I’m not a runner, but when I heard about a 12k where the runners wear costumes and you run from one end of SF to the other I couldn’t resist. So I forked over the $90 to enter and bought a Hawaiian shirt from Goodwill. I didn’t know what to expect the morning of the race but upon I arrival, I saw people wearing everything from gorilla suits to nothing at all (literally). At the start of the race people throw tortillas at each other to kill time until their group is aloud to leave, so I definitely warmed up my arms. After my group was set free I actually ran the whole thing. The 7 1/2 miles went but fairly quick and at the end I was awarded my finisher medal. Let’s hear it for spontaneous adventures!
Most people go to a city, stay in a hotel and take tours on a bus to take in their new surrounding but as you know by now, that’s not how I roll. So instead of paying lots of money to hear corny jokes and be taken to tourist traps, Harry and I rented bikes to explore the city. After renting bikes from a sketchy bike rental place in a parking garage, we headed across the city straight to the beach. I never planned to swim when I got there but after Harry ran full sprint into the freezing Pacific Ocean
I couldn’t be shown up. The next hours were spent soaking up the sun and exploring cliffs and caves along the cost. Once we had seen all we could see at the beach we rode our bikes along the cost toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Biking the Golden Gate Bridge has always been a bucket list item of mine and I was able to check it off the list! Once on the opposite side we rode up into the park and enjoyed the sunset with a view of the city that was so good it felt like I was dreaming.
I think the decision to bike the city is an extremely accurate representation of my entire trip.
Sunset view of SF
I could have taken a bus or cab around the city just like I could fly to canada but my journey is my destination. It’s about experiences and my experience through SF was a memory I will always have. -Noel Nelson
There is a 40 mile stretch of the PCT known for being the hottest and driest part of the whole trail. This section follows the aquaduct the brings water to LA but despite this fact water on the trail is almost nonexistent. Additionally shade is just as rare. As the trail follows the metal pipe it is almost discouraging to look up and see the miles and miles you will have to walk. Unlike the rest of the trail, this part is so flat that you can see the entire never ending section. This makes a 40 mile stretch seem like 400 miles.
After walking for hours in the blazing sun, we decided it was time to set up camp. It wasn’t until the sun started its retreat from the sky that I realized the beauty of the desert. The sky turned from blue to a deep reddish purple and then to black in a matter of minutes. I thought the best part was over but then the stars came out. Without any light pollution I felt like I could see every star in the galaxy. As I laid down to sleep I could hear the distant cry of coyotes. The day started out rough but in the end I was amazed at how beautiful this place is.
At PCT mile 454 the trail passes through Agua Dulce. This is a very small town with a population of about 4,000. There’s not much going for this town except Hiker Heaven. Hiker Heaven is the home of trail angels that have turned their house into the ultimate hiker hostel. And it lives up to the name. Upon entrance you are greater by a volunteer and given a tour. On the grounds there are tents scattered all over the yard and a full guest house that hikers can use. They give rides into LA and even do the hikers laundry for them! They do this all without asking for a penny.
I have passed through multiple hiker hostels so far but nothing touches this place. The hosts are so giving and have truly created a “hiker heaven”.
After taking a full day to enjoy the place, I packed up and headed back into southern California’s dry desert.
As I set up camp after a average day on the trail a massive fog rolled in. This isn’t necessarily rare but this fog was thicker than I had ever seen on the PCT. Despite the weather I made my dinner and went to sleep just like any other night. The next morning I awoke, surprised to see that the fog had not only stayed through the night, but that it had grown even more thick. I assumed it would be a wet gloomy day of backpacking, but as I started hiking the trail gained elevation until I had risen above the clouds. It was amazing to look down the mountain and see nothing but clouds below. It made a 7,000 ft peak seem like I was truly high in the sky.
Throughout the day the trail rose and fell, dipping me below the cloud line with every few miles. The stark contrast was amazing and kept things interesting. Below the cloud, the burnt trees surrounded by fog looked extremely ominous but when I would surface above the clouds the sky was as blue as could be. It was like stitching between two different worlds. -Noel Nelson
Right outside of the town of Wrightwood lays Mount Baden Powel, a mountain named after the founder of Boy Scouts. While in town a snowstorm passed over, but it left its mark. As I ascended the mountain small patches of snow grew into large massive blankets of snow. Miles were spent following nothing but the footprints of those who have gone before me. It took a full twenty mile day to escape the snow, but eventually I was able to set up camp on dry ground. These early encounters with snow are hopefully preparing me for the snow covered Sierras I will go through in a few weeks. -Noel Nelson
After my thirty eight mile day, I set up camp at the first open place I saw. It was on a ridge about fifty feet above the valley floor. I laid down to sleep with good weather and a belly full of McDonald’s, but my sleep was cut short. Two hours after crawling into my tent the wind picked up. Then it started to rain. Then the wind picked up even more. Eventually the wind and rain were so strong, water was getting blown into my tent from the side. That is, when my tent was still standing. About every hour a gust of wind would be so strong that it would blow my tent completely over and I would have to fix it, trying to not get soaked in the process. This made for a long night with sleep nowhere to be found.
