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 7- 8.3 miles from Scissor’s crossing at mile 77 to campsites at mile 85.3

Sleep is delicious. I wake up and want more of this sleep, unpunctuated by cold or shifting around to find a comfy spot on my egg-carton foam sleeping pad. Colleen isn’t in the room. We take turns using the bathroom and text her to find out where she is. She’s waiting for the continental breakfast downstairs. We sit around on the two beds looking at our phones and half-heartedly pushing our piles of gear around. Finally we get the will to go down. I pull my windpants over my sleeping pants to look less pajama-y and follow Twerk and Karma downstairs.

It’s a great continental breakfast. Yogurt, big pieces of fruit, lots of breads and cereals, instant oatmeal, orange juice. I go back for more.

Then more puttering around with our gear and talking about upcoming water sources. Colleen isn’t sure how reliable the two sources between here and Warner Springs are, and this convinces everyone to fill 6 liters worth of water. I groan dramatically as I pick up my water-heavy pack. I leave last and go over to Carmen’s to drop off my little moleskin journal and my tornado tube I tried to use for a gravity filter system in the hiker box. I order a big breakfast burrito and sit around in a confusion of hikers arriving and leaving, coming and going. I feel like I need to get going but I also feel I need one more meal before heading out. Carmen seems annoyed in general even though she breaks into smiles for incoming hikers and I feel uncomfortable being here.

The burrito is huge and delicious. Gluten tortillas and burritos are probably the things I’ve missed the most, a big gooey and stretchy and supple pocket stuffed with potatoes and eggs and cheese and salsa spooned on top. It’s gorgeous and heaven.



Then I sit around and wait for someone I can hitch out of Julian with, antsy to leave. I walk down to the Post Office with Colleen and meet Karma there. Karma shows us a Facebook post Carmen made yesterday, complaining about hikers not tipping her waitress and wanting 2$ in change for the 3 dollar breakfast burritos. I feel even more uncomfortable now. I would have paid 5 dollars for that burrito, gladly. But I don’t think I did anything wrong? Aghhh!!!! The amount of generosity we’ve received at towns and roads is astounding, but sometimes I feel like it can be a little bit too much. For both the hikers, and the trail-angels who have welcomed hikers, now in ever-swelling numbers. I feel so bad.

I stick my thumb out and the first car stops, a couple on a business trip down to San Diego who are visiting the Anzo Borrego Desert for a few days before going back home. They know about the trail and the husband is currently section-hiking.

They drop us off and we walk to the Scissor’s crossing underpass to wait out some of the heat. We meet one of the people who maintains the cache and he says that both of the water sources we were worried about are very reliable. I drink one liter and dump another one over my head in celebration so I only have to carry four. There’s a trash can, recycling, a log book, and bins of water jugs and bins to leave the empty jugs. The pillars are graffitied with charcoal. Someone drew smiling cat faces everywhere.

Scissor’s Crossing underpass

I eventually leave, Karma and Colleen packing up behind me. I’m stopped by an eager couple trying to do trail magic and I accept some tangerines, then point them to the underpass where all of the hikers are. They’re hiking next year. Then up! All of the plants are different on this side of the valley, barrel cactus and prickly pear and ocotillo with spiny snaky branches reaching up to the sky and tasseled with orange blooms. The switchbacks that looked so scary from yesterday’s descent are actually quite nice and gradual, winding around bends in the hills.

The big plant in the center is an Ocotillo. They are one of the coolest plants I’ve ever seen, and I only saw them just north of Julian!

We cruise and leapfrog each other. I try to text my friends that are still back in Julian to see if they’re staying, but no-one replies. I’m up ahead, the sun setting, less than a mile from our tent site, when I have to stop and break out my poop kit. I scramble up the hill to find somewhere private. Colleen and Karma walk by below. I’m digging my cat hole when I see them walking along the other side of the ridge. (They can’t see me, or at least I hope not, though they know I’m there because I left my pack). “Amelia, we heard a rattlesnake by the bend so be careful,” Colleen shouts. “Okay!” I say back. A hummingbird flits by and stares at me. There’s a huge owl or eagle feather on the ground.  “It’s on a ledge,” she says. “Okay!” I shout again.

I finish up and start walking. I’m watching for the snake, looking for it especially at knee level where there are some ledges.

It’s right there by my foot. Stretched out about a foot away from me by the side of the trail. I utter something and run back several steps. I scream for 15 seconds, staring at it, and then scream for 15 seconds more. Then the sheer reaction wears off and I stab the trail with my poles, insulting the snake and yelling. It still hasn’t moved at all. I throw a small rock at it to see if it’s alive and it still doesn’t do anything. I take a picture. I talk to it as I’m doing this, calling it a good snek-snek and telling it to go away and asking it if it’s alive. There’s a orange rock cliff right against the trail and a steep drop off below, so it would be difficult to get around. It’s a dusty orange just like the rocks. I throw more rocks at it to try and make it move and suddenly it realizes I’m there, and is hissing and rattling and coiling up. Fff fff ffff f.


I text Colleen. Halp, I say, It’s right on the trail and it’s pissed. I stand there for a long time. Finally two other hikers show up, Aaron and Ashleen, and we try to figure out what to do. It’s getting dark and I’ve been sitting here for 10 minutes. Luckily it’s not cold. It won’t move so eventually we go below the trail to get around. We have to throw our trekking poles up onto the trail and pull ourselves up some rocks. The snake is still right there and it’s started moving towards us but we’re around it. The sun is down and we walk the darkening trail in our headlamps. There’s a sliver of the moon and the valley below is maroon with dusk. I walk in front and jump at every stick or round thing or striped object. It’s fully dark when we get to Karma and Colleen, and they help me set up my tarptent in the wind with my headlamp on. My tent stake breaks and I hold my tent up while Colleen gets the extra stake I gave her back at the boulder field. Then I sit in the dirt in front of my tent and eat things from my food bag. Two babybel cheeses, and Almond Joy, handfuls of trail mix and granola and chili cheese Fritos. “Am I hungry or am I stress eating?” I ask. “Hungry,” says Karma, and I realize I’ve only had two oranges in the past 5 hours.

It takes a long time to upload these images hence me sitting here writing snarky captions. Except the last one was deleted. So this is really the only snarky one. Oh well. Hello, reader! Nice to meet you. ♥

It feels kind of sad and lonely for all of us this evening and we talk about it as we rummage through our food and eat it. Most of our trail family is not here anymore, either ahead several days or probably still in Julian, and we’ll probably spread out soon, too- I might want to start trying for 20 mile days after Warner Springs in a few days, and would probably start sooner if it wouldn’t be Sunday when I’d hit it, with my first resupply boxes. It’s inevitable but it’s hard. I want to stay with my trail friends for a long time, because they really are like a family and I love being around them and laughing with them about silly things, but we have different bodies and speeds and needs for mileage. This trail for me is about saying goodbye to people. I hate saying goodbye and I think I’m going to cry just thinking about it. I think I’ll have to get used to it, though.