Pacific Crest Trail Diary 1: Day 5 (Warner Springs)
Updated: Sep 13, 2018
I arrived at the Mexico Border on Sunday night, and it was everything and nothing that I expected that it would be. It was a big wall as far as the eye could see and there were border patrol vehicles everywhere as well, along with helicopters that flew overhead. As if that were not enough, the border was also equipped with a trove of four wheelers and cavalry (can you call it that if they don’t have guns?—wait—they did have guns. So “cavalry” really is the word for it). I was under the impression that the border would have a campground in the area, but was very mistaken, and I can see why. There is A Lot of activity on the border, so it wouldn’t really be reasonable for there to be a campground right in the middle of what feels like a battle ground.
In speaking with border patrol, they indicated that I/we would need to hike about 5 miles north of the border to avoid illegal immigration activity. We did not however do so.
I suppose that I should back up and briefly explain the “I/We” dichotomy. The hike was planned as a “we” hike between myself and my little brother for the last eight months. To make a very long story short (you can buy the book after I finish the trail and write it if you want the whole thing), little brother and I got along better than I think I’ve ever gotten along with someone for the eight months that we trained together. We became a very strong hiking team, and when things went sour between us, it really hurt me. But I digress. What matters is that we both became aware that we could not hike the trail together, but we’d both put so much into training for the trail that it didn’t make sense for us to completely back out simply because we no longer could hike along side one another. So literally one week prior to the start of the trail, we decided that we would both hike the trail independently. He and I both took separate rides to the Mexico/California border at Campo, there we met, spoke with border patrol and camped together that night. Our thinking was that if we camped together, it would reduce the likelihood of being robbed or otherwise fucked with.
Monday morning, the 27th of April, was the start of our hiking permits. I expected that we’d see other hikers at the start, but we did not. We started at sun-up and then separated from there. I hugged my little brother, told him that I loved him, and then I turned and started my miles. I cried lightly for the first half mile of the PCT. It all set in at that moment that we were no longer together. I missed him and I worried about what would happen to him. My understanding however at this point is that he’s been doing well on the trail from speaking with my parents. I am glad to hear that. It makes me feel a lot better, but that’s not to say that “goodbye” was easy for me.
I haven’t seen my little brother since that morning, and I’ve been hiking alone since then.
I really over-estimated the amount of training that people would be doing on this trail. I thoroughly expected that everyone would be world-class athletes and that I’d be kind of middle-ground in terms of physical stamina, conditioning, and strength. This is not the case though. I put 36 miles on day 1, and so far I have yet to meet a single person who is breaking 30. I hear rumors of it, but haven’t seen anyone. On top of that, anyone who I tell that I’m averaging 30’s tells me that I’m nuts. Most people, it seems like they aim for about 20 mile days, and end up hitting about 15-17. I met one dude on the morning of my 3rd day who was on his 10th. He wasn’t even breaking 7 miles a day, but he was evacuated out later that day because of dehydration. Three different people were helicopter-ed out that day because of the heat. It kind of makes me feel validated that this isn’t just a thing that anyone can do. It’s a thing that anyone can try to do, and with the right training and skill, anyone can do it, but not anyone can just pick up and start the trail. In those first three days I saw a few different people who shouldn’t have been out here and were in need of help. I was worried that I’d see more people like that out here, but so far it’s been a pretty small representation of the group.
As for the other hikers on trail, they’re just like everywhere else in the world. The trail is really just a little sliver of the “real world.” There are exuberant people here, quiet people, happy people, discouraged people, weird people, and everything else that you’d see in a sample of civilization. I look at them and their blisters (EVERYONE has blisters at this point), and they make me feel strong. Even though I’m in pain, especially late in the evening at mile 26-30ish, I see the way that they walk, and it reminds me why I trained so hard and how it’s paying off now. I would be willing to bet that I probably have fewer blisters and foot issues than 95% of the people on trail, and I’m covering more distance than 100% of those whom I’ve met.
