Windstorms, Europeans, and Pie

Day Three: Seven Miles

I wake to a pretty pink sunrise, ready to tackle the first seven miles of the day that will carry me into Mount Laguna. A few hikers pass me as I’m packing up, including the friends from Munich I made on the first day. As I begin walking it gets hot quickly. After a while I feel a little sick and shaky, so I stop in the shade of a desert bush and consume small amounts of both food and electrolytes, trying to figure out what my body is asking for. Maybe I’m just tired. I put in one side of my headphones and start Thru Hiking Will Break Your Heart, by Carrot Quinn. I’ve listened to it before, so the common ground feels comforting.

I don’t have much farther to go to get to Mount Laguna; just a few more miles. I have a few chores to do when I get there, but decide my first orders of business will be coconut water and salad. I have a feeling I may be disappointed.

But I promise myself a nap under a tree this afternoon during the hottest part of the day, and this makes me feel hopeful. Yes, rest sounds nice today.

As I hike I listen to the part in Carrot’s book where she is also hiking into Mount Laguna. I catch up with Nils from Munich as I get to town, and we walk to the lodge restaurant together. I head in to use the charging station and order while he waits for his friend. I order the barbecue chicken sandwich, and when it arrives it is massive. I am surprised that I eat the entire thing, and then I mosey around for a while, waiting for my power bank to charge. I get impatient and head up to the general store to resupply for the next 34 miles to Scissors Crossing, where I’ll hitch into Julian. There is no coconut water or salad, but there’s Gatorade and tortillas. I have a feeling this is a reality I’ll have to be getting use to.

After I collect my snacks I sit in a mess of pine needles near the parking lot with some other hikers, packing, trying out different sock combinations, and resting. By the time I am ready to go, almost everyone from our first night of camping has arrived, and they convince me to stay at the campsite in town tonight. I walk there with Gunnar (France), Nils and Martin (Germany), and we join a few girls from Philly, as well as a couple of new faces. My lunch friends (UK, Ireland) from yesterday are there too.

We hang around getting to know each other, drinking soda and eating tortilla chips. After a few hours we build a fire and someone offers up their spaghetti. The girls from Philly use their little pot to boil the whole bag of noodles in two batches, and we all sit in the dark eating pasta from our mugs (except Gunnar, because he’s ultralight and has to eat his noodles out of a plastic bag). And then suddenly night has fallen, and we all stumble through the darkness back to our tent city, tucking ourselves into our down, to prepare for another day of adventures.

Day Four: 24 Miles

It’s 5 a.m. I wake to a noisy sky and think, “uh oh.” I check the weather. Yup. Wind advisory through tomorrow. 60 mph gusts. I drink instant coffee and eat a banana nut muffin while checking the Guthook app. Every campsite ten to 20 miles from here is extremely exposed, as other hikers have said. I opt for one that looks more suitable, 22.4 miles ahead. OK, I guess it could be THAT kind of day. Here we go.

Drink coffee, change clothes, pack up, brush teeth, head out. Think about how impossibly beautiful the stars are just before dawn.

I hike a few miles as the wind picks up and the clouds roll away. The gusts rip through the scrub oak, and it creaks and squeaks like scattering mice. I pull my buff over my face to protect my lips, already dry as the forceful air removes moisture from my skin. I consider this some sort of masochistic fun, and give reverence to Mother Nature. She probably thinks this is amusing.

I’m having a really good time with the challenges of the day. It’s possible my favorite part is taking an unnecessary side spur to fill my water bladder. I psych myself out about the distance of the next water source. I end up standing in an open field among the desert mountains, wind throwing sand at me as I attempt to treat enough water for the next 12 miles. I’m blaring pop music, and bracing myself vigorously to keep from falling over. It’s a difficult situation and I am stupidly happy and windburned.

Once I have my hydration pack filled, I head back toward the trail and begin almost running ahead, concerned the campsites described as “protected” will all be occupied if I don’t arrive soon. I am listening to fast-paced music, hurdling down the path, side stepping rocks and hopping over branches. The wind blows so hard I can lean right into it and it supports my body weight. And then finally, there is a downhill break, switchbacks leading into a canyon dotted with patches of grass. I arrive to see just a few other hikers there. I claim a spot for my tent, making an X with my trekking poles in the sand. I made it. What a day.

