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Days 11-17 // ups and downs

Day 11 // 10.1 miles

Day 11 // 10.1

PCT mile 119.6

I had a lovely morning in Warner Springs today! I slept in until 9am, had time to hang out with a few of my new friends, ate some fresh strawberries, drank coffee, and charged up all my stuff.

The community center had so many awesome services, it was getting close to another hiker dinner, and I was super tempted to stay another night, but I decided to hike out in the afternoon to avoid getting sucked into the town "vortex." Snickers, Alli, and Marlin were all still hanging out, so I was having a hard time deciding to leave.

I went through my resupply box, loaded up my pack with way too much food, read the sweet notes from my parents, nieces and nephews, and packed up camp.

The weather had been unseasonably cloudy and misty all day, so as I headed out of town, I was doubting myself.

"Why on Earth would you hike out into this wet, windy weather when friends and good food are behind you?"

"You're taking this too seriously, you need to enjoy yourself. You're doing this wrong."

These were the voices in my head, my own self-critic.

At the same time, the views surrounding me were incredible. I almost felt like I was in northern Ireland again with the misty weather, green hills, and wildflowers.

But I was still feeling down as the trail continued to climb out of Warner Springs. I needed to get out of my thoughts for a while, so I decided to turn on some good jams, take as many photos as I wanted, and basically try to do whatever I could to enjoy the rest of my evening hike.

And it actually kind of worked! I was feeling better and starting to give myself grace.

Halfway in, I bumped into some guys camped by a stream. They were super friendly and introduced themselves as Sandlot, Quasimodo, and Obi-Wan (but not the other Obi-Wan I knew). I told them I didn't have a trail name yet, but somehow we started talking about food, specifically pizza, and I mentioned the Calzone I had in Julian and packed out.

"Dude, Calzone would be a sweet trail name!" one of them said.

I actually was really feeling Calzone, even though it's kinda silly. It's also kind of a tribute to Ben Wyatt from Parks and Rec, my favorite show, since he loves calzones.

Also so many options for puns. Calzone over here, getting in the zone.

I'm going to sleep on it and see if it sticks :)

I continued powering up the hill, still pretty energized until I noticed that the campsite by the stream was an extra mile further than I thought it was. Dang. Everything was already hurting.

But I promised myself I could eat the delicious Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy meal when I got to camp, and I continued on into the sunset.

Every mile seemed like an eternity, but when I reached the campsite and saw the Swiss couples camped there next to an open spot, I could have danced for joy.

It started sprinkling, so I whipped my tent up and climbed in to keep everything dry, then got all set up from inside. I cooked my biscuits and gravy - SO GOOD.

Some moments on the trail are rough - it's not all roses (or wildflowers). But every bit of it is what it means to hike the PCT, and I'm here for all of it.

So as I put in my earplugs to mute out the snoring from the next tent that sounds like a growling bear, I remember that one day when this is all over, I'll miss even this stuff.

Day 12 // 16.1 miles

PCT mile 135.7

What a day. Full of ups and downs, let me tell ya.

I didn't wake up until 6:30, tired from last night's hike into camp, and I slowly got myself up for the day. I was camped with the two couples from Switzerland, (Alex and Andrea, and Ulls and Fiona) and also a dad and his 12 year old daughter that are hiking the trail together.

I finally got myself out of my tent to go get water from the side trail, then made a cold coffee/hot chocolate shake-up. Breakfast was a Clif bars dunked into peanut butter.

Once I got out on the trail, I was in my groove (or rather, Calzone was in the zone). I took a few short breaks, but the trail wasn't too steep. I did start dreaming of cold smoothies and fresh, juicy oranges... if only.

I passed enormous boulders as I made my way to Mike's Place. Mike's Place is technically a water source, since the house has a reliable tank with water that most hikers end up needing to stop at. But when Mike bought the homestead, he started offering some nice amenities for hikers, like cold beer and soda, a place to charge stuff, free camping on the property, and if you hit it at meal time, free food. He's particularly famous for his pizza.

