Day 10

May 8, 2018

Bushcamp (84.71) to Bushcamp (98.0)
13.29 miles

A cold sandwich. A whole grain sub, piled high with crunchy lettuce, juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumber, spicy onions, and sweet bell peppers. With avocado spread on both sides, and plenty of oil and vinegar, salt and pepper, and a little mustard. It’s the only thing I dream of…

~

The day off was great for my feet. It wasn’t great for my motivation to wake up early though. By 6:30am the sky was already bright and hikers were on the trail strolling past our tent. One of them was kind enough to yell out at us that we needed to get up before it got too hot. I had to stifle a groan, both because I knew he was right and because I knew it wasn’t going to convince me to get up. The tent was too comfy and our spot was nice and soft. I was committed to hiking a bit in the heat and no one was going to convince me otherwise.

When we did finally get up it was definitely hot out. Out of nowhere the tent became unbearable and I was ready to go. We had about 6.5 miles to get to our next water, where we were also planning on taking our siesta.

The heat was brutal though, and it slowed us down a lot. I decided that everyone who said it didn’t get too hot until 11 was a liar because it was only 9 and I was already dying.

It’s amazing how fast your requirements for comfort will go out the door when you don’t have any choice. Walking on the Western side of the mountain was always a relief. Even when it was in full sun, you could feel the difference in how long it had been exposed. The Eastern sides had been baking since sunrise, and the heat coming off the ground was much more intense than on the Western sides, which had gotten a couple more hours of shade.

Shade. Any shade looks magical. You begin scrutizing shrubs and cliff sides from a distance to determine if there might be shade waiting for you. You measure the sun in the sky to guess which areas of the trail are likely to offer more options. It’s always a risk when deciding where to stop though. Sometimes you see a spot that’s just ok and decide to push on, only to find the next mile and a half barren of any relief. Other times you decide it’s just not worth the risk and sit down, but when you get up and continue on you turn the corner to an amazing spot of shade and curse the fact that you didn’t keep going. We got really lucky once and sat down on the ground in a pretty bad place, but then 30 seconds later we saw a couple emerge from around the corner. They had been much further ahead of us than that, so we knew they must have stopped in a shady spot just ahead. We grabbed our packs and hurried up around the corner and were thrilled to see both shade and rocks to sit on.

The other luxury that you soon stop caring about is cold water. Each sip through my water bladder was hot in my mouth. I didn’t care though. I had only one requirement, and that was that it was wet.

The landscape didn’t change too much as we continued on. It was mostly brown hills with lots of shrubs and cacti. Some of the cacti have really pretty flowers sprouting from the tips of them. They’re mostly pink or yellow, and they bring some much needed color to the scenery.

When we got close to the 3rd gate water cache the bushes started turning into small trees. All over were spots of shade, and we excitedly started pointing out potential spots for our siesta. Right before the gate was a group of three lounging in the shade.

“Is the 3rd gate water cache nearby?” I asked, hoping for some direction or a time estimate. I knew it was a bit off the trail and preferred to just ask rather than pull up the map. My bladder was down to it’s last steaming hot sips, and Stanley had the bad luck of getting a hole in his, so we weren’t interested in wasting any time getting to that water cache. I think that’s why the hiker’s next words were especially devastating.

“It’s just around the corner, but it’s empty”, the first hiker told us.

I stopped in my tracks and my jaw went slack. We’re going to die, I thought. My brain raced through the possibilities. The next water was 10 miles away. We would have to wait til dark and take it very slow. Maybe someone would be able to spare just a tiny bit. Maybe I could try breaking open some of these cacti to see if water would come out. I had a thousand thoughts in an instant, and none of them were good.

“I’m just kidding there’s at least a hundred gallons!” the hiker quickly yelled. Only a split second had passed, but my nerves had been shaken. The hiker apologized over and over, quickly realizing how not funny his joke had been. His two friends looked at him like he had just said something terribly dirty. I laughed as relief flooded my body, but I don’t think he’ll try that one again. He had seen the utter fear on my face. He almost tried to remind me that we weren’t supposed to rely on water caches, but this is the only one recognized as reliable by the PCTA. In a 25 mile stretch without any other water, it’s one that every hiker counts on.

We were quick to leave the three hikers behind and pass through the gate. On the other side were even more people lounging in the shady areas, including the old man who we stood with in Julian while waiting to get a hitch back to the trail. He was kind enough to tell us to leave our packs here in the shade and just bring our water bottles because the cache was a ways down.

We found a semi-decent spot and dropped our packs. It wasn’t the best spot, but we wanted to get to that water, and we could spend more time finding a better place later.

I was glad for the warning to not bring our packs. It was steep in areas and further off the path than we thought. I think Stanley was just about to lose his mind with thirst when we finally spotted the cache.

And what a cache it was. Crates and crates of gallon sized Costco bottles hidden in the shade and covered with tarps. There was a huge net for putting empty bottles, and even a foot care kit. All over were signs to only take enough water to make the next 10 miles and to use only what foot care materials you needed to get to Warner Springs. Apparently it’s really difficult to get to the cache to resupply everything. Whoever manages this cache is a true gem.

We sat and guzzled water as soon as it was in our bottles. It was nice and cool from being in the shade, and we took our time filling our bottles and enjoying not having to wait to filter it. We were careful to only take our 3 liters each though. I would hate for a hiker to one day arrive and find it really was empty.

We made the slow walk back up to our packs. Even without the weight it was still steep and the heat was relentless. We got to our shady spot and tried to put up our tarp for extra shade, but I wasn’t satisfied. I was soon back up to look for a new spot. We were going to be there for several hours, so I figured it would be worth moving if there was a better spot.

On my way out I made the mistake of walking too close to a cactus. I was rewarded with several spines in my leg. It had happened once before, but this time I also made this unwise decision of just trying to pull them out by lifting my pants away from my skin. This only resulted in the needles going through the cloth and now being on the inside of my pants, with me having to continue holding my pants away from my legs so they wouldn’t push the needles further in. Stanley had to come help me as I reached down my pants to get them all. They’re so small they don’t really hurt, but I hoped no one would walk by to see me awkwardly reaching down my pants and pulling stuff out.

When I was clear of needles again I continued on my quest to find the perfect shade. Most spots were just a little too small, but as I was wandering the old man saw me and asked if I was looking for a spot. He said he was about to leave and offered me his. I thought he must be crazy. It was the hottest part of the day. How could he be leaving right now? He said that he had camped there last night and was ready to do his 10 miles to the next water. He was Australian and looked like he had been on the road for a very very long time. He wore a hat with a feather in it and no shirt, but put his pack directly on his leathery tan back. I momentarily worried that he would die on this trail, but he was obviously a weathered traveler, and probably better suited to this heat than I was. I hoped he knew what he was doing and wished him luck.

We spent the next few hours lounging under that tree, eating couscous, taking naps, and trying to catch up on writing. I was able to kick off my shoes and check on my blisters, happy to see that nothing had gotten worse. The one on my heel might even be turning into a blister finally.

At 3 a couple of girls sleeping nearby got up to leave, complaining about how hot it still was. We had already done almost 7 miles this morning, so we were content to wait a couple more hours until the heat actually faded.

At 5 we were ready to go and the air was much better. It was still hot out, but the sun was low enough in the sky that there were plenty of shady areas and the ground was starting to cool off.

I was ready to get into my groove, and had started really going, but I was soon startled to a stop. I was staring at my feet while walking. That happens sometimes, especially on steep inclines. I often have to remind myself to stand up straight and stop bowing my back.

