Day 1 & 2 – From Trump’s wall, with love

Monday 29 April 2019
Day: 1
Location: Campo (Mile 0) to Hauser Creek (Mile 15.4)
Distance travelled: 15.4 miles / 25km

I was so nervous heading to bed last night, I didn’t think I would be able to sleep but managed surprisingly well. Towards the early hours of the morning I woke up every couple of hours, taking a panicked look around to make sure all of the other hikers were still there and I hadn’t overslept.

At 4.45am my alarm went off, the day had finally arrived! There is a set morning drill at Scout & Frodo’s, everyone heading out on trail that day must have their bags packed and on the front deck by 5.30am. After that it’s breakfast and by 6am everyone must be ready to be loaded into the cars of waiting volunteer drivers.

I felt so nervous packing my bag, even after having done it hundreds of times before there is something nerve wracking about making your first footsteps on a 2,700 mile walk. The nerves were making me second guess every tiny thing. Do I have a lighter? Enough food? Gas for cooking? Check, check, check.

After making sure I hadn’t left anything out of my pack, I took my bag to the front deck and ventured inside for a spectacular Scout & Frodo breakfast. There was frittata, muffins, fruit, oats and most importantly, coffee. I went light on the coffee because I was feeling wired enough from the nerves and didn’t want to need to pee on the hour or so drive out to the trailhead.

When they gave us the call to start heading to the cars I topped up my water, had one last bathroom break and ventured out into the unknown. Frodo directed me to a car and once it filled up we were off on our way.

Scout & Frodo’s drivers are all volunteers, our driver was a local to the area and a friend of Scout & Frodo’s. It was his first time volunteering. He was an interesting guy who told us stories from his childhood and life in San Diego on the ride out to the trail head. It was a drizzly morning so our views were a little obscured, but we had glimpses out over the mountains as we drove. We could see the terrain that we will be walking through over the next few weeks.

The drive went fast. When we turned off the main highway into Campo I got super excited. We drove onto a gravel road which eventually turned into a dirt road. Before long we could see the border fence in the distance. It was a surreal feeling. To be here, in America on the border with Mexico, ready to take my first steps on the Pacific Crest Trail.

As soon as we were out of the car we thanked Richard, our driver, and headed straight for the border fence. I was with Graham who I’d met at Scout & Frodo’s, we put our hands through a gap in the fence, feeling a little rebellious, like we’d now visited Mexico.

There was no Border Security but two people from the Pacific Crest Trail Association were at the monument. We headed up to the monument and took the obligatory start photos.

The people from the PCTA very kindly took a group starting shot of us all. Afterwards they talked to us about permits, asking for a show of hands as to who was on their correct start date and who wasn’t. They also spoke to us about leave no trace. It was good to see them there speaking to people and encouraging people to do the right thing.

It started drizzling when we arrived at the monument but by the time the PCTA had finished talking to our group it had turned into proper rain.

But never mind the weather, we were off on our way! I felt nervous and overly excited at the same time, taking my first steps on the PCT.

We walked by the first marker, giving it a slap as we passed. There was 4 of us from Scout & Frodo’s walking together.

It felt like merely minutes and we had made it to the mile 1 marker! The trail hugged the road for the first few miles, taking us down past the road we had driven in on.

The vegetation was much more lush than what I was expecting. Because it has been a high snow year there is a lot more water around than what there would normally be this time of year so wildflowers were in bloom.

The rain continued to drizzle. It was nothing like New Zealand rain, more like a light drizzle or mist so I wasn’t too worried about it. I was happier to have the rain than a scorching hot desert sun beating down.

Whilst on the TA, Adam and I heard many US hikers complain that Kiwi trail builders didn’t use enough switchbacks. It didn’t take long to understand why. Even for the slightest of incline the trail zig-zagged back and forth. It was strange to me because I kept seeing people who were infront or behind me re-appear into my line of sight on the switchbacks.

The terrain was fairly flat and easy going and the excitement from the morning made the miles feel like they were flying by.

It was a few miles in, at mile 4.4, when I had my first break to tape my feet. Given how early we woke up I didn’t tape them before we headed out and I could feel hot spots starting to show up on my big toes. I was glad I had packed a full roll of tape for the start of the trip. I think my feet have softened up a little having 6 weeks off since the TA but hopefully they will toughen up in no time.

During the day I passed back and forth with hikers I had met at Scout & Frodo’s. Everyone was super friendly and I could see little groups forming along the trail where people were finding like minded souls they wanted to hike with.

At some point during the morning I had drifted apart from the guys I started hiking with and I was hiking on my own. It was during lunch that I felt my first pang of loneliness. I had passed a big group of hikers who were sitting eating lunch, I wasn’t ready to stop yet so I continued on for another 20 minutes or so. When I finally sat down for lunch, I instantly missed Adam. It was lonely without a lunch partner. Even if we weren’t constantly chatting it was comforting being with him, sitting and eating together. It was still raining at that point and considering we were in the desert, pretty chilly. I didn’t sit for long, only 10 minutes or so and I was off walking again.

One other thing that was a little challenging on my first day was the pee breaks. There isn’t a lot of room to get off the trail and I am hyper-paranoid about poison oak and poodle dog bush that I haven’t wanted to bush bash, so pee breaks have been a little strategic, trying to go when I know no one will be coming up behind me on the trail. So far I think I was successful in not getting sprung. For today anyway.

After lunch the time passed quickly. I walked and chatted with a couple of other people on and off during the day – Sarah a girl from the US and Michael, a French innovator and also an amateur photographer.

The trail was now taking me into more mountain territory with more rewarding views to match. The low could and mist hung in the valley and on the mountain tops. It was very different to any terrain I have seen before but it was beautiful in its own unique way.