As I made my way down hill, some day hiker ladies pointed me in the right direction, and also informed me that just past Mike's place, there was a cooler with water and - I kid you not - fresh juicy oranges! Isn't that just like God to provide just what I was craving? He delights in giving us good gifts :)

I wanted to stop at Mike's first though to hang out for awhile. I wandered down the dirt road and followed the signs until I reached an eclectic compound of a homestead, an outdoor kitchen/grill, a trailer, and some old looking cars. Interesting.

But I was greeted by a guy who introduced himself as Cyclops - apparently Mike was away, but Cyclops was running the place for the next several weeks. He's hiked 1800 miles of the PCT, but had to get off trail because of injury.

I grabbed a Coke and chatted a bit with the Swiss hikers who were also hanging out, and soon more hikers filtered in. I met Band-aid and Tonks, the father-daughter duo that I had camped next to. And Marlin showed up too! Cyclops let us know that he had been slow roasting potatoes and onions and was going to cook up some hot dogs too.

We grabbed plates and devoured our lunch, and then I noticed a box of nail polish and gave myself a mani-pedi to hide the dirt. Cyclops also mentioned that Mike wanted a "class of 2019" design with the PCT logo put on his car.

So Tonks and I decided to grab the paints and do it! We added lots of wildflowers to represent the desert bloom.

I thought it was pretty cool that she and her dad are hiking the trail together. Turns out it was her idea!

After wrapping up the painting, several more hikers showed up and I decided it was probably time for me to hike out, since it looked like there might be some imminent pot smoking.

I headed out, making sure to stop by the cooler with the oranges! What a sweet gift for the afternoon!

The trail descended significantly, and though I was hoping to make 10 miles, I had to keep taking breaks because my feet were screaming at me to stop. Everything hurt. And my pack was loaded with way too much food since I didn't want to dump stuff in the hiker box at Warner Springs.

I had left Mike's Place around 3:30pm, so I hiked until after sunset with my headlamp, starting to cry as I stumbled towards the next campsite. I wanted to make 10 miles, but I knew I needed to stop at 9. I just couldn't go any further.

At last, relief. I sat on the sandy ground where I would camp and just let myself breathe.

The stars shone above me, and I started remembering the good things that had happened today before setting up camp. Then I collapsed into sleep, the moon shining through the mesh of my tent like a halo.

Day 13 // 16.1 miles (plus .5 mile road walk)

PCT mile 151.8

I woke up to the sunrise, a bit later than planned, but packed up my stuff quickly, as I was hoping to get to the Paradise Valley Cafe. I had made plans to get there so I could stay with a trail angel in Idyllwild who had posted her contact info on the page.

I made it the first mile to the stream I had wanted to reach last night, and feeling weak and inadequate, I broke down and cried. I didn't feel like I could make it 16 miles today. I could already tell that it was going to be a blisteringly hot day, and my pack was SO heavy still.

But I picked myself up, I listened to some worship music, and I started to talk to God about those feelings. I let him know my weakness, and I felt him reminding me, "Yes! You ARE weak. And you're going to feel the depths of weakness on this hike like you never have before. But in your weakness, I am strong." I thought about the path of suffering that he walked, and I pressed on.

It WAS a hard, hot day, but my spirits started to lift. I met a few new people, I jammed to Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson, and I took a lot of sit breaks. I found a water cache maintained by the Idyllwild Bible Church and I drank up.

About a mile later, I made it to Mary's place, a sweet desert oasis with a water tank, pit toilets, bucket showers, shaded picnic tables, and a little free library! There were also cutouts of Thoreau, John Muir, and Walt Whitman with inspirational quotes.

Such a great spot for a lunch break!

I accepted that I probably wouldn't reach the cafe until 5:30, and I pressed on. The umbrella came in handy with the punishing heat. I did my best to hum songs and think of anything other than my sore feet.

A few songs that popped in to Steph's Brain Radio:

- Hey Jude

- Open the Eyes of My Heart

- What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

- How Great Thou Art

- "Ain't Nobody Got Time for That" Autotune remix ;)

- I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles), although nearing mile 150, I created my own version

"And I would walk 150 miles and I would walk 2500 more

Just to be the woman who walked 2650 miles to get to Canada"

About a mile from the road, as I was taking a short break, two couples crossed my path around the same time. Eryn and Garret are also from Indiana, and Carson and Steph are from Ohio! So we made it the last mile together, all rallied by the thought of burgers and cold drinks.

