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Day 3 – 4/16
Miles 18.8
I’ve picked a bad place for my “bed” and I’m paying for it. I made sure to make an anatomical hip divot in the dirt, but there’s a bit too much slope which puts all my weight on my already sore sides. After tossing and turning all night, I get up around 6:30 and start hiking.

The scenery has changed dramatically from yesterday. What was dry low shrub desert, is now an evergreen forest. The dry air and the smell of pines brings me back to Colorado. Whatever discontent I had from the nights rest is now gone.

There are a number of fellow thru hikers at the general store when I arrive to do my first resupply. Many of them are sprawled out on the patio with all of their stuff laid out while they reorganize. I stake out my claim and head inside to load up on food for the next four days. When I get back outside one of the more experienced hikers is helping some people sort through their gear. I hear “no you don’t need a full size bottle of soap” and chuckle to myself. I’m also surprised to hear from another hiker that he has talked to four people that have already decided to quit, one within the first 12 miles!

Eventually, I head off back to the trail. A few miles later the scenery changes again, and I find myself in an area where there was recently a wildfire. Nature sensing its scarred skin has attempted to cover up with a blanket of flowers. Strolling through the flowers, I unexpectedly come upon my first big panorama and let out “huzzah!” I stop and stare for a bit and note how dry it looks to the north east. I hope I’m not headed there.

Luckily, the trail follows the ridge for now and doesn’t go into what I’ve dubbed “the wasteland.” As I cruise along, I hear some scuffling feet behind me. Looking back, I see a tall skinny guy flying down the trail. I usually have pretty good pace with my long legs but this guy has me beat. I chat with him and learn he’s recently had his 40th birthday and wants to do 40 miles today(on his second day). As he zooms off, I realize he’s the fist person to pass me, and I am reminded there are always bigger fish in the sea.

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Day 2 – 4/15
Miles: 17.6
Lake Morena to Long Canyon Creek

A full moon and many dogs celebrating it in the distance cause me to wake often. I’m fully awake now, and I look at my watch to find out that it’s only 6. I eat granola and a snickers in bed and head out around 7.

The morning is cool and the trail winds it way through a flat meadow. My shoulders are quite sore after hauling all that water yesterday, but I feel good overall. Walking in the morning sun puts a smile on my face.

Near noon, I’m back to climbing big hills and it’s starting to get hot, really hot. I decide to pull off the trail and find some shade. However, there is no shade here. After half an hour, I give up and wiggle my way under some tall bushes. Not long after, another hiker joins me and also complains about the lack of shade. The heat is mind numbing, so I try to take a nap and listen to the bees overhead hum and let the flys try to clean my feet.

Around 3:30 it’s a bit cooler, but there is also a nice breeze. I venture out from the bushes and start hiking again. With the cooling temperatures, all feels right in the world, and the next six miles to camp fly by.

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Day 1 – April 14
Miles 20

Yesterday I was in San Diego eating, drinking, and catching up with an old friend. Now it’s 7am and I’m driving down to the border in my friends pickup. The wind is howling and trying to steer the car, but I barely notice as I’m lost in thought. The last few days have been surreal and it still hasn’t settled in what I’m about to do.

We get to the border and the wind is still gusting. A short walk up a hill and we’re at the terminus. I pose for some of the required “dazed pct hiker at the monument” pictures. My friend heads back to his car. I’m about to head off, but then I think “uhm, where the hell is the trail.” There are four different dirt roads and none look like trails. I’m forced to get out my map and look and I haven’t even started!

The trail after that is much better marked and I start running up the miles. I run into some of my first fellow thru hikers. We chat for a bit and I learn they are two sisters who recently quit their jobs of 17 years and shaved their heads to do the pct. I hike with them for a bit until they (wisely) take a break from the heat before we head up a big climb. I go a little further to stop in the valley before I go up, but there’s no wind here and it is uncomfortably hot. I decide to head up the hill in the peak afternoon heat. Luckily, I am greeted by a nice breeze. At the top I find a slice of shade and pull off to change my socks and examine the fine grit that has made it past my dirty girl gaiters.

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Five miles later, I’m at the Lake Morena campground setting up camp. I meet some more hikers in our “special” pct campsite. We find out the little store is still open in town and grab some beers and ice cream.

After the long hot day and a few evening chores, I get in my sleeping bag and think about the day and what lies ahead. I’m still not sure it’s sunk in that I’m on the pct. I drift off to sleep under a full moon at the late hour of eight o’clock, excited for what the next day will bring.

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For so long the PCT has a been a distant dream, but now I’m sitting here in disbelief that I’ll be in San Diego today and starting THE HIKE tomorrow. I’m not sure the exact date I really decided to attempt the PCT.  I had started to think more about it in September after a trip to Glacier National Park, yet I was still hesitant because my knee was having issues. I had told myself that I would make my decision if my knee got better. In November, after weeks of physical therapy exercises, my knee did get better, and I decided to get serious about the PCT.

 

Before I started planning for the PCT, I didn’t think it would be that complicated to arrange. Then I started a TODO list. As the list grew and grew, it then it dawned on me, that this wasn’t just planning a backpacking trip, but planning an expedition. Besides the TODO list, there was choosing all my gear. At the time I had been happy with all my backpacking gear, most of which I had made or bought during college. Then I began looking at the evil internet, and it started my lust for lighter gear. Equipped with more income than my college days, I was also able to look at things I had previously discounted. The choices were endless and I consumed many hours researching and going on spending binges. Lo and behold all nine point five pounds of fancy fabrics and carbon crap in the obligatory PCT hiker’s gear picture:

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P.S. My TODO has only one thing left (of 47)!

