Day 16- 14.4 miles from before Whitewater Preserve (216.5) to midway up Mission Creek (230.9)

I’m up and packing around 5:50, the sun just above the horizon but hidden behind a small layer of clouds. I’m glad I waited, even though it was very hot last night and I felt like I was suffocating in my bag, and the relentless wind kept me up. So, I didn’t sleep that well.

The 2.5 miles to Whitewater Preserve go quickly. The views are pretty, Whitewater River opening up in a flat tumble of wide granite on the valley floor. The trail switchbacks down and I cross the two footbridges above the water and follow the rock-lined path down towards the ranger station and picnic area. I head past the wading pool and hikers packing up, and find Maddy cowboy camped in the middle of the field with the group.

I sit with her for a bit and then see Pickle packing up to leave. Maddy says the ants were voracious last night, crawling over everyone and getting into food. My fanny pack is filled with maybe 50 ants looking for crumbs from last night, and I didn’t even camp here. I brush them off each time I use my phone. Pickle had to throw away his new bag of dried raspberry papaya and the licorice I gave him.

I walk over and offer him some of my licorice to sample as compensation for his loss. He’s going to be pushing miles and I probably won’t see him again, but that’s what I said about Chris and Kelsey last year, so. He heads off.

We all eat breakfast at the picnic tables together, Maddy, Luke and his girlfriend Addy, who skipped the descent from Jacinto to save her knees, Firefly, Captain, Boxtop, and Melt. Pickles left at the I-10 to get her foot looked at. She’s been hiking on a stress fracture for 160 miles.

We head to the wading pool and bathe, telling each other sternly not to swim, because of the signs telling people not to. Cinema and Tammus are here, and Cricket comes. Someone pulls out a mini ukulele and starts playing.

Finally we truckle out around 11, needing to get out and start walking even though the timing is terrible with the heat. The heat immediately clobbers us, and the Group, Melt and Boxtop and Firefly and Captain, who I followed out, stops and discusses what to do.

“I’m going to walk the mile to the river crossing and I’m going to sit in the water for a couple of hours,” I say, and leave to let them follow me.

We reach it and set our packs down in the shade of a cliff. Melt lies down flat in the rumbling, clear water. He looks like he’s died there. His mom, Boxtop, takes a picture. We all settle down into the water, trying out different pools. I lie down flat in one I find, its bottom soft with fine sand. The water is so clear. I open and close my hand underwater, little bubbles clinging to my fine knuckle hairs, and examine my cuticles. The water is cool but not cold, the pool is soft, and I lie there for 10 minutes letting the water rush over me. I think this might be heaven.

We sit around until one or two before we muster the strength to leave our little oasis. The heat settles into me quickly, and 200 feet from the water I set my pack down and go back to dunk my shirt in the water one last time.

Six miles to Mission Creek. The climb is gently graded enough, but hot and exposed and dry. Even the plants look half-dead, sparse and lackluster. We climb out of whitewater canyon, and down again, and then up again up another canyon until we’re finally on a ridge overlooking what might be the Indian Reservation. It doesn’t take long for my shirt to dry the water from the river and replace it with sweat. I’m lathered in it, slick and wet, sweat forming a mustache above my upper lip. It’s actually not too bad, I don’t mind being this hot, and the climb isn’t phasing me.

I got service and text my peoples, and then continue. There’s a breeze up here which makes the heat feel almost cool. Captain calls Pickles. She has a stress fracture and is getting on a flight home. Crap! :(

Then we catch a glimpse of green Mission Creek and start the short descent down. I find Firefly and Captain under a big tree by the creek and plop down. Everyone else trickles in and we make our dinners. Maddy’s hip has been hurting quite a bit and she finds someone with a ball to roll the muscle or tendon out on.

Eventually we head out again, and now it’s cool, and we make great time up the creek. Last year I was miserable in this section, the heat terrible and draining. I think I took almost until one in the afternoon to walk 10 miles. Now it’s easy, and I feel bad for my previous bad review of this section. Trees cluster around the creek and cool marbled-looking boulders and cliffs flank the trail. There’s so many flowers and the creek burbles along.

