Up Up Up, Burgers and Overwhelm – Day 13: Desert Climb to Wooded Overlook

PCT mile: 144 to 159.7
Miles: 15 (almost 16)

Snakes: 2

Rattlesnakes: 1! My first! Kind of

Today I let myself not wake up to an alarm and started waking up to the campers around me around 515. It felt good to let myself sleep. 

I got walking with Karma and Rawhide and they quickly passed me. Amelia had kept going the night before in order to get to Paradise Cafe earlier in the day. 

Karma and Rawhide zoomed past me pretty quick. I kept bumping into Rawhide and Rick and sitting to take breaks with them. Rick is dead set on hitching to Idyllwild. Rawhide and I were talking about doing the alternate and she was pretty set on hitching to Idyllwild from the cafe, which would have put us in town tonight (Thursday) and let us zero, and then she wanted to try to get to Mt San Jacinto and Fuller Ridge before the snow storm that’s supposed to hit on Sunday. I started letting myself accept that I wouldn’t be hiking the alternate, even though I’d planned to and wanted to. 

As I’m hiking, I’m realizing that I feel pretty overwhelmed by the social dynamics of the group. I love my trail family, but I couldn’t stop thinking about having several hours of relaxation and quiet. I texted Mark (who is better at introversion than me) and he said it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for me to get my own hotel room in Idyllwild. 

The idea of relaxing in a big bed and only doing what I wanted to do sounded so appealing. I think it’s because our miles have been such a negotiation lately and I can tell they want to do bigger miles. They get to camp hours before I do and I huff and puff in and get there at the last minute. A couple of days ago Karma literally went on a run after we hit camp. I don’t want to be the person holding everyone back, and it’s hard not to feel that that’s exactly what I’m doing. 

So I’m climbing this mountain and it’s hot and I’m fueled almost entirely by my anxiety about the social dynamics of the trail and how desperate I am to be alone (never mind that I’ve literally been alone for hours in the middle of the wilderness.) I’m dreading the idea of figuring out how to say i don’t want to share a room with four people. And then I get a text from Amelia saying that her, Karma, Nirvana and Rachel are planning to hike the alternate and they’re leaving to do it now, with plans to do all 30 miles by the next day (Friday). “Not sure if we’ll catch you,” she writes.

Well, that solves that! I feel relieved that they’re feeling a similar pull and have taken the step to go do what they want to do. 

I take a break a mile from the road to Paradise Cafe and try to let myself stay there as long as I want, without worrying about catching anybody. When I get up I move quickly down the mountain and there waiting for me are Rick, Rawhide, and a trail angel named Herk who was waiting to give us all a hitch to the cafe which is a mile down the road. I almost wanted to cry I was so grateful.

We get to the cafe and in their bathroom I rinse my hands in cold water and then my face and then my underarms and shirt. I feel like a new person. I go outside and change into my sunshirt and leave my wool shirt to dry and order a turkey burger and fries and a rootbeer. 

Applejuice finally got his apple juice 

The people who work at the cafe are incredibly hiker friendly and make us feel welcome and watch our waters like hawks and keep filling them again and again. Slowly other hikers start trickling in – Scissors and Toby (recently named Applejuice, because he’d been craving it on the trail and was the first thing he ordered at the cafe) and others I have met. Twerk is there when I arrive but quickly hitches with a group to Idyllwild. 

Rawhide and I talk and start leaning toward doing the alternate again. It’s 30 miles, we’ve heard it’s beautiful, there’s a camp store on the highway that serves quesadillas, there doesn’t seem to be much of any road walking… and if we let ourselves take til Saturday, we can zero Sunday and wait out the storm. Rawhide got left by her group last week when her blisters got bad from pushing too fast to keep up with her last group, so we share a desire to not do too much too fast.

Rawhide talks to her boyfriend and he says, “how will you feel at mile 200 if you skip the alternate?” and that seals the deal: we’re going to hike it. 

I order an apple pie ala mode, eat it even though I’m uncomfortably full, and then go take a nap under a shady tree right next to the cafe. 

When I wake up, Rachel is still sitting with us (she hadn’t left with the group earlier because the heat really bothers her) and Rawhide is chatting in the phone and there are two new hikers in the shade, women, A-Game and Gushers. They’re planning to hike the alternate and camp at the same spot we are later.

