The PCT honeymoon phase: Campo (mile 0) to Mt Laguna (mile 41.5)
I’m writing this update on my phone in Mt Laguna, one of the first real trail towns along the PCT. Despite early challenges, I’m deep in the PCT honeymoon phase where everything feels exciting and novel. There’s no denying it: I am in love with my new thru-hiking life. That’s saying a lot, because it already hasn’t been easy.
Already, there have been difficult times. I knew they’d arrive eventually, but I didn’t think it would be so soon. The biggest issue is an injury that started on the morning of Day 2. My first steps of the day were met with intense pain in my left foot. This was totally unexpected because I’d never experienced foot pain in all of my hiking and backpacking, and I did a very reasonable 12 miles on Day 1, rather than pushing ahead to camp in Hauser Canyon. I hobbled through the rest of the day worried that my hike might be over before it even started. It wasn’t made any easier with a 16-mile drought-induced dry stretch and the resulting heavy water carry out of the canyon in the exposed desert sun. I went to sleep hoping for the best, but woke up with even worse pain. Luckily, I was able to connect by telehealth with a amazing PT who specializes in PCT hikers, and got some solid practical advice for moving forward. We both suspected that the injury was due to acute stress on my foot I experienced in a mountaineering course two days prior, which was exacerbated by hiking.
I resisted the urge to push on at full force and cut back my mileage for a few days to help the healing process. It’s so easy to feel as if I’m not keeping up, or falling behind, but if anything is more a marathon rather than a sprint, it’s a 2,650 mile hike. Plus, I started early for the exact reason to give myself a buffer in case of early injury. So, in a way, everything is going according to plan. It’s also not lost on me that my slower pace is affording the rest of my body a generous ramp up period. Now, I’m taking a full day off (aka “zero”) in Mt Laguna to be on the safe side.
So many snakes
Going into this hike, I was worried about the snakes — rattlesnakes, especially. I have a borderline phobia of them, but don’t let it stop me from hiking. It did almost stop me from the PCT, though, knowing that I might encounter them in the desert. I told myself that very few people actually die from rattlesnake bites each year, and about 80 percent of bites are directed at young men — not my demographic. So, on Day 1, Mile 5, when I heard the telltale rattle as I approached, I was not pleased. I really thought I’d have a little more time before my first encounter. I managed to circumvent it, but the experience was a bit harrowing. I try to tell myself that each snake encounter is a free immersion therapy session, but I’d like to reduce the frequency, please. There were 3 sightings on the first day alone!
Love, despite challenges
Even while in pain, I’ve felt elated much of my time out here so far. I’m not new to backpacking, and it is often when I’m at my happiest, but something about the expansiveness of this trip is different. This isn’t a short vacation, but rather my new life. There’s nothing in the world I’d rather be doing. I wake up every morning around 5am and start hiking just before sunrise. I take a break in the shade somewhere, if I can find it, to escape the midday sun. My job is to walk, find water, and feed myself calories to fuel me to walk again. It’s the simplest thing in world, but keeps me in the present moment focused on getting up the next mountain (though they are all generously graded and not too bad so far) or finding the next water source.
My last night before town was spent camping with 3 amazing women I became fast friends with: Snapple, Pine Tree, and Nora (yet to receive a trail name). Pine Tree is a wildfire fighter and total badass. I’ve already made plans to stay with some of them in the next town ahead (Julian) and am excited to have my first real trail friends.
I’m excited to hit the trail again tomorrow, but in the meantime will gorge myself with town food and rely on a shower to reveal how much of my darker skin is due to the desert sun and how much is just dirt. Hoping this honeymoon phase lasts quite a while longer!
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