The PCT – Desert Sec. – Days 32 – 43

Day 32: 14.9 miles

Got going kinda late. My brain likes to play tricks on me when I’m about to leave running water and clean beds. Especially when, for awhile, I haven’t been feeling enthusiastic about this trail. But I decided I’m not going home just because it’s not what I envisioned. Besides not much is happening in Cajon Pass…except for traffic.

The climb out of Cajon Pass was reported to be brutal and it was advised that one should hike it in the very early morning or at night. I found this to be funny, because this little section of trail is what gave me some amount of trail joy. Relatively speaking it was not at all hard. There were two steep portions, but they were very short. I saw many trains, cool looking rock formations, and got to walk up high on ridgelines for most of the day.

There was a water cache maintained by some very nice trail angels in honor of a man named John who was a big influence on this part of the trail. I had lunch in a nice shady spot and napped for awhile. Then it was a long and gentle climb up into the San Gabriel mountains. There were long switchbacks so it didn’t even feel like you were climbing. I began to think maybe those iron supplements were helping? Or maybe I’ve got some trail legs? Lol nah. Not yet.

Camp was a small cove of scrub brush on the side of a mountain overlooking a dramatic view of the valley below and San Bernadino in the distance. When night fell I could see the lights twinkling in the distance under a quarter moon. It really was a spectacular view when you have to get and pee in the middle of the night.

Day 33: 9.4 miles

I’ve woke chilled but energetic, which was weird. I’d heard through the trail grapevine that the miles going by Wrightwood and up Mt Baden Powell were still quite snowy. I had to go down to Wrightwood anyway to pick up a package and I decided that I was also going to find a way around the snowy trail since I sent back my microspikes already. The microspikes (kinda like cleats) are what give you traction on ice and therefore a steadier and safer experience. I wasn’t going to risk going up to that elevation without them, not after San Jacinto.

On my way into town a lady stopped and asked me if I had a place to stay. She had a tiny home that she let hikers stay in and only charged them based on their budget. I hadn’t planned to stay, but I wasn’t going to say no to this opportunity.

I kept walking into town which was quaint and very walkable which is a plus for hikers. As I’m ambling down one side street I hear “Compass!” And there eating a pizza was Bethany and Chris. I thought they were two days ahead! I started laughing so hard because of course they’d be in town eating. I still haven’t gotten my hiker hunger but they have with a vengeance. In fact anytime you see them there is food in hand. We went to a coffee shop and had a cinnamon roll. They were also giving out patches.

I went to resupply and everyone in the store was so friendly and helpful. One actually said “We love our hikers!” Next was the Mountain Hardware to pick up a package where I also recieved a pin for signing their book. All in all a very positive experience.

Day 34: 16.5 miles

Mandy drove me back to the trailhead in the morning. There was a section of Highway 2 from Vincent Gap to Islip pass that was closed to vehicles because of an avalanche the previous winter. Conveniently it also followed the same direction of the PCT and went around Mt Baden Powell. A few miles after the PCT met Hwy 2 there was also a trail closure to protect the frogs that forced hikers to roadwalk anyway.

I got to the road and cruised. It was beautiful and easy. The only people on the road were construction workers who were scraping the road and they waved enthusiastically as they passed. I’m not sure how they’d even open this part of the road because large rocks kept falling as I was walking by.

I went up into elevation but didn’t feel it because the road grade was so gentle. The views were epic and I cruised along listening to music. I barely even noticed the time or miles.

I got to Islip Pass and ate lunch next to a very clean pit toilet. After this pass the road was open to vehicles and the PCT took off up into a mountain only to cross the highway in two-ish miles. I kept on the road walk and zoomed along. There still wasn’t much traffic so I didn’t have that to worry about.

16 miles later I’m at a closed drive in campground at 4pm. I actually felt like I could keep going but the campground was so pretty I decided to stay. There was a flat tent pad that had my name on it next to a picnic bench. The sun filtered through tall pines as I ate my dinner upright and off the ground. BONUS.

Bethany texted me this picture and caption:

When you have a friend wearing orange and you convince yourself they are on break so you walk over to join them

So I sent this back:

Hanging out with the fam

Day 35: 13.8 miles

Kind of a sluggish day. Mostly just tried to not get overwhelmed by the overgrowth of prickly bushes everywhere.

Day 36: 18.7 miles

I had an awful dream that I let my cats out to wander and then I couldn’t find them. I spent the rest of the dream running around looking for them. It was so bad that I remember waking up and telling myself that they were safe at home. It left me unsettled in the morning.

The trail started going down into desert terrain where there were fewer trees. The ground was getting sandy again and the sage brush was the most popular plant. I stopped for water at Mill Creek Fire Station which had a nice little patio out back. One long hot and ridiculous climb later I’m sitting in the shade eating lunch when Austin comes rambling by! We chatted for awhile, but he moved on saying I’d probably pass him soon. Ha! It took 4 miles before I caught up with him again.

I lost him again though on the not unpleasant climb up and around Mt Gleason. By this time it was cooling down and the sun was moving to the other side of the mountain. It was a brief return to pine forest and then a dip back down into the valley as the sun set. Camp was next to a massive oak tree on a sandy bed of loam.

Day 37: 13.8 miles

It was a long hot day of climbing up to go down and dipping in and out of canyons. Everything was just so bright because the sand reflecting the sunlight back to me. I got to a nice windy ridge overlooking the KOA and then it was a breezy jaunt down listening to podcasts. I made it to the campground and saw they had Stawberry Shortcake ice cream bars which I immediately devoured. I don’t normally eat ice cream on trail (upsets the tum-tum) but I’d been thinking about these things and there they were! Also I’d be staying at the campground with its flush toilets so it was safe.

I saw a few people I knew but I mostly kept to myself because I saw the packs of beer next to them. Its not a judgement on them, but more of a precuation of me being easily persuaded to have “just one beer”. Also I had to find a ride into Acton to get food resupply which proved to be quite difficult and stressful.

It got me to thinking about how it was so much easier to resupply on the AT. And that got me pondering the other myriad of differences- one being that a lot of hikers (not all) on the PCT seem to be rather standoffish. I’m by no means a social butterfly, but it has been an adjustment to the culture of this trail. I’ve come across groups that haven’t even acknowledged my presence (like Hello! Can you see me? I’m not a ghost!) But it’s probably for the best because I’m not even sure what I’d say to them anyway. Like do you want to hear about my pandemic trauma? No? Didn’t think so.

Day 38: 10.1 miles

I woke to the power and water turned off in the KOA which solved the issue of whether I should take a zero here or not. It’s always a climb up and out of places where you resupply and today was no different. The first mile or so was steep climb after steep climb. Once I was up though it was a lovely walk along a ridge that overlooked the KOA in the valley below. The wind was kicking up and the dry oat grasses whispered their papery rustle in waves.

I saw my first orange wildflower. I don’t really know their names so I’ve been grouping them by color. There have been white ones, purple, all varieties of yellow, deep red, pink, bright fuschia, and blue. But today was and acutal orange flower! I later found out via Google that it was called a Desert Mariposa Lily.

Up top there was a murder of crows playing in the wind. There were two in particular that flew around each other in an amazing display of aerial acrobatics. They soared overhead and got so close that I could see the sun glinting off individual feathers. They were cawing and making other odd sounds. Apparently crows are technically song birds and I can see how they might be after listening their conversation.

I kept stopping so much to take pictures that it took me two hours to get 3 miles –  kinda slow. But it was so exhilarating to see all that and reminded me what I was seeking to gain out here.

I got to the tunnel that ran under Hwy 14 and was relieved to find no one in it. It was kind of neat because it was shaped like a trail marker. On the other side was the beginning of Vasquez Rocks park. It was a walk through time as you could see the layers upon layers of rock revealed by millions of years of pressure and erosion. Each layer told its own story and I could have spent hours just staring at the walls. There were many little hidey holes for breaks, but there also seemed to be a lot of poison oak.

The park put up signs for some of the plants: California Juniper, Black Sage, Yucca, Scrub Oak, and Western Sycamore. It was helpful to put a name to the plants I’ve been seeing. One sign said Beavertail Cactus, but there was none to be seen.

Eventually the trail climbed a ridge that overlooked the highway behind me and the main attraction of Vasquez Rocks in front. There is a specific rock formation that is famously featured in shows like Star Trek or Roswell, and movies too. There is a scene where Kirk fights with an alien Gorn that puts this particular sight on display. There were a bunch of people there of course and the trail didn’t even go down to the site. I was fine with going around though, because the rest of the park was so interesting.