We reach the campsite we were going to camp at to find it occupied but not entirely full. We all decide to do another two miles to another campsite while the temperature is still cool. We pull out our headlamps at the end and end up sharing a flat spot with a guy named Jared. Maddy and I squeeze our cowboy camps together into one tent site and I show her some hip exercises that might help with her hip pain.

The creek is loud nearby, and frogs are crossing, and a single cricket screams in faltering succession into the night. The sky is dark tucked away into our little corner of the world, the stars are out, and life is good.

Foot update- My right foot is swollen and looks bigger than my left, which is normal 6 ish months after a surgery, so I just need to manage it. The hammer toes are a different story, they don’t hurt but it stresses out my foot when they’re clamping down, and it hurts when I tape them down, so we’ll see. I think the heat made it swell even more than normal today. It’s all a little funky but it’s working out okay and I think it’ll be fine in the long term.

Day 15- 21.1 miles from midway down Fuller Ridge (195.4) to before Whitewater Preserve (216.5)

Everyone is packing up around me. Having a comfy sleeping system makes it much harder to get up, so I lay there for a while before sitting up. I’m the second-to-last out of my sleeping bag and the first packed and hiking. I eat some licorice and cinnamon bears for breakfast (balanced).

The sky is just tinged with light, a small city lighting up, yellow, on the dark flat of the valley floor. The sunrise comes in a band of orange on the horizon, and suddenly I turn around a bend and the sun is up, bright and big and brilliant. The trail goes down for another 10 miles from here. We started the descent up at 10,800 feet and are going down to the highway at 1,300. It’s pretty gentle as far as 10,000 foot descents go, though, graded well. We’re able to go pretty fast down it.

Small, round, orange flowers and 4-leaved yellow ones form a tic-tac-toe on the side of the trail, little Xs and Os. We pass by the 200 mile mark and I take pictures, and then by the hyped-up angry bee hive without incident. Then, it’s all just down. Even as the sun was coming up over the the horizon it was hot, and now our first true 90+ heat is settling in. It fills the air, making it feel heavier. I’m sweating even on the downhill.

I drink my last 1/4 liter of water a mile and a half before the faucet and turn on autopilot, cruising down the last section with Melt and Boxtop and Firefly and Maddy.

I flop down in the shade of a small-tree sized boulder next to Pickle. I pull out my water filter and dirty water bag and fill up half a liter and drink it first, then filter the rest and drink some more. The faucet is a drinking fountain, and we laugh as we each try to aim the water stream into our bottles as it leaps around in the air.

We all head off in a big herd the last 3 ish miles to the highway. I walk in the back with Pickle and talk with him. He has a small Palaante Simple Pack and he walks super fast, and hiked the AT same year as OT, so I don’t think I’ll keep up with him for long at all, but I enjoy talking gear and trails with him and I’ll enjoy his company for now. That’s how most of my trail friendships work. Temporaneous but good.

He moves through the line of people and I attempt to keep up on the flat, deep, churning sand. It’s a game, and I manage to pass everyone except for Luke. The trail follows a dry riverbed and the walking is terrible. I hate walking on sand.

At the underpass, I walk under and set my pack down with everyone else’s as they come in behind me. There’s a strange vagrant person here who has an impressive halo of bleached hair like Einstein that stands almost a foot from their scalp in either direction, and a form-fitting striped cotton knit dress. They’re obviously not a hiker but trying to blend in and using the hiker boxes to get free food. Not a bad plan, to be honest. We politely ignore them as they fiddle with their things and walk past us to get food.

The highway 10 underpass is a weird place, regardless of vagrant non-hikers; there’s a kid’s play set, the kind with twisted wires that you pull a wooden bead along, and coolers of random food, and trash bags, and cardboard to sign your name on, and the cars overhead make everything shudder, and it’s dark and grungy.

We all walk to the road and figure out a game plan to Uber to Cabazon. There’re 9 of us, so we’ll need 3 Ubers, we decide. I have the app on my phone and order one. They keep on declining to pick us, but eventually we get it at around 11. The driver that Maddy and Melt and I get in with doesn’t seem overly friendly or keen to have us, and I’m self-conscious of the hands sweating dirt onto my knees, so I don’t move them the entire trip.

