T-minus 1: I flew into San Diego and due to a change in plans just days prior to my flight, I was unable to stay and be shuttled to the trail head by long time trail angels Scout and Frodo. Option two would have be to take a series of connecting trolleys and trains from the airport to Campo, CA, and that didn’t sound appealing after an 8 hour flight. So, I got an Uber, a great option for around $75, and made some poor guy drive me to the border. I didn’t realize I was in a losing fight to reach the Southern Terminus before sundown. I arrived in Campo as the sun was setting, but there was one small issue. Campo is a US Border Patrol outpost and GPS is blocked. I had my driver pull over at the first PCT marker I saw and decided to hike the (what would be) 1.3 miles south to the terminus in the dark. With border patrol every where I decided to hike without a head lamp as to not draw attention. Bad idea. Two Jeeps drive back to back, the first with a large thermal imaging camera, the second with a .50 Cal machine gun. I was hit with a spot light, a few agents with assault rifles, and a pissed off kevlar clad German Shepard. Luckily I was not even close to the first to attempt this, so some of us had a good laugh, and I think one of us shit his pants. I decided to make camp and continue at daylight.
Day One, Mile 0.0: Just as the sun rose, I made it to the PCT Southern Terminus, located a stone’s throw from the border. As much as I wanted to touch the fence, I couldn’t risk a repeat of the night before. I am a bit superstitious about touching the monument or photographing myself so I took a quick pic and was on my way. Having never experienced the American southwest, or it’s heat, I spent most of the mid morning to mid afternoon hiking a mile, taking a break under a shrub’s shade, hiking and breaking. The while time thinking, “I chose to do this?” I made it 15.4 miles to Hauser Creek in the evening along with nearly 20 other hikers. One was introducing himself to others and approached me in his Texas twang “hey I’m Topo”. I asked “as in Top o’ the morning to ya?” Completely unknown to both of us, this was an old AT thru hiking friend I had first met in Virginia 3 years earlier. Meeting up with a familiar face up a lot of my earlier anixeties to ease.
It was not a cure all, as I spent the next few days struggling to find the same confidence, or perhaps it was blissful ignorance, I had on my AT thru hike. I made it to Laguna Mountain campground at mile 42.8, which has a great gear shop and restaurant targeted for PCT hikers. I took the day to rest my feet, sandpapered after just three days of hiking in desert sand. After having my feet taped at the shop, and a huge $5 breakfast, I stumbled along North, slowly gaining confidence.
The hike out of Laguna was beautiful, most of the trail was under Sequoia trees (shade!) with views of the vast mountain range in Cleveland National Park in the distance. The next day however, may have been my worst day hiking, ever. The 18.3 mile day had no water, and was in full sun with temps in the mid 90s. Trying to balance weight in my pack versus water needed for consumption was tough, and I thought 7 liters at 16.2 pounds would be enough, but I ran dry with 4 miles to go. It made those last 4 miles miserable in the mid afternoon sun. I started to feel a little dizzy, tripped over a small rock and landed on a cactus. Knee bloodied and arm quilled, I was so happy to see a water cache at a road crossing near Julian, provided by local trail angels. One angel was there, and gave me a ride into town to stay the night at another trail angel’s restaurant. Julian is a former mining town and it’s Main Street is completely original to it’s 1840s roots. Carmen owns a small Italian restaurant and provides a place to stay, a beer, and whatever pasta dish she bakes that day. It definitely made my “worst day ever” feel much better.
Against advisory, I left Julian the next morning for the mountains. A weather advisory for snow was persuading most hikers to stay in town, but 40 degree temps and a little snow felt too much like home to pass up. Being cold, I didn’t need to consume much water during two 12 mile waterless stretches. Snower accumulated, but did change to rain the following day. I hiked off the mountains into a series of large fields and made camp in cow country after passing the 100 mile marker. The change in weather felt great.
I arrived in Warner Springs and spent the afternoon and night behind the community center, a heaven for PCT hikers. Volunteers work at the center, providing laundry, bucket showers, flush toilets (yesssss!), and a large hiker resupply of items from the community or other hikers. All for a donation. I don’t want to rant, or take some holier-than-thou stance, but there used to be an abundance of places like this on the AT. Unfortunately some hikers feel entitled, and after years of the few bad eggs, some trail angels are ceasing services to hikers. The PCT is a newer trail than the AT, and there is an increase of people wanting to help hikers. But I am noticing that entitled attitude is creeping in at places like Laguna, Carmen’s/Julian, and Warner Springs. Please, current and future PCT hikers, show appreciation, and please donate a few bucks.
109.5 miles in, and I’m begging to feel like a thru hiker again.