Idyllwild to Big Bear on the PCT (Mile 178 to 266)

Starting on the PCT, I imagined I’d have many hours for thoughtful self reflection and meditation. But truthfully, the days are somewhat packed with sorting out logistics. Even adhering fairly closely to our plan, I’m often spending hours a day sorting out details like when post offices will be open, how to ship replacement gear to meet me on the trail, where to buy snacks and how many I’ll need per leg, and which campsites will have enough wind protection. Evenings are spent scanning comments from other hikers on FarOut and reading the trail guide, checking the weather, and writing a few notes in my journal.

Coming out of Idyllwild, we separated from our trail family, including Lupine who was with us since Hauser Creek. It was sad even if it felt a little inevitable: the San Gorgonio pass is nearly 9,000 feet of solid downhill, one of the worst descents – maybe even the worst descent – of the trail, and I wanted to take it slow. We basically broke it into 3 days: a day to get back up on the trail and cover about 2,000 feet of the descent, then 2 days to get to the scorching valley floor. This meant short days for us, and all our friends moved ahead.

I think it’s easy to underestimate downhills. They are like candy—tastes great, but too much makes you sick. Downhills feel easy and move quickly, but it’s deceptive. Descents are hard on the tendons and joints, create greater impact on the body, and are when I’m most prone to roll an ankle. So we take downhills with caution.

Connecting with new friends felt like work. Even though pretty much everyone on the PCT is kind and friendly, it can be hard to always be social.

As has been the theme of our trip, we were mostly lucky with the weather. Though it was uncomfortably hot as we came down San Gorgonio pass to the long valley walk, it was bearable. And we were at the highway by 11 am and being spirited away by an Uber to spend an afternoon in Palm Springs drinking milkshakes and looking very silly in our sun-protective clothing in swanky downtown Palm Springs.

The climb up out of Palm Springs was painful. We started at 6:15 AM but it was excessively hot by 9 AM. We reached the Whitewater Preserve by 11AM, a cute, shady park with drinking water, picnic tables, and wading pools where we soaked our hot feet. We stretched out on picnic table benches and didn’t move until 3:30 PM, and even then it was too hot.

But the days after that were cooler, and we moved to higher elevations. Our lives are very controlled by the weather now; it determines when and how we wake and sleep.

The trail through Mission Creek is a mismash that crosses the creek more than a dozen times and is often washed out. It is not helped by the many hikers who build rock cairns, even when they aren’t on the trail at all. We wove through the sandy, weedy creek bed and kept our eyes peeled for poison oak.

Not long after we set up camp on Mission Creek, we are joined by our friend Lupine, who arrived looking exhausted moments after we set up camp. We had a delighted if brief reunion before sliding into our tents to sleep.

This is the part of the trail I hadn’t wrapped my head around before starting and am still only starting to grasp: we part from people unsure if we’ll see them again and then find them magically reappearing days or weeks later. So I’m trying to worry less about disconnecting with folks and assume we’ll all cross paths again in the future.

We arrived trail-worn to Big Bear and very ready for a day to recover. It was hard for us to navigate the town without a car, especially when we ended up staying far from the main shopping area. I was thankful we were able to get pizza and Himalayan food delivered, and we only took the bus into town once.

We reconnected with Gadget, Purple Joy and the girls (Heather, Martha and Rebecca) at a Mexican restaurant in Big Bear. Sadly, Lupine left again- I got a text from her as we were heading into Big Bear that she needed to go off trail for a bit, and she never met us in Big Bear.

At Big Bear, we celebrated 10% of the trail completed. It felt momentous and intimidating. While the first 26 days of the trail were mostly gentle, the coming 5 months will be much less so. After Big Bear, our mileage increases till we hit a steady drumbeat of 20 mile days, only dropping a bit in the Sierra. I’ve seen so many people drop out already with injuries and I’m worried about whether my body will be able to handle it.

But whatever happens, I’m grateful for this weird and wild journey.

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