Part of a series of stories from our Pacific Crest Trail thru hike.
Idyllwild (mile 179) was to be our first planned big stop on the trail. We’d sent our bounce box there, so it was a destination for both rest and resupply. It had taken us 9 days to get to Julian where most hikers stop for their first resupply, and as I hobbled through those first couple of weeks, reaching civilization by foot seemed so bizarre and implausible I didn’t waste mental energy dreaming of it.
The last 20 or so miles of the PCT were marred by forest fire and closed to hikers. A circuitous detour route was available, but it included walking on mountain roads and extra mileage.
This wasn’t the first detour on the trail, and certainly not the first time we’d see the mark of fire along the trail. Looking back, I’d have to say a decent hundreds of miles had been burned in the past, with varying degrees of severity. The section just before Idyllwild was deemed too damaged and environmentally sensitive to risk thru hiker passage, and the possibility of more fire.
Our last stop before Idyllwild was the Paradise Valley Cafe, a short drive from the town, and a group of us sat on the patio and gorged ourselves on real food while discussing our next moves.
The cafe was conveniently located at the crossroads of two major roadways, one leading straight into Idyllwild. Most of us planned to hitch, and we watched from the patio as other hikers hobbled to the intersection, presented their thumbs and successfully obtained a ride in a matter of minutes.
As we wrapped up our meal it became obvious that we would soon be in town. And not just that, but an inn. Our mail was waiting for us at the Idyllwild Inn, where there weren’t just rooms available, but mountain cabins.
A group of us excitedly researched prices and made plans to split a cabin. We could be in it in less than an hour.
Some of the hikers at the group held back and one consulted paper maps for the complex detour route ahead. Not only were they walking for at least another 3 days of trail, but they’d be skipping Idyllwild entirely. They made some passive aggressive remarks about not spending their time in hotel rooms and added, “We’re here to walk.”
This became a running joke between some other hikers and me. The absurdity of almost telling a group of thru hikers that they weren’t walking enough on their 2,650 mile journey to Canada.
While maintaining a continuous footpath is admirable, it’s not always simple or truly necessary. I personally can’t see the value in adding extra miles that aren’t PCT miles, but are also road miles where you basically walk along a road way, just to avoid bypassing a closed section of the trail.
The more we hike, the more I see the spectrum of motivation for thru hiking among the people we meet. At one end you have total purists, who believe that each and every mile of the trail needs to meet the soles of their shoes, and at the other, free wheelers who are more driven by the overall experience of thru hiking than by miles. While we definitely aim to finish the trail and complete the miles in order, I find a mileage-focused approach to be obsessive and not very fun, which is why we’re out here after all.
Hike your own hike, as they say.