It is the fifth night of my hike and I have given up on sleeping for the night. The point at which I gave up is after my tent collapsed on me twice due to the intensity of the winds. And it’s only 10:30, it’s probably going to happen again. There’s a saying that thru hikers go by – “embrace the suck.” Meaning when the shit hits the fan, you still have to find the positive. In this case since I know I won’t be sleeping, I now have all this time to reflect and write about the beginning of my journey.
2659 Miles To Go
It’s day one. Dennis and I are taking our first steps on the trail and we can’t stop taking pictures. I know there’s going to be moment after picture-worthy moment for the next six months, yet I still feel like I need to capture everything. It feels surreal, to finally be making a reality out of something that has been spreadsheets of research and planning for the last half a year plus.
The trail is welcoming and easier then expected. Dennis, who hiked the Appalachian Trail 20 years ago, exclaims “I think this is love at first sight.” The gradual incline of the PCT and the lack of boulders and roots to step over provides him, and me, with excitement for the days ahead.
Yet despite the excitement, it doesn’t feel like I’m starting a 6 month thru hike. It feels just like any other weekend hiking trip. We take turns posing for pictures at the 1 mile sign, and I know that we have an insane 2,659 left to go, but the gravity of that number is far from setting in.
Breakfast Burritos and Trail Magic
It’s day 3 on the trail, and I wake up wet in my tent. It didn’t rain, but we camped out by Lake Morena and the morning condensation is not stopped by a rain cover. Not to worry though, we walk into the nearby town to get breakfast burritos while our stuff dries under the morning sun.
One of the main things you think about while hiking the desert section of the PCT is your water plans. Water is heavy, probably the heaviest thing you’re carrying in your pack. If you carry too much it’ll slow you down, and if you don’t carry enough, well we all know what could happen then. Thankfully there are a handful of apps and websites for hikers to use that give the latest updates on water sources along the trail. Much of a day is centered around where you’re gonna stop for water.
As we arrived to our next water source at a nearby campground, we were surprised by some trail magic. A guy named Steve had come down to the campground with food and drinks for PCT hikers. There were granola bars, peanut butter and jelly, Gatorade, beer, and best of all- fresh tangerines right off the vine from a local farm. Steve had been a trail angel for several years now, he started when a buddy of his was hiking the trail and enjoyed bringing him food and hanging with the hikers that he made it a tradition. It was a welcome surprise, so thank you Steve!
Banjo In the Breeze
It’s day 4 and I’m approaching Mount Laguna, a small town in the desert mountains of Southern California. I stop in the Burnt Rancheria campground while I wait for Dennis. I sit alone at a picnic table under the shade of some trees. Nearby a car camper plays the banjo. I listen to the tunes and the sound of the breeze as the smell of pine wafts through the air. I take a sip of some fresh water as I relax in this oasis in the middle of the desert.
It’s day 5 and the pine forests of the Mount Laguna area quickly dissipate in favor of the chaparral vegetation that is signature of the region. But these small green shrubs are not to be taken for granted, for views of the true desert begin to make their way into our sights.
As we continue onward, we are hit with what feels like hurricane winds. Walking in a straight line becomes difficult and we welcome any part of the trail that wraps around the backside of the ridgeline and shelters us from the winds.
Hungry and tired, we reach our intended camp site only to find the winds far to strong to setup a tent in. Dennis is frustrated because he found a great spot half a mile earlier but I was too far away to consult about it. So we keep going.
Just a little ways further we come across a small dip in the ridgeline where there is some wind protection. We quickly setup camp and huddle into our tents to hide from the elements. My fingers are so dirty my phone’s fingerprint scanner won’t recognize it. As I lie in my shelter hoping it doesn’t collapse again, I finally start to feel like I’m on a thru hike.
Bonus: The Kitchen Shed
I was originally going to end this post at day 5, but then day 6 happened. The barren desert in the distance became a reality as the hills and greenery turned to desolate flat lands. Under the heat of the sun we put in our first 20 mile day.
As we neared our goal for the day, we decided to hitch a ride into the old mining town of Julian. The idea of a burger, shower, and a bed made the final push to the road all that much easier. A friendly Polish couple who now reside in rural California picked us up and chatted with us the whole way in.
Of course things don’t always go as planned. As we started looking around for a place to stay we found out that everything was booked. My girlfriend called and tried to find some other places for us to stay, but to no avail. After going through our options we found a hiker friendly restaurant that let people sleep on its floor. Unfortunately the floor was full. So that’s how I ended up spending a night sleeping on the floor of a kitchen shed.
Hike For Mental Health
Lastly I want to thank everyone who has donated to my Hike For Mental Health page! I haven’t even been on the trail a week and we’re over 50% to the goal. If you haven’t donated and would like to, you can do so here. And if you’d like to follow my trip, sign up for email updates in the bottom bar of the page!