I finally wandered out of the park and down the road to the first town (maybe only?) that the trail walks through. Agua Dulce doesn’t have much in the way of resupply but they make up for that in a welcoming atmosphere. The server at Maria Bonita let me and a group I randomly met outside sit in the booth for hours, talking and charging our electronics. He even filled our water bottles. I tipped him outrageously well. 

There is an empty lot next door that locals say hikers can sleep on, but the server – never got his name- said not to do that because kids would come at night ride their cars in donuts on the lot. Also the lot was full of broken glass and other trash. He said we could camp underneath the overhang next door in front of the closed grocery store. Which me and two other hikers ended up doing. It was kind of like sleeping in a shelter but in a town. (It was safe Mom, I swear.) I find it funny that one of my shortest days was the most fun and interesting.

Day 39: 11.1 miles

Bright and early, a guy started doing some weed wacking. It was an odd alarm clock, but gave us 30 minutes to get ready and head over to Home Grown for breakfast. I had Corned Beef Hash and the first instance of shredded hashbrowns on the trail. All the hashbrowns so far have been more like breakfast potatoes.

I met another hiker – Burglar – on the way out of town who manged to put into words what I’ve been feeling about the PCT trail culture. He mentioned that the AT seemed to have more “normal” people on it. By that I mean people who are new to hiking out to just have fun, and/or maybe aren’t as invested in thru hiking. Out here it seems that everyone I meet is so serious about getting their miles in and their gear and their plans. It is a more subtle and insidious version of gate keeping that is quietly judging.

I thought about all that on my walk out of town which I started at 0900 and was a bit late. The day was already heating up and once I got back on the actual trail it was all up, which quickly stopped all my ruminating. There was no shade for 8 miles. It was brutal. For me anyway. I’m beginning to realize I don’t like being in direct sunlight for long periods of time. A bit of a problem in the desert.

By 1100 I was fully on the incline with no whiff of cooling breeze to be found and my energy was sapped. I beginning to get dizzy and heavy feeling. I found an awkward seat in a sliver of shadow from a boulder higher on the mountain. I just sat there for 30 minutes trying to cool down and watched the crows effortlessly navigate the hillside. They seemed so chill and they’re wearing black!

I knew there would be better shade in about 2 miles so I slowly trudged up to the highest ridgeline to get there. At the saddle of one junction there it was! A stand of trees with real actual shade! I flopped down into the dirt and sat there for two hours blissing out on not being in the sun.

I saw a hiker go by and recognized Cassie, the gal I met back before the hot springs. We had another lovely chat about all the things. Then another hiker walked by who she recognized who was named Cheryl! Lol.

We all walked the next 3ish miles bouncing around each other and made it the campsite that had a water cache, trash can, and an accessible porto potty. Even though it was right next to the road, the amenities were worth it!

Day 40: 16.8 miles

Cassie woke me as she left at 0515 which was a good thing. I’ve been trying to get up early and get some miles in before the sun bakes the trail and I keep falling back asleep. Today I was successful in getting going before 0700!

We must have slept in a ditchside bird sanctuary because as I was getting ready there was a raucous avian party all around. Scrub Jays, California Towhees, Hummingbirds, and a small dark bird Google was no help in identifying all flitted about in a frenzy, also making sure I wasn’t going to go back to sleep.

I managed to get in 4.5 miles before the sun crested the horizon and started baking everything. It’s actually quite pleasant to walk through the sandy hills in the cool early morning…I should do more of it.

I caught up with the other Cheryl and she convinced me to make going to Green Valley Market part of my day (twist my arm). It was the next road crossing and conveniently near lunch time. I didn’t need anything for resupply but I’ve been a sucker for icey cold drinks along this trail. I’ll get four different cold drinks and down them all. You’ve got to have a sparkly water, a soda, a chocolate milk, and a sports drink (but I don’t drink them in that order). Maybe instead of Hiker Hunger I’ve developed Hiker Thirst. We were lucky though, a group of trail runners who passed us twice on trail, gave us a ride to the market and back. How lucky! Then we sat at the Green Valley Fire Station gazebo for a couple of hours to wait out the heat.

Around 1600 we started the long trek up the mountain and I discovered it wasn’t as hard as I was building it up to be in my mind. Eventually though I found that the fire road paralleled the trail and was much easier. So me and other Cheryl walked that all the way to camp. It was nice to chat with a fellow Cheryl. She seemed nice but she was a section hiker and leaving the trail after getting to Hiker Town. It seems that everytime I find a trail friend our pace doesn’t match or they’re a section hiker.

My nemesis, the sun arrives.

Day 41: 15.4 miles

It was a cool breezy walk down to a road and then a long hot climb back up. On the way up there were two man made caves to look at. I definitely wasn’t going in though. Around this area the trail was blanketed in  wildflowers – their blues, purples and whites softening the harsh desert landscape. The hum of busy bees going about their work hung in the air. Even though the sun was on full blast the walk up wasn’t so unpleasant.

After lunch I hopped on the “forest” road through a huge burn area. It quickly got me through the scarred and crispy landscape. The sun beat down but with the relative ease of the shorter and flatter road I zoomed through listening to podcasts.

At a junction I saw trees ahead so I got back on the trail. It zigged and zagged through a corridor of pinyon pines with green Miner’s Lettice and purple Chia blanketing the hillside. It kind of reminded me of walking through the Shenandoah mountains (which was pretty and breezy).

I’ve been planning this section of trail around getting to Hiker Town at an optimal time for the delivery of my new shoes. This means slowing down so that they have time to get there, but it makes balancing miles and campsites/water a bit  tricky. My goal was Sawmill campground for the night and according to some southbounders there were reports of a potentially mentally unwell man with a crossbow there. Whether or not that was true I was going to assess the situation for myself because I didn’t want to walk 10 miles further to the next stopping point. There was no one at the campground except for other hikers so I set up camp and laid out in the shade reading a book on my phone.

Day 42: 12.7 miles

I woke to a fine layer of dirt covering me in my tent because the wind had kicked up the powdery substance that carpeted the surrounding area. The fine grit got everywhere, but at least I had a pit toilet ot enjoy.

I saw a hiker called Mom Cut (that I met in Wrightwood) just before mile 500 and we walked together for a minute. It helps to have someone there for a photo moment such as passing mile 500. (Which is wild to me, it still feels like I just started). We had a discussion about enjoying the journey and it made realize how little credit I’ve given myself so far. Like it is only possible to enjoy thru hiking if you crush miles and get to your destination. I haven’t “crushed miles” but I’ve still gotten to my destinations. And I did it without drinking alcohol. It may seem simplistic (like duh, everyone does or knew this) but it blows my mind.

Anyways, with that in mind today was a slow day. I stopped at every shady spot. I ate alot of snacks. I looked at new flower species. I took a bunch of pictures. I got to camp way early. I took a nap. It was a good day.

This is a water source
Tan or dirt?

Day 43: 6.8 miles

I managed to get what would have been a hot slog done in the early cool hours of morning. I got into Hiker Town early enough to eat lunch. It’s an interesting little hostel (I guess?) In the middle of nowhere. It’s a nice rest spot with water and shade. If you want to go to the market down the road, you can get a resupply and eat some pretty good burgers.

Hiker Town is where I sent my shoes and I had really hoped they’d be there. But alas found no shoes so I got a “room”. Hopefully they’ll be here tomorrow. Next up is the LA Aquaduct.

The PCT – Desert Sec. – Days 22 – 31

Day 22: 8.1 miles

David and Doug got me back to the Whitewater Preserve with a big gooey cinnamon roll from Rick’s Cafe in hand. After sitting in the picnic area and gorging on the sugar bomb, I finally got going around 0900. Back out into the bright and hot desert I went.

I felt heavy and slow. It was mostly mental and a little bit cinnamon roll shaped. The trail picked back up in the bottom of a vast canyon with a mostly dried up river bed. Eventually it crawled its way up to the top and I got a nice view of Palm Springs from the other side.

Despite all the sun, it wasn’t actually that hot. The ever present wind kept temperature mild and actually made me chilled when I stopped walking. A few ridgeline walks later and I dropped quite quickly down to the beginnings of Mission Creek.

I decided to stop early at a quaint looking site tucked away in a grove of trees right next to the creek. Most of it was a dry creek bed. It was rare treat to camp next to running water.

Day 23: 13.7 miles

Last night a large group of what I call “Dude-bros” came in and set up camp right next to me. I got to hear their inane chatter and speculations on “getting fucked up” in the next town coming up. They seemed nice enough when I got out of my tent this morning but I wasn’t trying too hard to engage them in conversation. I knew soon enough they’d pass me by.

And soon enough they did. The trail crossed Mission Creek many times and it was difficult to tell where the trail even was. Cairns were in seemingly random places and the markers were few and far between. I was stomping through the reeds and swampy bits to find that the trail was up a 7 foot embankment and I’d missed a turn somewhere. This went on for 10 miles. Needless to say I was frustrated.

