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Days 18-24 // mountain beauty

Day 18 // 15 miles

PCT Mile 202.7

I woke up to the sound of Three Bean and Foxtail getting ready in their tents, the cold wind blowing around us. I was so cozy in my quilt and didn't want to move, but I knew we had a big day of beautiful views ahead.

Foxtail offered to make me some coffee - she is so sweet!

We got ready to tackle Fuller ridge, an infamous snowy/sketchy section of the trail. I put on my microspikes and started down the trail, making sure each step was secure.

The snow was still hard since we had gotten up early, so it wasn't terribly bad. The earlier in the morning you can knock out section of snow, the better, since it starts to melt as the day goes on.

Foxtail wanted some quiet time to herself, so I went ahead with Three Bean. We had a really cool conversation about God and spirituality, and I got to hear about his story of sobriety and how AA really helped him turn his life around. I got to share about how God has done that for me.

Eventually, Foxtail caught up to us and we tackled the next section together. The snow was really starting to melt, and we were postholing more (when you take a step and your leg sinks way down into the snow). This made it really slow going.

The beautiful views took my breath away - we were able to see Mt. San Gorgonio from the ridge, along with the whole desert valley below.

Finally, we made it through the last of the snow. We stopped to filter water, and then I decided to go on ahead since my normal pace is a little quicker than Foxtail and 3 Bean.

From San Jacinto, I had a solid 9000 feet of elevation to descend. Miles of downhill can be pretty tough on the body, and with my feet still a bit wet from the snow, I started to feel something I hadn't yet - blister hotspots. As soon as I realized what was happening, I sat down and applied leukotape to all the spots that I thought might be forming blisters.

It definitely helped, but I was worried - blisters can force you off the trail for a few days if they're bad :/

The trail had quickly started to turn back into the desert terrain. That's something that's been crazy and cool about the PCT - it seems like almost every day I encounter something different when it comes to plants, terrain, and animals. And it changes so fast!

I listened to music for a bit, and thankfully I only had one headphone in (as recommended) because I was able to hear a loud rattlesnake warning me from the center of the trail. Great. Definitely back in the desert.

This time though, I was sort of just annoyed rather than scared, and basically just told the rattlesnake to get off the trail, haha. It moved off pretty quickly, but kept rattling at me as I went around the spot.

I was on a mission though - a mission to get to mile 200! And just a bit further down, there it was!

It still doesn't feel real that I have walked this far, but I am pretty dang proud of myself.

Pushing on a bit further, I decided I could make it two more miles to the next camp spot. I was tired and the sun was sinking in the sky, but I kept going.

There was another tent in the spot when I got there, but I saw a relatively flat spot where I could at least cowboy camp and decided to go for it. The wind was blowing like crazy though, so it took forever to get my stuff set up.

I just decided to eat a tuna packet, and then some peanut butter on a tortilla for dinner. I was so exhausted from the day and my body was hurting. The wind wouldn't let up, but now that I was close to the desert floor, it was too hot to burrow down in my quilt.

Eventually, I managed to fall into a fitful sleep.

Day 19 // 6.9 miles

PCT Mile 209.5

Today was the first day I woke up HOT. The sun was already up and cooking when I got up at 6:30 and started packing up. I wasn't feeling too great, but I knew that I was heading for town, which always means good food.

The trail crosses with I-10, a major highway connecting LA and Palm Springs, so I was hoping to get an Uber from the highway into the small town of Cabazon. But looking at campsites after the highway, I didn't see anything for 10 miles. Yikes. I didn't really have a plan but hoped I could figure something out.

Thankfully, 3 Bean and Foxtail came along as I was eating breakfast, and they invited me to share their Airbnb in Banning since it had an extra futon. What a relief! Super thankful for them. The town was a bit further down the highway from Cabazon, but I knew it also had more resupply options.

I started my morning hike, trying to give thanks for the beautiful sights despite the heat. The umbrella again came in handy to help keep me cool.

Soon I reached a paved road and a water fountain on the trail where I saw several hikers I had been keeping pace with. Chris and Bex, a couple from Cali who sold all their stuff before starting the trail, and another couple from Philly, Sarah and Jess, were there resting. There was also a truck with some PCTA volunteers getting ready to do trail maintenance! They had some extra muffins and offered them to us.

