Campo to Idyllwild: Days One to 12

We have not been out here quite two weeks, and we have not hiked even 200 miles, but the PCT has already dealt its share of ups and downs. 

First-day smiles.

The PCT is a funny trail. After the first 100 miles, it will have you pretty well convinced that the only challenge you will experience on it is water, and that in a wet year like this you really won’t have to even worry much about that. All day, every day during your first five days to a week on the PCT you walk through a gentle dreamscape. The sun is always shining. A breeze is always blowing. Flowers are always blooming. It never feels like you are really ever going up or down. Sometimes you just happen to snap out of your reverie and notice that you’re about 1,200 feet higher than you were the last time you bothered to check. 

Just another day of dreamy Southern California scenery.

Yes, the first 100 miles seem far too good to be true. You spend almost the whole time thinking the PCT can’t possibly be this easy, and then just when you’re ready to let yourself believe it, the magic carpet you rode all the way to Warner Springs is rudely snatched from beneath your feet. 

Now I wasn’t foolish enough when I started this hike to let myself believe that my feet weren’t going to hurt, but I was feeling so good and so strong the morning we passed the 100-mile marker someone had fashioned out of rocks that I felt like nothing could stop me.  Like I was going to just cruise all the way to Canada as easily as if I were riding a motorized cloud. And then all of a sudden, right around mile 103, right after I finished wishing my mom happy birthday and right after passing my first angry rattlesnake of the trail, my feet started screaming. 

Not a rattlesnake but it still scared the crap out of me.

Whatever tendon it is that runs along the arch of the foot and connects ankle to heel seemed to wake with a start and decide that it Did. Not. Like. This. One. Bit. “WTF we’re really doing THIS again??!!!??” my feet started shouting. For a while it was fairly easy to ignore them. The trail that day was pretty flat and cut through large fields that, thanks to this year’s rain, were teeming with bright Mexican gold poppies and purple wild grasses that blew in gentle waves in the breeze. But by the time we reached about our 17th mile, and still had five to go, not even the beauty of our surroundings was a sufficient distraction. 

Mexican gold poppies.

I hobbled into Warner Springs feeling somewhat despondent on account of the pain. At the same time Dan, who swears he never ever gets blisters on his feet, noticed that throughout the course of the day, he had developed some very large, pernicious blisters all over them. When we finally walked into camp, they were so bad that his eyes watered as he took off his shoes. 

View heading back to the trail from Warner Springs.

We spent the next few days playing a frustrating game of trying to take it easy and then trying to push ourselves enough that we could just get to town. One day we only hiked three miles, and then spent the whole day sleeping under an oak tree with our shoes off waiting for night to fall. The next day we left camp at 2:30 a.m. to avoid swelling our feet during the heat of the day, but forced ourselves to hike 23 miles and wound up slogging our way down a seven-mile descent at high noon in still, 85+ degree air with nary a speck of shade in sight anyway. The day after, with only 15 miles left to the nearest road crossing, we again woke at 2:30, and night hiked in the cool air, desperate to reach the Paradise Valley Cafe and hitch to Idyllwild to sort out our foot issues ASAP. 

Baywatch looking thrilled.

It was a beautiful morning with a bright pink and orange sunrise, a rosy alpenglow on dramatic and peaks and precipitous cliffs that tumbled down into a lush valley. White, purple, and yellow flowers bloomed all around, but at that point all I could think about was getting off my feet. For the first time so far in the trip, my optimism was about to tap out. 

If you’ve gotta walk on sore feet, it might as well be with a view like this.

But right when things started to get really tough, right when the sun was just starting to get really hot, a man called up to us from the bottom of the hill we were descending and asked if we needed a ride to the Paradise Valley Cafe. It was like one of those moments when you’re just about to fall asleep standing up or break down in tears at work and then your boss unexpectedly tells you that you get to go home early. Our spirits did a 180 in less time than it took us to shout back an exuberant “yes!!!” and limp as quickly as possible down what remained of the hill. 

It really did feel like we had made it to Paradise.

The trail angel’s name was Ferris, and he and his wife, 5 star, handed us cold beers and ushered us and two other hikers into their SUV and drove us the last mile to Paradise. As suddenly as they had begun, all our troubles seemed to evaporate. We ate breakfast and hitched a ride into Idyllwild, where we decided to spend two nights so that we could take a full zero and figure out our foot problems. 

That is where I write this from now. This quirky mountain town is full of hippie entrepreneurs who run vintage stores and beef jerky and ice cream shops, where the democratically elected mayor is a golden retriever named Max. Dan bought some thinner socks here, and I bought insoles for my shoes. Once again we are feeling good and ready for the trail ahead. 

Will be back at this level of stoke in no time.

And I guess that’s how thru-hikes work. The trail giveth, the trail taketh away, and just before it taketh more than you can handle, the trail (hopefully) giveth again. If I feel certain of anything at this point, it is this: Southern California after a healthy dose of rain might very well be the most beautiful place on Earth; and it is going to be one hell of a summer. 

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Comments 3

  • George & Paula Prive : May 1st

    Awesome. I wish I were there. Looking forward to some hiking very soon.

  • William Sneed : May 3rd

    Amazing, I’ve dreamed of hiking the PCT from start to finish since I was a kid, but life has not l aloud me to. But thanks too you I am good luck an have fun


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