Week 1- Keep Calm and Carry On

Well it’s done and over with, the beginning. Don’t they say starting is the hardest part? Well, I disagree. I think it’s the part in-between the start and the knowing. The part where you can still ask yourself… what the hell am I doing out here? Am I really capable of doing this? The part where you still have no idea how to do anything and everything still seems so new in a very unfamiliar, scary way.

The good news is I made it out the other side, at least I think I did. So now, without further ado, we have my day-by-day of hell week!

Day One:

This was my mom and I’s first time in San Diego so we took our sweet time adjusting. We spent two days in San Diego being tourists and enjoying our final moments of normal. Maybe that’s what made this next part so hard…

Loving the beautiful Cali beaches compared to Galveston

Day One began. We loaded up our packs and rushed to the Uber outside of our accommodations. My stomach was somersaulting with the idea of heading out into unknown territory. I had everything I needed with food, water, shelter, and safety. Why was I doing this again? But it was too late we were in the Uber and bustling off to the El Cajon Transit center where we would be meeting a trail angel (a person who helps hikers) to take us to the border. It was already 7AM and both my mom and I had not eaten because of nerves.

The bus station was busy this early in the morning. After the Uber dropped us off a bus was honking at us with a man waving his arms telling us to hop on. The bus in question was 894 and driving by. We waved him away laughing thinking he probably was worried he was leaving behind the stray hikers. This is the bus that takes hikers to the terminus, but it’s a 3 1/2 hour ride with all of the stops. Luckily, we had our trail angel. While waiting on her to arrive we met our first hiker from Tennessee. He had stayed at the bus station since 10PM that night waiting on the bus. My mom and I looked at each other in shock. This was not a safe area and we couldn’t imagine being out there all night. We had two more hikers walk up with the morning jitters to talk. We all were a bundle of nerves to start. One man was coming all the way from Switzerland! It wasn’t long before our trail angel arrived to take us away to the Terminus, and she brought Starbucks! I won’t forget her kindness during this start of our journey.

Her and her father talked to us all the way to the terminus passing signs for destinations we wouldn’t arrive to for the next several days. One comment that sticks with me from her was “Oh, there’s Mount Laguna!” “We won’t be there until four days from now.” I commented. She exclaimed with a bit of shock, “Really?!” Before we changed the topic. Mount Laguna is around 42 miles in. My mom and I had decided to take it pretty slow in the beginning.

It wasn’t long before we arrived at the terminus. Seeing it for the first time was surreal and daunting.  In the distance we saw border patrol cars zooming past with helicopters chopping up above. The PCTA staff stood at the table with sunscreen on their faces and wide smiles. After a short course on leave no trace, it was time for pictures!

My mom and I at the terminus ready to go!

We said our goodbyes to our sweet trail angel and started down the trail. We took our first restroom break and signed the poster at CLEEF. This is a nice camping area close to the beginning of the trail terminus. We knew we needed to get going and started back down the trail. It was sunny, but not too hot and that was a blessing. We walked through Campo on the well worn dirt path next to the road. It then led us out of the town and into the mountainous, desert wilderness. We meandered up and down sandy hills and admired the wildflowers blooming.  Eventually, we passed miles 1-3 taking pictures and videos of everything. Our luck took us down into a tree covered creek where we got a respite from the sun and everything seemed perfect.

3 miles down, too many to go!

Unfortunately, this is where our trail luck ended… We took a lunch break and my mom started to feel a bit sick from the heat and nerves. She didn’t keep her lunch down and I started to worry about dehydration. We had only made it 4-5 miles on the trail and I encouraged her that we should turn around. But anyone that knows my mom knows that she’s stubborn and tough! We pushed through and continued down the trail.

We felt EXHAUSTED our first day. Everyone we met at the bus station had passed us by mid-day, but as the saying goes Hike Your Own Hike. We stopped around mile 7.9 to camp for our first day. It was important for my mom to get some rest too after feeling so sick in the beginning. We had a nice secluded spot in the desert and had climbed what felt like 3 different mountains to get there. I thought it was supposed to all be flat in the desert!

Some much needed stretching after a long day!

It always seems like your first night camping you never sleep well. I got minimal rest, but it was a quiet spot with the nice sounds of a creek nearby. Hoorah for a first day finished!

Day 2

We woke up bright and early on day 2. We packed everything up and headed out with the hopes of making it to Lake Morena now that my mom was feeling better! This was going to be an almost 13 mile day…phew! We meandered on the side of a mountain for what seemed like miles going up and down, but mostly up! The elevation gain was intense and starting to wear on us. We took as many breaks as we could, but we knew to make it to Lake Morena we had to push through. It was sunny and hot, but the views were spectacular!

