Day 0: Winnipeg to San Diego
Aaaaand here we go again.
Running on four hours of sleep to catch a 6am flight to Calgary, because obviously I left most things to the last possible minute. Starting off strong.
Slept through most of the first flight and thankfully the time change is working in my favour so arrived in San Diego around noon local time. As I did last year, I’m spending a night at Scout and Frodo’s, super trail angels that open their house and yard to hundreds of hikers and shuttle them to Campo on the Mexican border. (They’re predicted to host over a thousand this season between March and May.) Not only do they let strangers stay at their house every night, they feed us, give us pack shakedowns, organize rides to gear stores, hold packages etc. and refuse any donations. Their generosity is an incredible way to start an adventure.
Today there are almost 50 of us here, as opposed to the 9 when I started mid may last year. I am definitely in the “hiker bubble” which has both ups and downs-the trail is more crowded but it’s a good opportunity to meet new friends.
Spent the afternoon sorting out phone plan and meeting new hikers-people from all over the world are here-Austria, Germany Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Israel and more.
Trail starts tomorrow, still doesn’t feel real. Craziest part of today is how different I am in terms of experience, but how similar it feels in terms of unpreparedness. Maybe never will be prepared, no matter how many miles I’ve hiked.
Day 1: Campo (0.0) to Lake Morena (20.0)
April 10 // 20.0 miles
God it feels good to be back. Starting off exactly the way I did last year, waking up in a trailer parked on Scout and Frodo’s driveway. The second my alarm went off, eyes were open and there was no confusion as to where I was.
Quick breakfast of eggs and muffins, then packed everyone into multiple vehicles for the drive to Campo. I didn’t expect to, but teared up on the short walk up to the southern terminus. I was a little doubtful yesterday that I had made the right choice, it’s been easy to talk and prepare for the PCT again but I’ve been wondering lately if I maybe should’ve put my time and money towards a different adventure, and that round 2 couldn’t possibly measure up to experiencing the trail for first time. All that doubt disappeared when I started walking, as I should’ve known that it would
Easy couple miles out of Campo, flat and not too hot. Lots of people on trail (25 of us started at the same time this morning.) Once I passed the majority of the pack, didn’t see much of anyone for the rest of the morning. The first climb felt really good, treadmill on incline has paid off despite being the most boring series of workouts I’ve ever done.
Started heating up around 9, saw a rattlesnake at mile 6, rattled halfheartedly from the side of trail before deciding he was more scared of me than I him, and slithered away to hide under a rock. Down to Hauser creek for a quick break and lunch of tortilla and cheese, met new hikes Dutchie and Billy. We found a plastic bag full of the strangest unwanted hiker supplies- paperback novels, TWELVE PAIRS of mens dress socks, a tiny garlic mincer. Split the load with Dutchie and Billy to pack out.
Then came the hot climb up two miles of switchbacks, took a short break near the top with two guys that SOBOed the AT last year. I think we were all a little too ambitious to prove we were experienced long distance hikers and gunned it up the canyon too quickly- I struggling in the heat and one of the AT guys looked way dehydrated and seriously out of it. Made it to the top to get the first end-of-climb endorphin rush of the year and cruised the beautiful downhill section to Lake Morena.
The massive campsite was nearly empty, set up tent in a field designated for PCT hikers. Lots of people limping around with the first day stiffness, and a couple definitely suffering from heat exhaustion/lack of electrolytes. The AT guys had been seriously struggling on the way down, unfocused and complaining of cramps. He had to immediately lie down when we arrived and his friend went off to find him gatorade and salt. Yikes.
Went for a burger (so good) with Dutchie and Billy at the malt shop and tried to rehydrate after a hot day of rationing water. Definitely sunburned already, surprising no one.
it was then time to learn how to set up the new tent, it uses my trekking poles as the main supports, and I’m still experimenting with angles and heights to get it exactly right. In bed by 8, planning another 20 to Mt Laguna tomorrow. According to the park ranger, winds are really going to pick up the next couple days in an already windy section, so the tent will be put to the test. Pack felt good today, quilt is toasty as heck and the tent is spacious and light. Nice to sleep outside again.
