As during the first visit to a foreign country, all the details at the start of this trail feel vivid and noteworthy. The dozens of different flowers we’ve seen so far in the desert. Every small change in the landscape as we crest a hill or turn a corner. All the hikers’ brand new gear. How clean everyone looks.
Wednesday morning at 7AM, Girlscout dropped us off at PCT Mile 0. The monument at the southern terminus—a group of wooden posts marking the official start (or end, for northbounders) of the Pacific Crest Trail—is up on a small hill, about 20 or 30 feet from the border fence. I’ve seen countless pictures of the monument and the fence behind taken by other hikers starting their treks, but I had no idea that the view in the other direction—north—was so beautiful. I’ve never backpacked through desert before, so it’s been surprising to me how appealing the landscape is. I had been picturing a dry wasteland, but it’s more varied—and far greener—than I’d expected.
So we took pictures, signed the trail register, went to touch the border fence, turned around, and started walking.
Hoooooly shit, we’re actually doing this.
There was a big crowd that started walking right before we did—the group who stayed with Scout and Frodo the previous night—so within a few miles we were leapfrogging with them. We’d pass someone while they were taking a break, then soon enough they’d do the same to us.
The Mexican border felt (and was, of course) very close during the first day. We saw Border Patrol trucks parked along dirt roads and helicopters cruising overhead. We passed discarded shirts and empty water bottles—even one entire set of clothes, including cowboy boots, left in a pile behind some bushes.
The hiking itself has been good so far. The weather has been nice and cool, highs only in the 70s. The trail is actually very easy trail, smooth and gentle—we’re just not in trail shape yet, and a gap of 19 miles between reliable water sources means that I started Day 1 with seven liters of water. That’s over fifteen pounds of water weight, more than double what I would normally carry. All that water plus four days’ worth of food (at about two pounds a day) and my pack was 39 pounds. (I aim to keep it under 30.) That translates into more aches and pains… but I’d be feeling those anyway.
Our hiking plan is analogous to the marathon/half-marathon plan we’ve followed: start off slow—slower than you feel you need to—so that you don’t injure or tire yourself out before the end. I’m definitely most worried about physical injuries potentially forcing me off trail (rather than, say, bear attacks or changing my mind about this whole hiking thing), so the goal is to avoid doing too many miles too quickly. We hiked 15.4 miles on the first day (a few more than planned), and 10.6 miles on the second—which definitely still feels like a lot of miles, but is less than the 20 per day that we’ll need to average in order to make it to Canada before snow in Washington makes the trail impassable.
But it’s fun! We’ve been hiking in a conga line of 20 or so hikers for these first two days. Our first night we camped in a group of ten, with another eight or ten people nearby, and tonight we’re in a campground at Mile 26 that is almost entirely populated by thru-hikers. It’s definitely a crowd, but a very friendly, happy crowd.
Day 1: Mile 0.0 to 15.4 (Hauser not-a-Creek)
Day 2: Mile 15.4 to 26 (Boulder
actually-some-water-Creek Oaks Campground)