Day 13: Paradise Valley!

Idyllwild, California (Mile 151.9)

I feel like ending all the post titles with exclamation points! Like this!

I packed up the mostly dry tent and hit the trail at 5:45. Funny–it rained with savage gusto last night, and the dry air still more or less sucked the water out of everything. Definitely not like back east–although somebody told me that 2013 was the wettest Appalachian Trail year on record, so maybe my perception is skewed.

I adjusted the horse tape on my knee. (Horse Tape would be a funny trail name. There’s a German guy floating around who’s desperately trying to dodge the name Horsewater. Which is kind of a long, funny story. OK, not that long. One of the water sources was a horse trough. Hikers gathered, like they do, eating, treating water,
chitchatting. And somebody asked Horsewater what he was eating.
He kind of peeked into his pot and poked the spoon around and said in his dry German accent, “Noodles. Beef jerky. Cheese. Horse water.” I don’t remember the exact ingredients, but you get it.)

Between the tape and the fact that I was 6 miles from a zero, I managed to actually get some steam this morning. The flowers were magnificent, in that subtle desert way, and I finally managed to get to the famous Paradise Valley Cafe at about 9:30 AM–too early for the best cheeseburger on the trail, but breakfast was fine by me. Except I really don’t have any kind of hiker hunger at all. Blah.

There was a guy on the patio playing an electronic organ, entertaining ghosts. (The patio was empty.) He asked me if Karma was a trail name or my real name. I said, “I’m from Philly. They don’t name people Karma out there.” We laughed.

Then came the intimidating part of the day: my first attempt at hitching. I made myself look as girly as possible–that’s supposed to be an advantage. I hobbled across the freeway, got settled, thought about taking my pants off to look even more girly (I had shorts on!), then stuck out my thumb… eh voila! The first car stopped! It took all of eight seconds!

The driver said, “I can drop you at Idyllwild blah-blah.” (She didn’t actually say blah-blah, but it was some collection of foreign syllables that no doubt added up to something geographical. “Sure!” I beamed! And off we went.

She was Native American woman from one of the nearby reservations (words you don’t get to say in Philadelphia). She told me about some of the local flora, and how her ancestors used to boil various bits of things. Which got us onto the topic of how in hell human beings ended up with food. Like… who looks at a cactus with stabbity thorns and says, “Gee! That belongs in my mouth!”?

So. I got to Blah-Blah, and asked where the Idyllwild Inn was (I called from the mountain yesterday and made a reservation.) Thataway, they pointed. So I hobbled along the road for a bit and wondered how far the place was, or if I was on the right street. I passed a gym, of all places, out in the middle of nowhere and stuck my head in. “Which direction is the Inn?” I asked. And she said, “Do you want a ride?”

“YES!” I said, and dropped to the ground and kissed her feet. In my head, at least. Turns out it was a 5-mile roadwalk. That would have killed me. So thank you, Erin the nature photographer!

And here I am. Laundry is done. I have a tuna sub ready to eat. I’ve been to the outfitters and picked up tent stakes and a pair of insoles (part of my secret foot plan).

And dear god, was that the best shower I ever took! It was hot and sweet and clean, and while the black filthwater ran down the drain, I was making noises that are probably illegal. Shower!

Then I had ice cream, even though the locals said it’s too cold for ice cream and it won’t be ice cream time for another month.

It’s still snowing in the Sierra. And, in fact, snow is coming to the San Jacintos at 9000 feet or something, later this week–just in time for me to get there. The choice would be to hike out tomorrow, but my left wheel needs the zero. Nothing to do about it. But I’ll keep an eye on the weather anyway.


The sign out front of the Inn says Welcome, PCT Hikers! And it occurred to me, finally, that that’s me. I’m a PCT hiker! I’m here, on the PCT! Hiking! Who knows what’ll happen in the future? For now… holy crap, I’m limping along. PCT hiker, class of 16!


Day 12: Thunderhail!

Mile 146.3
Highest elevation: 4750 feet (current)

I’m in my tent near (but not at) the top of a mountain in a torrential thunderstorm. Yay! (OK, this is a little scary, with the booms being just a second or two after the flashes, but hey. By the time I get done writing this, it’ll all be over. Yay!)

(Random point: There are clearly some pinholes in the fly that I missed repairing. Or maybe it’s splashback. The rain’s coming down really hard.)

So. First of all, thanks to Pathfinder for correcting my terrible geography. I got my F words mixed up. The highest point on the PCT is Forrester Pass, at 13,000+ feet, but that’s not until the Sierra. The one coming up in the next few days, Fuller Ridge, is just a really high mountain–9000 feet. I can’t remember if there’s snow on Fuller Ridge, but I guess we’ll find out!

