Day Eighteen: Let It Snow (And Rain)

Zero in Idyllwild
0 miles

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A car alarm goes off at 9am and I wake up from a bizarre dream. My shoes didn’t fit and I was trying to buy new ones but I was trapped in a bathroom at a fancy wedding and couldn’t sneak out. I don’t know. I really wanted my anxiety to calm down on the trail but so far, no luck. I guess I’m awake now, though.

It’s snowing outside. I have a text from Lionheart, showing a snow covered campground, what they woke up to this morning. I’m not sad to be in my warm bed instead of a chilly tent but I’m a little jealous. I’ve been second guessing all my decisions for a few days now, and my brain loop keeps it up: should I have hiked out yesterday? Ugh I don’t know. I didn’t and I can’t change that – but I sure can fixate on it!

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Everyone needs to make a plan to get back onto the trail tomorrow, once the storm has passed. Because of the fire closure and everyone’s differing skill levels and purist-mentality, there are too many options about how to do this. Unsurprisingly, I’m stressed. Mike, Lynn, and Cate have decided that tomorrow they will take Devil’s Slide back to the PCT and then go from there down Fuller Ridge, a spot on the trail that is still somewhat snowy and may require microspikes and care. They do not plan to summit Mt. San Jacinto because of the weather.

I had initially really wanted to summit San Jacinto, but the weather has put me off. Caddy, Hobo, and I decide we will take Deer Springs trail instead of Devil’s Slide, which cuts off a few extra PCT miles. We should have a 12 or 13 mile day and should be able to get down and past Fuller Ridge by late afternoon. I’m pleased with this plan in terms of what I think is right for me, but I’m really bummed to be splitting up from Mike, Lynn, and Cate again. I only just caught them. Will I ever hike with them properly again? Are they my trail family or will I lose them? I love the idea of getting to know Caddy and Hobo better and hiking with them tomorrow sounds good, but I can’t help feel a bit lost. I am annoyed at myself for this – I want to be independent, make my own plans, follow my own path, hike my own hike. I never feel this dependent. Why aren’t I settling into this life and my own abilities out here?

I call my mom and tell her I’m sad. She’s in New York and has just had brunch with Sam, one of my first friends from college – that means we’ve been friends for a decade, now. I love that. My mom tells me about brunch and how lovely it was. “I reminded Sam of something he said to you years ago in college,” she tells me. I ask what that was, having no idea what she means. “Well remember, Sam said to you, that he thought you had very unconventional thoughts but that you’d live a conventional life?” I laugh. Yes, I remember. “So I told him that and he said, well, I was wrong! And I said yes, that was wrong.” We both laugh, and I feel a little better. It’s really nice to think about my mom and one of my close friends spending time together. It makes my heart happy.

I call Alley next and cry to her. What the fuck is my problem?! I’m so overwhelmed, still scared I can’t do this, still not feeling confident at all. I wish she was here. “Babe, you could come home right now and we’d all still be proud of you,” she tells me. I love her. I try to stop crying.

While I’m on the phone with Alley I see Claire, my friend who I haven’t seen since Warner Springs. She is the woman who was hiking with her daughter until mile 109 and then continuing on her own. I am so excited to see her; Alley and I say goodbye and I sit and have tea with Claire. Talking to her is soothing; she’s not my mom but she is a mom, and she somehow knows all the right things to say. I tell her how scared I am that I’ve been making the wrong choices, how stressful I find it to be alone, how I don’t feel confident in my own skills yet so am attaching myself to other groups and then feeling stressed if they make different decisions than I want to make. Claire tells me bluntly that I’ve got to make my own decisions. “I always act as if I am entirely alone out here,” she tells me. “If there end up being other people around, great, but I have to make my decisions as if I will be completely alone. Because I am.” This makes a great impression on me; I resolve to be more like Claire. Everything is going to be okay.

I meet Lynn, Cate, and Mike for a fancy final town dinner and it’s delicious. I order steak and we laugh and laugh and laugh and Lynn teases me for being in my pajamas at this nice restaurant (they are my only warm long sleeve clothes). We talk about how we will all probably end up at the same campground tomorrow night; they will just have a slightly longer day. I just don’t feel up to doing Devil’s Slide, a steeper trail, and am (mostly) certain I have made the right choice. Everything is going to be okay, I tell myself. I try to believe it.

 

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On the way home from dinner I realize my shoes feel large. “I think my feet have finally gone back to their regular size after all that swelling from the heat,” I say to Mike. He agrees my shoes look big on me. I look down at my clown shoes and laugh. We all part ways to run final errands before bed, and on my way back to the lodge I meet a woman named Jo. I don’t really want to chat to a new person – it’s cold and starting to rain a bit, and I’m waking up early to finally hike out – but as soon as she says hello I notice her accent. “Are you South African?” I ask. She is! Her name is Jo; she’s South African but currently lives in the Yukon in Canada, she’s hiked the Appalachian Trail, and she’s so nice. We have a good chat and I’m happy I stopped. Trail life is so strange; the smallest interactions can either bring great joy or great sorrow or great irritation or great excitement. Maybe that’s how life always is, I think. This is just amplified because I think of it as an adventure. But maybe life is always an adventure.

 

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I get back to the lodge and say goodnight to Cate, Mike, and Lynn. I text Caddy and Hobo to confirm that they’ve signed me up to go on the shuttle with them tomorrow to Deer Springs trailhead; they have. I go through my pack and try to lighten my load a bit – I almost toss my spice kit but instead just dump out lots of salt and paprika, making each baggie much smaller, I get rid of my olive oil, and I begrudgingly let go of the potato flakes and dried veggies I’ve been shlepping since the first day at Campo. My food bag is more than full enough for the next stretch and I’m obviously not eating these things; I’ve gotta let them go. Finally it’s bedtime. Tomorrow I’ll be back on the Pacific Crest Trail. I hope getting back to the proper hiking will make my brain feel calmer.

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Day Seventeen: Change of Plans

Zero in Idyllwild
0 miles

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I wake up early but spend a long time just lying in bed. What a luxury. I eventually wake up and walk to the coffee shop to get a soy chai latte. Another luxury! Then I head back to the Red Kettle to have brunch with Cate, Mike, Lynn, Raw Hide, and Colleen. Luxury upon luxury upon luxury! I feel very spoiled.

At brunch we see Caddy, Hobo, and Blossom. Caddy tells me I am always “so animated” and I accept the observation as a compliment. I first met Caddy and Hobo briefly in the little store in Mt. Laguna, when I was taking my very first zero to fix my blistered feet. Now that seems like forever ago. I don’t know them very well yet but I’d like to know them better – I think they seem so wonderful. They met on the Appalachian Trail and have hiked a lot together since then. They are both retired – Caddy was an elementary school teacher and Hobo had a career in the Navy – and they are so warm and hilarious. I feel safe around them.