 

 

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When I arrive home from work my things and mind are scattered. I stand in my room staring off into the void of my floor. I feel the pressing need to go on a “shakedown hike,” to test out some new gear before I take it on my BIG HIKE. When I finally come to, I have a plan. I’ll find a route, arrange my carefully selected pieces of equipment into a carefully ordered pile, then stuff that pile into my carefully selected pack. The plan turns into action, but the action takes longer than I want. By the time I’m done, I’m exhausted, and quickly slip into a deep sleep.

I wake early with the hope to get 40 miles in over two days at Henry Coe state park. As I run through my checklist and route one more time, I start to feel a little unsure of my route. Late in the evening, I checked the total elevation gain and at more than 6000ft each day, I will be pushing myself. Trying not to think about it, I throw my gear in my car and head to the park.

When I finally arrive at the park headquarters, there are several old buildings on a ridge with various rusty relics from the ranch that this state park use to be. I head into the visitor center to get my permit for the weekend, and a friendly older man greets me. I show him my route and ask him about a little piece of private land my path traverses. Unfortunately, he tells me that I can’t get through there, so I’ll have to adjust my route.  After settling on slightly different route, he asks me “two or three nights?” I say “one,” and he seems a little taken back.

The trail starts gently and meanders through some oak trees, but after two miles I start to lose elevation quickly. A few miles later it’s already noon and I’m getting hungry, so I pull off the trail near Poverty Flat. I sit near a stream and eat my gourmet lunch of string cheese, salami, and tortillas. After losing all that elevation, I quickly start to gain it again, then lose it again, then gain it again, then lose it again, and so on.  I run upon a gaggle of women that look quite tired, which is rightfully so, since each of their backpacks looks like it may be holding a kitchen sink. I singsong, what’s become my mantra as I walk, “up a ridge, down a ridge, up a ridge, down a ridge”.  They give me an exhausted laugh as I set off up yet another ridge.

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More miles and ridges pass and I start to run low on water. I decide to stop at a pond and fill up. The sun is starting to droop in the sky and the temperature has started to sag as well. The pond is very quiet, and I feel unsettled until a duck comes over and keeps me company while I load up on water. By the time I’m done and start walking again, I am colder than I want to be and am forced to don more layers.

Soon the shadows all grow into one. I need to find some level ground for the night. The “trail” I’ve been following for the last hour has become less and less of a trail. I find a relatively flat spot that looks to be an old horse camp and settle down. With a clear forecast, I forgo my tarp and decide to cowboy camp. I choke down a dehydrated meal and start to watch the stars come out. It’s still relatively early since the sun doesn’t stay out for long this time of year. To pass the time I read my kindle in my sleeping bag.  My hands start to get cold so I resort to “turning pages” with a nose tap.  Not long after, the kindle starts acting up and doesn’t want to change pages. I guess it doesn’t like to be out in the cold either.

I stare at the stars for as long as I can, but eventually my eyelids grow heavy and I drift off of this world. I don’t know where I am but I’m with someone I know. She tells me something funny and there’s a long pause. Just as we both start to lean in, I’m yanked back into the dark night. At first I’m dazed, but soon I feel the cold wet kiss of rain mixed with snow. Some instinctual response kicks in and in no time flat, I’m out of my sleeping bag and setting up my tarp.

When I wake in the morning, my mouth is parched, and I discover most of my water is frozen. I complain to a tree about the forecast of a clear night and lows in the mid 30’s. The tree silently agrees. The sky looks clear now, so I decide to wait for the sun to come help me from my cocoon. Just before the sun is about to slide over me, the sky clouds over and I’m forced to emerge without the suns help. I grumble to the tree again.

I set off up another ridge. The trail that was barely there before disappears and becomes merely a suggestion on my map. I follow a ridge line which should take me to a more established trail. In the distance I see a what appears to be fog rolling in. The fog rolls closer, the wind picks up, and I now see what I thought was fog, is actually snow coming my way.

At first the snow is novel and I stop to try to take some pictures. I’m up high on the unmarked trail with a ways to go. The wind blows harder, the snow picks up its tempo, and I feel a bit uneasy. On the downhills, I jog hoping to get to the better marked trail before the snow collects. Finally, I make it to the new trail and it quickly drops off the ridge line to the valley. Halfway down, the snow turns to a cold miserable rain. I slog through the next 10 miles in the rain with uninspiring scenery.

As quickly as the snow started, the rain stops, and I find myself in China Basin. A river runs through the basin, but this time of year the water doesn’t seem to be moving. There are many still, crystal clear pools, lined with dry grass and trees wrapped in mossy coats. Rising from the water are jagged grey rocks streaked with white veins. The area nearly looks like a manicured garden. My morale returns as my clothes dry and I venture further. I decide this is a perfect place for lunch.

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I finish eating and gazing in the pools and continue on. I head up hopefully the last ridge through more manzanita trees than I’ve ever seen. Some of the trees are burned creating a stark contrast with their bright smooth red bark. At the top of the ridge the scenery changes, and I walk by naked oak trees blanketed in an eerie fog. I feel I’m getting closer to the ranger station as more people appear in the fog.

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I arrive back at my car in good spirits but tired. I take off my pack which feels wonderful at first, but then I feel like something has been rubbing. Lifting up my shirt to check the damage, I’m surprised to find a tick latched to me. With some vigorous cursing and tweezering, the bastard finally lets go. Leaning back on the bumper of my car, I think about highs and lows over just a two-day trip. This makes me wonder how many I’ll have on the Pacific Crest Trail. A grin grows on my face, and I let out an excited laugh mixed with a tinge of fear.