Last night was the usual fair of me tossing and turning and shivering, with the added bonus of the wind beating up my tent every so often. Miraculously I managed to get about four hours of sleep however. People slept on the dirt years before walking long distances was more out of necessity than recreational, it makes sense that I can adapt to doing the same, right?
I shivered out from under my quilt and poked my head out of my tent. Clouds. Dark clouds. I know what’s gonna happen today, it’s going to rain. I pulled out my rain jacket and wind pants and placed them somewhere easily accessible in my pack, broke down my tent, devoured my fruit pie breakfast, and started the day’s hike. I don’t know how or why, but I always manage to start the day with a massive uphill climb. Given my current state, it’s not exactly the best thing in the world. But mentally I was feeling a little stronger today so it didn’t bother me too much. The scenery helped matters, it was my favorite sandy dusty arid desert that just makes me happy for no real reason.
As I hiked I kept looking outward towards Mount San Jacinto. The last time I really saw it, it seemed like a lifetime away. Now I’m at it’s doorstep and I’m close to Idyllwild. Have I really walked this far already? I can barely remember my first day out here which was almost only two weeks ago. At this moment the gravity of the trail started to hit me. While I feel like I’ve come so far, I haven’t scratched the surface. This both scared me and excited me. What kind of crazy shit am I going to be dealing with a month from now? Two months?
As the trail wound up mountains, down mountains, and around mountains, the temperature started to drop and the clouds started to look more ominous. As I came down out of the desert mountain range I started in, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I threw on my rain jacket and wind pants over my t shirt and running shorts and started to feel much better. It felt weird wearing pants again after doing the running short thing for so many miles. As I hiked on I started passing trailers dotting the desert landscape and I started to wonder what life was like out here for them. What do they do during the day? Why are they out here? I started to feel a little envious, it must be really quiet out here for them. I thought back to my life living in the busy urban area of Washington and shuddered a bit.
Just then I started to feel mist hit my face, which later turned into a steady stream of small rain drops. Called it! I started to feel a little excited, rain in the desert! This is new! I walked along and passed a water cache placed near the trail, and laughed. I’ve only taken a couple drinks from my water bottle, no way I’d need this. But I can imagine in normal conditions that this place would be really hot, and I started to feel a little lucky with this weather break. I continued to pass water caches. Man, it must be really hot out here normally.
One cache in particular was a little strange, and a little awesome. It was off trail a bit but my curiosity got the better of me and I followed the signs down to it. I was greeted by a surf board with signatures dotting all along it. Near that was a picnic table with boxes of water jugs, along with a little cabinet built innocently into the landscape. In it were books, and apparently I could just take one? I guess the proper ettiquette is to take one and leave one. There wasn’t anything in there that I’d read anyways, but it’s an awesome idea regardless. I signed the trail register and made my way back to the trail.
Things stopped being flat and suddenly I’m climbing back into another line of mountains. It’s here that the temperature really dropped and the rain started to really pick up. I was fine for a little while, but after my first ascent and subsequent descent, things took a turn for the worse. I was freezing, and I was starting to lose sensation in my hands and my arms. Gripping my trekking poles and moving them around with my arms suddenly became an almost impossible task. I started to feel like I should have put on an extra layer on under my jacket. I stopped to dig one out of my pack, but I started to feel even colder whenever I stopped moving. I gave up on it and continued walking.
I only had to do 15 miles today, and under normal circumstances I would have been close to done by now, but the combination of freezing wind and rain being caked on my layers froze up my muscles. Trying to match my usual pace became increasingly difficult. I started eating granola bars and trail mix to try and give my body more fuel to no avail, I’d just have to keep walking, but the miles just didn’t seem to end.
During the last 3 miles is when things got really bad. The events of the last few days crushed down on me, I was freezing, and the trail seemed to be going in nonsensical directions, going uphill when it was perfectly reasonable to remain flat along the floor between the mountains. It would go around one mountain just to come back to the same valley for who knows why. I’m sure there were good reasons, but at the moment I was just desperate to get out.
2 miles out I lost it. I didn’t care that it was cold, that it was raining, that my body was refusing to respond. I started to push myself up the hills faster than normal in a desperate attempt to generate more body heat, and at some point my Achilles Tendon on my right foot, the same damn foot that already had tendonitis on, started to hurt. It started with a slow ache, to literally mind numbing pain. I was expecting way too much out of my body trying to get out. I just wanted a cigarette, I wanted to fix my air mattress, and above all I really wanted to eat everything ever. I started having images of throwing my pack off the cliff and being done with this stupid trail.
“That’s it, I’m done” I thought to myself. The matter was settled, and I powered up the hills despite the tendon pain. I pushed it back as far as I could in my mind and focused on getting out. Fuck this.
Then I remembered the months of prepping and how much I put into this, how long I waited to be out here to do what I’m doing at this exact moment. I can’t say it brought me back to being Mister Happy Hiker, but I started to rationalize things a bit more. I’ve only got one more mile left, I’ve had a bad few days, you’ll be fine. I resolved to skip the alternate around the Mountain Fire closure into Idyllwild. I’m not pushing my luck here. I slowed my pace down to give my tendon a break but the damage was done. I could barely put any pressure on it. Good job, dude.
