Pacific Crest Trail: Week Two – Hot & Heavy

Week two was just as awesome as week one, but with fewer aches and pains.

The first week we walked an average of 6 miles a day, intentionally starting slow to let our bodies adjust. On day 3 and 4 my feet, calves and whole body were very soar and I was exhausted. We got passed by lots of hikers in the beginning, but 6ish miles was all I could reasonably take the first 4 days. On day 5 my body was still tired and soar, but I knew it was over the hump.

I still have some grumpy body parts. There is an old marathon injury in my foot, and it was screaming the first few days on trail. Knowing this was an issue I went to physical therapy before the hike. I’m glad I did because if I hadn’t my foot would have revolted, now it’s manageable.

Julian, CA

Week two we averaged 7.3 miles per day, including a zero day. My body gets tired, but it’s a “normal tired” considering the miles. I wake up mostly recovered, with just a few kinks to work out each morning (getting older). I could complain about more body parts, but why bother, we all have our challenges. I’ll just keep an eye on the hot spots, so they don’t derail the trip.

Starting slow feels a little annoying at times. I much prefer to pass people, but in reality I was pretty spent at the end of each day. It’s humbling, there are some real athletes on the trail.

Johanna on trail

Starting slow is a good strategy unless you arrive in excellent hiking shape. We’ve already learned of multiple people who had to leave the trail or take several zero days due to injury. The stat that’s been floating around the trail is that about a quarter of hikers leave the trail in the first 100 miles and one third of people leave by mile 300. I was surprised to learn this; there is so much prep and planning that goes into hiking the PCT (gear, nutrition, training, visas for international hikers, flights and logistics) and I’d be so crushed if I had to leave early. Everyone has their own journey, and there are several reasons to leave: injury, family emergency, boredom, finances, etc.

Before the trip I wasn’t particularly excited to hike in the dessert, but the dessert has continued to amaze me.

This week we saw totally new ecosystems and landscapes. We hiked around a very large and barren mountain basin near Flathead Flats, CA. It was so rugged and otherworldly, it felt like I was on a planet in outer space. We continued on to a valley near Julian, CA and for the first time saw century plants and new variety of cacti, many in bloom. It was stunning.

Near Flathead Flats, CA
Valley near Julian, CA
Valley near Julian, CA

While the dessert is beautiful, it can also be punishing. There are few water sources, which means we are carrying up to 4 liters of water (1 gallon) making the packs much heavier. This also means we are dirtier and smellier because bathing and washing clothes is not an option with limited water. Many hikers have white salt rings on their shirts where their sweat has evaporated over the consecutive days. No sweat rings for us yet, thank goodness. (I had to eat my words, on day 19 I had salt rings, dang it!)

The dessert sun is INTENSE and it gets uncomfortable to hike between 11am-3pm.

Most hikers are covered head to toe with a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, sun gloves and a sun hat. (I’ve seen gnarly sun burns on uncovered skin, ouch!) It’s the only reasonable way to protect yourself from the sun, but it’s also very hot being covered head to toe. The noon sun is oppressively hot, and there is no shade on most of the trail. The heat beats down from the sun, and radiates up from the ground. To stay cool I wet my gloves and also tie a wet bandana around my neck. If we stop at a water source I wet my shirt and hat too. Some people hike with a sun umbrella, and others hike at night to avoid the heat. Everyone needs a cooling strategy or two.

Taking a mid-day break from the heat. Jojo is typing on a mini keyboard.

Speaking of cooling strategies, it was a full moon so we decided to try some night hiking. We set the alarm for 4am, broke camp quickly and hit the trail. Funny enough, as we left camp we got passed by Arthur, a hiker from Taiwan. We weren’t the only ones getting an early start.

Night hiking was fun because it was novel, but I found my depth perception wasn’t nearly as good, even with the headlamp. But I really enjoyed seeing the sky slowly illuminate before sunrise and seeing the mountain horizon fill with color. The birds came alive and then the sun peaked out rising above the mountains.

Sky just before sunrise.

As the heat increased, and we had to go longer distances between water sources this became taxing, especially for Mom. We tried taking some weight off, but just couldn’t relieve enough between the extra water weight, elevation, and unrelenting heat. When gearing up for another 15 miles without water, I was concerned. If Mom couldn’t make the hike we’d be miles from help, and if we couldn’t hike at a reasonable pace we’d run out of water. As luck would have it we ran into a group of young women finishing a day hike and they had room in their car to take Mom to town, so Mom hitched a ride to Julian, and Jojo and I hiked on.