The road was a beautiful sight, although we had a mile road walk to get to the cafe. We started the walk, thumbs out, and eventually an Irish guy with a truck picked us up and ferried us the last half mile to the cafe.

And boy, the Paradise Valley Cafe is aptly named. Eryn and I both ordered burgers called the "Mother Lode" and devoured every last bite. I'm pretty sure it was at least 3/4 lb. of solid burger, with bacon, ranch, guac, and cheese. The waitresses were definitely impressed with our hiker hunger.

A lot of the other hikers planned to stay at the cafe, since the owner lets us camp out back or sleep on the patio. He even left the bathroom unlocked for us to use!

But Tiffany, the trail angel I planned to stay with, said she could still pick me up at the cafe later, although it sounded like she had been having a crazy week.

Carson and Steph came along too, since Carson had hurt his hand on trail and was hoping to get an x-ray on it the next day.

We piled our things in Tiffany's car, and she apologized for the mess. On the way to her house, she let us know she had been feeling off because she recently went through a terrible breakup.

She had waffled a bit on whether she wanted to host us, but decided to help anyways.

We shared a bit about ourselves and we learned that she's a realtor who has lived in Idyllwild for 20 years. She's also a hiker, so she really has a heart to help us out, knowing what it's like to be in our place.

She was super open with us about how she was struggling with things, and we did our best to encourage her and thank her for her kindness amidst a rough time in her life.

We pulled up to her lovely house, and she showed us around, introduced us to her cats, and showed us where we could stay. I got a room with a day bed to myself, and Steph and Carson slept on the couches in the living room.

Tiffany also ran a load of laundry for us, and we each got to shower. So nice to feel fresh and clean and to sleep in a real bed!

It's incredible to experience an act of kindness from a random stranger - it's undeserved grace, and it is a reminder to me that all of us are made in the image of God, even amidst our brokenness. We know that we're meant to live for something bigger than us.

Day 14 // 0.0 miles

PCT mile 151.8

I woke up to the sun streaming through the windows at Tiffany's house after a great night of sleep. Steph knocked on my door and let me know that Tiffany was going to town for breakfast a bit later. I made my way to the kitchen and had some coffee. Man, I forgot how much I love a strong hot cup of coffee in the morning.

We divided up our laundry and got ready to go to town. I was hoping to meet up with Juliana later, who was also taking a zero day.

Tiffany had a rough night, between insomnia and texts from her inebriated ex. It sounded like this guy had really made her doubt her worth, but over breakfast at The Red Kettle, Carson, Steph, and I had the chance to just listen and help her realize some of the lies she was believing about herself that weren't true. We also had some really interesting spiritual conversations too, as all of us have different beliefs.

But it was honestly pretty cool to see Tiffany's mood lift and how we were able to help each other in our own way.

After breakfast, I gave her a hug and said goodbye, then headed to the outfitter to ask about local trail conditions on the mountain. It sounded like everything was passable with microspikes, and since I had mine sent to Warner Springs, I felt good about continuing on, although I was hopeful that I could find some friends to hike the next stretch with.

I did have an ice axe sent from REI to Idyllwild, so I stopped by the post office to forward it to Wrightwood in case I need it on Mt. Baden Powell.

Idyllwild is such a sweet place. I could walk to pretty much everything needed, and nestled in the mountain pines, it's a perfect little retreat spot. As it is an unincorporated town, the mayor is a golden retriever, Mayor Max! I got to meet the "deputy mayors" yesterday at the cafe, since Mayor Max was resting.

I made my way to the grocery store, and after realizing that I had all the food I needed for the next stretch, I just bought some new water bottles and lunch for today. I also bumped into Martine and met Kristina from Innsbruck, Austria by the library. We talked over our strategy for the next stretch. It seems like so many people are doing it differently since there are so many side trails in this area.

I spent some time in the library using the wifi, then got my stuff together to head back to the cafe and camp.

I got a hitch with a sweet woman named Lorraine. She was curious about me hiking the trail alone, but she was a huge sweetheart. Somehow in the 15 minute ride there, we talked about why I'm hiking, her life and her kids, seeing challenges of life as opportunities to grow, and we laughed about making a long distance hiking trail connecting the Hawaiian islands underwater like an aquarium.

