The past few days have been a blur. Flying out to San Diego, eating fish tacos by the beach, running errands, sifting through my food supply, drinking La Croix and beer. I stayed with Kathy, a guest from one of my REI trips back in December and a true trail angel.
She’s here now, at the border, and she takes my photo as I pose with my new umbrella atop the PCT marker. I am going for whimsical with my Mary Poppins posturing, but later I look at the photos. With the border wall in the background, such a loaded symbol, my carefree expression strikes me as flippant, and I wish I was a little less silly.
Two volunteers from the PCTA are there, too. They give me a PCT hangtag and a short spiel about LNT and thru-hiker etiquette in town, and they ask if I have a permit for today. When I pull it out to show them, they wave it away. “We’re not cops!” they insist. “Just collecting data.”
Suddenly, it’s time. It’s finally, finally time to start the PCT. I hug Kathy and start down the trail.
This is the desert, supposedly, but the first day is green. The trail is gentle, but not boring. It winds through grassy meadows and brushy hillsides. I see lots of wildlife: a rabbit, a hummingbird, a gopher snake, a desert horned lizard, and a tarantula.
I meet hikers from several states as well as Germany, Canada, and France. The trail doesn’t feel crowded, though– I think I started early enough that I am ahead of most of the 50 people with a permit for today.
The trail is so smooth that the miles pass quickly, and I reach my tentative campsite, Hauser Creek, by 2pm. It feels too early to stop. I promised myself I wouldn’t go out too fast, but the first-day excitement is irresistible and I hike all the way to Lake Morena, 20 miles. I chat with some other hikers and then go to sleep.
Day 2. Miles: 14.3 Total miles: 34.3
I hike out of Lake Morena early. The weather is cool and the trail is flanked by wildflowers. I get water at Boulder Oaks campground. Later on, I encounter my first rattlesnake, a small one off to the left of the trail. It rattles before I get too close, and I wait for it to move before hiking on.
At midday I try out my umbrella, and the shade is nice, but it’s cumbersome. It forces me to focus on the ground in front of my feet, making it difficult to look ahead until I readjust it further back on my strap.
Other hikers are hiking further today– 17 miles. I am tempted to continue, motivated by something like competitiveness mixed with FOMO, but I’m hiking alone on a ridge when I find a quiet, sheltered campsite for a lone tent. I make a conscious decision to hike my own hike and stop early.
I want to camp at least a few nights alone on this trip. I accidentally found a boyfriend very early on during my AT thru hike. Although that experience felt magical, it meant my hike was not the solo adventure I had envisioned, and I want the PCT to be different.
My campsite is a little cave of scrub oak and manzanita, barely big enough for my tent. It’s still early– my plan is to go to bed at dusk, wake up before dawn, and be hiking by 5:30.
I journal until the sun is low in the sky, cook dinner, and tuck in early.