We all discuss our plans for tomorrow. Bad weather is coming. We’re at higher elevation than we’ve been for the past few days and bad weather could mean snow. It could mean dangerous conditions. I want to leave tomorrow – I am still second guessing myself and feeling as though I should have left today, should be on the mountain right now with Lionheart and Apple Juice and all my smart friends who had the foresight to get going to try to beat the bad weather – but I feel worried about this storm. Will it be safe to hike? Will we be able to summit Mt. San Jacinto? Should we stay an extra day? Caddy and Hobo are wanting to leave tomorrow, and so are we. But we’re not sure if it’s a good idea. But we’re all really ready to be back on trail.

Ugh. Have I mentioned I hate the logistics part of thru-hiking?

I head back to the gear shop to buy rain pants and discuss potential plans. Cate joins me. The guys who were nonchalant and blasé about the weather yesterday seem to have changed their minds, and they advise us not to hike out tomorrow. It won’t be good conditions; we’ll probably get wet and we won’t have a chance to dry out for a while because the bad weather may stick around for a few days. Do we want hypothermia or trench foot? No, we do not. We definitely do not.

It looks like we’ll be staying in Idyllwild for a bonus zero. I’m less excited about that than I thought I would be; mostly I feel anxious and weird about taking so much time off the trail. We’ll never make it to Canada at this rate, my brain screams. Shut up, I try to tell it. We’re not thinking about Canada right now, we’re just trying to get past this mountain! Sheesh.

When we get back to the lodge we hang out in the big communal room for a long time. There’s a fire place and hot water for tea and I’m happy, even if our changing plans are giving me anxiety. I really hate the level of anxiety that has accompanied me on this hike so far; I am used to hiking alleviating my stress, not creating it. This is different than a day hike in Forest Park, though.

Our little crew – me, Cate, Mike, and Lynn – talks it over and we decide it will be smartest to stay an additional night. Caddy texts me to say that’s what she and Hobo are doing, too. Well. That’s that, then. Another zero in Idyllwild, coming right up. I feel really dumb for telling Alley not to visit this weekend – we could have spent three full days together! I feel down in general. I think I will feel better when I’m back on trail, but for now I just feel blue.

We stay up late chatting, now that we know we won’t have to wake up early to hike. Our conversation winds through many interesting topics and lands on queerness. I realize that straight people keep asking me for a definition for this word/identity/community, and I don’t have a very good one. Or, my brain can’t formulate the thoughts and words for a deep, meaningful definition during this thru-hike. So if any of my queer friends reading this would like to offer some definitions of what it means to be queer and why we’ve added the Q to LGBTQ, I’d love that! The people who have been asking me about queerness are doing so with positive intentions and I’ve felt happy talking about it – I am just dissatisfied with my own answers to the question. Thank you in advance!

Mike and Cate generously give away the extra food from their resupply boxes – they’ve been sending themselves too much so I often benefit, getting their leftover prepackaged meals and Clif bars, Stinger waffles and Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter. Between my leftover food from the last section, the small box I sent myself, the box my mom sent me, and Cate and Mike’s leftovers, I don’t even need to go to the store to resupply.

I spend the rest of the night trying to catch up on blog posts and feeling stressed about my blog. I don’t know how to write about the guys we met a few nights ago and so I’m not writing at all and I’m falling behind. This is too big a project to fall significantly behind on. I have to catch up!

But sleep is calling, and I’m exhausted even after doing nothing all day. I close my eyes, expecting to wake up to snow.

Day Sixteen: Mountains and Valleys

Zero in Idyllwild
0 miles

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It’s weird to wake up in a house. My face is smushed into the white fluffy pillow and my body is covered in a white fluffy comforter. I’m clean. I’m also drooling, so at least some stuff is constant.

I idle in “bed” for a while working on my blog. I’m a few days behind actually writing entries – I’ve got my notes but haven’t written a full post in a few days – and it’s kind of overwhelming to think about cranking out so many words. I feel like I forget everything. Everyone knows it’s hard to keep up a blog on trail, but I love it so much and I really want to keep writing. I could write shorter entries, I know. I could. Anyway.

I rack my brain and look at my notes and my Guthooks map app to try to remember day 10. Day 10, day 10. What the heck happened six days ago. I write the post but I’m not so happy with it. It’s also weird because I don’t want to write EVERYTHING here – it’s tacky to write negatively about other people on the trail, to be completely honest – so sometimes the things that take up a lot of brain space in a day aren’t suitable to write about. This is a good exercise in a writing practice as well as a hiking practice. Figures that I’ve given myself two tasks on my long walk to Canada – be a hiker AND be a writer. I’m trying.

At 9am Cate wanders into the bedroom and seems happy to find me awake. She tells me the guys are going to drive us into town and then they’re going to the lake for the day, so we should move quickly. They’ve been generous with their time and we shouldn’t hold them up too much.

I use the bathroom (flush toilet! Luxurious!) and get dressed. Cate has folded my laundry like an angel so I quickly gather my things and repack my bag reasonably well. I still have so much fucking food in my food bag – 6 lbs at least. Just 6 lbs I casually carried for fun I guess through several 90+ degree days in the desert. You’re an idiot, Self, I think. Pack out less food this time. Promise? You better promise.

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Then we’re all clambering into the truck and heading to town. I ride in the back with Mike and Cate and our bags. It’s hilarious how quickly 13 miles go by when you’re not walking them. I’m thrilled to have skipped the alternate route; I feel no guilt at all.

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The guys drop us in the center of town; they wish us luck and head off to the lake. And now here we are, in Idyllwild! With every other hiker on the trail, it seems. It’s nice to see everyone but also overwhelming. We all immediately run into people we want to chat with – Hobo and Caddy, Larry and Amanda, Tori (who is now going by Dos Tacos) and Tim, Amy who is now Blossom…it takes a little bit to get to our room at Silver Pines Lodge. But we finally do and it’s awesome. We’re able to check in super early and there is a queen bed for Mike and Cate and a trundle bed situation for me and Lynn and a bathroom and a window and it’s perfect. I hop on the wi-fi and publish my Day 10 blog post and then I get started on chores. Oh, town chores.

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First up, gear shop. I ask about the weather and buy a new pair of lightweight breathable hiking shorts to try to mitigate the never ending butt chafe issue. I also buy a brand new Body Glide. Maybe this will help. According to the intel from the gear shop dudes, it seems like I can bounce my ice axe to Kennedy Meadows for sure, and my crampons also. I’ll keep my microspikes, though the guy at the store isn’t convinced I’ll need them. I’m overwhelmed by the map and the routes to get out of Idyllwild. I wish thru-hiking wasn’t such a logistical nightmare sometimes. I listen to the guy’s suggestions and take a photo of the big map in the store. I’ll think about it later.

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I realize it’s noon and I haven’t eaten anything yet today, so I ask Cate and Mike and Lynn if they wanna get food. Lynn wants Mexican and Cate and Mike are gonna eat trail food to conserve their budget for a movie and beer later but I’m dying for eggs. I am feeling sort of sad. Alley and I had talked about her visiting me in Idyllwild, even checked in about it yesterday morning because flights weren’t too bad, but it just seemed not right. The flight was still not cheap, I’d already said I would share a room with my friends, I have so many town chores to do, it’s only been 2 weeks. But I suddenly miss her so much and am annoyed at myself for not asking her to come. I wish I could just lie in bed and have her hold me. Fuck.

