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. šŸ™‚ 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. šŸ™‚ 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.


7 thoughts on “Day 12: Thunderhail!

  1. Those pesky tent stakes – always wandering off. I remember the outfitter in Idyllwild being pretty nice, with kind folks running it. I bet you’ll see some snow on Fuller, I had little pockets of the white stuff in a low snow year! Sending healing vibes your way for your knee and foot, it’s totally sucky to hike when every step you’re in pain. If you stop at the Paradise Cafe before hitching into Idyllwild, enjoy the food!!


    • I had breakfast there! I was sorry to miss the legendary cheeseburger, but breakfast was awesome!

      I did hear that Fuller Ridge is yucky with snow. We’ll see!



  2. Enjoying reliving my walk as you talk about where you are. Sorry about the body issues. Reminds me of my AT start with a swollen knee that eased up when I cleared an emotional issue using questions and muscle checking. (What came up was guilt being absent for a son’s birthday…) For me, the Inner Journey flows right along with the Outer Journey. Best wishes to you! !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. They way different people solve dilemmas on the trail fascinates me. As you well know, I’m launching good karma rockets your way every day.


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