The Beauty of Impermanence and Stories from Week 1 on the PCT


The past week of life on the Pacific Crest Trail has felt so full. My routine consists of eating, sleeping, hiking, and getting to know so many interesting people from all over the world and from all walks of life. Everyone carries such good energy, as they are all light and free from whatever held them back before getting on the trail.

This week has been all about finding balance and staying present for every moment. I have realized the impermanence of each moment, for better or worse. This has created a beautiful gratefulness for the good times and the bad whether that is new hiking buddies to laugh with, challenging weather conditions to overcome, or breathtaking views. Everything is so temporary.

I have been writing every day on trail during breaks to try to wrap my head around each day that also feels like a lifetime somehow. These excerpts capture my favorite or most memorable moments from my first week on trail.

Day 1

19 Miles: California-Mexico Border (Mile 0) to Tent Site with View of Lake Morena (Mile 19)

Day 1 began in such a special way. With my brother dropping me off at the Southern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. 8 months earlier my brother followed a big dream of his own by moving from Washington DC to Puerto Rico with his fiancé, Roberta, to enjoy the island life. My brother and I take chasing our dreams very seriously. Jeremy flying across the United States to help kickstart my PCT journey was the first magic and surreal moment that I experienced on trail.

Jeremy and I at the southern terminus of the PCT (Mile 0)

As I waved goodbye to Jeremy from the trail, it hit me – I am out here, hiking the pacific crest trail. Instead of the wave of emotions that I expected, I felt calm. I felt at home.

Day 2

15.3 Miles: Tent Site with View of Lake Morena (Mile 19) to Trail Ridgeline Campsite (Mile 34.3)

Day 2 began with a quiet morning. I took in views of Lake Morena as I made breakfast, took down my tent, and began hiking. I wondered if each night and morning would remain this quiet (spoiler: no) as I thought about what the hikers I met on Day 1 were up to.

The view of Lake Morena from my quiet campsite on Morning 2 (Mile 19)

The day brought many new faces and many water crossings (yes, in the “desert”). I took a long break at Kitchen Creek. As I was leaving the creek, I ran into Graeme (later named ‘Pickles’) – the first person that I met on the PCT at mile 5 the day before. We caught up on how our first nights on trail went and said our goodbyes once again as I continued hiking. Sure enough, that evening as I was about to set up camp for the night, Pickles, Jackson (who we named ‘Detour’ the following day) and a few others trickle in to camp as well.

We were all learning the dance of daily goodbyes and reunions as we hike within a bubble of just a few miles from one another.

Day 3

20.4 Miles: Trail Ridgeline Campsite (Mile 34.3) to Dry Stream Bed Campsite (Mile 54.7)

“We get to hike!? Through this!? That’s Awesome!” Abraham exclaimed as we walk up and out from the desert ridge into a pine tree forest. I admired the giant pinecones and tried (and failed) to convince Erwan that the pinecones were larger than average and to be admired. 

We made a pitstop in Mt. Laguna for a 9:30 AM burger (I hope my first of many), and I continued hiking with Detour for most of the morning. The trail weaved out of the pine tree forest and dumped us out to a vast overview of the Anza Borrega Desert.

I was in awe at this point. It was a day that I didn’t want to stop hiking. So I hiked on, committing to a 20+ mile day by entering a “no camping zone”. Many others, including Detour, decided to camp before entering the zone. The trail wrapped around the cliffsides bordering the Anza Borrega Desert for the rest of the afternoon. The wind started to pick up until there were strong gusts that created the need for concentration while hiking on the skinny trail.

Trail with a view of the Anza-Borrega Desert (Mile 53)

As I neared the campsite, the miles began to hurt a bit, between tired feet and wind burned legs. I made it to camp around the same time as Erwan, and we began setting up our tents as they bent and swayed with the wind. My jaw dropped as Detour walked up minutes later – he had changed his mind and decided to hike past the no camping zone after all! He helped me secure my tent against the wind using rocks to drive the stakes into the hard ground (a tactic that would backfire days later).

