The wind blew all night long. At one point it changed direction, and started barraging us from the side. With every gust the tent wall punched my face. At one point I thought I heard rain drops, and now as I awake I see wet soil outside the tent.
When we went to bed last night we were hoping the wind would subside. But nothing has changed today except for the humidity. There is dirt and sand in the tent, tossed in from the wind last night. The tent is damp, but we are dry. We’re warm and safe, but all together uncomfortable.
I look to Rachel, neither of us is amped, “You want to get up and get out of this?”
She agrees, and we perform the morning ritual of packing our trail belongings, this time with care to brush off sand, before it goes in our bags. I put on my rain gear and shoes, then pop outside the tent, zipping the door behind me. It’s like standing up into a cloud, with gale force winds to the face. The tent bobs back and forth like a punching bag out of sync.
“You’re going to need all of your warm clothes” I say to Rachel, “it’s nasty out here”.
We collapse the tent and set out on foot into the storm. I see another tent as we hop on the trail, bending and bouncing, wet in the wind.
We hike at full pace, as the wind pushes against us, and the wet misty air chills our faces. We cannot see far, fog and clouds fill our view. White puffs of water move with force, pushing their way down the ridge. It’s a river, with the droplets of water just finer and further apart, floating through the air.
We pass tents and I’m not sure if I envy or pity their inhabitants. At the time we escaped from our tent, it seemed the smart thing to do. Now it’s cold, and wet, and I see no one else on the trail. Then we spot another poor soul, braving the elements as well.
“Hello” we say to each other, followed by “blustery day” from me, and he chuckles.
We push on, our legs and trekking poles in unison. We stop for snacks then push again. The sun wants to burn through these clouds, but it’s not winning today.
We hike for about 5 miles. The weather’s not getting better. We weigh our options and decide to turn back to a trail we pass less than a mile ago, that branches off to the Sunrise Highway. From there we hope to get a ride in Julian, and wait out the weather until tomorrow. Rachel reserves a hotel room.
At the trailhead we try to hitch a ride, but this highway’s not too busy. Several cars pass, but few and far between. Forty five minutes pass. Getting cold, we start to walk down the highway. It’s a 3 hour walk to Julian or a 15 minute drive. We will get there by thumb or foot, one way or another.
A car finally slows and pulls to the shoulder. A hiker hops out of the passenger seat, “he just picked me up too!” he says.
The driver, a white haired man, with an American flag mask resituates stuff in his trunk and backseat to accommodate us. In the car we learn he had just dropped off his son to hike, and picked up the other hiker who was wet and cold from last night. The other hiker started three days after us and had almost caught up, doing 25 mile days, traveling light. His trail name is Lamborghini. He explains he has family and if he’s going to do the trail, he has to do it fast.
Our driver’s name is Gary. He is a retired Navy veteran, who’s familiar with our home of Whidbey Island. Now he’s a writer who spends his time between San Diego and Julian. He writes poetry and is working on a children’s book. He tells us about the all veterans publications he helps organize. He’s a kind man I can tell, who said he was happy he picked us up when he did. He said, if it were his son, he’d hope someone would pick him up.
He drops us off at the hotel as it begins to rain. We say goodbye to him and Lambo, then check-in to our hotel.
Our room won’t be ready for an hour and we’re hungry. The hotel host tells us to check out Mom’s Pie across the street who caters to hikers. As we walk into the streets of Julian, Mom’s is easy to spot. Hikers sit outside on the pavement next to their backpacks eating pie, looking homeless.
Julian is a sight to see, a salvation for hikers seeking refuge from the trail. Mom’s is the shining star, a beacon to the cold and hungry hiker, even if that salvation is just pie and an awning to shelter the sidewalk dry, providing a place to sit and eat.
We’re immediately greeted by two hikers at Mom’s. They started in Campo the day before us, and they’re stoked to meet new hikers. After Mom’s they’re going to the brewery for a pizza. We hope to see them again, but we opt for a diner instead, hungry for something hearty, before we cash in in pie.
After an awkward meal at the diner, we return to Mom’s for pie. We flash our PCT permits, and are honored with a free slice of pice and cup of coffee. We sit outside and eat it under the awning.
The sun is poking out now, lifting steam off the streets. We ask a man outside in hiking boots if he is hiking. His name is John, and he’s not hiking right now. He will start the trail in April, a repeat attempt after getting off the trail last year due to covid. But today he’s playing trail angel. He lives near Julian, and spotting the weather system move in, he drove out near Mt. Laguna, to see if any hikers needed help. He found a man who did, whose tent had collapsed in the wind last night, and he gave him a ride into town.
Another hiker walks by, and we chat with him as well. A man sits down next to me, says this is his second trip into Julian today. He introduces himself as Legend. He’s wearing a PCT hat and I’ve heard of his name before. Everyday he spends shuttling hikers from Julian and back to the trail. At the end of the season he goes to Washington and helps hikers there. He clearly loves his job. He clearly loves the trail.
And as quickly as he arrived, he’s off again crossing the road to the gear store, prepping to shuttle some hikers back to the trail.
We make a stop at the gear store, both upgrading our long underwear. The streets feel like their bustling with hikers. We introduce ourselves as quickly as I forget the names I’m told. We schedule a ride with Legend for tomorrow. Then we return to our hotel room to clean clothes, and eat fresh citrus. We are alive and well in Julian.
Tomorrow we return to the trail.