I unfurl my sit pad and plop down next to the other hikers, just happy to be still for a few moments. I eat some Japanese peanuts while we chat about San Jacinto peak and self-arrest lessons. And after some time passes and the air develops a chill, I retreat to my designated camp spot to begin the trying task of setting up my tent in gusty winds. This is the first time I’ve ever needed all my stakes and guylines, and I hope she’ll hold until morning.

Once successful, I hunker down in my little home to enjoy a mug of noodles while watching Dallas Buyers Club, and do the typical nighttime duties. Tooth brushing, face and feet washing, and magnesium taking. Even inside the tent, everything is covered in sand. I have a feeling sleep will be elusive tonight, but it’s only 14 miles to free pie in Julian. I can be there by lunch time tomorrow.

Day Five: 22.9 Miles

The wind broke sometime around 3 a.m., and I slept fitfully through the night. I thought yesterday’s high mileage and wild conditions might have been the recipe for a rough morning.

When I begin to stir around 5, it is with pleasant surprise I find that my body isn’t sore, though the backs of my knees are sunburned. I’ll consider that a success! I perform my morning routine a bit slower than yesterday, the chilly morning air keeping me in my down just a few extra minutes. I pack camp and am on the trail by 7:20, excited to head into Julian for few hours.

As I hike I think about where I might sleep tonight, and what I need to do in town. I have a resupply box to pick up just 23 miles from Julian, so I only need a day’s worth of food. I’m two miles from the road where I’ll hitch when a burning sensation erupts from my foot. A blister. Ouch. I stop and pull off my gaiter, shoe, and sock. I clean the wound as best I can while sitting in the dirt. Then I tape over the exposed skin and replace my footwear, soldiering on to the highway.

It only takes a few minutes to get a hitch, and I approach the old red Rav 4 cautiously, scoping out the driver. He looks kind, so I hop in. This man is a retired local on his way the 12 miles up the mountain to the post office. He tells me the ways the area has changed, and how it has stayed the same. As he drops me off, he tells me where his favorite bakery is. He also tells me to get some friends. I understand that he means well.

As he drives away I join the queue of hikers at Moms Pies. A PCT right of passage, this establishment gives a free slice to any hiker who shows their permit. I order caramel apple crumble and a glass of soy milk, buy some peanut butter fudge, and take a spot in a wooden booth to wait. The empty corners between tables and chairs are occupied by packs stuffed full of our strange items that enable survival. It’s a weird thing we’re doing, this thru-hiking business.

When my pie arrives, I eat it quickly and vacate the booth. I head outside to call my mom and look for somewhere to have lunch. I decide on a place called Heroes that has outdoor porch seating. The burger is really good and comes with a massive number of fries. The woman next to me wants to order a chicken breast for her dog, but the waitress won’t allow it. The dog is rotund like a fat hot dog bun rolled in flaked coconut, with a pink bow slapped on it. It whines as we eat, and I look at it and mouth the words, “Not. A. Chance.”

When I am done eating I pay my bill and walk across the street to grab a few items for hiking food. I pick up a banana, a clementine, a single fruit by the foot, chocolate covered peanut butter pretzels, and a protein bar. While I am choosing these items, a hiker with a thick European accent introduces himself. His name is Energizer (like the bunny), and he made the online PCT spreadsheet we use in the Facebook group. He seems fun and excitable. I head outside to pack my things and see him with a few other hikers. They stop and talk to me a bit, introducing their crew as The Walking Dead. Then they go to grab and hitch and are gone.

I want to repack a little, but feel self-conscious about doing it in town. I flag down another ride and this time a retired woman stops and tells me about her horses as we drive. When she drops me at the trail, The Hiking Dead are just getting on as well. They are a little ahead of me until they stop suddenly. I ask them, “What are you guys doing?” They tell me there was a rattlesnake on the trail, and they wanted to make sure I knew. Then they adopt me as their seventh member, and we hike together until darkness falls.

For ten miles I listen to their playful banter as Energizer scuffles about, recording videos of us for his YouTube channel. This group is loud, boisterous, and a lot edgier than many people I’ve met on the trail thus far. They smoke cigarettes, swear, and yell. I like them and their rogue sense of fun.

We all camp together and will head out again at 6 a.m. toward the Mountain Valley Retreat and Warner Springs. I have a resupply waiting and will check into a respite just a mile off trail where I can eat produce, do yoga, sleep in a bed, and maybe even take a zero.

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