Day Fifteen: Burgers & AirBnB

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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!


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.


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.


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!


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.

24 thoughts on “Day Fifteen: Burgers & AirBnB

  1. Judy Newton says:

    Hi Vanessa!! was so glad to seea notification in my email box that there was a new post from you!! I hadn’t seen anything in several days and I was getting a bit worried for you!! I should not have underestimated you!! Glad all is going good and that you just keep rockin’ it!! I was talking to my grandson the other day, who is getting close to mile 800 ahead of you on the trail and I was telling him how I have been following your blog, but had not mentioned your name, and he asked “Is her name Vanessa?” He even knows who you are!!

  2. Yermo says:

    OMG so glad to see your blog again. I was a bit more than a tad concerned. I even sent you a friend request on your face page. But seems all is well and I am so glad that you are doing fine.
    Also thrilled that you are enamored with hiking early in the morning. So was John Steinbeck. He put my love for the mornings, the madrugada, in words that I love. Especially in his book: Cannery Row. I do not know if you are familiar. 🙂
    I was shocked to hear your Jewish friend voted for Trump. How you felt came through very well on that topic. I have completely disowned relatives that did that dirty deed. Perhaps Josh and his type would have made fine Kapos (Funktionshäftling) not so many years back.
    Of all your postings and writings, this has distressed me to no end. And I bet you even more
    Getting that out of my system.
    I just finished Thru-Hiking will Break Your Heart by your fellow writer, Carrot Quinn. Holy moley. Both of y’all such fine writers. Different but amazingly wonderful. Hope not gushing too much.
    Trek on . . .

  3. Margaret A Langley says:

    Hi Vanessa…. I’ve been hiking vicariously through you as I sit at my desk. Was wondering where you’ve been. Your last post, was interesting to me, as I live with a retired Navy Chief Petty officer who pretty much feels exactly like you do about anyone who votes for a candidate that doesn’t take care of the military. I have stopped arguing with him about it, but I found it interesting that your feelings run as deeply as his do about these types of issues. You should check out The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom a Book by Don Miguel Ruiz…. maybe he can help you sort through these complicated feelings with his 2nd agreement, “don’t take anything personally”. Hike on!

  4. lmichelescott says:

    There you are – I figured you were having too much fun and not enough time to write your blog.

    I’m glad you’re on the trail as it will give you lots of time to work out your reaction to Josh’s vote while weighing what kind of person he was personally to you. He seems super friendly based on what he did for you all, but his vote….yeah. Just remember everything isn’t black and white. Maybe not even ‘shades of grey’, but a gigantic rainbow of beliefs and influences! 😉

    Work through this, enjoy your hike and please, please, please keep the blogs coming. They are awesome.

    One question though. If the pee rag is the same as the dish rag…how do you tell them apart???

  5. Cate says:

    I think this is a fair, loving, and honest account of that evening. I, too, am still mentally unpacking how to be both gracious and grateful for the personal acts of generosity while also being appalled politically. It’s conflicting, confusing, and a difficult task to think about for hundreds of miles. I’m proud of you for getting this out; I know it’s been a weight. We love you and would never knowingly have invited you into that situation!

  6. Tam says:

    There you are!!! Been wondering about you! Sounds like you’ve been carrying some extra brain weight this last bit.

    It’s hard to make sense of people since we are all such mixed bags and most of us have our contradictions. Many of my working class family members equate trump with hope. I also really love my family and they really love me. I play cribbage with my old man twice a month and it’s a blast. We love and respect each other and are incredible generous and thoughtful of one another. And we don’t talk politics or we can’t really hang out. Sometimes shit feels tense but if we can avoid going down that road than we can stay friends. It can be hard not to take other people’s politics personally tho…especially when they start in with that rhetoric… but I tend to be an optimist about love conquering all.