I had my "second breakfast" for the day and kept moving, hoping to catch 3 Bean and Foxtail. The paved road was actually the trail, and it wound downhill and then finally flattened into a sandy section that actually took some extra effort to hike through. I felt like I was truly in the desert, surrounded by sand and shrubs, the sun beating down.

The windmills on the horizon should have set my expectations for the crazy amount of wind I was about to experience, but I was unprepared for just how hard it would be to walk across an open expanse of deep sand in a gusting headwind. I could see the underpass, but it was taking so long to get there! Every part of me felt dry and windblown until I finally reached the haven of the underpass.

I saw a guy sitting there, his car backed up to the spot. Trail magic!

Andy is a photographer from San Diego who is taking photos of PCT thru hikers (@pct_people_project). He had my favorite flavor of LaCroix (Passion fruit) and bananas! We talked for a while, and then he took photos of me and some other hikers.

I texted Ben and Kara and let them know I'd be a bit behind them, but I was able to get a ride from another local trail angel named Mama Bear! She was right by the underpass too and was willing to drop me at the Cabazon post office to mail my microspikes back. She was a sweetheart and she also gave me an awesome PCT buff. She wouldn't accept donations, but asked that we donate to Hike for Mental Health in honor of her late husband.

I got to the post office and it was still closed for lunch, but I made my way to the convenience store across the street to meet 3 Bean and Foxtail. It was a Mexican grocery too, so I ordered a yummy carne asada burrito and went to town. We were able to take care of things at the post office afterward, and then got a Lyft to our little Airbnb.

After showering and doing bucket laundry, we got another Lyft to a pizza place near a grocery store. We devoured our food, talked about how weird it was to be back in town, and then headed over to get some shopping done.

Resupplying was kind of overstimulating - I walked into the store with no plan and just tried to get things as quickly as possible. It took Kara and Ben a bit longer since they are vegan and shopping for both of them, so I legit just sat it one of the scooter carts and worked on the blog ;) Definitely a hikertrash moment, as I was wearing my awesome pink asian laundry pants.

We were able to get a Lyft back to our Airbnb, and I don't think I've ever gotten such a good night's sleep on a futon before!

Day 20 // 3.9 miles

PCT Mile 213.4

I decided to do a shorter day out of town today with the potential blisters forming on my feet, so after taking the morning at the Airbnb to pack up, we caught a Lyft into Cabazon.

That morning, 3 Bean noticed that one of his shoes had gone missing from the front porch! We were in a neighborhood with lots of dogs, so we were pretty sure that a local dog ran off with it! So they went to the Asics outlet while I headed to In N' Out Burger for lunch. YUM.

After ordering my double double and animal-style fries, I saw Tony, Tom (Polka Dot) and Versace, some hikers I knew.

We enjoyed the AC for a while and devoured our food. I went back for a strawberry shake too!

Around 3pm, we headed back to the trail. Thankfully there was a Lyft driver nearby, so we went for it and got dropped off by the underpass.

The sun was hot as ever, but we began making our way toward the Mesa Wind Farm, where we heard there was shade, water, and camp spots just 4 miles in.

It was a bit of a slog on the sandy trail, but soon, I was sitting under a shaded Cabana style area with Tony, 3 Bean, Foxtail, Zohar, Songbird, and a nice couple from South Africa, enjoying the water and conversation. The wind farm office was closed, but they had left the cooler out for us. So nice!

Eventually, I got my spot set up, and got ready for bed. It was super nice to just do a short day. I fell asleep to the sound of the windmills and a distant coyote howling.

Day 21 // 14.9 miles

PCT Mile 228.3

I got up semi-early today and was able to get hiking by 6:15.

The night had been breezy but warm, so it wasn't quite as hard to get out of bed. I had a spoonful of

Nutella and some Belvita Breakfast biscuits for breakfast and got moving.

The day started with a climb up from the wind farm that took me into the San Gorgonio Wilderness. I sat and talked with Tony for a while to rest, then kept pushing on. Once I got to the top, I descended down the other side and was really thankful to have some shade from the canyon.

After around 7 very dry miles, I reached the Whitewater river, a beautiful, cold stream crossing. People were hanging out sunning themselves, getting water, and doing laundry. After crossing, I sat soaked my feet and eventually dipped my shirt in the cold water to wear.

It's amazing how much of a relief it is to me to get to water after a dry stretch. It's something I take for granted every day at home. I get to voluntarily choose to live like this in order to see the beauty of the backcountry, but it's humbling to think that so many people have no choice but to walk long miles for water.

