“I realized pretty early on in my thru-hike journey that a sure way to learn what worked well for me was, unfortunately, to mess things up first. Since passing San Jacinto Peak, I’d been hearing more and more of my fellow hikers tell stories of putting in big miles, specifically 20-mile plus days. I had yet to achieve this milestone and thus got it in my head that it would be very fitting to do so on my twentieth day on the trail. So, that morning I set out determined to reach that goal not knowing what the trail had in store for me.
I had camped the previous night with two friends in the wide flat valley of the Whitewater River. After leaving camp at different times, we met up to cross the river, and then continued on together. The trail wasn’t very well established here and so rather than cut across the valley and start hiking up and out like we were supposed to, we mistakenly followed some footprints going somewhat parallel to the river and further upstream. It wasn’t long before we figured out our mistake, got reoriented, and made our way back to the actual trail. A minor delay, I thought, no big deal.
Even though it was still pretty early in the morning, the sun was already baking us. It was one of the hottest days on trail yet and after climbing up into the wide open Southern California mountains, we were delighted when the sight of Mission Creek came into view. It was a glorious scene with trees shading the sandy bank adjacent to the crystal clear water and there were already a group of hikers taking advantage of the wonderful break spot, laying out, relaxing and having a good time.
I soaked my feet for a bit, but after a short while, felt the pressure to move on in order to reach the goal I’d set for myself.
Leaving this point, the trail follows along Mission Creek for about five miles or so, or at least it did at one time. The area had undergone some flooding due to the high precipitation levels that Southern California had been experiencing, which had essentially washed out the trail. This left me to find whatever path of least resistance forward that I could, crossing the creek numerous times, scrambling up steep banks, bushwacking through small shrub forests, and several times using the creek itself as a trail and just trudging upstream. It was slow going and tough work.
Last to conquer en route to my 20-mile day was a climb, gaining about 5,000 feet in elevation. Just before the sun was sinking below the horizon, exhausted and with some fresh new pains in my shins and feet, I reached my goal. Rather than continue on to a known tent site, I spotted a semi-flat spot a bit off trail and set up right there.
Although I’d accomplished my goal, it was clear to me that I had been stubborn and foolish to push onward when there really wasn’t a need to. I was super sore the next few days and ended up taking a double zero in Big Bear Lake to make up for it. I learned a lot that day. I learned to adapt to what the trail is giving me, to be honest with myself about my body’s capabilities, and to remember to step back and enjoy the trail. There are certainly times when it makes sense to push yourself and cover some miles, but I feel there are also times when it makes sense to stop midday, hang by the creek, and make some memories with friends! Folks attempt a thru-hike for all kinds of different reasons and each sets out with their own hopes and expectations for the journey. It may take some time, but trust in the trail to help you find balance and a rhythm that works you!”
Stevie Wonder, PCT Class of 2019
You can follow Stevie’s adventures on his blog.