April 3 (~07:00 – ~08:30)
Tentsite after Table Mountain Rd – Highway 74 (3.6 mi / Total: 151.8 mi)
Weather: Still fresh in the early morning. Warm during the day.
I set my alarm early so I can possibly catch Speedy before she heads off to Paradise Valley Cafe in the morning. I manage to set off at 7 but I realise I’m camped a little farther back than I’d thought. While I feel great physically, the remaining 3.6 miles to the highway are long, and it’s a bit more of a hike out than I’d anticipated.
When I leave it’s still quiet and I begin to ascend immediately, until I reach the backbone of the mountain. I camped in the dried up riverbed because I was worried about all the hikers aiming for the same campsites, but there are ample camp spots, and as usual I’d worried needlessly. I check the tentsites and pass several people getting ready for the day, but I can’t see Speedy’s tent anywhere. Of course, she’s already left.
It proves a scenic walk, and I’m amused by a new trail friend – there’s a tiny cute animal that keeps running away from me, and I want to get a closer look because I can’t figure out what it is – a small chipmunk perhaps, something with a white stripe and a fluffy tail that scurries along like a giant mouse. As the sun comes out from behind the mountains, I have views over a cliff that resembles a huge crater and I can see the snow-covered mountains I’ll soon be headed for. But for now, the trail turns into a straightforward sidle to the highway.
Just before I hit the highway I turn and follow the power lines to the café. It’s only 8:30, but there’s already a queue backpacks on the porch. When I open the door, I’m greeted by two tables of hikers, with one seat left for me. Perfect. I find out that some hikers camped just before the highway, and some cowboy camped (camping without a tent) on the porch of the café. I’m happy to hear I’m not the only one who had a difficult time yesterday, it seems that everyone struggled with the trail. I sit down, order coffee and breakfast and hear the latest news about the snow conditions in the San Jacinto mountains in the next section.
Speedy and I both planned to walk into the San Jacinto mountains for the next two days, then take a side trail into nearby Idyllwild to take a rest day, and then return to the mountains and continue to the next resupply town of Big Bear. But despite being in the desert, the San Jacinto mountains are currently covered in snow. A week ago it was reported that crampons and an ice axe were needed to tackle several of the sections, but due to the recent heat, snow is melting rapidly. Speedy and I hoped that by the time we got here, the two days before Idyllwild would be clear enough to do without any snow equipment. But this isn’t the case. Despite the melt, microspikes are required, and most of us don’t have any.
When we finish eating, we arrange a shuttle into Idyllwild so we can get snow equipment at the gear shop. We’re in a car with Black Water, a tall hiker from Ohio we’ve been seeing on trail, and we all head to the gear shop where we try on crampons and walk away with the same Kahtoola microspikes. The three of us walk around the idyllic town, small, outdoorsy, with lots of pine trees, while we share the sentiment of fitting in so well – everyone in town looks like a hiker.
We all do our resupply and get additional food for the next six or seven days to Big Bear – our longest carry yet. I find some freeze-dried peas and corn, which is light and will be essential to my dinners. I also buy lots of bars and granola and we get some ziplock bags to repackage everything into lighter bags. We’re outside doing just that when we run into all the other hikers again. Everyone is talking about the snow, and everyone is getting microspikes and heading back to trail again soon. We’re not sure yet when to head back – later today, or maybe tomorrow.
Before we decide I have a few other things to look into. I want to see if I can buy another SIM card, but after asking around at a few shops, no one seems to sell any. I hear Big Bear will be my best bet, as it’s a bigger town. When Black Water hears that I already have a Straight Talk SIM card that won’t activate, he offers to see if he can fix it, as he works in IT. The three of us head to the Higher Ground coffee shop where I finally find the latte I’ve been craving – my favourite town treat, and Black Water gets going with my SIM card. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any luck either. He even calls Straight Talk for me but they can’t issue a refund as they’re no retailers, and Walmart (where it was bought) won’t either as it’s a non-refundable service plan – so it’s official. I’ve thrown over $300 down the drain.
By the time we are done, we all agree to stay in town for the night and get a shuttle back the next morning, so we are ready to tackle that mountain. Black Water gets a room at the nearly inn, and Speedy and I share a charming wooden room at the Fireside Inn. Even though we’d just had a nero a few days ago, it’s nice to relax, eat food, wash some clothes and take advantage of the WiFi. Tomorrow we’ll be back on trail, and we’ll be hitting elevations over 9000 feet for the first time on the PCT!