Cabazon to Acton, CA

Standard

May 16 – 20 miles

Woke up this morning to a broken sleeping bag zipper because of course.

Hiked in what had to have been 60 mph winds across the desert floor toward I-10 to get to Taco Bell. (Gotta get that Taco Bell) Got a hitch into Cabazon from this woman. Said her husband and her pick up hikers frequently. She never picks up men though, only women.

Made our way to the gas station to resupply. A man behind us in the check-out line started asking us questions about the trail. When I went outside to fill my pack, he came up and said, “I think what you girls are doing is awesome. Keep it up!” Handed us two twenties. Dumbfounded by his kindness, I pleaded him to keep his money, but he refused, smiled, and I watched him walk away. I’ll never see him again.

Last week, I saw my first person drop out. She had pitched her tent directly next to mine. Said despite her backpacking experience, she just keep thinking about the long five months ahead and decided it wasn’t for her. Katie reminded me I have no backpacking experience, and I’m still here.

A few years back, I heard this speaker during Greek Week at OSU. Talked about seeking raw, emotion-filled moments in daily life whether you laugh or cry. He explained the intensity of feeling something, rather than numbing it with drugs or alcohol. One should be so lucky as to laugh and cry in a single day, he said. PCT makes me think of that. Everything is extreme; the pain … the beauty. But I guess that’s what makes the moments so vibrant – the contrast. Maybe that’s why I cry almost every day. Overwhelmed with emotion. Overwhelmed with everything.

Took our break at a windfarm office this afternoon. Katie thinks the windmills will sprout legs and take over the Earth. They do glow with red eyes at night.

May 17 – 20 miles

They say the trail breaks you. I certainly feel broken.

It’s hard to remember in the heat of the afternoon that the sun does in fact set every night regardless of how miserable and scared you might be mid-day.

Today a bee stung me on the face, little son of a bitch. Hilarious since yesterday we put on all of our clothing to avoid the ‘aggressive bees’ at mile 200, low and behold, today just sitting taking a nap is when the little bastard got me.

It is so incredible to know that the places and things we’re seeing, no one else except those who have hiked will ever see. They’re not widely known vacation spots. Just little random, hidden havens.

I swear, multiple times on the trail, it smells exactly like a Yankee candle would. Like sandlewood or cedar or whatever other woodsy ones exist.

I started wearing my shoes with the laces looser so I don’t get as many blisters on my toes – give em’ some more room to breathe.

When I’m hiking at home, I look over my shoulder every five minutes, checking to see who might be following me. But here, I don’t at all. The only time I’ve held my pocket knife is to cut my cheese and floss.

May 19 – ?

my anxiety has never been this bad I swear unsure why it’s gotten so bad in these past few days but surely it must be getting to a breaking point because I physically feel like my chest will explode

Trail angels left us beer, water, Kool-Aid and donuts when we got to Big Bear. DOVE for that Coors Light.

We hitched into town with another male hiker named Turtle. It’s usually harder for guys to get rides because they’re more intimidating, people don’t want to pick them up. We told him we’d hitch with to make it easier.

The woman who ended up picking us up was straight out of a film. (Which apparently she stars in a legitimate film, she told us, stay tuned for the trailer) She had just broken up with her boyfriend and was moving into a different place across town. Cutoff jean shorts and a pink tank (Carmen Electra style), she mentioned her ex-boyfriend frequently, reminding us she’d see him often since the split since the small town only had one highway running through it. Despite the mountains of shoes and clothes in the backseat of her ex-husband’s monster truck and her tiny dog in the middle counsel, she was incredibly sweet and giving. She gave us her name and number, told us she’d drive us around town whenever we needed for free.

We got to the International Traveler’s hostel, pitched a tent in the back for a discounted price, did our laundry and got a free breakfast, dinner and showers.

