Striking a Balance: Week 3 of the PCT
For over 3 weeks, my home has been an 18 inch wide footpath headed north. One of the biggest challenges so far has been finding stability and balance despite this ever changing lifestyle. There are daily points of tension like wanting to be in town vs on trail, hiking in a group vs alone, or hiking big miles vs zero days. I have learned that finding a balance is both essential and tricky. When I inched toward one extreme, I felt overwhelmed, low energy, or pain. When I listened to my body and mind to find the right balance, the good days became even better.
Day 15: Heat vs Sleep
17.4 Miles: Group Campsite with View of San Jacinto (Mile 201.1) to Whitewater Preserve (218.5)
I woke up early (well.. what I thought was early at the time) and started hiking just before the sun. As the sun peeked over the horizon, I immediately felt a waft of hot air. I checked the time – it was 6 AM! How did it already feel hot? Since starting the PCT, the “desert” had been unbelievable moderate – it was a running joke among hikers that we weren’t really in the desert. As I watched the sun get higher – there was no doubt in my mind that I was in the desert.
I made it up the mountain to the Mesa Wind farm office just before the heat became unbearable. I was once again amazed and grateful for a business to open their doors to stinky hikers and stock all the best food, soda, and ice cream bars just for us. I thought about my friends that had started hiking later than me and hoped they weren’t melting out there.
“Okay… that was the hardest two miles of this entire hike!” Shark Bait said as she walked into the wind farm that afternoon. We all agreed that we would sacrifice some sleep and wake up much much earlier to beat the desert heat in the days to come as we spent the entire afternoon eating ice cream and drinking cold sodas in the air conditioning.
Day 16: Solitude vs Hiking Buddies
21.4 miles (+ bonus miles to the preserve): Whitewater Preserve (Mile 218.5) to Mission Camp (239.9)
I woke up and got moving earlier than the previous day (I’m learning!!) to knock miles out before the heat of the day. As I hiked through Whitewater River and up on the ridge, the sun slowly rose over the mountains and I felt a sense of peace wash over me as I listened to nothing but the roar of the river, the birds chirping, and the sound of my own foot steps. These quiet mornings to myself had quickly become my favorite. After about an hour and a half of hiking, I reached my hiking state of flow – the sweet spot where miles felt cruisey and my mind felt clear.
Before I knew it, I had hiked 15 miles well before lunch time. It was siesta time. Shortly after I woke up from a nap in the shade I heard footsteps – it was MJ and Shark Bait! I smiled as they walked over. The afternoon reunions on trail had also quickly become a favorite part of the day.
We hiked as we caught up on the highlights from our morning miles. I looked at my watch as we closed in on camp – 22.15 miles. “LET’S GO! Congrats you guys – this has been our longest day on trail… and with the most elevation gain!” I said as we walked into the large camping area. Our reward? Choosing to cowboy camp all in a row and not mess with putting up our tents for the night. We tiredly ate dinner in our quilts and fell asleep, still beaming after tackling our longest day together.
Day 17: Cell Service vs Being Disconnected
19.5 miles: Mission Camp (Mile 239.9) to Group Campsite (Mile 259.4)
The night before, I sent a message from my garmin inreach satellite phone to my mom to let her know that I made it to camp safely. We didn’t have service for the last day or so, and it felt good to be disconnected from the world a bit.
“I wonder where Pickles and Iron Will ended up last night…” I said to MJ and Shark Bait. They hadn’t arrived at the same camp as us the night before and we had no way to contact them with our plan for the day. “Should we leave them a note here?” MJ asked as she took out her paper, green marker, and bright pink duct tape and wrote out our plan. She stuck the note to the trail marker and we started hiking for the day. While communicating without service was trickier, it was possible and we were learning to have fun with it!
Later that evening, I turned my phone off airplane mode, and saw messages pop up on Instagram from a few girls that I knew in college through my sorority. The messages were to connect me with a friend of theirs, a newly vested trail angel in Tehachapi. I felt grateful that they had followed my journey and took the time to connect me with their friend. Sharing my journey with others via stories and pictures has enriched my experience, as old friends “hike with me” and send fun facts, encouraging messages, or new connections along the way.
