Day 7- 18.3 miles from 3rd Gate Water Cache (91.2) to Warner Springs (109.5)

I wake up to my collapsed tarp. I get out by reaching down and pulling out the stakes and pulling the tarp behind my head. I pack up and pee, Regan still sleeping. Then I’m up, my feet feeling good and the miles gentle.

The trails continues to curve around the hills, rising up and down. The grade is so gentle it feels flat, though, and I only see one of the German hikers from last night all morning as we flip around each other. The trail traverses to the other side of the mountain and I judge each bend to remember which holds the 100 mile mark. I don’t stop except to drink water, and finally reach it.

The miles are flying by, and now I’m thinking about getting into Warner- I’ll be at Barrel Springs in an hour or two, and then if I don’t go to Warner today I’ll have to sit around today, do a really short day in tomorrow, sit around some more, zero in Warner Springs (more sitting), and then wait for the post office to open on Monday. Which is absolutely ridiculous and I would go wild. I check the time and mileage left until the PO closes at 1:30. It’s 10 miles and 4 ish hours. I think I can make it as long as I keep a 3 mph pace. I can bounce my box coming on Monday to Idyllwild. Then I’ll see Ziploc and Oldtimer and Drippy and maybe Maddy again.

I reach Barrel Springs and the bottom of the mountains at 9:30 with 8.5 miles left to go. It’s a big flat clearing under old-growth trees, with a big trough fed from the spring by a pipe. One of the Germans is sitting down on a log. I set my pack down and check that I have water, and pull some snacks from my bag. I stuff a fruit bar into my mouth. “I’m goffing to tfy and mak it to the posf office,” I explain, with hand gestures, and then head off.

I’m glad I measured my walking mph while training this spring, because now I know when I’m making 3 mph. I am. The trail wends though golden grassy fields with mountains in the distance and knolls of trees and hills in between them. I follow two hikers at a distance. My left knee is a little painful, but not too bad. I pause to drink water at the tops of the crests of each of the little hills, and check my time. I think I’m gaining.

I see eagle rock in the distance, the trail dipping up and down through a golden field sprinkled with bright orange poppies. The granite outcropping is congregated with dayhikers in bright colors. I stop by and get a picture and keep going.

Last year I asked whether people would go see Eagle Rock if eagles didn’t exist, I think to myself, but this year I ask- what if it was a rock that looked like a pigeon instead?

File that under, “Deep thoughts, Picnic 2018.”

I pass dayhikers and horse riders and a band of Boy Scouts on the last couple of miles in. The trail is shaded by trees and dropping down alongside a stream to the road. I walk up to the road, through a chained gate, along to the Community Center gates and the parking lot, and see Drippy and OT as they walk around near the camping field. I have 45 minutes to get to the PO. I register in the community center, and ask if there are rides. Nope. I set my pack down under the tree in the camping area and head down the path to the PO. I can’t figure out a latch on a gate and duck under the barbed wire instead, and alternate between walking and jogging. My knees are pretty sore.

I get to the PO and get my packages and bounce my Monday box with my sleeping bag and tent to Idyllwild, and then walk slowly back to the Community Center in a happy, tired daze, hugging my packages to my chest. The sun is bright and my eyes are half-closed, and I sing out loud as I walk. Mariachi by Ani Difranco, and Country Roads by James Taylor, and snatches of whatever comes to mind.

I get back and pick out some loaner clothes that look like they belonged to crotchety old men, and take a bucket bath out back, and rinse some of the grime out of my clothes. I walk with Maddy and OT and Ziploc back to the grill to eat dinner. We get back to the Community Center, full, and sit and talk at the picnic table. Apparently there’s a storm coming into Idyllwild. Pillsbury, the owner of the mobile gear shop here, 2 foot adventures, comes and chats. I go with Maddy to her airstream to get myself new shoes since mine have ~400 miles and we talk inside together about life and gear and belonging on trail and with people, until it’s dark out and Maddy and I head back and sit at the picnic table. I sort my resupply and set up my tarp and then we go to bed. I hope I get to hike around Maddy for quite a while. It’s really fun being around another young person, and even beyond that I feel like we get along pretty well.

I get in my quilt in my tarp. I can head the cars on the road. My neighbor is snoring. Birds are calling from the trees. Goodnight.

Day 6- 13.9 miles from Julian (77.3) to 3rd Gate Water Cache (91.2)

Drippy heads out early, planning on pushing a 25 mile day to Barrel Springs- I get up and give him a hug and wish him a good hike.