In-n-out is packed with extremely trendy southern Californians in floral prints and shorts, and I order and then stand bewildered in the middle of the restaurant, people roaring and milling around me. Anxiety rises up in my stomach and chest and shoulders, familiar. This place is horrible. I go to the bathroom and wash my hands and face, waiting until the coast is clear before I do it so the incredibly beautiful and well-dressed people won’t see the dirt coming off of my hands and face. There was a big smear of dirt across my chin.

I get my food and join everyone outside, which is almost as busy. It’s good, nothing remarkable – overhyped – and I eat too much and can’t finish my second basket of fries. Pickle comes and we go to the gas station and a touristy, overpriced “fruit market” to get some things to supplement our resupply into Big Bear.

We get back and decide to move to the Starbucks for the AC and electrical outlets to charge our things. We settle in the corner and I fill my water from the bathroom sink. We sit there for an hour or two, sipping our drinks, and then move on again to Taco Bell. I get some burritos to pack out. And then, around 5, Pickle and Maddy and I get an Uber back to the trail from an enthusiastic guy named Francis.

We head out, Pickle quickly leaving us in his dust. The heat radiates from the ground and is blasted into our skin by the wind. I fight back nausea all the way to Mesa Wind Farm where I catch up to Maddy. I don’t know if it’s from eating too much or maybe heat exhaustion, so I drink a bunch of water. Maddy’s hip is bothering her and she’s worrying about it, so eventually she tells me to go ahead and she’ll catch up.

It’s finally cooling down a bit, and I climb the canyon up into the crest, where I’ll finally see the beginning of Whitewater. The sun is setting. I come over the top and the wind comes. The sunset is visible from the top, incredible hot pink spilling across the sky, and I see the hills above whitewater. I love it, and sing songs on the way down. I’m content and happy in this moment, tired and footsore but happy, in one of my favorite sections of trail. My chest swells.

I jaunt down the switchbacks, the light slowly fading around me, and suddenly I’m very bummed that I won’t be able to see this section into Whitewater, one of my favorites. There’s not much camping though and it’s pretty windy, so I might be forced to miss it. Frick. Everything is turning black around me. I go searching up a hill for a flat spot but I feel spooked at the top alone. I turn my headlamp on, resigned to keep walking. Oh well, I guess.

I think I’ve been developing butt chafe for a while, and now it is starting to burn. I’ve been ignoring it so far. I’ve never had chafe there. It hurts and distracts me from the darkness.

I startle a kangaroo rat and a big toad. I’m still bummed out by my missing the views when I turn a corner and find a sheltered little camping spot against the wind. Aha! I settle my pack down and set up camp. The group I camped with last night walks past with their headlamps, and then Maddy with two hikers I can’t see. I’ll see them tomorrow, I tell them.

I eat a burrito and some crackers for dinner. The wind is loud but I’m sheltered and warm. The Big Dipper is right above me. I’ll wake up and bathe at the Preserve tomorrow and hang out with my friends. It will be another hot one.

Day 14- 17 miles from Saddle Junction (179.4) to midway down Fuller Ridge (195.4)

Maddy pokes me awake. Ugh, it’s cold, and my sleeping bag feels damp with condensation inside. I think I’ve been breathing into it at night too much. I will myself out of my bag and pack myself up. I eat a half of a bagel with cream cheese and head out with Maddy. I keep up with her for a while through thick, still-dark but brightening pine forest. It’s hard uphill, though, especially with the altitude, so I tell her to go ahead. The trail traverses along the side of the mountain, the trail rocky so that I have to step up, and I’m unmotivated and it’s hard work. I stop and breathe every minute or so. Finally I realize I might need to eat, and I stop for salmon jerky and cookies.

I feel a bit more energetic afterwards, and make my way through the granite and manzanita and pine to the top. I reach the junction a third mile from the summit. Almost there! I pass the emergency shelter hut, the windows covered with stickers. The trail disappears near the top and I start scrambling up granite boulders, bending over and grabbing tree branches. “Maddy!” I call out. I hear her reply, and I scoot along a rock and around a tree, and I’m there. There’s a guy named Cricket, and Maddy, and the view. 360 degrees, all the way around, desert and mountains and cities. I can see the mountains the PCT goes through across Hwy 10. It’s worth the climb. Maddy and I do a photo shoot and head off. We beat the Boy Scout troop who camped down at the junction to the top!

