Everyone always talks about how hot it is in the desert. Last year, in 2018, in order to hike a fair amount of miles for any given day within Southern California, hikers had to get up early to beat the heat, stop for a siesta in the early afternoon to wait out the heat of the day and then start hiking again as soon as it began cooling off for the day. The notoriously hot sections, like the Los Angeles Aqueduct, were often hiked at night or early in the morning because it was way too hot to hike during the day.
This year, in 2019, the weather in Southern California has been a different story. It’s been cold, foggy, windy and wet. There’s been a considerable amount of both rain and snow falling onto the trail, well into the Spring and early Summer months. One day, we’re hiking in warm sunshine while wearing shorts. The next day, we’re hiking in the cold, wind and rain wearing all of our layers. The whole idea of Southern California being warm and sunny is a myth this year. At least there’s been plenty of water at most of the water sources along the trail so far.
The unseasonably cold and wet weather has made the time on trail really challenging. I’ve often questioned myself why I’m out here hiking in the first place – something I never did along my thru-hike last year. This is why this week’s lesson has been all about learning how to embrace the suck.
Bleeder and I kicked off Week Six on the PCT with a second zero day at Hiker Heaven. We started the day with another delicious breakfast in town at the Home Made Cafe. After breakfast, we walked across the street to the hardware store where Bleeder bought a cowboy hat. It’s fun to watch Bleeder become more American everyday. He already speaks better English than I do!
Later that morning, we had a special visitor come meet us on trail – my Dad!! After our morning in town, we made our way back to Hiker Heaven where my Dad picked us up. For the rest of the day, all three of us got to hang out – going to REI, driving around Palmdale, eating burgers and chili cheese fries at Tommy’s and then ended the day hanging out in a hot tub at a hotel. It was so nice to catch up with my Dad and share with him all of our trail stories about our adventure so far.
The next day on Day 37, it was back to the trail for both Bleeder and I. We thoroughly enjoyed our Zero Days at Hiker Town and with my Dad, but it was time to get hiking again. Four miles into being back on trail, we stopped for a break to help other fellow thru-hikers celebrate Norway’s Independence Day. With our pack full of food and water, the early break was welcomed. Especially because right after where we stopped to take a break, we had a pretty big climb to hike up.
We ended up hiking a total of 11 miles for the day and stopped to camp at a tentsite near a couple of overhead powerlines. Bleeder and I both ended up getting quite a good night’s sleep. The wind wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be and our tent wasn’t covered in condensation in the morning.
Day 38, we only had ten miles to hike before reaching the road to head towards Casa de Luna. Casa de Luna is a popular stop along the PCT where thru-hikers are welcomed in by trail angels, Terrie and Joe Anderson. Upon arrival, hikers are invited to choose a piece of Hawaiian attire to wear during their stay, treated to camping in an incredible backyard and are fed two meals – pancakes for breakfast and taco salad for dinner.
As Bleeder and I made our way down towards the road, a car parked along the side of the highway with a couple inside asked us if we’d like a ride into town, to the gas station. We happily accepted the offer. After being dropped off and dining on a few snacks from the gas station, we walked up the street to Casa de Luna and joined the many other hikers who were already there.
As soon as we arrived, we were given a quick rundown of Casa de Luna including the rules/guidelines, a quick tour of where everything we’d need would be, where to setup our tent and meal times. Before we did anything else though, we were directed towards the collection of Hawaiian attire and told to pick out something to wear during our stay.
Once our Hawaiian attire was on and our tent set up, Bleeder and I found a spot on the couch in the front yard and cuddled up in a dry blanket for the rest of the day. It was nice to relax while staying warm and dry. Later that night after the taco salad dinner, all of us hikers took turns dancing for our Class of 2019 PCT bandanas. Shortly after the dance party, most people headed to their tents and went to bed.
Originally Bleeder and I were planning on hiking out from Casa de Luna the next morning. That is until it rained all night on us and well into morning. The weather forecast was calling for cold, rain and thunder/lightning storms all day long – not exactly ideal weather to hike out into.
We decided to play it safe and take an unexpected zero day at Casa de Luna for Day 39 while we waited out the storm. Normally on zero days, we’d be sleeping inside somewhere and have the option to shower and do laundry. Not on this zero day.