Training in Arizona also helped with my tolerance to the heat. The last three days have been really hot (around 87-90 degrees) now that the trail has dropped off the mountains and into the desert, and during the hot hours, most people gather around the water holes and shade spots. It’s funny, I’ll walk for four hours, see not a single person, then hit a water spot, and there are 20-30 people posted up. Some of them just hike at night. I’ve met a few of those people. They break camp at sundown and then set up camp at sun up. It sounds nice when I’m walking through the heat, but honestly I like walking in the day. I like the views. This is what I trained for, so it’s not so bad. I do feel weird about it though, because I’ll get to a water hole and there will be 30 people already there. Then I’ll hang for 20-30 minutes, drink lots of water, and then head back out into the heat.They all look at me like I’m crazy, but I’m trained, and I’m used to the heat.And with a little breeze, it’s really not so bad. It has its advantages too.For example, I’m in a trail town now (Warner Springs),and I got here yesterday at 3:45, about 15 minutes before everything in this “town” closed down. So that gave me time for a very quick shower (45 seconds for $6, and it would have been worth $400!), and a run through the “store”where I bought as much ice cream and munchies as I could fit into a bag before 4pm. The people in this little town are really friendly, especially since they’re constantly flooded with hikers this time of year. I’d venture to guess that there are more hikers in this town this time of year than there are residents. When I looked up the town population before the trip, Wikipedia said that it’s an uncounted town, which really means that not a lot of people live here.
Trail magic is a very weird thing for me to get used to. At mile 20 there was a big group of people with food, beer, wine, and coffee, so I rested there for an hour on day 1. They were all really friendly, and it was so cool to meet my first thru hikers there. I had no idea what a thru hiker actually looked like before that point. Then about five miles after that there was a box under a bridge with Cadbury Eggs. That was the first time in my life that I’ve shed tears over apiece of chocolate; I didn’t even want to eat it, but felt obligated just so that I could feel the “trail magic.” I unwrapped it under the sun, and started crying just thinking about the fact that there’s a person out there in the world who was so nice to do this for me—a person who would never meet the gifted. It’s so cool!
Then I’ll find water bottles along the trail here and there, lots of water caches (compared to Arizona), and other things. One of the greatest blessings was when I was hiking through what was supposed to be a 32-mile waterless stretch in the desert. I was NOT looking forward to that segment, but about half way through, there was a trail angel set up with an RV. They had Gatorade, water, soda, BEER!!!!, and food. I stayed there with them for about a half hour, but to be honest, I don’t really find myself clicking with the other hikers. Most people are not hiking solo, and I still can’t put my finger on it, but when I meet people, they tend to shy away. It’s discouraging. I want to meet people, and I really love sitting around a water hole and meeting other hikers, but it’s not the same as covering miles. I just don’t understand it. Then since I cover more miles than anyone else who I’ve met, I never see them again for the most part; I’ll meet a lot of people on trail or at water holes, but then I’ll hit my 30 mile day and won’t see them again. Since I’m resting here for 24 hours however, I’m hopeful that I might see some of the people who I passed in the last couple of days.
Trail names are also an extremely strange thing. Some people (more than I’d have expected) give themselves trail names, and others run around trying to give trail names to those who don’t already have them. Here’s a sampling of some people I’ve met:“Unicorn” “Evil-lution” “Patch” “Garden” “Cat Whacker” “Windscreen” “FM” “Big Sky” and “That Guy.” I have yet to “earn” a name, although a couple of opportunities have presented themselves. Although I adamantly hate the name “Brandon” it’s better than something like “blue shirt” or something like that.
So I’m at mile 109 right now. I got here last night right before everything shut down, and now I’m taking about 20 hours of break. Rumor has it that someone is going to go into the nearby town to buy burgers and hot dogs, so I’m probably going to hang here until those arrive and then I’ll likely bounce out at four when the sun starts to sink a bit. I want more miles. It’s hard for me to just sit still. That’s not what I’m here for, so it’s a challenge.
Anyways, there are only three computers here, so I feel like I need to get off this one so that someone else has the chance to write whatever it is that they need to write. I’m sure that there are about 1,000,000 other things that I forgot to write about (like rattle snakes, mountains, and flowers) but that will have to wait until the next time that I see a computer.
I miss the people back home a lot, but I’m also having a really good time here. There are times where I’m extremely sad and lonely and depressed and anxious just like I feel back in the “real world” but here I also feel free. The farther from the border that I get, the more I feel “right.” This is where I need to be, even if I don’t yet know why I need to be here.
I look forward to hearing back from you all in the future. It’s hard letting everything go even if it’s in trade for something as beautiful as the PCT.
Until next time—I’m out.