    Check out this podcast on Snap Judgement: “the clan”

  7. Joy de Beyer says:

    Like your other fans, I am relieved to see today’s posting. When I encounter Trump/Pence supporters, I resist my gut reaction to judge and turn away. Im trying to understand how anyone could have voted for them – so much vileness. We HAVE to connect across the huge divides. Im glad you stayed the night.
    As I started to read today’s blog, I began to wonder whether – or to what extent – you are insulated on the PCT from all the turmoil caused by this ghastly administration that so preoccupies many of the people I know. We wake wondering what new outrage the day will bring. Reading the news often feels as painful as blisters and butt-chafe.

  8. meghaparsec says:

    HOORAY a new blog post! Never doubted that you were ripping up those miles and savoring them right along with the burger. And, on the betrayal of Trump voters, thanks for telling this part of the story with such nuance and integrity. I see you.

    (I leave on my tiny 30 mile first ever backpacking trip on Friday and I’ll be thinking about you and Carrot a lot, I’m sure. I’m so excited!! / Internet friendship / fandom / queer community is so weird sometimes.)

  9. Jenny Bruso says:

    I feel like you were so fair about your feelings about this weird interaction. Also, the expectation to give a fair response in a totally unfair situation just SUCKS. I feel annoyed about some of the comments about not everything being black and white, etc., though I understand what they are trying to relay. You put it SO WELL here: “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.”

  10. carrot quinn says:

    Oh man what a wierd situation- I’m not sure what I would’ve done either and it makes me uncomfortable just thinking about it. One thing’s for sure, the hiking community can be very “choose love!” and “focus on the positive!” aka “my privilege allows me to ignore great injustice!” and turning off the comments section on a heavy post or deleting comments liberally is always an option. Do whatever you need to do to make blogging as least stressful as possible. And yay I’m glad yr posting the blergs again!!!

    • Vanessa says:

      LOL. It’s a shame I can’t hike the PCT without wondering which one of my basic human rights will be gone on any given day thanks to our current administration! I’m an unapologetically gay Jewish woman – I don’t get the luxury to hike and write about the PCT “without politics.” Bye!

      • alleyhector says:

        Perfect reply and echoes Carrot’s also brilliant “my privilege allows me to ignore great injustice!” Kudos to you both.

      • michellehp says:

        Adding my kudos to ALLEYHECTOR’s below. Hiking is political, let’s talk about all the ways!

  11. Jennifer W Stumpf says:

    Hi Vanessa! I subscribed to your blog via Carrot Quinn and her recommendation on her blog… love reading your lovely, descriptive passages. For someone who has long wanted to walk the PCT but just can’t get out of life’s circumstances to do so, your blog and others are some of my favorite reading. I am an unapologetic Trump resister. I spend vast swaths of time signing petitions and marching against him, Pence and all the other evil monsters like him. I don’t care what people think about that. I have lost friends and family over it and my feeling is you are either for me, or you are for Trump and his cronies. I cannot have friends who support Trump or voted for him. I will not tolerate it and I will not excuse anyone for it. I think you handled the situation as well as you could, given that it was unexpected and you couldn’t very well just get up and leave. When I say I will not tolerate Trump supporters, I mean ones that I previously knew were his supporters. It would not have been reasonable to have behaved in any way other than you did, so I personally wouldn’t be bothered by it, given the circumstances. Looking forward to your next post! Thanks so much for your efforts to blog– I simply cannot imagine how you manage it!

  12. mars says:

    Don’t know if you can use this as a consolation, but here in Europe we are happy about your president. Since the day he won the election, far right populism has a hard time here. The German right wing party AFD: Away from the window. France: Le Pen didn’t make it. Netherlands: Wilders had no chance. Switzerland: Far right lost every votation since (and they have the biggest party, usually they attract 30 % of the voters). The European union came back from the grave, no more talks about the end of it. Theresa May has not yet won the elections in GB. And so on. Wish you a wonderful hike and I hope the 25 amendment will be put in place before the end of your hike (who will follow after Mr Trump, however, nobody knows, I just hope it is not Mr. Pence).