Also, a couple of people asked about my knee/ankle/foot situation. I hadn’t been writing about it because 1) it’s boring, 2) it’s not funny, and 3) it’s not changing much. The deal is… this hurts. A lot. I’ve been doing all sorts of things, trying stuff out–relacing my shoes, making improvised pads for various things, changing socks around, making creative use of duct tape and bandannas. The problem, I think, is really the knee–and the foot thing is from trying to compensate. That knee is my Achilles heel, as it were. I knew it would be, and it’s a bit worse than predicted. But there’s absolutely nothing I can do until I get into town, so I have no choice but to hobble along. And hobble I do, using the trekking poles as canes, more or less. It’s too painful to get into any kind of rhythm or gait, so each step is fresh, which makes the hiking, or limping, exceedingly slow. But I’m still getting 12 miles a day, and I reserved a room in Idyllwild for two nights so I can have one total zero to rest. Tomorrow I need to make 5 miles, then hitchike into town. (I’m very nervous about that, in fact. I’ve never hitched.)

The good news is this. Today in a fit of desperation, I took the only NSAID I have–two Alka-Seltzers. 🙂 And it helped A LOT. So, I think the foot thing is just a question of trail seasoning–when my feet are like oak boards, that will resolve. As for the knee, because it’s bad I can’t do stairmaster or squats or any of the exercises that strengthen your calves and quads. So right now, I think the ankles and knees are doing a disproportionate amount of the (literally) heavy lifting. Presumably, as I get my trail legs over the next 4 to 6 weeks, those muscles will start doing a better job, and the joints won’t have to work as hard. Plus, I’ll lose some weight (although I’m not seeing evidence of that yet). That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!


I was on trail by 6:15 or so. It’s usually been freezing in the morning, and it takes me about an hour of snoozes to get out of the sleeping bag. This morning, though, was warmer–and the big giant hot sun was blazing by 8 AM instead of the usual 9. It promised to be one of the hot ones–and it was!

The heat was pretty relentless. The trail did a lot of climbing among the usual scrub and cactus. I saw a ton of those little lizards (really, I weighed them). They’re like… squirrels of the desert.

I was rationing water today. Yesterday I let some speedy Japanese hikers convince me that I was carrying too much water (which I already knew, so it didn’t take that much convincing). But yesterday was freezing cold and cloudy, and today turned out to be like the surface of the sun, and I’m currently doing 1.5 mph. I had 2 liters to get 12 miles, including an overnight. Doable, but I’d have to watch myself.

Around mid-day, though, I stumbled on an unexpected and famous water cache! And by famous, I mean it’s one of the iconic photos thst everybody takes. Words can’t express how happy I was to see that water–and it was even cool, being in its own shady cabinet. I guzzled a liter and limped on.

The plan was to get to mile 48. There was a long climb during which the clouds were getting fat and black-bottomed. Then boom! Out of the blue, a sign: ‘Water and trail register’ with an arrow. I went down.

The woman who owns the property has a nice little trail magic setup! She wasn’t there, but her friend, a retired police officer, minds the store in her absence. He was a California cowboy, complete with boots and a gray handlebar mustache. He wore two wedding rings on a chain around his neck. His wife of 42 years died last year, and his grief was palpable. The thing he misses most is rubbing her feet at night.

I love people’s stories.

There was a first aid kit there, and we ruffled through it and found some of that self-clinging horse bandage. He wrapped my knee just like I was one of his three horses. 🙂 It didn’t help the pain (dear god, that thing throbs), but at least I felt like I could put some weight on it.

But… by then it had started to sprinkle. It was 4 in the afternoon, and the black clouds had ragged tendrils on the bottoms. I looked up and realized I was headed up another mountain.

Then the hail started.

It’s super weird to see balls of ice bounce off of blooming cacti. That’s like… a whole black hole full of weird.

The giant clouds weren’t moving. And the thunder was definitely getting closer. As slow as I was going, I thought there was a good chance I’d be stuck right on top of that mountain if lightning came–and I didn’t want my aluminum tentpoles to be the highest thing in the environment during a raging California thunderstorm, yo. So I set up in a steady rain at the first likely spot. (I’ve lost another stake, damnit.)

And then came the rainpocalypse.

But guess what? It’s over now! The rain is slowing, slowing… now just a steady drizzle. The walls of the tent are lightening with the returning sun. The thunder is far away. It’s getting cold, though! Because out here, all possible shit happens on the very same day.