Being a hiker vagabond on this journey has given me this special gift - I get to interrupt people's normal lives and make them think outside of the norm for a bit. I love it.

I got to the cafe and hung out with Brian, David, Tony, Tonks, and her dad BandAid.

I ordered some dinner, and then as the sky darkened and I got sleepier, I found a spot on the far side of the patio to sleep.

There's a rowdy card game going on still at 10pm, so here I am journalling on my phone as the cars past and crickets chirp at the weirdest camp spot of the trail yet.

Day 15 // 10.9 PCT miles (+ 1 mile road walk and 1 mile side trail)

PCT mile 162.7

I woke up this morning at the cafe around 5am to use the restroom and charge my phone, then I snuggled back into my sleeping bag until around 7am since I knew the cafe didn't open until 8. I hadn't gotten the greatest sleep, with all the noise and also the bright streetlight above me, but I was sure excited for some coffee and their famous breakfast burritos.

If you ever want a breakfast burrito the size of your face, just stop in to the Paradise Valley Cafe on Highway 74. It was massive! I also ordered a muffin, but I couldn't finish all the food.

I had gotten a text from Alli that she was just a bit ahead of me, so I wanted to get to the trail soon so we could meet up later today and hike some of the trail near Mt. San Jacinto together.

I started the mile long road walk to get to the PCT, attempting to hitch, but eventually giving up and just walking.

I was back on the trail and feeling refreshed from my time in Idyllwild. I was also pumped to get to Mt. San Jacinto and to see what this next stretch of trail would look like.

I climbed over 2000 feet of elevation today, and it was incredible to see the desert terrain slowly turn into rocky alpine mountain terrain. I love pine trees and cedars, and so my heart was happy to see the tall pines begin to appear.

also listened to the upper room discourse in John on my phone. So good. The phrase that stuck out to me was, "As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you!'

I knew I was only going 10 miles or so today, so I let myself take some longer breaks to enjoy it and soak it in. I'm also trying to remember to eat enough snacks - my hiker hunger hasn't quite kicked in yet, so I still have to remind myself to eat sometimes so I don't run out of energy.

It's easier though when the snack is a Caramel Milky Way ;)

Along the way, I hiked a few miles with an older guy named Tim who was just out for a weekend trip, although he was headed somewhere else to camp.

I continued on, the climb burning my calves and my lungs. Eventually, I reached the ridgeline and an incredible view.

I texted Alli to see where she wanted to camp. We both decided to take the side trail to Cedar Springs, since it offered both water and wind protection for our tents.

And I eventually found her resting about a mile from the junction. It was so good to see her! We caught up a bit and talked about our plans. Alli hadn't yet gone into Idyllwild, so she is going to take a side trail down at Saddle Junction, while I have enough food to get me to I-10 and get an Uber to Cabazon.

We took the side trail to Cedar Springs, a steep descent of 300 feet in a mile. We knew it was the right choice, but it still kinda sucks knowing you'll have to climb back up in the morning.

But the campsite was beautiful, the water was flowing crisp and clear from the spring, and we saw some people we knew already camped out.

This area around Idyllwild was burned in a fire a few years ago, so this section had a lot of dead trees. We looked for spots without dead branches and trees and found some slanted but decent spots.

I cooked dinner with Alex and Andrea, one of the Swiss couples. It was sweet to see them! The wind was gusting, even below the ridge. We could hear it above us and we're thankful that the trees protected our tents. But it was cold, so we all snuggled in our tents for the night.

Day 16 // 12.7 PCT miles (+ 1 mile side trail from Cedar Springs)

PCT mile

I awoke to my alarm and the sound of a gusty wind outside my tent. I didn't want to get up, but Alli and I had planned to leave at 6:30 and I didn't want to hold us up. I was still moving slowly as I got ready, but hearing her up and about motivated me to get going.

We packed up and then filtered our water, checking the Guthook's PCT app for details on the next water source.

Finally, we headed up the side trail to get back to the PCT. After just a short amount of huffing and puffing up the trail, we were ready to shed our down puffy jackets.