I didn't want to leave the oasis, but I decided to get myself to the next water source and take a proper siesta.

In the heat of the day, it was hard hiking. I took some breaks though and made sure to eat my snacks. Again, I was so thankful for my shady umbrella.

I made it to the ridge, and even in the heat, I loved the incredible view of both San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. I listened to some tunes - "Adeline" by Alt-J is so much more majestic when you're alone, surrounded by mountains on all sides.

The trail started down towards Mission Creek, and my body protested. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

But when I reached it, I found a beautiful shady spot with at least 10 other hikers resting. I ate a totilla with cheese and salami and enjoyed the break for around two hours. So great!

The next stretch of trail followed Mission Creek, so water wasn't an issue, but the flooding from this February had washed our much of the trail. The next few miles to camp was me trying to find the trail, accidentally getting my feet wet crossing the stream, finding trail, losing it, repeat. Definitely an adventure! But eventually, KoolAid and I found a super flat sandy spot by the river and decided to just camp there.

I got creative for dinner and made a Knorr Mexican Rice side and turned it into a burrito. Yum!

Day 22 // 18.0 miles

PCT mile 246.3

Today was like an epic challenge day: I hiked the furthest I've ever gone in a day, I spent the morning finding a washed out trail near Mission Creek, I climbed 5000 feet of elevation, and I loaded up my pack with 5 liters of water for the longest water carry yet.

Whew! I'm tired just reading that, but I really did it.

The early part of the day was pretty tough. It was slow going scrambling over rocks and trying to figure out where the trail was/where I should cross the creek, but thankfully, Tim and Jess from South Africa were in front of me for most of that. I was able to see where they were going, and they were really good at spotting the trail.

Once I made it past most of the trail washout, I started a pretty intense uphill section. I tried to take lots of little breaks to boost my morale. I stopped for a bit under a shady oak by a stream, then continued on.

A lot of this forest had been burned, so it wasn't really the best for views. I also had several fallen trees to scramble over or go around.

I made it to the last spot where Mission Creek crosses the trail. I took a siesta and ate lunch, then filtered water. Ahead of me was a 17 mile dry stretch, so I filled up with 5 liters, since I knew I needed water to cook dinner. Usually, I plan to use one liter for every 5 miles, and an extra for camp and cooking.

5 liters of water is extremely heavy, at 2.2.lbs per liter. I struggled to get my pack on as Koolaid came down the trail. I said hi, then started up the hill, depressed by how heavy my pack was. I sat down in the middle of the trail to rest and accept how sucky the situation was.

But I got back up and found a way to press on. I was beating myself up a bit over how slow I was going. Making my goal for the day felt impossible. "How do people hike 20+ miles a day? How will I ever do that many miles?"

But I realized the negative thought spiral and started thinking about how far I'd come. I remembered that the elevation gain, the river fording, and that every day, I'm getting physically and mentally stronger.

After another mile, I noticed that I was starting to make it out of the burn area, and there were some beautiful pine trees appearing. It gradually got more and more beautiful as I ascended, and also less hot!

I was shooting for the Coon Creek Cabin, and I was pretty sure I could make it. I knew I'd have to do a little night hiking, but the nice temps convinced me it was a good idea. I kept going up, seeing the mountain vistas lit up by the evening sun.

And soon, as sunset came, they were painted with pink and orange. I crested the hill, and I almost cried at the beauty. San Jacinto and San Gorgonio were on the horizon with an incredible sunset.

The beautiful scenery helped me feel like all the pain I endured today was worth it.

I continued on into the darkening evening until I had to get out my headlamp. I made it nearly to the cabin, then saw a flat spot just before where I could camp. Since I didn't want to wake anyone up at the next camp, I just settled in.

It's funny, earlier today I was feeling like a failure about the day. But then I hiked the furthest I've gone yet and felt at home up in the alpine terrain. The evening comeback totally redeemed the rough start.

Day 23 // 13.1 Miles

PCT Mile 259.4

The sunrise today was absolutely breathtaking. I was still feeling super happy about yesterday's miles and the incredible section of trail I had just hiked, and I knew I had the biggest uphill section behind me.

I took my time getting ready, read some scripture, and listened to a few songs to treat myself this morning.

After I got started, I quickly saw Coon Creek Cabin on my right and wanted to check it out. There were restrooms, but they were still locked :/ The cabins were interesting but creepy! One of them had a hole right through the roof. Songbird was packing up her stuff, and I said hi then continued on.