Around lunch I found some shade and took a nap. Like a cranky baby. Somewhat revived I continued on into a burn area where the trail just did whatever it wanted. Up and around downed trees. Down a random slope. Up through prickly bushes. For no real reason other than the original trail got burned out. The black hunks of skeletal trees stood ready to fall to their final state. I didn’t like walking through this part.

The trail then pulled an AT move and started going up abruptly. I was on fumes at this point and plodded on in a grim fashion. The sun was lowering in the west and the air got crisper. Finally I made it Mission Camp just as the sun set and it started to get frigid. I set up my tent, shoveled a bit of cous cous in me, and tried to sleep. Then the cold winds started up. It was a long night.

Day 24: 10.4 miles

I got going late today because I just didn’t want to leave my sleeping bag. It was warm and outside was cold. I didn’t sleep well. Back on trail, the breeze kept things cool in a pleasant way. The pine trees in this area gave off extra scents and made me think of Maine.

The path winded through some lovely forest with birds chirping here and there. Not like back east, but still a lovely thing to walk through. The trail seemed easier and gentler with many switchbacks, as if to apologize for yesterday.

I discovered I had cell service on one ridge tip and found out thay Bethany & Chris were in Big Bear and had an Airbnb and we were asking if I was interested in a room? Even though I’d already had a zero in Palm Springs I was still tired and feeling heavy. I replied yes and went about finding a way into town.

I discovered that at a certain dirt road I’d be able to walk down to the highway and then hitch into Big Bear. With that settled my steps quickened at the thought of a hot shower. I’ve been a sucker for them this whole trip.

I stopped at Coon Creek Cabin for lunch. It was only slightly creepy with busted out windows and carvings everywhere. It had more of a campy vibe to it. After lunch it was a quick 4 mile walk through more pines and shade to the dirt road. After getting to the highway I was surprised to get a ride very quickly from a lady who worked in town and offered to take me directly to the Airbnb. Things were looking up.

I met back up with Bethany, Chris, and Austin at the house. They got it with the specific expectations of using the hot tub, only to find out it didn’t work. I didn’t mind so much. I’ve never liked them or baths. They make me dizzy and with the hot tubs, it’s like sitting in people soup. I much prefers hot showers and I got one.

We went to eat dinner at the least friendly Himalayan restaurant. The Tikka Masala was good though. Got back and went to bed.

Day 25: 0 miles

Did boring resupply stuff today. It didn’t feel very restful. Especially because the only way to get around town was to use these free trollies that had no rhyme or reason. But I did end up getting to sleep in a comfortable bed again.

Day 26: 2.5 miles

We didn’t leave the house until check out time at 1100. So it was a late start. It was kind of hard to find a ride back up to the trail. Funnily enough, it was also Easter Sunday. After many calls, I found one guy who’d be able to get us back. But first it was a stop at the CVS. Bethany and Chris needed some things and I’d forgotten to get some Iron supplements. I was thinking maybe it would help with the weakness? Austin was staying in Big Bear for a few days to see his fiance.

Much of the day was spent waiting and finally we made it back to the trailhead. I got started walking and felt some serious grumbling in my stomach. This tends to happen after visiting town. I popped open Guthook and found (luckily) a campsite nearby that had a pit toilet *angel choir voices*. So of course I decided I was stopping there. For a pit toilet it was pretty nice. Open air, clean seat, no bugs.

I sat at the picnic table afterwards trying to feel out if my stomach was done with its complaints. By this time is was almost 1630. I looked around and saw some level and protected camping so I called it and set up camp.

Then the Dude Bros showed up. Ha! They’d spent so long in Big Bear partying I’d caught up to them. They parked it far enough away this time I couldn’t hear their deepest thoughts on the next town plan. A relief of sorts, both for my mind and my stomach.

Day 27: 17 miles

I woke and everyone was pretty much gone, expect for the Dude Bros. Early in this trip I was waking up way early and feeling great about it. I think my body was still on East Coast time and now it has caught up. I’m having trouble waking up early so that I can get some miles in before the sun melts the day. It’s a little bit like high school – I’ll wake up to my alarm and slam it off and go back to sleep. It’s annoying even to me.

But today was pleasant weather and the trail wasn’t too harsh. For a long while I was up on a ridgeline that had a great view of Big Bear Lake from the other side. At one point I realized I’d made a wrong turn onto a different trail when I saw a bunch of benches and started descending towards the lake. I had to climb back up.

I saw two of the gals who went off trail and scaled the mountain back in the San Jacinto range. We leap frogged for awhile amongst the lovely smelling pines. I always want to take a break in them and people will pass me by as I lay on the bed of pine needles.

The forest ended because it back onto a canyon ridgeline. The views were a little depressing as it was also a burn area off into the distance. I’m sure in the past it must have been something to see. I whizzed along this part and down towards a stand of trees that was camp for the night. I set up my tent and managed to stay up for a bit reading a book on my phone.

A water source

Day 28: 12.7 miles

The moon kept me up for awhile because it was so dang bright! I got going before everyone else which was surprising. I saw more of the Lady Crew from San Jacinto. One gal hurt her ankle in town and it was giving her trouble. My nurse instincts kicked in and I had to quiz her on the pain. Later they said they though it was odd I was so specific until they found out I was a nurse. I told Hurt Ankle to take it easy on the ankle and some ibuprofen. (I found out later she had to take a zero on trail.)

The trail skirted around Holcomb creek and I got to dip my feet in it. It was so cold that my arches cramped up! Still it was refreshing and made the rest of my day seem lighter.

I stopped at a covered picnic area that used to a be a cabin (Splinter’s cabin). It was closed to the public due to overuse and Covid. But PCT hikers could stop by and after sitting there for awhile I decided it would also be a great shelter. I met a gal Cassie there and we had a nice talk. She decided to sleep in the “cabin” as well and found out that there were mice living in the closed up fireplace. Missing stones and cracked mortar allowed a cozy little nest for them. For the first time this whole trip I used my bear hanging kit to keep out food away from the critters. The wind was cold but blocked by the half walls of the picnic enclosure, so I managed to get some sleep.

That’s the moon

Day 29: 19.5 miles

I woke up with Disney songs in my head. The trail walked along a high ridgeline with Deep Creek running down below. So I was whistling childhood tunes over the occasional rush of water. The creek had an acid green color to it that had me a little worried. The closer you got to the water though it mellowed out.

There are hot springs that everyone talks about at mile 307.9. Some enterprising individuals built rock pools to sit in and relax. It is also clothing optional. While I don’t care about seeing genitalia (really, I’ve seen enough as a nurse to last a lifetime) it wasn’t really my scene. As I’ve said before – I don’t like sitting in people soup and today was 4/20. There were a bunch of hikers and locals celebrating by doing only thing you can do on 4/20, smoke weed (and I suspect trippin on shrooms). Everyone was in their insular weed groups and I didn’t feel like looking at nekkid people, so I just ate my lunch and moved on. I’m sure it could be a relaxing place – it was quite beautiful, but also just not my scene.

The next 5 miles were a hellish canyon walk in the direct sun. I had to pee and there was nowhere to do my business. Finally found a little scrub bush to duck behind before I peed my pants. The trail then led down to a cool looking dam thingy. I say thingy, because it didn’t much look like a dam, but it was labeled as such on my map app. You could shout things in it and hear at least 6 echoes. Pretty neat.

The next part of the trail looked like locals used it for body dumps so I quickly got out of there. Back up on the mountain it was starting to get cool and windy. Camp was a creek with a dry bed of sand nearby. The wind was really picking up and no matter how many rocks I put on my stakes, one corner kept snapping out. Dyneema, the fabric from which my tent is made, is very loud when the wind whips it around. I didn’t get much sleep.

Day 30: 24 miles !!!

It was cold when I woke so it was hard to get moving. The trail came down off the mountains into what looked like a construction site only to to go back up and over to Arrowhead lake. It was actually pleasant to walk around this and I could see many little beaches to access for a break. I would have stopped at one if I wasn’t already trying to get to a picnic area with running water and toilets (!!).

After lunch it was a climb back up to elevation, but for once I didn’t feel like a sleepy sloth with a bag of bricks on my back. Maybe the high fat diet is working? Or the iron supplements?

I got cell service and for some reason checked the weather for the area. I normally don’t do that but my spidey senses were tingly. There was a reported rain storm coming with high winds the next morning. My brain went NOPE! Not doing the wind thing again. But looking at my options it was another 10 miles or so to Cajon Pass and it was already 1500. I decided, after little thought, I AM DOING THIS. I called the only hotel at Cajon Pass and booked a room, then I booked it on the trail. Up till now I’ve managed about a 2 miles per hour pace, but this afternoon I flew down that path. I was determined to sleep in a dry NOT WINDY bed. And I did. I got to the pass around 1930.