I part ways with Lynn and Cate and Mike in search of eggs at the Red Kettle. I text with Toby, who is also staying at the lodge we are, and he says he’ll meet me. I try to perk up.
The restaurant does indeed serve eggs all day and I’m happy about that. I sit down and order eggs florentine and a side of sausage and decide to accept any consequences town food wreaks on my belly. I work on a blog post while I wait for Toby and then I get a text from him that his feet are in bad shape and he’s gonna pass on meeting me if that’s okay. Of course it’s okay, but it adds to my dramatic lonely feelings.

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I think I expected to feel overjoyed and safe and perfect when I met back up with Cate and Mike and Lynn but I still feel unstable. I don’t know what their plan is, there are so many options, what will we all do, can I even make it to Canada, how will I do the Sierra if I’m all by myself? I miss home and I miss my friends and I miss my girlfriend and I’m crying at a table by myself at the Red Kettle in Idyllwild. Oh boy.

I indulge my sadness for a little bit and text Alley and Toby and write the above paragraphs but then I try to snap out of it. I have to go to the post office. I have to back flush my water filter. I should soak my feet. I don’t have time to cry at this table all day.

Getting up and walking around is good. I put on my sunglasses and head to the post office. I am picking up three boxes and a letter, I think. They do not have my letter. I feel certain that someone – a person who reads my blog? An Instagram commenter? – has said they have sent me a letter to Idyllwild. I even have a note in my phone reminding me to ask for it and noting that there was a big VF on the back. The woman at the post office is certain this letter does not exist. I try to find the original note about it on my phone but I can’t remember where that is. There’s a long line and I feel embarrassed to be a difficult customer, so I eventually give up and take my three boxes off to the side. I’m bummed that someone potentially put effort into sending me something sweet that I’m not going to receive. Or am I insane and this letter never existed? I’m not sure.

I need to bounce my ice axe and my crampons to Kennedy Meadows. When you pick a box up at the post office, if you don’t open it, you can bounce it to another post office destination for free! That’s a pro-tip from the thru-hiker world, you’re welcome. Anyway lucky for me my resupply person, Susie, is a genius, and has packaged my ice axe and my crampons in the same box. So I keep it closed and bounce it ahead. I open my other two boxes and am thrilled: Susie has added goodies to the box I packed myself with microspikes and maps and dried veggies – she included a card and some bars and more jerky and some sweets – and my mom has sent me a box with Gatorade powder and five Good to Go meals! My cooking situation is about to get 1000x better – I can just boil water and add it directly to these meal bags! No more washing my pot! I am gonna be living the luxurious life! I call Susie once I’m outside the post office to go over some logistical things and she’s amazing per always, listens to me and hears me feeling sad, offers sage advice, cheers me up. I’m so lucky to have such a good support system at home. I am grateful.

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After the post office I head back to our room where my three friends are hanging out. I try to be upbeat and cheerful but Lynn asks if I’m okay and suddenly I’m crying on my bed. All three of them are bewildered; what’s wrong? I hiccup my way through an explanation: “I just feel so lonely and confused about what to do…and I miss Alley…and I really wanted eggs this morning but you all wanted Mexican which was fine but then I got to the Red Kettle and I was all by myself and I was so sad…but you guys, the eggs were really good!” I sound nuts and I know it; Cate bursts out laughing. Soon I’m laughing too. I just have so many feelings and somehow being on the trail heightens every single one! “Scissors, you have so many highs and lows,” Cate says. “You are like all mountains and valleys! There’s no middle ground. Everything is either amazing or horrible.” I laugh hard at this, because I know if Alley could hear her she’d be nodding her head so hard. Cate’s comments aren’t mean and they don’t make me feel bad – she’s right. I feel things so hard. Nevermind my physical capabilities – my poor heart may not make it through this journey!

Later Toby – now Apple Juice – texts me to see if I want to get pizza and I do. We end up at a fancy place with fairy lights and live music and joke that it feels like we’re on a date. Our conversation is so refreshing – he is hiking out tomorrow and I’m sad. I feel sort of rejuvenated after my day off today – should I have only planned to take one zero in Idyllwild? There’s talk of a storm rolling in and he’s aiming to get out and over Fuller Ridge, the path the trail takes and a spot one would not want to be in a storm, before the weather arrives. He’s faster than me and hiking on a stricter timeline; if he lives tomorrow and I wait until the next day, it’s probable I won’t see him again. I’m having a really hard time figuring out how to structure my hike, when I should do what, how much I should let others’ plans affect my own. Sigh.

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After dinner Apple Juice heads back to his room to care for his blisters and get ready to leave in the morning. I run into Lionheart on my way back to the lodge and I hang out with her for awhile; she’s also hiking out with a big group tomorrow, to avoid the storm. That means I’ll probably lose her, too. Should I have also planned to leave tomorrow? What will the storm be like? How far behind will my group fall? What does that even mean? What would make me feel less lonely? Why isn’t Alley here?

Fuck. Being in town is good rest for my body, but not great rest for my anxiety brain, it turns out. Eventually I say goodnight to Lionheart and head back to my room at the lodge. Mike and Cate are sleeping already and Lynn is still up watching a movie. I crawl into my bed (a real bed!) and have trouble falling asleep, second guessing every choice I’ve ever made.

Day Fifteen: Burgers & AirBnB

Mile 140 to mile 151.8 + 1 (road walk to Paradise Valley Cafe)
12.8 miles

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Toby and I wake up at 4am, like we promised. We’ve got miles to make before it gets hot. The stars are still out and I am tired, but I’m also excited to hike with Toby again and very ready for a burger.

“Happy Paradise Valley Cafe Day!” I say. Toby is clearly also sleepy but humors my shenanigans. It takes us about an hour to break down camp and by 5am we’re on the trail. The air is miraculously cool. I feel like a powerful superhero.

We begin the climb out of the canyon we slept in and I’m so grateful we didn’t try to push ourselves last night. It’s always easier for me to hike first thing in the morning – something happens to my body after 12pm and it is just no longer an efficient machine. But first thing in the morning I’m ready for anything, able to take on any terrain. And this one is beautiful.

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We keep climbing and I notice one star hasn’t disappeared yet. The rest have all bid farewell to make way for the impending rising sun but one shines brightly in front of us. “I think that’s a planet,” I tell Toby. “I think it’s Venus.” I have no proof of this, just a feeling. I make a note to ask Gibbs later. (Spoiler: it was totally Venus!)

“Today is so special,” says Toby. He’s explained to me that he hasn’t been hiking too early or too late by himself because we’re in mountain lion territory. (Should I be concerned about that? Oops.) This is the earliest he’s been on the trail and he loves it. I love it too. The desert is perfect at 5am.

