PCT 2018: Day 1-7. Miles 1-109
Hiked 20 | at mile 20
We took an Uber from San Diego to Campo.
The car ride west to the terminus sent us winding through hilly silhouettes. “Pine Valley, the last real city for miles,” our driver, Shaun, told us.
We arrived. We walked up the sandy slope to the multi-tier statue that marked the border between Mexico and California. We posed for a picture, signed the log book, and were off.
Nicholas sped ahead, running on adrenaline and, I’m only assuming, a solid PCT high.
I strolled along at a much slower pace, relishing in the surreal-ness of feeling the Pacific Crest Trail beneath my feet. I snapped pictures and walked briskly as Nicholas’s yellow zlite bobbed ahead.
I eventually rounded a bend to find Nicholas at a complete stop. “I almost stepped on a rattlesnake.” The sand retained his footprint and the s-curve of the snake’s body. That would not make for a strong start.
At mile 15 we descended into the valley, turning a bend to see two hikers under a tree: Golden and Matt, the Aussie. This was the first time I met Golden, a gray-haired hiker with calves like no others. His demeanor whimsical and easygoing.
The day was long and hot but eventually ended at Lake Morena, mile 20. I had fallen behind and arrived to see Nicholas among the other PCT hikers. There were 15-ish other thru-hikers at the campground, all setting up there tents. We decided to cowboy camp for the night. We set up our groundsheet and placed our pads and bags on top. We had a clear view of the night sky and were sung to sleep by the sound of coyotes and turkeys.
Hiked 12 | at mile 32
The next morning we woke to a glistening coat of morning dew on our bags. First night cowboy camping was a quasi-success. We walked a half mile to score a hot breakfast as our gear dried.
We resumed another day toiling in the desert. But when I say desert, I mean mountainous desert brimming with sage brush and flowering bushes that smell of lilac. Nicholas and I were both blown away with the beauty of the terrain.
At a particular painful part of the day, when my feet ached and my knee was feeling tender, there was relief. A glorious watering hole at the base of a steep hundred-foot climb.
Kitchen creek was trail magic, pure ecstasy as the cool water soaked life into my sore limbs. We socialized with a German thru-hiker named Neil and soon watched Golden hustle down the cliff, submerging himself in the mini waterfall. “Ah, yeah, I don’t need a shower for awhile.”
The next three miles were hard on my knee, and we came upon a campsite only three miles after our soaking. I felt as if we needed to push for more miles, but my body was telling me otherwise. Golden arrived minutes after us. He sat on the tree we were perched on. “You two saying here?” I told him was my knee was sore but thought we might hike two more miles. Golden shook his head, “No you should stay. You don’t want to push yourself.” I proceeded to look at him and Nicholas, wondering what we should do. Golden repeated, “you should definitely stay,” his wire glasses glinting in the setting sun. We stayed, ate, and laughed. Nicholas put on a show as he squeezed into his sleeping bag, legitimately half his body doesn’t fit in it’s mummy shape. I call his sleeping bag the “glow worm” because he looks like a giant gray larva glowing in the darkness of the tent. Everyone laughed as he comically stuffed his body into the bag; his shoulders exposed. We would later learn the display would earn his trail name.
Hiked 16 | at mile 48
Day three was all about the views. I knew the first seven hundred miles of the trail went through the desert, but I didn’t realize how mountainous our traverse would be. At one point Nicholas said he felt like we were hiking in New Zealand—360-degree views of mountains shaded blue in the distance and brown and green in the foreground.
The highlight of the day was hiking to Mount Laguna. We planned on stopping at the cafe on top and scoring Gatorade at the general store.
13 miles through switchbacks and pockets of pines, I arrived at the cafe. Yes, I arrived. Only me. I had hiked ahead and realized Nicholas was not behind me. He must have taken the wrong path at the fork; how do you fuck that up, I thought. There were eight signs all pointing in one direction towards Mount Laguna’s populated side. I hobbled into the cafe to find Neil, Golden, Matt and a few other hikers gathered at a table. I said hello and told them how Nicholas took the wrong turn. Golden shook his head, “well, when he gets here, we have a few trail names for him.”
Nicholas set his pack down among the others on the patio and joined us inside. Soon enough Golden was down to business after we ate. “We have a few names for you on the table: Crop Duster, Squeeze—because of your sleeping bag, or Windy Pops.” I immediately voted for Squeeze, as did a couple others at the table. From then on he was known as Squeeze.
