How to Get Comfortably Uncomfortable
The Saga of Surviving Week One
This initial week on the Pacific Crest Trail unfolded like a blockbuster saga, forcing me to confront the harsh reality of solitude and self-reliance in the backcountry. As fate would have it, my grand entrance onto the trail coincided with my exit from the office, granting me zero downtime. Picture this: mentally and physically, it’s like attempting a long weekend backpacking trip right after surviving a workweek rollercoaster. I’m wrestling with the realization that not only did I make it to the kickoff of this adventure, but I’ve also committed to taking those crucial first steps into an entirely new chapter of life that will last for half a year.
April 21st, 2023: Hauser Creek to Lake Morena (Mile 20) –
The inaugural day of my journey is now behind me, signifying the commencement of a momentous adventure. As we delve into this undertaking, I’m becoming aware of the importance of caring for my body. Adjustments to my plan are necessary. The next destination is Lake Morena, just 5-6 miles away, where I’m contemplating a stop at the Malt Shop. Today calls for a more relaxed pace to avoid straining muscles, especially considering the soreness in my legs, back, and hips, particularly where the backpack sits.
Motivation surges as Stephanie, another PCT hiker I met, shares intel about potential trail magic at a campsite around mile 32, Cibbet Flats Campground. The decision lies between hiking to the lake today and tackling 12 miles tomorrow or extending today’s hike and covering 6-10 miles tomorrow to reach the trail magic. Excitement builds for my first encounter with trail magic in the next two days. When I arrived at Lake Morena, the campsite beckons with its scorching heat, prompting me to set up camp after feeling the effects of yesterday’s 15-mile trek. A gazebo offers relief and camaraderie with fellow PCT hikers. I was calling it for the day and made my decision to stay at Lake Morena for night two.
After camp setup, a visit to the malt shop becomes a rewarding experience. I encounter other hikers like Stephanie and a Youtuber, Ash O’Brien Outdoors. Tying up Zeus outside, I trust the community of hikers to watch him and enter to order a patty melt, sunscreen, and even find tall cans of Golden Monkey beer. Despite being unable to consume them on-site, I look forward to enjoying the beers back at camp. Charging my battery bank, I wait for my delicious meal, realizing I need quarters for the shower. After receiving my food, I changed a few bills for some quarters. I managed a refreshing shower, washed clothes, and engaged in a nighttime conversation with 2 other hikers, Chad & Dave, around the communal fire pit, capping off the day with some pot before heading to bed at 9:30 pm.
Day 3 – Trail Magic featuring Blaze Physio
April 22nd, 2023: Lake Morena to Cibbet Flats Campground (Mile 32.6) –
Upon waking up, I discovered significant condensation inside my tent. Regrettably, I had hung my wet clothes over the tent’s top, a mistake I vow not to repeat. These clothes remain damp from the previous night, posing a challenge for packing. My objective for the day is to cover a continuous 12-mile stretch, enticed by the prospect of trail magic at the campsite—tacos and beer await.
When leaving camp, I veered off what I thought was the PCT, realizing something was off. Checking the FarOut app confirmed I was off trail. Frustration set in. I had to follow an alternate trail that intersected the PCT to get back on track, all the while feeling paranoid about being on the right path. While focused on covering mileage, I encountered a snake along the path. To alert fellow hikers, I promptly wrote “snake” with an arrow pointing up.
Reaching the Boulder Oaks Campgrounds around noon, I encountered the group again. After a refreshing lunch, an older gentleman unexpectedly decided to quit. Surrendering his supplies, he arranged for a ride, leaving the trail on our third day, a surprising turn of events. A car promptly arrived, and he departed, bringing an early end to his journey.
Driven by my intense craving for food, I aimed to leave by 2 pm, determined to cover the 6.6+ miles to Cibbet Flats Campgrounds for the promised tacos and beer. Motivated by the prospect of this culinary reward, I outfitted Zeus with booties, transforming him into a different, more energetic companion. His newfound vigor allowed him to run and pull me, passing other hikers along the way. Adjusting my pack strap, which frequently malfunctioned under the stress of the weight, became a repetitive task. Pushing forward with a somewhat zombie-like determination, I endured the physical strain, longing for the end and envisioning the satisfaction of endless tacos.
Reaching a fork in the road, I encountered a sign indicating Cibbet Flats Campgrounds 0.7 miles away, accompanied by a white cardboard box announcing Trail Magic from 4/20 to 4/23. Despite my fatigue, I made the turn, curious to discover if the extra 0.7 miles would be worthwhile.