Bleeder and I spent the entire day sitting on a couch underneath a tent awning in the front yard of Casa de Luna, huddled underneath a blanket. It was better than trying to wait out the storm in our tent. It was cold and wet outside and it rained all day long. The one time it stopped raining during the day, we walked down to the gas station to purchase and eat microwave food and snacks. On our way back, the rain started again so we picked up our pace and headed back to the couch we had been sitting on earlier.
Luckily the next morning on Day 40, we woke up to partly sunny skies. The rain had stopped! We broke down our camp, put away our soggy tent, enjoyed one last pancake breakfast, gave back our Hawaiian attire, gave Terrie a hug and scored a ride back to the trailhead from one of the volunteers. It was time to get back to hiking while the weather was halfway decent.
The weather today was still cold and windy, but at least it wasn’t raining. Somehow we managed to hike 20 miles for the day and then set up camp at the Sawmill Campground with a bunch of other PCT hikers nearby.
Day 41 started out to be a very cold and foggy morning, making it extremely hard to get out of the tent, let alone break down camp and start hiking. After a few pep talks and putting on all of my clothing layers, we started hiking for the day and reached Mile 500.
The rest of the day was pretty tough. The terrain wasn’t super hard to hike. It was the weather that made the rest of the day challenging because it was so cold. I don’t think I ever took my fleece off once today, even when we were climbing up along the trail. At one point, it had started raining, causing me to stop and put on my rain gear and pack cover just to help keep my stuff stay dry.
Today was the first day I’d ever considered quitting the trail. I was THAT miserable while hiking today. I felt pretty sad about having those feelings. I’d never once considered quitting the trail last year, probably because we had it easier with the weather.
This year, I’ve been hiking considerably slower ever since I rolled my ankle on Day Four. If I don’t take a break every five or six miles, my ankle starts to hurt. With every step, I’m incredibly paranoid of rolling my ankle again. Ankle pain and paranoia aside, the weather has sucked in Southern California and it’s STILL snowing in the Sierra. It might be the same trail, but there seem to be MANY more challenges this year.
I know better than to quit on a bad day so despite all the pain and discomfort, I told myself to, “Embrace the suck.” No matter how bad things get out here, my time on trail is limited. One day soon before I know it, the adventure will be over and I’ll wish for it to happen all over again. So even when things get tough out here, I need to appreciate my time on trail as much as I can. Embrace the suck. Embrace the suck.
Towards the end of the day, we made it to Highway 138 where we planned on crossing the highway and would head towards Hiker Town for the night. Instead, we were greeted by an over-friendly, older gentleman sitting in his car, waiting at the side of the highway for hikers. There was something “off” about the way he greeted us, which put both Bleeder and I on guard immediately. Turns out our initial reactions were right. Read about our unfortunate experience at Hiker Town this year here.
In the morning after our experience with Hiker Town, Bleeder and I were more than ready to be back on trail, even with the dark, menacing clouds looming overhead. We set out wearing all of our clothing layers and headed for the notoriously hot and flat Los Angeles Aqueduct. Normally this is a section hikers usually either hike at night or first thing in the morning before the sun comes up. This year, we had the cooler weather finally working to our advantage.
We were not only able to cover all of the 17 miles of the aqueduct, but we also continued hiking through both wind farms, did a big climb and found a tentsite to set up camp for the night in a protected spot from the wind, alongside a small creek. Somehow we managed to hike our biggest day on trail yet, 24 miles!
The good news was tomorrow, there would only be another 17 miles of hiking before we’d reach the next town stop, Tehachapi. The bad news was the weather was most likely going to be crappy the whole way into town.
For now, we decided to appreciate our incredibly protected tentsite that shielded our tent from the wind for the evening while everyone else camping around us was fearful of having their tents blown away and/or broken thanks to the vicious wind. Not only do we learn how to embrace the suck out here, but we also learn to appreciate the little things we do have whenever we have them.
Want to be an active part of my 2019 PCT thru-hiking experience without having to take a single step? CLICK HERE to be a Trail Angel for my thru-hike this year.