Stretch and I dally around in the room. Her bus is at 8:45 and the lodge’s breakfast is at 7:30. I pack up my things slowly. I have to eat the edges off of my leftover pizza to fit into the two small ziploc bags I’m able to scrounge. Breakfast is good, I eat some blueberry muffins and orange juice and cantaloupe and a cute little can of apple juice, not because I want apple juice but because the can is cute.

I fill up my water bottles back at the room and head out with Stretch into town. I drop off some things at Carmen’s that Drippy had left on the dresser for the hiker box. Stretch buys some popped chips at the store to snack on for her bus ride, and then we go and wait at the bus stop. Four Cheese and Sangria are waiting for the bus back home, too, and so is another section hiker I don’t know. One of the employees at Carmen’s comes and I talk to her for a while about broken feet and how the walking boots screwed up our bodies, and Carmen selling her restaurant Monday. Hopefully the new owners will be welcoming. The lodge is expensive and fills up quickly, and without Carmen’s place open to stay at I could see a lot more hikers skipping over Julian. It’s a really pretty town.

The bus comes, and I hug Stretch goodbye. Once she’s in I wave goodbye and start walking down the road to the post office to hitch, past tourists in nice clothes and people walking their dogs. I talk with a hiker couple waiting for the PO to open, and then stand on the side of the road, holding my thumb out at passing cars. I grin at them, and wave as they pass by with my other hand. My backpack is propped up on the grass by my knee.

Soon enough I see a woman in a car motion towards the shoulder ahead and pull off. I sling my pack on and walk forward, thanking her profusely when I reach her. She’s a younger woman who speaks with a calm, soft cadence. In the passenger seat is her cream-colored cattle dog, Josie. I offer her my hand to sniff and she slathers my palm with kisses (I only remembered the dog’s name. Whoops).

I talk with her as she navigates the hilly and windy road down to the desert. Trees lining the road slowing give way to desert. She’s dropping Josie off with her parents near Scissor’s Crossing before going on a day trip to San Diego, and she’s working on getting a graduate degree in reading education.

She drops me off at the PCT at the first crossing, and I thank her and Josie and walk to the underpass. The rooster is still there, and I sit for a bit and talk with some hikers coming in and give the rooster some water. Then I head off.

I’ve been looking forward to this section, because just north of Julian are ocotillos and lots of different cactus, and they were in bloom when I came through last year. I’m walking as slow as I want, through hills that slowly fill with with enormous barrel cactus and beaver tail cactus and Joshua tree and blooming Yucca like enormous asparagus. A bit higher up are the ocotillos, long, dead-looking, slender, winding rods thrusting up from the earth, covered in spikes and tasseled at the tips with orange plumes of flowers. They’re alien and beautiful, and it’s a really nice temperature out with an occasional breeze.

The trail is gently graded and I take my time. The sunglasses that Stretch gave me stay on my face and they aren’t scratched to hell and that makes me happy. I’m only going a mile or so an hour. I’m no longer in a rush, or on a schedule to get at a meeting place for the night. I’m not worried about keeping up or waiting to take a break until I’m with my group. I only know that I have the trail to myself, in an empty bubble between hikers coming into Scissor’s Crossing this morning and those that hiked out yesterday, and that I’m going to go as far as I am going to go, to maybe before 3rd Gate Water Cache.

It’s the same feeling of relief and freedom that I got after I stopped hiking with my group last year. For the first time I feel like I’m enjoying myself and can make my own decisions. I really liked all of my friends in both groups, but what I’ve realized is that maybe I don’t thrive hiking in a group, or maybe that it’s good to fall behind every now and then so I can hike by myself. Or maybe I just needed some good sleep. I really don’t know. All I know is that I’m feeling much better today.

The trail winds along the sides of the hills, and the wind picks up, throwing up dust devils on the trail above me. Below is a grassy, golden valley with a road along the bottom. I stop and take breaks and eat my soggy pizza. My feet and knees are achey but I’m not pushing them. I think new shoes will be nice.

It finally feels okay to be thruhiking again. This is fun. I stop and read some blog posts Carrot put up about her Brooks Range Traverse this summer. The sky is an endless pure blue. I take pictures of cactus and feel happy. I sit perched in the shade of the mountain bushes and juniper and write this journal post. Life is going to be ok again after my hard days into Julian.

I get up and hike the last stretch to the 3rd Gate water cache. I sign the trail register at the junction. Maddy was here today recently, and so was Drippy. I haven’t seen Swayed’s name in any logs since that one time. I wonder if he’s still ahead, or just isn’t signing the logs. It would be good to see him again.