As we head down, the trail becomes inundated with day hikers and backpackers and thruhikers heading up to the peak. There’s a big group of 15-29 hikers from Vietnam, and when they find out Maddy and I are PCTers they get super excited and take a picture of us with them in it, too. They tell us we look very clean, and we just laugh because we smell pretty bad and I have dirt stains all over my shirt. Another woman wishes us a happy Cinco de Mayo, and then “have a nice meal!”

“What meal?” we ask ourselves. We’re not even going to be at a road until tomorrow at noon.

We stop at a fork of the Jacinto River and filter water and eat lunch. Cricket is there, and a guy named Cody who has been a hiking guide in Denali and Yosemite. Then off! I’m looking forward to the picnic table in 4 miles at Black Mountain Road. I hike with Cricket for a while and talk.

Soon enough I leave him behind on a climb and crest over to the north side of Fuller Ridge. Last year, this section of trail was covered with slushy, slippery snow. Now it’s completely clear, sunny and warm through the sloping pine forest. I catch glimpses of the windmills on the brown desert floor below.

Dropping down into Black Mountain road, I see cars and car camping tents. No, no no- and yes, I walk into the clearing and see they’ve taken the picnic table. My picnic table. I sit down in the pine needles across the clearing with a hiker I learn is named Pickle.

“Is it wrong that I feel entitled to the picnic table because my name is literally Picnic Table because I like picnic tables? Like, shouldn’t I get an automatic claim to it or something?” I ask him, grumbling and comically shooting dark glances in the direction of the campers, and he laughs.

Maddy comes and sits with me after getting threatened by the car campers’ dogs, and after a break eventually we move on. Pickle and I are both going to go to Cabazon tomorrow for food and we’re going to try and recruit more people for an Uber.

I stop to pee and when I come back Pickle comes by. I stop him to show him the old Miller Light can I found, and a tall woman hiker in colorful green tights who he knows comes up.

“Hi Pickles,” Pickle says.

“What?” I say, confused.

I finally figure out they’re both named Pickle, except the woman is plural Pickles. They both like pickles. They get ahead, and I find their entire trail group of 7 or so people plus Maddy at the campsite we’d planned to meet at. We all decide to head down to a campsite 2 more miles down. They’re all crushing it down the trail, and I am the last in the big line, even though I’m going as fast as humanly possible without jogging. We all reach the campsite and sit around, too lazy to start up camp. There’s just enough room for all of us to squeeze in and cowboy together, and when we start unpacking it’s like hiker tetris.

It’s a fun group and we talk and crack jokes. I make risotto for dinner that’s really good. We learn Pickle knew OT on the AT when they hiked in 2016. OT and Ziploc are camped 12 miles down at the faucet, and will probably stay ahead for a while from them skipping part of the alternate.

Maddy spills salmon juice all over the front of her jacket, and we throw variants of Salmon Juice and Smoked Salmon at her as trail names. I’ve tried both Stickeen and Power Goat for her because of the way she jumps fearlessly down steep trail, and Hiccup because of her constant yet sporadic, loud hiccuping. I don’t think she likes any of them.

We all journal and laugh into the dark. Some of the hikers find red ants crawling all over them across the flat spot and move to empty spots near me. So many names- Pickle and Pickles, Melt, Boxtop, Luke, Firefly, Captain. We’re getting up early tonight for In-n-out. It’s nice camping like sardines.

Day 13- 17.3 miles on Mountain Fire Alternate from Spitler Peak Trail (mile 4 off of 168.6) to Saddle Junction (179.4)

I wake up and lie in my sleeping bag for a while. It’s my first night with it back and I slept very well, finally. Warm and secure. It’s so worth the extra weight. Maddy is still asleep. I start putting my sleeping bag away.

I see someone sprinting down the trail with no pack. The runner comes by and says hello. “Is this the PCT?” he asks.

I explain about the alternate around the fire closure, and he says good morning and runs off. Maddy is awake now. I have no idea where he started running from if he came down from Spitler. Fobes Saddle?

