The following is Part 3 in a series of posts concerning my experience with the Pacific Crest Trail. Part 1 and Part 2 can be found via the associated links. Each part will have been adapted from journal entries, most often written in the wild. Note that the date and time listed are when the journal entry was written, and that sometimes a current location (i.e. where the entry was written) is provided. Thank you, one and all, for your varying support before, during, and after this endeavor. Though little went as I anticipated, it has been a blessedly memorable year.
STARTING THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL
22 April: Sunday
“It’s a dangerous business . . . going on out your door . . .” (J.R.R. Tolkien)
24 April: Tuesday—Desert View Picnic Area
How does one begin a journey?
You take a step and start walking.
Unlike the starting gun of a cross country or track race, the whistle of a referee, or the cheering of the crowd in a stadium, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) begins with a relatively unexciting step. For those who are fortunate to have loved ones present, there is certainly a degree of celebration. In a way I felt like all my supporters—family and friends—were there at that PCT Southern Terminus. They are all excited for me. They look forward to stories, to how it will change me. I will be happy to share such gains. However, I have this fear of disappointing them. There is a 50% dropout rate for PCT thru-hikers (i.e. those attempting to complete the whole 2650+ mile trek). In a sense that is motivating. I like to believe that I do not give up easily. But it is also sobering. Which statistic will I join? To learn the answer, I must begin by taking the first step.
I praise God for Ryno Terblanche. He was at the Southern Terminus, which is strides away from the California-Mexico border, when my grandparents and I arrived. Though he left about thirty minutes before me, I quickly caught up with him on the trail outside Campo. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa to Afrikkan parents, but having lived for the last eight years in London, England, Ryno is a perfect hiking partner for me. Thirty years old, wearing minimus running shoes or sandals, needing an umbrella to protect his fairer skin from the bright days, and with many mutual interests and perspectives, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with him. His pace was a bit slower than my goal, but I preferred the company. Fellowship with people has been the main highlight thus far.
Our starting day (Sunday) was rather hot, at least to be hiking exposed over dusty landscape. Ryno and I learned a hard lesson after skipping over a flowing creek in such temperatures without re-supplying our water stores: never do it. All that we could think about for the next 12 miles was that cool water that we had ignored. Thus we pressed ahead, desperately seeking the next water source of Hauser Creek.
Along the way we met an Israeli thru-hiker nicknamed “Rocky” while he was enjoying a casual nap. He later appeared at Hauser Creek. A curious thing around the middle of the day was a series of abandoned gear alongside the trail: a hoodie, pants, and then a camping pad. I joked with Ryno about coming across some half-naked, half-crazed hiker already broken by the sun. We also passed one couple that was going quite slowly: PCT veteran “Tebetan” and a girl who, according to a few others we later met, had no idea what she was doing (e.g. She shipped water ahead to a re-supply post. Does she not plan to refill her water along the way?). In the middle of the morning, Ryno and I met “Rubik’s Cube” sitting beside the trail in the shade, struggling from something that he had eaten that was causing him to periodically vomit. At Hauser Creek, Ryno and I met Appalachian Trail (AT) veteran “Castle,” who was a nice, but quiet girl. Aside from the dreams of water—gum helped a bit, but it has still been rough for me due to being sick with a sore throat; though the gum did seem to ease Rubik’s Cube’s stomach—my shoulders seriously struggled. My feet were also progressively getting worse.
Having overestimated myself—Note: thinking to maintain higher mileage in the beginning due to being “fresh” is unwise—I chose to camp at Lake Morena (PCT mile 20.6). It would have been agony to press on 6 more miles to my original goal of Boulder Oaks Campground. Besides, I just wanted to be with people, and 19:30 was late to be on the trail. Castle was there, as was a guy named Tommy. Rubik’s Cube also eventually showed up, having plummeted back into nausea during the earlier ascent. The camp’s hot shower was certainly appreciated by all.
Though only a dirty trickling stream, Hauser Creek was a hallelujah oasis. We drank water, ate food, and rested our feet in the sun before the ascent to Lake Morena. A mom and her daughter, the latter of whom I nicknamed “Monkey” for the stuffed animal that she carries, also caught back up with us at the creek. If Monkey completes the PCT, she will be the youngest ever to do so. She is eight years old. Passing them again yesterday (Monday), however, they looked like they were struggling.