The sun continues to rise and the sky shifts from black to navy to bright blue. I love how the sky wakes up. We pass several tents along the trail and I feel amazing: we are those people starting our days before everyone else! It’s not a competition, of course, but I’m always so envious of the people reaping the benefits of the cool morning hours, and today I am one of them. It feels really good.

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About an hour into our day, Toby looks at me very seriously and says he has a personal question to ask. I wonder what it will be – I am an open book and I think he knows this. “Last night,” Toby begins gravely, “did you…wipe your pot…with your pee rag?!” I burst out laughing. “Oh my god, no! And also, you thought I did that and it took you like 12 hours to confront me about it?! Ew!” I explain to Toby that I cut the banadana I was using as a pee rag in half and kept half for the original use and tucked half in my pot to use as a dishrag. The two swaths of fabric are the same color, because they’re parts of the same bandana, so I understand his confusion. But no! I’m gross, but I’m not that gross. We laugh about this for a good long time.

We continue climbing up, with me walking in front like I did last night, and today I feel a little self conscious about my pace even though Toby is so kind. I just know he could go faster and he’s got a room for the night in Idyllwild later so I don’t want to slow him down. He promises to tell me if he needs to go ahead of me. I swallow a bug by mistake. We keep going.

At mile 145 is a water cache on private land. The water report says the cache is called “Walden” and that there’s a little library and some picnic benches there. Toby and I are both very excited for this cache.

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When we arrive it’s even better than we anticipated. We both agree this person is a huge dork in the best way possible. There’s a note pointing out where the water tank is located with an apology tacked on the end: “Sorry, no pond!” There are picnic tables and the little library and cardboard cutouts of Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau. And there’s a little trail register asking folks to include their favorite books. I just love the woman who creates this space so much. Like, she put so much time into creating this amazing hilarious water cache for hikers on her private property just because. What an angel.

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After our break here Toby goes ahead of me. He assures me the pace is actually great but his blisters hurt and he wants to power through and get to the cafe quickly. I totally understand. I feel really happy today, buoyed by my camaraderie with Toby and the knowledge that I’ll be eating the best burger on the trail soon.

The landscape keeps shifting. I love how the earth is so filled with movement and change. Flat stretches with tall grass and trees, steep climbs with exposed rock and little shade, and then some epic downhills. I laugh at the PCT every time she asks me to hike up – I know I’ll be going down to the road at mile 151, so why all the climbing, friend?! Anyone who ever said the first 700 miles of the PCT are flat is an idiot. (I am an idiot.)

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Right as I’m about to hit the road junction I see Shipwreck and Iguana. We chat excitedly about the cafe, what we’re going to order first.

“An ice cube,” I say with certainty. “I can’t even think about a hamburger until I’ve had like, 7 glasses of ice cold water.” It’s very hot today. Just like always.

It’s about a mile from where the trail hits the road to the cafe, and while it’s possible to hitch the three of us just walk. I’m very focused on the glass of water I’m going to drink! When we arrive at the cafe the patio is filled with hikers and I happily drop my pack and sit down with Colleen, Raw Hide, and Toby. “You made great time,” Toby says, and it makes me feel nice. Our server is Sandy and she calls everyone “baby” and “sweetheart” – she is so nice and patient with all of us. We order All Of The Things and I’m thrilled by the jug of ice water that remains on our table – I drink so much water. All of my dreams have come true!

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Toby’s been craving apple juice which is adorable, and he looks so cute drinking it when it arrives at our table that we dub him Apple Juice. He accepts this trail name. We are all pleased. My burger arrives and even though they are out of avocado (devastating) and sweet potato fries, I am ecstatic. I devour the entire thing easily and contemplate ordering a second one.

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The big topic of conversation today has been the fire closure near this section of the PCT, and if we will take the alternate route or not. There are several sections of the PCT that have been closed due to fires, and there are alternate routes devised by the PCTA to get around these closures. Some people choose to walk them and some people hitch around them. There’s a lot of debate amongst hikers about what is the proper thing to do, and people are actually pretty judgmental which is irritating. I’ve already decided I won’t be doing the alternate – it’s a difficult climb and unappealing road walk, and I feel fine hitch hiking directly from the cafe into Idyllwild to meet my friends for our planned double zero. If I did the alternate I wouldn’t make it in time, and I just don’t care enough about being a “purist.” Everyone is trying to decide what is right for them; Apple Juice will also be skipping the alternate but Colleen, Raw Hide, and some others decide they want to do it. I like that everyone is making their own choices but I dislike the superior attitudes some hikers take on, as if their choice is the only right one. I guess that’s life.

My major task after scarfing down my burger is to decide where I will sleep tonight. The cafe allows hikers to camp on their patio, and that seems like a good option; Mike, Cate, and Lynn decided to do the alternate route and they are on it right now, and will only get to Idyllwild tomorrow. It will make sense to wake up early at the cafe and hitch into Idyllwild first thing in the morning.

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Except! Just as I decide on this plan, I get a call from Cate – they did part of the alternate and had a horrible day, and now they’re at a campground nearby and there are some dudes who helped them out with a hitch yesterday who have rented an AirBnB nearby and are happy to host them there for the night. I can come to – do I want them to come pick me up from the cafe? Oh my gosh yes duh of course I do! What magic!

I gather my things and sheepishly tell the other hikers who are planning to spend the night at the cafe that I won’t be sleeping on the ground with them this evening after all. I wistfully bid farewell the idea that I may get a second burger for dinner and wait for Cate and our new BFF, Josh, to show up in the parking lot. They arrive in a large black pick up truck and I hop in. Josh is friendly and funny and Cate fills me in on what’s been going on with them. In short, they had a really hard day and were really touched when two relative strangers offered to let them crash at their AirBnB tonight. There is a washing machine we can use and a shower and it all seems too good to be true. I can wash my clothes before I get to Idyllwild?! What an embarrassment of riches!

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Cate, Josh, and I arrive at the AirBnB and it’s hilarious. The space is huge and on a horse ranch, so there are some horses hanging out nearby. Josh announces that we will each have a bed to sleep in and that he’s going to make us dinner. I feel so happy to see my friends again, so lucky that these guys are being so generous, so incredulous that my day began in a canyon miles away and has progressed to this bizarre point. Josh and I get to talking about everything and nothing and I learn he grew up near Portland but moved to LA, and that he’s Jewish, and…that he voted for Trump.

***

Friends, I’m going to be real with you: I am writing this blog post two weeks after the fact, and this is the post that tripped me up with my regular schedule. Yes, it is difficult to find time to blog about my day when I am hiking 10+ hours. Yes, I’m tired all the time, both physically and also mentally. Yes, keeping a daily trail blog is a commitment that some would argue is crazier than committing to a thru-hike itself. But I love writing this blog and it brings me a lot of joy. This entry though…this has brought me a lot of stress and confusion and anxiety. I have thought about this interaction for many many miles, about how I could write about it honestly and fairly, about how it made me feel, about what it was supposed to teach me. Here’s what I know.

