Day 8: Barrel Springs (101) to some super exposed ridge somewhere (122)
Day 9: Exposed ridge (122) to Mike’s Place (127)
Day 10: Mike’s Place (127) to Paradise Valley Cafe (152)
Highlights: Longest day so far, and feeling pretty good physically; Stopped by three PCT institutions.
Lowlights: Why is the desert sooo cold and windy?? Also, thinking I was going to get mauled by a mountain lion (spoiler: I didn’t).
Barrel Springs to Warner Springs
Got a pretty late start on Day 8, and was off hiking at around 9. Very easy hiking, with mild weather and gentle rolling grassland, with a shady stream mixed in.
Within a few miles, I came across Eagle Rock, which, surprisingly, looks almost exactly like an eagle.
It’s about 9 miles from Barrel Springd to Warner Springs, a small community in northern San Diego County with a very hiker-friendly community center. They let us do laundry in the sinks and take bucket showers out back, which was very much appreciated. They also had spare clothes to wear while ours were drying, so we all looked real fly too.
There’s also a restaurant in town, and most people decided to camp at the community center for the night, while I charged out for another 12 miles at around 4 pm, so that’s the last I’ve seen this far of Jordan and Chelsea, and the twins from New Mexico. We’ll likely cross paths again soon though, possibly in Idyllwild.
My decision to leave seemed like a terrible one about 5 hours later, and a brilliant one 24 hours later.
Warner Springs to Mike’s Place
I left Warner Springs around 4 pm, with the ambition of going another 12 miles. I wanted to make it to Idyllwild (Mile 182ish) by Saturday afternoon before the post office closed, so this meant doing 4 consecutive 20+ mile days. With a planned stop to cook some food, I knew this would mean hiking after dark, but the moon was nearly full, so it seemed sensible.
The trail rose up through some pretty lush canyons up into some hills/mountains (name unknown) about 2,000 feet above Warner Springs.
At some point once I got up in the mountains and the moon was up, the weather suddenly shifted and became windy and cloudy. And by “cloudy”, I mean that I was in a cloud, so I could only see about 5 meters in any direction, and I was on fairly exposed slopes (at least it felt that way at night, though there were waist high bushes most of the way. This in itself wasn’t a huge issue because I could still see the trail and I literally had shelter on my back if I needed to hunker down in a pinch. Knowing this, I kept walking, seeing no clear deterrent to hitting my mileage target, but I was in a very unsettled and jumpy mindframe. That’s when it occurred to me that mountain lions could live in these mountains, so I spent the next hour or two looking over my shoulder and jumping at any sound around me (mostly birds rustling in trees, I think). I was so relieved to finally arrive at a suitable tent site, and one that was pretty well protected from the elements.
I awoke the next morning planning to do another 20+ day, with a stop at Mike’s Place for breakfast. I walked about five miles along the north side of this unnamed range, through damp, windy whether, until I finally arrived at Mike’s Place.
Mike’s Place is apparently an institution of the PCT, and the weirdest of them, as far as I can tell. Some dude Mike (presumably) owns this property in this unnamed mountain range, which has a house, a garage, a trailer, and more junk in the garage and yard than you can imagine. Members of the Christian family will understand when I refer to the other houses in Camptonville. It’s also a common stop for hikers, who are allowed to stay, collect water, and consume Mike’s food, beer, sodas, and herbal products in exchange for donations which procure the consumables for the next set of hikers. So it’s 50% white trash country home, and 50% hiker stop.
Mike doesn’t live there, but he has a caretaker named Scott who is a bit of an oddball. I had heard that Scott sometimes makes pancakes in the mornings, so I arrived after a 5 mile hike hoping for a nice warm breakfast in the dreary weather.
As I arrived, the weather got more cold, wet, and windy, and there was no one there except a few other hikers out on the covered patio. I guess Scott had gone out to buy a new water filter or something. Then it started to get really cold, and we were locked out of the house, so four of us huddled up on the couch on the patio under a sleeping bag to wait out the weather. Eventually Scott returned and let us into the house by the fire, and then moved us into the garage with a space heater.
The rain and wind intensified (felt like 60 mph or 100 kph), to the point where hiking would be not just unpleasant but unsafe due to the risk of getting blown off the mountain. Our small group around the space heater grew to about a dozen, as the hikers who had stayed at Warner Springs the night prior started to arrive. And that’s when I came to not regret leaving Warner Springs earlier – the weather didn’t become awful until I had shelter, while others arrived with completely drenched clothes and gear.
The winds never did let up, so I stayed the night on the garage floor with several other hikers.
Mike’s Place to Paradise Valley Cafe
While it was frustrating to only hike five miles on Day 9, I’m pretty sure it was the right decision safety-wise to wait out the high winds. In order to stay close to the schedule I’d made myself, I set my targets for Day 10 on Paradise Valley Cafe, a diner 25 miles ahead on the trail. I was a bit worried about how much food I was carrying, so making it to a diner for dinner and then breakfast seemed like a good idea.
I was hiking by about 6:40, my earliest start yet. I was feeling a bit down to start the morning, since I was mad at myself for having such a short day the previous day, but once I started really getting going, I quickly switched into my competitive runner’s mindframe, and I was happy again.
The morning involved descending out of the mountains, and I was almost running the downhills. Aside for a brief stop to collect more water, I basically walked nonstop for about 6 hours and 16 miles before I took a lunch break.
I stopped and hung out for a bit over an hour with a couple other hikers who were also going from Mike’s Place to Paradise Valley Cafe, including an Irish dude named Barry who went two miles in the wrong direction coming out of Mike’s Place, which must of been infuriating.
Also randomly walking the other direction was Mac, the creator of Halfway Anywhere, one of the staple blogs of the hiking community. I knew he was hiking this year, but didn’t expect to see him going southbound at this point (he’s got a funky itinerary, where he’s doing about 70 miles southbound where I am now, then his dad is driving him to the border where he’s going northbound, but skipping the 70 miles he’s already done). Anyway, it was fun and random to meet him in person and talk about plans etc.
9 miles later, plus a 1 mile side trail, we arrived at Paradise Valley Cafe, a classic roadside diner, having walked a full marathon (25 trail miles, plus 1 mile side hike to the cafe, plus at least 0.2 miles from Mike’s to the trail). Everybody had massive burgers, beers and shakes, and Barry was loving how much it exactly like in the movies, complete with waitresses calling you “hon”, signed pictures of celebrities who had apparently stopped by (Bruce Springsteen was the only one I’d heard of), country music, American flags, and Vietnam veterans the exact nature of whose service was detailed on the baseball hats they all wore.
It being cold and windy again, the owner let hikers sleep on the floor of the cafe, so I’m currently on a bench outside the bathroom typing this up.
I’ve got another big day ahead, I think. I want to get close to Idyllwild today so that I can take most of a day off on Sunday, and also because it’s supposed to rain on Sunday and I’d like to avoid that. However, the campsites in the 20 mile vicinity are pretty exposed and pretty high up, and it’s supposed to be cold and windy again tonight, so I may have to do another 25 mile day to make it to a more sheltered valley. First, though, is breakfast in this diner.