I walk down to the cache and sit with the group of hikers there. There are 3 different pallet loads of fresh gallon-jugs of water, covered in blue tarps. There’s a corral for crushed, empty bottles, and a peanut butter donation jar crammed to the rim with ones and fives.

There’s a girl named Regan with her name tattooed in cursive with a bunch of others on her shoulder, and some guys with light-looking packs who form a group. One of them wears a blue button-down shirt with a hood that’s so long it looks like a dress over his short-shorts, and who stares comically and tiredly into the distance as he eats a bar. There’s a guy with a stutter, who leads the conversation, and a guy with a short, wide build. I take some water and sit and talk.

Regan doesn’t want to camp alone, and I don’t want to walk any further when I want to give my body a break, so after the guys leave we climb up to where a German guy is set up. We find a hollow in the bushes that might be more sheltered from the wind. We squeeze in, my tarp flapping where I set it up, lopsided in the corner.

The German’s friends come and I sit with them to cook some noodles while Regan goes to look for cell service. “Don’t worry about me, you can keep on talking in whatever,” I say. Occasionally they break from German to explain what they’re laughing about. One of them wants to open a shop in Germany where they only sell Ramen Bombs- instant ramen and instant mashed potatoes. “Maybe… if you set up near a college campus and are open 24/7,” I tell him.

I crawl into my tarp and stay awake, waiting in suspense for my poor, cramped pitch to come loose as it billows and snaps in the breeze. Which stake will come out first? Eventually the stake counterbalancing the pole near my feet comes loose, silencing the worst of the tarp flapping and cocooning me in soft, rippling silnylon. And sleep.

Day 5- 13.7 miles from Chariot Canyon (63.6) to Julian (77.3)

I sleep badly, exposed to the wind and too close to a dark patch of small cottonwoods and poison oak to feel entirely safe. Especially after seeing the rattlesnake slide from them and through camp yesterday. I had an alarm set for 4 but I kept waking up to check the time, so I turned it off. I am awakened at 4:30 anyway to Ziploc packing up, so I start shoving my things away by the light of my headlamp, too, and am ready just a minute or two after he leaves.

I stumble off to go pee and discover I bled through my shorts last night, and now there’s probably a big spot on them, although it’s kind of hard to check squatting behind some shrubs in the middle of the night. Great.

I head out, passing Drippy packing up in the dark. I hike up alone in the pitch black, up part of a dirt road before finally joining trail. Last year, when I woke up at 4 to hike this, the wind was blowing and I was spooked even hiking with Twerk. Now the darkness is comfortable and safe.

I race up the far side of the mountain to catch the sunset, a blaze of brilliant orange over ranges of mountains across the valley. Drippy catches up. I break briefly with him and Ziploc before starting the descent. I pop music in and feel like a zombie, tired and achey and mindless, my brain glazed over as I endure the long descent.

During the last flat bit across the valley floor, I’m absolutely done. I’m bleeding, my knees hurt and feel swollen, my foot muscles hurt and pain lances across the top of my feet with every step, my pinky toe blisters scream, and I haven’t slept much in more than a week. I’m covered in sweat and dust and grime and I don’t know why I’m doing this. I want to cry but am too tired to. I think this is the most miserable I’ve ever been.

I reach the road and cross it, walk along it towards the underpass. As I approach I hear a rooster crowing. A little bantam rooster wanders around in the shade, pecking at the dirt. I set my pack down against a pillar and sit down. One of the hikers said Drippy just left to hitch. Ziploc comes in, OT comes in and says he’s hitching in because he’s low on food, and I jump up to join him. We catch Stretch and she joins us as we walk to the highway junction under the sun.

There aren’t many cars, and I remember the long, hot wait last year. We stick our thumbs out, and one of the first cars pulls up. It’s the mail woman in Julian coming back from her route. She’s technically not allowed to pick up hikers on the job but she gives us a ride anyway, and talks about the history of Idyllwild on the windy road up, pointing up at different mountains as we go. She drops us off and we thank her.

I don’t know where Drippy is or if he has Sprint service up here, so we head up to Carmen’s. He’s there, so I give a hug to Carmen and go with everyone to get food. I get a veggie melt, which has cucumbers. I’ve never had cucumbers on a sandwich, let alone a hot sandwich, and it’s good.

I think I need to stay in town and let my foot rest for the night and ice it, and Stretch is staying. We convince Drippy to share a room and walk down to the Julian Lodge. The earthquake we felt last night (a 3.9!) shut off all the power in town, but the guy is able to use cell service to get us checked in. He has a dog behind the counter which we lavish with affection. We take showers, Drippy and Stretch bond over Pokémon Go, and Stretch and I set up a ice bath for our feet. We rinse our clothes out as best we can in the sink.

