“Why am I crying?” I wonder to myself as I walk my way into the damp morning, the wet grasses sharing their moist greetings. I was thinking about a message I had just received from my brother Dave with words of encouragement, a benign observation about “some elevation today”, and a Springsteen video as added bonus. As far back as 1995, just at the advent of the Internet, Dave and I would find and follow dispatches from far flung adventures. Expeditions to Mt Everest were some of the first to use technology to tell their stories of adventure in near real time. Now being on the other side of the storytelling triggered a well of emotion I didn’t know was there. I am going to chalk it up to joy.
I woke up this morning at 4:30 to the light patter of rain on my tent. It’s important to know that ‘hiker midnight’ is 9pm so I had plenty of rest. I packed my wet things and set off around 6am.
The trail started flat, winding its way around Lake Morena before rising into the Laguna Mountains. A marine layer blocked out the sun and I imagined the wispy fingers of clouds pulling me up the hill. The clouds seemed to keep rising, eluding capture until finally I entered their hushed kingdom, my labored breathing the only intrusion. Beauty abounds!
Dave’s ‘some elevation’ turned out to be over 6900 feet today so I’m glad he wasn’t specific with his warning. The sun finally broke through giving me a chance to dry out my gear during lunch. Then the race was on to see if I could get to Mt Laguna Lodge and my first resupply box before ithey closed. Almost immediately I came across a small rattlesnake sunning himself in the middle of the trail.
Nothing like a little adrenaline to fuel the final push up the hill. I made it to the store in time but was pretty grumpy about the extra .5 mile to the store. My dogs aren’t just barking, they are howling. What you don’t see in this picture from the lodge’s front porch is the 7lb bag of ice under my feet. I know the Sierra are more than twice the elevation but today was a sufficient test for this Tenderfoot.
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings -John Muir
Campo, CA to Lake Morena Campground
Mile 0 – Mile 20.4
“It’s your turn” smiles Barney ‘Scout’ Mann, the twinkle in his bright, blie eyes conveying all his passion and dedication to the PCT. He wasn’t directing me to the delicious breakfast spread that he and Frodo had prepared for the group of 21 that stayed with them last night. He was saying today is the start of my hike. You can get a full appreciation of his enthuiasm and trail knowledge from the stunning coffee table book he co-authored called, what else, The Pacific Crest Trail.
Our group today joined the almost 900(!) folks that will pass through Scout and Frido’s door this year. I met people from Sydney, the UK, Germany, Hong Kong, Canada, New Hampshire, Florida, North Carolina, and Vermont. They come from all walks of life, age, gender, circumstances, and experience levels but all share the inner drive to set forth on the PCT this year.
A fleet of vehicles swung through the sleeping neighborhood at 6am. Packs were loaded, goodbyes and thank yous said, and within an hour we unloaded at the southern terminus of the PCT!
You have to understand that I’ve been reading about and seeing pictures of the monument there for years. To finally arrive in person was in a word, surreal. We showed our permits, snapped some photos, and then all the nervous energy was unleashed on the trail.
The day was cool and overcast but the sun broke through just as I departed the border. I all but floated through the first mile fussing with straps and gear and trying not let my excitement get the better of me.
The clouds made the day close to ideal for the ups and downs. Doing the same 20 miles umder a hot sun would have made things much harder. The trail wound through rocky terrain, dry chaparral and desert blooms. Beautiful!
I am now warm in my tent happy about my first day. I would not say today was easy but to paraphrase Nietzsche , I’m not dead so I must be stronger. I will point out that the first rank within the Boy Scouts is aptly named Tenderfoot.
It seems to me that time occasionally folds back on itself almost as if we live in a pleated universe.
My first one-way trip to San Diego happened in 1986 when I moved south with all my belongings to start school at San Diego State University. I was picked up at the airport by a long, white government van and whisked away to the (now defunct) Naval Training Center San Diego for two weeks of boot camp. So began my brief career as a midshipman in the Reserve Officer Training Corps. Showing up at boot camp with a set of golf clubs is not high on my list of recommendations. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Mayorga, a hard, lean Cuban with ice blue eyes, took great exception to my accouterments and was not shy about letting me know. “Betz!!!”, he screams in my mind still to this day, “you think this is a vacation?! You think you are on vacation to play golf? Drop and give me 40! Butt down and hit that dirt meng!”
Contrast that memory with the extraordinary invitation from Scout and Frodo, legendary ‘trail angels’ who host PCT hikers each year at their home in San Diego. Trail angels are the kindly denizens of the PCT who make ‘trail magic’ happen all along the trail benefitting hikers and speeding them on their way. Believe it or not, Scout and Frodo extend an offer to all comers. They will pick you up wherever you arrive- plane, bus, or train, take you to their home for a meal and camping in their backyard, wake you up in the morning with something to eat, and finally whisk you off to the trailhead at dawn on your day of departure. Gratis, no donations please, unless you want to contribute to the Pacific Crest Trail Association. All you have to do is let them know when and how you will arrive in San Diego on their website. In addition to incredible generosity, Katrina points out their sly wisdom in hosting hikers at the beginning of their journeys instead of what’s sure to become an unkempt, unwashed, and odiferous horde further up the trail.
Ever the self-assured independent, accepting the kindness of strangers is yet another of my mini challenges for this hike but I’m no dummy. Confronted with the many blessings of Gunnery Sergeant Mayorga or those of Scout & Frodo, the choice becomes as clear as the blue skies of San Diego.
With one week to go before I jet off to San Diego, I wonder about the things I will miss most out on the trail. There are many unknowns about walking the PCT full time for four months (and I suppose that’s the point) but I do expect life to get pretty simple: Walk. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Of the four, eating and repeating loom as the most challenging.
In these waning days, Katrina and I have been visiting all of our favorite food places including a quick trip north to the Willows Inn on Lummi Island. There, the many dedicated acolytes transform locally sourced ingredients into ephemeral art.
Holy smokes. Anyone even mildly interested in food (or in need of scoring big points with the significant other) will be transported by the delicious, unique expressions of food there. My phone might just be full of food porn pics lest I forget that all meals needn’t be rehydrated.
If you know Katrina, you will know that her passion for cooking healthful food is only transcended by her ability to do it well. Without doubt, the empty place I expect to feel will have as much to do with hunger as it does with missing my home. She provides all the motivation I need to walk fast. Note the wine choice here. Kat assures me that it has nothing to do with the PCT and foreshadows only another luxurious absence in my life as a thru hiker. I almost had her convinced that REI now sells dehydrated beer and wine. Biblical references aside, I’d be happy for that little miracle but alas not.
Aside from missing my resplendent relationship with food, I wonder about coping with the simplicity of repetitive walking. Getting up every day with the only objective of putting one foot in front of the other seems brain numbing. My mind typically operates 24/7 solving puzzles, working out answers, planning next steps, and thinking about what’s to come. It’s pretty useful to jump out of bed having figured out how to rewire the vanity light in the bathroom while sleeping. I expect that to fall away as life gets real simple, real fast but perhaps that will create an opening for something else? Or maybe I’ll be so dog tired at the end of the day that I will just sleep. For the waking hours I have my iPod loaded with audio books and music but suspect that the quiet, stillness of nature will command attention and respect.
“Take a course in good water and air; and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own. Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you.” -John Muir
So who knows what will come? I revel in the great good fortune of getting to find out for myself.