I had to cross a busy highway to get to the hotel. It’s always a little bit shocking to come back to the world of vehicles when they whiz past you at high speeds. I managed to get to the right side of the road and before the hotel was a DEL TACO!!! So of course I stopped there first. Got my food to go and checked into my room. My feet decided to start throbbing before I even sat down. I chucked my pack in a corner and sat on the bed devouring my tacos. I walked 24 miles. My first ever 20!

Day 31: 0 miles

I decided to take a zero and catch up on some electricity dependent activities. It also meant I got to lay in bed most of the day. Once the admistrative stuff was handled I was basically just sitting in a room at a highway exit with all the sounds of transportation buffered by thin walls.

I started thinking about why I’ve been having trouble acclimating to the PCT. I’ve been disappointed in myself and the trail. Disappointment is the unmet expectations I had of myself. I’m going to crush miles. I’m not going to be weak or tired. I’m going to have so much wild joyous fun.

I thought by now I’d be doing 20s easily, but to be honest I barely did any physical training aside from yoga. Why would I think 300 miles in, I’d be a mile-crusher?

I thought I’d build my strength quickly and efficiently. But I’ve abused my body for years and that damage takes time to heal. And mentally, this takes even more time.

So basically I need to rewrite the narrative I’ve been telling myself. I’m fat and I’m still here walking. I’m tired and I’m still going up to elevation. I’m feeling down and lonely but I’m still here on the PCT doing it. I’m hopeful that my mindset will soften to a gentler kinder version of myself. The one that can let go of rigid expectations and just be. The one that can say – I’m still here.

The PCT – Desert Sec. – Days 15 – 21

Day 15 – 8.7 miles

We couldn’t find a ride out of Idyllwild through the normal channels, so we did the old hiker standby: throw a thumb out. Luckily a nice tennis coach from Palm Springs picked me, Bethany, and Chris up for a ride to Paradise Valley Cafe. (Most people get off the trail at a point right behind Idyllwild to come into town. We decided to come into to town from further back.)

We got back to PVC, had a lunch of burgers, and hung around outside until the heat cooled off a little bit. Finally around 1500, we started walking the mile back to the actual PCT. Once there is was a rollercoaster ride through canyon boulders and sand. There was a gradual rise of elevation and eventually I found myself high up on a ridge looking down at where I started from.

Camp was a mile down into the valley on the other side of the mountain, next to a lovely piped spring. I put up my tent among some gnarled oaks that blocked most of the wind and quickly fell asleep.

Day 16 – 13.5 miles

I woke up late and in retrospect it started my day out wrong. Today was all climbing steadily up into high elevation. Well it was high for me, in the 6000s up to the 7000s. The mile climb out of the spring was a nice warm up and it would the last of gentle elevation changes.

The trail snaked its way up through saddles and ridgetops. The wind sent occasional nudges that soon turned into great blasts that kept pushing me to one side. I had to scrunch down the hood of my shirt to ensure my hat wouldn’t be blown away.

I caught up with Bethany and Chris (B&C) at Fobes Ranch Trail Junction for lunch. They had already been there for awhile and eaten. My lunch consisted of me laying in the shade trying to catch my breath. B&C continued on with the plan to stop at a designated campsite. I sat awhile longer munching on peanut butter and chips.

The miles from 166.6 to 169.2 were some of the hardest I’ve done yet. It was all up, ala Appalachian Trail, with no switchbacks and hard climbing. I couldn’t catch my breath and was feeling very weak. Every 20 steps or so I had to stop and calm my breathing. It was very frustrating. It took me 2 hours to go the 3 miles to Apache Spring.

I lay on the ground for a break and wondered why it was all so much harder. Higher elevation? Dehydration? Anemia? Whatever it was I was going to listen to my body and I decided that the next flat quiet campsite I found would be home for the night. Even though that would put me “behind schedule” whatever that is.

Day 17 – 9.9 miles

I spent the night on the saddle of a mountain where I could hear the wind blowing like a jet engine all night, but the side I was on was blessedly wind free. I got going a little late, but felt rested for once. The first three miles were a steady climb up that tested my sore lungs.

I kept leap frogging around a new group of all women and at one point we were going the same pace. There were many downed trees from a fire 3 years ago that made the going slow. At one campsite the trail switchbacks sharply so as to seem to disappear. Right near that switchback was yet another tree that obscured the direction of the trail. Two of the hikers in front of me blithely trudged on through the prickly bushes off map. The rest of the group (and me) soon followed. We quickly realized we weren’t on trail anymore and stopped to find the route.

The group started wondering all over the place while I looked at the map on my phone. By the time I figured out what had happened everyone had disappeared into the brush. I delicately retraced my steps back to the trail where I last saw it and then discovered our mistake. I called out for any of the hikers but no one answered. Since I was wearing a bright orange shirt that many hikers have told me they can see for miles away, I started yelling names and propped myself up on a rock as a beacon.

Eventually one of the hikers found her way to the trail below me and wound her way back up. But that left three other hikers unaccounted for. She managed to get a text from one of them that they found their way over the mountain. So we kept going and met the beginnings of snow. With much incredulity we found them as advertised. They had scaled the mountain with its snow and sheer rock cliffs to come down on the other side.

All in all this had eaten up about an hour of time and a great deal of anxiety. I bade my farewell to this group as they sat on the trail eating and started a long slog through mushy snow to the next water source. Even with microspikes I kept slipping and sliding all over the sun warmed snow. Downed trees, high elevation, and dangerous snow – it was beginning to feel like the game makers were throwing everything at me at once.

There was a nice alternate route one could take through Tahquitz Valley. It was dry, flat, and full of pine trees. Most people go around on the “official PCT” and I was glad for the soothing balm of the peaceful place. Coincidently, I met a 70 year old day hiker on this stretch named David who was so effervescently upbeat I couldn’t help but smile as he offered to pray a blessing for me and my journey.

I rejoined the PCT at Saddle Junction and began a dizzying number of switchbacks up to my campsite. I saw Austin along the way. We bemoaned the elevation and our weariness. I found a campsite with little snow and Austin kept going. It was early to set up camp but I felt beat up and needed the strength for the next day.

Day 18 – 9.3 miles

The San Jacinto alternate is not technically part of the PCT but most people do it because it is the first big mountain with epic views. The issue is that there is usually some amount of snow when most PCT hikers show up. Though it is only 3.7 miles to the peak from the main junction, it is some of most challenging trail.

It took me 4 (yes four) hours to get to the top. Every 20 feet or so I’d have to stop and catch my breath. Or I’d get hot and to take off my jacket…and then get cold from the sudden wind. It was tedious and exhausting. At a certain point the trail opens up to a large connection of trails and the sign said it was 2.7 miles to the peak. I only went one mile and I was bricked already.

The only thing I kept thinking was, “well you’re here – and you’re doing it, so you might as well finish”. Each new level of elevation brought more epic views and I found that I had cell service. I took some pics and texted them to my parents.

By the time I saw the emergency cabin at the top I was beat. Only to realize there was 0.2 miles to go to the actual peak. It was a 15 minute slog up slushy snow to the top and FINALLY I was there. It was a nice, but not worth the trouble to be honest. On my way down I saw B&C who I somehow passed.

We ate lunch at the cabin and talked with some day hikers (they smelled fresh and clean). You can either go down the way you came up and rejoin the PCT there or go down the North path and connect to the trail on the other side. We chose the North route which turned out to be a big mistake.

The North side was all covered in snow and by the time we ventured down it the sun had mushified every bit of that snow. Despite the microspikes I was wearing every step was a guessing game of slip or slide? About half a mile down the actual trail disappeared and previous hikers made a trail straight down the mountain which cut out the switchbacks. This terrifying development had me slow down to a sloth’s pace.

While B&C apparently had no problem with defying gravity bounding down the mountain with little regard for their precious meat parts, I was of a more anxious mind set. Every nerve in my body was on high alert to every tree, boulder, and prickly bush, and sending red alarm sirens through my brain. I fell a couple of times and painted a new bruise on my arm, but eventually made it to the bottom where the grade of the trail evened out. With the actual threat done, my emotional body reared up and decided it was a good time for an ugly cry.

One melt down later I was cruising along the PCT proper, and came to some actual stone steps. I found it hilarious after all that stress to find something so innocuous and helpful. At the next water source we found Austin eating, having made the prudent decision to not hike the San Jacinto alternate. I kept walking to the next campsite. All I wanted to was lay down. I found a nice little windless spot under a pine tree and passed out.

