Bonita is the friendly innkeeper at the Silver Pines, a very accommodating hotel for backpackers.
audio narrative

peeps of the PCT: Benita, Idyllwild Innkeeper

Stylish Benita made us feel welcome on a "zero-day" stop in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild.
Stylish Benita made us feel welcome on a “zero-day” stop in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild.

It’s Thanksgiving 2020, and like so many Americans, we’re home, grateful for a “warmish” day of 45 degrees and sunshine so we can sit in our courtyard and lift a glass – at a safe distance – with a few neighbors.

Last November, I was walking in the Southern California desert, slowing my pace to enjoy stops along the way and mingle with locals. It’s inconceivable in this moment to consider the freedom and assumptions I made back then – eating in restaurants, shopping at the supermarket and staying at a historic inn without wearing a mask or maintaining distance.

Heck, I even hugged hiker friends who I hadn’t seen in weeks who suddenly showed up in my space. Besides Richard – and my doctors – I haven’t touched another soul in nine months.

Staying at the Silver Pines lodge was one of the highlights of Southern California.

It was just a year ago that I completed the Pacific Crest Trail. I’d dreamed of walking it for a long time, but thought maybe my first thru-hike ought to be something exotic and far away. The reasoning was I could hike on my home-turf anytime, but to travel half-way around the world was going to take much more planning.

And then I was suddenly “boss-free” and at the urging of my husband, who seems to understand me better than I understand myself, I flew out to Washington state on a one-way ticket, joined a gang of hikers and headed up to Hart’s Pass in the North Cascades just to see how far I could go.

By Day 127, I was nearly finished, and headed down the Devil’s Slide to visit the charming mountain town of Idyllwild. A hiker friend had joined me for this section, and while we still put in a good number of miles on those short, autumn days in the high desert, after climbing 10,000 feet up and over San Jacinto Peak, we felt we deserved a day off in this truly idyllic place.

It was a sunny, dry day with a slight nip in the air when Benita welcomed us to the Silver Pines Lodge, handing us a change of clothes while we washed our hiking outfits, and giving us the run of the beautiful grounds . She told us, she’s seen her share of us ‘hiker trash’ but says we enrich the lives of her village.

Days like that, where we don’t have to worry about getting sick or making others sick, will return, I promise you, and they’ll be more precious than ever. Listening to this conversation with Innkeeper Benita, makes me feel strong and brave to face the coming months, knowing I’ll be back on the trail soon enough. I hope some rubs off on you, too.

Suicide Rock from the "Devil's Slide" above Idyllwild in Southern California.
Suicide Rock from the “Devil’s Slide” above Idyllwild in Southern California.
The plan for the final days to the end of the PCT.
hike blog

PCT Day 133, zero, Warner Springs

The more anger towards the past you carry in your heart, the less capable you are of loving in the present. – Barbara De Angelis

Behold! The final ‘zero mile day of this epic hike, and all I have to show for it is this haiku –

Luxurious rest
at mile one-hundred-and-nine.
Hop, skip, smile, the end!

♥️ Singet

The plan for the final days to the end of the PCT.
The plan for the final days to the end of the PCT.
hike blog

PCT Day 128, zero, Idyllwild

The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for. – Maureen Dowd

The Blissful Hiker in borrowed clothes underneath the chainsaw sculpture in Idyllwild.
The Blissful Hiker in borrowed clothes underneath the chainsaw sculpture in Idyllwild.

I’m amazed at how exhausted I am. Another zero seems to do the trick and I have just enough time to enjoy it in this lovely village tucked into the mountains. I should finish walking in less than two weeks. How about them apples?!

Bonita is the friendly innkeeper at the Silver Pines, a very accommodating hotel for backpackers.
Bonita is the friendly innkeeper at the Silver Pines, a very accommodating hotel for backpackers.
A young guest can't get enough of the Silver Pine's dog.
A young guest can’t get enough of the Silver Pine’s dog.
Dried oak leaves on the porch.
Dried oak leaves on the porch.
I run into Jess "Pinky" at the supermarket. Her joy is contagious.
I run into Jess at the supermarket. Her joy is contagious.

I sleep late, enjoy coffee and the New York Times on a private porch, walk to the local store to resupply, run into Pinky from way back at Walker Pass – who tells me she was stalked by a mountain lion – lunch at the Red Kettle, create another ‘Peeps of the PCT,’ dine at Ferro, get nervous about crossing a rockslide tomorrow, then cuddle into an enormous bed where I can spread out and let my legs rest up for the coming miles.

hike blog

TA Day 77, Side trip! Abel Tasman National Park

My sandfly bites appreciate the salt water at Abel Tasman Park.
My sandfly bites appreciate the salt water at Abel Tasman Park.