We go to the Italian restaurant for dinner. I get a veggie pizza but I’m so stuffed from lunch that I can’t even think about eating any of it. I get it to go.

We go back to our room. It’s dark out, and I’m still feeling tired and overwhelmed from this morning. I need sleep, I can’t function like this, so I go out into the parking lot and call my mom and let everything out, crying, watching a cat clean its fur in the light of a tourist shop. It feels good to talk it all out with her, and hear her voice. I ask her to send my sleeping bag and Fly Creek tent to Warner Springs so maybe I can sleep better on trail, so I’m not cold and uncomfortable at night and so I am enclosed and feel safe.

We finish talking and I sit and wait for my tears to dry before going back to the room. I sit in bed and talk with Drippy and Stretch. The bed is so comfortable and I am so, so tired, and it’s not long before I am asleep.

Day 20- 16.1 miles from first Mission Creek crossing at mile 226.1 to ridge after camping closure at mile 242.2

I sleep in until a luxurious 7, after staying awake until almost real-midnight. By me, Helen opens her eyes and then turns to go back to sleep. I take my time getting awake and packed until a hiker who has some kind of stomach bug comes by to hang out in the shade near my camp-spot. He’s been vomiting up all of the water he’s tried to drink under a tree nearby. Even though he’s a nice dude I decide to get out of there- I don’t want to have anything to do with a sickness that could knock me out for a few days.

The trail follows along Mission Creek for a good 10 miles today, a steady uphill with about a dozen creek crossings. I leapfrog people; Rachel, Helen, Rainbow Snake. I stop around 12 at one of the later crossings and realize I’ve only done 5 miles. Even though it’s not 90-degree heat as far as I can tell, it definitely saps my energy. I take a nap for two hours in the shade by the creek.

Then slowly, more walking. Walking is definitely hard, and can be boring. The sun is so bright I wear my sunglasses for a bit. There’s Poodle Dog bush somewhere along the trail today, and I step around every plant that looks remotely like the description I have of Poodle Dog, which means anything with purple flowers or stalks. At the last Mission Creek crossing where I’m taking a break with Rachel and Justin, Rainbow Snake backtracks to tell us that there is a first patch of Poodle Dog ahead of us, and where it is so we know what it looks like.

Right after a blowdown and on both sides of the trail, just where Rainbow Snake said. They kinda look like cute little baby Joshua Trees. They’re very easy to identify, unlike Poison Oak. We’re entering a burn area, where camping isn’t allowed for a 4 mile stretch. The trail switchbacks out of the canyon where we’ve been hiking all day along the creek, and then down into dry pines, and then up again into the burn.

The trees are blackened and eaten out by fire until they’re just husks. The slope is covered with burnt wood and black debris and ash. A creek runs through the burn, babbling and swathed with new green. I stop at Mission Camp to get water at a spring cascading down into a round, blue trough. It’s set in a small hollow under sparse willow, and the water is icy cold. My fingers turn numb from holding my dirty water bag under the water. There are a bunch of people camped here even though it’s halfway through the camping ban. Justin and Rachel come to get water, and we warn all of the campers that they aren’t supposed to camp there; two hikers got a 2,500$ fine each for hiking the fire closure near Idyllwild, and even though we don’t know what the fine would be, we know it’s not worth risking an end to our hike if someone came up the road and caught us.

I hike on through the burn, the sunset pink across the horizon. I get out of the fire section in the dark, hiking in front of Justin and Rachel without my headlamp, peering at the darkening trail. We finally find a flat spot. I set up my cowboy camp even though it’s probably going to be freezing tonight, and cook baked potato soup and eat it in the cold and the dark, as Justin and Rachel make ramen. I put on all my layers and try to sleep.

Day 19- 15.3 miles from dirt road past Highway 10 at mile 210.8 to Mission Creek at mile 226.1

I wake up per usual to the sounds of campmates stirring. It’s Gusher’s birthday today, so A-GAME brought party hats for the two of them and gives Mark and I miniature cocktail umbrellas. I pack up and stay to listen as A-GAME reads a birthday Mary Oliver poem out loud for Gusher. Then we’re off. They’re all faster than me, and I stop to pee in a field of very low and sparse bushes- my pee game is getting riskier by the day, as I get lazier and lazier about it.