Day 2: Lake Morena (20.0) to Windy campsite (46.2)
April 11 // 26.2 miles
So much condensation on the inside of my tent and quilt last night, the quilt was almost completely soaked through in the morning, but thankfully down still keeps its warmth while wet. I was almost too warm, a nice problem after freezing almost every night last summer. Packed up and back on trail by 6:30, a little chilly but warmed up quick as the sun came up. East six miles to Boulder Oaks campground, took a break for breakfast and dried out the sleeping bag, ran into Dutchie for a little bit. Feeling really good physically today, no stiffness or blisters at all.
Continued on the uphill to Kitchen Creek, one of my favourite spots in the desert section, despite the steep scramble off trail to get there. The creek had good water flow and took an hour-long break for lunch and soaking my feet. I think they’ve already started swelling up from hiking and I’m worried my shoes are too small.
Left just after noon, thinking I had lots of time to get to Laguna, where I was planning to resupply. Despite all my research, I completely forgot to check the store hours, it closed at three and wouldn’t be open until noon tomorrow, so my resupply plan is a little messed up. Thankfully I have enough food to get me through another day and half to Julian, but it’s going to be some interesting meals pulled together with what I have left (cheese stick, almonds, tortilla, half bag of Fritos, 3 snickers bars.)
This also gives me a good excuse to head into Julian, I was originally going to skip it but it’s such a cute little hiker-friendly town the change of plan isn’t upsetting at all.
Was getting pretty windy getting to Mt Laguna, cruised through the pine forest and arrived around 4:30. It’s this super nifty area in the desert at a high enough elevation that the ecosystem just completely 180s and goes from flat hot sandy desert to a cool (dare I say cold) pine filled forest. Checked out the town just in case by some miracle the store was still open but no luck, everything, including both restaurants, was closed.
Campsites were $25 to split between hikers and it was still early so opted to knock out a few more miles and shorten the distance to Julian with my limited food. There were only three spots in the next six miles to camp at, and the wind had really picked up, especially climbing the first ridge out of Laguna. Arrived at the first spot, it was way too windy to set up a tent, almost got blown over just standing there. Second spot also too windy, and I started getting worried, thinking I should’ve just stayed at Mt Laguna, especially since the sun was now setting. Third spot was a little more sheltered, breezy but bearable, although the soft soil made it really tricky to get the tent up, and stakes kept pulling loose. Had to tie the guy lines around rocks and logs, it seems to be okay now but I’m worried it won’t last the night in this wind. A little scared about being alone, last summer I only actually spent one night camping on my own so already tied that record on day 2. Hopefully can knock out another 20 tomorrow and make it in into Julian early the day after for breakfast.
Day 3: Windy campsite (46.2) to Scissor’s Crossing/Julian (77.3)
April 12 // 31.1 miles
Up after a rough sleep, tent stayed upright no problem but I was awake at least once every hour, paranoid it would collapse or snap a guy line. I kept jerking awake in a panic to check before realizing everything was fine. Having a couple doubts about hiking out from Laguna during a wind advisory, supposed to get gusts up to 90 mph over the next 24 hours.
Packed up and hit the trail by 7, very chilly and layered up with base layers, wind pants, puffy, tuque and rain jacket…every piece of extra clothing I have. At the top of the first ridge, I got a real taste of was in store for the rest of the day, the wind knocked me a couple steps backwards and nearly lost my sleeping pad, which is strapped to the top of my pack. Thankfully caught it before it could break free and tied it down extra tight.
Despite having to walk slanted into the gusts, the views across the valley below were incredible, lots of cloud getting blown over and down the mountains. The other nice thing about cold weather is that I don’t have to stop for anything…overheating, water breaks, food breaks. Didn’t see anyone else for the whole morning, apparently was the only one dumb enough to be out here today.
Near Kwaaymii point, winds were at their worst, I was doing a strange side-step dance every few feet trying not to get blown off the rock face. Just past the road, I ran into a couple that was calling it quits for the day and turning back to call for a ride and wait out the wind in the nearest town. Very tempted to join them but sunrise trailhead was only 6 miles ahead and figured if the winds got worse I could always crash in one of the cement bathrooms there. (Glamorous life I lead.)