Went to the store across the street to fix my sleeping bag. The man there tried but ended up sending one of his workers to drive me to the seamstress. Nice, local, born and raised, he drove me the two miles down the street in his jeep. Was pretty quiet the entire way, but mentioned his band was playing at a bar if I still happened to be in town. Of course we were gone by then, but it’s nice to know despite my odor and appearance, human interaction is still an option.

A really nice guy driving a Subaru Forester (shout out to my baby at home), whose son hiked the PCT last year, bought us smoothies before taking us back to the trailhead.

Got two miles into our hike though when Katie said, “I don’t know if I can make it another hundred miles without taking a zero.” (A day without hiking any miles. We hadn’t taken one yet at eighteen days in, kind of odd for most hikers. Taken ‘neros’ – a day with a lot less miles than you’d normally hike – but no zeros.) Katie’s heel was killing her, and my anxiety was giving me tension headaches. We turned back and stayed another night at the hostel and legitimately rested for 24 hours straight. We got beer and ice cream upon our return to town. Congratulations, you’ve learned to rest.

We were talking about fears, Katie and I. The ability to escape. The ability to leave. The ability to choose. Out here? What a joke. Anything could happen, and I feel utterly helpless.

May 20 – ?

“It is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” – Oscar Wilde

Half a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream and a bag of Fritos was my pre-dinner snack. Feel like I’m fading away. Certainly lost at least five pounds already, if not more. My skirt practically falls off my waist if I’m not careful.

Last night, the couple who happened to witness my not-so-glorious moment of getting stung in the face by a bee decided to identify me from then on as Bee Face. I think I’ll shorten it to Bee, my official trail name.

May 21 – 13.1 miles

“I ached for the shelter of my tent, for the smallest sense that something was shielding me from the entire rest of the world, keeping me not safe from danger, but from vastness itself.” – Wild

Cannot relate more.

Today I was trying to make toast. Toaster wouldn’t work for me. Tried many times. Fellow hiker comes up, says, “You just gotta be gentle, give it a little love.” Then he did it, and it worked. Story of my life.

Started my second period in three weeks. Others’ stop entirely because of the vast increase in physical exertion. Mine increases by two. All they had were cardboard tampons from the stone ages at the convenience store. Also woke up with a stiff neck. Lovin every minute of it.

May 22 – 20 miles

What an interesting concept it is to be brave. I bet all people who have ever been brave were also terrified and just did it anyway.

May 23 – 15 miles

Today we came upon a natural hot spring and river which was much needed since I got heat exhaustion for the second time. I handled it really well in the moment. I sat down immediately, put my umbrella up in what little shade I could find. I was by myself. I drank water and ate something, waited for someone to come down the trail.

I have been scared in my life, for sure, but I don’t know that I have ever been so terrified to go back out in the sun. I was more anxious than questionably I’ve ever been last night trying to work up the courage to do it again.

Also, dropped my trecking pole which someone found and got back to me, thank God. Just another day in the life.

May 24 – 16.1 Miles

Today ended up being fine, despite my panic last night. I put on 13 Going on 30 -haven’t yet watched anything I downloaded until then – to keep from having a panic attack. Deep breathed until I finally fell asleep.

Katie’s heel is feeling better today so that’s good, although, we were discussing what it would be like if things didn’t turn for the better, and she’d have to temporarily or permanently drop out. What a terrifying concept to swallow.

Today someone called me by my trail name for the first time. It was weird and so unique at the same time. Like my trail identity had officially been solidified. Bee.

We came upon a GIANT, beautiful, deep blue lake today. It is so nice to see something living for once in the last 48 hours.

May 25 – 12.3 miles

I smell like a litter box, and everything in my tent smells like piss.

Being at the honest mercy of the elements with seemingly no way to escape, feeling almost claustrophic by the wide open space.

Yesterday, we took our afternoon break underneath a random bridge of a highway underpass.

Walking down the mountains into Cajon Pass, it’s like looking down on Aaron’s old toy train set. Little toy cars … miniature semi-trucks… they all look like they’re on a rope pulling them mechanically up the highway line. We’re so high up that you barely see them move at all in the distance. It’s like a Christmas display with little automatic movements on a timer. Beautiful and easily one of my favorite views on the trail.

