PCT Stage 01: Campo to Julian

Hello my friends! The time has come! And these Uruguayan feet are already on American soil to hike the PCT.

The arrive

I arrived in the United States by plane to the city of Los Angeles. From there, I took a train to San Diego, which is the closest major city to the starting point of the PCT. It’s my first time in the United States, and I felt quite lost in the vastness of the cities I visited. Dealing with a language that isn’t my own, not having cell phone connection, and learning how the transportation system works was quite a challenge. To illustrate, on the day I was supposed to start the PCT, I made a mistake and took the wrong trolley line. Luckily, I realized my error and managed to correct my course, arriving at El Cajón Transit Center. That’s where I needed to catch the public bus to Campo.

Kerry Hebert driver of 894 public bus to Campo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kerry is the driver who makes the long journey between the outskirts of San Diego and Campo three times a day. He’s a fantastic person, and I’m really glad to have met him. He’s not just a bus driver! He cares about people; everyone who got on the bus spoke with him. He knew their stories and was very interested in listening to and talking with everyone.

Bar that Kerry took us to visit

He even took us to a typical American store, where I experienced everything you see in the movies. The setting, the way people talk, how they proudly show you their things.

PCT

Southern terminus

Southern Terminus monument

Seeing the monument felt like a surreal moment! After waiting and wishing to be there for so long, after seeing so many Instagram stories, so many images, so many dreams.

Me, my friends, my family, my country, my dreams with the Southern Terminus monument.

As the poem by Mayer that I shared in my “Don’t give up” post says:

“This is the hour and the best moment.”

Here I am, with all my hopes, to face the greatest challenge of my life: the Pacific Crest Trail.

Signatures on the Southern Terminus monument

I signed the diary with great enthusiasm, being aware that I was not alone on this path. But I have a lot of friends who support me from a distance. It was very exciting for me, putting the name of my country in that book.

The wall

The border between Mexico and the United States

The border between Mexico and the United States struck me as extremely strange. It led me to ponder the reasons behind such a monumental endeavor to separate two countries. While it’s something I don’t agree with, I’m also aware that I don’t live in that area and therefore might not easily comprehend what happens there. Beyond the wall, the exchange of cultures is very much present. In that sense, it reminded me a lot of the dry border between Uruguay and Brazil, where there’s a strip of territory where a very strong and impressive blend of cultures occurs. It’s clear that in this case, there’s a wall dividing… but cultural transfer still persists.

The first steps

Milemarker 3 of the PCT

Those first steps are filled with adrenaline and excitement. The burgeoning midday heat of California didn’t bother me at all. A coworker once told me, “The golden California,” and the reality is indeed golden. The predominant color is gold—dry, laden with dust and harshness. With the initial excitement, one doesn’t care much about that; you feel like you’re going to conquer the world. However, the reality is that the adventure had not even begun.

Far out

This application is simply on another level compared to the ones I’ve used before. During my mountain course training, I learned to use various computer tools. However, when it comes to a trail as well-marked as the PCT, the ease with which it displays information and the quality of that information make this tool practically indispensable. It can inform you about terrain elevation, planimetric distance, as well as guide-like information such as where to stay and where the next water source is located, among many other things. I understand it to be the most powerful tool a PCT hiker can have. It’s a good idea to complement its use with some navigation tool.

Farout capture on the begining of the PCT

Hauser creek

During my journey on the public bus, I met a friendly Canadian couple who I found very pleasant. Unfortunately, the heat set them back a bit in their initial plans, so I didn’t see them again after that first day.

My first rattlesnake

I crossed paths with a lot of people on the trail! I even encountered my first rattlesnake. It was a much larger and more striking animal than I had imagined. I remember a group I crossed paths with told me to go ahead and let them know if I spotted any more rattlesnakes. It was a funny moment, and we even joked about whether I was the bait. Seeing that deadly snake did scare me, but it turned out to be the only one I saw that day.

Power lines before arrive Hauser Creek

On this first day, I quickly determined with FarOut that stopping at Hauser Creek was a more than reasonable goal for me. It would be a 24 km hike for the first day on the trail

Hauser Creek water

I arrived tired at this final point. I spoke with a couple of guys, cooked with them, fell asleep, and then never saw them again. I suspected they were ahead of me, but I don’t think they were.

Fred canyon

First sunrise on the PCT, right after Hauser Creek

That day I started at 7am looking forward to meeting the guys I had had dinner with the night before. But the kilometers passed, and I didn’t come across them. So, I continued my solitary walk at my own pace.

On that path, I continued ascending through a forest of low vegetation. It was very pleasant to walk the trail early in the morning, with the sound of birds beginning their morning ritual of singing.

Lake Morena

As I crossed the ridge, I saw the first lake of the trip—Lake Morena. This meant that I had reached the first town by the morning of day two.

Oak shores malt shop burger

Everyone had recommended that I try a burger at Oak Shores Malt Shop in Lake Morena. Even though it was 10 am, I followed their advice and went in search of that legendary burger. It was honestly delicious. It’s a pity I didn’t have my usual trekking hunger yet, but I still enjoyed it a lot.