(And before I continue – I know there will be people who disagree with me on both sides. I think some of my queer radical friends will be appalled that I didn’t leave, that I didn’t take this man to task, that I didn’t stand up for myself and for my community better. And perhaps you are right; perhaps I failed. And perhaps writing about this after the fact in my public blog instead of being upfront in person is cowardly. I accept that. I also think – no, I know – there are some people who read this blog who voted for Trump. I’m not here to foster a dialogue about this. I simply do not have the mental energy. Maybe in a few months. But I do want to write a bit about how this made me feel, because to leave it out and pretend that staying in this AirBnB for the night was just an uncomplicated act of trail magic feels like a lie. And I’m nothing if not honest, at least when I write here. So.)

Learning that Josh voted for Trump felt really bad. I didn’t want to engage with him about it because ultimately he was being generous with his resources, I was in an unfamiliar place, I felt anxious about being the queer feminist killjoy in a group of friends who I adore but who are not queer and did not seem to be quite as horrified as I was by this revelation, and mostly – I didn’t think anything I said would have made a difference. And that’s what kills me, I think. After thinking about this experience for miles upon miles and trying to ascertain exactly what my takeaway should be, this is the major sticking point. If you voted for Trump, you voted against me and my loved ones. You just did. You can justify it however you want to help you sleep at night and you can tell me you love me and don’t wish me harm and again, this is controversial, but I actually believe that some people in my life who voted for Trump and say that they love me truly do love me and truly believe they did not vote against me. 

But they did.

However, I don’t think anything I have to say about Trump and how unsafe I feel living in a world where he could be elected president of my country will make a difference to the people who voted for him. I’ve tried to talk about it – I tried before the election to no avail. And so I don’t know what to do, and it just horrifies me, but I am at a loss about how to communicate effectively about it.

The night continued weirdly, for me, after that. I hung up my laundry with Cate. I showered. Josh cooked us dinner and refused to accept any help and it was really delicious. I drank a couple of beers. I texted Alley to ask her what the fuck I should do. I was going to sleep on the sofa but ended up sleeping on the floor in Mike and Cate’s room which made me happy because I actually felt very uneasy after all the political conversation that continued. Spoiler for the next post, in the morning we woke up and the guys drove us to Idyllwild and Cate commented how generous they’d been with their time, with their food, with their AirBnB. I said thank you politely. We took some photos together. I wondered how the fuck I was going to convey these feelings in my blog. And I never figured it out.

I’ve thought about all of the above for almost 200 miles now. It’s a brain loop I engage in on the trail with some frequency. How to write about what happened to me with these guys, what is happening to our country and the dialogues we cannot have with one another, the complexities of how a person can be generous and yet also completely selfish. I don’t think we do ourselves any favors when we flatten people in caricatures. I want to find the nuances. But I worry that my brain is incapable of that kind of critical thought right now. I don’t know when I will muster it. The paragraphs I have written do not do my brain loop justice; I wish I could stick a wire in my head and have it transcribe some of the thoughts I’ve had about all this while hiking.

Until then – that’s how this day ended. I don’t know what else to say.

Day Fourteen: Queers In The Wild

Mile 129 to mile 140
11 miles

Lion Heart is already dressed when I open my eyes. It’s still dark outside, an inky navy blue sky, and I spy a star or two lingering as the sun begins its slow rise. It’s 5:08am.

Everyone around me is bustling.

I get ready as quickly as I can; it’s a bit quicker without having to take down my tent, but not much – the Zpacks tent is so quick to take down that it’s just a few minutes saved. I’m one of the last people out of our camp – why am I always so slow?! – and I hit the trail at 6am sharp. 50 minutes to get ready; not bad. I get a text from my Dad: “Wow! Up earlier and earlier!” He’s right; I’m trying!

Doing the two mile climb out of Mike’s place last night paid off, because today I’m greeted with flat-ish trail right away. To be honest it already feels warm-ish at 6am – it never got very cold last night so there’s not a lot of cold lingering. The sun rises fully just as I’m starting my hike. Let’s see how long it takes for today’s heat to become unbearable.

I hike by myself but see more people than usual today, I guess because we were all camped together.

The trail smells like beeswax for a while, in a delicious way, and I try to figure out which flower is making it smell like that; I cannot figure it out. A little while later the trail seems to smell like potatoes – I’ve noticed this often, actually – I’ll round a bend and half expect to see another hiker making some Idahoan mashed potatoes at 9am because the smell of potatoes is so strong – but no, of course there’s no one there, because that would be weird. I like all the smells of the trail – earth smells so good, usually. Even the bad smells are okay – I like being so close to nature, like this.

My first goal of the day is to get to the next water source; it’s 8 miles ahead. I’ve got 2 liters of water so I should be in good shape (I aim to have 1 liter for every 4ish miles) but it’s going to be so hot again so I’m a little anxious. I want to get to the water ASAP.

As I hike I think about Alley. I’ve experimented with this, absurd as it sounds – but what I mean is, some days thinking about her is too hard, if I’m sad or lonely or feeling really down, then I can’t. But most days it brings me joy. Today it makes me grin. I think about her sweet smile, about her hand holding mine. I think about our lives stretching out together like a map, like this trail. I wish I could call her but I don’t have any service. I’m so lucky, I think. So lucky so lucky so lucky.

I’m almost at the water! It’s 10am and it’s fucking hot. If we’re being real it was hot by 7. The desert. It is hot. Surprise!

And then I’m there! It feels like I have some new blisters on my big toes which seems like total bullshit. More blisters?! My old ones are just beginning to fully heal. WHY MAKE MORE, BODY?! I’ll have to check them out once I’ve gotten water. There is a disappointing lack of shade at the rocks where everyone is congregated – will I be able to take my lengthy mid-day break here?

I approach the rocks and see Raw Hide. I ask what the deal is and she answers honestly: the water is a ways away, it’s pretty gross, the climb to get it is steep and scary, and while there’s a lot of shade by the water source it’s very buggy. WELL OKAY. “Wow, thanks for the honesty, Raw Hide,” I laugh. She shrugs and smiles.

Lion Heart appears from the mysterious far away gross water source and I’m so excited to see her. She asks how my day has been, how I enjoyed cowboy camping, what my plan is for Idyllwild. She’s so nice and so experienced and makes me feel so competent. I feel very grateful to have found her on trail. We chat for a while and exchange numbers – it sounds like she’s going much farther than I am today – maybe all the way to the cafe at mile 151! – but we’ll be zeroing in Idyllwild together. Yay.

After she leaves I decide to take my pack and myself down to the water source to see for myself what the deal is. It’s getting Really Hot, not just Hot like it has been for the past few hours, and I don’t really see myself hiking again until the hot part of the day passes. Sure, that may take until 5pm. What’s a girl to do?

