Trail Update #2: Weather Complications

Day 6 on trail, 7:45 pm

(Thought: at what point will it become tedious to calculate what trail-day it is? Will I just resort to using the date? Hm)

Hello everyone, from mile 80 ish of the PCT. It’s day 6 of our trip, and the last couple days things took a little turn. We got rained out yesterday! And the day before it was cold and incredibly windy all day – It so surprised us, the crazy weather, because this is the desert, right? We’ve been mentally ready for ruthless heat, but not so much for the opposite.

Yesterday morning was actually an incredibly miserable stretch of hiking for all of us, (because it was cold and wet and windy,) but especially for Emily, who has been sick and who’s had blisters on top of blisters multiple places on her feet. The prior day we’d hiked all day in the windiest conditions I’ve ever encountered and watched ominously dark clouds blow towards us through the afternoon. We thought it was going to start raining on us then, but it held out until sometime in the night, when we were in our tents.

We woke up at 5am yesterday morning after a not-particularly-restful night of sleep, and it was still raining hard. We continued lying in our sleeping bags listening to it for 25 minutes before deciding that it wasn’t going to get better, and we would be fine once we started hiking so we might as well get going. We quickly packed up our stuff in the rain, walked through rain-drenched grass (completely soaking our shoes and socks before the day’s hike even began), and went inside the outhouse-style bathroom near the road to cook our oatmeal. (If there hadn’t been an outhouse where we’d camped I wonder if we would have been able to get out of our tents to begin with.) The outhouse had two bathroom stalls (actually fairly clean and well-stocked with toilet paper, things you come to appreciate in random bathrooms when you’re out on the trail), and in one of the stalls a couple had spent the night. Duncan and I had met them the previous night – they introduced themselves as Beardo and Sweet Pea.

Oh, this is probably a good time to tell you all about trail names, a cool trail tradition for the PCT, the AT, and I’m sure other trails as well. Basically, at some point on your hike you get a nickname. It might come from an interesting situation that happens to you, or just what someone else’s impression of you is. Once you have a trail name, you use it as your primary name on the trail. It’s pretty neat. I’ve met people named Evac, Gazelle, XC, Squirrel, Listen, and other things I can’t remember. None of us have a trail name yet.

So back to our story. Beardo and Sweet Pea spent the night in the bathroom because they’ve been hammocking rather than sleeping in tents – not very common on the PCT, and I’m sure logistically difficult in most of the desert. Case in point, there were no trees in this particular area, so they’d had no other option than to sleep on the bathroom floor. They told us that they’d been a bit flooded during the night, as the rainwater had flowed in through the crack under the door. Bummer 😦

Anyway, we successfully made our oatmeal, re-packed our packs, donned our rain gear and headed out by 7:30 – later than usual but not awful considering the circumstances. Then we hiked, and hiked, and hiked. It wasn’t any longer than our other morning hikes but it felt endless. The rain did not let up; it only let in, soaking even through our brand-new rain gear, slowly but surely. It was cold enough that I actually had to be moving to be comfortable, and by comfortable I mean not shivering and not extraordinarily uncomfortable. It was one of those situations where there wasn’t actually a comfortable option – we were sore and miserable but we just hiked because we had to. On top of that, Emily was coughing the whole way and had to stop twice to redress her blisters. The trail itself was slowly descending and winding around hillsides that stretched ahead of us for a ways, which meant that every time we came around a bend hoping to see something new, we would only see the trail continuing around the next hill, which was continually disappointing. Morale was low.

We finally got to Rodriguez Spur, the water source we’d been hiking towards, around 11:30. Other hikers were sitting around under a tarp someone had set up; they were filtering water, cooking, and warming up. We found a somewhat covered spot under some tall bushes and set our stuff down. Over the past day we’d heard people talking about escaping from the weather by hitching a ride to Julian, a nearby town, to stay for a night and take a zero day (trail code for a day of no hiking). That was starting to seem like an attractive option for us. We were conflicted about taking a day off so early in the trip, and we didn’t feel great about giving up in the face of harsh conditions or spending money on a hotel, but Emily really felt like crap so we decided that would be the best thing to do. We even thought to call and make a reservation somewhere, which ended up being smart because everywhere in town filled up that night. That left us with another  9-mile stretch of trail to hike and a 13-mile hitch into town.

The afternoon hike was fine – it stopped raining, which was relieving for all of us, though I think we all were pretty tired, and I was definitely the most body-tired I’ve felt on this whole trip. Once we got to the road and stuck out our thumbs, we had a car pull over almost immediately, but they only had space for two. Emily and I went ahead, feeling optimistic that Duncan would catch a ride soon after us. We went and checked into our place, a cute bed and breakfast a couple blocks off the main street of Julian. Duncan wasn’t able to get a ride for two and a half hours. Not long after we left it started raining again too, so I can only imagine how miserable that must have been, standing there soaked, getting colder and colder as the rain came down and it started getting dark. Meanwhile, Emily and I were showering and warming up, getting to lie down on beds and couches, and feeling thoroughly guilty about it. Luckily Duncan and the 5 other hikers that accumulated at the road were able to get a shuttle, and he made his way to us.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be inside, looking out our window at the nasty weather outside while we were cozy and dry inside. It was so great to shower and be clean, and to lie down. Most of this trip I’ve felt physically fantastic, but last night I was sore everywhere and extremely tired. So I think it was a good night to get some real rest.

We slept in this morning and then went and got breakfast in Julian, which actually is a really cute little town. It wasn’t raining anymore – not warm either, but the sun was out, which was a welcome change. We hitched back to the trail without complications and hiked just a few miles to our current camp spot, which is back up in the hills. Luckily the rain hasn’t come back. We spent the last few hours with our heads buried in our kindles, and now it’s dark and the stars are coming out.

I’m happy to be back on trail. I’m excited to hike tomorrow. I don’t feel guilty about taking a night off last night – we’re in this adventure for the long haul, which means it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Zero days, and side trips into towns along the way, are probably going to be an important part of the next 4-5 months.

I also don’t have residual bad feelings about the weather. If anything, I have more respect for the desert, and for nature in general. It just seems appropriate that after a few days of feeling strong on the trail, I should be reminded by the elements how vulnerable I am.

I mentioned that two days ago was extraordinarily windy – that day was also by far my favorite stretch of hiking so far. Trail-north of Mt. Laguna was some of the most mind-blowingly majestic landscape I’ve seen in a while. We hiked around the edge of basically a big canyon for most of the day – at least that’s what it felt like. We’d hike up on high hilltops and along rocky cliffsides looking down on it, getting new perspectives on it and the hills that surrounded it as we walked. Who knew such beautiful places existed in Southern California??!

I’m gonna sign off for now because it’s my bedtime again. I’ll post some pictures soon, though I haven’t been taking a ton. I did get an awesome panorama of my favorite view two days ago so get excited.

Also, Mothers Day is tomorrow, so here’s a shoutout for mine. My mom is my point person for this trip; she’s gonna be sending all my mail resupply boxes to me along the trail, as well as backup gear when I need it and whatnot. I’m extremely lucky and grateful that she’s helping me with the logistical side of things for this trip, and on a deeper level she’s probably the one I have to thank for the adventurous spirit that drove me to be out here in the first place. (Also, I’m in her sleeping bag right now, because I’m a dingus and left mine in Durham.) For these things and for a million other things, thanks Mom!!!!!

And thanks so much to all of you for reading and following along the journey. Hope you’re all well!


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