PCT Desert Days 10 & 11: Pain and Paradise

Mile 140.33 to 151.80 — Day 10 miles: 11.47 / Day 11 miles: 0
It is so warm all night. I never even put on my sleeping bottoms, and snooze with my quilt just half-covering my legs. I wake a few times in the night and fear how hot the coming day will be. The stars are so bright and clear out here — I have a perfect view of the Big Dipper from my tent (at least I think it is the Big one). At 4am my watch alarm beeps, and ten seconds later I hear Scissors’ phone alarm. I tape my feet — another 20 minutes I could have spent sleeping — and pack up. We set off just a couple minutes past 5, guessing where the sun is going to come up, lighting our way with headlamps.

We have a lot of climbing for the first two miles, and it’s nice to get that out of the way in the chilly morning air. We hike mostly in silence during this stretch. We pass a couple of tents in which people are clearly still sleeping, but mostly I’m being quiet because I don’t want to break this perfect soft stillness of the desert. It feels so special to experience it in the pre-dawn light. As the sun begins to crawl over the mountains, I switch off my headlamp and am blown away by the colors layering on top of each other. I should be hiking this early every day — nothing does sunrise or sunset better than the desert.

We pass two people packing up their campsites. One of them is A-Game, who I met at Tule Spring yesterday. She and I realize that we have a mutual friend, and this feels like magic to me, out here where I know almost no one. Scissors and I find our way to a water cache, which is very well organized — they have a notebook asking hikers to record how much water they took so the maintainers can plan accordingly, and a notice stating the date they will next restock. The cache is low, and though I’d like to replace some of my metallic-tasting water with this, I don’t. Others may arrive here with no water at all.

One of my toes is really hurting, but we hike on. In another mile and a half or so, we arrive at another cache, an unusual place that the maintainer has constructed in honor of Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman. A sign proclaims it “Walden,” and a note there informs us that the water tank is past the picnic tables, “sorry, no pond.” Okay, this is pretty adorable. I sit at a table and elevate my feet, hoping to ease the pain. There’s a tiny little library filled with mostly Thoreau and Whitman, life-sized cutouts of the two, and a trail registery that asks you to write something about a book that’s meaningful to you. We have a snack and take some photos before hiking on.

After a few more uphill miles, Scissors takes a break and I push on. My toe is killing and I just want to get to the cafe so I can stop walking on it. But after I literally limp through a downhill section, I give in and sit on a rock to try to fix my toe. It hurts so much that I wonder if maybe a tiny scorpion has been stinging me inside my shoe all morning (note: I diligently shake my shoes out every morning to prevent this ever happening). But when I peel my sock off, I find only a very bad blister. I suspect part of the pain is from the skin expanding under the tape, which made the tape pull at my toenail with every step. I do some blister surgery and am alarmed to find not only the usual clear fluid but also some pus. Scissors catches up to me and is very reassuring: she had three blisters as bad if not worse than this back at Mt Laguna, and recommends an epsom salt soak when I get to town. I retape carefully, and feel far, far less pain when I stand up. I zip through a couple of miles, and then the heat becomes oppressive. I see a really big long snake — it’s not a rattler but I give it plenty of space to go where it wants anyway. On two different occasions I see pairs of lizards getting it on, right on the trail! It is kind of an unsettling sight. My toe starts hurting again. I drag myself along. A bee buzzes my head repeatedly and I pick up the pace to get away from it, then realize I’m on the last downhill: I can see the highway! I’m so close to the cafe!

The mile-ish roadwalk to the cafe is agony, endless. I should have tried to hitch it. But at last, here’s the sign: Paradise Valley Cafe — Welcome Bikers, Hikers, and Horseback Riders. Yes! I drop my pack next to all the others and join Colleen and Rawhide at a table. In the bathroom, I drain my disgusting blister again and just stash my sock in my pocket — it hurts too much to put it back on. I wash up in the sink and then order an apple juice, Sprite, and giant burger from the waitperson who calls us all “baby” and keeps the ice water flowing for us. Scissors arrives, so now most of the Tule Spring gang is together again.

