My hiking partner of 1000 miles on the Appalachian Trail used to tease me that I had two speeds: go and stop. It’s true. Apart from my attempt to hike Maine with a broken foot — at which point I was Rainbow hobbling (rather than Rainbow Dash-ing along) — I tend to hike at a very regular pace. And, I have a tendency to hike from sun-up until sundown.
When I hit the Pacific Crest Trail again after a string of zero days in Warner Springs, I worked to embrace some on-trail rest. Hiking has always come very easily to me, and I tend to hit the trail doing big-mile days immediately. However, after Warner Springs, I tried to think of backpacking as I would think of any other physical activity: Before I put in tough days, I would need to build a physical base with shorter and easier days. And so, for the last 60 miles, base-building is exactly what I’ve been doing.
It’s amazing what 100 hours without hiking and with lots of sleep, RICE, and antibiotics can do. My Achilles tendons became less swollen and painful, my knees (which had been sore before the hike) felt stronger and less sore, and the full-thickness burns on my lips began the long process of healing. (At least, thanks to the lips, I won’t have to worry about being on the receiving end of any pink blazing for the next few hundred miles!)
Leaving Warner Springs and hiking north was both exciting and nerve-wracking, as I was worried that the healing I’d waited so patiently to see would be erased. But, it wasn’t. That first afternoon back on trail, I hiked just five miles to a campsite by some rare flowing water and set up my tent, thrilled that I was feeling all right.
The next day, I woke up early to beat the heat and sun and enjoyed hiking without a sunlight HazMat suit for a couple hours. I reached my predetermined stopping point at 10:40 and enjoyed a quiet and relaxing afternoon on some shaded boulders overlooking a high desert valley.
My third day out took me past Magic Mike’s, the home of a trail angel who provides water, shelter, and friendly vibes to hikers, and up a hot, exposed, and surprisingly green ridge. I enjoyed walking through groves of blooming lilacs that smelled intoxicating and were humming with bees and near clumps of fruity-scented yellow flowers. After a six-hour siesta under the shade of a cottonwood tree and with the wonderful company of Ant, Pine Nut, Ali, and Erik, I camped in Nance Canyon.
The next morning, I was out of camp before six o’clock, climbing up mountains and taking in the awe-inspiring landscape south of the Pines-to-Palms Highway. I photographed buttes and enormous distant mountains. The heat was oppressive, but I was revived by a veggie burger and sweet potato fries at the Paradise Valley Café. I was given a ride there — and a donut — by Hostel California.
Yesterday, I stuck to my goal of walking continuously from Mexico to Canada by hiking an alternative route to Idyllwild, as there is a trail closure near town. I was completely spellbound by the 10-mile section just before the closure. It was like the entire AT rolled into one, with rocks and roots and trees and views and a beautifully winding trail. I loved it. Cresting Little Desert Mountain in the late morning reminded me of walking Franconia Ridge and found me completely high on life.
And then, it was time to descend, to come into town for food and errands and recharging. I was picked up and given a tour of the town by Robert, a trail angel of a local. I made a beeline for the grocery store, where I purchased 10 ounces of hummus, a pound of carrots, a cucumber, and two 59¢ avocados, all of which I ate outside the post office. While I was sitting there, a woman stopped and gave me homemade cookies and a man gave me dried mangos. Idyllwild is a magical place!
Life is so, so good.