Are we nearly there yet?
In ten days (from time of writing) I start my thru hike at the Mexican border – somehow this still feels like an impossibly long time. I flew out from London a week ago, an almost 12 hour flight into LA where I was sat next to a man who asked ‘are we nearly there yet’ at regular intervals from the moment we took off to the moment we touched down in exchange for a forced laugh through gritted teeth. Border security at Heathrow was especially high after the attack in London the previous week, and border security grilled me intensively about my intentions in the U.S. and my job in London.
Close to landing we flew over the white peaked Sierras and I looked down on them with trepidation. At LAX I found my stove had been stolen from my hold bag. I then spent an hour struggling with my bags through a concrete system of endless taxi ranks trying to locate my Uber driver, who patiently talked me through it over the phone, dissuading me from just giving up and walking the 8 miles to my motel. My parents met me at the motel and spent the following week with me in SoCal, to say goodbye and take a brief holiday (a vacation to you Americans).
I’ve been planning this thru hike for just under year. I learned about the PCT in May 2016 after reading Aspen Matis’ Girl in the Woods (which I reviewed recently in 10 Books On Hiking and Nature Written by Women). I’d never heard of the trail before I picked up that book, never heard of long distance hiking or thru hiking. I hadn’t backpacked since I was 16, but the decision to take on a thru hike was almost instantaneous, it was very clear to me that this was exactly what I needed to do. I was about to graduate university and spent the rest of the summer researching the Pacific Crest Trail with obsessive intensity in my spare time. I was working as a bouncy castle attendant at the time and didn’t have much money but I started putting what I did have aside; within a month I had booked my flights to the U.S. and applied for a Visa.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been in the U.S with my parents but every time brings fresh culture shocks and frustrations – for breakfast there is, according to my mother ‘those breads with holes in’ (bagels), the coffee is weaker here and comes in a vat and the huge highways are terrifying. We drive down to San Diego in a rental car, constantly reminding my father to drive on the right side of the road. At every junction we spend a few quick moments trying to work out the myriad of signal lights before my mother shrieks ‘GO RIGHT GO RIGHT NOW’ and we inevitably turn the car to the scream of angry car horns from other drivers because we’ve gone the wrong way.
I spent the last week in San Diego in a state of near constant anxiety trying to sort out money and final bits of gear. I’m both impatient to get on the trail, and anxious for more time. My parents patiently drove me to REI, where I spent a frightening amount of money on socks, and to Trader Joe’s where I filled baskets of food for my first few resupplies. I managed to fit in a few runs along the coast in La Jolla, and a day hike with my dad in the Anzo Borrego desert. On the way to Phoenix, my final pit stop where my parents will depart and I’ll be staying with friends for a week, we stop by in Julian and Idyllwild where there are ‘PCT hikers welcome’ signs in the windows of the shops and cafes and we spot our first thru hikers traipsing through. ‘You can tell the thru hikers by the smell!” I tell my mother enthusiastically, she doesn’t look impressed.
In Idyllwild we hiked up to the PCT along a winding mountain side trail called the Devil’s Slide trail. At the top I stand on the PCT for the first time, in three feet of snow, and almost immediately a trio of park rangers appear and shoo us off because we don’t have day hiking permits. On the trail back we meet a group of older hikers on the trail in their 60s who ask me what I’m doing in the U.S, I tell them I’m thru hiking and soon they are gathered round me in a circle talking enthusiastically about the PCT and hiking. They’re keen hikers, kitted out in boots and hefty gear, and are amazed by my light pack and trail runners – even getting me to lift my feet so they can examine the tread. As we say goodbye one of the women (who looks uncannily like Sigourney Weaver) grips my hand tightly and wishes me good luck. Thank you Sigourney Weaver lookalike, I think I’ll need it.
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