Days 6-12 on the PCT: Julian to Idyllwild
The second week on the trail brought new terrains, new views, new people, new experiences, and new things learned. After spending the night in Julian, we were well-rested, well-fed, and clean(er). We hitched a ride from Professor (aptly named for his knowledge on the trail) and hit the trail by 11 am. We found our friend Jacko and hiked all day, winding around an exposed, desert mountainside with views of cacti-spotted mountains for as long as the eye can see. We talked with Jacko, or more so Jacko talked to us, about anything and everything: from family to religion to funny stories. It’s crazy how fast you can make connections with people out here.
The next day brought vastly different views. The descent off the mountain spilled into wide open meadowlands scattered with wildflowers. I may or may not have run and twirled around listening to Wide Open Spaces by the Chicks. We also passed by the famous Eagle Rock. I simply had to stop and take a picture to pay tribute to my alma mater, War Eagle!
We stopped at a crossroads and hitched a ride to Warner Springs gas station for a hot dog and cold beer for lunch. It was there we met our good friends Joker (’cause he thinks he’s funny) and Moon Man (’cause he hikes at night and is a nerd when it comes to moon knowledge). We continued hiking and ended up doing our first 21-mile day (I owe all credit to the hot dog and beer).
The next day brought us more elevation gains as we headed up the mountains. Just when you think you’re at the top of a mountain, you turn a corner and see another, higher peak and end up climbing that one too – and when you’re at the top of a peak and there’s nowhere to go but down, the trail seems to make circles around the peak like it’s playing games with you.
As the ascension continued, the clouds started rolling over and the winds started picking up. It started to look like we were in for a cold, windy, sleepless night. Luckily, we were able to make it to Mike’s Place, a hangout spot for hikers with beer and a warm dinner. Spirit is the caretaker for the place and loves to help out hikers simply out of the kindness of his heart, a true trail angel. We ended up camping there that night with a group of hikers to stay protected from the wind.
The next morning was dreamy. The clouds opened up and we hiked above the clouds for a couple of hours. However, the next day and a half of hiking was bittersweet. As the amazing views of mountains and deserts continued on, I could not stop thinking about how my friend, Karen, was about to leave. My comfort zone was about to break. Feelings of nervousness and anxiousness started to set in. Can I do this by myself? Yes. I can do this.
We made our way to Paradise Valley Cafe, Karen’s northern terminus if you will. We celebrated with omelets and mimosas and hung out with our friends. From there, a trail angel named Grumpy gave us a ride into Idyllwild, a picturesque mountain town straight out of a cartoon book where we continued to gorge ourselves with pizza and beer, walked around the idyllic town, and met new thru-hikers.
The next morning was hard. We tried to slow down time by drinking our coffee slowly and packing up slowly. Inevitably, Karen’s ride came to pick her up and take her to the Palm Springs airport. We hugged bye and just like that, I was alone.
My other hiking buddies were all injured or blistered in some way so they wanted to take the day off. I felt good and rested and wanted to hike the 28 mile stretch between Paradise Valley and a trailhead closer to Idyllwild as fast as I could to beat the snowstorm. And so I did.
San Jacinto mountains brought steep inclines, winds so hard it could knock you off the mountain, snowy patches, blown over trees, and rock slides. With over 11,500 ft of elevation change, my legs were tired but my heart was full. I had many emotions during my first solo hiking on the PCT. I was scared, joyful, exhilarated, etc. I made it off the mountain and a trail angel offered to let me and another hiker hunker down at his house during the snowstorm. I’m back in Idyllwild for now, making new friends, meeting up with old ones, and waiting to see where the next section of the trail takes me!
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