In 2009, an out-of-control wildfire burned 160,577 acres of Southern California. The so-called "Station Fire" is the 10th largest wildfire in California history and in fighting the blaze, two firefighters were killed when trying to outrace the flames, their truck tumbled off of a steep cliffside.
Here is the monument to Arnoldo Quinones and Tedmund Hall:
On the above monument is a collection of mementos and several journals in a steel box that many thru-hikers and passersby have written in to offer some support to their families. This wasn't even on the official PCT; it was on a detour around the following weed - Poodle Dog Bush.
This nasty bugger commonly grows in burned areas and has literally overrun the hillsides around miles 410 to 440 of the Pacific Crest Trail. While it has a slightly pleasant/pungent smell and has beautiful purple flowers, the oils of the plant can cause severe allergic reactions to those who touch it, akin to poison oak and stinging nettles. Blistering often occurs for upwards of two weeks after touching one. On the PCT, it's quite common to see whole sections of trail eroded and destroyed because hikers had to trample around the Poodle Dog. You see, these last 100 miles have definitely felt like two very different trails ...
On the one hand, we got to summit a mountain of no small magnitude in incredible conditions for Memorial Day - Mt. Baden-Powell, named after Lord Baden Powell, master and commander of the Boy Scouts.
Our good luck continued when we needed a hitch and got one from a former thru-hiker ("Comet") who happened to know a friend of ours - "Motor Butt." It's a small world - this hiking community. Some other day-hikers from the Los Angeles area gave us Cranberry Scones, Sweet Potato chips, and just treated us like minor-celebrities.
And then there's the Saufley's - now in their 16th year of hosting, housing, and loving hikers. This couple from Agua Dulce (mileage 454.4) is just awesome. They'll even house people's pack animals, as they have a few horses of their own. Showers, tents, storing and mailing hiker packages (since there's no post office here) - sometimes these guys have 50-60 hikers living and hanging out on their property! We've stayed here two nights and are heading out tomorrow; it's been incredible, and it's aptly named "Hiker Heaven."
On the other hand, this section was a grim reminder of how fragile this sometimes annoying desert can be. Sure, I complain about walking through the heat, because it's not really our ecosystem, but in truth, it's an incredibly beautiful and diverse place that I'm happy to have been a part of, if only as a passing drifter.
Right beyond the monument to the firefighters was an eerie, burned-down encampment. I still don't know if it was open to the public or if it was home to some kind of offices or whatnot, but here are some photos - tens of buildings burned to nothing, metal twisted, plastic contorted and that ever-unpleasant scent of fire. If you've ever experienced that smell, it always gets you. My family's house burned down when I was in third-grade, and later, when I was in college and I went to photograph and report on a University employee's house burning down, I was knocked down by that smell again. It brought back all of those memories, thoughts, feelings. If you haven't experienced it ... I'm glad.
I feel that even though this isn't a "permanent" re-route around the dreaded Poodle Dog Bush, it should be. That road-walk really hit home how important it is to be careful with your campfire, your stove, your discarded match - whatever. The Station Fire ... it was one of 60+ fires in California in 2009. Unlike a hurricane, which as a Louisiana-boy, I'm kinda familiar with - stupid wildfires are often caused by human carelessness. And all over Southern California on the PCT, you can see the remnants - burned, beautiful, magestic trees. Pine cones fused lifelessly by flame to the very limbs that sprouted them.
Soon, we'll walk through the dreaded Mojave on our journey to the High Sierras and (gasp) water will exist again! Still, it won't be easy to forget what walking through the desert has shown us.
I wish I could tie this all in to Multiple Sclerosis somehow, but I'm not that well-equipped as a writer. All I know is that even in this most harsh and heinous of an environment, it's the human kindness and respect that makes it worthwhile, and I hope that along our journey, folks who've been following us can feel a little of the love we're feeling on this walk and donate a bit - even $10 or $20 - to help us get to that light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
Voodoo & Twinkletoes / Shawn & Maury