Mile 0 to 10
10 miles total
It’s kinda a joke, and kinda tradition…but nothing gets my bowels going like a backpacking trip. And today is no different. I even plan ahead. “Don’t check out yet,” I tell Aaron as we head out to meet his parents (they came along to see me off at the border), and he nods. He knows. Oh yeah. He knows. I’m thinking I can somehow trick my nerves into engaging BEFORE the trail, and not ON the trail, per usual.
There is an awkward silence at the table as we all eat the so-so Starbucks food. I think the in-laws have been fighting, and that is putting a damper on things. I don’t care, though, because I feel a tinge in my gut. I jump out of my chair, “Off to the hotel room!” I shout gallantly. No one moves. “We’ll meet you at the trail-head!” I amend, grab Nisa’s leash with one hand and Aaron with the other. “Just use the GPS!” I call over my shoulder.
Of course, of course it’s no luck. So Aaron and I head out, and about 40 minutes later, in the middle of nowhere, I feel it. It’s here, its ready, its time. And there are no bathrooms anywhere. We continue on, knowing my first mile on the PCT is going to be hideous and humiliating: that’s the tradition, no getting out of it. Then I see it. A tiny brown sign: Co. PARK with an arrow pointing left. “Turn! Turn!” I shout, and we are…..I don’t know where we are! There is nothing here! But the road leads to a gate and then to grass and then to a playground, picnic tables……..and restrooms. I sprint towards the doors, and notice a yellow sign that says, “Welcome to the Road to Wellness”. Wtf? I have time to think before shutting myself in a stall and unleashing the holy hounds of bowel hell.
Back on the road, I take this whole event as a good omen. Finding a bathroom? A ‘road to wellness’? An empty stomach at the beginning of the trail? Suddenly, I am in the best mood.
We get to the Southern Terminus and everyone tensely takes pictures of me until I can’t stand anymore of it. Then they give me hugs, wish me luck and rush off, leaving Aaron, Nisa and me on the dusty dirt road. Their actions seem quite strange to me, and Aaron tells me later that they were scared to be so close to the border.
Nevertheless, there is the trail, and we begin to hike. It’s about 10:30; the weather is sunny, but cool and windy. We are in high spirits. Nisa sniffs everything in sight. We compare and contrast the first several miles of trail to the last time we came to scope it out in 2013. Not a lot different. Greener. We cross Hwy. 94 and meander up to some railroad tracks. Its warming up quickly and Nisa wants to lay down in the sparse shade at every chance. I can sense that its time for me to continue along without them. I give them hugs and I can hear Nisa whine until i am completely out of sight. I choke back some tears and tell myself not to focus on it. I will see them tomorrow, after all, at Lake Morena. Still, leaving Aaron is hard, even when temporary.
It doesn’t take long for my senses to open up, my head to bob up and down and all around, trying to take it all in at once. The scenery is like much of California; dry, rocky, sandy. The hills around me are laden with creamy boulders and I slowly climb up and around them, finally resting on an expansive outcropping at mile 6. Below is a gigantic Ranch that I mistake at first as a golf course. Who has that kind of money? That kind of richness in land? Who grows and waters grass in the middle of the desert?
It’s so silent and windy up here, so peaceful and steady, that I start to feel lulled like Dorothy in a field of poppies. My eyes are heavy and I could just sleeeeeeeeep forever. Instead, I put my shoes on and continue climbing.
Around mile 9 the landscape changes. There was a burn here in 2010, and now scorched branches jut out from green sagebrush into intensely blue skies. It’s beautiful and other-worldly. This is where I planned to sleep, but as I look around, I see a pair of cowboy boots, a crumpled pack of American Spirits, and a strange shirt with numbers on it next to an unlit campfire. These probably belong to an illegal immigrant, but is this a present, or past campsite? I decide that it might be unwise for me to camp here. I feel guilty, like I have just unfairly judged someone, and it’s probably perfectly safe, but I hurry along, anyway.
Now that I’ve gone past the mileage I allotted myself, all my aches and pains come into super focus, and I stumble over every rock in my path. The maps show a possible camp at mile 11, but it is along a jeep road, which maybe the illegal immigrants are using, and plus I’m not sure I can make it that far.
The trail is just contouring along the mountain, dense brush along each side. At mile 10, I see a small opening in the brush and find a tiny, tiny trail that leads to something that could be called a tent site, if one really, really needs it to be that. And I do. And so it is.
Its six thirty. My tent set up is laughable. I am too tired to fix it. I’m too tired to eat. I’m too tired to do anything. I don’t change my clothes. I don’t pee one last time. I don’t get scared at strange sounds as darkness descends.
I. Just. Sleep.
Until 9 p.m. when I hear a male voice coughing. “Ahem,” it says, “Ahem”. I am alert, but silent. Then he makes a sound.
“Keeeeeeee-yahh,” he calls out. He sounds like a baby T-Rex. He must be calling to somebody. I hear shuffling. Murmurs. Then heavy footsteps heading away. Away from me.
And then, I. Just. Sleep.