Idyllwild to I-10: PCT Days 12-14
Day 12. Miles: .6 (PCT) + 2.5 (Devil’s Slide) Total trail miles: 180.0
Even though my alarm is off and the curtains are closed, I wake up with the sun. When I remind my body there’s no reason to get up early, I go back to sleep for another hour, then continue to lie around, compiling journal entries into a blog post.
Around 8:30, there’s a knock on my door. The Bunkhouse employees have left a basket on the doorknob. Inside, I find juice, an apple, and a homemade scone. I make coffee and eat breakfast in bed.
Just before 11 a.m., I check out and walk down the road to the laundromat, post office, and grocery store. At the end of my errands, I run into Lana and Wild Card. I intended to get back on trail in the early afternoon, but instead, I go back to their place to eat snacks and drink more coffee. At 4 p.m., we go to the center of town to see Mayor Max (again), and to my delight, Max’s owner offers me a ride back to the trail.
It’s only 2.5 miles back up Devil’s Slide, and it is honestly a nicely graded trail. Nonetheless, with my pack heavy with food, it feels farther. When I reach Saddle Junction, I realize camping is not permitted in that immediate area, so I hike northbound until I find a quiet campsite to the right of the trail. I spend peaceful evening alone and go to bed early.
Day 13. Miles: 13.6 Total miles: 193.6
This morning, I go to charge my phone and realize that my brand new battery brick is, for some reason, already mostly dead. I picked it up from the Post Office, charged it overnight in Idyllwild, and it provided less than one full charge for my phone. Annoyed, I sit near the top of San Jacinto and do my last few online tasks, knowing the phone won’t survive until Big Bear.
My ankle is hurting, and between that and the faulty new battery, I feel grumpy all day. I take another long break at the beautiful cascading creek, but the rest and cold water don’t alleviate the pain.
Thru-hiking is tough on the body. Some pain is inevitable, but today, instead of the usual aches that drift from joint to joint with changes in the terrain, my ankle only gets worse, even as I attempt to compensate, leaning heavily on my trekking poles.
By evening, I’m four miles short of my target campsite and in a grim mood. I imagine having to call my boss at REI and beg for my job back less than 10% into my journey. I imagine having to tell family and friends, having to write in this blog, that I am quitting because I made the most obvious, preventable mistake: going out too fast, too soon.
I make camp. It’s windy, but there are plenty of rocks to hold my stakes in place. I massage my ankle– it feels stiff and swollen. I go to sleep with headphones in, hoping audiobooks will distract me from the worry taking hold in the pit of my stomach.
Day 14. Miles: 18.0 Total miles: 211.6
I need to make a decision today. If my ankle is okay, I can continue on past the highway as planned. If my ankle is a little injured, I need to hitch into Cabazon to buy more food so that I can make it to Big Bear on a slower schedule. If my ankle is truly injured, I need to hitch to the nearest Urgent Care to find out what’s wrong and what it means for my hike.
I am up and moving early in the morning, and the views descending from San Jacinto are beautiful. My ankle is still sore, but much better than yesterday. If I place my foot carefully, on ground that is flat laterally (sloping up and down is fine, it’s ground that slopes sideways that causes problems), I can hike without pain.
As I pick my way cautiously down the trail, I am passed by Jackrabbit and then Wild Card and Woo. They all zeroed in Idyllwild, so they climbed up from Devil’s Slide yesterday and have already overtaken me. I feel discouraged, but as I keep hiking and my ankle still feels okay, my mood improves. It’s early when I pass 200 miles, but I pull out the beer I’ve been packing and sip it as I look down into the desert of the Morongo Valley.
Lana catches up here, and we chat for a while as the temperature increases. At the bottom of the mountain, there’s a water tap by the road and a large boulder casting a tiny bit of shade. Hikers are huddled in the shadow. I fill my bottles just as a truck pulls up, and a man offers us a cooler of ice water, some cracker jack, and clementines. We thank him profusely. Simple ice water is the best possible treat.
Lana, Luca, and I devise a plan to hitch into Cabazon to the In&Out for milkshakes and to wait out the overpowering heat. It’s only 4 miles. It’s noon now. By 2pm we’ll be in sweet, sweet air conditioning eating milkshakes.
The trail is flat, but it is deep sand, and the wind is blowing 30mph, directly toward us. We hike and hike, but I-10 doesn’t seem to get closer. I imagine we’ve been cursed to wander the desert, in sight of milkshakes but never reaching them. With every step, I feel like my foot sinks instead of propelling me forward. When the wind gusts stronger, we have to stop and shield our faces with both arms. It’s the longest four miles of the trail so far.
When we cross into the sudden shade and stillness of the underpass, I blink at Lana and Luca. “I feel like we just fought a battle in Mad Max or something.”
We don’t have to wait long before a trail angel arrives with hikers in his truck bed, freshly returned from In&Out. He chats for a few minutes with the new arrivals, and then we pile in.
At In&Out, I’m able to charge my phone and eat an enormous meal. Jackrabbit is there too, and we all sit outside in the shade to avoid inflicting our smell on the other patrons. As challenging as the windy desert hiking has been, my mood is bolstered by friends, food, and the fact that my ankle is feeling mostly okay today. Thanks to the fast food, I should have enough lunches that even if it takes me an extra half day to Big Bear, I should be okay.
Back at the trail, we meet other hikers, one from the UK and another from New Brunswick, where my trail family from the AT was from. They join our little desert adventuring crew and we hike another two miles to a quiet wash in the desert. Luca hosts a “dinner party” outside his tent, and we sit in a circle on the ground, with snowcapped San Jacinto in the background.
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