I made it down to Hauser Creek at 3pm. It felt way too early in the day to be stopping and I was originally keen to keep moving but I was motivated to stay by the others staying at the camp that night – Graham, Ruben, Jeffrey, Sarah and a few other great people. It was interesting because normally I would hate a full camp site but it was nice being able to chat and share with people and also to ask them local questions like the best way to store my food out here and how to spot poison oak.

It was way to early to eat dinner when I arrived, so I ate a snack and put up the tent. It rain on and off for a while during the afternoon. I filtered water, wrote my journal and chatted on and off throughout the afternoon. I started to feel hungry again at 5pm, so I ate my first dinner of couscous and dehydrated broccoli. I had found some vegan, chicken flavoured stock cubes in the hiker box at Scout & Frodo’s which made my dinner taste delicious!

After dinner I washed up, got my breakfast ready for the morning and after chatting with the rest of the group, discovered that we had all been brushing past poison oak on our way into the camp site as well as back out when we went to fill up water. I couldn’t believe it. I had been so vigilant all day and now, had missed it. I had a big panic about it but everyone else seemed pretty relaxed. I instantly felt like my legs were stinging and on fire but its meant to take 24 to 48 hours to show up.

A few people were surprised when I told them I was scared of the plants here. They thought that being from Australia where there are multiple things that can kill you, I shouldn’t be worried. A very incorrect assumption. I do not want to be stuck for a week in the wilderness with a burning itchy rash all over my body. So now I have to wait 24 to 48 hours to see if anything happens. I pray to god that I’m one of those lucky humans who doesn’t react to it.

Tuesday 30 April 2019
Day: 2
Location: Hauser Creek (Mile 15.4) to Kitchen Creek Falls (Mile 28.6)
Distance travelled: 13.6 miles / 22km

I didn’t sleep overly well last night, I think I was a combination of being nervous about my first day on trail and missing Adam, it was strange being in the 2 person tent without him, not to mention cold! My first night was a whole lot colder than I expected the desert to be.

I woke just before 6am to the sound of others packing up camp. I wasn’t going to get any more sleep so I got up, ate breakfast and packed down my camp. It had rained on and off all night but I was well protected under the trees so only the fly was wet. I wiped down the tent as best I could and packed it away hoping for some afternoon sun to dry it out.

It was a very busy campsite and a few people were already up and out on trail by the time I woke up. Presumably they were keen on a breakfast burrito from the Lake Morena Malt shop, just 5 miles away. The group of 3 guys I had set off from Scout & Frodo’s with were all keen to get a second breakfast after hiking up the hill to Lake Morena, so we made a plan to meet up there. Graham set off first followed by myself and then Jeffery and Ruben.

The climb up to Lake Morena was steep but the switch backs made it a lot easier. I couldn’t help but think if it was a New Zealand trail we would be climbing straight up the face of the hill.

The views back down over the valley were pretty with the boulders contrasting with the green foliage and wildflowers. The views were a little obscured by the low cloud and fog but I was thankful for the cover and was happy the blaring desert heat wasn’t scorching me. I was surprised that even up hill I manage to walk at a steady 4km an hour. I was a little sceptical when a US hiker we had met on the trail in NZ had told us this would be the case but he was right, the inclines for the most part don’t impact your hiking pace because the trail is so well graded.

I reached the top of the hill looking out over Lake Morena and could just make out the lake through the fog.

I was surprised at the size of the town when I made my way down there. It was very all American ranch style looking. There were even cactus growing by the road side and I even spotted a wood pecker pecking at a power pole. It was just how I imagined America to be.

At the Malt Shop there were already a group of hikers inside, including Graham. I joined them and ordered an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich and a malt. There was some confusion on my part with the ordering because I had no idea what a malt actually was. When the lovely lady at the shop asked me to pick a flavour I was even further confused but it turned out that I needed to choose an ice cream flavour and that would become the flavour of the malt. It was ridiculous and delicious all at the same time.

It continued to rain outside so we made good use of our time, charging our phones and chatting for good couple of hours. It wasn’t until lunch time that we all decided to take off.

There was 5 of us who took off hiking together – Graham, Ruben, Jeffrey, myself and a new addition, Ray, who we had picked up at the Malt Shop.

There was a bit of climbing throughout the afternoon up to Boulder Oaks campsite, but the rain remained on and off and the cloud hung around, protecting us from the sun and keeping us cool.

It was an interesting afternoon of walking. We exited the wilderness area and walked roadside through a meadow and under two overpasses.

We entered the wilderness area again just after Boulder Oaks campsite. There was a little discussion as the whether we should just stay there for the night but it was only 3.30pm, so we kept moving. After having spent the majority of the day sitting and eating, I definitely felt the need to keep moving a little longer.

We re-entered the wilderness area after crossing a road. After this we had a steady climb up the side of a mountain. The sun was just statting to pop out, so I put on my sun gloves and popped up my collar.

We ended up camping a few miles after the road at Kitchen Creek campsite, just above Kitchen Creek Falls. It was earlier than I wanted to stop, but a few of the others were keen to camp here. I was also worried about getting to the next campsite and finding all the camp sites had been taken, then being forced to continue walking in the dark and still having to camp with no water, so we decided to stay put.

It was a good decision to stay. We had to squish a little to fit all of our tents in but we made it work and enjoyed dinner together. I was a little lazy and decided to save on water and eat my left over lunch for dinner instead. It worked out well, I will be able to save my dehydrated brocoli for another night.

It’s funny that I have enjoyed having company so much on this trip. Normally I would avoid other people at all costs while tenting, but I have really enjoyed the company of my new group of friends. At dinner, Ray, the newest addition to our group had commented that the first couple of days of the hike were a struggle for him and meeting all of us had been a big morale booster. It was heartwarming and made me feel a little emotional. People really can be amazing.

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