The hike down to the water is not as bad as Raw Hide described, and the shade situation is actually totally sufficient. She was right about getting down to the “stream” though – it’s a treacherous sandy bank that is basically 180 degrees – near impossible for short girls like us! And she’s definitely right about the water source itself – it’s the most questionable I’ve had to drink so far. It’s a “stream” “flowing” through a red clay bank, and there are only two spots where the water is actually moving and not just sitting stagnant collecting branches and bugs. The taste is, as Lion Heart had said, “interesting!” – it is very rich in iron and Amelia quickly dubs it “Blood Water.” Yum.

But this is the desert and this is the last reliable water source for 15 miles. There’s a cache on private property 8 miles up from here that may be stocked, but it may not be. And after that the next source is the Paradise Valley Cafe. So we’re all gonna stock up on Blood Water here because that’s what we’ve got.

I drop my pack in the shade and grab two bottles to fill up. I’ll be here for a while, I figure, so I don’t need to fill all my bottles now. I’ll start with two. Getting down the sandy bank is not easy but it’s okay; getting back up is actually a bit more challenging. But I do it and then my reward is I get to rest – for what feels like forever! It’s 11am and I’m not moving until the heat subsides.

Tommy is here already, napping, and Karma, Colleen, Amelia, and Raw Hide are here too. There are also some other hikers I don’t know very well. We hang out. We eat food. Colleen cooks lunch and I wonder if maybe the key to my stove is to use it during the day instead of at night; I almost take it out but decide I’m too lazy. What am I doing? Nothing, really. Complaining about the heat. Futzing with my feet. Talking about food. Fantasizing about what food we’ll all eat when we reach the cafe. Complaining about how the water tastes. Saying hi to new people as they arrive.

PCT hiking is so weird sometimes, we all agree – we’re just a group of strangers, talking about how much our feet hurt, when we last pooped, and how much we would pay for an ice cold beverage delivered to us this very moment. Totally normal.

The day rolls on. I think about working on a blog post but can’t be bothered. The heat makes me feel so depleted, even just lying under this tree. The shade keeps disappearing, the sun finding me in different spots no matter how I shift and move.

And then Toby appears! I am so excited! “TOBY!” I yell! I didn’t know if I would see him again but now he’s here, and he’s going to take a break with us! Yay! The sight of a fellow queer makes me feel so happy; it’s hard to explain but it’s lonely sometimes being the only queer person in a group for days at a time. I feel like if you understand what I mean then you know what I mean and if you don’t then I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but suffice it to say seeing Toby makes me so so so happy.

He seems equally stoked to see me and he sits down with us to rest. We chat about our mileage goals for the day; he’s already done more than me today because he camped further back last night, so he says he’s thinking of doing 3-4 more miles once the heat dies down. Everyone else I’m with seems to be aiming for the 144 mark; I’m not sure why, it just seems to be the one everyone decided on. I suppose it’s got a big camp site and is close enough to the cafe that getting there tomorrow morning will be easy-ish.

I keep mentioning this cafe and I’m not sure if I’ve explained to y’all what it is! Paradise Valley Cafe is an extremely Hiker-friendly restaurant at mile 151.8 of the PCT. It’s just a one mile walk off trail and it is known for The Best Burger on the PCT. THE BEST ONE! It’s been on all of ours minds recently, as we’re so close. How will we all structure our hikes to get to this perfect burger?

So I guess for some people camping at the 144 mile marker tonight is the way to get to the cafe/the perfect burger easily in the morning. I think about it for a second and realize there’s no reason for me to rush to the cafe – I just want to get there at some point tomorrow and then will plan to sleep there or near there tomorrow night, and hitch into Idyllwild on Friday. And I really really want to camp with Toby. So I tell him so! “We should camp together,” I say. “I’d love that,” he agrees. “If it works with your plans.” I nod my head. My plan is to camp with Toby, so yes, that works with my plan!

With that settled, we spend the rest of the hot afternoon lounging and trying to psyche ourselves up to actually go hike. Toby and I decide we should have 4 liters of water each when we hike out and I’m so not looking forward to carrying that. The heat also stubbornly refuses to leave; even at 5pm it is still pressing down on us.

We can’t put it off any longer though. Toby and I load up our newly filtered iron-filled water and start hiking. Three to four miles – we can do this!

Toby suggests I hike in front, to set the pace, and I’m touched, like I was yesterday with Lion Heart. I insist he tell me if he needs to pass me. We start moving and after awhile he says, “So, I don’t really think you’re a slow hiker. You seem like a regular paced hiker to me.” I laugh. “I’m slower than all the people I’ve been hiking with,” I say, but I so appreciate his sweet validating comment and it does make me think, like Lion Heart made me think yesterday: what does it mean when we say we are slow, why do we do it, why am I undermining myself, who cares?

It’s really fun to hike with Toby. We chat about everything: hiking, religion, our partners, the desert. We talk about blogging while hiking and how much effort it takes at the end of a long day, but how rewarding we find it. “It’s like having a conversation with the people who are reading along,” he says, and I love that description so much. Thank you all for being in conversation with me.

We decide to stop at mile 140, at Nance Canyon. It’s the earliest I’ve ever gotten to camp, at around 6pm. I’m so excited – there’s so much daylight to do things! Toby says he loves getting to camp early, and I agree. It would be incredible to eventually be getting to camp this early regularly – it’s just hard to hike the amount of miles I want to, while avoiding the heat, and still make camp at a decent hour.

We pitch our tents and continue to chat. Toby is so cool – he’s a gender studies professor and an avid hiker and such a nice person. We both keep saying how much fun we’re having together. I’m super happy.

I have my leftover black beans for dinner on a pita and sort of roll it into a burrito; it’s surprisingly yummy and the thrill of not having to cook is amazing. I even clean out my bowl. Getting to camp early is life changing!

And then the stuff that happens every night is happening, the light is disappearing and the moon is beginning to shine and the first few stars are popping out. It’s still not cooling down; there’s barely any breeze and I’m perfectly comfortable lying fully naked on top of my quilt in my tent.

Toby and I say goodnight to each other through our cuben fiber tent walls and agree to wake up at 4am so we can be on trail by 5am.

It’s my two week anniversary on the PCT. I think maybe I can stop saying I’ve never been backpacking before, because arguably I totally have now, right? I still don’t know exactly what I’m doing, but I’m figuring it out.

Tomorrow I get to eat the best burger on the PCT, and the next day I get to meet my friends in Idyllwild for a zero! I’m camping with a fellow queer in a beautiful canyon under the waxing Leo moon and the slightest hint of a breeze just blew through my tent. I’m healthy and happy and doing my best. Happy anniversary to me!

Day Thirteen: Cowboy Camping

Mile 114.5 to mile 129
14.5 miles


It’s so chilly when I wake up. I have a hard time coaxing myself out of my warm down quilt, but I try to reason with myself: soon it will be so hot and I’ll be begging for a slight chill, so I may as well make the most of it. I manage to get up and out fairly quickly and hit the trail at 6:15am. Unfortunately I immediately stop at the stream to filter water, which slows me down. I don’t have a lot “to do” out here but the chores I have all take up time and it always feels like I’m not being as efficient as I could be. My mom teased me, “Only you could be busy on the PCT!” But it feels like we all are. Taking care of basic needs in the backcountry is slow, tedious, and never ending.


