Mt Laguna to Sunrise Trailhead
Mile 41.5 – Mile 59.5
“You got one of them hiker walks” observed the bemused shopkeeper at Mt Laguna Lodge. I think the owners there maybe take inapproriate pleasure (and profit too) based on their proximity to the PCT. I am sure they see more than their share of walking wounded this time of year. My triathalon friends Mark, Sonjia, and Robbie will recognize it as the ‘Ironman Shuffle’ where teeth gritted, face fixed with a distant stare, the hapless participant somehow propels themselves forward. So when I took the picture above this morning and thought perfect! ‘Walking Tall’will headline today’s post, alas, I remembered my promise of an honest account. The start of today could not properly be called a walk.
Things improved as my legs and feet warmed and rose to the occasion. The trail wound through a grassy forest along a ridge, the cool shadows losing the battle with a hot, rising sun. Even early on, I could tell today’s challenge would be more sun than slope.
I should not have been surpised how cold it got last night since it snowed 2 inches there on Sunday. I was however caught off guard by the sun’s intensity even early in the day. I deployed my new favorite piece of trail gear- trekking umbrella! and proceeded to hide under it the rest of the day. What it lacks in glamor it more than balances with pure efficiency. I bet I was 10-15 degrees cooler and not getting toasted pink like some of my fellow hikers. I could tell they wanted to mock the look but they were secretly jealous I’m sure. There was almost no shade today after leaving the Mt Laguna area.
I saw no more rattlesnakes either but since the encounter yesterday, every twig, branch, and misshapen land feature received my full attention just in case. No fanfare or confetti marked my passage of the 50 mile mark save for a friendly horny toad who paused to salute the occasion.
The name of the game these next few days is water management. Sources are either sketchy or few and far between making for a great math story problem for my young nieces and nephews:
If Uncle John drinks 1 liter of water every four miles and the next good water source is 20 miles away, how much water does he need to carry and how much will it weigh if a liter of water weighs 2.2 pounds?
Bonus question: Should he drink from this instead?
“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.
Taping up my resupply boxes over the weekend felt like commitment. At some point all the researching, planning, and preparing gave way to a centered calmness knowing that I am ready to walk. The chaos surrounding my little bubble elsewhere in life tells a different story.
Never ones to play small, Katrina and I set about reconfiguring our cirucumstances to accommodate my absence for 4 months, Hanna heading to college come September (UW, woot!), and life after the corporate desk job. Everything from installing security cameras, building flower boxes, doing finish electrical/plumbing/carpentry, and moving furniture, each day has reminded me of both the satisfaction and toll of physical labor. Just as I have my plan for the trail, we have sketched out our audacious plan for life’s next chapter. I complement Kat’s exquisite design sense and human touch with a stubborn ‘we can do it all’ attitude.
My optimistic approach shows up in my plan for the PCT too. I am starting out later than the conventional norm of early to mid April. Ideally you want to time your entry into the Sierras at about mile 700 to balance the creeping heat of the Mojave desert with the snow melting in the high mountains. Think oppressive, dry desert walking with scarce water versus abundant water although in the form of hip deep mushy snow and high running creeks. With super high snowpack this year, I’m betting a later start makes good sense. Even so I expect my pace will be faster than the average bear driven by my desire to get home (see site title) and I hope to hit the Sierras mid/late June. Combining all those factors, an admittedly unachievable schedule emerges (yep, there’s an app for that too) and I can guess where I will be and when. Lots of folks have expressed interest in meeting up somewhere along the way and this stands as my best albeit preliminary estimate. It presupposes at least 20 miles per day and does not account for any days off so while I know it’s not right, I’d rather my food boxes be waiting for me than the other way around. Interestingly enough, only 4 of the 29 boxes I will be sending go to Washington addresses pointing out the immensity that is California.Now all that’s left for me to do besides the waiting is to stuff my backpack, bring all my resupply boxes over to my momma’s house, and get on a plane. Oh, that and the umpteen other things on my list(s):
I have always been a bit of a map geek. Some would say, “John, you are being way too specific.” I liked to claim control of the old AAA triptiks from the back seat of the family wagon (green, paneled and of the station variety) following our progress as we cruised across the country on family road trips. Flash forward to my days as a junior product manager working on Microsoft Access and Foxpro when the coolest demo we could devise to demonstrate our speedy database was to plot every U.S. zip code on a blank white screen. With “Rushmore(tm) technology(!)”, eventually you could make out the shape of the U.S. after drawing something like 50,000 points. Woot!
In the heady days of CD-ROM multimedia titles, we had a terrific team working on Microsoft’s mapping products some of whom you see pictured below. It was one of those rare and coveted career times when the relationships established endure long after the team disbands.
We did a lot of great work together building new business for Microsoft including adding a GPS puck to our Streets and Trips product. Now the hardcopy AAA triptiks of old could be replaced by a blinking cursor on a scrolling display if you could somehow figure out a safe way to power and position your enormous laptop safely inside your car. Convenience was not part of the value proposition.
Fortunately technology marches on and I won’t need to lug a PC on my hike. Garmin now makes a handheld satellite device called an inReach Explorer. For a mere 8 ounces (along with a spendy satellite data plan), anybody so armed can be located anywhere on the planet with timely accuracy. In addition to the old outdoor adage of ‘staying found’, messages can be sent and received conveying everything from a daily “all is well” update to an urgent SOS. At any given time my current location will be available here.
Of course technology fails so I will also have paper maps and a compass should I ever need them. 2650 trail miles makes for a lot of paper maps. The kind stewards of the PCT (big props to Yogi and HalfMile) make it easy to obtain and organize all the trail maps so they sent in resupply boxes.