Week 2 on the PCT!
Oh boy what a week it’s been!
After mile 100 I start feeling really strong, I no longer notice my pack digging into my shoulder blades or rubbing my hips. My legs and feet feel great. I am fortunate to be blister free and injury free so far! My body may be sore and calloused but my soul is rested. I feel in the rhythm, miles fly by as I speed through the winding desert trail.
My friend Yard Sale and I night hiked until 9:30 last night. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep, but the wind kept me up for most of the night. My already struggling tent did not hold up so well in the windstorm. Multiple times during the night I had to get out and re-attach my poles. I finally get up and make coffee at 5:30. My camp mates have already packed up and left.
The day heats up fast and today’s challenge is biting flies. If I slow down or stop, I become a snack for the carnivorous flies. Water is becoming more scarce and I have to hike to Mikes Place for water. Mike is a local trail angel who keeps water stocked near his property in the desert. I fill up two liters and drink one while I sit in what little shade I can find. I should have gotten more water. The next source is over ten miles away and is a barely flowing creek. The water is a rusty orange color and tastes like metal. I add a pack of electrolytes and down the warm liquid that I know my body so desperately needs in this dry, hot environment. I see that there is a cistern a few miles ahead and decide to hike there to camp for the night. I get to the cistern at 6:00 p.m. with 20 miles hiked that day and to my great disappointment, the water is nearly inaccessible, requiring one to lay down and put their entire body on the cracked cistern to scoop the water out. It is also open to the elements and has at least one dead lizard in it and whatever other desert creatures have fallen in. I hear that there is a water cache six miles ahead and decide that I will try to make it there before dark with what little water I have left. The miles fly by, and I make it to Mary’s Oasis, completing my first 26-mile day! Does this count as a marathon? I feel great, thankful for clean water and strong legs, I sleep like a rock.
It is a quick 6.5-mile hike from Mary’s Oasis to Paradise Valley Cafe. The morning is cool and I hike fast with the motivation of town food. PVC is one of those iconic places on the PCT, a small cafe known for its burgers located just one mile off trail. I join my friend Sweetblood at a table and enjoy a giant breakfast burrito. We meet a local trail angel named Frank and he offers to drive us into Idyllwild where we can resupply and prepare to go into the San Jacinto Mountains. We get to the Idyllwild hiker campground and are almost immediately met with a torrential downpour. In the rush to set up my tent, my tent poles give out at last, leaving my tent in a sad, soggy heap. I gather my gear and take refuge in the bathroom for a couple hours. I find my way to a local gear shop called Nomad Ventures. I am fortunate to buy their last one-person Big Agnes tent. I also purchase microspikes, which I will need for the San Jacinto section. Sweetblood and I make our way to the laundromat and then I am finally able to take a shower. I feel like a million bucks! We walk to the local brewery and enjoy burgers with other hikers. Many of them have already gone through the San Jacintos and offer trail beta and a few warnings about what’s ahead. I sleep well that night in my new tent.
With heavy packs full of food, ice axes, and microspikes, we ascend into the mountains. As we climb up the ridge, the clouds above begin to darken… uh oh. A light rain turns into a full-on downpour accompanied by thunder, lightning, and hail. I hear voices ahead and find eight other hikers sheltering under a tree. I join them and we huddle under the tree for an hour to wait out the storm. Every piece of clothing on my body is soaking wet. I try to stay positive but all I can think is “what the heck am I doing out here?” Eventually the skies clear and the sun comes out again. Life is good again! I hike fast up the ridge and farther into the mountains. The landscape changes and soon we are high above the desert and hiking through a forest. The sunset that night is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. We arrive at a small campsite on the side of a ridge looking out over Coachella valley.
The trail continues to take us higher up in elevation; we hike along a steep ridge all day with Mount Jacinto growing closer and closer. Eventually we hit snow and have to follow a boot pack. We hike and camp with a group called the Montana Gals. They are a hoot and we laugh and exchange stories from the trail and eventually go to bed at 8:00 p.m. in anticipation for our early morning ascent of Mount San Jacinto.
My alarm goes off at 3:00 a.m. and I sleepily pack up my gear. We are on trail by 3:30. The trail quickly steepens and we put our microspikes on as we climb the steep, snowy trail. We summit at 7:30, then go down to the hut to make breakfast and warm up. We begin to descend and quickly lose the trail. The boot pack is inconsistent and we have to follow the map closely. Somehow, we lose the trail again and end up lost for about an hour. After some painful bushwhacking through snow, brush, and spiky bushes, we find the PCT again. We continue on and hit the sketchiest part of the descent: fuller ridge. This section of trail is sloped and covered in several feet of snow. Once again, the boot pack is extremely hard to follow. I use my ice axe to stable myself and take each step with caution- all I can focus on is not sliding down the steep ridge to my right. We cross snow bridges and carefully hike around tree wells. After two hours, we have only gone 1.8 miles. I am mentally and physically exhausted after we finally hit dry trail again. We hike a few more miles then decide to camp for the night. The wind is strong and loud back in the desert, but I don’t care. I am happy to be on dry ground again.
We wake early in anticipation for another town day! We are headed into Cabazon today and there is an In-N-Out Burger there! Sixteen miles downhill on the sandy path fly by. It is hot down here, but the strong wind cools us off. After a road walk and fighting 15 mph winds in the valley, we make it to the I-10 underpass. Thru-hikers refer to it as the I-10 Oasis. We call an Uber and get a ride to the post office and In-N-Out Burger. I am so happy. We get in contact with a local trail angel named Nitsy who lovingly welcomes us into her home. We arrive and immediately are handed ice cream cones. She shows us where to do laundry and shower. We head to the backyard, which is filled with beds, and several other hikers sit around a big table surrounded by cold drinks and snacks. Nitzy makes a taco feast for dinner and we have ice cream sundaes for dessert. We exchange stories with other hikers and head to bed at 8:00 p.m.
I wake up from a long, restful sleep to the smell of coffee brewing. Nitsy makes French toast and a breakfast skillet. We see friends from earlier on trail and chat around the table for a while. Nitsy takes us to the post office and to Walmart for resupply. We are back on trail by noon and headed back out into the desert.
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