From Zero to 178 miles on the PCT

Hiker Boot Camp

I’m out of the classroom and into the field work.  These first 178 miles have been like my hiker Boot Camp!  Moving from a vision and research from the sofa  into the practicum has been quite exciting and better than the sofa vision.

Reoccurring Thought Thread throughout this Boot Camp Period 

While the PCT trail tread is a physical linear line measured in miles, the experience of a community of diverse individuals walking the trail, makes it simultaneously a 3 dimensional experience because of the bonds being formed, our own internal dialogues in our heads, as well as the interpersonal dialogues shared.  The trail is hard, full of obstacles both physical and mental, dangerous, and requires continual critical thinking.  YET it is a SAFE place for those looking to Repair, Replenish, and/or Enhance their soul and well being.  To me the Trail Name we give each other is the essence of the safety and trust in the brotherhood/sisterhood of the trail community.  Validation in the purest form.

It’s GO Time

Flew out of Minneapolis into San Diego on 4/17 and took a shuttle and bus line to the Mission Beach Hostel one block from the ocean.  First hostel experience for me.  Was different but OK.  Nice to walk the beach and stick my toes in the sand.  Got on a bus to the Old Town Transit Center Thursday afternoon where the PCT Southern Terminus Shuttle picked 10 PCT Thru-Hikers up in a very nice/roomy van.  “Just Paul” was the driver, and he and his wife “One Speed”, hiked the PCT and have now started the service.  Drove us to REI for fuel and anything else we needed, had the menu from the Green Store in Campo to call in for a sandwich, which was ready when we arrived.  Green Store had all the food a hiker could want.  Just Paul answered all the questions we could ask and also asked us questions we had not asked.  We all stayed at the CLEEF Riding Camp that partners with the Shuttle Service for PCT hikers.  If you don’t use the service, you can still stay at the campsite for $12.00.  I highly recommend that as an option as they have a wonderful set-up with couches, tables, heat lamps, bathroom facilities, etc. under a covered patio where everyone could gather and get to know each other.  We had about 25 people there from all over the world all super excited to begin Trekking.  Just Paul, One Speed, and Papa Bear each went over some safety, hydration strategy, and heat exhaustion tips.  And we spent the evening getting to know each other.  The next morning they provided us with an awesome breakfast with Papa Bear making us Chocolate Chip Pancakes.  I was standing with Just Paul observing the clusters of hikers eating their breakfast and the whole patio was buzzing with an energy that was very powerful.  I turned to him and said, “Can you feel the energy?  I bet this is the payoff for all the hard work put into creating this oasis.”  He smiled and said EVERYDAY is like this and yes it was.  And the Trekking began in various waves of new compadres. 


First Day on Trail

The first 15 miles up the trail to Hauser Creek Campsite was a series of ebbs and flows of the various hiker groups as we found our own hiking rhythms and navigated water breaks and shared notes.  Began to see the need to determine water needs in relationship to water availability as we all targeted our first day landing site to camp.  Most of us realized that we actually needed to hike further than we wanted to make that match and to set up the next days goals.  I hiked with various different groups of people as we moved up the trail.  Much of the day was with a Father/Daughter  couple that were from the Netherlands.  Very interesting to hear how the different international hikers came to be on the PCT and what they saw as the prize in their life for doing so.

 Day One Melds into Day Fourteen

Each day after has been an ebb and flow of hiking with some new people for a bit, hiking solo for long stretches, and making some short term commitments to hike together and collaborate on setting strategy for the next days hike around the water supply, elevation gain/loss, weather, and resupply.  It is fun to reconnect with other hikers that you have not seen for several days.  Like seeing family on the trail.  By Mt. Laguna at 42 miles, I had the fun experience of suggesting a hiker name to someone and she accepted the name of ALOHA.  She wears a red Hawaiian shirt and has a warm megawatt smile every time she greets people, has a gentle soul, and very positive.  Popped into my head while hiking alone.  Had a chance to suggest a name to another hiker that we meet at mile 161 or so who is from Florida.  She happened to be born in Milton FL, which coincidently is where one of my brother/sister in-laws had meet and now live in retirement.  Small world! She had started the PCT last year with her Dad, but injured an ankle and they had to get off at mile 151.  We pointed out she was 10 miles past that point when we met her so her determination was paying off.  I saw she has Salamanders on her phone and asked if she like them.  I suggested she might want to be known as Salamander.  Later that day, she said she liked that name, and wanted it as her trail name. 