Descending the steep hill, I acknowledged that I’d have to tackle the ascent in the morning. As I continued along the road, serious contemplation set in, questioning my choices. The seemingly lengthy journey for just 0.7 miles surprised me until I finally spotted the campgrounds. I discovered a lively gathering of about 30 people—Trail Angels and fellow hikers. Their cheers made me feel immediately welcomed as I entered camp. Just in time for dinner, I was directed to the beer and taco stations, making the extra side hike worthwhile. In the back area, I encountered the hiking couple named M&M, who greeted both me and Zeus. After setting down my pack, I grabbed a coke and indulged in two large, delicious tacos. Learning about the promise of breakfast burritos in the morning, I ate my fill and was offered a Stone IPA by a generous Trail Angel. Another Trail Angel named Blaze provided Zeus with Trail Magic in the form of wet dog food and snacks, even lending me a dog brush. Blaze Physio, seen in the picture on the left with her dog, was unknown to me at that moment, but she held considerable trail fame for her dedicated work with PCT hikers.
Invited to join the group of Trail Angels, I engaged in conversation before I was offered some chronic. Meanwhile, other Trail Angels humorously inquired if there were any hikers still awake, and it turned out there was two, a hiker named Peter and myself. I shared that coming from Las Vegas, where people typically don’t start getting ready to go out until around 9 pm, I was used to being up late. This conversation also served as my introduction to the term “Hiker Midnight,” which, in this context, meant 9 pm. Later I was treated to a drink called the “Fat Wench,” a delightful mix of Sailor Jerry Rum and Cherry Coke. Eventually, Peter retired for the night, leaving me as the last hiker standing.
Day Four – In The Bubble
April 23rd, 2023: Cibbet Flats Campground to Mt. Laguna (Mile 41.5) –
Waking up before 5 am, I found myself needing the restroom. Stealthily navigating the campsite, I noticed some early risers dismantling their tents. Upon returning to my site, I began packing up, enticed by the aroma of brewing coffee that spurred me to head to the congregation area for breakfast. I joined others for coffee and quesadillas. A Trail Angel generously offered me a cup mentioning they had already gone through three pots. As he prepared quesadillas, I indulged in three, sharing a bit with my companion Zeus. My goal today is to reach Mt. Laguna, 8.9 miles away not including the 0.7 hike out of the campground.
The hike out from the campground proved challenging, featuring the steep 0.7-mile ascent that surprisingly passed quickly. Although I hiked alone, I found solace in singing some trail-made songs. I stopped to pop an Ibuprofen and enjoy a moment with some pot. I feel spoiled already in my first week with a Malt Shop and now Tacos & Beer for trail magic. As we hiked along the trail, Zeus replenished his water at the creeks we crossed. Now, sitting beside a creek with 3.7 miles left on the day, it’s 11:35 am, and the looming closure of Mt. Laguna at 4 pm on Sundays urged me to move swiftly. Intent on reaching by 2:30 pm, I envisioned time for a beer, charging electronics, a quick shower, laundry, and a necessary fix for my sleeping pad. Time is of the essence.
Entering the Cleveland National Forest, I anticipated the shade of trees, which was initially sporadic. I paused to adjust my pack and consulted the FarOut app, revealing that the tavern was 0.5 miles away. Determined, I headed in that direction, navigating a confusing campground road leading into Mt. Laguna. Continuing along the road, I encountered Ash and I learned that there was a large group of PCT hikers camping by the showers and toilets. Following her, I selected a spot on a grassy hill to avoid noisy leaves under Zeus’s paws at night. After setting up my tent, another hiker collected money for the spot. I paid my share, settled in, and then headed to the market before it closed at 4 pm. At the store, I purchased single-serving packets of laundry detergent, a Pacifico tall can of beer, a cherry coke, and a popsicle.
Day Five – First Night Cowboy Camping
April 24th, 2023: Mt. Laguna to Oriflamme Canyon (Mile 55.9) –
I woke up earlier than usual and used the restroom. Chad was getting out of his hammock as I finished packing up, and though most people had already left, I took my time as I have the a majestic Husky to get ready too. Engaging in a conversation with Chad, we talked for a bit, and we enjoyed a wake and bake session before I set off. While strolling down the road in Mt. Laguna, I encountered an older gentleman walking what appeared to be a husky, but upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a wolfdog. The wolfdog stood much taller than Zeus, with longer arms and larger paws. Despite wearing a muzzle, it exuded a cool demeanor, almost as if it knew it was a formidable presence.
While hiking, solitude enveloped me for the most part. I found myself singing self-made songs and engaging in one-sided conversations with Zeus, who, as of yet, hasn’t uttered a word in response. We trekked until Zeus halted at another creek for a drink, giving me a chance to readjust my pack. Continuing on, the temperature soared, and as the heat intensified, we spotted a cluster of trees in the distance. Rounding a hill, we finally reached the shade of the trees around 11:45 am. Zeus, visibly fatigued from the heat, was now granted some relief under the tree cover. Thank goodness for the shade.