When my juice comes, I am overjoyed, and my tablemates say again how cute my obsession is. Rawhide says she just told her boyfriend about it on the phone and even he thought it was adorable. Photos are taken of me with my beloved juice, and it is determined that my trail name is Apple Juice. This feels right.

The food is amazing, perfect, and my belly is full. There’s a singer on the patio with us, presumably hired by the cafe. At one point he says, “Requests?” And A-Game asks if he knows any Fleetwood Mac. An excellent request, of course. But the guy says he doesn’t know any Fleetwood Mac, and he doesn’t really take requests. Uh, but we all just heard him ask for requests. A-Game says, play whatever you want, then, and he launches into this amazing/bizarre song that I’ve just looked up, called “If My Nose was Running Money.” At the end, the guy says, “There you go, in the style of Fleetwood Mac!” and we all laugh into our drinks.

I’m full of food and very sleepy, and it’s still wicked hot, and I don’t want to stand on the roadside trying to hitch. Incredibly, a car drives up and a hiker gets out, and the driver says, “Anyone want to go to Idyllwild?” I leap up, as does another guy. Nancy drives us right to the hotel we’re both staying at, and flatly refuses my offer of a few dollars for gas. She loves living here, loves helping hikers. Thank you, Nancy!

In my little cottage I shower (the best), deal with my feet (not looking good), and do laundry. I talk to Cyn for a long time and fall asleep before 9pm, my toe still throbbing.

In the morning I wake at 5am but keep sleeping until 6 — what a luxury! Zero day is here. I wear sockless shoes and limp to breakfast at The Red Kettle, where I have both apple juice and cocoa, in honor of my two trail names, and a big breakfast plate. I sit in the shade outside of the post office, waiting for it to open, and watch the locals greet each other and offer rides to hikers. People seem to really love hikers here! I pick up the microspikes I had shipped here, then go to the pharmacy and buy footcare items including epsom salts. Last stop this morning is the outfitter, where I get a new pair of shoes in a bigger size — the guy working there tells me some hikers’ feet grow/swell two whole sizes in the first 150 miles! I get a pair of non-toesocks and some more tape for my feet, and talk to the employee about the best route back to the PCT. There is serious weather coming in late tomorrow, so I opt against bagging Mt. San Jacinto — I’d really like to do it, but it’s a side trip that’s pretty challenging with my foot problems, and with the incoming rain/snow, I just want to get over Fuller Ridge as efficiently as possible.

Most of my zero is just quiet downtime, soaking my feet in the tub (it does help, I am relieved to see) and talking to Cyn. In the evening I go out to buy a little bit of food. I’ve not been eating enough, so have a lot left over for the next ~90 mile section. The grocery store is both weirdly understocked and completely overwhelming. There are not a lot of hiker foods. I settle on some Kind bars and an extra packet of ramen, and buy a bottle of orange juice (no apple juice in small sizes) for the morning.

Scissors and I are having pizza for dinner. We stop into a bar beforehand to say hello to some folks she started out with, Cate and Mike and some others I don’t formally meet. Cate shows me photos online of a different pizza place and I decide to go there instead. When we arrive, in our grubby hiker clothes, it is a really nice restaurant. I ask the person at the door if we’re underdressed and he laughs and says no. But then we are seated outside where they have fancy heat lamps and twinkly lights strung up and live music, and Scissors says, “Are we on a date right now?” We order big fancy pizzas and sauteed chard and I have a ginger beer and it is a pretty perfect dinner, including comfortable conversation. I am sad to say goodbye to my queer pal — she’s taking another zero tomorrow, so we’ll be on different schedules now, though somehow most folks seem to overlap again at town stops.

Back in my cottage I do a final foot soak and talk to Cyn. I feel a bit sad about hiking out alone tomorrow now that I’ve made some friends, and I miss my date and my cats. Being in town makes me miss home more. The top has come off of my toe blister and Scissors kindly texts me some instructions to care for it. Tomorrow I will head out for at least 12 miles, up and over Fuller Ridge before the bad weather comes in.

The quiet of 5am.

Low cache (empties to the left).


With Walt, fellow queer.

Pair of lizards. Dude.

Mid-day views on the way to Paradise Valley Cafe.

Idyllwild dinner date with Scissors! OMG that food.

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