I LOVE seeing the shadows on the mountains in morning. It really enhances their vastness and beauty.

What does safe even mean? I run from waypoint to waypoint, and for what? For water? For shade? To get to the next “safe location”? What even makes it safe? What would happen that being in the shade makes any difference than being in the sun if I’m hydrated and it’s almost a hundred degrees? I’m still alone in the middle of nowhere, what difference does it even make.

May 26 – Zero miles

When we were looking for a ride to Wrightwood, apparently a guy came up to Katie, said he didn’t have room to drive us but bought us two IPAs in exchange.

There is a list of trail angels at the hardware store – must be twenty-five couples long. All of them offering to house you, feed you, wash your clothes, and let you shower for free.

May 27 – Zero miles

Today, I woke up and ate breakfast at the trail angels’ house, Jeff and Cindy.

Jeff said he was going to church, and I asked if I could go with. It was a methodist church where, Jeff (sixty-one) was one of the youngest members. All the older members were so kind and interested in me and my story though. There was lots of free food – cake and coffee. I loved the sermon. We talked about the Holy Spirit and Memorial Day – recognized congregation members who’ve served. It was peaceful, and even being miles and miles away from home in a random church in a little mini town on the opposite side of the country with no one I’d known longer than 12 hours, I still felt right at home.

Left side of my face is swollen. Don’t know why.

May 28 – 22 miles

Hit the 350 mile mark in the desert!!!! Half way done with the God forsaken desert!!!

I am sitting in my tent before bed, and I can hear the fizzing of my water bottle, the slight breeze in the air. The black crow flys across the desert floor sky, and I can hear silence. A lot of silence.

May 29 – 12.5 miles

DONE with that 27 mile stretch without water. YES.

May 30 – 20 miles

I really wish that I wasn’t afraid of being alone. Alone in the wilderness. But I am. I am petrified. Often, I can be by myself for a few miles, a few hours, no one in sight, finding the path and moving along. But after too long, I start to panic. What if something goes wrong? What if I’m not on the PCT? What if I got lost and didn’t realize it? What if I run out of water? Out of food? Get too hot? What if I need to run and there’s nowhere to go? What it everything that could possibly go wrong does? What if it doesn’t and everything is alright.

“Only when I thought how far I had to go, did I doubt my ability to get there.”

“The wind shook so fiercely it seemed something bad was bound to happen.”

Wild

May 31 – 23.2 miles

Hilarious that we’re in Southern California and we are walking through ski towns.

Woke up cold at 4:30 am last night. Had a dream I was visiting Elliott in Denver, and I kept missing my flight.

Alarm went off. Snooze. Alarm. Snooze. Snooze Snooze. Finally crawled out of my tent reluctantly, my heels and feet pissed that I won’t let them be.

We are in bear country now. Maybe I will stumble onto a bear, or him me, during one of my midnight pees. Maybe we’ll lock eyes giving each other that look, that we’re both doing something we shouldn’t. Him in my camp trying to seek out my food. Me peeing right next to my tent when there are other sleeping campers around.

The mountains are beside me, ahead of me, behind me. Often, it would be as difficult to quit as it is to go on. So it seems I might as well take another step. And another step. And before you know it, I’ve gotten through the day. And that is how I have made it 400 miles in the desert.

I love leaving my tent fly open and reading. Looking out as the sun sets and the moon rises; the sky gets dark and the stars light up.

