Week 1: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with Mom & Sister

Team PCT Cake!

Hi, I’m Audrey and I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with my Mom and Sister. I began my journey with a 4am alarm to catch the early flight to San Diego. Luckily, Mom and sis were on flights that arrived at similar times so we met at baggage claim. We had a low key start and walked to the ocean to see the sea lions, seals, and pelicans. We had lunch, and then the work began!

Arriving in San Diego
Visited the Pacific Ocean

The trail magic began before even stepping into the trail…it arrived in the form of very cute t-shirts. Thanks Marcia!

T-shirt says: The best view comes after the hardest climb

We had a hotel for the night, and made full use of the floor by dumping all our gear, sorting it and running through the gear list item by item. As we checked each piece off the list we stowed it into our packs. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to fit everything, but miraculously it all fit with just a few items strapped to the outside of the packs. We started with our gear and 6.5 days of food.

My gear in-front of me, Mom’s gear behind me.

Pro Tip: bring a box and return label so that you can ship unused items home. I sent the clothes home that I flew in, plus we pared down a few redundant items. Between the three of us we had a full box to ship home. Because we had a label, we were able to leave the box at the front desk, which saved some running around.

Gear packed, we had our last night of sleep in a bed. In the morning our friend, Thomas, arrived to drive us to Campo, CA where we would begin the hike.

Thomas arrived in style with a cake topped with “team PCT”. This was an extraordinary gluten free, dairy free carrot cake and was delicious. We got snacky in the car and ate a slice of cake while we drove. Arriving at the PCT terminus we saw the boarder wall. It was massive, not only was it tall but it went east and west as far as the eye could see with a road next to it the entire way. The wall had icky vibes; a scar across the land as far as the eye could see. We took a photo in front of the wall, and weren’t sure if we should smile or not.

The wall at the USA/Mexico boarder

We checked in at the PCT terminus, at a small folding table and receive a PCT tag. We, of course, had another piece of cake, hugged Thomas goodbye and began our hike.

PCT Terminus, Campo, CA

After so much planning it felt surreal to be walking the first steps. Like so much in life, a lot of small steps make a journey. And although these small steps felt both exciting and insignificant, put enough in a row and this is how every PCT hiker gets to Canada.

Fast forward a few days…

It rained the first two nights. What a peculiar thing to be rained on consecutive days in the dessert. We dealt with damp and wet gear, yuck, but decided we were really lucky because the moisture and clouds kept things cooler, made water sources plentiful, and most importantly, made beautiful green plants and abundant flowers. Hiking in a green dessert is awesome!

Smelling a yucca flower, sadly no odor

The dessert surprised me. I assumed the dessert would be static, with minimal wildlife and large expanses of the same scrub brush. What I have found instead is a patchwork of microclimates making a beautiful natural tapestry. We passed through slow growth madrone stands, chaparral, grass fields and then oak groves with plentiful shade. And if you pay attention the dessert is bustling with wildlife: birds, lizards, rabbits, the most adorable dessert rodents with big round ears, herons by the lakes, snakes, bees buzzing around the flowering bushes, and hummingbirds. I hear frogs croaking, and sometimes they are so loud I hear the frogs before the babbling of streams.

Ferns in the dessert

I was walking a particularly dry and exposed section, only to turn the corner and find some boulders sheltering a little cove with moss and ferns. That’s the magic for me, the total surprise around each corner. These little niches make the dessert interesting and special.

Me with my f-stop Tilopa all packed up

The other thing I’ve really enjoyed is the solitude; having fewer distractions makes being in the moment easier; both when I’m alone, and when I’m talking to other people. While hiking my mind is free, only planning where the next water source is, eating and where we will camp for the night.

At home I’m always thinking about what’s next on a never ending to-do list… All the tasks are loud in my mind, demanding constant sorting to maximize efficiency. Those thoughts have become quiet, and mostly I can let them go. I still obsess here and there, but I expect this to slowly quiet to silence. While my body is tired, by mind has been freed in a way that I rarely attain in my everyday life. I hope it’s a skill that I can bing home with me, but I fear it’s situational, meaning if I live my life the same stressful way after the hike I will also experience the same anxious mind. I think most of us are largely a product of our environment; and perhaps I will be more wise about how I build my environment upon returning home.

Last thoughts…

As a group we’ve had lots of gear shakeouts and learning. We’ve exchanged a pack, upgraded shoes, and redistributed weight a few times. We experienced altitude sickness, and had a zero day after to recover. There are a lot of skills that one must possess on the trail: hydration, nutrition, hygiene, fitness, and planning for water and camp locations. It takes time to dial it all in.

We’ve experienced generosity and “trail magic”. Today some car campers shared their candy, soda and chips with about 10 of us hikers. Others have handed out energy bars, or just been really sweet and accommodating hosts. A hiker has been scratching cute messages like “keep going” into the sand; these always make me smile. Overall, this is a very positive and supportive community. Most hikers are friendly and quick to start a conversation. It’s a special community, with amazing support from people near and far to the trail.

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