Day 18: Goodbyes vs “See ya Laters”
6.7 Miles: Group Campsite (Mile 259.4) to Big Bear Lake (Mile 266.1)
“10%!!!!!” I heard Shark Bait yell in the middle of speed hiking the 6 miles into town for breakfast. I turned around and saw the rock formation. I had covered so much ground, made so many forever friendships, and learned so much about myself and the world around me… and I still had 90% of the trail to go. This thought excited me. We stood around the rock formation and took a picture of our feet before moving on.
We received a text from Detour, Quick Beam, Erwan, and Taut to meet them at the Grizzly Cafe for a reunion breakfast before they went back on trail. Since they broke off from the group last week, we had been using a WhatsApp group message to stay in touch, so we knew they had arrived in Big Bear Lake big the day before us. A 10% celebration and reunion pancake breakfast sounded perfect to me. We ran into the cafe and started talking a mile a minute to catch up among friends before inevitably saying “see ya later” once again.
A beautiful part of this trail is knowing that you have friends crushing miles just ahead or just behind you at all times. Reunions are always possible and so special when they happen.
Day 19: Town vs Trail
2.5 Miles: Big Bear Lake (266.1) to Doble Trail Camp (268.6)
“I just feel ready to be back on the trail.” I said to Shark Bait as we sat outside a smoothie place in Big Bear Lake after a night sleeping in real beds. “It’s hard to decide whether to go with my gut and head to the trail today or to stay with the group for another day in town.” I told her. Our trail family was split in a decision to stay another night in town or head back to the trail… and for good reason. Town brings so many wonderful elements to a thru hike – bonding with the trail family and bubble of hikers in town, much needed rest and recovery, and lots of extra calories. The balance between hiking big miles and getting enough rest is essential to avoiding injuries and staying healthy on trail over the long term. None of us had taken a true “zero day” yet, a day without hiking any PCT miles.
We ate lunch at a “real” ramen place (which was my fourth meal of the day) and discussed options for the next few days. I trusted my gut and decided that I would get back on trail that evening. In the end, the entire trail family decided to also get back on trail. We decided to hike an easy 2.5 miles to a group campsite to give ourselves a head start for the next day but also to respect the rest our bodies needed.
“Only 2 miles to go!” We rallied each other on as we hiked with bellies full of town food. “It feels so good to be home.” MJ said as we looked out at the valley below us and wildflowers all around us. I smiled, thankful to share this moment – it really did.
Day 20: Rain vs Shine
21.3 miles: Doble Trail Camp (268.6) to Group Campsite with Mountain View (289.9)
I woke up to a pitter pater on my tent. It was time to pack up and face the storms that were rolling in throughout the next few days. I packed up my tent before it got too wet and started hiking as the rain picked up. The sun was already lighting up the storm clouds an intense orange. I stopped and stared for a few moments to watch the sun peak over the horizon and illuminate Baldwin Lake below. The combination of the beautiful quiet morning and being back on trail made the rain not feel that bad. The rain actually kinda felt good as I hiked onward.
I hiked with minimal stops to arrive at our intended campsite before any worse rain rolled in. The storm never fully rolled in, and I enjoyed a sunny hike with views of Big Bear Lake, where I had just stayed in town.
When the others got to camp we caught up and all marveled that we stayed mostly dry throughout the afternoon. We set up a spot for group dinner just to immediately hear thunder, feel big rain drops, and hurry into our tents. The rain passed quickly and our group emerged from our tents just in time to stare at the clouds glowing and transitioning through the sunset for a few hours. It was one of those nights where I was aware of how lucky I was to be living on the PCT and watching a sunset that I’ll never forget.
Day 21: Miles Completed vs Miles Ahead
18 Miles: Group Campsite with Mountain View (289.9) to Deep Creek Hot Springs (307.9)
I stopped for a quick break at a bridge over the deep creek with Taut and Shark Bait. Shark Bait shook an inch worm off of herself and it fell to the ground. “I love inch worms!!” I said laughing as I dropped to the ground to watch it inch down the bridge. “Inchy has a long way to go.” I said. “And so do we…” my mind echoed.
A few miles later we came across rocks arranged into “300” and the official PCT Mile 300 trail marker. The back of the trail marker had the number “2350” cascading down the side – the miles of the PCT remaining. It was hard to not be overwhelmed by that number, the rest of my hike, and the unknown ahead. Each day, hikers talk about the future… plans for the sierra, plans for the border, plans for post trail. Staying present and celebrating every step was a conscious choice, so we took picture with the sign and celebrated our mile 300 milestone before we kept chasing miles.
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