Around 8 miles in for the day, we made a stop at Hauser Creek. At this point, we weren’t sure we would make it to Lake Morena. We took some deep breaths on our sleeping mats and I filtered some water. The guy we had met at the bus station from Tennessee was there and had decided to camp for the night with some words of advice. “The climb out of Hauser Creek is tough, and it’s going to be hard to do today.” My mom and I looked at each other and it only took one thing to convince us to go for it. My mom found a tick on her fanny pack and we decided to book it out of there!

What we didn’t know was how tough this actually was going to be. We already were exhausted and now we were climbing out of a creek and straight up a mountain. It felt like miles we were climbing straight up at an incline. An older man passed us and told us once we get to the top we are basically there! Well, that was encouraging until we got to the top. Something I have learned this week. Never trust the men that tell you it’s only one mountain because there’s actually several more to go. After that climb we went down and up at least 2 more times before finally we saw paradise!

Lake Morena in the distance

The climb down to Lake Morena was brutal! Our legs were so done and it was like a mirage in the distance. It seemed close, but we still had two more miles to go. With a little grit and pain we pushed through and made it to the campground ending a day of 13 miles! Several people we had met that day were happy to see we had made it. They came over to chat, but all we wanted to do was set up our tent and take a hot coin operated shower at the bathroom. The wind started blowing terribly and the rain began. It was around 40 degrees and we were freezing from our sweat soaked clothes. Our hands were fumbling to pull everything out of our bags.

A nice woman from a scout group approached us and offered us some fried rice, but our appetites were demolished from the hiking. We accepted it, but only ate a few bites and then sadly threw the rest away. Once we had our hot showers we cozied down in our sleeping bags for the night. It was such a nice night after a hard day. My mom lying next to me said “We’re as snug as a bug in a rug.” I couldn’t even murmur a response as I dozed off. I slept like a rock to the rain hitting the tent and the croak of frogs nearby.

Day 3

We woke up at Lake Morena feeling refreshed, but our whole body was aching from the high mileage the previous day. Our backpacks and shoes were wet from the rain, but everything in the tent was dry. Since my mom and I were sharing a tent the majority of our gear had to brave the weather in the tent vestibule.

The first thing on our minds was figuring out how we could get some calories into our bodies. At this point we hadn’t even eaten 1,000 calories in the last two days put together. Although we didn’t have an appetite we went down to the only restaurant within walking distance of the Lake Morena campground. We got some well deserved eggs, hashbrowns, bacon, and toast! It was actually a great breakfast, but we couldn’t even eat half of it. We packed out the rest for lunch and went back to our camp. The sun had dried some of the gear, and we began packing up. We took our time and didn’t start out on trail until 12:00PM.

A cloudy, beautiful day!

We were enjoying trail after a good nights sleep at Lake Morena. It was taking us up and over several mountains, but we were feeling a little better with food in our bellies. The sun was out, but it was still chilly. The clouds slowly began to cover the sun as the wind blew them in. It wasn’t long before those clouds started to produce rain in the far distance. “We better hurry!” I told my mom. But hurry to where? We may have completed 3 miles at this point and we were still 19 miles from the next stop in Mount Laguna. Nervous energy began to eat me alive as I realized we might be caught out in a storm.

Clouds gathering in the distance

We trudged along until we came upon a bridge that went under the highway. “Well at least we could take shelter under here.” But after looking around we saw several groups of people fishing at the river and decided to keep going. After looking around for some way to cross the swelling stream, we realized there was no choice but to get the feet wet to get to the other side. Now, it was about to rain and our feet were wet. This was turning out to be one of those days… but as we came around the corner I saw a sign. Boulder Oaks 2 miles ahead. After checking the far out app I found out this was a campground with pit toilets and potable water! Otherwise known as camping heaven to me and my mom. That’s all we needed to hear! We started to book it to Boulder Oaks Campground.

The trail was easier on the way and mostly flat. I saw a wild turkey and two grass snakes as we approached the campground. To the left was a fence warning hikers if they crossed they might get shot for trespassing. Cows mooed in the distance and I was reminded of our farm at home. The day started to get easier and my anxiety about the storm eased. Right when we approached the campground a steady stream of rain started to come down. We set up the tent in record time! Next, we blew up our sleeping mattresses, pillows, and fluffed up our sleeping bags. We had a warm restroom to change in and suddenly we were back in our sleeping bags after a 6 mile day.


Our tent is nestled somewhere in there!

All of the hikers were bundled down in their tents even though it was only 5:30PM. It was cold and rainy. I couldn’t blame them. We could hear the soft murmurs of hikers talking to family on their phones and the rustle of snacks being eaten. We slept peacefully that night to the patter of rain on the tent roof.