So began our Easter Sunday, full of beautiful views and tough climbs upward. It was nice having Alli to help me keep pace.

The climbs were kicking my butt, but we just paused to rest whenever we needed to and enjoyed the majestic views.

There were a lot of fallen logs on the trail, and at one point, we climbed over one, not realizing that the trail didn't go past the log, it made a switchback there.

We kept following this sketchy trail, and eventually realized we were not on the PCT. We bushwacked our way back to the trail from the steep side of the mountain.

We continued to climb, feeling pretty worn out, until finally the trail leveled out and we got to the Apache Peak section where we had hear there was snow. A lot of it was melted, but there was still a section with a steep dropoff, so the microspikes went on. We made it safely through this patch and a few other snow sections without much trouble.

Eventually, when we hit an area with service, we called our families and I got to FaceTime with mine as they ate their Easter lunch! So fun!

The trail continued to climb as we neared the spot where we hoped to camp. So tough, but so worth it!

We reached the spot and it was absolutely breathtaking!

And even better, there was no wind and we also had company! We got our tents up quickly and cooked dinner with the others there - Kool-Aid and an awesome couple, Three Bean and Foxtail. They are from Seattle and are super friendly.

I made my delicious Easter meal of Thai Curry, and while waiting for it to cook, I decided to have some hot chocolate as well. Such a treat!

A few more people joined us, including Alex and Andrea (the Swiss couple), David, Zohan (E.T.), and Songbird. We enjoyed the sunset lighting up the mountains, then called it a day.

Even though this was physically perhaps the toughest day, the good company and beautiful views made it one of my favorites so far.

Day 17 // 11.9 miles

PCT mile 187.3

Today was definitely an adventure! After getting up with the sun, Alli and I packed up and headed out. We made it maybe a half mile before hitting more snow. Getting our microspikes on, we followed the established trail of footprints until we reached the next water source, where we had breakfast.

After a while, we found a good slope to practice self-arrest techniques with Alli's ice axe. We figured it would boost our confidence for the Sierra, and it did. Basically, a self-arrest is when you jam the pick of your ice axe into the snow to stop your fall if you slip on a steep, icy section of the mountain. It's not something you want to have to do, but it's better to be prepared and know how if needed.

We bumped into Songbird and Zohan, and ended up hiking with them for a while. In a few places though, it was hard to spot where the footprints were headed and if we were on the right track. We pulled out our navigation apps to check, and each time we eventually found the trail.

It was definitely exhausting though to cut up the side of some steep hills and climb snow straight uphill when you realize you're off the trail.

Eventually, the snow disappeared and we enjoyed the smooth sailing on normal trail. Alli found the side trail leading to Idyllwild at Saddle Junction, and after saying goodbye, I continued on for a while with Zohan and Songbird. I also saw Goldfish, a guy I had met at Mike's Place. We went on through the next snow patch together, but after it cleared, I slowed down with some pain in my right ankle.

I sat by the next water source and had lunch with a couple from Texas, Storytime (Mary Kay) and Mr. X (Brad). Storytime launched directly into a tale about a trail angel who had helped them. It was so cute! She really did have a story for everything!

After they packed up, I sat a while longer and Three Bean and Foxtail found me! I was a bit relieved when they asked if I wanted to hike the next section through the snow together (Fuller Ridge) because I didn't want to tackle it alone.

They were hiking slower too, which was perfect for my sore ankle. We made it through the downhill section pretty easily, but the snow started up again as we climbed. It also started to hail/snow on us! We pulled out the rain gear and kept going. Thankfully it didn't last that long.

As the day went on, we realized we probably should camp below the ridge and do it the next morning. The snow was a slushy mess, and in the morning, we knew conditions would be better after it could refreeze.

So we found a little flat spot down below the trail and started to set up. Unfortunately, it started to hail again! My tent was getting covered in tiny snowballs, but thankfully we were able to shake most of them off.

Cold and wet, we changed into dry clothes in our tents and snuggled into our sleeping bags while cooking dinner. I made a hiker food discovery too - ChickFilA sauce tastes pretty great on ranch flavored tuna. I also had some Knorr Alfredo for dinner too!

Thank you everyone for all your kind words and prayers! They mean so much to me!

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