There’s condensation on our sleeping bags and shoes and ground sheets. I pack up first and head off, the alternate going from trail to road walking until the highway. It’s pretty though, and Maddy soon catches up. There’s a stream running alongside the road which doesn’t have much traffic. When it does the cars speed fast around the curves.

We get to the back fence of Herkey Campground. Maddy wants to walk to Lake Hemet and swim; it’s only a mile or so so I go with her. We walk along the side of the small highway for a bit, then see the lake and cut down from the road through some small copses of trees and bushes. We follow a sandy wash and step over a barbed-wire fence.

“No trespassing,” Maddy reads from a sign facing away from where we came. Oops. And then there’s the problem that is the heavy duty fence topped with barbed wire that runs along the dirt road we just trespassed to reach. “It looks like a private lake,” Maddy says.

We’d have to walk all the way around to the Hemet Store on the highway with no guarantees of being able to get in to the lake, so we give up and head back, the proper way this time. We stop at Herkey Campground back at the alternate and use the bathrooms and eat some food at the picnic tables.

Two guys come and sit down. They’re called the Girl Scouts, and I only remember Michael’s name. They bring out some vintage-looking Alpine Air meals with graphics that look like they were designed sometime in the 70s or 80s. Some older hikers gave them to them. They check the best-by date; they both expired last year. How far ahead do they date those things? They start heating water for them and we head off.

The alternate follows a different route from Herkey Campground from last year. Instead of broad networks of Forest Service roads, it follows a spindly and washed-out path through the hills at the bottom of the valley. Eventually it joins the old route on a dirt road by a grassy meadow, and the going gets steep, and I’m sweating even though it’s cool enough out, drenching my arms and giving me a sweat mustache.

Eventually we turn off the alternate into paved road, steep and winding and pavement-less winding down to the heart of town. Maddy sticks her thumb out as we walk down and eventually a car stops, and we’re spirited down the last 1/2 mile. Idyllwild is so different in the sun; hikers wander around everywhere, congregating to talk on the sidewalks, tourists interspersed among us.

We get lunch at the Red Kettle, leaving our packs inside. I get a sandwich with cream cheese, avocado, tomato, and sprouts, which is delicious, and a slice of blueberry pie. I finish before Maddy and the two hikers we sit with, Katie and? So I head down to the library to charge my electronics. I drained my battery taking pictures yesterday. I find a copy of the Silmarillion and read the creation story of Middle Earth.

Maddy finds me and sits with my stuff while I do a quick resupply. She has her box and we sit in the benches in front of our library, sorting our food away. Locals and hikers join us at the benches and talk to us. Finally we’re ready, and we wander through town one last time to get to the road. We stick out our thumbs and a retired couple picks us up and ferries us up the steep road walk.

We follow the road up to Ernie Maxwell Trail, which is gentle and graded and pretty in the trees. We pass dayhikers heading down from Devil’s Slide Trailhead, where we sit for a while. I eat my bag of chips and we use the bathroom, and off! I struggle with the steeper grade and elevation of Devil’s Slide and let Maddy go ahead. The sun starts setting, the mountains hazy and in rising gradient far off in the distance, the sun shooting light rays through the trees on the far slope. I catch Maddy sitting up on a rock ledge watching the sky, the squirrel! and we walk the last part up to the PCT again together.

There’s a no camping sign at Saddle Junction, but apparently it’s fine as long as it’s on the PCT side of the junction. We wander around looking for campsites, Maddy being indecisive. Finally we set up a bit away from some other thruhikers. I cowboy camp on a deep, soft layer of pine needles and put all of my non-shell layers against the creeping chill. I have a half-bagel and cream cheese and some chili lime ramen. Maddy comes and sits on my feet and eats her cold-soaked noodles and lentils.

We say goodnight and I snuggle into my sleeping bag. It’s going to be a cold night.