Day 19 – 19.5 miles

I woke feeling battered and deep fried. It was slow going until my muscles warmed up and the pains dulled to a mild simmer. There was some more snow on Fuller Ridge, but this wasn’t as terrifying as the trail didn’t go straight down the mountain. Then it was a forever climb down of switchback after switchback. The busy I-10 slowly became closer and closer.

At one point I looked down and thought “oh that looks like the diamond pattern of a rattlesnake but red and orange” only to realize it was a rattlesnake. Just sitting there chillin. I didn’t bother it and kept scooting along. Around boulders and down into the valley I went. My feet became numb so I didn’t even feel the rocks poking anymore.

I made it to the bottom finally and to a water faucet. I was supposed to meet B&C here to camp but I didn’t see them. I kept walking down to the road and still didn’t see them. Figuring they went further I kept walking until the sun was starting to set. I got service to find out they had Ubered to a hotel in Cabazon.

It was getting pretty dang windy so I tried to find the lowest laying most sheltered spot in an open desert. It wasn’t easy but I managed to wrangle my tent into a dry creek bed by some bushes. It was okay until about 2300 and then the wind gusts collapsed my tent on me. I’d get out and fix it and it would happen again. Eventually I gave up and packed up my stuff with my tent flopping over me.

I was trying to wrangle my tent into my pack with my headlamp on and noticed a bunch of honking a few dirt roads up from me. I saw a car driving around and felt a cold pit of dread in my stomach. I quickly threw things in pockets and ran down the trail with my headlamp off. I saw the car racing along the base of the mountain in the distance where it began to climb up somehow. It turned towards the valley and cut its lights. To be honest I have no idea if they were trying to frighten me or were just some dumb idiots riding around, but my gut said to get out of there and I followed.

Luckily there was a quarter moon to light my way and it was fairly simple to follow the desert trail up to a certain point. The closer I got to I-10 though the rougher and sandier the terrain got. It was a little like walking on the beach, but a whole lot less fun. After an hour of walking I got to the I-10 underpass and out of the wind. There wasn’t anybody there, but there was a hiker rest spot of sorts that was usually used during the day. I didn’t unpack, just lay out my sleeping pad. By now it was nearly 0200 and I was exhausted but I still couldn’t close my eyes. From my vantage point nestled between a concrete pillar and wall I could see the stars. I stared out at them and eventually the hum of vehicles overhead lulled me to sleep.

Day 20 – 11.2 miles & Day 21 – 0 miles

I startled awake around 0600 as an extremely loud vehicle jetted across the bridge above me. A dim pre dawn light served to illuminate my surroundings. What seemed threatening in the dark now appeared just dirty, but not scary. I ate my breakfast in the gravel and got up to start another day.

The trail on the other side of I-10 crawled through a canyon and a wind farm. It was a seemingly never ending climb up where the wind kept pushing against me. The bursts of wind were brutal and I kept having to stop and brace myself.

Weary and wary I kept plodding towards White Water Preserve. I could tell I was getting close when I started smelling the fresh scents of day hikers on the wind. The trail zig zagged down to the canyon floor with a drastic change in scenery. I wanted to get to the preserve because my friend David from Tzafyville (my old Atlanta apartment) had offered to house me in Palm Springs if I got there. Which I did with all due haste.

After the last couple of days I was really looking forward to a clean bed, hot food, and seeing a friendly face. David picked me up and whisked me away to Palm Springs where I got to see all the cute houses including Bob Hope’s Space Port looking house on the hill. (Seriously look it up, it’s so cool looking). I got a home cooked meal and David even made my favorite dessert of his from the Tzafyville days: Eclair cake. David and his fiance went back to his place and I was left the run of David’s condo, where I promptly went to sleep and didn’t wake up for nine whole hours. It was blissful. I did zero stuff the next day – sleep, eat, hang out. David took me to see the Cabazon dinosaurs. It was a nice day off.

The PCT – Desert Sec. – Days 7 – 14

Day 7 – 0 miles

I wasn’t planning on taking a zero so early on the trip, but I sure am glad I did when I saw how miserably cold it was in Julian. I don’t want to know how bad it was on trail. I spent the morning sipping coffee and working on this blog.

At some point someone decide we should go out and get our free slice of pie at Mom’s. If you show your PCT permit, they’ll give you a piece of pie, ice cream and a drink! I got Apple Caramel Crumb with Cinnamon Ice Cream and a hot spiced cider. It was so delicious! I’ve heard some people say it’s not worth it come into Julian for the pie, but I didn’t listen because I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life. Also it’s free pie.

Did some more walking around and then came back to watch Stranger Things. It’s back to the trail in the morning!

Day 8 – 13 miles

Got a lift back to the Sunrise trailhead and hopped back on trail. The sun was shining and the breeze was cooling. The first few miles went by fast with big open views that kept me smiling.

Then the trail dropped quite suddenly and sharply into a canyon and the trail felt a little bit like the AT. I stopped at the bottom to have lunch as I has no chance of catching up to Bethany and Chris. One PB and dried fruit roll up later Austin comes around the corner in his new shoes. We had left him in Julian this morning to buy new shoes as I think he was finally convinced the old ragged Nikes he’d been sporting might have something to do with his ankle pain.

At some point I knew I’d have to climb out of this canyon and shouldered my pack to get to it. I found Bethany and Chris at the next water source, which was a water tank off a dirt road. We did some yoga on top of the concrete tank. Well they did yoga. I mostly rolled around in pain trying to strike some sort of pose.

The air was cooling and we decided to push on to a further campsite. It was a surprisingly tough bit of trail climbing up and down canyon walls. Again, like the AT.

Camp was a flat-ish spot of sand that one might consider a wash. I kept smelling weed which freaks me out now, because that can mean Poodle Dog Bush is nearby. Or some people are having a “safety meeting” (what they call smoking on the trail). Either way, not cool man!

Day 9 – 17.9 miles

The walk down to Scissors Crossing was kind of epic in the morning. You cross a huge flat plain with mountain ranges in the distance and the wind kicking up. Once you are on the “bottom of the bowl” you can’t see the road or anything else that looks like civilization and you feel totally alone, like in an apocalyptic movie. But then someone comes along behind you to bring you back to reality and you realize that there is a bridge with water and trail magic up ahead to get to. If your next thought is Yay! I get to sit under a bridge and drink water, then you either might be me or a bridge troll.

After a bit of a break I began the climb up and over one of those mountain ranges that weren’t so distant anymore. Looking up from the bottom it seems impossible, or at least improbable that it could be completed in a day, but switchback after switchback brings you closer to the “top”. I put top in quotations because you don’t really go to the peak on the PCT, just right under it on a ridgeline, rounding the mountain to another one.

I found some shade and Bethany and Chris as well. They are faster than me at the moment, but tend to take longer breaks which keeps us about even on pace and within the same walking group. They moved on before me though.

About 3 miles into the afternoon stretch I encountered a rattlesnake. I was bopping along and almost stepped on it because it was in the trail. How rude. The yelp that came out of my mouth was so screechy and foreign sounding I looked around to see if anyone was behind me only to notice that I had FLEW backwards 6 feet. Well then. The snake didn’t rattle its rattle which I could very clearly see that it one and I told it that it was a breach of protocol to not give me some amount of warning. Instead it sat there hissing like an angry cat and breathing like one too. I could see it’s little snake belly inflating as it hissed its annoyance at me. I tried throwing some rocks near it to get it moving but the snake stubbornly sat on the impassable trail. I guess it got tired of hissing because after five minutes it side winded off into the bushes never taking its beady little eyes off me.

Well that kinda took the wind out of my sails, but I tried to push on. After another grueling climb it started to get cold and windy and I just wanted to lie down. I looked for the first flat spot I could find and made camp.

Day 10 – 14.6 miles

I got started kinda late as I was feeling fatigued. Also I “slept” on a slant, so I wasn’t feeling great. The third gate water cache was only a mile away, so I hurried there for morning time things. Also found Bethany and Chris there too. We decided to go to the market in Ranchita together, where apparently a shower could be had. The 10 miles there flew by with occasional stops to admire Horned Toads and to briefly acknowledge the 100 mile mark.

We got to the market which was a hiker central and took showers in the creepiest building. The desert people are an odd bunch and their idea of offering a service is not what I’m used to. I’m sure the same could be said for eastern mountain folk. But I was able to get some more snacks and hang out with the Yeti statue, so overall – a win.

Got back to trail and walked through some of the prettiest valleys. Big wide open spaces with a single path winding through it. One particular hillside reminded me of that Windows green hill wallpaper.

The campsite was San Ysidro creek which was a nice little green oasis of Oaks and an actual creek. The frogs came out at night time sing loudly and there were turkeys patrolling the outer perimeter.

