Part One – Walking in a dream (mile 0-77.3)

The first day

The first few steps towards Canada feel surreal. My mind struggles to wrap itself around the idea that this trail will be my home for the next five months. Well, hopefully I thought.

My excitement, however, is at its peak. I cannot stop myself from smiling. All the preparation I have done seems to be paying off. My backpack feels light, the legs feel good, and I feel mentally prepared for this journey. The conditions could also have not been better. Today’s sunny and warm, flowers are blooming at every corner and the desert is plenty of water. Even in places not marked on the FarOut app, small creeks are flowing down the trail. I’m overwhelmed with gratefulness as I know others in past years (even weeks) didn’t have the same luck as us.

At mile one, I stop and take a picture. A couple miles later, I cross the railway and observe the 3 miles sign. Looking at these waypoints with my own eyes after seeing so many pictures of them for the past few years seems almost unreal. I feel like I am not really there, as though I was walking in a dream. A good one, I tell myself.

Throughout the day, I leap frog with a few hikers I met the night before at CLEEF, the campsite near the southern terminus. So far, I have remained quite distant from the rest of the bubble. I struggle with the idea of getting attached to people too quickly, knowing I may never see them again as different paces and choices will eventually separate us down the trail. But as I keep seeing familiar faces, I slowly let my guard down. Deep down inside of me, I know I want to learn about the people who roam this path and the reasons that brought them here.

One of those people is called Jim. Jim is a sexagenarian former carpenter from Arizona, wearing an unrivaled white mustache and hair dressed in a ponytail. With his two daughters tattooed on his calf to accompany him throughout his journey, he fiercely takes on one of today’s climbs as I catch up with him. The night before, we had both shyly introduced ourselves to each other and talked about our expectations for this trail. We quickly realized we shared the same passion for the wilderness. His knowledge of the wildlife surrounding us impressed me, and we walked together for a bit as he taught me the name of different plants we passed. It’s what this trail does, I realize, bringing two people from totally different backgrounds who probably would have never spoken to each other, together.

Early in the afternoon, the heat of the desert starts to be felt by my body and I decide to stop and camp with a few other hikers I met the night before: Floris and Lucas, two Dutch friends, Connor from Vancouver, and Ali from Toronto. Helene and a Dutch couple, Loek & Rimke, join the party later. Like with Jim earlier that day, we start bonding. Life is simple. While hiking today, we could see the border wall in the distance. I wonder when we will stop seeing it.

Life on trail

It’s been a few days since I have been on trail now. Like in « normal » life, I start to build a routine: sleep, eat, walk, eat, repeat. My body slowly gets used to the effort.

In the early part of what we’d call the honeymoon phase, where everything seems simple and beautiful, I take in every single moment. A burger with newly made friends at Lake Morena. Sitting on top of a rock watching hikers pass by with Connor, recently renamed « TippyTop », you’ll guess why. A breakfast shared with Floris watching the sunrise. My first trail magic from a former hiker named « Bad Santa ». Early morning talks with Jim hiking down a mountain, where he tells me that his ancestors were actually from France. Small world am I right!

Every night before going to sleep, I force myself to write down these memories from a simpler and more genuine life, so that hopefully when it’s time to go back to where I come from, I never forget. It’s true what they say, I think. The trail does provides. Not just with views, but also with the people and their stories. It’s always interesting to learn about their « why », the reason they chose to leave their life behind to pursue something any reasonable human being would define as crazy. But we’re not reasonable beings. We chose not to be.

As we hike together into the afternoon heat, I ask Floris: « So tell me man, why are you hiking the Pacific Crest Trail?

⁃ Well, I have a rare heart disease and my doctor said I wouldn’t live passed 40.. So I want to make the most of it now and do crazy things! I don’t want to work all my life and not be able to enjoy it. »

I was in admiration. Floris inspired me. He chose to take control of his life, and pursue the things he was passionate about instead of being subject to his disease and find himself excuses. That takes a lot of courage.

Reaching Julian, CA

Monday, April 10th. Approximately 2:00am. I open my eyes and look up at the sky filled with stars. Tonight I chose to cowboy camp for the first time, and alone. Tomorrow morning, I’ll reach Scissors Crossing and go into town, for the first time too. The border wall has now completely disappeared from our field of view. It feels real to me. I’m in this for the long haul.

It’s 9:00am now, and the heat is already unbearable. Tommy, a guy from St Louis, Missouri, catches up with me and we hike together down into the furnace that is the desert. He tells me about his native State which helps make the miles go faster. The last two miles seem to last as long as the 16 I just did. I can feel the sun attacking my skin, and my legs are running on fumes. Finally, the underpass. Shade and water.

After hitching a ride, Tommy and I finally make it into Julian, a small town in Southern California straight out of a western movie. The opportunity for me to rest, resupply, and catch up with a lot of people who I hadn’t seen for days.

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