Day 0 – Setting off on a new adventure
Saturday 27 April 2019
Location: Sydney to Scout & Frodo’s (near San Diego)
I was feeling incredibly anxious the day before my flight with many last minute thoughts, questions and fears running through my mind. Have I packed everything? Are my gear choices right? I’m arriving on a weekend, will I be able to post my bounce box before I head off on trail? Do I really have what it takes to walk from Mexico to Canada? Will I be able to walk the first 700 or so miles solo? And plainly, what the hell am I doing?!
My alarm went off at 5am on Saturday morning. I had a 9.30am flight but because I get nervous about clearing check-in, bag drop and customs we allowed 3 hours to get through it all. I farewelled my parents just before 6am and Adam drove me to the airport. It was comforting having him to drop me off, he is calming and will tell me what I want to hear before I’m about to board a plane for an insane 5 month walk across a country. ‘You will be fine, you have everything you need, it will go quickly and I’ll see you in no time’. I managed to say goodbye without tears and bravely headed through the customs gate.
After allowing plenty of time to check-in and clear customs my flight was delayed by an hour, enough time for a pre-flight coffee. When the gate finally opened there was a security check at the gate. A security woman looked at my passport and boarding pass and immediately called out ‘interview!’, feeling a little panicked by this a second lady took my passport and asked me a series of questions, was I flying to America for business or travel? How long did I intend to stay? What could I possibly be doing in the country for so long? I received a strange and slightly confused look when I told her I would be walking from Mexico to Canada. After questioning my carry on luggage (apparently it was curiously small) she placed a small yellow sticker on my passport and gave me the OK to board the plane.
I flew into LAX with Virgin, it was a great experience with surprisingly good food, pillow, eye mask and blanket provided. I managed to get a few hours sleep but regardless was feeling pretty average by the time we touched down.My first hurdle upon arrival was clearing US immigration. Because I’m not sure of my exact departure date yet, I haven’t booked a return flight to Australia. This is allowed on a B1/B2 visa but as the immigration officer advised, it is preferable to have a return flight. He asked me a few questions but didn’t grill me too much. It was still early in the morning and he looked tired, either at the start or end of a long shift.
With this hurdle over, I picked up my bag without any problems and headed out of the building to look for the flyaway bus to Union Station. From LAX I would be taking the Amtrak train to San Diego. Whilst waiting for the bus I met a friendly lady who was also headed to San Diego on the train. She let me know I was in the right place.The bus ride down to the station felt like it took about 30 minutes. I find that when I’m travelling somewhere new time often seems to move at a slower pace. We moved passed large sections of industrial and residential areas not getting to see much of downtown LA. On arrival at Union Station I bought a ticket to pay for the bus ride I’d just taken. I was surprised payment relied so much on honesty.
Feeling a little disoriented I bumbled my way through Union Station and found the ticket window. I ran into my new friend Rika from the flyaway bus stop. She stayed with me and helped me buy my ticket. For some reason my travel card wouldn’t process the payment which made me a little worried. After buying a ticket I picked up some lunch from a little food shop, used the bathroom and made my way to the platform. Rika was headed to the food shop to buy something to eat, so we parted ways and intended to meet back up on the platform but I never saw her again.
It wasn’t long to wait before the train pulled into the station. It was busy but I managed to get a seat by a window. As it turned out it was the wrong window, the views were on the opposite side of the train. I slept on and off during the 2.5 hour journey down to San Diego, I had a couple of people come and go from the seat next to me while I slept. I was doing my best to keep my eyes open and stay awake but the jet lag kicked in and before I knew it I was out. When I woke up again there were beautiful views to my right, out over the sea.
I had met and seen so many friendly Americans during my short time in the country. I was so surprised by how polite and well mannered everyone is. I had seen so many people, complete strangers chatting to each other on the train. I couldn’t imagine that happening in Australia, or at least, not in Sydney.
I arrived in San Diego an hour earlier than expected – per the Amtrak timetable I was expecting to arrive at 1.38pm, but when I looked online the 1.38pm Amtrak didn’t exist. I was thankful there was wifi on the train and used skype to call Frodo, one of my hosts for the evening who had arranged for me to be picked up from the station. I was worried that they may think I was on a later train and not come to get me so I was relieved when she said just to stay put and someone would be by to pick me up. She was also able to resolve my other fear of not being able to post my bounce box, I would be able to leave money and they would send it off for me on Monday. I was extremely relieved.
It was a beautiful, blue sky sunny day when I disembarked the train at San Diego. It would be nice to be able to relax for a while in the sun. I headed across the road to a Starbucks and had a cold brew while I waited. The time passed quickly and before I knew it one of Scout and Frodo’s brilliant volunteers was driving up the road towards me with a yellow pom pom flowing from the window.