Day 12- 20.8 miles from Idyllwild via Paradise Valley Cafe/Hwy 74 (151.8) to Spitler Peak Trail on the Mountain Fire Alternate (mile 4 off of 168.6)

In the morning we pack up. Drippy heads out first to the shuttle to Devil’s Slide Trailhead. We sit outside of our lodge and see Herk picking up a bunch of hikers and giving them rides to various trailheads. He’s a local who’s retired and was doing the same last year. He gave me and my friends a ride to Devil’s Slide. We ask him if he’ll give us a ride to the PCT on highway 74, and he says he’ll swing by in an hour. We settle down.

Maddy and I decide we are hungry, even after eating pasta for breakfast, so we walk down to the grocery store to get something. It’s closed so we get ice cream at a gas station and eat it on the walk back. Then we sit and wait. I catch up on my writing and Maddy makes up a game about sliding a rock down her shin without it falling off. More than an hour after we talked to Herk we decide he must have forgotten us and we just walk down to the gas station outside of town and start hitching. An older woman quickly pulls over and we pile in. OT talks to her as we drive.

We’re soon back on-trail and the sky is cloudless and warm without being too hot. The trail wanders through and by enormous piles of granite, and through pine and chaparral and dry meadows. It’s pretty. I get distracted talking and trip and fall flat on my knees, and scrape up my left one a bit, but it’s not too bad. The trail then starts climbing up the side of the hills, the valley green and full below us. 5-6 miles in we reach the junction for Tunnel Springs. There are other hikers sitting there. I bring my water filtering things down but Maddy brings her full pack on the steep quarter-mile descent.

The spring flows from a pipe into a bent water trough, the water deep and cold and clear. I fill up my dirty water bag and filter two liters, and fill it up again to filter two more up top. Two hikers join us, Sage and Pinion, and I leave Maddy to talk with them and finish filtering.

I sit up top and filter my water and eat things out of my food bag. I see Maddy coming up. She throws her hands in the air. “I just realized that I left my trekking poles down there,” she says.

Nooo! That sucks. She leaves her pack with me and heads down again for them. I sit and eat some more and talk with Artemis, a hiker sitting at the junction who has a cold. Maddy comes up again, reasonably in a low mood from having left her poles down there, so I leave her to rest and eat. She’ll catch up.

The trail just after the junction opens up into a view of the desert and Palm Springs. It’s so beautiful, it’s so beautiful, it’s so beautiful. I walk with a section hiker named Bud and a hiker with a kerchief around his neck named Woody. We stop at a rise where the view opens up on either side, impossibly distant desert brown on the right and high green mountains to the left.

I take a cathole break overlooking the desert and Maddy catches up to me soon after. “Picnic!” she shouts. She’s feeling better and we walk together and gush about the views, walking on the top of the ridge and winding in and out of copses of fir and pine. Spreading Phlox starts appearing, and in between are sections of desert plants, rabbit brush looking odd in the alpine terrain, faded blooms like festive pom-poms. I’m happy to see rabbitbrush.

OT and Ziploc passed by when we were at the spring and are somewhere ahead. We reach Fobes Saddle and switchback tightly around a rocky knob, and past the junction- for the first time I’m on trail that I haven’t hiked before, since this section of the fire closure opened this winter. It climbs up out of the saddle, Palm Springs being swallowed up by the shadow of the mountain as the sun lowers. I just manage to keep up with Maddy on the constant up, out of breath and sweating in the cool evening air. And it’s all beautiful, so beautiful, and how could anyone skip this?

When we reach the far side of the mountain we’ve been traversing and start dropping down, the sun is bright and large and sinking in the suddenly smoky-looking valley. Smog, we decide, from LA? We reach the saddle and sit and eat. We both feel really good. Should we hike down to the bottom of the mountain? We’re both indecisive. Yes, we decide, and pack up and pull warm clothes and headlamps out of our packs.

The switchbacks are gentle and the sun is setting in bands of smoggy color, orange and yellow and red. The burned trees silhouette themselves against the sunset and it’s ridiculously beautiful, and the trail switchbacks down tightly along a growing stream flow, and soon it’s dark enough for headlamps. The lights of the houses in the valley below and Lake Hemet turn on.

