PCT Week 1: Wind, Magic, and Optimism
THE FIRST MILES
For the last five years, the Pacific Crest Trail has been on my mind. It’s been a dream of mine to start this trail, and finally, March 5, 2022 came around. My journey began.
A slow start due to the stormy weekend had me worried about the conditions ahead, but still with a smile on my face, I walked the first few miles with joy in every step. It’s surreal knowing that for the next couple months I will get to call this trail my home.
Immediately I find myself with other hikers, who just like me have dreamt day and night about this trail. When it comes to meeting new faces, I’m no stranger and a lunch spot with Nathan, aka Deuces, keeps my energy alive for a couple more miles until camp.
Our first campsite is at 11.1 miles. I decided to pace myself to start, not push my body more than it needs to. The chill winds of the nights before haunt this place, and after a nice dinner, it was time for bed. Hikers pass by all night, also looking for a place to call home on their first night on trail.
A frosty morning wakes me up and I quickly get everything ready to go, it’s time to push towards our first stop of the day Lake Morena. On the way, I pass hikers, including Wes and Marie, who I had seen the previous night looking for a campsite. The first climb was tough, but by 11 a.m. I had already got 10 miles and I wasn’t done.
A well-deserved malt and cheeseburger in Lake Morena awaited me. More hikers came in, including Legend who had stopped by to share in our laughter and conversations. I would also meet Leon, aka Raccoon, while heading back to the trail.
That morning I told myself I would pace myself and end at 10 miles, but it was only 12 p.m. and there was a long day ahead. Looks like I was going to push further and I’m very glad I did.
We met up with Lucky Charms, and Wes, Marie, Deuces, Leon, and I all made our way to Boulder Oaks for camp. Where magic awaited!
A long day was rewarded with a campfire, a bathroom, a beautiful sunset, and of course trail magic. We got fresh fruit, drinks, wipes, a bundle of joy that had been left for PCT hikers passing through. We made camp for the night, enjoying the stars and warming ourselves by the fire.
The Birth of Optimist Prime
With the sun, we woke up, packed up our gear, and headed off, tonight’s goal Mt. Laguna another 15 miles ahead.
We climbed and climbed with little to no shade for quite a while. To put it simply it sucked. But we pushed on because what would await would be one of the most amazing forms of trail magic that would set the stage for the miles ahead.
Mid-day I finally found shade. It wasn’t perfect but it would do the trick. I needed to rest my knee and eat something. I had climbed ahead of Wes, Marie, and Raccoon who would shortly catch up.
As I sat there in my grove, realizing I still had miles to go, something inside me told me to get up and push on. Motivated by the laughter ahead of me I climbed.
I reached my friends, with a bunch of fresh energy and a genuine smile on my face I yelled out “let’s do this!” A complete 180 from what I felt just an hour ago, the devoted optimist inside lit up. In that moment Wes looked at me as he handed me a slice of salami, and gave me my trail name, “Optimist Prime.”
Full of renewed energy and happiness, I was ready to push those last miles. But not before meeting a new face, Gazelle. She came in with the swift attitude of a true thru-hiker, having done more miles than anyone I had seen on trail so far. We exchanged a quick conversation before we all headed back on trail.
The first signs of snow came right after as we headed into Mt. Laguna. We headed into pine forests and finally met up with Deuces who we hadn’t seen all day since camp. With so much excitement I ran to him! We were all reunited and got our first taste of stream water.
A cold evening of walking led us into Mt. Laguna, we laughed, sang songs, and had snowball fights, keeping the energy alive all the way through as we took our first steps on snow.
We arrived at a pretty cold, and closed, Mt. Laguna. We hadn’t really counted on much heading into this area. Deuces and I trekked ahead to see if we could find any food, and it was just happenstance that we met Eric.
TRAIL MAGIC AT MT. LAGUNA
Eric owns the Pinewood Cafe and Tavern in Mt. Laguna. It’s a restaurant that is French-owned and some of the best food you’ll get on trail.
We had asked him if there was any place to get food. His restaurant was closed but he told us to come in and get out of the cold. He offered us food and hot drinks. Originally being from France myself and being able to speak fluent French we conversed in our native tongue.
When he asked where we were staying that night, I told him we were still figuring that out, and that most likely outside at the campsites. He then did something I could never have imagined, offering us the foyer of his restaurant for the night.
