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