Day 11 – 12 ish miles

This morning while digging my cat hole a turkey flew down from a tree above me and nearly scared me, well…. shitless. Those things are loud (and surprising) when flying.

Being near water made everything on my tent damp, especially my inner tent walls. But I got packed up and going early into the oddly misty morning. The climb was tolerable and I made it to some more open pasture lands but it was all covered in mist so that you could only see a few feet ahead. I kept wondering if I made it to the end of the game board.

A couple miles up was Eagle Rock, which doesn’t look like much from the side, but once you get in front of it, you’re like – oh it is an Eagle! Because of the mist there was a weak colored but perfectly formed rainbow framing the whole thing. Got my picture and kept moving because even at 0700 it is a very popular spot.

The pasturelands continued. As I crested on hill a herd of mostly brown cows stood on the path. Just standing there staring at me. I shooed them, but that didn’t seem to motivate them to move. Of course I had to ask them to moooooooove. They didn’t think it funny. I started walking towards them and they sort of shuffled away. A lighter brown cow with a white face kept eyes on me the whole time.

After the pasture was some pretty creek side walking complete with trees and grass, which was welcome.

I got to Warner Springs around 1030, and had to walk a road mile to get my resupply box. For some reason non-trail miles always see like a chore. Sat around and sorted my stuff and got back on trail with Bethany and Chris (who I will now refer to as B&C for brevity sake). We made it 3 whole miles to a creek where we promptly layed down and napped after eating lunch in the grass.

Photo by Bethany

The campsite was near Aqua Caliente creek and there we met some younger folks who apparently thought it would be a good idea to have a campfire. I wasn’t present for this as I already went to my tent. Luckily another hiker gave them a talking to, because no matter how careful you are it is really hard to out run a forest fire, especially in such a flammable state.

Day 12 – 18 miles

It was a big long climb out of the canyon that housed the creek. Lucky for us, it was cloudy and windy for most of the morning. I’m sure there was a pretty view out there. Around 1000 the trail cleared one side of the mountain went into totally different terrain, full of brush and thorns. At one point it felt like I was getting into a fight with the trail and losing badly.

Photo by Chris

Lunch was at the next water source, a water tank at Mike’s place. The tank itself was halfway down a private driveway and in years past hikers could go down to the house and stay or chill for awhile. I had heard conflicting reports of abandonment and possible squatters so I just got the water and left to eat lunch with B&C at the top of the hill.

After some time the heat wore off, but not enough. We climbed up 5 miles to our campsite, a lovely little grove of manzanita that shielded us from the wind

Day 13 – 15.2 miles

The morning was warm which should have been my first warning. I got going at 0650, so I was a little late, but the miles went fast until about 1030. There was a long and exposed climb out of a canyon that seemed to go on forever. My steps got slower and heavier. Every though I had plenty of water it was just So. Dang. Hot.

That is a water source

I found two large boulders that created a hallway of shade and promptly sat down for a break. It was only 1100. My breathing evened and my face stopped feeling like a red tomato. I turned to eating my lunch and gazing at the climb before me. A few brave hikers kept going and I could see their distant forms moving through the waves of heat.

B&C caught up to me and we all wallowed in the shade. For some reason I felt like 1400 was a good time to start packing up and walking. It felt cooler to me, but apparently not enough once outside the shade. The next four miles were some of the longest I’ve ever walked. I was just zombie walking and slowed to a shuffle. The next water source was a delightful water tank maintained by a trail angel named Mary. She even had covered picnic benches and a little library. I shuffled in, grunted a response to the general vicinity of people and lay down in the shade.

I came to around 30 minutes later and drank a liter of water. The air actually started to get cool around this time and we contemplated moving further on. I decide I needed a town day, the next being Idyllwild. I was stinky beyond all redemption and needed a morale boosting shower. Also I needed to find a dowel to fix part of my tent that I lost somewhere. And get some sun gloves (they are so red!)

I told B&C this who were sad to be parting ways. They have a tight schedule to keep and are moving fast to keep it. To be honest I’m surprised I’ve been keeping up with them. They said we had to have a farewell breakfast at the Paradise Valley Cafe the next morning.

Day 14 – 3.6 miles

I woke quickly because I didn’t really sleep. I hadn’t noticed the slant when I set up my tent, but it became quite apparent everytime I rolled over into my tent wall. Anyways today was town day! And hot food at a Cafe! My steps were quick and B&C were not far behind. Before we knew it we were tucking into some breakfast food at Paradise Valley Cafe, which is a popular PCT stop as it is only a mile off trail.

It was a breakfast that B&C said they were going to Idyllwild too for various reasons. So the gang doesn’t get broken up! I found us a ride from the trail angel list in the restuarant.

Herk was a soft spoken mountain man looking fellow who drove a 1990 Toyota truck. It only had room up front for one passenger so B&C and another hiker named Yeti rode the in the camper covered bed. It was a hot 30 minute drive and with the windows down it was hard to hear the dulcet tones of Herk.

I was nodding along and apparently had agreed to a tour of the town – all of this unbeknownst to the passengers in the back who had eaten huge breakfast burritos and were bouncing around on 32 year old suspension. Idyllwild is not that big but he had decided we needed to see the furthest cardinal point at each end of town and then make a big U turn. Each time he did this B&C and Yeti would attempt to exit through the skimpy latched tailgate only to be thrown back into the bed.

Meanwhile up front Herk is giving me insider knowledge unaware of the turmoil in the back. I noticed by the third U turn and when we passed by the Inn without stopping I heard “If we turn around again I’m jumping out!” Finally Herk dropped us off at the Inn and my bewildered companions fumbled out of the back in a hurry. I thanked him gave him a tip, and turned to my new buddies like “what?”

I’m still giggling about it.

Anyways I’m showered, laundered, and I’m gonna relax before what promises to be a grueling stretch of the San Jacinto mountains.

The PCT – Desert Sec. – Days 0-6

Day 0 – Campo, California (CLEEF campsite)

Today was loooooong. I got up at 0300 EST in Columbus, GA and it is now 1700 PST in Campo, CA. You do the math. My flights were delayed and I would have missed my shuttle, if the nice shuttle co-owner hadn’t graciously driven me and another late hiker in her personal vehicle! Thanks Dee!

At the campsite in Campo, a section of this facility is sectioned off for PCT thru hikers to start and run by trail angels Legend, Papa Bear, and a motley crew of rotating characters. Every night they hold a spaghetti or burger group dinner and Legend gave a beautiful (if not practiced) speech about the magic of the trail. This camp is only a quarter mile from the monument and entirely run on donations.

It was very windy. TBC….

Day 1 (AAAAAAHHHHH!!!!) – 11.3 miles (@mile 11.3)

Like I said it was windy. At 0530 my tent violently collasped on my supine form in a gust, snapping me awake with a vigor. I crawled out of my DCF and down coocoon and haplessly looked down at the mess I’d have to somehow wrangle into my pack. The wind cut through my sleep clothes, so I quickly set about my job.

There was a morning pancake breakfast that I wasn’t going to stick around for. I had a trail to start! I said bye to the few hikers awake, knowing they’d pass my slow butt soon enough. I took the dirt road up to the monument at the border, only a quarter mile. Once there a nice lady (whose name I never got) asked me some questions about hyperthermia and whether I had a permit, handed me a tag, and took my picture while I signed the register. Border patrol came blasting down the dirt road in a show of machismo, so I didn’t try to go stick my hand in Mexico through the wall like a lot of hikers will do.

I walked down to the first PCT marker and took my first official step towards Canada. It was very surreal. I’ve been preparing for this day for over three years (not as long as some, but enough for me) and HERE I WAS. DOING THE THING. Instinct told me to savor this moment – the beginning, the potential for all the things to come, and the relief of knowing you are where you need to be right now…and then some more hikers came along also excited for their start so I moved along, giving them their space.

The first mile winds back down through the scrub brush to CLEEF and crosses through the tiny hamlet of Campo. There are a bunch of crows out here, which surprised me. Seeing their sleek black forms playing in the wind seemed like a encouraging sign.

BREATHE IN: I can do this, I am capable, I am adaptable. The first real vista of the desert ahead was a record scratch moment. It is definitely different in real life because you can’t feel the wide open expansiveness through a picture. Feel the heat, wind, or weight of water on your back and down through to your feet. I could feel a little fear and doubt creeping in. What was I thinking? In my shape and health? Out here in such unfamiliar territory? Far away from family and friends? All by myself??? What was I thinking? BREATHE OUT: I can do this, I am capable, I am adaptable.

I started this trail with several intentions, but I never got too specific. It became clear in that first couple of miles, that I would have to clarify and cement my goals for this journey in order to bolster my mental strength (which TBH isn’t the strongest). I contemplated this as I weaved through the dusty hills of the desert, noting the strange and unfamiliar plant life. I found myself comparing it to being on an alien planet like something out of Star Trek.