Someone passed by our camp last night and said there was going to be pancake trail magic at Whitewater Preserve in 8 miles, our next water source. So, I’m trying to keep up a steady pace and not stop until I get there. It’s not so much about the pancakes, but that I can use them as motivation; I pass right by the windmills as I’m walking along a gully, and a few minutes later the Mesa Wind Farm office, which offers water to hikers. My least favorite part of the day is when the sun is just rising and glaring into my eyes, so I have to walk with my eyes and head down even with sunglasses. The trail winds along the sides of a dirt road, crossing every few minutes, but with the glare I can’t see where the PCT picks up again and have to backtrack a few times. It’s miserable; I want to be able to be free to look anywhere I want.

Finally the sun is high enough that the sunglasses can be put away in their hip belt pocket. The trail goes up a canyon that recedes back into the hills, sandy-brown hills dotted with bushes. It switchbacks tightly up to the ridge, the canyon becoming longer and the ridge farther the higher I go. Even with the switchbacks it’s very steep, eroding back into the slope. I trudge up, thinking of pancakes, telling myself sternly that I won’t take even a breathing break until I get to the top.

I’m up, and after a congratulatory water break I descend. I turn past the corner of a hill and the mountains open up ahead of me, cascading up into the sky in streaks of orange-brown. In the foreground is a mesa covered in straw-brown grass, and a creek cuts a deep wound into the earth, its canyon heading towards the mountains in a curving streak of green cottonwood. A sign says ‘Welcome to San Gorgonio National Wilderness,’ with a number to call for more information. I’m pretty sure I don’t have service to call, so I find the sign amusing.

Then another 4-5 miles to Whitewater and possibly pancakes. I don’t take any breaks other than to drink water, and compared to the climb out of the wind farm earlier, the trail is mild. I’m still riding out the tail end of the cool weather from the storm; I’m sure it can get pretty hot in this section, though.

Below I can see Whitewater Creek, a giant field of loose white boulders, a strip of green running across it like a ribbon. Across are mountains whose sides have been carved away by the water, exposing striped layers of sediment and earth. If the Grand Canyon is anything like this, I think, I can imagine it must be incredible.

I starting seeing day hikers a mile out. One woman asks if the Sierra are passable right now, and how the snow is, as if all thru hikers are experts on such things. I reply that I don’t really know. I take the turn off to the preserve, and another woman pauses to talk with me.

“Where did you start?”

“Mexico.”

“And where are you going?”

“Canada,” I say.

“And you’re not alone, are you?”

I nod my head yes.

“Oh! Well! God bless you and protect you,” she says, and pats me on the shoulder.

Thanks? Way to patronize.

I wander in on hiking trails around 10, stepping over pools filled with tadpoles and taking a footbridge over the creek. I pass a couple of private houses, probably for the rangers, and man-made ponds of water overhung by willow. I’m pointed down to the pancakes, after preparing myself for them not being there for the last couple of miles. A trail angel named Legend with curly dust-brown hair and blue eyes and a chipped front tooth is having a thru-hiker flip the pancakes while he talks to other hikers at the picnic table.

I say hello and flop my pack down in the grass under one of the big oak trees. I dig around in my pack and eat some food and drink the rest of my water as I wait for a spot to sit at the table. Mountain is here, and A-GAME and Gusher, and Hot Sauce, and Adam (who is a woman), and Haiwen. A bunch of people head out and I eat two big pancakes with molasses (accidentally because the bottle isn’t marked) and syrup. I listen to Legend talk with the other hikers for a while, then head out with a hiker named Helen to check out the wading pool, which is apparently for wading in. I get in slowly and clean myself. I can feel the vortex sucking me in, but I don’t mind, because it’s beautiful here and there is swimming and food and bathrooms and shade and tables and charging stations inside the ranger station, which combined is everything a hiker could ever want or need. Helen and I and a guy named Hot Sauce who’s hiked the AT all decide to stay all day until dinner at 4, and we watch everyone else move on. We talk and eat food.

Finally Legend comes out of his trailer around 4:30 to talk with us. He knows all of the trail angels very well along the PCT and hiked in ’13, and has volunteered for years. He tells us lots of stories and gives advice. We make a detailed plan for making spaghetti dinner. I’m in charge of the Parmesan, Mousetrap walks in and is the timekeeper who decides when we’re going to eat, Hot Sauce chooses the location, Will is helping serve, and Helen is in charge of seats.

Legend goes back to his trailer and is walking back with the Parmesan, so I go out to meet him and take the Parmesan, taking my Parmesan duties very seriously; instead he misunderstands and I get a big hug. It’s my second hug on-trail, not counting Sully the dog at the cabins in Idyllwild.