The last half mile was downhill to the highway, and the culmination of how cold I was paired with the pain was a little too much. Thoughts of stopping my hike here and now kept creeping up and I kept pushing them back. I didn’t come out here to quit over something so small, even though in the moment it felt so ominously huge. I can do this, I just need to get down to the road.
When I got down to the highway I took my pack off and fell on my ass into the wet dirt. I sat there for a moment reflecting on the fact that I escaped the maze that was today. I shivered, then couldn’t stop shivering. I really need to wear more layers in weather like this, my rain jacket isn’t as magical as I thought it was. I finished my final internal pep-talk with the resolution that it’d be insane to quit now, that I knew I’d run into moments like this, and that I knew I could get through them. But there’s still no way in hell I’m adding in extra miles for the day. I really want to do the San Jacinto alternate and I need my foot to feel better before I even think about getting out there.
I moved myself near the road and sent my dad a text. He’d been in town while I was out on trail having my ego completely eradicated. He’d come down to get me. As I waited a couple of guys came off trail. I gave them a passing glance and decided I didn’t know them. One of them said “Hey man, how’s it goin?”. I looked up. Holy shit I know these guys! It’s the father-son duo from Mount Laguna.
“Holy shit, Thor and Ranger Stacked! I didn’t recognize you with all the rain gear!” I was in disbelief that I was seeing them here. I was sure they were days ahead of me since I’d taking all those zeros waiting for my foot to heal. These guys are super awesome, seeing them again made me feel much better. We sat by the road and talked about the day. Stacked wasn’t having any problems with the cold, Thor agreed that it sucked but it didn’t bother him much either. Why is it that I – the guy from Washington – was so effected by the rain? Who knows.
I don’t like complaining about things to people, but I was so happy to see familiar faces, I couldn’t help it.
“That sucked monumentally” I uttered.
“C’mon, a tough guy like you?” Stacked said, slapping me on the back.
I don’t feel tough at all. I feel beat up, but I mean I made it out. It’s not like I died out there, things could be worse right?
“I haven’t slept in four days” I uttered again.
“Yeah dude, I can see it under your eyes” Thor said.
I left it at that, I only needed to vent for two sentences. After that the conversation shifted to food, the natural course of hikertrash conversation.
We sat by the road and my dad eventually passed us. I jumped up and down waving my hands in the air, he waved back, but kept on driving. What the hell? We watched him fly down the highway and eventually turn around then stop about half a mile away from us. We continued to wait. My dad stayed put.
“What’s he doing..?” Ranger Stacked asked.
“I have no clue” I responded, laughing.
My dad eventually drove up to us and was surprised to see me there.
“Dude, I didn’t recognize you at all, you look like a vagrant” he shouted at me from the window. My beard grew exponentially the last few days.
That makes sense.
There was only room for one passenger as my dad brought too much stuff down with him. Both he and I are homeless as I do this PCT thing, and he learned the hard way that bringing half of what he did was completely pointless. Thor and Ranger Stacked needed a ride but no one was stopping. They were only going to Paradise Cafe, I was going straight to Idyllwild. My dad’s been giving hikers rides while he stays in towns along the way and offered to give Thor and Stacked a ride.
“Why don’t you guys hop in and get a ride to the cafe first” I said, offering to sit on the road and wait a little longer. They gladly accepted, threw their packs in the trunk, and were on their way to glorious food. I sat at the trailhead watching cars roll by and started to really take in the landscape. This place is beautiful, this place is beyond beautiful. Idyllwild and I are going to get along just fine.
My dad eventually rolled back down the road and picked me up. I hopped into the cab feeling the warm air circulating from the vents. I started shivering even more, I’m impossibly cold. First thing’s first, I need to feed this nicotine beast of mine. We stopped and got cigarettes. Alright, next up is food. My dad’s been around town for five days now and listed off restaurants. When he said there was a Mexican food place I shot up in my seat and said “YES”. I’ve been craving a burrito smothered in guacamole and pico de gallo for days now.
We toured around town for a little bit then went up to the restaraunt. Going back out into the cold air sent me back into my shivering episodes. By the time we sat down I was feeling a little numb, my head feeling dizzy. Simply put I was feeling really weird. We were seated, menus thrown at us, and all I wanted to do was eat everything on it. When they brought out chips I practically inhaled them. I’m so hungry.
I ordered the biggest plate full of burrito, enchilada, rice and beans with a side of guacamole. They forgot the guacamole when they brought it out, but I had food to eat. By the time they realized they had forgot it and came back out with it I was done eating. I felt warm again, the dizziness subsided. I’m normal again, yay! We left the restaraunt and headed down to the campground where my dad was camped out at. It was practically deserted, and practically awesome. My dad had a tent set up with a heater in it. Awesome.
We tooled around camp for a bit, made fire, I ate three jumbo hot dogs, then passed out on a working air mattress. Aw. Yeah. I’ll be in town the next couple days resting my foot and eating food and enjoying the awesomeness that is Idyllwild. For the first time I felt like I’d actually enjoy a stay in town.