While staring down I passed a big rock jutting out of the side of the mountain, leaving some space under it. As I walked by I saw too late the coils writhing under the rock as if it had just left the trail to go in hiding. I recognized those tan coils, just inches away from my feet.

“Snake!!” I whisper yelled as I scurried further along the trail, trying to get out of reach as quickly as possible.

I shouldn’t have said anything though. The first time we’d seen a rattlesnake I saw it ahead of us, so we had stopped immediately. Stanley had no way of knowing that this snake wasn’t ahead of us, so he reverted to the same tactic as last time. He stopped immediately. Right next to the snake.

“Go!!!!” I yelled loudly this time. “You’re right next to it!” His eyes became as wide as mine as he jumped into a jog to get away from the rock. We stopped a couple feet down the road to let our hearts slow down and go over the last few seconds. We went over the details of what we should be on the lookout for and what we would do if we saw another, but decided we had seen enough rattlesnakes for a lifetime already.

I told myself the snake was probably heading in for the night and that should mean the rest would be asleep soon as well. We continued on a little more confidently as the shadows grew longer and longer.

It must have been a good day for wildlife, because shortly down the road we also startled a dear from the path. It was the first dear we had seen, and I tried with little luck to get a picture of it as it continued up the hill deeper into the brush.

The next few miles went by quickly. Between 7 and 9 is my favorite time to hike. I love watching the sun go down over the mountains, and the cool air makes it easier to push longer distances without stopping.

We had picked a spot on our map at the 98 mile mark. It would leave us just 3 miles in the morning to more water, and an easy 11 mile day into Warner Springs.

As we got closer I started to get nervous. Every camp site we saw was already occupied, and I was worried our chosen spot would be as well. That was one problem with choosing to do night hiking this early on. You kinda had the last pick of camping if the area was crowded.

When we got to the 98 mile mark though, no one was there. In fact, we couldn’t find the site at all. We shone our headlamps around trying to see if maybe it was down off the trail in the brush, but had no luck.

We’d spotted a dry stream a few hundred feet back that we thought would make a decent area to set up our tent and made our way there. It was a little tight, but we made it work. It was past 9 by the time we actually crawled into our bags, and both too tired to cook anything. I stuffed a granola bar down my throat, hoping it would help a little.

Tomorrow we’ll make it to Warner Springs. Supposedly that’s the first sign that you’ll make it the whole way. I sure hope everyone is right. My body is already exhausted. I feel good though. I think I can do this for 4 months. If I don’t die first.

Day 9

May 7, 2018

Scissors Crossing (77.14) to Bushcamp (84.71)
7.57 trail miles

While hanging out with Nico he told us that eventually we’ll learn that we don’t have to keep a normal schedule out here. We should hike when the weather is best, which usually means early morning and evening. You don’t want to be out there in the middle of the day. He was right.

~

It was hard to leave the bed in the morning. We woke up early but stayed as long as we could. It looked like it was going to be hot outside, and the room had both AC and a ceiling fan. I didn’t want to leave.

My ankle still hurt just a tiny bit, and the blister on my heel looked pretty much the same. All the others looked to be turning into calluses or had disappeared during the time off. It was a relief to see that the rest had at least done some good.

We took our time packing up. I mean we took all the time we could, pushing it a little past checkout. The inn we were at was under renovation and workers had accidentally busted in our room four times already so we figured they clearly had no idea which rooms were supposed to be occupied or not. Waiting 15 minutes extra to check out wasn’t going to make a difference, and it didn’t.

We then walked across the street so we’d be on the right side to get a pick up. We didn’t have to wait more than 10 minutes before a woman pulled up in her pickup. She said she was only going to the city center of Julian, but we knew we would have an easy time getting to Scissors Crossing from there so we jumped in.

She was kinda cooky, and I briefly wondered if maybe she wasn’t the safest person to get a ride from. She flew through the roads with all the windows down and I hung on for dear life. She said she was heading to Julian for donuts that were only made on Mondays, and asked us weird questions about if there was any marijuana on the trail. I know there are those who do bring it, but I couldn’t tell if she was trying to find some or what. I was glad when the short 3 miles were over.

Once back on the main street of Julian we saw some other hikers who told us the best place to get picked up would be in front of the library, so that’s where we headed. When we arrived there was already an older man waiting for a pick up so we sat down a little ways away. I wasn’t sure if there was any hitchhiking etiquette. Like, do we need to wait for him to get picked up first since he was already there? Should we have gone further down the road?

Fortunately, someone with only enough room for one came by so he got picked up first anyways. Right after a car pulled up for us and it was time to go.

The owner of the vehicle was a man called “Professor”. He had done most of the PCT a few years ago and was hoping to do the whole thing next year after his retirement fund kicked in. He was also the man who took care of the Scissors Crossing water cache, so it was nice to meet him and get to thank him for helping so many hikers. He was on his way there to drop off more water when he picked us up, so when we got there we helped him unload the water from the car and load up more empty bottles.

When we arrived under the overpass there were already plenty of people laying out to wait out the sun. It was a little past noon by this point, so we decided we would join them. The desert outside looked unfriendly and unbearable. Sleeping some more sounded like a much better idea.

We didn’t actually sleep though. We had phone service still, so the internet quickly drew us in.

While waiting a girl started playing the ukelele, and it became an even more pleasant place to rest.

Tourguide also walked up and it was nice to meet her and tell her how we’d met her husband Wifetracker. She said she was actually waiting for him to come pick her up, and soon after he came driving up. He also brought a cooler full of coca cola and beer, and it was soon a party. They didn’t stay too long though, and we all settled down and went back to our resting places.

Professor came back a couple times to bring more water, as well as another gentleman who was just driving back and forth giving people rides. They both confirmed again what everyone else has been saying, that we need to go slow these first couple weeks. The miles will come. Make it to Warner Springs and we’ll be fine. Hike at night and take lots of breaks. It’s always reassuring to hear these words and know that we’re doing ok.

At 4 everyone started to get ready to head out. We ended up leaving around 4:15 and it still felt too hot. Our first stretch would be four miles straight uphill, and I was not looking forward to it. At Mom’s pie place our friends had told us they prefer the uphills, and I just don’t understand why. It must be a joint and blister thing.

We got going and the first couple miles were brutal. It was so hot and there was no shade. The uphill was also pretty steep. Eventually though the incline got more gradual and it didn’t feel so bad.

Just three miles in I felt a new hot spot and was determined to take care of it before it turned into a blister. When I took my sock off I was practically livid to see that it was already a full blown blister. I didn’t understand how it had been fine for the first 80 miles and now three miles after a day and a half rest it had just magically turned into a blister. It was the last straw for me. I said screw it, put on some moleskin with no gauze, downed a couple ibuprofen, and said let’s go. I was done letting these stupid little blisters ruin my miles. I could tough it out like everyone else.

Maybe it was my new attitude, or maybe it was the ibuprofen, but soon I felt great. The air was finally starting to cool down too and we started flying. The uphill finally felt manageable and didn’t wind me at all.

I loved looking around at all the different cacti. I remembered taking a picture with one a few days ago because it was so cool, but now they were everywhere. For some reason I just never imagined cacti being in California. I knew that if I had thought about it I would have said yes of course there would be, but I guess I just never thought about it. Deserts with cacti made me think of the Middle East or maybe the Sahara, not two hours away from home.

