It wouldn't be a trail of tears without, well... tears. This year the tears were canid.
1) The crowpher is invented.
2) We eat nightshade berries.
3) The dogs almost die.
4) Dan gets the unnecessarily complicated dinner.
5) Naked ladies at Sykes.
6) Kitt remarkably tough.
7) Dan unilaterally decides we don't need hot chocolate and doesn't pack it in.
8) Nightmare Nuggets
9) Off-trail adventures.
1) Dog booties for hikes on hot, rocky terrain.
2) "Berries of California"
We missed our 7am departure because Shwu forgot her shoes and I forgot my map. We finally arrived
at the China Camp trailhead before noon after fighting MotoGP traffic. Things started out great.
Wonderful views to the Pacific, but at the expense of a lot of elevation change (5000' to Sykes)
as we repeatedly crossed Coastal Range ridges on our trek Westward. South and West facing slopes
were exposed to the sun and sported the typical sagebrush/manzanita flora. After the first
junction to Pine Valley, the trail became extremely overgrown in some places - so much so that at
one point the bushes encroached upon the trail to the point that one could not see the trail
while standing. From my perspective, at the back of the line, it was incredible to see Andy,
Chris, and Shwu's heads floating upon this infinite sea of bushes, slowly drifting above the
submerged trail. Meanwhile (and there were a lot of meanwhiles on this trip) Andy's dogs, Shadow
and Blue, were walking through the brush-encapsulated tunnel, following Andy's feet.
We stopped along the way to taste various berries and hypothesize whether they were poisonous or
not. I learned this year that both manzanita berries and madrone berries are edible, so we tried
to find manzanita berries that tasted good, but without luck. We did, however, locate some
strong-tasting marble-sized green berries on some low bushes that initially tasted like
kiwifruit, and then slowly morphed to become bitter, and finished with an enduring aftertaste of
bitter death. We later learned in a "Berries of California" handbook located by Shwu, that these
berries were likely nightshade... Mmmmmm nightshade.
Andy's GPS kept telling us that we only had about 1/2 a mile as the crow flies to our
destination, no matter how far we hiked. I remarked that this whole "crow" thing was way
overrated since that crow would have to fly up the mountain and then down the mountain - really
one would want to be a gopher. Doyle rebutted with the fact that if we were on top of a ridge,
that the gopher would have to walk down and then up. We decided that the best animal to emulate
is actually the cropher, which would simply alternatingly fly and tunnel directly to its
destination. Doyle and I are starting a concerted effort to mate crows and gophers.
It was at about the 7 mile mark when the dogs really started to slow down. The exposed hot trail
had given them bad blisters, some dehydration, and Shadow particularly was limping badly. We made
it to Redwood Camp, 2 miles before Sykes, and decided to stop for the day to let the dogs rest
and finish the hike to Sykes on Saturday. The dogs decided that lying down in the creek and
lapping water for about half an hour suited them well. When they finally decided to get up, their
legs were so frozen from the cold stream that they couldn't walk at all. A few minutes of
standing on the bank revived them enough to hobble to camp. Hot chocolate and Baileys drinking
Andy started early to let the dogs set the pace. Blue was in the worst shape physically... his
pads had some nasty flaps, but he seems to have a lot of heart and kept up well. Shadow was
slower, and we caught Andy about half way to Sykes. We finished the 2 miles as a group.
Meanwhile, Dan, Megan3, Sitka, and Kitt were starting from Big Sur (where ToT IV started). Shadow
and Blue were happy to spend the next 6 hours at the river at Sykes. Chris, Shwu, and I walked
down to the hot springs, were greeted by some naked ladies, had a dip in the pools and played
some frisbee in the river. We came back to camp, and were found by Dan et al. a little while
later after they finished their 10 miles. The trail from Big Sur to Sykes is redwood forest, much
easier for dogs' feet, so Sitka is fine.
By this time, it was clear that the hike out would require carrying dogs. We decided that it
would be too difficult to carry them back up the trail to Tassajara, so we would hike out via Big
Sur and have Dan and Megan drop Andy off at his truck to have him come get us while we waited at
Big Sur. Andy wanted to get some of the 10 miles under his belt on Saturday, so he decided to go
to Barlow Flat (a campsite 3 miles from Sykes toward Big Sur) before nightfall.
