Day 1 – 2 Southern Terminus to Fred Canyon Campsite: Pain
Miles 0 – 32
Ouch! Everything hurts! My feet, neck, ankles, and shoulders hurt. Ouch! I was hoping to hike 20 miles from the border to Lake Moreno on the first day but after taking a rest at mile 9, I quickly began feeling every ache. I hiked the remaining 6 miles to Hauser Creek before settling down for the night. I was greeted with a campsite packed with other campers and surrounded by poison oak. After a long day of solo hiking, I was happy to have the company.
I was surprised with the large amount of water I’ve encountered. I must have passed 8 water sources and I felt fortunate as these have been non-existent in previous years and will vanish in the coming weeks. I’ve learned I’m hiking in the high desert as opposed to the low desert and it’s very reminiscent of Utah. A few new plants and lizards, but it’s not barren and it’s definitely not flat. I feel at home and at peace.
Day 2: I find my first hiking buddy, Tim. Tim is a 73 year old retired veteran and ultramarathoner who completed the trail in 2003. He’s also planned marathon routes all over the area and I constantly find myself impressed with his knowledge. We have good chemistry and somewhat similar speeds although he likes to rest more frequently than me. He’s also dealing with a foot that required surgery a couple years ago. By the time we reach camp at Fred Canyon after a long 17 mile day, his foot is causing him serious problems.
Day 3 – 4 Fred Canyon Campsite to Pioneer Mail Picnic Area: Shakedown
Miles 32 – 56.9
It was a bit of a rough start to the day as I learned Tim’s foot problems would prevent him from continuing. I’d had a great partner for 1 day. Feeling a bit bummed, I began the 10 mile hike to Mt. Laguna. I’d never hiked over 14 miles in a day so backpacking 15 & 17 for my first couple days had worn me out. The thought of a hot shower at the campsite followed by a burger and a beer pulled me the last few miles into town.
I arrived in the afternoon, just in time to learn that everything but the gear shop closed at 3. Seeing the restaurant sign flip from open to closed as I approached was disheartening. Instead of a burger, I’d be looking forward to dehydrated mashed potatoes. Instead of a beer, more water.
Dejected, I walked back to the campsite my legs aching with every hobbled step. I’d learn the showers were coin operated. $1 was supposed to buy a 4 min shower. Unfortunately, soap wasn’t included. After the half mile hike to the outfitter and back to buy soap I was finally prepared for my first hiker trash shower. I’d be showering with my clothes on to clean off some of the quarter inch of grime. The shower was glorious. My only complaint was that instead of a 20 minute shower for $5 it probably only lasted 12 minutes. At least I was clean and I’d washed most of the soap out of my clothes.
I made camp and was happy to meet new hikers. Unfortunately injuries were already mounting for some hikers. One couple had been knocked off the trail for a couple weeks due to a bad fall and another guy looked like he’d taken a grinder to the backs of his ankles, the aftermath of shoes that hadn’t fit properly. I was thankful my discomfort was superficial in contrast.
I had arranged for my first shakedown the next morning at the outfitter. A shakedown is essentially allowing a more seasoned hiker to rifle through your gear and tell you what you should get rid of. It’s a bit awkward as someone you just met is digging through everything you own and telling you all the mistakes you’re making by carrying it.
I desperately needed a shakedown. My base weight had ballooned to 38 lbs. Casualties included my solar charger, second pair of base layers, my hiking sandals, dry bags, stuff sacks, knife and misc. other gear totaling 11 lbs. After adding lighter replacements like flip flops, my base weight is now 28 lbs. I still need to lose another 10 lbs. or so, but it’s a start. My iPad will be one of the next items to go so bear with me as my blogging has now switched to my phone increasing the difficulty of proper editing. It’s amazing how the little things add up.
I left Mt. Laguna around 3 pm and hiked 10 miles along the prettiest section of trail up to that point. Walking along scenic ridge lines along with a lighter pack significantly increased my pace and reduced the pain. I setup camp near Pioneer Mail Picnic Area in a tiny space between bushes. It was so small that I was unable to secure my rain fly. This resulted in my least restful night of sleep to date. The wind howled and the fly flapped. At one point the fly almost flew away producing a loud thwacking sound. Begrudgingly, I forced myself to move from the comfort of my bag. Too tired to move my tent, I pulled off the fly and ducked back into the tent. Noticing a light perspiration in the air, I layed the fly out inside my tent with a hope that rain wouldn’t drench my gear. Thankfully I was spared and allowed to sleep for a few more hours.
Day 5 – 6 Pioneer Mail Picnic Area to Scissors Crossing: Water, Humility & Magic
Miles 56.9 – 77.3
There’s a wonderful community of volunteers along the PCT known as Trail Angels. These are ordinary people that perform extraordinary acts of kindness with the sole purpose of helping hikers. Sometimes they’ll drop off water in the middle of long waterless stretches in the desert. Other times they may give a hiker a ride into town. Their acts of kindness are known as Trail Magic. Previously I’d seen traces of Trail Magic. Typically it was a small water cache consisting of a couple jugs of water near the trail. However, the next 2 days showed amazing displays of generosity.
My first encounter was with Tom from Kennedy Meadows. He’d driven his RV to Sunrise Trailhead where he’d setup shade canopies and was grilling hamburgers for passing hikers. He was planning on spending the next 3 weeks taking care of hikers. He’s a great guy with good stories. Thanks for the food and drink.
It was also here that I’d begun to understand the humility I would be taught this day. I’d started the day by drinking water from a horse trough. It’s interesting how your perspective can change in such a short period of time. Previously I’d never consider drinking such foul water. However, as I stood in the midday heat of the desert, I was left with the options of quit or swallow my pride. The trough at Sunrise held the most wretched water I’d ever seen. For someone reluctant to try new foods, drinking this water tested my resolve and my pride.
Dinner water wasn’t much better as it consisted of filling water from the runoff of a spring across a muddy road. I’ve never valued water as much as I do now.
I was excited about the short trek into Scissors Crossing in the morning. If I was lucky, Angels would stock water under the freeway overpass. If not, I’d try my luck at my first hitch to get into the town of Julian. I arrived to an unbelievable site. 2 Angels stocking the area with food and beer. As I started drinking, I realized my day would be cut short but I’d have a lot of fun. The Angels were a riot and we had ourselves a shindig.
Day 7 Scissors Crossing to Barrel Spring: Growth
Miles 77.3 – 101.1
The next day would be a challenge as there was a 14 mile stretch uphill without water and that was if Angels had stocked the cache at mile 91. I met a couple hikers on the way up that stated the cache was empty as of yesterday. That would have added 10 more miles without water. Thankfully I’d packed 2 extra liters of water but it would still be a stretch to make it. I made the 14 miles by 11:30 and to my delight, the cache had been restocked. The trail provides.
Prior to this trek, I’d never hiked over 14 miles. This week I’ve backpacked 15, 17, and now 24 miles. Everyday I push myself, everyday I learn, everyday I grow. Everyday I’m surprised by the goodness and generosity of complete strangers. Everyday is a new day. I’m a lucky man. Tomorrow I’ll arrive at Warner Springs and then… who knows?