Week One on the PCT: Roller Coaster of Highs and Lows
The first week on the trail made a huge impact on me already. I started in nice cool weather and then lost momentum when the rain poured. Having a cold downpour while going uphill is not fun at all, especially when mud slid down fast. I was cold, wet, tired, and really annoyed because of the bad weather early in the journey. The next day was amazing; it was hot, sunny and just beautiful with the vast valley scenery looking down at the milestone marker of 50 miles. It proves that the lows are really low and the highs are really high. But they can go hand in hand or follow each other in a cycle. Will this be foreshadowing for the weeks to come? We’ll see, but here I wrote out the crazy ride my first week has been day by day.
I already packed up everything to hit the trail by the time I arrived at Scout and Frodo’s. While everyone else was finishing last-minute chores, I was just reading up on the water report and poison oak that’s in the area. When everyone came together for dinner, we started to create friendships with the fellow hikers. I will hike with them for the first week—maybe even the whole trek! In Scout’s words, I found it true that “staying here is like having a big hug just before you head out.” Staying here and starting friendships had made the start of the trip so much easier and calming of nerves.
Ah! The day is finally here! We all woke up early to eat a really good breakfast and shuttled to the terminus. The McShaps gave a talk after our group photo. We then posed for our own photos and said final goodbyes to those sending us off. Before I started the trail, I touched the Mexican border so I can say I literally went from Mexico to Canada.
Today was a lot of leapfrogging with everyone all the way to camp. I ended up staying in a large site with a group of people. Some of them also came from Scout and Frodo’s. We ate dinner together. I learned I didn’t like my dinner, so I had to force myself to eat it. After dinner we played a game of cards.
I was one of the first ones out of camp early; I wanted to get a meal from Lake Morena early so I could keep going later that day. Once I got to the malt shop, another hiker and I had lunch and hiked for a good part of the day together. It was a good start to the hiking day.
Around here is the time when I believe my mentality cracked and my bad luck of the week started. I was tired and ready to be at camp already, but oh no, things decided to change. I had just crossed a road to go up the slight climb to camp and there it was: my first rattlesnake. Not expecting to see them yet due to the cool and cloudy weather, I took a step back startled. It just took its sweet time mocking me as it slowly slithered behind a rock, allowing me to pass.
Now I was still visible from the road, so I’m sure that the car that had stopped and the two cyclist who were coming up the road were watching me struggle and wondering why I’m just standing there. Not moving and freaking out, I called my dad to talk me through passing the rattlesnake. It rattled at me, making me even more shaken up just by hearing the rattle. Once I joined familiar faces at camp and talked with my dad, I felt safe and secure again.
Here comes the rain. Not just rain but downpour rain, on and off the whole day into town. It was a low morale day for everyone on the trail, and I felt bad for the racers for the PCT 50 that we shared the trail with today—it was cold and really really wet. I used my umbrella to help keep dry so I wouldn’t be soaking wet and cold. But since I was wearing my Coug hat, it was nice to hear a few “Go COUGS” from the runners.
Once I got into town, I ate lunch with my mom and grandma. To warm up I had a couple shots of fireball with hot cider: yum! While I was allowing my gear to dry out, I took a nice, hot Epsom bath and shower. I also did my laundry, where I learned that it only takes a couple of days to get sooo dirty! It was so bad it would turn the water black even after multiple rinses. Does this make me hiker trash yet?
The sun is shining! Oh how a good night’s rest and a good day of hiking lifts spirits back up! A hiker I met yesterday caught up to me, so we hiked together for a bit. We got an amazing view for a snack break. This morning flew smoothly and was downhill for a while. I hit the 50-mile marker and got a high from that.
At lunch I received my first trail magic. I count Scout and Frodo as magic, but that was before the trail. This lady picnicking was nice enough to give me and another hiker clean water before we headed back to the trail. Later on in the evening I reached more trail magic that I heard about this morning. Here I got clean water, an orange, and a Coke.
I ended up setting up camp at this spot with half of the original group and some that had a zero in the previous town. That night ended with a bummer when I cracked one of my tent poles. I was trying to put my rain fly on in the wind, but I forgot to loosen the straps from the night before. I have to be proud that I hiked my most miles in one sitting by myself, so that’s pretty cool.
Boy, is it frying out here! It was the first really hot day on the trail. It was supposed to be an easy day for me to get big miles. The elevation change from loss to gain to loss ate me up with the heat! Nicely reliable, the water cache helped with the heat. I felt good about today until the last four miles when it just seemed to take forever.
Since I wouldn’t make it into Julian on time for Moms Pie, my mom had one waiting for me when I did arrive! It was really good pie, just yummy. I almost thought about taking my zero early since I was hurting pretty good by the end of the day. It didn’t help that I had two especially big mile days in a row. Instead, I kept going.
Woke up early to beat the heat with this massive climb today. Once I got over the climb and was ready to take my morning break, the on-trail depression hit extremely hard. I was doing really good with adding miles, not having injuries, and it was a good day of hiking.
It was just in my head. Not seeing many hikers, I was alone for most of the day. I passed by a few I knew but not for long. I talked more with my mom and dad that day because I just needed support and reassurance that I was doing good.
The day got better when I got to the water cache where everyone was hanging out. I decided to keep going a few miles past, where I ended up camping alone. There was a guy in the spot next to me. We talked, but I didn’t see his tent that night.
Today should be a good day! I hit the big milestone of 100 miles and finished Section A. This was a big morale high for everyone—especially me. This morning flew by fast since it was cool and downhill. I finally saw a hiker I knew while I was finishing my morning snack break. We hiked together until we got to the mile marker and water source. We took another break at the water, but I kept pushing on since we were close to Eagle Rock.
It was nice that my mom and grandma met me out there, and I took a longer break since I was starting to ache. We took photos with my flag and Dodger. I took my shoes off for a while and had a snack since I was pushing hard to make it in early. It was nice that they walked with me the last three miles to finish my first section in Warner Springs, surprising me when they walked the 6.5-mile round trip, even though I originally wanted to slackpack the last three miles. I am glad that tomorrow I will have a zero to get back on the trail stronger.
I got to be proud of myself for this week despite how difficult it has been mentally for me. This is my first trip being alone and carrying all my gear. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone in so many ways: being talkative and being strong when scared.
Reminders for Myself and Other Hikers
- Stop trying to compare yourself to others; it’s your journey and they are on their own.
- It’s OK to have a bad day or bad week. Just don’t quit on a bad day; don’t let it dictate your success.
- It’s OK to let go of things you once thought you wanted.
- You are doing great; think about what you did already: amazing.
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