They were varied and quite fascinating. There were light colored ones that looked like lots of skinny fingers covered in needles growing up from the ground. There were ones that looked like flat green disks connected together a few at a time and stayed low to the ground. There were a few that were tall and brown and thick. They looked like what a child would draw but without either of the arms. There were some that looked like they might be aloe plants, and Doctor Seuss looking ones that were like small spikey bushes with a large stalk covered in flowers reaching up tall above us. Those last ones we’d seen before, and they are so weird.

We were hoping to do some night hiking this night, so even as the sun went down we kept on moving. The hills were cast in stark relief to the sky as the sun dipped below them. The sky was a pretty shade of pink and light blue, but I tried not to look up too much because it made the ground seem that much darker.

We went as long as we could without using our headlamps. The dusky light lasted much longer than we thought it would. The North Star was visible almost as soon as the sun went down, and we had fun determining our direction in the hills based off of it. We were heading slightly northeast for the most part, but would turn directly north once in a while.

Before long one side of the hill was darker than the other, and we’d hurry around the bends to try to get to the lighter side. We were on steep cliffs again, and Stanley was already getting nervous about traveling them in the dark, so we were trying to get as many miles in as possible before we might be forced to stop.

Around 8:30 we finally put our headlamps on, but we went only another half mile before Stanley called us to stop. He had already slipped twice and it just wasn’t worth continuing. We set up our tent in a soft sandy spot that was a river bed during the wet seasons.

We can set up our tent in about three minutes now, and were crawling in before no time. We decided to treat ourselves to the last of our Spanish rice. It’s our favorite, and I can’t wait to pick up more in Warner Springs.

Warner Springs is less than 25 miles away now. That’s just about two days, and I can’t wait. I think it should be kind of like Lake Morena, with a large area for PCT hikers and showers and laundry. I hope there’s showers and laundry, even if they’re just buckets. It’s so dusty out here we’re dirty immediately. When it mixes with sweat it’s even worse.

We’ll have about 6.5 miles to do tomorrow to get to our next water, where we’ll probably siesta again until it cools down. I’m thinking I like hiking at night much better, but we’ll have to get off these steep hillsides before we’ll be able to do much of it. I’m happy to be back on the trail though. We opened a window and looked out at the stars as we drifted into sleep.

Day 8

May 6, 2018

ZERO DAY!!!!

This is going to be a short update because we had a glorious zero day. We weren’t intending on having a zero, but when we woke up we found we weren’t quite ready to leave.

The first problem was that our clothes weren’t dry. None of them. We realized too late we should have turned the AC onto heat and that probably would have helped.

My blisters were a bit better except for the one on my heel. It still hurt and wasn’t in a good spot for either of my shoes.

I was also a little distraught to find my right ankle was hurting when I stood on it. It wasn’t swollen, which was a good sign, but had me very worried.

Lastly, our hands were burned. Ok, this was a silly excuse. Honestly, they were probably all excuses and tougher hikers would have just pushed on.

We jumped on the idea of a zero though and didn’t look back. Writing about it now I feel it was definitely the right choice.

We watched Netflix and ate a bunch of food. We used the Keurig machine to heat water so we didn’t have to use our stove fuel. I took yet another bath and shower. My feet revelled at not walking and my sweat glands appreciated the break as well.

I was able to talk to my parents more and they’re sending me some new shoes. I caved and went for the Altra’s like Stanley has. Hopefully the extra big toe box will help stop the blisters, though I’m a tad nervous the new shoes will just cause new blisters elsewhere. We’ll see though. Both of our parents have been so supportive and helpful. So many people have in fact. It’s been so amazing and humbling.

I was also able to plan out some possible itineraries for the next few days depending on how the feet feel. Right now I’m ready to get going again. The excitement is back, and the rest was well worth the day off the trail.

Day 7

May 5, 2018

Rodriguez Spring Road (68.43) to Scissors Crossing (77.14)
8.71 trail miles

I think it’s time to get a little real about the trail. Most of the time everything is amazing and beautiful and there’s nothing but adrenaline and endorphins running through your body. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though. Sometimes it’s rough. Really rough. Today was one of those days.

~

I woke up feeling bad. I shouldn’t have stayed up so late, and I definitely should have passed on the liquid calories last night (aka alcohol). I didn’t have enough sleep, and my foot wasn’t happy.

My right foot must be larger than my left foot, because that’s where all my problems are. I was up to 5 blisters now, and this was quite upsetting. I feel like I’ve been careful and slow, and it seems like it didn’t matter at all. All my blisters were small, but they seemed to just keep coming. I wondered if it would have just been better to push myself like everyone else and get them all out of the way or something. I know that’s not how blisters work, but it felt like it.

This morning I was also starting to feel the mental drain. As much as you tell yourself it’s going to be hard and hot and gross and painful, you just don’t know how you’re going to handle it until you’re out there. And I won’t go into details about this last part, but let’s just say that there are also certain times when it’s just a little more difficult being a woman on the trail.

So this morning culminated into an uncomfortable, painful, emotional mess. We’ll just call it a cryfest, because I feel like I was crying for about an hour straight trying to get my head and body ready to continue on. Nico was extremely kind, giving me fruit and some moleskin for my blisters. He also offered to give us a ride into town the next day if we wanted to zero there at our camp and hang out. I wanted to keep going though, so we went through the slow and monotonous tasks of breaking down camp. After a long time packing up with lots of breaks to sit in the shade, it was eventually time to go.

We had almost 9 miles to get to the road where we would have more water and be able to hitch into the town of Julian. Hitching was also something I wasn’t excited about, since I had never done it before.

The walk was long and slow. And hot. Very, very hot. It was rough going, and I didn’t even remember to turn on my tracker, let alone take any pictures. As I walked I kept wondering if this was the part of the hero’s journey where I would question my decision, face my hardest challenge and want to give up, but hopefully to come out victorious on the other side. I knew it wasn’t though. I didn’t want to give up, I just wanted a break. I know there will be a day when I really do want to give up, and I don’t look forward to whatever challenge I’ll be facing that will bring me there.

I saw lots of lizards again. After the snake from yesterday I was especially wary every time I saw their scaley movement. When I told Stanley about how all the lizards were startling me I was surprised by his response.

It turns out he had only seen a handful of lizards. I was shocked, since I must have seen hundreds it felt like. I realized though that I was always in the lead, so I was always the one that came across them and scared them into the shrubs. By the time Stanley walked past the same spot they were already hiding. It was weird that I hadn’t thought of it before, and I mulled over what differences in experience we were having just based on who was leading.

Eventually we got to the road. It was a huge relief. I was feeling a little better with some ibuprofen in me, but I could tell I needed a break. We were so hot and uncomfortable, we were already deciding we wouldn’t mind spending the night in Julian. We also had service again, which was nice.

We were lucky in that we got picked up for a hitch immediately. They were a couple of archaeologists doing some surveying in the area. We learned about how they were hired any time there was big development in the area to come out and make sure it wouldn’t disturb any important sites or natural resources. I was happy to sit back and enjoy the AC while they talked.

They dropped us off in Julian and we found a place to sit in the shade and check out where we could stay for the night. The only place open was another couple of miles down the road. We held off on booking it until we went to Mom’s to see if there were any other hikers there who might already have a room somewhere.

Mom’s is a pie place that will give PCT hikers a slice and a small drink for free if they show their permits. The entire town of Julian is very hiker friendly, so most hikers stop here.

We walked through the small town and enjoyed the familiarity of civilization. People were crowding the streets walking around and eating at all the small diners. It was Saturday and the place was super busy, which would explain why there were no rooms open.

When we got to Mom’s we had the pleasant surprise of meeting up with all of our friends from Mount Laguna. They had gotten there shortly before us and we all sat together and enjoyed the food and some tea.