I look back at the cafe and who do I see: Bruce! I haven’t seen him since Warner Springs. I am happy to see him and he gives me a hug and we catch up a little. He’s planning to do the alternate but not go as far as we are tonight. We’ll likely both get to Idyllwild Saturday. 

Around 430 Rawhide, Rachel and I get our things together (with fresh, delicious water from the cafe) and start trying to get a hitch back to the trail. Who should pull up again but Herk! This time I sit in the front (Rick sat there last time) and chat with Herk. He’s been giving hikers rides in the area for 17 years. I asked him what the heaviest pack he’d seen was. He said 70 or 80lbs. I asked him what the smallest he’d seen was. “Not much smaller than you all,” he said.

“So I guess we’re doing good?”

“If you can carry it you’re doing good.”


We start hiking and the terrain is really lovely. Clouds are blocking the sun and there is a ton of shade on the trail. It’s still a little hot and Rachel falls behind – she tells me later she literally laid down in the middle of the trail. She was planning to night hike anyway and go past where we were going to camp to catch the group from earlier. I figure she’ll pass us later.

We knew we had a climb to do but it didn’t start off too bad. I hike with A-Game for a while as she’s waiting for her partner to catch up (they are both much faster than me) and she tells me about her work as an outdoor guide. Eventually she passes me and the trail gets steeper and I pull some jelly beans that Karen, a woman in my book club back home, had put in my going away card. I make a game out of it: hike a few steps, eat a jelly bean, try to guess the flavor. I hike alone until I see Rawhide, who is waiting for me at the side trail that will take us to the water resupply. 

The trail down to the water is incredibly steep and our feet scream at us. We fill up our water and just as we’re headed back up, we bump into Rachel. Her knee is bothering her and she’s decided to camp with us for the night. Rawhide and I trudge back up the trail and I say several curse words. My body is especially tired and pissed now. It’s now dark and Rachel gets to the top and we decide to night hike as a group to the campsite 1.3 miles away. It’s all uphill and often steep and almost immediately my flashlight starts dimming. Low battery. Rawhide takes the lead and between my dimmed flashlight and her headlamp we are able to make our way to camp. The trail is tough and we’re tired and then Rawhide sees A-Game and Gusher sitting in the trail eating dinner – they wanted to make sure we didn’t accidentally pass the campsite. Hikers are the best. 

We set up camp quick and I probably won’t eat dinner because I’m too tired. 

A few other things of note:

I saw my first rattlesnake. It was about a foot long, a baby with a tiny little rattle. He was just trying to get across the trail so I let him and then kept hiking. I’m also pretty sure I saw a little tortoise?? If not it was a very fat horny toad.

On a physical level, I’m feeling pretty good, but I do have some chafe going on. I went commando today to try to give myself some breathing room which worked for the morning hike, but the hike to camp the chafe intensified. Also my ankles are always pretty tight in the mornings. And I have about a dozen bug bites. And my feet are dirty and I have a little blister between my big toe and the second toe. 

The plan is to get to Idyllwild Saturday and zero Sunday. Rawhide and I got a hotel together and we both agreed we want at least a few hours of basically complete silence. I. Am. Stoked. 

View from where I wiped my crotch chafe in the middle of the trail. The PCT is all about class

8 responses to “Up Up Up, Burgers and Overwhelm – Day 13: Desert Climb to Wooded Overlook”

  1. Hey, I looked to see where you were on the map and it looks like you’re getting ever closer to I-10. Woo-hoo! Making good progress. One step at a time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep! We’re getting there 🙂


  2. Elizabeth Frazier Avatar
    Elizabeth Frazier

    Wow, you really are making progress discomforts and all!
    No special words of wisdom- just wanted you to know I think of you there every day.


    1. Thank you ❤️


  3. Hey Colleen! My husband and I hiked the PCT in 2014 and so enjoy reading you blog. Very nice that you did the alternate! And don’t worry about your miles. You’ll eventually find your comfort zone. And there is nothing worse then always trying to keep up. We never did 30 mile days but made it to Canada anyway!
    Greeting from Germany Princess

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love this: “we never did 30 mile days but we made it to Canada anyway” – I need that


    2. Colleen! Very Impressive and thank you for writing – it is a treasure to walk along with you.

      Princess! Say hi to Mr. Sandals. We followed you (+ our Santa Cruz friends) in 2014. Good to “hear” from you and hope all is good.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you! And so fun that you got to reconnect with another hiker 🙂


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