Legend goes to get the spaghetti and we walk over to the designated picnic table that Hot Sauce chose. We eat the spaghetti along with a bunch of other hikers who just showed up. Legend sings us a poem he wrote, that ends like this:

“Encourage each other, Walk slowly, And follow your dreams.”

Helen and I decide to night-hike out together, so we go sign Legend’s truck (it’s on a board that gets painted over every month) and we say goodbye and thank you! Legend is awesome, and will be traveling along the trail with the pack. So worth spending 7 hours lazing around today and swimming and talking to people, but Helen and I aren’t satisfied with only 8 miles today so we hike out together.

Just before the trail crosses Whitewater Creek, I pass Colleen, Rawhide and Tarantino. I stop to talk, but tell them that I want to move on and I hike some more. We have to go upstream a bit to find a good place to cross, then backtrack. Helen is great company and we’re both walking at the same pace, so the time flies by. We stop every now and then and point at where we just were.

“Hiking is like a super power,” I say.

The moon is full and rises over the hills, glowing yellow. San Jacinto is a towering black silhouette on the horizon, looking impossibly tall and far away. It seems crazy that we were both just there yesterday.

A city shines below us as we walk, Anza possibly, and the trail rolls up and down among hilltops and ridges. I start yawning. We eventually make it the 8 miles to Mission Creek in the dark. We quietly set up cowboy camp, and Helen offers me a beer can she’s packed out. I take a sip, and it’s cold from the night air, and good. There are people camped here, frogs are chirping, the moon is rising, the creek rushing as it slides down its creek bed down into the valley below.

Day 18- 20.3 miles from Black Mountain Road at mile 190.5 to dirt road past Highway 10 at mile 210.8

I wake up to people packing up around me. I keep my eyes shut for a while longer, then sit up and go to pee. I was freezing last night, and holding my pee all night probably did not help the situation. There were tents everywhere last night, but most of the people have either left or are packing up. I talk with Cate, her husband who I don’t remember the name of (Mike?), Shipwreck, Iguana, and Rawhide and Colleen. Nirvana and Karma kept on going last night, they’re trying to hitch from Big Bear to LA to hang out with a friend (Nirvana) and to go to a friend’s wedding in Washington state (Karma).

It’s 15 miles of all downhill today. My knees feel wobbly and loose at first until they warm up. I can see Cabazon and Highway 10 far below, and the casino and a big quarry, as I leapfrog with Mousetrap. It’s a delicious brown down below, and however much I like the mountains, I want to be back there, where it’s not cold.

I pass Iguana and Shipwreck as they’re sitting to enjoy the view. “That’s super ugly, you should turn around and look there instead,” I say.

Iguana gets the joke and screws up her face as she looks over her shoulder at the intersection of two dirt roads. Shipwreck doesn’t. “Really?” he says, confused.

“I was joking,” I say.

Iguana grins.

“I think it’s a little bit too early in the morning, Shipwreck,” I say, grinning too, and walk on, enjoying the view.

I stop to get water at Snow Creek. Scissors is there, and also A-GAME and Gusher, who I’ve heard about from Colleen’s blog, and were part of the group I hiked into camp with last night. Gusher got her name because she got several nosebleeds a day in the beginning; A-GAME because her name starts with an A and she hiked the AT from Georgia to Maine. They’re both from Maine and are hiking together.

I head off again, and when I turn a corner, the view of Highway 10 and the valley below has disappeared, replaced by a sea of white clouds that stretches all the way to the mountains far in the distance. It’s like San Jacinto and Fuller Ridge are floating islands. It’s beautiful. I take a few pictures of the mountains being engulfed by white before switchbacking down into the fog.

It’s not too eerie; somehow knowing it’s daytime makes everything better. I decide to try and listen to music since the grey misty world doesn’t seem like it’s going to end very soon. I pop my earphones in and listen to a Neil Diamond album. I hear someone sneeze several times somewhere below me and I say a bless you into the fog.

I catch up to two women as I’m rounding a switchback, and when I talk to them it turns out they’re Hobo and Caddy Shack, who I’ve heard about along the grapevine. They’ve named 8 people so far, including Shipwreck. They try to give me the trail name of Bo Peep because of my hat, but I just laugh and say no. Afterwards, I realize she may have been teasing because I told her repeatedly that she looked like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle with her bright green rain jacket, green buff pulled over her face, red puffy vest, and green ULA pack. I talk with Catty for a while and then she waits to see where Hobo’s gone to.

