When I left Mt. Laguna, I told myself I was going to take it easy for a few days and that’s exactly what I did. I kept my mileage within 10 miles or so to allow my body to adjust.

Soaking my feet in a cool spring after calling it a day.

Most of the time I arrived at camp around 2-3pm even though I had taken my time during the day. Honestly, it was pretty frustrating. My mind was ready for 20 mile days and my body needed to catch up! Iย did cross mile 50 within my first week, though, despite my physical setbacks and double zero days.

Finally–50 miles down!

I hiked alone for the next few days since Perk had gotten ahead during my time at Mt. Laguna. I knew I would eventually catch him, though, and sometimes solitude is just what a person needs. Being alone gave me time to think aboutย happiness, sadness, the past, the future, solutions, voluntarism, self-reliance, small business opportunities, gardening, language, music, and life in general. Without the distractions of everyday life, your mind is allowed to wander freely. Analyzing what tends to surface isn’t always a bad thing–sometimes we push away thoughts instead of working through them and allowing them to be completed.

One of the many mysteries of the desert that will leave your mind wandering.

Lack of conversation while hiking also allowed me to truly start appreciating the beauty of the desert. I’m a big Louis L’Amour fan and I was obsessed with the Young Guns movies when I was a little girl, so submerging myself in that scenery was surreal in a way.

California desert

Just before mile 70, the hiker “bubble” behind me began to catch up. I camped with a record number of 15 people the night before I went into town again. Cooking dinner with others and being able to socialize was a nice change.

California sunrise

The following morning, I had the option of going to Julian or Stagecoach. The hotels in Julian appeared to be pricey and Stagecoach seemed like it might be an interesting stop, so I decided to check out the latter.

Stagecoach minimalistic lodging.

Inside the wagon at Stagecoach.

I had never slept in a wagon before, but there’s a first time for everything! Stagecoach offered minimalistic lodging in these wagons or you could opt to camp. There were public restrooms, showers and even a pool! The pool was a little too cold to swim in, but it sure felt good to sore feet and knees. I also made a point to use some Epsom salts on my slightly swollen knees.

My Nanny always said, “Epsom salts cure what ails ya!”

Ice cold water is good for the joints.

The next morning, I remembered that the benefit of Julian over Stagecoach was the free pie offered to thru-hikers at Mom’s Pie Shop. I knew I should really get back to the trail, but I asked myself “what kind of thru-hiker would I be if I turned down free pie and a chance for coffee?” My answer was pretty obvious when I found myself hitching a ride to Julian.

“Let’s see if this thing still works.”

After about 15 minutes of thumbing, a nice man pulled over to give me a ride. He was a local to the area and also an outdoors enthusiast. One of the best parts of hitchhiking is hearing the stories of the people you meet along the way. After about 12 miles of winding roads, he dropped me off right in front of Momma’s.ย 

Mom’s – Julian, CA

Boysenberry Pie & Vanilla Ice Cream

I finally returned to the trail head in the early afternoon and boy was it a long, hot climb out of Scissors Crossing! I have to admit, though, the pie and ice cream were completely worth my delayed return to the trail. In fact, I still occasionally think about that pie while hiking.

In the next several days, I saw people quit the trail and go home, witnessed trail families forming, heard trail names being assigned and observed the excitement of new backpacking experiences in the eyes of my fellow thru-hikers. I expected it all, as I had seen these things occur within the first 100 miles of my AT thru-hike. It was different for me this time, though, because I knew it was coming and sometimes prior knowledge can be bittersweet. In this instance, I didn’t stress out when I saw fellow hikers decide a thru-hike wasn’t for them. I didn’t wonder what came over them or fear I’d be next like I had before. I did, however, miss the feeling of experiencing the thru-hiking lifestyle for the first time. In a way I felt like a sophomore/junior in high school coming back after summer break and seeing all of the freshmen so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; it was just different.ย I told myself before I started that the PCT would be a separate experience and that it would never be what the AT was–and it shouldn’t be! I couldn’t help but think of my AT tramily at times, though.

Because my knees were doing much better, I finally started to pick up the pace and it felt great! The blisters under my toenails had healed and the chaffing on my thighs had subsided. My trail legs were even slowly returning, and I felt like I was finally making progress when I crossed over mile 100! I only had to do that again 26 more times–no big deal, right?

Cheesin’ at mile 100.

The next morning, I woke up to a pile of texts from my family and friends wishing me a happy birthday. I honestly didn’t feel 31 years old that morning, but according to my birth certificate, it’s true. It just so happened that several of us hikers were heading into Warner Springs that day to camp at the community center and they luckily had a restaurant and bar! Talk about perfect timing.

During the 10-mile stretch remaining before town, we passed one of the well-known PCT attractions called “Eagle Rock.” I wondered why it was titled that until I approached the formation and it became blatantly obvious.

Eagle Rock – “I want to fly like an eagle”

Once I hit the Warner Springs Community Center, I set up my tent, bathed my body and clothes from a bucket and drank a cup of coffee. To my surprise, Perk had been there just a couple days before and had remembered my birthday. He was sweet enough to leave me a card and some cash so I could have a birthday meal on him! You can’t find better friends than that, and I admittedly cried when I opened the card.

Approaching Warner Springs Community Center

A sweet card from my AT buddy, Perk.

A group of us went to dinner that evening and had a wonderful time. We laughed, joked and told stories of things we had seen or experienced on trail. Throughout the night, I studied the people around me and realized how different all of us were. There were men and women; Australians, Germans and Americans; young people and older folks. Although many of us had more differences than commonalities, we were all in this rigorous adventure together. As the group sang “Happy Birthday” to me that night, it really made me flash back to the day I turned 29-years old on the Appalachian Trail. I could see in my mind all the familiar hiker faces from the past so vividly and then slowly I came back to the present with new friends in front of me.

April 14, 2015 – Nantahala Outdoor Center

April 14, 2017 – Warner Springs

Although I was missing my AT tramily, I realized you can find good people wherever you go. While reminiscing and enjoying memories isn’t bad, you simply can’t live in the past without sacrificing your enjoyment of the present. Everyday is a new adventure and life really is what you make of it, so we have to remember to embrace the moment and truly make every day count…and it’s never too late to start!

Below are some additional moments I captured from this stretch of trail:

Thank you for following my journey! Until next time–Happy Trails!

-Dixie