I had one of the hardest days on trail, and my positive spirit was rewarded by this incredible form of trail magic. We had couches, bathrooms, warmth, and even a shower, which I had originally said no to, but was glad I had changed my mind.
That night we enjoyed ourselves still enamored by the magic we had just experienced. We all had a tough day and it was nice to truly experience this sign of generosity from a complete stranger.
We woke to coffee and conversations coming from the kitchen. They were getting ready to open, and for their kindness, we repaid them by cleaning their dining room.
Breakfast was incredible. The best croissants I’ve had in a long time. Eric topped off our coffee as more hikers came and joined us. Gazelle was in town, Raccoon had made it, and Benny from Germany, aka Big Stick, joined our quickly growing family.
THE BATTLE OF ORIFLAMME CANYON
We headed off our bellies full, our spirits high, and way behind schedule. We planned on another 15-mile day to Oriflamme Canyon, where we had heard that it was a great place to view the sunrise.
I pushed on with Gazelle and Big Stick as we left the pine forests and snow, replacing it with more hills and lots of wind. It was another day of climbing.
The winds were chilly, the miles were long. Finally camp was half a mile away and the views were incredible. The spirits were high as I made it to camp, and seeing Gazelle and Big Stick made me so happy.
The tone changed. Still optimistic, I saw what they were dealing with as they set up camp. Forty mph winds blowing from every direction. Quickly putting up my tent as the winds fought back. Stakes kept on coming loose and rocks were needed to keep everything down.
As the sun came down, my tent came up. But the fight was far from over. We made dinner and got in our tents. All we could do is laugh, hoping that maybe the winds would die down.
Clock strikes midnight, 60 mph winds hit us from every direction. Every 20 minutes we’re out of our tents troubleshooting and putting stakes back in the ground. For two hours I’m working double-time to keep everything grounded. At one point for a half-hour, I had one hand on each of my poles, making sure the carbon fiber doesn’t snap.
It’s two a.m., we’re still laughing. I take a final stand in this battle, as I leave my tent the stars shine for miles, it’s surprisingly beautiful out. I tie down my poles one last time and back in the tent I go. There’s nothing more I can do.
5:30 a.m. We awake to still more wind. Quickly we get all of our stuff into the bags. There is a storm approaching. The sunrise is beautiful and the all-nighter fighting the wind is truly worth it. The battle is won.
THE FINAL STRETCH TO PIE
The day is long, but the distance between us and Julian diminishes. It’s only 20 miles to town, and there is a storm ahead. Gazelle pushes to town while Big Stick and I pace ourselves.
We enjoy our coffee break and a long lunch at a water source. The sun is warm, the breeze is cool, and we only have a few miles left. All I can think of is town, but that will have to wait just one more day.
With the storm ahead, we make camp five miles from town. It’s perfect timing. As soon as the tents are up we hear thunder ahead. A drip falls onto my tent and all of sudden it’s pouring. We sit in our tents making dinner hoping the storm will pass.
Rain turns into hail and lightning comes closer. I can see it through my tent lighting up the sky. It’s still better than the night we just had. I enjoy my dinner and let the storm pass.
Finally it stops. We get out of our tents and look out to see some of the most beautiful rays of light going through the clouds. The winds were in our favor that night, pushing the storm along south. We fall asleep with calm winds drying our tent. Pie is only five more miles, and a zero awaits.
The next stretch of miles is a breeze, we get into Scissors Crossing greeted by hikers going into town and leaving for trail. It’s party time, it’s pie time. Big Stick continues on trail as I stop. Rangel takes me into Julian and drops me off at 2Foot Adventures where I make sure my gear is ready for the next miles ahead.
I finally get to enjoy my pie and ice cream. I’m joined by Gazelle, Brother Paul, Deuces, Spear Chucker, and many more. We laugh and tell our stories from the last 75 miles.
I’m ready to rest and enjoy a zero day in town before I head back to continue my journey.
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I know the Pinewood Cafe. Always excellent food.
Great to read the owner reached out and allowed these PCTer’s to stretch out in the lobby.
This is truly the best type of marketing for a great little cafe.
Sounds like you’re off to a good start. I will try to follow along on this site. Maybe I’ll see you when you come through the Hat Creek Rim area. I sometimes provide Trail Magic there. Have a safe trip!