I made it to the only known water source for the first 20 miles at mile 4.4. I loaded up to capacity at 5 liters and the added weight of all that water went straight to my hips. Gradually the hills opened up to bigger vistas and harder climbs. I stopped at the first bit of shade that coincidently had a nice view and ate lunch. There I met a nice lady from Montreal, but I had feeling I wouldn’t be seeing much of her because she seemed like a fast walker (and I was right).

After lunch it was a race to more shade and the stopping point for the evening. The sun beat down on my orange sherbert sun hoodie making everything glow. Light was EVERYWHERE! Bouncing off of rocks. Reflecting off shiny plants. Sparkling in the sand. This was my first indication that maybe I shouldn’t walk through the heat of the day (more on this later), but I stubbornly trudged on. I made it the campsite at 1430, which was early but I was BEAT (TM). The sun/heat drained away any and all of that peppy energy I started with. I plopped down on the bare rock under some shady manzanitas, chugged half a liter, and promply fell asleep.

When I woke the camp had filled with people, their bright blues and oranges flitting about the scrub like birds. I found out the site was mostly filled with couples, one from the Netherlands! By the way, I’ve noticed the PCT seems to be popular with the Dutch and Australians this year. I pitched my tent on some hard sand, weighing the stakes down with heavy rocks so my tent would stay in its desired position through out the night. I ate some cold soaked cous cous and promptly went back to sleep, leaving the brightly frocked couples to their chatter. Briefly I worried about seeming like an anti-social recluse – the curmudgeonly troll in the bushes – but then I remembered that I’m not out here to please anybody…so there. Nyah.

Day 2 – 11.7 miles (@ mile 23)

Blessedly my tent stayed upright all night long and I slept deeply until 0500 when I woke for no reason and without an alarm. Weird.

The rest of camp was stirring as I shouldered my pack and walked into the inky darkness. My headlamp made weird shapes of all the unfamiliar plants. The sun rose rapidly, all of a sudden saying I’M HERE! I walked along a ridgeline looking down into Hauser canyon and zoomed down a dirt road to the descent into said canyon.

It was about 0800 when I reached Hauser creek and stopped for my Second Breakfast. The creek was dry from the current drought California is experiencing. I still had 3 liters of water though from the day before. After some stretching and repacking, I set about to get The Climb over.

Everyone who starts a thru hike of the PCT is warned about the climb out of Hauser canyon. Multiple hikers have been rescued in the week I started alone. I thought getting there early would be a good idea.

Apparently I didn’t get there early enough. The sun blasted down from above with no mercy. There was zero wind to ease the heat and the path was exposed with little shade to offer respite. I’d walk a couple feet, huffing out of breath, and stop. The weight of my pack seemed to pull me backwards into the shade below. I drank half a liter in 10 minutes and looking up saw that the trail wasn’t even a tenth done.

I began to realize how different the actual trail was from what I was used to – the Appalachians. In those mountains the trail usually goes straight up the mountain with zero switch backs and straight down. The grade is extreme and often an actual path is non-exisent. I walk that trail by hitching my pack high up on my back, pulling on my trekking poles, and just busting up the thing until the top. This does not work on the gentle never ending climbs of the PCT. I quickly tired out and realized I had so much longer to go. It is a difference between multiple sprints and a marathon. You get the same place, but you’ll manage your energy differently.

My left hip started hurting really bad and made the climb even more miserable. I had to stop and stretch every 10 minutes. At one point I could have stayed and rested there for a few hours, but the goal was to get to Lake Morena and an actual real Cheeseburger. It meant punching through my mental wall, but also letting my frustration and pain be what it was. This was happening, and I knew I could make it through. I wasn’t expecting to butt up against my mental resisitance so early, but here I was.

Walk, drink, stop/stretch, and repeat until I made to the famed Lake Morena Malt shop. I limped my way up and quickly shucked my pack to go into the air conditioning. It was a real pleaure. Full on a rather large cheeseburger, I meandered over to Lake Morena to lay underneath a tree and nap. I saw some people I’ve been leap frogging around, but stayed to myself for the most part.

After a few hours in the shade and much stretching, I finally packed up and headed out onto trail around 1700. I was only going 3 more miles to a campsite that promised a wonderful sunset, per Guthook (the map app I use). There was a bit of a climb, but my hip seemed to handle it well and before I knew it I was upon my chosen campsite. Another hiker named Luda was already there. He was cowboy camping, which is something I’ve not had the courage to try yet. I like my DCF coocoon of privacy. It gives me a false sense of safety, I think.

LOOK AT THIS CAT!

A sunset was indeed had and I went to sleep early. Something I noticed is that the desert is QUIET. No katydids or crickets, no leaf crunching, no sticks breaking. Nothing but the occassional sounds of planes high up, and wind if it’s there. It’s peaceful, but odd. And it made me realise my tinnitus is really bad. The sound of nothing is deafening.

Day 3 – 11.3 miles (@ mile 34.3)

I actually kind of got hot overnight and had to take off my sleeping fleece. I got going around 0600 with a smile on my face, which is still wild to me considering I used to think getting going early was such a struggle. I winded down through some boulders and saw the lights of cars speeding along a highway in the distance. Once I got down into the valley and near the vegetation it quickly got chilly and I had to put my puffy on. I sped along a dry creek bed with the sun peeking over a mountain range to the east. A fog seemed to hang over the hills as I made my way to Boulder Oaks Campground and some of the cleanest pit toilets I’ve ever seen. I’d spend the night in them!

Crossing under the I-8, started a long ascent into the mountains Cleveland National Forest. The sun was blocked on the side I was walking for the first few hours by the mountain itself. Soon though I curved around into the direct sun and even at 1000 it was blazingly hot. For about two miles it was a climb up with no shade. I could feel the salt crystals forming as my sweat evaporated, almost like I was being salted as they do pork or fish. Eventually I made it to some small trees that offered little succor, but it was a break.

There was promise of trail magic at Cibbets Flats Campground (from the thru hiker grapevine), I just had to make it there. So I stumbled through it, surprising myself when I realized I’d already did the thing and saw the sign. The deal was sweetened by an offer of a free ride back to trail (the campground was 0.8 miles down a steep dirt road).

Snakes, dehydration, exposure, and NOW THIS?!?

I stumbled into the place through fresh smelling campers lazily having fun and found the thru hikers site where cold Gatorade and a turkey sandwich waited! Huzzah! It was a hiker feed hosted by a mother and daughter trail angel team. Shade, cold drinks, and food – I was happy. I also found Luda and the Dutch couple. I met another couple from Texas (a lot of couples on this trail), and the gal was an ICU nurse. The conversation turned morbid and dark as it does when you get nurses talking about their job, but everyone seemed supportive and undestanding. I went to the toilets to put an end to my part in the discussion as I felt the anger trigger trying to turn on. When I got back, they were onto the much lighter fare of digging cat holes in the desert. FYI, it’s like literal kitty litter. I’ve never had such an easy time of digging a poop hole. TMI?

More people started showing up, and it became crowded with people laughing and sharing stories. I started to feel some kind of way, especially when the beer and liquor got passed around.

QUICK SIDE NOTE: I guess this is a good a time as any to note that I am currently practicing sobriety. For many reasons, the strongest being a reaction to the pandemic, I was pickling my liver with the booze and about 6 months ago began to explore the reality of not “drinking my pain away”. I read The Naked Mind by Annie Grace and it seemed to stick that I might be strong enough to do this. After many slip ups and I’m sure many more, I’m now commited to this practice.

So anyways, I don’t really mind being around people who are drinking in small numbers, but in large groups, and all of them strangers? I thought it might be better if I went back to the trail. A lot of the hikers would be sleeping in this campground and I didn’t think it would do me any good to be around them all night. My overwhelmed brain was doing the klaxon noise and I quickly asked to be driven back to the trail head even thought it was still hot AF.

I was only going 1.3 more miles up the trail, through the blistering late afternoon sun. The heat was emanating from the ground and boulders like an oven. Oh and obviously from above too. But once I made it to camp, I knew I made the right decision. A dense thicket of scrub oak provided shade and cooled the area where I’d be sleeping. There was just enough room for my tent and I peeled off my sweaty hiking shirt for a dry one. Yes, I made the right decision, I thought as I lay in my cool tent and watched the sunset turn the canyon muted oranges and pinks. After all it’s hard to practice sobriety if you are drunk.

Day 4 – 7.2 miles (@41.5)

I am stinky. Everything is stinky. I had heard Mount Laguna had a wonderful restuarant run by a french couple that had a breakfast to die for…and also a coin laundry. So I packed up ealier than my PCT usual and got going at 0530 (!!what??) It was cool and breezy up and out of that canyon. The sun eventually peaked it’s fiery head over the eastern horizon, but a the breeze kept most of the heat off.