Water cache was the only water for about 15 miles. This is what trail angels do…thank you!

We met Mom in Julian the next day. Our first stop was Mom’s Pie Shop where all PCT hikers get a free slice of pie, ice cream and a drink. I had strawberry rhubarb, with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream and a coffee. Completely free! We figured Mom’s must give away at least $30k of pie to PCT hikers annually. We left a nice tip, and went back twice more and purchased pie. I’m sure we could have gotten it for free, but that didn’t feel right and we wanted to support this business after they were so kind and generous to us. Plus, who could resist a second and third slice of pie? Maybe we should have kept going back until we tried all 10 flavors. You’d have to roll me from Julian back to the trail.

We took a zero mile day in Julian, did laundry, and enjoyed a hot shower. We also strategized with Mom on how to keep her on trail. We brainstormed as a group and decided a camper van would be the best option; she could do shorter days hikes and still meet up with us in the evenings. We arranged for a week long rental, and then jumped back onto the trail.

Ruby the camper van

As we hiked out of Julian there were 30+ mile an hour winds. It was so windy that it blew me off balance several times. Can’t help but laugh and giggle. It was so fun!

Rainbow when hiking out of Julian, CA

So far, this has been a great experience.

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is special for a number of reasons. First, it’s an epic hike, beginning at the Mexican boarder and continuing 2,650 miles through California, Oregon, Washington, terminating at the Canadian boarder. There are 50 permits issued a day, so that’s roughly how many people begin on any given day. The PCT draws hikers from all over the globe. So far I’ve met people from Germany, Taiwan, UK, Canada, Mexico, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand and many more. Everyone is here with a similar dream, and it makes for instant camaraderie on the trail. It’s is so much more than the hikers though, the trail is supported by the small towns it passes near, and by many amazing and generous people, known as trail angels. Trail angels shuttle hikers from the trail to town, hand out drinks and snacks, and support in countless other ways. There is even a Physical Therapy van that will drive to meet hikers. The PCT is a caring, dedicated and enthusiastic community.

Rattlesnake that refused to leave the trail. We walked around.

My favorite trail angel experience so far…

It was a hot day, and we were pushing hard when we came upon a trailhead parking area. Somebody yelled, “trail magic” to catch our attention and waived us over. These lovely folks set up 3 folding tables with a full spread: watermelon, drinks, hotdogs, chips, veggie trays, candy, charging stations, root beer floats, and comfy camp chairs. It was amazing. Mom, Jojo and I stayed about an hour, having lots of yummy food and good conversation. The chairs were the best luxury. I’m usually sitting on a rock or bare ground, so the camp chair felt so soft and comfy. How do I take this for granted in my normal life? Hiking makes you appreciate the little things.

When we hugged the trail angels fair well (I can’t believe they were willing to hug us smelly hikers) we hiked back up to the parking area as two more people pulled up on a motorcycle. They jumped off, opened the bike’s storage to pull out fresh squeezed lemonade that they made from their lemon trees. It tasted amazing! Then they filled out hands with oranges from their trees. When our stomaches were close to bursting, we thanked them and headed back to the trail. We didn’t get 20 feet before a van rolled up offering beer, but we couldn’t possibly eat or drink another thing. We hiked on feeling so full of love and the kindness.

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Comments 4

  • jhony : May 7th

    Great write up! Totally 100% enjoyed. Well, you are not really in the desert yet, you are in chaparral with all the shrubs when you get to the Mojave, then there is desert, desert annual rainfall cannot support all those shrubs.
    One suggestion please? For better depth perception, try a small hand held light, or even holding your headlamp by hand. Must better definition of the shadows and thus better depth perception; you can see objects such as rocks and roots w/ better 3-D effect.
    Thanks for letting us follow along.

    • Audrey : May 10th

      Hi, thanks for the suggestion. All the photos are taken on the fly with my phone and/or selfie stick. Lots in harsh midday light. I’ll give your suggestion a try, I’d love better images with more depth.

  • Bob : May 7th

    I just started reading your blog.
    How wonderful to be hiking with your Mom. She is very lucky, as are you.
    I’m 76, and sadly don’t see me on the PCT. But i get to live it thru you and the other bloggers. Believe me, you are doing a great service for me and I’ll bet many others.
    I thank you.
    And Mom, kudos to you. It’s wonderful what you’re doing; and what your daughters are doing for you in sharing their and your adventures.

    • Audrey : May 10th

      Bob, thanks for the encouragement. We are thoroughly enjoying the journey…all the parts, even the soar feet and hot chocolate breaks. 🙂


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