For my first hiker-trash lunch, I enjoyed a tortilla filled with spicy tuna, red beans, and rice—a makeshift burrito that turned out surprisingly delicious. I had two of them before realizing I needed to tend to my feet. Initially, I thought I had a rock in my shoe, but it turned out to be a blister on the bottom of my right foot. After a quick foot maintenance session, I checked Zeus’s paws, discovering a blister on his right paw. I decided to put on his hiking boots. By 2 pm, he still seemed reluctant to move, but after some extra food and water, we set out at 2:30 pm. To my surprise, he transformed into a lively companion, galloping down the trail.
Our journey took us to the Deer Creek campgrounds, marking the 10-mile point of the day and a crucial water source in the hot stretch. Pushing onward, I reached Oriflamme Canyon, where I heard the hiking couple, M&M, shout from a distance. Continuing on, I found a secluded spot through some bushes—ideal for multiple cowboy camps. I called over Stephanie, Ash, and Jacob, who arrived just after me, and we all decided to cowboy camp together in proximity. Dinner consisted of instant mashed potatoes and sliced summer sausage. After washing dishes, and a bit of relaxation with some pot, I settled into my sleeping bag outdoors, wearing a bug head net for a peaceful night.
Day Six – Picking Brains
April 25th, 2023: Oriflamme Canyon to Cowboy Camp (Mile 71.1) –
I woke up around 5:30 am after camping out in the open. The sunrise was stunning, as if the sky was ablaze. Packing up without the tent was quicker, and by 7:30 am, I was ready to hit the trail. Although I felt a bit alone on my first night, I appreciate having a supportive group from the 4/20 start.
I had a sizable blister in the middle of my right foot, about the size of two quarters. After wrapping it up, I left camp with the added discomfort of this blister. Taking care of Zeus, I wrapped his right paw with doggie athletic tape and put on his hiking boots, which made him happy. As usual, I was the last to leave from my group. The landscape featured rolling hills adorned with many blooming flowers. We pushed past 11:30 am, enjoying the cool breeze on the hills, and aimed to reach the water source by 12 pm, successfully making it. Hiking downhill to the creek, I noticed several people lying in the shade.
I set my pack down near Stephanie and Ash. Zeus found shade under a tree, seeking relief from the day’s heat. Despite pushing our limits a bit, he coped well. Starving after skipping breakfast, I devoured two tortillas with tuna packets. Craving candy, I expressed my longing to Stephanie, leading to my first trail trade. She swapped a tortilla for a Snickers, a deal I considered a huge win. Dipping the Snickers into honey peanut butter provided a delightful energy boost.
Engaging in conversation with Stephanie, who attempted a thru-hike in 2019, proved insightful. She shared valuable knowledge about trail routes, resupply points, and their varying availability throughout the week in small towns. Considering the pressure on resupply points, I contemplated sticking with Stephanie to learn more. Ash, on the other hand, admitted to extensive trail research but only had a solid plan up to Kennedy Meadows.
After the break, I hiked mostly alone with Zeus by my side. I encountered the group having dinner near a water tank. Opting to skip dinner and just fill up on water to press on, my goal was to be a short hike into Julian the next day. Leaving with most of the group, I aimed for a dispersed camping area approximately 2.4 miles away, pushing past 6 pm. The anticipation for a large pizza and endless Coca-Cola in Julian fueled my determination. Despite some slips on the rocky trail, we persevered, reaching the first campsite only to find it occupied. The group settled at the next site, and I found a spot for cowboy camping. Tomorrow marks one week on the trail, and Julian awaits—a fitting celebration for this milestone.
The Saga Continues…
The initial week on the trail highlighted the need to use my backpacking knowledge on a broader scale. It was humbling, making me recognize that I was learning as I went along. It became clear that I’m not an expert, and that’s okay. Tackling immediate challenges, such as managing my heavy pack and addressing my dog’s paw issues, brought additional complexities to this unfamiliar journey.
The first town day in Julian, California, was one of the best. It served as a much-needed break from the challenges of the first week on the trail. Sharing the experience with fellow hikers who were becoming our trail family made it special. We took over the top floor of the hotel, affectionately calling it “Hiker Row,” with laundry hanging off the railings for everyone to see. Despite the exposed nature of our makeshift camp lifestyle, we didn’t mind. In that moment, in an unfamiliar place, alone with Zeus, and without a clear plan for the future, I felt genuinely happy.
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