———————

Every Day – I wake up, snooze my alarm, and mindlessly shove a pop-tart, Advil, and coffee into my mouth. In goes a liter of water, shortly follow by another electrolyte filled one. I stretch in my tent, throw on more layers of clothing and prepare to brace the cold outside, my body and face wrapped like a mummy hiding what inches of skin I can. I habitually take down my tent, succinctly fill my ultralight pack, and filter what water I’ll need for the next however many miles (if we’re camping by a water source that is). I head out, slowly dropping my layers to avoid sweating in them thus getting my warm layers wet. It’s hard to remember just how hot I am in the afternoons when in the morning I can’t feel my fingers. I eat snacks, more snacks – protein bars until I can stop for a longer break and dig my hands into whatever else is in my food sack. I listen to music and podcasts with one earbud in, take breaks to stretch, eat, sit, get water, enjoy shade or take naps especially when it’s too hot to hike. I have grown to detest-fully LOATHE the afternoons in the desert, but I feel joyful and absolutely alive in the mornings and evenings. What euphoria to make it to my tent each evening, knowing I made it through another day.

I Hear – woodpeckers pecking at the pine trees, I see a conga line of ants crossing the trail, I feel the vibrations of my stomach when I’m hungry, Katie laugh out loud at her podcasts behind me, fellow hikers snoring at nighttime, the silent searing of the sun, I see black bats dive back and forth across the low desert floor, I feel the burning fire in my calves as they tighten with each hilly mile, I hear the unsettling wind blow through the trees, I see the geckos scurry out from under my feet and into nearby bushes, I hear the ever-rare chatter of hikers in the distance, the sound of a motorcycle on a nearby road, the buzz of the power-lines above me, the howling of coyotes from my tent, hooting of owls at dawn, I can hear myself crunch on my peanuts for dinner, and accidentally swallow that one and surely the same knat that follows me for miles. I feel the never-ending tingle in my tired feet and I experience the blurred vision from too much sun coming from every direction. I see the the lizards do their push ups as their arms go up and down, up and down; I see the black beetles we’ve seen all throughout the desert do these hand stands as they shove their heads in the sand, push their hind legs in the air, and sit frozen for long periods of time; and silence. I hear a lot of silence.

I Wear – a skirt and a big floppy sun hat and sometimes use an umbrella to block out the sun when it gets to be unbearable. So if you’ve forgotten what I look like, just picture Moses leading his people out of Israel. Staff (trekking pole) in hand, endless sand and sun on my back. That’s what I look like. Only hairier. And less holy.

I Have Met – so many incredible people, you wouldn’t believe. Every person I’ve hitched-hiked with has lead such an interesting and unique life, they truly are such helpful and willing individuals toward hikers.

Met people on the trail from Ukraine, England, Korea, Germany, Austria, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Sweden, China, South Africa, Canada and so many more I can’t even remember.

The amount of kindness I have been granted for no reason at all, expecting nothing in return is both thrilling, refreshing, and simply not present in daily life back home.

Campo to Idyllwild, CA

Standard

Miles …

  • Day 1: 20
  • Day 2: 22
  • Day 3: 19.4
  • Day 4: 15.7
  • Day 5: 15
  • Day 6: 12.9
  • Day 7: 8.4
  • Day 8: 17.8
  • Day 9: 18.5
  • Day 10: 15.6
  • Day 11: 16.3
  • Day 12: 7
  • Day 13: 13
  • Day 14: 20

*Note: Ideally, start milage off lower to avoid injury.

Food Intake: Peanuts, protein bars, pop-tarts, candy, more candy, tuna, more tuna, spam, tortillas, bagels, chips, more chips, oatmeal, instant coffee (Duh), electrolyte packets, pastries, almonds, cheese

May 1:

Got 1 hour of sleep. Woke up crying. Ran out of bed with fifteen minutes to get ready before Katie picked me up for the airport. Said a physically shaky goodbye in a whirlwind.

Katie and I are currently on the United flight to San Diego. First time setting foot in California, officially in less than an hour. But when I think of starting the PCT tomorrow morning and I consider the lack of time standing between now and when I get dropped off to walk the distance to Canada, my body gets tingly and unnerved, as if I’m floating with no weight to hold me down.

May 2:

My stomach is tying itself in a knot as we drive to the border. Ten minutes from starting the trail, passing trucks and vans marked with “Border Patrol”. Eerie.

What an interesting concept to be driven to America’s boundaries, dropped off and left to wander in the woods.