They told us they were staying the night with some creepy guy who had a trailer. He was also charging them all for rides back and forth from Julian, and for the place to stay and showers. We considered asking if he had more room, but they were already uneasy about it themselves, which made a hotel look even better.

Nightwalker was also there when we first arrived and we found out she was going to be staying at the hotel a couple miles down the road. This sounded more and more like the way to go, and before we left Mom’s we made up our minds and booked a room.

It makes sense now why everyone stops at all of the towns on the way. When I was planning this trip I thought it would be easy to just skip all the towns and stay on the trail. By the time you get to a town, though, you’re probably going to need to clean your feet at the very least and probably give yourself a little medical attention.

I was excited about the hotel. Very excited. We grabbed some first aid supplies and detergent from the market in town and started making our way towards the inn. We tried to hitch for a while, but the road didn’t have a great shoulder so we weren’t too hopeful. About a mile away though an older couple stopped to take us the last little bit. It was still appreciated.

We checked in and gloried in the nice clean room that we had all to ourselves this time. That of course meant stripping down and throwing all of our dirty clothes off immediately. It felt fantastic.

We spent the rest of the day doing chores, catching up on writing, and cleaning ourselves. I took a bath and a shower, which didn’t quite get all the dirt from my toenails. We also washed all our clothes in the tub as best as we could. After twice through the water was still pretty disgusting, but it was better than nothing. We hung all of our clothes around the room and messed with the AC.

Then it was time to relax. The room didn’t have cable but for some reason it had Netflix. We tried to watch some TV but had a hard time finding something interesting. I guess nothing seems that cool after being in the wild for a week.

Stanley also went to the store and we had a feast of potato chips, mashed potatoes, Spanish rice, and Oreos. I tried to eat as much as I could because I’m worried I’m not eating enough on the trail. I got to look at myself in a mirror and I was relieved to see I hadn’t burned through my fat stores yet. I gained 15 pounds for the trail because I know how easy it is to not eat enough especially the first few weeks.

Fed and clean with soft white sheets, it was an easy task to fall asleep that night. I dreamed of dry socks and sandwiches.

I know I didn’t take a lot of pics, but here’s one of Stanley enjoying his pie 🙂

Day 6

May 4, 2018

Bushcamp (56.10) to Rodriguez Spring Road (68.43)
12.33 trail miles

We’ll call this day the day of unsolicited advice and long winded talkers. We’re going to have to figure out a better way to politely excuse ourselves from these conversations, as they are always mile stealers.

~

Happy Birthday Everett!!!

We woke up at a decent time and I went to work making a sign to take a picture with. It was my brother’s birthday and I wanted to at least send him a picture since we couldn’t be there in person. I also spent some time up on the boulders getting in the last bit of service time before heading out.

It was looking to be another hot day and I was a little anxious to get going. We packed up easily and headed out, making sure to text my brother on the way.

We were soon back in rolling hills with a clear sky ahead. Views like this are interesting to me because even in their sameness they never seem to get old. They’re like a kaliedescope that keeps turning. Even though they’re always using the same elements of rock, shrub, and sky, the way they come together is always changing, so that no two steps are the same. I would have thought I’d be bored by this section, but so far nothing has been even remotely boring.

The only change I could have wished for was a little more shade. The first day on the trail if we were going to stop we looked for two elements, shade and a nice looking rock to sit on. Now the rock requirement was out the window and if the shrub was high enough we were happily sitting on the ground to get out of the heat.

We found one such spot after a long dry spell and hunkered down for a decent sized break. We were passed first by a tall man with thick, sunburned legs who wasn’t interested in stopping. Shortly after him came two more, including the girl from Alaska and a guy from Italy she was hiking with. They had given themselves temporary trail names, Chestnut for the guy and Whinny for the girl. They were horse names, and had given themselves the names because they too had stopped at the gross horse trough and determined the only way to make drinking the water acceptable was to tell themselves they were horses. The tall man who passed earlier was also with them, who they named Samson, and while we were talking the last of their group came up, named Silky.

As they said their goodbyes Nightwalker came up behind them. We were getting ready to leave, so we offered her our spot in the shade. She took it gladly, and we remembered to take a picture with her this time. We kinda think she’s a badass, Stanley especially.

As we were getting ready to leave though, a man came the opposite way with just a day backpack on. It was the trail angel who was helping Becky, who gave his name as Wifetracker. His wife was apparently a well known hiker named Tour Guide, and they were both fantastic trail angels. He had driven up a little further to hike the opposite way on the trail and make sure everyone was doing ok and had enough water. His plan was to meet back up with Becky and keep her company for the rest of the day.

He was so friendly and nice, and had the best intentions. The only problem was that we learned all of this while standing in the sun with our packs on after having just given our shade to Nightwalker. When your pack is on you really want to be moving, not standing for 20 minutes in the hot sun.

He also wanted to give us lots of advice, and at one point pulled at the gators on my pack and told me to send them home. He may be right, but I’m sure if he remembers his PCT hike he can remember needing to figure out his own gear for himself. Each hiker is different and prefers different gear, so it always amuses me when one hiker wants to tell another what they should have or not have. I haven’t used my gators yet, but Stanley loves his, and we haven’t gotten into the scrabbley rocks yet where I may want mine, let alone any snow. (For those questioning what gators are, they’re a fabric that goes around your ankle to stop rocks and snow from getting in your shoe).

Wifetracker also tried to tell us there was no water between Sunrise trailhead and scissors crossing, which I once again knew to be false. He was a talker though, and we had a hard time extracting ourselves from the conversation. Finally he started talking to Nightwalker about something that didn’t involve us and we were able to quietly say goodbye and scoot around him. We kept looking back for Nightwalker but never saw her, so I’m guessing she was stuck there for a while.

I hope I don’t sound ungrateful. These trail angels are heroes. The fact that this man and his wife come out during the season to make sure hikers are safe and help out when needed is truly incredible. All advice is invaluable since knowledge is key out here, and even the advice we don’t end up following is still appreciated greatly. Even though my sweaty face and sore feet might have been groaning to go, my heart was happy to meet him.

Once we got going again we really started moving. We knew water was close and were thinking we’d siesta in the heat and catch up on some writing. We passed a gentleman who confirmed that the turnoff for water was just a quarter mile ahead, and to go past a trailer to an old windmill that now had a solar panel on top and that would be it.

When we got to the turnoff we saw Whinny’s pack and hurried to catch up. When we got there all four of the horse named hikers were there, and I quickly dubbed them the four horseman. They groaned a little and were already regretting telling people those names. We promised not to pass them on so they could get real trail names later.

I was a little disappointed to see that they were taking up all the shade provided by the water tank, especially since some of that space was just being occupied by their bags and gear. They didn’t seem to notice though, and I didn’t feel like asking them to move, so we focused instead on filling and filtering our water and sitting down to write.

It wasn’t too long before Nightwalker came up, and one of the four horseman finally moved some things to make space in the shade. They soon decided it was time to move on anyways, and the shade was all ours. Becky and Wifetracker arrived as well, and soon our writing was forgotten as we all got to chatting. The man who told us where to find the water also joined us, and it was a nice little party. We had a few interesting conversations and laughed about what us girls have to go through to go pee outside.