In the morning the rain let up but the wind had blown a fog in that was so thick, visibility was about twenty feet. So I threw all my stuff into my backpack and started walking. My next resupply location was in Wrightwood, about twenty five miles from where I slept. As I trudged toward my goals I got word that a snow storm was coming in and temps would be in the low twenties. Having already suffered through a few chilly nights I knew that was not something I wanted to take on. Upon arrival to Wrightwood some hikers offered to let me sleep in a cabin they rented. Instead of paying $60 for a hotel room I could pay $20 for a cabin. Things were looking up, that is until I looked down at my wallet. In the chaos of the night hike and storm I had lost my debit card….
I had $40 in cash but that would only cover my room for the next two nights and I was out of food. A sort of panic sunk in as I tried to think of the logistics of getting money and a new card. All while moving from day to day. After a few deep breaths I figured out how to get a new card but that would take a week. That’s a week without money or food. I felt like I was getting knocked down, standing back up to only get hit again.
After seeing my struggle, my hiking buddy Harry offered to loan me money until my card arrived. A true blessing. So I was able to buy food and if all goes will I will be able to support myself again soon enough.
I think having rough days is part of the process. The uncertainty of it all is what makes it an adventure. Although horrible in the moment, these are the events in life we look back on and laugh about. So for now I continue on my path to Canada, taking each day as it comes. -Noel Nelson
Up to this point, my mileage each day had been steadily growing. I started with 15 mile days and slowly work my way up to 20 mile days and eventually even did a few 25 milers. I never thought the morning I woke up at the hot spring, I would do my longest day yet. by a lot….
From the hot spring, interstate I-15 was about 35 miles ahead. At this highway a McDonald’s is located near the trail. This is a big deal for hikers struggling with “hiker hunger”. My original plan for the day was to do 18 miles and stroll into McDonald’s the next day for lunch, except by lunch time, I had already hit the 18 mile mark. At that point I knew it was possible to make it all the way. So I went for it. Along the way there were incredible vistas and I had good company.
Finally, at around 8 pm the golden arches were in sight. I’ve never been a true McDonald’s fan but I can say that moment was different. I went in and ordered a double quarter pounder with cheese, a large fry, large drink, and twenty nuggets. I finished them all.
After dinner we ended up having to walk another three miles in the dark to find a campsite.That made for a 38 mile day. I set up my tent and went to sleep happy and full. All was well, or so I thought… -Noel Nelson
Warner Springs is a small town at mile 109. The community center there welcomes thru-hiker every year with food and let’s them camp out on their lawn. From there it is about 70 miles to a small town called Idlewild. During this 70 mile stretch I was able to hike with two guys from Israel. Both men had just gotten out of their required service in the armed forces and were on their celebratory vacation. By talking to them I was able to learn a lot about what it is like to live in Israel and a lot about the struggles they face as a country. A very interesting aspect of the trail is the diversity of people.
It is rare you feel like a minority in your own country but on the trail that seems to be the case. There are tons of people from Germany, Italy, Israel, Canada, and all over Europe. Talking to all the people has really given me insight into worlds I’ve never known about. After eating one of the best burgers of my life at Paradise Valley Cafe, I split up with them and headed back to the trail to hike the last 12 miles before the trail closes for a small section due to fire damage. Most people skip this 12 mile stretch in addition to the closer and hitch directly to Idlewild, but I figure I have the time so I chose to do it.
After the trail closed I took a side trail that led me all the way to Idlewild. In this small town I found a hostel type place that gives you a bunk and shower for $25 so I figured I’d sleep in a bed for a change. Tomorrow I will climb the San Jacinto Mt. My biggest test thus far. -Noel Nelson
Yesterday was the hottest day on the trail this far. Temperatures reached 100 while the section I was hiking and had zero shade.
After a brutal 20 miles, I got into camp right as it was getting dark. Ramen soup is good, but after eating it for a week I was not looking forward to dinner. Right at that point a trail angel showed up with a grill, steak, chicken, and vegetables. The trail angel was there to bring food to two of her friends hiking the trail, but there was extra so I was invited to join. I don’t know if food has ever tasted so good.