8: PCT Trail Town Idyllwild, CA

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Trail town of Idyllwild on the PCT

Trail Friends

We hike out from Warner Springs with Dorothy and Kevin.  Outpacing them, we are soon in the desert mountains surrounded by fog.  We are on our way to the PCT trail town Idyllwild, CA.  Becoming fast friends with Dorothy and Kevin, we never thought to get their contact information and assumed we would run into them again soon.  Unfortunately, we never saw them after Warner Springs.

This is a strange thing on the trail.  You meet people and become well acquainted with them and then you may never see them after that.  Friendships on trail tend to form quickly because of the feeling that we are all in this together.  The only people that can truly understand the rigors of this sport are other backpackers.  It is a hard lesson learned.  If you like someone and it does not feel creepy to do so, ask for their contact information.

Trail Angels and Capri Sun

The way is uphill today.  Some days are just like that.  Uphill all day.  Emerging from the fog is a small group up ahead.  Two middle-aged trail angels stand on a dirt road with loads of goodies.  They have just dropped their son, Jacob and his fiance, Erica, off on the trail, after getting off for a few days to attend a family event.

Jacob asked Erica to marry him during their PCT hike.  Travis and I joke that this would be a good way to test the feasibility of marriage.  If you can hike the PCT together, you are probably a good match.

They offer us Capri Suns (I have not tasted one of these since pack lunch in elementary school), muffins the size of dinner plates, and clementines.  It is a welcomed treat.  We easily down the gigantic muffins.  The angels, Sally and Laurie, are from San Diego, and we chat with them for awhile as other hikers start to join the group.  This food will not last long.

Comb's Windy Peak

We are nearly out of water when we see signs for Mike's place up ahead.  There is a large, rusty cistern for our use, and we are grateful. Signs up ahead are directing us to Mike's place, but we decide to press onward.

Walking until exhaustion has become routine for us.  There are a few small, flat spots on the top of Comb's peak.  In the evening, the desert wind always seems to pick up and today is no different; however, tonight we are at a peak.  The tent rattles and shakes as we cook inside.  We reinforce the tent with our trek poles.  The wind finally dies down after midnight.

We joke with each other during the windstorm that our friends are all sitting at Mike's place eating pizza and drinking beer.  The next day we find out that is exactly what they were doing.

The following morning, we pack up as the sun is rising.  A backpacker from Scotland has tented nearby.  We agree that it was a windy night.  It is already heating up, and it is definitely going to be an inferno today.

Some days are uphill all day.  This day was uphill and downhill all day.  These are referred to as PUDs ( pointless ups and downs).  Water is a serious concern today, and we are packing six liters and still running low.  There are a few troughs along the way but one has a dead mouse in it, so we decided to gamble on the water cache up ahead.

When we arrive at the stash, there is virtually nothing for us.  A group of hikers gathers around a dozen or more empty gallon jugs trying to drain them of their last drops.  The little that we get tastes of plastic and is boiling hot.  There is a place called Walden up ahead, the other hikers tell us.  The angel maintaining it is supposed to be really dedicated.  I hope so because I have never been this sweaty, and I could use some cold water.

Walden's Oasis

Two life-sized cutouts of Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman stand next to a lending library.  We have arrived at Walden, spreading out our Tyvek footprint under a shade shrub we lie down to rest.  It is mid-afternoon, and the sun is intense.  Other hikers are here too, including Jacob and Erica, our trail angels' kiddos.  We meet another young couple who are hiking the PCT as their honeymoon.  Jokingly, we confess that Jacob and Erica did it right by hiking the trail before getting married.  This way they know if they are the real deal prior to tying the knot.

The water is deliciously cold.  You learn to appreciate things in a whole new way out here.  I never thought cold water could be so satisfying.  And I never thought lying down in the dirt under a bush could be so satisfying.  Everything is easily obtained back in the real world.  Out here you appreciate simple things.  It is a simple existence.

Sometimes the craving for a cheeseburger will cause you to do crazy things like agree to walk another five miles or so when you are already exhausted.  Thus a new tradition was created, hiking and chanting.

The Paradise Valley Cafe

We chant as we walk on fatigued legs and blistered toes: "cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger".  Up and down, and up and down, along ridges, and up mountains, we hike finally arriving at a road.  From there, we can barely see the restaurant.  I can taste the Coke and cheeseburger.  We have hiked nearly 24 miles today.

The San Jose cheeseburger at The Paradise Valley Cafe is tasty.  I would be perfectly content to sit at this table for hours, eating and drinking until the establishment kicks us out.  Our waitress is friendly.  She has nicknamed us "the wise couple".  After she leaves, I whisper grinning to my husband, "I think she just called us old".  As if she read my mind, she returns with our drinks and says, "I called you that because you seem content".  She could not be more right.  I am sitting down after interval hiking 24 miles of "hills" with a Coke about to eat a giant cheeseburger, so yes we are quite contented.

We get our maildrop from the back room, and the place is about ready to close up for the evening.  Our waitress is looking out for her wise couple.  She says we should camp out back near the dumpster instead of cowboy camping (sleeping without a shelter) on the porch with the rest of the "kids".  It will be much quieter being away from the busy intersection, she says.  We pitch our tent in the dark away from the dumpster along the fence line.  It was one of the weirder places we have camped thus far.

PCT Trail Town Idyllwild, CA

We are ready to go bright and early.  Travis has made a sign on a cardboard box from the dumpster, "PCT hikers to town".  Standing on the road across the street from the restaurant, we wait for an hour.  Our trail buddy Terry from Oregon, a newly graduated veterinarian, trots over to us from the restaurant's porch.  There is a large group of backpackers over there eating breakfast.  She says there is a retired policeman that comes to Paradise Valley every morning for breakfast.  He gives backpackers rides into Idyllwild for $5 per hiker.

Deciding to try a bit longer, a truck pulls over shortly thereafter.  All the backpackers on the porch erupt into cheers.  We laugh and wave our goodbyes.  Gilda, a physician's assistant, is on her way to work in Idyllwild.  She sees a lot of hikers in her profession, she tells us, most often it is for foot problems, "I love feet!" she exclaims.

The town of Idyllwild is wonderfully nice.  Gilda tells us that it is an artistic place that attracts artists, musicians, actors, and the like.  It is compact enough for walking to restaurants, the grocery store, the laundry mat, the post office, and there is a gear store.  She drops us at a local coffee shop that she enjoys.  We go in and buy all the day-old pastries, eating them all and drinking coffee.

We camp at the state park in town.  There is a designated camp area for PCT hikers, and it is cheap.  The coin-operated showers seem to lack heat though, so this is a bit disappointing.  We see a few familiar faces at the park, and we have a good time telling stories at the picnic table in the center of camp.  After a visit to the grocery store, we have the weirdest dinner in front of us: pickles, chips and salsa, and ice cream.

Thru-Hiker Tips:

  • Eat at the Paradise Valley Cafe.  Order the San Jose burger.
  • Go to Idyllwild.  It is a great place to zero being walkable, friendly, and full of everything you may need or crave.  The next few days out of Idyllwild are tough.
  • If you meet someone on the trail that you like, and they seem to like you too, ask for their contact information.  Otherwise, you may never see them again.

In the spring of 2017, we set out to hike the PCT.  Hear our full story.

Continue to our next adventure on the PCT.

Paradise Cafe in trail town of Idyllwild on the PCT

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