Stanley and I ended up getting sucked into conversation with the gentleman who told us about the water. He too wanted to give me advice on what kind of shoes I needed to wear. A lot of older hikers can’t fathom long hikes without heavy hiking boots and lots of ankle support, but nowadays many long distance hikers prefer lightweight trail runners, which is what I’ll be sticking with. A pound on the feet is two on the back they say. This means that the weight on your feet is extra difficult to carry because you’re lifting it with each step, while the weight on your back doesn’t move too much and is easier to carry. It’s easy to understand if you imagine the difference between having 5lb ankle weights on each foot versus carrying 10lb in your hand. One is going to be much more difficult to walk with.

Nightwalker and Wifetracker moved on, leaving just us and Becky and the older gentleman. The man was really interesting, and was telling us how he had biked through every continent except Antarctica. This included a 21 month trip through the North and South America. He had fascinating stories about what the world was like back then, including lots about when communism was more prevelant down there and what it was like. We also learned that Becky had lived three years in South Korea and had a ton of fun talking about that.

Then things started to get a little weird. The man named himself as Prana Sati, which means something about the mindfulness of the life source in sanscrit or something like that. He told us he had died four times and watched his body from the spirit world. He also told us he could teach us to read auras is two hours with an 80% success rate and recited some metaphysical poetry about the spirit whale’s tale or something. He was really interesting, but also a talker, and our siesta for napping and writing was taken over by this man’s stories.

When we got up with Becky to get ready to leave he followed us and continued to talk at us while we politely waited for a good chance to say our goodbyes. He was talking about how his way of life reversed aging and took off his glasses for the first time to show us his face and how he didn’t nearly look his age of 56. He did. But only in the face, which was probably just more from an active lifestyle out in the sun. His body was certainly fit and lean. Eventually we promised to look him up when we were done with the hike. I’d try his aura workshop for just two hours, just for fun and curiosity. If you’re into that kind of thing you can check him out at pranasati.com, though he stays mostly on the west coast now.

As interesting as he was, I found myself frustrated that it was somehow late in the afternoon and we had only gone a few miles. It seemed like the day would be a waste, and we certainly wouldn’t catch up to our friends now. We hadn’t caught up on our writing, and despite the long break it was still bloody hot out. Frustrated was not how I wanted to feel on the trail.

Somehow when you’re feeling bummed though the trail seems to pick you up. We had been leap frogging with Becky on our breaks and she had just gone on ahead of us when we came to something in the trail I had been waiting for.

Our first rattlesnake.

It was just a baby, and I’m a little surprised I saw it. I’m sure Becky had walked right past it.

It was lying straight out perpendicular to the trail, with it’s tail barely off the trail on the right side and its head facing towards the middle of the trail. It was light colored, just like the picture of the one Lumberjack had shown us back in Mount Laguna when he had accidentally stepped over one.

Baby rattlesnakes are both not as scary and scarier at the same time. They don’t seem as ready to strike, since I’ve heard of people walking right by them. However, they also don’t know how to control how much venom they release yet, so if you do get bitten it can be much worse.

From far away it just looked like a white stick, which I found odd. As I walked closer it suddenly clicked that it wasn’t a stick and I threw my arm out to make sure Stanley didn’t pass. We stood about five feet away staring and a little shocked. If I hadn’t been looking down we probably would have walked right next to it’s head. I had started the trail vigilantly looking for snakes, but had gotten lax lately. Perhaps my mind had just been in the habit though even if I was unaware.

We sat for a minute to take a picture and figure out what to do. We could go around it on the left on the trail, but that was the way it’s head was facing, and didn’t seem like a good option. We chose instead to go around behind it in the bushes, running as quickly as possible while keeping an eye out for any others that might be nearby. It was silly but thrilling, and I was once again energized and excited about the day.

We met up with Becky and told her the story, complete with reenactions of our fast hopping through the bushes to get around. She told us she had been excited to tell us about two lizards she saw wrestling but that our reptile encounter beat hers. We only leap frogged with her a couple more times after that before she set up camp and we kept going.

We also saw the four horseman again, much to our surprise since they had left the water tank at least an hour before we did since we got stuck there with Prana Sati.

We had decided we would camp at the turnoff to the Rodriguez Spring. It was a mile off trail, but if we dropped our stuff and went with just our bottles it would be easy. If we wanted to walk another 2 miles we could get to a little ranch store. I had been joking all day that I was going to go get a blue Gatorade, but now they would certainly be closed by the time we got there. It would be another short mile day due to all the stopping and talking, but we consoled ourselves by saying at least we weren’t doing another nero. One day on the trail and one day as a nero had been looking like a habit for the first few days.

When we got around our final bend we spotted something in the distance. It was a white tent. I thought I knew what that meant, but I didn’t want to get too hopeful. As we got closer though we could see the four horsemen heading towards it, and I got more excited as we quickened our pace. It was 7:30 already, and I was afraid that even if it was what I thought, it would be gone by the time we got there.

When we reached the turnoff to Rodriguez Spring where we planned to stop, Nightwalker was already there setting up her tent. She confirmed my hopes and I laughed with joy.

Trail magic. Our very first.

Next came even better news. It wasn’t just water and hot dogs, which I couldn’t eat, but he also had fruit. Glorious fruit. And he was going to be there all weekend. We grabbed our water bottles since this meant we wouldn’t have to walk a mile down to the stream, and walked up the hill with Nightwalker.

At the top was an oasis. He had a walled tent with plenty of shade, and not just hot dogs and fruit but a whole Costco run worth of food. And in the corner were several flats of Gatorade, like a gift from heaven.

The trail provides. I’ve heard this saying many times, but this was the first time I felt it. We sat in the tent with Nightwalker and the four horsemen as the trail magic provider introduced himself as Nico. He had been camping in the area for a while and had slowly gathered more and more for his trail magic supplies.

We chatted for a while before we all headed back down to set up our tents, but promised we’d be back up after. He had a small firepit so we were excited for a fire under the stars.

We set up camp and said goodnight to Nightwalker before heading back up. Three of the four horsemen were already up there around the fire, and Nico pulled up more chairs for us. We sat and talked for a very long time, snacking and laughing and sharing stories about where we’d come from. The horsemen went to bed eventually, but we stayed until midnight. Nico offered to make me a vegetable stir fry when I told him I didn’t eat meat, but it felt like way too much so I declined.

That’s how kind he was though. He was a 30 year old San Diego native, and was just what you would expect with his long hair and laid back surferesque attitude. He said he loved doing trail magic for the ego boost and because it made him feel like he had a lot of friends, but you could tell he was just being humble and truly had a big heart. We had canned mixed drinks and found all the constellations in the sky using an app on his phone while we swapped stories of traveling the world. We dropped $10 in his donation bucket before heading to bed, amazed at how such a frustrating day turned out so wonderful. Once again, the trail provides.

Day 5

May 3, 2018

Mount Laguna (41.47) to Bushcamp (56.10)
14.63 trail miles

While hiking with Pathfinder he told us that if we could make it to Warner Springs we could make it the whole way. He said most people who are going to quit will quit before then. Today we’re halfway to Warner Springs, and this makes me extra happy.

~

Alright let’s try not to judge us too much as I say that we didn’t make it out of town until 11. There were a couple reasons for this, the first being that it was just extra difficult to leave the comfort of a nice warm bed.

The other reason is that after the long evening we just seemed to stutter step back into our routine. It seemed like we had to repack our bags a couple times after having pulled everything out the night before to let it dry. I took a shower, but in my haste to jump in the water I forgot to not get my hair wet.

And then there was the blister. Or should I say blistersss. I put my shoes on and immediately felt pain. When I took them off and looked again, I realized that the bubble of air on top was actually a separate blister that I hadn’t drained. I made quick work of lancing it since I was a pro now, did up my leukotape, and decided to switch to my river sandals once again. I seriously love those river sandals, and ended up spending all day in them.