First night, we slept in a campground with a bunch of other hikers. Middle of the night, I heard some gobbling. Thought nothing of it since I assumed it was someone’s alarm. Nope! It was a gaggle of wild turkeys, and one came right up next to our tents. It was hysterical – they jiggle their necks like a slinky when they gobble.

May 4:

Every day is difficult, just in a different and unexpected way. Waiting for the pain to pass because it will – with a new one to take its place. It’s like every muscle in my legs is vying for my attention and they each have to take turns by alternating.

May 5:

Last night, I couldn’t sleep because despite trying various sleeping positions, my legs would scream out in pain. Nothing was comfortable. It was the kind of discomfort where you don’t even know if you can crawl out of your sleeping bag much less hike twenty miles.

May 9:

High was 93 which doesn’t sound like much but once it hits 10 am, it’s like sitting in an oven baking like a chocolate chip cookie. (Not my idea of fun). We took a SIX hour break under a “tree” (scraggly bush) that had practically no shade come mid-day. You cannot escape the sun. Katie made us makeshift tents with our tyveks, and I used my umbrella to sit and sweat under. I laid there periodically drinking water, eating tuna, and taking shallow breaths trying to exhaust as little energy as possible. And not have a panic attack.

Tomorrow is another day. Another day where water isn’t for 18 miles.

May 10:

Oh, how very found of my tent and nightly routine I have become. It’s very comforting at a time when everything is foreign and unfamiliar. I look forward so much to setting up my home every night in a completely different location. Each place so UNbelievingly beautiful. Funny how such simple things become so valued.

It’s not so much that an incredible amount of time has passed since I’ve seen my family or Austen. Rather, I miss the security of having them around when everything now is new. Every time I hang up the phone with my mom or Austen, I end the call choking back tears. Every time.

I have to say though, when you reach a public restroom, what a joy it is to be able to blow your nose or throw trash away rather than having to carry it around. What a luxury to use toilet paper you didn’t have to pack out yourself.

May 11:

Everyday is a new challenge in and of itself. Like today, realized I lost my “wallet” (Hair tie holding together two plastic cards and some cash). What a TREAT. Decided to acknowledge that, well, I guess there goes $160 along with my credit card and the-one-time-i-took-a-good-picture-license-ID. Had to be on the phone with Fifth Third the entire time we were at Paradise Cafe (a favorite hiker spot down the road from the trail). A local there apparently overheard my situation though and paid for my breakfast. The waitress told me. I never got to meet him or thank him but, boy, what a difference trail magic makes in times of distress. Happens more commonly than you’d think.

Despite my increasing loathe for endless sunshine, I do love the mornings and evenings in the desert. They’re incredibly quiet, peaceful and full of sunsets and sunrises over the mountains. I think today was another one of my favorite trail days – toward the morning and afternoon-that is. It looked like scenery from Homeward Bound where the dogs and cat see the mountain lion. SO beautiful. Right now, on the other hand, we’re cold and at a much higher elevation. Truly, we are pitching our tents inside a cloud at 7,000 ft. Foggy and Windy.

May 12:

It is so nice to peer down upon the towns and houses below us as we hike at night. There’s something peaceful about knowing they’re there.

Took my first legitimate shower in two weeks. I believe half my head of hair went down the drain.

May 13:

It was a foggy, misty morning coming into Idyllwild. But a cup of coffee, a cozy hour in the lounge, and some fresh goodies (some salad and bananas) felt better than much else has felt before.

Made my few Mother’s Day calls to home and that it did me some good… turned out to be a beautiful day full of sunshine. I love this town, and I can’t wait to sip on my beer this evening.

Summary:

Hey. I MADE IT to DAY 14 and over 200 MILES in the desert of Southern California!