I descend below the fog after an hour or two, a mile or so before mile 200, to the mountains opening up in a V and cradling a view of golden valley floor filled with little white windmills. The cloud is now an enormous vaulted ceiling. I take a picture of the 200 someone has written in rocks in the middle of the trail, but of course there are always seem to be multiple markers; there’s an official pillar that’s closer to mile 201, and I later see pictures of another rock-marker that I missed. I’ve probably walked more than 200 miles with the alternate I did into Idyllwild, anyway.

Then more long stretches along the side of the mountain, slowly and imperceptibly descending downwards, punctuated by switchbacks. I see Rawhide taking a break and I stop with her, eating some lunch and then lying down on my sleeping pad. I fall asleep for a few minutes, the temperature a perfect, radiating warmth. I haven’t been sweating much today, and I haven’t been able to decide whether I want to wear my rain jacket, either putting it on or taking it off at each break.

Once I get hiking again, I don’t take a break until the water faucet at the bottom of the descent, in just 3 miles. I kind of want to go into Cabazon to get some In-N-Out, but I don’t want to hitch alone; everyone in my little traveling group is camping here tonight. Mousetrap is going to Cabazon tonight to meet up with Tarantino, and a guy named Mark wants to go but doesn’t think he’ll get a hitch. I offer to be his ride-bride (women have better luck at hitching because we’re seen as less threatening, so a ride-bride is a woman who helps a guy hiker get a hitch), and the three of us head out.

Mousetrap worked as a travel consultant, designing luxury trips for wealthy people; I ask him how to get cheap flights to Thailand, since I decided a week before leaving for the PCT that I was going to go with my friend, Parker, in November. Mark is a doctor, and after Mousetrap stops at a road to catch an Uber because his ankle is hurting, he tells me stories about various patients he’s had and his time doing a residency as a forensic pathologist, doing autopsies on murdered people.

The trail is along a wide river bed here, so it’s not exactly clear where it is, but we don’t get lost. We get to the I-10 underpass, poke at the empty coolers there, and then move on. We walk to the on-ramp, and stick our thumbs out a few times. We’ve heard the hitch into Cabazon is really tough, and since it’s so late in the day and overcast we decide to check Uber. It’s pretty cheap so I hail (what is the proper verb here) a ride and we sit down on some rocks in front of a creepy barb-wired building to wait.

A guy named Robert with a Prius picks us up. When we get to the In-N-Out, Colleen, Shipwreck, and a bunch of other people who were all camping back at the water faucet at 205 are all there! They got an Uber from the faucet and are taking food back for a bunch of other hikers.

I get a grilled cheese (gluten is treating me well, except for maybe a little bloating, so yay!), animal fries, and a chocolate milkshake. Everyone who isn’t from California is bemused by our enthusiasm for this place, and I guess the food here isn’t all that great, but it’s nostalgic and I don’t know.

Mark and I get another Uber back, this time from a guy named Tommy with a leather-seated Camry. He drops us off, and asks us how long we’ve been out there. “I’ve been out here for maybe 18 days,” I say.

“Wow!” he says.

We explain that we’re hiking from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail.

“I wish I could do that, I’m too old!” he says. He’s not old at all, so we laugh and say that people retire and do it all the time, and people do it in their 70s. As we’re walking off and getting lost in another maze of dry stream beds, I wonder aloud about the people we meet, and whether or not them meeting us will be the spark that will inspire them to do the PCT someday.

We catch up to Rosy and a hiker I’ve never met before, who introduces herself as “Fiona, or Snow White.” She says she hopes it doesn’t rain because she accidentally left her tent in a hotel room in Idyllwild. We set up camp next to Gusher and A-GAME. Rosy and Snow White move on.

As I’m putting on my rain fly, light drops of rain begin to fall. I crawl into my tent and listen to it gently spit on the fabric of my fly, and wait for it to turn into real rain, but it never does.

Day 17- 13.6 miles from Devil’s Slide Trail in Idyllwild connecting to PCT mile 179.4, to Black Mountain Road campsites at mile 190.5

I wake up and realize I definitely did not sleep in. Nirvana is cooking things in the kitchen. I try to stay half-asleep as long as I can, until Nirvana announces that he’s made us breakfast and it’s ready. A fried egg each, potato pancakes made from the mashed potatoes, toast from the loaf of sourdough someone left here last night, and then leftover roasted veggies poured on the side. We have way too much food left over and we try to gorge ourselves; we need the calories and we don’t want to waste. I finish mine and then go over to the fridge and pull out my ice cream and pizza. Second course! I’m so full.