I walk about half a mile and see everyone else who left Warner Springs yesterday. I’m not sad that I didn’t camp with them; I kind of like doing my own thing. It’s a weird back and forth feeling – sometimes I’m lonely, sometimes I’m grateful to be alone. My Gemini moon can’t ever make up its mind.

Soon there’s a second stream crossing and I stop again to make myself drink a liter now. “Camel up” is the term hikers use. “Better to have water in your body than on your back,” Love It Or Leave It had told me on my second day. So I drink. Tommy sits with me and we gossip for a little while. Then it’s back to the trail and up up up. I’m grateful not to have done this solo last night. The landscape feels sort of swampy and it’s not my favorite. Tommy points out that he’s just glad for trees and shade, and I have to admit he’s right. Okay, I revise my thinking. This landscape is fine!


At around the 120 mile marker is a water source called Lost Valley Spring, but the notes on the water report indicate that it’s not a great source (lots of debris and dead bugs) and I still have a lot of water left over from the stream so I decide not to fill up. A group of hikers has stopped to break in the shade on some rocks nearby, and I drop by pack. I’ve only done 6 miles by 10am, but I decide it’s time for a break anyway.

It’s fun to chat with new people. I barely recognize any of these hikers. It’s wild to me how many folks are moving through so quickly; it seems like every day someone tells me they’re still in their first week. I’m almost done with week two! Wow.


The flies are making me feel crazy today. They’re extra obsessed with us. A lizard struts by and does some push-ups by the rock, making me giggle. Lion Heart shows up and chats for a while which makes me happy, and a group of people I met briefly yesterday at Warner Springs walk up soon too. We talk about all the usual stuff: our feet, our food, the heat. 

After an hour I decide I have to keep hiking even though it’s hot and I’m sluggish. I think a lot about how humans are so fragile, how there are really so many design flaws in the human body. It reminds me of Battlestar Galactica, of the monologue that annoying cylon John gives near the end of the series – about how he wants to be more machine than human, how human bodies are too soft and easily harmed, how it would be better to be all chrome, shiny, hard, smooth, strong. Honestly, he had a point. How are we all even still alive?!


I don’t have a clear end goal in mind for the day but there’s a water source called Mike’s Place that is literally at a man named Mike’s house. I’ve heard hikers often stay there but I’ve also heard mixed things about how that experience is, so I’m not sure I want to. It sounds like a lot of people might be, though, so I start to wonder if I should.


I see two snakes on my way there and try to both drink my water to hydrate and conserve my water so I’ll have enough. Honestly I was hoping my anxiety would subside on the trail, but so far, no luck. I don’t know if it’s because I have so much cell service so I feel very plugged in, or if the experience is so new it’s hard to relax, but I still feel almost as anxious as I do in my regular life. Neat. 

When I get to Mike’s there’s a huge group of hikers there but it turns out most are not spending the night. I get in my head about a bunch of different stuff and end up feeling really sad. I am not motivated to hike on but I also don’t want to stay here. Bless Lion Heart – she’s there too and she can either read that I need a boost or she is just a sweetheart. Either way, she reaches out to me and encourages me to hike a couple of miles out with her. So I do. 


She suggests I hike in front of her, which makes me nervous because I’m so slow, but she’s supportive and insistent. I don’t feel self conscious with her like I usually do when I hike in front of someone, and she assures me the pace I’m setting is great. I had been near tears at Mike’s house I was feeling so sad and alone, so I am extra grateful now for her kindness. 

As we hike, a fairly substantial climb, we chat. She asks what made me want to do this trail and tells me how she started long distance hiking. We talk about hikers we both know and she tells me stories about previous thru-hikes. I tell her I’m not brave enough to cowboy camp yet but I wish I was. We talk about how silly it is to say “I’m so slow” all the time, how that doesn’t even mean anything and we’re all just walking at our own paces. It’s a good point; I vow to try to stop saying “I’m so slow.” I am so happy to be hiking with her and so appreciative of her understated support. I don’t know if she knows it, but she got me through those final two miles of the day. 


We get to the top of the climb where things completely level out and a huge group is there. I see Raw Hide and Amelia and Karma and also the folks who Lion Heart is sort of grouped with who I also really like, Dos Tacos and UB and Gramps and Drum Solo and some others. I resolve that I will do whatever Lion Heart does. There is room for cowboy camping but probably not to pitch two tents. Lion Heart asks if I want to try it. (!!!) I do want to, but I’m nervous. This seems like a really good time to try it though, with so many of us together and a woman I admire and respect guiding me through. I say yes, I do want to try. 


I lay out my gear and do not pitch my tent. Oh my gosh! I make dinner – a surprisingly delicious black bean soup Patagonia meal – as the sun starts to set and it’s gorgeous, really a breathtaking sunset. UB has lost a toenail and we all crowd around her to take pictures and offer advice. “You’re lightweight now,” Lion Heart jokes. I’m a bit anxious about cowboy camping. I ask UB if she’s done it before. She nods. “I love it,” she says, “you get to look at the whole sky.”



Soon the sun has fully set and we’re all in our bags. Lion Heart checks in to see that I’m okay and I am. I was so sad earlier but I’m so happy now. It really is hard to manage my emotions out here. 


My chafe is bothering me (shocker) so Dos Tacos let’s me borrow her Gold Bond. I’ve never used it before and am surprised by the tingle. 

Then I lie down, surrounded by 8 other humans, and stare up at the sky. I could stay here forever, I think. It takes a long time for me to close my eyes for bed – there’s just too much beautiful sky to stare up at.

Day Twelve: Nero and Night Hiking

Mile 109.5 to mile 114.5
5 miles

Today is lazy on purpose. I’m taking a nero, which is like a zero but you hike a little bit – Nearly a Zero! I sleep in and don’t plan to hike out until it’s cooler, so I have until 4pm or 5pm. A bunch of other hikers have this same plan. I’m getting used to all of this – the trail, the routines, the zero/nero chores, the other hikers. It’s day 12 and I’ve been on the trail almost two weeks.

I get up and try to find a ride to the post office. The sheriff in this town does early morning shuttle rides to the post office, which is adorable, but I’ve slept in too long to score one of those rides. Apparently there’s a trail angel parked in the lot giving out beer and potato chips. It’s a bit a early for me to have a beer but I am always down for chips. I saunter over in my silly laundry outfit from yesterday because I like it so much and want to keep airing out my body, specifically my butt. Will I ever not be thinking about my butt?

I’d texted Carrot about my butt chafe issues and she texts me back today:

It turns out that the trail angel giving out beer is a hiker’s dad/husband – two hikers, Jordan and Trudy, just got in today, and they’re from San Diego so their dad/husband drove to see them and bring them resupply stuff. It’s so sweet! And…there’s Diet Coke in the cooler!! Trudy tells me she loves Diet Coke so she requested it and I should help myself to as much as I want. Jordan says once they hike out his dad will give me a ride to the post office and then bring me back. It’s only a mile away but I’m expecting three boxes and really don’t want to walk more than I have to today. I’m very grateful for the offered ride and I wait for him to be ready. It’s so simple for life to be good.

