There are two things that can end a thru-hike quickly – running out of money and injury. A lot of injuries happen within the first 300 miles of trail when hikers are developing their “trail legs.” Most thru-hikers get some sort of injury, whether it be blisters, strains, aches and/or bruises. These types of injuries are pretty easy to recover from as long as the body has enough time to heal. This is why its important for hikers to start out slow and easy during their first few weeks on trail. Once the body is used to hiking 10, 15, 20+ miles each day, these minor injuries are less likely to occur again. The body eventually adapts to the hiking and becomes stronger, making the hike a whole lot more enjoyable. At least this was my experience last year on trail.
When a hiker pushes their body too hard too soon, they risk getting a more serious injury that requires more time to heal and recover. Sometimes these types of injuries can take hikers off of trail all together for the rest of the season.
Last year on trail, I had a few blisters, some chaffing and minor bruising from where my new pack was rubbing my skin on my lower back and hips. These minor injuries cleared up for the most part around Mile 300, making the rest of my hike pretty much injury-free and smooth sailing.
After rolling my ankle twice on Day Four this year, I’ve been forced to take things a whole lot easier than I did last year. Not only have I had to slow down my hiking pace considerably, but I’ve had to take a few days off to rest, soak and ice my ankle. At first, I felt like a failure for having an injury so early on in my hike. Then I realized giving my body enough time to rest and heal is instrumental if I want to stay on trail and finish my hike.
As of Day 21 on trail, we’ve had to take four Zero Days, mainly because of my ankle. I’m happy to report that my ankle has been getting stronger and is less painful each day. First thing in the morning, my ankle tends to be a little stiff. I begin the day with a few stretches and then once on trail, start hiking at a slower pace. A couple miles into the day, the stiffness goes away and I’m eventually able to walk on it faster.
I stopped wearing my ankle brace after we left Warner Springs because it was giving me a nasty blister that’s still healing and I feared the brace was preventing my ankle from getting stronger. A weak ankle means I’m more likely to roll it again. That’s not a risk I’m willing to take. For now, I’m keeping the brace in my first aid kit just incase of an emergency, but I’m not wearing it on a daily basis anymore.
We started off Week Three on the PCT with taking a Zero Day in Idyllwild. Not only was my ankle hurting, but both Bleeder and I needed a chance to recoup. We’d been hiking with a severely damaged tent over the last 100 miles and knew the replacement parts from Big Agnes would be waiting for us at the post office in Idyllwild once we got there. We both had a brand new pair of replacement socks from Darn Tough waiting for us in Idyllwild as well. There were also coin operated, warm showers at the campground, a laundromat, a grocery store we could resupply at, ice cold root beers and $1.50 tacos awaiting us once we got into town. We needed a day off to recoup, refresh, repair and resupply before heading out on trail again. Idyllwild made all of those dreams come true for us.
After enjoying our Zero Day, Bleeder and I left the campground in the morning on Day 16 and headed back up to the PCT from Idyllwild via the Deer Springs Trailhead. We spent all morning climbing our way back up to the PCT. Once back on the PCT again, we stopped for a quick snack break and then took a lunch break at the next big water source. I enjoyed a heavy lunch packed out from town including pita bread, hummus and fresh avocado along with a can of root beer. I surprised Bleeder and packed out a can of root beer for him too.
After lunch, we hit snow on trail. This was the first time we’d be traveling over snow along the PCT. The whole area, including the trail was buried in snow. For most of this section, we were following the boot path left from previous hikers, not necessarily the actual trail. Traveling over the snow slowed us down considerably. Since we were hitting this section in the afternoon, the snow was soft and slushy, not quite hard enough to make microspikes effective. We made our way slowly through this section until we found one little tentsite off to the side of the trail, right before the infamous Fuller Ridge started. Beyond the tentsite, we knew there would not only be more snow, but we’d be traveling over a steep ridge. We decided to setup camp for the night and get an early start first thing the net morning while the snow was still firm from the night before.
Day 17 was the day I’d been dreading on trail for months – the day we’d hike over the snow and ice covered Fuller Ridge. Mile 187 to Mile 190 would be the longest three miles I’d ever hike in my life. This section was only 3.1 miles, but it was 3.1 miles of continuous route finding, microspikes wearing, traveling over snow and ice on a steep ridge, sliding on snow and ice on my butt in a couple sections, hanging onto a few tree limbs for dear life and having to bushwack through numerous scratchy bushes. Even though the views up here were beautiful, I was too nervous to focus on anything but the boot path in front of me.
We were literally following the boot path left from previous hikers going up and around fallen trees, through bushes, over boulders and along the ridge. Most of the time we weren’t even on trail. A few times we lost the boot path and had to retract our steps to find it again. It easily took us twice the amount of time to get through this section. It took all of my attention, energy and patience to get through these three intense miles.
After slowly and safely making our way over Fuller Ridge, the trail started to head down towards the desert floor, eventually leading us towards the I-10 Oasis, right outside of Cabazon. On our way down, we hit another PCT milestone – Mile 200!
The next morning, we got up and packed up camp early and continued to hike our way down towards the I-10 Oasis. After hiking all the way down and through heavy sand against the strong winds, we made it to I-10 around 10:30am. Our friends, Michelle and Bruce were there to greet us and take us into town for lunch at In-N-Out Burger, snap a quick photo at the dinosaurs, get ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery and stop by Subway where we could both pack out a sandwich to have for dinner on trail later that night.