After finally packing up we headed back up to the fire station to access the WiFi. WiFi is always hard to leave, so we probably stayed longer than we should have to update our blogs and contact people. At 11 we finally headed out, just 2 hours after our roomies. We wondered if we would see them again.

Instead of skipping ahead to the trail past Mount Laguna we backtracked to where we had originally left trail. We’d heard it was a beautiful section of the trail though, so we weren’t too upset about having to go back.

It was definitely beautiful. We realized quickly though that we needed to stop and eat some food. Somehow even with our late start we didn’t manage to make breakfast. I chomped down some granola bars and kept going.

The rest of the day was a day of changing scenery. We started in the morning in the woods of Mount Laguna. It was shady and perfect in the growing heat of the day. We found ourselves moving at a decent pace and getting back into our groove.

It wasn’t long until the trees thinned out and we were walking through a burn area. It must have been a while ago, because there were plenty of tall green shrubs everywhere. It was an interesting contrast to see the black trunks and branches reaching out from the green shrubs, almost like trees that were upside-down. Even more interesting was when we got to the edge of the burn area, where there were large trees outgrowing their half blackened trunks.

Eventually the trees disappeared and we were in the sun and rolling hills. We saw a few other hikers at this point, and while taking a small break got to talking to a woman from Australia named Nightwalker. She had completed the PCT in 2015, getting her nickname because she preferred to walk at night (duh). She even had her picture at the northern terminus taken at midnight. She was here to do it again, this time with her son who was somewhere miles ahead of her with his own group that he had found.

After letting her get ahead of us we continued on our way, finally getting to the edge of the hills and some spectacular views. It was hard not to stop every turn and try to take a picture. We were able to look across the valley at hills on the other side and point out the trail that we would be on eventually, marveling at the distance.

It was also a wonderful spot to watch the birds. They would float on the updrafts and hang in air, seemingly motionless, until diving deep into the valley to snatch something out of the air. Sometimes they would circle around each other as the dove, and I was awed by their dance and that they never hit each other.

We haven’t seen too many other animals so far. There have been a few bunnies and lots of birds. The bluejays are the easiest to pick out. We saw a couple wild turkeys in Lake Morena and Mount Laguna, and had a toad try to crawl under our tent one night. Other than that it’s been bugs and lizards. The lizards were out in full force again, another testament that the cold weather was behind us. I saw lots of black ones again today, but none as big as the giant one I saw on day one.

We caught up to Nightwalker having lunch at an outlook point where the trail meets the freeway. There was a whole crowd of hikers stopped to picnic and enjoy the view, so we decided to stop as well and munch for a bit.

A group got up to keep going and as they passed us a girl told us we looked like ninjas, which made me laugh. I had forgotten that we were wearing full desert face and neck masks that Stanley had gotten from his deployment. With our hats and sunglasses on I realized it was impossible to tell what we looked like. We joked that next time we would start speaking Korean and no one would be able to tell we weren’t foreigners. Well, unless they noticed my white freckled hands sticking out of my sleeves or the wisp of red hair peeking out below the mask.

We eventually continued on and came to our first water resupply point. It was a beautiful spot, covered by trees with plenty of space to lounge around. We had caught up to the girl that called us ninjas, and I found out that she was here from Alaska. She had dreads and pulled out an IPA to settle in for a siesta and wait out the heat. She was way too cool for me, but I thought my sister would like her.

We realized we didn’t really need more water until the next water resupply, but I’m glad we stopped. There were a couple people there saying the next water wasn’t for 18 miles, which I knew wasn’t true. After debating and pulling up several sources we confirmed that there was a water trough just 4 miles ahead, and then another tank 7 miles after that. Water is heavy, so not having an 18 mile carry makes a huge difference. I was glad to be able to correct them before they carried way too much out of there.

The problem with determining where there’s water is that there are multiple sources to check, and all of them are open source. There’s the water report, which I keep a hard copy of because it seems the most complete to me. Then there’s guthooks, which is an app you have to pay for. There’s also hikerbot, which is like guthooks but free. I love it, but it’s only for Android. There’s also halfmile, but it’s just text not a map and I don’t think many people use it for water. The thing is, all of these different sources rely on people submitting whether or not water is still running at those places. Plenty of streams and tanks dry up or run out in the middle of the season. Most people won’t trust a source unless it’s been updated very recently, so you really have to check all of the different apps and the water report to find the latest update for each water. If you’re only using one app like the guy at this water spigot was, you could end up not seeing water and carrying way too much. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make an app that pulls all information into one place, but I’d need a computer programmer to help with that.

We put our packs back on and reluctantly left the shady grove to continue on. We were soon in rolling hills again, going up and down and up and down with little shade in-between.

The four miles went by quickly, and soon we found ourselves at a lovely picnic spot where the horse trough and our next water would be. There was also an outhouse, which makes it a definite yes to stop at. At the entrance there was a sign saying we had made it past 50 miles. Yay!

While climbing up to the picnic area we saw Becky once again, setting up her tent for the night. She was doing much better thanks to her trail angel friend, and I was glad to hear she would be staying on the trail. We dropped our packs and headed to the horse trough.

It was gross. It was a round cement trough with slimy green looking water sitting in it. The faucet above it that filled the trough had no flow, so we would have to use the faucet below that pulled the water straight from the trough. When the water was coming out below it was thin enough that it looked clear and I had a hopeful thought that maybe it was different water or coming from somewhere other than the trough. When I filled my bag and looked inside though, I could see that in a larger quantity you could see the brownish green tint once again.

We got just enough to last us until the next water, and filtered it with our Sawyer and threw chlorine tabs in for good measure. It looked fine in our bottles and I was glad the Sawyer worked so well.

We also realized that we didn’t actually have to climb through the picnic area. We could have just continued on the trail and it would have brought us around the park to the water. This meant once again we had to backtrack to make sure we hit every step of the trail. Nightwalker had also arrived and was setting up her tent, but we wanted to go at least a few more miles.

The area after the horse trough was a steep uphill into a rocky cliff area. It was sad to see so much graffiti, as well as a bunch of memorial plaques, some looking like they had trail names on them. I wondered if it was a common place to fall. The drop was certainly long and steep, but there were guard railings now on some of the narrower parts.

This little section was just the first part of the steep drops. We found ourselves on narrow ledges, and I kept calling out to be careful and aware. One misstep could be the end, and it had me very much on edge. It was by far the scariest part of the trail so far. Knowing that we were both getting tired also freaked me out a little because it seemed all the more possible that we could make a mistake.

We decided we wouldn’t make the 18 miles we had been hoping for due to our late start, but that meant that we would perhaps get to camp with our friends instead. We went as quickly as we could through the last few miles as the sun went down and played peekaboo with us behind the hills. We kept dipping into the shaded side of a hill, and I would be certain it was the last we’d see of the sun, until we came around the other side to be warmed by it once again.

We finally came to the big boulders that signified the camp spots we were looking for. There were a few people there who pointed out good spots for us, but unfortunately none of them were our friends from Mount Laguna. We realized they must have pushed on to try to camp where we had originally been planning. We thought about pushing on as well, but there’s something about trying to tell your body to keep going after you’ve already promised it that it was done for the day. We decided to camp by ourselves and hope that we would meet up with them tomorrow.

It was probably my favorite spot so far. It was back deep in the bushes and hidden both from sight and from the wind. The ground was soft and flat, and the air was plenty warm.

