Trans Catalina Trail Day 2 – A Thru Hiker Proposal

When couples hike long trails together, there are different ideas of what ‘together’ means. For Erik and I, it means hiking almost every step together. On the Appalachian Trail we didn’t separate on trail for the first time until we were heading into Daleville, Virginia at the 1/3rd mark of the trail. And we only did that because my dog was tired and moving slowly and we didn’t want to miss the post office being open. Erik went ahead about 5 miles before town and we met back up at the BBQ restaurant with the free banana pudding for hikers.

Later in the trail, we might separate for an hour or two every few days, Erik going ahead on climbs so he could work on his resume and job search on top of mountains where we had cell service. We experienced a majority of the trail together. The Trans Catalina Trail was an opportunity for us to get back to the simplicity we fell in love with on the AT. Just the two of us and our backpacks.

We had a little less than 9 miles to hike that day headed to our next campground called Blackjack. We were still on Eastern time mentally, so we were up well before sunrise and took our time drinking coffee and eating breakfast. It didn’t take long to slip back into the familiar routine we had established living on trail for almost seven months.

In a special moment between us, Erik proposed before we left camp. I was completely surprised. It was very fitting for us to get engaged while doing another trail together. Although our relationship is much more than hiking, we really grew together while hiking the AT. Looking back I probably could’ve suspected the proposal would happen on this trip because it made so much sense, but I’m glad I didn’t try to anticipate it coming so I could be surprised. We quickly sent some messages to family to share the news and finished packing up camp. With my hand just a little heavier now, I giddily picked up my hiking poles and we were off on the trail.

I’ll admit I did pick out the ring. It was months ago though and I didn’t know when I would get it.

Campsite number 10 will always be special for us.

The road was the trail at this point, right beside the campground we had stayed at.


The elevation changes on the Trans Catalina Trail shouldn’t be underestimated. The elevation feet gained per mile is 433, higher than any of the nine segments my guide app separated the AT into, including New Hampshire and Maine. The majority of the elevation gains were concentrated on three big climbs that we planned to spread out over the next three days. Today we immediately started out the day with the first climb.

It felt like we floated up the trail. Our packs felt extremely light carrying just our summer gear and minimal food, and we were riding the high of the proposal. Avalon quickly spread out in the valley below us as we climbed into the clouds. We eventually made it to the top where the trail joined a dirt road on top of the ridge for a few miles.

We didn’t have many views that morning as the morning clouds lingered. Erik and I couldn’t contain our smiles as we hiked the road. The terrain was way too easy. Flat, wide dirt roads? Yes please! After another mile or so we happened upon a bench on the side of a pond beside a remote playground. It seemed like an odd place for a playground as there weren’t any houses we could see on the ridge top, but we made a beeline for the bench and sat down for a drink and a snack. I told Erik we needed to evaluate future hikes by comparing benches per mile.

We appreciated the benches per mile of this trail.

A park along the middle of the trail a few miles outside of town.

 

This water fountain was in the middle of the trail with no other infrastructure around. It was very odd.

 


We soon pressed on and easily made it to our campsite by noon. It was wonderful to take our time and still make it to camp so early! We got our campsite set up and I looked on my guide app to see if there was anything else to see in the area. I was surprised to see there was an airport two miles up trail with a restaurant!

Our campsite at the Blackjack Campground.

Eating was always our favorite part of the day on the AT, and I went to exceedingly great lengths to get food as we hiked north. I looked at Erik and asked if he wanted to hike a little extra that day to get a hot meal and celebrate our engagement. He begrudgingly agreed to go with me. He had been looking forward to hanging out at camp all afternoon and relaxing.

The only problem with my plan was that we had a 500 foot decent and climb back up along the trail to get to the airport. This is when my next great idea came: let’s walk the roads to the airport! I looked at a map and it seemed only slightly longer but without as much climbing. We took off leaving our gear at camp.

Half of the road we walked was paved. I kept wondering what the cars that passed us thought we were doing since we were 10 miles from town with no backpacks.

 

I was correct that it was less elevation change, but I was very off on estimating the distance. It took us over an hour of walking to get there. To make matters worse, the ‘restaurant’, which was more like a concession stand, didn’t have many gluten free options for Erik and the prices were more expensive than I wanted to pay. I settled for a hot dog and fries, while Erik got a double order of fries. I used my garmin watch to track our hike back to the campground and we clocked almost 4 miles on the way back. So my stomach almost doubled our total mileage for the day. Whoops. I’m lucky Erik is such a trooper for my random ideas.

The Catalina Island Airport.

The clouds cleared as we walked back and we got views of the coast!


We got back to camp and saw some other campers that were setting up when we got back. One of the guys asked us if we had started in Avalon that morning. We said yes, and then told him we had hiked to the airport and back as well. He seemed surprised and impressed with what we had done, and then asked us if we were avid backpackers. Ummm… how do you answer that question? We hadn’t been out backpacking since we had gotten back from the Appalachian Trail, and that had essentially been Erik’s first backpacking trip. I don’t feel like an avid backpacker compared to those people who live on the trail for years on end, but to this guy we were pros. It was an interesting question that gave me a lot of introspective thoughts over the next few days.

The skies had cleared some when we got back to camp, but it was still cloudy. I could tell I had probably overdone it with my mileage that day and I would regret it the next day as we hiked the 13 miles to our next campsite. But luckily our next campsite was in the other town on the island. There are two things that motivate me when I’m hiking, avoiding rain and hot town food. Tomorrow I would have hot town food to keep me moving.

View out the tent door once the clouds cleared out some.

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Comments 4

  • Leah Love : Jun 22nd

    Congratulations on your engagement!! What a beautiful memory to share. ✨

    Reply
  • Nappy : Jun 22nd

    Great write up. Well written. ( Except it is Eric and ME, not Eric and I)

    Reply
  • thetentman : Jun 22nd

    So happy for the both of you avid backpackers.

    Good luck!

    Reply
  • Gary : Jun 23rd

    My friend’s and I hiked to Blackjack in the late 1970’s for the weekend. Because our packs were heavy with supplies (mostly beer), we taxied to the trailhead from Avalon. The campground was overrun with buffalo leftover from a movie that had been filmed near there. Good times.

    Reply

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