Getting to Campo (Day 0)

How to get to San Diego

It may seem a little silly, but one of the things I was most anxious about leading up to the PCT was how to just get down there and get started.

My pack is inside this Goodwill duffel bag for safety with checking it at the airport.

After I finally got my permit (which is a whole other story) back in January, I knew I had my start date of March 26th. Even though Oregon is a quick flight away, I knew I wanted to fly in and stay the night before so that I had a bit of time to settle in and not rush jumping on trail.

I began looking for a place to stay the night and there were a few options: I had an offer from some of my mom’s relatives who live nearby, reach out to a local trail angel, book yourself a hotel, or this camp known as CLEEF.

Trail angels are folks who are in and around the long distance trails and they provide support and magic (food & drinks, rides, place to stay) for hikers.

Some of the most famous PCT trail angels are Scout and Frodo, and they live in San Diego. They open their house to hundreds of hikers each year on the night just before you start your PCT journey. Scout is also the author of one of my favorite PCT books, Journeys North. This made them a first pick for me, but unfortunately they didn’t open their doors this season until March 29th. On to the next option.

There are a couple different Facebook groups for the PCT class of 2024. They are highly active and a good source of information in my preparation. It’s through one of those Facebook groups that I first heard of CLEEF.


Arriving in San Diego

CLEEF advertised a shuttle to take you from San Diego to the terminus, a place to camp for the night, and a breakfast in the morning – and I was sold.

I had to check my pack for the flight because it contained trekking poles and the like. I was very glad to see it come out at baggage claim once I reached San Diego.

I then took a free bus from the airport to the downtown metro station. I was a few hours early so I had a while to hang out before the shuttle was going to pick me up. There was a nice park with restaurants and small business all around so I found a sunny spot to sit and wait.

Within an hour or two, it became very obvious that PCT hikers stand out easily in a crowd. We spotted each other with the oversized backpacks and quickly formed an excited & eager pack of PCT hopefuls. Names, places of origin, previous backpacking experience all came flowing out.

One of the first 2024 classmates I met, Erin. We both were starting on the 26th, for her it was her 27th birthday.

The first few hikers I met came from all walks of life. A gal from Taiwan, someone who was starting their hike on their birthday, some who had attempted last year in a record snow year and were back this year to try it again.

The REI in San Diego featured this world map where you could stick a pin to show where you were coming from.

Arriving at CLEEF

The CLEEF Southern Terminus shuttle picked 10 of us up promptly at 2:00. We stopped at REI first and then drove over an hour out to Campo and stopped at a market there to supply with a couple fresh foods.

We then arrived at CLEEF, which had a perfect set up for our hiker needs. A nice flat area to set up our tents. I watched some of my classmates learn to set up their tents for the very first time. They also had a full bathroom and a nice covered area with a fire pit for us all to hang around.

The CLEEF campsite full of tents of 2024 PCT hikers.

The highlight of the night was the “fireside chats”. CLEEF is ran by a team of awesome volunteers including Just Paul, One Speed, Papa Bear, and others who have plenty of PCT hiking experience under their belts.

They run an excellent series of advice for our PCT hikes including information about avoiding injury, recognizing heat exhaustion, hitching, and other common first time mistakes to avoid.

Fireside chats at CLEEF featuring Papa Bear behind the fishing rod.

On my night at CLEEF I think there were over 30 people there, and I watched everyone gulp in their advice. We were all eager to set off hiking the following morning. When the sun set shortly after 7, everyone was cold and ready to crawl into their tents.

It was a windy night and I was full of anxiety, trying to get to sleep was a bit of a struggle. But overall, I was so happy with my stay at CLEEF and so thankful to be so close to the starting point at the Southern Terminus.

A wall for all the 2024 PCT members to sign at CLEEF.

I felt very thankful to meet so many classmates on day 0 and so ready to get started walking! 

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