Part 3: Firsts

I am now writing this from Idylwild, 150 miles into the trail. One small inch north!

Leaving NYC was a mad last minute rush. Just imagine me clutching a pile of boxes in the post office queue, hand bleeding from walking into a fence, right at the time I should have been leaving for the airport. Not a suprise to read I’m sure. However, a delayed flight meant I made it and successfully arrived in San Diego and started a series of PCT firsts!

First trail angels

In San Diego, I stayed with a pair of “trail angels”. This is the name that hikers give to the strangers support us through food, lifts and accommodation, asking for nothing or small donations. Scout and Frodo open their doors up every year to PCT hikers, and host 20 hikers every night, for over 2 months. I took the trolley (the official name for the swanky San Diego monorail) up to their house, lugging what felt like a full suitcase behind me. As I exited the trolley, I heard a polite hello from my right. And that’s how I met my first other PCT hiker, a German gentleman with a tiny bag, and a “PCT 2024” badge embroidered neatly on the sleeve. I said I was headed to the bus, but he said he would walk! Uh oh – maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I thought.

I took the bus and rolled into the trail angels’ house, and feeling like a nervous newbie as I rang the doorbell. But what a place they have created! Scout is a twinkly eyed wizard and Frodo is a retired science teacher (him metaphorically, her literally). Scout teaches everyone to line dance and sits cross legged on the grass playing Bob Dylan on the guitar; Frodo reminds everyone to make good decisions. They have tents and marques set up on the lawn and serve out dinner and breakfast, and conduct an evening talk about the trail. There was a random, very international bunch staying there, many of whom were having some first experiences of the US – I noticed one Brit asking why there was cake being served with the chilli (it was cornbread). Everyone was excited and a little nervous, looking at each other’s kit, inspecting food, and getting hyped for the trail ahead. Almost no one had done a trail before (I am guessing those pros will be arriving at a later date).

Turn down a quiet cul-de-sac and you will see the PCT flag flying high

Their bathroom is full of signs to tell international hikers to leave the door open when you leave

Bag weighing time! Pretty gassed about my weight (included all my food for the first stretch too)

First desert days

I took the shuttle with a small group to the terminus, leaving behind new friends at Scout and Frodos. We didn’t get there til midday, and I was feeling itchy, ready to go. The first day was exciting but strange. The monument is very cool, but the wall with Mexico is an odd sight. When we started walking, I was a bit bunched up with other people and eventually ended up pushing on, getting in 15 miles, before camping in a grove of pison oak, eating ramen in the dark. Not exactly an overly romantic start to the trail.

The monument. Time to start walking

First views of the desert

Crossing the railroad tracks at mile 3

The second day, I woke up, made some coffee and begun a perfect trail day. After walking 5 miles, having not spoken anyone properly since the shuttle, I was ready to chat. The first unlikely victim was a trail angel, an older guy who pops up around on trail with a cooler box filled with drinks and a bag of snacks. The poor guy was stuck listening to me recall of all the thoughts (including a brief summary of a musical I had been making in my head about the desert). Thankfully another girl turned up to help direct the conversation back to normal. We then walked off together having an enjoyable day, getting a little lost, with a long lunch in a meadow and camping out by a cool waterfall spot. The next few days I started to get into the grove of the desert, feeling excited every morning when I start walking. Every now and then my new friend would just announce “we’re walking to Canada!” and we’d feel giddy all over again.

Look at this sunset. Now we’re getting somewhere. I’m constantly looking now on FarOut to find camp spots with sunsets. (FarOut is the navigation app / crowdsourcing, where hikers ahead can leave bits on where to camp or find water)

My tent set up on night 2

First hitch and town

The first 77 miles to Julian were a treat – just over 5 days of meeting new, strange and wonderful people, munching through all my prepared snacks, and getting better at finding good tent spots.

By mile 77, I was hiking with a small, random but fun crew – two Americans and a Danish lieutenant. We arrived at the cross roads to the first proper town – Julian. At this stage I was a little dried out and hungry as we tried to get a lift to town. We tried to hide the boys behind a monument, while I stood with the other girl and umbrella trying to smile sweetly. (Apparently the umbrella made us look more official? I’m still unconvinced by this logic). One woman pulled over – hope! – but she just wanted to read the monument. She had a long heart to heart with the two boys who were hiding out there, but she unfortunately apparently had no space on her car. (We could see the four empty seats before our very eyes). We did eventually get a hitch to town from a lovely man on his way to work.

Pick us up please? Come on, we have an umbrella

Julian is a cool little cowboy town, with free pie and beer for hikers but with three limited sleep options. You can sleep on pop up camp beds outside the American Legion (seems to be a bar for ex-military?), or get an overpriced room, or call a mysterious number and chat to a very friendly local who could host you in his bunk room. We, in a slightly dazed state, investigated every option, but signed up to share an overpriced room with two people sleeping on the floor too. On reflection not the best choice, but extremely nice to have a shower and smell normal again. We were total town novices, wandering around not sure what errands to do or what food we needed. We didn’t even check out the hiker boxes. Now in my second town as I write this and my savyness has now at least doubled.

Thank you Mom’s Pie place!

What I’ve learned so far

There’s been lots of experiences and surprises from the first few weeks. So here is a random assortment:

1. The desert is way more vaired than I thought. I was imagining flat and dry, like the scenes with Reese in Wild, and mostly flat – but in fact has many colours and terrains. Some of this might be from the unusually wet spring that California has been having.

A classic high desert trail

A high boulder field that felt like pottering through a sculpture park. We heard the screech of some mountain lions while walking up here.

More of what you’d expect from the desert

A lush meadow of wild flowers??! Now this was unexpected

2. The desert can be hot, even this early. One day, sweating away in shorts and a sun, I met a local wearing jeans walking the opposite way. “Don’t worry it will get warmer, it’s unseasonally cold right now”, he said. And it has got warmer.

There are water caches in the desert for the long dry sections

However there’s snow in the desert! The week before I started there was a crazy snowstorm and remnants still scattered around. One of my new friends from New Zealand sat with his legs in snow the whole time while we ate lunch – hard core.

My legs only lasted in this ice bath for a few minutes before admitting defeat

3. I’m hungry – a lot. And when you start eating you get even hungrier. My camp food has been pretty good so far – no complaints on any dinners yet. I have a big bag of dehydrated mash potato in the next section, a high risk meal, so I will report back.

A gourmet dinner of couscous and Trader Joe’s olives

4. It only takes one night of not checking for rocks to get a hole in your sleeping pad. Woops. I now slowly deflate each night and I can’t seem to find the hole, despite the classic rubbing soapy water all over. I now just have a clean but partially flat matt.

5. You can never predict a day. An “easy 12 miles to town” might become a really hard slog, and an uphill water carry might turn into your favorite evening.

A favourite evening, with friends, carrying 6L of water on my back

6. The trail is better with friends. But navigating and pacing can be difficult. And once you loose someone it’s very hard to catch them again; I am currently trying to logistically map out meeting up with a lost trail friend.

Pottering in camp with pals

For the next stage I’m about to go off into snow. I’m still in the desert but elevation is getting higher, and we’ve had to change plans. More to come. Happy trails!

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Comments 2

  • Jingle bells : Apr 19th

    11 lbs, with food?
    Do tell.
    Don’t know how some folks do it.

    • Alice : Apr 26th

      11kg not lbs! Bit don’t know how that compares


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