We also had fleeting service if we climbed up onto the boulders, and saw other people doing the same. I know we’re supposed to be out here in the wilderness, but it was nice being able to call my parents and get videos of our puppies in Tennessee. They look like they’re having as much fun as we are, which made me happy.

With our tent set up and us in our warm sleeping bags after eating more pasta and couscous, it wasn’t long before we were fast asleep. Nightwalker told us it was completely normal to sleep way too long the first couple weeks as our bodies adjusted, but that eventually we’d be back to 8 hours and feeling well rested. One great thing about the trail is that you don’t really have to set an alarm if you don’t want to, and I revelled in this as I snuggled down deep and fell asleep.

Day 4

May 2, 2018

Long Creek Crossing (37.75) to Mount Laguna (41.47)
3.72 trail miles (yikes)

I set some rules for my hike before I left. I wouldn’t spend too much time in town because that’s where you spent money. I wouldn’t waste money on hotels. And I wouldn’t get caught up with other hikers who could convince me to go to towns. So how we ended up in a cabin on only our fourth night laughing with five other hikers I don’t really know.

~

I woke up miserable. At least, I would have if I had been able to fall asleep at all. It felt like I had been up all night trying not to die of hypothermia. Ok, that’s an exaggeration. I was tired enough in the morning that it didn’t feel like one though.

What’s worse was that it was still freezing and still wet. It wasn’t sprinkling so much as water was just hanging thickly in the air. Our tent was soaked. Our sleeping bags were soaked. We were soaked. I knew that this would be the case in Washington, but I thought I’d have some time to get used to breaking down camp wet, not have to go through it on my fourth morning.

Once again, we took a very long time getting on the trail. We were done trying to sleep around 6, but couldn’t convince ourselves to leave to warmth of our sleeping bags, as wet as they might be. I had to do a mad dash outside to use the bathroom when I could hold it no longer. I don’t think I was able to fully get warm again after that, and eventually we gave up trying to stay warm and decided the only warmth would be in moving.

My hands were numb and I fumbled with every clasp and every tie as we put away camp. It was slow going, but we finally made it out around 9:15. I had checked my blister and found it hadn’t receded in the night, so I had my river sandals on once again.

As we finally started climbing my body and mood wasn’t so bad. Going further yesterday meant we had an easy climb of not even four miles into Mount Laguna. I was hoping there was laundry there to wash my now muddy clothes. The climb wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone had made it sound. As we got higher into the mountains we marveled at the mist swirling around us. It reminded me of the cloud forests in the Andes in Peru, where I did my first “backpacking” trip three years ago. I didn’t have a horse to carry my equipment this time though.

At one point Stanley pointed out a large tree in the distance. We had seen plenty of shrubs so far, but not many trees, so it stood out in the fog. As I looked out towards it the mist played tricks on me and made the tree appear to be getting further away. It was the strangest trick of light that Stanley wasn’t able to see. As we kept going more trees started appearing in the distance. Each time the mist played the same tricks on me, making me a little dizzy and feeling like I was in a strange movie.

It wasn’t long before we were surrounded by trees and suddenly in a forest of evergreens. Stanley said the trees and the wetness made it feel like Washington. It was another change of scenery, and just as beautiful.

We hadn’t seen anyone all morning except one guy who snuck by us like a ninja, but about a quarter mile away from the turnoff to Mount Laguna we came across a SoBo hiker called Point. SoBo is what Southbound hikers are called, going from Canada to Mexico. Most people are NoBo’s like us though, chosing to start in Mexico for the longer hiking season.

Point was also from Washington and has been completing small sections of the PCT at a time. She was 64 and looked fantastic. She tried to give Stanley the trail name Salmon after mishearing his actual name, but he quickly vetoed it. It was only another quarter mile until the turnoff to Mount Laguna, where our “trouble” would begin.

Mount Laguna is a tiny town consisting of a campground, cafe, hotel/market combo, and a post office. There’s a fire station nearby as well, and everything is on one little road. Our plan was to check out the market for anything we needed, hopefully find a place to do a load of laundry, and get back on the trail.

The first building on the road was the cafe though, where Point had told us they had amazing food and were very hiker friendly. The ninja who had snuck by us was just coming out with a cup of coffee which looked amazing just sitting in his hands all nice and warm. I don’t even drink that much coffee, but the thought of holding it alone made me reconsider going in.

We stopped and chatted with the ninja while he waited and for his buddies and found out he was from Australia. He too had pushed himself harder than he liked in order to keep up with a group. See, groups are bad. His friends came up a short while later, and we introduced ourselves and shook hands. That is, until we got to the last guy, who kinda snobbily informed us that it was rude hiker etiquette to shake hands due to how dirty we all were. Oops. Now it made sense why Point fist bumped us when she left.

We decided that we might as well at least step into the cafe and see what they had. It couldn’t hurt to get out of the cold and figure out our next move. The group of guys headed in too, but we decided they weren’t really our type and headed for our own table.

We were going to just get a cup of coffee because the only breakfast they had were variations of eggs. Their entire menu was probably only ten items long, with breakfast served all day and lunch starting at noon. The vegan chilli caught my eye though, and it was 15 minutes until lunch. We easily decided that yes we could spare the $6 per bowl to stay in the small warm diner for a while.

It was delicious chilli. I’ve heard many times that all of their food is delicious, and the fact that they had a vegan option made them ok in my book.

Eventually we decided we needed to go check out the store and see if there was anything we needed. On the way out we passed two hikers who introduced themselves as Cat (maybe Kat?) and Nonuts. Nonuts is a German guy who got his trail name at Scout and Frodo’s when they had to make him his own separate meals because he’s allergic to nuts.

We explained as much as we knew about the town, including that the hotel might be around $70, which we’d heard from Point. We were heading that way to check out the store and told them we’d let them know what the deal was if we headed back this way.

Mount Laguna started off great with the cafe, but seemed to get worse as we headed down the road. There was supposed to be an actual hiking supply store, but it had been closed permanently for some time. The hiker box outside looked to double as a garbage can. There was a building that said it had a hotel, restaurant and bar, but everything was closed with a number to call if looking for a room. At the end we came to the Mount Laguna Lodge and general store. This looked more promising, which was good because aside from the post office and visitor center next door it was the end of the road.

We dropped our bags on the porch and stepped inside to start perusing the random shelves of souvenirs, hiking goods, and small grocery section. It was more expensive than a city grocery store, but not too bad. I took note of their options and grabbed a flyer for their hotel rooms before heading back outside.

It was here that I finally decided to check on my blister. It was not better. I was starting to worry a little when Becky from the day before came up in a car being driven by a friend of a friend who came to get her. It turned out her blister definitely had gotten worse and she needed to take a few zero days. That was exactly what I was afraid of, and was enough to convince me to go back inside and get a room. I do not want to break myself.

There weren’t any rooms available yet though, so the owner at the counter took my name and said to come back in an hour and check. He seemed to have kind of a bad attitude, but I couldn’t tell if it was in my head or not.

When we got back outside we grabbed our bags and headed back towards the cafe to tell Cat and Nonuts, and then head a little further to the fire station where we heard there might be WiFi. There was no service OR WiFi anywhere in the town. Not even in the hotel. There wasn’t laundry either, though the man at the counter said he’d give us a bucket. Ha.

As we walked we discussed skipping the hotel and just pushing on. I didn’t like how expensive they were and without laundry or WiFi it felt like a waste. We needed to decide soon though. If we were going to sleep outside again we needed to get off of this darn freezing mountain. It turned out we just got really unlucky and it was just randomly freezing for a couple nights, but would heat back up again by Thursday.

