Day 23 – April 26, 2022
Mile 328.8 (Silverwood Lake Campsite) to 351.8
23.0 trail miles | 25.0 tracked miles | 4,670 ft elevation gain | 77 F / 25 °C
The day started with a moderate and gradual ascent, along with unremarkable views—not that there was anything wrong or disappointing with the scenery; it just lacked novelty or any notable features or landmarks.
After peaking at a bit over 4,000 feet, we started the exhilarating descent into Cajon Pass. Hiking is often a mental game, and we were in great spirits as we approached Cajon Pass, the infamous home of the only McDonald’s on trail. But excitement aside, the descent was truly spectacular.
The whole valley stretched out before us—a sinuous ribbon of dirt and rock flanked by jagged peaks, dramatic cliffs, and undulating and rolling hills as far as the eye could see.
The smooth path and gentle grade seemed ideally suited for trail running. I felt compelled to pick up my pace, but I didn’t trust my shoes entirely. After close to 400 miles (including off-trail miles), I can sense that the tread has had better days. It’s deceptively easy to slip or stumble on a rock and twist an ankle, and minor injuries can spell the end a thru-hike.
Michael and Joe plowed ahead, while I stayed cautiously behind with Christie.
The trail’s twists and turns offered commanding views all along, though the wind was brutal at times.
Eventually, the character of the landscape changed ever so slightly. With the lower elevation came taller shrubs, cheerful wildflowers, and the occasional tree.
The final approach into Cajon Pass followed a canyon and offered protection from the wind.
Soon, the unmistakable roaring noise of civilization signaled our arrival into Cajon Pass. Cajon Pass is a major freight and transport hub with an interstate, obnoxious truck traffic, and multiple railways.
The trail stopped abruptly at a paved road, and I took the obligatory picture of the legendary sign directing hungry hikers to the home of cheap calories, McDonald’s.
On the 400 yards to the fast food joint, a car stopped and the driver asked if there were any parking spots in the vicinity. I guess my backpack, attire, and disheveled look weren’t enough of a clue for him to put two and two together and consider the possibility that somewhat could actually walk through this car hell.
Mc Donald’s was partially closed. The dining room was under construction, and only mobile orders were accepted, so I had to install the McDonald’s app. Even though welcoming the junk food giant into my phone marked a new low in my life, I took solace in the fact that new users get free food.
I naively considered ordering a salad but my hopes were quickly dashed—this location doesn’t have any of the remotely healthier options. In any case, none of us decided to partake in the infamous McDonald’s challenge. The idea is to forego the usual trail food and buy enough McDonald’s to last until Wrightwood, CA. Yuck.
Since we couldn’t sit inside, we crashed outside, on the ground, at the adjacent gas station. It was truly ghetto in the most awesome way.
After munching on burgers and McNuggets, I walked over to the Cajon Pass Inn across the freeway in order to pick up a resupply box. It was entirely unnecessary; I have plenty of food left. I just didn’t expect to experience so much trail magic when I planned my resupplies. And while I’m not looking forward to carrying extra weight, it didn’t make sense to leave expensive backpacking meals behind.
The .6 mile detour to the hotel was a striking demonstration of everything that’s wrong with car-centric infrastructure in the US. In the absence of sidewalks and crosswalks, I hugged the freeway overpass guard rails and had to run across five lanes of traffic.
On the heels of this uncomfortable experience, I spotted a small fruit stand that sold heaping boxes of fruit for $10. It felt much better to support a local entrepreneur than to patronize McDonald’s.
After digesting our junk food, we resumed hiking. The next stretch cemented my opinion of Cajon Pass: it’s a dump.
First, the trail plunged under the interstate and the railroad. It was creepy.
Then, we passed through a junkyard.
To round out the experience, we walked through storm drains. At least, they were dry.
The fun part was crossing railway tracks, which is typically illegal. I was impressed at the scope of the railroad infrastructure through Cajon Pass. BNSF runs massive freight trains on up to four parallel tracks, at a frequency that I had never witnessed before. I spotted a train with five engines and double-stacked cars.
Soon, the trail gained elevation and we started the long climb west of the pass. My pack was overloaded, with several days’ worth of extra food and four liters of water for the evening and the night. But I felt great. I felt strong. I felt powerful, on the edge of glory. Every day my body is getting stronger and I’m getting younger.
Sometimes walking is mechanical. But sometimes, I pinch myself and I realize that I’m pursuing a dream. And it puts a big smile on my face and I feel that I’m at the top of the world. I’m very fortunate.
We passed by a local water cache—I could have carried less weight up the hill, but I try to minimize my reliance on these man-made and potentially unreliable supplies.
The climb was steep and exposed, and the wind relentless at times, though the expansive views over the pass were glorious. Even dumps look good from high up above.
Eventually my legs started getting tired—McDonald’s calories don’t last much after all. The sun was about to set and there was no campsite in the vicinity, so we followed a dirty road in search for a suitable flat area. Options were scarce, but we ended up finding a small patch of dirty by a cliff where we managed to fit all our tents.
The views are amazing, and cowboy campers are looking forward to a stunning sunset. Today was a good day.