My pick up driver was none other than Heather Anderson (trail name ‘Anish’), who was, I believe, the first woman to triple crown in a calendar year. That means she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (4,200km), Appalachian Trail (3,500km) and Continental Divide Trail (4,900km) in one year. A mindblowing achievement. Anish is also the current PCT speed record holder. I was feeling a little insignificant in Heather’s presence as we made our way to the airport to pick up two other arrivals.
At the airport one of the arrivals was Ben, an Aussie from Perth. He was a really nice guy and it was calming hearing an Aussie voice after so many American accents in such a short amount of time.We got to Scout and Frodo’s place around 3pm. Heather gave us a house tour explaining how everything works.
Scout and Frodo have set up an incredible operation of getting hikers started on the PCT. They take in up to 40 hikers every night, feed us breakfast and dinner, accept packages on our behalf, help us send packages further down the trail, do daily runs to a local outdoors store and telephone company and take people to the trail to get them off to a nice and early start. All of this and they refuse to accept any donations or gifts. They are truly wonderful, generous people.
After the tour I set about organising my gear, I found the new gear I had ordered and sent to Scout and Frodos including my replacement pack. The load lifters had broken on my old pack by the end of the TA and gossamer gear kindly offered to replace it. The replacement didn’t include a new hip belt so I had to disassemble and reassemble my pack.
After faffing around with my parcels it was time for the daily run to the AT&T store where all of the hikers from overseas got American sims for our phones. It took the best part of the afternoon and when we got back it wasn’t long before dinner. The dinner Scout and Frodo put on was a delicious burrito bar. Incredibly they cater for all dietary limitations.
It felt like an incredibly long day after such a long flight and so many new experiences. I took a Phenergan to be sure and went to bed to get an early nights sleep.
Sunday 28 April 2019
Location: Scout & Frodo’s (recovery day)
The Phenergan that I took before going to sleep last night must have worked because I woke up at 6am this morning and the whole tent was empty.
The majority of people sharing the tent I was in were headed out to the trail today. It was only myself and one other guy who were staying at Scout & Frodo’s for an extra night before starting the trail and he was inside having breakfast. Not wanting to miss out on warm frittata, I got up and dressed quickly and headed into the kitchen where hot coffee and a breakfast bar awaited me. There was frittata, toast, fruit and oats. It was a delicious way to start the day. After breakfast I had a shower and then helped with the morning chores.
Next on my list was resupplying. There are 3 huge hiker boxes at Scout & Frodo’s containing food left behind by other hikers, so I had a bit of a rat through them before heading to the supermarket. It was impressive how much I found considering we were effectively still at Mile 0! Oats, coconut milk, stock cubes, corn chip snacks and museli bars. I was very happy with my haul.I headed to the supermarket to get my groceries. I went to Sprouts first, a wholefoods type store with healthy choices and organic products. I found most of what I needed but was a little disappointed with the choice of wraps they stocked. I settled for some spinach ones which contained very little spinach and very processed ingredients. These sad wraps made me miss New Zealand and Farrahs brand of delicious flavoured healthy wraps.In the store I ran into Jeffery and Graham who were also staying at Scout & Frodo’s. We were all missing one or two things on our list and headed over to the regular supermarket a 25 minute walk away, Vons. I was looking for freeze dried vegies but for the life of me couldn’t find any, not even any peas. After seeing dehydrated peanut butter in Sprouts you think America would produce dehydrated vegetables! The closest I could find was some bean crisps which were essentially beans baked in oil. They were not great but they were better than nothing.
I withdrew some cash from the ATM at the supermarket and was hit with a shocking $6 fee. I will not be making the mistake of going to that particular bank’s ATMs again. With our shopping done, we all headed back to Scout & Frodo’s. I packed my bag, sorted out the food I was sending forward to Warner Springs as well as my bounce box and packed my food bag for the next 3 days.
After lunch it was a trip to Adventure 16, a local outfitter who for 5 years have been picking up hikers from Scout & Frodo’s and driving them down to their store to buy any last minute gear purchases. It is incredible the amount of support I have been offered already and I haven’t even started hiking the trail yet! At Adventure 16 they had a sign welcoming TA hikers and a world map where we could place a pin on our home town. It looked like half a dozen Sydney-siders had been through this year already. I only had to pick up a pair of sun gloves, so I patted the store dog and chatted to other hikers while I waited.Back at Scout & Frodo’s, I addressed my boxes, bought gas and a lighter and did a full pack of my bag to make sure everything was ready to go for the morning. I felt much more relaxed knowing all of the organising was behind me and I could finally relax. I even sat and had a cup of tea.Before long it was dinner time, an incredible buffet of burgers was put on. It just amazes me what these people do for complete strangers. We even had peanut butter swirl brownies for dessert. They were delicious! Dinner was followed by the nightly after dinner talk, but this time it was even more applicable to me… tomorrow I would be heading out on trail and starting my PCT journey.
I went to bed early feeling nervous but excited about the next morning and the next 5 months.