We stopped at the cafe to let the others know what was up and then headed to the fire station. I was able to make a quick call to my mom which was nice, and look over what our other options were. I kept going over and over the pros and cons to getting the hotel versus pushing on.

Pros to hotel: I would be able to sleep tonight out of the cold. I could sleep in a bed. I could let my blister heal instead of walking the 10+ miles to the next good spot. I could take a shower. I could explode my pack (take everything out) and dry everything that was wet from last night. I could even take some time to write and then walk back up to the fire station to post stuff.

Cons: It was $70. Also, if we stayed there was no way we’d get to Warner Springs by Friday. This meant we’d have to wait until Monday to pick up our resupply package that was being send there or send it forward. Also, we had been leaving the option open to have friends pick us up from there to spend a weekend camping at beerfest with them.

I was still debating on our way back down when it was decided for me. Out of nowhere my foot hurt. A lot. I didn’t even have my pack on. I knew if I kept walking it would pop or turn into a monster, and without laundry the muddy socks I was wearing would probably mean in got infected. I was frustrated but knew it was the right decision. Another nero day now was better than zero days later.

On our way back to the hotel we passed Cat and Nonuts once again, who had just put their name in for the hotel as well and were going to grab their packs. At least we weren’t the only ones. They also agreed the man behind the counter seemed grumpy.

When we got to the hotel I felt defeated. It didn’t help that there was still a wait for the rooms. We chatted with another guy from Germany, Manuel, who was also waiting for a room. He was going from the PCT to Nicaragua, to Costa Rica, to Peru. There are lots of interesting people on the PCT.

When the guy at the counter called Manuel in I went in as well because I figured our room would be ready too. While I was in there I listened as the man behind the counter told a new hiker that he didn’t know if there were enough hotel rooms, but there were plenty of cabins, which were just a few dollars more and could sleep up to four. That’s when a new idea came to me.

I grabbed the flier for the rooms again and snuck out before the man at the counter noticed me. As I waited for Stanley outside I noticed a redheaded girl had arrived and was sitting on the porch. I knew immediately who she was. “Are you Firecracker?” I asked. She looked up at me confused until I pulled my own red hair around and explained that several people had already mixed us up and thought I was her. “Oh are you JuliAnne?” she asked? We laughed at the fact that red hair seemed to suddenly make two people indistinguishable.

Firecracker was nursing a pretty bad blister on her ankle. It was in a terrible spot that no change of shoe could fix, and she was stopping for the night as well. Her and her friend Lumberjack ended up grabbing a cabin with someone they met on the trail named Lee. I watched her limp off towards their cabin and was again reminded why it was good to take care of my blister now.

When Stanley got out of the shop I told him the new plan and we headed out to find Cat and Nonuts once again. The hotel rooms were strictly for 2 people only, but if Cat and Nonuts weren’t opposed, we could save a bunch of money and get an actual cabin by splitting it.

We found them quickly and they immediately jumped on board. Now the plan to stay in seemed much better somehow. We all went back inside together to tell the man behind the counter our change of plans.

The guy behind the counter went from rude to insulting. First he insisted that Cat had come in with another man the first time. When she assured him that no she had been with Nonuts the whole time, but perhaps he had seen her talking to another friend she knew on the trail, the man behind the counter told her that that was how you become a girl with a “reputation”. Because somehow his mixup was her fault.

Then when we told him we’d like to all get a cabin together, he laughed at us for wanting to save the money. We pointed out that the cabin also came with a full kitchenette where we could cook without using our stove fuel, to which he pointed out the microwave in the hotels. I’m not sure he understood the difference.

Lastly, we pointed out that it would probably be better for his business for us to take a cabin since he had plenty of those left but no more motels, and it was still early and another freezing night so more hikers would probably want those rooms anyways. To this, he told us that all the “real hikers” had already moved on for the day.

“The real hikers? What does that make us?” Cat asked.
“Girls with reputations”, the man replied as he looked at us two girls.

I was shocked. But not quite as shocked as I was after we got our key and he followed us out to the porch to inform a few other hikers that they were in luck because we had all just given up our hotel rooms.

I honestly have no idea what was wrong with that guy. It’s like he was trying his hardest to kill his own business. It’s well known that PCT hikers are Mount Laguna’s main source of income. Perhaps he just knew that he could treat us poorly because he was the only hotel in town. Perhaps we should have called that other number on the closed building. Either way, it was clear that the man obviously hated his life. Happy people just aren’t mean like that. Maybe it was jealousy.

It certainly gave us all a bonding moment though as we angrily laughed about what that was all about and spoke about the scathing reviews we promised to post once we had service again.

The cabin was small but perfect. There was a queen bed and two twins, a full bathroom, a kitchenette, and a wood furnace in the corner.

We all went our separate ways for a little while to take care of chores like shopping for resupply, getting to the post office, and making check-ins at the WiFi spot. We dumped out all our food and decided we had made the mistake of bringing too much food and didn’t really need too much. I wanted sugar for the oatmeal and we grabbed another thing of pasta so I could eat as much as I wanted that night. It seemed everyone had brought or sent too much food because every hiker around town was asking each other if they wanted anything before it got put in the hiker box. We grabbed a couple more oatmeals, some rice noodles, and some pickles.

Once all our chores were done we all found ourselves back at the cabin chatting. We talked about the trail, about why we were all doing it. We talked about where we were from and what our plans might be after the trail. Cat has two teaching degrees but bartending pays better. Nonuts has a degree in Psychology and explained the difficulties of scientific research in Germany. Once again I couldn’t help but think how many cool people were on the trail.

After a while there was a knock on our door and Firecracker and Lumberjack joined us with a whole pie and a six pack of beer. We got a fire going and Cat pulled out one of her few luxury items, a pack of Uno cards. We were soon laughing and having a blast as we played one of the longest games of Uno ever.

After the first round we decided to play one more and Lumberjack went to go grab their roommate Lee to join. Lee had been a stock broker in New York before selling all of his things and moving to South America for three years. While training on the AT someone had given him the name Big Red, but I’m not sure if he was going to keep it.

The one more round of Uno turned into at least three. We stayed up until ten laughing and sharing stories and talking about the trail ahead. We spent a little time talking about water and camping options for the next day, and celebrated making our first 40 miles by burning the first page of my printed water report that we no longer needed.

I found myself glowing in the happiness that I’d heard you could find in the trail community. I could see how easy it would be to just hike with a group and have nights like this every night.

After Firecracker, Lumberjack, and Lee left we actually began solidifying plans for tomorrow and the spell of the group was slightly broken. Nonuts wanted to baby a cold he had picked up and only wanted to do 13 miles. Cat would probably go with him, while we were hoping to make it another 18 miles. They were also planning to stop in Julian, which we wanted to pass or make only a minimal stop in. Perhaps we’d all meet up in Warner Springs though, or somewhere else down the line.

After finalizing our plans for the next day we finished up our chores. This meant doing a little laundry for Stanley and I. The guy at the counter had not been joking about the buckets.

Bedtime also meant it was time for me to lance that blister so it could air out and heal overnight. I know it’s best to leave a blister in place, but I needed to be able to walk on it, and after comparing blisters with everyone else I felt I would be able to handle it. It was not my favorite task, but it also wasn’t as bad as I had imagined.

I made one last pot of pasta before heading to bed to write and get what I hoped would be an amazing night of sleep. Somehow I had woken up miserable and ended the day exactly the opposite. This experience has been everything I’ve hoped for so far, and I can’t wait for another tomorrow.

Not a lot of pictures today. I guess I was having too much fun 🙂