The Journey Begins!!!

Desert morning magic

Finally! After a dozen years of dreaming and two years of actually planning, I am on the PCT! It’s difficult to describe the mix of emotions of this first week: excitement, relief, joy a bit of trepidation…In so many ways I felt like just getting to the trail was a journey in itself. And now, the new journey begins, with each day unfolding in a new and fantastical way. As I type this, I’m sitting in Julian (like many other hikers!) waiting out a snowstorm. A perfect time to do an update from the trail. I’ll do my best to describe the past seven days, but there is so much…

The southern terminus.

There are many ways of course to make your way to the terminus. Some are dropped off by friends or family. Some employ the service of trail angels, some navigate public transit. I personally used the PCT Southern Terminus Shuttle. For a first timer, it made the process much easier than having to figure it out for myself. I’m all for adventure, but I prefer it on trail rather than figuring out transportation. While waiting for the shuttle, I decided to sample some of the local fare. We’ll revisit this later…After a brief stop at REI to pick up a few things not allowed on the plane, we headed to the campsite at CLEEF. Again, this is a fantastic resource for those of us who are just trying to figure things out. It is organized by three trail angels Just Paul, One Speed and Papa Bear. All three are experienced hikers and have plenty of knowledge and advice to draw upon should you wish. Because of the proximity to the terminus, CLEEF becomes the gathering place for hikers who are starting their journey. Some sign the wall and get on trail right away while others camp for the night or even stay a second (my chosen option that I built into my schedule not knowing how transit would go, which proved indispensable), depending on their start date. It’s really fun to interact with all the people from different areas of the country and around the world, hear their stories about what drew them to the trail and share in the excitement of starting their walk. Not long after arriving, I began to feel less than stellar. I had no appetite even though dinner was approaching and I felt like I had a rock in my gut. By early evening, I decided to skip dinner altogether and just go to bed. I was feeling rotten. It was a bit disappointing to lay in my tent in pain while listening to my new friends talking and laughing. That night was one of the longest nights I ever had. Every time I moved, the rock in my gut shifted and it sent a new wave of heartburn that felt like I was being stabbed. As the night wore on, the pain began to subside a bit. By morning, I was able to be somewhat social and drink some tea, but was definitely in no shape to hike. That extra day turned out to be a lifesaver as it allowed me to rest and recover in preparation for my official start the following day.

It’s go time!!

The day of my start finally arrived. All of the dreaming and planning was finally paying off. On the day of my start, I received an email from my brother. He had many kind words to say but the phrase that stuck with me was: “Some people may say that we put our lives on hold to chase a dream but I think perhaps it’s the other way around.” These were the words in my head as I finalized my pack, signed the wall and headed towards the monument. The pain of yesterday was gone and I was feeling great! As I approached the monument, my eyes began to well up. As I touched my hand to the cluster of posts, that so many had touched before, the wave of emotion let loose. All the years, the dreams, worries, thoughts, expectations, planning, gear acquisition, logistics…It all came out. It was as if all the weight was lifted and now all I had to do was walk. I signed the log, took the obligatory photos and turned north. I was on the PCT!

Each one of these names represents a dream.

Day one was on and off rain. Sometimes I was able to hike in shorts and a sun hoodie, an hour later I might have a full rain kit on. The sunny southern California weather I had hoped to find after leaving the midwest was nowhere to be found. But the views were spectacular and I was so elated to just be out there that it was all good. After some time, I began to feel a bit of fatigue. Not long after, I passed the ten mile mark. It was then that the enormity of the undertaking was made clear. This ain’t no picnic! I made it to Hauser Canyon where I planned to camp for the night. My plan for the following day was a short walk to Lake Morena for a day of mostly rest. I wanted to alternate longish days with short days in order for my body to adapt.

On day two, I began the climb out of Hauser. It is kind of the first time that the trail will test you. But the weather was clearing and I was in no rush, so I just enjoyed the climb. The rest of the day was spent hanging out with other hikers and just relaxing in the sunshine.

Day three took me into Fred Canyon which put me within an easy walk from Mount Laguna. So far my plan was going great and I was feeling even better. On day four, I got into Mt. Laguna just as the breakfast menu changed to lunch. A burger and a beer? Don’t mind if I do! My plan for the next few days was to go halfway to scissors crossing, camp, go the rest of the way, camp again and then make a quick trip into Julian for a meal, resupply and back out to the trail for a few miles.

The trail always has the final say.

Beautiful view. If you zoom in, you can see snow-capped San Jacinto in the distance a hundred or so trail miles away!

There are those who climb mountains who like to say that they ‘conquered the mountain’ or bagged a peak. There are others who prefer to say that the mountain granted them passage allowing them to summit. I tend to land in the latter camp, approaching them with a bit of humility, knowing that my plans are insignificant with respect to conditions. And so it is with the trail. The storm that blew in on the day that I went into Julian pushed everyone off trail who was in the area. Mt Laguna received two feet of snow and anyone there was stuck. There was a small party of hikers who attempted to head out, only to be turned back by the conditions. Not today, kids! The trail is in no mood. Hunker down and wait.

Which brings me to this moment. Tomorrow, the weather should clear and I should have a good run into Warner Springs in a couple days. Right now, my thoughts of hiking to the summit of San Jacinto are fading as the snowfall at the higher elevations is only compounded. But we’ll see. Conditions can change rapidly and I may be able to after all.

Final thoughts on week one.

This may seem like I’m giving advice, but I’m not. These are simply my observations from a first time hiker to others who may be looking at starting the trail as a first timer as well. In no particular order:

  • California can be cold and rainy if you start early. Know your gear and your personal capabilities!
  • Start slow. You will feel a sense of urgency. Take your time, relax, enjoy the moment. You have a long time.
  • Take care of yourself. This is not a sprint. Eat well. Stretch. Rest. Address little things before they become big problems.
  • Leave no trace. C’mon people. Pick up after yourself. I have picked up more trash on trail than I created myself. If you’re the type of person who thinks throwing garbage out of your car or leaving trash wherever you unwrap it is ok, stay home. Seriously. We don’t want you.
  • Look at the little things. The views out here are amazing! So much so that it’s easy to miss the things right in front of you. Flowers blooming, a birds nest in a cactus, a small lizard sunning themself on a rock. The desert is full of life and it’s all wonderful.
  • Enjoy the people. I have met so many incredible people since I started. From hikers to trail angels to random people at trailheads. It is an amazing community that we are all part of!
  • Thank your trail angels. These people spend an amazing amount of their time and personal resources out of the goodness of their hearts. Show them your appreciation when and how you can!

At this point one week in, I feel like I have already had an incredible journey. I am both humbled and amazed that I have the privilege to continue and I view each day moving forward as a ‘plus one’. I know that I am still in the “honeymoon phase” and that the weariness of the days and miles will begin to accumulate. At the same time though, the fact that I get to spend each day outdoors doing something that I love in an amazing setting surrounded by wonderful people is enough to keep me going even through the hard days.

See you on the trail.

Spa time!

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Comments 1

  • val vitols : Mar 31st

    Hi Josh, Hi Josh, how about an interview on Hikers Dream when you get reception?

    Unuversal Hiker you tube channel


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