PCT Day 3: Julian

Sleeping much past dawn was difficult on a trip like this but we gave it a go, and it was a pretty leisurely 8.00 by the time we reached the post office and shops in Mt Laguna. Of course they weren’t open, so we killed time watching the lack of hustle and the lack of bustle. By the time the shop finally opened and Morgan got his coffee we had some semblance of a plan – get to Julian and do some internet research to find possible self-treatment options for my knee; get back to Mt. Laguna for exercises and general relaxation then, knee-pending, push on along the trail.

It seemed like a good plan, but as we headed for the road to hitch a lift, I was unable to walk 100m with my pack. Morgan carried both and I felt the true meaning of lame. It was to be my first ever hitch-hike and Morgan had been entertaining me with stories of his previous hitching exploits. He maintained that out here, with backpacks, it would be a breeze. When we made it to the road every car we saw was going in the wrong direction for a while and then, on the first chance to use our thumbs, a van pulled up. Morgan dashed up to meet them, and I tried to hide how badly I was limping. They were going to Julian and happy to take us all the way. Hitching was easy!

The driver, Lonnie, introduced himself, his wife, and then his daughter, “She’s called touch-her-you-die.” “Haha, but really, what’s her name?” Morgan asked. “Touch-her-you-die.” There was nowhere else to go down that line of enquiry, “So what takes you to Julian?” It turned out that Lonnie knew all about the PCT and had helped hikers out before. He and his family were heading to Julian to get pie. Julian markets itself on pie – better than nothing, I suppose, and pie is good. We went through the usual round of small-talk, I trotted out the usual vaguely correct description of my job to be met with, “You design ASICs then?”. Lonnie’s bewildering expertise included nursing, electrical engineering, and piloting small planes.

Lonnie’s Small Plane Story

On a flying trip out with his wife one day, Lonnie was having difficulty finding the runway. The weather was fine, he could see roads and buildings and knew he must be in the right area. He was looking for an airfield that he’d never been to before and he knew it was quite small, so seeing a strip of land that looked about right and a group of building that looked about right, he set in to land. The runway was short and narrow, with no margin for error, but he managed to touch down, keep the plane straight and stop before he ran out of room. So far so good, but he soon noticed a patrol car heading his way. All flashing lights, sirens, and excitement, the officer rushed up to speak to them. “You can’t be here!” he said. Lonnie was confused, “I thought this was XYZ airfield.” (I forget the name)
“You can’t be here! You need to leave immediately!”
“Where am I?”
“You’re in ABC State Prison, you can’t be here!”
(I forget that name too)
Lonnie had mistaken an internal prison road for an airstrip, made an impossibly hard landing, triggered an alert for an attempted breakout, and exploded the tiny mind of the prison officer in the process. Once things had calmed down, it was decided that his wife would travel to the airfield by car and Lonnie would have to get the plane turned around before performing a tight take-off and flight to the real airstrip. Everything worked out in the end, but Lonnie is a man who knows very well what happens if you ignore inconvenient details on a map and that was a subject close to our hearts.

It was an interesting drive, there’s no doubt about that. Not just for the conversation, but also for the views from the mountains down into the desert. We could see where the next few days might take us and it was epic. Many little worlds in valleys, knit together by the mountain range and each fading into the same desert at the bottom. This was more like the PCT we’d dreamed of, and the one we weren’t prepared to give up on.

At Julian, Lonnie gave us a quick tour of the town before bidding us farewell and dropping us off at the library. Knee research suggested two possible problems Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) or Patellofemoral Syndrome (that second link I found much more recently). At the time ITBS sounded more likely and Morgan knew a good method for working the IT bands – lying sideways on a foam roller and moving it up-and-down from knee to hip. “Excruciatingly good” was an apt description. This exercise (using a fuel container wrapped in a towel) and resting did smooth things out somewhat… but more on that later.

Having done the work, and scratched the email itch, we headed into Julian as a pair of smelly, cheap tourists. We had pie and the pie was good. With hours left to go, we set out to hitch back to Julian. This time things weren’t so easy. The junction of roads left nowhere good for cars to stop, and the wind blew hard, but we kept our humour for 4 hours. The first car that stopped was a woman on her way to an AA meeting (Brits – that’s Alcoholics Anonymous, not Automobile Association) who said she’d pick us up on the way back if we were still waiting. We really hoped that it wouldn’t be necessary. As it turned out a friendly dentist who rode mountain bikes gave us a ride, even though it was entirely out of his way. It was another fine example of the kindness of ordinary Americans. He was slightly less wacky than Lonnie, but he was soon to be heading off for an MTB trip in Mongolia at an age where other people might be just looking forward to golf and retirement.

There was time for one more slice of Americana before we retired from the day. As we walked up the road to the camp-site, a local shouted over from his yard, “Are you guys hiking the trail?”. We said yes, and he asked where we were from. We said we were English and heard the voice of America, “You guys are real allies, not like the French. Tony Blair’s welcome here any time. He’s a great leader.” Not wanting to get into that, we just appreciated his enthusiasm and bid him goodbye.

A whole day gone and no trail miles, but characters aplenty, a renewed determination, and a plan of action. It wasn’t hard to sleep that night.

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