PCT Thru-Hike, Julian to Warner Springs (Days 7-10): A Solo Journey
Once again restless to leave the civilized constraints of Julian and impatient to move past my Southern California backyard, I continued my thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Little did I know when I left Julian that I would be tackling the next 110 miles on my own, without the company of my hiking partner.
Day 7: Mile 58.5 to Mile 73.1 (14.6 miles)
The trail town Julian was still shrouded with stormy skies as I groggily woke up at 7:30 am after my Nero day. My hiking partner, Gina, worried about the feverish symptoms she experienced the day before and made the decision to return home to recuperate rather than risk making the infection more severe. It was difficult to leave Gina. There’s something so incredibly special about having a familiar face, a piece of home, with you on the trail. And there’s something so incredibly intimidating about my thru-hike becoming a solo endeavor, even just temporarily. As I stood at mile 58.5 with fellow thru-hikers Justin, Kylie, and Rens, we received a notification that Gina had tested positive for COVID-19.
Justin and I pushed down into the Anza-Borrego desert, circumnavigating Granite Mountain together. For a moment during the day, I walked completely alone. Despite it only being 30 minutes of solitude, I missed the consistent company that Gina provided. It wasn’t loneliness that I felt, but instead a revelation that I yearned for the community that the Pacific Crest Trail famously delivers.
I rejoined a group of hikers at mile 68.4, where a fellow thru-hiker was amazing by the minuscule size of my backpack. He wanted to see all that I carried, so I unpacked it. To everyone’s surprise but my own, 75% of my backpack was food. A girl’s gotta eat!
Day 8: Mile 73.1 to Mile 86.6 (13.5 miles)
After eight days on trail, I finally had a good night’s rest. Releasing the valve on my Therm-a-rest was no longer a relief, but instead a momentary misfortune. Earlier on trail, Gina and I had placed bets for when we’d see our first rattlesnake. I placed mine at 76.3, while she bet the first danger noodle wouldn’t appear until mile 103. As it turns out, my 76.3 guess could not have been more perfect. After several days of stormy weather, the desert floor was finally baking under clear blue skies, and the open terrain aided with my snake search.
Despite it only being 67 degrees, the journey after Scissors Crossing (Highway 79, mile 77.1) felt brutally hot. Justin and I slowly slugged up the cactus-crusted hills, finally finding a shady nook to eat our lunch. The arid climate was not powerful enough to hinder my appetite, but at this point, I’m not sure anything is. As we left our lunch den, I picked up my trekking poles only to find dozens of cactus needles stuck to the foam handles, now stuck to the pads of my fingers. I stood for 30 minutes trying to tweeze every last needle from my hands, but the stupid little pricks stayed with me for days to come. So many stupid things that I’ve done that could lead to a trail name and somehow I’m still Rachel!
At mile 86.6, Justin and I settled into camp for the night in a dry river bed, next to what I convinced Justin was a capybara den. We walked around like idiots holding our phones up trying to figure out what campsite would provide the best phone coverage. We might pitch our tent in the windiest, most slanted terrain, but you bet your ass our campsites will have five bars of 5G LTE.
Day 9: Mile 86.6 to Mile 101.3 (14.7 miles)
Nothing better than waking up after a deep slumber to your food bag delivered right to your door. The previous night Justin and I had hung our food fearing the huge steroid-jacked rat that dug the capybara hole at our campsite. It was either Justin or the rat who returned my food to me, but I took a guess and thanked Justin for the breakfast in bed.
The last 27 miles felt like a time warp; Justin and I unintentionally made our way into the group of thru-hikers that started a day before us, and we hadn’t seen a familiar face in days. However, as we hoisted our packs onto our backs at 8:30 am, the missing members of our tramily, Aaron from Australia and Greg from Seattle, came strolling into our camp. We continued forward like a pack once again, Justin sputtering about how beautiful the valley below was—the man is Bob Ross when he drinks caffeine.
Together our tramily trekked towards mile 100. We were so consumed in conversation that we didn’t stop once the entire day, except to commemorate hitting triple digits. By mile 101 my feet felt a strain with every step, but that’s what happens when you speed run 14 miles without even thinking about stopping. The tramily got a ride to the Montezuma Valley Market and devoured any carbonated, sugary, or starchy product they had on their shelves. Justin emphasized on the ride over that he was going to get a hearty salad, but I watched as he instead inhaled an ice cream sandwich, a bag of chips, and two diet Dr. Peppers.
Day 10: Mile 101.3 to Mile 119.7 (18.4 miles)
Waking up in our roadside valley at mile 101, we now had a tramily of six: Aaron, Greg, Justin, Adam (9 Lives; the only with a trail name), Ben, and myself. The six of us happily scampered towards Warner Springs. Being in a group with five other guys, my stride simply didn’t compare to theirs—I felt like a little corgi dog in the back trying to keep up with the big dogs. When we hit the meadows of Warner Springs, we were surrounded by wild cows trampling off in their own little tramily’s. At one point, a huge herd of cows stampeded towards our tramily, blocking us from the trail ahead. It was a full-blown tramily stand-off; the cows eventually surrendered.
I was greeted by my parents in Warner Springs, along with a breakfast buffet for my tramily. We gorged as much as we could, resupplied, and chatted before continuing on towards Agua Caliente Creek. Climbing the banks of Agua Caliente Creek was a hot endeavor at 3 pm, and eventually part of the tramily established camp, but the youngsters pushed on. Trying to tackle a 1500-foot climb at 4 pm was not the smartest move on my part, and was by far the hardest undertaking on the PCT yet. Two miles from our prospective camp I was ready to curl up in the fetal position and call it a day, but instead, Adam somehow managed to drag me up the hill by diverting my misery with entry-level chit chat. After a long 18-mile day, a fellow thru-hiker at the top serenaded the whole camp with her banjo-playing and masseuse dexterity.
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