Day 4:

I wasn’t sure where this day was going to take us when we woke up. I knew we probably wouldn’t be making it to Mount Laguna 16 miles away, but I wondered how many miles we could do. It was sunny, so we began drying out our gear and taking our time to get ready. Everyone left before us except for two girls who were also taking their time getting ready. They were nice and friendly. They said they would only be going as far as a campground called Cibbet’s campground about 6-7 miles away. This campground included a .7 mile hike in downhill. EXTRA MILES! We did not want to do any extra walking and decided promptly we would not be staying there. They did encourage us to go ahead and book a place in Mount Laguna which we did before we left.  The day was another pretty one! The weather had cleared up a bit and offered a respite from the rain we had experienced.

My mom conquering her fear of heights

We traveled around the mountains by steep trail and although there were views all around, the only thing on my mind was water. We were running out and I had to figure out a water source quick. The next one showed a 1/2 mile road walk down to the creek. I did not want to do any extra walking! The water source after was a stream several miles away that might not have a guaranteed flow. A little ways after that was Cibbets Campground. “Well, we can see if that stream up ahead has water and if it does we will keep going. If it doesn’t then we can go to Cibbet’s Campground for water and just stay the night there.” I always had plan A, B, C and in my back pocket D ready at all times.

You got it mom!

We pushed through a couple of climbs before we came down into the valley where the stream was flowing strong. A couple of the people we had met that day were gathered at the stream collecting water. After hiking in the desert most of the day, this stream was a complete oasis with lots of trees for shade. Campsites filled the area and a man we had met earlier at Boulder Oaks was already set up for the night. “You guys might stay?” He asked. More people started to pour in and set up their tents as well. It was already approaching 5:30PM. The shade was beckoning us, but at this point we would have almost 12 miles to do the next day to get into Mount Laguna. I left it up to my mom to decide. Although she was red with exertion, she said, “Let’s keep going!” Like I said before, my mom is a tough one!

We kept going and pushed up two more inclines. After less than a mile I was truly questioning if we would make it much further. The sun was beating down on us and our legs were jelly. The inclines never seemed to stop. Both of us were hot, sweaty, and exhausted. We saw a sign reading Cibbet’s campground up ahead and it was a no brainer at that point. Although we had loaded up on water at the last stream we walked confidently down the extra 0.7 miles into Cibbets. This was the right decision and it was all downhill. I can’t say I didn’t walk downhill without thinking about the climb the next day, but at that point I knew it was the rest my mom and I needed. Plus, I mean they have toilets! Can’t get better than that.

It was a grueling .7 miles downhill since we were already exhausted, but our spirits lifted at the site of a green covered campground with trees. Once we made it we saw a few hikers gathered around listening to a man I figured was the camp host. His name was Tim and he was explaining the rules. Pretty much you can camp anywhere. You’re technically supposed to pay $14 to camp, but a nice couple had already done so, and said we could camp anywhere in their lot. Tim was the nicest host we had met yet, and was very helpful. The other hikers there were kind as well and soon we were all chatting before setting up our tents. My mom and I chose a flat spot close to the bathrooms. “Too bad you guys missed the trail angel that’s usually here!” Tim said. Apparently, a trail angel named Peter frequented the area to return some of the kindness that he received while on the PCT.

While setting up our tent and changing into cleaner clothes a van pulled up. Peter, the trail angel had arrived! What a surprise for us tired hikers. He started to pull out all sorts of items and put them on the picnic table. Stoves, battery banks, cookies, milk, and cheese. It didn’t take long for hikers to start meandering over to Peter’s table. He was extremely kind and welcoming! We all started talking and getting to know each other. There was 6 of us hikers in total from all over the world. We had lots to talk about and it was nice conversation over our dinners. Peter charged my power bank for me and cooked our dinner so we wouldn’t have to waste fuel. His kindness was more than appreciated after a hard day. He was very knowledgeable about the trail and provided some of the hikers some information on the next steps.

Discussing the no camping areas in Mount Laguna

After it started to grow dark, the cold began creeping in! We all started to rush off to warm up in our sleeping bags. That night I slept like a rock cuddled up in my warm tent next to my mom.

Day 5

This was the day we would make it to Mount Laguna! We woke up early with the idea of getting a head start and trying to make it into town as early as possible. We had at least 9.5 miles to reach town. It was a cold morning and our hands were numb as we packed up our gear. We were the first ones up out of the 4 other hikers staying at Cibbets. Peter offered us some hot beverages, but we kindly declined and started uphill. The climb out was pretty steep and it took less than 10 minutes to realize we needed to shed some layers. At the junction to head back on trail we shed our hot clothes and continued the climb out. This was turning out to be another hard day of inclines. Lake Morena sat at around 3,000ft and Mount Laguna was above 6,000ft, so I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy climb up. We pushed on with the idea of beer and burgers in our minds. It took a few hours before the hikers we had met the previous day all started to pass us. They were kind and gave us words of encouragement to keep going!

