Someone’s alarm goes off at 5; someone else is already packing up under the large open-faced tent I called home last night, so there’s no getting back to sleep for those last five minutes before my own alarm goes off. I feel like I should mind more, but it is what it is, and so I’m up myself, unplugging and packing and doing a million idiot checks1 before Frodo calls us all in for breakfast.
25 of us pile into the same room, eat chili relleño frittata and fruit and Frodo’s special pumpkin muffins. We drink coffee and are too busy stuffing our faces to talk much. Soon enough, Scout does roll call, and even though I’ve decided on another piece of frittata it’s time to go. I hork it down, praying it won’t come back up as the butterflies come a-fluttering back, and, feeling optimistic, grab a muffin to go.
The drive to the monument’s an hour long, and the 5 hikers in Scout’s van all handle it differently: one’s asleep, one’s quiet, another’s talking about the cycling she did from Seattle all the way down to San Diego to come and hike, her concerns about foot stuff and traffic and and and. I’m answering Scout’s questions about Spesh, about myself, feeling kind of numb. My stomach, treacherous bastard that it is, is thinking about revolting, but I manage to keep it in check as things start to look familiar: the closest grocery store to Lake Morena, where the Kickoff is held; the exit for Mount Laguna, a town 42 miles in, the Border Patrol checkpoint for the northbound lanes. Soon enough, we’re on the dirt road south of Campo, and then there it is.
The border wall, and the monument.
No one really wants to touch the sacred symbol, so Scout pushes the register in our direction to break the ice, and then we’re all leaping around and sitting on and being ridiculous with the monument to chase away our feels.
Then a group photo, of all the folks there:
And then… all of us just mill about for a moment. Delaying the inevitable.
I say goodbye, thank you, to Scout – we’ve been talking a lot about Spesh, but Scout says it’s my time. That gives me heart, and after a moment tempting fate and also tetanus slipping a finger through the border wall, I’m off, down and around the oak tree in the growing sunshine.
It’s warm but nice out, for now at least, though some people are already talking about how warm it is. Since there’s barely a cloud in the sky, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Best to make miles before that happens.
There’s a hiker I start with who’s decided to do five push-ups for every mile she does, so when we see this sign, it’s pictures and then off with her pack, down she goes. Or up and down, at any rate. I admire the hell out of that: the five she does is five more than I can do, so good on her for wanting upper body strength as well as the lower body strength she’ll get from making miles.
Everyone told me the desert was full of life, but I didn’t appreciate just how colorful it could be until I started getting distracted by the purples, yellows, and pinks of the blooming flora. And the fauna! A million tiny lizards from at least three different species make way for me as I lumber down the trail, and there are ants and birds and oh sweet jesus biting flies already?! So much life, even if some of it is vampiric.
The trail is just gorgeous, wandering over railroad tracks and up hills to show us the landscape:
As the trail heads upwards, so does the heat, climbing together unbearably and forcing me to try to squeeze into shady spots that definitely will not even remotely fit me and sigh theatrically when I don’t fit. I’m drinking lots of water and alternating with Gatorade, but I’ve sweated through my everything; while I’ve eaten without incident(!!) and dug/utilized a cathole without incident(!), I’m still feeling nauseous from the heat.
Dom, another hiker, has this magical way of taking breaks when I need a break – she’s both opportunistic when it comes to shade and super friendly, and her welcoming presence encourages me to take much-needed breaks. After learning we share a similar sense of humor – and a similar pace – we basically become break buddies, often leapfrogging, but always meeting back up to occupy some shade.
At mile 12, I leave her behind to tend to her blisters and take a nap, thinking I’ll meet her at Hauser Creek, mile 15.4, where I’ll take my own nap; I make it about a quarter of a mile before I find shade, and I stare at it and my body pouts until I relent and lay my tyvek and myself down in it. I’m acutely aware of the flies, but none of them seem to be biting me here; hummingbirds flit by2, and a vulture is being lazy overhead. Or maybe it thinks I’m dead. I’m too tired to care.
I mean to nap for 45 minutes, but after about 20 I hear noises and get paranoid that I’m being stalked by a mountain lion – I understand I’m being paranoid, but I also have no intention of getting eaten on day one, so it’s up and at ’em, and Dom catches me shortly after. We enjoy each other’s company as we debate where the trail is headed.
From where we are, the trail heads down to Hauser and then up again to Lake Morena, but while we know this conceptually, it’s quite another thing to see it:
With the rapid turnaround time between not hiking and hiking, and the zero training I’ve done3, I think I could get up that hill, but it would be a miserable, feet-mincing slog. I decide to stop at Hauser for the evening, even though it’s early, and Dom also doesn’t want any part of that hill, so it’s down the road and past interesting signs to get there.
Hauser is dry, and there’s poison ivy in abundance, but there are several nice ivy-free campsites just off the trail, where Dom and I are properly introduced to Katie, who I’d seen briefly earlier. We get to pitching our shelters and talking, and, as others roll in, involve them in the conversation as they pitch.
Soon, there’s a veritable party of eleven people, and it feels like we’re well and truly on our PCT adventure. We talk until the sun goes down, and then there’s a brief incident involving a stove and a lot of flames and excitement, but then we all settle in to sleep.
Start: 0.0 • End: 15.4 • Day: 15.4
Notable Accomplishments: Didn’t die • Actually carried enough water • Flora and fauna and humans oh my!
 Sometimes, we leave stuff behind – and feel like idiots for doing so. An idiot check – making plenty sure you have all your stuff – prevents you from feeling like an idiot.