A solid social hour of lounging under a giant redwood ensued; many repairing blisters. By four we headed off to do our final miles of the day.
The sun was setting and the ache was creeping over my entire body. I sat at the bottom of a valley and sulked in pain. Then there came Golden barreling down the hill. He asked if we were hiking much farther. We told him a mile more although I was feeling cooked.
We came up upon him again down the trail telling he was going to camp in the ridge. We followed him to a spot overlooking the whole valley. The wind slammed us as we set up our tents and continued through the night.
Hiked 15.6 | at mile 63.6
The morning was a dance of colors, splashes of pink, orange, blue, and purple. The clouds spreading forth into the sky making way for the sun’s grand entrance.
Golden broke down his tent as the sky changed. His head lamp glowed blue and his long gray hair fluttered. He said he’d see us later, but that was the last time we saw Golden.
After a long lunch, we were blessed by trail magic—goodies left by trail angels. Our styrofoam box was loaded with grapefruit and oranges. I gorged on a grapefruit letting the juices spill down my chin. Magic, pure magic.
Hiked 13.7 | at mile 77.3
And on the fifth day there was wind. Lots of wind. We hauled ass down to Scissors Crossing where we decided to hitch into Julian for lunch and free pie at Mom’s pie shop.
I stuck out my thumb to have a few cars drive by in haste. A SUV passed us packed with hikers, a few arms waving to us as they passed. Soon the same vehicle pulled up and out hopped a stout, nearly bald German man with orange tinted sunglasses. “Need a ride to Julian?” He asked in his thick accent. We climbed in. He inquired if we needed a place to stay and offered us his RV for thirty bucks. Nicholas took the offer. “Ah yeah, it has a shower and bed and everything.” The German, Volker, took our money and agreed to pick us up at five, giving us a few hours in town.
Volker followed us into Carmen’s restaurant, a hiker friendly establishment. We found Spyglass, a Danish hiker we had camped with a couple nights. Volker spied him and told him he could still take care of his cough. Spyglass had been struggling to kick a cough while on trail. Volker urged him again. “They’re staying in my RV; you could stay in my living room. I’ll make you good as new.” Spyglass laughed, “you two took the RV deal?” We shrugged and laughed, “yep.” Spyglass decided to join us, as well as Waterfall. Volker instructed us to get fireball whiskey, honey, Vick’s vapor rub, and wine. This was going to be one hell of a party.
Volker picked us up and played classical German music. At one point he swerved on the wrong side of the road as we reached for his CDs. We made it to his trailer and RV, giving us the grand tour. We settled in and all took cold showers as Spyglass was shacked up with Volker in the trailer. We knocked on the door to be welcomed in, Spyglass sipping down his hot toddy—Volker’s secret to fixing his cough. “Fireball is the real magic potion of it all. It fixes everything.” He made waterfall and me a toddy.
That’s when I saw it. The same strange wooden apparatus in the RV was in the trailer: a power tool mounted to a wooden box with a throttle attached to wooden handle bars. The strangest part was a phallic shaped nub attached to the power tool. It was either a device made for torture or pleasure. I was unsure which.
I asked Volker what it was. He hold us it was his miracle massage machine he invented for his feet. He demonstrated pulling the throttle bar, igniting an engine equivalent to a chainsaw. It was the weirdest spectacle I had seen yet. Volker grinning wide, rubbing his feet on his machine’s nub. He encouraged us all to have a go, so naturally, we all took Volker’s invention for a spin. We were laughing at the craziness of it all: Volker feeding us hot toddies, wine, the strange massage machine, the immense noise of it all. I was sure the neighbors had woken.
We called it a night as my head felt light from wine and the noise. Hiker midnight never seemed so sweet. Volker promptly dropped us off at scissors crossing. We took a picture with him and were off. What a gem.
Hiked 17.1 | at mile 94.4
Blisters. Big and wide.
Finding a rhythm, yes.
Ramen for lunch, double yes.
Hiked 15.1 | at mile 109.5
I hiked alone as Nicholas went ahead to intercept our package at Warner Springs. The solitude was nice, but the hiker commune was even better: showers, hand washed clothes, epson salt foot baths, Gatorade, and a gear shop on wheels.