Prologue – I’m Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

I’m contemplating my bedroom one last time, making sure that I didn’t forget anything. I realize that I won’t see this room again for the next five months. Hopefully at least.

Somehow, I have this haunting feeling that I forgot something, although I check-listed every item I packed, twice. I take a deep breath. Passport, permit, money, backpack… I make sure that I, at least, got the most important stuff. I look around my room one more time. It’s time to go.

We left the house at 4:30am. Because of the ongoing protests in France, my train to the airport was canceled so my parents had to drive me there. It’s a 6-hour ride from my house to the airport, but it surprisingly didn’t feel that long. I noticed my parents were more quiet than usual. Probably the fatigue of the early morning wake up, I thought.

We arrived at the airport early. I embraced both my parents strongly, and made sure I told them that I loved them. As I let them go, I could see worries on their face. My mum made me promise to be careful, and to come back. When I walked away, I, for the first time, realized the amplitude of what I was about to do. All of the sudden, a rush of pressure took over my body. I understood that I wasn’t alone, and that people would be waiting for me at home, people who care about me. I have a responsibility towards them, and I have to be selfless in the decisions I will be making on trail.

My mind wouldn’t shut off during the first half of the flight. Somehow my brain became Steven Spielberg and started picturing different scenarios about what I might experience on trail. However I realized they all had one thing in common: they weren’t real, because they didn’t happen. And so I calmed down.

I successfully squeezed in some well-needed sleep. When I woke up, we were close to the destination. And there they were. The Sierras. Right below my eyes. They looked small from up there, but I knew that was only an illusion. They were all whitened from this atmospheric water vapor that freezes into ice crystals and that has spread fear into the hiking community lately: snow. But seeing this didn’t bring me fear, no. It brought me excitement. Motivation. I felt a thrill, a sense of eagerness toward a challenge I was soon about to come face to face with.

I landed in LAX, and went through customs. The custom officer seemed curious of my upcoming journey, and wished me luck. On the way to my AirBnB, the excitement started to build up. The weather seemed to have gotten right back to normal just before my start date. Sunny, warm, and clear blue sky welcomed my arrival. In a distance, I can see the mountains I’ll cross by foot in a few weeks.

After a couple days running last minute errands, it was time to go. I jumped on a bus to San Diego Old Station, where I would then take the PCT Southern Terminus shuttle. At the shuttle stop, I met with the first fellow hikers. We stopped on the way to Scout & Frodo, where we picked up more hikers. We introduce ourselves to each other. Small talk and laughter fill up the van as we make our way to the CLEEF campsite, about half a mile away from the terminus.

Things are starting to get real, but somehow I’m not there. I feel stoic, as if I was in a dream. After all these years waiting to go on this journey, being finally here seems almost unreal.

We gather around a fire in the evening, where our hosts (Paul, his wife, and Papa Bear) give us last minute tips before taking our first step north tomorrow. Their kindness is admirable. Before going to bed, I hear coyotes in the distance. An « avant-goût » of what’s waiting for me.

I wake up at 6am, after a freezing cold night of intermittent sleep. I wanted to have the terminus for myself before starting, so I went up there at sunrise. Once at the border, I take the time to look around and take in the moment. The big reddish wall, the sun rising over the mountains, the dirt road, the barbed wire, and that infamous monument. I’ve seen so many pictures of it now, I know exactly how it looks like. But somehow, it feels like I see it for the first time.

I touch it and turn my head. I look at the wide horizon. I take a few steps. This is it. I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

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