Kitt shows up with Dan and Megan. I expect her to be pretty tired. She's actually in very good
spirits, with somewhat sore knees. Andy tells her that he's headed to Barlow, to which she
responds without hesitation, "ok, let's go!" Kitt logged the longest one-day trek of the trip at
13 miles. Pretty impressive!
After showing Dan and Megan to the hot springs, we come back for dinner. Dan unknowingly receives
the traditional newbie "unnecessarily complicated freeze-dried dinner" requiring separate cooking
pots, different cooking times, etc. He is noticably irritated by his dinner, but takes it well
when we tell him that it's not an accident. We prepare the water for hot chocolate, only to learn
that Dan (who did not attend the packing meeting) had unilaterally decided that we didn't need
all of the hot chocolate that we gave him to bring. "I couldn't believe that we could ever use
that much hot chocolate!" he protested. There would be no hot chocolate at breakfast. While he
wasn't looking, Chris and I threw Sitka in the poison oak.
A few games of Guillotine ensued, during which time a hippie couple and their dog "Nightmare
Nuggets" came by. Nightmare tried to eat Sitka's food while the hippies (the female wearing a top
of only her long flowing hair) giggled about card games.
The day of meanwhiles.
8:00am Kitt and Andy break camp above Barlow Flat and start the hike out with Blue and Shadow.
Everybody else sleeps.
9:00am Kitt and Andy continue the slow hike. Everybody else is making breakfast (without hot
chocolate) and breaking camp.
9:30am Dan, Megan, and Sitka head out since they're going to have to shuttle Andy to his truck.
10:00am Chris and Shwu start toward Barlow Flat. Given that we have so much time before Andy will
be back with the truck, I decide to attempt an off-trail river hike to Barlow and plan to meet
Shwu and Chris there at noon. We are now in four separate groups.
11:00am I encounter a nearly impassable portion of the river, but am able to scale a large boulder
to continue. I realize that rock climbing with a 40 pound pack is difficult, to say the least.
NOON: If Mischief could have looked down from a helicopter at the four different hiking groups at
exactly noon, there would be much confusion, consternation, and cajoling. You would have seen:
1) Kitt and Andy hiking way ahead of the group, hiking slowly, with Andy carrying one of his dogs.
2) Dan, Megan and Sitka some distance behind, but ahead of Chris and Shwu, hiking fast.
3) Chris and Shwu having a leisurely lunch at Barlow Flat. Wondering whether to leave because I
had not arrived at the specified time.
4) Mark in a speedo shuttling all of his gear above his head through a vertical granite canyon
filled with 15' of river.
12:30pm Shadow attempts to commit suicide by jumping off of Andy's back nearly down a sheer cliff.
Luckly, hits a tree.
12:45pm Doyle and Shwu leave Barlow Flat, and start toward Big Sur.
12:46pm I arrive at Barlow Flat. Search for Doyle and Shwu. Change clothes.
1:00pm I leave Barlow Flat
1:15pm I catch Doyle and Shwu
2:00pm Andy, Kitt, Blue, and Shadow reach the trail head and begin reading Harry Potter furiously.
[We actually arrived around 12:40pm, though the reading part is accurate.]
3:00pm Dan, Megan, Sitka reach the trailhead. Shuttle Andy and his dogs to his truck, and take
Kitt home. Shwu spots the trailhead - breakneck pace ensues.
4:00pm Mark, Chris, and Shwu reach the trailhead. Go to Big Sur Lodge.
5:00pm Andy, Kitt, Dan, Megan + 3 dogs reach Andy's truck. Shwu locates "Berries of California".
Mark, Shwu, and Chris make reservations for dinner at the Big Sur Lodge.
6:00pm I receive my crab cakes and wine. Shwu: Salmon. Doyle: Rack of Lamb. We make a toast to
7:00pm Andy arrives - finishes wine.
7:30pm Kitt, Dan, Megan are probably nearly home by now. We're leaving Big Sur.
10:30pm Home at last.