Day 0: April 18, 2022
It’s happening. Today I am flying to San Diego, and tomorrow I begin hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
This morning Katie drives me to the Oakland airport, where my flight is delayed, then delayed again. I eat a breakfast sandwich and focus on finishing my book so that I don’t have to carry it on the trail. I’m within 100 pages of the end when our plane finally boards. It’s a quick flight, just an hour, and I read the whole time. When I land I follow Scout and Frodo’s instructions to take the flyer shuttle to the Old Town station and then the 105 bus. A quick walk from the stop after that takes me to the legendary trail angels’ house.
In the backyard, I meet Scout and try too hard not to fangirl when I do. He has the most soothing voice and an enthusiastic demeanor. He shows me around and gets me set up under one of the large tents in the yard. I unpack my bag and set up my sleeping pad. Later I get a full orientation around the house. They have everything a hiker could possibly need here: fuel canisters, ziplocks, toilet paper, food, it goes on and on.
It’s so nice to be around other hikers again. When I introduce myself I can’t decide whether to use my real name or my trail name. It’s so strange and good to be Passport again. It seems like most of the hikers here are international: at the table I talk to two from England and one from Sri Lanka. It’s the first year since 2019 that hikers from other countries have been able to do the trail, so it seems like there’s a big population this year. It’s very cool. Very different from the AT.
Dinner is at 6, a chicken stew and biscuits with salad. We sit in a circle on the lawn chatting while we eat. A little while later, Scout and Frodo give their customary talk about the PCT, Leave No Trace, and how to be a good trail ambassador. Scout reads a few excerpts from Journeys North, captivating us with his trail tales. It is so surreal to be sitting here.
After dinner everyone sticks around and chats or prepares for the morning. I ask Scout to sign my copy of his book, which he does, and then I pack up the book to be mailed home. Scout and I talk about the AT and how it compares to the PCT. He says the PCT is the best Triple Crown hike because it has just the right amount of everything. The Goldilocks trail!
I walk to the store later to get some cash, and when I return I realize that my sleeping pad has deflated slightly. That night, it deflates almost completely. Of course, the night before I’m due to hike a 2,653-mile hike, my pad has a slow leak. I curse myself for not testing it out before I left, then accept that it’s just another challenge to overcome. I sleep fairly well all things considered. Tomorrow is the day. Tomorrow!
Tuesday, April 19, 2022: Southern Terminus to Hauser Creek – 15.4 mi
April 19. That date has been floating around in my consciousness for so long now. And now it’s here! We wake early, around 5, and pack up our bags. We sip tea and coffee and wait for breakfast, which is a frittata and steel cut oats. I savor this moment of real breakfast, knowing what lies ahead.
We pack up into three cars. I’m with Frodo and hikers Alex and Vinura. The sun rises as we drive east to the monument. When we get there, the group gathers around Phantom, who gives us a brief LNT recap and distributes our PCT hiker tags. Then we all take pictures at the monument, the little stack of gray columns, sister to the one so far away in Washington, that tells us how far we have to go.
I walk to the ridiculous border “wall” and stick my hands through the slats. Mexico on one side, America on the other. As if the land looks any different. As though there is any difference.
I take a few more photos, savoring the moment. Post them to Instagram. Send a free snaps and texts. Then I tighten my pack and start walking.
In the morning I hike with Andy, who is from England originally but lives in New Zealand. We coast the first easy three miles, taking photos at the Mile 1 sign and the famous sign by the railroad tracks that shows us that we’ve gone three miles. Alex and Petra join us for a dance at the sign, which Andy records. We are here at last!
I stop and load up on water at a flowing creek. There, Rolling Thunder, a long-time friend of Scout and Frodo’s, joins Andy and me, and the three of us hike together for the rest of the day. The conversation jumps from English slang to trail stories to all sorts of other topics. We take a few breaks to appreciate the views, then we find a lunch spot in a shady patch of dirt.
I’ve been ignoring the storm happening in my gut for a while now, so I finally accept my fate and go off to dig my first cathole of the PCT. Got that out of the way. I rejoin my little group for lunch, which is a tuna wrap with crushed white cheddar cheese-its followed by some Easter candy that I still have, despite seemingly constantly pigging out on it. At lunch Andy says he likes Pepsi more than Coke, which is patently wrong. Then I say that I have to go dig another cathole, bemoaning my challenges so far today and wondering aloud why this is happening to me. “Because you’re a terrible person and you’re being punished,” RT quips immediately in his Australian snark. I crack up as I skulk into the woods yet again. Two catholes down. How many more?
At least one today, it turns out. Something is not agreeing with me and I have to pull over less than a mile later to dig again. I hear Andy’s voice after a while. “Are you alright?” I laugh. “Yeah. Just going through some intestinal distress.” A few minutes back down the trail, Petra gives me ibuprofen, a bright pink tab of it, and “Czech immodium,” as she calls it. Both seem to do the trick.
The rest of the day is beautiful. Meandering switchbacks leading to flat, highway-like trails at the top of a ridge. Views for days down to Hauser Canyon. Wildflowers. This is so NOT the AT. I’ll always love the Appalachians. They’re home. But this? This is already extraordinary.
On the way down to Hauser, Andy, RT, and I play Would You Rather, but my questions are extremely PG compared to theirs. We descend the hill, down down down, until we see hikers gathered in a stand of trees. I think this can’t possibly be camp, but I check Guthook (sorry, Far Out. Can’t get used to that) and it says we’re here. 15 miles! It felt like five. This is so much easier than the AT!
I get set up and then join the huge group of hikers for a little chat. There’s Andy, plus the group of four from the Czech Republic, James from Birmingham, England, Feather Blue from Minnesota, Charlie from Oregon, and a few others whose names I didn’t catch. Soon it’s dinner time, and I have my first teriyaki rice side of the trail with a cup of green tea.
The conversation grows sillier and more animated as the night goes on. The sun sets. James tells us about his first Chipotle experience, where he somehow, inexplicably, was given a taco with just rice in it and all the toppings on the sides. Feather Blue and I swap AT stories. The Czech hikers share their bottle of homemade slivovice, a strong alcoholic beverage made with plums.
Andy and I stay up talking for a while after we’re all gotten ready for bed. We decide to try to leave by 6 to make it to breakfast at Lake Morena in the morning.
I love hikers. I love the trail already. It feels so good to be out here doing the thing. I am content and excited and exactly where I need to be.