Trail Update #3 – Trail magic and crew conflict


Day 13 – 11 AM

Hello from Idyllwild, CA! What a cool little place. I say it’s little but it’s actually the most developed town we’ve come to so far, and the people here are very hiker-friendly. Today is a chill day for us – we might hike out in a little while, but I hurt my shins yesterday so I’m taking it easy. I figured it’s as good a time as any to update you all on the past few days or so.

Since I last wrote, from up in the hills a bit past Julian, a lot has happened – plenty of wonderful surprises, as well as some more difficult moments. First I’m going to talk a bit about “trail magic”, which in some form or another finds everyone on the trail – it might be a person posted up somewhere on the trail with a cooler full of beers for tired hikers, or a water cache that was just filled by someone in a hot waterless stretch of desert. Trail magic is also in towns along the way, where you find restaurants that let hikers have a free slice of pie and people that happily pick you up off the side of the road and give you a ride where you need to go. People lend their hands out to thru-hikers in all sorts of ways; we call them trail angels, and we call their good deeds trail magic.

About a week ago, at the end of our first (and so far only) 20-mile day, we walked into where we were planning to camp that night and were met unexpectedly with camp chairs, cold drinks, and veggie dogs hot off of a little camp grill. A past PCT hiker named Minty Fresh had hiked all that stuff in from the road, just as a nice surprise for tired thru-hikers. Other people were there too, kicking off their shoes, taking this as a moment to hang out, eat, drink, and swap trail stories, and it was just lovely. That was our first trail magic experience.

The next day we hiked into Warner Springs,  a tiny town with a golf course, a  restaurant, a post office, and not much else except the Community Resource Center, which is effectively a PCT thru-hiker resource center run by volunteers. The indoor space was full of long tables and chairs, with plenty of outlets and a few computers for public use. On one wall was a big hiker box, where you could leave things you don’t need or grab things that other people decided to leave behind. Outside there was a big lawn where hikers could sleep for the night, and if you wanted they’d give you a bucket and some detergent so you could wash your clothes. They also grilled burgers at night for whoever wanted one. It was an extraordinarily welcoming and friendly place, and I found it easy to relax there for an afternoon and give my body a little break. That felt like trail magic to me too.

After our half-rest-day at Warner Springs, we got up the next morning and were making breakfast when a truck pulled off the road in front of us. There was a middle-aged guy in the driver’s seat, beaming at us through the open window.

“What are you kids up to?” he asked.

“Making some breakfast!” I replied, smiling back at him. It was a beautiful morning and I felt pretty enthusiastic about this guy for some reason.

“…You kids want some Redvines?!” He asked loudly, his smile widening.

And yeah, we did, so he gave us a package of Redvines and three sticks of patchouli incense, (“Just share it, cause, you know” he said, patting his round belly) and then he drove off. That’s been one of my favorite interactions with strangers so far – just the randomness of it! 6am, Warner Springs (essentially nowhere) on a Monday, and I don’t even think this guy knew we were PCT hikers, he just felt like giving us some candy I guess. Trail magic.

Alongside the wonderful moments, there have been challenges. A couple days ago Emily, Duncan and I had our first conflict of sorts. The source of the conflict was a little more complicated than this, but for the sake of simplicity I’ll call it a difference in hiking paces and fitness levels. We’d also never actually talked about our specific expectations or desires about what hiking together would look like – to what extent do we stay together vs. split up and meet back up periodically? Do we have different ideas about how to answer that at the beginning of the trip vs. later on?

To be honest, I don’t really want to re-hash all the details of what went on between us; I’ll just say that it was really frustrating for a few days, that tension built up uncomfortably, and that despite us all being friends I found it really difficult to communicate the frustrations I was having with them in a positive way. But we found a way to talk things out, and I think we’re all more on the same page now than we were before.

What I’ve learned:

  • Spending all your time together in a physically demanding situation puts strain on any friendship, and I expect us to have plenty more points of conflict as time passes
  • Communicating well in a group of three is much harder than I expected, but it’s going to be extremely important if we want to still be friends at the end of this
  • One of the bigger challenges on this trip (for each of us probably, but at least for me) will be balancing my/our own needs and wants with those of the group at large. We all came here to hike for ourselves, and because of that I feel like we need to give each other space to have our own trips inside of this group trip – HYOH, or Hike Your Own Hike, as most people out here like to say. Alongside that though, we all recognize that there are reasons to stay together and coordinate, at least at the beginning. I sense that our ideas about this dynamic will change and grow as time passes, but for now we are staying relatively together.

Group dynamics aside, the hike continues to be beautiful, and I’m especially enjoying getting to know other hikers. Idyllwild is a hub for PCT hikers – most at least stop here to resupply, and many take a zero day and camp at the Mt. San Jacinto campground that’s right in town. (They let PCT hikers stay for $3 a night, it’s a steal.) Last night we stayed up later than usual (til 10:00, which actually did feel late to us) with a group of hikers at camp, drinking beer and talking and laughing. It was one of my favorite nights on the trail so far, full of warm moments and the realization that we’re actually getting to be friends with the other thru-hikers we’ve been with. I’ve heard the term “trail family” used to describe what it feels like to hike as part of the main pack of northbound hikers, and I think it fits.

Time for me to go I think… Thanks again to those of you reading and following along, and it’s been wonderful hearing back from some of you too. Sending love and hugs out to everyone 🙂


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