Considering I had a mental breakdown at day 4, seriously calculating how I would get myself to an airport from an RV Resort in the middle of nowhere, book a flight home and have to explain to everyone I’d quit, I’d say that’s an accomplishment. I have encountered more obstacles in any given day on this trail than hurdles I would have ever expected. The list of battles I’ve fought in my life up to this point are quickly sliding down my top 10 list as adversity amps up on this trail. Despite understanding what to expect, to experience it is an entirely different mental game. My personally-declared principle of pain for the PCT holds true for everything else in life, I’m realizing: If it’s not one thing, it’s something else. (If one muscle doesn’t hurt at that particular moment, something else surely does). AKA make the best of the little beautiful moments at hand because nothing is ever right all at once. It’s proving very true.

I can’t tell you what’s ahead and I can’t tell you how far I’ll go and despite the fact that I hold my breath in anxiety just about every day because of those two things, I can say with absolute certainty that for once in my life having not ‘completed’ something, I feel pretty damn proud to have even made it this far.

The first week, I had a blister on every single one of my toes, had to cut them open with my pocket knife, bandage them and repeat the same thing the next day. I saw four snakes, three of which were rattlesnakes, two of which rattled at me. I’ve had days where I’ve tented with twenty-five other thru-hikers and other days where I’ve passed just a few and camped alone. I’ve been taking Advil morning and night, hitch-hiked with strangers three times, lost my wallet and a butt-load of money, had to buy new gear, hiked up hills that should have been climbed, walked twenty miles on a swollen knee, proudly sported bloody/sweaty/tear-stained clothes for weeks on end, pitched my tent in the middle of the night amongst tarantulas, hiked up to 10,000 ft. mountains, had my most terrifying experience with water in the desert just a few days in, and cried almost every day just because I’m plain overwhelmed. And still, I have not quit.

Despite all of the physical and emotional turmoil in just these first fourteen days, I do have to say that my, what a marvelous endeavor it is to experience such beauty and pain.

And aside from the fact that I cannot tell you how I’ll be feeling in two more weeks or where I will be pitching my tent, I do know that regardless of how far it takes me, I am taking it one step, one mile, one day at a time, knowing that every step I take is one step closer to Canada.

“Plan”

Standard

When I graduated college, I planned to go out west for about a month on a road trip. I’d been wanting to go to California for ten years now, but that quickly demised as I realized just how much it would cost to actually make that happen.

I was stretching after a run talking to my Appalachian Trail solo-hiker (badass) best friend Katie, and she suggested I do a trail. The PCT.

“I can’t do that!” I said. “I need to get a job…,” I laughed. Ridiculous suggestion. I continued stretching.

She went on to say how I would see the landscape in a (cheaper) much more rewarding and up-close way that most people only dream of. Still I denied having such an option. I had to get a job, of course. Immediately after college. What other option was there? It was already decided.

But after consideration, I thought, ‘Wait. Truly. Why IS that decided? I never decided it for myself. I just assumed that’s the way it had to be. But did I NEED to rule this PCT thing out so quickly? Did I need to get a job immediately after college? Or had I let the societal conveyer belt feed me each of life’s milestones with such precision that there became no room for added adventures or editing of any kind. I guess, after actually considering it, there was nothing that said I couldn’t…?

If I saved the money, if I planned out my job situation for afterward as best I could, if I rewarded myself for graduating college early and actually did something that most people regret not doing when they had the chance … wouldn’t I be smarter for it?’

I signed up for the PCT because maybe it doesn’t pay and maybe it will cost me in more ways than one, but maybe I’ll get more out of it than I ever thought I would, in ways … in real personal, raw, gritty, life-altering ways…. maybe I’ll work at something real, discovering things about myself I’d have never otherwise known… maybe I’ll surround myself with inspiring people and landscapes that motivate me so much I forget the every day life I left behind … the life who frequently forced me to be ‘something’ that I too often forgot what I really wanted and who I was in the first place.

I did the PCT because I can. Because I want to. Because I will. One way or another.

Not everything worth gaining is monetary. Not everything worth working toward is something you can find in a career. Nothing worth having is free. And, you know what, I’ll never know if I don’t try.