This article originally appeared on The Trek. You can read it here.
My first week on the trail was a whirlwind and mentally tougher than I ever could have imagined. Miles and I took an unplanned zero in Warner Springs to recharge physically and mentally. Miles was dealing with a shin splint and I was having posterior tibial tendon pain in both of my feet. I did not want to admit defeat so early on, but the days between Julian and Warner Springs were incredibly difficult.
I cried when no one else was around (many times) and tried to hide my physical pain. Even though I had completed a thru-hike before, I felt like I was starting back at again at square one. 150 days on the Appalachian Trail meant nothing.
More than anything, I wanted to get off trail and leave my dream of hiking the PCT behind me.
But then, something changed during our unexpected day off in the tiny town of Warner Springs. I took a bucket shower, washed my clothes, iced my tendons, purchased new Altras, and game planned my self-care plan with my dad. He was my high school soccer coach and my tried and trusted source for all of the injuries I’ve dealt with since my days playing soccer, basketball, and running track. There were many, many ankle sprains back in those days!
With a physical self-care plan ready to go, I knew that I had to change my mental game or this thru-hike wasn’t going to last much longer. In researching the specific tendon pain that I was having, I found out that it could be a very serious injury. From there on out, I knew that I needed to stop thinking about the big picture and set smaller goals on our way to Canada.
My new plan is to focus on the smaller milestones. Idyllwild, then the 200-mile marker, and then 10% of the trail complete. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it to Idyllwild, but here I am typing on the community library computer! My foot pain is manageable and I’m feeling more than excited for the hike up Mt. San Jacinto!
The Formation of a Trail Community
After two weeks on trail, I’ve also felt my mood and outlook improving with the formation of our trail community. We have begun seeing the same people each day and bond over the shared misery of the midday heat and the excitement of a fully-stocked water cache. We share beers in town and dole out advice on blisters, aches, and pains. And then we all trade phone numbers and enjoy sunsets in complete silence, yet total understanding of how awesome this journey can be.
More than anything, creating these bonds and knowing that some of the people we meet will turn into lifelong friends is truly the best part of hiking.
Heading North to Idyllwild
We decided to take things easy out of Warner Springs and go a bit slower to Idyllwild than originally planned. While we still averaged about 15 miles per day, we took more breaks and incorporated stretching into our routine. We realized that we needed to change our hiking style. Doing simple things like walking slower and with more intention made a huge difference. Every morning, I tape my tendons with KT tape, tried to relax my stride, and soften my steps. I’m affectionately known at home as ‘elephant feet’ as I often pound my way down the stairs. I also have a high arch, so there’s a lot of pressure placed on my heels. Not to mention, carrying a 20-25 lb. pack doesn’t help much! I hope that these small changes will make a difference in the long term.
A couple of days out of Warner Springs, we did over 18 miles. However, we took several breaks as we met up with many hikers that day – Afternoon Delight, Steel Toe, Snuggles, Marty Poppins, and Lost Boy. We spent a good portion of the afternoon hanging out at Mary’s, a wonderful trail angel that keeps her water tank stocked, provides ice cold water, and even has a pit toilet! The best part though was her Little Free Library. I forgot my book at home, so I was able to pick up a copy of John Muir’s, The Mountains of California.
The next morning, we were psyched to hit the infamous Paradise Valley Cafe for breakfast. We ate with Moses from Switzerland, Markus from Dresden, and Jeremy from Ohio. The food was AMAZING and it was awesome to sit in the morning sun enjoying French toast, eggs, beer, and coffee.
Mountain Fire Closure Section
Once hikers reach the cafe, they have a few options as to how to proceed into Idyllwild. The final 10.8 miles of trail into Idyllwild are currently closed due to a wildfire in 2013. However, there are still about 16 miles of open trail between the cafe and the closure section. So you can choose from a few options:
- Hitch into Idyllwild from the cafe
- Hike the open 16 miles of trail and then hike a 14.1 mile alternate trail directly into Idyllwild
- Hike the open 16 miles and then take 7 miles of the alternate route into Hemet and hitch from there
- And I think some people may have road-walked from the cafe to Idyllwild??
We both decided that we wanted to hike as much open trail as possible and that we wanted to have as continuous a foot path as possible, so we hiked the remaining open trail and then the 14.1 mile alternate route.
I am SO, SO happy that we ended up doing this section. The trail from Mile 152 to 168 was hands down my favorite section of trail so far. We had incredible views of Mt. San Jacinto and climbed to 7,000 ft., the highest that both Miles and I have ever hiked. The highest point on the Appalachian Trail is Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies at 6,643 ft.
A Sense of Purpose
We camped at a tentsite just before the trail closure and witnessed the most wonderful sunset. Miles, Marty Poppins, and I sat together soaking in the last moments of sun as the great orange mass dipped below the horizon. The sky lit up in all shades of orange and yellow as we sat in silence amongst the dead trees.
It sounds eerie, but it was in this moment when I felt that I was exactly where I should be.
A calmness and sense of purpose set in. I knew that I wanted to continue north, if only to witness more moments exactly like this unexpectedly beautiful sunset.