We didn’t get rained on in the night, but we all complained about having nightmares and hearing weird screeching birds all night. We were eager to get out of the creepy campsite and on our way.
The rest of the day would be straight road walking with a reprieve back at the Paradise Valley Café. The first few miles were quiet and uneventful, walking along long, flat stretches of highway next to fields and the occasional roadside pine tree. Sometimes the fence posts had signs on them that said “Danger: Lasers” with no other context. We wondered if it was some military thing, or aliens, or rave parties.
A few miles in I realized I’d forgotten to brush my teeth, so I dropped my pack next to a tree on the side of the highway and stood on the shoulder, brushing away and watching cars go by. We all decided It was a good time and place to sit for breakfast. It felt weird to be off trail, but still doing trail things.
We passed many beautiful ranches over the following miles, and many homes surrounded by wire fences where dogs yapped and barked at us as we passed by. A woman pulled over and offered us a ride.
“We want to walk,” I told her, “but thanks so much for offering.”
At the Café we were surprised to find it almost devoid of hikers. When we were there the first time it was packed. It was Kickoff time, though, so lots of hikers were probably hitching back to Lake Morena to celebrate the official start of the north-bound PCT hiker season.
We ordered more food than we could eat, plus milkshakes. Squatchie and Rally left first as the sky began to darken with ominous storm clouds. I watched Rally put on a ridiculous oversized purple poncho that covered her and her pack. I couldn’t stop laughing as I watched her billowing in the wind.
“You look like a blueberry!” I laughed, “Like that girl in Willy Wonka.”
Justa and I left ten minutes later to cover the last mile to the trailhead. Halfway there a car passed from the opposite direction, honking at us – a hand waving from the back window. Rally and Squatchie.
Once we reached the trailhead we set our packs down and stuck out our thumbs.
“I feel really good about covering those miles,” I told Justa. Maybe it was cognitive dissonance, justifying the time and effort we spend walking in the wrong direction, but I felt like we made an extra effort that most hikers couldn’t be bothered with.
Many cars passed as we waited in the hot sun on the shoulder of the highway. I did stretches while we waited for a hitch.
“Maybe I should do a little dance,” I said, “or, like, stand on one leg with my thumb out. Maybe people will be impressed enough to offer a ride.”
“Maybe I should look more dorky,” Justa said, pulling on her neon green raincoat.
After twenty minutes a couple pulled over in their hatchback. “We hope you like dogs,” they said. In the back was a one-eyed chocolate lab that a squeezed in next to. Just as we were about to leave a hiker called out from the trailhead. Our driver said we were full, but the hiker pressed, and we ended up squeezing three of us, plus his backpack and huge wooden hiking poles and the large dog balancing on our laps.
I couldn’t help but scowl as we dropped the hiker off at the Café. I felt so undeserving and grateful for the rides and favours I’ve received just for being a PCT hiker. That anyone would feel entitled to a ride even after the driver said there was no more room really irked me.
The rest of the ride was great, though. Our driver and his wife lived in Idyllwild; he worked at the Idyllwild Inn which was the PCT hiker go-to for lodging. It had been full since we arrived two days ago.
Back in town we found a room at the Mile High Inn where Mary, the incredibly sweet 80 year old proprietor, gave us a huge discount on a room since the maid hadn’t been able to clean it that day. Squatchie, Rally, Justa, Honeybear and I all loaded our gear into the room and I chose a spot on the floor to lay out my sleeping bag.
A few of us went out afterward for dollar tacos with two German hikers, Treeman and Hedgehog, who quickly became my favorite trail couple (aside from Bucket and Fancypants, also spectacular, who we’d had dinner with a couple nights before). By the time we left the restaurant it was raining and a chill had begun to settle in me. I hoped that the morning would come with better weather for our 4500 foot climb up the mountain.