Meeting people 

Of course, I continued walking that day! I wanted to catch up with the pair of hikers I had dinner with yesterday! I still haven’t found them today, haha. By midday, I passed under a bridge where a group of 6 hikers sought refuge from the increasing weight of the sun’s rays on their heads.

Valentina! the German who lived in Cerro Chato, Uruguay

I sat down with them to rest and chat for a bit. At that moment, I started recording a video for my friends speaking in Spanish, and one of the hikers asked me where I was from. I said, ‘I’m from Uruguay!’ I was already used to that question and people not having a clue where my beloved little country was. But then she asked me, ‘Which city?’ That caught my attention. ‘From Montevideo,’ I said. Then she replied in perfect Spanish, ‘I lived in Cerro Chato for a year’.

My mind exploded! Cerro Chato is a tiny town in my country, which is primarily focused on agriculture. I know it well because my father’s foster grandmother has a farm near the town of Cerro Chato. I went there countless times when I was a kid, loved going there, but as I got older, it became more difficult for me to visit. But there, at the beginning of the PCT, I was suddenly transported back to my own beginnings. How on earth does Diego encounter someone who lived in a small town in his tiny country on a trekking trail where there are hardly any South Americans? It’s CRAZY.

Her name is Valentina; she was traveling with her husband, also German, who lived in Cerro Chato! I was extremely excited about this encounter, and we agreed to have a barbecue when they returned to Uruguay. I’m not kidding; it was a 20-minute exchange, and I was already inviting them to my house.

Under the bridge

They had been on the PCT for 5 days, while it was only my second day. So, I reckon we’ll only cross paths a few times on the trail. But I hope that trail meeting happens.

Cactus on the trail

I continued my journey amidst the tremendous heat of the desert. This is a peculiar desert because it has vegetation. The vegetation is tough, resilient, and it scratches your legs as you move through it.

Fred Canyon group

When I arrived at Fred Canyon, there were over 10 hikers. We shared unforgettable moments! Most of them were from Germany. We laughed a lot at their anecdotes, like one of them who basically survived on granola and M&M’s. We shared many things that afternoon; it was the first time I felt accompanied on the trail. Towards the end of the evening, Valentina and her husband arrived! It was incredible; we laughed a lot and even spoke Spanish. It was an unforgettable night. But since I wanted to keep pushing towards my goal of around 20 miles a day, I knew I would have to separate from all of them. It saddened me, but that was my choice to continue on the PCT.

Day 3 – Walk as many miles you can

Mt. Laguna detour

The next morning, I woke up at 6 am determined to skip going to Mt. Laguna, so I could log a few more miles to get closer to my goal of averaging 20 miles per day. At that moment, I wasn’t thinking about pushing myself physically; what I had in mind was to reach a distance that would allow me to get to Julian the following day.

That day was very hot. But since my body was doing well, probably because I had plenty of energy reserves from my life in the city, I walked and walked and walked.

In FarOut, I found a splendid spot to rest and refill my water. I was very surprised by the size of the pine cones there. We have them in my country too, but never that big.

At the same spot, another hiker arrived, a great friend whom I keep crossing paths with in many places. He’s Swedish, his trail name is Expendable, a really cool guy! He told me he was planning to do another 25km that day… CRAZY for me, considering it was already 1 pm. Later, I understood that he was going to take a “shortcut” on the PCT because this was his third time on the trail. The previous two times, he had to quit, once due to family issues and the other due to physical problems. This time, he wants to make it to Canada. I could feel his excitement and I really want to he do it. That excitement is contagious among people, so I decided to keep walking but stay on the trail.

First Trail Magic

Climb day lol

My tiredness started to show. I began to go slower, needing more breaks. Some hikers from the Netherlands must have noticed because I would pass them, then stop, and they would pass me. I felt strange—not exhausted, just kind of lacking motivation. But something happened that changed my mood.

Me with my first Trail Angel Beer

Trail magic appeared! A guy was waiting at the top of the climb with cold beers and cookies! A treat for my physical and mental state at that moment.

Me with HikerTrashDumpster

Here I am with him! His magic name is Hiker Trash Dumpster. This guy saved my day, and I was able to keep walking. The area I was in was very exposed to the wind, so I decided to walk towards the bottom of the valley to find more shelter.

Windy night

That night was incredibly windy. I placed rocks around my tent, but it kept moving! I was really tired; I had walked 41km, which is about 25 miles. And what had to happen, happened. With my hurried setup due to the wind and rain, I left the rocks too close to my tent. This meant several tears in the lower part of my tent’s outer layer the next morning.

Getting to Julian 

With the effort of the previous day, I was left 29km from Julian, which allowed me to reach the city in one day.

100km marker

As an international hiker, I’m used to measuring distance in kilometers. That day, in the morning, I reached 100km, so I decided to commemorate it with a photo. In the picture, you can see that I had to leave my tent outside of my backpack because it had gotten soaked in the rainy night.