The post office is easy. I heard it was busy earlier but now it’s 11am and empty. I walk in and retrieve my three packages and then ride back to the community center. Jordan’s dad leaves and wishes me luck and I head inside to open my boxes.

One package is from my mom, one is from my friend Jess (who is also hiking the PCT this year and started just a week or so after me!) and one is from myself/Susie. People do all sorts of hybrid resupply strategies on the PCT; I am sending myself some boxes, but not too many. For context, some people send zero, and Cate and Mike are sending 30. I am sending 6 in California and will decide what I want to do for Oregon and Washington later.

Anyway I filled my boxes with food and the maps I’d need for this section at Barb and Susie’s place before I left, and now Susie has a document that indicates when and where she should mail each box. I imagined the resupply job would be a huge pain for whoever did it, but Susie is literally the sweetest human in the world and assures me that she finds it fun. She’s decorated my box with art and poetry from We’moon, the feminist astrological datebook she and Barb help create with a team of other women and that I used to work for, and she’s stuffed sweet notes inside. My mom decorated my box with flower stickers and a giant pink bow and wrote me the sweetest card, and Jess wrote me an encouraging letter and sent me a bunch of hard candies, in response to me complaining about dry mouth a few weeks ago.

I’m so fucking touched by the energy and love and care everyone is sending my way. I almost cry sorting through my resupply loot. I have way too much food and even more good vibes. I carefully go through the food I’ve sent myself and my mom sent me and decide what needs to go in the hiker free box and what I will carry on this next stretch. I tuck the love and positive energy away in my heart to pull out when I’m having a hard time. I can’t get over how many people are cheering for me, how lucky I am. Thank you, I think to myself. Thank you, I text Mom and Susie and Jess. Thank you, thank you.

The rest of my time in “town” is a blur. I’ve heard that town is stressful and I didn’t think I would feel that way but I do. There’s so much that could be done but no time, it seems. I try to be efficient. Call Mom. FaceTime Alley. Buy more o-rings for my filter. Stop in at the cool gear shop in an airstream that lives at Warner Springs and chat with the folks that work there. Clean my stupid pot. Soak my feet and re-tape my blisters. I’m gonna be the last person hiking out of here, I think. Raw Hide left at 4 but I wasn’t ready. Everyone else left too. It’s almost 5. Sigh.

Before I go some exciting things happen. Claire and Hannah, the mother daughter duo I haven’t seen since Mt Laguna, show up! It’s Hannah’s last day and I’m so so glad I get to see them.

And then I recognize Lion Heart, a woman I’ve followed on Instagram and her blog for more than a year! She’s hiked the PCT before and has done a lot of other long distance hiking and I admire her a lot. And then! Toby! I forget exactly how Toby and I connected but I believe his girlfriend found my Autostraddle article and the Alley found his blog and then I found his blog and I dunno, he’s a queer person hiking this trail and I’ve been hoping he’ll catch up to me! And he has! I’m actually so disappointed to only see him and Lion Heart for a minute, but I’ve got to hike out tonight. They’re fast. They’ll catch up.

Finally, finally, finally, I leave. It’s 6pm now. I’m going to be night hiking tonight. Alone. I think I’m okay with that.

The hike out is easy. It’s still hot but the sun is setting and the fields are flat. I’m happy but a little anxious about night time hiking. I’m only aiming to do 6 miles or so. Everyone else who hiked out today was aiming to camp at mile 115. We’ll see.

I keep walking through the field and then! Cows! Oh! In…the middle of the trail. Wow, okay. There are like 15 big black cows just hanging out on the trail. Neat, they’re hiking the PCT too. I’m not thrilled. I’m totally alone and about to face off with some large heavy animals. Um…

I approach slowly, not sure how to proceed. Ugh, it would be so annoying if I died on the PCT in a cow stampede. Like, super anti-climactic, ya know? The cows are interested in me. I hold out my trekking poles and try to avoid eye contact. “No!” I say forcefully. “Stay! No! Goodbye!” They let me pass. Whew.

But not 100 feet later, there is another group of cows! Good grief. These ones are more interested in me and refuse to move. I detour off the trail into the tall grass to avoid them, doing my same move with my trekking pole and strong voice. “No! No! No!”

I must look absurd, I think. One more group of cows ahead. I’m tempted to stop and take a million photos but I remind myself about now wanting to die in a cow stampede on the PCT. I make it past the last group of cows with my signature trekking pole/firm voice move. Soon I get to a livestock fence and gratefully open and close the gate behind me. Bye, cows! Gotta go. Whew.

I feel really solo again, like I did when I hiked out of Mt. Laguna. I can’t tell if I feel more confident this time. My feet definitely feel better.

I get a little lost in a dry river bed where the trail makes a weird unmarked fork, but I realize quickly and am able to get myself back on track. It spooks me a little but is ultimately fine.

The sun starts setting as I climb up up up and I make peace with the idea of night hiking for real. It’s fine, I tell myself. I’ll just hike until I don’t want to anymore. The sunset is beautiful and I continue to enjoy being by myself. My own pace, in my own head. It’s good. Everything is good.

Soon it’s dark and then it’s dark dark and I’m slightly less happy about my choices. I’ve put my headlamp on in anticipation of the real dark night and am glad I have it. The stars are coming out, and a sliver of moon. I feel scared but try to calm myself and see the beauty. It is beautiful. I chant to myself as I walk: “I am safe, I am brave, I am magical.” I say it out loud, over and over.

I haven’t seen another human for a few miles, and I’m weirdly not scared of animals. I try not to be scared of the dark. I remember Susie’s note to me in my package today: “V, if the path beats you down in the daylight – remember to let the stars and grandmother moon heal you in the night!” I call in my mom’s magic, my late grandma’s magic, my own magic. I am safe, I am brave, I am magical.

I get to mile 114, one mile short of where I was aiming for, and stop. I hear the stream rushing and think about how much I don’t want to cross water at night and how nice it would be to wake up to water.

There’s one other tent here already – I hear women’s voices speaking in French from inside and assume it must be the French girls, Camille and Juliet. Their trail name is The Mermaids. How funny to have a shared trail name. How fitting for them to be camping by water.

I make peace with stopping here for the night and quickly get my tent up. I can’t remember if sleeping near water might cause condensation in my tent but I suppose I’ll find out in the morning. I eat a cold dinner – just a combination of snacks, really – and get ready for bed, trying to be quiet so as not to disrupt The Mermaids.

I want to plan for tomorrow but I’m so tired. I want to write but I’m exhausted for that, too. I take some brief notes and promise to catch up when I can. Blogging on trail is hard. I set an alarm for 5am. It’s nice to be back on the trail. I fall asleep to the sound of rushing water and frogs croaking at the creek.