Day 10: 6 miles – no entry.
Day 11 – 22 miles | Last night I woke up with a caterpillar on my face.
After 12 miles of hiking I reach Mike’s Place. Mike is the CEO of a company that makes tortilla chip equipment. He has a little ranch that is cared for during the week by a guy named Josh. It’s a bit run down, and Mike is clearly a hoarder, but is a welcome oasis with water. Tom Petty is playing and everyone is sitting silently in the shade, exhausted.
Banana and brown sugar pancakes are made out on the grill and eaten. I pass around my jar of chocolate peanut butter to anyone who wants some as a topping. Around 6, pizza is made in the oven outside.
After 7 hours of sitting in the shade, a large group of us decide to night-hike an additional 10 miles to the next water source. The group is all male and decide to be called “the bearded troupe” or something, and I cleverly gain access to this exclusive group by mentioning my tendency to have a dirt and sweat mustache. I head out first, with a burst of energy. I kneel down to tie my shoe about a mile in and a large spider runs toward me and climbs my shoe. I swing it off.
For about 5 miles, I clear the spiderwebs on the trail. Then I get lonely in the dark and decide to wait for the group. An automatic rifle is heard once, firing in the distance. We come to the junction of the water source and head up the road in the opposite direction, away from a bunch of sleeping hikers. It’s nearly midnight. We find a flat patch on a dirt road and 8 of us cowboy camp: Erik the Red, Allen, me, Tarantino, Justin, Speedy Jesus, Campo, and Sam.
Day 12: 14 miles – I wake up and only 5 of us are left. It’s only 7am but the sun is already beating down. Everyone else has headed down to the water. It’s a quarter mile down dirt road and the last 20 feet is simply a chute of dirt leading down to a creek–overgrown with orange algae. It smells. A mouse runs out among those filling water and is very social, unaware of the message it is giving off.
I hike 3 more miles before a blister inbetween my toes bursts, and I stop to treat it. That’s when I taste the water. Even after filtering, it tastes like decomposing organic matter. I backflush my filter and filter the water again. It’s marginally better.
I go about another mile. It’s unbearably hot. I see Sam’s knee between two boulders. He’s in the shade with his feet up. (a popular tactic is to raise feet whenever possible to reduce swelling, including sleeping with one’s pack under one’s feet) Sam is from London and features a dry sense of humor but is very friendly as I get to know him in the shade. We decide to wait out most of the heat. A rotating cast of familiar faces seeks out shade here for the next few hours. We debate about the reliability of the next water cache.
None of us anticipated this hot of a day and are concerned about water. It’s nearing 90°. Most are antsy to get the next 10 miles over with and get to Paradise Valley Cafe, “home of the best burger on trail”. I’ve been craving French fries with ketchup and Pepsi with ice. The trail is set to climb another thousand feet over the last of the ten miles.
I take a long nap and the shade shifts so I squeeze into an overhang under the boulder. Finally, a couple coming Southbound round the corner and I consult them. They tell me there are two stocked water caches within the next 4 miles. Hurrah!
I end up proceeding slowly as the day cools off, and end up doing some 20-minute miles over the steep inclines and declines. I am pounding down the trail. I get to the restaurant after sunset, but the owner allows us to camp on the lawn. Can’t wait for breakfast, and possibly lunch.
Day 13 – 7 miles | An entire bar of dark chocolate liquified from the heat yesterday and leaked into my food bag. I salvage a few things but it’s pretty pitiful, so I throw out the rest of my food and eat a couple of big meals at the cafe.
Some people are hitching straight to the town of Idyllwild from Paradise Valley Cafe because of a burn area closure on the trail. There’s a bit of debate surrounding this.
There are a few options. To hitch is to skip 25 miles and difficult terrain (that a friend ahead said “kicked her ass”). That’s 1% of the trail. There is a trail reroute in place from the burn area on.
Absolute purists will take this reroute trail and then roadwalk the rest of the way into Idyllwild. Some people walk straight along the highway for 17 miles.
Realists may hike the trail reroute up until the road walk section (around half of the 25-mile reroute) and assess the risk/shoulder-width and hitch from there. That’s my plan. If it’s too dangerous it would be unwise to walk for the sake of mileage. It is going to be so tempting to want to hitch past the entire reroute with some of the others. They talk about partying in Idyllwild. Modern amenities like an array of grocery stores, a medical center, a laundromat and choice of three hiker-friendly hotels await. It’s each person’s own choice whether to skip the reroute section or not, and what they are getting from the trail. For me, I feel like it’s my first test of endurance or something.
I hitch a ride back to the trailhead with a Colleen and Rawhide. My knee has been a bit swollen from pounding down 36 miles of the trail in the last two days. I remember doing some going pretty hard on the downhills and feeling an acute pain.
About 1.5 miles in, I stop and lay down on my sleeping pad and elevate my leg with my pack. The knee doesn’t quite hurt but is swollen and a little nagging. I was planning on doing two 15 mile days to get to Idyllwild, but maybe I’ll have to rest at regular intervals n do less mileage.
Day 14 – 14.6 – “I think we’ve camped near a bees’ nest” we’ve woken up to the sound of millions of bees. After a few moments of panic and extreme caution, we pack up from within our tents. Apparently we haven’t camped near a nest and there are just a whole bunch of bees out and about.
The climb is pretty tough and I’m armed with Ibuprofen and proceed extremely slowly, especially on the downhills. I go less than 2 miles per hour. The scenery is gorgeous and there are lots of pines. I’m thankful I took the alternate because it’s rewarding.
Near the end of the route there’s a footpath along the highway. When I get to the convenience store at Lake Hemet, I see a few other hikers who have taken the alternate. I go in, acutely aware of my disheveled, dusty and suntanned appearance, and how I must smell. I buy a ginger ale and a orange creamsicle and they taste like heaven. I hitch the last few miles, because of the road danger on that section, as well as my complaining knees. A nice woman named Tara recognizes that I’m a PCT hiker and picks me up on her way to pick up her son from daycare. She drops me off at a cabin a couple of friends have secured for the evening. We walk to dinner and then head back in and watch TV for hours while I elevate and ice my knees, and stretch out the arches of my feet, which are also protesting after the week’s terrain and treatment.