After some nice, realtively flat trail through the pines, I came upon something interesting - what used to be a "private zoo", according to the Guthook's app. Now it was a bunch of empty cages. Weird!

The PCT started following a dirt road, and somewhere, I missed the turnoff and ended up going way downhill. I had to backtrack uphill again, which made me kinda grumpy.

I stopped for lunch at the Arrastre Trail Camp, finally reaching water after 17 miles. I enjoyed eating at the picnic tables with Janine, a girl I had just met from Switzerland, and Songbird.

I stayed a bit longer than them, resting my feet. I met a few day hikers - one gave me her phone number and offered a ride to Big Bear the next day. She mentioned it was supposed to rain tomorrow afternoon, but I was sure I'd be in town by then.

When I started hiking again, I was feeling sort of lethargic after only a few miles. The others were planning to camp near the highway, but I decided to make it a shorter 13 mile day and just make camp early. The sun was still high in the sky though, and I was pretty hot - possibly dehydrated. I laid down in my tent and napped until it cooled off, and made some ramen for dinner.

Eventually, I nodded off to the gusts of wind against my tent and the pitter patter of raindrops.

Day 24 // 6.9 miles

PCT mile 266.1

I woke to the sun and a splitting headache - not a great way to start the day. I gulped some water down and took a migraine pill, and then decided to get more sleep to make sure it wouldn't turn into a debilitating one. After all, I was only 6.9 miles from the road to town, so I could afford to sleep in, right?

Thankfully, the sleep and meds worked, and I was feeling better by 9:30. Unfortunately though, as I started packing up, it began to rain down little slushy snowballs. I scrambled to keep things semi-dry, and hit the trail.

My hands and legs were freezing - I didn't pack my waterproof gloves for this section, and my wind pants were quickly soaked and sticking to my legs. But the hiking kept my core warm, and I put on my sun gloves to have some kind of hand insulation.

The trail was beautiful even in the windy, misty weather. The green brush seemed even more vibrant than ever. Eventually, the precipitation stopped, and I began to warm up even more. My wind pants quickly dried, and I had to shed my furnace of a raincoat.

I passed a few groups of hikers, stopped for a snack, then pressed on the last few miles. I saw some glimpses of blue sky amidst the billowing clouds, and I also saw a beautiful bright blue bird that seemed to lead me down the trail for a while.

Baldwin lake was a beautiful sight, and it meant I was close to the highway!

Just before I got there, a few others caught up to me too. I gave Simone, the nice day hiker from yesterday, a call, but unfortunately she had some errands in the town down the mountain and was over an hour away. I decided to see if I could get a ride with the other hikers.

As we approached the trailhead, we saw boxes of treats and some water! There was also a guy parked there who was asking if we needed a place to stay and offered up his Airbnb for $60. Not a bad marketing move. We all had plans, but he said he could give us a ride into town if needed. We squished into Wes' car and he dropped me off at the hostel.

I had made my reservation online, and when I knocked on the door to the office, a guy in a beanie and greying facial hair opened the door, and I told him I had a reservation.

"Are you Stephanie?" He asked with a smile.

"Yes I am!"

He welcomed me in and I introduced himself as Sarge. Sarge and his wife told me how good it was to see a hiker come in smiling. Apparently they'd had some grumps in the past few hours. I, on the other hand, was pumped for a bed and a shower.

After some words of encouragement, Sarge showed me around the place, went over some guidelines, and even had made an effort to put me in a female only room. So nice! As it happened, I was rooming with Janine :)

I organized my stuff a bit, and started my town errands, starting with a shower and laundry. But then my stomach reminded me I hadn't had lunch, so I stopped by the Teddy Bear Restaurant that Sarge recommended.

I had coffee, salad, chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes. I sat at the bar and talked to the friendly server about the trail. And he gave me a free mini apple pie on my way out. I'm still blown away by the generosity of random people I've met.

I walked back to the hostel and flipped my laundry, then saw 3 Bean and Foxtail in the hallway. Yay! I was really happy to see more friends, especially since I hadn't seen them for a few days.

I've kinda realized that the "trail family" thing doesn't always happen quickly - for some it does, but a lot of us out here are still trying to adjust to trail life and do what's best for our bodies. I'm going to keep being friendly with people I meet, and enjoy this mix of solitude and social time.

Also, I've officially finished 10 percent of the trail as of today!

- Calzone

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