Straight from Casa de Luna: Lessons Learned in the First 500 Miles of the Trail

My fifth day on the PCT was so infamously awful that my tramily and I still casually refer to it as “Day 5,” long after most other days have blended together. Moments stand, like – “Remember when Vitamin peed herself?” or “God, I just had a flash back to the sand stretch after the water faucet before the highway underpass.” I couldn’t tell you what days those were on. I remember everything about Day 5.

It was hot. It was windy. My knees were so sore that each step descending the ridge had my teeth grit tight. I accidentally stuck my hand in a cactus. I got off the trail to hitch into town at the wrong spot and then preceded to slog another mile along the highway while being fully pelted by sand, rocks, and glass. The man who hitched Vitamin, Choker, and I into town ranted about immigration, drove like a maniac, and repeatedly tried to persuade us to stay with him in his RV.

And I remember sitting in our motel room that afternoon and thinking to myself, “This is it. This is the next five months of my life.” I remember being frightened at the prospect, not excited and jittery like I had been for the year and a half of planning prior.

Flash forward to day seven, one of only a handful of other days I remember by their date. We’d just hit the one week mark, and I had service in camp for the first time on the trail so far. I cried a little that night, looking into the social media abyss at all my friends and family back home living their lives without me. Over and over again that night I asked myself, “What the hell are you doing out here?” It suddenly all seemed ridiculous. Impossible, even. I was so sore. So tired. Hiking wasn’t as fun as I remembered it being on the Camino. Everyone seemed faster than me, happier than me, dealing with the transition to trail life better than me.

I wanted to go home.

I forced myself to stay.

The first two weeks sucked. Day fifteen wasn’t much easier. Day sixteen wasn’t, either. Day seventeen was Fuller Ridge- my personal worst day so far.

No day is easy. I don’t think that any day on the PCT could ever truly be easy. In fact, I‘d be lying if I said I didn’t think to myself, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” at least once a day. Maybe more. (Definitely more.)

But day seventeen, coming down from Fuller Ridge, dried tears streaking my cheeks, knees aching from posthole after posthole, it all just finally… clicked. I all but sprinted down to the 200 mile marker, thrilled to finally be out of the snow, and I clearly remember stumbling to a stop at the top of a switchback and staring out at the blue sky and desert below me. I was exhausted. I was in pain. And I was somehow, someway, so unbelievably happy. Like, jumping up and down happy, headphones blaring Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” happy, face-flushed, hands-shaking happy.

Happy, happy, happyhappyhappy.

That was the first moment that I fully realized that I could do this. That I wanted to do this. The whole thing. 2,650 miles. Mexico to Canada. I’d had my worst day on the trail (and several days that I just thought were the worst) and I pulled through. I’d done it.

Type 2 fun is a helluva drug, okay?

300 miles and 20 some days ago, I learned that I can freaking thru-hike the PCT, and not a day has passed that I haven’t learned something or been shocked by the trail.

Yesterday it was, “If you look bedraggled enough at a gas station, the delivery man will take pity and give you two expired 12 packs of beer.” Nice!

Other things I’ve learned:

1. Leukotape can be used for blisters, arch support, cuts, holding your sunglasses lanyard to your glasses, and patching up holes in a puffy.

2. There are two types of hikers: those that clean their pot every night and those that prefer to let all the flavors marinate day after day.

3. If you are not a pot cleaner, Mac and cheese is not your friend. The cheese WILL become rock hard.

4. The full moon is brighter than the freaking sun at 2 am when all you want is to sleep.

5. Bathtub laundry might not get the smell out of your clothes in any way shape or form, but its effect on morale is not to be underestimated.

6. There are no food groups on the trail.

7. If you don’t brush your hair for a week, sweat fourteen hours a day, wear either a cap or a beanie at all times, and then try to wash it without conditioner… you’re gonna have a bad time.

8. There is no greater peace than shoving sour patch kids into your mouth by the spoonful while laying in your sleeping bag.

9. If you encounter any non-hiker (lyft driver, clerk, nurse, retail worker) they will always go through the seven stages of grief as you try to explain the PCT and your daily routine: shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, hope. (And mostly ask you about bears and showers.)

10. Diva cups are far more trouble than they are worth.

11. You can say, “I’m gonna stretch tonight!” all you want, but you won’t.

12. You’ll feel inexplicably guilty every time you take a zero day.

13. You shouldn’t feel guilty every time you take a zero day.

14. The internal compass sometimes shuts off on the iOS operating system, which will make Guthooks relatively unusable. It’s a common issue, apparently, and can be fixed by going into settings and turning the compass back on!

15. You will inevitably regret several hundred dollars worth of gear purchases.

16. You will learn to McGuyver everything from sungloves to a trekking pole phone stand.

17. You can download Netflix to watch offline?!!

18. Mio > Nuun tablets

19. Poptarts > cliff bars

20. Packing out that beer… honestly, usually not worth it.

21. REI will try to tell you that PCT hikers aren’t allowed to return anything. This is a lie (but also- don’t abuse the system.)

22. Your toe nail can entirely detach from the nail bed without actually falling off.

23. Hiking poles are sometimes more of a hinderance than a help.

24. “Since U Been Gone” WILL make your start jogging involuntarily.

25. If you set all of your tents up close together you can actually make a super tent using the flies. Excellent for a slumber party.

26. You can’t smell yourself or anyone else out here.

27. You will meet people you could never have even dreamt up.

And I know I’m not the only one that feels like they knew nothing before the trail, so while taking an incredible Nero-day at Casa de Luna (hikers- do NOT skip it) I asked ten other Hawaiian shirt’d thru-hikers what they had to say.

What have you learned or been surprised by in the first 500 miles of the trail?

1. “Ants smell bad and taste spicy. And I’m shocked nobody else knows this.” – @tate_dobson

2. “Whenever anyone says it’s all downhill from here- it’s a lie.” – @rachontrail

3. “The number of times you poop a day… will be astronomical” – @antonthetrail (four people agreed with this)

4. The desert is neither hot nor dry.” – @mczonthepct

5. “Whatever you think your plan is for the next day can and WILL go directly out the window.” – @mitchaxt3k

6. “Everyone tells you two weeks is the break-in period. This is a lie. Give it three. More for the mental break-in.” – @emperfecttt

7. “Yelling ‘YOU’RE NEVER GONNA MAKE IT’ when someone is about to do something dangerous or stupid is actually a good luck wish on the trail, akin to saying ‘break a leg!’ Also learning to pee standing up as a chick – fucking liberating.” – @rampaigingaround

8. “Your calves will sunburn. Badly.” – @ricky_devin

9. “You sometimes pee at the same time as you poop, so dig a big enough hole.” – @captain_curry

10. “25 miles in the morning seems so far. And the suddenly… you’re there. You can do this. It’s not easy, but you can do it.” – @journeyabove1

Happy 500 y’all. Let’s do it all four more times.

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Comments 1

  • Leo Yermo : May 17th

    No wonder you are a playwright? How could you have ever written an article so well?
    • This is a KEEPER. Fun, interesting, and inspiring.
    THANK you for every word. Wow.


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