We talk and talk and laugh on our walk down, and when we reach the bottom of the mountainside where it’s flat enough to camp we set up our sleeping bags and quilts side-by-side underneath the widest sky I’ve seen, no trees to block our view, only the cradle of the mountains far off in the distance. The moon is still below the horizon. It’s the most beautiful section so far and my first 20 mile day of the trip, and I don’t even feel tired or sore. We’re going to swim in Lake Hemet tomorrow, and walk back into Idyllwild to resupply. It was a perfect day.

The stars are bright and just before I go to bed a shooting star streaks across the sky.

I wish to make it to Canada.

Day 11- 0 miles in Idyllwild

I don’t have much to do today, mostly just eat and get my box with my tent and sleeping bag at the post office, and send it back with my quilt. I think I’m going to keep trying my tarp.

We all meet up and have breakfast at The Red Kettle, which is good. I get pancakes, hash browns and scrambled eggs.

The rest of the day is spent vegging in our room, writing blog posts and post cards, eating leftover pizza, and going to the post office to get and re-send the big box my mom sent my sleeping bag in. Thank you Mom!! ❤️ Maddy and I wander around touristy shops and try on hats. Drippy was going to head out today but Oldtimer and I convince him to stay in our cabin on our extra couch.

We all meet up again for dinner. They choose the Gastrognome, and I’m too full of pizza to eat, so I get a fancy ginger beer and sip it and catch up on journal writing, skipping in and out of the conversation until Ziploc announces that my new trail name is “Huh, What?”.

I can’t decide whether or not I want to see Infinity War again tonight since tickets are half off and cheap and why not, so I call my family and talk to them on the way to the theater. The line is out the door, though, so I decide not and walk back.

I sit outside for a bit on the porch swing talking to my parents, and then come inside and watch Yes Man with Jim Carrey on the TV with Oldtimer and Drippy and Maddy.

Maddy and I look at the maps and water for the section ahead. We’re going to carry 1 liter from Idyllwild to Tunnel Springs. We’re hitching back up to the PCT at Highway 74 tomorrow and starting the section up to the alternate, and doing the alternate together- it looks like we’re the only ones in our group doing the full thing. Then we’ll swing by Idyllwild to resupply for the full section into Big Bear ahead.

Day 10- 6.3 miles from Mary’s Place/Walden (145.4) to Idyllwild via Paradise Valley Cafe/Hwy 74 (151.8)

I am awake. Wow. That’s cool. My makeshift rear tarp pole stick held up for a while last night, I think, but then I made the mistake of using one of the nail/peg stakes that I had leftover from my tarptent, which doesn’t stay very well, and it fell out, and now my sleeping quilt is being molested by my condensation-covered tarp, and now it is damp.

I was not feeling nearly that dramatic about it when I was there this morning, but I am writing this now, at night, and feeling silly and dramatic. So there you go. In reality I was feeling very practical and non-dramatic, and as soon as I woke and heard packing up I set about my task of packing up in the misting morning. I shoved the stake back into the ground where it came from and propped my spare trekking pole up against the roof of my tarp to give myself even more headroom. Ahh! I also usually write in present tense but you either must forgive me, or stop reading in disgust.

Then I pack up. It’s the first time I’ve ever had to pack up wet camp and gear with the intention of hiking that day. I get everything except my tarp and ground cloth and pad packed away, and then clamber out into the world.

Maddy’s still packing up her things inside her little cuben fiber tent, and Oldtimer pulls me towards her tent. “I want to talk to you two about something,” he says.

“What, did we do something wrong?”

“No, no. I’ve just got a bad feeling about one of the guys yesterday,” he says, and says his name.

Maddy’s eyebrows arch up as she glances at me.

I say his name out loud to confirm.

“Yes. I had a dream about him. God’s telling me you shouldn’t trust him. He was waiting for you to catch up with him so he could hike with you. I just don’t want you two to get hurt.”

Okay, we say. I nod.

Then I sling my pack on and start walking, Ziploc and OT just behind me. It’s cold. The world is buried deep in cloud, and I can’t see very far. The plants are wet as my shoes brush past them. I have my trekking poles strapped to my pack so the cold metal doesn’t drain the heat from my hands. I wear my sleeping socks on my hands and feel like Squidward.