I was hiking fast for me, but I kept worrying about the other hikers blasting past me. I don’t know why it is a constant nagging thought and had to tell myself to stop letting comparison get the better of me. I’d go at my own pace and get there when I get there. But I think it’s a natural instinct to want to categorize and rank the situations you are in. Judgey Me is a real bitch and really works to ruin my day.

I call this the thru hiker All American Special. I just need my half of the waffle Dad!

Then the Pines started appearing! And I forgot all about Judgey McJudgeFace. TREES! PINE TREES! I didn’t realize how much I would miss their presense. Soon I was crunching along a path of old pine needles and feeling refreshed. My step quickened the closer I got to Mount Laguna and before I knew it I was sitting down to a cheesey and bacon-y omelette with tangy sourdough toast.

I managed to get a place in the PCT crash pad which was basically a tiny room where you slept on the floor. It was $25 and had access to a shower and kitchen. Also, there was one futon in the room and since I was there first, I claimed it as my domain for the day. I showered, I laundered, and I lounged. I met a German gal and we spent the afternoon doing the compare my country with yours thing. We went back to the Pine Cafe and had Four Cheese Ravioli (so good!)

Came back to the “room” and tried to fall asleep. The futon was comfortable enough, but I was so itchy. (Weird Laundry detergent?) I evenutally took two Benadryls and fell alseep. A storm was coming on Monday that everyone was going to stay in town for, but I didn’t want to waste a day waiting around and spending money. My point: I wanted to get to sleep early and I don’t usually medicate myself for that, but I really needed some sleep.

Day 5 – 14.5 miles (@ mile 56)

WHAT. AN. EPIC. DAY!

I woke later than I planned, but still early. The people there were going to stay in Mount Laguna to wait out the storm in two days, so they were still sleeping. I realized I lost my green yogurt spoon, but luckily enough found a random plastic spoon in the hiker box. I packed quietly and stepped out into a sleepy morning.

Back on trail, the dreamy quality of the light continued as the sun rose slowly over the mountains gradually waking everything up. I was on a ridgeline overlooking a wide vista and saw the sharp gradiation from cool blues to warmer tones. I was still in the pines and it felt a little like walking in woods at home. I saw a huge golf ball thingy that the USAF owns. It became a referernce point to how far I’ve gone through out the day.

Eventually the trees thinned out and I was walking along a mountain top in the full on wind with views out for miles! The subtle color hues of the desert on full display, with the warm ochers, and suprising greens and blues. The views went on for miles, with no trees obstructing the distance. You could see where the path was going to in the distance (a rare thing on the AT). Even though the sun was on full blast, the wind actually made it cold and I had to keep reminding myself to drink water.

I made to Pioneer Mail Picnic Area for lunch and met some folks who had an Airbnb available in Julian and offered me some space during the storm. How synchronistic! I’d been thinking I should figure this whole rain thing out. Originally I’d been telling people I’d just walk though it, after all if you didn’t walk in the rain on the AT you’d never get anywhere. But some of the more expreinced West Coasters were warning me of the high winds and lack of cover being more of the problem and that perhaps I’d want to wait it out. The problem being that everything in Julian (the next town up) was booked or prohibitively expensive. So it was with great surprise and gratitude that I accetped Chris & Bethany’s offer to take one of the rooms. They’d booked a huge Airbnb themselves and were looking for hikers to share it with. On trail it isn’t a weird thing to be comfortable finding total strangers to share a space with.

They were going to hike on though and try to hitch in Julian, but I wanted to spend one more night out on the trail. I found a secluded spot at the top of Oriflamme Canyon that was only another 3.4 miles. There was a huge boulder and brush to block most of the winds. I decided tonight was the night I’d try cowboy camping for the first time. Why? With rain coming? I honestly don’t know.

This is a water source.

I watched the stars come out after the sunset, which was fun. I had forgotten how they just kind of appear all of sudden as the light dims. There were the obnoxiously bright lights of the airplanes going to San Diego every 10 minutes. At first I didn’t know what they were, and the seemed hover on the horizon in a weird way (ALIENS?!?!) until they got closer and you could see it was in fact an airplane (not aliens). The night stayed clear and surprisingly warm and I think I fell asleep around the 8th airplane, kinda like counting sheep.

Day 6 – 4 miles to Sunrise Trailhead (@ mile 59 5)

Welp, boulders and shrubs can only do so much. Around 0430 in the morning, the wind kicked up and I could see in the ambient night light that clouds were blowing in. I decided there was no reason to keep sleeping, so I gathered my things in a hurry, brushed my teeth and set off.

The wind bullied me up and down that canyon. OHHHHHH I thought, this is why no one wants to be out here in a storm! There were small corners of the trail that were sheltered and I managed to eat a bar while watching the sun rise through the clouds over Salton Sea in the distance.

I got to the Sunrise Trailhead on the highway and sat in the pit toilet to warm my fingers up. There was no traffic at this time of morning anyway, so wasn’t going to stand out in the cold wind with no hope of a hitch. Eventually though I went out to wait and see, and then another group of hikers showed up and we all commiserated on our pitiful state. In a stroke of serendipity, a man in a camper van rolled up and we crammed everybody and all our things in there. And so we went to Julian.

Everyone in the van wanted to go to the coffee shop once we reached town, but I hunted heartier fare, so I stopped at the Julian Cafe for a Corned Beef Hash Omelette. I sat by myself as I do, but oddly enough the driver also showed up and I shared my booth with him. He said his daughter was doing the trail and he was just bumming along, camping in his van in the desert as a sort of support in case she needed it. (ah-hem…Dad?)

We parted ways and I went walking through the ridiculously cute town main street. I went to the general store and picked up some snacks because I didn’t pack enough food (I thought I’d be going faster than I am). The proprietor of one establishment ran out and bade me to come inside for free hot cider and a snack pack of chocolate covered bananas. Don’t have to tell me twice, as it was already getting blustery and cold. The cider was topped with whipped cream and cinnamon, and I sipped it in front of their fire place. What a life.

Julian is known for its apples and the fact that you get a free slice of pie at Mom’s Pie Shop if you show your permit. I think there is a bit of pie rivalry going on, because I read in the Julian Cafe’s menu blurb, that they were voted best pie in San Diego. Fascinated by the town’s pie history I went from store to store, and eventually bumped in to Bethany and Chris in the Olde Goat buying lotion. More serendipity! They walked me to the house we were staying in and I took a shower in the oldest tub in Julian. (It was the first house to get plumbing). After a short nap, we all went to the brewery and I had a wonderful pork sandwich, but apparently the pizza is where it’s at. It was pouring rain and I am definitely glad I made the decision to come into Julian and take zero tomorrow. And that I randomly met Chris, Bethany, and Austin (the other “roommate”) at that picnic area. It’s funny how things work out on the trail. Like magic.

Prologue: The Pacific Crest Trail

Yep. I’m doing it again. Thru hiking.

This time I’m going out west to the Pacific Crest trail (PCT). Why? Author and Hiker Sarah Wilson puts it best:

“It seems to have put its hand up for the job of being my teacher in this lifetime. And vigilant student that I am, I keep going back to have the raw, honest, story-steeped land pummel me with its teachings.”

If you didn’t know, the PCT stretches 2,650 arduous miles from the border of Mexico in California to the border of Canada in Washington. A northbound hiker will test their grit through the desert, the treacherous Sierras, the varied landscapes of Oregon, and the hopefully snow free Cascade mountain range. Water is more of a concern in the beginning, and then snow becomes the ever present threat when you reach the Sierras.

This trail will be different from the Appalachians in many ways. Obviously it is further away from my home of Georgia. I will truly be out there on my own. There will less chance of getting help from people I know. There fewer towns and I hear the trail has less of a social atmosphere than the AT…which I’m not mad about.

Below is a map.

I’ve been spending the past three years fine tuning and whittling down my gear. I’ve come to the conclusion, I desire comfort over being lightweight. And yet, there are still many things I’ve done away with. I wonder what the PCT will teach me.

I can never make a cool looking gear picture, but more importantly all that stuff fits into my pack.

https://lighterpack.com/r/rintq0 <——My pack list

I chose not to bring my big ass camera, and to instead go with my phone and the Osmo for video purposes. I still haven’t even put together a video from my last trip. It gets kind of overwhelming. But I’m going to need something to do in 6 months while I recuperate from this crazy adventure I’m about to embark on.

You can follow along here on this blog. I’ll update it as I can. Also I’ll post on Instagram @a.worthwhile.adventure

That’s about all I’ve got for right now.