A Long But Physically Challenging Picnic

Day One, Yesterday, 20 Miles

I woke at 4 this morning in my hotel bed, my first thoughts surreal. It’s here. The time is finally here. I AM STARTING THE PCT TODAY.

I shower quickly, make a few cups of crappy, too-old coffee, and dress in my hiking uniform: sun shirt, black athletic shorts, buff, gaiters, toe socks, trail runners. Done.

Last night I arrived to San Diego and spent the evening finalizing detail purchases and packing them into my 50L Osprey Aura, so loading the car is easy this morning. I’m fully packed and out the door by 5:03, rain tapering off to a barely-there drizzle.

I am on the way to a trail angel’s home in Ocotillo. I call my mom as I drive and we talk excitedly for a few minutes before I head up the mountain, out of service, and into the creeping sun. It’s just over an hour drive and when I arrive the sky is made of cotton candy and surly purples, like a castle wall receding behind the mountain range.

The trail angel is waiting for me, and I do a rapid once-over of the car, making sure I am not forgetting anything. I gather a few remaining items and hand over my key, leaving my car for the foreseeable future. I hop in the car with Richard and we discuss resupply strategies and his local hiking group as we drive to Campo.

When we arrive, there is a group from Scout and Frodo’s already at the Southern Terminus, taking pictures and reviewing Leave No Trace Principles with the terminus hosts. I follow suit, signing the register as well. Now I can feel excited. It’s time to walk.

Stepping onto the trail, the fear and anxiety fall away. The pieces fall into place, and after a few pretty low weeks, I simply feel “right.”

The first few hundred steps feel like a dream, rehearsed in my mind many times. But this time it is real, and it couldn’t feel more magical. For the first six miles, I am flying through a secret garden of vibrant desert blooms and electric lichen. There is dew hanging in tiny spiderweb hammocks, pitched between blades of grass, cradling the morning droplets. I feel fast. The weather is insanely perfect. A little breezy, barely cool. Mostly sunny. A cerulean sky.

Every so often I’ll pass another hiker, some pausing to rest beneath a tree or to take in a view or a snack. And this is when it dawns on me. Hiking the PCT is like participating in one gigantic picnic, but with a lot more physical exertion, and not nearly enough beer brats.

This thought makes me very happy, and I press on for more miles, enjoying snacks with many Europeans along the way. A take a lunch break 15 miles in at Hauser Creek, and resupply on water. The water where I’ll camp tonight (five miles ahead) has tested positive for E. coli, and I’m not taking any unnecessary risks. But that means that I will have to carry four liters of water up a three-mile incline at the end of my day. But I enlist the help of Kendrick Lamar, Losco, and Freddie Mercury, and before I know it I’m at Lake Morena, paying my $5 and setting up my tent palace, where I am the Queen.

And yes, tonight Your Majesty is having ramen noodles. I think it’s safe to say this is the best decision I’ve ever made.

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