I left Ryno at Hauser Creek because he planned to camp in that area, and I wanted to get farther. With my late night—and hence 9:30 start the next day (Monday)—it worked out that I caught back up with him almost right away. He is suffering from jet lag, hence usually starts hiking very early in the morning around 5:00. I was very glad to see him again. I seemed to be one of the last hikers out of Lake Morena, with one of the heaviest backpacks: a complete amateur. That is something that I struggle a lot with: feeling completely inferior at something. It is humbling. Add to that my average 1.25-2.5 mile/hour pace and continuing discomfort. Regardless, Ryno and I welcomed the foggy morning in comparison with Sunday’s heat. Eventually seeing Boulder Oaks Campground, I was glad to have stopped at Lake Morena. My grandparents (Mama & Papa) were glad as well. I used a trail angel Tom’s landline to call them Sunday evening while they were still en route to San Jose. Their support in this journey has been incredible. I doubt that I could have come this far without them.
After two creek crossings, one on a narrow branch, Ryno and I began the long ascent into the Laguna Mountains. Our pace was discouraging. We had a nice midday break at an overlook where a thru-hiker who I had seen the previous night, Bryan, was airing out his gear from the moist morning. Along the way, Ryno and I also passed one guy whose pack looked at least as heavy as mine. It was not much of a consolation.
At the suggestion of one day-hiker we passed, Ryno and I detoured for a half mile roundtrip to a waterfall. I am glad that we hid our packs to do so because the trail was very steep and it just felt great to hike without any weight on our backs. The trip was also invigorating—in the true spirit of the PCT, I thought—and fortunately, the waterfall was much more than a trickle. The region was surprisingly green for Southern California, but we know it will not last much longer.
We met up with Bryan later at Fred Canyon Creek. He was not planning to go much further that day (Day 3 for him). Ryno wanted to go a bit further, but was concerned about his feet. He decided to continue on with me into the mountains toward Long Canyon Creek instead of descending off trail to lovely Cibbets Flat Campground. Our pace was still slow, but the sun came out and provided a fantastic view of the southern cloud-flooded valleys. After passing a few camps with hikers like Rubik’s Cube, Ryno and I reached the Longs Canyon Creek crossing area. Ryno chose to make camp there with another thru-hiker. Having pressed through some serious foot pain, and with shoulders that seemed to be adjusting, I wanted to continue on to Burnt Rancheria Campground. I felt a new wave of resolve that I did not want to waste.
I pushed hard. Dusk had settled. Dark came soon after. But the stars shone brighter than I had seen for a long time. I entered quiet forestland. I really hoped to reach camp before 21:00. When I reached a sign for Desert View Picnic Area, I pulled out my PCT Southern California guidebook, and then realized that had passed the spur trail to Burnt Rancheria Campground. My pace was better than I thought.
Desert View Picnic Area is lovely. It even offers a decent bathroom. A few others were already settled in for the night. One was a pair of car campers, at least one of whom smoked in the bathroom, and both of whom were apparently watching TV in their tent. Ok, I thought. It was a reminder of a different culture.
I set up camp quicker than the previous night, and enjoyed some warm Madras lentils. I even had cell phone service. Heartened by my 22.6 mile day, it was very good to talk with Mama & Papa. Unfortunately, my feet were in relatively poor shape. It took at least forty-five minutes to treat them. I really hope that my doctoring helps, that they do not worsen. I even discovered a tick fastened to my ankle, and promptly removed it. Thus I went to bed at midnight, which is far too late.
* * *
I feel sleep-deprived. I keep waking up cramped or clammy, sometimes even sweating. It might by my 15F sleeping bag combined with the synthetic base layer that I wear to bed, but I want to have a layer between my skin and my sleeping bag to keep it clean longer. Furthermore, it gets too cold to sleep out of the bag. . . . I hope that I start sleeping better soon.
Today I plan to only go as far as Pioneer Mail Trailhead Picnic Area. It is reported to provide the last certain water for 25 miles, which is serious. The trailhead picnic area is only around 11 miles away. I have decided to try to complete shorter miles today because of my feet and lingering sickness, but also because this beautiful sunny morning welcomes sitting at this picnic table for a while to finally start journaling, and because I would like to enjoy a more leisurely evening tonight. That, at least, is the idea.
“The best laid plans of mice and men . . .” (John Steinbeck)