I think about what OT said as I walk. I trust him. He may not be right, but I trust his intuition and experience with people, and I trust him as a person. The guy OT was talking about is charismatic (I removed that part of my journal from yesterday because I don’t want to hurt anyone when it’s just a hunch), but that’s exactly what someone who would take advantage of us would be. I didn’t find him creepy. But I’d rather trust OT and be wrong than not pay attention and have him not be wrong. I’m not assuming that he has bad intentions, but I’m going to keep up a guard and I’m not going to seek to further a friendship.

OK, that’s a decision.

My bad foot is hurting. The blister isn’t healing very well, I should probably be covering it or something. The skin is new and raw in a patch where the skin came away, and it presses against my shoe every time I step down. I start altering my stride to alleviate the pain, which puts strain on the muscles and bones on the outside of my foot. On top of that, my hammer toes are arching up and there’s a slight, dull pain in the ball of my foot from the weather and barometric changes.

We came to the decision before leaving that we were going to hitch into Idyllwild on the highway 6 miles from camp and take our zero early. Ziploc and OT and I stop to look at room availability and online booking, and Maddy catches up. The Idyllwild Inn is full, but I snag a room for 2 nights at the Silver Pine Lodge for Maddy and OT and me.

Then we hike to the highway in the fog. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I want to be warm and clean and full. We get there and stand on the side of the road on the gravel shoulder, and Maddy and I stand up front and stick our thumbs out at passing traffic, looking cheerful. “Maybe if we look more miserable they’ll pity us and stop,” I say. More cars pass by, headlamps emerging from the fog, turning into cars, then speeding away and around the corner.

We decide to walk down to the Paradise Valley Cafe where another road joins, where there will be more traffic, and so we’re not sitting around getting cold. Oldtimer sticks a thumb out as we’re walking and a car pulls up. Maddy and I laugh and run partway there.

“See, they’ll stop for the old guy,” OT says, grinning amiably.

“You’ve just got to show more leg,” says Ziploc, pulling up his pant leg and baring his calf to the road.

The woman was only going to bring us to Paradise Valley Cafe, but then gives us a ride to a gas station a couple miles past the turn-off. We stand and stick our thumbs out some more. A white truck with a covered bed pulls off. There’s already some hikers inside, but Maddy and I squeeze in the back with our packs and OT and Ziploc find room in the front. We’re dropped off in Idyllwild. “Thank you so much,” we repeat emphatically.

We walk to Silver Pines Lodge. Our room isn’t ready, so we sit and call our families in the warm sitting room, with deep leather couches and two fireplaces. We finally get in, and explode everything from our packs into every surface and corner of the room. We set up our sleeping quilts and tents in front of the heater to dry.

We meet Drippy down at Idyllwild Pizza Co., where Maddy orders gluten-free pizza and I get a large Gourmet Veggie, which considering doesn’t have many veggies on it, or any colorful ones. I have plenty extra pizza to graze on. Drippy has a room at Idyllwild Inn, and has been sick with a cough and chills.

We go back to our rooms and veg. We’re going to all go see Avengers: Infinity War At 7. It starts raining outside, and briefly snows. We’re all incredibly happy to be inside and warm, and not sleeping outside in it. We get our laundry done at the lodge. We walk to the theater together in the cold- I’m super excited for the movie, and to see which characters die. I’m super hyped up about it, after watching all of the movies this fall and winter with my injury. I take pictures of all of the old posters with women swooning and showing leg and pathetically clutching the chest of the male heroes.

The theater has blankets, and we put them on our laps. The movie starts, and it’s funny and entertaining and nice. I start feeling chills running through my body though, so I really hope I don’t have whatever Drippy got. Towards the end, one of the group of teenagers behind us starts breaking into loud sobs, which is distracting, but also hilarious, and the movie ends and Poof! Poof! Poof! (If you’ve seen the movie you know what I mean by poof). I find it all absolutely hilarious and am not sad at all, and when the lights turn on I laugh and laugh. It’s a mean cliffhanger and not entirely fair. Jerks.

We walk back in the dark and freezing cold. Ziploc goes off to try and find some ice cream. It’s cold out! Ridiculous. The rest of us walk back to our cabin and get ready to sleep.

I got ice cream! Ziploc texts me later.

Nerd, I tell him.

But I got ice cream!

Neeerdd, I say.