Thankfully the gusts lessened up slightly over the next couple miles and got to Sunrise trailhead junction where a couple other hikers were hiding out under some bushes to escape the worst of the wind. There was trail magic there-grapefruit and candy.
I was getting real sick of the wind at this point and didn’t want to put my tent through another stressful night so decided to try and make it to Julian, 17 miles away. A pretty tall order considering it was already mid afternoon, but the trail went mostly downhill and in Julian there’s free hiker pie, free hiker beer, free hiker place to stay at Carmen’s, it’s for sure one of the most friendly towns on trail. Not the smartest option after already having a big day yesterday, but it also puts me almost a full day ahead of my schedule to meet friends in Big Bear and leaves an option for a longer rest day down trail.
Right after setting out from Sunrise I somehow managed to kick a rock hard with my right foot and while trying to regain my balance, hit myself hard on the cheekbone with my pole, right under my eye. So potentially going to lose my big toenail to a rock AGAIN (it’s already turned black) and the eye is looking pretty puffy (hopefully won’t be black).
Afternoon was long and as usual, still windy. Getting tired and a little hiker ragey but powered through the afternoon. Passed a few people, no one was planning on going to Julian today, which made me a little unsure about my decision. Mostly worried about having to hitch alone, or getting to the highway so late that I wouldn’t get a hitch at all and have to camp in the wind tunnel under the underpass. Waffled a little bit after passing some decently sheltered camp spots about 6 miles out, wasting time with indecision. After about 15 minutes of weighing the options, finally said fuck it, let’s go and ran some miles along the last flat desert stretch to try and get to scissors crossing before the sun set.
At this point I was running on empty, both physically and mentally. Hadn’t had lunch, my body was not happy with two big mile days in a row, blisters were forming on the balls of my feet, and dealing with the wind all day really took its toll. As I was reaching the road, saw a car dropping off a hiker at the trailhead and despite my crazy jumping, yelling and waving, turned around and drove back towards town, which made me tear up in frustration.
After seeing only two cars in half an hour I was losing hope and accepting that the underpass would be home for the night, definitely regretting not stopping earlier at one of the sheltered sites. But then a state park cop pulled a U-turn to come give me a lift to Julian. Thannnnnk god. My ears were ringing in the truck after listening to the roaring winds all day long, but the ranger was nice and I was excited to be in town. One last little “screw you Jack” from today was me tearing my wind pants wide open across the ass while climbing up into the truck. They’ve survived a lot but I think this might be the end of them, only so many stitches and patches a pair of pants can take. The ranger tried his best not to laugh but couldn’t quite manage to keep a straight face while I pretended all was fine while sitting bare assed on his leather seat.Straight to Carmen’s for free hiker beer and dinner, edged backwards awkwardly to the bathroom to avoid flashing my ride and change into my shorts.
Carmen runs a restaurant and lets hikers do laundry, shower and crash on the floor. She’s unfortunately closing in a few weeks so the trail is losing a real angel, and I’m happy I got to come through before she wraps up. A dozen others were here when I arrived, and got here just in time for Carmen to serve burgers and fries, which made all the stress and miles and pants ripping 100% worth it. After dinner, we pushed all the tables to the wall and spread out our sleeping bags, covering the entire restaurant floor. So exhausted right now, planning to take at least the morning off tomorrow (maybe the day?) for resupply, blister treatment and a free slice of pie from Mom’s. Love this town, love the desert.
Day 4: Julian Nero to Campsite (82.4)
April 13 // 5.1 miles
Much needed day of relaxing in Julian, despite having 13 people crammed in a tiny sleeping space I didn’t wake up once until everyone was up and packing to go back to trail. Very nice to stay in my cozy sleeping bag and get a couple more hours of sleep in. After coffee and reassembling the restaurant to its proper order, went to explore the town, it’s such a great spot. Had two slices of pie for breakfast at Mom’s place (first free for PCT hikers!) and then did resupply at the small grocery store. Also used the morning to update and post to the blog, which is a much more time consuming commitment than I anticipated, it takes a long time to edit my notes for public reading, but I really want to stick it out for the fans at home. (Hi mom!)