Aloha suggested staying in the Tiny House Community in Mt Laguna as we had stopped for something to eat, pick up resupply boxes at the post office, and relax a bit.  Was a great idea and there were 2 other hikers that joined us that night.  One of them gave me a trick to try because my toes were being mashed up.  Instead of lacing up form the first set of lace holes, move the starting point 2 holes up.  GAME CHANGER.  I unfortunately do not remember his name.  If you read this Thank You!  From there I was on a beeline to get to Warner Springs to pick up a resupply package but also to pick up my old hiking boots my wife had sent me.  Besides water management, blisters on feet are probably the next biggest issue to manage and problem solve.  No matter what kind of shoes/boots people were wearing , the mole skin and leukotape tape were being applied all over their feet.  The trail is rough with a 25-30+ lb. pack on your back and your feet sweat and heat up.  I made the decision to go back to my 7 year old comfort boots and bounce my other new boots up the trail to the Sierras.  

Had the luck of camping below a mountain lion mama and her cub on the 6th night on the trail.  Had hiked long miles on a hot windy day up and down hills and my first campsite choice was too windy to manage setting up a tent.  Sun was setting so I hustled up the trail to a site tucked back in a canyon out of the wind.  Set up my tent and was just getting settled down, when I heard the cub start his little Lion King attempt to roar up in the boulders above me.  Read in the comments in the Far-Out App  that we use, that the mother cat roams around and communicates back and forth with the cub up in the den.  So far no bad interactions have happened.  So I mulled my defense systems as I could not get up and move my tent site in the dark.  First I had my lightweight tent, my 1 inch Swiss Army knife, my trekking poles turned clubs, a whistle, and for extra measure a fist sized rock was put into my tent. As I evaluated action plans in my head, I remember thinking first should be the whistle to try to scare her away if need be…….next thing I knew I woke up and it was 2AM and I had been asleep for over 6 hours.  Had to water the plants, didn’t hear anything outside, so quickly finished the task, climbed back into my tent and the next thing I know it was 6AM and time to pack up to go hike.  Best night of sleep I’ve had on the trail so far!  Go figure.


Sitting here in Idyllwild at mile 178 is the first town where I’m taking a ZERO (no hiking).  Many people have taken zeros at other towns based on their needs and strategy.  We started a WhatsApp Group so we are all able to stay connected even though we are not at the same place on the trail.

As mentioned before, managing the heat and water resupply has been the challenge throughout the first 178 miles with lots of trials and errors in how we calculated the balance of how much water to carry and where there we going to be reliable sources.  Often times the water source requires a side trip down a mountain to a spring and then a hike back up to the main trail.  We are learning fast and adjusting our strategies (i.e. not being to quick to pass up opportunities as some noted water sources are no longer viable)  I had the pleasure of walking with Angela from WA for the past 2 days as she was looking for a hiking buddy as her Aunt was leaving the trail.  We had been leap frogging each other the past several days.  We had similar hiking speeds and she was a very good logistical thinker, steady hiker and a fellow former Scoutmaster like myself.  She is meeting up with her husband for a few days so we perhaps meet again later on down the trail.

I want to call out a KUDOS to the many many places where PCT trail workers have created and preserved the trail with some fine stone work to mitigate erosion and armor the trail.  I volunteer up on the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota, had had the pleasure of working on a water mitigation project that taught me how much effort and thought goes into creating a reliable and sustainable trail for people to enjoy.  If you see a trail crew out, be sure to thank them, and better yet, consider volunteering on a trail near you, to help sustain the trail for future generations.

Finally I want to thank Roary the Dinosaur and Rollie the Dog for climbing into my pack and coming along.  Roary belongs to JJ my grandson and Rollie belongs to Nora my granddaughter.

Peace and Happy Hiking



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Comments 1

  • Aaron Van Hout : May 15th

    CramPa is the man… loved this post and looking forward to following his Trek!


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