Week 2 – The Approach (mile 77.3-165.8)
A Zero in Julian
While in the small town of Julian, I discover the different facets of what hikers call a « Zero » day – a day when you simply hike zero mile. I discover the excitement of reuniting with familiar faces, as if we hadn’t seen each other for a very long time whereas it had probably been only a day or two. I also discover the torment of having to finish all your chores in a short amount of time, so that you can go have that fresh beer that’s waiting for you with your friends. On « zero » days, discipline is key.
Chores and resupply finally over, Tommy and I join the rest of the group at the town’s brewery for dinner. Around the table, everyone shares stories of their own experiences on the trail so far. Eleanor, a gal from England I met shortly before Mt Laguna, tells us about how she took a wrong turn and got lost. After a bit of bushwhacking and an extra 4 miles, she finally found herself back on the trail. We all laugh at her misadventure, and unanimously decide that Eleanor will now be ironically called « Shortcut ».
The next morning, we get a ride back to the trail from a school bus before sunrise. Back in Scissors Crossing, the place looks completely different from the furnace that it was two days ago. As we start climbing, the sun rises over the green desert. I’m back right where I belong.
The 100 miles club
On the climb out of Scissors Crossing, I’m joined by Dan, a veteran who I had met a few days before with his wife. He was now hiking alone as she had unfortunately injured herself and gone back home. While hiking together, we observe two fighter jets dog-fighting above the desert like a scene straight out of the last Top Gun movie. Dan and I are moving fast, and we start talking. Our conversation leads us to discuss what it means to be a man in today’s world, and the importance of discipline and hard work when facing challenges whether they are physical or psychological. As the miles scroll and the words fly, my respect for Dan grows. I may not know much about him, but we share what I think are important values and principles to lead a meaningful life.
That same night, I camp with Shortcut, Jim, and Andrew and Sophie, two hikers I had newly met on the bus ride that same morning. Andrew is from Detroit, Michigan while Sophie is, like Shortcut, from England. The night is windy, very windy, and my tent takes a beating. The walls slap my face, keeping me from sleeping. In the middle of the night, what I had feared happens. My tent collapses, with me inside. As quickly and composed as I can be, I get outside in flip-flops and re-pitch the few stakes that had come off the ground before the wind completely wipes my tent off the ground. Back inside, it seems like I did a good job and my tent holds until the morning.
Jim, who was camping next to me, heard everything. He couldn’t sleep either. In the cold and gloomy morning, we hike on together. A few minutes into the hike, I turn back and tell him:
« You know what Jim?
⁃ What’s up buddy?
⁃ Even though last night was a nightmare, I still am so happy to be on the trail.
⁃ Right on man, me too! »
Later that day, accompanied by Shortcut, I make it pass the 100 miles marker. While the hikers around me are happy and excited, I strangely feel nothing. I know my eyes are directed further ahead. 2,550 miles ahead to be more specific. It’s a good milestone, a step forward towards my main goal. But it’s not the end. Far from it.
Andrew, Shortcut, Sophie and I are getting closer to Idyllwild, which means closer to San Jacinto. In the background, I can see its snowy head peaking. I wonder what it will be like. Horror tales about the snow are being spread on trail, but it only contributes to raise my level of determination to go through. Secretly, I aim to walk a continuous path from Mexico to Canada, and I am ready to push myself out of my comfort zone to reach that goal.
Since Julian, I have been wearing a red bandana around my neck in a cowboy fashion, which got me some great feedbacks from hikers like Tristan, Chloe, Camp Daddy, and Helen, the group I’ve been hiking with today. When I told them that I was listening to Ennio Moricone’s soundtrack through the desert, a sort of cowboy reputation started taking place. Each time I would walk passed Tristan, we greeted each other with a soft and warm « Yeehaw ».
In Idyllwild, while we wait for our laundry wearing our rain gear like true PCT hikers, I spot a store selling cowboy hats. I can’t resist and go in. Back in the laundromat wearing my newly acquired hat, the rest of the crew compliments my new look and greets me with a couple of « Yeehaw »!
« That should be your trail name! » says Shortcut. Everyone approved. And so I was born again, this time as « Yeehaw »!
Go Out There And See
Our zero day in Idyllwild is spent mostly planning our journey through San Jacinto. In the process, getting as much information as we can without falling into the pit of fear mongering is difficult. The only mention of names like « Apache peak » or « Fuller Ridge » in conversations throws chills down the back of most hikers. Some who have gone through the first half and come back paint a very dramatic picture of their experience and tell other hikers to not go up there, up to the point of mentioning a risk of death. Roger that.
Personally, I refuse to make a decision based on another person’s telling, and the rest of my group does too. Everybody’s comfort zone is different, and you must respect it. But telling others that they should or shouldn’t blindly skip a section depending on your own comfort limit is not right. And the truth is, the more people told me not to go, the more I wanted to.
With all the useful information in hand, my group and I decided to go up to Apache Peak with exit routes in case. The goal is to go out there and see for ourselves. On April 18th, we started hiking from Highway 74 up towards San Jacinto. During the approach, I look up at the peak that is overlooking us. In my head, I ask the mountain to let us pass safely.
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