As Erwan, Detour, and I hid in our tents for the night, I heard Erwan call out, “Rachel, I miss the large pinecones now!”… another reminder to enjoy the little things on trail and that everything is temporary. 

Day 4

16.7 Miles: Dry Stream Bed Campsite (Mile 54.7) to Cliffside Campsite (Mile 71.5)

My tent didn’t stop swaying and bending all night. I woke up with the gut feeling that it was time to hike to get ahead of the storm. I got out of my tent to find snow falling… (yes, in the desert). Detour, Erwan, and I made a pact to pack up camp quickly and hike until the storm stopped to prevent all of our gear from getting wet.

While hiking in the rain and wind advisory wasn’t “fun”, I really did enjoy myself. Being at nature’s mercy had a grounding feeling.

Detour and Erwan hiking in the storm (Mile 56)

We hollered at the wind, ate lots of candy, and supported each other through the morning storm. We all watched the crows play in the wind, getting swept in every direction. “Wouldn’t it be great to be able to ride this wind?” I asked. “No… because I’d like to go forward.” Erwan replied, and we continued hiking up the mountain against the wind and rain.

The sun came out, and we were all grateful to have endured the storm together. I set up my tent at the top of a cliffside and watched the sun go down over the mountains as I called my parents and brother and shared stories about all the ups and downs of like on trail so far.

Day 5

10.2 Miles: Cliffside Campsite (Mile 71.5) to Desert Ridge Group Campsite (Mile 81.7)

I woke up to a glowy predawn and opened my tent door to watch the sun come up from my cozy sleeping bag. I slowly pack up my gear and enjoy the morning sun as a rainbow appears.

A rainbow appeared as I finished packing up camp (Mile 71.5)

I only had to hike 6 miles down the ridge into Julian where free pie and ice cream at “Mom’s Pie House” awaited all PCT hikers. Town day brought many new experiences including hitch hiking, buying a resupply of food, and trail magic.

Trail magic is such a special part of the PCT experience. It is created through the generosity of others (often previous thru hikers) who bring water, food, soda, beer, or games to spots on the trail for hikers to enjoy. After having restricted access to these things, enjoying a hot meal or a cold soda or a fun game with new friends, when you least expect it, truly does feel like magic.

Day 6

19.4 Miles: Desert Ridge Group Campsite (Mile 81.7) to Barrel Springs Group Campsite (Mile 101.1)

I woke up before sunrise and watched the moon set on one side of the ridge and the sun rise on the other side as I spent 30 humbling minutes digging my tent stakes out of the hard ground.

Around 2pm, I saw rocks forming a “100” lining the trail. I smiled, knowing that this was the first of many hundreds of miles that I will hike, but a big milestone to celebrate nonetheless.

100 PCT Miles!

I reached a large group campground a mile later where I reunited with other hikers that I had met over the last 6 days. We shared stories from our first 100 miles, did laundry, made dinner, and had a campfire together. It was the perfect celebration of 100 miles, new friends, and freedom – ready to embrace what lay ahead.

Day 7

8.2 Miles: Barrel Springs Group Campsite (Mile 101.1) to Warner Springs Group Campsite (Mile 109.3)

“Congratulations on completing Section A of the PCT.” ‘Off Trail’ said as he sat down at the Warner Springs Community Center’s picnic tables with Taut, MJ, and me.

Today I enjoyed my shortest hiking day yet, hiking through meadows and past Eagle Rock from the Montezuma Valley Market to the Warner Springs Community Center.

Eagle Rock (Mile 106.2)

The community center caters to PCT Hikers with charging stations, a sink for laundry, and bucket showers, and….WOW. Who knew that a warm water from a bucket could feel like a 5 star resort after a week of hiking??

Life is simple and life is good.

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