Today is my second side trip, to beautiful Abel Tasman park. Steve makes a plan and we head out with Mozart cranked through the Moutere valley and mile after mile of grape vines.

It has the feel of California, those wineries, plus golden hills, water restrictions and ocean awaiting my eyes and body.

How did I get so lucky? Steve is a classical music fan but tunes into the local station. But when the opera comes on, he switches to his hometown station and saw the piece on the MPR website about my hiking the Te Araroa.

Of course he wrote and invited me to visit a place I long felt curious about. But who knew he and I – and Maggie – would hit it off so well. Like old friends, I’m already called Al.

hike blog

TA Day 66, zero day

These arthritic and deformed feet are carrying my body really far. The legs got their first hair-removal in two months.
These arthritic and deformed feet are carrying my body really far. The legs got their first hair-removal in two months.

I suppose it’s a bit odd to snag a zero day when I’m just two days from finishing the North Island, but when Julian and I drove back from Taranaki on New Year’s day – passing through lovely Whanganui – I found I was still absolutely shattered from our spontaneous sunrise climb. So I just had to give my friends George and Rob a call to ask if I might crash at their place for the night.

They welcome me back and insist I sleep in late and feed me highly nutritious meals accompanied by a summery sparkling wine. They are absolutely lovely people, talking and laughing with me, watching more awesome Maori TV together, and even offering me the Veet left here by a male French Te Araroa walker to melt the hair on my legs – obviously one of the subjects of so much laughter. I am restored in so many ways and tomorrow they’ll drop me right back at the very spot I left off in Paekakariki.

The cavers from Kaitaia practice their technique for getting in (and out) of tight spots.
hike blog

TA Day 36, ‘zero day’ Waitomo

What luck to have the run of the spelunker's hut on such an awful day.
What luck to have the run of the spelunker’s hut on such an awful day.

I think I felt so good yesterday because it was the first time I started to really feel my rhythm on this walk. The weather was threatening, but I prepared and went out anyway. I got off trail and decided to move forward and find the trail ahead rather than retrace steps. And for that effort, I was rewarded with a Middle Earth of stunning beauty. I made my own plan along the way and took things as they came. I was perfectly in tune.

This morning, the rain is lightly pattering the alicoop. I’ve decided to take the day off to work on audio and this lovely hut is the ideal location above town and all the touristy stuff.

But it brings to mind one of the frustrations of this very young trail – you can’t just camp anywhere and every day requires some decision-making. Lots of hikers have added their suggestions directly on the map app I use called Guthook and I am so appreciative for their invaluable advice. I will add mine in time.

Tents spring up as the day goes on.
Tents spring up as the day goes on.
A hamburger and local brew at Curly's Bar in Waitomo.
A hamburger and local brew at Curly’s Bar in Waitomo.
Auckland

TA Day 25, zero day, Auckland

Blissful dances on a Moreton Bay Fig tree wearing borrowed cloths in Auckland's Domain.
Blissful dances on a Moreton Bay Fig tree wearing borrowed cloths in Auckland’s Domain.

I am laying in a bed letting the body recover until all hours of the morning, make that the afternoon. Susie is the daughter of friends of my mother-in-law. You can’t imagine how nice it feels to hear her say, “Make yourself at home!”

And I am doing just that with her lovely family.

Happily.

Oysters are farmed on log wooden piers in the Whangaroa Bay near Kaeo.
hike blog

TA Day 9 – zero day, Kaeo

I’ve been invited to stay the night at one of the most extraordinary homes I’ve ever been to, in the countryside near Kerikeri, out on a peninsula looking towards the islands. I have a huge, soft bed all to myself, the window open to the crashing waves and a full-on, thru-hiker sized  pasta dinner. Incredibly generous Cam and Vicki take in a few strays and let us clean up and rest.

And now I have pink eye. Irene has been sick this entire week unable to shake a sore throat, and maybe I caught something from her. Or, it could have been the battering sand, wind, and never being quite clean. Likely a signal to chill out now after over 200k tramping.

What do you think, is a rest – or ‘zero’ – day warranted? I have been driving pretty hard, mostly to be able to share the limited time with Irene who flies home Tuesday. Don’t worry. That cool hiker friend will make another appearance in the story when I make it to Hamilton next month.

Oysters are farmed on log wooden piers in the Whangaroa Bay.
Oysters are farmed on log wooden piers in the Whangaroa Bay.
Kāeo is the Maori word for freshwater mussel and is a small township near Kerikeri in the Far North.
Kāeo is the Maori word for freshwater mussel and is a small township near Kerikeri in the Far North.

When I was a little girl my parents divorced. It confused the hell out of me. I never quite felt certain I was loved and belonged, mostly because the two were so wrapped up in the unfolding drama. I remember one particular Thanksgiving shuttled off to my dad’s and then driving to friend’s in Maine with his latest girlfriend.