This One’s For You, Dad

“You know what, Pa? It keeps occurring to me how special this is. I’m going to be sad when we part ways – it’s going to mean the start of a new adventure, but also the end of ours.” I shared these thoughts with my dad on the fourth day of a trip that I was calling my pre-PCT “shakedown” hike.

This hike was much more than that though – this was an opportunity to share an experience of a lifetime.

A few things – I treasure my parents and wholeheartedly believe that they have much to do with my love for the outdoors. My father specifically holds a shared love for backpacking and the “hiker trash” community and like me, has a soft spot for the Pacific Crest Trail. Honestly, he’s watched way more YouTube videos and followed more thru-hikers on their journeys than I have. If not for a few inconvenient reasons, he might be the one out here.

So, although he couldn’t commit to hiking the entire trail, he agreed to a plan I concocted that I thought was second-best – hiking a few days of it with me.

We’ve day-hiked a-plenty, car camped, and gone on one overnight backpacking trip before, but this would be our first multi-day backpacking trip together. We put our heads (and our gear) together to figure out the logistics of how to make this happen and sure enough, the day came where my mother was not only saying goodbye to me, but to my father as well (albeit not for 6 whole months).

In a day’s time, I found myself on the bus, riding along the curvy roads from El Cajon to Campo. Between looking over at dad and exchanging looks with some other hopeful thru-hikers, a slew of thoughts crossed my mind such as “this is actually happening” and “wow our bus driver would make a great racecar driver.” When we stepped off the bus in Campo, it was dark, we had been awake for roughly 20 hours and we vaguely knew the direction to walk to reach CLEEF to camp for the night.

Our epic adventure had surely just begun.

After hanging out with fellow hikers and spending way too long taking pictures of one another at the terminus, we were off. As we walked along the trail, we met many interesting humans, and relished the sights, sounds and feeling of being on the trail at last.

Eventually, we neared the end of our first day and our tired legs and feet carried us to our campsite for the night. We had identified this campsite based on comments we read on FarOut that claimed there was water down the dirt road at mile 9. How exactly this was true, we weren’t sure, but we faithfully walked toward this promised land. After what felt like a long time, we spotted the old rusted shed and windmill that indicated we had made it.

As we filled up on water at the pond, we observed some interesting sounds. All was quiet except for one thing in particular – the old, creaky windmill.

Me and my dad exchanged looks and I said to him, “that is going to be really creepy to hear tonight.” Enthusiastically, I added “This place is definitely haunted.”

That night, as I tried (not so successfully) to sleep, I listened to the sweet chorus of frogs down at the pond. After eventually drifting off, I awoke to silence – the frogs had abruptly stopped singing. Was there something down at the pond? I lay awake for a bit, listening to the night sounds and decided that whatever was responsible for causing the lull in the frog choir must not want to eat us. Cool.

We made it through the night and even went on to have a fun and successful trip over the next several days. We enjoyed delicious treats at the Malt Shop, met plenty of interesting characters, and found some pretty sweet campsites.

Out of all my memories of the events that unfolded over the trip, there are two things that stand out: my father’s determination and willingness to openly embrace this new experience add the quiet moments we shared on-trail.

Pa, I appreciate our time together more than you could ever know. I cherish the time we had together and when the going gets tough, I will revisit our memories – especially our first night at the “haunted” pond. I’ll think about those sweet, quiet moments we shared and the conversations we had. I’ll think of you often and know that I’ll keep walking as long as I am able.

This one’s for you, dad.

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