  13. Laurie says:

    Vanessa – thank you for writing this complicated post. This would be such a hard position to be in. In a situation where generosity is involved… that’s really difficult. I don’t know what I would do either. It’s almost feeling like you’d be under attack and unsafe where you are at. And yet complicity is not okay either.

    With Jenny I’m really frustrated at some of the commenters saying that there’s “a lot of grey” and it’s “important to dialogue.” This is a matter of life and death for so many of us. Dialogue is really paltry to put up to a situation that involves our actual safety and human rights. I absolutely echo the sentiment that if you voted for Trump, even if you are a “nice person” – you STILL voted against me and people that I love and I hold you responsible for their lives and all the damage that is being caused.
    Those who offer dialogue as a solution – I want to tell you all to please look at how much privilege you have to be able to say that. Follow lots and lots of women of color on Twitter, it changed my life. @Karynthia, @FeministaJones, @alwaystheself have been AMAZING teachers to me and I bow in deep gratitude to them all.

    Either way – I so appreciate you being honest and I am sending you many vibes of love and support.

  14. Hunter says:

    Hey Vanessa: you don’t know me, but I’ve been loving your writing and hearing about your journey! I noticed that most of the comments on this post are really supportive of your actions with Josh, which sounds like a really tough situation. However, it also sounds like, from your post, that you’re not quite happy with what happened, and like you know you could’ve done better. And from a white queer woman to a white queer woman: you totally could have! And this is something that could be really great to work on during your time on the PCT. It sounds like, from your previous posts and from this one, that you might live in a little bit of a bubble – as in, you don’t naturally come across Trump supporters very often. That’s a privilege but also one that makes it pretty difficult to know what to do when you do encounter one! Of course it makes you scared, confused, rattled: you know what the stakes are. Don’t shame yourself here for not doing something, but I think it’d be pretty amazing if the guilt motivated you to practice for the next time. Because these things take practice! This is a great opportunity to do some role-plays with people on the trail, which might feel super awkward. I promise, though, that they help a lot in upping your confidence at talking about things and having short and long conversations that won’t make you feel so rattled.

    Remember that the people whose lives are most vulnerable right now are trans people (especially trans women), people of color (especially Black people), Indigenous people, and especially Black and Indigenous trans women. I’m sure you felt scared in that situation, but you were also in a really exciting space in that you shared some commonalities with Josh and you might have been able to have a conversation in which he shifted some things. Maybe he wouldn’t have changed. But maybe he would’ve! Or maybe some of the people around you would have changed or shifted a little! And that’s an opportunity that it’s too bad you let pass, because – as you note – lives are at stake here. You’re a white person who’s for sure around a lot of other white people on the trail, and that’s a pretty amazing opportunity to be brave and talk with them and see if you can get them to join you in allyship work (even if they aren’t Trump supporters). This is our job right now, and it’s so cool that you’re passionate about your politics and ready to not be shy about them. I’m so excited to hear what you do!

  15. Dave says:

    I find the similarities between your thoughts on Josh and other Trump voters and your thoughts on purist thru-hikers and their feelings of supposed “superiority” quite interesting…

    • Vanessa says:

      Yes, judging people for hitching 30 miles of a fire closure alternate route versus doing a long road walk and judging people for voting for a man who is running an administration that will literally kill people in this country are very similar! I feel no superiority to Trump voters – I feel fear, anger, sadness, betrayal, and a deep sense of loss. I’m glad you find it interesting, Dave.

  16. Mary Ellen Brock says:

    I, too, am thrilled to be reading your posts again – to find out you’re OK. Like others, I’ve struggled with my response. I feel Jenny and Laurie said my thoughts best! And, while not easy, your (non) response to Josh was exactly the right decision.
    I believe in you – may you find some peace while your body continues this astounding physical feat.

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