A little worryingly, the outside bone of my left foot was absolutely killing me all day, bad enough that I’m worried about it being a fracture or tendinitis. Walking to the grocery store less than a half mile away was a struggle and every step caused sharp shooting pain all the way through my foot and up the outside of my shin. Iced it, which seems to have helped a bit but I’m planning to take it easier the next couple days. The 30 was so dumb of me yesterday, I should know better. Trying really hard not to be overconfident, just because I’ve done this before does not mean the trail won’t kick my ass.
Met lots of new hikers at Carmen’s, and some people I met at Scout and Frodo’s showed up later in the day- Peter and Ian from South Africa and Ireland respectively (Ian is biking around the world and taking some time off to do the PCT “as a side trip”) and Thang-whose name is not pronounced as it’s spelled (rhymes with John) but I still say it that way in my head. We all ate a bowl of chili together at Carmans and I decided that foot be damned, I was going to hike out with them later in the afternoon.
We got a quick hitch back to trail around 5:30 and did an easy 5 miles up the climb after scissors crossing, really nice to get it done during the cool evening weather vs. heat of day. Probably could’ve done more night hiking miles for a shorter day to Barrel springs tomorrow, but I didn’t want to push the foot, so camped with Thang at the niftiest spot overlooking the valley floor just before it got dark. Cowboy camping for the first time, I’ve missed that sweet view of the stars. (They look incredible.)
Foot felt okay when walking this evening so not too sure what’s going on here. Sleeping with it raised up on my pack and I have a tensor bandage and extra ibuprofen just in case I need to strap it up and hobble myself down trail.
Day 5: Overlook Campsite (82.4) to Warner Springs (109.5)
April 14 // 27.1 miles (“I’m going to take it easy!” she said.)
Beautiful campsite to wake up to, had a gorgeous view down across the valley as the sun came up. Hit trail around 7, a lot more climbing to do, but the morning was cool and I had a pretty good time despite the sore foot. Still aches, but it’s slightly better than yesterday.
9 miles in was the third gate water cache, pallets of fresh water carted in by trail angels to break up the long waterless stretch we’re currently hiking through. I always wonder how people did the trail before trail angels and the water report and GPS apps were a thing. A lot more heavy water carries, that’s for sure.
Took a break in the shade for water and snack. My foot felt worse after resting, it only seems to hurt after I’ve taken breaks and when I wake up? Considering new shoes in Warner springs, I don’t think these have enough cushion, and they’re definitely too small, which means I’ve gone up over 2 full sizes since starting trail last summer.
Continued on with the intention of doing a reasonable day mileage-wise and stopping at Barrel spring, but also secretly knowing I was going to do the extra 9 miles to Warner Springs because I have no self control whatsoever. I was motivated further when my very dear friend Jade texted to say that her and her husband Q were in the area doing some wedding photography and were planning to camp at Warner Springs that night and was I in the area? I’ve been a little lonely so far without a consistent trail fam (last year I met Sara, Joe and Brian on day one) so I was excited to see them and more than willing to push on.
The afternoon was hot as heck and the scenery, although beautiful, didn’t change much and I zoned out a little bit, cruising hard on the downhill. After stopping to give my feet a small break at Barrel springs, the trail took me through Warner spring meadow, a grassy section that reminds me of the prairies at home. Encountered a new issue when a herd of cows were spread across trail, thankfully they moved aside (slowly) when I got close.
In Warner Springs there were dozens of hikers lounging in the field behind the community centre but I didn’t recognize anyone and wasn’t feeling very social. Set up my tent in a far corner and went into the community centre to charge up and wait for Jade and Q to arrive. They got in quite late and I was fading fast but I was so happy when I saw them, I missed Jade’s enthusiasm for literally everything, Q’s quirky humour, their dogs, even the old burgundy trooper. Felt like we hadn’t spent any time apart at all. I think all of us were pretty wiped so went to bed with the intention of getting breakfast tomorrow.
Definitely taking a good chunk of tomorrow off to rest the foot, hopefully can put in 5-6 miles but we’ll see how it goes.