Some of the scenery after Cibbet’s Camground

The trail took us up a mountain that was above the campground and then back down into a valley. This happened what felt like 5 more times. Up, and up, and up and then a little down. Then up, and up, and up! We were trembling with fatigue by 6 miles in and still had at least 3.5 to go. I kept turning and telling my mom “You got it!” as we pushed up. It was nearing 2:00PM when we finally came down into a pine covered valley that would be flatter trail to Mount Laguna.

Almost to Mount Laguna! Who knew a mile could take so long!

Inching into Mount Laguna we decided, yeah we need to take a Zero tomorrow. A zero day is when you stay the whole day in town recouping and spend a second night before heading back out to trail. We went ahead and booked another night with our hotel and dropped our bags in our room. Afterwards, we hobbled to the closest restaurant for some much needed calories! There we met the hiker couple from Cibbets campground and they invited us to their table. The woman was a bundle of energy and I know my mom and I paled in comparison with our glazed expressions. We were just so tired! They were super friendly and it was nice to get to know them better. It took all of about an hour before my mom and I filled up on food and headed back to our accommodations to take showers. We both cuddled up in our beds and fell asleep shortly after leaving our chores for the next day.

Day 6

This day was filled with chores and playing calorie catch-up! I washed our clothes, we refueled at a restaurant, and went by the small grocery in town. We got much needed rest that helped our bodies recover for the next leg. I began to get nervous thinking of the next section. It was going to be over 30 miles to get to the next town! It seemed like there was less incline, but I assumed this could take us four days. Once you reached that area you also had to hitch a ride into town. My body was just a ball of nerves at the idea of what we would go through. I didn’t sleep a wink this night filled with anxiety I just couldn’t seem to shake. It helped that I heard my mom’s peaceful snores next to me as she got some much needed rest for the next day.

Day 7

I woke up refreshed even though I had a lack of sleep. Something in me had changed and I was ready to hit the trail. We got everything together and left out. We were hoping to do at least 10 miles the next three days and then leave a small amount of mileage for the fourth day to get into town. Day 7 started out so peaceful as we walked the road into Mount Laguna picnic area where the trail began. For miles we walked a flat, downhill trail through pines. It was a beautiful day. That’s when we saw our first MAJOR view!

Stopping to take pictures and admire the prettiest PCT view so far

From here you could see the desert for miles and snow capped mountains in the distance. It was beautiful, yet scary to see what my future held. We continue out from here and the trail was still pretty easy. Both my mom and I were happy with the mileage we were doing. We took a lunch break under a view point off the highway and enjoyed splitting a gas station sandwich. The views just continued for miles!

We kept up the pace until we reached a picnic ground in the Cleveland National Forest. It was getting late and we weren’t sure how much more mileage we could do. We had reached our goal of 10.7 miles, but we had 2 more miles before we would be out of a no camping zone. A hiker we had met before told us he was just staying the night there in the picnic area. It was day use only, but there were some evident camping spots where hikers had decided to camp behind some bushes and trees. My mom was exhausted and we looked up the road to see a huge climb out of the valley we had just entered. Her vote was to stay and I knew she needed to rest! She had started to develop a scary rash on her legs and with what we saw after she removed her socks I knew our safest option was to stay there. At this point I was ready to have her evacuated.

We didn’t like how the rash was going up her calves. As I said before though, my mom is tough and said she didn’t feel any pain, so we would just watch it for the night. Luckily, there was a fair bit of traffic on the road if we needed a lift I’m sure we could get one. My anxiety continued to peak though, and this was another sleepless night for me. More hikers trickled in and made the decision to camp there since the climb out would take way too long. We ended up with 8 of us camped in the area behind the picnic grounds. What a way to end a first week on trail!!

Things I have felt during this first week:

– Way more stress and anxiety than I ever thought I could have. I know this will go away with time, but I am a natural worry wart and planner.
– So much love and compassion and pride for my mom. She kicked ass this week and did so amazing! She pushed through all of our challenges and never once said she couldn’t do it.
– Kindness and appreciation for my fellow hikers on trail. They were all so friendly and helpful. I’m excited to continue to meet new faces on this journey.

My mom and I will only have 5 more days together before she flies out then I will be left to this journey on my own! She has been my rock during this time and it fills my soul with so much joy that we got to experience this first week together. My next update will be coming soon. And I will try to make it shorter lol!

Thanks for reading!

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Comments 4

  • Sean : Apr 22nd

    Cute! Keep up the good work, I remember starting the AT at 8 mile days and every falling leaf, a bear’s paw; anxiety hitting the roof. Like your style of writing and experience, hope all goes well as to be expected as is life.

  • Rob : Apr 23rd

    Great start, well done!

  • Pam Williams : Apr 23rd

    My heart is filled with admiration for the both of you.. Loved reading your post…

  • Linda Payne : Apr 23rd

    So proud of you and your mom! What a journey to create lasting memories ❤️


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