San Felipe Valley

 

To reach Julian, you have to descend from the mountain until you reach an immense plain. It’s quite striking after spending so many days in such rugged terrain to arrive at such a flat area. This area is known as the San Felipe Valley. From there, I walked for about an hour until reaching the road. I met another hiker, named Flames, and together we hitchhiked to Julian.

 

 

Returning to the city was strange. When I got out of the car, I felt very lost. I didn’t know where to stay, where to buy food, or who to talk to. At that moment, I had lost contact with all the other hikers. Therefore, I decided to do what everyone had recommended: go eat pie at Mom’s.

Mom’s shop

It was the right decision. As soon as I walked in, they asked if I was a PCT hiker and offered me a free pie for being one. The place was empty, but the ambiance with the PCT maps made me feel very comfortable. There, I readjusted to the “everyday” life I had in the city. Although it was only four days in the mountains, the intensity had taken my mind to a level of abstraction where I only dealt with the basic aspects of trekking.

Mom’s Pie 

Me at Mom’s Pie

I devoured my pie! It was delicious. I took the opportunity to catch up with my friends, did some more research on FarOut, and realized it has a lot of information about cities. I gradually adapted.

Steve “High Five” eating his pie

While I was sitting, a person approached and asked to sit with me. He reminded me that we had seen each other on the trail while gathering water from a spring. We started talking, and it turns out he could speak a little Spanish! I found it very kind of him to try to speak to me in my language. This was a detail that made me feel more integrated, closer, and loved. The hiker’s name is Steve, and his trail name is “High Five.” At the moment, he’s the person I feel the strongest connection with. He helped me gain confidence in what I was doing and, as a result, move more smoothly in this new world for me. The PCT is new for me and USA is new to 😂.

Américan Legion

High Five was going to stay in a hotel that night, but that was an expense I couldn’t afford, especially now in these early stages of the PCT. As a South American, the costs here are very high, and accommodation is the highest of all. Talking to my friend Marcelo, he mentioned that at the American Legion, they allowed people to sleep in the courtyard! So, I headed there.

This place was a bar focused on retired military personnel. They explained all the rules of the place to me very kindly, but in a clear and firm manner. I noticed that about the USA; there’s a high level of respect for authority here, higher than what I’m used to.

Bed for night in Julian

 

That night, I slept on a cot set up in the bar’s courtyard. There was a bathroom, and I could buy food and have a beer.

The night was very tough and cold because there was a storm with heavy rain and strong wind. Not having the protection of a tent made it feel harsh, but hey, I had made it.

I managed to reach Julian starting from the southern terminus monument. I met many hikers along the way and formed some bonds that I want to nurture in the coming months here. I experienced many facets of life in the USA, which is very different from my South American reality, and I’m adapting to it. For me, the PCT experience is not just about landscapes and hikes; it’s everything I’m living through.

Ending

New anecdotes will come in this post. My next destination is Idyllwild. I’ll tell you about the experiences I’ll have there. Greetings to all, thanks for taking the time to read my blog and share this dream I’m living! Being a PCT hiker.

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Comments 6

  • Professor Jellybean : Apr 29th

    Diego, welcome to the U.S. and the PCT!! I enjoyed reading about your hikes in South America and have been watching for your first post from the PCT. Mis mejores deseos y buen viaje! (I used Google Translate since I don’t speak Spanish. I hope it is right!) 🙂

    Reply
    • Diego Acuna : Apr 29th

      Really thank you my friend! I have many more things to share that have happened to me these days! I hope you always continue there to continue living this PCT 😊. Your Spanish was excellent 😄

      Reply
  • Kristen E : Apr 29th

    I absolutely loved reading a part of your journey. I am from Julian so I absolutely love to hear what others say about their trek. I also hike my dogs about 3 miles or so each day on many of the trails between Julian and Mount Laguna. I’ve run into many hikers and I truly enjoy every conversation I’ve had.
    I have alot of respect and admiration for what you do! Although I hike every day I can’t imagine hiking that entire trip!
    And yes. That rattlesnake was the largest I saw in your photo! I saw one almost as large but they are quite scary. Even scarier then the Mountain lions we have in our back yards.
    Enjoy the rest of your journey and rest when needed!
    Take care!!

    Reply
    • Diego Acuna : May 2nd

      My words of gratitude towards all this fall short. I am extremely grateful to be able to live this experience, I worked hard to be here, but I still can’t believe everything that the PCT entails. I’m trying to do my best! When I have a calmer time I will publish the next section! that has many more things to tell

      Reply
  • Laura : May 5th

    Hi, Diego!
    I’ve read some of your posts when you were still in Uruguay, training for your hike of the PCT. I am wishing so,so, so many good things for you. I’m also going to follow along with you and live this experience as if it was mine. Great adventures await us, my friend. Thanks for taking me on!!!

    Reply
    • Diego Acuna : May 5th

      Laura, your words move me very much! I just read your message, I’m in my tent and receiving this love from people makes me very happy! Today I summited MT Baden-Powell and saw things I had never seen in my life! I’m going to write about all that! There are more than 600km of these charrúa feet on the PCT

      Reply

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