Wind, Blisters, and Patience: Mt. Laguna to Ranchita
I’m writing this update from Mountain Valley Retreat, a hiker hostel/yoga retreat center at mile marker 101.2, which means I’ve hiked over 100 miles on the PCT!
High wind alerts
After leaving Mt Laguna, the wind was immediately noticeable as the trail opened up to wider and more exposed views. Although the wind was a little worrisome when hiking along a thin ledge on the side of a mountain, it was nothing compared to what was forecast. Starting the next afternoon, there was a high wind watch predicting up to 80 mph gusts. Even though I had only planned to do a reasonable 14 miles that day, that would leave over 21 miles to do the next day by mid-afternoon if I wanted to make it to town before the windstorm came. So, I saw what I needed to do and pushed 18.5 miles on the first day, followed by 17.5 the next day. Both were my longest backpacking days ever. It was tough at times, especially on my feet, but in situations like that, you don’t have much choice but to keep hiking. Even the night before the alert started, it was windy enough that it was difficult to put up a tent and the wind kept me awake most of the night. I’m glad I made it into town, as I heard hikers who weren’t as lucky had their tents ripped apart in the middle of the night or took shelter in pit toilets at trailheads.
We rolled into the town of Julian just before the bad weather arrived, thanks to my first hitchhiking on the PCT (town is over 10 miles away from the road crossing). The town of Julian was a special milestone I had been eagerly awaiting. About five years ago, I biked from San Diego to Joshua Tree and stopped in Julian for a night along the way. It was the first PCT town I had ever encountered. I saw the signs for hiker food (including a free slice of pie for hikers!) and wondered if I’d ever be cool enough to be a PCT hiker. So, when I went to Mom’s Pies to collect my free slice of apple boysenberry pie, I felt like I had really arrived.
There was lots of other town fun to be had, including beer and pizza upon arrival at Julian Beer Company where I ran into hikers Rabbit, Cap’n, and others that I hadn’t seen since the first few days of the trail. I split a room with my friends Nora and Snapple and we spent an afternoon sitting in the sun by a pool with our feet up enjoying Bloody Marys and snacks. The contrast between trail life and town life is so stark, which is part of what makes it so glorious. A Bloody Mary doesn’t taste nearly as good when you haven’t had to outrun a windstorm to get it.
More Foot Woes
I’m happy to report that the foot injury that plagued me my first week is now 100 percent healed. I’m pleasantly surprised that it was able to heal so completely without stopping hiking for more than a day, but I’ll take it! Sadly, I have new foot troubles to replace it. After being blister-free for the first week, my feet are now a horror show of blisters and open wounds. When I did the first of two bigger mileage days to escape the wind, my feet swelled up so much from the hiking and the desert heat that they no longer fit in my shoes. On the second day, I had no choice but to keep going almost 18 miles in too-tight shoes, destroying my feet in the process. It’s very common for hiker’s feet to grow multiple sizes over the course of a thru hike, but I wasn’t expecting it to happen overnight. When I got into town I immediately ordered larger shoes but had to hike another 24 miles in too-small shoes to time their arrival with my progress. On the last day, when my feet actually bled through the bandages and my socks, I begrudgingly knew it might be time to take a day off to let my blisters heal.
Although I know a day off is the right thing for my feet, it’s hard to resist the urge to keep moving forward. Once you start, it’s almost as if you are programmed at a deep level to keep moving. And it’s sad to see friends go ahead, not knowing if or when you will catch up. The trail provides a lot of lessons, and one of them is certainly patience. Even though my body and mind feel ready to hit the trail again, I need to wait a bit for my feet to catch up.
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