Bleeder and I both met Michelle and Bruce last year during our PCT thru-hike when we were with our Team Lagger family. We had just resupplied at WalMart in the town past Cabazon and were trying to hitch a ride back to trail. We had spent 45 minutes trying to get someone to stop and pick us up, but had no such luck. Just as we were about to give up and tried to order an Uber car AGAIN, Michelle and Bruce pulled over, picked us up and gave us a ride back to the I-10 where we could get back on trail. They literally saved our butts that night and quickly became our friends, following us along online, all the way to Canada and beyond.
When I told Michelle and Bruce that Bleeder and I would be hiking the PCT together again this year, they said they wanted to meet up with us on our hike. It was so nice to be able to hang out with them for the entire afternoon this time around. When they brought us back to the I-10 Oasis after hanging out with us, we were greeted by trail magic underneath the highway. We all hung out together a little while longer before we got back on trail and started hiking again.
Thanks again Michelle and Bruce for hanging out with us and being so magical. You guys are seriously the best!
Even though we didn’t get back on trail until almost 3pm, Bleeder and I still managed to hike another six or seven miles for the day, passing the Mesa Wind Farm and doing the big climb out from the farm until looking for a tentsite for the night.
Day 19 started out WINDY. We woke up in the morning to crazy winds that forced us to get out of our sleeping bags faster than we would’ve liked and broke down camp in record speed. Once on trail, we had to hike in the crazy wind going up, down and over ridges throughout the San Gorgonio Wilderness. I actually loved hiking this particular section, from the Mesa Wind Farm, all the way to Mission Creek last year, but this year it was too dang windy to enjoy it. As I was coming around one of the switchbacks, the wind blew so hard, it literally knocked me down onto the trail. The winds started to calm down once we got closer towards the Whitewater River.
Once we hit Whitewater River, Bleeder and I did our first official water crossing on trail this year. Granted, it was a mild water crossing, but it required having to fully submerge our feet in the water in order to get across. The water was cold, but at least our feet had a chance to get clean. On the other side of the water crossing, we stopped for a quick snack break, filled up on water and quickly got back to hiking. We had a big day ahead of us.
The next six miles were super fun with a few climbs, a fair amount of decents and gorgeous views for days. The San Gorgonio Wilderness is beautiful, I repeat, “Beautiful!” We stopped at the first water crossing for Mission Creek, had lunch in the shade and then got ready for serious business over the next six miles.
Last year, Mission Creek was challenging in that it was a constant climb up all day long in the hot sun, but at least there was a trail to follow. This past winter was rather harsh and pretty much demolished the PCT trail up and along Mission Creek for the entire six miles. The first couple of hours of hiking in and around Mission Creek was actually quite fun. I swapped my Salomon Odyssey Triple Crown trail runners for my Teva sandals and happily splashed my way through the water at all of the water crossings. The sun was out, the weather was fairly warm and I was happy to have my feet so clean.
After a couple of hours, the weather started to change. It became overcast and windy. The trail became increasingly harder to follow along. There was plenty of route finding, some wrong turns made, lots of climbing over rocks and boulders and maneuvering up, over and through crumbling dirt and rocks. The constant game of “Hide and Seek” with the trail got old quickly. Bleeder and I had gotten to the point where we wanted this part of the section to just end already. Then at the last water crossing along Mission Creek, we still had another eight miles to hike up over 3,300 feet. Ugh! Day 19 ended up being a 21 mile day. I have no idea how we did it, but it almost brought me to tears. Once we chose the tentsite for the night, we set up camp, I stuffed my face with hot oatmeal for dinner and went to bed, happy this day on trail was now behind us.
Day 20 started off pretty challenging with a big climb up. Then once we got up and over whatever it is that we were climbing, the views and weather changed. It got a bit warmer, less windy and the terrain got a whole lot flatter and easier. There was even a teeny tiny amount of snow along a few parts of the trail.
For lunch, we stopped at Coon Cabin and ate lunch sitting at a picnic table. After lunch, we passed by an abandoned private zoo. We hiked a few more miles to a tentsite that had picnic tables and a reliable water source nearby. Hooray for eating two meals today at a picnic table. For us thru-hikers, picnic tables are gold out here along the PCT.
On our final day of our third week along the PCT, it was Town Day! We woke up knowing we only had ten miles to hike until we’d get to the highway where we could hitch a ride into town. For some reason, I tend to hike faster on Town Days. I don’t know if it’s the anticipation of having a shower, doing laundry, enjoying a warm meal that doesn’t require hiking water to make it, the possibility of sleeping indoors or a combination of all of the above, but I definitely pick up my hiking pace when I know we’re heading into town.
The night before had been super cold. I woke up having to eat a frozen Snickers bar for breakfast. It was so cold outside, I decided to hike with my leggings and fleece on and skipped filtering water, going with the one liter of water I already had in my water reservoir from the day before. Once on trail, all I could visualize was myself eating a Big Mac from McDonalds as soon as we were in town. A Big Mac? I hadn’t had one of these in years. Not sure why I was craving one so bad, but that craving helped me hike 10 miles within three hours.
Once we got close to the highway, Bleeder and I both grabbed a soda out of one of the coolers located near the trailhead provided by local trail angels. Then as we made our way feet to the highway, we saw a truck going in the opposite direction turn around, pull in the parking lot and asked if we needed a ride into town. We got a hitch without needing to wait or stick our thumbs out – score!
Our amazing hitch dropped us off at the Big Bear Hostel, where we’d spend the rest of our day off catching up with Sarge at the hostel, taking a shower, doing laundry, resupplying for the next two sections, giving my ankle a rest and eventually making our way to McDonalds where I’d enjoy a Big Mac, large fries, 6-piece chicken McNuggets and an apple pie for lunch.
I swear, sometimes the reason why I hike is so I can eat whatever craving comes into my head whenever I’m out on trail.
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.