Zero to 209 miles in 20 days…

by Holly Parsons
Contributor

Julia is a 17-year-old from Seattle, Washington hiking the PCT during
the summer prior to her senior year in high school. I was her driver on
several occasions in Idyllwild and found her thoughts refreshingly
unvarnished, colorful and succinct. She is by far the youngest PCT hiker
I’ve met, and agreed to provide her story hiking one of America’s most
awe-inspiring and challenging trails… I will be updating this column
regularly for the next few months. HP

What did your first steps on the PCT feel like?

“It was crazy. It was May 25th, and it didn’t feel real. I felt like a
tourist. I’ll be a real hiker when I get to Idyllwild, I told myself.
Throughout the first few days I was utterly mesmerized by the PCT signs
leading me on – it was so encouraging; the signs always appeared right
on cue!”

The PCT is an immersion into the natural world, what are your early
impressions?

“It was cool to see the landscape transition. The sparce community of
Campo gave way to inaccessibility. No roads, no cars, nobody. Hiking is
really hard. When I’m hiking, I’m thinking I can’t do this. My feet hurt
so bad, and the bugs are menacing. But when I take a break or set up my
pack at days end, the hike becomes surreal. The fact that I’m covering
miles seems unbelievable – almost immediately I’ve forgotten about the
pain, and how I got here. I get excited because the present moment fully
imposes itself. I feel unlimited energy.”

Did managing your evening set up get easier over time?

“Honestly, my set-up is easy. I’m sleeping in a bivy which I call my
coffin. It’s a mesh bag that offers bug protection. It’s the size of my
sleeping pad. I throw in my sleeping bag, pillow, food [to protect from
mice] and me. I leave my pack outside. Every other day I’ll heat water
and cook something. I have a lot of dehydrated meals, grits, mac &
cheese, Power Crunch Bars [the only protein bar I’m willing to eat]. I’m
into Starbucks lemon loafs now and recently bought 3. I’ve packed out
McDonalds and will often buy ready-made food from real restaurants and
almost real restaurants, like Starbucks.”

High desert crossing – what stood out?

“Julian was a blast, I loved it there! I thoroughly enjoyed my free
piece of pie from the Julian Pie Company while hanging out with my new
friend Kae. It was very busy, for such a small town somehow it seemed
full of activity. Then I realized I was seeing the same people over and
over. My waitress was at the post office, I saw someone that drove me at
the grocery store, everywhere I looked people looked familiar, it was a
crazy experience. However, I did feel like a real grown-up getting my
own hotel room for the first time!”

Little Bear Hostel & The Paradise Cafe

“A day’s hike north of Julian I stayed at the Little Bear Hostel. It’s
owned by a very generous couple with a few kids and one particularly
darling child; they open their home to PCT hikers. All the while,
trekking north, I felt the charge toward Idyllwild, excited for a true
hiker town experience.”

“But I knew this part of the trek wouldn’t be complete without
experiencing the Paradise Valley Café. It did not disappoint; the PVC
was great! I had biscuits and gravy with the people I met at Little Bear
Hostel – and it was here that I first began to socialize with the steady
stream of hungry hikers noshing on delicious meals.”

“I got a ride into Idyllwild with my lunch bunch. Steve was our driver
and he showed us around town highlighting everything we would possibly
need to know before dropping us at the Idyllwild Inn. Idyllwild was
magical. So cute – it was seriously like a fairy town in the woods. I
knew I’d feel like a real through hiker when I got to Idyllwild, and I
did. The people were amazing. My first night I shared a cabin with a
friend – and finally had a glorious bath.

“A San-Jacinto peak day-hike followed. San Jacinto Jon reports upwards
of 60 downed trees strewn across the trail after hurricane Hillary and
felt the need to get my bearings. What would crossing the mountain range
entail if I pick up at mile 151 on highway 74?

It was eleven hours up and back to Hummer that day. The next day I took
a zero. I had promised my parents I’d skip the Sierras to get home in
time to start my senior year. The San Jacinto section seemed daunting,
and I can’t afford an injury. Like some hikers I met, I decided to skirt
the issue.”

Do You have a trail name?

“My trail name has become Sunflower, but I’m not married to it – because
it refers primarily to my hat.”

Black Mountain to Cabazon

“The next day my trail mate Kae and I had a huge breakfast beginning
with Bavarian pretzels, whipped cream and a pack of Belgium Mini Cream
Puffs, topped off by a

milkshake at Atomic Cow. I was ready! Holly picked us up outside Atomic
Cow and dropped us at Black Mountain trailhead. During the drive she
outlined her plan to follow my progress for a series of articles, but
not without assuring herself I wasn’t a run-away and asking how my
parents felt about my summer excursion. I said, I didn’t think they
truly understand the massiveness. To that point my trail mate chimed, “I
don’t think any of us do.” She wished us a safe journey, suggested I
tell everyone on trail I’m being followed by the Idyllwild Town Crier
and said let’s talk in a week. Kae and I then headed up the rugged
nine-mile road. The desert would be daunting, I was grateful not to be
alone.”

An intense heat wave followed us down Black Mountain into the desert for
the two days it took to get to the White-Water trailhead. At White-Water
there were all these signs saying Mission Creek, our access route to Big
Bear, was closed and to be mindful of Red Algae when filtering water.”

Post-tropical-storm Hillary impacted Coachella Valley in August of 2023
causing massive desert flooding. The PCTA reports storm water decimated
Mission Creek, and much of the trail through the White-Water Preserve is
destroyed by landslides and newly created steep cliffs block the trail,
it’s virtually impassable. Both riverbeds are described as boulder and
debris fields. Hikers I follow who persevered on the trail describe all
the above plus treacherous hiking in knee high stagnant water lasting
about a mile due to blocked drainage.

After conferring with a Ranger for about 4 hours Julia and Kae hiked in
blazing heat, back 10 miles to I-10 and caught an Uber to Big Bear.
Julia is now heading to Wrightwood – we hope you’ll stay tuned!