We pack up slowly, extricating our things from corners of the cabin. Nirvana listens to music as he takes a shower.

I go to ask if I can borrow the hotel’s printer to print out the next section of the water report, then we pack up and leave. I bump into Rawhide and Colleen along the Main Street and they’re catching a ride from Hurk, a local trail angel, to the Devil’s Slide Trailhead. We catch him as he’s just leaving with a full load of hikers, but he says he’ll be back in an hour, so we wait. It will kill my continuous footpath, but there aren’t sidewalks in Idyllwild and I don’t feel like walking several miles uphill while dodging cars.

I sit in the front and talk to Hurk during the drive with everyone else in the covered truck bed in back. We get to the trailhead and all of the trees are heavy with snow, and it’s chilly. The snow is melting and big globs of slush fall onto me. I stop to put on my rain jacket.

 

I’m so slow, and I’m continuing whatever bad mood I had coming into Idyllwild. I feel depressed. Everyone is ahead of except for Colleen and sometimes Rawhide, and I cry a bit and feel bad about myself. Being down sometimes is normal, though, when you’re hiking for 5 months.

IMG_8357.JPG

I come up behind a day hiker, who is walking slowly and looking around as if to soak it all in. I look around, too, and it’s beautiful. I feel better for a while, using my inchworm pace to appreciate the beauty. I’m walking through a tunnel of white-robed trees, snow plopping down everywhere. It’s magical. Thank you, day hiker.

I think I’m struggling with trying to balance my loneliness and my need to belong with my need to be alone by myself. I’ve been around people a lot so far. Hiking with a group is definitely hard because I compare my hiking speeds with theirs, and I think it isolates me from meeting new people and getting to know them. I realize I’ve been more or less only with Karma and Nirvana for 5 full days, and while I love them, it’s pretty intense being around two other people so much for so long. I don’t know, but I thought about it all a lot today. I hiked with Colleen on and off and talked to her about it a little bit.

I get to the junction where I have to decide to go up the Mt. San Jacinto alternate or stay on the PCT. Colleen is with me. We decide that two in the afternoon is too late to hike it, especially since we’re both feeling very slow today and San Jacinto is known for people getting lost on the trail down. Immediately after the junction, the PCT becomes even more beautiful, golden, open slopes of manzanita dotted with snow-laden pines. We don’t regret not summitting.

IMG_8360.JPG

After a break to eat a bit of lunch with Colleen, I start hitting my groove. The trail starts being spotted with patches of snow and slush, with places across the trail covered for a couple hundred feet. There are several points where roaring snowmelt comes down in a creek across the path and I have to rock-hop across. They’re easy streams, and I think of the swollen rivers I’ll have to cross in the Sierra. Practice for the Sierra, I laugh to myself dryly.

There’s a sign pointing to Fuller Ridge where the San Jacinto alternate and the PCT rejoin. It starts getting snowier and I focus on my footing. The trail goes along the sunny side of the ridge at first, rising and dropping to avoid rock outcrops. Then it crests the ridge and now the sun is hidden and the trail becomes all snow and slush. It’s not dangerous, but it’s definitely slow and I don’t want to be forced to night-hike it alone if I can’t find a piece of flat and snow-free ground to camp on. I’m glad I have my trekking poles to catch me if I slip on a slushy or steep patch.

IMG_8365.JPG

I want to get to a campsite at mile 190, but the light is getting gray and I find a good, dry campsite at 189. I’m just setting up camp when a large group of people hike up. I hurry up to them and ask if they’re hiking on. They say yes.

“I would have hiked on but I didn’t want to be forced to night-hike alone,” I say.

They say they’ll wait, so I rush back and shove everything into my pack. It feels good to hike in the dusk with other people, and to not have to camp alone in the cold and snow. We get into the campsite, a large flat space under pine trees littered with tents. Everyone is here- Scissors, Shipwreck and Iguana, Mousetrap, Rawhide… I set up my tent and go to the picnic table to cook some dinner (curry lentil soup) with a French hiker named Francois. Mousetrap is in his tent nearby and he says that Tarantino got altitude sickness as he was hiking out from the trailhead, and had to turn back… that really sucks. He might be hitching to Cabazon.

I eat my dinner in the cold and dark in my short-shorts and rain jacket. A full moon is rising above the trees. Colleen night hikes in- she says she thought she was going to die alone in the dark. I feel really bad about abandoning her before Fuller Ridge.

I go back to my tent and shiver in my sleeping bag, listening to people rustling on their air pads, as well as the odd fart.