 meters - their rifle range.
A few days from the Mexican border, I became concerned that a US Border Guard might mistake me for a wetback. Given my deep tan, disheveled look, and Mexican sombrero, they might have good reason to book me. So if you get a postcard from Guantanamo Bay don't assume that I am relaxing on that Cuban beach, but that Tony, the CIA resident brute, is working me over.
Little did we know that when we were climbing out of Hauser Creek, 10 miles from the Mexican border, that we had tripped a sensor that alerted the US Border Patrol of our presence. Of course, we were clueless so we kept walking toward Mexico, oblivious that two guards were mobilizing to capture us.
They thought we were taking evasive action. Unlike the PCT, the jeep road goes over the summit of Mt. Hauser, so we worked harder than we needed to. The Border Patrol expected that we would stay on the PCT, but once we tripped another sensor near the summit, they got off the trail and headed to the top to nab us.
Without meaning to, we took more evasive action by heading down two different side trails that we thought would lead us back to the PCT. Instead, they just led us to a dead end. Along the way we found abandoned Mexican ponchos and other trash. The chaparral was so dense and sharp that trying to bushwhack to the PCT would be like trying to push your way through barbed wire.
While we were going down these fruitless one way trails, the two Border Guards were in an SUV desperately driving up and down the jeep road hoping to spot us. The driver would drop off his partner at certain spots so he could run around on foot and see if we were hiding in the bushes. The driver would return to pick his partner up again when he came up empty.
Of course, we had no idea that the guards had been chasing us for almost two hours, frustrated that they couldn’t locate us due to our erratic movements.
Finally, Maiu and I found a dirt path that crossed the PCT. We celebrated. It was embarrassing to get lost so close to the finish line. Hadn't we learned anything about navigation over the last 2,600 miles? Apparently not.
However, about a minute later I heard rapid heavy steps behind me, someone was running up behind me. I suddenly got worried that the Mexicans had heard us and were running down to rob us. My heart started racing as I heard the footsteps approach.
I turned around and to my surprise two Border Guards, dripping with sweat, stopped right behind us and with just one look at us they breathed a deep sigh of relief. It was immediately obvious that once they saw our high tech backpacking gear and our pale skin, we weren't what they were expecting to find.
"What happened?" I asked.
The guards share their story
"I knew that whatever we were going to find was not going to be normal. Sometimes Mexicans go south for a mile or two to fake us out. But you just kept going and going. That's when I thought you were a coyote (a Mexican guide) heading back to Mexico. But those guys usually go at night. So I didn't know what to expect."
"Didn't you think we could be hikers?"
I guess it makes sense. In a typical year, fewer than five thru-hikers complete PCT going southbound. This year it looked like only three made it (Maiu and I + Scott Williamson).
Meanwhile, thousands of Latin Americans pour through the border every year.
"Because we would rather not run after you all night. If we start talking loudly then the illegals know we're on their tail. That's when they're likely to jump into the bushes and try to hide. Then we'll just follow their footprints right into the bushes. The chaparral is so thick that they can't get too deep into it."
"None of the above! They jumped on their fellow Mexican, pushed him off of me, and overpowered him. They helped me regain control. Like I said, they don't want trouble, just a job. They always cooperate with me as I send them back to Mexico."
Having never met a southbound thru-hiker, the guards were as curious about us as we were about them. After talking for 20 minutes, he said, "The sun is setting, you guys better get going, it's hard to find a place to camp around here."
Just minutes before my alarm went off at 5 a.m. we heard some footsteps approaching. No voices. Just the crunch of a pair of feet on the gravelly trail. Two illegals walked right by our heads. I saw their silhouettes against the stars. I doubt they saw us, but I'll never know. If they did, they obviously didn't want any trouble. They were heading to El Norte.
It's funny that the last Northbounders that we saw on the PCT were a pair of illegal aliens.
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